DISCLAIMER: Highlander the Series is a property of Rysher Entertainment. Characters are used without permission. The characters and stories created by the author are copyright by Vivian Moreau, 1996.
WARNINGS: This story contains scenes that are both VIOLENT and SEXUALLY GRAPHIC. Also, there is a liberal use of the name of God by one of the main characters. For those who might be offended, please realize that this fictional character is South American and very Roman Catholic, and God was an important part of the daily lives of 17th century Catholics. She is not being blasphemous.
Seacouver, October 1995
Reeboks pounding on the pavement, her cloak flying behind her, her sword gripped tightly in her left fist, she was running as fast as she could. She could hear the roar of the two motorcycles behind her and see her breath billowing out like a white tongue in front of her face. Now one of the bikes had apparently come onto the sidewalk. It was right behind her, yet she didn't dare turn to look. She also couldn't go inside a building where they might be able to block all exits. The one thing she couldn't afford to do is be slowed down by even one of them-- that would give the other two (there was a fourth person driving the chase car) a chance to catch up to her, surround her. Then she was done. So she ducked into a doorway, let the bike whiz by, then ran out again, almost into the path of the second motorcycle, but leaping for the space between two parked cars. The second bike couldn't follow, and she swung out to the street and back the way she had come, turning the corner. To her right was the chase car, driving leisurely, watching.
[!Maldita sea!] she thought to herself. Why couldn't they be hunting me in Paris? In Paris there was a church or a cemetery every other block. But here in this secular United States...She knew the neighborhood imperfectly, and mostly during the day. Everything looked different in the dark. She knew there was a small Protestant chapel nearby, but where the hell was it? And where was she? She glanced up at the street sign-- but a motorcycle was right behind her again. She put on a short burst of speed (she didn't have a lot of those left in her) and glanced down the next alley. It seemed to cut cleanly between two buildings, but without her glasses and in the dark she couldn't make it out very clearly. At least it wasn't a dead end, so she took a sharp left, slamming into the wall of the far building, bouncing off it and rushing down the alley, leaving some skin behind.
The first bike went past, but the second drove into the alleyway-- she could hear it accelerating behind her. By this point she had been running full tilt forever-- her lungs were beginning to burn, her legs to tire, but she couldn't even consider slowing down. She concentrated on running, not wanting to face the reality of her situation, continuing to look for a way out. As she got closer she noticed a chain link fence blocking the end of the alley, stretched between the two buildings, three meters high including the three angled rows of barbed wire on the top. This was a break! When she judged the cycle was right behind her, she ducked into another doorway on her left, this time slamming into a closed door. She held onto her sword as her left shoulder hit the door, which barely held, and she bounced off it and back into the alley right after the cycle drove past. Now she was behind the motorcycle rider, and he had to slow down to avoid driving into the chain link fence. Taking her sword in both hands, she ran up and swung at his unprotected back. She couldn't take his Quickening, not with the second rider even now turning into the alley behind them. She didn't even want to risk getting her sword caught up in his coat, or hung up in his ribs. So she knocked him off his bike, away from her, with the flat of her blade.
The rider was down, and the cycle had plunged into the fence. She took her sword back in her left hand and with her right undid the bow at her throat, sweeping her cloak off her shoulders and up onto the top of the fence. As she jumped onto the fence and immediately started scrambling up, she had only one hand free to hang on. She could hear the second motorcycle very close behind her. Worse, she could hear the first motorcyclist cursing and probably getting up, reaching for her.
She carefully tossed her sword onto her cloak and pulled herself up onto the barbed wire, feeling it cut into her hands right through the wool of the cloak. Her greatest fear now was that the first man would grab her leg-- in the time it took her to kick free, assuming she could kick free, the second man could very well come up and between them pull her down. But it didn't happen-- she was over the fence and on the other side, lurching forward. She looked back but couldn't see the man's face through his helmet. He didn't come after her-- just picked up his bike, keeping her in sight. The second rider roared out of the alley.
Panting now, afraid, she ran to the other end of the alley and to a cross street. A light illuminated the street sign at the corner, but it was too far to make out. She thought she was near Mullin Street but wasn't sure. She went left, her first instinct as a left-hander. Most right-handed people chose right-- maybe her pursuers would figure she would do that as well, provided they didn't know she was [zurda].
At the corner she saw four men walking down the sidewalk, talking excitedly. She headed toward them as she heard a motorcycle engine behind her on the street, sensing the Immortal behind her. She had a naked blade in her hand; the four men noticed it immediately. They stopped, eyeing her warily, making some comments about "that crazy bitch" and "what the fuck kinda long knife she got?" and "we should call the cops!" Yes, why could you never find a policeman when you needed one? thought Elena. She turned to see the cycle bearing down on her-- he was apparently willing to run down the four men as well, so she crossed the street and ran, making it to the corner (Yes! Mullin Street!). Looking down as she turned the corner, still running full speed, she saw the little church in the middle of the block.
It was a race, and halfway there she saw the car turn the opposite corner and roar toward her. She ran forward, unable to increase her speed, desperate now."[!Ayudame, Dios mio!]" she whispered, out of breath, thinking she'd never make it, it's too far, he's too fast, her legs were cramping up, her lungs were on fire, but she kept running and got to the church steps as the car lurched onto the curb and climbed the steps, too. Each breath was a painful effort. She hit the double doors at a dead run, crashing through them and landing on the floor of the center aisle, dazed, exhausted and scared.
Paris, June 1995, 2 a.m.
Elena was sitting topside by the light of the moon only. The barge swayed ever so gently; the night air was crisp; the traffic on the nearby boulevard was by this time quite sparse. Duncan was downstairs sleeping. Making love tended to make her wakeful, so she whispered that she was going for some air, getting an answer like, "Hmmmm," pulled on some clothes, and went up.
She hugged herself, feeling chilly, considering whether it was worth going below for a coat, and incidentally getting her sword. It had been so much a part of her for so long that she felt undressed without it, and now it was under the bed quite a distance away.
Duncan had shown her April in Paris as promised, and she had never appreciated this beautiful city as she had with him to guide her. They had been to the ballet, museums, the opera, movies; they had eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world; they had drunk copious amounts of wine; they had slept and made love and read books and listened to music. She'd found out Duncan had a particular fondness for classic jazz and the blues, but a dislike and distrust of modern culture, ("Too transient," he'd said), especially the music ("It's not even musical!" he'd declared.) So she introduced him to a lady named Aretha who wailed as though her heart would break and was a match for the great Ella, and he highly approved.
They had found a stable outside the city where she exercised a very fast little mare daily, and they frequented the fencing studio. And all the time had been a blessed peace. No Immortals, no Watchers, no Hunters-- in fact, they had had very few visitors.
Richie had to leave Paris and had returned to the States with, of all people, Amanda. Duncan had been unhappy about that, because Richie was still traumatized by their killing of the Hunters, and had not wanted to talk to Duncan about it, insisting he would work it out with Amanda. Duncan had commented to Elena that Amanda was hardly the person to count on in an emotional crisis, but there was nothing to be done. Elena knew that Duncan felt guilty about 'abandoning' his young friend in his hour of need.
Dawson didn't visit them either-- he knew Watchers were personae non grata on the barge, but Elena wondered if Duncan ever met with him when she wasn't around. It was none of her business, but she knew Duncan valued Dawson's friendship. So now, she considered somewhat bitterly, she was depriving Duncan of both Richie's and Dawson's company. The only person they met for dinner once was Methos, and he was as witty as ever as far as Elena was concerned, but he did not succeed in lifting Duncan's spirits.
By now Duncan was generally in a bad mood, most of it induced by guilt. Although killing the Hunters had been necessary, he had not been unafffected by the carnage. He didn't like killing mortals, even for the best of reasons. Also, he felt he should have spent more time talking to Richie, helping his inexperienced friend through this difficult time, instead of abandoning him to Amanda's tender mercies. But he also wanted to stay in Paris with Elena, and they had spent three long peaceful months together enjoying each other's company. He had been happier with her than with almost any other lover in his long life. But, as much as he loved Elena, he wanted, for the first time in his life, to get away from Paris for a while. The memories, for now, were just too bloody. He had broached the subject once with Elena, and she seemed to be in agreement, but they hadn't made any firm plans.
Elena gazed out over the Seine, then decided to go below and try to get some sleep, but she heard hurried footsteps almost directly across from the barge and paused to look. A couple came down the steps, running, holding hands, he glancing behind him nervously. As they got down to the [quai] Elena looked beyond them and saw a half dozen men apparently giving chase. She stood up and whistled to the couple, waving them aboard. They ran up to the barge, breathing heavily.
"Please help us?" the girl asked breathlessly.
Americans! thought Elena. "Quickly, come aboard," she answered. She met them at the top of the gangplank. They were very young and well dressed, with brand new clothes that screamed out 'Honeymooners!' The girl was obviously terrified. "Go below and ask my friend Duncan to come up to help, will you?" Elena said to her calmly. The girl dashed in the door Elena had pointed out, but the boy had looked around and found a boathook.
"Maybe you'd better get below too," he said to Elena.
Elena inspected him quickly. He was not particularly large or impressive looking, but she knew the key element would be his attitude. There was not enough light to see his face. She had heard the fear and anger in his words, and now, as he turned back to the gangplank, he seemed to set his shoulders with determination. "Let's go," she smiled. She didn't mind fighting for mortals but preferred to fight alongside those who defended themselves, especially when there so many in the opposition. She counted five of them as she leaped over the side, landing on the [quai]. A nice round number, and she had no weapons. She could see that they did. Ah, well? "Once more into the breach, my friends?"*
"Messieurs!" she called out gaily in French, "Don't you know Paris needs its American tourists? You're not helping the economy!"
Duncan was awakened by someone rushing aboard the barge. As he came to his feet he heard voices on deck. He hurriedly put on some pants as a young woman came inside. By the scant light near the door he saw her stumble down the steps. "Help us, please!" she cried in English.
Duncan sensed an Immortal nearby, but hoped it was Elena-- he knew it was not this woman. "What's wrong?" he asked, reaching for his katana under the table.
"We're being chased by some gang! Your friend wants you to come help her! She's all alone up there with Billy! Please, you've got to..."
By this time Duncan had reached her and put a hand on her shoulder; he could feel her trembling. "Stay here," he whispered, and slipped out the door. Elena and a young man were back to back on the [quai] surrounded by five men armed with knives and chains. The young man held a boathook. Elena stood on the balls of her feet, waiting. Aikido, like judo, worked by using your opponent's attacks and his own strength against him. Duncan lightly leaped off the barge behind the group. The two closest heard him and turned.
"Duncan, maybe you can reason with these gentlemen," Elena said sarcastically in excellent French. "They don't seem to want to listen to me."
The hoodlums who were facing Duncan whispered something to the others, including the word "[epee.]" By mutual consent, those two cut and ran away from Duncan, then the others followed suit. Elena tripped up the last one. He picked himself up and ran up the steps after his companions. "[Poltrons!]" she yelled after them.
Billy put down the boathook with a visible sigh of relief, and Elena smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. "You did very well! Are you ok?"
"Yeah," answered Billy in a shaken voice. Elena took Duncan's hand in welcome, smiling at him in the darkness. Billy asked, "What about Cindy?"
"She's below. And she's fine," answered Duncan. "Let's go tell her you're alright."
They went inside the barge and Cindy rushed at Billy, hugging him with a happy sound, while Duncan stashed his sword before the Americans could see it.
"Perhaps they could use some brandy, [querido]," said Elena.
"No, thanks, I...listen, we're Billy, uh, William and Cinthya Hartford, and thanks so much for your help."
"I'm glad we could help, William," said Elena.
"Shouldn't we call the police?" the girl asked.
"There's no harm done, is there?" countered Duncan. "What would be the point?"
"Well, we should let the police know?"
"Uh, Cindy, I don't think we need to bother these folks with police cars, etc. It's late and we should get back to the hotel."
Duncan picked up the phone and dialed. "I'll call you a taxi. And we'll walk you out to the car, but I'm quite sure they're long gone by now."
Billy said simply, "Thanks," then added, "But what if they come back?"
"Don't worry about it," said Duncan, "I'm not."
Elena noticed that Cindy still looked very shaken. "You are honeymooning here in Paris?" she asked the American.
"Is it that obvious?" Cindy tried to smile, but it didn't look quite right. Elena glanced at Duncan. "We were coming to drink our first bottle of wine under the moonlight on the banks of the Seine. It was supposed to be so romantic?" she drifted off, shuddering.
"Cin, we can still drink the wine tomorrow," the boy soothed. "Or I have a better idea! Why don't we share our first bottle of wine with these two guys--except I don't know your names!"
"I am Elena Duran, this is Duncan MacLeod, and we guys accept! Let's go up in that moonlight, shall we?"
"I'll get the glasses," Duncan smiled, but he, too, wondered about Cindy.
Billy started to walk out, holding his bride's hand, but she clung back, pulling at him. "Cindy, honey...it's ok, it's over."
"What if they're still out there?"
"They won't be. Besides, we can't stay in here forever!" Billy smiled at her, but he was obviously concerned.
Duncan said, "Let it go, Cindy."
"What??they were going to kill us!"
Duncan came closer to her. "It's over. Now you have a nice wide shoulder to cry on. Why don't you use it?"
Without a word, Cindy buried her face in Billy's chest and sobbed. For a full two minutes that, and Billy's soothing noises, were the only sounds on the barge. Finally she calmed down, and her husband wiped her eyes. "You ok, now, Cin?"
"Yes, I'm sorry, I...I guess, I just..." she seemed to gather herself up. "Could I just freshen up a little?"
Elena pointed her to the bathroom while the men went upstairs. "I really can't thank you enough for what you've done," said Billy to Duncan.
"We really didn't do anything," answered Duncan, but he knew there was more left unsaid. He faced the young man. "Running was the right thing to do," he said earnestly. "You had Cindy to worry about, your were out-manned and you had no weapon. In your place I would have done the same."
Duncan nodded, smiling. Then he was surprised when Billy asked, "What about that sword you had? Were you really going to use it?"
"Sword? What sword was that?" Duncan asked innocently.
"What do you mean? The sword you..." he paused and looked toward the barge. "Hey, maybe I made a mistake, trick of the light. I guess?maybe it was, like, a club or something."
"I think you're right. You're also right about the Seine in the moonlight being romantic. Have you been to visit Notre Dame?" asked Duncan, pointing at the lit up cathedral across the water.
Meanwhile, Cindy had come out of the bathroom and said to Elena shyly, "I'm sorry about breaking down like that. I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life!"
"I've been scared before. I understand."
"But you weren't scared tonight, were you?"
"No, but that's because I've learned to defend myself. Aikido, judo, boxing. And, I wasn't alone. Billy was there, and I knew Duncan was on the way."
"Yes, Billy is great, isn't he! And Duncan is--very--attractive?"
"Shame, [nina]! You're not supposed to even notice another man on your honeymoon!"
"No, I didn't mean--uh--"
Elena laughed and put her arm around the American's shoulders. "Let's go join them. I promise I won't tell! And maybe when you return you can sign up for some self-defense classes."
"I might just do that!"
"And bring Billy along." The two looked at each other and giggled.
They went on deck and poured the wine. Duncan proposed a toast, "To young love!" and they all drank. Then Billy held up his glass. "I'm not letting these assholes win! Nothing can spoil our honeymoon or our Paris. To Paris!" They all drank to that as well.
Later, when Elena lay snuggled in Duncan's arms, she said, "He was wrong, you know. I've had a great time here with you, but some things can spoil even Paris."
Duncan nodded in the dark. "We need a change of venue."
"Back to the dojo?"
Duncan answered her question with a question. "Do you mean together?"
"Of course, [querido]."
maldita sea (Span.) -- damn it
zurda (Span.) -- left-handed
ayudame, Dios mio (Span.) -- help me, God
messieurs (Fr.) -- gentlemen
epee (Fr.) -- sword
poltrons (Fr.) -- cowards
querido (Span.) -- beloved
nina (Span.) -- girl
Seacouver, July 4, 1995
After an evening of eating, line dancing, crafts and a truly spectacular fireworks display over the town hall, Elena and Duncan were having their own celebration. Her knees straddled him, her toes pointing straight up as he pounded into her with zest, his hands under her buttocks. She had already had two orgasms, one before he had even entered her, while he kissed her nipples, his fingers twined in her long hair, two fingers of the other hand probing inside her. Elena had had many lovers, mortal and Immortal, and Duncan was one of the most energetic-- and one of the most willing to please. Her buttocks rose up and down in rhythm to his thrusts; she curled her long, muscular legs around his torso and locked her ankles together, effectively trapping him. For a long moment they continued in silence, breathless, dripping, working as hard as they did when fighting. Then his body arched and he cried out. She could feel his spasms inside her as he pressed even harder, trying to become one with her. The muscles of his gluteus maximus felt like rocks under her fingers. Finally, slowly, he relaxed, lowering his weight onto her.
Elena brought her legs down and took several deep breaths. Duncan pulled himself onto his elbows and looked down at her. His smile afterward was one of the things that brought joy to her life. She had butterflies-- at this moment she felt truly happy and truly loved. He was a man worth living for, worth dying for, worth killing for! "Duncan MacLeod!" she exclaimed, her voice breaking.
He smiled at her. "Yes, sweetheart?" But there were no more words for her to say, and he knew how she felt. The initial attraction between them, he knew, had been purely physical. When he first saw her at Charlie's funeral he had felt a jolt of pure lust the likes of which he hadn't known since Tessa. And Elena was different, with the confidence that comes from having lived for four centuries, having fought to survive for every one of those years, and having won every time. And he was completely devoted to her-- after all, he had followed her into hell, and was willing to do so again-- and with Elena one never knew. She was unpredictable, and he didn't always understand why she did what she did, and that both excited him and frightened him. He was used to being in control and being looked up to. Elena was a full partner, and often he found himself following her lead, even when he didn't much like where she was going.
But everything that had happened was worth it just to see her face, now, the way she was looking at him. He couldn't stop smiling. He kissed her on the lips, then lay down beside her to sleep. Elena was always wakeful after they made love, so he wasn't surprised when she got up shortly.
Elena was reaching her limit on pull-ups; her arms and shoulders were screaming, but for fencing, especially against an opponent who was after your head, upper body strength and flexibility were worthwhile goals. She was not a morning person by nature, but here she was at 6:30 a.m., the crack of dawn, almost halfway through her daily workout. Richie had said, "Have you noticed, Duran, that ever since you got back the male membership of the dojo has gone up...oh, quite a bit?" In fact, it had gotten so crowded that Elena had been forced to change her workout to early morning, and so far only two members had caught on-- the body-building brothers Cody and Robert. Although they were currently absent, they usually joined her, but had never approached her or even spoken to her, probably because they knew she was with Duncan. However, as she explained to him, "They primp and preen in front of me...have you ever seen a tom turkey walking across a barnyard? He struts like he owns the place!"
Duncan smiled, nodding, "Cock of the walk. But can you blame them? You are beautiful, desirable, self-confident, and most importantly for them, buff!"
"Flattery will get you anything you want."
He laughed. "I know."
Shoulders trembling, she closed her eyes and pulled hard but couldn't lift herself even one more time. As she did she sensed the buzz coming from the front doors of the dojo. She was facing the doors, as always, her back to the elevator, and she knew Duncan was still upstairs, and it seemed too early for Richie. It also seemed to her, maybe she was wrong, that more than one Immortal was coming. Her sword was in Duncan's office, behind her but not too far away. She let go of the chin-up bar, rolling her shoulders and opening and closing her hands, thinking the timing could be better, and backed up, ready to bolt into the office if necessary.
Richie came through the door, and he was not alone. The man with him seemed not to be much older than he was. He was tall, thin, and dark. He badly needed a shave, a shower and some clean clothes, and was wearing a dirty trenchcoat. He also looked scared and inexperienced, but that tactic had been used before. As Elena started into Duncan's office the Highlander came down the spiral stairs dressed in sweats. No sword there, she thought, but there were two well-sharpened katanas displayed on the wall to her right.
"Ah, just the people I wanted to see," Richie smiled broadly. "You're up early, good, because this is kind of important. This is Johnny, come on, it's all right, they're not going to hurt you, right guys? Am I right?"
"I just came down for a workout," said Duncan noncommitally, but he was very interested. When Elena and Duncan arrived in Seacouver they discovered that Amanda had gone. According to Richie, "She really tried to cheer me up, but finally she said I kind of dragged her down, so she split." It had been another blow for Richie, who already looked haggard, and Duncan felt very guilty about not being there for his young friend, not even knowing that Amanda had left. Now Duncan knew how involved Richie could get, especially when someone was in danger. For the first time since Paris, he could see a real flicker of interest in Richie, and he wasn't about to let it die. So he looked at Elena and nodded almost imperceptibly.
Elena caught it and shrugged her shoulders. "I have no quarrel with this man."
"Come on, Johnny, it's ok, I promise." The other man came into the room slowly. "Guys, this is John Frankowski. This is Duncan MacLeod, the guy I told you about. And this," he pointed, smiling and with a flourish, "is Senorita Maria Elena Conchita Duran. Johnny's from Chicago, originally. And he needs help."
"And what do you expect us to do?" asked Elena.
Richie looked at her, exasperated, started to say something and changed his mind. He turned back to Duncan. "Mac, look, could we just talk for a minute?"
"Sure, Richie, let's step into my office," smiled Duncan. "I'm sure Elena can entertain your friend for a moment."
Elena smiled back. She knew Duncan and Richie needed to confer. She had also noted Richie's enthusiasm, and his smile, something she had sorely missed. She approached Johnny, who shrank back from her a little. Duncan and Richie walked into the office.
"So, Mac, I couldn't sleep, so I'm just, you know, riding along, on my way here, and I feel an Immortal! So I circled around until I zeroed in on this guy. I try to talk to him, he runs off, I go after him, and he goes into an alley. Dead end. Every door he tries is locked. All the time I'm trying to talk to him, you know, reassure him, cause he's making these scared sounds. Mac, he looked terrified."
"He still does."
"Yeah, I know. So anyway, he figures he's cornered, so he pulls out this sword..."
"He attacked you, Richie?!" Duncan raised his voice above the low tones they had been using.
"No, Mac, he just kinda held it in front of him, shaking a little. I mean, he really doesn't know what he's doing. Mac, the guy could really use some serious fencing lessons. He announced himself, and took a few swings..."
"Damn, it Richie! He could have taken your head!"
"No chance, Mac! I told him I didn't want to fight him, and got him calmed down. He's only been an Immortal for a couple of months. The guy who started to teach him disappeared. He must have got whacked by another Immortal, and Johnny here thinks that's the one hunting him now. He's in big trouble, Mac. He could really use some help."
"Assuming he's telling the truth."
"Well, I believe him. Why don't you talk to him, see what you think? Ok? I think the guy's legit. I mean, he sure doesn't look like an experienced fighter."
"Neither did Felicia; remember her?"
Richie sighed. "Yeah, I remember. But I was a little more naive then. Mac, I know you're always right, but this time you're making up your mind without even listening to the guy. Will you just talk to him?"
Duncan could see the sense in that. "All right, I'll talk to him, but I'm not the one you have to convince."
"You mean Duran? She's going to be a real hard-ass about this, isn't she?"
"Let's just say she's less forgiving than I am."
"Yeah, right. As long as she doesn't take his head right off the bat."
"She hasn't yet," said Duncan, glancing their way.
Meanwhile Elena had been observing the new Immortal, not saying a word. It seemed to make him nervous, but she was making no offensive moves toward him, and she was obviously not armed. When she heard Duncan exclaim, "He attacked you, Richie?!" she glanced at the swords on the wall, then back at Johnny who looked even more nervous than before. "Look," he said in a low voice, "maybe this was not such a good idea."
"Look, Johnny, isn't it? Do you prefer John or Johnny?"
"John. That's what my Mom used to ah...I guess she must still be wondering what happened to me. I mean, to my body. I mean, to my corpse...at the hospital...the morgue at the hospital..."
"You were in an accident?" If he's faking, she thought, he's got me convinced.
"Yeah! When they tell you drinking and driving don't mix... Not that it would make any difference to you--God, I'm babbling!" his voice trailed off.
"It's alright, John. Tell me how you found out about Immortals. Was it at the hospital morgue?"
He nodded. "That's where Shaka found me, he..."
"Shaka?" Elena asked, searching her memory. She hadn't heard of that Immortal before. "An interesting name."
