by Rachael Sabotini


Notes: This story is rated NC-17 for explict same-sex stuff and adult themes.

My thanks to Edgar Allen Poe for "Masque of the Red Death," which inspired this story. I would have asked his permisson, but he's dead.

This story is for Nicole.

Disclaimer: The characters in this story are the property of other people, and no infringment of their copyright is intended. This is a work of fan fiction, and no money is made as a result .

While lightning flashed and thunder pealed, the carriage horses panicked. They reared and pawed the air, straining against their harnesses, trumpeting their protest into the storm-lit night. Duncan MacLeod had the devil's own time bringing the pair back under control, but he managed without waking his sleeping friend. They had had a long journey, and both men were tired.

The sky opened, and the rain soaked MacLeod almost to the bone, even through his heavy greatcoat. He shook his head, trying to keep the water out of his eyes, wishing he had oilskins or even a hat. But the rain was better than the lightning, though the matched black pair still trembled and shied at his commands. They would get no further this night.

With a sigh, Duncan reached back under the buggy's awning to wake Brian Cullen. Twice on the road this past week they'd met men trying to make a name for themselves in a duel with Europe's best; twice Brian had killed men with more ego than brains. Each death, though, had cost him dearly, producing a day of drunkenness, anger and despair for every mortal Brian killed. MacLeod dreaded the day Brian decided not to fight any more, wondering if he would stop taking immortal heads as well, wondering if he himself merely waited for the day when Brian simply gave up.

This trip was to have been a time of rest for the other man, yet this was the first time he'd slept in days. Lately, it seemed that anytime MacLeod tried to talk to him, Brian pulled away, their friendship stretched so thin that Brian sometimes balked at even sharing a room in one of the small country inns. All Cullen wanted to do now was drink, to hide the pain of these senseless mortal deaths behind a facade of drunken, jovial camaraderie. The strain was grinding him down, like a blade that could not keep its edge.

Duncan laid a hand gently on Cullen's leg and shook him, waiting for consciousness to return. Brian smiled at him sleepily, relaxed and peaceful in his drowsing state, then rolled onto his side and pulled the blanket back against his neck.

MacLeod shook him again. "Brian, we must stop. The horses need to rest. They are too nervous and fearful to go much further. We must find shelter."

From the snugness of his nest in the back of the carriage, Brian sighed heavily. "I suppose you are right." His Irish accent was thick and slurred, his voice crowded with sleep.

Mac's own accent broadened in response. "I haven't seen an inn or town in quite some time, not since you fell asleep a good two hours ago. I did see lights a ways back. I'm sure they'd let us in on a night like this."

"As you wish, Duncan." Half-awake, Brian still managed to find his flask, opening the silver bottle and downing a swallow. "Whoever it is, I hope they have better drink than this." He held it in offer, only to shrug and settle back into the dry interior of the coach when Duncan smiled and waved it away.

As he worked to get the horses and the carriage turned in the downpour, Duncan found himself sighing in relief, now that their easy friendship was momentarily restored. He knew that ease would evaporate the moment Brian was sober. A pang of guilt creased his brow, because he readily supplied Cullen with whatever libation he desired, whenever he desired it. But they were immortal, and there was no lasting harm in it, and such potions greatly improved Cullen's humor.

The trip back was longer than Duncan remembered, the horses moving more slowly in the rain. At least it lightened up enough to see the road; MacLeod had no desire to be suddenly mired in some mud-laden hollow. Trees lined the road like a dark wet tunnel, broken only at the entrance to an estate. Duncan turned the carriage down the broad clear avenue and through a high imposing gate that stood wide open, welcoming all travelers. The road led across a great grassy field towards a courtyard full of carriages, fronting a majestic three-story chateau, well windowed in unusually bright colors that seemed to shimmer in the rain-blurred darkness.

"There must be a hundred carriages here!" Duncan exclaimed. "Maybe more."

Brian nodded his agreement. "At least with more than a hundred people here, they won't mind another two."

Lightning flashed eerily in the sky behind the chateau, creating an instant of sharp, ominous black and white contrast. The deep thunder faded. The original warmth of the building reasserted itself, but Duncan felt oddly nonplused by the intense mixture of light and sound, drama and calm. He flicked the reins, and the horses trotted forward eagerly, trained by habit to seek the other horses, and then stand their place in line, waiting for their owner's return.

Servants in all manner of costume greeted them, milling around them to take charge of the carriage. A man dressed as a hound helped them dismount, welcoming them to the masque in the most general of terms, while an assortment of frogs and rats led the horses and their carriage away.

Despite the storm, the music and the noise of the crowd could be heard, spilling out from behind the curtained windows and the front door. Standing in the mud and the rain, Cullen threw his arm around Duncan's shoulders and squeezed as he looked up at the elegant facade. "We've fallen into this one, my friend! No mistake about that. Fine rooms and fine company, I imagine. That storm was godsent."

Lightning crackled again, and Brian grinned. Duncan smiled back at him as they both nimbly ran up the marble steps and into the main entryway. The subsequent thunderclap startled them, and their laughter echoed in the high, narrow hallway. A dark-haired maid dressed as a black cat took their coats and led them up a candle-lit, winding staircase to a set of rooms at the end of the hall. Silently, she opened the door and led them inside, placing their coats over a rack near the marble fireplace. She lit the candles near the bed, nodding to them as she passed back again and returned down the stairs.

Not once did she utter a single word.

Brian barely glanced around the dark room as he entered, stumbling immediately for the large brass bed and collapsing upon it. "Here, you see," he opened his arm extravagantly, indicating the room, "the finer things in life."

"They won't be so fine if you put your muddy feet on the mattress." Duncan shoved Brian's legs off the bed and wiped at the smear of dirt left on top of the feather comforter. He sighed as he looked at the stain. "The least you could do is take your bloody boots off first."

"Jus' so." Cullen reached down and fumbled with the boots, but seemed too intoxicated to manage the act himself.

"Here, let me." Duncan sat down on the bed with his back to Brian and grabbed one boot, bracing himself against the floor. He pulled, and it came off easily. The second one was harder, and Brian ended up pushing MacLeod off the bed in his attempt to help.

The boot finally came off, leaving dirt all over Duncan's hands. In retaliation, MacLeod reached down and ran them over Brian's thighs, leaving streaks on the dark blue wool pants.

"Duncan!" Brian's voice was plaintive, full of mock indignation, and the Highlander sighed.

"I suppose you're right." He dusted ineffectually at Brian's pants with his hands, somehow managing to remove the worst of it, then took a handkerchief from his pocket, dampened it using the pitcher of water on the nightstand, and wiped away the rest of the stain. "There." He stepped back and nodded in satisfaction. "That's better. At least you're presentable now."

When he looked at his friend, Brian was lost in thought, his eyes focused on the crackling fire that warmed the room.

Knowing Brian would return when the memories let him go, Duncan picked up their coats, folded them and left them drying by the fire. Silently, Brian took off his shirt, lay back against the clean goose-feather pillows, and closed his eyes.

MacLeod frowned as he noticed how gaunt Brian was getting lately, ribs showing beneath the thick pelt of hair. Brian fretted too much about the men he killed; it wasn't his fault that they pursued him. He met them fairly in battle, used no immortal tricks to make sure he won. MacLeod worried over what would happen on the day he no longer won.

Duncan shrugged off the unsettling thoughts and wandered around the room a moment, looking at the fire, then through the darkened, rain-streaked window. He wanted to stay, but the music called to him, enticing him to leave the room.

