Last Tango At Joe's

Vi Moreau

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Standard disclaimer: the concept of Immortality and the characters of Duncan and Connor MacLeod, Methos, Joe Dawson, and Richie Ryan belong to Rysher and are copyrighted by them. This story is for fun, not for profit. Also, this is an alternate universe where Richie is alive and the only Highlander movie that existed was the original.

The other characters are copyrighted by me, Vi Moreau.

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Seacouver, September 17, 1998

"Dawson, you *did* say that Duncan and Richie are gone?" Connor MacLeod asked me.

"Yeah. They left for the island day before yesterday," I replied. Being Duncan MacLeod's Watcher, I generally knew where he was. But I was real glad I hadn't been invited to go 'native' with them.

"Hmmmph," he said, and that's when I noticed that MacLeod was subtly changing right before my eyes. He was more alert and at the same time looser. Ready. He must be sensing an Immortal, I thought. And since I'd just told him that Duncan and Richie had left, the chances were that the Immortal just arriving at the bar would be ... unfriendly. MacLeod's metamorphosis continued, quickly now: his eyes narrowed; his breath quickened; his whole damn face changed, rippled, morphed into sharp angles, into something beyond cool, something cold and deadly, almost emotionless. And it happened so fast, immediately! Even if it wasn't directed at me, I felt real fear, deep in my gut. I actually leaned back away from him as he turned quickly, the door wasn't that far away ...

She barrelled through the door, and I couldn't help frowning. She was unfriendly, all right: Elena Duran, damn!

But then he saw her and visibly relaxed, then turned back to his drink, grinning softly at her opening expletive.

"[!Mal rayo le parta! !Carajo!] I'm going to take his head off with a very dull, rusty penknife!"

I'd heard her say something like that before - some curse about may a lightning bolt split him in half or something - and it didn't bode well. I didn't like the look on her face either, and she sure wasn't joking. She was angry at someone, and I knew from vivid personal experience just how brutal this woman could be. And suddenly I thought - oh, God! I hope she doesn't mean Connor MacLeod! Nah! She wouldn't!

I'm gettin' too old for this, I thought, then forced myself to calm down. There was no danger here for me. I polished the smooth surface of the wooden bar, waiting tensely, then stopped abruptly, remembering how Methos had told me it was an unconscious nervous habit that gave me away. But there was absolutely nobody else in the place, just me and these two long-time killers. I glanced at my watch: almost two thirty a.m. I'd even sent Brent home, had just booted out the last customer and been about to close when Connor MacLeod had waltzed in and asked for an Oban. I had halfway been expecting to see MacLeod this trip, so naturally, I'd greeted him warmly, broken out the good stuff and poured myself one.

MacLeod had smiled - a smile that was gone almost as quickly as it came. But he was never what you call a great conversationalist. The only thing he'd said after ten minutes of quiet drinking was the very innocent question, "Dawson, you *did* say that Duncan and Richie are gone?" - a question which had turned out not to be so innocent, after all. And which I answered. Which brought me back to Duran.

As she came to the bar, I asked her cautiously, a little worriedly, "On the warpath, Duran?" She didn't like me; and even with those she *did* like ... well, you never knew with her.

She took off her light coat and put it next to the Highlander's on the bar, probably with her sword in it. She certainly wasn't hiding her sword in the clothes she was still wearing! "Oh, Dawson," she said, resignedly, sighing, shaking her head with a 'don't ask!' look, ordered a Scotch, and put her hand on MacLeod's shoulder, rubbing softly. "Hello, Connor," she said. "Got your note."

My first thought was, thank God she's not after MacLeod! Then I realized she'd talked to me. Wow! She usually ignored me. But I knew that Elena Duran only drank Scotch when she was upset or worried. Her happy drink of choice was generally Bacardi Anejo or a mixed drink. So I got her a glass and studied her as subtly as I could - her attention was on the Scot anyway - while I poured.

In the meantime, it seemed to me that MacLeod was surprised by Elena's touch - or maybe it was just my imagination. But apparently he agreed with me that she didn't mean him, because he asked her, a little sarcastically, "Who's the lucky guy?"

She'd placed herself on his right side so her fighting hand, her left, was closer to him, maybe? Damn, I still couldn't figure out how they lived like this for centuries, for millennia, always taking precautions, always wondering if - not if, when! - even their best friends, their lovers would turn on them! But I guessed she was on that side of him because she could also see him better out of her one good eye - her right eye had been cut out by an Immortal who had tortured her for weeks. That black eyepatch she wore sometimes, like now, had always made her look ... well ... sexy ... sexier. As if she needed too much help in that department! No matter what else I thought of Duran's character, there was no denying her brightness, her vitality, her dark attractiveness.

