Gifts Undeserved
By Sheryl

"Very nice," Methos stood back, appraising their efforts. "I think that's enough though, don't you?"

Turning his head, Duncan merely smiled, a twinkle of mischief in his eyes and continued adorning the tree with tinsel.

"Silly me. Of course it isn't." Methos rolled his eyes and walked over to the stove to pour them each a cup of warm apple cider. He hadn't expected a verbal response and felt a rush of happiness at the look he'd received. Duncan hadn't spoken for weeks, but that look was entirely 'Duncan MacLeod'.

Eyeing the innumerable amount of colored lights blinking on the tree, Methos shook his head with feigned exasperation. "I just hope you have some spare candles around here. I have the feeling a major blackout is going to occur any time now."

Duncan seemed much too intent on his decorating efforts to acknowledge the prediction, but Methos saw him smile. "Good thing we're on this island, if we're lucky they'll never suspect it's our fault."

Methos set the two mugs on the coffee table and went over to the tree, noticing that Duncan was now standing completely still, looking down at the package of tinsel -- that thankfully, now appeared empty. "Awww...all gone?"

Frowning slightly, Duncan handed the empty package to Methos who quickly set it aside and gestured toward the tree. "It's just perfect! Simply beautiful, Duncan."

Duncan beamed, his attention immediately diverted.

Of course, a more cynical person might say that the tree was a bit over-done, Methos pondered. But Duncan had been so taken with the similarly decorated one in the store that Methos had made sure to get plenty of tinsel, blinking lights and shiny balls - the works. Everything to make a perfectly gaudy, flashy, garishly dressed tree -- anything to bring a smile to his Highlander's face.

The look of pleasure on the beloved face told Methos everything he needed to know. Duncan loved the tree. A pair of sunglasses would come in handy right about now, he thought to himself as he reached over and gently brushed a wayward strand of hair from Duncan's cheek, tucking it behind his ear.

"Come on. Let's relax a bit. We've had a busy day. " Methos led him over to the sofa, sat down and patted the spot beside him. He picked up one of the mugs and tested the contents, making sure the temperature was suitable before handing it to Duncan. Then he picked up the other cup and the two of them sat back, sipping their cider and admiring their handiwork.

Had it only been a matter of weeks since this whole ordeal began? Only weeks since Duncan had taken that last devastating Quickening? Methos sighed, wishing for a moment it was the old Duncan was sitting next to him, relaxing, sharing cider and decorating the cabin. He wondered how Duncan - the real Duncan - would feel about his new gauche Christmas décor? The thought made him smile and immediately, he felt guilty for wishing away this sweet, boyish persona. After all, this Duncan was just another facet of the Highlander, in some ways, a complete opposite. This Duncan was calm, content, full of peace, seeming to be without a worry in the world. And how could Methos even think to deny him this time away from the stress and strain of real life, endless as it may seem at times. If Duncan needed a little time off from the tragedy and heartbreak of real life, then Methos could do nothing less than stand by him until he was ready to return. He could do no less because life without Duncan would be completely unbearable.

Next to him, Duncan yawned, sliding down a little so he could rest his head on Methos' shoulder.

"Joe and Amanda will be here tomorrow," Methos reminded him, not entirely certain of how much information was ever actually retained. "Christmas and all that," he made a tsk'ing sound, "I still don't understand why we celebrate this day in December, when the blessed event obviously took place in September. I mean, you'd have had to been blind to have missed that humongous, blazing star that loomed over our heads for months."

Blind? Brilliant choice of words, old man, he chided himself. His thoughts carried him back to the period of time right after Duncan had regained consciousness -- five days after Zechariah Brinkley's Quickening had completely overwhelmed the Highlander. Then, it was another five additional days that Duncan had stared sightlessly ahead, totally unresponsive and unreachable. For ten very long days, his mighty Highland warrior had been utterly helpless and vulnerable.

Weeks later, there had been so many obstacles Duncan had already overcome and he was continuing to make such tremendous progress every day that Methos held almost no doubt that he would return to his normal state of being any day now.

"Most everyone thought for sure it was the end of the world. Who knew about astronomy and all that back then? Most people couldn't even write their names. I'm pretty sure it was that comet, you know? The one that comes around every--" Methos happened to glance out of the corner of his eye just in time to see the mug of cider begin tipping precariously. He quickly grabbed it and set both mugs on the table. "Come on Highlander, time for bed."

With another yawn, Duncan rubbed his eyes, looking all of eight years old. Methos couldn't help but smile, offering a hand, which Duncan used as leverage to pull his half-asleep self up from the sofa.

Gently he prompted the younger man to sit on the bed and pulled the soft, dark green sweater over his head. Duncan stood then, oblivious to any sexual connotations and allowed his lover to deftly unbutton and remove his jeans. The little voice in the back of Methos' mind chose that moment to again wish in earnest for *his* Highlander -- his strong, brave, beautiful Highlander. It was the same every evening when he helped Duncan undress; his body and mind would both betray him and Methos would have to mentally shake himself to regain control. He helped him into his sweat pants and gestured for him to get into bed.

It was cold this time of year, especially at night, but the temperature had never before stopped the two of them from enjoying the feeling of skin pressed against skin, using their body heat to keep each other warm beneath the fluffy down comforter. Of course that was out of the question at the present time, but Methos couldn't seem to stop himself from reminiscing.

Now, they climbed under the blankets, each wearing pajamas of sorts. Duncan instinctively scooted close to his lover, wanting the comfort of his closeness, unconscious as to what his touch, scent and heat did to the other man.

Methos sighed again as his Highlander snuggled up next to him. Pushing away any unseemly notions, he tenderly kissed Duncan's forehead. "Good night, love," he whispered and Duncan nestled even closer, making himself comfortable.

Listening to the rhythm of Duncan's breathing as it slowed and evened, Methos lay awake, unable to escape his thoughts. His theory, which was all it was in reality, was that Duncan had taken too many Quickenings in too short a time and it was more than he was capable of handling. His body and mind simply needed to shut down for a bit, close shop in order to rest and recover. As soon as he was able to assimilate everything he'd be back, he had to -- because the alternative was simply unimaginable.

And really, he had come such a long way. Each day, Methos could see more and more of Duncan's old self, his extraordinary personality shining through in small ways and large. A teasing, mischievous spark in his lovely brown eyes; the raising of a questioning eyebrow at one of Methos' sarcastic comments or outrageous remarks. In the past couple days he'd even begun to notice a hint of that infamous MacLeod stubbornness.

On the whole, Duncan seemed happy and content and for that Methos should be thankful. All he wanted in the world was for Duncan be happy, to have peace of mind. Maybe he was being selfish, asking for too much, but he couldn't stop himself from wishing, from hoping that soon the other half of his soul would return, whole, strong and healed. "Merry Christmas, love," he whispered as he began to drift toward sleep.

"Methos."

It could have been his imagination, or a dream, he thought, but he was sure that he'd felt the warm breath on his skin; he knew that he'd felt the strong arm tighten around him. Then, to his amazement and joy, he heard the familiar voice again.

"Love."

It was blessing, an undeserved gift. And although at that moment the ancient Immortal felt very small, insignificant and unworthy, he sent a silent prayer of gratitude to the One who had looked upon him with such compassion and granted him this perfect and most invaluable gift. Love.

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