Disclaimer: Characters from the television series Highlander belong to Panzer-Davis productions.
The plot (what there is of it) is mine. Don't sue, I've got nothing worth the effort.
t nothing you'd want.
Warnings: oh, the usual, for stress, angst, seriously understated plot. This is slash, and it ain't pretty. If you get to the stage where you don't like where I'm headed, I suggest you stop reading.

Such a Grave Joy comes in two parts. This is the preamble, the bit I didn't write, the moment you have to understand before the story plays itself out. In all honesty, I would suggest that you skip this bit and read it when you've finished the story, but for the sake of clarity I've pasted it in here.


November 1997

The world's oldest boy scout and its longest lived immortal get together over a kitchen worksurface, one of the ones supposed to be used for breakfast. Methos is searching for something he will very shortly forget he ever needed. Duncan is making coffee and idly watching the old man empty his pockets. Methos has peppermints, keys, a bus ticket, a penknife, two taxi receipts, a condom, an oiled handkerchief. Duncan picks the green packet out of the clutter and taps it on the table. He looks up, and their eyes meet. It's Duncan who reaches out, Methos who folds, surprised out of cynicism, into the Highlander's embrace.


Such a Grave Joy
Jay Tryfanstone


April 2003

It was the smell of latex on his fingers that eroticised the moment. He was standing on the forecourt of a garage in Kansas, just driving, just raveling. Filling the car with petrol, his hand had slipped, and he'd wiped down the spill with paper from the dispenser. It was when he peeled off the gloves that the smell hit him. Warmed latex. He'd lost all other thought for a moment, standing alone with one hand lifted to his face, catching the dry plastic talcum powder scent. His nostrils had widened, for there were scents missing: the petrochemical verbona of his favourite lubrication, the acrid salt sweat of someone else's arousal. He hadn't realised he'd closed his eyes. His stomach clenched around the tight knot of fiercely suppressed expectation that rode his bones in the darkest hours of the night.
Then he looked up.
He was alone. It was daylight, high afternoon, and the heat was leaching sweat from his skin. Desert rolled under his eyes, and the far horizon was no more than fifteen minutes away. He dropped the gloves into the garbage can, and got into the car.
He was just driving, just raveling.

Sometimes when he woke sweating at three o'clock in the morning he had the feeling there was something he had forgotten he needed. It was almost as if he had cut some part of his life loose, and could not now remember what it was or where he had left it. At three o'clock, there was a sense of incompleteness that did not surface at any other time. He would lie there in the darkness, wrapped in tumbled blankets, stare into the dark and try to remember. Sometimes he had to force himself to unclench his fists, wondering at the sense of loss that warned against a deeper grief he did not want to touch. He kept prodding at the edges, picking at the scab, hissing away from the pain and retreating into sleep. What had he done? What had happened? He did not know, but he knew that one day he would gather the courage to rip the scab and bleed.

He jerked off in the shower, mechanical and unsatisfactory, and went hunting for food. He found an old fashioned diner swept up on the tides of the boardwalk, and ordered chicken and apple pie. When it came the chicken was dry and the apple pie badly defrosted. Eating half of it, he left the rest with a tip for the tired waitress with the darkening blonde roots. He walked downtown, but the houses were all the same and he'd seen the stores before. He was tired, he was bored, and he tried to tell himself he was too old to care, but he knew this to be untrue. The one person he had never been able to lie to successfully was himself. Aimless had been good: aimless was untraceable, a string of false names and cash payments. Aimless had been good for six month's worth of wandering and four different vehicles. He was nothing if not thorough. But aimlessness palled.
Hiding. Running away.
He'd been a long time running and maybe it was time to go home.

One day he reached up for a book from the shelf and found that his hand had fallen on a thin paperback he'd never seen before, caught behind two volumes of Gibbon's Decline and Fall like a pale and dessicated bat. He took it down, frowning in the sunlight from the open porthole, and looked at it. It was covered in stiff paper like a child's exercise book. It was not his.
He opened it, and under his eyes angular, black handwriting sprawled across the page. His hands were shaking. He felt sick. Yet he could swear that he had never seen this hand before, and he certainly did not understand the language that unscrolled under his fingertips, with its archaic, formal precision. He swallowed, once, against the rising tide of nausea and turned the page. The hand ran on, deliberate entries in blocks of text that swam under his eyes. Three quarters of the way through the book, the writing ceased, unsigned, as if the writer had just walked away. Yet the book was dusty, and he hadn't disturbed the shelves above the bench since...since...He could not remember. He sat, heavily, on the hard warmth of his wooden floor and turned the book in his hand as if he could devine its secrets by touch.