"Yeah, he was kind of cool. He was this black dude, and was using the name of an African king from last century, I think."
Elena nodded. "Shaka was a Zulu warrior-king from the eighteen hundreds, wasn't he?"
John nodded. "Shaka-- my Shaka-- sure admired him."
Duncan and Richie had joined them by now and caught the last of this conversation. "Just who is this Shaka?"
"He's the Immortal who found me, Mr. MacLeod. He was very good to me. He got me out of the morgue and told me all about Immortals and taking heads and the One on One Rule and Holy Ground and all this stuff! He even showed me a little how to fight with a sword, but I guess I'm really clumsy or something, and he gave me this sword!" John pulled a rapier out of his coat.
"Uh, Johnny," said Richie, "you better be careful with that; I'm not kidding!"
John looked at the sword in his hand. "Oh, shit! Look, I'm telling the truth, Mr. MacLeod, Miss Duran, I swear it!" He hurriedly fumbled the sword back into his coat.
Duncan had heard men lie for almost four centuries and he believed this young man's story. He'd never heard of Shaka, but the story sounded right, so far. Still, there was one more question to ask... "Alright, let's say, for now, that you are telling the truth. Where is Shaka?"
"I--I don't know."
"Johnny figures Shaka lost his head to some other Immortal," said Richie.
Elena, too, had believed John's story, but his last sentence was obviously a lie. She walked up close to him-- for a moment she thought he would back up, but he didn't. "What do you mean, you don't know? Do you mean he left one day and just never came back?"
"Yeah! He just never came back."
"I see," she said, starting to turn to Duncan, then suddenly turned back and sucker-punched John with a right jab to the solar plexus. As stood there, eyes bulging, desperately trying to catch his breath, she reached inside his coat and grabbed his sword hilt. It got caught in the coat lining and she jerked it free, tearing the coat. John suddenly took a deep gasping breath and found himself staring at the tip of his own sword.
Elena advanced, and he retreated until his back was against the wall. "No," he whispered. "Richie said you wouldn't..."
"Richie didn't expect that you would lie to us, John, but you did." She put the sharp edge against his neck.
He was hyperventilating. "Please!"
Richie went forward and said, "Come on, Duran!" but Duncan held him back with a hand on Richie's arm. He gave Duncan a questioning look, and Duncan shook his head slightly, but the young man still looked worried. Duncan knew Elena wouldn't take this boy's head without at least giving him a chance to defend himself, and he wanted to know what had happened to Shaka too.
"Tell me the truth about Shaka," said Elena coldly.
"He was killed by another Immortal," he whispered.
"I don't know, I swear! I hardly get a good look at him, I just felt him coming! And there were, like, three or four of them!"
"Three of four Immortals? I don't think so, John. Do you know what I think? I think there was no other Immortal. I think you took him unawares because he trusted you. I think you took his head yourself!"
"No! I wouldn't! I never did!"
"So you saw Shaka lose his head?" Duncan asked.
"No, I-I just saw the beginning of the fight, that's all!"
"Because you ran, didn't you, John?" asked Elena. "He helped you and he trained you and he protected you, but when he was attacked you deserted him; you ran like a rabbit, right?"
"Yes! I ran! I ran like hell! I couldn't help him, and..."
Elena's mind drifted back?
The Duran [estancia] outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1659
Xavier St. Cloud, or so he had introduced himself, looks splendid in his flowing white Arab robes and turbaned head, although such an outfit is not suited for the climate. But he seems to be very cool. In fact, it is Don Alvaro who is sweating, and Elena sees something in her adoptive father's face she had never seen before: fear.
The Moor sees it too, and chuckles. "Come, Don Alvaro, let us finish. Perhaps I can have some fun with your student before I take her head as well!"
Don Alvaro pales under his tan. She can't believe he is really fearful of this strutting peacock. "Padre..." she begins, but he cuts her off.
"I would have a word with her first," he asks the Moor. Asks! Don Alvaro never asked anyone, he always ordered! He draws her aside, whispering. "It is time, [nina], to fulfill the promise you made to me the first day you became an Immortal. Do you remember?"
"No, Don Alvaro, don't ask me..."
"I am not asking you, I am demanding that you obey me as you promised! I order you to leave, now, to run and not look back!"
She sobs, shaking her head, uncaring of Xavier's presence. "I love you! I won't leave you!"
"You would disobey me, and disappoint me in my hour of need? Listen to me, Elenita," he takes her chin in her hand and forces her to look at him, "I have lived a long life. I want you to have the same chance. Xavier St. Cloud will take my head, and then he will take yours. Do you think I will die happier knowing the death of my beloved child will shortly follow mine?"
Her eyes fill. There is no answer to this argument, so she nods her head. He kisses her on the cheek and blesses her. Already the fear is gone from his face, replaced by a smile in anticipation of a final, true battle between two great [espadachines. "Adios, mi querido padre,]" she whispers. Then she runs.
Seacouver, July 1995
"...so scared the whole time, ever since this whole thing started!" John was saying. "I'm just a coward, that's all!" He looked from one Immortal to the other. "I've known it all my life! I've always been scared! All I ever wanted was to live a normal life, get a job, get married-- no swords or beheadings, or anything! I'm not the adventurous type! I'm just a regular guy, except...I'm just so scared--Shaka couldn't help me, and you can't help me either!" He closed his eyes, then opened them again and looked at Elena. "Just please let me have my sword! I owe it to Shaka to die with a sword in my hand! I'll fight you, Ms. Duran, just don't cut my throat like a steer in a slaughter house. Please, just give me a chance! Please!"
Elena looked at him for a moment. There was no way he was pretending! And a coward, a real coward, would not be asking to fight. "Richie, my sword is in Duncan's office. Will you please bring it to me?" she said over her shoulder.
"No, Duran, please don't!" said Richie. Duncan said nothing-- he had an idea that she was testing the new Immortal, and was willing to see it played out. Richie, obviously, was not.
"The challenge has been made, Richie." She stepped away and put John's rapier on the ground, then turned to look at Duncan. She couldn't read his expression, but apparently he was not going to try to stop her. Her back was to John as she walked into the office to get her broadsword. If she was right, John would not strike at her unprotected back. He didn't. But when she came out of the office Richie was blocking her path. "We've been here before, haven't we, Richie? Only this time you can't interfere."
Richie studied her face, unsure. She silently willed him to trust her-- unless John showed some incredible hidden prowess with that sword that proved him to be a liar from the beginning, she had no intention of taking his head, but she couldn't say anything. She could see the anger in Richie's face, but he stepped aside. Either he had decided to trust her or had resigned himself to what he couldn't help. She waited a moment for him to threaten her, to challenge her, to ask her to stop, but he didn't do that either. She glanced over at Duncan again, then faced John.
John had picked up his rapier. Now he saluted her formally and got it in the 'en garde' position. He actually looked like he knew what he was doing, except he couldn't begin to hide the fear in his eyes. His sword shook ever so slightly. But he was ready. Elena felt a little pride for him, and for the late, unknown Shaka.
Duncan looked on. Elena had been in plenty of situations with life and death choices. Duncan had mistrusted her at first, but after her first attack on Dawson, she had always done the right thing. This time he was trusting her completely. If John was who he said he was, Elena would not take his head, but Duncan did wonder how far she was going to push the boy. There was also Richie in the middle, and Duncan hoped Elena remembered that.
Elena, too, wondered how far to go, and she was very aware of Richie and the harm this might do to him. But as she stepped forward Richie said quietly, "Damn it, don't do this, Duran." She didn't miss the unspoken 'please.' She paused; then, without looking at him, she lowered the point of her sword.
John sighed audibly and followed suit, and Richie went to stand protectively by his side. "So I guess we'll be on our way." He paused, then said to her, "Tell me something..."
"Would you have really taken his head?"
"No, I wouldn't."
"Then you were bluffing!"
"Let's just say I wanted to see what you are made of, John," she answered.
"Well, I think it would have been nice if you hadn't scared the? scared him more than he already was." Richie still sounded angry, more now perhaps because he'd had to ask her for something. "I think you can be really cruel, lady, you know that?" he said, right in her face. "Come on, Johnny. Let's go."
Elena's feelings were hurt. "Wait, Richie!" she blocked their path. She could feel the heat of Richie's anger; from John all she felt was still fear. "Maybe I pushed too hard. If so, I apologize."
"You don't have to apologize to me!" said Richie.
She turned to John, who cringed slightly away from her. "John, I'm sorry. Sometimes we need to be kicked to see the truth about ourselves. If I kicked you too hard, I am truly sorry. But we had to be sure." She was actually asking for Richie's forgiveness. She had grown so fond of him, they had been through so much together, and now instead of helping him she felt like she had betrayed him.
John said in a shaky voice, "No, it's all right, forget it." Elena looked down at the ground. This was still fear talking and not what he really meant, but she couldn't think of anything else to say.
They walked around her. "For what it's worth, I don't think you're a coward," she added.
"No. Tell you what. Maybe I can help you with your fencing. Actually, Duncan has more patience, and would make a better teacher, but you'll have to talk to him about that. But if you're afraid someone is hunting you maybe you can stay here, unless Richie feels..."
"Actually, I haven't seen anybody since the Midwest, and Richie said I could crash with him." Elena didn't miss the implication.
Richie nodded. "Yeah, sure."
"If you're interested come by at three o'clock for your first lesson. If it's alright with you, Richie."
"What do you say, Richie?" Richie nodded, and John added, "I'll be here, thanks."
"Richie," Duncan called out, "If you see any Immortals..." he knew what he wanted to say, but couldn't, "send John here to safety."
"I will, Mac." Richie smiled at Duncan, but seemed to make a point of ignoring Elena. "Thanks."
After they left, Duncan felt Elena needed a hug, so he supplied it. She spoke into his shoulder. "Duncan, do you think I was too harsh?"
The truth between us, always, they had said. "Yes, a little."
She sighed. "I hope Richie doesn't hate me." She really did hope.
"He'll get over it."
She pulled back to see his face. "But I am cruel, aren't I? Duncan, I don't enjoy hurting anyone."
"I know you don't, sweetheart. And you did let him go. I think we can all be cruel at times, you maybe more than most. But I know the cruelty you suffered from the Spanish as a child because you had Indian blood. And I know that as much as Don Alvaro loved you, he was cruel once a sword was in his hand-- you've said so yourself. What we learn as a child shapes us more than anything else, Elena."
"So you're saying I have no choice."
"Not at all. You can change your own destiny, and you certainly have the will. Maybe?" he thought about it for a moment, wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt while still being honest with her. "Maybe your first instinct is to be cruel. But I think if you want to change, and I mean you want to, not me or anyone else, you can."
Elena considered what he said, the kindness and concern involved. She truly loved him, and she knew he had an influence on her. She felt safer with him, like she didn't have to fight quite so hard all the time, even though the arrival of just one Immortal could change that. But because he loved her and accepted her, she didn't feel she had to prove anything to him; she could be herself. And now he was telling her she could change, but only if *she* wanted to. Maybe she did; maybe she already had; but she'd have to think about this some more. "I would do almost anything for you, [escoces,] but remember, "This above all; to thine own self be true."*
"Wise man, the bard."
padre (Span.) father
nina (Span.) girl
espadachines (Span.) master swordsmen
Adios, mi querido padre Goodbye, my dear father
en garde (Fr.) a ready position in fencing
escoces (Span.) Scotsman
Seacouver, October 11, 1995
As the weeks passed they settled into a routine. John was staying with Richie, and they arrived early for their daily workout at the dojo with Elena and Duncan. It was grueling, but John worked hard, and Richie, for now, was very diligent. The early afternoons were devoted to swordplay, and after trying the deserted warehouse they settled on a better place-- Duncan's [ruina] as Elena called it. It had a nice, large sunny backyard, hemmed in by trees, and was far enough from the nearest neighbor that they could act freely. While Duncan worked on the house, Elena, John and Richie practiced rain or shine, and given Seacouver's weather patterns, there was a lot of slippery, wet work. Richie was more likely to complain than John, although John was still both unhappy and scared. He still had the two problems he had stated from the beginning.
First of all, he was unbelievably clumsy. Elena, not the most patient of teachers, found it exasperating and incredible that someone could fall so often. But this was fixable-- he had all the time in the world ("--..provided I live long enough," he said wryly). Already since the beginning of July he had visibly improved, and Elena made sure to comment on it, and on his number one asset-- for all that he was a klutz, John was also extremely fast. He reacted very quickly but mostly incorrectly. What he needed was enough training so that he could translate his natural speed into the proper instinctive fencing moves. He was a bit faster than Richie, but could not surpass the latter in skill. "Hey, it's really great to be able to beat somebody with a sword for once," Richie kidded him. Elena, who was nominally in charge of John's training, made sure to leave the bulk of it to Richie. For his part, Richie thrived under the attention from both John, who became as devoted to him as only a peer can, and Elena, who went out of her way to praise Richie on his instructor's skills as well as on his own improvement as a fencer.
Once a day John had a sparring session with Elena or, occasionally, with Duncan. Duncan was by nature easier on him, and he fought similarly to Richie, while Elena pushed John mercilessly, under the theory that other Immortals after his head would not hold back. Her style often brought out John's second and more important weakness.
"John's afraid, Duncan," she said to Duncan one night. The two young men spent most days with them, but their evenings were their own. Elena and Duncan were playing another game of chess, and as usual, Duncan was winning.
"He's sure afraid of you," he smiled. The glow from the fireplace made the wine in his glass glow a blood red, but luckily they weren't seeing too much of that lately. He took a sip, openly staring at her. Her skin glowed by the firelight; her dark hair hung down in bright curls far past her shoulders. He felt a contentment and a peace, but he realized how serious she was, and came back to the present.
"?more than that," she was saying. "He's...I'm not sure, but I think--" she drifted off, frustrated.
"Elena. Do you think he is a coward?"
"Maybe as he gains more confidence it will change. But whenever I face him I can see such fear on his face-- he can't hide it very well, can he?"
"No. But he still fights, doesn't he?" Duncan answered her question with a question.
"That's what gives me hope; he cringes a bit, not so much anymore, but he still fights. Maybe we should give him more credit for fighting anyway even though he's so afraid."
"Weren't you afraid when you sparred with Don Alvaro?"
"Yes, but remember, once I became an Immortal, Don Alvaro would deliberately hurt me sometimes. He felt it built character, made me tougher. Actually it made me hate him sometimes, and fear him all the time, although I knew...I was pretty sure that he would never take my head." She thought about it-- once or twice she hadn't even been sure of that! "Even if John's afraid I'll hurt him, which I know I have done sometimes, do you think he's afraid I'll take his head?"
"It's possible. Why don't you ask him?"
"I will tomorrow. Technically, he is coming along, though. You've noticed his speed."
"Yes! He has a lot of potential. If..."
"Duncan, if he doesn't do something about this 'faint heartedness' of his, he'll never be able to defeat another Immortal, no matter how skillful or quick he may be."
Faint heartedness? Duncan was often amused by Elena's turn of phrase, and he loved to listen to her lilting Argentine accent. After all, English was her, what? fifth language? He nodded. "We'll just have to see. I think you're doing a good job with him. I'm actually surprised you took him on as a student."
"I did it for Richie's sake. He's becoming quite the teacher, isn't he? His fencing is improving, too. He's also smiling a lot more often!"
"Yes, and I can't tell you how glad I am at last!"
She suddenly shook her head and laughed. "Do you know what we sound like? We sound like parents discussing our teenage sons."
"No!" Duncan exclaimed, but he was smiling. He already thought of Richie as a son, and had grown fond and protective of John, although, like Elena, he had some doubts about the second young Immortal. He also liked the effect both young men had on her. She seemed mellower-- except when he sparred with her. Then she became a cold-blooded, efficient killing machine, doing everything short of actually beheading him, and he had to use all his skill to hold his own against her. If she held back when sparring with John or with Richie, she certainly didn't do so with him!
Then something else occurred to her. "Do you think he's afraid of you?"
"Sure, but not as much. After all, I'm much nicer than you are," he smiled, putting his arms around her and kissing her ear.
Seacouver, October 13, 1995
Elena was watching through a light drizzle as Richie pressed John ever back. John was able to parry only because of his speed. He took a long step back. This was a mistake in the mud...his legs spread too far apart and he slipped, but recovered quickly by trying to lunge forward just as Richie slashed horizontally at his middle. Even before John screamed she guessed he had received a fatal blow. She ran to him as Richie threw his own sword down, crying, "Johnny!" kneeling down by his friend, holding him. John's hand was over his abdomen. He was shaking, panting. Richie was saying, "Damn, it, Johnny, I'm sorry, man."
Elena knelt down on John's other side. "It hurts!" he said, sobbing.
"He slipped in the mud! I didn't mean it!"
"I know," she said to both of them. "It's alright."
"Am I dying?"
She took a look at the wound. "Yes, John, but you'll be fine. You've been through this before, haven't you?"
"But I was unconscious before! I'm dying! Are you sure...are you sure I'll come back? Are you sure?" He sounded on the verge of panic.
"Of course I'm sure. Just try to relax. We'll see you again, don't worry."
Duncan heard a loud cry and came out of the house, katana in hand. He saw Richie kneeling by John, and Elena just going down to join them. Elena told the boy not to worry, but as her eyes met Duncan's he could tell she was worried. "What happened?" Duncan asked.
John closed his eyes, breathing more shallowly now, and Elena rose and told Richie, "Why don't you move him into the porch so he won't be so cold and wet when he comes back. And don't feel so guilty. It was an accident!" She gave Duncan a brief account.
When John 'revived' (and Elena noticed he did so more easily than she did) she was by his side, ready to reassure him. His terrified look made her unhappy, and he hardly answered Richie's apologies. Maybe she should let him go for the day; or maybe she just couldn't teach him at all. Maybe her expectations were too great. After all, he was the first new Immortal she had ever tried to teach, and she might be judging him by an unfair standard. But Richie was a fairly new Immortal, too, and he was not as weak, (that was it, weak), as John. "You're alright, John. See, I told you you'd be back."
Richie helped him up, saying, "It was the mud, man, you slipped and so did I..."
"It's ok, Richie. Don't worry about it. Maybe we can call it a day, huh?"
"But you haven't sparred with me yet," said Elena, reaching a decision.
"How about tomorrow?" he asked.
"How about now?" she countered. "As soon as you're ready."
"Duran!" complained Richie. "Why don't you give the guy a break! He's had a hard day."
"Then a little bit more effort won't matter, will it?"
"I really don't think?" began John.
"Get your sword, John," she ordered.
"I thought I was training him!" put in Richie.
"Fine, Richie. You're in charge! But if he can't fight me now, right now, then I'm done, and I think so is he! Right now, John! Get your sword and show me what you've got, or I wash my hands of you!"
He muttered, "It's not fair," but he picked up his sword. Elena could see his hands tremble slightly.
Richie seemed furious, but then he said, "I think I'll go inside and help Mac for a while."
Elena attacked. Instead of trying to go outside, John retreated into the house. It was dry, but they couldn't ask for a worse obstacle course. Here, in the kitchen, there were cabinets literally off the walls, plaster from the ceiling, stray tools, pieces of wood. Elena kept pressing forward, even using the refrigerator door once to slam into John's face, almost knocking him down.
He recovered, but stumbled and fell almost at once, and she pounded on him from above. He was holding his sword up, absorbing her blows, backing up along the floor, panting with effort. But Elena, determined to break through his defense, stepped to the right and onto a bad section of floor. Her foot crashed through halfway up to her knee, pieces of wood gouging her calf painfully. Grunting, she pulled hard but couldn't dislodge it; in fact, she almost lost her balance.
John quickly got up and swung at her chest. She parried. He swung again, then moved to her left, swing, parry, and slipped behind her. She brought her sword up and back down behind her, hilt up, and blocked another swing at her back. Her left leg was not on firm footing and her right calf hurt, but she ignored them both and concentrated on parrying. He was pushing her hard, just like she always pushed him, but she couldn't see his face, and that bothered her. Anticipating that he would come around her weaker right side, she turned there just in time to parry again. Their blades clanged together. Now he'll lunge to the left, counting on his speed, hoping I won't have time to turn. He did, and she didn't. His sword pierced her back right below the base of her neck. She flopped forward like a rag doll. As she landed, she felt her face strike against the floor. There was no pain, and this fact scared her more than any possible wound. She could see her left arm on the ground, her sword lying nearby, but she couldn't close her hand! [!Madre de Dios!] she thought to herself.
John kicked her sword out of reach. Straining to look up and behind her, she saw him put his boot on her back, but she couldn't feel it! She could feel the prick of his blade on the back of her neck, the rough floor on her cheek, the blood pounding in her temples. Nothing more.
All of this had been done in absolute silence, but now John spoke. "Well, this is a very interesting situation." There was a tone in his voice she had never heard and didn't much like, and she couldn't see his face, but she waited to see what else he had to say. She could not move from the neck down; not that it mattered. If John Frankowski wanted her head right now, it was his for the taking. The trick was not to let him know that. "What do you think, Elena?"
Interesting that he had never called her Elena before, only Duran, like Richie did. She found it hard to breathe. "I think..." she tried to think of how to connect with him, "I'd like to get up now." Her back had not started to repair itself yet, but she didn't expect that he'd let her up right away anyway. He didn't.
"Now, Elena, you're not considering all the infinite possibilities." He pushed the tip of his rapier harder against the back of her neck-- she felt that! "As a purely intellectual exercise, and not that I ever would, of course, but tell me, can you think of anything that might stop me from, oh, taking your head right now this minute?"
Someone, she couldn't recall who, had told her once that more battles were won by using the muscle between one's ears than any other muscle. Since none of her other muscles worked, think, now! what could she possibly say to him? Lying would be stupid. "No," she answered.
"I didn't think so. So tell me--" he bent down, and now that she could see his face she became afraid for the first time. She expected anger or passion, hate mayb--she would have preferred any of those. Instead he was looking at her in a detached way, as though he were looking down at an insect. [!Controlate, Elena!] she yelled at herself. "--aside from the obvious loyalty and friendship and gratitude, all that stuff, can you think of one good reason why I shouldn't take your head right now?"
He was asking a serious question. Unfortunately Elena could think of many reasons why he would regret having taken her head, but that wouldn't do her any good. If she could just put her stubborn pride aside and depend on someone for once! "Duncan MacLeod," she said through gritted teeth.
John was obviously taken aback, but he came back with, "But Duncan MacLeod isn't here."
"Now, John, you're not considering all the infinite possibilities." She could see he was thinking it over, yes, think about it, [condenado]! Meanwhile something was starting to happen in her back; she was starting to feel something. At the same time she sensed the buzz coming closer-- she was always aware of Duncan elsewhere in the house-- and John looked around, took the sword off her neck. He stepped back away from her. She heard footsteps and looked up-- there was nothing wrong with her hearing!-- and saw a pair of black boots at the entrance to the kitchen.
She closed her eyes briefly in relief. Duncan, [!gracias a Dios!], came into the room and said, "What's going on?" in a very quiet voice.
"This isn't what you think!" John exclaimed. "She caught her leg and fell! I just wanted her-- you, Elena, to know what it felt like to be scared, really scared! Maybe you've forgotten it or something!" He backed away before Duncan's advance.
She strained to look up at Duncan's face. Although he wasn't looking at her, his eyes were smoldering, and she realized that at this point John's life expectancy was very short. Then Richie came into the room, saying, "What's going on here? Mac?"
Duncan said, "Let me show you what it really feels like to be scared, John," and Elena said, "Duncan, please help me. My back!"
Duncan turned to her immediately, concerned. Never had she asked him for help like this. He suddenly realized that she was still lying on the floor in the same position. Why wasn't she getting up? Now he could see that some of her muscles were starting to twitch involuntarily. John said, "I didn't do anything wrong!" and ran out, but Duncan's attention had by now turned to her exclusively. He knelt beside her.
"Johnny, wait! What's happened here, guys? Can somebody clue me in?" asked Richie.
"I believe he just tried to take her head." said Duncan deliberately, carefully pulling Elena's leg out of the hole. The sharp edges of the wood had cut right to the bone, but she didn't seem to be hurting. Then he noticed where the wound was, centered between her shoulders.
"No! He didn't!" Elena was getting a lot of feeling back now, but she still couldn't control her muscles-- her whole body was twitching wildly. "He could have taken my head if he'd wanted to! Ayyy!"
Duncan thanked his lucky stars that he had come. It was the dead silence after so much furious swordplay that had made him curious, and to see her like that, helpless on the ground, left a cold ball in the pit of his stomach. "He severed your spine, didn't he? Are you sure he wasn't going after your head next, Elena?"
