This Shinto temple, the Byodoin-Hoodo is in Kyoto, Japan.

Elena and the Samurai

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. 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

Tokyo, February, 1996

Elena sat in [seiza], waiting for Sensei to reach a decision. She had to get used again to the Asian way of doing things, which meant nothing was precipitous, and actions were carefully considered for all their ramifications--and impatience, which she was now feeling but carefully concealing, was considered impolite.

She had used the name of her "mother", Elena Duran, to obtain an interview with the current [doshu] of Aikido, O Sensei's grandson Ueshiba Nobuyuki. Here one simply didn't pay his money and enter a dojo for training---one had to be accepted by Sensei. Of course, if he refused, she could convince him the way she had convinced his grandfather, but she hoped it wouldn't come to that. The less people who knew about her Immortality, the better, and, in any case, she remembered this grandson. He had been against her from the beginning when she had first shown up at this dojo to train in 1949, and had never accepted her. But now she was back, to try again.

He finally agreed, and all the paperwork was settled, etc. But before she left the office, he had her called back. He didn't seem to have moved from his previous position, yet she could see that he was obviously an active old man, thin but not as frail looking as his grandfather had been. This seeming frailty had fooled many people, she remembered, smiling inwardly. Again she knelt and waited for him to speak. "We still remember your mother. I was just a young man when she first arrived."

"[Hai]," she answered, bowing her head, wondering where this was leading.

"She moved in here with us at the house. O Sensei wanted her close. Her old guest room is still available, if you would like to use it."

This was unexpected. "I would not like to intrude, sir," she demurred, in rusty Japanese. She hoped she was not as out of practice on the dojo floor as she was with the language.

"O Sensei felt it was necessary for her to be close. It might also be necessary for you. I would not want to countermand his wishes."

The fact that O Sensei had been dead for almost twenty-five years did not change the desire of everyone in his [ryu] to try to please him, so she agreed. It would certainly make it easier to be right here, and she wondered what memories her old room would bring. From 1949 to 1969, when O Sensei died and she left Japan, she had spent most of her time in the dojo in Tokyo or the country dojo in Imakari, wherever Ueshiba was. He *had* wanted her close. Eventually she realized he was worried for her, worried that if she strayed she might run across another Immortal and lose her head. But ultimately, it hadn't made a difference. An Immortal had come for her right to the dojo. There was just no hiding from the Game, not for long, and until that day, O Sensei hadn't understood that.

Because it was late in the day, she was told she would start in the morning. Ueshiba Haru, Nobuyuki's granddaughter, showed Elena to her room.The whole house was still decorated in the old style--sliding wood-framed paper doors, minimum decor, lots of flowers in vases, a small table and a futon carefully folded in one corner of the otherwise bare bedroom. The only concessions to the 20th century were the lighting and a telephone on her table. Also, although there were still big old tubs, the plumbing was modern. And she had smiled to see a personal computer on Nobuyuki's desk.

After a few pleasantries, Haru left. Elena looked around the room, remembering, and started to remove her cloak and try to decide where to put her sword when she suddenly felt slightly ill. "No!" she whispered to herself. Her first day back in this house, and she already felt ... an Immortal! It was very faint, fainter by far than any such feeling she had ever had, but it was there. She turned to the door, which Haru had slid closed on her exit, and saw through the paper walls the shadow of--by their size they must be several children! How the children of this house had driven her crazy so many years ago!

Tokyo, 1950

O Sensei explains that he has very carefully considered Elena's situation, and reached the decision that she must be alert to her mortal as well as Immortal enemies.

"But I can sense them coming, and it's the Immortals who can really hurt me, sir. Mortals are generally not a real threat to me."

"And do your Immortal enemies never use mortals to help them?" he counters.

"Of course they do. That's one of the reasons I've come to you, to learn to deal with mortals, especially several at once, without killing them outright." She remembers, frowning. "I was in a convent in Mexico, on holy ground, and an Immortal named Rosario wanted my head. He came in and tried to bully me and insult me, but he couldn't get me to budge. So in the night he sent four men to literally drag me out of bed, kicking and screaming, outside to where he was waiting. Of course, they neglected to bring my sword, so now I was facing this Immortal naked and weaponless. If it hadn't been for the nuns...." she shudders.

"The nuns?"

"Mother Superior brought out all the nuns, even the novices, all twenty-three of them. They surrounded me and led me back inside, and Mother threatened the wrath of God on Rosario if he dared touch any of them. I didn't even know he believed in God, but he didn't attack them, thank God!"

And he would never get another chance. Later that night Elena snuck out of the convent, searched out Rosario, beheaded him, and was back in her pallet before daybreak. She doesn't tell O Sensei this part.

"But if you had not been caught unawares by the mortals, Du-ran, you would not have been taken out of a place of safety. Since everyone can be your enemy, you must learn to be aware of everyone at all times. I have devised a plan. You will not like it."

She hates it. She is fair game for everyone, both in the dojo and in the house and grounds. Since the object of the game is to *surprise* her, not harm her, mostly what they do is just touch her, like 'counting coup' for the American Indians; but if she tries to fight back her wrists or elbows are twisted and she is usually thrown to the ground, and there aren't soft mats to land on. Even the children get into the act, trying to sneak up on her, pulling her hair, tripping her, then giggling, always giggling, and she certainly can't retaliate against them! If she sees someone coming, they simply bow in acknowledgement and withdraw.

After one week she's distraught; after one month she's desperate and in tears. But O Sensei is unyielding, and she has no choice but to obey. A Japanese dojo is not a democracy. It's almost a year before she can sense the majority of them before they get close, and some of the higher [dan] black belts continue catching her by surprise for a long time after.

Tokyo, February, 1996

The five children at her door started whispering quietly, and the sound brought her back to the present. But where is the Immortal? she wondered. "Come in," she called out, and the door opened slightly. One by one two girls and a three boys, aged from about five to maybe twelve or thirteen, entered her room and bowed. Elena bowed in return, trying to isolate the buzz. She was sure it was one of these children, but it was so faint. Eventually she was able to focus on one of the girls, and Elena realized this roughly ten-year old was not an Immortal, but a pre-Immortal!

The oldest boy introduced himself and the others. The girl's name was Ueshiba Miyu. Most of their names were Ueshiba. "You are Du-ran?" the boy, Hideyoshi, asked.

Elena introduced herself formally. "Are you all members of the extended family here?"

"[Hai, Du-ran-sama]," he agreed.

"And you," she turned to the girl, "are a descendant of O Sensei himself?"

"We all are," she answered proudly. "He was my grandfather's grandfather."

Elena was a little confused. "Your grandfather's ...grandfather ... right. It's very nice meeting all of you. I look forward to meeting the rest of the family at dinner." She wondered who in the Ueshiba family had adopted this child.

"Dinner is in one hour," one of them answered, and another, a young one, said, "Your eyes are a strange color."

Elena smiled, turning to him. "Yes, they must seem very light to you. They're grey. Have you ever seen blue eyes, or green?"

"Yes, of course. Billy in school is one of my best friends," said Hideyoshi. "He has yellow hair and blue eyes."

"Good for him. Look, I'll be ready in one hour as you suggested. Thank you. In the meantime," Elena turned to Miyu, "maybe you could show me around the house and grounds, Miyu, isn't it? I wouldn't want to go in the wrong place."

This provoked soft laughter. "You're very tall," the same little one who had mentioned her eye color was apparently quite bold. One of the first things Elena had noticed when returning to Tokyo after twenty five years was that the young Japanese were much taller than she remembered, closer to her height.

"And you," she knelt down to the boy's level, "are very observant." The boy smiled, and all but Miyu left. She was glowing, proud to have been chosen by their houseguest to be a guide. Elena smiled back but was worried. She was so young, so small, so vulnerable. And she had no idea what she was! Elena decided to make it a point to watch out for Miyu.

The next day was her first in the dojo. She had been given a white belt to start. But although she was somewhat rusty, by the end of the day her [aikidogi], or training uniform, was a black [hakama] and white jacket, with a black belt. Elena had told Sensei that her mother had taught her Aikido, but she was going to have to earn any grade above first [dan] black belt on her own. And it wouldn't be easy.

Aikido is practiced in pairs, with one person being the defender, or [nage], the one who throws, and the other being the attacker, or [uke], the one who is thrown. For the first few months, Elena was thrown a lot on her head, on her back, on her stomach, again. Just once, she thought, her right shoulder aching, rolling to her feet for the millionth time this day, I'd like to have an easy teacher. Ueshiba Nobuyuki Sensei was not easy, but she consoled herself with the fact that his grandfather had been even more strict. But she could learn again, and anyway she had not come back to Tokyo to relearn technique as much as to reabsorb the spiritual, peaceful aspects of Aikido. Or so she hoped.

Tokyo, June 1996

Tonight, almost four months after her arrival, as she soothed her sore muscles in a steaming bath, Miyu came in as she did every evening, to say goodnight and tell Elena about her day. Elena had lavished affection on the little girl, who was both friendly and intelligent. If she wondered why she had attracted the attention of the pretty foreigner, she never asked, but obviously relished it. All the children liked Elena, probably because she was an adult who took them seriously when most adults didn't.

"School is hard," she announced, pouting.

"I'm sure it is," Elena smiled, nodding.

"Was it hard when you went to school, [Du-ran-sama?]"

"Of course." Elena had never had any formal schooling, but was very well educated nonetheless. Given enough time, one can learn anything.

"If my marks go down, my parents will be upset."

"Then don't upset them, [chiquita]. Keep working hard."

The little girl had soft brown eyes, rounder than most Japanese's. Elena suspected some non-Oriental blood, but had never dared ask her 'parents' where they got her. "I like it when you call me, [chiquita]? What does it mean again?"

"It means little one. Now have you studied tonight? You can't get good grades if you don't study."

"All I ever do is study."

"Me, too, [chiquita.] Only my studying is more likely to tax the body, rather than the brain."

"I think you're very beautiful, and have a very nice, strong body."

"Thank you, Miyu," Elena smiled. "Now, about that schoolwork--"

"But first, shall I tell you about the rest of my day?" Miyu asked innocently.

Elena sighed, leaning back, surrendering to Miyu's charms. "Alright, but don't take too long."

Translations: (all Japanese)

Aikido - Japanese martial art which emphasizes strictly defensive techniques rather than attacks

seiza - traditional Japanese style of sitting with one's knees folded under

doshu - the current head of Aikido

O Sensei - great teacher, a title given only to a few martial arts masters such as Ueshiba Morihei, founder of Aikido

sensei - teacher, one who leads the way

ryu - style or school of practice in martial arts

hai - yes

tatami - traditional mat for the floor of a Japanese house

hakama - traditional pleated pants worn by samurai and in some martial arts

dojos dan - grade in black belts

sama - qualifying suffix applied to someone of higher social rank

chiquita (Span) - little one

Two

Paris, June 30, 1996

Duncan MacLeod came back to his new apartment, a loft on the Square Rene Viviani, with a floor to ceiling glass wall which gave him a good view of Notre Dame and the Seine. The flowing waters gave him some peace, something familiar and mindless to focus on, to keep from thinking about other things. The fire Hakeem had set had damaged the barge so badly he was still considering whether to try to salvage it. In a way, it was just like the burnt ruin of his life, and he wondered whether he could salvage that, and whether he should try.

The loft was bare, with only a bed, a table and chairs, a few books on the floor. Instead of being hidden, his katana was in a very elaborate sheath on a [tachi], a special stand he had acquired just to display it. He had decided he was making a statement, but wasn't quite sure what. Maybe he was tired of hiding what he really was.

Things were not the same with him since he'd taken the Dark Quickening and lost himself, then recovered. He was more morose than usual, and Rachel MacLeod's departure hadn't helped. He needed someone to be with, someone who would want to be with him, and those individuals were few and far between these days.

Methos, who had done so much to help him, to whom he owed so much, was an easy companion, but gone for the moment, possibly burnt out. Dawson hadn't yet crossed over to Europe; and Richie ... he'd talked to Richie over the telephone. He felt he owed Richie a personal apology--he wanted to ruffle the young man's hair, give him a hug, touch him--but he couldn't face him, not yet. And from their conversation, Richie didn't seem too eager to meet with him either. So it would wait, and Duncan was still alone and guilty, pacing, wondering, hoping for.....

Connor.

One of the people he considered calling was Connor. Surely Connor would come. But there was a problem there. Connor MacLeod despised weakness, in himself and in anyone else, and Duncan remembered how harshly he had judged Elena when she had momentarily gone darkside. And after what Duncan had done! Maybe Connor would understand; maybe he wouldn't. Of course he would! But what could he say to him? "I really, really fucked up, Connor, and I need a hug?" Yeah, right.

Elena.

He hadn't spoken to Elena since she left Seacouver, and she obviously had no idea what had happened. Nobody had told her--if they had, she'd be here now, with him. He considered calling her, asking her to come, but somehow he couldn't bring himself to do that either. After two years of a very personal war, ranging from South America to Paris, she had sought relief with Duncan in Seacouver, only to be attacked and overcome by that bastard Trent, who controlled her, at least temporarily, from within. That was a quickening she surely wished she hadn't taken! And, although he knew it was irrational and old fashioned, Duncan felt guilty that he hadn't been able to protect her from Trent.

She had finally gone back to Japan in an ultimate search for peace, and said she wanted to isolate herself, to give herself a real chance to relax and to heal. They had an unspoken agreement not to contact each other, but surely this was an emergency, surely she would understand how much he needed her, drop everything and come to him right away! Of course she would! This was exactly why he couldn't call her--he'd be damned if he'd destroy her hard-won calm.

"But that's not really it, is it?" he said out loud, to himself. Was he really so needy, so desperate? Couldn't he just call her to talk, to hear her voice? No, he thought. They'd been through so many bad times together, he knew for a fact that if they spoke she'd immediately know something was wrong. And he couldn't bring himself to lie to her anyway. "The truth between us, always," they'd said. So she'd find out, and she'd come and hold his hand, and hold him when he woke in the night, dreaming about taking Richie's head, dreaming about poor, innocent Dominique, remembering....

He poured himself a whisky, glancing over at the katana on its ornate stand, remembering its gleaming arc severing Sean Burns' neck while he was holding out his hand to Duncan in friendship and trust.

So now he sat, gazing out the window, sweat gathering on his upper lip, an empty glass in his hand, feeling sorry for himself. If he closed his eyes he could see himself from the outside, looking down at himself and at Richie, Richie kneeling before him, waiting.

Duncan shuddered, wondering if he should call Elena, wondering if he should call Connor. Richie's face--as long as he lived, he'd never forget Richie's face. Or forgive himself for it.

All at once he sensed the presence of an Immortal. He took a long, deep breath, closing his eyes, Not now! Please, no! Then instinct took over and he was on his feet, katana in hand, before he heard the soft knock on the door.

"MacLeod? I know you're in there. It's me, Aman--"

But he already had the door open. "Amanda!"

Her face was pale. He could tell that she knew, but wasn't quite sure about him. She hadn't stepped over the threshhold, still looking at him intently, obviously very conscious of the naked blade gripped in his hand. Her breath came in short gasps, but she didn't back away!

"MacLeod...." she whispered breathlessly, her eyes large and frightened, but still trying, wanting to understand, to believe in him....

His eyes overfilled, silent tears streaming down his face with joy and gratitude. Only then did she finally step inside, katana and all, and hug him to her tightly.

Tokyo, July 6, 1996

July 6 was the day Elena had assigned to herself for her birthday. She'd been born near Buenos Aires, Argentina, around 1610 or 1611, but she knew it had been winter, so July 6 seemed as good a date as any. And of course, birthdays had to be celebrated, so she was going to pick up her favorite girl after school and they were going for a *special* surprise treat. Miyu had not told Elena what the treat was, but the latter suspected something cloyingly sweet was involved.

The school most of the Ueshiba children attended was only about ten blocks away from the house, and Elena hardly ever took public transportation. For one, she liked to walk, and for another, she didn't go out much, concentrating all her efforts in the dojo. Besides Aikido, she'd been practicing [kendo] again with a particularly skilled master, recommended by Sensei, who used real katanas with his experienced students rather than the wooden [bokken]. Her teacher had been quietly impressed by Elena's ease with the blade (or so she thought). Although she was not, like Duncan and even Richie, an inspired fencer, Elena had talent and was naturally graceful and as skilled and experienced as almost four centuries of practice and fighting could make her.

Under the theory, 'when in Rome,' she was only using her katana in Tokyo, having packed up her beloved broadsword. In 1636, when her mentor Don Alvaro judged her to be at the peak of her physical strength, he had taken her to Toledo, Spain, to have a special blade forged for her hand. She was tall, strong, and left-handed, all points to be taken into consideration, and the resulting work of art had been a simple, relatively unadorned blade, lighter than a normal broadsword but still having some weight for slashing, and razor sharp for cutting. It was a beautiful, excellently crafted weapon, and the swordsmith, the best in Toledo at the time, could have retired on the fee Don Alvaro paid for this one sword alone.

In the early 1900's Elena had first run into a katana, wielded by an opponent who moved quickly and cut her deeply, but just couldn't cope with her left-handed attacks. She claimed his blade, admiring its workmanship, and brought it to Tokyo when she first came to study Aikido. Ueshiba Morihei O Sensei was an excellent swordsman himself, and had taught her how to use the katana in addition to all the other training she did with him.

But this was not the priceless katana she now wore tucked into a sash at her belt, angled down so it wouldn't show under her cloak. This katana she got from a Japanese Immortal named Kotaro who had come right into O Sensei's dojo to challenge her, incensed that she, a [gaijin] and a woman both, had dared aspire to learn martial arts in Japan. In fact, this katana had been the symbol which effectively ended her training with O Sensei.

Tokyo, 1966

Even though it's late, O Sensei has called her into his private office. He is in [seiza], and holds out his hands. She kneels down and hands him the still bloodied katana, the one she'd just taken from Kotaro. He examines it closely, then places it down between them.

"What was his name?"

"Kotaro Koshimaru, sir."

"The smile you gave him was like that which a hawk gives a dove before it stoops. The dove, as doves must, pulled back ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly, but the hawk noticed. At that point, before a single blade was drawn, your opponent had already lost his fight, and his head."

"I gave him a chance, O Sensei. Two chances to back away."

"Did you?"

"You don't believe me?" Elena feels defensive, her feelings hurt.

"I believe you. But tell me, did you really want him to withdraw?"

Elena considers it-with O Sensei there are no quick, easy answers. Kotaro had come right into the dojo, searching for her. She had just thrown her [uke] and turned, looking over the heads of everyone there, and met his eyes. He seemed surprised, but quickly recovered. Then he was insulting her, in front of everyone. Silence filled the room; no one moved. Only Nobuyuki had spoken, offering her the protection of the dojo. Elena shook her head at the offer. She hadn't fought an Immortal since the 1940's, and she smiled at this one.

"No, sir," she answers, "but I would have let him go."

"An act of pity and contempt for his weakness, not mercy as you may have thought. He saw this on your face, Elena. This is why he refused your generous offer."

If anyone else had said this, there would have been sarcasm in the tone, but O Sensei is too well schooled to show this, even if he feels it. He has a way of seeing into the heart of things, Elena thinks, that is impressive for a man who is only in his eighties. "You're saying that I wanted to kill him, O Sensei, and did everything I could to achieve that." Ueshiba is silent. "But you're not being fair!" she adds, rising to her feet smoothly, feeling agitated, pacing. "You don't really know what it's like for us. Hunting, and being hunted, is what we do; it's how we live, how we survive!"

"It is not your actions I question, but your motives. An Aikidoka never attacks; he only defends himself. Were you only defending yourself, Elena?"

She forces herself to kneel back down on the [tatami] before him, taking a calming breath. "No."

"You have the mind and the body of an Aikidoka, but not the spirit. This is why you cannot rise above fourth [dan]. There is an inherent contradiction between the soul of Aikido and your soul."

She stares at the wall for a long time, thinking. The beautiful blade sits between them, a mute testimony to her attack. He's right, of course. She's too aggressive to ever be a true Aikidoka, to achieve the Art of Peace, to ever reach [satori]. She closes her eyes, feeling them suddenly fill, not wanting to show this added weakness in front of her beloved O Sensei. Don Alvaro, and now O Sensei--she loved them both with the fierce loyalty a student reserves for a master. And this man was not even an Immortal, but he'd taught her so much! "I understand," she whispers, her voice breaking slightly. She takes another deep, calming breath. Her stomach hurts. This is so hard, the breaking away, starting over elsewhere. How many times would she have to do it, over and over? "I'll leave in the morning."

Then he does something completely unexpected. Leaning forward, he puts his hand on hers and says one word. "Stay."

Elena stays until his death in 1969.

Tokyo, July 6, 1996

For some reason, the feel of the katana against her right hip reassured her today as she took long strides toward the school. Everyone around her seemed to move quickly and with a purpose. In large cities there were never any dawdlers, except for the tourists.

She arrived at the school just after it let out, and the whole place was swarming with happy, loud, uniformed children. But she had her own way of finding Miyu, and soon spotted her, coming out of a side entrance with her brother and cousin.

Then a car drove up, quickly, right past Elena, and she was shocked to feel the buzz of an Immortal coming from it. The car stopped in front of Miyu. The driver slipped out, grabbed the child with calm efficiency, and pulled her inside with him so quickly no one around them had time to react. Even as this was happening, Elena was moving forward, running. But for all his rush, he took the time to turn, scanning briefly, and, finding Elena, grinned right at her.

Translations: (all Japanese)

tachi - stand to display swords; also a curved blade

kendo - modern art of Japanese swordsmanship

bokken - wooden practice swords used in practice for safety

gaijin - foreigner; non-Japanese

satori - ultimate spiritual enlightenment; epiphany

Three

Paris, July 6, 1996

Duncan felt Amanda warming almost the full length of his body. He looked down on her head--her beautiful head--and thought what a wonderful two weeks they'd had together. When she first arrived she felt she had to be so careful around him, not to say the wrong thing, etc.; but Amanda was too...self-absorbed to seriously worry about anything for long, and her playfulness had soon reasserted itself, urging him to go out running in a downpour, stay up all night dancing, and make love on the roof, with a magnum of chilled champagne and a crock of red strawberries and freshly-whipped cream beside them. Amanda spurred him on to do wild things which kept him laughing, kept him busy, kept him from thinking, from what she called 'brooding.'

He felt her stirring beside him, her head on his shoulder. It was early, and the sun was just angling in through the glass wall, lighting the loft with a soft glow. He tried to get up quietly, but her arms tightened around him. "Hmmmm. Going somewhere, MacLeod?"

"Just thought I'd get you some coffee?"

"It's too early for coffee," she replied, her eyes still shut. Let's stay in bed a little longer," But she was apparently awake. She stretched, cat-like, and let out a contented purr. "So what are we going to do today?"

He kissed the top of her head. "I thought you were the social director."

"Not today."

"Alright," he said, shifting on the bed. "Why don't we go to the fencing studio?"

"What, again? I know, I know, we have to keep in practice. But you practice too much, you know that?"

"And you know, there's no such thing as too much practice, especially when your head depends on it."

"Oh, I'm very ... protective of your head." He smiled at her, and she suddenly sat up. The sheets fell down to her waist, revealing two perfect breasts he never tired of looking at. "I know why you want to go fencing! It's that blonde, isn't it, that Mademoiselle Clury!"

"Amanda--"

"She's been making eyes at you! Just wait till I--"

"Amanda," he pulled her down on top of him until their lips were only centimeters apart. "How could I look at a blonde or any other woman when you're within my sight?"

She smiled her dazzling smile. "You mean it?"

"Absolutely." He reached up and kissed her lightly.

"You once told me I was the most beautiful woman in history."

"Yes. I think I also mentioned scheming and--"

"Never mind that part. Did you mean it, about my being beautiful?"

"Every word." He kissed her again; then looking into her eyes, suddenly got serious. "I haven't thanked you for coming."

"Yes, you have, in more ways than one."

"But I haven't really thanked you. You can't know how much I appreciate your showing up when you did."

She smiled again. "What are friends for?"

"How did you know? Who told you?"

"Methos." She nodded, running her fingers through his hair. "He said it was my turn."

"So," he said, in mock anger, "you're taking turns babysitting me, taking care of poor Duncan, is that it?" But his feelings were actually hurt. Had he been that bad? Was he still?

"Somebody had to. Besides, I can do things for you that Methos can't. That nobody else can."

"That's true," he agreed. "But tell me," he added, his thoughts suddenly darkening. "Did you talk to Richie?"

"No. It must have been hard on him, though. And on you."

"He was the worst, even worse than Sean Burns. Do you know why?"

"Because you were the closest to him?"

"No; at least that's not the only reason. It's just that.....it's not just that I wanted his head. I wasn't even trying to fight it. I wanted to kill him; no, I ..." he paused, gathering his thoughts, "I didn't really care if I took his head. It wasn't that important to me. I was just going to do it for a lark, because I could...."

"Duncan, it's over," she soothed. "You don't have to think about it anymore."

"But I haven't been able to meet with him yet. I haven't been able to--"

"You're just not ready, MacLeod. You'll know when the time is right. And if you're afraid that he won't forgive you, don't be. Richie adores you! He'd forgive you anything! You just have to give each other some time, that's all."

"Maybe he'll be able to forgive me." The pain coursed through him like a poisoned arrow. "I know I won't."

"Duncan, don't torment yourself like this! It's not doing anyone any good. You can't change the past--you can only do the best you can from now on. Now I wonder who said that to me?"

Duncan smiled weakly.

"Come on, make me some of that coffee, and then...." She kissed him deeply. He put his hand around her neck, pulling their bodies closer, wanting to lose himself in her. "Maybe," she smiled, pulling away slightly, breathing heavily, looking down at him, "we'll leave the coffee for later."

