Standard disclaimer: the concept of Immortality and the Immortals belong to Rysher and are copyrighted by them. This story is for fun, not for profit.
Manhattan, September 28, 1986
Sensing an Immortal, Connor MacLeod forced himself to calmness as he always did; but the thrill hit him like a thunderbolt, as it always did. It wasn't anyone inside the grocers', or he would have sensed the other Immortal already, and no one had come in. So Connor put his paper bag filled with apples and carrots back on the produce table and went to the door, glancing around outside. New Yorkers never met each other's gaze if they could help it, but the Immortal would meet his if he--or she--wanted to fight.
But no one looked at him. Connor felt relieved--and disappointed. As soon as Connor had killed the Kurgan, he had taken Brenda away to Scotland, knowing that all large cities were dangerous for their kind--and for their loved ones. It had been his intention to stay away, but only a year later they were back to visit Rachel and take care of what he considered was absolutely necessary antique-related business. On their first night back, tonight, he'd gone out for apples, so good this time of year, and for a gallon of cider to mull and drink hot in front of a roaring fire.
The instant Connor had found himself walking the streets, alone, in the rain, he had regained the old sense of excitement, the thrill of danger that being in this fabulous, tumultuous city never failed to give him. It made him feel a bit guilty. And now, the chance to meet an Immortal.?
Connor kept looking. In Greenwich Village at dinnertime, with a steady, cool rain falling, foot traffic was scarce. On his side of the street and to his right were two women walking side by side under a large umbrella. If either of them was wearing a sword, she'd swallowed it. Connor looked to the left. All he saw was a bent-over old man, walking stiffly under an even older black umbrella. If he was the Immortal, Connor had nothing to fear, unless the man was a whiz with makeup. No one else had come into the store, and the buzz wasn't getting any weaker, so Connor walked out, turning south on Hudson Street. He looked across the street, towards Bleeker Park. No children playing there in the rain. No adults either.
That left the three men on the sidewalk across the street, the first one just coming abreast of him. Number One, white-haired, looked well past middle age. He had on a business suit on under his raincoat, his collar turned up against the rain. Connor couldn't see his face, but the man didn't glance around once, and he had on uncomfortable shoes. Number Two, also umbrella-less, was thin and had a large nose. He wore a tan trenchcoat and jeans, and was walking in the rain, looking straight ahead, as though the weather didn't bother him one bit. Number Three was very young--chronologically--and was practically running, in clunky boots, under his umbrella. Maybe he was trying to get away from the buzz?. Number Two had good running shoes on his feet. Number Three ran past Number One, who had on bad shoes, then Number Three got to the corner and crossed the street, moving quickly away. The buzz continued--probably not Number Three either. Number Two was tall and had good shoes. Connor didn't know any of them, but he stopped in his tracks and stared across the street at Number Two.
"Hey!" Connor called out.
Number Two was the only one who met Connor's eyes briefly, without a single flicker of emotion or recognition.
Gotcha! Connor thought.
Then the man looked away and walked on, slightly increasing his pace, going south past the tiny park.
Connor sighed. He hadn't been thinking about fighting an Immortal tonight. He had been thinking that he hadn't had dinner. And right now, he was thinking that he should just ignore this particular Immortal and go home--he was late for dinner, and Brenda did know how to cook. She also knew how to make him feel guilty for being late to dinner.
It was raining, which made for unsteady footing in a duel, and it was getting dark, which meant he'd miss important details, and the evening was chilly, which made holding a sword difficult and hampered his flexibility.
However, Connor MacLeod was cursed with the famous feline disease--he had to know. And this particular Immortal could have eluded him, but instead he had chosen to give himself away by meeting Connor's gaze and then, effectively, running away. An amateur mistake, apparently--the other Immortal clearly wanted to avoid him, and Connor should just let him go.
Connor couldn't just let him go.
The other Immortal was walking briskly down Hudson Street. Connor crossed the street and followed. Any minute now his prey would slip into one of the restaurants or shops in the Village. But the man got off the more populated street, turning west on Perry Street towards the river--and towards the deserted piers there.
So, did the guy know where he was going? Connor wondered. Half a block more, and that's where the Immortal made his mistake--if it was a mistake. Connor wiped the rain from his eyes as he saw the other man duck into the proverbial blind alley. Connor knew this alley was blind because he knew a lot of the alleys in Manhattan, especially the no-exit ones, and most especially those within a few blocks of his building.
