At Villa Diodati
There was a goat in the room.
Methos opened his eyes on darkness, waking from a dream that lingered and filled the space around him with phantasms and shades. He blinked, and gradually the shadows transformed into the mundane settings of everyday reality; pikestaffs turned into bedposts, dark behemoths shape-shifted into bureaus, and billowing shrouds changed to curtains streaming from a window left open when he'd fallen into bed hours earlier. It had been calm then, after a stormy evening, but the wind had come up again in the deep hours of the night. A branch whipped against the pane, making Methos jump. No doubt it was the wind which had awakened him.
Either that, or the goat.
Methos sat up. His back was stiff from the too-soft bed. Sometimes the comforts of Lord Byron's villa were a little too civilized. His lips twisted in a wry grin. On the other hand, it could be charmingly uncivilized. His grin faded suddenly at a wisp of remembered dream... soft lips touching his neck, limbs entwined with his, warm hands wandering over him as they would -- and he returning the caresses with an ardor that turned to horror as the warmth against him chilled.
He shuddered and slid awkwardly from the bed, dragging the blankets with him as he half-stumbled to the window. The wind tufted his hair and made him squint against the cold. Slamming the window shut, he returned to the bed and sat heavily, propping his elbows on his knees and rubbing sleep and morbid night-visions from his eyes.
He could hear the goat in the far corner of the room. It was moving quietly, for a goat, and Methos thought he could hear stealth in its movements. A certain furtiveness. Sneakiness in a goat was not a good thing; and Methos sighed, pulling the covers around him and standing unsteadily. He peered into the gloom and made out the pale blob moving against the darkness, sighed again, and sat back down.
"So you're my companion for this dark night," he told the goat. He thought the animal made a soft noise in answer, but it probably cared little enough for him as it rooted in a basket on the floor. "I hope that's not my laundry," Methos said.
The goat, he was sure, was Byron's joke. The party was lopsided; he was the odd man out. Not that he had had to go to bed alone. But Methos wasn't in the mood to share Byron with Claire or Mary with her husband.
He had been sorely tempted by the latter, to be sure. But Methos hesitated to push himself forward with Mary, afraid to risk the fragile understanding lately grown up between them. Her astonishment at Byron's return to life had turned to anguish, and in her perplexity of grief, she had turned to Methos. She had sought answers from him, and how could he refuse her? He had taken the risk, and revealed himself. Her instant and compassionate understanding of the immortal curse had filled him with elation and remorse, set his heart pounding even as it seemed to sink under the weight of her sorrow. It had almost undone him; he had ached to take her in his arms, and the urge to fling himself at her feet had been almost too strong to resist.
He shook his head. In love. Bah.
His fastidiousness and his scruples had sent him to a solitary bed, much to his host's amusement. Byron and Claire had probably laughed themselves sick letting the goat into his room. Methos smiled to himself. Ah well.
Thoroughly awake, he cast the bedclothes aside and lit a lamp. Fumbling on enough clothes for warmth -- sighing in pleasure as he stuffed his feet into fur-lined carpet slippers -- he took up the lamp and left the bedroom. He made his way carefully through the dark hallway and crept down the staircase to the ground floor, where not long before they had paid homage to Bacchus and Dionysus. The house was completely still now, and the servants had cleared away most of the confusion and clutter, though as he went past the drawing-room Methos thought the smell of spilled wine still hung in the air, mixed with the scent of the rain-drenched earth, blown in through a half-opened window. He shivered and went on towards the library.
The goat followed.
Methos moved contentedly around the room lighting lamps, letting the familiar comfort of a book-lined room ease him like balm. The lamps turned the room golden and warm, the light picking up the gilt titles against the deeper glow of the leather bindings. Methos browsed aimlessly among the books, looking for nothing in particular and losing himself in the pleasure of serendipity. At length, he put down the books, drawn instead to the jumble of manuscript papers piled haphazardly on a large polished desk. He recognized Byron's sturdy scrawl across the pages, and even as the random phrase met his eye, he was struck by the power of the words.
But then his attention was arrested by a neat, square note-book lying on a small table. As if she stood beside him, his heart seemed to leap and fall at the same time; again he felt a queer mixture of hope and dread. He picked up the book and held it unopened for a moment. There was no legend on the cover, but Methos knew it held within the notes Mary had written down for her tale of the immortal man "born of fire." Methos remembered her face, gone distant and inward, as he walked by her side towards the house after the fateful duel. Once inside, she had immediately taken up her pen. Shelley and Claire had clamored for games, and Byron had thrown himself into the festivity, his gaiety more than a little forced, Methos thought. He knew it was partly the quickening energy coursing through his friend that drove him to the edge of hysteria, but Byron was given to swinging quickly -- too quickly perhaps -- from pensive thought to unthinking passion. It grieved Methos to see his friend's nature so magnified and distorted by that terrible animation.
