Highlander: Time and Again - 06 - Turnaround by Emby Quinn
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HIGHLANDER
Turnaround

Fanfiction by Emby Quinn


Disclaimer: I do not own Highlander or any of the characters therein, nor do I own any characters based on actual historical personages. All original characters are my own creation.--eq

Paris, France
4 December, Present Day


"Welcome back to the fold, buddy," Joe Dawson said with a broad grin, offering his hand to the tall, lean man who had just walked out of the well-polished double doors. "Nice to be working with you again."

"Yeah, right," Methos muttered, but he accepted Dawson's handshake anyway. "This is going to be a bloody mess, you do realize that, don't you? I'm going to be elbow-deep in paperwork for the next fifty years at least."

"Aw, c'mon, you love it." Leaning heavily on his cane, Dawson still managed to keep pace with Methos's long strides as they walked down the manicured corridors of the chateau which housed the Watchers' central headquarters in Europe. "Adam Pierson's back in charge of the Methos Chronicle, and your secret identity is safe. The records were sealed, remember? By unanimous vote of the Tribunal, no less. Amazing that you could get them all to actually agree on something for a change."

"They only sealed the records to save face; the alternative would have been to admit to every Watcher in the field that the powers-that-be didn't know that an Immortal had been working for them for over a decade." Methos jammed his hands into the deep pockets of his coat. "Not just any Immortal, either, but the world's oldest Immortal--the very man that 'Adam Pierson' was in charge of tracking down."

"Well, at least you're familiar with the subject."

"Yeah; the trouble is, too many others are now, too. Did you see Amy Zoll glaring daggers at me across the room? If looks could kill, I'd've died at least twenty times before they finished reading the application."

"She's just pissed off 'cause they slapped a gag order on her. She'll get over it."

"Melanie Hind, Julia Harami, Timothy Wyatt..."

"On extended assignment in the Ukraine, up to her ears in other research projects, and reassigned to another Immortal." Dawson followed Methos outside into the gray winter afternoon. "And every one of them sworn to secrecy."

"Yeah, like every Watcher is sworn to 'observe and record, but never interfere'." Methos turned to face Dawson, rubbing the back of his hand across his forehead. "D'you realize that at the moment I'm living in a city with no fewer than five resident Immortals, not counting myself? That only one of those is known to the Watchers?"

"Aidan Kerrigan. Yeah, I know."

"If--no, when the Tribunal gets wind of the fact that Beau Rimbaud has been holding out on them for the past thirty years, they're going to have his head on a plate--right next to mine."

Dawson chuckled. "You worry too much, pal. The fact that a known headhunter lives in New Orleans keeps most Immortals at a safe distance, and there's no way the Watchers would suspect that he's withdrawn from the Game and is living in peace with a bunch of other Immortals. Of course, if it bothers you that much, you could always relocate. That is, if your girlfriend's willing."

Methos shot him a sharp look. "MacLeod's got a big mouth."

"Hey, buddy, I was there when Mac met the lady, remember? I found your picture hanging on her back wall. I'm the one who told MacLeod not to meddle in your business...though from the looks of things, I guess you're glad he didn't listen to me."

Methos grunted and started walking again.

Dawson chuckled and hurried to catch him up. "Listen, why don't you come by the bar for a drink? Maybe hang out for a while? Have you got time before your flight back?"

"Yeah, it doesn't leave till eleven tonight." Methos checked his watch. "I'll stop by in a while. I've got a few things to see to first."

Some quality in Methos's tone forestalled any flippant remark Dawson might have made. "Sure, okay. See ya, buddy."

The two men parted ways at the tall iron gates. Dawson paused by his car and watched the dark man in the long coat disappear around the corner. He suspected where Methos was headed, and it was only right that the man should have what time he needed alone.

***

"Hello, Alexa."

Methos knelt on the cold ground and laid a single, perfect, long-stemmed red rose before the simple stone marker that read ALEXA BOND - Beloved. He sat back and wrapped his arms around his knees. "Sorry I haven't been by of late," he said. "I've been out of town, over in New Orleans. You remember our walk down Bourbon Street?" He smiled a little, rubbing the back of his head. "Yeah, we had a lot of fun, didn't we? Almost made up for that first day we went through, when the van got a flat tire and got stuck in the mud...At least I finally got to show you the canyon at sunrise. I didn't get to show you a fraction of what I wanted to, Alexa. I made such careful plans; I wanted to fill every moment we had together with so much beauty and wonder and magic that you'd never regret any of it."

He reached out long fingers to trace over the name carved into the marker. "But it was you, wasn't it? You were the beauty, the wonder, the magic. I wanted to show you the world, but it was you who showed me the world--through your eyes." He shifted a little; the ground was cold and hard, speckled with a light dusting of snow. "I miss you, Alexa. It's been almost nine years now--more than a third of your entire life, far longer than the time we spent together. I never expected to stop loving you--I would certainly never want to forget you. Maybe it's because I spent such a long time alone before I met you. I forgot what it was like to fall in love, knowing I was going to lose that love sooner or later. You taught me to love again, Alexa, at a time in my life when I was sure I couldn't."