Connor paused at the mouth of the alley, looking around. There was no one in the street. He drew his sword and listened, but heard nothing from the alley. This was, of course, a good place for a trap. He could leave now, should leave. Instead, taking a deep breath, he rounded the corner, his katana leading the way.
It was just getting dark, with still more than enough light to study faces. The rain was hard enough to make him uncomfortable, but not enough to impede vision too much. The alley was empty of everything but the usual big-city refuse and a large, rusty garbage bin, glowing metallic green in the light from wire-covered bulbs over several doorways. At least there were no drunks, Connor thought gratefully, as he stepped further into the alley to get a better look.
He'd been right about this particular alley being blind. Locked doors--how quickly could the other man pick a lock?--and a solitary, tempting-but-just-out-of-reach fire escape. Unless his quarry was part gazelle or had a hidden jetpack, he was trapped.
The Immortal was at bay near the back of the alley, standing in plain view, not trying to escape. He stood his ground as Connor advanced on him, stopping ten feet away.
No jetpack. Good.
"Caught like a rat in a trap," the stranger said in a pleasant enough British accent.
A little nervous.
Good, Connor thought again. He knew his own expression would give away very little, and he took his time to assess his opponent, while the other man studied him in turn.
The Immortal's face was patrician, perhaps even arrogant, but at the same time it projected innocence and vulnerability. It was the light eyes, young-looking, with just-hidden fear in their depths, and the way the man stood--left hand in his trouser pocket, slouching slightly, that gave away his lack of experience. However, there was a sword inside the man's trenchcoat, and that oversized sweater could have been carefully chosen to hide a lean, muscular torso. The man was just a hair taller than Connor was, and the stranger couldn't hide his long legs and long arms, both excellent tools for a good swordsman. The Immortal's right hand was also long, lean, delicate-looking. He could have been a pianist, and he was certainly right-handed. The left hand was still in his pocket, and Connor worried about a hidden weapon there.
Still, the general impression was that this was a young one, and not the kind at all Connor generally went after. On the other hand, Connor had been fooled before, and these days he was no longer trusting, like his kinsman, Duncan MacLeod, still tended to be. Assuming he was facing an experienced Immortal, Connor took one step closer, avoiding the puddle directly in front of him. No sword in the other man's hand. Yet.
"I hope that's not for me," the man said, eyeing Connor's katana uneasily.
The man was keeping his cool. Connor answered by saying, "I'm Connor MacLeod."
"Oh, I know," the man said, nodding. "Connor MacLeod; the one who killed the Kurgan last year. I saw the Kurgan once, from a distance. A long distance."
Connor snorted. I'll bet it was a long distance, he thought. In the man's eyes and voice--respect, admiration, maybe a little fear? Or it could well be a skilled theatrical performance. The damnable thing was that most of the time Connor could tell, but this time he had no clue. It meant the stranger had an edge, an advantage over him--and that bothered Connor immensely.
Like all long-lived Immortals, Connor MacLeod knew the Game was ultimately about swordplay--intelligent swordplay. However, before the actual duel began, many things could happen that might give one Immortal an advantage. For example, knowing who your opponent was when he didn't know who you were. Like this Immortal right here in front of him.
Time to take control. "Who are you?" Connor snarled, stepping intimidatingly closer, within striking distance.
The stranger shrugged nonchalantly, but he was faking--Connor saw the slight tightening of the other man's posture.
Ingenuously, with wide-open eyes, the stranger said, "Look, I'm just a guy. Whereas, you ... you have a reputation."
Connor knew he was well-known among Immortals. He also knew better than to rest on his laurels, and he was beginning to get the idea that under the other man's innocent expression was a sense of humor, and humor at Connor's expense. Whoever this stranger was--and he still hadn't identified himself, Connor noted--he probably was not what he appeared. Without stepping back, but more nonchalantly, Connor took another tack. "The problem with having a reputation is that there's always some punk trying to prove himself against you."
"Oh, no, not me," the stranger said quickly, shaking his head. "I have nothing to prove. And taking my head will not enhance your own prestige. I'm nobody. My name is Adam Pierson, and that is *not* a challenge, I assure you."
Adam Pierson. Connor didn't recognize the name. There was something ingratiating now in Pierson's voice, though, Connor thought, feeling a trace of contempt. He now felt, in spite of his earlier suspicions, that this was *not* a man to be feared.
Still, it was better to be sure. "Is that why you ran, Pierson? Because of my reputation?" he asked sarcastically.
