There is a tavern in England where, it is said, every hundred years the Devil and the Wandering Jew meet. I know which tavern it is. I know who the two men are, who meet there every century. It's almost time. True to my calling, I wait for them here. Terry Smithson -- Assigned to Remus, 1630
Martin Hyde and Remus sat together near the entrance to the smoky tavern. Hyde loomed and menaced, even sitting. Remus seemed almost ghostly, content with a stein of beer in his hand. He took a sip, grimaced and commented, "It's gotten worse."
Hyde laughed. "Not everything can get better. The old brewing techniques are lost. Old strains of grapes died out with the families that grew them." He had always worn his blond hair long. It stood out about his head like a lion's mane. His beard was clean, though unkempt. It sat under his hard eyes on his swarthy, tawny skin. Those eyes missed nothing of his surroundings. Those eyes judged everyone around them as if they were animals, but showed only grudging respect for Remus.
Remus was a leggy, dark-haired man. He had clean, angular features and a rather large, beaked nose. His skin was pale, as though he did not expose it to the elements often. Unlike Hyde, he seemed calm and content. His half-closed, brown-grey eyes did not bother to track anyone in the room. He stretched both arms contentedly high above his head. "Shall we play one of the new games?"
Hyde raised his head alertly and glowered. "Every time we meet, you ask me that. And you beat me, every time. I'm tired of owing you money. I know you cheat."
Remus opened his eyes wide, his face going lax with hurt surprise. "I never cheat!" he said, sounding dismayed.
Hyde rolled his eyes and glowered. "Right. You never play a game fair."
"You're just saying that because I never let you take my head."
"Son of a bitch."
"Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black!"
Non-plussed, Hyde sat back. "The who-hah-what?"
Remus shrugged, his eyes falling sleepily half-shut. "Just an expression I've heard recently. You still owe me from the last time, by the way. Did you bring my money?"
"No, I brought you a couple of presents, instead."
Remus sat back up, opening his eyes wide with interest. Eagerly he leaned forward. "Where are they?"
"At my summer house."
Remus' eyes narrowed, he leaned forward on his stool. "Well, then."
They left the tavern together. They were almost to their mounts when Hyde felt a cold blade touch the back of his neck. Remus gripped his upper arm confidently. "Just so you haven't forgotten."
"I never forget," Hyde replied, steeling himself against the rush of adrenaline that set his heart beating too rapidly. He had not heard the blade drawn, nor felt it before it touched his skin. He would never forget that Remus was conniving, vicious and deadly under even the most innocent demeanor. He doubted he would ever have a chance to get the spindly old Immortal without hiring mortal help, and that he would never do. Not Hyde, the greatest hunter in the world. Someday he would outwit Remus, one on one. Obviously not today.
When they reached his home, he led Remus to the stable. It was a wonderful, roomy stable. He had improved it with centuries of gathered knowledge. Remus happily gazed about, delighted with the care Hyde took of his mounts. The stable was clean and smelled of winter-straw, mixed in with the scent of fresh horse manure. Remus was drawn up short by what was strung up in the middle of the building. A step closer and he knew the prisoner was another Immortal.
The man's wrists were chained to the ceiling, his feet tethered far apart on the floor. He was desperately trying to twist away from them. Long, dark hair fell over his face. He was clean, his muscled body shone in the torchlight, oiled. He was heavily gagged and his trembling was easily visible even from so far away. His body was beautifully proportioned. Remus caught his breath. "Oh, tell me that's one of the presents!"
Hyde laughed. "Yes, it is. I remember your tastes." He stepped in close to his prisoner and lifted damp, blackish-brown hair away from thick lashed, wild eyes. "I had the maids clean him up for you. It looks like they've been playing with him while I was gone."
It certainly did. The young man was shaking, trying to twist his body so that they could not see his erect cock. His nipples were tight and red. Remus struck out, catching one between his fingers and giving it a hard twist. The boy struggled to escape the cruel hold. Remus gentled the touch, and stroked the hard muscles until the boy's struggling eased. He had not made a sound, and that pleased Remus no end.
"Oh, I'm delighted. I'll take it!" He spun on his heel and shook Hyde's hand. "Now, where's my other present?" he asked, bouncing on his heels.
"Nothing ever distracts you for long." Hyde rolled his eyes again. Seeing this ancient Immortal behave like a child almost warmed the cold place in his heart. "Here." He led the way to one of the stalls.
Remus sighed when he saw the horse. It was a big, beautiful sable stallion. The animal pressed itself against the far wall, its ears flat back. A victim of bad treatment, of course. He took a deep breath. "Now, this is your type of challenge, Martin. Why are you giving him to me?"
"Because I owe you too much money, you cheating bastard."
Remus shook his head, taking a long look at the big horse. He sighed and turned around slowly, relaxing back against the wall. His eyes were drawn with happy enthusiasm to the Immortal hanging from the ceiling, keeping twisted away from them. He admired the muscles in the powerful back for a moment. He asked, bemused, "Where did you find him? Killed his teacher?"
"No. His teacher wasn't around. I would have left him where he was, but then I remembered how much I owe you. I knew you'd want him."
"Just what I need. A wild horse and a wild infant. How old is he?"
Hyde considered the hanging body for a moment. "Can't be more than forty. He's from the Highlands."
Remus sucked in a long breath. He pretended to be considering, looking back at the horse. With false reluctance he kept turning back to see the hanging boy. In his next sweep he caught sight of Hyde's knowing smile. He stopped and laughed. "Yes, yes, I'll take them both."
Remus refused Hyde's invitation to stay the night. His mouth watered whenever he looked at the strung up boy. Hyde had the youngster almost cowed. By holding a blade at his throat, they forced him to cooperate in being dressed. Not much, just a shirt and simple leggings. They bound his wrists together behind his back and put him on one of Hyde's older horses. They tied his legs firmly to the horse. He was Immortal. If the horse fell or rolled it was unlikely any permanent damage could be done.
The young Immortal glared at them with helpless fear and loathing.
Hyde laughed. "He's not dangerous, he just wishes."
Remus smirked. "I bet. Who was his teacher?"
"Aaaah. Ramirez's last student! Isn't he rather young for you?"
Hyde shook his head. "He's supposed to be very good. Guess he isn't such a good teacher."
Remus snickered and tipped his head politely. "Same place, same year, next century."
"Count on it," Hyde replied. They bowed to each other and Remus left, richer for two horses and one young Immortal.
Remus kept the horses at an easy canter until they were far from Hyde's home, then eased them into a walk. He rode his mount, Cathay, beside the youngster he had acquired. The young man met his eyes once, glared and turned his head away. Remus chuckled and pulled closer so that their thighs brushed each other. He had to touch, to feel again the muscles on the man's back. They were firm, and the skin he felt through the woven garment felt hot. He eased his palm flat, ignoring the flinching beneath it. He suspected this one had never lain with another man before. Remus let out a breath, feeling his skin tingle. Now, what would be more satisfying in the end? Seducing the youngster, simply raping him, or raping him and making him enjoy it? Decisions, decisions.
Remus would rape him, and eventually force him to enjoy it. What would Michael Adams do? He hissed slightly in sudden indignation. I am not Michael, that is just a name I chose. With a twinge of amusement he reminded himself that Remus was also just a name he had chosen. It was an old one he really only used for Hyde. He was Methos, who had desires he tended to ignore for whatever life he was living presently.
Remus said goodbye and quietly left the field to Methos, who stepped up with a wicked smile. He reached for the man's hair and jerked his head back so that the face stared up at the starry sky. He ran his other hand along the base of the vulnerable throat.
The persona he was living now, Michael, spent most of his time rescuing mistreated servants and animals. If he felt the least bit violent towards them, it faded the moment he saw the trust and worship in their eyes. This was different. This man did not see him as a rescuer. To let his darker side out would not be a betrayal. He had only to be sure that this new toy did not get the wrong impression. Here was someone he could dominate and be cruel to without guilt. He sighed in sudden bliss. Oh, yes. Taming this one would be fun.
He slipped off of Cathay to sit behind the youngster, whose fists clenched against him with futile anger. His hands strolled almost independently into the man's shirt, over the hot, sweating skin. He indulged himself, memorizing the way the muscles lay, the increasing intensity of the shudders he could feel. He ran one hand down to cup the man's groin and began to rub slowly. For the first time he heard a sound, a strangled noise of protest. He smiled against his captive's neck and kept his hand moving until he felt the helpless response. Then he moved his hand up. He caught the young man's nipples between his fingers and twisted. The reaction was immediate and satisfying. A shriek tore through the gag from the cringing throat. Immobilized as he was, the boy struggled to get free.
Methos purred and wrapped his arms tightly around his captive. The road they were on was a lonely one, not traveled at this time of night. Cathay would react if anything came near. It was safe. He drew a long, quiet breath and steadied his heart. Turning his mind outward he opened himself to taste the outrage, fear and anger pouring out of the man, then dipped beneath the surface.
The man was uncomplicated. Methos had not expected sophistication in one so young, but even mortals were usually more complex by this age. This one must have led a fairly sheltered life before his first death. There was pride, but it had taken a terrible wounding in rejection. Methos continued tasting. Grief laced through every other emotion in the man's simple structure, but one characteristic was clear. It was the need for the world to be what the man wished it to be. It was the determination to recreate what surrounded him. It was unfocused and ill-used under whatever his upbringing had been. A Highlander, though, he was probably raised a Christian. That was a curious combination and liable to mean trouble. It could get the boy killed someday, more surely than the Game.
Methos withdrew from deep contact. The body he held was trying to shrink away from him. He laughed and moved back onto Cathay. This one to relieve the stress of days spent being proper and controlled. It would also be good to have another strong back around the house that he did not have to hire. Though he might eat more that his worth.
The horses were drooping with exhaustion when they finally arrived at Methos' home on the outskirts of the small town of Bridesor. His house was a quiet building. His stable was excellent, as well built as Hyde's though much smaller. He had stall-space for four horses, but two stalls had been given over to storage. Time to put his new acquisition to work.
He released the bindings holding the youngster to the old horse and helped him down. The boy's legs were numb after spending the long ride so firmly bound. He fell to his knees. Feeling a morsel of compassion, Methos loosened the gag and pushed it down to hang around the boy's neck. He pulled on the hair to force the head back and held a skein of wine so that the youngster could drink it. The boy drank desperately, and Methos realized with some embarrassment that he ought to have given him something earlier. Oh, well. The dark eyes stared up at him with desperate, weary suspicion. Curious, he asked, "What is your name?"
The eyes widened. The boy tried to stand, but his legs would not obey him. Methos kept a firm hand on his shoulders. At last, the boy answered, "Duncan MacLeod." He shivered and tried to throw off Methos' hand, then added defensively, "Of the Clan MacLeod."
Ah, the young. To cling so to something forever lost to them. Methos shrugged. He reached down and loosed the rope binding Duncan's wrists. A jerk on the proper end and the ropes parted. The boy gasped as his arms fell to his sides. With arms more numb than his legs, Duncan could do nothing to stop Methos from stripping him. With false consideration, he bound a ragged cloth around Duncan's waist. It drew the eye to the fragile, barely-covered manhood far more than being naked had.
Methos picked a lunge-line off of its hook and bound it around Duncan's left wrist. Hauling the youngster to his feet, he turned as if to bind him standing to a hook high on the wall, then paused. "I could tie you to this hook, but I'd prefer you useful. This old fellow deserves a clean stall." He inclined his head towards the horse Duncan had ridden.
He watched confusion seep into tired, red-rimmed eyes. Did the boy imagine he had a choice? It was time to drive in a lesson in control. Methos smiled lecherously and stroked his hand over Duncan's manhood.
The reaction was instantaneous. The boy shoved him away and sprang back, stumbling on feet that were just beginning to regain feeling. Methos caught the end of the lunge-line and wound it quickly about his wrist, then yanked to throw the youngster off-balance. It worked too well. Duncan stumbled, then fell towards the young stallion.
The horse panicked, rearing and screaming. Methos moved for Duncan, first. A hard yank on the lunge-line brought the boy to one knee, struggling to get up with his other foot and clinging to the rope which bound him. Methos slammed his knee against Duncan's nose. Gasping for breath through the blood bubbling out of his nose, the youngster struggled feebly as Methos secured him to the hook on the wall.
The boy was unimportant for the moment. The frightened, mortal stallion needed to be calmed. Methos watched in alarm as the horse reared and fell back against the walls. He hoped the neighbors would not come running. On cue, the doors of the stable were flung wide open, Smithson calling his name. The cold night air whirled inside. He caught the frightened horse's lead rope as it lunged for freedom. "Close the doors!" he shouted, using his weight to swivel the horse around. The animal stumbled, and Methos was afraid for a moment that it would break a leg. He felt the doors close, the air go still, and concentrated his attention on the horse.
No pain. Safe. No pain. No fear. Safe. He pushed his feelings on the chaotic tumble of emotion that was the horse's mind. Slowly, the panic that bedeviled him eased. The horse's sides were heaving, eyes ringed in white, ears flat against its head. Methos talked, keeping his voice low and soft. "There, my friend. You are warm and safe. Warm and sheltered. No wolves to bite you. No whip to strike you." Slowly, the feathered ears flicked up, swiveling towards him. He moved in and touched the heaving sides, never stopping the soothing flow of meaningless words. When the horse flinched under his stroking hands, he knew it had been beaten before. He moved his hands slowly, but firmly. Beaten under the belly by an angry trainer, he imagined. The horse nodded at him as if it understood his thought, and he smiled. "Such a handsome fellow you are. So strong and bold. But I think you are tired. I'm certainly tired. Come, my friend." He backed away and slowly opened the door to the spare stall.
The horse stepped gingerly inside, testing the ground with each hoof, pawing at the dry hay. Its ears still twitched nervously, but the white was no longer visible in its eyes. When it was all the way inside, Methos carefully shut the door.
He went next to reassure and apologize to his neighbors, explaining briefly about the horse. They smiled indulgently at him. They knew him, and both admired and shook their heads at his tendency to take in strays. Then he returned to his stable to settle Cathay, the old gelding, and the young Duncan MacLeod.
The boy tried to kick Methos, who simply slipped past the flailing leg and punched him in the gut. Catching the bloody chin, Methos forced Duncan to meet his eyes. "Well, you aren't entirely a fool. Imagine what they would have done seeing no injury to explain this blood! They would burn you at the stake as a witch. I can tell you, boy, that's a terrible way to die."
"Let me go," whispered Duncan fiercely.
"I don't think so. You were given me in payment for a debt owed. You belong to me." He stroked the boy's hair back from his face, then said mildly, "Let's settle the horses. We'll prepare a stall for the old one. You groom him, I'll groom Cathay. Then I will take you inside."
Duncan stared at him in clear confusion. Methos waited until the youngster shivered and nodded.
Methos, or Michael Adams as he was presently living, was relieved that they managed to settle the horses before dawn broke. He took Duncan inside the house with a weary sigh. He would be very tired today. He bound the boy's hands together with leather strips and made him lie on his back on the right side of the bed. Then he secured the bound hands to the stout bedpost. He settled in beside Duncan, closed his eyes and slipped into darkness.
Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod pulled himself as far away as he could from his captor, until he slid off the bed. He shivered in the cold air, wondering why this man was not using any covers. Trying to be quiet, he worked at the ropes that bound his wrists. There was no give. This man certainly knew how to tie a knot. Duncan shivered again, but it was not from cold.
Being taken as a slave was a very real danger in the endless battling between clans. But to be taken as a bedmate? By another man?! The lust was clear in this man's eyes. Filth! Pervert! Monster! He let none of the words escape his lips, afraid to wake the man while he could not escape. He closed his eyes and shivered. I was born and bred to lead my clan. Father, how could one terrible thing erase thirty years? Yet his mother still loved him, even now if she was alive. What would she think if she knew what had become of him?
He was frightened, he admitted it. He felt almost as helpless as he had while riding, when the man had sat behind him and tormented him. His legs grew weak and he sank, his arms twisted painfully by the ropes. The way the man had touched him was more horrifying than anything else. The strong hands had felt good stroking his skin. They had triggered desire touching him where only a lover or his own hand should be allowed. And when the man had twisted his nipples, the pain had gone straight to his manhood and he had almost come. Then the man had held him as though they were lovers. Unnatural changeling. You wanted him to touch you again. So he had pulled away, horrified of the wanting that had risen. I am so alone. He fell asleep against the side of the bed, finally yielding to exhaustion.
Warm hands lingered on his back and shoulders. A body pressed against his easing the chill in the morning air. He moaned when hands stroked his chest, teased his manhood. He was warming up, and he sank back into the strong embrace. Something pushed into his body and that triggered panic. He struggled awake.
"Be still," commanded a low voice in his ear.
Duncan could not. His body was burning and there was a man touching him. Between the rope binding him to the bedpost and the way his captor was wrapped around him, he could not get free. "Don't..! Don't..!" he panted.
The finger inside him moved gently. Teeth scraped his shoulder and a hand squeezed his aching manhood. He could feel the other man's hardness between his thighs, brushing his skin. He was forced around. He closed his eyes and clenched his thighs together. "No," came the voice, rich and threatening. "Open your eyes. Look at me."
Duncan found he was obeying. The man was stroking himself with one hand and Duncan with the other. The sight sent a surge of hunger through him and he desperately closed his eyes. His balls were caught and the hot hand clutched them, bursting real pain up his body. The moment he opened his eyes the man released him.
"Do as you're told," was sternly said.
Duncan moaned. He could not keep his eyes from falling to the powerful hand that touched his cock. With an effort of will, made worse by the chills of pleasure making him shudder, he met the other man's eyes. "Who are you?"
"Adams," the man said firmly. Then he lowered his head, closing his eyes. He shifted his hand from Duncan's cock and spread it wide against his thigh. He was touching himself with long, slow strokes of his other hand. With a sudden convulsive movement, he threw his head back and moaned. His seed burst out, hot as it fell on Duncan's thighs. Before long, Adams wilted with a happy sigh. He opened his eyes and bent down. He licked up the white seed with a tongue that burned Duncan's flesh.
When he finished licking, he reached up and deftly released Duncan's hands. "You may dress," he said absently, pointing to a pile of clothes at the other end of the room.