"Maybe." As their bodies intertwined, the heat rising between them, Duncan felt guiltily that this was yet another diversion. That's what Amanda was--she really cared, she wanted to help, and he loved her and was grateful to her, but right now all she was was a beautiful diversion, keeping him from facing what he needed to face. But sometimes a man needed a diversion, he decided.

Tokyo, July 6, 1996

Elena ran.

Taking to the streets where she could move more quickly than on the wall-to-wall Tokyo sidewalks, she got to the other Ueshiba children just as the blue Honda with Miyu in it turned the corner. She paused long enough to tell Hideyoshi, "Call your parents and the police!" then ran on. As long as she could keep the car in sight, or keep close enough to sense the Immortal's buzz, she had a chance. After all, the Tokyo streets were about as crowded as the sidewalks--and she never thought she'd be grateful for that!

He would probably want to get the child out of the city as quickly as possible, but there were several exits from the city, she considered. However, her best chance was to keep close to the Honda and pray she could catch up to it. Long legs pumping, cloak flying, she dodged and squirmed, between and sometimes over cars who dodged, turned, braked abruptly, and honked at her loudly. If she were hit by a car she'd lose Miyu--she just hoped she'd be nimble enough and the Tokyo drivers alert enough to avoid hitting her.

Elena tried not to think about his motives. Whether he intended to take Miyu's head now, or kill her and make her Immortal now, or keep her around for later, Elena was sure there was no good will involved. She'd heard stories where unscrupulous Immortals kept younger Immortals as long-lived slaves, but she quickly banished these thoughts from her mind. "[!Concentrate, Elenita!]" Don Alvaro would have said. The important thing was to catch them.

A fender came too close, too close! but she avoided it, breathing hard. She'd gotten a good look at the Immortal but didn't know him. He was Asian, but Elena thought he was not Japanese, something about the cast of his features, maybe Chinese? Anyway, she wouldn't forget what he looked like. Like most long-lived Immortals, Elena had a good memory--it was both a blessing and a curse. He might have first died in his thirties, and was overweight, which she found surprising, but which would make it easier for her to take his head when she found him. And she would find him. And she would take his head.

She cursed as a truck momentarily blocked her view and she paused, panting, trying to see where the car had gone. It quickly turned down a side street, and she angled across four lanes of traffic to reach it. A Toyota screeched to a halt so close to her she was forced to jump onto the hood and roll off the other side, banging her right elbow hard in the process, breaking it. The pain hit her like a sledgehammer, and she staggered, trying to keep from screaming. She could wait for the bone to knit, but precious time would be lost, so she tucked her right thumb into her belt and continued running. With every step her elbow was jolted and she was afraid she'd pass out, but she couldn't stop. When she made it to the corner, sweat covering her body, the blue Honda was nowhere to be seen, but she could hear where it had gone by the traffic sounds--and she could still feel the Immortal.

"[!No te me escapareis, cabron!]" she called out loudly enough for passersby to notice, but she was hard to miss in any case. Tokyo was a sophisticated, international city, but a tall, cloaked Western woman with waist-length black hair running in between cars in the streets would, she thought, be the topic of many a dinner conversation tonight!

She turned another corner--don't these streets ever end? she thought, desperately--and barely paused to notice a most beautiful sight! It was a bumper-to-bumper, slowed-down-to-a-crawl, rush-hour, big-city traffic jam, and right in the middle of it was the blue Honda!

She came without any subterfuge directly at the driver's side, knowing that he could both sense her and see her in his mirrors. He was still moving slowly by spurts, honking, trying to get to the right so he could make another turn. She came up behind him, drew her katana right on a busy street, and slashed his rear tires, effectively stopping him. Then she came up to the driver's side window. The door was locked, of course. Hiding her katana in her cloak, she used the hilt where only he could see to knock on his rolled up window.

She smiled viciously, the pulse in her neck beating wildly. Beyond him she could see that Miyu wasn't moving, but Elena didn't want to look too closely. She couldn't tell by the buzz if Miyu was still alive--the other Immortal's buzz covered hers completely. The fear for the little girl was in Elena's throat; she could feel it working its way down to clench, like a fist, at her heart. She was so close! But if she knew for a fact that Miyu was dead, Elena feared she'd lose control. Right now she needed, as Richie would say, to 'chill.'

The Immortal didn't smile back--instead he reached for something on the seat next to him, and Elena instinctively pulled back as the first gunshot went off, shattering the driver's window. There was a scream behind her. Elena hid behind the Honda as another bullet crashed through the rear window. He'd have to get out of the car to shoot her, and there were plenty of other cars to hide behind.

"[!Mal rayo le parta!]" she whispered, aware of the people packed all around them like sardines. This could turn into a bloodbath. At least he didn't have a machine gun or-- Suddenly there was a shot inside the car! "[!No, por favor, no! !Dios mio, no!]" she prayed. 'Don't let this happen!' she thought, a sinking feeling in her stomach.

By this time the closest people were aware of the gunshots, and Elena could hear the sounds of panic stirring, growing all around them like an explosion in slow motion. The Immortal opened his car door and shot at Elena again, then ran and fired directly into the people on the sidewalk. More screams--she saw two men fall, others pull back, fall back as the Immortal plunged forward into the screaming crowd.

He's crazy! thought Elena. He'll be caught! But as he moved away she shifted her attention back to what was inside the abandoned Honda. Sheathing her sword, she slid into the driver's seat and bumped her elbow, and the jolt of pain made the whole world fade for just an instant. When she could see again she was looking at the worst possible sight imaginable. The front of her uniform covered in blood, Miyu was slumped on the seat.

"[!No, mi nina, no, no!]" she was almost chanting, her voice cracking. The wound looked fatal. She reached over to feel for a pulse--it was so weak, and she became aware of the little girls' buzz, but so very faint, almost like an echo. "[Dios mio,]" she prayed out loud, "[!ayudala!]" She hadn't heard the sirens, but suddenly someone was at her door, pulling her out, a uniform. She saw another uniform at the passenger door and reached over to unlock it, at the same time feeling the 'clicks' that meant the bones in her elbow were knitting, it hurt so much! but she tried to ignore it.

She reassured the police, then the paramedics, that the blood wasn't hers, that she was unhurt, all the time thinking, the wonders of modern medicine, maybe they can save her, please, God! while they worked on the child. At least she's still alive! thought Elena, [!gracias a Dios!]

She insisted on riding to the hospital with Miyu. If she lived, Miyu would have another chance to grow old enough to take care of herself. She needed another eight to ten years--fifteen would be better--and keeping her alive for all that time would be an awesome job indeed.

But that was if she lived. It would be far worse if she died now. Elena would have to sneak her out of the morgue, out of Tokyo, out of the country, away from her family. What could she tell Miyu, how could she explain it? And then ... then what? A ten-year-old Immortal? Elena had never met one so young! Miyu would either have to spend the rest of her life hiding on Holy Ground, or else find an Immortal protector whom she'd be completely dependent on, who had to be willing....Elena remembered Duncan telling her about a young Immortal named Kenny and what he had turned into to survive. Little Miyu, a monster like that! As the ambulance raced through the streets, Elena's head felt close to bursting.

She stayed at the hospital until the Ueshiba family arrived, and convinced both them and the police that the little girl was still in danger because her kidnapper had said he'd come after her again. Then she went to the police station, where they questioned her courteously but very thoroughly. She answered all their questions. If the police caught the Chinese Immortal, fine! Let them find him. They'd have to let him out of jail sometime, and she'd be waiting.

On the other hand, she'd just as soon find him herself.

Translations: (all Spanish)

concentrate - concentrate

no te me escapareis, cabron - you won't get away from me, you pig

mal rayo le parta - may lightning strike him

no, por favor, mi nina - no, please, my girl

Dios mio, ayudala - my God, help her

gracias a Dios - thank God

Four

Tokyo, July 6, 1996, later that night

Elena pounded on the door. It was a nice apartment building--probably set the Watchers back a few [pesos].

A voice called out nervously in English, "Who's there?" Elena shook her head. Tokyo was practically a crime-free city, except for kidnappings of small girls, but apparently the habits of a native New Yorker died hard.

"Elena Duran!" she answered. "Open up, Bernie."

"Senorita...?" There was a slight pause, presumably while he made up his mind whether to open the door or not.

Elena was actually thinking about breaking down the door when it opened. She pushed her way in hurriedly, almost knocking him down. She'd come directly from the police station, and as she swept in she took off her cloak, revealing her bloody clothes and the sword at her hip. Her hands, her face, too had some blood on them. She removed the katana, scabbard and all, making herself comfortable on the sofa, and put it down beside her. "How are you, Bernie?"

Bernie couldn't take his eyes off the katana. "Fine, I guess. How did you ...?"

"Oh, I knew where to find you! Look, I'm very tired and very thirsty. Do you have something to drink?"

"Uh...." She knew how she looked to him, and this was part of the effect. "Japanese beer isn't too bad ... but you probably don't want something alcoholic. How about--"

"Beer is fine." She looked around--he had some interesting pieces, presumably souvenirs from other Immortals he'd watched. As he came back with two beers, she asked him, "Do you know what happened to me today, Bernie?"

"Well," he laughed nervously, "you know, we can't really watch you twenty-four hours a day every day, you know." His Brooklyn accent was very pronounced. "Did I miss a ... fight or something? A quickening?"

Good, thought Elena. If he hadn't seen the girl kidnapped, he'd be less likely to put two and two together, and she had no intention of betraying Miyu to the Watchers. "There was no quickening, and I'm frustrated, because I really, really want this man's head. But Tokyo is a big city, and guess what, Bernie? You can help me find him."

She could immediately see his face close down, the refusal that was coming, but she wasn't going to give him a chance. "Now please don't say you can't help me, Bernie. You may not want to help me. You may not be supposed to help me. But we both know that you *can* help me. Now please get out your computer, or the telephone, or do whatever you need to do to find out where he is, and please do it soon, because I really want him and I've had a very bad day."

"Senorita, you know my hands are tied."

Elena took a swallow of the beer--it was good!--and leaned forward on the sofa. "No they aren't, Bernie." He paled slightly, very much aware that she'd tied up and tortured other Watchers to get information.

His smile was weak. "Bad choice of words. What I mean is--"

"He is Chinese, I think, but could be Korean, Vietnamese. Not Japanese. Looks about thirty-five, very tall, and is on the pudgy side," she smiled charmingly, looking at Bernie's own ample middle, "which means he's probably fairly new at the Game. He carries a gun, but guns can be lost. A really experienced Immortal knows he can only depend on himself and his sword, and I doubt if this man is much of a fighter."

"Please, I--"

"Find him for me, Bernie. I don't even need to know his name. Look, you owe me."

"If you're referring to what happened in Paris--"

"Duncan and I, and the others, we killed about, how many, twenty or so Hunters? We did you Watchers a big favor."

"You didn't do it for us, Duran!" He seemed insulted.

"It was what you wanted, wasn't it? Now I want you to do me a favor, Bernie. This is important. Please." She could see his eyebrows go up in surprise when she said "please," but they both knew that this was only her first attempt, and that she had other avenues of approach. "Just give me a location and I'll be on my way."

"May I ask why you want him?"

"Why do you think?" she asked, sarcastically.

"I guess ..." He stared at her through thick lenses, then sighed. "I suppose it wouldn't do me any good to refuse, would it?"

Elena took a second swallow of beer--she wouldn't drink any more--put the bottle on the table, and leaned back on the sofa. Her eyes never left his.

Bernie tried one more time. "You did give your word you wouldn't kill any more Watchers. Remember? he whispered.

"I won't break my word, Bernie. I won't kill you."

After a moment Bernie Liebowitz lowered his head, nodding. "You win, Senorita." He went to the closet, pulled out and opened up a laptop. After typing for a few moments, he said, "Hosokawa is in Tokyo, but he's Japanese, you said--"

She leaned forward again. "Hosokawa Hiroshi?"

He consulted the screen. "Ah ... yes; do you know him?"

"Only by reputation. This isn't him."

"Well, let's see ... Xia Guan. Born in the 1950's, Beijing, likes to use a gun, he...." Bernie suddenly stopped, looking at her guiltily. "He's in Tokyo, fits your description."

"Where?" she breathed.

Tokyo, June 6, 1996, midnight

After cleaning up a bit at Bernie's, Elena found a hotel for a few hours. She'd had nothing to eat since before noon, and could use some rest, but didn't want to go home and answer any questions Sensei or others might have. Also, the later at night, the less chance of stray witnesses.

She lay on the hotel bed, thinking that her life was not going the way she hoped. Instead of finding tranquillity, she was preparing for battle again. Her last time here she'd been able to stay out of the Game for seventeen years. This time she'd met a pre-Immortal her *first* day and was going to take a head after only six months. Six months! That's all it took to make her realize, once again, that peace in her life was just out of her grasp. Yes, she could tell herself that Xia was evil, he attacked children and unarmed Mortals, he had to die to protect Miyu and other innocents--but the truth was, the truth really was that she *wanted* to kill him. She was looking forward to the hunt, and especially to the kill, to the power/ pain/pleasure that was the quickening coursing through her body, filling her, fulfilling her, as no philosophy, no spirituality, no Zen ever could. And that was the plain fact.

Elena couldn't fool herself any longer. She was no Aikidoka; maybe an Immortal could just not be an Aikidoka. Maybe *she* could just not be an Aikidoka. She sighed. Maybe this time she'd learn. And there was one good thing--'every cloud has a silver lining'. When she left Japan, she'd be able to go back to Duncan MacLeod. He said he'd be waiting, and she couldn't wait!

She decided to go by the hospital and see Miyu--surely her mother or someone would be with her, even at this hour. She needed to know if Miyu was dead or alive. Elena was calm now, no longer in the middle of a chase through the streets, and knowing Miyu's fate would give her a sense of purpose, a focus for her actions.

Outside Miyu's door, Elena sensed the girl's slight pre-Immortal presence. The policeman on guard was cautious until Miyu's mother, unable to sleep, came to the hospital room door and let her in.

"Du-ran-sama. How are you? We worried for you when you disappeared." Haru bowed.

Elena smiled, bowing in turn. Haru looked terrible, but that was hardly surprising. Her daughter was near death, and yet Elena had no doubt that the Japanese woman was being honest, that she had worried for her. "I'm fine. What do the doctors say about Miyu?"

"That she is young and strong, and that children heal easily and are surprisingly hard to kill. But if you had not been there...." The unspoken thought broke through her polite Japanese veneer, and she turned away, tears filling her eyes.

While Elena waited for the mother to regain control she looked at the child, lying so small in the hospital bed, surrounded by sterile white equipment, a multitude of tubes crisscrossing in and out of her body. She wanted to touch Miyu but didn't dare. Little Miyu moved her, touched her in a place that was so deep, awakened feelings she thought she'd buried long ago. It wasn't like any other feeling, any other 'love', yes, that's what it was, love. To see her like this, near death, and for what? To satisfy some greedy need of that [!maldito chino!]

Elena swore undying vengeance on Xia Guan.

"Why is this happening again?"

Elena turned her full attention back to Haru. "Again?"

"There was an attempted abduction two years ago. Why is my child so unlucky?"

The Game. There was not getting away from it, not even if you were a child, still only a pre-Immortal, helpless, harmless. Not even then. Elena took a deep breath, trying to accept the fact that this child was probably doomed to an early grave. "Listen to me. You have to protect her. Keep someone close to her at all times." She could do it herself, though. She could stay close to Miyu, guarding her. If Xia came for the little girl, if he attacked, she could protect Miyu, defend her. It would be what an Aikidoka would do.

Elena sighed--she had already made up her mind what she would do.

"But why? Why?"

Elena shook her head. "I don't know," she lied. What could she say? "Maybe she just attracts the wrong kind of attention, from the wrong...kind of person. Just...stay close to her, don't leave her alone, don't...Look, we'll talk about this later, alright? I have to go."

"[Hai.] You must get some rest. Good night. And thank you, thank you so much, [domo arigato gozaimasu]." Her voice husky with emotion, Haru bowed repeatedly.

Elena smiled, bowed in turn. "Good night."

Translations: (all Japanese)

pesos (Span.) - Argentine currency

Zen - Eastern religion

maldito chino (Span.) - damned Chinaman

domo arigato gozaimasu - thank you very much

Five

Tokyo, July 7, 1996, 2 a.m.

This night she didn't pick up on Bernie following her, but she expected he might already be at Xia's. He was. Ignoring him, Elena did one circuit of the small hotel, noting the fire escape--how handy!--then went inside directly to Xia's third floor hotel room door. She was worried. The last time she'd gone up against a gun she'd had Duncan and Richie with her; this time she might have to use one or two throwing knives to disarm him. She was getting tired of getting shot.

She could sense the buzz from within, which meant [el chino] had escaped the police, but he might be asleep. Then she heard a faint noise from inside, the unmistakeable sound of a round being chambered, and decided not to go through the door after all. Xia may not be experienced, but he was a cautious [hijo de mala madre].

She moved back, pulled out a cell phone, and called his hotel room. When he answered, she asked "Is this the child killer Xia Guan?"

There was a spate of Chinese. Elena knew only the words for sword, head, and horse (although she'd gotten Duncan to teach her to say "There can be only one!" just for laughs) in Mandarin. She used two of those words. There was a moment of silence, then he hung up. Elena came back to the door to listen--there was movement inside. She glanced back to the stairwell door, her first point of retreat, but he wasn't coming to the door; he was moving away from it. That handy dandy fire escape, a back door! Taking a chance, she took a running start and went through the door with a crash. The room was empty, the window open, but he was still nearby. She didn't want to put her head out, afraid he'd he waiting to blow it off, but then she heard sounds from outside, footsteps? She turned off all the lights and came to the window. She couldn't see a thing, and wasn't about to be picked off on those stairs, so she went back to the inside stairs, running down to try to cut him off.

Xia should have studied the area around his hotel better. After only two blocks, he went down a dead end. This was the most dangerous time, because he was cornered and armed.

She hid behind a dumpster, remembering another dumpster that hadn't kept her from getting shot. "Xia Guan," she called out softly, then ducked as two bullets hit the metal beside her, too close, making an incredible racket in the night and making her ears ring. He's a good shot, she acknowledged. Must get a lot of practice shooting Immortals. She'd never get him to use up all his rounds before someone called the police, plus he surely had more than one clip, maybe even more than one gun! On the other hand, gunfire was so rare in Tokyo, it's possible no one would recognize it.

"Xia, let's settle this the way we're meant to--with swords," she called out again in Japanese, repeating the Mandarin word for sword.

There was more Chinese, then he switched to halting Japanese. "I'll just shoot you, woman," he said.

"Keep firing and I'll just call the police from my little phone here. They'll catch you with the gun, match you to the little girl--she's alive, by the way--and you'll be in a Japanese prison for a long time."

He fired again, but she had moved since she last spoke, and this time he was way off. "Very well. Swords," he agreed, but Elena wasn't having any.

She had moved again, trying to keep him from pinning her down. "No, you still have that gun. No, I think I'll just call the police." It was a bad compromise, but it was a Mexican standoff otherwise.

She couldn't see where he was--he'd certainly picked a dark alley! A noise, and a gun came skittering across the ground and into view. She had no doubt it was empty, she was meant to reach for it, expose herself, and he had another gun. Nice try, she thought.

"Not good enough, [chino]. How many guns do you have?"

"I have only my sword, woman," he said.

Yeah, right.

There was a movement in the dark, and he came forward and into view. His hands were visible--in his right, a very long, curved blade. She couldn't quite make it out--a scimitar, maybe? His left hand seemed empty.

This is it, Elena. Take a chance, get shot again, probably lose your head. In the end what decided her to come out and face him was the way he'd said the word 'woman,' the contempt in his tone. She was not shy about using sex to her advantage, and had been underestimated on this score before. A throwing knife hidden in her right hand, a flick of the wrist, just in case, she stepped out, expecting at any moment to be shot.

He was big, not quite as big as the Russian Rechenko, but with a lot of muscle under the fat, kind of like a retired American football player she'd once met. He came closer. Her hand went to the hilt of her katana--he had quite a reach with his weapon--when he charged. He came right at her, like a rhino, sword held high, and so quickly--he moved so much faster than she expected, so much faster than anyone that size should be able to move--and she realized she had underestimated him as she brought up her katana to block his blow.

It was staggering. He'd put his whole body into it, bulling his way into her, slamming her back against the alley wall with such force her whole body cried out. Her head snapped back, cracking against the wall; she dropped her knife and put her katana out in front of her, blindly, as her vision was taken over by every star in the galaxy. But instead of hitting her again, he went past her out to the street.

Elena shook her head, trying to clear it. He'd gotten past her, but she felt confident she could still take him. Apparently he used brute force in place of real skill; otherwise he would have attacked her while she was still dazed. And for all his speed--she belatedly remembered the sudden, frightening speed of the huge sumo wrestlers--at a run she would catch up to him. And not underestimate him again.

But he had only gone a few meters and stopped, and, looking past him, she saw why. Another Immortal?! stood on the street beyond. He was about one hundred sixty cm tall, much shorter than Xia. He had his hair pulled back in a traditional samurai topknot and was wearing a kimono under flowing robes. Two swords were tucked into his belt.

Hosokawa.

For a moment, the three stood staring at each other, with Xia in the middle. The street was deserted, and Elena wondered, not for the first time, if Immortals gave off some sort of vibrations that cleared the streets.

"My name is Maria Elena Duran y Agramonte," she finally said, "and you must be Hosokawa Hiroshi." He bowed stiffly in acknowledgement. "If you're here for me, you'll have to wait. I have prior business with Xia Guan."

Xia said something in Chinese which Hosokawa obviously understood but chose to ignore, addressing her instead. "This ... creature shot me, and for that he will die."

"I know your reputation. You are a man of honor, unlike our friend here. This is why I'm surprised that you would try to take what is rightfully mine--his head. We've already exchanged blows, and you can't interfere."

"I must disagree," he said, bowing. His voice was low but quite determined. "My quarrel with him is over a week long; our previous battle was interrupted by a bullet."

"Well, haven't you ever heard of 'ladies first'?" she snapped.

Hosokawa laughed out loud. "Surely that is a [gaijin] concept!"

She couldn't help it. She liked him, his directness and his stubborness. She was also amused by the fact that they were arguing about which one of them should decapitate a man. Maybe they should ask [el chino] for his preference! She had hoped to talk to Xia, find out what his game was. But now she didn't want to betray Miyu to this new Immortal. She just wanted Xia's head to roll, and quickly, but did it really matter who did it? Well, yes, it did, but she'd have to compromise this time or risk fighting the samurai herself, in which case Xia would probably get away.

She bowed. "Very well, Hosokawa-san. You have a prior claim. Proceed."

There was more Chinese from Xia, and this time Hosokawa answered him. Then he addressed her again. "You will ... not interfere?"

"You're afraid that I'll attack you while you're weak from the quickening."

"Such dishonorable things have been done before," he acknowledged.

"Not by me!" she snapped, then added more softly, "But if you don't trust me, let me take his head. I trust you."

He didn't skip a beat. "I have heard of your 'Latin pride,' and I will trust you that far, Du-ran-san." He bowed again--the Japanese could be so formal!--then bowed to his opponent.

Xia still held his sword in front of him, but the samurai had not yet drawn a weapon. They stood studying each other for a moment. Elena already knew how fast Xia could be, but she was intently watching Hosokawa, using a 'soft gaze', looking at his body rather than his face or hands, trying to judge when he would make his explosive first move.

It seemed to her that Xia started to move first, but Elena knew that a master swordsman was more concerned with timing than with speed. With impeccable timing, Hosokawa drew two swords and made his first cut to his opponent's shoulder so quickly she almost missed seeing it. Xia managed to protect his head, but it didn't do him any good. His entire right shoulder and arm slid to the ground with a meaty thud.

Elena's stomach lurched. As used as she was to blood, this was more like the butchering of a steer than a fight.

Xia stood for a brief instant, then his mouth went open in shock and pain, but no sound escaped him. His legs collapsed under him, but he hadn't yet hit the ground when Hosokawa made his second cut, with the [wakisashi] this time, efficiently decapitating him. The samurai neatly flicked the blood off both blades and had resheathed them before Xia's quickening reached him.

Elena pulled back, fascinated. This was not a common sight for her, and she wondered if her face showed such agony, pleasure, and satisfaction when she took a quickening. She was also impressed by his skill, and while he stood recovering, she told him so.

"[Arigato gozaimasu.] I have my sensei to thank for it, as well as many years of practice."

"I see you're of the [Niten-Iehi ryu,]" she said. "Who was your sensei...if I may ask?

"Now it is my turn to be impressed. You know Japanese fencing." He took a deep cleansing breath. "You are familiar with the name Musashi." It was a statement rather than a question.

"Musashi?" Miyamoto Musashi was one of the legendary Japanese samurai of the seventeenth century, founder of the [Niten-Iehi], or 'two-sword' school. "I read his book on strategy.* He is one of the fighters I most admire. I even saw a set of movies about him," she added, smiling.

"I also saw these films. Like all fictional works, they were flawed ..." As he spoke, it struck her how cold-blooded they were, how cold-blooded all Immortals were, discussing movies while a man's life blood was still pumping onto the ground at their feet. "... but they did manage to accurately portray his ferocity."

His ferocity! she thought. Musashi had made his first kill when he was still just a child by beating a samurai to death with a stick, and he had never looked back. He'd also died of old age, an uncommon feat for a samurai.

"He was your sensei?" she asked, impressed.

"I have that honor," he answered, bowing again.

"Congratulations." She sighed, glancing down at Xia's body. Then she asked him, "Now what do we do?"

"I did not come for you. You may go home, Aikidoka. To Ueshiba, I believe."

He was showing off again, and being arrogant to boot. Aikido black belts carried themselves with a graceful and unique stride, with which he was obviously familiar. He also knew she lived at Ueshiba's.

