Clad only in a blue silk robe, Duncan MacLeod sat at his kitchen counter perusing the morning newspaper and eating breakfast. Between sips of iced coffee and bites of an onion bagel he read about world politics, sports scores, and the intense heat wave that had held Seacouver in its grip all week long. He looked up when Tessa Noel appeared immaculately dressed in a white linen pantsuit, her hair done up in a perfect French braid. A faint hint of perfume trailed her, accompanied by the tiny clinks of her cloisonne bracelets.
"What do you think?" she asked, doing a tiny pirouette for him.
"I don't think you should go," he said somberly.
Tessa put her hands on her hip. "Why not?"
"There's something else you need to do. Something much more important."
He opened his robe and flashed her.
"Ah," Tessa said, with a wicked smile. "That."
He left the robe open.
She wagged her finger at him. "If Richie comes out of his room, you're going to be sorry."
Duncan belted the robe closed. Sometimes he forgot they had a third person living in the apartment now. He slipped off his stool and took her in his arms. "Don't go," he begged, nibbling at her neck. "I don't know how long I can go without you."
Tessa laughed. "Heat waves always make you horny. The hotter the temperature, the hotter Duncan MacLeod becomes."
He planted a trail of tiny kisses down her neckline. "So move with me to the Sahara."
"Only if they air-condition it," she retorted. She gently disengaged him. "What are your plans for today? Aren't you going to open the store?"
Resigned to a day of sexual frustration, Duncan returned to his breakfast and stool. "No. We're staying closed today. The Goodman estate pieces are coming in sometime this morning, and Richie and I will have to unload them. Assuming the Little Prince ever drags himself out of bed, that is."
"My two big, strong men. Don't work too hard. I'm off to see the museum art council," she said. "Then to lunch with the ladies at L'Auberge before we go see Carolyn's new exhibit at the Robson gallery. I'll be back around three o'clock."
She glided out the back door into the blast of sunshine, heat and mugginess that came with the dog days of August in Seacouver.
Richie stumbled out of bed several minutes later, clad only in shorts. He yawned and mumbled some kind of greeting before burrowing into the refrigerator and surfacing with a can of soda. Only after a few swallows did he manage to pry his eyes open all the way. "Tell me we're going to the beach today," he pleaded. "Tell me we're going to sit around a meat locker and be nice and cold."
"Sorry, tough guy. We've got work to do."
"Work!" Richie complained. "In this weather? It's a hundred and twenty degrees out there."
Duncan folded his newspaper. "It's only eighty-eight."
"You're young. You can handle it."
"The humidity is over one hundred percent!"
"Impossible," Duncan smiled as he walked toward his bedroom. "Stop trying to weasel out of doing some real work and start earning your keep."
"That hurts, Mac!" Richie told him. "I'm mortally wounded."
The delivery truck arrived at nine o'clock sharp, laden with twenty wooden crates of antiques Duncan had arranged to broker in conjunction with an estate sale. He and Richie offloaded the crates into the alley with the driver's help. The warehouse was already crammed full of objects for the antique store as well as with Tessa's large metal sculptures and welding equipment. Duncan decided to re-arrange the interior to accommodate the new arrivals, and he and Richie spent most of the morning wrestling with heavy inanimate objects. Duncan had never seen a need to install air conditioning in the warehouse, instead relying on the large double doors for ventilation, but no breeze developed and the warehouse heated up as steadily as an oven. They worked side-by-side for three hours, then retired to the cool apartment for lunch.
Duncan made them roast beef sandwiches on onion rolls with lettuce, tomato and his own special sauce. Richie added potato chips, pickles and slices of leftover cherry pie. Duncan drank lemonade and Richie grabbed another soda. The lights, air conditioner and small television on the counter all died just as the teenager pitched his crumpled can into the recycling bin.
"Blackout," Richie groaned. "Man, I hope it doesn't last all day. Baseball's on tonight."
