Author: I am out of holiday names aka Unovis (unovis)
Written for: silvercobwebs
Characters/Pairings: Duncan/Methos, Methos/Byron
Author's Notes: This takes place post-series, so after The Modern Prometheus. All non-canon names are of real persons. Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev was known in the West as Serge. L'Oiseau feu (Zhar-ptitsa in Russian) = the Firebird, a ballet with music written expressly for it by Igor Stravinsky, which debuted in Paris in June of 1910. Its plot includes a magician villain, the immortal Kaschei, who is killed by the hero with the Firebird's aid.
Thanks to *** and *** for commentary and support. And Amand-r, for patience.
“If not for you, then for me.” Duncan lifted a shoulder. “I couldn't let it get away.”
A Christmas gift. A pre-Christmas gift, rather, not wrapped and tagged with the rest; so maybe its reception wasn’t sure. Handed to him in bed (their bed, now?), with his pre-coital espresso, Duncan’s tea. Methos had received the matted, unframed piece of paper in his hands and kept his expression blank. Am I so difficult to be gifted? I hadn’t thought.
“Thank you,” he said, at last.
It was an impromptu sketch, lively, finely drawn in ink on the back of a menu card: three seated men watching something or someone not shown.
“You know the artist,” prompted Duncan, watching him. “Of course.”
The largest man sat in a curved chair. His head was massive, intelligent, and square; he wore a formal coat and ascot tie; seen in three-quarter view, he had a small, downward slanting moustache and a monocle. The artist suggested a bright eye, an eager gaze; but a heavy presence. At his knee, on a tufted ottoman, sat a young man in undefined costume--a singlet and tights or bare legs, with well defined calves. His cheeks were high and broad, his eyes slanted, his look vacant. But in the foreground, sprawled on a divan...
I could discredit it. But he knows I lie. Is there any point?
He knew the artist; the artist was a bitch. There was mockery in the rendition of the nose, the hooded eyes, the large, languid hands. His knees gaped wide. His trousers were revealing, his lips parted. Methos felt his eyes tighten, looking at the scene.
“No date, but he signed it,” Duncan pursued.
He had, the golden coq. “1911. Paris,” said Methos. He handed it back, not to keep looking at it. “It's very... Thank you. But better for you, I think.” Duncan searched his eyes, and he looked down, to his little cooled cup. “I lose things.” Things, people, souls. Damn you, MacLeod. “I appreciate the gesture.” He clutched the coverlet’s edge, to throw it off, to escape, get out. But heavy Highlander settled on top of it, blocking him, guarding him, nudging him like a sheepdog deeper into their fold.
“Appreciate it a little more.” Duncan leaned back against the pillows, turning on his side. He set his hand, his broad, hot hand, on Methos’s thigh, naked under the covers. “In great detail.” He shook his head. “Paris, the Ballets Russes. How the hell did we not meet?”
“You knew Diaghilev?” asked Methos.
“Not well. I saw every performance I could. I covered an awkward debt, in Rome. I met him at a house party outside London, in ‘21. But I was never sketched by Jean Cocteau consorting with the maestro and Nijinsky.”
“Clean living; highly over-rated,” said Methos. He found a smile, finally, for his bedmate. “It was a short passage, that season and the one before.” he pinched Duncan’s hand, “I’d met Roerich in Karelia, on one of his archaeological tramps. He thought I was a witch. I'd met Benois in Petersburg; he thought I was a godless prostitute. It was enough for an introduction. I knew,” he picked his way across the history--“I had a friend who was a critic. A minor critic. Diaghilev granted us an interview.” Duncan moved his hand higher on Methos's thigh. “He thought a witch and a prostitute and a critic would be able to find him three live peacocks for that night's Shéhérazade. My friend provided pheasants with gilded wings.” Duncan snorted. “After testing the lights and adding vermilion stripes, the Master approved. E for effort, or effect. They were stunned by the music and flapped in a circle before falling off a parapet.” Higher, higher, and hot through the coverlet.
“Grigoriev--the stage manager, the other God--had a fit. But Diaghilev thought it worked; or we worked; or we were good luck. He tolerated us, on the fringes.”
“That looks more intimate than 'fringes' to me.” His hand, high as it could go, became more intimate. Methos felt an answering heat.
“There was more listening than consorting, if you don’t count Cocteau’s hand up your jumper. We talked music and art. We watched them work themselves to death, rehearsing, scraping for money. Sergei Pavlovich oversaw every detail. He was tireless, a madman, a genius. We watched him mold Nijinsky.”
