DISCLAIMER - Highlander and its characters is the copyright of Rysher and Panzer/Davis Productions and no infringement is intended. The story, such as it is, is copyright Karen Colohan December 1999.

With thanks to Margaret for being an immensely kind beta! :-)

It must be late. It has to be, but tonight I've utterly lost track of time. I know Joe left us to it long ago, trusting us to lock up when we're ready to leave. Gods alone know when that will be. I, at least, have too much on my mind - none of it especially pleasant - to contemplate going home yet. Too many ghosts are clamouring for attention. I don't want to be alone with them. So I find myself sitting here as I've been doing for the past few hours, drinking in silence and clinging to the illusion of companionship. And it is only an illusion. Even though Duncan MacLeod is sitting here at the same table with me, I find I simply can't look at him any more.

It's been that way since Mac walked back in the door earlier. I met his eyes for just a second then and knew that he had taken Byron's head. I don't know why I thought, even for a second, that there could have been any other outcome. Nevertheless, I resented the fact that Mac was still alive and Byron wasn't. And yet... well, if I'm honest the alternative really was unthinkable. So why does acknowledging that fact still feel like a betrayal of my friendship with Byron? Gods, I hate situations like these! Is it any wonder I dropped out of the Game for so long?

Still, if I set those thoughts aside for a moment, I suppose what it all comes back to is the fact that, deep inside, a part of me knows Mac was right. But I'm finding it hard enough to admit that to myself, so I'm damned if I'll admit it to him! Petty, I know, but things have been strained between us for a while now - hardly surprising really, since Mac discovered that the world's oldest Immortal had feet of clay... and blood-soaked ones at that - neither of us is prepared to concede anything to the other these days.

In the time I've had to think it has occurred to me that this may be the last straw for Mac and I. I suppose it's altogether possible that two friendships died tonight when Mac severed Byron's head from his body. That thought sends a deep chill through me, and I choose not to dwell on it.

Instead, my mind circles back to the cause of this latest rift between us, going over the facts yet again. No matter how often I re-examine them, though, the essentials remain the same. And, if I'm honest with myself, I can accept that Byron had to die. I might not want to, but that's a whole different story. I can decry Mac's honour code all I want, but the plain truth is that Byron had crossed the line this time. Mike Paladini really shouldn't have died. He was pressurised into doing things he didn't want to do just to get the attention of his hero. Damn it, Byron, some kind of a role model you turned out to be! You always liked to play games, but you had no right to gamble with other people's lives!

That admission leaves a bitter after-taste. Ah, Byron, I defended you to the last. I wonder if that would have meant anything to you? Probably not. Either way, in the end you were undeserving of my loyalty. I just didn't want to see what you had become, old friend. Mac was right...

Not that I had been prepared to concede that earlier, when Mac first returned, with your Quickening barely settled inside him. He tried to draw me out, unable to believe that I could still defend you, even then.

EARLIER THE SAME EVENING...

"You can't be his apologist still, not after all this, Methos!" MacLeod's heavy brows drew down in disapproval as he stared at me. I'd become all too familiar with that particular expression over the past few months. I was, after all, a constant source of disappointment to the Highlander these days.

"Why not? What would you know, anyway?" I really wasn't in the mood to be reasonable - especially not towards the man who had so recently ended a good friend's life.

"What Byron did... Damn it, Methos, whatever you say Mike's death was his fault, no one else's." Mac was adamant, but so was I.

"I won't accept that." It was a simple statement of fact, but I laced the words with steel. Case closed... Only Mac wouldn't let well enough alone.

"But why, Methos?" Damn MacLeod, couldn't he just accept my words at face value for once without trying to dig for buried truths. "You saw what he had become. I can't..."

"Yes, I saw, but Byron is - was - my friend!" My emphasis on the past tense was unsubtle and deliberately acid. "And despite what you may think, friendship and loyalty still mean something to me." Was I even talking about my relationship with Byron anymore? Or was I talking about the remnants of what lay between Mac and myself? Either way, I was bitter and angry and I could no longer stop myself from lashing out. If I hurt MacLeod in the process I didn't particularly care. "I choose to remember the good things, not just the bad. Whatever you may have thought of Byron, the man was a genius."

"Once, perhaps," Mac snapped, every bit as angry as I was. "He'd become nothing more than an empty shell, though, destroying whatever was left of himself - and any other poor fools who got too close!"

