Now that I am a World-Famous Linguistic Consultant - no cunning linguist jokes, please - rather than a Lowly Graduate Student, I can afford to buy wine worthy of MacLeod's carefully cultivated palate. This pleases me to an embarrassing degree as I stand before the rows of bottles in the shop, though it makes the decision more difficult. Mac didn't say what he'd be serving and it's a delicate business, this choosing a wine; I need something that hints at my regard for him without making any outright declarations. Something subtle yet flattering, I think as I pick up a bottle to check the price. Something that doesn't scream "I'm desperate to suck your cock", I think as I put the bottle back. I dither for half an hour before I roll my eyes at my own ridiculousness and grab a bottle of red and a bottle of white more or less at random.
"Get a grip, Old Man," I mutter to myself on the way to the counter. "You've had dinner with MacLeod a hundred times." Dinner, yes, but never a dinner date. This is a date. I have a date with Duncan MacLeod. The shop keeper gives me a strange look and I realize that I'm still talking to myself. I offer him a Piersonesque smile of apology as I hand over my hard-won Euros. He smiles back, amused. God help me, at this rate I'll be a wreck by the time eight o'clock rolls around.
After about two hours of roaming fruitlessly between translation work to email and back again I finally admit defeat and head to Joe's for pre-dinner drinks. Pre-date drinks. God.
Joe wolf whistles when he sees me. "Hot date tonight?"
"What?" I bristle. "Black jeans, black sweater, what's the big deal?" So I'm wearing the only clothes I own that aren't deliberately two sizes too big; I'm not making some kind of a statement.
But Joe, sensible man that he is, isn't buying it. "Uh huh. So what are you doing tonight then, in your no-big-deal clothes?"
Busted. Still, I try to play it off. "Dinner at Mac's," I say casually.
His eyes widen. "Dinner as in a date!?"
"Did I say it was a date? I eat dinner at Mac's all the time, perfectly platonic dinner."
"Not dressed like that, you don't." His tone is wry, and he cocks an eyebrow at me. "You can't bullshit a bullshitter, my friend. Don't worry, I won't put it in the public chronicle until you guys give me the okay."
"And your private one?"
He chuckles. "Buddy, everything goes in my private one. And don't try to tell me you don't have exactly the same policy."
Joe can be really irritating sometimes, especially when he's right. I don't bother to protest that I keep my journals in a coded version of ancient Sumerian that no one else can read. It would only pique his interest. He pulls out a bottle of excellent whiskey and two glasses.
"I never thought I'd live to see the day he actually got up the nerve," he says as he pours. "When did this happen?"
"Depending on how you look at it, four weeks ago or this afternoon." I pick up my glass, salute him. He clicks his glass against it. We both drink.
"Wow. That's . . . You really think this is going to work?"
"Your confidence is inspiring, Joe." He snorts a laugh but doesn't apologize. "I don't know. I hope so. Probably not. But you know how he is. He's like a terrier with a dead rat when he gets an idea into his head."
"And you're just along for the ride, right? No particular opinion about this."
I can't help smiling. "Maybe a little bit of an opinion. Just a small one." I sigh and take another drink. "Listen, even five thousand years isn't long enough to keep a man from thinking with his dick. It's undoubtedly a bad idea and evidently I'm going to do it anyway."
"Well, good luck to you, my friend. I wish you both every happiness."
By the appointed time, I've had several glasses of whiskey but don't feel any more relaxed. I say my goodbyes to Joe and leave early enough to forego a cab, hoping that the walk will burn off some of the nervousness. It doesn't, but the weather's good and the exercise is pleasant.
MacLeod's new flat is far more practical and anonymous than the barge was, all high ceilings and light in an expensive, old, fashionable building, but I waste a moment of regret for the boat. Despite how I complained at the time, some foolish part of me will always be nostalgic for nights spent curled onto that couch, feeling vaguely seasick every time another vessel passed by. No matter what else happens, Mac will never again regard me with the untarnished innocence he did in those days. It's better, undoubtedly, for both of us, and yet, it's so much harder to hide from myself now that some part of the truth about me is reflected in his eyes.
I shake myself out of my thoughts as I punch the number for Mac's flat into the intercom system. "Candygram," I say when he answers, and I hear him chuckle before the lock buzzes. I don't sense his presence until I'm two floors up - so much more practical than the barge. He's waiting for me in the open doorway of the flat, wiping his hands on a kitchen towel. He smiles a welcome at me, so beautiful it's blinding. When he steps back to usher me in, he doesn't give me quite enough room, so I have no choice but to brush by him.
"Is that a patented MacLeod Standard Move, or did you whip it up especially for me?" I smirk at him but I can't deny, to myself at least, that the proximity has stirred me up.
He looks a little embarrassed as he fires back gamely, "It's all for you, old man. Gets better, too."
"I can hardly wait." I pull out the bottles of wine I've stashed in my oversized coat pockets and hand them to him. "I wasn't sure what was appropriate, so I just grabbed some things at random."
"These are great, thanks. Well, come in. Mi casa, etc." He waves me all the way in and goes back to the kitchen. The living room, kitchen and dining area are all one big open space, true to Mac's penchant for foregoing rooms, but this flat does actually have separate bedrooms, more than one, in fact. I settle on a stool at the pass-through counter and watch him puttering around. He opens the red wine and pours a glass for each of us. It's good and I'm briefly pleased with myself. We make small talk about my translation work, discuss a manuscript he saw at an auction the day before, gossip about whether Joe's sweet on one of his waitresses. We finish the bottle of red. He feeds me chicken in a pepper-cream sauce with steamed vegetables and exquisite Parisian bread. We open, and finish, the bottle of white as we eat dinner. When we're done, Mac piles the dishes in the sink, opens another bottle of red, and we retire to the living room.
