By Myranda B. Kalis

Scathan remained silent, his aching face discouraging conversation even if he'd been in the mood for it. When the Sith's fingertips caressed his cheek, he flinched back. "Help me. Give me what I want--what I need to know--and I will help you. I know all about you, Scathan Valcour. I've studied you. I know about the brotherhood, and the oath you swore to the House of Scathach, and how that and the Unseelie blood in your veins have made you an outcast to your own oathbrothers. How you fought and bled for the sake of the Seelie autocracy that rules these lands and were repaid with contempt for your pains. I know about your Sith lover, and how he died. I can't make all of that right again...but I can offer you...alternatives."

"You should have tried this before you killed my family, Sith."

"Perhaps. But denying me will no more bring them back than weeping over their corpses will." The smile curving his lips took on a decidedly darker cast. "Or adding your blood to theirs. All I want is to know about this place. Valgalant. The Dragon's Gate. Every half-remembered story, every scrap of rumor, every old wives' tale. Every secret you ever knew. Tell me this, tell me freely and of your own will, and I will cut your bonds and take you upstairs and soothe every hurt of body and soul with my own hands. You will forget that you ever knew pain. And when your heart is whole again, we will explore how else we might be useful to one another."

"And if I refuse this...offer?"

The Sith tossed his silver head in the direction of the heretofore silent, funereally garbed figures. "It's my understanding that the brothers of your order have an extraordinarily well-developed resistance to most forms of...coercive questioning techniques. Even the magical sorts. My...colleagues...are formidably talented as well, and it's been an issue of some intellectual curiosity with me if they could break one of you, given sufficient time. And we have all the time in the world." A flash of elongated canines. "Believe me when I say this, Scathan--you will either speak the words I want to hear or you will scream them. The choice is, of course, yours."

"*He didn't learn anything from any of the others.* Scathan's mouth settled into a thin line. *Or he wouldn't even be bothering with this.*

The Sith let out a sound that was half-sigh, half exasperated hiss. "I somehow knew you were going to say that." His fingers traced down Scathan's face and over his chin, coming to rest in the hollow of his throat. "I am afraid that a gag simply won't work in this instance...I do, after all, need to hear your sweet voice. You will not speak again until I command you to do so, or ask you a question." The geas knotted tight around Scathan's throat, nearly cutting off his breath with its searing force, drawing tighter and tighter until even his breathing emerged with no sound. "Ladies...feel free to start where you find it most...appropriate."

Had it simply been physical pain, it would have been more than endurable.

But it wasn't.

It was every moment of cold hatred he had ever seen in the eyes of another, and every instant of sick realization that he would have to leave another place because someone had heard one of those rumors and his sort wasn't welcome there. It was every night he woke screaming a name, and every day he spent alone. It was standing before a circle of his brothers and three of his masters and listening to each one pronounce him anathema for his service to an unclean House, and every slur he'd heard spoken about the most noble and honorable man he knew. It was watching friends and loved ones die and being helpless to save them, weeping over graves and funeral fires and the great gaping empty places in his life where they should have been. It was having the blood of people whose cause he could respect on his hands because, in the eyes of the brotherhood, there was no other way to regain the honor he had thrown away. It was every moment of betrayal, and every blade that had ever been driven into his flesh, and every poison that had ever burned his veins, and every way he should have died, but hadn't. It was all that and more, over and over again, compressed into mere moments and stretched over what felt like eternity.

His throat was raw from fighting the geas, and from screaming everything the Sith had wanted to know.

"Thank you," the Sith's voice was a throaty purr, lips caressing his ear. Then the tip of a rough, feline tongue, tracing lightly over his cheeks, drinking the tears, lapping up the blood. A low chuckle. "I wonder if the rest of you happens to be this sweet?"

Cold. Burning cold. The wind howled around him, almost through him, driving knives of frost into every joint. There was no shelter, not even where he lay, half-wrapped in a heavy winter cloak, woolen tunic plastered to his side by his own blood. Snow drifted through the sculpted mouth of the Gate, the great maw of the dragon's head thrown into sharp relief against sheets of snow-cloud and blizzard wind. Inside, the wet, heavy snow was mostly red, Scathan's back pressed against the darkly mirrored face of the Gate itself, a substance too perfect to be ice and too smooth to be glass and clearer and sharper than either.

A howl reached his ears that had nothing to do with the wind. The hunters had found his trail...not that he could disguise it much, bleeding like a stuck pig and growing weaker with every step. A part of him was amazed that he had even made it to the Gate.

The Gate that would only open for one person. The true-born Heir to Valgalant. One of the blood, of which he was the only surviving member. Which had refused to open for him.

He would have laughed, had the Sith's geas not still been sitting in his throat. He would have screamed `Liar!' loud enough that the storm itself would have carried his words to the bastard's ears.

Someone was still alive. His mother. One of his siblings. Somewhere. And he was in the hands of someone fully ruthless enough to exploit any advantage that he had. A captive son or brother for example.

If he'd still had a blade, he would have made certain that the Sith had nothing but his cold corpse.

A scream welled up in his throat that emerged past the barrier of the geas as less than a whisper. "...please!..." Blood welled beneath his fingers at the strain. ""

Light poured past his face, a strange silver-blue tinged light, sunlight shining through the surface of deep water. Warmth spilled over him, a spring breeze touched with the fragrance of sweet flowers and recent rain. He turned his head, pressing his frozen cheek against the warm--the living--surface of the Gate, and gazed into it, as he had when he was a child, trying to see something marvelous within its mysterious depths. The eyes that met his own were black, true black, exquisitely shaped, drowsy with impending death and set in a handsome face drawn in mortal pain. He lay as Scathan himself did, half-leaning against the other side of the portal, cheek and forehead pressed against it, as though drawing comfort from the deep, biting cold on the opposite side. They both spoke as one, in little more than a whisper, "...who...?"

" doesn't matter...." The mortal man spoke first, the words slightly slurred, reaching up with a trembling hand to caress the Gate where Scathan's cheek lay against it, a touch he felt, though dimly, as if coming from some unimaginable distance. "...I...want to die...."

Scathan's throat worked, his mouth struggling to form words. " live....

Comprehension dawned in the dark eyes, his hand sliding to rest almost equally between them. Scathan's left a smear of blood behind as lifted it, laying it, fingers matching across the the incredibly thin, impossibly vast barrier separating them. Fingertips...touching.....

Seera's eyes flew open with an explosive cry that was part shock but mostly pain, yanking his hands back and breaking the psychic circuit between their minds with almost physical desperation. For an instant his head swam anyway, all attempt at rational thought drowned out by the uncontrolled rush of shared sensory input, conjoined experience, mutual agony, and then it ended, snapping off like a light-switch thrown the other way. When he finally regained consciousness, he was laying flat on his back on the floor, head throbbing with a pain he'd rarely experienced, and his body still half-convinced he was bled and frozen mostly to death, shudders rippling through him in a pure, unreasoning survival response.

"Scathan?" He croaked, throat as raw as if he'd been--he bit down on that thought and held it there until it went away again. "Scathan?!"

The couch was cold where he had been reclining, though it still held the impression of his lean body. Seera's arms trembled as he pushed himself up, and his legs weren't much better, leaning hard the cushions for support. Outside, the sky was blushed silver-blue and crimson with dawn, a cool breeze washing over him from the partly-opened front door. Seera closed his eyes and let his head fall against his forearms. "Oh, joy."

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