Title: ON THE STEPPES
Author: Josan
Beta: The List at SkinnerKrycek
Date: July, 2000
Summary: An AU situation.
Pairing: Duh!
Rating: Sorry: PG-13 (See note)
Archive: Yes to SKSA, Basement, Ratlover, and RatB.
Anyone else, please ask so I know where this
is going.

Comments: jmann@mondenet.comOR, if you're getting bounced due to the anti-spam filter my server has added, try jmann@spam.mondenet.com

DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and1013: let's see if they actually use them
in Season 8.

NOTE: This story is for RJ, aka THE WICKED BETA OF THE WEST, who requested a story with Alex on a horse.

Yes, RJ, I know you wanted an NC-17, but you know that the guys have a mind of their own
and often don't listen. I promise that the next horse snippet, the one on the beach...well, I'll
try. I'll talk to them about it. I promise.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

 

For a moment, he nearly lost his grip on the horse's black mane. In that tiny passage of time, he could see himself hitting the ground streaking under them, his body breaking under the pounding hooves.

Somehow, his hand slipped to the rein that he had never thought of grabbing and he quickly wrapped it around his hand. Not that it was really going to save him -- nothing was -- but the ride would surely last longer now.

He pressed his body closer to the galloping horse, knew enough to keep his head low and let the animal continue on its hazardous plough through the forest path.

Now and then the branches of the trees that formed the ceiling to the path protested their coming through and dumped their load of snow over them. That was why he had nearly fallen off. Even the horse had staggered at the sudden weight that had dropped on both of them.

He managed to raise his head and look over his shoulder. The Tsar's cavalry was in close pursuit. Even had he been any kind of rider, he would not have been able to outride them. They hadn't yet caught him because he had seized the General's steed; he had taken them by surprise and the horse was fresh, in need of a run.

But they would.

And he would pay the penalty.

He turned to rest his face against the muscular neck and found a sense of peace in the sweaty heat next to his cheek.

The path had been sculpted through the forest for walkers, not riders. Russian serfs did not ride and the path had been worn so that only the low branches had been cleared. The horse was beginning to slow, not liking his encounters with the bristly pine.

An angry shout made the horse slow even more. Another brought him suddenly to a stop and the rider found himself falling off, hitting the ground, the rein still wrapped around his wrist.

The soldiers wasted no time. He was slapped, hit as they pulled his arms behind him and bound them tightly, not the slightest concerned for the torn and bleeding wrist, or for any other injury he might have gotten in the fall.

He was dragged, still stunned from the fall and the blows, to another of those big horses -- this one not as fine as the black dynamo he had stolen -- and tossed face down onto the rump of the animal. A few minutes more and the troop turned to make their way back to the manor where the General stood waiting for the return of his favourite stallion.

The rider did not have to worry about falling this time: his feet were tied to one of the soldier's stirrups, the rope around his neck to the other.

ssSSss

The General was not pleased.

He had followed his orders and come to see if the rumours about possible treasonous activities in the area were true. The local landowner, a man whom he found personally repulsive, with his smarmy welcome, his offer to the General of whichever of his serfs caught his fancy as bedwarmer, his ubiquitous cigarette, had reacted to the inquiry with exaggerated shock and surprise that anyone in his select community would even be the slightest bit involved in any action against his holy majesty, Tsar Nikolai, first of that name.

The General was no fool. He knew that there was something going on in the area, but all he and his troops had come across in their search were dead ends. In public, he had to admit that there seemed to be no basis for his visit. Privately, he would be reporting to his superiors that the area bore careful watching.

And now, just as he was about to leave, some idiot boy had come out of nowhere, jumped on his horse and taken off. This particular stallion was one he had brought with him to add to his training. The animal had a mind of his own and they often butted heads over who was actually in charge. If anything had happened to the beast, he would personally skin alive the culprit.

The landowner, and therefore owner of the serf who had taken the horse, was nervously smoking by the door. The damned boy was going to pay for this delay in the General's leaving. And pay severely.

When the troop pulled into the yard, the General's first concern was for his horse. There were one or two scratches on his face, from striking the branches, but apart from that, he obviously had enjoyed his burst of freedom. Damn, thought the General, he was going to be a handful until that released energy was back under his control.

He turned to the culprit, now lying on the ground where he'd been thrown.

The boy was struggling to get to his feet, tied though they were. At a sign from the General, one of the soldiers grabbed the boy by the hair and hauled him to his feet.

The General expected the boy to cry out at the treatment, but apart from a gasp, the boy made no sound.

