bloodrose

watcher

Prologue

Seated in his í57 Chevy at the top of a wooded cliff outside Danbury, Connecticut on a cool summerís night, John Graham squinted through a pair of binoculars and spoke into the microphone connected to the tape recorder beside him.

"Two a.m., August 17, 1963. Kolton is dead. Connor MacLeod has won."

The Immortal standing over a headless corpse in the moonlit meadow beyond the cliff dropped his katana, bowed his head, and waited. Tendrils of lightning snaked across oblivious ground and flowing grass. Reaching MacLeodís sneakers, the light exploded with a fury that looked as though it should have delivered him into a very messy death.

Throwing back his head, Connor roared at the moon and stretched wide his arms to allow the Quickening full access. Arcing yellow and blue, it made his hair stand on end and held him immobile. He shivered against the onslaught and John Graham shivered with him, recording it all.

No matter how often I watch this, no matter how often Connor wins, the Watcher thought, I worry that he wonít survive battle or Quickening. How can anyone stand in that maelstrom and walk away unscathed? How can he destroy the evil of his kind and still walk, alone and with honor?

Shaking his head, Graham slunk further down behind the steering wheel as the Quickeningís reach expanded to include the neighboring trees and rocks.

Have I parked far enough away? John wondered, remembering past Quickenings that had exploded windshields and lights, had reduced expensive electrical systems to smoking, unexplainable ruin. Other watchers had said that once a carís engine had been touched by the Otherlight, it was never the same. Ball lightning flashed in front of the Chevy, bouncing from tree to tree before returning to its Immortal transformer, stabilizer, master.

A squeal of laughter came from the back seat. Turning so quickly that he almost wrenched his neck, John saw that his three-year-old daughter was no longer asleep, but had shed her blanket and was half over the front seat. Squirming in her Dr. Denton PJís, Samantha slid completely over the seat to spill her fatherís tape recorder onto the floor. Scrambling onto her knees, she pointed at the lightning. One ball floated before the windshield, hung suspended before dissolving in a shower of blue sparks.

"Pretty!" She clapped her hands as other lights whizzed by.

Sweet Samantha, it is pretty, her father agreed. And probably dangerous. And Iím glad that you didnít wake up earlier, to see your first Immortal beheading.

Abandoning his microphone, John hugged his daughter and peered through the binoculars once again. Connor was tiring. So was his Quickening. A few more moments and MacLeod would drop to his knees, exhausted.

I donít really need to stay any longer, thought John. Nothing moreís going to happen tonight. And so, having fulfilled his watcher obligations, he returned to his father obligations. "Itís time you were in bed, pumpkin."

The lights were fading, the show was ending. The toddler leaning against him wouldnít mind if her father took the car out of gear to let it roll slowly backward, down the hill.

Exhausted by the battle and his Quickening, Connor MacLeod would lay dozing in the meadow until dawn. He wouldnít hear the Chevyís engine start a quarter of a mile away. He wouldnít know that his Watcher had stayed until, certain that his immortal charge was safe, John Graham had returned to New York to tuck his very mortal daughter into bed.


Chapter One

Having walked for what seemed like hours across the Loyola University campus in north Chicago, Joe Dawson all but dragged a small satchel that seemed to grow heavier with every building passed. With a heavy sigh, he finally reached the Liberal Arts complex and located the symposium classroom he wanted. Heaving his accursed satchel to his other, rested hand, the Watcher stepped inside.

Well, damn, he thought, glowering at the stairs leading downward and downward still, into the pit and to the podium where Dr. Samantha Graham stood dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, completing the latest lecture of Medieval Britain 280. She couldnít teach in a normal, flat classroom, like other people? What is this "Letís Make It Tough On Olí Joe Day?"

"Finish the chapter on the Black Plague for tomorrow," said Samantha, "and donít forget the quiz on Friday."

Books were slammed closed. Notebooks and purses were hastily gathered. Like fresh Thoroughbreds at the gate, young collegiates were poised, eager to run as soon as the word was given.

"See you tomorrow."

Joe stepped aside to avoid being trampled. In a blur of wild-patterned clothing, garish-colored pop-culture jackets, loud laughter and bizarre buzzcuts, the class streamed past him and away, into the hall. Shaking his head, Dawson wondered if he had ever looked that young, had ever been that young. I donít think so. The silence left behind was deafening, and he braced himself for the struggle down the stairs. Even as he stepped forward, Samantha climbed the last few steps and stood before him.

My God, but sheís small, he was startled to realize. And sheís all grown up and beautiful since I last saw her, fifteen years ago. John did good work.

She offered a thin smile, her blue eyes wary. "Itís good to see you, Joe."

"You, too, Sam."

"Iím sorry you couldnít make it to my fatherís funeral."

"Me, too. A Watcherís work...."

She touched his shoulder briefly. "Dad would have understood. You were in Paris. And very busy."

Do you understand? he wondered, searching her eyes for some clue that he hadnít come now on a worthless mission. "Is there somewhere private we can talk?"

"My office. Thatís about as private as it evr gets on campus."

Leading the way out of the symposium, she shielded Joe briefly from the jostling crowd in the hallway until it was obvious that he didnít need her help, he was doing just fineóexcept for the satchel, which she took.

"Hey, Doc!" A young man bounded up to Samantha, his hair braided into dreadlocks that looked like they hadnít been washed in months. "Like, I know I said I wanted to do stuff on Richard the Third, but can I do it on the Knights Templar instead? All that witchy stuff is a real turn on."

"It turns me on, too, Dogface. But can you handle writing fifteen pages by next Wednesday?"

He snapped his fingers. "Piece of cake."

"Done deal."

"Thanks, Doc." He grinned down at her before bounding off and shouting, "Hey, Rat, wait up!"

"Dogface?" Joe murmured.

"His real name is Bartholomew Etting."

Pausing at a battered door plastered with cartoons and bumper stickers proclaiming her politics to the world (Oh, Evolve!... Animals are Little People in Fur Coats... Being Weird Isnít Enough... Denial is Not a River in Egypt), Samantha inserted a key and turned the lock. The next moment, Joe was ushered into her small santuary.

Wax rubbings of knights and priests kept company beside a map of Britain and Ireland circa 1500, framed Celtic artwork, and posters of the Tower of London and Stonehenge. Sunlight streamed through a window whose sill was stacked with yellowed texts. So much room had been given over to boxes of student papers and research materials that there was barely enough room for the two of them to sit together, knee to artificial knee.

Right. Deny me even that small pleasure, huh? Canít even bump into a pretty girl? hardware gets all the fun. As though anything about this trip could be fun. Aloud, he observed, "Youíve made quite a life for yourself here."

"Burying myself in Britain and Ireland is all Iíve ever wanted to do." she confessed with a shy smile.

"Have you been granted tenure yet?"

"Last year. Worked for it for five years." The smile brightened at the thought, then faded abruptly. Her blue eyes went beyond wary now, in the privacy of her office. To Joe, she looked downright scared. "Have you come this morning to ruin all of that?"

"Maybe I have," he murmured, hesitating before pulling from his satchel a journal bound in leather and embossed with a familiar gold, Greeklike symbol. "I didnít know you felt that way about our organization, Samantha."

Taking the journal, she riffled its pages briefly. They were all blank except for the first, which had been inscribed in Joeís familiar hand:

Chronicles of MacLeod

From:
To:

She sighed and the Watcher symbol with one finger. "Iíve been expecting this. Somewhere inside myself, I knew that even though Dad died, you wouldnít go away. Youíd somehow continue being a part of my life."

"We always have been."

"ĎFrom cradle to grave,í Dad used to say. From his father and his fatherís father. But he once told me that you probably wouldnít ask me to assume Watcher responsibility because my mother had the unfortunate experience of being killed by the evil Immortal she watched. I thought youíd skip me because I was adopted. Not really direct family line, am I?" She grimaced. "I see that Dad and I were both was wrong."

Joe covered her hand with his own. "Not so wrong, Sam. You donít have to do this if you donít want to. No one will force you to join us. I can ask someone else."

"But if you ask someone else, that means that youíll take away all of the Chronicles of MacLeod--all of those beautiful journals housed with my fatherís family for hundreds of years?"

Without hesitation, he nodded.

Tears filled her eyes. "Those stories were told to me at bedtime, Joe. I begged for them and thought them wonderful and magical. Along with The Little Prince, The Velveteen Rabbit and The House at Pooh Corner, my childhood was full of Connor MacLeod and his lady Heather. And how could I forget Ramirez, whose magnificent white warhorse was reduced to plowing fields for Connor after his masterís death?

"There were endless stories of the Immortal Scottish knight who traveled the Orient searching for Truth--however uncertain and changing that truth may be," she continued. "I always wanted the stories to be true, and when I started school it was really neat to realize that the medieval history I was learning... I already knew. I could see everything in my mindís eye, more clearly than the reality around me it seemed, because I knew it first through my fatherís voice and the Chronicles. Whenever Dad was working, he let me open the bookcases and smell the paper--tomes that had been written in 1680, 1760, 1830. I could sniff," she added with a fleeting smile, "but never ever touch. And, oh, how I wanted to touch, even just sneak a finger across a binding.

"I can still hear Dadís voice drawing pictures from those Chronicles. All of my life, theyíve been my neverending story and much more than a dream, locked downstairs and added to--week after week--written with a special fountain pen and a special ink."

Her voice grew quiet. "Connor MacLeod undertook quest after quest, slew dragon after dragon, all in the name of the ever-mysterious Quickening. At fourteen, Dad told me that he lived, he was real, yet I was never allowed to see him and never allowed to meet him--just as Dad was never allowed to meet him. He was like some distant relative that I would never visit. Connor MacLeod has been a constant fact of my life, Joe. Regardless what happened in the world, I thought he would always be in it.

"I built my life around his life, I suppose. Heís the reason Iím sitting here today, and the reason Iíll stand before a class this afternoon to teach another session of the History of Witchcraft in Britain. He is why I am what I am. And now you appear in my life to say, ĎBe his Watcher.í"

"I havenít said anything about who youíd be watching," Joe protested. "It might be another MacLeod. There is more than one, you know?"

"I know. Thereís two of them, but it is Connor, though, isnít it? I mean, chronicling the infamous Duncanís life has always been your special baby, and youíre too young to be thinking of retiring."

"Well, uh, whoever you agree to watch, itís something to discuss...."

"Discuss?"

"Youíre talking, Iím talking. Thatís discussing isnít it?"

She gave the breath of a laugh. "Youíre very strange, Joe. But I think you care about Duncan every bit as much as I care about Connor. Youíd never give him up. And Connor MacLeod is stranger than Duncan--a lot stranger, even if he has been part of my life forever. Iíll admit that the prospect of Watching frightens me."

"Why?"

"If I refuse to watch Connor, Iíll lose him. If I accept your offer, Iíll lose my position at this university."

"Thereís nothing in our rules that says you canít teach and watch," he protested. "New York has universities."

She shook her head. "My fatherís duties taught me well that trying to do both at the same time would never work. Immortals arenít like children--they donít need watching only after class. There are bound to be conflicts. Even you had to wait to talk to me until I finished class." She shook her head emphatically. "It wonít work. Teaching and Watching both take far too much time. Iíd miss classes, miss swordfights, be a lousy everything. What would Dad have said?"

Tears prickled at her eyelids. Her fatherís death was just too recent, and the prospect of letting him down was unbearable. Scooting closer, Joe slid an arm around her shoulders.

"It doesnít matter what your father would have wanted. What matters is what you want, Sam. You canít look after Connor MacLeod out of a sense of obligation. Watching an Immortal isnít like... like inheriting a Victorian estate that you have to tend. Follow your heart, kiddo. If it tells you to watch Connor, then watch him. If it says to stay here, then stay and teach."

Her brown eyes held his. "But those gorgeous Chroniclesóand Connor MacLeodís life--go with his Watcher?"

Joe gave a reluctant nod. "Iím afraid that whoever picks him up has got to have the history, Sammy. I canít just dump the new guy--or girl--" he added with a deferential nod, "--in, cold."

"Then my decision is made: I choose Connor and his Chronicles."

He squeezed her shoulder. "Are you certain youíre not doing this just to hang on to your Dadís books?"

"Not exactly. To hang onto my Dad, my history and his legacy, maybe. I donít know." She shrugged and looked frustrated. "I donít have words for it. But itís what I want to do. No, itís what I need to do. Itís right, really. Besides, Connorís kind of a friend. At least a bedtime-story kind of buddy. Heís all through my life, like it or not, and Iíd miss him if he were to leave. It would almost be like he had died along with Dad. That thought definitely hurts."

Joe snorted. "Reality and Watcher observations sometimes donít agree, Sam. You may discover that the Immortal hero youíve heard about and imagined all of these years isnít Connor MacLeod at all."

She gave him a sidelong glance. "You couldnít let me meet him, just once, before becoming his Watcher?"

"Sorry. Nope. Not allowed."

"You donít sound sorry at all. I have to make a lifetime decision, and I donít even get to drive the car around the block? Thatís really crummy. I think it says a lot about your entire organization. And youíre not sorry. Admit it."

He shrugged. Iím not. None of us met our Immortals before our assignment. Iím not about to change the rules for the sake of her childhood and not-so-childhood fantasies. "Do you want to think about it awhile?"

"No," came the soft reply, after a long moment of hesitation. She glanced at the relics of history surrounding them, sadly surveying her private office, the symbol of achievement for which sheíd worked for so long. "It shouldnít be so bad--trading medieval history for living history. Connor never gave my father a dull moment. Maybe Iíll be as lucky. Or maybe heíll die next week and Iíll be unemployed. Oh goody."

"Maybe."

She drew a deep breath. "Okay, so whatís the next step? Do I report to you?"

"Yes." Decision made and mission accomplished, Joe reverted from adoptive uncle to Watcher supervisor. "You know the drill. How we work hasnít changed. Not for centuries--except for the computer logs, and those are maintained by someone else. You can work on paper or on disk, itís up to you, so long as you hang on to them," he added with a wry grin. "How soon can you move back to New York?"

"I can turn in my resignation now, effective with the end of the semester. But finals arenít for another three weeks--"

"Is two months long enough?" Joe asked. "A substitute can cover Connor for that long. Heís not expected to go anywhere for awhile, anyway, because his daughter is very ill. He spends all of his time with her."

"Daughter? Joe, Connor doesnít have a dau--" Samantha sat up straighter, her eyes growing shadowed. "Do you mean Rachel?"

Joe nodded. "Sheís been sick for some time. Cancer. Your father didnít tell you?"

"No."

"Iím sure he chronicled it."

"Then Iíll read about it when I go home again." She sounded preoccupied, and Dawson sensed her dismay.

"Be sure to use the journal I gave you or start a new computer log. Donít add to your fatherís Chronicles, all right?"

She shot him a look that said heíd just suggested she might desecreate holy relics. "I know better."

"Of course you do. Sorry, old habits with new Watchers. Thereís just one more thing." He took a business card from his pocket. "This is the address of an artist in Greenwich whoís also a Watcher. He did your fatherís tattoo, and youíll probably want him doing yours."

She took the card with obvious reluctance. "Youíre right. Nothing changes, not even that ghastly tattoo." She gave him a hard look. "Itís a good thing Iím leaving Loyola; theyíd take a dim view of their tenured teachers going punk."

Joe chose to ignore that, as her attitude regarding her assignment sounded like it was definitely going downhill. "Thatís everything, Sam. Just follow your fatherís style of chronicling, and everything should be fine. If you have any questions, give me a call." He hesitated, then added "You can change your mind, yíknow. Any time until you actually start."

"I wonít change my mind," she answered firmly. "Goodbye, Joe." She stood and extended a hand. He realized belatedly that she meant to shake hands.

The interview was over.

* * *

The day of Rachelís interrment dawned grey and cold. Mist had turned to sleet, and Samantha arrived early at the cemetery, hoping to lurk close to the small group of mourners she expected would show up for the graveside service that the funeral home had told her Connor MacLeod was conducting for Rachel Nash.

As it turned out, Connor was the only mourner in attendance. He stood in the familiar trenchcoat, his bare head bowed against the sleet, oblivious to all but the stark white coffin before him, covered with a bright arrangement of red roses.

Itís a good thing heís Immortal, thought Samantha, else heíd catch his death, armed with nothing more warming than that thin, trademarked trenchcoat of his. No gloves, no hat, no nothing. Since Rachelís gone, nobodyís taking care of him, and it shows.

Standing some distance away--sheltered and unseen among a small grove of oak trees--she memorized the moment, the better to transcribe it later. Even at a distance, Samantha could see that Connorís hair was dripping wet, as was his coat. Pulled back at the neck, the wet pony tail was down to the top of his shoulderblades. He shivered and wiped away tears from time to time, but otherwise didnít move. The black Volvo he had bought for Rachel--which had become his in the absence of its proper mistress--now waited patiently nearby. Rejecting its sheltering confines and fully working heater, Connor stood miserably in the cold for almost two hours before Samantha decided to leave him standing there and take a side trip to her fatherís grave.

I know that Joe wants me to watch, but it feels somehow wrong--ghoulish, even--to stand and stare at that kind of pain. Connorís not doing anything, and this is holy ground. No oneís going to challenge him, nothingís going to happen, except that his daughterís going to be lowered into the ground and Connorís going to cry, and one more person he loves will be gone, never to return. How lonely. And how private.

I havenít visited Dadís grave since the funeral, she thought, with a twinge of guilt as she left her grove of trees. It seems foolish to go on a regular basis. Heís not there, heís elsewhere--hopefully with Mom--and maybe theyíre off on the heavenly equivalent of a Caribbean cruise, soaking up the eternal sun, snorkeling in the eternal tropics. I hope they are.

The grave was as sheíd seen it last: marble marker firmly in place over her parentsí less-than-Immortal remains. John J. Graham - Beloved Father and Husband.

There it is, just like I told them to carve it, Samantha reflected. There are all of the words with nothing behind them for anyone but me. Her eyes filled with tears. Oh, Daddy, does Connor miss Rachel as much as I miss you? You said that they loved each other, that she was his daughter and then his friend and finally almost a mom to him. But you were always Daddy to me. Protector and historian and...just Dad. You were the one I ran to when life got too complicated and I didnít know what to do. You made sense of everything, every time. You helped me make so many decisions--whether to quit Girl Scouts and take drawing lessons, or go to the ballet with Tommy or to Man of La Mancha with Rick, or whether to give up dating forever and just enter a convent. No matter what, you were always there for me, and now youíre not. And Iím alone. Even more alone than Connor--at least heís got cousin Duncan running around somewhere in this world. I donít have anyone at all....

She stared into the grey sky and blinked back tears. Do you know that Iím here, talking to you? Do you know how cold the day is, that Iím freezing my tookas off for the beloved cause? Do you know that Connorís here, too? Of course heís here, or Iíd have chosen a nicer day to visit you. Will you help guide my hand later tonight, when I open my journal for the first time and enter todayís date, and then write down all of the details of Connorís sorrow? Please, Daddy...be there. Be with me. If youíre not there, I donít know if the words will come, if they will say what Joe and the Chronicles need them to say--what youíd want them to say. Have the Watchers ever fired a--

"Hi."

Whirling, she leaped backward and tripped over her fatherís grave marker. Landing hard atop the granite and feeling water soak through her sweatpants, she stared up into the sad, pale features of Connor MacLeod.

"Uh...Hi," she muttered. Scuttling off of the grave, she took the black-gloved hand he offered to help her up.

Uh-oh. This meeting is wrong as hell, her mind raced. Joe Dawson is going to kill me, and what is Connor doing here, anyway? I wanted to meet him--No, I wanted to see him, but not like this. Whatís he want, anyway? And what do I do now? She knew that she was still staring at him and couldnít think of a thing to say. Did he see me watching him? Is that why he snuck up on me? Joe is never going to believe that I didnít do this on purpose.

* * *

Her landing on the grave marker had to have hurt, but the look she gave him wasnít one of anger or pain. In fact, for a moment it seemed to Connor that the woman looked positively frightened of him.

"I didnít mean to startle you," he began, wishing he could tell her what he had meant to do. I certainly didnít mean to scare her.

You donít let anyone close to you, do you? he heard Rachelís voice in his head. And then, just as clearly she said, You made the first move, my boy. Itís up to you, now. Donít blow it, Connor. Youíre not getting any younger.

True, dear one. But I canít exactly tell this stranger the truth, now can I? ĎI sensed youíre an Immortal-to-be, darling, and Iíve come to take you away from all of this...mortality. I came here on impulse after feeling the vibration of your impending state.í Heh. Right.

He glanced at the twin gravemarkers. Beloved mother and father. Hers, no doubt. Father deceased less than six months. Mom died years ago. So this lady was orphaned at what... twenty-five? Thirty? There are shadows and sadness in her eyes. I know the feeling. And I know that life goes on.

He stepped into it. "You look as... as lonely as I feel right now. And...heh...while Iím not exactly in the habit of picking up women in cemeteries...."

"Yeah, it is kind of dead around here." Wiping away leftover tears, she gave the ghost of a smile. "Where, exactly, are you in the habit of picking up women?" Clapping a hand over her mouth, she blushed furiously and muttered through her fingers. "Iím sorry, that was totally tasteless. Itís just... youíve really rattled me. I was talking to my father--" She gestured at the stone sheíd been so intimate with a moment before. "--And I wasnít expecting anyone to talk back, if you know what I mean?"

"Of course." He eyed her for a moment before adding, "Iím sorry."

"Itís okay. Itís different, anyway."

He scuffed his foot on the wet grass, pondering what to say next. She waited patiently, which surprised him.

This is New York. I could be a mugger. He smiled at her, secretly wondering what sheíd do if he were to whip out the three-foot katana he had hidden beneath his coat and brandish the sword at her. ĎIím Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, an Immortal, and you are destined to join my kind.í

Not a good way of saying hello, he thought, and noticed that the patience in her eyes was being replaced by apprehension. "Iím sorry about your father."

"Me, too. I miss him. Did you lose someone close to you, too?"

He threw her a quizzical look.

"Most people donít come to cemeteries for the fun of it," she pointed out. "And itís a lousy day, anyway. Besides, I think that I saw your car on the way in. The black Volvo?"

"I didnít know it was that distinctive."

"Itís not, but you are. Not many guys run around cemeteries in trenchcoats and sneakers when itís snowing."

"It wasnít snowing when I came in."

She stared up at him again, as though wondering what he was going to do next, as though it was up to him to let her go.

What do I say to her? ĎMind your head; youíll be needing ití? Donít plan on joining your parents anytime soon?í Uh-huh. One trenchcoat and sneakered guy, headed for the 20th Century NYC equivalent of Englandís Bedlam Hospital for the Insane.

"Well...Iím sorry again for startling you," he said. "Good-bye." Turning, he hunched his shoulders and walked away, heading for the car waiting just across the rise. Sorry, Rachel. I blew it. Again.

"Hey!" She bounded up behind him. "Maybe we could be lonely together, for a few hours, anyway? Iím freezing and you must be, too, in that outfit. What do you say we go someplace quiet and soothing and dark, somewhere we can get a drink and warm our cockles and... and maybe chase away some of the loneliness?" She was breathless by the time she had finished her speech, and he was halfway up the hill.

Pausing on the slippery, winter-dead grass, he stuck out his hand. "Connor MacLeod."

She blinked at the hand, blinked at him. "What?"

"Itís me. Iím Connor MacLeod."

Slowly, she slid her hand into his. "Samantha. Graham." she finished, almost with reluctance.

"Scottish, aye?" He slipped into his accent.

"Well... somewhere back there. But not officially. I was adopted."

He nodded wisely. "Then youíre a changling. Like me."

"A...changling? She sounded as sceptical as she felt. Is that how Immortals think of themselves and their orphandom? "Youíre Scottish?"

"Donít I look it?"

Unable to resist taking the bait, as well as the opportunity to see if Connor MacLeod had as good a sense of humor as sheíd read about, Samantha frowned thoughtfully. "Iíve always thought of Scotsmen being tall, strongly built things in kilts, with fierce broadswords at their side and warhorses beneath them while the pipes called them off to war with the dreaded Sassanach. Youíre not that big--"

And nobody would ever call me tall or strongly built, he thought to himself. I did have the warhorse, though. Once or twice. He was big, does that count?

"--But I think you have the warriorís intense eyes and quick moves," Samantha continued. "You move with a grace shared by those in martial arts: you have that kind of Zen stillness, that kind of balance." Youíre babbling, girl. Shut up, she warned herself, cringing inwardly.

"Flattery, eh?" He grinned down at her, willing to admit nothing personal. "Actually, Iím more interested in Tibetan Buddhism than Zen, and you must be awfully cold. And want that drink very badly."

"I guess I do. And it would be really nice to feel my toes again."

They reached the Volvo, and she stared at it as though realizing for the first time that theyíd wandered far from her own car.

Looking up at him, she stammered, "I-Iím sorry, I didnít understand if we were going somewhere or if youíd rather just part company--"

"If you promise to keep saying nice things to me, Iíll buy you dinner." Shrugging, he tried hard not to look at Rachelís grave--new-scarred and flower draped. "Dinner is the least I can do for frightening you." He opened the passenger door. "Let me drive you back to your car and weíll go separately... unless you want to leave your car here?"

"No." Her eyes agreed with him: Thereís no telling what time weíd come back to retrieve it. Might be real muggers in here by then. Or theyíd lock the gates and leave me stranded...say something, you twit, heís waiting-- "Thereís a good little Italian restaurant not far from where I live, and itís not too far from here. What do you say to following me home, we leave the cars, and we can walk to Rossettiís?"

"Itís a date." He turned one of his heartstopping, this-side-of-mischievous smiles on her before almost closing the door on her coat.

You donít date much, do you? came the wry thought. Oh, Dad, you had MacLeod pegged... A loner, a lonely man and a shy man. If he wasnít Immortal, heíd be so human. Oh, and Dad, you never wrote in the journals that heís cute.

"Thank you, Connor MacLeod." She said it formally as he climbed behind the steering wheel, as though he had completed a quest for her.

"Thanks for what?"

"For making a sad day...less sad."

Returning her shy smile, Connor drove silently to her car. As he followed her out of the cemetery, he found himself wishing his motives were as altruistic as heíd led her to believe. Already, his loneliness was thawing beneath this strangerís quiet company.

Itís weird, but I almost feel like weíve met before. He shrugged off the feeling, knowing it was impossible and knowing also that he had a habit of instantly judging most people the minute he met them. My first impressions are seldom wrong, too, he admitted to himself. Iím sad and Samantha is sad. For tonight, in the snow, we belong together.

But what about tomorrow and the day after that? Am I prepared to baby-sit her until she becomes an Immortal? If sheís lucky, it could take years before she dies. And what after that? Am I prepared to watch over her and protect her, train her? If I donít want that responsibility, then how do I just walk away from her? If she encounters the wrong Immortal before she dies her first death, theyíll take her head and sheíll never know the slightest taste of forever. Sheíll never know what she could have become.

Heh, I guess that means Iíd better prepare to take on another student. So I did pick her up in the cemetery. Oh, sweet Rachel, how youíd laugh at that one. Are you laughing now, wherever you are?


 

Chapter Two

"Druids," Samantha announced, winding pizza cheese around her finger and tilting her head to drop the pizza into her mouth. "Druids are definitely the most fun to lecture about. You can talk about their connections to nature, contradict all the misinformation about their worshipping trees, and then reveal that they really did sacrifice people. Itís fun to watch the studentsí reactions." She gave a mischievous, tomato-coated smirk.

Connor laughed as the wine heíd ordered drove away the last traces of cold and made room for tentative friendship to grow between them. "Youíre not the average dotty college professor, are you?"

"Nope. I teach history the way my father taught me: strip away the crap and reveal all of the fun. Did Richard the Third murder the little princes in the Tower, or didnít he? Write me a fifteen-page paper by next Friday explaining what you believe and why. Doesnít matter which side you take, just prove it."

"So why did you leave Loyola?"

She sobered suddenly and waved her half-eaten pizza through the flame of the cheap candle decorating their table. She was talking far too fast--whether because she missed her father, or because she was trying to distract Connor MacLeod from learning too much about his Watcher, she wasnít certain. "I suppose I followed in my fatherís footsteps and decided that research is more interesting than lecturing. What about you? What do you do?"

"Iím an antique dealer. I have a shop on Hudson. Nashís Antiques."

She raised an eyebrow. "Nash? Where did that come from? I thought you said your name was MacLeod."

"The original ownerís name was Nash. Thereís not enough room on the board for ĎMacLeod,í so I didnít bother changing it."