Duncan stared at his hands, afraid to look up and see Adams' face. His manhood ached and jutted out from his body. There was no way for the man to miss the perversion he had awakened in Duncan. Gingerly he got to his feet and moved across the floor to the pile of clothes. He chose thick leggings and a heavy tunic. When he looked up it was to meet Adams' amused gaze.
And so began Duncan MacLeod's first day in Michael Adams' household.
He met three people that morning. Eliza the cook, John the stablehand and Guen, Adams' apprentice. They seemed startled when Adams introduced Duncan as his bondsman, but asked no questions. Adams kept him close, and soon curiosity made him forget his urgent need to run. Where would he go if he did, anyway?
There was a workshop with shelves of bottled, labeled ingredients. Adams and Guen were working their way through them starting on the top shelf. He held a bottle out for her to smell, she named its contents and then described its uses. As Duncan listened, he felt he was in some forest witch's house. Many of the potions had uses such as reducing fevers, slowing the heart, speeding the heart, thinning the blood. There were samples of what seemed to be every plant in existence on other shelves.
Guen knew her potions well. Duncan's head was whirling by the time the pair reached the end of the top shelf. They stopped there. Guen, Eliza and John would return to their own homes for a few hours. Adams and Duncan were left on their own.
The midday meal consisted largely of late-summer vegetables, drenched in some kind of brown sauce. Duncan did not recognize the scent of it, and frowned uneasily. There were too many vegetables and almost no visible meat. He protested, "I'm not a sheep."
Adams looked directly at him for the first time in hours, face an expressionless mask. Without a word, he picked up the wooden spoon beside his plate and began to eat. Duncan had not noticed the spoon next to his platter, and lifted it with considerable relief. The taste was strange, but he began to become accustomed to it. After a few bites, the hunger he had kept at bay all morning sprang upon him like a wolf, and he ate ravenously.
Methos watched Duncan eat with amusement and some sympathy. He wondered if Hyde had fed the youngster at all, the way he ate. They had missed breakfast that morning and he had asked Eliza to make something that would go easy on the stomach. The result had been this delicious vegetable beef stew. Eliza and Guen were pooling their knowledge wisely. He only hoped they would take on apprentices and spread what they knew. The more people, the better. For he knew how quickly knowledge was lost.
Old anger welled when he thought that. Like a flashflood, images poured through his mind. A dozen cities he had seen spring from the ground, then deteriorate to wreckage for the sand to bury. The smell of dry death overwhelmed him. He was vaguely aware of movement near him, but he was blind under a burning desert sun.
The rush of a body passing him pulled him out of it. Duncan was making a break for freedom, racing out of the kitchen towards the front door of the house. Methos sprang from his chair and quickly overtook the boy. He tackled him and held him down by the simple expedient of twisting his arm and pressing a knee firmly on his neck. Duncan struggled helplessly, choking and gasping. Mindful of the chance of the boy throwing up, Methos shifted his hold. "Finished eating, I see," he commented calmly.
He pressed more firmly down until he completely cut off Duncan's breathing and waited until the body beneath him began to go lax. Then he turned the boy over and dragged him to his feet. Duncan's legs gave out and Methos held him as he drew in great breaths of air, his neck quickly restoring to its normal shape, though the bruise would remain for some hours.
They did not speak. Duncan kept his face turned away, his shoulders sagging. Methos waited until the boy's breathing steadied, then said, "Come."
They went to the stable. The horses were out to pasture, so all was quiet. Methos took out two heavy staves and tossed one to Duncan, who caught it clumsily. "Show me what you've learned from Connor MacLeod."
Duncan stared at the staff in his hands. "With this?" he asked warily.
"Anything can be a weapon. Though I admit it would be difficult to take a head with these." Methos spun the stave in his hands, faster and faster until the air whistled with its passage. He stopped the spin and waited, holding the staff, for anything.
Duncan watched, wide-eyed. He shifted his hold uneasily then settled into a ready position, his bright, uncertain eyes studying Methos. "You don't have a sword?"
"Not as far as anyone knows." Methos grinned, and saw with some approval an answering glimmer in Duncan's eyes.
They fought for some time. Methos was not surprised when Duncan tried his best, sometimes viciously. It was easy to stop the inexperienced youngster. It was also easy to fall into the habit of teacher. The boy was an apt pupil. After about an hour they were both bruised and shaky on their feet. They wearily put away the staves and made their way back into the house with a strange sort of accord between them.
Duncan found he felt easy in Adams' presence. In a way that was frightening, for he knew too well what might be demanded of him. The staff exercise, though enjoyable, had proven that Adams was very good, perhaps better than Connor. Duncan hesitated to think so. He had known only Connor, and perhaps his judgement of other Immortals was faulty. This Adams, though, was cruel, then seductive, then teasing and almost affectionate. How could one man be so many things? Not like Connor.... Connor was all silence and dry witticism. He was very private and preferred to be far from people who might intrude upon his life. Yet here this Adams was, in a town, teaching a woman the medicinal secrets of who knew how many centuries?
Duncan had chafed under the restrictions of being Connor's student. Now he longed painfully to return to his silent, understandable teacher, who had no interest in his body beyond making him a better swordsman. I will get away with my honor intact. I will. He shivered, afraid that his honor was already stained.
Beyond the kitchen was a bathing room. Duncan stared in surprise at the tiled floor and the bath filled with steaming water. He stood, his mouth hanging open. How was this done?! "How?" he whispered.
"It's heated by the cookfire in the kitchen," Adams answered from behind him. "And now you know no more than before, yes? Strip."
"Do... do all English have one of these?" Duncan did not obey the command, afraid to be naked again with this man. He backed away until he fetched up against the wall.
"The king might. I built this myself, a hundred years ago." Adams was stalking him, eyes blazing with annoyance.
Duncan swallowed and edged away. "You've lived here for a hundred years?"
"Don't be ridiculous." Adams moved and caught him by the arm. Duncan yanked loose and bolted for the door, only to have his feet kicked out from under him. Once again there was a knee on his neck, cutting off his breathing. He struggled helplessly until his strength bled away. Adams released the pressure and turned him over, then gripped his neck in one appallingly strong hand. The feral, blazing eyes glared into his. "You will obey me. Undress yourself."
He managed a weak, "No."
The hand closed on his throat. Already short of breath from the last time, he felt the sick weakness take him. Pain bubbled through his chest and his ears rang, then he was released. When his sight cleared he looked into the cold mask of Adams' face. The horror of Immortality, that death was no escape from shame, came back to him. With the same hopelessness he had felt when he tried to drown himself, just the day Connor found him, he obeyed the command. He hates me, he thought vaguely. Why else would he torment me like this?
Methos watched the dazed, cracked expression settle in Duncan's eyes. If he were not what he was, I would rescue him from me, he thought with wry amusement. No, the boy would be all right. Methos picked up the soap, a washrag and a bucket and began to wash himself. He affected to ignore Duncan until the boy was naked, then tossed him the washrag. "Scrub my back," he ordered. Still off-balance, Duncan obeyed. Methos could feel the tremors and uncertainty through the light scrubbing of the youngster's hands. When his back was clean, he took the washrag and handed another to Duncan. "Wash yourself. I'll do your back."
Methos rinsed with the bucket and then sank into the tub with a contented sigh. He watched Duncan out of slitted eyes. The boy might try to bolt again. But no. When he finished washing himself he came towards Methos, but avoided looking at him. Methos scrubbed his back from the tub, making no advances. The boy would need time or the fight would go out of him. Methos was enjoying the fight.
By the end of the bath, Duncan had regained his spirit. He could not guess why Adams made no attempt on him at this time when he could not have resisted. Could not dream what drove this man's changing moods. Violent and darkly dangerous, gentle and almost compassionate, cold as a winter night. Let me go, he thought. But he had already asked it so many times. He could not ask again.
The afternoon brought the return of Eliza and Guen. A few villagers arrived, some with injuries. There were small children. Duncan watched in amazement as Adams gentled their tears away. The last arrival of the day was a little girl, barely seven years old, whose doll needed tending. Adams talked to it as if it was a real child and mended the tear in its side. All this Duncan watched in confusion. Why me? he wondered, when the memory of Adams' violence rose in his mind.
That evening, when everyone had gone home and Duncan was once again trapped in Adams' room, the words had grown to a shout in his head. Why me?! Is it just because I'm Immortal? He bit his lip on the question and obeyed reluctantly when Adams ordered him to take off his clothes. He could not hold back the wild trembling when Adams circled him. It became active flinching when a hard hand stroked around his hips.
The fear took him and he spun for the door. Mindless as he had let himself become, he did not know quite how he ended up in Adams' arms, but it was not an embrace. He could feel fierce anger in the powerful hands clenched on his biceps. Then he was spun around and forced onto his back on the bed. He fought, kicking and punching, but he could land no blows. Every time he struck, somehow his captor seemed to slip aside. When Adams finally attacked, it was with neither kick nor punch. Fingers dug into a spot on the back of Duncan's neck, and pain radiated down his limbs. Then he could feel nothing from his waist down.
Terrified, he stopped fighting. Adams was looking down at him with amusement. "It will pass," was all his tormenter would say. "And now, you will touch me."
Adams took Duncan's right hand and brought it down to rub against his cock. Duncan kept it clutched in a fist. The menace in the eyes that stared into his kept him from trying to punch as their hands moved along Adams' hardening cock. He closed his eyes when the tingle of Immortal healing blossomed in his neck, and feeling came back into the lower half of his body.
"You know better than that," Adams said, and Duncan opened his eyes hopelessly.
Every night and every morning was the same. They fought and Duncan lost. He then had to stroke his captor's cock until the man came, after which Adams would lick him clean. And always, the man playfully tormented him and then left him aroused.
The days, too, followed a pattern. Without it, Duncan knew he would have gone mad. Adams, upon discovering Duncan could not read, began teaching him. He was often ordered to bring things from one part of the house to another while Adams and Guen worked. He was encouraged to learn the medicines in the bottles. He was allowed to help Adams with the wild stallion. Each day he and Adams fought together with either staves or wooden swords. Every day brought something slightly different, and though the intimate moments with Adams were revolting, the rest of it lifted his spirits and stimulated his mind.
He could not fathom why the man was cruel to him. The question blared in his head and he was determined to flee if Adams ever let him out of his sight long enough. One day, he walked into the kitchen and offered the rags in his hands to Eliza. "He wants them boiled," he said quietly.
"I know," she replied. She lifted them from his hands and dumped them into a pot of water she already had over the fire.
"I don't understand why he needs them boiled. They're already clean." Duncan did not really know what to say. He wanted to talk, and she was the only person he ever had a chance to talk to without Adams around.
"He says it kills things which would poison a patient's wounds," she returned.
He wished she would show him some interest. He was not used to being ignored. Eliza was at least as old as he had been when he died. She was a lightly freckled, brown-haired woman. Her face might have been lovely if her mouth did not look so pinched. She looked as though she had never smiled in her life. He took a plunge in desperation. "Help me escape."
That brought her head around and she stared at him. She did not look surprised, simply indifferent. "He doesn't mistreat you. What do you need to escape from?" she asked coldly.
Duncan flinched. He met her eyes earnestly, pleadingly. "He wants things from me. P -- perversions." There. He had said it. Perhaps he would not need to go into details.
"Perversions," she said mildly. She leaned back against the table and stared at him steadily for a long time. Then she tilted her head, her hard blue eyes wide with mock curiosity. "Does he want you to eat his shit?"
Startled, he drew back. "What?!"
A small, humourless smile formed on her lips. "Does he want you to eat his shit? Or fuck a dog?"
He almost stumbled in surprise. "N-no. He wants to have sex with me."
"Oh, is that all," she said blithely. "And I thought you said he wanted perversions."
"That is perverted!" Duncan snapped defensively. "I'm a man!"
"Well, welcome to how the other half lives," she said calmly. For the first time, she seemed genuinely amused. She turned away from him, took a basket from the opposite counter and shoved it into Duncan's arms. "Take these to him. They've boiled and dried. He probably needs them."
Feeling like an idiot, Duncan asked, "What are they?"
She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Bandages."
He nodded and fled the room and this confusing woman.
The next time Adams sent him to get boiled water. Eliza was waiting. She obviously was well acquainted with the pattern of Adams' needs. Taking the kettle from the table, Duncan paused and turned to her again. "Can you at least tell me why he hates me?"
She looked at him expressionlessly. "He's always been very gentle to everyone. Perhaps you should ask what you do that makes him hate you."
His mind went blank. There was nothing! He did nothing and yet Adams showed him such coldness at times.... "I -- I...."
She snapped at him, "Go, boy. Before you give him reason to punish you." She glared, suspicion clear in her eyes. He fled her accusing gaze.
That night Adams tied Duncan's hands to the bedpost without forcing him to pleasure him. Duncan felt a glimmer of hope, but then his captor sat on his chest. "Open your mouth."
It was clear what was intended. Duncan shrank down into the bedding and shook his head wildly. He clamped his lips shut, frantically meeting Adams' eyes, pleading silently.
Adams put his thumbs in the hollows of Duncan's cheeks and pressed threateningly. "We can make this simple, or we can make it painful. Your choice." His tone was mild but Duncan knew it was a threat. Adams' fingers slipped to just under his ears and pressed suddenly. The pain had a dark feel and slowly became a roaring in Duncan's ears. There was a popping sensation that brought with it a new level of agony. Duncan sobbed and closed his eyes.
The warm, soft tip of Adams' manhood brushed his lips and he opened them. A finger tapped beside his eyes and he opened those, too. The clean curls of his tormenter's crotch tickled his nose. He looked up to see that Adams was leaning on crossed arms against the wall. Adams lowered his head and looked into Duncan's eyes. "Biting would be a particularly bad idea. Sucking and licking would be a particularly good idea."
He was surprised to find that Adams was still soft. If Duncan had been doing this to someone, he would have been hard. He licked cautiously. The skin was clean and tasted faintly salty. The very tip had a flavor that reminded him of baking bread. He closed his eyes to block out the sight, and this time Adams did not reprimand him.
It did not take long for the cock to harden. Every few moments he heard "Harder", "Softer" or a similar command he obeyed hopelessly. The hard length of flesh slid slowly in and out of his mouth, sometimes going alarmingly deep. Eventually Adams picked up the pace, and Duncan almost choked a few times. He opened his mouth as wide as he could to avoid scratching the flesh with his teeth, and then had to struggle frantically for breath as Adams shoved all the way in. He felt his throat fill with revolting, slick liquid, felt the pulsing between his lips. His stomach clenched and he fought the nausea, afraid to learn if Adams would punish him for it.
Methos pulled himself away from the wall and out of Duncan's mouth with great reluctance. A few days of this and the boy would be very good at fellatio. He relished the shudders in the body under his thighs. The boy had squeezed his eyes shut and there were tear-tracks going down to his ears. Some seed dribbled from the side of his mouth. Methos licked it off. He stroked his fingers lightly across Duncan's lips, indulging himself in appreciation of what he saw, and what he was training to pleasure him.
Methos was being careful to keep the boy active and limber. It had not really surprised him that Duncan did not know how to read. So young, and Methos was pouring all of the attention he could on him. Reading, battle exercises, working with the horses... maybe he could wean the boy of the belief that he could shape the world, before failing broke his heart.
He sighed and lowered his head to suckle one of Duncan's nipples. The small whimper and withdrawal of the body beneath him made his head buzz with smug pleasure. Oh, it was good to have someone who expected cruelty of him. Obliging, Methos bit the nipple until the skin tore, then he chewed lightly, enjoying the taste of blood on his tongue.
Duncan cried out and struggled. Methos enjoyed that, too. The boy's efforts were more directed than they had been days before. The training sessions were improving his fine motor skills in subtle ways. It took greater effort to keep from being hurt by the knee that Duncan tried to drive into Methos' ribs.
With delight, Methos dug his fingers into the muscles of Duncan's inner thighs and held him still. He buried his nose in the boy's crotch and caught his balls between his teeth threateningly, until Duncan went limp, trembling. He kept his fingers tightly pressing, knowing the pain it was causing. He began licking and nibbling his way slowly towards the tip of Duncan's cock. What was soft became hard, slowly because of the pain. Methos reached the crown and flicked his tongue into the hole before slowly moving down to the base. By the third journey, Duncan's breathing was shallow and he was making small, protesting moans. Despite the painful grip of Methos' fingers, the boy's body was twitching upward.
That was when Methos stopped and moved away. He stretched, popping his back with a happy groan. He ran one hand briefly over his own semi-hardness, then sighed and pretended to fall asleep. He was absolutely aware of Duncan's every movement.
Duncan was in a terrible state. Cold chills snaked through his body to be followed by sick, wet heat. His thighs ached, where each of Adams fingers had been there seemed a hard rock under his flesh. Everything hurt and yet he burned on the edge of release. He opened his eyes and looked over at his captor. Bastard!! He was asleep! A slight thread of hope rose and Duncan gingerly moved his legs, folding them up against his stomach. He probably could bring himself off this way.
Then Adams moved. He rolled between Duncan's legs and pushed a finger inside, using his arms to lever the legs down. A hard jab on the thighs and Duncan's muscles turned to water. He gazed up at the cold mask that had again settled over Adams' features. So damned close, his body was on fire. He knew, to his agony, that it was not going to be permitted.
A wail broke from him before he even knew what it was. "Let me finish!" he begged.
A cruel smile crossed Adams' lips before the mask settled back into immobility. "I will make you come, when I choose to."
Duncan quivered and tried to shrink farther into the bedding. His body obeyed him sluggishly. He felt heavy and slow. No, no, no. I won't, he thought as coherently as he could. For he realized that Adams might wait for Duncan to beg him for it. From this point on he would be unable to look at the man without wondering when he would allow him to come. As out of control as he was, part of the question he had held in so long slipped past his lips. "Why?!"
Adams cocked his head. "Why, what?"
He would not ask... he would not ask. He groped for something else to keep Adams from pursuing his thoughts. "Why does Eliza hate me?"
He saw the mask slip and surprise seep into the dark eyes. Adams stared at him for a long moment. His brows drew together in thought, and then he said, "She doesn't. It has nothing to do with you. Eliza is afraid of men."
The matter-of-factness of Adams' statement helped Duncan. It turned his attention from his painful need. "I don't understand. Why would she hate men? And why make me suffer?"
Puzzlement flickered across Adams' face. The mask was gone, replaced by the face of the man Duncan saw so often during the days. "She doesn't mean to hurt you. You're just there."
