by Meredith Lynne
"Methos...this box is...it's purring."
Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod stood over the brightly wrapped and ribbonned box on his desk, staring with wide-eyed panic. A sense of horrified certainty washed over him, stealing his breath.
It was impossible. It was insane. It was unthinkable.
It was just like him.
"Open it," the oldest living Immortal said helpfully. He was sprawled bonelessly on the couch, his body as forgiving to the cushions' contours as a light blanket might have been. Duncan spared a glance in his direction, noting the high color in Methos' cheeks and the brightness of his eyes with a sinking heart. His friend, and lately lover, obviously thought he'd done something wonderful.
"You're going to like it," Methos said patiently. "Believe me. You'll fall in love."
/I'll fall into histamine shock,/ Duncan thought darkly. Immortality cured a lot of things, but allergies were not among them.
"You really didn't have to get me anything," he said carefully, edging away from the box.
Methos smirked. "No, you're right, I could have just ignored your birthday and had you sulk at me for the rest of my not inconsiderable life span," he said. "Of course I had to get you something. And I did a great job, Mac, I really did. Are you going to open it or not?"
Resigned, Duncan moved his hands to the lid. Methos, smiling, climbed to his feet and moved to stand near him, easing a gentle hand beneath the dark fall his lover's hair. His long fingers traced warm patterns lazily over the sensitive skin as he leaned close enough to whisper. "Happy birthday, Highlander..."
Duncan's eyes closed for a moment, savoring the sensations. Just that touch, and he could feel the tension easing out of cramped muscles, shoulders and neck relaxing by easy stages. Methos' breath against his ear sent a current of fire down his spine, and he shivered, feeling himself harden in anticipation.
Suddenly, his birthday present seemed less important.
"Why don't we forget the box," he said softly. "I know what I really want..."
Methos leaned in and captured Duncan's lips in a hard, open-mouthed kiss. Duncan liked the force of it, liked the heat pouring off of his lover's body where it pressed into his own. He reached up to lay a hand on either side of Methos' face, pulling him deeper into the kiss.
He was already calculating the shortest route to the bed when Methos pulled away, eyes shining with a heady mix of laughter and desire. "Not yet, Highlander," he said, his voice slightly unsteady. "The box."
Duncan took a step toward him. "Methos..."
His lover smiled, and stepped back. "The box first -- unless you'd rather I slept on the couch tonight? You do have a knack for buying comfortable couches..."
In spite of himself, Duncan laughed. It was getting harder every day to remember a time before Methos had chosen to become his personal, permanent sofa accessory. "All right," he said finally, giving in and turning his attention back to the box. "You win."
"Of course I do. Now, go on -- open it!"
No escape; Duncan lifted the lid and peered inside. A quick catalogue of the contents confirmed his worst fears.
Dark orange, almost red fluff; bright blue eyes wide with heart-wrenching fright; a tiny frame that could have nestled in the palm of one hand; and a purr like the take-off roar of a 747. The box was crowded with two small dishes of food and water, a miniature litter pan, and a soft towel. All the comforts of home.
/A kitten,/ Duncan muttered internally. /Dear Lord in heaven...what am I going to do with a kitten?/
And as if the kitten's look of terror and hope weren't enough, there was an almost matching expression in the set of green-gold eyes that met Duncan's when he looked up. "Well?" Methos said expectantly. "Adorable, isn't she?"
Duncan wasn't so sure about that. She wasn't bad-looking...seemed to have the right number of ears and eyes, that sort of thing.... "She's...quite a kitten..."
Methos tilted his head to one side, lips tightening a little. "You hate her."
"No! No, of course I don't hate her, Methos. She's...she's cute. I just...I was expecting a book or something. A bit of ancient pottery, you know..."
"Something that wouldn't shed," Methos finished perceptively.
Duncan nodded miserably. "I'm sorry, Methos. I'm just not much of a cat person."
"Pick her up."
Methos gestured at the box. "Pick her up," he said patiently.
"Oh, I don't think..." A glare from impatient hazel eyes interrupted him, and Duncan sighed, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. "All right. But don't get your hopes up."
His original assessment had been correct; she fit very nicely into the palm of his hand. Huddled there, actually. The purring vibrated gently against his skin, and a moment later, tiny claws began kneading lightly at the base of his palm. Duncan watched in fascination as the blue eyes shuttered, closing to slits as the volume of the purr increased. Almost against his will, he brought his other hand up to rub a finger very gently between paper-thin ears. Intantly, the kitten went limp with relaxation, flattening itself against his hand and closing its eyes completely.
"I think you've made a friend," Methos said quietly, leaning over his shoulder. Then, after a quick glance into Duncan's earth-brown eyes, he chuckled. "I told you that you'd fall in love..."
Duncan looked up, eyes wide with wonder. He felt as if he were holding pure life in his hands. "I've never had a cat in my life," he whispered. "How did you know I'd like one? I didn't even know. I'm allergic to cats, Methos."
"You're not sneezing now," Methos pointed out. "And I knew because...." He paused, thought about it for a moment. "Because I'm older and wiser than you," he finished, laughter in his dark eyes.
"Yeah, but only when it suits you," Duncan said, smiling. "What are we going to call her?"
Methos reached up, brushed a gentle hand over Duncan's jawline, feather-light. "I've thought of that," he said. "I thought we'd name her after dessert."
