Disclaimer: Characters from the television series Highlander belong to RPD. Please don't sue, I'm only playing.
Warnings: Er, purple prose? Slash, not particularly explicit, and an ending that can't decide if it wants to be a beginning.
Rating: R
Characters: DM, M
Plot: PWP, but (gasp) this is in canon. It's about time.
Dedication: Craig, my dear, this one's for you, even if you're not going to like anything about it except the title.
I did mention purple prose, didn't I?


Winter Solstice
Jay Tryfanstone
June 2003


December 1997. Lewis.


He curses himself for a fool even as he shoulders out of the warm firelight into the night. It's winter. The wind rose in the afternoon, and now it flirts with sleet, stinging and bitterly cold: it tugs at his hair and his jacket. The flashlight he's borrowed from his landlady seems pathetically inadequate, a small and faded circle of light swinging on the track. After two or three steps he gives up and switches it off, leaning into the wind with his eyes closed. It doesn't matter. His eyesight will adapt and, anyway, he knows this track. He's walked it ten times in the last fortnight, in daylight, in cloud, in the shifting purple light of the twilight hour. Never like this, though, never on this night. But still, his eyes tearing and the breath coming cold and damp in his mouth, he walks forward.
It's twenty minutes, in the pale winter sunshine. At night he doesn't know how long it takes to struggle up to the brow of the hill and pause there, before he ducks his head again and steps forward.

I forbid ye, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tamlane is there.

He has craved this, the sense of peace, of solitude, of being in a place which is no longer quite part of this world and so is unaware of the depth of his failures and betrayals. He is, after all, a child of the Highlands, and the veil is thin here. He did not come for absolution, for the men and women who could give him that are gone. He came for peace.

Tonight, though, even as he crests the hill, enters the avenue, and his feet adjust to the tough short-cropped grass underfoot, he is aware that he is not alone. There is something in the night with him, a presence which is as aware of him as he is of it. As if, somewhere outside the storm, someone watches, waits, neutral.

'I'll cum and gang to Carterhaugh,
And ask nae leave o him.'

It is not entirely unexpected. Tonight is the winter solstice, the day of the dead. It is, although Duncan does not know it, two minutes to midnight.

He can barely see the luminous stripes on his own jacket: he doesn't see the first stone of the central circle, only careers into its solid weight and hangs there, gasping into the wind that has risen vicious and keening against his skin. The stone is not smooth, like the terrible, yet gentler monoliths of Stonehenge. Callanish rises sharp-edged and proud into a harsher sky, the fourteen stones of its inner ring half grouped. He circles them all, slowly, one by one, navigating by touch, and as he does the wind tears at him as if it would rip him from the earth. Yet at the same time he can hear the pipes, wilder and stranger than the pipes of his childhood, and as he touches each stone and moves on they become louder. He completes the circle and rests in the lee of the kingstone. It's then that he feels, light and exact, the touch of someone else's presence on his, but it never occurs to him that this is a threat. Instead, blinded, panting, he leaves the guide and walks sure-footed to the central monolith. The wind screams in his ears, sending sleet vicious and cold as grief against his skin, but he still kneels and places his sword on the short grass and bows his head.

He has come here to forget, but in this moment he remembers the long line of his dead, the betrayed, the mortal, the murdered, the long, long list of the people he has loved and who died because of him. He does not need to see their faces, for their voices are with him.

But there is something else here with him in the night. It's a presence which raises the hair on the back of his neck and his head from his crossed forearms, a presence which stills the wind and the rain and leaves him alone with the music.

Says, Why pu ye the rose, Janet ?
What gears ye break the tree ?
Or why come ye to Carterhaugh,
Withouten leave o me
?

And the knowledge that someone stands behind him. He does not rise or turn, for if in this moment he looses his life it is payment due and just. Yet steel does not sing through the air, and the half-wanted fire of pain does not come, nor the long, cold slide into a death he does not understand but would welcome. Instead he feels, so lightly, a pair of hands draw a line down the skin of his face, span the curve of his cheekbones and his lips, come to rest, finally, and close his eyes. No more than fingertips rest on his skin, cool and steady and accepting. The briefest pressure.

