Standard disclaimer: the concept of Immortality and the characters of Methos belongs to Rysher and is copyrighted by them. This story is for fun, not for profit.
The other characters are copyrighted by me, Vi Moreau.
Manhattan, August 1993
"Connor!" Tessa opened her mouth in surprise, then smiled. "How good to see you!" she exclaimed, really meaning it. Connor could tell.
"Hello Tessa," he said, smiling back. She was a beautiful woman, several inches taller than Brenda had been.
"Well, please come in," she said, stepping out of the doorway and ushering him inside.
Ma Maison was a small, private, very exclusive hotel overlooking Central Park, and Connor always sent his out-of-town guests here. Since it would have been ... inappropriate ... for Tessa to stay with him, Connor had suggested that Duncan make reservations for Tessa and Richie here instead.
As he walked inside Connor quickly and automatically scanned the suite, looking for other exits--a far window on the third floor. Not an easy jump but doable. He also knew there was a second door into the hallway from one of the bedrooms. And the living room area allowed plenty of room to fight, if necessary....
Satisfied for now, he turned back to give Tessa all his attention.
She was saying, "I didn't expect you until tonight. We're still going to see "Cats," right? Or has something come up?"
Connor said, quickly, "No. I just wanted to come by ..." And make sure you were all right, he thought, "... and see if you needed anything. Before tonight, that is."
"No, we're fine," she answered. "In fact, I had an appointment to go back to the bank this morning to talk to them again about the statue they want for their lobby, but they cancelled it. They said they had everything they needed, and would contact me. I hope." She smiled. "So actually, we have all day free."
Duncan had told him that Tessa was one of several sculptors who had been invited to New York to make a presentation on a commission for a statue for the lobby of the Bank of America. "You should have let me know. I'm free all day, too," Connor answered.
"Well, I just had their call. And besides, I didn't want to bother you."
Connor knew that shorthand. "It's no bother at all, Tessa. You're family."
Tessa had the good grace to blush slightly, but it was more with pleasure than guilt. He thought. And with amusement.
Grinning slightly, she said, "I have some family members, believe me, that I would go out of my way to avoid." She held out her hand and he took it, then she put hers on top of his. "I am very glad to see you again, Connor," she said, sincerity glowing in her fabulous green eyes.
Connor was pleased and flattered, as any man would be. "I'm glad to be here," he said.
She released his hand and waved him to a seat. The living room area of the suite had an ecru couch in front of the fireplace, cold and unlit in August. On a small coffee table were the remains of a breakfast--a pot of yogurt, some orange slices, the remains of toast and a silver coffee service.
As Connor walked to the sofa, he could sense Richie's weak Quickening and wondered if Richie Ryan was still asleep. At nine in the morning? Even on vacation--Ma Maison had a tiny but well-equipped weight room. Perhaps he would mention it to Richie.
Before she sat, she motioned to the food. "I still have some coffee. Or I can order you some tea, perhaps. Or something stronger?" she finished, with a small smile.
Connor shook his head. It was too early for something stronger. "I'm fine, thank you, Tessa."
She sat across from him, a slim, straight, elegant figure in a simple black dress that didn't completely cover her thighs, must have cost a fortune and flattered her immensely. Connor remembered that Brenda looked good in black. Although Tessa's curly hair, laying against the dress, was longer and blonder.
"So. When Duncan called you last night, did he tell you why he didn't come with us to New York?"
"Danger, Will Robinson!" thought Connor. His eyebrows went up in surprise. "I thought you were here about possibly doing some sculpting for the bank ... Bank of America?" he asked.
"Yes, and Duncan didn't come because he had to go to an auction and get a Hawken rifle reputed to have been owned by Jim Bridger for one of our clients." She took a deep breath, then said, "What I want to know is if he had some other kind of 'business,' that he didn't tell me about, Connor."
Connor took a moment to answer. He was on shaky ground here, and although Tessa knew about the dangers of Immortality ... but he looked across at her. He remembered how Tessa had followed Duncan after the fight against Slan Quince, even though Duncan had said he was leaving her. She loved his kinsman with a fierce, proud heart, and Connor couldn't lie to her. Well, not unless he absolutely had to. Fortunately, he didn't--this time. "He didn't tell me anything either, Tessa."
"Ah, so there is something to tell!" she accused.
Connor shook his head. "No. Not that I know of," he amended. Meanwhile he wondered, why did Duncan send Tessa and Richie alone to New York? No client could be that important, not as important as Tessa.
Didn't Duncan know how dangerous the city was and how fragile she was, how mortal, how easily she could have died at Slan's hands, how easily Brenda could have died when the Kurgan took her? Hadn't Duncan learned with Little Deer that he had to be with the woman he loved, had to protect her? And didn't Duncan realize that they all die anyway, even if you are with her, sitting right next to her--
"Is something wrong, Connor?" Tessa asked, interrupting his thoughts.
