Fanfiction by Emby Quinn
Disclaimer: I do not own Highlander or any of the characters therein. All original characters are my own creation.--eq
New Orleans, Louisiana
April, Present Day
The sun rose up in the dazzlingly blue sky over the French Quarter. The narrow streets were even more crowded than usual; only the annual Mardi Gras celebration attracted more visitors to the city. Many who attended those festivities remained to enjoy the Heritage Festival, with its local vendors and nightly concert performances.
Joe Dawson paused at the corner of Decatur and St. Peter streets and turned his bearded face up to the sun. "Gorgeous day," he said to his traveling companion. "We're lucky--it's usually rainy this time of year."
The tall man in the trenchcoat gave Joe a reproachful look. He was visibly sweating, and his hands were jammed into the deep pockets of his coat. "It's bloody hot," he muttered.
"Come on, Mac, I told you to lose the trench back at the hotel. You don't need your sword. It's not like anybody's going to jump you in the middle of the Quarter, and you won't have to go far to reach holy ground if they try." Dawson waved his hand toward a cluster of spires that rose above the rooftops. "There's St. Louis Cathedral right there, and the old cemetery's only a few blocks past that."
Duncan MacLeod shook his head. He'd been letting his hair grow out again, and now it was pulled into a tight ponytail at the nape of his neck. He wiped a hand over his sweating face. "Remind me again why we're here," he said. "It's like a sauna out here, and it's not even ten o'clock yet."
"The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, my friend. Ten days and nights of the finest the Big Easy has to offer. Started, so they say, in 1970 by Duke Ellington and Mahalia Jackson when they came across a street party in Beauregard Square."
MacLeod grunted. "You sound like a travel brochure."
"Lighten up, willya? We just had a great breakfast at the Cafe du Monde--"
"We stood in line for an hour for a table the size of a postage stamp, where we had overpriced coffee with too much cream in it and throw-pillows covered with powdered sugar."
"Cafe au lait and beignets," Dawson corrected with a chuckle. "A New Orleans tradition."
"Where I come from, that hardly qualifies as breakfast."
"If you're still hungry, there'll be plenty of food when the vendors open up. You can eat your 'hearty skinful', as I believe you folk used to say."
"Promises, promises," MacLeod grumbled--and froze.
Dawson looked up at him and frowned. "What is it?"
MacLeod didn't seem to be listening to him. His dark eyes were scanning the crowds of people, trying to fix on the one who had caused the sudden sense of apprehension, the bone-deep buzz of warning that signaled the presence of another Immortal. His hand slipped half-consciously inside his coat to grasp the carven hilt of the katana he carried there.
After a few tense moments he shook his head. "Whoever they are, they're gone."
"Probably here for the festival, just like us," Joe assured him. "Let's go, Mac."
The two men had just crossed the street, heading towards the French Market, when the warning hit MacLeod again. It faded just as quickly, but the Highlander turned on his heel and headed west down Decatur at a rapid pace, ignoring Dawson's questions and protests as he struggled to keep up with him in the crowd.
Twice more the signal came and went, seeming to lead him north on St. Peter until he reached the intersection with Chartres, when the sensation drew his eyes to a tall white building. He saw a door close quickly and darted across the street.
"Mac!" Dawson yelled after him; unable to follow as quickly, he had to wait for the crossing light to change or risk being flattened by the morning traffic.
The sign above the door read Clair de Lune Gallery. The hours posted in the front window were 11:00 A.M. to midnight, but when MacLeod tried the door, it opened easily. Reaching into his coat to grasp the hilt of his sword again, he cautiously stepped inside.
The interior of the gallery was cool and dimly lit. Small spotlights along the walls illuminated various paintings, mostly still-life renditions of various buildings and scenic vistas which were most likely local. MacLeod gave them the barest passing glance. He hadn't come in here to admire the artwork. He could feel the sense of presence still; he knew they were here, somewhere, waiting for him.
"I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," he announced to the shadows. "Come out and show yourself!"
The sound of high heels on floor-tiles made him turn around, his sword already in his hand. A woman emerged into one of the spots and paused. She was tall and sleek, wearing a long white leather coat over a deep plum-colored dress which was tastefully cut, obviously tailored. Her hair was a smooth, shining chin-length bob the color of sunlight on fresh wheat. Her eyes were a clear, striking blue; deep-set above a long patrician nose and a small, tight mouth. She was attractive enough, even pretty in a severe, no-nonsense sort of way, but there was an oddly indefinable quality about her, something between weary resignation and a vague sort of sorrow, tinged with an echo of regret.
"Welcome to New Orleans," the woman said, in a voice devoid of any real accent. "My name is Lucinda. I suppose you could think of me as the welcoming committee."
"Why have you brought me here?"
"Put that away," Lucinda said, nodding towards the sword. "You won't need it."
"Who are you?"
"I just told you. This is my gallery. Do you like it?"
MacLeod didn't take his eyes off of her. "What do you want?"
"To explain things to you." She folded her arms and gave him a stern look. "At least put that thing down, won't you? Your waving it about like that is making me nervous." MacLeod hesitated. "Please," she added in a somewhat less severe tone, and he opened his coat and put the katana away.
She nodded. "Better. Now then..."
"Mac?" The door chimed, and Dawson entered the gallery. "What's going on?"
"Friend of yours, I hope?" Lucinda asked MacLeod.
"Yes. It's all right, Joe--I think."
As the door shut behind him, Dawson leaned on his cane and looked curiously at the woman. "You know this lady, Mac?"
"We've just met."
"Yeah." MacLeod looked back at Lucinda. "Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of him. He knows about us."
"Does he." Lucinda shrugged. "It's all the same to me. Would you gentlemen like anything to drink?"
