This one fits into my arc between the snippet Call it Luck and The Sun Will Rise. You can find the rest of the arc at the 7th Dimension Archive, or at Highlander: The Fic-thology. Any Gaelic phrases that appear in the text are translated to English at the end of the section.
Disclaimer: Connor, Duncan, Methos, and Warren Cochrane belong to DDP and are borrowed without permission. Most of them are returned in the same condition. If I were making any money, I'd gladly share it. Bryan Cutler and Jim O'Leary belong to Jen Allen and are used with her consent. Sarah MacGreggor and the Gaelic Rebellion are mine. Bonnie Prince Charlie and the events of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 belong to the people of Scotland.
Culloden Moor, Scotland.
Connor gripped Sarah's had tightly, his head bent against the stiff and relentless breeze whipping across the moor. He drew his right hand out of his coat pocket long enough to adjust his collar, then shoved it back into the cocoon of warmth.
Sarah was wearing his gloves; her own forgotten on the desk in their room at the B&B. She'd told him repeatedly that his offer was unnecessary even going so far as to slip the gloves back into his pocket while he'd been preoccupied with paying their admission. But Connor was insistent. It bothered him to see her cold.
Admission. He gave a small snort. How...decidedly unpatriotic of the Scottish National Trust to charge admission to two of the people who had fought and died on this very moor some three hundred and fifty odd years ago. There was also the more recent Gaelic Rebellion to consider. Not even a century prior, he and Sarah both fought for Scottish Independence yet again, this time successfully.
In fact, there were several statues paying homage to the fallen General Maeve Wallace around the Highlands that bore a striking resemblance to her and if the young man who had sold them their tickets had been paying attention, he would have noticed that the young woman in the blue woolen scarf was a dead ringer for the general on the postcard at his left elbow. Yes, she had more hair, less severe an expression, and was lacking the gauntness of near starvation, but the same eyes watched him count Connor's change as had watched the Scottish troops march into battle.
Their ten Scottish pounds a piece went to a good cause, for certain. Connor was all for supporting Scottish tradition and heritage. But, still, it grated. There should be perks associated with leading your country to independence. They could at least sell a postcard of him, too.
Sarah gave his hand a squeeze and knocked it gently into his thigh as they walked. "Give it a rest, Connor. It's only twenty pounds."
He snorted again, this time at her ability to follow his thoughts. It was uncanny. And he didn't much care for it when she caught him brooding.
"Think of it as yet another in your long line of contributions toward furthering Scottish world domination. A few billion pounds more and they'll be able to buy out the Commonwealth. Then we'll all be wearing tartan and eating haggis once more. The way the world should be."
Connor chuckled and rolled his eyes at her good naturedly. "You're insolent. You know that, right?"
She nodded, grinning. "So my ma always told me, anyway."
Sarah's cheeks and nose were flushed with the cold and her hair flew about her head wildly as the wind eddied and swirled, revealing glimpses of reddened ears as well. He paused to tuck the scarf more securely around her neck, then planted a light kiss on her cold lips. "They could just not charge *us*," he said.
"Right," she laughed. "You explain it to them. And I'll petition to have you installed in an asylum in Johannesburg so I can come visit and bring you shortbread."
Connor opened his mouth to quip a response, but Sarah stopped short suddenly, her mood swinging drastically downwards.
"What is it?" he asked.
She pointed mutely.
Connor studied the ground at their feet for a moment searching the heather for some clue that would unlock the sudden change in her. But it was unremarkably brown and brittle with the winter cold--just like the rest of the moor. He moved his search upwards to her face, frowning at the lines of grief that had suddenly appeared around her mouth and between her eyes.
Sarah swallowed hard and looked off across the moor, obviously composing herself.
"I don't understand," he said.
She turned back and pointed again. "This is where I died. Right here."
A cold lump formed in his throat and Connor swallowed it down, forcing it to take refuge in his stomach. He swallowed down a flood of emotions, too; everything from anger to grief and back. Today, walking here in this haunted place with her poking fun at his grumping, he'd almost forgotten the tragedy of it all...almost forgotten why they'd been here in 1746 and why they were here now. And with that came a burning sense of shame.
Sarah's hand disappeared from his grip and she sank to her knees in a swift motion that must have proved painful upon impact. She pulled off his gloves and tossed them aside, running her bare fingers through the heather. "No matter how many times I come here, I always wind up at this spot somehow," she said. "And it always knocks me flat on my ass."
He searched for some words that might comfort her, but none were to be found, leaving Connor staring mutely at the top of her head.
"I was in the middle of trying not to let one of them gut me with his bayonet," she continued, still looking at the ground, still stroking the heather absently. "Another came up behind me and put his pistol to my back. It must have hurt," she looked up suddenly, offering a sardonic twist of a smile, "but what I remember is the look on that kid's face when I pitched forward and spit up blood all over his nice red coat."
Connor shuddered involuntarily and bent to scoop up her gloves. He and Sarah had been fighting in separate lines at Culloden, but the image was still vividly disturbing. Equally clear and just as upsetting was his memory of her when they had regrouped in the aftermath of the battle.
There were six of them--six immortals who had rallied to Prince Charlie's cause-- with thousands of years of collective battle experience between them. Yet all had sat huddled and miserable in the cold, wet April night without a fire, without food or water, and utterly without hope
Connor screwed his eyes shut, hoping to block the memory, but the darkness only served to bring the image into focused sharply. Duncan sat to his left, methodically cleaning his sword. Warren Cochrane paced restlessly around the perimeter of their small camp, both fearing and hoping for an attack. Bryan Cutler was to his right, stretched out on his side and doing a piss-poor job of trying to sleep. He, like Connor, was watching the scene playing out on a bedroll under a nearby tree; where Jim O'Leary was cradling and comforting Sarah, who was wracked with tears and grief to the point of inconsolable and practically tangible pain. He remembered being transfixed by the wide hole in the back of her blood-soaked shirt and the glimpses of smooth, pale skin marred by gunpowder that were visible when she moved.
Connor shook himself to rid the memory and bent, pulling her to her feet gently. "Come on," he said. "It's cold."
Sarah nodded dumbly, submitting to his fussing as he replaced the gloves on her cold-whitened hands. They were all the way back at the Visitor's Center before she found her voice again.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I...always lose it right there. It's not like it was the first time I ever died in battle or anything."
Connor knew why. And he suspected that he would succumb to the same emotion at the spot where he'd lost the Battle of Culloden Moor. It wasn't that *Sarah* had died on that field; she'd been victim of plenty of temporary deaths by that point. It was that Scotland and everything they'd both known and loved had died as well.
"It's okay," he gathered her into a hug and searched through layers of coat, hair, and scarf until he found a patch of skin to kiss on her neck. "I understand."
Sarah leaned into his embrace, squeezing hard, but made no verbal response.
He kissed her neck again. "Lunch?"
"Yeah, maybe," she nodded.
"Come on," Connor repeated. "It's cold."
"Let's play," Connor said, setting down his pint with a thump.
Sarah glanced around the pub they were eating their lunch in and smiled at him from behind her sandwich. "Okay, you first."
Connor nodded, scanning the patrons carefully and making mental notes about each of them. The three older men at the bar were out of the running; they were obviously locals, as were the bartender, the man sitting alone at the table closest to the door, and the young woman filling salt shakers. Who looked...not quite right.?
"There," he said, crooking a finger to point unobtrusively toward the corner by the dart-board. "The red head and her friend--with the glasses."
Sarah took up her own pint of beer and used the glass to hide her examination of the two women. "Maybe," she said. "But do Watchers bring their babies on assignment?"
Connor frowned. He hadn't noticed the stroller. "Damn. Your point."
She grinned at him broadly. "You're so bad at this, MacLeod. Want me to let you in on a little secret?"
He narrowed his eyes playfully in response.
"There's an easy, tried and true method of spotting a Watcher in any crowd," she said, amusement evident in her tone.
"Oh, is there now? Do enlighten me, please."
Sarah leaned forward across the table and took him by the collar, tugging him toward her. She smiled and kissed his earlobe twice--sending shivers down his back--before offering the answer in a whisper. "Fake a buzz."
Connor laughed out loud.
She sat back and settled into the cushioned booth, smiling. "I'm telling you, it works every time. They start to salivate and reach for notebooks. It's practically Pavlovian."
"You're wicked," he smiled. "And you cheat."
She nodded, polishing off her sandwich. "Of course."
Connor glanced around the room again. Maybe it was the couple three tables over. "Wanna try it?"
Sarah wiped her mouth on her napkin, preparing to respond, but her senses were overcome with the resonating announcement of another immortal's arrival. She and Connor both looked to the door reflexively, but it remained closed.
"Maybe we shouldn't tempt fate," she muttered.
"I'll go check it out," he answered, gathering his coat. "Do you have enough cash to pay?"
Sarah nodded. "Just...be careful. I'll meet you outside."
Connor shrugged on his coat and adjusted the hilt of his katana out of pure habit, bending to kiss her on the cheek. "I'm always careful."
She watched him go with a small sigh, then began to dig in her pockets for enough money to cover their bill. Had she been paying attention, Sarah would have noticed the woman at the nearby table detach herself from her companion and follow Connor out the door at a discrete distance. She was rather distracted, though, and threw too much money on the table in her haste to get outside. Their waitress would get one hell of a tip anyway.
Sarah pulled on her coat, adjusted her own sword quickly, and made tracks for the door. She stepped out into the wind half expecting to hear the sound of ringing steel. It was quiet, though. And Connor was nowhere in sight.
She took a moment to wrap her coat around herself and adjust her scarf, forcing herself to breathe normally and willing her heart to stop pounding. This was the first time in their relationship that neither of them had known who the buzz belonged to and she was not at all eager to consider the prospect of Connor facing a Challenge. She looked around again, searching for the best spot for a fight, then struck off to the left, following the outer wall of the pub down a narrow lane.