Realizing she'd seen something he wanted to hide from her, he shook his head, giving himself time to calm the rage and anguish inside him. "I was just thinking ... Look, Tessa, if Duncan did have some 'business' it would be ... par for the course. It's what we do," he said, shrugging. "And Duncan is very good at it, believe me," he added, in his most reassuring tone.
"I know," she said, a bit reassured. But she was still worried. "Should I call him?" she asked.
Connor shook his head again. "You know him best. Do you trust him?" he asked her in turn.
She leaned towards him. "Actually, I think you know him best. Which is why I'm asking you."
"Tessa--" he began.
But she'd obviously been thinking about it, because she interrupted, saying, "As to whether I trust him ... yes. Yes, I do. I--"
Her sentence was interrupted by a door opening, and they turned as Richie Ryan came out of his bedroom. He was dressed in navy cotton pajamas, and was rubbing his head sleepily.
Sleeping in for an Immortal-to-be was not a good idea, Connor thought. Duncan should have started the indoctrination by now--subtly, of course, since Richie didn't know what he was. But it could be done, and it was never too early to start. Right now this boy was as fragile as the woman. And particularly vulnerable.
Connor stood to meet Richie, who paused and murmured something like, "Sir Lansing?" in a surprised tone. "Oh. Yeah."
"I beg your pardon?" Connor asked.
"Richie," Tessa said. "Although you two have met, I don't believe you've been properly introduced," Tessa said, pursing her lips in amusement.
"I know who you are," Richie said. He hesitated for only a second before moving forward and extending his hand to Connor. "You're Connor MacLeod."
Connor smiled and nodded, shaking Richie's hand. It was a good strong grip, although the boy needed to fill out and harden up. The blue eyes were open and honest and sparkled with intelligence. The openness he would grow out of; the honesty was good, up to a certain point. The intelligence was all-important. There was a lot here to work with. But apparently Duncan had done very little. The boy needed to be prepared or he would die. Connor had a sudden strong urge to grab Duncan by his ponytail and shake him, but he hid that feeling quite well.
"And you are Richie Ryan. Duncan has told me quite a lot about you," he said calmly.
"He has?" Richie asked, releasing Connor's hand. His voice held a slight undertone of worry. It made Connor smile all over again.
"Richie, Connor stopped by to say hello," Tessa explained. "And yes, we're still going to see "Cats" tonight. I've really been looking forward to it. And the late dinner afterwards."
"Sounds good to me. As long as ... hey, this play, "'Cats?'"--it's nothing educational, right?" Richie asked, glancing with a bit of suspicion at Tessa.
Connor chuckled. He could imagine the elegant, artistic Tessa Noel trying to drum some culture into this street-smart youngster's head. By comparison, the "challenge" of the Kurgan or Slan Quince were a walk in the park. "Well, it is based on a poem by T.S. Eliot, but it's strictly for fun."
"Okay, fun is good. And I'm always up for a free meal."
Connor remembered that Duncan had mentioned that Richie Ryan liked to eat. A lot. Something else to work on. Richie wouldn't always have the metabolism of an adolescent. As an adult, he'd have to be break those careless teenage habits if he wanted to survive.
"What about John? Or Rachel?" Tessa asked. "Is John available? I'd love to meet them."
"It's Friday night. John is spending the night at a friend's--something to do with Atari and pizza, I'm sure. But I'll call Rachel, see if she's free tonight. And since you have the rest of the day, what are your plans?"
"We're going sightseeing," Tessa answered. "Richie wants to go to the top of the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty." She paused, then had an inspiration. "Connor, why don't you join us?"
"I don't want to intrude," Connor began, not wanting to overstay his welcome. "It's a nice clear day. You should have good visibility."
"Intrude? Don't be silly! You said so yourself--we're family! I should have thought of this before--of course we'd love to have you! You're the expert on Manhattan. I understand you've lived here just forever!" Tessa grinned, then stood and leaned toward Connor again. "Won't you please be our tour guide?" she asked.
Connor thought, Brenda used to have that same cute pouty expression when she wanted something. He had never been able to say no to her, either.
"All right," Connor relented. "I yield to your wishes, Tessa," he said, bowing graciously.
"All right! An insider's view," Richie contributed. "A private tour of the real Manhattan."
"Thank you, kind sir," Tessa said, giving Connor the real one-hundred- watt smile.
"Why don't you get yourselves together, maybe have some breakfast, Richie? I'll be back to pick you up in an hour."
"Yeah. I'm starving!"
Tessa chuckled. "That's nothing new!"
"I know another place we can go," Connor suggested, with a sudden wicked inspiration of his own. "The Metropolitan Museum has an exhibit--"
"No!" Richie interrupted, holding two fingers in front of him in the shape of a cross and brandishing it at Connor. "Back, you evil culture- fiend, you! Back!"
Connor chuckled and Tessa laughed. To Richie he said, "I'll retreat before you get out your wooden stake, van Helsing. And I'll bring John along, get him away from that Pac-Man for a while. He'd actually make a better tour guide than I would."
