Characters: Connor MacLeod, Evann, Grayson
Summary: From the American Civil War to Morroco in 1993, Connor MacLeod and Evann share a blanket or two. Friendship and some angst.
Rating: PG-15. Mild profanity, some M/F on the floor.
by Robin L. Tennenbaum and Janeen K. Grohsmeyer
The night before a battle is always much the same. Soldiers check their weapons, telling uneasy jokes as they try to silence -- or at least to muzzle -- their fears. Men whisper prayers, read or write letters; the young ones weep silently in fear and shame. Tomorrow, many of them will be dead. It is always the same.
I should know. I rode off to my first battle nearly three and a half centuries ago: Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, battling the clan Fraser in the Highlands of Scotland. In this land, in this war, I have become Captain Clement Lawrence of the 19th New York Infantry, and in the morning we will battle the rebel troops of General Lee. The Blue and the Gray were waiting, massed and ready, for the coming of the dawn.
I made my way between the stands of maple trees, checking on my men. We had marched hard today, past field after field of just-ripened corn, and the men sprawled on the ground, bone-weary and quiet.
"Evenin', Captain Lawrence," Tom Johnson said, a thin-faced scarecrow of a man from the narrow streets of Brooklyn.
"Sergeant," I said and shared a sip of whisky and a word or two. Then I moved on, listening to the fiddle music coming from the Irish regiment camped in the woods not far away, watching as the soldiers ate hard tack and cold salt pork off battered tin pans. General McClellan had forbidden campfires, and the men of the Army of the Potomac would spend the night in darkness, shivering in the crisp autumn air. Tomorrow would be hot enough, in a lot of ways.
I stiffened as the presence of another Immortal raced up my spine and lodged at the base of my skull, a hammering ache that faded as I spotted the cause--a tall man in battered blue, coming toward me up the hill, his boots scuffing at the thin spattering of blood-red leaves on the ground. I laid my hand on the hilt of my Army-issue sword, wishing I had my katana. But the odds of losing it on the battlefield were too great, and I had left it in a bank vault in New York City. The Army saber would have to do.
The other Immortal approached slowly, with the weariness that spoke of recent fighting or long marching, and he made no move to reach for a weapon, either pistol or sword. He stopped five paces away, and his gaze went to my waiting hand. "Is it not enough that we fight our own countrymen tomorrow?" he asked in a voice graveled with dust and from shouting orders. "Must we fight within our own ranks as well?"
"Our countrymen?" I challenged. "Is this your country then?"
"It is now," he responded. "Paid for with sword and sweat and blood."
"The War of Independence?"
"That was the first."
My first in this country, too. I dropped my hand from the hilt but kept my distance. "Captain Clement Lawrence, 19th New York."
"Captain Evann Montgomery, 25th New York."
I knew that wasn't his real name, anymore than I had given him mine. It didn't matter. "Were you in the skirmish this evening?" I asked, for even through the gathering darkness I could see the front of his jacket was dark with blood, his trousers dark with water.
He nodded. "Pleasant way to spend an evening. You?"
"Missed it. We were still crossing Antietam Creek." My trousers were also wet. "We got a good fight at South Mountain two days ago, though."
"We were there, too." He slumped against a tree, leaning with arms crossed, ankles crossed, long and lean and boneless with fatigue. "Your boys ready for tomorrow?"
"As much as they can be. No campfires doesn't help."
"Can't even get a hot cup of coffee," Montgomery agreed.
"I've got something better. Care for a drink?" I offered, and at his nod, I tossed him my flask of whisky.
Montgomery caught it--barely--then took a long swig. He threw the flask back to me with a nod of appreciation. "Better than I'm used to out here."
"Shipped it in special." I had other things shipped in special, too. I had bought a textile mill and two shoe factories five years before, and my orders got priority. As I said, I had seen wars before.
Montgomery shivered as a cool breeze moved through the woods. "Going to be a damn long, damn cold night. No campfires, not enough blankets. At least we have bullets for tomorrow."
The mark of a good officer, to care about his men. Not a bad fellow here, so far, and in this battle at least, we were on the same side. "We have some extra blankets," I volunteered. Ten of our boys had died of dysentery in the last week. We were supposed to return all Army Gear to the Quartermaster, but blankets and shoes often tended to get ... lost somehow, or destroyed in battle. There was always room for creative bookkeeping.
"It's going to be a damn cold winter," he warned.
"For everyone," I agreed, then offered again, "You want the blankets?"
"We've got nothing to trade," he said, giving me another chance to change my mind.
"Going to be a damn long war," I reminded him. "Maybe my men will need some bullets."
Montgomery paused, looking me over, then nodded. "Thanks. I'll send someone over."
"Tell him to ask for Sergeant Johnson." We turned as the sound of female laughter carried above the Irish fiddling. "Might be fun," I said with a grin. "Want to go visit Hooker's ladies?" I asked, using the recently-coined nickname for camp whores. General Hooker's troops always seemed to have more than their share of camp followers.
"Right now the only thing I want to do on my back is sleep."
"Sleep is good."
Montgomery pushed himself off the tree. "Yes, sleep is good," he agreed, then turned to go.
I watched him until he disappeared down the hill, then went back to
my men and told Johnson to give Montgomery's man the blankets. I
took another walk around our campsite. The men were settled and as
comfortable as they could be, all their weapons were in order, our area
secure. Sleep was good, as Montgomery had said, but I wasn't all
that tired, and I could think of a lot of things I wanted to do on my back.
I needed a companion for at least three of them, so I told Lieutenant Mattingly
he was in command, then I headed for Hooker's comfort detachment.
I stretched and yawned as I left Lawrence and made my way back to my men. Sleep would be good. If I could ever get some. As always, things needed tending to, not the least of which was finding someone to pick up our newly acquired blankets.
That Captain Lawrence was an interesting man. Arrogant, and just a little smug, quick to offer a drink. Slow to trust. About what I would have expected for another immortal, but there was something genuine about him I couldn't quite place. And he had given us blankets. Definitely put him one up on my list.
I knew my boys well. The taste of fear filled their mouths, despite the canned crap they gave us to eat when we finally made it into camp. Not a one of them was asleep, though they were all as dead tired as I was. Some of them more so.
They watched me with confident eyes. We had been through a lot; we'd be through a lot more.
"Archer, go find Sergeant Johnson of the 19th New York, just up the hill. He's got some blankets for us," I said, sliding my back down the trunk of a tree to sit. Off my feet for the first time in days. It was heaven.
Archer shot to his feet. "Yessir, Captain," he said, and headed off in the direction I had come from. One of my men brought me coffee, cold and bitter, but still somehow satisfying. I thanked him, my eyelids already starting to slide closed.
I took a long sip of the coffee, feeling the acrid bite of it down my throat, forcing me awake. No sleep. Not yet. The coffee mixed with the whisky in my stomach, and it churned in protest. Apparently the two liquids settled better if you drank them together.
I gave my boys a good hard look. No shoes or blankets were the least of our worries. Our muskets were in disrepair, held together by prayers and spit. Unit morale was low. Mail was late in coming; so was pay. I'd guess less than a quarter of my boys had enough money to buy one of those whores we could hear laughing in the woods.
It wasn't easy for us.
The laughing stopped, replaced by soft moans, and Private Holm made a joke I couldn't quite hear. I wondered about Captain Lawrence, and just what *he* was doing right now. I didn't have to wonder very much.
Captain Clement Lawrence, eh? Not damned likely.
Arrogant. Smug. Potentially charming. Downright charitable.
I could deal with that, but I had other things to deal with tonight. And tomorrow. And-- assuming I didn't take a bullet to the chest or a bayonet to the back--the day after that as well, for as long as the Rebels kept coming.
I had just drained the small tin cup of coffee when Archer came back with a pile of ten neatly folded blankets. I nodded, and he started passing them around to the wettest soldiers, the ones on the verge of getting sick. The ten still weren't enough.
Archer brought the last one to me. "Here you go, Cap," he said brightly, his spirit not diminished at all by the near-constant fighting, or the near-constant marching. "S'gonna be a cold night."
"Keep it, Archer," I said, hauling myself to my feet. I wanted to go over everyone's musket; I wanted to double-check our ammo and stock of gunpowder. Archer looked a little surprised that, wet as I was, I would give up the opportunity to have a blanket. General McClellan had ordered all campfires extinguished long before we made it to camp. It was too easy for the enemy to calculate your strength based on the number of campfires. It was a sound military tactic. It was a good idea.