He leaned against the stone and looked up at the cloud-spread sky. It was going to snow again, and soon; the air was already getting cooler, crisper with the promise of it. "Did I ever mention Lucinda to you? I honestly can't remember if I did or not. I told you so much about myself after you found out I was Immortal--but I wasn't sure you'd want a list of my sixty-seven previous wives or however many lovers I've had over the centuries. Somehow that never seemed to be an appropriate subject for dinnertime conversation." He scratched his temple reflectively. "Still, it seems to me I may have mentioned her at least once, in passing...ah yes, now I remember. It was when I was telling you about what led up to the Salem witch trials. Mass hysteria induced by food poisoning in a community full of repressed and paranoid religious fanatics. Bad place for a pair of Immortals to be. Lucinda--Lucy, as she called herself then--was dragged from our bed and hanged in the middle of the night. I got stabbed in the belly with a pitchfork and left to die, which I obligingly did. After the lynch mob went away, I stole out to the hill, cut Lucy down, and we made good our escape." He paused, as though listening. "Yes, I thought you'd remember. You remembered everything I told you, didn't you? Even what I didn't tell you.

"You never asked what became of Lucy. I think you must have suspected the story didn't have a pleasant ending. I would have hated dredging up the memories of the Great Fire, but if you'd asked, I would have told you. You see, I thought Lucinda died in that fire...only she didn't. The circumstances...don't matter. It's too complicated to go into. She's been alive all this time--two hundred years--and I never even suspected it. She was there in New Orleans when we visited Bourbon Street." He chuckled dryly. "I wonder what would have happened if she'd popped up and said hello? She didn't want to intrude, she said--we looked so happy.

"We were happy, weren't we? I know I was." He looked up again, watching the clouds thicken and grow darker. "I don't know how I would have reacted if I'd seen her. I would like to think that your being there would have kept me from completely flying off the handle. I was always on my best behavior with you--or at least I tried to be. You don't have to keep reminding me of that first night in Arizona, I remember it perfectly well, thank you." He looked at the tombstone, past it, visualizing a face imprinted on his ageless memory. "I would like to think that the two of you would have gotten on together. Lucinda knew several of my mortal wives. I think she would have liked you very much. No, she wouldn't have tried to reassert our relationship--not without being invited to. Oh, you would have, would you? Just to see what would happen, eh? Tease."

He felt a soft, cold touch on his cheek, light as a lover's kiss, and jumped in spite of himself. Then another snowflake landed on the back of his hand and he chuckled a bit at his own foolishness. "I'll be back in March, as usual," he said, getting to his feet and dusting himself off. "I hope it's all right if I bring company along. Yes, I know, you said you didn't want me to remain alone after you were gone, but that's what they all say, isn't it? Oh, you meant it, did you? Well, trust you to be the first." He put his hand on the top of the stone and stood there for a long moment as the ground turned white at his feet. When the snow caught in the back of his collar began to melt and trickle down his back, he gave the stone a final pat. "See you in the spring, beloved. Sleep well."

He turned and walked away. Behind him, the soft winter snow dusted the red rose lying on Alexa's grave.

***

The afternoon sun slanted across the busy street outside Le Blues Bar. Inside the bistro, a few early patrons--regulars, mostly--sat at small, comfortable tables and listened to the bar's owner as he sat on the tiny stage, strumming his rich-toned twelve-string guitar and crooning into the microphone with a voice born to sing the blues.

No one ever loved that river
Rain from the highlands a mirror for the Cajun moon
A road without a memory of anything
That started out as blue
Well, you can pour me like a jug of wine
Into the Gulf of Mexico, honey
Until the end of time
But no one ever loved that river the way I love you

A tall, lone figure of a man entered the bistro, walking in no great hurry towards the bar. Joe Dawson glanced in that direction and smiled behind the microphone, recognizing both the silhouette and the carefully casual stride of the newcomer.

Methos ordered a Pelforth Brune and settled back on a barstool. Sitting here brought back a lot of memories, most of them not unpleasant. He closed his eyes for a moment and listened to the music, losing himself in the imagery evoked by the lyrics.

You move with your own rhythm
Like a tide on the river, lightning on the Ponchartrain
The way you come to me at midnight
Warm and naked as the rain
What were you whispering down at Natchez
'Cause it muddied up my mind
About some great ocean going to make you
leave it all behind
Well, no one ever loved that river the way I love you

A lurch of sudden, homesick longing took Methos somewhat by surprise. His pleasure at being back in Paris, a place he'd called home for most of his life as Adam Pierson, was still there, undimmed, uneclipsed by the abrupt longing for the not dissimilar atmosphere of a city five thousand miles away, a city cradled in the bend of the wide Mississippi River.

You've got land above the salt line
Bougainvillea in your hair
The barges pole for New Orleans
You said you'd leave without a care
But the rumour on the river is
Anything that touches you will be free
But I know you can't be free
Well, you know you can never leave this river without me

The world's oldest living man smiled a little at himself. As fond as he had always been of New Orleans, it wasn't the city he was missing at all. If only a particular woman were here beside him--a tall, slim woman with sunlight hair and sky-blue eyes--he'd be in no great hurry to leave Paris at all.

Your eyes they flash defiance, they will not wait upon my word
Draw my eyes across the skyline
Like some long and graceful bird
Your lips have known me better, honey
And that satin ball of fire turns to blue
I cannot leave this river
I will not leave this river without you
No one ever loved that river
No one ever loved that river the way I love you


Methos led the scattered but enthusiastic applause as Dawson set his guitar down and picked up his cane before leaving the stage. He made his way towards the bar, grinning as he approached. "Glad you made it, Adam." He reached behind the bar and snagged a Guiness for himself. "C'mon, have a sit-down. Put that away," he ordered as Methos pulled out his wallet. "Your money's no good here, pal."