Nothing. No voices. No steel. Not even a buzz to tell her there was another immortal in the area.
"Come on, MacLeod," she muttered. "Where the hell are you?"
As if in answer, a buzz shot through her head, sending Sarah's hand to her sword.
"Relax," Connor rounded the corner of the building. "Just me."
She blew out a sigh of relief and pulled her coat closed, buttoning it quickly against the wind. "Nothing?"
Connor shook his head. "Nope. Let's just go back to the room and get inside out of the cold."
[End Part 1]
Their room at the B&B was spacious and toasty warm, both somewhat unusual when it came to such things. It was the best one in the area, though, Connor had seen to that. He'd had more than his fill of being cold and cramped at Culloden in the eighteenth century. No price was too much to pay for a comfortable bed and reliable indoor plumbing.
The king sized, four posted bed was very comfortable; always a plus. It might even be a little *too* big, actually. He'd woken up the night before feeling a little disoriented and missing the warmth and weight of Sarah snuggled next to him.
There was a down comforter, though. And cozy flannel sheets that were soft from repeated washings. They were tartan--MacLeod tartan, actually--and Sarah had nearly choked on her laughter at the sight. The decor, he supposed, was supposed to emulate "traditional Scotland", complete with sheepskin rugs on the hardwood floor, the tartan sheets, with matching curtains, of course, thistles etched onto the bedposts and, perhaps most disturbing of all, the giant stuffed head of one of the owner's own herd of Highland Cattle hung next to the door. "Violet", or so the brass name plate read, anyway. Sarah had wondered aloud if Violet's herdmates were on display in the other rooms.
It certainly didn't resemble any dwelling Connor had ever inhabited in Scotland. But is was nice and the bathroom was heated--another rarity in the Highlands. He was mildly disturbed by Violet's glassy eyes watching them passively as they went about their business in the room. But, as Sarah had pointed out the previous night, it wasn't like she was going to take their sexual secrets down to the market on Tuesday.
"How are your knees?" he asked, watching Sarah sink onto the bed.
Connor pointed to the muddy stains on her jeans from where she had knelt on the moor. "Your knees. You cracked them pretty hard out there."
Sarah shrugged and kicked off her shoes. "They're fine."
"Hmmm...we'll just see," Connor knelt in front of her and reached for the buckle of her belt, smiling.
She smiled in answer and let him strip off her jeans. Connor had made a habit out of closely inspecting any injuries she might suffer and the ritual usually involved much kissing and rolling around on whatever flat surface was handy. It was a much better game than Spot the Watcher.
Sarah squirmed slightly in anticipation as he bent his head to examine her left knee, soliciting a chuckle from Connor.
"I haven't even touched you yet," he said.
She leaned back on her elbows and smiled again. "Sorry."
He ran both thumbs across her knees gently, smiling back at her. "Everything looks just fine down here. I'll get you some clean pants."
Connor moved to stand, but she hooked her right leg around him, pulling him down onto the bed. This, he thought, was a good way to spend the afternoon. He was panting slightly from her attentions and three buttons away from removing her shirt entirely when a buzz brought them both out of the moment abruptly. It was followed immediately by a sharp knock on the door.
Connor scowled fiercely and got to his feet, reaching for his shirt with a barely contained snarl of frustration. He gave Sarah a moment to button her shirt, then stalked to the door, pausing only to take up his sword.
"Connor, wait," she said. "I need pants."
He ignored her wholly and yanked open the door, too irritated at the intrusion to worry about the consequences of haste.
The immortal standing in the hallway offered a small smile and gestured with his open palms to show that he was unarmed. "Hello, MacLeod."
"Warren?" Sarah leapt to her feet, her jeans forgotten, and arrived at the door in two long strides, pushing Connor aside before he could even answer the greeting. "Warren!"
Connor frowned and it deepened into a scowl as Sarah flung herself into Warren Cochrane's embrace. His displeasure was not lost on their fellow immortal, though. Cochrane regarded Connor coldly over Sarah's shoulder, even as he squeezed her in hello.
"So," Connor drained the last of his scotch and set the glass down carefully between his empty plate and the ketchup, "what brings you to Culloden, Warren?"
Cochrane offered a smile around his mouthful of steak and kidney pie and washed down a swallow with a gulp of Sarah's beer before answering. "Oh, I came looking for you, Connor MacLeod. And our bonny Sarah, too, of course."
Connor scowled and suppressed a yelp as Sarah's booted foot made contact with his shin under the table.
"For us?" she asked. "You came looking for us?"
Warren grinned at her, then looked down at his plate, somewhat abashed. "Aye," he said. "Sometimes it's good to be here alone. But sometimes you want friends around, you know?"
"How did you know we would be here?" Connor asked.
Warren pushed his plate forward with a small sigh, "It's April," he said. "We all come here in April--whether in person, or in our heads, yeah?"
Connor frowned, hating to admit that Cochrane was right. But he was. Every April, his thoughts turned to Culloden. This year, it had been Sarah who suggested they make the journey, but he'd be lying if he denied considering it beforehand.
When the waitress arrived with another round of drinks, Connor took up his scotch gratefully. It provided the perfect distraction from participating in the conversation and maybe if he drank enough of it, he'd cease to mind Cochrane's presence all together.
"Slainte, mo chairdean," Warren raised his glass.
"Slainte," Sarah echoed.
Connor clinked his glass, frowning. He'd hardly call Cochrane a friend. Duncan had always had a soft spot for the man and so, apparently, did Sarah, but Connor had always found him to be too much of a loose cannon to trust. He remembered vividly that Cochrane's lust for English blood had fueled the grudge Sarah was carrying after Culloden. He also remembered vividly that it was Warren Cochrane who had planted the seeds of the Gaelic Rebellion in 2068, getting several dozen Scottish students killed in a police riot in the process and launching a war that he and Sarah had both become heavily involved with.
Cochrane's methods had always been bent toward reckless violence. Connor hadn't much cared for him in the eighteenth century and he most certainly wasn't eager to get involved with him now. He looked up and across the table at Sarah, meeting her eyes squarely. She was reading his thought again and was none too pleased; that much was plain from the expression on her face.
Connor resisted the urge to lean across the table and shake her by the shoulders until she remembered how unstable Cochrane was, knowing that her reaction would be both brutal and painful. He'd try later, when they were alone. Surely she couldn't have blocked out what happened during the Gaelic Rebellion entirely. She'd barely spoken to Cochrane for most of the war and both Connor and Duncan had been surprised that he had survived it with his head intact.
Sarah shot him a sharp look that stated "behave yourself" with stunning clarity, then turned her attention to Warren.
"Was that you earlier?" Sarah asked, gesturing toward the door of the pub. "Outside?"
Warren nodded. "Aye. I'm afraid I was a wee chicken to see you again, after the Rebellion and all."
Connor watched the expressions shift on Sarah's face. A slight twinge of hardness appeared around her eyes and mouth at Warren's mention of the war, but it faded into a mildly tender smile at the sight of his obvious embarrassment and humility. He narrowed his eyes. Was that a trace of a smile at the corners of Cochrane's pathetically forlorn mouth?
Connor felt a sudden need to wipe all expression from Warren's face with a few well-placed punches, but curbed himself with a supreme effort of will. A crowded pub was not the place to pick a fight. Especially one that stemmed more from irritation than from provocation.
"All water under the bridge, Warren," Sarah said, squeezing his hand on the table.
Connor scooped up his drink and drained it, hoping to wash down the bile rising into his throat as Cochrane returned the squeeze.
"I should have been more grateful to you," Warren said. "Without your help it wouldn't have worked, probably. I was...well, in over my head. I'm just a soldier. You were always the leader."
Connor thought he might vomit. Could she really be so very blind?
"Save it, Warren," Sarah laughed and extricated her hand from his grip. "Flattery won't get you anything but a free meal."
"Not looking for much, Sarah," he answered. "Except maybe some forgiveness."
NOTE: Translation: "Slainte, mo chairdean"-- Health, my friends.
A few hours, several drinks, and many war stories later, they dropped Cochrane off at his B&B--conveniently located just down the road from their own--and made their way back to the room. Connor had been conspicuously silent all evening, but he hoped that Sarah had either not noticed due to her involvement with Cochrane, or that she had written it off as typical moodiness on his part.
"You know," she said, passing him the toothpaste, "it wouldn't kill you to just cut him some slack."
Connor sighed inwardly. Shit luck seemed to be the order of his day. He took advantage of the time spent brushing his teeth and didn't answer right away, choosing instead to watch her shuck her clothes and pull on pajamas. When she was fully clothed again, he spit into the sink.
"Hey," he said, "I didn't cut his head off, did I?"
"Not funny, Connor."
He wasn't entirely sure that it was meant to be, but opted against voicing that. Instead, he rinsed out his mouth, shut off the bathroom light, and climbed into bed next to her.
"I'm sorry, Sarah," he said. "I just..."
"Don't trust him," she finished.
"Yeah," he nodded. "He's...a little...touched," Connor tapped his temple twice. "And he has been since before Culloden. You know that his views of it all are skewed, to say the least."
"So? So they're skewed. So Charlie was a greedy, stupid bastard and Warren wants to paint him a hero. So the hell what? Millions of Scots have done just that, Connor. Are they all touched, too?"
He shook his head and put an arm around her, drawing her closer. "No. But *they* don't have undo influence over *you*, Sarah."
She rolled to face him and propped herself up on an elbow. "Is *that* what this is all about? You're worried that...what? Worried that he has some kind of magical power over me?"
Connor did his best not to frown openly, but failed. This was one of those questions that was dangerous to answer. Tell the truth, and all hell would break loose. Lie, and he'd better lie convincingly or the same results could be expected.