"But why --"
"Ask her. It's her business." Looking deeply thoughtful, Adams rolled off of Duncan's legs and stretched out again on the bed. The talk had allowed Duncan's body time to cool down, and he was able to drift off to sleep.
It took two days to find the time and an excuse to ask Eliza. Two days of waking every morning and going to sleep every night to be forced to take Adams' in his mouth. Two days of his body being driven into hunger and left unsatisfied. Damn the man. The need to find out about Eliza helped Duncan immensely. When he was frustrated and close to despair, he reminded himself there was a mystery to solve about an intriguing, bitter woman. He desperately needed the distraction from his own problems.
He found the time when Guen and Adams were working on bringing down a woman's fever. All that he could help with he had done, and he sat in the kitchen with Eliza. He said hesitantly, "Adams told me you're afraid of... men. That you don't hate me."
She glanced up from the papers she was reading. Did all English know how to read? he wondered. It seemed improbable. "Why would I hate you?" she said coolly.
"That's what I wanted to know," he answered her quietly. He kept his eyes turned away nervously. "Don't you have anyone to take care of you? To love and protect you?"
She snorted. After a moment she asked, "You mean like a father or a husband?"
He lifted his eyes to meet hers, and found an expression much like Adams' coldness on her face. Uncertain, he said, "Yes."
She stared at him for a long moment, then looked down at the papers in her lap. "When I was nine, my father murdered my mother. She had given him no male heir and the church would not allow him to divorce her, so he killed her. And then he turned to me." Her voice was utterly bland. She gazed blankly at the papers as if she did not see them at all. "I bore two daughters, he killed them both. When I was fourteen, he arranged a marriage for me." She drew a shaky breath, a tear slipped down her cheek. "I thought I would be free. But... they shared me. It was my husband who wanted perversions." She huddled in her chair then, her face white like snow. Duncan shivered in sympathetic chill, remembering her remark about eating shit and fucking a dog. "One night they were drunk and they did... they left me for dead. Guen -- she was a maid in my husband's home -- fetched Adams. He gave out that I had died, and threatened to tell the world why if they did not allow him to dispose of my body as he wished. They probably thought he was as perverse as they."
"Sweet Mary," Duncan whispered. Eliza closed her eyes and shook her head. Duncan reached out a hand, wanting to soothe her, but her head snapped up and she glared at him fiercely.
"Men have never been my protectors. You come here, tall, strong and angry. You tell me the only good man I've ever known wants you, and expect me to feel sorry for you. Well, better you than me."
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Duncan said softly. He did not try to reach out to her again. He finally understood that for this woman, to have a man reach towards her was only a precursor of agonies.
She was looking at him, and there was no more mask on her face. The remembered pain slowly faded and her gaze softened. "I do understand that most men are not like that. But I cannot make my heart feel it. My only comfort and consolation in this world is my beloved Guen. If one of us was a man, the other would be his wife. Except neither of us can abide men."
It occurred to Duncan to wonder if perhaps he had inadvertently found the answer to his real question. Why do you hate and abuse me? he had managed not to ask Adams that night. The questions must be: Who is it you see; because it can't be me. You don't even know me. Is there a way past your anger? Is there a way to the man who rescued Eliza from her husband and father? The man who comforts small children and teaches me how to read? Because I could accept this from that man. Who are you, Adams?
The little girl's parents brought her in late that day. They carried her carefully in a cloak, their faces tight with tension. "Goodman Adams," the father said, "you must help her!"
Methos stared at Mark Stone, feeling a thread of unease curl in his heart. He had been very careful not to get a reputation as any kind of miracle worker. If he had gained one anyway, it was time to get away from here. But this was little Debbie, whose doll he had fixed just a few days before. She looked pale and feverish, and so small. He carefully lifted her onto his table and unwrapped her from the cloak.
"Debbie, love, where does it hurt."
She opened her fevered brown eyes and smiled tremulously at him. She laid a hand on her stomach. "Here. Bessie kicked me."
Bessie was probably a cow. A kick in the stomach! And she lay there, so small, her eyes trustingly on him despite her pain. Oh, no. No. He hid his reactions with the art of years. He laid his fingers very gently on her stomach over her shift. It felt hard. It was swelling, he could tell. Something inside had burst. The girl would die in agony. If only he could somehow get in and repair the damage! But even if he could, Debbie would surely bleed to death.
He glanced up into Mark Stone's desperate eyes and realized he could not even give Debbie anything for the pain. She would die, and her parents in their grief might convince themselves that Methos had caused it. Oh, Debbie!
He made a show of studying her, staring into her eyes, asking her to breathe on a piece of glass. He drew it out to make it obvious to her parents that he was only delaying the inevitable. "Where's Lilly?" he asked her. She laughed weakly and her father handed her the little doll. Methos smiled into her eyes. "You take care of her. I want to talk to your mother and father." She nodded and began talking to her doll.
Painfully, he led her parents from the room. He saw in their eyes that they knew what he would say. He let the hopelessness he felt show, turning with agonized slowness to meet their gazes. "You must pray to God. Only a miracle will save her." They closed their eyes on him and held to each other. He suspected that they had heard the same thing from the town physician and their priest. He had been their last hope. "Pray for her. Jesus will care for her in Heaven." It hurt to say the words. It was true as far as he knew. Only a miracle would save her. In the meantime she would die in slow agony from the poisons filling her belly.
"We'll take her home, then, and call the Father," said Stone shakily.
Methos opened his eyes, surprised to find his vision blurry until he recognized that he was weeping.
When would he learn not to let it hurt? No. No, if he did not let it hurt it could turn into Death. He fought the impulse to deaden himself as he always fought it. There was madness inherent in not caring. There was such emptiness waiting for him if he stopped living. To feel was to live. Of necessity he turned full into the agony that waited for him and let it take him.
Duncan carefully kept his eyes averted from the bulge of Debbie's stomach. The fair-haired child was utterly charming and being very brave. He could see she was in pain. When her parent's came through the door he took one look at their white, pinched faces and knew what Adams had told them.
Debbie's father gathered her into his arms. "It's time to go home, sweets."
"Where's Michael?" she asked him innocently.
"He had to go do... something. Hold Lilly tight, now." The parents held their daughter carefully and went through the same door, the mother seeming to move her body to block Debbie's line of sight. Duncan took a step out of the room and stopped in confusion.
Adams was sitting against the wall, his head buried behind his knees. Such a tall man to suddenly take up so little space! Such a tall man to look so clearly like he could not get up and stop Duncan from running out the door. The sweet suggestion of freedom rolled through him like thunder; like the sudden presence of another Immortal. His mouth almost watered. He had taken one step when the tiniest of sounds stopped him.
I will not look. I will not look. Wasn't there a legend of someone who turned back and lost their escape? He almost remembered it. Someone trapped in Hell? He took another step. He had surely imagined the sound, for it did not repeat. And yet... he turned.
He looks so small. So helpless. If I leave I'll never find out.... No, no, no, no. No! But he took one step, then another and another. He found himself kneeling next to Adams and laying a hand on a shoulder he could feel trembling.
Adams did not respond, except perhaps to tighten his huddle. Duncan found he had no idea what he could do. If only Adams would attack him or even look at him, he would be able to flee out that door. He could probably make his way across country. Probably. But to leave when the mysterious man was harmless seemed like cowardice. I don't want to leave unless I can fight my way past him. Perhaps that would happen if Adams continued to train him.
"Duncan," came Eliza's voice behind him. He nearly jumped out of his skin and turned on one knee to face her. She stared at him, and he felt his flesh crawl. Eliza's expressions too often seemed just like Adams'. It was as though she could read his mind. She looked calmly at him. "He'll be all right by tomorrow. He gets this way when things like this happen. We usually just leave him alone."
"You leave him alone?" Duncan asked. He felt unsteady. He could escape. She knew it as well as he.
"But now you are here," she said, as flatly as Adams stated every fact. Her eyes gauged him. "Will he be safe?"
Duncan caught his breath. That was almost funny. From the moment he saw Adams helpless against the wall, not a thought of violence had crossed his mind. She seemed to see the answer and nodded slowly. Guen came out of the room behind her. The two left the house together, closing the door behind them.
Duncan shivered in a brief chill. He drew in a long breath and dug his hands under Adams' elbows. When he tried to speak, his voice came out a whisper. "Get up. Am I going to have to carry you to bed?" There was no response. He nudged Adams gently. Slowly, the man unfolded from his crouch. To Duncan's shock, his face was streaked with tears and they were still falling. They rolled slowly over the sharp cheekbones. Without the shield of his knees, Adams seemed to lose a vestige of control and a sob broke from his throat.
Confused, Duncan steered the man towards the bedroom. He kept his hands on the broad shoulders, kept himself as far from Adams as possible. He could not bear to undress the tall form, so he simply pushed him down on the bed. Adams did not react except to curl up on his side. Since that one sob he had not uttered a sound, and now he closed his eyes. Duncan was drawn close in spite of himself. He reached out tentatively.
He caught himself just short of touching. For all Adams' present appearance of helplessness, normally he was a wall of ice and dangerous self-assurance. Eliza had said he would be all right by tomorrow. Duncan shivered, then realized it was because the room was cold. It was always cool, but tonight it seemed more. Of course. No one had started the fire.
The wood for the night was already piled up, and Duncan got the fire going. In a little while the room would lose its cold bite. Still.... Duncan went digging through the closet and found three folded, heavy blankets. Maybe he could get Adams to start using them.
He stopped, and shivered when he realized he had chosen to stay. He was expecting to continue being tied to the bed every night, either before or after Adams had taken his pleasure. Chills skimmed his flesh and left goosebumps on his skin. He shook his head at his own feelings. I've been afraid before, but never had to fear something like this. Gritting his teeth, he walked to the bed and settled the blanket over Adams' still form. He took another blanket and curled up on the floor to sleep.
The fire threw dancing shadows on the walls when he woke, startled out of sound sleep by cries and groans coming from the bed. He scrambled to his feet. Adams was struggling, body caught in the heavy blanket. Duncan stared in astonishment for one instant before he acted. He pinned Adams and pulled at the blanket to loosen it from the writhing form. Adams snarled and bit at him, eyes open and blind. He began speaking a string of words that Duncan could not understand. The biting tone made him suspect they were curses.
He answered, trying to make his tone soothing. To his ears he sounded loud. "Wake up, man! It's all right. You're in your home!"
Adams stopped biting at him, but continued to struggle wildly. Somewhere the words must have registered, for he suddenly spoke in English. "Can't breathe! Mud! Dirt... buried me!" He began to choke.
Duncan felt near to panicking and worked on the tangled blanket to get it loose. He understood abruptly. Adams was reliving being buried alive. It was difficult to loose the blanket with Adams struggling so. Duncan gave up and caught the angular face between his palms. "Michael! It's only a blanket! Breathe, man. Breathe."
The eyes were black and wild in the flickering firelight. They gazed blindly through Duncan. After a frighteningly long moment, Adams went limp, his breath coming in shuddering gasps. Duncan set to work on the blanket and managed to get it off at last. He tossed it onto the floor and gripped Adams' shaking shoulders. Even as he touched them, the shuddering eased. The wide, blind eyes sank shut. Duncan watched in astonishment. Just when he thought the man was asleep, the eyes popped open again. This time they were agonized and looked vaguely at Duncan.
"Make sure she's dead first! Don't bury her alive!"
"Who? Who, Michael?"
Of course. The fear of burial, the girl who was certain to die if she had not already. Have I found you? Duncan wondered. "You'll have to do that," he told the shivering man. Adams blinked and frowned. His eyes sank shut and he went limp. This time it seemed he fell back asleep. Duncan waited beside him, his heartbeat slowing. And will you forget that I called you by your given name? I wouldn't have known it if Debbie hadn't said it. Do you even know who I am?
In the end, he fell asleep on the bed, resting a hand on Adams' shoulder.
Rolling sensations, surrounded on all sides by small, hard objects that pressed his flesh. He could not breath, could not move. Rage. Someday the walls would give. Someday, the chains he somehow knew bound this prison around him would rot and he would be free. The bastard who had done this to him... his brother. The traitor. Methos. He would be free. He would take the chains that bound him, if they had not gone to dust, and pay Methos for this interminable imprisonment. Death, Death, I'll come for you. Payback is a Fury, Brother.
Methos opened his eyes. Dim, morning light seeped into the room through the small window. Ah, yes. His house. He shivered, images from his dream coursing through his mind. Was Kronos free? How long had it taken the wood and chains to rot away? He felt a thread of wry amusement. There was no way Kronos could be sure who had done that to him. Funny, Methos had always thought he would be dead before Kronos got out. And why, now, did he feel his brother was still alive? Well, Methos himself was. Silas probably was still in Dneiper Forest. He could not even begin to guess Caspian's whereabouts. He wondered what he would say if Kronos ever found him. Welcome back, Brother! Caspian always insisted you were still alive! He snorted at the thought.
A voice spoke behind him and a hand touched his shoulder. "'S'all right, Mich'l. 'S'all right."
The voice was slurred and deep. It took a moment for memory to place it. Methos shifted slightly and the hand slipped off his shoulder. He turned over to see what he knew was there. It was Duncan. He was still asleep, face haggard. Good heavens! What were they both doing dressed? Why was Duncan loose? Memory reached in and Michael took up his place as Methos' avatar.
Debbie is dying, if not dead. Oh, such a little girl. The grief knotted his throat, but it was bearable now. The time from the moment he had plunged into it was a blur of nightmare and loss that had both to do with the girl and his entire life. As he stared at Duncan's troubled, sleeping face, anger began to displace the grief. Why are you still here? he wondered. That was a perfect chance to escape!
He growled and leaped to pin Duncan to the bed. The boy's eyes flew open and stared into his, wide with confusion and fear. "Why are you here?!" Methos snarled.
"You were helpless! Easy prey for anyone!" Duncan snarled back at him.
Fury snapped through him. You could have escaped. Debbie can't, but you had a chance! Stupid, stupid fool! "Do you want what I'm doing to you?"
"No!!" Duncan began struggling, trying to throw Methos off of him. "I stayed to protect you!"
Sheer incomprehension for Methos. He could not believe what he heard and yet he knew it was probably true. He slammed his knee into Duncan's gut. The boy grunted and coughed up blood, unable to struggle anymore. "I don't need protection," Methos snarled, low and cold with hot lava in his veins. "You're the one who needs it. You should have taken a horse; I might not have caught you."
Duncan drew in a damp breath and shouted, "I'm not a thief!"
Methos took Duncan's chin tight in his palm. "I shall punish you for a fool."
The panic-stricken boy fought, but Methos was focused, cold and ruthless in a way Duncan could never have coped with. In the end he hung the boy by the wrists from the rafter and cut off his shirt. He used a ragged strip as a gag. When one of Duncan's feet landed a solid kick and cracked his ribs, he did not even feel it. He simply picked himself up and took a needle from a box next to the bed. He jabbed the needle into Duncan's back, at a spot well known to him along the spinal cord. There would be no more movement from those legs until Methos removed the needle. No feeling, either, but that did not matter.
Methos went to the stable. It was still very early in the morning. The horses whickered at him when he entered the stable, and the frost around his heart melted. He stroked each animal's nose, then fed them. Usually John would have done this, but when Methos was in one of his funks everyone knew better than to come around until after nooning. Methos finished feeding the horses and found he had forgotten why he was there. He looked around the stable, letting his mind rest until his eyes settled on the never-used whip on the wall.
The anger flooded back, dispelling the contentment caring for the horses had given him. You should have been gone, boy, he cursed in his thoughts. The anger was gut-wrenching, and he resented it so soon after the misery of the night. Kronos never knew any better, either. Just kept going and going until there was nothing left of any worth. He shook his head and snatched the rope off the wall. Payback's a Fury. It surely is.
The eyes that met his when he stepped into his room were wild with terror. There was immense satisfaction in seeing that reaction to him. It sang to him and he strolled forward, holding the whip in easy view. The hair that hung over Duncan's face was so dark. It was familiar to Methos. Someone else with hair much like that, who angered and struck such fear into him. Ah, but that was another country, and besides the man was dead. Or at least might be dead. Should be.
Methos began. The whip leaped and licked out to leave red lines splitting Duncan's flesh. The boy tried not to react, not to cry out in pain. With his legs paralyzed he could not even move to flee the whip. Methos circled him slowly, the song of the whip going through the air, the tear of flesh when it hit, a continual comfort to his ears. In his mind he saw Debbie, small and dying. There was nothing he could do to help her. Behind his eyes rose Kronos, willing her to die and sneering. He struck, willing away Debbie's death, his helplessness, and the ancient memory of Kronos. He struck until his own arm was in agony and the red haze that had risen in his eyes began to recede until he stood, gasping.
He was staring at a man whose body was a mass of flesh torn raw by a whip. Duncan was dead. He hung, his face flecked with blood. So much blood. Methos felt the strength drain from him. What have I done? He had whipped the boy to death, and not even known he was doing it. That was not what he had intended, was it? In that moment he felt himself tear open, as if he searched within for someone, some way to justify what he had done.
He retreated a step and drew on the long years of his life. He swamped himself in the vastness of his whole. Michael was just a name he used. Methos moved forward again. Dispassionately he stripped the blood-soaked leggings from the boy and threw them on the fire. He cut the rope holding him up, cut the ends from the limp wrists, pulled the needle from its place amidst the bloody flesh. How could someone who struck out be so squeamish about shedding blood? But then, he was playing a healer. He sniffed with disdain and used a blanket he found lying on the floor to wipe up the blood. When there were little more than a few stains left, he was satisfied and threw the blanket on the fire.
The gasping noise of the youngster returning to life caught his ear. He turned and closed the distance between them. Squatting beside the boy, he tilted his head and waited. There was a curdling inside him. Some part of him wanted to apologize. He ignored it. An apology at this moment would not help.
Duncan opened his eyes and looked straight into Methos'. It was only an instant before fear set in and he rolled away to fetch up against the bed. Methos raised an eyebrow. "Come," he ordered. He rose with easy confidence and stepped towards the door.
Duncan did not move. He stared at Methos and opened his mouth uncertainly. When nothing happened, he finally said, "Why? Are you going to kill me again?" His voice shook.
