This is a story I wrote last Christmas for some friends, but I never quite finished it. But it's finished for this year's.  :) Many thanks to April for beta reading.

Rated R for explicit sex.

The usual disclaimers apply for the FK & HL characters appearing on these pages. You know the drill  :) This is a story in the "Bloodties" universe and all original characters belong to their assorted creators, myself included.

Revision notes Sept. 2000: This was one of the earliest stories written, and as such had the most continuity problems. After discussing it with my universe co-creators, it was decided to revise the story to better fit canon and timeline. So if you’ve read this previously, and it seems different, it is! And I mustn’t forget to thank April for checking it all over again.

Home for the Holidays
by Edithna Morgan
c. 1998/2000

It was Christmas Eve, and all the through the house... could be heard the sounds of giggling. The women of the manor were gathered in the sitting room, at the center of which stood a majestic noble fir, bedecked in gold and blue ornaments. It easily topped eight feet. The rest of the room was festooned in holly and pine, velvet swags and plaid bows. The sound of carols could be heard coming from the state of the art sound system that encompassed the room in pure, sweet music. The women were garbed as festively as the room, each one dressed for the holiday in her own inimitable style.

The sitting room was LaCroix's one concession to the women's wish for an observance of the holiday season. He then studiously avoided it since it had been turned into a winter wonderland of lights and decorations. He had wisely decided that to forbid them Christmas would only cause much pouting and bad-tempered attitudes. One or two in that mood could be dealt with. But all of them at once was enough to give even the ancient vampire a headache. So, he had relented and let them take over the sitting room for their holiday nonsense as long as the rest of the public rooms remained totally untouched. The women had taken the offer, lavishing all the resources they had on making the sitting room something that even Santa would be impressed with.

Triona and Stephanie stood by the buffet where plates and bowls of tempting delicacies were laid out. Stephanie was making a severe dent in the chocolate pastries, while Triona was working on the incredible cheeses that chef had put together. The two women, about the same height, offset each other nicely. Stephanie's tanned skin, chestnut hair and bright blue eyes were complimented by the calf length, rose colored, silk dress she wore.  And Triona's fair complexion, honey gold hair and jade green eyes contrasted nicely against the black lace, ankle length dress she wore. They both watched, grinning, as Terese tormented Lauren by holding one of Lauren's gifts just out of reach.

"Terese!" Lauren glared at Terese. "I want to know who it's from! Give it to me now!" She glowered as Terese merely grinned in defiance.

Lauren contemplated tackling her, but didn't want to ruin the beautiful red velvet dress that she had just bought. She had been hesitant to get it at first, though she had loved it on sight. It had taken both Stephanie and Triona to convince her to buy the full skirted, low cut dress with puffy sleeves. It highlighted her hazel green eyes and short brunette hair to create a glowing and sexy image.

Lauren wanted to know who had given her the elegantly wrapped little box -- it hadn't been there earlier. She knew each and every gift that was under the tree and the shiny little blue wrapped box had not been one of them.

"What's it worth to you?" Terese asked wickedly.

She was enjoying this thoroughly -- revenge for many little things that she had been keeping account of. She wanted to see just how far Lauren would go to get her gift. Terese stood, hands behind her back, holding the other woman's package. She was resplendent in black silk and chiffon. As she swayed back and forth in amusement, her long skirt moved with her. A striking gold belt that she had gotten for herself on her recent trip to New York accented the black mandarin styled silk blouse.

Sarah stood by the fire, sipping her drink. The flames reflected off her green satin suit, its simple cut dress and long straight jacket presenting an elegant portrait. She grinned at the tussle as well, but didn't want it to get out of hand. LaCroix would be most displeased if a fight broke out, and looking at the expression on Lauren's face it was getting more and more likely. She walked over to stand next to Triona, the two of them exchanging meaningful looks. Both of them nodded and moved over to where Lauren and Terese were faced off.

"I think that's enough, you two -- it's Christmas, so behave!" Sarah admonished.

Lauren pouted. ''She started it!"

Terese smiled smugly, but her expression became one of surprise as she felt the package being plucked from her hands.

"And I'm finishing it," Triona stated as she plucked the gift from Terese's hands. "Here, Lauren." She handed her the package. "I'm sure LaCroix would not be happy that Terese kept his gift from you." She looked at Terese, who gulped at the reminder of an unhappy LaCroix.

"Thanks!" Lauren beamed, holding her package protectively. He got me a present! she thought happily, her middle warm at the thought.

"You'll all find presents from him," Triona announced. Stephanie whooped and Terese and Sarah grinned.  "He isn't totally adverse to winter celebrations and wanted to share a part of it with us. So why don't we all eat something? I'm sure we're all hungry, and then we'll open our gifts." She waited to see if there were any objections to her plan. Apparently not, as the other women made a dash for the buffet.

Triona watched the others attack the food and smiled. She wasn't hungry, so instead she went to the bar to get a glass of wine. Leaning against the door, she watched the antics of her friends. A movement at the corner of her eye distracted her. Looking out into the hall, she noticed a box sitting on the steps. Odd, she thought. Setting down her glass, she went to investigate.

She leaned down to read the card. It simply read, 'Triona'. Strange, it wasn't LaCroix's handwriting, she thought as she inspected the package. It was a separately wrapped lid and box, so all she had to do was take off the top. Slowly, she opened the silver foil wrapped gift, pushing the tissue paper aside. Inside was a smaller box, of the kind jewelry came in. Now incredibly curious, she opened the box, gasping at the exquisite gold bracelet that lay within. It was of Celtic design: intertwined swans with sapphire eyes. Somehow she knew this was not a reproduction. Who would give her something so incredibly precious? It must be from Janette, she decided. After all, she knew Triona as well as LaCroix, just in a different way. This would be just like her.

She gently placed the cool gold around her wrist, gazing at it in pleasure, and running her fingertips over the soft gold. She was so entranced she never heard anyone come up behind her. Hands encircled her waist, and lips kissed the side of her neck -- warm lips. "Merry Christmas," a low, familiar voice whispered in her ear.

Triona whirled to find laughing hazel green eyes looking down at her. She couldn’t believe it was him. If she’d had one secret wish for Christmas, it had been that Methos would come back. And now here he was, like some sort of dream. "Adam!" she exclaimed. "I mean, Methos." She smiled up at him. "I'm sorry, it's just hard remembering your real name sometimes. I'm afraid I may always think of you as Adam," she apologized.

"You may call me whatever you like," he assured her.

"As long as I call you?" she asked, smiling, her voice husky.

"Mmmm-hmm." Tired of talk, he pressed his lips against hers, demanding entrance.

Happily surrendering, she opened her mouth to his insistent kiss. She moaned as he pushed her against the banister, pinning her against his lean body. The kiss went on and on, Methos trying to make up for all the long months that they had been apart in that one moment.

When he’d left, telling her he needed time to deal with the loss of Alexa, Triona had convinced herself that he was never coming back. “No promises,” they’d assured each other that night. She wanted to dance with joy at his return, but wasn’t quite ready to believe it was true.

He pulled away slightly. "Let's move this somewhere more private hmmm?"  He tried to move her up the steps, looking down at her impatiently when she didn't cooperate.  "Is there a problem?"

"We can't," she said firmly.

"We can't? You're here; I'm here. The flesh, not to mention the spirit is willing. At least mine is…."  He arched an eyebrow questioningly.

Triona ran her hands up and down his back reassuringly. "Mine is more than willing. But besides the fact that my family is waiting for me in there, I think your forgetting your 'arrangement' with LaCroix."

"But of course you haven't," Methos said, his voice taking on an edge. "Tell me, are you always so obedient?"

Stiffening, she pulled away abruptly. "Don't you dare! Need I remind you that you started this, with your damn 'deal'!  You made this particular bed and now you can lie in it -- or not!"  Seething, she stormed down the stairs, furious he was ruining their reunion with his sniping.

He grabbed her arm as she made her way back to the sitting room.  "Don't!" he exclaimed as she tried to pull away. "Please," he entreated, looking at her with his little boy lost expression

When Methos has first appeared in the fall, it had been to collect on a debt that LaCroix owed him: a night with a woman of the vampire’s. LaCroix owed the Immortal after Methos had saved him from death at the hands of a cult in the late 1800s. Methos has arrived on his oldest friend’s doorstep out of habit, reeling from the death of a mortal woman Methos had loved deeply. The Immortal thought he would find comfort in the familiarity of his relationship with the ancient vampire. And since he and LaCroix seemed to enjoy nothing more than playing mind games with each other, they had instantly fallen into their very old habits.

When Methos had decided to stay on, the only way LaCroix would agree was if Methos promised to share his attentions with the other women. If LaCroix had to share, then so did Methos. It was only fair, as the vampire saw it.

But Methos had been outwitted by himself. He and Triona seemed to share an instant rapport that soon grew to something that might have been love – had either of them been ready to accept it. But neither was. Methos was too raw over Alexa’s death and Triona had her own issues to deal with.