She smiled at him; but that didn't exactly make me feel confident. I'd seen how well these two had gotten along before.

Yeah. Right.

"Some [cabron] who is stalking me. He's named after a planet ..." She paused to fish a wrinkled paper out of her jeans pocket - she was wearing red jeans and an off-white lycra top that left nothing to the imagination. I could see the lacy bra underneath.

"... Mercury," she finished, then looked at the paper. "He left me this threatening note," she added, then handed it to me and asked MacLeod, "Do you know him?"

I saw him shake his head as I read the message. The letters were a brownish color ... I could just barely smell it ... it had been written in blood and was still warm from being next to her.

SOON, DURAN

T. Mercury

Sir Thomas Mercury, I thought, and I must have shown something on my face, because suddenly she was right in it. "So? It's your cue to say, 'Oh, yes, Mercury, I know all about him.' Go on, Dawson. Give. Impress us with your expertise."

So that's why she gave me the note and not MacLeod. Hell, that's why she talked to me, why she mentioned my *expertise,* why she even came to the bar! She wanted to pump me about Thomas Mercury.

Now I was willing to extend a helping hand to Duncan MacLeod; but not to her, not to Duran! I'd never forgotten, nor could I ever forgive, the dozen and a half Watchers she'd killed, leaving a trail of blood and broken families and sowing the kind of terror among the ranks of Watchers that I'd never seen before or since. Except for when Jacob Galati, that other Watcher killer, had been active, of course.

I shook my head. I couldn't claim to just observe; not anymore, especially not to her, since she knew all about my long, deep friendship with her lover. But I could just say no. "No, Duran. I'm not your personal information service."

"Oh, come on, Dawson," she wheedled. "Don't forget the old saying: Know your enemy.'"

Maybe it was the way she said the word 'enemy,' with a certain subtle inflection that hadn't been in her voice up to now. And MacLeod must have heard something too, because he looked up at her abruptly from the note I'd passed him. So I didn't just imagine it.

Our eyes met, my two and her one. There was an intensity in her look I didn't much like, and it reminded me again why this woman was such a successful predator. Dammit, she's good at this, but I was *not* going to be intimidated.

On the other hand, what harm was there in telling her what little I knew about Mercury? I sighed. No harm at all, except maybe to my pride. But hell, this wasn't worth it - I'd save my battles with Duran for more important issues. Besides, the man wasn't just coming up to her and challenging her, was he? She'd said the bastard was stalking her, and I didn't think she'd lie about it. "I don't know much," I admitted. "Sir Thomas Mercury is from Victorian England, chronologically in his mid-twenties, and he always goes after new Immortals, or chronologically very young ones, like teenagers, or older ones, in their sixties, whatever. And women ..." I added.

"Women," she said, nodding to herself, and I thought, Sir Thomas Mercury is probably making a very bad mistake; a fatal mistake.

"Yes, that explains a lot," she continued. "He didn't start stalking me until after Duncan left, day before yesterday. We expected you two days ago," she said suddenly, almost accusingly, turning to MacLeod.

"I was delayed. Business," he answered simply.

I shuddered mentally, being careful not to let it show on my face. I knew what Connor MacLeod meant by 'business;' but it was the off-hand way he said it, as though he were talking about ... about business! I decided right there and then, for the hundredth time, that even after a lifetime of dealing with Immortals I'd never get used to the way some of them took this chopping off of heads so casually, so easily.

I flashed back to when Duncan MacLeod had dared me to take his own head, when he'd gone darkside and I'd shot him and tied him up in his dojo.

("It isn't easy, is it? Taking someone's head ... cutting it off ...)

And he was right; although I supposed you could get used to anything.

Maybe.

"So this Mercury is after me," she told us. "He gets close, within sensing range ... then I turn around, and," she snapped her fingers "... he's gone. Over and over again."

Connor nodded. "The cat and mouse game."

"Yes," she said. "I did it once myself, when I wanted to really spook someone."

I could tell by her smile that she was remembering that time, and that smile made me a little nervous all over again.

"But usually, no," she continued. "I like to follow General Ulysses Grant's advice: 'Find out where your enemy is. Strike him as hard as you can.' Just my style. Blunt - no finesse." She waved her hand, like a blade, for emphasis.

MacLeod started to say something but didn't. If he erred at all, it tended to be on the side of silence.

So she went on. "I went to see a late movie, then started walking, alone, in certain parts of town, hoping he'd finally make his move." She sneered. "I was propositioned three times, and had to convice a 'gang' of young men that I wasn't interested ... Tell me," she asked MacLeod directly, but waved her hand to include me as well. "Why is it that when a man sees a woman alone, he automatically assumes that what she most wants in her life is his penis inside her?" She shook her head. "Have *you* outgrown this delusionary phase, Connor?" she said, aiming both barrels right at him.