Methos ignored the question. He plucked at his shirt, realizing it was flecked with blood. Feeling mildly annoyed he strolled towards the clothes chest, stripping as he went. "Dress yourself. It's time we ate."
Adams did not speak to Duncan again. Eliza, Guen and John finally arrived. Eliza settled herself in the kitchen, boiling water for cleaning clothes in one pot, and in the other making a large stew. Duncan found himself with her, assigned the task of washing the vegetables and cutting up the meat. The day before, he might have asked her if everyone in England cooked this way. Today he could not even wonder about it. His mind was in turmoil, and the tasks he was doing had a repetitiveness that allowed him a kind of peace. Anything to escape the horror he felt. He would have expected such a beating if he had run and been caught, but why when he was still here? Why? What was so evil about him that Adams would hurt him like that? It had to be him, for the man was different to everyone else. Maybe his father was right....
Something touched his back and sheer terror overwhelmed him, sent him across the room to brace himself against the wall. His body felt like it had been flayed again, pain radiating from every muscle of his torso. It took a moment to realize he was staring at a very surprised Eliza, rather than a furious, murderous Adams. The pain died down to a scratching feeling. He opened his mouth to stammer an apology, but she stopped him.
"Come here and sit down." Puzzlement was clear still in her voice and stance. Her eyes were troubled as he gingerly made his way back to the stool he had been sitting on. He righted it and sat, carefully avoiding her gaze. She was very gentle when she reached down and slid his shirt up his back. She held it away from his skin, and he realized that she guessed what had happened. It was a pity that she would find no injury there. She would doubt him rather than herself, he knew. It was only natural.
Her fingers felt cool as they touched his back. He could not hold back the flinching. He wondered would he ever stop feeling that he was still injured, when he knew he had already healed. Despite the absence of visible injury, Eliza was gentle letting the shirt down. "Keep working," she told him. "I'll be back in a moment."
Methos and Guen were working on identifying various herbs by their smells. This was one of the most difficult things to do, because so many herbs smelled much alike. He had no trouble with it, but then his experience in the field was more than four times the length of Guen's life. When Eliza walked into the room it was a relief to take a break. Her smile was all for her love. The two women touched each other's hands in a gesture that was delightfully romantic and made Methos envy them. Then Eliza said softly, "I need to speak with Michael." Guen nodded and left the room, closing the door behind her. It was easy to envy that confident heeding of a beloved's implied wish.
But Eliza turned and regarded him steadily, and he suddenly felt uneasy. There was reserve in her manner that she had never displayed for him. Perhaps Duncan had told her what happened this morning. The boy had not seemed the type, but....
She interrupted his thoughts, her voice quiet and calm. "We've known each other a long time, you and I."
"Yes, we have," he answered her gently. In his mind he was reviewing responses to what he expected to hear. He told you I beat him near to death? Heavens no! Look, there isn't a scratch on him! He's not well, you know. That's why I've taken him in.
Her eyes behind her accustomed coldness were sad. She stared at the wall for a moment, before turning her gaze to him. "The beating which brought you to me, which saved me from my father and husband, killed my unborn child."
"Yes, I remember." He had fought to save Eliza, pushed on by Guen when he might have given up. He had done everything he could, even pulled out a few tricks that would have gotten him burned at the stake. But there had been nothing he could do to save the life that had been within her. She had never spoken of it in all the time he had known her.
"I sometimes wonder what would have happened if my child had lived." She said it blandly, and if he were a stranger he would have believed she felt nothing. He was not a stranger, and felt the melancholy brush around them. Eyes spoke and hers were weeping without tears. "What if it had been a boy? What if he grew up to look like my father? Or my husband? How would I have treated him?"
"Eliza..." he would have tried to reassure her but she continued.
"Would I be kind to him, do you think? Or would I beat him and torment him into madness? Sometimes I have such nightmares."
"There is no point to wondering 'what if', Eliza. You just have to live."
"I know. You are full of wise words, Michael. What about you?"
"Eh?" Taken aback, he stared at her. Her sad eyes looked into his with too much knowing. "I live."
"Duncan is young."
What? Where was she going with this? He frowned and shook his head. "Eliza, he's older than you."
"He's lived longer, but his experiences are not as mine," she responded with absolute logic. He could find no response that fit her statement, and settled for frowning and looking away. "Nor as yours."
Startled, he met her eyes again. Like any wise women, she understood the whole without knowing the parts. He swallowed and said blandly, "That was a long time ago."
"He is terrified."
"He'll get over it," Methos muttered. He could not meet her eyes anymore. He took the shame she was calling up in him and tried to bury it.
She touched his hand and he forced himself to meet her steady gaze. "Perhaps this time. I do not know what happened, Michael, but I do have one question."
When she did not say it, he prompted her reluctantly. "What is it?"
"Were you thinking of him, or of someone else?" She turned from him and walked to the door. She paused there and looked back at him. "I've washed out bloodstains and mended holes in your clothes for years, Michael." With that, she left the room.
He stood lost in the shock. Bloodstains and holes with no visible injury to him. He had burned Duncan's clothes, but he had forgotten the drops and few smears of blood on his own. Careless, he was getting careless. Careless to lose control of himself while whipping Duncan. How bad was it? His heart gave a violent slam and he opened the door, almost running over Guen in his haste to get to the kitchen. He pulled up, folding his fingers together in an effort at calm. "I think we've done enough for today, don't you?"
"Well, I would like a break," Guen answered him. She was clearly very surprised. He was sure Eliza would explain it to her later.
He marched past her into the kitchen. When he entered the room he saw Duncan jump from the stool and move in a crouch to place his back against the wall. Methos affected unconcern and turned to Eliza. "Why don't the two of you take the rest of the day off? Tell John he can, too. I've got a lot to do."
Eliza met his gaze blandly and nodded. "We'll do that, Goodman Adams." She linked her arm with that of the still-confused Guen, and the two left the room. Methos stepped out to watch them leave the house, then moved back into the kitchen, where Duncan appeared to be trying to grow into the wall.
The boy's eyes were huge and wild. Methos studied the trembling boy. Man, really. But he was so young compared to Methos it was easy to think of him as a boy. The trembling became twitching as the seconds passed. Yes, he would have to do something. Action was what was needed here. "Come," Methos said curtly. He turned and left the room. Very soon he heard Duncan following him.
John had already left. The horses were out to pasture so the stable was empty and quiet. Methos took out the heavy wooden staves they had often practiced with. When he threw one to Duncan, the boy barely caught it, flinching away from the staff. As always, Methos did not give him a moment and came right at him.
Even in Duncan's state of mind, the training Methos had given him held. He managed to block the first testing blows but he did not attack as he normally did. Methos stepped up the pace, using strikes that Duncan would have to be more aggressive to counter. After landing two blows he began to grin mockingly. It had the effect he wanted. Duncan stiffened, and the helpless look in his eyes became an angry one. He blocked the next two blows but still did not attack. Methos slipped his staff under the boy's guard and got in a painful blow to the stomach. He laughed while Duncan reeled.
"Damn you!" Duncan coughed out, to which Methos only laughed harder.
The shout that broke from Duncan's throat combined outrage and despair. He went on the offensive, his staff a blur as he tried to get through Methos' guard. Methos deflected most of the blows easily, but did his best to look as though he was having trouble. He could sense the slowing as Duncan began to tire. With a supreme effort of will, he let a blow to his leg through, only avoiding it enough that it could not break his bone. He fell, hearing the whoosh of Duncan's staff as the boy struck for his head. A slight twist and the staff only brushed his cheek. Then there was a clatter and the sound of running feet. He heard the stable door open and sat up to see.
Duncan had a bridle in his hand and was running toward the pasture as fast as he could. He stumbled once. Methos took a deep, steadying breath, still slightly winded from the fight. It was time to go after the boy, or he would realize later that he had been allowed to escape. Mustn't make it too easy on him, Methos thought with a smile.
He leapt to his feet and bolted out the door, seeing a couple of townsfolk gaping at them from the front of the next house over. That was why he lived on the outskirts of town, to keep a minimum of people from seeing what he was up to. He ignored them, enjoying the feel of running, his legs eating up the ground. In the field, Duncan ran towards Cathay. Methos almost laughed when he saw that. He deliberately stumbled to give the boy time to bridle the horse. Not the best choice, Duncan, he thought. But of course the boy would pick Cathay. The stallion was still wild, and the old horse did not have a lot of stamina.
When Duncan mounted him, Cathay did what Methos had trained him to. He took a few strides as if to obey his rider, then gave one immense, twisting buck. Duncan went flying and landed hard.
Methos reined in his amusement and went to his horse. He took the bridle off, rubbed Cathay's ears and gave him a bit of apple. Then he went to see to the boy.
Duncan was stirring, stunned by the fall. Methos sat down beside him and laid a hand on his chest. The boy froze. Methos said, "That was well done."
Duncan blinked and sucked in a breath. "If it was well done, what am I doing lying here?" he said miserably.
"You did not know Cathay would do that," Methos replied gently. "Failure is not important. Only living to try again."
Duncan stared up at him, shivering. "You punish me for staying and are kind to me when I try to escape. I don't understand! What do you want from me?!"
"Oh, I think you know what I want." Methos let the silence rest for a time. He watched with mild amusement as Duncan's face turned white.
The boy protested. "You can't use me for that! I'm a man. Make me tend your horses or --"
"John tends my horses."
Duncan drew a shaken breath and covered his eyes with one hand. "Please let me go."
Methos set his hand on Duncan's chest, feeling the boy shrink from him. "You are my war prize, Duncan. Hyde didn't want you, so he used you to pay what he owed me."
"Do you want me?"
Methos eyed him, and noticed the boy looked unnerved by his own question. He shrugged and replied, "You have an appeal."
"Well, tell me what it is and I'll get rid of it!"
Methos laughed and offered Duncan a hand up. He could not hold his amusement when they both were standing and he had to meet the boy's haunted, bewildered eyes. A sad, lonely wind blew through him and he shook his head. "Perhaps your appeal is that you are Immortal, and can survive my temper. That shouldn't have happened."
Duncan shivered and took a step back. He asked bleakly, "Why did it happen, then?"
Methos let himself smile though he felt hollow in his gut. Debbie's sweet face crossed his vision. "Because I could not help Debbie. There is no enemy for me to fight. She can't escape her fate, but you had a chance and you stayed. So I took out my pain on you. I shouldn't have."
A wild shudder was visible before Duncan spoke. "Will it happen again?"
Methos coughed in surprise. Strange boy. He should be thinking of getting away. It was disorienting to realize that was not the boy's highest priority. Intriguing, as well. And annoying. Methos tossed his head and pushed Duncan towards the house. "Time for a bath." He kept his hand firmly between the boy's shoulder blades as they walked. The faint shivering he felt under his palm became convulsive twitching by the time they reached his door.
I'll try to escape again, I will, Duncan kept thinking. It was almost the only thought he could form coherently. He felt as though Adams was again flaying him with the whip. He could not fathom why; there was only Adams' hand against his back, and for some reason that felt as though a hot iron was driving into him. And yet... he knew how it felt to be helpless to save someone he loved. When Debra had died, had he struck out at anyone? He did not think so, but did he really remember? Things from before he became Immortal were so much less clear.
Thoughts of Debra had helped reduce his awareness of the crawling, sourceless pain he felt. He found they had entered the bathing room without his noticing. He drew in a breath and jumped when Adam's spoke, voice again cool with command.
That jolted him. He turned around to look at Adams, but the man looked cool and indifferent to Duncan's alarm. It seemed things were getting back to normal. Although this was new. "Undress you?" he asked, just to be certain he had heard correctly.
But I don't even want to touch you. He felt as though he were wrapped in snow, or fog. He could not seem to summon up any reaction. Except perhaps this incessant weakness, the shivers he could feel that were visible when he raised his hands. I could refuse, couldn't I? Perhaps. But he felt the whip again along his flesh and closed his eyes, flinching. There was no way to escape this with Adams alert. He was right, I should have left when I could. I'm an idiot.
And so Duncan obeyed, gingerly pulling Adams' clothing off. Afterwards, Adams handed him the washrags and the bowl of warm, soapy water. "Wash me."
Duncan began with Adams' back. It was difficult at first to apply any great effort. He did not want to touch Adams, but the man leaned into the pressure. When Duncan shied back he was treated to a level, cool look made all the more threatening by the absence of emotion in it. Nerving himself, he began to scrub. After a time he felt better. The fear was receding as he put his mind to this simple task. He even felt some warmth at Adams' behavior. The man had closed his eyes and kept leaning this way and that, toward wherever Duncan was scrubbing. He found himself reaching for more out of the way spots just to watch Adams twist that way. The skin was warm when his fingers brushed it, the muscles were firm under the washrag, the soap smelled like crushed dandelions. And what was this bizarre obsession with bathing? Duncan had not been this clean ever in his life.
Adams suddenly pulled away, stretching. He dumped the dirty water down the drain, took a clean washrag and refilled the bowl. "Not badly done. Now, I shall wash you."
Duncan could not move. Fear settled in his heart as Adams began scrubbing his back. He could hear again the sound of the whip, feel again it striking and tearing into him. Then through the memory came another sound. Someone humming a song that was almost familiar. He could not quite place it. It brought him out of his fear and into the bathing room. No whip touched him; no slashing pains erupted. There were only hands: one with a rag scrubbing his skin, the other following behind. That second hand caressed and dug deep into his back, and it felt wonderful. Duncan flinched in surprise when the hand with the washrag slipped around to his chest.
Adams moved to sit in front of him, still humming, the one hand carefully scrubbing his skin. His flesh tingled where the other hand touched, every tender stroke and deep press triggering relief. There was also a ghostly pleasure that seemed to run through his bones. He had to close his eyes; tried to concentrate on the song Adams was humming. For the face that he had seen was open and innocent, eyes full of bright interest fastened on his body. Duncan shivered.
"Lean back," whispered the deep, caressing voice in his ear.
Duncan obeyed, feeling Adams' hands guiding him to lie on his back. He caught his breath when he felt the cloth stroke across his nipples to be followed by fingers. He gritted his teeth, feeling his manhood react to the touch. "Don't...."
"Be still," came a soft murmur from above him.
A tongue touched one of his nipples and fingers lightly tweaked the other. The sensations arrowed down his body. Before he could protest, they vanished and he felt fingers stroke his hips lightly. Then Adams was washing his legs. Pleasure kept stealing through him, difficult to reject because it was subtle. Before he knew how it had happened, he was having trouble breathing and he could feel the blood pulsing in his manhood.
And then Adams stopped. Duncan trembled, his eyes closed as tight as possible. Please... he held the thought, the desire, inside. He gasped when one of Adams' hot, strong hands closed firmly on his shoulder.
Adams chuckled softly and said, "Into the bath."
Duncan scrambled to his feet and practically fell in. His whole body was shaking with desire. Before, when he had been forced into arousal, that had not been like this. That had not made him want Adams, only to come. But now he knew there was kindness and pleasure to be had from those ruthless hands. How long before he began to yearn for that touch? And Adams did not get in the tub, but rested his chin on his hands to simply gaze at Duncan.
They spent the rest of the afternoon working with the stallion, until Debbie's father came walking slowly through the field towards them. Adams moved to meet the man. Duncan walked the stallion and tried to catch any words that might reach him on the breeze. Then Adams turned and walked towards him, shoulders sagging. The other man went the way he had come.
"Debbie's funeral is tomorrow," Adams said quietly. His expression was forlorn, eyes focused on the grass at his feet. "I will take you with me."
Duncan nodded. So, the little girl had died. Poor, tiny, gentle Debbie. He felt a chill steal into his heart. Perhaps he should run now. He took a step uneasily away and Adams' hand shot out and pulled him close. He braced his feet, but nothing happened. Adams simply directed him to bring in the horses, saying nothing. Duncan would have liked to clasp the man's hands and offer some comfort. If only the fear had not returned.
It grew worse throughout the next few hours as Adams neither spoke nor looked at him. He thought about attempting to run again, but every time he took a step away, the man shifted to face him. He hasn't gone senseless. So if he beats me again, it'll be on some other pretext. He could not decide what he was most afraid of, being beaten or... well, he had no idea. That was somehow even more frightening.
When Adams began stalking him at last, it was almost a relief after all the waiting. Menacing in stillness, sinister in silent, graceful movement. Duncan moved away, his knees trembling. When he came to the door of the bedroom, he realized Adams was herding him. He stopped there and refused to move. The eyes, which had seemed to watch the floor all this time, came up to the level of his chest. The sense of menace increased. Duncan held his breath, afraid that any movement might trigger an attack. They held for long moments, before at last Adams began moving closer on soundless feet.
It came to Duncan that if he waited much longer he would panic. Not this time, he thought. He lunged at Adams and caught him by the shoulders, spinning him and throwing him down on his stomach. His captor had never fought him close, and pinning him Duncan realized suddenly that he had succeeded. It was a pity this had not happened when Adams was entirely in his right mind.
But it only took an instant for Adams to wrench around and kick Duncan in the groin. Before the blinding pain faded, he felt a hand dig itself into his hair and knew he was being dragged into the bedroom. His shirt was torn off, but he had recovered and began fighting again, grappling with Adams. He took advantage of the man's clothing for something to grip and hold while he punched. They tumbled over the chest twice before Adams managed to maneuver him onto the bed. He fought as long as he could, abandoning restraint and dignity. Only when Adams finally succeeded in tying his wrists to the bedposts did he stop.
Adams was staring down at him, eyes wide with that same innocent curiosity that almost stopped his heart. They were both breathing hard, chests heaving. Seeing Adams look just as worn as he felt was comforting. Maybe they had burned out the violence? When Adams dropped a hand to caress his cheek, he realized he was not afraid. He held still, cautious of what he might invite if he moved.
Adams sat back and began pulling his clothes off. Duncan's gut clenched when he saw the hard manhood and he closed his eyes. He was surprised. Adams was usually soft at the start. Perhaps fighting so hard had been a bad idea. Then fingers brushed his lower lip, and with hopelessness he opened his mouth.
He was afraid at first that to have Adams' manhood already hard would choke him, but the man entered his mouth slowly and just seemed to relax there. Duncan felt a surge of indignation, mingled with other, more confusing emotions. This time he would not wait for Adams' commands. The memory of earlier came to him; how Adams had woken emotions other than revulsion by the very tenderness of his touch. Teaching me to fight, to read... why not in this, too? he thought angrily. You will lose control to me, damnit.