"We just had coffee," MacLeod interrupted as Dawson seemed about to accept. "Say what you're going to say and have done with it."
Lucinda shook her head. "I can understand your apprehension. Really, you've nothing to be concerned about. I didn't bring you here to challenge you. Quite the opposite, in fact."
"Then what do you want?"
"It's as I said--you need to understand a few things. Why don't we step into my office? We can at least sit down and discuss this like civilized people. I don't have an army lying in wait for you; we're quite alone. The gallery doesn't even open till eleven."
MacLeod nodded cautiously and let her lead him and Dawson into a small, simply decorated room. It had the air of a parlor, with a sofa, loveseat, armchair, and tables with lamps hung with crystal drops. Lucinda claimed the armchair, Dawson sat down with a grunt onto the sofa, and McLeod perched uneasily on the edge of the loveseat.
"Now then," Lucinda began, "I realize that you're fairly new here to New Orleans, since I haven't seen you here in the past fifty years or so. The first thing you need to know is that here--in the French Quarter, at least--we don't play the Game."
MacLeod shook his head. "Is that right?"
"I understand your skepticism, but I assure you, it's by mutual agreement."
"How many Immortals are in New Orleans, anyway?" Dawson interrupted.
Lucinda gave him a measuring look. "What's it to you?"
"Like I said," MacLeod interrupted, "he's a friend. And I have the same question."
"More than you might think," she answered mildly. "We've all lived here in relative peace since the middle of the last century." She sat forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and somehow the change in posture made her seem less remote and severe. "We're tired of the Game," she said, looking directly at MacLeod, "but we're not tired of living. Some of us have only just begun to do so," she added, almost to herself. "We've had a few headhunters come through, but we've had surprisingly little trouble on that front." She smiled, and it transformed her face completely, making her look almost beautiful. "You see, we believe that there can be more than one, and there's more to our existence than chasing after some ephemeral Prize."
The stunned silence that followed her pronouncement was interrupted by the insistent cheep of a cellular phone. All three of them checked their pockets, but it was Lucinda who pulled out her unit. "Hello? Yes, he's here. I don't know, he hasn't said anything yet..." Lucinda gave MacLeod a measuring look. "But I think he's receptive to the idea. Let the others know he's not likely to be any trouble. Thank you." She rang off and dropped the phone back in her pocket. She gave MacLeod another smile. "I hope you won't make a liar of me," she said.
"How many?" was the only thing he could think of to ask.
Lucinda sighed. "Five, counting me. And not counting you."
MacLeod glanced at Dawson, who looked startled, but said nothing. "And all of you are, ah, 'retired' from the Game?"
"Oh, we can all look after ourselves," Lucinda said, with a touch of steel in her voice. "And we've all had to, from time to time. We'll fight--if we're forced to. If two people want to duel, for whatever reason, all we ask is they take it outside the Quarter. We don't want any fighting here. Bad for tourism, you know."
"And the others are...?"
Lucinda cast a wary glance at Dawson, who cleared his throat and stood up. "If you'll excuse me, I think I'll go have a look around your fine gallery," he said, and Lucinda gave him a grateful nod.
Dawson walked out and shut the door discreetly behind him. Lucinda got up and sat beside MacLeod on the loveseat, speaking in a low voice. "There's Kerrigan, he runs the weapons shop up on Royal Street--"
"Aidan Kerrigan!" MacLeod almost came up off the loveseat.
"Yes, that Aidan Kerrigan. He's retired. He hasn't taken a head in over a hundred years and if you challenge him, he won't fight you. He'd probably let you take his head--but since he's a good friend of mine, then we would have a problem. Shall I go on?"
MacLeod sat back warily, and nodded.
"Let's see...Kerrigan...then there's Patrick Finnegan, he's got a pub catty-cornered from here on Toulouse...Marie has the Paris Beauty Salon on Ursulines, and Henri--he's the new kid on the block, he just opened up a fetish shop on St. Philip. And there's me, of course," she finished with a toss of her head.
MacLeod was amazed. "That's a lot of us to be in one place."
"Isn't it? Henri's only been here about ten years--Marie's been here longest, she was born here, during the Great Fire..." Something caught in her voice, but she moved on quickly past it. "We've had others stay here from time to time, mostly just visiting--some of us can't handle being in close proximity to so many others. They get twitchy after a while."
MacLeod nodded. "So...do you ever get...'twitchy'?"
She smiled knowingly. "Are any of us going to wake up one morning with a craving for a Quickening, you mean?" She shook her head. "We've made provision for that."
Her face became grave. "Everyone who lives here--every one of us--has entered into a mutual agreement. If any resident Immortal beheads anyone within the boundaries of the Quarter--south of Rampart, west of Esplanade, east of Canal and north of Decatur--their head is forfeit. One of the other residents will take them out before they have a chance to recover."
"It is. But it's kept the peace for over fifty years." Lucinda looked towards the door. "Now...shall we go collect your friend?"
Out in the gallery proper, there was at first no sign of Dawson. Then a call of "Hey, Mac!" from the rear of the exhibit caught MacLeod's attention. He found Dawson standing in front of a life-size painting that had, apparently, been covered by dark red draperies he'd pulled aside.
"You've found my magnum opus," Lucinda said wryly. "My finest work."
"You did this?" Dawson asked. "Nice job. Good likeness."
"It was done from memory..." Lucinda looked up at the painting, and her expression grew wistful. "But his is a face I won't ever forget."
MacLeod followed her gaze. The portrait was of a man in eighteenth-century garb--rather casual for the period, just a jacket, waistcoat, shirt and trousers. The boots had been painted as lightly scuffed, as though the man who wore them was used to a great deal of travel. He was leaning against a lamp-post, looking out at the viewer with a small half-smile on his face.
