Midnight Stranger

AN: Reviews are welcomed and adored, constructive criticism is wonderful, flames are stupid and pointless. If you don't like the story, review and tell me why or don't bother at all, shouting at me won't help anything.

NOTES ON THE STORY: It is a Regency, meaning that it is set in the 18th century. Highwaymen were, at this point, relatively common and widely feared. The background of this story is concocted out of several Regency romances, namely The Black Moth, by Georgette Heyer, and also owes a fair amount to the poem The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes.

WARNINGS: This story is SLASH and contains HOMOSEXUAL CONTENT from the very beginning. If you don't like that, nobody is forcing you to read it. It also contains criminal activities, violence, and murder.

Chapter 1: Midnight Stranger

It was a slow night, but Richard wasn't worried. He appeared, in fact, to be quite relaxed, casually leaning against the tree his horse was hitched to, absently smoothing the luxurious velvet of his coat. No, he wasn't in any desperate need of money.

Still, when he heard the tell-tale ring of a horse's hooves approaching on the road, he was bored enough to take advantage of the chance provided by the midnight traveller. He casually unlooped the mare's reins from the branch, holding his sword out of the way as he climbed deftly into the saddle, and kicked her into a brisk trot. The stranger's horse shied as Richard, driving his heels into the mare's flanks at the perfect moment, appeared to suddenly leap out of the darkness, and he heard a sharp curse as the stranger abruptly reined it in.

"What the hell do you think you're playing at?" The voice was male, but unexpectedly young. It was also burning with irritation and a sharp anger. "Leaping out on the roads at this time of night?"

Richard felt a slight, cynical smile curve his lips. "I'm just doing my job," he replied with a cool, indifferent good humour, loosening his pistol in its holster.

"Excuse me?" The sarcastic-sounding voice was now filled with a waspish annoyance, but it stilled abruptly as Richard gently touched the cold pistol barrel to the stranger's right temple.

A serendipitous ray of moonlight lit the scene as a heavy bank of cloud scudded past, and Richard could see his mark clearly for the first time, albeit as a sculpture of pale light and shadow.

However, this light didn't do anything to harm the youth's looks - for youth he was, three or four years younger than Richard himself. It made his skin pale and cold, framed by dark hair that tumbled in disarranged waves of shadow to his shoulders, shadow that looked incredibly soft, and matched his eyes, which looked black and endlessly deep in the monochrome lighting.

Of course, the moon also made it possible for the boy to see Richard - not that this would help him much. All he would see was a lithe figure in black velvet, with white lace at his neck and cuffs, a tricorne hat covering his hair, a wide strip of black silk obscuring his eyes and the middle of his face.

It was, of course, the mask that gave him away. "You're a highwayman," the stranger declared flatly.

"Right first time," the highwayman replied in a congratulatory tone. "So I'm sure you know how this goes. Your money or your life, if you would be so kind."

"I don't have any money." His voice was not frightened; in fact, it held a ring of disgusted bitterness. "And if you want to kill me, go ahead. My life isn't doing me a particular amount of good at the moment."

Richard raised his eyebrows under the mask. "So," he said consideringly. "No money," he peered over the stranger's shoulder. "And no packs. You can't be travelling." The highwayman's voice was full of scornful amusement at the very notion. "And I do hope you're not such a fool to be running away in this state. But it's a bit late for a pleasure ride, isn't it?"

"I'm not stupid." He seemed almost to spit the words, but his shoulders slumped as he became suddenly sulkily despondent. "I just wanted to get away for a while." Seeming to forget the pistol held to his head, he ran his fingers through his long hair in frustration. Richard, amused and idly intrigued, re-holstered the gun once again.

"What were you getting away from?" he asked with indifferent curiosity, leaning against the saddle pommel.

"The inn," the stranger hissed, abruptly regaining his angry passion, biting out every clipped word as if it should be a curse. "Serving people with no couth and no education, arguing with my idiot father about the accounts. The man's a cursed fool! He gets me schooled, and then tells me I'm ignorant when I show him how much money we're losing through his stupidity." Interestingly, there was no hurt under the anger and growling outrage; just bruised pride and a kind of uncaring spite that perversely attracted Richard to its vicious heat. "He keeps asking me when I'll quit my 'top lofty ways' and realise that I'm just an innkeeper's son, no matter my grand education." Scorn dripped with the anger from his words, along with a seeming disgust of his father's apparent contentment with his lowly status. "Asking me when I'll realise that my pretty face doesn't allow me to be vain, and asking when I'll marry whatever brainless wench he's picked out for me."

"That sounds disagreeable," Richard agreed carelessly. "Maybe you should run away."

"And do what?" the boy demanded, turning on the highwayman. "Become a scribe? With no references or experience to recommend me, no way to support myself while I gain them? Go into business with no one to buy me a place or speak for me? Or perhaps," his voice became malicious, his eyes narrowing as he carefully judged the effect of his words. "I should become a highwayman?"

Richard shrugged, unmoved by the bite to his words. "It's an adequate life," he remarked calmly. "Pays well. And you meet the most interesting people."

The stranger shot him an flatly unamused look at this quip. "You could also end up on Tyburn Tree," he pointed out spitefully.

Richard just shrugged again. "And you, my sweet, could be shot for daring to argue with a dangerous highwayman," he countered. "And yet, while both our lives are in danger, I'm enjoying myself more than you. What does that say for legality?"

"Shooting's a quicker death than strangling," the stranger retorted. "And you're not pointing a gun at me anymore."

"My arm was getting tired," Richard excused himself. "Besides, killing people right, left, and centre is a sure-fire way to get the redcoats after you."

"Then I can go?" the stranger asked insolently. He picked up the reins from where they'd been lying slack on his horse's neck, tightening his posture in preparation for leaving.

"I didn't say that," Richard refuted him with an inward smirk of amusement, pulling out the pistol again and raising it slightly. "It's bad form to let people get away without paying. Makes you look soft."

"But we've already established my lack of money," he reminded the highwayman with a sneer. "So unless you expect me to go get some and then return, which, really, is pushing optimism just a little bit far -"

"I said nothing about money, now, did I?" Richard asked, his wicked smile shadowed as the moon slipped behind thin cloud cover once again.

"Then what -" There was confusion in the boy's voice now, tinged slightly with an abrasive trepidation. His hands tightened on the reins, making his horse fidget.

"Oh, nothing much," Richard's innocent voice was ill matched with his increasingly suggestive smile. He nudged his mare slightly with his heels, and she stepped obediently even closer to the stranger's mount, until the two riders' legs were just touching. The stranger moved as if to guide his horse away from this closeness, but Richard caught at his wrist, dropping his own reins to do so. "Just a kiss." And before the stranger could jerk away from these words, Richard leaned forward and fitted his lips neatly over those of the pretty youth's.

Perhaps it was shock, but his mouth was soft, pliant against the highwayman's, and Richard let himself sensuously enjoy the heated kiss, cynically wondering all the while how the youth would react.

Finally, the stranger awoke from his shocked daze and jerked away with a startled curse, gazing at him with wide, dark eyes that looked like nothing so much as a frightened deer's, but for the outraged fury tensing his shoulders. His lips trembled as he drew in a gasping breath, and Richard leaned forward to press one more chaste, gentle kiss onto them before the stranger could respond with an explosion of rage.

"Consider your debt paid in full," he declared then, and smiled to himself as he kicked his horse into a canter and plunged off down the road.