Story one in the Configurations arc

by rac

April 1997 / final September 1998

Disclaimer:  Highlander and its characters are owned by Rysher and Panzer/Davis Productions.  I make no claim to them, I make no money on them either.  Any original characters are solely of my own invention.

WARNING! Rating: NC-17 for adult situations including m/f, m/f/m, m/m situations. If you find this offensive or not to your taste,  please leave now.

For help with Greek names and terms, see the separate Glossary.

Thoughtful feedback gratefully received.  Thanks for taking the time to write, it's appreciated.  Impolite feedback will be circularly filed.  Life is too short.  This body's not Immortal.  :-)

Symmetry:   Symmetrical operations are mathematical transformations that produce an identical figure or a mirror image. Arrangement of parts of a body around a central axis is known as radial symmetry. Bodies that have a round form around a central point are said to have spherical symmetry.

by rac

“Forsake not an old friend; for the new is not comparable to him: a new friend is as new wine;  when it is old, thou shalt drink it with pleasure.”     Ecclesiasticus 9:10.
Methos lay sprawled on the couch, utterly unable to muster the ability to move.  Which was uncomfortable, since his bladder was full.  He had drunk his way through MacLeod’s stock of beer, losing count after ten.  Of course, he was conveniently forgetting the fifth he had before he came back to the loft this evening. That's not that much, he thought to himself. Seems like I've drunk much more than that on occasion.... He just wished he could remember the occasions. Or think of anything right now other than the one thing that irked him, and had brought him back across the ocean.  Back to this damp-rotted, dismally chill city.

Greece is beautiful this time of year, he thought wistfully.  The Cyclades are sun-drenched and golden, lazy and simple. All the opposites of where he found himself at the present, dreary and rainy, influencing the way he felt.  Which was obviously opposite of his host's disposition.  At this moment MacLeod was even  now out on a date, of all things. I arrive in town just in time to watch MacLeod in his latest mating rituals, he thought, not knowing whether to laugh or cry at the irony.  He flung an arm melodramatically up over his eyes, as if to ward off any chance sighting of this circumstance.  Unfortunately he missed his head altogether and crashed his hand down on the edge of the table, knuckles splitting open from the impact.

Ancient curses fell in a rush from his mouth.  Damn table, he mumbled.  Eyeing the wound, he brought it unsteadily to his mouth to suck on as it healed, but couldn't seem to find the effort necessary to move much more than his arm.  I wonder if I could possibly let it bleed to death. That's one way I remember dying without pain, he thought.  A slow, steady leaking of life onto the floor, five thousand years of living in a puddle of blood on the wood   Maybe it would be less painful, he thought, than facing the hangover.  There was one good thought.  At least when I wake up again, this godawful feeling in my head and gut would be gone. What's the use of being a damned Immortal if you still get sick from drinking?

Head spinning, he wished he could slit his wrists, or cut an artery to complete the attempt and have it work.  Immortality had its drawbacks occasionally, he continued musing.  And even if it would work, how in the hell would I get to get to my sword? Blearily he looked around him. Its absence had him vaguely concerned.  Ah, there it was, all the way on the other side of the room, a virtual ocean away.  Which was an apropos analogy since he felt the room shift and roll underneath his body as he moved to sit up.  Horus, bend your eye upon me, he thought. Ptah, enfold me in your winged embrace before I disgrace myself all over MacLeod’s couch.

Fighting the roiling sensation in his belly with all the strength he could muster, he was able to suck in one more gulp of air when the sensation hit, the unmistakable presence of another Immortal.  He groaned aloud. Shit... Mac.  He cringed at the thought of Duncan seeing him in this condition, berating himself silently.   Bloody stupid thing to do.  An intelligent solution to problems learned over five thousand years of living:  Drink yourself into insensibility and make yourself look like a total ass.

Get up! he admonished himself. Get over to the sink and drown yourself...that should get the stink of alcohol off yourself.  Pulling himself by sheer willpower alone, he rolled off the couch to ram a knee into the first chair, then lurched to the next one. He could hear the elevator moving up the shaft, the sound of the mechanism loud in the silence.  The sink!   He groaned aloud as he managed to hang onto the edge of the kitchen island, compelling himself to keep moving despite the feeling that his head would explode at any given moment. Christ, I hate feeling like a mortal. How do they handle it?

He wasn't going to make it.  The elevator jerked to a halt, the occupant throwing up the gate and standing in front of him, not moving.  He kept his gaze averted, still trying to pull himself along the edge of the countertop, around the long eating area to where the sink was located.  The quiet noise of feet drew near, and he silently pleaded with MacLeod to leave him alone unless asked.  He felt the body heat of the person behind him, standing, watching.

“--Methos?... Is that you?” A husky, contralto voice colored by a faint, indecipherable accent, and full of skepticism, teased his ears.

He nearly gave himself a case of whiplash fighting to bring his head up and focus his blurry eyes on the vision before him.  His stomach rolled and the blood in his head drained downward from the movement as he stared into the eyes of someone he recognized.  Definitely not MacLeod.  His last conscious thought was, What was she doing here?

“Merit?”  he breathed, as he fell to the floor.

Consciousness returned abruptly, breath being dragged into his lungs in a most painful way, his body spasming as muscles clenched too tightly in response to the impulse of nerves now come alive.  His eyes flung open of their own accord, and the thankfully muted light not too awfully painful to his dilated pupils.

“Death by alcohol poisoning, that's a new idea.”  The voice was insistent and very close to his ear.  “It can't be any worse than some I've experienced, but it has got to be much better than a few I can remember.”  Gentle hands smoothed soft, spiky hair away from his face, smoothing along his stubbled cheeks.  Methos gasped in another lungful of air.  By all the gods, he felt like shit.  He would almost rather die from a slow sword in his gut then suffer this sensation of nausea all over.  Rolling to his side, he instinctively curled up tightly in a fetal position, arms clasped closely around his knees, waiting for the sickness to subside as it went through its healing process.

He heard a sigh. “Let me get you something to help you feel better.”  He felt the mattress underneath him spring up lightly as weight was removed from it, then the tap-tap of quiet heels moving across the bare wooden floor toward the kitchen.  Minutes passed as he began to relax, laying in a light doze, when the return of the heels heralded her return.

The bed sagged minutely as she sat upon the edge of it again.  “Here, sit up. Drink this,” she ordered, one hand going around the back of his neck to encourage him to rise.  Reluctantly he did so, leaning unconsciously into the warmth emanating from the presence next to him, and a cup was pressed to his lips, a warm herbal fragrance teasing his nose.  He drank.  Not sure how his stomach would respond, he sipped slowly, then reached up and took the cup from gentle fingers and drained it in one motion.

“At least you didn't spill something all over me, although this is the most unique greeting I've been graced with in centuries.”  Her voice came soft and amused, her breath warm against his ear.  The reminder of circumstances long ago brought images into focus in his mind's eye.  A smile curved his mouth in memory of that long-ago day.

“I didn't have anything in my hands this time.  Just wait, as soon as I have something, I'll anoint you once again.” His voice was faint, indicative of his recent ordeal. Taking a restorative breath, he turned his head and finally looked clearly into the golden eyes that smiled back at him.  “Merit,” he murmured. “It's been a long time.”

She looked ever as she always had, slightly taller than average,  her long midnight-dark hair pulled up on her head in some sort of twist.  The golden brown eyes gleamed at him in the soft light of the loft, the long, curling dark lashes brushing her cheeks as she shielded her eyes from sight and looked down.  “Around eight centuries.”

“Where have you been?  I tried to trace you about 150 years ago, but you’d disappeared from view.  No one knew where you had gone.  I thought you dead.”  He reached up and placed his own hand on the nape of her neck, feeling the soft hairs growing there.

She shrugged, looking at him again.  “I dropped out, you know how it is.”

“Yes.” He did indeed. It was something he did frequently, and was currently thinking of doing again. It would probably be the best thing.

Merit's nose wrinkled from the sour smell of spilled beer wafting up from his shirt.  “Why don't you find the bath, wash and change.  Then we can talk.”

He moved his hand around to caress the skin on the side of her face.  Of all the Fates... Sometimes Clotho, spinner of the thread of destiny, still sprung surprises for him.  He slid off the side of the bed briskly, heading for the bathroom.  Peeling out of his shirt, he turned at the doorway.  His eyes were bright with a not-wholly innocent light.  “You didn't perchance bring your strigil with you?”

“You'll have to manage by yourself for now,” came the amused reply.

“Pity.”  The door shut gently behind him.

Athens, 5th Century BC

Meritia adjusted her linen as she approached the household of one of the wealthiest landowners in Athens.  The wealthy young intellectual she was accompanying to the symposium had been her supporter now for over a month.  Aspasia, her mentor, was quite excited for Meritia.  Hippolytus was wealthy, handsome, virile, well-connected...she could do a lot worse.  And had, in the past.  Frequently.  Thank the gods that Aspasia had found her and decided to take her on.  Being associated with the most influential and well-known woman of Athens could only do Meritia good, at this point.

Arriving at the nondescript building, their small party slipped in through the door to the street,
arriving in an anteroom where slaves hurried to remove the cloaks worn on this chilly mid-winter evening.  Hippolytus secured Meritia’s arm and walked on through to the main living area that opened onto the inner courtyard.  It was here, once one was inside the home, that the wealth of the owner could truly be seen.  The large and spacious rooms on two levels of building bespoke of the importance of the owner.  Furnishings were sparse, as was custom, but that which stood in the rooms was of the finest workmanship available and of the most costly woods.  Braziers burned in every corner, and a larger one sat in the center of the room, warding off this unusually chilly weather.  People would normally be spilling out onto the inner courtyard, but this evening, most were glad to be inside, away from the chill breezes Boreas was sending their way.

Meritia knew almost everyone she saw.  She'd been a part of Athenian social life now for a few months, and with Aspasia’s help, had met many important people.  She spotted Pericles with Aspasia standing to one side, and Hippolytus did also, tugging her arm and propelling her toward the group conversing in the corner.  Skirting a group of musicians setting up for their entertainment, the two made their way through the crowd toward their friends.

Suddenly Meritia was hit with the imminent awareness of another Immortal. She stopped dead in her tracks, but was yanked forward by Hippolytus’ unforgiving hand on her arm.  Her eyes flew around the area, trying in vain to find the one from whom the sensation was coming.  Hippolytus, ignorant of Meritia’s desperation, pulled her into the group in the corner.

Only semi-heeding the greetings being sent their way, Meritia was still looking around as a body
collided with hers.  Warm male scent filled her nose as she reached out to steady herself.  A feeling of wetness began to seep through her chiton.

“I'm so sorry. How clumsy of me.”  A vibrant, amused voice spoke in her ear.  Before she looked up, she knew this was the source of the presence.  Vaguely aware of Aspasia coming over and beginning to blot wine off her linen, she looked into the eyes of the stranger, her hand already slipping into the folds of her gown to search out the long knife she carried with her wherever she went.

“You won't need that,” he spoke under his breath to her.  Aloud, the stranger added, “It seems I am trying to drown this young woman to death in wine! Someone, please, introduce me to her immediately so that I may make amends.”  He was tall, and looked down at her from the addition of another head length.  Meritia tensed as she observed an aquiline, ascetic-looking face, close-cut dark brown hair and dark eyes that shimmered oddly in the muted light.

Aspasia laughed, her airy voice sounding like a bell tinkling in the wind.  “Oh, Methos, you're not the first to lose all sense of coordination around our lovely Meritia.  She is lately from Ionia, Corcyra actually, and has decided to grace our city with her beautiful presence.”

“And beautiful she most definitely is, madam.” He smiled, but for some reason Meritia didn't see it reach his eyes.  A servant rushed up just then with a cloth and began to try to make repairs.  Meritia heard a noise at her shoulder, and sighing, turned to Hippolytus, laying a hand upon his arm as he began to complain.

“Methos, if you wanted an introduction, you had only to ask.  Now you have ruined Meritia’s gown and she must retire to make repairs.” He made a small gesture with his hand to Meritia. “Go, my dear, hurry back.”