"Your spine? No, there's gotta be some mistake. He wouldn't! I'll go talk to him and straighten it out, ok? Just give me a chance to talk to him before anybody does anything else, alright?" Richie rushed out without getting an answer.
She was still twitching, and he turned her over and hugged her to him, holding her until her body calmed itself. "Are you alright?' he said finally.
"Yes, but don't go, Duncan. Don't go after him."
"What do you mean, don't go after him? Do you want him yourself?"
"No." She sat up, stretching her arms, shoulders and back. He rubbed her back-- it was sticky with blood-- and she said, "He didn't go after my head, Duncan, and I don't want his."
"Is it because of Richie?"
"Partly, but it's also because of me and because of John. Look, he made a mistake in judgement?"
"A mistake!" he interrupted.
"--a bad mistake, but it doesn't have to be a fatal mistake. If I'm satisfied to let him go, you should be."
"If I did, it would be against my better judgment." He stood up with her. "And it should be against yours, too!"
"You're probably right. Maybe I'm making a mistake, too. I just can't go from being his teacher to being his killer so easily." The feeling had all come back now, and the wounds on her leg were healing. This always hurt a lot, and she pressed her lips together, trying to keep from crying out.
"Elena, was his sword at your neck, yes or no?"
She took a deep breath. "Duncan, all I know is that he could have beheaded me, but he didn't." The truth between us, always, they had said. Was she being honest with him? Or with herself? Anyway, she was prepared to give John the benefit of the doubt this time, although she couldn't quite figure out why; it was certainly not because she was kind by nature. She'd have to think about it some more. She noticed wryly that while she was with Duncan she seemed to exercise the muscle between her ears more than any other. She rolled her shoulders. "I feel fine now." She was almost talking to herself. "I'm so tired of killing. I guess I just don't want to do it. We've been at peace for so many wonderful months! Yes, his sword was at my neck, but whatever he meant to do doesn't really matter, does it? He didn't; that's what counts. He's no threat to me in any case. Will you go along with me on this, [querido]?"
Elena the peacemaker? This was very unlike her, and once again she caught Duncan by surprise. "Let's wait to see what Richie says."
It was actually more than she expected. "Agreed."
When they returned to the dojo the phone was ringing and Elena picked it up. "Yes, Richie? I understand; no, I do."...I'm sure he is! Tell him I won't come after him--yes, I'm sure...No, I don't think so, but you'll have to talk to him! Will you just put John on the phone?...All right. Tell John I will not take his head over this...Yes, here he is." She handed the receiver to Duncan and went to shower.
When she came out Duncan said, "The three of us were supposed to go out together tonight, remember?"
"Oh, yes; the boys' night out. It's cancelled?"
"No, Richie wants to talk, but John won't be there. Do you mind?"
"Of course not, go, go!"
Translations: (all Span.)
Madre de Dios -- Mother of God
controlate -- control yourself
condenado -- be damned to you
gracias a Dios -- thank God
querido -- beloved
Seacouver, October 14, 1995, 2:30 a.m.
The telephone woke Elena out of a sound sleep. She hadn't had a nightmare since leaving Europe, not even her horrible [pesadilla] which brought the fury of the Hunters and the death of Maria back in technicolor. As usual with experienced Immortals, she came instantly awake and picked up the receiver on the second ring.
"Elena! Elena, is that you? Are you there?"
"You know it's me, John. Isn't that why you called? Richie said you'd get in touch, but I really expected a personal visit." If he's too afraid to even face me, she thought.
"Look, I'm sorry about what happened! I never meant...but I don't have time for apologies! I need your help, right now! I'm in real trouble!"
He sounded on the edge of panic, and very sincere about it. "John..." She felt a chill on her bare skin and wished she'd at least pulled on a t-shirt.
"Please, just listen to me, please! There's an Immortal after me! I'm being hunted! You've got to help me! You're the only one I can turn to, please!"
"Calm down, John. Tell me who is hunting you and where you are." Wasn't it too coincidental that he'd call her for help just when he knew she'd be alone? She had stopped believing in coincidences long ago.
"I'm in a phone booth. I don't know where...near Richie's...Jesus, I've been running, I don't know! You've got to help me! I can feel him coming!!"
"Who is the Immortal, John?" Her voice was calm.
"I don't know! I haven't seen him!"
Not! she thought. Why would he automatically be running from an Immortal he hasn't even seen? How does he know he's in such danger? And why is he so sure his hunter is a him?
"Help me, Elena, please, I--I gotta go!"
"John? Are you there?" The phone didn't go dead-- it seemed like he just dropped the receiver. "John!" she called louder. She felt goose bumps, and not just from the cold. She listened for a moment to see if she could hear anything else that might give her any clues, but there was little going on at 2:30 a.m. No, there was a sound now. She listened closely.
"Who's there? Friend or foe?" It was a man's voice. If she had to guess-- and this was a long time ago-- she would say maybe Australia?
"He calls a woman for help! He must be scraping the bottom of the barrel."
Definitely the Northern Territory. And with the proper attitude. "Who are you?" she asked.
"My name's Trent, and I think you know who I am."
"Yes. But if you're hunting, the boy's hardly worth it. You might consider trying for a better prize."
"And that would be--you?" He managed to put both amusement and disbelief into the word.
"Tell me where you are, Trent."
"My prey's getting away. Can't have that. We'll meet again, I'm sure. G'day."
Elena hung up, thinking. She had no doubt that she had heard real fear in John's voice. But but why hadn't Trent asked her who she was, as most Immortals would have? Because he knew already? Were John and Trent working together to lure her into a trap? Maybe that was what John had been doing all the time. What was that American phrase: a 'set-up'?
She considered all this as she quickly dressed. There was always the remote possibility that it wasn't a trap. Well, if only for curiosity's sake, and for John's sake, too, she had to find out. She really wanted to meet this Trent. She hadn't been in 'down under' in about...three hundred years, except for the one recent visit to Darwin. There was no answer on Duncan's car phone, so she left a hurried note on his pillow.
Duncan and Richie had spent hours talking, drinking, listening to music, just sitting together. They had drifted from another club back to Joe's, where he joined them for a round. While there, Duncan asked Dawson about an Immortal named Shaka, and Dawson answered that just such a man had been beheaded back in April or May, and yes, he had a student, but the student had disappeared, and no, they didn't know who had taken the head.
"Why is this important, MacLeod?" Dawson asked.
Quid pro quo. Dawson had provided information-- it was now Duncan's turn. "The student is with us."
"His name is Johnny Frankowski, and he's a friend, Dawson," said Richie.
"You mean that boy you've taken under your wing?" Duncan nodded. "I'm surprised at Duran. She's not exactly the mother hen type."
Duncan knew that Dawson had never forgiven Elena for attacking him, and he suspected Dawson never would. "People can change, you know, Dawson-- if they want to."
"Well, I don't think Elena Duran..." but he let it go, and went to talk to other customers.
Richie had done everything to excuse John's actions, and seemed mostly convinced himself, but Duncan knew him too well. They were talking about being a brand new Immortal, and how difficult and frightening that was, and Richie actually got Duncan to talk about his own experience. "I was lucky I met Connor," he summed up.
"I was lucky too, Mac," he smiled. "Thanks." Duncan felt a lump in his throat, and for once, was able to simply love Richie without thinking about the future, about the Gathering, about the fact that 'There can be only one.' But Richie obviously had more to say. "So you were pretty scared; at the beginning I mean."
"I'm still scared sometimes, Richie. Fear doesn't go away. We just learn to live with it, not to let it control us." He had an idea where Richie was going.
"Well, I'm scared a lot too, and I was sure scared then, but...not all the time! Mac, Johnny's afraid of everything, all the time! He's terrified of Elena, well, can you blame him, she's pretty intense, and he's scared of you-- and you've never done anything but help him! I think sometimes he's even afraid of me!"
"What are you saying, Richie?"
"Mac, do you think he's a coward? Is that what being a coward is?"
Duncan smiled. The fact that Richie had to ask what cowardice was made him a little proud. "What do you think?"
"You're going to let me figure it out, huh?"
"Yeah. You also need to figure out how important that is to you, whether you can live with it."
"Like you and Bryan Cullen."
Duncan flinched as though he'd been struck. Taking Bryan's head had been one of the hardest things he had ever done, and it still hurt. He nodded.
"I guess that's an answer."
They headed home shortly thereafter. There was a light on in the loft. "She must be awake," Richie said. "Maybe I should come up and explain about Johnny."
"There's no time like the present."
"She said she wouldn't go after him, right?"
"You can trust her word, Richie. Remember how dead set she was against the Watchers, but once she gave her word not to kill them, she's kept it."
"Yeah, and I know she'd love to get her hands around Dawson's neck, just once! Those two will never get along, will they?" Duncan shook his head, and Richie came back to his original subject. "It's just that Johnny's?" he sighed, "afraid that..."
But they didn't sense her presence. Duncan found the note on the pillow. In her hurry, she had written part of it in Spanish.
'Estan Cazando a John. ¿Trampa?' Will check it out at Richie's.
"What is that, a note from her?"
Duncan nodded. "Someone's hunting John. She went to help, but thinks it might be a trap."
"A trap for Johnny? Let's go!" He went into the elevator and Duncan followed.
"Richie, she thinks it might be a trap for her."
"You mean she thinks Johnny set a trap for her? Nah! Not possible, Mac. I mean, Johnny wouldn't do that. Even if he would, which he wouldn't, he'd be too scared to set her up."
"Maybe he's too scared not to," said Duncan, as they got in the car.
Elena cruised to Richie's in her brand new Miata. In the past, she had just rented transportation. Within two weeks of arriving stateside, however, they had also bought a horse for Elena, a spirited little mare who loved to gallop. Elena called her Angelita, and rode her at least three times a week faithfully. Buying these two things was a measure of her commitment to Duncan MacLeod. As she reflected on this, she wished she were on Angelita's back now instead of cruising the dark streets looking for trouble. She had said to herself, and to Duncan, that she was tired of killing, but sometimes the only other choice was worse.
As she drove, she got herself psyched for the upcoming fight. After all, duels to the death were a part of her life, and she had always enjoyed the challenge. Fighting another Immortal was not just about killing, not like killing Mortals, however much they might deserve it. It was in every way a test of her skill, or her training, and of her character. She was never so alive as when she was in real danger, and the Quickening was certainly worth it. The only thing she didn't look forward to was taking John's head afterward--assuming she was right about him. But if Trent was any good, the battle with him could actually be fun!
The moment she felt the buzz she stopped the car on the curb and got out, feeling much more comfortable on her feet, sword in hand. If this was a trap, she wanted to be ready. The presence of Immortals was strong, and seemed to be coming from all around her, but she expected both John and Trent. The streets were apparently deserted, but she knew better. As soon as she got to the first crossroads she saw John standing in the middle of the street. He sure wasn't trying to hide. She moved closer.
"Are you the cheese for the trap, John?" she called out.
"Elena! I'm sorry, I'm really sorry!" he cried. "I had to do it! I had no choice!"
"There is always another choice, John."
"He would have killed me!"
"Now I will. So you'd better crawl out of the way, and out of my sight!"
"I'm real sorry!" His voice broke, and he backed up onto the sidewalk.
She believed he was sorry but was a bit puzzled by his vehemence. As John spoke she heard the roar of a motorcycle, and it turned into the street behind him, coming towards her. So Trent likes bikes, she thought, thinking about Richie, hoping Trent wouldn't try to run her down, although she felt pretty confident that she could outmaneuver a man on a bike, and even dismount him. The bike stopped and the rider got off, pulling out a sword, but Elena could still hear the roar of a motorcycle motor. She looked over her shoulder at another rider coming up behind her. [!Mierda!] she thought. If this Immortal has hired some men--but wait, the second rider was also an Immortal and he reinforced her assumption by getting off his bike and also pulling out a sword. Neither one had taken off his helmet; they looked like aliens in spacesuits.
She was getting a very bad feeling about this. Two Immortals, both with swords! No, [Dios mío,] it couldn't be! she thought. As they stood there a car drove towards them behind the second motorcyclist and a man got out, pulling a longsword out with him. Backlit against the sulfur street lamp, she couldn't make out his face-- he was too far in any case-- but he was about her size and dressed like Crocodile Dundee from the movie. Trent (it had to be him) pointed his longsword at her, and said, "Take her down, mates."
The two moved toward her slowly. Elena looked at Trent. "My quarrel is with you, Trent!" she cried, and heard him chuckle! Damn it, they were both going to attack her, together! She heard a movement behind her and saw that John had drawn his sword. For a moment, their eyes met. She didn't bother to hide the fury and couldn't hide the fear. John looked down. "[!Bastardo!]" she whispered, so only he could hear. She felt the first stirrings of panic. She couldn't fight three Immortals at once! It was against all the rules, it wasn't--but it was happening! Now!
Because Elena automatically followed the Aikido practice of [zanshin] she had checked out the killing zone instinctively before combat. She went on guard, facing the lone Immortal on her left, but in reality was getting ready to move out. Considering where everyone was and knowing she couldn't afford to engage any of them, and not wanting to get trapped inside a building with all exits blocked, she went to the one opening available. She suddenly rushed at an angle across the street and easily vaulted over a wooden fence. As she did so, hoping they didn't have guns or throwing knives, she noted that her opponents seemed to stop and wait for her to go, that Trent laughed out loud, crying, "Run, Sheila, run!" that they knew exactly what she was going to do. They had done this before and knew what they were doing. They had left her this one way out, they wanted to have some sport, they wanted to hunt her, she thought bitterly, with more than a trace of fear. They wanted her to run.
Reeboks pounding on the pavement, her cloak flying behind her, her sword gripped tightly in her left fist, she was running as fast as she could. She could hear the roar of the two motorcycles behind her and see her breath billowing out like a white tongue in front of her face. Now one of the bikes had apparently come onto the sidewalk. It was right behind her, yet she didn't dare turn to look. She also couldn't go inside a building where they might be able to block all exits. The one thing she couldn't afford to do is be slowed down by even one of them-- that would give the other two (there was a fourth person driving the chase car) a chance to catch up to her, surround her. Then she was done. So she ducked into a doorway, let the bike whiz by, then ran out again, almost into the path of the second motorcycle, but leaping for the space between two parked cars. The second bike couldn't follow, and she swung out to the street and back the way she had come, turning the corner. To her right was the chase car, driving leisurely, watching.
[!Maldita sea!] she thought to herself. Why couldn't they be hunting me in Paris? In Paris there was a church or a cemetery every other block. But here in this secular United States? She knew the neighborhood imperfectly, and mostly during the day. Everything looked different in the dark. She knew there was a small Protestant chapel nearby, but where the hell was it? And where was she? She glanced up at the street sign-- but a motorcycle was right behind her again.
She put on a short burst of speed (she didn't have a lot of those left in her) and glanced down the next alley. It seemed to cut cleanly between two buildings, but without her glasses and in the dark she couldn't make it out very clearly. At least it wasn't a dead end, so she took a sharp left, slamming into the wall of the far building, bouncing off it and rushing down the alley, leaving some skin behind. The first bike went past, but the second drove into the alleyway-- she could hear it accelerating behind her. By this point she had been running full tilt forever-- her lungs were beginning to burn, her legs to tire, but she couldn't even consider slowing down. She concentrated on running, not wanting to face the reality of her situation, continuing to look for a way out. As she got closer she noticed a chain link fence blocking the end of the alley, stretched between the two buildings, three meters high including the three angled rows of barbed wire on the top. This was a break! When she judged the cycle was right behind her, she ducked into another doorway on her left, this time slamming into a closed door. She held onto her sword as her left shoulder hit the door, which barely held, and she bounced off it and back into the alley right after the cycle drove past. Now she was behind the motorcycle rider, and he had to slow down to avoid driving into the chain link fence. Taking her sword in both hands, she ran up and swung at his unprotected back. She couldn't take his Quickening, not with the second rider even now turning into the alley behind them. She didn't even want to risk getting her sword caught up in his coat, or hung up in his ribs. So she knocked him off his bike, away from her, with the flat of her blade.
The rider was down, and the cycle had plunged into the fence. She took her sword back in her left hand and with her right undid the bow at her throat, sweeping her cloak off her shoulders and up onto the top of the fence. As she jumped onto the fence and immediately started scrambling up, she had only one hand free to hang on. She could hear the second motorcycle very close behind her. Worse, she could hear the first motorcyclist cursing and probably getting up, reaching for her.
She carefully tossed her sword onto her cloak and pulled herself up onto the barbed wire, feeling it cut into her hands right through the wool of the cloak. Her greatest fear now was that the first man would grab her leg--in the time it took her to kick free, assuming she could kick free, the second man could very well come up and between them pull her down. But it didn't happen-- she was over the fence and on the other side, lurching forward. She looked back but couldn't see the man's face through his helmet. He didn't come after her-- just picked up his bike, keeping her in sight. The second rider roared out of the alley.
Panting now, afraid, she ran to the other end of the alley and to a cross street. A light illuminated the street sign at the corner, but it was too far to make out. She thought she was near Mullin Street but wasn't sure. She went left, her first instinct as a left-hander. Most right-handed people chose right-- maybe her pursuers would figure she would do that as well, provided they didn't know she was [zurda.]
At the corner she saw four men walking down the sidewalk, talking excitedly. She headed toward them as she heard a motorcycle engine behind her on the street, feeling the Immortal behind her. She had a naked blade in her hand; the four men noticed it immediately. They stopped, eyeing her warily, making some comments about "that crazy bitch" and "what the fuck kinda long knife she got?" and "we should call the cops!"
'Yes, why could you never find a policeman when you needed one?' thought Elena. She turned to see the cycle bearing down on her-- he was apparently willing to run down the four men as well, so she crossed the street and ran, making it to the corner (Yes! Mullin Street!). Looking down as she turned the corner, still running full speed, she saw the little church in the middle of the block.
It was a race, and halfway there she saw the car turn the opposite corner and roar toward her. She ran forward, unable to increase her speed, desperate now."!'Ayúdame, Dios mío'!" she whispered, out of breath, thinking she'd never make it, it's too far, he's too fast, her legs were cramping up, her lungs were on fire, but she kept running and got to the church steps as the car lurched onto the curb and climbed the steps too. Each breath was a painful effort. She hit the double doors at a dead run, crashing through them and landing on the floor of the center aisle, dazed, exhausted and scared.
Translations: (all Spanish)
pesadilla -- nightmare
estan cazando a John -- someone is hunting John
trampa -- trap
mierda -- shit
bastardo -- bastard
zanshin (Jap.) -- the Japanese technique of complete/ continuous awareness of your surroundings
maldita sea -- damn it
zurda -- left hander, southpaw
ayudame, Dios mio -- help me, God
Seacouver, October 14, 1995, 4 a.m.
Panting, Elena got to her feet and slowly moved further into the storefront chapel, scanning. She heard the three engines outside suddenly stop. The chase car had been so close it had almost run her down right on the steps. She was physically and emotionally exhausted, but at least she was safe for now. She heard footsteps and turned to face her enemies. She had no doubt Trent would come in for a 'chat.' Now that she had a breather and could think about something other than escape, she wondered if she had overreacted a little. Just because she was facing three Immortal swords didn't mean they would have all attacked her-- but even if it only meant one at a time, she?
Trent walked inside with a purpose. Behind him the two Immortal bikers peeled off to either side to flank her. Now that they had their helmets off she could see their faces. One was a tall blond man. The second was, surprisingly, an Aborigine, and from the paint on his face--no time for this, no time! She noted John and a young woman walking in behind Trent. But what really attracted her attention and got her heart pumping hard again was the fact that all five had swords in their hands! And they were coming right into the church after her!
She retreated down the center aisle, bumped against the step to the dais, brushed against the pulpit clumsily. Still they advanced on her, slowly, quietly, ominously, as she backed up through the choir chairs until her back was against the wall. With each step her fear grew. [!Dios mio; me van a matar en Tierra Sagrada!] In the dim light she could see the focused intent on Trent's face. He wasn't going to stop!
Her sword tip was down-- instinctively she brought it up. But she couldn't fight here! She wanted to scream, "You can't hurt me here, this is Holy Ground!" but she knew her voice would break and it would come out like a plea. She closed her lips stubbornly but couldn't stop their trembling. She was going to lose her head on Holy Ground! She couldn't even imagine what that would be like! The panic she had been keeping at bay while she was busy running started building inside her again. She didn't even know if she could fight back!
Three quarters of the way down her opponents stopped. Trent was smiling, confidant. "What do you want?" she wanted to shout. "What are you waiting for? What are you doing?" Maybe he was hesitating. Maybe he wasn't going to attack her on Holy Ground! He couldn't! She had noticed the one door behind her, probably leading out into the alley, probably locked, but that was a detail, she knew she could go through it. She tried to swallow but there was no saliva in her mouth. There were no windows, she noticed? then she saw Trent's eyes shift to the door behind her. So that's what he was waiting for! He was waiting for her to make her break! Just like on the street, they were leaving her a way out! They weren't hesitating-- they were waiting for her to run!
No! she thought, forcing her thoughts away from panic. She suddenly remembered who had told her about using the muscle between her ears. It was O Sensei. Just thinking about him calmed her down.
Trent must have noticed a change in her. He nodded and the three started to move towards her again, leaving John and the woman behind. Elena took a deep breath. She was finished running. Staying here was her only chance, if she had one. If they were going to kill her on Holy Ground there was nothing she could do to prevent it, whether she fought back or not. She put her sword tip down. She had faced death before. Trent came up to her, his sword held up to her face, closer. She felt the razor sharp tip go into her cheek all the way down to the bone, and he pulled it down ever so slowly, leaving an incredibly painful cut. She forced herself not to react to the pain and fear, but her breath hissed out through her teeth. As he came closer, their eyes level, she noticed they were an intense green, and they seemed to shine with a demonic? No! she thought, there's nothing demonic about him, nothing special, he's just a man, he's just the Immortal who will take my head!
"You know, Ay-lay-nah," he was breathing in her face just centimeters away, whispering ominously, "Johnny 'ere said you had balls, for a woman, but I think you dingoed out. You make a good jackrabbit, but it's over now." She felt rather than saw the other two move in on either side of her and started to feel claustrophobic, [Calmate,] Elena, she said to herself. She wanted to yell at him, "You can't take my head here! This is Holy Ground!" She pressed her lips together. This was intimidation, psychological warfare, challenge. She was good at this. She may lose the war, but she wouldn't lose this battle. She couldn't spit in his face-- her mouth was as dry as a sand dune-- but now she could talk.
"Let's step outside, 'mate'. Just you and me, Trent, no one else. Unless you're afraid to fight me alone." She could feel the blood flowing down her face, tried to ignore it.
He smiled-- damn it, it was demonic!-- and said, "Can't do it, Sheila. It's not my turn." His eyes flicked slightly to his right. Elena knew exactly who was there-- the Aborigine. She didn't bother to glance in his direction. All her attention, all her focus was on Trent. She had always hoped for a duel to the death against a skilled [espadachin] like herself, not to be cut down on all sides by wild dogs. But it wasn't going to happen for her. For all her effort, the fear was still in her throat, threatening to burst out screaming. And it was not just of losing her head-- it was the fear of losing this very personal last battle against Trent.
Elena made the decision, then-- she would not fight on Holy Ground. It was the most sacred rule of Immortals, and she wouldn't break it! [Ayudame, Dios mio,] she said to herself in a final prayer. But she felt time was not on her side. She wanted to get it over with. She started to say something, but then Trent put his free hand on her right breast and started massaging it roughly. His smile grew. "You made the right choice, you know. We can't really hurt you on Holy Ground. But for a while there we had you going, didn't we? We had you pissing in your pants." He chuckled, squeezing one breast painfully, then the other. She was breathing through her mouth but had no other reaction. "When we catch you on the outside, we're going to fuck you before we take your head, Argentina. You have my mark on you. We'll be waiting." He backed away, tipped his hat, said "G'day," and they all turned to walk out.
Elena wanted to sob with relief, but she swallowed that, too. They weren't going to kill her on Holy Ground! They really couldn't! Damn him! He had her so convinced? [Dios mio,] how her face hurt! but before they left, there was something she had to say, had to say to the Aborigine. His involvement in this was wrong, and it offended her. She had spent such a long time with the tribe...