She sighed in exasperation. How could someone so ancient still manage to look so…pathetic? “Methos, please, you can’t just walk back into my life and pick up where we left off. You’ve been gone for months, and I do understand why, I do. But if you’re back, you have to deal with the reality of my life here.”  She looked up at him expectantly, waiting.

Methos brushed his lips across her forehead. "I'm sorry," he sighed. "I guess I've never been good at sharing." He considered her for a moment. “I’ll speak with LaCroix and see about modifying our arrangement, just like I said I would. Lucien will just have to deal with it. But until then, we’ll do this your way. I promise. Happy?"

She showed him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him to her for a passionate kiss. "Just remember, I have you reserved for Christmas; a gift I intend to unwrap oh…so…slowly," she promised, punctuating each word with a kiss, her eyes glinting wickedly. Taking his hand, she led Methos to the sitting room to meet the rest of her family.

Silence fell as they entered the room hand in hand. The others assumed who the tall man at Triona's side must be, but still, it was rather a shock.

"Do you always affect groups of women this way?" she asked, amused at the dead silence.

"My charismatic personality I guess." He shrugged, grinning.  "I don't suppose you bring many gentleman callers home to meet the family?"

"No, but then I'm not sure you'd qualify in that category." She giggled at the mock-injured look that he gave her.

He leaned down to whisper in her ear, "You will pay for that you know."

"Promises, promises," she whispered back as she pulled him to stand in front of the others gathered around the tree. "Ladies, I'd like to introduce you to Methos." The others murmured their greetings, taking in this new twist in their lives. "Stephanie, Sarah, Lauren, and hanging back over there is Terese."

Methos greeted each one in turn, and then walked over to Terese. "So you're Terese." He took her hand, kissing it gallantly. His smoky hazel green eyes looked intently into her hazel ones as if taking her measure. He smiled brilliantly at her, his whole face lighting up. "Triona was telling me that you are responsible for Lucien's antique book collection. I'm hoping while I'm here that you will help me with some research I'm doing?"

Terese started out of the spell Methos seemed to have her in. "Yes, help. I mean, yes, I'd be happy to help." She blushed, confused by the charming, handsome man smiling down at her.  Even though Triona had told them all about Methos and the 'arrangement' between the Immortal -- and that whole thing was something else again -- and their Master, it still was, well…odd. It was going to take some getting used to. Though, Terese thought, looking up at Methos, she really could get used to him.

"Speaking of Lucien… where is the old bloodsucker anyway?" Methos looked around the room as if expecting LaCroix to pop out from behind the drapes or something.

"You know how he is about the holidays, Methos," Triona reminded him. "Just getting this room was a concession. I'll be owing for it through the next year," she said darkly. LaCroix could be so damn difficult.

"Well, he's a fool. Having five beautiful women in one room and he's off sulking somewhere."  Methos smiled at them all, hearing their startled gasps at the way he spoke of LaCroix. Except for Triona of course -- she had gotten used to it on his first visit. Well, they would get used to it too. He intended to be a frequent visitor here.

Attention was diverted from Methos by the sound of voices in the hall.  "I know my way, thank you, Baker," Nick's familiar voice was heard to say.

Sarah looked towards the door, beaming at the sound of Nick's voice.  Triona stiffened and muttered, "Great."

Methos, noticing her agitation, leaned in to ask, "What, Lucien's golden boy not your favorite person?"

Grimacing slightly, she replied, "You might say that. But for Sarah's sake, not to mention LaCroix's, we'll play nice."  She looked at him. "I'll tell you about it one day."  He nodded, concerned. He had never witnessed this particular mood.

While they spoke, Nick had entered the room.  If he was surprised at Methos' presence, he was stunned at the sight of the Immortal with his arm rather protectively around Triona's waist.  Had he stepped into the twilight zone? He sighed at the set look on her face. Damn, he needed to try and mend that particular fence. But he would have to deal with that later, because Sarah was headed towards him, a happy smile on her face.

Sarah leaned up, kissing him on the cheek. "Nick! I'm so happy you could come!" She tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and led him towards the others.

Lauren got right to brass tacks. "Is that box of presents for us?" she asked, indicating the box Nick held in his arms.

Nick laughed. "Yes, Lauren, it is. Would you like to do the honors?" He sat the box next to the tree.

She needed no second urging as she dropped to the floor to sort through the box full of gaily-wrapped gifts. Soon she was bickering with Stephanie over who would pass out what.

Nick used the uproar as a distraction to pull Sarah aside. "I've missed you," he said, the sincerity in his voice making her shiver in pleasure.

"I'm so glad you came. When I asked you, I thought you would say 'no.'" I She was thrilled he had accepted her invitation. Now, she only hoped for peace on all family fronts.

"So am I," he told her, wrapping his arms around her.

Soon, they had all gathered around the tree to open their gifts. Triona opened her gift from Nick, surprise appearing on her face. It was a Japanese Netsuke sculpture almost identical to the one that Nick had broken. "Where did you find it? The only other two are in a museum and a very private collection!"

"I've found most people have a price, it's just a matter of finding it." Nick was more than pleased at the happy expression on her face. "Do you like it? I know the one that was broken meant a lot to you."

"It's lovely. Thank you, Nicholas," Triona said sincerely.

From LaCroix, Terese received a little gold book pendant. Each tiny page turned to reveal delicately painted landscapes. "Put it on for me?" she asked Sarah. She admired it happily. It looked so expensive, she was almost afraid to wear it -- well, almost.

Lauren's little blue box contained an exquisite marquis cut emerald ring, its deep green color mesmerizing. She put it on her finger, waving it around to catch the light.

Stephanie tore open her box from LaCroix to find an antique amethyst necklace. "Cool!" she shouted. Triona helped her put it on and she raced to the mirror to look at it.

Sarah opened Nick's gift to her. Her smile lit up her face at seeing the gold claddagh ring, a blood red ruby it's heart. "It's so beautiful, Nick!"

"I'm glad you like it," Nick said softly as he put it on her finger.

"I love it!"

Triona had moved back to the fireplace, not wanting to intrude on the blossoming friendship that seemed to be developing between Terese and Methos. She was glad, and she didn't want it to be any more awkward than it was already. Until Methos could get LaCroix to agree to an alteration of their agreement, she would stay strictly in the confines of the rules that had been set. She nodded at Nick as he joined her.

"I don't suppose you would tell me what's going on with Methos would you?" Nick asked.

"I think you should ask him that." She looked at Nick. "Have you known him long?"

"I met him just after my sister, Fluer, died. I think he was the only one LaCroix ever talked to about it." Nick watched her. "I notice there was no gift for you from LaCroix. Are you two at odds again? Over him?" Nick nodded towards Methos.

"I've learned not to try and guess at LaCroix's motives. He has his reasons, and I just have to make the best of it." She looked over to the others. "I think Sarah is missing you," she commented. Nicely put, but Nick recognized a dismissal when he heard one.

"Merry Christmas, Triona," Nick said as he walked away.

Tired and depressed and knowing she wouldn't be missed, she slipped out of the room. Slowly, she climbed the stairs to her room. They were all doing what they had to do. She had no right to complain. Briefly, the thought of what it would have been like if she had met Methos first passed though her mind. Of course he probably would have never noticed her. The only reason he had noticed her here was because he wanted something that belonged to LaCroix. It didn't do much for her self-esteem to think of herself as some sort of object. Why was this bothering her now? It wasn't like she wasn't used to all this by now. She decided she was just overtired -- it would be better in the morning.

Trust Nick to notice that she had gotten no gift from LaCroix. She didn't think anyone else had. And contrary to what she had told Nick, it did bother her. Obviously she had done something to displease him. No doubt she was sure to be informed of what it was soon enough. She closed her suite door behind her. Twisting the bracelet on her arm, she was so preoccupied in her dark thoughts she never realized she wasn't alone.

"Are we unhappy tonight, my dear? The joy of the season not meeting your expectations?" LaCroix asked her, grim amusement in his voice.

She looked over to find him sitting on the sofa. "I'm fine," she said a little more bluntly than she had intended.

In an eye blink he was in front of her. "You know better than that. Don't lie to me."

"If you know, then why did you ask?" she asked frostily. She was in no mood for games tonight.

LaCroix's eyes glinted a little at her tone. She was in one of her difficult moods, and she had been so very pleasant the last few months. "I think you need to apologize, don't you?" He gripped her arm warningly. "I will not abide your being childish."

She almost refused; even knowing she would not like the consequences. But why bother? If she apologized he would leave her alone and she could feel sorry for herself.  She hung her head. "I'm sorry. I'm not feeling well and I'm tired. I shouldn't take it on you. I just want to sleep through the winter." To her horror she realized tears were falling down her face. With her hair covering her face, she hoped he wouldn't notice. How much more pathetic could she be?

Of course he did notice. Sighing, he tipped her head up. "I think I'm going to regret this arrangement I made with Methos, if this is the emotional upset that will happen every time he arrives."  He pulled her against him, rubbing her back soothingly.

