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Slash and Yaoi Fiction
Title: Caspian
Author: Juxian Tang
Fandom: Highlander
Pairing: M/K, M/Caspian, K/Caspian
Rating: NC-17
Status: complete
Archive: yes
Feedback: juxiantang@hotmail.com
URL: http://juxian.slashcity.net
Spoilers: Revelation 6:8
Disclaimer: They are not mine and will never bee mine... alas!
Warning: extreme violence
Summary: In the asylum Caspian recalls the past.

CASPIAN

The wrists were rotting. The sores became raw flesh under the cuffs, with blood trickling slowly down the fingers. Then they healed back to seeping sores - to be rubbed into open wounds again. I couldn't say in what state it hurt more or less - I suppose I just lost the subtlety of perception to distinguish; it was simply constant annoying ache. A tiresome addition to the cramps in my legs and shoulders as I desperately tried to change my position and couldn't do much for it. Smell. The whiff of decomposing tissues under the iron shackles was not the worst, no more than the overall rank of my body. I didn't know how many times my clothes were soaked wet and got dry on me; sewage, you know - the cell was below the ground, every rain brought inches of filthy water inside and it was not that I had a cot or anything.

But I could live with it. Pain was inconsequential. There had been much tougher things in my life and I had survived them. Guys, I even used to like them. I could live with bitter cold that meant the coming of a new winter for me. I could ignore hunger. It was fear I couldn't stand - and couldn't do anything else but stand it.

Darkness around me and the walls, invisible but shrinking inevitably, living, breathing walls closing on me - until my chest was seized between them and there was no space for my ribcage to expand. I choked - and heard the walls laughing at me; their voices the voices of those who were dead and alive but all left me.

I couldn't scream then; it was later, when the walls stepped back again, taunting me with a ghost of respite, that I screamed and screamed, letting out my anguish and madness. Because I knew that fear was going to come back so soon and the walls start moving on me again; they always did.

And with a tiny part of my mind that still seemed sane, I tried to cling to the voice that sounded even through the absorbing nightmare, the only voice of all that was not hostile and scornful but solid and warm, as the hand that held my fingers once.

"When you need me, brother. When you need me."

* * *

I don't remember my first death. It must have happened when the slave hunters burst into our village. I bashed a couple of them with a pole and then something heavy came down on my head, sending me into blackness.

I came round gasping, for some reason with more pain in my lungs then in my head - and got a kick in the ribs that well raised me from the ground.

"I thought this one was out cold. This scum has to have a solid scull!"

Before I could get up and fight again, they tied me and dumped into the pitiful flock of my captured neighbors.

It was when I saw my sister for the last time. At night they dragged her to their fire and I wasn't far enough to have to wonder what was going on there. Nearly at the dawn her shrieks stopped abruptly - and I felt as if my heart stopped at that moment, too.

I probably died again, during the long way the caravan made through the desert - of thirst, exhaustion or disease. The folks around me kicked in all the time and there was no reason why I had to be luckier. But again it was never discovered; I had to revive before I was pronounced dead - and I was the same unaware of what happened as anybody else.

But I could hardly miss my next death - and surely I would never be able to forget it. Not likely! Because this death became the beginning of my new life. Because the man who brought it to me became my life.

They appeared at the sunset, at first two dark silhouettes on the horizon, then two well-clad men looking like prosperous travelers. They dismounted and walked along the caravan site, the slave trader following them, deference itself. Why wouldn't he be? Whether they were going to buy anything or not, respect was due to them, with their long heavy swords in the belts and blackened armor over their clothes.

I carried the buckets of water when the sensation came to me. At first it was just like mild nausea, disorientation, and I thought I spent too much time in the sun. Not that I could help it; I'd better not to stop if I didn't want the whip in the guard's hand to crash on my back for neglecting my duties. Well, after all, I didn't escape the whip anyway, you know.

I closed my eyes for a moment, making some shallow breaths - and when I looked again, there were these strangers walking towards me briskly, their faces tight and determined. I didn't have time to wonder - because suddenly my sickness became pain. Deep in my mind, as if a swarm of bees buzzed there, softly and urgently. I grasped my head convulsively and the buckets fell splashing their content right on the greedy sand.

They two and the slave trader stopped in front of me, just in a couple steps away - and we all watched how a trickle of water crawled over the ground so dry that it couldn't soak in - until it touched the toe of an expensive leather boot and died there.

As if by force I raised me eyes to the face of the man - and met his eyes, yellow-green, wolfish, the right one crossed with a red long scar - and suddenly I felt I couldn't take a breath.

"Perfect," he said coldly. "This slave has just wasted your property and damaged mine, hasn't he?"

"Oh he will be punished..."

"Sure," the man's mouth was like a pale slit but when he smiled, it suddenly became pink and sensuous - only there was nothing good in his smile at all. "I guess I would like to look at it. Can't we watch him whipped while we will be dining?"

It sent shivers through my spine - but not so much as his next words, added so very casually:

"Whipped to death, of course."

"But, my lord..." it apparently was not what the slave trader liked - a lame salvation for me but anyway. "Look at him, he is healthy and strong, I can get five silver coins for him at the market. I would suffer losses if he dies."

"Here," the second stranger handed him a stack of coins and it took all to shush him. I stared at them in horror as my fate was sealed.

The dinner was laid for them while I had my clothes stripped and my hands tied to the pole high above. I struggled inefficiently. I was dumbstruck with the swiftness of what happened. Several moments ago my life was secure, even if miserable - and then, such a small insignificant thing happened - and with a whim of two men I had never seen before my life was going to be taken away from me. They would be eating while I would be dying!

Oh gods, how did I wrong you?

I thought about pleading with them and discarded this thought quickly. I knew there would be no mercy shown and to die with my lips pressed was not worse than to die begging for nothing.

But I couldn't help turning my head back to look at them - and they watched me casually over the brims of their goblets. The light hazel eyes of the one who had paid for me were cold and indifferent, even slightly bored, but the other pair of eyes didn't leave me even for a moment, derision and inquiry and even challenge in them. Challenge to what, for gods' sake?

"It is not easy to whip a man to death," the other one said offhandedly, his fair face so tranquil that it seemed cut out of ivory. "It can take a while, brother."

"It's not that we hurry somewhere, is it?" the man said. "No, don't gag him."

I gritted my teeth when the first blows came. I could bear it; of course, I could. I had gone through it before. Only now it was going to end in another way. I closed my eyes and felt my mouth filling with blood as I gnawed in my lips and tongue.

"Faster," the man with feral eyes said behind me. "What do you spare him for? Faster. Make him scream for us."

Fuck you, I thought, I am not going to. Not for you. Not ever. Even though there was not much of this 'ever' in front of me. The iron bits on the tip of the whip tore out stripes of skin from my back, the pain hot and stunning, making me grunt involuntarily. Maybe, it would be easier if I screamed. Or, maybe, not. There was hardly anything that could make it easier, apart from death, of course. But as that man said, it was not going to come soon.

However, after a certain period of time my back was so flayed that I stopped feeling every blow separately. It was just unceasing burning and I took it as there was nothing else I could do. Well, I could also hope that sooner or later something in me - my heart probably - would fail and free me and then it would be over.

Perhaps it was that I stopped thrashing that made them dissatisfied. I almost didn't feel the whipping to be halted - but I felt the hands turning me around, to face the table. I didn't see much, everything blurred - but it still seemed to me that I could see white teeth flickering in a cruel smile on the scarred face.

The whip rose high and cut me across the groin. Did I try not to scream before? Now I did scream. I howled with pain, the whip seemed to slice through the very core of me, splitting me right apart. My vision cleared suddenly and I looked down - and saw a strip of bleeding skin hanging loosely from the tip of my cock. The whip fell down again, on my balls, the iron hooking into the ball-sac and shredding it. Oh yeah, I screamed. I couldn't stop. I pleased them. But they didn't know how I prayed for death to come. To stop it before my manhood would have been ripped off from my body and scattered onto sand.

I think my prayer was heard eventually. I died.

* * *

I regained my senses as I lay flat on something soft, like fur or an expensive rug - and when I opened my eyes, I saw the cupola of the tent above me. It had been long since I had been inside, I thought quietly. And then the memories came back to me.

Seized by terror, I jerked up, staring at my crotch. I was naked, so, nothing prevented me to see the irreparable damage that must have been done. I was sick in advance - and ready - but I was not ready to see what really was there. Everything attached and unblemished, as if the whip had never touched it.

A dry laughter resounded over me.

"Worried about your treasures, loser?"

"I am not a loser," I started automatically and my voice failed me, high-pitched and hoarse at once.

"Oh?" the man said. I recognized it - the laughter, the voice at once - and how wouldn't I? This ruthless laughter I heard all the way while the whip was tearing my skin off. "We'll be seeing it."

I looked up grimly at the mean-mouthed face above. He stood over me with his feet placed firmly at my sides and arms crossed on his chest.

He had to be a sorcerer, I thought. At first he caused the bees to hum in my head. And then he raised me again when I had died. What for? For nothing good, I was sure.

Oh shit.

I looked at him wildly when he suddenly reached his hand to me. As much as I felt like flinching and trying to crawl away, I knew it would be the worst possible idea. And, besides, after a few moments I realized it didn't look like he was going to hit me or something. I looked until I understood what he wanted.

Tentatively I put my palm into his, almost shocked by warmness and tightness of his grip - and in one powerful motion he pulled me up on my feet.

Thrusting his dagger into my chest with the other hand.

I gasped with surprise, looking at the rivulets of blood running from under the handle in my chest. He caught a trickle of blood on his fingers and brought them to his mouth - but his gaze never left my dimming eyes. Content on his face was the last thing I saw when life left me again.

When I came back next time, I was on my side, curled in an untidy heap on the bloodstained rug - but there was no trace of wound on my chest. And my killer was squatting over me, his eyes laughing and menacing.

"You nobody! What will you say about it?"

"No... no more," I breathed out hastily.

"Wrong!"

In a moment he flipped me on my stomach, himself straddling me and pulling my head back by the hair. I cried out in pain as my neck was wrenched back more than it could be possible - but I knew he was not going to stop. I continued to shriek until I couldn't any more - and it took a while before my neck snapped.

"What will you say?" he leant to me, the dagger once more in his hand.

"Do you make me believe that I am dead or do you revive me?"

"Curious, huh?"

My question was apparently wrong again because the dagger struck under my ribs and was turned round and round - until the blissful death came - and this time it took even longer.

"How many times will I have to kill you, fool?"

"As many as you want," I gasped out - and now I guessed right. I saw a smile spreading on the unkind face and he patted my cheek before killing me once more.

The next time when I revived, he was not over me. I turned around looking for him, unable to fight the panic. I hurt badly, especially my lungs that seemed to be on fire - and I wondered if it was going to be worse if he was to kill me again.

He lay on the cushions on his luxurious fabric-and-fur bedding, his arms spread wide and the light of the torches gleaming orange on his naked muscular body. He had to have his clothes soaked in my blood, I understood. Blood crusted on my chest and belly, too, and tugged at my skin when I moved.

