"Echoes of Ireland"

Photo by Mark Harrison/ Art & Photo-Manipulation by Tanah Haney

Hold Fast

Rhiannon Shaw

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Rated R for implied f/f sex.  This one deals with AIDS, with domestic abuse, and with love, relationships, and grief.  If these topics bother you, or you're underage, please hit the key at the top left which says 'Back'.

As usual, Rysher: Panzer/Davis owns all the characters who look familiar from Highlander, either the movie or the series.  This is written purely for pleasure, mine and (hopefully) yours.  I'm not making a penny off of this and don't expect to.  If you don't recognize a character from the series or movie, (Aidan Logan & Danielle St. Vir come to mind most immediately) s/he is probably mine.



 3/90 - New York City, the offices of Morgan, Bell, and Danberg
 

The letter-opener slit the envelope open quickly with a short ripping sound that brought the woman's head up.  The sharp motion didn't go unnoticed by her companion's odd light-shot eyes but he said nothing, only ran one hand through already rumpled sandy hair.  Hers hung in a single thick braid to her waist, light-sheened darkness that swung forward as she leaned to take the letter.

"Aidan...."  His concern went unheeded as her grey eyes focused in on the letter.  Within a few seconds those eyes closed, skin paling.  After a long moment she looked up again and refolded the letter.  He knew she couldn't have read it all; she hadn't even turned to the second page.

"Will you pass me the envelope, please, Russell?"  Finally she met his eyes, but there was no life in her gaze, none of her usual animated enthusiasm and wit.

"Are you sure you want to do this?  We weren't asked, it isn't required of you."   Nevertheless, he handed her the envelope and watched as she tucked the letter back in, then placed both within the backpack she had brought along for their sparring session later.  He didn't think they'd be practicing now.

"I know."  Aidan drew a long breath, then let it sigh out equally slowly.  "But yes, of course I'll do it.  It's the last thing I can do for her.  The only thing she's allowed me to do.  You don't have to help; you weren't asked either.  I could see it in your face."

The man behind the desk cleared his throat quietly, managing to be unobtrusive despite the very expensive three-piece suit he wore.  "Ms. Logan, Mr. Nash, I know it's an unusual situation, but I was given to understand that this was how my client wished the matter handled.  She made all the provisions for her will while still of sound mind and..."  here he hesitated, looking for a good word, and finally settled for the best of a meager lot, "... predominantly sound body.  Sound enough so as not to interfere with her thinking processes.  Arrangements were made in case you both refused, but she seemed certain that at least one of you would be willing to serve as executor.  Do I understand correctly that both of you are willing to do so, despite having never seen the will?"

Aidan nodded slowly.  "You do.  We will.  You were to give me this envelope regardless of what we said, weren't you?"

"Yes, Ms. Logan.  That was specified very clearly and repeatedly.  You were to have that letter immediately, although my client left no requirement that you read it before executing the will."  The lawyer fidgeted slightly, the fingers of his left hand drumming against his leg.  Such a very young woman to have such an old expression on her face and to speak in such final terms of obligation.  You didn't see that much anymore in the current generation.  But neither of them, not the tough-looking man nor the self-contained young woman, seemed the type to have been friends with Danielle St. Vir.

 * * * *

My beautiful love,

You probably think I have no right to call you that, to use the word.  What did you once say?  Love is needing your happiness to ensure my own?  Well, I've done the best I could for you, no matter how it seemed at the time.  Please, keep reading.  I need to explain this in my own way, in its own pattern.  Know that I am truly sorry for the argument.  I didn't mean or believe a word of it, but I had to say it.  There were good reasons.  You don't know what I look like today, and I'm just as glad.  This is almost over.  All of it is almost done, and soon I can petition the Goddess to send me back to you.

I never told you so many things, we didn't have the time, but your faith in your Goddess always comforted me as much as your touch.  I have nowhere else to turn now, my family's church disowned me when they did.  Your faith, your Goddess - I remember your love in my every thought of Her.  Maybe She will show me the same love that you did.  Maybe She'll grant us more time in the next life.  I hope so.  But I have to tell you some things before I die (oh, Lady, I hate writing that.  It wasn't real until I wrote that) so that you can understand what happened.  I know you hate me, but I don't want you to hate yourself over this.

> * * * *

3/90 - NYC, Dani's apartment

Connor studied the detailed inventory and shook his head in wonder.  "My God, who would have thought Dani would be so organized about anything?"

Rachel regarded him with fond exasperation.  "Anyone who looked at one of her tapestries, Connor.   I watched her thread one of her looms once.  Dani had an abundance of both patience and organization - for anything she wanted to do."  Shoulder-length, immaculately groomed blond hair caught the light as his secretary/assistant turned to look around the loft apartment.

Carefully labeled boxes sat in neatly arranged rows, a second copy of the applicable inventory page taped to the first box of each line.  On every wall, woven art cried out against the otherwise sterile space, chaos warring with order, texture and color fighting against emptiness and flat blocks of neutral color.  Pale wood floors, beige walls to set off the artworks, white ceilings - if not for the tapestries creating their worlds of color and emotion, the room would have been unbearable in its emptiness.

Rachel turned back to look at Connor.  "How is Aidan holding up?"

Eyes that reflected green in the sunlight met blue for a moment, then Connor turned away again and the darkening eyes matched his thoughts.  "She won't die of it."  He continued hastily before Rachel could reply to that.  "Not well.  She's hasn't said anything, but she's hurting.  I don't think she's cried.  I'm not sure she can."

"I don't think so either, but I'm not sure she cried when they had that last fight.  What was that, Connor, a year ago?"  The older-appearing woman sat down on a stool as she waited for his answer.  Both of them had already done seven hours at his antique store, and now they had this to work through.  It promised to be a long month at this rate.

"Aye, Rachel, eleven months.  April it was, right after Dani's last show.  Are you sure you're the younger of us?  Shouldn't I be the one with memory problems?"

"Maybe by the time I'm four hundred and seventy years old..."

"Four hundred and sixty-nine, woman, you'd have me ancient before my time!" he protested.

"... and have gone through six names, Mr. 'Russell Nash', I'll have figured out how to keep track of everything in my head.  Since I'm just getting ready to hit fifty, I'll do it my own way.  Why do you think I keep a record book at my desk and a steno pad in my purse?"  Rachel continued.

"Because you're the most efficient assistant I've ever had, of course.  Shall we start checking things against the inventory?"

"Certainly.  We'll have to get Aidan in here sometime, Connor, if only to pick out some keepsakes for herself.  Or do you think we need to do it for her?"

Connor threw Rachel an ironic look.  "She'll do it, Rachel.  Aidan will make herself do it, because she said she would.  You know that as well as I do.  She'd be here now except she volunteered to deal with the bank and the landlord."

Rachel sighed.  "Yes, I know she'll do it.  Didn't you tell me that she brought you the whiskey because she had made a promise in the 1600's?"

"No, the 1500's.  She made the promise in 1548.  Do you remember when she came to redeem it?"  Connor smiled at the memory, and so did Rachel.

"Yes, of course I remember, Connor.  How could I not?"

 * * * *

11/87 - NYC, Nash Antiques

Outside the window on which (from Rachel's perspective) reversed lettering read 'Nash Antiques', a young woman paused for a moment, glancing from a slip of paper to the street number on the door and back again.  Rachel raised an eyebrow slightly when she walked in.  The young lady did not resemble their usual clientele.

Four inch heels made her at least six feet tall and flattered legs which did not need the help.  Long, well-muscled legs rose out of black patent-leather heels, pale even through the black hose.  Despite the cold and snow she wore no coat.  A very short, black leather mini-skirt extended barely to mid-thigh and clung to every inch of her upper thighs, hips and ass along the way.  A thin crimson silk sweater poured across her torso lovingly from her shoulders to the waist of the skirt.  The fabric clung to her every curve but was thin enough to show any line of the bra she hadn't worn.  A large silver oak leaf, exquisitely detailed, hung between her breasts.  A small black clutch purse completed the outfit.

Well-shaped dark eyebrows stood out prominently on that ivory-cream skin, almost as sharply as the crimson-painted lips.  The pointed chin and Roman nose lent her a feline air, enhanced by the expression in alert grey eyes.  Brown hair so dark as to be almost black had been pulled back into a French twist from which a couple of long curls had escaped around the edges.  All in all, Rachel decided, the young woman had an almost European loveliness to her, if slightly regrettable taste in clothes.  A pity, lengthen the skirt just a bit and she'd be truly exquisite.

"May I help you?"  Rachel kept her voice strictly professional.  She had no appointments scheduled for today and Connor had not mentioned anything.  Granted the young brunette might be a customer, but they usually came in and browsed for awhile.  This one had walked straight to the desk and studied the guest book, then Rachel, out of intense eyes that didn't seem to miss a thing.

Finally she spoke, a calm soprano that carried all too clearly to Rachel, who became suddenly glad there were no other customers.  "I'm here to see Connor MacLeod."

After a stunned second the secretary forced her voice to stay level as she replied, "I'm sorry, I think you must be in the wrong place."

The woman raised an eyebrow in an ironic glance that made her suddenly appear much older than the twenty-three or -four years Rachel had initially assigned as a mental guess.  Slowly she pulled an envelope from her purse and then looked back at Rachel.

"This is 4318 Hudson Street, is it not?  Nash Antiques, yes?"

"I... yes, it is, but there's no such person here, Miss...?"

"Logan, Aidan Logan.  Evidently there's been some kind of misunderstanding.  However, would you please be kind enough to tell Mr. 'Nash'  that Brother Darius sent me.  I have a letter of introduction if you like."  The amused smile made Rachel wonder how much this woman thought she knew.

"Ms. Logan, we have no one here by the name of MacLeod.  I'll be happy to tell Mr. Nash you're here, but he's an extremely busy man."

The elevator door opened behind Rachel and Connor stepped out, eyes narrowed on Aidan.  Immortal presence pulsed over him, a steady drumming heartbeat of sensation along his nerves unlike anything he'd ever felt before.  Anticipation and pleasure rode on that presence, an odd sensation that he'd never felt from another immortal.  The Highlander tugged casually on his trenchcoat, settling it into place to give him access to his katana.  "I'll handle this, Rachel.  You would be--?"