Uluru, in the Australian Outback, @ 1710
They call her 'Woman of Life' because they know she can't die, or won't stay dead. The snakebites can't kill her-- even thirst fails to kill her for long. She falls and always struggles up again. She has become part of all their Dreamings, and they believe she must be highly magic or maybe a deity, this pale woman with the long black hair, but she tries to act normal enough. It had taken only one incident of rising from the dead to earn their respect, but about fifty years of patience to earn their confidence.
She's on walkabout when Timiramatu finds her and tells her they are dying to defend her, to keep her location secret from the pale man who is after her. They have already killed him once, but he has risen again and is still hunting her. The elders feel this is a battle of the gods and they can no longer interfere, Timiramatu explains, a frightened look on her dark face.
Elena had felt the Immortal but had simply gone into the bush to avoid him-- after all, this was the reason she came to New Holland*, to be well away from the Game. But even here in this remote corner of the world they finally found her. She asks Timiramatu to tell everyone not to fight the pale man, that she alone can fight him, that it is indeed their battle. And when she squares off against the Dutchman, she almost loses her head from not having fought for so many decades. Almost.
The storm that follows out of a clear blue sky is spectacular, and she knows, with their rich oral tradition, that 'our own people' will be talking about the epic battle for centuries to come and the site will become a sacred spot. She also knows she can't hide anymore, and it's time to go home.
Seacouver, October 14, 4:00 a.m.
Elena had clear memories of 'our own people' and this Immortal reminded her of another young man whom she had grown very fond of. She tried to recall and made a guess... "Pitjantjara!*" She called out the name of a tribe near Uluru.
The Aborigine stopped by the door and turned back to stare at her, a look of shock on his face. He answered almost automatically, "No, Yankuntjatjara.*"
"You're not a [kaditja,] you know," she said to him angrily. "You're just a killer. Nothing more."
For a moment he looked like he was going to come back and attack her, but on a word from Trent he left. From this distance and in the dim light she couldn't see the look on his face.
When they were truly gone Elena sank heavily into a chair. She emptied her stomach onto the floor in front of her, then took some deep breaths, trying to calm herself. Since she didn't scare easily, she wondered just what it was that had terrified her so much-- her heart was still thumping in her chest; she took more deep, calming breaths.
It wasn't, she knew, the thought of death alone, or her sense of helplessness. She finally decided it was the thought that one of her most cherished beliefs-- the sanctity of Holy Ground, the religion of it-- was false. This was the one and only truly safe place for Immortals, and when they came in with swords drawn she felt completely stripped of hope, of life. This, of course, had been Trent's intention all along, to make her think he would break that rule too. He'd bluffed her completely-- she should have realized he wouldn't, couldn't fight her there. He had plunged her into terror and despair, not to mention pain, and she would never forgive or forget. Of course, there was the cut on her face to remind her. She brought her hand to her face-- the pain had not abated, and it was still bleeding sluggishly. It was worse than usual, like the cut on her neck the time Duncan MacLeod had nearly decapitated her, and it wasn't healing. From what Trent had said about his mark on her-- and she could still feel his hand on her breasts, she'd kill him for that alone!-- she wondered if it would ever heal.
The first thing she needed to do was warn Duncan. Although she had a high regard for his survival instincts, he might just be stubborn enough to try to fight it out instead of retreating. And he would lose his head. That thought also frightened her; she was still jittery and had not been able to find her center. In the past she had often resorted to alcohol when in deep distress, but she hadn't had a drink since leaving Paris. She had given up that crutch and re-remembered the lessons she had been taught in Japan. She had to find her center, her [chushin,] or she just would be unable to function. So, in spite of the urgency, she moved to the middle of the room, crossed her legs and sat down heavily. But the pain kept her from concentrating. She was still sitting when she sensed the Immortals at the door.
Duncan and Richie hadn't been cruising for long when they spotted Elena's abandoned car. There were no keys, no blood, no signs of a Quickening.
"Well, she must have found something," said Richie. "Which way now?"
"We'll just have to keep looking," said Duncan calmly, but inside he was anything but calm, and it must have shown in his voice, because he caught Richie looking sideways at him. Elena had come into this willingly, even though there was a good chance it was a trap. He knew she was experienced and was confident she could handle any Immortal. He had to trust her. He knew this intellectually. But in his heart, he was still a Highlander; he still wanted to protect his woman and his child sitting beside him. He had no idea where to go-- no idea where she would have gone. If she were hunting she'd have to follow wherever her prey led. If she were being followed she'd want to lead her opponent off the street and to some private place where she could fight. The empty warehouse by the docks where he had sparred with Connor and with Felicia Martins was a little far, and his house, his 'ruin' as she called it, was on the other side of town.
At the corner he started to turn right, then changed his mind and went left, remembering what Elena had told him about lefties. After about a hundred meters he began to feel a faint buzz. He drove on, slowly, and Richie touched his arm.
"Mac," he said.
Duncan nodded and went to one of the storefronts. There was a cross painted over the double doors, and they were open-- at four o'clock in the morning? They parked and went to the chapel, feeling the presence of an Immortal. Duncan didn't feel a need to draw his katana. After all, they were on Holy Ground.
They glanced inside. Sitting in the center of the room, in [seiza,] was?yes, it was her! Duncan felt an obstruction clear from his chest. She seemed to be alone. As they entered Duncan could smell sweat, vomit, and blood. Some of the chairs had been knocked over but there were no signs of a serious struggle, which meant mortals probably weren't involved. He didn't want a repeat of Darius' murder by mortals inside a church. However, it must have been quite some Immortal to make Elena seek the protection of Holy Ground! And if she was meditating now, she had apparently had a really bad time of it!
Richie went to her, saying, "Hey, Duran?" but Duncan pulled him back, shaking his head.
"Let her finish."
Richie was not the patient type, so he picked up some chairs for the next five minutes while Elena sat immobile, eyes closed. In fact, Elena had known who it was the instant they came in. She sat until she felt truly calm, but couldn't find her center, her true self, so she opened her eyes and rose in a graceful movement. "Duncan. I'm so glad to see you. Let's please go home now."
Duncan held her by the shoulders at arms length and looked at her face. There was a deep gash on her right cheek, the skin peeled back in two flaps, and she was dripping wet and trembling with the cold wind coming in through the open door. There were no other bloodstains, and she seemed calm, but there was something in the back of her eyes he didn't like. "Are you alright? You did do some fighting, your face..."
"Yes, and it still hurts and doesn't seem to heal. It's a long story, but I'm fine now."
He took off his coat and put it around her as they walked to the car, but Richie couldn't wait. "So, Duran, where's Johnny? Is he ok?"
"John Frankowski's a dead man, Richie." Her voice had such a chill to it she saw Richie give up hope right away.
"Damn it! I was so sure! I was so wrong!"
The car trip was uncharacteristically quiet. Duncan had a thousand questions to ask but respected her silence. Richie apparently had enough to think about, and Elena was tired enough to fall aslep in the T-bird, but the pain wouldn't let her. She must have passed out somehow, because when they arrived she looked around. "Where's Richie?" she asked.
"Right here, Duran," he answered. He'd driven her car back, and now he came up behind them and opened her car door.
"Richie, you better stay with us tonight," she said as she got out.
He smiled, but she could see his heart wasn't in it. "I appreciate the thought, but I'd kind of like to be alone. Besides, I really can take care of myself. Especially against Johnny."
Elena took the collar of his jacket and pulled him towards her. "Richie, whatever drove me to cower on Holy Ground-- what makes you think you can handle it alone?"
"Yeah, well," he pulled away from her. "What was it?"
"Come on inside for some coffee," contributed Duncan.
"I'm not going to get any sleep tonight, am I?" she whispered to Duncan.
"It's almost daybreak anyway," he answered.
In the elevator on the way up she closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall, exhausted. "John Frankowski was working for an Australian Immortal named Trent. John pretended he was...less experienced than he was to gain our help and trust. Then he led me into a trap where Trent and his band of merry men were waiting."
"So?you fought Trent, right?"
"Wrong. It wasn't his turn."
Duncan was in the kitchen filling the coffee filter. He spilled coffee on the counter. "What do you mean, his turn?"
"Trent doesn't fight alone. They fight together, like a pack of hounds bringing down a buck, and then I think they take turns taking the Quickening."
"Wait a minute!" protested Richie. "Whatever happened to the one on one rule?"
She looked at him. "He breaks the rule, Richie. Remember when we first met John he told us three or four Immortals were after him? I think he was trying to warn us then in his own way."
"How can you be sure?"
"I was facing four Immortal swords, Richie. They were all going to attack me, including John from behind, and I didn't have a chance. That's why I ran-- I wanted to make sure I could warn the two of you. Plus, I just didn't want to lose my head."
"But that's not what spooked you," said Duncan. He knew something very bad had happened.
"No. It was when I was on Holy Ground and they came into the church with their swords in their hands! I freaked out. I thought they were going to take my head on Holy Ground, Duncan! I was so scared--it meant that my beliefs weren't true, and no place was safe! He came right at me, he carved up my face, he put his hand on me--and he was bluffing the whole time! I fell for it completely! He made me feel--" Duncan came around the counter and enveloped her in his long arms. She took a deep breath, then spoke into his shoulder. "I want him dead, Duncan. I want to take his head so badly I can taste it! But I want to fight him the right way. One on one."
He looked at her face, hating the pain he saw there. Her cheek was still open, and might leave a scar. Every time he looked at it he'd think of the Australian Immortal scaring her, mocking her, touching her, and his rage would not leave him until he himself killed Trent. But he knew Elena should have him, or she'd never have peace. "Don't worry, you'll get your chance. Right now we should all try to get some rest, maybe some breakfast? Richie..."
"I know, I'll stick around. But listen, one thing, about Johnny." Duncan's face got hard, and Richie said, "No, I'm not going to ask you to let him go. I just wanna ask you, both of you, not to take his head. Let me do it."
Duncan looked at Richie. "If that's what you really want, fine, but if you can't do it, Richie, I will." He turned back to the kitchen.
Elena and Richie looked at each other, and Richie shook his head. "Damn it! I really liked the guy, you know? How could I be so wrong about him? And when am I ever going to be right about something, anything?"
"Come on, Richie, don't be so hard on yourself. You suspected him too, remember?" asked Duncan. "I'm sorry, Richie, but John is simply a coward. Everything he does is based on fear."
"Well, Trent is one to inspire fear, believe me," said Elena.
"Maybe if he'd had someone teaching him like you or Connor, or Don Alvaro, someone he could trust. Maybe he would have turned out differently," said Richie.
"Maybe," said Duncan. "But I doubt Trent taught him to betray his friends. That came from within, and that's what I really hold against him, and that's why he's going to die."
"I'll take care of it," said Richie firmly.
"I'm sorry, Richie," said Elena. "I wish..."
"Yeah. Look, I know you tried to work with the guy, and that it was partly for me. I want you to know I appreciate it, and I...thanks, Duran!"
Elena gave him her most dazzling smile and said, "I love you too, Richie. Now let me get your coffee." She went to the kitchen. She had noticed Duncan looking at her cheek, and wondered, if it left a scar, if he would always look at it and think of Trent, if it would make him turn away from her in some way. But that was silly! The measure of his love was this: she knew he wanted to kill Trent himself, but was going to let her do it. It was about the hardest thing he could do. She came up behind him and hugged him.
They were thinking of the same thing. "If by some chance he does take your head, I'll take care of him."
She smiled. "I love you, Duncan MacLeod."
*Pitjantjara and Yankuntjatjara are Australian Aborigine tribes
calmate (Span.) -- calm yourself
espadachin (Span.) -- master swordsman
ayudame, Dios mio (Span.) -- help me, my God
seiza (Jap.) -- Japanese traditional form of sitting on one's knees
kaditja (Aborigine) -- ritual assassin of Australian Aborigines; his job is to kill those who break tribal law
chushin (Jap.) -- the center of one's being
Seacouver, October 14, 1995, 7:00 a.m.
They talked and finished breakfast, and Richie had gone to his place to get some things-- they felt he'd be pretty safe during the day as long as he was on his toes, and if he felt an Immortal buzz he was to run, not walk, back to the dojo at once. Duncan knew Richie had often promised to stay back and had hardly ever done so, but this time he was counting on the young Immortal's common sense.
Meanwhile, Duncan had decided to call Anne. He had pushed together the edges of the cut on Elena's face-- it was really deep-- and put a bandage over it, but it wasn't healing, it hurt a lot, and it didn't look like it would close by itself. They needed medical advice.
He called the hospital but she wasn't on duty. Duncan hesistated about possibly waking her at home-- after all, these days she needed her sleep more than ever. But when he finally called she was awake.
"Hello, Anne. How are you feeling?"
She was surprised to hear from him but listened attentively as he explained what had happened. She said she'd call a plastic surgeon friend and asked them to meet her at the hospital in two hours.
"No hospital, Anne, and no plastic surgeon. You'll have to do it yourself."
"Duncan, I'm not a specialist! Look, I can sew up the wound, but it would leave a scar. That is, if you scar...do you?"
"Maybe. Could you just come and look at her?
"All right, I'll come, but I'm not sure I can help."
Elena was sitting back, eyes closed, exhausted, trying to relax and listen to music. The pain in her face was horrible, and although she was used to a great deal of pain, it usually didn't last. Duncan looked her up and down, from her long legs, powerful thighs, small waist, full breasts?He looked at her bandaged, swollen face and could see her jaw clenching. He wanted Elena very badly, but for once he was hesitant, or maybe even afraid, to say anything. He knew she was still shook up and hurting. But there was more-- there was that damned scar!
She felt his interest and opened her eyes just a slit. She could see he wanted her, but something was holding him back. Of course, she was in no shape.......but his expression worried her somehow. She leaned forward. "What's wrong, [querido?]"
"Nothing. I just....didn't want to bother you."
"Bother?" This could be bad. "Duncan, I know all I have to do is say no. I've had a hard night. My face hurts."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Duncan," she began. "If it's about Trent, or what he did to me?"
"He's marked you, Elena! Like he would have branded a slave, or an animal he owned!" He stood up, pacing, angry at Trent and furious at himself.
"He said I had his mark on me. It makes a big difference, to you, doesn't it?"
His first instinct was to deny it, but, 'The truth between us, always,' they had said. He turned to look at her. "When he's dead, we'll be able to put it behind us. Until then..." He was pretty sure he'd be able to put it behind him. He turned away. Now he felt angry and guilty both.
"Then let's find him and kill him, [!por el amor de Dios!] As for the scar, your doctor friend will do her best, I'm sure. I hope she can make it go away, although I kind of like it. I think it will make me look interesting. Fighters have always carried their scars me." The cut the Hunters had inflicted was not separately visible from Duncan's. She put her fingers to her throat, smiling. "I think this one would make a great ice breaker at a party!"
He didn't like to be reminded of how he nearly beheaded her, and he looked at her closely to see if she was just trying to lighten up, to make him feel better. Damn it, he should be the one trying to make her feel better! But he could see that she was serious. If she could look at this scar as a badge of honor rather than a mark of failure, what right did he have to judge otherwise? And yet he resented it and couldn't help it.
"Duncan, we've been through a lot together, good and bad. But I think we understand each other now. I don't want any misunderstandings. I don't want anything to come between us! If this...mark on my face does, then I guess I'll have to leave."
"I don't want you to leave, Elena!" he said, alarmed, taking her hands in his.
"I don't want to leave, [mi amor!] Can we just wait until this is over, until we fix me up and catch that Australian bastard so I can gut him and take his head? Then we can see how we feel, ok?" Her heart was thumping. What was he going to say?
"We'll wait," he said. "Elena, if you can get past this, I know I can." She closed her eyes and leaned back. She'd have to be content for now. She squeezed his hands. "Is the pain still bad?" he asked.
"The same. I'd love to drink down a whole bottle of scotch, for medicinal purposes, of course."
"I think we should wait until Anne gets here." Elena agreed, and while they waited he told her all about Anne. When the doctor arrived Duncan felt a bit awkward-- things hadn't always gone well when his lovers met, especially if only one was an Immortal. He remembered when Tessa met Grace, that had worked out all right, but when Tessa met Amanda, there was jealousy and resentment, but that had been Amanda's fault! I guess it all depended on Elena's reaction. "Anne Lindsay, Elena Duran."
The first thing Elena noticed was how beautiful Anne was, (of course) and how very pregnant. But Duncan said they were just friends, and that was exactly how she was going to treat the doctor. She stepped forward, smiling and holding out her hand. "Hello, doctor, I'm very glad to meet you. Duncan has told me all about you, and if he trusts you with his secret then you must be someone special."
Anne warmed up immediately. "Please call me Anne, and thanks, I...consider Duncan a really good friend. Now let's have a look at this wound, shall we?" The tone changed drastically between the two sentences. Now she was all business. Asking Elena to sit near the light, she put on gloves and removed the bandage. "Hmmm. Right to the bone. Nasty. Was this done by a sword?" she couldn't help asking.
Elena knew what Anne was thinking. If this was done during a swordfight then she had probably killed her opponent. As sensitive as she was to every nuance of body language, she noticed that the doctor shrank away from her slightly. "Yes," she answered, not bothering to fill in details.
"This happened last night?"
"About four hours ago."
"I remember when Duncan was shot in Paris. A few minutes later the wound had closed on its own."
"This is a wound to the head, Anne," explained Duncan. "They're more serious for us," he added, thinking of Slan and Kalas.
"The head, of course," murmured Anne, putting a long gloved finger on either side of the cut. Elena winced, sucking in her breath. "Sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you! You do...feel pain, I guess."
Elena sighed. "We feel pain just like you do, and certainly more often, doctor...Anne. It's just that it doesn't last very long because it heals so quickly."
"But not this time."
"Then you must be in agony. What about pain killers? How do they affect you?"
Duncan didn't have very much more than aspirin, and Elena had taken most of those. "Judging by alcohol, the effect is the same, but it doesn't last very long."
Anne shook her head. "Amazing!" she muttered. "All right, there's a lot of damage here, but I can help you. What I can't do is guarantee that it will look pretty. This is your face, after all, and I'm your basic ER physician, not a plastic surgeon."
"We know that, Anne. We just want you to do the best you can," said Duncan.
"Well, I think I'm pretty much prepared. I intend to inject novocaine into your face so I can work without pain. Your...opponent cut through a lot of muscle and nerve tissue; there will be sutures inside as well as out. But if you're hurting-- and believe me, you will be-- you'll clench your jaw. I need all the muscles in your face relaxed and need you to keep very still if I'm to do a decent job."
"What if the novocaine wore off too soon? Wouldn't it be better then if she were unconscious?" asked Duncan. He had a few ideas on how to achieve that.
"No. If she regained consciousness while I was suturing and jerked back in pain..."
"I get the picture. I think we're ready, Anne, when you are. How can I help?" asked Duncan.
"I brought enough syringes of novocaine to desensitize a bull elephant. I want you assist me; stand by ready to inject it when I say. And I need you," she turned to Elena, "to let me know the instant it even begins to hurt. No toughing it out!"
"No macho stuff. I understand," Elena smiled at the thought.
Anne looked at Elena for a long moment. She seemed uncertain. "Uh, would you excuse us for a moment, ah... Elena?" Anne looked at Duncan, but before she could move away to join him Elena stood and took her arm. Anne tensed up, and Elena released her at once.
"Look, Anne, you don't know me and you have no reason to trust me. You're afraid I'll look in the mirror and see a terrible scar, and I'm a beautiful woman with eternal life, so I must be very vain. So I blame you, and come after you. After all, killing is one of the things I do best. Does that pretty much sum it up?"
"Anne, Elena wouldn't...!" Duncan protested, but Anne interrupted her, addressing her patient.
"You're very blunt, and I like that. And yes, I am afraid, a little. The last thing I want is an Immortal for an enemy."
"I don't blame you. It's the last thing I want, too." Elena thought for a moment, thinking of how best to convince the doctor. "This wound must be closed, Anne. If you don't do it, Duncan probably will, and I have no faith in his sewing abilities. Plus, he won't use any pain killers, and to tell you the truth, the pain is bad enough now. I don't want to go through that. With you, there is little or no pain and better results. It is completely to my advantage to have you do it. And think of this also. It might be very good to have an Immortal-- an Immortal who owes you a debt-- as your friend. And your child's friend," she added, glancing down. "And your child's child's friend."
Anne automatically put her hands on her stomach in the protective, characteristic way of pregnant women. "I'm not asking for any commitment. I'm not asking for anything!"
"But I'm offering. An agreement in payment of a debt. Think about it, Anne." Elena was ready to take the syringe full of novocaine and use it on herself. She wanted to say, "I'm waiting, Anne, and it hurts!" but forced herself to silence. "Discipline!" Another one of O Sensei's lessons.
Duncan put in, "Anne, if I thought there was any danger to you from Elena, do you think I would have asked you to come?"
Anne hesitated only a moment. "Let's do it."
While Elena lay on the kitchen counter, Anne gave Duncan a brief introduction to the surgical tools and their names. When everything was ready to her satisfaction, she ended with, "When I tell you, give her the injection quickly in the same place I did. And make sure you get the bubble out."
Anne was careful and thorough, taking her time, but before she was through Duncan suddenly came to attention and Elena took Anne's wrist, stopping the suturing abruptly. "What is it? Is it an Immortal? Oh, my God!" exclaimed Anne, frightened.
The elevator was coming up. "It's got to be Richie," said Duncan, but he put the syringe down and picked up his katana. Elena pushed Anne away and sat up, the needle still in her face. She said something unintelligible, then took her own sword up from the coffee table and stood in front of Anne. "I want you to leave out the back way, Anne," said Duncan.
She was on her way, but it was Richie after all, and they all relaxed again. "Whoa! It's just me! What's going on? Why is Anne here?" he asked.
"Anne is fixing Elena's face," Duncan explained. "Any problems with you?"
"Not a peep. You mean it hasn't healed?" he asked.
Elena was starting to get some feeling back in her face. She lay back down. When Anne was finally finished, she gave Elena instructions on how to care for it, etc. Before Anne could re-bandage her face, however, she insisted on looking in a mirror. And she looked terrible! She came out of the bathroom and nodded at Anne, who put the bandage on. "It will get better," Anne said. "Now get some rest."
Realizing she couldn't really speak, Elena wrote on a pad, "Thank you, Anne, very much. And I meant what I said about my debt to you. Any time. I will always let you know where you can reach me."
Anne read the note, seemed to consider it a moment, and said, "Thanks." They shook hands.
Elena sighed. If it hurt her like a Mortal wound, then it should heal like a Mortal wound, and should eventually look better than it did now, but how much better? When Duncan had wounded her in the neck it had taken days to heal, and had left a faint scar. And that had been a relatively superficial cut. This was a much deeper, serious injury, and much more visible. Worried, and starting to hurt again, she lay down.
Duncan sat on the bed beside her. She looked worried, hurt, almost despairing, and he certainly hadn't helped the situation. "Are you all right, sweetheart? he asked.
"Yes," she answered, closing her eyes. Elena fell asleep from sheer exhaustion almost at once.
Duncan thanked Anne and walked her downstairs. He kissed her hand. "I appreciate your coming, Anne. You were a lot of help, and you saved her a lot of pain."
"You're welcome. So how long have you known her? Three hundred years or something?"
Duncan smiled. "Actually we met only a few months ago." And the first thing we did, he thought, was have a swordfight.
"Oh, I guess I thought.....I thought you knew most of the Immortals." Duncan shook his head. "She just doesn't look like she's, you know, a new Immortal....."
"No, she's almost four hundred years old, but she spent a lot of her time in South America. And we just didn't run across each other in Europe somehow."
"She's pretty tough, huh?"
"Yes," he answered simply.
"She's also very beautiful, and this scar could really hurt her; psychologically, I mean."
"Yeah." And it could hurt him, too.
"Well, I noticed the other scar on her neck, but that's not as visible." She paused. "Who did this to her, Duncan? An Immortal, of course." She looked like she was going to ask more, then changed her mind. "She really meant it, didn't she? About my children's children."
"Yes, she did."
"That's kind of heavy...like having a guardian angel for generations to come."
Duncan nodded, remembering the promise he had made to Hideo Koto in Japan, centuries before. "That's exactly what it's like."
She thought about it, then said, "Duncan, I can see that you care a lot about her. Are you going to be all right?"