"Years ago, after the war, I heard of a [gaijin] female who studied with O Sensei."

She bowed in acknowledgement.

"I had the honor of meeting O Sensei once. He was a true master, well deserving of his title, but too peaceful. He would not have made a good Immortal, and he would have disapproved of us."

Elena smiled. If he only knew! "Until we meet again, Hosokawa-san." She bowed.

"I predict it will be soon, Du-ran-san." He returned the bow.

She couldn't let that pass. She wasn't concerned about his knowing where she lived--he could easily have found her among the Aikidoka of Tokyo. But if this was a veiled threat.... She examined him more carefully. His posture brought to mind the phrase, 'proud as a peacock,' and his broad shoulders tapered down to slim hips. It occurred to her that in his time he might have been quite tall--she knew for a fact that Duncan must have been considered practically a giant among his clansmen, and she had always been a head taller that almost everyone around her. But Hosokawa's short stature did not in any way diminish the arrogant way he carried himself. Well, she was not going to let him get too carried away. If he wanted a fight.... "Do you wish to challenge me? Is that it?"

"Not at all. I simply find you very interesting, very ... alluring."

So that was it--the old sexual equation. Even centuries-old, rigidly-controlled samurai were not immune, but he'd certainly given no hint of it until now. She had an idea he wouldn't give many hints about anything. "Then we shall not meet again," she said, and turned to go.

"I would not count on it, Du-ran-san," was his last word.

*GORIN NO SHO (THE BOOK OF FIVE RINGS), Miyamoto Musashi's 17th century book on strategy for the samurai

Translations:

chino (Span.) - chinaman

gaijin (Jap.) - derogatory name for foreigner

Six

Tokyo, July 11, 1996, 10 a.m.

I'm afraid, Du-ran-sama! Will you protect me? Will you stay with me?" Miyu asked from her hospital bed.

Elena took the girl's hands in hers, squeezing. They felt cold. "The whole dojo will protect you, [chiquita.] Your mother is here, there's a guard at the door, and the Chinese man," Elena added, intently, "will never bother you again. I promise." Elena felt it was a hollow promise. Taking Miyu to hide in the dojo in the country, as her mother had suggested, would not save her. Immortals had already found her twice!

"I like it when you call me [chiquita.]" Elena's reassurances seemed to content the child, and she asked Elena to sing her to sleep. Elena ran her fingers through Miyu's thick black hair, humming a tune her own mother had sung to her in seventeenth-century Argentina, and was still humming it on the street when she sensed an Immortal. She looked around and easily spotted Hosokawa again. He had a way of standing out in a crowd, and he'd been shadowing her since their first meeting.

He smiled at her and bowed. He hadn't gotten any closer, but was always there, just within reach. This time she went up to him. "What do you want, Hosokawa?"

"I want you, Du-ran-san."

She laughed. "Well, you're certainly direct!"

"Always."

"Then let me be direct, too. The answer is no."

"I can be patient."

"You're stalking me!" she said, angrily.

He smiled. "I am obsessed by your beauty."

The worst of it was that Elena was actually attracted to him. There was a charm and grace covering what she suspected was a very passionate nature. He was also honest, and she believed he would be someone to count on in times of trouble. And--he was definitely dangerous. This was perhaps what attracted her most of all.

But she tried to ignore him for now; she had other problems to deal with. When she got back to Ueshiba's, Sensei wanted to see her, and Elena sighed. There was no avoiding the inevitable.

"We have missed you, child."

"I know. I've been so worried about Miyu, I've been neglecting my work. Please forgive me, Sensei."

"We are all very thankful for your efforts, and we have all been worried. I know you are close to Miyu. Tell me, do you think this Chinese man will come back?"

Well, so far she'd lied to Miyu's mother and to Miyu. Now it was time to lie to Miyu's great grandfather. But this was Sensei, the man to whom she had supposedly entrusted her spiritual growth!

"No, sir. I don't think so. I do know that she's in danger, that you should look after her carefully."

For a moment he studied her, then surprised her. "What about you, Du-ran? Are you in danger?"

"Me, sensei? Why do you ask?"

"You seem ... haunted."

There was no answer to that but a denial. After he dismissed her, she went to her room to think. She'd wanted to tell Sensei that Aikido was not working out for her, that she was leaving Tokyo, but she couldn't go now, not while Miyu was still in the hospital and so vulnerable!

But Miyu would always be vulnerable. Miyu needed an Immortal to take care of her, or at the very least, mortals who knew what they were up against! Without either one, the child would die! Question: was Elena willing to devote ten or fifteen years of her life to stay in Japan and protect Miyu? The simple answer was yes; unfortunately, nothing was so simple. What Elena was not willing to do was stay away from Duncan MacLeod for ten or fifteen years. Maybe he'd be willing to come to Japan, she could always ask him...but there was another very important factor to consider.

Hosokawa Hiroshi.

If he continued to circle her, sooner or later he'd find out about Miyu. Elena was reasonably sure that he wouldn't make war on a child--but not *completely* sure. The Japanese were a pragmatic people, and samurai had a reputation for being ruthless. She wouldn't forget the way Hosokawa had literally cut Xia Guan apart. And his eyes ... they'd shone very brightly, with animal ferocity! If the samurai considered Miyu a threat ... She'd just have to find out more about him.

And there was one more reason to worry about Hosokawa. If Duncan came to Japan, the two would meet almost immediately. That could be fatal for one of them. Elena sat in [seiza,] closed her eyes, and tried to find her center. She failed.

That evening she tried to reach the dojo in Seacouver, breaking her six-month silence, hoping Duncan could give her some much-needed advice. There was no answer. She couldn't reach Richie either, and, due to plain old stubborness, she had never gotten Dawson's number.

_________________________

The second time her visit with Bernie went better.

"I figured you'd be back," he said, offering her another beer. This time she took spring water instead. "But you know I can't keep giving you information like this. I took an oath."

"An oath," she said.

"Yes, an oath! You swashbuckling types aren't the only ones who value their word, you know!"

Elena stared at him, as though surprised. "Bernie, I had no idea you took it so seriously, and I'm sorry," she lied smoothly. "Look, with Xia I had to find him, but this request is just...look, never mind. I've been fighting other Immortals for a while now. I can muddle through. It's just that it's always best to 'know your enemy.'

"You mean you're going against Hosokawa? He's very dangerous!"

"I know. That's why I want to find out all about him, Bernie." She leaned toward him subtly, persuasively.

Bernie Liebowitz opened his mouth, then closed it again. "Oh, no, you don't! The sympathy ploy isn't going to work with me. You're not scared of anything!"

"You'd be surprised, Bernie," she smiled, remembering Robert Trent. "Anyway, you were the one who wanted to be friends, remember?"

"And you were the one who didn't want to have anything to do with Watchers, remember?"

"Fine. I'll just be on my way, then. Thanks for the drink." She stood to go, and Bernie stopped her at the door.

"Wait, Senorita. Look, I want to help, but you understand my position, don't you?"

"No, Bernie, I don't understand it. I don't understand how you can stand by and see someone you admire--you did say you admired me--destroyed for the sake of some game you're playing."

"You play a game, too, Senorita. You have rules you don't break."

"Touche. You're very good, Bernie, congratulations. My first instinct about you Watchers was right, and this was a mistake, my coming to you, my thinking that...." She sighed. "Thanks, and goodbye."

"Wait!" he said again. He seemed to make a snap decision. "I have his file. Hosokawa's. Do you want to look at it?"

"[!Claro que si!]"

"I really do ... admire you." He shrugged. "And I guess an old man is entitled to break some rules."

In a few minutes she had his life history. Hosokawa Hiroshi, born of a noble family in the 1580's or 1590's, was a [bushi,] or warrior, from birth. He had fought at the Battle of Sekigahara under the [shogun] Tokugawa. Hosokawa had apparently died for the first time at Sekigahara, but later had become the student of his enemy in this same battle, the great swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Hosokawa had also fought in the Satusuma Rebellion of 1877--the last stand of the samurai--and in WWII. A samurai who had developed skills in [kenjutsu,] [iaijutsu,] as well as several martial arts (but not Aikido--he thought O Sensei was too peaceful!), he was a formidable fighting machine, honed to near perfection. He had no interests other than being a samurai--it was all he was about.

"I was watching you that night. I saw Xia fall, but I didn't see Hosokawa even take out a weapon!" exclaimed Bernie.

"He used two weapons, Bernie, a beautifully matched set of [koto] swords. He's very good with them, believe me."

"I believe. And you're going to challenge him, Senorita?"

Elena laughed. "Oh ye of little faith!" Usually, she didn't do a lot of planning; she just ... fought. The idea of fighting a swordsman of Hosokawa's caliber held a certain thrill, a special challenge. But although she was bold, she wasn't reckless. She became serious. "No, not if I can help it. But sometimes we just don't have a choice."

Paris, July 15, 1996

Amanda answered the door. "Joe Dawson!" she exclaimed. "What a pleasant surprise!"

"Amanda! You're looking beautiful as ever!"

She gave him her hundred-watt smile. "You always know the right thing to say. Please come in. His lordship awaits."

"How is he, Amanda?"

"Should I leave the room so you two can talk about me?" Duncan groused.

"Grumpy," she stage-whispered.

The two men faced each other. Duncan felt awkward. "How are you, Dawson?"

"Tolerable. You?"

"I guess I'm hanging in there."

"You know," interjected Amanda, "you two probably have a lot to talk about, so why don't I go get some groceries for a nice dinner. You are staying for dinner, aren't you, Joe?"

"You're welcome to," added Duncan, as Amanda breezed out the door.

"Sure--as long as I can sit down."

"Sorry," said Duncan sheepishly, pointing him to a sofa, then added, "I'm glad you're in Paris. I need to talk to you, to thank you."

"MacLeod, I was glad to do it."

Duncan paced around the loft. "Before, you put your job on the line for me. This time, you put your life on the line." Duncan sat in a chair across from Dawson. He reached over and put his hand on Dawson's knee. It felt hard and cold under his fingers. "I was a mad dog. The smart thing would have been to destroy me. I thank you, my friend. For giving me a chance. For believing in me."

"We've been through a lot. I never stopped believing in you."

"I know." Duncan felt his voice thicken, his eyes fill. This had been happening a lot lately. He leaned back, looking away.

"Besides," Dawson continued, "since when do I do the smart thing?"

Duncan smiled crookedly. "So, you're in Paris to stay?"

Dawson smiled back. "'Whither thou goest'.... What about you? Are you going to stick around for a while?"

"For a while, I think. Amanda's here, and she ... she's helping me and making me, forcing me to ... enjoy life."

"She always did." There was a pause, then Dawson said, "Have you talked to Richie?"

"Once, on the telephone." Duncan lowered his gaze. He couldn't get past the guilt; it was like a deep, too-wide chasm he couldn't cross, and wouldn't until he saw Richie in person. And still he felt he couldn't. He was afraid Richie wouldn't forgive him, even though he knew in his heart that Richie would look for any excuse to do just that. So what are you really afraid of, MacLeod? he asked himself. What he was afraid of was that even if Richie forgave him, the young Immortal could never, ever forget. Every time they were together and Duncan reached for his sword, Richie would wince inwardly; even if he didn't show it. Every time they sparred, Richie would wonder, maybe way in the back of his mind, if Duncan would go for his head again.

When Richie had first come to Duncan, the boy trusted no one, loved no one, and that perfect trust they had painstakingly built over the years--it was gone, shattered, maybe beyond repair. And Duncan was afraid that he would see all this on Richie's face.

Duncan knew that he had been purged. He knew he'd never attack Richie again. Unless ... unless he took another truly evil quickening? What if Duncan ran into someone like John Garrick, who had made him believe in ghosts, or like Robert Trent, whose personality was so powerful he had overcome even the iron-willed Elena Duran? Could he honestly say he'd never lose control again? The answer was no, and if Richie asked him, he'd have to answer no, and live with that, too.

That was the biggest question of all for him as an Immortal. Duncan's confidence was shaken. If he ran across an evil Immortal, would he be able to fight him?

"He disappeared that night, you know," Dawson was saying. "I didn't see him for weeks--had no idea where he'd gone. When he finally contacted me--"

"How is he, Dawson?" Duncan asked intently.

"He's been doing some fighting, MacLeod. I don't know if he's quite accepted what happened, and he may just be taking it out on the world. I mean, it was bad enough when Elena Duran took that dark quickening, went crazy and tried to take your head, but for you to go off the deep end like that ... it really shook him! I don't think he understands it. He had absolute trust in you. But you know that."

"Yeah. And I also know I broke that trust."

"I think he'd go a long way towards understanding what happened if you talked to him. If you went to him."

"I know, I just ... I guess I'm just not ready--"

"MacLeod, I've been your shadow for almost twenty years now. I've never seen you back away like this from what you had to do."

"I've changed before, over the years. Maybe I've changed again--maybe this has changed me permanently."

"Yeah. Well, if you can't talk to Richie, how about calling Duran? You know I'm not her most loyal fan, but she's been through the same thing, plus she loves you. If anybody would understand what you're going through--"

"Elena is trying to find herself now, Dawson. I'll get in touch with her, but not right now. Besides, I'm not doing so bad...Amanda's with me. She makes me feel better. I need to feel better before I can dump a load on Elena, or on Connor." Amanda was like a lifesaver on a rough sea. If she could bouy him up enough, he'd be in good enough shape to deal with more serious types like Connor or Elena. He hoped. Or maybe, he thought, I just don't realize how badly I need them.

"If there's anything I can do, my friend--"

"You've already done it. Thanks."

"Anyway, it's good to have you back, MacLeod. Now are you going to offer me some of that single malt Scotch I know you've got stashed?"

Translations:

claro que si (Span.) - yes, of course

bushi (Jap.) - general term for warrior

shogun (Jap) - Japanese warlords of the Middle Ages who at some points ruled the entire island of Japan

kenjutsu (Jap.) - sword techniques

iaijustsu (Jap.) - techniques of quickly drawing a sword and immediately making a cut in one continuous motion

koto (Jap.) - ancient Japanese swords made 900-1530

Seven

Tokyo, July 15, 1996

On July fifteenth, Elena made her choice.

Really, she had no other choice. She never did. Earlier that day Miyu had come home, under heavy guard. Every moment Elena spent with Miyu convinced her more and more that she had to stay to protect the girl, but she'd tried to call Duncan twice more, to talk to him, and been unable to reach either him or Richie. She wasn't exactly *worried* yet--but she was *preoccupied.* Perhaps *concerned* would be a better term. That, and her worries about Miyu, and her constant thoughts about Hosokawa--all these pressures combined to make her careless. And carelessness in a dojo can cause, for example, a dislocated shoulder.

Her sparring partner realized something was wrong the moment Elena hit the mat. "Du-ran-san! Are you alright?" he asked, concerned.

She lay on the mat, her body tense, eyes closed against the pain. But after all, it was only a dislocated shoulder--she knew what that felt like. It could be worse. It could always be worse.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, looking their way. Aches and pains were ignored stoically, but injuries were taken very seriously. Sensei, ever alert, was by her side in a heartbeat.

"Du-ran, is it your shoulder?"

She nodded, got her feet under her, and was helped up by her [nage.] "I'm pretty sure it's dislocated, sensei. This has happened before. Can someone here help me?"

Her partner held her while another student named Yamana, a paramedic, took hold of her right arm and jerked cleanly, pulling the shoulder bone back into its socket. Elena grunted with pain; at that same instant she sensed a familiar buzzing sensation in her head.

[!Cono!] she thought, now it's worse!

Hosokawa came into the dojo. Elena turned, looking over the heads of everyone there, and met his eyes. She had a sense of deja vu, but there was no surprise on his part, no drawing back like with Kotaro, and as she smiled ruefully, thinking, I knew it would come to this! he bowed to her, smiling back.

She turned to Sensei. "I'm sorry, sensei. I have to go."

Sensei had an odd look on his face as he glanced from the samurai to his student. Elena couldn't quite tell what it was, and frankly, at the moment, in pain and in anticipation of what was to come, she couldn't think about it. But she realized that the dojo had turned deathly quiet--everyone knew something significant was happening. Sensei bowed to Hosokawa, who politely returned the favor. Then Sensei turned to Elena. "You have the protection of the dojo," he finally said to her, firmly.

Elena could feel the blood drain from her face. Those were the exact words he had used in 1966 when Kotaro had come after her. Was it possible that he suspected something, that he knew?! How could he? What could he know? She studied his face. It was unreadable.

Her emotions ran high. There were many things she wanted to say to him. Instead, she said, "[Sayonara, sensei.]"

He answered, "We will see you for dinner," and Elena took it as a vote of confidence.

On the way out, she wished she could say goodbye to Miyu. She was convinced she would have to fight Hosokawa, but wasn't at all convinced she could beat him. But anyway, she wanted to keep Hosokawa away from the girl at all costs. Besides, what could she say to the child?

The samurai waited outside while she went to her room and picked up her cloak. She slipped the katana into the black belt of her [aikidogi] and put on her Reeboks.

Outside the gates they entered his waiting limo. Elena wasn't worried about a trap. To a samurai, honor was more important than life, and she knew he would not resort to base trickery. But as soon as they sat, he turned to her and asked, "The child under guard, the one in the hospital. She is one of us, isn't she?"

There was no point in denying it. It was at that moment that Elena made her choice, and her choice was to kill the samurai.

_________________________

Elena stared out the limousine window at the busy Tokyo streets, thinking about her upcoming duel. She had only ever faced two swords once before, with Kotaro, although she had fought more than once against sword and dagger. The [wakisashi,] however, was considerably longer and deadlier than any dagger. That second sword, and Hosowaka's skill with it, was her greatest concern.

But there was no sense in really worrying--[!Que sera, sera!] Elena was trained, experienced and confident. Moreover, she enjoyed a good challenge, and if the samurai took her head at least she would die as Don Alvaro had, fighting a real [espadachin,] and not as poor Darius or Gordon had, murdered by a pack of Hunters. Her greatest regret if she lost was leaving Miyu in danger. And Duncan--how she wished she could hear his voice, one more time, just in case!

The only thing she could do was fight her best fight.

Hosokawa had respected her silence. When the car slowed down, she said, "Stop the car!" and he flicked on the intercom without hesitation, gave a single command, and the car stopped instantly. She tapped lightly on the glass.

"The glass is one-way and soundproof. I have taken great steps to ensure privacy," he said to her.

"Well, I'm not going into the lion's den, Hosokawa-san! What will your students or servants do when I take your head?"

"I will send everyone away the moment we enter. The house will be quite empty; I give you my word of honor. Will that satisfy you?"

She nodded. Hosokawa gave a second order into the intercom and the car continued. "Why do you wish to fight me, Du-ran-san?" He sounded genuinely curious.

She smiled slightly. "There can be only one."

"If that is the reason, why wait until now?"

"You're the one who came after me, remember?"

"I was hoping it would not come to swords."

"No? Then just exactly what was it that you were *hoping* we would do here at your house?"

"Simply talk. I assure you my intentions are strictly honorable."

The limo pulled up to the front of the house. "So are mine. My intentions are to take your head." She said this calmly and confidently.

Hosokawa leaned toward her. "But we have so much in common. You understand Japanese tradition and language. You would make a good samurai woman. I would like to show you my house, the things I have collected..." He was very close to her. His whole attention was on her; it was intense. She felt too close inside the limo. She was attracted to him. She wanted to get out, get this over with.

"Let's just get this done." She started to open the car door, but his next words stopped her.

"Is it because of the Ueshiba child?"

Elena turned back to him, alarmed. "O Sensei was her grandfather's grandfather. You said you admired him."

"That gives me two reasons not to harm her. Tell me, do you truly believe I would attack a child?"

"Why, do you intend to wait until she's an adult?"

"It is unfortunate that she is female, but does it not occur to you, Du-ran-san, that I may be of help to this child?"

It had occured to her, but she had dismissed it for the same reason he'd said "It is unfortunate that she is female." Medieval Japanese society did not think very highly of women. And never as fighters! "Are you saying that you would protect her, train her to *fight* as a *samurai*, be her mentor? Would you make a commitment to Ueshiba Miyu for the next fifteen years or so?"

He thought for a moment. "I have had Immortal students, but never a child or a female. I would have to consider it."

"While you're considering it, some other thug like Xia will destroy her. Or maybe you would, in the end. I can't let that happen."

"I am not her enemy, Du-ran-san. Or yours."

She shook her head. "I challenge you, Hosokawa Hiroshi."

Finally he bowed his head. "[Hai.]"

Upon entering, he placed his katana on a special stand for that purpose, but kept his short sword. She admired the suit of armor on display in a corner of the room, and he proudly told her its history. When they sat, Elena kept her cloak and her weapon. He said nothing. Although she had not given up her sword at the door as tradition demanded, it was more because she was an Immortal than because she didn't trust him. It never occured to her that he might pull out a hidden weapon or drug her tea. He was a samurai, and sitting across from him Elena felt almost as safe as if they were on holy ground--for the moment. However, she noticed that he sat in the traditional samurai way called [tate hiza,] with his right leg under his buttocks and his left foot next to it, to make it easier to get up to fight if necessary. I guess he doesn't trust me much! she thought, amused.

They had a cup of tea and a short but pleasant conversation, during which she discovered they shared a love of [haiku] and that he was quite a talented poet himself.

At the back of the compound was a small grassy area next to a pond filled with rather large gold fish called [koi.] A tall fence ensured privacy. No city noises intruded. It was a simple and restful place, perfect for a duel to the death.

Still wearing her [aikidogi,] Elena stood on the grass, facing the samurai. He had pulled his hair back in the traditional manner and wore a [kimono]. His eyes shone with excitement, and she could feel her heart pounding. If she didn't fight him now, he'd be a danger to her and those she cared about forever. This was the best way. It was the only way.

She drew her sword and tossed the scabbard aside--no encumbrances. She bowed to her opponent, then brought the hilt up to her lips, whispering, "[!Ayudame, Dios mio!]"

Hosokawa returned the bow, his eyes narrowing. He had not yet drawn either sword, but she knew for a fact that he was a master of [iujutsu,] and expected him to draw and cut with lightning speed. She looked at the center of his body, trying to judge when he would move. He studied her. When she made her move his swords were there, parrying, then slashing, she parrying, left, blade on blade, blue sparks flashing in the late afternoon light. Then they came apart.

They were already panting with effort and concentration; both had come close, yet both were untouched. He crossed his swords in front of him in a defense Musashi had developed and called [juji dome] which she could not penetrate, so she tried to draw him out by exposing herself, but not too much...but it was too much! His cut opened her up from her right shoulder to her left hip, although not deeply. Not good enough! she thought to herself, even as she hissed in pain and made her cut, which he parried. But this time she pressed him, changing styles, hoping her French fencing techniques might be unfamiliar to him, throw him off even slightly. Then she saw the opening as he retreated and she made her cut. Only after she was committed did she realize he had drawn her in! By then she was swinging so hard, hoping to literally slice him in in half; but he'd backed away, and she adjusted her cut down towards the only part of him she could still reach, maybe. She was fast enough, and with some satisfaction felt her katana slice through skin, blood vessels, muscle, even bone, but it wasn't deep enough!

He cried out. She'd hoped to take his forward leg, but her katana met less resistance than she expected, so she spun to her left, almost losing her balance, but still managing, just barely, to swing up to block his katana as it came down.

But there was that second sword.

The [wakisashi] made a deep, deep cut like a smile, 'ear to ear,' under her navel.

Elena dropped her sword, bringing both hands to her stomach, curling up, trying desperately to keep her intestines from spilling to the ground. As the pain exploded inside her, she fell to the ground. She had no strength left, not even to scream.

She lay on her side, panting. He was doing something, cursing under his breath. Some time passed--she had no idea how much, except the pain increased. She couldn't move or make a sound. Then she could see his feet and he was down, breathing in her face, whispering, "It's not too late, Du-ran-san! You don't have to die, if you will only..."

She took a deep breath. "No!" she cried out, in Spanish this time, and she felt something burst inside her; blood poured out of her mouth and nose, gagging her, and the ground got soaked beneath her. She coughed. The pain increased, and still she spoke, making a last effort, panting. "Just finish it!"

She wouldn't say anything else. She was afraid anything else she said would be a plea. The last time she'd felt pain like this was when Duncan had almost beheaded her, and it just kept getting worse, going up another notch. "Please!" she wanted to say, "please just kill me, please!" But he had moved away. [!Cabron!] she thought. He was going to let her die like this, slowly, agonizingly. "[!Madre de Dios!]" she whispered quietly. Oh, Duncan! she thought to herself. Miyu, I'm sorry. She coughed, and, incredibly, the pain got worse.

Elena faded. Her sense of self faded--she was no longer Elena Duran, no longer even a human being. She lay in a fetal curl, suffering, shuddering, and with the small part of her brain that still functioned, that wasn't completely overwhelmed by pain and fear, she heard from far away the inarticulate sounds of an animal in its death agony.

Then, blessedly, darkness.

Translations:

cono (Span.) - damn

sayonara (Jap.) - goodbye

aikidogi (Jap.) - uniform worn by Aididoka

wakisashi (Jap.) - short sword, companion to the katana, used as a pair by samurai

que sera, sera (Span.) - what will be, will be

espadachin (Span.) - master swordsman

madre de Dios (Span.) - mother of God

Eight

Tokyo, July 16, 10 a.m.

Elena gasped, then began convulsing. Her stomach had been ripped open, her guts spilling out!--she writhed on a soft surface, then onto a much harder one, a wooden floor. She let out a long, low wail, then slowly regained control. Her abdomen had, naturally, healed.

As the pain faded she looked around. She had rolled off a futon in a bedroom. Her katana was gone. She dragged herself to her knees, then to her feet. She was dressed in a thick, white terry robe, naked underneath. A brand new training uniform had been neatly folded on a low table nearby--apparently her own had not survived the fight. Next to that was an exquisite red silk [kimono]. And next to that a pitcher of water. She drank greedily.

