Even Horses Have Birthdays
by Ashlyn Donnchaid

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story grew from a first person point of view challenge. It takes place after The Messenger and before Comes A Horseman. In relation to my other work, it is about a month after Friends Are Worth It.

The large blanket covered lump in the bed hadn't moved as I cleaned up the loft. It had slept through the sound of the shower. It showed no signs of responding to the aroma of a pot of brewing kona. Subtle didn't look like it was going to work, but then, it usually didn't in the morning. I poured two mugs of coffee and went and sat on the edge of the bed to try the direct approach.

"Hey. Methos. Wake up." I shook the lump gently. "We've got to be at Joe's in less than two hours." The answer I got was less than coherent, and it was probably just as well that it was muffled by the blankets. Fortunately, I think, the only thing could make out was 'MacLeod'. He'd never been a morning person, and I'd learned some pretty interesting curses the times I tried to change that. "I've got coffee." Slowly, the lump moved and a head emerged from the blankets. He sat up, looking bleary eyed and rumpled.

"Yeah. Thanks." The last was in response to the coffee being handed to him. He held the mug in one hand and with the other one rubbed his face and then ran it through his hair. I'd never admit it to him, but I always thought he was kind of cute when he'd been sleeping.

"So what's this thing we're going to? And who in their right mind would have planned it for the day after New Year's Eve?"

I had to smile at that. "New Year's Day. It's called New Year's Day." He gave me a withering look and I tried very hard not to laugh. He was never at his best in the morning. "And I have no idea what it is. All I know is that Joe said we had to be at his house at two o'clock, no questions and no excuses."

"I guess we'd better be there, then." He held out his mug for more, so I refilled both, then took his back to him. He was starting to look more awake. "What time did we get to bed last night?"

"After the champagne and the beer and the scotch tasting ... probably about three. And it's past noon now."

"Right. And we have a command performance at two."

I smiled again. "That's right."

"And you've showered and cleaned up and done all those things that morning people do."

"Right again."

"Wonderful. OK, let me finish my coffee and I'll shower and get ready."

"Good. I'm going down to get a paper." I got the local paper for me and grabbed a tabloid for Methos. I couldn't understand the attraction those rags had for him, but it wasn't a big deal to indulge him. And I liked indulging him. He was snide and impossible and lately I couldn't imagine life without him. By the time I got back to the loft, he was in the shower. When he came out of the bathroom, he started rummaging through the armoire.

"Hey, Duncan. OK if I wear this?" I looked up at the cream wool fisherman's sweater he was holding. It was one of my favorites and had become one of his, too.

"Help yourself." It meant a lot to me that he would ask. One of the most difficult things for us to work through had been my territorialism. Somehow, he'd understood from the beginning which things I was most possessive about, and usually left them alone or asked first. I hoped I was learning to share more, but I wasn't always sure.

"Great. Thanks." He pulled on the sweater, then a pair of black jeans and looked at himself critically in the mirror. "You know, this looks better on me than you. I think you should let me keep it." He glanced at me, to see if I'd rise to the bait. When I didn't, he finally gave up. "You think this is OK for whatever Joe has planned?"

"Since when do you care what you wear?" Another glare was sent my way, and this time I did laugh. "I'm sure it'll be fine, unless you're looking to be on the cover of GQ."

"And what would be wrong with that?" As he talked he went to the kitchen and filled his mug, then came back and sat on the couch. "I've done some work in the fashion business."

I almost choked at that. "What century would that have been?"

"All right, so it was a while ago. Things don't change that much."

"Sure they don't. Were the togas three or five button then?"

"Funny, MacLeod." He sat back on the couch and picked up his tabloid, holding it in front of his face. I grinned and went back to my own paper.

We'd worked our way through most of the news and finished the pot of coffee when it was time to head to Joe's. I closed my paper and stood up. "You ready?"

He looked up and nodded. We grabbed our coats on the way out and climbed in the T-Bird. The drive to Pimlico Street would take us about 20 minutes.

It was kind of a dreary first of January, a fine mist in the air, the sky flat gray with clouds and the roads wet. Just the sort of day that made me think about putting a fireplace in the loft. Of course, any time I mentioned it to him, all I got was jokes about bearskin rugs. So there was no fireplace. Yet.

