Elena in New York

Vi Moreau

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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, including torture. 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.

One

Seacouver, September 30, 1996

Elena ground her teeth in frustration. "But Duncan, why not? I can take care of both of us!" He was being overprotective again. Over-overprotective!

"Of course. But New York is a big city, which means the chances are higher that you'll meet an Immortal."

"Fine! Then you come with us. Between the two of us, we'll keep Miyu safe." Actually, she didn't want Duncan to come with them. For one thing, she wanted to spend some time alone with Miyu. Ever since her sensei's ten-year-old granddaughter had come to visit, Duncan had been right with them, hovering, smothering. She, too, knew how much danger the child was in; being pre-Immortal and managing to attract the attention of several Immortals was a bad place to be.

But she really wanted to get away from Duncan for even a few days. Ever since Hosokawa had beaten him in a duel and then spared him, thanks to Elena's 'interference,' Duncan had been moody, and Miyu had been the first one brave enough to comment on it.

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Seacouver, September 25, 1996

"[Du-ran-sama]," she asks, " MacLeod-sensei loves you very much, doesn't he?"

"Yes, he does, Miyu," Elena answers, wondering and waiting for the next question.

They are alone in the loft, drying dishes after one of Duncan's delightful pasta creations, and a few moments pass before Miyu speaks again. "Then why is he so angry with you?"

"He's not angry with me, so much, but with something I did. I guess I. . .shamed him, and he resents it."

"Why would you do something to shame him?" She is truly surprised.

"To save his life. He would have died otherwise."

"But for a man, honor is so important! Maybe he would have preferred to die than to lose face."

Elena considered the possibility, then discarded it. Duncan had the strongest will to live of anyone she'd ever met in almost four hundred years. "I don't think so, [chiquita]. I think he would have preferred to live. That's probably why he's angry. But he'll get over it." I hope, she thought.

"My grandfather says when a man is shamed he can never get over it. And MacLeod-sensei is. . .well, he's like. . ." Elena waits. If she has learned one thing as an Immortal, it's to be patient. ". . .like Hosokawa-sensei in a way. They are alike, aren't they?"

"How do you mean?" Elena asks, suddenly curious. What does this child know? Could she have made a connection? How?

"They are both. . .I don't know. . .powerful, aren't they? I don't know, Du-ran-sama, please don't ask me!"

"It's alright, Miyu. Don't get upset, ok?"

"No sweat," she answered in English. Over the past couple of weeks, Miyu has actually learned quite a few words and phrases, mostly from Richie, who is as taken with her as Duncan; as everyone seems to be. "But, Du-ran-sama?"

"Yes?"

"Sometimes I think Richie is afraid of MacLeod-sensei. He wouldn't. . .he wouldn't hurt Richie, would he? Or you?"

"No," Elena answers without hesitation. He had hurt Richie, and he would have hurt her, but not anymore. If there is one person Elena trusts, it's Duncan MacLeod. "And don't worry. He won't hurt you either, Miyu." At least not until you grow up to be an adult and a full-fledged Immortal, she adds to herself. At that point, 'there can be only one.'

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New York City, October 3, 1996, 5:00 p.m.

Elena strode out of the hotel, fuming. Any greeting from the staff was cut off before it began by her angry look. If she'd thought that coming to the exciting New York City would distract Duncan from his pouting, she was wrong. One more time she'd tried to explain to him that the only reason she had 'interfered' in his duel with Hosokawa was because she felt responsible, because the fight was ultimately about her, because they both wanted her.

"If you had your sword at his neck, I would have asked you for his life, too, Duncan!"

"You would have begged for his life on your knees like you did for mine?"

She could hear the sarcasm in his voice. "Yes, if I had to! Duncan.."

"I don't believe you!"

"So now I'm a liar?"

Duncan took a deep breath and let it out through his teeth. Everything he said seemed to come out wrong. . .or maybe she took everything he said the wrong way. "I didn't mean that, and you know it," he growled, his jaw working.

She knew from experience just how angry he was and decided to vacate, to talk later, when they were both calmer. "Duncan, I. . .look, I'm going to go for a walk, alright?"

"No, not this time. We're going to stay here and talk about this, Elena!"

"There's nothing to talk about except your resentment and your anger. It's all your ego, Duncan. You've saved my life, and my sanity, remember? Why can't I do the same for you? Why does this have to be so hard for you?"

He opened his mouth to say something, changed his mind, closed his mouth, and finally said, "I don't know."

"Well you think about it, and when you come up with an answer, let me know. In the meantime, I'm going for a walk. I'll be back in a couple of hours."

"No you're not, Elena!"

For a moment she thought he'd try to physically restrain her. She held her hands up in front of her. "I just need to get away, that's all. For a while."

He muttered angrily, "You mean get away from me."

"Yes. That's exactly what I mean." She picked up her cape, arranging it on her shoulders on her way out the door, then strode out of the tiny hotel, fuming. And he stayed behind, angry. After only two blocks she remembered Miyu in the next room. She shouldn't have left her! and started to go back, but she knew the child was quite safe with Duncan, that he would kill if need be to protect her, so she indulged her temper for a while longer.

As Elena was storming out, Duncan heard a soft knock on the door to the connecting room. "Miyu! Damn it!" he muttered to himself. He wasn't angry at the girl; he was angry at himself, and at Elena, for fighting almost in front of her -- he knew how badly children reacted to adults arguing around them -- and his Japanese was not adequate. He could carry out a conversation with Miyu, but couldn't possibly explain to her what had happened, or even that everything was alright, that he and Elena were just having a disagreement, that they truly loved each other. And now Elena was gone, and he'd have to try to talk to the little girl alone. . .he truly did love Elena. It's just that. . .she could be so difficult, so unyielding, so impossible.

"Come in, lassie." In three short weeks he'd developed a pet name for Miyu as well. The child was irresistible -- she was so innocent, so giving of her affection, it was impossible not to return it in full measure. She knew Richie looked on her as a younger sister (Richie! that was another story!) and Joe Dawson had been so charmed by her that when she expressed an interest in the guitar he'd spent hours teaching her basic fingering. Duncan smiled to himself -- he had a feeling Miyu would go back to Tokyo with a new guitar.

Now he turned to her, wiping all trouble from his expression at least, smiling broadly at her; but he knew that this was a very perceptive child who would not be easily fooled by appearances.

Miyu came in quietly, tentatively. "MacLeod-sensei. . ." He had taken it upon himself to teach her some basic sword techniques -- he had even dug up a child's sword he'd picked up in England in the seventeenth century -- and so she used the title [sensei] when addressing him. "Alright?" she ventured in English.

He took both her hands -- they disappeared in his. "Everything's fine, Miyu. Elena and I had a disagreement, that's all." Again, he thought. "She went out for a walk. I'm sorry about this. [Gomennasai]."

"No sweat." She smiled, but Duncan could see the concern in the back of her eyes.

That had to be a phrase of Richie's! Duncan thought. He tried out his rusty Japanese. "When she comes back, we'll all go have dinner. I'm taking you both to a real New York deli. You'll like it."

"I will like, MacLeod-sensei. May I. . ."

"Yes?"

Miyu glanced toward the window. They were staying at Ma Maison, a very private small hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Built Mediterranean style, its three stories overlooked a very carefully tended central courtyard. They went to the window and looked out at it. It was bare and obviously cold, but out of the wind -- and he could see how cozy, peaceful, inviting it looked. Tokyo was a crowded city filled with small gardens, yards, and other such oases of tranquility, and the Japanese treasured these quiet spots.

"Would you like to go down and sit in the courtyard? The garden?"

"[Hai!]" she answered promptly.

"Get your coat," he said, smiling.

While the girl took her time to carefully explore every corner, Duncan sat on a stone bench and reflected. It really was a good spot for peaceful thinking, and as he watched the smiling child he felt his anger at Elena slowly leave him, sinking into the cold, hard ground.

What exactly was he angry at? She had saved his life, and in the first flush of relief he had been grateful. But the more he thought about it, the worse he felt, the more. . .resentful. He didn't hold anything against Hosokawa -- the samurai had been generous and gracious. And certainly Duncan had had his sword at many an Immortal's neck and had spared them. But he knew, although some were grateful, others resented him for it.

Duncan's resentment, however, was aimed at Elena. She had humiliated herself, and by extension, him, in front of his enemy, and worse, in front of Connor, in front of Richie, by begging for Duncan's life *on her knees!* It was unreasonable, stupid, to be shamed by someone else's action, especially someone as independent as Elena, who did what *she* wanted, not what Duncan wanted. Nevertheless, this is how he felt: shamed. He was supposed to be her protector -- no matter how he sliced it, it all came back to his being the man; her being the woman; the training he had had as a boy. And it just wasn't right! And now every time he looked at her, she reminded him. . .

Translations:

sama (Jap.) - qualifying suffix applied to someone of higher rank

chiquita (Span.) - little one

sensei (Jap.) - teacher

gomennasai (Jap.) - sorry

hai (Jap.) - yes

Two

Paris, 1788

"You don't need to protect me, Duncan. I can take care of myself, I assure you. Besides," she smiles knowingly, "no one would dare attack the daughter of a marquis."

He takes her hand, trying to impress her with his urgency -- but he can't help smiling back. He really loves the way she pronounces 'Duncan.' "There's danger all around us, Marguerite, even for a marquis' daughter. . .maybe especially for one! Aren't you aware of the stirrings among the people, the anti-nobility feelings that. . ."

"That's nonsense! The feelings of the rabble won't affect me! And they shouldn't affect you, [mon cher]."

"You forget I'm not a nobleman, [m'amie]." He bends to kiss her white hand. In the last few months he's grown very fond of this particular young woman. True, she's arrogant, like all her class, but he knows for a fact she has a kind heart and a soft spot for the weak and the poor; he's seen her small deeds of generosity, almost furtively done, and he knows her facade of worldliness is just that.

Her smile is dazzling, even in her pale, powdered face. "But you have other qualities, [mon amour], that make such petty considerations. . . unimportant. I love you."

Duncan is taken aback by her boldness; she sees the shock on his face and laughs. "Surely you're not put off by my directness. Is it because I'm a woman? Do you feel threatened?"

All these statements hit too close to home. He's not in control here -- she's the woman, and yet she tells him what to do, tells him what she feels and what she wants without shame. This is the same reason he'd decided to leave Kristin, even before the incident with Louise. She's a woman; they are both women, and it just isn't right!

The next day he leaves Marguerite Saint Claire, without a goodbye, without an explanation, and when he finds out later that she'd lost her head to the guillotine he feels a depth of guilt that stays with him for a long time. If only he'd stayed with her; maybe he could have protected her. . .

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New York City, October 3, 1996, 5:30 p.m.

Duncan realized he couldn't have protected Marguerite, and would have probably lost his own head as well. The shame he felt now was not for leaving her unprotected, but for leaving her because she was too strong a woman for him.

Now the same feeling was coming over him, the feeling that he needed to get away from her. . .he had cared for Marguerite, and now he loved Elena, deeply. They'd been through so much together. But maybe it was time to part company. He was sure she'd understand that her very presence, her personality, was causing him harm; no, causing his ego, his sense of self, harm. Maybe it was something he'd get over in time, but right now he needed. . .'The truth between us, always,' they'd said, and he'd be perfectly honest with her, even if it didn't do him any credit. And that, of course, made him feel even more shame.

He glanced over at Miyu, who was arranging stones in a pattern, and heard his name. It was Paul, the clerk from the front desk, calling him, standing at the French doors that led to the courtyard. He raised his head, and the clerk said, "Telephone, sir. Shall I ask them to call back?"

He looked up at the sky. He didn't want to let Miyu out of his sight, but there wasn't much daylight left, and he was loth to interrupt her game. If he took the guest phone at the concierge's station, he could still watch her through the glass doors while he talked. He could count on one hand the number of people who knew where he was, and he'd want to talk to any of them.

"I'll be right there," he said to Paul, and to Miyu he said, "I'll be right back, lassie." She smiled in acknowledgement, and he went inside to the phone.

"Duncan."

"Connor? How did you know. . ."

"Elena Duran just left. She came by, scared Rachel half to death, accidentally, of course, and is on her way back. She was afraid you'd worry and asked me to call."

Duncan knew Connor well enough to make a judgement on his kinsman's tone of voice alone. First, he could tell Connor was upset about Rachel, but that was understandable. He knew how much Connor cared about her. But there was something else in Connor's voice, a sort of amusement. . .

"Why did she come by?"

"Just to talk."

Connor didn't volunteer any more information, and Duncan knew better than to try to get anything more out of him. "Well, I promised Miyu we'd take her sightseeing tomorrow. Can we get together for dinner afterward?"

"Six o'clock, my treat -- I know the perfect place. I'll come by your hotel."

"See you then."

Duncan hung up and reflected, glancing out the doors at the girl. Ordinarily Connor would have invited him over -- this time he hadn't. Maybe something had happened between him and Elena, and he wanted to be in a very public place -- they had a history of getting on each other's nerves, although they had agreed more or less to disagree. Or maybe Connor was worried for Rachel. But surely Elena was no threat to Rachel! Maybe, just maybe, thought Duncan, he doesn't want *me* to come?! It was possible -- he'd ask Elena if she knew anything. And thank her, for being thoughtful enough to get word to him. Even when she was angry. Even when he was. . .unreasonable. But was he being unreasonable? In the meantime, he turned his attention to getting Miyu inside and ready for dinner.

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earlier that day

Manhattan was cold this time of year, and dirty. Elena had never been in such a dirty modern city, even in the upscale sections near the park. She'd been warned about Central Park at night, but in the day it looked inviting, some green trees, some red, some already bare, and she gravitated toward it, cutting through a corner, and ultimately finding herself on a street filled with antique shops. [Que sorpresa,] she thought to herself.

On the corner she saw the sign 'Nash Antiques,' and went in without hesitation. It was chock full -- she'd never seen so many old objects together, not even in museums, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason; but after a few minutes she realized there was art involved in the display itself, a flow from one section to another, a sense of color, of texture, of style, which made the whole place hang together somehow. It also invited browsing, so she did, until she came to a clear space and saw a woman sitting at a pale Louis XV desk.

Elena had known there was someone else in the store, but when she saw the woman two things struck her. This was a very elegant, middle aged lady indeed; but she was also. . .nervous? tense? Her face smiled, but her body language was stiff. Elena had removed her glasses on entering, so she had to get close to see the woman's expression. Hidden behind the smile was the one emotion Elena had seen more than any, one she knew intimitately inside and out -- fear.

As Elena approached her the woman actually seemed to shrink slightly, subtly away from her? while still maintaining a welcoming smile. This was so odd -- and then Elena sensed the buzz. Another Immortal. . .but it wasn't Connor. Connor's presence was much stronger. This was weak, more like. . .more like Miyu's, more like a pre-Immortal! A pre-Immortal, here?

It wasn't the woman at the desk. Elena came up and said, "I'd like to see Russell Nash, please," but she was already looking around for the source of the buzz, and from this new vantage point, noticed the other woman almost at once.

In a tiny, claustrophobic workroom off the main floor -- really more a converted closet girded with a desk and shelves and the door removed -- she stood, surrounded by papers, muttering into a phone. Wearing a loose black turtleneck and a brown tweed slacks, her red hair pulled ruthlessly back from her forehead in a tight braid, she looked no more than nineteen. As Elena spotted her, she spotted Elena; Elena watched as the girl's eyes skirted over Elena's face and flowing hair, her form-fitting navy clothes and her long black cape, then rolled dismissively.

An amusing realization struck Elena: She thinks I'm here for Connor, Elena thought, amazed. She thinks I'm one of Connor's women. . .Their eyes only met for a moment, then the girl turned her attention back to the phone. Elena overheard the conversation. . .

"What? Cuzo. Emma Cuzo. At Nash Antiques. . .Yeah. . .No. . .Look, Officer Riley, those are not *just* coffee-pots; they are 18th century Russian samovars, and they are *extremely* valuable. . ." She paused, obviously listening. "I don't know how the cat and the kittens got in them, but we didn't purchase the kittens from our agent in Petrograd, we purchased the samovars. Now I've faxed all the papers to you guys in Customs *twice* -- what do you want? A handwritten love-letter from the mayor?" Another pause. "You can't keep the samovars in quarantine with the cats! Officer Riley -- Hey! Don't you dare put me on hold -- hey, wait!" She turned her back to Elena and the store.

At the same moment, the woman at the desk started to say, "I'm sorry, Mr. Nash isn't here; may I. . ." but Elena only heard her peripherally, already moving toward the pre-Immortal, toward Emma Cuzo.

But suddenly the older woman was there, in front of her, blocking her, saying quietly, urgently, firmly, "Please; she's just a child. . ."

Elena paused, staring down at the woman who had drawn herself up and seemed quite determined to stand her ground, in spite of her very obvious fright. . .and Elena realized at that moment that this woman knew; she knew who Elena was, knew who Emma was, and therefore knew who Connor was. . .and still tried to block her! The woman's eyes, very expressive, were a mixture of determination and dread.

At the same time, Elena noticed that Emma Cuzo was now watching both of them -- Elena saw from the set in her shoulders and the look in her eyes that the girl was attuned to the older woman's fear, her perception of a threat. She dropped the phone and walked over to the two of them, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was she whom the older woman was frightened for, whom the mortal woman was trying to protect.

"Is there a problem here, Ms. Ellenstein?" Emma asked, eyeing Elena with hostility. "Is this woman bothering you? Do you want me to page Mr. Nash? Or call the cops?"

For a moment Elena was surprised; her eyes flickered over the girl's face, wondering how much the girl knew, deciding it must be very little. Paging Mr. Nash was a bluff -- Elena knew for a fact that Connor was nowhere nearby -- but it was a solid, clever move on Emma's part.

But it was time to end this, if only for the older woman's sake. Elena thought she knew who the woman was. Elena smiled and held out her hand. "That won't be necessary. My name is Elena Duran. I'm a friend of Duncan MacLeod. And you must be. . ." she paused, dredging her memory for a name Connor had mentioned at Joe's months before. "Rachel. Rachel, isn't it?"

The woman hesitated, then took Elena's hand. "Yes, I'm Rachel . . . Rachel Ellenstein."

Elena let her smile widen, become disarming. She glanced at Emma, whose face still held wariness and concern. But Rachel turned to the girl, saying, "Emma, it's alright. She's a friend of a friend. You can go back to work."

"Are you sure?" The girl asked, touching Rachel's arm lightly, a gesture of affection and misplaced protectiveness.

"I'm quite sure," Rachel said to the girl with some humor, although Elena could still see the fright, barely controlled, in Rachel's eyes. "Go. Scoot!" she ordered Emma. "We don't pay you just to hang around, you know!"

"Ok," Emma said, speaking to Rachel but looking at Elena. "But I'll be right over there. By the phone."

Elena nodded to Emma, then turned to Rachel and, pulling on her arm slightly, drew her back toward the desk, whispering, "Please don't worry, Rachel. I didn't come for Connor." When they got back to the desk, Elena released Rachel, then continued in a low tone. "And you're right. She is just a child." She made sure she had Rachel's full attention. "I don't go after children."

Rachel put a hand on the desk, perhaps to steady herself. Some of the fear, but not all, left her eyes. She started to say something else, but Elena added, in a more normal voice, "Please tell. . .Russell that Duncan and I are staying at this hotel." She pulled a card out of a pocket in her cloak and handed it to Rachel, who let out a deep breath and took it, her hand trembling ever so slightly. "Tell him we'll call him. And it's been nice meeting you, Rachel. Emma," she nodded at the young woman still lingering in the doorway of the workroom, watching her.

Translations:

mon cher (Fr.) - my dear

m'amie (Fr.) - my friend

mon amour (Fr.) - my love

que sorpresa (Span.) - what a surprise

Three

Elena took no offense at the misunderstanding -- she would have found it comic, if Rachel hadn't been so frightened. Looking at Emma, she observed a certain depth about the girl, a feeling -- it occurred to her, comparing this feeling with her reaction to Miyu, that the link between Immortals, the similar chord, beyond just the buzz, extended to pre-Immortals as well. Still, there was something about Emma personally. . .

But Elena knew she was still making Rachel nervous, especially the longer she stood looking at Emma, so she decided to leave until a time when Connor was there. Then she felt an Immortal presence and looked around, finally toward the doors. "Or maybe I'll tell him myself," she muttered

Rachel and Elena both saw Connor MacLeod, alias Russell Nash, in a small parabolic mirror angled to reveal who was at the front doors. He came through them in a controlled burst, sending the small bell on the inside handle ringing wildly. As soon as he was within sight of the three women he slowed and walked up normally, his grey eyes sweeping the tableau before him, judging, perhaps guessing.

Elena didn't want him to reach any wrong conclusions. Apparently neither did Rachel, and they both started talking at the same time. "Mr. Nash. . ." began Rachel, and "Hello, Russell. . ." Elena said.

Connor walked to Rachel's side, but not without glancing first at the third woman beyond. He seemed satisfied, if not completely pleased, by Emma's appearance. The girl, who had done nothing for the last few moments but stand and stare at Elena, suddenly bent her head and began shuffling papers rapidly as Connor cast his gaze her way.

The smile he then gave Rachel was reassuring and kind; dazzling, really. The affection on his part was obvious. It was also filled with meaning, a code between them that Elena knew had been sent but had no idea what it meant. They were obviously very close, for years, she thought to herself. Rachel was turned away from her and towards Connor, but the Mortal's relief was obvious in the way her shoulders sagged slightly.

Connor put his hand on Rachel's shoulder, squeezing slightly, then smiled at Elena. It wasn't the same smile. "Elena Duran. What brings you to New York?"

"Well, you told me it was a city filled with adventure, remember? I guess you made me curious."

"So I have myself to thank for this. . .visit."

Verbal sparring with Connor was becoming an old habit, but she'd seen the concern in his eyes when he first came in. "Your friend Rachel has been very kind." She let that sink in, reassuring him, then added, "Actually, I'm here with Duncan, and with a little friend, the great granddaughter of Ueshiba, to see the big city."

"There's a lot to see. Where are you staying?"

"A little hotel called Ma Maison on the other side of the park."

"I know the place. It's nice and private. Not the kind of place for adventures."

"Sometimes adventures seek one out. I believe there have been times in my life when I've fallen under the old Chinese curse, 'May you live in interesting times.'"

Connor chuckled, seemingly more at ease.

"Russell." She took a deep breath. "As long as I'm here, I'd like to ask you a favor, if I may."

"Of course. Why don't you come upstairs for a drink?"

"Thank you."

Connor whispered something to Rachel and glanced once more at Emma. Then the two Immortals went into the elevator and up to Connor's loft. Elena looked around a very comfortable and expensive living room, filled, of course, with antiques. Connor asked, "Scotch?"

Elena gave him a dirty look. That was their old joke. "Just soda would be fine," she said. "So this is the lion's den," she muttered, half to herself.

Connor handed her her drink. "Is that how you think of me?"

Elena smiled. "The male lion spends twenty hours a day sleeping. The last four hours he spends mating, eating the best share of what his lionesses have caught, or doing what he does best: fighting other lions." She turned to face him squarely. "In defense of the pride, the lion is one of the most agressive, bold, and feared killers on the face of the earth."

Connor laughed, a loud, almost barking sound. "Shall I take that as a compliment?"

"That, yes, and an apology. I'm sorry I frightened your women."

Connor waved his drink in the air. "Rachel has been with me a long time."

"Perhaps she should know better then. She was a bit of a tigress defending her kitten. She actually placed her body between me and Emma. I'm impressed by her bravery, but it was a dangerous place to be."

"She's overprotective. I'll talk to her. Tell me," he added, "what you do think of Emma?"

Elena thought back. Arrogance, certainly; but also. . .intensity. That's it! "Well, she's certainly perceptive. That's good. Very self-assured. And she was concerned for Rachel. They were trying to protect each other, and I was the bad guy. It was like. . .like one of those Spanish comedies, where people go in and out of doors at the wrong times, misunderstand each other, make wrong assumptions about everyone else. It would have been funny -- except I could see how scared Rachel was. I'm sorry."

Connor nodded. "I'll tell her."

"And Emma -- she's completely in the dark, isn't she?" Connor nodded again, and she continued, "Also, I think. . .Connor, do you really want my opinion?"

Connor shrugged. "You're an intelligent, experienced Immortal. I value your opinion."

"I'll take *that* as a compliment. Well, she seemed a bit intense, like one of those dolls, the kind with a key in their backs, the ones you wind up, sometimes wind up too much. . ."

He considered it for a moment, nodded in acknowledgement, saying, "I see." But somehow she got the definite impression that he'd more or less dismissed what she'd said; so she tried again.

"You know, I've only had one student. John Frankowski. You know what happened to him."

"Yes. He betrayed you and Richie took his head."

"Yea. but if I'd been more attuned to him, to his personality, maybe I would have seen what he was like, what he was planning. . .I might have even been able to bring him over to my side. . ."

"He was a weakling and a coward. You couldn't change that."

"Yes, he was, but I probably made it worse for him. I was too rough, too cruel with him. I didn't exactly invite him to confide in me. Well, at the very least I would have known what he was like. Now, this girl, Emma. She's arrogant. . .although that may change, temporarily at least. But her *intensity* could be a strength or a weakness. I suppose it depends partly on how she was raised, what kind of a woman she becomes, or," here she paused, wondering if she was going too far; but he had asked for her opinion, "what kind of woman her mentor teaches her to be."

Connor stared at her for a moment. She couldn't read his expression, didn't know if she'd reached him or not, and she thought he was going to say something. But then he abruptly went on to another subject. "You said you needed a favor."

He came right to the point. Very well; so would she. "Do you know how Duncan is feeling these days?"

"Yes," he answered promptly.

When he didn't add anything, she continued. "Connor, I didn't intend to shame him or 'dishonor' him. I just couldn't let him be killed. You can understand that, can't you?" She thought back just a few months before. . .

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Seacouver, July 27, 1996, midnight

"[!NO! !Hiroshi, por favor, no!]" she blurts out, instinctively falling to her knees herself. "[Iie! Dozo!] Don't kill him, please! You've proved you can defeat him! Please don't take his head!" she calls out. She couldn't bear to see Ducan die in front of her like this! This couldn't be happening! "Please," she repeats, just audibly.