Walking out into the clear sunshine of another morning, Methos felt as if his skin was stretching and cracking, as if he'd grown a carapace of eggshell chitin that was hardening and flaking from his body. His quickening ran light on his body, rising fire to the sun's flame. He stretched, feeling muscle and bone clarify under that fierce heat. 'Something has happened.' He thought to himself. And, without even thinking about it, he turned to the east. And on the dull scrub of an anonymous Arizona desert, his mind's eye painted water and trees, people and buildings, the gentle heat of a temperate sun and the taste of good coffee. 'Something has happened.' He thought again. For a moment he allowed his body and his presence to spread, becoming fully himself, all of his selves, his shadow lying bleak and clear across the gritty tarmac and the echo of battles fought and won in the set of his shoulders. He scented home. Then he pulled himself in, collapsing into this ungainly body, narrowing his shoulders and allowing his limbs to gain a careless, lucid sprawl.
When he drove, he drove east, very steadily, with the windows rolled down as far as they could go and the radio up loud.

For some reason, he remembered the smell of metal, cold-forged and sung into life by the hands of its wielder. His vision was haunted by snow and fire, and lightning paced his dreams. He woke, often, sweating with fear, and would lie in bed until he gathered the courage to rise and make himself tea, cherishing the smooth curve of the earthenware mug for the warmth it lent his fingers. He knew himself to be obsessed, yet he could no more halt his ranging thoughts than he could hold back a tsunami. Under his questing hand the pages of the notebook damped with sweat, until he copied them, and again, sending static, clean sheaves to all the obvious places, contacting scholars and Internet cowboys impartially. The book was the key: the key was the book: he did not know why this was an imperative he could not ignore but the search was as essential to him as breath. He woke reaching for the papers: he fell asleep over a spreading collection of articles and minutes from a past that could be five minutes old or spoke of kings long dead as if they lived. He surprised himself, remembering the feel of damask lace under his fingers and finding he had sketched someone else's notes in the margins: the start of a receipt for lemon cream that took eighteen eggs and the shape of a growing mandrake. He was haunted by people he had not met, just outside the edges of his vision: sometimes he felt he could look up and see them. A lady in a cloth of stiff silk with a sapphire on her finger, a monk, a laughing boy with red hair, a painted figure who rose from his nightmares to haunt his waking hours. They watched him, waited, hiding in the folds of the velvet curtains and slinking in the shadows of the fire he lit to keep them away with light. Sometimes though, in the night, they kept him company, slid into bed with him cold and sharp as glass and offered him memories, moved his hands across a chessboard, or touched his hands with the pain of friendship lost. Moreoften they gave him blood.

As he drove he began to sing, slowly, snatches at first and then whole verses. It felt as if the edges of an old wound were drawing together and healing. The weather cooled, and the scenery changed, but the road was the same. There was no need to hurry: he had all the time in the world.

He found a man in London who said he might try. Retired, a Bletchley veteran, he had time to spare that he spent sitting in the new library at the British Museum turning pages he'd worked on when he was young, tracing loose ends and footnotes with the dry urgency of age. Duncan handed over the sheaf of photocopies in the cool, methane green of a London spring, and noticed that his hands shook. He went back to his hotel restless, ate, and went out to stalk the streets of a city that seemed astonishingly familiar and riven with misplaced expectation. It took a week before the phonecall came, and they met in the street outside Duncan's hotel. The man thrust the papers at him with no explanation. "It's done," he said. "It was in code."
He turned to walk away, thin shouldered under the threadbare tweed of what had been a classic suit. Duncan looked down, foundering, at the lines of neat script that underscored his photocopied notes like the trail of a dying ant. It seemed unreal. He read "flight", 'bookshop', 'Watcher': and looked up. Then he ran, choppy, short strides, through the crowd on the pavement. "What is it?" He asked, and the man turned on him, drawn and grey.
"I don't want to know," the man said. "I don't want to see you again." He was sweating, and in his eyes Duncan saw fear.
"I don't understand," Duncan said. Around them, people walked past, parting and reforming, smooth as the tide of a great river.
"Read it."
He turned away, was gone. Duncan stood with the sheaf of paper in his hand and watched him go. Then he went back to the hotel, flew home with the papers untouched and plastic cased in his bag.

Occasionally, when he looked up without thinking, he saw hills that were not green or gently rounded like the hills he drove through, but young and raw, reaching teethed to a sky swelling with storm. It was a giant's playground, an arena scattered with the spewed remains of a glacier's bones, stone piled on stone, decorated by the abandoned, spindly skeleton of a single tent and the ash of campfires.
He could feel the pony's mane under his fingers and the weight of the sword on his back, the cold that brought blood burning to his cheeks and the smell of sweat and ozone. The ground was blackened and smoking. He would, as always, be last, and there were few of them left where once there had been many, but then he was the oldest: he could resist the compulsion better than any of them, nursing his supplies and the pony's hooves.
He came latest and last to the Gathering, and by the time he arrived there would be nothing left but death or the shadow of death. He could see it in the stone rictus of his lover's face turned, unknowing, to his.