He can, he is sure, smell the shy wild scent of the white five-petalled roses.

But aye, at every seven years,
They pay the teind to hell;
And I am sae fat and fair of flesh,
I fear 't will be mysell.

He nods his head in assent, and the fingers leave his skin, leave him. He is alone and not alone: he stands, questing, into the faintest blush of warmth on his skin, cocks his head to the skirl of the pipes. And someone takes his hand, twines their fingers in his, long, thin fingers, smooth skin: pulls him forward, gently. He takes a step forward, another, desperately uncertain. But the hand pulls so gently, and now his other hand is taken. Step again, and again, and suddenly he realises that he is moving to a rhythm he recognises. He takes another step with the rhythm of the dance already beating in his blood, and another. The hands in his tighten, lift, accepting, urging, and he holds them, resting his weight against a grip which gives him exactly the strength he needs. He leans back into that acceptence, dances. Blind, but he does not stumble: trusting, but he is trusted. Stepping, spinning, letting go only to reach and find himself met, step for step and strength for strength, he dances between the stones.

As he dances it seems that all the griefs and regrets slide into the music, keep pace with him but play outside his mind, not in it: the pipes sound for him, not them. He is free, here, and he pulls the companion of this freedom closer and swings faster into the grip of those long fingers, just for the joy of it. He is laughing, tipping his head back, feeling welcome warmth break over his face. With that he lets go of one of those hands, strips his jacket from his arm, swops hands and discards it. He is aware of unspoken and pleased amusement. It might have been enough, just this, the dance and the acceptence, but he wants more. He swings the weight of his partner forward into his arms, holding tight, aware that the tall figure under his figure never misses a beat. Slides into the dance, into Duncan's arms, as if they have down this many times before, under many different skies. It's not the yielding softness of a woman he holds, as it had been in the early years of his manhood, but he has known all along that the hands that matched his were those of a man. But the strength that echoes his does not test or threaten but instead sings with his, point to counter point, braids neatly under and around his own, gives him courage. Even now, he could walk away. He knows that. But the rules are different, here, tonight, and he allows himself to run his hands across broad shoulders and narrow waist, pulls this graceful, limber body into his own and dances with it until they make one shadow in the darkness.

Although he is not entirely certain that they dance in the dark, for the light beyond his closed eyes is silver, not black, and he is so warm now that it could be summer, a long lazy Highland summer warmth.

Then, just as he starts to feel tired, the pipes slow, fading, and the figure in his arms moves against his, the first time either of them has broken the rhythm. Weight tugs against his hands. The witching hour is over, and already he feels colder, feels the faintest whisper of a wind that should be howling in his ears.

It's not enough. He holds tighter, feels the man in his arms brace to pull away, takes the curve of short soft hair - sidhe hair, he knows without looking it will be black as midnight against white skin - in his hands and turns his face against skin, smooth, the angularities of cheekbone and nose and finally the softness of a mouth that opens, startled and gasping, against his own. He kisses blind, tasting warmth and honey, texture, fear, but the man in his arms has loosened and twines against him now soft as the petals of a rose. He reaches, uncertain but very sure that this is what he wants, and finds himself met desire for desire, sliding down into the softness of the grass slow and sweet, mixing memory and blind need, hand to hand, skin to skin. He discovers himself unclothed, gently, by hands both urgent and shaking, unclothes, with a touch that maps and learns all the unseen curves and plains of another body. This strange new land...hard, soft, hot, velvet and cream: he tastes, licking across skin that shudders under, over, beneath his, is touched, tongue and teeth and the dry heat of eight insistent fingers and two sundering thumbs.

He's taen her by the milk-white hand,
Among the leaves sae green,
And what they did I cannot tell.
The green leaves were between.

