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sounds and silences

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The buzz had Methos out of bed and clutching his sword before he was even fully awake.

It was a handy reflex, honed through centuries of caution. It had certainly served him well in the past, with the exception of that one time. His legs had gotten tangled in the mess of blankets, sending him crashing to the ground — to the great amusement of Kronos. It had remained his brother's favorite joke for decades; Death somehow managing to impale himself on his own sword.

Grimacing at the unbidden memory, Methos crept towards the door. A knock made him straighten up, well aware that a challenger wouldn't bother with such politeness. MacLeod then, surely.

Confirming his suspicion, Mac's voice drifted through the door. "It's me."

The sarcastic reply on the tip of his tongue died as Methos opened the door. Mac looked like hell. Sopping wet, bloodstained, and with a nasty gash in his sweater right across his abdomen. It looked like the kind of wound that would've left you clutching your guts — in a literal sense. The tell-tale smell clung to MacLeod, no matter how drenched he was. Like charred meat, only less...

"Can I come in?" Mac's voice cut his disturbing reverie short. Stepping aside, Methos gestured for him to enter.

"Rough night?"

It seemed like Mac wasn't going to answer at first, then, "Yeah." It was more of a tired exhale than anything else, but it was enough.

"Anyone I knew?" Methos asked carefully, reaching towards Mac since he hadn't made a move to remove his sodden coat. Thinking better of it, Methos let the hand fall.

"I don't know. He didn't introduce himself aside from saying that he was very old."

Methos raised an eyebrow. "Is that why you're here? You know, just because some challenger of yours claims to be old doesn't mean I have anything to do with it."

"That's not it!" The outburst made Methos stiffen, surprise dissipating the bitter disappointment he'd momentarily felt.

"That's not it," Mac repeated, voice quiet.

"Look, why don't you take a shower? I'll get some dry clothes out for you. We can talk afterwards."

"No," he tried, but Methos would have none of it. He pushed MacLeod towards the bathroom and herded him inside, closing the door with finality.

Methos waited until the spray from the shower broke the silence, before going in search of the promised clothes.

----

"Not that I don't enjoy random visits," Methos began, regretting the light tone the second it left his mouth.

"Sorry," Mac mumbled, fingers gripping the tumbler as if it were a lifeline. His whitening knuckles made for a painful contrast to the amber liquid contained therein.

"Don't," Methos said. "I'd just like to..." And wasn't that the million-dollar question? What would he like to do, anyway? Help? Couldn't say that, revealed too much. Anything, absolutely anything, to wipe away the anguish that was currently etched in MacLeod's entire being? Definitely couldn't say that.

Mac saved him by speaking despite the lack of prompting. "I'd never seen him before in my life, and yet he came straight up to me and said that he'd like for me to take his head."

Oh. Suicide was tricky when you were Immortal, but that was no excuse to shove your Quickening on someone who didn't want the burden.

"Did he say why?" Methos heard himself ask, all the while squelching the urge to pull Mac into a hug. He looked like he needed one; huddled up on the couch, wearing Methos' clothes, water dripping from his hair and tracing a path along his jaw.

...Then again, 'hug' was perhaps not the right word.

"Just that he was old, and sick of it all — endless life, everyone dying around him, the Game itself. I refused to do it, of course. But he wouldn't listen, he came at me full force and he was strong and I..."

Methos reached out, giving Mac's forearm a reassuring squeeze. "I understand." He turned over possible replies in his head, a bit apprehensive at the sudden throwback in their relationship. Mac learning about the Horsemen had put a definite stop to the vaguely mentoring role he'd once occupied. Mac hadn't acted this way since the mess with Kristin, and even that couldn't be compared to the current situation.

"Do you?"

It took Methos a split second to understand what Mac was asking. "Yes," he answered. "I do understand. You had no choice. He wanted it, and forced your hand. It wasn't your fault, there was nothing you could've done."

But MacLeod just shook his head, a sad smile twisting his lips. "No, that's not it. I've been forced into assisting suicides before, and I dealt with the guilt back then. That's not why I'm here."

Methos frowned. "Then why?"

Mac hesitated, focusing his attention on the tumbler again. Any second now he'd spill the Scotch all over the couch, yet Methos couldn't care less.

"I thought of you. When he said those things, I mean. About being old and tired of everything, and I just... I can't... I don't want to be forced to take your head, someday."

The world's oldest man was speechless. Utterly and totally speechless.

"Methos?"

Running a hand through his short hair, Methos took a deep breath to ground himself. What was he supposed to say? He could hardly gush about how touched he was by Mac's words, or how happy they'd made him. Too pathetic, and — again — much too revealing.

"Say something, please."

Meeting Mac's eyes, Methos was taken aback to see them full of worry — as if Mac expected him to offer his neck on a silver platter at any given moment. Not as if he hadn't done that before, sure, but still. It hurt to see Mac hurting, always had.

"I won't do that to you."

MacLeod deflated, sinking into the couch and tipping his head over the back. The sparse lighting illuminated his throat just so. "Yeah," he murmured, "of course you wouldn't. The Quickening rattled my brains, I guess." The laugh following the excuse was entirely unconvincing.

Methos turned his body towards Mac, gripping his shoulder to get his attention. Mac's head snapped up, dark eyes focusing on Methos.

"I could promise you; could swear it in all the languages I've ever known. But, Duncan, it's just words. You might not think you know me," Methos said, hesitating briefly before pressing on, "but I'd like to believe that you, deep down, do know that I don't want to hurt you."

Mac smiled then, slow and genuine. A mischievous twinkle entered his eye, and Methos knew what was coming before the words had even been formed on Mac's tongue. "So says the man who shot me in the back."

Methos rolled his eyes.

Grinning, Mac leaned sideways. Thus settled against Methos, in a clear show of trust and unvoiced gratitude, Mac fell asleep.

Methos listened to his breath even out before wrapping a sheltering arm around him. "Thank you," he whispered.