"Nothing you can do brings anyone back. Once they’re dead...nothing."
Even as he awoke from a sound sleep, the Highlander was sitting up and reaching for his sword. The katana’s hilt was rough and familiar in his hands, the blade singing so softly in the night silence that only he could hear the familiar ring as it left its scabbard.
Anxiety crawled up his spine as he searched the darkness for the threat that had disturbed him. No movement, no sound, no buzz attracted his attention. Twisting in the bed, he stole a quick glance at Alex. She slept deeply, peacefully, beside him. Alex, of all people, would realize the dangers of waking Connor suddenly in the middle of the night: one simply didn’t do that to a man who slept with his sword less than a hand’s breadth away; she wouldn’t have dared try it, not without a life-and-death crisis in the making--or a reasonable amount of distance between him and his lightning reflexes. But Alex was the picture of relaxed slumber, beautiful in her catlike, exotic beauty and innocent of whatever had awakened her companion.
The scent of roses floated past Connor’s nose. Less than a whisper, the voice he had heard was more a feeling in the room. The hair on his neck rose, and he slapped it down with his palm as he half glowered, half squinted into the darkness. Beyond the bedroom door, a shadow flickered, beckoning.
Pushing back the covers, Connor slipped out of bed. The black tile floor was cold under his feet--a shock after Alex’s warm body beside him. Padding swiftly, silently from the room, he flexed his fingers on the sword hilt and flattened himself against the wall to peer around the doorframe. Adrenaline warred with confusion in his empty stomach. Beyond the bedroom, all was silent.
If an immortal is calling me, why can’t I feel them? Maybe they’re a damned quiet immortal, he decided, hugging the wall and its shadows to make his way down the hallway to his son’s room. Or maybe it’s a thief. If it is a thief, why is he playing with me. Or maybe he’s a she? he corrected himself after a moment’s thought, remembering a certain lithe, dark-haired beauty named Amanda he’d once encountered, who had seemed more imp than immortal. Roses...Maybe it is Amanda?
Sword at the ready, he pushed back the door, making certain that it touched the wall and that no one was hiding behind it. The door thumped gently back, with only the softest whining of the hinges.
No whimpers of terror came from the bed, and no villain was holding John hostage to lure the Highlander into battle. The boy slept peacefully, his Mortal Kombat quilt tucked neatly beneath his chin.
Just wait ‘til he sees the Star Wars trilogy this spring, Connor reflected, his gaze and his instincts raking, with an expert eye, all of the possible hiding places in the room. Good-bye, Lord Rayden. Hello, Luke and Han. And Darth. Can’t forget Darth. And that squeaking ‘droid. What was his name?
A sound came from behind the closet door, banishing all random thoughts. A tiny, tapping sound, of shifting treasures within. All amused fatherly thoughts vanished as the warrior—a peculiar blend of Scottish and Samurai--came to the fore.
In one bound, he leaped to the closet and yanked back the door. He had only a moment for reflexive defensive action, and his training did not desert him. Crouching, he dropped his katana and folded his arms over his head shielded himself with arms folded over his head a scant second before being buried by old stuffed toys, rejected Nintendo games, dead sneakers, dog-eared copies of The Black Stallion and Spine Tinglers, myriad bundles of smelly, dirty clothes, a Snoopy gumball machine, a bridle (With the bit intact, thought Connor as it cuffed his ear), a wrinkled Mad Magazine, and a well-fingered copy of Playboy. A Nerf ball followed belatedly to bounce gently, almost kindly off of his forehead.
No immortals in there, he thought, almost mournfully. I think I’d have been safer if there had been one. With a sigh, he bent and retrieved his sword. Shifting one foot carefully, he quested for available clear floor space before crane-stepping free. A quick glance over his shoulder assured him that John slept on, oblivious to the carnage of the night and the repercussions to come in the morning.
John’s pet hamster was awake, though, a silent witness to the great Immortal’s battle with ancient toys and laundry. It stared at him with beady black eyes catching the tiny light from the power-strip of John’s beloved computer, with rodent whiskers atwitch in what looked like amusement. It regarded the warrior expectantly, as if to say, "Can’t wait to see what you do next."
Connor glared back, embarrassed somehow by the rodent’s critique. Once the Highland-Fling-With-Toys had ended, the hamster lost interest and leaped onto its wheel to squeak its way around and around.
At least John and Alex slept through this, Connor thought. Then again, nothing short of a Quickening blowing off the roof would wake them, he reflected. Luckily, the immortals powerful enough to accomplish that little engineering feat are long gone. And I probably killed them.
He smiled with satisfaction at knowing his family was safe. His smile faded as the scent of roses drifted past his nose again, all but drowning out the odor of his son’s dirty socks. Glancing down at the socks, Connor found the copy of Playboy, only to snatch it up and shove it beneath a pile of clothes. That magazine would be invaluable at the negotiating table the next morning, when John would demand to know why his father had snuck into his room in the dead of night and dumped everything he owned onto the floor.
"You did it, Daaaad," he could hear the beginnings of rebellion. "Why should I hafta put it back? You oughta clean it up. And why were you sneaking around in my stuff, anyway?"
If John wants to keep certain editions in his...anatomical library...he’ll clean up this mess. ‘Cause if Daaaad does it, Dad will really clean it up. And out. And want to talk about it later.
But Connor didn’t want to. He had better things to do--Like find out where that rose perfume is coming from.
Digging his way further out of his son’s treasures, Connor reflected that the always-attentive Alexandra might question his willingness to let hidden x-rated items lie.
John’s fourteen years old, the Highlander reflected. I was bedding Maggie and Tasha beside the loch by then. The kid’s interest in girls is natural. Healthy, even. A certain amount of exploring is probably good for him. I’d worry more if he had copies of Playgirl laying around.
On the way out the door, Connor’s gaze lit on the computer his son had begged. For--his--homework. Heh. Maybe we’d better check those Internet homework files tomorrow? When we can talk about them, man to man. Ramirez was right. He sighed. Families are too vulnerable, and too big a distraction. I’m stalking an intruder and worrying about Playboy? Wake up and ground, MacLeod.
Creeping out of the room, Connor closed the door behind him in time to see something shimmer on the spiral staircase leading upward. It might have been a trick of the light playing through the plate-glass windows in the living room below, or it might have been real--if shimmers could be real. Connor had seen enough strange things in his nearly 500 years to know that strange lights on staircases were not to be ignored. Sword ready, he crept up the stairs. The shimmering light flitted onward, toward the next floor.
I don’t think that’s immortal, he decided when it floated through a door. I can’t feel a thing, and even if that’s something new, I know immortals can’t float. Usually. At least, most can’t.
He followed cautiously, with no little curiosity and knowing all too well what could happen if he had misjudged the situation. Nakano wasn’t the only sorcerer who ever lived.
All by itself, the study door swung back on its hinges to reveal the most sacred room in the house: Connor MacLeod’s private study.
The stone fountain dominating the far wall flowed happily along, reassuring its owner as he stepped across the threshold: the acoustics of the room were such that any mass added to the room changed the ‘pitch’ of the water. The song hadn’t changed, and so Connor knew himself to be the only living thing in the room--other than the English ivy climbing the fountain wall. But ivy was slow, posing very little threat to anything beyond mortar and brick.
Slowing releasing his breath, he grounded momentarily in that still place between breaths, then inhaled and stepped further into the room. Crossing the threshold, he ascertained that the room was empty, and slid his katana into its spare sheath before setting it safely in its rack.
The scent of roses returned, more intense than it had been before: roses swirled around him, tugging his attention away from the reassurances he’d been giving himself. Maybe I put that sword away too soon? He reached back for it.
The shadow floated closer. A voice spoke in his mind. Please?
The roses crept closer. Connor stepped back and waited, ready for some assault.
Please? it repeated.
"Please what?" he asked aloud, in exasperation. "It’s three in the morning. Most people sleep now. Who are you? What are you? And what do you want with me?"
The shadow shrank back as though he’d struck it. Sighing its apology, it withdrew.
I’m sorry. I’ll go. It slipped away like highland mist on blue heather.
"No--wait!" He bounded after it, trying to catch it between his hands, to mold it into some semblance of physicality. "I didn’t mean to hurt you. Why did you come here? What do you want?"
I can’t talk to you. I thought I could. Please forgive the intrusion, Connor.
"Won’t you give me another chance?" he begged. "It’s nothing personal. It’s just..." He turned on his most charming smile. "I’m unaccustomed to carrying on conversations with a...a..."
He waited for help. The visitor wasn’t giving any.
"Look." He spread his hands. "I don’t know who you are or why you’re here, and I’m used to people coming and trying to kill me with swords in the dark. What would you do in my position?"
I’d be scared to death. But then, I haven’t Nakano’s power to rely upon. You do.
He narrowed his eyes. "How do you know about Nakano? Are you--were you--an immortal?"
Hardly. Even at a whisper, he could hear the bitterness. I have waited a long time to speak with you, Connor MacLeod. I know of your power and your knowledge. I know how you gathered it from the Kurgan and from many others through the centuries. I watched you battle Kane, watched you struggle afterward to understand the gifts left by that Quickening. Those gifts included all that your Buddhist hermit-magician teacher was, all that he had learned of this life and the next.
"You watched me?" But no one else was there. "How did you watch me?" His eyes narrowed in new suspicion. "Were you a Watcher?"
I watched, unseen and unheard. Until now, you haven’t been able to hear me. I’m glad that you can now.
Because now you understand the magic that Nakano gave you.
He pondered that for a moment, wondering how this shade could know about all of the hours he’d spent locked in this room, studying ceremonial magic and mythology, Buddhist philosophy and culture. His soul shivered at the memory of that unwanted and unwelcomed power; he still wasn’t comfortable with the legacy the sorcerer had left him. He doubted if he ever would be.
"Have we met before?" Connor prodded.
Duncan introduced us.
Duncan? Connor’s mind slid back to the last time he had seen Duncan MacLeod....
* * *
Connor awoke to the beep of the fax machine signaling that some document had just been spat out for his perusal. Groaning out of bed and shuffling out of the bedroom, he went to retrieve the fax, which he assumed would be an invoice from Fox & Cook International. Brokers for shipments of Jacobean antiques sent to Russell Nash, they’d called the day before to let Rachel know that freight was on board a ship leaving from Merseyside, England: where should they send the invoice?
Rubbing his eyes with his free hand, Connor reflected that he really ought to have his morning coffee before considering the damage about to be done to Russell’s operating account. Turning toward the kitchen, he glanced at the fax and stopped dead on the tile when he saw Duncan’s scrawl, rough and distressed even through this electronic reproduction.
17 October 1993
Tessa was murdered two days ago. I'm taking her home to Paris tomorrownight. Her mother has scheduled a service at 2:00p, the 20th, graveside.
The anguish between the lines was unspoken. Given how long the two men had known each other, it didn’t have to be spoken; Connor knew it only too well. And so we send one more loved one into eternity.
He fought the rising surge of grief, of losses both past and present, and sank into a chair by the desk. Staring numbly at the paper in his hands, he read the few words again and again, as though the content might change if he looked at it one more time.
"Oh God," he moaned softly. "Tessa. Not Tessa, too." The pain surged upward for Tessa, for Brenda...for Heather. His heart contracted, turned to stone and sank.
Poor Duncan. It was hard enough on him, losing the others, but Tessa...Not her, too. The fax crunched between his fingers, killing the message to a small crumpled wad.
Rising from his chair, Connor moved numbly toward the kitchen, in an habitual quest for coffee. Routine took over when the heart and mind could no longer function.
Duncan didn’t call, which he doesn’t want to talk about this. Can’t bear to talk about this.
Coffee was measured into the filter, water was run into the pot. He pulled the carafe away from the coffee maker to pour that first welcome cup, forgetting that the stream of coffee continued to flow. It sizzled on the burner, then crept across the counter like a small river. Stuffing the container back into the coffee maker, he mopped angrily at the muddy river flowing across his clean countertop.
The river. The Seine. Does Duncan still have that barge on the Seine, or is he at the antique store?
Paris. I’ve got two days--no, a day and a half to get to Paris. And which cemetery, Duncan?
Cursing himself for being in Marrakesh rather than New York City, Connor abandoned his quest for coffee and went looking for his travel agent. The desk was rummaged through roughly, papers were tossed onto the floor in uncharacteristic disregard. The phone was snatched up and buttons were pushed.
"Hamsa? It’s Russell Nash. I need to get to Paris as soon as possible."
"Time? As soon as possible. Oh. No, I didn’t realize it was that early. I didn’t-- I-- Yes, Hamsa. It was thoughtless of me to disturb you. I didn’t mean to wake you up. I’m sorry. I’m sure that Allah will take care of it. But now that you’re awake, get me to Paris. Call me when it’s set, okay?"
The phone was returned to its cradle, and Connor spared it a quick glance.
"Probably need a new agent, now," he muttered. "So what, there are more out there." There were more important issues right now than one irate Muslim.
Connor rummaged through his desk drawers to find a letter from Duncan and Tessa, written the previous year, tucked safely into a small and special drawer reserved for precious things. Leaning back in his chair, he carefully unfolded the letter and began reading Duncan's words.
...All right, so you won’t come for Thanksgiving. But you’re coming for Christmas, if I have to come get you and drag you back here. You’re coming, and that’s that--not only because we’re feeling expansive toward the crusty old bachelor that you are, or because nobody--not even crusty old bachelors--should be alone during the holidays, but because Tessa thinks the world of you, and I miss you like hell.
For months, Tessa’s been coaxing memories from me of our times together. Reminiscing has brought back a plethora of details that I think ought to be expounded upon properly by both of us. That is, in front of a roaring fire on a rainy Seacouver evening, surrounded by the two people I love best in the world. A mug of eggnog with plenty of Jamaican rum is waiting for you, old friend.
Remember our pirating days? The ship we sank? And the blonde who stole you naked and blind? I haven’t told Tessa about that, and I won’t—not if you come for Christmas.
Wait a moment--she wants to write a few lines herself.
