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Nothing Quite As Real

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Things do change so quickly. Twenty-six hours ago, I was drinking to settle my nerves at Joe's, on the brink of something that promised to be magnificent, or disastrous, or disastrously magnificent. Now I count myself lucky that I made it back to my flat with all my parts attached; any prospects beyond simple, stark survival are looking bleak. My forebrain keeps insisting that I need to plan my next move, but I'm in such bad shape I couldn't plan a panty raid right now. Decisions are going to have to wait for a few more hours, at least. What my backbrain wants is best left unconsidered.

When I feel MacLeod's presence moving up the hallway stairs, I come very close to ducking down the fire escape. Of all the things I'm not prepared to face, first and foremost is Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. But I'm barely able to walk and I know MacLeod would give chase. God forbid that he should ever make my life easy.

Even a single Quickening takes time to settle, much less two piled atop each other. I'm not sure how much of the aggression burning in my gut is theirs and how much mine. The self-loathing, I'm pretty sure is mine. The cruelty's a toss-up. My right hand tightens around the hilt of the Ivanhoe, laid flat across my lap and streaked with blood I haven't had the energy to remove. The left curls around my whiskey glass. My hands don't shake if they're filled with something. As much.

MacLeod knocks. Of course he does. I ignore him, drain my glass and repour it full. The bottle rattles against the rim and it takes every ounce of will I have not to throw it across the room. Even jacked up on two Quickenings, I have enough sense to refrain from self-defeating gestures. MacLeod knocks again, more insistently. Bloody hell, why won't he just go away?

"Adam!" he shouts. "Open the door! I know you're in there."

"Ah, the famous MacLeod wit," I call back poisonously. "Worked that out by yourself, did you?"

"Adam, don't do this, not shouting in the hallway like this. Let me in!"

"What part of go away evades your miniscule understanding?" At least he's not screeching Methos! at the top of his lungs. Undoubtedly that will be next. It occurs to me that pouring the whiskey in the glass is an unnecessary step. I take a pull directly from the bottle. Aha! Trembling problem solved.

"So help me, Adam, I'll break this door down if I have to!"

At this point, I'm certain that MacLeod is coming in one way or another. He's stubbornly determined, I recognize the signs, and antagonizing him won't discourage him. But I've got all this anger roiling around in me. All I needed was a few more hours to get it together. A few hours to catch my balance and shove all my rotten habits back into the cages they escaped from. By morning I could have faced MacLeod like a civilized person and perhaps salvaged something of our friendship, or at least made a run for it before any further damage was inflicted. But no, he has to hound me. He wants in, so by God he's coming in and to hell with anybody else's feelings about it. I curse him. At volume and in a variety of languages, eventually settling down to a fairly creditable and lengthy slur on his parentage, honour and intelligence in a Scots Gaelic that isn't quite as rusty as I thought.

He tries twice to kick the door in with no success. One of my most deeply held beliefs is that good locks are a sound investment. I don't bother to get up, just sit there on my sofa drinking and cursing, idly hoping that the neighbors will call les gendarmes. That would be amusing. Imagining MacLeod being led away in handcuffs leads to thoughts of MacLeod handcuffed to my bed. Or maybe the kitchen table, since I'm in an ungentle mood. On second thought, the table would be too good for him. And the neighbors are all decrepit and as deaf as posts; I could have a squadron of Highlanders in here singing the Marseilles while doing the Highland Fling and they'd never notice. I'm on my own.

On the third attempt MacLeod finally bursts into the room, splinters from the door frame flying. "I've been worried sick!" he bellows. "I've been trying to reach you all day -" he breaks off and looks me over. "Christ Jesus, Methos, what happened to you?"

My coat's torn and soaked in blood, a total loss - has probably ruined my sofa too, in fact, but I'm too tired and angry to care. Also ruined: my favorite black sweater, pierced through with at least two mortal wounds, and my good black jeans, which now have both knees torn out. In addition to being helplessly furious, I feel like I've been dragged face first over forty miles of broken glass. I probably look worse than I feel.