Aidan walked to him, hands held slightly away from her side and conspicuously empty.  She appraised him as openly has he did her, taking in sandy hair in need of a good haircut, green eyes, a mobile mouth and gloriously expressive eyebrows.  Not pretty, this Connor MacLeod, but there was very definitely a personality under that face, going past bone structure and into charisma.

"I'm Aidan Logan."  Switching to Gaelic, she asked, "Can we talk further in front of your assistant or does this need to be done elsewhere?"

In English, Connor replied, "What can I do for you, Ms. Logan?'

"I'm looking for Connor MacLeod, to repay a debt.  Brother Darius sent me here with a letter of introduction.  It's been something of a long trip; might I bother you for coffee and a chair?"  Amusement danced in her eyes and mischief in her smile.

"You can sit down in that skirt?  I'm amazed.  I'm not sure how you got into that outfit, short of painting it on, and you certainly aren't carrying a sword under there.  So what kind of debt were you going to repay and how?"  The caustic bluntness bounced off her entirely, and Connor marked some points on her ledger.  Few people ignored his sarcasm so splendidly, and the implication that she was whoring didn't seem to bother her at all.

"Oh, sitting in short skirts is simple.  Cross your legs high up on the thigh and don't blush no matter what.  And no, I'm not carrying a sword.  Where would I put it?"  She arched her back slightly and twisted her head to look back over her shoulder.  "I don't think I could hide a shortsword today if I took my hair down.   However, will you answer one question for me?"

"I might."  Connor tilted his head to her in a grudging respect.  "Not many match me rudeness for rudeness."

She shrugged, which did interesting things under the clinging sweater.  "You're just blunt.  That's not a sin, despite what the academics will say these days.  And it's a simple question.  Are you Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, last student of Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez?"

Connor settled his stance a bit more carefully.  "Is this a challenge then?"

"It is not."  The rock-solid certainty of the voice was unquestionable.  "Would it matter?"

"Only in the matter of you keeping your head."

That drew a smile.  "I should have looked for you long ago.  Are you Connor MacLeod, then?"

Connor nodded once.  "I am."

Still smiling she admitted, 'Hmm, I do have a second question.  Sorry, I know I said one.  Did you kill the Kurgan?"

"Do I get a medal?"

That drew laughter, bell-toned and ringing.  "Whoever did it should.  Sweet Lady bless, he should be sainted.  I crossed swords with the Kurgan once, and I will freely admit I ran like hell from that fight."

Connor's surprised stare turned frankly admiring.  'I'm amazed you made it."  Rachel had given up any pretense of not listening to this conversation and was watching openly.

'Well, it was a very long drop into a fairly deep river.  I got away.  That was all that counted at that point.  I even managed to keep my sword, which was a miracle in and of itself.  Did you kill him?"  She bored back around to the question in a sweet, implacable tone.

"I did."

"Good.  I'm in the right place.  I'll be right back."  And she turned on one high heel and gave Connor a very nice view of her retreating ass as she strode back out the front door into the cold and snow.

Behind her, Rachel stared at Connor and said, "She's one of you, then?'

"Yes, but I don't know who.  I've never heard of her."  Connor settled one hip onto Rachel's desk, settling his hands into the pockets of his dress slacks.  "This should be interesting."

"You have your sword?"  Rachel kept her voice calm as she asked, but Connor had tried very hard (and fairly successfully) to keep immortal problems from involving her.  She was frightened.

"Of course.  It's all right, Rachel.  She's not here to fight."  He watched as Aidan returned, a dusty wooden case balanced on one shoulder and thought to himself, 'Although I have no idea why she is here.'

She looked around, amused, and asked, "Where can I put this?"

Connor pointed silently to the floor.  She managed to set it down without exposing herself too badly, stood up and walked out again.  Against his will and better judgment, Connor went to examine the crate.  He hadn't seen customs markings like that-- one hand rubbed free some of the dirt and cobwebs, wincing at the thought of what they had done to her silk top-- since he'd been a merchant trader working out of Boston in the 1780's.

The dark-haired woman brought in another case, equally dusty and with a matching set of custom's markings and Lisbon stamps this time.  The next box had French notations on it, and she set that one down very carefully indeed.  On the fourth trip, Aidan placed a relatively new case marked in Italian on the floor and smiled up at Connor.  "They're all yours.  Thank you.  I've been saving these for whoever avenged Ramirez."

She stood up and dusted futilely at her sweater.  'Oh, well, maybe the cleaners can save it.  I'd best be going before the police figure out that I'm parked illegally."

Connor held a hand up.  "I'll show you where to park.  But I want to know what's in these and why you're paying me for killing the Kurgan."

Clear grey eyes met his levelly.  "From left to right?  17th century Scotch, 18th century port, 19th century champagne, and 20th century red.  But this isn't payment, it's a completely inadequate thank you.  I couldn't avenge Ramirez, much though I wanted to.  You did."

"You two were lovers?"

'No.  You were his last student.  I was his first.  Watch your head, brother."  Aidan turned for the door only to feel a strong hand on her shoulder.  She could tell from the pressure that he wouldn't stop her by force so she turned to see what Connor wanted.

"Will you stay?  I'll show you where to park."

A brilliant smile lit her face.  "Yes.  This way I get to see your face when you open the boxes."

 * * * *

 3/90 - NYC, Dani's apartment

Connor felt her presence before Aidan knocked on the door of Dani's apartment.  'signature' was unique enough to be instantly recognizable.  For once, he could get no sign of her emotional state.  A bad sign, that.  Out loud he only asked, 'What kept you?"

Hands full of paper bags, she shrugged, sending her pony-tail swaying down her back and across her coat.  Snow still sparkled here and there on the dark brown mass.  "I stopped to pick up dinner.  Rachel, you still like General Tso Chicken, don't you?"

Rachel came out of the bedroom and smiled at Aidan.  "Yes, that's wonderful.  You look frozen.  I found the coffee pot, do you want some?"

"Please.  It's snowing again."  The food laid out on the table, Aidan finally had no excuse not to look around the apartment.  She wandered around, seeing familiar furniture in unexpected places, examining the tapestries on the walls.  Once she smiled at an old favorite.  Her hands stroked gently across one she had never seen before, completed in the last rush for the April exhibit last year, she suspected.

"Aidan.  Come eat before it gets cold."

Connor's voice dragged her attention away from the tapestries and Aidan looked around the essentially abandoned room where she had spent so many nights, few of them much interested in sleep.  Before the pain could rise up and strike her again, Aidan forced herself to study the sight long and hard.  A time would come when she would want to remember this.  That done, she turned her back on it and sat down with Connor and Rachel.

"So, did you leave me any crab rangoon?"

Rachel passed her one, a sympathetic expression on her face.  "Are you all right?"

Aidan raised one eyebrow, a cynical half-smile on her face.  'It's only pain, Rachel, we're old friends."  At the stricken expression on Rachel's face, the immortal's voice softened.  "I'll be all right.  I don't want to believe it myself right now, but I've done this before and survived.  I'll make it through this one too, Rachel."

Connor put a hand on her back for a second.  Aidan shook her head almost imperceptibly and he let go.

"I can't, Connor.  I'll break and be no good to anyone.  Later.  I'll grieve when we're done."

He studied her silently, then went back to eating.

Rachel altered the topic slightly.  "I hate to ask, but did the lawyer ever say what she died of?"

Aidan gazed up at her expressionlessly.  "AIDS, Rachel.  She died of complications from AIDS."

Connor set his fork down.  "How?  There are only so many ways to get that, Aidan.  Dani never had a blood transfusion before you two broke up.  And she hated needles.  But the only lovers she ever took were you and... her ex-husband."

Aidan nodded once, bending her attention back to her food.  "And we know she didn't get it from me."

 * * * *

You knew I was married, Aidan.  I never told you why I divorced him and moved to the City, did I?  It wasn't the fact that I never enjoyed sex with him.  I think you guessed what sort of religion my family holds to.  The Bible is the word of God, all of it, even books like the Epistles or The Song of Solomon; a man's place is in the field or the workforce; a woman's place is the church, the kitchen or with her children.

For whatever reason, I never checked to see if it was him or me, we didn't have children.  It wasn't for lack of trying.  I would have loved them.  That was the only thing I regretted about being attracted to women; kind of hard to have kids, you know?  Oh, I know, artificial insemination and all that.  We could have managed something if we wanted.  Adoption is a good word.  Next time around, love.

Anyway, Bob.  I didn't love him, I married him because - Well, I suppose because it was expected of me and I didn't have a good reason not to, or maybe just not good enough to be worth the trouble of not marrying him.   I could put up with the fact that sex with him involved some really interesting fantasies on my part since he didn't believe in lubricants - or foreplay.  (I miss your hands, love, and waking up in your arms.)  I could even tolerate his affairs; I pretended they were none of my business and consoled myself with the fact that he didn't flaunt them in my face.  Of course, he didn't want sex at home as much either, which I thought was good.

When he hit me the first time, because he couldn't get it up all the way (he was drunk), I believed him when he apologized the next morning.  I covered up the bruises, not difficult in winter in Buffalo, and went on with my life and my part-time job.  (I was working in the Art College bookstore to pay for classes without him raising too much fuss.)  The second time he beat me, he knocked me into my loom, destroyed three weeks of work and gave me a greenstick break on one arm.  I called the cops.

My family never forgave me.  I should have let him beat me; it was my fault for not being sufficiently 'womanly', you see.  When I divorced him, they stopped talking to me.  I never told you, but when word got back to them that I had a girlfriend they sent me a letter disowning me, formally disinheriting me.  Not your fault, you know.  If it hadn't been you, I would have found a female lover sooner or later.  I certainly wasn't looking at men.  And if I had to be disowned, at least it was for you.

(My lawyer has a copy of that letter from my family, by the way, and of the divorce decree, and a few other things.  You and Connor aren't to worry.  My family doesn't get a penny.  Gods help them if they try.)

 * * * *

11/87 - NYC, Connor's study

Bottles lay on the floor everywhere, empty bottles on their sides, a couple full bottles on upper shelves, an almost-empty bottle beside Aidan.  She reached for it unsteadily and managed not to spill any wine on the rug.  "Connor?  Y'want some?"

Grey eyes somehow focused on his face and she nodded.  "Da, tbi....  No, wrong language.  You broke it.  Kind of dishtin... distingwi....  Looks good, you know?  'Cept for the blood, that is.  Anyway, tha's how Ramirez ended up a Grande in Cordoba.  Ish there more wine?  I still miss him.'