Duncan hoped for merely a thrown fuse, but Richie's diagnosis proved correct. From a battery-powered radio they learned that all of the Heights section of Seacouver and most of the downtown area had lost power. Repairs might take several hours. Still, loss of power didn't mean they couldn't finish their task. Both sweated profusely as they moved the crates and kept up a spirited argument of the best baseball team in America. Richie voted with typical enthusiasm for the home team, but Duncan preferred the Brooklyn Dodgers.
"L.A. Dodgers," Richie corrected.
"They'll always be the Brooklyn Dodgers to me," Duncan replied with a grin.
By three o'clock they were nearly finished. Their last task involved heaving a particularly heavy nine-drawer oak dresser through the doors and carrying it to the stairs. They leveraged it underneath the catwalk, but in order to slide it all the way in Duncan had to duck underneath and drag a box of old metal parts aside.
"I feel funny."
Duncan settled the box to one side and emerged with a spiderweb across his face. He wiped the silvery threads away. "Funny, huh? Well, don't give up your day job just yet," he joked before realizing Richie did indeed look pale and unsteady.
"Oh," Richie said, a small and helpless sound. He started sagging, and only Duncan's quick reflexes kept him from collapsing entirely. Duncan scooped him up and deposited him on the bottom step of the stairs with a swift, fluid movement.
"What's the matter, Richie?"
"Just feel faint," the teen mumbled as he squinted at his surroundings. "Everything's spinning."
Duncan put a hand on his forehead. Clammy and sweaty. He dropped his fingers to Richie's wrist and felt the weak beat of his pulse. Richie's breathing came in short, shallow pants. "You're all right," Duncan reassured him. "Just a little too much heat, I think. I told you to drink plenty of fluids today."
"I did!" Richie protested. He pulled his wrist free of Duncan's grasp and reached for the railing for support.
"Okay, you did," Duncan soothed. He'd seen Richie drink two or three sodas, maybe, but those chemical concoctions had probably done more to dehydrate him than anything else. Now was not the time to chide the teenager. And Duncan himself should have been paying closer attention. "Do you think you can walk? We'll go inside and you can lie down."
Richie swallowed hard and started to his feet. Duncan kept a steadying grip on his arm. They made it slowly across the warehouse and into the apartment. With the power still out, the air had turned warm and stale. Duncan sat Richie on the sofa with his head between his knees and moved to open all the windows. Not even the faintest breeze sucked at the curtains. Duncan twisted the venetian blinds to cut down on the glare, and stripes of light and dark divided the room. The Highlander soaked several dishtowels under the faucet and wrung them of excess moisture. He found one of the large sports bottles Tessa usually took to aerobics class and filled it with water, ice cubes and a few pinches of salt.
"Drink this," he said, pressing the bottle into Richie's shaking hands. "Sip slowly."
He draped one of the wet cloths on the back of Richie's neck. When the teen had drained most of the bottle Duncan made him lie down. Duncan pulled off his sneakers and grimy socks and propped a pillow under his ankles. Two more wet cloths went on his chest and stomach. Richie said little to protest the attention, which made Duncan think he really did feel ill.
Without the air conditioner or any radios working, the only sounds in the living room came from occasional traffic or pedestrians on the street outside. The oppressive heat rolled through the open windows like waves of red. Richie's eyes fluttered closed, and Duncan felt his pulse again. Better. Not as good as it could have been, but definitely better. He used the last of the cloths to press against Richie's cheeks, chin, neck and chest in a gentle, even cycle. He thought Richie was asleep, but the teenager stirred and asked faintly, "Probably not enough water, huh?"
"Probably," Duncan agreed. "You have heat exhaustion. But you'll feel better in a little while."
"I'm sorry I worked you so hard."
"I could have stopped." Blue eyes cracked open a fraction and the corners of Richie's mouth quirked up. "It is possible to say no to Duncan MacLeod."
"So why didn't you?" Duncan asked, genuinely curious.