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New York City, October 3, 1996, 6:00 p.m.

"I understand. And so does he."

"Then why," Elena cried, "is he being so unreasonable? Is it pride? Is it machismo?" She didn't give Connor a chance to answer. "Look, I was raised by the epitome of machismo and male pride, a Spanish [caballero], and even though the nuns taught me to behave like a shy, virginal senorita, Don Alvaro taught me as an Immortal to be a warrior, to be aggressive, to think and fight like a man. But I'm still missing something, aren't I?"

He smiled quietly, sipping his whisky.

"Or maybe it has something to do with the stubborness of Scots!"

"Maybe."

"So, I should just be patient, let him get over his wounded pride, and soon things will be back to normal. Is that your advice?"

"That's my advice."

She finished her soda, amused at the one-sidedness of the conversation. But he had helped, somehow. "Thank you, Connor."

"You're welcome, Elena." He stood with her.

"I can find my own way out. Oh, and please call Duncan at the hotel and tell him I'm on my way. He worries these days." She sighed.

"I will."

She didn't sense Emma on her way out, although Connor's strong buzz would have drowned out the young woman's anyway. But Elena made sure to stop by Rachel's desk. "Rachel, I'm sorry about what happened with the girl."

Rachel smiled slightly, nodding.

"But you know, you shouldn't worry so much about *him.* Connor MacLeod is a lion."

Rachel sat up very straight in her chair. "I know," she said proudly.

Translations:

por favor (Span.) - please

ie, dozo (Jap.) - no, please

caballero (Span.) - gentleman; knight

Four

It was almost dinnertime, and Connor would have called Duncan; so Elena decided to get a closer look at this Emma Cuzo -- assuming Emma went home at the regular time.

After just a few minutes Elena saw her walking out, a fat black canvas satchel slung over her shoulder, her brown German army jacket hanging loose and unbuttoned, her eyes hidden behind a pair of black wayfarers -- even though it was near dusk. Aggressively, Emma elbowed her way into the crowded flow of pedestrians, side-stepping the array of street-people, street-peddlars, and bicycle messengers. Elena watched for a moment, captivated by the kaleidoscope of street-life and amused by Emma's appearance. 'Future's so bright -- she's gotta wear shades' Elena hummed to herself, remembering a song Richie liked to play at the dojo. Then, keeping her eyes on the redhead weaving her way through sidewalk traffic, Elena began to follow.

She followed Emma for two blocks -- she wanted to be clear of Connor MacLeod before she approached his *student* -- always keeping several people between herself and Emma Cuzo. Finally a safe distance away from the antique shop, Elena closed the gap between them, coming up behind her. She was about to call her name, when the girl -- as if feeling Elena's eyes on her back -- suddenly spun around. . .

"*What* do you want?" the girl blurted angrily, making a fist around a small tube on her key-chain. Elena glanced at her hand -- it was tiny canister of mace. As if that little can could protect her, Elena thought, amazed at the trust placed in such an inadequate defense. But Emma paused, shoved her keys and her fist back into her coat-pocket, pushing her sunglasses on top of her forehead with her other hand. "Ohmigod," she said, squinting at Elena. "It's *you*."

"I startled you. I'm sorry," said the Immortal.

Emma rolled her eyes. "Forget it; you didn't," she snapped, and kept on walking. Elena tried hard to suppress a smile as she easily matched Emma's stride.

"Emma, I just wanted to apologize for. . ." she couldn't resist this ". . .frightening you and Rachel." She had an idea what Emma might say. She was not disappointed.

"Look lady, you didn't *scare* me, ok? Emma answered brazenly. But then she stopped, and Elena saw a furtive, speculative smile pass across her face. "But you really had Ms. Ellenstein freaking out there for a minute." Emma glanced over at Elena. "You have any idea what that was all about?" she asked innocently.

Elena had to stop herself from chuckling out loud. Never underestimate the curiosity of children! "Rachel thought I was someone else," she replied blandly.

"Ah. But you aren't this. . .'someone else'?"

"No."

"I see," the girl nodded, smiling skeptically. "And just *who* are you?"

Elena returned the smile; she was enjoying this little guessing game. "Like Rachel said: a friend of a friend of Russell's."

"A friend of a friend -- but not *his* friend. . ."

It was a sharp observation, and Elena acknowledged it. "You're right. But Russell Nash is not an easy person to get to know."

The girl laughed, a real laugh, sweet and almost musical: "Yeah, tell me about it. Unlike the Tao, he can be named -- he just refuses to be understood. . ." She smiled at Elena, a real smile this time, but then looked away, embarrassed, as if she'd said too much, revealed something she hadn't meant to.

Elena gave Emma a conspiratorial glance. She was beginning to suspect that an interesting person might be lurking beneath Emma's abrasive exterior. She wondered if it was a person Connor had seen, or whether something else had drawn his attention to this girl.

"So, how long have you. . .worked there?" Elena began.

"So how long have you known him?" Emma asked simultaneously.

They both laughed. "Since last summer," Emma answered, going first. "Long enough to bump into about a dozen things that are 'none of my business.'" She stopped again, looking mortified, "I mean -- look, don't get me wrong; it's a *great* job. . ."

"You like it?" Elena probed lightly.

"Oh yeah, it's part-time, which is perfect, because I'm in school, and they give me some interesting things to do -- at least, Ms. Ellenstein does -- I mean, Mr. Nash is only there about half the time. He's always traveling, you know -- part of the job -- scouting for new pieces, meeting with buyers. . ."

And hunting for heads, Elena thought. She noticed that the girl was looking at her quizzically.

"So how did you meet him? Who's the mutual friend? An *old* friend?"

Elena thought about it, wanting to be as honest as Emma's ignorance would allow. But she was hesitant to volunteer any details that might contradict Russell's story. "Duncan MacLeod," Elena said slowly. "Duncan is. . ."

But suddenly Elena lost all interest in the conversation -- she'd just sensed an Immortal! It's possible it was Connor, but she couldn't take that chance. I have to get her away from me! was the first thing she thought. She quickly changed subjects. "Do you usually take a taxi home, Emma?" she asked, flagging down the nearest cab.

"I'm a college student! I take the subway. Over there." She pointed to the station at the corner.

"Tonight you take a taxi. My treat." The cab pulled up and Elena opened the rear door.

"Why are you. . ."

"It's my way of making up for scaring Rachel and upsetting you. Please get in, Emma."

Emma stood, looking from the open door to the woman in front of her. "Look, you don't have to do this."

Elena felt the other Immortal getting closer. She sighed impatiently. Was she going to have to physically force this girl into the damn car? "Emma," she said urgently, "Get in."

It was clearly an order, and Emma's resistance wavered. Elena handed a bill to the driver, then turned back to Emma, moving closer to her, invading her space. "Emma." The tone in her voice had changed again. She didn't want to scare the girl, but time was short, and she did scare her. . .she could see it on Emma's face. The girl took a half step back into the open cab door, her face paling slightly, and opened her mouth to say something; then apparently changed her mind. Elena pressed forward until they were almost touching.

Emma Cuzo got into the taxi.

Elena slammed the door. With a last look, she turned away and walked in the opposite direction. It had been a cloudy day to begin with, and would turn into a dark night. She headed toward Central Park, thinking maybe she and the Immortal who followed would be able to find a private place there. But before she reached it, the Immortal presence became stronger, closer, too near to ignore. So she turned to face him/her, still on a crowded sidewalk.

Her gaze cut across the people on the sidewalk, then narrowed down across the street, through a bunch of cars, trucks, bicycles. She saw him almost at once, a slight, pale, light haired man in a navy duster -- a bus drove past, blocking him from view, and when it passed he hadn't moved, still staring across the street at her, smiling a rather odd smile. Their eyes met, and she nodded, then hers flicked away to examine the area. So many people, damn!

She was near the corner, so she crossed to his side, keeping him in sight. He stood his ground, and she walked right up to him, taking an agressive stance. When they were very close she took off her glasses, concentrating all her attention on him.

"Are you here for me?" she asked. He was a bit shorter than her. His eyes were pale, like his complexion; he had a strong Nordic or Germanic appearance. And now, for his accent. . .

"My name is Claude Maurice Bethel, and the answer is yes." His voice was lower than she expected, like that of a storyteller of her youth; almost musical. She wasn't sure about the accent. At least he's not one of these strongmen, she thought, although she'd met plenty of small, weak-looking Immortals who turned out to be dynamite duelists.

But Bethel didn't strike her as an expert fencer.

"I'm Maria Elena Conchita Duran y Agramonte. But tell me, where can we be private at six o'clock on the island of Manhattan?"

He was still smiling. There was a menace about him, something that 'smelled rotten.' "I know a place."

Feeling a visceral sensation, one she had learned not to ignore, she said, "No. I don't trust you."

"Then we go our separate ways, yes?"

"We'll meet again, Bethel." She was close enough to be breathing in his face. Traffic on the street divided around them. No one looked their way. She knew that Parisians always said, "pardon" before they bumped into you; Londoners said, "pardon" afterward; Latin Americans pushed you and then started a conversation; and the Japanese never bumped into anyone -- it would have been impolite. New Yorkers just seemed to plow into others without any apology. Elena was very alert to her surroundings; but what was interesting was that Bethel wasn't glancing around at anyone else. There were a lot of people, and he was pointedly, deliberately looking right at her. . .

Suddenly her back felt very exposed. On a whim, really; perhaps instinct, she sidestepped to her left, intending to put her back to a wall. As she did she glanced behind her, now to her right, and she just caught a glimpse of a tall, sandy haired man looking her way, reaching out towards her, *his arm with a coat over it.* He was only a meter away, with no intervening people, and she clearly heard the concussion, it was a shot! Something sharp hit her in the right side -- she knew it wasn't a bullet; there was no pain -- and as she reached down to pull a dart out of her right hip she was already sinking to the ground.

"Carol! Oh no, not again!" It was Bethel, moving toward her, cradling her as she fell. "I have to get her to a hospital right away! Someone please help me!" He sounded genuinely worried, and Elena shot him a venomous glance, but she was paralyzed; she couldn't even speak; and her breathing was already becoming labored. Someone was picking her up from behind; then she couldn't feel even that, and as she gasped for breath and cold invaded her body she realized from long experience that she was dying.

Her last sight was of Bethel's face, very close to hers. His expression was. . .amused. Through the roaring in her ears, she heard him whisper, "Checkmate, senorita."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

New York City, October 3, 1996, 8 p.m.

Duncan felt frustrated sitting in the hotel room, letting the phone ring, but he couldn't very well traipse around New York City at night, looking for an Immortal, with a little girl in tow. "Come on, answer the damn phone, Connor!" he muttered.

A familiar voice finally came on the line. "Nash."

"Where is she, Connor?" Duncan exclaimed, then noticed how Miyu flinched and took a deep breath, calming himself.

"I take it you mean Elena. She left here. . .about two hours ago. She's not there yet?"

"No."

"She could have got lost, Duncan. She's never been in New York."

Duncan shook his head at the telephone. "She would have called."

There was a long silence, filled with meaning. "Why don't you come over, and we'll go looking for her together."

"I can't. I've got the Ueshiba child with me." He glanced over at Miyu's worried face.

"I'll get Rachel to come sit with the girl while we. . ."

"I can't." Duncan repeated, frustrated. "I can't leave her alone. She's ten years old and she's. . .she's one of us, Connor. I'm responsible." He was angry now, as well as frustrated. He was angry and a little ashamed that he had to run to Connor, depend on him for help; he was angry that he couldn't solve his own problems; and he was particularly furious that it was his fault that he had a problem to begin with, that it was his fault that Elena was out there now. . .

"I see." Connor paused, obviously considering the options. "Stay where you are, then, and I'll come to you. Maybe I can find out something on the way. I know a few people. . ."

"I'll be waiting." He hung up, then turned to the almost impossible task of reassuring a worried child in a foreign language, a language he hadn't really spoken in two hundred years. He smiled at her, called her over, and she came immediately. Her eyes were very large -- she wasn't a full blooded Oriental, he realized -- and quite frightened.

Before he could say anything, Miyu asked the question, "Du-ran?"

"I'm not sure where she is, Miyu. She's late." He was sure the word he'd used was incorrect, but hoped she'd get the idea. "She may be lost in the city. Lost. . ." That word he didn't know. "My kinsman, Connor MacLeod, is looking for her." I should be out there, looking for her, not Connor, he raged at himself.

"You. . .we looking for her, MacLeod-sensei?"

"No, Miyu, we'll stay here and wait, in case she calls us. I can't take you on a search all over the city, especially at night. It's too dangerous. Connor will look for her and let us know. We have to wait."

"I'm worried for her," Miyu said. It needed no translation.

"I'm worried, too, a little, but she'll probably be alright. Elena is very strong, and she can take care of herself. She is an Aikidoka, remember?" He smiled, trying to show a confidence he didn't completely feel, putting on a brave front for Miyu's sake, and he could see from her face that it *almost* worked. It wasn't so much that he was afraid for Elena -- she could handle herself quite well -- she'd done so for centuries. It was more guilt. . .after all, he'd driven her out into the streets with his stupid, stubborn pride!

There were tears on Miyu's eyes now, and one slowly coursed its way down her soft cheek. Boy, he was doing a great job with both Elena and Miyu! Keeping in mind that he was speaking to a frightened child, he changed the timbre of his voice, softening it, making it lilting, persuasive.

"Miyu, please don't cry. We'll find her. It'll be alright; you'll see. Your great grandfather, Ueshiba Sensei, taught her well -- she'll be alright. Listen . . .while we wait for Elena to return, why don't we get something to eat? Are you hungry? I'll order us some dinner, ok?"

"[Hai], MacLeod-sensei," she replied obediently, but he could see her heart wasn't in it. Filled with foreboding, and without the slightest appetite, Duncan dialed room service.

Five

ew York City, October 3, 1996, 10 p.m.

Elena came back to life, shuddering violently, but didn't have very much range of motion, and the reason why was immediately obvious. She was sitting, naked, of course, again, in the dark, on a cold metal chair, her wrists, ankles and waist strapped to it, her forehead held tightly by a thin metal ribbon against the chair's high back. The gag in her mouth was held with tape. Worst of all -- if it actually could be worse -- she could sense an Immortal very near.

"Welcome back," he said in barely accented Spanish.

Claude Bethel turned on a lamp, casting a circle of light on a table directly in front of her. He came around and sat on the table, facing her.

Her eyes burned into his. He was still smiling the same damn smile -- didn't he have any other expression? -- but she figured he had good reason to be pleased. He had her.

"The man who darted you on the sidewalk, in the middle of a Manhattan rush hour -- brilliantly done, wasn't it? -- he's worked with me before. He's actually very proud of being able to sneak up on people, but you felt or heard him coming, didn't you? None of the others did. My congratulations on your. . .alertness. Unfortunately, your timing was off by just a bit."

His voice was melodic, almost caressing. The others? she thought. [!Mierda!]

"Oh, yes, you're not my first Immortal guest, not by any means."

Damn it, did he know her thoughts? He obviously had done this before. As she pondered this, Bethel reached behind him and took her broadsword off the table, holding it in front of him, examining it in the indirect light. The blade gleamed with power. She had always found it breathtakingly beautiful as well as totally deadly.

"An exquisite work of art. Toledo, of course. I've always thought it ironic to be beheaded by your own sword, don't you agree?" He swept the blade down to her neck, not quite breaking the skin. But Elena didn't think he was going to take her head; not yet anyway. She imagined that first Bethel was going to have some 'fun' with her. It was cold in the room. She could see goosebumps on her bare flesh. He was wearing a white lab coat, and she was very aware of her nakedness, her helplessness [!Dios mio!] Not this! Not again! [!Madre de Dios, no!] she thought, despair making her heart feel like a dead weight inside her chest. But she kept this despair from showing on her face.

"You're quite right -- I have no intention of killing you right away. And I won't, poetic though it may be, use your own sword against you." His Spanish was really very good.

They stared into each others' eyes, and Elena could see the wildness in his, the insanity, perhaps, but also -- and this was what started her fear -- the pleasure. Bethel was really enjoying this! "Before I leave you to think about what is to come, I want you to understand exactly what your position is."

Elena already understood exactly what her position was. She was in deep trouble. . .Then Bethel simply reached up and pinched her nostrils shut. She couldn't move her head, and with the gag in her mouth she couldn't get a breath. Within seconds her throat was constricting, her lungs hurting, burning, begging for air. She could feel the throbbing of her own heart getting louder. Her eyes watered, then bugged out as she struggled vainly against her bonds. There was a weight on her chest -- she had drowned once before, and it felt like this, her lungs desperately screaming for air, air! But there was no air, and after what seemed like forever her lungs were bursting, blood vessels exploding, blackness encroaching rapidly. . .

Bethel released her nose and ripped the tape off her mouth. With the last of her strength she spit out the cloth, gasping painfully like a fish on the shore, every ragged breath searing her lungs, filling them, healing them, until after a few terrible minutes the blessed air seemed to revive her a little. Her lungs felt like fire; her whole chest hurt; she wheezed until she could finally breathe again. Then she looked silently at Bethel, death in her glance.

"What? No threats? No intimidation? No predictions of my imminent demise? Aren't you going to tell me in great detail how you'll kill me?"

Her breathing was back to normal, the pain in her chest subsiding. She whispered, "No."

"Splendid! Oh, you are quick! The intelligent ones always figure it out right away; I do so prefer dealing with a bright person. Perhaps you do understand, Elena."

Elena was beginning to think that she didn't, she really didn't understand. She had hurt people before, tortured them herself for information about the Watchers, about the Hunters; but she'd never hurt anyone for fun, enjoyed it. And she'd never been on the other side. Not like this. However, she was sure that soon she would understand, and very clearly.

He turned to the table. There was a large vise attached to one edge, and Bethel put the blade of her sword in it, tightening it as she squirmed in her seat. [!Cabron, no!] she said to herself, using all her will to keep from crying out. But when he put his full weight against it suddenly and snapped the blade, she couldn't help making a sound full of grief and rage. She had carried that blade for over three hundred years, and it had saved her life more times than she could count. It was given to her, made for her hand, by her teacher, her father, Don Alvaro. And now this bastard had simply. . .

Bethel got very close to her. He was no longer smiling -- in fact, the look on his face was cold, bizzare, disquieting; and unreadable. "I will break you, Maria Elena Duran, just like I broke your blade," he hissed directly in her face.

The light went off; he was gone; and Elena was alone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Elena was still strapped to the same chair, hungry and tormented by thirst, sitting in her own blood and vomit, urine and feces. It had been bad; worse than she could have imagined. Bethel had come in cheerfully with scissors and a straight razor and had cut off all her hair, her beautiful hair! then shaved her head; she had felt every scrape of the cold, hard steel slowly cutting along her scalp. Then he used a branding iron, saying, "We had shaved heads and tatoos at Bergen-Belsen, but tatoos fade so quickly on Immortals. I found a brand to be so much better. . ."

He asked her questions she wouldn't answer.

("Now, Elena, tell me about all your friends -- your Immortal friends. You will tell me, you know. You will.")

Now she sat with the lamp shining so brightly in her face she couldn't sleep, alone and naked in a cold, cold room. Until he came back. When she sensed the other Immortal her muscles tensed up immediately, her stomach hurting, spasming, even though it had long ago been emptied and she hadn't been fed. "[!No! !No mas, por el amor de Dios!]" she whispered. She started sweating, gasping in anticipation of his arrival, knowing what was coming, knowing she would scream, writhing impotently against her straps, screaming so loudly and so long she shredded her vocal chords, her nostrils filled with the stench of blood and of her own scorched flesh. . .Then it was over, and he left her, the lamp shining brightly in her face, keeping her awake, alone, starving and parched with thirst, naked in a cold, cold room. Until he came back, again.

("Now, Elena. Let's start over. From the beginning.")

She soon started answering his questions, with lies at first. But he seemed to have a sixth sense, and he was getting to know her very well, and when she lied the pain never seemed to end. Then she started to answer his questions truthfully, and he found out all about her, all about her mentor Don Alvaro, all about Darius and Gordon and Trent and Estelle, and O Sensei and Panchito Avila and Maria Alonso, who weren't even Immortals. She also told him about the Immortals who still lived: Amanda and Methos and Maria Feliz, Hosokawa and Richie Ryan. And when he asked her why she was in New York she told him all about Connor, and Miyu and Emma, and even Duncan MacLeod.

Every time he left her, strapped to the chair or to the cot where he raped her, the lamp shining brightly in her face, keeping her awake, alone and naked in a freezing room, starved and thirsty, she sobbed with rage and self-revulsion for what she had done, promising herself that she wouldn't tell him anything more, and failing the next time. Then she sobbed with fear and pain for what had been done to her and what would be done to her again.

But after a while the rage and self-hatred were gone, and only the fear and pain remained.

When she had told him everything he wanted to know, he started to tell her everything he wanted *her* to know, things she didn't want to believe. He told her she belonged to him, body and soul. He told her she deserved to suffer, because she, too, had tortured others. He told her that Don Alvaro had never loved her -- God, how she didn't want to believe that!

Then Bethel told her that Connor MacLeod was his friend, his comrade-in-arms, and Connor had betrayed her, had set her up so Bethel could capture her. She knew it wasn't true, that Connor hadn't even known she was coming. But eventually she believed him; and then he told her she should never have left Miyu where Connor MacLeod could get to her, because Connor had a taste for 'little girls' and was amusing himself with Miyu even as they spoke.

"[!No! !No, no es verdad!] It's not true!"

But eventually she believed that too, that Miyu was being sexually abused by Connor, and Bethel would give her frequent reports on how delightful, how refreshing, how innocent Connor found the little girl -- reports supposedly coming from Connor himself. And in the end she believed everything Bethel told her because her world had shrunk in on itself, and the only two things left in it were Bethel's voice and her own pain; and the only way to stop the pain, even briefly, was to believe, truly believe, Bethel's voice.

But then he told her something she wouldn't believe, no matter how much he hurt her. . .

He told her Duncan MacLeod knew.

Duncan MacLeod knew that Connor had betrayed her. Duncan MacLeod was tired of her, argued with her constantly, wanted to be rid of her. Duncan MacLeod had asked his kinsman, his closest friend, Connor, to find a way to destroy her.

"Connor MacLeod gave you to me; and for payment, Duncan gave little Miyu to him."

She fought him on that point harder than on any other. She fought him so hard, and for so long, that he finally decided on a new tactic. "Believe me, Elena. It's so obvious, but you can't see what's in front of your face! They have eyes, but they cannot see. Well," he shrugged. "If you insist on being blind. . ."

That was the worst day of all. That was the day he cut out her right eye.

But he'd give her a chance, he'd said. If when he came back she really believed, really saw what Duncan had done to her, he wouldn't take her other eye.

So she sat in her chair, awake, exhausted, her throat raw from thirst and from screaming, from pleading with Bethel, from begging him, the empty space in her eye socket throbbing with remembered agony, alone and naked in the cold and dark.

("I'm going to turn out the lights, Elena, so you will know what being in total darkness is really like.")

Pain and fear.

And all she had to do was believe one little thing: that Duncan MacLeod, one of the most decent men she'd met in almost four centuries; a man she'd lived with, fought with, loved with all her heart; a man she'd kill for, die for, was now suffering for -- was a liar, a coward, the worst kind of betrayer.

If she believed it, really and truly believed it, she would please Bethel, and maybe then he'd take her head; he'd finish it.

If she didn't do what he wanted, what Bethel wanted, he'd come back and cut out her other eye, or maybe burn it out.

And what she was most afraid of, she realized, was not being hurt again, or that he'd take her head. What really started her stomach rolling, skin turning clammy, heart pounding with unspeakable horror; what she was most afraid of, was that he'd blind her and then *he'd let her live!* Waiting helplessly, hopelessly, to feel an Immortal coming for her; easy prey; unable to see, to defend herself, or to run!

Alone in the dark for eternity.

All she had to do was believe that Duncan MacLeod knew. . .

"Noooooo!" she screamed, thrashing wildly, impotently, weakly now, her scream actually a thick whisper through parched lips and a swollen tongue, feeling her vocal chords actually tearing, feeling blood vessels bursting in her brain, feeling the straps cutting cruelly into her skeletal wrists, her visible ribcage, her rail-thin legs, feeling agony, terror and complete, total despair.

After a while she stopped writhing, completely exhausted in mind, body and soul, ready to give in. He's won, she thought, not for the first time. Bethel's won and I've lost, completely. . .

But something was nagging at her, at the edge of her consciousness. Through a fog of agony and fear and desperation she knew something was different, something had changed. . .something good, something that would help her. . ."[!Concentrate, Elenita!]" It was Don Alvaro, whom she had given up to Bethel, talking to her, again, telling her to think. Then she could hear O Sensei, whom she had also surrendered to Bethel, urging her to meditate, to clear her mind, to use the muscle between her ears. . .Darius, standing tall, filling her with peace and calm just by his presence. She could see them all before her like the Holy Trinity. . .

Think. Calm. Concentrate. Pray. Meditate. "[!Ayudame, Dios mio!]" she croaked. Because there was something she'd missed. Something that was obvious. Something that would help her. What was it?

Then she glanced down at her right arm -- her head still held in the metal vise, she could just barely see the tips of her thin fingers. She closed her eyes -- her eye, he'd taken her right eye, God! -- No! Think! Concentrate! She tentatively lifted her left arm. It was held down tightly by leather straps, the buckles under the armrest so someone flexible like her -- like she used to be -- couldn't try to use her teeth to get loose. Then her right arm. She lifted her right arm.

It was loose! No! It was looser than the left.

It was looser. She moved it around, the leather still cutting painfully into her hand -- her hand, not her wrist. She had some play. She had some room. She had a chance, maybe, [!por favor, Dios mio!] to get her right arm loose. . .

Panic filled her now, and terror, almost worse than ever before! She'd never be able to get loose! She'd have to pull, hard, and that meant pain, more pain, and she couldn't take more pain, she couldn't! It wouldn't work! Even if she got one arm loose, she'd have to unstrap everything else. She couldn't do it! She was wheezing now, whimpering. She didn't have the strength to walk to the door! She was too weak! And the door would be locked anyway! Even if she made it to the door, it would be locked, and Bethel would find her huddled on the ground inside the door. Then he would. . .

