Author's Note: Thanks for the reviews and sorry this took so long. It was more difficult than I thought to imagine both Methos and Duncan's emotions and reactions. Tell me what you think of it.
When Duncan woke, the first thing he noticed was that he was alone in the bed. The second was that he could feel the ancient's presence nearby. He sat up quickly, looking around for the lean form.
Methos seemed unfazed by Duncan's anxious awakening. The other immortal simply flitted around the kitchen, fixing himself a cup of coffee. But the fact that Methos had awoken before him, only increased Duncan's feeling of having falling down the rabbit hole.
Trying to act normal as if Methos hadn't almost had a breakdown yesterday, Duncan slid from under the covers and, throwing on a pair of sweatpants, wandered over to get his own cup of coffee. Methos skirted around him, as if trying not to get too close.
"Did you eat?" Duncan's voice was trying for casual.
Methos just glared at him over his cup. "No."
"Methos…" Duncan was sure he had heard that same tone of voice from his father's mouth four hundred years ago.
Frustrated both with himself and with Methos, Duncan set down his own cup and moved toward the other man. He opened his arms to embrace Methos, wanting to recapture the closeness of the previous night, but the other immortal jumped back as if Duncan had been trying to attack him. The coffee spilled all over the man's chest and hands. Methos cursed and glared at Duncan as if it was his fault that Methos had freaked out.
Setting his coffee down on the coffee table, Methos yanked open a drawer in Duncan's bureau, taking a new shirt with him into the bathroom and slamming the door. Duncan stared after the man baffled. He didn't know what he had done to scare the man, but he knew that Methos didn't normally need to lock himself in the bathroom to change his shirt.
The younger immortal busied himself with cleaning up Methos's spilled coffee until the bathroom door opened again. Methos seemed pale, but wanted to pretend that nothing was wrong. He fell onto the couch, sprawling in an approximation of his usual bonelessness.
Duncan went to stand in front of the man. "Methos, what is it?"
Methos gave his most irritating and put-upon sigh. "Someone is trying to kill me. Excuse me if I'm a little antsy, this doesn't normally happen to me."
Duncan swallowed his rising frustration at the other man's tone as he sat on the couch beside the other immortal. He had to remember that Methos was scared, striking out like a cornered animal. Instead of retorting in a similar fashion, Duncan reached out a hand to stroke the exposed forearm, but Methos hissed at him, "Don't."
Duncan withdrew his arm as the other man pulled his knees up to his chest, hugging them with his arms. What had happened that Methos would deny himself the comfort of touch? He stared quizzically at the elder man.
Methos's features suddenly softened and he brought one hand up to run through his disheveled hair. Then guileless, apologetic eyes turned toward Duncan, "I'm sorry. I just feel…out of control. Things recently have reminded me of distant memories and now I'm…confused, my emotions now are mixed up with those then."
Methos eyes had filled with tears but the man was determined not to let them fall, turning his eyes upward and taking deep calming breaths, blinking them back.
"Methos, tell me. What memories?"
Methos laughed but it was a ruthless, bitter sound. "Have you ever been trained Duncan? No I suppose not. You've never had your every move controlled by someone else, been beaten, tortured, raped, starved, and isolated in order to break you, to mold you into another's vision. Where do you think I got that little trick with Cassandra?"
Methos's voice had been harsh, but Duncan had felt the pain behind the words anyway. Duncan's mind raced over all that Joe had told him, the fear, the suspense, the helplessness and the inevitability of it all. And then he thought about what Methos would have been trained for…
Duncan felt his jaw clench. He should have known, did know, it would have been impossible for Methos to make it through the last five thousand years without being enslaved. But it had been easy to forget; Methos never acted the victim, never seemed weak or to need comfort until now. He made light of any tragedies in his history. And now Duncan could see it as a smokescreen, "methinks he dost protest too much."