"I think," he said, after spending a moment searching for the right words, "I think that you might have a soft spot for him. Like Duncan does."
She sat up abruptly, obviously irritated.
Connor waited, knowing that nothing he could say would--or could--diffuse the situation. He sat up as well and ran a hand along the back of her neck, pushing all of her hair over her right shoulder.
"What's wrong with that?" she asked, finally. "He's my friend. And you're right. He *is* unstable. But I'd rather help him if I can than turn my back."
He shook his head. "You can't help him, Sarah. That's the problem. I'm not sure anyone can. I'm not even sure he wants help."
Her head snapped around to face him, an angry expression evident on her face. "So what do you want me to do, Connor? Lure him outside and take his head? For someone who has so much contempt for Methos, you're sounding just like him. And *neither* of you make my decisions."
It was a well-aimed barb and it hit him squarely where it was meant to, stinging mightily. Connor bit back a nasty reply and forced himself to take a moment before answering.
"I didn't know he knew Cochrane."
She nodded once, sharply.
Interesting. Maybe he and the world's oldest man had more in common than Connor had originally thought.
He sighed quietly. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to open old wounds."
Sarah waved a hand absently in a clearly dismissive gesture. "I shouldn't hold old grudges against you," she paused, blowing out a sigh of her own. "I'm sorry, too. But I'm a big girl, Connor. I think I'm capable of assessing threats to my person and acting accordingly. Warren isn't a threat. He's just a little lost."
A lot lost, more like. But Connor held his tongue.
Sarah flopped back against the pillows and reached for his hand, squeezing gently when she found his fingers. "I'm sorry I snapped at you. You didn't deserve it."
"It's okay," he settled in next to her and kissed her twice. "But I'm still irritated that he interrupted us this afternoon and you should do something about that."
Sarah laughed. "I think I can manage that, so long as you're not worried about Violet there observing."
[End Part 2]
Glasgow, Scotland 2069
"It's foolish," Sarah MacGreggor said flatly. "The English have you out-manned, out-gunned, and out-financed. Even if you can raise an army, how are you going to feed them?"
Warren Cochrane looked up from his notes, scowling at her fiercely. "We'll get what we need from the people."
Across the table of their impromptu war council, Duncan MacLeod snorted in surprise, not at all convinced this was a good idea.
"Rape Scotland to free her, Warren?" Sarah cocked an eyebrow at him. "That's no way to win a war."
Warren spun in his chair and started toward her menacingly, but Duncan intervened.
"There's talk of a European Commonwealth forming," he said. "If we wait and petition the new government..."
Cochrane spun back and turned his snarl on Duncan. "They'll slap the chains on us like the damn English have been doing for centuries. No government is going to free Scotland, *we* have to."
"You're going to have to give me a better reason than that, Warren," Sarah said, sitting back in her chair with a sigh.
Warren got to his feet and stood over her chair, leaning on the arms rather menacingly and making an obvious attempt to intimidate her. "The Sarah MacGreggor I fought with in the Forty Five didn't need a list of reasons. Her homeland and her way of life were cause enough."
Sarah looked up at him calmly. "My way of life has changed dozens of times. And even if you win this war of yours, it won't undo what was done at Culloden."
"It'll be a start."
She sighed again and got to her feet, moving him out of the way without pause or force. "I admired your passion, Warren. But somewhere you let it become hate. You're on your own for this one. I want no part of it."
He caught her roughly by the elbow. "Charlie admired *you*, Sarah. How can you spit on his memory like this? This is our chance. This is why we were put here."
"Charlie was *wrong*, Warren!" She jerked free. "Charlie wanted Scotland as a stepping stone to the English throne. He didn't care about us. He sat on his horse at Culloden and watched the clans die. He gave the order to charge and never so much as got a speck of dirt on his bonny coat. There was mud on that moor, remember? And blood? Even from the sidelines, you must have seen that."
Duncan winced. It was never a good thing to remind Warren that he'd been forced to sit out the final battle of the Jacobite Rebellion. Even now, hundreds of years later, it was a sore point that brought him to near violence.
Warren grabbed her wrist, gripping with all his strength. "I was *there*!"
"Were you?" Sarah jerked her arm again, but he held on and dug his fingers into her flesh. She resisted the urge to lay him flat and swallowed a cry of pain, forcing herself to speak as calmly as possible. "Because the battle I fought was a tragedy before it even started. They slaughtered us, Warren. He was exiled and he left with clean hands and an honor guard while we paid the price of his pride. Don't talk to me about the glory of Charlie. And stop painting him to be a hero to these boys you're trying to recruit. There were heroes at Culloden, but your Charlie wasn't one of them."
His response was instinctual, instant, and came in the form of lashing out with the back of his hand. The blow caught Sarah squarely across the face and rocked her balance. Duncan inhaled sharply and leapt to his feet, expecting to hear the sound of swords being drawn and fully prepared to step between them, Rules or no. Sarah surprised him, though, by taking a moment to wipe her bleeding mouth on the back of her sleeve and study the crimson stain before speaking.
"This is why you're doomed to fail, Warren," she said evenly. "You're not fighting for Scotland. You're fighting for the memory of someone who wasn't half the man you thought he was," she turned to leave, offering Duncan a slight nod that clearly conveyed she'd done precisely what he'd asked her to do--come and listen to Warren's plan.
"Sarah, wait..." Warren reached for her arm.
"Touch me again," she warned, "and I'll break your fucking neck."
Duncan lay a restraining hand on Warren's arm and watched silently as she exited the room, closing the door softly, yet firmly behind her. "I'll go after her," he said. "She just needs some time to calm down."
"We don't need her," Warren responded, rubbing his hand reflexively.
Duncan scanned the room, taking in the maps, spread sheets, empty coffee cups, and wadded up scraps of paper that were strewn across the table as a testament to Warren's battle plans. "Yes," he said, "we do."
"Where were you just now?"
Warren glanced over at Sarah and offered an apologetic smile. "Glasgow," he said. "Remember?"
She rolled her eyes. "Yes. How could I forget? You practically knocked my molars loose."
Warren flushed, nodding. "Aye. I half expected you to kill me where I stood for that. I'm...not sure what came over me."
Sarah had a pretty good idea, but chose to keep her mouth shut. She stopped, instead, and pumped a handful of coins into the collection box on the path.
"Can you believe they charge us to come here?" Warren asked, his gesture including the Visitor' Center and the moor, both.
She snickered. "You sound like Connor."
"Well," he smiled, offering an arm, "that can't be all bad then, can it?"
Sarah echoed the smile and tucked her elbow through his as they set off along the gravel path. They walked in silence past the Well of the Dead and the giant cairn erected as a monument to the battle and followed the curve of the path around toward the dikes where the Highland army had gathered.
Warren scrambled up one of them and offered Sarah a hand.
"Do you see that couple down there?" he pointed back toward the cairn.
Sarah nodded. They'd passed the young man and his girlfriend near the MacKintosh marker.
"They think we're together," he said. "They think we're like they are."
She nodded again, supposing that it made sense to assume a man and woman who were walking arm in arm were a couple. "So?"
"So," he laughed roughly. "So they haven't a damn clue, have they? We're the reason Scotland is free. We're the reason their children won't grow up talking like the damn Sassenachs."
"We had some help, Warren."
"Aye," he laughed again. "I suppose we did. Your MacLeod, for one. Though he was playing for the wrong team, wasn't he?"
"My MacLeod?" she cocked an eyebrow. "Is Duncan yours, then? And I'd hardly call the Irish 'the wrong team'. We never could have done it without them."
Warren smiled. "Again, that's why you're the leader and I'm just a soldier," he paused, watching the young couple for a moment. "What do you suppose they would say if I told them General Maeve Wallace was here?"
Sarah tightened her grip on his arm, sensing that he was about to jump down and trot over to the couple for that express purpose. "You'll do no such thing, Warren Cochrane."
In response, he caught her free hand and brought it to his lips. "At your command, General."
"Can it, Warren."
Amusement flickered across his face, but he let go. "You always did have a way with words, Sarah. Even Charlie listened to you."
She shook her head. "If Charlie had listened to me, Culloden never would have happened. I told him this was a terrible place to make a stand."
Warren withdrew suddenly, his expression dark. Sarah waited for a counter to her statement, but none came. Instead, they continued along the dike in silence until they reached the end.
"Tell me something?" Warren asked, helping her down.
Sarah nodded. "Sure."
"Why didn't you? Kill me where I stood, I mean. In Glasgow."
Sarah thought for a long moment, remembering the taste of her own blood in her mouth and the aching of her jaw. "Because I knew it was too late--that the war would happen anyway. And because you're my friend. I don't kill friends for moments of temporary insanity."
Warren nodded. "And for that, I am grateful."
She smiled. For all his faults, Warren was capable of tremendous and passionate sincerity. "Your turn," she said.
He put a hand to his chest, raising both eyebrows. "My turn?"
Sarah nodded. "Your turn to tell me why you're really here."
Warren Cochrane didn't take a moment to think like Sarah had. His answer came immediately and with a smile that sent shivers down the back of her neck. "I'm here because I have some things to tell you and because I have a bone to pick with your MacLeod."
[End Part 3]
"Can I ask you something?"
Sarah nodded, reaching for the washcloth and the soap. "You can ask me anything, Connor."
He ducked his head back under the spray of the shower and used the time to gather his thoughts while she lathered. Admittedly, this was probably not the best place to have this particular conversation, but it was a heck of a lot less intimidating than to try to sit her down at a table somewhere and discuss it frankly, eye to eye. At least in the shower they could both pretend to be distracted by any number of things.
"Turn around," she said, motioning with the soapy cloth. "I'll scrub your back."
No eye-contact at all. Even better. He obeyed, bracing his arms against the front wall of the shower for balance. And to buy himself some more time. This was not a topic he liked to bring up. Ever.