Brian's voice startled him. "Go on, MacLeod. I can see you want to explore this place."

"What about you? What will you do?"

"I'll rest here a moment, then find you later. I'm sure the revelers will greet the dawn."

With a grin and a nod, MacLeod left his friend to get some much needed rest.

He could clearly hear the music to his right as he stepped out in the hallway and closed the door behind him. After a brief search, he stood at the top of a large curved staircase that led down into a ballroom. Servants passed him, carrying trays of food and drink through the large crowd and down a second, narrower staircase that probably led to the kitchens. MacLeod picked up a drink from a tray that passed by, a rich brandy from the look and smell, yet with a subtle hint of spice after the first taste. He quickly quaffed it and took a second as he tried to make sense of his surroundings.

Below him, shimmering blue satin jacquard draped three walls of the large chamber gracefully, while light issued from a set of stained glass windows -- done in a thousand shades of blue and backlit with huge braziers in a second hallway -- casting bizarre shadows over the whirling dancers and musicians alike.

The figures moved like water, their costumes and masks flickering with the blue of the window light, the dance indistinguishable from a hundred others, yet pagan in its performance. It drew him, called to him to join their procession, to whirl and lose himself in its demanding rhythm.

MacLeod started down the staircase, only to falter and stop as a noise, clear and loud and deep and exceedingly lyrical, swallowed the sound of the music. The musicians stopped, and the dance ceased as the tone echoed throughout the room. Even the brightest of the costumed figures grew pale in that moment, and MacLeod swore the oldest of the group passed their hands over their faces as if confused, or locked deep in meditation.

When the last of the sonorous echoes faded, the merriment began again, a light laughter at once pervading the group as if by command. Two of the many couples hesitantly crossed the floor and vanished around a corner, their minds obviously elsewhere.

Filled with curiosity, Duncan gracefully descended the last steps to the dance floor, sidestepping the flowing dancers as he followed the path the two couples had taken. A young beauty detached herself from the wall as he passed by, her dress the same color as the drapery, almost taking shape before his eyes. She smiled at him and held out her hand, a mermaid amidst the waves. For a moment, he was tempted to join in the dance as he watched her, her face flushed with energy, her full, supple breasts held tight by the silken fabric. Noise from a room beyond the dance floor caught him, and he turned away to look. When he turned back she was gone, her blueness subsumed in the waves of the dance, indistinguishable from any of the other dancers.

Somewhat disturbed by her sudden disappearance, MacLeod turned back to his original path. He rounded the same corner the missing couples had withdrawn behind and stopped, his senses taking in this new wonder.

The chamber was as purple as the dance floor had been blue, and here were laid all manner of foods for the revelers to enjoy. Music drifted into this room, yet remained muted enough for conversation. Beyond the tables looked to be a dark garden, whence a wet breeze drifted in through very tall, open French doors. That small stirring of moist forested air fought a losing battle with the heat of a hundred revelers, plus the smells of warm food and incense. The colors of the room reminded Duncan of a late summer sunset, and the food a sumptuous mid-summer feast.

Tables and sideboards ached under the strain of the food, a hundred different morsels sitting eagerly on silver trays, waiting to be tried. In the center of the room, an ice swan sweated golden tears into a hand-tinted cut-glass basin, which was filled to the brim with champagne. Different drinks spiraled around the tables, in steins and cordial cups, champagne flutes and brandy snifters, red and white wine goblets, all decorated with exotic animals, their colors as brilliant and wild as a peacock's feathers. A dozen servant mice scurried among the guests, tempting them with new delicacies to try.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him of the length of the trip, and when he had last eaten. Duncan picked up a few bits of roasted duck and a pastry tart from the nearest table, eagerly tearing into the succulent flesh. The duck tasted rich, with a hint of rosemary and oranges, while the crisp pastry tart held a mixture of nuts, nutmeg and golden raisins sweeter than any he'd ever tried. Someone handed him a glass of champagne, and he sipped it as he ate, then grabbed another glass and a few more tidbits off the table.

As he ate, other guests drifted by, nodding and smiling at him in passing. A couple caught his attention, the woman so much taller and larger than her partner, almost operatic in contrast, but the man seemed oblivious to their differences. She stopped next to MacLeod, her long, full skirts pooling on the wooden floor; the man disappeared. The woman's eyes suddenly opened, then she sighed loudly, an almost cat-like purr. The glass in her hand trembled, and Duncan looked at her to ask what was wrong when the little man re-appeared again, wiping delicately at his lips with an embroidered handkerchief.

The smell of sex overlaid all of the other scents in that instant, and the woman looked archly at MacLeod. Amused, and somewhat aroused, he shrugged and shook his head, keeping the conspiracy of silence. She nodded back with a small, secretive smile, her hands threaded in her companion's hair, pulling him in close to her side. A small inclination of her head gave their leave, and they sailed into the ballroom, leaving MacLeod behind.

It made no sense, but Duncan didn't care. He leaned back against the wall near the ballroom, trying to sort out colors and sounds from the cacophony around him. While he stood there, the servants handed him new food and drink whenever his hands were empty. At first, he tasted everything, but soon, the mixture of smells, spices and alcohols lay heavily within his stomach, and MacLeod put the rest of his food aside. The press of the crowd wormed its way through his skin and deep into his spine, making the room feel like it was closing in on him whenever someone brushed against him. His stomach vaguely protested the heat of the room and MacLeod looked around for another exit, one that led someplace other than the ballroom or the darkened garden, a place where he could recover from the oppressive heat of the crowd. He headed for the other entrance he saw across the way.

In the dim light, the third room glistened darkly green, the occupants dressed as Sylphs and Satyrs, Greek and Roman gods, Bacchus and Pan and Maenads and the like. Obliquely across the room from him, Duncan could see another exit shrouded in curtains that shimmered palely with a flickering white light. Each room was seemingly constructed in such a way as though to shutter itself off from the others, creating the illusion of privacy in what would otherwise be a massive hall.

MacLeod picked up a pale green drink, for his mouth was dry again, as the full impact of the garb stuck him: everyone here was practically naked. In the low, flickering candlelight, the curves of the women's breasts and the tips of their nipples protruded from their gauze-like dresses, swaying under the folds of the light cloth, rounded flesh protruding darkly then hidden under the gauze. Their hair was well curled and restrained with golden chains around their foreheads while the men leered at them with obvious desire, their cocks hard or semi-erect within their thin chitons. Hands roamed over the nearest body, males, females; others or themselves. Duncan grinned, and gulped his drink haphazardly, the bitter aftertaste momentarily choking him and distracting him from the inviting orgy. He grabbed the arm of the nearest man, waving the glass and demanding "Wha' is this?"

"Absinthe." The word was low and sexual, tinted with desire. MacLeod dropped the arm in amazement, realizing the man was looking at him as if all of his clothing had been burned away.

The man reached out and lightly stroked down Duncan's shoulder, sliding his hand gently across the shirt-covered arm, and cupping Duncan's left hand in his own. Skillfully, assuming an intimacy not granted, he traced the lines of Duncan's palm with the nail of his index finger, a subtle caress that made the Highlander catch his breath. He studied the lines and moved Duncan's fingers, each touch building a fire that skipped across Duncan's sensitized skin. "You see this," the man said, tracing a line that formed a half-circle around the two middle fingers of MacLeod's right palm. "It's called the girdle of Venus. It's faint, but it's there." He leaned in close to Duncan, and whispered in his ear. "It means you can derive pleasure from many sources." He stroked his hand across Duncan's neck, and followed it with a small kiss. His lips barely left Duncan's flesh as he pressed himself against MacLeod's side in open invitation. "Stay and play with us. We can use one more."