He didn't look at me - but I knew somehow that despite his casual pose, it would be the last thing I would do if I tried to make a wild jump to the dagger that lay on the floor between us. He would strike like a desert snake - and the same deadly.

I coughed sitting up and hugged my knees, looking at him bleakly. The lines of his body were amazingly clear, the expansion of the ribcage descending steeply to the hollow belly and curving to the nest of dark hair surrounding his soft organ. Suddenly my mouth felt very dry.

He plunged back into the conversation as if my many deaths didn't interrupt it:

"You ask who revives you. I can say 'me' and keep you in constant dread, right? But I don't need it. It's how we are born. Only remember one thing," he raised on his elbow and his jade-colored eyes locked on mine again, "it is in my power to make you never get up again."

I nodded.

"Smart."

He got on his feet suddenly and grabbed my hair on his way out of the tent. I didn't have time to stand up and he pulled me with himself on my knees. It hurt - but no more than other things recently.

It was night outside. What night? Of the same day? I didn't know. And another place. Two tents and the fires around, the pen for the cattle and the premises for the slaves. It was not a big camp but in a good state, anyway.

"It is mine," he said turning my head from side to side roughly, a dark and proud note in his voice. "Don't you like it?"

"It is ours, isn't it, Kronos?" there was a brief moment when I had felt the humming in my head again before a voice sounded behind. I remembered it, too. It was the slender one, the one with the most perfect face I had ever seen - the one who had watched me dying as if it had bored him.

"That was what I meant, brother," Kronos laughed tossing his head back, tugging on my hair brutally as I tried to turn around to face them. He stood, nude and shameless, his strong body so warm that I could feel its heat even in the coldness of the night. "I just show our new acquisition where he belongs now."

"And does he get it?"

"Do you think, Methos, he will dare not to?" Kronos chuckled again, mildly, as the other one slid over me with his disinterested eyes. "Or will he?" suddenly these words were addressed to me and I realized it even without a yank on my hair. "Let's see."

The grip was gone in a moment and then Kronos' hand was thrust at my face. It didn't leave any doubt what he expected from me - and I looked up at him, over this hand. His eyes seemed glowing in the darkness, as the eyes of a beast would. I was captured by these eyes, couldn't look away.

Strangely, it was not a threat that made me do it. I had already gone through temporarily deaths - and I still couldn't believe in my immortality enough to realize the difference between them and eternal death that Kronos said he could bring to me. I didn't do it because of anything he could do. I did it because in a way I wanted it.

I pressed my lips to the back of his palm and he brushed it slightly against my mouth. His skin was so soft while the thin bones felt through it so hard. Oh true, I knew how hard his hands could be. But at that moment I also knew that I liked it.

"Let's go," the hand was gone and he snatched my hair again, shoving me back to the tent. Methos followed us, a faint smile curving his lips. He sat cross-legged at the hearth while Kronos spread on the bedding again waving his hand to me to come closer. I obeyed, still on my knees.

"Come on, silly," he said with mild impatience. "Gratify me."

He raised on his elbows looking straight at me and then nodding at his groin. His cock lay lopsidedly, half-covered in the foreskin, over the darker spheres of his balls. I drew in a sharp breath. Did he really mean it?

Oh yep, apparently he did as he spread his legs a bit wider for me. He didn't say anything else, nor the other one who sat leisurely behind me did. There was no dagger taken out, no any other weapon to remind me about several more deaths if I disobeyed. But I made some shuffling steps on my knees getting closer and licked my lips.

I breathed warmth on the flaccid cock in front of me before taking it in my mouth. Kronos' skin was so warm - as I had felt already when he had touched me killing me - but now there was more of it. The heat of blood between my lips and slight salty taste on my tongue. Did I have to hate it? I didn't. In fact, I was somehow fascinated - and I passed my tongue over the smooth silky organ, exploring it. There was a light tremor going through Kronos' body and his cock grew, filling my mouth as I continued to lick, getting even hotter. The pulse of blood under satiny skin became more perceptible; it seemed I could sense the tiny rhythm of it with my lips.

I tightened my lips sliding down - until the head of his cock butted against the back of my throat - and then slid up smoothly, tracing the shaft with my tongue to the flaring crown. He shuddered again and this sign of his enjoyment pleasured me somehow. I got down again, until my gagging reflex stopped me from taking more - and I felt musk spicy smell of his pubic hair so close.

I like his smell, I thought suddenly and very clearly. I like many things about him. And there was such intensity in this thought that it banished all others - and what was left to me was only sharp and unmistakable pleasure I felt while working my mouth on his cock.

It pushed into the back of my throat on in-stroke and as I sank my head deeper, trying to get more, it passed the ring of my throat suddenly. The feeling was incredible, the head of his cock spreading my throat - it made me dizzy but at the same time I knew I loved it so much that I couldn't help moaning.

I heard Methos chuckling behind me - but apart from these small sounds the only other one was moist slapping as my mouth slid wetly along Kronos' cock, faster and faster as he thrust his pelvis up, meeting me half-way.

Then his cock pulsed and his sperm filled my mouth.

It was hot and bittersweet and I enjoyed both the taste and the symbolic meaning of my submissiveness when I swallowed it. I was dazzled; there was so much I felt and it was kind of overloading me. Then Kronos pushed me away and I sat on my haunches.

"Teeth," he murmured looking at Methos past me and his voice was softer than before and mildly humorous. "He has to be trained."

"It won't be difficult, taking into account how much he enjoys it," Methos dropped thoughtfully and I couldn't help looking at my own cock, standing to attention obscenely, red and weeping. I urged to touch it while bringing Kronos off - but I didn't dare, of course.

"That makes him a lucky brat. Now would you like to test him, brother?"

I turned around on my knees. Methos' cheeks were flushed slightly and I could see that his long-fingered hand was laid casually against his groin - but he shook his head:

"I am not sure I feel like having a lick from your dog tonight."

"Then kill the dog."

I cringed at this suggestion. I was not really sure how much more of dying I could take now. Maybe, much more. Maybe, as much as they could give. And, maybe, I even wanted it.

But Methos only shook his head again and got up, stretching slightly.

"Good night, brother. I have enjoyed it," he leant to Kronos briefly before leaving, his thumb rubbing softly against Kronos' thigh. "Kill him yourself."

And he did. After some rest he got me on my hands and knees and mounted me. The pain of his cock forced dry into my opening was so sharp that I bit my lips desperately trying to be silent. I heard Kronos hissing in pain behind me, too. And when he laughed, exulting his penetration, I also laughed even though involuntarily tears spilled on my cheeks. I felt his hand checking my face and touching everything at once, both tears and smile.

"It looks like you are a gain in more ways than one, my silly," Kronos whispered.

The sound of his voice and the pain of his thrusts were so much for me that I was about to lose it. But then he shoved the dagger into my kidney and groaned as I convulsed, clamping on his cock harder. He twisted the blade inside me, the pain like white fire blazing in my mind. And the relief came to me, so sweet that I couldn't say what it was - death or coming.

When I revived again, I was so exhausted that I thought I wouldn't be able to stand up even if Kronos demanded it. But he didn't. He showed me the place in the foot of his bedding and I curled there - and at the next moment a heavy cloak was thrown at me.

I lay watching how the embers died out in the hearth, the last sparks surrendering to the darkness. The cloak was warm around me but I still felt the chill building inside me. I hated the moments when the embers dimmed - I would want it never to happen. But it happened inevitably, bringing the familiar wave of fear with it.

It had been my sister who used to fight the fear away. But she was gone - and again, thinking about her, I felt like crying but I didn't have tears.

I scrambled closer to Kronos' bedding instead, feeling the fur silky and warm under my cheek, and listened intently to the soft snorting sound Kronos started making in his sleep. I listened for so long that the fear receded. Kronos was the other one who could fight the darkness for me.

* * *

"Move!" Kronos' voice was the same sharp as the clanking of our swords against each other. "You stupid peasant! Do you remember anything I taught you? You handle a sword, not a plough, for gods' sake!"

He wore me out. I panted like a winded horse and saw almost nothing as sweat ran into my eyes. The flash of his sword again, cutting down my ribs, slicing the skin open accurately to my groin.

"We'll run out of clothes like that," Methos said dryly. He sat leaning against the tent wall, one leg bowed, the tankard in his long-fingered hands.

Blood dripped on the sand as the gush healed quickly - and it didn't mean that I could stop. The handle of the sword was slick in my fingers and I felt like letting it go and falling on my knees - and to get another cruel stab in my chest. In fact, I didn't mind it. As many times Kronos had been killing me for these months - I couldn't have enough. Perhaps the same as he couldn't - or more. But now he was going to be furious if I let myself die. It was not what he wanted; he wanted me to fight. Too bad that I was such an inept pupil.

"Did you kill anybody, beauty?" he asked me the next morning after he had killed me. I hesitated.

"Yes. When they broke into our village..."

"Tell me about it. Good!" he nodded with some satisfaction. "I presume you enjoyed it?"

"I don't know."

I lied a bit. But the thing was I hardly had enough words to express the mixture of feelings I had had then.

"Follow me."

He took me outside to the cage where several scared slaves sat huddling. They stared at the sword in my hand even before I realized that it was there.

"Let's figure out your preferences," he looked at me askance, his yellowish eyes gentle and unrelenting at once. I didn't know what the fault of these slaves was - very possibly something the same unforgivable as mine only yesterday. And I was not going to ask. I didn't feel hatred to them, of course. But as for feeling some compassion - I didn't have it, too. No more than anybody had felt for my sister when she had been dying - or for me.

There was something I felt, however. I cared for it - I realized it suddenly and very sharply - I craved it. I was going to do anything for Kronos. I was ready to die for him. Do you think I wouldn't kill for him?

I sank the sword into the throat of the closest slave, blood bubbling around the blade while others made strangled cries of horror. These cries bothered me slightly but I made myself move without hurry until the last one was dead. Then I put the sword on the ground at Kronos' feet.

"Great valor it demanded from him, huh?" it was Methos walking by. He stopped and looked at Kronos, not at me.

"Valor?" Kronos giggled. "We'll check his valor, too. Now it is another thing I check."

Afterwards he asked me:

"What do you like more - to kill or to die?"

There was only one answer I could give:

"Both."

"Wrist down!" Kronos' voice was pitiless, pushing me beyond endurance. The sword weighed a lot more than I seemed to be able to handle. I yelled incoherently in exhaustion and frustration, parrying his blows, stepping backward. "Move your stupid peasant ass!"

I hit his sword from underneath with the last scraps of my strength and sent it up high. It seemed the time stopped. There was his chest unprotected in front of me and I thrust measuredly, my sword meeting no barrier on its way. It sank between his ribs hilt-deep.

I gasped in shock. Kronos' eyes stopped, full of the expression that I knew so well and that he liked so much to see in my eyes - the inevitable surprise of dying. He stumbled when I pulled the sword out and there was blood foaming on his mouth. He dropped on his knees and on the ground and I stared, feeling terribly lost at once. I didn't know what to do, to scream or to beg for mercy. Kronos curled slackly on his side and there was no defense in his face any more, it was so smooth in death and seemed so young that suddenly I felt my heart caught in my throat.

I fell on my knees starting sobbing uncontrollably. How could I do it? Hurt him! Oh I knew he wouldn't die permanently, no more than I would - but horror and despair still seized me.