He reassured her. After Anne left, Duncan made a single phone call. He didn't catch Joe Dawson at the bar or at home, and didn't want to leave Elena alone or even with Richie while he went looking for the Watcher. He spent some time working out with Richie and making sure the young Immortal was ready to fight John Frankowski. It wasn't until late afternoon that he finally located Dawson, and a few words got him to drop everything and drive to the dojo. He brought with him all the information he had on one Robert Trent.
querido (Span.) -- beloved
mi amor (Span.) -- my love
por el amor de Dios (Span.) -- for the love of God
Seacouver, October 14, 1995, 6:00 p.m.
When Elena woke up it was dark. Someone had pulled the covers over her. Her face hurt, but not as much as before. She went back to the mirror to look and was still horrified, but it actually seemed to look better than before. Maybe it would heal after all. Although she was alone, she could sense the buzz from downstairs. The elevator was downstairs too, so she put on one of Duncan's coats, adjusted her sword, and came downstairs.
There were still a few stragglers, and several asked about her bandaged face. She could see Richie and Duncan in the office, door closed, talking to...Joe Dawson. Damn, what was he doing here? All right, this wasn't fair, he was Duncan's friend, she had no right to keep him out. Duncan spotted her at once and came to meet her. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Is there something going on I should know about?" she whispered.
"Indirectly. We didn't want to disturb you."
"I can be in the same room with Dawson without getting violent, you know." Duncan smiled slightly and led her inside. "Please don't get up," she said to Dawson, who was struggling to rise. He was also rather obviously looking at her face.
"I understand you've had some problems," said Dawson.
"I'm sure Bernie gave you a full report."
"Bernie has the flu. I spent most of the day feeding him chicken soup."
Elena looked at Duncan accusingly. "I wanted to find out something about Trent. Know your enemy," he explained.
"And Dawson wanted to know why!" she said angrily, "so you told him everything!"
"Elena, this isn't just about you. Trent's a renegade who's put us all in danger with his little games!"
"I appreciate your sympathy," she muttered sarcastically, but he was right, and she knew it.
"Never mind, [querido.] You did the right thing. So what do we know about Trent?" she asked Dawson.
"Robert Edwin Trent, born in Darwin, Australia in 1896 or thereabouts; poacher and big white hunter. Hunting is his passion. In the early nineteen thirties, he went to the Outback and was never seen again. We think he may have been killed by Aborigines. He didn't resurface again until the sixties, in Africa this time, big game hunter after ivory, but we lost track of him about five years ago. He always attacks Immortals weaker than he. He has been known to shoot his opponents first. As far as we know, he's never taken a real chance in a duel."
"Like master, like servant," she said, thinking of John. "What about this Aborigine? What do you know of him?"
"Nothing," replied Dawson, "or the other Immortal either. They must be new."
"Well, the blond man looked like he could handle a sword. As for the Aborigine, he seemed clumsier with it, but he has a boomerang on his belt; I don't know exactly what kind, but you can bet it isn't one of those cute returning ones," she said to Duncan and Richie.
"Meaning exactly what?" asked Richie.
"There are different kinds of boomerangs, and many different names-- I've forgotten most of them. This one was big-- it has to be killer stick, used for fighting and hunting. If he's any good with it he can take down a full grown kangaroo in mid-leap, then just walk up to it, ffftttt. Off with its head!" Smiling without humor, she jerked her fingers across her neck in the universally-known gesture. Richie didn't smile back. Elena turned back to Dawson. "Did Duncan tell you what Trent is doing?"
"Yes. This is very unusual. We have no record of Immortals ever banding together like this, fighting as a group."
"That's because we generally don't trust each other enough to 'band together'," said Duncan. "Which one would get the Quickening? Not to mention the one on one rule."
"But he attacked you on holy ground!" said Joe.
"Well, he didn't take my head, which he could have. Technically, my life wasn't really in danger. He just made me think it was. And he left me a little souvenir," she added bitterly.
Dawson's eyes slid to the bandage on her face again. She could tell how curious he was. "What are you going to do?" he asked.
"I...we are going to find him and I'm going to kill him. Put that down in your chronicle."
"Wait a minute," said Richie, "he's gotta be long gone by now. I mean, if this guy attacks lone Immortals with a gang, but you're already on to him, wouldn't it be smart for him to just move on to some other poor, unsuspecting Immortal?"
"I think he'll want to stay and finish what he started, Richie. I have to be alone sometime, and he said he'll be waiting. Somehow I don't think he's the patient type. Besides, he wants more fun from me than just my head. He told me so." She glanced at Duncan.
"More fun?" asked Richie. "Like wha...oh, yeah, I see. So you figure he'll come after you again soon?"
Her answer was interrupted by the telephone. Richie was closest. "Dojo," he answered. "What?! Man, you got a lotta nerve!...Yeah, right, like I'm going to trust you!...We're going to do a lot more than just talk, pal!...Oh, you bet I will...Midnight, right...You know I'm going to come after you, Johnny. Not MacLeod, not Duran. Me. And no amount of talking is going to make any difference. Your head is mine!" He slammed down the receiver, frowning. "Can you believe this! He wants to talk!"
"When and where?" asked Duncan.
"On Holy Ground. The same little storefront church. Midnight tonight. He wants all of us to come, says he has something for us."
"It could be another trap, MacLeod," said Dawson.
"Trent's tactics won't work if we're all three together. No, I think John's going to give us Trent."
"I agree," contributed Elena.
"But I thought he was terrified of Trent," said Richie.
"But if we fight Trent, someone will lose his head. Every Immortal who dies is one less who is hunting John. I think John will tell us where to find him," said Elena.
"He's still mine," said Richie with determination.
Duncan put his hand on Richie's shoulder. "No quarter," he said. Then he turned to Elena. He couldn't help asking. "Are you sure you're up to this?"
"Oh, yes!" Elena tore the bandage from her face, and all three looked closely.
"Funky!" Richie said.
"Funky?" She thought she looked like Frankenstein's monster. "What does that mean?"
"Funky, like...you remind me of a lady pirate, Morganna LeFay, or something," he said, with a romantic bow, sweeping his arm in front of him. "Milady."
Elena laughed, genuinely amused. "You're just trying to make me feel better, aren't you?"
"No! Well, a little. But I still think you're beautiful."
She kissed Richie on the cheek. "And you're very sweet. For an obnoxious teenager! Now remember about John's fencing, he...."
"Duran, I know all about it, and Mac drilled me this afternoon, and I'll be careful, ok?"
"Right. And I am going upstairs to get ready. Ten o'clock?" she asked Duncan.
"Ten o'clock," he agreed. If there was a trap, they'd be ready early.
Elena went to the elevator. There was still time for Duncan to say something, to reassure her, but he said they would wait until she healed and until Trent was dead. So she would just have to wait.
She went to the center of the room, sat in [seiza,] and tried to find her center. She had learned a lot of things from her mentor Don Alvaro-- how to love a father, how to fight, how to trust. But he had never shown her how to deal with fear, and she felt if she met Trent again some of the real fear he had inspired might come back. Darius had started her on the process of facing her fears, but after she left him she went to hide in New Holland* to get away from the Game. That peace had lasted a half-century, more than for most Immortals.
She didn't gain a better understanding of herself until after World War II, when she went to Japan to study with Ueshiba Morihei O Sensei, who had developed a new art called Aikido. Unfortunately, getting a Japanese man to take on as a student a Western woman, and right after the war, was not easy. So she had to convince him the hard way.
The first problem is to even get to speak to O Sensei. She tries to get past his students by using humility, respect and reason. When that doesn't work, she snatches up one of their [bokken,] or wooden practice swords, to literally fight her way past them. She loses her [bokken] against a real katana and draws her broadsword in a swift practiced move to cut her opponent's [bokken] in half. When she finally gets to Ueshiba, he is in [seiza,] but he has a sword at his belt and she knows he is hardly helpless, even while sitting on his knees. He quickly rises to defend himself and she falls to her knees before him, bows her head and offers up her sword in surrender, begging for a private audience. She had studied the language for two years so she can use the proper address of a humble student to a great master. She hears others come up behind her, but O Sensei makes some gesture and they stop.
For a long moment she holds the pose. There is silence while he presumably studies her, but she can't see anything but his feet. She has placed herself completely at his mercy and hopes, if he does attack, that he will not go for her head. Drops of blood and sweat drip onto the mat, but the bruises she had received, and even a superficial cut from one of their katanas, heal. After a while her arms, tired from fighting and holding out a heavy sword, begin to tremble. Still she waits. An eternity passes, and then he asks, "Was anyone hurt?"
"Not seriously, O Sensei."
"Then leave us."
Footsteps depart. He sinks down gracefully to [seiza,] leans forward and carefully takes her sword, laying it on the ground between them. "What is your name, and what do you seek?" he finally asks.
She sits back on her knees, copying him. "Elena Duran. And I seek myself, I think, sir."
"A worthwhile goal. And you believe I can help you?"
"Because you know the way, and I need you to teach me, O Sensei. I need you. But I also have something I can teach you."
They look at each other. He is the calmest person she has ever seen, even when she ran into the room, sword in hand. But she can see the intelligence, the interest, and especially the curiosity in his eyes. "I do not doubt that you have something to teach. But is it something I wish to learn?"
She pulls out a dagger, rolls up her right sleeve, palm up, and, gritting her teeth, cuts a thin, deep line from elbow to wrist. The blood wells up and drips down onto the mat. But within two minutes the bleeding stops and the wound gives off a few small blue electric sparks and closes before their eyes. Elena is watching him. He stares at her arm. With a handkerchief she wipes her arm and the dagger clean. He sees that there is no mark whatsoever. He looks at her face; the only sign of disturbance is a slight rise in his eyebrows.
She smiles. "Let me tell you a story, O Sensei."
Seacouver, October 14, 9:00 p.m.
After nearly twenty years of study she had left Japan when O Sensei died. She also left behind what she had learned from him, keeping the physical moves but forgetting the spiritual side of Aikido. As she sat and tried to consider his philosophy of peace and harmony for the human race, trying to find her own inner peace, she realized how far she had drifted from his teachings. Her whole crusade against the Watchers and the Hunters was against everything O Sensei had ever believed, and so was the drinking, the hatred, the desire for revenge. Now that she had gotten past that, she was beginning to inch closer to enlightenment, to [satori.] And yet, what was she planning to do tonight-- not to defend, which was the basis of Aikido philosophy, but to attack, to hunt and kill an enemy. And why? For revenge; hatred-- fear? Would humanity, would Immortals, be better off after the death of Robert Trent? What about John Frankowski? How necessary was his death? And the others-- especially the Aborigine. What was has his story? How did he get into this, which was so alien to his culture, to his Dreamings?
These were life and death decisions, judgments she had made on whether others should live or die by her will alone. She and every other Immortal had done it many times before and would undoubtedly do it again. In every single case, she was the judge, jury and executioner, and this time, if it was strictly up to her, maybe...but she knew it wasn't a decision she could make alone. Trent's death was necessary in defense of Duncan, in defense of Richie, even in defense of John, (not to mention her own self-defense-- she had no doubt that Trent would eventually come for her again!) and if she didn't kill him, Duncan would. Richie was determined to take John's head, partly for revenge, but also to prevent him from betraying another Immortal in the future.
When she thought about her life, it was much more complicated than just kill or be killed, and yet she knew if she started hesitating, or philosophising at the wrong time, she would very quickly lose her head. If she survived, she decided, she'd have to go back to the dojo in Tokyo and spend another twenty years with the current [doshu,] O Sensei's son, maybe his grandson by now, relearning what she had lost-- or perhaps what she had never had.
For right now, a decision had to be made, and she made it. Now it was just a matter of getting herself ready, and of relying on her skill and training. As for her fear of Trent, now that she knew more about him (Duncan was right, there was nothing better than knowing your enemy) and she knew what she had to do, she hoped she could deal with him. But there was still a small place deep within her that cringed at the thought of meeting him again. She'd just have to face that fear and fight her way past it, that's all-- easier said than done.
Duncan didn't want to interrupt her meditation but knew she had felt him enter. After a few minutes she opened her eyes. As always, seeing him filled her heart with joy. She smiled, rose and kissed him chastely on the cheek. Duncan was delighted with her reaction, he always was, but the scar on her face bothered him, but it was getting better, wasn't it? and the thought that she might be killed tonight filled his heart with dread. No matter what else happened, he loved her and worried for her. He took her hand, wanting to reassure her, and said instead, "It's time." Elena nodded, her smile fading.
*New Holland was the 17th century name of present day Australia.
querido (Span.) -- beloved
bokken (Jap.) -- wooden practice sword
seiza (Jap.) -- traditional way of sitting on one's knees; Aikido training
includes defending from that position
doshu (Jap.) -- the one who knows the way, head of Aikido
The trio were quiet driving to their rendezvous. They were ready, body and soul, and each was wrapped up in their own thoughts. Elena had realized why the teachings of O Sensei were so prominent in her mind right now: it was the old issue of fear. It had been a long time since she had felt real deep fear for herself, enough to affect her thinking and her actions, and the best way to cope with these feelings was through the teachings of Aikido, the oneness, the "unity of mind and technique." She recognized some of the streets she had run in that very morning; her heartbeat was accelerating; but suddenly she sat up in the Thunderbird. "Duncan, stop! Stop the car!"
As soon as Duncan hit the brakes Elena jumped out. "Where are you going? Damn!" yelled Richie.
"Elena!" Duncan called out. They had no time for this, but he, too, had noticed the group going into the alley: a group of young men pulling along one young woman.
Elena ran right into the alley. She had seen the men; she had seen the way the woman's head was down, the way she had hardly resisted, the way she had gone along. Elena didn't like it and couldn't let it go.
Elena Duran was born about 1610 in Argentina of a Mapuche* Indian mother and a Spanish father, and at that time both Indians and [meztizas] like herself were treated like animals by the Spaniards. In her childhood she had often unwillingly attracted the attention of Spanish men-- because she was tall, because of her pretty black curls and soft grey eyes, because she was female and Indian and powerless-- and had often been raped by the [conquistadores.] Perhaps it was her Indian blood-- by the time Elena was born, the Mapuche had been fighting the Spaniards for nearly a century-- that caused her to always try to get away, always resist, always fight back. This, of course, made her an even more attractive target.
It was only after Don Alvaro had literally bought her and subsequently adopted her that she was safe from Spanish men. In the almost forty years she spent with Don Alvaro no man had her against her will, and it had happened only one time since. But she couldn't erase the memories of being chased, caught, held down and forced by men. When she ran from Trent this memory that she thought had been suppressed was triggered. The fear made her run and the running made her more afraid in a sort of vicious circle. And Trent himself-- those green eyes-- was scary enough on his own. In any case, Elena could not drive past this group until she made sure the woman was safe.
Richie went after Elena; Duncan parked haphazardly by the curb and followed. They went into the alley just as Elena got to the group and quickly assessed the situation. The attackers-- there were six-- all looked young. They already had their victim spread-eagled on the ground, and were all facing away from the mouth of the alley, which was the only way in or out. There were a few garbage cans, but nothing to provide too much cover in case of, say, gunfire, and Elena assumed they were armed. She also knew that Duncan and Richie were close behind her.
The first one to notice her was on his knees, holding down the girl's right leg. He turned, and Elena kicked him in the face. As they were right next to the wall, his head hit the bricks, hard, and he collapsed. The one on her left leg called out, then rose and lunged at Elena. She sidestepped him neatly and he went past her, so he was no longer her worry. By this time the man on top of the girl had tried to get to his feet, but was having trouble. Elena couldn't help being amused-- he truly was caught with his pants down! But she was worried about the other three, so she grabbed the would-be rapist by the back of his shirt before he could fully stand or turn around and pulled him toward her, choking him and using him as a shield at the same time. The two on the ground stood and reached into pockets and waistbands, but she was sure they wouldn't fire at her while she held their friend in front of her.
The two bullets that hit him rocked her back so that she almost lost her balance. She felt the man she was holding sag almost immediately, and threw him at the shooters, glad that the bullets hadn't gone through him into her, catching them both and knocking all three down in a tangle of bodies. Fortunately, the girl had crawled out of the way the moment they released her, and the third man, the one still standing, didn't seem to have a gun. As he came around quickly to thrust at Elena she heard the unmistakable 'click' of a switchblade. He reached her; she entered into his 'center' and spun, making him pass her on her right as she twisted his wrist and threw him head over heels. Now he, too, was behind her, so she quickly twirled back to face the other two who were just beginning to get up.
Seeing Duncan in her peripheral vision on her right, she went for the one on the left, twisting his arm behind him, putting his face down on the ground, tearing the gun out of his hand. His arm was up and back, resting on her knee. She could have broken his elbow easily; instead she hit him on the side of the head with the gun, then looked up at Duncan, who had just knocked out the last gunman. Five of the six were unconscious, and the last man, the one who had been shot, was very quiet.
The girl was sitting against the alley wall, knees drawn up to her chin. Elena crouched down in front of her. "Are you alright, [ chiquita?] Were you hurt?" No answer. "What is your name?"
She slowly focused on Elena. "Joy. But you can't really help me."
Elena looked around. "My name is Elena Duran, and I think we've already helped you, Joy." Joy shook her head stubbornly. "Why not, Joy?"
"Because tomorrow I'll still be here. And so will they. But you'll be gone, won't you?" She said this in a resigned tone, as though she really didn't care.
Elena studied the girl for a long moment. It was a good point, and a hard one to argue against. There was such hopelessness and helplessness in this argument she finally said, "You're right. If they didn't rape you tonight, they'll do it tomorrow."
Joy shook her head again, looking around. "They know where to find me. They won't rape me now. Now they'll kill me."
Elena knelt down, leaning closer. Of course they will, she thought, and it never occurred to me. What happened after the hero rescued someone, and then left? The bad guys came back for revenge, of course. "You can call the police," she suggested to Joy. What happened after the police left? Joy snorted cynically. "What about your parents?" Silence. Elena, at a loss, looked to Duncan.
Duncan said, "She has to get away from here." He came closer to crouch beside Joy, who obviously shrank back from him, so he kept his distance. "Isn't there anyone you can go to for protection? A relative, a social worker?"
Elena whispered to Joy, "Do you know Joe's on 5th? Tell Joe Dawson I sent you. If he's not there, ask the bartender. Wait for me there. We'll talk." Joy looked at her. For a brief moment she saw something besides fear and cynicism in Joy's eyes. She could see how much the girl wanted to hope, wanted to believe her, to believe in someone. "Trust me," she added.
"Why? What do you want from me? Do you want me for yourself?"
Elena shook her head. "I want you to help yourself. Or we can just walk away if you like."
Joy searched Elena's face, looking for an angle. "What about them?" she nodded at Duncan and Richie. "What about this Joe..."
Elena shook her head again, not daring to touch Joy. "Trust me."
Joy shrugged. "Can I go now?"
Elena leaned back on her knees, defeated. She clearly remembered fighting those feelings of hopelessness-- it was worse than fighting the Spanish themselves. "Yes. You can go. Remember what I said." But the girl had already slipped away, shrinking past Duncan and Richie. Duncan saw the fear and cynicism in her eyes, fear of him too. Then she was gone.
Duncan knew Elena's history, and how personally she was taking this. "Sometimes, no matter what we do..." he started.
"I know," she whispered.
"What about these guys?" asked Richie.
Duncan had already felt for a pulse on the one who was shot. "This one's dead. The others aren't badly hurt. If we're lucky they'll all be charged with murder."
Elena wiped the gun she had snatched and put it down by the shooter. "The police will have an interesting time sorting this out. Shall we go?" By the time they got back to the car Joy had disappeared.
"I'm worried about that girl, Joy. Do you think she'll be all right?" asked Richie.
"Honestly, Richie, if she doesn't run fast and far I think they'll find her and kill her," said Elena. Now she felt guilty.
"Maybe we should have taken her somewhere, someplace safe," added Richie.
"There's just so much we can do, Richie," said Duncan, "and she wouldn't have come with us anyway. Besides, we have other things to worry about right now, don't we?"
Richie shook his head as they drove on to the church. By the time they got there it was nearly eleven, and they did not sense an Immortal presence. "This doesn't mean Trent and company aren't close by, waiting to pounce," was Elena's assessment.
"Agreed," said Duncan.
They parked by the corner and walked to the door. It had been repaired and had a brand new lock, and Elena pulled a pick literally out of her hair just where it was tied back at the nape of her neck. She worked while the others kept a lookout. "[!Cono!] I wish we'd brought Amanda with us!" she muttered, and finally got the door open.
The building was empty, and they checked the office in back and the door to the alley as well. Elena took a thick envelope out of her pocket and put it on the podium as payment for the original damage to the doors and locks, as well any future damage. This little congregation didn't exactly look wealthy.
Now there was nothing to do but wait. Waiting was hard on Richie and on Elena, but she decided to use the time to talk about some things that had been on her mind lately. Very quietly she outlined some of O Sensei's beliefs, especially the basic tenet of Aikido, the most defensive of the martial arts. The master believed that a true [Aikidoka] never attacked, that attacking was proof that you were out of control, and that while you should never avoid a challenge, you should never initiate it. "When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way,*" she quoted from memory.
"You mean never make a challenge? Never go after anybody? But that's what we do, isn't it? That's what we're doing here!" put in Richie. "Your Sensei may have been very wise, but he wasn't an Immortal."
"He knew about me, though, and he believed his ideal Warrior was not incompatible with Immortals. It's a simple matter of defense rather than offense. For instance, if we hadn't interfered, Joy wouldn't be under a death sentence right now."
"But we were defending her!" argued Richie. "Were we supposed to just stand by...hell, you were the first one out of the car and after those guys!"
"You can't start second guessing yourself, Elena," said Duncan.
"I know that too."
"Then what are you trying to say?"
"What I'm saying, [querido,] is that if Trent comes after me again I'll fight him, but I won't hunt him. I have better things to do with my life."
To a born warrior like Duncan, every form of martial art was of interest, and he had read the teachings of Ueshiba Morihei, and what he called the 'Art of Peace.' He knew that Elena had studied under that master. But right now he wondered if her thoughts weren't inspired by something other than philosophy or religion-- something like fear. He hesitated to bring this up in front of Richie, but after all, she had started the conversation. "Do you want me to fight Trent for you?"
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Elena...are you afraid? Is that what this is about? Because it's perfectly normal."
He expected her to be insulted. Instead, she pondered his question, and this unnerved him. "I am afraid of him, in a deep rooted way that I can't completely control. He has a?" she searched for a word... "penetrating stare, a way of looking into your soul. And he brought back some very bad and scary memories from my childhood. But I'm not too afraid to fight him, if that's what you mean. Don't worry-- my confidence isn't shaken, much," she smiled, reaching up to touch the cut on her face. It seemed to her that it was healing, but ever so slowly. "I will kill him."
Duncan avoided looking at the scar on her face. He had to be content with what she said. Once he had decided to trust her, his trust was absolute, and if she said she would kill Trent, Duncan knew she would never retreat. But with this new introspection, which was so unusual for her, she had surprised him yet again.
They settled into a companionable silence and didn't have long to wait before they sensed the buzz from outside. Elena moved quickly to the one lone window by the door and looked out. If four or five Immortals were outside-- and she still wasn't sure if the woman with them was an Immortal-- she would have sensed a more powerful presence.
John Frankowski stood alone on the top step, clearly hesitating. She made a sign to the others, signifying one, and waited. After a moment-- she could see John's face clearly in the glare of the streetlight and he looked terrified-- he reached for the doorknob. She flattened herself against the wall and he walked in, she coming up behind him, blocking any escape, and he had taken a few steps down the center aisle before he sensed her or heard her. He turned, startled, and she smiled a predatory smile. John got even more pale, and stumbled against a chair, then quickly made his way toward the front. "Richie!" he called out, relief in his voice, heading toward the front of the little church as though toward his salvation.
Richie stood impassively, arms crossed; his body language was less than inviting, and he waited for John to come to him. By unspoken agreement, the older Immortals took their places, Duncan behind Richie, backing him up, and Elena behind John. Neither said anything-- John had been Richie's find, Richie's friend, and was his to deal with.
John seemed to sense this. He also thought he knew where his best chance lay; certainly not with the hard-eyed Highlander, or with the smiling woman. "Richie! I'm glad you came, man! I wish you'd give me a chance to explain!"
"Go ahead and explain, Johnny." Richie was not his usual animated self, and John shrank back a little, until he remembered who was standing behind him.
"I had no choice, man! I really didn't!"
"Yeah. Tell me all about it."
"I mean it! You don't know what Trent is like! When he looks right at you..." He turned to Elena. "You've seen him. You know what I'm talking about! Don't tell me he didn't scare you! I saw you running! He scared you, too!"