The landowner hurried forward, trying hard to appease the angry officer.

"You need not concern yourself, General. He will be punished. I," and he turned to the boy, face malevolent, "will see to it personally."

The General was more interested in examining the serf who had had the gall to steal his horse.

Not a boy after all. A man. A young man. Probably in his early twenties. His slimness had been deceiving. Probably, thought the General, didn't get much to eat.

Now the General was a man renown for his intelligence, his ability to look at dead piece of information and make it confess its sins. Two things bothered him about this situation.

One: the landowner was just a bit too desirous in his offer to take charge of the man.

Second: the man's skin was too pale for a serf's. True, it had taken only one glance to conclude that somewhere in the man's past, one of his ancestors had not been a serf. The bone structure was too fine. The nose too refined. But this man had not seen much of the outdoor life that was the norm for a serf.

And that chin was up too high, the eyes met his too quickly -- though they also dropped quickly enough.

"You think I should hand him back to you?" the General inquired casually.

Under his breath, yet loud enough for the General to hear, the prisoner spat, "Pimp!"

The General reached over and forced the man's chin up. The green eyes, cat in colour and in shape, met his. For a flash, he thought they were asking him for something, then nothing. The eyes blanked and he saw nothing of the man in them.

"I think not," said the General. The landowner began to protest. "No. He may belong to you, but the horse he stole was a Military horse. That places him in our hands. For our justice."

"What will happen to me?" The man's voice was low, his accent certainly not that of a serf.

The General smiled at him. His men knew that smile and stiffened: the officer was not in a good mood. "You will be brought to Headquarters, tried. Then shot."

The man closed his eyes, swallowed. Then, to his surprise, the General heard a soft "Thank you."

ssSSss

Because of the events of the morning, they were late in leaving the manor and therefore spent the first night in a tavern that was still on the landowner's domain. The man was roughly taken to the cellar, there to be confined. The General had noticed that, on seeing the prisoner, the tavern keeper had cursed and spat on the ground. For a moment, the officer had thought the man was going to challenge the presence of the prisoner under his roof -- after all, his troops were camping in the yard -- but wisely the man held his tongue.

So, when he was being served his supper in the privacy of his room, the General brought the conversation around to the prisoner.

"One of the Master's catamites," the tavern keeper spat. "Father Nicholai says such creatures are the devil's spawn. That they should be burnt at the stake to rid Earth and Heaven of their foulness."

The General raised an eyebrow at the tone of disgust. He doubted Father Nicholai had dared preach such a sermon in the presence of the landowner.

Still, it answered some of his questions. But not the ones that were to him the most puzzling: why would the man who had obviously no experience with horses steal a horse in the presence of a full troop of soldiers? And then, why thank him for a death sentence?

He finished his meal, re-read the report he was going to hand in on the local situation, making some slight changes here and there to the language he was using. The landowner had powerful friends in some circles and it wouldn't do his career much good if he offended them.

It was late when he decided to pay his prisoner a visit. The presence of his troop meant that the tavern's usual customers either had stayed away or were sitting very quietly in a corner. Some of his men were still there when they saw him at the door of the drinking area. He shook his head, informing them that he didn't need them, knowing that they would probably finish what they had in their glasses and then return to the camp. The men knew better than to drink to excess when under his command.

It was dark in the cellar. No one had thought to leave a light for the prisoner. The General set the candle holder he had requested from a maid onto a lidded barrel so that its light shone on the man curled up against the wall. His right hand was manacled high to the ring in the stone wall.

He waited to see what the man would do. He doubted that he was sleeping. The head slowly raised and eyes squinted in the light.

"Do you have a name?"

"Whatever your honour wishes it to be," replied the man.

The General's tone sharpened. "I want to know what you are called."

"What I am called?" The man spoke almost dreamily. "Again, your honour, it depends on who is calling me. I answer to Whore, Catamite, Bitch."

So, thought the General, he too had seen the tavern keeper's reaction.

"But once I also answered to the name Alexei."

"Alexei, why did you steal my horse?"

Alexei smiled and the General felt a small stirring in himself. There was beauty under the bruising. "I've always wanted to ride one. I promised myself that before I died I would ride at least once."

"Now you are going to die because you have."

The man uncurled his legs from under him, stretched them out, rested his head on his upraised arm. "But it will be a clean death. A fast one. Not like the one he had planned for me. And I got to ride."

The General rubbed a hand tiredly across his face. "Who had planned for you? The landowner?"