(This is Tessa.) Hi, old thing. I just wanted to point out that I’ve never gotten the chance to thank you properly for safely reuniting Duncan and me after that last, great battle with Slan. I remember our journey so well--the 7-seater commuter flight into the Canadian wilderness with propellers that refused to go around. The Indian pilot straight out of "Northern Exposure," who almost steered us into those telephone lines—the last thing to do with a telephone I’d see in a long time. And then there’s the moment when you told me that we were hiking in on foot, and would end by paddling the last ten miles.
That was when I wondered what I had gotten myself into--if I wasn’t going to my death in the deep, dark woods with an immortal psychopath. There I was, trusting someone I’d known for less than a week, someone who argued constantly with Duncan, someone who’d given him a concussion to save his life, someone who always carried a very sharp sword and knew exactly how to use it.
If it wasn’t for you, Connor, I’d have lost the most special man in my life. Please come for Christmas. Duncan speaks of you often. You’re part of our family now. Please come.
(Duncan again.) Do you know that if it wasn’t for you, Connor, I’d have lost the most special lady of my entire life? Because of your caring obstinacy in the face of my stubbornness, your "I know you better than you know yourself" nosiness, Tessa found me. And I’ve discovered the happiest years of my life.
We owe this Christmas to you, my friend. If not for you, we wouldn’t be together. Please come. We’ll take you to hear the wolves howl up in Vancouver, and you can even adopt one if you like. We’ll go to that restaurant you love so much--what’s it called? Thirteen Coins? Something like that.
(Tessa again) If you’re up to it, we’ll take you for tea on Victoria. If you’re not too tired. You are so much older than we are--
(Duncan now) Come on, Connor--there are adventures to be hand, Christmas carols to sing, hot toddies to drink, a tree to decorate, presents to give. Tessa might even set you up with one of her friends for New Year’s Eve. What do you say?
Love from both of us,
This Christmas will be Duncan’s first without Tessa in thirteen years, reflected Connor. Folding the letter carefully, he slipped it back into its drawer. I have to get to Paris and be there for him. With him. But it won’t be enough. When you lose someone you love, nothing is enough.
* * *
It was raining in Paris, and the wind from the north was bitter cold.
So what else is new? thought Connor, traipsing up the gangplank to the barge and making his way carefully along the side.
Duncan’s car was at home beside the Seine, which meant that Duncan was, too. But not having sent word ahead that he was flying in from Marrakesh, Connor fully expected that Duncan would not open his door.
The last thing he wants right now are casual visitors offering hollow words of sympathy and commiseration. They mean well, but when Duncan is hurting, all of his words stop.
What Connor hadn’t expected was to find the door to Duncan’s quarters flapping open in the wind. Sensing the presence of another immortal, he put down his carry-all and stepped cautiously into the shadowed interior.
The rain had warped the hardwood floor, striping and slickening it. Drawing his katana, Connor inched forward and was reassured once more of the wisdom of wearing rubber-soled deck shoes: you never knew when extra traction and silent stepping would be needed.
No decapitated friend waited inside, no strange immortal ready to fight to the death, either. In their place was a clean, well-organized living space with everything in its proper place and no Duncan MacLeod to be seen. That doesn’t mean anything.
Quietly, systematically, he searched the room and finally discovered his quarry. Duncan sat in the gloomy shadows beside the bed, curled up with his head braced on his knees, his arms wrapped around his ankles.
Resheathing his sword, Connor slipped around the foot of the bed and dropped to his knees. A shiver rippled through Duncan when the Highlander touched his shoulder. Still, his friend didn’t speak. Neither did Connor. Some hurts are beyond words. Tessa is dead; what other words are there to speak now?
Sliding his hand around the younger Highlander’s collarbone, Connor pressed lightly.
Come here, he urged gently, insistently.
In answer to his touch came a whimper, soft and uncertain and vulnerable. Next came the tears, and Connor wrapped his arms tightly around Duncan, as he would have wrapped them around his own son, to hold the broad-shouldered frame and the bruised soul.
Tears are good, he reflected, daring to stroke the dark hair, just a little. Crying will wash away a bit of the grief he’s been denying, trying to ignore. Will the words return when the tears have stopped?
The grief after Little Deer had been open mourning. Tessa’s death was a grief too deep for words. But for how long?
"Thank you for coming," Duncan mumbled, long before the tears stopped, and sniffling like a child. "I’m sorry that you had to."
"I’m sorry, too." Connor waited a moment before asking, "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Duncan shrugged. "What’s to tell? I sent her and Richie to the car. Some crackhead shot them. Richie got up, Tessa didn’t. I should have been with her. I should have been there to protect her."
Connor sighed, then sadly shook his head. "I remember Ramirez telling me that everyone is here for a purpose. Until you fulfill your purpose, you cannot die. If it’s not your time, it’s not your time and nothing can change that. By the same token, if it is your time...." He hugged Duncan hard. "Perhaps it was Tessa’s time."
Duncan pulled away, elbowing his way free of Connor’s arm about his shoulders. Anger narrowed his eyes, having found a target for his fury. "No, it wasn’t! It shouldn’t have happened, she shouldn’t be dead. Not now. Not like that. It’s not fair, Connor! She had so much to live for, so much she wanted to do. I’ve never known anyone more alive or more beautiful, more trusting, childlike, or caring than Tessa. All of that is gone now, and it shouldn’t be!
"Dammit, Connor, throughout time, mortals have told themselves that it’s the life in their years that really counts, and not the years of their life. We talk about intangibles, like love and inner beauty and memories. ‘Those outlast time and death,’ we say." Stricken brown eyes held his. "Do you believe that?"
"No," Duncan ground out fiercely, swatting away tears. "I remember everything she was...all gone. When I try to sleep, I relive every conversation, every smile, every gesture and every look. She’s here with me again. I reach out to hold her. And nothing. Cé hé mise le ulaignt?"
Who am I to bear it? Connor translated from the Gaelic.
"Who are any of us to bear it?" he replied, in the same language. "Although we’re immortal, we still are men. You’ve buried too many loved ones, my friend. I remember Ramirez advising me to leave Heather before she grew old and I had to watch her die. That was advice I could never bear to give you with any woman, much less Tessa."
"I would not have taken it."
"I know." Connor smiled, sad and tender. "I didn’t, either. You love deeply and completely. Which is why your suffering is so deep and so complete, now."
"What else am I to do?"
"Connor shook his head. "Nothing can be done. To live the life you’re meant to live, you have to be brave and vulnerable and unafraid to feel."
"Brave?" He choked. "No, Connor. I don’t think I can be brave right now." New tears ran down his face. "Brave hurts too much, it’s too vulnerable and too alone. I’ll try to be brave tomorrow, when I say good-bye to her for the last time."
Duncan returned his head to his knees, in the same position in which Connor had found him. But as Connor started to rise, a muffled voice floated out from the cocoon of arms and knees.
"You were right, Connor. They all die."
He wasn’t brave, Connor remembered. Not then, and not at her funeral. Not the next week or even the next month. He forgot to eat, unless the plate was set before him. He had to be urged to sleep. Oh, he kept the work going, kept up the appearance of being whole, but whenever he was alone, where the memories couldn’t be ignored...
Only slowly, gradually did he begin thinking for himself again. But the words have never been the same as before she died, and there are few smiles. And he would not come home with me, to celebrate Christmas. ‘Just what do I have to celebrate?’ he asked. I had no answer.
I wanted to stay with Duncan through the new year, but John had to stay in school in Marrakesh, I needed to be with him, and there was no way of forcing Duncan to return with me. In the end, he returned to Seacouver for Richie, to guide him as I had guided Duncan. The Highlander isn’t an innocent student any more. I have to remember that. He’s grown and he’s strong...one of the best among us. But it hurts to see my clansman suffer. And I know his pain so well. Perhaps he won’t laugh when I light that candle for Heather this year.
I remember how often, in Paris that winter, I kept smelling the scent of roses when none were around....
"There is no death. Only a change of worlds."
Connor’s memories released him. Once more, he was standing in his study, in the middle of the night. "Tessa?"
You guessed. Duncan always told me how clever you are.
Staring in disbelief at the shadow, Connor sat down with a thump at his desk. He’d never been haunted before. He wasn’t certain he liked it now, but it seemed impolite to tell her so. Closing his eyes, he sank into meditation, seeking the astral plane as Nakano had taught him. It was grey and desolate, swirling mist.
"Where are you?"
"Here," she called to him from far away.
Sinking deeper, he left his body behind and remembered Tessa as he had known her. It wasn’t easy, moving on this plane, nor was it comfortable for him yet, but urgency made it possible. She grew from his imagination, taking form and substance, walking eagerly across the mind plane to meet him. Her blue eyes were worried, seeking his.
"Can you hear me? Can you see me?" As always, in times of stress, her French accent was pronounced.
"Oh, thank God." Grabbing both his hands, she held on. Her fingers were cold, and she was shaking. "I’ve wrecked everything. Duncan is devastated, and I can’t reach him. He’s so alone and I’m so scared. He needs me. I have to go back to him."
The etherial Connor frowned at this. "Go back? I don’t think so. Why are you still here? Someone should have come for you. Your father or your grandparents. Friends who passed on before."
She shook her head. "When it happened, they tried to make me go with them. But I can’t leave Duncan. I won’t. I promised him forever, and I meant it."
"Sometimes we can’t keep our promises." He meant it kindly, truthfully, but her expression made it clear that his advice was most unwelcome.
"I don’t believe that. Duncan kept his. Every one. He promised that he’d never leave me again after you left us in Canada. And he never did. Even after I died, he stayed with me. He sat on the ground, holding me, and he didn’t let go until the police and Richie forced him to."
She was talking faster and faster, as though she was afraid that whatever connected her and Connor would dissolve before she could get everything out.
"I know that Duncan thought I couldn’t feel it. But I could. Do you know that touch is the last thing to go when you die?" She rubbed her fingers across his. "First, you stop breathing, and then your heart stops. You can’t see or move, but you can still feel things. I could, anyway. Duncan came and held me long after it was necessary.
"What broke my heart was the noises he made. He didn’t cry out, didn’t rage. He just...whimpered. I’ve never heard anyone make a sound like that. I can still hear it. He’s always been so strong, it was terrible to hear him like that. And do you know what Duncan told the coroner after Richie told them what had happened? ‘Don’t put her in the dark. She’s afraid of the dark.’ And he watched them zip me into that body bag, and watched the van carry me away, and--He saw things nobody should ever see, Connor. But he saw and he’s still hurting after all of this time, and I can’t reach him! Why can I reach you, and not him?"
Connor grimaced. "I have a few talents Duncan doesn’t."
"Because of the sorcerer?" Tessa pounced eagerly. "I’ve watched you studying those books. I know what you can do. I want to come back. I want to be with him. I wasn’t finished, and neither was Duncan. Neither are we. He needs me. You can help. I know what you can do."
"You know what I can do?" He rocked back. "Tessa, I don’t know what I can do."
"You have Nakano’s power!" she snapped. "I think it’s more a question of what you won’t you."
Connor took a moment to study her, to sort out the swirling thought and emotions.
"Yes," he answered slowly. "It’s true that I received all of Nakano’s power, but I can’t bring back the dead. It’s not allowed. Hell, I don’t even know if it’s possible! And even if it is, I can’t do it." Whirling, he stalked away.
Tessa followed close on his heels. "Why can’t you do it? You have the power. I know you do. Why won’t you? I thought you loved Duncan. Is all that clansmen loyalty a lie?"
Connor stopped walking and stiffened his spine. That stung. "It’s not allowed," he reiterated flatly.
"You’re not allowed to help someone you love? Or to give something back to a man who’s done so much in this world to try and right so many things?"
Yanking on his shoulder, she spun him around. "If it’s not allowed, then tell me what the hell are all of those Quickenings and the knowledge and the power and the electrical displays all about? They can’t all be mere theatrics. What are they for, Connor, if not to use what you’ve learned?"
He stared at his feet a moment. "I can’t help you, Tessa. And I can’t explain. Please leave it at that. Go on with your afterlife."
"I can’t return to life!" she spat through clenched teeth, eyes haunted, "and I promise you that I won’t go on. Even if I have to wait right here in this horrid in-between place forever, I’ll wait. I love Duncan, and I’ll wait for him." Stepping away, she wrapped her arms around herself as though that would stop her shivering. "Have you ever loved anyone, Connor?"
He looked away. "Yes."
"If she was standing here asking you to bring her back, would you?"
Heather. He closed his eyes. What I wouldn’t give to have you beside me again, to see you smile and feel your touch. To make you laugh....The anguish of your leaving me is as fresh today as it was all those centuries years ago. And still....
"I wouldn’t bring her back." I couldn’t. It’s not allowed. "I’m sorry, Tessa."
Backing out of the meditation, he left her standing there staring after him. When he opened his eyes and knew himself once more in his own body, in his study, there was no sign of Tessa. Even her signature rose scent had gone.
* * *
Excerpt from Connor’s Journal
Quickenings bestow power and knowledge, but I’ve always thought of myself as the receptacle rather than the user of the gifts I’ve been given. Always, the knowledge has been too frightening, too dangerous to even hope to use. But Tessa’s coming has made me think of things I thought settled in my mind long ago.
Those things are not settled, and now I’m upset with myself, upset with Tessa for her asking, upset with life and death and immortality. And the Game. I’m asking myself what’s it all for?
Behind all of the upset lives something that Duncan said to me months ago: Tessa’s dying wasn’t fair. Life isn’t fair, and we know that. But I’ve always believed that things work out for the best in this universe, that eventually everything comes together in a synchronous, if messy, sort of way. I’ve always believed that if someone dies, they were meant to die. I had no patience with philosophies of alternate universes--mainly because I’ve had to cope with this one for so long, and the others are so far out of reach.
It’s impossible for me to go back to sleep, now. Tessa’s death gave Duncan insomnia, and now she’s given it to me. That’s not fair, either. It’s a simple fact: mortals die and we don’t. Tessa’s dead, and Duncan isn’t and that’s just the way things are designed to be.