Meritia could hear the annoyance in Hippolytus’ voice and spoke to lighten the mood before she departed the group.  “I have a simple solution, Aspasia.  I could just attend these gatherings without my gown, and then anyone who decides to anoint me can do so without worry about ruining the linen.”  The various men in the group laughed out loud at this quip, while visions of her prancing naked through their ranks swelled their thoughts.  Hippolytus responded as she thought, and grabbed her hand, bringing her wrist to his mouth in a light caress.  He was so typical, so predictable.  She smiled at him, and slipped away following the slave to a chamber where she could change her chiton.

Sitting in the small chamber on a stool, Meritia allowed the two women attendants to remove her gown and bath her where the sticky wine had stained her body.  Afterwards, they rubbed a special skin-softening unguent onto her skin where they had used the rough linen.  Meritia sat like a puppet, letting them have their way, thinking about the stranger.  Methos.  She'd heard talk of this newcomer in the city who had the ear of the greatest among them.  It was said he dined with Pericles, walked with Socrates, traded wit with Sophocles, and made his bed with Protagoras.  Talk must be true for him to be at ease with those present tonight.  She knew he was a Sophist, available for hire by men who desired tutoring in the arts of logic, philosophy and rhetoric.  She knew also that he taught in the gymnasium on a regular basis, and his words were listened to by men who held much of the power in the city.

An important man.  A dangerous man.  Meritia didn't know why she knew that, but it was true.  It was there in his eyes as she looked at him, a darkness that wasn't reflected on the bland, social exterior.  He had smiled, his mouth had said pleasant, social words, but all the time his eyes had been on hers like a predator's on its prey.  She shivered in memory, and the attendants hurried to drape her again in linen to keep the chill from her body.

They were just pulling the garment down and worrying it into place, when she felt the sensation of another Immortal.  Whirling around, she found Methos standing just inside the doorway to the chamber.  Her eyes slid to her knife sitting on the small table next to her, assuring herself that it was handy.  The women continued to fit the belt to her and fasten it, re-hooking her necklace around her slender neck.

“Leave us,” he ordered them when they were done.  Meritia’s throat closed on a denial.  She refused to allow a show of fear before this man.  Casually, she placed her hand on the table next to the knife in an obvious gesture.

He laughed.  “That wouldn't be of help to you if your head was my goal. However, you have no need for that now.”  He stepped closer to her, a menacing figure.

“Just what, then, is your goal?” she asked warily.

“What do you think is my goal with you, a beautiful and available woman?”

At that she whipped up her knife, holding it quite comfortably in front of herself, her posture at a ready stance.  “Keep your distance, Methos.  I have no quarrel with you, nor do I desire one.  Who I spend time with is *my* choice, and mine only.  I am a free woman.”

“Ah, I see a kit who would grow into a mountain lion quickly. Fascinating.”  He kept walking, strolling around her, his head tilted and watching her out of the corners of his eyes.  Suddenly he stopped, crossed his arms over his chest, leaning on one leg.  He sighed.  “Enough of this. I mean you no harm, Meritia.  I only spilled the wine so that I could have an opportunity to speak privately with you.”  The sound of amusement entered into his voice.  “I know Hippolytus.  He tends to be....territorial.  I didn't want to cause you problems just so I might have my curiosity appeased.”  He shrugged slightly.

Meritia stood firm, gauging his sincerity.  His eyes had lost that dark, fathomless appearance, and instead appeared only full of amusement to be shared. Gradually she lowered her knife.  “What curiosity?” She was still cautious.

“Come, now.  You're a woman of some repute in certain circles.  Learned, intelligent, beautiful,
talented....if that isn't enough to want to have you for oneself, then you walk into the gathering this evening, and lo and behold!  An Immortal.” He grinned at her.  “You must imagine my surprise to find that as so.”  He uncrossed his arms, and began to fuss with the pleats of his chiton, arranging them just so. “Is it any wonder I am curious about such a person?”

She threw his curiosity back at him.  “One could say the same of you, also, Methos.  A man who comes into the city from ports unknown, and within a few short months has the ear of all the learned men of Athens?”  She shook her head disbelievingly.  “I knew something must be afoot.  I've known enough men to know that no one lives up to their reputation on the streets.  Nothing is so much one way or the other.”

Methos looked interested.  “Now you sound like a Sophist...have you been studying?”  At her non-committal shrug, he went on briskly.  “I’d like to meet and talk.  Does Hippolytus watch over you so closely that this would not be a possibility?”

Frowning slightly, she shook her head, thinking.  “No, there are ways to get around his knowledge.  Perhaps we may be able to meet at Aspasia’s one day.  I go there to visit quite frequently.  I understand you know Pericles well.”

“Say no more, I shall arrange it.”  He walked over to her, ignoring the knife still held tightly in her hand, and stroked the back of one hand down her cheek and throat.  “I look forward to that moment.”  With that, he turned and exited soundlessly out of the chamber door, leaving Meritia looking pensively at the empty room behind him.

Seacouver, Present Day

Methos emerged from the bathroom, water dripping down his skin, pooling and gathering in the folds of the towel he'd wrapped around his waist.  Rummaging in the duffel he'd slung near the wardrobe earlier, he pulled out some clean sweat pants and a T-shirt.

“Here, drink another.  You'll thank me.”

Methos turned to find eyes smiling over a proffered cup.  “I do already.”  He took the cup and sipped at the fragrant brew. “Hmmm....let’s see.  Lavender, mugwort, St. John’s wort, lemon grass....and a few others I can't identify.”

“I can see you have been busy over the years.  Very good.  Drink it up, now.”

He rolled his eyes at the tone, but proceeded to kick back the entire contents of the cup once more in a single gulp.  Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he handed back the cup and casually pulled the towel from around his waist, using it to wipe the last of the water beading on his skin before donning the casual things he'd chosen.  Merit-aten had seen it all before, there were no surprises here.

Tilting his head, he looked at her out of the corners of his eyes.  “So what are you doing here at MacLeod’s?”

She refused to be intimidated by that sly, probing look.  “One might ask the same question of you, yes?” She gave a pointed glance at his duffel at home in the corner of the bedroom area, and glanced oh-so-briefly at the one, large bed in the whole loft.

He looked down as he pulled on his sweats, and shrugged.  “Mac and I bumped into each other a few years back.”  It's so rare for me to find another person I can trust to any extent, he thought to himself; I lost my capacity for the most part so many centuries ago. If I ever really could.  He pulled the T-shirt on over his head, smoothing down his wet hair with splayed fingers.  “He's a friend.”

Her searching glance settled on him. “Yes, that makes sense.  One always goes to one's friend's house to drink oneself to death.”

He flushed at that, looking oddly defenseless.  “I didn't plan that.  It was.... an incredibly stupid thing to do.”

“Yes, it was.  Nice to know even five thousand year old men are still human.”  Merit smiled to take the sting out of her words. “I'm sure you had reason.”

He grunted in reply, obviously not wanting to discuss it.

“Don’t worry, Methos, you don't have to discuss it.”  She turned to walk lightly back to the kitchen.  “I'll find out everything in any event.”

No doubt she would, he thought. Her acumen with people had always been sharp.  The thought made him slightly uncomfortable, and vaguely irritated.

“So what are you doing showing up at Mac’s place, unannounced?”

“I met Duncan through a mutual friend sometime back.”  She smiled serenely.  “We’ve stayed friends near and far over the years, mostly far.  I was in the area and thought I’d drop in and say hi.”  She turned a curious eye on Methos.  “Where is he?”

“Out on a date,” he replied, the last said with damning precision.

Merit watched Methos closely. Interesting.  “Really. Well, I for one am hungry. And you?”

“Yes.”  Yes, indeed. However.

Moving abruptly, he yanked open the refrigerator door. “Let’s take advantage of MacLeod’s hospitality and find something to eat.”


Duncan came home to find the two in high spirits, Methos straddling Merit as she lay supine on the couch, both laughing loudly.  “No, no! I said give!”

“Oh, but that's not what I wanted you to say, now was it?”  Methos grinned down at her with obvious glee.  They both jerked to attention at the same time, turning abruptly to where Duncan stood looking at them from the end of the hallway.

“Duncan!”  Merit pushed Methos aside and slid off the couch gracefully, running over quietly to wrap her arms around the third Immortal. “It's so good to see you.  Phone calls never do you justice,” she added humorously.

“Merit!” Duncan was obviously surprised at the Immortal woman’s presence.  He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her back, his eyes on the older Immortal lounging negligently on the couch, a faint expression of secret humor on his lean face.  “It's a good thing it was me.  You two
were oblivious to the world.”

Merit took his arm and dragged him over to the couch.  “We haven’t seen each other in ages.  It's been fun catching up.  Besides, Methos said we probably wouldn't see you at all until tomorrow morning.”

Duncan glanced at Methos, who met his look with an inscrutable expression. “I, I don't know why not.  The play was over hours ago, and the cast party was just winding down.”  He was plopped on the couch unprecipitously, and Merit folded her legs gracefully, curling up on his lap and propped her elbows against his chest.

“Duncan MacLeod, ‘why not’? ‘Why *not*’?”  She laughed. “We’ll let that pass for now.  I'm just glad to see you. It's been, least five years, hasn’t it?”  She leaned down and lay her forehead against his, nose to nose.  “Too long,” she murmured, and touched his mouth with hers gently.

Duncan’s arms tightened around her briefly, his mouth instinctively began to shape itself to hers, but his acute awareness of the man sitting watching with dark eyes from the other corner of the couch made him feel odd.  Pulling back slightly, he dropped a brief kiss upon Merit's nose.  Feeling unusually awkward, he resorted to small talk.  “You look good.”

Merit searched his eyes closely while a smile curved her mouth. It appears I have my work cut out for me this time, she thought to herself.  “And what else would I look like?”

A sardonic voice spoke from the other end of the couch.  “Oh, I don't know.  I seem to recall a few times when--”

“No one asked you, did they?” She interrupted Methos’ humorous recollections. “I prefer to have certain moments of history forgotten and buried, with no resurrections. Katalaveno?"  (Understand?)  She glided off Duncan’s lap into the empty between the two men.  “I'm here with two of my most favorite people that I can think of--”

“Esi kanis polla lathi.”  Methos said, sotto voce. (Your thinking was always flawed.)

She ignored his jibe, continuing on lightly,  “--and I want to enjoy it.  I want you both to enjoy it.”  She grasped one of Duncan’s and one of Methos’ hands in hers, clasping them together in her lap.

Methos stared at her with narrowed eyes, his expression darkening.  “Exis kati sto mialosou den xero."  (You're up to something, I can tell.)

“Ego den eima autos pouopetheni gia ena kalo filo patoma,” she shot back quickly at him, her eyes flashing knowingly at him.  Methos’ face flushed faintly.  (I'm not the one dying on my best friend's floor.)

“We’re being rude.  Duncan doesn’t speak Greek fluently, or do you?” she turned to him, knowing full well that he didn't.

“Some,” he admitted, watching the two closely and trying to figure out the undertones and energy swirling around them.

“Methos was only commenting that he felt like a fifth wheel, like old times.”  She hugged both men’s hands tightly close to her chest.  “I was trying to assure him that nothing could be farther from the truth.”  Merit turned and looked intensely at Methos. “Nothing.”  She swiveled her head and flashed a brilliant smile at Duncan. “And we’ll have to do everything we can to assure him of that fact, won't we, Duncan?”

Duncan sat, transfixed, wondering just what it was that he was missing. He had always hated being left out of some knowledge that others referred to, even obliquely. It left him feeling young, and powerless. Not one of his favorite feelings.  He was aware of it now, some piece of knowledge that these two older Immortals were making vague reference to.

He became aware of the silence and the two faces sitting looking at him, and struggled for a non-committal answer.  “You both know you're welcome here anytime.”  He grinned briefly.  “Until I kick you out.”

That did it; Methos didn't think he could sit here and take anymore of this. He sprung up.  “Why don't I leave you two to become reacquainted--”  He found his hand yanked firmly and he stumbled over his own feet in an attempt to regain his balance.  Floundering, he tripped over Merit's feet, laying in just the right position, and landed across both Merit's and Duncan’s lap.  He looked up into their faces, one hellishly gleeful and one very surprised.  His opened his mouth wordlessly as he struggled to speak.