He began brushing his tongue around the flesh in his mouth, tasting a peculiar blend of sweat and desire he had never really noticed before. He heard Adams gasp, felt a trembling in the body over him. He continued his careful efforts, sucking and licking. Before long he could hear constant whimpers and groans in response to his touch. I have you, he realized. Adams' hips were moving, heaving forward as if he could not help himself. Duncan knew that helpless response; Adams had driven him into it many times, yet had done so cruelly. To feel it from Adams sent a wave of desire through his own body.
It was as though every moment of unsatisfied hunger rose to haunt him. He was burning. He pulled at the rope holding him, wanting to put his arms around the trembling body and hold tight. He wanted to slide it down and press his manhood into it. He sucked hungrily and a thrill shot through him as he heard a cry from above. And then Adams pushed deep into his throat and he felt the man come. Oh, God. I want him.
Adams slid down and halfway off of Duncan. He was shivering and covered with sweat. He lay his damp cheek against Duncan's chest. The urge to hold him grew, and Duncan moaned and pulled against the rope. He felt a shudder pass through the man lying on him. They lay there, and slowly the burning desire eased off. Darkness passed across his vision a few times before he finally surrendered to restless sleep.
Methos watched from a seat at the edge of the arena, feeling as though he were again a spectator at a Greek play. Kronos was at center stage hewing down mortals left and right. Methos, with a tired resignation he put forth as detachment, watched the blood seep towards him. He felt himself die with each face he recognized. There was little Debbie, there her father, there Eliza and next to her Guen, there John... and thousands more.
Kronos turned and looked at him. "Well, Brother! Aren't you going to join the fun?"
He waited a beat, then blinked. Goodness, Brother, I'm bored already. Got anything better? In the space of his blink, the last of the mortals was dead. He affected a sigh. "You haven't left anything for me to do."
Kronos cocked his head and thought that over for a moment. "How true. Just a moment!" He turned to the closet behind him. It had not been there before, and Methos felt a momentary surprise. Kronos opened the doors to black emptiness and walked inside. Oh, the opportunity!! Methos looked around for something to bury the closet in. "Ah, here they are!" Kronos said from the darkness.
What Kronos brought out with him froze Methos to his core. Kronos had Cassandra by the nape of the neck in his right hand, and Duncan by the nape of the neck in his left hand. Both of them were struggling violently, clawing and kicking at Kronos. He did not seem to notice their movements. He grinned mischievously at Methos. "Isn't this a surprise!"
Always present a calm, collected surface to him. Methos leaned back slowly in his seat and shook his head. "What is your fascination with my Immortal slaves?"
Kronos said contemptuously, "They don't interest me. It's just they interest you too much, Brother. You've grown soft."
Methos sneered. "Well Kronos, at my age I like toys that last."
Kronos looked genuinely surprised. "Nothing lasts, Brother. Nothing."
Methos woke to find himself wrapped around Duncan, pressing his head into the restrained man's chest. He felt a shifting beneath him, heard a small whimper and chanced a look at the face. Duncan was still asleep but, judging from the way his eyes were moving under the lids, would probably wake up soon. Methos shivered at the memory of Duncan in Kronos' hands. He had no doubt that in those circumstances the boy would fight just as hard as Cassandra had.
Comforted, he lay his head down again and listened to the healthy, strong heart beating under his ear. If this were two thousand years ago, he would be in Greece and go to an oracle to have his dream interpreted. He grinned in amused remembrance. He used to go to oracles just to see the looks on their faces when he told them his dreams. Bland, innocent little me. They had stuttered and been confused, trying to tell him his future and not understanding what they were seeing.
The dream was easy to understand. He was just getting attached to Duncan, and he was afraid that somehow Kronos would come and tear them apart, just as had happened with Cassandra. He sighed sadly. For all her fighting spirit, she could not have lasted long in her ignorance. That was the difference between his two slaves. Duncan knew he was Immortal and what it meant. Methos was training him, not leaving him ignorant. Someday he would escape and be a force to be reckoned with in the Game.
In the meantime.... Methos lifted his head and cupped Duncan's cheek. The boy came awake with a gasp, blinking blearily. "Good morning," Methos said gently. He cocked his head at the feel of stubble on Duncan's cheek. He had left the boy to take care of his own shaving, but after last night he wanted to reward him. Nodding to himself, he released the restraints and went to collect the shaving kit. By the time he returned to the bed, Duncan had relieved himself in the chamber pot and washed out his mouth with the morning wine. "Sit down," Methos told him.
Duncan's cheeks reddened, but he said nothing and sat, staring into Methos' eyes searchingly. With calm, patient affection, Methos washed him and slowly shaved his face. He made each stroke a deliberate caress, and could feel a slight tremor under his hands. When he was finished, he sat back and studied his work. He nodded as sadness welled in his heart. The reason he particularly wanted to be clean.... "We mustn't go to Debbie's funeral looking grubby."
Duncan drew in a sharp breath and nodded. He looked down, suddenly shy. "I used to love a girl named Debra. She died."
Curious and sympathetic, Methos touched his shoulder. "Was it when you became Immortal?" Poor child. Another painful loss with the whole of his mortal life.
Duncan shook his head. "No. It was long before."
For a moment there was silence, then Duncan began quietly. "We grew up together. She was a hellion as a child, and the sweetest woman I'd ever known." Methos felt a twinge of amusement. Duncan's experiences with woman were probably quite limited. "She was betrothed to my cousin Robert, and we begged our parents to release her so that we could marry. They wouldn't. Robert thought we had dishonored him. We hadn't. He challenged me to a duel. I killed him." Duncan shivered and drew his knees up to his chin. Methos waited. "I wanted to go away because I'd killed him, but Debra became hysterical and she.... There was an accident, the cliff-edge gave under her weight and she fell. They ruled it a suicide. It wasn't!" His head snapped up and he glared defiantly as Methos. "We'd not been there since we were children! She didn't know it would happen! She was just reaching to take my hand when --"
Methos pulled him close and silenced the rising voice. "I believe you."
Duncan shuddered against him and pressed closer. How long had the boy held on to this grief? His people were ones who took out their anger and pain in fighting. But fighting was often not enough. Methos stroked Duncan's back and kissed his shoulder. The boy shivered and huddled closer, then pulled back and met his eyes. "Why... why were you so cruel to me?"
Methos was taken aback. He straightened up and studied Duncan. Yes, he had been cruel, but now he had dropped the sadistic edge that he had been indulging in. He frowned, more to himself than to the boy. "Do you think I won't be cruel again?" he snapped. The wall of outrage he was trying to build crumpled when he saw the dismay on Duncan's face. He turned away.
Behind him, Duncan whispered, "Why me?"
Sullen, he bit out, "Because it amused me. I haven't --" He broke off, realizing suddenly that the amusement was gone. He searched for it and only found shame. He shook his head and moved to open the shuttered window, letting in a cold morning breeze. He stood there, staring up at the blue sky, trying not to think.
"It's as if there is one man who enjoys hurting me, another who wants to be my teacher, and this one who washed me --" his voice trembled -- "and comforted me. Who -- who are you?"
Methos leaned his elbows on the sill and felt Duncan's question reach inside him, searching. He was touched by the way the boy described his impressions. He was amused by the careful avoidance of admitting desire. He turned, crossed back to the bed and sat next to Duncan. Meeting his eyes seriously, Methos said, "There is only one man here. It is simply that I have led many different lives." He touched Duncan's chin and traced the bone beneath the flesh. "I am layered like the land, and sometimes to protect myself I must expose part of me that is unpleasant. When I am with Martin, I use the layer he fears and respects. It's easy to live that life again, and difficult to put it down. Especially," he pinned Duncan in a quick move and hovered over him threateningly, "if I have someone around to remind me how much I enjoy the taste of power."
He watched with interest as Duncan closed his eyes and swallowed. The boy drew a deep breath and held it, and Methos found himself fascinated by the effort at control. Then Duncan opened his eyes and gazed straight into Methos'. "Do you? Or are you afraid to find out you don't anymore?"
The dark brown of those eyes seemed to envelop him. And deep inside there was something... a shining brilliance that.... Disoriented, Methos pulled back. That was a totally unexpected question. Where did the boy get this idea? He leaned in close and opened himself up to listen to Duncan's heart. Almost at once he was swamped in a tangle of emotions; need and curiosity foremost. Beyond lay confusion, fear and no small amount of rage. The structure was still simple, but had gained complexity in the short time since he had first read the boy. And as before, there was that underlying determination to change the world. To change him?
"You can't change me," he growled, before realizing he was speaking aloud. Duncan paled and again closed his startling eyes. He flinched away, trying to dig back into the bedding. Methos felt the edge of his anger soften. Was the boy right? Did he really know what he wanted? He hesitated, then took the unresisting wrists and tied them to the bedpost. Last night had been very nice. Tensions he had not quite recognized had eased out of him with the boy's cooperation and clear sensual response. Methos touched the chest beneath him, tugging lightly at the curled hairs he had allowed to grow back. The last of his anger melted away, turned into an urge to seduce and he leaned down to catch the right nipple between his lips. He pressed it tightly, then closed his eyes and licked it with slow strokes of his tongue.
He heard a small sound of startlement from Duncan. It delighted him. He worked the small nub with his mouth and ran his fingers lightly along Duncan's skin, trailing his way from the jaw to the hips, then slowly back. The body beneath him began to tremble, every muscle tightened as the boy tried to pull away. Methos allowed his thumb to brush the other nipple and found the nub swollen and hard. He shifted to it and began the suckling there. Duncan jerked beneath him, uttering a small, choked cry.
Oh, yes. Knowing what he was doing to the boy sent erotic chills through him. His groin pulsed, remembering the mouth that had pleasured it the night before. Methos let his left hand drift down between Duncan's legs to settle lightly on a half-hard manhood. Oh, yes indeed. He lay his palm flat against it. Not a jerk this time, but a spasm and a groan torn from a resisting throat. Methos took the right nipple between his fingers and slowly squeezed it even as he began stroking Duncan. His suckling he kept gentle while he increased the pressure with his fingers. The boy's body undulated beneath him, and a groan became a cry of confused pleasure and pain. Methos released the pinched nipple and took it between his lips, humming with delight as Duncan cried out again and arched up to meet him.
Methos slid his left hand down and pushed a finger inside the tight opening of Duncan's body. The reaction was expected; a startled scream and the boy pulled away, trying to close his legs. Methos was there to meet him, taking Duncan's manhood into his mouth and sucking. The boy's knees fell apart; he sounded as if he was choking, writhing wildly. Methos felt the cock in his mouth hardening dramatically and he released it, sitting up to watch the boy twist. He set his right hand on Duncan's upper thigh, his thumb sliding next to the balls.
So close to orgasm and denied. Duncan had closed his eyes tightly. He had blood on his mouth, must have bitten either his tongue or lips. Gasping, he begged, "Please! Please, let me finish!"
Methos leaned down and kissed the blood away. "When I choose, Duncan."
"Please choose, please, please!" Duncan was no longer making any effort to get away. His legs had fallen far apart and he was struggling to push his body into his tormentor's.
Methos felt hot fire course through him. He hurried to the trunk across the room and opened it to get the bottle he had in there. It contained a plant oil that he usually used to soothe burns on some of his patients. It would do wonderfully for this. He returned to the bed and sat between Duncan's spread legs. He spilled some oil onto his left palm and some onto his manhood.
Even as he did, he knew he was not going to complete the action. Not this time. Soon, however, the boy would spread his legs and beg Methos to take him. Even the thought made him gasp. He ran his right hand up Duncan's manhood. Resting his fingers on the swollen tip he said softly, "Look at me."
When Duncan opened fever-bright eyes, Methos touched his left fingers to the boy's anus, letting the oil dribble down. He began working it in gently, watching Duncan's eyes. When he slid his second finger inside, he saw realization set in. The boy went still and pale. He pulled his legs, formerly spread so invitingly, together. Methos saw panic when that action only pushed his fingers deeper. The boy whispered, "No."
Oh, he was sweet. Methos pulled his fingers out slowly, and rested them on the entry. "Why not?" he asked gently.
"I'm no' -- I'm not a whore. Don' make me one!" Duncan's voice was shaky with fear. His skin had gone cold.
Methos leaned down until his nose was inches from the boy's. "I can't make you anything. Fight as long as you can. If you cannot, wait for an opportunity. It is the nature of existence that things change --" Nothing lasts, Brother, he remembered Kronos saying in his dream, "-- and if you live long enough, everything changes."
The sexual heat had died as he determined to pass this lesson to Duncan. The boy blinked up at him and he slid his hand out from between the suddenly relaxed thighs. Duncan made a small, querying sound. It touched the heart he had been trying to hide and he sighed. He cupped the boy's face between his palms. "I want you." He reached up without looking and released Duncan's wrists. He smiled down into the wide, stunned brown eyes and moved off the bed, to go gather clean clothes for the two of them.
The coffin in the grave was so small. The shadows of the surrounding mourners fell across it under the afternoon sun. Duncan concentrated on the grain of the wood, trying not to imagine the child whose body was inside. She had been such a sweet little girl. He reverently dropped his handful of dirt into the grave. Turning, he moved away as the other mourners had done. Little Debbie, his father, Debra... the list of those he outlived would only grow longer. Why do I have to be different? Why did I have to be Immortal? Why do they die? He shook his head, trying to rid himself of these futile thoughts. He was raised a warrior and should behave as one. If he wept for every death he would never stop.
He took a few steps further, automatically moving towards the gates of the cemetery, when he felt the buzzing, rumbling sensation that marked another Immortal. It swept into him, then was gone almost as soon as he recognized it. He stopped in surprise.
"It's time to leave," came Adams' voice from right behind him.
He flinched, startled. "Did --" he began, then cut himself off. He should say nothing. Maybe it was Connor come to rescue him. Maybe he would escape before he lost his honor. Escape... Adams' words from the day before came back to him. She can't escape her fate, but you had a chance and you stayed. Tears stung his eyes and he began walking, keeping his head down so no one could see them. He was acutely conscious of Adams beside him, graceful and soundless. The pain seemed to grow as he thought again of his loved ones. "Does it get any easier?" he asked, ashamed of the hoarseness of his voice.
Adams was silent for a moment, then said quietly, "It can. But it's better if it doesn't."
"Because to stop hurting you have to stop caring. You are a person who cares very much."
Duncan swallowed past a lump in his throat. "Perhaps I'd like to care a little less."
"Ah, but that is only the beginning." Adams moved close to him, so that their shoulders brushed as they walked. "To know them is to care, so you stop knowing them. Then something happens to remind you that they will drive you out as a monster, or torture you for the secret of your Immortality. So you start to kill them before they can hurt you. It's easy, because you don't know them and you don't care about them."
Duncan shivered at the image invoked. He stumbled on a rock and righted himself. He glanced over at Adams and saw that the man's face was white as if with pain. "I can't imagine anything worse than becoming a murderer."
Adams voice was low and cold. "Oh, there is worse."
Impossible, thought Duncan. Adams nudged him and he realized he had stopped walking. "What could that be?" he asked, forcing himself to move.
"Maybe you meet someone and grow to care about them. Then one day you notice they look like someone you killed. It becomes an avalanche. Every person you meet resembles someone you murdered. For a while you may even go mad, unable to distinguish between the people you meet and the ones you never knew who exist now only in your memory."
"I'd rather die!" Duncan blurted out. He felt hot and frightened. Oh yes, if that was what would happen it was better to hurt with each loss. He vowed then and there not to stop caring.
He heard a low chuckle from the man next to him. "Better to live. All things pass."
He stared at Adams, remembering when the man had hunched against a wall, weeping for Debbie. An avalanche. And what does an avalanche do but bury you? Maybe that was where the nightmare of being buried alive had come from. Adams had been through that. Had chosen not to care, then become a murderer, then begun to care too much. "How old are you?" Duncan spoke before he quite thought.
"I don't know."
Startled, Duncan stumbled again. He vowed to pay more attention to where he was putting his feet. "Why don't you go back to where you were born? Check the baptismal records?"
Adams chuckled again. "I don't know where I was born, and there aren't any baptismal records. I'm twice as old as Christianity, Duncan."
Duncan boggled, but recovered. "Surely you must have an idea!"
Adams stopped and looked up at the sky as though to gather his wits. When he met Duncan's eyes, he seemed amused. "I tried to keep track, back when I first understood I was Immortal. I kept a pebble for every year I lived and wore them in a pouch around my neck."
"The pouch got heavy and became a hindrance in a challenge, so I decided it was time to count the stones."
He fell silent again, his eyes twinkling with mischief. Duncan finally prompted him. "How many were there?"
"I don't know." To Duncan's outraged snort, he added, "The bottom-most ones had been ground to dust. Almost half of the rest had broken. I remember I thought it was incredibly ironic."
"I guess so." Duncan was not certain he should believe what he was hearing. This man, three-thousand years old? But then, Connor had told him that Ramirez had claimed to be over sixteen-hundred years old. There must be a way to tell how old an Immortal was besides accepting their claim. Still, he liked the idea. Adams was strange. Eccentric as any old man. If he was as old as he claimed, it was no wonder Hyde respected him. If he was as old as he claimed, anyone might be after him. Duncan sucked in a breath. What were the chances that it was Connor? Before he could think twice he blurted out, "I felt one of us at the cemetery."
"Why tell me?" Adams asked softly.
Duncan stopped in surprise, and again Adams nudged him to keep walking. Not 'Why didn't you tell me?' As if having someone try to help him was the surprise. As if my trying to help him is a surprise. But then, after the things he's done to me, how could he expect it? Why would I help him.... "After I died I met a madman in the woods. He made me take his head. Then a Viking, Kanwulf, came and killed my father. Then Connor found me. Then Hyde --"
"Better the devil you know?" Adams interrupted with a low chuckle. He strolled ahead of Duncan, somehow managing to look natural even in the bizarre clothing these Englishmen wore.