"If you say so." Methos followed Dawson to a table near the back of the bistro and sat down with his back to the wall, facing the door. Old habits die hard, he mused as Dawson took the chair opposite him. "I liked the last number you played. Is it new?"

"Nah, not really. Been kickin' it around for a while. Glad you liked it, though." Dawson took a long pull off his beer. "So how are things down in the Big Easy?"

"Reasonably quiet, all things considered."

"Just how you like it."

Methos smiled acknowledgment. "And you? You're doing well?"

"I'm gettin' along all right. Same old same old, you know the routine." Dawson glanced around and waved as an older couple he obviously knew entered and took a table. "Mac's gonna be sorry he missed you. He's in London till the fourteenth."

"And you're not there? You are his Watcher, after all."

"You accusing me of slacking off? I came back just for you, buddy. I'm the one who put your application for reinstatement in, remember? I had to be here for the hearing. I'm heading back over tomorrow. Mac promised he'd do his best to stay out of trouble till then."

"And you believed him? This is Duncan MacLeod we're talking about."

"True enough." Dawson sat back and gave Methos a measuring look. "How about you? Any plans on coming back to Paris anytime soon?"

"In a month or so. Lucinda wants to stay through the carnival season. She says it'll take her that long just to find someone she trusts enough to run the gallery for her." Dawson chuckled at that; Methos raised an eyebrow at him. "What?"

"Nothing."

"Joe..."

"Hey, it's just nice to know you've got the same weaknesses as most of us poor mortals."

"If you're trying to say something, say it."

"You know, I looked through the archives for her when I got back to Paris. Just out of curiosity, you know. I found a couple of oblique references...somebody called 'Leohtsenda'--there's about five different spellings--who fought at the Battle of Hastings; and a 'Lucile Delacroix' who rode with Joan of Arc. No firm connection between them, no birthdate, no record of final death for either of them."

Methos rubbed his hand across his brow. "Well, you couldn't expect me to keep her out of the chronicles entirely, could you?"

"So where's she been for the past five centuries? Locked in a box?"

Methos sat forward and spoke in a low voice, pitched for Dawson's ears alone. "She was with me for a while--a long time. We got separated two hundred years ago, give or take, and she went to England, and from there to Australia, and then to Japan. She returned to New Orleans in the early 1900s and she's been there ever since. She hasn't interacted very often with other Immortals, so there's virtually no record of her in the Watcher chronicles."

"She's been playing your game? Avoid contact whenever possible?"

"Something like that, yes." Methos thought it best not to mention that when he and Donald Salzer had been compiling the original Immortal database, he had quietly eliminated any records of Lucinda's existence that mentioned himself--which was, admittedly, most of them, since they'd been together for the better part of a thousand years.

Dawson frowned thoughtfully. "Does she know about...?"

"The Watchers? No. I haven't told her anything. I'm not sure she'd understand." He glanced at the tattoo on the inside of his left wrist. "She's seen this, of course, but she hasn't asked me about it."

"She probably figures if you wanted her to know, you'd tell her, and if she asked you, you'd lie."

Methos chuckled. "She knows me well enough."

"Yeah, women are smart like that. Ain't it a pisser?"

"Oh, I don't know, it saves me the trouble of coming up with a convincing story." Methos set his empty bottle down. "It's strange, you know? I was sure she died in the eighteenth century. I'd mourned her, I'd made my peace with losing her, and I'd filed her away in my memory with all the other people I've seen die." He scowled at himself, searching for the right words. "I was over her, Joe. What we had was good, but it's gone. It's been gone for a long time. Two hundred years."

"Yeah? You think so?"

"Yes." Methos waved a hand in a rare gesture of helpless confusion. "She's changed. I've changed. We're not the same people we were in 1788. It doesn't make sense that we should just...pick up where we left off two hundred years ago."

"Since when does it have to make any sense?" Dawson reached around the table and clapped the Immortal scholar on the shoulder. "Now then--why don't we talk about what's really bothering you?"

Methos gave Dawson a look that managed to convey both puzzlement and scorn. "Beg pardon?"

"For a man who's outlived his conscience, you've got 'guilt' written all over your face. Don't roll your eyes at me, buddy--I may not be Immortal, but I've been around the block a few times. Plus, I'm a bartender. I've seen and heard it all."

"All right," Methos said tartly, "why don't you tell me what's bothering me, if you're so all-knowing? Precisely why should I feel guilty because I still have feelings for an old flame?"

"One word."

"How many syllables?"

"Alexa."

Methos's breath caught in his throat. "What...?"

"She sent me postcards, you know. From Arizona, Greece, Italy...she was happy with you, you know. You loved her more in those few months than anybody else could have in fifty years."

Methos felt himself teetering on the edge of a sudden, inexplicable anger. "What does my time with Alexa have to do with anything?"

"You're beating yourself up because when you found out that Lucinda is still alive, your feelings for her hadn't changed a bit. They haven't, have they? You loved her. You still do. Even when you thought she was dead, you were still in love with her, even if you didn't let yourself think about it because it hurt too much."

"If you've got a point, make it. I've got a plane to catch."

"You loved Alexa just as much. Maybe more, because she didn't have long to live."

"I didn't--" Methos realized he was shouting and lowered his voice to a fierce growl. "I didn't fall in love with Alexa because she was dying, Joe!"