If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that I’m frightened to death to even contemplate trying to grant Tessa her wish. Is it possible? Could Nakano have done it? If so, it’s a terrible temptation. If I can bring back Tessa for Duncan, why not bring back Heather or Brenda for myself? And Alex when she dies? In addition to antiques, I could offer a zombie resurrection service. Sounds fairly lucrative, don’t you think? Unpleasant, but lucrative....
He ventured onto the roof to watch the sky lighten and the new dawn peek over the horizon, then skulked back into his study when he sensed Alex stirring below. She and John would respect Connor’s closed door, certain that he was deep in shipping manifests and auction catalogs. Of Tessa, there was still no sign. It was as though she had never been there.
Standing before his bookcases, he stared at all of the books he’d amassed on Eastern and Western metaphysics and magic while attempting to understand the things he’d inherited from Nakano.
There’s so much that I don’t know. I’ve never used anything I inherited through Kane. I’ve never needed to, and have been more than half afraid of having to. Should I now? Is it right or is it wrong to help Tessa? And what about Duncan? If I have the ability to help, how can I turn my back on my kinsman?
After Heather died, I wandered the earth, searching for answers to questions like this. Nakano’s teachings answered many things for me, but I never expected to be more than his student. Am I merely a vessel for his knowledge, or should I wield the sorcerer’s power as well? I thought I had found my answers. Am I afraid to live by them?
I’ve never used anything I’ve received through any Quickening. I don’t know if I’m allowed to. And I’m afraid to try, half afraid that I’ll become like the people I’ve killed. Afraid that I’ll learn to love the power.
I’ve learned to respect the knowledge I’ve gained with each Quickening. I’ve also become more familiar with my enemies. I know that the Kurgan’s power and knowledge lies dormant and neutral within me, as does Kane’s and Nakano’s. If I use their power, will I lose myself? And what is the purpose of the Quickening if its power is never to be used?
Nakano told me that to triumph over evil would require my heart, my soul, and my steel. ‘Such strength is like water,’ he said, ‘unhurried and consistent. Know its path and follow its way.’ He also said that I must be aware of and respect the power of illusion. But he taught me to know that all of life is nothing but illusion.
Secondly, he said that in order to triumph, I have to know who I am. ‘If you fight with your spirit,’ he said, ‘the sword and the soul will bow to that spirit. The sword wields the power of its master. It can be the gate to either heaven or hell.’
Did he mean a literal gate? Why can’t philosophers and magicmakers make themselves plain?
Alex thinks of me as a Gaelic mystic, but I’ve never seen myself that way. She saw first hand the magic Kane wielded--a shapechanging buzzard and pyrotechnics, mostly. She saw the windows blown out and Kane flying away. I told her to stay away, that she didn’t know what she was getting into. Did I know what I was getting into? Do I now? Four hundred years ago, I was thrown out of my clan because they thought me involved with witchcraft. Is that false assumption now to become fact?
If everything happens for a reason, if Tessa was meant to die, might I also be meant to bring her back? Am I meant, through her, to confront my fear of the darkness in my own soul, and to use the power I have absorbed? Or am I meant to condemn Tessa and Duncan to lives of loneliness on separate planes?
I don’t want this responsibility! Alex knows sorcery and ceremonial magic from books, but I’ve seen it up close and personal through the centuries. I don’t think Tessa understands any of it. Tessa truly doesn’t know what she’s asking, only what she wants. All of these years, I’ve wanted nothing to do with it! Nakano, I am a shapeshifter now. I am magician and sorcerer and my knowledge is legion. But I do not want it. And I certainly do not wish to use it.
He hadn’t felt so turbulent and confused in over two hundred years. Sitting crosslegged on the floor, he sank into his private self, slowing his breathing and quieting his mind.
What should I do?
"MacLeod." Someone hailed him through the mists of time.
He squinted into the distance, waiting for his fertile imaginings to focus on inner reality. Slowly, a figure solidified,
"Ramirez?" The surge of affection and relief he felt was almost painful as familiar, weathered features appeared.
"Greetings, Highlander. You’re making a great deal of noise tonight."
"Where you are?"
"Where do you think I am?" Ramirez smiled. "You don’t know, do you?"
"Yes, you do, Highlander." Shaking his head, he grinned and slapped Connor on the back. "Still having trouble believing anything you can’t touch with your sword, eh? You’re making this infinitely more complicated than it needs to be. Ponder this, if you want something to ponder: ‘They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death cannot kill what never dies. Nor can spirits ever be divided that love and live in the same divine principle, the root and record, of their friendship.’"
"Heh. Who said that? Some ancient Egyptian scholar?"
"It’s far more recent than that. Only a couple of hundred years back. A fellow by the name of William Penn. You’re looking for answers? Here’s the only answer you need: Give with love, Highlander, and harm none."
"How do you know that?" Connor scowled. "You’re not a sorcerer."
"I was the chief metallurgist to the King of Spain. And just what is a metallurgist? Among other things, it’s an alchemist. Also known as a magician."
"Yes, oh. Peace, Connor MacLeod. To you and to Tessa Noel. You must know that she doesn’t belong over here."
"No, I don’t know. How am I supposed to know that? And how am I supposed to bring her back?"
Ramirez chuckled. "Use your imagination. If you can think it, you can do it. At least, that’s what Nakano tells me."
With that, Ramirez offered a salute and began to fade away.
"Wait! You’ve talked to Nakano? Wait, I need to ask him something...."
But Ramirez left, leaving Connor to turn in place and contemplate the fact that the astral levels offered no landmarks, not even a reliable compass.
That’s just great, he groused to himself. I’m supposed to go looking for a ghost, and I haven’t the foggiest where to begin. I don’t even know if Tessa will answer, after I turned down her request. The French still have tempers, and hers was uncomfortably hot.
Wading out into the ethereal rivers, he sighed to himself. Nakano could have come and taught me himself how to do this. Then I wouldn’t have to go intruding upon his memories inside me.
"You think I’m not with you?" spoke a voice in his mind, as clear as could be. "I’m right here, Highlander. You’re never alone. Just believe."
* * *
She was an ethereal ghost sitting on her own flat little monument when Connor found her through astral projection. Tessa sat staring at Duncan, who had brought flowers to lay on her grave, and who was staring mournfully back at her without even knowing it.
"Hey," Connor ventured.
Sniffling, she raised her head.
"What do you want?" The tone was not welcoming.
If she were a cat, that would have been a hiss. "I’ve come to tell you that I’ve changed my mind. I’ll do what you ask."
Suspicion warred with astonishment in her eyes for nearly two seconds before elation won. She was off the monument and had her arms around Connor’s neck so fast, he didn’t even see her move. She was also crying so hard, she couldn’t get a word out.
He hugged her tightly. "It’s okay. You don’t need to thank me." When she raised her head, he wiped away her tears and smiled encouragingly down at her.
"Can we do it now? Here?" she demanded.
He shook his head. "I have to go home to Scotland. And you have to come with me."
"Scotland!" she gasped. "Why?" she balked, glancing at Duncan, who was standing as miserably as ever, letting rain drench his neck and shoulders. "No, I can’t do it. It’s too far away. I don’t want to leave him."
"Do you want this or not? Either you leave him for a few days, or you leave him forever." Connor shrugged. "It’s up to you."
It was Connor’s turn to walk away, but two steps were all he managed before slender fingers were buried in his trenchcoat.
"No! No, wait! I didn’t mean it like that. I’m sorry. What do you want me to do?" She glanced back toward the still grieving Duncan, and her brow furrowed in distress. "And will it take long? You can hurry, can’t you?"
"Not if you want this to work properly, I need to be where my roots are. My teacher’s roots were in ancient Japan, in the mountains of Niri. My home is in the Highlands, so that’s where we go. And you stay close to me, all right? I can’t lose you before we get there. No wandering off to see how Duncan is. I have to get used to having you around. Don’t ask why."
"Why?" she promptly demanded.
"Because it’s what magicians do!" he clipped. "Okay?"
It wasn’t okay, but she nodded reticent obedience anyway.
He sighed in exasperation. "Look, I need to memorize you--your vibration--okay? I can’t do that if you’re not around. It’s a metaphysical thing. Trust me."
"I trust you. You want me to haunt you? I can do that."
From the grin she gave him, he had the feeling she’d been doing just that for a very long time.
"Down, down, down, into the darkness of the grave,
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve.
And I am not resigned."
--Edna St. Vincent Millay: Dirge Without Music
"Follow me," Connor had ordered. "Stay close."
Tessa did. All the way out of Morocco, through the airport, onto the plane, and into Glasgow, Scotland. Before they’d left Marrakesh, a half-embarrassed Connor had muttered some sort of incantation that made her more solid to his eyes. At least, that’s what he told her. For all she knew, Connor could have commanded ethereal slime mold to grow up her neck--except for the fact that he was looking at her and meeting her eyes, rather than just gazing into her general area.
I guess the living can miss a spirit’s body just as much as does the spirit. That was a new consideration. So was the fact that she had to ride on his lap all the way from Morocco to Scotland. And the closer they got to Scotland, the crankier Connor MacLeod became. At first, Tessa suspected it was because he was uncomfortable riding his clansman’s girlfriend around on his knee.
"Why are you so crabby?" Tessa demanded. "Are you angry with me? Have I done something wrong?" She couldn’t think what. How much trouble can a transparent ghost get into? I’ve been very careful where I’ve put my little transparent hands.
"You’ve done nothing wrong. It’s just...I haven’t been home in a long time, and I’m not certain I know what I’m doing."
"You don’t think Heatherlea House will hold the bed and breakfast reservation? Don’t worry about that. There has to be someplace else we can stay."
"It’s not that!" he snapped. "Look, I’ve never traveled with a ghost before, and a lot is riding on this trip. I’ve got all of these things--magical things--to think about. Things that were considered witchcraft and very scary when I was growing up. There’s a scared little Catholic kid inside me screaming that I’m going to hell for the things I’m going to do for you. I know it sounds stupid. You don’t think I feel foolish? I do. I’m doing my best to shut up the kid, but it’s not working. This is also the first time I’ve been back to Glenfinnan in over four hundred years."
She frowned at him. "I thought you were here with Alex?"
"No. We were on the Isle of Skye."
"Oh. Well, if it’s any consideration, old thing, I’m Catholic, too. I think what you’re doing for Duncan and me is fine and noble." She tried to give him a reassuring hug and run her fingers through his hair before remembering that she couldn’t really touch him.
"Heh," he responded. "That’s your opinion. You’re prejudiced."
"And you’re punchy. I think it comes with the jetlag."
"Probably. But there’s no time difference between Marrakesh and Scotland, so you’re going to have to come up with another theory in my case. We’ve still got over a hundred kilometers to go in our little rental car before we get to Glenfinnan."
"That’s only a two-hour drive."
"No, it’s a four-hour drive. Regardless the longest distance between villages is thirty American miles, it takes an hour on single-track roads to get from one to the other. So you’d better be nice to your resident sorcerer and help keep him awake."
And so she did, by singing ribald sea chanties in French that she claimed her father had taught her. Connor considered replying with risque Victorian music hall ditties, but thought better of it. Nakana probably wouldn’t have approved. He absolutely knew that Duncan wouldn’t have. But the drive needed something to liven it up, for the Scottish Highlands in early spring were cold, barren and hard. Absolutely charmless. Some of the stony heaps on the sere hills might have been castles at one time, but they were definitely rubbish heaps now.
Tessa felt that Loch Lomond did not live up to its romantic reputation, and let Connor know so. Sheep grazed near the road, untended. Here and there, a heap of wooly scraps in the ditch marked where a car had killed one. On the left, the knife ridges of the White Corries offered stark beauty that went on for miles.
As for Connor, the further he drove, the more depressed he grew.
I hate coming back here, he reflected. The Isle of Skye is beautiful to me. Home. But this place hurts me, regardless it birthed me.
"Fort William," murmured Connor as the road sign went past. "Established, as Samuel Johnson said, to subdue, ‘savage clans and raving barbarians.’ We’ve not too far to go, now."
"I still think you’re a raving barbarian." Tessa sniffed.
"What?" Connor stared at her in surprise, uncertain of how serious she was.
Tessa grinned. "Awake now?"
"Yes, thank you," he growled, irritated and amused at the same time.
The road signs were all printing in Gaelic as well as English now. This early in the spring, the brightest color was the gorse--vulgar metallic orange bushes that splotched the shoreline of the steel gray lochs. Occasional cottages were always white and lonely, tucked beneath the stark hills for comfort.
Even Tessa was weary when they reached Glenfinnan. All of her ethereal adrenaline was gone, to the point that Connor worried about getting her to follow him from the bed & breakfast entry, up to his room. He ended by "humming" her up--creating a vibration on her plane that pushed her along before him like a breeze guiding smoke. Invisible elemental hands urged her along: she was too tired to wonder where they came from.
Not caring that Tessa might be watching, Connor stripped down to his BVD’s and fell into bed. Sleeping through what remained of the night, he was still asleep when Tessa revived sometime around lunchtime. Her host showed no sign of regaining consciousness, and so while Connor slumbered in the short, single bed, Tessa drifted through the door and down the stairs to explore the village.
There wasn’t much to explore. She located two pubs: the Lamb and Flag and the Nag’s Head. Wandering past the Nag’s Head, she saw a small black-and-white dog wandering around outside the door, obviously waiting for someone. It got to its feet as she passed, following her with its eyes.
Can you see me? she wondered, deliberately wandering out into the cobbled street.
It turned its head, marking her. And back again, when her spirit feet found the sidewalk once more.
You can see me. Wish you could talk, too. I’d have you ring up Duncan.
Two tall, thin men approached down the sidewalk. Weathered and solemn, they carried herder’s crooks and wore woolen vests beneath their tweed suitcoats. One led another black-and-white dog toward the pub.
"John Angus MacLeod, do y’see what I see?" asked the younger of the two, halting beside the collie who was still staring at Tessa. The man’s accent was so thick, she could barely understand.
"Lachlan MacKenzie would be needing another wee dram right about now, don’t you think?"
"Aye, Alasdair." MacLeod regarded the dog solemnly for a moment, then lifted soulful eyes to his friend. "Buy Lachlan his whiskey. I’ve got a bit o’ business out here to conduct."