"I was about to say 'well done' and then he spoiled everything," Methos said sarcastically - and with exultation I saw Kronos' eyes fluttering and snapping open. He looked behind me at Methos, a light smile flickering on his lips, strangely affectionate and full of something else that I couldn't puzzle out at once.

"I am sorry," I stammered reaching my hand to his chest where the wound was only like a deep scar, closing up quickly. "So sorry."

Almost without looking Kronos brushed my hand off and sank his dagger into my belly.

"Yes, apologize," he hissed when I fell on the ground jerking in pain.

* * *

This night I woke up with a flinch. I was not cold or uncomfortable but I lay staring in the darkness, the fire in the hearth completely gone, and felt the walls of the tent start wrapping around me. It had been long time since it had happened to me for the last time but the sensation didn't fade at all. I tried to catch the familiar sound of Kronos' breath - and couldn't.

He was gone! The realization struck and stunned me and I caught the air desperately while fear, unleashed, jumped on me with all the vigor it gathered during the nights when Kronos had kept it away.

Oh no!

I jerked wildly, all reasonable thoughts wiped off from my mind - to light the lamp, to get out. There was only killing terror I knew. I couldn't move. The walls got me.

My screams seemed faint and distant while the darkness around was alive and full of menacing, angry voices that hailed me, hissed at me, hated me. Then a square of light was thrown into it - of dim light of the starry sky when the flap of the tent was yanked away - but this light was my salvation. I hacked agonizingly, scraping my chest and throat with cramped fingers, so painful and delightful it was to breathe again.

Kronos and Methos stood in the opening with their swords bare, their faces dark and wary when they looked around - and I was about to start sobbing, with relief of being safe again, with happiness that they came so quickly. And with shame.

"So, what was it all about?" Methos said calmly at last.

I sat on my ass, knees up to the chest, rocking slightly and digging my fingers deep in my hair. I was afraid to meet Kronos' eyes, to see the incredulous look in them.

"I thought you were being killed," Methos added humorously but it didn't relieve me much.

"I..." I had to say it but I couldn't. I paused nervously, glancing at them - and it was when something about their appearance struck me; about the disarray of their clothes - not that they had a lot of it on. They had to be together in Methos' tent! Suddenly the memory of how their eyes had met by day, when I had stabbed Kronos, came back to me. I couldn't name it then but now I found the correct word. There was tease in their eyes. Invitation and accept. They had caressed each other with their eyes without touching. And at night they could touch each other all they wanted.

I swallowed, speechless for a moment, and then it helped me to say somehow what was my deepest secret:

"I can't be alone in the darkness... somewhere inside. I just can't."

I hung my head, smashed with shame, foreseeing the contempt they would feel to me. It was so unworthy of a man to fear - and I would do anything to hide it. But it betrayed me.

The weight of the loss stunned me. I was going to lose Kronos, my teacher and my master... and Methos... they would banish me, I would never see them again.

I'd better die, I thought sullenly, die for real.

"They come of all kind," after a long pause Methos said sententiously while Kronos walked inside and tossed himself on the bedding. He looked up at Methos and again it was in the eyes, not in the words. "Well, stay then," Methos shrugged leaving.

* * *

"Close your eyes."

He didn't have to tell me to trust him. There was nothing I wouldn't let him do. But it was not pain as I expected. The softest touch on my cheek, slightly wet - and I almost flinched with astonishment. The brush, I realized suddenly. He painted my face.

For years I rode with them as we left ravaged villages and scattered caravans behind. They trusted me to be at their side. And back in the camp I was their vassal again, happily dying at Kronos' wish, happily taking Methos' wry humor. I loved everything what came from them to me. I learned. It was not easy, I was never a brainy one, you know. But I wanted to become clever for them, apt for them, the best they could have.

I owned nothing. The horse I rode was Kronos' the same as the sword I fought. Why - _I_ was Kronos'! And I prayed every day for it never to end. For being near. For being allowed to sleep in Kronos' tent, in his feet, and listen to his soft breath through the night.

"This one smeared," Methos commented at Kronos' side and I felt the line wiped off on my face and another one drawn. Then something cold touched my scalp and I sat motionless, trusting this cold unmistakable sharpness more than the gentle touch. The strands of my hair fell on my shoulders. Not all of it, however. I felt a cruel tug at the tail left on the top of my head.

"Scary," they laughed. "Now look, Caspian."

A polished brass plate was brought to me by a shivering slave - and I saw the truth of their words in her cowed eyes even before I saw it in the plate. I drew in a breath slowly. I was ugly.

Well, I always knew I had a mug that no man or woman would find attractive - but with these blurry black drawings on my cheeks and half of my hair gone I looked like a true demon. I laughed seeing how my teeth flashed between the black-painted lips.

"Welcome, brother," Kronos said.

For some moments I couldn't believe it, until Methos repeated, slight doubt in his voice:

"Brother?" he shrugged.

No, I don't claim to be, I wanted to say. But Kronos was the one who made the decisions.

* * *

I felt an urge to stop being their brother again, to become their property once more, when, after the day of another victory, sharing the loot in three parts, Kronos said:

"And Caspian will have the tent, what do you think, Methos?"

"Won't fight for it," he shrugged lazily, his light-brown eyes half-shielded with the dark lashes. He didn't care for what we could get in our raids. It was the raids themselves that made his eyes light up, looking almost like liquid amber. He was so beautiful then that I couldn't take my eyes away from him. So beautiful and so lethal.

When the first wave of joy of having something of my own and of my brothers being so generous with me subsided, another wave of fear flooded me.

"The tent? But I can't sleep alone in the tent! Please..." I didn't finish.

"Brothers don't sleep in the foot of the bedding," Kronos said almost mildly.

No, they don't. They share it. How much sometimes at night I wanted to get up and sit near to him and to wake him up with my touch. I would worship his body, lick his toes. Kiss him. How much I yearned to get his sleeping flesh in my mouth and feel it rise there - and to swallow it deep, letting it right to my throat - and then feel his sweet salty hot sperm filling my mouth. It made me dizzy and faint to think about it and I clasped my groin feverishly, not daring to move, to make a noise that would bother him.

I would be his bitch every night if he allowed me. But, really, Caspian, look at yourself, do you think he can't find a better bitch for himself?

"Get the girls," Methos advised calmly, usual sarcasm leaving his voice.

He was right about the girls. Two or three pliant warm bodies around me helped to keep the fear as far on the brink of my consciousness as possible.

* * *

At first she laughed. And when I struck her, she still giggled silly. I hit her again and again and then she started screaming. Horrible bird-like shrieks - and now I beat her to make her shut up. Why didn't she?

"Great," Methos stood in the doorway, looking thoughtfully at the body that half-lay on the floor, half-hung by her hair still wrapped around my fist. "You broke her neck."

I pushed her away in disgust, her long smooth hair that always reminded me warm silk tore out when I freed my hand. My rage was draining out, leaving me tired and empty inside. I looked away not to meet Methos' eyes, gazing at his lean pale fingers tapping on the wall of the tent instead.

"What was wrong?" he asked unobtrusively, almost friendly. Maybe, I wouldn't answer if he asked in another way, after all, I didn't ask him what he did with his slaves.

"Why didn't she get pregnant? Ten years! Come to think about it! I spared her from any work for ten years, wrapped her in silk! I would marry her if she gave me a kid!"

A sound of dry clacking laughter told me Kronos was there as well.

"Could fuck her till the end of the world, Caspian, with the same result!"

Methos was calm as he listened to it but his mouth was straight, without usual derision curving it.

"You can't have children, brother. The payment for being Immortal. Not so big, right?"

"I..." I didn't know what to say. It stopped me dead. "No children?"

"We don't need more Immortals around, do we?" Kronos said. "Forget."

"Poor Seth," Methos' mellow eyes stopped on the dead body between us. "You killed her because she was faithful to you. If she had brought you a bastard from a camp slave... I bet you are going to miss her."

He was right, I missed her.

* * *

"He will come for us, Caspian," Kronos' voice was almost inaudible in the darkness - but I could guess what he was saying; he repeated it for so many times.

Will he? I didn't ask it aloud. How could I make him doubt our brother's loyalty? Kronos' life was in this unquestioning trust. It had been what always kept us together and alive. And it was what kept him alive now.

The salt mines were a branch of hell on the Earth - but, fortunately for others, only for a short time. Not for us. No matter how our feet were corroded by day - they healed almost fully by night - and our hands that looked flayed and felt exactly like this when salt got on them covered with the thin film of new skin till the next morning.

People survived for days there, those who had to anger their gods badly survived for weeks. I couldn't say how long we were there. Maybe, years. Years of long days under the burning sun, ankles deep in burning salt, in the chains - and it didn't kill us. Well, maybe, it was killing us slowly - because for how long the body can re-supply its forces if there is no strength left in it and no source to get this strength from? Maybe, the day could come when, falling, we were not going to get up again.

But not yet. Other days came. And then the nights that were no rest for us as they were for others, even the most damned. In the huge room stuffed with rotting alive bodies I lay staring in the darkness, counting the moments that were so long while Kronos was away. Taken for another time, to the guards' premises. Our endurance was a constant amusement to them - and they never got tired of testing it. Well, not that they had any other kind of entertainment, you know.

I was not that much fun for them. My face didn't look like you would revel in - and my attitude they called dumb insolence didn't stimulate them, too. But Kronos had this hard edge they thought they could break.

I couldn't say what was worse - to be taken with Kronos and watch everything what was done - or to lie in the darkness and imagine everything so clearly - because I knew what to imagine exactly, I witnessed it.

Kronos on the floor, clasping his groin as the trickles of blood ran down over his fingers, dry soundless heaves shaking his body. Once - decades ago - I had felt so helpless watching my sister dying - and now it happened again - and I had to look at it and couldn't do anything. I had to watch as they pressed sizzling pincers to his skin and smell the burnt flesh; then they looked how it healed - to burn it off again - or sometimes they preferred to prevent healing leaving the heated tools or metal slivers forced into his open wounds.

Even when I couldn't see it, I still knew what it was when I heard his scream, so shrill that it seemed an icy knife cutting through my spine. I curled in the tightest ball then, stuffing my mouth with the rags that were my clothes - and salt filled my mouth, corroding the dehydrated tissues even worse. Kronos didn't scream much, however. They had to do something special for that. Perhaps it pissed them off most of all that they had to try so hard - but it also spurred them in their cruel sports.

Torture inevitably made them horny. I had to watch it, too - as they had him on his hands and knees, his face like a mask of dirt and blood with his fierce eyes glowing through the tangled hair. He didn't make any sounds then, just his breath was stiff and shallow.

It was driving me crazy. Not Kronos! I could have it done to me, I could handle it - but not him, not so proud, strong, my beautiful brother, my heart, my savior, my adored one.

They shoved their fists up to him when they couldn't come any more - and other things, too, equally amused by tearing him and letting him heal, until the floor under him was shiny with blood. And then they heated the pincers again and thrust them in - and it did make him scream - and mostly it killed him.