It was a pain in the ass.
I clapped Archer on the shoulder and handed him the little cup. "It's going to be a cold night. And a long day. Get some sleep."
He shook out the blanket, drawing it up around himself, and without a word hunkered down against the tree where I had been sitting. Archer was a good kid, young and idealistic. Too much so maybe.
I rubbed my hands together to warm them and headed off to check on our
supplies. It was going to be a very long night.
An Immortal was nearby. I scanned the crowded ballroom of Vanderbilt's house, wondering just which one of New York's glittering society people was carrying a sword. "Pardon me, Mrs. Worthington, Miss Worthington," I said, easing my way past a table crowned with a three-foot-high swan sculptured in dripping ice. A plate of caviar balanced between its wings.
"Mr. Carruthers," the plump dowager said with a sniff, then urged her tall, gawky daughter to move on to better prospects. Miss Worthington smiled and fluttered her lashes at me, but followed her mama to the gaming tables.
I was a wealthy bachelor, but I wasn't "one of the old families." At least that's what they thought. The MacLeods had been in Scotland centuries before this city had even been founded, as had I.
Right now, though, I wanted to find that other Immortal. I kept searching the crowd. Knots of people gathered by the food, chattering. More dowagers prowled; bored wives stalked. A couple stood by the musicians, their backs to me, and as I moved toward them, the tightness at the back of my neck increased. The man wore formal black evening attire, the woman a green silk gown by Worth. A necklace of emeralds lay round the slim elegance of her long neck, while wisps of ebony hair curled temptingly above.
But I didn't have time for that now. Her companion was the Immortal I was looking for. He turned to me, his smile smug and arrogant on his thin features.
I smiled back, not my most friendly smile, and nodded toward the French doors that led to the garden.
The man lifted one eyebrow and nodded in return. The pink rosebud he sported in the lapel of his dinner jacket matched the pink tip of his nose. He murmured a few words to the woman in green then left the ballroom.
I followed close behind.
The garden was deserted, the guests preferring the over-heated rooms to the chill spring air. The other Immortal was standing by the fountain, languidly trailing his right hand in the water, waiting. There was no sign of a sword.
"I'm Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod," I announced, acutely conscious of the reassuring weight of my katana hidden beneath my cape.
The eyebrow lifted again. "Is that so?" he drawled with the slow cadence of the Carolinas. "Albert Montague, of the Charleston Montagues." He bowed, and his eyes glimmered golden in the light from the gas lamps. "I wasn't expecting to find another of our kind here tonight."
"We're everywhere, aren't we?" I asked, circling a little to the left.
"Indeed we are, dear boy," he said, turning to face me. "Indeed we are."
Dear boy, my Scottish ass. The fellow looked to be about thirty, but I knew that meant nothing. I took a step closer, and so did he.
"Eager, are you?" Montague asked. "I can take care of that."
"Here? Now?" I demanded. This was hardly a place for a sword fight. "Are you that eager for me to take your head?
Now both his eyebrows lifted. "Take my head? Oh, that does sound intriguing. However this location is a bit ... exposed," he said, nodding to the long row of French doors behind us, "so not here." His gaze left my face and drifted downward, lingered there. "But now sounds good."
What the ...?
Montague came even closer, smiling. "Shall we retire to the rose garden? You can 'take my head,' and then I can take yours?"
Before I could answer *that* adequately, my spine tingled once again. Another Immortal? I turned my head to see the woman in green walking out onto the verandah, two glasses in her hand, and she was smiling, too.
"Why, Captain Lawrence," she said, her voice carrying clearly through the night air, "I didn't know you walked that side of the street."
Captain Lawrence? I repeated silently to myself. I hadn't been Captain Lawrence for almost thirty years, not since the Civil War, and the only Immortal I had met then had been Captain Evann Montgomery. It couldn't be....
Her voice was equally clear and loud as she inquired, "Tired of visiting Hooker's ladies?"
Damn. It was. And this Montague was obviously neither the Immortal nor the man I had thought he was. Montague stirred impatiently, and I snarled in Gaelic, "Be off with you, you sodden, sheep-sodomizing git."
I doubt he understood the words, but "Captain Montgomery" certainly did. She started laughing, a deep throaty sound, and Montague flicked lint from his cuff and paraded back into the ballroom. The other Immortal--whatever her name was--leaned forward and tsked in disappointment as she put both glasses down on the stone railing of the verandah. "And I so wanted to see you take his head. Or watch him take yours."
Not bloody likely, I said to myself, watching, waiting. Silence makes most people uneasy. It didn't seem to affect her. A wry smile curled her lips, and she pushed one of the glasses along the railing toward me.
Well, what the hell. I could use a drink, and I'd already been interested in her neck earlier tonight. I joined her on the verandah. "I'm guessing it's not 'Captain Evann Montgomery' now?"
"No," she answered. "Evann Bradford."
"Miss?" I asked, picking up the other glass, catching the sharp whiff of whisky as I did so. "Or Mrs.?"
"Miss," she said, and she returned my smile. "And you are ...?"
"Connor MacLeod," I said, giving her my real name, since she had given me hers, or at least given me the first name she used consistently. Evann suited her. Or him, as the case may be. "However, at this time I'm known as David Carruthers."
"Well, Mr. MacLeod," she said, lifting her glass, "shall we drink to the men of the Third Division?"
"And to the woman," I added, and she smiled again before we drank a toast to old comrades. "You look much better in green silk than you did in blue wool," I observed.
She looked down at her dress disdainfully. "I prefer blue wool, or at least trousers."
"You look good in those, too," I commented, remembering her long legs. "Do you pretend to be a man often, or just when you're a soldier?" Many women Immortals often pretended to be men; it made traveling easier. But not many women Immortals fought as soldiers, and not many Immortals--male or female--soldiered as well as she did.
"What?" she asked archly. "And miss being looked at the way you're looking at me now?"
I took another look.
She sipped at her whisky. "I dress to be comfortable, and let people draw their own conclusions."
I certainly had. It had been near dark when we had first met in the woods near Antietam Creek. The next day, on that long, bloody day that seemed to have no end, Captain Montgomery and I had encountered each other near the Dunker Church. Then she had been mud-stained, sweat-stained, and blood-stained, busy giving crisp orders to her men, organizing the advance and then the retreat. I had seen her a few more times during the two days after the battle, while we buried our dead, and it had never once occurred to me that Evann might be a woman. Though I had wondered how the devil Captain Montgomery had managed to find the time to shave.
Now I knew.
She took a look at me. "You seem to be quite the eligible bachelor, Mr. 'Carruthers.' All the young lovelies and their fearsome mothers chasing you tonight? Is Miss Worthington the current favorite?" she baited.
"You make her sound like a horse." Unfortunately, Miss Worthington did rather resemble one.
"Three to one to win?"
I moved closer. "I prefer better mounts. More long-legged, more ... spirited. Definitely older."
She nodded sagely as she turned to me, resting her glass on the verandah wall. "Age brings experience. And powerful hindquarters make for a smooth ride."
"And a strong finish."
"That's always important," she agreed, her voice gone low and husky.
She leaned closer, her face now an inch from mine. Dark lashes swept over green eyes as she blinked, once, slowly. She was much better at fluttering her eyelashes than Miss Worthington was. I suspected she was much better at many things.
The French doors opened, and an older couple came out, praising the cool air over the stuffiness of the ballroom. Miss Evann Bradford made no move to pull away. The orchestra struck up the opening measures of Strauss's *Wine, Women and Song.* "They're playing your song, I believe," she said, laying her hand on my arm, closing the remaining distance to speak low in my ear. "Dance with me, Mr. Carruthers," she invited, her eyes dancing already.
"Of course, Miss Bradford," I agreed and escorted her into the ballroom, past the older pair who were watching with approving smiles, obviously assuming we were young and in love. We joined the other couples on the dance floor. She fit gracefully into the curve of my arm, closer than was considered suitable, and occasionally I felt the brush of her thigh against my own. Yes, she was much better at dancing than Miss Worthington would ever be.
