"To be a fool at the right time is also an art."
What do you get the man who lives like a monk and doesn't want anything? That was the question Amanda asked herself in the waning days of the year, when thoughts of gratitude and Christmas presents weighed heavily on her mind. Duncan had been very good indeed these last few years. Nick would probably be dead by now if it wasn't for him, and that wasn't something Amanda was likely to forget. She wanted to show her appreciation.
Problem was, the things that made Duncan happy couldn't be bought. She'd already given up stealing and gone straight (for some value of straight), and she didn't have any spare racehorses to give away. He never turned down her usual methods of thanking him, but this year, she wanted to give him something special. Something he wouldn't ask for himself, but that only his oldest and dearest friend Amanda could provide.
In the old days, it would have been easy. Run away to the circus with me, she would have said, and he might have complained, but he would have done it in a heartbeat. Had done it, come to think of it, more than once. But these last few years, he hadn't been himself. After Tessa died, and then Richie…but she'd thought he'd get over that, in time. When he'd agreed to help Nick, she'd thought maybe that would do the trick. Something was missing, though. Ever since—
Amanda stopped in the middle of her stretching routine. Of course. No sooner did the thought occur to her than a plan began to come together. Why not? She'd never thanked the old grouch properly for saving their bacon from O'Rourke, and they could all use a good time. A little romantic getaway, a little holiday cheer…the possibilities had always lingered at the back of her mind whenever the three of them were together, and what better time than Christmas? It was perfect. Frankly, she was amazed it hadn't occurred to her sooner.
The thought barely had a chance to settle before she'd leapt to her feet and picked up the phone.
* * *
"Come to Zurich with me," she said.
"Zurich?" asked Duncan, instantly suspicious. "What's in Zurich?"
She made an impatient sound. "It's not like that. Not this time, I promise. I found the perfect place, and I've always wanted to spend Christmas in Zurich. We could have a real holiday. Snow, ice-skating, eggnog, the works. Come on, what do you say?"
If she'd been in the room with him, this persuasion would have been accompanied by seductive touches and a winning smile. Even after four centuries and across an ocean, he wasn't immune.
"Have you been talking to Joe?" he asked.
"What's Joe got to do with anything?"
"Nothing, never mind." Despite himself, he was touched by her transparent plan to cheer him up. He glanced out the window, where a bleak gray drizzle pattered steadily. "It does sound nice," he admitted.
He could imagine the way her eyes lit up when she said, "So, you'll go?"
Bemused, he gave in. "Tell me when, and I'll be there."
* * *
"Not sure who's getting more of a workout—me, or your credit card." Duncan hefted another bag over his shoulder as they wound their way through the third Christmas market in as many hours. "It is yours, right?"
"Oh, hush. You know you love it." She wrinkled her nose in a smile and squeezed his chest through his cashmere sweater, making him flinch. "It's not like you can't handle it. Muscles as hard as the highland hills, remember?"
"How could I forget?"
The truth was, he did love watching Amanda under the sparkling lights, her eyes lighting up at each new bauble or treasure she found. That didn't mean he couldn't give her a hard time. Still, he was glad when they finally made it back to the luxurious penthouse apartment she'd arranged. A professional weightlifter might have found it a challenge to shop with Amanda at Christmastime—particularly when she was in a good mood.
"Admit it, this place is great," she said as they entered. "The gourmet kitchen, the fireplace, the view." She smiled, mischief dancing in her eyes. "The hot tub…"
He put his armload of packages and bags down with a grunt. "I could use one right about now."
"Well, if you insist," she said, drawing near and walking her fingertips up his arms. She began to massage his neck and shoulders until he hummed his appreciation. Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, tasting of strawberries. He kissed back, remembering the night before. "Of course," she added, "the beds are very nice, too."
"Beds? We need more than one?"
"Mm," she said between kisses. "Waste not, want not." They began to make slow progress toward the bedroom, hands and lips relearning familiar territory. "So," she said when they'd made it most of the way across the room, "are you glad you let me talk you into this?"
"Maybe," he allowed. "I'm not sure. I might need a little more convincing."
* * *
Some time later, he dozed in the gathering dark of late afternoon while Amanda showered. A strange disquiet had overtaken him, and it warred with the comfortable surroundings and the lazy satiation of his body. He should try harder, he thought. Amanda had gone to great lengths to arrange this trip at the last minute, and he didn't want to disappoint her.
Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, it had begun to snow. Lights twinkled on the lake below, and Duncan had to admit she'd had worse ideas. For her sake, he'd do his best to enjoy it.
Amanda found him there when she emerged from the bathroom. After a moment, she shrugged out of her robe and climbed naked into the bed, smelling of jasmine. She curled up next to him and put her arms around him, and they lay together watching the snow fall.