I could see him in the square of the opened door when they brought him back - his emaciated form so limp in their grip, with his head hanging loosely, long hair tangled in ropes, his feet trailing on the ground. Then he was thrown to me in the darkness, the smell of blood and burnt flesh so strong, even though his wounds were usually healing by then.

When they brought him dead and I knew my touch wouldn't hurt him, I crawled to him as close as our chained wrists could allow and put his head to rest on my chest - until I felt how his heart started beating again and his breath felt warm on my skin.

"It is all my fault," I whispered once. "It wouldn't happen if not for me."

"Nothing was your fault in it," Kronos said after a small pause - and his voice was not faint then, it was urgent. "Nothing to blame yourself for, silly."

I didn't add again - it is my fault if Methos never comes.

On that day I pinned two more sculls on the poles. Of our slaves. One of them was for years with us, got senile being around us, until we couldn't drag him with us any more. We were all attached to him, he seemed an integral part of the camp. It was not an easy decision, you know - and even less easy it was to look in his eyes, old and watery, filling with terror when he realized what the sword in my hand meant. I made it. I heard his last cry, full of anguish and betrayal - and I made myself forget this cry as I made myself forget every cry of death or pain from those who died of my hand. Or, maybe, I just put it away to the compartment of my brain that held all these screams, ready to let them out at the moment when the darkness seized and disabled me.

"Why do you gather them, Caspian?" there was Methos near to me, walking closer, his body seeming even leaner and gracious without the armor.

He stopped too close - as he often did recently - knowing probably how disturbed I felt with it. Well, not that it was better when he was not so near. I think I could watch him for hours, unable to take my eyes off him, his straight figure, proud neck, beautiful head with this long chaotic hair falling lower than his shoulder-blades. He was impossible - with his distinguished profile - this sharp aquiline nose, this hard jaw. And how dark gold his eyes were when he really cared for something.

"I like how they shine in the sun," I muttered.

"Is it an answer or a pretext?" he moved even closer, being right behind me. I would bump in him if I made a step back.

What did he want? For me to start naming them to him? Seth. The healer that had so stupid or so kind-hearted that he had tried to help honestly when Kronos had been stabbed; too bad Kronos didn't need his attention. The sculls of those we killed last week, two months ago, sixty years ago. I knew it was not what he wanted to hear. And then Kronos' voice interfered:

"An answer, brother. Not worse than any other."

"Well, perhaps I just didn't understand this pleasant mumble," Methos was so close that I felt him shrugging. I set my jaw. I had got rid of my thick accent a long ago - or so I believed.

"What bugs you, Methos?" Kronos inquired innocently.

Later in the evening I entered Methos' tent.

"Did you call for me?"

He was taking a bath. The lamps were lit all around, plus to the orange fire glowing in the hearth and the smell of incenses and scented water rose so sweetly and dizzyingly. He sat in the washtub, all his long limbs sticking out, his gracious pale arm stretched along the brink of the tub as the girl slave massaged it gently with her small tender fingers. Two more took care of his hair.

"Yes, Caspian," he barely looked at me while I fought hard to make my gaze steady and unobtrusive.

It had been a long ago since Kronos invited me to his tent - and even though the girls were with me every night, I still missed the sweetness of another contact, the one that nothing could substitute. Well, I had never been in Methos' tent for it, anyway.

"What do you think about this village on the south?"

"We'll take it, won't we?"

"You are enthusiastic."

"Aren't you?" I asked.

"Yes, sure," now he looked at me and there was no concentration in his eyes that was always there when he and Kronos spoke about the rides. The girl's hand with the sponge slid over his smooth light-golden chest. I knew nothing escaped his eyes in the expression on my face. But the tiny lofty smirk flickering on his lips ghostly didn't escape my attention, too.

"Kronos has a good plan for it, I don't even know what I can add to it," he said standing up. The girls wrapped the cloth around him, soft and white, that made him appear almost demure - but I had time to have a look at him and now my thoughts were as far from chaste as possible. He walked to the bed, his narrow long-toed feet leaving wet prints on the rug-covered floor. I couldn't make my eyes move away from him as he lay down on the bedding.

His hand waved sending the girls away.

"Kronos has special flair, don't you think so, Caspian?" his tone became so lazy, the capricious drawling that filled me with the most delicious aching.

"It's true."

"Sometimes I don't realize his rightness at once."

His hand lay serenely on the bedspread, ivory white of the cochineal-painted fabric. The fingers were like the finest work of art I had ever seen. I couldn't stop looking at them.

"Maybe, I am wrong sometimes... aren't I?"

It was not in the words but in the sound of his voice - and suddenly I had an insight to what he wanted to say. The dog, I recalled. I don't feel like having a lick from your dog tonight.

How about _tonight_?

The fingers fondled the material - and I made a step to this hand, knelt in front of it, pressing my lips between the thumb and the forefinger. Methos didn't move - and I kissed the back of his palm, lightly at first and then nibbling the skin with my lips. His fingers were cold after the bath and smelled lavender. I kissed along his fingers and took two of them in my mouth. I tried to look up at him - but in this pose I couldn't see anything but his raised hip covered with the cloth. I sucked his digits, warming them in my mouth - and then his hand moved, the fingers sliding out and then thrust back between my lips.

I felt dazed, couldn't control myself any more. I ran my hand over Methos' thigh, barely touching, just letting him feel the warmth coming from my palm - and as he didn't move, I pulled the cloth away enough for the tips of my fingers to stroke the silky curls in his groin. He didn't shift a bit - but his muscles became taut. I let his fingers slip out of my mouth and kissed his leg, right above the knee and then moved my mouth up to his inner thigh as Methos turned it outwards almost imperceptibly.

I stopped to look up at his face - and now I could see it, his eyes calm and half-closed, the long lashes like arrows around them. There was so much deliberation in his eyes - but not everything in him was so considered - and I approached his erection slowly, at last enveloping it with my mouth.

Both his hands dug into the top tail of my hair sharply as I started sucking. But he didn't yank me, didn't set his rhythm. Could he do it better than I could? He just held me very tightly, not painlessly - but pain was what always made it all the better for me.

What do you think, brother? The dog's lick can be pleasant, too. And I make my girls scream not only in pain.

I let his cock out suddenly - the grip on my hair tightened impulsively. But it was not enough to make me stop. I trailed my tongue over his belly up to the raised ribcage and along his ribs and hollows between them. I leant to him, my body over his, and stuck my hand to free myself from my pants. I shivered when my bared cock touched his naked flesh and the slightest quiver came from him, too, when I reached his nipples. I took the left one in my mouth and he missed a breath when I clenched my teeth on it. I touched Methos' face, feeling the hard ridge of his chin and then the softness of his mouth. My fingers slid between his soft satiny lips - and he made a gasp, sucking them in.

How about dogs, brother?

His cock was pressed into mine, so hot and alive, the tip of it wet. The mixture of sensations that was so exquisite and so urgent that I couldn't move: I feared even a little friction would make it end too soon for me.

I licked his nipples in turn until both were red and puffy and then I rose to look at his face. His mouth, the sweetest thing in the world, was crumpled around my fingers - and before kissing it, I met his eyes once more. It made me laugh. The calculating, appraising look was still there. He had to put half of himself into clinging to it.

Oh, brother, do we need it?

I knew what he wanted - and I wanted the same. I could fight him to the end - and, maybe, I would win at last. But I didn't want to. If you can't yield, Methos, then I can. It really didn't matter. What mattered was not to waste what we had between us at that moment, just for a moment.

Still with my mouth on his I moved away slightly - and it was a signal for him. He flipped me on my back, rising over me at once, his eyes narrow and peering, very little hazel in them, very much dark. I raised my legs for him submissively.

Who are you going to fuck now, brother? Me, your ungainly brother? Or Kronos through me - because your rare nights with him - I could count every of them - were constant fight and nobody wanted to surrender and if one of you had to, it was hardly him. Or Kronos' choices and decisions he was so sure to make, as I was his choice and decision, the one you never liked.

It was not that I didn't care. But I could accept any answer. He stabbed his barely slick cock in my dry entering - and it hurt him, it hurt me worse, even though I tried to push back to him. I grabbed my ankles, spreading wider - and he rose over me, every his thrust fierce and brutal, bordering on hatred. I took his hatred as readily as anything he could give me.

The strokes became smoother as he worked out my opening and it became sloppy with his pre-cum and a little of my blood. His eyes didn't drill me any more, covered with bluish-pale eyelids - as his thrusts became faster and deeper and messier. My breath was messy, too. I felt fainting with the incredible sensation building in me - until I bit into my lip cruelly, cutting it open, not to cry out when coming.

Methos came silently, just his face freezing and that's how I knew he was over. His pelvis continued thrusting into me, slowing down to full quietness.

He didn't look at me before leaning down. I let my ankles go - gods, did I sprain something there? - and straightened carefully, trying not to bother him. His hair was still moist, tingling on my face and neck and I looked at this dark head pressed to my shoulder, fighting the urge to bend and kiss it. Methos would hate it, I thought with an inner chuckle. He would kick me out at once if he were not so spent.

Then I looked over him and saw Kronos. He stood at the entrance, fingering a strand of his hair thoughtfully, looking at me. My mouth got dry. I didn't move. He lingered for a moment, the expression in his eyes too complex for me to read even though I tried desperately - and then he walked around the tent. I almost expected him to pull out the sword. But what he did was to push the bronze lamps of the floor, one by one.

The oil spilled on the rugs and the tongues of flame shot up immediately. Fur and fabric were ablaze at once, even before Kronos stepped out of the tent.

"What do you think you have done? How did it come to your mind?!" Methos kept screaming. The tent turned into ashes swiftly while Methos knelt on the ground naked and tried to cough out the smoke from his lungs. Kronos stood over him, arms intertwined on his chest, and there was an unashamed smile on his lips. Even though I felt as if my lungs were torn apart, I couldn't help reveling in this face.

It was when everything happened. Perhaps if we had not been so preoccupied with ourselves, we would have heard it. The sound - or the buzz. But we didn't expect either. For these years of freedom and impunity we got out of use to be on alert. And when we did hear, did sense - it was too late. They were around.

It was a mess. The riders, the dead bodies of our people falling down, the swords flashing - and I even didn't have my sword with me, can you imagine it? I got another, of course. But it was an unequal fight. And all through it - there was an insistent, overwhelming feeling of an Immortal near. Then I saw him. A big one, meat and muscles, on a black horse, his scull barely covered with short down, the axe in his hands swinging again and again.

When everything was over and Kronos and I knelt with our wrists and ankles tied, the man dismounted from the horse. That's all, I thought, that's all. Immortality is a relative thing, after all - if you can deal with it just with one swing of the sword. Or of the axe.

I am sorry, brother, I won't see you again.

"Hey, you!" he stood over us, his legs like thick pillars wrapped in leather pants. "Where is the third of you?"

"Don't see any," Kronos' voice was mocking, light, but his eyes were fixed on the man's face. "You are free to seek."

I inhaled sharply, closing my eyes, ready to the swing of the axe, but the big man just drew his boot into Kronos' belly. He grinned smugly as Kronos writhed on the ground and then put his feet on Kronos' groin. He pressed and pressed until a ragged agonized cry broke out from Kronos' lips.