I parked on the street right in front of the house. My knock on the door was answered quickly. Joe ushered us in with a smile and a big hello, then disappeared into his kitchen.

"Hi guys!"

"Hey, Rich. What are you doing here?"

"Same as you. I got my instructions from Joe to be here and not ask questions. So here I am. I heard there would be free food, though."

His appetite was the stuff of legend and I had to laugh. "No doubt there will be. I'll see if we can give him a hand." I went into the kitchen to see what Joe was up to.

"Out of my kitchen, Mac." I started to retreat. "Hold it. Take the coffee. There's mugs on the table already." I picked up the pot and took it to the living room and poured as instructed. Richie had gotten Methos started on a story about New Years' past, and I listened for a minute, then took my mug and went to lean on the door to the kitchen. Joe looked up, ready to speak, but I was quicker.

"I'm not in. Just watching." He nodded and went back to what looked like hollandaise. "So, Joe. What's this all about?"

He looked up at me with a grin on his lips and a hint of mischief in his eyes. "It's a birthday party."

I was puzzled. "For who? It's nobody's birthday."

"For Methos."

"It's not his birthday."

"How do you know?" He had a point. I didn't know. "Did you see how he looked when we went out on your birthday?"

Truthfully, I hadn't noticed. It was the first birthday I'd actually celebrated since Tessa died, and I'd been working hard that night on not letting those memories ruin the evening. And now Joe was telling me I'd missed something pretty important, but all I said to him was, "No. I didn't notice."

"Didn't think you had." He stirred his sauce for a minute. "You two doing OK?"

"I think so. We're still figuring some things out, but, yeah, we're doing OK." I smiled a little, remembering how easily Joe had accepted this change in my life. More easily than I had at first. I was grateful for his friendship and that he'd been there for me when I had needed help to think things through.

He looked at me a minute, then nodded. "Good."

I still needed to know what I'd missed that evening. "What about Methos on my birthday?"

"He just looked a little sad, that's all. He's the only one of us who doesn't have any idea when his birthday is. You know yours, Richie knows his and I know mine. He won't admit it, but I think he's a little envious that we all have days to celebrate and he doesn't."

I felt a stab of guilt at having been so absorbed in my own memories that I'd missed something important to the man I cared so much about. And it bothered me to be reminded that when I was brooding over something that I could be so oblivious to the people around me. But I wasn't going to let it stop me from admitting that Joe was probably right. "Why New Year's Day?"

"Why not? I looked in all the records and couldn't even find a hint, so I started thinking about how to pick a day. Then I remembered what they do for racehorses."

"Of course. They all get a year older on the first of January."

"I figured if it was good enough for the sport of kings, it was good enough for Methos." He tasted his sauce, then added a little salt. "You think he'll like it?"

"I think he'll love it. Thanks, Joe. This is a terrific idea." I was so delighted with what Joe had planned for Methos that I could hardly contain myself. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to shout how happy it made me to be part of something that would make Methos happy. Instead I settled for the big grin I didn't seem to be able to keep off my face. "What can I do to help?"

Joe was grinning back. "Nothing. Really. I've got the lunch under control. Come back in a few minutes and I'll let you carry things to the dining room, but till then, go keep them company. I won't be that long here."

Doing my best to keep the grin off my face, I sat on the couch next to Methos and put my arm around him. He flashed me a quick smile and leaned into me as he continued his tale for Richie. As he talked, I noticed that Richie had turned away and was staring at his hands. Putting a hand on Methos' arm, I stopped his story.

"Richie? Is something wrong?" He looked up slowly, and his face was flushed. "Are you OK?"

"I'm fine."

"I think we're embarrassing him." Taking my arm off his shoulder, Methos moved a few inches away from me, then looked at Richie. "Is that better?"

Now he was really red, and I knew Methos was right.

"I'm sorry." Richie fidgeted with his mug for a minute. "It's just ... it's going to take me a while to get used to this." He waved a hand in our direction.

Add another entry to the oblivious ledger for Duncan MacLeod. I'd been so ... the only description that seemed to fit was 'swept away' ... by everything that had happened in the last month that I hadn't given any thought to how Richie would feel about it. Not that I would have changed anything I did, but I could have made the time to talk to him. I'd have to fix that, and soon.