I closed my ears to the truth of MacLeod's words. It was too painful for me to hear. Gods, Byron had always had a self-destructive streak, it was true. In the end it had been what had driven us apart. But once there had been so much more as well. I would miss that Byron, miss him deeply.

Until this last chance meeting I had forgotten just how much he had once meant to me. He belonged to another part of my past that I had set aside and chosen not to recall. It had been something of a shock to come face to face with him again. A lot of old memories had resurfaced. The truth was that, when I first met Byron, he had made me come alive - much as a certain Highlander had done more recently. And now a part of me couldn't help but hate Mac for making me choose between them and, ultimately, for taking Byron away from me. It was foolish really, we hadn't seen anything of one another in decades, but I was determined to take this personally nonetheless.

******

"Methos?" MacLeod was trying to get my attention, it seemed, and his voice pulled me from my reverie. I glanced up at him coldly. "Methos, whether you believe it or not I am sorry I had to do it - for your sake, at least. I didn't realise you'd take his death this badly."

I had to laugh at the sheer effrontery of that comment. "Did you expect me to thank you?" I asked incredulously.

"Of course not," Mac retorted, "but I'm still surprised at your reaction. I didn't think he was that important to you. You'd never mentioned him before. Clearly he was a friend, but..."

"A friend? Have you learned nothing from his Quickening? He was my student, MacLeod!" My detachment finally cracked. "I taught him, watched him take his first head. You do understand that, don't you?"

For a long moment there was only silence between us. Then, suddenly, Mac was all solicitousness, reaching out to me. I wanted none of it, though, and withdrew from him, turning my head away again.

"My God... Methos, I had no idea," he said softly.

"You never bothered to ask!" I spat back at him.

"I realised you were friends, but I should have seen that there was more to it than that..." MacLeod's voice had dropped to little more than a whisper as he processed this new information.

"Yeah." In spite of myself a faint smile curved my lips as I let myself remember. "There was more, Mac, a great deal more..." The memories rose up around me and I let myself be drawn into them.

SWITZERLAND 1816

With the Shelleys, mercifully, departed from us I was once more left to deal with the bundle of contradictions and nervous energy that was Byron.

It was a relief of sorts that Mary was no longer near. I didn't need Byron's constant jibes to remind me that I wanted her; my body had made that plain. I had been honourable enough - barely - to resist the baser promptings of my nature when opportunity had presented itself. Damn Byron for encouraging me in my temptation! Yes, Mary was beautiful and I had desired her, but not as she lay unconscious and unaware. She was too good and sweet a person to be treated so rudely. The hedonistic pursuits we had all indulged in were one thing - the unwilling or, at least, unwitting seduction of a married woman quite another. Such actions belonged to a part of my past life I cared not to revisit.

Still, the distraction of the Shelleys' presence had served to curb some of Byron's wilder inclinations. I had seen for myself some of the excesses my student indulged in and had done my best to temper the worst of them. But the boy did not take well to being corrected and there were times he would defy me. More than once I had been tempted to walk away from him, but he could be beguiling when it suited him and, at the least, my life was never dull within his circle.

For now, though, there was only myself and Claire to entertain Byron. Poor, beautiful, foolish Claire, she had no idea of what she was dealing with - her danger. I did.

Byron was still drunk on the power of his first Quickening. Where he had been voracious before, now he was well nigh insatiable. A Quickening will do that to a man and Byron took full advantage of its energies. Yet Claire was only mortal, a fragile vessel - something Byron was apt to forget... or wilfully ignore. She never once complained - perhaps the morphine and the laudanum Byron plied her with kept her in ignorance of her own pain. But I knew if things went on as they were doing, unchecked, Byron would kill her, intentionally or not. Ever the showman, and the hedonist, now there was an almost manic desperation to Byron's wild diversions. The Quickening's power did not sit easy with him still, it required a release he had yet been unable to attain.

I had mentored Byron in many aspects of his Immortality, perhaps there were other things I still might teach him. I could not deny that the flame of his genius drew me - and I suspected a certain... curiosity in return. Would it be enough? It was time to find out.

Claire had but recently fled from the sitting room, Byron's taunts and laughter riding hard on her heels. Her clothes had been torn and disarrayed and her face bruised and reddened from her tears. She had evaded my attempts to offer comfort as she sought the sanctuary of her own room. Enough was enough. I knew I possessed a strength that Claire did not and so I would offer myself as a vessel for Byron's restless hunger.