The buzz in the background made her nervous, but she decided not to worry about it for the moment. This was not the first time she'd kept her head because some Immortal wanted her body. Like Duncan MacLeod, for instance. Hosokawa hadn't killed her while he had his best chance--if he wanted her now, he'd come for her.

She stepped out into the corridor and found a shower, and next to it, a tub full of steaming water! She took a shower hot enough to turn her skin red. Then, with a gurgle of pure pleasure, she sank into the tub up to her chin.

She must have dozed, because suddenly she realized the water was cooling. She put on her [aikidogi] and found her way towards the other Immortal. Sliding open the door, she saw Hosokawa Hiroshi sitting at a low table, [zashiki] style. The first thing she noticed was that next to him, on another low table, was her katana in its scabbard. The second thing was that he was eating. The smell was intoxicating!

He invited her in, smiling, gesturing with his chopsticks. "Please eat, Du-ran-san, you must be quite hungry. And certainly thirsty! Please join me." Intrigued, she sat.

A young woman appeared in a puff of smoke to serve her, and in a moment Elena had a bowl in her hand, stuffing noodles into her mouth with gusto, then refilling the bowl with cold rice and with noodles again. Hosokawa offered her [sake,] but she refused, sticking to the tea, which she drank copiously.

At one point he raised his little cup full of [sake,] exclaiming, [kanpai!] or cheers! She toasted with her tea, smiling slightly, infected by his good humor, curious. It was as though he hadn't just killed her the day before.

He told her about the Immortal who found him, who wasn't even a samurai but a farmer who'd brought his body home from a battlefield. For a year he stayed in the village, he, a proud warrior, learning to farm and teaching his mentor to fight with a sword instead of a club. "He may have been just a farmer," he summed up, "but he had the heart of a true [bushi.]" Hosokawa's movements were spare, graceful. He was charming and easy to talk to, a good storyteller and a great listener.

Elena told him about her mentor, a [caballero] named Don Alvaro, and his one undying passion--fencing--and how he had pushed her relentlessly to practice, even before she died the first time.

"Then it was he who taught you to fight in this peculiar style."

She smiled. "The Spanish wouldn't call it peculiar. But I've picked up techniques from French masters, too, and others; and of course, I was a student of O Sensei for twenty years!"

"He taught you well. For a while there, you had me on the defensive! You are a skilled opponent."

He was arrogant! And Elena felt highly complimented. She bowed. "But not skilled enough," she commented.

He shrugged. "Even the great Musashi was defeated once. Of course, even in one lifetime he was more skilled than I am now."

"So you think a second time I might get lucky?" She laughed melodiously, then added, "You won't catch me with the same trick again!"

"Must we truly fight again, Du-ran-san?" he frowned.

She couldn't forget her disembowelment, the pain, the noises she'd made in the end...she shuddered inwardly, and felt her stomach turn, but outwardly she was composed. "Unless you leave me alone."

"That I cannot do. I believe we are fated to be together, Du-ran-san." He was serious. She drank more tea, studying him silently, thinking. In spite of everything, she liked him.

Abruptly he said, "You did not care for the [kimono] I left you."

"It was lovely. But of course, I had no intention of dressing for you, Hosokawa-san."

"Then your objection is to me, personally." He said this flatly, without any inflection, but she'd heard the intensity in his voice before.

Unlike most polite, indirect Japanese, the samurai believed in telling it 'like it is,' as she did. "Actually, I like you, Hosokawa-san. But that doesn't change our situation."

"Only because you do not wish it."

"And what is it that you wish? What do you want?!" She had a good idea what he would say.

"Nothing has changed for me. I want you, Du-ran-san!"

She leaned forward across the table, eyes glowing, angry. "If I didn't give in to you after you gutted me like a fish, what the hell makes you think I'll do it now?" she growled.

"I never thought you would," he answered calmly. He reached to his right and picked up her katana, slowly pulling it out of its sheath, examining it.

Elena was still leaning forward, close to him. She glanced at the blade but refused to lean back. If he wanted her head it was his, but she wasn't going to back away!

"This is an exquisite weapon. It is a [shinto] blade, you know; quite valuable."

"I know." She looked at him instead of at the length of sharp steel in his hand.

"May I ask you how acquired it?"

Was there something in the tone of his voice...a sense of menace? The conversation had gone deadly serious. But it didn't occur to her to lie. "In a duel with an Immortal."

"I thought so. Kisho would never have parted with his katana while he had his head."

It all became clear. "He was your student, wasn't he?" she whispered. "You gave him this katana!"

The room was deathly silent; the servant had disappeared. He looked away from the blade and directly into her eyes. There was the same shine there she'd seen when he fought Xia, the same as when he fought her, a wildness...but now he was more than just excited, he was angry; she could see it clearly, barely suppressed.

"I was in China." He took a deep breath, then hissed. "Kisho was no match for you!"

"Then he shouldn't have challenged me!"

"He was young, and proud!"

"I gave him two chances to back away." Actually, she felt a little guilty on this score, as O Sensei had pointed out, but there was more than just her attitude. There was Kotaro's attitude, too.

"He would never have withdrawn!" Hosokawa hissed.

"He didn't withdraw because he thought he couldn't lose! And you know why. You taught him, and you helped to kill him!"

"I didn't do this!" Suddenly the blade swung down and was at her neck. She felt the cut, the small drops of blood oozing down. It hurt so much more than a normal cut! "I could have let him go. Maybe I should have. Maybe...." But I didn't want to! she thought. "I didn't want to," she said. What the hell was she saying? "I wanted to kill him." She let that sink in, not just for him but for herself. "That's why I left Aikido, why I shouldn't have come back. Someone once told me I'm just a killer. Maybe he was right." And this is what she had to face once and for all. She paused. "Sometimes what we do...we have such a long time to regret it." And, ultimately, she did regret it. Because of the teachings of O Sensei. Also, because of the influence of Duncan MacLeod. Since she met Duncan she had spared Joe Dawson and John Frankowski and James Morgan. If she had to do it over, she would do anything she could to spare a Kotaro Kishomaru.

But there was something else, too. "I cut him down. I let him recover, get back on his feet. I told him to wait until he was strong enough. He attacked anyway. I knew he'd come for me again and again. He would never have withdrawn!"

Hosokawa was silent.

"He didn't know that there's more to our lives than just killing our enemies, than just skill with a sword. You know that, Hosokawa-san. I tried to tell him, but he wouldn't listen!" She sighed. "Maybe you didn't know it then. But if you did, you should have taught him!"

He made a small sound, his mouth trembled slightly, his fist closed tighter around the hilt of the katana. She felt the sword cut deeper into her neck, hurting her terribly. The drops of blood became a thin flow, down her shoulder; to the front and onto her left breast. Her heart started to pump faster, but she schooled her face to show nothing, and didn't move. And she was finished talking--it was his move now. Instead, she looked down the long grey ribbon of steel. It seemed to glow in the bright light within the room. Once again she marvelled at the stark beauty of a naked blade--the blade that would take her head.

But then she looked at his face. And she knew just why Hosokawa Hiroshi hadn't beheaded her, no matter what she'd done, and that he never would, no matter what she'd do. So she slowly brought her left hand up, fingers splayed under the blade of the katana, and pushed it aside with no resistance from him. He carefully cleaned off the blood on his napkin; she used hers to wipe her neck Then he resheathed it and handed it to her across the table. He gave a deep, long sigh. His face was expressionless again. "Kisho was my student and my friend. But he never would have stopped coming after you. He died the way he wanted to--in a fight. I'm glad to know what happened to him. The truth. The sword is yours by right of conquest. You're free to go," he murmured.

She took the katana and stood gracefully. He also stood. Now she had a sword in her hand; he was weaponless, a voice inside her, Trent's voice! tempting her, all she had to do was just ... she took a deep breath. "But I'm not free to go, Hosokawa-san, and you know it. I owe you my life, and I always pay my debts."

He nodded, approving. "It's good to see there are honorable men and women outside Japan.Your 'Latin pride'."

"What about my 'Latin temper'? Tell me what you want!"

"I have told you what I desire. There is nothing else."

There was nothing more to say, so Elena left.

Tokyo, July 17, 1996, 1 p.m.

As soon as Elena returned to Ueshiba, Sensei asked her to join him in the garden. He sat under a tree which had been one of his grandfather's favorite meditating spots forty years before, and she sat down next to him on the soft grass.

He came right to the point. "It's not possible, and yet it's true. You are the same one, aren't you? The same Du-ran."

She couldn't look at him. [!Dios mio!] she thought. "Sensei, I--"

"I realized it yesterday, when you left with the [bushi.]" He turned to face her.

Elena didn't know what to say. Coming to Tokyo had been a mistake, she now realized. She did a quick mental review: she'd left a man she loved very much to pursue an unattainable dream. In the process, she'd managed to become emotionally entangled with a child who was dependent on her; with a dangerous, unpredictable Immortal who was obsessed with her; and with a teacher who trusted her and to whom she had lied from the beginning. And all to fail again.

"I am not asking for an explanation. I merely wish to know if O Sensei knew," he added.

Elena bowed her head. She couldn't go on lying to him, for her sake, for his, and for Miyu's as well. "[Hai,]" she whispered.

"Then I will trust his judgement--and yours--in not telling me more."

Elena considered her words carefully. He'd certainly given her a way out, bless him! O Sensei would have insisted on knowing all the details. "I must leave Tokyo, sir. O Sensei was right. I'll never be an Aikidoka."

Ueshiba seemed puzzled. "Is that what he said?"

"He said I did not have the soul of an Aikidoka."

The old man smiled. "None of us can ever hope to achieve O Sensei's perfection. Perhaps you will never be ninth [dan,] but how many truly achieve that? Some goals are beyond us even after *years* of practice. But I humbly submit that you are an Aikidoka; that you were when you left Japan twenty-five years ago; and that you always will be."

Elena felt tears sting her eyes. He was being generous, but he didn't really know what she was like or what she did. "No, Sensei. There are things about me...." she drifted off.

"We all have our secrets, Du-ran. I have one that I would like to share with you. May I?"

She was overwhelmed, speechless. She could only nod.

"When you were here ... before ... I resented you greatly because my grandfather treated you as someone special. I couldn't understand why. And yet, because I never hurt you physically, I always believed I never caused you any harm. But I did, didn't I? I caused you great harm."

She sighed. "Yes, you did, sir," she whispered.

"This is my secret dishonor. And for having done this, I humbly beg your forgiveness." He bowed deeply.

"Sir, you earned my forgiveness the day you offered me the protection of the dojo, the day the [bushi] came for me."

Sensei smiled. "I remember it as though it were yesterday," he said.

Elena smiled in turn. Every teacher she had ever met had his/her own style, and Ueshiba Nubuyuki Sensei often used humor to make a point. She was going to miss him.

But now she had to reach a decision. She decided to tell him the truth, if only so he'd be able to protect Miyu. There was no other choice. And the next logical step was to convince Hosokawa to become the child's mentor in the long run--assuming he could be trusted. That would be the ideal situation. She'd go see the samurai in the morning, maybe ... but all this was for later.

Now she took a deep breath and began.

Translations:

kimono (Jap.) - traditional robe like dress worn by men/women alike

sake (Jap.) - strong, clear alcoholic drink

caballero (Span.) - gentleman, knight

bo (Jap.) - bamboo stick used in sparring for safety

shinto (Jap.) - 'new' swords made between 1530-1867

Dios mio (Span.) - my God

Nine

Paris, July 18, 1996

The Immortal glided quietly, a darker shadow in a street of shadows. If Dawson's information was correct, his objective was nearby, in a tiny house off the Square d'Urfe. It wasn't a great neighborhood--in fact, at dusk the beautiful Paris park known as the Bois de Boulogne, which was just across the street, became a popular rendezvous for prostitutes. It was also an excellent, out-of-the-way place for a swordfight. In any case, he'd know when he was close--and so would his opponent.

Dawson hadn't particularly wanted to tell him where to find Johanssen. "Who exactly are you looking for?" he'd asked.

"I just want to know who's in Paris."

In the end, Dawson told him about Bjorn Johanssen, and here he was, hunting for the Norwegian, all senses alert.

Two dark figures approached him. ["Vive la France!"] one of them yelled drunkenly, waving something in the darkness. Duncan smiled. Probably still celebrating Bastille Day! ... then his smile got wider. He had just sensed an Immortal.

After the two Frenchmen passed him, the buzz got stronger, and within minutes Duncan could see another figure. He had never met Johanssen, but knew Connor had been after him for decades, and therefore knew all about this particular Immortal's...excesses. Not only was this exactly the *kill* Duncan was looking for--he'd even be saving Connor some trouble, although he doubted that his kinsman would appreciate Duncan's efforts on his behalf.

He heard a whisper in accented English. "Highlander! Is that you?"

"I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod!" he announced, stepping forward.

His opponent came closer. "*Duncan* MacLeod, is it? I am Bjorn Johanssen, of the Bear Clan. And here I was, expecting Connor MacLeod." Johanssen smiled, showing even white teeth. He was taller than Duncan, and broader, looking very much like his Viking ancestors. And, according to his file, just as brutal as they had been. "Did the great Connor MacLeod lose hope of defeating me? I never thought he'd turn out be a coward! Tell me, did he send you in his place?"

Duncan pulled out his katana. "Didn't Connor ever tell you you talk too much?"

"Frequently! But then, he doesn't talk very much, does he? He was supposed to meet me at midnight on the twenty-first at the Bois. Oh, no," he cried out, mockingly, "he didn't lose his head, did he? That would be such a great tragedy!"

So, Connor would be here in three days--a very interesting piece of information! But Duncan was beginning to get irritated. Johanssen hadn't even reached for a weapon yet! "I'm here, Johanssen. Shall we?"

"Very well. I can still take MacLeod's head in three days. And the news of his clansman's death may even affect his swordsmanship!"

"I wouldn't bet my life on it. But then again, you won't get a chance to find out, will you!" Now Duncan was starting to get impatient. He briefly wondered if this was part of Johanssen's strategy, to frustrate his enemies.

"The woods are more--" the blond man looked around, "--secluded. Shall we cross over?"

Duncan bowed with a flourish, putting his sword at rest, and they crossed the nearly deserted avenue. It was nearly midnight now, and the moon lit up the trees, casting tall, ghostly shadows. The wind whistled faintly. It reminded Duncan of....

Glenfinnen, Scotland, 1995

Kanwulf picks up the ax, admiring it with a sigh of satisfaction. He springs forward, attacking Duncan with both weapons....

Paris, July 18, 1996

Johanssen suddenly pulled a longsword out of nowhere and attacked Duncan. They'd been walking side by side, and Duncan knew enough not to trust the Norwegian, so he was ready to block with his katana. Nevertheless, he felt the blow all the way up to his shoulder. The man was strong, no doubt about it, and also fast. This would not be easy, but it would be satisfying.

They weren't too far from the edge of the trees, and Duncan hoped none of the park's *denizens* would hear the very loud clanging of steel. Then again, these particular individuals were unlikely to report anything to the police, and the French were very blase anyway ... Duncan paid the price for his slight lapse in concentration when his opponent slashed him across the upper arm.

"That's one!" grunted Johanssen. "This is going to be easy!"

"You won't need to count any higher, Johanssen!" Taking the blade in his left hand, Duncan windmilled it in front of him, pushing his opponent back and away from the slashing blade, waiting briefly for the painful gash in his right arm to heal.

But the Norwegian was unlucky or simply overconfident. He misstepped and twisted his foot, losing his balance and falling back heavily among some roots. Even then, he would have risen quickly, but Duncan was right on top of him, stepping on Johanssen's sword arm and plunging his katana into the other man's chest in the space of a breath.

Johanssen groaned, arching his back. Duncan pulled out his sword, then swept down and cut off his opponent's head, saying, "There can be only one!" It was all over, except for the light show; and what else?

The dead Immortal's *soul* invaded his, momentarily overwhelming him. He could feel Koltec, and the others, Kalas, Kern, Kuyler, so many, so evil, so strong!! It was overpowering, too much, too many minds inside his, fighting his--he couldn't handle it! He screamed in pain and fear. Then he yelled out, "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod!" and suddenly he was in that soothing pool again, bathed in light. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," he repeated, whispering, but the fight within was all over. It had actually only lasted a few seconds, but the quickening went on and on.

Finally, bathed in sweat and totally spent, he leaned against a tree, whispering a prayer of thanks. He was Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, and no one would control him again!

Tokyo, July 17, 1996, 5 p.m.

This time when Elena came inside Hosokawa's house, she placed her katana on the [tachi] by the door. He raised his eyebrows questioningly, but she was confident he wouldn't take her head; in any case, she needed to show him she trusted him before she asked him to take responsibility for Miyu.

"I truly did not expect to see you again so soon, Du-ran-san. I trust you're not coming to fight me again?"

He had such an innocent tone Elena couldn't help smiling. "No, I think being disemboweled once is enough for me, thank you." She fingered the new scar on her neck, covering the one Duncan had left.

"If you recall, I did not want to fight you--"

"Please, Hosokawa-san. I've come to talk about another matter, not about me."

"Regrettable. I enjoy talking about you."

She ignored the comment. "It's the child, Miyu. She still needs protection. If you're willing, you're the best person for the job."

He waved her to a seat, and they were served strong green tea. Elena didn't quite know how to convince him, so she opted for silence.

"I'm surprised that you trust me now," he began.

"I trust your word. I trust that you'll do what you say you'll do."

He nodded, then asked, "Does she know what she is?"

"No, but Ueshiba Sensei does."

He leaned forward, accusingly. "You had no right--!" he began.

"I didn't tell him about you, although I'm sure he put it together. I trust him. He won't be telling this secret, believe me. And what else could I do--kidnap her? I know her mother, her brothers...you can help her, Hosokawa-san!" She also leaned toward him, trying to judge what his true reaction was, hoping to convince him but only if he really was no threat to the girl.

"I have considered this situation. The child could be trained ... But I'd have to have complete charge of her."

"She's ten years old! She needs to survive first--then you can train her. She's just a little girl. She needs to stay with her family."

"You are staying with her family."

"But this is not my home, Hosokawa-san. And it's best that she be brought up Japanese, don't you agree?" She was appealing to his national pride and his natural distrust of [gaijin.]

"You are thinking of leaving Japan?" he asked, a new coldness in his tone.

This conversation was taking a turn she didn't want. If she told him she was leaving...she stood, and he rose with her. "Look, if you won't help her, at least give me your word that you won't harm her while she's helpless."

"You have my word."

She breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Good. Then the matter is settled. Good bye."

He came around the table, holding his hand out to her. "But everything is not settled between us. Please sit. We have much to discuss."

Elena had felt a certain degree of...discomfort in his presence, and she was too honest with herself not to admit what it was--he was very attractive. "There can be nothing between us, Hosokawa-san." Even as she said it, he was close, standing so close to her; she could feel the heat rising from him, it was palpable. It had been so long ....

"Why? Do you find me unacceptable? Is it because I'm Japanese?"

That thought was obviously so inconceivable to him, Elena couldn't help laughing. "Not at all. I've had lovers of every...persuasion. I just...." Elena wasn't used to being shy around a man--to being shy, period--and she certainly had enough experience turning them down! But this man was different, special.

She thought about Duncan MacLeod. But it was different with Immortals. They couldn't stay *faithful* to one another for all time. It was unreasonable, at least to her, in her present frame of mind. This strong, proud man standing in front of her, holding his hand out to her--this was a man she could admire, she could trust. Then she remembered how he had gutted her and she drew back, ever so slightly.

He put his arm down immediately. He seemed to react to her every thought.

"Yesterday, when we fought, I--" she began. "I knew you were in pain. That's why I *killed* you as quickly as possible. But I didn't take your head, Ele-chan, I could never take your head!" He was breathing in her face. "You have ... a power over me. I admit it. And it's more than just lust. Believe me--I know the difference!"

"So do I. So are you going to tell me that you love me, is that it?"

"No, I'm not talking about this *love at first sight.* That happens only in books. But I care a great deal about you! And it can become love; my feelings can grow, are growing even as we speak." He was urgent, his eyes glowing. "And so can yours, given time."

"I don't have the time."

"Nonsense. We have nothing but time, you and I."

Elena shook her head and went toward the door, but Hosokawa continued, "Stay in Japan. Stay with me. We can work together for the Ueshiba child's benefit. And for our benefit as well. We belong together, and I know you feel something, too."

Stay with me. That's what Duncan had said to her when she left him. Or what he had wanted to say and didn't. What she'd wanted him to say. And Hosokawa was saying it. She picked up her sword and put it in her sash. As she turned to him, she heard a voice scream inside her head: "Now! Kill him now! He's helpless--take his head now!" It was Trent; would she never get rid of him!? Damn him to eternal damnation! She took a deep breath. "I do feel something for you, Hiroshi, and I'll give you an answer tomorrow, at dinner."

He cupped her face in his hands, briefly. His hands were warm as he caressed her. She closed her eyes and took another deep breath, almost shuddering. His nearness was intoxicating. How could he be such a cold, single-minded killing machine; and now, this gentleness! "I'll be waiting," he whispered.

next morning

Elena sensed a strong Immortal presence as she approached Sensei's office. She knew who it had to be. As she came through the door and bowed to Sensei, Hosokawa rose gracefully and did the same to her. Generally she admired those who went after what they wanted, but now the samurai was pushing too hard. Elena Duran did not like to be pushed. She walked up to him aggressively. "We were supposed to meet tonight!"

"And I am looking forward to it," he smiled. "But I felt my discussion with Ueshiba Sensei couldn't wait. It's about his great granddaughter, and only indirectly affects you."

"Please sit, Du-ran," said Ueshiba. "This gentleman--this warrior--has made a most interesting offer."

Elena hadn't had breakfast, hadn't even warmed up this morning yet, and here he was already. She felt she couldn't get away from him. She felt... grumpy. They sat drinking tea silently until they were alone again. But no matter what her mood, she had to be fair. And Hiroshi did look splendid in his very formal kimono. "You can trust whatever he said, Sensei. He is a true samurai, and therefore a man of honor." She wondered what his 'interesting offer' was.

"Hosokawa Hiroshi has described his ... credentials. Tokugawa.* Musashi.*" Sensei said the two names in an almost awed tone. He was judging the man before him by the quality of his [shogun] and of his teacher. Sensei also seemed pleased, perhaps because Elena had vouched for the samurai? But she knew her Aikido master hadn't committed to anything--he was consulting her.

"I thought about what you said, Du-ran-san," Hosokawa put in. She noted that he had dropped the familiar [Ele-chan] in Sensei's presence. "Although I'm sure you can be a good friend to the child, she should be raised and trained properly, by Japanese, as you yourself suggested."

"That's right." Maybe he was going to solve her problem, or Miyu's problem. Maybe things would work out after all.

"Hosokawa-san has offered to watch over Miyu, to be her protector specifically against other ... Immortals," Sensei said. She could see he still had difficulty embracing the concept but was going with it. "Of course, she will be an Aikidoka. She's already training with the other children. When the time comes, she will start her [kendo] training as well. These are decisions she can make herself when she is older, but Hosokawa-san feels she would do well to train in the [Niten-Iehi ryu.]" He stopped, obviously waiting for her input.

"I can vouch for the efficiency of a fighter who is well trained in the two-sword method, sir," she smiled, touching her neck. The wound had not been deep, and had already healed, but had scarred slightly. She sighed. She had been fighting Immortals for almost four hundred years, but in the last two years she'd had a blade at her neck, cutting her, *four* times. Maybe she was just getting slow; or stale. "But as you say, that's in the future. For now, the important thing is to keep her alive. With the full protection of the dojo as well as the samurai, I'm finally hopeful she can survive. I can't tell you how happy that makes me!" she added forcefully.

Translations:

Vive la France (Fr.) - hurray for France

chan (Jap.) - qualifying suffix applied to someone close, a child or lover

Tokugawa - Japanese shogun (warlord), 17th century

Musashi, Miyamoto - 17th century Japanese warrior, the most famous of the Japanese samurai

kendo - the way of the sword

Ten

There was a small noise behind them. The door opened and Miyu slowly walked in. Elena hadn't sensed her, and she could see that Hosokawa was surprised as well.

Miyu showed none of her usual enthusiasm. Elena had spent a lot of time with her since the shooting, and hated to see her spirits dampened like this, but felt it was only temporary, caused by the pain and fear the child had experienced. Miyu glanced at Elena briefly, giving her a quick, small smile, then went to her great grandfather. All the proper introductions were made. Elena could see the child was aware of the importance of the occasion, and intuitively knew she was the center of attention. Her intelligent eyes appraised the samurai. Elena felt a small surge of pride.

But it was Hosokawa Hiroshi's reaction that impressed Elena the most. He smiled charmingly, putting the child at ease immediately, earning a smile in return. His Japanese reserve melted; Elena had the impression of a steel rod bending. Whatever his preconceived notions, he was obviously delighted with the little girl. Elena knew that many Immortals had a soft spot for children, perhaps because they could have none of their own. Miyu certainly filled a gap in her heart, and Elena knew what those feelings were like....

Outside Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 1994

"But what if an Immortal comes after you and my child--our child--gets in the way?" Maria puts her hands on her swollen abdomen in the instinctively protective way of pregnant women.

Elena smiles indulgently. Although the child isn't hers, she feels over-protective too. She likes this feeling of almost being a mother. She remembers another child, a baby ... and of course there is a danger. But with an Immortal, there is always a danger. "Maria, Immortals don't kill children. They kill other Immortals. And if one of them takes my head," she shrugs. "We've discussed this before. Life goes on."

"But what if the child gets in the way?" Maria insists.