"Heh heh.  Never leave a lady in distresh....  It's over...."  His feet went out from under him when he tried to get up.  The resulting thud knocked over several carefully piled (empty) bottles.  One full bottle landed on a cushion and Aidan managed to crawl to it.  Connor leered from where he lay on the floor.  Crawling in a mini-skirt gave a very good view - the crimson panties matched her sweater, too.

The bottle cork wouldn't come out despite Aidan's best efforts.  A corkscrew would have helped but she couldn't stand to get to the shelf it lay on.  With difficulty, she turned to see if Connor could help.  He lay snoring on the floor.

"Wha' good are you?  Well, why'm I lookin' for a drink anyway?  Can't hold a wake wi' one person.  Jus' not right."  She sat there, gathering strength and waiting for the room to quit spinning.  After a minute she chuckled.  "Not ever'body can drink me onto the floor like this.  Good work, brother."

Lying there drunk, Connor's wine glass in her hand, Aidan drained the last of the wine.  "Loved you, Ramirez, y'old goat.  Hope you kicked an' scratched in Kurgan's head all four hundr'd years."  After a couple minutes peaceful (and inebriated) contemplation of the ceiling, she stretched out a foot and kicked Connor.

"Huh?  Wha'?  Oh.  It's mornin'.  Lesh go get breakfas'."  He pushed himself upright somehow.

"Too drunk to cook.  Too drunk to sleep.  Def'nitely too drunk to drive.  Couldn't get the key in the door right now."  Aidan thought about it.  "Could call a cab.  Phone's on a table.  Wouldn't have to stand 'til they got here.  Got money.'

'I'm the host.  I'm buyin'," Connor insisted firmly.  "But you call.  Can't 'member the number."

Sensibly, Aidan let the local operator patch the call through.  When the driver got there, she and Connor staggered out to the cab together, leaning on each other for support.

"Money up front."  The cab driver saw two very drunk people wanting a ride at 5 AM; no way he was getting stiffed by folks who'd already drunk all their cash.  Connor waved a twenty-dollar bill in front of him and the driver said, 'Okay, pal, where ya goin?"

Aidan tried to open the door, slipped on the ice and fell into Connor, who skidded onto the cab and both of them landed in the snow.  The cab driver sat and watched as they finally pulled themselves into cab and fell onto the seat.  "Musta been one helluva party.  Where to?"

"The Perkins on 12th," Connor got out.  He turned and looked at Aidan.  "I think we'll live."  Aidan, however, had her head on his shoulder and had fallen soundly asleep.  He wrapped his arms around her waist for the extra warmth and watched the city go by, thinking that the hangover from this ought to be impressive.

 * * * *

3/90 - NYC, Dani's apartment

Rachel rolled the last tapestry carefully for transport to the antique store.  In the next room, Aidan finished taping shut a packing box for donation to the Salvation Army.  There was a large stack going to them, mostly clothes and household effects.  Other than a few very specific bequests, the will had left the entire estate to Connor and Aidan after medical expenses.  Dani's life insurance had covered the estate taxes and cost of the cremation.  The question of what to do with her ashes hung in the air unspoken, but both of them were thinking about it.  On that one subject, Dani had left no instructions.

Connor had given Aidan first choice on the remainder of estate.  He'd known Dani longer, but Aidan had been her lover.  Not surprisingly, the two of them had sorted it out amicably enough.  Furniture was easily split; what they didn't want had gone to the antique store, with the proceeds to go to an AIDS research foundation.  Jewelry they had handled the same way, with Rachel getting some of the pieces.

 Dani's tapestries they had held off on.  Her art hurt too much just yet for them to do anything with it.  Both were agreed, though:  the pieces would go to people who would appreciate them properly and any time it was a sale the money would be donated to AIDS charities.

The books had actually been the most difficult part.  Dani's eclectic library held more art and antiques books than either immortal had.  Finally they sorted out books where one already had a copy and the other got the book, then Connor suggested a solution.

"Put the rest of them in a pile.  We spar, best two out of three, and the winner gets first pick.  We'll pick one at a time until the pile's gone."

"Done."

 * * * *

Anyway, I'll put down as much as I can, but I get so tired these days.  It's funny, I always respected what you do, but trying to get these words written down, looking for the right one out of memory to say just what I want - because dictionaries are heavy and I'm tired - well, I understand now why you could sympathize with what I was trying to do with fabrics and colors.  I knew what you did required at least an appreciation of art, but I'm only just beginning to understand that in your own way you're an artist, too.  My ego got in the way, I suppose.

I'm sorry, love, I should have told you all these things in person, but I didn't want you to see me like this, and I didn't want to run the risk of exposing you to the Plague.  That's why I drove you off with that fight and why I said so many of those things.  I don't want to think about that just yet.

Did you ever tell Connor and Fitz thanks for introducing us?  Will you, please, for me?  That party is one of my favorite memories, Aidan.  I always loved the way you look, even in beat-up jeans and that old fisherman's sweater you're so fond of, but you were beautiful that night.

  * * * *

12/87 - NYC, Connor's brownstone

Immortal presence surged over Aidan, pressing on her from all sides and she glanced around as she hung her cloak on the wall carefully lest the swords hung in the seams clang against the wall.  At least ten immortals she recognized immediately.  To her pleasure, only two of them knew her and nodded.  She turned to move into the party, silver fabric flaring as the long skirt of her dress swirled around her legs.

Across the room Damien Appesard turned and began to work his way through the mortal and immortal crowd.  MacLeod's parties were always packed these last two years, but the company was good and some of the loveliest women showed up - including his teacher's teacher, apparently.

Aidan turned around as the soft, Southern-accented bass voice rumbled, "Magistra.  It's good to see you again."  The burly man who stood there reached out and hugged her and she returned it gladly.

"It's been too long, Damiano.  How are you?"  She stepped back and studied him.  The tuxedo suited him; the green tie and emerald studs accented his red hair beautifully.  Other than the formal clothing, the two immortals were a study in contrasts.  Golden skin and red hair on a build that a professional defensive lineman might envy stood 5' 9".  Aidan's ivory skin and sable hair contrasted as sharply against his coloring as her slender 5' 8" of height did against his bulk.

He reached out, wide strong hands smoothing her hair down her back.  "I'm doing fine.  I like your hair; the curls are lovely.  How long has it been this time?"

"Oh, what," and she switched to Italian, "call it thirty years?  I know I was in Milan.  What name are you using now?"

"Damien Appesard, at your service, my lady fair," and he swept her a flourishing bow, also speaking Italian.  "And you?"

"Aidan Logan, old friend."  She switched back to English.  "Have you known Connor long?"

"Oh, a good while now.  I've been investing in some ventures with him for years now.  Have you said hello yet?"

Aidan took his arm.  "No, I haven't, nor to Rachel.  I assume she's here somewhere."

'She is; I saw her over by the tree.  Shall we?"  He held out an arm to her, and Aidan rested a hand on it lightly.

"Please.  So where are you living now?  I haven't had an address or phone number for you in ages, I'm sorry to say."  She leaned toward him as they walked, keeping her voice down.

?I'm in Charleston, South Carolina.  I'll give you a business card before you go."  They maneuvered smoothly through the crowd, with Damien making introductions where necessary.  "Where are you based these days?"  Then he stopped and hissed softly, breath easing into a guttural German curse that brought a few immortal heads around.

Aidan looked ahead of him and saw Rachel standing trapped between the gaily decorated Christmas tree, the wall, and a foppishly-dressed immortal she had not thought would live so long.  Body language screamed the whole situation in a that single glance.  Rachel wanted to move away from Alban; Alban wanted to bed her and wasn't taking no for an answer; and Damien's notorious temper was going up in flames.

A bruisingly-tight grip on his arm brought the redhead's attention back to her.  Still in Italian, Aidan murmured, "I will handle him, you get Rachel away."  When the Damien appeared ready to argue she glared at him and said, "I have kept my temper and my head longer than you.  Do it my way, Damiano.  Get her to someone safe, say Connor or FitzCairn if he's here.  All right?"

"Certainly, magistra.  I should have taken his head that time."  Damien convulsively swallowed his rage down, feeling it change to that cold burning intensity which was such a long-standing friend.

"You probably should have, but it's done.  This party is neutral ground or we face Connor.  I'd rather not fight a man who could kill the Kurgan.  I'll deal with Alban, you rescue Rachel.  Let's go."  At  his assent, they moved forward again, a pair of hunting hounds locked on their chosen prey.

Rachel saw motion around the side of Phillipe Alban's chest and hoped it was Connor.  Instead, the young-appearing woman Connor sometimes called 'sister' came into sight, moving side by side with Damien, one of the most heavily muscled men Rachel had ever known.  Alban's head came up, his face taking on that intent look Connor sometimes had when another immortal was near, and he turned a bit to his left to see who was there, dark red hair tumbling around his shoulders.

Aidan's voice purred in the air.  "Phillipe.  What an unexpected sight.  Still studying languages?"

His lips tightened, making a narrow face even more sullen than it had been.  "Still interfering in the concerns of your betters, Clarissa?"

Damien's voice spun Phillipe entirely around as he realized a second immortal stood at his back.  "There would have to be someone better, wouldn't there, Alban?  Does that old injury still hurt, or have you simply neglected your manners?"  Menace shaded his words.

Aidan meanwhile smiled at Phillipe, eyes hooded and teeth bared.  "How many languages do you misunderstand 'no' in, anyway?  Rachel, you look splendid this evening, that color suits you beautifully.  But I believe Connor was looking for you.  Damien, would you please escort her?  I need to talk to Phillipe for a moment."

No one who heard doubted that those words were commands.  Rachel smoothed nervous hands down the fitted skirt of her burgundy dress, still refusing to let her fright show on her face, and gave Aidan a small nod of the head.  The immortal read the thank you for what it was and flashed the mortal woman a genuine smile.  "I'll be there in a moment, Rachel.  Thank you for the invitation to the party."

Damien held out his arm.  "She's quite right, you look lovely.  Will you make me the envy of every man here and cross the room on my arm?"

Rachel settled her hand in the crook of his arm.  "You are a shameless flatterer, sir, as bad as Hugh FitzCairn.  I'd be happy to go with you."

"So, have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?"  He rested a possessive hand over hers as they moved away from Alban, never letting all his attention off the crowd.  "I always hate having any errands left by this time of year."