Duncan's skin tingled at the slight caress of fingertips against his arm. The offer was tempting, for it was something he had not fully tried. The man's caress became surer, stronger as Duncan thought, insistent and pleading at the same time, raising a small sheen of sweat on Duncan's brow. And yet, the man had a gleam in his eye that Duncan could not trust, a gleam that spoke of sensuality and pleasure, but also the resilience of a seducer well-practiced at his art. Duncan groaned himself as the caress moved lower and moved from arm to abdomen. He became aware of the other sounds in the room, the rhythmic slap of flesh against flesh, the vague moans of passion, and the wet sounds of mouths everywhere, the noise itself demanding a strong reaction from Duncan's flesh. MacLeod swallowed, staring into the man's dark eyes, feeling the roving hand move lower toward his own groin, knowing what was being asked.

Yet he could not. He wanted to, he was interested, but his attention kept sliding away, to other doors and the rooms beyond. A sense of anticipation hummed through his body, driving him on, pushing him deep into the heart of manor. Despite the man's skilled seduction, he could not compete with the translucent thread that pulled at Duncan, urging him on.

MacLeod scoffed at the fanciful thought. It was simply that there was too much here to stop for mere dalliance; if everything else was this fantastic, he wanted to see it all before he made a choice. His breathing controlled, he smiled politely, interest and hesitation in one. "I'll return shortly." He made reassuring noises at the disappointment apparent in the man's eyes, gently easing the man's hand off his own body. He turned away and walked quickly around the next corner, and into the next room without a backward glance.

It was white, almost blindingly so, and filled with the bizarre: contortionists, giants, and all manner of natural freaks, all coupled and tripled with other, clean-limbed revelers. Duncan sped through the room, his head down, not willing to look at anything for too long, for fear of being entranced by the perversions he saw.

The next room was orange and was more bizarre, for a variety of animals were being used there for pleasure, and Duncan could not look at what was done.

He thought himself safe as he turned the corner leading out of the orange room, only to freeze as he stared across the pale violet room.

Where the white room had mixed elements of the bizarre, and the orange held elements of the unnatural, this room cradled a thousand-and-one otherworldly dreams in the whirling smoke and lilting song of incense and hashish. Low couches and cushions surrounded brass hooka pipes scattered around the room, with men and women draped over them in all matter of disarray, their eyes glazed and their gaze turned inward. Somewhere, someone moaned, their voice echoing hollowly throughout the room, twining through the whispered murmurs of the hashish smokers in an ethereal chant. The smell reminded MacLeod of his time in Algiers, during his brief term as slave to the Immortal Hamza El Kahir, before Xavier had beheaded Hamza as Duncan watched.

But neither the room nor his memories gave him such pause as the vision on the other wall. In front of him stood a wide, dark open door, oak blackened by time, with an ebony gossamer veil draped to cover it. Still, he could see a room filled floor to ceiling with somber velvet drapes. From that room, Duncan could smell the thick residue of an opium pipe and felt the presence of an Immortal from deep within the interior. He crossed the room of dreams quickly, and went to push back the curtain, Brian's name on his tongue, wondering how Brian had gotten here before him, when the majestic deep gong struck again.

The laughter in the black room quieted, and MacLeod felt the whisper of blood surging through his veins. It cried to him in a thousand tongues, drawing him closer, urging him to accept Death's embrace.

For whatever lay behind those black curtains, MacLeod knew to be Death. Dread welled up within him, stronger than anything he felt in years, maybe as much as a century, reducing him to the fears of his youth. He pushed the unfamiliar fear away, his head swimming from the noise and the drink. He gripped the curtain tighter, trying to push it aside, and the gong rang out again.

You too can die, my friend. Join us in the embrace.

He dropped his hold on the curtain, his hand trembling as terror seized him. Unseen voices pounded at him, screams of men he'd killed throughout the years. Other sounds joined them: the noise of the battlefield, the clang of steel upon steel, the thud of a head hitting the ground. The room surged and sank without cause as new visions filtered through his mind. The feeling of sharp pain from the slash of a sword, the claustrophobic sensation of water pouring into his lungs, the burning ache when there was no more air to breathe, all of it followed by the chill of pure physical death. The clock struck again and again, its echo filling the rooms, drowning out all other noise, mimicking the screams in his mind.

I am waiting for you.

MacLeod turned and ran, bolting through rooms of pale violet, white, orange, and green, ignoring the phantasms that surrounded him, until he managed to get to the deep purple room and the door to the garden. He tore through the open door and outside, stumbling through the trim topiaries, the huge flowering bushes, and into the narrow, twisting aisles of the hedge maze, his body drenched by the still-damp leaves of the lush, wet plants. He stood in the center of the maze, taking deep, shuddering breaths, freeing himself from the crowd. He collapsed onto a damp marble bench in the maze's small clearing, letting the cold and the wet remind him of where he was. His wool trousers were soaked through, and his balls recoiled from the cold, shriveling up in nameless fear. His heart raced; his chest tightened; he could barely breathe, his unnatural fear still intense. He couldn't remember ever being this afraid, not even when Graham Ashe was killed.

Then he felt it, that swooping in his stomach that signaled the presence of another Immortal. The ground seemed to shake as though in an earthquake, while he struggled to retain his balance on the bench. His temples throbbed and his vision blurred, leaving the graceful figure indistinct against the night. Yet MacLeod knew it could not be Brian. Brian would never have looked like that.

The lamplight did not quite reach the center of the maze, and the man stood partially in shadow. He was tall, almost as tall as Duncan, in black leather boots, skin-tight black satin pants, white cotton poet's shirt, carrying a staff tipped in long, elegant feathers and wearing a bird-like mask that covered half of his face. Reds, blues, greens, and purples blended with one another, the only bits of color on the otherwise sleek figure. The feathers draped down around him, nearly touching his arms, resting on his shoulders, yet leaving his mouth and chin visible.

And in and amongst the feathers, the man's brilliant eyes shone, luring the weary traveler away from his resting place. MacLeod found himself dazed by the vision, unable to speak, and simply stared.

In return, the bird-man stared back, the constant drip of water falling from leaves a soft counterpoint to his voice. "I don't know you," he said softly, his voice rich with the sounds of the earth. "Why are you here?"

"I, uh, we were caught in the storm, and sought shelter here." MacLeod could not stand on his weak legs; instead he nodded his greeting, trying to be as upright and noble as possible while sitting on the bench. "I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."

His thoughts were sluggish, and a distant corner of his mind wanted to panic. If the stranger wanted his head, hopefully he would be honorable enough to wait for morning, when Duncan would be sober enough to fight. He frowned, thinking. He couldn't remember where he had left his sword; maybe Brian would know. The man didn't seem to be coming after him, and for that Duncan was grateful. In fact, the man had no sword as far as Duncan could see, and that thought helped him relax.

"Well, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." The figure inclined his head gracefully. "Mi casa es su casa."

Duncan's voice caught in his throat as he realized what the man was saying. "You own this place?"

With a flourish, the figure sat next to him on the bench, laying his staff on the ground. "I am sad to say, yes, it is mine. The party, however, belongs to a friend."

"And it's not to your liking." MacLeod breathed in slowly, the scent of the other man overpowering in the night air. He shivered suddenly, as the adrenaline from his terror began to subside.