"That would be wonderful!" Tessa exclaimed. "I'm very eager to meet John."
Duncan had told Connor that Tessa liked children. Brenda had also wanted a child, and they'd started talking about adoption. But it never happened. They'd run out of time on a slick highway in Scotland. Well, Connor had his adopted child. John was a good kid. Too bad Brenda had never met him. You would have liked him, Brenda, he thought.
"Good," Connor said. He turned to the door, but first ... "There is something I need to ask you, Richie. What did you call me before? Sir something?"
Richie blushed slightly. "Sir Lancelot. You know, like King Arthur and the Round Table and stuff. On account of when I first saw you, the swords and all...."
"Ah," Connor said, nodding, then thought, time to see how young Mr. Ryan does when a little bit of pressure is applied. "Lancelot is an interesting choice. Do you know what Sir Lancelot is famous for?"
"Sure, I guess. Rescuing fair maidens and killing dragons and so on."
"That too," Connor replied. Then he said, in a harsher tone, "But he was most well known for being a liar and traitor to his friend and king, Arthur, by becoming the Queen's lover, thereby starting a civil war which ultimately destroyed Camelot."
He studied Richie quite openly for a reaction.
The boy blushed again, this time more deeply. He'd have to try to learn to control that tell-tale sign, Connor thought, although with such a light complexion, it was almost impossible. But there were ways--
"Yeah? Well, I didn't know ... I mean ... that's not what I meant. About you. When I called you Sir Lancelot," he said, stammering a little.
For a moment Connor said nothing. He could sense Tessa's anger, but she wasn't saying anything either. Wise woman.
"Hey, Connor--" Richie began.
"Don't worry about it, Richie, it's just a legend," Connor interrupted, finally breaking his silence.
"Yeah, that's right," Richie said, visibly relieved. "You know, man-- sword and sorcery."
"Right," Connor agreed. A little flustered, but Richie hadn't been actually afraid, or hadn't shown it, anyway, which was good enough. All in all the experiment--
"Speaking of swords, and Immortals...." Richie segued smoothly.
Connor was intrigued. "Yes?"
"Richie--" Tessa began, in a warning tone.
"No, Tessa, I just wanted to ask ... and I appreciate your wanting to take us out on the town and all, but ... Mac said New York City was full of Immortals."
Connor wondered if that was why Duncan had called him, in case any pesky Immortals happened to wonder by. Maybe that was why Duncan had let Tessa and Richie come alone--because Duncan knew that Connor would be here to protect them.
Richie had drawn himself up, and now he took one step toward Connor. It was a classic, instinctive, intimidating move, one Richie had certainly learned living on the street.
"All big cities tend to attract Immortals," Connor agreed mildly, holding his ground and wondering where this was going.
"I mean, no offense or anything, but wouldn't your being with us kind of tend to attract Immortals? Which we definitely don't want, right?"
"Of course not," Tessa said. "I'm sure that's not what Connor intended. Or Duncan."
"No, but you do bring up a good point," Connor replied. He had to admit he was impressed. The boy had pushed back, and quite effectively. Richie Ryan was not going to let a challenge--any challenge, it seemed-- go unanswered. Good. Very good. "It is possible that I will attract an Immortal." It's also possible you might attract an Immortal, Richie, he thought. "But then again, I can always drive them away again. Perhaps even permanently," Connor added, his eyes glittering slightly.
"Yeah. You're right. I just wanted to ... bring it up," Richie said.
You just wanted to hit back, boy. "I understand," Connor said. The two men nodded at each other.
"So, I'll go shower, and we'll get some breakfast. I better hurry," Richie said.
They watched Richie go back into his bedroom, then Connor said, "See you in an hour, Tessa."
"We'll be ready," Tessa said, but her voice was tight.
Connor walked toward the door, with Tessa following. He waited for her to say something.
Sure enough, as she opened the door for him, she said, "You didn't have to be so rough on him. He was paying you a compliment."
She was protective of the boy. And she hits back too, Connor thought. He was pleased, and he let it show in his lightning quick smile to her. Duncan was surrounding himself with the right kind of people this time, a strong, intelligent--not to mention beautiful--woman he could be proud to love and a gutsy student who would stand up for himself. Good for Duncan.
But what Duncan wasn't doing right was not protecting the woman and not preparing the boy. Connor shouldn't be here with them--Duncan should be here. And Connor shouldn't be testing the boy, or challenging him, or doing anything other than being a friendly "uncle" figure. It was Duncan's job, not Connor's. Duncan's woman. Duncan's pre-Immortal student.
Connor sighed. He had intruded, and he had no right to. "I know he was," he said to Tessa. "I just don't much care for Lancelot du Lac, or for Camelot. Too idealistic. Too romantic."
Suddenly he remembered that Brenda had once called him her own personal Sir Gawain, and he felt a wave of pain and love and loss which left him slightly breathless. He swallowed, making sure that this time his expression was perfectly placid.