"I know that. So did she. And you still love her. She's been gone almost nine years, but that doesn't make any difference. When you love someone, and they die, you don't stop loving them just because they're gone. You can kill the love, but if you do, you kill a part of yourself. So you carry it with you, even if you live for a hundred years--or five thousand." Dawson sat back and watched as the fury slowly drained from Methos's face. "You didn't stop loving Lucinda when you thought she died. That doesn't mean you loved Alexa any less. Now Alexa's gone, and Lucinda's back in your life. That doesn't mean you're going to forget about Alexa, either. It doesn't make you unfaithful to her."

Methos slumped in his chair, deeply shocked. Dawson's words rang true in a way he'd never anticipated.

"Right now you're thinking that if Alexa were still alive, you'd have to choose between her and Lucinda. Now, I don't know which way you'd go, but I could probably guess. That isn't the point, though. It's pointless to speculate on a situation that doesn't exist. Alexa's gone, and I don't think she'd expect you to join a monastery for eternity."

"It's not that," Methos said slowly. "If I'd found someone else--someone new, someone I hadn't known before I met Alexa...it would be different. Lucinda's part of my past. What I had with her belongs to history. But it's been inside me all this time, and now...Joe, Alexa and I went through New Orleans on our trip. What if we'd run into Lucinda? What would have happened? How would I have handled it?"

"You won't ever know, because it didn't happen. Somehow, though, I don't think you would've dropped Alexa like a hot rock to run off with your old girlfriend. I don't think you believe that, either. It's not your style."

"And if Alexa were still alive," Methos said softly, "I'd still be with her. Nothing could make me part from her. Nothing except death."

"There ya go. Now your brain's starting to work again." Dawson leaned closer and dropped his voice to a near whisper. "I know you'd give anything to have Alexa back, Methos. But Alexa's gone. I know it sounds cliche, but she'd want you to be happy. Even if it was with an old girlfriend. And now that you're with Lucinda, you're not going to dump her if somebody else should happen to come along that might catch your interest. You're not that kind of guy."

"I know that. I know." Methos leaned his elbows on the table and put his head in his hands. "I should have worked all this out on my own, you know. I've been married sixty-eight times; I'm used to moving on with someone else."

"With someone new. You're not the kind of man who believes in second chances."

"Not really, no." Methos looked up and gave Dawson a crooked grin. "I never married an Immortal, you know. Too much of a commitment, and all."

"And how does Lucinda feel about that?"

"Oh, she agrees completely. She hates the very idea of marriage. She sees it as a form of morally-sanctioned indentured slavery--a contractual obligation that has nothing whatsoever to do with wanting to share your life with someone. It's the time she comes from, I suppose; a woman surrendered all rights as an individual when a man took her as his wife. She became his chattel...and Lucinda is no man's property."

"Yeah, I kinda got that impression when I met her." Dawson grinned cheekily. "So when's the wedding?"

Methos glared daggers at him.

Dawson chuckled and waved at a passing server. "Paul, get this man another beer."

***

New Orleans, Louisiana
6 December, Present Day


"I'm not hearing this, Ellen. I've had those frames on order since August. Last month you told me they'd be here before the first of December. Look at the calendar and tell me what day it is. You expect me to be what? Why should I have to be reasonable? I'm the bloody customer. I've got twelve canvases for a show that starts in ten days and no frames for any of them, and why? Yes, why don't you just call the supplier and get back with me? Sometime before the next Ice Age would be nice."

Lucinda Drake hit the flash button and dropped the portable phone on the table in disgust. It wasn't yet ten o'clock on a crisp Monday morning, less than three weeks before Christmas, and she was in a phenomenally foul mood.

The phone rang again, for the seventh time that morning. After two telemarketers, three charity workers, a heavy breather and an extremely obnoxious wrong number, Lucinda's patience with Alexander Graham Bell's marvelous invention was just about shot. She snatched up the phone crossly. "Clair de Lune."

"Well, aren't you the little ray of sunshine this morning?"

"B--Adam!" Lucinda constantly had to remind herself to use his newest alias. Even after seven months together, she still had to stop herself from calling him "Ben" or--God forbid!--"Methos" in front of other people. "God, it's good to hear from you."

"Good to hear your voice too, even if you do sound a bit grouchy. Post-holiday blues?"

"No, I'm just fast approaching my stupidity tolerance level for the month and it's only the first week. Where are you? Do you need me to come and pick you up?"

"I'm in Atlanta. We had an unexpected layover. Bad weather over Alabama, they said."

"Damn." Lucinda peeked out the front window. "It's clear as a bell down here. Any idea when you'll be home?"

"No later than this afternoon, I think. Right now they're saying we'll be leaving here in the next two hours, so I should be back more or less in time for a late lunch."

"All right, darling." Lucinda checked her watch. Nine forty-five; he should be back by one-thirty at the latest if all went as planned. Strange how long three hours and forty-five minutes seemed, when she'd lived for over a thousand years. "I miss you."

"I've only been gone a few days!" She could hear the laughter in his voice, but she didn't care. "Aren't you worried you'll get sick of me hanging around?"

"Ask me that in another five hundred years."

"You're on. Until then--no complaints?"

"None."

"I'll hold you to that." She heard him take a deep breath, and then he spoke again, a bit more softly. "Lucy?"

"Yes, darling?"

"I miss you, too."

"Mm." In spite of her lousy morning, Lucinda found herself smiling. "Hurry home, love. Stay safe."

"I'll do my humble best."