The man seemed to notice his chill and wrapped one arm around his back, pulling Duncan tight into his warmth. "No, it is not. I am not overly fond of crowds." His gentle touch eased the tendrils of dread that knotted MacLeod's stomach, nourishing his spirit enough that he could withstand the memory of the horror inside.

With a sigh, Duncan rested against the man's solid chest and released the last of his unnatural fear. "Why are you here then?" Duncan raised his head, then hesitated, his eyes focusing only on the other's beckoning lips. MacLeod licked his own, desire sprinting through his system, a tidal wave of lust on the heels of his now-old fear.

"Where else should I be?" The man's voice was pure seduction, calling to mind the sweetest of moments in Duncan's sexual life: the silken brush of skin against skin, the feel of muscles clenched tight around his cock, the taste of another's sweat, the luxurious slide of a tongue within his own mouth, and the passionate moaning as the mindless drive for completion consumed everything else.

He felt overwhelmed and drowning, yet there was nothing he could do. "I don' know," was all he could think to say, unsure of what was being offered. MacLeod could not think, could not understand; the world swam in a thousand hues of light, and his body ached with a burden of thoughtless passion. He tried to force himself to stay focused, but everything was gray about the edges. He felt he would soon pass out.

The man stood, gently stroking the hair at the back of MacLeod's neck, coaxing desire from hidden need with just the casual touch of his hand, as he rested it on Duncan's shoulder.

MacLeod trembled, his muscles bunching and jumping as he tried to decide what to do, unable to think beyond his own throbbing cock.

"When you know-"

The man's voice cut off sharply as Duncan grabbed onto him to keep himself from falling off the bench, but he ended up falling anyway and pulling the stranger down instead.

They landed in a heap on the wet grass with Duncan on top. Somehow, MacLeod had managed to pull off the feather mask while they tumbled, and now it lay next to them as their bodies pressed length to length against each other in the damp earth. The heat from the other man's body burned though MacLeod every place that they touched, and he found himself staring into the stranger's warm and welcoming eyes.

Duncan licked his lips, unsure of what he saw, but knowing the feel of the heat that tormented him. He tentatively pressed himself against the stranger, and read willingness in those darkened hazel eyes. Startled, Duncan pulled back, giving the stranger room.

The other man rolled away and sat up, while Duncan pulled himself to his knees. He swayed a bit, and looked down at the mask. "'m sorry. I dinna mean to do that." He grabbed the mask and attempted to stuff it on the other man's face, but somehow, his hands got tangled up in the feathers and the ribbon, and it just didn't seem to fit. He lost his precarious balance and fell onto the bird-man again, but this time they both remained upright, though Duncan could hear the pounding of the other man's heart distinct within his chest.

Somewhat reluctantly, Duncan levered himself away to look at his handiwork. The mask sat sideways on the other's face, the bird-nose partially over his nose, the rest lying on his cheek. Despite his best intentions, Duncan giggled.

"I don't find this funny."

"Aye, but I do." Duncan sputtered, the humor covering the knot of fear in his stomach, as the other man shifted, lean thighs rolling against his own, pressing in to him, reminding of his desire.

"Right now, you probably think everything is funny." The man's voice was full of humor, and somewhat protective in tone. He reached out and carded his hand though Duncan's hair, then rested his hand lightly on Duncan's cheek.

MacLeod had never had anyone want to protect him before, at least, not since he was a child. It felt different, it felt good, and Duncan warmed to the thought. "Not everything," he added, in his most child-like manner, and turned his face into the caress, letting the feeling of protection wash over him.

The man's breath caught at Duncan's response. "Oh? And what would you consider to be not funny?"

"This." Duncan reached his hands around the other man's neck and pulled him into a fierce kiss. The feathers tickled his nose, and Duncan sneezed, pushing himself away. "I don't think sex is funny, not unless you're watchin'."

"So you are interested in sex." His voice was indulgent and self-satisfied, yet threaded with passion.

The sound reminded Duncan of the morning after, as he held a lover in his arms. He felt momentarily sober, and the heat in his veins turned to ice, his stomach pitching and swaying like a ship on the ocean. He'd thought about it before, earlier tonight in fact. He'd been on the edge of arousal since the green room, but he wasn't sure he wanted to follow through, especially not with another Immortal.

But if this man wanted to kill him, he could already have done so, within a minute of their meeting. So maybe it would be safe to accept his offer, maybe he would understand.


The other man seemed aware of Duncan's thoughts, and that word sealed their fate. Duncan knew he physically wanted this man, but he also needed to trust him, and that was more important. Yet his faith in this stranger was primal, instinctual perhaps, a soul-deep conviction that nothing this man did would ever bring Duncan to harm.

"You are new to this." It wasn't quite a question, but it wasn't a statement either, more a blending of the two.

"Well, aye." Duncan nodded, not looking up at the other man, embarrassment over his own desires suddenly careening through him, taking his breath away.

The man's voice was flavored with reassurance. "But you want to."

"Aye." It came out as a whisper, a request more than a demand.

"You are beautiful, and you are innocent. I want to as well." He stood and pulled Duncan to his feet, removing his misshapen mask and tossing it to the ground. "Come with me." He held out his hand and Duncan grabbed it desperately, like a lifeline tossed from shore. The man reeled him in and slid his hand around Duncan's back, creating a yawning chasm filled with anticipation in the hollow of MacLeod's stomach. "There is a small gazebo not far from here, on the other side of the maze. I had planned to spend the night there and avoid the rest of this good company." He ran his fingers through Duncan's hair, pulling him close, his lips a butterfly kiss against Duncan's as he spoke. "I have everything there that we might need for the night."

Their lips brushed, touched, and opened. Their tongues curved against each other in passion. Duncan could feel the strength of the man's chest where it pressed against him and hear the ragged heartbeat in the pounding of blood in his veins. Through the thin cloth, he could feel the other man's hard nipples and erect cock crush against his own. Their hands touched and fondled everything without thought, until even the slight breeze against overheated skin made them both moan in delight.

Duncan made himself relax and let the other's mastery overwhelm him. He eagerly allowed the other man to claim his mouth, felt his body invaded by the other's tongue. It touched here, and there, flicking over his teeth and touching the roof of his mouth, a touch that pulled a deep groan from the back of Duncan's throat. The heat of the other suffused his own body, drying Duncan's wet clothes, making his balls ache with desire as warmth and safety descended on him like a benediction.

Blood pounded in his temples, and the beat of his heart wrenched a moment of clarity from the tempest of sensation snarling his mind. Duncan realized one thing had not yet been asked. "Who are you?" he whispered, "Are you some sort of witch who will vanish with dawn's light?"

"No, I am a man, just as you are Duncan MacLeod. No more, no less." He seemed to consider for a moment, staring up into the stars. Some decision reached, he ran his hand down Duncan's face and let it rest solidly on his chest. "And my name," he closed his eyes momentarily, took a deep breath and let it out again, "My name is Methos."

"Methos." Duncan whispered, unconsciously mimicking the other's tone, staring into the gray-green eyes.

Cullen woke suddenly, one hand already wrapped around his sword. He sensed no true danger nearby, nor even MacLeod's presence. Instead, he felt just the echo of a black, chilling chime, fading into the brutal stillness, like a thief in the night. As soon as the tone faded, laughter returned, strained and harsh, a frenzied fury of noise as if to deny the existence of the chime.

But laughter could never drown out the need that pounded in Brian's veins, never completely cover the ache that beat within his soul, an ache that only death itself could erase. He wanted to die, he waited to die, but he could not allow himself to die. Every fight he fought at his best, whether his opponent were mortal or immortal. He supposed that when his skill with a blade failed him, he would run, run and hide, the way so many other Immortals ran. He knew himself to be a coward, and so could not seek out Death's kiss.