And it was the face that arrested MacLeod's attention. The face of a man who could have been anywhere from twenty-five to forty, with dark green-on-gold eyes and coal-black hair. A face with high cheekbones, a pointed chin, and an arrogantly prominent nose. Not just a good likeness...a perfect one, instantly recognizable.
MacLeod only just stopped himself from saying the name out loud: Methos!
"What did you mean--'a good likeness'?" Lucinda asked Dawson. Her tone sounded casual, but her eyes were suddenly piercing.
"Oh--he kinda looks like somebody I know," Dawson said hastily. "Somebody I used to work with."
"Mm." Lucinda looked back at the painting. "It could be, I suppose..."
"So--he was one of us?" MacLeod said, with a warning look at Dawson. Keep your mouth shut. Let her tell us.
"Still is, I should think," she answered. "He's been around for--well, for a very long time. I'm sure he's still out there...somewhere."
"Do you ever--hear from him?"
"No," she said, and the sadness in her voice was unmistakable. "Oh, no, and I don't think he'd be very interested in hearing from me."
She reached out and pulled a cord, and the curtains closed over the portrait. She turned and spoke in a tone that was perhaps too brisk. "Well, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I've got to get ready to open up for the tourists. I'm sorry to be so rude, but I'm sure you can find your own way out. Enjoy the festival, won't you?"
She walked quickly to her office, shutting the door behind her, leaving the two men standing there staring after her.
"Was it something I said?" Dawson wondered aloud.
"Come on," MacLeod said, heading for the door to the street.
Inside the office, Lucinda sank down into her chair, burying her face in her hands. Stupid of her, bringing that painting down from the attic after all these years...but if she hadn't wanted it seen, why would she have done it?
"Methos," she whispered. She choked on tears she struggled to hold back, but she couldn't resist the flood of memories his image called forth. "Oh, Methos..."
She heard the sound of the waves as they washed over her. She could feel the cold spray on her face, and the texture of small, hard, wet stones pressing into her back even through the armor she wore. She coughed, bringing up salt water from her lungs and sucking in the cool, sweet air. Her sword she still clutched to her breast in both hands, just as they'd laid her in the belly of the ship before it had been sunk.
She'd clawed her way out of the mound in the dark of night, and reached the surface with difficulty, only to discover herself in the midst of a savage storm. She'd tried to find her way in the dark and confusion, but she'd swum for hours, sinking time after time, losing her bearings, dying as her lungs flooded with water, only to revive moments later with no idea of how far she'd drifted in the meantime.
She'd finally reached the shore--where, she had no clue; the rocks could scarcely tell her where she'd landed. Had she spent days searching for a way out of the black water? She could have moved more quickly without her sword and armor, but she was a shield-maid, and so long as she died with her sword in her hand, she would return to fight again.
It was morning; she could feel the sunlight on her face. She opened her eyes, then shut them again with a wince against the dazzling light.
She was about to try and sit up when a sensation hit her like none she'd ever felt before. It flooded her entire being, a signal of approaching danger, of death drawing near. A moment later a shadow fell across her. Her instinct to survive brought her heavy Viking-made sword around and up, ready to run it through whoever menaced her.
Strong hands seized her wrists and twisted the sword from her grip. She fought back with all her strength--she was easily as strong as a man her size--but her wrists were forced apart and down to the sand on either side of her head. She felt someone straddle her waist, their knees driving into the pebbly shoreline, pinning her down. She kicked, spat and struggled, to no avail. Finally out of breath, she forced her eyes open and squinted with rage up at her captor.
It was a man, sure enough. His hair was long and thick, hanging around his face. His teeth were bared in either a grimace or a savage grin, and he was holding her down with little apparent difficulty. His dark eyes met hers.
"Well, then," he said, in perfectly understandable Anglish, "are you going to be a good girl now, or do I have to knock you on the head?"
"Release me!" she snarled.
"I don't think so. Not till I'm sure you're not going to try and take my head off with that sword of yours."
"I am Leohtsenda Shield-maid, sister of Ealdwald, king of East Anglia."
"Well, you are a long way from home, aren't you?" The man's amused tone only served to anger her further. "We're about a day's travel west from Edinburgh. I think you must have taken a wrong turn after your last sea-burial."
She went limp with shock. "Edin...? I'm in Caledonia?" Her mind boggled at the thought of how far north she must have drifted during the storm.
"Dalriada, actually." The man released her and moved nimbly off her to his feet, catching up her sword as he went. "You can call me Metthias."
"Give me my sword!" she demanded, lunging for it.
"Ah-ah-ah," he cautioned, moving out of her reach. "Not till I have your promise you won't try to use it on me. You shield-maid types never break your word, as I recall."
She paused and looked him over measuringly. He was only slightly taller than she, and slender of build--as best she could tell under the loose-fitting robes he wore. He wore no armor and carried no sword, though a long walking-stick had been driven into the pebbled sand behind him.
He could have crushed my skull as I lay on the rocks, she reasoned, and he didn't. If he meant to kill me, he would have already done so...and once I have my sword back, I'll be ready if he tries anything. "Agreed," she said. "I'll not attack you unless you strike at me first."
"Good enough." Metthias changed his grip on the sword, handling it with the ease of a well-seasoned warrior, and tossed it back to her. She caught it and, after a moment's hesitation, slid it into the scabbard hung at her hip.
"You hungry?" Metthias asked, retrieving his stick. "I was just on my way back home to get some breakfast. It's not much, but you're welcome to share what I've got."
She watched as the man turned his back on her and headed away from the shoreline. She was flabbergasted; the man was obviously no stranger to the sword, but now he was unarmed, and he seemed to consider her no threat at all.