She worked on his back in slow, methodical circles and Connor found it very distracting. He would have, in fact, forgone the conversation entirely in favor of getting soapy with her, but Sarah squashed that plan with one question.
"So, what is it that you're dying to know?"
"Well...I'd hardly call it dying to know," he answered.
"What is it, then?"
When Connor was six, he had acquired a splinter the size of Loch Ness in his big toe while running around barefoot. His mother had soothed his tears, told him to hold his breath, and yanked it out mercilessly. "Always remember, Connor," she had said. "Sometimes, it's best just to get things over with."
In that spirit, he blurted out what had been bothering him since the previous evening, hoping that she would not react badly. "You said that your Englishman didn't like Cochrane either. Can you tell me why?"
She stopped scrubbing for a moment and Connor tensed involuntarily, not knowing what was about to happen and fearing the worst. Sarah did *not* like to talk about Methos and Cochrane was already a sore subject between them. He couldn't have come up with a worse topic for conversation if he'd been trying.
"Was it that thing with Duncan? About Cochrane's student?" he asked, hopeful. There were any number of reasons that Methos could dislike Cochrane, but the one Connor liked the least--a romantic entanglement with Sarah--seemed the most likely.
The washcloth splattered to the floor by his feet and there was another tense moment before her hands replaced it on his back, still sliding in rhythmic circles.
"Some of it," she said. "Some was about me."
He turned to face her and caught both of her hands against his chest gently. "Tell me about it, please?"
Sarah frowned and squinted against the spray streaming over his shoulder. "Why?"
He let go of her hands and stepped closer to her, blocking the water. There wasn't a good answer to that question. It was a tangle of things, really, none of which would make sense to her if he tried to articulate them. Instead, he tucked some stray locks of her hair back behind her right ear and ran the back of his hand down her neck.
"Because I asked," he said.
"All right," she answered with a sigh. "But do we have to do this in the shower?"
Connor reached behind him and cut the water abruptly. He knew she was stalling, but he was also willing to indulge her on it. After all, it had taken him the better part of a day to work up the nerve to bring up Methos. He stepped out of the shower and grabbed the nearest towel, wrapping her in it and offering a hand.
"Come on," he said, pausing only to grab a towel for himself on the way into the bedroom.
He suspected that Sarah would have planted herself in the chair by the window if given her druthers, but Connor never gave her the chance to make the decision. He steered her toward the bed with a hand on her hip and pulled her down with him, rolling and wrapping her in both his arms and the blankets. If they were going to talk about Methos, he wanted her solidly in his embrace at the time. It was dangerous enough to bring the Skinny Englishman into discussion. Who knows what would happen if Connor allowed there to be any space between them while he was the topic. He wouldn't put it entirely past the older man to materialize at their door.
"How much do you want to know?"
Connor thought a minute before answering. He had to be sure he knew what he was asking for. "All of it," he said. "All of it that applies to Cochrane, that is."
She rolled over to face him, her wet hair sticking to his arms and chest in great tendrils that smelled of the citrus and lavender of her shampoo. "Okay."
"You expect me to believe that the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square really should have been of *you*?!" Sarah snorted. "Come on, Petey!"
Methos sighed. "You never believe anything I tell you. It hurts my feelings."
Sarah stopped mid-stride and turned to look at him, shifting the packages she was carrying. She had spent the day wandering around London, being dragged from one bookshop to another in search of some missing Watcher Chronicle and listening to him regale her with stories of his past. It was rare that Methos waxed nostalgic and she was willing to indulge....up to a point.
He *could* have been at the battle of Trafalgar, she supposed, but it had never been his style to lead with flagrant heroics. And that was a hint of a smirk behind the pout he was trying so hard to hold. The brat.
Sarah rolled her eyes. "How am I supposed to believe anything you say when you are constantly re-writing history to your own ends? Next you'll be telling me you were King Arthur."
Methos took two of the larger packages from her and smiled as they continued down the sidewalk. "Arthur had a son...and you know that I can't. Bedivere...now that was a name I liked."
"You're full of it, you know that, right?"
"No more so than you, Miss I Inspired William of Wallace."
Sarah stopped again. "I *never* said that. I barely even knew the guy...though I can tell you he looked nothing like Mel Gibson."
"What is the fun in being this old if you can't play with history?"
"Save your tall tales for Richie, Petey. Or stick to the centuries before I was around," she grinned.
Methos chuckled. "Shall we get some lunch?" He nodded toward a small pub near an entrance to the Underground. "I can tell you about the time Jason and I went looking for the Golden Fleece."
Sarah rolled her eyes once more and struck off across the sidewalk toward the restaurant. She was exactly in front of the entrance to the Underground when a man pelted up the stairs and crashed into her at top speed, nearly knocking her off her feet and spilling the packages onto the sidewalk. She bent to pick them up, muttering about rude tourists and wondering what could possibly be important enough to run down a perfect stranger over.
Without warning, Methos dove on top of her as a fireball exploded from the stairwell and sent debris flying in all directions. They landed in a tangled mass of arms, legs, and shopping bags and Sarah grunted in pain, certain that he'd cracked a rib or two.
The word BOMB formed in her head entirely of its own volition. It was punctuated with several exclamation points.
Finally, when the ground stopped shaking, there was a chance to assess the situation. She opened her mouth to speak, but an eerie silence settled. It was followed shortly by the wailing of sirens and wounded alike.
"You okay?" Methos asked.
She nodded. "How about you?"
He winced and pushed upwards with both arms, raising himself off of her and rolling to one side. "I think I've got a big chunk of something nasty in my shoulder. Take a look?"
Sarah scrambled to her feet and glanced around the area, pausing a for moment to take in the sight of the wounded people and the rubble with a sigh. Occasionally, time folded backwards onto itself and left her wondering what year it was. This scene was no exception; it could be any one of the battle fields she had seen over the years. It was hard to believe that it wasn't, in fact.
She grimaced when she caught a glimpse of the large piece of metal protruding from his back. "Um, we had better get this out of you and get you out of here before the ambulances arrive, or they're gonna panic," she said.
"Do it," he answered.
"Right here? People will see."
Methos looked around. There was a woman about thirty feet to his left who was keening and rocking back and forth, holding a small child. A man was helping an older gentleman stand near the callbox; both were bloody. People were staggering out of the nearby buildings, clutching wounds and trying to offer help where they could.
"Do it, Sarie," he said. "No one is watching now and we need to help these people."
Sarah bent over and peered at the wound, assessing the best angle to try to remove the metal from. "This is going to hurt."
"Pretend you're in Trafalgar," she said, bracing a knee on his back and giving a hard pull.
He started to say 'not funny, Sarie' but it came out as a roar of agony. Then he passed out from the pain. She debated briefly about staying with him until he woke up, but decided that it was more important to do what she could for those who weren't lucky enough to heal almost instantaneously.
Twenty minutes later, the scene was crawling with police and ambulance crews. Sarah thought it best to fade into the park across the street before too many people could ask her about the blood on her clothing and the lack of wounds that should have been visible through the torn spots. She sank onto a bench that faced away from the scene and sighed deeply, wondering who had set the bomb.
Peace talks with the IRA had broken down yet again, there was considerable unrest in the Middle East, and some factions--whose names she could never remember--were growing ever the more unruly about the imminent return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule. Or it could have been some postal worker. Or a disgruntled housewife. Or a school kid who learned how to make a fertilizer bomb on the Internet.
On days like this one, she had a hard time believing that the world was any more civilized than it had been when her clan were renegades and the Highlands were lawless all together.
Methos stumbled into their hotel room and closed the door wearily behind himself, dropping the remnants of his coat into a heap on the floor by the lamp.
"In the tub," she answered.
He opened the bathroom door into darkness and wandered in, taking a seat on the floor between the tub and the toilet and kicking the door shut with a sigh. When his eyes adjusted to the small amount of light that streamed in from under the door, he saw that Sarah was resting her chin in her hands on the edge of the tub and looking at him.
"You look like hell," she said.
"I think I've been there."
Sarah nodded, knowing that he had likely been one of the people who had ventured into the tunnel to help the survivors.
"There was a group of children...a third grade class from Yarm on the train that blew," he said quietly. "Thirty six of them and only two survived."
Sarah swallowed her emotion and held out a hand for him to grip. "Has anyone claimed responsibility yet?"
Methos shook his head and scrubbed at his eyes with bloodstained hands.
"You need a shower. I'll get out," she said.
"I'll climb in, if that's okay with you."
Methos offered a weak smile and stripped off his clothes, settling into the far end of the tub with a weary sigh and hoping it would be easier to block the images from the train with warm water lapping at his chest and his wife's legs intertwined with his own.
They sat in silent darkness for close to twenty minutes before Sarah spoke. "Do you want me to call Duncan and tell him we can't come?"
He thought about that for a minute. They were due to meet MacLeod for dinner at eight. Could he pull himself together enough by then? Would it serve any purpose to wallow in this mood? "I...no, don't call him," he said at last. "Let's go."
Sarah nodded and paused on her way out of the tub to give him a kiss on the cheek. "We should get moving, then."
Methos watched her towel off and pull on the hotel-supplied bathrobe. "Get the lights on your way out?"
The small room flooded with light as the door closed and Methos saw with great disgust that the bath water had a reddish tinge to it. He turned off the light again and hit the drain plug, then turned on the shower and sat down under the spray. It had been much easier not to think about it when Sarah's foot had been propped on his shoulder and he could focus on the lovely shape of her calf in the half-light. Now, there were only images of fire and blood and death dancing around in his head and he very seriously considered vomiting.
An hour later, they were safely tucked into a cozy table near the window of one of the finest restaurants in all of London. Duncan, in town on a hunt for an antique armoire, pondered the wine list casually, fully recovered from their conversation in the taxi about the day's events. Sarah watched the activity on the street and picked delicately at the plate of mushroom caps Methos had ordered and then ignored.