"The landowner." Alexei gave a soft laugh of derision. "My sweet cousin." He looked up into the face of the officer. "We share the same grandfather, though not from the same side of the bed."

That answered some questions. "Why would he be planning your death? What have you done to him?"

"I've gotten old."

The General's eyebrow reacted.

"Well, too old for him. He likes his bed partners to be younger. He's only kept me around this long because it pleased him to be fucking the one he thinks was favoured by his...our grandfather."

"Favoured in what way?" The General spied a stool and brought it over. He sat, back straight, like a judge.

"It seems that just before his death, my cousin's mother overheard the old master saying that it was a pity he couldn't make me his heir. Because it was obvious that his other grandson -- there are only the two of us -- was playing the kinds of games that would put the family reputation in jeopardy."

"Games?"

Alexei closed his eyes. His body ached and now that he had set his life on the way to death, he wanted it over.

"Some of them you came to investigate. You didn't find anything, did you? He's very good at playing that game."

The General didn't comment on that. "And the others?"

Alexei shrugged. "There are many unmarked graves in one of the back pastures. I understand the priest has refused to bless them."

The General could guess why.

He suddenly realized that the bowls at the man's side were untouched. He'd been given water and food, some sort of stew. The General did not believe in starving his prisoners. He wanted them to face justice in a fairly healthy state.

"Are you so intent on death that you refuse to eat?"

"And here I was, wondering if this was some subtle form of torture." Alexei nodded to his left arm. "One of the reasons my cousin felt it was time to be rid of me. He was going to sell me to the man who is responsible for the fact that I have no use of it."

"Who is?" And the General hid his disgust at the name of the lord spoken. He got off the stool, crouched in front of his prisoner. The man was wearing an old grey tunic, rather worn, held closed by a couple of buttons. Holding the man's eyes, he undid the buttons, pulled the tunic far enough off the left shoulder to see the lines of scars that decorated the upper arm to the elbow. "Is it like this all the way?"

"To the fingers."

The General was not a physician, but he hazarded a guess that the ligaments, the tendons had been cut several times. He buttoned the tunic closed. He reached for the bowl with water and held it to the man's mouth. Alexei's gaze told him more about the man's life. He knew for a fact that Alexei had had nothing to drink since he'd taken the horse. Almost twenty hours ago. He had to be thirsty. "Not a game. I don't play games. Drink."

The stew had no spoon so he used his fingers to feed the man who kept watching him all that time, warily, as if expecting some kind of trick. The General used his handkerchief to wipe his fingers, the mouth of the man he had fed.

"Thank you, your honour."

The General shrugged.

"I can thank you differently, if it pleases your honour. I have been well-trained. The last officer who was sent out to investigate was quite complimentary on my skills."

The General's stare would have frozen even the thickest of his men. Alexei merely met it with a small smile. "You have enemies, your honour. Enemies who know all about you to the most insignificant detail. Enemies who don't consider it dangerous to speak in front of the catamite they have shared. Why do you think boys were included among those who were paraded for your choice?"

"I chose no one."

Alexei laughed. "No, you didn't. You'll be happy to know that confused them."

"Yes, I suppose it would. I prefer sharing my bed with one who comes to it voluntarily." He picked up the candle and started up the stairs. "I'll tell them to leave your right hand free from now on."

In his room, as he prepared for bed, the General remembered that in the pouch of mail given to him to bring to Headquarters for further delivery was a letter that had been handed over just as they were finally leaving. It bore the name of the lord who had maimed his prisoner. He sorted it out from among the other letters, fingered the landowner's seal and, with a heated knife carefully slipped under the seal, opened the letter.

In it, the landowner offered his abject apologies about the delay in presenting his lordship with his new plaything. He suggested that for a few coins the man could be bought from the prison where he would be held until his certain execution. He, the landowner, would be more than happy to compensate his lordship the cost and the expense. He would just remind his lordship of the pleasure he had had with that particular plaything and that it was a fine and strong specimen, with the stamina to last for many of those games his Lordship so enjoyed.

ssSSss

It took them ten days to arrive at Headquarters. The General, apart from instructing that the prisoner's right hand be kept free at night, paid no attention to him. But he also ordered that the man was to ride tied to one of the pack horses so as not to hold them back. And he did notice that when they arrived at their final destination, the man had quickly learnt -- he assumed from watching the soldiers -- how to hold himself on a horse.

The General presented his report to the proper authorities, discussed his findings and his observations with his true superiors and went on about his duties.