Tessa stood with one hand on the door, studying him. She pursed her lips, not amused this time--but most of the anger had left her by now. She argued, "There's nothing wrong with a little romance, Connor."
Obviously Tessa doesn't hold a grudge, he thought. And this time she hadn't seen anything, he realized. "Romance is for poets," he said, shaking his head softly, then crossed the threshold and left without once looking back.
"Yes, I guess it is," he heard her whisper, right before she closed the door behind him.
An hour and ten minutes later, when Tessa and Richie walked out of the small lobby of Ma Maison, Connor was leaning nonchalantly, his arms crossed, against a black stretch limo, complete with uniformed driver. Next to him was John, holding the same pose, although the boy jumped up towards the Richie and Tessa the moment they appeared. Amused by his son's enthusiasm, Connor followed, grinning.
"Connor, this is fabulous!" Tessa said, her eyes gleaming with surprise and pleasure.
"Glad you like it," he said, shrugging.
"Check it out!" Richie exclaimed, looking over the limo. "Hey," he said to the boy, "you must be John. I'm Richie Ryan." Richie held out his hand.
"John MacLeod," the boy said solemnly, shaking Richie's hand. Then he broke into an open grin. "Richie, you got a bike, don't you?"
"Oh, yeah," Richie answered.
"John, this is Tessa Noel," Connor said, putting a hand on the boy's shoulder and steering him towards Tessa.
Tessa bent so she was eye-to-eye with John. "John, I'm so glad to meet you. How do you do?" she said, shaking his hand.
"I'm fine, thank you. And you?"
"I'm fine, too. And you are a very nice gentleman. Tell me, how old are you now, twelve?"
"Almost eleven. And I won't ask you how old you are, Miss Noel. Dad says never to ask a lady her age," John said, explaining.
Tessa straightened up, a look of surprise and amusement on her face. She glanced briefly at Connor, then smiled at John. "Your Dad gives good advice. And he told me you're going to be our tour guide today."
"Yeah, I know all about New York!" John agreed enthusiastically.
"I'm looking forward to it," she said. "So, can I get you to call me Tessa?"
"Sure, Tessa." John turned away from her and said, "Come on, Richie!"
The driver opened the door for them, and the two youngsters piled inside.
Tessa paused before going inside and said to Connor, "You didn't have to go to all this trouble."
"Well, it was either this or the subway. This is cooler," Connor answered, grinning himself.
"Yeah! Way cool!" Richie said from inside the limousine.
Connor had meant temperature-wise. It was another hot summer day in the city. But he, too, thought it was "way cool."
They went to the top of the Empire State Building and put many quarters in the telescopes, then took the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty, John and Richie chattering the whole time. They drove through Greenwich Village, and John happily pointed out the antique store in the building he and Connor lived in--and owned. They had lunch at a real New York deli, and Tessa indulged in two bites of a slice of blueberry cheesecake which she claimed was "magnifique!"
Then they stopped to check out Madison Square Garden and drove by Rockefeller Center, with Connor making several "historical" comments about the island all along the way. Tessa took lots of pictures, including one of Connor and John with Richie.
Finally, the limousine dropped them off on the south end of Central Park, and they walked through the zoo. Connor smiled to himself when he overheard John whisper to Richie that he liked the tigers because, "They remind me of Dad, a little, the way he walks."
John ran through the park, and they finally corralled him for a tour of Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage, much to Tessa's delight.
Brenda had loved the horse-drawn carriages, too, and for one instant, just one brief second, he was back at that fall night, six years ago. Brenda was sitting next to him, close enough to touch. He could see her, could even hear her voice, saying, "Connor, this is so romantic...." He blinked once, and she was gone, leaving an ache inside him, again. Connor shook himself clear of the memories, but not of the feeling, as they arrived at Central Park West, across the street from Tessa and Richie's hotel.
Connor didn't sense the other Immortal until just before dessert, so he eschewed the raspberry tart he'd been considering and his after-dinner brandy. If he'd been alone with Rachel, he simply would have made his excuses. But he didn't want to upset Tessa if possible, so he steadfastly refused to look around. If the Immortal actually came inside the restaurant, Connor would sense him or her getting closer. The real trick, of course, would be to keep the woman sitting across the table from him from realizing what he was hiding.
He looked across the table at Rachel, feeling a surge of warmth and protectiveness engulf him. After killing the Kurgan, Connor had moved with Brenda to Scotland. Then Brenda had died in that terrible accident--Connor still had nightmares about it, the car rolling over and over, his Brenda's face almost unrecognizable after the crash, her body broken, smashed--and Connor had relocated to Marrakesh, found John and adopted him. And now he came to New York with John only for a month in the summer, and for the Christmas holidays--there were too many Immortals in the city, too much danger for John.
Because, in spite of his intentions to move on and to disappear, Connor found he couldn't just abandon Rachel--not after so many years, not after what the two of them had meant to each other. Rachel had decided to stay home, in the U.S., in the city she'd grown to love so much, and she still ran his antique business for him.
