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sleight of hand and twist of fate

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“So how long have you had the boy working under you?”

James isn’t terribly sure what he thinks of Will Zimmerman just yet. He’s bright, certainly, but bright has never been enough of a deciding factor to make Helen do something so unconventional. After her last protege passed, she’d not taken another one for years and years and James had thought her done with that whole business. He’d been wrong, clearly.

“Will? Just a few months now. He’s made admirable progress,” Helen says and James knows she’s distracted. A mention of Will when she’s not expecting it sets her breathing off-pace and leaves a bit of a hitch in her voice. She cares for him. She cares for him in the way a mentor ought not care for her protege. It had been a long time since he’d brought Helen Magnus into his bed but James suspects it’s not something you forget, how she looks when she’s flushed with pleasure. How she flirts. How she’s demanding and sweet by turns.

“I meant, darling, how long has he been under you,” James says, putting emphasis on that one word to see if she’ll out herself. She may, she may not, but he’s always been a fan of biding his time and playing the long game. If there’s something there between them, a spark however small, he’ll suss it out sooner rather than later. It’s always been the way he’s been around Helen and she knows it.

“Don’t be crass, James. I haven’t slept with him. I don’t take on proteges solely to satisfy my base sexual urges.” She’s upset, clearly, and the flush down her neck indicates that she’s flustered because she has been thinking about it; otherwise, James is reasonably sure she would have just laughed it off and moved on to other, more important topics of conversation.

“It’s really sad, the way you close yourself off, Helen. The way you deny what feels good in order to serve some greater good. I doubt highly that’s what anyone would have wanted for you.” James pauses, watching her face. She’s flustered, she’s twitchy and above all, she looks like she’s about to storm off and freeze him out: typical Helen Magnus. All of it.

“It’s not what I would have wanted for you. I’m sorry that my own...physical limitations diminished what we could have together. We’ve been friends long enough that I can be honest about that.”

The touch of sincerity seems to have melted her a bit and where she’d normally storm off, she simply lays a hand against his shoulder and squeezes lightly. It’s a good move, on his part, and leaves her open to further, more non-traditional opportunities later. James isn’t always playing the game but this time, at least, he feels like he needs to play so that Helen can win. She deserves more than she ever allows herself.


Will Zimmerman is something harder to pin down. While Helen’s busy in the labs he’s been in his office, the library and the roof in turns. James isn’t fond of the lifts in the Old City Sanctuary and has never been excessively fond of heights but he manages to push that down in order to follow Zimmerman up to the roof. He’s brooding, the boy, and James thinks he’s too young to do that; only men who’ve seen empires rise and fall really have any business brooding over the state of humanity. Besides, he’s handsome, and while James has always been more drawn to Helen than anyone else, his proclivities otherwise tend to be evenly split down the middle. Zimmerman’s not a bad choice.

He’s built like a runner, all long, lithe muscles and barely-restrained energy. His breathing’s slow and steady, runner’s pace, and James misses the days when he too could run. He used to, long ago, and it had always been his favorite form of exercise because the mind could focus on the most intricate of puzzles without a distraction. James finds himself wondering what else that stamina might be good for.

“Didn’t realize you were up here,” Will says, sliding his hands in his pockets. It makes him look impossibly young and while that shouldn’t be a turn-on, it strangely is. The innocent, the uninitiated, the wide-eyed and wonderful - it’s been so long since James was any of those things that the allure of youth has always drawn him in. His lovers tend to be younger, except for Helen, because in a way he can recapture that which he lost long ago.

“Some keen observer you are, then. Did you not hear the whir of my machines? The hum of what keeps me alive?” James has a fond smile, though, because he too has been so lost in thought before that he can’t hear or see anything except what he’s focused on. It’s proven essential in both professional and personal pursuits. He wonders what Will Zimmerman is like when he’s less than professional, when he drops the ingenue act to let pure need take over. He wonders if those eyes are just as keen when it’s scraps of silk between a woman’s legs he’s analyzing instead of fibers at a crime scene. He hopes so.