The thought of what Bethel would do to her filled her with such paralyzing terror that she simply sat, staring into space.

Translations:

mierda (Span.) - shit

Dios mio (Span.) - my God

madre de Dios (Span.) - mother of God

cabron (Span.) - asshole, bastard

no mas, por el amor de Dios (Span.) - no more, for the love of God

concentrate (Span.) - concentrate

ayudame, Dios mio (Span.) - help me, God

Six

New York City, October 8, 1996, 7 a.m.

The next few days were some of the worst Duncan had ever been through. A call to Dawson had produced no results -- Bernie Liebowitz, Elena's Watcher, had never even come to New York and the Watchers had no idea where she was. There were no reports of beheaded individuals, but they really didn't expect any. Connor scoured every street between the hotel and his antique shop, spreading money liberally, looking for information. After all, they reasoned, Elena was a striking looking woman. Even in New York, maybe someone would have seen her. When Duncan couldn't stand sitting and waiting any more, Connor stayed with Miyu while Duncan walked the streets like a wild man, not eating or sleeping, looking like he'd actually aged ten years.

"Enough, Duncan," Connor said to him. They were at the hotel, and Duncan had just come back from an all-nighter. Elena had simply disappeared off the face of the earth, and there was only one possible explanation. "She's gone."

Direct. Straight to the point. As far as Connor was concerned, Elena was dead and he had given up on her, like he'd given up on a dead Immortal girl called Margaret three hundred fifty years before. Duncan closed his eyes, taking a deep, shuddering breath. Elena's death was simply something he didn't want to face. "She's alive, Connor," he said for the hundredth time. "I'd know it if she'd lost her head."

Connor shook his head. They'd had this conversation before, so he didn't bother to repeat his arguments. This time he just said, "Duncan, you have to get on with your life. You have responsibilities." He glanced toward the adjoining bedroom where Miyu still slept. "You have to get the Ueshiba child back home, Duncan."

"I know." He had neglected the girl, although without compromising her safety. She had never once been without one of the MacLeods as a protector. But now it was time to take her back to Tokyo. Then maybe he could come back. . .he put his face in his hands and took several deep breaths. Guilt consumed him, eating at him like a cancer. He hadn't felt this bad since he'd attacked Richie; and even though that hadn't been strictly his fault; and neither was this, strictly, his Scottish heritage didn't allow for excuses. Not to himself, anyway.

But there was also duty and loyalty. Elena had sworn to protect Miyu with her life -- she had sworn to Ueshiba Sensei personally -- and Duncan could not and would not let Elena's promise go unfulfilled. "I'll call Tokyo right away."

"I've already made flight arrangements for this afternoon," Connor informed him. "It's the right thing to do."

Duncan nodded silently, and Connor put a hand on his kinsman's shoulder, squeezing lightly. "I'm sorry, Duncan. I'm so sorry."

It was the same thing he'd said when Little Deer had been killed. But this time, Duncan wanted to say to him, scream at him, "She's not dead! She's alive!" but it was useless, and he was so tired, and felt so. . .so bereft, so alone. Only two other women had ever affected him like this, and their deaths had taken him years to get over. But in this case, he was convinced. . .or maybe he was just fooling himself. Why couldn't he let go? Was it just completely childish, wishful thinking? Was it guilt? Was it grief? Or was there really something to this feeling, this certainty, that Elena was still alive? He hadn't felt this way when Tessa or Little Deer had died; but then he'd held their dead bodies in his arms; he at least had confirmation, completion, and still the pain had been so deep, and now he was feeling it all over again.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Seacouver, 1992

Gunshots bring him out of his conversation with the computer, and he runs out into the night and to the worst possible sight he could imagine. Tessa and Richie are lying on the sidewalk, blood soaking the pavement beneath them. He doesn't even have to get close to know that Tessa is dead, and as he kneels and cradles her cooling body in his arms an explosion of grief fills him like an incoming tide. Tenderly he rocks her back and forth, forth and back, wanting, wishing he'd been there with her, thinking he could have done something, he could have saved her, he'd sent her outside to her death. . .and he's still thinking these self-defeating thoughts when he senses the Immortal presence beside him and feels Richie come back to life. . .

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Tokyo, October 9, 1996, 1:00 p.m.

Duncan had wanted to call Ueshiba Nobuyuki and explain why he was bringing his great granddaughter home, but his Japanese was not equal to the task, and he knew the Aikido [doshu] spoke no English. But Duncan had several contacts in Japan; one in particular spoke excellent English and was quite interested in Elena -- the Immortal Hosokawa Hiroshi. The samurai had arranged for a meeting between Duncan and Ueshiba for lunchtime today. He had also agreed to act as their translator.

Duncan was exhausted and was very glad they hadn't met any other Immortals since New York. He was also more depressed about Elena than even he cared to admit. Also, he wasn't looking forward to meeting Hosokawa again; but he had no choice.

"Then she is truly gone," Ueshiba said.

They were in the Aikido Master's office after an excellent lunch of which Duncan had not tasted a bite. Hosokawa stood, rather than sat, to the right of Duncan's [tatami], both facing Ueshiba, who sat on the floor easily.

Duncan shook his head, running his right hand along his beard stubble. "It's been five days, sir."

"And you searched for her all this time?" Duncan nodded. "Tell me, while you did, where was my great granddaughter?"

Duncan sat up straighter. "Miyu was never alone, sir. When she wasn't with me, she was with my kinsman, Connor MacLeod. We never sacrificed her safety, I assure you."

"I have met this Connor MacLeod, and know his reputation. The child was safe with him, Ueshiba-sensei," put in Hosokawa.

Duncan nodded his acknowledgement, but the old man wasn't finished. "But you do not know what happened to Du-ran."

"She probably ran across another. . .one of us," answered Duncan. "But no, I don't know what really happened."

"If Elena were alive, surely she would have contacted you by now. But I know personally what kind of a fighter she was. Defeating her would not have been easy."

"No."

"Then you find her. . .death. . .as hard to accept as I do. Do you believe she might still live, MacLeod-san?"

It was a surprising thing for Ueshiba to say, but all Duncan could reply was, "I have no reason to believe it."

"Further discussion is pointless, is it not, gentlemen," said Hosokawa, gracefully joining the others in [seiza]. "Your great granddaughter has been returned to us safely. We will continue to care for her and train her properly. And Du-ran Elena," here he paused, and Duncan could read no emotion on his face, hard as he tried, "is dead. If you will excuse us, sir, I am sure you have much to do."

He bowed, and within minutes both had said their polite goodbyes and were near the door when Ueshiba said, "I am truly sorry, MacLeod-san."

Duncan turned to the old Aikidoka. "Thank you, sir. I'm sorry too."

Outside the house, before they even reached the street, Hosokawa surprised Duncan by saying, "If Elena had been anyone else, I would take your head for not protecting her, Highlander. But as it is. . .I trust she died fighting. I see no good reason to think otherwise." The samurai's eyes glowed; otherwise there was no expression on his face.

"There is no good reason."

"And yet -- you do believe she is still alive?"

It was a direct question, and Duncan found it difficult to lie to the samurai. But what Duncan believed was none of Hosokawa's business. He chose to say nothing.

Hosokawa was not satisfied. "Feelings sometimes get in the way of truth," he said.

"But sometimes they put us on the right path," countered Duncan.

Hosokawa shrugged, dismissing Duncan and his 'feelings.' But then he bowed deeply. "It has been an honor to know you, Highlander. It is unfortunate that our meetings thus far have been filled with conflict, and now -- tragedy. I hope our next encounter will be a more pleasant one."

At our next encounter, Duncan thought, we'll probably be after each other's heads again. But he bowed in turn. "I, too, have felt honored, Hosokawa-san. I also share your hope." He held out his hand, and after a moment, Hosokawa took it in his. "Sayonara, samurai."

"Sayonara, Highlander."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Translations:

tatami (Jap.) - traditional mat for the floor of a Japanese house

seiza (Jap.) - traditional Japanese style of sitting with one's knees folded under Aikido (Jap.) - Japanese martial art which emphasizes strictly defensive

techniques techniques rather than attacks doshu (Jap.) - the current head of Aikido

Seven

Seacouver, October 25, 1996

He's getting really good, Duncan thought, and especially, the little flicker of fear was no longer obviously present in his eyes as soon as Duncan became overly agressive while sparring. "That's as good a reason as any," he'd said to the boy, just before he would have beheaded him. But this was no longer a boy he was dealing with -- he had to keep this ever in mind; it was so hard to change a pattern of thought. . .

When Richie had told him they were equals now, the young Immortal had followed up by getting another job, moving into another apartment (Teri's apartment) and mostly staying away from the dojo. Duncan understood and didn't crowd him or call him, but if it hadn't been for Elena's return he would have felt very alone in Seacouver.

Now that Elena was gone (dead?), Richie had asked for -- asked for! -- his job back at the dojo, and was more or less keeping him company. "Richie's a good, decent young man," Connor had said, and Duncan was happy to have a good friend around, but nothing was lifting his spirits. Elena was gone, and there was an emptiness in his life that nothing could fill.

The first day he got back Richie was waiting for him at the dojo. Duncan had rushed in, hoping against hope that it was her, that Elena was back. Richie had said, "Hey, Mac," and Duncan could see that Richie knew. Maybe Connor had told him, or Joe; but he knew.

Walking into the loft and seeing the young Immortal standing there, waiting for him, Duncan did something he hadn't done since Tessa's death. He burst into tears.

"Oh, whoa, Mac. . .Mac. . ."

The last time he'd managed not to do this in front of Richie. Even through the depth of his own pain and loss he knew how badly the boy felt about Tessa, and it had taken many long conversations to exorcise the feelings of guilt from the both of them. This time, though, he wasn't sharing the guilt. It was all his.

"Jeez, Mac; I'm so sorry. . ."

"It's alright, Richie. I'm alright." It had been a sudden and unexpected burst of grief which would not happen again; not in front of anyone, anyway. He wiped his eyes on his sleeve, snuffled once, and re-set his face, and his feelings. He didn't want to burden Richie with his grief and guilt any more than he'd wanted to burden Connor or Richie with them when Tessa had died, or when he himself had gone darkside. Duncan MacLeod was a man who easily shared his joy but hoarded his pain, like a miser, and those who cared for him often had to pry things out of him.

"You wanna talk about it?"

"There's nothing to talk about, Richie. Look, the reason I didn't call you. . ."

"It's ok, Mac. I understand. Joe told me." Duncan's second guess. "Can I make you some tea; Scotch?"

"No. Thanks."

"So. . ." Richie continued as Duncan tossed his duffel on the bed, "you never found out anything; I mean, which Immortal took her..."

"No." He wasn't going to burden Richie either with his theory that Elena was still alive. He could feel it in a part of him so deep, so visceral -- and yet sometimes he wondered if it was only make-believe.

"What about Miyu? How did she take it? I mean, she and Duran were pretty tight."

"She was hurt, confused. I took her back to Japan; to her family." Duncan felt guilty about Miyu, too, about not being strong for her as well. And for not getting to know her better. Actually, the only time he'd felt calm since the day Elena walked out was when he was trying to be brave for Miyu -- but it was an act, and he knew she had seen through it. He decided in the future to get back in touch with the very special Ueshiba Miyu, for Elena's sake as well as his own.

But now, in the present, he was sparring with Richie. For over two weeks he'd been lost in a fog of grief and loss so strong he sometimes found it hard to breathe. He reached for her in the night, only to grip an empty pillow, sometimes pounding on it like a man gone berserk with rage and pain, sometimes openly weeping into it. If only he hadn't driven her away!

Two weeks had passed before he'd even picked up a sword, and then only at Richie's insistence. What was remarkable about that was that Richie was obviously still a little afraid of him, although he just as obviously didn't want to be. Duncan said nothing because there was nothing he could say. Richie would have to work out his own fears this time. But the fact that Richie was here, with him, meant a lot.

As they stepped back for a breather, Duncan tried to project a feeling of love and gratitude toward the younger man.

Richie smiled. "What?" he asked.

"Nothing. Shall we continue?" In the past, Duncan had always been the one to decide when to stop sparring and when to go on.

"Nah. I've had enough."

They both hit the showers, but before Richie left he stopped by the loft. He walked around awkwardly for a few moments. Duncan had packed up all of Elena's things and put them in storage elsewhere in the building. So although nothing of hers was visible, he could still feel her presence nearby.

Finally Richie said, "Mac, I loved her too. I mean, not like Tessa. But . . .Duran was ok, you know. Once we weren't set on taking each other's heads, she really made time for me. I appreciated that. She helped me a lot with Johnny Frankowski, too. And I never told her..."

"She loved you too, Richie. She told me so more than once."

"I know; yeah, well. . .do you want to want to talk about her now? Is this a good time?"

Duncan went to the refrigerator, got a bottle of water, and gave one to Richie. "There's not that much to say. I guess with Tessa -- and you know how much I loved Tessa -- but I expected to bury her someday, although not so soon. . ." That had been one of the worst funerals! "But Elena Duran was Immortal. And she could take care of herself." Duncan noted glumly that he was speaking of her in the past tense. Was he giving up on her already? "I would have put her up against any one of us. Her disappearance was a total, unexpected shock. . .I still find it hard to believe." He noted his voice was slightly trembling.

"I know. She was so strong. . .but as said yourself, there's always someone out there who's bigger, better, stronger." He paused. "You know, Mac, she told me once that she wanted to die fighting, like her teacher, Don Alvaro, had. That's probably how it went down."

"Yeah. Probably." He wasn't going to burden Richie, wasn't going to tell him. . .

"What? What is it, Mac?"

It was a weakness, he felt it as a weakness. Connor hadn't believed him, and neither had Hosokawa, they were probably right, she was dead, but...

"Nothing. It's not important."

"Well," Richie said. Then Duncan saw Richie's eyes widen in surprise. "Hey, Mac. You don't think. . .nah. . .you don't think she's still. . ." He paused, studying Duncan's expression. "You do think she's still alive. Am I right?"

Duncan turned away. "Richie, I. . .why would I think that?"

"I don't know. Do you?" he insisted.

No. He wasn't going to put this on Richie's shoulders. The guilt was his alone -- let the boy mourn in peace. Elena's loss was still so recent, so raw, that Duncan felt he wasn't keeping a tight enough lid on his feelings. So Richie had seen something -- all Duncan had to do was deny it; case closed. "Yes," he said instead, almost inaudibly, then waited grimly for Richie's disbelief, wondering what form it would take. Maybe Richie would laugh it off, make a joke about it like he made so many jokes about everything. Or maybe he'd say, "Sure, Mac, anything you say," humor him, go along with him.

But Richie stood very still for a moment, the surprised, now perplexed look still on his face. Finally he said, "You really think so, Mac?"

"Yeah," Duncan answered.

"How. . ."

"I don't how I know. I just do." Richie was silent, which was unusual for Richie. "Connor thinks I'm dreaming. Hosokawa thinks I'm flat wrong. I bet you think I'm crazy."

Richie shook his head. "Maybe. . .maybe you have some connection with her, or something." Duncan searched Richie's face for signs of sarcasm, of humor. He found none. "You know her better than anybody else, Mac. God, I hope you're right," he added in a whisper.

Richie wasn't making fun of him, and he wasn't dismissing him. Duncan was surprised, relieved, and touched all at once.

"Anyway, Mac, listen," he clapped his hands together, apparently having done all the talking he was going to on the subject of Elena Duran -- at least for now -- "Teri and I are going by Joe's. He's got some new band that's supposed to be really stylin'. You need to get out, you know. How about it?"

Duncan's first reaction was to refuse -- he'd been brooding and didn't exactly want company -- but then he reconsidered. He hadn't seen Joe Dawson since he got back from Tokyo, and he guessed why -- Joe had never been a real fan of Elena. He was one of the Watchers she'd tried to pry information out of -- by breaking his fingers. Maybe he felt uncomfortable talking to Duncan about her. Well, he'd find out tonight.

"Sure, Richie. Let me get my coat."

At first Richie was surprised; then his genuine smile made Duncan glow. "Great! Great!" he repeated, obviously meaning it.

"And by the way, Richie." He clapped the younger Immortal on the shoulder. "You're getting really good with a sword."

Richie smiled again; a smile that lit him up from within. "Thanks, Mac."

Shortly thereafter they walked into Joe's. "MacLeod!" Dawson called out, smiling. No matter what else, Dawson always seemed glad to see him. "Welcome back," he said.

"Thanks," Duncan said, as Mike put a glass in front of him. Duncan nodded at the bartender.

"So. Rough time, my friend?"

Duncan sipped at the Scotch. "More than other times," he answered, "and less than some."

Dawson shook his head. "I don't how you guys do it, over and over again."

"We don't have a choice."

"Well, I didn't think I'd be the first person you'd want to see."

Duncan looked at Dawson. "Not the first, no." He'd asked Dawson to tell him about every Immortal in New York, trying to pin down who could have gone after Elena. But Dawson had balked, and even Duncan had eventually seen the folly of it. He wasn't really prepared to go hunting in New York City, killing *every* Immortal he met. . .

"For what it's worth, MacLeod, I'm sorry. I know she made you happy. And she wasn't *that* bad -- compared to some."

"I just wish I knew, for sure."

"And I wish I could help you there, my friend." It was the second time Dawson had called him that, friend, but Dawson had lived up to it, again and again.

Duncan shrugged, a gesture designed to hide the stab of pain he suddenly felt; it was part of a whole arsenal of words, gestures, movements, all designed to maintain self-control in front of others when in the grip of a strong emotion. He had done it for so long it was second nature. He raised his glass. "Will you drink a toast with me, Dawson? To her?"

Dawson poured himself a drink. "To her memory."

"No, not to her memory," he insisted, stubbornly, not wanting to give in. "To her; to Elena Duran."

"To Elena Duran," the Watcher echoed.

Eight

New York City, October 26, 1997, midnight

For what seemed like hours she sat, paralyzed. Her mind was full of conflicting thoughts, colored by extremes of emotions, whirling like a blender and leaving her so dizzy she felt she might pass out. But eventually she realized her choices were two: stay or go. In many ways, in spite of everything, staying was the easier choice. All she had to do was sit and wait for Bethel to come back. . .

But if she decided to go. . .

She'd have to get out of the chair, out of the room, out of the building, out of the area. . .and once outside, what would she do? Where would she go? Who would she trust? And what if Bethel found her? God!

But that was for later; for now she had to take the first step: get out of the chair.

Just get out of the chair, that's all. . .

The second choice, then. She decided to go. She closed her eyes, her eye, took a deep calming breath, a sob, it would hurt! it would hurt to get out of this chair! and she angled her right elbow out, it would hurt! [!Dios mio, me va a doler!]: and she jerked her arm back, pulling her hand out of the looser strap. She pulled -- it hurt! -- and the edge of the leather strap cut into the top of her hand, into her thumb. She pulled -- it hurt a lot! -- and she could feel the strap ripping the skin, skinning the top of her hand, taking the skin off her thumb. She pulled -- it hurt so bad! -- and she could smell the blood, and hear the crack and feel the snap of the small bones of her hand as they broke. She pulled -- it hurt more than she could stand! -- but she wouldn't stop, she didn't dare stop, because if she stopped pulling once, just for a minute, just for a second, she'd go back to the first choice. She'd stay. And Bethel would come back and blind her.

She pulled -- and suddenly her right hand was free! Her right hand was free!

Quickly, now, quickly, or Bethel might come back: sobbing, hardly waiting for the pain in her hand to subside, to heal, she unstrapped her left wrist with trembling fingers. She reached up and released her head, then twisted her thin arms behind her and slowly unstrapped her waist. When she bent forward to release her ankles she got dizzy; then she was free. She was free.

She hadn't walked in a long time, and she hadn't eaten in a long time, and she felt weak and sick. She didn't think she could stand, and she couldn't see, but she also knew the table was directly in front of her in the pitch darkness, an array of instruments on it, what Bethel called his 'toys.'

("Ah. What toy shall we use today, Elena?")

She shuddered. Quickly, now, quickly, Bethel would come back: gathering all her strength, she lurched forward out of her seat, collapsing against the table, knocking things off, feeling for the lamp. She found it and clicked it on, the light blinding her. For a long time she stood, panting with effort, her muscles trembling, leaning against the table.

Then she looked up and saw the door.

Instead of trying to walk, she slipped down to the floor and crawled on her belly, crawled to the door, slowly, like a snake, making grunting noises, pulling herself with weakened muscles along the ground.

She had to stand to open the door. If the door was locked. . .there was a white coat, Bethel's lab coat -- the one he used to protect his clothes; the one he replaced when it got too stained with blood and tissue, her blood and tissue -- hanging from the door knob. She used it to pull herself, slowly, sweating blood, hand over hand, to her feet. Leaning against the door, she tried the knob. If the door was locked. . .

It was unlocked, [!gracias a Dios!]

Quickly, now, quickly, before Bethel came back: putting the lab coat on, it was so cold! stumbling out into the other room, falling against something. She fell. She came up to her knees. She used something else: boxes, furniture, to pull herself to her feet; so dizzy, so weak.

She looked around, leaning on something. She was still cold, so she reached down to button the coat. That alone took forever. She saw the stairs then, reaching up into what? but so tall, so many steps. She also saw the basement windows. Windows.

Windows.

The windows were long, narrow, and high up on the wall; at least two meters, maybe three. Quickly, now, quickly, or Bethel would come back: still dizzy, she pushed something, pushed hard, a table, a large box, against the wall, it was so heavy, her whole body hurt! under the window. She grabbed something -- a tool? a wrench? She climbed onto the table somehow. Her mouth was open, dry, gulping in great breaths to fuel her efforts. She knelt on the table, trying to catch her breath, trying to catch her courage.

Finally she got to the window. She could see a sidewalk outside, outside! through dirty glass. Glass. She stood. Using the tool, the wrench, she broke the glass, cutting her face and arms, she kept breaking all the glass, working feverishly, making small sounds deep in her throat. Outside was just beyond the glass! But breaking glass makes noise, and noise might bring Bethel. . .

She panicked, throwing herself through the window opening, cutting a long trough along her right leg as she wriggled out, cutting her hands, it hurt! But finally she was outside.

She was free. Free. She was free.

For a moment she knelt, unbelieving, on a sidewalk.

Then she looked around, and with the strength born of desperation and a deep rooted sense of survival, she lurched to her feet in a pool of broken glass and ran, breakneck, into the night.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Later, she remembered every moment in Bethel's basement -- but except for flashes that came back to her in the ensuing weeks, she couldn't remember how she got from there to Nash Antiques, to Connor MacLeod.

It was a blur of senses, street lights, light sounds of traffic, freezing cold feet, occasional people's voices, sometimes too close. . .she avoided everyone, was afraid of everyone. She was especially afraid of meeting a cop, or his counterpart, a robber. But surely no one would steal anything from her. There was nothing left.

Falling, exhausted, muscles trembling, concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other, stepping on sharp, cold, things, cutting her feet --

Where? Where was she? Looking for street signs, Grand; Eldridge, welcoming trees in the darkness, trees in the city? A city? Someone sitting under a tree, lunging at her unsteadily, "What'cha doin'? I'll cut you!" --

A subway station, a subway -- New York! Restaurants with Italian names, all closed, but with smells coming from the alleys behind, from the dumpsters, food, but she can't stop, she can't eat, she can't rest, because Bethel is coming for her --

Dogs, and drunks, and people bumping into her and not saying 'excuse me': New York! It was the people she feared the most; so she hid in alleys and doorways, leaned against walls, gasped in terror whenever anyone came near --

New York. At some point she looked up and saw the Twin Towers. And she remembered them in front of her when she had walked to Hudson Street, to Nash Antiques, walking strong and confident and angry, a person she no longer was --

By the time she really smelled the water she knew she was close and realized where she was going. Nash Antiques. Connor MacLeod. But Bethel said Connor had betrayed her. Connor was her enemy, and Bethel's friend. Connor had Miyu, had attacked the little girl, had 'enjoyed' her--

And all the time looking over her shoulder, expecting to sense the buzz, expecting Claude Bethel to come up behind her and say, "Let's start again, Elena. From the beginning."

When she finally found Nash Antiques she stood nearly a block away, staring at the display window, unable to make out the name or the items in it. Her mouth dry, she fought with herself. Could she trust Connor MacLeod? But who else could she trust? She didn't know anyone else in New York. Bethel would come for her soon, if he wasn't already walking up behind her as she stood there, paralyzed with indecision.

Ahead, Connor MacLeod. Behind, Claude Bethel.

She walked forward unsteadily. As soon as she was close enough to feel the other Immortal she stopped dead in her tracks, thinking her heart would simply fall out of her chest. The presence was very strong. Was it Connor? What if it was Bethel? What if Bethel were waiting for her at Nash Antiques? What if both of them were waiting for her, laughing at her. . .

("He led me to you; he betrayed you, Elena.")

She managed to veer her mind away, just barely, from madness. Stay and be taken by Bethel. Or go to Connor MacLeod. The same choice again: stay or go.

She ran towards the corner, tugging something out of her coat pocket, the tool, the wrench, using it to smash the glass windows, wielding it like a sword, with both hands, breaking, smashing until she could walk through. Tired and terrified, she went into the dark, crowded store.

Translations:

Dios mio, me va a doler (Span.) - My God, it will hurt me

gracias a Dios (Span.) - thank God

Ten

New York City, October 27, 1996, 2 a.m.

She sensed him coming before she saw him moving through the darkness of the store. Even in the dim light she could clearly see the outline of the katana he held in his hand. As he moved closer she started to feel a panic growing inside. . .it was an Immortal coming for her, and that meant more pain, but she concentrated, tried to concentrate her thoughts and her senses. This was MacLeod, not Bethel, not Bethel! Still, it took infinite courage to stand and wait for him. And he wasn't alone. There was someone with him, coming up behind him. . .

"Russell? Is that you? I think there's somebody in the store -- hey, what are you. . .*Hey*!"

There was a noise, someone falling? Still standing in the shadows, afraid to move forward, Elena could see the girl, who was this girl? in the darkness, backlit by a light beyond, behind Connor's legs. Russell. She'd called him Russell. And he'd pushed her down, behind him. . .and now he faced Elena. His sword was still in his hand. He was only a swordlength away.