Neither of us missed the beat as another Immortal approached, but she squeezed my hand reassuringly, with a nod to a tall, fair-haired man who was glaring at us from the stairway. "He's with me."
Which made him no less of a threat to me. More, perhaps.
But he wouldn't come after me in the middle of a crowded dance floor, and
I was not about to interrupt my waltz with the charming and intriguing
Evann just to talk to her companion. "And now you're with me," I
said firmly and led her into a rapid whirl as the tempo increased.
When I felt Grayson return from his backroom dealing, I ignored him and smiled at my dancing partner, Mr. MacLeod. Earlier, Grayson had gone off to talk with some business associates, leaving me with that snit Montague, figuring not even I could get the infernal man to shut up. Try as I might, I couldn't. Unfortunately, at functions like this one everything I said, everything I did had an impact on Grayson and how he was viewed among the high and mighty of New York Society. I had to look the part, speak the part and act the part. That meant my best behavior, and that meant smiling at Montague and nodding occasionally as I waited for him to be quiet. I had been almost resigned to listening to him until Grayson finished, but then Mr. MacLeod had arrived, providing not only my escape but a rather interesting little show as well.
And now MacLeod and I were providing a rather interesting little show. Grayson wasn't the only one staring. I moved even closer to Mr. MacLeod, and my hand slipped from his shoulder to the middle of his back. Then his hand slipped from the small of my back to just above the bustle of my dress. We smiled at each other.
Gods, MacLeod was handsome. He had a rugged, almost darkly intense, quality about him that was making the room a little warmer than I remembered. But it was his eyes that did me in. Beautiful, deep, gray eyes.
I had a strange feeling he was good at a few other things besides dancing.
The waltz ended with a flurry of skirts and restrained clapping of gloved hands. I turned briefly to see Grayson, still standing on the stairs, his fingers tapping against the banister in agitation.
Good. I had been wearing this godsdamned dress for hours now, and I was irritated too. The dress was tight, hot, and it itched mercilessly. I had been subjected to the most terrible conversation in any language, ever, and had been abruptly abandoned so Grayson could go and finalize a deal for several shiploads of rifles.
Let him stew. I was having far too much fun with the very handsome Connor MacLeod to worry about Grayson's irritations. MacLeod looked as good in his formal attire as he had at Antietam. Better--I could see straight now; I wasn't so tired. My charming partner offered me his arm to lead me off the dance floor, but I held my ground as the orchestra began another song.
"Dance with me," I invited again, cocking my head delicately to one side.
He raised a single eyebrow. Two dances in a row with the same man was downright scandalous, and we both knew it.
So did Grayson.
We danced a second waltz, and I caught occasional glances of Grayson's narrowed eyes and set jaw as he tried to force his way through the crowd. His attention was solely focused on us. It was a bad tactic. It was a bad idea.
It worked for me, because in what could only be described as a flanking move worthy of Hannibal of Carthage, Mrs. Worthington took advantage of Grayson's distraction to intercept him, immediately halting his advance.
I knew exactly why Mrs. Worthington had stopped him. Christopher Grayson was one of the most eligible bachelors in New York -- wealthy, refined, handsome and icily charming -- he had women falling at his feet wherever he went. Mothers practically threw their daughters at him from across the room. I was only at this inane ball because Grayson needed a female companion to discourage the advances of rapacious mothers with unmarried daughters.
Grayson, of course, wanted no part of marriage. I had known him for nearly 1700 years, since we had ridden with Darius. Grayson's interests lay in his businesses, a good Scotch, a volume of Dickens, and a decent chess game. Grayson had his women -- pretty, vapid, and mindless. Good in bed, I assume, but not for much else. For the rest, he had me. Faithful friend, sometime employee, reader of Dickens, and better chess player than he could ever hope to be.
MacLeod led us around the dance floor, and I lost sight of Grayson for a few moments, but when we returned, the battle still raged. Like one of Hannibal's elephants, Mrs. Worthington was blustering on insistently. Grayson was, no doubt, trying to impress upon the woman that he was in no way interested in her daughter.
From his intense glances in my direction, I knew he was interested in my dance partner. So was I. MacLeod was definitely a good dancer, and a fine soldier. He had courage and honor. Too much so, if one could have an excess of such things. But war was hell on the honor, and just by looking at him the day after Antietam, I had suspected that the Civil War would be his last. It saddened me. There had been something very reassuring about feeling his presence wash over me in the midst of battle, though at the time I didn't know why. Maybe because it meant I wasn't the only one who actually gave a damn anymore.
Another dancing couple blocked my view, but when they had moved on, I found that Grayson had managed, like Scipio, to defeat the indomitable Mrs. Worthington. Grayson renewed his advance and finally made his way to the edge of the dance floor. He waited, although the look in his eyes was far less than polite.
After the song's final flourish, I found myself in MacLeod's arms, much closer than was considered proper. Grayson was already moving toward us, his back straight, shoulders set, eyes cold.
MacLeod quickly rectified our situation by escorting me from the dance floor. "Introduce me to your companion," he said.
I smiled coquettishly at both MacLeod and Grayson. Now this could be fun. I pulled a small fan from my reticule and snapped it open as Grayson approached, scowling. Not a single speck of lint marred the line of his black tuxedo. His shoes shone in the flickering light of the gas lamps, but his eyes told all. He was about to go right past irritated and into angry. I released MacLeod's arm and stood between the two men.
"Mr. Grayson," I began formally, "may I introduce Mr. David Carruthers--an old friend."
Grayson's eyes narrowed. MacLeod's eyes narrowed, too. The footing was level now. Each man knew the other was immortal. I had put Grayson in an untenable position; all he had to do was be polite, easy enough for him most of the time. But Grayson was possessive, even of his friends. Especially of me. Grayson took half a step closer, now standing right next to me. He grumbled wordlessly, softly enough only I could hear.
"Mr. Carruthers," I said quickly, saving Grayson from having to come up with some socially acceptable rejoinder, "may I introduce Mr. Christopher Grayson--an even older friend."
I could tell from the tightening of Grayson's shoulders and the dangerous glint in his eye that he would have no qualms about taking MacLeod's head in the rose garden. It was all I could do to keep from laughing as I remembered Montague's offer to do the same, albeit in a rather different and far less permanent fashion. I demurely covered my face with the fan to hide my smile.
"Mr. Carruthers," Grayson said, bowing slightly, his eyes flicking to me as he raised the smooth, icy veneer once again. He had been taken aback at first, but he was too old and too smart to let his anger rule him. For now.
"Mr. Grayson," MacLeod replied, also bowing slightly. "I had hoped to meet you here, to discuss some shipping business. I've recently purchased a vessel named the *Dido,* and I'm looking for a supplier. I believe you deal in armaments?"
"Among other things," he said noncommittally.
Not another bloody business discussion. I had had about all of that I could take for one night. I was hot, it was stuffy, and I wanted to go home. I snapped my fan shut with an irritated sigh.
"Perhaps another time," MacLeod said smoothly, with a polite nod for me. I nodded back, appreciating his consideration. "Tomorrow, lunch?" he suggested to Grayson.
"Miss Bradford and I are leaving for the shore tomorrow," Grayson lied.
That was the first I'd heard of it. Evann "Montgomery" was scheduled to escort several cases of ammunition to the piers tomorrow. I had been planning on wearing my black wool trousers. "Dear," I cooed, to Grayson's obvious surprise, "we aren't supposed to leave for South Hampton for another month yet. I looked at your calendar this morning; you're free all day tomorrow. Surely, you can lunch with Mr. Carruthers at your club."
MacLeod smiled at me; Grayson growled. I was going to get it when we got home. The silent treatment would be the least of my worries. I'd likely end up getting locked out of my bedroom or some such nonsense. Of course, Connor MacLeod would probably give me a place to sleep if I really needed one. I smiled back at him.
Grayson didn't appreciate that. He moved closer to me, staking his claim. Although this flirtation was the most fun I'd had all night, I had to end it. Grayson was quick to anger, his overprotectiveness rooted in a long-standing relationship that had survived every imaginable test. He had gone to swords on my behalf before. "Meet with him, Grayson," I said firmly, resting my hand on his arm. "I've done business with Mr. Carruthers before."
Grayson looked at me hard for a long moment before nodding in MacLeod's direction. "Lunch," he said. "Noon." He handed MacLeod a business card from the small gold case in his breast pocket.