"I'll have the roast lamb with lemon thyme," Methos said, closing his menu and handing it to the Waiter.
Sarah made a face. She wasn't big on eating baby anything anymore, especially not baby something as cute as lamb.
"And a Guinness, if you have it on tap," Methos added. "Not bottled. And certainly not canned."
The Waiter looked down his nose at the man he surely believed to be a lowly middle class citizen, but nodded and turned crisply on his heel.
"Don't you just love their attitude?" Methos asked. "He's waiting tables for a living, but somehow, I'm the one who's socially inferior. Where do they find these people?"
Sarah's attention was still on the street outside, but she nodded absently. "Check this out," she pointed, "that's an Interpol van."
Both men looked out the window, watching as a large and well-armored van pulled to a stop on the opposite curb. Four men exited the back and trouped up the stairs between two buildings.
"What do you suppose is going on?" Duncan asked.
"An arrest, I would assume," Sarah said. "Maybe they have a lead on the bomber."
"That would be quick," Methos gestured to Duncan, asking silently if he could take a look at the winelist.
Duncan handed it to him with a smile and turned his attention back to the table. "So, how's the honeymoon going?"
Several minutes later, as the soup was arriving, Methos wrapped up his relation of their mis-adventure in Cairo. His mood, Sarah noted, seemed to have improved drastically in Duncan's company.
"Your entrees will be along shortly," the waiter said. "Is there anything I can get you in the meantime?"
Before any of them could answer, the room filled with the unmistakable announcement of another immortal in the area. Duncan and Methos both scanned the restaurant, looking for the source, but Sarah's eyes were locked on the events that were unfolding across the street. She was out of her chair and halfway to the door before either of the men thought to look out the window. They exchanged confused looks, then followed her out the door and across the street, leaving the waiter rather flustered.
"Warren?" Duncan muttered, catching sight of the slim man that was being hauled bodily down the stairs between a flower shop and a shoe store.
"Cochrane?" Methos scowled, trying to catch Sarah's elbow, but missing as she forced her way through the growing crowd.
"Warren!" She called.
The other immortal looked at her wildly and planted his feet against the door frame of the van. "Sarah?"
"Do you know this man?" A detective asked.
Sarah ignored him and pushed closer to the van. "Warren, what's going on?"
"I didn't do it," he said.
"If you ask me," Sarah said sourly, "I think Petey was more worried that Warren was going to ruin our honeymoon than anything else."
Connor searched his memory. He'd been in New York at the time of the bombing. But he did have a vague recollection of it--mostly from Duncan relating the tale from his own perspective, he had to admit. "So...why..."
"Because he was convinced that Warren set the bomb," Sarah supplied.
A hundred years ago, she would have responded with an indignant "of course not!", but, today, Sarah MacGreggor offered only a sigh. "I don't know. He was convicted of it. But he maintained his innocence right through everything."
"You're lucky they didn't charge you, too...getting involved like that."
She frowned at him and ran a hand through her wet hair in an attempt to slick it out of her face. "I had no idea that they were about to try him as a terrorist, Connor. And even if I had, I couldn't have just walked away."
"So he went to prison?" Connor reached over and wound some of the stray locks around his fingers for a moment, then tucked them behind her ear gently.
He remembered the day she had first cut her hair short on a visit to his loft in New York. He also remembered the cropped style she'd worn in Seacouver; highlighted blonder in spots and perpetually tousled. And there were, of course, vivid memories of it dyed black and shaved nearly bald as the result of lice in the trenches during the Gaelic Rebellion. But he liked it best as it was now--as it had been the day they'd met--long, her natural ashe blonde in color, and slightly unwilling to be controlled by conventional means.
Sarah nodded. "He was sentenced to life, actually. I think he served about three years before he got himself killed in a fight. The next time I saw him was when he was plotting the Rebellion. The irony of it all," she snorted out a laugh, "is that they were convinced he was IRA. And even *after* the IRA finally *did* claim responsibility, they refused to believe that he wasn't involved."
"And all the while, your Skinny Englishman was probably sitting there with that I Told You So smile of his, I bet."
She cocked her head at him, sporting an indecipherable expression that made him slightly nervous. "Yes, in fact, he did. Does that make you feel better?"
"Not especially," he admitted. "But at least I'm not the only one who doesn't trust him."
"Warren has a good heart," she sighed. "He just...lets himself become obsessed. And There But For the Grace of God go you or I, Connor."
A piece of the puzzle fell into place with a nearly audible click. Suddenly Sarah's --and Duncan's, for that matter--soft spot for Cochrane made perfect sense. Connor raised himself up onto an elbow, startled by his conclusion.
"That's it, isn't it?"
"What?" she asked.
"You think you could have wound up like he did. You think that you could have succumbed to the same kind of anger and hatred after the Forty Five."
Sarah looked down at the sheets, studying the yellow stripe in great detail. "I could have," she said, finally. "I probably would have if someone hadn't dragged me out of Scotland all together and forced me to leave it behind."
Connor crooked a finger under her jaw and raised her chin gently. "You're welcome," he said.
The next day brought with it the kind of misty rain that is only known in places where mountains and the sea are close to one another. It coalesced around them as they walked, not quite falling, but sticking to their clothing none-the-less. On the surface, it seemed a rather harmless rain, but Connor knew from centuries of experience with Highland weather that they would be soaked through to the bone before the afternoon was over.
"I still don't understand why we have to trek across the countryside in this weather," Connor muttered, flipping up the collar of his coat with unnecessary force.
Sarah elbowed him lightly, gesturing to Cochrane's back. "Just...humor him, will you?" she asked in an undertone. "Or, humor me, at least?"
He scowled. Deeply. "Fine."
Sarah shot him a mild glare, swatted him lightly on the arm, and hurried to catch up with Warren.
"Almost there," he said with a smile directed at Connor over his shoulder.
Sarah pulled up the hood of her coat against the steady rain and tucked her hair back under her collar. "Where are we going, Warren?"
"And why are we going there in the rain?" Connor added.
Cochrane stopped suddenly and turned to face him, grinning wildly. "Oh, I think the weather is just perfect for our walk. You'll see. Come on," he grabbed Sarah's hand and tugged her forward.
They continued on in the rain for another five minutes, winding up at the gate of someone's sheep pasture. Connor watched silently as Warren helped Sarah over the stile and across a muddy patch. It was a chivalrous gesture, certainly, but also completely unnecessary. She was perfectly capable of climbing a stile by herself and muddy feet had never phased her in the slightest. In fact, he was reasonably sure that she'd give them both a run for their money in a cross-country race; mud, muck, rain, and obstacles be damned.
None of this, of course, would have prevented Connor from offering a hand at that stile, had he beaten Cochrane to the gesture. A sudden memory of an early exchange with Methos came to mind, causing Connor's scowl to harden. He clearly recalled doing his very best to beat the other man to every door that Sarah walked through, just for the pure satisfaction of irritating Methos. Cochrane, no doubt, was doing the very same. And he, like Methos, had fallen for it hook, line and sinker.
There was one difference, though. Connor's competition with Methos had been without malice. He'd merely enjoyed watching the other man get worked up. Cochrane, on the other hand, seemed to have an agenda that, judging from what Sarah had shared with him regarding their walk on the battlefield yesterday, could prove dangerous. He didn't like this. Not one bit. But there wasn't much of a choice, really. Cochrane had insisted that Sarah accompany him on a walk and, regardless of the fact that he knew she was more than capable of defending herself, there was no way in Hell that Connor was going to let her go alone.
Connor took the stile in two long strides and leapt to the ground, ignoring the squelch of mud under his feet and sauntered across the pasture after them, determined not to let himself be goaded into haste. He caught up just in to for Cochrane's triumphant smile.
Sarah looked around, taking in the sheep, the rain, the mud, and the run-down shed. "Brilliant," she said. "Where's here, Warren?"
"You don't recognize it?" Warren's voice rose, teasing. "Are you sure?"
"Oh," he smiled, moving around behind her, "close your eyes, Sarah. It will all come back."
Her irritation was plain and Connor was mildly surprised to see that she allowed Cochrane to cover her eyes with his hands. He leaned against a nearby rock, anxious to see what played out.
"There were more trees, of course," Warren said. "And the road's been moved a little closer. Oh, and the well is gone, too. They probably lost some stock in it and filled it in. It never was very safe, remember?"
"Warren..." Sarah warned.
He ignored her, an intense expression of rapture written plainly on his face. "It was raining the last time we were here, too. Harder than this. You told him that it was fit for neither man nor beast."
Sarah pawed at his hands, freeing herself. "What? Told *who*?"
Connor gasped aloud as a sudden flash of memory seared across his vision. They *had* been here before. After Culloden.
"Hmmm...what was his name?" Cochrane mused. "Can't say as I really remember, honestly. Pasty fellow. Arrogant as hell--but they all were."
"Wakemore," Connor croaked. "Richard Wakemore."
Sarah blanched an impossibly pale shade of greenish white and looked around the pasture wildly. Her stomach twisted into a cold knot and her skin went hot, then frigid, leaving her in a clammy sweat. She took an involuntary step backwards, coming up short against Cochrane's chest.
"You remember!" he gripped her by the shoulders and spun her to face him, smiling triumphantly once more. "Don't you?"
Sarah screwed her eyes shut, desperately willing herself to forget.
Outside of Brodie, Scotland
Late evening, August 1746
Richard Wakemore was scared. Terrified, even. But he'd be damned if he'd let any of those Scottish bastards see it. His wrists were bound cruelly above his head; the cord biting into flesh with a ruthless tension. Aside from that, though, he was relatively unharmed. A bruised liver, perhaps--from the heavily booted foot of their leader as he'd been kicked roughly off the young girl--but nothing broken, nothing bleeding.