Duncan shook his head and broadened his stride to keep up. But I don't know you, he thought. I'm only just beginning to get an idea of the kind of person you are. He told himself it was not so horrible to be the object of another man's desire. Even the idea of Adams taking him no longer filled him with such horror. Oh, if it were someone like Hyde, or Kanwulf or... he could not imagine Connor wanting such a thing from him. But Adams' hands were like magic when not punishing. And his eyes... there had been a frightening, exhilarating moment this morning when he thought he could feel and understand him. Just a moment, when he knew Adams was desperately lonely and needed love from outside to fight the demons who sought to claim his soul. That was the moment Duncan had realized that he wanted to do whatever he could to pull this man into the light. Even seduce him, if that was what it took. As if reading Duncan's mind, Adams had growled "You can't change me." We'll see about that, thought Duncan stubbornly.
That night he thought he had never noticed how warm the bedroom was with the fire at full flame. The moment they entered the room, Adams had started undressing. Duncan could not take his eyes off him. He thought dazedly that perhaps he should also take his clothes off, but the determination he had felt after Debbie's funeral seemed to have deserted him. Why can't you just be my teacher? Why do you have to take my honor away? I'm losing it in little bits. Connor, did you ever want to bed a student? He laughed at himself, remembering when Connor's seventy-five years had seemed old.
When Adams touched his cheek, his skin burned. "What were you laughing about?"
He shivered back a step. "I thought Connor was old."
Adams smiled. "Barely older than you." He closed his hands on Duncan's shoulders and pushed him towards the bed.
How come I'm the one who feels naked? Duncan thought weakly. When he felt the bed against his thighs he managed to force himself to hold against the light push. If he gets me down on the bed... he remembered the morning with brilliant clarity. If he wants to take me, I won't be able to resist him. "Adams," he choked out.
"Yes?" Adams' voice was low and teasing. He had a captivating smile at the edge of his lips. He touched Duncan's hand with that amazing strength, then ran his fingers up his arm.
Duncan felt his legs go weak. He forced his gaze down and shuddered when he saw Adams' hard manhood. His pulse hammered and he felt his own manhood hardening. He'll take me... oh, God. Unless.... He did not give himself time to think twice. He dropped to his knees and took Adams' manhood in his mouth, wrapping his arms around the man's thighs. He closed his eyes and sucked just as Adams had taught him.
Perhaps that was a mistake. The hoarse cry from above him, the hands that caught his head and tightened in his hair, all set his own body aflame. And this was the first time he had been able to touch Adams with his hands. He did not count the time in the bath. He felt like a starving man suddenly given a loaf of fresh-baked bread. He tried desperately to satisfy this hunger, stroking the skin he could touch, squeezing incredibly firm muscles and pulling the man closer. He was grateful he could not speak, for he might have said "I need you." As it was he burned, and he sucked and licked, pulling away for a moment to rub his cheek against the firm flesh. He felt Adams sway and gripped tighter, realizing the man was about to fall. No, I need you.
"So good," he heard a strangled whisper above him. "Oh God, Duncan...."
Adams shook helplessly and then came, thrusting deep into Duncan's throat. And this time Duncan allowed him to fall, guiding him into his arms. God, I've wanted to hold you, he thought. But he could not say it. Too dangerous to say it. They sat together like that, in a moment of peace that seemed to go on forever
At last, Adams pushed away. "On your back, Duncan," he whispered hoarsely.
He fell back onto the bed and Adams climbed atop him, swiftly looping the bindings around his wrists. And then Adams pushed his shirt up and scraped Duncan's chest with his fingernails. He could not breathe. Hard muscles rubbed against him and he fell apart, moaning and twisting upwards. Then came something else, a throbbing sensation that nearly stopped his heart.
His head cleared even as Adams released his arms and pushed him off the bed. Immortal coming! Of all the times -- but Adams was whirling towards the door with a blade in his hand. Where did that come from?! And then the door was smashed in.
The man who came through did not seem to pause to get his bearings. He went straight at Adams. Duncan caught a confused impression of long, dark hair and a wild face before the battle was joined. He had never seen Immortals battle before. The speed with which the two men moved was terrifying. Adams being naked made it easy to tell when the stranger got in a strike. Duncan could only hope that he was giving as good as he got. He recognized some of the moves the two men made, both from Connor and Adams. As far as he could tell, they were about equal in skill.
And then Adams slipped in the blood on the floor. The stranger took quick advantage and forced Adams back onto the bed. Duncan's heart nearly stopped again. Adams' head was close to him. The stranger stood between Adams' legs, their swords were crossed but the other man's blade was at Adams' throat. Then the man spoke and Adams answered, but Duncan could not understand a word they said.
"Greetings, Brother!" Kronos said cheerfully, grinning smugly down at him.
Methos drew a breath, affecting exasperation over the shock he felt. Kronos had spoken in the old trade language they had used for a thousand years together. Methos responded in kind, "Where the hell have you been?!" He thought, How did you find me? Duncan, don't call his attention to you.
"Anywhere I could be. Where've you been?"
"Oh, here and there. Just about everywhere, actually." Oh my Brother, the world is a fantastic place. But it's grown too wide for you and I. Even now we could not return to what we were. He saw the old madness in Kronos' eyes. The old determination: to make the world what he wanted it to be. And there too was the old desperation.
"I thought you were dead," Kronos said with deceptive mildness.
"How did you find me?"
"An idiot named Hyde came after me." Kronos grinned and Methos chuckled as he suspected what had happened. "He offered me the head of an ancient Immortal, Remus, if I spared his! Imagine my surprise."
"Little did he know he was talking to Romulus."
He and Kronos had once founded a city themselves and their legend had survived. Their identities had been Romulus and Remus, and legend had it they were raised by wolves. Methos had laughed when he first learned of it. He could not laugh now. Rome was a fitting legacy for us, Brother. A nation with an astonishing thirst for knowledge, combined with an equally appalling thirst for world domination. Have you heard its history? Do you know how Rome died? It reached beyond its power to control. Then it just fell apart. If only it were that easy for us to part.
Kronos looked pleased with himself. He said, "Indeed. And then I just homed in on you. You know, the way we always used to once we were close enough together."
Yes, following a vague urge that took their feet in whatever direction the other was. My dream, it was a warning that you were coming. An oracle could have told me, but there are none here. Damn it all. He could feel the chains closing on him, never mind that they had not ever been real. The freedom of a thousand years was about to be taken from him. No more studying, no more exploring, no more enjoying the fantastic variety of mortal characters. We are not the same, Kronos, however much we once were. I have changed. He could not say that, particularly while Kronos' blade was at his throat. "Let me up," he growled.
"Why should I?"
"Because I hate being on my back!" he snarled coldly.
Kronos leered at him, then the smile vanished into dark fury. "The last thing I remember, we were fighting back to back. How did I end up in that chest, Brother?"
"What are you talking about?! We waited fifty years for you!"
"Really?" Kronos frowned, then pressed down and Methos hissed as the skin on his neck was sliced.
"Adams!" exclaimed another voice.
Oh no, Duncan, shut up. But it was too late. Methos felt it when Kronos' attention shifted to the young Immortal who had been silent and paralyzed up to that point.
Kronos' face went blank. Methos knew the cogs had stopped in that head, preparing to continue when they knew what action they wanted to take. Kronos began speaking English. "What's this?"
Methos grinned lasciviously and answered in the same language, knowing his brother would want the boy to understand and react to what they said. "He's my... student." Come, Kronos. He doesn't matter. You want me, remember?
Kronos glanced around at the bed, his attention lingered on the leather restraints on the right-hand post. He swung his gaze down to meet Methos' eyes. "Does he hate being on his back, too?" Kronos asked with a low chuckle.
"Absolutely. But I'm working on it."
Kronos laughed and backed up, offering Methos a hand. "Don't you hate the restrictions imposed by hypocritical mortals?"
"Yes," Methos murmured, taking the proffered hand and sitting up. 'Don't you hate..?' the phrase which had presaged so many of their raids. Kronos would sit down next to him and say something like, "Don't you hate it that those mortals settled at our favorite watering hole? They might build a city there." They would look at each other, grin, and Methos would set to work on a plan that would wipe those mortals from the face of the Earth. No one would ever restrict the Horsemen's range.
Methos shook his head and forced himself to grin. Just the bare luck that Kronos had come now. He turned to Duncan, who still looked dazed and confused on the other side of the bed. "Goblets and wine. Now." Duncan stumbled back against the wall, his eyes wide. For a moment he looked frozen in place. Methos took a step toward him, summoning up the darkness that he needed to face Kronos. That was all it took. Duncan fled the room. Methos forced a snicker, hearing Kronos laughing behind him. He bent down and snatched up his trousers. "So, what do you have in mind?"
While Methos dressed, Kronos explained that he and his men had taken over a lonely manor a half-day's hard ride from Bridesor. He wanted to send assassins to kill the leaders of the land. While chaos descended over England, they could sail to the other great powers and kill off those leaders, too. Then the raiding could begin.
Methos listened to Kronos' dream and nodded his head gamely. He thought, There's no chance, brother. You can't hire enough assassins. There are plenty of other leaders waiting in the wings to take over any vacancies. Mortals replace themselves too quickly. The light in Kronos' eyes, though, showed that he would ignore such realities as he always had.
Duncan came into the room with the goblets and began pouring wine for them. Kronos ignored the young Immortal and leaned close to Methos. "With you to plan this, it can't go wrong! No one can stop us from taking anything we want, Methos!"
Duncan gasped and spilled the wine. They both looked at him. Kronos cocked his head and asked, "He didn't know?"
"No one knows," Methos replied. He smiled wryly into Kronos' startled eyes. "I don't fancy having every Immortal in creation coming after my head."
Kronos stared directly into his eyes, the wildness banked for the moment. "I stand your shield, Brother. Anyone who comes after you will face both of us."
Methos chuckled around the sudden clutch in his throat. Yes, as long as he was with Kronos he would never face an enemy alone. "I --"
Duncan's voice interrupted, "But that's against the rules!"
They both jumped and turned their heads to look at the young man. Kronos said with surprise, "I thought he was your student?"
Methos snickered and leered. "Someone else had him before I did."
Kronos dropped his head, laughing. After a moment he said calmly, "Let's go then."
Methos snatched a travelling bag out of the closet and threw some clothes in it. He could not hesitate or his brother would wonder why. Get out quickly, before any of his three mortal friends caught Kronos' attention. It was too late to do anything about the boy. If Methos tried to leave him behind, Kronos would probably take his head.
He was grateful that Duncan was accustomed to taking his orders. Bewildered as the boy was, he obeyed when commanded to ready Cathay and the old gelding. In the stable, Kronos began to edge near the boy, his body language aggressive and threatening. Methos leaned back against the wall, calling up a shadow of indifference and waiting to see what his brother had in mind. Unless Kronos had changed orientation, he was probably only interested in terrifying Duncan. The boy eyed him fearfully then turned to Methos, who watched hope die in frightened, dark eyes.
If only he had a hope in Hell, thought Methos when Duncan lunged at Kronos. But the boy was still bound by rules and a code of honor that hobbled him. Kronos obeyed no rules and had no empathy. Where Methos had indulged in order to build the boy up, Kronos simply took him down with two heavy blows. Methos moved in, seeing the bloodlust in his brother's eyes. He clapped his hands over Duncan's nose and mouth and held him, speaking calmly to Kronos. "He's very spirited."
"Yes, I see that. You wanted him to watch your back?"
"Yeah. You know, you have to get them young to properly train them."
Kronos nodded. "You don't need him anymore."
Methos looked up, ignoring Duncan's struggles. "Really? Silas and Caspian are with you?" Kronos seemed disgruntled and shook his head. Methos shrugged. "I think we can get good use out of him, if we don't break him utterly. Besides, I haven't had him yet."
Kronos grinned. "Is that what I interrupted? Very well, keep him, then."
When Duncan lost consciousness, Methos and Kronos picked him up and put him on the old horse. Just as when he had first taken the boy, Methos gagged Duncan, bound his wrists at his back and tied his thighs to the saddle. The ropes would cut off the boy's circulation. By the time they got to Kronos' lair, Duncan would be unable to walk, and probably have no strength to provoke Kronos again this night.
It was a long ride to the manor. Methos was about ready to fall off of his horse when they arrived. He untied Duncan's legs, let the boy collapse on the floor and waited while his brother sent a guard for the stableboys. He was not surprised that the men Kronos left on guard had been asleep when they arrived. Any really bright man would chafe under the Immortal's leadership, so it was unlikely Methos would have any rivals for the position of Kronos' advisor. Not that he ever had. He sighed wearily. He did not want to sacrifice his freedom for the dubious safety to be found here. Without Caspian and Silas they would be vulnerable to other Immortals. Kronos was too impatient and it would take too long to condition Duncan... but Methos would have to try, or none of them would survive long.
Kronos took them into the manor and showed Methos to a large room. "You can have this one, Brother. Rest well, we'll talk in the morning."
Alone at last. The immediacy of Kronos' Presence was gone. Methos shoved Duncan on to the bed and went to bolt the door. Strange. His thoughts should be racing, but he felt paralyzed. There was no way to escape Kronos, they were too close together and aware of each other. He turned and looked towards the bed. There was the boy, dark hair hanging over his face. Too tall, but he did bear a faint resemblance to Kronos. There was also that need to dominate the world in his character. Methos remembered that the boy had tried to take control of their lovemaking. Fury burned through him. First Kronos, now the boy. He crossed to the bed in a few steps and drew back his hand to strike. The boy flinched, but gazed up at him with bright, despairing eyes. He hesitated.
Those eyes were like a plea. Don't, they whispered. Methos shook his head and trembled. I need to be free. Kronos... Duncan... stop.... Methos sucked in a breath. It was Kronos who had upended his life. Duncan had some characteristics in common with his brother, but had not asked for what had happened to him. But if I soften now... the boy is no actor. Kronos will know from his behavior if not mine. Methos steeled his heart. He released Duncan's hands only to bind them to the bedpost. It almost brought a smile to his numb face; the boy was accustomed to this. He left the gag in, knowing the unfairness of it would drive Duncan to anguish. This was what Kronos would have to see.
With an effort, he forced himself to settle down. Sleep now. In the morning he would begin his old life again.
Duncan wanted to scream. No, what he wanted was a drink, preferably something hot and heady to send his head whirling so he would not have to think. Adams was Methos! Connor had told him Methos had been one of Ramirez's favorite teachers: one of the old ones, if not the oldest of all. Connor did not know. Not three thousand years old after all, more like four, or even five! Duncan would have liked to have met him. He would have been awed by the age of the man. Except he had, and Methos was a murdering, buggering, cold-hearted, cruel... layered man. This layer bore the real name, did that mean it was the real man?
He must be teetering on the edge of madness. He had seen many indications that Ada -- Methos was cruel and evil. A good man did not beat a helpless slave to death. He did not force someone clearly unwilling to satisfy him morning and evening. Duncan felt fractured. An evil man did not rescue helpless women. He did not live the life of a healer. He did not teach his slave to fight and to read. Duncan would have liked to scream his frustration, but his throat was too dry and he ached everywhere. On impulse he twisted and tried to kick Methos off the bed.
The cursed big-nosed, sharp-faced, chicken-necked bastard simply rolled off the bed, cut the ties off the curtains at the windows and used them to fasten Duncan's ankles wide apart. He leaned down, his eyes empty, face blank. "I could strike you here --" he said, dropping his fingers to Duncan's stomach "-- and let you drown in your own vomit. Be still."
What the hell options do I have? thought Duncan. He closed his eyes and listened as Methos lay down. He felt like weeping. I want the Michael Adams layer back!
Methos woke him in the morning. To his surprise, they did not even change out of the clothes they had slept in. Methos allowed him to relieve himself and then hustled him out of the room. A man outside the door guided them to the manor's dining hall. Duncan could not help but notice the whole place was a mess. It must once have been tidy. The two older Immortals greeted each other and began talking, ignoring Duncan. He looked around at the torn portraits, the broken crockery on the floor. There were serving girls bringing breakfast, but they were bruised, their clothing torn. They flinched whenever one of the men moved towards them. He was reminded of Eliza and he shivered. He turned his attention back to Methos.
The blue-eyed man had maps laid out on the table, but Methos was not even looking at them. He was shaking his head. "It's not the rulers you have to worry about. It's the leaders of the armies. People who actually have the knowledge to wield their position to effect."
"Nonsense, Methos! It's just like the old days. Kill the rulers and the city descends into chaos. Mortals haven't changed."
Methos lifted his head. "Kronos, why do you want me here if you won't listen to me? All it takes is one good leader, of even a small community, to destroy a band such as ours."
The man named Kronos let out a huff and growled, "Don't I know it, Brother."
"You don't have the resources to do what you want. They don't exist."
"Then we must gain power of our own. What would give me what I want, Methos?"
Duncan shivered as he watched Methos straighten up and stare thoughtfully at the wall. Then a wicked smile crossed that previously expressionless face. "War, Brother."
Kronos scowled. "There are always wars, Brother. It hasn't helped. Now, during the Black Plague --"
Methos cut him off. "Oh no, Kronos. War." He leaned forward, resting his palms on the table, an image of sinister purpose. "Assassination is a wonderful thing, Brother. I may have been a lowly town healer --" Kronos snorted and Methos grinned "-- but I kept abreast of the political climate of the world. We could set up a war between every nation. Imagine it, Brother. Total chaos! Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the nations across the sea. They already hate each other and engage in petty skirmishes."
Kronos laughed. "I knew you'd have the trick of it."
Methos added mildly, "I'll need more information."
"Anything you need, you'll get it. Just like the old days, Brother!"
War between every nation? It was a terrifying thought. No one would be safe. There would be no village so out of the way as to avoid the battles. Duncan shivered. Could Methos really do this? It did not seem possible.
To Duncan's surprise, Methos took him out to the courtyard that afternoon for sword practice with real blades. Of course, they had left the wooden ones behind with everything else. It had been rather peaceful, that life they had left behind. They were alone and he said carefully, "A - Methos, what about the stallion?"
Methos did not look at him, busy testing the heft of the blade he held. "Eliza will take care of everything. Kronos kills anything he can't make obey him. That horse is better off where he is. Silas isn't here to break him."
Who was Silas? Duncan shivered again. Then Methos came at him. He parried the blinding blows, hissed when a strike laid open the flesh on his arm and he tried to get in a blow of his own. He had always suspected Methos was holding back, now he knew. In seconds he was on the ground, his leg pouring blood from as foul a blow as ever he had seen. "That's dirt-fighting! Men of honor don't strike those kinds of blows!" he protested
Methos shrugged above him, not even breathing hard. "You'll rarely face men of honor. You must learn to defend against any kind of attack. Honor doesn't mean anything to the dead."