"It's OK, Rich. It's going to take me a while to get used to it, too." Methos looked at me quickly and I thought I saw confusion or concern in his eyes, but it was gone so fast I wasn't sure. I took his hand and held it a moment to reassure him that there was nothing he needed to worry about.

The mood in the room had gotten too serious, so I encouraged Methos to finish his story for Richie. I sat back and listened as he went on, spinning a tale that I was sure he was making up as he went along, but he had Richie hanging on every word. Methos had just started describing something about olive oil and farm animals that I wasn't sure I wanted to know, when Joe came in the room and listened for a minute and started laughing quietly.

"You don't actually believe any of that, do you?" He looked from Richie to Methos, and the gaze he leveled at Methos left no doubt what he thought of his story.

Methos sat back with a look of wide-eyed innocence. "Now, Joe, do you really think I would make up something like that?"

"Only if you thought you could convince somebody to believe you." He turned to Richie and grinned. "Don't believe a thing he tells you. He may be 5000 years old, but all that's done is give him more time to think up tall tales for the unsuspecting." Then he looked at me. "And you can give me a hand now."

I couldn't get off the couch and into the kitchen fast enough. The second I was through the door, I doubled over in laughter. Joe glared at me for a minute, then started laughing himself. "You shouldn't let him do things like that to Richie."

"How would you suggest I stop him?"

"I don't know. Gag him. Muzzle him. Something." He looked toward the living room as we both heard laughter start there, too.

"Sounds like they've managed to come to an understanding."

"I guess so." He shook his head as he started to hand me things to carry. By the time everything was moved to the dining room, we'd both managed to pull ourselves together. "Here. Look at this." He pulled out a pink bakery box and opened it. Inside was a chocolate cake with white decoration, inscribed 'Happy Birthday Methos'. "After lunch, I want you to bring it in. Put this in the middle of it." He handed me one small candle. "And don't forget to light it. Here's some matches."

"I think I can manage that." I was grinning again at all that Joe had done to make this day special for Methos.

"Good. Now, go get them into the dining room."

I had to interrupt another of Methos' tall tales to get the two of them to move. Seemed that once Richie got over being kidded, he liked the stories whether they were true or not. It felt good to see the two of them getting along so well. One like the son I'd never have, the other, still not exactly defined but very important to me. Friend? Definitely. Lover? Enthusiastically. Beyond that, I wasn't sure I knew or if I was ready to try to give it a name.

"Earth to MacLeod." Richie waved a hand in front of my face. I grabbed it as it went by.

"Yeah. I'm here." I let go of his hand and gave him a gentle shove toward the dining room. "Get going. I'm right behind you."

We took our time over lunch, talking about nothing in particular. The sense of family that I had with these people warmed a spot in my soul that had been frozen over for some time. If I was being honest, it was a place I closed off myself when I lost Tessa. And now there was a reason to open it up again. I sat back and let myself enjoy that feeling, listening as they chatted quietly. After we finished eating, Joe asked me to clear things and I knew it was time for the cake. Candle placed and lit, I carried it in and put it on the table in front of Methos.

"Surprise. Happy Birthday." I stood behind him with my hands on his shoulders.

He turned and smiled, then shook his head. "It's not my birthday."

"How do you know?" Joe challenged him.

He had a wistful smile on his face. "I guess I don't really know. I can't remember."

"And in all the research I did in the Watcher records, I didn't find a date you'd chosen to use."

His voice softened. "No, I never even picked a date to pretend was mine."

I caressed his shoulders gently. "Well, now you've got one. Picked for you by your friends."

Richie had sat smiling quietly, but now asked the question I had asked Joe earlier. "Why New Year's Day?"

Smiling, I nodded at Joe. "Ask him. It was his idea."

"I borrowed the idea from the sport of kings. Figured if it was good enough for them it was good enough for us. And Methos."

"Sport of kings?"

"Horse racing, Richie. All race horses celebrate on the same day. January first. Like I said, if it's good enough for the noble thoroughbred, it's good enough for Methos."

Richie sat and thought about that for a minute, then started laughing softly. "Well, I have to admit he's got the nose for it."

"Richie!" I was furious that he'd insult Methos that way, and then I felt the shoulders in my hands shaking. Looking into his face, I realized Methos was laughing with him. I gave up and joined them in the joke.