I opened the door of the sitting room and entered. The place was darkened, lit only by firelight, and the writhing shadows cast on the walls by the flames seemed apt for what I intended. I closed the door behind me quietly and latched it. I preferred privacy for this particular lesson. As I turned back into the room I found Byron watching me, his eyes glittering with an unnatural light. He was sprawled bonelessly on a heap of cushions before the fire and a large vial of laudanum rested at his elbow. I sighed. Byron was always at his most unpredictable under the influence of laudanum.

Still, the picture Byron presented as he lounged casually in the firelight was not displeasing and I felt the first stirrings of desire in my blood. I did not come to this entirely unwilling although, as a rule, I preferred not to bed my students. I had found, in the past, that it led to unnecessary conflicts and complications, but every rule has its exception. This felt like one of those exceptions. So I walked steadily across the space between us and halted but a few feet from Byron. For a long moment I merely looked down at him and Byron did not question my intentions. He simply returned my stare with a faintly insolent look of his own.

Such an innocent boy he could appear, with his fair curls and lush mouth. But I had known Byron long enough to be well aware that the soul within that slender frame had cast off the last vestiges of innocence long since. So few years to his credit, by Immortal standards at any rate, and already Byron was more jaded than I... and I had close to five millennia of life and experience behind me.

Even so, there was no question, Byron was a genius. His gift with words was dazzling. His poetry alone would have been Immortal, even if his body were not. Yet, in the end, it seemed to mean nothing to him. His words were valueless in his own eyes, no matter the praises heaped upon them by others. Byron craved adulation and yet seemed unable to take pleasure in it when it was bestowed upon him. So he sought other sensations, other pleasures.

Byron was Immortal and yet he showed a singular inability to embrace life, his excesses ever more destructive. Such a bright flame, but how long could it burn in this way without consuming itself? It appeared that I would never be able to teach Byron to appreciate the value of enduring, of survival. He simply found the concept too tedious to entertain.

Finally, Byron tired of my silence. "So, what diversions do you have in mind for me this evening, doctor?" he asked. "I see that you presumed to lock the door. Do you have some arcane secret of our Immortality to entrust me with, then? Something not for mortal eyes?"

He had rolled onto his stomach as he spoke and now Byron propped himself up on his elbows amongst the cushions. He looked up at me expectantly, clearly waiting to be entertained. Now that he was closer I could see that Byron's lips were swollen and bruised from his dalliance with Claire. The sight was a distraction I was not yet ready for and I had to steel myself to speak in Claire's defence. I knew it would not please Byron, but whatever else passed between us this evening I would not allow him to hurt the girl any more.

"I saw Claire on my way in," I informed him calmly. "She looked - distraught."

Byron tossed his head dismissively. "That girl is becoming tedious. She even had the gall to try and refuse me - claimed she was feeling unwell."

"As well she might have been," I replied, allowing a harder edge into my voice. "She is only mortal, after all. You would do well to remember that. You use her too harshly at times. Should you kill Claire there will be no returning for her, so have a care."

"Is that your personal or professional opinion, doctor?" There was suddenly a dangerous note in Byron's voice.

"Both." I held his gaze, refusing to be cowed. Byron was unpredictable, potentially a danger to me, but I knew that should it come to blows I was far more of a threat to him.

Byron knew it too and eventually a sly look entered his eyes. "I know what game you play, doctor," he announced. "Now that the delightful Mary is departed you desire Claire for yourself instead. But you need not resort to such foolish excuses, man. Take her! I'm sure she'd not be unwilling in your arms."

"Thank you," I answered dryly. Perhaps it would be wiser not to correct Byron's misconception of my intentions towards Claire. If it won her a little peace it would be no bad thing.

"So, if you wish to steal my woman from me I believe it only fair that you provide me with some recompense," Byron decided. "What have you to offer me in her stead, sir?"

Byron's good mood had been restored as quickly as it had departed before. His whimsy also provided me with the opening I had been seeking. Before I had the opportunity to think better of it I sank to my knees in front of him. He watched my actions with faint curiosity. Clearly Byron was uncertain what I intended.

"I am but a simple doctor," I replied, ignoring Byron's snort of amusement at that statement. He knew I was far more than I claimed to be, although I had never admitted to him either my true name or age. But he permitted me the deception as I continued. "I have few possessions and none to match anything you have here. I can think of nothing to offer you that would not be a poor bargain..." I paused, building his anticipation. "Except, perhaps, myself."
I looked down at Byron, then, meeting his eyes boldly. There was no denying the spark of interest my suggestion had lit there. Byron rolled over again and sat up, leaning towards me. His expression was calculating.