"Oh, aye," the other man replied with a certain rogish grin. "But I’ll be wantin’ first pick o’ the litter."
"Nay, first be mine, y’thievin’ bastard."
"Second then, for me troubles and the price of the drink."
"Done. Get on wi’ it, man."
John Angus gave Alasdair a rough, companionable shove toward the pub’s door, while the dog’s attention swung from Tessa to a far more accessible--and interesting—female.
Tipping his hat, Alasdair disappeared inside the pub. Within minutes, MacLeod had arranged a meeting and mating between the two dogs outside the pub.
He just stole...Oh, my.
Tessa stared in naked disbelief as the dogs continued doing what some dogs do best. Shaking her head and wondering if a ghost could blush, Tessa ducked inside the pub.
Shepherd’s crooks decorated its walls and dangled from the low beams. Half a dozen clunky stools stood at the corner bar, and there were only three tables. A sign on the bar wall defined a "gill" of whiskey, and Tessa learned that Scottish legalese and the pouring gadget on the bottle ensured that you got a gill, not a pennyweight less.
Very important to Scots, I suppose. God knows Duncan and Connor can drink....
The pub was mostly empty, except for Alasdair, entertaining his "friend" at a corner table, and a few somber-looking older men gathered at the table nearest the tall, shallow fireplace.
"Your new un’s a bonny wee bitch," one of the men said.
"And she’ll keep off her sheep. I don’t suppose she’d ever run too wide?"
"Nae. She’d nae let a ewe get away from her."
"And she’ll kep them right to you?"
"And with the tups, strong ‘uns, she’d not be afeart of them?"
"The wee bitch’ll abide no nonsense. She’ll nae grip. She’s nae a grip in her. But she’ll shift her sheep." Sheep? They’re talking about sheep? I got that part, but what’s a tup? Interest roused, Tessa settled in to eavesdrop on the baffling conversation.
The men spoke softly. If Tessa hadn’t been sitting practically on top of them, she wouldn’t have heard a word. They talked about men, dogs, landscape, and more dogs. One told about a big sheepdog trial he had been winning the month before. Thirteen dogs from the last, one of the judges keeled over and died.
"A good day shifted t’bad," the man said. After a moment, he added ruefully, "He might o’ waited thirteen more dogs."
She stayed in the pub for hours, immersed in the new world of sheepdogs and their men that she’d discovered. When the men began drifting away from their beer and back out onto the street, Tessa drifted with them.
"I’ll see y’tomorrow, then. At the trials."
"Aye. If I’m spairt."
She was startled to discover that night had fallen. Even as a very-drunk Lachlan MacKenzie collected his weary (and happy) dog, Tessa could feel Connor calling her. She ran with all speed back to the bed and breakfast.
* * *
Connor was pacing the room when she returned, nailed her with the intensity of his grey-eyed gaze. "I was worried about you. Where have you been?"
She wrinkled her nose at him. "You sound like my father, when I was sixteen and came home late from a date."
"I’m old enough to be your father. And your great-great grandfather way back there, as well." Connor bit his complaints off with a sigh. "Never mind. I asked you to stay close."
"And watch you sleep? You’re a nice man, Connor MacLeod, but watching you sleep is not what I want to do for hours at a time. I was bored."
"Where have you been?"
"I discovered the most fascinating group of men in the Nag’s Head." She related what she’d seen, all that she’d heard.
"Heh. The more things change around here, the more they stay the same." Connor exchanged his sweater and jeans for a sweatsuit that looked far too baggy on him, without even a modest glance toward his etherial audience. "The English didn’t conquer Scotland. Sheep conquered Scotland."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sheep. Stupid, woolly little things? You’ve seen ‘em out there."
"Yes, but how could sheep conquer--"
"After the sheep comes the Scot, and Scot comes the dog, and nobody can go anywhere then because they’ve got to stay in one spot and watch the sheep. So much for going off to battle."
Tessa pondered that for a moment. "The dogs watched the sheep to frighten away the wolves?"
Connor shook his head. "Men fought the wolves. Let men get bitten, the dogs are worth more. Those Border Collies you met move livestock by controlled intimidation."
"How? In a game of chase and bite?"
"They use the ‘eye.’"
"Sheep are afraid of the ‘evil eye’?" Tessa laughed at the utter nonsense of such a thought.
Connor spared her an aggrieved glance as he laced up his sneakers. "The Collie pushes them along with a threatening glare which is called ‘eye.’ It’s probably related to the wolves’ tactic of selecting a victim in a herd by catching its eye and asserting dominance before starting the attack run. Without a Border Collie, a shepherd can’t herd sheep. If he can’t herd sheep, he hasn’t a job or a home."
"How’s that?" Tessa asked, interested in anything Scottish, because Duncan was.
"Even today, most Scottish farm lands are owned by great estates," Connor patiently explained. "Ducal, royal or commercial syndicates lease the hill farms and crop farms to tenant farmers who have a lot of rights under the law. As long as they aren’t harming the property and pay the rents, the tenants can’t be evicted. Some of those tenants are shepherds who are low on the economic scale. Typically, they gets a salary, a cottage, and some space in an old byre for his dogs."
"Buyer of what?"
"Not buyer, byre."
"Beer? They give the dogs beer to drink?" She shook her head. "Honestly, even in Scotland, I’d think that was—"
"Byre!" Connor interrupted in growing aggravation. "B-Y-R-E. A barn."
"Oh. Such a strange language."
"Strange, hell. I’m speaking English, not Gaelic."
"Well, it’s strange, even if it is English."
Connor shot her an evil look and continued. "Sometimes the shepherd is allowed to run a few sheep or cows with the farm’s own livestock. If a shepherd loses his job, he also loses his home."
She gaped at him. "And I thought that artists had problems with job security."
Connor snorted. "At least artists have company and heat and usually running water. In Scotland, things are a bit more primitive. Sheep rearing depends on the habits of the sheep. Men adapt themselves to those habits."
"Why? Sheep are silly, so why can’t they get them to do what they want. I mean, the shepherd has dogs, doesn’t he?"
"Yes, but unless you chase the sheep all day and all night, the sheep will win. For instance, unless a ewe is physically prevented from doing so, she’ll go right back to the same spot where she was lambed in order to have her own lamb. When ewes and lambs are left together to graze the high barren hill, they form small groups called hirsels. Think of them as subflocks. Neighborhoods. A hill may support a thousand ewes, but they’ll stay in five or six hirsels, which remain in distinct geographic areas. You have to move them along to prevent overgrazing. And when they’re gathered into a greater flock for shearing or dipping, they complain a lot. When you let them go, they sort themselves back into their original hirsels."
"Like a salmon."
Connor had to pause to consider that one.
"Yes, I suppose," he agreed finally. "Sheep instinct is so impossible to overcome, the animals are legally bound to the land. If you buy a farm here, you also buy the livestock already on it.
If you bought a farm and stocked it with strange sheep, your new sheep would drift hither and thither, across the boundary lines and onto the next farm, where they’d mingle with a neighbor’s flock and cause no end of difficulty."
"Sheep sound like a lot of bother to me. Why not something... more agreeable?"
"Because this is sheep land. It’s always been sheep on these hills and always will be."
"Oh. Tradition. Boys and dogs, Scots and sheep. I understand." She grinned impishly. "Do tell me more, Connor. It’s so interesting."
The following batting of blue eyes detracted from her credibility, but Connor shrugged and went on anyway.
"You asked. I’m telling. More sheep habits: Sheep graze uphill in the evening and downhill in the morning."
He threw up his hands. "I don’t know! They just do! I was a warrior, not an animal behaviorist!"
"All right," she acquiesced. "Sheep go up in the morning and down at night. At least you know which way they’re headed."
"No, that’s down in the morning and up at night. But they don’t run away, they wander away. When something startles them, they’ll flock together rather than fighting or fleeing individually. They decide which predators are harmful and which are less so."
"How would a sheep know?"
"They don’t. They just think they know. In the States, sheep are brought into corrals and chutes for work. In Scotland, except for the shearing, dipping and lamb sales, the sheep stay on the Hill. Season in, season out, the shepherd goes out to the sheep.
"During lambing, the men you saw at the pub stride up their separate hills with their crooks and their kitbags of necessities--antibiotics and other medicines, perhaps a lamb reviver dangling from their shoulders, banging and thumping him all the way up that hill. It weighs at least three tons by the time the shepherd reaches the sheep."
"What about the dogs?"
"The dogs are his only help. Among the sheep, indifferent to all but the wildest weather, that shepherd is herdsman, veterinarian, and midwife. On the spot he decides whether a ewe needs help lambing and, if so, performs obstetrics."
Tessa shuddered. "How dismal. Nothing but ugly hills and sheep for company. No beauty, no comfort, no company. No conversation. No art," she breathed in horror. "It sounds horrible." Pausing, she cocked her head and studied Connor for a moment. "How do you know so much about all of this?"
"Off and on, I spend the late 30’s and early 40’s as a shepherd up here."
"No wonder you’re so crabby. Have you gotten warmed up yet?" Her impish grin managed to coax a smile from Connor.
"Almost. Do you want to know anything more?"
"Oh, please go on," she replied with as much polite enthusiasm as she could muster, though she’d already learned more about sheep than she’d ever wanted to know. A wool suit was quite close enough.
"The crooks you saw them carry are briar staffs topped by a carved sheep’s horn handle. The shepherds make the crooks themselves, between chores, when they’re lads on the Hill."
"Connor, even I know sheep don’t have horns. You’re teasing me, now."
"No, I’m not. Though I could." His grey eyes smiled at her, and her ignorance. "Ewes don’t have horns. Rams have horns. Hard, curly horns."
"Without his dogs, high on an unfenced barren hill, no shepherd could do his work. No man can run as fast as a frightened sheep and a running dog. All he can do is call out commands to the dog. The dog does most of the work. How can a man catch and upend a lambing ewe without a dog? How can he drive a hirsel to shelter in the teeth of a storm?"
"Running shoes," came Tessa’s caustic reply. She seemed sorry she’d ever started this conversation, but Connor was in educational mode, and learn she would.
"Duncan herded sheep around here at one time, too, you know?"
She sat up straighter. The subject had just become more interesting.
"A young part-trained dog can make many mistakes," continued Connor. "He can fetch when you want him to drive, nip when he shouldn’t, go away to you when you want him to get bye."
"I don’t understand any of that."
"Get bye--Bring you sheep as opposed to driving them away. Go left instead of right. All of these are annoying, but in time they’re correctable. The only unforgivable sin in a young sheepdog is for it to decide to quit and go home. Abandoned by his dog, a shepherd is useless. Alone on the high whistling hill, responsible for animals he can neither catch nor gather, sort nor drive. The sheepdog who abandons his work is lucky to be sold. As for Lachlan’s loss of a stud fee..."
Connor shrugged as he brought the conversation full circle. "If Lachlan drinks as much as I suspect he does, there’s more than one sly Scottish farmer who’s used Lachlan’s champion to line his bitch while Lachlan was inside that pub, too drunk to know."
Taking off his watch, Connor placed it on the bedstand, along with his wallet. Grabbing his coat, he headed for the door. "Are you ready?"
"You’re leaving your money, your passport, behind?"
"Why not? Nobody’ll take it. Where we’re going, I don’t need a passport."
"Where’s that?" she coaxed. "To visit the Nag’s Head?"
"Maybe later. Right now, you and I are going to take a moonlit stroll down on the Loch."
It sounded romantic. And it was a romantic night. But the MacLeod she was with wasn’t the right MacLeod. Even if Connor was full of fascinating sheep trivia, he still wasn’t the one she would have preferred to accompany on a moonlit stroll. She hoped he had something else in mind other than sharing more Scottish agricultural history.
But by the time they arrived at Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Monument at the head of the loch, a heavy full moon was lifting itself over the mountain. Connor paused at the base of the monument to stare over the wall, up at his hapless prince.
"This is where we stood," he murmured, "on the shores of Loch Shiel, from dawn to dusk one grand day in August, while forty-five Highland clans pledged Charlie fealty. Duncan was here. So was I."
"Duncan was here for that?" Tessa’s interest in Connor’s lectures was suddenly reborn. "Duncan never really talks about it. Or about much of anything in Scotland. Will you tell me what happened?"
Connor leaned against the wall. "It’s not a pretty tale," he warned.
"I don’t care. Start talking," Tessa coaxed. "Tell me everything you remember."
Connor bowed his head, letting the memories flood back. Taking a deep breath, he looked over the loch.
"In late July of 1745," he began softly, "The prince sailed from France with seven men and vague promises of French assistance. Charlie landed on the shore of Loch nan Uamh--Loch of the Caves--and ordered the French ship to abandon him on the beach. He concealed himself in a cave, and when the chieftains heard of his arrival, they were appalled. Where was his army? Many of the Highlanders were Jacobites--adherents to the Jamesian line of Scottish kings."
"James being the son of Mary, Queen of Scots?"
"The very same. That made Charlie the rightful heir to the throne of England and Scotland. Many of the chieftains were also Catholic--like Charlie. He shamed Jacobite and Catholic into joining him."
Connor shook his head. "Starvation isn’t romantic. Since the union of the Scottish and English parliaments in 1707, Scotland had been depressed. We were hungry. Some clansmen also slipped out of their remote glens to join Charlie for the pure, unadulterated hell of it. After the Rebellion collapsed, I asked Duncan if he really thought we could prevail. ‘I ne’er thocht aboot it,’ he said, ‘I just thocht hee pleasant it wad be to see Duncan riflin’ London.’
Tessa laughed at Connor’s imitation of her love’s old accent.
"From Glenfinnan, we marched south to Edinburgh—which fell happily, with much drinking and wenching. Then we took Preston Pans and turned south toward London. It was a stirring sight. The English never knew how to fight proper. Not against a Highlander."
He gazed out across the loch, seeing not the moon or the black water, but the troops, the drummers, the pipers of centuries past.
"Charlie’s last stand was in April of 1746, deep in the Highlands near Inverness, at Drummossie. It’s called Culloden Moor now. There’s not much to see. The battlefield is flat and not large. We charged, the English line held, the fatal English artillery thundered..."