"Oh." Clever answer. "What happened to the original owner?"

Connor twirled his spaghetti. "He ran out of antiques. Heh. No, he didnít. He just wanted out of the business."

And into the Game, Samantha remembered, realizing that Russell Nash had been retired about the time MacLeod had begun hunting Slan--after Slan had decided that anyone who had ever meant anything to Connor had to die, including Rachel Nash and Duncan MacLeod. From the hard look on his face, Connor was remembering that, too--and the friends he had lost before Duncan had taken Slanís head. At least he managed to save Rachel and Duncan.

"Was it difficult?" Samantha asked gently.

Connorís grey eyes snapped up to meet hers, and narrowed suddenly at the sympathetic look. "Was what difficult?"

"Um...picking up that sort of specialty. Antiques, I mean. Picking up where Nash left off. Accounting and inventory and such." Iím babbling and I know it. Does he know it?

Connor offered a reassuring smile, almost as though he knew how cold and dangerous his grey eyes could look, as though he thought the woman sitting opposite him might need reassurance that he really didnít want to take her head.

"Not so difficult. A Queen Anne chair is a Queen Anne chair. Youíve seen one, youíve seen them all. Jacobean desks donít change, no matter what warehouse theyíre stored in or which estate is auctioning them. Iíve lived among old things for a very long time. And Russell Nash kept very good books."

"Mmm." She toyed with a pizza bone, inspecting it closely for any escaped scrap of cheese.

"What about you?" Connorís voice dropped to an almost seductive level. "Who are you when youíre not visiting cemeteries?"

How wondrous and wonderful it is to hear his voice, she thought. That untraceable, 478-year-old blend of Scottish Gaelic thatís been mixed with every language heís ever heard, every land heís lived in, fought for, died in. Daddy, why didnít you tell me how beautiful he is to listen to? No Watcher chronicle could have prepared me for this. Glorious living history.

"When my father died, I couldnít bear to go through his things," she explained. "So I locked up the house and fled back to Chicago. Now, Iíve gotten up the courage to come home to deal with all of the lose ends I left behind." Like you. "I put off dealing with a lot of things--Dadís clothes and personal bits, investment portfolios, whether to sell the house or rent it or... whatever." She sipped her wine.

"I know you taught history, but what was your specialty?"

Small tingling alarms went off in her head. Why are you suddenly asking so many questions? Have I made you suspicious for some reason? You came to me in that cemetery, MacLeod... remember? I was just practicing my lurking.

Yeah, he remembers. And he might remember that you were watching him before that, too.

Oh. Right. Is it better to lie, or to tell the truth? She had only half-seconds to decide. Better tell as much truth as possible. Thereís less to remember that way.

"My specialty is... was... all things Celtic."

"Ah, weel, then I fit right in," he replied with a grin. "Whatís your favorite poem?" he asked, in Scots Gaelic.

In the same language, she replied, "ĎThe Stolen Child,í by Yeats."

"What, no Bobbie Burns? Traitor!"

"Well, ĎTo a Louseí isnít too bad," she allowed.

Connor laughed and reverted to English. "Where did you learn Gaelic?"

"From Dad. He translated a lot of old manuscripts in his spare time--for fun, since thereís not much money in that sort of thing. Not with the Watchers, anyway. "As a child, I thought the ancient Gaelic letters were beautiful."

And what would you say, if I told you that the first things he taught me to read were Watcher chronicles on you, since I was peering over his shoulder all of the time, anyway? A Watcher canít very well have half of his journals in a language few can understand. And for the first 200 years of your immortality, Connor MacLeod, your Watchers were Scottish. Fellows whoíd be damned to hell before theyíd use the Queenís English.

"Your father was an historian, too?"

"Mmm. Unofficially. He liked folklore and magic more than history. His specialty was the witch trials--British and European." She leaned forward in her chair. "Did you know English witches werenít burned at the stake? They were hanged unless theyíd been convicted of treason. Only Scottish witches were burned." Your clan let you off easy when they settled for driving you out.

Shadows clouded Connorís eyes, and Samantha knew what he was remembering.

"I know," he said softly. "Iíve never cared much for that part of history."

"With a name like MacLeod--"

"Aye, lass. íTis the clan carrying the fairie flag, aní all that." His accent was flawless. Of course.

Samantha plunked her chin in her hand and stared, contented to listen to him all night. He bowed his head slightly, as though to officially introduce himself.

"Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod--"

Oh, Iíve died and gone to heaven, actually hearing him say that. She hoped she didnít look as daffy as she felt.

"--Born in Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel. At least, my ancestor--the original Connor MacLeod--was born there."

"When?" She knew very well, but wanted him to keep talking.

"January 1, 1518. Died eighteen years later, in 1536, in a battle with the bastard Frasiers." Dropping his voice to a rasping whisper, Connor continued, "Actually, I have it on good authority that Connorís clansmen drove him out of his village because he hadnít the decency to stay dead."

She widened her eyes. "Oohhh...Was he a witch?"

"So said some." The witch shrugged. "Whoís to tell? ĎThere are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...í"

"What do you say?"

Squinting at the wine left in his glass and looking as though he didnít want to drink anymore as it had warmed past endurance, Connor considered the question.

"I donít think he was a witch," the Immortal said slowly, "but I think he knew magic. A different kind of magic, maybe." His eyes were intense, holding hers.

"Maybe," she whispered. "Did Connor survive on his own, out in the cold, cruel Scottish world?"

He gave a crooked grin. "Definitely. Scots are too obstinant to die just because someone suggests it."

"Then it was definitely magic," she insisted. "The strongest kind." To survive 478 years on this earth.

"Iím sure he had friends. I know he had a wife. Her name was Heather."

She raised her wine glass. "To Connor and Heather MacLeod. Dearmad riamh." Forget never, never forget.

"Riamh," he echoed, clinking his glass against hers and not hesitating to sip, now, awful as that wine really was.

Samantha could almost hear him thinking, As if I could forget.

"So your ancestor was a maybe-witch, and youíre an antique dealer."

He grimaced and stretched back in the chair. "An antique dealer without an assistant at the moment. Rachel was with me fif... almost fifteen years."

More like fifty, Samantha thought wryly. Almost slipped, didnít you? Thatís okay. I know the truth. And itís nice to know youíre not perfect.

"In the end, she was teaching me a lot of things: how to better display and advertise certain pieces, how to negotiate with certain auction houses who preferred working with Rachel because she oohíd and ahhhíd over their catalogues so bloody much. Somehow batting my eyelashes at somebody never had the same effect." He managed to look bewildered as Samantha giggled.

She waggled a finger at him. "Speaking of antiques and Scotland, I remember my father saying that a lot of Scottish furniture was showing up on this side of the Pond. At least, thatís the way it was at the auctions where he sharked for old books," she added by way of explanation as to why an historian would be haunting New York auctions.

Connor nodded understanding. "Starting in the mid-80ís, itís as though everyone in the Highlands discovered Montgomery Wards and JC Penney catalog ordering. In even the most remote sections of the country, it was out with the old and in with the new. What couldnít be sold to dealers in Edinburgh or Glasgow was broken up for firewood."

"Oh, my God," she said, and meant it.

"Thatís what Rachel said. Old Scottish funiture doesnít appeal to everyone since it was built for functionality, not decoration. íTisnít pretty, but itís damn near indestructable. As a general rule, the pieces lack ornamentation. Itís simple and itís strong--like the people, I suppose--and it will last the centuries. Rachel begged me to let her go on a buying spree to the Highlands, so I did. She negotiated a shipping contract wherein we were charged by the size of the container rather by weight. She fit chairs and writing desks inside wardrobes, fold-down tables inside highboys. Iím still discovering things in the warehouse that she secreted in huge old sideboards. More like than giant upright pianos than pieces of elegant furniture. More nooks and crannies than an eagleís nest," he elaborated, gesturing with the wine glass for emphasis. "Dissassembling and reassembling Rachelís furniture without her being there was--is--like putting a puzzle together. Heh. God, how that woman could pack. Suitcase or shipping container, didnít matter. Sheís a...was a master," he concluded after a secondís painful hesitation.

Samantha smiled, but MacLeodís eyes grew darker with the memories.

"After the first shipment arrived and I put everything back together the way it should have been, I realized that I was surrounded by a dark-stained oak forest. Most of it was Victorian, but a few of the pieces dated back to the 1700ís."

"They belong in a museum," Samantha contributed quietly.

"They are in a museum," Connor all but growled. "Now. Those pieces had been made from the last of Scotlandís old-growth forests... Highland oak--scarcer than your witches, now. It felt so good to wander around that room and just... touch... the wood before it left. It was so warm, so familiar beneath my hands. Iíve so little of home left, these days."

Reaching out on impulse, Samantha laid her hand across Connorís where it rested on the edge of the table. "Once a Celt, always a Celt."

"Probably." His fingers captured hers as the waiter brought the check.

"Would you like to go back to my place?" Samantha offered. "We can share some hot chocolate, maybe a graham cracker or two, and continue this conversation more comfortably."

He smiled so broadly that his eyes crinkled at the corners. I like you, said that grin. Iím comfortable with you, and I donít want the evening to end yet, either. "Iíd like that very much," he agreed. "And could I have some vanilla ice cream in my hot chocolate--if you have it?"

Samantha paused in the act of putting on her coat. "Iíd think ice cream would make it too sweet."

"I like sweet things." The expression in his eyes told her that ice cream wasnít all he considered sweet.

She blushed, and felt really stupid doing it. Careful, Samantha. Go slowly... you know he is. Just because the manís sending ĎIím attracted to youí signals doesnít mean heís not also watching every move you make and weighing everything you say. Remember what the other Watchers have said....

ĎConnor MacLeod is cunning, sneaky, and cautious.í I remember. Remember that he thinks you met him only this morning. Donít blow it by getting too familiar, too fast. Connorís not dumb: he didnít last 478 by being unobservant. Regardless what his body language may be telling you, donít let him know that youíre attracted to him. Not yet. Itís too damn soon.

Great, she thought, waiting by the door while MacLeod paid the check, Iím lusting after the knight in my childhood bedtime stories. What would Freud have to say about that, not to mention what would Joe Dawson have to say? Iím developing...something for this man, and Iím not even supposed to be talking to him! Samantha shivered, imagining the shouted lecture she was likely to get--not to mention the demand for her resignation, effective immediately.

"Rule number one!" She could almost hear Joe yelling. "Donít get involved!"

Iím sorry, Mr. Dawson, she sent the apology into the ether, but if you think Iím going to let Connor MacLeod walk me home and then close the door on his nose and this budding friendship, youíre nuts. Yeah, I know it goes against the oath I took, and against the Watcher code...but hey, I ignored your order to have that tattoo installed, too, so why not go for breaking all of the rules rather than just a few of Ďem? I can always resign if things get too sticky. Beyond that, Iím becoming familiar with Connorís voice, his mannerisms and personality. Hopefully, Iíll come to know what motivates him as an Immortal, too. How much better will my accounts of him be, if I can share my personal impressions of the man and not just coldly chronicle his swordfights from five hundred yards away? And if I have to resign sometime down the road, if Connor himself is in my life, I donít think Iíll mind giving up Dadís books quite so much. Besides, after today, if it comes down to a choice between watching him and being with him, the books lose.

* * *

"You and Rachel must have been very close," Samantha offered as they exited the restaurant.

Connor pulled the collar of the trenchcoat tighter against the snow investigating his neck. "Our relationship went through many changes. When I first knew her, she seemed like a..." He hesitated for a second. "...A sister to me."

I think he meant to say daughter, thought Samantha, remembering the child whom Connor had rescued from the Naziís. Of course, he canít tell me that.

"By the time Rachel passed on, I felt more like her son. She was a wonderful Mother Hen. Strange, thinking about that. Stranger, telling you about it."

"Not so strange. My father became my best friend after I grew up. I think part of the reason why Iíve never married is because no one has ever measured up to him."

Connor chuckled. "Not to mention thereís probably not a man alive who could measure up to your images of Somerled--Lord of the Isle, the MacDonald warriors, William Wallace, Rob Roy--"

"Donít forget Cuchulain."

Connor gestured dismissivly. "Heís Irish, not Scottish."

"So? Doesnít matter. A Celt is a Celt is a Celt, at least to me. I like heroes. And I donít like to be shoeboxed into my specialties."

"A Renaissance-ish Celtic scholar, eh?"

"I donít know about that." She bristled. "Donít you have interests in a lot of different things?"

He thought for a moment. "I suppose so."

"Like what?"

Connor threw her a sidelong glance. "You want a list?"

"Mmm."

He scowled at the snowflakes and guided her around a dirty snowdrift. "I like fast cars, gentle but passionate women, and old Sean Connery movies."

She nudged him. "Thatís not what I meant. Come on, play fair. What are your passions in life? What makes you, you?"

He shook his head. "Iíll tell you mine only if youíll tell me yours."

"Deal. Now give."

He cleared his throat and stalled a few more minutes, clearly uncomfortable with revealing what really mattered to him.

Tough, Mr. MacLeod. Besides, I already know a lot more about you than youíd dream anybody could know. And thatís something that would definitely make you twitchy. After being with him only a few hours, Samantha was beginning to suspect just how twitchy it would make him.

"Collecting Japanese katanas and a few other swords," he began slowly. "Especially the ones that arenít supposed to exist. Buddhist meditation techniques and philosophy. International literature conferences in Monaco."

She grabbed his wet sleeve. "Do you mean the Princess Grace irish Library converences?" Off his nod, she gasped. "Iíve been to all of them. Were you there?"

He nodded. "First came Yeats, then Joyce--"

"Then Beckett and, finally, Wilde. I was there. We were both there?"

Slipping an arm around her shoulders, he squeezed hard. "Beautiful country, Monaco."

"I never saw much. I was too busy hobnobbing with the other professors." She eyed him with suspicion. "Youíre not a professor, are you?"

"Heh. No. Iíve never had that much discipline. I just like to read."

"What else do you like?"

Connor captured her hand. "Iíve never confessed these before."

"Quit stalling."

"Iím not stalling. Who said anything about stalling? Do you like that Irishman, James Joyce?"

"You are stalling." She thumped him on the arm for emphasis.

He retreated with a sigh. "Very well. What else? Bookhunting on Charing Cross Road in London: I love the thrill of the hunt, not to mention the charge of adrenalin when I actually find something."

"To sell, or to read?"

"To read. I donít sell the books. I also like Christmas carols and the folklore surrounding them. Then there are autographs. I have a Babe Ruth, an Abraham Lincoln, a Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor from ĎPrivate Livesí--"

"Did you buy them, or show up in person to beg them?"

"Er..." The question seemed to catch him off guard. "Both, actually. I kind of missed the Gettysburg Address," he recovered, then grinned at her.

That was stupid, Graham, she berated herself. He probably met all of them--and a lot of others, too--but he canít tell you that, now can he?

"I like riding Ferris wheels and eating candied apples, too," he offered, in a most-subdued voice, "but only at county fairs."

She smiled up at him. "And hot chocolate and vanilla ice cream."

"Yes. And touring Madame Tussaudís every time Iím in London to see what theyíve changed. And then there are the old Greta Garbo films, and anything with Harrison Ford."

I made him move back into the safe places, she realized sadly. I reminded him of his immortality and of my mortality, and heís clamming up on me. Canít blame him, actually. There for a moment, he was actually sharing things with a stranger. Unfortunately, Iím the stranger.

But I donít feel like a stranger. Oh, Daddy, this is so hard. Maybe thatís why Watchers arenít supposed to actually meet their Immortals. Maybe itís because those who do get cocky, thinking they know the Immortal better than the Immortal knows himself. Talk about a trip down Arrogance Lane....

"What about ĎStar Warsí?" she asked as they turned into her driveway. Releasing the gate, she led him inside.

"Especially ĎStar Wars,í" he admitted. "When I grow up, I want to become a Jedi like my father and learn the ways of the Force. Thatís my list. Itís your turn."

"Okay." She groped for her keys. "My grand passions in life are... betting on horse races, though Iím not very good at it. Swimming with the dolphins down in the Florida Keys. Reading anything I can find on the Titanic. Collecting old theatre programs and movie posters with Vincent Price in them." She let her voice trail off.

"More," Connor promptly demanded. "I gave you a lot more than that."

"Let me open the door first. I canít think and unlock at the same time."

Once they were across the threshold and the door was safely barred against the storm continuing to plague them outside, Samantha eyed Connorís trenchcoat.

"Collecting books on collies and dreaming of breeding them," she continued, sounding absent minded and casual. "Clipping neat stuff from architecture and decorating magazines and dreaming that, one day, Iíll have a house like that--and you need to get out of those wet clothes."

"But you have this house." He gestured around him, at the two-story monstrosity sitting just off Gramercy Square.

"This was my fatherís house. Itís a manís house, a scholarís house--" A Watcherís house, "--as youíll see once you get a look around."

She took the liberty of peeling the wet trenchcoat off of him and he let her do it, distracted as he was with her talking. But such distractions didnít last forever, and Samantha pretended not to notice when Connor snatched back the coat, mindful of its weight as it was concealing a very important katana.

"My mother died when I was very young, and Dadís ideas of decorating were... well...."

She squirmed beneath Connorís patient scrutiny. He has his trenchcoat; all is right in his world. Why am I suddenly uncomfortable telling him about Dad? Itís not as though it will make any difference, now that Dadís gone away.

"Are you familiar with those old Victorian smoking clubs that were for men only?" she asked. "The sort where a member could spend the morning with the London Times and a good cigar, then spend the afternoon seated in a huge, Ďprivacy-assuredí wingback chair in front of the fire and read some ponderous tome on economics that some manservant had selected from the clubís extensive library?"

"Iím familiar with those sorts of clubs. Iíve sold a lot of furniture that probably came from them originally."

"I thought you might have." Especially since, in 1892, you were a part-owner of three of them. "Well, if I wanted to revive a club in New York, this house is ripe for it."

Gesturing Connor further inside, she watched as he gazed around the entry hall. The first delight greeting him was a long black-and-white tiled floor with maroon wallpaper that looked better suited to a private gambling establishment than to a private home. A 19th-century combination boot/umbrella stand and hat rack squatted on the floor, along with a mismatched French writing desk, a heavy mahogany-framed mirror, and a six-foot, white marble replica of Winged Victory tucked into a recess beneath the stairs.

"I see what you mean," he acknowledged. Grahamís tastes were... eclectic.

"Eccentric, was my daddy. You can put your coat in here, if you like." Releasing a hidden lock above the lightswitch, Samantha made a secret door to the closet spring open.

Connor leaped aside as it nearly swatted him in the rear end. "What the--"

"My father read a lot of Sax Rohmer," she said, by way of apology.

"Whom?"

She handed him a hanger. "Rohmer wrote the original Fu Manchu potboilers. Dad was fascinated with hidden passages. This closet was one of his small indulgences. Lookó" Racking back the small collection of coats (all made for a man, as far as Connor could tell), Samantha revealed another door cut into the paneling of the back wall.

"This leads to a stairway," she explained as Connor hung up his coat, "which leads to Dadís bedroom closet on the second floor."

"It looks as though he thought he might one day need to make a quick escape."

"Yes." Pushing closed the closet door, Samantha appreciated the irony that the intruder her father feared had been no less than Connor himself. He always thought that if you ever discovered your Watcher, then Dad should probably look lively after his head.

ĎConnor MacLeod is a very private man, Sammy,í she remembered him telling her. ĎIf he ever finds out how far weíve penetrated his privacy... heíll never forgive us. I wouldnít forgive us, were I him. No...I donít want the Highlander angry with me. Not ever. But we should be prepared, donít you think, just in case he should he come here?í

Oh, the nightmares that inspired. Well, heís here, now, Dad, she sent the thought away. And I invited him. So far, your secrets and his secrets are separate and safe. But what the hell am I doing, deceiving this man? Heís honest and honorable, he deserves better than this. Even in her duplicity, she turned on a bright smile for him. "I promised hot chocolate and ice cream, I believe?"

Discarding her wet shoes, she padded through the entry and looked over her shoulder to see Connor doing likewise. "I can get you some dry clothes, if you like? Dadís things might be a bit large on you, but itís better than sitting around catching your death."

"If you have a sweatshirt...sweatpants?" he ventured, almost shyly.

"I do." She headed up the stairs. "Iíll get some towels and the sweats and be right back."

* * *

Shivering in the chilly entry, Connor wandered over to the half-open library door and peered inside. A small lamp on the desk offered a bit of illumination, and the room felt warmer than the corridor in which he was standing. Slipping through the doors, Connor entered another world. Nothing could have prepared him for this room--obviously a manís private sanctuary. Built-in, glass-enclosed bookcases lined the room, unbroken save for a marble fireplace set in the middle of one wall. Twin wingback chairs faced the fireplace, with antique frames and imported upholstery.

What was Samantha saying about a menís club?

An amazing assortment of marble reproductions of Michelangelo sculptures meditated in the corners or in reliefs set strategically around the room. From the crystal chandelier over his head to the oriental carpets beneath his feet, Connor knew each very expensive piece could have been lifted, wholesale, from Longleat House in England, or some other British marquessí manor.

The man had money, Connor realized. And if he didnít have money, he went broke spending it on all of this.

Half of what he saw, Connor knew he couldnít have gotten his hands on for the highest bidder in the antique market. Not even in the black market. These things just werenít out there for anyone to grab; most of them were in European country manors or museumsóboth of which catered to tourists.

And Graham was Scottish, eh? His family must have brought old money with them when they came to America. Wonder why he left Britain.

Shivering in his wet clothes, Connor went first to the hearth and peered at the logs waiting there. Samantha is wet, too, he pondered. Surely she wouldnít mind....

Locating the matches on the mantle and kindling beneath the cedar logs, Connor lit the fire. Waiting impatiently for the flames to grow, he stripped off his shirt and socks, was careful to lay them across the marble hearth where the dampness could do no damage. If not for Samanthaís sensibilities, he would have taken off the jeans as well; they were soaking wet up to the knees, cold and unbearably clammy.

Padding in his bare feet to the first bookcase next to the fireplace, he craned his head back to read the titles on the uppermost shelf. They appeared to be the collected works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. Next to them were Robert Louis Stevenson, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, W.B. Yeats, and so on down the alphabetical line.

Eclectic tastes, to say the least, Connor thought, opening one of the doors and taking down a volume of Oscar Wildeís plays.

Moving slowly around the room, the Immortal discovered that where authors ended, biographies picked up, with James Michener and Irving Stone claiming prominant, first-edition hardback places. Beyond the biographies were histories of witchcraft--from Ancient Greece and Rome onward to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with a preponderance of Scotland and England as well, he noted. Turning his attention to the American side of things, John Graham had been a scholar of the Revolution, American Victorian, and all three world wars as well as Viet Nam.

Wandering on, Connor ran into the fairy tale and folklore section of Grahamís library. Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Rabbit shared shelf space with Wind in the Willows and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He smiled to see a series of Lassie books holding court with The Childrenís Hour series of more than twenty volumes, each one dedicated to a separate genre, from mysteries and adventures to dragons and dogs. One lower corner was even devoted to Disney. Bending down for a closer look, Connor noted that the well-loved books began with Cinderella and ended with The Lion King.

The collecting didnít end when our little girl grew up, he noted, smiling. He had his own copy of that particular book tucked away safely in his own rooms.

Tugging open yet another bookcase, Connor lifted down a tall, narrow black album, only to discover black-and-white baby pictures of the woman heíd only just met. Knowing he probably shouldnít, but unable to resist seeing traces of normal, modern childhood, Connor flipped through the album, pausing once to grin at a worried-looking little girl with skinny legs. She stood, squinting at him in the mid-day sun and clutching a Lassie lunch box. At least I know whose books those were.

Put that back, the voice of his conscience commanded. With guilt laced with reluctance, he replaced the album and didnít reach for another. After you get to know the lady better, his conscience continued, perhaps sheíll share this stuff with you.

Who says Iím going to get to know her better? Connor challenged.

His conscience didnít bother to answer, as they both knew his hopeful answer to that rhetorical question.

Reaching the far side of the room, Connor gazed down at the huge bookkeeperís desk with buit-in leather files on opposite ends of the center blotter. Those are rare, he noted. English made, Late Eighteenth Century. Shades of Dickens and Ebeneezer Scrooge in that desk.

Twice the length of a modern CEOís desk, it looked as though it had been with the Grahams a long time. Papers and bills were still stacked upon it--works in progress when John Grahamís life had been interrupted. His dust-covered reading glasses were folded and perched atop one haphazard stack, looking as though it and the glasses might crash to the floor at any moment.

Straightening the pile, Connor also moved the glasses to a safer spot, next to a dusty silver inkwell. A Mont Blanc fountain pen lay next to the inkwell; its tip was exposed, the cap was nowhere in sight, and a dry blot of ink had saturated the half-written check to Con Edison. On impulse, Connor unscrewed the pen and checked the bladder, only to find it empty.

Samantha was telling me the truth, Connor realized, when she said that she had run away from things after her father died. Poor sweet girl....

Replacing the pen on the blotter, the Immortal turned his attention to the lawyerís bookcase behind Grahamís desk. The only case that wasnít built into the wall, it was also the only case that was locked. Of course it contained the oldest books in the room: Connor knew that just by looking at the tall, faded-leather tomes.

Over twelve inches high and almost two inches thick, the books on the top shelf resembled the illuminated manuscripts Connor had seen created in European monesteries. While not nearly as ornate as the Book of Kells housed at Trinity College, Dublin, the books were still graced with hand-painted gold letters on the spines. Squatting down for a better look, Connor noted that the spine of the first book said, C.M.--LXII. C.M.óCIV said one in the middle, about half the size of those dominating the first shelf.

I donít know what C.M. stands for, he pondered, but LXII might be 62, and XCIV might be 94...If so, where are the first 61 volumes and what are those things?

The books got progressively smaller and less ancient, with the bottom shelf overflowing with tomes about the size of the artistís sketch books sold at office supply stores. They were tumbled in among themselves--as though the owner had not considered the books or their contents nearly as important as the pristine antique manuscripts above them. Whenever the door was opened, the younger books would probably spill out onto the floor. Not only that, the younger books had bare spines, as though the chronicler had run out of gold paint long about volume XCIV.

But theyíre of a series, he observed.

"Here are some clothes."

Startled, Connor leaped to his feet and whirled in time to see Samantha put a folded sweatsuit across the back of one of the wingback chairs. Briefly, her eyes flickered from him to the lawyerís bookcase and back to him again. Her expression never changed, and so he sensed rather than saw her alarm.

After regarding him for a long moment, she asked, "What are you doing?"

"Wandering." Coming around the desk, he noticed that she had begun trembling. Whatís so upsetting about those old books? Whatís in there? Medieval pornography? "Iím sorry," he said aloud. "I didnít mean to intrude."

"Youíre not intruding." Her eyes said he was. She summoned a smile, but it didnít reach her eyes. "I"ll leave you to change clothes and wait for you outside. Call when youíre ready."

He undressed and dressed in short order, towel-drying his hair and finding himself grateful to be reasonably dry and warm again. How far weíve come from the Highlands and winter nights of sleeping on nothing but the frozen ground, wrapped in a bit of cloth. Leaving the library, he turned his brightest smile on Samantha, who was leaning against the wall and looking stormy.

He cocked a finger over his shoulder. "What are all those ancient books, anyway?"

"Adventures of a Scottish warrior."

"Have they been published? Did your father write them?"

"Some of them," she said cautiously. "Most of them, no. The stories have been in our family a long time. Members of Clan Graham and the Blair sept contributed to them over the years."

"Blair..." He thought for a moment. "Lowlanders?"

"Perhaps. I donít really know all of the details. Would you like that hot chocolate now?" She didnít offer to show him the old books, which made him even more curious.

"Are those the books your father translated from the Gaelic?" he asked, following her as she led the way from the entry.

"Yes."

"Can I see them?"

"They are very old and very fragile. Iíd really rather not bring them out, if you donít mind. Is there something else from my fatherís collection youíd like to see?" She shot him a look that said, Iím not opening that bookcase, and I donít want to discuss it any more, either, so take the hint or youíll find yourself out in a snowdrift with no hot chocolate and no vanilla ice cream.

He turned on his most disarming smile. "As a matter of fact, Iím very interested the Sherlock Holmes books. Are they first editions?"

"Maybe. Iíd have to look."

They reached the kitchen, which was a gourmet design of white tile and copper pots. Samantha marched to the refrigerator while Connor grabbed a barstool.

"If itís a first edition Conan Doyle, would you consider selling it?"

She all but banged closed the door of the freezer.

