Joe stroked at his beard and swallowed hard. He could feel his skin prickle with cooling beads of sweat, dampening his cotton shirt against his skin as he shifted uncomfortably on his prosthetic legs and leaned against the slick polished wood of his bar. He slid a finger across the cool wood until he was touching the long slender box laid open in front of him. Giving the contents one more superfluous glance, he made a deep choking sound back in his throat as he swallowed hard against the rising panic.
There were a dozen long stem roses, their petals a deep bloody red against the white filmy paper lining the box. Their stems were held together with a red silk ribbon, and he reached out to touch it, cursing when a sharp thorn pricked his fingertip instead. Grumbling under his breath, he drew the offended digit up to his mouth and sucked away the drop of blood. Satisfied that the bleeding had subsided, he picked up the card and read it again.
I need to see you
Dinner tonight at the loft at 8pm
He had been trying to avoid the two immortals until he could figure out how to clean up this mess. He couldn't call the flower shop and demand they fix it. After all, what could he tell them?
'Ah, yes. I ripped off these two guy's credit card numbers and made a couple of purchases and you put the wrong name on the cards.'
And how in the hell had they gotten his name anyway? He was sure he gave them Duncan's and Adam's names when he put in the online order. Hadn't he? Of course, he had been in a hurry when he placed the orders. And he was used to typing his own name. What if he had subconsciously typed in 'Joe'? Shit!
So far he had managed to successfully avoid the two men. Well, except the couple of times when one or the other had caught him at the bar.
Mac had come by first, smelling of expensive aftershave and wearing that blue mesh shirt-- the one that showed off his chest and had most of his female clientele ( and Methos ) panting after him. Joe had stubbornly stayed behind the bar while Mac was there. But, that hadn't shielded him from the batting eyelashes or the little boy pout. Not to mention the slide of fingers across his when Mac reached for his drink, holding Joe's fingers against the cool glass while Mac's thumb rubbed across the knuckles sensuously, his touch in burning contrast.
When Joe had less than tactfully told Mac that he was busy, Mac had simply winked at him and smiled, his eyes promising much more at a later date.
Methos had come by a couple of days later. At first Methos had seemed to behave normally, and Joe had been thankfully relieved. He had almost completely dropped his guard when the old man pulled out a chair at one of the small tables and invited him to sit down and join him for a drink.
He was vaguely aware when Methos scooted back his chair and sprawled down into his seat, his legs splaying open almost indecently. But, Joe didn't have time to react before the deep woodsy smell of Methos' aftershave tingled his nostrils and the heat from the immortal's body seared his nerves.
Methos was right there, and a touch, as soft and gentle as rain was being ghosted across Joe's lips as Methos brushed a solitary fingertip across Joe's mouth. Joe opened his mouth in surprise, then startled and jumped up, banging his elbow on the table, when Methos slipped the tip of his finger inside.
"Dammit, Adam!" He sputtered angrily.
"Joe?" The damn immortal was looking at him with that wide eyed innocence that both Joe and Mac knew for the crock of bull it was.
"Adam...." He had searched for the words, both not wanting to hurt his friend or encourage him at the same time. As it was, he was given a small reprieve when Methos merely shrugged and slipped on his coat to leave.
"It's all right, Joe. We have all the time in the world." Methos winked at him, before turning to walk out the door, and Joe had been left with his mouth wide open and his elbow throbbing with pain.
He looked at the invitation again and sighed. He knew he could just call Mac. Make up an excuse to decline. But then what? This was his opportunity to set his friend straight. Then maybe together they could sit Methos down and talk to him.
Joe stood in the dojo and stared at the gate to the lift. All he had to do was lift the gate and push the button and he would be on his way up to the loft. Hell, he had done it hundreds of times. Mac was his friend. What was he afraid of?
He felt the moisture gathering in his armpits and shifted his shoulders in his tweed jacket. How had things gotten so fucked up? All he was trying to do was help the other two men see what they meant to each other. How was he supposed to know they both had a secret desire to be with him?
Nah, he chided himself. They couldn't have. Not really. They were just confused because they thought he wanted them. Surely that was it. He just had to set them straight. Besides, he didn't do men. Not that he saw anything wrong with it. He thought Mac and Methos were perfect for one another.
'So, why are you standing here sweating bullets if it's so damn easy', he chided himself. He reached out and touched the iron grill to pull it up, then hesitated and jerked his hand back to his side. Fuck, he'd better think of something to tell Mac before he reached the loft.
He just didn't understand this. Mac was an intelligent man. So he had been a little dense where the old man was concerned. And, yeah, Joe admitted grudgingly, that wasn't like Mac. Maybe Mac had taken too many quickenings and all that excess power had fried his brains. Suddenly the memory of an old advertisement came to mind and he chuckled to himself. The picture of two over easy eggs followed by a plate with two fried overdone eggs appeared along with the words: "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs."