MacLeod handed him a card of his own and nodded, then turned to me. "Thank you, Miss Bradford, for a delightful evening," he said and pressed his lips to the back of my gloved hand.
"Delightful," I agreed with a demure smile, not removing my hand from his grasp. "Perhaps next time we can stroll through the rose garden."
Grayson glared and rumbled his disapproval, loud enough this time MacLeod couldn't have missed it. I ignored him. So did MacLeod.
"I'm looking forward to it." MacLeod gave me a thoroughly warming smile, Grayson a short nod. "Tomorrow, noon."
"Indeed," he said as we watched MacLeod leave.
I smirked at Grayson. "You are a terrible liar, Grayson."
He ignored the comment. "I think it's time we left as well," he said shortly, holding out his arm.
"What? No more business tonight?" I sniped, running under a finger under the necklace where it rested heavily against my neck before taking his arm.
"I think you've conducted quite enough business for one night, Evann," he said leading me to the grand entry. "This is the last time I take you to one of these balls."
"Perfect," I said, as Grayson took my fur stole from one of the servants, then wrapped it around my shoulders. "So two good things came out of this living hell."
Grayson harrumphed as he donned his own long coat, then set his top hat on his head. "How do you know this 'Mr. Carruthers' anyway?"
I chuckled slightly as Grayson led me into the chilly May night.
"We shared a blanket, once."
Sand as far as I could see to the left. Sand as far as I could see to the right, and in front of me clear blue ocean stretching all the way out to the horizon. A light breeze blew off the water, just enough to cool the skin without taking away from the glorious feeling of the sun beating down, warming the sand, the lounge chair, and me.
I resigned myself to stay on this blanket, in this very spot forever.
No, that was unreasonable.
I'd get bored eventually, and hungry, even if Grayson's cook and butler were just waiting to hand me anything I wanted. No, sooner or later it would rain or get cloudy. Sooner or later I'd have to go inside.
But not yet. For now, I was content to be a bathing-suit-clad lump on a huge beach blanket and soak up the sun. Life wasn't all bad, all the time.
It had been bad recently. World War II shook the world, and I answered the call as always. It was a bloody war, a hard-fought war, and one I wouldn't be able to reconcile for a good long time. It was too soon for me to go back to the fighting. I still hadn't washed the blood from my hands. I bowed out of the Korean Conflict, though the pull had been difficult to ignore. I went back to work for Grayson, for a little while, to keep boredom from setting in.
And now, boredom was exactly what I was looking for. Nice, quiet, uninteresting boredom. Grayson was off in Vienna where he made his home, and I was house-sitting.
More like beach sitting.
I had tossed my watch into the ocean three days ago, so when I felt the dizzying presence of another immortal I had absolutely no idea what time it was. If I really wanted to, I could have figured it out in the old way, by the sun, but that was too much like work, and I didn't really care. My gun was folded in a towel next to the chair, within easy reach should I need it. I didn't need it.
Warm hands blocked my exquisite view of the gently rolling sea, and a warm, deep voice replaced the sound of the waves. "Three guesses."
"Oh, please let it be Cary Grant." Hey, a girl can dream.
"Attila the Hun," I ventured, teasing. I knew exactly who it was.
"Well, if it's not Cary Grant, and it's not Attila the Hun, it must be Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Charmer of women the world over, seafarer extraordinaire, and excellent judge of horseflesh."
"Got it in three," he said, coming around to share the blanket with me. "But you left out dancer on a par with Fred Astaire."
"Better. Fred Astaire doesn't do the Charleston like you do," I said, lying back on my elbows. I hadn't looked over at him; I was too engrossed with the sea. I knew what Connor looked like.
Which was an excellent reason to look over at him. I knew what the sea looked like too, but how often did I get to look at Connor, now stripping down to his shorts? He was a strong man, and it showed in the lean cut of his muscles and the smooth way he moved. His hair was short again, which I liked because it showed off his narrow, intense eyes. He was definitely a better view than all that sand.
I was suddenly very aware of my own two-piece suit, and the long scar that ran down my chest. Instantly self-conscious, I reached for the gray T-shirt that was sitting folded on the blanket to cover up. Like lightning, Connor's hand was on my wrist, stopping my reach before my fingers found the fabric. He squeezed gently, reassuringly, his thumb rubbing lightly against the back of my hand. Slowly, he turned his head to me and smiled.
It took me a moment to relax; old habits die hard. I returned the pressure of his hand and lay back against the pillow I had brought out with me, watching the waves. No need to hide here. I was with a friend.
I stretched slowly, partly because my back was stiff, but mostly because it tended to get Connor ... interested, and Connor was interesting when he was interested. A truly worthy opponent in a worthy game. For a long while, we sat in silence, just soaking up the sun and listening to the sound of the surf.
"How's Rachel?" I asked. Connor had written to me about the young girl he had taken in at the end of World War II and raised as his own. He'd been quite the family man this last decade or so, hosting birthday parties, assisting with school field trips, and chaperoning teen dances. I hadn't seen him at all.
"Excited to be off at college, complaining about the food, agonizing over her next term paper," he replied with amusement. Then he added, "The house is quiet now."
"I'm glad you called," I said sincerely. I was concerned about him, being all alone in an empty house. "It's good to see you again."
"Good to see you, too," he said, stretching, definitely making things interesting.
Damn, I had forgotten just how good he was at that game. I concentrated on the outline of a ship against the horizon, a low transport with three smoke stacks.
"How long has it been?" he asked.
"I don't know. Toronto beat the Rangers that year for the Stanley Cup that year. Nineteen thirty-one? Thirty-two?"
"Trust you to get arrested, Evann," he said. "Not at all ladylike."
"Well," I said, affronted, "I was ... upset. And you were not at all nice about it." I looked down my nose at him disapprovingly. "You really need to take your sports more seriously."
"One game is all I need to take seriously," he said, taking just a little of the wind out of my sails.
The Game. The damn Game. Although he had his sword wrapped in a towel, the fact that Connor had brought his weapon onto the beach had not gone unnoticed by me. He was young yet. He'd get over being that cautious.
I poured him a glass of water from the pitcher beside me, then leaned across his body to stick the glass in the sand where he could reach, upping the ante a little. "There are other things in life besides the Game, Connor."
"And what do you take seriously, Evann?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.
I looked at him over my sunglasses. "Besides the Rangers, the Yankees, the Knicks, Rocky Marciano, the Army-Navy game, Belgian chocolate, and my stamp collection?"
"Yeah, besides those," he said, reaching for his water.
"War," I said seriously. "And clean socks."
"Clean socks are good," he agreed.
"So, there has to be more to Connor MacLeod than just the Game," I prompted, then took a long drink of my own. "What do *you* take seriously?"
"Besides a good whisky, a good horse, and a good parking spot?"
"Parking spots are important, but yeah, besides that."
He raised his water glass to me in a toast. "A good friend."
I raised my own glass. "A good friend ... who bails you out of jail."
He smiled. "Eventually."
I growled at him. "Eventually." Connor had let me rot in jail overnight, which sucked, but I wouldn't have gotten over the first World War without his consistent support and without Tedra's constant companionship. I smiled at him and pulled off my sunglasses, tossing them to the blanket. "A good friend."
Connor reached across my body for the pitcher of water, but he overbalanced and ended up leaning over me, one hand resting on either side of my chest. I was flat on my back, and his face was right above me, a small smile playing across his lips. His gray eyes danced, challenging me to come play. Tricky bastard.
As I watched, the playfulness in his eyes disappeared, but the challenge was still there. There was something else as well, shifting. Apparently, Connor took other things seriously, too.
I knew seven hundred forty-three ways to kill somebody, if you included running them over with a car and knocking them upside the head with a hockey stick. At that moment, I couldn't think of one. Not that I wanted to. Quite the contrary.
Connor moved smoothly lower. Slowly.
A delicate cough sounded behind us. "Excuse me, Miss Powell," the butler said. "Mr. Grayson is on the telephone for you." Connor immediately settled back down to his side of the blanket, staring serenely out at the water.
Damn. That was twice Grayson had ruined my fun. Did that man have radar or something? Grayson, the king of bad timing. "Tell him I've gone running, Mr. Joyce," I instructed, in no mood to talk to Grayson. I jumped smoothly to my feet and pulled on my T-shirt and shorts. Running sounded like a very good idea. I suddenly had a lot of extra energy, and a nagging feeling something was ... wrong.