"You could call him, you know," she said after a while, playing idly with his hair, her chin on his shoulder.
"Funny." She tugged sharply at his hair—"Ow!" he said— "You know who."
She knew him too well. He sighed and smoothed her hair back from her forehead. "Amanda—"
"No, you don't want to talk about it. I get it." She got up and started for the dressing area, waving a hand. "Never mind, forget I said anything." She disappeared into the closet, and then leaned back out a moment later. "Get a move on, will you? I'm starving."
Duncan frowned. It wasn't even four thirty. But he was all too glad to change the subject, and swung his feet to the floor.
Once they were dressed and ready to leave, though, Amanda dragged her feet. "Let's have a drink," she suggested.
"I thought you were starving."
She shrugged. "Changed my mind. You know I don't like to eat too early."
His spidey sense began to tingle. What was she up to? "Whatever you say," he said aloud. "Champagne?"
Duncan watched her surreptitiously as he opened the bottle and poured them each a flute. She didn't look guilty, exactly, but she was definitely up to something. But her smile was genuine when he handed her the glass, and he thought, Maybe you're getting paranoid.
"What shall we drink to?" he asked.
"Well, it is your birthday." Her smile turned mischievous. "How about to the longest night of the year?"
"And making the most of it?"
He raised his glass—and that's when the vague apprehension he'd been feeling suddenly crystalized into an inescapable certainty. All the hair on his body stood on end, and he nearly broke the glass stem as the sensation of another Immortal swept over him. It resonated in his bones like the deep tolling of a bell.
A very specific bell. His heart sank. He should have known.
After a moment of tension, Amanda relaxed and beamed at him, eyes bright with anticipation. "Don't worry, darling. I'm expecting someone, and he's right on time." She set her glass aside and went to the door.
Paranoid, my ass. But despite everything, he couldn't help the sudden weightless sensation in his stomach, or the way his chest felt tight, like he couldn't quite catch his breath. And if he could feel Methos, then Methos could feel him. He half expected the feeling to fade and disappear. If Methos had any sense at all—but then, the damage was already done.
Amanda checked the peephole before swinging the door open wide. "Methos!" She greeted him with a kiss on both cheeks, then linked her arm with his and pulled him into the flat. "Guess what? I've got a surprise for you."
"Yes, I can see that," Methos said, his gaze coming to rest on Duncan, who couldn't help the way his heart reacted to the sound of Methos's voice. Four years since they'd last laid eyes on each other, and Duncan fought the urge to stare, to drink in every detail. He suspected he was doing a poor job of concealing any of it.
Methos stopped about six feet away, his hands in his pockets in a way that might have been casual, but wasn't.
"She didn't tell you, either," Duncan managed. He thought his voice sounded all right.
Amanda looked from Methos to Duncan, a little of her pleasure dimming as she read the tension between them. "I was going to, I swear. But then I thought, how much more fun would it be to surprise you both?"
Amanda's surprises always packed a wallop; someday, Duncan suspected, he wouldn't survive one of them. But this—she couldn't have made her intentions more obvious if she'd printed them on a billboard. Heaven help them all.
"It's good to see you," Methos said then. His expression was wry; the subtext was crystal clear to him, as well.
"You, too," Duncan said. It sounded as foolish as he felt. He seemed to run out of words, then, and Methos pulled his coat tighter around himself, like armor.
Amanda tilted her head, perplexed. "Okay, what's with you two? I thought you kissed and made up years ago."
Heat rose in Duncan's face; trust Amanda to put it that way. "Amanda—" He stopped. She wasn't going to let this go. What could he say that wouldn't make things worse? "Yeah. We did. But you shouldn't have interfered."
Methos, trying to spare him, said, "Maybe it's better if I go."
But in spite of everything, that was the last thing Duncan wanted. Besides, it was too late for that. He huffed out a frustrated breath. "No, don't," he said. He gestured at the champagne, the flickering fireplace in the cozy but elegant living room. "At least stay and have a drink with us."
Methos searched his expression for a moment, then took off his coat and handed it to Amanda without a word. The three of them moved into the living room, where Duncan poured a third glass and left it on the bar. Methos retrieved it and sat in the velvet armchair near the windows. After a moment, Duncan sat on the couch opposite and sipped his champagne, wishing it were something stronger.
Amanda was the one to break the awkward silence. "So, I'm guessing there's a story here. Mind filling me in?"
The bluntness was her way of letting Duncan know she was serious. He tried one last time, knowing it was futile. "It's got nothing to do with you, Amanda. Can't you just leave it be?"