"Look, Mr. MacLeod. That was my fatherís private library, with his private things. I havenít so much as investigated a quarter of whatís hidden away in there, much less inventoried it. I was heartbroken when Dad died, a wreck at the funeral, and I left New York to get some distance between me and all of the things that meant so much to my father. Iím back now, and I still have to face the things you saw, plus a whole lot of other things you havenít seen in twelve more rooms. I had thirty wonderful years with Dad, he was my best friend, and Iím still grieving for him. Iíd really appreciate it if you didnít come off sounding like a shark wanting to snatch away my fatherís memory in exchange for tawdry little frogskins before Iíve had the chance to go through his things and remember and finish grieving. Got that?"

Connor spread his hands in supplication. "Please forgive me. I didnít mean to hurt you."

Drawing a deep breath in an effort to calm herself, she started the milk warming in mugs in the microwave and began searching for the ice cream scoop.

"Sorry to be so touchy," she said, but didnít sound sorry at all.

"Here, let me." Coming around the counter as she found the scoop, he took it from her.

"No ice cream for me, please," she refused.

"To sweet?"

"Yes."

The look in his eyes before he turned his attention to the ice cream told her that, after her little outburst, Connor no longer found her quite so sweet.

Well, what else could I do, but throw a tantrum? she sulked. Itís clear that his infamous tenacity has been aroused along with his curiosity. He wasnít about to give up the discussion or his request, so what were my options? Should I have said, ĎSure, Mac, of course you can look at the 200 yearsí worth of chronicles my family of Watchers has written on you... And, oh, the other 250 years are tucked away in bookcases at the end of another hidden passage, sealed inside a humidity-controlled room. Wanna see those, too?í Uh-huh. NO WAY. Better to combine my panic at him actually finding the Chronicles with my grief at losing Dad (and it was really, REALLY stupid for me to have let the library open so that he could find those books... and I really do resent him trying to buy them), and voila! Youíve got the only solution I could come up with at a momentís notice. Besides, it wasnít entirely theatrics; those are Dadís books, and Dadís theyíll stay until I decide to sell. If ever!

The hot chocolate was ready. Returning to the library, Connor and Samantha retreated into separate wingback chairs and eyed each other warily over their mugs.

Why not? thought Samantha. Heís seen everything in here. Iím not taking any chances with the rest of the house. What if I showed him Dadís workroom, with the fax machine linked to Watcher HQ in Paris--not to mention the computer with all of the Immortal files? Heíd find not just himself in there, but a lot of other people in his intimate circle of Immies. And letís not forget the map of the world gracing one wall, whereon Dad chronicled Connorís every move the past fifty years. Yeah, this Immortal would really learn a lot from all the little yellow stickies Dad put up to remind him of stuff--like the frownie-face on the one by Marrakesh. Dad didnít think much of Morocco. It was too hot, too dirty, and he was terrified of Connor discovering him because it was really difficult to hide a tall, blonde old Scot among dark little Arabs. Thank heaven, I was in college and missed that one. No, I think a tour of this house is definitely not in order. It was really stupid of me to bring him here in the first place. Great first day on the job, Sammy.

Their evening together wound down quickly after that, with Connor sensing the change in Samanthaís mood. She was definitely wary of him now--perhaps even angry with him.

Was I that insensitive? he wondered. How frustrating. We were enjoying getting to know each other until I blew it. Ah, well...perhaps next time. If I can convince her that there should be a next time?

"Iíll...I suppose I should be going," he said quietly and with reluctance, as her mood remained as chilly as the ice cream heíd depositing into his hot chocolate. "Do you mind if I borrow your fatherís clothes for a dry journey home?"

"Of course not. I canít send you out in wet things and be responsible for your catching pneumonia, now can I?" Her eyes battled with her words, for she looked as though she might well wish him to catch cold, at least.

"Thank you," he said meekly, determined not to ask again if he could see the Sherlock Holmes. Bundling his wet things under one arm, he padded out of the library and toward the front door.

"Look, I know I was thoughtless and messed up earlier, but if youíll forgive me, Iíd like to see you again. And that has nothing to do with your fatherís things." He tried his best to look humble and penitant. "You donít even have to invite me back here if you donít want to. We could meet somewhere else."

She stared evenly at him for a few heartbeats, her expression inscrutable. Whatever puppy-dog earnestness she found in his eyes must have satisfied her, for in the next moment her tense shoulders relaxed, she touched his arm lightly, and then stepped back as though fearing sheíd taken too great a liberty.

"Iíd like to see you again. But Connor, you must promise never again to behave like an antique dealer in this house. I doubt Iíll ever want to sell anything, so just forget it. This stuff has been in my family--well, in the Graham family, anyway--for too long. I may have been adopted, but Iím all theyíve got now that Dadís gone."

And the branch will die with you, Connor realized sadly. Do you know that you will have no children, Samantha Graham? You could adopt, I suppose, but this branch of the Clan Graham has ended.

"Call me, all right?" Samantha concluded. "Iím in the book under John Graham."

"I will." His tone left no room for doubt. I care about you, was the message behind the words, No matter that Iíve come across as an insensitive bastard.

Retrieving his wet trenchcoat from the closet, Samanthan tactfully refrained from remarking how heavy it was, and endeavored to hand it to him without bending it over her arm--which would have made certain the discovery of the hidden katana. A weapon of that length was simply hard to miss, and from the look on his face, Connor was deeply aware of that fact.

And so you have your own secrets, she reflected. What if I were to ask you, right now, whatís so heavy inside your coat? Iíll bet youíd run away faster than the Niagara over its falls. Fortunately, Iím a nice and polite little Watcher and I donít like trying to open cans of worms.

Taking the coat, Connor shrugged into it.

"But itís wet--" she began protesting.

"Not inside." Reaching out slowly--and giving her plenty of time to back away and let him know if she preferred not to be touched--he cradled her cheek in the palm of his hand before leaning down and kissing her goodnight. It was a sweet kiss, full of promise and apology more than passion, and he was unprepared for the protesting whimper she made when he drew away. Did she want me to go on kissing her?

But the moment had passed, for all that Samantha had closed her eyes and was tilting her head against his hand as though to savor the warmth of his skin touching hers. A tear snuck out from the corner of her eye to track its way down the side of her nose.

"Did I hurt you somehow?" Stepping closer, he wrapped her in his arms. She came willingly, sliding her arms around his waist and burrowing against him.

"You didnít hurt me." Her reply was all but lost against his sweatshirt. "Iím crying for reasons I canít possibly explain. I just needed you to touch me, thatís all."

He chuckled. "Thatís quiet a lot, considering Iím the stranger I believe you were considering killing earlier this evening."

"Iím not angry anymore." Giving him a hard, she drew back. "Thank you for caring."

"My pleasure. And I will call you, if you truly donít mind?"

"I donít mind." She sniffled.

"Well, then. Goodnight." He opened the door.

"Goodnight, Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." She said it with such reverance that he stopped on the threshold and peered over his shoulder at her.

"Samantha?"

"Never mind."

She closed the door gently behind him, ushering him out into the night. Mystified, he wandered down the path and over to his car, to retrieve it from the snowdrift nested around it and head for home.


Chapter Three

Shoving back from the desk, Connor let his chair roll a few feet away from the monstrous shipping manifest heíd been unraveling all morning.

Rachel, he thought, how dare you die and leave me with all of this...mundanity. You were so well organized, how could you let yourself die without finishing everything in advance?

Replacing his dear friend and assistant was taking longer than heíd expected it would. Heíd advertised and then, after being totally dissatisfied with the candidates the mail had generated, heíd registered with a professional agency and interviewed more than ten people. All the Highlander had discovered for his efforts was that the more time he spent hunting for an assistant, the further behind he got in the work Rachel used to do, never mind his own acquisition and sales duties for Russell Nash Antiques.

Acquisitions had ground to a screeching halt. He had a couple of students from Cornell Universityís history and art departments helping part time as impromptu sales staff, but while they could chatter non-stop about that period, this art pattern and that dynasty, when it came to the nuts-and-bolts end of the business--the buying and shipping and bookkeeping duties--Connor had no helpers at all. They might know history, but they had no sales sense. Their treasures wouldnít move until the next ice age--or the next Rockefeller--came along.

Which invoice went with what purchase order? What orders were due Freight On Board and what were coming COD? What system had Rachel used to track things? How many shipping companies were they dealing with, and had anything been lost or damaged in transit? Who needed to be paid, who owed Russell Nash money, and where--trapped as Connor was in the middle of all this paperwork--was he supposed to find the time to go out and replace what was being sold? Inventory had to be replenished constantly, else the bare walls started sticking out.

Oh, he was selling stuff: that wasnít the problem. He made bank deposits and paid the mortgage right along. But was Russell Nash on budget? How much should he invest back into the inventory, how much should be invested in his own portfolios, and how much should he stuff under the figurative mattress for the unconventional rainy day--e.g., if and when the roof started leaking, or if a 100-year-old upright grand piano fell on some unsuspecting customer who was trying to see behind it, and their family sued Nash Antiques for wrongful death. Such things had happened before, they might happen again. If they didnít, something else would happen that required lots of money and more than a few lawyers.

Rachel knew all of those things, he pondered. Me? I just bought and sold the pretty things. She did so much for me and weíd been in partnership for so long--only the last 50 years. Half a century. One tenth of my life. I miss her, he thought. More than sheíll ever know. And I wish Iíd paid closer attention to how she ran my business. I took her expertise and commitment very much for granted. Without her, I wouldnít be as secure as I am. And unless I get some good help in here, Iím not going to be secure for very long. Iíve survived on my own for a long time, but Iíve gone soft over the last few decades. I can fight, but I canít figure.

Running his fingers through his hair, Connor stared at the shipping manifest, then at the computer. He knew that the monstrous little numbers written on the paper coincided with something in the computer, but how and where would they ever make sense? Swearing in a weird mixture of Gaelic and bastard French, he yanked his hair back into a pony tail, grabbed a rubber band from inside the desk, and ruthlessly pulled it back.

It may look great on Duncan, he thought with ferocity, and I may have had delusions of greatness in growing mine long, too, but right now itís bloody in the way. When Connor MacLeod was hot and bothered, everything bothered him, including hair on the nape of his neck. Right now, it made him itchy and twitchy.

Grabbing the phone directory, he looked up John Grahamís number. Dialing it, the Highlander was more than an little irritated when Samantha didnít answer on the first ring.

"John Graham here. Please leave a message and Iíll call you back." *Beeeeep.*

She hasnít taken her fatherís voice off of the answering machine. Still in mourning, eh? "Samantha, this is Connor MacLeod. Iíve been having problems with some of Russell Nashís loose ends and wondered if you might help me, or if you know someone else who could. Please call me back at the store. 555-8726. Thanks. And hey--you want to have dinner and see a movie with me this weekend? ĎBye."

* * *

Connor toyed with his clam chowder lunch. "If I donít get my act together, Iím going to lose the store."

Samantha stared at him over her shrimp salad. "Itís that bad?"

"I canít keep up," came the reluctant, half-whispered admission. "I know how to do everything Rachel did. I thought doing both our jobs would be so easy."

"Werenít you going to hire a replacement?"

"Easier said than done. The person with the kind of experience and knowledge I need would probably be running their own store. These past few weeks, Iíve discovered that Rachel was literally an extension of my knowledge and me. We were halves that made up a very successful whole."

Capturing his hand, she stroked his fingers in sympathy. How could Rachel not have been part of you? You rescued her from the Nazis and raised her with the best of everything. You were her life, she worshipped you. "What sort of an assistant are you looking for?"

"A miracle." He gave a short laugh. "No, actually, itís not funny. Iím serious. Someone whoís equally at home balancing books as attending auctions. Someone who knows antiques and swords or at least a bit of history into which they can slot new knowledge. Theyíd have to be able to talk to my clients--which range from eccentric housewives hunting for a new couch to professional decorators looking for a specific piece or look, and theatre directors who send over their prop managers wanting to rent certain things. Then there are the serious collectors of smaller stuff--like Egyptian artifacts or cloisonne or 16th-Century Italian swords.

"I need someone whoís independent, reliable, and educable," he continued, "who has elegance and eloquence. Someone whoís not afraid to admit when they donít know the answer to a question and whoís willing to say, ĎLet me research that and get back to you.í And then they get off the phone and do just that. I need someone whoís not shy around me--" His expression told Samantha that this had been a problem in the past. "Someone who wonít hesitate to ask questions and will actually listen to the answers. Maybe even takes notes. Someone who loves old things. Someone I can trust with the cash, the deposits. Someone who wonít crash the computer or ask, the minute they see it, ĎHow do you turn it on?í"

Samantha cocked her head. "Youíre offering someone a very good career opportunity, you know?"

"Exactly. But most people donít see it that way. Most people think Iím nuts," he added ruefully. "Maybe I am. Who knows?"

Samantha thought a moment. "I can do what you want." Connorís eyes widened abruptly into hers, so she hastily added, "On a temporary basis, of course. I havenít time to help you permanently and still have a life. But I think I could take some of the pressure off while you look for someone else."

"Really?"

She nodded. "I already have some of the knowledge youíre looking for. I know a claymore from a broadsword from a katana, if that helps? Iím not as certain of the differences between a Hepplewhite, a Chippendale, and a William and Mary, but I can learn."

He waved away her concerns. "Books can teach you that--with color plates, no less. Itís not hard to learn. You, I could hire." He narrowed suddenly predatory grey eyes at her. "Are you certain that you donít want the job permanently?"

"Absolutely." The Watchers would kill me. "When do you want me to start?"

"Today? Now?" He looked so hopeful that she laughed.

She glanced down at her jeans, wriggled her toes in their boots. "Iím not exactly dressed for it."

"So I wonít introduce you to any of my wealthy customers this afternoon. There are days when youíre unpacking crates and need to be dressed like that. Seriously, I could start training you today, if youíre willing?"

"I suppose Iím willing."

With alacrity, Connor called for the bill and all but dragged Samantha out the door. Her volunteering was just too good to be true. Over the past month, getting her go out with him had been like luring a skittish cat out of the bushes: she was obviously in hiding, wanting desperately to trust and like him, wanting his touch, but she couldnít quite unbend. Not yet, anyway. Samantha seemed happy enough when she was with him, but she frustrated him all to hell when he called her to get together again. Heíd even gone so far as to send her a dozen long-stemmed roses--Connor MacLeod, who hadnít sent flowers to any woman since London, 1888. But Samantha had never called, had never mentioned the roses beyond handing him one when he came to pick her up for dinner at Tavern-on-the-Green and a night at the opera.

"These are lovely. Thank you."

While he hadnít given Samantha the flowers in hopes of buying his way into her affections, or in hopes of manipulating her into any other reaction, he was still confused and a bit put off by her coolness toward him that night--and others.

Maybe the flowers were a mistake, he worried. Maybe Iím too pushy, am frightening her away. Maybe she just doesnít like roses?

When heíd said as much to her, Samantha had kissed his cheek and said, "Youíre sweet and youíre wrong. I love the flowers. Iím just a little preoccupied these days, going through everything Dad left behind. It... it makes me sad, thatís all. Itís not your fault, itís nothing youíre doing. I guess I just need some space."

It was as though sheíd never clung to him that first night at the door, when he was leaving--as though sheíd never let him see her more vulnerable side. What the hell happened?

Out on the street, beyond the restaurant, Samantha balked at going back to the shop with Connor. "I know that you want me to start this afternoon, but...."

His grey eyes grew even more pleading. Added to their depths was a desperation Samantha had never seen before. Please donít say no. I need you so badly to say yes....

Laughing, she tugged on a strand of long hair, draped over his shoulder. "Oh, all right. Just give me an hour or so to put things in order. Iíll meet you at the shop."

The pleading turned back into glee. "Fantastic."

For you, maybe, she sulked, leaving him to take a taxi back to the store. I still have to call Joe Dawson and get through a Seacouver inquisition. Iíve seen you three times in three weeks, and now Iíve volunteered to see you every day, and thereís something Iíve been putting off telling my supervisor.

* * *

"You did WHAT?" Joeís anger all but singed through the phone line, staight into to her ear.

She winced. "Iíve been seeing Connor MacLeod over the past few weeks. We went to dinner, the opera and a movie, lunch today. Nothing big. Itís not as if I agreed to marry him."

"Heís asked you to marry him?"

"NO!"

"Let me get this straight: Iím supposed to believe that Connor MacLeod approached you, all on his own and less than a month after I heard you ask me if you couldnít meet the guy before you accepted the assignment to watch him?"

"I donít care what you believe. Itís the truth. If you think Iím lying, then youíll want my resignation. No problem. Iíll have all of the chronicles on the next FedEx shipment, and you can damned well assign someone else to watch Connor."

She slammed down the phone in a rage of tears, and then spent the next hour pacing her bedroom in an absolute fury. I didnít have to tell him that I met MacLeod. I shouldnít have told him. I should have just kept an official journal for the Watchers and one for me, and let the whole thing slide until after I died and some idiot found the personal bits under my bed or in a safety deposit box. Dammit, Joe, I didnít have to tell you! I called to ask your advice because I honestly donít know if I should keep seeing Connor.

Yeah, I blew it and yeah, I gave into temptation. I should have just let Connor walk away in that cemetery and never suggested that we go to dinner. I could come close to blowing it in a lot of other ways, and thatís why I wanted some help from Joe.

The phone rang, making her jump three feet closer to the ceiling fan, making her hands go clammy and her stomach do flipflops. Crossing to the phone, she snatched it up and barked, "Sam here."

"Look, I--"

"No, you look, Mr. Dawson, Watcher-sir. I didnít have to tell you that I met MacLeod. I called you because I knew I should. Because I wanted some professional advice. All of the history Iíve researched until now has been dead. There wasnít any danger of Richard the Third or some druid sneaking up on me and asking how I was doing. And what the hell was I supposed to do--run away from Connor like some demented deer? Been rude to him? He was grieving, Joe. Grieving because someone he loved very much for a very long time had died. He was with Rachel longer than he was with Heather, for Godís sake. Maybe he wanted a little distraction and I was it. Iím sorry that I happened to be there watching him, and visiting my parentsí grave, and inadvertantly furnished the distraction. But Iím not sorry that I care about him. Iíve known him as long as Iíve known you, and if this precious Watcher organization Iím working for values secrecy over caring, then Iím out of here."

"Why did he approach you?" Joe demanded.

"I donít know why." She flapped her arm as though he could see her exasperated whooping-crane imitation. "Maybe I was the only other person in the cemetery and he needed to talk. Maybe he was lonely and thought I might be, too. Why donít you ring him up and ask him? You knew that I cared for Connor before you offered me this job. If caring for oneís Immortal is such a liability, then why did you ask me to take over for Dad?"

A long sigh came from Seacouver. "Itís not a liability to care about anybody, Samantha. The liability is in making contact with your Immortal, in becoming involved with him. Youíre an attractive woman. Connor MacLeod isnít immune to that fact."

"Ah-hah! And there we have another reason why he might have approached me. So now what? Do I move out of this house, change my name and have plastic surgery to make me look like someone else so that Connor canít find me again, or do you just strip away my Watchership?"

"Youíd like that, wouldnít you?" Joe snarled. "I know what would happen the minute I turned you lose. Sweet heaven, youíd probably end up living with him."

"Damn straight!"

Joe thought a moment. "Youíd actually let me take away your fatherís chronicles?"

"In a New York minute as long as Connorís in my life."

"And damn the Watchers to hell as long as Connorís in your life?"

"Youíve got it."

Joe sighed deeply. "You know, Sam, I think it was President Johnson who said, when somebody criticized him for actually trying to work with a Senator who thought nothing of Lyndonís policies, ĎIíd rather have him standing on the inside of the tent and pissing out, than standing on the outside and pissing in.í The tent being the Watcher organization, Iíd rather have you working for us than working with MacLeod."

"Iím already working for him."

Absolute shocked silence was her answer.

"Do you want me to explain?"

More silence.

"He needs an assistant to replace Rachel..." She explained from start to finish. Joe never said a word, not even after she was done.

"Hello, are you still there? Did you hang up on me?"

"Iím trying to think of something to say that wonít piss off both of us. I canít believe this, Sam. I know that you know better."

"Well...I love the guy. Have for a long time, so what can I say? I guess I love him more than I love you Watchers. Is that so peculiar, considering that I grew up with him rather than with your little organization?"

"You grew up with your father, who was--in case youíve forgotten--a Watcher. What do you think John would say about all of this?"

"Heíd fire me," she said with alacrity. "And itís okay. I understand completely."

"I am not firing you!" Joe roared. "Youíre a bigger risk if I fire you. Sure, I could take your chronicles. But I canít take your memories of your Dad watching Connor, or your knowledge of how the Watchers work." A beat. "Do you want to keep watching MacLeod?"

"I had planned to, unless you tell me I canít. Itís kind of hard to work for the man and not watch him."

"You can. Please do." Through the wonders of fiber optics, Samantha could hear Joe speak the words through gritted teeth. "You love him, huh?" he asked more civilly, not bothering to hide his personal curiosity. "Really love him?"

"As much as I loved my father. Iím not going to hurt your precious Watchers, Joe. I feel the same loyalty toward you and your organization that I felt toward Dad. But what would you have done if instead of Connor, it had been Duncan needing help--help that you could provide and rather effortlessly, too, just by having pizza with him? I canít stand by and not help Connor. Especially if he asks, face to face. Please try to remember that he was my Immortal long before Duncan was your Immortal. I canít not care. Thatís asking too much of the little girl I used to be--and of the woman I am now."

Another long moment of dead silence before Joe sighed. "All right, Samantha, you win. This time, anyway. You want to help Connor, okay. Just urge him to get a replacement for Rachel as soon as possible. For your own safety, be very careful and take care that he doesnít find out youíre watching him. And would you mind keeping two chronicles: one personal and one professional? Send me copies of the professional. Keep the personal ones to yourself unless I request them."

"Iíd already thought of that."

"Good. I donít mind telling you that this entire scenario has me scared all to hell. None of the other Watchers need to know about this; theyíd hardly approve. In fact, thereíd be a panic. So letís not let this get out."

"Theyíll never know. If Iím careful, what can go wrong? Connor canít get his hands on the chronicles, and he doesnít know that I know about his immortality, much less that Iím a Watcher. Weíve shared Italian food and ice cream. Isnít that personal? Now he needs a secretary. Thatís it. This is business, Joe. He hasnít asked me to sleep with him, and helping him wonít last forever. As soon as I can, Iíll just drift out of his life."

"Letís hope so. Look, Iíve got a delivery of booze walking through the door. I have to run a bar right now, but donít hesitate to call if you need more advice."

"Okay."

"Be careful, Sam. Connorís old and heís sly. I know that youíre attracted to him, but mind yourself."

"Always have. Always will."

"Donít let things between you get out of hand. Stay safe."

"You too, Joe."

For all her bravado, a hundred doubts assailed her once sheíd hung up the phone. Regardless Joe had granted relucant permission for her to involve herself in Connorís life, Samantha wasnít at all certain she wouldnít blow it.

Face it...a stray word here, the revelation that I know something of his life from 200 years ago that I shouldnít, and I could find myself on the receiving end of that katana, or undergoing an interrogation at the very least, with Connor demanding at a high decibel to know exactly what I know and why. I know heís got a temper, and I donít want to wake the sleeping dragon. Please donít let me wake him.

* * *

The minute she walked into the shop, Connor was at her side, guiding her around the merchandise, and waving away his graduate-student assistantís eagerness to help the latest customer.

" Ďs okay," the Immortal assured the lanky young man dressed in an expensive suit that Samantha knew that Connor had probably provided. "Sheís here to see me."

Guiding her out of the showroom, he shoved open a hidden panel to lead her into a small warehouse. Turning on her so quickly that she was trapped against a wooden packing crate, the Immortal leaned down and covered his mouth with hers.

"I missed you. And I thank you," he murmured in that whispery voice that made her shiver inside. "Are you ready for your first lesson?"

"That depends on what youíre planning to teach me." Grinning at him, she ran a hand over his chest. "Iíve never had a professor start a lecture that way before."

"I like it," Connor grinned. "For special students only, though."

He leaned closer. "I thought Iíd show you a few...specialty items."

"Mmm. Sounds interesting." She continued stroking his chest until he suddenly raised a katana beside her head.

Shoving out of his embrace, she ducked beneath his arm and got some distance between them. Oh my God, he knows Iím a Watcher. He knows Iím his Watcher, and heís going to kill me. Shave off my eyebrows, at the very least.

The blade caught the light, making her wince to remember that these were the swords that could shear through bone as well as eyebrows and muscle. Easily.

"What are you doing, Connor?"

"Giving you your first lesson. Heh." He advanced, the sword still held in that businesslike manner. "I didnít mean to scare you."

She backed further away. "The hell you didnít."

"This is a katana," he said, unnecessarily. "From the Nambokucho Period, Fourteenth Century, Sagami Province."

Bowing lightly to her, he began a kata. Samantha relaxed, but only slightly.

"Japanese sword art is divided into iaido and kendo. Iaido is the art of drawing the sword from the scabbard, killing your opponent with one stroke of the sword, flipping blood from the blade, and returning the sword to the scabbard. Traditional kendo is the art of using the sword outside the scabbard."

"Uh...are you planning to educate me in the art of iaido or kendo?" came the tremulous query. And just how personal is this lesson going to get?

"I intend to educate you in whatever it takes to enable you to speak intelligently with the many collectors who call, looking for a particular sword, and with the private dealers who arrange the exchange of such weapons."

Too late, Samantha remembered that Connor MacLeod did do a lot of dealing with Japanese art collectors.

"Oh," she quavered. "Right. Picky collectors."

"Now, about this sword." Retrieving the scabbard from a nearby trunk, he resheathed the weapon and handed it to her. "The length of the blade is seventy centimeters. Itís perfect for someone your size."

She slid the blade out of the scabbard a bit and peered at the pattern.

"Donít touch the blade," he warned. "Your fingerprints can create rust marks on the blade. And itís sharper than you realize."

"I know itís sharp enough to take off your head!" she snapped, still resenting his failure to warn her about the first lesson. "I know that American soldiers in the second world war were ordered to run away from anyone who came at them with one of these. I know theyíll bite through steel like a knife slices through cake."

"Yes." He nodded, with no apparent acknowledgement of her knowledge, or the deadly potential of the blade heíd handed her.

Sliding the blade all the way out, she waved it around experimentally. I donít know what Iím doing. He knows I donít know what Iím doing.

"Iíve never seen one of these up close and personal," she admitted.

"Heh. Not many people have. Itís 700 years old."

Older than you....

"Here--" He stepped up behind her. She let him. "My masters would have my head for not starting at the beginning with you--which means not even letting you hold a sword before youíve mastered some preliminary philosophy and movements, but I want you to get used to the way it feels in your hands. If you want to learn more after this afternoon, Iíll teach you properly."

"Okay."

He wrapped his arms around her and around the sword in her hands. "A circle of life surrounds you; you are the center of that circle. Hold the katana in both hands. The butt of the sword handle should be even with your waist and one fist away from your body."

He guided her fingers around the weapon and positioned it correctly. She struggled to concentrate beyond the distraction offered by his warmth, the elusive scent of his sandalwood aftershave.

"Point the sword tip of the blade at your opponentís throat."

She raised the katana to the correct height. "There?"

"Thatís his nose." Connor lowered her sword. "There."

"Maybe my imaginary opponent is taller than your imaginary opponent."

"Trust me. His nose is there."

"Yes, Professor," she conceded obediently. Who am I to argue with Ramirezís student? she thought wryly, wishing she had the nerve to say it aloud, and knowing that sheíd better shut up and not argue if she wanted him to teach her anything.

"Point your sword and slowly rotate your body 360į without leaving the spot where you are standing." He guided her around the circle. "Keep your eye on the tip of the blade as you move, and youíll find your personal circle."

Stepping back, he motioned for her to keep turning. "That circle is the outer perimeter of your defense and the most important thing youíll ever learn. Thatís because as soon as your opponent enters your circle with the tip of his sword, you can cut him down. Your life is in danger when someone attacks within your circle."

He stepped back. She continued moving.

"Where do I go from here?"

"You learn the way and cutting style of eight directions. Sword philosophy and technique."

She lowered the katana. "Youíre just giving me the overview this afternoon, right? I donít have to know the eight directions by five oíclock or anything? Will there be a test afterwards?"

He nodded. "Do you want to learn more than just basic information?"

"Yes." She considered the weapon in her hands. "Itís a beautiful thing, even if it was made to kill."

"It was made to serve and protect," he contradicted. "If you learn the code of the Samurai and sword etiquette, youíll come to understand the difference."