"Now I have a question. Why only one candle?" Methos had blown out the one on the cake and set it aside. "Couldn't afford 5000?"

"More like I couldn't afford the cake to put them on," Joe answered. "And I figured since it was your first official birthday with us, you could start counting there. Then add 5000 to that."

I sat down again as he cut the cake. He was smiling and joking, but I could see something else in his eyes, a slightly faraway look. I hoped it was because he was happy, not that we'd hit a nerve that we didn't know about.

It was evening before we headed home, having helped Joe clean up and getting a promise from Richie to stop by soon. I followed Methos through the door and gave him enough time to hang up his coat, then grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back to me and kissed his neck.

"So, was that worth getting up for this morning?" He turned, kissed me quickly, then slipped out of my grip and headed toward the fridge.

"I guess so." I could hear the smile in his voice. He opened the fridge and pulled out two beers. "But, you know, I think there was something missing."

"What?" I took my bottle and caught his hand before he could flip his beer cap into the corner. He grinned and dropped the cap in the trash.

"Presents." He stood leaning against the kitchen island. "Seems to me I remember that most people get presents on their birthday."

"You got a birthday for your birthday. What more do you want?"

He frowned as if deep in thought, then his face brightened. "I know. A pony."

I laughed. "A pony? What would you do with a pony?"

"I don't know. It's only my first birthday, remember?" He was laughing, too.

"Try again. What would you really like?"

He'd stopped laughing and spoke softly, intensely. "I think I've already got everything I want."

His words and the way he said them reached deeply into me, and I moved to where he stood and took him in my arms. "Me, too," I whispered, but his moods were like quicksilver, and he was grinning and moving away from me in the next minute.

"Careful, MacLeod. You weren't the only person there this afternoon." As he talked, he'd gone to the living room and sprawled in his usual style on the couch.

I went and pushed his legs onto the floor and sat down next to him. "Maybe not, but if I got my facts right, I'm the one you came home with."

"True." He reached out and put his hand on my cheek, running his thumb over my lips. "Probably your good looks and Boy Scout attitude."

Grasping his hand, I kissed the palm. "Wouldn't have anything to do with being good in bed, would it?"

He'd put his beer down and leaned in for a longer kiss. "There's that ego again. Need to keep an eye on that."

"I can think of things I'd rather keep an eye on." My bottle joined his on the coffee table and I took his face in my hands, kissing first one eye, then the other, then the end of his nose. I paused a moment to look in his eyes before kissing him on the mouth. He met me with strength, opening and sharing, but not yielding. I was learning that I didn't always need to be in control. Having a lover who was my equal in strength and will and everything that mattered was still new to me.

I wanted him, but that was nothing unusual for me lately. I wanted him almost every moment I was awake. It was a need I felt in my whole body, to hold, to touch, to join both physically and spiritually with him. It made what we did so much more than just sex. We were truly making love. And I wanted to do that now.

Standing up, I reached out my hand. "Bed?"

He took it and pulled himself off the couch. "Think you can wait that long?"

I smiled as I led him to the foot of the bed. "I'm not the one who complains about rug burns. Up to you."

He reached to start unbuttoning my shirt. "Bed's fine."

"Thought it would be." I pulled the sweater over his head.

"Usually is." He slipped out of his jeans and boots.

"Of course," I said as I took off the rest of my clothes, "if we had a fireplace, I could get that bearskin rug you keep talking about."

He moved close, reaching to take the tie out of my hair. "Too hard to keep clean. Nobody knows how to take proper care of skins anymore."

"I can think of a few things to do with skin." I pulled him down on the bed.

"I said skins, not skin." He moved to lie on top of me.

I poked his ribs. "One skin." Then I touched my chest. "Two skins."

He laughed softly. "Very well. You win."

My fingers traced the length of his back. "What do I win?"

He leaned down and kissed me. "Will that do for now?"

"I don't know. I think I need another sample." I pulled his head down again and kissed him deeply. All the joking left me as I held him. This was what I wanted. To feel his skin warm against mine. To have my hands on his back and buttocks pressing him to me. I ached, wanting to possess him, and at the same time wanting this to last as long as possible.