I hold my hands out to my sides and fix MacLeod with a sarcastic look, as if to say what do you think happened, dipshit?

"Who?" he asks.

"Ivor Stellansgard, he called himself, out for baby's first Quickening. Apparently he mistook me for an easy mark but he was no problem. It was his teacher who posed the real challenge, only because I was occupied with absorbing Stellansgard's Quickening at the time."

"Jesus, Methos."

"Quite a workout all told. Lucky for me, the alley was secluded; I was lying there dead next to the bodies for a couple of hours before I came to. Yes, I called Joe, who called Watcher janitorial. I asked him to attribute the kills to you since two Quickenings in one night is rather a lot to expect of Adam Pierson. I'd say I hope you don't mind, but in fact I don't give a shit if you do or not. No, I don't need anything else, thanks for asking. Now kindly fuck off back to Amanda and leave me the fuck alone."

MacLeod sits down next to me, heedless of the sticky mess seeping off my clothes. "Are you always this foul after a Quickening and I just never noticed?"

Memories of some of the things I've done after Quickenings roll over me. "Oh, MacLeod, I'm just getting started." I begin to laugh, a bitter, humourless sound. Some distant part of me is appalled when it takes me far too long to stop.

"Come on, let's get you out of these clothes." He touches my shoulder to start pulling off my coat and the Ivanhoe is at his throat before I realize that I've moved.

"Don't touch me," I hiss. He goes still at the touch of my blade on his neck and fury twists into a painful, rancorous arousal. I lower the Ivanhoe and carefully direct my eyes to the floor, far from the arresting image of a MacLeod rendered passive by my sword. "Just go, Mac. I don't have the stomach tonight for your guilt complex. Go!"

He scoots back about eight inches but doesn't stand up. I hate him.

"I won't touch you, if that's what you want," he says, "but I'm not leaving you here by yourself in this state."

I want him. I loathe him. The memory of him pulling Amanda into his arms burns behind my eyes. The savagery I've been struggling to contain since I woke up in that alley overwhelms me. The Ivanhoe is through MacLeod's heart before he can blink.

"Stupid, trusting boy," I growl as I pull the sword out of him. He falls back onto the sofa, dead. Blood spurts over the already-ruined upholstery and onto the floor. It smells good, like mayhem, like freedom. I take a couple of deep breaths and gather together what threads of control I can find. I stumble toward the bathroom in a haze, bloody Ivanhoe still in hand. What was that I was saying about self-defeating gestures?

Next thing I know, I'm sitting on the floor of the shower, fully clothed, with water spraying into my face. My first thought is that I'll have to be sure to oil the Ivanhoe but at least the water's getting the blood off. I choke on my laughter. "I am so fucked up." I startle myself with the sound of my own voice.

"Truer words were never spoken," MacLeod says from the doorway of the bathroom. He coughs, wet and bloody, and wipes his mouth with his sleeve. "It's not polite to kill your friends, Methos. You owe me a sweater."

I've killed too many friends - permanently - and so has he, but it seems unwise to mention that now and for once I hold my vicious tongue. I'm surprised he's not angrier with me. If he had any sense he'd be frightened enough to go away, but of course, he's still here. That isn't a surprise. Instead, he stands in my doorway, looking far more concerned than any sane person should about someone who just killed him. His skin is still a little pale from blood loss. His favorite off-white cableknit is soaked in blood.

"It's been a bad night for favorite sweaters," I mutter.

"That it has." He gives me a smile far more complicated than his usual, both fond and wary, a kind of gentle, worried exasperation. "Methos, did you know that showering is more effective without clothes? Maybe you should try it. And maybe some hot water in with the cold? You're shivering."

All sensible suggestions, I realize. Running him through seems to have siphoned off a good bit of the aggression. I'm not sure I'm capable of unfolding myself from my position on the tile, though, certainly not gracefully enough that I want to do it in front of MacLeod.