MacLeod's answer was harsh, so I guessed he was taking this personally. The light tone had disappeared, and there was a nastiness now in his words, and in the way he said them. "Yes. But have *you* outgrown the desire to have every man's penis inside *you,* Elena?"

Whoa! I thought. A little over the top, maybe, MacLeod?

Her eyes - eye - narrowed as she looked at him, and I suddenly felt an urge to be elsewhere. When these two got going, they could get vicious, and Duncan wasn't here to hold them back, and they'd come really close more than once.

She leaned over and whispered seductively - yet loud enough for me to hear - in his ear, "No, I want every single man's - except yours, Connor."

I happened to be looking right at MacLeod and thought I saw some expression flit across his face, then just as quickly disappear. It somehow gave me the impression that her remark had pissed him off, insulted him.

But either I had imagined it, or he just wouldn't show it. "Good," he retorted off-handedly, but not leaning back away from her, not giving up an inch. "At least we agree on something."

I tried to defuse the situation - or at least get out of there - by saying, softly, "You know, I think I have some work to do in the back ..."

Duran turned back to me, her smile dazzling, friendly again. I had a lot of trouble following her moods. Hell - even Duncan did!

"No, don't go, Dawson. Listen, thanks for the information, by the way, and do you have anything to eat? My stomach is growling."

Eat? I choked. "Duran, it's two thirty in the morning! The kitchen's closed!" She, too, was changing the subject; I could see that. But this was too much!

"Peanuts? Pretzels?" she asked. "You know, you shouldn't serve drinks alone. If people don't get some food in their stomachs while they're drinking, they can get really ..." she paused, searching for the word.

"Bombed," I supplied, got a can of of mixed nuts from under the bar, opened it and poured them into a bowl for her. Then I glanced down at her drink. Interesting that, although she could drink like a fish when she wanted to, she'd only taken one or two sips tonight.

As if following my train of thought, she said, "I expect Mercury to come for me tonight. I hope he does. I'm tired of his trying to scare me, to intimidate me, getting me looking over my shoulder."

"Is it working?" I asked, somewhat sarcastically.

"Oh, yes, I'm terrified," she said flippantly.

The Highlander snorted, then took some of the nuts from the bowl she held out to him, then to me. I took some too. A peace offering of sorts, I guessed. She ate some herself, and I supposed they were both over their bad moods - for now.

Translations: (all Spanish)

cono, carajo - damn, double damn

cabron - bastard

I looked her over again, hoping she wouldn't notice me doing it; not too much. Maybe she wasn't so flippant. She'd come in angry, and was certainly on edge. But if she was afraid, she was hiding it real well from me.

In that really weird accent he'd picked up God knows where, MacLeod contributed, "He doesn't have to scare you. If he can get you angry and rattled ..."

Or if *you* get her angry and rattled, MacLeod, I thought, and wondered if this was his way of more or less apologizing for getting her even more angry and rattled, maybe just before a fight. These two had an interesting hate-dislike relationship, full of flare-ups. But I knew they pretty much trusted each other, and underneath, I believed they cared for each other; beyond Duncan, that is. Or maybe they cared if the other lived or died. Maybe that was all. Maybe it was enough.

"You think?" she asked him, amused. "Thank you, [viejo.] I'll remember your sage advice. So tell me," she continued talking to him while munching loudly (something I hated). "You three, you and Richie and Duncan, are going out in the deep dark woods to go hunting for big game! Oh, Connor, I'm so excited! You're all such, such ... such manly men!" she said breathlessly, reaching over and feeling his bicep under his turtleneck. Well, he let her get away with that. Then she puffed out her chest, made an 'O' of her lips, and crowed exactly like a rooster, flapping her arms and everything!

I laughed, remembering that especially in Latin America the fighting cock was a symbol of virility. Surely MacLeod would take this as the joke it was meant to be, not get angry or whatever that had been before.

To my relief, he barked with laughter. Then he asked her, "And while we men are out risking our lives hunting, what will you be doing?"

Uh-oh. His turn.

"Getting your hair and fingernails done? Pink?" He chuckled.

"No, I'll be home, barefoot in the kitchen, waiting to cook up that poor little Bambi that you're going to shoot with a gun as thick around as your..." She stopped and looked down at his crotch suggestively.