She considered. "Mm, huh uh. I don't think so. I'm tired of watching you mope around. And from the looks of things, Methos isn't any better. Whatever happened between you, it can't be that bad, so, get over it. Take it from a girl who knows." When he said nothing, she gestured her impatience. "Talk it out, hug it out, fight it out, whatever you need to do, but get over it."
"It's not that simple. I wish it was."
"Understatement," put in Methos. Duncan shot him a pained glance. You're not helping.
Amanda came and sat next to Duncan on the couch. "Of course it is. Look, a blind woman could see the sparks between you two. If you haven't already done something about it, then why not? What have you got to lose? And if you have, well, it's obvious you're still hung up on each other, so the sex can't have been that bad."
"You don't understand." Duncan pointedly didn't look in Methos's direction; he was far from comfortable discussing his feelings for Methos with Amanda, never mind with Methos right there hearing every word. "Methos and I, we—it can't be like that."
"Why?" she demanded. "Because you're afraid it'll be good?"
"No, because—" He struggled to find the words. "Things happened between us. Things you don't know about." Reluctantly, he met Methos's eyes. "There's a reason we have to stay apart."
* * *
Duncan finished his glass of champagne and poured himself another, feeling the need for liquid courage. Then he turned and leaned against the bar, trying to figure out where to start.
It was Methos who said—in the manner of a man weary of delaying the inevitable—"Ever hear of a double Quickening?"
Amanda looked surprised. "Once, a long time ago. But I thought it was a myth."
"Nope. It happens. Not often, of course. Maybe two, three times in the last two thousand years. The last time was about six years ago, in Bordeaux."
It took her a moment, but then Amanda's eyes widened and she gestured between them. "Wait. You two?"
"The Horsemen," Duncan said shortly. "Kronos and Silas."
Amanda looked impressed. "Damn. But what does that have to do with anything?"
Duncan drank to avoid looking at Methos. He seemed to be doing that a lot.
Methos said, "There were...side effects."
When he didn't elaborate, Amanda prompted, "Well? What? Are you two, like, allergic to each other or something?"
They exchanged glances, and Duncan sighed. "Not exactly."
Methos said, "I think it'd be fair to say, the exact opposite." At her mystified expression, he clarified, "Think Vulcan mind meld. We're connected. For better or worse, richer or poorer, like it or not. Tuned in to the same bat channel." He tried for flippant, but his expression looked more like a grimace when he added, "Not helped by the fact that our boy here seems to be... extraordinarily receptive."
"And proximity makes it worse," Duncan said. Seeing Methos's almost imperceptible flinch, he corrected, "More intense."
Amanda digested that. "That's why you weren't surprised to see each other. You knew, just from sensing one another."
"Yes, but it's more than that," Duncan said.
"Really?" Amanda's fascination intensified, a speculative look that made him more than a little uneasy. "How much more?"
"Dreams," Methos answered. "Feelings. Memories. You name it." His voice roughened, and it was his turn to drink.
"Distracting in a fight, to say the least," Duncan explained. "I'm sure you can imagine." He remembered going to his knees in front of O'Rourke, the weight of the sword against the back of his neck and the spike of desperate adrenalin he'd felt from Methos in the moment before his first shot rang out. He remembered thinking later that one day, a moment like that might get one or both of them killed.
"Well, nobody's fighting here," Amanda said. "Nobody here but friends."
Duncan grimaced. "That's not the point. We're... we can't."
Amanda looked at Methos, who shrugged.
"Bad enough as it is. We cross any more lines, and who knows what would happen? We might lose the ability to separate altogether."
Duncan could see the moment when Amanda got it. Most Immortals avoided becoming dependent on each other. Friendship, comfort—sure, now and then, if you were lucky. But nothing permanent. Not unless you were more than a little insane, like Gina and Robert. It was Survival 101. Amanda of all people knew that; it was a big part of why she'd lived this long.
"You never said a word," she said to Duncan.
"I told you, it wasn't any of your business. It was between Methos and me."
She looked contrite, empathy kicking in now that her curiosity had been satisfied. "Does Joe know?"
"If he's guessed, he's not telling. But no," said Methos. "You're the first." He raised his glass to her, and finished the little that was left.
"Maybe it'll wear off," she said. "Eventually."
"Maybe," Duncan said. Pointedly, he added, "But not if we don't let it."
He could see her working through all the implications, finally grasping what this had already cost them. Her expression showed her dismay. "I thought you were both just being stubborn." She sighed. "Looks like I screwed up. Again."
"It's not your fault," Methos said. "You didn't know." Duncan nodded his agreement. As difficult as it was, he couldn't help being glad for the chance to see Methos up close and in person. It had been harder than he'd even guessed, staying away, and he didn't want to think about how long it might have been if Amanda hadn't interfered.