"I'm sorry I killed you," I say without looking at him. "I've told you before you shouldn't trust me."

"God, don't start with that again. You can't get up, can you?"

"Can't is such a harsh word." I don't move. "Perhaps if you just turned the water off for me . . ."

He inches into the bathroom. "Hand me your sword, and I'll be happy to help however you'll let me."

I withhold a nasty comment about horses and barn doors, but can't repress a smirk at his belated caution. I hold the Ivanhoe out to him, hilt first, and he takes it from me, leaning it against the doorframe with the point stuck in the bedroom carpet. He steps into the bathroom and then stops with a thoughtful frown. "Back-up weapons?"

"There's hope for you yet, Highlander." With what feels like the last of my energy, I dig out my extra weapons one by one and toss them onto the floor between us. When I'm finished, the pile includes the short dagger that I keep at my back, the long dagger from the lining of my coat, my Sig and a can of pepper spray. Both the daggers need cleaning. He looks amused by the arsenal but gathers everything up without comment and takes it into the other room.

When he comes back he turns the water off, careful not to touch me or even invade my personal space more than absolutely necessary. It should be funny, but it only strikes me as horribly sad. One more cock-up between us in a long history of them. Another twenty-four hours chock full of events which will drive us further apart. I shiver harder.

MacLeod hovers, clearly torn between a mother-hen urge to get me out of the wet clothes and the fear that I'll lose it again if he gets too close. I rouse myself for a sure-to-be-embarrassing attempt at getting up. It's over before it's begun; my legs won't hold me.

"Let me help," he says, practically vibrating with frustration. "Just to keep your balance, you touch me, I won't touch you."

He stands next to the shower door, arm held low for me to grasp and pull myself up. With the help, I manage to get to my feet and end leaning against the shower wall, gasping for air like an old man. The irony doesn't escape me. MacLeod keeps his hands to himself but doesn't back away.

"Are you feeling better?" he asks. "Emotionally, I mean? More yourself?" He blushes, suddenly awkward and boyish. I start chuckling.

"I think we've been over what's me and what isn't. Killing you seems to have put a lid on the post-Quickening aggression, anyway. I could probably tolerate having you help with getting me out of these clothes, just . . ."

"Don't touch you too much. I understand. Let's start with the coat, okay?"

I nod and he begins to gently peel the wet wool down my arms, carefully handling the fabric and avoiding putting his hands on my flesh.

"This was a bad one, huh? I don't think I've ever heard of someone taking a head while in the midst of a Quickening. I can't imagine what that would be like."

"I've had more enjoyable experiences."

"Methos, Master of Understatement. Are you always this tightly wound after a Quickening? Is that why you tried to get out of the Game?"

"The Game is an idiotic waste of time and life," I mutter.

"True enough, but that doesn't answer the question." He's gotten the coat off me now, and tosses it onto the floor. He takes hold of the hem of the sweater, but he's too close and it seems too intimate, a horrible parody of what I've so often imagined. I jerk away from him.

"It's ruined anyway. Just cut it off."

"Okay. Be right back." He ducks back into the bedroom, leaving me clinging to the shower door, and returns not with one of my knives, as I expected, but with a pair of scissors. I laugh and he gives me an embarrassed shrug. "Seemed safer. Less likely to have bad connotations."

He's right, actually, and a flood of affection overwhelms me. Oh, God, stage two of the post-Quickening temperament makes its appearance: emotional instability. I really hate this part. Though making a fool of oneself in front of one's friends is better than killing them. I think.

"I'm gonna start at the collar and cut down," he warns me before beginning. "Do you think you might answer my question? You don't have to, of course, but I'm curious."

The rush of affection dies a swift death. MacLeod really is like a terrier with a dead rat. "Most Quickenings are just a drop in a very large bucket," I answer, stifling a sigh. "It's only the big ones that give me any problems. I was fucked up for days after Bordeaux. This one's starting to settle already; if I hadn't taken them both at once, it would have been fine." A few wanks in the shower, a drink or two, and I should have been over it. And if Mac had just left me alone tonight, I could have ridden even this mess out with no one else the wiser. But the thought only brasses me off, so I let it go.