"I was promised the award for you, bandits. And I am going to get it," the man said stepping away.

For several moments it didn't register in my mind - and then a huge wave of relief flooded me. No axe! What a fool he was, this fat Immortal. He was going to forfeit the award of Quickening - for what? For a heap of coins?

"Perhaps he just doesn't know," Kronos whispered to me when we were dragged behind the horses. "And who is going to tell him? Not me, at least."

* * *

The man could have captured Methos very well; what chance he really had, without clothes and probably without weapon in the desert? Well, if he had, Methos was never brought to the salt mines that were our hell now. But somehow I didn't think Methos was captured. He was rather going away and away, putting days of walk between him and possible chasers. Changed his name, cut off his hair, became as humble and indistinguishable as possible. That's what I thought Methos would do. But Kronos believed he would come back for us.

When we sensed it for the first time, it was almost imperceptible. I felt light-headed suddenly. The sun was so high and only half of agonizing day passed and I was not sure if it was just another death coming. But then I looked at Kronos and there was devilish light in his eyes. He sensed it, too.

"I told you, Caspian."

I wish I could have the same faith as you, brother.

We didn't speak more about it, the night approached and the buzz didn't become louder or fainter. I thought secretly that it was more that I was right than that he was. The darkness fell and again I lay alone, waiting for Kronos to be back - but when he was back, he was not crestfallen and in despair, even though he was barely alive - but he was exulted.

"He is closer! I feel him."

And yes, now I felt him, too. An Immortal, in any case. Or, maybe... It was too strong for one Immortal. Then we heard screams and clashes, sounds of fight and Kronos groaned with frustration because of our inability to do anything. The door opened and two silhouettes appeared in it - one so recognizable, the man Kronos had never doubted and I had never believed to - the slight tall figure of our brother. And the other one was broad and heavy, the round half-bold scull gleaming - incredible! Our enemy who had plunged us into this hell.

"Kronos! Caspian!" Methos cried out, more guessing us by the buzz than by seeing us. The light of the torch in his hand caught us. I knelt, ready to get up as soon as he cut the chains - and he did it swiftly, looking past me, at Kronos who tried to get up, too, and failed.

I saw Methos' face - and the expression on it was such that at that moment I understood that I would never ask him what took him so long to come for us. He whispered, almost inaudibly, I heard it only because I was so near:

"Ooh bastards! I had no idea... Silas!"

The big one came up to his hail and without asking a question raised Kronos on his shoulder without much effort and directed to the door, Methos and I following him.

I took the first sword that I could find in the yard - and it served me right. Perhaps I had never enjoyed killing so much as I did this night. Then there was a mad ride - and hours later we were in the camp. Oh well, not much of a camp it was, just a tent and a fireplace. Nobody was there but four of us. All we had once was gone. But somehow I liked it, too. It was like staring from the very beginning, like Kronos and Methos had started when I didn't know them.

Methos had Silas taking Kronos to the tent, following him immediately. I needed to go in, too, I wanted it so much - but when Silas came out and tossed down the flap behind him, I didn't go past him. I sat down at the fire instead. I was so tired that my head was swimming; it drove the thoughts away better than anything else did.

"Hey, what a ride it was!" the man exclaimed brightly making me look up at him - and I wondered again how Methos had managed to convince him to help us. "I love this!"

His accent was even more barbaric than mine had ever been. I shook my head. His voice prevented me from hearing what happened in the tent. I didn't want to listen - but I couldn't make myself stop.

"Do you know what we did?" Silas' voice interfered again; I looked up. His rough face was almost childishly amused. "We pretended I captured him! As if I brought him to get my award! They had such round eyes when we pulled out the swords!"

Methos. Sweet-talked this human monster into it. Impossible.

I thought I could hear the sound of the voice in the tent. I almost didn't recognize it at first, so strange it sounded. Then I understood it was Methos'. I didn't catch a word, the language had to be ancient, unknown to me - but it was the tone that dumbfound me - and I felt something clenching inside me painfully. I had never heard it so soft; almost cooing - and it went on and on, without pauses, not like he was trying to convey something but because he couldn't help but speak. Gentle and beautiful and melodious - but it sent spikes of pain through me and I felt like covering my ears with my palms to shut it off and never hear it again.

I didn't hear Kronos answering and, maybe, he couldn't, maybe, he even didn't hear.

"Do you think he... Kronos will mind if I join you?" Silas asked. "Methos said I could be your brother."

So, that was what you left your people for? It made me look at him again. I measured him with my eyes, up and down - the plain face, the huge arms and legs, the bulging belly - really, he was even uglier than I was. His eyes looked eagerly at me. Brother?

"Methos joked," I said.

* * *

But as years passed, I could hardly imagine that once there had been only three of us, that there had been time when I couldn't depend doubtlessly on Silas standing by me in every fight, with his heavy axe so prolific in cropping the heads of our enemies and victims. Being four made us complete. Symmetrical in some strange way. And invincible.

Our strength was not only in the panic that we inspired to nomads and peasants, utterly defenseless under our attacks. Our fame went long before us and spread our power even on those places where we had never been. We could come and kill and spared nothing. But it was not what I loved most of all. To sink my sword in a warm human body and make it cold was not the most beautiful thing in my life.

Riding knee to knee with my brothers - it was.

And I missed it for all those years when we were apart.

Memories. I had an incalculable quantity of hours for them in the darkness. My solitude was rarely disturbed, you know. The guard bringing a plate of food - once a day, I believe. I could eat it with my hands because I was not supposed to have a spoon or, for Christ's sake, a fork - or I could push it away and scatter the contents on the floor, for cockroaches and rodents scurrying about. Thanks God, I didn't also have insectophobia... and how the phobia of rats is called.

Sometimes people came in with a hose, pouring water on me; it was for keeping me clean, I guess. And also, once in a while, the door opened, letting in a shaft of light that was dull but still blinding to me - and I could see a group of students in white coats at the threshold. Staring at me with wide eyes, wincing at the smell. And the doctor's voice, smug and doubtless, reciting his speech that he knew by heart after so many repetitions:

"Another absolutely gorgeous exhibit. Our monster. Just take a look at this face. And these tattoos. Now tell me that the inclination to deviant behavior doesn't manifest in the appearance. He is a murderer, a psychopath, a cannibal. And, by the way, he has an interesting case of claustrophobia - it can be said that this man is in his own private hell now... alive."

I had one more visitor. The fruit of my imagination, when I hallucinated on the brink of consciousness - the buzz of another Immortal approaching my cell, the door opening and the flash of the sword over my head. It was not fear I felt then - I knew what I could call fear! It was almost relief. The end of everything.

But the memories were more alive, more vivid than any of them. The memories that were supposed to dispel the darkness, the glorious ones that could bring me at least temporary peace - they didn't stay with me. Why couldn't I hang to them? Why couldn't I forget the walls around me and be again in the vastness of the desert, riding a strong foamy horse, smelling blood and sand in the air, shoulder to shoulder with my brothers? Why did the memories become a skilled accomplice of fear, bringing to me only pain and disappointment and loss and darkness itself?

I hit my head on the wall trying to get rid of them - but I couldn't pass out for long, you know. By far not for so long as I wanted. I cried. Wordless, tearless screams that had to go through the walls but were not heard by anybody. I prayed to all the gods I knew during my life to let it be finished. To finish the memories, if nothing could finish the fear. Or to finish me.

* * *

"Methos is lucky," Silas said with a sigh passing the grindstone against the blade of his axe. This sound drowned almost all others in the camp: crackle of wood in the fire, low monotone singing in an unknown language of the slaves, laughter and screams in Kronos' tent. But I still could hear Methos' voice in his tent, so low that I couldn't get the words, and a husky female voice answering him softly.

"Why?" I asked lazily. I felt so very contented. The fire was warm and the night was so bright - and when I looked up to the huge velvet sky, the stars seemed like spheres there, not like small dots.

"He found the Immortal. He'll get her Quickening."

I stretched lazily, spreading my legs wider and getting the girl between them closer to me. She was another source that kept me warm - a small skinny kid with long yellow hair, soft as chicken down. Her head was right under my chin and I buried my face in her hair, breathing in her smell. Her frail body was taut in my embrace and I could feel the little heart beating so quickly under my forearm.

"Maybe, Methos won't care for her Quickening," I said, carefully hiding mischief in my voice. "Why, he is old, what is such a faint Quickening for him? Ask him, maybe, he'll let you have it."

"You think so, brother?"

"Sure," I nodded, slightly remorseful.

He got up heavily, put away the axe and tentatively walked to Methos' tent. I settled back, giggling and tugging the girl with myself. She followed with slight resistance, putting her head on my chest. I fished a bit of honey fruit in the bowl and groped for her mouth to put it in. She didn't resist now. Her lips were so soft and silky and she nibbled on my fingers trying to lick honey from them.

I got her only yesterday, in the village we razed to the ground - and as always after death around life seemed so beautiful to me - the icy night, the translucent sky and the fire and the little enslaved mortal.

There was silence in Methos' tent now - and after some moments Silas emerged, darker than thunderstorm.

"Caspian!" he roared rushing to his axe. I laughed. The girl yelped as I shoved her away and grabbed my sword - right in time to parry a mighty blow. Shit, I had to get on my feet, I didn't have much chance like that.

"Come on, Silas, come on!" I blurted. "Can't you take a little joke?"

Well, what did I expect? He virtually wrenched my sword out of my hands - and then threw me on the ground, the heavy handle of the axe pressing into my throat, crushing it mercilessly. I wheezed hoarsely. Silas' face was a perfect grimace of hatred as he leant on me.

There was not much smile I could manage but I touched his face with the tips of my fingers. And, of course, it wasn't that he couldn't feel my groin thrusting into his urgently.

It was always funny to watch the changes of his expression, so wonderfully obvious. He breathed in my face for a while more, continuing to maul my throat, until my eyes rolled up.

"You... Caspian!" he hissed getting away from me.

"Have fun, b... brother," I said with difficulty hooking his hand and sitting up.

"You two!"

Kronos stood at the opening of his tent and we both shut up immediately. Well, he didn't look threatening - swaying tipsily and having a naked giggling girl under either arm - no matter how firm his voice sounded. I stared at him. Some of his hair was plaited in thin braids - and this and his flushed face and bare chest made him look so... appetizing that I almost drooled.

Nope, I really needed to have a relief.

"Can you ever shut up?"

"Oh no, we can't," I sniggered.

"Have nothing to do?" Kronos frowned and freed one of the girls from under his arm. "Here, busy yourself!"

He thrust her forward and she landed on her hands and knees in front of Silas.

"Well, I have my own one," I muttered finding the kid sprawled on the ground. She was shivering when I took her back in my arms. Silas grabbed Kronos' wench and pulled her on his lap.

"That's better," for a moment Kronos stayed, leaning lopsidedly over his only girl now - and then, in the pause that fell, we all heard again the soft murmur from Methos' tent - and then a splash of low, intimate laughter.

There was some languidness in these sounds, so shameless that I caught myself freezing for a moment. There was a silly smile of Silas' face and then I looked at Kronos. He stood still, the thin braids like coiling snakes in his hair and his mouth was like a pale slit on his chiseled face.