Giving into his own need for touch, to comfort, Duncan pulled the surprised form to himself, sliding Methos who still clutched his knees across the leather cushions as the older immortal yelped his objection. The younger man settled the vaguely struggling form between his own raised knees to face him and lifted the ancient man's jutting chin to gaze into fearful and yet obstinate hazel depths. And Methos's struggles stopped.
"But you're not there, Methos, you're here…with me. You have friends, you have choices. You could have run and left Joe to whatever fate, but you didn't. You don't face this alone. Even if you don't tell me, I'll still care, still worry about you." At that suggestion, an unexpected but sad smile crept over Duncan's face.
It was truer than Duncan had even realized. Every time Methos had gone away, Duncan had wondered and worried. At first it was just worry for the safety of the 'oldest immortal' but now it was for his friend, a man who irritated him more than any other but who also made him smile and laugh, think and question. Methos was such a strange combination of strength and fragility. He was the one person that Duncan could share his own fears with and he wanted to be that person for Methos.
They sat there and Duncan waited, rubbing his hands along Methos's back, feeling the sharp bones of the old man's spine and shoulder blades beneath the t-shirt the man had borrowed. He waited as a little of the tension bled out of the frame in front of him, Methos's head coming up from where it had rested on his knees.
Methos opened his mouth to speak, his eyes meeting Duncan's before the old man closed his mouth again, his eyes sliding away to look at the couch's leather back before starting again.
"My earliest memories are blurry as I said. I do know that I was a slave, that I had always been a slave. For who knows what length of time, I had not a thought in my head except to please my master. I had no desires for myself, did not know enough to wish for more than the life I led. I did not even know love or lust, sex was just another task that I was to perform whether it was pleasant or not. I must have been immortal for some time though I did not know it. I thought it was simply my master's will that I continue to live, but not to age."
Methos snorted as if impatient with his own stupidity. "But one day, my master tried to kill me. I knew enough to know that it would be true death and suddenly I wanted to live. So I killed him. I rather think that he was surprised."
And then Methos's eyes lifted to stare into Duncan's own again, the hazel eyes intense. "I swore I would never be a slave again. You see, I lie even to myself, Highlander. But every time after that was different. I refused to be broken again. I had a sense of self and no matter what I was forced to endure, that could not be taken away."
The eyes gone darker green with pain filled with tears again then and this time those tears poured out over porcelain cheeks, unheeded. Methos kept speaking, his voice high-pitched and distraught. "But after a couple of those quickenings…I lost…I forgot things…"
The phone rang then, startling Duncan so that he practically jumped out of his skin. He turned to look at the source of the noise, not moving yet to answer it. But when Duncan turned back, Methos had composed himself. The ancient immortal's eyes had shuttered his emotions away, the tears forgotten, drying on his cheeks.
Methos moved off the couch, turning his back on Duncan and rinsing his coffee cup as if nothing had happened again. With an irritated growl, Duncan went to answer the phone. It surprised neither man that it was Joe calling, saying that he had a lead and to pick him up at the bar immediately.
The drive over was silent. Duncan was silent because now was not the time to continue their earlier conversation, but Methos's silence was uncharacteristic. The old man generally deflected attention by talking. It was yet another indication how much this situation had gotten to the seemingly imperturbable ancient man.
Duncan thought then that that was part of the problem, he still thought of Methos as the immoveable object. He should have learned better by now, but he wasn't the only one who apparently thought that a five thousand year old man should have overcome all worldly concerns. Methos's own words showed that he didn't think that he should need anyone and perhaps thought himself unworthy of such attention.
Sometimes he thought it was more accurate to think that the man had had five thousand years to develop more hang-ups and psychoses. The world's oldest man was certainly self-sufficient but perhaps he was also afraid, taught by countless betrayals and terrible experiences not to expect kindness or tenderness. Duncan could hear Methos's sardonic voice in his head, "This one time, I stopped to help a little old lady cross the dirt path and it ended with the slaughter of everyone I loved."
When they pulled up to the bar, Joe was waiting outside and hopped into the back seat without even speaking. The mortal's first words were directions and he only began to explain where they were headed after the car was in motion again.