"Well, that's my plans for the evening shot," Amanda said, forcing a smile to break the tension. "Anyone else got any bright ideas?"
Duncan met Methos's gaze. He'd missed Methos down to his bones, and he knew without needing to ask that Methos felt the same way. In four years, nothing had really changed. What difference would one night make? Whatever they might want, whatever they might feel, they'd been friends first. It was better than nothing.
He found a small smile of his own. "I hear the circus is in town…"
* * *
Duncan hadn't been joking. He and Amanda had admired the tent earlier that day, and read the playbill. But after dark, the Cirkus Conelli was a bright spectacle of lights and music, a sparkling beacon on a winter's night, as inviting a big top as any they'd seen. Amanda slipped a hand into his and Methos's as they crossed the bridge to the entrance.
A jazz band played. In the bar, champagne flowed, and Methos bought them nuts and chocolates and popcorn for dinner, as if they were children. They were each anointed with a gold star on the cheek, and Amanda cajoled the host into giving her an extra, which she affixed to the pale, sweet swell of her breast. She sat between them in the small, intimate tent as the lights went down, and the show began.
"Oh!" she exclaimed sotto voce at the first act—an aerial acrobat who began an intimate, precise dance using leather straps. "I know her. She was at the Bolshoi in Moscow three years ago."
"She's good," Duncan agreed. He enjoyed the athleticism of the tumbling act that followed. A juggler, an illusionist, more acrobats—one with a wheel that Amanda wanted to try. A big band that Richie would have loved. At intermission, more champagne, while Amanda regaled Methos with tall tales of The Amazing Amanda and The Great MacLeod.
Late in the program came an act that featured two dancers who were both comedians and acrobats. Dressed alike, the two slim, dark-haired young men in matching outfits moved as one. One leapt and the other caught. At one point, they took a break from their tumbling routine to tango together, adding the tiniest frisson of erotic tension to the act. Approach, retreat. Teasing, pushing apart, then flowing together effortlessly, almost as if an invisible thread connected them. They seemed to read each other's minds. Duncan didn't look at Methos; he couldn't.
At last came the clowns, easily the stars of the show, if the reaction of the crowd was anything to go by. As a fellow performer, Duncan had to admire their showmanship—but watching Methos laugh at their antics, his heart swelled painfully. It had been harder than he expected, keeping his distance. The irony was, it hadn't changed the lies they told each other, knowing how Methos felt about him, knowing he was equally transparent. They still followed their old patterns, still pretended that most of the time that their uneasy friendship was more trouble than it was worth. They were both fools.
Amanda squeezed his hand. He realized he'd given himself away; then Methos's gaze was on him, reading him like a children's primer. Four years they'd stayed apart, but it hadn't faded.
There was magic in the circus, he thought. The music, the colors, the lights. Maybe in the champagne. Amanda had gold dust in her hair.
"Let's go home," Amanda said in his ear. She leaned over to Methos and said something, too. They let the flow of the crowd carry them back across the bridge, the glow of the big top lighting the way.
The walk home found them each lost in their own thoughts, the spectacle they'd seen taking the place of words. The night was cold and crisp, the sky clear, the lights reflecting on the canal. Amanda linked arms with Methos. Duncan half expected an Immortal to step out of a dark alley; that would be his luck, on a night that was already likely to break his heart one way or another.
Soon enough, they reached the flat.
"Well, kids," said Methos, "this is where I get off. Amanda—" Here, he took her hand and handed her off to Duncan with a courtly gesture. "Thank you for an interesting evening. Mac—"
Maybe it was the lingering enchantment of the circus. Maybe it was because tonight was the solstice, the longest night of the year, which carried its own magic and a prophecy that had shaped Duncan's life. Maybe it was only that the thought of watching him walk away again was suddenly more than Duncan could handle. He closed the distance between them for the first time that night and reached out to pull Methos into his arms.
Methos didn't resist, though Duncan could feel the tension that ran through him. He took a sharp breath, hesitating only a second before his arms came up to return the embrace. Even this, they'd never done, though Duncan had wanted to more than once. He closed his eyes and breathed Methos in, feeling the way their hearts fell into rhythm with one another between one moment and the next, like coming home.
With effort, Methos pulled back and rested his forehead against Duncan's. "I should go," Methos said. His voice betrayed him, rough at the edges.
"Yeah, you should." Duncan swallowed and held on to the front of Methos's coat. "But I don't want you to."
"That makes two of us," Amanda said, laying a hand on the back of both their necks. At last, they pulled apart to look at her. She tilted her head toward the door, her smile promising they wouldn't regret it. "Come on, what do you say?"