His change of mood startled her, but she didn't question it. She leaned against him letting his strength support her.

"You know, my dear child, that I chose you for who you are. Not because you belonged to someone else or because I couldn't have you." LaCroix picked her up, carrying her to the armchair and sitting down, holding her in his lap.

Startled, she looked up at him. How had he known what she had been thinking?

"Because I know you so well, all of you," he said, answering her unspoken question. "No one will ever know you so completely, not even Methos." He ran his fingers down her face. "From the moment I saw you at the Raven I knew you would be mine. I have never had a doubt."

"I remember the night you entered my life. I thought Janette had come back and I came running into the room to show her something. You turned around and I saw you for the first time...." her voice trailed off, lost in memory.

She was brought back to the present by his lips on hers. He kissed her long and deep, his hands caressing her body. Touching her where he knew he would bring her the greatest pleasure. Soon she was moaning in his arms, wanting the feelings to go on and on. He picked her up, moving her to the thick rug in front of the fireplace. She realized in surprise that he had relieved her of a great deal of her clothing.

Under his talented hands, she was soon totally undressed. The light from the fire reflected off her white skin and made her hair look like flame. She watched him avidly as he swiftly removed his clothing. His un-aging vampire body looking like chiseled marble in the firelight. He lay beside her on the rug, pulling her to him roughly. They made love in the firelight hungrily, and when his fangs touched her throat she arched her neck willingly to him. He sipped from her, taking only a little this time. He kissed the wounds on her throat, then propped himself up on an elbow to look at her. His hand roamed across her stomach and chest, caressing her breasts with his fingers.

LaCroix reached behind him for something. "I didn't forget, my dear." He held a long white gold chain from his fingers. At its end was a teardrop shaped ruby that soaked in the light of the fire and reflected it back in a prism of deep red.

"It's exquisite." She felt herself starting to cry again. "I thought you were angry with me."

"Perhaps I was, a little. But I had always intended to give you this." He slipped the chain over her head, the ruby lying cool between her breasts.

"Thank you," she said simply, leaning over to kiss him, her breasts pressing against his hard chest. Moving to lie on him completely, she proceeded to thank him in other ways.

Methos excused himself from Terese, promising her he would return shortly. He had noted the tense encounter between Nick and Triona and her leaving quietly, unnoticed by anyone, except for him. He mentally railed against the complicated situation he seemed to have entangled her in. She had been right, he had started it. Well, at least he could stop one source of stress -- Nick.

He waylaid Nick as he made his way back to the other women. "A word please?"

It was phrased as a question, but Nick understood the tone all too well. He wondered if that particular tone came with having a few millennia under one's belt? He followed Methos out to the hall.  Maybe he could get some of his questions answered as well.

Methos wasted no time on pleasantries. "I don't know what the problem is between you and Triona. But you obviously upset her, and I want you to leave her alone. Any questions?" His eyes glinted dangerously.

Nick, irritated at the ancient Immortal's attitude, just looked at Methos, trying very hard not to be intimidated. He had always felt intimidated by him, always so caustic and smug when it came to dealing with those the Immortal perceived as wanting.  Add to that, as a young fledgling, Methos was the only person Nick had ever seen his Master defer to. The one person who didn't fear LaCroix one bit. But you aren't a fledgling anymore, he told himself firmly.

Methos, taking Nick's silence as assent, turned to leave. "Good, I'm glad we understand one another."

"I'd like to know how my relationship with one of LaCroix's women makes any difference to you actually," Nick said, halting him in mid-stride. He noted with interest that Methos stiffened at the mention of "LaCroix's women." That hit a nerve obviously. Now the question was why. "If there is some problem, I would think it would be his place to handle the matter. Not yours."

Methos' icy stare, as he turned back to face Nick, made him flinch inwardly. Damn, the man reminded him of LaCroix sometimes. You'd think they were blood relatives instead of just by marriage. "I don't recall asking for your opinion, Nicholas, only your acquiescence." He stood in front of Nick, so close they were almost touching. "You will leave her alone. If you upset her you will answer to me." His voice was low and forbidding. "Now, I don't believe we have anything else to discuss -- do we?"  He swiftly turned, leaving before the other man could reply.

Nick glowered. The mystery was driving him crazy. Suddenly it occurred to him: Sarah! She would tell him. She owed nothing to LaCroix or Methos. He was sure if he presented it properly that she would tell him what he wanted to know. Pleased with his solution, he headed back to the sitting room.

Methos paused briefly, watching Terese as she and Stephanie compared gifts. He was so grateful that all of them were bright, personable women. It made this damn deal much more pleasant. He could only hope that Lucien would be agreeable, or it would get even more complicated.

Methos walked back to where Terese was standing. "I don't suppose I could impose on you to show me Lucien's' book collection now could I?"  He smiled down at her, his eyes sparkling.

Terese's heart fluttered. For a moment, she forgot how to speak. "Now, yes. I mean, I'd be happy to show you around now."  She nudged Stephanie. "I'm going to show Methos the General's book collection now. See you all later."

Stephanie glanced up at Terese. “Have fun,” she said before turning her attention once more to her gifts.

Terese joined Methos. "Okay, let me show you the library. It's really quite incredible," she enthused, momentarily forgetting her nervousness.

Methos just smiled and followed her down the corridor.

Nick had headed back into the sitting room, watching for a moment the tableaux between Methos and Terese. His confusion increased as the two walked out together. Sarah, noticing he had returned, walked over to him.

"Penny for your thoughts?"

He smiled down at her. "Only a penny?" he asked, running a finger down her soft cheek. "Oh, I'm just thinking."  He decided it would be better to broach the subject after softening her up a bit. He wanted an answer and didn't want to risk her not wanting to tell him about Methos either. "Thinking we should spend more time together," he told her warmly, pleased at the look of pleasure that washed over her gentle face.

As they spoke, he took her hand and led her back to the hall, away from the curious ears of Lauren and Stephanie.

"I'd like that, Nick, I really would," she replied happily. "You're always welcome here you know."

"Actually, I was thinking that you could come into the city. You need to get out of this house more often."

"You mean away from LaCroix, don't you?" She arched an eyebrow.

"You read minds now?" he asked ruefully.

"No, you're just predictable." She stifled a sigh of frustration.  "I won't leave here, Nick -- not my sisters, and not LaCroix." She crossed her arms across her chest, her eyes sparking. "No!" she stopped his protest before it could start. "Like it or not, Nick, LaCroix is as much responsible for me as he is for the others. And he will continue to be until you decide to come back to us. I can't go back to a normal life, not any more. Granted, I'm haven't been pulled in as far as Terese, Lauren and Stephanie, and no where near the extent of Triona, but I am in. There is no changing that now. You know that, I know that. It's your choice -- I've made mine. If you can't accept that, then you should go. I'll make the best of my life here with the others; and with LaCroix." She turned away, her shoulders tight with anger. Damn him! Why did he always do this?

Nick sighed; he'd done it again. Damn LaCroix for getting to Sarah. She didn't know any better, and it was up to him to keep her safe. Obviously, it was going to take some doing. "Sarah, I'm sorry, really. I didn't mean to upset you," he said softly, his voice taking on that sweet quality that she loved so much. "I just care about you, and I worry." He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently. "I shouldn't try and live your life for you. I'm sorry." Nick felt her relax a little. He turned her gently to face him. "Forgive me?"

Sarah looked up at his angelic blue eyes, the contrite expression, and melted. "Don't I always?" She smiled back.

"You do. You're better than I deserve, Sarah." His strong hand caressed her long black hair. He leaned down and kissed her gently, her lips parting to his as the kiss deepened.

She twined her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. At that moment, Nick's cellphone began to ring insistently. He sighed against her lips, but didn't break the kiss. As the phone continued to ring, Sarah pulled away slightly. "Shouldn't you get that?"

"I suppose." Nick pulled the phone out of his pocket, putting it to his ear. "Knight." He paused, listening. "Can't anyone.... Okay.... Yes, I see.... Fine, I'll be right there." With a sigh, he hung up.

"Trouble?" she asked, concerned.

"The usual." He looked at Sarah, frowning at the interruption. "I need to leave for awhile. But, I promise, I'll come back before dawn. I want to pick up where we left off." He smiled at her wickedly. "It was just getting interesting."

She blushed. "I'll wait up."

Nick kissed the top of her head, and was gone.

Sarah occupied herself waiting for Nick's return by sorting through her gifts and listening to some Christmas CDs on the stereo. Sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the tree, she hummed along to the music, leafing through a photo book of Ireland that Triona had given her. She shrieked in surprise as a hand came to rest on her shoulder. She looked up to see Nick smiling down at her.

"Nick!" she exclaimed happily. "You did come back!"

"I said I would," he reminded her.

"I know, but I was afraid you'd get hung up."

Nick dropped down to sit next to her. "Well, I didn't and now I'm all yours." He smiled.

"Good!' She pulled his head to hers, kissing him lightly on the lips.