He turned away, but not before Tessa had seen the anguish in his face. "You can walk the graveyard of the clans in an hour. We’ll not be going there."
Leading the way around the corner of the wall guarding Charlie’s monument, Connor located a small boat that seemed to be ready and waiting just for them. Casting off the mooring, he climbed into the boat and shoved away from the sandy shore.
"Well, don’t just stand there looking dead," he called to Tessa, who had remained behind. "Come on."
"I can’t walk on water, Connor. Come back here!" Tessa complained, standing a fingers width from the waters edge.
"Yes, you can." Connor grinned back, his teeth glittering in the moonlight. "Float on over here."
"I don’t know how," she wailed.
"Sure you do. Just try."
Each stroke of the oars was taking her transportation further away, over the loch. The waters looked black under the moonlight, and not at all good for walking.
"Ooooh, you’ll pay for this," Tessa muttered. "Just as soon as I get my body back, I’ll get even. And then I’ll tell Duncan. And he’ll pay you back again."
Her thoughts of revenge sustained her over the water and into the boat before she realized it. Settling in with a satisfied thump, she gazed out over the water with cool indifference to her chauffeur.
"And where are we going?"
Connor paused in his stroking and did some asymmetrical splashing with his oars, managing to spin in place for a moment until he got his bearings. "Hang about a moment. I haven’t done this in a very long time. There...I think that’s got it. We’re going to this island I know."
"Island? What island?" Her eyes scanned the loch. Did he mean the small, treed peninsula you could walk over at low tide?
"Sit still. We haven’t got all night."
With a sigh, Tessa resigned herself to this moonlight madness. "Where did you get the boat?"
"I rented it."
"Couldn’t you have rented a motor, too?"
He shook his head as he began breathing faster. "Not for what I have to do. Motors and ghosts don’t go together. It’s vibration would mess up your vibration."
Connor stopped rowing for a moment to meet her eyes.
"No more questions," he said wearily. "Hush. It’s time to play with the magic."
Rowing onward, Connor began muttering under his breath. At first, Tessa couldn’t make out what he was saying. Not only that, she was too busy watching fog fingers taking shape in the distance and billowing across the smooth lake surface to encompass their little craft.
"Mothaím thú cogarnai," Connor was chanting, over and over. "Mothaím thú cogarnai." Muscles warming to the task of the oars, he closed his eyes and kept chanting.
"Shouldn’t you look where you’re going?"
He didn’t seem to hear her. "Mothaím thú cogarnai."
"What does that mean?"
I hear you whispering. The translation came, unbidden, into her mind, as clearly as if Connor had spoken aloud. Suddenly, inexplicably, Tessa could understand him. Gaelic turned to French turned to English to became a universal language that sang over the loch mist and into her soul. She and Connor were one with it. Wherever you will go, I will go. Wherever you will turn, I’ll follow so.
The mist enveloped them. The water disappeared and the boat glided along, silent except for the quiet splash of water against Connor’s oars. He rowed for a long time, until Tessa could no longer see the moon, the stars, or anything else. Leaning over the side, she trailed her fingers in the water, only to remember that it was physical and she was not. She imagined it was there somewhere, even if she couldn’t feel it. She wished she could reach out and touch Connor, just once, by way of reassurance. She nearly leaped out of the boat when they struck something.
"Sand," Connor informed her with a grin. "Not dangerous. Not even magical." Hopping out of the boat, he yanked it--and her with it--up onto the shore. "Time to get out."
In no mood to even try imitating a live person, Tessa stepped through the boat and the surf. "Where are we?"
"On an island in the middle of the loch."
"There is no island in the middle of Loch Shiel."
"How do you know you’re still on Loch Shiel? Come on."
Leading the way over the pebble-strewn shore, Connor moved so quickly that Tessa had no further opportunity to question him. Swiftly, he climbed the cliff path. Tessa followed respectfully behind, sensing that her guide’s mood had lightened, that he seemed to be feeling more at ease now that they’d found the island.
Did he really conjure up this place? she wondered, or does he just want to give me the willies?
"This is neat. I wasn’t even certain this island existed," Connor commented when Tessa had caught up to him.
"What island might that be?" she asked carefully as they approached a broken-down tower, whose jagged stone ruins were as tall as those at Glastonbury Abbey, which Duncan had insisted she see when they vacationed there one summer.
"You’re in the Celtic Land of Youth, Tessa Noel. You’re standing amid the ruins of Faery. The Irish called it Tir na Nog."
"There are fairies around here?" Her tone was skeptical, but still she peered into the grey shadows.
"Not here, precisely. As mankind moved in, the fairies retreated further inland. Hence the ruins. Relax. You probably won’t see a single fairy."
Leaning against a pile of stones that used to be a wall, Connor slipped off his white Nikes. Padding barefoot amid the ruins, he planted both feet firmly in the heather-blanketed center and bowed his head.
Tessa respected his meditation, trying to curb her impatience. The moon climbed higher, peering through the mist as though curious about what these particular humans were doing.
It looks bigger than I’ve ever seen it. She glanced once more at Connor, who was still lost in reverie. What is he doing? Is he planning on staying all night? Why did he drag me out here, anyway? What am I supposed to be doing?
She watched the shadows of the leaves move slightly on the walls. And when she looked back, Connor was standing before her, his sword drawn. His eyes glittered.
"Are you ready?"
"Ready for what?" she gasped, backing away in alarm. The last time she’d seen that look, Duncan had a katana in his hand and battle in his heart.
"I’m going to attempt bringing you back now. Isn’t that what you wanted?"
She blinked up at him. "You looked like you were going to chop off my head."
His eyes widened. "I’d never hurt you, Tessa."
"I know that. I was just startled, that’s all. I didn’t hear you sneaking up on me." She summoned a weak smile. "Besides, how do you behead a ghost?"
She looked around. "If you’re bringing me back, where’s all of the stuff magicians need to perform their magic?"
"Right here." He tapped his temple with his free hand. "Everything in this world is illusion. Nothing but dreams."
"You’re telling me I’m dreaming? I’m not really dead?" She bristled. "That’s ludicrous. Duncan would be the first one to tell you that, if he weren’t in line after me."
Sighing, Connor stared at the ground for a moment. Can’t she take my word for anything?
"If you study metaphysics and certain philosophies like Buddhism, you’ll discover that a lot of people have believed for a lot of years that everything is illusion. What you believe becomes your world when you believe in it strongly enough. You are not dreaming, Tessa. I’m not asking you to agree with the philosophers and lamas. What I am asking is that you help me out tonight, just a little. Try believing, just for a little while, that you’re standing in a world of pure imagination, where anything is possible. Do you think you can do that? Pretend if you have to."
He smiled at her before turning away.
Oh, Connor, she thought as he retreated with his sword, beckoning her to follow him into the clearing, you’re asking me to trust you with a child’s heart. You’re asking me to believe that miracles happen, that you really have the ability to bring me back to the land of the living. I know you have extraordinary talents. I also know that you’ve never used them before. I’m scared to death that you’ll fail, that I’ll be just as dead when you finish as I am right now.
Lowering his katana, Connor cut through the heather, drawing a circle around the two of them. Beside him, Tessa screeched.
"You’re not supposed to do that! Not only does it show disrespect, it damages the blade."
"Is that so?" Connor replied mildly. "And who told you that?"
"Duncan told me that!" Tessa hissed. "And Duncan knows everything about a sword. A katana."
His eyes blazed into hers. "And who do you think taught Duncan? It’s not real, Tessa. It’s all illusion. The sword is fine."
She gave him a dubious look, but as he didn’t draw any more figures in the dirt, she let it go without further comment. If Connor MacLeod wanted to wreck a perfectly beautiful sword on something so stupid, she’d let him.
But Duncan would have his head...well, maybe just his sword...for that. I wish Duncan was here to see his old mentor breaking his own rules.
Kneeling, Connor placed the katana between him and Tessa. Closing his eyes, he began chanting again, in a language Tessa didn’t understand.
It sounds a little like what Duncan used to say sometimes, when he let fly over something Richie had done, she reflected.
Connor’s body shimmered in the moonlight, shaping and reshaping itself as tendrils of mist floated up from the ground. Tessa stepped back, only to have invisible hands hold her inside the circle as Connor’s hair darkened and lengthened, his shoulders grew broader, his frame became more heavily muscled. Tessa pushed against the unseen barrier, suddenly uncertain of her request. Being alive was wonderful, but Connor’s actions were surreal, beyond understanding. He was frightening her.
Raising his head, Connor regarded Tessa calmly through her beloved Duncan’s brown eyes. She knew every inch of that chiseled jaw, knew exactly where Duncan’s eyes would crinkle at the corners. She knew the tiny scars beneath his ear--imperfections earned in childhood, or missed by Immortal healings.
Drawing her breath on a sob and daring to step closer, Tessa ran shaking fingers over this Duncan’s cheek. "Oh, my God...You’re beautiful."
His fingers--Duncan’s fingers--wrapped around her wrists. His voice--not Connor’s--chanted quietly.
"Is grá geal mo chroi thú, fan liom i gconaí. Beith mise dí dílis. Is grá geal mo chroi thú, tusa mo mhuirin. Fan ag mo thaobh sa." My love, stay with me always, Duncan’s voice translated in her mind. Be true to me. You are my love, stay by my side.
Its rhythm thrummed in her mind, sang through her soul. As he chanted louder, his baritone voice vibrated in her chest, spiraled up into her skull.
"Is grá geal mo chroi thú, fan liom i gconaí," she began whispering with him, only to falter when his fingers entwined with hers and she realized that his body and her spirit could actually touch.
Leaning down, he murmured into her ear. "Is grá geal mo chroi thú, fan ag mo thaobh sa." You are my love, stay by my side.
"Fan ag mo thaobh sa," she echoed.
The mist encircled them, entwined them. The ruins dissolved, locking them him in a separate reality, where nothing mattered but their voices rising in the night, creating a focused power that had purpose and joy this night.
Return again, to the land of your soul.
Return to what you are, who you are.
Return to where you are born, and reborn again.
"I remember everything she was...all gone."
Connor heard Duncan’s words again in his mind. Through the power of his imagination, he took the words and changed them, took the emotions behind them and changed those, too, and wrapped around them the reality he was creating this night. Summoning every memory and scrap of knowledge he had gained of Duncan over the years, the Highlander entwined them with his own soul and cast a perfect mirror-image of the immortal who lay asleep half a world away.
I remember everything Duncan MacLeod is...all here.
He was Duncan, looking with love at the woman standing before him. I remember every conversation, every smile, every gesture, every look. She is here with me again. And then I reach out to hold her--
He slipped his hand across Tessa’s shoulders. Shivering, she yielded to the slight pressure of his fingers urging her to lean against his chest.
"Deep peace of the running wave to you," he murmured in the old Gaelic. More than a traditional blessing, this night it was an incantation, a declaration for her future. He held her gently, as a child would hold a captive bird. "Deep peace of the flowing air, of the quiet earth to you."
Closing his eyes, he envisioned her as he had first met her: spirited, sane, strong, alive. "Deep peace of the gentle light to you. Moon and stars pour their healing light on you. Forever."
Into the swirling vortex of her confused emotions, he sent calm and contentment, gradually dissolving the circle and the power that bound them together. Burying her nose in his sweatshirt, Tessa wept as Connor completed his magic. When the shimmering lights had faded, when the heather had become only heather once more, he drew back and smoothed away her tears.
"Why are you crying?"
She blinked at him in the moonlight. "Connor?"
"I thought you were..." Confused, she shook her head. "I don’t understand any of this."
She glanced about. The mists had cleared, the sun was shining now, but they were still standing in the middle of a broken-down castle. Connor’s katana lay covered with dew on the heather. The tiny flowers tickled the tops of Tessa’s bare feet. Looking down, she discovered that she was standing naked against in Connor MacLeod’s chest.
She blushed. "Oh, my God."
Whirling, he yanked off his sweatshirt and thrust it back at her. "Here, put this on."
Taking it, she fumbled her way into it as he looked someplace else. It covered what it needed to cover--and then some. Her teeth were chattering--whether from cold or from shock, Tessa wasn’t certain. "I’m alive, and...and you wore this because you knew—you knew, you beast!--that you’d be changing into Duncan and he’s too big for your shirts. You knew all of this was going to happen, and you didn’t warn me!"
Shrugging, he grinned over his shoulder at her. "I wasn’t certain it would work. But yeah, you’re alive. You might also try being nice to me, since I know the way back to Glenfinnan and you don’t."
Shoving up the four inches of sleeve that were in her way, Tessa balled up her delicate fist and punched Connor in the arm.
"Hey!" Rubbing the offended muscle, he scowled at her. "What was that for? I did what you wanted. I brought you back from the dead. The least you could say is thank you."
"Thank you," she ground out. "You could have prepared a little better for...this!" She gestured to her long-legged, still-naked-except-for-his-sweatshirt self.
"I’ve never done this before. How was I supposed to know you’d be born naked back into this world?"
"Magicians are supposed to know everything."
"Well, I don’t." Leaning down, Connor retrieved his sword. Shaking it, he relieved it of some of the dew. That’s not helping much, his expression said. Rather than returning it to its hidden sheath, he carried it. "Come on. Let’s go back to civilization. Such as it is."
"Connor?" Her fingers on his arm stopped him. "You said this was Tir na Nog."
"That’s right. Enjoy the view. You won’t see it again."
But--But can I go back to my world? To Duncan? Really go back?"
"What, you think you have to stay in Tir na Nog?"
"Duncan told me the stories of people who went for a day, and stayed the equivalent of a hundred years here. Is that what’s happened to me?"
His grey eyes were laughing. "You must be joking."
"It’s no joke." Her gaze searched his. "It’s no big deal if you’ve stayed here that long. You’re immortal--you can just pick up where you left off. But me...I’m mortal, Connor. I don’t want to just get my body back to discover that I’m an old hag on the other side of this loch."
Grinning, he touched her nose. "Oh. Old Culhoulan. He had a special problem. You don’t. Won’t happen. You haven’t been gone, but overnight."