Instead he waited, hoping that death would knock upon the door, the most welcome lover in the world.

Other than MacLeod.

He groaned again, throwing his arm over his eyes, trying to drown out the images of Duncan that swept through his mind; part of Brian still trembled with fear whenever the other man got too close. Whenever he smelled the musky sweat when they'd sparred or jostled together in a buggy, or let his head drop in mock sleep against MacLeod's shoulder, just to be nearer, he knew fear. There was a darkness inside him, a darkness that lusted after his own gender, after men, all kinds of men, strong men, dangerous men and beautiful men, mortal and immortal, and he knew that darkness wanted MacLeod. It wanted his innocence, it wanted his youth, it wanted his uncorrupted and immortally incorruptible body. It wanted those hands that had touched him so innocently earlier this night, those hands that had brushed the dirt from his legs, to travel higher, to brush his cock and tease him with their strength. He could feel them stroke his face and lips, could feel their grip in his hair, pulling him down, forcing him to take Duncan's thick cock between his own lips and suck it, sucking it in ecstasy forever. He rolled over and rubbed himself against the mattress, the sensation of pressure against his hard cock mild in comparison to what he truly wanted. His own groans tore him from his fantasy, and he lay shivering, sweat drying on his skin, clutching at the bed.

Being near Duncan was pain; leaving him was torment. It was something Brian knew he could never speak about to MacLeod nor to any other.

And now, MacLeod was missing. Brian could not even feel his presence.

He quickly pulled on his boots and gathered up their coats, noticed Duncan's sword still lying in the folds of the heavy wet wool, and his anxiety grew. Death had knocked upon the door; the time had come to leave. Cullen stared out the window; the storm had abated enough that the journey could continue without undue discomfort. He had forgotten that tonight was the night of the full moon; the icy light poured down from a tear in the dark clouds, defining the huge formal garden below, the tall trees farther distant, and the low hills on the horizon. Small figures walked in pairs in the garden, even in the hedge maze, bodies tightly wrapped around each other in the chill, clear air.

He needed to find MacLeod and leave, following the storm if necessary, if it would get them safely away from here. Something was wrong, he could feel it, taste it in the air, smell it on the wind. Something waited for him here, called to him, and right now, Brian knew he would not win the match.

Once he found MacLeod, there would be no need to wait for morning. The horses would have rested some, just as he had, and he and MacLeod could make their way to the nearest village and the closest inn.

To be polite, Brian picked up a drink as he passed through the ballroom. A whiff, a simple taste, and Cullen knew it to be laudanum. He gulped it down, like a man dying of thirst. The music pounded into him, demanding his attention, but Brian coldly refused to join the throng, the blueness of the room reminding him of frozen rivers and glacial ice. What manner of people were these, whirling and spinning one another as if a dance had the power to keep death at bay?

He had no interest in the dancers or the food, only the laudanum. The orgy in the green room just magnified his shame as he suddenly stumbled upon two men together, one pressed deep into the back of another. Mesmerized, he felt himself harden as he watched, in his mind, imagining MacLeod above him, pressing himself deep into Brian's hole, tearing his life apart. Filling him with completion, punishing him with pain and rewarding him with pleasure as he rhythmically pumped into Brian's ass.

His eyes closed for a moment as he pictured what it would be like to be so possessed, and to have MacLeod do the possessing. To be safely held in the arms of a powerful lover, connected at the root to a beloved friend, protected and secure. A whole man, unafraid of life and its decisions, or death and its answers.

His fascination must have been obvious. Cullen noticed another man disengage himself from his partner and turn towards him. Shame took root deep within Brian's soul, and he turned, running through the next two rooms so quickly that he saw nothing of what happened there. He slowed down as he entered the violet room, entrapped by the sight of the black door and the feel of an Immortal's presence. With an instant's hesitation, Brian pulled back the dark curtain and plunged inside, needing to find MacLeod.

The gazebo was pleasant, sheltered away from the worst of the storm, yet open on all sides to the night air. There were pillows and blankets, as well as an ancient clay oil lamp for light. Everything smelled clean and fresh, and ever so faintly of lavender.

Duncan paced nervously, unwilling to settle. In the walk through the maze, he'd had time to think, but his body was no less overwhelmed. Methos had a way about him, one that spoke to MacLeod of time and experience. During their walk through the maze, whenever MacLeod had begun to doubt his decision, Methos would pull him close into another persuasive kiss, or his hands would roam teasingly over Duncan's body, or stroke possessively through his hair. Every inch of Duncan's skin trembled; he needed more: for the touches to be stronger, more insistent in their demands; for the kisses to last longer, shattering him with their hunger; for the erratic rhythm of their breathing to pass into tormented groans.

Fumbling with buttons and fastenings, MacLeod removed his shirt, suddenly shy. He'd bedded over a hundred women in his life; why did the thought of bedding a man wrap him in a patchwork of conflicting desires? He was excited and terrified, starving yet nauseous, a fine cold sweat running down his chest, back and arms.

He wanted-and didn't want-to take the next step.

Because he knew he would not be taking Methos this night. He knew Methos was going to take him. Duncan's cock hardened and lengthened within his trousers, knowing it was true. Taking a man was probably similar to taking a woman, when all was said and done, but he had never yet experienced what it was like from the other side.

He wanted very much to find out.

And Methos seemed willing to teach him.

Duncan turned to Methos and inhaled sharply as the lamplight washed over the slim form, naked against the night. Muscles stood out from skin, sharply drawn with contrast, flickering moments of shadow and light.

He was beautiful.

He seemed to notice MacLeod's inability to deal with fabric and string, walked over to him and gently eased the white shirt off the broad shoulders. "Let me."

Form and plane, hard muscle revealed, Duncan was entranced as he watched Methos' heart beat under the skin at his neck. He could not help himself. He reached out and stroked it, delighting in the way Methos arched into the touch.

"Yes." His voice was low and sibilant and filled with need. "Touch me."

Each time Methos unfastened a button, Duncan responded with a new touch in a different place. He stroked hands and thighs, and chest, arm and forearm, shoulder, hip and neck. He barely felt the cotton slide from his own shoulders, so engrossed he was in the feel of another man's body.

Pale skin and taut muscle moved under his hands like the sand shifting in the desert. Fine hairs lay scattered along chest and arms, beckoning Duncan's caress. He traced through them, watching them part at his hand's passage, leaving little furrows behind. He felt more than heard his partner's gasp as Duncan followed his hand's path with his mouth and tongue, nibbling, biting and kissing his way to Methos' chest.

He felt Methos' long-fingered hands cup the muscles of his chest under his nipples, then flick at the tiny nubs, turning them to wrinkled points with the quick flick of a nail. Duncan threw back his head and gasped, the sensation more intense than any he could remember. Then he leaned into Methos, kissing and sucking at the juncture of neck and collar, teasing the other man's nipples as he had teased MacLeod's own.

There was laughter and freedom as they kissed and touched, hands, eyes and tongues delighting in the press and feel of supple skin as each strained against the other, trying desperately to meld their forms. Caresses locked the taste and texture of one other in memory, branding it within their minds as they delved into the hidden places of their bodies. Duncan gasped as Methos' tongue glided between his ribs, and into the crease of his arm. The other man seemed fascinated with MacLeod's body, running his hands over Duncan's shoulders and chest, down his arms and to the small of his back, pressing them together.