"Yourself?" he asked slowly.

"Yes. My body in return for the use of Claire's," I elaborated.

Byron's gaze roamed over me, assessing, considering. There was the same casual possessiveness in his eyes that I had seen him direct at the women he used. Yes, he was interested in pursuing this bargain - and so was I. I found, a little to my surprise, that I was fully hard. It had not occurred to me to consider, before this, that I might genuinely desire Byron. Apparently I was better than I knew at sublimating my body's wants. Byron, of course, did not miss this outward sign of my interest. He grinned wolfishly as he noted my readiness.

"I accept your bargain. And now," he demanded, "I wish to see exactly what I have won the use of. I have to say," he added, "this evening proceeds far more promisingly than it began."

Byron settled himself back comfortably on the heaped cushions and looked at me expectantly. Clearly he was waiting for me to disrobe for him. I felt mingled anticipation and apprehension as I rose to obey the tacit command. I would underestimate what this man was capable of at my peril.

I knew well enough how to make a good show of undressing. I had been many things before I was a doctor and I had forgotten none of the skills I had learned. Sometimes the unlikeliest of talents may save one's life. My coat and shirt had buttons aplenty and I took my time unfastening them, making Byron wait for his first glimpse of my bare flesh. And clearly he was growing eager for it. As I finally drew my shirt aside Byron leaned forward, arms resting across one upraised knee. So, he did not wish me to see if he was as responsive to the sight of me as I had been to him. I smiled slightly. His body betrayed itself to me in far more subtle ways - the dilated pupils, the speeded pace of his breathing, both told me I was desired.

Now Byron watched avidly as I bent to remove my boots and stockings. I could guess what the dancing firelight did to the pale skin of my torso. More than one lover had, in the past, remarked upon the beauty of its smoothness when lit by the rosy warmth of a fire's glow. Byron might not have spoken the words aloud, but I could read the appreciation in his eyes nonetheless.

As I straightened up again my hands moved to unfasten my breeches. The fabric was stretched taut by my own arousal. This bargain certainly pleased me as well as it did Byron. I slid the tight cloth down my hips and let the breeches fall to my ankles, where I could step free of them. My erect penis stood as proudly as I did as I waited for Byron's next command. I knew better than to presume upon his wishes.

His eyes devoured me hungrily, missing nothing. There was little of love in that look, only a possessive lust. I had put myself in Byron's hands and had no idea what he might demand of me. All at once he moved, swiftly rising to his knees in front of me. Still, however, he made no attempt to touch me.

"And you thought I would consider this a poor bargain," said Byron finally. "You underestimate yourself, I think."

"If it pleases you to think so," I conceded, graciously.

"Come, my good doctor, enough of this false humility." Byron grinned slyly. "It suits you not at all. I know you've had your share of women since you joined me here. They evidently found you pleasing enough, so why should I not do the same? Now, join me, sit by my side and let us consider how this night should proceed."

I did as I was bid, making a comfortable place for myself amongst the cushions. I stretched out artfully, propping myself up on one elbow. After a moment's consideration Byron did likewise, mirroring my pose. Only a few scant inches separated us and I could smell the scent of arousal on him. I wondered how much longer he would draw this out. His gaze wandered back repeatedly to my erection and I began to long for the touch of something more tangible there.

"So, my good doctor..." Byron began.

"I do have a name," I prompted gently.

"Yes, Benjamin - I know it." Byron shrugged, dismissing my attempt at creating intimacy between us. "I prefer to remind myself of your esteemed profession tonight, I think."

"Oh?" I arched a brow in question.

"I find that my heart is in pain, Doctor Adams. Nothing satisfies me as it once did and yet I am barely come into my Immortality. Will you share your secrets with me? I know you are old beyond my comprehension and yet you can still find joy in living." There was something dark in Byron's eyes that belied the seeming calmness of his words. "I beseech you, heal the disquiet of my soul with your touch. Will you grant me this favour?"
"Sir, I think it is the Quickening..." I started to explain.

"Enough!" Byron raised a hand sharply to silence me. "And you may address me as 'my lord' this evening. I think it fitting, as you are here for my pleasure, that you should show me the proper respect."

Byron's mood swings were always mercurial. I should have been used to it, but the abrupt change in his demeanour still startled me - from trusted doctor to mere vessel for his pleasure in a heartbeat. Privately I wondered exactly where Byron intended taking this game now, though I could hazard a few guesses. I had seen him at play with Claire and other women before now and knew some of what pleased him. Well, if it would keep the boy from taking out his boredom and excess energies on those less able to cope with them then I could stand to sacrifice my pride and dignity for one night. Consequently, I veiled my eyes with my lashes in what I hoped was a suitably respectful manner.