He paused on the rise and looked back at her. "Coming?"
With nothing better to do with herself, Leohtsenda followed him.
New Orleans, Louisiana
"Leave it alone, Mac."
"Mm?" MacLeod glanced sideways at Dawson as they stood in line waiting to go through the security checks before boarding the plane back to Paris.
"I said leave it. Don't go getting any funny ideas about telling Methos you saw his old girlfriend."
"What makes you think I'd do anything like that?"
"Because I know you, buddy, and you can't leave well enough alone to save your life."
"Don't be ridiculous." MacLeod checked his watch. "These things take forever, don't they?"
"That's what the threat of international terrorism does for you. So just leave Methos alone, okay?" Dawson shook his head. "The Watchers didn't even know there were this many Immortals in New Orleans. Only one we've got on record is Aidan Kerrigan. Big bad Irish headhunter from the tenth century who decided to settle down here about eighty years ago. Beau Rimbaud's his Watcher, and he never mentioned any other Immortals living here."
"Have you spoken with him?"
"Beau? Ahh, I tried. Never could catch him at home. I gave his granddaughter about a million messages, but I think he's avoiding me."
"Probably doesn't want to have to explain himself. The Tribunal's gonna have his ass in a sling if they ever find out he's been holding out on 'em."
"So, are you going to tell them?"
"Me?" Dawson shrugged. "Not my territory, pal. Not my business. Just like Methos' love life isn't your business."
MacLeod grunted. "I think we're up next."
If anything cemented MacLeod's resolve, it was the fact that he had a guest awaiting him when he arrived back at his barge in Paris.
"I let myself in," Methos announced--unnecessarily, of course, as he was already sprawled on MacLeod's black sofa, cold beer in hand. "I didn't think you'd mind."
"Actually, I was hoping you'd show up eventually," MacLeod grinned as he stowed his suitcase in the closet. "Saves me the trouble of trying to find you."
"What, you missed my witty repartee?" the elder Immortal asked mildly. "Or was the Jazz Festival particularly dreary this year?"
"The Jazz Festival was fine. Have you ever been?"
"No, I tend to steer clear of New Orleans. Too many bad memories." Methos sat up, resting his elbows on his knees. "I stopped there with Alexa for a day trip on our way to Greece a few years back, but we didn't stay long."
"And you didn't run into any of the local Immortals?" MacLeod couldn't keep the amusement out of his voice.
Methos scowled slightly. "You mean Aidan Kerrigan? I wouldn't go within a mile of that guy if I could help it. I don't care what his Watcher says, he's taken too many heads in his day for me to want to keep company with him."
"Kerrigan's not the only Immortal in New Orleans." MacLeod got a beer from his refrigerator and sat down in an adjacent armchair. "There are others. Retirees from the Game, so I'm told."
"Really. I got it from an old friend of yours."
Methos was clearly skeptical. "And which one might that be?"
"WHAT!" Methos jumped to his feet, setting the beer bottle down with a thunk on the coffee table. "That's impossible."
"She's got a place called the Clair de Lune Gallery in the French Quarter. Tall, blonde, blue eyes, legs up to her neck. Sound familiar? Plus the fact she's got a life-size painting of you in the back of--where are you going?"
"I just remembered a prior engagement." Methos was already heading for the door. "Thanks for the heads-up, MacLeod."
"Methos--wait--" But the door slammed shut behind Methos, who had left MacLeod's barge as though a hellhound were snapping at his heels.
MacLeod looked around at the empty room. "I think I might have miscalculated," he said aloud. In a moment he was picking up the telephone to make airline reservations.
By the time MacLeod had gotten back to the airport and boarded a flight, "Adam Pierson" was already in the air on a shuttle to Heathrow. He didn't know that the Highlander was in pursuit of him, nor did he much care, really. Although he looked outwardly calm enough, his mind was surging with a tumult of emotions--confusion, shock, frustration, grief, apprehension, desperate hope...and rising and swelling above it all, threatening to overwhelm him, an all-encompassing sense of rage.
How dare she, Methos fumed silently, looking out the window at the swell of the cloud banks.
How dare she what? asked another voice inside his head that sounded annoyingly like MacLeod's. How dare she not get in touch with you, or how dare she live in New Orleans? Or how dare she simply be alive?
All of the above. Take your pick.
If she'd wanted to find you, how could she? You make yourself hard enough to get in touch with.
She could have found me if she'd wanted to. She'd have known how. He rubbed his hand over his eyes wearily. We were together for nearly a millenium. She knows me as well as anyone living does. She could have tracked me down by now. It's been two hundred years. All this time I believed she was dead. She let me believe it.
No answer from the other voice. Perhaps it had no answer to give.
Damn her. Methos put his head back on the seat-rest and closed his eyes. Damn you, Lucinda. And damn me.
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 21, 1795
The ring of steel on steel drew the man who called himself Benjamin Adams down the narrow streets of the Old Quarter. She hadn't listened to him. Damn her to hell, she never listened to him.
"Lucinda, you can't fight him! Not here! Not now! Lucin--"
A figure stepped out in front of him, and Methos stopped dead in his tracks. "Corvus," he said, stiffening. "I don't have time to deal with you at the moment. Let me pass."
"Off to help your woman, are you?" The Roman centurion drew his sword--a hefty ninth-century job, heavy and thick, but with a keen edge. "You know the rules of the Game."
"We can't fight here!" Methos protested, backing off even as he drew his own blade. "It hasn't rained for weeks--the city's dry as brushwood--a misstruck tinderbox could set off a fire, what do you think a Quickening will do?"
"What do I care about mortals and their petty little lives?" Corvus advanced on the smaller man, grinning savagely. "My friend will take care of your English whore. I'm saving you for myself, Methos."