She grinned. "I get the feeling that your knowledge of all of this is more than just gleaned from books."

His expression was inscrutable. Saying nothing, he seemed to be waiting for her to comment further.

"Iíd really like to learn," she said slowly, almost shyly, feeling him out. "If youíre willing to teach me?"

Connorís eyes lit like fire, grey smoke smoldering. He bowed, as teacher to pupil. "I will teach you, Samantha Graham, if you truly wish to learn."

Raising the katana to her circle, she bowed formally in return. "I wish to learn, Mr. MacLeod. Now, about those eight directions--"

Taking the sword from her, Connor returned it to its scabbard. "They protect your vitals. Your life."

"Bet itís not something a girl could learn in an afternoon."

"Heh. No. Next lesson, sometime later this week. In the meantime, did you like the feel of this sword?"

She nodded and frowned at the same time.

"Whatís wrong?"

"Um...this is probably going to sound weird to you, but that katana feels like some-one rather than some thing." She looked up at him, and he stared back at her for a very long moment. "It does," she insisted, unwilling to back down.

"I donít think itís weird," he finally said, very quietly. "Wait a moment."

Disappearing behind a large crate, he returned seconds later with his own dragonís-head katana. Handing it to her, he asked, "What do you feel?"

Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow, her mind was racing as her fingers closed around the yellowed ivory hilt. Iíve had dreams about this thing, saw it a hundred times when Dad described fights.

Her hands trembled, and not because the katana was that much heavier or larger than the one sheíd held before. It wasnít. This is it...this was Ramirezís sword, and is Connorís companion. His protector. Has been for hundreds of years. And heís letting me hold it.

Spreading her feet, she centered and found her circle as Connor had instructed. Closing her eyes, she waited she waited for the delighted child dancing in her heart to settle down. Deep peace and tranquility of the flowing river, she chanted inwardly, finding her inner self and aligning with the sword.

Peace and protection in a timeless world, the chant came back to her, but not in her own voice.

"It feels very old," she murmured slowly, not knowing that Connor had to step forward to hear her. "It feels like you. Warm, strong and grounded. Protective and smart and...sneaky."

She jumped when he chuckled and took the sword from her. Her eyes flew open in time to see him finish sliding the grip of what she had already come to think of as her katana between her fingers.

"I think weíve time for one more lesson before you really make up your mind that you want me to teach you."

"Uh-oh." She looked from him to the sword in her hands. "I thought students usually started with bamboo poles. At least, I remember reading that somewhere."

"Usually."

She shifted nervously. "How much is this sword worth, Connor?"

"A few thousand." He sounded very casual about that fact, but it made her palms sweat. A few thousand was considerable sum to someone who had lived on a teacherís salary, someone who was living on the proceeds from her fatherís life insurance policy.

Her fatherís voice came back to her: Itís not impossible that a good sword will cost $10,000. And those are the new ones. Antiques, her father had said, are $5,000 to $50,000 for good swords by well-known smiths, and $100,000 or more for famous swords by famous smiths.

Oh, no. "Connor, how many few thousand?"

"Lots. But donít worry about it. Worry about me." Standing opposite her, he raised his katana to his own circle, lifted the handle to the middle of his chest, and thrust at her throat.

With only instinct serving her, Samantha twisted, swung her sword to the horizontal, and blocked him.

"Very good, for not knowing what youíre doing."

She backed away. "Connor, this isnít fair. And youíre scaring me again." She lowered the sword. "I donít know what the hell Iím doing. If I do something really wrong, Iíll chip this thing--or myself."

"You wonít hurt it. I wonít let you." Swinging the sword around with a movement she recognized as classic MacLeod, Connor grinned and stalked her.

"What about me?" she squeeked.

"I wonít let you get hurt, either. Now, pick up your sword. And trust me."

"Huh. Trust you?" She continued backing away, and slid the length of a crate when her back hit it. "I donít even know you all that well. How am I supposed to trust you?"

"You know my sword. Youíve talked with it."

"Oh, thatís a definite comfort. A man who uses his sword as a character reference."

Leaping left, Connor swung the katana straight for her sword arm. With her own katana overhead, Samantha did a sort of back-handed ripost--much as she would have with a tennis racket--to cut across his blade, which screamed.

What the hell if I DO chip this baby? Connor deserves it! Still, inside, she remained calm and had faith that he wouldnít hurt her. If he wanted to break all of the rules and destroy a couple of perfectly good katanas, that was his business. Sheíd play with him, no problem.

Watching his opponent carefully, Connor judged her fear through her expressions and knew exactly when she relaxed and began having fun.

Good balance and solid instincts, he catalogued, heartened that this was someone he might actually be able to teach, someone he could train to handle a sword before she actually needed to.

"You really do know what youíre doing, donít you?" She panted, once heíd finished leading her through an endless slow-motion series of parries and thrusts, fancy footwork and lunges.

"Heh. I know a little."

Glowering at him, she trotted backward to put a little distance between them and gain a few secondsí more rest for herself. "ĎLittle,í my uncleís arse. You know a lot. You move like that katana is part of you."

"So could you. So will you." Breaking off the exercise, he bowed again and moved in to take the sword from her fatigued, trembling fingers.

"I donít want to learn with this sword," Samantha protested. "It belongs in a museum or in somebodyís private collection. Canít I practice with an old broomstick or something?"

"Thatís not what this katana was made for," said Connor. "The spirit of the Samurai is in the sword, and that spirit is not content to live in a glass case. It exists for one purpose: to protect. You felt that, and it wasnít your imagination working overtime, Samantha. Each katana has its own personality, its own doorway to another world, another age and culture." He shook the sword at her in its scabbard. "This katana will protect you if you learn about it, make it part of you, and let it do its job."

"Let it...."

"Relax. It likes you." Breaking into a grin, he sounded less adamant with his next comment. "Okay. Next time, weíll use bamboo. And weíll keep using bamboo until weíre both satisfied that you can safely use live steel. Does that make you feel better?"

Carrying both swords, Connor disappeared around the shipping crate once again, leaving Samantha standing there with her mouth open.

He sounds as though he means to teach me seriously--almost as though Iím going to have that sword eventually. But isnít he going to sell it? He said he wants me to learn all of this stuff so I can communicate intelligently with his clients. Now, Iím confused... No, he must be talking about general knowledge. I mean, Iíd love to learn kendo, but what would I do with a real katana? Itís not like Iím Immortal, as though I need to learn to watch my head. Still, if Connorís willing to teach me, Iím totally willing to learn.

"Now I know why you couldnít fill this position, Connor MacLeod," she yelled after him. "You scared all of your other applicants to death!"

* * *

As it turned out, after Connorís two lessons Samantha hadnít energy or time left to concentrate on the business end of things that afternoon. Coming back the next morning, she accompanied the Immortal up two flights of stairs to Connorís personal apartment. Her first thought upon exiting the elevator and seeing the austere digs--which included black-tiled floors, a sunken living room, ancient military artifacts, and an art deco designer kitchen that looked as though it was never used--was that it would have been plain to any visitor that Connor lived alone. No feminine influence was in sight. No clues were given as to the actual personality of the owner, either.

"Now that Iíve introduced you to kendo, perhaps I should introduce you to the part of the business youíll be dealing with most while youíre working for me."

Leading her over to an upright glass display case, Connor removed a sword from his personal collection and carried it to the kitchen table.

"New Japanese swords of minimal quality sell for around $2,000," he said. "Good ones by top smiths go for $10,000 to $50,000. And those prices are just for the blade. The tsuka and all its pieces, the tsuba, and the saya run about $700."

Thatís the handle, swordguard, and the scabbard, she translated as he indicated each piece.

"If you want something really cheap, you can get everything for anywhere between $300 to $2,000. Cheaper ones are available, but theyíre considered dangerous because the handle may break. You wonít see any of those in the store, but we do get the occasional college student inquiring after Japanese blades. Itís best to tell them to call one of the cheaper mass manufacturers, a list of which is included in the order and pricing book downstairs.

"We are one of a handful of reputable, worldwide dealers in Japanese antiquities. We deal with other dealers and with serious collectors only. Many of our clients are repeat customers. If a disreputable dealer ever calls you, refer them to me. Do not tell them what we have in stock or release any other information to them."

"How do I know if theyíre disreputable?"

"If theyíre not on the list Iíll give you, theyíre disreputable."

"Oh. Well, thatís simple enough." She eyed the katana laying before them. "How can you tell if a sword is of good or bad quality?"

"Heh. That takes years. Fortunately, you donít need years, you have me."

"Okay, so how do you tell?"

He seemed pleased with the question, with her interest in him and his world.

And how could I not be interested? she thought. Youíre letting me see parts of you I doubt you show to many people. Standing here in your kitchen, listening to you, I can look back to a time when you stood on a warfield in Glenfinnan--a filthy young barbarian dying for the first time--and I can see forward to this morning, when youíre standing strong and confident and Immortal, having survived things I can only imagine. Your eyes are clear, your heart is open, your soul is sane...and I call it a miracle. She shivered with the wonder of it all, and listened harder. I want to please you, Connor, never disappoint or shame you.

"First of all, you focus on the blade itself, and you remember that age doesnít indicate quality. There are many periods in Japan when swords were mass-produced to meet wartime demand."

Picking up the katana in its scabbard, Connor held it horizontally. "When you pick up a sword for the first time, hold it by both the tsuka and the saya--"

"The handle and the scabbard?"

He nodded. "Hold it horizontally, too, for the scabbard may fit very loosely or the handle pin may be loose or missing. Check first. Inspect all of the exterior fittings." He pointed down the length of the sword and its handle. "Do they match in design and age?"

She peered at them and frowned as though she might know what she was doing.

"After you remove the blade from the scabbard, hold the sword by the handle with one hand, with the cutting edge up, and separate them, sliding on the mune--thatís the back of the katana blade--only."

"What happens if I donít?"

"You can scratch the sides of the blade. You then examine the blade--but donít breathe on it. You then consider length, curve, style, hamon, defects, feel, etc. If youíre still interested in the blade, you have the owner remove the handle--tsukas are often ill-fitting or, in the case of World War II mounts, they have a lot of spacers and miscellaneous hardware in there."

"Iím getting a bit overwhelmed here," she cautioned.

"Itís a lot to take in," he admitted, sliding the sword back into its scabbard. "And I have a habit of not stopping with the details once Iíve started. I love swords." He shrugged sheepishly. "End of lesson."

Unwilling to have him stop talking, for all that her brain was close to rebeling, Samantha asked, "Whatís...hamon?"

"The temper/hardening line on boths sides and in the tip area." He pointed it out. "It tells a lot about the sword. Flashy looking hamons are often found on poor quality blades. Is the hamon questionable or is no grain visible? If so..." He shrugged. "Lousy quality. Donít buy it."

"Do you have any books I can read on this?" she faltered, exhausted and frustrated at knowing what she didnít know.

Connor pointed out a bookcase on the other side of the room. "Help yourself to any of those. Some of them are in Japanese, though. Start with John Yumotoís The Samurai Sword--A Handbook, and go from there."

The rest of the afternoon was lost in a whirl of new information. Connor concentrated on Japanese artifacts because thatís where the most questions would come for Samantha to handle, and also because it would take the longest to learn. Later in the week, they moved into accounting and shipping matters.

By the end of the second week, Connor had discovered that Samantha could make far better sense of his shipping manifests than he could. She even managed to locate Rachelís written office procedures--which made Connor kiss first the notebook in which they were kept, and then kiss her in gratitude. By the first of the next month, the Highlander finally knew what shipments to expect when, what sort of shape his accounts were in, and what sort of income he could expect over the next quarter.

Russell Nash Antiques was saved. Tired, but satisfied with herself, Samantha left that night with another of Connorís swordly books tucked under her arm. Grinning at the drawing of a Samaurai warrior leering up at her from the front cover, she thought, Connor may know everything about you, Sam, but he canít balance his books.

Feeling smug in her own right, she started her car and headed for home.


 

Chapter Four

Excerpts from Samanthaís Private Watcher Journal

Itís taken a few weeks, but my life with Connor MacLeod has settled into a familiar pattern. Gradually, weíve dug Russell Nash Antiques out of its clerical hole, and Iíve learned more than Iíve ever wanted to know about selling Japanese antiquities. Unfortunately--or fortunately, depending on if Iím suffering an anxiety attack regarding breaking my oath as a Watcher--Connor hasnít repeated the face-to-face swordplay of my first day. Honestly, he had me afraid that his clients actually wanted to try out the swords before they bought them--on me! Instead, he seems contented to have me read a number of books and interrogate him--and he me--on a number of swords he has in the shop.

Very little has been said about someone being hired to replace me. I ought to be pushing him on that, because itís becoming very obvious heís not going to do anything about it, and I did promise Joe Iíd be out as soon as Connor has a replacment. But as the days pass, I find that Iím happy to let silence reign on that score. And Iím not breaking my word to Joe; itís not my fault I canít leave, if he doesnít hire anyone else.

Happy she remained until the afternoon Connor presented her with a split bamboo pole, "All your very own," and told her as she turned the strange stick over and over in her hands. He waited patiently until she looked up for explanation. His expression told her that it was time to begin her lessons.

"My own personal broomstick?"

"As you requested." He gave a slight bow, which looked so incongruous that it made her giggle. "And so we begin."

With those words, her days shifted again, with Connor and kendo becoming the focus of her life. From eight to twelve oíclock, they tended the store together. In the afternoon, they were relieved by Connorís graduate students, had lunch, and then retired to the privacy and soundproofing of the warehouse. Shoving aside whatever crates were being emptied of inventory at the moment, Connor instructed her--or chased her around the warehouse, banging on her with his own bamboo sword; it depended on who you asked for an explanation.

My progress is slow, and Connor keeps telling me thatís not because Iím slow, but because thereís so much to learn and make a part of me--as much a part of me as is breathing. The Highlander is the most patient of teachers, encouraging questions and discussion, and Iím gradually coming to trust that I can ask him about almost anything.

Every lesson is followed by at least two weeks practice. Sometimes I work alone, sometimes I work with him. Until Iíve mastered one step, I donít get to go on to the next. Thatís a fine lesson plan with me. Heíll bury me in this if he goes one bit faster, and I like to let the bruises heal before acquiring a new set. The Immortal and the Mentor are two entirely different people: itís fascinating (and sometimes painful!) to watch the change that comes over him during these sessions, and to work with that person.

Iím starting to feel as though my real world has dissolved and the fantasy world I once dreamed of sharing with this magnificent childhood hero has become a reality. Only four months ago, my world consisted of lesson plans, lectures, rude students and researching my latest paper for publication. This morning I emerged from the shower, stepped onto the bathroom scale, and discovered that Connorís workouts have made me lose fifteen pounds. Iíve dropped two dress sizes and feel better than I ever have before. So much for the scholarly library potato.

Iíve almost come to take for granted this new control over my body. It responds so quickly when I ask it to do something, and I feel almost graceful. Almost. Itís a good thing, too, since Connor works me hard, very hard. Exactly when did I stop panting to keep up with him, stop begging him to let me take frequent rests?

It hasnít all been sweating and practicing. Sometimes I get to work early enough to watch him perform his morning kata. Will I ever have that kind of grace or control? Maybe, if I manage to stay with him long enough. Maybe if I were Immortal, myself, and had years to devote to kendo.

Best of all, I think Iím learning what makes Connor MacLeod tick. Tiny little details are coming together from the books he loans me, the lessons, from spending entire days with him. Like...

óI think heís continued using a katana because--as morbid as it sounds--itís the perfect weapon to take heads. In fact, according to the books, in the beginning the katana was created for close-in fighting and beheading the enemy. After the blade was forged and polished and fitted, a sword tester took it and cut through the bodies of corpses or condemned criminals. He began by cutting through the small bones and moved up to the large bones. So Connor discarded his family broadsword at Heatherís grave and has carried Ramirezís "made-to-order-for-the-Immortal" katana ever since. And, another minor point Iíve come to appreciate in these weeks of oofing these huge claymores and broadswords around the store: that katana is light. Light enough to wield in a long fight without having your arms fall off. And light enough to stuff under your trenchcoat without having one side dragging the ground. Itís these little details that make an Immortalís life so fascinating. And real. So much for bed-time stories. This is reality, just like what heís teaching me.

óHe gave me well-worn leather portfolios containing study notes from, as he said, "one of my ancestors who traveled in Japan." Written in Scottish Gaelic in a formal hand on browned parchment, theyíre MacLeodís personal notes regarding the way of the warrior--his way. I donít know if he thought I could actually decipher them...but he seemed to want me to try.

What wouldnít I have given to have kept the portfolios...But in all good conscience, I couldnít. I debated copying them for the Watcher archives, but some things should remain private. We watch, we donít get involved, and we donít steal--certainly not an Immortalís private thoughts and philosophy. So, instead of copying wholesale, Iíve jotted down a few generic things here that would apply to any student of kendo, and which would be discovered by any serious student of the Samurai...But they are things that Connor felt important enough to note in his personal writings, and they are tenets that I feel he lives by. In chronicling this, Iíve only scratched the surface. As the days pass, Iím learning more an more about this man of honor...this Scottish warrior.

The Samurai Creed

I have no parents

I make the Heavens and the Earth my parents.

I have no home; I make a world of silence my home.

I have no divine power; I make the Flash of Lightning my eyes.

I have no ears; I make Sensibility my ears.

I have no limbs; I make Promptitude my limbs.

I have no laws; I make Self-Protection my laws.

I have no strategy; I make the Right to Kill and the Right to Restore Life my strategy.

I have no designs; I make Seizing the Opportunity by the Forelock my designs.

I have no miracles; I make Righteous Laws my miracle.

I have no principles; I make Adaptability to all circumstances my principle.

I have no tactics; I make Emptiness and Fullness my tactics.

I have no talent; I make Ready Wit my talent.

I have no friends; I make my Mind my friend.

I have no enemy; I make Incautiousness my enemy.

I have no armour; I make Benevolence my armour.

I have no castle; I make Immovable Mind my castle.

I have no sword; I make No Mind my sword.

 

The Way of the Warrior

Do not think dishonestly.

The Way is in the training.

Become acquainted with every art.

Know the ways of all professionals.

Distinguish between loss and gain in worldly matters.

Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.

Perceive those things which cannot be seen.

Pay attention even to trifles.

Do nothing which is of no use.

* * *

The next afternoon, Samantha returned from lunch to have one of the graduate students pounce on her the minute she walked in the door.

"Whereís Mr. MacLeod?" The girlís half-strangled tone of voice, coupled with a wide-eyed rigidity, said that all was not right.

"He had to meet with a client," Samantha answered. "Is something wrong?"

"Someoneís...waiting for him."

"Where?"

The girl cocked a thumb at Connorís private office.

"Iíll take care of it."

"Be careful," the girl hissed. "The guy looks evil."

"Evil?"

"You know the Hellís Angels?"

Samantha nodded."

"Eviler."

That so? Narrowing her eyes, Samantha pushed past the girl and into Connorís office. Oh, merde, was her next thought, as a man the size of a professional linebacker with the features of a troll rose from the chair beside Connorís desk.

Looking her up and looking her down, he grinned broadly, displaying a row of gold-capped teeth. The look in his eyes said heíd welcome getting to know Connorís assistant a little better.

"Can I help you, Mister...."

"Kroll." He sounded just like Lurch, straight off of The Addams Family. "Donít worry about the mister. Just call me Kroll."

It would be, you Klingon.

In two strides he was beside her, had entwined a lock of her hair around his finger, and was putting his mouth close to her ear. "What did you say your name was, Pretty?"

The manís breath stank as though he hadnít brushed his teeth in a decade. Standing her ground with difficulty, Samantha reached up to rescue her hair from his grasp. Stepping back, she put a more comfortable distance between them. "Iím Samantha."

"Sammy..." He made it sound sepulchral, as though he might want to bury her alongside Connor. "Whenís your boss coming back, Sammy?"

"Mr. MacLeod has been detained. Should I tell him you stopped by?"

"Give him a message for me, Pretty." Kroll all but purred, circling her like a gorilla would circle a bunch of bananas before tearing one off. "Tell him to meet me in the Park. By the Serpentine. Two oíclock tomorrow morning. Heíll know why."

"Iíll tell him." And wish I didnít have to.

She met Krollís gaze evenly, neither daring to invite him to stay or encourage him to leave. Still, he took the hint. Strolling out of the office, he left the store without causing any trouble--much to Samanthaís relief. The wilting grad student had evidently fled for the safer recesses of the back room.

Coward, Samantha hissed mentally. Thanks for the support.

Connor didnít return before Samantha left for the day, so she pinned a note to his chair and left a message on his private answering machine, telling him about the Kroll troll. Going home, she ate a quick dinner and went to bed to try and sleep until her alarm blared at two a.m. Sandy-eyed and quivering with nerves, she climbed out of bed to don a black jumpsuit before hotfotting it to Central Park, to skulk about in the foliage surrounding the Serpentine.

The things I do for... she thought as prickle bushes attacked from all sides. It smells bad down here. Like an outhouse and other things that I donít want to think about. If the cops catch me, Iíll be calling Connor to bail me out. No, make that calling Joe to bail me out. How embarrassing. Dad never had moments or worries like this...did he?

If he did, he hadnít told her about them, nor had he written them down. Then again, he was in the military. Skulking in bushes is part of that job, isnít it?

Seconds later, it started raining. Hard. Within minutes, Samantha was soaked to the skin. Her teeth were chattering so badly, she knew sheíd have problems speaking into the hand-held recorder sheíd brought. Moments later, Connor sauntered by on the other side of the Serpentine. There was no mistaking him, or that trenchcoat. He looked no more concerned in the driving rain than if heíd been a tourist strolling down Broadway.

That figures, Samantha thought. Heís got hundreds of years more experience doing this. Me? Iím just the watcher in love with him; the one whoís worried sick that Iím going to watch him lose his head tonight. Maybe thatís why they discourage us from getting involved. Maybe it just gets harder each time, watching someone you love fight. No matter how good they are, no matter how long theyíve survived, all it takes is one battle, one mistake, and theyíre gone.

Could I handle watching that? she wondered, and knew that the answer was an unequivocable, heart-shattering no. Ten months ago, she would have said she could handle anything, but living with Connor had changed all of that. I love him, and I love being in a world with him. If he was no longer in that world...I wouldnít want to be, either. She was shaking more with terror than with cold, now, watching him circle the Serpentine. Maybe Kroll wonít show. Maybe trolls melt in the rain or something.

Even as the thought came, the huge Immortal stepped out from the shadows, mere feet from the Highlander. Where Connor got his sword, Samantha would never know. One moment, he was strolling along, his hands in his pockets. The next, he was standing firmly grounded, his katana showering sparks as it blocked the arcing broadsword. Shadows swallowed some of the combatantsí movements, while the blades caught and reflected small sparks of light, giving the entire, terrifying event a surrealistic feel.

The Highlander gave ground around the Sepentine, letting Kroll hack and slash at him, letting him waste energy. Bouncing on his sneakers, Connor tested the slippery pavement, judged how much he needed to adjust his technique to compensate for the wetness. Finding the rain-slicked pavement lacking, he retreated off the path and onto firmer ground, heading for the trees and a more secluded setting.

Samantha followed cautiously, muttering into her tape recorder and wiping the rain from her face.

I have to ask Connor to teach me to fight in inclement weather, she realized, knowing it wouldnít be a bad technique to learn--if her Immortal survived into another day. Trembling, she rose from the soggy protection of her bush and skittered toward another clump of foliage. It was a good thing that both men were so entirely occupied; frightened out of her wits, and trembling convulsively, she couldnít have snuck up on a nun at vespers. Another metallic clash made her hurry so that she could see clearly once more. Vaguely, she wondered where Krollís Watcher was.

Squinting through the rain, Samantha knew enough to realize when her Immortal stopped testing his opponent and began offering an offensive. The sounds of battle rang through the trees, until gradually another sound impinged upon Samanthaís consciousness: a motorcycle was approaching. Her gaze was drawn as the cycleís headlight quested through the trees, accompanied by a stronger, panning light. Oh, God, itís the police.

Almost as though he had heard the thought, Connor broke off his attack. Bouncing backward and further into the shadows, he shielded the katana inside his coat, turned and bolted.

ĎHe who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day,í Samantha remembered a line from an old movie. ĎThe Great Race,í wasnít it? Or maybe ĎThe Princess Bride.í Or maybe ĎBambiís Children,í circa 1942.

Stop that, you literary nitwit. Thatís Connor out there and youíre placing quotes.

"MacLeod!" Kroll roared, running a few feet after the Immortal before noticing that someone was behind him, was joining him on the green.

The motorcycle came to a halt, with Kroll caught in its beam. The officer brought out his gun and trained it on the Immortal. "Put down the sword, sir."

Kroll grinned and spun the weapon. "Just practicing, officer."

"Parkís closed. Put down the sword. On the ground. Now."

Kroll wandered a few feet closer to the policeman.

"Síokay. I was just leaving." Sliding the weapon into its hidden scabbard, the Immortal held up his hands and backed away. "Now you see it, now you donít. Magic, huh?"

Kicking down the bike stand, the officer followed Kroll. "Sir, I must advise you that youíre under arrest--"

Whirling, Kroll hurled the broadsword. Spitting the officer mid-chest, it drove him backward. The revolver flew from his hand, and Samantha cringed to see the man pinned to a nearby tree.

At least itís a fast death, she reflected as blood bubbled from the policemanís mouth. His head lolled, he breathed his last, and Samantha trembled in her hiding place. That could be me. It will be me if he discovers Iím watching him.

Strolling over to his victim, Kroll patted the officerís helmet and retrieved his sword. He chuckled as the body slid sideways and fell in an untidy heap. "Night-night, baby. Guess the early-morning joggers are gonna get a surprise with you."

Flicking blood off the sword, the Immortal concealed it once more before striding off, whistling, down the path.

* * *

Slamming the front door behind her, Samantha peeled off and dropped her wet clothes as she went. The zippered jacket sheíd chosen was no problem and neither was the sweatshirt, but her fingers shook as she negotiated the nasty little buttons on the flannel shirt she was wearing underneath. Ripping off the last two buttons, she yanked the shirt over her head and paused only to throw the demolished cloth across a chair just inside her bedroom. 3:08a the baleful red eye of the bedside clock informed her.

Midnight of the soul, she remembered. More people die between three and four in the morning than at any other time. Thank God that Connor wasnít one of them tonight.

Padding naked into the bathroom, she ran the hottest bath she could stand, complete with bubble bath and candles. Electric lights--like the Immortal World--were too damn harsh right now. She wondered if sheíd ever stop shaking. Now that that the adrenaline was receding, she thought she might just throw up.

I could have lost him tonight, she realized anew. I could lose him any night, to anyone. I knew that before, but have never felt it so strongly. I could have watched him die right there, with Kroll grinning over him, could have seen the Quickening transfer everything Connor is to... to that Neandetholithic idiot.

*Riiiing!* shrilled the phone from her bedroom, just as she was about to step into the tub. She leaped and spun to face the sound, heart pounding as though Kroll had just stepped up behind her.

*Ignore it,* said her exhausted body. *Itís probably a wrong number.*

It was too nerve-rattling to ignore. Running out of the bathroom, she skidded to a halt seconds later before the phone. "Hello?"

"Samantha?"

She almost sobbed at the his voice, so close and yet so far.

"Oh, God. Connor." She sounded strangled. Her teeth were chattering so hard, he had to hear them.

"I saw that your lights were on," came the whisper-graveled tones, as calm as ever and never more welcome in her ear. "Are you all right?"

"Iím f-fine. Just had a nightmare. Wh-where are you?" And did Kroll follow you?

He chuckled. "Iím standing in your driveway."

Heís...talking on his cell, just downstairs? "Iíll be right there."

Slamming down the receiver, she didnít give him a chance to argue. Grabbing a bath towel on the way, Samantha flew down the stairs, flung open the door, and nearly barrelled into Connor as heíd come to stand on her doorstep. With a squeak, she yanked him inside, slammed the door, threw her arms around him, and burst into tears.

Connor stiffened in surprise even as he tentatively wrapped his arms around her. Vaguely, Samantha realized the probable causes: if he let go, her towel would drop to the floor and heíd see parts of his assistant heíd perhaps never dreamed of. Or maybe he did; she could hope. Through through the thinness of the towel, she could feel the hard length of his katana in its hidden pocket.

So what. Oh, Connor, please donít make me let go. Please? Tightening her grip, she cried harder to have him there with her, whole and safe, yet still in danger.