"How the hell would you know?" Duncan muttered, climbing to his feet.
Methos shrugged again. Then he struck. Just as Duncan was falling, they felt another Immortal. Kronos strode across the courtyard towards them. "Is that the best he can do?"
"He has a lot of potential," Methos said mildly. "Have a go at him?"
Duncan stared as Methos moved away and sat down on a pile of straw. Kronos took up position and waited. Duncan climbed to his feet again and struck. He had the gratification of seeing slight surprise on Kronos' features when they closed. Fight dirty, eh? Right. He managed to push Kronos back for just an instant then the other man somehow locked their blades together and kicked Duncan's legs out from under him. He landed flat on his back and froze, gazing helplessly at the shining blade hovering above his eye.
"You're right, potential indeed!" Kronos let his blade rest against Duncan's throat and knelt to gaze him in the eye. "First rule, boy. We don't face challenges alone. If someone challenges you, one of us goes with you to make sure he doesn't take your head."
"But that's against the rules!" Duncan protested. "I don't need to be protected like that!"
"Oh, it's not just for you. The same goes if someone challenges Methos, or me."
Good god! That was horrible. Only the most cowardly of men would do that. "I can't do such a thing! You don't need me, anyway!"
Kronos and Methos looked at each other with indulgent smiles. Kronos leaned down. "Look, boy, you either learn to watch our backs, or you're no use to us."
Methos added calmly, "If you're no use to us, your head is forfeit."
Kronos slid the edge of his blade across Duncan's throat. "You take care of us, and we'll take care of you, boy. Get used to the idea, or die." He chuckled and stood up, nodded to Methos and walked away.
Duncan rubbed his neck, but the skin was unbroken however he tingled with fear. Help me, I don't want to become a bandit. But the only person he could think of to help him did not seem to care.
Once again his life settled into a pattern. Methos made him bathe every evening, then tied him to the bed before going to sit in the chair next to the fire. He fetched and carried, listened to Kronos and Methos discussing plans in the mornings, and in the afternoons sparred with one or the other, sometimes with both. He learned more dirty tricks that he had ever imagined existed, and felt darkness weighing down his heart. The weight of his despair distracted so that it took almost four days before he realized that something had changed drastically.
When it hit him during the evening meal, the most astonishing thing to him was that he had not noticed two days earlier. First it occurred to him that Methos was starting to smell a bit like Kronos and the rest of his ruffians. Then he realized it was because Methos was still wearing the same clothes he had on when they first came to the manor. The man had been such a stickler for cleanliness, yet now he only bothered to make Duncan keep clean.
And he had not forced Duncan to pleasure him. In fact he rarely even touched him. He trained and spoke to him, teaching him tactics. But he did not touch him. He slept in that damned chair next to the fire rather than on the bed. He even sat in it while Duncan bathed. If desire could be deadened by the tactician and murderer within... perhaps desire could be awakened and the trend reversed? I'd rather be his lover than his brother. Duncan did not allow himself time for second thoughts. He went to the serving women and ordered them to bring and fill a second bath this evening.
When they went to their room, Duncan began to notice many other things he had been blind to. As soon as they entered the room and Methos bolted the door, the intentness left his face. It was replaced by an eerily empty expression that Duncan realized he recognized. It was the look of a man who had given up all hope. Oh, no. I still need you. He felt hot when he realized what he was thinking.
He washed thoroughly, the strength he had thought faded from him came back and he felt hope. Getting out of the bath he patted himself dry and walked over to the chair where Methos sat staring blankly at the fire. Before he would have stayed in the bath until Methos came to force him out of it. Today, though. Today everything would change.
He knelt in front of the chair and began undoing Methos' coat. It took an instant for the man to react, and then it was only with vague surprise. Methos stared at him and said, "What are you doing?"
"I had them draw a bath for you."
"You're starting to smell like Kronos' men." He thought he saw a faint smile on Methos' face. The man did not speak, nor object as Duncan undressed him and pulled him to his feet. The listlessness was frightening in its own way.
At the bath, Methos stopped. "I'm dirty," he murmured.
Duncan shivered at the empty tone. "You don't have to be," he said as softly as he could. Methos stared at him, but said nothing and stepped into the bath. Duncan closed his eyes, bringing to mind the memory of the first day Methos had treated him kindly. The memory helped him and he began to wash the man, doing his best to massage the unresisting body. Unlike that day, Methos seemed unresponsive. Duncan told himself not to give up hope. When the other man was clean, he helped him out of the tub and dried him. Then he sank to his knees so that he could stroke Methos' cock.
Methos grabbed his hair and forced his head back. Duncan let his mouth fall open, trying to look inviting even as he continued to touch the other man. The eyes that met his blazed with a confused mix of anger and surprise. Duncan called up the memory of that day again, of the touches that had aroused him in the bath. He felt it shiver through his body, felt himself rouse even as Methos was becoming aroused. The hand in his hair released him, and he dropped his head to take Methos in his mouth.
He was so glad he had cleaned the man. The taste was familiar and delightful, the hardness between his lips was like the hardness of his own cock and he sucked on it, squeezing the flesh of Methos' buttocks, then running hands up and down his legs. Methos was groaning above him, then again a hand dug into his hair and pulled his head back. This time it was so Methos could bend down to kiss him, close a hand about his own cock and stroke it.
Then Methos pulled him up, not breaking the kiss. Duncan could not breath, his head was swimming as they staggered to the bed. He was released to air and felt ablaze as Methos licked down his neck, stroking his cock. He cried out when his nipples were nipped and closed his arms about the powerful shoulders above him. Then, to his horror, a rush of Immortal Presence touched him. Methos snarled indignantly and that gratified Duncan.
There was a pounding on the door and Kronos' voice shouted, "Methos! News!"
Duncan found they were staring into each other's eyes. Then the mask settled into place on Methos' face. In a swift movement he bound Duncan's wrists to the post, then scraped fingers down his chest. Blood welled up and Duncan gasped at the sudden pain, but Methos had moved away and was heading for the door.
"Are you alone?!" he snapped.
"Yes," Kronos answered.
Duncan tilted his head and watched as Methos unbolted the door and swung it open, his whole attitude defiant and annoyed. "Your timing is atrocious."
Kronos laughed and strolled over to the bed. Horrified that the blue-eyed man was seeing how aroused he was, Duncan turned his head away. Kronos brushed a finger through the blood on his chest. "Don't worry, I'll leave you to your... entertainment... in a minute." There was such suggestion in the voice that Duncan felt his entire body flush.
"So, what's the news?" Methos asked. Duncan felt the bed shift as the oldest Immortal sat down.
"The first wave wars have begun. England is sending an army into Scotland, and France has an armada on its way to England."
"That's only the beginning. England will call on alliances with Germany and Russia, then all Hell will break loose." There was satisfaction in that voice.
Kronos' low chuckle made Duncan itch. "And we will reap the rewards. Raiding in the wake of the armies! Always a fun and profitable exercise! Well done, Methos!" The mattress shifted as Kronos stood. "Have fun. You deserve it."
"Absolutely I do," growled Methos.
Duncan listened, his eyes tightly closed. He heard the door close, heard the bolt shut. Heard nothing and finally opened his eyes and turned his head. Methos was sitting in the chair next to the fire again. Frustrated, Duncan struggled against the ties binding him to the bed. It was no good. He finally gasped out, "Methos! Please..!"
Methos seemed to start in the chair and turned toward him. He held still, afraid to say anything that might drive the old Immortal back into this depression. At last Methos folded himself out of the chair and came to him, standing looking down at him. No mask but again that empty, lost expression.
Say the right thing, say the right thing.... "You don't have to do this. Let's get away," Duncan whispered.
Methos touched his face gently, like a man dreaming. "I can't get away. Now he's found me, I can't get far enough away to lose him."
"Then fight him. Make him give you your freedom for his life."
"If I fight him, I lose." Methos was gazing through him, eyes seeming even emptier than before.
"But you got away from him before!"
"I was never his prisoner, Duncan." Methos closed his eyes, stroking Duncan's lips absently. "Let me tell you what happened the last time he had to come after me. I was spending a few years doing reconnaissance. I met a girl and fell in love with her. We married and set up a household in a city. One day I came home to find everyone in the house dead. Kronos had come for me. She was still alive when I found her. I had to kill her myself because of what he'd done to her."
Duncan felt his heart constrict. He did not want to imagine what might have happened to Methos' wife. "We could hire a ship and sail away."
Methos smiled sadly. "And then one day he would find me and destroy everything I loved. Especially you if you were there, because I chose you over him."
"Why...." Duncan took a breath to steady himself. "Why didn't you kill him for what he did to your wife?"
Now Methos laughed a low, sad laugh. "I wanted to. But you see, a thousand years before that, I did the exact same thing to him."
That night, tied alone on the bed, Duncan dreamed. Everything was the dark red of blood. Men in strange clothing fought each other, balancing on the bodies of women and children. Sometimes he saw faces he recognized, like his mother and father. He shouted at the warriors to stop fighting, but the words he said came out distorted beyond recognition. Then he saw a familiar figure moving amongst the fighters. It was Methos, guiding certain fighters against others and watching emotionlessly as men died. At some point, the blood color had gone. The only things colored red were the wounded and Methos' shadow. Then Duncan saw that the shadow was in fact a man, drenched in the blood of the people whose deaths Methos was arranging. The two men stopped and stood, back to back as though to shield each other. Kronos. The blood-drenched man was Kronos.
As Duncan watched, the warriors stopped fighting each other and all turned slowly to face the two Immortals. Methos suddenly sprouted wings and tried to fly away, but Kronos turned and caught his legs and held on. The mortal warriors began to close in around them.
Duncan struggled awake, fighting the ropes that held him. He was choking, sobbing in confusion. A hand touched his face and he wrenched away from it. "Don't touch me, you murdering bastard!"
Reaction was instantaneous. A fist rammed into his kidneys and agony radiated throughout his body. Methos' voice was like stone in his ears. "Finally realized it, did you?"
He was pulled onto his back and struggled to turn away, keeping his eyes closed tight. He kicked when he felt ties being bound on his ankles, but it did no good. His legs were forced wide apart. Then the whipping began. They were not very hard blows, but they hurt with the shrill pain of shallow wounds. Starting at his inner thighs, avoiding his genitals, the slashing went on until it reached his armpits. His skin ached and tingled with the healing. Then he felt hands on his inner thighs. Thumbs stroked lightly as Methos' wet, hot mouth closed over his cock. It was like being hit by lightning. The pleasure seared through him and he lost all thought, bucking into that touch.
When his head cleared, his body was still tingling and his cock was so hard it hurt. There was something odd; something coiled at the base tight that made it throb. He refused to open his eyes. He felt cloth sliding up his legs and vaguely realized he was being dressed. Then his wrists were released and a hard fist slammed into his cheek.
"Time to get up, boy," he heard Methos say.
He opened his eyes to find Methos standing next to the bed, already dressed. His expression was emptier than Duncan had ever seen it, yet there was a faint impression of amusement. When Duncan sat up, his cock hurt and he gasped. Methos dropped a shirt on him and walked away to wait by the door, watching him through empty eyes.
That afternoon Kronos took the first spar with Duncan. To Methos' delight, the boy actually held his own for some time, even got in a blow before Kronos took him down. Nothing like anger and a raging hard-on to bring out the bloodlust, he thought. That was good. Soon he would provide Duncan with an opportunity to escape. The boy did not have a devious bone in his body, and would never connect the map-studies of England with Methos trying to make sure he would know which way to go.
Kronos left Duncan lying on the ground and strolled over to sit beside Methos. "He's getting better!"
"Yes. Imagine having to train someone to protect his own life." They both chuckled. With Caspian that had not been a problem. The man had come to them already wild and willing to do anything to survive. Silas had never been willing to learn to fight dirty for himself, but he gladly protected his brothers. Of course, with his strength and speed and Immortality, the straightforward fighting worked for him. But if his brothers had not been there to make certain he did not lose his head.... No, Silas was safe far from human habitation. But oh, how Methos missed him, especially now. Maybe after Duncan was safely away he and Kronos could go retrieve the old bear.
Methos shook his head ruefully. He would rather be away, ensconced in a monastery with tons of old manuscripts to read, copy and occasionally correct. He wondered if Kronos had ever done anything other than lead bandits in the time they had been apart. "I never asked," he began, "what you've been up to all this time."
Duncan climbed to his feet and dust himself off. Kronos called out, "Practice your forms, boy." He shot them a resentful glare and obeyed. He was actually quite graceful, dancing forward and back, concentrating on the way he held his sword. They watched for a while before Kronos spoke again. "I was trapped... for a thousand years."
Kronos shook his head. "It doesn't matter. Four hundred years ago I got out. Everything was different and much was the same. There were too many mortals and a surprising number of Immortals hiding like mice amongst them. I took a student once. He was careless and got us both burnt at the stake. I gave up hiding and went back to our old ways." Kronos started laughing. "I thought it would be easy, but in 1353 I ran afoul of another Immortal who wasn't like those cattle hiding in mortal towns."
"What was he like?"
Kronos shook his head. "Incredible. Nothing stops him. He wiped out my entire band and kept me on the run for over a century before I managed to lose him!"
Methos thought his heart had stopped. "Who is he?" Who is he who could make you turn tail and run? He inhaled sharply, trying to make fear show on his face rather than the hope he felt.
"His name is Mako."
"I'll watch out for him," Methos said quietly.
He turned his head as if to gaze at Duncan. My God, Mako was in Suffolk, last I heard. And he put Kronos to flight before he was even a century old! Methos could not imagine a more diametrically opposed pair of Immortals. While Kronos lived for chaos and murder, Mako was a bastion of law and order. It must have been hate at first sight. Methos snickered softly. All he would have to do is make sure the two of them ran afoul of each other again. If Kronos thought Methos was at his back, he would not run from Mako.
Suffolk it was then. The town had its share of disgruntled peasants. All he had to do was get Kronos started in that direction. Peasants did not want to be impressed into England's army to fight a war. Methos had already planned for arming them so they could fight their rulers. Enemies without coupled with unrest within would cause the total chaos Kronos wanted. Tonight they would be working with Kronos' men, teaching them so that they could teach the peasants. And tonight, Methos would make certain Duncan would leave.
Duncan shivered despite himself every time Methos looked at him. His cock still pulsed and ached. What did he do to me? He could not pull down his trousers and look. Even when Methos disappeared, Kronos or the other men were still around, watching him. He tried to clamp down on the hot surge of desire any thought of Methos brought. I will not want someone who would rather kill innocent people than challenge... whatever Kronos is to him! His heart hurt as though someone had stabbed him through it. His head ached whenever he tried to reconcile the turmoil of his thoughts.
Monster. Murderer. Rescuer. Teacher. Duncan shuddered. What would Eliza think if she knew the truth about you? You murdered Kronos' wife when he tried to leave you, and he did the same thing to you. You bastard. I thought you were different. You were supposed to be different.
Methos' hand on his arm shocked him out of his thoughts. He recoiled against the wall. He thought he saw a hint of amusement in the blank eyes that met his, but it was gone before he could be certain. "To our room," Methos said and pushed Duncan towards the stairs. Confused, he obeyed. It was too early. They had not even had dinner yet. His cock throbbed and he felt a thread of fear at what this change might presage. He steeled himself and went up the stairs.
Methos was close behind him. His flesh itched and burned. Monster, he thought. But he felt weak. You don't even fight him. He shivered. Was he thinking of Methos or of himself? I will fight, he vowed. I'll show him. He clenched his fists and tried to breathe. I'll show him how to fight. Fight as long as you can!
He waited until he heard Methos slide the deadbolt in place before he attacked. He grabbed the old Immortal and tried to bash his head against the door. Methos twisted away and they struggled with each other. Duncan actually got in several punches before Methos threw him against the chair. They tumbled into the fire-guard and knocked it out of place, sending ashes all over the floor. Grappling together they hit the bed with enough force to shift it several feet. Duncan tried to knee Methos in the groin, but it was Methos who got him there. The pain was blinding. "Bastard," he managed to hiss out. "Coward!"
Then he was slammed against the wall so hard he thought his back was broken. He lost all feeling in his legs and began sliding down, but Methos caught him before he fell. The fingers digging into his neck were hot and impossibly strong. Through the ringing in his ears he could hear Methos speak. "Don't ever judge me, boy." He felt the air pushed ahead of the blow that broke his jaw, and this time he was allowed to slide to the wooden floor. The light slap that followed sent bright lights across his eyelids. Methos' voice was low and filled with ice. "The room better be in pristine shape when I come back, boy."
He could sense it when Methos left the room, heard the heavy door shut. He waited until the pain died and the ringing in his ears faded away before he gathered himself to his feet. The room was a shambles from their fight. He bit back a low moan. I've lost him. He shook his head. Dolt. You never had him. He was playing with you all the time; he never cared. Yet Duncan could not stop the feeling that he had failed the most ancient of Immortals. He began straightening up the room. Would it make a difference if you knew I love you? Or would you simply laugh in my face? He stopped when he realized the pain in his cock was gone but there was still something odd. He reached into his pants and touched a strange, soft material. He pulled at it and it came off into his hand. A strip of leather. Such a simple thing to keep him hard the day through. Furious, he threw it into the fireplace. What had he been thinking? He did not love that perverted son of a bitch.
The floor was clean enough. Let one of the serving women sweep up the damned ashes. He looked around. Even the mattress had been knocked half off the bed. He sighed and began to push it back into place. He was so absorbed he cut himself on the blade before he saw it. One of Methos' swords was hidden under the mattress! He bit his lip to keep from crying out his victory. He shifted the mattress until he could drag the weapon out. A chance! With this he could fight his way out of this hellhole. Forget Methos. The fool had been careless, leaving a blade where Duncan could find... it.
The strength went out of his legs and he sank to his knees. He remembered saying the night before: "We could hire a ship and sail away." Methos had smiled sadly and replied, "And then one day he would find me and destroy everything I loved. Especially you if you were there, because I chose you over him."