For himself, he had retreated into a moody silence, unable to distract himself with games or wine or thoughtless lust. He felt unsettled, his eyes drawn from Byron's too-bright face to Mary's intense countenance as she sat at her writing.
Methos opened the book at random. The passionate words burned from the page, Mary's fine hand turned to scribbles in her urge to write it all out while the experience was still strong and terrible in her thoughts. Of all the stories told that night, it was hers that had held them all riveted, even Claire, who had had to be calmed down out of incipient hysterics at the end of the awful tale. Methos had felt the story go through him like fire, and he was certain Byron had been affected as well, even though he hid it behind good-natured amusement.
"Bravo! Bravo!" Bryon had applauded as if Mary had performed a particularly stirring ghost story, and nothing more. But Methos had felt the dark thrill under Byron's affected cheer, and had seen the inward look to his eye later. He had disappeared from the party for so long Claire had closed her eyes and passed out. Methos went looking for him, and found him in the library, holding a sheaf of manuscript in his hands.
"Have the muses paid you a visit?" Methos said, his hands, as they always did, reaching automatically for the books on the shelves. If Byron picked up a pen, Methos would quietly leave him to it. But Methos loved to talk about things literary, and would happily encourage the poet to do so.
"I've started a new canto to Childe Harold," Byron said. He looked up from the manuscript and smiled at Methos, his eyes glinting.
"Ah." Methos smiled back, though a sudden feeling of -- anticipation? Fear? went through him. "And is your hero still wandering through the past ages, looking at the ancients through modern, if not immortal, eyes?"
Byron's smile grew wider. "He is, my friend. But don't worry. I've made him mortal enough." He looked down at the words on the paper. "Merely a man with a long backward gaze." He looked at Methos, his head cocked a bit to one side.
Methos frowned at the words.
"Do you think I will reveal your secret through a slip of my pen?" Byron said lightly.
"It's not my secret I'm worried about, Lord Byron." He put a slight emphasis on the last two words.
But Byron just laughed. "They -- he made a large sweeping motion with his arms to indicate the world at large -- "have no conception there is anything in the world like us, dear Doctor. "They won't guess my secret -- or yours. My poem, and Mary Shelley's immortal man, will ever be thought the work of imagination, nothing more."
Methos knew he was right; and yet could not quite shake his feeling of unease. He had been found out, in times long past, when people were more superstitious and therefore more likely to see what was before their eyes. It had never been pleasant; it had on occasion been nearly fatal. Permanently fatal.
Byron clapped him on the back, "Come, no more brooding tonight. We haven't exhausted your trove of enchanting drugs."
Methos laughed, and followed him out to join the others.
Now Methos's hand trembled a little as he read Mary's words. The story was unfinished, rough; Shelley was already pressing her to expand on its terrible theme -- and what horrors would she add to it then? The warm glow of the lamps seemed to change to a colder illumination, and to let something of the storm outside settle in Methos's heart, as he read a sentence written in a hand that revealed the agitation of its author. Did she see him as such a monster? So doomed? He flung the book down, half in anger, half in the grief he knew so well, a grief now terribly old, but for all that still as harsh as ever, as it always would be. To feel this bond with a soul such as Mary filled him with anguish, since he knew well how fragile the bond was. It could be shattered with a word: immortal. Still, Methos could not help but seek it out, the sweet release of confession to one who could understand, if only for a little while, until the burden of understanding became too great. He could not help but love, and he could not deny his longing to be loved as himself, to be known as himself, even as the perversion of nature that he was.
Methos turned back to the large desk, and picked up one of Byron's pages, though he knew he would find little comfort in those lines.
What is the worst of woes that wait on age? What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow? To view each loved one blotted from life's page, And be alone on earth, as I am now. Before the Chastener humbly let me bow, O'er hearts divided and o'er hopes destroy'd: Roll on, vain days! Full reckless may ye flow, Since Time hath reft whate'er my soul enjoy'd And with the ills of Eld mine earlier years alloy'd.