Merit beat him to it.  “Methos, philos, I've had people falling at my feet for centuries. And,” she glanced at Duncan out of the corner of her eyes, “I'm sure Duncan can say the same thing.” She shifted her eyes back down to Methos’. “However, for me, I am quite fatigued this evening.  I plan on going back to my hotel room and getting a good nights’ sleep. Ah, ah, ah,” she placed a hand over his mouth when he went to speak.  “You’ve had much too much to drink.  I'll leave you for Duncan to take care of.”  With that cryptic remark, she slid off the couch, leaving Methos to scramble upright behind her.

Duncan recovered first.  “You'll be back tomorrow?”

Shrugging into her coat, her hand unconsciously checking for her ever-present sword in its hiding place, she came back over to the two still-seated men.  Kissing first Duncan, then turning her bright eyes and smiling mouth on Methos and repeating the gesture, she backed away smiling slyly.  “Oh, I think so,” she said very softly. “I think so.”

Duncan belatedly followed her over to the elevator and drew down the gate for her, Merit's smiling face disappearing as it made it’s noisy way downstairs. He stood that way for several long minutes, his hand braced against the wall, lost in thought.  A noise from behind eventually drew his attention back to the loft.

Methos was busying himself in the kitchen with cleaning up from the dinner they’d made. Duncan wandered over and without looking up, Methos held out the platter with the leftover lamb and vegetables they’d cooked. “Merit cooked. Want some?”

Duncan absently reached out and snared a skewer, chewing a few pieces of food off the small stick.  “Methos--”

“I think I want a beer. You?”  Methos still avoided Duncan’s gaze as he turned to peer into the refrigerator.  His foot kicked an empty beer bottle, sending it spinning across the floor.  Reaching down, Duncan picked it up and deposited it in the trash, dark eyebrows rising as he saw the collection it joined.

“Damn, Methos," Duncan said mildly.  "Do we even have any left?”  The glass made a loud crash as it connected with the other bottles.  Methos heard the crash, but his mind had picked up the previous phrase that Duncan had used, such a silly little thing it was, but for whatever reason his mind played it over and over, hearing meanings behind it amplified way out of the original context it was used in.  We.....

“Methos! Are you all right?”

He turned his head and looked up at Duncan standing next to him, a concerned frown upon his face.  The hazel-brown eyes looked searchingly in his, and it amazed him that Duncan couldn't see straight into his heart. It felt as if it were painfully, hideously open for all to see.

Duncan lowered his voice, speaking gently as if to a child or someone feebleminded, or dead drunk.  “Methos, go to bed.  You look exhausted.  I can finish up here.”  He placed a hand on his shoulder, lightly pushing, encouraging him to move out of the kitchen.

Methos stood unmoving, looking at the younger man, wondering idly what it was that he found so  absolutely irresistible.  His face? His expressive brown eyes? The ease with which he moved, so in tune and comfortable with his own body? They were appealing, surely, but they weren’t the real reason.  He had known beautiful people in the past, many, many of them.  Physical beauty was a sight to behold, but it was nothing more than a pretty, empty shell without the passion of the spirit to kindle it from inside.  There was something unique about MacLeod’s spirit, his fire, that was seductive all its own.  He had seen it the first moment MacLeod had walked into his presence, all fire and intensity concerning Kalas, the unexpectedly innocent way he had accepted Methos for who he was.  MacLeod lived up to every one of the journals that Methos had read.

Even after just that one time, Methos had already slid quite a ways down that slippery slope, and hadn’t yet realized it.  That had come in time, but only well after the realization that MacLeod was the first Immortal he had met in over two thousand years who Methos actually felt comfortable trusting.  He was the first Immortal he had really cared about in centuries.  And MacLeod was totally oblivious, from cultural background and personal inclination, to how Methos felt about him.

Now Methos lived indecisive, crucified between the goals of either having MacLeod as a friend in his life, someone whom he could trust, another Immortal with whom to relate and share things mortals could never comprehend; or to pursue a more intimate goal, one that would shift the nature of their relationship in a way that would bind them even more closely together.

Lover.  Not a casual fling, oh, no, nothing so shallow.  His feelings ran much more deeply than he could ever express.  Whatever they could create between them, it wouldn't be shallow.   He closed his eyes at the thought of it, overcome by the emotions it invoked.  No, it would be like stripping his skin off raw, and exposing his innards to the world.

The conundrum Methos faced was to keep the first and relinquish any chance of the second, or to reach for the second and risk losing even the ultimately insufficient comfort of the first. To risk, or to be safe. But oh, how long could he want to be around the younger man and not act on his feelings?

A voice penetrated into his consciousness.  “This is the last time you come here to get drunk.  How in the hell you ever survived over five thousand years, I canna tell right at this moment.” Duncan was busy fussing over him.

At that, Methos smiled without opening up his eyes.  “I've been lucky having the right people in my life when I've needed them”

“Come on, y' fool.  Let’s get you to bed.”

Methos’ smile broadened, he couldn't help it. He leaned slightly into the arm that was flung around his shoulders and allowed himself to be directed over to the couch.  Duncan by-passed that in favor of the bed.  At Methos’ questioning look, Duncan shrugged.  “You're exhausted, take the bed. Sleep it off.”

Methos did feel exhausted, if not drunk.  At times the weight of five thousand years of life could be damned oppressive.  During those times, Methos knew that no one should live that long.  The fine line between sane and insane seemed very close by.  Without thinking, he reached up and ran his hand down the side of Duncan’s face, feeling the late-night beard growth and the jut of his cheekbone under his fingers, his hand falling to his shoulder where Methos gave it a slight squeeze.  “Thanks, MacLeod.”  He spoke simply, then turned to shuck off his sweats and slid underneath the covers, curling up into a ball.

He never saw the strange expression on the other man’s face as Duncan turned and walked away, then stopped, wavering, to turn and look at the still, huddled figure in the bed.  He stood like that for a few moments, then walked back to the kitchen to finish cleaning up.

Two hours later, Methos was still sleeping as Duncan sat in the dark and the silence in his chair, working on his third glass of single-malt, pensively looking at the sprawled figure in his bed.  The only thing that was moving was his arm and the glass, and eventually, even that fell immobile.

Athens, 5th Century BC

She'd pushed him once too often, she knew that.  But by all the gods! The man was an imbecile.
Living with him for the past year had proven onerous, far more than she could handle.  He, like most of the males in Athenian and Greek society, expected her, a lowly female, to be seen but not heard.  Oh, they tolerated it, even found it titillating for the hetaira to be educated and to have some social freedoms like the freemen of the society, but after time wore off the newness and urgent attraction (and wore down even more the woman’s patience and desire to please) their real selves came out, and they started treating their lovers similar to their wives: like elevated animals, performing for their master’s pleasure.  Eeeiiiiyyyee!  Meritia grabbed a vase and made to throw it, but stopped, feeling ashamed that she would destroy her friend's possessions in her anger.

Aspasia was lucky among women.  Pericles had gone on to marry her, elevating her status legally and socially in the city.  He was an enlightened man, one to whom female intelligence wasn't a threat to masculine identity and power.  Meritia made sacrifice and offerings regularly at Aphrodite’s temple, but as of yet, nothing had occurred. Except disaster.  Now she was without a protector, without a home, living in sufferance with Aspasia and Pericles in their home. She was angry; she was worried.  Meritia was seriously thinking of leaving and returning to Corinth to serve once again at Aphrodite’s temple, or, in a more adventurous move, to return to the land of her beginnings, Egypt.  She’s not been back there since her childhood. When she had been very young, her father and mother had packed up and traveled across the great water to arrive in Delos, where she grew up.  Her father had served there as a healer in the temple of Apollo.

Pouring another cup of wine from the flagon she’d appropriated, she settled back down on the couch, reclining and allowing the cooling breath of Zephyr to caress her skin and lull her into sleep. Time enough to deal with everything when the day had cooled off later.

She awakened all at once, panic thrumming through her blood as she felt the overwhelming sense of presence.  A light step was heard moving down the colonnaded courtyard, and suddenly Methos stepped around from behind a tall column.

“Drowning your sorrows?  How original.”  His voice was biting and full of censure.

“Who are you to comment on my life or my habits,” she was stung into replying.

Methos didn't hesitate to sit down on Meritia’s couch, shoving her legs out of the way.  “Hopefully, your friend.  Or have I misread that this past year?”

She sighed.  “No,’re correct.  I apologize for my temper.  I am mainly angry at myself and at the Fates.  I shouldn’t take it out on you.”

“My hide is tough, I'll survive.” He looked closely at her. “What are you planning to do now that Hippolytus has decided you no longer suit?”

She sighed, thinking.  "Gossip travels faster than the winds in Athens, it seems."

"You didn't answer my question."

Meritia became irritated.  "Why do you involve yourself in the insignificant happenings of a lowly freewoman of Athens?  You've been blessed by Athena herself; Apollo shines his face upon every aspect of your life.  My own goddess Aphrodite seems unhappy with her priestess.  She's turned her face from me."

There was a brief pause in which Methos only stared at Meritia.  The he snorted in derision.  "What drivel."  At her shocked look his face reflected his impatience.  "I've lived for thousands of seasons, since even before there was a Greece."  Meritia's eyes widened at this.  Methos had never divulged much about his past.  She had no idea how old he was. “If there is one thing I have learned, it is that opportunity abounds.  Most people just don't know how to use it.  They blame the gods for their miserable lives instead of doing something about it themselves.” He leaned back against the colonnade, propping his foot on a low table, his arm draped negligently over his raised knee.  “Are you going to be one of the masses, Meritia? Are you going to sit here and moan about your fate and blame the gods for your ill luck?  Or are you going to do something about it, take advantage of the opportunities all around you?”  His eyes appeared bottomless, dark and filled with an odd light.

Meritia shivered slightly. Once again Methos had that look about him, the one she’d noticed the very first time they’d met, the one she didn't understand nor knew if she wanted to understand. He appeared to have the power of Hades himself at times.  It was a power, a darkness that seemed to come from inside him, that spoke of things she had not yet experienced nor knew if she ever desired to do so.  Persephone had found herself hopelessly ensnared in Hades’ clutches when she’d ventured into his domain; Meritia was naturally cautious in the face of the same kind of fate.

Her knowledge ran to the opposite side of the spectrum, the power of Aphrodite, that of love and desire.  It was from Her that Meritia received her power. Whether she was called Isis, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Ishtar, it didn't matter.  She bestowed upon her devoted ones the power to move people through love, to bestow the blessings of the gods through the sharing of love with another. She bestowed the very creative energy of life itself.

Meritia drew on that energy now, praying silently to her patroness, asking for Her intervention in the mess she’d made of her life.  Meritia swallowed her wine, and stood up to walk silently back and forth before answering.  “I don't know if I can stay here in Athens.  I don't think I can live with another like Hippolytus. But I don't think I have a choice: they’re all like him.”  She strode back to the couch and sat down.  “I was thinking of returning to Corinth to serve at Aphrodite’s temple, or possibly even to return to the land of my beginnings, Egypt.” She turned her head and looked at Methos.  “But do rest assured, I don't plan on blaming my misfortunes on the gods without doing anything to change them.  I'll make my plans soon enough.”  She poured some wine into a cup for Methos and more for herself. “I can't stay living in my friends' house for long, imposing on their generosity,” she added quietly.

“What if an offer that was to your liking were extended to you? Would you consider staying in Athens then?”  Methos continued to watch her with an unreadable expression.

Meritia shrugged.  “And what offer might that be?” She waved an airy hand. “In any event, they’re all like Hippolytus; my experiences on that path would be nothing but the past come to life again.”

“Not quite all.”  Methos paused, staring at her, and she frowned, wondering what he was leading up to.
“Come live with me, and be my companion.” He spoke casually for such a shocking and unexpected development.

Meritia reacted quite openly with astonishment; there was no way to not respond to such an offer with surprise.  In the year they had known one another, Methos had never once intimated any interest in that fashion, nor made any kind of advance toward her.  And Meritia knew from the social gossip that he was involved with some of his students, in the time-honored traditions of their culture.  She also knew that over the past year Methos had made his way through a goodly portion of Aspasia’s pallakae and knew from them that he was a generous, if unusual, lover.

Methos sat waiting patiently, watching the play of thoughts and emotions cross over Meritia’s face.  She was stymied, shocked into speechlessness.  Finally she could respond to him with one single word, her head shaking.  “Why?”