He scanned the small and rather dank room once again, assessing the look of the motley band of clansmen that held him hostage. The one at the door, dark and thickly muscled, returned his gaze blandly, fingering the hilt of his dirk in a plain invitation to the lieutenant. Wakemore sniffed and raised his chin, turning toward the hearth. Two more were there, both slight of frame compared to their companion, sitting closely and holding a muted conversation between bites of meat and bread. Another stood at the window, shorter than the man guarding the door, but equally solid, and looking not quite Celtic, despite his kilt and ragged hair. He'd been there since their leader--a *woman* for the love of God--had stormed out into the rain not an hour prior. There was one more in his merry band of captors: a smaller, finely boned blonde man who had taken the young woman through a small door and into what he could only presume was some kind of bed chamber. Serve the little whore right to be used hard by all of them, he thought. Bloody bitch had scratched his face. The wound stung slightly, in fact, inflamed by the sweat trickling off his brow.
"Och, the wee laddie's uncomfortable?" One of the two by the fire asked, noticing him shift in an attempt to wipe his cheek on the rather tattered and muddy sleeve of his once resplendent red coat.
"No more so than any gentleman forced to share company with a tribe of lice-ridden pigs," Wakemore answered.
The Scot leapt to his feet, a hand on his dirk, but was checked by his companion putting a hand on his elbow.
"Leave it be, Warren," the man said. "He'll get what's coming."
"Indeed," Wakemore added. "And I'll be right happy to see the lot of you hanged for your crime."
"An' what crime would *that* be, then?" the bulky one at the door answered, his lips twisting in a mirthless smile. "Och, I suppose ye're meaning the unlawful imprisonment of a member of his Majesty's army? Assuming they ever find ye', a'course."
The young lieutenant stiffened, preparing to shoot back a response, but was interrupted by the arrival of the sixth Scot. She was, he thought, impossibly tall for a woman and had a face as hard as the Highland granite. It softened for just an instant as she spoke to the man at the window and he realized that she might be quite pretty under all that filth. Most of the clanswomen were, actually. Or so his experience had been.
She vanished through the same door the blonde had, not even sparing her prisoner a glance.
"I say," Warren said casually, "that we take a piece out of his hide for every lass he's soiled."
Wakemore swallowed. That would be a lot of pieces of his hide. He'd been busy during his tenure at Inverness.
"Assumin' that he kin get enough up fer the job, ye mean."
The one next to Warren flashed a grin at his kinsman. "Aye, Duncan, assumin' that."
"Maybe we should let auld Ben take a crack at him," Duncan grinned back.
Judging by the reaction of the figure at the window, he must be "auld Ben", though the man certainly didn't *look* much past twenty. "I," he said with just a hint of the burr of his companions, "would rather have my cock ripped off by a pack of wolves than so much as set it anywhere near *that* sack of filth."
The room erupted into raucous laughter that set Wakemore's teeth on edge. He'd heard far too many stories about the sexual preferences of the Scots to find any humor in the exchange.
The noise-level dropped markedly, though, when the door opened once more.
"How is she, Sarie?" Ben asked.
In response, the woman stalked over to Wakemore and gripped him firmly by the hair, twisting a shock of it painfully. "That lass is nowt but sixteen ye' stinking Sassenach bastard."
"She was willing enough in the haystack," he answered coolly. "But if you're complaining, I'd be most happy to show you what made her beg for more. You'd likely make a better partner anyway."
Her free hand shot out and caught him between the legs with a grip that forced a yelp of pain and sent waves of white light running across his vision. He slumped forward in an effort to relieve the pressure, and was rewarded with a yank that nearly released his bladder. His head rocked forward, suddenly free of the support of her grip on his hair, only to shoot back again, encouraged by the razor point of a wicked looking dirk against his jaw.
"First," she said evenly, "ye'll tell me the details of yer damned garrison. Then, ye'll die."
He forced his eyes open, despite the pain in his crotch, and studied her face. She *was* pretty. Young, too. "They'll come for me," he said, fighting to control his voice. "And when they do, I'll personally see to it that you find your way into every bed in the fort."
Much to his surprise, she laughed. "Och, laddie, if I wanted t' do things that way, I could find my own way along. An' yer threats are pretty idle if yer men have the same wee handfuls as ye do." That last statement was marked by a sharp tug that shot more lights racing through his vision. They were compounded by a sudden stinging along his jawline and the unmistakable smell of blood.
He could hear the men in the room chuckling at her remarks, but focused instead on the fact that she had just left a searing gash along his face.
"Tis' fit fer neither man nor beast out there tonight, Sassenach," she said, dropping back a step and releasing him. "Even yer English friends 'ed rather stay inside than worrit about ye. An' by dawn, ye'll just be a corpse."
His eyes went to the window, suddenly aware of the fact that it was being battered with lashing rain and wind. Damned Highland weather. "I'll die before I tell you anything," he said.
She shrugged. "Maybe. It dinna matter much if ye don't talk, though. One dead Sassenach's as good as another."
He had the sinking feeling that she was speaking from experience.
She turned her back to Wakemore, cocking her head at the man who had called her name--the one who had calmed Warren's earlier desire to carve the lieutenant into bits. "Aye, Connor?"
The wiry Scot held up a bowl and a small mug, offering them to her. "Ye haven't eaten dinner."
She waved a dismissive hand at him. "Take it to the lass, I'm not hungry."
Wakemore watched the expression on the Highlander's face twist in a barely noticeable twinge of concern and came to the conclusion that his relationship with the woman went somewhat deeper than a mere alliance against the English. Interesting.
"Yer sure?" Connor asked.
She gave a curt nod, then turned on a heel and stalked over to the opposite corner, sinking onto a bedroll and bending to tend to the laces of her boots.
The Highlander watched her for a moment, then scowled fiercely at Wakemore on his way into the bedchamber.
Hours later, Richard Wakemore came awake to a shrieking howl that ripped through his body like the wind. Before he could get his bearings, a loud crash sounded. It was followed by two more and the sudden shaking of the small room as a door slammed open on it's hinges.
His companions, if one could call one's captors such a thing, were all instantly on their feet and armed, looking about wildly. All save one. The wiry Scot--Connor--was looking at him keenly; sporting an expression that looked to be a mixture between a mild compassion and pure malice. It was an unlikely combination that set Wakemore's skin crawling.
He scanned the room, hoping to God that the noise was his garrison arriving to rescue him. It wasn't, though. But, one of the Scots was missing. Could that be what the commotion was about?
"What is it?" Warren asked, lowering his sword slightly at the sight of Sarah in the doorway.
Sarah ignored him in favor of advancing on Wakemore, who, despite his great English resolve, began to quake. Her dirk materialized out of seemingly nowhere and before he could even squeak in fear, she buried it deeply into the inside of his right thigh, ripping downwards.
Wakemore forgot all sense of appearances and howled in agony.
"Aye, ye bleeding bastard, scream all ye want."
The dirk found its way to precisely the same spot on his left leg and repeated the gesture, laying his leg open to the bone.
"That girl," Sarah stepped back and wiped the spatters of his blood from her face with her sleeve, "took her own life and by God, yer gonna know what it's like to wish ye're dead."
Her next move was to drive the dagger deep into Wakemore's groin and twist it savagely, tearing upwards toward his ribs. She stepped back, panting slightly, and his last glimpse of the world was of her expressionless face, hard and smeared with his own blood.
"He got what he deserved, the bastard. You did right by that lass," Warren said with a curious mixture of venom and reverence. "But do you remember what came next?"
Sarah fought to control both her stomach and her temper, wishing violently to be anywhere but where she stood. "What's your point, Warren?"
"What happened next?" he repeated.
Sarah thought for a minute, but not because she truly wanted to indulge him in whatever he was hoping to accomplish by reminding her of her shame. She thought, searching her memory, because there was no other choice. Warren Cochrane had opened the floodgates and she had no control what-so-ever over the results.
"Enough, Cochrane," Connor inserted himself between them and caught Sarah around the waist in a supportive embrace. "She doesn't need to relive this. None of us do."
"Oh, there's where you're wrong, Connor MacLeod," Cochrane answered. "She needs to relive it so she can know the whole story."
"The English attacked," Sarah said suddenly. "Just after dawn. We scattered..." she paused, extending a hand to touch Connor lightly on the chest. "Connor and I barely got out of there. He jumped a guy who had me cornered...saved my neck."
Connor balled up a fist and started to turn, ready to launch a punch that would prevent what he knew was about to happen, but Cochrane beat him to it.
"Aye. But there's more to the story, isn't there, Connor?"
For one exquisitely painful moment, time ceased to move for Connor MacLeod. He saw his past. He saw the present. And he saw the potential for his future to take a sharp downward spiral straight into the toilet. He would lose her. Not just as a lover--that much he could handle, though not easily or with joy. He would lose her all together. She'd never speak to him again.
"What is he talking about, Connor?"
Sarah's voice sliced into his consciousness with razor like precision and he resisted the urge to rip Cochrane's head off with his bare hands in favor of meeting her eyes solidly.
"Tell her, MacLeod," Cochrane said with a cold smile. "Or I will."
Connor indulged himself a moment to glare at Cochrane all out, promising violence, then turned back to Sarah, struggling for the right words.
"I did it," he said, finally, his words falling flat amongst the raindrops.
Sarah shook her head, utterly baffled.
Connor drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment, then exhaled sharply. His mother's words came back to him. Sometimes, it's best just to get things over with. "I sent Bryan to Inverness to tell the garrison where we were."
She blinked at him twice, digesting his words. Then, her expression exploded into anger. "You did WHAT?"
Behind them, Cochrane chuckled.
Connor ignored him and nodded. "You heard me."
Her right arm cocked back, but Connor caught the punch before she could launch it successfully.
"I did it for you." he said. "It was the only way."