Methos closed his eyes. Byron was a poet, sending out his muses to spy on the hearts of other men as well as looking into his own. He didn't yet know how full reckless time could flow; he couldn't begin to reckon up the ills of age, could not even yet conceive how alone he would be. Methos knew Byron looked upon him with awe and pity corroded by the fear he sought to drown in drugs and reckless destruction. Byron would write out his fear as fantasy, couched in history, condensing all his -- Methos's -- long years into the mortal three score and ten.
To view each loved one blotted from life's page, And be alone on earth, as I am now...
Mary's face wavered before his mind's eye. She was not yet gone; she was vital and alive and could still, perhaps, be enticed into his arms and his bed; but her life seemed to flash and wink out before he could catch it to him, to hold her in his heart long enough to tarry there for the rest of his days. Byron would remain...
He put the page down and sat wearily in a chair before the cold hearth. Byron... He didn't know how long he sat brooding on his friend's name, but a sound behind him roused him to shake himself and stretch his stiff limbs.
The goat. Of course.
Methos sprawled in the chair and listened idly to the click of hooves on the polished floor turn to soft footfalls as the goat walked over the carpet. An odd wrenching sound came to his ears, and he twisted around in the chair to see the goat with a corner of the carpet in its mouth, straining backwards as if to root it out of the floor. The fringe on the edge must have looked like some kind of delectable vegetation to the damn thing, for it chewed it with a determined and stubborn look, as if it would brook no disappointment. Methos laughed at the goat's foolishness and rose from the chair.
"Shoo!" he said, stomping his foot and waving his arms in the time-honored method of goat-herding. "I used to know how to do this," he muttered. Feeling his dark mood lifting slightly, he advanced on the goat.
But the goat wasn't going to let go of its prize. It eyed Methos with the inscrutable look of its kind and pulled stubbornly at the carpet, its hind end moving in a circle around its front, as if this somehow could enable it to both keep its prize and get away from the menacing human. Methos circled and feinted, and finally managed to get his hands on the animal's hindquarters to shove it away from the carpet, almost causing it to somersault over its own head before it finally let go of the carpet fringe with an angry bleat.
"Ha! Got you!" Methos cried in triumph.
"How very charming," said a dry voice from the doorway. "I knew you two would get along."
Methos hastily let go of the goat's hindquarters and stood up, annoyance warring with laughter.
"Very funny," he said. "It was eating your carpet," he added, a bit defensively.
Byron waved in mock protest. "Don't try to explain." He grinned, walking up to Methos to put a hand briefly on his shoulder.
"Up to one of your nocturnal raids on my library?" He still smiled, but his eyes were serious. "Have you no tincture to help you sleep?"
Methos shrugged. It was no good explaining that he loved to prowl among the books at night; to browse through the ages of human thought and history without the drawback of human interaction.
"Drawn to them, but always apart," Byron said softly, as if reading his thoughts. Methos looked away, towards the dark windows that glittered with rain, battered by the storm outside.
Byron laughed suddenly. Methos turned from the window and managed a rueful smile in return. Byron couldn't stay serious for the space of two minutes, except when he was bent over his poetry. He seemed to pour all of the feeling he outwardly disdained into the words on the page. Methos understood this; he had often wished he had such an outlet of his own. But he had long ago resigned himself to being a scholar, not a creator. He had been creative, once, in his way.
The world had been different then.
He picked up a book, the movement disguising the slight shudder that went through him. He leafed through the book without looking at the words; it was enough, sometimes, to be comforted by the mere feel and weight of a book. But this comfort was not to be allowed him; it seemed Byron had other comforts in mind. He took the book from Methos gently, taking both of Methos's hands in his. Methos smiled a little as their fingers twined together.
"You raid my library to distract your wakeful thoughts," Byron said, moving in closer to Methos, close enough for his lips to brush Methos's cheek as he spoke. "But I require something less dust-dry and prosy. Something -- warmer."
Methos could smell Claire on him still -- her perfume, her sweat. Her sex. "I thought you already had something to warm your bed."
Byron drew Methos's hands to his hips, and ran his own hands over Methos's hips to cup his ass. "She can't satisfy me," he said, pulling Methos closer to him. "I need..." He ran his tongue over Methos's lower lip. Methos closed his eyes. Yes. He knew what Byron needed.