* * *
This was a terrible idea. Methos was as sure of that as he'd been of anything in longer than he could remember. But he had a long history of throwing caution out the window when his heart was involved, and he knew when he was outgunned.
Inside, Amanda disappeared into the kitchen. Methos trailed after Duncan toward the bedroom; Duncan didn't look at him as he turned on the fireplace, and Methos wondered if he was as nervous as Methos felt. It didn't seem possible.
Amanda returned bearing three glasses and a bottle of cognac. "Why don't you put some music on?" she suggested to Methos, nodding toward the computerized sound system while she fixed the drinks.
Duncan, shrugging out of his jacket, raised an eyebrow as the Tango Flamenco began to play. Methos shrugged to cover his nerves, which were threatening to get the better of him.
"You know what they say."
"It takes three to tango?"
"Not necessarily," Amanda said, handing Duncan his drink and taking a turn around him with her fingertips on his shoulder. "But why dance with two when three is so much better?" She glided over to Methos and held her hands up in invitation. "Shall we?"
Methos was no great dancer, but he knew his way around the basics. Gradually, the music, the fire, and the cognac combined to relax the atmosphere a bit, and Amanda moved on from dancing to removing clothing: first Methos's sweater, then Duncan's belt. When she began to unbutton Duncan's shirt, Methos found the courage to draw near and help, their fingers working together. When they'd made it to his waist, Duncan tugged his shirttails out. Methos could see his heart beating fast at his throat, and his own felt none too steady. His fingers itched to touch the smooth golden skin and soft hair. They hadn't touched each other yet, as if they knew that once that line was crossed, there'd be no going back.
"Would you mind?" Amanda asked, indicating her zipper. Methos did as asked, and Amanda's dress fell sinuously to the floor. Beneath, she was wearing a crimson bra and panties, trimmed in gold.
"I don't know about you, but I feel more festive," Duncan said.
"Definitely," agreed Methos.
"Prove it," Amanda said, and put her arms around Duncan's neck for a kiss.
Methos couldn't have said exactly how they got to the bed, but he and Duncan were naked and Amanda nearly so by the time they got there. They'd turned around so that Methos reached it first, and Amanda wasted no time pushing him down and climbing on top of him. He brought his hands up to hold her still, using the new angle to explore her mouth thoroughly, then her neck. When he reached her breasts (they were truly magnificent), he found that Duncan's hands were already there, caressing their soft weight against his palms.
Methos froze for a second, then closed his eyes and kept going. His lips brushed over the gold star, the backs of Duncan's fingers, Amanda's silky skin between. He felt Duncan's fingertips on his face, tracing his eyebrows, and it awoke a cascade of butterflies in his stomach. Amanda's heat radiated against his thighs where she straddled him.
"Help me out, will you?" Duncan murmured. They turned Amanda around in Methos's arms, and Duncan slid her panties off. She smelled incredible, already wet, and Methos's mouth watered, watching as Duncan leaned down and buried his face between Amanda's legs. She sighed out her pleasure as he kissed her mound and began to tease gently at her folds. The sight was enough to make Methos's cock jump against his belly, but he focused on making her comfortable, arranging her so that her head rested at the join of his thigh and he could play with her breasts while Duncan went to work.
As with everything he did, Duncan took his time. He was slow and careful with Amanda, his tenderness for her evident in the way his broad hands caressed her sides, the way he held her thighs apart so that she could relax as he explored her gently and thoroughly with his tongue. Amanda made small, pleased sounds and writhed restlessly, sucking in small, sharp breaths whenever he touched a particularly sensitive spot. Duncan, for his part, was getting off on it so much that Methos began to realize he was, too, already painfully aroused though neither of them had so much as touched him. He spared a moment to grip himself gently, and the glans was already slick.
Suddenly Duncan looked up, right at him. He had Amanda all over his mouth and chin. Methos desperately wanted to lick it off him, and before he could think about it he'd leaned forward. Duncan met him halfway, a sound of pleasure escaping him as their mouths met for the first time. "Oh," Amanda breathed out, but Methos couldn't spare attention for it.
Sensation flooded him. He'd thought about kissing Duncan so many times he'd lost count, but imagination hadn't prepared him for the way it opened the floodgates of the connection between them. The closest thing he could think of was taking a Quickening—and then he couldn't think at all as feeling rushed in, a confusion of impressions and longings and need. Without knowing he meant to, he clutched at Amanda's shoulders with the desperation of a man falling off a cliff.
"Hey. Hey, hey." Amanda had twisted around so that her hand was on his face. "It's okay. Methos, look at me."