The connection broke, and Lucinda listened to the carrier wave for just a moment after the click. "I love you," she whispered softly to the dead line, then gently put the phone down.

At least with his return to look forward to, the morning didn't seem quite so endless or dreary any longer.

***

Hartsfield International Airport
Atlanta, Georgia
6 December, Present Day


Methos had just put his phone away when he felt the sudden jangling of his nerves that announced the presence of another Immortal. He was instantly alert, his dark hazel eyes scanning the crowds of people, trying to determine where the threat might lie and where the nearest exit was.

The "buzz" faded, and Methos relaxed marginally, Whoever it is isn't interesting in a confrontation--good job that, since we're in the middle of a high-security airport where the officials get miffed if you pull out anything longer or sharper than a nail file.

He went to the information booth to check on his flight, senses still alert, but he felt no further alarm. This was because the other Immortal stayed carefully out of range, observing him from a safe distance. While Methos was busy chatting and half-flirting with the young attendant behind the counter, the other Immortal slipped out a side door towards the tarmac.

When the baggage handlers loaded the luggage onto the passenger jet, one of the bags had been switched for a black leather case stuffed with small white ammonium nitrate and fuel oil pellets. There was only a minimal amount of black powder in the detonation device which was merrily ticking away to itself inside the case; it wouldn't take much of a spark to set off the ANFO, and there was more than enough of that to blow the belly of the plane apart.

***

Somewhere over central Alabama
6 December, Present Day


They were about an hour from New Orleans airport, give or take, when a muffled but distinct thud sounded from somewhere towards the rear of the plane. The craft lurched sickeningly, the cabin lights began flickering, and Methos grabbed the arms of his seat, his knuckles turning white. What the hell?!

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We're having a little engine trouble, so at this time we recommend that you put away your tray tables and return your seats to the upright positions. Please fasten your seat belts until the safety light goes off. Thank you."

Methos spared a glance around the cabin and knew that, more than likely, they were in far direr straits than "a little engine trouble" would account for. The pretty brunette hostess had stopped serving drinks and was hurrying towards the front, her cart abandoned in the aisle behind her. Some of the passengers seemed reassured by the captain's announcement, but Methos had heard the undercurrent of cold dread behind the carefully calm words. No explanation of that noise from the baggage compartment that sounded specifically like an explosion, and no assurances that 'there's no need for concern'. This is bad. Very bad.

Beside him, the grandmother who'd spent most of the flight reading her Bible was now clutching a mother-of-pearl rosary in her hands. Her terrified chocolate eyes met his. "We're going to die," she whispered to him. "Aren't we?"

"I don't know," he replied softly. "Mary, isn't it?"

"Yes...and you're Adam. I remember." Her knotted brown hand closed over his. "Will you pray with me, son?"

Silently, he nodded, and dutifully bowed his head and closed his eyes while the woman murmured heartfelt entreaties to her Savior. The lights in the cabin flickered one last time and died. The screams of his fellow passengers filled Methos's ears, drowning out the prayers of the woman at his side. There was a rending crunch outside, then a bone-jarring jolt, and everything went black and silent.

***

New Orleans, Louisiana
6 December, Present Day


It was after two o'clock, and Lucinda was on the phone again. She knew she was being a worry wart, and that Methos would never let her hear the end of it, but she was now on hold with the airport directory assistance, trying to find out when the flight from Atlanta would be arriving.

"Yes? Yes, I'm holding for--yes. I know the flight is late, I was just wondering when it--what...?" Lucinda's face slowly drained of color as she listened to the gentle, sympathetic voice on the other end of the line. "Yes. Adam Pierson. No...no, he hasn't got any family. I'm--I'm his sister, Lucinda." She was used to feigning one relationship or another with Methos--he'd presented her as his sister before in the past, so it wasn't that difficult to lie about it. "It...what? Where? When?" She half collapsed against the door jamb, listening to what details had been released. "I see. No, I--I understand. Yes, you can contact me at this number if you find--if you learn anything. Thank you. Yes, I understand. Thank you."

Lucinda immediately dialed another number. "Kerrigan. I have to go. Now. Yes, I know it's my week to do the meet-and-greet for visitors--but Adam's in trouble. No, nothing like that. His plane crashed somewhere in Alabama and I've got to go try and find him. Of course he's alive, he's got to be, he's a bloody Immortal, Kerrigan!--No, I'm not going to think like that. He's alive, and I'm going. I'll call you when I--when we get back."

She grabbed the keys to her cruiser and barely stopped long enough to put the CLOSED sign up and lock the gallery as she headed out the door.

***

MOUNT VERNON, Al. – Investigators Monday are searching for clues about why a passenger jet bound for New Orleans slammed into a wooded area in north Mobile County and burst into flames. All 121 passengers and crew aboard are feared dead.

Flight 7734 from Atlanta crashed at approximately 12:48 p.m. Central standard time, according to the NTSB. The flight had been delayed for several hours due to severe weather over the flight path, but the plane was cleared for takeoff after the storms lifted.

Debris is scattered over a wide area in the woods west of Highway 43, just north of Mount Vernon. Although Mobile County safety personnel are searching the area, no survivors are expected to be found.


***

Western Alabama
6 December, Present Day


Under one last desperate kick, the exit door finally, reluctantly, chose to give way. Coughing from the rising smoke around him, Methos dragged himself to the opening and fell to the ground fifteen feet below with a heavy groan. His leg was broken, and only just starting to mend; it wouldn't hold him yet. He coughed violently, lying underneath the burning fuselage for a moment to gather his strength before dragging himself away from the wreckage. Most of those he left behind had died on impact; the rest had succumbed to smoke inhalation before he had revived.