"Hello, Connor," she whispered, unable to speak any louder. His presence, so close, was unnerving. She wanted to run.

"Elena!?" His face, his voice, were surprised.

At the same time, the girl asked, "Connor? Who the hell is. . ." But Connor was turning to her as she got up, and said, "Quiet!"

Now the girl. . .she remembered this girl, the redhead, Emma, Connor's student -- what was she doing here, this young girl, in the middle of the night? Alone with Connor MacLeod? But she couldn't think about this. She wouldn't think about it.There was nothing she could do about it, in any case. And there was no time to lose. "He'll be coming for me," she whispered.

"Who? Who's coming, Elena?"

Who? she thought. Don't you know who, Connor? She suddenly found it almost impossible to say the name out loud. "Claude B-Bethel," she said so low he had to strain to hear.

She wanted so desperately to look closely at his face, gauge his reaction, see if he really knew Bethel, if he had really betrayed her to that monster. . .but she was so tired, so hungry, and especially so frightened, too much so to study anyone's expression.

"And this Bethel knows that you'd come to me?"

"He knows everything," she answered, her voice trembling, and Connor nodded as though he understood.

"Then we'd better get out of here. Upstairs." As Elena walked forward, into the light, she got a better glimpse of Emma Cuzo. And Cuzo of her. She heard the girl's sharp sudden breath, saw her face flatten with shock. "It's you!" the girl said, staring at her, staring openly. "My God. . ."

Elena followed Connor to the elevator in the back. Elena went inside, still following him, leaning against the wall, trying hard to stay on her feet.

Connor said, "Let's go, Emma, we have to move!" and Emma, still lingering behind, scrambled into the elevator with them.

Elena felt so weak. . .but what did she need to ask him? "Miyu!" she suddenly remembered, and he answered immediately.

"She's safe. . .Duncan took her back to Tokyo personally. She's alright."

"*Russell,*" Emma interrupted sharply, "What's going on here? I mean, just look at her!"

"Elena's hurt. She needs our help. . ."

"Yeah, no kidding. Thanks for the newsflash. But *how* are we going to help her? This isn't the kind of thing, Russell, that you can just fix up with some iodine and band-aids from your bathroom cabinet!" She was speaking so loudly inside the elevator it made Elena's head hurt.

"Emma," he hissed, "*you* have no idea what's going on. . ."

". . .and was it my imagination, or were you holding a sword back there. . ."

They were talking around her, about her, but all the time Elena was wondering, Is she really, Connor? Is Miyu really alright? If it was true that Miyu was in Japan, Connor would never have dared touch her, not with Hosokawa as her guardian angel. If Miyu was back home. If Miyu was alive. If. . .she looked at Emma, who was still frankly staring. And what was this little girl, this pre-Immortal girl, doing here in the middle of the night? Her hair untied, her flannel shirt unbuttoned, nothing but a flimsy undershirt underneath. . . Elena shuddered. The elevator stopped and they exited into his living room.

"Wait here," he said. "I'll be right back." He quietly disappeared.

"Russell, wait!" Emma said, following him. Elena was alone, but could hear parts of their conversation drifting through the large rooms like leaves in the wind, like the lyrics of a long-lost song. . .

"Russell, what's going on? What are you doing?" The girl's voice, Emma's, faded, then came back and forth, on and off. ". . .Elena?. . .who did this to. . .Christ. . ."

Connor's answers were low, short, rough. She couldn't make out what he said.

Instead of sitting on the overstuffed sofa, afraid if she did she'd never get back up, she forced herself to look around, take a few steps, and soon found. . .the kitchen.

Kitchen.

Food.

She lurched toward the refrigerator, tearing the door open. Inside was a large pitcher filled with a yellowish liquid. She grabbed it with both hands, upending it swiftly, swallowing, gulping, gasping as the coolness refreshed her parched throat, drinking greedily. Then she spotted something else, a piece of. . .was it meat?. . .wrapped in plastic. She dropped the pitcher, hardly hearing it shatter, then reached in for the meat, missing it once, knocking something else over, then tearing off the covering in a mad frenzy, biting into it, savoring it. . .it was meat, [!Dios mio!] She bit into it like a rabid animal, like a lion tearing into the belly of its downed prey, chewing, trying to chew with weakened, painful teeth, but it was food, it was solid! She dipped her fingers into a bowl of something else, something soft, smearing it into her mouth and onto her face, taking another bite of the meat, alternating, feeling her saliva flowing, feeling the joy of eating, of swallowing, big blobs falling onto her front and onto the floor.

Then she sensed an Immortal, and everything else was forgotten. She dropped the food, backing away from the glare of the refrigerator light, trying to get out, but that's where he was coming from, Bethel was coming for her! and there was no other exit, nowhere to go, so she backed away, backed into a corner, making small noises; it was Bethel, [!No, por favor, Dios mio, no!] "B-Bethel!" she whispered, looking around her, trapped.

"Elena," he said, tall, silhouetted against the hall light. He came closer. "It's me, Connor!"

It was his voice, Connor's voice, Connor MacLeod! It wasn't Bethel!

"*Connor* again! God, never mind. . .Elena. . .look at her, damn it! She's starving. We've got to call an ambulance, the police, I'm. . ." she was reaching for the phone.

He turned to the redheaded girl, gripping her arms just above her elbows, putting his face right down into hers, holding her with his glance, with his hands, hurting her. "Emma, you're going to do exactly what I tell you to do -- do you understand?" His voice was harsh, grating, commanding, and filled with such menace that Emma quieted down at once.

When he released Emma and turned back to her, Elena trembled with terror, trying to shrink right into the wall. But there was nowhere to go, and now he was coming for her. . ."No!" she whispered, begging him.

His face was impassive, but Elena could clearly see the cruelty there, the violence of which he was capable, just held back, the strength. . . It was a mistake to have come to him! And now she was in his hands.

He looked from her to the still open refrigerator and the mess at his feet. He took one step toward her again, but she backed up further into the corner, and he stopped. "Here, put this on," he said, throwing her a coat. "We may not have much time."

She slowly leaned forward, picking up the trench coat, afraid to disobey, and awkwardly started to put it on. The girl came towards her, and she shrank back, again, but Emma was helping her put the coat on over hers, over Bethel's labcoat; she was wearing Bethel's labcoat.

"Let me help you, Elena," Emma whispered, her voice quiet and cracked, as if Connor had broken it in half. Elena peripherally noticed that the young woman's hands were slightly shaking, although her face was expressionless, as if she'd tightened her features into a mask, to cover over her terror, of him? As Emma slid the coat over Elena's shoulders, she muttered, "What kind of monster would do this to you?" But Elena didn't know if the girl was speaking about Elena or about herself. . .

And Elena didn't answer; she couldn't answer. She didn't have the words. Then Connor was doing something else. He straightened up suddenly as he sensed the buzz, and so did Elena, only for her it was as cold as hell itself. "No!" she cried out softly, again. She didn't even have the strength, the will, to scream.

"Your friends are here."

He was here, Bethel was here!

"Let's go!" Without waiting he took her arm above the elbow and moved her toward the back of the apartment. "We have to leave, Emma," he said. "Now!"

Elena heard someone moving below them. As he paused to lock the door behind them, Elena got a glimpse of a large room with various weapons on the wall. Then they were out another door, a door she hadn't quite seen, and they were walking so quickly now she began to feel dizzy in spite of the rush of cold air that hit them.

Cars. A garage, indoors, and he still steered her along, his arm around her shoulders this time, partly holding her up; she had no choice but to go with him. There was the sound of others, in front of them this time, and Connor pushed her towards a small car. "Get in!" he ordered, using a remote to unlock the doors. She scrabbled for the car door, not quite finding it. . .then Emma was there again, opening the door for her, helping her inside. Before she could fully sit down -- she was moving so slowly -- he threw something on her lap, slammed the door, another door slammed behind her -- it had to be the girl, Emma. She heard a loud report, a gunshot, roaring loudly inside the quiet darkness of the indoor garage, then other shots, they were everywhere, machine guns, like the ones that cut her down before, the ones that killed Maria! He's here! He'll take me again! [!Dios mio!] she thought, desperately.

"Gunshots," Elena heard Emma whisper behind her, the girl's voice soft and toneless, as if it had been drained of vitality. Or hope. "Great. He's going to get us killed; and I'll never even know why. ."

But Connor started the car with a roar of his own and drove out in a rush, tires squealing, and as they passed near a man she could see was armed. . .but they were past, they were outside.

She leaned back against the seat, closing her eyes as the world revolved around her, barely aware of the hurried movements of the car as it sped around; of the sounds of automatic gunfire close by, then slowly fading; of Emma flinching in the back seat; of Connor swearing under his breath. She was so tired! After a moment, she, too, faded.

Much later? when she came to there was a backpack on her lap. They were still speeding along city streets, the sound of the engine loud in her ears. Hushed voices: Emma's questioning, insistent, but hesitant, too; Connor's low, persuasive, trying to explain, but unyielding at the same time. But he was getting her away from Bethel -- he was helping her.

Weakly she turned her head to look at Connor. In the dim streetlights, he turned and smiled at her -- actually smiled! "Where?" she managed to ask, and he answered, "Somewhere safe." Safe for whom? she wondered. Was he taking her back to Bethel? Is that why he was smiling?

But then she noticed the pack on her lap again, there was a smell. . . food, there was food in the pack, and she tore it open hurriedly, with no real consciousness of what she was putting in her mouth -- it was food. She heard him say, from far off, "Take it easy," but she didn't take it easy, and after a few moments the car swerved, and she felt her stomach lurch suddenly.

"Connor, stop!" and brakes squealed as she tried to get the door open. He reached over her to do so, and she fell out onto the sidewalk, crawling on her hands and knees; then her stomach spasmed wildly, painfully, twice, and she violently threw up everything she'd eaten.

"She's puking. . ." Elena heard Emma's voice from far-away. "Russell, here. . ."

Suddenly Connor was there with a wet cloth, and he held her head, then wiped her face, cooling her, making soothing noises. Emma appeared on her other side, her blind side, rubbing her shoulders, helping her drink a little water. When she was finally finished, they half-carried her back to the car.

She sat back, exhausted, still literally starving but no longer willing to eat wildly like that; it made her too sick.

After driving for a while, he asked, "What happened to your eye?"

She answered, dully, "B-Bethel," but there was no horror in it anymore, it was in the past, as though it had happened to someone else, just another unpleasant fact. Connor muttered angrily under his breath -- maybe Connor wasn't working with Bethel, maybe he really would help her, maybe he wasn't taking her back to Bethel, not that she could do anything about it, not that she could fight Connor MacLeod. She felt so helpless -- but maybe Connor didn't betray her, maybe he wouldn't, maybe he hadn't done anything to Miyu, or to this girl with them, this little girl. . .*maybe Bethel had lied to her!* Of course! Maybe everything he'd said. . .

Elena was getting a terrible headache. Her eye ached, a phantom pain, since it was gone. . .a tear rolled down her left cheek. She reached into the pack, found some cheese, and slowly bit into it, fighting the urge to wolf it down. Then she dropped it onto her lap, and she leaned back, so weary, and slept.

Ten

When she briefly opened her eyes again the car was stopped. She looked around groggily -- she could still feel an Immortal presence nearby -- and saw Connor and Emma sitting on a picnic table outside, lit by some overhead streetlight. Out her window she could see trees and more picnic tables. It was cold in the car; she could see her breath, and their voices drifted in clearly through the driver's partially open window.

"Because you're in danger, Emma. Because the man who did this to Elena would do the same to you." Connor's voice was earnest, insistent, persuasive.

"But I don't know this person, and I'm not sure I want to go anywhere with her. . ."

"Please, Emma. You have to trust me. I'm trying to protect you. I've put you in danger -- it's my fault -- and this is the only way I can think of to get you somewhere safe."

The girl stood and turned away from him. "Look, why don't you just go on and take Elena wherever it is you're going. I'll use the pay phone here, call one of my friends and they can come and get me. Or I can hitch a ride back to Harlem. . ."

He leapt up and grabbed her by the arm, turning her around to face him. "What?" His tone was sharp and disbelieving.

"Why should I *trust* you?" Emma shouted, and the fear and frustration in her voice seemed to travel through the air like a solid object. Elena could feel it strike her, like being hit with a mirror, a mirror of her own terror, her own disbelief. "I don't know you either! Apparently I don't even know your name!"

"It's Russell," Connor said calmly.

"Oh, really? Have you mentioned that to Elena? She seems to be a little confused about your identity. But then, so am I. . ."

"Listen to me," he interrupted. "You can't go back into the city, you can't go back home. Not for a few days. Your friends can't protect you, the police can't protect you, and believe me, Emma, you can't protect yourself. Not from this man."

"And I should depend on you -- whoever you really are -- and this woman who's coming. . ."

Connor, sighed, exasperated, then looked over at the car, at Elena. "Emma, listen. . .Rachel said you spoke to Elena when she was at the store three weeks ago. . ."

"Yeah. We walked out together, talked. Then she just put me in a cab . . ."

Connor nodded. "She was trying to keep you away from the man who took her."

"But why would he be after *me*? Who the hell is this guy, and why did he do this to her?"

"I honestly don't know, Emma, but tell me: did you get the impression that Elena Duran was a woman who could take care of herself?"

Silence from the girl, and Elena thought, bitterly, that's telling her, [che]! Elena Duran can really take care of herself!

Then Connor was gripping the girl above her elbows as before, but this time his voice was gentler, although still firm. "Maybe you need to go take another look at Elena. Maybe you need to go talk to her; ask her how she feels."

Emma turned away from him, toward the car. She looked at Elena, took a tentative step toward the car. Elena looked back at her, at this normal-looking young woman, her shiny hair hanging long and loose, her face wholesome and well-fed, unmarked by scars or traces of suffering. Their eyes met and Elena saw herself in Emma's face, starved, shaved, and maimed, barely a woman, just barely still human. Emma shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said to Elena. "I'm so sorry." She turned back to the picnic table and collapsed on the bench, her face in her hands.

Elena watched Connor sit down beside Emma, watched him put his arm around the girl's shoulders, and pull her against him. "You've been brave," he told the girl. "You've been better than I deserve. But I need you to be brave a little longer."

Elena turned away from the window, curled up into the seat, pressed her fists against her face, bent her head down into her bony chest. She didn't want to see any more faces, hear any more words. .

Finally she drank some water, lightly this time, and munched on an apple. It was cold inside the car, but it wasn't moving, her stomach was full, she could hear a breeze rustling through the trees outside, lulling her, and she was so tired. And for the first time in so long -- she wasn't in pain. This time she fell into a deep sleep. But not for long: in the grip of a nightmare featuring Claude Bethel and long-lasting, searing pain, she woke up with a strangled scream, awake enough to sense an Immortal coming towards her. . .Bethel was coming back!

("We need to start again, Elena. From the beginning.")

Where was she? In a car, and Bethel was coming! She got her door open somehow and rolled out onto the ground, trying to pull herself to her feet.

But then someone else was standing in front of her, blocking her. A tall, lean woman, wearing a long raincoat and undoubtedly, a sword beneath.

An Immortal.

Elena was gripped by cold panic. Convinced that this new Immortal was with Bethel, that she was here to take her to Bethel, she tried to retreat, but the car was at her back -- she had nowhere to go. "No," she whispered, "No, [por favor.]"

The woman had a melodious voice and a faint accent. And a friendly smile. "You must be Elena Duran. I'm Cerridwyn." She held out her hand, but Elena was frozen in terror.

So Cerridwyn crouched down in front of her easily, not moving any closer. "I'm a friend of Connor's and a friend of Duncan's, too." She spoke intimately, conspirationally, as to a close friend. "Duncan told me all about how you fought the Spanish for two centuries. With me, it was the Romans first, then the English -- with a Celt, it's always the English." She smiled warmly. "You're wondering why I'm here. I'll tell you why. Connor asked me to look after the girl, Emma. And warriors like you and me and the MacLeods -- we have to protect the innocent ones, and we have to stick together, don't you think?" She didn't give Elena time to answer, to think. "Especially against cowardly bastards with no sense of honor like Claude Bethel, damn his eyes!" Her voice had changed -- there was an undercurrent of anger, of danger. . .maybe she wasn't Bethel's friend. . ."We have to let them know that they can bend us and they can break us, but we're still here. You're still here, Elena."

Yeah, Elena thought. Rah, rah. I'm still here. Big deal.

"I know what you're thinkin'. You're thinkin' this is the lowest point in your life. You're done, and you're useless, and he's beaten you, and you can't do anything but piss in your pants and cower in a corner. I know because I've been where you are." She knelt now, and leaned closer to Elena. "But I want you to think about this, Elena Duran. Even at your lowest point, you still did something. You got away from him. He didn't possess you completely -- you got away. And you did it on your own, without help, and I bet it was the hardest thing you've ever done in your life, wasn't it? But you did it. . ."

She held out her hand again. "Let me help you get back to your feet, Elena. Who knows. Maybe someday, if I'm in a bad way, you can return the favor." Cerridwyn winked at her, still smiling, and after a moment of indecision Elena held out her hand. They both stood, but Elena swayed, and the other women put an arm around her. "Whoa! Better?"

Elena nodded, trembling, but it wasn't better; she'd never be better in spite of what anyone said. And later, driving with Connor through the night, she would remember the tall, strong woman -- her confidence, her warm smile, her long braided brown hair -- and weep silently, hoping Connor wouldn't notice, for what she had lost forever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seacouver, October 28, 1996, 1 a.m.

The ringing telephone woke Duncan out of a deep slumber. He reached beside him, already used to the warmth of another body next to him, then remembered she was gone, and he cursed the telephone for bringing him back to a place where Elena was not.

For a moment, in that twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness, he thought he sensed an Immortal. But then the feeling was gone, and the phone was most insistent.

"MacLeod," he murmured into the receiver, and was surprised by the voice on the other end.

"Duncan."

Duncan woke up quickly. Connor never called him, not in the middle of the night, not just to chat. "Connor?"

"You were right, Duncan. Elena's alive. She's here with me. She's safe. . .for now."

Duncan was shocked and relieved at the same time. I knew it! he wanted to say. Instead, he said, "She's alive! She's in New York? What happened? How is she? What do you mean safe for now?"

"She's alive. She was being held by an Immortal named Claude Bethel and he wants her back. Do you know him?"

"No, should I? Why? Damn it, Connor, what's going on? Why didn't she call me?" Something had to have happened to her -- but what?

"This Bethel has brutalized her, Duncan. Shaved her head, like a concentration camp prisoner. . .starved her, beat her, raped her, I'm sure. . .tortured her." Duncan could hear the raw fury, just held in check, in Connor's voice.

"God!" He needed a moment to digest this information, that she was alive but. . .Connor didn't give him a moment.

"She's in pretty bad shape, physically; emotionally, I don't know. . . Duncan, he cut out her right eye!"

"Christ!" was all Duncan could think to say. "Jesus, how. . .let me talk to her." He felt a slow rage building inside him.

"She's asleep, exhausted. I don't want to wake her. I'll bring her to you tomorrow."

"Where are you? I'll come get her."

"We had to get out of the city and to my cabin in a hurry. Bethel came after her with some. . .wait!"

"What is it? An Immortal?" Duncan's heart started beating faster. He was so far away, so helpless, damn it!

"No." There was a pause, then Connor said, "I'll call you back."

"Connor! Wait! Don't. . ." But Connor had already hung up. Damn it, he didn't have the phone number of the cabin, Connor must have just put the phone in. How could he get in touch with him, with Elena! Wait! He'd call Rachel! But first, he'd wait for a little while, impatiently, to see if Connor called back. Waiting for Connor again, to bail him out, again. But this time, it didn't really matter. Elena was alive! Alive! And God could be merciful, sometimes. Aye. He didn't take them all away. . .

No matter how bad she was (but she'd lost an eye, this bastard Bethel had cut out one of her eyes!), she'd recover. It was one of the perks of being Immortal. As for her emotional state. . .Duncan knew how strong Elena was, how she fought back. She'd been through hell before and come back, and he'd help her through it, like he'd helped her with Trent, because now *she* needed *him*, and he could help her, protect her, save her! There was a certain satisfaction in that.

(". . .raped her, I'm sure.") Duncan knew from her experience what fear and self-loathing rape inspired in her, how she couldn't let it happen, not even to someone else, to someone she didn't even know.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Seacouver, October 14, 1995, 10 p.m.

"Duncan stop! Stop the car!" she cries out, and as soon as he hits the brakes Elena jumps out of the Thunderbird.

"Where are you going? Damn!" Richie yells.

She runs right into the alley, the alley where the group had gone: a group of young men pulling along one young woman. And it doesn't matter to her that there are six of them, they they may be armed, have guns, can hurt her. It doesn't matter to her who the woman is, what her story is. It doesn't matter. What does matter to her is that she can't let this rape happen, not if she can do anything about it; she just can't let it go.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Seacouver, October 28, 1996, 1 a.m.

(". . .shaved her head. . .")

Elena was so proud of her long black hair, which fell in curls almost down to her waist. She spent a lot of time on it, washing, combing, preening really. She told him once that it grew very slowly, and that it had taken her two hundred years to get it right.

(". . .he cut out her right eye!")

Her eye! Having a blade coming for your face, your neck -- it was scary stuff, but it's what they did; it's how Immortals fought. But having your eye deliberately cut out. . .

(". . .brutalized her. . .tortured her. . .")

He could empathise with that, pain overwhelming you, taking control of your body and soul. And Elena was so strong, and so proud. God, what it must have cost her, to cry out in pain in front of her torturer, to bend her will to his, to beg him!

No satisfaction he felt would be worth it. "Damn that bastard to bloody hell!" Duncan didn't know anything about Claude Bethel, but that would soon change.

Translations:

che (Span.) comrade, friend

Eleven

A cabin in the woods in Connecticut, October 28, 1996, 4 a.m.

When Elena woke up she was lying on the cot, no! she could feel an Immortal close by! She thrashed wildly, trying to get loose, no! [!Dios mio, no, por favor!] but she wasn't strapped down. Her wrists were free -- her ankles, too, were free! And it was dark! The light was gone! She lurched to her feet too quickly, fighting a sudden attack of nausea, of vertigo, but she didn't dare be sick, call attention to herself. She sat back down on the bed, heavily, panting, sweating, terrified. Her eye hurt, but it couldn't be: it was gone, gone!

Slowly she tried to get control of her breathing. She felt her heart would burst out of her chest. She looked around in the darkness and noted other pieces of furniture, but there was no furniture in her cell, he must have brought her to a new place, a new place to hurt her! But she remembered getting away, going out the door, she'd gotten away! Had he caught her again? She couldn't remember.

Wait! [!Concentrate, Elenita!] she said to herself. Then it came to her in a flash. Connor MacLeod! She had gone to Connor, and he'd helped her get away. No, not possible, Connor had betrayed her in the first place. Why would he help her?

She tried to sort things out. It was so hard to think! She was tormented by thirst, and hunger, she was so hungry, her stomach no longer even called to her, but she had eaten, she remembered eating. Connor gave her food. He and the girl. They'd helped her!

But where was he now? And where was she? And who, [Dios mio], who was the Immortal she could sense so close by, maybe in the next room? Was it Connor? Was it Bethel? Was Bethel waiting for her? Both of them, waiting for her, so they could laugh at her, so they could hurt her again, so they could. . .so they could blind her? Maybe if she sat here quietly, didn't move, they wouldn't notice her; Bethel wouldn't notice her, if she was quiet, if she did everything he said. . . "[!Ayudame, Dios mio!]" she whispered.

Forever she sat, wishing she were elsewhere, but slowly it dawned on her that this was a different place, that she was free, that she had escaped with Connor; that's who was out there, not Bethel but Connor, and Connor had helped her! Alright! The only way to find out. . .and Elena Duran did an extremely difficult thing: she walked to the door and opened it a crack, slowly, quietly. There was light beyond, and she heard a voice -- Connor's voice. Who was he talking to? Was he talking to Bethel?

She crept out into the hall. His voice was coming from her right. She couldn't make out the words, and she couldn't hear any other voices. Her heart was thudding in her throat so hard she felt he had to be able to hear it. Straight ahead, at the end of the hall, was a door, a wooden door, a log door, with a key in the lock -- a door to the outside. But coming up on her right was an opening, and this is where the voice, Connor's voice, was coming from. Plastered against the wall, she had to turn her whole head to use her left eye to look around the corner; if he was looking her way!. . .but he was turned away from her, talking on the phone. On the phone. And he was far away, far across the room.

And for a moment she listened, concentrating on something other than walking and breathing shallowly.

". . .asleep, exhausted. I don't want to wake her. I'll bring her to you tomorrow."

He was bringing her to Bethel! Tomorrow! He was turning her over to Bethel!

Panic-stricken, all thought of stealth forgotten, she somehow got the door open. She was making a wheezing, whimpering noise deep in her throat. Still barefoot, still wearing the two coats, Elena ran out into the snow. But she didn't get very far. The ground was icy on her bare feet -- within a few dozen steps her feet were burning with cold, but still she ran, because she could sense the Immortal coming behind her, closer. . .Connor MacLeod!

("I'll bring her to you tomorrow.")

"Elena, stop!" he called out. There were trees everywhere, all around her. She felt like Snow White running from the wicked Queen, except what was waiting for her was far worse than having her heart cut out by a woodsman.

Then she fell, crawled on her hands and knees, but Connor was right there, saying, "Elena, it's me, Connor!"

He bent down and took her by the shoulders. With a small cry, she shrugged out of his grasp, turning on her back so she could face him, backing up on her ass, her hands already burning from the snow. "No! Please, Connor! Just kill me, kill me now, please, take my head, but please don't turn me over to Bethel, please, Connor, don't, please!"

He crouched down and grabbed her knees, keeping her from moving away. "Elena, I'm trying to help you!"

She couldn't get out of his grasp. "Please, Connor, kill me, please don't give me to Bethel, [!por el amor de Dios!]"

He got close to her, speaking urgently but calmly. "Elena, I'm not your enemy."

"You said. . .you'd take me to him tomorrow! Please, Connor. . ."