Pierson shrugged again. "I don't like to fight," Pierson supplied.
What Pierson didn't say, however, was, "I don't know how to fight." Very important distinction, Connor thought, his suspicions rising again. He was also sure he'd seen a glint of humor in those *respectful* eyes. Plus, all of a sudden, there it was, that special signal deep in the center of his body, in what the Chinese called his [dantian,] a tightening there, a warning that said, very clearly, as though he could hear the voice out loud: "Danger."
Connor never ignored this instinct.
He nodded, more alert now than ever. Time to wrap this up, one way or another. "Do we have a quarrel, Pierson?" he asked without inflection, waiting to see the other man's reaction.
"No, we don't," Pierson replied, obviously relieved.
A little too obviously relieved, my friend. You've overplayed your "innocent" role. Connor smiled, shifting his katana to his left hand, holding his right hand out to his side, open, unarmed. "Then there's no reason for us not to both go home." But Connor knew he could be lying himself, since he now had a feeling he might be taking Pierson's head tonight, after all.
The rain had slowed down while they talked, then suddenly stopped, and Pierson abruptly pulled his left hand out of his pocket.
Connor immediately moved forward, raising his katana to within inches of Pierson's Adam's apple. But what Pierson brought out was only a handkerchief, which he used to wipe his face, then his short, dark hair.
No panic, Connor thought. Pierson has done this before.
Pierson swallowed, his eyes fixed on the tip of Connor's sword. Carefully, Pierson replaced his handkerchief, then said, tentatively, "Look, before we go our separate ways, I'd like to at least buy the famous Highlander a beer. Ah, a Scotch. Whisky. Glenmorangie? Oban? Glenlivet?" he offered, holding both his hands out, palms up, in the time-honored empty-hands gesture.
Connor quickly glanced down at Pierson's hands. This close up, Connor saw that the right hand was larger than the left and had calluses indicative of a lot of sword practice. A lot of *daily* practice. Also, while there was nothing out of the ordinary about offering a Scot a drink of single-malt whisky, the stranger had mentioned Glenmorangie first, Connor's favorite. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Or maybe not. Maybe he knew more about Connor that he wasn't letting on. And the man had led him into the empty alley. Connor's gut tightened even more, and he was suddenly convinced that this was not just a dangerous man, but a murderously dangerous one. He took a breath, ostensibly thinking over the man's offer, but in reality to calm himself. Or to ready himself. The rain had been cold but not hard enough to penetrate his trenchcoat, so he was still relatively dry and warm enough to fight easily, if needed.
But Pierson made no move toward him, standing with Connor's katana still dangerously near his neck. The other Immortal merely smiled disarmingly, standing well, easily. Confidently. Pierson could play the silence game and the waiting game too, Connor thought. Pierson was absolutely not as inexperienced as he appeared. Still, and in spite of his gut feeling, Connor couldn't be absolutely sure, and he didn't want to just kill this man for sport.
But he wanted to know what was going on. Without lowering his blade, he said bluntly, "You led me here. What do you want?"
"I did, yes. That is, I hoped ... to meet you. I was thinking that to have someone like you as a teacher, a man could consider himself lucky--honored, really--to--"
"A teacher," Connor interrupted.
Pierson shrugged once more. Connor was beginning to actively dislike that shrug.
"I seem not to have a teacher at the present time," Pierson said blandly.
Adam Pierson was looking for a teacher. All right. But he was nervous about approaching Connor. That made sense. *If* it was true. But taking on a student was the last thing Connor wanted right now. He had a wife, was still a newlywed, really. He and Brenda had talked about adopting a child. Besides, he couldn't get it out of his mind that there was more--much more--to this Adam Pierson than he was letting on. Playing along, Connor took one step back, lowering his blade. "I'm not looking for a student."
"No, of course you aren't," Pierson said, nodding.
Connor was pretty sure Pierson was lying about--everything. On the other hand, he didn't want to lock that door and throw away the key. "Perhaps another time," Connor ventured non-committally.
"You mean, if I survive," Pierson said, smiling slightly. Then he added, "Oh, you mean the drink? Of course, another time," Pierson agreed, nodding.
This was the old mind game, Connor decided, and it was time to call Pierson's bluff. Letting his voice dip nastily, he purred, "However, there can be only one."
Pierson shook his head. He didn't seem surprised, but a shadow passed over his face--alarm? Fear? Or was it more of that hidden sense of humor? "Now, see, I thought we were past that," he chided Connor, as though the Highlander had spoiled the party.