"Never know when to let go of a grudge, do you, Corvus?" Methos backed out into the street, never taking his eyes off of Corvus. "If it's a fight you want, at least let's go down by the river--and for God's sake, let me stop Lucinda before she sets the whole place on fire!"
"You seem to think she'll win."
"But de Panza's better."
"Your Spanish lackey? Somehow I don't think so. Barely a hundred years old, and too stupid to do anything you don't tell him to."
A crack and flash of sudden lightning drew the attention of both men. "No," Methos breathed, recognizing the telltale signs of a Quickening. "Oh, Lucinda, no..."
He barely managed to bring his sword up in time to parry Corvus' charge. The two men fought their way to St. Anthony's Garden, behind the cathedral, where duels had been fought since the city's founding eighty years before. Methos managed to keep any of Corvus' blows from landing, but he kept glancing towards the blue-white flares of light, waiting for some sign of who had won, and who had lost their head.
Instead he saw the rise of flames. Within minutes, the city was burning. It became impossible to ignore when thick billows of black smoke swept across the square, making it hard to see, and difficult to keep fighting.
The two men made their way, clashing swords the whole time, away from the spread of the fire, down to the levee which held back the waters of the Mississippi during the spring floods.
"There's an old Chinese proverb," Methos panted--he was beginning to tire, and he was trying hard to be defensive. "Only fools fight in a burning house."
"Then let's finish it!" Corvus roared, swinging his blade in a wide arc that slashed the shirt across Methos' chest. A thin thread of blood welled along the line of the cut.
Methos gritted his teeth. "If you insist," he growled, and began pressing his attack. Corvus had the edge in brute strength and size, but Methos was quick and agile and--Corvus discovered, too late--better with a sword.
With a feral snarl, Methos ran Corvus through. The big Roman dropped to his knees. Methos planted a foot on Corvus' shoulder and pulled his blade free. He raised it over his head, preparing to deliver the killing blow.
With a groan, Corvus fell over. He toppled limply off the levee into the black waters of the Mississippi.
"No!" Methos screamed, cheated, and prepared to jump in after him. What stopped him was a staggering step behind him, the scrape of steel on stone, and a thin, half-crazed giggle from a man's throat.
He turned around. Emilio de Panza, his clothes burnt to charred rags, his hair smouldering, his skin blackened with soot and burned raw in patches, was stumbling out of the flames towards him. He was dragging his sword along behind him on the ground. A gaping wound was visible in his chest, already beginning to mend itself. "Muerta," he said in that crazed, hoarse giggle. "Esta muerta..."
Methos spared one look back at the burning city, towards the place where the Quickening had set off the fires--
"NO!" With a howl of grief, loss and soul-deep rage, Methos took one step forward and separated the Spaniard's head from his shoulders. Even before the Quickening took hold of him, he was screaming, and by the time it had finished, he was on his knees, weeping as though his heart would break.
"Damn you, Lucinda," he sobbed. "And damn me."
New Orleans, Louisiana
Most of the city had been destroyed in the fire, and half the population killed. All because of one woman too proud and too stubborn to listen to the words of her older, wiser lover...Because of her folly, all those people had died, and she had lost her own life.
Or so he'd believed, for over two hundred years.
Methos had never seen Corvus again. He'd stayed on in New Orleans after the fire, helping to rebuild, tending to the survivors. He'd ended up staying for a decade or so, tending to injured slaves and free people alike, before being driven out of America entirely by the jealous, murderous rage of Morgan Walker.
But if it was Lucinda who MacLeod had met--his Lucinda--then whose Quickening had started the fire? Corvus had escaped, and Methos had taken de Panza's head himself.
Crazy. MacLeod had to be wrong, somehow. Lucinda couldn't be alive.
But he had to see with his own eyes. He had to know.
The Clair de Lune Gallery, MacLeod had said. Methos found it on Decatur Street just past sunset. It was a three-story building with a marble edifice, pale in the gathering shadows of dusk. He stood across the street in the balmy night air and waited. Just past midnight, the last patron left, and the lights began to go out.
Methos headed up the marble steps. He raised a hand to knock, paused, then reached for the knob. It turned easily in his hand. Evidently she hadn't locked up yet.
The bell above the door jangled as he entered. The place was dark, lit only by the spotlighting on the exhibits. A door opened to his right at the same time he felt the unmistakable signal announcing the presence of another Immortal. "I'm sorry, the gallery is clo--"
Lucinda froze in the doorway of her office. There was enough light for Methos to get a good look at her. The clothes and hair were different, of course--sleek, chic, the height of current fashion--but he knew her at first sight, just as she knew him. They'd shared their lives and their travels for the better part of a thousand years, and for half that span of time they'd shared a bed as well.
"You've come back," she whispered. "Methos."
He had trusted her with that name, the first name he remembered having. He had trusted her with his history, he had told her about his time with the Horsemen, about the Hyksos, about his time as a Roman slave...he had told her everything, everything that mattered to him. He'd carried her broken body off a dozen battlefields, refusing to give up on her, refusing to abandon her, unable to bring himself to walk away, no matter how hard he tried. Losing her had come close to destroying him, and had sickened him of the Game forever...and for two centuries he'd mourned her death.
And she'd let him believe she was dead.
And there she stood, looking back at him. Smiling.
The bitch was smiling.
"I brought you something," he said, and reached into his coat. He was amazed how calm, how casual his voice sounded to his own ears. "You're going to need it."
"Methos, I can't believe--" Lucinda had left the doorway and started forward, but she stopped again when she saw him pull out a sword. The smile faded from her face. "What..?"
"I found this in the fire. It was all I had left of you." He threw the Viking sword to the floor at Lucinda's feet. "Pick it up."