"As you wish, my lord," I conceded.

"That's better!" I could hear the amusement in Byron's voice as the student seemingly bested the teacher. He was prideful enough not to question my compliance. "Now, show me what balm you have for my troubled body and soul."

I nodded my head in acquiescence. "May I touch my lord, then?" I asked.

"Of course you may. How else do you expect to please me? Now, be quick about it." There was impatience in Byron's tone, but I could tell my continued respectful obedience pleased him.

Carefully I reached across the small distance between us. With deft fingers I undid the buttons on his fine shirt, seeking the soft skin beneath. Byron's breath hitched as I found the pebbled nubs of his nipples. I stroked them gently with my fingertips, teasing them until they tightened into hard peaks. Then I leaned across and let my mouth continue what my fingers had begun.

Byron groaned and rolled onto his back. I moved with him, suckling first one sweet nub of flesh and then the other. With my mouth well occupied I let my hands roam elsewhere, smoothing fabric out of my way to reveal the slender body beneath. Byron was a beautiful boy, though not built to be a fighter. I wondered how long he would survive in the Game. Perhaps longer than one might expect - he was an apt pupil in the ways of trickery and had no qualms about employing such methods. That much at least he did learn from me.

I was allowed to continue my explorations unchecked until Byron lay naked before me. Then, unexpectedly, he reached up and pushed me away from him.

"No," he said petulantly, "I think you're enjoying this more than you should, doctor. You are here for *my* pleasure, not the other way about." Byron sat up and I gave way before him.

"I thought I was pleasing you," I dared to suggest.

"Perhaps, but on your terms only." Byron's eyes narrowed. "I don't believe that fulfils the conditions of our bargain."

"What do you wish, my lord?" I asked, although I was not entirely sure I wanted to hear the answer.

"I believe you are being insolent. Such behaviour should not go unpunished." The hard edge was back in Byron's voice. "And for tonight your body is mine to do with as I see fit. That is what you agreed to," he reminded me.

Byron climbed to his feet, limping a little as he crossed the room. I watched him a trifle apprehensively as he opened a cupboard and removed a box from it. This he brought back to where I still sat, patiently waiting. Byron dropped back amongst the cushions at my side and opened the box, showing it to me.

The contents were nothing I had not expected, nevertheless I felt my stomach churning at the sight of them. I had avoided these kind of games for long centuries - ever since I had played them for much higher stakes. Then, the price of disobedience had been death, and now it was well nigh impossible for me to view such play lightly. But Byron knew nothing of this, nor did I wish him to. I had promised myself that I would submit to his wishes - for Claire's sake - and so I would.

The first thing Byron drew out of the box was a silken blindfold. He motioned for me to turn around so that he might tie it in place. With a thrill of fear coursing through me I obeyed. Byron had folded the square of silk several times and it was thick enough to block my sight completely. As he fastened it securely in place I felt a momentary stab of real terror. I schooled myself quickly to calm. I had to trust that Byron would not take the game too far; that he did not desire to have my head, merely my body.

"So, doctor," Byron's voice sounded close by my ear, startling me. "How do you feel? Are you afraid? Claire likes the darkness, the element of surprise. Then again, dear, sweet Claire is nothing but a cheap whore... and maybe, in the darkness of your heart, you are too." The insinuating voice was darkly seductive and I felt myself drawn towards it.

"If it pleases you to believe so, my lord," I replied as calmly as my pounding heart would allow.

"Oh, I know so." Byron laughed. "The darkness frees you from the constraints of what is right and proper. Here there is only sensation... and look, see how your body betrays you."

I felt Byron's hand slide along the hard length of my penis. Then his fingers were at my lips, demanding entrance. I sucked them in and tasted my own wetness on them. Yes, my body remembered the pleasure that could be found in submitting to another's will. The fingers were withdrawn and I waited, adrift in my darkened world.

"Give me your hands." Byron's voice was in front of me now. Obediently I held them out and felt the cool kiss of leather against my wrists as Byron lashed them tightly together. "Now stand," he demanded.

Awkwardly, without sight or the use of my hands for balance, I climbed to my feet. I stumbled a little as one foot landed unevenly on a cushion, but the touch of an unseen hand steadied me. I sensed movement and guessed that Byron was circling me, surveying his possession.