"Dessert," Duncan said. "Which is...?"
"Remember New Orleans?"
Oh, yes. He remembered it very well. Methos had dragged him through the streets of the French Quarter like a man possessed, searching for a book shop whose name he couldn't remember but which he'd sworn had been somewhere on Decatur "just fifteen years ago". That last, of course, he'd neglected to mention until they'd spent the day roaming the Quarter, peering into every specialty shop known to man and no small number of drinking establishments. When they'd finally returned to their hotel, exhausted and completely unsuccessful, Methos had ordered dessert from room service as a kind of apology.
Strawberries and champagne. The memory even now, months later, was supercharged with the sound of distant jazz and the indefinable, ageless scent of Methos' skin. It had been their first night together, inhibitions crumbling in the sweet darkness amidst scattered glasses and cool linens. The first kiss had tasted of strawberries and Dom Perignon, the sweetness mingling between them as hours passed in tentative explorations, desperate mergings...and finally the tender, easy warmth of sated passions and deepening intimacy.
Since then, strawberries meant special occasions. Promises of pleasures to yet to come.
Duncan smiled, meeting his lover's eyes. "You want to name her Strawberry?"
Methos grinned. "Well, she is meant to remind you of me..."
Duncan's eyebrows rose. "Methos...you'll be around when she's just a memory. Unless you've brought me the world's only Immortal cat?"
"Not quite," Methos said. "But close. She's the first of many. I'll see to the details, but don't worry; one of her line will be with you for as long as you could want." He smiled a little, thinking of his favorite Highland Warrior companioned through the ages by an insolent ball of red fluff. "She's eternal," he added. "Or at least infinitely replicable, which has to be the next best thing. And she's not meant precisely as a memory of my existence..."
"All right, then," the Highlander said, his eyes teasing. "I'll bite. How is she supposed to remind me of you? Is she going to drink like an Irishman and throw bottle caps behind my refrigerator? Talk during movies and make fun of my wardrobe? Maybe leave little cat shoes on my kitchen counter?"
"She's going to love you," Methos said softly, for once abandoning humor and holding Duncan's dark eyes with his own. "Unconditionally. Always." There was a tension in the long, lean lines of his body that belied the simplicity of his words.
Duncan froze, stunned into silence by the sudden admission. Many endearments had passed between them in the months since Methos had first shared his bed, but never anything like this. Never words of love. Never promises.
Now the eyes gazing so steadily into his own were filled with the things they'd left unspoken. Duncan warmed under Methos' steady regard, a flush of heat suffusing his body as adrenaline sped through his system. It was what he had hoped for, and felt sure was beyond all hope. What he had wanted from the beginning, when he had settled for desire. The friendship that had started them on this path had strengthened into something strong as iron, clear as crystal.
/Into love,/ Duncan said to himself, meeting Methos' questioning eyes unflinchingly. /He feels it too..../
Slowly, cradling the kitten close against his chest, Duncan reached for Methos, finding a hand and pulling him close. When their lips were mere inches apart, breath mingling between them, Methos stopped. Held back.
"I need the words, Duncan," he said quietly. "It's not too much to ask, is it?"
"No," Duncan murmured. The words weren't too much to ask, but it was hard to voice them; he was conditioned to strength, to stoic silence, and the admission felt like a weakness. And maybe it was, but if so...Duncan couldn't find it in himself to care. "I love you," he said, voice calm and sure. "Unconditionally and always. You're my best friend," he added simply.
Methos smiled and looked away. "Only as long as the checks keep coming," he quipped, trying to conceal the intensity of his reaction.
Duncan cupped Methos' chin in one hand, turning him and forcing eye contact. "Or forever?" he prompted, smiling, drawing his lover closer. "We'll have to be careful... and we can't be together constantly... but we can promise to always come back. That's not such a bad way to spend forever, is it?"
"Forever...sounds good..." The last words were sacrificed to the kiss, his lips surrendering language to the gentle persuasion of Duncan's mouth slanting across his.
A tiny sound of indignation rose up from between them, and Methos pushed away, laughing. "I think she's jealous," he said, smiling at Duncan. "This could be a problem."
The Highlander quirked an eyebrow upwards, and gently set the kitten back into the box and the box onto the floor next to his desk. A moment later his arms closed tightly around the older man, sliding one leg between slender thighs and smiling when his partner pressed into the touch and moaned from the depths of his throat. "Problem solved," he whispered. "Any other problems we need to handle right away?"
Methos' chest rose and fell in quick gasps, and he tilted his head back to expose the slender column of his throat to Duncan's lips. Gentle, and not so gentle nips rewarded him, and he moaned again, hands fumbling at the buttons of his partner's shirt. "Nothing," he said, eyes bright with excitement. "I can't think of..."
"Didn't you say something about dessert...?"
"You've...got to be kidding..."
Duncan pulled back, feigning disappointment. "You promised me strawberries, Methos. I distinctly remember..."
The older man smiled, and reached down between them, finding the rigid length of his lover's cock with a gentle, teasing touch. Duncan gasped, a quick hiss of indrawn breath that ended with a low groan as he pressed his hips forward, into the touch.
Methos smiled, reveling in his lover's response. "Later," he said softly. "They'll keep. Right now, I have other promises to fulfill..."
The shortest distance to the bed was too long, but Methos didn't mind. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod had a very, very comfortable couch.