"I will count on you to keep her out of the way. And we'll teach her, from the beginning." Elena studies her young friend. Maybe I'm being selfish, putting them in danger, she considers, not for the first time. "If you would feel safer away from me, Maria, maybe...."

Maria smiles. "No, Elena, I know you would protect us both. It's just ... the way I feel about this baby; it's hard to explain. It's a passion, a grand passion. I would die for him, kill for him, do anything! Maybe you just can't understand."

Maria has touched a sore spot, but Elena hides it well. "I think you're right, [querida.] I can't understand."

But not well enough. Maria realizes her blunder. "[Lo siento mucho,] Elenita, I didn't mean--"

"It's alright. We'll be alright, the three of us. I promise you." And she hopes this time she can keep her promise.

Tokyo, July 18, 7:30 a.m.

But she didn't. She couldn't keep her promise to Maria--

"Can I trust this man with my great granddaughter's life?" Sensei interrupted her thoughts bluntly, as soon as Hosokawa left.

"Yes, [sensei,] I would trust him. He really seems to like Miyu. And if he meant to hurt her, he wouldn't have come to you first."

"I believe he likes you quite a bit."

"Yes, sir, he does."

"Is he offering to help Miyu just to please you, Du-ran?"

"That is the question, isn't it? When I leave Tokyo he won't be happy."

"He doesn't know you're planning to go?" the old man asked, dubiously.

"No, [sensei.]"

Sensei took a deep breath, considering. "If he is angry towards you, he could hurt the child."

Elena shook her head. "He's made a commitment, [sensei.] He won't hurt her."

"Let's be sure. Tell him anyway. He is nothing if not dangerous."

Elena knew an order when she heard it, and Sensei was right. Maybe this wasn't going to be so easy after all. Less than an hour later, Elena walked into Hosokawa's already familiar house.

"You're just in time for breakfast!" he laughed. "You must like my chef's cooking."

"Actually, I'm getting tired of coming here," she answered. She placed her katana on the stand and sat on the [tatami.]

"But I notice you keep coming back!" He was obviously pleased.

"And you think it's just for you, don't you?" she kidded him back. It is for you, dammit! she thought to herself.

"Of course." He paused, then began, "[Ele-chan]--"

"Listen, Hiroshi. I came to tell you I'm leaving Japan."

"Why?" he asked, obviously upset.

"I've already told you. I don't belong here. My home is elsewhere. I'm not Japanese and I never will be." Getting any more involved with this man could be a mistake, could be dangerous ... she was convinced of it. Wasn't she?

"You're wrong. You are [bushi.] We belong together, you and I."

"Hiroshi, please. I need to know--why did you offer to help Miyu? Did you do it for me?"

"I have committed myself to this very delightful child. Does it really matter why?"

"It matters to me."

"No, [Ele-chan]. As much as I care about you, this is not just for you." He seemed to gather his thoughts. "The samurai tradition received a fatal blow with the Satsuma Rebellion. I was shot to death at that time. For a while, I thought my heart and soul would die as well. Today, a handful of scholars, some writers, a few Immortals ... we are the only ones keeping [bushido,] the 'way of the warrior,' alive. Justice; honesty; courage; contempt for death; sympathy; politeness; sincerity; duty; respect for one's word of honor; loyalty to one's superiors and to one's clan; perfect control of mind and body. The best way to keep these ideals alive is to have new Japanese students become new [bushi,] and if possible, new samurai. A lot of these modern 'Westernized' Japanese children fill me with despair." He took deep, excited breaths, his dark eyes glowing with almost religious fervor.

He stood and paced. Elena stood with him. "Ueshiba Miyu is female, but our choices are limited. She has the lineage. She can be a samurai if properly trained. I have learned new respect for women as warriors from you, Du-ran Elena." He was speaking quickly, urgently. He took a deep breath. "We must not allow [bushido] to disappear forever!"

Elena was stunned. It was the most sincere, heartfelt speech she'd ever heard. She wanted to stand up and cheer. She'd gotten a glimpse into Hosokawa Hiroshi's soul, and actually felt honored to know him.

She felt a floodgate of emotion open up inside her. His way of life, all but destroyed, and his stubborn resistance, his passionate fight to keep [bushido] alive, reminded her so much of the futile struggle she and her mother's people had waged against the Spanish for so many years! And in the end, the proud, fierce Mapuche Indians had *just* managed to survive; nothing more.

All her doubts melted away. Since the seventeenth century, only a handful of individuals had ever stirred her like this. And only one other man had ever aroused her like this, with the nobility of his character. Whatever the consequences, whatever happened in the future--today, right now, she wanted to love this man.

Elena reached out a hand to him, and he took it. It was warm. He looked into her eyes and seemed to be on her wavelength as usual. They were silent as he led her into his bedroom.

She didn't notice their surroundings. Her heart was beating wildly. She actually felt a little shy. "Undress me," he said. He turned around, confident that she would follow his whispered order, and she undid the knot at his back. His belt fell to the ground. She pulled his [kataginu] and his kimono off his shoulders, letting them also slip to the ground. He faced her again. There was a large scar, obviously made by a sword, on his right shoulder--otherwise his skin was smooth, his chest hairless, his stomach flat and hard. She was reminded of shirtless photographs of Bruce Lee. She crouched to pull down his [hakama] and finally his briefs underneath. As she stood, she ran her hands up along his muscular thighs. There was another scar on his right thigh. She could clearly see how ready he was. Her breath caught. She had never seen a more perfect male body.

Elena smiled at him. "Undress me," she whispered.

Hosokawa's eyebrows went up in surprise. He paused; then he reached for her belt. As he removed her training uniform, piece by piece, she felt her body temperature rising. She stood still until he had her completely naked. His fingertips brushed her left nipple. She closed her eyes, making a purring sound in her throat.

He led her to his futon and lay beside her. When she reached for him, he said, "No. Be still." Lying quietly, shuddering while he touched her, she learned what he really meant by 'perfect control of the mind and body.' But when he finally mounted her their control completely broke. There was an animal *ferocity,* that was the only word she could think of, and when they were done they were both bruised, scratched and totally spent. So they started again.

Paris, July 21, 1996, 11:30 p.m.

Duncan was not going to try to *surprise* Connor at the Bois de Boulogne--he was going to be very visible. Connor MacLeod did not like surprises, not even by his kinsman.

Although by now Duncan had regained his self confidence, he stayed in Paris to get a chance to talk to Connor. He needed to explain to Connor what he had done, and he needed Connor, his teacher, his mentor, the man who had taught him how to be an Immortal, to forgive him. Maybe then he'd be able to ask Richie to forgive him. And maybe then, maybe he'd be able to forgive himself.

He had spent the last three days working on the barge--he decided it was worth salvaging after all--and Amanda had been surprisingly helpful. She'd also been very pleased by his change in attitude.

"Now that's the MacLeod I know and love!" she exclaimed, throwing herself into his arms. They made love on the barge, on the new couch, he with a new enthusiasm that made Amanda cry out with pleasure.

Now, as he leaned against a tree in the same area where he had taken Johanssen's head, he had an even stronger recollection:

Glenfinnen, Scotland, 1995

He stands in the clearing, waiting for the first Immortal he had ever met, the man who is his enemy and his father's enemy and his clan's enemy. He is ready this time, not just an angry and lucky young man but a seasoned warrior, about to put an end once and for all to the Highlanders' blood feud against this murderous Viking. He glances at Odin's ax--it sure doesn't look magic, or godlike--but he's seen many strange things in his four hundred years. Then he looks at the MacLeod claymore, the sword that would have been his, if only ... but that was a long time ago, and he's content with what he's become.

He senses an Immortal, then turns and sees a tall hooded figure coming through the trees. Duncan MacLeod smiles.

Paris, July 21, 1996, 11:45 p.m.

Duncan sensed an Immortal, then turned to see a trench-coated figure coming through the trees. He smiled.

"Duncan! What a surprise!" Connor rushed over as if to embrace him, but quickly drew back and looked around. "Unfortunately, this is not the time or place."

"It's alright." It was so good to see Connor! "Bjorn Johanssen sends his regrets."

"Damn!" Duncan was right; Connor wasn't pleased. "Just when I'd finally got him to meet me! How did you find the slippery bastard?"

Duncan smiled. "We have ways--"

"Alright, alright! As long as he's dead! Damn, it's good to see you, Duncan! Let's get out of these woods before we're propositioned--that is, of course, unless you've finally parted company with that Argentine hellion!"

"Elena's in Tokyo right now. Studying Aikido."

Connor paused, almost in shock, then barked with laughter. "That is absolutely the wrong thing for her!"

"I agree. But some people can only learn by doing it themselves."

"Unlike you or me, of course, who always take advice so well!" He laughed again, putting his arm around his clansman's shoulders. It was a gesture so familiar it almost brought tears to Duncan's eyes.

Connor sensed something right away. He drew back slightly, peering at Duncan in the darkness. "Something's happened."

"Yeah." Duncan's voice felt thick, as though he had an obstruction in his throat.

"Why don't we get back to that barge of yours, and you can tell me all about it," Connor said softly.

Translations: (all Japanese)

querida (Span.) - beloved

lo siento mucho (Span.) - I'm very sorry

bushido - Japanese warrior cult; the 'way of the warrior'

Mapuche (Ind.) - Argentine/Chilean native tribe who fought the Spanish conquistadores from the 1540's until the 19th century, when they were finally defeated, but not wiped out

kataginu - formal dress jacket with large sleeves

hakama - wide trousers with the belt knotted at the back used as part of the training uniform in some dojos

Eleven

Seacouver, July 20, 1996, 7 p.m.

The taxi dropped her off in front of the dojo. Her suitcases were heavy and she was exhausted, but her heart danced. In a few minutes, just a very few minutes, she'd see Duncan MacLeod again. She could hardly contain her excitement!

Elena had sensed an Immortal even before entering the building. He was upstairs! A quick glance took in the dojo. In the center, on the mat, were two women, a well-shaped blonde instructor and a skinny student. Six other women watched them. Then Elena heard a long, low wolf whistle from the man at the punching bag. He was quite winded, and she wondered where he found the air to whistle. But she guessed lust could work miracles....

As she looked at him, he started towards her, saying, "Hey, honey, if you're looking for a real workout, I'm your man!"

Elena was amused. Men had been hitting on her for centuries, and they hadn't always been so nice about it. At least he wasn't physically attacking her. But before she could answer, the blonde instructor was in his way. "Leave her alone."

He was a head taller than her, but he stopped to look down at her. Elena was surprised and gratified. She was so used to fighting her own battles, and now to have this small woman come to her defense! "It's alright," Elena said. "I'm sure he's just being friendly."

"Course!" he said loudly. "I'm a very friendly guy! But please, girls, don't fight over me. Which one shall it be?"

He seemed so innofensive and good humored, several in the dojo laughed, including some of the women. Elena smiled, shaking her head, stepping forward. Then she noticed how seriously the other woman was taking it. She was actually getting set. Elena put a warning hand on the blonde's arm, then addressed him. "We're not in the mood, ok?"

"You sure?" he insisted. "I got enough love in me for the both of you." This statement was greeted by a catcall and some laughter, but one guy said, "Hey, c'mon, Mitch, cool it," and others said, "Don't be such an asshole, Mitch;" and "That's enough, boy."

"I'm sure." Elena knew his type; he was all talk, and no real danger. But the other woman had not reached the same conclusion. "Just back off, you jerk," she said firmly.

Elena was almost sure she was going to attack! "It's alright," she said.

The man looked from one to the other, shrugged, and said to Elena, "Later," then went back to his bag, leaving the blonde glaring at him.

"My name is Elena Duran, and he really didn't mean any harm," she insisted. She held out her hand, and the woman unbent enough to shake it, smiling ruefully.

"My name is Teri Jones, and they all mean harm." There was a slightly bitter edge. This woman had been hurt, maybe recently, thought Elena. Perhaps that's what the self-defense class she was teaching was all about.

Elena whispered, "Not all of them."

"Yeah, you're right," Teri sighed.

At the same time Elena sensed the buzz getting closer. Duncan! She smiled inside and out, although she wished she didn't look like she'd just been on airplanes for the last twenty hours. She looked up the spiral stairs to see--Richie Ryan!

She could barely hide her disappointment, but it quickly turned to something worse. Richie was barefoot and wet, obviously just come out of a shower, wearing only jeans. But although she noticed these details, the main thing she noticed was the rapier he held. He wasn't making the slightest effort to conceal it, and here they were, in the dojo, late afternoon, in front of a bunch of people, and he was coming at her with a naked blade in his hand!

When he was three steps from the bottom he leaped down nimbly, getting set. His sword was still at his side, but she almost expected him to say 'en garde!' "Elena Duran!" he stated firmly. "What a surprise." He had an odd look. He didn't smile. He seemed ... angry!?

"Hello, Richie." Let's get right to it, she thought. "You were expecting someone. Anybody I know?"

"Yeah. Tall guy. Black hair, ponytail. Tendency to violence." He stepped toward her agressively, almost arrogantly. Out of the corner of her eye Elena noticed Teri's worried reaction--she obviously cared about him. The look Teri was giving her now was decidedly less friendly. And he, interestingly, had placed himself between the two women.

Elena put her suitcases down. Her exhaustion temporarily left her with the adrenaline rush. Something very bad had happened, and her imagination began to run away with her. [Calmate, Elena,] she said to herself. "Where is he, Richie?"

"Last I heard he was in Paris. But that was a few months ago. Since then, I don't know."

And I don't care, he seemed to imply, except Elena knew just how much he did care. Unfortunately, she was such a bad traveler, she hadn't gotten any rest on the flights, and her leave-taking, especially with Miyu, had been hard. She tried to concentrate on what was going on now. "Look, Richie, I've been on a plane for so long I can't even see straight. But obviously we need to talk. So why don't we plan on dinner, my treat. Just give me a chance to go up to the loft and get a shower, ok? I feel like death. Give me a half hour?"

"And just who is invited to this dinner?" he asked, a trace of sarcasm in his voice. "Just the two of us; or maybe Trent is coming along?"

Trent! [?Que diablos?] What was this all about? "Trent is always with me. You know that, Richie. He's just not in control anymore." Her voice trembled slightly.

"Right. I forgot." The sarcasm was stronger now.

"Richie ... how about we go upstairs and talk, right now?"

He seemed to think it over. She couldn't let him go, not like this! Finally he said, "Sure." Teri started to protest, but he put his arm around her and murmured "I'll be fine. Don't worry."

Elena wearily walked across the dojo and they went up in the elevator. He still had his sword in his hand. "[!Madre de Dios!]" she whispered, leaning against the elevator wall. She was stunned and terribly worried. Having Richie, sword in hand, waiting for Duncan was as bad as it could get. The young Immortal could never have driven Duncan away; it had to be Duncan who had left, but why? Could he have tried to take Richie's head? That was the most plausible explanation! Was it possible? [!Calmate, Elena!] she said to herself again. All she had to do was wait to talk to Richie. At least both men still had their heads. Hopefully.

As soon as they reached the loft Elena asked, "What happened, Richie?" dumping her suitcases, taking off her cloak, placing her sword carefully on the kitchen counter.

"What happened is that MacLeod came after me." He said this matter of factly, as if he were telling her it rained yesterday.

Elena stared at him. She didn't know what to say. The big question was why, but first: if this was true, why was Richie still alive? Had Duncan relented? Had he let Richie go? It didn't make sense, any of it!

He answered her unspoken question. "The only reason he didn't take my head is that Dawson shot him four or five times." The bitterness dripped off him like acid.

Elena reached across to take Richie's hand, his hand that was closed into a fist, but he pulled away, then walked over and put his sword on the chess table. [!Gracias a Dios!] thought Elena. The rapier was making her nervous, making it even harder for her to concentrate. At least he no longer felt *she* was a threat to him. "WHY, Richie?"

"Well, at least you believe me!" He seemed somewhat surprised. "Of course I believe you. But why would he do such a thing?"

"Hell, you'd know all about it! He took a dark quickening. One too many, I guess. He just ... became what he hated the most."

"[!Dios mio!]" It never occurred to her to doubt him. "You mean he was affected--controlled--like Trent did to me?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"Richie!" She went to him, eager to convince him. "If it was a dark quickening, then you know Duncan was not himself! He had no choice!"

"See, I knew you'd defend him!"

"No, I wouldn't! There is no excuse ... if *Duncan* had done this. But Duncan didn't attack you, Richie."

"It was him alright, and he wasn't even trying to fight it!"

"He couldn't fight it anymore than I could fight Trent after I took his quickening!"

He didn't hear her. Staring into space, he remembered. "You know, he didn't even *want* to kill me. He didn't give a damn! He was going to do it...because I was there. No other reason. Because he could!"

She could see unshed tears in Richie's eyes now. My God, how long ago had this happened? Did he say months? And hadn't Richie been able to talk to anyone about this? And what had happened to Duncan? Elena licked her lips nervously. She was so tired she found it hard to think. "You...you said you talked to Duncan?"

"He said he was sorry. He called me on the phone and said he was sorry. That's it. The son of a bitch couldn't even talk to me, couldn't even meet me face to face. He said," he repeated, through clenched teeth, "he was sorry."

Elena began to understand that Richie was most upset about the aftermath of the attack; it was not what Duncan had done, but what he *hadn't* done. Why? "But...is he still under the influence of this dark quickening? If he called you--"

"No! I don't think so! I don't know! Dawson said he was back to normal, back to his old self!" Richie paced up and down. "After all, he did say he was sorry!"

That last comment, still full of sarcasm; his voice broke, and Elena felt he was on the edge of tears. Maybe crying was what he needed. She tried to take his hands in hers; he pulled away again.

"Richie, this betrayal by a man you trusted as a brother, as a father...and then not to have him even acknowledge it! It's never happened to me. I can only imagine how you must feel, how I would feel." She paused, framing her thoughts. "I can tell you how *he* must feel, the guilt, the pain ... Richie, he can't be back to his old self. If he were, he'd be here with you! Duncan MacLeod loves you; you know that!"

Richie wouldn't look at her. "Dawson said...he was back to normal. He's in Paris with Amanda. He hasn't killed anyone else since--"

"He's killed someone!?" And if Amanda's with him, she could be in danger too. [!Madre de Dios!] How bad did this get? But for now, she had to concentrate on Richie. "We have to assume he's not Duncan MacLeod! Not yet. It's the only explanation. That's why he hasn't come to see you. Maybe he needs more time. It took me a long time to overcome Trent's influence. I'll call Duncan tonight, just so I don't miss him again. I'll fly to Paris tomorrow."

Richie looked at her, a hard expression on his face. "He'll kill you, Duran!"

Elena thought about Duncan MacLeod on a rampage. It was a terrifying thought. "Is this why you didn't contact me when it first happened? You were afraid he'd kill me?" She was touched.

"You should have seen him. He would have. With a smile."

Elena couldn't imagine it. Not Duncan. But it was Duncan. And if he had attacked Richie, of all people!--what the hell kind of quickening had turned *him,* one of the strongest person she'd ever met in several lifetimes of meeting strong people, into such a monster?! "I'll fly out to Paris tomorrow. I'll bring him back, if I can. It'll work out, Richie; one way or another."

"He won't care, Duran." Richie took a deep breath. "He just doesn't give a damn." Worse than being betrayed, than not being loved, even than being hated, was having him not care.

"Let me try. I know how he feels, what he's gone through. Maybe I can reach him."

Richie closed his eyes, breathing heavily. He was making a great effort, but she wasn't sure what it was about. Elena wanted to remind him of what he owed Duncan MacLeod, but it didn't seem like the right time. Later. "Maybe you can," he finally said. "I won't even go near him."

It seemed so final. She could see the iron control he was imposing on himself. If he would only let it go! But he was so badly hurt. She remembered how badly she'd hurt Duncan when she attacked him. Damn it! "Richie, even if Duncan comes ... you have to find it in your heart to forgive him."

"Yeah. Well, goodnight, and thanks, Duran. I guess I needed to talk to somebody. I could always talk to Mac..." he drifted off. His moment of 'weakness' was gone; the hard edge was back. "I guess I'll let you get that shower and that dinner."

"Richie, please--"

"I gotta go, Duran."

"Alright," she nodded. "Goodnight, Richie. We'll talk again tomorrow. It'll all work out somehow; I know it."

"I don't know. We'll see. I owe him my life, more than once. I guess ... I'll try to talk to him; *if* he'll talk to me." He'd started to move away; suddenly he came back and hugged her unexpectedly, moving her deeply. Then he picked up his rapier and left.

Elena sank into the sofa, exhausted body and soul. Considering she usually started fights, she had at least this time begun to mend fences. And Richie had acknowledged his debt to his mentor; that was something. The door was closed, but not locked. Now it was all up to Duncan MacLeod. She had to get to her suitcase and look for his Paris number, but first she just needed to sit back for a moment ... and promptly fell asleep.

A Concorde over the Atlantic, July 22, 1996

Connor looked after the very attractive retreating rear end of a flight attendant, and Duncan was amused.

"The world could be falling down around you, but some things never change, do they, Connor?" "Hey, I may be old, but I'm not dead," he smiled back; then his mood abruptly changed. "What are you going to tell the boy?"

Duncan's face darkened. "I honestly don't know."

"Well, you'd better think of something. And it'd better be good."

"I just don't know if he can forgive me, if he can ever trust me again."

There was a pause, then Connor turned to him. "Would you be able to forgive me? Would you be able to trust me again?"

Duncan considered it; it was beyond imagination that Connor would fight him, and yet... 'There can be only one!' "Yes, he finally answered.

"Then give Richie some credit. He can't forgive you if you won't let him."

He was right, of course. It would take a great effort on both sides. "Connor, I can't tell you how glad I am you've come."

"Moral support. Besides, I haven't been out of New York in a while. Plus, I owe you for disposing of that Norwegian haggis for me."

Duncan shook his head, smiling. "You don't owe me anything."

Connor gave him an odd look. "You'd be surprised." With that, he put on the headphones, effectively ending the conversation.

Translations: (all Spanish)

calmate - calm yourself

que diablos - what the devil

Twelve

Seacouver, July 22, 1996, 9 a.m., next morning

Elena was awakened by light, it was too light! She realized she'd fallen asleep on the sofa, she hadn't called Duncan, she hadn't made arrangements to fly to Paris, and she was stiff and her mouth tasted terrible.

"[!Café!]" she muttered, but there was no coffee anywhere, so she shook out her muscles and went downstairs to work out, knowing it would make her feel better. Then she showered and tried calling Duncan, without success. Then she made her reservations.

In the meantime, she had to make a duty call, one she was actually looking forward to. She went to visit Anne in the new "old" house, the one Duncan had given her when her baby was born--and Mary was like all babies, round and soft and beautiful, smelling of freshness and new life, and bringing back such sweet memories of another little girl from so long ago!

///////

While Elena was at Anne's, loving the baby, Duncan and Connor stood at the bottom of the dojo steps, looking up at the building. There was an Immortal somewhere inside. Duncan knew Elena was due back at any time, although he hadn't heard from her directly. He'd love to see her, love to hold her, to let her warmth and her love soak into him.... But it could also be Richie, or another, even less friendly Immortal--although at this moment Duncan would rather have a swordfight, even a fatal one, for him, than talk to Richie Ryan.

Duncan took a deep breath that did nothing to quiet the flutter in his stomach, then both men walked inside. Connor stayed beside and a little behind Duncan, in the classic supportive position, although Duncan knew Connor would absolutely not interfere in his dealings with Richie. But Connor's presence was enough, and this was Duncan's battle.

No one in the dojo, so they went on upstairs. The creaking slowness of the elevator made drops of sweat stand out on Duncan's upper lip. He sent up an uncharacteristic, short plea, praying for the right words, the right actions to prove to Richie how much he loved him.

Duncan's dark glance swept the dojo briefly before settling on the young man standing in front of him. Not a young man anymore, Richie Ryan had visibly aged beyond what Duncan had expected. Richie's hair was shorter, his body leaner, his stance more solid, the planes of his face harsher. His right fist was closed. And his eyes--angry still, but without the vulnerability of the angry teenager he'd once been. This anger was colder, deeper, more mature--and deadlier.

"Hey, Richie," Duncan began, swallowing the lump in his throat.

"Mac," Richie answered, his look hostile, maybe even frightened, certainly wary. He glanced once at Connor, who nodded briefly.

"Connor," Richie said, and Duncan had an idea what Richie might be thinking, facing both Highlanders.

But to the other two men's relief, Connor answered, "Hello, Richie," then moved away from in front of the elevator, leaving Duncan standing alone. The elder MacLeod went to stand and gaze out the window, being very careful not to get *behind* Richie, not to threaten the young Immortal.

Richie followed Connor's movements carefully. Then, apparently satisfied, Richie turned his cold, blue-eyed stare back to Duncan.

Wanting to be clear, Duncan explained, "Connor hitched a ride back with me, from Paris. He's here for a visit. Nothing more."

"Is that right?" A hint of sarcasm from Richie.

Duncan wasn't surprised at Richie's total lack of trust. He'd just have to work with it. Using his most persuasive tone, he said, "Richie, we need to talk. Alone."

"Sure," Richie answered, the sarcasm heavier now. "Why don't we go downstairs, to the dojo. Nice and private--not to mention, a little bit of deja vu."

Although he expected this, Duncan winced slightly. The dojo was where Duncan had tried to behead Richie, and the young Immortal was not going to make this easy, nor should he, nor did Duncan deserve it. But he shook his head--self-flagellation was not going to help. He had a job to do, and to do it he had to keep Richie with him. "We could go for a walk," Duncan suggested. Being outside, in public, should give Richie some feeling of safety. "There are some things I need to say to you."

"You need? *You* need?! You know, as important as your needs are, Mac," Richie answered in the same sarcastic tone, "I don't think I'll go for a walk with you. It might be bad for my health." He was unmoving, unyielding. "Or yours," he added significantly.