But Connor heard something else now in Pierson's voice, something harder than the other conciliatory words, something not-ingratiating. Something deadly. Pierson had claws, and Connor was about to see them. Good, enough playing around. Let's get this out in the open, Connor thought.
He stood his ground silently, waiting. The rain that had gotten inside his collar was now chilling his back, and he lowered his shoulders, centering himself.
Finally Pierson said, in a lighter tone, "Well, as much as I love to stand and chat with an armed man who's thinking about beheading me tonight in this ?" He paused, waved his arm around without taking his eyes off Connor a single instant, then continued, "... dark and very *wet* alleyway in Manhattan, I do have other things to do." He smiled a pleasant, unguarded, hopeful smile at Connor.
Connor grunted, then nodded. Very well. "Another time," he said, stepping back with his right foot, making a graceful quarter turn. He put his sword at rest behind his left arm and bowed slightly, sweeping out his right arm, giving Pierson leave to pass by him, then straightened as the other Immortal came toward him nimbly. Apparently it was over for now--Pierson was not inclined to fight, or maybe Pierson had changed his mind. In spite of Connor's conviction that Pierson was lying, and was in fact quite dangerous, Connor had no good reason to kill him.
Connor half-expected Pierson to just walk out of the alley, but after Pierson was well past immediate sword range, he turned back to face Connor.
Here it comes, Connor thought. The challenge. Maybe even an attack. His blood racing, he flexed his knees, deliberately loosening up his muscles, leaching out all the tension, putting his attention on the center of his opponent's body, ready to bring his katana to the en garde position.
This time Pierson was not at all alarmed. With a tiny smile that an uncharitable man might interpret as a smirk, Pierson said, innocently, "I won't say goodbye, Highlander. I have a feeling we'll meet again. Don't you?"
By now Connor was feeling decidedly uncharitable, and he got the message. "You mean we might have another delightful meeting like this one," Connor countered coolly. "I'm sure we will," he said, vowing to remember Adam Pierson. And knowing in his gut that they would, indeed, meet again.
Pierson nodded, turned once more and walked gracefully out of the alley onto the sidewalk without once looking back.
Connor stared after Adam Pierson with narrowed eyes, waiting until the other man's immortal sensation disappeared. Then he took one deep breath, and another, calming himself, willing away all thoughts of Immortals and fighting and killing and dying, switching to his "mortal" persona. He went back to the grocers' and filled another paper bag with apples and pears, then finished his brief shopping excursion like any normal person, knowing he was now going to face his wife, someone decidedly more pleasant who nevertheless would give him hell because he was late for dinner.
And after she "yelled" at him, and he stood there and took it, with an innocent smile, they'd have a good meal, then they'd have to make up. Or maybe their dinner would get colder still.
Connor MacLeod smiled in anticipation, paid for his groceries, then walked back out into the middle of this thrilling, dangerous, delightful city.
Later that night in his hotel room, Adam Pierson pulled the twenty-two caliber gun out of his left-hand pocket and put it on the dresser. He removed his wet coat and threw it over a chair, took off his wet running shoes and tossed them in a corner. He sighed. In spite of the coolness of the night and of the rain, his clothes were sweaty and clung to him, so he stripped them all off and took a hot shower. Then he put on the comfortable, white, terry-cloth hotel robe, pulled a beer out of the tiny fridge, opened it, and took a long swallow.
He put the bottle down on the coffee table and sat on the sofa. Leaning back, he stretched his legs out and interlinked his long fingers around the back of his neck.
"Well, Ramirez, the MacLeod boy--a man now, I think--is not easily fooled. And he *did* finally kill the Kurgan, just like you said he would," he acknowledged slowly, nodding.
He un-selfconsciously talked to himself all the time, like right now. It was a habit he'd picked up centuries ago from spending long periods of time alone. Worse, he talked to people who were long dead. He sat in silence for a few moments, as though giving Ramirez a chance to reply, then continued, "You know, I gave MacLeod every opportunity to take a weak, new Immortal's head, and he didn't.
"I'm not sure if he's the one, but you taught him well," he said, then sighed. "Bravo." Leaning forward again, he picked up the bottle and lifted it in a solitary toast. "Here's to you, my old friend."
Adam Pierson drained the bottle, then leaned back again, closed his eyes, and was soon sound asleep.
dantian - Chinese tai chi word for the center or core of the body, an area below the belly button and a few inches inside the body.
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