He did as she said—anything to distract him from the way his heart was thundering. She pulled his face away from Duncan's and kissed him, turning around so that her breasts pressed against his chest. He closed his eyes and breathed deep through his nose; it instantly calmed him. Grateful, he stroked her hair and the sides of her face. They kissed for a long time, until his panic subsided. Finally he became aware of Duncan touching both of them, their shoulders, the sides of Methos's throat. His fingers were rough and warm.
"Sorry, I—" Methos began.
"It's okay," Duncan said. He held Methos's eyes with his, and even that was almost uncomfortably intense. "We'll take it slow."
Amanda said gently, "You guys mind if I take over for a little while?"
Methos let out a shaky breath. "Probably a good idea." Duncan nodded his agreement.
She might as easily kill him in her own way, Methos thought as Amanda straddled him, took him inside her. Duncan shifted away for a second but then came back, slipping a hand in between them and slicking Methos up, the barest touch of his fingers more than enough to make Methos groan aloud. God, that was good. "Oh, yes," Amanda said, and gasped when Duncan rubbed his slippery fingertips against her folds. He started to fondle her gently as Methos fucked her, and she made a helpless, animal sound of pleasure, then broke off kissing to tilt her head back and pant for breath. "That feels amazing—don't stop." She and Methos moved together, slow and deep. He never wanted it to end.
"Don't come," Duncan growled into Methos's ear, the husky command and the light prickle of his stubble almost enough to guarantee failure. Methos and Amanda both made wordless sounds of protest, his a choked off moan, hers a whimper high in her throat. Methos's thrusts sped up despite his efforts at control. Amanda was panting steadily now, and Methos gripped her hips like he could prevent the inevitable. Duncan's hand moved between them, his small strokes on Amanda's clit slow and steady. "Not you," Duncan murmured to Amanda, and kissed her under the line of her jaw. Methos opened his eyes, unable to stop himself; he hoped like hell he'd misunderstood, but he saw Duncan mouthing at Amanda's throat and Duncan's hand shifting up to caress her breast roughly, thumb toying with her nipple.
Methos swallowed a curse. What did Duncan think he was made of? Amanda felt glorious moving up and down on his cock, head thrown back and lips parted, breasts bouncing, lost now in her pleasure and the most delicious sounds caught in her throat. And Duncan—Methos closed his eyes, squeezed them shut and bit his lip to distract himself, suddenly desperate to do whatever Duncan asked of him, no matter if it killed him.
Which it might. But he did it anyway, holding on to Amanda, focused on keeping his thrusts deep and steady and hanging on to his own control as if his survival depended on it.
"Sadist," he managed. Ah, gods, Amanda felt good. She clenched around him, the sounds she was making desperate now.
"That's it," Duncan murmured. "That's my girl. Gonna come for me?"
Fuck. Fuck. Exquisite torture, in every sense of the word. Methos struggled on the sword edge of his own desperation, but Amanda—Amanda swore and came, clenching around him in sudden powerful contractions, shuddering and crying out. Methos, who always had been a bit of a masochist, opened his eyes a fraction to watch, because she was one of the most beautiful sights in the world when she came, and no man privileged to see that should miss the chance.
Duncan pinched her nipple roughly, heightening her pleasure, which she was vocal about; it seemed to go on forever, and Methos got a hand jammed between them, too, squeezing himself hard to keep from coming. Christ. He might as well be, the waves of need shivering up his spine and over his skin. But it was enough. His grip on himself merciless, he could watch Amanda abandon herself to ecstasy, could let himself look on Duncan's bowed neck and the flushed beauty of his face as he gently carried her through it.
At last, Amanda limp and trembling and half-senseless between them, Duncan kissed the side of her throat, then met Methos's eyes. The intent in his expression made Methos's heart jump. A second later, Duncan lifted Amanda bodily off Methos and shifted her lax body to the side. She didn't seem to mind, making a noise of approval as Duncan moved into the space between Methos's thighs.
"Mac," Methos began, though what he meant to say, he had no idea. He was excruciatingly aware of Duncan's naked body, his warm breath and the hot brand of his cock lying against Methos' calf. The thought of what it would be like to have Duncan inside him overwhelmed him for a second, then subsided to mere annihilating fantasy at the back of his mind as Duncan bent his head and nosed at Methos's cock, breathing deep.
Before Methos could say anything else, Duncan's mouth engulfed him. Duncan made a sound like dying, the first he'd made since asking Amanda to come for him. His groan resonated through Methos's bones. Methos still had himself in a death grip, but couldn't help thrusting into the wet heat; Duncan pried his hand away and laced their fingers together, holding on tight.