Behind them, they heard Alban's voice speaking low and angrily in French. Damien smiled.  Knowing Aidan, she'd flay him with words before this was over.

"This is neutral ground, Clarissa.  Surely even you don't want to fight MacLeod?"  The lanky Frenchman tugged irritably at the sleeves of his coat, all too aware that the slender woman in the formal blue and silver gown held him trapped between the wall and herself.

"I have no intention of irritating the Highlander or fighting him.  And you are, for once, correct.  This is neutral ground, a safe night.  Dawn tomorrow at your hotel would not be."  She stood motionless, voice low and calm as she idly set her mind to contemplating how far this had to go.  She hadn't taken a head in two or three years now and had hoped not to do so again anytime soon.

"Ah, ah, you old hag.  Neutral ground.  You can't even challenge me here."  His voice grew higher-pitched as he grew more agitated.

"Neutral ground indeed.  But I can tell you that if you keep pressing your attentions on unwilling women I will find you at dawn and set the time and place then.  Did your balls ever grow back, Phillipe?  Or did you lose your brains with them?"  That poisonously sweet voice washed over him, pricking and flaying with each word.

"You know about--  Of course, you were with that barbarian, Appesard.  Yes, they grew back.  Shall I show you instead of that old woman then?"  He smiled maliciously and ran his suggestive hand along one thigh.

Aidan laughed at that.  "Why?  I've seen marbles before, Phillipe."  More coldly, she ordered, "Take me seriously on this, Phillipe.  Leave unwilling women alone, and stay away from me.  Damiano let you live - I won't."  She stepped back a pace and indicated that he was free to leave.

He stalked away with the indignant air of a soaked cat, but none of the feline grace.  Aidan watched him go, then sighed and moved to lean against the wall, eyes half-closed.  She muttered her favorite mantra in five different languages before her temper came fully back under control.  Connor stood in front of her by then, torn between irritation and amusement.  He had understood the Japanese and the Gaelic, both.

"'I hate cleaning up carrion!'  Interesting slogan."  His eyebrows went up as he tried to control a smile.  "So, do I need to talk to you about not starting fights at my party?"

"No, you don't.  I didn't.  Just explaining the facts of life to that idiot."  She rolled her eyes.  "Gods, of all the people I thought would have surely lost their heads by now!"

"Come meet some friends of mine.  Who was he propositioning, anyway?"  Connor walked along beside her, both of them moving easily through the crowd.  Everywhere people were dressed to the teeth, talking or dancing, flirting or eating, some of them singing along with the music.

"Rachel."  Aidan glanced over at him.  "She's with Damiano now.  Did you actually invite that little twerp or did he gate-crash?"

"He crashed.  Come along, he's about to leave again."

"I could be lying to you, you know.  I could simply hate him and want you to throw him out."

Connor laughed shortly.  "Mmm.  And I suppose you want that because you can't face him?  I don't think so."  The two of them walked up to Phillipe.

"So, my dear, you see that...."  The young woman had a grateful expression on her face when Connor walked up and interrupted.

"Alban, you're here without an invitation and harassing my staff.  Get out."  Connor took him by one arm and Aidan caught the other, both of them making it look friendly.

"But I....  Surely you're not going to take this woman's word for anything.  Clarissa is a madwoman, she spent time in the asylums of Britain."  He stumbled along between them, breathless tenor voice protesting weakly.

"No, no, no, the asylums of British Columbia, at least get the gossip right, would you?"

"My sister doesn't lie - to me."  Connor qualified the sentence casually, and watched in malicious pleasure as Alban paled.  "Another time, Frenchman, but for tonight you're even safe from me.  Bother my assistant again and lose your head."

Aidan chimed in merrily, "The other one, this time."

They watched to see that Alban collected his coat and left - in a hurry.  Aidan raised an eyebrow at Connor and said, "What a maroon.  What a nin-cow-poop.  So, who did you want me to meet?"

"Bugs Bunny quotes?"  Connor rolled his eyes at the idea of Aidan watching cartoons, then smiled at her, a feral light in his eyes.  "The other head, Aidan?  Did you really?"  They walked back across the ball room, Connor exchanging greetings and clearly looking for someone as they went.

"Not me.  Damiano gelded him once for raping a young village girl.  Alban claimed he was merely exercising droit de seigneur."  She smiled viciously.  "I understand the pain while they were growing back was excruciating."

Connor flinched, then smiled when he saw Hugh FitzCairn chatting up Danielle St. Vir.  "About those two friends I wanted you to meet?"

Aidan stepped ahead of him, delight in her voice as she called, "Fitz?!  You glorious rogue, how have you been?  Where's my hug?"

Fitz set his pipe on the bar and politely said, "Danielle, forgive me for just a moment, if you would?"  Blond hair caught the light and an impeccably tailored jacket strained across his shoulders as he hugged Aidan for a long minute, then he kissed her on each cheek and stepped back.  "Still breaking hearts everywhere you walk, I see.  Young lady, where have you been?"

"Here and about, Fitz.  Who is...."  Aidan's voice fell off as she looked at his companion.  At five feet nothing, she was easily the shortest one in the group.  Curly gold hair framed a lively face, blue eyes made even more intense by the blue eyeshadow and mascara she wore.  The woman looked like a former high-school cheerleader who had stayed in shape; bubbling energy poured off her almost visibly as she watched the party and the people around her.  Aidan fell instantly and completely in love.

"Aidan, this is my friend Danielle St. Vir," Connor said.  "Dani, my friend Aidan Logan."

Dani smiled at Aidan, the fuschia lipstick matching her bright pink dress.  "I really should hate you.  I can't wear long skirts to save my life, and you walk in here in an outfit that gorgeous, long legs I would have killed for when I was in high school, and tall.  It's not fair, you realize."

Aidan couldn't help smiling back.  "Oh, I suppose we should throw in the hair, if we're going to be thorough.  On the other hand,  I always wanted to be blond, myself."  She turned just enough to let Dani see long dark curls pouring down her back from the amber combs at the temples.  "Forgive me anyway?"

"Oh, why not?  Anything for a friend of Connor's.  Have you eaten yet?"

"No, I haven't.  Want to show me where the buffet is?"

Dani led her off, talking a mile a minute and Fitz stared after both of them.  "Well, blast it all.  I do believe Sidra has stolen my lady of the evening."

Connor raised an eyebrow.  "Sidra?  I have to hear about this.  Besides, Fitz, you're the wrong gender to interest Dani.  Come and get some whiskey."

 * * * *

3/90 - NYC, Connor's brownstone

"Aidan, here."  Connor handed her the shot-glass of whiskey and said firmly, "No arguments.  Drink it.'

Light shone gold through the liquid as Aidan turned the glass, studying the contents as if she'd never seen the like before.  Before Connor could chide her again, she threw the shot back.  Her breath hissed out at the shock of the harsh liquor but she said nothing.  Connor flinched inwardly at the abuse of good alcohol but kept it to himself.

After a moment, Aidan said tiredly, "That was the last call wasn't it?"  Her hand on the table was shaking with exhaustion and stress as the last week's efforts finally began to take their toll.

Connor wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to feet.  "Aye, that it was.  Come and sleep, Aidan, Rachel made up a guest room for you."

'I should get back to my hotel, Connor.  All my--."

"You're tired, sister, you'd just do something brilliant like step in front of a bus you didn't see and then where would we be?  You'd revive in the morgue and give some underpaid city official heart failure.  Besides, I had Rachel check you out this morning.  Your bags are in the guest room."

Aidan glared at him, tired and willing to take her temper out on someone.  'Who gave you the right, Connor?  I'm older than you are!"

"I'll not leave you alone in a damned hotel when I've got a room.  You can stay in there by yourself or come and sit, talk or not as you like, but I wouldnae leave a clansman to this and I'll no' leave you either."

"I don't need your sympathy, Connor.'

Connor raised an eyebrow.  "Do you want to spar 'til you're black and blue?  Or did you just want to pick an argument?  I know you can take care of yourself; I'm afraid you won't."

"Connor? Gods.'  She lowered her face into her hands and sat there, shaking.  He sat next to her and pulled her against himself, stroking her hair as he would have soothed a skittish horse a hundred years ago.  Gradually she relaxed into the embrace.

"Can you cry, sister?"  His voice was very gentle when he asked.

"No.  Can you?"  The overload of emotions balanced each other out and leached any emotion whatsoever from her voice.  To Connor, she sounded as controlled and brittle as someone on the edge of a breakdown.

"No.  I keep thinking we'll hear Rod Sirling's voice discussing the human condition and the depths of the evil behind this nefarious plot.  She was too alive to be dead."  Connor continued stroking her hair.  From the way she was relaxing against him, she might yet sleep at least.

"It's never fair, is it, Connor?  Twilight Zone jokes aside.  We're always such fools.  We know it's going to hurt when they die and we love them anyway."   She sagged against him and murmured in Gaelic, "I always know, and the pain still surprises me."

They both sat in silence, remembering lost loves.  Connor was still thinking of his wife, Heather, when Aidan fell into sleep, leaning against him.  There were no tears on her face.

 * * * *

That first Christmas was wonderful.  I don't know if I would have worked up the nerve even to hug you - I'd never made a pass at a man before, and I had no idea how to make a pass at a woman either.  But when you turned to me outside Connor's place, something about your smile, the way you held your head - I couldn't do anything except kiss you.  And then I couldn't stop.  I'd seen you teasing and flirting with Fitz, laughing and talking so comfortably with Damien - I knew you liked men.  But in my wildest dreams that night, I hadn't been able to hope you wanted me.  There's no thank you that could cover the pleasure you gave me, the joy of learning to return that pleasure to you.  But I'll say it anyway.  Thank you.  Being your lover was a joy, Aidan.

The year that followed seems like a dream now, like the drugged delusions of the Lotus-eaters in the Odyssey, or a half-remembered trip under the hills of the Sidhe.  Did we forget to put a dagger in the door frame to ensure we came out safe again?  Or were we fools enough to drink and eat from their table?  I know you were in Syracuse most of that year, that I was here for most of it - but what I remember from that year is your voice singing, your body dancing, and the colors of the tapestries I wove, the fabrics I worked until the joy I felt exploded out from the walls for everyone to wrap themselves in.

Everything was fine until Christmas, you see.  Well, Midwinter's you would have said.  Maybe you'd be right, too.  I remember Midwinter's Eve spent loving you, and Connor's party the next day.  I thought we had forever, love.  We were on top of the world, and I never thought we'd slide back down.