He shrugged, the picture of nonchalance as he lounged back.  But his eyes were alert.  “Why not?
I think we would suit; we certainly have important things in common,” he said humorously. “We are neither of us Athenian residents, but are outsiders, and Immortal.  I can also teach you, if you desire it. Plus, my position demands that I entertain, and I find myself wearied by needing to take care of the details.  You could certainly help me in that.”

Melitia noticed he referred only to practical matters and by-passed matters more personal and intimate.  “Surely you don't propose a simple business arrangement?  What about the bedchamber? What would you expect there?”  Usually she was quite calculating when it came to her profession, but for some reason Methos had rattled her and Meritia found herself blundering forth with little finesse.

Amusement curved Methos’ mouth as he sipped wine.  “I have no doubt we’ll manage to come to an amenable arrangement about that, also.”  He placed the empty cup on the table, and looked at her.  “Well, what say you to this offer, Meritia?  It is an honest one, I won't cavil about signing a contract.”

A contract! He did her a great honor in that. She took a deep breath.  It would certainly solve all her problems, and after a year of knowing Methos, while he still had depths to him that she hadn’t explored, she was fairly certain that he wouldn't prove to be a danger to her.  If he wanted her head, he had plenty of opportunities before now. Aphrodite, here I sit unsure, and yet, I have prayed and sent offerings to you to bless me with your fruits.  In this offer, you have; so let me not hesitate in this your answer to me!

Meritia leaned forward, placing her hand on his arm.  “You honor me greatly, Methos.  How can I refuse such an honorable and well-intended offer?  I willingly accept it.” She leaned forward and for the first time, placed her mouth against his, the warm, soft gesture meant to seal the acceptance and show her openness to his presence in her life.  It was a gentle caress of lips together.  She pulled back and looked at him closely.  His eyes were dark, large in his face, and she realized that he was aroused. A smile curled her own mouth.

Methos reached up a hand and casually traced her full mouth, his finger feeling the wetness left from their kiss, his eyes locked on hers.  “Go, be ready later today; I'll send over a retinue to help you pack and transport your things.” With one last glance at her mouth, he stood up and with no backward look strode from the courtyard.

Methos was as good as his word.  Within a few hours, slaves from his household appeared at Aspasia’s home to pack up and move Meritia’s belongings.  They weren’t numerous, but some of them were all she had of old memories.  Aspasia was very happy for Meritia, admonishing her not to run this one off as she had the last. “Aphrodite has gifted you, my child, with this man. I wouldn't wonder if he has been waiting this past year while you lived with Hippolytus?  If so, it speaks well of his future intentions.” She embraced Meritia as she readied to depart. “Don’t forget to come, visit me as soon as you can.  I want to know all.” Aspasia’s eyes twinkled.  “But from the rumors I have heard, you should be in Eros’ bed himself.”  Meritia had heard them also, but she still couldn't help the feeling that Hades was more appropriately the god in question.

They arrived at Methos’ house soon before sunset, Apollo’s chariot moving swiftly toward the west while Nyx prepared to make her entrance.  While modest in size, as most houses were in Athens, he at least had his own home. Most of the city’s inhabitants lived in apartments, crowded together uncomfortably.  The inner courtyard was pleasant, with olive trees and flowering trees and plants.  One of the women bid her to follow, showing her the way through the home.  A modest main room gave way to two different wings; one held the slaves areas including the cooking area, while the other gave way to private chambers used for sleeping, storerooms and Methos’ own private library room.  Meritia paused to peek inside, marveling at the amount of  papyrus and tablets that were neatly stored in two large leather cases.  The only other person she’d personally seen with as many written materials was Pericles.

The woman urged to her follow, saying that they had a bath waiting for her. Meritia was pleasantly surprised; it wasn't every home that had its own bathing facilities.  Many homeowners used the public facilities.  She walked into a beautiful room with veined marble on the floors, matching the large raised marble tub in the center.  Braziers burned in two corners to assure that the bathers would be comfortable.

Attendants helped remove her clothes, and took her over to the shower set up on one wall.  One  attendant regulated the flow of the warm water while another used a bronze strigil and scraped away the oils and dirt from her skin. That done, she picked up a strigil of sandstone, and applied it to all the callused areas first, then gently scraped over the rest of the body.  A last rinse of cool water, and Meritia slid quite gratefully into the very warm waters of the tub.

The attendant rinsed out her hair while Meritia lay her head back on the edge, cleansing it and combing it to get the knots out. Finally done, they poured her a cup of wine, sat it on the edge of the tub, and withdrew, urging her to call if she wanted anything at all.

Her head was cradled on a folded length of rough toweling linen, and she allowed herself to relax and float in the warmth and fragrant steam of the bath.  She wondered where Methos was, and thought to herself that she would have to thank him for his thoughtfulness and consideration in having his household ready to take care of her. The thought of the coming evening had her body sensitized and Meritia realized that she was far more involved already than was wise for hetaira and client.

She must have dozed, for the next thing she became aware of was presence nearby. Twisting around, she saw Methos perched on the edge of the tub, drinking out of her abandoned cup.

“Hypnos took you away into the arms of the Oneiroi. Luckily for you I'm not after your beautiful head.  No,” he lifted a hand lazily and skimmed it down her arm into the water, tracing a path over her stomach and lightly down her thigh. “No, it’s something much more pleasant I look forward to using my sword on this evening.”  Meritia shivered at the look in his eyes.  She was the one usually doing the seducing and teasing, but Methos was turning the tables on her and she felt out of control.  Her heart raced. “Have you eaten yet?”

It took her a moment to place what he said, so distracted was she by his hand.  Looking up at him, Meritia shook her head.  “No, not yet.”

He withdrew his hand slowly.  “Let me have Zahrah come and attend you.”  He departed, still sipping from the wine cup.

Meritia tried to hurry the women through her toiletries, but they confessed they had their orders from Methos, and they weren’t about to let her countermand them. They rubbed unguents and scented oils into her skin, brushed her hair until it was dry, then polished it with an oiled cloth till it shone like midnight fire.  Wrapping her in a very fine linen chiton, they left off a belt, but draped her ears and neck in fine beaten gold.  Meritia was awed; his wealth must extend far beyond what she assumed.

They lead her to a small private chamber.  Low braziers burned in corners, oil lamps sat on tables to light the room.  Servants brought in food and arranged it on tables set conveniently near the couch where Methos reclined.

At her entrance, he raised a hand to her, saying, “Come, sit.”

She made her way to where he lounged, wearing a short, informal chiton, and sat where he indicated, sharing the large couch with him.

Plucking a piece of food off the laden trays, he held it out to Meritia. “Here, try this.  Ma’habo is an excellent cook.”  She took the food from his fingers, chewing and enjoying the fine flavors.

At the next bite, she smiled at him. “I thought this was my task.”

“Oh, no, you have your position...enjoy yourself.” His voice was husky and deep, his mouth very near her ear, breath teasing her hair.

She relaxed down on her left side, Methos a warm presence behind her.  Every time he leaned forward to select more food, he pressed heavily into her, but otherwise he made no move to touch her.  A servant handed them filled cups, then departed. They drank while the beginning strains of music were heard filtering in from beyond the fluttering linen draperies.  The doorways and windows were open to the courtyard, with linen coverings pulled back to allow the lazy night breeze access to the room.

“Do you wish me to play for you? I brought my barbitos.” She referred to her strung lyre fashioned from a tortoise shell.

“Another time, perhaps. Tonight, let the servants play for us.” He leaned forward again and took a bite of a stuffed fig, placing the other half at her mouth.  As her lips closed over the confection, his fingers traced her mouth, dipping inside briefly to caress her there.  Before she could respond, he had removed his hand to reach for another delicacy.

Then a pattern was begun: he would place a small piece of whatever he had chosen for her at her lips, and as she enclosed it in her mouth, he would find and caress a part of her body.  First it was her nape, as he moved aside her unbound hair, his lips and fingertips trailing over the soft sensitive skin he found.  Next it was the inside of her arm as he trailed his mouth lightly from wrist to armpit.  Then he placed his hand on her ankle, underneath her gown, and began to move it upwards, the slow slide of the linen and the warm caress of his hand causing Meritia to catch her breath audibly.  One long finger paused at the back of her knee, stroking the baby-soft skin there and eliciting a delicate shiver in response.  When she made move to face him, he stopped her, pushing her back over on her left side.

“Don’t move,” he whispered in her ear, the small sensations his whispered breath created joining with the rest of her body’s hypersensitivity.  Meritia closed her eyes. Methos' hand continued on between bites of food, traveling up underneath her gown, skimming over her hip, lightly trailing over her bottom, fingers tracing the crevice between two round mounds, then back up again and onward up her spine.  When next he leaned into her, Meritia could feel his arousal pressing into her, hard and long.  She moaned faintly, finding herself swamped by a overload of feelings. Unable to help herself, she drew her right knee upward, pushing her hips back into his body.

He laughed at that, a low pleased sound, and didn't stop her movements against him but casually reached for his wine cup, taking a large draught of the dark red liquid.  Placing it down on the table within reach, Methos moved suddenly, sitting up and reaching for Meritia’s gown.  In one single motion, he stripped it off her shoulder, and urged her to move so it could be pulled from underneath her.  She lay back, clad in only the heavy gold necklace and gold earrings that weighed down her lobes, brushing her neck and shoulders.

Kneeling above her, Methos looked down as he trailed a hand over her shoulder and across her neck, fingering the bones that lay at the base of her neck.  Following the pale blue tracery of veins downward, his hand began to glide over her rounded breasts, his eyes observing as she caught her breath again and her nipples tightened almost painfully.  When Meritia reached up her hand to direct his, he stopped her, grasping her wrist in his other hand and bearing it backward on the couch where he kept it restrained.

“I said don't move,” Methos spoke quietly, reminding her. “That's one transgression,” he looked at her, enjoyment clearly in his eyes. “We’ll have to do something about that.”  She barely had time to wonder what he meant by that when he took up his wine cup and spilled the red stuff across her breasts.  His mouth descended and she closed her eyes, moaning out loud as he took a nipple in his mouth, licking off the wine, worrying the swollen bud with his teeth, and finally sucking hard.  He repeated the action on her other breast as she clutched his head to her, silently urging him not to stop.

Drawing away, Methos grabbed his own garment and pulled it impatiently up and over his head, baring himself to her gaze.  Lean and sinewy, his arms and legs strong from dedicated exercise, his stomach flat and taut, his penis jutted out from between his legs, fully aroused, long and fine like the rest of him.  Meritia made to reach for it, but stopped herself in time, her gaze flying to his as she remembered his admonition.  “Very good,” he murmured. Taking the wine cup up again, this time he dribbled it across her stomach, and his tongue followed  the trail to where it pooled inside her navel.  He sucked lightly to drain every drop.

The wine continued on dripping further, a stream of it flowing through her dark curls and into the very heart of her. The feeling aroused her further, inviting Meritia to open her legs to Methos' searching hands.  He pushed her legs apart farther, playing lightly through the silky wet curls, stroking the swollen, pouting lips, then gently insinuating a finger into her.  When she undulated her hips, he laughed low, shaking his head briefly.

“You have a short memory this evening. That's two.” Her only response was to moan, clenching her hands into fists, her eyes tightly shut as he poured more wine on her and bent down to lick it off.  He could feel the quivers running through her body as she tried very hard not to respond to his questing tongue, his mouth gently sucking.  Taking a hand he added to the assault on her senses by beginning to caress below his mouth on her perineum, his fingers sliding easily through her wetness, over the skin and lightly rimming her anus.

Meritia felt as if she were going to die from an overload of sensual input.  After so long accustomed to receiving little or no pleasure from sexual encounters, unless she assured herself of some, Methos’ attentions were overwhelming.  She groaned aloud at the pleasure his mouth and hands were creating, widening her legs even more, unable to stop herself from thrusting herself into his face.  When he sat back, removing his clever, talented mouth from her, she cried out in frustration, her eyes flying open in dismay.  Methos hands were still working on her, her body still helplessly moving to an ancient pull. He was watching her closely with dark eyes, and Meritia found that as much of an erotic experience as the other things.  Staring at him, barely able to keep from begging him to continue on, she groaned again when he removed his hands.