"On the phone? I was talking to Duncan. I'll take you back to Seacouver tomorrow, to Duncan, not this Bethel!" At the mention of the name, she sobbed. "I don't even know this Bethel, and I would never. . .what the hell makes you think I'd do something like this, anyway?"

He was angry, now. Maybe if he got angry enough he'd just kill her and be done. "He said. . .he said you were working together. You wanted me out of the way. Connor. Connor, have mercy, just take my head, just. . ."

"Elena, listen to me. He lied to you. He lied about everything. Whatever he said was to hurt you, to torment you. It's not true." He paused, then continued. "Look, if I were your enemy, if I wanted you dead, I would come at you from the front, and you'd see me coming, and we would both be armed, and we would both have a fair chance."

She looked at him. She'd never heard him make a 'speech' like this. Maybe he was telling the truth. Bethel had lied, about everything!

"Even if I could betray you like this, Elena, I could never betray Duncan like this. And Elena -- " he took her by the shoulders, making sure he had her full attention, "I could never betray myself like this. Do you understand?"

She shuddered. She did understand. It was true, then. He was trying to help her. He was taking her to Duncan! But. . .

He said, "It's cold. Let's get inside."

He helped her to her feet, and as she sank back down he took her in his arms and carried her easily to the house. He put her down on the same bed. "Would you like to rest? Or maybe a hot bath, a shower, clean yourself up a bit? I can make you some soup."

"A shower. Yes."

He pointed. "Second door on the left. There's a robe, and a gown, and some clean sweats here on the dresser. Do you need help?"

"No, I'll be fine. Thanks." When he was at the door, she said, "Connor."

He turned, looking at her silently. "He told me you. . .you really called Duncan, didn't you?"

"I have to call him back. Do you want to talk to him?"

"No! No, I can't, I. . .I will see him tomorrow." She tried to make it sound like a statement of fact, but it came out more like a question, and she could see he knew it.

"Yes, Elena. You will see him tomorrow." He paused for a moment, then left.

She drank from the faucet, slaking her thirst, then stood under a scalding shower for a long time, unmoving, and when she finally reached for the shampoo she remembered she had no hair, her beautiful, long black hair was gone, and she misjudged the niche where the shampoo was, grabbing empty air, because she couldn't quite tell where it was, because she only had one eye, her right eye was gone! And that wasn't all that was gone: her self-respect was gone; her confidence was gone; her sword! Her strength, her character, what she was most proud of, was gone. It was as if she'd used up her last reserves of strength and will on the escape itself, and now nothing worthwhile was left. And in their place: terror, doubt, weakness. And to hammer the point home, to prove to herself how much she had lost, she leaned back against the shower wall, water flowing all around her, and wept.

After what seemed like forever she turned off the water and dried herself fitfully. The whole bathroom was steamed up, the mirror fogged, and she barely glanced at it. She truly didn't want to see herself in the mirror. She avoided the mirror over the dresser, too, putting on too big sweats again, probably Connor's sweats.

Connor MacLeod.

Claude Bethel told her that Connor had abused Miyu, but it couldn't be true, it couldn't, and Duncan knew! That was not possible. That was a lie. Duncan couldn't have known, he wouldn't!

But she had to know, she had to speak with Miyu, today, now, while she still could, and if she asked Connor about the child again and he had done something to her, he would know Elena knew, he would kill her, or worse, he would give her to Bethel. Unless he was completely innocent. Unless Bethel had lied about everything. . .

She sat in the dark, shuddering, holding her head in her hands. No matter what the consequences, she had to know about Miyu, she had to know! And that meant she had to talk to Connor. "[!Dios mio!]" she whispered. Even if Connor hadn't done anything, her asking him again might make him suspicious; if he realized what she was thinking and he was innocent, he'd be furious with her. That might turn him against her. That alone might make him. . .she wasn't afraid that Connor would take her head. There were worse things he could do.

Finally she stood. He'd left the door ajar and she crept out; taking a deep breath, she headed outside again. She remembered a porch. It was cold but not windy -- the moon lit up the snow, making it glow -- and her bare feet got cold immediately, burning pain, but she had to be outside, had to get out to the fresh air.

After only a moment, she sensed Connor's approach. Her shoulders and neck stiffened.

"Are you going to run away again?" he asked.

"No, Connor," she replied, too quickly. She wondered if she sounded as terrified as she felt. She had listened to his voice for any threat, any anger, but had heard nothing. That may come later. Gripping the porch rail until her hands hurt, she took a deep breath before continuing. "I just needed to get out, get outside. . ."

"I understand."

Of course, she thought: in what, five hundred years, surely he'd been locked up, thrown in a hole, once or twice; especially a born fighter like him.

She wouldn't turn to look at him. "I need to. . .find out about Miyu. I need to talk to her, Connor, to make sure she's alright." She paused, trying not to breathe too heavily, not to give him a clue. It was a simple, reasonable request, wasn't it? She hoped.

There was a long moment of silence while she waited in agony. "If you know the phone number, I think it must be morning there by now, not too early. Would you like to call Tokyo?"

The flush of relief she felt was so great she thought she would faint. She turned to him, holding herself upright by sitting on the porch railing. "Yes." She wanted to add, 'please,' but didn't.

"Come inside. I got a fire going, since it didn't look like we were going to get any sleep tonight. And you're still barefoot."

"I know. My feet hurt."

He followed her in, and when she sat on the sofa in front of the fire, he bundled her up in a quilt. He knelt down in front of her and rubbed her feet until they glowed, then pulled the quilt down to wrap them up. It felt so warm, so good -- but then she remembered that Bethel had also warmed her, comforted her, and then he. . .

("All you have to do is believe, Elena." he said. "I'm telling you the truth. Why would I want to lie to you? Believe me. Believe me, Elena, and the pain will stop.")

Connor stood, turned, and picked up a poker to stoke the fire. Elena gasped with fear, loudly enough for him to hear, she was sure, but if he did he gave no sign. When he turned back to her his hands were free, his face unreadable. "The phone is there," he nodded, then asked, "Hungry?"

She reached for the phone, nodding in turn, "Yes. Something about soup."

She'd forgotten what a nice smile Connor had. "Coming up," he said, walking away.

Somehow she remembered the phone number and called Ueshiba's. Sensei himself came on the line within moments.

"Du-ran? Elena? Is it truly you?"

His voice was familiar, reassuring. She sank down into the sofa. "Yes, Sensei."

"Your friend MacLeod told us you were missing. We all assumed you were dead, that you would never have left Miyu otherwise."

She smiled wryly. "I never would, if I'd been free. I'm alive; but perhaps. . ." She trailed off.

Ueshiba was silent. "Some things are best discussed in person. Perhaps when we meet again."

"Yes," she whispered. "But for now, I'd like to talk to Miyu, to explain that I didn't desert her."

"Of course." He spoke to someone nearby, and suddenly Miyu was on the line, breathless. "Du-ran! Are you alright? Is it you? You're not dead?"

Elena held the receiver away from her ear -- the girl's scream was loud -- but it was so good to hear her voice! "Miyu, I'm fine!"

"What happened to you? Why did you leave? Were you hurt?"

"Yes, I was hurt. I was. . .kidnapped. But it's all over now. I'm sorry I left you, but it couldn't be helped."

"I'm just so glad you're alright! I was so worried!" Elena's own tears joined Miyu's.

"Just tell me that you're well, [chiquita.] Tell me. . ." She was interrupted by a burst of sobs from the other end. "Miyu! Miyu! Did anything happen to you? Were you hurt? Please tell me, please don't cry, Miyu!" Briefly she wondered how much Japanese Connor knew, if he was listening, if he had touched the little girl, she'd kill him, why would Miyu be crying like this! "Miyu!"

The child controlled her sobs, then said, "I'm sorry, Du-ran. I like it when you call me that. What does it mean again?" It was the same game they had played so many times before.

Elena took a shuddering breath. "It means 'little one.' Now please tell me if. . ."

"I'm fine, Du-ran, very happy now that you're back. Nothing happened to me. The MacLeods took very good care of me. Dun-can was frantic, so scared. Con-nor. . .he didn't say very much, but I could tell he was very worried too."

"You're right, Miyu. I love you very much." So far, so good. Maybe . . .she had to ask. "Tell me, Miyu, did Connor. . ." She couldn't bring herself to ask it.

"MacLeod Con-nor frightened me. He is like Hosokawa-sensei. Both scary. But I felt so safe when I was with him. Like no one in the world could hurt me." She paused, then added, "Hosokawa-sensei will be so pleased to know you're safe!"

"Yes, I'm sure. . ." She didn't know what she was saying. It had all been a lie of Bethel's then! Connor hadn't hurt Miyu, hadn't touched her! He had protected her! Elena felt like crying herself. "Miyu, I have to go; I need to rest." Her voice shook.

"Du-ran-sama. . ."

"I'll call you again." She hung up, then did burst into tears, briefly. When she looked up, Connor was standing in the doorway, a steaming mug in his hand.

Translations:

por el amor de Dios (Span.) - for the love of God

Twelve

"Is anything wrong with the little girl?" Connor asked.

He sounded truly concerned. "No," Elena answered. "She's fine. Everything is wrong with me."

He sat next to her and handed her the cup of soup. It felt warm in her cold hands. "Drink. It will make you feel better." He leaned in, close to her but still not touching. She could feel his breath on her face. "It *will* get better," he said.

She took a sip, and it made a warm inroad all the way down to her stomach. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the sofa. She was so exhausted! But then something occured to her, and she had to know. "How long, Connor?" she asked him suddenly, leaning forward urgently.

He paused for a moment, doing the calculation. "You've been missing for twenty-three days."

"Twenty-three days," she repeated, almost in a daze. "Twenty-th. . ." she couldn't even finish saying it. She felt faint, sick, and Connor took the mug from her before she could drop it. "[!Dios mio!]" she cried out.

"You're safe now, Elena," he whispered, urgently.

"No." She let out a long, shuddering breath, remembering. "Never. Never again."

He smiled quietly. "Never is a long time." There was a pause, and then he said, "Elena -- I need to ask you. About Bethel. About what he knows." Was that the anger in his voice? What she was waiting for?

The noise of her pounding heart seemed to fill the room. She was afraid to tell him the truth. But she was even more terrified of lying; lying meant pain, and he'd know, just like Bethel knew. "Everything. He knows everything, Connor," she said quickly.

"About Emma? Rachel?"

She sobbed quietly. She couldn't face him. When he found out how she'd betrayed him; betrayed the girl, Emma; Rachel; also Duncan! and Richie. All the people she loved. Now he'd kill her. She thought about all the years she had spent just surviving, doing anything she had to do to survive. Maybe being killed by Connor MacLeod wouldn't be such a bad end -- as long as he just took her head.

She decided she wouldn't lie to him. She had to tell him; she owed him -- especially since he was innocent, Bethel had lied about him, it had all been a lie. "He broke my sword, Connor. And he said he'd break me the same way. And he did. . .I told him. . .everything. . . everything he asked me, everything he wanted, anything he wanted!"

("Now Elena, tell me all about your friends -- your Immortal friends. You will tell me, you know. You will.")

Connor got up quickly, startling her, turning to the fire. She was sure he was going for his katana, now, to take her head. His back was to her. While he stared at the flames she held her breath, hoping.

Finally he turned back to her. He didn't seem angry, or sad, or anything else; just. . .distant, unapproachable. A closed book. She lowered her head and wept. This was her ultimate failure, and he knew it; they both knew it. "It's all right, Elena," he said. "I understand."

All she could think of to say -- and this was a sign of her ultimate weakness -- was, "He hurt me. . ."

He slowly came back and sat down beside her again. "I understand about pain. . .about what it can make you do. The smell of burned flesh. . ." He sighed. "I understand. Believe me." He was sitting very close to her, and yet he still seemed far-away. She couldn't look at him. "I just needed to know. But it's alright. I understand." His voice had changed: it was soft now, almost tender; but there was still, she thought, anger in it. But maybe. . .maybe it wasn't anger at her.

A log fell, startling her, and he said, "Elena. Look at me."

She didn't want to look at his face, but she obeyed automatically. He was focused entirely on her -- his eyes were very bright -- and she didn't know quite what he was going to do. "I understand," he repeated quietly, as though this phrase made everything alright; as though it absolved her of guilt, of shame; as though it made her humiliations, her pain, disappear -- and she could see, now, in his eyes, the shared understanding, what he was trying to tell her about when he had gone through the same thing.

"I'm sorry," she said weakly, ineffectually.

"So am I." His voice almost broke. Somehow she found her hand between both of his; a comforting, loving gesture. . .and maybe a handshake, a bond between them, a shared experience.

"Elena, listen. . .you should try to get some rest."

She had stopped crying. "All right. But may I sit here? I. . .I don't want to be alone. I have bad dreams. Will you please. . .will you stay with me, Connor."

"Yes."

She sank down into the sofa, relaxing, feeling his warmth next to her, his strength, and the warmth of the fire, the comfort. At this moment she knew just what Miyu meant about feeling safe with him. Connor hadn't betrayed her; and for now she was safe -- for now. "Thank you, Connor," she said, so low she didn't know if he'd heard.

"You're welcome, Elena."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seacouver, October 28, 1996, 2 a.m.

By the time the phone rang again, Duncan was already packed and was reaching for the receiver to call and charter a jet. But Connor had called right back and explained that Elena had gotten "spooked" and tried to run away, but she was safe and they'd fly into Seacouver by noon.

Duncan knew Elena had been through a bad time, a terrible time, but being "spooked" and running away didn't sound like her at all. But Connor emphasized it. "She's very weak, vulnerable, and especially very scared, Duncan. Of Immortals. Of me. Of everyone and everything."

He wondered if Connor might be exaggerating -- after all, Connor and Elena didn't really like each other, and anyway, Connor didn't know her like he, Duncan, did. Of course she was scared, weak. But this was Elena Duran! And yet, Connor wasn't given to overstatement.

As soon as he got off the phone he went straight to Joe's.

Dawson's 'stylin' band was still there, and the bar mavens had apparently persuaded him to play a set with the group. Even before he walked in Duncan could hear the wail of the guitar, filling the room and beyond with melancholy, taking such control of the bar that the usual conversations were stilled, everyone listening intently. It was an old tune, a blues-rock tune Jimmy Hendrix had played, and Dawson's instrument did it justice very nicely -- but right now Duncan was using all his self control to keep from dragging Dawson bodily off the stage.

By necessity, Duncan MacLeod was always aware of his surroundings. In fact, it was only while taken over by a quickening that he truly 'lost' himself -- the rest of the time, even in the midst of a long, difficult duel, he was alert to everyone and everything around him. He had noticed, for example, the pretty blonde at the end of the bar who, while talking to her date, still managed to glance his way more than once. And now, while he impatiently nursed his drink, he noted someone approaching from behind. He knew who it was before the man squeezed in beside him. "Hello, Bernie," he said without bothering to look.

"MacLeod," he whispered, and about that time Dawson finished and the applause began in earnest. "I'm very sorry about Elena Duran."

Duncan felt his jaw working. He was building up quite a rage against Claude Bethel and didn't need this. . .

"I mean," the Watcher continued, oblivious to Duncan's mood. "I always thought she'd bury me." He shook his head. "I'm just an old man. . ."

Dawson walked up, still being congratulated by his audience, and Duncan stood, turning fluidly. "Hey, MacLeod," he said, smiling, "what. . ."

"We have to talk. Now."

Dawson wasn't slow. His voice, his face changed right away. "Right," he said, and led the way back to his office.

Once there, he immediately asked, "What's wrong, MacLeod?"

"I need to know everything about an Immortal named Claude Bethel. Everything." Duncan's tone did not allow for arguments.

"MacLeod, I. . ." he started to protest. Then he sighed. "Bethel? Claude Bethel." He limped back to his desk. "I'm not sure, I think. Yeah. . .I know the name." He sat at his desk, started to fiddle with the computer. "Why do you want to know?" he asked cautiously.

"I'm going to kill him," he said simply.

Dawson nodded, understanding -- he'd been through this with Duncan before. "Yeah. Alright." For a moment the only sound in the room was the click of the keys and the two men's muted breathing. "Claude Maurice Bethel," Dawson muttered, reading the screen, then shaking his head. "Not a righteous man. . ."

Duncan leaned toward the Watcher. "Tell me."

"We don't have his whole history, but we traced him back to Poland, born around 1900 -- so many records were lost during the war. We first found out about him during WWII, in Bergen-Belsen."

(". . .brutalized her. . .shaved her head, like a concentration camp prisoner. . .starved her. . .")

"The concentration camp." Over several centuries, Duncan had seen survivors of many wars; but the sick, starving, shell-shocked prisoners he'd seen first hand at Sobibor had been some some of the worst. . .and one of the homicidal maniacs responsible had had Elena for three weeks! Three weeks!

"Yeah," Dawson agreed. "We're pretty sure that's where he first died."

"Died? At Bergen-Belsen?" Duncan asked. "How? Was he SS; a guard?"

"Nah," Dawson shook his head. "He was a prisoner. A Polish officer. He was captured, tortured for information, shot and thrown into one of those mass shallow graves. Must have been something, digging your way out of that. . .no wonder he didn't do well afterwards."

"A Polish officer?" Duncan asked, bewildered.

"Yeah. His crime was fighting back against the Nazis when they overran Poland. He was a real patriot, I guess. But after that. . ."

"What?" Bethel was proving to be. . .not what he thought.

"I guess he cracked up. He was found by an Immortal in France, and after about two years together, he killed her." Dawson looked up at Duncan. "Tortured her before he took her head. It's been his MO ever since. He captures Immortals, usually by shooting them -- never in a swordfight -- then he tortures them for a few weeks, a month -- then he beheads them. Maybe he's reliving Bergen-Belsen over and over again; only this time he's at the giving end, not the receiving. I'd say he's one sick son of a bitch. . .but hey," Dawson shrugged, "what do I know?"

Actually Duncan thought it was a probably a pretty accurate psychological evaluation.

"So," Dawson continued. "you don't have any history with this guy. What's going on?"

Tit for tat. Fair trade of information. Besides, Dawson would find out soon enough. "He kidnapped Elena."

"You mean it was him?! Man. . .oh man! Oh, damn, MacLeod. . . that's. . .real bad news. . .I'm sorry, believe me! When did you find out?" He looked closely at Duncan. "*How* did you find out?"

"Connor."

"But how did he. . .?"

Duncan was hesitant to tell anyone else she was still alive; but she was with Connor. However, until he saw her with his own eyes. . . he decided to just stick to the truth. "She got away from Bethel; she's with Connor now."

"Got away? Hell, if she did, she's the first! Nobody's ever gotten away from Claude Bethel -- he's too careful, too much of a perfectionist."

"Not this time. Where can I find him, Dawson?"

"Well. . .Dawson looked back at the computer screen. "New York City, Manhattan was his hangout, but we don't have a current address. His Watcher was murdered a little over a year ago. He probably did it himself."

"Damn!" Duncan muttered. He was back to searching the whole city of New York. Even with a name and a description; seven million people!

"What about his habits; the places he frequents. . ."

"Nada. And we have tried to find him. But we're not perfect, you know."

"Yeah. I know."

"Duran might know where to find him. Nah. . .he's probably moved by now. . ."

"Probably." He'd ask her anyway. "Thanks, Dawson. If you get anything on him, anything at all. . ." He left the sentence hanging and started to leave, but Dawson suddenly called out to him.

"MacLeod! Wait! I just thought of something!" He stood up, came over on his crutch. "Bethel might want her back; I mean, to finish the job. He doesn't like to lose."

"Yes; he's already come after her. What's your point?"

"My point is he had her for three weeks, MacLeod."

Duncan realized what Dawson was saying. "So he's had enough time to find out all about her," he said, thinking about, *knowing* what Bethel would have done to her to get that information. He felt sick.

(". . .brutalized her. . .raped her. . .")

"And all about you, MacLeod. And Richie. Damn! Methos, too!"

"And the Watchers!" Duncan contributed.

"Yeah," Dawson said, bleakly.

"All the more reason to find him and kill him," Duncan said between clenched teeth, and turned to go.

Thirteen

A cabin in the woods in Connecticut, October 28, 1996, 8 a.m.

Elena came awake with a start, drenched in sweat, a cry just forming on her lips. She'd been having another dream, another [pesadilla] featuring Claude Bethel and a branding iron in the shape of a cross. This time she was alone in the living room -- the fire was down to embers, and it was this visual reference that reminded her that she had escaped, that she was in Connor's cabin, that she was safe. . .until Bethel caught up with her! The knot in her stomach was still there; she was still afraid. So very much afraid. . .

She knew she'd woken up at least once before, screaming, and begging, pleading with Bethel -- and Connor had been there, soothing her, giving her water, telling her she was safe. She wept on his chest, sobbing completely out of control -- and Connor held her, comforted her. This was a man she hadn't even trusted, and he knew she had betrayed everyone she loved. Now she was humiliating herself in front of him, over and over. What contempt he must have for me, she thought bleakly.

She could sense Connor -- it had to be him -- nearby. When she cried out he came in and studied her for a moment. "Breakfast?" he finally asked.

She nodded and ate everything he put in front of her, like an obedient child. . .but although her stomach still cried out, food was just no longer important. She felt too sick at heart to eat. She'd gotten away from Bethel, had spent a whole day *free* -- and now she knew what it would be like. Shame and guilt filled her -- but fear! Fear *consumed* her. And who said she was free anyway -- Bethel was still with her: in her thoughts, in her dreams, in her soul. Even if he never actually came after her, she'd never get away from him. And unlike Trent, she couldn't fight him; she didn't have the will. She'd never be truly safe, never.

Not for all her Immortal life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seacouver, October 28, 1996, 1:00 p.m.

Duncan was waiting anxiously by the Thunderbird on the tarmac when Connor brought his jet in. A moment later the door opened and Duncan practically ran up the stairs. Connor met him at the top, blocking his way. "Wait, Duncan," he said. "Don't rush her."

Duncan was insulted. "I know, damn it!"

The elder MacLeod put a hand on his kinsman's chest. "It's bad."

Duncan took a closer look at his clansman. Connor had obviously not slept recently, and his face was grim. Duncan nodded. "I guessed that."

But he hadn't guessed; not by an order of magnitude.

She sat in one of the seats, curled up in a ball, her knees up by her face, hiding it, her arms wrapped around them. Her hands were pale and as thin as sticks, and around her head was a scarf of some sort. There was no real way to approach her; Duncan was actually afraid to touch her; so he said instead, quietly, calmly, "Elena. Sweetheart? It's me, Duncan."

She didn't answer, and he knelt on the narrow space beside her seat. He swallowed thickly. He was prepared to wait. "Elena? Welcome home, [querida]. I'm so glad to see you." He spoke barely above a whisper, but knew she had heard him.

Halfway to Seacouver Elena had realized she didn't want to see Duncan, and for a very simple reason: it wasn't her anymore. Maria Elena Conchita Duran y Agramonte had died in a New York basement, and this shell that was left was not what Duncan would want. . .but she had no choice but to face him. Slowly she raised her head. . .

Her head came up slowly. The colorful scarf was wrapped around her like a turban, and came down to cover the right half of her face. Her left eye was sunken, with dark circles underneath, and closed tightly. Her high cheekbones, which had always added angles and beauty to her face, now made it look cadaverous, and her color was bad, her lips pale.

Duncan wrestled down the rage and grief. "Sweetheart," he whispered in his most soothing tone, the one he saved for frightened children and for brand new Immortals. "It's alright. You're home, and you're safe."

A tear rolled slowly down her face. "Duncan," she murmured, and there was so much pain and grief in that one word that his breath caught.

He swallowed thickly, again. "I'm here," he said, and waited for her to continue. But apparently that was all she had to say, or all the strength she had. Finally he said, "Let's go home. Ok?"

"Yes," she nodded, and at that point opened her left eye. And this was when Duncan fully realized just what he was facing. It was still the same beautiful grey color, but dull now, without light, missing that gleam that had always made her so alive, so vibrant. And he could see the pain there, too, and the fear. Especially the fear.

(". . .very scared. . .of everyone and everything. . .")

He had never seen Elena Duran like this -- had never imagined that she could be like this. Sweet Jesus, he thought, what did this monster do to her? It was like looking at the death mask of a loved one. But he very carefully schooled his features to show only support and encouragement, actually smiled at her, knowing she was studying him very carefully, trying to catch every nuance of his reaction.

Slowly she untangled herself, and as he took her arm he realized how much weight she'd really lost.

"Let's go home." She echoed his words, her heart filled with despair. He was horrified by her, and they both knew it, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it. She wished with all her heart that Claude Bethel had killed her, had spared her this. In a way, seeing Duncan now was worse than anything else she'd gone through.

As he helped her into the car, like an invalid, she thought, what would a man like Duncan MacLeod want with me now? Hopeless; it was hopeless! She felt like the egg in the British children's rhyme, and Duncan had the impossible job of 'all the king's horses, and all the king's men.' She knew his honor would prevent him from simply abandoning her; but if all she got from him was pity. . .

She sat in the back, while the MacLeods, in hushed tones, talked about her in the front.

". . .up on my doorstep last night, with Bethel not far behind. . ."

". . .anything about him. . .find this 'sassenach'. . ."

". . .didn't say much. . .bad dreams. . .screaming. . .sleep. . ."

". . .what about Rachel?. . .safety. . .and the girl, what's her. . ."

". . .Cerridwyn. . .get back. . ."

"Duncan," she said when they were finally alone in the loft. "I need to tell you. . ." She sat on the bed. He was all attention and concern, and although she was afraid to, there was nothing to do but just say it, confess it. "I told Bethel some things, about you, Richie, I told him what. . .I answered all his questions. I didn't want to, Duncan, but I gave you up -- I betrayed everyone I love and everyone I've ever loved. . ." She was breathing hard, guilt consuming her, and also fear that he'd hate her, he'd feel contempt for her, he'd leave her. . .or that he'd hurt her.

He crouched in front of her, taking her trembling hands in his. "Shhh. I know, Elena. I know all about it. You can't blame yourself."

"But he knows so much! I told him everything, put all of you in danger!"

"That wasn't your fault. I know what pain can make a man do; or a woman."

She gripped his arm. "I told him everything. . ." she repeated.