Their cocks touched, and it was as if lightning had returned to the garden; Duncan threw back his head and moaned. "I cannot wait." He hissed in raptured torment, his hands clenched tight around Methos' arms, pressing upward and down again, pulling at the fine hair and muscle, demanding fulfillment.

"You can wait." Methos captured MacLeod's ass in his hands and pressed him forward, grinding himself against Duncan's cock. His own breath was labored and heavy as he added, "And I can." He drew back, sliding insistent fingers across MacLeod's sweat-slickened abdomen and down to his thighs, nestling in the thicket of curls where the shaft jutted out from his body. "But we don't have to." He grazed the tip of Duncan's cock with his palm, then captured it and his own cock in one hand, and pulled MacLeod into a kiss with the other.

The twin sensations of lips and hands filled Duncan, and he groaned into Methos' mouth, only vaguely aware as he was gently pressed down onto the blankets on the wooden floor. Methos stared down at him in the lamp light, a smile shading his face. "It's easiest if you get on your knees."

Mac turned around, his heart thudding in his chest, while Methos opened the bottle of oil. The scent of olive oil mixed in with the rest of the night, recalling nights spent with Fitzcairn in Verona. Good food, good company, good times indeed. And now new memories as well.

One finger, slick with the oil, pressed into Duncan, opening him. He took a deep breath and let it slowly out, adjusting to the new sensation. Methos thrust into him again, and this time Duncan surged to meet it.


Duncan nodded, not trusting his voice, his existence narrowing to the feeling of the other man pressing into his body. Two fingers pulled and stretched him, carefully preparing him for what he knew would come.

Then three fingers pressed deep into his body, and Duncan divined renewed pleasure from the press and feel of Methos' flesh within his innermost self.

A sensuous feeling of light passed through him as Methos removed his hand and pressed the head of his cock into Duncan's opening. Mac's head arched back, hard, as he felt himself invaded, and, unable to help himself, he groaned. Methos' hands gripped his shoulders, as he pressed himself in. He paused, waiting, and Duncan forced himself to relax, forced himself to ignore the dull throbbing ache inside him. Methos slid his hands down Duncan's muscular arms, placing his hands over MacLeod's own, lacing their fingers. Duncan could feel Methos' weight upon his back, feel the slide of skin on skin, and Methos took him just a little bit more, slowing pushing his way in until Duncan could feel the fine hairs at the base of Methos' cock teasing the skin of his ass. His eyes closed, all attention on these new sensations, feeling deeply connected. He could feel Methos' sac press hotly against his own, filling a need in him he had never known. He opened his mouth, panting with small, quiet breaths, and worked his way past the pain to someplace he'd never been.

It was impossible, horrific in its way, the feeling of total and utter possession by another man.

And yet there was something more.

He found joy in the surrender of his freedom to a lover and the abdication of control, allowing himself to feel safe and secure in the arms of a powerful and trustworthy man. Methos would not hurt him; Duncan was more certain of that than that flowers would return in the spring. He willingly had stepped off the cliff, knowing he would be caught. His blood pounded in his ears as he felt Methos press his full length down onto MacLeod's back.

Methos kissed the back of his neck, and whispered into his ear. "This is the worst of it. We need not go farther unless you will it."

Duncan nodded, barely hearing the words, yet understanding the offer for what it was, an offer to let him take control, an offer he would refuse. "I want it."

"Good, because I don't think I could stop."

Sighs of pleasure were exchanged in tandem, as Methos began to thrust, turning the pain into awareness and response. Methos sank down across Duncan's back, wrapping his hand around the needful shaft, thrusting harder into MacLeod's ass.

Duncan moved as well, in time to the primal beat, sweat making their bodies slick, the slide a smooth easy thrust of passion and back again. Arms stroking arms, hands touching hands, fingers flexing in time to the thrusts, pouring through them and transforming them into something beyond human yet less than gods in a pagan moonlit night. Their thighs moving against each other, and the fire of Methos' body covered him, as his sweat mixed with Methos' and slid down his arms. His back, ass and legs were covered as well, and his hair fell in his eyes like a lion's mane, until he had to shake it away so he could see.

Their need pounded through Duncan's body, turning his mind to ash, his thoughts to color, his body to fire. He could see nothing, feel nothing except the power of Methos behind him and in him, filling him beyond anything he had ever dreamed. He could not speak, only groan and sigh the way the trees do when they are taken by the wind.

And finally, he could not even do that.

His body trembled as waves of passion crested, breaking against the power of the man filling him. Duncan gasped and shuddered, his body trembling with release. He threw his head back and yelled; his voice matched by another's, and then the feeling of Methos' essence filled him, joining them in some way Duncan could not comprehend.

The moment of clouds and rain gave way to the comforts of the flesh. "Shhh" Methos kissed the back of Duncan's neck, and stroked the fine hairs there. "I need to slide out."

In a way, the emptiness hurt more than the taking, but only until Methos pulled him down, and wrapped MacLeod within his arms, kissing him.

Duncan smiled and nestled himself into Methos' side, for once allowing himself to revel in the offered protection.

Brian entered the ominous black room with its blood-red windows, intending to search for MacLeod. The moment he realized Duncan was not in the oppressive darkness, his attention was grabbed by the man in the center of the room, a man whose knifelike gaze informed Cullen that here was the other Immortal. The man seemed to have no interest in Brian beyond mere curiosity, and that suited both of them well.

Then the man moved, all eyes in the room watching him as he limped to where Cullen stood, the man's motions sharp and quick despite his use of a cane. His long hair ran wild, while his shirt lay opened to the waist, revealing a somewhat hollow chest. Ten or fifteen people lay on the floor propped up on cushions or blankets or wads of clothing, unable to tear their eyes away from the confrontation, even as they passed the opium pipe from one to another, and then to the man in front of Brian.

"Are you here for me?" the strange, charismatic man asked quietly. "For if you are, I will need to find a sharper sword than this." He pounded his cane into the ground.

Brian shook his head, mesmerized by the man in front of him. "I am here for no one."

"Then we are well met." The other man bowed slightly and gestured Brian to enter the room. "For I would not think to challenge Europe's best swordsman, should Brian Cullen be here for anyone."

Brian felt the blood pound through his veins as he stared at the other man. "You know me?"

"I know of you. Here," he took the pipe away from the woman that sprawled at his feet and lifted it to Brian's lips, bidding him to inhale. "The dreams help you forget."

Unable to help himself, Brian did as the man silently asked. The smoke filled his lungs and slowed his thoughts, and a feeling of lassitude invaded his body. The other man smiled and traced down Brian's cheek with a single finger, watching his reactions intently, letting the finger finally rest against his parted lips

Brian trembled as he exhaled, the smoke swirling out and around the gently testing finger, feeling himself harden at that smallest of touches.

A woman called plaintively to the man with the cane, distracting him from Brian's side. "Lord Byron, please, your story?"

With a grand inclination of his head, he returned to his tale and the center of the room, leaving Brian stunned and feeling slightly bereft.

Lord Byron was immortal.

Entranced, Brian settled down onto the nearest cushion, forgetting his search for MacLeod. He lay the coats next to him, then removed his jacket. Everyone in the room had stripped down to less than that, all of them curled up to listen to Byron's tales, lyrical poetry that he apparently created with the most casual of thought. Food and drink circulated around the room-Brian could never tell where it came from or where it went to-and he partook of it all, especially the drink, watching, waiting, feeling the power of the man who held their rapt attention.

Lord Byron moved around the black room, brandishing his cane, touching any he found, laying kisses and small bites on any bare flesh he touched. Occasionally, he would take a sip of the nearest glass, or drink it dry. Always, wherever he moved, wherever he lighted, he was the center of attention, a spellbinder holding them all in thrall.