Dammit, she always had to have the last word, always had to push. This is where she'd gotten him mad before, and she was a crude bitch, wasn't she? MacLeod was wrong - she didn't want a penis inside her. I decided that Freud was the one who was right, and Duran wanted a penis, period. Penis envy. That's what it was! In spite of what Duncan MacLeod said about women fighting as well as men, I'd always thought the Game was pretty much a man's Game, with men having most of the advantages in size, strength and endurance; not to mention physical and cultural conditioning.

But MacLeod took the high road - good for him! He raised one eyebrow, still smiling. "Actually, I'm using a composite bow."

"Really?" she asked, obviously interested. "You know, I haven't tried a bow in ... years." She examined him critically, looking especially at the spread of his shoulders. He wasn't as wide as his kinsman, but they still presented quite a spread.

"If it's made for you, I may not be strong enough to pull it. But I'd love to ..." she began. Then stopped. Suddenly, abruptly.

They looked at each other; then MacLeod morphed again, became that cold, emotionless creature again. God, it was creepy, the way he did that!

And Duran - knuckles white on the edge of the bar, eyes closed, she took a great deep breath, expanding her chest, filling it with air. She let it out with a long hiss through her teeth, pulling her stomach in. Then she relaxed her hands, her body. She was obviously gathering her forces. This was the famous fight or flight syndrome, in the flesh, and they each had their own way to cope. Neither of them chose flight, I noticed.

Again. It was going to happen again. Life and death. A duel [en outrance,] as the French called it. To the death. Damn, this was exciting! I felt downright guilty about it, but God help me, I always got a rush at this time! And the outcome of this particular duel would be important, especially to Duncan MacLeod, if his lover fell ... I felt myself start to breathe hard, my mouth open, and started wiping the bar again, then caught myself. I hoped Spenser, Duran's Watcher, was in position, because if it was Mercury, this one was hers. But she should be able to handle him. I hoped. Certainly Connor MacLeod wouldn't interfere? Nah!

At this point they turned their heads in unison toward the door, like they'd been rehearsing a move in a dance troupe or something. As it opened, they caught what had to be a fleeting glimpse, then MacLeod turned back to the bar.

MacLeod was cold, all right. He wasn't giving anything away; I couldn't even tell if he'd been pleased or displeased by what he'd seen of Mercury, although he was undoubtedly analyzing, judging. Duncan MacLeod had told me once that his kinsman was always thinking, and right now I could just see it. The Highlander took another slow sip of his Scotch.

Duran, too, was a study in concentration, but more obvious about it, even from the back. She leaned her elbows on the bar, facing away from me. I could see the tension in her shoulder muscles as she stared at her approaching enemy.

Then I turned my attention to Sir Thomas Mercury, already halfway into the room. His eyes flitted from one to the other, and suddenly grew larger. Two of them, huh, buddy? Surprise! He paused in his confident walk, and for a minute there, I thought he might actually turn around and leave. But then he must have met Duran's gaze, because he was grinning at her.

But Mercury couldn't just ignore MacLeod, could he? He had to say something to the Scot, do something about him. Mercury cleared his throat, and that, I thought, was a mistake on his part. "Hello, Elena. I'm Sir Thomas Mercury, and I've been looking forward to meeting you at last. Who's your friend?"

Confident son of a bitch! And true to form: take care of the bigger threat, the male Immortal, first.

MacLeod turned to face him, his drink still in his hand. He took a moment, then said, "I'm Connor MacLeod, and I'm not her friend."

Stretching the truth a bit, aren't we, MacLeod? Or maybe not.

"Good, good; because I have no quarrel with you," Mercury said.

Well, he looked relieved. Mercury's giving too much away, I thought.

"So Elena. You are Elena Duran, right?" he asked her.

She didn't answer; just stared at him. Mercury was as tall as she was, a little shorter than MacLeod. Spiky blond hair, like Brian Bosworth ten years ago. Broad shoulders, tapering down to a narrow waist and hips. Very fit - no surprise there. And some nice set of threads. European suit under his London Fog - he'd get that dirty, probably bloody. Blue eyes, not at all shifty. Sometimes the bad guys just didn't look like bad guys. But he did have the snooty British accent - it reminded me a little of the old man. Educated British. Well, hopefully he wouldn't be as obnoxious as Methos. But in the end it might not really matter whether he was obnoxious or not.

There was a moment more of complete stillness while she slowly looked him up and down. What Mercury should have done - what I would have done, I think, I hope - is keep my mouth shut, let the silence continue, let her be the one to break it. But he got rattled before she did and frowned, then spoke up.

Mistake number two. Nope, there's no substitute for experience, kid, I said silently to him. *Now* are you starting to get the sense that you're probably out of your league here? Do you know just how much damn trouble you're really in?