Sarah dropped her hand from his grip and took a half-step backwards, her expression cold. He should have seen it coming, but Connor was too caught up in the complete lack of anything but rage in her eyes to notice her shift in balance. Consequently, her kick caught him completely off guard and landed solidly in his solar plexus, leaving behind a perfect size nine and a half boot print.
He landed hard on his backside, fighting to keep down his lunch and trying desperately to suck in enough air to say her name.
Cochrane beat him to it.
She turned her glare on him and held up one finger in a very clear warning. "Nothing, Warren. Not one damn word."
Connor's hope soared when she bent and reached for him, but it crashed back down to earth with a resounding thud when her intent became clear. And, still, he could not draw enough breath to speak her name.
Sarah pocketed the car keys in a swift motion and spun on her heel, striking off across the muddy field alone. Even Warren Cochrane knew better than to follow.
It took Connor close to three minutes to get his breath back and once he had it, he got to his feet, wincing slightly.
"This isn't over, Cochrane," he said, heading off to follow Sarah as quickly as his lungs would allow.
Warren Cochrane watched him go, smiling in deep satisfaction. "Not til your head's on the ground, MacLeod," he called.
[End Part 4]
Somehow, despite the fact that he had been forced to walk for three miles before finding someone who would give him a lift into the closest town and then had to wait for close to half an hour for the bus back to Inverness, Connor managed to beat Sarah back to the room. He worried, at first, that she had simply left Scotland all together, but relaxed somewhat when he found her suitcase, sword, and passport still sitting where she had left them. Not *gone*, then. Just...not here. He sat down on the bed with a heavy sigh, not bothering to turn on the lights.
Two hours later, as darkness was beginning to settle across the Highlands, she arrived; soaked to the skin and still sporting a deep frown. She offered no greeting and tossed the car keys onto the dresser.
Connor watched in silence as she dug through her suitcase for dry clothes. When she retreated into the bathroom to change, he sighed and got up, turning on the lights. He sighed again as the bathroom door clicked shut. It was the first time she had closed a door on him while changing since before he'd moved into her house in Johannesburg and that alone spoke volumes about the rift Cochrane had managed to drive between them.
Sarah was a reasonable person, he knew. She was also understanding, forgiving, and knew that circumstances sometimes called for drastic measures. He'd seen her temper flare like it had in the pasture many times, but she was usually open to discussion once she had cooled down. She had a hard time letting go of betrayal, though. And that was not an unreasonable trait to have, as far as Connor was concerned.
He should have known this would happen eventually.
Sarah emerged a few minutes later, clad in her pajamas and towel drying her hair. She stopped to get a pair of socks from her suitcase, then sank down onto the bed.
"I think," she said, fixing him with a piercing gaze, "that you had better start explaining, Connor."
He nodded. "Do you want me to just tell you what happened? Or do you have questions?"
She thought about that for a moment, then shook her head. "Talk."
"Okay," he nodded again, gathering his thoughts. "Remember what you said last night about feeling like you could have wound up like Cochrane if I hadn't taken you out of Scotland?"
Sarah nodded once.
"Well...you weren't the only one who saw that potential. If, in fact, you even saw it at all at the time. I watched you sink deeper and deeper into your anger and I watched you wallow in your guilt for not being able to save Scotland. And then I decided that someone needed to save you."
He paused, hoping that his words would be enough; praying that she wouldn't want all of the details.
"All of it, Connor. I want the whole story."
He blew out a heavy sigh, knowing that she was not going to like what he was about to say.
Outside of Brodie, Scotland
Near dawn, August 1746
"Can't sleep?" Connor asked, coming to sit at Bryan's left.
Auld Ben, as he was known to Duncan and Warren Cochrane, shook his head. "I keep seeing her face--the girl's. I don't think I'll ever get that out of my head. Or any of this, for that matter."
Connor noted the sweep of Bryan's arm as he gestured to the rainy landscape. "You don't have to stay, really. It's not yer fight."
"It is," Bryan answered. "I'm not a Scot, but this is my fight as much as it's yours. I was at Culloden too, I know what happened and I'll won't sit by while it continues to happen."
Connor grunted softly and tucked one knee up to his chest, staring past the sheet of rain that ran from the thatch of the roof. It'd been a long and bloody year since the clans had fallen. He was tired. "I gave the lass my sgian," he said at length.
Bryan's head shot up from its perch on his knee. "What?!"
Connor nodded. "Bad enough that he raped her. The child shouldn't have to live with it if she doesn't want to."
Bryan's mouth fell open in shock.
"Na," Connor brought a restraining hand down lightly, but firmly onto his companion's knee, strong fingers digging into the flesh. "Yer right. It is a coward's way out. But we're not all meant to be heroes, Ben. And she's just a bairn."
Bryan's mind worked frantically for a minute, running a projection of what would happen when it was discovered that the girl had taken her own life. The Sassenach would surely pay. Dearly. Not that he minded really. Sarie had been right: one dead Englishman was as good as the next. He'd gladly gut the bastard himself. But neither Sarie nor Warren Cochrane would be that merciful.
"You....you know she'll..."
"Aye," Connor nodded. "Of course she will."
There was something odd in his tone and Bryan cocked his head, straining to get a look at Connor's face in the darkness. As usual, it was a mask of Highland composure.
"Here's what's going to happen, auld Ben. In about an hour, yer gonna ride for the fort."
"I am?" Bryan asked, wondering when he had agreed to participate in Connor's plan--whatever it may be.
Connor nodded again. "Nice and leisurely, too. Come dawn, yer going to tell them yer an Italian cousin of Laird Brodie and that there's something going on down at the milkshed on yer lands."
It was madness. The entire garrison would ride out. They'd all be hung. Or worse.
"Really. Seems a band of clansmen--outlaws, ye think--have holed up there. Ye think, but yer not quite sure, that they may have a prisoner. Being a Brodie and all, yer just thinking that they might like to know this bit of information. In the spirit of things."
It was beginning to make some degree of sense, actually. The Brodies had somehow managed to remain neutral throughout the Rising and were on decent terms with the English stationed at Inverness. In fact, they were one of the few clans who had managed to retain their lands without swearing loyalty to King George while at the same time managing to avoid the wrath of their fellow Scots. Brodie castle was perhaps the only one in the whole of the Highlands that hadn't been burned by either side. *He* likely wouldn't be harmed. "They'll kill you all," he said. "Or worse, throw you in prison."
Connor hitched up one shoulder, silently weighing the odds. "Duncan can fend fer himself. So can Warren. And yer James is a right mean bastard when he wants to be. They'll fight their way out and be just fine."
"You left out two names, Connor."
A moment of silence fell and Bryan grew rapidly impatient. "And?"
"Sarah will be with me. Bound for...anywhere but here. Even if I have to knock her out, bind her, and throw her over my saddle."
Bryan's jaw went slack. This was *not* what he thought it would be. "You'd put us all at risk to get her out of here? Why?"
Connor stood in one swift movement and reached into the folds of his kilt. For an instant, Bryan tensed, thinking that a knife was about to appear. Instead, he heard a soft jingling as Connor produced something from his sporran.
"Because *that*," he answered, pointing to the window, "is not the Sarah MacGreggor that I know. And she won't get out of this until she's dragged out--we both know that. And because *this* is a losing war and we all need out. Take this," Connor pressed a small purse into Bryan's hand. "It isn't much, but is should help ye and wee James get out of Scotland."
With that, he stretched mightily and disappeared back into the shed. An hour later, Bryan saddled his horse and turned its head to the northwest, bound for Inverness.
Sarah was impossibly still and silent for a long time. Decades, it felt like. He watched her, slightly awed by the fact that her thoughts were so clearly written on her face. Everything was right there for him to see as she worked through the details--weighing them carefully against both logic and emotion.
There were a million things Connor wanted to say. Apologies. Explanations. Professions of his own emotional attachments. All rose to his tongue and were clamped down by an supreme effort of will. There would be no pushing her to a conclusion. Not if he had any hope of it coming down in his favor, at any rate. The best thing he could do--the only thing, really--would be to sit and wait patiently for her to digest it all and then act in accordance with whatever decision she came to.
It was, in a word, Hell.
When she finally spoke, Sarah's voice was rough with emotion. "They all could have been captured," she said.
"You knew what the English did to their prisoners of war."
He nodded again.
"And you did it anyway. You dragged me onto that boat and we went to America and never looked back."
Connor nodded once more, dreading what he knew was coming next.
"Why? Why put them all at risk for me?"
He didn't have a neat and clean answer for that one. There wasn't one reason that could be pointed to as explanation for why he had been willing to sacrifice their friends and his own kinsman for the sake of saving her sanity. His motives were tangled up in visions of battlefields and bloody straw, filthy blankets they had shared to stay warm, hunger-hollowed cheeks, and a painfully vivid recollection of the absence of her smile.
"I don't know," he said. "I asked myself that all the way to Boston and every day for three years after that. All I can tell you is that I knew it needed to happen, no matter the cost. And, even now, I don't regret it."
She went silent again, withdrawing into the task of assessing the new information and holding it up against her sense of loyalty and honor.
Connor began to count the folds in the curtains silently to keep himself from losing his mind. From there, he moved on to the slats on the floor between his feet and then to the embossed thistles on the bed frame, wondering idly what was going to happen if he ran out of things to distract himself with before she spoke again.
The very thought must have tempted fate, though, because no sooner than he had begun examination of the wrinkles in her pajama bottoms was the tension in the room split by the sensation of another immortal approaching the house.
Sarah got up wordlessly and went to the window, pulling back the drapes. She sighed aloud at the sight of Warren Cochrane striding up the drive.
"He challenged me," Connor said. "In the pasture this afternoon."
She nodded, not bothering to turn to face him.
Connor stood, reaching for his coat. "I have to go."