 * * * *

12/88 - NYC, Dani's apartment

Dani moved to collapse alongside Aidan, settling into the arm her lover held out.  Aidan's hand stroked lightly along the other woman's back, but she hadn't come down far enough to talk yet.  Dani kissed her lightly on one shoulder, tasting Aidan's sweat and the faint rose flavor of her soap as they mingled with other, more basic, flavors already in her mouth.

After a minute, Aidan said, "Thank you, love, that was wonderful."

"Mmm, so were you.  What was that you were saying, anyway?  It wasn't English."  Still purring herself, Dani pushed up on one elbow to run a finger down the bridge of Aidan's nose, then started stroking strands of hair off her face.

Aidan thought for a moment, then laughed.  "Oh, that.  It was basically 'please don't stop' and I think 'I'm coming! was in there, but that bit's a little blurry.  And it was in Gaelic, that's what I grew up speaking."

"Gaelic?  You grew up in Ireland?"  Dani sat up to look at her, a bit surprised.  "So that's where you get the accent from!"

'Only in a good mood.  Connor maintains I sound more British than the Brits when I'm angry."  She ran a finger along Dani's collar-bone.  'Come back down here, it's cold."

The blond settled back into Aidan's arms and pulled the covers up.  "Do you have your dress for the party tomorrow?  It's funny, it doesn't feel like we've been together a year."

Aidan chuckled.  'Well, we haven't quite.  Still two days off, but I know what you mean.  And yes, I found a dress back in Syracuse.  I thought I showed it to you.  Oh, well, in the morning?"

"Oh, good, I want to see it.  But about Syracuse?  I can't come visit next month, love, I'm sorry."

"Well, if you can't, you can't.  It would make life a little interesting, but I should be able to get the article done early if necessary.  Do you want me to come here instead?"  Aidan kept her voice light, but she had looked forward to Dani's company in January.  Living at different ends of the state as they did, their relationship had been confined to occasional weekends and plenty of phone calls for the last year.  As Dani had jokingly said, the conversations were a pleasure but after two weeks or a month apart the sex was wonderful.

'That's what I needed to tell you.  I'm going to be buried to the curls in work for a few months - I got a one-man show in Vince's gallery in April."

Aidan hugged her tightly.  "You did it!  I told you that you would!  Oh, love, that's wonderful!  But you're right, you're going to be busy until mid-March, aren't you?  How many new tapestries are you going to try to do?"

Dani giggled.  'A lot - at least five.  I sold three in the last two weeks."

"I wondered why you sounded so pleased when I called you Friday?"

"Hearing from you, of course!'

"--I should have known you had sales.  But will they not loan the pieces back for the exhibit?"

Dani laughed gleefully.  "No, they're for Christmas presents.  We should all get presents that expensive!"  More quietly she said, "I really am sorry, Aidan.  I should have told you Thursday when Vince called me-- but I knew you would be wrapping things up to come down Friday, so  I let it wait until you got here.  Forgive me?"

"Anything for a friend of Connor's," Aidan replied deadpan, using one of their private jokes to tell Dani that there was nothing to forgive.

"Wretch.  All right, I'll quit being so silly, but--.  I'm doing my own show?  Come on, Aidan, I was a housewife in Pennsylvania for God's sake."

<font size=+1>"Love, you were never just a housewife."  Aidan interlaced her fingers with Dani's.  "What are you so nervous about?  That it won't go well?"

  "A little.  That I won't get enough done, or it won't be good enough.  I've been a little-- I don't know,  out of sorts lately.'

After a thoughtful pause Aidan commented, 'Well, neither of us has taken a vacation in the year we've been together.  Maybe after your show you should take a week off.  Go sun on the beach or hike in the mountains?  Maybe a dude ranch.  Something different, anyway."

Dani said quietly, "Can you come, too?"

"Oh, yes, gladly.  Just - if you decide you need to go by yourself, get some time to yourself?"

The obvious relief in Aidan's voice reassured Dani more than the words did.  "Hah!  What I need is a few days TLC from you but that'll have to wait.  Maybe Connor would want to come along, too?  He's been awfully busy himself the last few months.  Oh, well, we'll sort it out later."  Dani yawned hugely, and snuggled closer.

'Mmm, I can sleep now.  And you can try to figure out what I'm giving you for Midwinter's in the morning-- but no peeking!"

"Of course not. That would take all the fun out of it."  Aidan curled against her lover and said, "There are some things I need to tell you soon, Dani."

Dani muttered, "Oh, like how you speak so many languages?  And that sword you keep by the bed?"

"That's part of it."

"Can it wait until after the show?"

"You sound sleepy.  Yes, it can, but we do need to discuss it before going out of town."  The immortal tried to hold to her good intentions.  Dani did not need to find about the Game because some bastard challenged Aidan in front of her.  So far they had both been lucky.  It might not hold.

"That's fine, then.  Love you, Aidan."

"I love you, too, Dani.  So very much, dearest.  Sleep well."  Arms wrapped around the smaller woman, Aidan fell soundly asleep.  It could keep, after all.

 * * * *

3/90 - NYC, St. Aloysius Church

The church was packed to the rafters, it seemed.  Of course in winter the heavy coats and scarves alone could make the place crowded, but the constant susurration of people trying to be quiet comforted Aidan.  She wasn't the only one who missed Dani.  If she lost her head in the Game, others would remember her lover for her.

Damien sat on one side of her, Connor on the other.  It was funny in a way.  She sat in the middle of the line of Ramirez, and at this moment the person she wanted most desperately wasn't Ramirez, or any of her line-brothers, but her first teacher, Methos.  That acid wit of his that could divert the mind from pain so well, the comfort of his shoulder under her cheek.....  But he hadn't written her since they had missed that meeting in Budapest in 1638.  A few decades back she had forced herself to give up hope and admit that he was probably dead and out of the Game.

The memorial service began and Aidan gave herself over to the beauty of the voices as the choir sang.  Crystalline sound rolled over the listeners, offering comfort and expressing grief for those who couldn't.  Father Dominic waited for the last notes to die off before he began the eulogy.  He had known full well what the relationship was between Dani and Aidan, knew that Aidan worshipped the Mother rather than his God, and still the three of them had been friends.  He had studied with Darius for a while in France and learned a tolerance from that kind immortal that had extended in several directions.

When he spoke into the echoing stillness, Dominic's words addressed pleasure.  The joy Dani's art had brought, the constant bubbling laughter that followed her like her shadow, and the sheer glee she took in life were his topics.  He addressed grief at the last, quoting from various Psalms as he tried to comfort the mourners.

"I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and He gave ear unto me.  In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord:  my sore ran in the night and ceased not:  my soul refused to be comforted.  I remembered God and was troubled:  I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.

"O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before Thee:  Let my prayer come before Thee:  incline Thine ear unto my cry; For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh to the grave.  Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.  Lover and friend hast Thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.

"Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto Thee.  For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.  My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.  For I have eaten ashes like bread and mingled my drink with weeping.

"Bless the Lord, O my soul.  O Lord my God, Thou art very great; Thou art covered with honour and majesty.  He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.  The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which He hath planted.  He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knoweth His going down.  O Lord, how manifold are Thy works!  In wisdom hast Thou made them all:  the earth is full of Thy riches.  The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever:  the Lord shall rejoice in all works.

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, Which made heaven and earth.  The Lord is thy keeper:  the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.  The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:  He shall preserve thy soul.  The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore."

Surrounded by memories and friends, Aidan let her head sink onto Damien's shoulder, feeling the solid muscles under her as some of her tension eased.  Not her God, not her words - but comforting nonetheless.  That balm seeped into her soul as she reached a hand for Connor, finally able to spare energy to comfort his grief.  He had known Dani longer, and in some ways better, than she had.  Time now for her to take care of him.

 * * * *

I love you, Aidan.   I can't put it off any longer.  I've been writing this letter in bits and pieces over the last few days, waiting until I had the right word or phrase before setting it down, but I'm running out of time.  They don't say so, but it's in their faces.  No one understands that I'm ready, except for finishing this for you.   I'm tired of pain, of exhaustion, of not recognizing the reflection in the mirror.  She's too sick to be me.  I'm just tired.

So, I'm finally stuck at the part I didn't want to write: the fight I picked with you.  I could wish I didn't remember every word and each flinch.  I said it all fell apart after Midwinter's.  That's more true than you know.  I was working too much, not sleeping enough - all the things you used to tease me out of when you'd come visit, the habits Connor scolded me for.  What can I say?  What I did for work was also what I did for fun.  I enjoyed it too much not to do it.

I thought I had just run myself down too far.  But I went for a general physical anyway, thought I might as well get some use from the insurance I was paying for, and I didn't want to come down sick on vacation with you.  I tested positive for HIV and they started running more tests, because the doctor didn't like my white-blood cell count.  I was in full-blown AIDS before I ever really knew I was sick.  Some of the AIDS houses around here were really great, by the way.  They helped me find a lawyer who could tell me how to do what I wanted to do, a helper who would let me stay at home and just have what assistance I absolutely needed

I'm stalling again, I guess.  I knew I was sick, I didn't want you to get it, too, if you hadn't already.  And I didn't want you to have to watch me die.  You're too young for that, love, despite the fact that you always acted like the older and stronger partner for me.  I want you to remember me as I was.  I wouldn't have minded growing old with you, but to do it in one year - No.

So, I picked that fight and I made it nasty enough to ensure that you wouldn't date again for awhile.  I couldn't blame you if you hated me for it, if you still hate me for it.  All I can say is that I was trying to protect you as much as I could, both your physical health and your mental.  I wanted your company so badly, so many times.  I wanted to hear you, wrap my arms around you, just for the comfort of being in the same room.  But it was your company or your life.  It's the one thing I'm proud of in this.  Just this once, I protected you.

  * * * *

4/89 - NYC, Connor's brownstone

Aidan dished out the chili as Connor finished grating the cheese.  True to form, the doorbell rang just as the oven buzzer went off.  Since her hands were already in the hot pads, Connor went to let Dani in.  To his surprise, she didn't head straight for Aidan.

After more than three months apart, he had expected that this would be the only part of this visit that he'd see Aidan.  In his own pragmatic way, he had assumed neither of them would surface from Dani's apartment - or her bed - for more than a few minutes at a time.  Dani's show had been a huge success and she was the darling of the art critics, at least for the moment.  Why was Dani putting Aidan off?  They should have celebrating to do.

