Duncan set-up the chess board while Methos roamed the loft. Fastidiously, for each side, he set down the cloned pawns, and sets of two of everything else, except the nobility--for which only one mighty Queen and one doomed or victorious King existed. He rubbed his thumb over the castle-ledges of the last black rook and--satisfied that the board was correctly arranged--looked up to see where Methos had wandered.
Methos was standing in front of a window, easily rolling his head from side to side in a familiar neck stretch. He held his beer loosely by his hip, his long fingers covering the brown glass so lightly Duncan almost feared the bottle would fall, break and shatter.
"Kink?" he asked.
"What?" Methos asked, voice cracking slightly and turning to stare at Duncan with over-large eyes and a wary expression.
Duncan pointed and imitated the neck-roll. "Do you have a kink in your neck?"
"Oh--no, no. No. Just stretching." Methos took a quick gulp of his drink and sauntered over to sit in front of his half of the chessboard.
"Oh, okay," Duncan said, and tried to stuff his disappointment somewhere down deep inside. He would have loved to offer a neck and back rub. He shifted forward to study the board, although no pieces had yet been moved. As usual, he was playing White because White moved first, and Methos insisted on graciously giving him the slight advantage in consideration of his lesser experience. Or so he said. Duncan didn't need a professional psychologist to point out the obvious color symbolisms. He hid a grin--one could learn the game in minutes, but it took centuries to really become adept--or so argued a very, very old chess player.
Methos sunk into his chair, watching the board through half-lidded eyes. He took another swig of his beer and started fiddling with the corner of the label.
Duncan hovered his fingers over the pieces, not touching any until he had absolutely decided on his opening move. He sat back as Methos bent forward to study the board, his expression intent on the sixty-four squares as if the pieces might jump about at any moment. Idly, Duncan wondered what thoughts and strategies were zooming through Methos' head--how many games had he played with this specific opening, and was he remembering each game won and lost?
Methos made his own move, and Duncan found it was his turn to study the board. He'd learned to play chess a long time ago, but it hadn't been until he'd met Darius that he'd begun to truly understand the tactics, the sacrifices necessary, the ingenuity of working within the rules. Each time Methos accepted his invitations over to play chess, Duncan thanked the millions of stars in the sky that Darius had helped him develop into an accomplished player. Of course, he'd have learned double dutch on a grand scheme if that would have gotten Methos over for the evening, but it had always seemed that chess was the one sure invitation that would be accepted.
They'd spent a pleasant evening at Joe's, drinking and talking, listening to the band play their first set. Then, before the hour had grown too late, Duncan had reminded Methos that he'd promised him a chess game, and they'd retired to the loft. The earlier picnic had been nice--he shied away from thinking about the almost too revealing conversation--and the downtime at Joe's had been fun, but it was this part of the day that Duncan enjoyed the most. For just this short time during the chess game, he had Methos all to himself. Even if he couldn't reach out and touch his hand, or brush against his skin, or….
He realized that Methos was waiting for him to make a move. Quickly, he reached out and pushed a piece almost at random.
Methos frowned at the board, then frowned at him.
Duncan took a swallow from his own beer, and realized he'd finished it off. "Want another?" he asked, standing and striding to the kitchen area.
"I'm good," Methos said absently, his attention more on the board than Duncan.
Duncan set his empty bottle in the sink and opened the door to the fridge, and stared at the beer inside. Two bottles left. Paired up, like the pieces on the board. He shut the door. He'd had too much to drink. He glanced to Methos. He needed to sober up and concentrate on this chess game or Methos would sweep across the board like an imperial tyrant and the evening would be over.
"How about some coffee?" he asked, gaze falling on his little espresso maker.
"What?" Methos looked up from the board, half twisted in his chair to stare at Duncan. "Coffee? Mac, it's a little late for a large amount of caffeine, don't you think?"
"I'm going to have some coffee," Duncan declared stubbornly. He turned and busied himself with his espresso machine.
Methos turned away from the idiot--the delectable idiot, but idiot nevertheless--and refocused on the board in front of him. Coffee. At this time of night! Methos harrumphed to himself. MacLeod would drink a double espresso and get a caffeine buzz and be up and jolly-annoying for hours now, instead of half sleepy from beer and a long day. Methos liked it when he was sleepy, because sometimes if the game went on long enough--if Methos could cajole the pieces into benign temperament --MacLeod would drift off to sleep on his couch. Then he could curl up himself in his own chair and watch MacLeod doze, eyelids fluttering, dreams ghosting across his face and dream himself of belonging right there, as something more than just a friend and convenient chess opponent.
Chess. Chess, chess, chess. For all the damned chess games that the two of them played, one might think they were chess fanatics. Absolute chess maniacs! That every waking moment was spent in deep thought on gambits and steps to victory, and deducing weakness in thine enemy. Chess insomniacs. Chess addicts!