Within a couple of days, the serf Alexei was tried along with ten other prisoners who had committed various crimes and, like them, was summarily sentenced to death by firing squad.

The night before the order was to be carried out, a man made his way to the cell in which the prisoners were being kept. The smell of the place was overwhelming. The visitor kept a scented handkerchief over his lower face. Some coins quickly changed hands and a man who had recently died in some other part of the prison was placed into the cell as another man, gagged and bound, was removed.

The body of the dead man was dragged out the next morning at dawn, tied to a post and shot along with the other prisoners. There was less paper work involved in shooting a dead man than reporting the man dead for whatever reason before execution.

ssSSss

"Sit back and let the horse's rhythm dictate your seat. Hold the reins firmly. If you let him have his head, he'll run away with you. Again."

The General, wearing his glasses now that he was on his own territory, nodded approvingly as the rider followed his commands. He never wore the things when he was officially on duty: it was a weakness that his enemies need not know about. He wore them here, at his home, mostly to read. Or when he wanted to see something clearly, without a blur. Such as the rider who was carefully putting the big, black stallion through his paces. With a fair amount of confidence for a new rider.

No, the General didn't intend wasting any of the rare free time he had squinting at his lover. He made too beautiful a picture for him to place vanity before vision.

The rider was wearing a pair of black riding pants that tightly molded his thighs, the legs tucked into high black riding boots, so polished they reflected the sun's rays. His emerald green shirt, cut cossack style, darkened his eyes as he concentrated on the General's instructions. He and the horse had butted heads often but he was bound and determined that the horse would not win this encounter.

The General nodded approvingly as the rider controlled the spirited horse with only his right hand. The physician who served the family had initiated a series of exercises that he hoped woould gradually give the rider some use of his left, but it would never be strong.

"All right, now give him his head."

And, with a whoop of pleasure at the reward, man and horse took off. The General laughed as the rider crouched over the stallion's neck and they became one. From the high porch that girted the house, he watched with his telescope, just to be certain that man and horse stayed together. The rider had taken a few hard falls when he had finally graduated to this horse.

When the horse slowed, the rider directed him back to the house and the man waiting for them. He slid off, handed the reins to a stableboy and gave the horse a loving pat. Then he ran up the stairs to accept the tall glass of iced lemonade.

"You're doing well for a novice rider, Alexander," said the General, watching the man's throat work as he gulped down the drink. With a grin that revealed the confidence and security he felt, Alexander put down the glass and walked into his lover's arms. He smelt of sweat and horse and the General thought it the scent of nectar.

He knew the taste of lemon mixed with the flavours of Alexander's mouth definitely was.

"A novice rider?" challenged the man who warmed not only his bed but his heart.

The General laughed. He used his hands to smooth the sweat-wet strands of sable hair off the man's face to check the eyes. Eyes that spoke for the man who often didn't have the words to express what he felt.

Like the night when, bound and gagged, he had been tossed onto the floor of a carriage and had looked up, fully expecting to see the face of the man who would slowly kill him. Looked up with fear, resignation and courage. Only to find a different face looking at him with its own expectations.

That night, the man had left behind Alexei, catamite serf and horse thief, to become Alexander, free man. And a man who had freely chosen to share the General's life and his bed.

"A novice rider, eh." Alexander shook his head sadly. "I probably do need more practice. Will you let me ride you tonight, Sergei? Just to improve my seat."

"Hmmm." The General, Sergei Sergeyevich, pretended to give the request serious consideration. Once, not that long ago, he would have seen uneasiness creep into those cat eyes now brimming with laughter, awaiting his answer. "I suppose that could be arranged. In the name of practice, of course."

Alexander smiled, rubbed his cheek against his General's face like a cat scenting its territory and throatedly purred his happiness.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Tsar Nikolai reigned from 1825 to 1855.

The clothing worn by the serfs and the military of the day barely changed over the decades.

My thanks to Fan4Richie for sending me the following sites.

To see what Alexei was wearing, go to:

http://www.moscow-guide.ru/Culture/FolkArt/Costume/_kostium6.jpg

To have an idea what the General looked like, go to:

http://www.costumes.org/history/20thcent/1900s/1903ball/plate26.jpg

http://www.costumes.org/history/20thcent/1900s/1903ball/plate12.jpg

 

http://www.costumes.org/history/20thcent/1900s/1903ball/plate27.jpg

http://www.costumes.org/history/20thcent/1900s/1903ball/plate31.jpg

 

Personally, I like the fourth military costume myself for the General.