Nick cupped the back of her head with his hand, holding her closer as he deepened the kiss. He pulled away from her. "I like the way your mind works, Sarah." He toyed with a ribbon on the floor next to him. "Did you have a good Christmas then? It certainly looks like you did well in the gift department."

"I did, didn't I? But the best gift was this." She twisted at the claddagh ring on her finger. "It's lovely, Nick," she told him softly.

"I'm glad you like it." He dropped a kiss on her forehead. Casually, he changed the subject. "I have to admit though, I was surprised to see you had house guests." Sarah looked at him in question. "Methos," Nick reminded her. "I was surprised to find him here. Is he a frequent visitor?" He strove to maintain a casual attitude, not wanting Sarah to clam up like the others.

"Methos? This is his second visit I believe, at least since I've lived here. I was in New York with the others the first time he was here though." She looked at him curiously. "Why?"

"No reason in particular. He just seemed very much at home, like he belonged here. I was surprised, that's all."

"Oh, well, I suppose he does belong here, in a way." She looked like she was going to say something, then changed her mind. "I mean, he and LaCroix are relatives of a sort."

"True, they are. Though, in all the centuries I've known LaCroix and Methos, I've never known LaCroix to be the sharing type." He watched for her reaction.

She dropped her eyes. "I guess you would know them better than I would." She shrugged, obviously not wanting to talk about it anymore.

Exasperated, he decided to be more direct. "Sarah, what is going on here? Methos was taking more than a friendly interest in Triona earlier -- I would say an almost possessive interest." He stood up, beginning to pace.

She stood up as well, turning away from him. "I think you should ask them, don't you?"

"I have! And no one has been forthcoming with an answer. "

"It wouldn't be because it's none of your business, would it?" Sarah was becoming irritated.

"I think I have a right to know, don't you?"

"Oh, now you want to be a part of the family, when it suits you! Well I'm sorry, Nick, but it doesn't work that way, not with me!" She glared at him, her blue eyes flashing.

He realized he'd miscalculated and tried a different tack. "Sarah, I'm sorry." He leaned down to brush her lips with his. "I don't want to fight. Let's go to your suite and talk about it quietly, okay?"

Sarah pushed him away. "How dare you try and manipulate me! You only wanted to use me to answer your questions! Bastard! " She ran out of the room towards the stairs.

"Damn," Nick said to himself, pausing for a moment before following her into the foyer.

Methos left his suite, restless. He had tried to sleep, but had given up in annoyance after an hour of tossing and turning. Maybe a pre-dawn walk would help clear his head.

Striding down the hall, he slowed as he came to Triona's door. His hand hovered over the doorknob as he debated with himself.

"She's asleep, and will be for some time -- if I'm any judge of these things." LaCroix's cool voice interrupted his internal argument. "As you might imagine, recovering from blood loss can take a great deal for a mortal. Sleep, as always, is the best restorative."

He turned, slowly, noting the smug expression on the vampire's face. "Oh, I'm sure you're quite the expert on the subject, Lucien." Methos refused to let LaCroix pull him into one of his mind games. He had agreed to this arrangement, and for Triona's sake, he would not be drawn into an unpleasant incident.

LaCroix smiled. There were so few beings that he could enjoy these mental skirmishes with -- so few were equal to the task, after all. "We do find ourselves in an unusual situation, do we not? Especially for you, who have resisted the reality of my vampire nature for nearly two millennia." He saw the hard set of Methos' jaw, chuckling inwardly. Yes, he did indeed enjoy these little family visits. "And here you find yourself drawn into my family out of desire for a woman. What was supposed to be a moment of pleasure, instead turned into a web that drew you ever deeper. And now, you find yourself unable to extricate yourself -- though I doubt you really want to."

"You missed your calling, Lucien. Instead of morose and self absorbed radio monologues, you could be dispensing pop psychology to the masses." Methos smiled grimly. "What a pity."

Further comment was interrupted by the sounds of raised voices in the foyer below.

"Sarah, wait!"

"Let go of me, Nick! Or I'll scream the damn house down!"

"Sarah, please, let me explain!"

"No! No explanations! You were using me, seducing me to get answers to your questions. And if I happened to let you into my bed at the same time... well, hooray for you, right?"

The two men looked at each other, and decided that whatever was happening downstairs was much more interesting than their little battle.

"After you, Lucien," Methos said, waving his arm towards LaCroix in a grand gesture.

The two made their way to the top of the stairs, looking down at the scene below. Sarah was pulling against Nick's hold on her arm, unable to free herself. If looks could kill, Nick would be quite dead.

"Nicholas, as always, has a way with the ladies."  He looked sidelong at LaCroix. "You really did neglect his training in that area, Lucien." The vampire looked balefully at Methos. He merely grinned in return, pleased at turning the tables. "I think the lovely Sarah needs rescuing, don't you?"

"And you're just the man for the job?" He quirked an eyebrow at Methos.

"Of course! And you can deal with your son." Without a backward glance, he headed down the stairs.

LaCroix debated waiting, tempted to observe the fireworks between Methos and Nicholas, but decided he'd rather deal with him himself. Decision made, he followed the Immortal down the stairs.

"Is there a problem here?" Methos asked.

Nick, startled at Methos' sudden appearance, turned to look at the ancient Immortal. "No, no problem. Sarah and I were having a private discussion," he said coldly.

"Fine. In that case, I suggest you let go of Sarah like she asked you to," Methos said in a voice that brooked no argument. "Since there's no problem...." He waited for Nick to do as he was told.

Nick bristled at his tone. "I told you this is a private discussion." He did, however, release the hold he had on Sarah's arm.

"A private discussion, Nicholas?" LaCroix descended the staircase to join Methos. "An interesting concept, considering the fact that the whole household could hear you." Nick had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Really, Nicholas, must you be so…common?" He turned to Sarah, who seemed close to tears. "My dear, if you have no objection, why don't you go with Methos? My son and I need to have a little talk."

Methos, taking his cue, took her hand lightly in his. "You must be tired, Sarah. Why don't we get you something to drink so you can relax a little, then sleep, hmmm?" He smiled down at her, his eyes soft and reassuring.

Nick started to object, he didn't like the look in Methos' eyes one bit.

LaCroix, seeing this, halted him before he could even start. "She is going with Methos if that is her wish." He looked over at Sarah in question. She nodded her assent. "It isn't your place to object, Nicholas, you have no claim on her after all. Until such time as you accept your responsibility and your place in this family, Sarah will remain my charge," he said implacably.

"She isn't yours, LaCroix. You have no right to make those decisions," he replied angrily.

LaCroix turned to Methos, who was watching the exchange with interest. "I don't think she needs to hear any more of this, do you?" he asked pointedly.

Methos smirked a little. "I suppose you’re right." He sighed dramatically. "I guess we'll leave you two to your difference of opinion then." He looked down at Sarah, who was obviously very unhappy. "Shall we?" He held an arm out to her, which she took gratefully.

"Please. I don't want to hear anymore of this. I'm sure the General can inform Nick of what's what perfectly well." She shot Nick an angry glare.

"Sarah...." Nick began as she and Methos headed up the stairs.

"Stuff it, Nick, I'm not interested!" Sarah snapped, not even looking at him as she continued up the staircase.

"Well then, that would be that," LaCroix said, watching his ruffled son in amusement.

"No, it isn't!" Nick almost shouted. "I won't allow…."

LaCroix cut him off, no longer amused. "You won't allow? You seem to have missed the point, Nicholas. What you want is immaterial. This is my home, my women, and my rules. And that includes the lovely Sarah, since you refuse to acknowledge your responsibilities." He moved to within inches of Nick, scowling at him. "Hear me well. Until you choose to be a part of this family once again, I will not allow you to remove her from us. Sarah is a part of this family, by her own choice and I will not allow you to wrest her away. She, unlike you, has chosen her true destiny and I intend to safeguard it, especially from you."

"This isn’t over, LaCroix," Nick spat out, furious at his Master.

"But it is, Nicholas, unless you wish to stay here all day. It is close to dawn, or hadn't you noticed?" he asked smoothly. "And frankly, as difficult as you have been this evening, I would prefer you not to be here."

Nick's eyes betrayed his surprise at LaCroix's words. He wasn't used to his father not wanting him around. It used to be that he would jump at any chance to keep him nearby. He felt an unaccountable stab of hurt at this new attitude. Stop it! he told himself firmly. This is what you have always wanted. Right?

Without another word, Nick whirled and strode to the door. As he opened it, he thought he heard LaCroix say, "Be careful what you wish for, Nicholas."

Sarah led Methos into her sitting room. "May I get you something?" she asked politely, trying to cover her sudden nervousness.

"If you have any beer in that fridge," he said, pointing to the small refrigerator in the wet bar.

"Beer I have!" She opened the fridge and pulled out two bottles, tossing one to Methos, who caught it easily. She settled herself in chair across from him.

They drank their beer in companionable silence, Sarah peering at him from under her eyelashes occasionally. He looked so… scrumptious.