Randomly he began to touch me - sometimes soft caresses and then stinging slaps - and always the touches came from a different quarter as Byron moved around me. It was disorientating and gave the impression that more than one person was with me, but I knew that perception to be false. Then, suddenly, there was nothing - all contact ceased.

I strained my ears, trying to discern Byron's breathing, but all I could hear were my own harsh breaths. Just as I began to think that I had been abandoned the warmth of another body wrapped itself around mine from behind.

"Now are you afraid?" Byron's hot breath seemed to burn the back of my neck as he spoke.

"Yes," I admitted harshly, realising that it was the plain truth. I no longer knew what to expect from Byron. I was totally in his hands. If he now chose to take my head I would never know it until it was too late and the fateful blow struck.

The laughter which greeted my reply did nothing to ease my disquiet. "Well, at least you are more honest about it than Claire. She pretends not to fear me, but I know she lies."

Byron was pressed close behind me now and I could feel the glide of his erection against my buttocks as he moved. Then he wound himself sinuously around me until we were face to face. He pushed my arms up above my head, out of his way. He ground his hips into mine, hard. I could not contain my groan as penis slid against penis in a tantalising dance.

Again Byron laughed and I felt his breath warm on my cheek. Then his mouth descended on mine and he began to kiss me with a bruising ferocity. His teeth sank into my bottom lip, hard enough to draw blood. And it was clearly no accident, but a deliberate gesture, for Byron greedily sucked and licked at the wound until my Quickening healed it. Then his tongue forced its way into my mouth, carrying with it the coppery tang of my own blood.

I growled a protest and was rewarded with a forceful slap for my pains. Byron continued with his plundering of my mouth and this time I held my silence. When he had tired of tasting me Byron withdrew, biting me sharply again as his lips relinquished mine.

"You don't quite have the trick of submission yet, do you? A part of you still clings to the belief that you can control what becomes of you." Byron's voice was low and dangerous. "We shall have to see what we can do to rid you of that notion."

Once more I was left in silence and darkness as Byron moved away from me. After his warning I had no idea what to expect from him. But it seemed he understood me better than I had thought, for the next sensation I experienced was enough to chill me to the bone. It was truly my worst nightmare as I felt the kiss of a cool, sharp blade at my throat and knew that I was powerless to defend myself against it. I swallowed hard and the edge of the sword bit into my skin, a trickle of blood running down my neck from the wound. The cool caress of steel was withdrawn and the rough warmth of Byron's tongue trailed over my skin in its place. It seemed as if he had discovered a taste for my blood.

"So, doctor, now death becomes our companion too," taunted Byron.

I realised, all at once, that he had no idea of the literal truth of his statement and in that instant my fear of him was gone. Byron was a mere child playing at mastery. I had known, and survived, the touch of a true master's hand. For a second a little of the savage joy I had once known, millennia ago, as I indulged in these games with Kronos, stirred in my heart. A sudden, feral smile grew on my lips and I wondered what Byron would make of my reaction. It was hardly the submissiveness he had sought, after all.

"That thought pleases you?" he asked and the blade was replaced at my throat. This time I felt not fear, but a dark pleasure. I might not have known it for what it was at the beginning, but this was familiar territory. I stretched my neck, leaning into the blade a little and daring Byron to cut deeper. "Well, well," he chuckled, "you are full of surprises tonight!"

"But not all surprises are good," I growled.

Before Byron could react I had brought my arms down, the edge of his blade easily slicing through the leather bindings that had held my wrists. Ignoring the tingle of returning circulation I tore off the blindfold. I blinked in the sudden light, but had the presence of mind to dance back, out of reach of the blade. A look of utter disbelief graced Byron's face and I grinned, seeing his confusion. It had simply never occurred to him to expect this rebellion.

"How dare you!" he spluttered. "You've spoiled my game."

"New game, new rules," I informed Byron gleefully.

He was pitifully easy to disarm. I shook my head. One small reversal and he forgot everything I had taught him. I pushed him sharply in the chest and Byron tumbled back amongst the overstuffed cushions. He wasn't hurt - only his pride had been wounded. Nevertheless, it was pleasing to stand over him with the point of his own sword held menacingly to his throat.

"Do you yield, sir?" I asked with mock courtesy.

"The devil I do!" Byron spat back at me. Good, he still had spirit at least. And, I discovered, the change in his fortunes had done nothing to diminish his body's arousal. Better yet, I decided. Perhaps I could fuck some humility, if not a modicum of good sense, into the boy!