"Heh. It must have been some nightmare," he murmured. "Were monsters in it?"

"Mm-monsters," she agreed, hiccupping and suddenly realizing that the Highlander smelled of fear and sweat. Heís fought so many...and he still gets scared? Drawing back, she clutched her towel, sniffled and wiped her eyes. "Iím sorry. Iím getting you all wet."

"Things dry. And I was already wet from the rain." Strong fingers wrapped around her wrist; he pulled her back against him. "Do you have any tea? Chamomile, perhaps?"

"Why?"

"A friend in Seacouver swears by it. Says it calms you down, relaxes you. From the look of it, you need both."

Leading her gently, but firmly, down the hall and into the kitchen, Connor saw Samantha settled at the counter before setting the water to boil and searching out the tea.

"Chamomile...herbal. Thatís good." Offering a somewhat smirking smile, he tugged at her towel. "Whatís this?"

"I was just getting into the bathtub when you called. I had candles burning, bubbles floating. It was p-perfect," she managed before the tears bested her again.

"I had no idea baths were so important to you."

She turned, swiped a hand across her eyes, and opened her mouth to protest, until she saw his grin.

"Nothingís that bad, Samantha. Go sit down before your knees give out. Iíll be right there with the tea."

A few minutes later, he set the tea before her. "Let it steep a few minutes. Cream? Sugar?"

She nodded with a hiccup, let him interpret that to whatever instructions he liked.

He glanced up at her, then added a generous measure of both. "Is it all right?"

She sipped. "Perfect."

Preparing his own cup, Connor slid onto the bar stool next to her. "What was your nightmare about?"

"Watching a friend die." Her hand trembled where it grasped the cup, but she met his gaze squarely.

Perhaps her tone of voice warned him not to pursue his line of questioning. Perhaps her nightmare reminded him of his own as an Immortal participating in the Game. In any case, Connor finished his tea in silence, staring into the distance and lost in thought.

Are you remembering all the battles youíve fought, or all of the friends youíve lost? She didnít intrude upon his silence, but concentrated on her tea.

"I think you should take your bath."

She jumped at his voice, almost having forgotten he was there. "The waterís cold now."

"They make more. Come on." Holding out his hand, he waited for her to take it. His fingers were warm; hers were very cold.

"Youíre going to run my bath for me?" she asked, incredulous.

"Mmm. I think you need to be taken care of right now. Come on, Iím going to pamper you a little."

Without argument, she followed him up the stairs.

How amazing, she thought on the way. A few months ago, the thought of having Connor intrude this far into my homeónever mind this intimately into my affairs--if baths are affairs--would have chilled me to the bone. Tonight, I donít care. Tonight, his vulnerability is very close to me. He can do anything he wants, as long as he stays alive.

She led the way to the bathroom and watched in total bemusement and fascination as Connor hunted through an assortment of bubble bath and oils for the combination he deemed appropriate.

"Jasmine and rose," he announced, having chosen two of the most expensive things he could. The water had drained, and Connor set to washing out the residue from the last bath--something that made her smile.

Thatís definitely something I never thought to see: an Immortal Highlander bending over my bathtub, sprinkling Comet and scrubbing intently on my behalf. I donít think this is something Iím going to include in my Watcher journals. This is a private memory I plan to hug close, and remember all of my days.

I love you, Connor MacLeod, and you havenít the foggiest understanding why. Along with my imagined images of you with Ramirez--and my real memories of you deep in kata in the warehouse, and you intently staring like a kid in a toystore at the latest piece of exquisite Japanese art that walks in your door... Well, I now have memories of watching you select a new pair of Nikes, and of your throwing them into the washer with some bleach a month later, and of you cleaning my bathtub in the middle of the night.

Ministrations complete, he ran the bath, asking her to tell him when the water was hot enough. He withdrew only after making certain that she had plenty of towels and assuring her that he would be close. "Just on the other side of the door."

After her bath, she tiptoed from the bathroom to discover that he wasnít standing guard in the hall; he had retreated down the hall and into her bedroom and was slouched in a chair beside her bed. His chin was on his breast, his arms were folded, and he was fast asleep.

Silly man, she thought, why didnít you get inside the bed?

In a sudden flash of insight that may come only to people who have stayed up until the dawnís first light is creeping over the Hudson, Samantha realized that he was in the chair rather than the bed probably because they hadnít slept together, because however modern Connor appeared, this Immortal was still old-fashioned enough not to intrude where he wasnít certain he was wanted. For all their friendship, Samantha had made it clear where the lines were drawn.

Standing beside him, Samantha brushed back his hair, still damp from the rain. Why is it that all of our most memorable encounters seem to include being wet?

He stirred beneath her hand, his grey eyes opening and taking a moment to focus and remember. Taking her hand, he kissed her fingers. His eyes told her that he noticed immediately that sheíd exchanged towel for bathrobe--one of her fatherís, obviously, from the lack of fit. Cautious amusement was reflected in the Highlanderís gaze; his smile was tilted and wry.

I liked the towel better, his expression seemed to say. She grinned back.

"Time for little girls to be in bed," came the whispery order. Narrowing his eyes, he let her know that heíd take no refusal, no excuse. "Come into work late tomorrow. Say, about noon."

"Thatís not late, thatís sinful."

Rising from the chair, Connor shrugged. "Into every life, a little sin must fall. If one is lucky, heh?" Turning to the bed, he pulled down the spread, fluffed her pillows. "In you get."

"But Iím--" She gestured at herself.

He nodded solemnly. If she hadnít known him as well as she did, she wouldnít have known he was laughing at her. "Iíll close my eyes. Trust me."

She stared at him, but didnít move to untie the robe.

"Donít trust me, eh?" Grimacing, Connor turned his back.

"Iím shy." Flinging off the robe, she scrambled into the bed.

Actually, I donít think I could let you look at me without wanting to look at you. And, were that to happen tonight, Iíd want to count the scars...if Immortals have scars. You must, from battles fought before you died the first time in Glenfinnan. Iíd want to hear about all of the things Iím not supposed to know about. And Iíll cry some more--in fear for you, for all the hurts that didnít have someone to take care of them like youíre caring for me. Youíd think all I can do is cry, and I wouldnít be able to keep the secrets between us any longer, and would beg you not to play the Game any more. Then you would refuse, and I would probably be alone because of the deceit between us. Talk about nightmares. She shivered at the thought.

"Will you stay until Iím sleeping?"

"Of course." Turning cautiously and giving her time to screech if he shouldnít look yet, Connor leaned down and pulled the covers close, tucking her in as her father might have done, years and years ago. "Sleep well, my Samantha, and let me chase away your nightmares."

"I donít think theyíd argue with a sword as big as yours is." Closing her eyes, she settled beneath the covers and wished that she dared to cling to his hand--knowing that bit of reassuring warmth would have eased her into sleep far better than any herbal tea available. As it was, she had to settle for her personal Immortal turning out the light, hearing him sink back into the chair heíd recently vacated, and having the rhythm of his breathing lull her into sleep.


Chapter Five

Having arrived so late to work, she stayed with Connor at the shop the next evening, watching him oil a 17th-Century sword heíd recently sold and was to deliver that night, even as she packed the Buddha that had been purchased to keep the sword company in its travels. I guess antiques like to travel in pairs. The things you learn around this place....

"Would you mind bringing the car around to the front?" he asked, sheathing the sword and handing it to her, along with the car keys. "Iíll meet you with the statue."

"I could carry--"

"Itís heavy," he interrupted her, snatching up the Buddha lest she try to lift it. "You donít need to be carrying such heavy things."

"Okay," she conceded, startled into near petulance. Heís being very protective of me today, she noted.

He went to get his coat while Samantha exited out the back of the warehouse, to retrieve the Volvo where it was parked in the alley. Unlocking the door, she bent and slid the sword across the seat. The next moment, a flash of light at the corner of her eye made her dive across the seat. She winced at the bruising on chest and stomach inspired by the weapon beneath her, and then scrambled further as someone loomed in behind her, brought down their sword in a shower of sparks across the steering wheel. It shattered, spraying bits of plastic and leather over her back.

Pressing herself against the passenger door, Samantha frantically shoved it open as her attacker grabbed her ankle and yanked. Kicking hard, she heard a strangled cry of pain as the toe of her other, booted foot nailed whoever in the crotch. Falling out the other side of the car, she righted herself on the pavement and grabbed for the sword.

Forgive me, Connor, for using this, she thought, yanking the rapier from its protective sheath and knowing that she was probably about to destroy a valuable artifact in a worthless effort to save her life. Hope the check hasnít cleared yet.

Scrabbling to her feet, she felt a rush of great fear, but no surprise, to see Kroll straightening awkwardly while he cupped his injured privates.

Eyes narrowing in hatred and anger, he hobbled carefully around the car grated, "What have we here? A little girl with a little sword?"

He swung his broadsword, poked it in her direction as she backed around the car, determined not to let him near her. "Aw, look at her cute little toothpick."

The ugly Immortal laughed. Bowing his head as a bull might at the fighter in the ring, he rushed around the car. Fumbling backward in the corner of the alley, Samantha had the presence of mind to block the broadswordís half-swing. She gasped as the blow made her muscles scream, her arms vibrate up to the shoulders.

Panting with pain, she could only retreat and defend. Pure desperation made her continue blocking Krollís swings, even as she knew that the only thing saving her was the long, awkward broadsword he insisted upon using in such close quarters. The Immortal hadnít room to swing it fully, but Samanthaís safety was still dependent upon her continuing to circle the car: the moment she was forced into the open, Kroll only had to bear down to kill her with ridiculous ease.

I hate broadswords, she reflected, wondering if she shouldnít drop to the ground and try rolling beneath the car and out of reach.

Heíll just reach in and drag me out, she realized. Connor, you taught me how to guard my circle of life from another katana...but his weapon is longer than my rapier, and I donít know how to guard myself when my circle is invaded before I even begin defending. He can make mincemeat of me, and I canít even get anywhere close to his circle of stinky existence! That damn sword of his is longer than my arms! Itís not fair, you never warned me about this. We never got that far, dammit!

Heís right: I am a little girl with a little sword. How do novice Immortals manage to survive the length of time it takes to learn how to win against Immortals like this?

She had the feeling that sheíd never know, that she would die in the next few minutes, just as soon as her muscles gave out or she reached the back of the car where Kroll had room enough to kill her.

The car trunk thumped, the Volvo rocked. Someone ran across the roof and leaped onto the hood. A shining katana blocked Krollís next move, and Connor was attached to it. Samantha nearly cheered with joy.

"Weíve been waiting for you, Highlander."

"Let her go," Connor ordered. "Sheís not part of the Game."

"Everyoneís part of the Game." The troll spared a quick glance and a nasty smirk. "Besides, thatís easy enough to fix. Just take a minute."

Connor chose to let the katana reply to that cryptic statement. Steel sparked as he walked the Immortal down the Volvoís length in a deadly, yet graceful, dance. He never dared to glance down at his feet, but trusted his beloved sneakers to provide the needed traction on the slick-painted metal.

The fight began in earnest when Connor leaped onto the asphalt, and Samantha had never seen him look so determined, so unforgiving as he did while pressing the Immortal down the alley, even further away from her. She sought the safety of the doorway and stayed to watch, yet stood tensed and ready to sprint inside the warehouse should the fight turn in her direction again. There didnít seem to be much chance of that, as Connor subjected his opponent to a series of slashing attacks that were almost faster than Samantha could follow. The broadsword that had seemed such an intrusion upon her circle of life became a definite liability as Connor used his lighter, faster katana to move faster than the heavy steel could, and slip past the broadswordís defensive perimeter.

One slash, and the Highlander opened the Immortalís thigh; another, and blood began pouring from Krollís arm. Seconds later, he screamed as his left hand was severed. Clutching his arm to his chest in a desperate, hopeless effort to staunch the flow of blood from severed arteries, Kroll continued fighting with the severed hand still attached to the broadsword as muscles remembered the last command they had been given. Blood spurted six feet from the remaining stump, spraying scarlet across the Volvo in a horrifying parody of an artistís airgun painting on canvas.

It was cruelly simple in the end: bleeding out in less than a minute, the Immortal who had seemed so huge, so fearsome and terrifying to Samantha, dropped like a felled tree.

"No..." he rasped before Connor stepped closer.

The Highlander looked every inch the warrior as he raised the katana one last time, prepared to slice through muscle and bone. "There can be only one."

Krollís head rolled across the alley and came to rest inches away from Samanthaís feet. Digging her fingers into the bricks of the brownstone, she whimpered as Krollís eyes blinked once and froze open as life left them. Tendrils of light licked from severed, dripping arteries, touched her feet only to cringe away. The Quickening snaked across the dirty cement, seeking Connorís dirty sneakers and his sword. Samanthaís gaze followed the snake trails up to the Highlanderís face and locked into his eyes, wracked with remorse.

"Iím sorry," he murmured before the arcing light took him. Dropping the katana, he raised his arms to the sky. The Volvoís headlights and windows shattered, making Samantha protect her face. When she dared to look again, the lightning held Connor completely. His features were contorted--in ecstasy or agony, Samantha didnít know.

Abandoning her abused rapier, she dared to creep over to Connor long before the Quickening was done. Cautiously reaching through the lightning and discovering that it wouldnít bite her, Samantha slid her arms around Connorís waist and hugged. Become electricity--though apparently not generating it--the Immortal made a thousand ants dance on Samanthaís skin. Seconds later, the lightning died in a series of sizzling protests, and she was close enough to hear Connorís soft moans and painful breathing. Going with him when he slid, trembling, to his knees, she cradled his head lest he strike it on the pavement and held as much of him as she could.

"Please donít be sorry," she said when she was certain he could hear again. "I owe you my life."

He managed a weak smile. Closing his eyes, he seemed contented to let her stroke his temples and his shoulders--the only things she could comfortably reach. She ignored the fact her legs were going numb, that her back was aching with the position she had been forced to assume beneath his weight.

Long minutes later, he groped for his sword. Leaning over, Samantha batted at the katana, shifting it the few inches necessary for him to grasp it.

"Am I covered in blood?" he asked.

"No. The car seems to have gotten the worst of it."

"Iíll see to it later."

No, Iíll see to it, she promised silently, struggling to help him to his feet. And Iíll have it towed to the dealership to replace the headlights and the windows and check out the electrical system....

He wasnít a big man, but the muscles granting him a wiry strength made him heavier than he looked. Awkwardly, slender Highlander and fragile human gained their feet once more. Connor wavered there, testing his balance a few seconds before staggering inside the shop and over to the order desk. Sinking into a chair, he laid the katana across the shipping manifests and shook sweat from his hair. Leaning back, he closed his eyes.

Bringing the abandoned rapier with her, Samantha set it beside the katana, knelt beside Connor and took his hand. "Can I get you anything? A drink of water? Maybe something stronger?"

Shaking his head, he opened his eyes and briefly summoned the strength to stroke his fingers down her cheek. "I was so afraid heíd hurt you."

"I couldnít have held out for much longer. Thanks to your lessons and your rescue, Iím all right. Which is more than I can say for you."

"Just give me a few minutes." Shivering, he swallowed hard and closed his eyes again. "Thereís something I have to tell you."

"I thought there might be."

When he opened his eyes, their expression said that he didnít want to. Moving slowly and still trembling, Connor rummaged through the desk drawer and came up with a pair of scissors--long scissors, used for cutting through recalcitrant shipping tape, twine and wrapping paper. Fiddling with the blades, he murmured, "I wonder if youíll believe me when I am finished talking."

"Wasnít it Oscar Wilde who said, ĎI can believe anything, provided it is improbableí?"

"Heh, perhaps. I never had the pleasure of meeting the man. But what I have to tell you is not improbable, Samantha. To you and your world, it is impossible."

Taking a deep breath, Connor held her gaze with all of the intensity sheíd seen when he fought Kroll. Samantha all but stopped breathing, knowing she was about to hear the confession no Watcher had ever heard before.

"I am Connor MacLeod--the first and the last of the Clan MacLeod, born 1518 in Glenfinnan, on the shores of Loch Shiel. I am 478 years old. I cannot die unless someone takes my head and, with it, my Quickening."

In horror, Samantha watched him position the scissors over his heart. Lunging forward, she wrapped her fingers around his but didnít try to argue physically with what he intended to do. Against his muscles, she knew she hadnít a chance.

"You donít have to kill yourself to make me believe you."

"But Iíve always had to... before...." Looking startled, he let his voice trail off.

"Please donít do it. I canít bear to see you hurt. Iíve seen enough blood tonight--I donít want to see yours. Besides, what you intend to do sounds very painful." Smiling weakly but not daring to let go his hands, she thought, So thatís the way it is, is it? Oh, sweet Father in Heaven, what do I do now? If I say too little, Connor might grow suspicious. If I say the wrong thing, heíll probably decide that Iím afraid of him and throw me out of his life.

Rising up on her knees, she she gently touched the dragonís head hilt of the katana where it lay on the desk, always within Connorís reach. "Is this the only friend whoís been with you all of those years?"

"There was another. Like it. It broke in another fight...." Still drained from the Quickening, he coughed nervously, then dropped back his head and sighed. "Oh, how I hate this part."

Even Ramirezís original katana deserted him, she thought, stroking Connorís fingers. That flawed katana could not bend, but broke in the fight with Kane. And so it was remade on the Isle of Skye, and not all that long ago. That was an unbelievable time in the Chronicles...a time of magic and shapechangers and reality skidding into fantasy to suit a villainís needs.

She remembered the dead, still-twitching body they had abandoned only minutes before in the alley. Okay, Samantha. This would be an ideal time for you to tell him that youíre his Watcher. But you canít do that. So follow the mental path someone else would follow if they didnít know about Immortals.

"Kroll was an Immortal like you? And... all that lightning... that was his Quickening?"

Connor nodded.

"He wasnít a very nice man," she observed.

"No."

"He...was trying to get at you through me, wasnít he? He would have killed me."

"Human life means very little to some Immortals."

"I hope it wonít offend if I say that Iím glad heís dead and Iím very glad youíre still here," she said softly. She couldnít think of anything to say for a moment, and Connor wasnít helping. "Um...Did you know him?"

"Not personally." Disentwining their fingers, Connor put the scissors back in the drawer and closed it with an air of finality that made Samantha breathe a little easier. "Immortals sense other Immortals. Some are hunters, some are the hunted. Itís difficult to explain."

"Youíre...one of the hunted?"

"Today," he acquiesced. "If someone threatens you again, I will become the hunter. I can play either part. With the right reason." He shrugged, as though the issue was of no real interest to him: only the outcome--keeping her safe--mattered. Taking her hand, he kissed the inside of her wrist. "Are you frightened of me now, Sam? Frightened of what I am?"

Shaking her head, she drew a shaky breath, relieved that heíd finally confided one of his secrets, that she didnít have to guard her own knowledge of him quite so carefully any longer.

"I could never be frightened of you, Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. In a lot of ways, it makes sense--of the swords and the shop. And of your willingness to teach me how to use a sword."

His grey eyes were intense, his voice even more quiet and insistent than usual. "You may sometimes be in danger if you stay with me, Samantha. But I will protect what I love."

"And you love me? Enough to protect me like that again... if someone else comes?"

He nodded.

"Oh, Connor..." Tears filled her eyes as she remembered the many secrets still remaining between them, and how upset he would probably become if she was to follow his confession with one of her own.

"Is it so terrible, my loving you?" he asked.

"No. No! Thatís not what Iím feeling. Itís just..." Sitting back on her heels, she flapped her arms. "This is a hell of a time to have a conversation like this, Connor. I mean, that guy just tried to kill me and he bled all over the place and--and, he blinked at me before he died. Did you know that heads do that? Not only that, his body was still twitching when we came in here. For all I know, itís still twitching, just on the other side of that door."

"Itís just leftovers. Electrical impulses left in the body."

"Yeah. Right. Whatever." She sounded far from reassured. "Anyway, he bled and he died and he blinked, and then we got this neat special effects display worthy of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments, and you stood there lit up like an angel on the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Next, you tell me that youíre 480 years old--"

"Four hundred seventy--"

"Whatever. Whoís counting? And... and then you say that you love me."

"Too much for one afternoon, is it?"

"Yes! And we still have a delivery to make."

He cocked his head and grinned at her. "Then I suppose weíd best get started, heh?"

"Right. Iíll go hose off the car. And I love you, too, you antique."

* * *

Another first, Samantha pondered, training the hose on the Volvo and being careful not to catch the Immortal in the spray. Here I stand, helping an all-but-exhausted Connor wash a lot of blood off of his car. I never knew a body held that much blood. And it smells, too. How gross.

"We have to do it now," he had explained to her. "If we donít, it will dry. Thereís no getting it all off once that happens, and there would be questions when it goes in for repairs."

I didnít know that Simple Green cleanser was so efficient... Nor did I know that a certain Immortal refuses to admit heís less than indestructable, and let me do this while he rests. Dad said that Quickenings are a shock to the system. Connor, apparently, refuses to acknowledge such mundanities.

She eyed Krollís headless corpse lying not far from her feet and edged past it, trying not too look and not to trip over it she circled the car. Connor had thoughtfully moved the head with its staring face so that it was facing the brick wall. Even without looking down, her stomach lurched again at the close proximity of violent, gory death.

"What are we going to do with the body?" she muttered, dreading the answer. Just cleaning off the blood is bad enough for one evening.

"It will take care of itself." Connor was breathing hard in his fatigue, was moving more slowly than ever.

"Itíll what?" she snapped around to face him, nearly spraying him with the hose. "Itíll just--go away, or something?"

"Or something," he replied wearily, waving her questions away. "Iíll tell you later."

He needs to rest, she realized and knew full well that he wouldnít. He had a delivery to make on a $145,000 sale and, by Scotland and the honor of MacLeod, he wasnít about to ditch it.

So Iíll go with him, Samantha promised herself. At the very least, Iíll make certain he doesnít wreck on the way.

In all of the Watcher chronicles, Samantha couldnít remember reading about what had happened to a body. Maybe the Watchers donít stick around to find out. "Is Kroll just going to float away on supportive bolts of lightning, compliments of Lord Rayden of Mortal Kombat fame?"

He blinked at her. "Who of what?"

"Never mind." She shrugged and turned the water on harder, realizing that wherever Connorís thoughts were taking him, it was far away from Kroll. If heís not worried, I shouldnít worry, right? Never mind that if a cop comes rolling up right now, Iíll be nailed as an accessory to a murder.

"Okay, curious Samantha. Iíll tell you now. Kroll was so old that the body should dissolve over the next hour and blow away like dust." Minutes later, Connor inspected the 16th-Century rapier Samantha had used, wiped it clean, and slid it back into its scabbard.

"Do you want to use my car?" she offered.

He shook his head. "Weíll take the Porsche."

"Iíll get it. You rest here."

Nodding, he handed her the keys. "That one opens the garage. That one opens the car door. Ignition key, same key."

She went for the car. It was only after sheíd climbed into the sleak, white classic that she realized just how tired Connor was: Heíd never, ever let me drive this baby if he didnít feel so bad. Thumbing the garage door opener, she was careful not to spin the tires as she tested the clutch--which had a reputation for being nasty even with its rightful owner.

Together, they moved the Buddha into the trunk. Taking his place behind the wheel, Connor made no protest when Samantha dropped into the passenger seat. With a knowing look, he accepted her guardianship, started the Porsche and steered through Krollís vanishing form as they set out for Scarsdale.

Samantha shivered. "Thatís eerie. Efficient, but eerie."

"Krollís attack was very bold," Connor remarked conversationally as they rolled on. "Immortals donít usually fight until after dark."

"Like vampires in that respect, huh? Why after dark?"

"It wasnít always that way. Two hundred years ago, no one thought anything of two men--or two women, for that matter--having swordfights in broad daylight. Now..." He grimaced. "Things like that tend to draw crowds."

"Is that why youíre such an expert with a katana?" she ventured. "Because youíve had to be? Have to be?"

"Iíve had lots of practice," he reminded her. "And I was lucky enough to be taught by...a good friend and some very good warriors, many years ago. And yes, Iím good because I have to be. If I had the choice, Sam, Iíd never fight again. As you saw tonight, Iím not often given a choice."

They traveled in silence for awhile, with Samantha gauging Connorís condition and finding it wanting as he struggled not to slouch, and to stay awake.

Maybe I can convince him to let me drive on the way back?

Eventually, he turned off of the freeway and guided the Porsche into a very exclusive section of Scarsdale, where mansions set on acres of grassy, manicured forest were hidden behind security fences decorated with honeysuckle and ivy. Out from such a fence flittered a butterfly in the fading sunlight, only to run into the grill of Connorís Porsche.

"Oh, no..." Samantha was certain the fragile insect had been squished.

"Wait a moment. It might be all right." The Highlander slowed down.

The sports car rolled to a stop, and Samantha held her breath. Seconds later, the butterfly flew haphazardly up from the grill, over the hood and on its way.

"There. You see? No harm done." Connor looked extraordinarily pleased with himself. Grinning, he frowned the next moment in reaction to Samanthaís bewildered expression. "Whatís wrong?"

"Not two hours ago, I watched you behead a man, and now--" She gestured awkwardly, at a loss. "Here you are, worrying about preserving the life of what most people would call an inconsequential insect."

"Life is important. All life. Remember the way of the warrior?"

Nodding, she rubbed his arm and kissed him. "I remember your way. And I love you, Connor MacLeod."

"Heh? Thatís what they all say." Setting the car in gear, he rolled on his way.

"When I was little, I called them flutterbys," Samantha informed him.

"Serves them right. Thatís what they do." He shifted painfully in the seat, reminded of several bruises and thumps from the last battle. "Iím not looking forward to this delivery, Sam."

"Why not?"

"Omar Kamir believes that he knows everything about world antiquities, and has a house full of them to prove it. Each time I see him, he tries to tell me everything he knows. Weíll be lucky to get out before midnight. Iím hungry and tired now." He pouted so much like a petulant six-year-old that Samantha laughed. "I shouldnít have let you come," he continued. "Youíve got far better things to do than baby-sit an old man."

"Youíd be surprised," she said ominously. Itís my job to baby-sit you full time, whether you know it or not. "And you donít act old. Iím right where I want to be, Connor."

Sighing heavily, he turned another corner.

"Look," said Samantha, "all youíve agreed to do is deliver Omarís order and get his check, right?"

Nod.

"Then let me do the dirty work for you. If I play things bored, dumb and in a hurry, Mr. Kamir wonít detain me. Itís no fun bragging to a dumb blonde," she grinned. "Heíll throw me out, and the evening will be yours afterward, to rest or whatever."

He ran a shaking hand across his forehead. "I hate Quickenings."

"You look like someone who recently stuck his finger in a light socket and left it there a good, long time."

"Understatement of the century. Several centuries, in fact. Okay. itís a deal. You deliver the goods; Iíll lie down in the back seat and wait for you and try to remember where all of my adrenalin went."

The Highlander this vulnerable was something she had never thought to see. Stopping about a mile from Kamirís front door, she waited as the Immortal climbed into the back seat and pulled the trenchcoat over him.

"Donít look so worried," he admonished. "Iíll be fine. I just need to sleep for a little bit."

"Okay. Connor, sometime--when youíre better--will you explain to me what a Quickening is and what it feels like, what it does to you or for you and...whatever?"

He closed his eyes. "Later. I promise. Right now, thatís like asking someone to tell you what throwing up on a roller-coaster is like when theyíre still busy being sick."

*

Connor was not only asleep before she swung into the long, graceful driveway leading up to Kamirís two-million-dollar mansion, but he slept through her retrieving the statue and sword from the trunk and was still sleeping when she climbed back into the car fifteen minutes, her mission accomplished. He revived on the way home, sitting up as she turned onto Hudson.

"Did everything go okay?"

"Mmm, though your client thinks you have a really stupid assistant. ĎActually, Mr. Kamir, I order all of my stuff from the Net,í" she mimicked the vacant voice sheíd used. "I want new stuff, see? I mean, like, all of this old stuff? Itís so used!"

Connor laughed outright.

"So what is the Quickening?" she pounced.

"Itís this really neat light show with these energy thingies that go all over the place--" he started, in the male equivalent of the voice sheíd used on his client.

"Connor!

"Okay, okay." He threw up his hands as though to ward her off. "I did promise, didnít I?"

Her glower said that he had, indeed, and heíd best make good his promise if he wanted to escape the car.

"When one Immortal beheads another," he began patiently, in much the same tone he used to educate her about swordplay, "the victor receives the victimís Quickening. Thatís their power and knowledge, accumulated over time--however short or long the victim has lived--along with their knowledge and experiences, and the Quickenings theyíve received. For some surviving Immortals, the receiving is stored deep in their memory. For others, the knowledge and power are accessible."