"Methos doesn't make a lot of noise," Silas established.

Kronos turned to him abruptly and Silas smiled again.

"No, he doesn't," he walked back to his tent.

The kid in my arms cuddled to me and I found her wet face with my fingers.

"Pretty head, pretty," Silas mumbled groping Kronos' gift on his lap.

"Don't cry, poor orphan," I patted my girl's head; she hardly understood me.

"Guess who orphaned her?" Silas retorted absently. I laughed and got on my feet.

"Let's go, little one," I said pulling her to my tent.

* * *

The scream was demonic. I got up on my feet, half-awake, and grabbed the sword.

By the time when Silas and I were in Kronos' tent, he was already recovering - seething and laughing. The bloodied dagger lay on the floor at his bedding on the bits of white clothes and a torn necklace.

Kronos was swearing:

"What a bitch! She nearly castrated me! Shitty cunt!" there was almost admiration in his voice.

I heard a movement behind me and sensed Methos coming in very quietly. He had to walk a long way from his tent here, didn't he?

"Fuck this dumb sow!" Kronos stopped abruptly seeing Methos. "Did she come to you?"

"No," there was not much expression in Methos' voice and even less on his face.

"Ran away, huh? Well, she knows what she does. It won't make the things worse to her," Kronos' smile was sweet, so sweet that I fidgeted uneasily. If he had smiled to me like this... He had last time when I mis-shared the spoils of a raid - and he had broken all my fingers then. But I was not Methos, of course - Methos didn't seem to worry.

"Shall we find her, brother?" Silas asked. It was not a question, really - the question was when Kronos felt fit enough to join the chase. That made Methos raise his brows, practically imperceptibly.

"Shall we, Methos?" Kronos looked as him intently. "Do you insist on doing it?"

"As you wish, brother," he shrugged.

"Or shall we let her run all she wants through the desert? When will she stop, what do you think? When will she really believe that we don't go after her?"

I saw Methos swallowing. I didn't know if there was anything, relief or concern in his eyes. Instead of saying something he squatted and picked up the dagger. The blood on it was still sticky even though Kronos' wound apparently healed completely. I watched how Methos' narrow fingers ran over the broad blade - almost lovingly, pale skin getting smeared in blood - and suddenly my mouth felt very dry.

There was such lightness, such tenderness in his touch. Strange longing filled me when I looked at it mesmerized. I was almost groggy - and uneasy - and wanted to see it more and more and wanted him to stop this play now.

Kronos' eyes were on him, too. Then Methos put the knife back on the floor and stood up.

"Well, are you going to sleep tonight, brothers?" Kronos said abruptly and Silas and I headed to the exit. Methos had to follow us - but he stayed. There were no words said; there never were.

For a moment I felt bitterness because it was me who wanted to stay, this night and every other one. And I still had this longing that weakened me and made me yearn for release. I was at the threshold when Kronos stood up swiftly and moved to Methos, covering the distance between them in one step. He seized Methos' shoulders and Methos gasped - and I saw how white Kronos' fingers became as he dug them into his flesh with all his force.

I didn't know if Methos wanted to pull back - he wouldn't be able, anyway, I thought. Kronos' face neared to his, teeth bared in an animal-like grin on the frozen face, just his eyes lived and devoured Methos' expression.

Then he said something that sounded in my mind over and over for years after that.

"Nobody can stand between us, brother. Nobody."

"Yes," Methos whispered tonelessly.

The rest happened so very quickly that it seemed instant for me - Kronos pushed him away so fiercely that he staggered - and at the same time slapped him on his face, hard and stinging, pushing him until Methos flopped on his knees - and Kronos turned him around quickly - and there was the dagger in his hands. I gaped - but he didn't use it for stabbing. He used it to run it through the cloth of Methos' pants, drawing a thin blood line on his white thigh.

I stumbled over the threshold - but I still had enough time to see it. Methos wanted it the same much as Kronos did.

"What was wrong?" the little orphan raised her sleepy face from the cushions when I entered my tent.

"It's all right now," I whispered laying down with her and wrapping my arms around her warm body.

But nothing was all right since then.

* * *

The brothel was costly. And the girl that leaned to me was the sweetest morsel I had had during long time. She had short curly hair, much like a black girl could have - but she was white and a redhead. Her eyes were like quail eggs, so light-grey and spotted, and she didn't stop laughing all the way until I shook her back into her senses.

"Is there anything you wouldn't laugh at?"

"Sure, there is, stranger," her voice was brittle and accented. "Famine. Plague. They are not funny. I know them."

"Do you?" I hugged her again, tingling her under the chin. "I don't remember seeing you."

It was silly - what was I supposed to do thanks to my long tongue - kill her before leaving?

"What do you mean?" she purred softly, demonstrating the pleasure she might or might not feel.

"I am Plague," I said. She giggled. No, really, she could laugh at everything. "Four Horsemen. Did you hear about them?"

"Four Horsemen," she repeated in her shallow voice. "You are funny, stranger. I like tales. Tell me more tales like that."

I didn't know whether to hurt her or to laugh with her. Tales? For a half of the world we were the nightmare they were even afraid to think about; the demons they didn't dare to name because it could bring us into their lives. We came and took from them everything they cherished in their lives - and their lives, too. We put them on their knees and kept them there.

But she was right, too. Who were we but a tale - for those behind the strong walls of the cities - and we had to change our clothes to civil here, look quiet and harmless.

She didn't know, however, how close the tales could come to her life.

It was Kronos' idea, the one he worked on for last days and months. Mad. Even I could see it. Should we even manage to seize the city - how long would we be able to keep it? How easily would Rome yield its property to us? But there was some dark beauty in what he wanted us to do, too, even if it meant we could perish realizing it. And, anyway, I was going to follow Kronos wherever he wanted to go.

"Oh, I know I overlooked a lot," Kronos said smiling when he finished telling us. "But Methos will smooth it up, right? He is a god in details."

He cocked his head awry looking at Methos, both adoration and challenge in his eyes, as if he dared him: can you? Are you smart enough?

At that moment it seemed to me that old warmth could be restored between them. It was almost as if Kronos gave him his hand offering to forget the years while something stood between them, something unexplainable that made them exchange only business-like snapping remarks.

If Methos agreed to take the hand. If he agreed.

I looked at his beautiful tranquil face and waited for him to answer - and then there was a little smile twisting his lips - but it was not really a smile you would like to see. He looked back at Kronos and said lightly:

"Your idea is too big for me, brother. If you ask me I believe we'd better stick to villages, you know."

Kronos shrugged. It was an easy motion, as if he was not surprised with Methos' indecisiveness - but I could see how his nostrils flared as he looked at Methos leaving the tent. He smiled, too, with very thin lips - and there was anger welling up in his eyes. I thought I wished Methos could have seen this anger. Maybe, it would make him change his mind.

Later Kronos seemed to be as usual, calm and even chatty, and I said:

"Perhaps Methos is out of spirit. I mean, he lived for so long."

"There is no such thing as too long life, silly," Kronos said, my heart filling with joy at the word he used to me centuries ago, when I had not been his brother yet.

"But will we make it anyway if Methos doesn't help us?"

"He will," Kronos answered carelessly. "And you - I want you to go to the city tomorrow and look around."

Since then I visited the city regularly, spending days there sometimes. And now I was going back to our camp not only languid after the tryst with my redhead but having gathered new information for Kronos.

I rode to my tent and the slaves hurried to take the horse as I dismounted. And that was when I felt something was wrong.

Maybe, it was the silence. Not as in an empty place - but rather as if dozens of people had their breath bated, afraid to exhale.

I looked around warily and saw Silas walking to me, his square face pale and drawn and his eyes so sad and wondering as if something beyond his comprehension had happened.

"Methos is gone," he said. "Kronos killed him and when he recovered, he left."

I stood silent but somehow I realized I was not thunderstruck with it. Surprised - yes - but not incredulous.

"Did you look for him?"

"Yes," he sighed. "We will again."

"Kronos will find him," I said without doubt. "And when he finds him, he kills him again."

* * *

It fell apart soon after that. Methos was the first to go - and then I lost my brothers for a long, long time. Two thousand years. Well, they were not bad years. Sometimes I felt almost the same high as with Kronos and Methos and Silas.

Hedwig, an immortal Viking, was like a brother for me - and we had fun for two centuries devastating the coast villages. The power, the might to scare and to kill was the same maddening and the result the same sweet as in the time of our rides.

I was called Plague again, in 1165, when we seized a Cathars' town and the question arose what to do with children. I reminded them about the new strange disease (now I believe it was measles, actually) that had taken thousands of lives of children all over France only last year - the children of faithful Catholics. Why to care for apostates then?

When we landed in America and the Indians fled from us because we rode the horses and they had never seen a horse, they thought we were demons - it reminded me so sharply about other time when the silhouettes of four horsemen had been worse than demons.

I had been in America twice, the next time in the end of the 17th century, as a missionary - and then the Indians made it up for me for what we were doing with them recently. They were startled and delighted with me getting healed and I stayed with them for some decades. Not because I loved this kind of life - but my wife, Mulkene, I got really attached to her. A smart woman she was! She used to bring me a child almost every year diligently and I never guessed who their fathers were.

The kids died in infancy mostly, poor minikins! But some of them we managed to rise and they brought me their first scalps proudly. I remember I was happy then, too.

I remember many and many things. How sad an Armenian song sounded over our village before the Turks broke into it. The first stones put in the base of the never-to-be-finished Cathedral in Barcelona. The Christmas trees on no man's land in the end of 1914.

There were years when I felt tired of living and when I acquired the taste to life again. Long years and short years. But I never stopped thinking about my brothers. Never.

* * *

Russia, 1919.

I loved that time. Crunchy leather, bright-red satin on the sleeves, blue steel of the revolvers and the rush in people. It was maddening, infecting. They believed they were going to see the better tomorrow - soon, so soon - and in the fight for it they were ready to die or to kill - no doubts, no regrets.

There was history made. I made the history. I joined the Communists immediately after the Revolution - and two years later our detachment tried to clean the eastern part of Krasnodar region from the bands or non-party marauders who terrorized the local population.

Abel was the worst of them. He didn't know mercy to the villagers - and the things he did to our guys should they get captured bordered on inhuman. No wonder every one of us yearned to fight till death when at last we met them on the battlefield.

And death it was. The noise of fire made me deaf - and I felt nothing but smell of blood that rose from the fresh corpses covering the ground. My arm was numb - but I raised it again and again breaking my sabre on another head. And then, through the fever of fight, I felt the familiar buzz, approaching quickly. I looked - and he was there. His horse was light dun, as he always liked them; his clothes were khaki-green, not black, however, his face bearded and not decorated with the refined ornaments. But it was him. The scar, glaring red on his pale face and the yellow wolfish eyes drunken with joy of massacre.

He sensed me, too. He saw me. I saw his hand reaching for something under his jacket. I didn't know what he was going to do - and I didn't wait. I yelled his name, even though nobody could hear it - exactly because nobody could hear it. I shot at him. The bullets tore his chest as he spurred his horse. He was dead by the time it reached me, limp in the saddle, sliding down as the horse stopped.