"So I cross-referenced all of the phone records from the challengers and there was one number in common." Joe paused, shifting on the leather seat like a guilty child before his mother. "It's a watcher. She was assigned to Neil, that long haired American punk, you killed about four months ago."
Duncan couldn't resist, throwing a questioning look over his shoulder at the watcher. "She was involved…"
"No, as far as I can tell she never met her immortal. She's stayed in Paris since it happened, spending a lot of time at library at Headquarters." Joe shook his head, fatalistically. "I have no idea how or why she's involved, but she definitely is."
Both men shot worried glances over to Methos, who simply nodded and went back to staring out the window.
Minutes later, they pulled up to a nondescript apartment building. Joe and Methos approached the door to the first floor flat with guns already drawn, leaving Duncan to knock. When the door, opened, Duncan sprang into action. He gripped the woman's hand that held the door and jerked it behind her back, turning her in the process. He walked her back into the living room.
"Is there anyone else here?"
"No. I'm alone." Her voice was breathless but not overly fearful.
Duncan threw her onto the couch, taking his first good look at her. He could hear the click of the door being locked behind them. The woman was as ordinary as the building. She had brown shoulder-length hair, medium build, bright brown eyes. The only thing that Duncan thought was, why?
The woman's reaction was completely unexpected though. She laughed. Duncan stared astounded, barely noticing as Joe joined him in front of the couch. Methos stayed in the doorway, his gun lowered at his side.
"What in the hell did you think you were doing?" Joe said what they were all thinking.
The laughter stopped abruptly. "Methos has been hiding in the Watchers, Joe. Adam Pierson wasn't a big deal, no one expected him to last very long, but Methos. It's enough to decide the game!"
Joe rubbed a hand over his face. "Why don't you start at the beginning. How did you find out it was Methos?"
The woman glared reproachfully at Joe. "After my immortal lost to MacLeod, I had a little time on my hands. The watchers at headquarters were all atwitter about the great Highlander, how he was going to be the one, so I did a little research. Imagine my surprise how often researcher Adam Pierson was listed." The fake surprise on her expressive face made Duncan want to smack her.
She shrugged. "I was curious, so I bought some audio-video equipment." Duncan's jaw dropped again. How many places had she bugged? The barge, the bar, Joe's house obviously. And the woman was not the least bit apologetic it seemed.
"Why?" Duncan choked out.
Her reaction was positively apoplectic. "Because he lied! And cheated! He wasn't fit to be the one. You wouldn't kill him and I doubted the Watchers would now!" It was the first time that she had actually looked at Duncan.
Duncan felt sick, another watcher interfering in the Game. How dare she condemn Methos, she didn't even know him. He almost groaned at the irony of his own thoughts.
Methos walked over to stand beside the arm of the couch. When he spoke the woman had to turn her head to look at him. "I want you out of Paris and out of the Watchers."
"Fine," she spat. "But I already sent the tapes to headquarters. They know who you are now."
Methos simply nodded and led the way outside, trailing the other two men in his wake.
Joe kept up a constant chatter on the ride back, saying how he would make sure she left and that the Watcher organization had changed, that he would make sure of it. Duncan just barely managed to keep from laughing in the man's face.
After dropping Joe back at the bar, the silence became deafening. Methos seemed too casual, as if this didn't even involve him. It was unnerving and the guilt ate at Duncan. He was certain that he was the one who had said Methos's name aloud. But more than that, he had judged Methos just as that woman had.
And now Methos would have to leave, hide himself away because now they knew what he looked like. Duncan was surprised the older immortal hadn't insisted on being taken back to his own apartment to pack. But at the barge, Methos simply sauntered inside as if nothing had happened. Duncan followed as Methos went into the kitchen, no doubt for a beer.
He couldn't take it anymore. Turning the other man with a hand on his shoulder, Duncan pulled an unresisting Methos into a hug.
"Methos, I'm sorry. I know you'll have to disappear now and I know that it's my fault, I wouldn't blame you if you never wanted to see me again for what's happened, but if you do…you can always come to me, always return. Please come back, I don't care how long it takes."