Dessert came and went without any Immortal incidents, however, and Connor refused coffee as well. He was a little too full as it was, and he had a feeling he'd be fighting soon. But first, he was going to get the women and Richie home safely. He smiled to himself. If he could wait, the other Immortal could wait, too.
Over Tessa's objections, he paid the bill, then asked the maitre d' to get them a taxi. They waited inside in the air conditioning until it arrived, then piled in. Connor glanced around quickly but didn't spot anyone--however, the Immortal sensation followed them. Probably in one of the other yellow cabs on Ninth Avenue with them, Connor figured.
They reached Rachel's apartment building, and Connor said to Tessa, "I like to walk Rachel to her door, Tessa. Why don't you and Richie wait inside the lobby of her building?" The Immortal was closer than ever. He didn't want to leave Duncan's lover and future student alone in the cab.
"Would you like to come up for a moment?" Rachel asked, ever gracious.
Connor could hear the tiredness in her voice, however.
Apparently Tessa had heard it, too. "No, that's very sweet of you, Rachel, but it's late," Tessa answered. "We'll just wait here in the taxi, Connor."
Connor shook his head softly, his hand tightening on the back of the front seat. Once again he resisted the urge to look around the street-- he'd do that when he got out of the car, when it was less obvious. "It's late, and the streets are relatively empty. You'd be safer coming inside." He put a little steel in his voice.
Richie said, "Hey, man, not to worry. I'll take care of her."
But this time Tessa nodded. "Richie, Connor knows this city better than we do. We should do what he says," she argued, then opened the taxi door.
Relieved, Connor told the cabbie, "Wait here."
As they were walking to the building, Tessa put her arm into Rachel's and said, "It was so nice meeting you at last, and under such pleasant circumstances. I think...."
Letting them walk ahead, Connor glanced down the sidewalk once more--and saw a woman standing at the end of the block. Wearing a trenchcoat. In the summer. Thar she blows, cap'n!
Well, she could wait.
He went on inside, feeling sure Tessa and Richie would be safe in the lobby for a few minutes, and nodded at Patrick, the guard. When Connor had first come back to New York in 1988 with John, he had decided to beef up security in Rachel's apartment building. So, with the consent of the condominium board, he'd hired a team which was more than just rent-a-cops. Every member of the group was a former military operative, well-trained and armed to the teeth, and Patrick had been here for several years. He knew Connor on sight, of course.
"Hello, Patrick," Rachel said.
"Miss Ellenstein, Mr. Nash," Patrick said. "I hope Johnny's doing well, sir."
Connor smiled slightly. As far as he knew, Patrick was the only person whom John allowed to call him 'Johnny.' "He's fine, Patrick. Thank you. I'll walk Rachel upstairs," Connor said to him, glancing at Tessa and Richie significantly. "And these are Tessa Noel and Richie Ryan."
Patrick nodded minutely and greeted the visitors while Connor took Rachel upstairs.
Just before Rachel went into her apartment, she turned to him, put her arms around his neck, and with a brave, bright smile, asked him, "Is she anyone you know?"
Connor gave her his lightning smile and shook his head ruefully. "I'm not sure."
"I had a great time. Call me when you can," was all she said, then kissed him on the cheek and closed the door. Rachel never said anything else, never made any demands on him. Brenda, on the other hand, had clung to him very tightly the few times he'd had to go fight, then let him go abruptly with one single command: "Don't lose your head. Don't you die on me, Connor."
But he had to put Brenda out of his mind, had to get ready. Connor took several deep breaths in the elevator, pulling air into his lungs and oxygen into his bloodstream. Enough was enough. His opponent had shown herself--time to face her.
Once he got Tessa and Richie safely out of the way, of course.
He pressed his arm to his side, feeling the reassurance of the katana under his light trenchcoat.
Once he got downstairs again, the three walked back out to the waiting taxicab. Connor quickly glanced down the sidewalk--she was still there. She didn't seem like anyone he knew--and he knew very few Immortal women--but she was far away and standing with the streetlight deliberately behind her, so her face was in shadow.
As Tessa got in the car, Connor took Richie's arm and held him back. This was as good a time as any to see how the boy reacted to a real threat. "You were right, Richie. Someone's come up," Connor whispered, gesturing with his head at the Immortal.
He felt the boy stiffen next to him, then look surreptitiously down the block. "That woman? You know her?" Richie asked. His voice was soft, with just a hint of fear.
No panic. Good. Now he was going to appeal to the young man's protectiveness and his sense of honor. Let's see what you got, Richie Ryan. "I'm not sure--yet," Connor said, squinting at her. Then he turned back to Richie. "Will you see that Tessa gets back safely?"
Richie nodded once. "Yeah, absolutely. You can count on me, Connor," he said proudly.
Connor squeezed Richie's shoulder lightly, very pleased this time. "I know I can," he agreed, just as Tessa asked, from inside the cab, "What are you two whispering about?"