Richie closed his eyes again, deferring on the answer. After that he did doze, and Duncan moved away to let him rest in peace. At four o'clock Tessa's car pulled into the alley. She came to the door a wrinkled, sweaty, disarrayed echo of the woman who'd left that morning.
"We're moving to Alaska," she announced. "We're going to Finland. I've ordered the tickets."
Duncan quieted her with a quick kiss. "Sssh. Richie's sleeping." Perhaps, if he was very lucky, Tessa wouldn't find out about Richie's condition. Otherwise she would probably blame him, and deliver a stern lecture about his needing to be more careful with teenage boys. Already they'd had one argument over Duncan pushing Richie to work harder, eat better and discipline himself. She thought he was nagging. He knew what Richie's fate would require, and hoped to instill good habits sooner rather than later.
"How can anyone sleep in this heat?" Tessa grumbled, but lowered her voice with only a cursory glance toward the sofa. "Has the air conditioner been out all day?"
Tessa wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed up against him with a coy smile. "I'm going to take a nice, cool shower. Why don't you join me?"
Duncan did want to wash away his own sweat, grime and rankness, and he couldn't think of anyone with whom he'd rather shower, but he didn't want to leave Richie alone until he was sure the teen had recovered. "No, you go ahead," he said. "I have some stuff to finish up."
"Finish later." Tessa kissed the tip of his nose, moved to his chin, and darted up to slip her tongue in his mouth. Duncan forgot his objections for a moment, caught up in her sweet taste and the press of her breasts against his chest. He struggled to re-assert himself.
"It would be better if I didn't," he said, even as his hips ground towards her. The prospect of taking her right then, right there on smooth marble of the kitchen counter tantalized him. Tessa's mouth slipped over his completely, and she ran her fingers through his dark hair. What had he been talking about?
"Better for who?" Tessa teased.
"Richie!" he blurted out, disengaging her and putting a few inches between them.
Tessa cocked her head in puzzlement and irritation. "Richie's not invited to our shower, Mac. What's the matter with you? This morning you couldn't keep your hands off me and now you'd rather stay with Richie?"
He considered various deceptions, ways to save himself, but none would come out of his mouth. "He's sick," he admitted.
"I am not," the teenager protested from his corner of the living room, having apparently eavesdropped on the conversation.
"Sick?" Tessa demanded. She walked to the sofa and studied him intently. "What's wrong? How sick?"
"I'm fine," Richie said, not very convincingly. He still appeared pale and listless. "Just lazy."
Tessa sat on the coffee table. She pressed her right hand to his forehead and frowned. "Did you overexert yourself?"
"Maybe just a little."
"It was hotter than we thought," Duncan volunteered.
"I feel much better now," Richie added, and sat up to prove the point. He didn't sway or waver, but he didn't look ready to sprint a mile, either. He beamed at his accomplishment and spread his arms wide. "See?"
"You don't look well," Tessa persisted.
"All I have is a little, tiny headache," he swore. "Really."
"You should see a doctor. Duncan, we should take him to the hospital."
Richie straightened. "No way. No hospital."
"It's not necessary," Duncan agreed. "All he needs is some more water and rest."
"Fine?" Tessa asked skeptically. "It's almost as hot in here as it is outside!"
Richie shook his head. "I hate hospitals. The only way you're getting me there is with me kicking and screaming all the way."
Tessa scowled at him, but Richie crossed his arms and mirrored her stubborn look inch by inch.
"Just a headache?" she asked grudgingly.
"A tiny, little, insignificant headache."
She sighed and rose to her feet. "I'll get you some aspirin."
As soon as she disappeared Duncan pressed the water bottle into Richie's hands and sat in the armchair. "You're not as good a liar as you think you are," he told the teenager.
Richie asked, with wide-eyed innocence, "What do you mean?"
"I mean, the tips of your ears turn pink when you lie. If you feel sick, it won't hurt to go see the doctor."