“Speaking of hands up things.”
“And geniuses. What was Nijinsky like, offstage? Did he speak with you?”
Methos shrugged. “You saw him dance. You had the best of him.”
“He was spectacular. So expressive, so visceral.”
Methos smiled again, and moved his hand, up, under Duncan’s robe. He loved the feel of Duncan’s stomach, his midriff, his flesh warm, come to bed. “Jealous?”
“Of you?” Duncan scoffed. He leaned into Methos's caress, moved his hand under the coverlet. “Never.”
“He didn't care for men. Not for me, not for you. Not for poor Serge, the desperate lover. He was a half-baked loaf: raw dough on the inside. Cold. No fire.”
“You're drawn to fire.” Both hands under now, and a shoulder, and his mouth under Methos's jaw. He gripped Methos at the waist, he pushed a hand between Methos's thighs, long, thick fingers finding their way. As Methos's head tipped back, as his legs spread open, Duncan bit his throat and asked, “What were you looking at?”
Methos's hands fumbled under the terry robe. The sketch slid off the bed. “Fire...” He inhaled raggedly. “Stravinsky. Probably.” At the breach of a finger, he twisted, he ignited. “Zhar-ptitsa. The firebird, the death of the immortal. That, that; more of that, more now; forget the fucking dead.”
“Get me in,” ordered the devil, behind him. They sat in the shadowed box, staring at the stage, devouring it, drowning in spectacle. “Present me to him; what a meeting it will be! Two flame bearers, two princes of Oriental glory! What conflagrations we will create.”
“Write your review,” muttered Methos, without looking back. “Write anything. In French; his English is poor.”
“French is poor. It lacks words. It lacks my words-- ah! The golden slave! He hangs in the air. I've heard I translated well into Russian.”
“Read Pushkin and Lermontov and decide; or rather, don't.” He'd endured enough tantrums. He'd suffered the great Baudelaire sulk of '57, the epic Heathcliff umbrage, the ongoing Whitman whinge. He wished, again, that Byron would re-create himself meaningfully. Or come to terms with Immortal anonymity versus popular immortality. Methos knew, though Byron would not be counseled, their comparative worth. Onstage, the slave writhed at the feet of the sultana; powerful, muscular as a python. He'd wished that Byron would find a new circle of poets, creative minds and souls. They said the dancer was Diaghilev's prisoner. Words, images, could not capture him.
“When will we see Karsavina? She's rumored to be divine.”
“Untouchable,” murmured Methos, raising his glasses. The first object, foolishly, that came to focus was Ida Rubenstein's jeweled toe. “We have tickets for L'Oiseau feu. Something new. An original score, original composer.”
“A true Heliogabalus. Diaghilev will suffocate us with novelty. We'll expire in perfumed ecstasy.”
“Write that, and ask again for an interview.” He was curious about the Firebird. He hoped the subject would inspire Byron. He withheld any pointed remarks about phoenixes resting on nests of laurels.
“Introduce me,” breathed Byron, in his ear. When had he edged so close? The odalisques fluttered about the stage, felled by scimitars. A hand crept across Methos's thigh, into his lap. He dropped his programme over it and continued to gaze at the stage. At Nijinsky's fall and roll. The hand squeezed. “Introduce me.” The golden slave arched; Methos licked his lips. “Introduce me!” The squeeze gained a rhythm, a teasing urge. The drums beat. The slave died. Through his glasses, he saw Nijinsky's mouth tense and go slack.
Hot and close against his back; a bank, a bulwark, a presence. Methos pulled the cooler pillow underneath his cheek. He'd shaken with this new passion. He'd burned. Been taken, been held. Still held. Duncan's arm around him, hand on his stomach, Duncan's hip to his hip, thigh between his legs. Lips to his shoulder. Mind against his mind, pushing.
No dreams, he told himself. No memories.
“What were you looking at?” asked Duncan again, rough voiced. He bit Methos's neck, gently, a lion's nip.
It was not a company for words. Music, dance, costume, painting. Broken, re-formed movement, sound. Artists, laborers, innovators; an immortal carnival. They were tolerated on its fringes. One night only, Byron held the stage. One single night, declaiming, as Stravinsky played. Diaghilev listened. Nijinsky dreamed. Methos smiled. Cocteau drew.
“Fire,” said Methos.