I changed the angle of the blade, holding it across Byron's throat. I knelt down beside him, still threatening. "Well, we shall have to see what we can do about that," I informed him.

Roughly I rolled Byron onto his stomach. Anger and tension held him stiff and unresponsive. I traced the sharp point of the sword in a ragged line down his back to his buttocks. I felt him shudder under the deadly caress. I repeated it, allowing the blade to bite a little deeper this time, just breaking the skin. A fine trail of blood graced the pale skin and I sat back to admire my handiwork. Then I swooped down and lapped up the ruby beads, starting at the base of his spine and ending at the nape of Byron's neck. I nuzzled the warm, vulnerable spot and felt him quiver beneath me.

"Do you yield?" I asked again.

"Never!" came the defiant reply.

"Good," I breathed against the silk of Byron's fair curls. "But I shall have you anyway."

I straddled Byron's slim hips. He tried to buck me off, but I had tamed wilder beasts than this one to my will. I clamped my thighs tightly around him and pressed him down hard into the cushions, threatening him with suffocation should he refuse to submit. Eventually Byron seemed to realise the futility of fighting me and stilled. I released my grip on him and slid back until his buttocks lay under my hands. I explored the silken warmth between them, seeking access to his body. I teased the tight muscles with a single fingertip, moistened with saliva, circling until Byron relaxed enough to permit my finger entry. I stretched him patiently. I might wish to teach him a lesson in humility, but I did not desire to tear his insides apart.

As I worked at opening Byron up enough to take me I gently stroked my own penis with my free hand. It quickly firmed again at my touch and I gathered the moisture which glistened at its tip to ease my way inside Byron. When I judged that he was ready I spread his buttocks and pressed my erection slowly into him. He fought me again then, but I subdued him with ease. He was virgin tight and I revelled in the velvet heat of him surrounding me. I went slowly at first, until his body relaxed around me somewhat and I was able to sheathe myself fully inside him. Then I took his hips in a firm grasp and set about giving Byron a fucking he would not soon forget. I drove into him relentlessly, taking my pleasure from the slim body.

More quickly than I expected I felt Byron begin to shudder under me. I let a laugh bubble up and escape me. It seemed as if he liked to play the whore too, after all. I reached beneath him and squeezed Byron's swollen penis until he came, spilling over my hand. As I continued to pound into his now lax body I thrust the soiled palm against his lips, forcing Byron to lick his own seed from my fingers.

The familiar tightness at my core heralded my own release. I drove as deeply into Byron as I could, wringing a scream from him as my climax took me. He struggled against me once more as I pulsed my release deep into his bowels, but I had bested him. There was no doubting which of us had proved the victor. The knowledge of my victory sweetened the pleasure I was feeling even more. I let my weight press both of us into the cushions as I slowly came down from the peak. When Byron sought to free himself this time I did not prevent it. I merely rolled onto my back and looked up into his furious face.

"How dare you presume so much!" he protested angrily. "For this affront you deserve to lose your head. You reneged on our bargain. It seems you have no honour, sir!"

"I never claimed that I did," I replied easily. "And you would challenge me? Simply because I bested you in bed? If so you are a greater fool than I had believed."

"No one speaks to me that way and lives!" Byron retorted heatedly.

I allowed just a little of Death - perilously close to the surface of my soul at that moment - to inhabit my eyes as I stared up at Byron. I noted the momentary flicker of unease across his features at what he saw, but he did not know enough of what he had glimpsed to be truly afraid.

"You forget, my lord Byron... you are my student," I informed him coldly. "I will speak to you as I see fit when I am instructing you. And you may consider this evening's events to be a lesson, indeed, a very timely one. Never relax your guard in the presence of another of our kind - even one you believe you can trust. Your pride and your inattention could have cost you your head tonight."

"But they did not," he snapped back, and I knew Byron had learned nothing. "And I don't much care for your lessons, Doctor Adams."

"Were it not for my teaching you would have lost your head in the course of your first challenge - not provided Mary Shelley with the inspiration for her literary fancies!" I was truly angry with the foolish, arrogant boy now.

"Why, such passions we have roused in you this night, my good doctor!" It was another of those dizzying mood swings - Byron's anger miraculously transformed into amusement. "I have come to expect your calm, your control, but this... well, you have managed to surprise me once again. I had considered sending you away, but I do believe I shall keep you here with me after all..."