Duncan took a deep breath, then reached inside his coat and pulled out his katana. Richie tensed up at once, and Duncan immediately crouched down and placed the weapon on the floor beside him. Then Duncan stood, took off his duster and carefully went to hang it up on the coat tree near the door. He turned back to Richie, ignoring Connor's look. "Ten minutes," he said, in an almost pleading voice.

Richie slowly looked from the blade to Duncan, and Duncan thought he discerned a little surprise. Richie had never known Duncan to go anywhere without his katana.

"Ten minutes, huh?"

"That's all I ask, Richie," Duncan whispered. Ten minutes was all he dared ask for. Duncan's attack on Richie had taken ten minutes; he had lost Richie's trust in ten minutes. Now, in the same amount of time, Duncan had to make some sort of beginning, to make a start at regaining it, at winning Richie over. Duncan had a lot to overcome--the absolutely worst kind of betrayal, for an Immortal. But he also had a lot to work with, a lot of love, a lot of memories. He just hoped they were enough.

They walked out of the alley, side by side, Duncan with his hands clasped behind him. He wasn't sure if Richie would give him ten minutes all told or ten minutes just of conversation, so he began almost at once, in a low, emotionless tone. "The first part of it was pride. Arrogance, really. Koltec had taken inside him more evil than he could handle, but he'd been doing it for so long, for so many centuries, that it overwhelmed him. I didn't have those Quickenings inside me and thought I was immune, or that I could do better. I couldn't," he said, flatly. "I was overwhelmed from the very moment I took Koltec's essence inside myself. And after that...." He struggled to explain. "I was looking at myself from a small corner in my mind, calling out, saying, 'Stop!' But I could not stop myself. I could not."

Richie answered almost immediately. "I understand that, Mac."

Silence. Richie, the motor-mouth, and that's all he had to say. Still, Duncan breathed a sigh of relief. If Richie didn't accept that Duncan had been acting against his own self, against his will, the conversation--and their relationship--was over. He took a deep breath. "And before I faced you, again, I wanted to make sure I could control myself, so this won't happen again. Which it won't," he said, earnestly.

Richie shook his head. "No sale, man," he said, the same way Duncan had said, "Sorry, wrong number," to Richie, the night Duncan had tried to behead his former student. "There can be only one, Mac."

Duncan hid his disappointment. He really couldn't expect anything more, so he settled for what he could get. He waited for a moment, but Richie said nothing else, still walking alongside him. Richie was waiting, and Duncan knew for what. The hard part.

He stopped and faced Richie fully. Richie stopped, too. "The second part was fear. I was ... afraid to face you." He held his hands out in front of him, trying to explain. "I didn't know what to say, what I could say, so I put it off. I avoided talking to you. And that was wrong. And ... it was cowardly." Duncan couldn't remember the last time he'd admitted to anyone--not even to himself--that he'd been cowardly, but it seemed like the right thing to do, this time. And it was the truth.

Still Richie said nothing, just glaring at his former teacher, and Duncan finished. "It won't happen again," he reiterated. "And finally,--" this was easier to say, but just as important, "--I'm sorry, Richie."

For a long moment, Richie stared at Duncan. Then, without a word, Richie turned and walked away.

Duncan stood alone on the sidewalk, feeling like a hole had been punched in him and all the air had been let out, and all of his life had been wasted. Then, slowly, he walked back to the dojo, alone.

///////

Upon returning to the dojo around two that afternoon, Elena sensed the buzz at once. Good; she'd hoped to talk to Richie again before she left for Paris. But when she opened up the elevator door, she was surprised. "Connor!"

"Elena Duran!' he answered, smiling slightly and bowing, but keeping his eyes on her just the same. "We thought we detected a feminine touch around here."

"We?" She remembered what she'd seen with her first quick glance around, what hadn't quite registered with the shock of seeing Connor. A katana, Duncan's katana, was on the kitchen counter. Suddenly she could only think of one reason why Duncan wouldn't be carrying his sword. She began to panic ... but wait! If something had happened to Duncan, Connor wouldn't be so flip! And he said "we!" "Duncan! "Where's Duncan?!" she asked excitedly.

"He went out for a walk with Richie. He felt he should leave this behind." He nodded toward the katana, disapprovingly, she thought.

The relief she felt was so strong she suddenly felt weak in the knees. She sank into the sofa.

Connor moved quite quickly to her side. "Are you alright?" he asked. When she nodded, he added, "For a moment there, I thought you were going to faint. I never thought I'd see that!"

She swallowed her heart, which had threatened to burst out of her mouth, before speaking. "You won't."

"The sight of his sword frightened you." He studied her for a moment, then finally observed, "You really love him, don't you?"

She smiled at him. "What gave me away?"

She remembered that Connor MacLeod had a very nice smile. Sometimes. "Scotsmen can always tell these things. So how was Japan?"

"Japan is wonderful, but I flunked out of school."

Connor nodded knowingly. "I knew Aikido was not your style."

"It's a wonderful philosophy, but not for me. Too much Zen. Too much peace. I'm too aggressive. End of story. But enough about me. How's Duncan?"

"You can ask him yourself."

"I'm asking you. Is he back to his old self? Is he in control again?"

Connor shrugged. "If he attacked Richie, don't you think he would have attacked me, too?"

She looked hard at him for a moment, then asked, heatedly, "Well, why didn't he come back, then? Does he have any idea what he's put Richie through?"

"I'm sure they're discussing that even as we speak."

They waited. But Elena couldn't stop moving. She was dying to talk to Duncan, but if she stayed inside too much longer she'd go mad. After a few minutes of awkward silence, she said, "How about we go for a beer? It will give us something to do other than pace back and forth inside the loft."

"I'm not pacing back and forth."

"I noticed that. How about it? I'm buying."

He looked at her seriously. "Are you asking me on a date?"

She couldn't tell if he was joking. "Of course. I'm a sucker for MacLeod men," she deadpanned.

"We are irresistible." He pointed the way with a bow. "If memory serves, Joe's isn't too far away."

It was close enough to walk. For the first time Elena asked Connor about himself, amiably, and she found out that he was as much a fanatic about single-malt Scotch as Duncan was, that he was quite an expert on antiques, especially antique weapons, and that he loved the city of New York.

"It's one of the most alive, most exciting places I've ever lived."

"It's probably also crawling with Immortals," she put in.

"Somewhat. But that's part of the excitement."

"You like the fighting, do you?" she asked him. "I do, sometimes."

He shrugged. "It's part of the Game. I don't go out of my way to avoid it," he stated honestly.

"Sometimes when I think I'm so tired of fighting, why do we have to kill each other? why can't we just live in peace and harmony? I imagine what I would be like as an Immortal if I didn't have to keep my mind and body ever alert. I think I'd just sit around, read books, spend money and eat chocolate, get fat and lazy, and after a while I'd be so bored with life I'd find a way to cut off my own head!"

Connor laughed. "I can't imagine you fat and lazy. Why, you can't even sit still for ten minutes!"

"Nervous energy. Ever since I can remember, even before I became an Immortal, I've had to fight the same fight over and over again."

He nodded. "The Spanish. With me and Duncan it was the English. Same assholes, different country."

"The world never seems to run out of assholes. I just wish so many of them weren't Immortals." Looking at him out of the corner of her eyes, she asked, "Tell me, what would you do if you didn't have to fight, Connor?"

He thought for a moment. "Sit around, read books, spend money and drink good whisky."

She leaned close to him conspirationally. "I'll tell you a secret. I don't even like Scotch."

"Blasphemy!" he answered.

When they reached Joe's it was nearly three, but they were in no hurry, figuring Duncan and Richie's *conversation* would take a while. They sat down, and who should come to them but Joe Dawson!

"Dawson; I thought you'd still be in France, " said Connor.

"Nah! When MacLeod went after Johanssen I figured it was time to come back. He'd either be right behind me, or--"

"Or he'd still be rampaging around Europe," Connor supplied.

"Maybe I have more faith in him than even he does." Dawson turned to Elena. "How are you, Duran?"

"I'm fine, and before you ask, no visits from Trent." Actually she had heard from Trent, the Immortal who had overwhelmed her spirit, who had given her her own "Dark Quickening;" but she was confident about that now.

"I wasn't going to ask," said Dawson.

"I was," said Connor.

She turned to the other Immortal. "Do you still want my head, Connor MacLeod?"

It was a serious question, and he treated it as such. "Not at the moment."

Thirteen

Elena started to retort when she saw Teri Jones coming in. "That's Richie's girlfriend," she said to Connor.

Connor looked at her with interest, while Dawson warned, "She mothers him a bit."

"Maybe he needs mothering," Elena said as Teri spotted them and came over. Joe was still leaning on his cane, and Connor rose as the Watcher introduced them.

"MacLeod?" she whispered, ignoring his offered hand and giving him a hostile look.

Connor nodded, and Elena put in, "*Connor* MacLeod, Teri. Not Duncan."

Teri turned to her angrily. "But he's here--that bastard Duncan MacLeod is here! And you're with him, aren't you? Both of you!" Her accusing look ecompassed both Immortals.

Connor said nothing in Duncan's defense, Elena noticed, so she felt she had to. She began, "We're friends to both of them, and actually, Teri, Duncan is the best friend Richie has--"

"Liar! Richie told me MacLeod was like a brother to him, and then MacLeod betrayed him, laughed at him, spit on him, deserted him! I hate Duncan MacLeod!"

Elena swallowed the insult and the impulse to push back. Spending time with serene Asians had helped her after all. Plus, Teri had a point. "I can see how deeply you care about Richie, and I'm glad he has someone like you in his life. But his relationship with Duncan is special. And don't call me a liar, ok?"

Teri backed off a little, obviously realizing Elena was not the true source of her frustration. "I'm sorry," she sighed. "Look, when I first met Richie he was so...so needy! I said to myself, 'What am I getting into here?' But he's the sweetest, kindest, most giving man I've ever met, and I'm not going to stand by and let that son of a bitch hurt him again! And I don't care," she addressed Connor, "if you are his brother! Damn it, I hoped he'd have started to forget about MacLeod..."

Elena smiled ruefully. "There's no 'forgetting' Duncan MacLeod; not for Richie. Think of them as feuding relatives--eventually they have to reconcile because they love each other and because there's no one else. And I hope, Teri, that you won't try to get between them."

Teri spoke very quietly. "I just want to protect him, that's all."

"I want to protect them both. Please trust me--I would never hurt Richie Ryan"--the phrase, 'There can be only one!' ran quickly through her mind--"but he's not a child. You can't protect him like this. He has to face his own problems. Just please let them work this out on their own, alright?"

But as Teri was answering Elena looked past the girl's shoulder and saw him framed in the doorway. She suddenly found it hard to breathe. She saw Teri move quickly, getting to her feet, rushing toward Duncan, but did nothing to stop Richie's girlfriend. Duncan had to face her, and he did, just inside the bar's door.

Duncan saw a small blonde woman approach him quickly, aggressively. His natural defensive instinct put him on the alert, but he was frankly too depressed to do much about it. Without a word, the woman walked up and punched him, a right cross which rocked Duncan on his heels and gave him a temporary headache. As he shook his head slightly to clear it, he idly thought he should get ready to block any other hit.

But she apparently was finished with the physical part. "That's for Richie Ryan, you son of a bitch!" she hissed furiously, then pushed past him and out into the night.

Elena saw Teri punch Duncan, didn't even try to stop her. She'd explain to Duncan later. Later. For now, she walked up to him, smiling. He murmured her name; she saw his look of relief and joy; she put her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. After a split instant he hugged her back, tightening his arms until her ribs began to complain, but she said nothing, just held him.

"Elena!" he whispered in her ear again.

Then she pulled back--she was so obviously glad to see him!--and said, "Let's go home, [querido.]

They walked back quietly, arms around each other, each bursting with news but not wanting to break the magic of the silence, knowing that any words could wound as well as heal.

When they went upstairs she got a closer look at him. Like Connor, he looked tired, but it was more than just from the trip. He looked physically, mentally, and emotionally drained, and she was determined not to put a further strain on him; not now. In spite of everything, though, he just looked so damn good to her! He sure could make her spirits soar, just his presence

"Elena, I have so much to tell you," he began.

"Not now, Duncan. You look so tired. Please, just lie down and get some rest."

"But you have to know"

"Shhhh." She began undressing him as she would a small child, and he stood there, unresisting. She literally put him into bed, arranging the blankets around him. "Get some sleep. Later we'll talk, anything you want. Right now you're safe. Rest."

She massaged his neck and shoulders expertly, with long, strong fingers. It felt so good! Her voice was soothing on overstretched nerves. He felt like he was on holy ground. She was watching over him, and he was so exhausted! He dozed, and gradually sank into a deep, peaceful, dreamless sleep.

Elena watched him until he fell asleep. It's true, she thought. In sleep, they do all look like little boys. She took a deep breath, forcing down her passion. This was not the time.

She wished she could go out for groceries, in case he woke up hungry, thirsty; there was nothing here. But she didn't want to leave him alone, and wanted to be there when he woke up. So she called Joe's and spoke to Connor.

"How is he?" whispered Connor, slipping in the door quietly an hour later. He put some bags down on the counter.

"Asleep."

"Good; it's been a long trip; he could use the rest. Amanda said he didn't get much sleep while he was with her, either, except at the end. Nightmares."

Elena found herself jealous of Amanda, being there for him like that; but she quickly shook off the feeling. She was glad someone he cared about had been there to help him. And about the nightmares: what was it that Methos had said to her once? 'Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,' she thought. "I know what that's like. Thanks, Connor, and listen: where are you staying?"

"I'll find a hotel. I could use some sleep myself. What about Richie? Did you see him?"

"Not since you arrived. He's so hurt, Connor!" She considered a moment. "Are you worried he'll come after Duncan?'

They were still whispering. "No; even I am not that paranoid. But I suppose it's possible. Take care of him, Elena."

Was it possible that he still didn't trust her with Duncan? "Don't worry. Duncan's in good hands."

He looked at her in the semi-darkness. "I know," he murmured, then left as quietly as he'd come.

A light sleeper, like all experienced Immortals, Duncan knew Connor had come and gone, but he felt safe, so he drifted back into sleep. He stirred again as Elena joined him in bed, but it wasn't until the dead of night that he truly realized she was there with him. Although she didn't normally wear perfume, she sometimes smelled of lavender, but this time, as he woke, he could smell another fragrance, something vaguely Oriental--jasmine, that's what it was! It was amazing how exotic and how erotic he found that scent.

They lay like spoons, and he pressed forward against her. Elena awoke to the feeling of his penis swelling against her bare buttocks. His arm lay under her neck, cradling her head, and he brought that hand down under the covers to play with her right nipple. She breathed in sharply. His other hand touched her shoulder, then slowly and sensuously drifted down her arm, to the hollow of her waist, across her abdomen and down, searching until he found the right spot, beginning a soft massage, continuing to play with her right breast.

She carefully moved her body to allow him better access, breathing more heavily now. "Duncan!" she whispered. He reached even further, plunging two fingers inside her, looking for that special place behind her pubic bone. As he did, he felt her stiffen, her thighs and buttocks molded against his front. Actually, Elena was afraid to move, afraid this wonderful feeling would end, and she brought her hand up to play with her other nipple. But she couldn't last for long, and as he rubbed that spot inside her she felt the fire build up in intensity, slowly, until she thought she would burst--then she did, a wild explosion deep inside her body, swelling up, and exploding in her brain as well, like fireworks; she cried out in ultimate pleasure, her hips pulsing forward, her muscles clenching again and again around his fingers.

She turned to him then, and their mouths became connected, probing tongues and panting breaths. She rolled completely onto her back and he lay on her, one hand in her hair, pulling, the other under her hips, positioning her--then he plunged inside her so quickly and deeply she gasped in surprise. She felt his full weight on her, and he started, ever so leisurely, stroking in and out, but that didn't last, and after only a half dozen strokes he was going much faster, much deeper, his breath ragged, his eyes so dark and intense

Duncan cried out, arching his back, trying to enter her completely, to fill her, to become one with her, and she pushed up with her hips, joining him, calling out his name over and over again, being as close as two adult human beings can be in a world where every other moment they are so separate and so alone.

Panting, he propped himself up on his elbows, looking down on her. She, too, was breathing hard, grey eyes shining, smiling, fulfilled--for the moment. And now that they had that out of the way, they settled down to the leisurely business of slowly, sensuously making love.

Next day

Elena awoke wondering if the workout she got in bed with Duncan was as good as any she could devise for the gymn. Her muscles were certainly as sore--but it was a good pain! She got up on one elbow to look at his face. He was so beautiful he took her breath, and she kissed him on the chest, then turned to rise--but he took her arm and pulled her back into bed again.

"Good morning," he smiled lazily.

"[Buenos dias, querido.] How do you feel?"

"Better, now that I'm with you. Thank you." He pulled her down to him.

They kissed deeply; then he said, "But we still need to talk."

"Of course. Anything you like. But I think we'll get a lot more talking done out of bed than in it."

"You're right," he grinned.

She rose, stretching like a cat. "I'll go downstairs and work some of the stiffness out--you're a brute, you know! I'm sore in places I'd forgotten I had!--while you make some breakfast."

"I'm a brute!" he protested, throwing a pillow at her. She smiled, pulled on some sweats and took her sword out from under the bed while Duncan showered. An hour later they were eating waffles.

"Do you know what happened?"

She nodded. "I spoke to Richie and Connor. Richie told me quite a bit. Connor ... he was his usual verbose self."

"I need to explain," he began, then drifted off.

"Duncan, you don't need to tell me anything you don't want to. I know how you feel and what you've been through." She reached over and took his hand. "What I need to know is are you truly back, [querido?] Because I still have Trent's quickening inside my head, tempting me, speaking to me in my weakest moments, and I can dismiss him, but there's always the possibility that one day he'll take over again. I can't get away from that. Is it the same with you?"

"No. I have the quickenings inside me, too, evil so great sometimes I feel physically ill, but there's no chance they will overcome me again. This is what I wanted to be able to tell Richie. This is why I waited, and it was hard on him, and I don't know if he'll forgive me."

"What did he say?"

"He walked away," he whispered, defeated.

She put a hand on his shoulder. "He'll be back. Don't give up on him, Duncan; give him time. He loves you. He wants to forgive you. And in case it makes a difference, I forgive you too, completely, just like you forgave me, remember?

"I love you, Elena."

"And I love you too, Duncan. But we haven't yet discussed the last person you need to forgive you."

"Connor?"

"No. You need to give *yourself* a chance, Duncan. Don't give up on yourself. All of us who still believe in you, who always did and always will--Connor, Amanda, Methos, Dawson, and Richie, too, although he may not yet realize it--nothing that we think will make a difference if you're not able to forgive yourself. Can you understand that?"

"Yes, but that won't be easy."

"So," she added, standing, "we don't have to dwell on this every minute.

What shall we do today?"

"Well, Connor's still in town."

///////

The MacLeods sparred later that day, and Duncan was either out of practice or could not concentrate. Connor disarmed him without a great deal of effort.

"You call that fencing? You'll have to do better than that, cousin."

"Yeah, I know. Shall we try again?"

Connor smiled cheerfully. "It's your funeral."

Duncan knew that Connor was deliberately goading him--they knew each other too well--and the second time around he did much better. But then Connor pulled back and nodded at Elena. She'd been invited to come along, and had been content to watch, fascinated. Although Duncan was stronger and had a longer reach, Connor was a bit faster. As they continued, she noted that Duncan was bolder, took more chances, but Connor depended on classical moves executed so well he left very little margin for error. Duncan never missed an opening, and Connor never failed to close the opening and riposte nicely. But throughout it all she could see the fun and care they had for each other. All in all, they seemed evenly matched, and Elena shuddered at the thought that one day they would have to fight each other.

But now Connor was nodding at her. "We never did get a chance to spar," he said, breathing heavily.

"That's true. But you're winded. Why don't we wait until you're recovered?"

"Give me a few moments, then." Translations:

buenos dias (Spanish) - good morning, good day

Fourteen

Elena felt nervous while she started moving to warm up her muscles. She knew this was a test, and doubted that Connor, who still didn't trust her completely, would be as playful with her and he'd been with his kinsman. She wondered if he would deliberately try to hurt her; but there was no way of telling until they actually started.

Finally they faced each other, broadsword against katana. He twirled it easily in a move rehearsed a thousand thousand times. Elena had seen Duncan do this, but she herself had never "played" in this way with her weapon. It was a flashy move designed to psych out one's opponent, but she was always terrified she'd drop her sword.

"Ah! Fresh meat!" he smiled, but the smile was not the good-natured one she'd seen the day before; it wasn't pleasant at all, and she realized at that moment, even before they crossed swords, how intimidating an opponent Connor MacLeod could be.

Seacouver, October 19, 1995, 6:00 a.m.

Connor is right on top of her. She can smell the scotch on his breath.

"You're not going to get away with it, you know. Duncan won't take your head because you're a woman and because he's in love with you, but I'm bound by neither of those considerations. When he lets you go, I'll be waiting," he says, matter-of-factly, as though he were telling her about the weather, and Elena knows that Connor MacLeod has just pronounced her death sentence.

Seacouver, July 23, 1996

Elena could feel a voice inside her, partly Trent, but also partly herself, saying "Kill him!" Clansman or not, Connor MacLeod was not going to hurt her!

Connor saw her new determination. His face changed, especially his eyes. They were so cold....

Standing to the side, Duncan couldn't see either of their faces, but he noticed something about the set of Elena's shoulders, a slight shift in Connor's stance, loud and clear messages in body language. What the hell's going on? he thought, and moved forward to stop this so-called sparring.

Elena fought the feeling down with an effort. This wasn't going to be just practice! She couldn't fight him like this! "No!" she said, lowering her sword point.

"You're afraid," Connor taunted.

"Yes," she admitted. "but not of you."

"What's this about!?" Duncan asked, standing between them, looking from one to the other.

"It's not a game with us, Duncan," she answered. "You two keep playing. I'm going for a walk."

"Elena!" Duncan called after her, but he didn't try to stop her or go after her. He knew from experience that 'going for a walk' meant she was deeply disturbed about something and needed to sort it out--*alone.*

Why? he asked himself, did I have to fall in love with such an independent woman? Why can't she come to me, need me? But he knew her strength and self-reliance were qualities that made him love her all the more.

So he turned to Connor instead. "What is it with you two?"

"I don't know, Duncan. We seem to bring out a certain savagery in each other. I'm not sure why. Yesterday we had a long talk, and I found her quite pleasant. I think I even began to like her more, to trust her a little. I must have misunderstood."

"Misunderstood what? How can you still hold anything against her? Why can't you just let it go? I'm the one she attacked, remember?"

"This is not just one-sided, damn it! Ask her, too!" Connor exclaimed.

"I know," Duncan nodded, putting a hand on his kinsman's shoulder. "And I will."

Elena went to the one place in Seacouver besides Duncan's arms where she knew she could find peace and total acceptance. Reverend Washington wasn't at the little church--he was expected later--but Dorothy was there, Dorothy with the kind eyes, and Dorothy gave her a much-needed hug.

Seacouver, July 25, 1996, two days later

Over dinner, the three Immortals discussed the relationship between Elena and Connor and reached a modus vivendi: the two of them would be alright together as long as there was no threat of swordplay. The trust simply wasn't there, so, for Duncan's sake, they decided to give each other time to give trust a chance to build up.

"Why? Why don't you trust her, Connor? Do you really think she'd attack me again?"

"Maybe not by choice. But tell me, Elena, can you honestly absolutely say that you'll never be influenced by Trent's quickening in you again; that you'll never attack Duncan again?"

She paused before answering. Trent had already tried to influence her again, here in Seacouver. "No, I can't. I wish I could. But I know Duncan trusts me to do the best I can. I can't do anything more than that, Connor."

"And that's good enough for me, Connor. It should be good enough for you, too," emphasized Duncan.

"I just don't know if we'll ever see eye to eye on this, Duncan."

It was another truce, with the best intentions on both sides. And for the moment, it had to be good enough, because it was all they had. In the meantime there was no reason they couldn't enjoy each other's company, and they learned even more about each other. They spoke about every topic under the sun, with Elena and Duncan doing much more of the talking than Connor, and even managed a few laughs. The only topic they hadn't yet breached was Richie.

"This MacLeod charm is a wonder to behold, isn't it, Dawson?" said Elena, squeezing Duncan's arm.

They were at Joe's, listening to blues and having some after dinner drinks, except for Elena, who kept to ginger ales. She was taking no chances on losing control with Connor nearby.

"Yes it is. In fact, the last time they were here they were so loud--" Dawson paused. The last time they were here Richie had been with them, laughing, listening to drunken stories, sharing, and on returning to the dojo, Elena had tried to behead Duncan.

"Your teacher Don Alvaro sounds like someone I would have liked," said Connor, adroitly changing the subject.

"Yes, I think you would have been great friends; provided you didn't kill each other."

"I don't behead every Immortal I meet," he said. "Just the ones who deserve it."

"In your judgement," she put in, a trace of sarcasm in her voice.

"We all make these judgements, Elena," he countered, rising to her bait.

Duncan sat up in his chair, but then she said, "True." She took a deep breath. "You're right, of course."

"Yes, I am." He subsided. "Anyway, I'll be taking the red-eye back to New York tonight," said Connor, addressing Duncan this time. "I was hoping to stay until the problem with Richie was resolved, but I guess he's going to need a little more time."

"I know it in my head, but in my heart...." he paused. "I know," he finally said.

"Richie's a good, decent young man, and he cares a lot about you. He knows you're a good decent man as well. He'll come around, Duncan. Give him time."

They said goodnight to Dawson and went back to the dojo for a nightcap, but sensed the Immortal presence as they reached the building.