He heard a rustling in the brush to his right and froze. Are there still bears in Alabama? he wondered in a moment of near panic; then he heard a moan that was unmistakably human. Gritting his teeth, he fought his way to his hands and knees and crawled towards the sound. It was getting dark, and the fire started by the fuel tank exploding was bound to spread rapidly through the surrounding pines. Immolation is definitely on my top ten list of deaths to avoid, he thought wryly. Besides, I've already snuffed it once today, and I've no intention of doing so again.

He could just make out a figure stirring in the undergrowth. "Are you badly hurt?" he asked, his voice still hoarse from the smoke. "Can you hear me?"

"Adam? That you, honey?"

Methos blinked and peered into the dimness. "Mary? You're alive?"

"Just barely, I think..." The woman sat up, still clutching her rosary in a hand gnarled by arthritis. "How'd I get out here? I don't remember..."

"You must have gone through the window." Methos tested his leg; it was still painful, but it should hold him. He got to his feet and reached down to help Mary stand. "We can't stay here. That fire's dangerous. Can you walk?"

"I think so...don't expect me to run no races, though." With painful slowness, the woman stood up, leaning heavily on Methos. "You all right there, Adam?"

"I've been better, but I've been worse." He wrapped an arm around Mary's narrow waist. "Come on, we've got to get moving."

***

The sleek black PT Cruiser pulled off onto the shoulder of the highway. Lucinda slipped out of the car into the chill night air, listening to the wail of sirens just off to the south. Ahead of her, off the side of the road, she could see the riotous flash of emergency lights in front of the trees; the search for survivors had long since been abandoned, and now fire departments from the surrounding towns were attempting to put out the fire that threatened to consume the timberlands in which the plane had gone down.

Lucinda had changed her clothes at a service station near the Mississippi border while the station attendant was refilling her cruiser. Now she wore a dark flannel shirt over heavy jeans, and on her feet were sturdy work boots she'd purchased before the last renovations on her gallery. Good-bye, Best Dressed list, she thought wryly as she pulled a black stocking cap over her white-blonde hair. It was only forty degrees or so, but she was freezing; she'd become entirely too accustomed to warmth and comfort over the years, never having to endure the elements for more than a few moments at a time.

She'd tried to call Methos on his cell phone repeatedly since leaving New Orleans, but she couldn't get through. It could have been the weather, or he could have lost his phone in the crash. She was determined to try to call him one last time before tromping through the woods at night hoping to get close enough to feel his presence.

He isn't dead, she thought as she dialed his number without looking at the keypad. I'd know if he were dead. I'd know it in my gut. It was something she'd told herself a thousand times in the two hundred years she'd been without him, and sometimes it was only the hope of seeing him again that sustained her. She was trembling because of the cold, she told herself firmly, not because she was afraid she would never hear his voice again. She raised the phone to her ear and waited tensely for him to pick up.

***

By the time Methos could see the lights from the highway it was full-on dark. It had taken hours to find a way around the spreading fire; he had had to carry Mary across a small creek on his back. They'd also had to stop frequently so that she could rest. He knew the poor woman was exhausted, and probably in a great deal of pain, but she never made a single word of complaint. She was miraculously uninjured--nothing worse than a few scrapes and bruises--but her sixty-year-old mortal body simply wasn't suited for this sort of exertion, particularly not in colder weather, when her arthritic joints were likely to seize up.

The insistent cheeping ring of a cell phone cut through the night air, and the incongruity of it in this dark, smoke-filled wood hit Methos with a momentary sense of unreality that disoriented him for the space of several breaths. Then he realized the sound was coming from his coat pocket and he let go of Mary's arm, tightening his grip on her waist to support her, so he could fish out the phone. "Yes--what?" he said, and coughed again.

"Adam! Thank God!"

"Lucinda?! What the hell--never mind. The plane crashed."

"I know. Where are you?"

"In a burning wood in Alabama somewhere."

"West of Mount Vernon, yes, I know, I'm out here on Highway 43. There are trucks trying to put out the fire--can you see them?"

"I can't see a bloody thing. I've got a woman with me, I've got to get her out of here."

"The emergency crews are south of the woods. The sky's overcast, but the wind's blowing--wait a tick--it's coming from the northwest. Can you get your bearings from that?"

"Wait--yes. Yes! Bless you, darling."

"Bless the sailors who taught me how to tell direction in any weather."

"Consider them blessed. Stay where you are, we're on our way." Pocketing the phone, Methos grinned at Mary, who was too weary to speak but flashed him a weak smile in return. "Come on, Mary, let's get out of here."

Within fifteen minutes he began to pick up the sound of voices, distant over the steady hiss of pressurized water from power hoses. "I can see fire trucks up ahead," Methos panted. He looked at Mary, and was alarmed to see that her face had gone the color of darkened ash. Her eyes were slightly unfocused, and her skin was cold and clammy to the touch. Shock, he thought with alarm, she's going into shock--and without another word he scooped her up into his arms.

He stumbled out of the charred treeline and was hit by a flood of halogen light. In seconds he was surrounded by crew workers in heavy slickers and safety hats. Mary was plucked from his arms and he was dragged to another waiting ambulance despite his protests.