"What's so amusing?" he asked, seeing the small smile that played over her lips.

"Oh, nothing in particular. I'm just a lot happier than I was earlier I guess." She smiled at him.

"I'm glad. A lovely woman like yourself should always be happy." He tipped his beer bottle to her in a toast. Sarah blushed at the compliment, a little flustered by his warm tone, his brilliant smile and the sheer presence of him.

Seeing her discomfiture, he smoothly changed the subject. "So, Sarah, tell me how you found yourself here -- and involved with LaCroix's problem child." He smiled to take the sting out of his words. "I know that Triona was working for Janette, but I'm not quite clear on what drew you all together."

Grateful for the distraction, Sarah told him the story. "Let’s see.... Well, we all knew each other from college. Out of the blue, Triona decided to move to Toronto. She had been there for a conference, and in the course of that trip she met Janette. Of course, we didn't know all that then. We just knew she had taken a job managing a nightclub. It was a little odd -- actually, a lot odd -- but we figured she was having an early mid-life crisis or something." Sarah grinned, remembering. "Anyway, we all decided to visit her, and at our insistence, she took us to the Raven. Janette wasn't there that night, but Nick showed up. That's when we got to witness the first of many arguments between the two of them. They just don't get along," she said, sighing.

"I had noticed," Methos said, grimacing.

"The rest of us were puzzled. They were being so cryptic. In the end, Nick ended up staying. Of course it was because he didn't think we were safe there, but we just thought he was being friendly….

Sarah sat in the booth, watching as Nick and Triona had some sort of argument. She had no idea what the problem was but they seemed quite annoyed with each other.

"Fine, Nicholas, do what you want. Stay, go, I don't care. Just don't bother me!" Triona glared at Nick across the table.

"I will. And I intend to tell Janette what I think about all this."

Triona laughed. "As if she'll care what you think." Her expression spoke volumes as to what she thought Janette's opinion would be.

Nick ignored her and turned his attention to the woman sitting next to him. "So, Sarah, how are you liking Toronto?"

Sarah gathered her wits, not expecting the conversation shifting to her. "I like it. It seems to be a lovely city." She looked up into Nick's beautiful eyes. "It has so many good points." She blushed as Nick smiled, dazzling her in its warmth.

He stayed and chatted with them for several hours, even dancing with Sarah at one point. She wondered at the animosity between Triona and Nick though; she just glared at him and he pointedly ignored her. How could anyone dislike someone as beautiful as Nick? She shrugged inwardly -- that was actually a good thing, no competition!

She noticed Lauren stifling a yawn, so did Triona. "It's late guys, maybe we should be heading home."  The others nodded their agreement.

"It was nice meeting you, Nick," Sarah said warmly.

"Likewise, Sarah." Nick kissed her hand gallantly. He turned his attention to the others. "I'll walk you out."

"That isn't necessary, Nicholas," Triona told him.

"It is, and I will."

"Very well," Triona said, exasperated. "Our things are in Janette's apartment."

She led them back to Janette's living quarters, where they gathered their things. "I'll be right back; I need to get something from the office," she told the others.

While they waited, the others chatted with Nick. Sarah was content to merely watch him. His expressive eyes, his boyish smile, his sweet voice -- all captivating. Suddenly, he looked up and around the room, startled, as if expecting to see someone. "Nick?" she asked, concerned. He looked so worried.

At that moment, the door opened to reveal Triona -- and a tall, pale man standing behind her. Sarah didn't know why, but she found herself frightened for some reason. The others remained silent, as if they were all gripped in the same spell. The man's icy blue eyes swept over them, as if taking their measure.

"This is a surprise, Nicholas. Who would expect to find you ensconced in such a garden of feminine delight?" the man's cool, silken voice said derisively.

Sarah shivered. The man's presence seemed to overwhelm the room. She noted Nick's expression: wary and irked.

"Aren't you going to introduce me to your lovely friends, my dear?" he asked Triona softly. He ran a finger down her cheek, in what Sarah could only term a possessive way. Her eyes were wide and slightly unfocused and she was very pale.

"Yes…Yes, of course." Triona's voice was faint, but grew stronger as she continued.

Sarah saw a look of alarm pass over Nick's face as he stared at Triona and the man behind her. He stood up and made as if to move to where they stood by the door, but a look passed between the two men as the tall man put his hand on Triona's shoulder, shaking his head ever so slightly, his eyes like ice. Nick stopped where he was and stood behind Sarah's chair.

"This is Sarah, Terese, and Lauren," Triona introduced them. "Ladies, this is Lucien LaCroix. You heard him on the radio the other night, remember?" The others nodded. "He's a... relative of Janette and Nick's."

"I am pleased to meet all of you," LaCroix said as he moved farther into the room. "I had no idea Triona had so many lovely friends."

"We were just leaving, LaCroix. It's late and the ladies are tired," Nick told him.

"Indeed? Then I won't keep you. I was looking for Janette, but Triona informs me she is out for the evening."  He inclined his head to the women. "I hope we will all meet again one day."

"That's unlikely," Nick said quellingly, "since the ladies live in the States."

"Now, Nicholas, the hands of fate have a way of drawing us together. I have a feeling we'll have a chance to get to know one another much better in the future." He seemed so sure of himself, Sarah found herself believing it. "I'm sure the ladies will be visiting Triona again soon, and we shall meet once more."

"Not if I have anything to say about it," she heard Nick mutter to himself.

"Did you say something?" he asked Nick, amused. Nick just shot the other man a look. LaCroix smiled. "I thought you were leaving, Nicholas?"..…

"And that was our first encounter with the family," Sarah told Methos. "Of course we all pestered Triona for details on LaCroix, but she was mum. We figured there was something going on, but how could we have known what was really happening?"

"How indeed?" Methos said softly. He got up, going to the fridge for another beer. "Sarah?"

"Not yet, thanks."

"So, how did you end up here?" he asked. Instead of going back to his chair, he dropped to the floor in front of her, leaning against the chair he had been sitting in.

"It's a long story, are you sure you want to hear it?" She looked down at him, her eyes running up his long legs, pausing briefly before looking into his deep hazel-green eyes. He was gorgeous. No wonder Triona had risked LaCroix's rage to be with him. Add to that, he was charming, witty and intelligent.

"I'm sure. You'll find I'm insatiably curious." He grinned.

"Okay." She propped her chin on her hand, thinking. "We went back home, but we kept in touch. Triona told us about Janette leaving Toronto, and her taking a new job, for the man we had met that night at the Raven. I can't say we were too surprised -- though she insisted it was purely business and they weren't involved. I'm afraid we didn't really believe her.”

Sarah, suddenly realizing Methos might not want to know the intimate details of Triona's life with the General, moved her story along. "Then we heard her cousin, Stephanie, had dropped out of college and moved in  here." She paused to take a sip of her beer, Methos intent on her story.

"We hinted at Triona for an invite, but she never did. We didn't realize she was trying to protect us. Since no invitation was forthcoming, we plotted.…"

"Are you sure Triona isn't going to mind us showing up on her doorstep unannounced?" Lauren asked the others worriedly.

"Nah! Triona loves us! Why would she mind?" Terese said brightly. "If we've missed her, I'm sure she's missed us."

"I just hope her boss doesn't mind. He seemed a little intense when we met him last year," Sarah added, a little concerned. "He might not like all of us showing up on his doorstep."

"He was the one who said he hoped we would all meet again," Terese reminded Sarah. "So, we're giving him the chance!"

"But I don't think he meant for us to come stay at his house!" Sarah exclaimed.

"We're here now," Lauren pointed out. "So we may as well knock."

Terese nodded, and rang the doorbell, hearing it echo inside. A few moments passed, and then a short, thin, man opened the door. "May I help you, ladies?" he asked with a British accent.

"Yes, please. We're here to see Triona MacAlpine. She's a friend of ours and we've come to visit," Sarah told the man, who was obviously the butler.

"I see. Does she know of your visit?"

"No, it's a surprise!" Lauren looked at him with big puppy dog eyes.

He smiled slightly. "Follow me, ladies, and I'll check with Miss Triona."

They followed him into the foyer. Even though Triona had described the estate to them, they were in awe. It was incredible. "If you ladies would wait in there?" The butler indicated the sitting room.

The three women waited, wandering around the room and looking at the art that adorned it. Eventually, they heard the sound of approaching voices. "I assure you, miss, they match the description of the friends that you have spoken of."

"I believe you, Baker, it's just a bit of a shock," Triona said as she walked into the room, stopping in stunned silence. "My god, it is you."

Many screams, hugs and tears followed. Triona was too stunned to do more than just let the wave of her friends wash over her. "What are you doing here?"

"We missed you and wanted to surprise you!" Lauren told her happily. "You are happy to see us?" She looked concerned.

A little nervously, she replied, "Of course, I'm just a little surprised."

"This isn't going to cause you problems with your boss is it?" Sarah asked.