"You *are* Elena Duran?" he asked her again, his voice gruff this time, not as smooth. He'd just barely glanced at me, and I walked down and busied myself with something at the other end of the bar, although I was still within eavesdropping range.

Damn, I wished I could see Duran's face at that moment. She pushed herself off the bar, coat in hand, and stood straight. "I am Maria Elena Conchita Duran y Agramonte. Let's just finish it."

He nodded, and they went outside. Now all we could do was wait.

God, I hated this waiting part!

I came back to where MacLeod was still sitting. For a while, maybe ten minutes - I sneaked a look at my watch - we just stayed there, deep in our own thoughts. If MacLeod hadn't been here, I would have gone out to see Duran fight. I'd never seen her in a real duel before, only sparring, and had to admit she moved well. She didn't seem to have the natural grace that, say, Duncan MacLeod had, but I knew she worked hard at it, and she'd survived for over four hundred years. I also knew the reputations of some of the Immortals whose heads she'd taken. Plus, if the MacLeods respected her fighting abilities ...

But I wondered if Connor MacLeod thought she could ... damn, I just had to ask! I took a sip of my Scotch, for courage, I guess, and looked him over. He was not what you'd call approachable.

He returned my gaze steadily, but if the eyes were the mirrors of the soul, as some poet had written, this MacLeod didn't know about it. I got nothing from his eyes, no sense of how he was feeling at all. Then I glanced down at his hands - sometimes your hands gave you away - but they were both wrapped around his glass and around each other, completely relaxed. He'd finished his first drink but hadn't had a second. I'm a bartender - I notice these things. Maybe he thought he might be fighting too, later this morning, if Duran lost her head, and didn't want to drink too much.

"Aren't you worried about her?" I finally asked him, considering, if he really didn't care, why was he still hanging around?

"She's not worried. Why should I be?" he countered.

"I don't know. But don't you want to see how she does, or keep her company, or back her up?"

I must have sounded a little excited, because he smiled slightly at me. Indulgently, maybe.

"If she loses her head, I'll behead the Englishman for her sake. And for Duncan's," he stated matter-of-factly. He picked up the whiskey bottle I'd left on the counter, read the label, and poured himself another. Then he added, almost as an afterthought, "But she won't."

"I hope you're right," I said, looking toward the door.

MacLeod's grey eyes were still unreadable. "I thought you didn't like her, Dawson."

"I don't," I said. I didn't. But ... "But Duncan MacLeod loves her."

"Yeah. He does."

That said it all, didn't it? Duncan MacLeod. But before I got started down that road, I saw MacLeod stiffen slightly, getting ready, again. But not to fight, I didn't think; and it made sense. If an Immortal was coming back, it had to be Duran, because Mercury wouldn't take a chance on having to fight a second duel. He'd just bail. Right?

Well, she walked back through that door, like she'd done so many other times - and she looked whipped. She came up to the bar, walking with a slight limp, maybe, or just stiffly, and my eyes were drawn to her right shoulder. There was a single bloodstain there - not very big but very fresh and red and wet and obvious on the light blouse. She followed my gaze, smeared it with the heel of her hand, then licked it off.

Well, that made me a little sick to my stomach. She was licking his blood, Mercury's blood, tasting it! Christ! What a bloodythirsty bitch this woman was! But then I got a really good look at her face and saw that she wasn't hiding, or even trying to hide, how upset she was. Oh boy!

She picked up the bottle and poured herself a double. Her hands were shaking ever so slightly, not enough to spill or anything. She drank half of it in one gulp, then coughed weakly.

MacLeod smiled at her and clapped her on the back. "So ... he was better than you thought?"

"Fuck you, Connor," she snarled at him, keeping her eyes down.

But he must have decided to ignore her anger, her distress, whatever it was, because he chuckled. "Maybe there is something to this theory - hunting weak Immortals and females. Maybe you're just weaker than you thought, Elena."

Now why the hell was he trying to get a rise out of her? Couldn't he see what was going on with her? At that point she turned her head to look at him, and I saw his eyes widen slightly. Then I realized he hadn't gotten as good a look into her eye as I had.

"Do you think so, Connor?" she asked him softly. "Do you think I'm weak?"

Now that question *visibly* surprised him. Hell, it surprised me, too. I couldn't really tell if she was seriously asking him or being sarcastic. He leaned back slightly, regrouped, thought about it. Then he turned on his stool so he was facing her completely and said, "I know you took him."

I 'know' you took him? Of course she took him! Unless Duran let Mercury go, which I didn't think for a minute she'd done. But how did MacLeod know? Or did he know? Maybe he did, maybe he sensed it somehow, felt it, something about just having taken a Quickening, it had been so recent and they were standing so close ... I'd have to ask Duncan, later. For the chronicles, of course. But for now he was studying her with a slightly exasperated look on his face, as if to say, "What's the problem?"