Elena reflected that bringing up her failings was not exactly the way to get her on his side, but she had to agree. "Yes. If you take two steps to your right, you can vomit in the same spot I did, John."
"You see!" he turned back to Richie. "If she couldn't handle it, what do you think he did to me?"
"You could have come to us, Johnny! I would have helped you, Mac would have helped you! I think maybe even Duran would have helped you!"
"It was too late, man. I'm already screwed!"
"How many times?" Duncan growled, unable to keep silent.
"What!? What does it matter?"
"How many? How many Immortals did you betray?" he repeated, spitting out the words.
"Just two, man, just Shaka and you...Look, I came to make a deal, all right?"
Duncan realized the futility of expecting John to tell the truth, even once, and Richie said, "No deal, Johnny."
"Look, Richie! I gotta get Trent off my back! If I can just get him off me! I can tell you where to find him, you kill him, and we're all happy, right?"
"So now you're going to betray him, too?"
"Man, I don't owe him anything! He used me! He said that the one on one rule was invented by older Immortals who wanted to be sure to win. I mean, what kind of a chance would somebody like me have against MacLeod, or against Duran?"
"More of a chance than you gave her, you bastard!"
"At the beginning we were supposed to team together for mutual self defense! Even an experienced Immortal wouldn't dare challenge a group of us if he knew we'd stick together. But then it became something else. It became a game for Trent, some kind of big game hunt..."
"With some Immortal who trusted you as the prey!"
"She never trusted me, Richie! She only tolerated me because of you, and after that incident at the old house she would have come after my head! I know it!"
"You're wrong, Johnny!" Richie was practically in John's face, but his voice was calm. Duncan was proud of the control Richie was showing. "She said she'd let you go, and she doesn't go back on her word, and she doesn't betray her friends! You only thought she would because it's what you would have done! You've been wrong about everything, from the beginning, and now it's time to pay!"
"Richie, please! Trent's the villain here, not me!"
"And I suppose you're going to volunteer to help us fight him?"
"God, no, I can't do that! I'll tell you where you can find him. All I wanna do is get away, and have your word that you won't come after me! That's all I want!"
"Your life for his? Is that the deal?" whispered Richie.
Richie stepped back away from John, crossed his arms again, and took a deep breath. "No deal, Johnny."
John Frankowski looked like he was going to cry. His face broke, and Duncan focused his eyes on Elena, not wanting to see this spectacle.
Then they all sensed the buzz.
*The Mapuche Indian tribe of Chile and Argentina were among those conquered by the Spanish in the 1540's, but this tribe, using guerilla warfare, strongly resisted until the mid 1800's.
*from Ueshiba's, "THE ART OF PEACE"
Sensei (Jap.) -- great teacher
chiquita (Span.) -- little one
cono (Span.) ? damn
querido (Span.) -- beloved
"Oh my God, no! It's him!" John turned from staring at the door. "He must have followed me!" he cried out over the sound of a car engine.
"Maybe he didn't trust you, John," said Richie sarcastically.
"I didn't plan this, I swear it! You gotta believe me! This isn't a set up! I didn't know Trent was coming, you gotta believe me!"
"It doesn't matter. If we go out back in the alley we'll be less likely to be seen by someone out for a midnight stroll," said Duncan to the others, heading for the back door. "John, tell Trent we'll be waiting for him."
"No! Listen! I'll tell him it's just you, Duran..." he reached for Elena's arm as she went past him; she pulled back as if she'd been burned. He put his arms down by his sides, closing his fists. "I'll tell him you're alone, that you ran out the back. He'll walk right into your trap, just like he did to you! Don't you see? Then you can take him!"
"Do what you like, John. It won't matter in the end," said Elena.
"Let me try to make up for what I've done!" he pleaded with her, anxious, terrified.
"You can't," she said.
The alley ran parallel to the street out front-- there was plenty of room to fight and to run both. There were single bulbs by each doorway, many of them burned out. Duncan shattered the two closest with his katana, but there was still enough moonlight to see by. Two large metal dumpsters might provide some cover against gunfire, if needed. A gun worried them, and they were sure the Australian was armed. They'd have to try to neutralize that advantage-- if Trent let Elena get close to him, she might be able to take a gun away from him, but...
They had left the door open and could hear voices from inside. They flattened themselves against the wall on either side of the door, with Duncan beyond Richie. Then they heard motorcycles coming from both ends of the alley. The cyclists would see them and alert Trent-- Elena remembered they had radios-- but if Trent's was in his car instead of in his hand?In any case, there was no turning back now.
"Hey, Ay-lay-nah!" Trent called out over the roar of the oncoming bikes. "You out there waiting for me? I'm baaaaack!" At the sound of his voice, Elena felt a tightening of her stomach muscles, but she kept quiet. Never give any information away. Information is power, she remembered.
John was pushed out the door, with Trent right behind him, his sword at John's back. Elena let the younger man pass-- she didn't want to commit to fighting John and leave herself open to Trent's attack. John ran quickly to his left, and she knew that Richie would catch him. She struck at Trent from his right-- he parried and advanced. Elena let Trent go out into the alley while she stayed near the wall, pivoting and trying to use the dumpster on her right as cover against the Immortal on that side. She wished she had kept the rapist's gun. She wanted to but didn't dare glance over at Duncan and Richie. "My offer still stands, Trent," she said. "Just the two of us. How about it?"
By this point the riders had killed their engines and gotten off. Trent smiled. "But it's still not my turn. You cheated Morgan of his prize last night. Let's not disappoint him again, shall we?"
But once Trent was in the alley he saw Duncan and Richie, and Elena noticed the gun in his left hand. "[!Mierda!] she muttered. There was no place to go, but she was in the deep shadow of the dumpster, she sidestepped, maybe if his first shot didn't kill her she could rush him...
The bullet caught her low on the left side of her ribcage. She let out a long, low, guttural cry, doubling over, leaning against the dumpster to barely keep from collapsing as ribs shattered and pain exploded. Trent turned to shoot at Duncan's back, but then somehow Trent yelped in pain and fell over! She heard rather than saw the gun skitter along the alley floor. After what seemed like an eternity of agony she brought her right hand up to cover her wound and lunged desperately at Trent, hoping to catch him before he got up, further hurting her side so much she thought she would pass out for sure.
He scrabbled back and her attack was short, so she was forced to pull back with difficulty and pause, giving him time to gather himself up and retreat, his left arm held close to his body. It looks broken, she decided, but how? Then she noticed on the ground before her a shadow, which turned out to be a rather large boomerang! As they both stood for a much needed breather, panting and assessing the situation, she risked a quick look to her right. The Aborigine was in the middle of the alley, his sword nowhere in sight. She couldn't see his face clearly-- damn her near-sightedness and the darkness!-- but she heard him say, "The Woman of Life should have a fair fight."
Realizing he was not going to attack her two on one, Elena breathed out what she hoped sounded like, "Thanks," while Trent roared, "Morgan, you black bastard! I'll take your head for this, right after I'm finished with the bitch here! You don't stand a chance against me!"
The Aborigine was not finished. "Don't take his quickening, Duran. Let him go! He's too dangerous. Just let him go!"
"You'll get your turn, [Koori,]" she hissed. Her side was just beginning to heal, the blood flow between her fingers getting sluggish, but the pain was still a vicious knife in her side with every breath. Her mouth was dry. She heard a series of clicking sounds and knew them to be Trent's bones healing, coming together. He made a small sound, and she knew how much pain he was in, too, but couldn't take advantage of it, not just yet. She desperately wanted to see how Duncan was faring-- she could hear the blades striking, men grunting in effort, maybe in pain-- but didn't dare take her attention from Trent.
She advanced cautiously. Now that they were face to face, she could see Trent's eyes by the light of the moon. They were a vivid green, and so bright, so evil, so... "No!" she whispered, but too late; as her concentration faltered, Trent cut to her neck.
She retreated to the right, but he still managed to slice her from her left shoulder to the end of her collarbone, although not deeply. She sucked air in, trying to ignore this further pain, but surprisingly he didn't pursue his attack. The ribs under her fingers started to heal. She screamed in rage and pain, attacked and missed. Trent laughed.
Suddenly they realized a quickening was being taken directly to their left! Elena hoped, no, whispered a prayer under her breath "[!Dios mio, os lo suplico!]" that it was Duncan still standing, of course it would be, she had confidence in him. Neither she nor Trent, however, could risk a look, but they had to move away, the outpouring of power was too great, too close! It was Duncan who lived, it had to be!
Apparently Trent shared her confidence. "Your Highlander couldn't beat Fanchot, and you can't beat me, Sheila," he spat. "He lost his head, and now it's your turn. Face it; I'm better than you are. I marked you-- you belong to me. And you're afraid of me, aren't you? You can't even look me in the eye, can you?" Don Alvaro always looked at his opponent's face to gauge his state of mind and to anticipate his attacks, but Elena had learned from O Sensei to avoid her opponent's eyes, to look at the center of his body instead, to use a 'soft' gaze that encompassed all and didn't concentrate on any one thing in particular. Again he cut to her neck, but this time she was ready, parry, riposte, counter-riposte, surprised that he'd make the identical move. It wasn't smart-- or was he just showing off, expressing contempt for her? she wondered.
Again, Trent paused, but without leaving an opening. "You've done this before, have you?" he sneered. Apparently he couldn't talk and fight at the same time! What kind of a swordsman was he? "But it isn't going to do you any good. In the end, there can be only one!" This phrase was usually the cue to decapitate someone, but there was no way! She parried his stroke easily. What was he doing?! She cut to his chest; he parried but was too low; and there it was, the opening for her riposte, the one every fencer dreamed of, and he said, "Look at me, Ay-lay-nah, you can't even look at me, you're such a dingo!" Her eyes were almost drawn by his voice; she knew he was trying to psyche her out, of course, but she realized he really wanted her to look in his eyes. His gaze was almost hypnotic, he depended on it, and he was arrogant beyond overconfidence, but the truth was that he was simply not as good a fencer as she was! The opening he left yawned before her-- she went for it without hesitation and her sword sank satisfyingly into his chest.
He froze in shock, and with her right hand she knocked his sword out of his hand. Now she could afford to look at his face. The light in his eyes was dim; all she could see was pain. She pulled the sword out; he gasped, trying to say something more. Elena gasped, "[!Solamente puede haber una, cabron!]" and took his head just as Morgan yelled out, "No! Don't do it!"
When Duncan saw John run left he let him pass, and Richie went after him. Elena engaged Trent as they had planned, saying something he couldn't quite hear over the motorcycle engine noise, and that left Duncan for the biker coming up on his left. Duncan turned away from Trent as the Immortal got off his machine and attacked.
Behind him now, Trent said something and mentioned the name of the Aborigine, Morgan. They circled, and Duncan parried, but all at once a gun was fired so close behind Duncan he wondered for a moment where he'd been hit. Elena let out a long, low, guttural cry, and it took all of Duncan's will power to keep from turning to her. Still, his concentration was broken and his opponent's blade made a shallow cut on his neck as he retreated. The blond smiled in triumph.
Turning his attention back where it belonged, Duncan advanced with a series of furious attacks, all skillfully parried, trying to shut out the words and sounds of swordplay behind him. At least she was still fighting. And she must have reached Trent somehow and taken his gun.
Beyond his opponent, Duncan could see that Richie had caught up to John and had engaged him. So it was a series of three Immortal combats, with the Aborigine and the woman still not in it-- he hoped! Duncan stepped right and right again to get his back against the alley wall. The chances were, of course, that the other biker would attack Elena first, so he had to finish his opponent as quickly as possible, take the quickening, recover, and then?it was hopeless!
As they went back and forth for a minute or two, Duncan found himself mostly parrying until he realized that his opponent was a flawless technical fighter with excellent moves who would have won any exhibition match. But the blond seemed to have no real sense that they were fighting not for a trophy, but for their lives. His strategy, which consisted of making the technically correct attack, parry, riposte, lacked imagination and flexibility, so Duncan immediately switched styles to a Japanese style, [ken-jutsu,] and then switched again, and within five strokes Duncan MacLeod had his enemy's head.
The quickening was powerful but over quickly. Duncan closed his eyes as the soul of his opponent entered him, jarring him with a feeling of? rage. Rage was what this man was about. And when Duncan went to cry out, with that mixture of intense pain and pleasure that rivaled sexual ecstacy, he found he couldn't make a sound, and realized that his opponent, whose name he had never even learned, couldn't speak! But then that moment was past, and Duncan twisted with the shock of the other souls crowding at him, and the bolts of power striking him and bouncing off him, and the pain, and especially the pleasure. It was a greedy, gluttonous feeling, and he found as usual he couldn't get enough of it. It was like an addictive drug; he knew very well why some Immortals spent their whole long lives hunting just to get this fleeting but oh so deep, gratifying sensation, and as much as he avoided fighting there was always such a satisfaction, a satiation, and an ego boost, too. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, and I've won!"
The energy transfer was over and Duncan shuddered, completely spent. A part of his mind was still on alert, and he half expected to be struck down at any moment by the rest of Trent's Immortal 'gang,' but he was also very worried about Richie and Elena. Glancing to his right, he noted that Richie and John were still at it furiously, and that Richie was pushing John back steadily. There was nothing he could do there, nothing he could do in any case. Each Immortal had to fight his own battle one on one, but at least Richie wasn't being double-teamed.
As he turned in the other direction he noticed the woman Elena had mentioned, blonde and young, standing in the doorway of the little chapel and holding a sword in such a way that he could instantly tell she was no fencer. Duncan went toward her while he surveyed the rest of the alley. Not five meters away Elena and Trent were battling, perpendicular to the alleyway, and beyond he could see the Aborigine awfully close to the fight but not holding a sword. He could see that Elena was badly hurt on the left side but was more than holding her own. He had to decide which person to attack. The woman had been watching the combatants, too, but now she turned to Duncan, and when their eyes met Duncan realized that Elena had been right in her doubts-- the woman wasn't an Immortal. She gave a little gasp at his approach, then turned and ran back inside.
That's one out of the way! he thought, and started to come around the two fighters to get to the other side, to Morgan, before the latter had a chance to interfere. Duncan kicked something with his foot, and looked down to see a boomerang on the ground. Puzzled, and intent on the fight before him, he was going past the door when Elena cut to Trent's chest; he parried but was too low! There's your opening, Elena! Duncan wanted to yell at her. His chest is open, take him, now! and she did!
She knocked the sword out of Trent's hand and looked at him for a moment, then pulled her sword out. The Aborigine Immortal-- the one Trent had called Morgan-- chose this moment to reach for her, yelling "No! Don't do it!", but Duncan was by now close enough to bring his katana up, growling "Get away from them or die!" Morgan backed away, Duncan's sword in his face, until he was against the wall. "[!Solamente puede haber una, cabron!]" she whispered, and swung.
Trent's Quickening pushed both Duncan and Morgan back, but Duncan was careful not to move his sword from its threatening position. He turned so they could both watch the quickening, then realized that ten meters away Richie had just taken John's head. Duncan had never seen two quickenings happen together, and he considered making it three, but Morgan said something odd to him. "She shouldn't have taken his head. You should have stopped her, Highlander. Now it may be too late!"
"It's too late for Trent!" Duncan exclaimed, but anything else they might have said would be drowned out by the two quickenings. Richie was struck first, but John's life force just wasn't strong enough for a spectacular light show. He writhed, screamed once, and sagged. Then a spark caught the blond Immortal's motorcycle, parked near Richie. As Richie stumbled forward, dazed from the quickening, the bike sizzled in a blue light, then suddenly exploded, sending Richie straight into the air and crashing down on the ground two meters away. He didn't move. Duncan and James, too, were knocked against the wall by the shock wave, burned and peppered by flying debris even at this distance, but Elena was either untouched or didn't seem to notice. Duncan staggered and started to go to Richie, but realized he didn't dare leave Morgan unattended.
Meantime, Trent's quickening floated over the body, thickening, seemingly gathering strength. Then it quickly slammed into Elena, violently knocking her to her knees. Her whole body convulsed, she screamed, and this time she had a 'vision'. She was kneeling in a dark, dungeon type of place, and on either side of her, behind bars, were the Immortals she had killed: Valdez; Van Eyk, who had sought her out in the bush; Rechenko from Paris; Kotaro, who had been so incensed that a Western woman was being taught Aikido; Devine; Garcia, her first Immortal; Mayra Rosenberg; Rosario; the Nazi Heinrich Goff; all the others, all beating on the bars, calling her name, trying to get out; and others, too, whom she didn't recognize, who must have been Trent's kills.
Trent himself was at the front, not trying to escape, just looking at her with his green eyes. She couldn't avoid his gaze-- it penetrated her, hurting her, savaging her, and she couldn't look away. And then his cell door opened! "!Nooooo!" she cried out. The other Immortals poured out, howling in triumph, and surrounded her. Robert Trent walked up to her, sword in hand. She had her weapon, but couldn't use it. Her limbs felt heavy, useless. She thought of what Don Alvaro would say, "[!Fajate, Elenita!]" and she could hear Duncan's voice calling her from far away. Trent raised his sword, saying, "Too bad, Sheila. There can be only one!"
"!No!" she sobbed, tearing her eyes away from his, and with a superhuman effort brought up her sword to parry. In slow motion, all the Immortals except Trent faded away, leaving only a shadow where he had been.
Duncan saw her crash to her knees, screaming, in obvious pain. She convulsed as the quickening overtook her; even while it was going on, she knelt, writhing with every bolt of energy that hit her, her grey eyes wide with shock, and staring at something only she could see. Her mouth was open, slack, saliva and then dark blood dripping down from it as though she had suffered internal injuries. Her whole front was covered with blood and sweat. Then she cried out, "!Noooo!" Something was happening, something beyond just taking a quickening! It was as though she were still fighting, somehow. As soon as the energy was spent, Duncan, forgetting everything else, knelt in front of her. He looked into her staring, unfocused eyes.
"Elena!" he called to her. "Elena!" he shook her, but she was elsewhere; he had to reach her! He heard Morgan behind him say "He's got her!" and was vaguely aware of Richie standing up, moaning, beyond in the alley. He shook her again. "Elena! It's me, Duncan! It's over! Elena!"
Then she sobbed, "!No!" and he fell back abruptly as she brought her sword up to cover her head. For a moment she held it, and Duncan didn't try to interfere. Then her arm fell, and all the muscles and bones in her body seemed to cave in at once. He caught her as she fell.
Elena came back to reality slowly. This time there had been no satisfaction in the quickening, no pleasure, only the bad part. She had collapsed against Duncan, still conscious but totally trashed. She had killed Trent, but he had invaded her anyway, and she felt like she had just barely escaped from him.
"Elena, sweetheart? Are you alright?" Duncan asked, brushing the hair back off her face. "Talk to me!"
"Duncan." Relief flooded through her, until she noticed James Morgan, and they were on their knees, defenseless. "Duncan!" she tensed up, "the [Koori] behind you!" But the Aborigine made no move against them. He didn't even have a weapon drawn. Duncan took his sword from where he had laid it beside him on the ground, spun and rose in one swift gliding motion, guilty and angry both. He could have gotten them both killed!
"My name is James Morgan, and I'm no danger to you," he said, stepping back against the wall as Duncan brought his sword up. "I won't fight you, Highlander, and I could never hurt you, Duran."
"You sure looked like you meant to last night when you hunted me down like a beast!" she exclaimed.
"What makes you think I'm going to give you a choice?!" exclaimed Duncan at the same time.
James ignored MacLeod looming before him. "That was while Trent was still alive, and before I realized you are the one, the 'Woman of Life' from my tribe's Dreaming. Are you the one?"
Elena, too, had gotten up, and now she smiled a little in rememberance. "Yes, I am. But if I hadn't been," she added, frowning, "would you have followed Trent and attacked me?" She wouldn't forgive him quite that easily.
"Trent was not an easy man to refuse, Duran. Johnny Frankowski knew it, and you should certainly know it by now. You should never have taken his head!"
"I had no choice, Morgan! He would have come for me eventually."
"But you would have heard him, and sensed him. Now he can come at you any time he likes, when you're at your weakest-- even in your dreams. And you can't run this time!"
Elena felt a chill. "Well, it's done, and he's finished. I'm strong willed, Morgan."
"Are you strong enough?"
"So, I guess the good guys won, huh?" Richie had come up. His clothes were shredded, and a large scrape on his face was still healing.
Elena smiled at him. "Richie! What about John?" she asked, and Richie made the classic gesture, fingers cutting across the throat.
"Immortal history," he answered. He seemed unconcerned, but Duncan knew him too well, and could see the sorrow beneath. He knew Richie was all right physically, though, and the rest could wait. Now Duncan turned back to Morgan. "I think we've had enough talk. Get your sword, Morgan!"
"I've already said I won't fight you, MacLeod. And I won't fight her either. I guess you'll just have to take my head."
"I guess so," whispered Duncan, pulling his sword back for the death stroke.
"No! Wait, Duncan!" Elena went to pick up the boomerang. "If he hadn't thrown this, Trent would have shot me, and you too, and probably Richie. A life for a life."
"After what he did?" asked Duncan, still angry, but softening somewhat. If she was right, then Morgan had indeed saved them all, but that didn't quite make up for what he'd done to Elena and to how many other Immortals? The boy deserved to die.
"I think now that Trent is gone James Morgan will choose other ways of fighting Immortals. Am I right?"
"At first, we were just trying to band together to protect ourselves against more experienced Immortals. But Trent perverted it, like he did everything, and there didn't seem to be much we could do about it. Any of us. I make no excuses, mind, but I would like to keep my head. This is really not my style, you know."
"How do I know?" she asked.
"Would it help if I gave you my word? That I won't do this again?"
Elena looked at Morgan, then at Duncan. "Let him go, [querido.]"
Duncan didn't like it. "Are you sure?"
She nodded, and she handed Morgan the boomerang. "You know, I never did learn how to use one of these well. Not in fifty years of trying."
Morgan laughed. "It's all in the wrist. I'd be happy to show you how, if you ever come back to Uluru. If I manage to keep my head, that is."
Elena and Duncan glanced at each other and reached an unspoken agreement. "A life for a life. We're even now, Morgan," said Duncan. He moved up until his face was only centimeters from the other Immortal. "Let's not cross paths again." He would have forgiven the injury more easily if it had been done to him personally.
Morgan saluted Duncan with a nod, then turned to Elena. "And you, Duran?"
She shook her head. "Just remember you can't hide from the Game, not even in the Outback."
"Right." Before he left, he had one more thing to say. "Be careful of Trent."
"Trent?" Richie asked, glancing around. "Isn't that Trent over there," he pointed, "and over there?"
And over here, she thought. She'd forgotten all about it, but now Elena reached up and touched her face. The sutures had fallen out somehow, it was healing, it no longer hurt, but the scar was still there.
mierda (Span.) ? shit
Koori -- another name for Aborigine
Dios mio, os lo suplico (Span.) -- my God, I beg you
O Sensei (Jap.) -- great teacher
solamente puede haber una (Span.) -- there can be only one
cabron (Span.) -- bastard, swine
fajate (Span.) ? fight
querido (Span.) ? beloved
Seacouver, October 18, 1995, 9:00 p.m.
Richie frowned down at the chessboard as though he could brow beat the correct moves out of it.
Duncan glanced at Elena. She had spent two hours riding Angelita, hard, deliberately pushing herself, and a long time grooming the mare, talking to her, soothing both of them. They were just back from a late dinner and she was sitting in his chair, long legs crossed and stretched out before her, head back, eyes closed, listening to music on headphones. She didn't move; actually, she was the picture of relaxation, except for her right hand, which twitched at irregular intervals. He found this strange and disturbing.
He also found disturbing the amount of alcohol she had consumed at dinner. It was only wine, but she hadn't done any drinking since Paris, and he knew she only drank deeply when she was troubled. There were dark shadows under her eyes, and she hadn't slept well for the past two nights, and she was having nightmares again. Maybe he should get rid of Richie so the two of them could talk, but he knew Richie, too, was upset, and had been quiet all through dinner-- quiet, that is, for Richie. But now it looked like Richie might say something at last about the events of two nights ago.
Duncan waited patiently, sighing. Sometimes being the strong one was so?tiresome! Why couldn't someone talk to him about his troubles, when *he* was upset? But that was unfair and untrue.