Connor closed the door behind Richie and stuck his head inside the window, but not without first glancing one more time at the Immortal, to make sure she had not left or come closer. "Guy talk," he told Tessa.
"Yeah, Tess. Some things are just for us men, right, Connor?"
Tessa looked at Connor and shook her head in amusement; but then she looked at Richie and obviously saw something in the young man's face. "Richie?" she asked, suddenly alarmed. "What's wrong?" She looked at Connor again, then asked him, "Connor?"
"Nothing! Nothing's wrong!" Richie assured her. "Everything is wonderful. Let's just go back to the hotel, all right?"
She's too smart, Connor thought. Duncan has his hands full with this one. And the boy does not disappoint. "Par for the course, Tessa," he said softly. "Goodnight."
But before he could move away, Tessa reached over Richie and covered Connor's hand on the windowsill with hers. "Will you call me? Afterward?"
It had been a long time since a woman had asked Connor to call her-- besides Rachel, of course. And this woman was young and beautiful, even if she wasn't Brenda, wasn't his, even if she was Duncan's. He was flattered, again, in spite of himself. But there was no time for this now. "I will," he agreed tonelessly, then turned to face his enemy.
As Connor squared his shoulders and began to walk toward the Immortal, she raised her hand and a taxicab drove up. It had obviously been waiting for her. Apparently she was leaving the field. Fine with him. He'd catch up to her eventually. Or not.
However, instead of getting in the cab, she stood studying him openly as he approached her. Maybe she had another game in mind. Long, straight, blonde hair, trim-looking under the tan trenchcoat, about five feet-and- a-half in her boots. Her face was still in shadow; he'd have to get much closer to see it.
When he was just within speaking distance, she leaned into the cab's front window and said to the driver, loud enough for Connor to hear, "Fifth Avenue and East Sixty-third Street," then slipped inside.
That was Central Park, and right by the zoo. Connor wondered if she she got off on fighting in front of wild animals. Or she was just a traditionalist, and wanted to duel in the open, green area of Central Park. That might give him an idea of her age....
As the taxi sped by him, Connor leaned down to look in the window and finally got a good look at her face. Soft features and a small but perfect mouth, smiling slightly. She was, of course, beautiful. Weren't they all blonde and beautiful? he thought, a little bitterly.
She was a stranger--that was somewhat important. And she was a woman-- that was not so important. Although he was bigger and certainly stronger than she was, Connor had no illusions about men automatically being better fencers than women. He was content with just being a better fencer than his current opponent.
He had to wait a few minutes for another cab--they were starting to get scarce by this hour of the morning. He finally flagged one down and, resisting the urge to say, "Follow that car!" simply gave the driver the same address she had. She was waiting by the park, but walked quickly into the shelter of the trees, a Greek naiad leading him into the wild enchanted woods. And he followed, although refusing to rush. He hoped not to meet muggers--he'd hate like hell to get shot. It was after midnight, a new day had started, and that would ruin it. As he walked past the zoo entrance-- apparently that wasn't where she was headed--Connor suddenly had the sensation ... He looked behind him, but no, he could see her, she was clearly still in front of him.
Suspicion flared in his head. A trap. A trap. But he hadn't heard anyone else. He wondered if he'd sensed yet another Immortal. It was certainly possible. He looked around one more time. Nothing.
Finally, she walked halfway into a culvert under a bridge and waited for him, once again outlined against the light beyond. She took off her coat and revealed an exquisite fencer's slim silhouette. Her saber was also silhouetted.
Connor hesitated at the entrance, looking around him once more. He saw nothing but shadows, and heard nothing but the night sounds of insects and a weak breeze whispering through the trees. Once inside, they could come at him from both sides. He took off his coat and started to back out of the tunnel, intending to come around, then get close enough to introduce himself to her.
They came at him from both sides, she yelling some old battle cry, the other Immortal--a man--silent as he dropped down from the path above. Connor got a glimpse of a checked shirt and immediately thought, the taxi driver.
Connor parried her overhand stroke first--she was closer and louder-- pushing her back against the wall, then turned to his other opponent, who had probably been hoping to land on top of him. He was still very close, and ready. Now Connor could see both their faces, one at a time, grim and determined. He absolutely didn't know her, or him. And there were not going to be introductions, or discussions of the rules they were breaking, or pithy remarks, or threats or posturing of any kind.
Only steel, blood and death.
Connor parried the man's lunge and thrust at him, but already had to turn back to the woman. He took a step back, trying to keep them in front of him and to put the culvert wall at his back, but she circled behind him and he had to turn again to keep them on either side of him, rather than front and behind. On second thought, a gang of muggers would be just fine right about now, he realized.
For a long minute the only sound echoing in the tunnel entrance was metal striking metal and the grunts of effort of two men and one woman. Connor resisted being maneuvered further inside the culvert--he would have felt safer out in the open but couldn't get past the man, and couldn't turn his back on the woman.