“Just a little lost in thought,” Will admits, sheepish smile. He’s very good at projecting the non-threatening image and James wonders how much of it is a put-on to put his patients at ease and how much is genuine. It’s always easier to get someone to talk if they don’t feel cornered and threatened and Will Zimmerman’s the sort that blends into the background, becomes part of the scenery. He’s not extraordinary on a first or second pass but should a person come back for more, that bland surface dressing belies a keen mind and a thirst for more. James wonders how far that extends.

He walks closer, standing on the edge of the roof near Will, and loosens his cravat slightly. It’s time to experiment, to play, and see just how far Will’s fascination with him truly runs. Is it merely intellectual? Or does the protege want a little more than that? James has seduced men before, men who don’t normally care for sex with other men, and he has every confidence that he could get Will Zimmerman into his bed with a modicum of effort, especially if Helen’s part of that package. James has seen the way he looks at her, the way he orbits her, and he knows that if she beckons, he’ll come running. It’s just a matter of setting the pieces in motion.

“One must wonder what must be going through your head. Your childhood idol, of sorts, here in the flesh and you have to have a million questions. Yet, you fear being seen as an amateur, fear Helen thinking you’re a gawking boy, so you’re reserved. Your hands in your pockets tell me you’re feeling vulnerable and now that I’m closer, you’re even more fascinated. Eyes widened, pupils’s like a drug, being this close to me, and you’re resisting. You’re resisting out of some need to protect the ego, protect yourself, but I can go ahead and tell you that you needn’t make the effort. I am not here to go toe to toe with you intellectually even though I think you might give me more a challenge than I’ve had of late. I’m here for purely selfish reasons.”

Will’s breath catches slightly, just a quick, sharp puff in the cool night air and it’s in that moment that James knows he’s struck a nerve. There’s a crack now and with the proper leverage, he can pry him open and see what makes him work. What does make Will Zimmerman tick, exactly? What drives him to the edge of control and makes him lose it? What will make him look at James and Helen as more than luminaries and mentors and something more base and filthy? James desperately wants to find out.

He draws one hand along Will’s arm, watching as the other man’s breath catches again. It’s a delicate game, this, and he’s not sure if Will’s ever considered sleeping with someone of the same sex before. James never considered it until John and Oxford and the longer he lived, the less important gender became. People were people, of all shapes and sizes and it was personalities and hearts that got him in the end, not the physical aspect. Some of James’ most satisfying relationships hadn’t involved sex at all but this one, he hopes, will. It’s been quite a long time for him.

“What uh...what kind of selfish reasons? Because I’m getting an idea and I’m not sure if I’m going the right direction with it.” James laughs, low and warm, and tugs at the collar of Will’s light jacket to bring him close. His lips are within inches of Will’s and he wonders if they’ll feel soft beneath his, as one might assume they would, or if there’s a heat and a passion in Will Zimmerman that’s simply been unrealized up until this point. He’s hoping for the latter.

“I want you, Will, and more than that, I suspect you want me too. I suspect you’re nursing an infatuation with Helen, your mentor, the illustrious Dr. Magnus and I think in absence of interference it will become something that you will assiduously deny in order to preserve your relationship with her. I think you’ve never been with a man before but that I intrigue you enough that you’re willing to try. What if I told you that I wanted you to meet Helen and I in her rooms tonight, precisely an hour from now, and that I could promise you more than you’ve ever experienced before?”

Before he can protest, James crushes his mouth against Will’s, pleased to find he’s not nearly as soft as he might have feared. On the contrary, after a few beats of shock, Will’s hand comes up to cup the back of James’ head and he slants his mouth over his, deepening the kiss in a way that James hadn’t dared at first. It’s a struggle for control for a few moments, his tongue sliding against the younger man’s, and when Will pulls away, his breath is short and his eyes are glassy with pleasure and need.

“An hour, yeah. Be there. I’ll uh, bring me, I guess?”


“You told him what? Dear God, James, that isn’t the kind of relationship we have!” James is settled in a chair near Helen’s door, one leg crossed over the other and a tumbler of brandy in his hand. His cravat’s long gone, stuffed into his pocket sometime after he kissed Will Zimmerman on the roof and he hopes the rest of his clothes will be disappearing in the next few minutes. He can manage alone, always has, but it’s much more pleasurable if Helen helps. He trusts she will, once she’s over her initial shock.