Duncan sighed. He knew he wasn't getting through to her, but hopefully that would come later. For now, he was shocked by her listless condition, by her fear. He had expected her to be at least a little angry over what happened to her; but all he saw was an all-pervasive helplessness and hopelessness. Her physical condition, too, was worse than he'd counted on: it was like looking at someone's skeletal remains. . .and the one thing he couldn't get out of his mind was how he'd driven her out of that hotel room, driven her away, driven her into Bethel's clutches; and all by his stubborness, his ego, his pride.

"[Querida.]" He caressed her face with his fingertips; he could feel her cheekbone right under the pale skin. "Please don't worry about that. Let's just concentrate on getting you better; building you back up."

Building me back up for what? she thought to herself. 'All the king's horses and all the king's men. . .' But she nodded. She'd do anything he told her to. She had no will left to cross him, or anyone else.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seacouver, October 31, 1996, 8 p.m.

The night before Halloween had been a night of horror.

"I'm afraid to go to sleep, Duncan. During the day, I can think of something else, sometimes. But Bethel owns my dreams. . ." she'd said.

And apparently, he did.

She couldn't, or wouldn't, sleep, and when exhaustion finally overcame her, so did the nightmares. She woke up more than once, screaming, crying, pleading with Bethel; and all Duncan could do was hold her, and rub her back, and give her water, and tell her, over and over, that she was safe. . .

The last time she sat up in bed, breathless, choking, feeling the cord tightening around her neck, Duncan wasn't there; but she could sense an Immortal nearby. It came from downstairs -- she was sure it was Duncan; it had to be. Then the elevator started riding up and she held her breath until she recognized the voices. The two Scotsmen were arguing, but they ended abruptly when they noticed she was awake. Surely they have a lot of things to argue about after four hundred years, she thought. They don't have to be arguing about me.

Yeah. Right.

"Good morning, sweetheart." Duncan smiled his most charming smile. She tried to smile back when he told her about how she needed to eat, and dutifully consumed everything he put in front of her, even though she had no appetite.

Duncan felt tired and was irritated at Connor. "If she wanted to talk about it, she would have, Connor. She's not ready yet," he'd said to his kinsman.

"I don't want an day by day account, Duncan. I just want to find out if she knows where she was held. If she can help me find Bethel, it will be best for all of us. Besides, I know when to back off."

"You're a lot better at pushing than at backing off, Connor," Duncan replied. "Especially pushing *her*. . ."

"Not this time, cousin. I spent a night listening to her scream too, remember?" he snapped.

In the end Duncan had reluctantly agreed, and now Connor sat on the sofa next to a freshly showered Elena.

"Elena," Connor began; "can you help me find Bethel?"

So much for not pushing, Duncan thought.

Elena started breathing hard at once. "No! No, Connor, don't! He's treacherous!"

"We know that already," he answered drily.

"He won't meet you with a blade. He'll use a gun; a poison dart. . ." She leaned towards him. "He'll expect you to come! He'll be waiting for you! He'll trap you!"

Poison dart? thought Duncan, wondering if that's what Bethel had used against her. She hadn't told him anything about her experience. He knew she needed to talk, eventually, but he was willing to wait. Connor wasn't.

"Elena, I'm not easily caught," Connor answered, reassuring her. "And I won't be surprised."

"Don't do it. . .let it go. . .you can't do this for me. . ."

"It's not just for you, girl," Connor said, roughly. "He knows where I live. . ."

Elena jerked back as though she'd been slapped. Connor took her hand. She was shaking her head, but he was relentless. "What do you remember?" he insisted.

"NO!" she wailed. "I can't!"

"Forget it, Connor," Duncan put in, sitting on the coffee table in front of them. "Elena, you don't have to think about it now. Maybe later."

But Connor still had her hand. "Help me find him," he whispered in her ear.

Elena turned to look at Connor, their faces almost touching. Help me, he'd said. She remembered how strong he'd been for her; how he'd gotten her away from Bethel; how he'd let her cry on his shoulder. She remembered how safe she'd felt with him.

But she couldn't help him. She didn't want to remember -- it was like putting her hand into a magician's black velvet bag, except the rabbit inside was a monster with claws and fangs.

She shuddered. He waited.

Finally she took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. "I remember. . .a street: Grand; Grand and. . .Elrich."

"Eldridge," Connor repeated.

"Yes," she reached further into the black bag; closer to the jaws. "Then trees. Cool, and dark. . .I wanted to lay down and just rest, rest, but. . ."

("What'cha doin'? I'll cut you!")

She jerked back, again, as someone had jumped out at her, out of the darkness of the trees. "Uh!" she breathed, and she could feel the monster's hot breath against her fingers. "No!"

Duncan saw her suddenly go pale, paler than she was, pull back fearfully, cry out. "That's it!" he said, taking her hands. "Another time, Connor," he said, ending it.

But Connor tried one more time. "A park? Subway?" but she didn't answer, so he sighed and started to stand -- but Elena suddenly gripped his leg, fingers digging into his thigh. He sat back down.

"Food." She didn't want to remember; but she did remember. "Tomato. Italian food. It was in the dumpsters, everywhere around me -- I could smell it! I wanted to stop, to go into the trash, to find the food. But I knew he was coming, he was behind me, coming up behind me. . ."

Her eye was unfocused. She was staring at something in her mind, a shadow -- it was him, it was Bethel! "He's coming for me!" she whispered. "Duncan!"

"He won't have you. I promise. I won't let him take you!" Duncan pressed her against him -- she was light and so fragile he was afraid he'd break her. After a moment of deep breathing she relaxed against him.

The two Highlanders looked at each other. With a nod, Connor went to the elevator. But as he got there, Elena called him back.

"Connor!" He was leaving, and maybe he'd be trapped by Bethel, tricked by Bethel, and she couldn't just let him go, not without telling him! Pulling out of Duncan's embrace, she stood, shakily, to meet the elder MacLeod -- but now she didn't know what to say to him. One Immortal was protecting her, babysitting her like a helpless infant; the other was going to fight her fight for her. And all she could do was sit, and tremble, and cry, and have bad dreams. "[Cuidaos,]" she finally said.

Connor smiled. "I'm always careful, Elena. Always."

Seacouver, November 12, 1996

Richie's initial reaction at seeing Elena had been guarded, but Duncan knew him too well, knew how hurt and angry the young Immortal had been. And he was proud of Richie for being gentle and supportive in front of her, and for staying. But he didn't tell Richie how proud he was. That's what teachers told their students, and now they were equals.

"Damn it, Mac -- she looks like a frightened scarecrow! What did this son of a bitch do to her?! And how can we get him?!"

"I don't know the answer, Richie. To either question." Duncan did know that Connor was hunting Claude Bethel, and he had to resist the temptation to call Connor daily. He was worried for his kinsman; but more than that, he felt *he* should be the one after Bethel, not Connor. After all, Elena was with *him* -- it was his, Duncan's, debt to pay. But he knew he couldn't leave her; she was too scared; she needed him. Not for the first time in four hundred years, he wished he could be two places at once.

He also knew Elena well enough to realize she, too, would have wanted to go after Bethel -- but there was no chance of that. Not now. The mere mention of his name made her hyperventilate, made her stomach cramp up. And she still hadn't said anything about what he'd done to her. It was as though she wanted to forget him; but there was no forgetting. She had to face her demons. But she wouldn't, or couldn't.

He and Richie were in the dojo office, talking. "Mac, it's been two weeks, and she still. . .terrified of everything. I think she's even afraid of me, for God's sake!"

"Richie, these things take time. Bethel had her for twenty-three days. For twenty-three days he devoted himself to crushing her mind, her spirit, and her body, over and over again. She was at the mercy of someone completely without mercy." Duncan took a deep breath before he added, softly, "You understand how that feels, don't you, Richie? Remember?"

Richie paled slightly, and Duncan let him think about it, and Duncan thought about it too. Then he continued. "He shredded her, and what we have left to work with is his leavings." He stood, stretching his long legs, pacing in the small room. "It took centuries to build Notre Dame cathedral, but well-placed explosives can bring it down in minutes."

"So it'll take a long time. . ."

"Time, yes, and effort, and will, and perseverance. Bethel really had the easy part, you know. He just destroyed her. We have to help rebuild her."

"But she doesn't want any, Mac! Before, with Trent, she was fighting with us. Hell, even if she were fighting against us, it would be something! But she has no fight left in her, no will, no soul, nothing! Bethel took everything!"

"No he didn't. He didn't take away her desire to escape. Or the strength to do it." He'd told her that, too, trying to encourage her. But she wasn't hearing him. Maybe he wasn't talking loudly enough, or firmly enough. Maybe he needed to be harder on her. "We just have to keep trying to reach her." He stopped and looked at his young friend. "I appreciate your sticking around, trying to help, especially. . .I know she appreciates it, too."

"Mac, she was there for me. I'm not gonna walk out on her. Or on you."

"Thanks, Richie."

They heard the elevator start, and Richie said hurriedly, "By the way, Mac, before she gets down here. . .is there some Immortal after you that I don't know about?"

"Not that I know of." Duncan was genuinely surprised.

"Black woman. Maybe five six, fit. In her twenties -- but you never know. Black overcoat. I saw her once before, a couple of weeks ago, but this time she got close enough for me to tell she's definitely an Immortal. And it doesn't look like she's dying to introduce herself."

Duncan had been distracted ever since the beginning of October and hadn't noticed anyone, Immortal or not. Then he remembered sensing that Immortal the night Connor had called. . ."Don't say anything to Elena," he whispered, as she came out of the elevator.

Physically, Elena Duran was much improved. She'd filled out somewhat with a combination of good food and mild exercise. She ate, she worked out, she did everything Duncan asked her to do -- except she wanted nothing to do with swords -- but her heart wasn't in it, and they both knew it. She was just going through the motions.

She'd come to the dojo to watch Duncan and Richie spar -- like Duncan had asked her to, for her benefit. This time, Duncan had brought her katana, the one she'd taken from Hosokawa's student, to the dojo. Duncan hoped to actually get it in her hand tonight. He was convinced that if she actually held the katana, it would help her remember that she'd been a fighter. Even if her mind didn't want to remember; even if her heart was afraid to consider it; her body would not forget centuries of training. It could be a beginning.

If he could just get her to hold the sword. . .

She watched with apparently close attention, but made none of the comments she used to make, before -- not when Richie made mistakes; not even when Duncan made mistakes.

After only a few minutes, Duncan decided it was time to force her hand. He hadn't discussed this with Richie, and hoped the younger Immortal would go along. He pulled back. "Alright, Elena," he said to her. "Your turn."

"What?" she asked.

"You and Richie." He stepped back, motioning her to take his place. "You need to get used to the katana again. It's lighter than the broadsword. . ." (Damn, how he wished she still had her beloved broadsword, it would be so much easier for her!) "You also need to learn to fight with only one eye. I'm sure it'll be different." He placed the katana, in its scabbard, on the mat next to where she sat.

He said this calmly, casually, as though her wielding a sword was a done deal. He looked at Richie, who said, "Yeah. Yeah, that's right; let's. . .let's do it. Come on, Duran."

Elena looked from one to the other. "No, I. . .I can't."

Duncan kept his tone even. "Why not?"

"Because. . ." she lowered her gaze. "I'm afraid," she murmured.

Duncan looked at Richie, who shrugged. "Alright," Duncan said, approaching her, crouching down near her. "I'll accept that you're afraid. But can you tell me what you're afraid of?"

She didn't answer, and he continued probing, more insistent now. "What are you afraid of, Elena? Do you think Richie will hurt you? Or that he'll take your head? Is that it?"

"I. . .no; I know he wouldn't!"

"Then maybe. . .are you afraid of the sword?"

"Duncan. . ." Why was he pushing her like this? What did he want?

He was so close. Kneeling, he scooped up the katana, drawing it swiftly. "Does the blade scare you, Elena?"

"I don't know! Yes!" He loomed over her, threatening. He was so big. . .he raised her chin with his free hand. The katana was just centimeters from her face. She shuddered.

Duncan felt her tremble, but decided to push a little harder. "Look at it, Elena. It's a beautifully crafted piece of steel. But it has no power, no skill -- that's all in the hand of the wielder." She was looking at the blade, mesmerized by its sheen. "Do you remember, Elena; the power, the strength you felt when this was in your hand? Just a piece of steel! But in your hand, it was magic." He turned it around, handing it to her, continuing persuasively. "Take it, Elena. Feel the power that comes from *you.* Remember what it felt like! Take it in your hand, even if you don't want to -- your heart will remember; your body will react."

She shook her head, but he continued, urging her. "Look how it shines! It's beautiful! Take the hilt in your hand. Feel the carvings there. Feel the weight. Listen to the sound it makes, cleaving the air, as you swing it. Make it a part of you again!"

But she wouldn't take it. "I can't!" She tried to stand, to leave, but Duncan took her by the arm.

"Why not? What are you afraid of?" he insisted.

Maybe if she pushed back, maybe he'd get angry, lose his temper. Maybe he'd take her head, now; it would be so easy for him. Then it would be over at last. But she couldn't do that, either; she was afraid.

"Are you afraid of me, Elena?" he asked in a low whisper.

The words came bubbling up, unbidden, unwilling, surging up like water from a newly dug spring. She couldn't help herself. "[Por favor. . .]" she breathed.

"Please. . ." That's what she said. Duncan had seen her cringe whenever he came near, shudder when she sensed Richie, avoid everyone else. But now, this moment, looking at her, he really saw that she was just afraid, period; fear was what she was all about. She *was* afraid of him.

She was afraid. . .

He sat back on his heels, disappointed beyond measure. He released her, and she ran.

Translations:

cuidaos (Span.) be careful

Fourteen

Elena ran from the dojo, jumped in the Miata, and drove away, burning rubber. She wanted to get as far from Duncan MacLeod as she could; and it wasn't fear this time. It was shame, a deep, bone-wrenching sense of total humiliation, of despair. He had seen her true face -- and it was the face of cowardice. And she had seen his face, his realization of what she truly was, his disappointment, his rejection, his contempt.

She drove carelessly, quickly, tears blinding her, wishing she could drive her car off a bridge, plunge into the cold, welcoming black depths -- but that would be only a temporary respite. Her mind went through ways she could manage to cut off her own head and end this nightmare. But she couldn't do it -- she couldn't kill herself. She didn't have the will; and that was the crux of the matter. She was even too afraid to die. . .

What was she afraid of? Pulling over to the side of the street, climbing up on the curb, the car idled while she considered it. What scared her so much?

For one thing -- the presence of an Immortal, because every time she sensed one coming, she was sure it was Bethel, coming for her, coming back. . .but there was more, she knew.

Duncan MacLeod. Why would she be afraid of Duncan MacLeod? What could he do to her that could be so terrifying? He had proved, so many times, that he loved her, that he would kill for her, die for her. [!Madre de Dios!] He was already doing the terrifying thing, she realized. He was pushing her, gently but inexorably. He wanted her to go back, to become again the woman she was, to stop being weak, stop wallowing in self-pity, stop fearing everything that moved. He wanted her to be the strong Elena Duran that he had loved -- the strong Elena Duran that she had loved!

But that's not what she wanted, and the answer why was very simple. She looked in her rearview mirror and saw why, saw it in the sharp bones of her face, in the lines of suffering around her mouth, in the emptiness of her right eye socket, in the dullness of her one good eye. For centuries, she had been so strong; and now, in just weeks, she had been reduced to this, this shell, this shadow of herself.

Aprendan flores en mi

Lo que va de ayer a hoy.

Ayer, maravilla fui;

Hoy, sombra de mi no soy.*

A poem of Campoamor, flitting through her mind. She always thought this pessimistic assessment of life applied only to mortals, who grew old, and lost their power, their strength, their lives. But she was Immortal -- and yet she had lost everything, so easily. And she was afraid -- this is it, Elena, this is what you're really afraid of -- that if she worked hard and built herself up again, back to her old self, she could lose it all again, so easily, again. She didn't think she could stand that, and she didn't know if it was worth the attempt.

Awkwardly, she put the car in first and drove off again. She needed some place to sit and think, some place safe. . .holy ground! That was it! If she could get to holy ground, hide there, rest. But where? The cabin? No; she couldn't stand being alone, listening for sounds in the night, waiting for Bethel. . .and Duncan would eventually find her there -- provided he even bothered to look. There was no one she knew, and she realized she desperately needed to talk, to tell someone. If only Darius were still alive! He would listen to her; she'd be able to tell him what Bethel had done to her, to her body, to her spirit; she'd be able to tell him things she hadn't been able to tell Duncan because he was so strong, and she was so weak, and too ashamed!

She could go to the little chapel, talk to Reverend Washington, to Dorothy; and tell them what? That she'd been tortured? The first they'd do is call the authorities, and that was the last thing she needed.

But then she thought of someone she could talk to -- someone who had talked to other beaten, terrified people; other women -- someone who was in the business of healing.

Anne Lindsay.

But [!Madre de Dios!], how could she put this on Anne, who had her own problems, a baby; who had walked away from Duncan because she didn't want anything to do with Immortals! Anne, to whom she already owed a debt; a debt she couldn't repay.

In the end she decided to at least tell Anne that she couldn't count on her, Elena, for anything, and get that off her chest. And maybe she could talk to Anne, a little. . .

Silently she drove up to what she used to call [la ruina,] the dilapidated house Duncan had fixed up and given to Anne and Mary, the house where she and Richie had tried to train John Frankowski and where John had almost taken her head. As she walked, hurriedly, to the door, she found herself in the midst of a group of costumed kids, all giggles and excited whispers, "Watch it, lady! Sorry! Is she trick or treating, or what? Look at her! Let's try the Harrisons; they always. . ."

Halloween. [La vispera del Dia de Todos los Santos]. It was a night of horror, and here she was, going to talk about her own horror, to relive it, again. . .she started to turn away, but there was someone on the porch.

"May I help you?" Anne asked, peering at her in the semi-darkness.

"Hello, Anne," Elena mumbled, stepping up.

Anne walked out further. "Elena? Elena Duran? My God!" She looked around as though expecting someone else. "Ah. . .come in, won't you?"

As she walked inside, past a hall mirror, Elena saw what had shocked Anne so much. Not as tall anymore -- her proud posture was gone, shoulders bent. Thin, emaciated looking, wearing too-big sweats that used to be her own. The kerchief, wrapped around her head. And the black eyepatch.

"Anne, I'm sorry. . .but you should have seen me two weeks ago."

Anne led her inside, talking nervously the whole time. "What happened? You look like you've been sick, lost weight. . .I thought you couldn't get sick?!" Less nervousness, now; more concern.

"I'm not sick."

"And your face! Your eye! What happened to your eye?!"

Elena shook her head. "Anne, I. . .I have no right putting this burden on you. I should go."

"No! No, please, sit down." She closed a book she'd been reading and sat on a chair across from Elena. "I was just having some tea. Can I get you some? A drink?"

"Tea would be nice." As Anne went to the kitchen, Elena looked around the nicely furnished room, seeing clearly the evidence of Duncan MacLeod's eclectic and expensive tastes, and also pieces that were obviously different, had more of a pattern to them -- obviously Anne's. It had a lived-in, warm feel, and a comforting, crackling fire in the fireplace.

"Chamomile," Elena murmured when she took a sip. It reminded her. . .but she didn't want to be reminded of anything. She wanted all memories to stop.

"So," Anne started, obviously interested and concerned. "What happened?"

Honest and blunt. She remembered that about Anne -- and liked her for it. "I actually came to tell you, Anne, that I can't keep my promise to you. I'm sorry."

"Your promise?"

"I can't watch over you or Mary or anyone else. I can't even take care of myself anymore." She'd just tell her that and go.

Anne leaned forward, putting her hand over Elena's. "Elena, I don't care about that; I just want to. . ."

"But I care about it, Anne! I gave you my word, and now I have to break it, because I can't. . ." she drifted off.

"Alright. Tell me why. Tell me what happened."

Tell me. Talk to me, Elena. Duncan had asked her to tell him, many times, and Elena had refused. She didn't want to face it, remember it, talk about it. And yet she knew it was like a tumor inside her, that had to be removed, cut open, exposed. She pressed her hands together. Anne looked at her encouragingly, full of sympathy.

"There's an Immortal named Claude Bethel. . ." she began. And Elena told her, hesitantly at first, then more in a rush, wanting, needing to get it out. She thought she would break down and cry, but except for a few tears, her voice becoming ragged sometimes, whispery other times. . .

("What toy shall we use today, Elena?")

. . .she managed to stay fairly calm throughout. It was all told quickly -- twenty three days of horror, and two weeks beyond, all told in a few well chosen words that she could see made Anne, as used as she was to witnessing physical suffering first-hand, wince more than once.

"And after I betrayed everyone and everything I've ever loved, he got me to believe lies about them, things I knew in my heart weren't true, but I couldn't deny him! I didn't have the strength!"

"Of course you didn't! He tried to take away your strength, your sense of self-worth. He tried to leave you nothing to fall back on, Elena! He even tried to destroy the memory of your loved ones! Just like all abusers do. Classic. Standard. But he failed."

"Failed?!" Elena stood, agitated. "How can you say that? I'm the one who failed! Look at me, Anne!"

Anne stood with her. "I am looking at you. That's how I know he failed. He wanted to destroy you completely; he had all the cards; and yet he failed. If he hadn't, you wouldn't be here now, talking to me. You'd be back in that basement," she insisted, pointing into the air, "strapped to that chair, or dead."

Elena shook her head, not believing, not wanting to believe.

"But you're still alive. You escaped. It may be a small victory, but *he didn't finish you.* He couldn't do it, Elena!"

"That's what Duncan said," she murmured.

("You got away from him, Elena. You used your strength to get away.")

And Cerridwyn.

(". . .you got away. And you did it on your own, without help, and I bet it was the hardest thing you've ever done in your life, wasn't it? But you did it. . .")

"Duncan was right!" Anne breathed.

"Anne. . .he took so much away from me. If there's one thing an Immortal needs to be able to do, is to protect herself. But I'm too afraid. Do you know what happens to weak, helpless, Immortals?"

"They count on friends to help them until they get back on their feet? Friends like Duncan MacLeod?"

"I can't 'get back on my feet,' Anne. And Duncan can't watch over me forev. . ."

The conversation was interrupted by a cry from above; a baby's cry.

"Oh," Anne said, and Elena said, "Can I see her? Please?"

Anne smiled. "Of course. Come on upstairs," and added, "We'll finish our conversation later."

Elena nodded. She already felt better, unburdening herself. That much Anne had done for her.

"If you want to stay with me, for a few days. . ." Anne began tentatively.

"No, Anne; I couldn't. For one thing, it might put you and the baby in danger. I tend to attract undesirables with sharp weapons." It was, she realized with a start, the first joke she'd made in weeks; and when she saw Mary, the first time she'd smiled.

Dark curls. Dark bright eyes -- very wide open. Pink, open mouth. And a cuddly, round, chubby, irresistible little body.

Anne pulled her daughter out of the crib, smiling, speaking soft, sweet mothertalk. As soon as Anne picked her up, Mary stopped crying. Now, deposited on the ground, she looked Elena up and down critically, shyly, from behind the safety of Anne's legs.

Elena knelt on the ground, smiling, everything else forgotten. She held out one hand, concentrating on trying to charm the charming child hesitating before her. "[!Que linda sois! Que nina mas linda.] Mary. You don't remember me, do you? [Veni.]" She gestured with her fingers, wanting so much to touch the child, to hold her, but waiting for her, Mary, to make the first move, if any.

Mary stayed where she was. "She has Mommy-itis, I think," Anne said. "She's at that age, where strangers. . ."

But Elena had stood up so abruptly, turning to the door, that Mary shrank back with a small cry.

A familiar, deep vibration, starting in her brain, then sweeping down, filling her whole body with a tremulous sensation, then filling all the space around her. At one time, it was thrilling, exciting, somewhat mixed with fear -- but now only the fear remained.

"What is it? Is it an Immortal?" Anne asked.

Bethel! Bethel's come for me! Elena thought, feeling panic starting to course through her.

"It's probably Duncan. Looking for you." Anne whispered.

Of course it wasn't Bethel! Bethel didn't know anything about Anne; he'd never asked her, hadn't known to ask her, and Elena had never told him. But he could have followed her. . .No! No! This way lies madness!

But it also wasn't Duncan. "Duncan doesn't know I'm here." She turned to Anne. "Get the baby. Now."

Anne didn't need to be told twice, and they were at the head of the stairs when Elena asked her, "Do you have a gun?"

"No! But I thought. . ."

[!Mierda!] Elena thought. Her knees felt like water. She gripped the stair rail to steady herself. The Immortal was close! Maybe. . . maybe it *was* Duncan.

They were halfway down the steps when the front door burst open and a figure stepped inside.

It wasn't Duncan MacLeod.

*Let flowers learn from me

From yesterday to today.

Yesterday, I was a marvel;

Today, I am not even a shadow of myself.

Tomas de Campoamor

TRANSLATIONS: (all Spanish)

madre de Dios - mother of God

la ruina - the ruin la Vispera del Dia de Todos los Santos - Halloween, the eve of All Saints' Day

que linda sois - how pretty you are

que nina mas linda - what a pretty girl

veni - come here

mierda - shit

Fifteen

The Immortal was a woman, black, not large but quite strong looking, quite competent looking. She pulled a rapier out of her black overcoat as she closed the door behind her. "Trick or treat!" she smiled up at them.

Elena froze, and Anne bumped into her, causing both of them to almost lose their balance. Elena was still gripping the stair rail. If she could swing over, land on the ground, she could run out the back door before. . .

But then Mary made a little noise behind her, and Elena knew, she knew, that she couldn't run; no matter what else happened, she couldn't leave them -- not like she'd left her pregnant friend Maria for the Hunters!

"Who are you?" she asked in a trembling voice.

"Does it really matter?" Modern American accent; maybe she was young, inexperienced. In spite of her terror, Elena continued the assessment of her enemy instinctively, automatically. "The only thing you need to know," the Immortal continued, "is that your ass is mine. Actually, your head."

Anne gasped as the Immortal started up the stairs. The two and the baby retreated upwards.

"Let the woman and the child go. You came for me -- they're no danger to you." Elena tried, unsuccessfully, to keep her voice steady, her knees from trembling.