"I'll take care of this," said Duncan. "It's probably for me."

"It could be Richie," Connor said, and he turned out to be right: Richie and Teri were waiting in the loft.

For a moment they stared at each other; then Richie noticed the MacLeods had obviously been drinking. "So, is this a celebration or what?" he asked, smiling.

Duncan MacLeod, one of the most graceful men Elena had ever known, stepped forward awkwardly. "It is now," he said thickly, holding out his hand to Richie.

Richie took it. "I thought maybe we could all ..." he gestured with his other hand, taking in the whole group, "... get better acquainted," he said. "And Teri has something to say."

"Great!" said Duncan. He was excited that Richie was even there, even thought he would have preferred him alone. But he had come, by God! "We were just going to have a nightcap. Connor's leaving tonight."

"That's too bad. I remember the last time you were here," Richie said to Connor. "You can really hold your liquor!"

Connor laughed loudly, and Duncan awkwardly.

As soon as they sat and Duncan had poured for all, Teri announced, "Mr. MacLeod--"

"Call me Duncan," he insisted.

"Alright, Duncan. I actually came to apologize. I overreacted, and it really isn't any of my business. Besides, Richie can take care of himself. Sometimes I get a little over-protective."

"It's alright. Let's forget it and start again, shall we?" As the night progressed things went more smoothly. In spite of her words, Teri was still cool towards Duncan, and he didn't fail to notice that, or the fact that Richie had made it a point to bring her. But she was making an effort, and apparently she was quite important to Richie, which made her important to Duncan as well, so he turned his considerable charm on her but without making her feel 'singled out;' more like a diffused spotlight.

Elena could see that Teri was definitely not immune. As she watched Duncan work his magic, Elena wondered if *any* woman could ever really resist him.

"Well, I know the two of you have a lot to discuss, so I guess I'll be going," said Teri finally, extending her hand to the three Immortals in turn. "Have a nice trip," she said to Connor, "and I guess I'll see you around," she added for Duncan's benefit.

"I'll look forward to that," he said sincerely.

Elena shook her head, feeling silly at the completely immature and short lived flash of jealousy she'd felt towards Teri. It was so childish! and this reminded her of ... Miyu! She'd solemnly promised to call Miyu, but things had been so confusing, so touch and go! Well, there was no time like the present, so while Richie walked Teri to her car, Elena made her long distance call. Within minutes she was getting a day by day description of life at Ueshiba's since she'd gone.

"I miss you so much, Du-ran-sama. Do you miss me?" the child said on the phone.

"Of course I do, [chiquita,] very much."

"I love it when you call me [chiquita.] What does it mean again?" asked the child mischievously.

Elena smiled. "It means 'little one,' and I don't want you to worry about my forgetting you-- you're quite unforgettable. I'll call you every week as promised."

"Yes, Du-ran-sama. Oh, and someone else is missing you, I think. Hosokawa-sensei asked about you yesterday. He's ... very--he frightens me a little."

"Hosokawa-sensei?" Elena felt a sudden chill.

"Yes. He said he knew you'd gone, but not where, so I told him."

"You told him."

Even Elena herself realized her voice sounded odd, as Miyu asked, "He asked me. Did I do wrong, Du-ran-sama? I'm sorry!"

"No, of course not, Miyu! You never do anything wrong!"

There was a pause, then Miyu giggled. "You should tell that to my mother!"

By the time Elena hung up the phone she'd felt Connor come up to her.

"Is it the little girl?" he asked.

"Yes, I just talked to her. She's fine," she answered blandly, trying not to show--

"But you had bad news?" he asked softly.

There was only one reason why Hiroshi would ask about her whereabouts. Slowly she turned to face Connor. "Yes," she answered bleakly. She glanced at Duncan, who seemed deep in thought.

Actually Duncan was thinking that the name Teri was a diminutive for Teresa, and Tessa was also a nickname for Teresa, and Teresa was the name of the woman in Spain he had known so many years ago--the coincidence was too much! That brought him again to how much he still missed Tessa , even when he was with another woman he also loved. Tessa was in the past, and he'd put her behind him, but her influence in his life had not waned. However, there were things in the present that needed his complete attention, and so he looked toward the rising elevator, failing to notice the exchange between Elena and Connor.

As Richie came back inside, Duncan said to him, "I thought maybe Elena could drive Connor to the airport. That would give them a chance to talk, and give us some time as well." But then he saw Elena's pale face, and Connor had that closed down expression he knew so well that meant something had gone wrong.

Richie opened his mouth, but Duncan cut him off. "What's wrong?" he asked. Unless they'd had a silent, telephathic quarrel in the last five minutes, Elena and Connor couldn't possibly have ... no, it had to be something else! Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Richie startle, then pull back, his feelings hurt. But right now he couldn't worry about Richie-- something else was going on. Then Duncan remembered Elena's phone call.

"Bad news from Japan? Is it about Miyu?"

Funny, Elena thought, how they both asked the same question. Actually, at this point, it was just about the worst news she could have. She kept her eyes on Duncan. "No, Miyu's fine, everything is great in Japan. The trouble will be here, in Seacouver. We're going to have a visitor." She was glad Teri had left--being among only Immortals made it so much easier to talk! "He's probably already in town," she said in a monotone, almost thinking out loud, "but with the long trip, the time change, the jet lag--I expect we'll hear from him tomorrow."

"We're talking about an Immortal, right?" It was more a statement than a question from Richie. Glancing at him, taking in his worried expression, Elena wondered what her own face looked like. She hadn't bothered to try to hide her feelings, but now she realized they'd have to get Richie out of danger first.

"Who is it?" Connor was still standing beside her. It occurred to Elena, too, that if Connor didn't already hate her, he'd have a good reason to now.

"Hosokawa Hiroshi," she whispered, having no doubt they had at least heard his name. She was not disappointed.

"The one who calls himself the samurai," said Connor flatly.

"He is a samurai, the genuine article." She looked at Richie again, needing to convince him to go. "He was born in the sixteen hundreds. He was a student of Miyamoto Musashi."

"Miyamo-- who?" Richie asked, genuinely puzzled.

Fifteen

"Miyamoto Musashi was a famous Japanese samurai of the seventeenth century who challenged every other fighter he met. He was fierce and unbeatable. Near the end of his life he settled down somewhat, went to live in a cave, wrote a book and took on students," supplied Duncan, in his best lecture tones, but inside he was badly shaken. He'd never met Hosokawa, but knew of him by reputation. And he was coming for Elena! Connor contented himself with muttering under his breath, while Richie asked, "So I take it this Hosokawa is good with a sword?"

"Two swords, Richie," Elena answered, "and I think you should get Teri somewhere safe, maybe the cabin, we'll get in touch in a few days--"

"No, whoa! I'm not going anywhere!"

Elena was adamant. "Richie, if it were just you, I'd say you're an Immortal and a grown man; you take your chances. But see, you have a *fresh* mouth, and Hiroshi takes offense easily, very easily, and if you made one of your smart, amusing remarks he would carve you up like a Thanksgiving turkey, only faster. Now you obviously care about Teri--"

"He'd come after her?"

"No. Never. But he'll come after you. And think how she'd feel if you lost your head. What could we say to her?"

"You know, I'm tired of everybody trying to protect me! You, Mac, even Teri!"

She could see he was offended, hurt, insulted, but still had to convince him. She shook her head. "He's quick and deadly. I saw him butcher a man, literally, another Immortal, with only two cuts. And last week-- last week he disemboweled me--"

"Wait a minute, Elena! You fought him?" Duncan took her by the upper arms, facing her. He could see the memory of the pain reflected in her eyes. "Why?"

She lowered her eyes, shook her head. "It was a mistake. But now he's coming again."

"Elena." This time it was Connor, putting a hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him. "If *Hiroshi* defeated you and let you go, why is he after your head now?"

Elena swallowed. This was the question she was dreading, the one that was making her sick because she knew the answer. Guilt and fear filled her, not for herself but for Duncan, and she found she couldn't look Connor in the eye either. "It's not my head he's after," she whispered.

There was a moment of silence, and they all stood in a frozen tableau, as though time were standing still. Finally Duncan spoke. "It's my head," he realized.

Elena said nothing.

Connor began. "Hosokawa never leaves the Far East. But he's coming after you. He must feel he has a claim on you. And Duncan has taken *his* woman. He's your lover, isn't he? And you left him. So now he's coming to cleanse his honor by killing Duncan and taking you back, or maybe beheading you as well. Have I left anything out, Elena?"

"No," she murmured. She couldn't think of anything else to say. What excuse could she make? What could she say to Duncan? She turned to him. She had obviously underestimated Hiroshi's desire, his sense of honor and his attitude towards women. But now she could feel Connor's anger directed at her like a physical wave, hear the danger in his voice.

"You're such a slut, Elena," he said quietly, viciously, and he was close enough and fast enough to backhand her before she could react. He pivoted, putting his shoulder and hips into the blow, and Elena fell like a stone.

Duncan, standing just behind her, caught her as she hit the floor. "Damn it, Connor! Maybe...!" he foundered, looking for the right words. He felt so jealous of her and Hosokawa; at the same time, he couldn't blame her for the [bushi's] actions, and he knew what an effect she had on him. She obviously had just as strong an influence on the samurai. "Maybe she needed to be with him! I don't like it, but I was with Amanda at the time, remember?"

"It's not the same!" Connor growled.

"Why not? Because she's a woman? Because she's supposed to be faithful to her man?" He was shouting now, furious that Connor had struck her, and also realizing he was reacting like just another possessive man whose *woman* had been attacked. He glanced at Richie, who was staring but wisely staying out of the argument.

"That has nothing to do with it, Duncan! She's a she-devil who's taken advantage of you from the beginning. She's brought you nothing but grief and pain!"

"You're so wrong, Connor!" Duncan roared, resisting the urge to drop Elena's head from his lap and surge up at his kinsman. "She's brought me love and joy! For the first time since Tessa died, I've been with a woman I truly love, and who really loves me!"

"You call it love; I call it self-interest. First, she got you to kill a bunch of Mortals; then she tried to take your head; then she left you to take up with another man; now she's managed to get one of the best swordsmen among the Immortals to come after you!"

Duncan swallowed his rage, even managing a smile. "Is this really about her? Or do you just think Hosokawa will beat me? You have no faith in me, do you?"

"Of course I do, Duncan. But this is Hosokawa we're talking about!"

"And her bringing him to me would be a tragedy, except for the fact that I'm also one of the best swordsmen among the Immortals! Right?"

Connor's fury did not abate, but he spoke in short, clipped, controlled tones. "I know. If anyone has a chance against him ... but there's still the matter of Elena. Look, Duncan; let me fight her. After I take her head, Hosokawa won't have a reason to attack you!"

"Except for revenge," answered the younger MacLeod, and Connor sighed in exasperation. "No. You've had your shot at her. This is the last time you touch her, Connor. I mean it. The last time."

Connor's reply was interrupted by the phone. "Take care of her, Richie," said Duncan, and when Richie took over for him he rose. "MacLeod," he said into the receiver.

"MacLeod Duncan? The Highlander?"

The accent was Asian. "Hosokawa Hiroshi," replied Duncan.

"She has told you about me. Good. It will save time."

"Hosokawa-san, I have no quarrel with you."

"She is well?"

Duncan looked down at Elena. She was still unconscious. "She's fine. Now listen--"

"I trust you have enjoyed her company. It is good for a man to have some pleasure before his death."

The voice was cold, chilling, threatening. In spite of his experience, Duncan was affected by it. "I am not your enemy."

"You sleep with my woman and then dare to say that?"

"We're not in medieval Japan, Hosokawa-san, and Elena does not belong to you or to anyone else. It was her choice to leave Tokyo and come here."

"She was in my bed. She made a commitment to me."

"That's not how she looks at it, and neither do I. We can easily solve this by asking her to choose. I'll abide by her decision." Duncan could see Elena's eyes opening.

There was a pause. "I am not familiar with this city, Highlander. I am sure you know of a place we can meet tomorrow, say, at midnight?"

"There's no need for us to fight over her. Just let her--"

"Of course, if you will not come to me, then I shall have to come to you. Will you force me to fetch you, MacLeod-san? Is your reputation for courage a false one?"

Duncan was stung, but he also realized there was no avoiding this fight; unless he could talk him out of it. Right! "West Street ends at the ocean, on a long pier. Tomorrow at midnight." As he hung up the phone, he heard her say, "Duncan, wait!" and heard Hosokawa say, "Agreed."

Elena's eyes fluttered, her vision cleared--and she was looking up at Richie. Her head was on his lap, she was on the floor, Connor was standing off, looking at Duncan who was ... on the phone.

"... to choose. I'll abide by her decision," he was saying.

She sat up abruptly. She was dizzy and her head hurt. The whole right side of her face was throbbing, and as she sat, head hanging, she heard the sound of the little delicate bones in her cheek coming together. She worked her jaw painfully. Damn you, Connor! she thought.

"... on a long pier. Tomorrow at midnight," said Duncan.

Tomorrow at midnight. A challenge. Tomorrow. Hiroshi was here; Duncan was talking to him!

"Duncan, wait!" But he hung up.

As she quickly rose, the world suddenly lost focus for just an instant and just as suddenly got it back. Now she was clear. "It was him, wasn't it?"

Duncan nodded.

From his corner, Connor said, "I trust you're satisfied, Elena."

"I told you, Connor. No more," growled Duncan.

"Do you think I set him up? Do you think I betrayed him, Connor? Do you?" How she wanted to strike back at him!

He didn't flinch. "Actually, I don't. But the result is the same, isn't it?"

"Yes!" she said harshly, then turned to her lover. "Duncan, I'm sorry. I never thought he'd actually follow me. I never thought he'd take it so seriously. I thought he'd learned something about 'modern women.' I should have realized!"

"Yes, you should have," muttered Connor, and Duncan came up to him, "Connor, I said--"

"No!" she yelled, getting between them, "I won't come between the two of you! Just stop it, now!" She took a deep breath, then continued. "Duncan, you can't fight over me! That's so ... old fashioned! Barbaric! I'm not the little woman to be won as a prize by the strongest bull!"

"I realize that, Elena. But I'm not sure he does."

"I'll explain it to him; but he won't pay attention to words when there are swords being drawn. That's why you have to let me talk to him. Besides, Hiroshi is not a man you want to destroy. He wants to continue the traditions of the [bushido]. You know what that means, don't you? Integrity, loyalty, courage. All qualities you cherish, you live by. Duncan, he reminded me so much of you!"

"And this is your excuse for fucking him, Elena?" Connor asked bitterly.

Connor wasn't making this any easier, and she had to put her hands on Duncan's chest to hold him back. "Duncan, please listen to me! You and Hiroshi are both good, decent men. You should live as long as possible. And you should never, ever fight each other, not for this false honor, which is actually just pride and possessiveness, and certainly [!por el amor de Dios!] not because of me."

"This is not just about you, Elena. I don't want to fight the samurai, believe me! But he challenged me."

"Then let me meet him instead. Let me talk to him. He values the kind of man you are. Let me explain to him--"

But Duncan was shaking his head. "You want me to send you in my place? And what am I supposed to do in the meantime? Hide?"

She was pleading with him. "If I can't convince him, you can always kill each other another time. Please, Duncan, give me a chance to talk to him alone."

"Do you really think there's any way you can get him to back off?" Connor asked, practically hissing.

She looked over her shoulder at him. "I have to try."

"It's not going to work, sweetheart, and I don't want you anywhere nearby," put in Duncan.

"Hiroshi will not take my head, Duncan," she said calmly.

"How can you be so sure?" Richie spoke for the first time.

"Because he told me he wouldn't. Duncan...." She paused, then added, "I won't be there when you fight him. I can't be there!"

"Good. I want you to stay away," he answered, but he knew she meant more than just that, and he could feel a hole opening up in his heart.

"[!Escoces testarudo!]" she exclaimed, then, very deliberately, "I won't watch you do this, Duncan. I'll leave you first!"

He swallowed the lump in his throat, but there was nothing else he could say. If Hosokawa did take his head, the samurai might turn on her afterwards. It was best if she weren't there. On the other hand, if he came back, and she was gone, gone forever.... "Well, we all do what we have to, Elena," he said sadly.

"Really?" She had been standing right in front of him; now she backed away from him. "Why? For once, why can't we do what we *want* to do? We're like puppets on a string, and the puppet masters are 'honor' and 'duty' and 'pride'! This is the way we all function, all of us!" She swept out her hand, including everyone in the room. "But sometimes we don't leave room for 'love', for 'joy', for life itself! 'Death before dishonor!' with a strong emphasis on the *death* part. Well I for one," pointing to herself, "choose *life*! I won't be there to watch you kill him, and I won't be there to watch you die." She took her cloak, her sword, and went out the door. No one tried to stop her or follow her.

Duncan watched her go, feeling bereft. This time she was really gone, and it might be years, maybe decades before he saw her again--provided he survived the duel with Hosokawa; provided, she, too, survived her challenges; provided she'd ever want to see him again....

Connor said, "So. She takes a lover and when he comes after your head she deserts you! This is what you call *love*?!"

Duncan was furious, heartbroken, and tired of arguing with Connor, so he simply said, "Get out!" between clenched teeth.

Without a word, the elder MacLeod got in the elevator and rode down, leaving Duncan and Richie alone in the loft.

Translations:

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

Sixteen

"Richie--" Duncan began.

"You want me to go, too?"

Did Duncan hear fear in the young man's voice? Maybe. But even if it was, Richie was standing his ground. "No. I'd like you to stay. But I don't want to discuss what's happened tonight. We have other things to talk about, you and I."

"Mac, aren't you going after him?"

"No." His teacher, his kinsman, his friend.

"Well, aren't you going after her, then?"

"No." His lover, his soul-mate, his friend.

"What the hell are you gonna do? The most important people in your life just walked out on you, and you're just standing there!"

Duncan looked at Richie. "You're an important person in my life too, Richie."

"Mac--" Richie shook his head. Now he, too, went toward the door; he, too, was leaving--but then he came back. "Let me ask you one question. Just one question. When Duran attacked you, before, how did you forgive her? How did you ever trust her again?"

Duncan focused his thoughts back on Richie. He'd just been thinking that Connor, too, was gone... "It wasn't about forgiveness, or about trust, Richie. It was about love. She needed me. And at that time, I preferred to die by her hand if necessary than fail to help her, than be parted from her."

"Well, you're sure parted from her tonight! And from Connor."

"I know." He said it like there was no joy left in his life, no hope, and that's just about how he felt, like a sponge that had been squeezed completely dry.

"Do you need *me* for anything, Mac?"

There was untold depth in that question. "Yes," he answered in a whisper, waiting, hoping....

There was an interminable pause before Richie replied, "Then I'll stay," and Duncan MacLeod reached over and fiercely hugged his student, his son, his friend.

///////

Elena had gotten as far as the corner before she stopped and turned around, realizing that, in spite of her outburst, she had to be there when Duncan and Hiroshi fought. Maybe she could stop them at the last minute. Yeah, right! But at least she'd be able to provide moral support for Duncan. The problem was, she didn't want Hiroshi to be killed either, especially when she was the cause of their quarrel.

How in the name of God had she gotten into this! She should have followed her instincts, stayed away from Hiroshi; he was too dangerous. But a part of her was still happy to have been with him, made love with him. If only she knew where he was; if only she could find him before tomorrow night! Then it struck her--Hiroshi's Watcher would know, which meant Dawson might be able to help.

She was at the foot of the dojo steps--maybe she could even ask Richie to contact Dawson, because Duncan wouldn't want her to...when she sensed an Immortal approach. Connor was coming down the stairs; barrelling down actually. His whole body language spoke of rage and frustration. Maybe he was finally coming for her!

"What, are you coming back? You get him into a duel he may not survive, then are too cowardly to watch him fight! He may let you get away with this, but I'll be damned if I will!"

Elena could see how close he was to attacking her, right now this minute, how he was holding himself back with difficulty. "You're right," she answered with a calm she didn't feel. "I shouldn't have left him alone. I'm already on my way back to him. I want to be there tomorrow--maybe I can still talk them both out of this. But if not, I'd like to be there by his side, supporting him."

"Him? And just who would you be supporting, Elena?" he whispered viciously. He stood very close to her, on a step above, looming over her. "Which one of them?"

She was actually hurt that he'd ask such a question, and he hadn't even apologised for hitting her; no one had hit her like that and got away with it in centuries! She was tempted, not for the first time, to pull out her broadsword ... but what was it they had said about lack of trust?

"Connor--" What? What could she say to him? "I never meant to start a war between them, but I guess I did. Please let me try to end it if I can."

"You're wasting your time. The harm is done," he shook his head as he brushed past her, striding away.

In a way, she was glad to see him go, but she said, "Wait! Where are you going?"

"I spoke out against you, so he told me to get out."

"He didn't mean that! Besides, you can't rail at me for deserting him when you're doing the same thing! He needs you, Connor."

"I know. I'll be there tomorrow night." He took a few steps, then came back and got in her face. "He needs you too. But I must tell you, Elena, that if Duncan dies tomorrow, and I can defeat the samurai, I'll come after you next. You understand that, don't you?"

She understood, only too well, but said nothing.

"When Duncan wins," he continued, "which I fully expect ... tell me, do you really believe you're any good for him? He believes it."

She was surprised by his shift in gears. "I think so. He's happy when he's with me. He's a very loving person, and he needs someone to love him back. I guess...he feels lucky to have me and I feel lucky to have him. Can it be any better than that?" It was a rhetorical question, so she went on. "I know how much you love him. I wish I could make you believe I love him too."

"You have a funny way of showing it, Elena Duran. Just be on the pier tomorrow at midnight."

"I'll see you there."

Seacouver, July 27, 1996, 3:00 a.m.

He swung the killing blow with such force his opponent's head flew across the room, striking the wall with a meaty thud, while the body collapsed straight down, gracefully. The quickening was short, sweet, and unsatisfying. He had to have more, more feeling, more sensation! He dropped his katana and went over to the head, the decapitated head, and kissed the top of it once more, with feeling. But it still wasn't enough! So he came back to the torso, which was lying on its side, pumping dark blood onto the wooden floor, and said, ironically, "I'll have to get Richie to clean this mess up," and giggled giddily at his own dark humor. Then, inspired, he went down on all fours and lapped the blood up off the dojo floor. Yes! This is better! he thought, and he raised his bloody face up, took a deep, shuddering breath, and howled!

Duncan sat up in bed, kicking off the covers, coming to his feet abruptly. He could feel the howl in his throat, threatening to burst out, and he touched his face frantically, desperately, making sure there was no blood on it.

Elena had been unable to sleep but had finally lain down next to him, wide awake and sick with worry. When he started thrashing in the throes of his nightmare, she knew better than to try to wake him in the middle of it. Even if it didn't hurt him, it could be dangerous for her--she knew his strength first hand. So she waited, watching him suffer, until he sat up, kicking off the covers, leaping to his feet. A half-cry, animal sounding, was torn from his throat, and he looked down at his hands and put his face in them. Instantly she was by his side, soothing him, sympathising, empathising, until he calmed down. He didn't tell her what his dream was, but she guessed.

Seacouver, July 27, 1996, 7:00 a.m., next morning

Dawson walked in as Elena was doing her [kata] in the dojo. He waited patiently, and when she was done he said, "You know, you're a very beautiful woman."

She wiped the sweat from her face, hiding her surprise. "Thank you, Dawson."

"I wonder if you were named after another beautiful Helen. Now she started a war that lasted ten years and destroyed a whole city. You're not quite as ambitious. This war will only last ten minutes, if that, and has the potential of destroying only the MacLeods."

She sighed, exasperated. "For the record, I am not responsible for their ... machismo."

"I wonder if Helen of Troy said that, too."

"Why don't you just tell me where I can find Hiroshi?"

"Now why would you want to know that?"

"Why do you think, Dawson? If I can talk to him alone, I may be able to talk him out of this ... deadly foolishness. I sure can't talk Duncan out of fighting. Unless you think I'm in league with Hiroshi against Duncan." Now this was an important question: "Do you?"

He didn't even pause. "No, I don't. But the bottom line is that MacLeod could die because of your little episode. Was it worth it?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Anyway, I've already checked. His Watcher is still in Tokyo, caught completely unawares, because Hosokawa never leaves the Orient. We've lost track of him."

It made sense, and she doubted that Dawson would lie to her about it. "I'm sorry, Dawson. I know you care about Duncan. But believe it or not, so do I. He's upstairs."

"I know you do, Duran. I guess...." he drifted off, then limped to the elevator, rode up and called out cheerfully, "MacLeod!"

"Come in, Dawson. Coffee?"

"No, thanks. I've already had my caffeine fix. So--"

"So?" asked Duncan, guessing what Dawson was going to say.

"So I talked to a very worried Richie last night, and he tells me you're taking on Hiroshi Hosokawa."

"Tonight. I'll make sure you have a ring side seat," Duncan quipped.

But Dawson was not amused. "MacLeod, I looked him up. Hosokawa's ... he's very good!"

"I know."

"Is Richie right? Are you fighting over her?"

"Let's just say he wants her and has to go through me first."

"I can't believe this, Mac! How can you do this to yourself?"

Duncan finished his coffee and rinsed out the cup. "Fighting is what we do, Dawson, remember?"

"But not like this. Not you, not without a good reason--"

"Look, Dawson, enough with the fatherly advice. I have a good reason, so why don't you just do your job, which is watching, and let me do the fighting, alright? Or are you worried about me, too? Richie is, and Connor doesn't think I can take Hosokawa's head."

"MacLeod, I didn't think you had a chance against Grayson, but you beat him. Then I thought you'd have a hell of a time with Kalas, but you took his head too. Right now, I can't think of any Immortal who could defeat you. But I'm surprised Duran herself is letting this happen!"