Slinging an arm about her shoulders, he hugged her close. "Hey, I look after my friends. And you’re my friend. Even if you did hit me. Come on, Tessa. Trust me." Connor paused to look out over the loch, dancing with diamond-sparkles in the early sun. "And help me find the boat, okay?"
* * *
Connor’s hand on Tessa’s shoulder woke her early the next morning.
"We need to be off fairly soon," he warned. "I checked in alone, remember? It won’t do for the hostess to see me leave with a lady on my arm."
"I suppose it would wreck your reputation." Yawning at him, she sat up and clutched the blankets to her. "What am I supposed to wear?"
"For now, these." He tossed her a sweatsuit--one a bit smaller than the one he’d worn the night before for his transformation into Duncan.
Climbing out of bed, she saw Connor stretch and wince.
"What, sleeping on the floor wasn’t as comfortable as you thought? ‘It’s okay, Tessa,’ she mimicked him the night before. ‘I’ve slept in worse places. Forests, mostly.’"
He grinned at her. "Scottish floors aren’t as soft as Scottish heather. You’ll find a new toothbrush in the bathroom. We’ll get you properly outfitted in Glasgow."
"Thank you," she said, meaning it.
After slipping on the sweatpants, she padded past him and out into the hallway. Closing the bathroom door behind her, she leaned against it, took a deep breath before stepping up to the mirror. Do I have a reflection now? she wondered. And do I look like the same old Tessa?
It took tremendous strength to overcome the quaking in her insides and square herself up before the tiny pane of reflective glass. An even more herculean effort was required before she could open her eyes. But Tessa managed, as her desperation overcame her fear just as it had last night. Drawing a deep breath, she opened her eyes to stare back into her own familiar blue gaze. The eyes were the same. The face was the same and the growing smile was hers. The worry lines across her forehead had faded somewhat, and she didn’t look nearly so tired as she remembered feeling the night Duncan rescued her from the insane Watcher keeping her captive. But her hair was properly blonde, and her height seemed correct, and her hands....
She stared down at them. They were small hands, and she remembered them as looking a bit more weathered. How could they not, immersed as they often had been in clay, turpentine, paint thinner, plaster of paris, and a score of other chemically driven materials that cared nothing for any prima-donna artist’s hands? She’d always cared more about the final creative product than about preserving her skin. In her thirties when she died, Tessa knew that she had had the hands of a forty-year-old woman.
Not any more, it would appear. The skin on her hands looked younger, the nails were perfect as they hadn’t been for years.
Looking into the mirror once more, she saw a wide-eyed, not unattractive young woman of perhaps thirty years. Her hair was tangled, it was true, and she was a bit pale--as though she hadn’t spent much time out of doors lately--but by and large, the face looking back was the one Tessa remembered from her late twenties.
What’s going on here?
Heigh-ho, I suppose I can’t expect things to be exactly as they were. She ran her hands over her arms. This can’t be the same body I had. Some things are going to be different. I should probably just be glad that I can feel the tile under my feet, that I’ve got goosebumps. Connor’s worked a miracle and here I am, examining things as though I’m trying to find flaws. I’m not. It’s just...This is all so strange. Am I really, truly alive?
"Hey, are you going to be all day in there?" Connor demanded on the other side of the door.
"I’ll be out in a minute." Grabbing the toothbrush he’d left for her, she searched for the tube of toothpaste. Even as she brushed her teeth, she decided that she was definitely alive. Ghosts don’t need to spit into sinks.
Another furtive glance into that mirror assured her she was definitely alive: her hair was defying every bad hair day she’d had.
"Connor!" she wailed around the toothpaste. "I need a comb."
* * *
Climbing into the car after seeing Tessa safely ensconced in her seat, Connor said, "You’ve been reborn in Scotland, with Gaelic magic. You’re one of us now."
"One of who? What does that mean?"
He started the car. "It means that I’ve decided to take you to Culloden Moor after all."
She smiled gratefully at him, happy that he’d chosen to show her another part of his and Duncan’s history. Driving through the Scottish countryside, she tried to absorb all of the events of the past few hours. It was an impossible task, requiring nothing so much as that she tuck away the images and the memories until one day in the future she could sit in a quiet space and remember everything. If she sorted through it, she could make some sense of it. But for now, all she could do was to go with the flow and let Connor lead her where he would. And enjoy the very solid feel of upholstery under her hands, the seat beneath her thighs. Life was definitely better than yesterday, wherever it might lead.
After all, I haven’t so much as a penny of my own, much less a sock. I’m totally at his mercy.
It wasn’t such an unpleasant place to be. Part of her felt like a newborn child; the world was fresh and new. Another part of her was preoccupied with Duncan. When and where will we meet again? Should I explain what’s happened, or should Connor?
The miles and the minutes rolled by, and Tessa stared out the window. Somehow, she was contented to match Connor’s silence with her own, sensing that his insisting on carrying her many hours north was more than a little significant.
‘We’ll not be going there,’ he had said. He didn’t often change his mind for the fun of it, and she doubted that was his reason for doing so now. The reason behind this, coupled with his mood-which was growing increasingly grim as the miles rolled away--was making her uneasy.
* * *
Six miles from Inverness lay Culloden Moor. Getting out of the car, Tessa followed a silent Connor into the visitor’s center. In silence, they walked past the old plaid that was on display with wrapping instructions, in case anyone wanted to try it on. In silence, they wandered past display cases with relics of the battle--so and so’s pistol, someone else’s dirk.
The original battle orders issued to Charlie’s troops were displayed, too. Connor whispered the translation into Tessa’s ear. Pointing to a parchment beside those orders, he also translated the forged version that the English had passed out to their own troops.
"The Duke of Cumberland added ‘no quarter,’" Connor explained, leaning on the case and pointing out the ornate Gothic lettering. "The English were terrified of we barbarians. Of course they fought hard and took revenge."
"We were exhausted and hungry. Each of us had had only a biscuit to eat the day before. Even so, we might have triumphed, had Prince Charlie not ordered the charge too late to be effective. We were outnumbered two to one." His tone was bitter, his mood gone to black. Pushing away from the sterile displays, Connor led the way from the visitor’s center and onto the moor.
Few tourists were about in early spring. Tessa held closed the throat of her borrowed jacket, trying to keep out the cold wind as she followed Connor over the grassy moor.
"The battle lasted less than an hour," he spoke softly, quickly. "Cumberland was fat, ill natured and ugly. He ordered no quarter. Most of the wounded Highlanders were shot. A few were burned alive. The clans died here, Tessa. Not just men, the clans."
He led the way to one huge, upended boulder. Others were scattered over the field.
"The dead were buried according to their respective clans, just where they fell. The MacDonalds, the Frasers, the MacLeods, the Farquarsons, the MacCaigs." He ticked them off on his fingers. "We all fought and died together. The only thing the clans ever did together."
Leaving Tessa to ponder the other names on the boulder--and to realize that other clans had headstones of their own scattered about--Connor strode on to the Well of the Dead. Tessa followed meekly a few minutes later, coming up to stand beside him.
"A few wounded dragged themselves here for a last taste of cool water. The English slaughtered them," murmured Connor.
A few tourists, dressed against the chill, strolled about taking pictures. Connor looked at them, looked at the solitary stone marking the spot where the Chief of the MacGillivrays fell.
"This was a mistake," he whispered. "I cannot bear this."
Taking his arm, Tessa urged him away. "You can bear it, because you are teaching me about it. Those other people may not realize where they are walking, but I do. I will not forget, Connor. I will always remember."
Approaching the memorial cairn, Tessa read the inscription aloud as Connor stood miserably at her side, his hands buried in the pockets of his trenchcoat.
"The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor 16 April 1746. The Graves of the Gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their Clans."
"We might have won the throne of England, had we been less obstinate," Connor murmured. "Remember this cairn, Tessa, for it epitomizes the end of an old order of things--the death of chivalry as Scotland knew it. If we had won this battle, British history would have been changed. Perhaps also the history of the world. You might have been speaking Gaelic."
"French," she replied haughtily. "I speak French."
"Aye. Y’do." He shook his head. "But the battle was not ours. It was not meant to be."
Stepping close to the cairn, Connor laid a hand to the cold stones. "We fought in April two-hundred and forty-two years, twelve generations of men ago. But to me, the fighting seems more recent than that. I stand here and wonder that the grass ripped by the rushing troops has had time to heal."
Turning, he looked out over the moor. For the first time since she had met him, Tessa saw that there was no laughter in his eyes. The wind stirred his short hair, and she tried to imagine what this man had looked like all those years ago...Clad in a kilt, with broadsword and shield, or perhaps a spear. His hair would have been much longer, with parts of it braided. By twentieth-century standards, Connor was not a big man. By 18th-Century standards, he was. Going to him, Tessa stroked his back.
"I’m sorry," was all she could think to say.
"I’m sorry, too." Sighing deeply, he closed his eyes. "You should have been here afterward, when the Highland mists were so close to the earth and so thick. Dark came early, but the cries of the dying did not end with the day. The mist completely blanketed those souls yearning to flee. The mist is good for hiding and running. But not if cannot stand."
Wrapping her arms about him, Tessa hugged tightly. "They’re free, now. Every one of them. They’re at peace, and they can’t be hurt any more."
"No, they can’t. Thank God." Opening his eyes, Connor returned her hug and smiled down at her. "Come on. Let’s see if Inverness has a decent dinner waiting for us."
They left without looking back.
"What happened to Charlie?" Tessa dared to ask once they were in the car and well away from Culloden Moor.
"With a 30,000-pound bounty on his head, he wandered the western Highlands for six months before a French ship carried him off," said Connor. "He lived and died in Rome afterward--a plump, unhappy man, cuckolded by his German wife, drinking too much, and weeping openly when friends played Highland ballads."
"Did you ever see him again?"
"No." He cast her a sideways glance that said, I didn’t want to, either. "I’d seen my friends slaughtered. Those who escaped death on the battlefield were pursued to their own doorsteps and murdered there. Their homes were burned. New laws forbade the wearing of the tartan or playing of the bagpipe. The Scots were disarmed. Jacobite estates were confiscated by the Crown. We were erased. Or harnessed to English will. Dead is better," he continued after a pause. "Life wasn’t good for those that survived."
He gestured at the passing landscape. "When I think of this land, I think of blood and loss. The clans died at Culloden, Tessa. Afterward, many of the remaining chieftains began to discover London’s charms. They leased their lands to English sheep farmers, who signed Scottish leases on condition that the land be untenanted--meaning, uninhabited by the people who belonged to this land. We couldn’t live on our own lands--lands that had been ours by bloodright from the beginning of Scotland. From 1746 until Victorian times, the small Highland crofters--that’s farmers to you--were systematically driven off their holdings.
"If you travel this land, here and there you’ll still come across a mossy wall where a village used to be, or a home’s scorched lintel stone. All that’s left of a tradition, a people...a way of life. Some crofters migrated to the shoreline, where they made a scant livelihood gathering seaweed. Others moved south, crowding the warrens of Edinburgh and Glasgow. They arrived already starving, with rural customs and dress. They were unskilled, and they spoke only Gaelic. They didn’t thrive. In 1835, life expectancy in Glasgow was about thirty years. In the Highlands, half of the children in some parishes died by the age of eleven. I was there. I know. Between 1780 and 1810, 42,000 Highlanders left for Australia, the States, and Canada. Four out of five survived the journey. Those who remained behind in Scotland were made to feel ashamed of their ancestry, ashamed of their language. No tartans. No pipes. No Gaelic. Only the English."
He shook his head. "Our language and our culture nearly died, Tessa. There was a time when I believed that Duncan and I were the only ones who would remember the old words. Happily, I’ve been proved wrong. But it has taken many years. And I cannot forget the way things used to be, and the many wrongs that have been done. I am not so foolish as to believe that time could be turned backward, that I could make a difference now. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten. My God, how could I? And how could Duncan?"
"I will remember," Tessa promised softly. "I’m one of you now, you said. And I will remember all that you’ve said."
* * *
Looking back, Tessa would always recall Connor’s grousing that it had been less trouble for him to bring her back from the dead, than it was for him to contact an old friend in the London underground ("And I don’t mean the subway") for assistance in establishing a new ("Illegal, but effective") identity for her.
"Can I help?" she’d asked.
"No, you’re still dead," came the miserable response, before Connor tried another phone number in his quest to find his friend. That number worked, thankfully, and his mood relaxed. Connor wasn’t comfortable to be near when he was on edge.
"It only took me three hours to create for you a new body," he pointed out. "How come it takes Freddy a bloody three days to create a viable United States citizenship?"
"Are you so eager to get ride of me, then?" she teased, knowing that he had already arranged to have plane tickets to Seattle delivered to the hotel that afternoon.
"No. I’m eager to see the look on Duncan’s face when you walk in."
The smile that came with that declaration spoke volumes, but Tessa knew it had to be eclipsed by her own smile of delighted anticipation. Christmas had been an impossible, agonizing wait for her as a child, but it was nothing compared to the heart-pounding hunger she felt for her homecoming.
Shortly thereafter, Tessa relieved Connor of his credit card and left him in his homey room at the latest bed and breakfast establishment, to embark upon a clothes hunt. One couldn’t arrive at a homecoming unprepared, and she would look her finest for her reunion with her love.
"Thank whatever gods there be that you don’t have to have a passport to use that card!" was Connor’s bellowed parting shot.
Eventually, her new papers arrived, along with a new passport, and the Highlander could heave a sigh of relief that he didn’t have to change the reservations to Seattle, after all.
"Another two days with you would be unendurable," he announced. It was all he could do to keep her together to meet the plane, her excitement was so great. Now all I have to do is keep her in her seat, and hope the bouncing doesn’t jiggle the plane too much.
He watched her expression, entertained by the combination of annoyance, amusement, and wistful longing.
I remember what it is to be so in love. To want, and to be wanted so much. Heather... Ach, but what am I whining about? I’ve Alex and John waiting for me. No man was ever better loved than that. But such passion... Oh, mortal or immortal, that’s a gift given only once in a man’s life. Duncan is a lucky soul....