I rolled him off so we were facing each other, without letting our mouths lose contact. I couldn't. I wanted the taste of him, the feel of his teeth and tongue. More than that, I still needed to touch him. My hands started on his face and caressed down his neck, over his chest and waist. I hadn't lost my fascination with his lean angularity, with the silken skin over whipcord muscle. With the hardness of his body that was like no other lover I'd ever taken.

With kisses and little bites, I worked my way down his beautiful, vulnerable neck, lingering over the pulse point at the base. I felt more than heard the purring sound deep in his chest. I was never sure which of us enjoyed this more, me touching him or him being touched. I knew both of us were achingly hard. I also knew neither of us wanted to rush.

He turned his head and his lips brushed my ear. "I know what I want." It was barely a whisper. "For my birthday."

I kept nuzzling his neck. "What?"

"You." He nipped at my ear.

"Too easy." I started to kiss along his breast bone. "You already have me."

"Good." He pushed me onto my back. "Then I can do what I want, right?"

I took hold of his hand and kissed his palm. "I'm in your hands." I wondered briefly what he might have in mind. I knew he wasn't likely to do anything we both wouldn't enjoy, so I dismissed the thought, laying back and awaiting his pleasure.

I didn't have long to wait. He moved over me and slid one leg between mine and lay down slowly, trapping our cocks between us, firm muscles surrounding our twin hardness. Every small breath we took changed the pressure on my cock, making me even harder, as if such a thing were possible. I already felt as if all my blood had rushed to that one place, the only pulse I had the steady throbbing of my need. He leaned down and kissed me, his hands in my hair, fingers moving in small circles, caressing, at the same time holding me where he wanted me.

His mouth was gentle, then demanding, then teasing. Teeth and tongue played along my jaw and neck until all I could do was let my head fall back and moan softly at each touch. Running my hands over his back, I felt the outline of his shoulder blades and the length of his spine. Silk over steel. It was what his body always felt like to me. I loved touching him. My fingertips barely grazed the skin as I stroked every inch of his back. I felt the shiver that ran through him as I caressed him and tasted his quiet moan. Holding his buttocks, I pressed my hips upward, unable to stay still under him. The feel of my cock against his was almost too good. The sweat on our skin made us both slippery and sticky where we touched.

He moved, working his way down my body with kisses, licks and bites. Lips and teeth alternated their torment, scraping my skin, then soothing with a kiss. Each touch brought its own sensation, one hot, another smooth, the next one cool. He stopped at my nipples, suckling one as he pinched and teased the other. I ran my fingers into his hair, holding his mouth on me. He knew all the right places to touch, and his touch was electrifying. Teeth on one nipple while soft fingers caressed the other, then gentle lips on one paired with nails scraping across the other. I arched up toward his mouth to keep his attention where it was. His touch on my nipples alone could bring me to orgasm, and I felt the surge beginning. I whimpered as he moved on down my belly, then shifted to nip my hipbone. Finally, I felt his lips and tongue where I wanted them. He slid his mouth slowly over me, his tongue and teeth an exquisite torture. When he brought his hand to my balls, I groaned loudly, almost unable to take the extra stimulus.

My whole body was on fire and my groin was white hot. I couldn't help myself, I started fucking his mouth, my hands on his head. I had to move or I'd have exploded. His mouth. Oh, God, his wonderful mouth. He relaxed his jaw and took me in completely. The only thing that felt better than that was being inside him. His hand moved off my balls and slid lower. His fingers, slick with his saliva, gently probed my ass. He slid one in and found the nerves inside. My whole body jerked and I felt the vibrations on my cock as he moaned deep in his throat.

I didn't know how much longer I could hold on. I didn't know if I wanted to. This was what he wanted, to take me this way. Soon, too soon, I felt the burn creeping along my nerves. Starting in my spine and feet and moving toward one central point, it seared through me. I came, hot and hard, shooting into his mouth. He sucked and held me till there was nothing left.

I lay still, drenched in sweat and drained of any power to move. Slowly, he pulled his finger out of my ass and took his mouth off my cock. He moved up to kiss me and I tasted my cum and our sweat and his unique flavor all mingled together. I hugged him tightly to me and felt his cock hard against my hip, his own need unmet. I hesitated a moment, then reached for the lube and handed it to him.

He pulled away enough to look in my eyes. His own were almost black with desire. "Are you sure?"