She picked up her drink, finished it, gasped briefly, then slammed the glass down on the bar so hard I'm surprised it didn't break. I jumped back slightly, but MacLeod just calmly sat there, unfazed, still looking at her. I guessed he was waiting for her to say something else - or not - but in any case was smart enough not to say anything himself. Good - you do learn something in five hundred years!

When she finally did say something it gave me the fucking chills.

Still staring at the glass gripped in her hand, her jaw working, she began. "He said: 'please!' Sweet Jesus! God, no, please, please don't kill me! I don't want to die; please, I want to live! I'll go away! I'll do anything you want! Be merciful, just please, my God, please let me go!" She turned to look at MacLeod again for a long moment, then whispered one more time: "Please!"

Now I felt really sick. Those were Sir Thomas Mercury's last words; but more than that, it must have been *exactly* the way he'd said them. She had put all kinds of emotion into it: fear, despair, desperation. Her voice even shook. Damn! I think she even had his accent right.

This had not been an off-the-cuff beheading. This one she'd felt, deep in her gut. This one had cost her. And I felt a little guilty about some of the things I'd said and believed about her; because whatever else, Elena Duran had just proved that she was not the cold-hearted bitch I wanted her to be, who killed with impunity, or for pleasure. And that she felt bad for this Mercury whom she had every reason to want to kill. To *need* to kill. She felt pity, sorrow for him. Sympathy. Maybe even empathy.

Damn, I hated to be wrong about somebody like this!

Translations:

viejo (Span.) - old man

I glanced at MacLeod's face. He was much harder to read ... and suddenly I thought, God, I hope he doesn't mock her, doesn't make fun of her, insult her! Not now! But what he did say made me think that maybe he wasn't as cold as he let on, either. He had to have been in this situation, felt this same emotion before, empathy, and was feeling it even now - for her if not for the late, departed Mercury.

He wiped one lone tear - yes, a tear! - from her cheek with his thumb, then said, simply, "No. I don't think you're weak."

Duran didn't flinch away from his touch, as I thought she might. "[!Cono,] Connor! He's the one who came after *me*!" she said, a little raggedly.

"I know," he agreed cooly.

She took a deep breath, probably to calm herself.

MacLeod waited several heartbeats, then asked, "Still hungry? I'll buy you breakfast."

"You'll buy me breakfast?" she echoed in an incredulous tone.

I thought maybe she was still in some kind of shock or something.

He glanced around with a slight smile. "Funny, I never noticed an echo in here before."

I could tell she wanted to smile. But she was also suspicious. And direct as always. "Why, Connor?" she asked him. I thought if she even had a hint that he was feeling sorry for her, or was trying to cheer her up, she'd blow up at him.

But I could see he was never going to admit anything. Never.

Instead, he shrugged. "It's almost dawn. I have to eat. And you should know of some good place that's open all night."

She studied him for a moment and finally said, "Wouldn't you rather get a few hours of sleep before you to go the island? I need to go back to the loft and shower anyway, and I could use some sleep myself. You can have the sofa - and afterwards you can buy me breakfast."

"Deal," he said, smiling.

"Oh, and don't get any ideas," she warned him, shaking her head. "I'm taking the bed, and I'll have my sword right by my hand."

They'd started to walk out, his hand just grazing the small of her back. Their footsteps should have been loud in the silence, but they both glided gracefully, soundlessly, in their tennis shoes, almost like they were wearing ice skates or something.

I guessed they'd forgotten about me. Sometimes it paid to just be a fly on the wall. Sometimes it didn't.

"I'll have my sword close by too, Elena," he replied. "I have to protect my virtue."

She laughed. Like everything else she did, it was done with enthusiasm. "How'd you get here from the airport, Connor?"

"Taxi," he replied.

"Do you like convertibles? The wind in your hair and the bugs in your teeth?"

She was referring to the little red Miata she scooted around in.

He chuckled, then said, "Yes. And I bet you speed, don't you?"

"You'll find out," she said; but we all knew the answer to that! Good luck, MacLeod, I said to him silently.

They were at the door now, and at the last minute they both turned, together. If I didn't know better, I'd think there was some connection between these two.

"Dawson," she said, by way of goodbye, and MacLeod just nodded. I nodded back, having nothing to say and wanting to say everything. Duran put her arm in his and they walked out. Then I waited for Spenser to come in and tell me all about. it. He and I went way back, and I'd recommended him for this assignment because he didn't rattle easily.

Seacouver, September 18, 2:00 a.m.