He's careful to let me walk ahead of him, leaving the choice of where to sit up to me. I pick the sofa, allowing plenty of room for him next to me, and to my delight, he sits down there, close enough that I can smell his aftershave. It all has the air of a finely choreographed dance, cha-cha-cha-ing its way to an inevitable finale. Except that it isn't a beautiful woman dancing with him, it's me, and we both know that there can be nothing casual about this.
He swirls the wine in his glass and smiles at me. "Normally this is where I'd be asking you to tell me more about yourself."
I chuckle. "Unfortunately, you know all about me already."
"Yeah, right," he scoffs. "It's funny that I feel so close to someone I know so little about."
"God, please don't start with that again," I roll my eyes, but if he starts going on about how he doesn't know who I am, I swear I will not be responsible for my behaviour.
But he waves a hand. "No, I'm not. I do know you, or I feel like I do. I just don't know very much about you, about your history, your life. I can never separate the facts from the smokescreen when you go off on one of your wild stories. I'm not trying to interrogate you, I just want to know about you. I'm interested."
His voice drops to a sexy purr. "Very interested."
The urge to kiss him is very strong, but I hold back. "Duncan, I'm not sure what good you imagine this will do. There's a lot of my life that I don't want to think about myself, much less describe to you."
"Well, it can't all be so awful. In five thousand years, surely there must be something that you wouldn't mind talking about. Tell me something trivial, something small that you haven't told anyone else."
It takes a few seconds to come up with something, but I do try. "Two days ago I wrote a three and a half page journal entry on the term bootylicious."
He cracks up and I give him a play scowl. "Sure, it seems funny now, but in two thousand years when I'm trying to do a translation and I can't remember what the fuck bootylicious means, the extent of my genius will be clear."
"Oh, I think the extent of your genius is clear already. See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" His eyes are shining with affection, and it's all I can do to keep myself from gasping for breath. I could drown in this intimacy he's seeking, suffocate in the warm liquid of his regard. There's nothing I want more than to dive in and hold myself under until I stop struggling.
"Do you write in your journal every day?" he asks as he takes my hand.
"Most days, yes."
He traces a fingertip over the back of my hand, then turns it over and begins following the veins on the inside of my wrist, where the Watcher tattoo used to be. "By hand?" His fingers wander up my palm.
"Yes." My breath comes in shallow pants now; my heart's racing and there's no help for it.
"You have a poet's hands, or a doctor's. Graceful. Strong." He lifts my hand to his mouth and kisses the palm reverently before nibbling his way up my index finger, then sucking the fingertip into his mouth. It's hot and intimate and startlingly provocative and my smoldering arousal turns unquestionably insistent.
After a long moment, he lets go. There's a pause in which my whole life should be flashing before me, but all I can see is Duncan MacLeod's beautiful, lust-darkened eyes. I lean over and kiss him.
I surrender. I surrendered weeks ago, in fact, when I gave up my opportunity to run, because that's what it would have taken to escape this, and even then I would only have been buying time. Duncan tastes of inevitability, of fate. I've finally slowed that final step so he could catch me, and I'm going to have to live with it for the rest of my life, however short or long that may be.
It's worth it. God, is it worth it. His tongue is dancing in my mouth, skillful and tender, and I feel like my every cell is on fire for him. I scoot closer, wind my fingers through his soft, short hair, pull him harder into the kiss. I want more, everything, all of him at once, and at length I pull away just enough to draw breath to speak. I'm about to suggest that we move into the bedroom when the buzz hits us. We leap apart, cursing, and scramble for our swords.
When the knock comes at the door, we've both just barely managed to arm ourselves. We're panting, disheveled, distracted, in no way prepared to fight anyone. It wouldn't be the first time I've had to duel while sporting an erection, but I had a much better use for it in mind.
"Duncan, darling, it's me!"
Amanda. God damn Rebecca for ever taking that girl to train. I blow out all my breath and lower my sword as Duncan opens the door. Amanda strolls in, perfectly at home, and steps right into Duncan's arms. They kiss deeply, and there's a hollow pit where my stomach used to be.
No fool like an old fool - had I actually believed that there could be something between MacLeod and me? That I'd be something more than a comrade-in-arms, a fuck-buddy, someone to fill the lonely nights when Amanda wasn't around? That Mac was offering something more than a friendship with benefits when he asked me to stay six months?
I dart around them and yank my coat from the peg near the door, and I'm gone before they even notice. I should pack. I can do my consulting from anywhere, really; I've always liked Brussels. I wouldn't even have to change identities, but I could. Easily. I've got three bolt-hole spares just waiting, all equipped with accounts and even property. My books - I'll need the books from the office, the other memoirs which remain to be translated, dictionaries. I've done this a thousand times, ten thousand, why do the details seem so overwhelming all of a sudden?
Breaking into a trot, I'm down the stairs and out the building. I stumble over an uneven spot in the pavement as I turn the corner and careen into the brick wall. I slam my fist against it, twice. My hand breaks, of course, and now I'm bleeding all over myself as well. I'm not even sure what language I'm cursing in as I force myself onward down the street.
Brussels. Right. Or Los Angeles, maybe. That's not a bad idea - somewhere warm, with broadband. Books. Office. By tomorrow this will all be just another unpleasant memory, only keep moving. One step after the other, one step ahead of your thoughts, old man. Keep moving.