Later my people, exultant that the damned Abel was dead at last, pierced his dead body with their sabres. You know, it was another thing that I liked about that time - everybody carried a cavalry sword; although it made me feel a bit insecure, too.

I watched without interfering. It couldn't hurt him more. And I was ready to stop them if an idea of taking his head had come to somebody's mind.

Later I sneaked out of our camp and returned to the field where our and their dead still lay unburied. All dead but one, of course. I knelt at Kronos, relishing his dead Immortal aura, so mellow, almost caressing. I closed my eyes and submerged in the sensation of him so close... and so accepting. The wish to touch him was the same strong as it had been thousands years ago, when I lay at his feet in his tent. To press my lips to his mouth and feel its hardness and softness, fire and ice. I wanted to fill my hands with his hair, not so long now but still wild, to touch him, to cuddle him. To keep his head on my chest until I feel his breath again.

I lay my hand on his cold face, tracing the scar gently. I had never done it before. I always wanted to.

I lowered my head when feeling him coming back. He shifted, coughing painfully, his punctured lungs re-inflating - and then I could feel his stare on me, even though I didn't look up.

"I thought I would never get up again," it was the voice... This voice always made my heart clench, the only thing that could wring tears from my eyes. He sat up slowly without taking his eyes from me. "What hindered you to take my head when I was down?"

"I didn't mean it, brother," I said meekly and hastily. "I am sorry. I had to kill you. Or it would be worse for you. You were losing."

He laughed. I loved this laughter more than anything else in the world; was hearing it worth dying? Yes, it was, I thought, it was.

"Have we lost?"

"You have."

"Then why did you come back? Or do you think I won't take my chance now?" he was on his feet, the dark shadow cast over me in the light of the setting sun.

"Take your chance, brother," I said looking up at him for the first time. And bringing up the sabre to him.

For a brief moment his fingers, warm and hard, touched my palm over the handle - and it was when I almost collapsed. But I stood it - and I stood while he carved my face and my chest with the tip of the sabre, making the dribbles of blood slide on my skin, watching the scars appear and vanish. He never struck.

"Tell me," he said without stopping the cutting work. "Tell me how you spent this time."

I spoke, my voice unfaltering, even though my words sounded mumbled when he sliced my lips or when blood filled my mouth. His face, white and dark against the red sun, was tranquil and dispassionate.

"So, this time our tastes coincided," he said eventually. "I mean Russia. But our interests conflicted."

"I like Russia," I said quietly. "There is so much interesting happening around."

"Oh I had enough of it," he shrugged. "It was more fun when we came here with Batu Khan. You know, I am even glad Abel is dead. The game is over."

Abel could revive, of course. As himself, giving a start to another legend - or under a different name.

"Well," he continued. "I won't hinder you. Tinker with this country a bit. The Communists are the same able as any other bastards in the history."

He stopped cutting.

"You won't kill me?" I asked not knowing what I felt more, disbelief or disappoint.

"Do you want me to?" he laughed again and added at last, the past affection returning to his voice so easily. "Brother."

I was going to nod. The pain of the sabre drawing blood ornaments on my face was delicious. But, maybe, I wanted more. The heaviness of the blade deep in my chest, his glowing eyes looking in mine while I would be dying, looking until the red mist covered everything. I would have it - as before. If not for the steps behind us. Kronos looked over my shoulder and I turned back and saw her.

Vlasova. My camp wife. Savage, na´ve, jolly, unfamiliar with remorse. Snake and honey in bed. Fearless.

She swiftly walked to us with her revolver cocked, it was a miracle she hadn't shot yet. I knew what she saw: me kneeling, Abel that had to be dead standing over me with the bloodied sabre. She had been one of those who had stabbed Abel's dead body today. But if she saw him alive now, it only meant for her that she had to kill him once more.

"Don't!" I got on my feet quickly, standing between them. "Don't shoot!"

I was the only one she would obey - not because I was her lover but because I was her commander. She eyed us warily but tucked the revolver back to the holster. Kronos was smiling again, coldly and silently, as he watched her, measuring her wrapped in leather figure.

"A good filly, brother," he said in the language that we had used two thousand years ago. "But who else do you let fuck her? Who put this child into her belly?"

Vlasova frowned. Our language puzzled her.

"It is my child," I said. Kronos laughed heartlessly. He reached his hand to her chin - and she shrunk back from his hand, a streak of blood from his fingers marking her cheek. Without thinking I grabbed her and held for him despite her frenzied struggle. I covered her mouth to stifle the cries.

I expected Kronos to touch her again, to unbutton her jacket and tear the dress open over her breasts - but his gaze was not horny, just amused.

"There is nothing you won't give me, brother, is there?" he said at last. "Whoever it belongs."

"You know it is true, brother," I said breathlessly. Vlasova was strong and she continued to gnaw at my fingers fiercely. "You always knew it. She is yours," I added pushing her to him.

"No, she is _yours_," he thrust her back. "Show me. Show me how you conceived... this child."

I was ready for any of his bidding - and yet this one made me gasp - and my gasp made Kronos smile triumphantly.

But there was nothing I wouldn't do for him, nothing. Pain or pleasure, I could take both for him.

Vlasova didn't stop struggling until I finished - and she was very bloody by then. She lay panting, wide-eyed, pressing her hands to the bottom of her belly. I panted, too, standing over her. It was Kronos who was calm and quiet passing his gaze over us. Then his eyes stopped on me.

"I accept it, brother," he said at last with a smile. "Your apology. No hard feelings left."

He turned to go and I couldn't help crying out to stop him.

"When will I see you again?"

"When you need me, brother," he dropped lightly. "When you need me."

I had to strangle Vlasova. I wanted to stay with my detachment, you see, and she wouldn't keep silent about what happened. When she was found next morning, in blood of her miscarriage and with the skirt around her waist, they thought it was some revengeful bandit from Abel's gang who had done it. More reason to burn a couple of them alive when we captured them next day. We buried Vlasova with others of our comrades we had lost on this field.

* * *

The Ukraine, 1944.

The fascists were fleeing. We pressed them unceasingly, taking over kilometer by kilometer of our land. Now we evened the score for our shameful withdrawal three years ago. We were supposed to be merciful to the captives - but we were not merciful. Not after we had to see what they had done on our land. There were times when being as bad as possible was the only right thing to be good.

The partisans were small but fierce help to us. Hidden in the forests, they broke exact shattering blows demoralizing the Germans even more.

"Island, island, do you hear me? Big land speaking," the radio connection with the partisans was really crummy - but we needed it to coordinate our actions. And then through the rustle a voice came - and I recognized it at once.

"Commander Silanty listening."

Another language. And the buzz couldn't reach through the radio waves. But I was not mistaken, oh no. Silas, my brother! I missed you so much.

He didn't recognize me and I couldn't say anything. But it made me happy for years to think about him.

* * *

Romania, 1980.

I sat at the steering wheel of my taxi on the airport parking place, waiting for the next plane to arrive. My car was the third in the queue. I watched the airport exit inattentively, listening to some soft instrumental music on the radio. Sometimes the sound was drowned by the noise of ascending or descending planes and I could only guess it then. The day was mellow and warm, one of the first warm days this spring, and I relished the beams of the sun falling on my face through the open window.

The music changed to the news, usual cheerful patter about achievements of national economics in Socialistic Romania, about achievements of national science - long live the great scientist Comrade Elena! - about achievements of...

And at that moment the sensation came to me. Faint at first, it grew when a group of chatty foreigners emerged from the airport building. I looked at them trying to determine who of them felt the same buzz in his head as I did.

It turned out to be very easy. I knew him too well. He changed, of course. Pale and with his hair cropped very short - but his narrow reedy form was the same, his casual gait, the alert turn of his head. I looked at the familiar profile - and then Methos turned to me.

He was tense - he couldn't see me in the car without looking down - and I was ready to call for him - not that I knew how to do it - when a solemn guide flocked the group and guided them to a big bus. I read the name of some historic conference on its glass.

* * *

It was not difficult to figure out what of Bucharest hotels was posh enough to welcome the foreign tourists and it cost me my two-day wage to bribe the receptionist to let me in. I walked along the corridors of every floor, listening intently for the buzz that would reveal Methos to me. And me to him, too, of course. I could very well find myself with cold steel pressed to my neck. Not that it would be for the first time, mind you.

But it didn't happen like that. I felt him very close - and then suddenly the buzz started going away. I realized what it was at once and thanked myself for looking at the hotel's plan before going up. I met him at the rear exit, with my hands raised slightly to show that I was not going to fight.

He looked at me for a moment, his face blank and white - and then his mouth distorted. His expression used to reveal so little, his face always so composed in its beauty - only in physical pain it changed - and now it was as if something hurt him. I saw him pressing his arms to the stomach, as if there was a wound and it didn't heal. I bit my lips staring at him; I didn't want to bring him pain, whatever it was.

"I am sorry I scared you, brother," I was careful to make myself sound neutral. I was not sure what language to speak to him and chose English since he appeared to arrive with English-speaking group.

"Oh, don't worry about... _scaring_ me, " he said after a pause as his face smoothed slowly and he dropped his arms. "I didn't know it had been you. I just prefer to stay away from fighting."

"And if you knew it had been me - you wouldn't stay away from fighting?" I asked mechanically. His eyes met mine for the first time, blackness almost left them by now.

"It's too late for 'if', Caspian," he said very quietly.

Back in his spacious room, he sat on the bed while I occupied the chair. I couldn't help looking at him and had to remember about looking away all the time. He seemed thinner than he had been and somehow younger with his face untanned - and more what?.. harmless with this short hair. I had been amazed with the changes in him when I had seen him at the airport -and now it struck me even more.

But one thing didn't change, however. He was still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. And it didn't change about me. I still wanted him, plain and simple. It was always in me - beneath everything, admiration, hostility or estrangement. How silly! I was pathetic in my awkward crush on him - yes, the dog, brother, the dog - but I could do nothing with it. I pulled out my cigarettes. He watched me as I struck a match. My fingers didn't shake - but it was only because I watched them so carefully.

There were his possessions scattered around - and for some reason they confirmed his presence to me even more than his own angular form on the bed. I wanted to touch his clothes and his small articles, to dig my palms in them, to steal something of his to keep it with me even after he would be gone again.

"I would never believe I could meet you here. Could meet anyone here, after all. Romania seems to be a lousy country to live, doesn't it?"

"I try not to pay attention to little inconveniences," I grinned.

"Oh yeah, little inconveniences, like total shadowing and ration cards."

"But then we don't have a foreign debt," I replied.

"Right."

A pause fell and then he asked, in a voice that was not softer but more casual, at least.

"Who are you now?"

"Well..." there was not much to tell. "A taxi driver, as you could see. I am married. Have three children."

I fished the photo out of my wallet and showed to him. He nodded.

"And you?"

"I am not married."

As if I meant it. Well, I understood. Nothing in his life where he wanted to let me in. What else did I expect? He had been cold with me for hundreds years when we still had been the Horsemen - and why did he have to feel close to me now? I didn't fit him.

He wanted to forget everything - and I was just a part of what he wanted to forget. He wanted to forget the same as I wanted to remember. But, of course, we had different things to exercise our memory.