“Turn over,” Methos whispered to her, leaning down.  She complied quickly, shivering in anticipation of his next delight. Bending her knees, he brought her ass up in the air, and Meritia moaned into the hard cushion as he teased her, squeezing and moving her cheeks apart, exposing her to his gaze.  “Beautiful,” he murmured, bending down and giving her a small bite on her left cheek.  He leaned in and slid his penis against her, wetting himself on her moisture, sliding back and forth easily over her drenched skin.  The friction of his length sliding along her lips and sensitive bud was exquisite, and Meritia began to moan repeatedly, her hips pushing back into his thrusts.

Without warning he slid inside quickly,  jutting up against her womb.  Meritia gasped, and Methos brought his hand down smartly on her right cheek, the mild sting unexpected but arousing.  He thrust again, a long slide of heated hardness out then in, and repeated the slap.  She jumped perceptibly, and he increased his speed, continuing the mild assault on her cheeks.  Soon he switched to the other side, repeating the penalty he promised her earlier.  She was aware of anything but the sensations fracturing her, and the need to continue the rhythm their bodies had set.

Methos stopped the discipline, smoothing his hands over her cheeks, then grasped her hips tightly to him.  Leaning over her close to her ear, he whispered,  “That was punishment for not listening, agapemo.” He nuzzled her neck, and thrust faster.  She was helpless to do more than hold on against the onslaught, her moans blending in with the sounds of his harsh breathing.  Sitting back, he reached underneath with one hand to where they were joined and began to stroke over her swollen sex.  The other hand moved to her reddened cheeks, stroking again over her swollen, aroused anus.  Meritia almost collapsed from the sensation of his hands on her, bucking back wildly into each thrust now. Her wordless demands were getting louder. The slap of their skin was a counterpoint to the music still playing outside.  Her spasms began deep inside, and her muscles clenched tightly around him. Her body began to shake uncontrollably, a high keening sound signaling to him that she was at her climax, a powerful one. He continued stroking her, reveling in the feel of her squeezed tightly around him, thrusting repeatedly as he also felt himself  reach that point of no return.  With hot, wet strokes, Methos body slid into Meritia, his hands gripping her hips like a vise as he emptied himself into her depths for endless moments.

Meritia’s legs began to give out, and as she started to slide downward, Methos pressed himself to her, following her down, leaving them spooned together on their left sides, both breathing heavily in the sudden quiet.  They lay that way for a time, with his arms wrapped around her, one underneath, grasping her breast, the other laying over her and pulling her back toward him while caressing the soft skin on her stomach and below.  At their movements, Meritia shuddered with fresh sensation, and Methos leaned over and sunk his teeth into her nape, pulling her back while he thrust yet again into her, prolonging her pleasure.  Meritia couldn't stifle the sounds of her enjoyment, and dimly she heard Methos laughing, a dark and pleased sound, as she writhed in his arms.

When finally she quieted once more, she felt his penis still hard and firm between her legs.  Tirelessly, he moved to his knees, lifting her right leg onto his shoulder, straddling her left leg and fitting himself to her.  Sheathing himself inside her, he leaned down to mouth her nipples, little bites first then soothing sweeps of his tongue. She lay acquiescent, wrung out from their first bout of satisfaction.  Hair covered her face and Methos reached up to push it off, turning her face so that their eyes met.  As she looked at him, he smiled subtly and began to thrust in her again.  Meritia whimpered at that, closing her eyes, but Methos grabbed a fistful of her hair and shook her.  Her eyes flew open again.

“Don’t close them. I want to watch you.”  His dark eyes were large and without reflection in the flickering lamp light, appearing as endless windows into another world: the Underworld, and he was the manifestation of Hades, leaving her, like Persephone, helplessly caught in his snare.  She couldn't help it, something about his relentless stare tightened her insides and she cried out.  While he did no more than thrust forcefully into her and watch with those knowing eyes, she fell over the edge once more, convulsing beneath him in exquisite ecstasy.  At her helpless response, Methos smiled.

Present Day, Seacouver

Dawn was just lighting the sky when Duncan awoke.  The sofa was not the most comfortable of places to sleep, but he'd put up with plenty worse.  Shifting around found him a more amenable position.  He drew the soft wool blanket up over his shoulders against the chill night air, willing himself back to sleep.

It didn't come.  Restless, he shifted once more. He'd give it another half hour.  If he wasn't asleep by then, he'd get up and go running.  Thinking back on the evening before, he wondered what Merit was doing in town.  They hadn't talked in quite some time.  She tended to travel around quite a bit, not really settling down in one area for any real length of time.  Duncan had asked her about that once, why she was such a rolling stone.  She'd shrugged, smiled a little, and told him that she found it too interesting exploring all the world to limit herself to just one culture.  Plus, she had work to do wherever she went, bringing the Goddess and her many different guises and forms into the lives of present day cultures.  If ever there were a need for the modifying and balancing influence of Her loving energy, it was in the present day.

He understood that.  He came from a culture steeped in history of worship of the Goddess and the power that she wielded.  He agreed more influence of that type could only be a positive force in the world.  But he personally believed that the real reason Merit was restless was because she was lonely.

Over one hundred years ago, they had met in a little town in the Midwest in the middle of nowhere, both surprised as hell at finding another Immortal in the place.  He was wandering though, at loose ends because the war was over, and there she was.  Grinning, he recalled the exact circumstances of their first meeting.  She had been more than a little ticked off when a trick from upstairs in the saloon decided to run out without ‘paying his bill’.   It seems you didn't run out on a bill at Meri’s.  Not if you valued your life.

Hot under the collar described her well, as she stood there, halfway across the room, with her rifle cocked and ready.  It was obvious she knew how to use it, but the damn fool idiot she had a bead on just laughed.  When Duncan had walked into the saloon, he hadn't known if she was going to blast him right then and there, or not.  Duncan did the only thing he knew to do: overpowered the foolish john and forced him to pay up.  At least no blood had been shed.  And he gained a friend.

They were lovers on and off over the following years, more from availability and loneliness on both their parts, than any grand passion.  They simply liked one another, which, given the lifestyle of Immortals, was not something to take for granted.  Merit had a unique ability to put people at their ease.  Her manner and actions communicated such a wonderful sense of peace with herself, and of true interest in her friends, that everyone tended to leave her presence feeling more relaxed, more cared about than they'd felt before she whirled into their lives. Interesting that Merit and Methos knew each other, he thought.  And quite well, by the look of it. Wonder what their history is.

A noise from the other side of the room caught his attention, the bed creaking faintly as its occupant turned or rolled over.  Methos was restless.  Duncan wondered what someone that old dreamed about at night.  Were they nightmares from the past, or did he have enough good memories to overcome the dark ones?  Even at four hundred, Duncan had trouble at times, times when memories out of his past threatened to overcome him, consume him.  He couldn't begin to imagine the weight of more than ten times that many.  It was one of the things that fascinated him about Methos.  A smile lurked around Duncan's mouth. Of course, there were plenty of things he found irritating enough to offset that fascination, too.

Frowning, Duncan suddenly recalled their exchange last night as Methos was falling into bed.  Methos had been in an odd mood ever since he had shown up a day ago, short tempered, noticeably discontent, close-mouthed.  Not that closed-mouth was all that big a shift from normal.  Seeing him playing around with Merit was the first time Duncan had observed him even so much as crack a smile since he had  arrived.  He had drunk enough to put most men away, also.  Something was on his mind, bothering him.  Possibly there was something that Duncan could do,  even just to listen to him.  When Kalas had killed Don Salzer,  Duncan knew that Methos had lost a good friend.  Methos and Salzer had spent so much time together on Watcher research that Duncan assumed their relationship had fulfilled many of the older Immortal's needs for companionship.  Methos had mourned his friend's death quietly but deeply.

Maybe that was why he was showing up lately out of the blue, with no warning.  Maybe it was nothing more than loneliness.  Duncan felt a twinge of guilt.  So what do I do when he arrives yesterday? First thing, I tell him I'm busy that evening.  I could have invited him to the play, there were extra tickets that Deirdre had available. And the party afterward, he would have been more than welcome there. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he was probably right. Why else would he have drunk as he did, too much and all alone?

There was so much about Methos that was private.  He never really let anyone get close to him, never revealed himself though his memories or his experiences except very casually, as thoughts-in-passing, but never in depth.  He been privy to the rise of civilization in the world, seen nations rise and fall, known some of the most famous people of all history.  Yet he never talked about it, never went into details about what it had been like, or felt like, to be a part of this era or that experience.  Duncan tended to feel awkward around the world's oldest living person....he ended up feeling young and impetuous most of the time.  And he sometimes wondered: what does the world's oldest living man see in me?

Duncan still didn't know what to make of the first time they'd met when Methos had offered his head to Duncan, and his saying that Duncan was the ‘best of them all’.   The best in what way?  And Methos was always nagging him about his ethical choices.  If he felt that Duncan was the best, why was he always attempting to change him?

Duncan thought back to last evening and the way Methos had reached out and touched him, a gesture of affection.  It had seemed odd coming from him, the look in his eyes strangely vulnerable, almost... urgent.  It caused Duncan to feel off-balance, more uncertain than he had ever felt in his life.  It was almost as if--

He shoved back the blanket and his feet hit the floor abruptly.  In passing, he brushed a book off the sofa table, and it hit the floor with a loud thud.

Methos erupted from under a pile of covers on the bed, already groping for his sword.  “Wha--”
He took in the scene with a single, crazed glance:  Clad in soft, worn sweat shorts, Duncan stood near the sofa, a thick volume in one hand and a sheepish expression on his face.  Groaning, he flung himself backwards into the pillows behind him. “Dammit, MacLeod!  That's a hell of a way to be wakened.”

Duncan replaced the book and walked over to his armoire.  “Sorry,” he said, chagrined. “Just being clumsy.”

Methos mumbled into the pillow, and Duncan could barely hear it. “You've never been clumsy in your life.”

Duncan looked surprised.  “What makes you say that?”

Methos rolled over and sighed, then stretched, watching while Duncan pulled a sweatshirt on over the T-shirt he had worn to sleep.  He did a quick balancing act as he pulled on socks and shoes.  “Because, my young friend, in all my life, I've never seen anyone more instinctively body-conscious and graceful as you.”  At Duncan's faintly embarrassed look, he smiled.  “If you're ever clumsy, I’d bet something distracted you.”

That seemed to have hit a button.  Duncan looked pensive, standing there with an odd expression of indecisiveness on his face for several long moments.  Then he moved, apparently released from his inner thoughts.  “Nothing too complicated... just woke up too fast.”  He headed toward the elevator.  “I'm going running.”

Duncan heard a groan and saw Methos’ head disappear underneath the covers. “Better you than me,” Methos called. “I'm going back to sleep.” Duncan heard him continue softly, “Five thirty in the bloody morning, and he gets up to run...” The gate opened loudly, drowning out the rest of his words.  For added measure, Duncan made sure to slam in loudly.  As the elevator went down, Duncan smiled, reminding himself to make sure and use the noisy elevator on his way back to the loft.

Methos had only just closed his eyes, or so it seemed, when he was awakened once more by the strong feeling of presence close by.  Raising one eye, he frowned.  It had only been 20 minutes since Duncan had left to run, and from past experience Methos knew to expect him gone anywhere from an hour to two depending on where he chose to run for the day.  Maybe it was Richie, although he knew Richie tended to avoid sunrises same as he did.

Expecting the elevator to start up any time,  Methos began to wake up in earnest when there came no grinding sound from the ancient mechanism.  The sensation of Presence hadn't gone away though, and Methos, becoming concerned, rolled smoothly out of bed and jammed his feet in his old exercise shoes.  Grabbing up his sword, he walked cautiously down the narrow hallway to the outside door.  As quietly as possible, he unbolted it.  Taking a deep breath and readying himself, he threw open the door, moving back as he did.

Nothing. Sticking his head outside, he saw nothing on the stairs or in the alleyway.  The presence however, was still strong. Pulling the door behind him, he slipped soundlessly down the stairs to the alleyway, and moved stealthily around to the front of the building. Still no one in sight. Standing at the corner for several long  moments, he waited to see if anything stirred.  After five minutes, when nothing had appeared or moved, Methos began to feel slightly over-reactive.  More than likely it was just Duncan come back early, possibly sitting downstairs in the dojo office, doing paperwork or working out inside. Letting his sword dangle down by his side, Methos moved up the dojo steps and found the door unlocked.  Certain it was MacLeod, Methos went inside the building, not making an attempt to be quiet in his movements. One door to the dojo was propped open, and he walked on through.