She looked even more uncomfortable. "No, no…. I'm sure it will be all right. He mentioned you just a few weeks ago, in fact, telling me I could invite you to visit anytime." She swallowed. "He was quite taken with all of you actually."

Sarah, concerned, noticed how much paler Triona was since the last time they had met, and that she looked very tired. "If you're sure. Have you been ill? You don't look very well.”

"No, I'm sure. I'll have the staff prepare rooms for you," she told them, an almost resigned look on her face. "And I'm fine, just a little under the weather, nothing serious!" she said, attempting a bright tone and not succeeding very well. She changed the subject. "Why don't we all sit down? Baker is getting us some refreshments and by the time we're done, your rooms will be ready. I'm sure you're all tired from your long

A few hours later, the others met once again in the sitting room. Dark had fallen, and it was pouring rain. The wind off the lake slamming sheets of water into the glass as it wailed through the eaves. Sarah shivered a little; this house was so lonely. Like it hadn't been inhabited for years. Only this room seemed to have a feeling of human warmth: flowers on the side tables, decanters filled with various spirits glinting in the light of the roaring fire. A woman's touch, probably Triona's. The rooms they had been given were lovely, but cold and empty. She wondered how long it had been since people had laughed and loved in this house? The others stood around the fire, their voices a murmur that melded with the wind and rain. Sarah had the oddest sensation that the house liked them here.

The tableau was shattered by the sound of running feet entering the room, followed by the runner. A young woman with chestnut hair and brilliant blue eyes, she was practically bouncing with energy as she slid to a stop in front of the gathered women.

"So we finally get to meet! Cool!" she said perkily.

"Stephanie?" Lauren asked.

"Who did you think? Of course it's Stephanie!" Terese said in annoyance. "Who else would be racing through the house like a maniac?"

Lauren made a face at Terese and hugged Stephanie.

"I came on an errand," Stephanie announced. "Triona says to bring you to the dining room. The... LaCroix came home unexpectedly and she's been delayed." She waited expectantly for the others to do what she instructed.

"Ah, Steph?" Sarah got her attention. "We don't know where the dining room is."

"Oh! Right. Follow me!"

Bemused at the antics of the hyper young woman, the others followed. Soon they were all seated around a huge table and a servant began serving the soup.

"Did Triona say how long she was going to be?" Terese asked Stephanie.

"No idea, depends on how long he keeps her. Something about balance transfers and the estate budget." She yawned, obviously finding the subject boring. "So, eat!"

Soon, the main course was being served, and still no Triona. Baker appeared as the servant finished setting the last plate. "Pardon me, ladies, but I have a message from Miss Triona. She asked me to make her apologies to you all, but she has been unavoidably detained by business. She does however wish you to join her and the Master in his study when you have finished dining, for dessert and coffee. He is most eager to make your acquaintance once more. Miss Stephanie will show you the way." His message delivered, he made a slight bow and exited the dining room.

Before they knew it, Stephanie was leading them to another part of the house. As she opened the door to a very male room, the sound of a man's voice drifted out to them. The room was all dark leather and wood with a huge fireplace in the center and heavy hunter green drapes over the windows. It smelled of leather, polish and peat smoke. This room, like the sitting room, felt very lived in. At their entrance, LaCroix stood up from the large wingback chair he had been occupying, putting down the book he had been reading aloud from. He extended a hand to Triona, who sat on the floor; her elbows perched on the footstool, her head in her hands. Taking the hand he offered, LaCroix helped her to her feet. She looked nervous again. He seemed to notice, and smiled slightly at her in reassurance.

"Here we are, as ordered!" Stephanie said with enthusiasm.

"We can see that, Stephanie," LaCroix told the indefatigable young woman. "Why don't you check with Baker on having the desert brought in now?"

Stephanie shrugged. "Sure, I can do that." With that she zoomed from the room, practically a blur, leaving the other women slightly breathless.

"You'll get used to her," Triona told the others, smiling. It was the first real smile Sarah had seen since they had arrived.

"Eventually," LaCroix added dryly, with a long-suffering look. Triona smiled a little, squeezing his arm in commiseration.

"If we're here long enough to get used to it," Sarah commented. She was startled at the intense look on LaCroix's face at her innocent remark.

"Oh I'm sure there will be time in plenty, my dear Sarah," LaCroix purred. "Time in plenty…."

"Of course, he was right… we never left," Sarah finished. "We all, for our own reasons, allowed ourselves to be taken." She shrugged. "I suppose we really had no concept of what our futures would hold, taking this path."

Methos looked at her thoughtfully. "I understand why the others stayed. But what about you, Sarah?" He leaned forward, his expression intent. "What made you stay?"

Sarah considered, he seemed genuinely interested, as if it were important for him to understand. "In the end, I suppose, Nick was the reason. LaCroix can be very persuasive."

Methos smiled wryly at that. "Oh, indeed, he can be."

"I realized that the only way I would ever have a chance to try and get Nick to accept his vampire nature and rejoin his family was to throw in with LaCroix, in a manner of speaking." She paused, considering. She had never put into words before why she had chosen to stay. "It's very seductive -- the allure of a vampire. Especially when the vampire in question is over two millennia old. I guess I never really stood a chance once LaCroix realized he could use me to get Nick back." Sarah noted the set look on his face. "It's not all that bad, you know. I can't really blame LaCroix. After all, I’m using him too."
"You are the honest one, aren't you?"

"You sound surprised."

"Do I? I suppose I am. Our ability for self-deception never fails to amaze me. To find such honesty in one so young, well, that's a precious rarity." He closed his eyes for a moment, sighing. "Don't ever lose it, Sarah," Methos told her, his voice sounding sad and, in that moment, very old.

She wondered at the man sitting at her feet. Such a mixture: cynical and worldly and at the same time caring and tender. She slid off the chair to kneel in front of him. "You really do care. Don't you?" His hand took her fingers in a gentle grasp. "About us I mean, and Triona. Even about LaCroix." The realization hit her. "Why?" She looked into his eyes, wanting -- no -- needing an answer.

He didn't answer at first; he seemed to be considering. To answer truly would be to reveal a part of him to her. To someone he barely knew, to someone he didn't know he could trust. And for Methos to share his heart, he needed to trust.

Finally, as the silence stretched, he spoke. "There are times when you have to care, Sarah." He looked down into her clear blue eyes. "No matter the price. There comes a time when the price for not caring is far, far too high to pay."

Sarah knew somehow he wasn't just talking about now, but some old hurt, who knew how long ago? She felt her heart contract a little at the pain she saw briefly pass across his ancient eyes.

“Stay with us, Methos,” Sarah suddenly said into the quiet that had descended. “I know it won’t be easy and I know it’s all rather unorthodox, but what’s normal when you mix vampires, Immortals, and mortal women who should have known better?” She smiled, taking his hand in hers.

Methos laughed. “What indeed?”

 Christmas passed pleasantly enough -- LaCroix was rarely in evidence and Methos got to know the other women better. He had insisted on spending a greater part of that day in bed with Triona, though she had proved as resistant to the idea as she had that night on the stairs. But, he had been much more insistent; he was not going to take ‘no’ as an answer this time. He had been pleasantly surprised to find that being forceful had garnered such an enthusiastic response from her. He filed her reaction away for future reference, whistling happily to himself as he walked down the path to the lake.

He heard the sound of barking; it sounded like puppies. The sound was coming from behind a small cottage a few feet off the path. Detouring, he went to investigate. Turning the corner, he stopped, amused at the sight before him. Lauren was lying in the snow covered in puppies, at least six of them, all tugging at her coat, her gloves, anything they could get their little teeth into.

She was giggling hysterically as they overwhelmed her, their little pink tongues licking her face and pouncing at her. An adult German Shepherd lay nearby, merely watching the antics of the young ones sleepily. He could commiserate with that feeling, he thought ruefully. Methos figured it was the mother -- grateful for the respite from her children no doubt. He stood and watched, unnoticed for a long time. Enjoying the site of Lauren, her face red from the cold and exertion, playing with the puppies in the snow.

Finally, he cleared his throat, clueing the young woman in as to his presence. She jerked her head up, finally noticing him standing there, watching her. She felt her face heat up enough to melt the snow as she realized he had been watching her, unnoticed, for who knew how long.

"Methos, good afternoon." Lauren attempted to sound cool and in control, when in reality, her heart was racing. She was grateful he couldn't hear it. She attempted to get to her feet, but the puppies had other ideas.

Methos extended a hand to her. "Up you come." He pulled her to her feet. Once she was steady, he began to brush the snow off her. Lauren was bemused as he clucked over her, his hands moving across her clothes, brushing away the snow.

"Dizzy?" he asked as she swayed a little. "Got up too fast, and of course, you probably don't have the best blood level, hmmm?" His fingers brushed her throat, where the collar of he coat had fallen open, over almost healed wounds. The touch made her shiver. "I think we need to get you inside where it's warm." He nodded towards the cottage.