"Coming, Connor?" I asked, reaching for my shoes. He was already tying his laces. He stood up, brushing some sand from his legs, and raised a single eyebrow. Damn, that was sexy.
"Which way?" he asked.
I strapped the gun in my towel to the small of my back. I may not take the Game terribly seriously most of the time, but I do like my head exactly where it is. Without waiting to warm up, I took off down the beach.
It took Connor only a moment or two to find and then match my pace, not so fast as to wipe either of us out, but fast enough that holding a conversation was impossible. I didn't want to hold a conversation until I could figure out what had changed in our little game to make it so damn disconcerting.
It wasn't that Grayson had called. Or maybe it was. Maybe it was because if Grayson *hadn't* called, there was no doubt in my mind that Connor would have kissed me. I *wanted* Connor to kiss me. How long can two people play "will they, won't they" before something breaks?
But, if I wanted Connor to kiss me, why did the whole game suddenly feel wrong?
We ran along the beach for a while, then I turned us sharply inland. The way the land dipped here was familiar, sparking memories of times long past and friends long gone.
That was it, wasn't it? Connor and I were friends. Immortal friends were rare; I had a few--Rebecca, Alex, Grayson, but they were friendships hard won. I had won Connor's friendship, and it wasn't something I was willing to lose, much less lose because there was something physical between us. I had drawn the line long ago. I had had enough lovers in my long life. I didn't have enough friends.
Too bad. I would have to be content only to wonder about all the other things Connor MacLeod was good at besides dancing.
I spared a glance and a smile in his direction. He was matching my pace beautifully and didn't seem to mind the exertion of the terrain at all. He smiled back, and it got me thinking. We were friends. He had trusted me enough to tell me his real name back in 1891. Maybe it was time for me to show him how much I trusted him.
Maybe I had already made the decision. I knew what lay where this
road met the sea again, and I picked up the pace just a little, leading
him toward the end.
Evann pulled ahead, and I was content to run behind her. I liked the view. About half a mile later, she turned off the road and leapt onto the chain link fence that surrounded an archeological dig.
"Going somewhere?" I asked, as Evann climbed higher.
She swung one tanned and muscular leg over the top. "Yes. In here." She wrinkled her nose at me and stuck out her tongue. "You coming?" she asked then swung her other leg over and jumped to the ground.
How could I not? I climbed the fence, but stopped at the top to watch as she pulled off her hair-tie and shook out her hair, a black and glossy mane that reached to the middle of her back. She left it loose and started walking, so I jumped down and joined her.
We strolled between the mounds of dirt, the areas covered with canvas, the strings stretched tight along the ground. Archeological digs were common enough in the Greek Isles. The Turks, the Moslems, the Romans, the Greeks, the Mycenaens, the Minoans ... civilization after civilization had flourished here. I had dealt in enough antiques to see a bit of it all. Evann was already climbing again, on top of tumbled stones, piles of dirt, looking around, searching for something.
How old was she, anyway?
She bent down to look at something, and I joined her. "One of yours?" I inquired as she picked up a piece of a broken pot.
"Mine were blue." She reached for another shard and inspected it, long graceful fingers turning it this way and that. "With yellow flowers."
We had been friends and drinking partners for over half a century, but she rarely spoke of her past. I wanted more, and I knew a frontal assault was the best approach to take with her. "Did you live here?"
She stood suddenly, her hair swirling, then pointed to the east. "No, this way."
We went that way. A few more piles of dirt marked the path, though much of the site was untouched. A regular line of stones about ankle-high marked a street of some kind; about five meters of it had been uncovered. Evann had given up walking; she was staring about her, looking out to sea then at the hills, trying to get her bearings, trying to remember. I knew what that look meant. "Nice place to live?" I asked
Her head jerked at the question, as if she had forgotten I was even there. "Yeah," she said with a quick smile that didn't reach her eyes, "running water and everything."
The Minoans had had running water; the Mycenaeans hadn't. So that dated her to more than three thousand years--older than Ramirez. Or maybe even older than that. I'd always wondered, but had never asked, and I was glad she had chosen today to tell me. This show of trust was more intimate than any kiss.
"And it was quiet, too, which is what I needed then." Evann bent and picked up a clod of earth, crumbled it between her fingers, watched the dust float to the ground on the breeze. "And what I need now." She turned away and headed for the steep, rocky hillside that led to the sea.
I went to the cliff's edge and watched her graceful leaps from rock to rock, and I wondered what else she needed, or wanted. A lover, or a friend? She had Grayson. Or maybe Grayson had her; I'd never been quite sure, just as I'd never been quite sure if they were lovers or not. But that didn't matter, because Evann had never asked me for anything more than friendship, and if Evann really wanted something, she tried to get it. So did I, but not when the lady wasn't interested. Or if the lady changed her mind.
I'd had many lovers over the years, and I could count my Immortal friends on the fingers of one hand, without including the thumb. Evann was a good friend. I didn't want to lose that.
I followed the path to the beach and caught up with her at the edge of the waves. She was still silent, still solemn, with no trace of the flirtatious imp on the beach blanket. I'd seen this sadness in her before, after the "war to end all wars." I'd visited her frequently then, and during the Roaring Twenties we'd gotten roaring drunk weekend after weekend, but Evann needed someone with her every day, and every night. Her nightmares from that war usually included rats.
I'd brought her a puppy, a female Black Lab. Evann had named the pup Tedra and carried her up the stairs to their bedroom in the evening and down the stairs in the morning, until Tedra grew big enough to climb the stairs on her own. For the next twelve years, Tedra and Evann had gone everywhere together, until Tedra could once again no longer climb the stairs. Evann had carried the aging dog up and down the stairs for another nine months, until the evening when Tedra had died in Evann's arms.
The Marines weren't the only ones with the motto "Semper Fi." Evann was faithful--to her dog, to her friends, to her soldiers, to her country. But she hadn't fought in Korea, even though she was usually the first to volunteer. "Tough war," I observed, referring to WWII.
"They always are," she said simply. "They always have been. Times change, technologies change, but in the end it's still the same damned tactics on the same damned battlefields."
"The weapons don't change it for you?" I asked. They had for me. No more was battle a contest between warriors, a clash of arms between men of honor and courage and skill. Now war was death coming from all sides and in all ways. Now it was flame throwers from fifty feet away, and bombs from thousands of feet above. Honor meant nothing to the mustard gas that crept on the ground and gouged lungs into bloody foam. Courage meant nothing to the bombs that blasted men into pieces so small there was nothing left to bury. They said birds found the shreds. I had fought, but I hadn't enlisted in an army since the Civil War, when the machine gun first appeared. The Game was enough of a war for me.
Evann's green eyes became pensive as she considered my question carefully. I had seen that look before, too. "No," she said finally. "The essence of war is the same now as when Sargon conquered Mesopotamia. One side tries to destroy the other as wholly and completely as possible. Whether I'm swinging a sword, pulling a bow, or firing a rifle doesn't matter."
Evann wasn't the kind of person who took pleasure in destruction. "Why do you keep going back to it?" I asked.
She shook her head. "It won't make sense to you."
"Try me." I knew her, but I wanted to understand her.
She started to walk along the beach, the small waves licking at her feet, and I strolled with her. Evann tossed her hair over one shoulder and crouched down to pick up a shell, rolling it over in her hand. She balanced back on her heels, holding her knees. "A man walked down a beach, just like this one, after a storm. The entire length was strewn with starfish baking in the sun. He picked one up and threw it back, then another. A second man came by and said to him, 'Why are you throwing them back? There are thousands of starfish; you can't save them all. What difference does it make?'"
Evann looked up at me, then stood and threw the shell overhand into the water. Its ripples were soon erased by the waves. "He looked at the man and said, 'It makes a difference to this one.'"
I understood now. She fought not for honor or for glory or for satisfaction, but to save the lives of the mortals on her side. Every single soldier mattered to her, every single time. Every single soldier mattered to me, too, but the wars just kept coming, war after war after war, and I had seen the backroom dealings between weapons merchants and businessmen. I knew how and why some of those "little" wars got started, how soldiers were sometimes sent in to "secure" a small country for the benefit of a corporation that sold bananas or rubber or opium. Sometimes, it wasn't easy to decide which side of a war to fight on.
