Duncan fought bravely every day. There was a need for warriors, for men of courage and blade, and Duncan couldn't walk away from that. He had an unfair advantage, but these days, no one was in any position to complain if one of their fighter could keep fighting after they died. Even those who thought he might be a demon didn't much care; Duncan won battles, and that was that.
He would stay on the front as long as he could, until something called him away, until he had too much of it, the grime and death wearing him down until he felt his strength collapse, until he could barely cling to his resolve to pretend to have hope. When this happened -- when he had no choice but to leave the front or try and take his own head -- he snuck into the monastery where Methos was waiting out the war.
He would come at night, always, and Methos would draw his sword from his robes until he saw Mac's face or heard his voice. Mac would always wait a second longer than he should to speak, as if he were waiting for the day Methos might take him.
Duncan would never sleep there. That level of protection wasn't reserved for warriors who snuck in for pleasure and comfort before returning to the front. And Duncan always went back, usually before anyone could notice he was gone. But for a night, he was able to find solace, to have a body with no blood on it, a bed with no dirt and no scent of gunpowder.
For a night, he could have a man who knew him inside and out.
It would always begin so gently, with Duncan closing his eyes and inhaling the sweetness of Methos's scent, with hands slow and filmy across smooth swaths of skin. But somehow - and it was surely something Methos did, Duncan thought - it would become hard, it would become rough and sharp and panting, with Duncan thrusting into him with abandon, as if this were their last night, as if they were enemies instead of each other's oldest friend. Grunts and breathing hard, fingers pressing bruises into Methos' hips that healed in time for Duncan to make more. Bodies straggling around the room as they changed position, Methos ordering "the desk" and Duncan obligingly slamming him down, bending him over the hard wooden plane.
And after, before Duncan left, they were quiet. Duncan would tell him what he had seen, what he had done. How horrified he was. And then he would express surprise -- half relief and half dismay -- that after everything, he could still be horrified. And Methos would listen, patient with the young man. Duncan knew Methos could offer kindness but not empathy; Methos was past horror, and they both knew it.
They also both knew that no amount of despair or hope for their side would make Methos reconsider sitting this battle out. To Methos, the end of the world was just another thing he had to endure. To him, the whole thing was tedious; Methos refused to admit anything more.
Duncan, somehow, found more comfort in this than if Methos had been tempted to join the fight. Perhaps he was secretly glad that Methos was sitting it out, that it gave Duncan someone to retreat to. Maybe he was just past judging Methos; maybe he finally understood and accepted who Methos was.
Maybe it was precisely because Methos was entirely uninterested in playing the hero. Heroes, these days had little time to ponder their reasons. They killed and died and that was it. Duncan still remembered when he believed in the code of heroes, in a warrior's inherent honor. But he couldn't see it these days. Not in the world, and usually, not even in himself.
And so maybe, after all this time, after all this blood, Duncan needed this: to be with someone who didn't give a shit about heroism - his own, Duncan's, or anyone else's.
Duncan never tells Methos this. He thinks that if Methos knew this about him, he wouldn't want Duncan to come back.
Methos always welcomed Duncan with open arms.
He barely even looked like Duncan any more, some nights. Eyes ragged, sick with exhaustion and despair and seeing (doing) too many unthinkable things.
Methos was relatively content here. Studying ancient texts (not ancient really, but the others seemed to fancy a few thousand years to be ancient). He wasn't sure if he had it in him to care about how the war turned out; he wasn't sure if that was a bad thing, either. He didn't need to feel that burn of passionate hate (or passionate nobility) that drove people to fight. He was supicious of that desire, in fact.
And yet, somehow, even with all his skepticism, his knowing mockery of the souls of fighter.... somehow, after all these years, he still can't turn away a warrior.
It was like this even in his human days. And then for so many centuries with Kronos, it was the same thing. He had never been able to say no to a man freshly gleaming from battle. It was something about the image, Methos supposed: a man, sword in hand, desperate to drop it, wanting his hurts soothed or his kills praised -- it made no difference.
A man covered in streaks red and dried black, a man who doesn't even know the names of those who bled to decorate him.
He has never been able to turn away from this. From the idea of it, yes, from his own role in such matters. But the man of war standing before him, sweating death and need.
He hasn't a no to give.
Methos never tells Duncan this -- that the Boy Scout is no Boy Scout, and that's why Methos can never turn him away, even as he sees that it hurts Duncan to be here. He can tell it is making Duncan more cynical, more hopeless, every time he comes here, thinking he will have comfort. Every time he visits Methos, Duncan wonders if being a warrior means anything at all -- Methos can see the doubt on his face as he finds peace in the comfort of the retreat, as he finds joy in lust and decadence instead of honor and truth. Methos can see that Duncan does not wear doubt well -- Duncan wouldn't know who he is if he weren't a warrior, if he weren't a McLeod.
Methos sees this, sees that he is not helping Duncan. But Duncan shows up, and he is in pieces, he smells of iron and destruction and newly made ruins, and Methos can't say no. Even in his retreat among his robes and soft sheets and brittle ancient pages, even in his wise old years devoted to peace and waiting, Methos can't say no.
Against his will, he misses the taste.