The first cut was hers, across Connor's sword arm. He ignored the pain and quickly twirled, backing away again and windmilling his katana, trying to keep them both in sight, wishing he had better peripheral vision. They spread out on either side of him again. Dammit! They had done this once or twice before, and they weren't making any mistakes.
Parry, slash, thrust. Parry again. A slight opening--Connor sliced the man across the arm. While his opponent withdrew, hissing, the woman pressed the attack and Connor thrust at her. His blade slid along her ribs, cutting her shallowly, but it wasn't good enough. She made a little yelping sound, then brought her saber up and back down toward his left shoulder. Connor dodged at the last minute, but now the man was back behind him and Connor was forced to turn again, straight-arming him. The man fell, but got up again, too quickly.
Connor went from side to side like one of those bears tied up at a country fair, when they set the dogs at it; but he wasn't a dumb animal being tormented. He was a skilled fencer, very much in control. He had fought two swordsmen at the same time before, but not two Immortal swordsmen, and these two knew what they were doing. He idly wondered about double Quickenings. Assuming he ever got it; or them.
He was playing a defensive game, parrying a lot, and that wasn't good. If one of them didn't make a bad mistake sometime soon, he'd have to take the risk and mount an attack; otherwise they'd just wear him down.
A horizontal slash meant to decapitate him laid open his cheek to the bone as he turned his face away from it. "Aaah!" he gasped, the pain bright, immediate and horrible. He staggered back, windmilling his katana again, turning to his left, blood flowing freely with the sweat dripping from his face down onto his chest.
They were on him at once, but this time their coordination failed. The man lunged too soon, and too far.
("Never overextend your thrust," Ramirez had told him.)
It was the mistake Connor had been hoping for. Connor turned his back to the female, brought his sword up past his right shoulder and decapitated the man in one neat, diagonal blow. The body and head fell down together. But as his weapon sank down toward the ground, the woman screamed once and plunged her saber into Connor's back, pushing it out of his chest.
"Aaaaarrrr!" Connor cried out, twirling so fast he literally pulled the sword, still buried in his body, out of her hand. As he came around he made his horizontal cut. The woman had just enough time to bring her hands up to protect her head.
Connor's katana cut through her right arm, then her neck, and then her other wrist.
Her arm, her head, and her hand each fell to the ground with three distinct, separate soft plops, and then her body followed. But by this time, Connor wasn't paying attention anymore.
She picked up the phone before the second ring. "Connor? "C'est toi?" she asked.
If he closed his eyes, he could imagine it was Brenda, Brenda's voice full of concern, of love for him. But it wasn't. Brenda didn't speak French. Brenda didn't have a French accent. Brenda was dead, and his eyes were wide open.
"Tessa," he said.
"Connor, thank God!" He heard the rustle of bedclothes as she presumably sat up in bed. "I'm so glad you called. Are you all right?"
Now he was all right. But earlier he hadn't been.
It is either the two Quickenings together or the woman's sword that killed him. Or all three....
When Connor comes back to life the saber is still in him. He's lying face down on the ground, and the fall has pushed the saber partly back out of his body. He reaches behind him blindly with his right hand, then his left, but the hilt is too far away--all he succeeds in doing is cutting his fingers.
Connor lies on his stomach on the ground, gravel digging into his face. Even panting, open mouthed, he can't help but smell the blood nearby. He wishes those muggers would show up after all. He could really use them about now. He'd ask them, "Would you please pull this fucking sword out of my back?" He giggles hysterically, softly, then stops himself. The pain is pulling him down toward unconsciousness again. And probably death again.
"Calm, MacLeod, calm," he says softly. The pain in his chest and the stench of blood and urine make him gag, and he has trouble breathing with a sharp blade transfixing his lung. That one has collapsed--his second lung is laboring. He knows it's just a matter of time before both his lungs stop working altogether, again. And again. Until someone discovers him in the culvert. With one sword in his body and another in his hand. Along with two decapitated bodies.
Slowly he hauls himself to his knees.
When he looks up he sees her, clearly. "Brenda!" he calls out. She's in the path ahead, at the end of the culvert.
"Don't lose your head. Don't you die on me, Connor," she says. But then she starts to fade away.
His eyes fill unexpectedly, brimming over with a pain and loneliness that had been building for centuries. "No! Don't leave me, Brenda! Don't leave me again!" he cries out hoarsely.
He uses his katana to lever himself to his feet, but he weighs a ton, two tons, he has no strength in his arms and no air in his lungs. By the time he looks up again she's gone, she's already gone. And he knows this time that he's never going to have her again, never even going to see her again. For a brief, terrible moment, leaning on his sword, despair washes over him, and he is tempted to just lie down and give up.
But Brenda doesn't want him to die. She wants him to live; and he, too, wants to live. He staggers forward a few feet, his pulse roaring in his ears--ahead of him is a black hole he could easily, effortlessly, drop into.