Lauren smiled, taking his hand in hers and tugging him towards the small cottage. "Good idea. Right this way."

She led him into the small sitting room, pulling off her coat and tossing it on a chair, Methos following suit. "This is actually where our babies live -- LaCroix doesn't like them in the main house," she explained. "They have the bedroom, and the sitting room is sort of my private place, where I can visit with the dogs and all." Lauren looked up at him shyly. "It's very comfortable in here. We all spend a lot of time here visiting with the pups."

"The dogs have their own house?" Methos said, a look of disbelief on his face. "I think there is nothing else about Lucien's life now that can surprise me, but somehow, I always am."

Lauren looked miffed. "Where do you want the puppies to be? Outside? It's not their fault LaCroix doesn't want them in the main house, after all."  She was pouting again. She loved the dogs, and he was making fun!

"Heaven forbid your babies have to be outside." He tried to remain serious, but the look on Lauren's face was too much. He burst out laughing at the sight.

"What's so funny?" she grumbled.

"You are! This house, this estate, this…situation!" He looked at her. "Don't tell me you don't see the humor in this, Lauren?" His eyes were dancing with amusement.

She tried to remain annoyed, but his mischievous grin and laughing eyes were too much to resist. She couldn't help it, starting to laugh as well. They laughed together, falling on to the couch. They just sat there companionably, enjoying the winter afternoon as the snow began to fall outside.

The puppies tumbling into the room broke the silence. Sleepy from their exertions, they collapsed in a heap by the wood stove, and were asleep in moments. Lauren giggled and Methos chuckled in amusement.

"Seems like they have the right idea, wouldn't you say?" he asked her, noticing her eyes beginning to drift shut.

"Uh huh," Lauren murmured sleepily.

Methos pulled the cover from the back of the sofa over her, and the two dozed off with the pups.

A few days later, Methos came upon Triona and Stephanie in the garden. Stephanie was showing Triona a sword, and appeared to be quite excited about it.

"What's up, ladies?" he asked.

They looked up at the sound of his voice: Triona with a warm smile, Stephanie with a guarded look. Methos sighed to himself. Stephanie, of all the women, was the one hold out. She seemed to mistrust him for some reason. When he asked Triona about it, she had just shrugged and told him not to worry. That Stephanie was just moody sometimes.

"Steph was just showing me her latest acquisition," Triona told him, kissing him on the cheek as he sat down next to her.

"Latest? She has more than one?" Methos asked, looking at the now silent Stephanie.

Stephanie didn't answer, just examined her sword.

Triona covered the awkward silence, answering, "She has quite a collection. In fact, she has quite a love of weapons -- swords in particular."

"How ironic," Methos commented to himself.

"What?" Triona asked, puzzled.

He shook his head. "What? Oh, nothing. Just mumbling to myself." He smiled.

"Okay." She left it at that, though he could see she didn't believe him.

Need to be more careful, he told himself. She already knows you far too well. Methos wondered just how she had managed to do that in such a short time. Must be slipping in your old age.

"Steph?" Triona got her attention. "Why don't you show Methos your collection? I'm sure he'd love to see it." She looked hopefully at her cousin.

"Nah." Stephanie almost scowled.

"Stephanie…!" Triona began, only to be interrupted by Methos, who had noted the look of hurt and confusion on her face at her young cousin's attitude.

"Leave it, love," he told her.

"But...." she objected as he took her hand and pulled her off the bench.

"Come on," he insisted, as she protested his high handedness, pulling her along the path.

When they reached the top of the path, Triona was more than a little annoyed. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Methos ignored her anger. "I am going to talk with Stephanie. You are going back to the house," he informed her.

"Oh really?" She glared at him.

"Yes, really. This snit of Stephanie's needs to be dealt with, and dealt with before Lucien decides to take a hand in it." He took her face in his hands. "You know it's better for the two of us to work this out."

She sighed, her expression softening. "You're right. But don't you ever drag me off like that again!" she warned him, her eyes sparking. "Unless, of course, you have something wicked in mind." She smiled up at him.

"Now that, " he said as he kissed her, "puts some very interesting thoughts in my head."

She kissed him back. "I hope so," she murmured against his lips. Unwillingly, she pushed him away. "But later. You go deal with Stephanie now." Her face became serious. "May God go with you," she intoned.

With that, she giggled and quickly leapt away from the swat he aimed at her bottom.

"I'll get you, my pretty," he warned, his eyes glinting in amusement.

"Missed me!" her voice sang out as she headed up the hill.

"I won't next time!" he called after her, grinning, as she moved from sight.

Methos turned around, heading back to where Stephanie still sat. He watched her for a moment, pondering the irony of it all. The one non pre-Immortal in the group, and she was the one who had a fascination with swords.

Methos cleared his throat. "We need to talk, Stephanie."

She didn't look at him. "No, we don't."

He reached over and snatched the sword from her hands.

"Hey! Give that back!" Stephanie leapt to her feet, eyes shooting sparks.

"I don't think so," Methos said, lifting an eyebrow as if saying, ’What are you going to do about it?’

Stephanie planted her hands on her hips and glared. "It's mine! You have no right to take it from me."

"Possession is nine tenths of the law, little one, or hadn't you heard that?" he told her, an infuriatingly smug expression on his face.

Suddenly, her face crumpled, her eyes becoming bright with tears. "I don't know why your being so mean to me," she sniffled, running the back of her hand over her face. "Go ahead, keep the dumb sword if you want." She turned her back to him, her shoulders shaking.

He smiled. Gods she’s good! If he hadn't heard all about her bereft, innocent act, even he might have been inclined to fall for it.

"Brava, brava!" He clapped. "A stellar performance, little one. Now, wipe away your crocodile tears, and resign yourself to this: if you want your toy back, you and I are going to talk. I'll be in my suite," he finished firmly.

Methos left for the house, leaving an infuriated Stephanie behind.

Methos ran into LaCroix, coming out of his office.

"Isn't that Stephanie's?" LaCroix asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It was," Methos said, grinning, "and will be again if she cooperates."


"Mmm, yes. Stephanie and I are due for a heart to heart. However, she seems resistant to the idea." He gave the sword an experimental swing. "Very nice actually. Too bad she has no real use for it," he said, ignoring LaCroix's impatient look.

"And? Really, Methos, do try and pay attention," LaCroix said in irritation as the Immortal hefted the blade, eyeing it expertly.

"What? Oh, yes." He brought his attention back to the matter at hand. "Anyway, she talks, she gets it back. Simple really." He shrugged.

"Indeed. I had noticed that my youngest charge has been quite immune to your charms. How that must dent your somewhat inflated ego." LaCroix smirked. "To be reduced to such tactics," he said, waving a negligent hand towards the sword, "is really quite sad."

"Well, we don't all have the ability to whammy women into doing what we want, now do we?" Methos asked sweetly. Direct hit! he thought smugly, noting the flash of annoyance in the vampire's eyes, quickly hidden. "And as you well know, Lucien, it isn't necessary for her to succumb to my charms, as you so delicately put it. I merely want to have a civil, if not friendly relationship with her.”

"Oh, of course," LaCroix said with mock sincerity.

"Not that I'd expect you to understand, but Stephanie's unhappiness with me upsets Triona. I don't like to see her unhappy," he said pointedly. 'Now, if you'll excuse me? I have things to see to." Determined to have the last word, Methos quickly took the stairs two at a time. "Always nice talking to you, Lucien," he threw over his shoulder.

Methos sat in an overstuffed chair of distressed brown leather by the fireplace, reading a book. He had made a private bet with himself that Stephanie would take about an hour to give in. An hour and fifteen minutes had passed, and he gave her a point for stubbornness.  Fifteen more minutes passed when he finally heard a knock at the door.

"Come in," he called out.

Slowly the door was pushed open to reveal a truculent Stephanie.  Arms crossed over her chest, she shuffled into the sitting room, head down.

"There's soda in the fridge if you like," Methos offered.

"I just had one," Stephanie told him coldly.

"Please yourself then." He indicated the chair facing him. "Sit."

She looked at him, then at her sword leaning against his chair, before gracelessly plopping down in the chair.

"Why don't I start?" he asked.

She shrugged. "I don't care."

"You don't like me, and I think I know why."

She just looked at him.

"You're very fond of Triona, aren't you? She is your cousin, and has been almost a mother to you. You two are quite attached to each other." Methos watched her; she seemed to be paying attention. "You strike me as the type of young woman who is very protective of those she loves. I think you weren't too happy when you heard about the deal I made with LaCroix. Were you?" She looked startled, only confirming his suspicions. "Were you, Stephanie?" he asked in a softer voice.

Shaking her head, she muttered, "No, I wasn't."

He continued, "And you were afraid I was going to hurt her, that I saw this as a game. Then you saw her becoming more attached to me, more vulnerable to my manipulations, in your mind. And it worried you, and you didn't see how you could protect her." Methos got up, dropping down in front of Stephanie's chair to look up at her. "Have I got it right so far?"