I didn't have to remember how Kronos' anger at last splashed out and he thrust his sword into Methos' chest. Didn't I see - it was what made him clasp himself as soon as he saw me - because the memory of this pain and this death came to his mind at the thought of us four.

How could he forget Kronos' stabbing him right between his collarbones - with the soft sound of flesh and bones crashing - and how he looked in shock at the sword protruding from his chest and at Kronos' hands still on the handle. He had to remember how he gagged with blood filling his throat and mouth, leaking out in crimson flow on his chin.

And Kronos smiled when, looking in his misty eyes, he drove the sword down, cutting his sternum between the ribs - until the resistance of the bones was gone and the sword sank deep in his soft belly. He would be screaming but blood in his mouth muffled it all.

Kronos cut down further, slowly, to Methos' groin - until Kronos' sword pressed into his pubic bone - and then he twisted the blade downwards, turning it out of the moorings.

Perhaps it had not been the worst pain Methos had felt in his life, certainly not the longest - but how could he forget that it was Kronos, his brother, killing him so unnecessarily cruelly and deliberately, Kronos reveling in his agony, making his best to prolong it?

Silas stayed with him while he was dead. He sat at the fire, with Methos' limp naked body on his lap, the huge ugly scar still shockingly visible, disfiguring - and Silas hugged himself as if he was cold and cuddled the body in his arms even though Methos couldn't feel it.

But when he revived, Kronos was back, picking him up and walking to his tent; he couldn't walk properly, his vitality still was not resurrected fully and Kronos almost carried him.

It smelled blood in the tent, Methos' own blood, Kronos even didn't wash it off. He put him on the bedding and leant to him, running these bloodied fingers on Methos' lips and he tasted his blood on them - and Kronos tasted his blood on his lips when he pressed his mouth to Methos'.

Kronos moved his lips over the fading scar that crossed the pale body exactly in the middle - from the collarbones to the groin and then further, locking around his cock - and Methos was too faint to struggle and too dizzy to want to struggle. But he was not faint or dizzy enough not to respond to Kronos' warm greedy mouth.

He didn't want it. He didn't want to lie under Kronos with his legs raised and feel the hard thick shaft spreading his anus with every thrust - but he couldn't help pushing back to these thrusts and pressing his groin to Kronos' and trying to rub his stiff seeping cock against Kronos' belly. He didn't want to toss his head back and whimper as the pleasure was overwhelming him. But most of all he didn't want Kronos' gold-and-nephrite eyes look at him so tenderly, mockingly and understandingly - as if he was saying: 'I know what you want, brother. I will always give it to you.'

Was it why you left, Methos? Not because of pain but because of pleasure.

That night when I returned to the camp and walked to Kronos' tent, I reached my hand to pull the flap away - and stopped dead listening to the sounds there. Do you know, brother, it was when I hated you as I only could hate anybody? Because while Kronos had hurt you - you still hurt him more - and I couldn't stand him being hurt. Not again.

I would prefer you to die a million times than to hear him make these stifled sounds alone in the darkness. I waited until I understood I could come in. I knelt at the threshold and I knew I would sit like this for all night if he didn't say anything. And at first I thought that he wouldn't say anything as he didn't look at me and only the wood crackled in the hearth quietly.

Then he sighed and got up.

"What do you want today, Caspian?" he asked. "A knife or a rope?"

"Your hands," I answered. And his hands it was.

You don't know, Methos, how his strong hard hands felt clenching on my throat. The pain was so bad that I barely refrain myself from struggling, involuntarily, for life and air. But as long as I could, I continued to whisper, although Kronos hardly heard me:

"More... more..."

I wanted all pain he could give. And when my vision died out all together and I stopped feeling anything, I was woken up again - by Kronos' mouth on mine, breathing life back into me. And his lips were fiery and hard and the revival became a kiss. Then he squeezed my throat again - and brought me back. And again. And again, I don't know how many times.

I could tell you about it, Methos. But I knew it was not what you wanted to listen to. And not from me - not from the dog.

I looked at him and met his eyes - slightly wondering for once - and I realized that for minutes we didn't say a word.

"By the way," he asked suddenly, "when did you see the others last?"

I told him, happy to recall, and watched the tiny evidences of emotions on his face.

"So, they are both alive," he whispered. I didn't know it for sure, of course, decades passed since then - but I didn't want to think otherwise, not until I knew exactly.

"I wish to know where they are," Methos said suddenly and before I had time to be surprised, he continued. "To know where all of you are. To never step my foot anywhere near," he finished grimly.

"Well," I shrugged as if the offense didn't touch me. "It is not so difficult to figure out where Kronos is _not_, right? The world is not so big any more - and can you imagine Kronos living in some quiet place, working from 9 till 5?"

Methos gave me a look.

"As I do," I added.

"And, Caspian," his voice was flat, "you don't indulge in havoc any more, do you?"

"Here? Now?" I shrugged. "Not since the end of the war when we cleared Romania from capitalistic dregs. I..." I chuckled. "I think I need a commitment to do it. To somebody or to something."

"Did it come to your mind after two thousand years of reflections?" Methos asked. I compressed my lips. He could be scalding - as he had always been; even though he probably thought I didn't feel it.

"It's getting late, Caspian," he said and I stood up.

"How long are you going to be here?"

"The conference is for three days."

"I'll see you tomorrow, then," I said.

I knew it was pointless. Tomorrow wouldn't be better - but suddenly it seemed so bitter to me - that he would be in the city for three more days and I wouldn't see him. The fuckin' habit of a dog to lick a hand that pushes it away.

I would never come if he told me not to. But he didn't. He even saw me off to the elevator and I stumbled a little, hesitating and then saying:

"I'll go by stairs."

For a moment he looked at me without expression and then something clicked in his head.

"Still claustrophobic, brother?"

* * *

In the darkness, with all this time at my disposal - I recalled my last phrase to him again and again. I'll see you tomorrow, then. A promise that I never kept and he never wanted me to keep.

They arrested me near to my house. I couldn't help fighting, even though I knew it was the worst possible idea. They broke my ribs in the car but it healed by the moment I was in the interrogation room. I still thrashed, couldn't stop coming out, especially when I got to know what they accused me of.

"You dragged me away on the eyes of my family, the neighbors will think I don't know what - because you suspect me in what? You have to be kidding!"

"Oh no, Casparri. No kidding there. We got a signal. You contacted a foreigner and offered him information about secret objects in our country. Are you a spy or a dissident? You'd better confess now."

At first the Captain that questioned me was casual, just impersonally rude - but as the night was wearing out he got pissed off and called for help. They didn't think it was all so absurd. Not at all.

I was not scared when they started beating me again. I could take any beating. I took it for days. I told myself not to fret. Well, I heard the rumors about people taken by Securitate and never coming back. But I believed I would get through. Somehow I would.

I stared at this unsigned protocol on the table in front of myself on the day when Methos had to leave Bucharest - and blood from my nose was dripping slowly on it. Well, I supposed Methos had left earlier, maybe, on the same evening when we parted. Just to be on safe side.

"Sign, Casparri," the Captain hit me again. What did they think? Anybody who couldn't heal like I could would dwindle after a day or two of such treatment and they even didn't seem to care. "Do you want me to get angry with you?"

"No. Oh no," I sighed.

"You think you are messed up, Casparri? You have no idea what it is - to be messed up. Do you know we got a request from Comrade Elena about prisoners for her scientific research? Shall we send you - or your wife? We can get her in an hour. And don't worry about your children - Socialistic Romania will take care of them."

But eventually he had better idea. One day he scattered a heap of photos in front of me; some of them almost could make me sick, even me.

"Wonder who did it?" he asked. "It's you. Our comrades from militia asked us for help. Their reports look really poor, you know, with all these deranged killers on loose. But in this case we seem to find the criminal. What do you think? That I can't pin it on you?"

I felt so tired. What would it be in the worst case, I thought. Death penalty. As if I didn't go through them before - and it was Romania, not France, so, I didn't have to worry for my head.

"You can try."

It was Elena Ceausescu herself who pardoned me. This woman did show some strange logic. Amusing, isn't it? An execution would be my salvation. But one day I was taken from my cell and brought to this place. I didn't struggle when they dragged me to the basement. I expected a bullet. I didn't expect chains and darkness. When I understood how deceived I was I screamed until I lost my voice.

And then fear came and never left me since then. For how many years? I don't know.

* * *

I had to be hallucinating again. The buzz of an approaching Immortal seemed bright and undeniable, cutting through the soft huge fear as the blade of the sword that was going to fall on my neck. It happened too often - the hope of relief that vanished and was followed by another attack of fear, even sharper because for a tiny moment I thought I wouldn't have to feel it again.

And yet this time the buzz didn't die out, it grew stronger - and I almost cried out in delight. He was coming for me at last. Whoever he was. He got to know that I was chained here, his chance of a really good Quickening. And I welcomed him.

The buzz was strong as if there was more than one of them. Oh no, you won't need much effort to cope with me. I am willing! The heavy lock of the door clanked, bringing shivers of anticipation through me. It was real; now it was not a delusion, another mirage that was exhausting me for so many years. I struggled to stare at the square of light in the opening door and couldn't help blinking, my eyes letting me down, not allowing me to see the one who had to become my death. Just a shadow - a black angel with a long glimmering sword in his hand.

I got up on my feet and made two steps towards him, as much as the chains let me. And then my heart stopped - and I felt as if I was dying - not of the sword but of happiness. Because he was in front of me. He was the only thing that held me through all the years of loneliness and insanity. He was the only one who could come for me - even though for all these years I never dared to hope that he would.

I wiped my hair away from my face and laughed as the blade flashed striking on the chains. Kronos was my freedom!

His long ironic mouth curved in an exquisite predatory grin, the eyes, both cold and fiery, glowed at me - and I felt fire starting in my chest. It hurt - but you know, pain was what I always loved.

And there were others. I turned to face Silas - my beloved brother, I didn't lie, my heart was full with this feeling - oh how I was going to love him! And then a narrow silhouette, moving deeper to the shadows - the lithe delicate figure that I knew so well. Fifteen years of my hell. Methos.

I was about to scream again, my anger and misery coming back to me, and then, behind my brothers, another figure stepped in. The stained white coat and grayish hair. The voice introducing me again and again to the students.

I broke him down clutching my hands on his throat and he struggled feebly and cried for help. I heard Silas chuckling and I could feel Kronos' gaze on me, affectionate as it had been when we had met for the last time. Do you know, Methos, why I was doing it? Because I didn't want to clasp my hands on your long lean throat! He was dying in your stead.

My rage abated by the moment when the doctor stopped moving. We were together, all four of us. Kronos made it - and I would do anything to enjoy every moment of it. And I will be able to live with you at my side, Methos, not recalling anything, not thinking of the past - as long as the future is ours. I will be your unloved brother again. Remember how it was? I will be a dog. I will lick your hand if you want it.

And if you want me to be a monster, I will be a monster. Whatever you want me to be. I caught a small step he was about to make.

"Stop!"

There was surprise on his beautiful clear face.

"They are better alive," I put the cockroach in my mouth reveling in the expression of incredulity and disgust in his eyes.

THE END

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