Methos scowled and listened to MacLeod grinding coffee. He never invited him over for just a glass of wine. Or a movie. Always it was to play chess, as if Methos hadn't had enough of chess all the years before other fun pastimes were concocted. He'd played chess with the original rules; he'd played it in tents; he'd played it against great men and common; he'd played it with wooden pieces and plastic. He'd played a hell of a lot of chess, and although he enjoyed the occasional game, he damned well wished MacLeod found enjoyment in some other activities. He cursed the very day that Darius had shown MacLeod the nuances of play, and the specificity of endgames, and the best moves for mating….
Methos looked to the board and then to MacLeod, who seemed altogether preoccupied with his coffee machine. It took only a moment, then, and the deed was done. He relaxed into his chair and took a long drag on his beer. He grabbed an errant book from the table and skimmed through it for distraction, one ear tuned to MacLeod's show of domesticity in the kitchen.
A few minutes later, MacLeod returned and set down two demitasse cups of almost black liquid, a thin skein of cream colored foam on the top.
"I thought you might like one anyway."
Methos sighed and took a sip of the bitter drink. Then he waited for MacLeod to study the pieces.
MacLeod puzzled over the board for a long moment. "Hey," he said, "where's my Queen?"
"Indeed?" Methos perked up and bent forward to look at the board in mock surprise. "Your White Queen is gone? Perhaps she's been kidnapped," he suggested.
"Kidnapped?" MacLeod frowned. "That's ridiculous. We're playing chess."
Methos arched an eyebrow and covered his mouth with his hand for a polite, fake cough.
MacLeod rolled his eyes. "Fine. Who would have kidnapped my Queen?" He looked to the board again. "One of your knights is missing too. You'll tell me where you've put my pieces, right? I mean, this set is an antique, and it isn't much use without all the pieces."
Methos ignored the last part. "Seems the lovely White Queen has been taken by the vile Black Knight! Oh, heavens!" He stood up. "Well, you'd better look for her, Highlander. She needs to be rescued."
"Methos, what game are you playing now?" MacLeod stood and began to pace the room, tipping over picture frames, and looking in drawers. "Where the devil did you hide them? We need to finish our game!"
"Hide and seek, MacLeod. A king is nothing without his queen." Methos grinned at him from the plushness of the chair, then transferred himself to the couch where he settled in comfortably to await MacLeod's great discovery.
Duncan was pretty sure he'd just about ground down his molars to nubs. Methos was taunting him from the couch, he couldn't find his Queen, the chess game was in ruins, and the entire night was in shambles. Instead of a quiet evening of staring into Methos' face, trying to judge that quick mind, and gentle laughter as they talked over a game of chess--the closest they ever got to real intimacy--Duncan was tearing apart his bathroom, looking for little pieces. Blast and tarnation! The cursed little things could have been tucked away anywhere! His small, comfortable loft was expanding exponentially in his mind--every hide-away spot suddenly turned cavernous.
"Some Bold Knight you are, MacLeod," Methos teased. "Haven't you found the Maiden Fair, yet?"
"She's not a maiden!" Duncan flung towels off the shelves. "She's a wily, old Queen. The most powerful piece on the board! And the sneaky, double-crossing, rodent of a Knight is lost along with her!" He was about a tenth of a second from grabbing his annoying guest and strangling him dead. Maybe twice. Duncan headed for the closet. Probably Methos stuffed them into a shoe box.
When he came away from the closet, fuming and ready for satisfaction, he stopped short of the couch. Espresso and fury had combined to wake Duncan to a bright, morning-like edge, but Methos' cup was practically untouched, and the man was asleep on the couch, curled up on his side. Duncan almost put out a hand to touch, to soothe, and then reconsidered.
It would be too much.
Instead, he draped a nearby quilt over the sleeping form. "If you didn't want to play, you could have just said," he whispered, but there was no reply.
Suddenly, he was tired. Caffeine and hot-blooded emotion crashed, and Duncan turned towards his bed, yawning. On the very definite plus side, Methos was sleeping on his couch tonight, not even a stone's throw away.
He pulled at the covers on his bed, yawning again and imagining for a moment that Methos was in the bed and not on the couch, and stopped.
Just below the pillow, tied together with his red silk necktie into a lover's bow, were the White Queen and Black Knight.
Methos shifted, and his sleepy, faint voice came over the back of the couch. "Absconded. 'Twas not a kidnapping at all, but that Lady Fair desired of a liaison with the dashing knight, tho' he was the enemy."
"Her heart didn't belong to the White King?" Duncan asked softly.
"A political marriage only." Methos peeked over the edge of the couch, eyes heavy with sleep. "G'Night."
"Good night." Duncan returned the pieces to the board, setting the White Queen and the Black Knight down together in the middle of the field. The other Black Knight caught his attention. No longer paired, but alone, and independent. Duncan snatched him up and brought him back to bed.
In the morning, Methos made sure to return the figurine piece of the White Knight to the board before MacLeod noticed it was missing.