Methos interrupted, bringing his own hands up to push Duncan away so that they could look each other in the eye. "Duncan, the Watchers were bound to find out. I haven't exactly been discrete since meeting you. Joe could only cover up so much."
Methos laughed then, light and only slightly pained, "All this because of that little girl? She must have contacted every headhunter on the continent and they were probably only too willing to take a chance on an anonymous tip on the whereabouts of the mythical Methos." He hung his head still smiling a little and shook his head.
Duncan lifted the other immortal's face back up with his fingers. He kissed Methos lightly at first, tenderly. But it only last a moment before Methos pulled away. With his eyes still closed he spoke the words that the younger immortal knew he would say. "Duncan don't."
Without moving any further away, Duncan spoke, his lips practically brushing the other man's. "Why not?"
He pulled back so that he could look into now open and exposed hazel eyes. "You think this is just lust, that I couldn't possibly care for someone like you." His answer was apparent in the stiffening of Methos's body in his arms and the way his eyes suddenly turned toward the floor. "Then what is this feeling? Why have I spent the last two years tracking your movements with my eyes, watching you and wanting you? Why do you fit so easily into my life, waltzing in like you belonged there? Why do I feel your absence keenly, why did I feel betrayed when your past came out?" The last was said quietly.
"I'm sorry for how I've acted. You didn't do anything wrong, God knows what Koren would have done with the virus without you in his camp. I should have trusted you." Duncan kissed Methos again, trying to convey all of his feelings into the simple touch. Then he stepped back. Only a small bit of space but he wanted Methos to be free to make the choice, Duncan didn't want to seduce the other man into something Methos would regret.
And Methos chose. Long arms slid around his waist and Duncan was sure Methos could feel his smile as their lips met again.
A week later found them back at the bar, Methos grumbling under his breath and Duncan trailing behind, smirking. Joe himself couldn't help laughing as he slid a beer bottle in front of the ancient man's usual bar stool.
"They still following you?"
"Yes," Methos answered with a grimace. "Can't you dooo something?"
Joe chuckled at the childish whine about the half dozen watchers that had been following the old man. "Unfortunately I understand them too much, buddy. The mythical Methos, oldest man in the world, among them this whole time and as Adam Pierson, a regular guy, nice, hard-working. They all want a glimpse. It gives them hope, reminds them why they became watchers in the first place. Five thousand years of walking human history, change and adaptation who's still able to gossip around the water cooler as if there was nothing more important to do. You know there's talk about officially meeting with you, inviting you to talk about both you chronicles and being an immortal."
Methos snorted into his beer. "I'm not a pet immortal, Joe." With that comment, the lanky form slunk away to a table near the stage.
Duncan leaned his elbows on the bar, smiling genuinely for what seemed the first time in months. "You know, I think he should be the one."
Joe's face showed nothing of surprise, just amusement as if the Highlander had finally figured out something obvious. So Duncan continued, "I mean, he understands humans, is involved in their concerns and yet he has the wisdom to accept the things he cannot change. The human race doesn't need a hero, someone butting in all the time, making things worse. They need a plan, long-term solutions for the future on their terms."
The Highlander stared at the glass of Scotch Joe put in front of him. There would always be random violence but Duncan though Methos would be able to see the big picture. Methos would see not only the causes of suffering: diseases, violence, malnourishment, but also the root causes. Methos was great at understanding cultures, he could work with communities to solve their own problems. Maybe he could convince Methos to work for the UN in his next persona.
Duncan's thoughts scattered as Methos approached again, setting down his empty beer bottle and looking expectantly at Joe for another. As the barman set down the new bottle, he also set down a zip drive.
"I think this belongs to you, and no, I didn't read it."
Methos picked it up, looking at it as if considering. Then he simply put it back down. "Keep them." Methos's voice is nonchalant though they all knew the decision hadn't been made lightly. "But if you share them with the Watchers I'll have your head." Methos's smile belied the harsh words, it said instead, thank you for everything.