When he got back to the barge he left the briefcase on the couch and worked round it for a long afternoon. He wiped down the clean kitchen surfaces, laid a fire, turned the computer on and turned it off again. Opera flayed his ears: jazz burned through his mind with a trail of smoke and grief. Eventually, he took the notes to bed, and the ghosts came with him.

On the plane, curled into the generous expanse of an old style BA leather seat, he looked out at the infinite variety of the clouds under the sun and smiled. The universe was chaos. He knew it.
He had been sure, when he took his lover's head, that the man did not know him, but he had been wrong, Caught in the flaming mercury of this last quickening were the sweet and painful shards of an honour betrayed and a love that had encompassed his soul. He marked them, smiling, for he had been here before. Oldest, last, he had grounded his blade and waited.

The writing was unsigned. At first, bemused by comments and phrases he had no hope of understanding, he read sections, flicked backwards and forwards, tried to make some sense of words in context. There were no explanations: the writer was writing for himself.
What he held in his hands was a diary, undated, blocks of text that crawled off the page and seared his fingers. Shivering, he forced himself to read from the beginning, filing words he did not know and coming back to them later. Characters in a half-remembered play, people he did not know spoke to him, seen through an ironic and suspicious gaze. His own name sounded in references heavy with blood and lust. He was reading the story of a love affair, chronicled by a man he had never met in flashes of surreal vision. As he read, like the blackened rags of a regiment's colours, memory teased at the moment. He could almost smell the beer and smoke of the bar, knew the texture of someone else's skin under his fingers. His body remembered, rousing to the memory of salt and semen, shocked into fire by the half-described ecstasy of a quickening. Restaurants, a winter morning on the steps of the Sacre-Coeur with the city ice-white and pristine beneath him, the smell of latex, the weight of a blade in his own hands. He did not recognise himself in this stranger with his own name, this stern, laughing, honourable murderer. His mind considered this to be fiction: his body knew it to be truth. As the night wore on and he read further, he found himself looking up to the wall where the decorative katana hung. Eventually, driven, he took it off its pegs and laid it within reach on the bed. Once or twice he looked up and found one hand had crawled of its own accord to touch the ivory hilt.

He knew. He knew, this time, that the choice was different, and that he had changed. And he had changed because of the man whose body lay at his feet. He'd taken a moment to put head and body back together before the quickening struck, and Duncan lay almost as if he were whole, as if he would rise, thin, dirty, but whole. And beloved.
The universe was laughing, but Methos chose as he had not chosen the first time, when he had known nothing, or the second, or the third, when he wanted everything to be just as it had been and the madness of the Gathering obliterated. He chose the dead man at his feet: he chose to end the game, he chose mortality, and the universe struck him with death. When he awoke, Duncan's body had gone.
It took three days to drag himself back to the small farm he'd owned for centuries, since he had known that they would always be called here to fight, this blasted landscape with its echoes of immortality and myth. The first thing he'd done was turn the laptop on and link into the satellite connection.
Duncan was alive.
There were no immortals.
The universe had changed, and he was not alone.
He laughed then, laughed with an edge of madness, and knew he could not go to Duncan now with the stink of death and the fear of what he had done heavy on his skin. He ran, caught the internal flight to the city, and the first morning flight to New York, changed planes again and landed in the sultry heat of a Florida summer. Hired a car, started driving.
Months later, something changed. Now?

He was happy, driving under the olive trees with the Mediterranean breeze in his hair. He could smell oranges, and the sea. He had a map, and a compass: he was in no hurry, but it was time to go home.

As he read, the text climbed into his skin, spread itself against his bones. He could feel himself become more, complete, healed. He understood, knew his ghosts, recognised the payment they offered him.

He rounds the corner on foot, astonished and grateful that the street is the same, same cars, same crossing, same door. He feels in the pockets of his coat: he has a penknife, a handkerchief, some scraps of paper. Keys.

Duncan shakes his head. There is a curious buzzing in his ears, and to his astonishment his body tightens. Fight or flight.

He fits the key into the lock and turns it. It's been eight months, but Duncan has not changed the locks. He takes it as a good sign, although on the day when he'd realised that the Gathering was inevitable and packed to go they'd parted over steel. Now he can feel Duncan's presence, and he turns and runs - runs - up the stairs.

He can hear the click of the lock. He is shaking. No one has keys to this house: no one visits: he has no family. Sweat sweeps across his skin with glacial chill. He hears the sound of steps on his stairs.

There is one last portal. He raises a hand to the door, and opens it.

He sees a tall stranger.
Afterwards, when he tells it cold, he remembers the breadth of the man's shoulders, the curve of his pale, empty hands, the faint, lifting crinkles by his eyes.
At the time he looked into the man's eyes and saw death, and the hilt of the katana slides into his hand like the kiss of a lover.