He finds himself taken and shaped to the tune of a desire that should be alien but is terribly familiar, as if he has done this before, here, with this man. Stretched, entered, completed, broken and remade, trusting and trusted with powerful vulnerability.

He's taen her bv the milk-white hand,
Among the roses red,
And what they did I cannot say,
She neer returnd a maid.

When, finally, he comes, is allowed to come, slides into it, feels it crash over him, unendurable, unforgettable, he knows that the man with him, inside him, shudders and gasps with him. It's his own name sent screaming, frayed, into the darkness, where he is silent. He will recognise the cry of that voice in his dreams, undone by passion and sounded in love.

Now fear, sudden and black and bitter, follows the moments of golden peace: he rolls, grasping, but the man with him slides out of his fingers like an eel, an adder, cool and shifting and gone, and he can feel the darkness against his eyes. He holds fast as long as he can, to the fingers that held his moments ago with a grip of iron and now fight his wanting with equal force. He opens his eyes.
And the dark takes him.



In the morning, when he wakes, stiff and cold and clothed, with a fading headache and a precious sense of peace regained, he remembers one thing. His lover's eyes are green as grass.

The Queen of Fairies keppit me
In yon green hill to dwell,
And I'm a fairv, lyth and limb,
Fair ladye, view me well.




Paris, 2002. Winter.

The fire in the grate flares after the whisky, the glass given to the flames. He stares into it for long moments, remembering another solstice night, when he was alone and bitter and not here. His own place, his books, his friend curled up on the sofa, his mind at peace. He can hear the music at the back of his mind, soft and sweet, and Methos has brought roses, small white winter roses still cool with dew. But there is something lurking at the edges of his mind, something which uncurls in the peace of this moment and says, remember, remember...

He turns around suddenly, and Methos' dark head lifts, eyes wide and shadowed.

"MacLeod?"

Methos' white skin, his dark hair, his limber body. Methos dancing, laughing.

"Have you ever been to Lewis?" Duncan finds himself asking.

Methos frowns at him. He shakes his head, once, and turns himself emphatically back to the book in his hands. Don't disturb me, Highlander. No.

But it is not for nothing that he's watched the old man all these years, Methos talking, lying to him. He recognises the slight tuck at the corner of Methos' mouth and the way his lashes lower a fraction too quickly. Suddenly sure, he leaves the fire and walks forward into the older immortal's space, leans forward, and as Methos looks up, startled, he looks down into the infinite green of his lover's eyes.

Had I but had the wit yestreen
That I hae coft the day,
I'd paid my kane seven times to bell
Ere you'd been won away.'

"Methos," he says, with absolute certainty, for surely now he can hear at the back of his mind a tune that he recognises, and the sound of the pipes is both strange and very sweet. "Dance with me."

And Methos lets go of the book and slides upwards into his fingers so gently it's as if they have never not been lovers.

Fin.


Notes:
Obviously, Winter Solstice references Tam Lin. The verses I quote come from Sir Walter Scott's Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, (1833), but there are many versions. The best sung version I know is by Frankie Armstrong, on the album I heard a Woman Singing, which is one of the most terrifying pieces of music making I've ever heard.

He's taken her by the lily-white hand
And by the grass-green sleeve
And he's laid her down at the foot of a bush
He's never once asked her leave, me boys,
He's never once asked her leave

And when it was done she has turned herself about
To ask her true-love's name
But she nothing heard and nothing saw
And all the woods grew dim, me boys,
And all the woods grew dim

You might also recognise Joan Baez (Green is the colour of my true love's eyes / In the morning, when I wake) and also Elliott (Mixing memory and desire). Before anyone starts getting worried, any references to Callanish apart from the purely factual are entirely and known to be the product of my imagination.

 

PODFIC

Eva produced a podfic of Winter Solstice. Amazing how different the story reads, read aloud.
She did a beautiful piece of work. Download below: at Sendspace.

Winter Solstice Podfic