"Are you kidding? She can identify me to MacLeod! I'm not ready for him! I've been studying him for weeks, from afar, making sure he never saw me, never sensed me, trying to figure out his weaknesses. I was going for Ryan first, but then you showed up! Perfect." She giggled. "You know, I don't see what he sees in you. You're a mess, girl, you know that?" She shrugged. "Maybe he likes them skinny and bald. For a while there, I thought you two were joined at the hip!"

While the Immortal was talking, Elena was desperately trying to think of something to say, something to do. But there was nothing. This Immortal was going to kill her in a few seconds; and then, she was going to kill Anne and maybe the baby, too.

"Well, enough talk." The Immortal came to the top of the stairs.

"I'm not armed," Elena said. Maybe she could appeal to this woman's sense of justice.

Big grin. "Well, I wouldn't have it any other way! Besides, lady, you couldn't even *lift* a sword if you had one!"

Maybe Anne can get away while my quickening takes her, thought Elena. So while Anne backed away to the right of the stairwell, Elena backed away to the left.

But her opponent had thought of that, too. "I don't think you have the strength to get away from me. So, one quick thrust, and I'll be right with you." She turned to her right.

Anne cried out, "Elena!"

Elena winced at the terror in Anne's voice. "I've been fighting for four hundred years, woman; and you just turn your back on me that easily?" Her voice was firmer. Elena knew what she had to do -- get the Immortal away from Anne. Concentrate on just that; nothing else. She knew she'd lose her head -- but what great loss would that be? And isn't that what she wanted anyway?

The black woman turned to her, studying her. She snorted derisively. "You got nothin'!"

Elena smiled grimly, her second smile of the month. This was the old intimidation game, the one she had once known how to play so well. She really wanted to say, "Please, let us go!" She really wanted to leap over the rail to the floor below and just run like hell. Instead, she said nothing, and took one step forward; one step closer to the blade which would finish her; one of the hardest and yet easiest steps she had ever taken.

With an exasperated sigh, the black Immortal rushed her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seacouver, October 31, 9:00 p.m.

Elena had run out, but Duncan still knelt on the floor, unable to forget the terrified look on her face. Maybe he was wasting his time; maybe Bethel had destroyed her, left her with nothing! Maybe Elena Duran *was* finished; for all intents and purposes, dead.

Richie asked, "What now, Mac?"

Duncan stood up. "Now," he said, "I'll go get her." No! He wasn't going to give up on her -- he couldn't! He knew Elena had steel in her spine. It had to be there. He'd just have to dig deeper, try harder, figure out a way. If only she'd talk to him, tell him what happened, what she was afraid of!

As he went out the dojo doors he saw her tear away. "Damn!" he muttered, and ran back to get his car keys. "She's driven off, Richie," he called out. "Stay here until she comes back!" He paused, realizing he'd just given Richie an order, like he used to. "Alright with you?" he asked.

"Sure, Mac. *If* she comes back."

"She's stronger than even she thinks, Richie," was Duncan's answer, but he wondered if he was talking himself into something.

He first drove to the little chapel where she'd taken refuge against Robert Trent, hoping she might have gone to holy ground, to talk to Reverend Washington or to that very nice lady, Dorothy. But he didn't sense her, so he started driving aimlessly, with no real sense of where she might have gone. He'd seen the fear on her face; but before she ran off, he also saw the shame, the despair, and that came from the look she'd seen on *his* face. . .so once again, he'd driven her out: only this time, she was helpless, weaponless, alone, and frightened, and with nowhere to go. "Good job, MacLeod," he muttered to himself.

But this wasn't the time for guilt. The time for guilt would be later, if anything happened to her because of him. . .

"Where are you, Elena? What are you afraid of?" he asked out loud. He'd considered and rejected several places. Who did she know in Seacouver? Joe Dawson? Elena Duran would *die* before she went crawling to Dawson. At least, the Elena Duran he knew. Where? Then he thought: the stables! Angelita! The mare! Sure, it was night; but Elena had ridden at night before, once or twice. Yeah. She'd go work out her frustrations by riding that quick little mare until they were both spent. Assuming Elena was strong enough to handle that spirited animal.

He didn't want to consider the possibility that she'd just run off; that he'd never find her; that she'd be killed by some Immortal and he'd never know about it, never see her again. But before he checked out the stables, he decided to call the dojo to see. . .at at this moment his cellular rang. "MacLeod," he answered hurriedly.

"Mac! Good! Listen: first of all, Anne and Mary are ok; they're safe and on their way here."

"Anne and Mary? What happened?" Not Anne, not now!

"Remember that Immortal we were talking about? The one who was following you?" Richie was talking quickly, nervously. "She followed Duran to Anne's house and attacked her there."

All Duncan could think was, my God, no! "Alright, Richie, I can be there in five minutes. You just stay with her and the baby."

"Mac!" There was a pause. "Mac, there's already been a quickening. Anne saw it as she drove away. Mac?"

Duncan said nothing.

Three feet of cold steel didn't plow into a chest; it slid in, insinuating itself between the so-called protective ribs, hungrily seeking out the beating heart, the heaving lungs, cutting into them, destroying them, paralyzing them, making life impossible. He'd felt this, more than once: pain, shock, fear. But the feeling he had now, the feeling of loss -- he'd felt this before too, and it was worse than even the most fatal wound, worse than the feeling of a sharp blade at his neck.

"Mac? Are you there? Mac?"

("There's already been a quickening.")

"I'm here, Richie," he said dully.

"Mac. . .don't worry about Anne and Mary. I'll take care of them. You do what you have to do. Mac?"

"I know you will, Richie. Later."

Five minutes later, his heart in his boots, he got to Anne's. He sensed an Immortal before he even reached the porch, and this surprised him. He expected Elena's killer to be long gone. Unless. . .

Anxiety, anger, grief; all combined to fuel him. He barrelled through the partially open door, taking in the full measure of destruction at a glance, drawing his katana as he sensed an Immortal upstairs. He glanced up, then took two steps at a time, reaching the top in record time.

To his left, the decapitated body of a woman in a pool of her own blood. To his right, the still-living Immortal, the only one who interested him.

Elena lay face down. As he knelt down beside her, he noted, with a smile of relief, that, even in unconsciousness, the fingers of her left hand were still inside the rapier's guard, loosely wrapped around the hilt.

(If he could just get her to hold the sword. . .)

Removing the weapon, he slowly turned her over. The protective kerchief had fallen off. Her scalp was covered with dark fuzz. He could clearly see the hollow space under her eyepatch. In repose, the angles of her face were not so sharp; the suffering not so apparent. Her chest rose and fell softly. With a pang, he remembered the last time he'd knelt on the ground, cradling the slack body of a woman on his lap. . .but unlike Tessa, Elena was alive! She was alive!

His eyes filled. Tracing the outline of her cheekbone and lips with one finger, he waited.

Sixteen

Seacouver, November 1, 1996, 8 p.m.

"So will you show me how to do that -- what's it called? -- you know, where you take you opponent's sword out of his hand: tachi. . ."

"[Tachidori.]" She couldn't help being affected by Richie's infectious grin. As a matter of fact, he'd been smiling since she and Ducan arrived back from Anne's house; even though Teri had shown up, and Richie had had to think up some plausible explanation for his girlfriend.

Finally Richie and Teri had taken Anne and Mary to a hotel, and Duncan and Elena had spent much of the next day cleaning up Anne's house. When Richie joined them in the afternoon, he was still smiling, and he was grinning now.

She tried to smile back, tentatively, not used to it; but she did feel better -- a little. "But we'd better use [bokken] to start. I'm not quite sure. . ."

"Anything you say, Duran." He set up and came at her, his wooden sword held high.

Elena reached for his wrist -- and grasped thin air. The length of bamboo came down on her right shoulder so hard she sank to her knees with a groan.

"What happened?" Richie asked, and she answered between clenched teeth.

"What happened is that I missed, missed completely, and I think you broke my shoulder!" Her whole right arm and shoulder were useless, and pain radiated down all the way to her fingertips. Pain! She closed her eye, shuddering, remembering Bethel's sledgehammer.

(Ah. What toy shall we use today, Elena?")

A small sound left her lips, and Duncan, who had been watching, was kneeling next to her at once. "Elena!" he exclaimed. "What is it? Talk to me."

She raised her head. "We're wasting your time, and mine, and Richie's, Duncan. I can't do this!"

"You did it yesterday," he replied simply.

"Yesterday I was lucky! I can't see well enough to fight!"

"Whadda you mean?" Richie asked. "You mean because I'm on your blind side?"

"Yes, that too. And because I can't tell how far away you are, or your hand is, or your sword is!"

Duncan helped her to her feet. She gripped his arm as the bones in her neck and shoulder knit together painfully. What made her think that escaping from Bethel would be an end to pain? Her whole life was pain -- and this time it was her friends inflicting it!

"I don't get it," Richie said.

"She's lost binocular vision, Richie. That means no depth perception."

"You mean like 3-D? But if I close one eye, I can still see. . ."

"No, you can't, Richie! Your brain remembers, but you can't see in three dimensions anymore, and after a while your brain can't remember anymore, and you can't tell how near or how far. . ." She shook her head, exasperated. "It's no good, Duncan."

"You can get past this, Elena. You'll have to depend on size. You've already proved you can do it."

She shook her head again, and he continued.

"Don't underestimate yourself," said Duncan. "That Immortal last night did."

"She was inexperienced, overconfident, and a fool besides," Elena argued, but deep in her heart she felt a small point of pride. In spite of what her heart and her mind had screamed at her, she had reacted instinctively. She had done the right thing. And she had won.

Duncan, too, was exasperated, but also pleased. He knew her recovery would not happen overnight, but she'd taken the first step: she was fighting back. "Try again, Elena. Use size to make your judgement."

"No. Not now; I'm so tired." She added before he could protest, "Tomorrow. I'll try again tomorrow. With your permission, [sensei]?" She bowed, almost smiling.

A small half-smile. Duncan hadn't seen her smile since he lost her in New York! He nodded, smiling back, his heart filling with joy. He wanted to hug her, but held back, instinctively feeling she needed space, and she wearily walked to the elevator, picking up her katana on the way. Still in its sheath, she'd brought it downstairs with her this time -- *she'd* brought it downstairs, even though the dojo was the one place where she could feel safe; the one place where she wouldn't need it.

Duncan watched her, obviously tired, but holding the katana easily, in her right hand, ready to draw with the left. . .and his heart sang, and he found himself being actually thankful to the unknown Immortal who had attacked Elena the night before.

"Hey, Duran!" Richie called out. Duncan had peripherally heard the phone ring, and Richie had answered. "It's for you." He held his hand over the mouthpiece. "It's Hosokawa."

Hosokawa? Duncan wondered, seeing the same puzzled expression on her face. What the bloody hell does he want? Duncan thought.

Their conversation was short and sweet -- not sweet, actually. Elena slammed down the phone and stormed out of the office, muttering, "[!Arrogante. Impertinente!] Who does he think he is?!"

"What happened?" Duncan asked, filled with curiosity.

"You know," she flamed, "the Japanese can be a real pain in the ass! Especially him!"

It occurred to Duncan that he should be worried. Instead, he was amused. "What did he say?"

"He *said* that he was glad I was still alive. Then he *said* that I had failed Miyu, failed Ueshiba-sensei, and failed *him*, and when was I going to commit [seppuku]! He *said* if I came to Tokyo, he would be *honored* to act as my [kaishakunin] and take my head! Or perhaps, he said, [MacLeod-san] would be willing to do it!"

Duncan grinned. "Actually," he put in, "he's paying you a compliment, in a way. He's holding you up to his own standards; the standards of a warrior."

"His standards! I'd like to see how his standards would hold up if I put those electrodes on his balls and turned up the juice. . ." She made a vicious turning gesture in the air with her fingers, and noticed that Richie winced visibly. . .and that Duncan was chuckling!

"What! Do you think this is funny?!"

"No; it sounds quite painful! I was just thinking that I haven't seen you angry in a long time." He didn't add, 'all I've seen lately is fear.' But there was a regret there for him, too. Hosokawa had been able to anger her, while he, Duncan, had gotten very little reaction from her. She'd lit up, too, when the Immortal attacked her. There was a lesson to be learned here -- he needed to push her much harder to get the best out of her.

"It's so nice to bring joy to others!" she grumbled sarcastically, walking off, muttering, "[!Entre el japones y este escoces me vuelven loca!]" But for some strange reason, Hiroshi's phone call had actually made her feel better. . .

As the elevator went up, Richie asked, very seriously, "Do you think he used electric shock on her, Mac?"

Duncan felt his mood plummet immediately. Thanks a lot, Richie, he thought. "Yes," he answered.

"Why? I can understand taking her head; even beating her, or raping her, then taking her head! But why this systematic torture? I just don't get it!"

Ducan cleared his throat. It wasn't one of his favorite subjects -- actually it made him physically ill and furious all at once, thinking about what he'd done to her. "He was tortured to death himself. By the Nazis. In a concentration camp."

"He was?"

"Maybe he's punishing others for what was done to him, Richie."

"Or maybe he's doing onto others *before* they do onto him." Richie shook his head. "What a sick son of a bitch. I'd love to get a chance at him, Mac."

Duncan looked at his young friend, thinking of Connor hunting the Pole; thinking of how much he himself would like Bethel's head. "Take a number. But listen; it's still early. Shall we dance?"

Richie bowed theatrically, putting down the bamboo sword and picking up his rapier. "En garde, monsieur."

Translations:

tachidori (Jap.) - in Aikido, the art of taking a weapon out of your opponent's hand when you yourself are unarmed

bokken (Jap.) - wooden practice swords used in practice for safety

arrogante (Span.) - arrogant

impertinente (Span.) - impertinent

seppuku (Jap.) - ritual suicide to prevent loss of face or a death sentence

kaishakunin (Jap.) - assistant to someone committing seppuku who decapitates the person right after he disembowels him/herself before it becomes too painful

san (Jap.) - qualifying suffix applied to a person of equal rank

entre el japones y este escoces me vuelven loca (Span.) - the Japanese and the Scotsman will drive me crazy between them

Seventeen

Seacouver, November 2, 1996, 6 p.m.

"Come on, Elena. I know you know judo; maybe something else. Can you help us out here?"

Elena smiled slightly at Richie's girlfriend Teri. "Did Richie put you up to this?" she asked. They had settled on telling Teri part of the truth -- that Elena had been kidnapped by a crazy man who had abused her; and the New York police didn't have a clue. They just didn't tell her about the Immortal part. Teri didn't ask for any details, but Elena expected that within a day everyone at the dojo would know. She expected pity, sympathy, perhaps revulsion. But the next day and the one after that it was quite clear from their open curiosity that none of the women in Teri's self defense group knew anything -- although one teenager had asked Elena about her eye-patch -- and neither did anyone else in the dojo. Teri had kept her mouth shut, and Elena was surprised and thankful, and had frankly told her so.

Teri looked at her meaningfully. "It's mean streets out there. We'll take all the help we can get. And you know your stuff!"

Mean streets -- if you only knew! thought Elena. She was tired; she'd spent most of the night after her call from Hiroshi talking to Duncan. Now that she'd actually accomplished something on her own, rather than just cowering in a constant state of terror, she was more able to share with Duncan. The one thing she hadn't told him was what Bethel had said about Connor MacLeod, what Bethel had gotten her to believe about Connor, and what Bethel had told her about Duncan's complicity. She'd save that for telling him when she felt stronger. And for the first time in well over a month she did feel stronger; she felt like there was a future for her. At the same time, she remembered how strong, how confident she had been before -- and how easily Bethel had destroyed her.

"I've failed once, completely -- what will keep me from failing again, Duncan?"

"Elena, this is the worst situation you've ever been in -- and you couldn't hold up. Frankly, I don't know anyone -- and I mean anyone! -- who could have held up. That doesn't mean you'll be in such a place again, or that another time you won't make it. But especially being an Immortal, you have to have, to regain, confidence in yourself! Otherwise. . ."

"Fffttt!" she made the motion, finger across her neck. "I know. It's just. . .you're right."

And what better way to regain confidence than to teach others what you knew, help *them* gain confidence in themselves. She looked at Teri, blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, green sweats, barefoot -- she knew that Teri disliked and feared some men; and yet Teri had been there to help nurture Richie after Duncan had attacked and then deserted his student. Elena wondered what Teri's story was; decided she didn't know the blond instructor well enough to ask. She looked over the other women in the self-defense class; different ages, sizes, interests. But they had two things in common: they had all been hurt or were afraid to get hurt; and they all had decided to do something about it. It was that second most important attitude that made Elena start today. "If your opponents pulls at you, you advance *forward* to unbalance him, help him along, make him fall *backwards* -- like this. . ."

After the class Teri and Richie left for dinner, but he came back later, the three nights a week Teri was at her night course, to spar. Tonight, Duncan said, they would use real blades.

Elena was, to say the least, *apprehensive.* She stood before Richie, her katana in her sash, and they both bowed. Then slowly, very slowly, she drew the sword. It made a wonderfully familiar 'swish' sound as it came out, but as Elena held it in front of her she could see Richie's rapier in his hand. The light above gleamed off the steel. It looked sharp. Beyond, she could see Richie's face, serious with concentration where he'd been smiling just minutes before. She knew in her mind that he wouldn't hurt her, wouldn't cut her. But in her heart she could feel Bethel's blade plunging into her breast, cutting into her shoulder. And her breathing became heavier; she felt nervous sweat breaking out under her arms. Acting instinctively when she was attacked was one thing. But this was deliberate -- and she didn't know if she could do it.

Richie waited. Duncan had warned him that Elena would probably hesitate, still be scared, and to try to let her make the first move. But a minute, two minutes passed and Elena's hand began to tremble. "Duncan. . ." she murmured.

"Yes, Elena?" His voice was calm, soothing.

She desperately wanted to say, "I can't do this! I want to go, please!" but she forced her lips shut; then licked them, took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, with a great exhalation of air, she made her cut. Richie, taken by surprise by the speed of her attack, barely parried. "Jeez, Duran! I'd forgotten!" he exclaimed. But she couldn't keep her momentum, hesitated, pulled back -- and Richie disarmed her.

Duncan nodded, pleased. She had attacked! It was a beginning. He wasn't there to give her pointers on how to fence -- Elena Duran knew how to fence. His job was to encourage her, to press her to fight, to force her if necessary.

So now he picked up her katana and handed it to her, smiling. "Very good, Elena. Now do it again."

Richie smiled, too. "You won't hurt me, if that's what's worrying you."

"He would put his swordtip into the hollow of my shoulder and twist as he pushed it in; then when it healed, he would do it again," she whispered. Her face was pale.

Richie put his rapier point down and got close to her. "I won't do that, Duran. I promise."

Duncan was upset by what she'd said, but glad that she'd started to talk about it again. He waited, but when she didn't continue, he stepped back. "Again, Elena. The sword is an extension of your arm. You can do this," he urged.

Nodding, she took up the katana again -- and lost it again. In fifteen minutes she lost her sword four times; then Richie cut her accidentally on the forearm. The pain was more scary than actually painful -- yet she stood, breathing hard, holding her hand over the wound, trying to swallow the pain, trying not to cry, not to break and run. Richie was very solicitous, and he and Duncan both waited, but she knew a real enemy wouldn't wait. . .the Immortal last night hadn't waited.

She knew that in addition to fighting Richie she was fighting her own demons, her own memories, her own fears -- much harder, much more exhausting opponents. She knew they knew it too. But when her arm healed, Duncan said, "Try it again, Elena," and she wanted desperately to quit, wanted to ask him to let her stop. "Duncan. . ." she started, again; but he forestalled her again, saying, "Go ahead. You can do it." His tone was kind but firm. He wasn't giving her a choice.

So she picked up her katana, again, and eventually she didn't lose it, she hung onto it, she actually defended herself. But there was no rhythm, no skill, no joy, and she often had trouble figuring out how close Richie was, or where his sword was. She moved by rote, feeling like she was just starting fencing lessons, like she knew nothing and could do nothing. Her body, although slower, more tired, weaker, worked the way it had been trained to work for almost four centuries, but this didn't bring her any satisfaction. Her mind and her heart cared only about trying to keep from being cut, from being hurt. The idea of pain still filled her with unbelievable dread, and she couldn't get past that wall. And she knew until she did -- unless she did -- she was lost.

What she could do is keep moving: muscles that had wasted away, were not completely rebuilt, had not been used in weeks, rebelled at the punishing constant movement. Her breath came in great gasps; her arms became heavy, the katana gained weight as she held it in her hand; her knees felt like water. But as long as she could stand -- and then she couldn't stand any more, and literally collapsed from exhaustion. But the katana was still in her hand.

Duncan said, "Enough for tonight." He had been watching her fence without inspiration, without fire, for almost an hour. He could tell her only interest was in keeping from getting hurt -- and yet she kept at it, past the point of exhaustion, and he wondered if it was stubborness or pride or fear that drove her. He intercepted several questioning looks from Richie, who had been holding back, and would step up his attack another day. The important thing, Duncan thought, was to keep her fighting, keep the pressure on. This is what she responded to. Physically she was working -- now what they needed to do was get her spirit to join in.

"You did good, Elena," he told her. He had to help her to her feet. Her legs were trembling. "I'm proud of you."

She shook her head. "I haven't fenced this badly since the thirties -- the sixteen thirties!"

Richie smiled. "Come on, Duran; don't be so hard on yourself!" He put his arm around her shoulders. "You still have the moves! Sure, you're not really into it right now; but last time," he paused significantly, "you beat feet. Remember? *This* is called progress."

"Richie's right, Elena. And you, my friend, will someday be an inspiring teacher to some new Immortal," Duncan added, only somewhat sarcastically.

"Or some old Immortal who needs to start from the beginning. Thanks, Richie, but I. . .I'm still afraid," she admitted, ashamed, although it felt good to be in the circle of Richie's arm.

"So what else is new! Listen -- we should go out for a drink and celebrate. I mean, even if you say the Immortal last night was a fluke, tonight. . .tonight you fought, lady! So how about it?" He looked at Duncan.

"Go out? I don't think. . ." She, too, looked at Duncan. Except for her run to Anne's -- which had almost ended in a tragedy -- she hadn't left the building since her arrival.

"I think that's a great idea, Richie!" Duncan exclaimed. "You're not too tired, right, sweetheart?"

He wasn't exactly giving her a way out -- good old Duncan! And after letting Richie beat her into the ground for the last hour! But before she could say anything, he added, "Let's get you upstairs -- a nice hot shower and you'll be like new."

Richie nodded. "Great! I'll get home, get cleaned up, and Teri and I will meet you at -- where? Joe's?"

"No!" she exclaimed. She was not about to be *examined* by Watchers; especially not by Joe Dawson! "Not Joe's!"

Duncan could sympathize. Joe Dawson was not Elena's biggest fan, and the feeling was more than mutual. "How about Giorgio's, then? We'll have some wine."

"Or some of that cake; tira. . ." Richie began.

"Tiramisu," Duncan supplied.

"Right," said Richie, his arm still around her. "You can use a sugar hit, am I right? And some espresso? You know you drink the strongest coffee of anybody I've ever met! Unless you think it'll keep you awake tonight. . ."

Duncan chuckled. "Go, Richie. We'll meet you there in an hour."

"Gotcha." He squeezed Elena's shoulders briefly, winked, then picked up his sword and walked out.

Elena looked after him fondly, saying, "I don't remember ever being that young or that energetic -- do you?"

"Are you kidding?" Duncan answered. "You are the most vital, alive person I've met in four hundred years!"

She smiled sadly. "[Ayer, maravilla fui. . .]"

"What?" he asked, as they walked to the elevator.

"It's a poem by Campoamor. It talks about what he used to be, but no longer is. . ."

"Bullshit. You can be the same as you were before -- except for your eye. And you can get around that."

"Except for the dreams." v "You've had bad dreams before, Elena. You'll get over it." He was convinced of it -- all he had to do was convince her.

"Yes, but this is a living nightmare, Duncan. B-Bethel is alive, and he will come after me, and I'll just fall apart again."

He opened up the elevator door, and as they walked into the loft and he stopped and faced her. "Just for tonight, let's forget that bastard. Let's celebrate our victories, your victories. Tomorrow we'll worry about Bethel again. And you are getting better, you know. You just said his name without breaking into a sweat."

"It's a trick of the light," she said with a shudder. "Oh, Duncan; I can't go! I don't want people staring at me!"

He smiled. "A woman as beautiful as you should be used to being looked at by now." She shook her head, but he repeated, "Yes. You are beautiful. You've always been beautiful, and you will always be beautiful."

"It's not just that! Am I that vain?" she asked.

"Actually, no. Remember what you said when Trent cut your face last year? That fighters always carried their scars proudly? That it would make a great ice breaker at a party?"

"It's not the same, Duncan. This is different. B-Bethel . ." She looked down at the ground. She didn't want to go on, couldn't go on, and after a moment of silence he raised her chin to face him.

They were very close. He could feel her breasts against his ribs, feel the thudding of her heart. He controlled his voice with an effort. "Would you rather stay here and talk?" he whispered. For the past few weeks he'd hugged her, taken her hands in his, comforted her when she needed it; but he was still sleeping on the sofa, and he hadn't touched her sexually, knowing she'd been raped, mind and body, repeatedly, brutally. He was determined to let *her* choose the time and place when -- and if -- they would make love again. He'd pressure her to fight because she needed it to survive. But he wasn't going to pressure her about this. . .

Elena looked into his soft brown eyes. They were the kindest eyes she'd ever seen, and so beautiful! "If you think I. . .we. . .should go out, I guess I'll go shower, then, and get ready," she murmured. "But. . ."

"You'll be fine," he said.

Elena took a quick shower. Every time she washed her hair -- what was left of her hair -- she wanted to cry. Bethel had marked her in so many ways, and if it had been only physical she thought she could stand it. But he was in her mind as well; and she couldn't get rid of her fear of him.

When she came out of the bathroom Duncan was gone, although she could sense his presence nearby, so she let the robe slip down to the floor and examined herself in the full length antique mirror they'd bought, when? a year ago. God, she *was* vain!