"I hate hospitals," Richie repeated.
"Why so vehement?"
The teenager's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What's 'vehement'?"
"Forceful. Intense. Why do you hate hospitals?"
Richie shrugged and let his gaze slide away. "They ask stupid questions and charge a lot of money. It's a waste of time."
Stupid questions. Duncan wondered what stupid questions a hospital might ask. Perhaps who Richie's parents were, or his family's medical history. If he and Tessa had learned one thing about the teenager in the weeks he'd been living with them, it was that his lack of roots bothered him. He didn't have any idea of who his real parents were, and the woman he'd thought was his mother had turned out to be a foster parent.
Tessa returned with two powdery white aspirin in hand. Richie swallowed them obediently and laid down again. Duncan brought him more wet towels for his chest and neck, but Richie refused any more nursing and applied the cloths himself.
Tessa took her shower and emerged wearing a white cotton sundress. She and Duncan debated about dinner - without electricity they couldn't cook, and with the heat wave hot food sounded unappealing anyway. A quick peek into the nearly empty refrigerator revealed only a few wilting vegetables, some eggs, a bottle of milk, two cans of soda, and an assortment of rapidly warming cold cuts. The freezer didn't offer much more. Drawing on some mysterious female housekeeping instinct, Tessa proclaimed that all the food had turned bad and would give them food poisoning if ingested. Duncan volunteered to run down to the farmer's market for fresh produce to make a crisp salad, but with one look at the clock Tessa said it had already closed.
Her cross, slightly accusatory tone rubbed Duncan's nerves the wrong way. He took a deep breath and offered another suggestion. "I can go to the waterfront and pick up some seafood plates - clams, shrimp, scallops - how's that?"
Tessa grimaced and fanned herself with an envelope. "Too greasy."
Duncan silently counted to three before turning to the sofa. "What do you think?"
"I'm not hungry," Richie replied.
"No seafood," Tessa insisted.
Duncan's temper flared. "Well, what do you want?"
"Dinner!" she shot back.
"It's not my fault the electricity's out!" he returned, just as loudly.
Tessa folded her arms. "I didn't say it was. Don't be ridiculous."
"Ridiculous? You're the one being ridiculous. If you don't like my suggestions than offer some of your own! Don't just blame me!"
"I'm not blaming you!"
"Whoa," Richie called from the sofa. "Time out! Why are you two yelling at each other?"
"Because it's hot and Duncan's being crabby!" Tessa replied.
"Because it's hot and Tessa's being unreasonable," Duncan corrected. The apartment walls pressed in on him from all sides and the hot air pounded at him unmercifully. He had to get out, escape, before he said something truly nasty. He grabbed his car keys. "I'm going out!"
"Where are you going?" Tessa demanded.
"Someplace cool!" he said, and slammed the door behind him.
He had no sooner spun the Thunderbird out of the alley and onto the main street than he regretted his temper tantrum. Tessa meant more to him than anyone alive, with the very possible exception of his kinsman Connor. Richie was just a kid who'd come to them needing shelter and attention, and he had no idea of the Immortal fate awaiting him. After four hundred years on the planet, Duncan knew he should be mature enough to spare them his bad mood and impatience. The heat and weariness after a hard day's work had weakened his usual good mood, and lingering guilt over Richie's near-collapse hadn't helped either.
He drove around Seacouver until most of his bad mood dissipated and stopped to pick up fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and salad for dinner. By the time he returned to the apartment, the sun had dropped beneath the horizon and the sky hung like a fading curtain of rose and gold. The awful heat had dissipated just a tiny bit. As he let himself in he heard low, scratchy music coming from the living room and instantly recognized the sounds of his old Victrola. The needle dragging atop the spinning record produced the long-ago sounds of Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra performing "Stardust." Richie and Tessa sat on the floor around a Scrabble game board, playing by the light of a few burning candles.
"I might not know really big words," Richie said, "but you need to work on your spelling, Tessa."