"She doesn't have a choice any more than I have. And thanks for the vote of confidence--I'm sorry if I sounded too harsh just now."

"It's alright, MacLeod. I guess we just want to see you stay around."

"We?"

Dawson smiled. "The royal we. Anyway," he said, "you watch yourself, my friend," he said, extending his hand.

Duncan shook it, smiling, confident. He knew the duel with Hosokawa would call forth all his skill, but he was up to the job, and he was ready. He couldn't have gone through everything he had in the last six months to lose his head to a jealous man now. Life couldn't be so cruel. "I always do," he answered.

Seacouver, July 27, 1996, midnight

Duncan and Elena both turned at the approach of an Immortal, but found it was Connor. Duncan allowed himself a momentary pang of regret for having sent him away the night before, but wasn't surprised to see him here. In fact, he was pleased, eager to have Connor see that he could defeat a great Immortal swordsman. He was also glad that Connor came in spite of their continuing disagreement about Elena.

"Connor," he said, and the other MacLeod nodded at them both.

"Hello, Duncan. It's a nice clear night. I see Elena's still with you."

"Are you surprised?" It struck him, then--he knew Connor so well, he could see that Connor was ready, it was the subtle way he moved, he stood--that if he failed to behead Hosokawa, Connor would fight the samurai, which wasn't surprising. He'd do the same for his kinsman. All of a sudden Connor's presence here was not so good after all.

"Not really. Richie?"

"I asked him to stay away," but as Duncan said it he heard the unmistakeable sounds of a motorcycle engine. Damn it, Richie! he thought to himself.

Connor smiled without humor. "I guess that's an answer."

As she watched the MacLeods Elena felt a tightness in her stomach. She knew Duncan was an excellent fencer--if anyone could beat Hiroshi, Duncan could...but then it came to her that she'd never actually seen Duncan in a duel to the death. She knew he didn't want to fight Hiroshi, but unless the samurai somehow changed his mind, unless maybe she could get him to change his mind, Duncan would have to do his best to part Hosokawa from his head. Neither one could afford to hold back, to hesitate, to be reluctant with an opponent of this caliber.

She had told Duncan as much as she could about Hiroshi's style--the two swords, the nimble footwork, the [juji dome] defense, and especially the almost uncanny sense of timing the samurai had. He knew exactly when to strike, and was skilled enough and quick enough to make good his intentions. As much as she admired and genuinely liked Hiroshi, she definitely wanted him to be the loser of this duel. And no mistake--Hiroshi would die. Even if Duncan defeated him and let him go, she was almost certain his samurai sense of honor would not permit him to live. [Seppuku,] or ritual suicide, would probably be his choice, and she had no doubt he could find someone to act as his [kaishakunin] and remove his head. He might even ask Duncan to do it for him! And worse; Duncan might actually agree!

But now Duncan was being *firm* with Richie. "Richie, I told you not to come! You can't do any good here!"

"Mac, wild horses couldn't keep me away, so just cool it. Don't worry; I won 't say anything that will get me in trouble. I just ... have to be here. OK?"

Duncan didn't like it, but there was nothing he could do. He hadn't even wanted Elena to come but was secretly glad she was here. He knew that these three loved him unconditionally, in spite of what he may have done or said to any of them, and their support gave him strength. And he knew he'd need all the strength he could muster to defeat the samurai.

They had been early. At five minutes before midnight they all together looked down the pier, away from the water. Well, he sure knows how to make an entrance, thought Duncan.

Seventeen

That night

Hosokawa Hiroshi strode down the pier purposefully, his brilliant colored kimono flashing and dimming as he passed under the sulfur lights. He was wearing sandals; his hair was in a topknot, and in the sash at his belt were two swords, a short and a long. As he came closer, Duncan tried to read his expression, but to no avail. He was the consummate inscrutable Asian.

Hiroshi was shorter than everyone there, yet carried himself with such confidence, she thought. Elena had always loved the way Duncan walked, almost glided along, with the grace of a dancer, like an athlete. But Hiroshi strutted with the complete conviction that he was the master of everything he surveyed. It was the same charisma, boldness, arrogance that had attracted her in the first place. As Hiroshi arrived and the two fighters stood, studying each other, she felt proud of them; even, in a small, perverse corner of her heart, proud that these two magnificent men were fighting over her! At the same time, she felt sick that one of them would die tonight because of her. It was not possible, [!Dios mio, no lo permitais!]

She stepped forward, and said, "Hiroshi," but he ignored her, bowing instead to Duncan, pulling his arms inside his voluminous sleeves and tucking them in his sash, inside the kimono. "I am Hosokawa Hiroshi," he stated, in accented English.

Duncan, who had already moved away from the others when the samurai approached, solemnly returned the bow. "I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, Hosokawa-san. But as I said before, I am not your enemy."

"We have been through this already," he said dismissively. "You have brought friends."

It was Connor's turn to bow. "I'm Connor MacLeod, his clansman," and Richie said, "My name is Richard Ryan, and ..." he paused, at a loss for words. Then he also bowed, awkwardly. "Duncan MacLeod is ... was my teacher and is my friend."

Hosokawa's eyebrows had risen when he heard Connor's name. "It seems I shall have the honor of beheading both Highlanders this morning. Perhaps your former student, if he survives, will learn something as well, MacLeod-san."

But Elena was not an easy person to ignore. She stepped between them. "No one has to behead anyone; this shouldn't be happening; and you can't fight about me, Hiroshi! I don't belong to you. I won't let you do this!" She regretted the harshness of her words as they came out. This was not the way to convince the samurai, and yet she had allowed his arrogance to anger her.

His eyebrows rose questioningly, and she continued. "Please listen to me, Hiroshi. Duncan MacLeod knew nothing about us because I didn't tell him. He is an honest man and an honorable man--one you should admire rather than try to kill. He believes in the code of the [bushido.] He trained in Japan--his katana was given to him by a samurai named Koto. He is not your enemy."

"He has a passionate advocate. Tell me, Elena, will you also defend the other MacLeod? Are you his lover as well?"

She ignored the jibe, realizing with a start the depth of his feelings, much more than she imagined. "This is just jealousy and possessiveness! I can't believe you would kill a man for this reason. Not you!"

"You stand with him, then." It was more a statement than a question.

"I don't want either of you to fight. I care about you, Hiroshi; but I love Duncan MacLeod. If it comes to that, yes, I stand by him, but I know he doesn't want to fight you."

"And why is he fighting, if not for you?"

"You're not giving him a choice, are you? Hiroshi, this battle may destroy you; even if it doesn't, it will gain you nothing!"

He seemed to think it over, then he said, "Very well. If he wishes to withdraw, tell him I will permit it."

Seeing the shine in the samurai's eyes, Elena wanted to break down and cry. He would *permit* it?! The slap across Duncan's face was all but physical. She felt the futility of her efforts descend upon her like a weight.

She turned to Duncan then, but he was not looking at her anymore. It was as though she didn't exist, and she knew this fight was no longer about her at all, not for Duncan, anyway. And maybe it never had been.

He was smiling at Hiroshi, but [!Madre de Dios!] what a smile! It was a smile she'd never seen on his face, a smile she'd never forget. It was the smile of a vicious and cool killer.

Weary, defeated, frightened, she stepped back away from the combatants, giving them plenty of room for their [danse macabre.]

Hosokawa Hiroshi pulled the arms out through his kimono sleeves and stood, measuring his opponent, while Duncan brought his katana, blade down, in front of him, closing his eyes briefly. Both men bowed, then Duncan took his stance, hilt in both hands, sword up and behind his left ear.

There was absolute stillness. Elena waited for the [deai,] the explosive moment when the two fighters would make their initial moves. If Hiroshi missed with his first cut he would leave himself exposed. That would be Duncan's best chance. She knew Duncan was an aggressive fighter, but just this once he might do better to wait, to let the samurai's blades glide across his own, to riposte. The danger, of course, was that Hiroshi might not miss with his first cut.

He didn't miss.

Literally faster than the eye could see, his blades were in his hand, and although the katana was nicely parried, the [wakisashi] cut Duncan open from his right shoulder to his left hip. Elena winced--the samurai had done the same to her, but here again the wound was shallow, as Duncan had simply stepped back as he parried.

Duncan hardly felt the cut, but it was as though his opponent had reached him through an opening that simply wasn't there! The Japanese style, which generally favored short fights, sometimes over almost as soon as they began, was less to Duncan's advantage than the more drawn out European 'strategic' fencing, and he called forth all the techniques he had learned from the Italian, French and Spanish masters, knowing they would be unfamiliar to Hosokawa. When he attacked he kept pressing, carefully watching both flashing blades, knowing Hosokawa, no matter how skilled and practiced, had to coordinate two blades instead of one.

Within a few short minutes they were both drenched in sweat, their effort and concentration pushed to the limit, and Duncan lunged for an opening. Hosokawa cried out in pain as Duncan buried his katana in the other man's right shoulder, higher than he'd hoped, but was forced to withdraw so quickly to avoid the returning blow at his neck that he didn't even have time to twist the blade in the wound.

Then Duncan pressed again, not wanting to give the samurai time to recover, but his sword was blocked and almost taken out of his hand by the 'crossed swords' of his opponent. He could tell Hosokawa was having difficulty with the katana in his right hand, but the samurai used his left shoulder to push down and compensate. As Duncan fought to retain his grip with both hands his body was turned to the right, his katana caught in the other two swords, and Hosokawa disengaged one sword, Duncan's side was to him, almost his back, he tried to swing back around, but the second sword kept him turned, his back was to the samurai! and Duncan saw the short blade sweep down and felt a horrible burning sharp pain across the back of his legs as it cut the tendons behind his knees.

His legs unable to support him, Duncan sank to his knees with a groan. He blocked the katana, but couldn't from his kneeling position turn fast enough to avoid the shorter sword coming from the other side. So he deliberately fell forward, intending to roll onto his back and block the next blow. But the muscles in his thighs and his calves were no longer connected, and as he tried to get the leverage to roll over, pushing up with his arms, he looked to the side and saw the [wakisashi] swing down towards his neck again.

Elena watched the fight closely, almost *feeling* the cuts as each man took them. She supposed this was her punishment. For one brief flashing second it occurred to her to interfere if it became necessary to save Duncan's life. But she immediately banished the temptation. Not only was it against the rules, it just wouldn't be fair to either of them, and Hiroshi simply didn't deserve to be betrayed this way.

When Duncan broke through Hiroshi's guard she thought, [!Ahora si!] but it was too high, it didn't go into his chest, and he still had that other damn sword! Then a blade streaked down, and she heard Duncan make a groaning sound and kneel, then fall on his face to the ground, trying to turn himself over; but something was wrong with his legs! and Hiroshi's relentless blade was swinging down in an arc....

"[!NO! !Hiroshi, por favor, no!]" she blurted 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 called out. She couldn't bear to see Ducan die in front of her like this! This couldn't be happening! "Please," she whispered again, just audibly.

There was nowhere for Duncan to go. He had no time to avoid the killing blow, no time to bring his sword around. Even if he could slash at his opponent's legs, it wouldn't do him any good. He was going to lose his head, now, in the next two seconds, and there was no way out this time, no tricks, no skill that would save him.

For a fraction of an instant he felt a wild, all-encompassing terror, a familiar fear from other such situations where he'd been bested. But that was almost immediately replaced by a deep regret, followed by a calm acceptance. He dimly heard Elena call out, "No! Hiroshi,..." and he thought about her briefly, fondly, and about Connor, who was watching, and would undoubtedly challenge the samurai next, and about Richie, who was also watching--he wished with all his heart he could spare the boy this!--and about so many others, none of his enemies, but all his friends, his lovers, mortals and Immortals alike, those who had made his long life worthwhile and fruitful and happy. Maybe now he would see some of the ones who had gone before him! And although he had done many wrong things, he had also done many right things, and, on balance, was satisfied with his life. How many men could say this at the moment of their deaths?

As all these thoughts flashed through his mind simultaneously, almost instantaneously, he whispered, "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." He was a warrior and an Immortal, and he was dying as he should be.

But the death blow didn't come. Instead, he felt Hosokawa's sandal press down on the back of his neck, pushing his face into the pier. Everything was so clear--he felt wooden splinters and small rocks pushing into his face; he could smell the blood and sweat of the combat; he could even still feel the hilt of his katana firmly in his hand, although it was on the wrong side; and he heard Elena saying, "...defeat him! Please don't take his head!" and then a much softer, "please." He even heard Richie's muted, "Oh, God, Mac, no...."

But if he could see and hear and feel all these things, he was still alive!From right above him he heard Hosokawa say, "I came a long distance to take his head, Elena."

Richie and Connor were behind him, but if he turned his head slightly up, he could see Elena, and she was ... she was kneeling! She was begging for *his* life! On her knees! And now what was she saying?!

"No, Hiroshi. You came a long distance for me! I'll come back with you to Tokyo, for as long as you want me! I'll do anything you want!" She felt so desperate, so helpless. She'd promise anything, do anything to keep Duncan alive!

But Duncan couldn't let her make that sacrifice--not for him! "Elena, don't!" he called out, but the samurai pressed down on his neck painfully, making it difficult for him to breathe.

"Silence, Highlander!" he hissed. "You are a dead man! You have no say in this matter!" And to her he said, shaking his head, "It is not enough!"

"Not enough?! What do you want from me? My life? Take it instead!" But she knew he wouldn't, so she went on, hopelessly, holding out her arms to him in a supplicating gesture, "Do you want me to stop loving him and love you instead? Is that what you want?!"

"Yes!" he answered. For the first time since they started, Duncan felt the samurai's very focused attention stray, from him to her. Maybe if they talked, maybe he could get his arms under him and push up against the lighter man. He still had his katana in his grip! A slight flicker of hope tickled his brain.

"That is what I've always wanted, from the beginning! That is the only thing I've wanted since I met you, Ele-chan!" It was the closest he had come to raising his voice.

Elena sobbed. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't pay that price. And it never occurred to her to lie. "I can't, Hiroshi! I wish I could, but I can't!"

"When I take the Highlander's quickening, all that he is will be within me. Then you will have no choice but to come to me. There will be no one else but me." He spoke quietly again, rationally, as if he were discussing a business deal, as if he didn't have a man's life in his hands.

So that's what it was, his reasoning, his reason for this whole fight! He was so wrong! "No, Hiroshi! If you kill him, I won't come to you! I'll hate you! Can't you understand that?!"

Hosokawa shook his head. "Right now you are angry, and sad. But in time--"

"In time what?!" she cried. "Do you think I'll ever forget that I begged you for his life, on my knees, and you killed him anyway?! Do you think I'll ever forgive you this?!" She was almost screaming--she forced herself to calm down, to match his own level of tranquility. "Hiroshi," she began, breathing hard with effort and fear, "I respect you. I admire what you stand for. I don't regret what happened between us. I care about you, and I wouldn't lie about this. But nothing you have ever done, or will ever do, will matter a damn to me if you kill Duncan MacLeod right now. Because ..." she searched for the words to convince him, "... for the rest of my life, whenever I think of you, this is what I will always see in my head: him lying helpless at your feet; you with your sword at his neck!"

Her voice had gone down to almost a whisper. Then Duncan felt Hosokawa's attention on him again, the eyes boring into the back of his head, and he knew any chance he had to survive was gone. But suddenly, unexpectedly, the pressure was removed.

Translations:

seppuku (Jap.) - ritual suicide to prevent loss of face or a public execution

kaishakunin (Jap.) - assistant to someone committing seppukku who decapitates the person as he disembowels him/herself self before it becomes too painful

Dios mio, no lo permitais (Span.) - God, don't permit it

danse macabre (French) - macabre dance

deai (Jap.) - explosive moment when opponents make their initial swift moves against each other from absolute stillness

ahora si (Span.) - this is it

por favor (Sp.) - please

iie, dozo (Jap.) - no, please

EPILOG

Immediately Duncan pushed himself back up to his knees, sword in hand, ready to fight for his life again. But Hosokawa had turned his back on him, sheathing his weapons, and was walking toward Elena, who was still kneeling on the pier.

No! Duncan thought, desperately, he couldn't lose her now, not after just a few days, not when he'd just gotten her back, not when he'd just survived this fight! This is what his life was always like, always losing the people he loved, one right after the other, inexorably, while he stood by, helpless. She'd given her word, and Duncan had no doubt whatsoever that she'd go with Hosokawa. The samurai could keep her for a week, years, decades!

But not this time! This time the one he loved was not irretrievably lost! He could still get her back! He tried to struggle to his feet, using the katana as a cane, but his legs hadn't yet healed, and he simply couldn't put any weight on them. Then someone approached from behind, and Connor was at his side, helping him stand, and Richie was on his other side. Standing between them, supported by them, he called out, "Samurai!"

Hosokawa turned to him, appraising him. "Elena says you are a man of honor. You are also a worthy opponent, Highlander; a true warrior." He touched the wound in his shoulder, which was just beginning to stop bleeding. "I might not be able to defeat you a second time."

"It'll be sooner than you think, Hosokawa. I'll be on the next plane, right behind you. I'll be coming for her, and for you." He said this almost sadly, because now it would begin once more. He didn't want to fight Hosokawa again--he had never wanted to--but he couldn't let her keep this promise that she'd made to save his life! So they would fight over her ... again. Not for the first time, he felt how true Elena's analogy of puppets on a string really was.

Hosokawa bowed in acknowledgement of Duncan's words, then turned to Elena. She rose, looking down on him. It was the only psychological edge she had, her greater height, because in spite of everything she'd said, for all intents and purposes she now did *belong* to him. And she was bound by the strongest of all possible chains: her own given word.

For a moment he looked at her silently. Then she visibly saw the change--his eyes became soft, his body more relaxed, less rigid, like he had been when they made love. She clearly saw that with her he was a different person.

He cupped her face in his hands. Slowly he leaned forward and kissed her hard on the lips, demandingly. Then, drawing back, he said, with a sad smile, "When you come to me because you want to, not because you have to, I will be waiting. Until that moment--[sayonara, Ele-chan.]"

Elena was speechless, astonished, but then gathered herself to say, "Hiroshi, I ... I thank you." Not only had he let Duncan go--he was also letting her go! He had won, fair and square, but he was going to let her go! "Thank you, Hiroshi. [Arigato gozaimasu.]" She bowed deeply, her eyes filling with hot tears.

Hosokawa returned her bow, then turned to the three men. By this time Duncan was almost standing on his own. He, too, was surprised at first, but then realized that Hosokawa would not risk losing Elena forever by killing him, and that, as a man of honor, the samurai would not hold her against her will. He felt an unwilling surge of respect.

"Do I have further business with any of you gentlemen?" Hosokawa asked.

"Not at this time," Connor answered for all of them, and Hosokawa smiled slightly at him.

"Then I will say goodbye. MacLeod-san." He bowed.

"I am in your debt, Hosokawa-san. How can I repay you?" Duncan felt he had to ask. It was, after all, the honorable thing to do. No matter what the original reason for it, it had been a fair fight, and Hosokawa had won, and he had let them both walk away. They both owed him.

"You cannot repay me for your life, Highlander, nor can you repay Elena," Hosokawa replied promptly. "But you can make sure never to harm her."

Duncan nodded. "You can rest on that score. May the winds be with you, Hosokawa-san," Duncan said, bowing in turn.

And the next moment Hosowaka Hiroshi, the samurai, was gone.

Elena rushed forward, past Duncan, to the edge of the pier, where she knelt again and emptied her stomach into the black water. Almost immediately there was someone by her side, holding her shoulders as she heaved, then placing a wet cloth against the back of her neck. After only a minute there was nothing left inside her, and she wiped her face with the cool cloth.

It was Connor kneeling next to her, and as she turned to him she wondered if it was a trick of the sulfur lights, but he looked deathly pale, his eyes sunken into his face like two black bottomless holes. "Better?" he asked. His voice sounded funny, too.

She shook her head, once again realizing that every time Connor was around she was doing something wrong or showing weakness. "I'm not the one who almost lost his head. How's Duncan?"

"Duncan's tough. And so are you."

"Sure." He helped her to her feet, then she turned to Duncan, who was just barely able to walk. Without a word she dashed into the circle of his arms. He hugged her hard, saying nothing, each marvelling at their mutual close escapes.

Duncan looked down at her. He looked so tired, as though the battle had taken every bit of energy, physical and mental, that he had. Still, he managed a smile, and for her his smile always lit up the darkness.

She was so beautiful, he thought, and he'd never forget what she had done for him! "Let's go home, sweetheart," he said.

Later that morning in bed they held each other and spoke of passion, jealousy and honor, and fear, also. "He managed to surprise me at every turn--and I thought *I* was unpredictable!" she said. "I never thought he'd come; and once he was here, I never thought he'd go back empty-handed."

"But he didn't did he? He still has your affection, at least, and our respect. Plus--we do still owe him," countered Duncan.

"Yes. And he's a remarkable man--but I chose you. I hope that makes you as happy as I am, [!querido!]"

For an answer, he turned over on top of her and kissed her long and deeply, his fingers tangling in her hair. "I want to thank you, Elena. For doing what you did. For me." Even if you did interfere, he thought to himself, then pushed that thought aside, for the moment.

"It was the least I could do," she breathed, "after getting you into such a bad situation." What she didn't add is that she didn't think she could bear to see him die right in front of her.

He giggled, surprising her. He loved everything about her, all the little details, even the way she pronounced "see-too-ay-shon." Then, smiling that other special smile that seemed to turn her blood to fire, he said hoarsely, "Enough talk."

Seacouver, July 28, 1996, 8 p.m.

They had agreed to get together for a drink at Joe's that evening, and Duncan and Elena arrived just as Richie and Teri pulled up on his bike. They greeted each other, then Duncan said, "Why don't you ladies go on ahead," and turned to the younger Immortal.

"So where have you been all day?" he asked, more out of force of habit than need, standing outside the door--then immediately regretted it, feeling he no longer had the right.

But Richie seemed unperturbed. "Good old Mac. Even after you tried to take my head, you still feel protective of me, don't you?"

If there was any ridicule or sarcasm in his tone, Duncan missed it. Maybe he wanted to miss it. He decided to answer the question seriously. "You're my student and my friend. I guess I'll never stop worrying about you, Richie."

"Mac, I know you weren't yourself when you attacked me. And as far as forgiving you ... I'm really trying, you know? But we can't go back to the way we were. I'm not your student anymore, and I'm not sure if I can ... completely trust you, not completely, not right away."

"Take all the time you need, Richie. That's the one thing we do have."

"Yeah." He shook his head. "So many things have happened--I have a lot to think about, to talk about. But the one thing I'm sure of is that it's just not the same anymore, and it never will be again."

"I understand," Duncan answered, wondering exactly what Richie was leading up to.

"So maybe we can start over, but as equals this time, right?"

"Right. Absolutely." Already Duncan was mourning the loss of his young protégé, but he was very careful not to show it.

"Alright." Richie held out his hand, and Duncan shook it, wondering if the young Immortal was trying to talk himself into something; if he was really buying what he was selling; if he, Duncan, could accept it so easily.

"But about last night?" "Yeah?" Duncan asked."It was really scary."

Duncan could see how serious Richie was. "For me, too."

"That's twice you've really scared me, Mac. Don't ever scare me like that again!"

Duncan smiled crookedly. "It's a deal."

Meanwhile, Elena walked inside to find Connor sitting at the bar, near Joe Dawson and Bernie Liebowitz.

But with Teri there--no, she didn't care that Teri was there! "So," she asked, walking up, "did you gentlemen enjoy the show? Did we perform to your satisfaction?" Although she would do it again in a second, she felt angry that these men had seen her humble herself, and that they would judge her, and write about it for others to read and also judge her.

"Well, I for one thought you showed more guts last night than anybody I've seen in a long time," said Dawson.

She was surprised, but still skeptical. "Really?"

Dawson placed a glass of scotch in front of her, brown eyes looking into grey. "Really," he said, completely sincerely. Then he nodded at Connor. "Compliments of Mr. MacLeod over here. Teri!" he exclaimed happily. "The usual?"

"Yes, I guess so, but what...."

Elena missed the rest of the question. Still surprised, she glanced at Connor, who saluted her, raising his own glass. "I told you I didn't like scotch," she said with a smile.

"Come on, Elena," argued Connor. "Don't you know a peace offering when you see it?" He walked over and sat next to her, an odd, almost innocent expression on his face. He looked less pale than the night before, more composed, more like the rigidly self-controlled Connor MacLeod she knew.

What do you want, Connor? she wondered to herself. Then, she added to herself: trust! "Does this mean you forgive me all the terrible things I've done to Duncan?"

He smiled. "Not necessarily. Let's just say I'm convinced."

"Convinced of what?"

"That you were telling the truth when you said you really loved him." He paused, then added, "Thank you."

In the background she barely heard the band start to play. He was looking straight at her, and she could feel the strength of his personality, his full concentration on her. Thank you? she thought. She had an idea how much that had cost him; but she, too had paid a high price. They had both done it for Duncan, and for her part she was satisfied he was well worth it. Just thinking about Duncan made her heart feel light in her chest. She looked down at the bar, then back at Connor. "Does this mean you're not after my head anymore?" she whispered, trusting the music would keep anyone from overhearing.

He had quite a charming smile when he was in the mood. "Not at the moment, no."

"But if circumstances changed...." With him, always, somehow, she had to know, had to push, and she wasn't sure that would ever change.

He shrugged, leaning forward. "There can be only one," he whispered in her ear.

A moment before Duncan had walked in with Richie, and he was pleased to see Connor lean away from Elena and the two of them clink their glasses together. Neither was frowning or seemed tense. Maybe now two of the most important people in his life, two of the ones he trusted the most, would stop wanting to kill each other, would actually start trusting each other. He came up and put his arm around her.

"I'll drink to that." Elena smiled, and took a swallow.

To Part Ten, "Elena and Methos".