Den of Chaos Fiction
Highlander: the Series

House Lights
by Taselby


Sequel to Conjugal Visits.

Written with great affection for Kres and Dorothy, who asked what happened. Not mine. No money, no harm, no foul. No additives or preservatives. This story was manufactured in a facility that also manufactures nut products, including tropical nuts. Please see a doctor if your symptoms persist for more than 7 days. Not a calorie-free food.

Thank you to Ashlyn for the super-speed beta.

Every day for ten months, twenty news services in urban centers around the world carried the same personal ad. Written in ancient Greek, it caused the page composers and proofreaders no end of headaches with the exacting requirements of typeface and spelling, but merely brought confusion to those readers who paid it any note at all. Translation offered no further clues, the content so personal and context dependent that the true meaning could only be guessed at. When translated the text read simply:

The show is over, and no one is watching now. I’ve brought the house lights up.

August 13, 2129

The stream had dried up.

The walls of the tiny gorge were as steep as ever, dusty now and rough with desiccated grasses and the yellowed spines of dying junipers. Duncan had pitched camp in a clearing far enough up the slope to protect him from a flash flood, but a quick look at the riverbed and the sky told the story. There had been no rain here in years, and not likely to be any soon.

It had been four days; six if he counted the hike in. Bright, thin sunlight brought no warmth, falling over the land in hard shades of brown and brass. Even this early in the season, the air was already growing cold.

All you ever have to do is not come.

Duncan had walked away once. He’d swallowed his pain, the bitter knowledge of his failure, and gone through the motions of living until once again it somehow became his life.

He poked at the tiny fire in its ring of river stones, and fed it a few more twigs. Dry wood was certainly in abundance, but he’d have to do something about water soon if he was going to stay.

Food, too, he supposed. There were no fish; there was no game. He watched a small black beetle creep along the ground next to his boot, leaving tiny imprints in the dust. This place was dying. Maybe the whole world was dying, crushed under the weight of people and pollution, and nothing mattered anymore – not the game, the Watchers, or the foolishly romantic notions of an unemployed Scot.

Every day for ten months the ad had run, and every day for ten months there had been no response.

All you ever have to do is not come.

He was provisioned for ten days.

On the fifth day – he refused to count the hike in – Duncan started to consciously stretch his provisions. He dug for water in a shaded niche of the riverbed with moderate success and spoke at length with the beetle about the superior protein content of insects as a food item.

Afterward he sharpened his katana and his hunting knife, checked the tent pegs, and stroked tender fingers over the yellow stitches in the corner.

It was all busy-work, and did nothing to distract him from the empty space beside him in the dark.

Duncan’s feet slid in the loose carpet of dust and dry debris on the hillside. It was a singularly unproductive foraging expedition, yielding only a pair of skinny snakes, but it would stretch his supplies and was better than eating beetles. He eyed the greener vegetation at higher elevations, but it was a steep climb and there was no guarantee of anything edible.

Once, he would have said that he could live quite happily for years in this valley. But that was Before.

He chuffed out a breath and laid a hand against a tree for balance. It was becoming an entire category of things in his mind – Before. He’d have to be careful about that. Living in the past like that would get him killed.

Maybe it was time to think about moving from Madrid and getting another job. He might teach history again, or maybe travel. Though that wasn’t as easy as it used to be.

Nothing was as easy as it used to be.

He hopped down the slope the last few feet to the trailhead that fell away toward his camp and stopped short, the rocky little gorge laid out before him, his camp clearly visible on the north wall. The scent of coffee reached him just before the rush of presence.

He’d know that body anywhere. Hunched by the fire, broad again in the shoulders and chest, dark hair falling in his eyes as he scanned the ridge before locking on Duncan. He didn’t stand, just sat by the fire sipping from a cup – Duncan’s cup – waiting.

It was a long, heart-pounding minute to the bottom of the trail.

All you ever have to do is not come.

Once upon a time Duncan had walked away from an impossible situation, and that action had nearly destroyed him. He wouldn’t have blamed Methos for doing the same, for taking the simplest way out and saving himself when there was nothing else that could be salvaged.

He wouldn’t have blamed Methos at all.

Methos cradled the cup in his hands and quirked an eyebrow up at Duncan, the corner of his mouth lifting faintly in what might have been a smile. Up close he was streaked with dirt and sweat, unshaven, the sleeve of his coat torn. There were yellow stitches in the strap of his pack.

Methos took a lungful of air and sighed, breath frosting in the cold air. He looked around the camp, taking in the dust and desolation, the tent that Duncan had come to think of in odd moments as home, and Duncan himself – coated to the knees in pale dust, limp snakes dangling from his hand. “Pity we couldn’t get the same room this time.”

Duncan swallowed hard. “I tried, but they were booked up. This is the busy season, you know.”

Methos blinked and looked down into the cup. “You waited.”

“You came,” Duncan said around the lump in his throat. He thought his heart might burst, he felt so much. He sat next to Methos on the ground.

“I’m late.” Methos refilled the cup and offered it. The fire popped, sparks dancing on the breeze, bright in the silvery afternoon twilight.

Duncan smiled and accepted the warm cup of bitter camp coffee Methos held out to him. “No, you’re just in time.”


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