“He’ll be here shortly, Helen, and I hate to disappoint him. He’s expecting the two of us to give him quite the evening and I know how you so hate to disappoint your guests. You’ve always shown a man a good time.” She’s flustered, yes, but not saying no. James uncrosses his legs and sips at the brandy one last time before putting it down and when he speaks, his voice is low and calm.

“Undress, Helen. Put on the black silk, you know the one. Paris, 1953? I bought it for you in that little shop and we christened it back in the dressing room?” The flush creeps down her neck and chest and she nods, crossing over to her bureau and pulling out the aforementioned negligee before efficiently unbuttoning her trousers and pushing them down. Her shirt is next, over her head, and James watches as she carefully loses each item of clothing and folds it before tossing the negligee over her head.

Her hair is messy, a wild tumble of chestnut curls, and James wonders if Will is going to want to pull it, thread his fingers in it, hold her head down over his lap while she blows him. He hopes so. He wants a nice show and he has every confidence that Helen and Will can perform to his exacting standards. Once she’s dressed, as it was, he motions her close with a crook of his fingers and threads his hands in that hair while she kneels and undoes his trousers. He can’t be acrobatic any longer, it’s true, but one doesn’t have to move very much when Helen Magnus’ exceedingly-talented mouth is fitted around one’s cock.

He’s tipped his head back in pleasure when the door swings open and the startled sound he hears is half-choked and very clearly belonging to one Will Zimmerman. James would be amused if Helen wasn’t busy and he tugs lightly at her hair to pull her off. They’ve been together enough times that words are hardly necessary between them but he can’t help the “Darling,” that tumbles from his lips.

When Helen looks up, her lips are swollen and red and her eyes are impossibly blue. She and Will are beautiful, both of them, and it takes James a moment to recover before he’s able to issue another command. It’s easier when he’s in charge of this, easier to pull the strings, and he hopes Will is as compliant as Helen has always been. James wraps a hand around his cock and strokes lazily, trying to keep a slow, easy pace so he doesn’t lose himself before Helen and Will lose themselves in each other.

“Helen, undress him. I want you to take your time with it, darling, make him want it.” It’s cooler and calmer than James really ought to be but he has to stay this way lest he lose himself in the hedonist pleasures of sex in general and Helen Magnus in particular. Will Zimmerman’s an unexpected and pleasant surprise too, especially when Helen unbuttons his shirt and pushes it back off his shoulders to reveal strong shoulders and a lean, flat abdomen. James slows his strokes, brushing his thumb over the head of his cock at ever pass, and leans back further in the chair.

“Kneel, Helen. Will, hands in her hair.” The commands come easier now, especially now that Will’s eyes have closed and his hands have threaded in Helen’s curls while she deftly tugs at his belt and pushes down jeans and boxers in one smooth movement. Helen looks to him then, blue eyes wide, and though she doesn’t speak, James knows she’s waiting for the next command and he’s all too happy to give it to her.

“Use your mouth, Helen. Her mouth is positively filthy, Will, and I want you to be vocal about how good she makes you feel. Let every thought pass between your lips, no filter, no fear of embarrassment. Anything crass you want to say, talk about how it feels to have her lips wrapped around you and her tongue stroking your cock. Make me believe you want her.”

“Never done this for an audience before,” Will protests and James cuts him a sharp look. That’s not part of the scenario, embarrassment, and James wants it clear that it won’t be allowed. He supposes Will can control the next bit, walk out and leave, but he also suspects he’s too intrigued and too turned on to do anything so stupid as that. His eyes drop shut again, thick lashes fanned beneath, and James wonders if the man knows he’s beautiful. Probably not - Will is blissfully unaware of himself.

“Your fucking mouth, Magnus. I’ve been dreaming about you wrapping your lips around my cock since the first night I met you, been thinking about what it’d be like to have someone as gorgeous as you sucking me off like the world’s classiest porn star. I bet you can take me deep, can’t you? Yeah,” Will murmurs, low, and his hips thrust against Helen’s mouth. James knows from experience she can take him deep and the fellatio from before is a fresh enough memory that James recalls it while he strokes his own cock.

“That’s it. Use her. Use her mouth, she’s yours. Fuck her, William.” It’s William when speaking to him now, more formal, because ‘Will’ has never been an entirely natural affectation for James to use. William makes more sense, makes him seem more than the messy clothes and unassuming looks might imply and he hopes the other man will live up to those expectations. For all he is unassuming, Will (William) is very bright and James doesn’t think he’ll have to spell things out.