He worried the question in his mind while they ate, but most of his attention lay in the problem of keeping the conversation going.  Aidan helped as best she could, but Dani kept squashing topics her lover brought up.  Connor watched, concerned, as Aidan slowly retreated behind a half-smile that wasn't reaching her eyes.  She held the talk to light subjects, deflected Dani's barbs with a casual wit, and ate almost nothing.  For that matter, Dani didn't seem to be eating either, and the small blond had lost weight she couldn't spare.

Even Aidan's control broke at last.  "Dani..." she interjected across a particularly pointed insult, "...what's wrong?  Why are you doing this?"

Connor stood and said, "I'll be back in a few minutes."

Dani never paused.  "What's wrong?  You are.  We are.  What we've been doing is."

Aidan brought her gaze up from fiddling with her silverware to stare at her lover in both shock and surprise.  "What?  Dani, how can love be wrong?"

"Is that what you call it?  Love?  When it's all based on lies."  The young artist leaned across the table, face flushed with hectic color.

"What lies?  Yes, I call it love.  It's not just lust and you know it."  Aidan stared at her lover, eyes wide.  With twenty-six centuries of experience, she had never seen this coming.  That alone frightened her.

?It's all lust, and it's wrong.  You never loved me, for one thing!?

"Oh, Gods, Dani, if you think that?"

"And you and your pagan ways - always trying to turn me away from the Lord!"

Aidan tightened her grip on her napkin until her knuckles and fingers went white as she tried desperately to control her temper and think.  "I have never tried to change your beliefs, love.  And I do love you, whatever you may say.  If I've offended you somehow and you want to break up, say so, but don't do this to Connor.  Call me what you like, but let's take it outside."

"Connor left, we can do this here.  Unless you're just too much of a coward."

Standing in the shadows of the hallway to give them a bit more privacy, Connor's eyes narrowed.  This wasn't like Dani; she never bothered with viciousness or with petty spite.  Hell, her drunken description of her marriage to her ex-husband hadn't been this cutting or this personal.  On the other hand, she hadn't loved her ex-husband, either.

"Dani - Danielle.  What is going on?  Why are you doing this to us?  Please, talk to me...."  Aidan's pleas fell on deaf ears.

"You always have to be the strong one, the one in control.  Is that why you chased me, because a man's too much for you?"  Dani stood up quickly, throwing her napkin on the table.  "IS IT, Aidan?  Do you just have to be in charge?"

"Gods, Dani!"

"You always started things, you always managed them.  You liked being the knowledgeable one, didn't you?  You're a coward, Aidan, you have to be in control because otherwise you're frightened to death."  Dani paced on her side of the table, then spun back.

"So do you always seduce divorced women?  Isn't that like picking up widows at the cemetery?"

"Low blow, Dani.  Where in the names of the Mother did  this come from?  I know you've been busy with the show; I thought you didn't want me to call as much, that you were busy getting ready.  Did you find a new lover?  Is that what this is about?"  Aidan pushed back from the table and moved to the bar.  For a moment she gave herself the luxury of turning away from Dani and tried to pull her defenses back up.

Dani didn't give her the time.  "Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?  So that you could pretend you've just been bested.  If I had, it wouldn't be a woman."

"Not even for you would I be a man, Dani."  Aidan spun around to face her lover again.  "I'm female and I like it that way.  I thought you did, too.  And I don't have to be the one in control.  If I did, I wouldn't have let you call the shots these last few months.  What is it that you want here?  To date other people?  To break up entirely?  What?"

"Oh, you'd like that, too, wouldn't you?  I tell you you've been wrong and you want to back off, go away, let it end.  You want the easy way out, don't you?"

"Make up your mind, Dani!  You're angry because I'm here, you're angry because I don't really love you, you're angry because I want to leave you!  Which is it?  I'm a coward who wants to leave, or the woman who loves you?  Which is it, woman, decide and get off the fence!"  Now Aidan was snarling in frustration as acute as the bitterness in Dani's voice.

"Oh, you're all of the things you said: a coward, a lecher, a seductress.  Did you bespell me, Aidan?  Did you play on me with words the way you do in your articles so that I wouldn't think about what we were doing?  Did it just wear off when you were gone too long?"  Dani paced as she argued, hands moving through the air, pointing to emphasize an argument then flying up in the air, palms up, to show her exasperation or incomprehension.

"No, I wouldn't!  I never have, not for this.  If I wanted to buy love, I'd go to a professional, damn it, not to a woman who didn't know what she was doing and barely dreamed what she wanted!"  Aidan slammed her hand on the table, barely noticing the pain when a bone broke.  Glassware rattled and fell, silverware skittered across the glossy wood.  But better the wood than the woman on the other side of it, and that argument was too close to home.  The immortal had never done such a thing - but she knew how, and fought the temptation down fiercely.

"Oh, so you usually go to professionals?  Aren't you a little young to be so jaded?  Or have you just done too much, been too many places too early?"  Dani watched that shot strike and kept going.  "And yes, you've lied to me.  A writer, huh?  No family?  Then where did you get the money?  You're educated, you speak more languages than I can guess at, but writing doesn't pay for the sort of antiques you have in that house, and writers don't keep weapons around the house like you do!  How many knives do you have, how many swords?  What are you, a secret agent of some kind?  Special Forces?  An assassin for some unnamed government agency?  You're not just the researcher and translator you're claiming to be!"

"You think I....  Oh, Gods."

The despair in Aidan's voice almost undid Dani, but she didn't let it show.  How much could Aidan take?  She had to be sure that her lover wouldn't see anyone else for awhile and that she wouldn't come back.  There was no way the young artist could bear to do this twice - once was tearing her heart out.

"You don't stay with one God, you don't stay with one profession, one personality.  So what are you, Aidan?  A writer?  What did you never tell me?  Did you think I wasn't strong enough, or that I couldn't be trusted?  I saw your tax returns.  A transmuter changes things.  What things?  Objects, events - people?  Are you a sculptor, a writer, a spin-control specialist?  Did you just get off on the challenge of reshaping people, too?"

"No!  I don't do that!  Oak and Ash, woman!  Freedom of choice is the only freedom everyone has, even if it's only the freedom to die!  And I know you're strong, it wasn't that.  I wanted to tell you at Midwinter's and you put it off, remember?  You had a show to do.  I told you we needed to talk before we went on vacation."  Aidan stood with her back to the bar, an animal at bay.

"Did I put it off?  Or did you discourage it, let it drop?  Was it an impetuous offer you regretted as soon as you made it?  How many lies have you told me, Aidan?  Is that even your name?"

"Yes, it's my name, Dani.  And I never changed Gods.  I never betrayed my Goddess, and I never betrayed you.  It doesn't matter, does it?  You've decided we're going to break up, and that it's my fault.  Do you have your pound of flesh yet?  Or do you need to keep digging?  Shall I give you the knife so we can get this over with?"  Aidan kept her gaze level on Dani's face, deathly pale and resigned to this.  Part of her mind shuddered under the wounds her lover was inflicting and the rest held firmly to the memory of previous survivals.  This would stop hurting eventually.  The immortal clung to that thought as the only spar in the ocean of pain drowning her.

"Oh, I'm not done yet.  Admit it, Aidan, you're a coward.  Was it safer to have a relationship with someone who lived on the far end of the state?  It didn't have to be me, you know.  Connor loves you, you could have had him - or no, he might be stronger than you, right?"  Dani saw her flinch under that and pressed on.

Connor winced at both the damage Dani was inflicting and at the idea he'd been pushing Aidan to the point that Dani had noticed.  She couldn't be jealous of him, could she?  Oh, God, if he'd brought this fight on, no apology would ever be good enough.

"Do you just like competing with men?  Trying to prove you're better than them in bed so that you don't have to win anywhere else?  You always made everything sound so convincing, no matter what you discussed - did you actually know what you were talking about, or do you just bullshit well?  You can't have had time to study that many things, learn that much."

"I never lied to you, Danielle.  Do you have to believe that the only reason you could love me is because I lied to you, that you only love some illusion I showed you, some person I'm not?"  Aidan waited quietly for the rest, knowing more was coming. I still love you, you know.  You have gotten to the point where you can do this.  I'm not there, may never be there.  I'd rather that you used a sword; that would heal faster.

"Maybe you didn't lie, but you never told me everything either.  Did you?"

"No, I didn't.  There was never time, and when there was we had better things to do.  I never thought we'd run out of time.  It doesn't matter now, does it.

"You never told me everything, either, Dani.  You never told me why you left your husband, why you don't have children.  Your right, your choice."  Aidan drew a deep breath, and cut over Dani's words.  "Have done, Danielle.  You have your pound of flesh.  Do you want me to send you the clothes you left at my house?"

"I don't want anything from you, Aidan."  The hissing voice wrapped around Aidan, flaying her bare.  "Tell Connor whatever you like, you'll lie to him, too.  But I don't want to see you again.  I don't want to deal with a treacherous, back-stabbing bitch.  Never betrayed me?  How many other lovers did you take in Syracuse while I was down here and busy?  You're too passionate to have been celibate."

The dark-haired immortal shuddered and half-collapsed under that last, most hurtful accusation.  A small spark of coherence made her grateful that hair covered her face as she leaned forward, wrapping her arms around her waist as if to hold herself together.  "No one, Dani.  I've taken no other lovers.  But believe what you will, love.

"Will you go, please?  I can't....  No, Connor invited you.  I'll go."  Aidan forced herself upright again, still deathly pale and her eyes bright with unshed tears.

Dani winced inwardly at the sight of Aidan's pain, determinedly restraining herself from comforting her lover. I love you, Aidan.  This is for the best, if it means you live.  "No, I'll go.  Tell Connor I said thank you for dinner."

Connor stayed in the hallway until the door slammed, one shoulder pressed against the doorframe to his study.  He ran a hand through his hair a few times, trying to shake off the tension.  From the dining room he heard a clink of glass on glass and a lamp being switched off.  Finally he walked in and looked around for Aidan.

From the unmistakable presence of an immortal, he knew she was somewhere close by.  At last he found her sitting to one side of the fire, almost invisible in the shadows.  She tossed down a water glass full of vodka and filled it again as he watched.  Without looking at him she asked, "You heard?"

