Ciontaich
by Edmondia Dantes

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Disclaimer: Not mine.

AN: Oneshot, not connected to any previous fics. Not meant to be slashy, but YMMV.

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When it was a game, he trusted him completely.

In those days, he never doubted. He'd chosen well, and rightly, and won the approval and friendship of someone special, ever-lucky mortal he - and thus he had never been let down. A trickster would never betray a promise, for all his mischief, and he in turn did his damnedest to keep them both entertained. It was a good friendship, for all its artifice, and he'd trusted him completely.

But it's not a game anymore, and it's his fault, and he knows it. True, it was his free choice, true, he couldn't have known what would happen, but it's his fault all the same. He does not regret it - Alexander is more precious than anything - but he does feel the guilt of what he's done.

They never speak of it. He can not speak so intimately with the mask, and the one beneath is now nearly a stranger. Kindred spirits, still, but now for all the magic scenting his halls, the one he once most trusted is an alien.

Sometimes, he thinks he always has been, and is ashamed for not realizing it sooner. Immortals dabble in mortal lives all the time, but lives fade in time, and for all his scheming, in his heart he knows in time he too will fade. His wife, half-magic born, perhaps will linger on, and then their child, but for how long? When all is ended, and the world gone on without them, will he still be alone?

In quiet times, he looks at him and fears. The mask is blank, always, but the eyes are unchanging no matter the form, and he does not know the stranger. For all that he teases, plays and causes mischief, he does not reveal his plans. He is not fool enough to believe that he accepts his fate - nor is he fool enough to pry.

Sometimes, he wonders if he hates him. Though he has never seen him rage, he knows the calculating mind, the swiftness of his power, and does not doubt that he could spark a revolution should he so choose. But he is patient, too, canny as he is ancient, and he can read nothing from the mask or the face he knows is true.

He looks at his wife and her tattered family, and sees the price of mortal love. He looks at his beloved stranger, and quietly mourns. He will accept no pity, would scorn it were it offered, so he bears his grief alone.

He would apologize, if he could - go down on his knees and offer his soul if he had one left - and be kicked in the face for his troubles. The stranger is proud, for all his playfulness, and he will not bother him further. He hasn't the right. He owes him everything, and he fears he has lost his place - the price of immortal selflessness is pain, and his little family will wither and die, and then he will be alone for eternity - if he lives that long.

He will always, always choose the life of his child first - but he does not delude himself. If there were a way, any way, to give him back what he has lost, he would do it in an instant. But for all his tricks, in the end, he is a mortal man, and his gifts are not nearly enough.

He wonders if he longs for home. He'd hoped - he still hopes - that this is his home, this is his family, that he is happy here, that his choice was right - but for all of their love, he isn't sure. Their stranger knows, of course - nothing has or ever will escape his notice - but how long can they shelter him? This is not his land, and they are not his people. All they have to offer is the frailty and power of their love, and looking into their stranger's eyes, he fears it will not be enough.

It will never be enough.

The game is over, and their favored one has lost. He knows what the others think - about time the trickster was caught in his own net, about time someone taught him humility, about time someone put him in his place - but this is not his place, and he is the one who dragged him down, brought him here and bound him in his love.

He wonders if he resents it.

He doesn't know.

He never will.

There is a stranger in his house, and he loves him with all the desperation a mortal man can possess.

Now that the game is over, now that the curtain has fallen, the mask comes off, and reality slams in like the sound of a heart breaking.

He doesn't think his stranger loves him anymore.

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Ciontaich- v.a., "transgress," "be guilty of" - Scottish Gaelic. Because "transgressing" and "guilting" both sound silly, but I wanted an in-the-process-of-doing-so type verb.

The lovely Ankhutenshi has written a companion fic, Malairt, which is located at http:// edmondia. nocturnalsoldier. org/ malairt. htm (take out the spaces)