He groaned and leaned his forehead on the cool floor. I'm not a fool either, Methos. I can't go without trying. I can't let him... and you... cause so many deaths. All I have to do is kill him. He uttered a choked laugh. He'll kill me, but I won't be able to live with myself if I don't try to stop you both. He got to his feet, lifting the blade in his hands. I have to try.
For four days the same routines had been followed. Right now Methos would be drilling the brightest of the men on strategy. Kronos always spent the time before dinner by himself in the west wing. No more thinking. Just do it. Goodbye, Methos. Thank you for making sure I know the layout of this place.
Kronos was in a large, mirrored room. Duncan did not go straight in but found he had to stop to watch the man move. He was astonishingly graceful. Duncan recognized some of the moves as ones Methos had taught him. At last Kronos stopped and stood still. He gazed at Duncan in the mirror. It was a strange moment.
A smile curled Kronos' lips. "Slipped your master's leash, did you boy?"
Duncan found himself smiling back. "Forever, either way."
"As you wish." Kronos turned and they faced each other rather than reflections. "Finding me alone isn't going to help you. You aren't good enough."
The first blows were light, testing. They circled each other. The candleflames flickered and the mirrors reflected their movements, but both men watched only each other. They began in earnest. Blade to blade, shoulder to shoulder, face to face. Duncan ignored the pain when Kronos got in a slash, just as the older Immortal did not seem to notice when he was injured. Kronos picked up the pace in a series of deadly, stabbing attacks that Duncan barely deflected. His muscles were screaming in pain.
They both were sweating and panting. Kronos met his eyes and he saw his death there before the man said, "It's a pity. I was almost used to you."
There was a mind-numbing pain in his stomach. He looked down to see Kronos hand in a fist against his shirt. Then the hand opened and he saw a dagger buried to the hilt in his body. He doubled over the pain and fell to his knees. He could sense the blade hovering over him, the beginning of its descent to sever his neck. I don't want to die, he thought fuzzily, trying to pull the dagger from his stomach.
And then there was a terrible clashing sound. An eerie silence descended on the room.
It was Duncan who broke the stillness, uttering a wet cough as he pulled the dagger from his flesh. He heard Kronos growl above him. "The boy attacked me, Brother. He dies."
For a moment there was silence, then Methos said quietly, "I want him alive."
"I'll find you another toy."
He could sense no movement above his head. His stomach was healing and he risked a cautious look up, finding himself staring straight into Methos' eyes. They seemed to say, "Why didn't you just go?" He shook his head minutely. I couldn't, he thought.
He heard Kronos hiss, "You're going to challenge me for this boy, Brother?"
Methos' eyes lifted from Duncan's to meet Kronos' gaze. "Not for the boy. I'm not your brother."
"Then you die."
The swords clashed over his head. Duncan flinched and crawled toward the door. At least Kronos would not be able to pull off that trick with the dagger again. It was clear the two had forgotten about him. There were no testing blows. With each other they went straight into full-fledged battle. Duncan leaned against the door, drawing air into his lungs as his body finished healing. If Kronos won he would have to take his head. It was not right. It was not fair. But he knew he would never have another chance. The monster had to be stopped.
They were talking to each other, voices sibilant and hissing between the sounds of their blades colliding. They had slipped into some other language. He could not understand a word.
Kronos' breath was hot and wet in Methos' face. A thousand years together. The past could not be erased, but it was high time it died. It was hard to look into the purity of Kronos' fury and not feel daunted despite his new conviction. "I have changed, Kronos!"
"Really? I guess that plan of yours is just a figment of my imagination!"
"I wish it was!" Methos snapped. He caught his anger and focused it, trying to get through Kronos' guard. Yes, the plan was his and he had thought of it years ago. But there was a difference between thinking up such a plan as a matter of habit and actually carrying it out! Even now, a mere handful of people in high places could avert these wars. He only hoped they would have the sense to do so.
"You're just like me, Methos! You always were!" Kronos shouted. Their blades clashed and sent sparks skittering to the floor. "You owe me, for a thousand years!"
Kronos was forcing him back. For all the inherent madness of the man, he was a vicious, focused warrior. As long as he kept his temper. "You mean the thousand years we rode together? Or do you mean the thousand after that?"
He felt it when Kronos wavered. The ferocious eyes lost some of their fire, gazing shocked into his. "What are you saying?"
Methos shoved his face close, feeling Kronos shy back from his certainty. His voice low with cold satisfaction he said, "It was me." Kronos broke from him and twirled in to strike. Methos dodged easily and laughed at him. "I tired of watching your back and let someone get past me!" Kronos roared and lunged for him. He danced aside and heard a mirror shatter. "Seven years bad luck, Brother! Oh, but we didn't have mirrors when I threw your body in that chest, did we?!"
"Traitor!" snarled Kronos. He was brilliant in his anger, eyes blazing and skin damp with sweat.
Methos deflected most of his blows and dodged the others. "I buried you in gold and jewels, then bound the chest with chains! I skuttled that ship and laughed as it sank!"
Kronos screamed and launched himself at Methos, who ducked and slashed at his legs. Though the blade connected the wounds did not seem to slow him down. He spun around and tackled Methos. Blades abandoned the two rolled on the blood-slicked floor, tearing at each other with their bare hands. Methos had learned several styles of hand to hand combat and he applied them, breaking Kronos' right wrist. It did not slow things down. As ever, the man ignored the pain and tried to throttle Methos, weakened though his grip was.
Kronos had forgotten everything except his desire to hurt and kill. Methos had forgotten nothing. Not his need to be free. Not everything he owed this man. Not his blade that lay just a few feet from him. He wrenched free of Kronos' grip and dove for the weapon. It was in his palm, solid and secure and in a move perfected over the centuries, he swung the blade around behind him and heard it slice through flesh, felt it go through Kronos' neck.
It was over. He turned and stared down at the bloody body, the face that gazed up at him still in astonishment and rage. "Seven years bad luck, Brother," he whispered. His ears popped. Kronos' body began to glow and it lifted slowly off the floor. Here it comes, he thought. He closed his eyes.
All the fury that was Kronos came into Methos in a wave. He howled as pain scraped along his nerves, tore at his heart. Images flashed, distorted visions of his face as well as Caspian's and Silas'. The confidence and joy of a thousand years of safety, followed by the terrible uncertainty of fighting out of a watery grave. The horror of a world changed almost beyond recognition and being alone in it. I will remember you, Kronos. Even after all we've been through I will not dishonor your memory.
But it was agony all the same to have to accept the whirling surge of Kronos' life. When it was over he could not move. He lay curled on the bloody floor, faintly aware of shards of glass on and all around him. Hands touched him, pulled him up until he was standing, leaning on the strong body at his side.
"We've got to get out of here," a voice said in his ear.
And go where? he thought. He wondered if any of Kronos' men had stayed through this madness. Probably some had. "I came to get him for dinner," he murmured.
"The building's on fire," answered the voice.
Oh. He sniggered, remembering Kronos telling him about burning at the stake. "A pyre this time, Brother. You won't be coming back." I thought I'd be dead before you got free. How the world turns.
"Come on, Methos."
Another man's arm about his waist, a strong body holding him up. He caught a brief glimpse of a familiar face. Oh yes, this was Duncan MacLeod. Peculiar fellow. Seemed as able to turn Methos' life upside down as Kronos was. He was not supposed to stay and force Methos to challenge his brother. Oh, well. There were worse things in the world than having a courageous young Immortal around. Not having him around, for example.
None of Kronos' men had stayed when the fire started. They would probably wait nearby for him to come to them as he always had. Methos took the time to gather some supplies and retrieve their horses. He was mildly amused to see Duncan come out of the stables leading the old gelding and another, younger horse.
Seeing his smile, Duncan returned it with one of his own. "The old fellow's grown on me."
Methos met a gaze full of frank appraisal and felt his cheeks grow hot. He had to force himself to turn away. "We'll find a safe place to rest. Then we can talk."
He heard a soft mutter behind him, "Not going to be talking long."
They eventually holed up in an abandoned house. Fortunately it was a clear night, as the roof had huge gaps and would be no shelter if it rained. Methos found the house delightful. It spoke of old lives, travelling across the land and surviving in the wilds. He felt it in the tingle of his palms. He could go anywhere. He could even go visit Silas. He could dance through the courts of kings and not worry about being recognized as Death of the Four Horsemen. He paced the floor of the small house, his mind alight with possibility. And he could have companionship.
He stopped and turned to the boy who sat on an old table, silently watching him. There was uncertainty in those thick-lashed, dark eyes. Methos threw his hands up into the air and spun around twice, feeling like he might lift off into the air like a bird. "The world awaits, Duncan! Come see it with me!"
"As what? Your servant? Your... catamite?" The words were said with as calm a tone as he had ever heard the boy use.
Methos spun again and ended on one knee in front of him. "My lover." Duncan took a deep breath and held it. Methos continued, "I'll teach you anything I can. I won't even tie you to my bed... unless you ask me to." He cocked his head innocently.
Duncan looked as though he could not decide whether to laugh or glare. Oh, to be young again. "You don't have a bed right now."
Methos tilted his head and rested his cheek against Duncan's knees. He felt a tremor in the muscles under the cloth. Then, ever so slightly, Duncan's legs parted. Methos' reflexes were triggered instantly and he planted his hands firmly on the upper thighs. Duncan gasped and went white, but his legs shifted further apart. Methos thought his heart would stop. Damn, boy, are you tempting me on purpose?! Well, he had never been one to refuse an offer. Still.... It was hard to speak. He managed to say hoarsely, "I choose to, tonight."
He saw a moment's incomprehension before a moan broke through Duncan's lips. The boy shuddered under his hands and Methos shifted his gaze to the crotch in front of him. The bulge of Duncan's growing erection was irresistible. He stroked it with his fingertips and the boy's legs fell wide apart. Methos pushed in close between Duncan's thighs, jerking at the fastenings of the pants until he bared the boy's cock. It was hard, but not as hard as it would be. He wrapped his arms about Duncan's waist and began running his open mouth up and down that proud, bare flesh.
Duncan whimpered, then groaned and thrust up against him. Hands grappled with his head, trying to pull him onto the cock but he resisted. Then the hands were pulling at his shirt, and he backed up in order to let it be taken off. He stopped to enjoy the sight before him.
Duncan had Methos' shirt bunched up in one hand. His eyes were tightly closed, his legs spread as far apart as possible. His cock stood hard and red out from his open pants and he was shaking. He groaned again and whispered, "Methos... please don't stop."
"Not stopping. Just admiring. You're beautiful." He took a deep breath and tried to control the heat that ran through him. "Take off your tunic."
Duncan dropped Methos' shirt and tore his own tunic off. He gave another whimper afterwards and brushed his taut nipples as if to soothe them. The shudder that ran through him was visible and he dropped his hands to clutch convulsively at the tabletop. "Please," he whispered again.
Methos caught at the table edge between Duncan's knees. "Touch your nipples," he breathed.
Oh, yes. I am going to die. For Duncan obeyed and this time lingered, pinching at his own nipples. Methos lowered his head slowly so he would not have to stop watching, and sucked the head of Duncan's cock into his mouth. The scream was almost deafening and Methos had to move quickly to stop Duncan's orgasm. He gripped the boy's cock at its base in his right hand, held him still with his left arm around the waist and slid up to nip at his right nipple, pushing the hand there out of the way. Duncan's fingernails clawed his back and he knew he was about to lose it completely.
He stepped back and ordered, "Hold yourself, here!" He guided Duncan's hand down to replace his and spun, racing to their packs. The boy cried out behind him in anguished protest, but quieted when Methos returned to him with the bedding they had taken from the manor. Methos spread the blankets on the table and lay Duncan back on top of them. The boy was still gripping himself tight and every breath was a moan.
Methos stopped. No oil, no ointment or anything. Of course Duncan would feel pain at this first joining, but there was a limit. Then the boy reached out to him with his free hand. In the open palm was a bottle of oil. Methos choked and chuckled. Duncan said weakly, "I said we wouldn't be talking long."
"And here I thought I knew what to expect of you."
"S' your turn to be surprised."
Methos was more thorough than he had ever planned to be working the oil around the opening and into Duncan's body. Hell, his plan had once been to make the entry as agonizing as possible, so the pleasure which followed would shatter his victim. He wished he could blame the sadism he had indulged in on sensing Kronos' approach, but he knew better. It was the darkness within him, but he did not have to let it rule him. He ruled himself.
He leaned down to meet his lover's eyes. "This will hurt, Duncan. Endure it and I promise you that will change."
"If you live long enough, everything changes," Duncan whispered.
Methos chuckled and oiled his own cock. Now. He set his cock at the tender rosebud, rubbing Duncan's skin and pushing in slowly. He heard a sharp breath of pain as he entered. The tightness that closed and squeezed around him could be his undoing, so he closed his eyes and took deep, steadying breaths. He could feel the strain in Duncan's trembling thighs and ran his thumbs lightly around the entry he was forcing. Deeper. Deeper. Oh God, he's so tight. Methos shifted, aiming to brush against the pleasure spot. The sudden gasp and arch of Duncan's hips into him told him he had succeeded.
"Methos! Methos!" the boy panted.
He opened his eyes to meet the tear-bright ones that gazed in shock at him. Leaning down he kissed Duncan and felt the boy's body ripple with surprise and pleasure. He pulled back. "You see? Told you it would change." He pushed against the pleasure point again and again as he began pumping in a rhythm, slowly increasing the pace. He glanced down and saw that Duncan was gripping his cock ruthlessly. He stroked the boy's wrist. "Let go, now."
Duncan obeyed and then went wild. He caught Methos' biceps in a desperate grip, undulating against him, eyes blind with need. Methos grinned and held onto his hips, pumping as hard as he could. Duncan's scream started soft before it rose to a high shriek as he came. Methos laughed and closed his eyes again, enjoying the crush of hands on his biceps, the twisting and wild kicking of the body beneath his, the way Duncan's hot channel squeezed erratically. His own orgasm was intense as he filled the boy, marking him as Methos' own in body and soul.
They lay together, Methos on top with Duncan's arms wrapped around him. They were wet, hot and too drained to move. Methos snuggled in and asked softly, "Will you come with me, then?"
Duncan shuddered and gripped Methos tighter against him. His voice was soft. "I thought this would free me."
Methos blinked, astonished. So he was trying to tempt me, he thought, remembering the white fear in Duncan's face. Foolish child. He rubbed his head against the chest and licked a nipple tenderly. Another strong shudder ran through the boy's body. Methos murmured, "One time won't do it."
"You control me so easily. I'm afraid... I'm afraid of what you'll make of me."
"Oh, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." Methos took the boy's face between his palms. He was about to speak when he felt dizzy. The boy's eyes had again taken on that peculiar, luminescent quality. He stared into them and felt his thoughts shake loose. He was adrift, floating. He gasped and closed his eyes.
"Methos?!" came Duncan's startled voice.
He doesn't know what he can do, thought Methos. He doesn't know he has power. There was such purity in the boy and he had tried to sully it with the ways of the Horsemen. He shivered and steadied himself. Now that he knew what it was, it could only affect him if he allowed it. He could bring Duncan to Darius, perhaps. Or Rebecca. It would be wonderful to see either of them. They were the perfect teachers for someone so innately good. And when Duncan had learned all he could from them, perhaps they would leave together.
"Methos?" Duncan said again, more softly.
In control of himself, Methos opened his eyes and met the boy's worried gaze. "I told you that you could not change me. I was wrong." He saw the liquid question in those eyes and smiled wryly. "Nothing would have made me challenge Kronos. There was too much between us. And yet I did, for you. I killed my brother."
Duncan said slowly, "Does that mean the layer that went with him is gone?"
Confused, Methos cast back until he remembered what the boy was referring to. Ah. He understood. He firmed his grip on Duncan's face and met his gaze intensely. "No. I cannot promise you I won't hurt you again. I can only promise that as long as you are alive, you can... you can change me."
He watched as Duncan closed his eyes and swallowed. Then the boy opened them again, liquid and dark. Methos felt their siren call and held steady, feeling tingles along his nerves. Duncan asked softly, "Does that mean you love me, then?"
A startling question. Then again, perhaps not. The boy was a bundle of emotion and too young to separate desire from love. Methos was about to say something flippant when his words stuck in his throat. He was caught in his own trap. At some point his desire for Duncan had become love, and it was he who had refused to recognize the change. He gasped, struggling with the sudden, overwhelming recognition of himself.
Duncan's hands touched his face, callused fingers gentled him. The boy said, "I love you. I thought it was only that you'd forced me to want you, but it isn't. You're so unpredictable. I wasn't sure if you loved me, or were just amusing yourself."
"I was, at first," Methos gasped out. Ignoring Duncan's influence was easy. Ignoring his own heart was impossible.
Methos shook his head free of the hands that stroked it and pinned them next to Duncan's head. "You're quite confident all of a sudden," he growled.
Duncan met his eyes fearlessly. "Admit it."
"Admit what?" Methos said sullenly. Duncan's eyes were dark and deep. He had the boy under him, so why did he feel pinned? You can change me, he had said. That was as much an admission as saying the actual words. He may as well just give in. He took a deep breath. It wasn't that hard, was it? Emotions were such terrible weaknesses. "I -- I do love you."
Duncan's smile was like the dawning sun. "Then I'll go anywhere with you. And when your demons try to take you, I'll help you hold them off."
Damn. The boy understood quite a bit more than Methos had allowed himself to believe. It was as though a terrible pressure had released him. I will not be alone. And whatever he makes of me, it will not be a monster. I'm free. We're free.
And the two men, no longer master and slave, would see the world together.
Temptation is in the Eye of the Beholder (And BOY, What a Beholder!) by Sylvan
The Schmarlequin Contests were from a Duncan/Methos Harlequin challenge in Highlander fandom. The subtitle of the challenge was "Harlequin, Schmarlequin, read me some slash." The 1999 Contest was called The Tempering Forge, and mine was the 8th Entry. This story is based around an incident presented in the episode "Prodigal Son". That was Martin Hyde's only episode, as Duncan took his head and he wasn't a very interesting villain. Hyde was a big game hunter. For him, the biggest game of all was a "seasoned Immortal". One of his favorite methods for hunting them down was to start with students, whom he harried until they fled to their teacher. He met Duncan MacLeod canon-wise in 1630, when he was actually hunting Connor. Failing to find Connor, he left Duncan for later. But in this story, he doesn't leave Duncan....