"Yes. I don't trust you. You'll get tired of your game one day, and leave her, leave us, without a backward glance," she said fiercely.

"Stephanie, your loyalty does you credit, and you have no reason to trust me. But, I give you my word; I don't see this as a game. If it was, I never would have stayed past that first night," he told her, his voice soft and reassuring. "I'm very fond of all of you. This is the closest thing to a family I've had in a long time. I'm not going to mess that up, not if I can help it. Can't you give me a chance?" he asked, his eyes entreating her.

"You promise that you aren't laughing at us?" she asked, still suspicious.

"Promise. I would never laugh at any of you."

"And you won't hurt Triona?"

"Nope. You have my word."

Stephanie paused, thinking. He could see the thoughts whirring through her mind.

"Will you teach me how to use a sword properly?"

"If you like," he agreed.

She stuck her hand out. "Okay, deal. I'll give you your chance."

Methos shook the proffered hand. "Deal. Now, how about that soda?"

Methos and Triona sat in Methos’ sitting room, enjoying each other’s company in companionable silence. Triona was relieved and happy that Methos had made headway with Stephanie. Her young charge’s emotional wellbeing meant a great deal to her and she hadn’t wanted to be put in the middle between her cousin and her lover.

These last months had been something of a test for both of them. Since both their parents had died in a plane crash when Stephanie was thirteen and Triona had become her young cousin’s guardian, they’d only had each other. Even through Stephanie’s troubled teenage years; the two of them had stuck it out together.

All that had changed when Triona had moved to Toronto and had become involved with LaCroix. Thinking that her young cousin was safely in her last year of university, Triona had been stunned when Stephanie, with no warning, had dropped out of school and turned up in Toronto.

Stephanie had resented the new man in her guardian’s life and it had been a stressful time for all concerned. Things were finally getting to be on an even keel when Methos had shown up.

Triona, sitting on the floor, touched Methos’ knee. He was leaning against a large old-fashioned ottoman of aged brown leather. “Thank you,” was all she said.

He arched his eyebrows quizzically. “For what?”

“For being so understanding of Steph, for dealing with the craziness that is my life and my family.” She moved closer, till her face was almost touching his. “For caring,” she whispered.

Methos reached out and gently brushed a strand of Triona’s honey-blonde hair behind her ear.  "You don't have...." Her kiss cut off his words, and suddenly, he didn't feel like talking anymore.

Triona pushed him back against the ottoman, her hands roaming his chest, her lips moving insistently on his. She was rather startled with her initiative, and it seemed Methos was too. It took him several moments to react to her unexpected assault, at first merely holding her shoulders as she explored his face with her lips, his body with her hands. His hands dropped to Triona's waist, pulling her closer to him, tightening his legs around her, but other than that, he allowed her to continue as the aggressor in this encounter.

She decided the shirt had to go, and started to work on the buttons. Her nimble fingers soon had them undone and quickly moved up to push the shirt off of him, leaving his lean, muscled chest bare to her hungry gaze. She let her eyes and her fingertips roam, taking in each angle and curve. Her intent discovery was interrupted by an amused chuckle. Triona looked up to see Methos smiling at her wickedly.

"Enjoying yourself?" he asked wryly, laughing outright at the blush that flooded her cheeks.

"Actually, I am, thank you," she replied primly.

"Oh, you're quite welcome." His face became serious. "But now, I think it's my turn? Don't you?"

Triona nodded, as now, his fingers began to undo the buttons of her jacket. One, two, three, four buttons, and it was done. He held her eyes as he slowly removed the jacket, tossing it aside. His eyes never left hers as he reached around to unhook her green silk bra. He wanted to see her face when his hands covered her breasts.

Her eyes became wider and she drew in a breath as his warm hands touched her, feeling her nipples harden as his hands covered and lifted her breasts. The slightest hint of a smile played around his lips, more than pleased at the passion evident in her eyes. Slowly, deliberately, he lowered his head to take one already erect nipple in his teeth. He tugged and nipped at it gently, hearing her little gasp of pleasure. He ran his tongue over and around it before sliding his tongue down her cleavage and up to her other nipple. Once there, he repeated his previous actions. This time, her hands came up to grip his shoulders as his tongue and teeth drove her mad.

Methos lifted his head to look up into her eyes. She opened them slowly when she felt his mouth leave her breast. "I think we should be somewhere more comfortable," he told her, a little breathless. He got to his feet, holding his hands out to her. "Maybe my bed?" he suggested, grinning, as he helped her to her feet, pulling her close.

Triona ran her lips over his chest. "Mmmm-hmm, sounds like a plan," she said, nuzzling his warm skin.

Since she seemed not to be making much progress in the moving department, being too preoccupied with his chest, Methos scooped her into his arms and carried her into the bedroom. She shrieked in surprise at the sudden move, flinging her arms around his neck. He set her on her feet by the edge of her bed.

"We do have a problem however," he told her in a very serious voice.

"What?" she asked, concerned, thoughts of LaCroix and who knew what else flying through her mind.

"We have entirely too many clothes on," he answered gravely, only his eyes betraying laughter.

"Why, you...." she sputtered, torn between annoyance and amusement. She settled for punching him, not too lightly, in the stomach.

"Hey!" he grumbled. "What is it with you, always so damn violent?"

"Maybe it's because you deserve it?" Triona observed in a treacle sweet tone.

"Well, I never!" Methos protested, all injured innocence.

"I bet." She grinned, before pulling him down to her for another kiss.

Her hands moved to the waist of his pants, undoing the buttons down the fly efficiently. Instead of pushing them off right away, she moved her hand inside, cupping him through the fabric of his briefs. She felt him grow harder under her probing fingers and heard his breath catch. His hands tightened around her neck, his lips bruising in their intensity, plundered her mouth.

Taking pity on him, Triona pushed briefs and jeans off together, freeing him from the constraining material. He kicked off his shoes and the clothing impatiently.

"Now for you," he almost growled into her ear. Within minutes he had removed her skirt, stockings and panties. Finally, she was as naked as he was.

Methos wrapped his arm around her waist, resting his head on hers. His other hand brushed past her stomach to tangle his fingers in her already damp curls. Now it was Triona's turn to grip his neck as his fingers slid ever deeper. At first, they simply moved back and forth through her already wet heat, brushing lightly, stopping here and there to fondle and stoke.

Triona groaned as his long fingers drove her to the edge. "Oh... pleeease…" she gasped.

He drove two fingers deep into her making her shudder in reaction. "Does this please you?" he whispered.

"Yesss, oh yes," she got out, barley audible.

Only his strong arm around her waist kept her legs from going out from under her as his fingers began to thrust in and out, hard and fast, his thumb pressing into her clit. Her hips tried to move, to drive him deeper, but his grip kept her in firmly in place. Triona whimpered in frustration, wanting more, wanting him deeper.

Methos chuckled at her struggles. " You want more, little one?"

Triona was past words. But she could scream, which she did when three fingers thrust into her. Her inner muscles clenched around his fingers, her body convulsing, leaving her trembling.

When she came to herself, she found that Methos had pushed her back to lie on the bed, his hand stroking her stomach absently. "Are you with me again, Triona?"

She blinked at him, dazed. "Uh huh."

"That's good." He leaned over her, once again taking her lips in his.

Their hot skin rubbed together, the sensation sending little shivers to the tips of her toes. Triona could feel him hot and hard, against her thigh. She reached down with one hand to stoke him, smiling as he groaned low and deep. "Are you with me, Methos?" she asked, her eyes guiless. She squeezed his now hard length firmly, making him gasp.

He looked down at her, his eyes full of promise. In reply, he shifted his weight, moving between her legs. He rained feathery kisses over her body as he slid his hands under her bottom, raising her to meet his thrust. Triona arched against him as he slid into her tightness, sheathing himself in her. Her hands gripped his shoulders as she adjusted to the feeling of him in her.

"Ahhhh…" she sighed as, almost imperceptibly, he began to move.

His pace increased, and Triona wrapped her legs around him, wanting him in her as deep as was possible. He withdrew almost totally, before driving back into her, again and again, each time with more force than the last. Both were panting, practically in unison, as they neared climax. Methos thrust into her one last time, their bodies meshed as one, his mouth crushing hers in a voracious kiss. Her nails raked down his back as her orgasm overwhelmed her body and soul. Her release took Methos with her in a firestorm of sensation.

Their bodies slowed to shudders, trembling against each other, taking deep breaths as their hands moved over each other gently, stroking and petting. Methos rolled, pulling Triona on top of him, her hair falling around them like a cape. "You see? Caring can have its own rewards." He smiled sweetly at her.

"I never doubted it." Triona touched his lips with one finger. "You're going to have to care a lot to deal with all of us, my sweet." She giggled at his mock expression of fright.

He pulled her head down to rest on his chest, rubbing her back. "I'm up to the challenge, you just wait and see."

Triona smiled sleepily. "Mmm, good."

Turning her slightly, Methos gathered her in his arms and finally drifted off to sleep.


Merry Christmas!

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