He always asked. I'd never explained, but he knew there were past experiences that haunted me, overshadowing the pleasure I knew he could show me. My trust in him and how much I cared for him helped me face the fear each time we did this. It also made me angry at myself not to be able to make love with him easily in a way he liked so much.

"Yes, I'm sure," I answered him.

He searched my face to confirm what I'd said, and found what he needed. He nodded, then kissed me deeply, not letting go until I turned so my back was to him. He caressed the length of my back, touching softly, slowly until he got to my buttocks. He ran his hands around and over, then between my cheeks. For a moment his hands were gone, then when they returned I could feel the slickness of the lube. He pressed carefully, almost hesitantly, and I felt two fingers enter me slowly. I shifted my legs a little and his fingers moved more easily. His other hand was on my back, rubbing gently, a soothing pattern to ease and calm.

A third finger joined the others inside me and I held my breath. This was when the fear would begin. I hadn't found a way not to anticipate the pain. His hand on my back kept moving, massaging to ease the tension. It always helped, and I relaxed, breathing again. As his fingers moved inside me, I began to feel and respond, moving against his hand. I felt his lips against my shoulder and heard him murmur something, but couldn't catch the words.

Slowly, he withdrew his fingers and I tensed, knowing what was next. This was where the greatest fear was. Fear of the moment of penetration, of the helplessness, of the pain that was always there. Anger that I hadn't found a way to deal with it. I felt the head of his cock against my ass and I bit my lip, willing my body to relax. He centered his massage on the small of my back, his touch warm and soothing. I let go of the breath I was holding. When I did, he started pushing inward slowly. I couldn't hold back the one sob as he penetrated. He stayed shallow, not moving while my body calmed and adjusted. I was trembling slightly and I hated that. I felt like it made him think my fear was of him, and it never had been. Someday I'd tell him. He never asked and I was grateful for that.

Soft kisses covered my shoulder as he started to move slowly, pushing in a little farther with each motion of his hips. When he was in completely, he reached around my chest and held me tightly against him. He whispered in my ear, telling me how good it felt and how much he wanted me. Pain and fear gave way to trust and pleasure. He moved carefully, thrusting into me. He felt huge inside me. I knew he was no bigger than I was, but when he was in me I felt like he could reach to the back of my head on each stroke. I shifted my legs again to ease the motion, and when I did I felt him against my prostate. I moaned as my cock hardened in response to that touch and again when he wrapped his hand around it.

His hand on me moved in time with his cock inside me. This was the best of it all. We were joined in all ways, the fire in our bodies only part of the joy I felt. I moved with him, fucking his hand then pushing back on his cock in turn. Once we passed the point of my fear I couldn't get enough. He filled me, surrounded me, helped me feel things I'd never known. We shared a oneness I couldn't put into words. My body burned again from his touch, taking all control from me. I fucked his hand harder and drove myself onto him as deeply as I could.

All my senses were centered on those two parts of my body. I heard the sounds I made with each stroke, almost a keening as my body grew hotter and hotter. His soft voice broke through the haze in my mind, urging me to let go. He repeated it like a mantra until I had no choice. I obeyed, coming in his hand, on the bed, on my belly. I felt him tense as my muscles spasmed around him, then he thrust hard and fast until I felt his whole body jerk as he came. His face was buried in my neck, his arms gripped me and I felt him, hot, hard, shooting into me.

I was trembling again, my muscles reacting to the stress. And maybe a little fear of what was next. But not yet. I felt him tight against my back, heart pounding in his chest. His mouth was by my ear and he was still murmuring quiet assurances to me. We lay quietly, not moving.

Breathing calmed, hearts stopped racing, I was no longer trembling. He moved to withdraw and I put a hand on his hip, stopping him. "Not yet." This was the other moment that I dreaded. The pain of withdrawal another of my old fears.

He curled against me, holding on, his face nuzzled into my hair and neck. We stayed that way for a while, and I felt him getting soft inside me. He reached up and touched my cheek. "It'll be OK. Breathe and relax."

This time he continued the motion and withdrew slowly. When he was out, he pulled me over and hugged me fiercely, kissing me all over my face before moving to my mouth. His kiss was soft and gentle. His hand was on my face and in my hair, smoothing it back as he caressed. I put my arms around him and laid my head on his chest, listening to the steady sound of his heart. His fingers continued stroking my face and combing into my hair, his touch light and gentle. These were the moments I liked best of all. The quiet sharing, the absolute contentment of giving as much as I received. Nothing mattered but the two of us together.