"Is Duncan meeting the plane?" she asked, once they were airborne.
"Er...no." He sent a sidelong glance her way. "He, uh...doesn’t know you’re coming with me, and I didn’t think you’d want this reunion in public."
"I don’t." She was startled to realize that she was very nervous about revealing herself. "What do you suggest?"
"You know him better than I do," Connor hedged. "Where is he most likely not to faint or need medical assistance after your existence is revealed?"
She thought a moment. "It’s going to be a shock, not matter what. Maybe we should keep things simple?"
"Sounds like a plan."
The minute they deplaned, Connor headed for the telephone. Tessa was hot on his heels.
"Hey, Duncan, glad you’re home," he said into the receiver and winked at Tessa, who suddenly discovered that butterflies had taken up residence in her stomach. "Look, I just got into town," Connor continued, "and there’s somebody I want you to meet. Somebody very special. I think you’ll like her."
Tessa tugged on his sleeve and hissed, "What is he saying?"
Connor waved her away and tried to concentrate on the conversation. "Let’s just say that, occasionally, I manage to find a good woman. And yeah, I guess this does mean I’m breaking a 175-year record. So will you let me bring her over?"
Pause. "No, I am not ‘fixing you up.’ You get all the good women, anyway. Why should I help?"
Connor reached behind him to shove at Tessa, fearful that her giggles would reach through the phone connection.
"Go away," he hissed. "No, not you, Duncan. Please, humor me. I want to introduce you." Pause. "Yes, it’s important to me. How about now?"
Seconds later, Connor was off of the phone, and they were on their way to collect their baggage and confront Customs.
Her passport cleared (luckily), and Tessa didn’t dare ask the question burning in her mind until they were safely out of the airport, and had picked up the car Connor had rented.
"What would have happened to me if your friend Freddie wasn’t so reliable?"
"Interpol would have you now. Beyond that, I’m not really sure, and I’d rather not find out. But there’s nothing to worry about. Freddie’s one of us, and he’s been around a long time. When he establishes a new identity in this world, it’s established. I’ve used him several times myself."
"Why did you have him set me up as a U.S. citizen? Why not French, like before?"
"Because that Tessa Noel is officially dead. The new Tessa Noel will blend in beautifully with the rest of America. Your credit cards should arrive later this week. I’ve established a couple of accounts for you at a major bank, by the way."
Reaching into his back pocket, Connor pulled out a passbook. "You’ll need to go down and sign a signature card, but beyond that, it’s all yours."
She caught her breath at the six-figure balance he’d deposited for her. "Connor, I can’t take this."
"Think of it as a birthday gift from Russell Nash. He won’t miss it."
They turned off of the freeway, and Tessa stared at the familiar buildings.
"It’s strange...Even after all these months, everything looks the same." Tessa froze abruptly, catching her breath. "Oh, Connor," she whispered. "Duncan and I will have to move, won’t we?"
"I’m afraid so. Your friends at the art centers and all of the galleries won’t understand that you’ve come back. They should be easy to avoid for awhile, since Duncan sold the store. But even being in Seattle is taking a risk. And Paris shouldn’t see you for awhile, either."
She sighed. "I’ll miss it. But there’s the whole rest of the world, right?"
"Yes," she sighed, turning on that loving smile that could melt any man’s heart. "There’s Duncan."
"And there’s always Marrakesh." He grinned at her. "The market will always be there."
"Ewww. Ah, thanks for the invitation, Connor." Remembering that strange Moroccan city, she refused to be baited. "I’m willing, of course, but I don’t know if I can get Duncan back there. You know he hated the flies, the beggars, the filth. ‘I passed decades living like this,’ he said to me. ‘I don’t miss it. I like being clean.’"
Connor laughed. "It’s really too bad that you never saw the filthy, barbaric Scotsman he used to be."
"Describe him to me?" she asked gleefully, fully aware that in the past Duncan had conspired to never leave the two of them alone together, for fear that Connor would relay some horrid little tales from Duncan’s past.
"Tell you about the lout he was?" Connor snorted. "When I first knew him, he washed twice a year--spring and fall--whether he needed it or not. His braids were always glued to the rest of his hair, which was matted, and he had fleas."
"Fleas? Like a dog?"
Connor nodded. "But then, so did I. Everyone did. Heh. It wasn’t much of a problem. We ran around in kilts and sandles, with nothing underneath but our b’hoogies."
"Excuse me? Your what?"
"You know." He gestured, and she thought that he just might be blushing. "The proper equipment for tupping."
"Tupping? As in sheep and as in rams? As in what rams do with ewes?" she inquired sweetly, finally figuring out the conversation in the Nag’s Head.
"Uh...As a matter of fact, Tessa, yeah."
"You’re incorrigible, Connor MacLeod."
"I’m honest," he defended. "And you asked."
Pulling into a parking stall a block away from Duncan’s dojo, he shark-smiled at Tessa. "Ready for the show?"
She eyed the martial arts establishment, already missing the antique shop more than she cared to admit. Her heart was pounding so loudly, she could hardly hear above it. A quick glance downward as she reached for her handbag revealed trembling hands.
"Will there be a show, do you think?" she murmured.
"You know there’ll be a show. Come on--I’ll take you up the back way. This isn’t the sort of establishment frequented by many women. You’d probably get wolf-whistled to death, and then we’d have to start all over."
You hear my voice and you can relax now.
C’mon and open your eyes,
Breathe deeply now, I am with you.
You are the love of my life,
You are my one creation,
You are eternity,
And that will never die.
Leading the way up the fire escape, Connor motioned Tessa into silence a few steps below him.
"Do you still agree that the simplest approach is the best?" she whispered.
"Absolutely," he whispered back. "Otherwise, Duncan might become the first immortal to die of a heart attack."
"Connor?" Her voice was trembling.
He paused, looking back at her anxiously.
"I’m scared." The voice was small, childlike.
"Hey, the worst is over. All you have to do now is walk in that door and back into your lover’s arms. What’s so hard about that?"
Giving a reassuring grin--the kind he specialized in--Connor knocked on Duncan’s back door. It was opened in short order, with Connor nodding at his old friend and Tessa hugging the brickwork and trying to remain invisible.
"Duncan. You’re looking good." The remark was made with raised eyebrows as he surveyed the powerfully muscled and scantily clad body before him, coated in a sheen of water.
"I just finished taking a shower. Come in and make yourself at home while I find a pair of shorts."
"I tell you I’m bringing a lady friend to meet you, and this is how you greet us? I don’t think that shows much respect for my friends, Duncan."
"Sorry," Duncan’s voice answered, with little repentance in its tone.
Holding open the heavy door, Connor frantically motioned Tessa around him. Peeking past him, she saw a dripping Duncan padding away from them, with nothing but a towel slung haphazardly around his hips.
Nice view, she thought, letting a slow smile spread across her lips.
Wrapping his fingers around her wrist, Connor yanked her past him as Duncan disappeared into the bathroom.
"I’m going to leave you two alone now," he announced, grey eyes dancing.
"What?" she hissed. "You said you couldn’t wait to see his reaction. You’re not going anywhere. I need you with me!"
"For moral support, if nothing else. I’m nervous as hell."
"Nervous? About coming home to that?" He cocked a finger in Duncan’s general direction. "Piece of cake. He loves you, you love him. No problem."
"I died, remember? I can’t just waltz in here and say, ‘Hi, love. Here I am, back from the dead, thanks to your old Scottish buddy. Let’s just pick up where we left off, shall we?"
"Why can’t you?"
"What do you mean, why can’t I?"
"It’s not as though Duncan and I haven’t died, come back and done exactly that ourselves occasionally," he explained. "Not often, mind you. But there have been times over the centuries when a loved one saw us die, didn’t know we were immortal, and had to be told when we revived."
She scowled at him. "Well, this is all very new to me, and I want you here."
"No. It’s not as bad as you think. Now get in there, Tessa. You wanted this, more than anything. I know it can be scary when a dream comes true, but you can handle it." Smoothing back her hair, he kissed her forehead. "Go help Duncan find his Fruit of the Looms. I’ll see you both later."
"Connor, you beast! I can’t do this alone. Get back here!"
"I don’t think so," came the reply, over his shoulder as he slipped out of the room.
Whimpering softly, Tessa squared her shoulders as the fire door clicked shut behind him.
Parading out of the bathroom, a now-clad Duncan was staring at the floor while towel-drying his hair. "So, what brings you to Seattle, and when do I get to meet this mystery lady of yours?"
"She’s already here."
His head snapped up. The towel was dropped. He stared through tendrils of wet hair. And he didn’t say a word.
She took a deep breath. "I missed you, Duncan."
His eyes devoured her. He took three slow strides to reach her. He laid one hand against her heart, the other touched her face. And then his arms slipped around her, holding her carefully as though he was afraid she would break or dissolve.
"Oh, my Tessa...." He was making the same small, vulnerable noises he’d made the night she had died. Bowing his head, he buried his nose against her neck, entwined his fingers in her hair.
Tessa discovered that they were both crying when their lips met in a tangle of salty-wet eagerness and tears. Letting go the remembered pain of being apart, she relaxed into his arms, and into the relief of being able to touch each other again.
As soon as Duncan touched her, Tessa knew that all had come right in his world. He would cry for a time, but eventually they’d make love, and all would be as it had been before.
Well...almost. While entwining her arms around his neck and letting him carry her off to the bed, Tessa traced the ever-so-faint traces of white at Duncan’s temples.
I did this to him, she realized. He’s been going grey with grief, regardless his miraculous healing powers. Does that mean, despite the magic of his immortality, he’s aged, just a little, because I died?
Now, there’s a scary thought.
She had no more such thoughts after he lowered her to the bed.
* * *
More thoughts came later, after they’d made love, after she was feeling she’d truly come home. Drawing circles on Duncan’s bare arm, Tessa asked, "Would you ever consider moving back into the studio and shop?"
He didn’t answer for such a long moment that she twisted around in his embrace to look at him.
"I don’t think that’s possible, Tessa. Richie sold the shop for me."
From the way he averted his eyes, she knew there was more. "Did you liquidate all of the inventory or put it into storage?"
"Richie sold it. I told him to, Tessa."
"Why!" came the cry of outrage as she rose up in the bed. "All of my things, my art! Why would you do such a thing!"
"You were dead!" Duncan protested. "I had no way of knowing you were coming back. I didn’t think you needed it anymore." His eyes held more than a little panic as she drew back.
"What about my work? All of my drawings, my sculptures and figurines? Did you sell them, too?"
She let out a stream of French epithets that made him wince. "Duncan, that was my life’s work. You never liked my contemporary pieces, did you? You just couldn’t wait to sell those, could you?"
Flinging back the covers, he vacated the bed with all speed. Grabbing his jeans, he hopped into them. "It wasn’t like that."
"Then tell me what it was like!" she snapped, reverting to her native French and knowing full well that he’d understand her. "Tell me who has my Adonis now? And my Muse?"
He ran a shaking hand through his hair. "I don’t know."
"Surely there are sales receipts in storage. You never throw anything away--"
"Tessa, you died!" He turned pleading eyes on her. "I couldn’t bear the store, couldn’t bear to be near the things you left behind. It hurt too much. Some of the smaller things--the handpapered, nested boxes and...and the portraits, I sent to your mother. But the rest..." He spread his hands. "It’s gone, Tessa. I’m truly sorry. If I could bring it back, I would."
A knock sounded at the back door. Immediately, Duncan shouted, "Come in."
Grand escape, said Tessa’s flashing blue eyes. But don’t think you’re safe yet. This is far from over.
A blonde head poked itself around the door. Connor grinned at the couple.
"It’s me." An eyebrow raised at the sight of Tessa, in bed, clutching a sheet to herself. "Oh. Tupping, hmm? Bad time. I can come back later."
"No, come back now." Tessa kicked the sheet free of her feet and wrapping it around her. With her free hand, she grabbed the jeans and shirt she’d discarded beside the bed. "I was just getting dressed."
With a last murderous glower at Duncan, she disappeared into the bathroom.
"Trouble in paradise?" Connor asked. "So soon?"
Duncan scuffed at the bedstand. "She just found out that I sold the store. All of her things went with it."
"That’s no problem."
"No problem?" shouted a furious voice from the bathroom.
Tessa appeared in the doorway. Shirt fastened, she was hopping into her jeans, didn’t seem to care if Connor caught a glimpse of long, bare legs on the way.
"That’s easy for you to say, you who has three hundred years’ worth of stuff tucked away in storage between Marrakesh and New York and London. What do I have left? Two pairs of jeans and a few shirts. My underwear because of your generosity. One barrette. I don’t even have a drawing pad!"
Zipping her jeans with a vengeance, she confronted Duncan. "I know you didn’t do this on purpose, I know that I left you the executor of my estate. But does that mean you had to execute it?"
"It’s okay, Tessa--" Connor tried to interrupt.
"It is not okay, Connor. It is most definitely not okay." Stalking forward, she planted herself before Duncan. "If you think you’re getting away with this (*poke*), you’re sadly mistaken. You find out who bought my stuff, (*poke*), and you buy it back. (*poke* *poke* *thump!*)"
"I don’t know. Richie sold it for me, and--"
"Then find Richie, and find out."
Tessa stormed across the room and snatched up the telephone to brandish it at Duncan. "Call Richie. Right now."
"No need, guys. I’m right he...." Richie stood in the doorway to the apartment, eyes wide, mouth open in dumbfounded amazement.
"Te-Tessa?" he stammered. "Are you real?" He turned wide eyes on Duncan. "This isn’t counterfeit time?"
"Richie." Tessa spared him a smile of the non-murderous variety, and moved across the room to offer a hug. "Yes, I’m real."
He shook his head. "Sorry, but the last time I saw you, you were dead. Very dead. Wanna t-tell me about this?"
Tessa and Connor both drew breath to explain, but Richie waived their words away.
"Nope. Never mind. Don’t wanna know. Hey, immortals are weird dudes. I know this. So why I should I be surprised?" He stuck out his hand. "Welcome home, lady." His voice was sounding more sure, but his eyes still held misgivings.