Before he could even call out MacLeod’s name, some sixth sense, a protective instinct developed and honed over thousands of years of focus bade him throw his sword arm up and shift quickly on the balls of his feet, throwing his body to the right.  It was the only thing that saved him.

The sword came out of the shadows to the right of the doorway, and connected jarringly with his own. He didn't even have time to get a good look in his attacker's eyes before the broad sword shifted and swung for another attack. He blocked, and took advantage of the action to skip backwards a few steps to give himself some few seconds to gather his wits.  Methos saw his opponent was around his height, with more weight on his frame, muscular, long brown hair past his ears and eyes that seemed dark in the dim light, but could be any color.  He didn't recognize him at all.

The other man stood still for a moment, looking at Methos.  “You will have to wait for MacLeod.  I've been waiting for a long time.”

Methos just narrowed his eyes, watching for any tell-tale movements.

“On second thought, mon ami, you'll make a good hors d’oeuvre before the main course.”  The other Immortal began to circle around Methos.  “I am Jacques deBrouillard.  Come, tell me your name so I know who I dispatch to la ciel....or perhaps to l’enfer?”  He grinned a self-confident easy smile.

Methos moved with the other, his stance adjusting continuously to keep his weight evenly distributed.  His eyes darkened and his expression shifted, becoming somehow more menacing as he simply smiled.  “You'll have no need of it where you're going...but, at certain times I've been known as... la Mort.”

deBrouillard laughed gustily.  “That will certainly fit you soon, my friend.” He waited no more, but feinted to the left and turned to deliver a stroke that Methos blocked.  The fight was on.  For the first minute, Methos was thinking unformed thoughts of thanks for MacLeod, who had pushed him so hard in recent times while practicing together.  Methos had been rusty, not horribly so, but enough to get him killed against serious practitioners.  Now, fighting for real after staying out of the game so long, Methos felt the old knowledge kicking in as he detached from the immediate moment and gave his instincts free reign.  After about one minute, the tide began to shift in his favor, and deBrouillard began to be on the defensive.

He had pushed deBrouillard literally back into a corner, and in desperation, the other Immortal reached out and grabbed a free weight from the shelf, flinging it at Methos with a mighty heave.  It hit him in his gut, almost knocking the wind out of him, but not quite.  Methos staggered, his guard dropping for a disastrous second.  deBrouillard took advantage of the opening and thrust in, his sword sinking into his torso, piercing a lung and arteries.  They hung that way for and endless moment, a look of rage and pain on Methos’ face, one of dawning triumph on the other Immortal's.

Finally he pulled back his sword, letting Methos’ body loose of it's imprisonment. Methos swayed deeply as a red haze fell over his vision.  He saw the other man lifting his sword as if it were in slow motion, and heard his own inner voice cry out loudly, “No! Not now! Not ever!

With a superhuman surge of raw energy and willpower, he grasped his sword and brought it up coarsely, without grace or skill, just a raw swipe of brutal emotion and steel.  It caught deBrouillard as he was on the upswing, wide open for an attack.  The steel blade sliced deeply into his torso, continuing on to catch deBrouillard in the chin and face, slicing open there also.  The unknown Immortal gave a ghastly inhuman cry, his sword falling slowly from his hand.  They stood wavering, blood covering them both, before they crumpled.

Methos fell to his knees, still grasping his sword, and knew he had better move soon. His vision was beginning to darken, his breath was bubbling in his throat.  DeBrouillard was lying handily in front of him, and with another crude but effective downward stroke of his sword, he severed deBrouillard's head from his body.  At that, Methos' strength and will left him like a deflated balloon, going all at once, leaving him crumpled in a heap on the floor.  He heard the gathering energy begin to thunder around him, felt its first tentative jolt, when the world went black.

Duncan was turning into his alley when he heard and saw the energy show.  He gunned the engine, his heart racing, pulling crazily into the spaces before the building.  Methos....  Grabbing his sword, Duncan jumped out of the car, feeling slow and awkward as he hesitated a moment, then picked the dojo stairs as his entry point.  He could feel  presence, strong, close.

Heart still racing, he entered cautiously, sword out, aware of his back at all times. The hallway was clear, and he progressed silently toward the glass doors leading into the dojo.  One sat open as he had left it this morning, in anticipation of the dojo’s early hours.  As Duncan approached them, the feeling of presence faded abruptly, like a light turned off.  His blood froze in his veins.  There was no sound to be heard from inside the dojo, and after waiting a moment, Duncan burst in, sword at the ready.

Duncan smelled it before he saw it.  Death had a peculiar aroma, a combination of blood, bodily fluids, sweat and fear.  It was an odor he was overly familiar with. Looking frantically around, he finally saw it, the tableau of bodies and blood, partially hidden from his view behind exercise equipment near the office door.  For one crazy second, Duncan wondered if both of them were dead, they were both so still.  Then sense reasserted itself; presence had been very strong, someone would survive.

But who?

He walked across the floor, his sword still out, his thoughts suspended. Duncan still couldn't see which one was beheaded, although he picked out Methos’ ratty old blue sweats he'd been wearing when Duncan had left the loft earlier.  It seemed to Duncan the thirty foot walk across the dojo floor took forever, and then he was upon them.

Both were covered with blood. Methos’ shirt was rent open in a large gash over his chest. But his neck was intact. Duncan's gaze flew to the other man.  His head was laying at an odd angle over his torso, and Duncan realized that it was detached completely.  His face had been split open by a sword stroke and his mouth lay open in an eternal gape, unable to be closed.  Try as he might, Duncan didn't recognize him.

Kneeling down, Duncan checked Methos’ wound. Not yet healed. Laying two fingers along his
carotid, he found that he was not breathing.  Life had yet to return.  The other Immortal, whoever he had been, had managed to deliver a mortal blow.  Squatting there amid the carnage, Duncan could only think how close Methos had come to having that smart-ass mouth of his permanently silenced.  As much as Duncan sometimes wished he'd stick a sock in it, he knew he was looking forward to hearing Methos say something, anything.

He knelt there for some minutes, waiting for the return of life. Details of the situation asserted themselves, and Duncan hopped up to close and lock the front door in case any early morning customers happened to wander in and get an eyeful of something they shouldn't see. Frowning, he bounded up the stairs to the storage area near the lockers and returned quickly with a handful of old sheets.  Taking some, he searched the unknown Immortal for identification, set it aside, then wrapped up the body and moved it into the office and out of sight. Reaching into the janitorial closet, he grabbed a pail and a mop, filling it with cold water.  Over and over he pushed the mop over the floor, eventually cleaning it after changing the water two times.  Wiping up the moisture left on the wood, he took the dirty rags and equipment away, cleaning the mop and pail in the janitor's sink and throwing the filthy rags in the garbage dumpster in the alley.

Finished with the gruesome job, Duncan began to seriously worry about Methos' non-revival.  It had been almost a half hour since Duncan had arrived back in the dojo, and still no sign of life in the older Immortal.  Kneeling by him, observing the drying blood covering his clothes, Duncan decided to move him upstairs.  Picking him up, he carried him into the elevator and keyed the lock, sending it upward.  He leaned against the wall, cradling the dead weight next to his chest, looking down at the still features.  There were bruises along his arm, and one under his right eye, speaking of the intensity of the battle he'd fought.  It still shook him to think of how close it had been.

The lean form was slender, but even so, muscular and strong, muscle mass making his weight less than easily carried.  Duncan awkwardly shifted him to open the gate and walked over to the bed, depositing him on the covers.  Methos' shirt was a total loss and Duncan ripped it the rest of the way to pull it off.  The sweat pants were stiff with drying blood.  Pulling off his shoes, Duncan worked the sweats down the long, limp legs, throwing them in a pile by the hamper.  He retrieved a basin of warm soapy water and a washcloth from the bathroom, oddly unwilling to leave him lying there covered in his own blood.

Gently, Duncan washed the gore from his skin, arguing with himself that Methos couldn't feel it even if he were rough, but still unwilling to treat the other Immortal with less than carefulness.  That done, he put the things away, then considered a glass of juice from the refrigerator. The hell with it, he thought, I don't care what time it is. I need a drink.  He poured himself three fingers in a glass and went to sit on the couch.

He didn't have to wait too much longer.  He was sitting sideways, Methos in his view, when the loud, audible sound of a ragged in-drawn breath pierced the silence.  Methos’ body went stiff, his eyes flying open.  Immediately he groaned and turned slightly on his side, facing Duncan, his eyes closed once more while his face contorted in pain.

“Thank God.”  Duncan got up and walked over to the bed, sitting on the edge, waiting for the older Immortal to catch his breath against the awful pain wracking his still-healing body.  “Welcome back.  I was beginning to think you didn't want to return.”

The other man groaned. “Bloody hell....” He coughed some, clearing his throat.  “I could've done without this.” His eyes flew open, taking in where he was.  “I’d forgotten how precisely awful it feels.”

Duncan smiled in sympathy. “That's the truth.  You were dead for just under an hour. I was starting to get worried.”

Methos put his hand over his nearly-healed wound, breathing deeply.  “I nearly didn’t make it this time, Mac.” The thought sent a shudder through his body.  “I thought I was dead for a time there.  I kept thinking, ‘Thank God MacLeod kicked my ass so many times’.  If you hadn’t...” his voice trailed off into silence.

The thought had Duncan wordless. His fingers tightened briefly over Methos' shoulder, then he hopped up and walked over to his desk.  Finding the wallet, he pulled out a passport.  “Jacques deBrouillard. deBrouillard...” He shook his head. “That doesn’t sound familiar.”

Methos sat up slowly, examining himself. “Well, he obviously knew you. Said he been waiting some time  for you.”

Duncan turned back to the passport photo, studying it. “I don’t recognize the photo.” He threw the wallet back onto the table.  “There wasn’t much left of his face to recognize.”

“I wasn’t worried about finesse there at the last,” Methos acknowledged sardonically.  “I was badly wounded, he was ready to take my head.  I heaved my sword upward. Hell, I wasn’t even sure I was moving it in the right direction.” He closed his eyes.  “Obviously I did.”  Methos slid off the bed, standing naked in the weak, early morning sunlight filtering in from outside. It highlighted his pale skin, the drawn look in his face.  “Where’s the body?”

“Downstairs, in the office.”

“Call Joe, he’ll have someone out to take care of it.  Could you...” he paused. “Would you tell him to say that you did it?”

Duncan nodded wordlessly.

“Think I’ll take a shower now.”  Methos rubbed his eyes, wandering into the bathroom and shutting the door softly behind him.

Duncan grabbed the cordless phone and sat down on the sofa, punching in Joe’s number.  It was
only around 7:30; he might not be awake yet. After five rings, a gruff, irritated voice answered.  “Yeah.”

“Joe, it’s Duncan.”

Joe didn’t waste any time. “What’s wrong?” He sounded marginally more awake.

“There’s a body here.  Someone was laying in wait for me, and found Methos instead.”

Joe interrupted quickly. “Not Methos’ body!”

“No, no, Methos took this guy’s head. It must have been one hell of a fight. He asked me to call you, take care of the details. Please.”

“Sure, sure.  Where is it?”

“Downstairs in my office.”

“Know the guy’s name?” Joe wondered.

“From his passport: Jacques deBrouillard. He told Methos he was waiting for me, but I don’t recognize his picture. Ah...Methos didn’t leave much of his face recognizable.”

“Jesus!” Joe was silent a moment. “I’m going to have to explain this body in your dojo somehow, so guess what?”

Duncan laughed shortly. “Yeah, Methos already asked me. Go ahead, it doesn’t matter.”

“Okay. Look for our guy there in about an hour, okay?”

“Thanks, Joe.”  Duncan deactivated the phone, and pushed his hands through his hair.  He realized that he was still in his sweaty jog clothes, filthy now from the dirty job of cleaning up downstairs.
He already stripped most of them off when the bathroom door opened, letting steam and a dripping Methos out.

“I feel a little more human.”

Duncan paused on his way past the older Immortal and placed his right hand on Methos’ left shoulder. “Methos--” Duncan’s voice faltered.  He didn’t know what to say.