Before long we were both getting chilly. The loft was cool and we were covered in sweat. He moved first and took my hand as he got up from the bed. We showered together quickly, soaping off the sweat and stickiness, then went back to bed. I pulled the blankets loosely over us. He curled up next to me, his head on my shoulder, one leg across mine protectively, and I held him close.

I must have dozed off. The next thing I remember was waking up to the feel of his fingertips tracing the lines of my face. I smiled and took his hand and held it against my chest. He pulled it free and ran his fingers along my jaw.

"Tell me about it."

"About what?" I was afraid I knew what he was asking. I still wasn't sure I could talk about it.

"Your fear."

I was right. And I didn't know how to tell him. "It was a long time ago."

"Doesn't matter. It still scares you." He paused for a moment. "Were you raped?"

"No." I tried to gather the courage to tell him. "I was a soldier. We were young. We'd been away a long time. We'd done things ... hand jobs, blow jobs, some of the others let us fuck them, but I hadn't let anyone fuck me. They gave me a bad time about that and I thought I wanted to try it. I finally agreed." I took a deep breath and held him tighter. "He was huge. He was drunk. He rammed into me hard, with nothing to help. I panicked and screamed, but I couldn't stop him. It was agony. He fucked me until he was done, then pulled out just as fast. I crawled away in humiliation and anger and swore no one would ever do that to me again." I was trembling again at the memory of the pain and how helpless and vulnerable it had made me feel. I still damned myself for allowing it to happen at all.

He had tensed as I talked. I wished I knew what he was thinking. "Why do you let me?" he finally asked.

"It's not the same. With you I want to. I need to. Because I need you like I haven't needed anyone in a long time. It's not so bad anymore. I just need time." He was still for several minutes. When he finally spoke he was very quiet.

"Is that why you told Richie this afternoon that it would take you a while to get used to this?"

I didn't know the whole answer to that, but I had to try. "Partly. But not all." I searched for the right words. "You know how new this is for me. But never doubt how much I want you. How much I need you. I was raised to believe this was dirty, that it was a mortal sin. I don't believe that's true anymore. But sometimes, deep inside, I still hear my father's voice."

He tilted his head up and kissed my cheek. "Don't stop listening to your father about everything. He raised a very special son. I'd like to have known him."

I had to smile. "I don't think he'd have liked you. He wasn't a very tolerant man."

"Kind of like his son?"

"I'm not ... OK, maybe I am." I was still smiling. "My mother would have liked you. She'd have thought you were impossible and that you needed to eat more." I jabbed him gently in the ribs when I said that. "But she'd have liked you. She always had a soft spot for the incorrigible ones."

"I'm not ... well, I guess maybe I am, too."

Neither of us said anything for a while. We lay there quietly, not moving except for idle caresses. Since we'd started to talk about it, I decided to ask him a question I'd had since our first time making love.

"Does it hurt ... for you?" He looked up at me with a little grin, and I felt my cheeks flush. I was sure he thought I was a fool, asking something like that. His grin faded and his expression became serious. He slid his palm along the side of my face.

"You really don't know, do you?" I didn't answer. "I'm sorry. We should have talked more." He hesitated briefly. "Yes. It always hurts a little."

"Then how...?" I didn't even know how to word the question.

"How do I not let it bother me? I think past it. I don't think of the moment of pain, I anticipate all the pleasure that follows it."

I had another question, but I was quickly losing my nerve. I felt like a boy with his first older woman, asking for all the details.

"Is there something else?"

He knew me too well sometimes. "Yes. I mean, sort of." I wasn't sure I could even ask this. "You always feel so big to me ... is that ... normal?" My face was flushed again.

"You know that we're about the same size. And you feel big to me, too." He paused. "I think the reason is that part of the body wasn't really intended for sex. When we use it that way, things feel bigger than they are."

I didn't say anything. I was almost sorry I'd started the discussion. I'd wanted to know, but asking him made me feel so inadequate. So inexperienced. I didn't like the feelings one bit.

He smiled. "Either that, or we're both hung like horses."

I laughed softly. "I think I like that explanation better."