"Then why do you avoid taking Quickenings like the plague?" He's cut the sweater off now and he's working on the black t-shirt underneath. I stand there motionless and curse his fucking tenacity. But he's got this thing lately about wanting me to disclose, and I did kill him less than an hour ago. I feel like I owe him for that at least, even with the whole Amanda debacle.

"This conversation is going nowhere pleasant." A half-hearted attempt at deflection, to be sure.

"And the evening's been so charming until now," he shoots back with a trace of a smile. And then more seriously, "I'd like to know, if you'll tell me."

There's nothing to do but accept the fact that I'm doomed. "Because when I fight, the behaviours of Death become too easy. It's hard to pull myself out of those habits once I get started." He's finished with the t-shirt and just standing there too close, listening to me. I pull away from him. "That's what happened tonight, okay? You want disclosure, there it is. I could have let the kid go with a warning. You would have. But I was already angry. I hadn't slept, I'd barely eaten, and the last thing I needed was a fucking challenge from some arrogant child fresh off his first death. My blood got boiling and I wanted to kill him. I enjoyed killing him. And what's worse, MacLeod, is I enjoyed killing you even more. There's your truth. Don't let the remains of the front door hit you on the way out."

His only reaction is an arched brow. "Six months, remember? It wouldn't be fair to hold you to a promise I wouldn't keep myself. So as much as I might like to, I don't get to storm off in a righteous snit for another five months. I hope you're not disappointed."

"After last night, all promises are null and void."

"Is that what the blade through the heart was about? You're jealous of Amanda?"

"The blade through the heart was because when I actually want you to go away, you NEVER will! But you made your choice clear enough, MacLeod."

"My choice was to send Amanda to a hotel and spend the next twenty hours leaving frantic messages on your answering machine at fifteen minute intervals."

Oh. "Oh," I say, cleverly. There's a moment of awkward silence while my brain tries to reboot repeatedly and begins to overheat.

MacLeod smiles sweetly. "Can I help you with your shoes?"

"Yes, shoes, right," I mutter, but I'm distracted and soon forget what I'm supposed to be doing. Very seldom have my assumptions proved to be so spectacularly wrong. I'm not sure what to do about it, but it does seem that Fate has granted a last chance to rethink. My hormones had me sailing blithely into this relationship with barely a second thought. Perhaps it was my good fortune that something happened to sober me up.

Mac bends down and unties the laces of my sturdy Doc loafers and I gather enough attention to obediently toe them off. He peels off the socks as I lift each foot like a patient horse being shod, leaving only the ripped jeans left to deal with. He stands and gives me another smile, this one a bit more brilliant and a bit more wicked.

"Well, here's the awkward part. How do you want to proceed?"

Now there's a loaded question. But I'm feeling equal neither to addressing our relationship nor to inventing a witty double entendre so I just stick to practicalities. As much as I'd like to maintain my dignity by asking him to leave, I'm fairly sure I'd just end up in a heap on the shower floor again. "I think I can manage the trousers if you'll help me keep my balance."

He holds his arm out again for me to grab if I need to, and I exert every particle of will not to think about the fact that I'm about to be very naked and very unsteady in front of Duncan MacLeod. I keep my eyes on the tile as I unbutton and unzip.

"So where did you go?" he asks. "After you left my place, before the fight."

I sigh. "To my office, and then to the library's research collection once it opened." Where I mostly stared at the walls, vacillating between deciding to pack up and thinking that I wasn't going to allow one selfish Scottish bastard keep me from sticking around for Joe's last years - a bit of intelligence that I won't be disclosing. I hold my breath and take the plunge, pushing my jeans and my boxers over my Quickening-fuelled erection and down to my ankles. But when I start to step out of them, I get caught on the rips in the knees, tilt over and end up leaning against MacLeod's side. He's careful not to touch me, but holds very still until I untangle myself. Finally, I'm unclothed, cock bobbing, and he tosses the jeans onto the pile of clothes on the floor. I don't look him in the face and he keeps "making polite conversation", which I've come to believe is a Highland euphemism for "asking invasive questions".