Byron never stopped talking, circling the room like a caged tiger, looking for the right moment to pounce.

The clock struck, but here, in the center of the web where the chime was the loudest, the flies paid no attention, mesmerized by the spider, who wrapped them in the softest of silk, picking and choosing from among them the one that had the sweetest meat.

Byron finally lighted on a cushion behind the now-reclined Cullen, stroking his back and side, then grabbed a pitcher of laudanum from a table and poured a full glass. As he had with the pipe, he offered the drink to Cullen, and this time Brian sat up and took it out of the poet's hands. Their fingers touched, gentle then harsh, and Brian looked at him. His gaze locked with Byron's, and Brian lifted his glass in small salute. Then, without a second's thought, he drained the glass, knowing that the dreaming he saw on the faces of the rapt sycophants would soon be his as well.

As if that had been a signal, Byron sat back, pulling Cullen down and into his lap. As he spoke, he twined his fingers in Brian's hair, lacing it through his hands. Cullen could feel the hard cock against his cheek through the soft satin pants, and he hesitantly pressed against it, then quickly looked up into Byron's eyes.

The poet smiled his approval, and Cullen closed his eyes for a moment, reveling in the feeling of the man's hardness, almost believing that his thoughts about Duncan had created this sensuous reality.

He opened his eyes again, stretching into the caress like a cat in heat, wanting nothing more than to feel a somewhat harder stroke. Byron seemed to notice, raking Cullen's chest with his nails, pinching the nipples into points.

The pain momentarily focused his sluggish mind, and Brian had a brief moment of clarity. Vaguely, he noticed one of the scantily-clad women close to him hyperventilate and surge to her knees; he stared in horror as he watched blood drip down her cheek from the corner of her eye.

No one else noticed.

He moved to shove Byron away that he might go to her, but she collapsed before he could leave the cushion of Byron's legs. Slowly, carefully, Brian crawled past a few other revelers to where the young woman lay, and pulled her head up onto his thighs.

Everyone ignored him as he passed, their lives focused purely on Byron and his tales.

Brian gently stroked the girl's impossibly pale skin, a few scattered drops of blood clinging to his fingers, looking like roses in winter snow. He pushed the girl's hair out of her face, and sought for some sign of life.

There was none.

"She is dead," he whispered.

"Yes, she is." The voice startled him and Brian looked up, the image of Lord Byron filling his eyes.

Byron wasn't looking at him though; he was looking at the girl, reaching out and caressing her face. "What a lucky woman, to die so young." He moved his hand, turning from the girl's face to Brian's, running his hand along the other's chin. "They all die, don't you envy that? Don't you want to die, my friend?" He reached his hand to the back of Brian's head and pulled him up into a kiss.

Brian's senses flooded and the dead girl rolled off his lap. He reached to Byron as well, fighting him with his tongue, each trying to deepen the kiss through the other's defenses. Desperation filled him and he drank in Byron's desire as he'd drunk the laudanum, as a way of shutting off his mind. Long-bridled passion overcame his hands and mouth, as he grasped Byron's thin shoulders and pulled the poet to him. The other occupants, startled by the sudden cease of Byron's voice, awakened to the sensuousness of other bodies close by, and sought their warmth, heat against the sudden chill.

Clothes quickly scattered across the floor, and the scent of sex filled the air, mingling with the opium, creating a tapestry of desire. Each noise from each of the couples inflamed the desires of the others, and soon there were no more couples to be found, only a writhing mass of flesh determined to seek its own pleasure at any cost.

Save for the two Immortals.

Byron laid him down upon the cushions, and shoved his shirt up and away, raking his hands along his chest; Cullen arched into the caress, enjoying the tiny moments of pain where the nails broke the skin. His breath became sharp and Byron rolled him onto his to his side, and Brian became dimly aware of the still form of the dead girl's stomach pressed against the top of his head.

Byron seemed not to notice, his attention solely on Brian, closing off the rest of the room. "You want this." He ran his hands down Brian's legs to his ass, threading himself between them, until his cock pressed against Brian's ass, almost before Brian noticed it. The feeling was so intense, Brian gasped, and the poet pulled away, looking at him with wicked eyes.

"It's better if you're naked."

Brian gave a sharp mewl of pain as Byron entered him, almost immediately after their clothing had been shed. No one else seemed to notice his discomfort, caught up in their own particular lusts. But to Cullen's confusion, the pain only seemed to enhance his drive toward pleasure, the spiral of release beckoning him with each thrust of Byron's cock, as if this was what he needed to make him whole. They bit, they kissed, they writhed, they pinched; sometimes drawing blood, often not. Like two bears wrestling for control, they collided with each other, seeking their own release.

Finally, Brian gave in, accepting his own desire to be dominated by another man, letting that release him from his own cowardice and the terrible choices that must be made. He rolled onto his chest, his face against the cushion, ass lifted high in the air, allowing Byron even deeper into his body. He knew that whatever his fantasies, MacLeod could never give him this, could never take him in this fashion. Byron seemed to ignore Cullen's submission as he pounded more fiercely into Brian, leading the way to the culmination of their need. As sensation overwhelmed him, Brian grasped his own cock, pulling and twisting it in time to the thrusts, shuddering and gasping without control. Cullen arched as he came, his hand on his own shaft and the feeling of Lord Byron's cock deep inside him, slick with the poet's essence.

It was the most intense and exciting sex Brian had had in years. But the thought of what it meant terrified him, and the enormity of what was happening struck him like the death blow he so feared.

An unearthly chill filled his chest and heart, as feelings of horror, shame and consternation echoed through his soul. He had to get away. He grabbed at his clothing and stood on trembling legs, but Byron clutched his arm and pulled him back down to his knees. The poet's eyes glowed like a demon's, trying to lure Cullen back into their tryst, but Brian knew he could not, would not do this.

Lord Byron merely looked at him with a mocking smile. "This is what you are, my friend. I know my own kind. No matter where you run, you cannot escape it."

Unable to turn away from those demanding eyes, Brian struggled to pull his breeches on over his shriveled cock, humiliation vibrating in every corner of his soul. He backed away on his knees, acutely conscious of the drip of semen down his thighs, and wanted to disappear from the face of the earth as Byron laughed loudly and cruelly after him.

Finally, at the entrance of the room, Brian managed to push himself up onto unsteady feet, leaned against the aged oak doorframe, and hurriedly pulled on the rest of his clothes. He pressed MacLeod's-MacLeod!-and his own coat to his chest, and turned, tearing through the rooms looking for his friend, wondering what nightmare the Highlander might have found.

Even as he ran, he knew the rooms held nothing, no other Immortal present. Despair wracked him as he struggled to hang on to his sanity, knowing that everyone could see what he'd done, feel the oily glaze upon his soul. He stumbled from room to room, trying to find his savior, but could not find any hint of Duncan's presence. The house itself rose up against him, a maze of artificial colors and sound swirling around him, distracting him from his goal. Finally, in the deep purple room again after twice circling the house, Brian gave up. The smells of the food turned his stomach to charcoal and ash. He pressed himself back against the wall, covering his eyes, feeling a scream tear at his throat, demanding to be let out. He knew himself for what he was: a perversion of nature that could not die, an abject coward, and a lover of men: corruption made flesh.