She looked at him in the rear-view mirror. "Which is it for you?"

He shrugged. "Somewhere in between, usually. I get hunches, nudges after Quickenings. It can be almost like being guided by those whoíve gone before--a sudden inspiration to buy this or that stock, to travel here or there to find a particular teacher or something. But itís not as if I share somebodyís memories or could tell you what Kroll had for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning in 1967."

"Do you think some Immortals could do that? Tell you the details of their victimsí lives, I mean?"

"Maybe. Itíd be damned uncomfortable if it was that way for me. Too many voices in my head, too many memories to keep track of. Whatís mine, whatís theirs?" He shook his head, expression grim. "No, thanks. Not to mention the fact that Iíve absorbed the Quickenings of some pretty nasty people. I donít want any part of them surfacing in me."

It was full dark when they reached the shop. Rather than offer to escort Samantha home, Connor looked pleading and invited her inside. As usual, she hesitated.

"Wonít I be intruding? Donít you want to get a quick meal and rest some more?"

"No." He showed her his wrist which Kroll had slashed during their fight. Not only had it healed over; there was no sign of it ever having been damaged.

Reaching out, she started to touch him, then thought better of it.

"Go ahead," he urged, and then stood patiently as she ran her fingers over the smooth, cool skin.

"Thatís fantastic."

He shrugged. "Power of the Quickening. It heals an Immortal inside as well as outside, in case youíre wondering. Iím okay now. Really. Promise."

"Youíre being pretty free with the promises tonight."

He grinned down at her. "Iím just like you, Samantha. Except that I cannot die."

"How many loved ones have you lost?" she murmured, wrapping both hands around his wrist as though trying to comfort his heart as she warmed his skin. "How lonely the years must be for you."

"They can be." He shrugged in his best self-deprecating style. "Itís better not to think about it too much."

"Weíll think about tomorrow, then," she agreed, bending to give his newly healed wrist a quick kiss before releasing it.

Sliding an arm about her shoulders, he urged her toward the door. She went with him willingly, certain now that he wouldnít ask her to be with him unless he truly wished it. After securing the store--which had been left in a bit of a hurry with all of its lights on and all of its most precious wares still on display--they went upstairs and descended upon Connorís kitchen.

"So youíre the first Connor, born in Glenfinnan all those centuries ago," she mused a few minutes later, while stirring eggs and cheese for an omelette. "That means that you were born after Mary, Queen of Scots and died before Bonnie Price Charlie came on the scene." She focused his history in her scholarís mind. "I canít imagine being as old as you are and seeing the world change as youíve seen it."

"Yeah, itís been pretty amazing. From swords and horses to Model-Tís, stealth bombers and space shuttles." Connor rummaged for cheese in the fridge. "Sometimes, itís a lot like living in a science fiction novel. But there are Immortals centuries older than me. Someone named Methos is rumored to be the oldest at 5,000 years, but most Immortals think heís just a myth."

"What do you think?"

Connor shrugged. "Iíve never met the man, but who knows? Nessie exists. Methos might exist."

"Nessie...You mean, the Loch Ness Monster? Youíve seen it?"

"A couple of times. Thereís a whole family of prehistoric somethings down there. Have been for centuries. We used to catch them grazing along the shore all of the time in the Middle Ages. But back to the Immortal thing. I was eighteen when I died in battle with the Frasers and woke up the next morning with my mother wailing my death and my father praying by my bed--if a flea-laden pile of furs can be called a bed."

"Eighteen?" She eyed him speculatively, narrowing her eyes. "You havenít aged since then?"

"No."

"But you look...middle-aged."

"I was middle-aged when I died." He sounded defensive. "Living in the Highlands wasnít a walk in the park, Sam. Cold winters and clan battles age a man. Itís not as though I died in cozy Victorian London, knifed in a Limehouse opium den."

She grinned at him, enjoying teasing him and knowing that he enjoyed it, too. To be able to talk about himself this way and actually have someone understand the opium dens and dangers of Limehouse...is that a freedom heís ever known before? Maybe thatís why Iíve got all those degrees in history.

*

Connor was enjoying himself. It had been a very long time since he could share all of himself with anyone. What a relief, not to have to guard his words, not to worry whether his conversation contained historical references and perspectives that others couldnít identify with because they werenít Immortal, because theyíd only lived thirty or fifty or seventy years and hadnít his experience of lifetime after lifetime.

Sheís not afraid of me, he reflected. Sheís accepted everything I am as though itís totally natural. Maybe being a college professor gives her a different perspective on things like me. Still, there were serious matters still needing to be discussed. She has to know what, exactly, is entailed if she continues entwining her life with mine.

After dinner, Connor lit a fire in the living room brazier. The scent of cedarwood filled the room as the Immortal turned to Samantha and offered her his hand. "Come upstairs with me?"

His eyes asked a different question: You are being invited into my sanctuary of sanctuaries, into my private place. Will you come and guard my secrets and my survival even as I have done?

She hesitated only a moment before placing her hand in his. Leading the way up the spiral stairs, he led her into another world. Leaving the heavily masculine, totally modern apartment behind, Samantha was drawn into a medieval loft dominated by an ancient claymore on the wall, the flag and tartan of the Clan MacLeod displayed prominently beside it.

Connor stood back as Samanthaís breath caught in her throat. "This stuff belongs in a museum."

"I am a museum, Sam."

Slowly circling the room, she gaped at the Highlanderís history displayed before here. No chronicle could ever show me this. Over there was an ornately carved chest from some 17th-Century galleon. Above it were several yellowed photographs--Connor in all of them. With him stood a variety of prominant people in a variety of historical costumes; from Lincoln to Churchill to Babe Ruth, Samantha surveyed them all and knew that the Chronicles sheíd read were accurate. Her fingers trailed across the glass frames as though she was trying to reach back in time to touch those portrayed there.

"You knew all of these people?"

"Yes." He sounded sad, as though the memories were too close and the people too far away.

A special niche in the wall contained one of the water-damaged logs from Connorís own clipper ship, The Rosemary.

Is that where the sea chest came from? she wondered, not daring to ask. Are more logs inside it?

"You really are Immortal," she said, in wonder and perhaps unnecessarily, but knowing that she needed to say something. Going to him, she entwined her arms around his neck. "Will you tell me the stories behind all of this?"

"Tonight? All of them?" His voice cracked in the endearing way it had when he teased her. "Iíll go hoarse." He laughed.

She grinned at his exaggerated look of alarm. "Not tonight. But eventually?"

It was his turn to hesitate. "Before I agree to do that, let me ask a question. Were you frightened during the fight today?"

She thumped his shoulder. "How could I not have been frightened? You could have died. I could have died."

"It will happen again," he warned, taking her arms from around his neck and holding her hands against his chest. "If you stay with me, you will be a target. Youíll be in danger and not know when or where it will come."

Escaping his fingers, she played with his hair tie until it released, then wound her own fingers through his hair. "Will you teach me your kata, then? So that I can fight the way you do?"

"Fight the way..." He frowned down at her. "But you have a kata. You have the one I gave you, the one youíre learning."

She squirmed against him. "I want to know your kata, so that I can fight like you. With you. I watched you take Kroll, and your style wasnít at all like the one youíre teaching me. If Iím to stay with you, Connor, I want to learn to fight like an Immortal."

He laughed, even as he hugged her tightly. "Samantha, I have studied and fought for hundreds of years. I canít teach you my personal kata. Like me, you must learn each move and pratice yours hundreds of times. That way--year by year and move by move--you will develop your own way of the warrior. You will learn to know yourself. Not me."

"But I want to know you!"

"You canít," he said gently, shaking his head. "Not through the sword. You learn of your own spirit through the sword. The longer you survive, the more you learn. And the more you realize you donít know much and have a lot more to learn."

She spun away from him. "But what youíre given me to read and meditate on and practice... Itís not the same! Itís not the Immortal kata."

"There is no Immortal kata." He almost growled the words in his impatience--as a trainer might growl at a student challenging him, as she was challenging him. "Youíre seeking a treasure outside yourself, Samantha, and thatís impossible. You have to find it inside you, you have to fight from inside, not study the way I move and the way I think and move, and copy it. Look--"

Crossing the distance between them, he swung her around and made her face the wall containing the claymore. "Youíve been taught to stand upright by looking at the verticals in the walls."

"Iíve been what?"

He laid his arm across her shoulder and pointed at the wall. "While that wall is upright, youíre balanced. But part of my training took place in a special room where the verticals--the doors and the lamps--were on a slight slant. When I started in that room, I fell over because I was aligning myself with what I thought were verticals, but werenít.

"Because I practiced in that room for a long time, my balance is internal. A room like that wouldnít affect me at all now. But most people align themselves from something outside--just as youíre trying to do. Thereís no harm in that for the average person, but if you stay with me, thereís a very real harm in it: you will die. If you align yourself with something outside yourself, Sam, youíll collapse when whatís outside you changes or becomes twisted or abnormal. Youíll be caught up in externals, in trying to fight like Connor MacLeod, and someone more balanced or with more practice at being themeselves will come along and whoops!--there goes your head, and itís all over."

Turning her back to face him, Connor touched her lightly on the nose. "As your teacher, my job is not to teach you my verticals and make you align yourself with them. My job is to help you develop an inner sense of balance. If I can do that, and you can practice what I teach you, everything else will fall into place."

Cradling her face in his hands, he kissed her tenderly, with a promise of more to come. With a whimper, Samantha returned the kiss, deepening it and entwining herself about him. Within a very few minutes, Connor knew that Samantha would not be going home that night.


Chapter Six

She was 32 when she watched Connor kill Kroll. Within two years, the Highlander had given her permission to stop using the bamboo pole in practice and to start using the katana he had given her. And always, always, he was testing.

Sneaking into her home in the early hours before dawn, Connor made his way up the stairs and into the small room she used as a meditation chamber. Closing the door quietly behind him, he drew his katana and crept across the floor. Standing before her where she sat crosslegged while meditating on a pillow on the floor, he raised his sword and brought it down, only to find it immediately blocked by hers. Only then did she open her eyes.

"Good morning, Connor."

"What is your kata?" he demanded.

Climbing to her feet without disengaging her sword, she took the offensive. Her moves described the kata far better than any words could have. She answered him as they circled the room, wary yet loving opponents. I have no parents; I make the heavens and the earth my parents. I have no home; I make everywhere and every-when my Home. Fairly easy thing to do for an orphaned history instructor.

She drove him out of her sanctuary and into the hallway, where Connor broke off the fight and bowed in surrender. "Well done. Youíre learning."

*

Samantha got no further in learning her kata that year. Pieces of it came more quickly the next year, after Connor had hired another personal assistant and let her begin buying--which left more time for meditation and practics. Gradually, kata and life began merging...everything Connor taught her stopped sinking into her subconscious and came back up to begin emerging as a bit of philosophy here, a fighting technique there, that she could use in real life.

"Itís like learning a foreign language," he told her once, while they were having dinner in his apartment, peeling Cajun-boiled shrimp beside the fireplace and stuffing it into their mouths as fast as they could--competing to see who could eat the most, the fastest. Connor was winning, a fact which her burning tongue thought just fine.

"What foreign languages have you learned?" she asked around her shrimp.

Grinning, he ticked them off on his seasoning-sticky fingers... and ran out of fingers. "Japanese, English, French, Italian, Thai, Eskimo, Spanish, Russian, German. Irish, too, if you count their Gaelic which is slightly different from the Scots--"

"Okay, okay." She glowered at his superior knowledge. "You were saying?"

"I was saying that learning your kata and how to fight is like learning a foreign language. You fumble around, thinking youíll never remember structure or get past, ĎThe house of my aunt,í when suddenly, one day, your subconscious decides that youíve absorbed and practiced and sweated enough, and it starts spouting whole, correct sentences in French or German or whatever. You wonder where it came from, what miracle has occurred, but the truth is that you didnít give up. You hung in there, and the language has become a part of you."

The Song of the Sword, the Way of the Warrior was becoming a part of her. Close to Thanksgiving, Connor gave her a deep, two-inch wound on her arm, drove her to the hospital and watched them stitch it up. Driving her back home, he stopped her with a hand on her good arm as she climbed out of the car. Offering no apology for the injury, he asked, "What is your kata?"

What did you learn? she translated, inside herself.

"I have neither life nor death," she said quietly. I could have lost the arm as easily as I lost some blood, if not for your expertise. "I make every moment my life and death." And I donít blame you for hurting me: itís part of the Game, as I am part of the Game. My mind knew that when I began. Now, my soul...my heartbeat and all of the cells in my body know it.

Other soul pieces would come more easily, without blood.

*

A long-time client of Connorís offered Samantha $50,000 in cash if sheíd steal a 5th-Century jade statue for her. Samantha refused. And learned. I have no divine power; I make honesty my Divine Power.

*

On Chirstmas Eve, at three in the morning, she watched Connor fight another Immortal. Her thoughts turned to another Christmas Eve, when her father had read her a bedtime story, not of Santa Claus and Rudolph, but of The Highlander, the Immortal. Fear ruled her that night, as it did whenever Connor fought. Because of her fear, she did not learn a piece of her kata.

With the new year, she watched Connor fight another Immortal, and another, and another. Five came and died before Valentineís Day until, finally, it was as though Samanthaís conscious spirit left her body when Connor fought, as though she watched from a great distance yet joined to fight with him, merged her energy and soul with his. She felt his strength, his determination, and knew it as part of her own, as his was part of hers. The night when the terror left and she accepted that the Game was him, as it was her and every other living being on the earth as they fought their battles--Immortal or not--she learned another piece of the kata.

I have no body; I make the universe my body.

*

Connor blindfolded her, Connor plugged her ears. Tying her hands together before her with her fingers wrapped around her katana, he led her into the night, into the alley where Kroll had first attacked her. Seating her in the parked Volvo, he slammed closed the door and left her there.

She did not know when he would attack, or where. Knowing how vulnerable she was, sitting there, she fumbled her way out of the car and managed not to drop her sword. Standing in the corner with her back against the wall, she waited. Reaching out with her senses, she felt the heat coming off of the cooling engine and felt the terror of blind helplessness. Feeling it, she accepted it. Accepting it, she became it, dissolved it with the inner peace that was always with her now, and knew then that she was not helpless.

Connor is my teacher, she told the terror. He believes in me. I believe in him. And I believe in me.

She smelled her teacherís fear before she sensed his approach. In that moment, she knew the flaw of his kata as clearly as if he were speaking aloud: "I love you, Samantha. I do not wish to hurt you...."

Iím hearing his soul, she realized in surprise, as he hears those of the ones he fights. That is how he wins. That is how I may win. I have no eyes; I make the Flash of Lightning through my katana my eyes.

She swung, and very nearly took his head.

*

Keenan Davis came for her. For her, not for Connor. She didnít know why, didnít need to know why. It was the Game. She was with Connor, and she was part of the Game, even if she was mortal. There was no why--sheíd stopped asking that question long ago.

She killed him in the garden, beside the long-warped childhood swing her father had hung from the huge oak tree, which her father had taught her to climb. Keenan Davisís head rolled, his eyes blinked at her, a slackened lip trembled. She felt no sense of triumph, she accepted no Quickening. Another year, another time and this would have been murder to her. She would have trembled and panicked over the loss of life, the implications in her own life, the police would have come next, then the courts and the lawyers. But this was another life. Tonight, she walked away and cleaned her sword and called Connor.

"I killed an Immortal tonight."

Connor did not comfort, did not console. "What is your kata?"

She could not answer him, but hung up the phone carefully, quietly upon its cradle, and wept for the dead Keenan Davis. All life is precious.

She answered Connor eventually. Standing beside his fire pit, she confronted him across the replica of a medieval brazier that smelled of cedar.

"I have no laws; I make Self-Protection my Laws. I have no strategy; I make the Right to Kill and the Right to Preserve Life my Strategy. And I know that I will kill again when I must. Even if I donít like it." Tears threatened to spoil her recitation, but she held his gaze unflinchingly.

Knowing the innocence lost with the learning of that kata, Connor wept for the child Samantha Graham had been. She did not stay with him that night.

* * *

"Whatís so interesting?" Connor asked, coming upstairs to find her sitting crosslegged on the carpet before his sea chest, which contained nothing but the logs of his ship. The fragile books were spread about Samantha, with one cradled gently in her lap.

"You are whatís so interesting," she responded, gently rifling the pages of the old tome she held. "I read these, and I can hear you talking. Itís like...like going inside your head, two hundred years ago."

"You could just ask me what the voyages were like," he ventured, feeling rather lonely that she chose to spend so much time with his old books instead of with him.

"I will ask you. To fill in the blanks, if nothing else. But Connor, you havenít time to tell me stories, and you only get growlly if I ask too many questions. This sort of thing is what Iíve always loved." She swept her arm wide, taking in the entire room and its shelves, filing cabinets, seemingly endless boxes of history. "Please donít begrudge me an hour or two researching the man I love?"

Itís just that Iíve been an obsession before. Or a research project. Iím not certain I like it. But he couldnít tell her that. To speak his thoughts would have been to hurt her: she was enjoying herself. And Connor had to tell himself that she was still spending time with him. Even if it was the 1700s him. Summoning a weak smile, he bent and pressed a kiss to her forehead, smoothed the bangs away from her face.

"Will you be done before dinner?" came the plaintive question.

"Love, Iíll cook you dinner." Capturing his hand, she played with his fingers, pressed them to her cheek. "You never should have fallen in love with an historian, Connor. Once a scholar, always a scholar."

He left her in his past and returned to his work in the present; selling the past. He laughed briefly, almost bitterly, at the irony. Unpacking the latest crate and examining its treasures, Connor reminded himself of the first night heíd led Samantha into the loft and given her access to his things.

"Can I organize and catalog your stuff?" she had asked Connor after a particularly harrowing day, and realizing how much in disarray were the artifacts heíd collected through the years.

"Sure," he responded, pulling her hair. "Just donít let it interfere with your regular duties. And donít confuse my things with the store inventory, hey?

Sheíd literally squealed with delight to discover that The Rosemaryís logs read more like novels than navagational records.

Exhausted from a fight earlier in the evening, Connorís body had reminded him that he hadnít been to bed for thirty-six hours. You have to sleep sometime. Samantha had still been pawing through things when the Immortal had given it up. Falling into bed, he awoke the next morning to discover Samantha lying beside him, tucked in close and snuggling as though sheíd belonged there for years. Sheets of loose notepaper dominated the space between them, spreading themselves in a wave of scibbled research heíd been unable to resist looking at. One glance told him she was organizing his life as she would have organized the biography of any famous person.

This is like living with a librarian, he had thought, bristling at the thought. It wasnít so much that Samantha was invading his life, but that heíd never let someone into that life so far. It was an uncomfortable feeling--Not because I donít trust her, but because... because itís damned uncomfortable to think that someoneís interested in finding out what you wore when you were 80, and then she enters the details into a table that lists what you wore the other 370 years. Sheesh... Iím an historical artifact. No, bloody hell, Iím a walking antiquity, and sheís organizing me into little file folders and note cards!

Iíll have to warn her to do this only with the past, he told himself firmly. I donít want her structuring my present like this. I can just imagine the questions... ĎSo, Connor, do you still like knee breeches? Do you have any? What about growing your hair even longer?í Letís leave that to Duncan, shall we? he decided. Duncan has always looked better than me in curls, and heís cornered the market on Celtic hair ornaments. Or should that be hairy Celtic ornaments?

I hope sheís happy, researching me. I hope I donít disappoint her. And I hope that she doesnít ask me questions that I canít answer. 478 years is a lot to remember, and I donít! Heíd said as much to her later that morning.

"Thatís okay," sheíd answered, yawning sleepily. "I remember." The Chronicles remember.

"Perhaps youíre right," he muttered, padding barefoot from the bedroom and into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. "Maybe I shouldnít have fallen in love with an historian."

Scowling to himself, he wondered, Why am I both relieved and disappointed she wonít be asking me as many questions as I thought she would?

*

Left behind in the loft, Samantha continued reading the shipís logs and felt more at peace than she could ever remember feeling before. I know far more about you than any notes about your possessions would ever provide, she admitted to herself. What youíve given me in this attic loft fills in the spaces your Watchers had no way of knowing. They recorded what you did, but I know what you felt.

"Move in with me," he urged after dinner--which she prepared as promised. "Please?"

"What?" Her startled gaze flew up to meet his earnest one, as though sheíd never even entertained the thought. He had. Repeatedly.

"That old house of yours is too big for you. You rattle around in there, all lonely and echoey. It would be so much cozier with me." He raised his eyebrows, inviting acceptance of his offer.

Heíd never known such happiness, except with Heather, but there was a difference to his commitment to Samantha. She knows all of me, now. There are no barriers. She fights beside me, is with me no matter what. And as long as she is with me, I can protect her, prepare her for her own immortality. Please, Samantha, come to me....

"I canít." She refused the invitation with tears in her eyes, stroking his cheek in regret. "Youíve asked before--"

"And Iíll ask again and again, until you agree. Please?"

"I canít," she whispered. "I love you dearly--" Her eyes said heíd never understand how much. "You know that. But we both need our own space. You havenít lived with anyone in years, Connor, and there are still times when the Scottish warrior needs to bolt the door of his castle and sit, brooding, before the fire with a goodly portion of Glenmorangie. That warrior doesnít want anyone about, and Iíve put my foot in it with him more than once on those occasions. But heís always been nice enough to forgive me," she added as his gaze became worried.

She reached out, carressed his fingers. "And then thereís the scholar in me, who runs around barefoot and preoccupied for days on end, who would forget to tell you she was spending half the day at the library. And be late to dinner so that youíd worry something had happened to her. Reseach materials take days on end to organize. So does writing, and those are my first loves. You canít compete with that, just as I canít compete with your katas, collecting and swordfighting. Remember when Iím married to my writing? Remember how I snarl when someone tries to drag me away from it? My house is set up to accommodate my eccentricities, and yours is set up to accommodate your eccentricities. I canít see either of us letting the other remodel."

He threw her a look. "Iím not eccentric. Who said I was eccentric? Weird, maybe."

"Okay, call it wierd then. I always thought that eccentric sounded more dignified. Like you. But Iím still not moving in with you permanently." If I did, youíd catch me recording your life.

And so he had to make do with having her in spurts--a week, a few days--but always she reserved her own time and her own space. Eventually, as the months passed, he supposed he adjusted to it. Still, there were nights when he awoke, alone, and wished she was with him. Evenings when the telephone just didnít bring them close enough. For all of his being a loner through the centuries, MacLeod was still the sort of Immortal who wanted his loved ones close.

If she wasnít going to be an Immortal, I suppose Iíd be less patient with the situation, he reflected. Regardless, there are still times when I miss her, times when I worry. But itís not like it was with sweet Heather; Samantha is not going to grow old and die. We have time. I hope. With a little luck and a lot of practice. Kroll was dead, but there were others out there. Some of them hunted pre-Immortals, and Connor all but demanded that Samantha call him last thing at night and first thing in the morning.

"Before Iíve even brushed my teeth?" She laughed, incredulous. "Oh, all right. But you worry too much."

And she left him to go back to his attic loft, to his past and its worries.

* * *

The front door clicked closed behind him. Looking around the front entry of Samanthaís house, Connor reflected that he still didnít feel comfortable here, that he still expected her father to come down the stairs and begin questioning him about dating his daughter. Even after five years, she spends far more time with me in my past than I do with her in the present.

"Samantha, Iím here!" he shouted up the stairs.

"Iíll be down in a minute."

Wondering if any woman in any century was ever on time for a date, Connor wandered in a circle, then approached the sliding doors of John Grahamís library...no, into Samanthaís library. Pulling them apart, he saw that the lights were already on.

She must have been writing today, he reflected, knowing that she was using some of the information heíd given her on 16th-Century supersititions to write papers which she then submitted to folklore journals. Stepping inside the library, he approached a calligraphied scroll mounted on the wall and read his studentís kata, as it currently stood. Smiling with the knowledge that a kata was an ever-evolving thing, Connor wondered if sheíd made the mistake of using waterproof ink, and moved further into the room. Next month, sheíll be calligraphying a new one, he predicted.

His gaze drifted to the bookcase behind John Grahamís old desk. Remembering that the case had been locked on his first visit--years ago, now--Connor observed the doors were now standing open. One of the smaller, younger tomes lay open on the desk, its faded ink beckoning to the antique dealer in Connor. Curious to see what sort of other ancient artifacts Samantha had collected, he went behind the desk.

Baltimore, 12 September 1882

Master Connor MacLeod attended a lecture last night presented one Colonel Morse, a hero of the Civil War. I fell asleep, I trust MacLeod did not. I was unable to follow him afterward, as he was invited to a reception for the speaker and I was not.

MacLeod returned home at eleven oíclock. Kang was waiting for him. They fought in the forecourt. MacLeod won. The brightness of the Quickening summoned the fire brigade. By the time the wagon arrived, MacLeod had--

MacLeod had gone home to bed, Connor finished the chronicle. Turning the pages, he scowled at them. Where did Samantha get this information?

A moment later, he realized that the copperplate calligraphy did not resemble Samanthaís scribble in the least. Who wrote this?

Flipping to the front of the book, he looked inside the cover.

Watcher Samuel Graham, Esq.

for Connor MacLeod

1881 October to 1883 June

This work is original. It is not a reproduction. Turning slowly, Connor looked once more at the glass-enclosed bookcase behind him. Reaching a hand to the bottom shelf, he pulled out a tall tome and opened its cover.

Watcher George Monroe Graham

for Connor MacLeod

1820 January to 1822 August

Turning the pages, the Highlander began reading at random.

17 March 1820

MacLeod has returned to London. With plenty of money to his account and many heads to his credit, his financial and Immortal power has grown--

"What the hell is this?" he snarled, snapping closed the book and shoving it back onto its shelf.

Squatting, he peered at the gold lettering on the spine of each book that sat neatly, silently, damnably in its place. CM read the first line. Beneath were the month and year contained in each. Beginning in 1541 with leather chronicles that looked like they had probably been bound by a monk, the journals seemed to run through his life, with only minor gaps.

Whatís 40 or so years in 478? he thought bitterly. I suppose these people couldnít track Duncan and me through the Highlands, or through the American Northwest. Damn them, and who the hell were they, anyway?

His finger traced the tales... 1880... 1930... 1950... 1980... 1996....

Holy Mother of God...Thatís Samanthaís handwriting. Snatching down the thick book, Connor whirled and opened it to the light. This is dated just last week!

I love him, and Iím in love with him. I never looked for this, never dreamed it could actually happen. He thinks he loves me, thinks he wants me with him, thinks he knows me and he does--except for this... the chronicling that is an absolute invasion of his privacy. My choice to keep it from him.

Keeping secrets from the Watchers, keeping secrets from Connor... straddling the bridge between duty and desire. What I want, what Connor wants, what that bloody organization wants.

Honor and duty dictate that I walk in balance. I could resign as a Watcher and live out my days with Connor, but heís one of the best Immortals we have, and thereís no one else in such a position to record his life. No one else has ever been so close to him since he left Scotland hundreds of years ago. And if I did resign, Iíd be looking over my shoulder for however long I was with Connor--trying to catch a glimpse of whoever was assigned to him, and being consumed with jealousy that they were even there.

No...if Iím to walk in balance, as Connor says, I must look within. I must do whatís necessary to be true to both commitments.

ĎInvasion of privacy... my choice... the Watchers... secrets from me... duty and desire...that bloody organization...í Connor was shaking with rage bu the time he put down the book. What is all of this? Who is she? What is she that she could do this to me? I let her crawl inside my head, and I donít understand any of this.

"Connor?" a voice called from just outside the library.

Shoving the journal back into its proper place, the Highlander had just enough time to get out from the behind the desk and in front of Samanthaís kata before she walked into the room.

Sheís beautiful... and soís a hooded cobra. Summoning a tight smile, Connor greeted her with a hug and a kiss. "So youíre finally ready?"

"Um...yes." Her eyes went immediately to the glass bookcase, standing so damningly open and full of Watcher chronicles. He could read her thoughts easily: Did you see them?

Damn straight I did. "To the opera, then?"

He offered his arm. She took it. Was she breathing a little faster? Was he?

No wonder she wouldnít live with me. Couldnít write in your diaries, then, could you Ms. Graham?

Was it his imagination, or did she talk a little less than usual on the way to the Met?

Preoccupied, Ms. Graham, with watching how your little pet Immortal behaves at the prospect of a night filled with Mozart? Sorry, madame: I didnít know him. I canít tell you anything about the Boy Wonder.