"I'm fine, honestly, nothing broken, everything's working--Lucinda!" he shouted as the sense of another Immortal's presence hit him. A moment later, a tall woman dressed suspiciously like a lumberjack fought her way into the back of the ambulance. "It's all right, she's my wife," he told the doubtful-looking EMT who was taking his blood pressure.

"I told them I was your sister," Lucinda whispered in his ear as she hugged him tight.

"We're going to have to get our stories straight," he murmured into her hair. "God, it's good to see you."

"Oh, Adam..." She was dangerously close to tears, but she managed to fight them back. Lucinda never cried if she could help it, particularly not in front of strangers. She pulled back and looked earnestly into his green-on-gold eyes. "Don't ever scare me like that again? Promise?"

"I'll do the best I can. Next time I'll take the train."

"Like hell you will. Have you seen AmTrak's record? You'd be better off swimming to Paris."

"Better yet, why don't I just stay put for a while?"

"That suits me just fine, my love."

It took Methos the better part of an hour to convince the medical personnel that he didn't need to be taken to the hospital. He was reasonably sure that his complete lack of any injury whatsoever might raise a few more questions than he felt up to answering. Lucinda eventually displayed her own emergency medical credentials and promised to have him checked out by the family physician upon returning home. She also managed to get the name of the hospital where Mary had been taken to in nearby Mount Vernon.

"She's a little shocky, but she's a fighter," Lucinda assured him as she turned her cruiser around on the shoulder. "I think she'll make it."

"She's got five grandchildren, you know," he said, staring over his shoulder at the collection of flashing lights behind them. "She was on her way to Baton Rouge to spend the holidays with her daughter and son-in-law."

"And thanks to you, she'll be there."

"Not me. She got herself out of that plane."

"And you got her to safety."

"Mm." Methos suddenly felt incredibly tired. He grunted gratefully when Lucinda suggested they find a hotel in town where they could spend the night. Unfortunately, that proved easier said than done, since there were no hotels in or near Mount Vernon proper that Lucinda would deign to set foot in. Methos, at this point, didn't care, so long as there was a reasonably clean horizontal surface onto which he could collapse. By the time Lucinda found a suitable locale a half-hour's drive away in Bay Minette, the elder Immortal was practically somnambulant. He expended his last reserves of energy stripping off his clothes and taking enough of a shower to remove the top layer of grime and pinewood smoke before he quite literally fell unconscious onto the bed.

***

Mount Vernon Hospital
8 December, Present Day


"You have visitors, Miz Wilson," the nursing assistant beamed as she admitted the young-looking couple into the small private room.

"Adam!" Mary sat up with a bright smile on her face. "You come all this way just to see me? Ain't you a sweetheart?"

"What, you didn't think I would? Ye of little faith." Methos gave the woman a warm hug and smiled as she kissed him soundly on the cheek. "I brought you some flowers as a get-well present, but I hear they're releasing you tomorrow."

"Yeah, they're sick of havin' me hangin' 'round."

Methos set the arrangement on the small table beside the bed--a collection of tiny roses, carnations and gerbena daisies in a colorful porcelain mug. "Now when you're in Baton Rouge, you can drink coffee out of the mug and think of me."

"I'll just do that, too. Thank you, sweetheart. Now who's that cutie-pie behind you?"

Methos reached back and tugged his companion forward. "This is Lucinda, my fiancee."

"Oh, now, ain't she pretty!" Mary clasped Lucinda's slim white hand in her gnarled brown one. "You got yourself a good man here, sugar. You hold on to him, now."

"Oh, I intend to," Lucinda answered, her eyes sparkling.

"I mean it, you hear? A man like him don't come along every day, you know that?"

"Only every five thousand years or so," the blonde said, grinning.

Methos scoffed softly at her just before a stampede of small feet sounded at the door. "Gramma!" a chorus of childish voices shouted as a quartet of youngsters scrambled towards the bed. The oldest was no more than five, and the youngest was barely walking.

"Boys, settle down!" called a woman behind them who was carrying an infant in her arms. "There's sick people in here, you don't need to go hollerin' like that!"

"Ain't no sick people in this room, Tasha," Mary laughed, hugging each of her grandsons in turn. "I'm sorry you had to come all this way just to fetch me...oh, now, is that little Kaylie I see there?"

Tasha Wilson Landry sat on the edge of the bed and took her mother's hand, cradling her daughter in her other arm. "Yes, Mama, this is Kaylie. She just turned six months yesterday." She choked a little, trying not to cry again in front of her children. "Oh, Mama...they say nobody else survived that crash...that it was a miracle anyone did."

"Was God's own miracle that saved us, baby girl. Me and--Adam?" Mary looked around in mild confusion. "Now where'd he run off to?"

***

"Do you think she'll be upset with you for leaving like that?" Lucinda asked as they headed south on Highway 43.

"I think she's got six very good reasons to forget we were ever there," Methos answered, sitting back in the passenger seat. "Right in the room with her."

"Mm."

They went several miles in companionable silence. About ten minutes from the hotel, Lucinda spoke again. "So that's the story, is it?"

"What story?"

"I'm your fiancee."

"Well, actually, I wanted to talk to you about that." Methos turned to her. "Isn't there a scenic overlook of some sort up ahead?"

"I think so--yes, there's the sign, a mile ahead, right on Mobile Bay." She gave him a sideways glance. "Why?"

"Pull in."

"What for?"

"Just do it? Please?"

It was mid-morning, and the sky was blessedly clear and blue. The small park above the bay was empty except for them, with a few green ironwork benches strategically placed near the railing over the water.