I'd just said, "Last call!" when Duran walked in. My heart skipped a beat. Spenser had tucked her in for the night (so to speak) an hour ago. Then he'd come in for a drink and had just left five minutes ago. I wondered if that was a coincidence. Didn't she want him to see her here? Why not?

I kept a wary eye on her. She sat at a table in the back, and looked around brightly at everyone leaving, as though she were interested in them all. But she herself made no move to leave. A drunk customer came to her table and said something to her; she smiled and answered him softly, and he walked on out intact. Thank God.

Brent was my favorite employee. For one thing, he didn't know about Immortals, plus he got along with the customers really well - but she was the only one left, and now he was going toward her, to ask her politely to go.

I didn't want him to do or say anything that might place him in her sights. So I called out, "Hey, Brent, why don't you go on ahead, I'll lock up. And she can stay. It's all right."

Actually, it wasn't all right. In spite of the cool night, I could feel little beads of sweat start at the small of my back. Once Brent closed up and left, I'd be alone with Elena Duran. Yesterday it had been the two Immortals, and they would have probably kept each other in hand; if only because they disagreed about everything. But today it was just me and Duran - and I had no idea what she wanted with me.

Brent looked at Elena. He'd seen her come in with Duncan MacLeod more than once and gave me a hidden thumbs-up signal. I snorted to myself. Boy, was he way off! He yelled, "So, long, Joe," from the door and was gone so quickly I didn't even have time to panic. Not yet, anyway.

Elena watched him while I watched her. Our eyes met, and I swallowed almost instinctively. Then I headed right towards her, a long way to the back of the place where she sat partly in shadow, to find out what she wanted. I had to admit I was nervous. No, maybe more than just nervous. My lips felt a little dry, but I was damned if I'd let her know ... "What do you want, Duran?" I asked her. I wanted to sound calm, but it came out a little harsher than I anticipated.

She smiled - at me - and it was a perfectly pleasant, good-humored smile. Nothing sinister or dangerous about it. In fact, she looked quite happy, as far as I could tell.

"A draft beer would be nice," she said.

I looked at her for a moment, shrugged, then headed back to the bar. No Scotch - that was probably good news for me. But beer? She didn't drink beer as a rule; not at my place. As I went around behind the counter to pour it, she left her table and came up to sit on a barstool. A little bit spilled over when I put the glass down in front of her. Damn! - I hardly ever spilled. I noticed she'd brought her cloak with her from the table and put it on the bar to her left. With her sword in it, of course. Not that she'd need a sword if she really wanted to nail me.

Damn, I thought, what the hell did she want? I took a breath to ask her again - and the smell that wafted over, so delicate - jasmine - and the way she looked! No question that the woman was easy on the eyes. Glossy black hair, light brown complexion, and those full lips ... no question. But I was distracted from a complete inventory of her charms by the fact that she still hadn't answered my question. And she hated my guts. And ...

She said, "I was thinking, Dawson, that you've never actually done anything against me."

I considered for a moment, wondering if the next thing she was going to say was, 'until now.' Well, I'd disagreed with her in the past, opposed her, spoken against her; but she didn't necessarily know about every instance. Plus, she was right. I'd never actually crossed her. I wasn't suicidal. So I agreed. "You're right, I haven't."

"I know you don't like me and don't trust me. Maybe you're afraid of me, a little." She was looking straight at me in that direct way of hers which left you nowhere to hide.

I looked back, feeling somewhat like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. I decided not to say anything; just see where she was going. But I didn't think I'd like it very much. Maybe she'd been waiting for just such an opportunity, when Ducan MacLeod was gone; when all the other Immortals I knew were out of town. She could stage an accident of some kind ... then I realized I was letting my imagination run wild and I put the brakes on. She had no real reason to hurt me. Besides, she had given Duncan MacLeod her word years ago not to kill any more Watchers, and I knew for a fact that she'd never broken that pledge, not once. Even though she had come close.

"It's all right. I've certainly given you cause." She drank the whole glass in one long series of gulps, put it down, and looked at me again. "I brought you something."

What - a dagger to put in my back? I wanted to ask, but didn't quite dare. "Yeah?" I asked her. "So what is it?" I tried to sound unconcerned, but had the feeling she could see right through me.

She raised one eyebrow, but I couldn't completely read her expression. She might have been amused. Then again ...

"This," she said, put a small backpack on the bar and pulled a disc out of it. The label had a name on it I didn't know. "Do you want to know what true Immortality is, Dawson?" she asked me. She had leaned in so close, I could feel her breath like a soft, hot fan on my face.

What the hell? I thought.