We were quiet again for a bit, but I had one more question I needed to ask him.

"Why didn't you tell me how you felt on my birthday?"

Now it was his turn to be thoughtful. He finally answered. "You seemed to have other things on your mind. It wasn't that important."

"It was important enough for Joe to plan a party. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been so preoccupied."

"It's OK." He was quiet for a moment. "You were thinking about Tessa, weren't you?"

The memories still hurt. "Yes. I was. The last birthday I celebrated before this one was with her. Birthdays were very special to her."

"And she's part of the reason we're not easy for you, right?"

Sometimes I hated how perceptive he was. He had a way of making me face what I would have preferred to avoid. "After she died I closed off the part of me that cared. That way it couldn't get hurt anymore." I touched his face. "Then you came along and I didn't seem to have any choice but to open it up again. It scares me. I felt like I lost a piece of my soul when I lost her. You know how hard it is to take that kind of chance again."

He spoke very quietly. "But sooner or later, we always do."

We weren't just talking about me anymore. I remembered Alexa and how much he'd loved her. And how much he'd grieved when she died, putting up a wall to protect himself. I held him, starting to realize that I wasn't the only one taking chances. He was shivering a little, and I pulled the blankets up farther.

"You looked kind of far away this afternoon when I brought out the cake. What was that about?" I stroked the side of his face, hoping I wasn't opening another painful memory.

"Nothing really. I was just thinking."

"What about?"

He brushed my jaw with his lips. "How nice it was to have friends who would do something like that for me."

"You deserve it." My fingers caressed his cheek and temple and combed through his hair. "How long has it been?"

"How long?"

"Since you had people you considered a family."

He was quiet for a long time. "Too long. I'd almost forgotten how good it feels."

"But it's not as safe as being solitary." A lot of the choices he'd made throughout his life had been lonely ones, I was sure. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to have lived as long as he had.

"Safe? No." He stretched, then settled next to me again, one hand in my hair. "But sometimes it's worth the risk." He reached over and kissed me. Rolling him on his back, I leaned over him and kissed him hard, then propped myself on one elbow.

I just looked at him for a while. It still amazed me that I was involved with him. Involved. Such a safe word. It could mean anything from a casual fling to ... to what? To whatever we had that I was unable to define. Or was I unwilling to define it? I still wasn't ready to answer that question for myself. All I knew was I wanted him around long enough so that I could say it to him when I figured it out.

I shook myself out of the reverie and ran my finger down his breastbone. "So. What do you think of your new birthday?"

He smiled. "I like it. But I don't know about sharing it with a bunch of horses."

"Oh, I don't know." I ran my finger along his nose. "Seems appropriate to me." Then I put my hand over his cock. "Especially having so much in common with them."

He put his hand over mine, still smiling. "Bastard."

"Probably." I pressed my palm against him. "But you like me anyway."

"Sure of that, are you?"

"Sure enough." I slid my hand up his body to his chest.

He linked his fingers with mine. "And you'd be right." He kissed each finger in turn. "More than right."

And there it was again. The need to be able to say what he really meant to me. I sat up, leaned against the pillows and hugged my knees. I knew what he was telling me, and I didn't know how to respond. No. That wasn't true. I didn't know if I could respond. I didn't know if I could find the words to say what I felt.

He'd turned to look at me. "What is it?" he asked softly.

How could I not tell him? We'd bonded instantly when we first met. Ties that only got stronger as we spent time together. Then friends became lovers. A wonderful, terrifying change. He'd asked nothing but that I be his friend, to whatever degree I was able. All too slowly, I was realizing the depth of his feeling for me. Knowing he loved me was as frightening for me as it was exhilarating.

I reached and pulled him up next to me, still wrapped in the blankets. "Just thinking."

"What about?"

"Us." I wanted to tell him. I wanted to say out loud that I thought I was in love with him. But I still couldn't.


I hooked my arm around his neck and pulled him close. "And I think we're pretty damn good together." It was as close as I could get to saying what was really in my heart. I just hoped it was enough.

"Damn good together," he repeated. "Yeah, I think you could say that." He pulled the blanket around both of us, settling into my arms. I tilted his chin up and kissed him. Seemed neither one of us could say the words. Not yet, anyway. And that was OK. With a little luck, we'd have all the time we needed.

The End
August 1997