Methos had seen it in the other man's eyes, in unguarded moments. Byron probably thought he desired his Doctor in the usual way. Methos knew better. Bryon called Methos his Tenth Muse. He would sit rapt as Methos told him story after story, would laugh and sigh and demand more -- and the truth this time. And yet, there was a hunger in his eyes, mixed with dread, that gave him away, and let Methos see into his secret heart. Byron hated what he was, and he feared the long centuries ahead of him, but he wanted Methos's centuries, spun out behind him in an unimaginable tapestry. He wanted to hold Methos's long life in his hands like skeins of silk, to know it, to feel it.
So he tried to possess the ineffable in the time-honored way. He would court the mystery by courting the man. He could not have Methos's long past, but he could have Methos.
Methos bent his head and buried his face in Byron's neck. "Yes," he whispered. "I know what you need." Someone with a long backward gaze. They stood still for a moment. Byron leaned into him, not moving or speaking. Methos felt at one and the same time as if he were being pulled into safe harbor and slipping his moorings completely. He hadn't realized the depth of his own need, awakened in the day's earlier revels and tamped down in the face of Mary's compassion; but now, with Byron's face turning into his, he felt a ravenous, aching hunger that drove him to meet Byron's heat with his own.
Byron kissed him hard, and pushed at him until his back was against the wall, and pressed into him as if to meld their bodies together. Methos pushed back, moaning, pulling away Byron's clothing, his hands greedy for the warmth of his skin, wanting the feel of smooth muscles under his palms. Byron stepped back suddenly, leaving Methos panting. He grinned in Methos's face, then threw back his head and laughed. Methos pushed him away angrily, but Byron caught him up and spun him around in a wild dance.
"Don't pull your long face, Doctor," Byron admonished, leading Methos backwards across the room. Methos gave up and let himself be carried along on his friend's mercurial mood. Byron was never predictable, even in his need. He went at sex the way he drove a carriage; recklessly, wantonly, and at full speed. If Methos wanted a bit of comfort for himself, it would have to be on this madman's terms.
Byron was trying to make him dance a jig. Methos relaxed, danced a few steps, and then deftly kicked Bryon's feet out from under him. He went down yelling in protest, but Methos fell upon him and pinned him to the floor. They sprawled, tangled together and panting, on the carpet lately favored by the goat.
"Oho, so that's the way you want it!" Byron thrust upwards, huffing and belligerent even while held at a disadvantage.
Methos grinned and let his grip loosen just enough to allow the other man to turn the tables.
"You like it better on your back," Bryon looked down at him in smug certainty, shaking his finger in Methos's face as Methos rolled over to allow Byron to take control. Bryon straddled him and ground his pelvis into Methos's once, experimentally, and grinned when Methos gasped. He let Byron tug at the buttons of his shirt and pull it from his shoulders. He caught his breath as Byron's eager hands undid his trousers, lingering to caress Methos's cock.
"Oh..." He had meant to say more, but that was all he managed to get out. Byron slid backwards on Methos's legs, taking Methos's trousers with him as he went, pulling off the fur-lined carpet slippers and throwing them over his shoulder. His eyes were hot as he looked down on Methos's nakedness, and Methos stretched in wanton luxury, delighting in Byron's gaze, which he could almost feel on his skin, as if his gaze alone could stroke him and touch him. There was a flurry of motion and then Byron on him, his bare skin feeling cool against Methos's heated body.
Byron kissed him again, long, slow, and without mercy. Methos arched, thrusting his hips to feel their cocks slide together. He wanted to cry out, to beg, to plead, but he didn't. He didn't have to; he knew Byron could read it in his eyes. And if not in his eyes, than in every wanting, pleading line of his body.
"Wait!" Byron's eyes were alight and his lips smiling and swollen from their kissing. "Don't," he panted, "go away." Methos shook his head, bemused, and Byron clambered backwards and flailed around on the floor while Methos tried not to laugh, and failed.
"Ha, ha!" Byron mimicked him in a falsetto voice, and rummaged around in his discarded clothing until he found what he was looking for: a small vial of oil. He waved it in Methos's face triumphantly.
Methos didn't say a word, just opened his legs, and drew up his knees. Lightning flashed, back-lighting Byron in white glowing fire, and Methos felt deliriously sinful and mortal-dirty, as if he were a debased supplicant offering himself up to an angel fallen to earth to fuck him. Byron raised his arms slowly, playing to the storm's drama, then broke the mood as he laughed and pounced, running his hands up the insides of Methos's thighs, then down to his ass. He ran one finger down between his cheeks, while lowering his head to take Methos's cock in his mouth, giving Methos a jolt that was like electricity set to the most pleasurable voltage imaginable. Byron's fingers stroked and probed as he sucked Methos deep into his mouth, then slowly drew back to run his tongue around the tip, making Methos moan.