"You were at the library all day, then?" He angles the showerhead away from me and starts the water, allowing it to heat up.

"Until about noon. Then to a park with my books, then a different park, and then to the fencing club where I practice. Then homeward, via an ugly death in an alley." I'm too distracted to snap that one Watcher is enough, or even manufacture some concealing lie. Unable to stand is bad enough, but being unable to lie is sure evidence that I'm horribly off my game.

"Clean off the gore," he says, "and I'll run you a bath to soak in. You're practically hypothermic."

He adjusts the now-hot spray so it falls directly onto me and modestly closes the shower door. I allow the shower wall to take most of my weight and concentrate on the feeling of the heat soaking into my chilled skin until everything else is crowded out.

After a minute or two, I remember that I'm supposed to be soaping off. I manage to stay more or less upright for the process. My PQE as Richie used to say - Post-Quickening Erection - begins demanding attention once I warm up but Duncan's standing just on the other side of the shower door. Having him taking off my sweater was too intimate; a wank with him right there is unthinkable. So I resolutely ignore it, though that doesn't seem to discourage it much.

I finish rinsing and turn the water off. I'm beginning to feel a bit steadier now. Mac smiles at me when I open the shower door, and it cheers me that his smile is slightly more lecherous than kindly and concerned. I may be uncertain of what I want from him, but I am sure that pity will never be a part of it. He helps me into the tub and begins running hot water into it as I sit there. Got to love the endless hot water of European water heaters.

"Well," Mac says with blushing, too-hearty cheerfulness, "I'll just give you some privacy then. Just, um, shout if you need anything." He throws me a look mixed of wistfulness and lust before grabbing the pile of clothes and closing the bathroom door behind him.

I lay back, luxuriating in the hot water until the tub is full, turning the taps off with my toes. Only then do I set to the PQE, my initial lazy pace quickly overwhelmed by post-Quickening urgency. The first run hardly makes a dent and I have to go for an immediate encore, visions of Mac's last, complicated smile spurring me on to a second finish.

For some reason, this triggers a memory of Kronos, of a bout of post-Quickening sex that was hours-long and shifted from brutal to gentle, as sex with Kronos sometimes did. For all that he was indescribably monomaniacal, he was also capable of true tenderness, particularly with me. Our relationship had so many layers it's difficult even for me to hold all of it in my head at once. Generally, I prefer not to think of him at all, though for a change my remembrances aren't unpleasant and I drift off to sleep with my head propped against the tub edge, still in the throes of memory.

I wake to a knock at the bathroom door - Mac announcing himself as he arrives with a tray full of food. I shake off the last wisps of sleep and history as Mac lowers himself to kneel next to the tub with practiced grace, causing not so much as a bobble of an apple slice. He sets the tray on the wide bathtub lip, not between us but on the other side of him, toward the taps.

"There wasn't a lot to work with," he says. The tray is loaded with two cold sandwiches, a couple of sliced-up apples, one small glass of orange juice, two large glasses of water, and three chocolate biscuits. "I thought you didn't have to live like a grad student any more."

"Couldn't be bothered to go to the market," I answer with a yawn. "Grad students don't have a monopoly on sloth."

"Lucky for you. Here." He lifts a slice of apple to my lips. I quirk an eyebrow at him but he just looks at me, steady and challenging. Wondering just how far he'll take it, I open my mouth to accept the apple like a penitent taking communion. It's delicious. If one weren't an ancient, hard-hearted cynic, one might say the fruit is all the sweeter for having come directly from Duncan MacLeod's hand.