Richie was not a burden, and he really tried to pull his weight. And Elena had taken her share of the load, especially with Richie, and she was a good one to talk to in the night because, unlike Mortal lovers, she could understand him. Right now she was in a fragile state-- the fight had affected her more than they all thought, and maybe she was still feeling the influence of Trent's quickening. Duncan knew very well how hard it had been for him after killing Grayson, dealing with that tremendous, powerful, and evil ego worming its way inside him. It had taken a lot of love from Tessa, a lot of conversations with Darius and a lot of support from Richie to make him feel like his old self again.
Well, feeling sorry for oneself never accomplished anything, so he might as well make the best of it. "Watch your queen," he said to Richie.
"I know the game, Mac. Gimme a break, ok?" Duncan threw his hands up in mock surrender, then suddenly Richie knocked over his king and various other pieces, standing up abruptly. "I give up! You win! I can't concentrate on this game anyway! I keep thinking about Johnny!"
Here it comes, thought Duncan.
"I mean, I thought killing him would make it right, somehow, that it was the right thing to do! At least I thought it wouldn't make me feel bad! But there isn't a single quickening I've taken that hasn't made me feel awful! I guess we're all just doomed to keep killing people and keep feeling bad about it, for all eternity!"
"There's more to it than that, Richie!"
Richie paced, ignoring Duncan's last remark. "He kept telling me he couldn't help it, and you know, when I took his quickening I found out how he felt about Trent! It was a total, total terror and domination. There was nothing Johnny could do to resist this guy! Nothing!"
"It was more than just Trent, Richie! It was John's character that failed him. Trent just took advantage of it." Duncan, too, had an idea of Trent's influence from the quickening of Fanchot, the blond Immortal. He'd gotten just a very brief flash beyond Fanchot's strong feeling of rage, but complete terror and domination was a good way to describe Trent's influence. He wondered how Elena was faring.
Richie was thinking along the same lines. "What can you tell us about this Trent character? Duran?"
She didn't move, didn't answer, so Richie walked over and pulled her headphones off. "Duran!..." he began.
One instant she was in complete repose, for all they knew asleep. The next, she had opened her eyes and taken Richie's wrist, twisting it, forcing him to his knees beside her. Tinny strains of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" wafted out.
Richie paled, obviously hurting. She leaned forward into him. "You want to know about Trent? I'll tell you in one word. The word is Evil with a capital E. And I don't want to talk about it anymore, understood?" The words hissed out of her mouth, slightly blurred from the alcohol but perfectly understandable.
Duncan had stepped forward to interfere, but Richie spoke up first, through clenched teeth. "Let go, Duran!"
She opened her grip abruptly and he barely kept from falling flat on his face. He stood up, holding his wrist. "What the hell's wrong with you, anyway? Are you drunk?"
Elena wasn't drunk. Her stomach stuffed with pasta and wine, she had been trying to relax but couldn't. Her mind was in constant turmoil, thinking and worrying about the fight two nights before, and the wine had just barely blunted her consciousness. I'll have to drink something stronger, she thought, then was disgusted with herself for thinking it. Even with Aretha wailing on the headphones and with her mind preoccupied she knew everything that was going on around her. She'd known what Richie was doing, and now she felt guilty and stupid for lashing out at him unnecessarily. "I'm sorry, Richie. I guess I've been a little tense, and I took it out on you."
"Yeah, well, why I don't I leave the two of you alone, alright? Maybe you can take your 'tension' out on him!" he said, gesturing at Duncan.
Elena stood. "I said I was sorry! What more do you want from me?"
"I don't know, Duran. But I guess, whatever it is, you just can't..." he turned away in exasperation, picked up his jacket and went to the elevator.
"Richie!" Duncan followed him, speaking through the slats of the door. "I'll talk to her. And we'll talk later too, all right?"
"Yeah, right, Mac, whatever you say."
Duncan felt torn between them. But, however badly Richie felt right now, he was more worried about Elena's unexpectedly violent reaction. It was different from what she had been like for the last few months, more like the dark side she had shown when they'd first met, and he didn't want her going down that path again.
"Elena, what's this all about? Why the hell did you attack Richie like that? Don't you think he has enough problems right now?"
"I didn't mean it, and anyway, I didn't hurt him! He'll recover!"
"Yes, he'll recover physically. But you did hurt him, Elena. He trusts you, and then you do something like this! And why are you drinking?"
"You're not my keeper, Duncan MacLeod, or my master! I'll drink when I want to!" It was an instinctive, childish backlash, and although she really didn't even mean it, she had to say it, so she could then regret it.
"Is this about Trent? Is he influencing you? Can you feel him inside of you? Can he affect your actions, Elena? Is he affecting you?"
"I don't know! No! I don't think so!" She felt unaccustomed tears stinging her eyes. "If you no longer trust me?I should go, Duncan!"
"Elena, stay and talk to me!"
"Look, I'm going to go for a walk. No, it's all right," she added, when Duncan started to protest. "I'll just clear my head, and I'll be back, and we'll talk...ok?"
Duncan let her go reluctantly. He knew she sometimes needed solitude to sort out her 'stronger' feelings. What especially bothered him was that she was falling back into the old patterns of violence and mistrust, the habits they both thought she'd gotten past, the habits of a killer.
But as she was getting in the elevator they heard Joe Dawson's voice from below. They both rode downstairs to meet him. She tried to brush past Dawson but he said, "Actually, I'm here to talk to you, Duran."
She stopped, clearly exasperated. "What!" Dawson pulled back slightly from her. She hated it when someone did that, unless she intended for them to, so she took a deep breath and said, "What is it, Dawson?"
"The police were by a couple of hours ago looking for you."
"Did they say why?" asked Duncan.
"It was about a note they found which read something like 'Elaine Dooran, Joe's Bar.' It was in the jeans pocket of a teenage girl who was found raped and stabbed not too far from here."
Elena felt as though someone had stabbed her. "[?Se llamaba Joy?]"
"They had a little trouble identifying her; her face was.? badly cut. They were nice enough to show me a picture. But yes, that was the girl's street name. Did you know her?"
Sobbing, she ran toward the dojo doors.
"Elena, wait! Don't go like this!" Duncan caught up to her, turned her around, speaking low. "It wasn't your fault. You gave her a chance to come to you, and she just didn't! You're not to blame!"
"And you don't feel guilty, not even a little?"
"Yes, a little, but we didn't kill her, Elena, that gang did! And hunting them is not going to help anyone. It's not going to bring her back!"
"I'm not going hunting, Duncan. For that, I would have to care. I'm too tired to care. I just want to rest! I just want to sleep!"
"Then come upstairs with me. I'll watch over you while you sleep. If you go out there now, alone, you're going to get yourself in trouble one way or another."
"You mean if another Immortal takes my head? Then they'll have to deal with Trent!"
"Stay with me!"
"[!No, escoces!] She broke away from his grasp and ran out the door.
Dawson limped over. "I told the police I didn't know her, and I'm not going to ask what that was all about."
"Joy was a girl in trouble with a gang. We tried to help, and they killed her because of our interference, because we weren't there to protect her twenty-four hours a day. I'm afraid it may have been the straw that broke the camel's back."
Dawson sighed. "Damn. Look, MacLeod, you know the lady and I just don't get along, right? She hates my guts, and I'm no fan of hers. But I know you care a lot about her. For a while there, after Paris, I thought she might turn out to be a decent human being after all. But I'll tell you one thing. Right now she looks terrible, and she's scaring me again."
"That's two things, Dawson."
"Well, whatever. Just watch your head, my friend."
"You really think she'd go after me, Joe?" It was a consideration Duncan had kept very far back in his mind.
"The way she looked at me right now reminds me of how she looked before, remember? I think with her anything is possible."
Duncan looked at Dawson for a long moment and said, "You're wrong!" but he wondered who he was really trying to convince.
Elena walked aimlessly, quickly, almost jogging. Her cloak flapped behind her, and she got lots of stares from passers-by, quite different than the usual stares an attractive woman got. In some cases, people actually drew back away from her like Dawson had.
Maybe if she tired herself out enough she'd be able to sleep soundly, but the truth was she didn't really want to sleep. The nightmare was back, the [pesadilla, but this time it took another form. It was the same 'vision' she had while taking Trent's quickening, the scene in the dark prison, on her knees, facing Trent helplessly. She had the same dream both nights. Each time he made the same exact move, and each time she had managed to parry his death stroke, just barely. When he repeated himself during their actual fight, she had parried easily. Elena always analyzed an Immortal duel in detail, to learn from her and her opponents' strengths and weaknesses. But in this dream she was not learning anything or getting any stronger or getting any better. It was always the same.
She didn't know exactly where she was going, but tried to make a conscious effort to avoid the area where she might run into the gang who had raped and killed Joy. She felt like she was running on the edge of a deep, yawning chasm, and at any moment she could slip over the edge into the infinite darkness below. The last thing she needed now was an excuse to kill. She didn't know exactly what was happening to her, but she was beginning to feel the same desperation she had felt before when she was hunting Watchers. Why? And did it really have anything to do with Robert Trent?
She stopped. The thought of the girl who'd give herself an ironic name like Joy, given her situation, and who had died so badly, made Elena sick. The linguine and wine rolled in her stomach--she leaned against a wall and heaved and heaved again in waves of sheer misery. Some time during this she felt hands on her, but she had no real strength to fight back, and they were kind hands, supportive hands. There was a soothing female voice; someone took her inside and sat her down; a cool wet cloth was pressed to her forehead. She panted, eyes closed, letting herself relax. She couldn't have resisted even if she'd wanted to, and anyway she felt safe somehow.
After a few moments she opened her eyes. In front of her was the kindest-looking face she had ever seen. "It's all right, child. You're safe now," the black woman said in the same gentle voice she had heard before. In the background she could hear a confusion of voices, a man with a beautiful rich voice speaking and being answered by groups and individuals: "Amen! Yes, brother! Uh-huh! Hallelujah!" Voices. She looked around and immediately realized where she was. Her steps hadn't been so aimless after all.
The black woman spoke again. "You feelin' better, girl?"
"Yes." Elena sat up in the chair. She was in the back of the same little chapel that had by now become so important in her life. Her stomach rolled again, but nothing came up. The cool cloth again, and the soothing voice.
"You musta had quite a night! Tcht, tcht, tcht. A young, pretty girl like you, boozin' like that! Don't you know what that poison does to you?"
"I'm sure she knows." The voice she had heard, deep, sonorous, was right in front of her. She looked up to a tall, imposing black man with salt and pepper hair. He wore a simple dark suit and also had kind eyes, but they seemed to bore into her, to know her. Elena stood up shakily; the woman and a man on her other side gave her a hand up, but now that the alcohol was gone she was quickly regaining her strength. She looked at the man before her. "My name is Elena Duran, and I thank you, sir, all of you, for your help."
"I'm the Reverend Washington, and you're welcome. The streets aren't safe out here, child, especially for a woman alone." Someone nearby said, "Amen!"
Elena sighed. If he only knew. She was glad they had disposed of the Immortal bodies two nights before. Even in this neighborhood, three headless corpses in the alley would have a little too much to deal with. "I know. Usually I can take good care of myself, but tonight I guess I lost it."
The Reverend looked at her hard. "Yes, I can see that. We all stray from the path at some point. We all have demons who sometimes get the upper hand. But you're strong-- I can sense that in you, Elena."
Demons! The man must be a mind-reader! "I thank you and your? flock for your help, Reverend. Would you allow me to make a contribution to your church to help in your Christian works?"
The Reverend smiled, his teeth yellow in his black face. "Charity is never taken amiss, sister. But you need not feel obligated?"
"This comes from the heart, Reverend." Elena reached into her jeans pockets and pulled out every bill there. She took his hand, put the wad in it, and closed it. Out of the corner of her eye she saw two little girls looking at her, partially hidden behind a large woman's skirts. "For the children."
"I thank you, sister, and bless you." He handed the money over to a parishioner. Elena shook his hand, smiled at the kind woman, then turned to go. "You're always welcome in the house of the Lord, Elena. Remember that," he said.
"I will. Thank you." She left, feeling more at ease. Totally spent and realizing there were no easy answers to her questions, she started to make her way back home. Her mind was so full of images she wished she could turn it off. Sleep was what she needed, if only she could avoid that nightmare.
She was within a block of the dojo when she sensed the other Immortal, and quickly went up the stairs and inside to a familiar place, knowing the other would follow. She switched on the lights and turned to face the entrance. Within minutes a figure was silhouetted in the dojo doors. The Immortal stopped, bowed-- he knows martial arts, she thought, unsurprised-- and came inside.
"Good evening," he said. He was a shade taller than she was, clean shaven, with cropped sandy hair. The pale trenchcoat tied tightly at his waist showed off his broad shoulders and slim hips, and he stood with confidence and grace. Physically he looked young, in his early twenties, but his hooded eyes were much, much older.
She merely nodded, waiting for him to speak again. "Nice place," he said, looking around. He took two steps forward, hands in his pockets, moving with the grace of a dancer, and she stood her ground in the open area near the elevator. He spoke easily, conversationally. "If you're here for Duncan MacLeod, I think you will not live to regret it."
"I could say the same thing to you."
He took two more steps forward. "Although, as I see you more clearly, I realize that you are too beautiful for him to take your head, even with that scar, which, if I may say, adds to your charm."
"Thank you for the compliment, sir." She pulled a scrunchie off her right wrist and caught her long hair behind her neck.
"There's no need to get ready on my account," he said, smiling.
"I'm always ready." He was practically saying he didn't want a challenge, but Elena knew this one was dangerous. In fact, she was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, but was not about to let him have the slightest hint.
He walked forward again, getting too close, she noted. "Actually, I am not inclined to fight beautiful women either."
"Is that because you find women so weak and helpless, or because you hate to destroy beautiful things?" she asked sarcastically.
He laughed briefly, opening his mouth wide and making an almost barking noise. "Definitely the second more than the first. You don't strike me as being the weak and helpless type, senorita."
"I'm not." Suddenly in her mind's eye she could see herself gutting this macho [cabron] before she took his head. He must have seen something of this in her face, because suddenly his body language changed. He became stiffer, almost coming en garde; the new menace in his tone was palpable.
"Who are you, girl?" he hissed.
Girl? she thought. Here it comes, the formal challenge. "I am Maria Elena Conchita Duran y Agramonte, at your service." She resisted challenging him, although somewhere deep in her heart she wanted his head.
"And I am Connor MacLeod."
Elena felt relieved, realizing she hadn't really wanted to fight him, or had she? but schooled her face not to show anything-- she had already given too much away. Then she smiled. "Duncan has told me a great deal about you. Mostly good."
For a moment, while he studied her, his cold expression didn't change. The tension in the air was heavy; she felt it press against her. Then he, too, smiled, a little. "I take it then that you're a good friend of Duncan's?"
"We know each other."
Connor seemed to accept this with all its ramifications. "He always did get the best women," he muttered, loud enough for Elena to hear. "May I go up and say hello?"
"Of course. I was just coming home from a walk. I'm sure he'll be thrilled to see you." They got in the elevator together. He had never opened his coat, and she hadn't taken off her cloak, but she knew they had come awfully close just the same.
Duncan was obviously waiting for her, facing the elevator. The worry lines on his face seemed to be etched in tonight, but when he saw Connor he broke into a smile of complete joy. For a moment Elena was jealous, but he'd smiled at her that way more than once, and she was being unfair.
"Duncan!" They embraced, clapping each other on the back, tremendously pleased. "Let me look at you! It's been?.."
"Two years," Duncan put in. "Not that long, really."
Connor turned to include Elena. "I see you still have the most beautiful women. Tessa, and now??
Duncan's face changed instantly, and he saw that reflected in his kinsman's changed expression. "I'm sorry," he added quickly, "I?"
"It's all right," Duncan said, but it was not all right. The thought of Tessa still hurt him. He took a deep breath. "That was in the past. Let me introduce you two?"
"We've already met downstairs." Connor looked at her oddly, Duncan thought, but Elena interpreted it as a challenge, pure and simple. "The lady is? spirited."
"Yes," Duncan said, suddenly aware of the tension between them. He knew Connor; he knew Elena-- this could be bad. "What's this about? Connor?"
"Why don't you ask your girlfriend?"
"I'm asking you! What's going on?"
Elena had turned to the window, her fists closed tightly, nails digging into her palms. The chasm was so dark, and yet appealing somehow ?.Taking a deep breath, she turned back to the MacLeods. "It's my fault, Duncan, that Connor and I have had a misunderstanding. Tell me, Connor, is there any argument between us, truly?" She could see the mistrust in his eyes.
Connor glanced at Duncan, then said, "There isn't for my part, and if I have done anything to give that impression, I apologize." It was a hard thing for Connor MacLeod to say; Duncan wondered if Elena knew how hard.
She, on her side, knew only that Connor was Duncan's kinsman, his mentor, his dearest friend. The least she could do is be gracious in return. "I accept your apology. I hope you will accept mine and that we can start over from the beginning." She came to him and held out her hand. "I welcome you, Connor MacLeod, for Duncan's sake and for my own," she whispered.
After only a brief hesitation, Connor shook it. "Perhaps we did start out on the wrong foot." He smiled. "It's good to see Duncan with another strong woman by his side, and an Immortal this time. It makes things?easier in many ways."
"Yes, it does," answered Duncan. He knew an uneasy truce when he saw it, but he'd have time to talk to both of them about it later.
"Well, I'm sure the two of you have a lot of catching up to do, and I need to get some sleep, so at the risk of being rude, Duncan, why don't you take Connor over to Joe's or somewhere and get yourselves drunk? But not too drunk, [?de acuerdo?]"
"That sounds like a great idea, although I'm not sure about the not-too-drunk part," Connor said.
Elena held her hands still at her sides, trying to stop their slight trembling.
"I'm sure we'll see each other again, Elena," Connor added.
Duncan took Elena aside. "Are you going to be all right by yourself?"
"Not that again!"
"I think it might be best..."
"Duncan, go. Enjoy your kinsman. I'll be fine."
Duncan wasn't sure, and again he felt torn, but he couldn't stay with her forever, especially if she didn't want him to. "Good night, sweetheart." He kissed her but didn't get much response.
"Don't wait up!" called Connor, and laughed his peculiar laugh again. As soon as the elevator got to the bottom floor, and drowned out by the noise of the door, Connor said to Duncan, "That woman's dangerous."
Se llamaba Joy (Span.) -- Was her name Joy?
escoces (Span.) -- Scotsman
cabron (Span.) -- bastard, swine
de acuerdo (Span.) -- agreed
Seacouver, October 19, 1995, 1:00 a.m.
For over an hour Duncan had been trying unsuccessfully to argue that Elena was no threat to him, but Connor had formed his impression of her and would not be swayed. Even copious amounts of alcohol didn't soften him up. Duncan recounted almost everything from the time he and Elena first met-- "See, she's already tried to take your head once!" was Connor's comment-- to her history, the Watchers, Paris, the Hunters. Connor himself had stumbled onto his own Watcher since they had last met, and they exchanged experiences on that score. Finally, Duncan called Joe Dawson over and introduced the two.
Dawson was quietly impressed by Connor MacLeod, and said so right away. "I'm very pleased to meet you in person. We all think you did the world a great service by getting rid of the Kurgan a few years back."
"I assure you it was not a matter of choice, but it was my pleasure." Although Connor was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of Watchers, he was a pragmatist before all, and accepted their existence with equanimity. But he wasn't going to be swayed from his argument that Duncan was in danger, so he asked, "Tell me, Dawson, as a Watcher, what do you think of this Elena Duran?"
Dawson sighed, looking at Duncan briefly. "Don't get me started!"
"There, you see?" said Connor triumphantly. "I just met her tonight, and I've been trying to convince this stubborn Scot here," he pointed at Duncan, who smiled vaguely in an alcoholic haze, "that she's dangerous to him."
"She's no threat to me, Connor. She loves me. And I love her."
"And love conquers all, right, Duncan?"
"Right. Tell him, Dawson."
Dawson just shook his head.
Suddenly Connor and then Duncan stiffened like hounds catching a scent. They looked around, then concentrated on the door. "Richie!" Duncan cried out happily as he saw a familiar head of red hair. "Over here!"
Richie walked over. "And here I thought I was coming in for a solitary drink. Is this a party or what? I remember you!" he added to Connor.
"And I remember you, boy. I shouldn't say that, should I. After all, I'm not much older than you, am I?" Connor laughed.
So Duncan had to catch Connor up on the adventures of one Richie Ryan, who had much to add. The conversation finally got around to Tessa, and Duncan got morose.
"I'm sorry I brought up Tessa again, Duncan. I didn't realize?she was very special. You could tell that right away." Connor held a moment of silence in a gesture of respect that Duncan found so touching it brought unexpected tears to his eyes.
"Yes, she was special. They are all special, Connor. And they all die. All of them. Even the Immortal ones die. All of them."
Connor sighed. "You know, I hate it when you get maudlin. I thought this was a celebration!"
"It is!" said Duncan, raising his glass. "To the MacLeods!"
They drank, and then Connor made another toast. "To Tessa!"
After that, the two Highlanders started reminiscing about old times. Richie listened, fascinated and highly amused, to tales of when Duncan was the student and not the teacher. There was a lot of bragging, embarrassment, and loud laughter. Duncan felt an outpouring of love for his mentor and friend which he could unfortunately not share openly. He couldn't recall when he'd last had such a good time, and he could say that.
Connor smiled in return, and about this time Dawson, who had drifted back and forth, came to the table. "Look, guys, I know you're having a great time here, but if you'll look around you'll notice you've cleared out the place!"
"So we have, my good man, so we have," Connor answered in an accent so stilted it made Duncan giggle uncontrollably.
"Well, some of us Mortals need to get some rest, so why don't I leave you to close up. Actually, Richie, why don't I leave you to close up."
Richie couldn't really drink openly in public-- "The curse of my youthful good looks," he had said, which comment sent both MacLeods into gales of laughter-- but as the evening passed he managed to imbibe a little. Still, he was the only sober Immortal there.
"I'll take care of it, Dawson," he answered.
"No, we're quite finished here. It's time we all got some sleep," announced Duncan, standing a bit unsteadily.
"Fine!" said Connor, also standing.
"Why don't I drive you both home?" asked Richie, leading them out the door. Neither one was so completely drunk that they couldn't fight if they absolutely had to-- this was one reason most Immortals didn't abuse any drug seriously-- but they were certainly tipsy, and driving was out of the question. Duncan had told Connor about Trent's Immortal 'gang', and in the car the conversation got back to Elena.
"You can't have a woman you don't trust in your bed, Duncan."
Duncan, smiled, thinking of Amanda, then said, "But I do trust her, Connor."
"Richie, what do you think?"
Richie was on the spot and he knew it. "Well," he said over his shoulder at the elder Highlander, "I know she loves Mac."
Connor nodded. "And love conquers all!"
"Right!" said Duncan. Actually the thought of Elena and the misery she was obviously going through went a long ways towards sobering him up. If she had managed to get to sleep and they didn't talk tonight, he would sit down with her in the morning. He knew what she was going through, but with the proper support from him and Richie she could defeat Trent in her mind as she had with her sword.
Seacouver, October 19, 1995, 3:00 a.m.
She was kneeling in a dark, dungeon type of place, and on either side of her, behind bars, were the Immortals she had killed, all of them, all beating on the bars, calling her name, trying to get out; and others, too, whom she didn't recognize, who must have been Trent's kills.
Trent himself was at the front of the pack, not even bothering to try to escape, just looking at her with his green eyes. She couldn't avoid his gaze-- it penetrated her, hurting her, savaging her, and she couldn't look away. And then his cell door opened by itself. "!NOOOO!" she cried out.
The other Immortals poured out, howling in triumph, and surrounded her. Robert Trent walked up to her, sword in hand. She had her weapon, but couldn't use it. Her limbs felt heavy, useless. She thought of what Don Alvaro would say, "[!Fajate, Elenita!]" but it was dim, fading, gone. All the other Immortals, too, disappeared. "Duncan!" she called out, but he was not there. She was alone with Robert Trent. Trent raised his sword, saying, "Too bad, Sheila. There can be only one!"
"!No!" she sobbed, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from his, couldn't even parry. Everything slowed down. She could feel the scar as though it were being cut into her face one more time. For once she had no idea where she was-- all she could see were his green eyes, boring into hers. All she could hear was his sword slicing through the air. All she could taste was the coppery blood filling her mouth. She felt the blade start to cut into her neck, the beginning of that most terrible pain of all. And she couldn't even scream.