"We'll see what happens when we play in French," she retorted.
He had come in as quietly as possible, content to watch them, but as he put the bags down on the table they heard and looked up.
"I'm sorry," Duncan said instantly. "I shouldn't have snapped."
Tessa and Richie both smiled. "Did you snap?" Tessa asked. "I didn't notice."
She came and kissed him, apologizing for her own behavior, and all was forgiven. Richie rummaged in the bags with renewed enthusiasm for food and although he didn't eat much chicken, he happily settled down with a spoon and the container of cookie-dough ice cream Duncan had bought as an afterthought. The Scrabble game concluded with Tessa beating Richie by ten points, and as they folded up the board the air conditioner and refrigerator both began humming. The bathroom light flickered on, and streetlamps outside followed seconds later.
"Thank goodness," Tessa said. She began shutting the windows. "I don't think I could have spent all night in this heat. You can forget about moving to the Sahara, Duncan."
"Why would you want to move to the Sahara?" Richie asked.
"Nevermind," Duncan said, dumping the remains of dinner in the garbage. Although he told Richie to stay where he was, the teenager insisted on helping.
"I've been resting for six hours," Richie said. "I feel fine now."
Duncan had to admit Richie looked much better. He couldn't help remembering their earlier conversation, though, and leaned back against the counter to contemplate the teenager. "Richie, why didn't you stop if you were feeling ill?"
Richie filled a water glass and peered at Duncan over the rim as he took several sips. His blue eyes seemed to be judging the Highlander, weighing a wise-ass remark against the truth.
"I was just earning my keep, like you told me to," he finally said with a tiny smile.
Duncan winced. "I shouldn't have said that."
"No, it's okay, really. To be honest, Mac, I felt fine until just a few minutes before it all hit, and I thought I could hold out until we were finished. That was my mistake, not yours."
"If you feel ill, or get injured, don't 'hold out,' okay? I wouldn't want Tessa to do it either."
"Okay," Richie said. "I promise."
Duncan nodded, satisfied, and cleaned up the rest of dinner. Richie yawned and made his way to bed, although from the sounds of the television seeping under the door he apparently wasn't tired enough to go to sleep. Duncan tidied the living room, double-checked the locks on the doors, turned off the kitchen lights and went to his bedroom. Tessa had the bathroom door closed and the faucets running full blast. He sat down wearily on the edge of the bed and pulled off his sneakers and socks, aware again of how much he stank from dried sweat and grime.
"Tessa, I'd like to take a shower," he called out, pulling his shirt over his head.
The door opened. "I suppose you can take one," she said. "If you can get by me."
Duncan turned. Tessa stood in a curved pose in the door frame, wearing a pair of white stiletto heels, her best pearls, and nothing else. Her pale skin gleamed in the light of a dozen flickering candles in the bathroom, and her hair hung loose and golden around her head. Scented steam drifted around her like a divine cloud, carrying the heady fragrance of roses. Over the centuries he might have known women as beautiful or alluring as she, but their names and memories instantly fled his mind, never to return.
"You know what a good fight does for my libido," she purred. "How cruel of you to go out and leave me alone with Richie for two hours."
Duncan's interest and anatomy both perked up. "No crueler than you were to leave me all alone this morning, knowing what heat waves do to me."
Tessa nodded wisely. "I see. Equal cruelty. Come here, my poor Duncan, and let's see if we can be nice to one another."
Duncan followed her into the bathroom, into the light and into the delightful, enticing, intoxicating heat.
Author's notes: This story originally appeared in the fanzine "Highland Blades IV," published by the wonderful Linda Hutcheson. Immense thanks to my sibs Cindy Hudson and Angela Gabriel for their help way back in 1997, when this was written. Any remaining mistakes are obviously my own fault. It's rated PG-13. And oh yes, I don't own any of these characters, I just spend thousands of hours hunched over a keyboard listening to them!