I close my eyes to focus my enjoyment. When I open them, he's looking at me much in the way I've seen him look at an over-priced antique, or a luxury sports cars - covetous. I take another slice of apple from him, licking the tip of his finger as I pull back. His eyes flutter closed for a moment and if I hadn't just burned off two orgasms worth of sexual energy, I'd be having him on the bathroom floor regardless of his preferences on the matter. As it is, my control is seriously strained; I'm hard again and suddenly, irrationally furious with him for playing games.

"So is this another patented MacLeod Standard Move? What are we doing here?"

Even Mac can't be oblivious to the edge in my voice, but he just chuckles. "There's nothing about this or you that's remotely standard. As to what we're doing, I'm sure you have a theory you'll be sharing soon."

"Have some kind of a slave-boy fantasy, do you?"

"I'm game for nearly anything once," he shoots back, "but mostly I thought you needed to eat and you looked too exhausted to feed yourself. It was an impulse, Methos, that's all."

"Seems like you've been following your impulses a lot lately."

"And that's a bad thing?"

I roll my eyes. "Right, as though I haven't nagged you a hundred times about your recklessness. You won't distract me by luring me into a lecture, Mac."

"A lecture wasn't the distraction I had in mind."

"You just can't help pushing, can you? Regardless of what anyone else thinks or wants, you just keep pushing until something gives way."

He looks horrified and sits back on his heels. "I'm sorry, I . . . Last night. It seemed like this was what you wanted."

"It was. I did. But it's been a long twenty-six hours. I need time to reevaluate."

Ah, no, not the sad MacLeod puppy-dog eyes. My anger sags and I turn sideways in the tub to face him. Why couldn't we do this some other time, preferably when I was well-rested, dry, and clothed? Because it's Duncan MacLeod, of course. Fuck.

"Mac," I say gently. "Duncan. When it comes to relationships, I can't do half measures. With mortals, that's fine, there's a natural limit. But with one of us . . . it's too much, there are too many complications. I don't do relationships with Immortals."

"But that's not strictly true, now is it?" He glares at me and sits back to pull himself into a half-lotus, settling in for a long stay. "I know you've made at least two exceptions to that rule."

"I cared for Byron but he was only a playmate. As for Kronos, look how well that turned out. I'm not saying I've changed my mind; I just need more time. I don't want to rush into anything."

He shakes his head. "You're not rushing, you're stalling. Last night frightened you and you're on the verge of bolting. You're just buying time to decide where you're going to go."

And with that, my anger comes roaring back. "Can you blame me?" I shout, tossing my hands in the air and splashing water all over the bathroom like an idiot. "Do you need to hear the options, MacLeod? One, I lose my head to one of your swarm of challengers. Two, you lose your head and I have to watch. Three, we both survive until we have to face each other at the Gathering. The best case scenario is a messy break-up. This is not my idea of a good time."

"Then why haven't you left already? Why did you come to dinner last night? Why did you ever agree to stay six months?"

"Looked in a mirror lately?"

He smirks and wipes a few drops of water off his forehead. "Flattering but I don't buy it."

"If you have a better theory, let's hear it, by all means."

"You haven't left because there's no point. If you were as careful as you claim, you'd have disappeared the moment you heard that Kalas was out for your head. But we've been through dozens of crises together and you never leave. No matter how you bitch and moan and threaten, you never leave. And that's been true for a long time, long before we started this. Do you honestly expect me to believe that if someone took my head now, the fact that we haven't slept together would keep you from being upset? That you wouldn't be bothered if I fell in love with someone else? Look at how you reacted to Amanda. It's too late, Methos. Your heart's already committed whether you like it or not."

"There's committed and there's committed," I counter and he snorts a laugh.

"Now you're talking nonsense."

"Committed is a thousand years of bloodshed because I can't imagine living without someone!" My voice cracks and rings against the bathroom tiling. I sound small and pathetic, and I hate it, but I can't seem to make it stop. "I can't do that again, MacLeod. I thought I could, but no. Everything intertwining, belonging to someone, with someone, so irrevocably. . ."

