The click click click of Toulouse Lautrec’s cane was a measured accompaniment to the perambulations of the artist and his youthful companion. The streets of Montmartre were uneven, cobblestoned, and given to steep inclines. Even the short distance that Toulouse and Damien had to traverse was difficult on the artist, but he never let it show, and his protégé was young and too intent upon their destination to notice.
The artist had not been born with this disability, but during his youth he had suffered from problems with each leg which, exacerbated by the close genetic tie between his parents, who were first cousins, had stunted the growth of his limbs even though the rest of him continued to grow, causing the legs to not be in proportion to the rest of his body. Although the stories that were told about Toulouse were quick to affirm that nature had not shortchanged him in the areas which were of immense interest to his lovers, perhaps by way of compensation for his lack of stature.
“Pere Toulouse, will I be allowed absinthe this night?” Damien leaned in toward the artist, slumping a bit to ease communication between them, to compensate for the eight or nine inches he towered above. For although the young man had been raised, as were most French youngsters, used to the consumption of wine, albeit watered, the green liqueur had always been off-limits. Tonight was a very special night. This was Damien’s eighteenth birthday, and it was also the night of his coming out party. And he was going to spend it with his twelve fathers at the infamous Moulin Rouge nightclub.
Twelve fathers? A biological impossibility! Naturally. And indeed, none of the twelve could claim the actual title of pere to this beautiful young man. But spiritually, all twelve of the artists who titled themselves the Dreammongers were his sires, for they had raised him among themselves ever since the fateful night, just eighteen years ago, when he had come into this world and their lives, while the Dreammongers were holding their annual revelry at the Moulin Rouge.
“Mais oui, mon fil,” the artist said with a nod. “Tonight you shall.”
Damien smiled. He could hear the sighs of the nighttime ladies of the Montmartre as he walked by, could feel their eyes upon him, aware of their attraction to his pearlescent beauty. He was very, very pale, a soft pallor which invited touching, and his platinum hair hung in lazy waves down to his broad shoulders, while his eyes were the green of sea foam, with traces of gold in their liquid depths. His full, rose-madder lips wore a perpetual smile, one which simply begged to be kissed. Damien was a very happy boy, and he loved his life here in Paris, and he loved his dozen fathers very much.
And now the nightclub itself lay just before them. That infamous den of iniquity.
Electric sex. That’s what came to Toulouse’s mind each and every time that he glimpsed the slowly rotating blades of the red windmill. The Moulin Rouge. Debauchery personified. Electric sex beckoned to him; it called his name and begged his participation. Lithe young limbs and warm embraces. Passion and music. Absinthe and opium. The Moulin Rouge was a purveyor of dreams. And Toulouse Lautrec was a most willing dreamer. He was an habitué of the most infamous nightspot in Paris, spending more time entangled in its spider web of sensuality than anywhere else besides his studio. The Red Windmill was the ambrosia with which he fed his muse, the nectar for his passions, and the fellow dreamers who frequented it became the impressions upon his canvases.
Toulouse paused for a moment, jostled by a pedestrian whose path bisected his own, also headed toward the nightclub. The gentleman in question had his head bent, his hat pulled low over his brow. “Pardon,” he muttered before disappearing inside.
From within, the sounds of gaiety spilled into the night, fingers of frivolity designed to ensnare the interest of the casual passerby. Toulouse paused, temporarily taken aback. For just a moment he had thought… but no, that was not possible. He would not dare to show himself here. Not after all this time.
Damien held the door for him, and the two men entered the Moulin Rouge, intending to pay their respects to the regulars before going to their private party.