"This is true Immortality. Just like the Parthenon. La Gioconda. Don Quixote. Anything by Mozart. The sayings of Confucius. The blades forged by Masamume. The Bible. Your own Statue of Liberty. This is what will endure after we so-called Immortals have all cut off each others' heads and are lying in graves, along with everyone else. This music ..." she waved the disc, "... centuries after the singer and composer are dead, their countries no longer exist, their languages are not spoken by anyone - the music lives on. Just like the art and the ideas live on."

Well, if anyone had told me that Elena Duran had ever thought about these things, and especially that she'd share her thoughts with *me,* I would have laughed out loud. But she had had centuries to think and to appreciate what was around her. And right now she certainly had my attention.

I looked at the disc in her hand. "What is it?" I asked her.

"Good music," she answered. "You like good music, don't you, Dawson?"

I nodded, wondering ...

"Have you ever heard of a singer named Carlos Gardel?"

"Gardel?" I asked. No, but let's think about this now. I moistened my lips with the tip of my tongue. A Spanish name. She's an Argentine. Argentine music. Two plus two is ... "Tango," I said.

Her smile was dazzling. At that moment she looked so pleased I thought she was going to hug me or kiss me or something.

"Very good, Dawson!" she exclaimed. "The king of the tango from the nineteen twenties and thirties. In his time he made the tango popular all over the world. His golden voice brought this beautiful music about love, life, death, betrayal, happiness and misery to life, forever. It will always be with us, like John Keats' 'thing of beauty,' eh?"

"You're not going to quote Keats, are you?" I asked her sarcastically, then instantly regretted it when she leaned away from me with a disappointed, maybe even hurt look on her face. I couldn't believe I'd said that or what I was saying now, but I hurried to recite, without sarcasm this time: "'A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness' ... something like that?"

I was batting a thousand tonight. She gave me that thrilling smile again and said, "You are full of surprises, Dawson. So. Would you like to hear Carlos Gardel's golden voice making very depressing but very beautiful music? I'll translate for you."

This woman and her surprises! Now she was doing something I never thought ... well, she was obviously sober, and she was still reaching out to me, God knows why. No, I knew why - because I'd never done anything against her. And she was sharing with me the only thing we had in common. The only thing we both liked, good music - and the Highlander, of course.

Well, I figured I could tell her to leave, and she might be expecting exactly that. Then we'd be back to square one, or maybe even a little worse. Or I could take a chance, say yes, and maybe get to know her a little better, more than just as Duncan's lover. Or as a killer.

Her one good eye was bright. Well, I thought, I still didn't like her and I didn't trust her. And yeah, dammit, I was afraid of her, more than a little. But I could surely listen to some good music. Yeah.

"Sure," I said.

The lyrics, even the style was too flowery for my taste, and she admitted that Argentines as a people - or maybe all Latins, she mused out loud - tended to exaggerate, to feel things too deeply, too passionately. I wondered if she was, in her own way, trying to make me understand some of the things she'd done. But in spite of the 'purple' lyrics and the foreign language, there was no denying the power of that man's voice; the sadness in it, the melancholy; the kind of haunting beauty common to all great art that reached into your gut and squeezed until it hurt.

When we were done an hour later I asked her to leave me the disc. For a moment she looked like she was sceptical of my motives, but then she cleared her expression and simply put the recording down on the bar. Then she settled her cloak around herself, wiggled her fingers at me, smiled, and walked out without a word.

I stood there for a minute, not even having said goodnight, feeling worn out from the day. My eyes were gritty, my arms ached, my legs were tired. And the tension of Elena Duran's little middle-of-the-night visit hadn't quite left me. I didn't completely relax, I realized, until she was gone. Then I took a deep breath.

But my mind refused to slow down, to rest. I'd discovered a couple of things about Immortals, and especially about these two. Connor MacLeod was pretty much a closed book, even to his own Watchers; but I'd discovered he *did* have strong emotions, maybe even sympathy. He just didn't show them easily. And Elena Duran ... more than I expected. Hell, better than I expected. And full of surprises, as always. In fact, they'd both surprised me.

On the one hand, I felt like I'd misjudged them, been wrong about them. But I also felt smug and triumphant. *This* is how you really find out about Immortals, about their daily lives, what concerns them, even their petty concerns; what they do, how they feel. This is how you get insight into what they're really like - not just by watching them from afar, but by being in on their conversations, their discussions; by being a part of their lives, however small, for however short a time. Even if there was a price to pay. And for the hundredth time, I was damn glad I'd made myself known to Duncan MacLeod in that alley behind the bookstore, so many years ago. I'd have to write this down in my journals, my reflections on the Immortals ... and I found myself polishing the bar, again, really energetically.

So I stopped.

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