He sits up then, leans close to the tub edge. "But Methos, don't you see? We're intertwined already."

He kisses me. It's nothing like being possessed by Kronos, and yet it feels so familiar. He's gentle and demanding at the same time, debating my ownership with his tongue instead of insisting on it, but forcefully enough that the blaze only Kronos could ignite flares in my belly and begins burning through me. But he stops before I'm completely consumed, leaving me gasping.

"You are such an utter bastard," I mutter breathlessly.

He chuckles. "Do you really want to give this up? When you could have someone you don't have to lie to? Someone you don't have to protect? Somewhere you belong? Methos, aren't you tired of being alone?" He kisses me again, softly, tenderly this time, a taste like a sweet promise that no one will ever hurt me again - an utter novelty. "You'll need some clothes," he says when he breaks the kiss. "Eat a sandwich while I'm gone, okay?" And with that, he leaves me alone with my thoughts.

Tired of being alone? God help me, yes. More weary than he can possibly imagine. I know it's all an illusion; I've seen enough death to realize that in the end, everyone is alone. But I miss having a partner, brother, lover. What if I could have all of that without the price of being a Horseman? It's unbearably seductive, and if Kronos had tried this tactic instead of insisting on Horsemen II: The Redundancy, I might have gone with him, sparing only a moment's hesitation for Duncan MacLeod and what might have been.

Duncan is everything Kronos wasn't: noble, self-sacrificing, principled, chivalrous, compassionate. He's also a lot of what Kronos was: stubborn, capable, ferocious, judgmental, quick-tempered, commanding, short-sighted, passionate, beautiful.

When I first said yes to Kronos, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I wasn't very focused on the future at that point, true, but in my wildest imaginings I couldn't have predicted what we would become to each other, how he would bind me to him with blood and breath and cruelty and loyalty and love until it all seemed of a piece, until he and I seemed to be one piece. I stepped off that cliff in perfect ignorance, though if I'd known I still might have gone with him. I craved what Kronos offered.

I'm standing on the brink of another such precipice, different but no less deep, and this time I have an inkling of what I'm doing. Now I recognize a thousand-year relationship when I see one. I know what the craving costs. After Kronos, I decided the price was too high, but that was before Duncan MacLeod. MacLeod of the righteous snits and compassionate brown eyes, the furious blade and blinding smiles. He's right: crisis after crisis I've put my neck on the line for him, until it's finally become clear that I can't lean over the edge of this; I must flee or plummet.

I try to imagine a life without him - a life without Joe as well, because for better or worse they are a set. I try to imagine living in Brussels or Los Angeles and not being utterly, impossibly miserable. I attempt to envision something that could make that life anything but an exercise in masochism, and I can't. I can't see myself anywhere but Paris. I can picture myself fighting beside Mac, even fighting with him. I can picture myself dying for him or because of him, but I can't conceive of living without him.

He comes back with an arm full of clothing and a scowl at the untouched tray of food. I stand up in the tub before he can get a good mother-hen rant going, using the tub ledge for balance, but really, I'm starting to feel much better. "Well, hand me a towel, would you?"

And just like that, the decision's made and communicated with the kind of subtle, almost-invisible shorthand I'd despaired of ever having again. He grins at me, absolutely blinding, and tosses me the towel.

I dry myself with a certain awareness of my audience, who seems appreciative.

"We'll have to go to my place," he says. "Some maniac broke down your front door. It's not safe."

I laugh, take the sweatpants he's brought, pull them on. "You'll call the carpenter tomorrow I assume."


"You're paying."


"Hm, what else should I ask for while you're in such a pliant mood?"

"I've got a few suggestions." He steps closer.

Kronos used to say that no one could stand against us so long as we stood together, and every time he said it, the truth of it sang in my ears. Sometimes it filled me with despair, but I always knew that it was true. Kissing Duncan has that same, world-shattering, apocalyptic resonance, that same certainty. When I kiss him, I can feel the world being remade beneath my feet.

This time, the world we're making is a better one.