Evann didn't have that uncertainty. She had chosen to become a citizen of the United States of America, and she would fight for her country, right or wrong. In some ways, I envied the simplicity of that view. I could certainly respect it.
We watched the waves roll in, standing side by side. "Ready to run?" I asked, when the sun was just touching the water, adding gold to the blue of the sea.
"Not yet," Evann answered. "I run too much."
I understood that, too. I took her hand and pulled her down to
the still-warm sand. We sat with her head resting on my shoulder,
my arm about her waist, and together we watched the sun set and the stars
come out above the sea.
People die. Immortals die. Grayson had told me that once, when I had lost a student who had hardly been out of his first century. We die. Someone comes along and we miss a step, we get arrogant, we get stupid, or we just stop caring. Immortals die.
Grayson wasn't supposed to die. Not yet. Not ever. But he was gone. For eighty-four days now. In the ground. Dead and gone, and I was lost. Wandering around the world, ultra-rich, high-profile, and utterly vanquished.
Sixteen days ago, I had flown to Egypt. It was stormy and my flight was delayed. The charter service had a nice waiting room, and a polite woman brought me a selection of English language newspapers. Right there on the front page of one of them was a full-color picture of me: Evann Grayson, the widow of John Grayson, multi-billionaire tycoon. In the photograph, I was dressed in an all-black suit, and dark sunglasses covered my bleary eyes as Grayson's men herded me into the limousine waiting outside our Prague home. The headline read "Elusive Heiress Vanishes."
Vanished? Hardly. I had gone to Thebes, to the Valley of the Kings, to Cairo. The ancient towns and monuments did nothing for me. I wandered aimlessly through the streets, half expecting Grayson to be just around the next corner, waiting for me with a smile in his eyes.
I wanted a drink so badly my teeth hurt, but I was alone. There was nobody to watch my back, to make sure I didn't lose my head while I was too damn stinking fucked up drunk to take care of myself. Immortals may die, but I still wasn't ready to go. Soon maybe, but not today.
Connor was in Marrakech. I had checked before I left for Egypt. It wasn't far; I could hop a flight and be there in a few hours. I was running. Again. Running away from all those memories, from lifetimes of laughter and chess games and Grayson's smiling blue eyes.
I didn't want to run; I wanted to see Connor again. But he was married, and he was a MacLeod.
But he wasn't Duncan MacLeod. He was Connor.
I was lost.
I hopped a flight.
I rented an open-topped Jeep from a sleepy clerk at the airport. It was late already, maybe too late to go banging on Connor's door, yet somehow the Jeep and I ended up in front of his locked gate.
Motion-sensitive lights blazed as I pulled up. Connor was many things; stupid was not one of them. He had had a wife for eight years now, a mortal wife. That made security important. Cameras dotted the wall, their fields of view covering every inch. I marked them in my head, stalling, debating.
The gate swung open, controlled from somewhere on the other side of the wall. Either Connor knew it was me, or he had gotten stupid in his old age. Or it wasn't Connor in the house, and I was walking into a fight I wasn't ready for. I made no move to enter his home.
Connor's voice crackled over the intercom. "You going to sit there all night?"
I had to think about it. But finally I put the Jeep in gear and pulled beyond the gate. More motion-sensitive lights announced my arrival, and I got my first look at his home, a sprawling one-story adobe building. It was a warm place, comfortable. Or it should have been.
I couldn't shake the feeling that I was intruding on something. I didn't belong here. Connor had a family now. A wife. I would only bring sadness to this place and to these people. He was my friend, and a truer one would be hard to find. But even between friends, there were lines that shouldn't be crossed.
I shouldn't have come.
I sat in the Jeep and looked at the moon. The house. The open front door. The dashboard. I had driven 37.2 kilometers. Connor in the doorway. The radio. The steering wheel.
I heard the crunch of gravel as he approached, felt his presence settle in my gut. Connor slouched against the door of the Jeep, one arm draped over the frame of the windshield. From the corner of my eye I caught the flash of blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt. Typical Connor.
The fuel gauge. I needed gas.
"So, now you're going to sit *here* all night?" he asked. The sarcasm was lost on me. I didn't even have my normal urge to put my fist through his nose when he took that tone with me.
His look changed. I felt it. Gray eyes, normally hooded, turned piercing. I inspected the steering wheel for flaws.
"Come inside," he ordered. "You need a drink."
I take orders well, especially ones like that. He didn't offer to take my bag, but then my sword was strapped to it. Instead, he pulled open the door to the Jeep. I hiked my bag onto my shoulder and kept my eyes on his white tennis shoes as he led me into the house. Typical Connor.
I dropped my bag just inside the door, sword and all, and slipped off my coat. Connor's white tennis shoes moved down a hall to my left, into a nice, if cluttered, living room. Connor was a pack rat, at least that's what I used to call him, back when he still lived in New York and we used to go to Yankee games, watch hockey, and drink until the sun came up.
A dark-haired boy, maybe nine years old, was sleeping soundly on the couch. I watched as Connor pulled the blanket over the boy's chest, tousled his hair, and kissed him goodnight. Connor turned off the light and disappeared from view, but when he came back to the hallway, he had two bottles under his arm.
"Your son?" I asked, my eyes finally meeting his. Connor was unshaven, as usual, and his eyes were watchful, an expression I had seen before.
He simply nodded. "John."
"Where's Brenda?" I asked, wondering if his wife were in bed already, if I had intruded on anything.
Connor turned away, starting up the stairs before the answer came. "Dead." He continued up without looking back.
The word echoed through me. Dead. I wasn't the only one who had lost. I spared another glance at the boy, comfortable on the couch. John.
I followed Connor upstairs to the roof.
As with most of the homes in Morocco, in all desert countries I suppose, the flat roof became a living space, as integral and utilized as any room in the house. It was where they retired at night, when the air cooled off enough to breathe. There was no light except that of the moon, and the small twinklings from the city in the distance. Benches were built into the adobe walls, and deep hammock-like chairs faced the west for the sunset. Large wool blankets lay on the floor, their bright patterns matched by the pillows on the benches.
Standing suddenly felt difficult, and I headed for one of the benches. I was still a few steps away when a cold glass was pressed into my hand. I knocked it back in one gulp without thought. It was alcohol, and that was enough. As soon as I sank to the bench, the glass was removed, refilled, and replaced. That one went down as easy as the first.
The glass was once again removed, but this time Connor replaced it with the bottle. No, Connor was definitely *not* stupid. I leaned back against the corner of the bench, stretching my legs out along its length, silent, eyes closed. I heard Connor sit on the bench, facing me, felt his foot nudge mine gently as he poured his own drink. I listened to the night for a while, then opened my eyes to look at the stars.
"Where's Grayson?" Connor asked, sounding both curious and concerned.
"Dead," I replied. There was a long, expectant pause. Connor didn't ask, but I knew he wanted to. I didn't want to tell him it had been Duncan MacLeod, his own kinsman, who had murdered my husband. I didn't want to think about it either, so I took another pull from the bottle which I could now identify as well-iced vodka, my favorite when I needed to get damn stinking fucked up drunk. I could deal with that.
I rested the bottle against my thigh, too numb to register the cold glass on my skin. Blindly, I searched for a neutral topic. Something to talk about that resembled normalcy. I was curious about his son, but couldn't find the voice to ask. There would be time. Right now, I wanted to drink, to get drunk and forget, and to know I was safe.
"Did you ever get to that wrestling match at the Garden in '85?" I asked. Connor and I both hated professional wrestling, but Grayson had been out of town on business, and I was alone and bored beyond belief. I had called Madison Square Garden and reluctantly put down good money for two seats. Hell, it was either that or the opera. One can only see Carmen so many times. Luckily, Connor had been up for a night out, even wrestling, but only if he got to make snide comments about the wrestlers.
"Yeah," Connor said. "Interesting night."
"I'm glad someone had one." I leaned back against the warm adobe wall, the vodka finally settling in my limbs, loosening them along with my tongue. "I spent most of that night on the Long Island Expressway, watching the back of an 18-wheeler. By the time I got close to the Garden, the place was crawling with cops and fire trucks." I glanced over at Connor. He looked ... embarrassed? Connor? Embarrassed?