Methos couldn't be sure which of them needed the support more. He'd dreamed of Duncan's mouth. He'd stared at it, thought about it, imagined what it would feel like. The way Duncan loved food, and wine, and good whiskey—orally fixated came to mind on a regular basis, but he'd had no idea. Duncan's tongue could write volumes, and was. His mouth was criminally soft, yet sucked him like a man who'd been starving for it, and Methos quickly lost track of the plot, riding the irresistible arc of pleasure as it grabbed hold of him, lifted him up, consumed him.
He found the back of Duncan's head, holding on, and felt rather than heard Duncan's grunt of assent. His hair was as soft as it had always looked, curling around Methos's fingers. And Duncan loved this. Loved making his lovers feel good—making Methos feel good. He breathed in Methos's trembling, his helpless sounds, like air, and it was exactly the way he'd hoped it would be, exactly the way he'd always imagined. Methos tasted both like Amanda and not—he tasted like he smelled—an intoxicating mix that only made Duncan want more.
He could feel how close Methos was. His own pleasure mounted with nothing more than the rough tease of Methos's knee between his legs, and he felt his whole body drawn taut with need. He held on to Methos's fingers and spread his other hand against the angles of Methos's hip, letting Methos set the pace.
It might have been a dozen desperate thrusts; it felt like a lifetime. The shock of release brought Methos back to his own body, and he cried out before he could get a hold of himself. Duncan held on and swallowed the first spasms down before he finally broke away with a sharp gasp and rested his head against Methos's belly, letting Methos spill the rest against his chest and throat. Methos felt hot wetness spurt against his thigh, the back of his knee as Duncan came in abject, helpless response. It was startlingly erotic, and wrung a last, deep spasm of pleasure from him that left him trembling.
He laughed; he couldn't help it. Amanda made an amused sound near his ear, and a few seconds later, Duncan huffed out his agreement.
"See?" Amanda said. "Maybe it's not all bad."
"Understatement," Duncan managed. He rubbed his face against Methos's solar plexus and sagged down between his thighs, the tension running out of him. They were both a mess, and Methos despaired of the sheets. His heart felt like it might levitate out of his chest and take flight.
Amanda kissed Methos at the temple. He closed his eyes, reveling in Duncan's weight against him, in the smell of sex that pervaded the bed. Dimly, he knew that Amanda stroked her hand up and down Duncan's broad back. Methos found the back of her sleek head and tucked her face in against his throat.
There was so much more he could have said. But in the end, the animal comfort of being blanketed and surrounded won out, and sleep came, as deep and profoundly welcome as any he could remember.
* * *
Methos smells the salt and sweet decay of the sea, tasting it on his lips. He's wading in the ocean, the sun warm on his shoulders. In another moment Duncan surfaces and moves toward him, hair long and streaming over his shoulders in a way that it hasn't for years.
With the slow languor of dream, Duncan draws him close. His hands are wide and warm on Methos's skin.
"Come home with me," Duncan says. He pulls Methos close and murmurs it against his ear. "Come home." And Methos says yes with his body, with his heart, says yes in all the ways he knows how.
The dream is Duncan's. Or it isn't—he's not sure. Either way, he'll take it, because this one's a good dream. Not like the ones he'd had after Bordeaux, when he could smell the charred meat, the smoke. The ones that had made it impossible for Methos to meet his eyes once he knew.
This time, it's easy to let himself get lost in the space between, and before long, there isn't any—only the ebb and flow of pleasure, the tender heat of lips and tongue engulfing him, and the sparkle of the sun on the waves.
* * *
Duncan woke when Methos slipped from the bed. He lay awake, half-hard, staring into the dark for a span of minutes that felt like a long time. He remembered the last time they'd slept in the same room, or tried to, with Byron's quickening still settling in his nerves. There'd been no kissing then, and what they'd done couldn't have been called lovemaking. But what had come after—the shared nightmares, amplified and saturated with the bitter mix of memory, need, and betrayal—he couldn't blame Methos for being gun shy.
Finally he got up, pulled on a pair of sweatpants, grabbed a blanket from the chair to wrap around his shoulders, and went to join Methos on the balcony.
Methos glanced away from the lights of the city to give him a wry look. "You look cold."
"I'll live. What about you?"
Methos shrugged. "I'm warm on the inside." He offered the glass he'd been nursing, and Duncan took it. "Happy birthday, by the way."
"Best I've had in a while," Duncan said. He sipped at the cognac, savoring its heat.
Methos said, "Glad to hear it."
He was. Duncan could feel it, stronger now than ever before. But he could also feel how terrified Methos was, how despite the heat of their coupling, his heart was nearly frozen with it.
Duncan knew Methos's fear wasn't for himself, and he didn't need to be able to sense Methos's feelings to know that much. When they'd first met, Methos had offered Duncan his head, and whatever he'd believed might happen that night, Duncan knew he was ready to follow through. If there was one thing Methos had never been, it was a coward.