A breeze tickled his cheek, and startled, Brian looked up. There was a great open door across the way from him, and the breeze came from there. The same harsh moonlight that he'd seen so long ago from the window upstairs illuminated a balcony and an entrance to a garden. Maybe MacLeod had felt this place as oppressive as he did; maybe Duncan had needed air too. Brian fought the nausea that threatened as he slowly filtered his way through the crowd, pulling away from the slightest of touches, seeking the door and the salvation of the garden. Behind him, he could hear someone shout for a doctor, as the dead girl's body was noticed.

Duncan and Methos lay entwined in each other's arms, backs cushioned by a pile of blankets covering the floor. Methos lazily ran a finger through the hair on Duncan's chest, occasionally stopping to card it with his entire hand. Duncan growled at the back of his throat, but it seemed to have no impact on Methos' almost meditative caress.

Distant shouting pulled Methos away from MacLeod, a vague and indistinct noise calling for a doctor. Almost instantly, Methos gathered his costume together, quickly pulling it on and setting himself to rights. "Something has happened. I must go." Duncan's disappointment must have been apparent, as Methos paused in his dressing, knelt and slid his hands over MacLeod's chest, drowning him in another deep kiss. "I promise, I will be back."

The gentleness was still there, no hint of anything other than truth. Duncan nodded, then Methos pulled one of the blankets out from underneath MacLeod and drew it over him. Another kiss, this one deeper, a hint of rekindled desire, and then Methos left.

Duncan stared up into the night, counting the stars that the bright moon did not obscure. They seemed so different from the ones of his youth, yet they were the same. It comforted him to see the unchanging sameness of the night sky, when everything within him cried out at the changes this night had wrought in his image of himself. It had taken him over two hundred years to get to this moment, but now he had made love with another man. The sex had been glorious, ecstatic, and passionate but there had been more to it than that. He had allowed someone else past the barriers he'd carved, let someone else care for him. Whoever Methos was, the man fit with him like an extension of himself, easing all Duncan's fears, fulfilling his most primitive needs. Whatever happened in his life, this night would be an anchor, a touchstone for when times grew hard.

The air ruffled his hair, cooling his skin, clearing his mind; he felt pleasant, almost buoyant about what he had done. The breeze caressed him again, and Duncan shivered, pulling the blanket tighter around himself. He could go in, he supposed, as Methos had done, but with the aftermath of the storm, everything felt fresh and new and clean, and he wanted to stay here, stay away from the cloying press of the crowds, enjoying the night. His smile was too wide to stay off his face for long, and Duncan knew what he had done was right. He trusted Methos, knew that the other man trusted him, and knew they would protect each other. Exhaustion stole over on him, and he closed his eyes, reveling in the warmth left by Methos' body. For a moment, he allowed himself to listen to the small noises of the night, no longer worried about his past, his present, or his future.

But despite his best intentions to stay awake, Duncan rolled over, pillowed his head upon his arms and slept, long before Methos returned.

The harsh shadows of the moonlight created a black and white world that seemed to mutely judge Brian as he wandered through the topiaries and hedge maze, seeking his friend. Part of him feared the worst-that Duncan had been killed while Brian still lived-and he braced himself, should he discover a headless body.

Finally, in a corner of the garden, in a gazebo, he found MacLeod.

Duncan's body was lying almost naked on the hard wooden floor, partially-covered by a blanket, his ass and thighs escaping its warmth. Horror and outrage filled him as Brian took in the healing bruises the moonlight revealed, and the obvious imprint of another man's hands. The marks of dissolution and dissipation written on that naked skin bore certain testimony to MacLeod's recent violation, underscored by the echo Brian felt on his own skin, and from deep within his own body, where he had been touched.

While he had let Byron take him, someone else had taken MacLeod.

A wellspring of emotion surged and bubbled its way through his own damned soul, piercing through Brian's skin, seeking release into the night. Brian barely contained it, falling to his knees as tears of despair coursed down his face. He sweated and trembled on his knees, the only sound from his lips a low, keening 'No' that fragmented itself on the sudden sharp stillness of the night.

The man he had wanted for so long, a man whose innocence he had cherished, who had been like a brother in everything but name, had been damned beyond redemption while he himself toyed with death. His pain could not be contained, and a low moan escaped Brian's lips, climbing in power and passion, transforming into a howl of outrage that shattered the night.

Slowly, the howl became a sob, and then a shuddering breath. Brian pushed himself upright, standing again, knowing where his duty lay.

This hell had been constructed of Brian's desires, and he owed it to Duncan to get him quickly away, before the demons returned. He forced himself to walk forward, knowing that the sentence for his crimes would be an eternity of pain, knowing that he would never be able to lean on Duncan again.

MacLeod awakened when Brian came near, his hand instinctively searching for a sword, but finding none. His eyes shot open and he rolled to his feet. "Brian?" His voice was distant, still laid in the tones of sleep. He seemed dazed, as if something were not quite right, as if something were missing. Brian closed his eyes as a chill ran through him, trying not to look at the lax genitals and matted hair, the bruised skin and scratches. What could he say to his friend who had been raped?

He opened his eyes as Duncan cleared his throat and asked, "What happened to you?"

The brown eyes stared at him and Cullen's stomach churned with thoughts of what had happened. It made it worse to think of someone lying with MacLeod, taking his innocence, corrupting him, while Brian had desired, no encouraged, himself be violated by some other man. "You fell asleep." He shoved denial at Duncan along with his clothes, hoping the other man would take it and forget what had happened. "Get dressed. There is another Immortal here."

"I know." His voice was low and trembled with suppressed emotion. "We met."

His voice implied so much that Brian was flooded by thoughts. Had Byron been the one to steal Duncan's innocence, even as he had sealed Brian's fate? "Duncan, we have to leave now. It's time we were going."

As he finished buttoning his shirt while they walked, Duncan stumbled over some sort of feather mask buried in the dirt. He reached down to pick it up, but Brian jerked him away, pulling him off balance. To compensate, Cullen steadied him, his arm wrapped around Duncan's waist, half-shoving, half-carrying him toward the waiting carriages. A mad crowd pushed and shoved against them as they walked, revelers fleeing the chateau. Brian cast nervously about him, making sure that no other Immortals were nearby.

MacLeod seemed not to notice the confusion, lost in memories of his recent past. Duncan kept babbling at him, each word cutting deeper into Cullen's soul, laying him open like a fisherman's knife. "I had a dream. There was a man, Methos, and-"

Brian cut him off sharply as he shoved the Highlander and his coat into their carriage. "Methos is a legend, the world's oldest living Immortal." His voice was grim, determined in its force as he pulled the blanket over Duncan and swung himself into the driver's seat. "That was no dream you had, MacLeod. It was a nightmare, nothing more." His hands were white, his grip tight about the reins. "Nothing more." With a sharp flick, he urged the horses back down the roadway, leaving all their dreams far behind.

The researcher's words echoed oddly in the bedroom alcove. "Ah, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." He grabbed a can of beer from the pile next to him on the floor and tossed it to the Highlander. "Have a beer."

The can arched through the air of Pierson's Paris apartment, and Duncan caught it easily. Something bothered him about this; there was an air of familiarity about the man on the floor and his voice that MacLeod couldn't quite place.

The Watcher, Adam Pierson, spoke again in deliberate tones. "Mi casa es su casa."

Mac looked at the beer, then back at where Adam reclined on the floor, his voice a beacon illuminating memories of a night long ago, and a dream of absolute trust, unchanging stars and a moonlit gazebo somewhere in Switzerland. He felt stunned. It could not be, should not be, yet it must be true. "Methos?"

Methos nodded, confirming the answer.

And their dance began again.

The End