Not for the first time, Connor was exquisitely grateful for the martial arts training heíd received. The night was long and painful and his heart was breaking, but he endured it all with a bow, a smile, and a variety of social niceties. He even managed the same gentle touches he always had to guide Samantha through a variety of doors. His conversation was light and amusing, his attention never wandered far from pleasing her. To every outward appearance, he was enjoying The Magic Flute and the company heíd chosen--every outward appearance, that is, except one: he mangled his program. But he got through the night.

The next morning when Samantha went into work, she found a note on her desk saying that Connor MacLeod had gone to Los Angeles on business. He didnít know when heíd be back.

In truth, Connor MacLeod as Tyler Burnett had boarded a red-eye flight for Seacouver. Even as his traitorous lover lay sleeping, he had headed for the only friend left in the world that he trusted.

* * *

At the crack of dawn, the Immortal buzz woke Duncan MacLeod from a very sound sleep. Snarling at losing his dream of Tessa--who had been laughing and smiling at his side as they walked the byways of Disneyland--the Immortal groped for his katana and slipped from beneath the covers. That dream had been so real....

Whoever you are, he beamed the thought at the encroaching Immortal, Iím going to kill you.

Making friends with the shadows in his small apartment, Duncan crossed the floor on cat-feet and slipped behind the door. Raising his katana, he closed his eyes and reached out to sense the Immortal climbing the stairs beyond the back door. Someone pounded. Hard.

"Duncan! You awake in there?"

Connor. Releasing his vise-grip on the katana, the Highlander tripped the locks and pulled open the door.

"What the hell are you doing here? I havenít seen you in years, I could have killed you."

"I think not."

The hardness in his friendís voice made Duncan step back and all but raise the katana again. Had it been anyone else, Duncan would have raised the katana. He stepped back, Connor stepped forward, and in the light from the streetlamp beyond the apartment windows, Duncan saw rage glittering in his kinsmanís gaze. Leaning back, he flipped the lightswitch on with the handle of his sword, flooding the room with light. Duncan squinted slightly at the attack on his retina, but Connor never blinked.

The older Immortalís eyes were bloodshot, as though he hadnít slept in days. His clothes were rumpled, his trenchcoat stained with rain and dirt. His color was high--as though he was running a fever--Which is impossible, thought Duncanóand Connor was trembling slightly all over. He held his cousinís gaze with a look the Highlander hadnít seen in centuries--a look he remembered seeing in other kinsmenís eyes before they had ridden out to battle the Frasiers and the English. Especially the English. Such looks were reserved, always, for the Sasanach.

"Are you all right?" Duncan asked quietly, warily.

"No," Connor growled.

His swordís not in his hand, Duncan reflected. Thatís good. That means heís not mad at me. Donít see how he could be, anyway...I havenít seen him in years. But you just never know. He could have only just found out about something I did two hundred years ago.

"I was right, Duncan. You get all of the good women. Every blessed, bloody one." Stalking across the room, Connor flung himself onto the sofa. "Damn her to hell. I should have realized she was too good to be true."

He stared into the empty fireplace as though seeing her face there--Whoever she is, Duncan thought. Slowly and carefully, he padded his way across the room and sank into the chair opposite the couch.

"Do you mind if I ask who weíre talking about?"

"Samantha. My assistant. My lover, my life. My... Judas." Beneath his breath, Connor rattled off a stream of old Gaelic with words that Duncan had all but forgotten. "I want her head. I want her head so badly that it frightens me."

"Sheís Immortal?"

Connor laughed briefly. The sound bore no resemblance to the warm chuckle Duncan was accustomed to hearing from his friend. "Sheís not Immortal. Yet. Perhaps I should kill her, if only to have the pleasure of killing her again."

Falling silent, Connor continued to glower at the cold fireplace. From time to time, he ran run stiff fingers through his hair and shuddered, trying to control a bottomless fury that Duncan knew had its origins 478 ago in Glenfinnan, when Connorís clan had betrayed him. Rejection had driven Duncan to suicidal despair: it had driven Connor to a neurotic determination to survive at all costs. Driven from his village and wandering the countryside in a daze of angry delirium, he had been saved only by gentle Heather. Rescuing him from the stocks, insanity and death, sheíd also saved him from an embittered life. But even as Heather had saved Connor, it appeared that another woman had now betrayed him.

Connorís not one to let many women close enough to hurt him, Duncan realized. "Have you known Samantha long?"

"Sheís the one I mentioned to you that I was training."

Duncan thought a moment. That was four years ago, at least. "Does she know youíre Immortal? Did she try to take your head?"

"She didnít have to." Connor spoke through gritted teeth. "She already took my heart, then my life."

"I donít understand."

Taking a deep breath, Connor began at the beginning. Duncan thought the recounting might steady the Highlander, but his words grew more strained as they went on... from cemetary to Kroll to the kata to the present... Connorís words made Duncan see Samantha, made him feel what Connor had felt while coming to know her, instructing her, falling in love with her. How would I have felt, had this been Tessa?

"And now I learn that sheís a Watcher--whatever that is! That her family has been watching me for hundreds of years, that she already knew everything about me, that sheíd been following me around for God knows how long before we met. She could have told me. Why didnít she tell me? And I let her into my life, dammit. I let her see everything I am, everything Iíve done. Iíve told her things--shared feelings that Iíve never shared with anyone else. I thought she loved me. She doesnít love me, she loves my history! Iím nothing but a damnaigh research project to her. How could I have been so cadránta, bloody blind?"

Rising from his chair, Duncan retrieved his katana. "Come downstairs with me."

Connor slouched deeper into the cushions on the couch. "Are you challenging me?"

"Not formally, no. But I think you need a serious workout, if only to cool down. You want to kill something. If you go on without killing something, youíll have a heart attack."

"I already did that. In her library. After finding those Watcher journals of hers."

Duncan prodded his guest with a foot. "Come on. Get up. Weíll fight, youíll lose some of that adrenalin and rage. After that, Iíll take you to meet someone whoíll make it all better."

"Huh." Connor eyed him sceptically. "You canít work miracles. Sam and I are finished. Itís over. So is Russell Nash, and everything else Iíve built for myself. I have to leave now. Run...somewhere. Anywhere where those damn Grahams canít find me. At least sheís the last one."

"Then youíve got nothing left to lose...except your head, if you get careless." He poked the Immortal with his toe. "Come on. Letís fight."

Connor eyed his cousinís BVDs. "You want to get dressed, first?"

* * *

They fought long and hard, Connor with a kind of barbaric frenzy and determination that tested Duncanís strength, endurance, and skill. I have taught you everything you know, the teacherís words came back to him, But not everything I know. Duncan had fought many opponents, had gained much experience since leaving Connor. But so had Connor. There on the broad wooden floor of the dojo, Duncan met his match and was glad that his cousin wasnít out for his head. If he had been, Duncan would have had to kill him--and it wouldnít have been all that difficult.

It was fine to fight like a babarian in 17th-Century Scotland. In 17th-Century Scotland, it had even worked. But Immortal to Immortal, in 20th-Century Seacover, it didnít work. Connor fought like a man possessed, attacking Duncan at every opportunity, but the older Immortal wasnít bothering to guard his own vulnerabilities, his own circle of life. Duncan had the feeling that the Highlander was doing it deliberately. Defending his head, Duncan let Connor lead the dance and waited for him to tire sufficiently that the match was declared concluded.

It took forty minutes. In the end, both men were panting and sweaty, but neither had been bloodied or killed. A miracle, that, thought Duncan, sinking down the wall to sit beside Connor. We had more than one close call.

"Had enough?"

Connor nodded, panting. "I want a shower, a drink, and a sleep. In that order."

"Can do." Urging his kinsman back on his feet, Duncan led the way to the elevator, and relative peace.


 

Chapter Seven

Joe Dawson polished shot glasses as he watched Connor MacLeod stalk about the closed bar. Well out of the way, Duncan MacLeod leaned against a beam and folded his arms. Their eyes met, and Duncanís arched eyebrow seemed to be saying, See the effect that meddling little Watchers have on big, strong Immortals? Samantha Graham is your Watcher: you fix this.

"So you guys skulk through the ages, watching us and never Ďinterferring,í as you call it?" asked Connor. "You write everything down in your little notebooks, transfer it into permanent records, and then what?"

"All of the reports are stored in the Watcher archive."

"Thatís in Paris," Duncan said helpfully.

"Heh. On microfiche and UNIX database, Iíll bet." Connor snorted. "Nothing but the best technology available for your bunch of peeping toms. What kind of details have you got in there about us? How many heads have rolled? How many times weíve outlived those we love? What kiltmaker I used in 1790 Glasgow? What brand of toothpowder I used in 1880 London?"

Connor waved a hand expansively. "Itís nice to know that Iím so important. Who the hell cares!" he roared. "Tell me! In twenty years or two hundred, who exactly is going to want to know all this?"

Connor and Joe locked gazes: Connorís was belligerent and challenging, while Joeís remained carefully neutral. The barís polished surface suddenly seemed very sticky, for Joe resumed his meticulous wipedown. With his challenge unanswered, Connor returned to the more responsive whisky in his glass.

"You people are weird," he muttered to the amber liquid. "Watching people do boring things every day. Who the hell wants to watch someoneís boring life? That must make their life twice as boring. Bored while they watch boring people."

Connor was definitely drunk. Suddenly, he slammed the glass down onto the bar with force enough to make Joe stop wiping. Connor looked up, his grey eyes wide and horrified.

"What?" Duncan demanded.

"Samantha wanted to learn my personal kata. Why? The better to tell all and preserve me for posterity? Thatís not boring. Thatís personal. Very personal. Itís mine. Itís me."

Within those few short sentences, Connorís tone ranged from outrage to fury to petulant hurting before seeming to settle on betrayed and hurt. Joe glanced questioningly toward Duncan, who appeared slightly relieved by this change: hurt wasnít likely to attack.

Connor thrust his empty whiskey bottle skyward and hiccuped. His words were growing more slurred by the minute. "I thought she cared about me. I only shared that because I love her. Trusted her. Thought she loved me. Said she loved me."Baleful grey eyes sought Duncan. "Did she lie about that, too? Is that a technique they teach in Watcher School?"

"I donít think so," Duncan answered quietly.

"How would you know. You never met her."

"Well, you should know," Duncan countered. "Youíve known a few women in your five hundred years. Donít you know when theyíre serious about you or not?"

Connor sniffled piteously and began wandering about the room once more. "She wouldnít live with me. Why not? ĎCause sheís just there to watch me? Thatís dumb, Ďcause if she lived with me she could watch me all Ďa time. Tell posterity if I snore, Ďn important stuff like that." Connor paused to point a wobbly finger at Joe. "Your Ďployeeís falling down on her job. Missing aaaaallll that important stuff you coulda stuffed in your records. Bad Watcher. Good liar, though."

"She couldnít move in with you," Joe answered quietly. "She really wanted to, but she couldnít. If she had, youíd have found her journals and have had exactly this reaction. She was afraid sheíd lose you. And her job."

"Pfft. She could be somebody elseís antiqities assistant."

"Not that job. Her job as a Watcher."

Connor aimed a look at Joe that said the Immortal would lose no tears lost over that eventuality.

"She couldnít live with you," Joe repeated in exasperation. "Sheíd be breaking the Watcherís oath. The penalty is death for some of these offenses. Is that what you want for her? To get her into that much trouble?"

It took a moment for concern to make its way through Connorís whiskey-laden self-pity. With an effort, he focused tear-swimming eyes on Joe. "How come sheíd get into trouble?"

"Er...because a watcher isnít supposed to have any contact with his or her assigned Immortal. The Immortal isnít supposed to know about us, and theyíre supposed to stay totally neutral. No one can stay neutral after they meet someone. You start forming your own opinions and it tilts the work."

Connorís narrowed his eyes. Navigating his uneven way back over to the bar, he leaned across the shining wood to poke Joeís shoulder. "Oh, I can see that. Like you aní olí Duncan here donít have any contact? Heh. Youíre not dead Ďcause youíre his friend, so doní tell me Ďbout that." Spinning about, he tried to take a swig from his bottle, which proved to be empty. "Ba mhaith liom uisce beatha."

Joe looked from Connor to Duncan, who seemed content to watch the scene progress without much input from him. When Duncan was upset and switched from English to Gaelic, it usually meant that he was having a serious discussion with himself. With a little luck, the same might hold true for the rest of Clan MacLeod, so perhaps Joe could enlist Duncanís help for the few minutes it took Connor to work things out in Gaelic.

"Uisce beatha!" Connor demanded, a little more loudly.

"He wants another whiskey," Duncan observed mildly. "Better hand it over, or youíll probably find him cracking that empty bottle over your head."

"Huh? Yeah, right." So much for Immortal cousins sharing the same discussion patterns. Fumbling below the bar, Joe produced another very expensive bottle of Scotlandís finest malt whiskey and shoved it into the shaking hand that was waiting for it. "Drink it slowly. Itís the last one Iíve got."

"Huh," was the only reply to that bit of information. Ripping off the top, Connor poured about a quarter of the bottleís contents down his throat before staggering over to Duncan. The Gaelic diatribe resumed, with Duncan squirming at his kinsmanís liquor-laden breath. No doubt the older Highlander was listing every shortcoming and fault he felt Samantha Graham possessed. Duncanís responses were short and neutral in tone, but also in Gaelic, leaving Joe completely in the dark as to subject matter.

So Connorís frightened that Sam knows so much about him, Joe reflected. We donít know of anyone whoís been that close to him before. Sheís been a vulnerability in his life; is he seeing her now as a liability?

Duncan murmured something in reply to a question Connor voiced, and the Immortalís attention pivoted back to Joe.

"So youíre her supervisor, heh? Is she in trouble because of me?" His grin told Joe that he rather hoped she was.

"Do you want her to be?

Connor hiccuped and stared blearily at Joe. Joe glanced at Duncan and shook his head as if to say, Heís too drunk to frame any coherent argument. Joe tried again.

"Itís always been obvious from Samís reports that you care deeply for each other. I donít think youíve ever been Ďjust a projectí to her."

Connor narrowed his eyes again--possibly because he was trying to make one of the three images he was seeing of Joe Dawson stand still. "So howíd she come to be watching me?"

"Samanthaís ancestors have followed you for years," Joe revealed. "Her father was your last Watcher, and he died a little after Sam started teaching at Loyola. You had no official watcher until Rachel passed on, because you tended to stay in New York where any number of us could keep up with you. After Rachel died, we figured youíd be doing a lot more traveling, and it was then that I asked asked Samantha if sheíd look after you. The Grahams have always been in charge of the Clan MacLeod. Or at least your branch," he qualified, with a glance toward Duncan. "Samantha grew up with you, which means youíre much more than an assignment or a family tradition. Iíve a feeling she was half in love with you before she met you."

Connor stood weaving and staring at him. "You think so?"

"I could show you her reports--"

Connor waved away the offer. "Couldnít read Ďem. Canít focus. Eyes doní work." Wavering on his feet, he ran the back of his hand across his forehead and resembled no one so much as an exhausted six-year-old. "I doní feel so good."

"Why am I not surprised?" questioned Duncan. "Youíve got about thirty ounces of whiskey in you, Connie."

"Doní call me that."

"Whatíre you goiní tí do?" said Duncan, returning to his broadest Scottish burr. "Take my head? Or take yírs tí bed?"

"Bed first. Head later." Padding around the back of the bar, Connor slid down the wall, curled up in the corner like a cat, and began snoring within the minute.

"What the hellís he think heís doing?" asked Joe. "Iíve got customers coming inside the hour."

"Heíll be fine by closing."

"Closing? Do you know what the licensing board would say if they saw that? Or the health department? Jeez, you MacLeods are a damn plague. At least help me move him into a back room."

"If you move him, heíll wake up," Duncan warned. Going to a nearby chair, he made himself at home. "Youíve piqued his interest. When he wakes up, heíll be stone-cold sober. And youíd better be prepared to start talking."

Joe eyed the immobile Immortal. "You wouldnít consider taking his katana Ďtil we can finish this discussion?"

"Nope. Then heíll wake up pissed as hell. You think heís mad now, just take his sword." The Immortal grinned, transforming his usually serious features to mischievous. "Just work around him, Joe. Nobodyíll notice."

"Nobody will notice a drunken Immortal snoring at my feet?"

"Just tell the band to play louder."

*

Joe tried explaining things again to Connor after the bar had closed, with the three of them seated at a table, and the whiskey well out of reach.

"So if Watchers arenít supposed to have contact with their Immortals," Connor pursued, "why isnít Samantha in trouble?"

"As I recall the story, you pursued her rather energetically," said Joe. "You all but dragged her into your life. But yeah, youíre right, she has broken the rules. So hey, letís drag her out, set the Watcher Inquisition on her and burn her at the stake. Is that what you want?"

Connor glowered at him. Leaning forward, Joe tried again.

"Look...She called me right after you met, and has been keeping me informed ever since. That doesnít mean that I condone your friendship or your romance, or whatever you want to call it. It just means that Iíve known about it a long time. Hell, I donít condone the friendship between Mac Ďn me, but itís there, so we look the other way come rule-time. And we keep our mouths shut to other Watchers. But thatís between MacLeod and me. What about Samanthan and you? Do you want me to get rid of Samantha and assign someone else to watch you?"

"I donít want anyone watching me!" the Immortal growled.

"I doubt thatís an option," said Duncan. "Approve or not approve, the Watchers are still going to be there. Iíve been wandering the world for more than four hundred years; theyíve been watching for at least three hundred fifty of those years and I never noticed. I just found out about Joe eighteen months ago. If your watcher doesnít want to be seen, you wonít see her. Ah, him, I mean."

"So we just ignore them, like midges," Connor replied dourly. "One more plague in my life."

"So, do you want a new watcher or not?" Joe persisted.

Setting his jaw, Connor shook his head.

"Getting a new one might solve the problem," Duncan urged. "Samantha wouldnít have anything to hide from you, then."

"Iíd be hiding things from her," Connor pointed out. "Not the least of which is that I had her... removed."

"You know, youíre very special to Sam," said Joe. "Her father used to tell bed-time stories about you and Heather."

Connor sat bolt upright. "Heather? I was being watched when I was with Heather?"

Oops, said the look on Joeís face. Scratching his beard, he sank lower in his chair and peered beneath his eyebrows at Duncan.

"You may as well tell him," the younger Immortal said. "Heís not going to let it go by."

"Er... Okay, fine. Our organization found you when Ramirez found you. Thatís how we make most of our new contacts: one Immortal meets another Immortal and we log in the new guy."

"Ramirez had a watcher?" Connor sounded incredulous. "Thatís impossible! We spent a lot of time outside. I didnít see anybody."

"You wouldnít. Ramirezís watcher was a Scot named Creidné Blair -- Blair being a sept of the Graham clan. Creidné fancied himself a druid, so he skulked in the trees really well. After Ramirez died, Creidné settled nearby and began watching you. He died about the same time as Heather, whereupon his son--Gildas Blair--became your Watcher."

Connor sat up straighter. "The same Gildas what went with me to Glasgow and became my shipping partner?"

"Yeah. Much of the wealth he earned shipping spices and precious oils with you was invested and left to the Watchers upon his death. The foundation of our wealth--"

"Was provided by me? An Immortal? That dirty little...."

Joe thought Connor just might hit him in memory of the Celt.

"Gildas knew nothing about shipping!" Connor snarled. "We learned together from the ground up. His talents lay with the ships and the men: he had no head for money, I told him where to put it. And youíre telling me that I personally financed the Watchers?"

For a moment, Joe thought Connor would knock over the small table and wrap his long fingers around Joeís neck. This was clearly news to Duncan, too, and it looked as though that Immortal might be right behind Connor.

"I financed this invasion of privacy?" Connor continued. "What did you do--watch the wealthiest of us and mirror our investments?"

"Er...essentially, yes. Thereís nothing wrong with that."

"Good God," said Connor to Duncan. "Talk about old money. If we donít look out, this secret society of nosy people will end up ruling the world."

"Who says we donít?"

Duncan threw him a look usually reserved for really nasty Immortals. "Do you?"

"Aw, come on, MacLeod. Would I be running an obscure bar on the western seaboard if I could influence world politics? You know that Watchers maintain a low profile, just like you Immortals. If we werenít quiet as church-mice, youíd all catch wind of us and the jig would be up, our ship would be sunkó"

"How many clichés can you cram into one sentence?" asked Duncan.

"Iím nervous, okay?" Joe all but shouted. "I feel like Iím on trial here, along with Samantha. Look, weíre not running the world because A: we donít want to. B: weíre not that powerful, and C: keeping up with you guys takes all our time. Weíre not the bad guys here! Watchers watch the evil ones among you, too, remember? Itís not in our best interests to run around broadcasting our existence, our wealth, or what we do with it."

"What do you do with it?" Duncan asked.

"Aw, hell... Connor was right: throughout the years, headquarters has installed the best storage facilities and technology available. Microfilm, fiche, computers, hermetically sealed vaults, archive and restoration professionals. Think of Immortals as living, breathing history. Think of us Watchers as fanatical historians devoted to archiving that history. Each Watcher receives a sort of research grant--a stipend to live on--that enables them to continue watching. Even though weíre in your lives, weíre not supposed to get involved with your battles or form opinions or take sides--"

"But some do," Duncan said quietly.

"Hey, you found me, remember?" Joe defended. "I didnít spill stuff to you."

"How many of us have you watched?" Duncan pursued.

"Me, personally? A couple, after a tour in Viet Nam. There was one before Duncan. He was young, very vulnerable. Didnít last long. I asked not to be assigned to another newbie." He shook his head. "Too difficult. Thatís when I got you, Mac."

"Do you have historical notebooks on him the way Samantha has them on me?" Connor cocked a thumb at Duncan.

Joe nodded. "You have no idea, the thrill you feel while reading about the past adventures of your Immortal. Just holding those creaky old leather volumes, and then going out and seeing your Immortal battle--"

"Better than the Saturday night fights at Madison Square Garden, heh?" interrupted Connor. "I get it now. Weíre little more than a walking, talking D&D game to you."

"More like Mortal Kombat with swords, actually," murmured Duncan.

"So to you and Samantha, weíre like the heroes out of a kidís video game?"

"None of us see it as a game!" Joe denied. "Itís not a game. And you guys call it a game, anyway, so why are you riding me about that? Hell, Connor. Samantha has seen you kill, sheís even been in the middle of a Quickening or two. Youíre an Arthur or a--a Cuchulain to her. Youíre a gawdawful, for real Celtic warrior, for Godís sake. That woman has more perspective on where you fit into history than anybody else I know. More than once, sheís answered a question or two Iíve had about your Clan MacLeod. She understands because she was raised with you. That kidís lived, breathed and slept Connor MacLeod from the moment her parents brought her home from the adoption agency. You were her knight in shining armor long before you met in that graveyard. She loved you for years, but you made her fall in love with the man, not the Immortal. Why do you think you approached her in that cemetery? Maybe itís because you sensed that sheís a part of you, the same way youíre a part of her?"

"Of course I did. Sheís a pre-Immortal. How can she not be part of me--and Duncan, and every Immortal alive?"

Joe rocked back in his chair. He stayed there, looking stunned, for the next ten seconds. "Say what?"

"Samantha will be one of us one day," reiterated Connor. "I felt it, I know it. Thatís what drew me away from Rachelís grave and over the hill to find Sam."

"Oh... boy." Letting his breath out in a long sigh, Joe shook his head. "I hate to say it, but this discussion is at an end, guys. And youíve made my decision very easy, Connor. Watchers watching Immortals are our business; Immortals watching Watchers crosses the line. And Watchers being Immortals is definitely out--waaaaay out of bounds. Samantha just became a risk--to you, to us, and to herself. Because if one of your dark Immortals senses her the way you did, weíll all become a target. Your relationship with her is your business: it doesnít have to change. But Iím afraid that she can no longer be a Watcher."

Duncan stared at him. "Youíre joking."

"No, Iím not."

"But what about Metho--"

"So youíll tell her to get out of my life, to stop watching me?" interrupted Connor. "Youíll assign someone else, someone I donít know? Some stranger whoíll read all about me in those books she has to turn over to them?"

"Thatís what you wanted when you came in here, isnít it?"

"No!"

"Yes, it was," remarked Duncan cheerfully.

"Iím sorry, Connor, but itís--"

"Youíre sorry? Iím sorry." Springing up from the chair, Connor grabbed his trenchcoat and shoved into it. "Iím sorry I told you. Sorry that I trusted you."

He flung down a hundred-dollar bill for the bar tab heíd run up, then turned to leave. Duncan snagged the Immortalís wrist.

"There are other instances where Immortals have been Watchers." Duncan said, his eyes warning Dawson. "And well you know it."

"They watched themselves!" Joe flung back," and they werenít newbies. The risks are considerably less."

"So Iíll watch myself," said Connor. "Easy. Iíve been doing it for years and years."

"You canít do that. The other Watchers would know in short order, and then--" He made a motion to illustrate that the upper echelon of the organization would probably cut off all of their heads.

"So whatís wrong with letting things continue the way they have been?" urged Duncan. "Why would it be so hard to forget all about this little conversation?"

"Here comes Duncan MacLeod, riding in again on the white horse to rescue somebody you care about, eh? Gonna rescue Romeo and Juliet--Connor and Samantha--all by yourself?" Joe smiled. "Adam Piersonís right, you are a boy scout. This isnít about love, Duncan."

"Then what is it about, Joe? Fear? Because Iíve found that love and fear are the only two things that really motivate people in this world. Connor came to you frightened, asking for some help. Instead of helping, youíre bent on hurting Samantha as well as him. Sheís been watching Connor for years with no harm done. Whatís changed since you know sheís going to be one of us?"

Slumping in his chair, Joe ran a hand through his hair. "Gawd, I hate this job sometimes," he muttered. "But you asked, so okay, Iíll tell you whatís changed, whatís got me scared, and why I think Samantha would be better off far, far from the Game. For the past six years, an Immortal based in the Bronx has been systematically stalking pre-Immortals. Itís probably just a matter of time before that clown finds Samantha...and you." He nodded at Connor.

The Immortalís eyes glimmered. "Iíll protect her. I always have."

Joeís eyes flashed briefly to Duncan. "He tried to protect Tessa."

"Those were Hunters, not Immortals, and not all stories end like Tessaís," muttered Duncan.

"And not everybody gets a fairy tale with a happy ending!" Joe snapped.

"An Immortal was not responsible for Tessaís death."

Joe shook his head. "Thatís got nothing to do with it. If she hadnít been with you, she wouldnít have been kidnapped."

"If a Hunter hadnít kidnapped her, she wouldnít have died!" Duncan riposted. "So whoís more responsible, Joe? You or me?"

"Maybe we both are. But Iíve known Samantha since she was two months old. I watched her father sing her to sleep, I went to her high school graduation. I saw her grow up from a damn-ugly teenager into a beautiful, intelligent woman. Sheís my god-daughter, I love her, too, and Iím damned well not going to see her sacrified to some psychotic Immortal before her fortieth birthday!"

Before Joe could say another word, the tip of Connorís katana was at the mortalís throat. "Neither will I."

Joe stopped breathimg. His eyes grew huge as Connor kicked aside the table, sank down on one knee before him, and raised the katana skyward.

"You have the promise and oath of Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod that, as long as I live, I will do my best to protect Samantha Graham from harm. I swear it by earth and fire, wind and water, by all that I hold dear in this life and the next."

Riveted in place, with his fingers gripping the arms of the chair so hard that they hurt, Joe stared down at Connor--whose eyes were glittering with a grey steel Joe had never seen before. The mild-mannered antique dealer Joe was accustomed to seeing seemed much more like a 478-year-old Scottish warrior now. Joe could almost hear the water lapping at the shores of Loch Shiel, could imagine what it must have been like more than 200 years ago, when Connor and Duncan had knelt and sworn fealty to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The Watcher didnít dare shift his gaze from the Immortal, not even when Duncan rose to stand beside his cousin and a second katana was drawn from its hidden sheath. Twin to Connor, this Highlander knelt as well. His sword blade sang gently against his cousinís, caressing the metal.

"You also have the promise and oath of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod that, as long as I live, I will do my best to protect Samantha Graham from harm. I swear it by earth and fire, wind and water, by all that I hold dear in this life and the next."

"O-kay," murmured Joe, at a dead loss for words as he knew what a Highlanderís oath meant, regardless 250 years had passed since the clans and their chieftains had died at Culloden. The katanas were lowered, both Immortals rose. Joe nervously cleared his throat and managed to find his voice. "Iím not about to argue with the whole damn clan. With both of you helping, maybe sheíll manage to keep her head."