Still chuckling, he substituted the words in his mind. "This is your brain. This is your brain after a quickening." That was it, he mumbled to himself. Mac and Methos had both taken too many quickenings and their brains were overcooked -- fried like that burnt shriveled up mess of eggs.
He'd have to tell both men to refrain from fighting for awhile until their brains could rejuvenate and get back to normal. With solid determination, he lifted the gate and punched the button to carry him to the loft.
Mac lifted the gate once the lift came to a complete stop. Joe acknowledged his friend's courtesy with a nod of his head and stepped out, gulping nervously. Mac was dressed in dark slacks and a white silk shirt. He had left his hair down and it slid across his shoulders seductively when he moved. In an instant, all his well rehearsed words were gone. Joe suddenly found his mouth dry, and readily reached for the glass of wine Mac was offering. He gulped it down in two long swallows, barely registering the smooth Merlot that slid across his tongue.
"Going to take your coat off, Joe?" The silky baritone came from across the room, and Joe choked as the last drop of wine reached his throat.
"Methos?" He looked at the smirking immortal standing across the room, then back at Mac who was watching him with undisguised amusement.
"Something wrong, Joe?" Mac asked while reaching to take Joe's coat from his arms.
"Wrong? No...." Joe took a deep breath and glared at the two men who were staring at him in expectation. Methos was dressed in dark dress slacks as well, with a dark green silk shirt that he had left free from his pants. Joe glanced at the table already set with crystal and china, smelled the prime rib emitting from the oven, and shivered involuntarily. Scowling, he closed his eyes while his thoughts ran rampant in his head. Dammit. He had only been trying to help. He felt his anger seep through his nervousness and suddenly, without conscious thought, he had opened his eyes and was speaking his mind.
"Yeah. There is something wrong, dammit. Those cards were a mistake. Yeah, I bought the roses and used your credit cards. I'm sorry about that, okay? But you two belong together. It's not me you want. If your brains hadn't been fried by too many quickenings, you would see that. It's like that commercial. You remember the one with the eggs. Well your eggs have been fried too hard with all that electrical energy."
He took a deep breath to regroup and finally allowed himself to look at their faces. Mac was smiling openly and Methos had already fallen onto the couch in a relaxed sprawl while laughing out loud.
"What the fuck is so funny?" he demanded as the oldest immortal gave in to a fit of giggles.
"Nothing, Joe." Mac allowed while guiding him into the room with a hand to his shoulder. "We had already figured out that part."
Joe looked around the room. Methos' laptop and journal were on Mac's desk. There were several new CDs piled on the stereo as well as books lined up on the coffee table. Everything clicked into place. He narrowed his eyes dangerously and turned to his friends. "This was a joke? To get back at me for the roses? You knew all along?"
"Yeah," Mac allowed with a smile before turning towards his laughing lover and punching him on the arm. "Behave."
Methos looked up at Joe's face and closed his mouth in an obvious attempt to stop the giggles from escaping.
Joe felt his anger subside as he watched Methos try to regain control, and he found himself chuckling along.
"All right, you two. You got me. Fair enough. So what is going on with the two of you? Did the roses work?"
He sat down on the other end of the couch, followed by Mac who slid down beside Methos. Mac picked up Methos' hand and squeezed it, and they both turned towards Joe.
"Yeah, it worked. We're living together and we'll keep you informed. But, no pictures and keep Methos' true identity a secret."
"I got it, Mac. Trust me. I don't want any of the details. But, since you both had me sweating bullets all week, I guess I deserve to know. Is this the real thing? Is it love?"
Mac shrugged and turned towards Methos before answering. "Maybe. The only thing we know for sure is that we both want to explore the possibility."
Joe started to respond, then stilled, his words forgotten, when Mac leaned towards Methos and kissed his lips. He felt his mouth drop open, and he stared, as Methos reached around and clung to Mac's neck when their kiss deepened. He heard a deep groan before the kiss ended and they separated.
Mac turned to him with an apologetic smile. "Yeah. It could be the real thing. You okay with that?"
"Hell yeah! But the next time you want to play a trick on me, please keep in mind that I'm mortal and my heart can't take it." He stood up and reached for his coat.
"Where are you going?" Mac stood up with a look of concern on his face.
"Home? This was all a setup, wasn't it?" Joe looked from Mac to Methos in confusion.
Methos stood and relieved Joe of his coat. "Only the reason, Joseph. We just wanted to thank you for caring enough to give us a push in the right direction."
He looked from one man to the next and felt himself grow warm inside.
"And warn you to never--" Methos began sternly.
"Ever do anything like that again." Mac crossed his arms over his chest and finished Methos' sentence.
"Agreed," he allowed and walked towards the kitchen. Mac reached for the bottle of wine when they reached the table.
"I just have one question, Joe." Methos held out his glass to be filled. "Our eggs have been fried too hard?!" he sputtered incredulously.
For the second time that night, Joe choked on his wine.