"You and one of your 'girlfriends' set off the sprinkler system or something?" I teased, taking another, smaller sip. Too much more too soon and I'd get very sick very fast.
Connor shrugged as he drained his glass. "Or something."
His silence and the carefully chosen words were like a blazing neon sign. Connor was worried about me. There are times when Connor MacLeod is an enigma, and times when you can read him as easily as the stars in the sky. This was one of those times.
I didn't want Connor to worry about me. I wanted to forget I was worried about myself. I wanted something I hadn't found in the weeks of wandering. I wanted my friend. "You're an old stick-in-the-mud, Connor," I said, feeling the vodka start to warm me against the cool night air. "No fun at all."
His eyes changed too quick for me to catch it, and suddenly, I was hit square in the face with a throw pillow from the bench. "No fun, eh?" he said, chuckling in that unique Connor way.
"No," I replied casually, staring just over his shoulder, straight ahead to the lights of the city. Resting the bottle safely on the floor under the bench, I smoothly grabbed a pillow of my own and chucked it hard at his face. "No fun at all."
The pillow glanced off the top of his head as Connor dove for my legs, his fingers heading for the backs of my knees, a spot in which I was notoriously ticklish. I shrieked my protest, trying to flip him off my legs, but he had plotted his attack carefully. He had wrapped his left arm around both my calves, holding them together as he tickled me.
If I had really wanted him off my legs, I could have smacked him square on the ears, or laid a hard blow to his temple. Instead, I whacked the back of my hand across his head, laughing uncontrollably like a child.
His head rose, his own laughter in his eyes. "Had enough fun yet?" he asked, his fingers stilling. He traced one hand down the side of my knee as a reminder.
I smiled, and slid my fingers through his hair. "Enough fun," I agreed.
Letting go of my legs, he returned to his corner with a triumphant look in his eye. I reached for my vodka as he poured himself another drink, then I tipped the bottle in his direction in a truce salute before drinking again.
"How long?" he asked suddenly.
The abrupt question threw me, and it took me a moment to answer. "Eighty-four days," I said quietly, once again staring out over his shoulder, almost afraid to meet his eyes. I checked my watch. "Six hours, eighteen minutes." I didn't want to talk about it, so I asked him the same question. "And for you?"
His answer was just as quiet. "Six years."
And he had only met Brenda about eight years ago. Not enough time. No matter how long it was, it was never enough time. Two years together, twelve years together, two thousand years together ... never enough time. I took another drink.
"Do you know who?" Connor asked, his eyes narrowing. While Connor and Grayson could never really have been called friends, they had maintained a mutually prosperous business relationship for decades. The few times they ran into each other, or were forced to spend time in the same room, they both kept civil tongues in their heads and kept the conversation on mundane topics like art or business or mutual funds. Connor sat up straighter, waiting, fingers curling tightly around his glass. Whether it be for my sake, or for reasons I knew nothing of, Connor found the news unsettling.
"Yes," I answered truthfully, but said nothing more. How could I?
"All taken care of?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow.
My hands shook and my eyes left his face. Taken care of? It was over, but it would never be taken care of. My breath shuddered in my chest at the thought of Grayson's death going unavenged, as it would have to. MacLeod the younger lived on, although I wanted to kill him. I longed to feel his blood drip down my hand, to taste his blood on my tongue. I wanted his head, but there was nothing I could do. I had given my word, and vows made must be kept.
I couldn't answer Connor -- not in any way he would accept. The bottle slipped from my fingers and fell to the floor. I was as frozen as I had been in the car -- not frightened, not of Connor -- but destroyed, both by Grayson's death and by my damnable oath.
I hadn't noticed Connor slide off the bench and crouch beside me. It wasn't until his fingers brushed against my wrist and found their way around my hand that I realized how close he was.
"Want to talk?" he asked quietly, in a voice I rarely heard from him. I shook my head hard. Loose hair fell over my shoulder, blocking my face from his view. I felt the tears come again, welling up in my eyes. I couldn't stop them, and as I blinked, tears flowed freely down my cheek.
Talk. What would that do? Would it erase the oath I had taken to spare Connor's kinsman's life? Would it bring Grayson's smiling eyes and soft voice back to me? Would it make the pain go away?
No, talking would merely reopen the wounds that had only just begun to scar over, and my soul couldn't stand that kind of pain again. I wasn't ready to die yet, but another wound like that and I would lay down my blade forever.
Connor wrapped one arm around my shoulders, slid another under my knees, and pulled me off the bench, onto his lap. I tucked my head against his shoulder, soundless tears wetting his shirt, plastering long strands of hair to my cheek. I let the tears come until I had no more, then sighed against him, the choking tears passing as quickly as they came. It had been a long time since I cried. I could hardly remember the last time I hurt enough to have the tears find their way to my eyes.
I was shaking slightly, and Connor's arm tightened around me, while his other hand gently pushed the hair away from my face. I kept my eyes closed, but tilted my head back to let gravity do some of the work for him. My tears lay cold and wet on my cheeks, until the warmth of his thumb brushed them away. His fingers tangled in my hair and lay still, and his arm tightened even more.
I opened my eyes, and there was Connor, staring at me, his eyes still concerned, but not so gentle anymore. Connor -- my drinking companion, my "go to the hockey game and scream at the players" buddy, my friend. We had teased each other and flirted with each other for more than a century, but it had always been a game. We had other lovers; we didn't have many friends. The decision had been made long ago.
That decision suddenly seemed very old indeed. I could feel his hunger, taste it as if it were my own. Six years since his wife Brenda had died, and if I knew Connor half as well as I thought I did, he hadn't been with a woman since then. Sex for him was either a casual romp or a complete sharing, body and soul. Connor never did things by halves. He hadn't found a woman to love, and he couldn't go back to the plain physical release of anonymous sex without being reminded of what -- and who --- he had lost, so he had done without.
I knew he wouldn't push me, he wouldn't even ask, but I also knew he wanted to. He needed to. He needed me.
And I needed him. I was lost, defeated, destroyed. Pieces of me lay scattered, strewn between Morocco and Grayson's grave on a lonely hill in Prague. Connor's steady gray eyes were a rock, like the granite of his beloved Highlands. They were strength and steel. They were safe.
My hand went to the back of his neck, the fine hairs there soft under my fingertips, and I pulled him closer and whispered his name. That was all the permission and encouragement Connor needed. The first kiss wasn't gentle, wasn't soft. It tasted of the fire of whisky and the ice of vodka. It burned clear through to my bones, and left me shaking once again.
Connor was shaking, too, with need and desire, and I moved off his lap to kneel in front of him. I wanted to feel him, to feel him move under my hands, to feel both of us come alive. I tugged his sweatshirt over his head, then slid my hands across the bare skin of his shoulders, fingertips tracing the muscles. My palms pressed against his chest as he pulled me to him again for another kiss, and this one was only of fire, a desperate need to find something we both had lost.
His hands were busy, loosening my shirt from the waistband of my shorts, then traveling up my back to unhook my bra. Well, to try to unhook my bra. It was a front-fastener. I didn't have to tell him; Connor wasn't stupid.
"Other side, eh?" he said in a deep, husky voice, which, coupled with the fire in his eyes, sent shivers up my spine. He pulled my shirt over my head, then used his teeth to unhook the bra. His hands were still busy, slowly sliding the bra straps down my arms, then caressing my palms. Connor bent his head, his tongue flickering over the line of the scar that began between my breasts.
I gripped his hands hard and started to shiver again, my breath catching in my throat. His lips slowly traced the ridge of the scar, up to my neck, over the curve of my shoulder, caressing, soothing both the wounds of the past, and those of the present. Easing the grief, erasing some of the pain.
My fingers traveled down his back, tracing the lines of bone and muscle, pressing hard, massaging deep, and Connor groaned softly. I leaned in to nip at his earlobe, our bodies touching now, the softness of skin warming, enflaming.
Abruptly, one hand behind my head, another at the hollow of my spine, he laid me backwards onto the blanket on the floor. My hands found their way to the waistband of his jeans, working them open easily.
Connor's eyes darkened with desire, his expression bordering on extreme
pain as I slid my hands around to his back, under the jeans, pushing them
off his hips slowly. I had often
wondered if he wore boxers or briefs. I wasn't surprised to discover he wore neither.