"I--I don't understand--" Lucinda looked from the sword to Methos, and saw he'd drawn his Flemish broadsword. "Methos...no."
"Pick it up," he ordered in a voice gone cold and steady. His dark hazel eyes narrowed to slits. "You've been dead for two hundred years; far be it from me to make you out a liar."
Lucinda picked up her sword and sidestepped out into the gallery proper. "Methos, please, don't do this."
"Don't do what?" As he circled her, he laughed--bitterly, without humor. Warily, she turned to keep him in front of her, her sword half-raised. "Don't kill you? How can I, if you're already dead to me?" He leapt forward and swung his sword, and it struck sparks as Lucinda brought hers up to parry the blow. "I saw de Panza staggering out of the fire after the Quickening. I knew he'd killed you, but I wanted to be sure." He swung again; Lucinda dodged, and the sword knocked a cold-cast porcelain bust from its pillar, where it shattered to shards on the tiled floor.
"Methos..." Lucinda parried a swing at her torso, forced his sword up, turned under the blow and dodged to one side as she disengaged. "Methos, please, this isn't the answer."
He roared and came at her again, the clash of steel ringing through the gallery as he pressed the attack. He was beyond listening, beyond reason, beyond everything but outrage and a shockingly deep sense of betrayal. "I tried to find your body," he said, laughing that harsh, humorless laugh again, "or what was left of it, in the ashes of the city. The air was thick with smoke and the stench of burning flesh. The coals were still smouldering." He thrust the sword-point at her, and she jumped aside barely in time to avoid it. "I searched through the wreckage with my bare hands. Before long they were covered with burns, and as fast as they healed, I suffered fresh ones--but I didn't stop." Another swing, and Lucinda cried out as the blade cut into the top of her thigh. She staggered back, limping now. "All I found was that sword, and for two hundred years I've kept it with me, the only reminder I had of you, of what we were."
"Methos," Lucinda cried desperately, "you don't understand!"
He charged her, and she barely brought her sword up in time to block his. The cross-guards met and mated. He drove her up against the wall, his face within inches of hers over their crossed blades. His teeth were bared, and the depths of his narrowed eyes were black and pitiless. "I understand you made a fool of me," he snarled at her. "All this time, you let me believe you were dead!"
"I didn't!" she screamed back at him. "I didn't know!"
"What!" Methos cackled in her face. "You didn't know you were alive?"
"I didn't know you thought I was dead! How could I?"
"I killed de Panza, what was I supposed to think?"
"If you'd just listen for a minute, just let me explain--!"
With a roar of impatience Methos pulled her from the wall and shoved her away. Lucinda stumbled and sprawled face-down onto the tiled floor, her sword clattering from her grasp. She lay there, gasping, until his shadow fell over her. She turned onto her back and looked up into the face of Death.
Methos stood over her, trembling. His eyes were hellishly wide. His hands were locked on his sword in a death grip. As Lucinda watched in horror, he raised the sword above his head, preparing for the final blow.
Her sword was just within her reach. If she rolled when he began the downswing, at the last possible moment, she could avoid the blow, reclaim her sword, and keep on fighting. Methos watched her eyes, saw her tense up, and braced himself for her next move.
But Lucinda didn't move. She looked up at him again, studying his face for a long moment, and then closed her eyes and waited for him to strike.
He wanted to, just at that moment. He wanted to swing his sword down, take her head off, see her body go limp, claim her Quickening. He wanted her dead; he wanted the deep pain he'd carried with him for two centuries to have some answer, some meaning, some justification.
But he couldn't do it. He wanted her dead, but he couldn't bring the sword down to take her head. He strained with all his strength, with every ounce of a will tested and tempered over the span of five thousand years of rage, loss and survival, but it was no good. His arms refused to move at all. His fingers slowly went numb, and he felt the sword beginning to slip from his grasp.
Lucinda winced as the sword clanged to the floor. She didn't move until she heard Methos groan, and the sound of him dropping to his knees beside her. She opened her eyes and looked up at him again.
The killing rage was gone. His face was pale and slack with self-defeated remorse. His dark eyes were hollow and lost. He looked as helpless as she'd ever seen him in all the centuries she'd known him. As she watched in stunned silence, those ageless eyes filled with tears that he couldn't even bring himself to brush away when they spilled down his cheeks. His whole body shook, as though from a sudden, intense cold.
Lucinda blinked as her own vision blurred. Her hand, wary and tentative, reached up to touch his face. He flinched, but he didn't pull away from her. "I am so sorry," she whispered brokenly. "I never meant to hurt you. Never, I swear."
Methos choked back a sob and reached down for her, pulling her against him in a grip so tight she could scarcely draw breath. Her arms wrapped around him in turn, holding on as though fearing she might be swept away at any moment. He knelt there for a long time, unconsciously rocking back and forth with her, not letting her speak, not wanting any excuses, no explanations or apologies, just convincing himself that it was really her, Lucinda, and that she was alive, here in his arms, and he hadn't killed her after all.
The sudden sense of an approaching Immortal hit them both at the same time; Methos froze, but he didn't move. He didn't even look up when the front door opened. "Lucinda, I think I made a mist--" Duncan MacLeod stopped in the doorway, taking in the situation. "Oh...well, um...I'll...just come back later, shall I?" he muttered, backing out and closing the door behind him.
In the silence that followed, Lucinda managed to speak. "Friend of yours, this Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?" she asked in a small, uncertain voice.
"Yes," Methos answered with a weak chuckle, stroking Lucinda's white-gold hair. "Oh, yes." When he thought he could trust his knees not to buckle, he stood, picking her up and cradling her to his chest. He carried her into the darkened office, taking care to shut and lock the door behind them.