Elena sat up in bed abruptly. The scar on her face was agonizing. Her mouth was full of blood-- it dripped down onto the sheets, mingling with the sweat, as she held her mouth open, panting. It was so pitch black that for a moment she thought she was blind. Then she looked up, way up, and could see up there in the distance the edge of the precipice. She was at the bottom. It was dark and cold, but she wasn't alone, [!gracias a Dios!] she wasn't alone! Standing by her side, smiling, was Robert Edwin Trent. As she looked at him she realized he was the only one who had stayed with her in the darkness, the only one who hadn't deserted her, her only friend. Her breathing slowed as she slowly calmed down. The pain faded. She wanted to please him. Elena smiled at Trent. She knew what he wanted her to do.
She dressed and made sure there was no stray light coming into the loft. She slipped her sword out from under the bed and turned the chair around and sat in it, facing the elevator. Waiting.
Seacouver, October 19, 4:00 a.m.
They stumbled out of the Thunderbird, Richie following happily. "I'm telling you, Connor, she's an [Aikidoka.] She studied with Ueshiba Morihei for twenty years! She's even talking about going back to Japan; remember what she told us, Richie?"
"Yes, she did, Mac."
"She's no [Aikidoka!]
Those are the most peaceful people you can imagine-- when they're not throwing you on your ass, that is. Elena is not like that at all. Well, I don't know about the throwing you on your ass part. Duncan, pay attention! Elena is like a volcano, waiting to erupt. And when she does, you'll be standing right there with your thumb up your..."
"Gentlemen!" Richie interrupted. "Why don't we call it a night? Connor, can I drive you to a hotel or something?"
"Fine, fine. First I want to get another look at this dojo."
"Connor, it's late!" Duncan practically whined.
"What's the matter? Doesn't the little woman let you stay out nights? That's another strike against her!"
"Alright, alright." They had walked inside and practically to the elevator. "I bid you goodnight, cousin," he bowed theatrically, "and I'll see you in the morning. You know what I'd like to do? I'd like to spar with her, just to see if she's as good as you say."
"Fine. I'll tell her. Now goodnight, Connor."
When Duncan got upstairs he noticed that it was unusually dark. There wasn't even any light coming in through the windows. He also sensed the buzz, but it seemed so close. If Elena was in bed, all the way across the loft..."Elena?" he whispered, not wanting to wake her, just in case. He thought he heard her breathing, right next to him, and suddenly something wasn't right, something was terribly wrong, and he pulled out his katana almost instinctively as he heard her on his right, and his upper arm was cut to the bone right below the shoulder. With a loud cry of pain he dropped his sword.
She stepped forward, sword held out before her, and forced him back. He could barely make her out, but his eyes were slowly adjusting. "Welcome home, [querido,]" she hissed, and kicked his katana back toward the elevator door. Dimly Duncan could hear Connor and Richie calling out his name, but his full attention was on the tip of the very sharp broadsword in his face.
"Elena! What are you doing? It's me, Duncan!" he exclaimed, retreating.
"Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod!" she mocked him. He could see the glint of very white teeth in her face. She was smiling! "I'm surprised you had the [cojones] to come back here!"
"Listen to me, Elena; you're not making any sense!"
"I'm not!" She swung horizontally, slicing into his chest, not too deeply, but she could have just as easily killed him, and they both knew it. He gasped in pain. "[!Me habeis abandonado, sinverguenza!] You left me alone, in the dark, when I needed you!" she screamed. "You knew I was in trouble and you left me for Trent! But you know what?" she added, as he retreated back toward the kitchen. "Trent stayed with me when everyone else deserted me. When you deserted me!"
"Elena, I never abandoned you! I've been with you, all the time! Trent is your enemy, not me! He tried to kill you, remember? Remember how he chased you down and scarred your face?"
"He's not the only one who tried to kill me!" she answered, fingering the scar at her throat, "or the only one who gave me a scar!" Suddenly she lunged and there was no way he could avoid it. Her sword was in his chest and out again before the pain even started. As Duncan cried out, in agony, falling back against the kitchen island, the door suddenly crashed open. She was distracted, glancing away toward this new threat as Connor and Richie rushed into the room.
"Duran! Don't!" Richie yelled. Richie? she thought, No, it's a trick, he's my enemy too! Meanwhile Duncan, knowing he was close to passing out, rolled to his right and around the edge of the rectangular counter, holding his hand to his chest, finding it hard to breathe, and pulled a knife out of the carving block.
"[!Solamente puede haber una!] she cried out, raising the sword above her head for the killing stroke.
"[!Querida!] I love you!" he exclaimed, and she paused for a heartbeat, surprised. Duncan slipped under her guard and plunged a butcher knife into her heart as her sword was coming for his head.
She was going to take his head when he called out "![Querida!] I love you!" and she paused for a fraction of a second, What? Who? Duncan? Yes, take his head! Now! a voice screamed inside her, and she swung, but suddenly she felt a blow to her chest, he'd just stabbed her, her sword cut into him, the pain exploded, she lost her sword. [Mierda!] she thought. [!El escoces me ha matado!]
The fastest way to move was to suddenly drop down, bonelessly, and he had no trouble doing that. He felt her sword cut into his scalp as he collapsed straight down. She had swung so hard the sword flew out of her nerveless fingers, and with a single grunt she fell forward against the kitchen island.
Duncan leaned with his side against the counter, panting but surprisingly still conscious. The pain in his chest was phenomenal, his arm still hurt, and he could feel a thick flap of skin and tissue that was just barely still attached to his scalp, but he figured this time he'd just barely live, he'd be that unlucky. But Elena was already dead.
gracias a Dios (Span.) -- thank God
Aikidoka (Jap.) -- one who practices Aikido, a Japanese art of self defense
cojones (Span.) ? balls
me habeis abandonado, sinverguenza (Span.) -- you abandoned me, scoundrel
solamente puede haber una (Span.) -- There can be only one
mierda (Span.) ? shit
el escoces me ha matado (Span.) -- The Scotsman has killed me
Seacouver, October 19, 1995, 6:00 a.m.
Elena woke up with a start, long, painful spasms shaking her frame. "This just isn't worth it anymore!" she muttered, nails digging into the mattress. Mattress? She immediately realized three things: one, she was on her own bed; two, there was an Immortal in the room with her; three, there was something wrong with her legs. Her feet were tied together, that was it! Weakly, she lifted her head and saw that her ankles were strapped together with electrical tape. It was a very efficient way to hobble her-- she could get loose, but not easily or quickly. As for the other Immortal, Connor MacLeod was the best choice to guard her, as it would have been really hard for Richie. But where was Duncan? She knew she hadn't taken his head!
As if he could read her mind, he said, "Duncan is downstairs doing a [kata.] He felt he needed to clear his mind before he faced you."
She leaned back on the bed, exhausted and sick. From the look on his face she could tell it hadn't been *his* idea to let her live.
He came closer. "I wonder what you can possibly say to him." It was more a statement than a question.
Elena sighed. Her regret was palpable-- she couldn't imagine what she'd say to him either-- and she could still feel the influence of Robert Trent. The idea that Duncan was her enemy, had betrayed and deserted her-- it had seemed so real, had made so much sense! And now?"Tell me, Connor, when you took the Kurgan's head, was it difficult for you? Afterwards?"
"Yes, but I didn't betray my friends!"
"Of course not. That's because you're the great Connor MacLeod, and you're so strong!" she said sarcastically.
"And you are so weak!" he spat out at her.
She flinched back as though he'd physically struck her. He was right, of course. Thinking about how she'd gone after Duncan so single-mindedly, what she really wanted to do was to break into tears. But she wouldn't, not in front of Connor; she'd rather die first!
"It won't do you any good to cry, girl."
She couldn't even hide that from him. "I'm not going to cry."
There was a silence, and then he said, "If he took you for his soul-mate, even temporarily, then you must have some good qualities."
"You just can't imagine what they are," she whispered.
"No," he agreed.
They both heard the elevator start, and she said to him, urgently, "I'd like to be on my feet when I talk to him, not trussed up like a game bird."
He produced a dagger and cut the tape. As she quickly unwrapped it and stood, he was right on top of her. She could smell the scotch on his breath. "You're not going to get away with it, you know. Duncan won't take your head because you're a woman and because he's in love with you, but I'm bound by neither of those considerations. When he lets you go, I'll be waiting," he said, softly and matter-of-factly, as though he were telling her about the weather, and Elena knew that Connor MacLeod had just pronounced her death sentence.
The elevator door opened and Duncan came into the loft. As the two Highlanders crossed, Connor squeezed Duncan's shoulder briefly, then left.
Elena had been desperately thinking of what to say, how to try to make him understand what she herself didn't understand. But the first thing she noticed was that he looked so hurt, like a puppy who had been kicked. Anger, hatred, even contempt she could have dealt with, but now that she could clearly see how badly her betrayal had hurt him all she could think of to say was, "Duncan, I'm so sorry."
It was all he was prepared to give right now, maybe all he had in him to give her, and she grabbed at it like a lifeline on a raging sea. There was some hope...She swallowed thickly, making a decision. All or nothing. "Will you help me?" she whispered.
Duncan was surprised. She was offering no excuses or explanations or asking him to forgive or forget, or even to trust her, or making any promises. It was a simple, direct appeal, and all she needed from him was a yes or no answer that would be final. It was the only possible place from which they could begin again.
He hesitated, considering, and she looked down for a moment, then met his gaze again, dry-eyed, waiting for his judgment. It all came down to this: was he willing to give her another chance. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else existed.
He held a hand out to her. She'd never seen his hand tremble before. "Yes, sweetheart."
She closed her eyes, feeling dizzy, then took his hand. Elena felt a shudder pass through her, and Duncan looked at her face. Eyes still closed, she tried to block from her mind the vision of the chasm, with its dark, welcoming depths...She found it difficult to breathe and stepped back from Duncan. Don't...don't touch me!" She shook her head. "I can't do this!"
"Yes, you can, and you're not alone, [querida.]" He didn't find it in the least bit ironic that it was him talking her into staying instead of the other way around. "I'm here to help you. Elena. Look at me. Talk to me. Tell me what's going on. I understand, believe me." Although he wanted to embrace her, to hold her to him and feel her body pressed against his and smell the scent of her hair, he knew he couldn't. She tried to pull away, but he wouldn't let go of her hand: that much he would hold onto. After a moment she stopped tugging, and they sat on the sofa and began to talk in earnest.
Seacouver, October 19, 1995, 10:00 a.m.
"No!" Connor MacLeod slammed his hand on the table, spilling two coffees. The three men had agreed to meet at Joe's after Duncan had 'dealt with' Elena, and Dawson had quickly agreed to open the bar early to give them a place to talk.
"What?! Come on, Mac, you're not serious!" was Richie's contribution.
"It's done," answered Duncan, refusing to be flustered.
"But what you're doing is suicidal! You won't even be able to walk into your own house without your sword in hand! Right now, when you go back to her, she may be waiting for you again!" exclaimed Connor.
"Possible!" Connor stood up, upsetting his chair, and paced around the room angrily.
"Mac. Listen. Let's be reasonable about this," argued Richie.
"This is not about being reasonable, Richie! This is about the heart, about what my heart tells me to do."
"Are you sure it's your heart, and not another part of your anatomy?" snarled Connor.
There was no real answer to that, so Duncan was silent. "Mac, if you can't take her head, I can understand that. I couldn't do it either. She's meant too much to me!" exclaimed Richie.
"If you can't take her head yourself, then let me do it!" spat out Connor.
Duncan stood, angry now, and worried. "No!"
"No, wait, we don't have to do this! Mac, you've spared others in the past. Just let her go. Just don't keep her next to you!" Richie said.
"Richie's right!" put in Dawson. "If you don't send her away, she'll kill you, MacLeod."
"She's not in control of her own actions! She can't even trust herself! How can you trust her?" cried Connor.
"It's not about trust, either. She needs me, Connor!"
"Oh, my God!" Connor turned away in exasperation, but Duncan grabbed him by the arm and turned him back so they were facing each other.
"Connor, do you remember right after you killed the Kurgan how you called me in the middle of the night and I dropped everything and flew to New York?"
"Yes, she brought the Kurgan up, too."
Duncan ignored the interruption and continued. "Do you remember the day we spent talking, drinking, reminiscing?"
"Yes. I also recall that I didn't try to take your head!"
"That's right. Maybe you're stronger than Elena. But it was also because you had Brenda. And you had me. You had Darius to talk to. You had people who cared about you helping you through it." He turned to Richie. "Do you remember, Richie, when I took Grayson's head? I tell you right now, if it hadn't been for Tessa and your support and Darius', I might never have been able to climb out of that pit. Not by myself. None of us are strong enough that we never need the help of our friends. Now most of Elena's good Immortal friends were killed by Hunters. She's alone and she needs me, she needs us, Richie!" Duncan very much wanted them to at least understand, even if they couldn't agree.
Richie shook his head. "I don't know, Mac."
Duncan looked at the three men. "If we don't help guide her back into the light, away from this 'dark quickening,' she'll have nowhere to go except back to the darkness. Do you remember when we first met her, Dawson? Do you remember what she was like? And do you know who's waiting for her there, in the dark?"
"Duncan," Connor contributed, speaking calmly now. "I believe she'll kill you in your own bed."
Duncan shrugged. He'd already thought of that. "There are worse ways to go."
"Damn it, Duncan!"
"I've taken worse chances before, with less at stake. We're talking about the life of someone I love." He sighed. "I don't need your permission, Connor. All I ask is that you leave her alone."
"You want me to go, then."
"No, I want you to stay, to get to know her. She's a good woman, Connor; she's just not superwoman! But I understand if you can't do that."
Richie said, "Mac, are you sure?"
"No. I'm not sure. She's not sure. But I'm willing to take the risk. She could use your help, too, Richie, but I can't ask you to place your head in danger unless you're willing to take the risk as well."
"But Mac, what if?..?" "We don't deal with what if's. We just deal with one day at a time. Time heals all wounds, Richie. Even for us Immortals. Isn't that right, Connor?"
The elder Highlander sighed, thinking. "I think I'll have to leave for now," he finally said.
Duncan, too, sighed, regretfully. "I understand. Will you at least come say goodbye to her? She'd like to talk to you."
"I don't think I could bear to hear any excuses."
Duncan smiled. "Believe me, you won't."
The conversation between Connor MacLeod and Elena Duran was short and private. "You really think you can beat this?" he asked her, with more than a trace of cynicism.
"Ultimately, yes. It's a war of attrition. But Trent has no support, he has nothing but hatred to sustain him. He's alone; I have allies."
"Yes, in the end, there can be only one. But what about in the meantime?"
"Trent is strong. The hardest part for me will be resisting, day by day, but I have my own will plus that of Duncan MacLeod."
"Yes, and I want you to take care of him, Elena, and Richie, too. If I hear that anything's happened to Duncan..."
"If I take Duncan MacLeod's head, Connor, I would welcome your hunting me down and taking mine," she said quietly.
He looked at her for a long moment, gauging, judging. "I believe you would. Goodbye, Elena." He held out his hand, and she shook it. His touch seemed to intensify her inner struggle. She closed her eyes, taking deep, cleansing breaths, aware that Connor was watching her closely.
Finally, she opened her eyes and smiled. "I won't say goodbye, but [hasta luego.]"
He nodded, then said, "Good luck."
She was touched by this, so much so that her eyes filled unexpectedly, but by this time he had turned to go.
It was a time of constant struggle, worse than after Paris because instead of just dealing with bad memories, she was fighting someone who was very much here and within her. She had to force herself to eat and didn't want to sleep because the nightmare came every night, but she was always able to parry Trent's killling blow. She spent her time reading, walking, working out, riding Angelita, meditating, all under Duncan's watchful eye.
For Duncan it was a marathon, a time of exhaustion and constant vigilance, and the fact that she was willing to give up her precious independence, that she never said to him "I need to be alone," was a measure of how much she needed his strength. She hadn't attacked him again, but on two separate occasions had asked him to hold her, and not for romantic reasons, and he had to physically restrain her, talking to her, soothing her, until she stopped fighting against him.
Much to their disappointment, Richie had not come back from Joe's that first day, but was back the second day in his usual cheerful frame of mind. "I need to keep in shape and in practice," he smiled, "and let's face it, Duran-- you're much tougher on me than Mac here, and sometimes I need to have my butt kicked to get me to work as hard as I should."
Elena appreciated the gesture more than she could say and said so anyway, embarrassing Richie. However, she insisted they spar with [bokken,] bamboo practice sticks, instead of swords. "I can still kill you with a [bokken,]" she stated matter-of-factly, "but at least it's not an edged weapon."
"That sure makes me feel secure!" he laughed, but was less amused one time when they were sparring and she stopped, turned to look longingly at the two Japanese swords hanging on the dojo wall, and fell to her knees with a sob, shutting her eyes and taking deep breaths until the edge of the pit seemed further away and not quite so inviting; until Trent's voice, calling her, was silenced for the moment.
As for their swords, Elena deliberately moved hers into a locked cabinet across the room. Although she could get to the key-- an Immortal had to have access to her weapon no matter what else-- the idea was to give herself and Duncan time. "You must promise me that you will take my head if necessary, Duncan. Promise me!"
Remembering Nefertiri, he had promised.
She visited the little chapel nightly, even attending some of the services. It was a place where she found a peace unavailable elsewhere. Reverend Washington and Dorothy, the woman with the kind eyes, both thought she was struggling against alcohol, and urged her to go to AA meetings. She shook her head, smiling. "If you just let me sit here, I gain strength from this place and what it represents."
"It's the presence of the Lord," Reverend Washington insisted, and he even gave her a key so she could come "any time of the day or night, any time you feel the devil is winning."
But what brought her the most tranquility was thinking and reading about O Sensei and his teachings. She went through her [kata] faithfully, then sat in [seiza,] meditating for so long her legs wouldn't support her when she tried to stand. "I have to get used to this again," she said to Duncan, and he saw in that a foreshadowing of her departure.
kata (Jap.) -- in martial arts, a series of ritualistic combat movements performed alone for the perfecting of technique as well as for the aesthetics of the movements themselves
querida, querido (Span.) ? beloved
hasta luego (Span.) -- see you later
O Sensei (Jap.) -- great teacher
Seacouver, December 24, 1995, 11 p.m.
Duncan fastened the clasp around Elena's neck and slowly turned her around to face him. On a finely woven silver chain he had hung a small Celtic cross he had found two centuries before. He hadn't particularly planned to give it to anyone, and had never met anyone whom it suited, but for Elena it was somehow the right present. It glowed against her darkly tanned shoulders, although she had lost a lot of her color and a lot of weight in the last two months. Lack of sleep and not eating will do that to you, thought Duncan. There were dark circles under her eyes, and exhaustion had etched deep lines in her face. The scar on her face was still visible and hadn't healed yet.
Of course, Duncan knew he didn't look too well, either. He was exhausted, but eternal vigilance, in this case, was the price to pay for staying alive, and he knew that although she was weakened and off her game, she hadn't given up on her training and could still be a dangerous opponent. Especially for him.
But things had gotten better. Even the nightmares were more bearable, although she wouldn't describe them for him anymore. All he knew is that they were shorter and less intense.
"[Gracias, querido. !Que bella esta!] I will always remember you by this." She closed her eyes, swaying slightly.
He was alarmed. "Are you all right?"
She opened her eyes and smiled at him, a full, genuine, and for her, rare smile, the one he loved to see. "Please sit," she whispered, and when he did she sat next to him and leaned back against him, tucking her head under his chin, his arm around her. Knowing how difficult she found his touch, this was quite a breakthrough, or else a further test of her will.
Elena settled against him, wriggling until she was completely comfortable; physically, that is. As usual when he touched her she felt closer to the chasm, closer to fighting him, but she was too tired to even tense up. And she was so grateful to him. And she was so in love with him. If only she could get rid of this presence which hounded her every waking and sleeping moment, pushing her, tempting her, tormenting her. Connor had been right when he called her weak, but she also had been right-- it was a war of attrition, and she knew eventually she would win. And a part of that victory would belong to Duncan MacLeod. Her eyes half closed, remembering, she whispered:
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee-- and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.*
Duncan smiled and squeezed her shoulder, kissing the top of her head. It felt so good to be sitting here with her, so right, he actually believed he could see an end to their ordeal, so close?"Elena," he murmured. With these happy thoughts, he dozed off.
Seacouver, December 25, 1995, 2:00 a.m.
Elena sat up, sweating, gasping, sobbing, and Duncan came instantly and completely awake. They had fallen asleep on the sofa, and he could tell she'd just had her [pesadilla;] only this time it seemed worse. Her face in her hands, she was sobbing loudly, and Duncan could feel his pulse racing. She sounded so miserable he wanted to hug her, comfort her, tell her he loved her, but he knew he might find himself fighting her in the next minute. So he waited, and after just a moment he noticed her cries had changed, she wasn't crying anymore, she was?she was laughing and crying at the same time.
She slipped forward and knelt on the floor, turning to face him. Her grey eyes were glowing, filled with tears. She could feel her pulse threatening to burst out of her head. She gripped his knees, her nails digging into his leg, exclaiming, "Duncan! Duncan! He can't get out of the cage! He's stuck inside with the others! He can't get out!"
"Trent?" he asked, almost unbelieving.
"Yes, he's trapped with the others! He can't get out! I've beaten him! We've beaten him, [querido!] We've won!"
Duncan felt a smile slowly spread across his face. "Elena! Are you sure? You're free of him?"
"Yes! For now! For today, at least!" She shifted her weight, squeezing his hands. "I want to run outside and scream, 'I'm free, I'm free!'"
"Really?" he asked, laughing.
"No. Not really." Elena leaned forward, speaking low. "I want to celebrate with you, Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, because I couldn't have done it without you."
Duncan felt a stirring, but he was just too exhausted. "Elena, we haven't had any sleep in at least?"
"Sleep! You have centuries to sleep! Trust a man to let you down when you really need him!" she laughed.
She was laughing! "I'm glad to hear you need me, Elena. I just don't know if I can," here he smiled, knowing how much Elena loved puns, "rise to the occasion."
Elena pulled his legs apart, pushing forward until she was pressed against him. "Really?"
He leaned forward, and she rose up on her knees, slowly rubbing against him until their faces were at the same level. It was their first kiss in months, and the exhaustion somehow seemed to melt away. "No matter what happens tomorrow, we have tonight. [Feliz Navidad, querido.]"
"Merry Christmas to you too, sweetheart."
Seacouver, February 10, 1996
"Believe it or not, in a way I'll be sorry to see you go."
"Really, Dawson? Why?" asked Elena, genuinely curious.
"MacLeod really cares about you."
"You're a good friend to him, Dawson. He needs good friends."
"We all do," said Duncan, coming up with her suitcase. She and Richie had already said their goodbyes, and Dawson had shown up just as Duncan was getting ready to drive her to the airport.
"Say, isn't Aikido what Stephen Seagal does? In his movies?" asked Dawson.
"Partly, but Aikido is also a philosophy of life. The Art of Peace, of strict self-defense."
"Strictly self-defense? It really doesn't sound like you, Duran. You're really more the-- and please don't take this as an insult-- offensive type."
She chuckled. "I'm sure Bernie Liebowitz will keep you posted on my progress. See you around, Dawson." She offered her hand, and Dawson shook it.
"Watch your head, Duran."
The last statement puzzled and also touched her, a little.
"Dawson's right, you know," Duncan said just before she boarded her flight for Tokyo. "You're not the type."
"Maybe not. Maybe I need to learn this for myself. After so much killing, so much fighting for so long, like John Lennon said, all I want to do is "give peace a chance."
He took her hands in his. She was once again in top form, lean and mean, so full of life, and so breathtakingly beautiful it was like looking into a bright light! More than that, the scar on her face was gone. It had completely faded away. Duncan took a deep breath, fighting for control. He wanted to hold her, ask her to stay, tell her she couldn't go. Instead, he said, "And then you'll come back. To me."
Her eyes slowly filled. "[Palabra de honor, mi querido escoces.] And you know I always keep my word." This was painful, but it was only a temporary separation, and they had all the time in the world. He was so beautiful, and so kind, and so...human, and she had learned so much from him, but she still had so much more to learn!
There was nothing else to say, so he kissed her on the lips, lingering until the final boarding call. "I know," he whispered, and then she was gone.
que bella esta (Span.) -- it's beautiful
pesadilla (Span.) -- nightmare
Aikido (Jap.) -- Japanese art of self-defense which relies strictly on defensive moves and where the practitioner never initiates an attack
palabra de honor (Span.) -- word of honor
escoces (Span.) -- Scotsman
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