"To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them? ..."
Hamlet, Act III Scene i - William Shakespeare
Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, son of a clan chieftain and Highland Warrior, laid down the name he'd been given for the first time in his long four hundred and six years of life on earth. As simply and as effortlessly as tossing a passport into the rubbish bin, Duncan MacLeod, for the most part, ceased to be. The new name he had chosen for himself was as far from his heritage as he could find, but as close to his heart as he would allow; Richard Noel.
He could leave behind the living, start a new life without them, but he could not bring himself to part with those two who had died. Of all those whom he had known during his extended lifetime, these were the names connected to the memories most dear to him. Not Debra Campbell. Not Amanda or Methos or Fitzcairn. Not Joseph Dawson. Not even Darius. Tessa Noel and Richard Ryan had burned places into his soul so firmly, so completely that no amount of purging could or would ever remove them. Giving in to what he considered a weakness, a chink in the armor he was trying to wrap himself within, he found a way to secretly carry them with him for as long as he drew breath.
Stuffing his few belongings into a knapsack, he paused to stare down at the new passport, so new the ink was barely dry. Richard Noel, born December 29, 1964. He wondered how long it would take before he would answer to that name as quickly as he did his own. A long time, probably, since any voice uttering it would be as foreign to him as the moniker. More often than not, a familiar tone would attract his attention faster than someone calling out to him directly.
Familiar voices. That was something he would not hear for a very long time. He'd said his good-byes. The dojo was sold. The barge was gone. He had almost parted with the island, but common sense had stayed his hand as it was posed above the dotted line. He had no intention of going there now, nor anytime in the foreseeable future. However, the knowledge that it existed, and was still his, left him with peace of mind that, in all the world, there would still be a place where he could find refuge. Alone, always alone, yet safe. So he passed on the generous offer and left the only remnant of Duncan MacLeod's legacy imprinted on a deed to a small island in the northwestern corner of the United States.
The rest of his fortune he scattered around the globe; in warehouses with long term leases paid in full and registered under the names of the friends he was leaving behind; in trust funds that would be inaccessible to him for over a hundred years; and donations to a multitude of foundations that might just help the mortals with whom he shared the planet, but by reason of his race could never be a complete part of.
He was going to start as he had almost four hundred and seven years ago. No...not quite. With less; no safety of the clan, nor loving parents. With more, the experience of living for oh, so long, and the skills he needed to survive.
Not quite naked and alone, but close.
Dressed in blue jeans and an ivory sweater that Tessa had given to him for Christmas one year, and with only a thousand U.S. dollars in his pocket, he swung the knapsack that contained his new American passport and two changes of clothes onto his shoulders. He tucked the katana, carefully swathed in cloth between his back and the canvas, and took the Metro to Orly airport.
There was one more person to whom he had to say good-bye. The one to whom he owed the most. The one who would be the hardest of them all.
Conserving his modest fortune, he bought a stand-by ticket for the very first time, and within the hour was on a plane to New York City.
"You're what?!" Connor MacLeod exclaimed, his voice caught somewhere between surprise and anger. He jumped to his feet, and began pacing around the large living room, his steps jerky, his head shaking in agitated disbelief.
Duncan threw his knapsack down on the lush, leather couch and exhaled a sigh of exasperation. He'd known this wasn't going to be easy, and to make it worse, he was exhausted from the long flight, and couldn't think straight. Between settling his affairs and being caught between two very talkative travelers, he hadn't had any decent sleep in over thirty-six hours. Maybe he should have taken the time to rest before dealing with this confrontation. But, alas, it was too late. Impatient to be done with it all had made him careless. He exhaled a weary breath and turned around to regard his friend directly. "I said, I'm..."
Connor cut him off with an irritated wave of his hand. "I heard you," he interrupted. "Do you know that you are, without a doubt, the most arrogant person I have ever met?" He abruptly halted his pacing and pinned his clansman with a aggravated glare. "Contrary to popular belief, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, the world does not, I repeat, does not revolve around you. You are not the be all, end all of everything that's wrong in this world."
"I never said I was," the younger MacLeod countered.
"No? Then what's this foolishness you're talking about? That you're leaving. That you're planning to cut yourself off from everyone you know. That you will never again allow anyone to be used against you. You're a fool if you think you can do that. People are attracted to you like a magnet. Call it clan chieftain syndrome, or whatever you want, but all you're going to do is exchange one group of people, who, by the way, are aware of the so-called danger of knowing you, for another who won't be quite so lucky. Or were you planning to go someplace where no one else exists? Go hide out on that island of yours for a few hundred years?"