Lucinda leaned backwards on the rail and gave Methos a steady look. "Okay, we're here. What's so important it can't wait till we get back home? Or at least back to the hotel?"

Methos shoved his hands in his coat pockets, looked skyward for a moment, took a deep breath, then met Lucinda's eyes. "Let's get married," he said.

She blinked. "You mean, like back in England when we were Lord and Lady Adams?"

"I don't mean pretend. I mean let's really get married. You know, as in 'Will you take this man', et cetera."

"You're not serious!" Lucinda laughed, and then stopped short at the look on his face. "You...are serious. You really are."

"Yes, I really am." He saw the confusion on her face and grinned disarmingly. "Here, let me do it properly..." He dropped to one knee on the ground, which was strewn with pine straw, and took her hand in both of his. "My dearest Lucinda, will you kindly do me the honor of consenting to be my wife?"

"Stop it!" Lucinda jerked her hand back as though his touch burned her. "This is ridiculous. After all the times we talked about it, and you said it was too much of a commitment to make, marrying an Immortal woman, any Immortal woman--"

"And you said that marriage was state-sanctioned servitude for a woman and you'd never consent to be any man's chattel."

"So why?" Lucinda was torn between outrage and disbelief. "Methos...why now? Because of the plane crash? Because you could have died?"

"Actually, no." He stood up and took both her hands firmly in his. "I'd made up my mind before I left Paris--to ask you as soon as I returned to New Orleans."

"But it doesn't mean anything!" Lucinda protested, and her voice echoed faintly back from the trees. "It's just a formality, it won't make our love last one minute longer, it won't make us the least bit happier or less likely to part ways. No one's going to ostracize us because we're 'living in sin'--"

"Except that married, we're each other's legal next of kin," Methos pointed out, "and we won't have to keep inventing lies about our relationship in times of crisis. But it's more than that." He pulled her into his arms; she moved stiffly, but she came. "I have been married sixty-eight times," he said, "and I loved every single one of those women, with all my heart."

Lucinda gave him a skeptical look. "Last time I checked, it was only sixty-two."

"We were apart for two hundred years. Now, pay attention." He put his hands on her shoulders and spoke in a low, intense voice. "I'm tired of burying those I choose to share my life with, and I'm finally ready to trust you not to run off and get yourself killed." He only hoped she would understand how hard it was for him to make that confession. "I don't want to own you, Lucinda. You belong to yourself, as you've always done. That's not going to change. I'm not asking you to subjugate yourself to me, or surrender to my will. The legalities only matter in the most superficial sense." His voice dropped to a velvety murmur. "The true meaning of it, the only reason for it, is to acknowledge what already exists between us. A marriage won't bind us together; the bond is already there. The formalities will only tell the world what you and I already know." He took her face in his hands and looked intensely into her eyes to voice the words he'd never spoken to her until this moment. "I love you, Lucinda."

Her eyes widened in abject wonder, and her lips parted. Methos kissed her before she could speak. He was afraid of whatever answer she might give, although he also longed to hear it. When he could delay the moment no longer, he drew back from her and watched her face with desperate anticipation.

After several false starts, she finally said, "All right..."

"'All right'?" Methos echoed, a teasing smile on his lips.

"I'll marry you if you want me to." Her voice was oddly small and tenuous, almost childlike. "I'll jump into Mobile Bay if you want me to. I'll do anything you want me to, Methos."

Methos peered over the iron railing, peering down into the dark green depths below them. "The water looks too cold to jump into just here. Let's get married instead."

She threw her arms around his neck. "Oh, Methos, I do love you. Darling man, I always have."

"Well, that's a fortunate turn of events, eh?" Methos led her back towards the cruiser. "The license fee isn't refundable, after all."

Lucinda stopped dead. "You already got the license?"

"This morning, before you were awake, actually. The courthouse opens at eight." Methos climbed into the passenger seat and calmly strapped himself in. "Of course, you'll have to sign for it before it's official; I hope you've got your Social Security card with you."

Lucinda spluttered and scrambled behind the wheel. "But you--I didn't--how--what--"

"Isn't it lucky there's no waiting period in Alabama?" Methos appeared entirely too smug for anyone's good except possibly his own. "A quick stop by the clerk's office, and we'll be husband and wife before noon." He gave her a look of mild concern. "Are you all right to drive, darling?"

"I'm fine," Lucinda snapped as she put the car in gear.

Methos smiled and sat back. Lucinda was so damned cute when she was flustered. He slipped a hand into his coat pocket and touched the small velvet box that contained the gold claddagh ring he'd bought for her. It was a bit modern-traditional for his tastes, but the symbolism somehow seemed fitting enough. A crowned heart held in clasped hands, symbolizing friendship, fidelity and love. Neither one of them were Irish, but somehow Methos thought the Fisher Kings of Galway would understand.

Of course, the civil ceremony would only satisfy the legal requirements. The real marriage would happen later, and would hardly be a public affair. But we're already married in our hearts, he thought to himself with a soft chuckle, and it only took me five hundred years to admit it.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you?" Lucinda huffed at him, but he could tell that most of her annoyance was feigned for the sake of her bruised dignity.

"Eyes on the road, Lucinda darling," he responded mildly. "We're due at the courthouse by eleven o'clock."

***

Lyrics to "That River" are (c) Jim Byrnes, from the album of the same name. Used without permission, but with much respect and love.