They had to talk, and Methos knew it. Lucinda had a lot of explaining to do. But somehow he was reluctant to hear those explanations. Part of him was afraid that the anger would consume him again and the next time he wouldn't stop before taking her head. Another part of him felt that it simply didn't matter--she was here, they were together, and too much introspection or examination would only ruin whatever they might have left between them.
When he set her on her feet in the office, he pulled her into a tight embrace. They stood like that for a long time, arms around each other, bodies pressed together, their mouths seeking each other hungrily. When she sank limply down upon the sofa, she pulled him with her, and he made no effort to resist. There were no words between them, not now, not yet. There was only the rediscovery of each other's bodies, gasps and moans and breathless wonder, through the remainder of the balmy late spring night.
The sky was just beginning to get light outside when they finally lay quiet in each other's arms, stretched out full length on the sofa, their clothing carelessly scattered around them on the floor. Methos watched dawn approach and listened to Lucinda's breathing as it slowed to normal. He could feel her heartbeat against his chest. He wanted to tell her it was all right now, she could tell him anything she felt she needed to, but he didn't know how to begin. So he waited.
Finally she cleared her throat, swallowed, and spoke. "He wasn't alone."
"Emilio de Panza. He had a friend. It was his head I took that night."
"And the Quickening set off the fire."
He felt her nod against his shoulder. "You were right. I should never have faced them in the city. I should have stayed in the hotel like you wanted me to...but I was afraid for you. Corvus was coming for your head. I was sure he would use de Panza to draw you out."
"So you went looking for him."
She sighed heavily. "I went looking for you...and found more than I'd bargained for."
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 21, 1795
Lucinda followed her lover through the dark, narrow streets, trying to keep him in sight without letting him see her. He was going to his death, she was sure of it, and she wouldn't let him die in her place. He'd lived too long to throw his life away trying to protect her.
Besides, she could take care of herself.
She lost sight of Methos near the riverside, and before she could find him again, she came face to face with Corvus' lackey, de Panza. "Care to dance, pretty lady?" he grinned, gold tooth flashing in the lamplight.
"I have no time for you, Spaniard," she spat. "Let me pass."
"Senor Corvus says that you are mine. He wants your lover for himself." He held up his sword. "I heard you are a good fighter. For a woman."
Lucinda heard a footfall behind her and felt the approach of another Immortal. She spun, pulling her sword out from under her cloak barely in time to parry the blow which was coming from behind.
"Eduardo, my friend!" de Panza exclaimed. "You should be waiting at the dock for us!"
"I grew tired of waiting." The newcomer looked Lucinda up and down, leering. "I grow eager to take my first head, to taste my first Quickening!"
The Spaniard shrugged and stepped back. "If you can take her, she is yours. If she kills you, I shall take her head."
Lucinda bared her teeth in a snarl and focused her attention on Eduardo. He was a boy, barely nineteen, and if he'd yet to take his first head, then he was probably not much older than his physical age. "Walk away, lad," she muttered to him. "I have no quarrel with you. I don't care for slaughtering children."
"I am a man!" Eduardo snapped back. "Killing a woman is not to my own liking, but a head is a head, and you are Inmortala."
Lucinda could feel de Panza's black, ratlike eyes watching her. No doubt he was confident that she wouldn't dare press her attack on Eduardo because he would be waiting to strike at her while the Quickening was on her. She threw off her cloak, revealing the man's trousers and shirt she wore underneath. She locked blades with Eduardo and heard a voice, distantly--Methos, screaming her name. Lucinda broke the lock with Eduardo and sent him backward with a kick to his stomach. She did a back-flip, landing on her feet. In the same motion she spun around and lunged at the unsuspecting Emilio, running him through with her sword. She felt a flash of grim satisfaction at the shocked look on his face, and she yanked her blade out of his belly. He howled as he fell, choking on his own blood.
One down, one to go. She looked at Eduardo. "Go," she said. "Now. This is your last cha--"
Eduardo charged at her, screaming. She swung her bloodied sword past his clumsy guard and cut cleanly through his neck.
She opened her mouth to call out to Methos, to tell him she'd won, but de Panza was here, and he would be reviving soon. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, the Quickening began.
The alleyway was narrow, with a wood and ironwork walkway above her head. Before the Quickening was done, the lightning and fire had begun its grim work; the buildings all around her were ablaze, and the walkway had come crashing down. She could see de Panza staggering away through the flames; she couldn't reach him.
But the fire could--and did--reach her.
New Orleans, Louisiana
"I tried to find you," Lucinda said, "at first. But the fire--it spread so quickly. It was all around me, and I lost my way. The burning...I can still feel the flames on my body." She shuddered. "The pain nearly drove me mad. I don't remember dropping my sword...I don't even remember how I got out of the city. I must have wandered for days, half out of my mind. By the time I regained my senses, I was miles away."
She sat up, her back to him, her head down, her hair veiling her face. "Eventually I ended up in Biloxi. From there, I took a ship back to England."
"But why?" Methos asked, raising himself up on an elbow. "Lucinda, why didn't you come back to New Orleans?"
She looked over her bare shoulder at him, then looked away. "Because I was ashamed," she said. "You'd told me not to go looking for a fight. You'd explained very carefully how bad it would be--how a Quickening could start a fire that would destroy the whole city." She took a deep breath. "I knew you didn't want to face Corvus. I thought it was because you were afraid. Not for yourself--for me."
"I was afraid for you," Methos said quietly. "But not for the reasons you might think."
She looked back at him questioningly.