Byron murmured something against Methos's skin.
"What?" Methos managed to breathe.
Byron looked up, smiling wickedly. "This is better than the goat, isn't it?"
"I didn't--" Methos protested.
"No, you waited. For me." Byron licked Methos's cock from balls to tip, "And it was worth the wait."
"You-- Yes." Methos gave up. He could barely breathe; it was not the time for silly arguments. Bryon fumbled a bit with the bottle, and Methos felt something warm slide over his skin. "Yes."
Byron left off his ministrations long enough to pull a cushion from a chair, leaving Methos feeling bereft. "Lift your ass, my aged lover," he said, and Methos felt a pang at the words. He saw something flicker deep in Byron's eyes, and they stared at each other for what seemed like a long time, but was, Methos felt sure, only a second or two. He closed his eyes then, and lifted himself up so Byron could slide the cushion under him, feeling suddenly shy and exposed. Byron picked this up and was amused.
"You're a sight to behold, naked and open for me. I could write a poem about the charm of your sweet submission."
"Don't you dare," Methos said sternly, but the thought that Byron would write such a poem thrilled him. Unpublishable, to be sure! But to be read in private -- "Oh." Byron had slicked up his cock, and then Methos's own, and took Methos's cock in his hand, rubbing in a steady and pleasing rhythm that made his hand and Methos's cock the center of Methos's universe right up until the moment he felt Byron enter him. He moved slowly at first, but it didn't last -- Byron aroused was not a slow-moving lover -- and Methos cried out as Byron thrust into him deeper and harder, still holding and stroking Methos's cock. Methos felt as if all the nerve endings in his body had traveled to his cock and his ass, everything wonderful and exciting and pleasurable pouring through his body from those points as Byron thrust into him and filled him.
And he was crying out, all pleasure spending in one last crest of passion, and he called out Byron's name even as another name rose to his lips but did not pass them. Byron still thrust at him, maddened, delirious, gone completely into the hot sweet center of passion and Methos opened and opened for him, let him in, let him take his body and whatever he could carry away of his soul.
Byron's hair fell in disorder around his shoulders, his face was covered with sweat and his eyes were full of Methos. He lay down on Methos so the whole length of his body pressed against him, sweaty and sticky and fine.
"Ah, my Doctor," he whispered. "You do transport me."
Methos stroked Byron's back softly. He felt -- he didn't know what he felt. He never did, with Byron. Perhaps it was love. Or as close to love as any of their kind could feel for another. He never felt more -- immortal -- than when he was with Byron, and he wondered, not for the first time, what he wanted from the poet that he let himself believe was desire in the normal way. He let his breath out in a long sigh.
Bryon leaned up on one elbow. He touched a finger to Methos's lips. "Do you sigh for me?" The amusement was back in his eyes. "Or perhaps -- for our astonishing Mary?"
"What kind of man would I be to sigh for one while in the arms of another?" Methos smiled.
Byron laughed. "A man like us all."
Methos's traced the muscles of Byron's shoulder and stroked his hair, winding soft curls though his fingers. Byron's eyes closed for a moment and Methos searched his face for something he couldn't name.
"Do you remember them all?" Byron said softly, without opening his eyes.
Methos let Byron's hair fall from his fingers. "No."
"Tell me about one you remember. Byron opened his eyes then. They looked huge, dark. "A veiled Moslem beauty? A Highland chieftain?" He ran his hand down Methos's body. "An old fat Greek who loved your lithe and lissome form?"
"I would keep some of my secrets, Lord Byron."
Byron's face was close -- the intensity in his eyes made Methos press his head back against the carpet. There was nowhere to escape Byron's pitiless inquisition. "Tell me," Byron whispered. Methos swallowed.
A slight sound made them both turn their heads. The goat was walking towards them in an odd sidewise way, eyeing the edge of the carpet, Methos thought. Or perhaps his nightshirt.
"That goat," Methos said, exasperation masking the relief he felt at its opportune interruption. "Why is it in the house?"
Byron sighed. "It was a present from an admirer."
Methos laughed. "I won't ask."
Their eyes met, and flashed, as they exchanged challenges they would call out and meet -- but later. The goat bleated softly as it wandered past, and they watched it go. It paused at the entrance to the room, and a flash of lightning changed it for an instant into a luminous spirit as it stood in the darkened doorway, then it was gone.