Will pulls her head away and drags Helen to her feet, one hand roughly cupping a breast while he captures her mouth in a kiss that’s more a power struggle than anything else. His cock is still hard, pressing low against Helen’s silk-clad belly, and James finds that while this wasn’t in the plan or in his instructions, he wants to see it. He wants to allow this, more than anything, and maybe when they’ve lost themselves he can lose himself too.

Helen’s bed is a four-poster, something she’d picked up in Austria ages and ages ago and the wood is fine enough quality that James has no trouble believing it will hold up to them. It might be a bit uncomfortable for young William, yes, but he hopes that he’ll be distracted by other, more pleasurable things and not be thinking about the wood digging into his spine.

“Bring her where I can see, Helen, your back to me? Actually,” James says, standing with no small amount of effort and dragging the chair closer and turn it around so they can use the wall instead. It’s worth it, to have the chance to do this. “I want to be close enough to touch her, while you have her, and I want to spill over her back. Helen, you always did have the most beautiful derriere.”

If Will finds the archaic phrasing awkward, he makes no mention of it, quick to bring Helen to the wall and hitch her leg up over his hip. It’s harder to thrust with her on top, James knows from experience, but he appreciates Will’s enthusiasm all the same. He’s close, his eyes darkening with lust and his teeth nipping a haphazard line along Helen’s neck and shoulder. James is trying to time it, trying to be sure that when Will comes, he’s coming too and he manages about two beats too late. Will’s teeth are sunk into Helen’s shoulder, leaving a bright mark, and James is coming against the smooth, pale skin of Helen’s back and bottom. She hasn’t come yet, it takes a little more, but that doesn’t stop James from reaching out and smearing his come against her skin while Will thrusts upward one last time.

Her breaths are shaky as Will pushes her back and James stands, his trousers and shorts falling to his knees. It’s awkward, yes, but he hopes he and Will are skilled enough that this won’t take very long. He draws Helen back to his chest and ignores the way the chair presses against his calves; he can forsake physical comfort for a few more moments of pleasure, especially when it’s for Helen.

“On your knees, William,” he commands but his voice is shakier, threadier than before. Helen instinctively spreads her thighs and James slides a hand around her hip to part her labia, playing in the slick wet there, and when he feels Will’s tongue lapping at both her and his fingers, James draws them away. He cups one hand behind Will’s head, fingers playing in sweat-damp curls, while the other slides up to cup Helen’s breast and tease her. His voice is low and hot against her ear.

“Come for us, Helen. He’s done admirably, your little protege, and we both need you to come. Now.” It’s punctuated with his mouth fitting over the bright spot that Will had sucked and bitten on her shoulder when he came and Helen shudders in his arms, trembling beneath the combined efforts of he and Will. She’s careful not to slump back against him, though, too used to James and his own physical limitations, and her fingers tangle with his in Will’s hair. It’s intimate in a way that James hasn’t been with anyone in a long time and it feels fitting that it’s Helen he’d share it with.

It doesn’t take long for Will to rise to his feet and he and Helen both take the time to move the chair out of the way and help James undress, fingers tender and deft in turns. He needs to rest now, he’s exerted himself entirely too much, and Helen and Will work in concert in a way that reminds James of he and Helen, long ago.

When they’re settled in bed, Will between them, Helen reaches across the other man to cup James’ cheek and her eyes are soft and tender in a way he hasn’t seen in a long while. Helen doesn’t often reveal her emotions, too dangerous, and James feels touched that she’s sharing that with him now. He’s even more touched that she’s letting Will see it, a perceived weakness, and he suspects the young protege may be able to fill his shoes in more ways than just the obvious.

“Thank you, James.”

He smirks, confident, and shakes his head. No thanks are necessary. Not between them. Not in this.

“Think nothing of it, darling. Say, young William. Are you up for another round? Ready to rise to the challenge?”

The laugh is all the answer he needs, especially when Will follows it up with a kiss that’s nothing even remotely approaching hesitant. James is dimly aware of Helen’s laughter, in the background, but for right now he’s going to simply live in the moment, this moment, and worry about the rest later.