Methos reached up and put his own hand on Duncan’s shoulder. “I’m glad I’m here, too. What a hell of a way to wake up in the morning.” His mouth quirked up in humor..

Duncan was still frowning. “ almost died, because of me.”

Methos shook his head and gave Duncan’s shoulder a little shake.  “I don’t recall you being in the room downstairs. Believe me, deBrouillard was wanting to have me for starters. You’d have been next.”  He reached up and grasped Duncan’s chin, forcing Duncan gently to look at him. “And anyway, I can think of plenty of worse reasons to die.”

Duncan felt the warmth emanating from Methos, saw the regard, the humor, the secrets all layered together as he stared into his eyes for a long second. Methos broke the spell as he dropped his hand to Duncan’s shoulder again, squeezed it and walked away slowly toward the kitchen.

He stood there, unable to move until he realized what he must look like. Going into the still-steamy bathroom, he yanked on the shower spigots until a steady stream of hot water blasted out. Shedding his jog shorts, he slipped in the stall. The water felt marvelous on his stressed body, and for many minutes he simply stood there, the water pounding down on him.  Eventually he soaped down mindlessly, washing his hair and his body, letting the water wash away the muddled emotions of the past hour.

All except one.  Duncan leaned up against the shower wall, laying his face against the wet, smooth surface, the water pouring over his head, running into his eyes and mouth.  He wondered why all of a sudden  this odd awareness of Methos existed, wondered why it appeared as if out of the blue. Wondered too if he’d been fooling himself and it had been there all along, just that he’d been too slow on the uptake.  Most of all, he wondered what he should do about it. If he could do something.  If there was in fact more to it than just his overactive imagination.  Which right now was surprisingly active.

He stood there, all four hundred years of him, letting the water run aimlessly down the drain, feeling young and gauche, and surprisingly naive. He hadn’t felt that way in a long time and it certainly wasn’t something he enjoyed.

He stood there long after the water went cold, trying to find peace.

Merit walked into the dojo.  She secretly loved the place, its earthiness, the smells, the sounds, the views of sweaty, muscled bodies straining.  She thought idly she’d have to contrive to visit Duncan more frequently just to get another dose of this.  Today didn’t disappoint her either.  There were people scattered around the room, two sparring, the rest working individually with weights or personal exercises.  Her love of the surroundings inspired the smiles she gave to those who glanced at her, their eyes following her progress across the room.

The office was empty when she looked, but that was not unexpected. The feeling of presence was there, but not urgent. Upstairs, then. Turning, she felt her shoe slip on something on the floor and looked down.  A dark blotch stained the wood just inside the office.  She frowned, her eyes riveted. That looked like-  She bent down and touched a finger to the sticky stain, then smelled it, touching it lightly to her tongue.  Damn!  She rose up quickly, looking around for more evidence but it was obvious that the rest of it had been cleaned up by the tell-tale dull streaks on the wood where a wet mop had recently been.

The elevator was not there so she left by the side door and walked around the corner, taking the outside stairs two at a time to Duncan’s loft.  In no time, Merit was pounding on the door and demanding Duncan open up immediately.  She didn’t have to wait for long.  Soon the door was flung open and Methos was standing there in jeans and a long-sleeved knit shirt, looking amused and faintly bored.

“Pound the door down, why don’t you?”

She shoved past him into the hall.  “Where’s Duncan? What happened here this morning? Is he all right?”

Methos followed after shutting the door.  “Calm down.  What’s got you upset?”

She turned to face Methos.  “I saw the blood downstairs in the office,” she said baldly.  Methos’ face shifted with understanding.  “Tell me,” she said simply.

Before he could speak, the bathroom door opened and Duncan came out. “Duncan!”  Merit turned to him. “What happened this morning?”

His eyebrows went up and he looked over Merit’s head to Methos, silently questioning.

Methos shrugged. “She saw blood on the floor in the office downstairs. She, uh, just arrived up here.”  He turned and walked over to the kitchen, occupying himself with breakfast.

Duncan steered her over to the kitchen. “Want something to drink? Coffee, juice?”

“How about an answer,” she persisted.

Duncan poured himself a cup of coffee from the brewer. “For the details, you’re going to have to ask Methos,” he said.  “It was his show.”

Merit turned on Methos, surprised. “Philos, what happened?”

“Some head-hunter was waiting for Duncan.  He found me instead.” He looked up at Merit with an quick flash of emotion.  “He won’t be looking for anyone else.”  He picked up a platter with sliced fruit and offered it to Merit.

“What Mr. Closed-mouth here fails to tell you is he almost lost.  When I arrived back at the dojo...”  Duncan’s voice trailed off as he shook his head.  “When I walked in, I couldn’t tell which one was the victor, they were both covered in blood.  All I could think was that I was one minute too late.”  He turned his back to them, adding more coffee to his cup while he took a deep breath. “Took him almost an hour to revive.”

Merit looked sympathetic and gave Duncan’s arm a quick squeeze.  Her mouth near his ear, she spoke softly.  “It’s never easy with those you love, is it.”  She gave him a kiss on his cheek and turned quickly away to Methos, missing Duncan's haunted look.

Methos leaned against the counter, chewing on a piece of melon he’d sliced. His eyes were watchful and waiting.

Merit stared for a moment as she thought of the similarities between the present and the past.  “Just like old times, eh, Methos?”  He just stared at her.  She tried again.  “What happened to the ‘I don’t fight if I don’t have to’ line?  Why confront this guy?”  His eyes turned impenetrable and his jawline tightened slightly. “You must have had a damn good reason,” she goaded.

It was obvious Merit figured she knew what that reason was. Merit could be perverse, and he knew she was adept at manipulation. Well, hell, he couldn’t very well condemn her for that, he thought to himself.   “I thought the sword he was swinging at me seemed a good enough reason at the time,” he commented mildly.

Duncan was frowning. “I left you going back to sleep. How’d you end up downstairs?”

Methos sighed.  “It was too early for you to return to the dojo, you had been gone only twenty minutes.  It alarmed me when I felt a presence.”  He shrugged. “Turns out I was right.” Dropping the subject, he turned around and pushed the food out onto the table.  “Come on, I’m hungry.”

Athens, 5th Century BC

Methos was relentless against Merit, constantly attacking, forcing her to use everything within her to repel his blows.  Finally, he slipped in under her guard and disarmed her, her sword flying to land on the ground a few paces away.

“Cursed by Ares himself!”  Merit stomped her foot on the ground.

Methos laughed. “You must admit, you're holding out longer and longer against me.  It won't be long now before you'll be a real challenge.”  His words of encouragement fell on deaf ears.  Merit stalked over to retrieve her sword, wiping the dirty blade on her dusty and sweaty tunic.

“Not soon enough to suit me,” Methos heard her mumble under her breath.  He bit back another laugh.  Her pride was sharp, and he didn't want to blunt it any more than necessary.  It lent force to her efforts.

“Come, we can go and bathe.  There is Sophicles’ new play this evening.”  He knew that she couldn't resist that as an enticement.  They'd been living together now for almost five years and he knew her well.  It had turned out to be an arrangement that well pleased him.

Merit stood glaring at him falsely, trying not to appear eager.  She couldn't manage it for long.  “Oh, you fight unfairly, Methos. How can I stay angry with that to look forward to?”

He sheathed his sword in the leather scabbard.  “It works every time.”  They both turned at the sight of a servant who stood waiting, head down. “Yes, Khezia?”

“My lord, there is a runner here with a message for you. He said it is urgent.”

Methos frowned.  “Send him out here immediately.”

“Yes, my lord.”  Khezia departed and within moments a dusty servant came in bearing a small scroll bound tightly with a leather thong.

“My lord, this is from Nereus.  He bids you read it immediately.”

Methos took the scroll from the bowing servant, waving a vague hand. “Go with Khezia, she will find you something to drink and eat.  I will see if I need to send a reply.”  Methos wandered over to the bench under the olive tree and sat down.

“What is it, philos?” Merit came over and stood by his shoulder.

“I don't know.”  He untied the thong and unrolled the short papyrus. It didn't take him long to read. The scroll fell heavily into his lap, and he stared unseeingly off in the distance.  Merit hopped over the bench and took the scroll from his unresisting fingers.

“Oh, Aphrodite,”  Merit breathed. “Methos..... I am desolate for you. Dinarchus was an honorable and well-liked man.”  Merit knew that theirs went far beyond teacher and student.  Methos truly cared for the young Athenian warrior.  He had spent many an evening here at their home.  Merit had not been jealous of their relationship. Instead, she had been glad that two people she cared for could find pleasure and happiness with each other.  Their relationship was quite honorable according to Athenian tradition.  That Dinarchus was pre-Immortal made this a double tragedy.  He had been killed, beheaded by the enemy in a minor skirmish his phalanx had fought in distant Asia Minor .

Methos still hadn't said a word, but Merit saw his hand wrapped around his scabbard, his knuckles clenched and white.  She settled a hand gently on his back, giving him the healing balm of her touch.  “Will you want to make reply?”  He nodded, his voice unreliable.  “I shall get your things, bring them to you.”

He stayed her with a hand on her arm. “Wait.”  He said no more, just sat.

Merit put the grievous message aside, and tentatively moved in closer to Methos. When he made no demur, she gathered him close, guiding his head down on her shoulder.  It shook her when he complied without a word.  The Methos she knew was not soft, and would more than likely spurn such an offer of sympathy rather than accept it.  That he did accept now was significant.  She stroked his hair lightly with one hand, swaying slightly. A funeral song came to mind, and she began to hum the dirge under her breath while she mentally bid Aphrodite to make concessions with Hades on behalf of Dinarchus in the afterlife .

They sat that way for some time, the only sounds the slight atonal humming of Merit's voice, and the songs of the birds as they flitted from tree to tree.  The servants wisely stayed away, awaiting summons before venturing into the midst of this tableau.  Eventually Methos pulled away, his eyes still dry, his face a mask of no emotion.

“I’ll go and make reply now, let them know we will participate in his funeral feast.” He stood up.

“I’ll start on the arrangements for food, offerings.”  Methos nodded vaguely to her statement.

Merit watched her companion slowly make his way inside.  In the six years she'd known him, this was the first time he'd evinced such emotional reaction to something.  It grieved her that he was so hurt.  She wished she could wipe away the pain he was feeling, the loss, but only time would be able to do that.  More than likely, given his great age, Methos had felt this way before, and would again.  Such was the lot of their long-lived lives.  Frowning deeply, she rose and went inside.

The days after hearing about Dinarchus’ death were caught up in the rituals of death, the feasting and funeral rites, the obligatory offerings and prayers bought on behalf of his afterlife.  The gods were notoriously fickle.  Even if they smiled upon one in life, they may change their minds afterward, so offerings were given to assure the gods’ favor.

When all of the routine of death was finished, Merit saw that Methos was restless, more restless than she'd ever seen  him.  One evening she confronted him after luring him into a semblance of peace in a hot bath and lying him down afterward for a massage.

His head cradled on his arms, Merit worked the fragrant oil into his skin. “Methos, I have been watching you now for three weeks.  You are not yourself.  Something is on your mind, and I would ask if you would share it with me.  It grieves me to see you so disturbed.”

He was silent for a long time, and Merit began to despair that he would just ignore her.  But finally he stirred, sitting up. Pulling her down on the couch next to him, he moved his hand on her nape, loosening her hair with his movements.  Her hair fell from it's pins in a river of dark silk, over his hand and arm.  “I wonder that you've put up with me and my temper for these past many seasons.”  His eyes were dark on hers, his tone thoughtful.

Merit smiled.  “I rather think it's more the other way around, don't you agree?  I know of no other male in Athens who would have allowed me the freedoms you have, and to have taught me - fighting skills, philosophy, rhetoric - in addition.”

That won a brief laugh from him. “On that you may be right.”  He trailed a thumb over her mouth, his gaze serious.

Merit frowned. “What is it that haunts your eyes so?”

Methos got up abruptly and strode to the courtyard arch, looking out.  “I want to go and avenge Dinarchus’ death.”  His words were low and harsh and anger-filled.  “I dream of going and finding those who killed him so dishonorably, then tearing them limb from limb.  It fills my every waking moment, and haunts me well after sleep.”