"I think you forget, sometimes, that we protect who we love," said Connor, moving his weapon so that a stagelight caught the blade and momentarily blinded Joe. "And weíre very good at it."

After watching Duncan lose Tessa, Joe was still having doubts about Connorís declaration, but he wouldnít have voiced it for the world.

Turning, Connor saluted Duncan, who bowed acknowledgement. Sheathing his katana, Connor said, "I will live in love--not in fear--with Samantha. I think it best to begin by returning to New York, where I can more easily protect her. Thank you for discussing this with me. Thank you for helping me. Youíve clarified things a great deal."

With that, Connor he left his friends and retreated into the night to gather his thoughts and plans.

* * *

Duncan awoke the next morning to find Connor gone. So was the rental car, which gave Duncan a clue as to where he might find his kinsman. Leaving Seacouver behind, the Immortal drove up the coast, stopping short of the lighthouse where heíd met Annie Devlin. There on a wet beach littered by moss-covered boulders, he found Connor performing a kata.

This shore is the closest thing to Scotland and the Isle of Skye weíve got, reflected Duncan. Leaving the car, the Immortal approached his cousin, only to pause a few hundred feet away--before the Immortal buzz could interrupt Connorís exercise. Standing quietly, Duncan was contented to watch.

Black gloves, sweats, sneakers, no coat. Duncan smiled to himself. That wardrobe hasnít changed in over 30 years. Sometimes I think they invented jeans just for Connor. Heís letting his hair grow. Looks good. Shaggy, but good. Makes him look less stuffy. Have to tell him that. Havenít gotten the chance to watch him practice like this in years... Not since Tessa was alive.

Watching his kinsman flow through the movements, Duncan knew that heíd regained a bit of mental balance. When the Immortal had finished, he sat on the nearest boulder, braced his sword, and stared out to sea. Coming closer, Duncan paused beside Connorís rock and waited for an invitation to join him.

"Iíve been thinking of Samantha," Connor opened, not bothering to look around at his cousin.

Who else? thought Duncan.

"I remembered something I read somewhere: ĎWe are, each of us, a collection of memories,í" Connor quoted, raising the voice Duncan remembered as soft, warm gravel--one of the constants in his life--to be heard over the pounding surf. "In the end, maybe thatís all any of us are--me to Samantha, Tessa to you, and you to me. Even Immortals to Watchers. Especially Immortals to Watchers." Connor glanced up at Duncan. "What do you think?"

"I think youíre right. What if the day comes when there is only one? Or none of us. Itís only those Watcher memories that will prove we ever existed."

"Heh." Connor turned his gaze back to the sea. "Samantha has so many memories of me. Some bad. Some good. Some of them very good, I hope." A crooked smile spoke of other memories, more private ones.

Duncan took a deep breath. "I think itís hard to discuss philosophy before breakfast, on an empty stomach."

"Heh. Howíd you get to be so wise? Come sit with me, okay?"

Duncan did. The minute he was settled, Connor locked him in a hard, one-armed hug about the shoulders. "Itís good to be here, Duncan. Good to be with you. Thanks for all your help."

"What are kinsmen for?" He rubbed his arm after Connor let go his stranglehold. "You going home soon?"

"Why? You want to get rid me?"

"Not particularly. Just wondering if youíd made peace with yourself and Samantha yet."

Connor scowled at the horizon. "Donít think so. Not entirely, anyway. But at least I donít want to take her head any more."

"Well, thatís a start," nodded Duncan.

"Iíd like to stay for a few days, look up some Far East antique dealers, attend some auctions--"

"But youíre not," Duncan smiled. "Youíre going home to look after Samantha, right?"

"Yeah."

Heís going home to her, regardless he still needs to put some distance between them while he gets a handle his still-Scottish temper, thought Duncan. Heís not forgiven her for keeping secrets. Not yet. Perhaps not for a long time. I think we Scottish invented grudges sometimes.

"I wonder where Sam and I go from here," Connor mused.

"That would depend on where you want to go," said Duncan. "If Iím reading you right, youíre not angry that sheís your Watcher. Youíre angry because you feel she betrayed you by not telling you she was watching you."

"Maybe." Connor sounded non-committal.

"She didnít tell you because she was sworn to secrecy before she met you," Duncan pointed out. "Thatís something that I think youíre well familiar with. Weíve sworn an oath or two, havenít we? Would you drop yours?"

Connor quickly looked back to the sea.

"Didnít think so. So she didnít tell you. That means sheís an honorable lady who keeps her promises--even when it might mean your dumping her flat if you find out--which youíre now thinking of doing. I introduced you to Joe so you could see what other Watchers do. So you could see that itís possible to continue as an Immortal with a Watcher in your life."

"How do you do it?" Connor rasped, settling the katana more comfortably across his knees. "How do you tolerate the invasion of privacy?"

"For the most part, I ignore it. Joe does his job, but he doesnít park himself in my dojo or tag along, following me to fights. At least, not where I can see him. Heís probably there, recording everything, but he doesnít bug me. Heís even provided some much-needed information and saved my head on several occasions--a clear violation of the Watcherís non-interference policy, but there you are. Day by day, Joe doesnít interfere in my life any more than Samanthaís has interferred with yours. Occasionally, our Watchers write stuff on us and it gets filed away. So what? The microfilm gathers dust, and weíre as obscure a reference in history as the names of the Knights Templar are to the average medieval scholar. Besides, at least Joeís my friend. If Iím going to have a Watcher, Iíd rather have one whoíll get it right."

Shifting on the hard rock as his butt was going numb, Duncan continued, "Joe is my friend, Connor. Iím not a chieftain, and heís not my bard or my poet. If you want the same relationship or better with Sam, I doubt that sheíd object. In any case, youíre going to have a Watcher. Whereís the harm in having one you love?"

Connor tracked the trail of a seagull before answering. "Iíve spent many years perfecting the art of annonymity. It suits me, I like it. I donít like the thought of my every move being committed to paper."

"Microfilm."

"Whatever. As you say, Iíve little choice. So I guess Iíll keep Samantha as my Watcher, and try to forget that sheís keeping secrets from me. I canít have her replaced: thereís no telling what Joe would replace her with. And with my luck, Sam would find out Iíd had her fired and then sheíd hate me."

"She does care about you, you know? Very deeply."

Connor nodded. "If she didnít, I wouldnít be sitting here waffling about things. And thereís something else Iím waffling about. I want her safe, I want her close to me, but she wonít come. And now Joe tells me thereís someone who might take her from me before sheís had the chance to experience all she is, and all she can be. Iím training her to use a katana, preparing her for what will come. But--

Duncan grinned. "Let me guess. Youíre wondering if you shouldnít just kill her yourself, make her Immortal, and save a lot of time and bother."

"Well, yeah." Connor sounded shocked that Duncan would have second-guessed him. "Sheís in her prime right now--"

"Are you serious?" Duncan was incredulous. "Thatís the most prejudicial statement Iíve ever heard you say. Itís not like sheís a racing Thoroughbred. And you arenít God. We canít do that."

"Yeah, well...I donít want her to get too old to enjoy being an Immortal."

Duncan threw him a look of disgust. "So what are you planning to do, shove her in front of a bus? If this argument was coming from me, what would you say, old mentor mine?"

"Iíd say you were nuts."

"So why shouldnít I say that to you?"

"But what happens if something happens to me and she becomes Immortal too late to be able to defend herself?" asked Connor.

"Then I pick up the slack where you leave off. I fulfill the oath I made to Joe. But weíre not here to play God, Connor. You know that. You canít just say, ĎHello, Samantha, old thing. Iím going to kill you and show you your destiny.í That goes against everything you taught me, and everything I know you believe it means to be an Immortal. And it just might piss her off something terrible. Dying isnít pleasant, and people you love arenít supposed to kill you."

Shrugging, Connor wiggled his sneakered toes. "It was just a thought."

"Well, stop thinking it." Duncan nudged his shoulder. "I think part of you is scared that Samanthaís gonna die on you--or die too late for you two to have fun--because of what youíve been through with Rachel."

"Yeah? Well, maybe. I certainly donít want to end up feeling like Samanthaís son."

Duncan laughed outright. "Did you ever feel like Heatherís son?"

"No."

"Then why would that happen with Samantha?"

Connor shrugged. "Call it shallow vanity on my part. I just donít want her old and creaky by the time I get her."

"But youíve got her now."

"Not as an Immortal...No--give it a rest, Duncan." He raised his hand against further logical, righteous arguments that his cousin was obviously preparing. "Iím not going to do anything. Iím just venting and--like you say--being scared. Ignore me and letís go. I need to get back to New York. Sorry I canít stay longer, but...."

"Do you want me to come back with you?"

Connor shook his head. "You have a life here and a student in Richie. Let me settle things with Samantha. Let me train her a little more, make sure sheís safe. If Iíve got any worries, Iíll give you a call."

"Itís a deal."

"Mortals." Connor sighed on the way back to their separate cars. "You canít live with Ďem, and Duncan wonít let me kill Ďem."

* * *

"Youíre back!" Samantha broke off her kata the moment Connor stepped into the warehouse. Trotting across the floor, she raised up on tiptoe to kiss him, then backed away as she saw his closed expression. "You look angry with me. Whatís wrong?"

"Have you been practicing while Iíve been gone?"

"Morning and night."

Shrugging out of his trenchcoat, Connor turned with katana in hand. "Letís see what youíve learned."

He launched an attack that drove her backward with a vengeance. Given no opportunity to think or to plan a defense, Samantha moved instinctively. Calling on 478 years of training, Connor offered no quarter, but sought to lay bare every shortcoming Samantha had. Time and again, his blade came within inches of slashing through her... throat, limbs, abdomen, thighs.

"Close your circle!" he growled, giving her scant opportunity to do so while he circled like a shark, invading and shattering her defensive window every chance he got.

"I canít!" she howled. "Youíre moving too fast."

"So, keep up."

He threw himself on her again, knowing that by now she felt the sword was no longer part of her, but was only dead weight in her arms as her muscles began tiring. Seconds later, she barely blocked his last parry before bolting across the basement, away from him.

"Come back here and fight!" he roared.

"No!" she shouted, blinded by tears. "What the hell are you doing, Connor? You know I canít keep up with you like this."

Sweeping the sword in a figure eight pattern, he flexed black-gloved fingers and stalked toward her. "Try."

"I canít. Youíre my teacher, dammit. Are you trying to kill me?"

Reaching her, he refused to answer, but attacked again. Sobbing, she brought up her katana to block him. She fought through tears, she fought through pain. Clenching her teeth, she fought through the salty sweat running in rivelets down her forehead and burning her eyes. Eventually, she blinked back the tears with grim determination. Her muscles stopped screaming and settled for trying desperately to obey her commands.

Connor pulled back slightly, but Sam didnít notice. After ten more minutes of sheer hell, he slowly scaled down to match her level of expertise, giving her tiny opportunities to realize his mistakes. When she cut his wrist--making him spin about and peer beneath his glove to inspect the damage--she actually grinned.

"Good." He praised her softly, pleased that he hadnít seen the strike coming. Stepping back a few paces, he palmed his katana and gestured her toward him. "Do it again."

She leaped at him, only to foolishly open a window and give him the opportunity to slash her arm. Whirling away, she inspected the damage to it, her blouse. "Damn."

"Keep going."

"Connor, Iím hurt! Iím dripping blood on the floor," she protested.

"Itís not fatal." Dammit. "Keep going."

They continued over the next twenty minutes, until it was plain that the last bit of adrenalin had dissolved; all Samantha could do was stand and let her sword wobble in Connorís direction.

"Iím sorry," she said, bitterly disappointed with her expertise and her bodyís betrayal.

"Hey, youíve done good. Most fights donít last more than ten minutes."

"So why did you put me through the wringer for half an hour? If youíre at all interested, Iím still bleeding."

"We need to talk." Taking the katana from her, he propped it and his own across a nearby crate before heading for the first aid kit. She padded after him in silence while he gathered the supplies necessary to treat the variety of nicks and bruises and bleedings heíd given her. His own were already healing.

"Iím going to be very stiff tomorrow," she grumbled at the end of his ministrations. "Wish I was Immortal."

He patted the last strip of tape into place. "Guess youíll have to settle for being a Watcher."

"A...what?" Her eyes were huge, her stance stiff.

He winked at her. "I read some of your chronicles. Youíre a good writer. But I really wish youíd told me. You could have told me."

She stood staring at him, with a frightened look on her face.

"I went to see my cousin, Duncan MacLeod. You know him?"

"Iíve...heard about him."

"Yeah, I thought you might." Sliding a companionable arm about Samanthaís shoulders, Connor guided her over to retrieve the swords, to wipe them clean and resheath them. "He knows all about the Watchers. I didnít. We had a long talk, and heís the reason Iím not going to fire you."

Handing her the katana, he tilted her chin up and kissed her. "Donít ever keep something as important as that from me again."

"No," she whispered, searching his gaze and seeing rage smoldering there. "Are you very angry with me? Is that why you came in here to fight with me?"

"Mmm," he acknowledged.

"Do you want me to stop watching you?"

He shook his head, set aside his sword. "Theyíd only assign someone else. And that someone else would probably get things wrong. I only wish youíd told me."

"I promised that I wouldnít." It was a childís justification: no malice and no hurt intended.

"So Iíve beem made to understand." He squeezed her hard against him. "Flying back on the plane, I realized that maybe having you as my Watcher wasnít such a bad thing, after all. Iím your assignment for life, yes?"

Still looking shell-shocked, she nodded.

"That means you canít ever leave me. Heh. And since I know youíre my Watcher, thereís no reason you canít move in with me now."

"My supervisor--"

"Is Joe Dawson. Heís a very good friend of Duncanís. As Iím sure you know." Connor grinned down at her. "Joe knows. Everything. No problem."

"No...problem. What? How did you accomplish that little miracle?" Samantha narrowed her eyes. A second fire kindled there, one aimed at Joe. "Joe is friends with Duncan MacLeod? Good friends? Then why did he give me such a gawdawful time about having you in my life?"

"None of my business." After the trouble Mr. Dawson put us through... Why donít you ask him why he didnít make things easier for you and me, Sam? Aloud, he said, "I donít know. What I do know is that if weíre going to be together, itís probably a good idea that you learn to defend yourself as completely as possible. As Joe pointed out, youíre a target as long as youíre with me. Harsh though it may be, Sam, you need to learn to take heads with as much expertise as another Immortal. Can you do that?"

"Iím trying to. And Iíve already taken my first head," she reminded him, shivering as though the memory--as well as the events of his homecoming--were too much for her to assimilate in one conversation. "Iíve known the price for becoming involved with you for a long time," she reminded him. "I also know the rewards," she added with a shy smile.

He nodded sagely. "Yeah. I must be a dream come true for an historian like you."

Using her non-injured arm, she thumped him on the knee. "Thatís not what I meant. I love you, Connor MacLeod. Not your immortality or your past. Thatís just icing on a very nice Scottish cake." She gave him an uncertain, shaky smile. "Of course, after the workout you gave me, Iím not sure the cake isnít spoiled. Are you very angry with me for not telling you about the Watchers?"

"I was. Part of me still is."

"You think that I betrayed you?"

He shrugged. "I know you had no true choice. But yeah, thatís how I feel."

She dared to reach up and stroke his face. "ĎIím sorryí is a very lame thing to say, but at the moment itís all I have to offer. Iíll spend the rest of my life with you, Connor. If you want me to move in with you, I will. There arenít any more secrets. If it would make you feel better, you can read all of the chronicles."

"As a matter of fact, it would make me feel better. Why are they in your library and not in Paris?"

She laughed, delighted with his sudden curiosity, his slight unbending. "I see that Joe and Duncan really did enlighten you. My father refused to send the original, bound copies over. He sent only copies, which they microfilmed."

"Would you give me the chronicles? All of them?" Connor demanded.

She gulped. "Give you--"

"Are they Watcher property?"

"Technically, yes. Theyíre supposed to go with your Watcher, throughout your entire life. But headquarters has their records, so the tomes are just copies..."

"So you can give them to me. Itís my life, Samantha."

"I know." She wandered a few feet away from him, took a deep breath, and turned. "All right. Iíll give them to you. All but the one I just finished and the one Iím working on now."

She felt miserable, but was trying to put on a brave front. Daddyís work is in there and just having them near has always been a comfort. But Connor will be with me, wonít he? And I love Connor and he wants them...and Daddy and I both share the real thing -- Connor himself. Suddenly the decision was easier.

"Once the film is safely in Paris, you can have those, too," she told him. "But I have to write the truth as I see it, Connor. No mucking about with my point of view, no demanding approval rights before I send the stuff to Joe, no preventing me from doing my job or asking me not to record certain things--"

"I promise." Going to her, he gathered her in his arms and pulled her into a tight hug. "Itís all right, Sam. I donít want the chronicles. I may want to read them, but you donít have to give them to me. Not forever. I just wanted to know if you would. I had to know which was more important: me or them."

"Bastard," she mumbled into his sweater. "Connor, Iím tired. Iím very glad your home, but I want to go to bed." Her fingers curled up as she clung to him and closed her eyes.

"Now? At seven at night? You want me to take you home so you can go to bed?"

"Canít you make room for me upstairs?" She sounded so plaintive, so lost, that he drew back for a look. She refused to let go.

"Youíre the one who made me fight," came the muffled accusation. "Itís probably loss of blood, you heathen. Itís no wonder that Iím exhausted. And you said you wanted us to live together." She cracked open an eye. "Or was that another trick?"

"No trick." Lifting her in his arms, he carried her to the elevator. "Do you want to move in immediately?"

"No. I want you to move in with me. Upstairs here is for Russell Nash, but my house has always been full of Connor MacLeod. Canít we live there?"

He chuckled. "Iíll move in tomorrow. Before you can change your mind."

She kissed his neck. "Connor, do me a favor?"

"Mmm?"

"Donít tell Joe or Duncan that Iím letting you read about yourself."

"Sure. A guy has to have some secrets."


 

Chapter Eight

If Duncan could see me now, reflected Connor as he flattened another hamburger on the barbeque grill, then glanced around Samanthaís rose garden. Is this how he felt, living with Tessa? How safe and settled and... human? I havenít known this sort of contentment since Heather.

Slipping up behind Connor, Samantha handed him a diet Coke and wrapped her arms around his waist. "I love you, Mr. Nash."

"I love you, Mrs. Nash."

"Are you sorry we didnít honeymoon on Skye?"

He shook his head. "Skye will always be there. The upcoming auction at Christieís will not."

"And you do so love your Japanese antiquities...." Coming around him, she saluted him with an Orange Crush. "If my father could see me, now. Married to you--"

"Would he approve, do you think?"

"Definitely not. He took his Watcherís oath very seriously. And heíd probably have a few pithy things to say about your losing your independence on Independence Day."

"Heh. Especially since Iím the Scottish fellow who fired the first shot at Concord and Lexington?"

"You werenít even a soldier at that point!" she accused, remembering the tale from her history books. "You were a farmer."

"I was a survivor of Culloden, deported in poverty and starvation from an English prison to the Colonies. Do your history books record that thousands of Highlanders were sold as slaves by the British to plantation owners? And there were the Redcoats, standiní in front aí me with their great shiny guns and their great shiny boots. What can I say?" He shrugged. "It was less than fifty years after Culloden. And it was more than a MacLeod could take."

Pulling his head down, she kissed the shadows from his eyes. "Iím very glad, for your sake, that we won the war."

"As am I," he acknowledged. "Iíll get the paper towels and the plates. Watch this for a moment?" He gestured at the grill.

"Sure."

With a kiss, he left her poking at the hamburgers much as heíd done. A moment later, a sneering voice spoke.

"Such a sweet scene. Immortal wife."

Whirling with barbeque fork in hand, Samantha spied a mean-looking, wiry man squatting on her garden wall. Saluting her with his sword, he slashed through the air. "Happy to meet you, Mrs. Nash."

"Youíre here for Connor?"

"Iím here for you."

Darting out of the way, Sam dropped the poker and grabbed her husbandís sword where it lay on the picnic table bench. Whirling, she was barely in time to block the scimitar coming down on her kidneys.

"Good, but not good enough," the Immortal growled, hopping around her like a frenzied fairy seeking an opening. "Youíve had five years learning the blade, yes? Iíve had... Oh, only a few more centuries." He slapped at the katana and whirled away before she could realign. "Hunting and killing, killing and hunting." He grinned, showing blackened teeth. "Great fun, that. En garde, missy."

He moved faster than her eye could see. Reaching instinctively for the lessons Connor had taught her, she had the feeling that he should have made arrangements for her to fight other Immortals and not just him.

"One and two and three and--" The demented Immortal chanted, dancing back and forth, feinting left and right, drawing her out and learning her vulnerabilities. "A mortal trained by an Immortal, what a concept--three and four and--"

He left his left shoulder exposed for a moment, and she took full advantage. Connorís katana ripped through muscle and bone, all but severing the limb. Howling, the Immortal whirled away.

"Bleeding on your bleediní roses I am." Letting his damaged arm dangle, he leveled his sword and glowered down its length at her. "Shouldníta done that, lassie. Immortal fertilizerís forbidden. Offended Mother Nature, you have. Offended me, too."

The Immortal charged her. Samantha sprang out of the way, her mind shrieking in terror, but her well-trained body carrying her through the movements to save her life. But true as her lessons were, he was faster; her opponent whipped the sword backward on his way past and caught her in the side. She felt the blade rake across her spine, but felt no pain before crashing to the grass. The katana skittered across the patio and butted up against the door; Samanthaís vision blurred as a shadow fell across her. Dripping blood like rain on her face, the Immortal shadow cackled and held high its sword.

"Bye-bye, Mrs. Nash."

A head rolled: it wasnít hers. The shadow fell aside, and another took its place to kneel beside her. The dragonís-head katana was released from familiar fingers in her field of vision. She blinked at those fingers, so close to her nose before they stroked her cheek.

"Sweet Samantha..." The Quickening claimed him.

Shuddering as her strength ebbed away and Connor gained in his, Samantha closed her eyes against the wind and the lightning. Within a few seconds it was over, and a weakened, trembling Connor was struggling to lift her across his lap.

"I canít feel my legs." Even to her own ears, her words sounded slurred, but she felt too tired to speak clearly.

"Oh, Sam..."

"Will you call an ambulance?"

His eyes were full of tears. He stroked down her cheek again. "No, sweet lady."

She coughed as her lungs filled with blood. "Haven't even been married to you a week, and I'm dying. Iím sorry." She wheezed, every breath an agony. "I donít want to leave you, Connor."

He stroked back her hair and summoned a sad smile. "I donít think you have a choice, my love."

"I remember... you... when I was little. You got a Quickening. Daddy aní me... inna...woods. Inna car."

He had to bend low to hear her voice now. So it is ending with me, as it must have began with me. "Yes."

"Will Daddy meet me, do you think?"

"Perhaps."

Her fingers tightened on his shirt. "Love you, Con... Miss you."

"Iíll miss you, too, my Samantha."

The last thing she felt was his tears falling on her cheek.

* * *

What if the magic doesnít work? Connor thought, carrying her broken body into the house and up to the bedroom. I canít be wrong. The buzz never lies. Sheís Immortal. Sheíll be back. But why is it taking so long? What if.... He sought the phone only after heíd arranged the blankets around her.

"Duncan?" he said when the answering machine picked up. "Please tell Joe that I failed in my oath. Samantha died this afternoon. Sheís on her way back now. If you donít hear from me, everythingís fine. If you do hear from me...."

He replaced the receiver quietly, knowing that Duncan would be traveling to join Connor if his kinsman called back. Returning to the body of his beloved, the Immortal sat on the edge of the bed and waited.

* * *

Sunlight streaming through the curtains woke Samantha from a horrible dream. Rolling over, she discovered that her back was stiff and sore, and the pillowcase beneath her cheek was damp. Oh God what a nightmare! That was the most terrifying, realistic dream Iíve ever had. Makes me glad to wake up.

Raising her head, she discovered that the bedding was smeared with dried blood. Memory of the taunting Immortal came rushing back. Connor. Whereís Connor?

Sitting up, she threw back the covers and all but shrieked to discover that her clothes were stiff with blood. Oh, my God, it wasnít a dream.

She barely had time to make it into the bathroom before she threw up. Afterward, she peeled off her clothes and leaped into the shower to stand under a spray that was as hot as she could make it. Her hands swept across her skin, removing the blood and searching for the wounds that still hurt in her memory. A few minutes later, the door to the bathroom opened.

"Samantha?"

She raked back the curtain and all but fell, naked and dripping, out of the bathtub and into his arms. "God, Connor, I woke up and where were you? It wasnít a dream, was it, are you all right? The bed is a mess and I died, but youíre... That man was horrible and ugly and his teeth were rotten and who was he? He--he killed me, I know he killed me, I died, I remember dying and saying goodbye to you, but Iím not dead, and--"

"Youíre getting shampoo in your eyes." Gently, Connor lifted her back into the shower.

He rinsed her off as she continued babbling, her teeth chattering from shock rather than from cold as the water was definitely warm. "The blood...is it all off?"

"Yes. Youíre fine now. Just fine. Iím sorry I wasnít there when you woke up. Joe and Duncan called, wanting to know if you were all right."

"Of course Iím not all right!" she snapped. "I died, okay? If thatís all right, I donít know what isnít. Er...Is."

"Sam, youíre hysterical."

"I think Iíve got the right to be a little hysterical right now. Murderous barbarians bleeding on the roses and wrecking the barbeque make me a little hysterical."

"Youíre also Immortal."

Catching Connorís wrists, Samantha held him in the shower spray. "Immortal?"

He nodded, blinking through rivelets of water flowing across his face.

"You knew that Iíd be Immortal one day?" Samantha demanded, oblivious to her loverís discomfort.

"Yes."

She considered some more. "You knew... when you snuck up on me in that cemetery?"

"I could feel it," Connor admitted, unable to read what his wife was thinking.

"And you didnít tell me." Her eyes grew cold, glaring a challenge. Connor shook his head.

"I couldnít tell you." For the first time, he realized that he just might be in trouble.

Releasing his wrists, Samantha took her time finishing her shower. Connor stood waiting for her, ignoring his soaking wet clothes, until she turned off the water and grabbed a towel.

"Are you all right with this?" he asked as she dried herself, more than a little concerned that she had stopped talking to him.

"Iím just fine with it." She spoke with a calm that Connor suspected was false. "I also consider that weíre even."

"Even?"

"All debts have been canceled, all the guilt is finished. I didnít tell you about being a Watcher, and you didnít tell me I was going to be an Immortal. Weíre even, Connor MacLeod."

"Yes, I suppose we are." He ran a finger down her shoulder and caressed the top of her breast. "If it helps, Iím very glad that youíre Immortal. Watching you die in my arms..." He shivered. "Thank heaven the magic works. There were moments when, watching you lie so still in that bed, I wondered if it really would."

"Oh, Connor..." Hugging him tightly, she remarked, "It hasnít been much of a honeymoon for us, has it?"

He shook his head. "It should get better. I hope it gets better."

"It will." She dropped the towel.

He laughed when she guided his hands to her hips, began unbuttoning his shirt to peel the wet clothing from him. "Thatís a definite improvement."

"Tell me again that Iím all right." She whispered against his lips, her fingers sought his soggy zipper. "Please show me that weíre all right."

"Iíll more than show you."

"Well, damn, Connor MacLeod," she remarked as he picked her up and carried her to a different bedroom--away from the bloody-bed reminder of her own death.

"Whatís wrong?"

"You couldnít have arranged things so that I died with 25-year-old skin?" she asked. "Iím going to be middle-aged forever."

"Heh. I think youíre beautiful. And at least you donít have to start learning how to handle a sword. Youíre one of us, now, Sam. Part of me, just as Iím part of you. Youíll probably even get your own Watcher." Settling her on the guest bed, Connor set about using his lips and his hands to reassure Samantha.

She interrupted, pushing him away for a moment. "Connor, whatís that buzzy feeling?"

"Itís us," Connor laughed, pulling her close. "Itís telling you that Iíll always be with you."

Rubbing noses with him, she sighed in contentment. "Really?"

"Heh...Isnít that how your fatherís bed-time stories ended: ĎAnd they lived happily ever after?í"

"Mmm. Some fairy tales do come true?"

"This one, I think."

"I love you, Connor MacLeod."

"And I love you, Samantha Nash." He took her sweetly and gently, into his world.

 

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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.