"Do you want me to lie?"  He collected a smaller glass and sat down next to her.  She filled his without a word, letting him sip it.  She put down half of her second glass and watched the fire.  Connor studied the lined profile.  No tears had fallen on those pale cheeks, but she had no color in her face, no color in her voice.

When she replied, he had almost forgotten the question.  "No, I don't want you to lie to me, Connor.  All these years, all these lovers, all these marriages... and I have no idea what started this.  What ended us.  Did I do this, do you think?  By not telling her I was immortal, by letting that rest between us?"

Connor sighed and drank his vodka.  "You'd know better than I would.  Do you want me to talk to--"

"No.  No, Connor, thank you.  But stay out of it, it's always a disaster to get into the middle of something like this, you know that.  Darius told me that ages ago."  Aidan settled herself more carefully against the hearth, moving as if she were incredibly fragile.  "She's your friend, too.  Don't pick sides over this.  I'll go back to Syracuse,  maybe try to see her in a year or so...."  Her voice broke on the words, and for a moment Connor thought she would give in and cry.

"Aidan, I'm sorry.  Do you want to stay here tonight?  I know you hadn't planned--"

"Thank you.  Please."  She laughed quietly but it sounded more like pain.  "I'll buy you some more vodka tomorrow.  Can I just sleep here?  Will I be in your way?"

"No, that'll be fine.  And don't worry about the vodka, I don't keep it for me."

"No, I'll replace it.  Thank you, Connor.  I'm sorry this happened in your house.  It's not--"

"Don't worry about it."

"That night at the party?  She kissed me.  My word on it, brother, I didn't--"  Aidan's voice failed her as she hunted for words to try to deny the hateful accusations.

"No, sister, I don't think you seduced her with your centuries of wiles.  But I don't know what happened, either."  Connor refilled her glass, knowing there were no words at the moment which would help.

Both of them watched the fire for a little while as she worked her way through the contents of the bottle.  Even after the alcohol drove Aidan into unconsciousness rather than sleep, she kept her arms wrapped around herself, trying futilely to prevent any further wounds.

 * * * *

Tell Connor that I'm sorry it had to be at his place, but I wanted him to stay your friend.  Someone needed to be there for you.  The worst was hoping that no one who knew us, knew what was wrong with me, would call you.  I knew I didn't have more than a year or so, but you do.  I picked that fight to protect you, to keep you from getting AIDS from me.  I have this unreasonable certainty that you didn't get it, but please - see a doctor, love, be sure.  Wouldn't it be a terrible, rotten joke if I did all this to protect you and it didn't work?

About the fight - it was nothing you did, believe me on that.  None of what I said about you was true, you know.  You never tried to control me and you certainly never tried to convert me.  The only thing you had to do to seduce me was be yourself.  But late at night when I can't sleep I still wonder about why you always had a sword or knife at all times, where you got the kind of money you had.  You never flaunted it, never even really spent much - but I think I always knew you had it.

 I don't really think you were Special Forces - but I've always wondered if you might not have had friends in some 'government agency'.  Because looking back, I can't remember a time when you ever let me enter a room first, when you didn't seem to know exactly where a back door was, or the restroom.  I never saw you surprised by anything around you, never saw you in anything other than wonderful physical condition.

And despite my comments to you in that fight (and I'll never forget that, it nearly killed me to do that to you), you always knew what you were talking about.  I would get confirmation sometimes, completely by accident usually, but once because I was mad and looked it up - remember that discussion on the Dutch painters and their use of light?

I guess I'll never know what you are or were, but it doesn't matter.  I love you, Aidan.  Don't doubt that, love.  I hate to be melodramatic but if you're reading this, I'm dead.  So it won't hurt if you need to keep hating me.  Goddess knows what I did was definitely 'cruelty to be kind' - but I do love you.  I loved you from the moment I saw you with Connor at that Christmas party and every minute after that.  I'm sorry we never made it to Italy the way we discussed.

Maybe we'll have more time in our next lives.  And if They say we can't, I'll raise hell until They put me in charge and then we'll still have more time.  I'll look for  you in our next incarnations, Aidan Logan.

Love,
Dani

 * * * *

4/90 - NYC, JFK International Airport

Aidan glanced over at Connor and managed a faint smile.  That alone reassured him that she was finally beginning to mend.  "You know, you're finally starting to look...  I don't know, less like a candidate for your own funeral," she commented wryly.

"That's just what I was thinking about you," he replied.  "Do you have everything packed?"

"Rachel threw me out and did it for me so I suspect I do.  I'm not leaving forever, brother, but I promised both of us that Dani's ashes would go where her family would never disturb them.  And now that you're doing better, I need to get away for awhile."

"I'm doing better?"  Connor gave her an indignant glare.

"Yes.  It took me too long to pull my head up and see that you were hurting as badly as I was.  I'm sorry, Connor, I should never have left you to carry so much of it alone."  Aidan rested her fingers against his cheek, then pressed up to tiptoe and kissed him where her fingers had been.  "Thank you for doing it."

"You're welcome.  And you didn't leave me all of it - quite.  You may have taken the hardest parts.  I'll see you in a few months, sister.  Don't come home before you're ready."

That drew a soft laugh.  "Well enough.  I'll send you some good Scotch, Connor.  That's my flight.  Watch your head, brother."

He waited until she was aboard and the gate closed before leaving.  Part of his mind was already on work to catch up at the antique store, but he offered up a prayer as he went that his 'sister' would find the healing she needed.  Losing lovers was always so hard.

 * * * *

4/90 - NYC, Nash Antiques

Rachel glanced up from her desk and frowned slightly despite her best efforts.  Between the estate, the memorial service, and getting Aidan off to Europe, it had been a very long month.  Another unscheduled visit was not something she wanted to deal with.  For a long moment she resisted the highly unprofessional and childish urge to claim that the shop was closed.  She did make a mental note to tell Connor they were both taking a week off, ASAP.

"Can I help you?"

"I'm here to see Mr. Russell Nash,"  the man answered.  In his slightly out of date three-piece suit, Rachel marked him immediately as not being from New York, but she couldn't quite place the accent.  She would have laid odds on him being in his late thirties despite attempts to conceal it with a trendy haircut that didn't suit him.

The woman with him was small, slight, mousy and dressed in a long-sleeved dress with a high-neck.  For a moment that tugged at Rachel's attention and she did frown.  It was late April in New York and an unseasonably warm day; why such a heavy dress on a young woman who had the figure to wear better?

"I'm sorry, he's otherwise occupied.  May I ask what this is regarding?"  Rachel kept her voice even as she pulled out a phone book and began to write down numbers for women's crisis shelters.

"This is regarding" and he drawled the words out in a sarcastic tone "the estate of Danielle St. Vir."

"Sir, her creditors have all been paid.  Ms. St. Vir was very meticulous in her record-keeping."  Rachel studied him more carefully now.   "You'll need to be more specific."

"I need to speak to the two executors of her estate, regarding a claim.  I'm here on behalf of her family and myself."

Rachel gave him a long, level, unsettling stare, her face set in its most neutral mask of professionalism.  "May I have your name, please?"

"Robert McHaney."

"And the young lady?"

"My wife."  After a few seconds, it was obvious he had no intention of giving his bride a name of her own, or any identity other than that of an adjunct to himself.

"I see.  If you'll just have a seat, I'll find out if he can spare a few minutes."  Rachel stared him down, blue eyes unflinching, until they both sat in the chairs at the side of the entryway.  Then she buzzed Connor.

"Dani's ex-husband and his new wife are here about her estate.  Did you forget to tell me about an appointment?"  Her mild sarcasm got Connor's attention before her words did.

"Oh, are they?  It's 4:40, Rachel, move the sign to 'Closed' and take the night off.  I'll handle this.  I'll be right down."

"I'd rather stay.  She was a friend of mine, too, remember."

Connor chuckled, a malicious sound.  "Feel free, but I'm going to flay him.  I'll be right there."

When he walked out of the elevator, informally clad in jeans and a button-down, Connor sized the man up in one quick look.  Rachel had already changed the sign over and locked the front door, he noticed.  Good.  This might take a little while.  "I'm Russell Nash.  What can I do for you?"

"Perhaps we should go to your office and discuss it," McHaney suggested.

"We can handle it right here.  It won't take long."  Connor settled one hip against Rachel's desk, the epitome of casual condescension as he set down the papers he'd been carrying.

"This is business," McHaney huffed and his eyes flicked sideways to Rachel and back again.

"My assistant can stay for business."

"Your... assistant?  I see.  Well, I'm here to see Russell Nash and Aidan Logan."

"One out of two is pathetic aim," Connor commented dryly.

"What do you mean, one out of two?"

"I mean that if Aidan was in the country, she still wouldn't be here.  She doesn't live in New York City.  So one out of two."  He watched, amused, as the man became more agitated.  Dani had been married to this?  God, she must have been young and pressured.  The man was a good seven years older than Dani would be and his current wife was younger than Aidan looked.  She couldn't be more than twenty-two.  Connor noted the dress and her carefully slumped, defensive posture.  Hazel eyes began to turn gold and narrow with anger.

"If she was in the country?  Where has she gone?"

"Away.  Dani's death hit Aidan hard, she went abroad when we finished settling the estate.  She didn't leave an itinerary.  Let's get down to business, it's been a long month.  What do you want?"

"I want Dani's money to go where it belongs:  to her family, and to me."

Connor laughed in his face.  "I don't think so.  Dani knew what she was doing when she made that will.  She specified in front of a lawyer and witnesses that you didn't get a penny.  Her only regret was that she couldn't find two wooden nickels to bequeath you and her father."

"She was my wife, their daughter!  The money doesn't belong in the hands of some slut she bedded against the dictates of nature and some--"  he looked Connor up and down, searching for words contemptuous enough, "--art dealer who couldn't keep her in line."

Connor laughed at him again.  "Trying to keep Dani in line would have been stupid.  She was an artist.  A line was something to go around, as far as she was concerned."  He smiled thinly, looking forward to this.  "And 'slut' is a harsh word from a man who carried on no less than eight affairs during the time he was married to his first wife."

Rachel smiled at the look on McHaney's face.  Connor had definitely hit a nerve with that.  The young woman gasped and reflexively started to lift her hand to her mouth, then just as swiftly put it back in her lap.

McHaney managed to catch his breath and say, "That's slander!"