"Then where the fuck are you going to go?"
"Someplace where I can be anonymous."
"Anonymous?!" Connor shouted with incredulity, then started laughing, but his chuckles conveyed no humor whatsoever. "Not only are you arrogant but you're stupid as well. Face it, Ace. You could no more blend into the woodwork than a leopard could in a herd of gazelles."
"Then take my head, Connor." The request was issued in a whisper. That it was issued at all surprised the speaker more than the recipient, apparent by the look of absolute astonishment on the younger man's face. He had not come here with suicide in mind, merely definite about his plans to retreat. The fact that his intentions could so quickly be altered startled him.
The fist came out of nowhere and made swift, yet solid contact with Duncan's jaw, sending him spinning to the floor. "Now you're really pissing me off."
Making no effort to get up, the younger stared up at his elder with pleading eyes. "I willnae be responsible for anyone e'er again!"
"No' e'en yerself?!
"No, no' e'en m'self. I'm tired, Connor. Tired o' the Game. Tired o' all the killin'. Tired o' running to or away from a challenge. Tired o' losing friends and lovers. I cannae do it anymore."
"You're a liar," Connor stated flatly. He extended his hand toward his fallen friend, and, with an impatient wiggle of his fingers, encouraged the larger man to take it. After staring at the peace offering for several seconds, his former student finally shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of submission and clasped it, palm to palm. As he yanked Duncan to his feet, the older Highlander continued. "If what you say is true then you wouldn't have come here. You may have come on the pretense of saying good-bye, but you really came so I could talk you out of this impetuous plan of yours."
"It's not impetuous. I meant what I said. I've sold or given away almost everything. That bag there contains what is left of my worldly possessions." The darker Scot made a move toward the couch. "I'm out of here, Connor. I came to say good-bye, not to argue with you; so, good-bye." He leaned over to pick up the knapsack, cursing himself for the fool he was to think this discussion could have ended any other way.
"Is there a picture of Tessa in that bag?"
Duncan paused at the brink of wrapping his fingers around the strap. Then, leaving it untouched, he turned around and looked at the other man. "What?"
"You heard me."
"What difference does it make?"
"Answer the question, Duncan. Did you bring a picture of Tessa with you?"
Duncan stared down at the lump of dark-green canvas where it contrasted against the saddle tan of the couch and hoped the tears that had suddenly filled his eyes would not spill over. So many tears shed since he'd lost her. So much pain and heartbreak. So many nights of reaching out for her when she would never be there again. It had to stop. If he was truly going to start anew, then it had to be a clean break.
On the echo of that last thought, he reached out and slowly caressed the rough material. Apologizing to himself and to the woman whom he had loved, and still loved more than any other, he finally answered with a slight shake of his head, and a barely audible, "No."
Connor watched silently, reading the younger Highlander's body language, and knew the answer before it was spoken. Grasping the powerful biceps, he gave them a firm squeeze, then waited until the soft, sad, brown eyes looked directly into his. "Then God go wi' ye, lad, fer I believe ye now."
One of those tears escaped the dam of Duncan's lower eyelid. It streaked down his cheek and pooled into a large droplet that lingered at his jaw for a moment before it fell and disappeared; absorbed into the fibers of his sweater. Taking in a shuddering breath, he exhaled a softly uttered, "Good-bye, Connor."
That word, never exchanged before between these two men, lingered like the teardrop.
Waiting expectantly, the younger peered deeply at the older, knowing that despite their immortality, those of his kind possessed only a tenuous hold on life, and that this could, quite possibly be the last time he would ever hear his true name. That it would come from the lips of his mentor/friend, the person who had known him longest, was pivotal to his strength to go on.
As though knowing exactly what was expected, Connor gave the muscles under his fingers one final squeeze, forced himself to let go in more ways than one, then swallowed before replying. "Good-bye, Duncan MacLeod."
It was Richard Noel who picked up his meager belongings; Richard Noel
who took the elevator down. And Richard Noel who exited the door to Nash
Antiques. Pausing for a moment to look around, he took in a deep cleansing
breath, turned left on Hudson Street, and walked, not only away from his
old life, but into his new one.
To the Authors' pages.