"I’ll explain later," Connor offered. "I think they’re going to be busy for a while."
"Oh, yeah," Richie agreed. "Count on it. Might come up for air next Tuesday sometime."
"Richie, since you’re here," Tessa asked in wheedling tones just short of murder, "Who did you sell all my art to? My equipment? Everything?"
Richie looked from her to Duncan to Connor in bewilderment. "Why don’t you ask Connor? He sent the guy."
"Sent who?" demanded Duncan and Tessa simultaneously.
"That guy. What was his name?" Richie turned to Connor for assistance. "Nash? Yeah, Russell Nash."
"Russell Nash?" exclaimed Duncan.
"Yeah. Bought it all, store and everything. Sight unseen. Paid a great price for it, too."
Duncan began to laugh. And laugh, until tears ran from his eyes. "Why didn’t you say anything?"
"Why should I? If you wanted to know, you’d have asked."
"Why is this so funny?" Tessa demanded. "I don’t think it’s funny. I want to find Nash and buy my studio back. I have money!" she snapped. "I have a passbook right here."
"Now wait, that’s not what the money was for," Connor protested.
"Duncan, if there was a problem with this Nash dude, why didn’t you tell me before I put everything up for sale?"
"Will you listen to me before you go beating up an innocent man?" roared Connor. "I have something to tell you. Both of you."
As one, they turned.
"What!" snapped Tessa, her small fingers balled up into a fist.
Get me out of this, Duncan’s eyes implored.
"I’m the one who bought the antique store," said Connor. "And your work."
"Meet Russell Nash," Duncan grinned, dropping an arm around his clansmen.
"You?" Richie considered this for a moment, then laughed. "You’re a sneak."
"Yes, I am. I’m a very good sneak."
"You bought it? All of it?" Tessa demanded. "Everything?"
Connor nodded. "Even your blowtorch. But you’ll have to refill the oxygen tanks. I’ve even got the easels, lights, paintbrushes. They’re all in storage, not far from here."
"Why didn’t you tell me?"
"I just did. I’d have told you sooner, but you were making too much noise."
"How?" Duncan whispered, shaking his head in disbelief. "How did you manage it?"
"The morning you sent me the telegram telling me what had happened, I phoned Richie to ask how you had been doing before you left for Paris. He told me, and told me, too, that you’d authorized him to sell everything. He also asked my advice about finding a broker. I told him that he probably wouldn’t need a broker. That he should just get the place appraised. He did. And Russell Nash bought it. The shop is still open and you’d have seen that, had you ever cared to drive by," he pointed out to Duncan.
"Connor, I love you."
He grinned at Tessa. "Tell me that when Duncan isn’t around, heh? It was no big deal. Really."
"But why did you buy it?" demanded Duncan.
Connor shrugged. "I don’t believe in throwing things away so quickly as you do. That’s all. I also know that you’ve been known to make one or two fast decisions that you’ve lived to regret."
Tessa nailed Duncan with a look.
"Remember this man, and remember this moment," she intoned solemnly. "You will never have a finer friend than Connor MacLeod, for he has saved you from certain death."
"Again," Connor observed smugly, giving Duncan a broad grin. "Awww, c’mon guys." Insinuating himself between the immortal and his lady, Connor threw his arms around their shoulders. "What do you say we go get something to eat and celebrate all of these new beginnings?"
* * *
Tessa sat alone on the dock, sketching seagulls flying against the sunset. Contented to watch at a distance, Duncan waited for Connor reach him.
Coming to Duncan, the Highlander stood with his hands buried in his trenchcoat and watched Tessa for a few minutes.
"Thank you," Duncan said softly.
"You’re most welcome."
Wrenching his attention away from Tessa, Duncan began walking with Connor along the surf. "She told me how you did it. Do you think that’s what Quickenings are all about? Dominion over death?"
Connor shrugged. "Might be. Might not. What I did for Tessa isn’t something I plan to do on a regular basis, Duncan, so don’t lose her again. But I love you and I love her. How could I refuse when she asked me to bring her back? We were both scared to death, and no one was more surprised than me when the magic actually worked."
"If it worked for Tessa, it would probably work for Heather," Duncan pointed out.
"No. Heather’s moved on." From Connor’s expression, Duncan knew that his friend was hoping he wouldn’t ask how he knew that. "Even if she hadn’t, how would she cope with this world? It’s so different from the one she left behind." He shook his head. "I’ve come to know that I cannot use for myself whatever gifts I’ve been given through the Quickening." His solemn expression suddenly dissolved into a grin. "But hey, it’s not all bad. If you ever receive my Quickening, you can always return the favor and bring me back."
"That’s a promise."
"By the way," Connor remarked conversationally as they turned back toward Tessa. "She’s immortal now."
Duncan stopped dead, grabbed for Connor’s arm to spin him around roughly. "What?"
"Immortal. You know: she’ll live forever. She’ll also not age. Just like us. She was reborn into Tir na Nog--the land where you never grow old and you never die."
Duncan’s hand tightened on Connor’s arm. "Does she know that?"
"I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it to her. I thought that sort of thing should come from you. She never seems to know when I’m teasing her and when I’m serious, so I doubt she’d believe me."
"Is that why you brought her back in the Land of Faery?" asked Duncan. "Is it because what’s born there is immortal here?"
"What, that?" He chuckled and resumed walking, letting the surf soak his sneakers just for the fun of it. "Coincidence, really. Anyway, Tessa’s immortal, but she’s still not entirely like us."
Duncan thought for a moment. "You’re telling me that she can die if her body is hurt badly enough?"
Connor gave a reluctant nod. "Look after her well, Duncan. Keep her safe. This magic can happen only once."
"Once is more than enough." Duncan hugged to himself the calm happiness he felt. One miracle is enough. I’ll keep her safe. Just see if I don’t. Sliding an arm around Connor’s shoulders, he hugged him hard. "Someday, somehow, I’ll find a way to thank you for this. But for now, you’ll have to settle for me buying you dinner."
"You’re on. Can we go to Thirteen Coins?
"There’s this new Norwegian restaurant I forgot to tell you about--"
"Norwegian? Heh, no way. You remember the last Norwegian meal we had. In Oslo."
"1880 was it?" Duncan reminded him. "You said you liked fish."
"I do like fish. Fish, not herring. They had pickled herring, herring on toast, curried herring, blackened herring—"
"Don’t forget the herring salad."
"Ghhh," shuddered Connor. "I’m trying. I’m really trying to forget that."
"Don’t forget the salmon."
"I could have had your head for trying to feed me that!" Connor snarled as Tessa got to her feet and joined them.
"Why bother taking out your sword? I was so sick from eating it myself that I thought I was going to die."
"I was so sick, I couldn’t have held a bloody damn sword. By the time I could, I didn’t want to fight. I wanted out of Norway and someplace warm."
Duncan laughed outright. "Have you ever been back?"
"No. Neither have the Vikings. I know that’s why they left home: they were looking for something warm and a decent meal. Have you been back?"
Shaking his head, Duncan captured Tessa’s hand in his. "The ox blood’s milk in Marabia was worse than the Norwegian herring."
"No, it wasn’t," Connor argued. "It was good."
"Only to you. Your taste has always been in your feet."
They’ll always argue, Tessa realized, snuggling against Duncan and contented to listen to the banter. It’s part of their life together, part of who they are. And they have such fun doing it, even if they’d never admit it.
"Connor?" She interrupted him in full flow.
Blinking, he snapped closed his mouth and stared at her. "What?"
"I love you, you old thing." She left it there, and leaned against Duncan as they approached the T-bird.
Blushing, Connor hunched his shoulders and paced slightly ahead of them with his head down.
"What about me?" Duncan asked plaintively, right on cue, a few seconds of silence later.
"Oh, I love you, too."
For the first time since she’d known both men, she managed to have the last word.
* * *
The next morning dawned bright and cheerful, but Connor MacLeod was oblivious to that fact. Sneaking into his bedroom, Tessa hesitated beside the bed to stare down at the man sleeping so soundly within.
Maybe I should just wait until he gets up, she pondered. But then Duncan will be up, and they’ll guard the conversational gateway for each other.
Resolved, she leaned down and shook the Highlander’s bed. Startling a sleeping Immortal was never wise.
"Huh? Wazzat?" Rolling over, he sat up on his elbow and blinked at her.
Tessa grinned to see Connor’s short hair tousled, his grey eyes squinting at her. "You need a shave. And I need to talk to you."
Shoving aside the blankets, she made room for herself on the bed.
Eyes widening, Connor quickly scooted to the other edge of the bed. "What is it you want to talk about?"
"Why are you so nervous?"
"It’s not every day a lady as beautiful as you--and belonging to my best friend, I might add--sneaks into my bedroom for an early morning conversation."
"My intentions are purely innocent."
"Does Duncan know that?" His voice cracked slightly on the last word. "Do you know where his sword is?"
"Of course. Right by his hand, as it always is. But never mind that. Why did you bring me back to life?"
Connor grinned at her quizzically. "Because you asked me to?"
"That isn’t it. You said no, and then you said yes. Why?"
Sighing, Connor sat up. "It’s kind of hard to explain."
"I really wish that you’d try."
Solemn brown eyes held hers. "If I had to choose one man from all the men on this earth to be my friend, my brother, or my son... they would all be Duncan. We are clansmen, and that is something words cannot explain."
Gently, Connor stroked Tessa’s cheek. "You mean the world to him. Regardless it was right or wrong to use the power the Quickening has given me, how could I refuse to restore his world to him?"
"I understand all of that."
"Then I’m not certain what you’re asking."
"Why do you feel that way about him? Surely you’ve trained other immortals. What sets Duncan apart from all of the rest?"
Connor laughed outright. "Hey, I don’t know. Why do you love him?"
She narrowed her eyes. "I’m asking the questions, MacLeod."
"And I’m trying to answer them, Noel. If you don’t know what makes the fellow so special, who am I to enlighten you?"
"You’re his clansman, that’s who. I know what makes Duncan special to me. I’m asking what makes him special to you."
"Same things, probably," came the prompt reply. "Except I don’t want him in my bed. His loyalty, his sense of humor, his obstinate nature when he thinks he’s right--but all Scots are like that. His sheer will and ability to survive in this world, to meet it on its own never-changing terms and adapt. He didn’t know those things when I first met him."
"Did you teach them to him?"
Connor shook his head. "I don’t know how he learned them. From life, probably, as we all must do. I taught him how to handle a sword and showed him some of the possibilities for his future. When I found him, he was half-crazed with wondering who he was. His clan and his father had rejected him, and he was alone in a world that didn’t want him. He asked me, over and over again, ‘Who am I?’"
"What did you tell him?"
Connor shrugged. "That he could be anybody that he wanted to be."
Sliding off of the bed, Tessa braced her chin on the edge. "You made him believe that, you know."
"Did I?" Grimacing, Connor relaxed a little and leaned against the headboard. "I would like to hope so. But more than a teacher, I believe that immortals learn that lesson of a necessity, as the years roll by and you have to do something with your time, with yourself, or go mad."
"I’m glad Duncan didn’t go mad," proclaimed Tessa.
Connor’s smile was gentle. "Me, too." Reaching out he ran his hand across her arm. "How could he go mad when he’s got someone like you to occupy his time?"
"Oh, you’re incorrigible," Tessa laughed. "Go back to sleep."
* * *
Three months later, Duncan handed Tessa a Federal Express mailing tube.
"What’s this?" she asked, taking it.
"Haven’t the foggiest. But it’s from Connor to you. Is your un-birthday coming up again?"
"I have no idea."
Ripping open the side of the carton, she tipped it and caught the scroll that slid out. Setting aside the carton, she unrolled the scroll and stood staring at it in bewilderment.
"Connor’s sent me some poem in Gaelic. But why? He knows I can’t read this."
Stepping up behind Tessa, Duncan looked over her shoulder. "I can. And it’s not a poem. It’s a song. Something he learned before I met him. Something he used to sing on the road, to the trees."
Clearing his throat, Duncan sang softly into Tessa’s ear and pointed out each line, each Gaelic word, as he translated.
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep,
over the midnight sea,
I will sing you a song no one sang to me--
May it keep you good company.
You can be anybody you want to be,
you can love whoever you will.
You can travel any country
where your heart leads,
and know I will love you still.
You can live by yourself,
you can gather friends around,
you can choose one special one.
And the only measure of
your words and your deeds
will be the love you leave behind
when you're gone.
You can dream all the day
never reaching the end of
everything possible for you.
And the only measure of
your words and your deeds
will be the love you leave behind
when you're through.
You will be anybody you want to be,
you will love whoever you will.
And as you travel all the countries
where your heart leads,
know that I am with you still.
When Duncan’s gentle baritone had faded, Tessa looked at the parchment a long moment before letting it scroll back on itself.
That’s what Connor couldn’t tell me. That’s what he feels for Duncan, she realized. Friend, brother, and son...I understand now. This is what he couldn’t put into words.
"Connor calligraphied that about the time he learned to write," remarked Duncan, "so it’s worth a fair amount. What will you do with it?"
"I’m going to frame it, and you’re going to teach the song to me." And whenever you’re sad or down or doubting who or what you are, or what you must do in this world, I’m going to sing it to you, just as Connor did.
Setting aside the scroll, Tessa wrapped her arms around Duncan’s waist and snuggled close. "I love you, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
His arms were warm and strong around her. "I love you, too, my Tessa. Thank you for coming back."
"Thanks for having a clansman who could bring me back." Even as she began caressing Duncan’s ears, she hummed Connor’s song.
OBIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The Highlander stories here are entertainment only, and no money is earned from them. They are not intended to infringe upon the rights held by Davis/Panzer Productions Inc., Peter Davis and/or William Panzer, Christian Charret and/or Marla Ginsburg, Gregory Widen, Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, Hemdale Home Video, Lamb Bear Entertainment, Transfilm-Lumiere-Fallingcloud Productions, Dimension Films, Miramax, Republic Pictures, Lumiere Pictures, Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment or any of their affiliates, associates, distributors, or subsidiaries. The stories are Copyright © 1995, 1997, 2008 for the authors. All Rights Reserved.