"To be slander, it would have to be a lie.  I have names and dates on all eight women.  And Mr. McHaney?  Homosexuality is legal in New York.  Adultery isn't."  Connor sat and waited, more than willing to let this idiot stew.

"I put her through art school, I'm entitled to some of the proceeds of that study.  I checked the laws."   Dani's ex-husband stood in front of Connor trying to subdue the other man through height and intimidation.

"The laws would apply if she had made the money while married to you, but she didn't.  And from what I understand, the Art College would confirm that the money she made working at the bookstore covered her classes and a good bit of her supplies."  Connor studied him calmly, marking more weak points in his ego and stance.  "Sit down.  You look like a pompous ass trying that stare-down bullshit."

"My wife is a lady!  I'll thank you not to use such language in front of her."

"You probably call her worse things when you're beating her."  Embarrassment brought a hectic flush to the young woman's face.  Connor kept going, "Let's start with the court documents, shall we?"

He handed one of his papers to McHaney.  "This is your divorce decree from Danielle St. Vir for 'Marital Abuse', type unspecified.  Lucky for you she agreed not to press charges if you didn't fight the divorce.  Assault and battery carries a few years in this state."

"Now wait just a minute!"

"These are the hospital records for the two times you beat her, and the police incident report when she called them."  Connor kept handing McHaney papers, that same thin-lipped smile on his face.

"This is the loan from the Bank of Manhattan after she left you.  It covered her first art supplies and six months worth of bills.  You'll notice it reads, 'Paid in Full' on the bottom."

"A bank made her a loan?"

Connor shrugged.  "She was a damned good risk.  She came in willing to work her ass off for six months trying to make it or for 24 months paying things off if she didn't.  And she put down some collateral."

"The engagement ring I gave her!"

Rachel glared at him 'love, honor and cherish' she might have stayed married to you.  As it stands, she got the loan, she paid it off - not you!  You're not entitled to a penny of her money."

"I didn't ask for your opinion," McHaney growled only to see Connor stand up and move between them.

"Try to hit Rachel and you won't have time to regret it."  The slightly smaller immortal man backed McHaney down through sheer force of personality.  "And she can say what she likes, it's a free country."

"Damn fag art dealers!'  McHaney ripped the papers in half, then quarters, then into smaller pieces which he let fall onto the floor.

"Why, McHaney, you cruising for a piece of ass?  From the looks of you, someone left a 2 by 4 up yours," Connor commented.  "Sue us.  Feel free.  You'll lose and  pay court costs and my lawyer's fees - and I can keep it going longer.  I've told you that we have paperwork proving you have no right to the estate.  You might tell the St. Vir's that Dani had that letter from her father put into the court record with the will.  That would be the letter where he told her she was no daughter of his and she was disinherited.  Surely he told you about that?  It works both ways, you know.  He can't claim anything from her."  Connor cut over his attempts to break in.

"You sue, McHaney, and the St. Vir's too.  Do it, and as soon as the court rules against you, I'll sue you both for frivolous law suit, slander on the reputation on Aidan Logan, loss of business, attempted debasement of property and anything else my lawyer can think of."

"Debasement of property?!"

"Dani left her tapestries and the commercial use of her name to me and Aidan.  Attack Dani's good name in court and you're attacking my possessions.  Don't push me, McHaney.  I'll destroy you."  Connor smiled viciously at him and continued, "And that would be a shame.  I want you to have time to die the slow, lingering death you deserve."

"You're threatening me!"  McHaney turned to his wife and Rachel.  "You both heard him, this madman threatened me."

"No, I won't do a thing to you outside a court.  I don't have to."  Connor turned to Mrs. McHaney.  "Miss--"

In a very soft voice she replied, "Elizabeth.  Beth."

"Beth.  Danielle St. Vir was a very good friend of mine, and what I'm going to tell you is the truth.  Believe it or  not, your choice, but don't listen to him," and Connor jerked a thumb in the husband's direction.  "Danielle St. Vir never did drugs, never had a blood transfusion, and only slept with two people in her life - your husband and Aidan Logan.  Aidan tested negative for HIV one week ago.  Dani died of AIDS, Beth.  I think you probably need to be checked by a doctor."

"Nash, get away from my wife."

Connor never turned.  "What, or you'll try to beat me like you do her?  Go ahead and swing, McHaney."

Rachel said very calmly, "That will be enough.  Mr. McHaney, I'll thank you to pick up the paper shreds before you leave.  Mrs. McHaney, I'm pleased to have met you." Rachel handed her the women's shelters phone numbers while shaking her hand.

"But it's definitely time you left.  Your lawyer can contact me here and I'll put him in touch with our counsel.  Mr. Nash is quite correct."  Turning back to Dani's ex-husband, Rachel now sounded as ruthless as Connor, "You don't have a leg to stand on."

 "And I suppose you're an expert," Bob McHaney sneered

"I know stupidity when I hear it, and I also know just how good Dani's lawyer is."  Rachel stood up.  "However, we have allowed you to take up part of our afternoon, and we are now closed.  So you will please leave, now."

'And if I don't--"

"Bob, please."  Rachel and Connor paid attention; her husband didn't.

"Why, then, you may try to swing at Mr. Nash and I will call you an ambulance.  Good day, Mr. McHaney."  Rachel pointedly returned to some entries she had been making when they came in.

"Your documents can't prove a thing.  I'll see you in court, Nash."  He grabbed his wife by one arm and yanked her to her feet.  She winced but went with him, one hand folded tightly around her purse.  Rachel found herself hoping that the numbers she had written down rested in that purse rather than in the litter on the floor.

After the door slammed Rachel asked, "Do you think they'll sue, Connor?  I don't."

"Neither do I.  He's a bully, heavy-handed only with the weak.  We aren't."  Connor watched them walk away through the window and said quietly, "Rachel, didn't Dani say she lived in Lancaster before she moved to New York?"

"Yes, she did.  Why?"  Rachel looked at the mess on the floor and headed for a broom and dustpan.

"Where do you keep the phone book?  I'm going to call the police in Lancaster and report a case of domestic violence at that house."  Connor reached for the phone and chuckled softly.  "I hope he does sue.  Those were photocopies he shredded.  The notarized copies are still upstairs.  The courts will have a field day with this one.'

Rachel sighed.  "Dani was married to that.  Connor, this is above and beyond my duties.  I think the estate can cover a good dinner with wine and an after-dinner liqueur to take the taste of that man out of mouth."

Connor smiled at her and nodded agreement, already beginning his anonymous report to the police.

 * * * *

4/90 - Scotland

Aidan sat back on her heels in the turf, counterbalancing easily against the familiar weight of a harp on her back.  The air tasted of the cold breeze off the loch - sharp, fresh and scented with heather.  Everywhere she looked there was green ground and rock, snow on the heights and in the shady spots of the Highlands' stark beauty.  It had been too long since she came back to this part of Scotland.

Her gaze lingered for a long while on the ruined tower down the slope, the torn and broken rock softened by white drifts now.  That, she knew, was where Connor had lived and Ramirez had died, his quickening tearing apart what the Kurgan had left intact of the upper tower.  Probably not much, knowing the Kurgan.  Tomorrow she'd explore, soak up the feel of the place and say one last goodbye to Ramirez.  For now, though, she had a more recent loss to deal with.

She studied the small mound of earth in front of her one more time.  She had interred Dani's ashes a few feet from the MacLeod claymore which marked Heather MacLeod's grave.  She and Connor thought the two would enjoy each other's company down the years, and it eased something deep inside her to have brought Dani to the Highlands, safely away from the St. Vir's and the McHaneys in Pennsylvania.

"I'll bring you a marker when I have a chance to make a proper one, love.  But you'd have loved it here, you know.  Cold and clear as it is, it's a gorgeous view, Dani.  You can see the hills rolling away, and the water in the distance.  No one here but you and Heather.  I always said you needed peace and quiet and a chance to rest, but I think you took it too far, love."  Aidan paused, torn between laughter and tears.  She knew Dani would have appreciated the joke, but oh, this was finally beginning to ache.

For a long time she sat watching the sunlight move across the snow and the rock, seeing the water below.  After a while, she pulled two candles from her coat pocket and set them on the turf, one in front of each grave.  She lit the first one at the MacLeod sword.  Standing there she spoke distinctly into the empty air in Gaelic so old that probably no one else alive still spoke it.

"May the Straight God keep you safe, Heather MacLeod, and may the Goddess lay her hand gently upon you.  Rest in peace, wife of my brother.  Better yet, come back to him if you can; he's lonely, Heather.  But if you have had enough of the Game already - and who am I to blame you for that? - then rest in peace."

 She lit the other candle in front of the small mound where she had buried Dani's ashes and again spoke to the spirits there, straight as a clansman's sword and clear-voiced as her harp.  "Sleep well, Danielle St. Vir.  You played your game as best you could with the cards you were dealt.  It was a harsh choice you had.  May the Goddess hold you softly.  I miss you, love.  Rest well until you are ready to play out the next round."

The two candles burned down as darkness closed around the hills.  In memory, Aidan heard the last conversation with Connor, the night before she left.
 

The sandy haired Scot eyed her thoughtfully, trying to gauge her mood to ask something, then asked, "Aidan?"

"What is it?"

"The letter Dani left you.  Did she ever explain that fight?"

Grey eyes closed for a second. Connor watched pain wash over her face again and regretted his question immediately.  Obviously, it was still too soon to ask.  But she looked back up at him and said quietly, "Do you remember I asked you if I had let my immortality get between the two of us?"

"Yes."  He watched her, hands tucked in his coat pockets.

"Well, in an odd way I did."  Determined to change the subject, she commented, "She sent you an apology for picking the fight at your place."

"One of these years, Aidan, you and I will sit down and drink a bottle to her memory.  Just tell me one thing.  Did she love you?"

Connor treasured that smile from her for years to come.  "Oh, yes, brother.  She did."


In the present, in Scotland, harp music drifted on the wind in melodies not heard for years as one woman sat vigil with her dead.

Finis

c. 2/1998


Notes & details

1  Droit de seigneur was a law in medieval times that gave the local lord the right to be the first to bed a peasant girl.

2  The Psalms used by Father Dominic came from the King James version of the Bible.  In the order used, they are:   Psalm 77: 1-3; Psalm 88: 1-3, 6, 18; Psalm 102: 1, 3-4, 9; Psalm 104: 1, 10, 16, 19, 24, 31; Psalm 121: 1-2, 5-8

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