Methos leaned on the railing, forearms braced against it and the glass cradled between his long, elegant hands. Not for the first time, Duncan felt grateful that they had both survived to see this day. Even in the early days of their friendship, it could so easily have gone differently—before the ugliness of Methos's past reared its head in the present. Before he knew the truth of what Methos had been. He'd felt as betrayed as a jilted lover when he'd come upon Methos preparing to skip town with Kronos, but it had taken him months to understand why Methos had thrown that betrayal in Duncan's face the way he had.
"Can I tell you something?" he asked at last.
"When Richie died, I didn't think I'd survive it. I didn't want to."
"I know. I was there, remember?"
"Yeah. I do. I remember. But you know what else I remember?"
Duncan leaned close enough to feel the warmth of Methos's body, letting their shoulders press together.
"How you were always with me. That whole year, when I was so lost I thought I would never find a way back. Every night the nightmares would come. And every morning, I'd want to die all over again. But then I would close my eyes and I could feel you. Your heartbeat. So faint, but it was there if I listened hard enough. I think it was the only thing that kept me sane."
Methos nodded as if to himself, his profile limned by moonlight. He didn't look at Duncan, but studied his own hands. "So, what are you saying?"
"I'm saying, I've never run from a fight. And neither have you, not when it mattered. Until now."
Methos was silent for a moment. But each word was distinct when he said, "This could destroy us both, and you know it."
"Yeah, it might. But maybe that's not what we're running from."
He touched Methos then, a hand at his elbow, and Methos swallowed and closed his eyes. What they hadn't told Amanda was that Methos had always been at a disadvantage in this—Duncan was the one honed in to Methos radio, receiving on all channels. It went both ways, but not equally. Duncan was the one who got the full Technicolor broadcast, while Methos got only the bass line. Something to do with the way the transfer of energy had worked, or maybe due to their natural gifts, but from the start Duncan had the one whose receptors were wide open, while as near as he understood, Methos got only filtered impressions and tactile echoes.
Duncan often wished he'd kept his mouth shut in those early days about what, exactly, he'd seen in Methos's dreams—but never so much as now.
"It was never that bad," he said, low. "I swear."
Methos's mouth quirked. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
"Methos." Duncan struggled with conflicting impulses, but his fingertips strayed to the gold star still stuck on Methos's cheek. He brushed the backs of his knuckles against it and swallowed. "Tell me no, and I won't press."
Methos's half-smile surfaced as he let out a breath. Then he took a deep one and looked at Duncan at last, the truth of what he felt bared in his eyes. "Since when have I ever been able to tell you no?"
No coward, indeed. Duncan, his heart too full, took Methos's hand and kissed the backs of his fingers.
"I want this to work," he said. "I want you in my life." His voice went rough. "Can we try?"
Methos's eyes shone. He hesitated for what felt like a long time. At last he said, "Duncan—"
"What?" Duncan pressed.
Methos let out a breath. He looked out over the city again, his face a study in conflict. He sounded almost angry when he said, "I can't lose you. Don't you understand? I can't."
But it wasn't anger; Duncan could feel that plain as day. "Yeah. I do." He swallowed, and his voice went rough. "Feeling's mutual, in case you were wondering." He hoped Methos could feel how deeply he meant that, too. "But listen, what happened before. With you and me, when we were together... It made me think, maybe we've been going about this all wrong."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, maybe distance isn't the answer. Maybe what we need is practice."
Methos raised an eyebrow. "Practice?"
Duncan smiled. "Not that kind of practice. I mean you, me, and Amanda. Someplace quiet where we can work on controlling this thing. Learn to live with it. Maybe even use it to our advantage."
To his relief, Methos didn't laugh in his face. He actually looked like he was considering it. "Practice makes perfect?"
"Maybe." Duncan tried the big brown eyes routine, the one Amanda always called him out on. "It's worth a shot, isn't it?"
Methos looked at him for a long moment—maybe the longest of Duncan's life. But the ley lines were wide open between them, and his heart had already started to sing a little, knowing he wasn't the only one who'd spent the last four years walking around like a man who'd lost his right arm.
At last Methos said, with a shrug they both knew for the pretense it was, "What the hell. Why not? It's not like four years on different continents solved anything."
No. It hadn't. Duncan squeezed Methos's bicep, then pulled him roughly into his arms. "Thank you."
Methos brought one arm up to hold onto him. Muffled into Duncan's shoulder, he said, "Don't thank me. We're probably doomed."
Duncan nodded. "I can live with that."
"Yeah," Methos agreed, and his voice was rough. He held on tight. "Me, too."