He sighed softly, rubbing the back of his hand over his face. "Lucinda, I've known you for a very long time. I know how you are. When you start fighting, you don't stop. You don't want to stop. Once you take up a cause, there's no stopping you." He waved his hand hopelessly, then let it drop to his side. "I was hoping that if I could keep you away from the Game long enough, you'd see it for the travesty it truly is."
"I did," she said quietly. "And I do. Now. But I had to find that out for myself. And--I couldn't come back, Methos. Not to the city, not to you. Not after the fire. I'd gone against you--again--and I was sure you'd hate me after what happened. When I heard...most of the city in ruins, half the people dead..." She shook her head. "All because of me and my thrice-damned shield-maid's pride."
"But you did try to walk away from the fight," Methos pointed out.
"I shouldn't have been out there to begin with. I should have done as you told me to do."
"Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It doesn't matter now." He sat up and put his hand on her bare shoulder. "It's over. It's history."
She reached up and laced her fingers into his, resting her cheek on his hand. "I didn't realize you'd think I had died," she confessed. "The idea never even occurred to me. I don't suppose I ever really thought it through."
"You never do," he scolded gently. "You always left the thinking to me."
"That's because you're so good at it." She smiled back at him.
"Some believe so. But if you were in England all this time--"
"No. In the 1800s I was arrested for theft and put on a ship for Botany Bay."
She nodded. "The prison colony. I didn't stay there long. I spent some time wandering the Outback. Clearing my head, I suppose. Then I managed to barter passage on board a steamship for Nagasaki; they were looking for Westerners to teach English and Western principles to Japanese officials."
Methos did some quick mental calculations. "Let me guess. You were there during the Bakumatsu."
"The great Japanese civil war. Yes, I was up to my ears in it," Lucinda chuckled wryly. "And afterwards, too, when the Shogunate was overthrown and the Emperor was restored to full power. I spent a whole lifetime in a little mountain village north of Satsuma. I stayed in Japan until after the Great War."
"And then I decided to come home. We were here when this city was founded, Methos. We helped build it. It was the last place we'd seen each other. Of course, you weren't here then, but I decided to stay...in case you ever came back."
Methos considered for a moment before speaking. "I did come back...for a day."
"In 1996. Yes, I know." She smiled ruefully. "But you weren't alone. I let the others here know that you wouldn't be a bother, but that you might not want contact with other Immortals. So they steered clear of you." She rubbed her cheek on the back of his hand. "I saw you once, then--from a safe distance, of course."
"Got it in one." She kissed his hand. "You looked so happy with her...I was sure the last thing you would have wanted was an old flame barging in on you. She's mortal, isn't she?"
"She was." Methos squeezed Lucinda's shoulder gently. "Her name was Alexa. She's dead now."
"So am I."
"How did she...?"
"Cancer. She died a few months after we passed through here."
"Oh. Such a short time."
"A century wouldn't have been long enough. She was a remarkable woman." Methos sat forward and put his arms around Lucinda. "I wish you could have known her."
She leaned back against him. "Lucky for you I've never been the jealous type."
"I thought you were dead, remember?"
"And I thought I was better off dead to you." Lucinda turned around and embraced him. "We're quite a pair, aren't we?"
"We always have been, Lucy," Methos chuckled. "We always have been."
It was about eight o'clock in the morning when Duncan MacLeod dared to visit the gallery again. No one answered his knock at the door, but as he turned the corner of Chartres and St. Peter he felt the familiar thrumming pulsation that announced the proximity of Immortals. He discovered a small courtyard positioned behind the gallery and paused at the low iron gate.
The moment Methos saw it was him, he visibly relaxed. "Good morning, MacLeod. Won't you join us?" He was sitting--lounging, really, as was his custom--at a black wrought-iron table which was shaded by a dark green umbrella. A small bronze fountain bubbled quietly to itself against the back wall of the gallery, surrounded by lush greenery and tropical flowers.
Across from Methos sat the tall, leggy blonde--Lucinda, MacLeod reminded himself--pouring a pale brown liquid from a small silver pot into delicate Limoges porcelain cups. She smiled up at him and gestured to another chair. She was calm, relaxed, positively glowing; the unfocused aura of despair he'd sensed about her at their first meeting was quite gone. The cast of her face wasn't so tense as before, and it vastly improved her looks. "I hope cafe au lait and beignets are to your liking," she said.
"MacLeod's a Scotsman, he'll eat anything," Methos said with obvious amusement. MacLeod made a face at him as he sat down in the chair between them.
"I take it the two of you managed to work things out," he said, accepting a steaming cup from Lucinda.
"No, MacLeod, we took each other's heads as soon as you left last night and only just managed to staple them back on for appearance's sake." Methos nibbled the edge of one of the puffy, powdered pastries. "Really, you can be amazingly thick sometimes."
MacLeod snorted and took a sip of the coffee. "Well, you seemed rather, er, unsettled when you left Paris."
"I was." Methos answered coolly, refusing to be drawn out. "We'd had a...bit of a misunderstanding. It's all worked out now."
"No, you don't, but never mind."
"So will you be staying on, then?" MacLeod looked curiously at Methos, realizing that this was possibly the happiest and most relaxed he'd seen the elder Immortal since before the Horsemen had returned.
"Don't know," Methos answered, shrugging a bit. "The place is crawling with Immortals, and I don't know any of them yet--well, except Lucinda, of course."
"Of course," MacLeod murmured, hiding his smirk behind his coffee cup.
"I'll probably stick around for a short while, at least." Methos looked across the table at Lucinda. "We haven't really discussed future plans yet."
Lucinda set her cup down and beamed adoringly at him. He reached out and closed his hand around hers on the table.
MacLeod's eyebrows raised and he looked from one to the other. "Future plans?"
"Eat your beignet, Highlander," Methos admonished lightly. "You've got to finish it before I can legitimately throw you out into the street."