******

The memories began to dissolve, the past falling away from me. I found myself back in the present, still sitting in the darkened bar. Mac was watching me strangely and I wondered what he would make of these latest revelations about my past.

"I left Byron soon after that," I finished, with a sigh. "I finally came to realise that he didn't want to learn what I had to teach him. Survival was always secondary to him. Excitement came first, whatever the cost. Byron craved it - like any other drug - he needed to seek out new sensations, no matter the dangers. In the end I just couldn't handle being around him any more."

"What happened to Claire?" Mac asked curiously.

I smiled briefly. The ever chivalrous Duncan MacLeod! "I took her with me when I left. Believe it or not I wasn't about to leave her to Byron's excesses alone," I assured him. "I found her a doting patron in Geneva and, as far as I know, she lived a long and pampered life."

"Good, I'm glad," said Mac with a nod of satisfaction.

"She was just a messed up kid who got caught up in the glamour of being a part of Lord Byron's entourage. She had no idea what she was letting herself in for." I shrugged.

"Sound familiar?" asked Mac, his eyes shadowed.

I sighed. MacLeod was back to Mike again, the one thing even I couldn't convincingly justify. Though I'd tried hard enough.

"Not the same thing at all," I said tiredly. "Mike at least had the savvy to make a different choice if he'd wanted to, but he didn't."

"That doesn't alter the fact that Byron was an arrogant, dangerous fool who fucked with other people's lives - not just his own." Mac glared at me. We were just going round and round in circles with this.

"Yes," I conceded, "he was all of that. But a part of me still understands where he was coming from. When you live as long as we do variety really is the spice of life, Mac. Without it we'd go mad with the sheer boredom of it all. Byron just... took everything a little too far to extremes."

"A little? Whatever. As I see it everyone should have the right to choose for themselves just how much variety they want." Mac frowned. "Byron took that choice away from people. With him it was a case of, if you want me to notice you then do what I do. That kind of manipulation is wrong - especially when it gets people killed!"

I sighed deeply. The hell of it was that Mac was right, but I didn't want to remember only the negative things about Byron. "I know." I allowed Mac his victory. "I know... but the excesses really weren't the whole story. When the fire burned pure it was capable of producing good things, too. This world would be a poorer place without Byron's poetry. And I don't regret having taught him, either."

"Nor should you." For the first time that evening I let Mac reach out to me. His hand rested briefly on my arm, a reassuring touch. "But, Methos, you have your own fire. You don't need people like Byron to give you what you already have. You wouldn't still have that overriding will to live if there was no fire in your heart."

"I have the will to survive, Mac," I corrected him gently. I felt incredibly old and tired at that moment. "That's all. I've forgotten how to want anything else for myself."

"No you haven't," Mac insisted fiercely. His eyes were dark, full of his own intense desire for life. "I don't believe that. I know you too well, Methos. I've felt that fire of yours for myself too many times."

"Fire burns, MacLeod, it hurts..." I hated myself for allowing the pain I felt to colour my voice.

"And it warms, too. Don't ever forget that." Mac's hands reached out and clasped mine. The touch seemed to ground me. "Don't lose your fire just because it hurts you sometimes. The pain reminds us that we're still alive..."

I smiled at him reluctantly. "I think you've spent too much time listening to me talk, Mac. I never realised you were actually paying attention, but it's not good for you, you know. I'm a very bad influence."

He returned the smile - accepting the teasing at face value - and a weight lifted from my heart. Something told me Mac and I would be all right. Our friendship would be able to survive this latest brush with my past.

"You're wrong; it is good for me," Mac insisted. "And so are you... in spite of everything. There are things we will never agree on, Methos, but like you said, variety is the spice of life. I wouldn't change you, even if I could!" Calloused fingertips softly brushed the backs of my hands - a tacit apology I realised.

"Nor I you, you bloody infuriating Scottish boy scout!" I retreated into the familiarity of our banter. Carefully I extricated my hands from Mac's grasp. I wasn't quite ready yet for the promise inherent in that touch. I needed more time to deal with the events of the past few days.

"Let's go home, Methos," said Mac, accepting my withdrawal without comment.

"Yeah, why not. That's the first sensible suggestion you've made all night," I responded lightly. On an impulse I raised my glass, still half full of Scotch. "To genius," I said softly and drained it.

"To genius," Mac echoed, following suit.

We both set down our empty glasses. Neither of us said another word - in truth it had all been said. We picked up our coats and put them on. Then, still in companionable silence, we headed for the door.

The End

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