Merit sat a moment in thought, weighing the consequences of one course of action over another.  Rising, she went over to him where he stood. Wrapping her arms around his middle, she leaned into his lithe flank, resting her head on his shoulder blade.  “If that's the way you feel, Methos, then Dinarchus’ family and all Athens would honor you to do so.  Why do you hesitate?”

She felt more than heard him sigh.  “So many ghosts in my past...”

When he didn't speak any more, she moved around to his face and leaned in close.  “Methos, this will never lay to rest in you if you don't find peace.  If the shade of Dinarchus cries out to you for vengeance, then heed its cry.”  She kissed the open palm of his hand then closed his fingers over it.  “You have me. When do we depart?”

Methos looked solemnly at Merit for the longest time, then a slight smile lit his features.  “My bloodthirsty one, you make it so easy for me.”  He laughed, thinking how easy all of it suddenly was. “You want to come with me?” He narrowed his eyes, measuring her.  “It won't be easy.  The overland route is harsh and spare.”

“I’ll not stay behind, unless you refuse to take me. Then I shall stay behind and work hard at finding a new protector who provides a more amenable household.”  They both smiled at that.

Methos felt his blood quicken at the thought of the anticipated trip.  “Three days, then.  We leave in three days.”  Leaning down, he took her mouth in a savage kiss, turning her abruptly so that her back was against the wall.  His hands pulled and tugged at her tunic, pushing it down past her hips to fall at her feet.

His mouth found its way to her bared breasts, biting gently then tugging hard on her nipples, causing Merit to whimper in response, her mind whirling from the speed of his lustful response.  She felt hands grasping her bottom, lifting her up, her back scraping against the wall.  Wrapping her legs around his waist, Methos wasted no time, but found her with his fingers, tested her moisture and readiness for him, and plunged inside.  She cried out, not in pain, but from the sudden feeling of lust that shook her.  Grasping him closely, she moved on him, his hands tightening on her hips as he helped her move.  Their passion rose quickly, and she couldn't help smiling to herself, thinking they rutted like two youngsters, enamored with the delights of the flesh.  Catching her breath at the feeling of him moving within her, his groin grinding against hers, she gently bit his ear, his neck, impatient as a young animal to find her pleasure.  He sensed her impatience and moved a clever hand around to where they were joined, using his fingers to pleasure her further.  She panted in his ear and strained toward release, her voice catching on a sob as her climax finally washed over her, shaking and straining in his arms.  As she quieted, Merit felt Methos' climax erupt within her, his breath escaping in a long, shuddering moan, his hands tightening convulsively on her.  Long moments passed as they silently clutched at each other.

As they both relaxed, Merit slowly slid down the wall, her legs falling down to shakily support her.  Methos leaned in against her heavily, his head resting on her shoulder, her hair covering his face.  His breath began to slow, his mind beginning to think clearly once more.  It wasn't beyond him to realize that his lust returned triple-fold at the thought of departing Athens and taking to his old ways.  He stood still, turning that thought over and over in his mind.

Merit's voice pulled him out of his reverie.  “Are we to stand here all day, Methos? Soon you will have to hold me up, my legs will give out.  Not to mention my stomach that will soon demand food, or my bladder which will soon demand release, or my--”

He laughed in spite of himself.  “Enough!” he roared into her ear.  Pulling back from her, he slapped her sharply on her rump.  “Go, then, have Khezia prepare food.”  He felt better, more alive than he'd felt in some time.  The blood sang in his veins.  “Hurry, we have much to do to prepare for taking our leave.  I want to start preparations immediately.”  Methos had made his decision to move forward and refused to look back in pain.  Blood lust tasted sweet, he thought.  As sweet as it had previously for thousands of years. He smiled to himself grimly.  So much for change.

Seacouver, Present Day

The day was clear and Seacouver was enjoying a warming trend along with blessed relief from the seemingly omnipresent rain.  Merit was fairly dancing around the loft with suppressed energy as the two men puttered more slowly, cleaning up breakfast, doing small housekeeping chores.

Merit could only stand so much of it.  “Gentlemen, please!  Leave all this for another time.  The day awaits.  I want a guided tour of the city.”

Methos snorted.  “She never changes,” he said to Duncan.  “Never could stand to take care of the little details when the grander adventure awaits.”

“I can remember a time when you were the same way, agapemo, no matter how you fool these poor younglings.”

He shot her a narrow-eyed look, saying to the room at large, “You'll have to do without me today.  I'm going over to Joe's, help him clean up his business records, take care of a few other matters.”

“Methos, you're such a...wet blanket.”  Merit turned to Duncan and bestowed a smile on him.  “But I'm sure Duncan will oblige....yes?”

Duncan laughed, shaking his head. “Do I have a choice?”

“Isn't this who runs away as soon as I appear, and another that would like to.  Oh, Aphrodite, how times have changed!” Merit shook her head, eyeing them both.

Duncan and Merit set out later on, with Merit telling Duncan that of course she wanted to see all the famous tourist traps and places, why else tour the city?  Duncan rolled his eyes, and climbed into the car, gunning it as they took off.  First stop, he took her to Volunteer Park, lugging her up all 108 steps to the top of the old water tower for a fantastic view of the city.  While there, they visited the Seacouver Asian Art Museum, where Duncan wanted to linger over the displays, but Merit hurried him through.  From there he lugged her to Pike Place Market, and the downtown commercial section of Seacouver.  Merit was starting to flag when he took her west to the waterfront, to watch the ferryboats and the parasailers while walking along the water's edge.  He allowed her some rest while they sat and ate seafood at one of the local restaurants, then dragged her to the Seacouver Aquarium.  That engaged her, and they wandered around inside for some time.  Duncan was talking about taking the monorail to Seacouver Center and going up the Space Needle, when Merit stopped and refused to budge.

“What, you mean you've had enough of the tourist traps?  I thought that was what you wanted to see!”  he said innocently.

She rolled her eyes tiredly. “Please, in moderation. How about a nice park or something? I want to sit and relax.”

“I think we can conjure up something for you,” he grinned at her.  He took her to Washington Park Arboretum, and the Japanese Garden.  She breathed a sigh of relief at the peacefulness of the place, and they sat and rested for a time, talking desultorily, before he asked if she'd like to go for a canoe ride.  Renting a canoe at the University Boat House, he pointed out to her where he taught classes.

Wending their way slowly down the deserted and peaceful waterways, Merit and Duncan lazed back in the canoe, relaxing.  “You know you are a bad, bad boy for today. But this just might make up for it.”
Merit lazily trailed a leg over the side of the canoe.

“I only aim to please,”  he replied.  He gave another lazy swipe with the oars.  Merit had a sly, thoughtful expression on her face.  She started to shift toward him, rocking the canoe drastically.  “Oh no you don't. Not here, in the middle of a public park, in plain sight. In the middle of a damn canoe!” he finished loudly as Merit crawled over the seats toward him.

He desperately tried to maintain some balance while evading her grasp, but had to surrender to keep the boat upright.

Merit snuggled up to him, rocking the canoe further.  “I'm not going to molest you.”  She leaned back against him, enjoying the way his lazy rowing moved the muscles on his chest and torso.  The rhythmic flex-and-give was hypnotic.  “Now this is perfect.”  They drifted in silence for a while, watching the sun beginning to lower in the west in a technicolor display.

Merit broke the silence.  “I know you will laugh...but do you know what?  Other than working, this is as close to another body as I have been for two years.”  Duncan couldn't help it, a bark of disbelieving laughter broke forth before he could bite his lips.  “See? What did I say? No, it's true.  I've been on my island, in Greece, just living simply.  Did you know I am a nurse?”  At Duncan's surprised no, she smiled. “I went back to school after the last time we ran into each other.  I am a nurse-midwife and a pediatric nurse-practitioner. Strange, eh?”

As Duncan thought about it, he realized it made an odd sense.  “You went back to your old island, to care for the locals, didn't you.”

“Yes, it's very satisfying.  I can't help but think every now and then that Nahren, my adopted father, would be proud.  He was a healer in Apollo's temple, a good one. He cared about the people.  It's odd to follow in his footsteps over two thousand years later.  Oh, I still teach about the Goddess in all Her forms, but I put my travels behind me for a while....”  She sighed.  “It's nice to know how to heal, and save lives for a change. I've had so much of death.”

Duncan gave her a tight squeeze in answer.  “Tell me what are you doing here in Seacouver. Thinking of moving?”

“No, I put down roots for now, but even so, that island is only so many square kilometers big," She grimaced. "And it has only so many people on it.  One needs to see different scenery every now and then,” she acknowledged.  “I'm on a month's leave, traveling around visiting friends.  Your name came up next.”  Merit looked around at the greenery and lush spring growth.  “The one thing I miss in the islands is the green that you enjoy here.  This is beautiful.”

Duncan chuckled.  “If you like this, you should see my island.  It's secluded and fairly virgin.”

“Is it far away?” Merit asked wistfully.

“No, actually, just a few hours upriver by canoe. Why....would you like to see it?”

“It sounds wonderful.  Yes, I’d love to. Can we?” Merit twisted her head around, looking up at Duncan.

MacLeod considered the trip, the timing. “We can go tomorrow if you’d like, stay overnight.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Merit sighed.

Duncan eyed the sky.  “Come on, let's get back before it starts to get dark.”

They found Methos at the loft and coaxed him into going for Thai food in Capitol Hill.  When Methos ordered for them in fluent Thai, they both were surprised.

“When did you learn that?” Merit demanded.

“Sometime in the 15th century.  I lived in the main city of Siam, Ayutthaya, for some time.  Great place, good food,”  he gave a quirky grin.  When the waiter brought out the Miang Kam, they had to agree.  The leaf-wrapped appetizers were flavor-filled surprises. Pad Thai, wide rice noodles with vegetables and other bits and pieces was the next dish.

Methos ordered them Thai-produced beer. “Great stuff.”

Duncan rolled his eyes.  “Trust him to know what beers each and every country in the world produces.”

They had a relaxing dinner, staying late over desert and eventually going home sated.   Duncan brought up leaving tomorrow while driving home.  “Merit wanted to see the island.  I thought I’d take her tomorrow, maybe stay over for a day or so.”  He hesitated.  “Methos, I’d really like it if you joined us. You've never been to the island, either.”

Merit chimed in immediately.  “Oh, yes, do come, Methos.  Please.  We both want you there.”  She leaned over the back of the front seat, watching him.


“Good.  It's settled, then.”  Merit ended the discussion adroitly and Duncan grinned.

“You're outgunned, old man, better give in gracefully or we're going to think you don't like us.”

“Oh, heaven forbid!” Methos said sarcastically. He shook his head. “All right, I can do this. Exactly how long a trip did you say it was, Mac?”

The other two grinned, realizing that for Methos, the prospect of a few hours in a small, rocking, floating device wasn't paradise by a long shot.  “Agapemo, we'll make it up to you for your grand sacrifice, I promise.” She reached over and tweaked his nose with a knowing smile.

Methos sighed, thinking about the coming boat trip.  That he could handle.  It was the other element that bothered him.  It was obvious Merit had something in mind and he couldn't help but worry what it was.  After five thousand years, he didn't do surprises well.

He smiled to himself.  One boat. Well, he could always appropriate it if he decided not to stay.  Send someone back with another one for the other two intrepid adventurers.  The smile grew as he contemplated their expressions when they found out that the boat was gone.

It was always good to have plans.


    Live Like Horses / Elton John & Taupin

I can't control this flesh and blood / That's wrapped around my bones / It moves beneath me like a great river / Into the great unknown / I stepped onto the moving stairs / Before I could tie my shoes / Pried a harp out of the fingers of a renegade / Who lived and died the blues

And his promise made was never clear / It just carved itself into me / All I saw was frost inside my hand / On the night he said to me

Someday / We'll live like horses / Free rein / From your old iron fences / There's more way than one / To regain your senses  / Break out the stalls / And we'll live like horses

We're the victims of the heartbreak / That kept us short of breath / Trapped above these bloodless streets / Without a safety net / I stood in line to join the tribe / One more customer of fate / Claimed a spoke in the wheel of the wagon train / On the road to the golden gate

On the flat dry desert I jumped ship / It just made sense to me / I've spent too long in the belly of the beast / And now I shall be free /  Someday / We'll live like horses / Free rein / From your old iron fences / There's more ways than one / To regain your senses / Break out the stalls / And we'll live like horses

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