Sarah nodded again and twisted the latch on the window. She waited until the door closed softly before raising the pane and leaning out onto the sill.
Outside, Warren Cochrane stopped in the oblong square of light thrown from her room and smiled up at Sarah. "It's all come to light then, Sarah," he said.
"It has," she answered.
"Good," he nodded, obviously satisfied with the results of his efforts.
Sarah shook her head, confused. "Why, Warren? Why now, after all this time?"
He scratched the back of his head in thought, then smiled up at her again. "They took Charlie from us, Sarah, and I knew he had to go. But I never believed that you left Scotland of your own will and I thought you should know that he betrayed us all. I heard them planning that night. And you know what we think about turncoats."
Sarah opened her mouth to reply, but found herself utterly lacking the ability to form a sentence. There was too much to digest. Too many images of the past flying around in her head to make sense of. Turncoats? Had Connor betrayed Scotland? Had he even betrayed her? Or had he done what he believed he had to do? And wasn't she. after all, grateful for that action, even though she hadn't known the whole of it until today?
Connor appeared on the drive before words came to her, his shoulders straight under the fabric of his coat and the katana glinting slightly in his hand. She watched him nod a greeting to Warren, then closed the window and pulled the drapes.
"Tiaraidh, Warren," she said, finally. "Beannachd leat."
NOTE: Translation: "Tiaraidh" -- goodbye
"Beannachd leat" -- (literally) Blessings with you.
[End Part 5]
Connor knew Sarah had left the B&B before he even crossed the threshold. Even without the lack of her buzz, he sensed that she had packed her things and left Scotland. He was too tired to panic, though; too overwhelmed from the Quickening rattling around inside of him and struggling to merge with his own to act.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to pick up the pieces.
He fell into bed fully clothed, not even bothering to crawl under the covers, and sank into a deep slumber that was haunted throughout by chaotic dreams that once belonged to Warren Cochrane.
In the morning, he stumbled down to breakfast and gulped black coffee until he felt somewhat human again. A traditional Highland Breakfast of eggs, toast, sausage, and grilled tomatoes helped the effort somewhat and by the time Connor was ready to settle up with their hostess, he was already ticking through a list of possible places Sarah might have gone in the back of his head.
"Oh, before you go, yer wife left a wee note," the heavyset and aging woman said with a smile, tucking the wad of bills he'd just passed her into her apron pocket.
Connor blinked in abject shock. "She did?"
"Aye, hold on, I'll get it," she retreated into the kitchen for a moment, then reappeared with a folded slip of paper in her hand. "There you go, lad."
Connor thanked her profusely and shouldered his bag, heading for the door. He was halfway to the bus stop before he managed to work up the nerve to open the note. It was most likely a directive to leave her alone. He knew that. And who could blame her, really. He'd put their friends at risk. He'd killed an innocent girl with everything but his own hands. And, worst of all, he'd lied to Sarah.
The paper was torn from a brochure she'd picked up at the Culloden Visitor's Center. It was battered and frayed from having spent time in her back pocket and the drawing of Bonny Prince Charlie that Sarah had scrawled across in black marker bore little resemblance to the man himself. But Connor barely noticed.
The only thing that mattered to him were the two words Sarah had left.
He arrived in Johannesburg twelve hours later, bone tired and smelling bad enough to offend even his own nose. Sarah wasn't home, but their cat, Oglethorpe, greeted him enthusiastically, complaining about an empty food bowl. Connor scooped him up, tucked him into the crook of his elbow on the way into the kitchen and, like any proper cat owner, attended to Ogie's needs promptly. He stopped to watch the rather portly feline purr happily over his meal for a moment, then headed for the shower. Ten minutes later, he was fast asleep in their bed.
When Sarah woke him with a gentle poke to his ribs, it was significantly darker in the room; alerting Connor to the fact that he must have slept through the entire day. He sat up groggily, scratching the stubble on his chin, and stretched until bones popped in his back.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
His stomach grumbled at the mere mention of food. Breakfast was a long time ago. "Very."
She nodded, smiling. "There's a stew on. It should be done in an hour or so."
Connor moved to throw back the covers and get up, but realized that his left leg was pinned to the bed by Ogie's weight. He tugged at the tip of the cat's tail lightly, urging him to move, but was rewarded only with a sleepy stretch, a yawn, and a casual glance through one green eye.
"You're warm," Sarah offered, reaching out to run her hand down Ogie's back.
He caught her fingers and tugged, pulling her down next to him amongst the pillows without resistance. Sarah settled in on her back and gave his hand a squeeze, but her eyes were fixed solidly on the ceiling.
"We need to paint," she said.
Connor tore his gaze away from her neck and looked up. "Yeah. But not tonight."
To his surprise, she chuckled. "No, not tonight."
Oglethorpe stood and stretched, then paced calmly up to Connor's chest, preparing to take up residence there, but the immortal pushed him off gently in favor of rolling to face her. "I'm sorry," he said.
"I know you are, Connor."
He waited for more. Waited to hear "but it's okay" or "and I forgive you", but she didn't cooperate. Ogie joined them on the bed once more, this time choosing Sarah's legs as his couch. Connor watched the cat settle himself before rolling away with a sigh. He got out of bed and crossed to the spot where he'd left his jeans, pulling a wrapped object from his back pocket.
She raised an eyebrow at him.
Connor thumped the object against his palm twice, then climbed back into bed, passing it to her. "Cochrane asked me to give this to you," he said.
Her eyes narrowed in confusion and he saw a flicker of both hope and relief cross her face. "You didn't..."
He shook his head. "Before the fight."
Sarah held the small package in her hand for a moment before beginning to unwrap the string that bound it. She couldn't imagine what Warren would give her, nor did she particularly want to think about the circumstances surrounding the present.
The cloth fell away, revealing a small knife. She recognized it immediately, but couldn't stop herself from turning it over to check for an authenticating mark. Sure enough, there were her initials, carved neatly under the band of silver on the sheath. She ran her thumb over them. SGM.
"What is it?" Connor asked.
Sarah offered him her outstretched palm. "My sgian dubh. I loaned it to him just before Prestonpans because he lost his crossing a river," she paused, a sudden smile coming to her lips. "When I asked for it back after the battle, he told me that it was a good luck charm and that he would return it when the war was over. I carved my initials onto it so he wouldn't forget it was mine."
Connor took the knife from her and pulled the blade, examining it in the half-light. The hilt and sheath were well worn and polished smooth from centuries of being carried on Cochrane's person, but the blade itself was honed to razor sharpness and had been burnished smooth of all knicks but one--a notch about the width of a paperclip halfway up the left edge.
Sarah tapped the blade with her index finger, just above the notch. "From the first time I used it. Warren killed an officer outside of an inn and I caught the blade on the buckle of his ammo pouch when I was cutting it from his belt. Actually," she paused, "I think that was the only time I used it."
He re-sheathed the knife and handed it back to her. "Looks like he took good care of it."
She nodded. "He was a good man, Connor, no matter what you might think."
"I never denied that," he answered. "I fought with him too, Sarah. I know that his heart was in the right place."
Sarah got up abruptly, ignoring Oglethorpe's meow of protest, and paced over to the window. She parted the curtains and glanced outside, then sighed and flopped into a nearby chair. "I think it was my fault," she said, finally.
Connor shook his head in confusion. "Your fault?"
"Warren. I left him there, Connor. I left him in the middle of an ambush and got on that boat."
He snorted, a wide smile cracking his face. Leave it to Sarah to blame herself for something completely out of her control. "Sarah, in case you forgot, you were carried onto that boat. Unconscious."
"Still," she said, "he must have felt like I abandoned him. Abandoned Scotland. And maybe he was right. Maybe I did both."
Connor's feet moved of their own accord, bringing him to kneel in front of her chair. "No," he said. "You would have stayed. Blame me if you have to blame someone."
She shook her head. "You were doing what you thought was right. I...I hated you for the first part of that voyage and then I let myself fall in love with Timothy and forgot all about what we were leaving behind."
A smile cracked his face. It hadn't been his intention to introduce her to her second husband aboard the Flora Marie, but the young Scot--a fellow passenger--proved to be a welcome diversion. "That was sort of the point, Sarah," he said. "For you to forget what we were leaving behind."
"At what cost, though?" she asked, wiping her eyes with the corner of her sleeve. "Look at the price Warren paid. Look at what happened to Duncan, even. If I had been there..."
"If you had been there," he cut in smoothly, "it would have continued on as it had been until one or all of us were caught by the English. If it makes it easier for you, think of what I did as a favor to the rest of them and not for your benefit. If you had stayed, you would have kept planning raids until our luck ran out...until someone was tortured, or worse."
"Gee, Connor," she sniffled, offering a small smile, "your faith in my leadership skills is overwhelming."
He answered her smile broadly and brushed a thumb across her cheek. "You are an amazing leader, Sarah. But even the best generals have to fall eventually. I just took you out of the fight before someone else could, that's all."
"And saved everyone else in the process," she added.
"Exactly," he grinned. "I'm the hero."
Much to his delight, she laughed. "Remind me to commission a statue."
Connor stood, pulling her to her feet as well. He tugged her into an embrace and squeezed, kissing her neck twice just below her ear. "I'd settle for some postcards, but a statue would be nice. Now, come on, I'm starved."
"Wait," Sarah planted her feet as he moved to lead her out of the room. "I have one question."
Connor raised his eyebrows expectantly.
She swallowed and looked down at his bare feet for a moment before gathering the words to ask. "Did he fight well? Warren, I mean."
Connor knew who she meant. He knew that Warren Cochrane would be on Sarah's mind for several days to come and he also knew that this was not likely to be the last of their discussion of the topic, but this one, at least, had an easy answer.
He nodded once. "He fought with great passion, conviction, and courage. Exactly what I would have expected from him."
To Part 14: The Sun Will Rise
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