He kicked off his shoes and sat up enough to yank off his jeans, then straddled me, kneeling. Sure fingers unfastened my cutoff shorts, and he yanked my clothes off, too. Connor lay down beside me, and I turned to him, reaching, even as he pulled me hard against his body. Our legs tangled, and I felt his heart pounding against my chest. His fingers twined in my hair, his lips found mine again, and he drank from them like a man dying of thirst.
Need, strong and insane, clawed inside me. I ran my hand down his back, then lower, pulling his hips hard against mine. He groaned against my mouth, a sound I more felt than heard, and worked his knee between my legs.
Our lips never parted as we poured lifetimes of pain and grief into the kiss. We lay side by side as Connor ground his thigh between my legs, slowly rubbing, teasing. I whimpered softly, and he drank that from me as well with a soft growl of triumph. My fingertips dug into his back as Connor's thigh pressed and teased. I could wait no longer.
With a sharp flip, I rolled us so he lay on top of me, the solid weight of his body pressing me into the blanket. I needed him. Now.
"Evann," he breathed, ragged and hoarse, his weight braced on his arms, his legs between my own.
I stared up into his eyes, gray shadowed into blackness. I took strength from his strength; I shared his grief as he shared mine. I wrapped my legs around his waist and used my hands to urge him to come to me, now.
For all our urgency and need, the joining was achingly slow and sweet,
a gentle unfolding of warmth from deep within. My numbness melted,
the cold within me burned away, and I closed my eyes and surrendered to
Fire in my veins, the silken warmth of a woman beneath me and around me, and the insistent, pounding grief and need that drove us both to drown ourselves in touch, in sensation, in life. It didn't last long, it couldn't, not when we hurt so much, not when we'd been alone so long--three months alone, six years alone, lifetime after lifetime alone. Her legs held me tight, and her hands pulled me closer and deeper, and when it was over I buried my face in her hair and whispered her name.
Evann sighed and tightened her arms across my back, locked her hands together, an embrace that wouldn't let go. I had let go of Brenda just a few months before, toasted her memory and bade her farewell. I'd let her go, but she was still with me, just as Heather was with me, was a part of me, forever. Evann hadn't had time yet to accept the loss of Grayson that way.
The desert breeze blew across us, suddenly cool when only a moment before it had been warm. I reached over and tugged on the edge of the blanket, twisting to pull the wool fabric up and over my back, trying not to move too much. Evann helped arrange the heavy cloth, then wrapped her arms about me again.
I lifted my head enough to kiss her still-closed eyes. "I've been looking forward to a stroll through the rose garden with you for a long time, Miss Bradford."
She smiled sleepily. "Worth the wait, Mr. Carruthers."
Well, that was good to hear. It hadn't been much of a stroll, more like a gallop. Later, in the morning maybe, we could take our time. And probably all this coming week, or maybe even a month; Evann wouldn't be ready to be on her own for awhile. "What's a century between friends?" I asked lightly.
"Sometimes too long," she answered, opening her eyes. "Sometimes not long enough."
It was never long enough.
She kissed me then, reaching up to pull my head closer, her lips warm and inviting, friendly and loving, but not aching with need, not now. She yawned a little, stretched beneath me, and I eased off her to lie on my back. "Sleep, Evann," I said, tucking the blanket in around her, covering her completely.
"Sleep is good," she murmured with her head on my shoulder, her leg between my own. Her eyes had already closed again, and her breathing became slow and regular in a moment, as she followed the habits of a soldier, falling sleep anywhere and at anytime, able to wake instantly.
And I knew Evann would wake again, would laugh and even love again. Not this year, maybe not this decade, but someday. She was a survivor.
She'd survive, but it wouldn't be easy. Thirteen years ago, she had waltzed into my antique store in New York City and led me straight to my office. She had sat on the edge of my desk, pulled the calendar onto her lap, flipped to June 11th, circled it, and marked in giant letters "busy attending Evann's wedding." Then she had handed me the calendar with that impish smile on her face. I had never seen her so content and so ecstatic, not even when the U.S. ice hockey team had won the Olympic gold medal earlier that year.
"You are going to the wedding," she had informed me, and of course I had. I had watched as she exchanged vows with Grayson, her comrade and partner of nearly two millennia, her lover only recently, her best friend in all the world. Grayson and I had never been friends, but I had respected him as a man, and as an Immortal. Some of his business dealings had been shady, but then so were some of mine, and he had always played the Game with honor, and he had done everything he could to make Evann happy.
But "happily ever after" never happens, even for Immortals. Grayson had been one of the oldest Immortals, and one of the best fighters, and now he was dead. I didn't like not knowing who had killed him, who might very well be able to kill me. I'd ask Evann about it again in the morning, or maybe Duncan or Amanda might have heard something.
I looked up at the familiar patterns of the stars high above, named the constellations as I had done with my father long ago, as I often did now with my son. Evann's warm breath tickled my chest hair, and she stirred in her sleep, pushing the blanket off to one side. I wrapped it around both of us more securely, holding it around her shoulders with my arm while I let my fingers glide through her hair. I kissed her gently on the forehead and looked back to the stars.
Tomorrow, I would make her eat and make her exercise. I would let her get drunk, and we would talk more about Grayson, whether she wanted to or not. I knew she needed to. Then I would hold her in my arms to help her feel safe, and I would let her cry until she had no more tears.
She would do the same for me.
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Robin L. Tennenbaum at mailto:email@example.com
Janeen K. Grohsmeyer at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more stories by the authors:
- Robin L. Tennenbaum's stories are at <http://users.erols.com/darkpanther/evannpage.html> as well as the 7th Dimension Archive.
- Janeen K. Grohsmeyer's stories are at <http://users.erols.com/darkpanther/> , and thanks to Ann Fountain, they also appear at 7th Dimension.
Guess what, folks? We don't own them! We don't even rent them. (On a monthly basis that would get rather prohibitively expensive.) We don't make money off this. If you sue, all you'll get is a handful of dust bunnies and a really wicked recipe for apple pie.
However, Evann (in all her incantations) is the sole property of Robin L. Tennenbaum, and all rights are reserved. Don't use her without permission or Robin will come after you for *your* dust bunnies and apple pie. However, if you're hell bent on borrowing Evann, Robin will entertain the notion.
To Larry Clemens: Many, many thanks for patient answers to innumerable questions and to saint-like patience in the presence of obsessed females in your home.
To Ceebs: Mucho thank you's and much virtual Cervesa for the rush-rush-hurry-up beta job. We both know how busy you get this time of year, and we appreciate your taking time away from hors d'oeuvres, bias cut beans, and Guggenheim spring rolls to help out.
To Bridget Testa: As always, thanks for pushing *one* of us to get this thing DONE. (We won't tell which one.) When the ConnorMuse comes a-calling, he a-calls out your name.
Special thanks to all those who continue to take the time to send us
feedback. Some of these stories are born of your imaginations, and
to that we are ever grateful!
ABOUT THE BATTLE OF ANTIETAM
On September 16, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan confronted Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Sharpsburg, Maryland. At dawn September 17, General Hooker's corps mounted a powerful assault on Lee's left flank that began the single bloodiest day in American military history. Attacks and counterattacks swept across Miller's cornfield, and fighting swirled around the Dunker Church.
On that day, approximately one in four soldiers (23,100 out of 93,000) became a casualty (either wounded, dead, or missing). Four thousand died that day; many more died later due to wounds. Burial details performed their grisly task with speed, but not great care. Graves ranged from single burials to long, shallow trenches accommodating hundreds. For example, William Roulette, whose farm still stands behind the Visitor Center today, had over 700 soldiers buried on his property.
Death Totals for American Soldiers:
American Revolution -- 4,500
U.S. Civil War -- 625,000
World War I -- 117,000
World War II -- 405,000
Korea -- 33,746
Vietnam -- 58,000
ABOUT WOMEN SOLDIERS
There are records of women serving as soldiers in the Civil War. Many were found out within a few weeks or months, but not all of the women soldiers of the Civil War were discharged so quickly. Some women served for years, like Sarah Emma Edmonds Seelye, and others served the entire war, like Albert D. J. Cashier. These two women are the best known and most fully documented of all the women combatants.
The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps is "Semper Fideles" -- Always Faithful.
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