When he can see again, Brenda has completely disappeared. He sinks to his knees again and sits back on his feet, by now almost completely unable to breathe. His katana is still in his hand, and he puts it down on the ground. Panting, he closes his eyes. "Concentrate, MacLeod," he orders. Slowly he reaches back with his right hand and carefully feels around. With painstaking caution--he doesn't want to cut himself again- -he puts the fingers of his right hand around the flat of the blade. Then, using his right hand as a guide, he brings his left hand back. But he can't breathe, he just can't breathe, and he falls flat on his face. His right hand is still on the blade, and the jolt cuts him once more. He cries out one more time. He has no air left, and practically no time. Almost desperate, he begins tugging the blade from his body, using his fingers.
This time he doesn't cut himself.
But he drowns in the next wave of blackness.
Connor gasps his way back to the real world, the world of pain and fear and heat and lack of air. He starts panting almost immediately, again. The pain is agonizing, even worse than before, but he's determined this time--he doesn't want to black out once more and have to do it all over again. Carefully he finds the blade one last time and puts his fingers around it, first one hand, then the other.
He can feel the blood streaming from the wound, weaving its way down his ribs, making his fingers slippery, adding to his anxiety, fatigue, weakness. He has a little bit of time before his second lung collapses. He pulls, moans, pulls again. He uses his remaining strength to keep himself still and puts all his concentration on that blade, on meticulously and laboriously pulling it out of his back, inch by inch.
"Life's a bitch," he mutters to himself, "and then you still don't die."
Sweat streams down his forehead into his eyes, stinging them, making it even harder to concentrate. He closes them, but the sweat drips in anyhow, the salt making his eyes tear up. The night is oppressively humid, the air unmoving. Sweat rolls down his forehead into his eyes, and tears rolls down his face.
When at last the blade comes free, he drops it, and simply lies resting, his face pressed against the moist, cool pavement, willing his lung to heal, stretching and rubbing his hands and fingers to massage the soreness out of them.
This time he doesn't die. This time he lives.
Now he was just fine. "You weren't still up, were you?" he asked Tessa, amused but touched, and glad he had gone ahead and called her after speaking to Rachel.
"No!" she answered a bit too quickly. "I just didn't want the phone to wake Richie up."
But the phone had woken Richie up, Connor realized, or Richie had been awake, because Connor heard another phone in the suite being picked up, then Richie's voice.
"Hey, Connor, is that you?"
"Yes, Richie, it's me."
"Hey." There was a pause, and Connor was surprised that Richie seemed at a loss for words. Maybe the boy was tired. "I'm glad," Richie finally said.
"Me, too," Connor answered, smiling.
"So goodnight. See you around."
Oh yeah, Connor thought. For a long time to come. Hopefully. "I'll look forward to that."
There was a click, then Tessa's voice. "I'm glad, too. Thank you for calling, I wanted to make sure ..." she paused, sighed, took a long breath, "... and to have a chance to thank you for tonight. For all of yesterday. I had a wonderful time."
"Me, too," he said again. Yesterday had been a good day. The bad part hadn't started until after midnight, technically today, he thought.
"John is a lovely boy. And Rachel...."
"Rachel is special," Connor agreed. "And so are you. Duncan is very lucky he has you, Tessa Noel."
She laughed softly. "So does that mean you still think Duncan gets most of the good women?" she teased him.
"Most of them, yes," Connor agreed, chuckling, feeling good to be alive. But not all the good women, he thought. Not all of them.
He could hear the smile in her voice. "Duncan's very lucky to have you as well, Connor MacLeod. Thank you for being his friend and his family. And mine too, I hope."
"Yes," he agreed.
She slipped into her native language. "Au revoir, mon ami. Prends bien soin de toi."
"A la prochaine, chere Tessa," he replied. Then, his fingers tightening on the phone, he whispered, "Thank you," hung up the receiver and leaned back in his chair.
It had been a long time. Six years was a lifetime, even for him. It was long enough. Brenda was dead and she wasn't coming back, no matter how many times he saw her, heard her, felt her. He had to move on. And there were others left, friends and family. A young man who was glad Connor was alive. And a young woman, even, who cared enough about him to wait up in the middle of the night, to hear if he was all right. It wasn't the same--but it was a beginning. And it would do, for now.
Connor lifted the glass of whisky--a beautiful, smoky amber, a color he'd always liked--in a toast. "To you, Tessa," he said, and swallowed.
He looked across the room and saw Brenda there again, sitting in a soft leather chair, her brown hair framing her face, her freckled little nose wrinkling as she smiled at him.
"Brenda," he murmured. "I didn't lose my head. I didn't die."
This time she said nothing, simply watching. Then, ever so slowly, she faded away, leaving him in his apartment, alone. But this time seeing her, then having her leave, didn't fill him with loneliness and despair. He knew she was dead, but she wasn't gone, and he would see her again because she was still with him, giving him strength.
And she would never leave him.
"To you, Brenda," he murmured, and took another sip.
*Translations (all French):
c'est toi - it's you
au revoir, mon ami. prends bien soin de toi - goodbye, my friend. take good care of yourself
a la prochaine, chere Tessa - until next time, dear Tessa
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