Her neck was still skinny; her shoulders bony; her stomach concave, even when she stood; her legs scrawny. Her breasts, which had always been round and full, had also thinned out and hung down sadly. Bethel had attacked her breasts savagely and often, slashing them, slicing the nipples. . .but she wasn't going to think about it, not today. Today they were going to celebrate. Celebrate!

Yeah. Right.

But, being honest with herself, she knew she did look better: she couldn't see her ribcage anymore, and if she looked closely she could start to see the start of muscle definition in her arms, and her thighs looked stronger. Even her ass felt higher, rounder than it had. Great -- now she looked like a walking scarecrow instead of like a walking skeleton!

But her face! Pale, especially for her normal café au lait complexion, still gaunt looking, with very prominent cheekbones which made it sharper and more angled than usual. She could see lines there, too, that hadn't been on her face before -- lines around the mouth, around the eyes. Her eye! Without the patch the lid obviously sat over an empty socket, but her other eye was sunken, too. With the patch she looked -- God! Then there was her hair!

Sighing, she put on a turtleneck, tights, boots, and a navy shift that had hugged her curves before and now hung on her, and cinched it at the waist with a sash. She picked up the katana and slid it in its sheath into her sash, angling it so it wouldn't show under a coat or cloak, wondering if she would even bring her sword, if she should bring it. She knew what Duncan would say. She also knew that if they just *happened* to meet an Immortal, Duncan would fight for her -- for that matter, so would Richie.

In the end she put a beret on her head and kept the katana. Duncan and his opinions aside, she found it actually felt good, comfortable, comforting, against her hip.

Eighteen

Meanwhile, Duncan had gone downstairs while she got ready and dialed Connor's number from his office. He got the same recording from the night before and the night before that. Worried, he called Connor's cell phone again -- and this time it rang three times before a sleepy voice answered, "MacLeod."

"Connor. Have you killed him?"

There was a pause, and Duncan could hear the rustle of bedclothes. Then Connor answered, "No."

"Why not?"

"I haven't found him yet." Stress on the word 'yet.' Duncan heard the exhaustion and the frustration in his kinsman's voice. What he didn't hear was an apology or an excuse.

"You need help, Connor? Hunting and killing *one* man?" he said, sarcastically, viciously. "Losing your touch? Maybe Miyu should come and give you a hand!" It was childish, but he said it because he knew his clansman could take it, would take it -- even if he didn't deserve it. Duncan knew it was his own frustration and anger, and his belief that he, Duncan, should be the one hunting Bethel, that were driving him to lash out at his old mentor. Before Connor could answer Duncan added, by way of apology, "How's Rachel and that girl? Emma?"

Connor let air out through his teeth. "Rachel's staying with friends. And Emma. . .she's about as happy with me as you are."

Duncan was amused in spite of himself. "Really? A student giving you a hard time?"

"Yes," answered Connor curtly. "How's Elena?"

"Better. Stronger. Tonight for the first time she picked up a real blade and sparred with Richie."

"Good. Keep pushing her."

"I'm not the only one pushing her," said Duncan, with a trace of pride. "Last night she killed an Immortal."

A moment of silence, then soft laughter. "Remember what I told you the first time I met her?"

"You told me she was dangerous and would kill me in my own bed," Duncan replied.

"Well, I don't know about her killing you in bed, but I still hold with her being dangerous. Good thing, too."

"She's still scared to death of Bethel, though. Speaking of which. . ."

"I'll find him, Duncan." He sighed. "You know, I've been at the same place in New York City since the seventeen nineties -- and for the first time, someone has driven me out. Fucking son of a bitch."

"You've closed up the antique shop? Where are you staying?"

"Sheraton. I can't afford to have him come back at me with his little army and their machine guns."

Duncan knew how furious and frustrated it must be making Connor to have to leave his house, be unable to find Bethel, have to hide from the Pole, have to worry about Emma and Rachel; then have to listen to his kinsman make sarcastic remarks. "Connor," he said softly.

"You'll be the first to know. The second. Tell me, do you want his picture?"

"His picture? How. . .?" Then Duncan remembered the video cameras inside Nash Antiques. "Yeah. Yeah, send it to me."

"I'll email it. Know your enemy. By the way, you said tonight is the first time she picked up a blade; but last night she took a head?"

"[Tachidori.]"

Connor chuckled drily. "Wild animals are most dangerous when wounded. Soon, Duncan. Soon."

"Connor," said Duncan, hanging up. He heard the elevator and turned to see Elena coming into the office. She didn't say, "How do I look?" but he answered her question anyway. "You look good, Elena," he said, meaning it sincerely.

She smiled slightly. Then, in a defiant gesture which took more guts than either one of them thought she had, she left the beret on top of the desk.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The restaurant was close and intimate, but Elena still drew furtive looks as they walked by. She heard a child on her right -- her blind side -- say loudly, "Look, Mom! That lady. . ." and the answering harsh whisper, "Shhh! It's not polite to stare, Cory!"

Richie and Teri were already waiting at a corner booth. "Elena!" said the other woman, smiling. "You look like. . .an elegant Sigourney Weaver. With an eyepatch."

"Who?" Elena asked, thinking how beautiful Teri looked tonight.

"You know. From Aliens III."

"Yeah, you know, Duran," put in Richie. "She shaved her head when she was on that planet with all the convicts; then the alien came after her. . .you never saw it, did you?"

"No," Elena and Duncan answered together, then smiled. He kissed her hand, and Elena looked at him brightly.

"I always thought you looked like a lady pirate. Especially now," said Richie.

"All I'm missing is a peg-leg, huh?" she said with a trace of bitterness.

"No! I mean, that's not. . .Duran!" he protested, and she said quickly, smiling, "I know, Richie. I'm sorry."

"So I understand this is a celebration," Teri said. "Not that I'm particular, but what are we celebrating?"

"I guess the fact that Richie attacked me and I fought back."

"Good for you, girl!" exclaimed the blonde. "Of course, Richie is a *pussycat.*"

"Hey, wait a minute!" Richie protested, again, but Teri continued.

"Not that it's easy, having any man come right at you after you. . . well. . ." she stopped, then covered her embarrassment by taking a drink. And at this moment Elena no longer suspected but knew, for a fact, what Teri's self-defense class was all about.

Elena reached over and put her hand over Teri's and squeezed lightly. "Tonight we are celebrating. We are not going to think unhappy thoughts; agreed?"

To her surprise, Teri's eyes filled. "Right," she smiled.

There was an awkward moment, then Duncan asked, "So what'll it be, ladies? Wine? Dessert?"

"Definitely dessert!" exclaimed Richie, putting his arm supportively around his girlfriend.

Elena smiled. "Someone mentioned tiramisu."

"God, just thinking about that will make me fat!" Teri exclaimed, leaning into Richie.

"You, fat? Never!" said Richie, gallantly.

"Well, what the hell, right? One time?"

But as they ordered and ate, Elena felt she was on display. In a way, Duncan was right -- she was used to being looked at, sometimes openly; but that was admiration -- at least by the men. This was different. These looks were caused by embarrassment, or pity, and were mostly furtive, hidden. Only quick reflexes allowed her to catch anyone really looking at her at all, and after she caught one of two of them she didn't want to anymore. It was as though they were trying pointedly to ignore her and surreptitiously glance at her at the same time.

Duncan could feel Elena growing more and more agitated. People *were* looking secretly, furtively, and he wished they wouldn't. Actually, he wished they would all go screw themselves, and he held himself back, with an effort, from standing up, making an announcement, or doing violence. But there was nothing he could really do about it, and he wondered if they shouldn't have come, if he hadn't pushed her too hard tonight.

"Elena," he started to say, and when she turned to him he saw how really upset she was.

She shook her head. "Duncan, I. . ." Something caught his eye behind her, and she saw the angry clenching of his jaw. As she suddenly turned around she saw yet another person's glance flit away guiltily, and felt she could no longer endure the weight of everyone's sidelong regard. Standing, she excused herself to the ladies' room.

After a few minutes, Teri came in. "Hey. Are you alright?"

Elena nodded.

"The guys are worried. But they can't really understand, can they?" Elena was silent, so Teri continued. "Listen, if you ever want to talk. . . I mean. . .I know how you feel."

Elena started to say, "No, you don't," but stopped herself just in time. She looked at Teri, thinking how arrogant she, Elena, was for thinking her suffering was worse than anyone else's. Others, even non-Immortals, had borne as much pain as she had. Maybe more. Maybe Teri had had just as bad a time -- and she didn't have the healing abilities Elena did. Maybe it's time, Elena thought, to stop feeling so damn sorry for myself!

"I appreciate it more than you know, Teri. It's good to know I can talk to someone. But tonight. . ."

"I know! But Elena. . .just let your friends help. I don't necessarily mean me, but, whoever."

"You're right," Elena smiled, putting her arm through Teri's, and the women walked out together. It was nice, she thought, to talk to a supportive woman again. Anne had helped by just listening, and now Teri had been there for her, too.

On the drive home Elena was very quiet, thinking. She thought about other friends she might be able to talk to. Maria Cristina, an Immortal who was probably still in Rome. . .but that relationship had been mostly Maria Cristina leaning on her, Elena. Maria Feliz. . .too happy a person, maybe, to talk to in a time of trouble. So many of her Immortal friends had died in the Hunters' sweep of Latin America!

But maybe friends was not what she needed. Maybe what she needed -- and she had dim memories of this, of being cradled, sung to, comforted -- was her mother. She hadn't thought about her mother, who had died when Elena was about four, in a long time. But it wasn't specifically her mother she wanted, Elena realized. It was the whole nurturing environment. It was home. Maybe she just needed to go home, home to Argentina. That was it, she decided, and she'd talk to Duncan about it in the morning.

As she was thinking this in the car, exhaustion overtook her and she fell asleep. Duncan woke her when he opened the car door and scooped her up in his arms. She started to protest, knowing she was no lightweight, then realized that was when she was in top form; that she was still mostly skin and bones. The remembrance made her close her lips in a thin line. "Put me down, Duncan," she whispered roughly. "I can still walk!"

"Sure, sweetheart," he answered. A week ago she would have accepted his help docilely, without argument. Now she was arguing, and he saw this as a good sign.

She used the last of her strength to pull her boots off and fall into bed, still fully dressed, and fell asleep at once.

For long moments Duncan watched her. He'd meant what he said when he'd called her beautiful. In spite of everything, his desire for her had never completely left him -- even if it wasn't physical; even if it was simply a desire to be with her again, to be with the Elena Duran he'd known. And now he was starting to see facets of her personality again, such as her toughness, her independence, her sense of humor, slowly emerge, as though she were a traffic victim slowly climbing out of the wreckage Bethel had wrought. Seeing her start to come back like this, he felt the familiar heat that he hadn't felt since before her ill-fated walk in New York, when he was thinking of leaving her, when his ego had been so damaged by her humiliating plea for his life.

In a way, he was paying her back, helping her get her life back in return for his. But it wasn't obligation that drove him, he realized, or honor, or even love. It was the simple joy he felt from being with her, from talking with her, from sharing his life with her for a time. And now that he was starting to feel desire again -- lust really -- he knew he'd have to be careful not to show it. He could afford to wait. "Time heals all wounds," he told her once, and it held for Immortals as well. Maybe especially for them. Feeling optimistic, he covered her up and went to his bed on the couch.

Then, remembering, he downloaded the picture of Claude Bethel, studying it closely. "Know your enemy," Connor had said. Yes.

Nineteen

Seacouver, November 3, 1996

It had been her idea to spar with Duncan instead of Richie, but now she wondered if it hadn't been a bad idea. Duncan was stronger and faster; more skilled; and, as far as she could tell, merciless. He came at her again and again, aggressively, and although she knew he wouldn't take her head, that still left him many options -- and she was still terrified of being hurt. That consideration, however, didn't seem to weigh much with him. He slashed at her repeatedly, and disarmed her, twice, before she decided he wouldn't do *that* again. It was her own hesitation that allowed it to happen, so she went from the defensive to the offensive. But his response was to push her even harder, backing her into a corner and, as she tired, (didn't he ever get tired? she thought desperately) getting past her guard. Taking her wrist in one hand, he twisted it as he tripped her up. When she fell he had her sword in his hand -- again.

"[!Pendejo!]" she murmured furiously at him as he paused. Not again! she thought. Getting both legs under her, she shot up at him with a cry of rage, putting the full strength of her thighs into the movement, slamming her head into his chin. She was inside the arc of his swing and reaching for her sword, which was in his left hand, with both her hands. He fell back under her weight and she landed with her knees in his stomach, knocking the breath out of him. He was stunned briefly, and she took her sword and rolled off him to the right and to her feet in one swift motion. Standing over him, she struck down at him, but he still had his katana in his right hand and blocked the blow, weakly. She struck at him again, and he rolled out of the way but not quite fast enough. Her blade sank into his upper arm, and as she pulled it out he moaned -- but it was his left arm. He rolled back, and as she raised her katana, he thrust up diagonally at her, putting only the tip of his blade into her abdomen.

She stopped abruptly, lowering her weapon, knowing this was a killing blow, knowing if he finished his thrust he would impale her. But they were sparring; just sparring.

Elena stepped back. She'd pulled a muscle in her leg and hadn't even realized it, had a massive headache from hitting his chin with the top of her head, and her stomach hurt where he'd stabbed her. She could see he wasn't completely recovered either, and that his arm was hurting him badly, so she switched her katana to her right hand and painfully gave him a hand up.

Duncan took her offered hand, and his weight almost made her fall back on top of him. There was blood on the back of his head from hitting the hard wooden floor, and he had a few loose teeth on the bottom. His arm was still bleeding and was hurting him from the shoulder down. He felt dizzy. For one split instant while they fought he had been tempted to run her through; but he was too experienced, too much in control to give in. He was also too aware of her fear to hurt her quite that badly; he knew what she needed and what she didn't need. The anger and the adrenalin rush weren't quite gone, however, when he growled at her, "I'd forgotten what a bloody vicious bitch you are!"

She answered in kind, almost hissing, "Stop taking my sword, [escoces]! And stop. . ." But after a moment she caught her breath, sanity restored itself, and she actually found herself grinning at him. "You were the one who told me to feel the power of the sword in my hand, remember?"

"Yes," he agreed ruefully, smiling back at her. "And I unleashed a monster." In fact, he was thrilled at her counterattack. This was so much like Elena Duran! He only wished helping her wasn't so damn painful.

More seriously, she said, "We need to be monsters to be able to kill our enemies. I only wish I. . .damn it!" Just the thought of Bethel still sent a sliver of steel in to her heart. "Connor is hunting him, isn't he?"

"Yes," Duncan answered, serious now as well. "He's the only one of us who's free to do it."

That hurt. She was aware that Duncan wanted to hunt Bethel, and knew that she should want to also -- but she couldn't. "Have you talked to Connor? Is he alright? Are Rachel and Emma safe?"

"The answer is yes to all your questions. Don't worry about Connor. He can take care of himself."

"Unlike me, you mean." She was afraid, and she knew it; Duncan knew it; Connor knew it. He could probably see the fear on her face. Two weeks ago, this fact would have filled her with despair. Now it made her mad.

"No; that's not what I mean and you know it!"

"Duncan, I don't want to quarrel, please. I feel good about today! I almost had you, didn't I?"

"Not even close!" he countered; but he was smiling again. "Let's see if you can do better."

She didn't want to fight; she had wanted to tell him about going home, back to the [pampa.] But now it would seem like she was running away; it would seem even more cowardly, and God knows he already thought her cowardly enough!

So they sparred a little longer, but that attack had taken almost all the strength she had, although she was not about to admit it to him. When they were interrupted by a phone call, and Duncan went to answer, she was glad for the break. "It's for you," he said. "A woman who says she's a friend."

Saved by the bell! she thought. As she walked on trembling legs into the office, leaning heavily on the desk, she wondered what *friend* -- she could think of several -- would be calling, hoping it wasn't bad news. She couldn't handle bad news. . .

"[Oigo,]" she said, reverting in her exhaustion back to her native tongue.

His Spanish was almost flawless. "I'm coming for you, Elena. You didn't really think you could get away from me, did you?"

Translations: (all Spanish)

pendejo - scoundrel, bastard, coward

escoces - Scotsman

pampa - treeless Argentine plains

oigo - telephone greeting meaning, "I'm listening"

Twenty

The office, the dojo, Seacouver faded away, and she was now, right now this instant, back in the basement in New York, strapped to the metal chair. She wasn't aware that she gripped the receiver with all her strength, that her heartbeat increased exponentially, that her breathing became difficult, that a hot stream burned its way down her leg and puddled on the floor at her feet. But she couldn't make a noise or move a muscle. Everything else vanished: there was only the pain filling her, remembered pain no less real than the real thing, and the sound of his voice was the only sound in the world.

Duncan was relatively satisfied with the sparring session, although she was still afraid of being hurt, and he'd seen her real fear when she mentioned Bethel. But now Duncan had managed to unleash the beast within her, the monster, and he knew she could fight if she had to, although she had a long way to go.

He glanced over at Elena, hoping the phone call wouldn't be trouble, wouldn't put more pressure on her. She was just hanging on as it was, and didn't need. . .what the hell? he wondered, getting a good look at her, then moving quickly into the room, suspicion filling him, his heart thudding in his throat. "God, no!" he whispered.

She wasn't moving, but he could see the unmistakable physical signs. He'd seen someone have a heart attack once, and remembered it had started this way. As he pried the receiver from her fingers he heard a male voice saying smoothly, ". . .doesn't want to protect you. He betrayed you, remember? You're alone, Elena -- it's just you and me."

"Bethel!" he said into the phone. His voice had a strangled quality. He felt just barely this side of sanity, and didn't notice when she bolted from the room.

"Ah. You must be the Highlander!" The voice, in English this time, was pleasant, melodious. "It's so nice to more or less meet you at last. I'm sure Elena told you a lot about me; but maybe I need to fill in some more. Shall I tell you what I did to her -- or better yet, shall I tell you what I made *her* do? She performed for me like a trained seal!"

Only centuries of self control kept Duncan MacLeod's voice steady. "Why don't you come and tell me in person? Or I'll be happy to come to you!"

"I have no interest in you, Highlander. Or in your kinsman, Connor MacLeod, who is even now circling me. Tell him for me, will you, that the hunter can always become the hunted!"

"Tell him yourself, when he finds you -- if he gives you the chance!"

"However, Elena," Bethel continued smoothly, "is a different story. You can't have her, MacLeod. The bitch belongs to me, body and soul, and I *will* get her back. Eventually. Bye for now."

"Bethel, you cowardly son of a. . .!" But he hung up. Duncan slowly, deliberately replaced the receiver, moving in slow motion, trying desperately to keep from smashing the telephone, the office, everything around him. Rage filled him, and he only now noticed that Elena was gone.

He'd have to look for her, again, then realized she was upstairs. He took several deep breaths, pushing his murderous feelings back inside, knowing he would undoubtedly scare Elena.

He wondered if Bethel would actually come for her, but decided the Pole was probably just playing mind games for now. And winning. But just in case, Duncan planned to let Richie know, if only so they could both be more alert. And he'd have to call Connor, too.

As he went upstairs he picked up her katana where she'd dropped it. "Damn!" he muttered. In the loft, Elena was rushing, packing a suitcase. Running! She's running! he thought. Bloody hell!

"Elena?" he asked; and when she didn't answer he came to her. "Elena!" She was still frantically throwing things in a bag, then zipping it up. Finally he took her by the upper arms, forcing her to stop. "Listen to me!" he said firmly, right in her face, and she winced, drawing away from him in obvious fear. She was hyperventilating again, and her color was gone. . .she looked like she was about to throw up. And she was making a noise, deep in her throat.

"Stop!" he ordered her. "Elena, stop this, now!" His voice cracked like a whip, and she flung herself back again, trying to get away from him -- but he hung on. "Look at me, Elena! Look at me!"

Finally she seemed to focus on him; her breathing and heartbeat both slowed -- but she still looked terrified. "Duncan. . .he's coming for me! He's coming!!"

"Elena!" he said to her, hugging her tightly. "Calm down. Let's calm down and talk about this rationally." But he didn't want to talk either, and he didn't want to be rational. He wanted to rend and tear; he wanted to kill Claude Bethel, right now, with his bare hands, with his teeth. He wanted to drink Bethel's blood!

He took that sensation and pulled it inside himself, making sure there was none of it on his face, nothing that would frighten her or give him away, putting that image into a locked box inside his head, to leave for later, when he'd be able to reopen it and relish in that feeling of rage and blood lust again.

They both sat on the bed, and he said, "Let him come, [querida.] Let him come, and I'll kill him, and you'll be free."

"What? You want him to come?" She was incredulous. "You do; you do want him to come after me!"

"Once he's dead, it'll be over!"

But she continued, speaking almost to herself. "You want to wait for him, trap him, and you want to use me as bait. . ."

"No, sweetheart! I'll protect you!"

"Protect me?! Wouldn't you rather put me out in the street with a big bullseye on my chest?"

"No, Elena; listen to me! I'll get you away. . ."

"Then you can save me!" she interrupted, her voice biting, full of fear, hurt, sarcasm. "You can be the big protector, the big Scottish hero, like Wallace, like. . .like Bonnie Prince Charlie! You can defend the clan and protect your woman! Isn't that what you're supposed to do?" Her voice rose in pitch as she became more agitated.

"Yes, but I would never. . ."

She interrupted again, looking at him now. "This is not about helping me, Duncan. It's about your being a big macho! It's about your ego, about your feelings, your damn masculine pride! And you're willing to risk me, my sanity, my life!"

"Elena!" With a pang, he recognized the truth of what she was saying -- but it wasn't all the truth, damn it! "Elena, I love you! This is about you -- it's about both of us! And I won't let him take you!"

"You won't let him?! You won't let him?! And what if he takes me anyway?! What if he comes with four men and machine guns and shoots you and Richie dead?! You'll wake up, and you'll be sad, you'll be angry, you'll be sorry -- but I'll be *in his hands*! For another twenty-three days, or forty days, or however long it takes him to get tired of hurting me!" She was screaming now. "But at least you will have fulfilled your duty, cleansed your pride! You'll be a man again! And I'll be. . ." She collapsed on the bed, sobbing with rage and fear.

For a moment Duncan watched her, suffering almost as much as she was. Racked with guilt, he realized that she was partially right. Of course he wanted to protect her, and avenge her. But was he letting this, his macho pride -- the same pride that drove her away once before, the desire to avenge the hurt done to his, Duncan's, woman -- guide his actions again? Was he that arrogant? That insensitive?

He leaned over her as she lay on her stomach, weeping into the bed, and put his arms around her, letting her cry herself out. He felt so lost, wondering what was the best thing he could do for her. Watching her like this tore at him. This -- watching those he loved suffer and die -- was the hardest thing he could endure, the one thing he'd never learned to endure, and he knew he never would. These were the times he was glad the Gathering was near; because he didn't think he could endure it many more times.

After an eternity she stopped, and he turned her over and lifted her, holding her, shuddering, close to his chest. He could feel her heartbeat, still fast but slowing. She let out little exhausted hiccups, finally taking in deep, cleansing breaths.

"Elena, I'm sorry. . ." he began.

She pulled away from him, putting her fingers to his lips. Her face was swollen, the black eye-patch lying very dark against her pale face. She put her other hand on his chest and opened her one good eye.

"No, [querido.]" She felt bad about her outburst; cruel, terrible about what she'd said. He had done nothing but prove, over and over, that he loved her. "I know that you love me; you've always stayed with me. And you want to help me now, again. About what I said, I. . .I'm sorry. That phone call scared me. Listening to his voice was like being there all over again! I just lost it!"

"I know. But you were right -- partially right, anyway. I do want to protect you. But I was. . .putting you in danger. In a way. But it's not. . . it's not as black and white as you make it out. I love you, Elena! I just want this to end."

"Don't you think I want that too?"

"Look, Elena; we'll hide you on holy ground." This is not what he wanted to do, really. He didn't want to be away from her. He felt that his influence, his pressure, was helping her so much; but then again, if he killed Bethel, everything would be so much easier for her. "When Bethel comes, he'll find me instead. You'll be out of danger until I can take his head!" Duncan knew that eventually Bethel would find her. It was simply a matter of beheading Bethel before he got to her.

"For how long? A week? A year? When will he come, Duncan? How long will he wait? How long will you wait?"

"We have time. I'll wait as long as it takes!"

"No! I can't just wait for him to come! That way lies madness! No. . .I've thought about this, and I've decided to go home. I want to go home, Duncan."

"Home? You mean to Argentina? To your farm?" He wanted to say, "This is your home!" but didn't, couldn't.

"Yes. And I want to go alone."

"Alone? Why? You don't trust me? You really think I'll sacrifice you to get to him? I want you alive, Elena, and I want you well! Call it selfish, if you like -- but I want you back! And I'll do anything it takes, anything, to accomplish that! But you need to do your part, too. You need to fight him, Elena -- and I don't mean with a sword!"

"I can't!"

"You can! You have it in you, remember? Anyway, running won't solve anything. You have to face this. Do you think he won't come for you in South America?"

She shook her head. "I know, I just. . .I'll feel better there, safer, in my own house. Please. . .I just want to go home." In the back of her mind she knew she was just trading places, but she didn't want to think about that now.

Duncan took a deep breath. "Alright. I can understand that. But let me come with you." She started to shake her head, and he continued, urging her. "Look, as much as I'd love to be hunting Bethel right now, I don't think you should be alone. I'm still the best chance you have against him. And no matter what you think my reasons are, I can still protect you better than anyone else."

"Yes; yes you can." He loved her deeply, she knew. She wanted to be with him. She could do much worse. "But Duncan. . ." No -- she couldn't take this away from him! Besides, Duncan MacLeod was no fool, and he wouldn't be caught off guard. If Bethel came for her, Duncan might be able to save her. God knows she couldn't save herself. She nodded, once, and continued, "Very well. I would like to show you my [estancia;] my people; my part of the world."

He smiled at her, uncertain. That phone call had set her back, maybe back to the beginning. A moment ago she'd been fighting back. Now she sounded like she'd almost given up. But for now, he said, "We'll leave tomorrow."

Later, as she slept fitfully, Duncan went downstairs, opened up that locked box, and let the demon out.

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Translations:

querida/querido - beloved

estancia - in Argentina, a large combination farm/ranch

End

To part 7: "Elena in Argentina"

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