Duncan MacLeod padded down to the dojo in the pre-dawn twilight. He went through a quick set of stretches. The new concealed short sword harness tugged at his shoulders. Duncan put on his running shoes and headed out for a morning run.
It was cool for September, with just a faint drizzle moistening the air. Joe sometimes teased him about choosing to live in a place known for its gray skies, just like Scotland. He pounded along the cracked sidewalks of his neighborhood, past old storefronts and run-down houses occupied by college students. They were marked by worn couches on the porches and beer bottles strewn across the yards. As Duncan warmed up, his stride lengthened. He dodged around some broken glass for the sake of his shoes and took a left past the freshly painted Boys & Girls Club. The kitchen light was on. Duncan glanced in to see Kelly McKay baking, getting breakfasts ready so that no neighborhood child need go hungry.
As the eastern sky brightened the rain started to come down heavier, warm drops that slipped down his skin like a caress. It reminded him of the first spring rain after a long winter in the Highlands.
Duncan MacLeod threw himself out the doorway of his cottage, dashing through the warm rain after his cousin Robert.
"Boys!" Mary MacLeod bellowed after them, "put your shoes on! There’s still snow on the ground!"
"But Mother," Duncan called back over his shoulder, "it’s spring!" The boys had just been made responsible for checking on the village’s ewes, soon to be birthing their lambs. Duncan spotted a first tree budding along the path and pointed it out to Robert. They ran laughing the rest of the way to the pasture, tossing handfuls of old dirty snow at each other.
Duncan smiled fondly at the memory. He was breathing easily, running down the street at an even pace he could keep up for hours. It was once said that an Apache could outrun a man on horseback. Maybe someday, with enough practice, he could do the same. Duncan decided to head west towards the port.
More cars were on the road now, building to rush hour. Duncan jogged in place while waiting at the lights, enjoying a simple runner’s high. He ran between towering office buildings now, avoiding the handful of pedestrians starting their day early. He moved out of the shadow of a building and turned to run down the long slope towards the port, the Puget Sound spread before him. The sea breeze slapped him in the face with a fresh, hard torrent of rain.
Duncan MacLeod was at the center of a mass of cheering clansmen. He had proven himself in battle for the first time. The Campbells had been driven off.
Ian MacLeod embraced him, saying, "You did well, son, verra well." Then he moved away, praising his heir’s courage and deadly skill to the men.
Duncan stood still, proud but exhausted. His mind buzzed like a trapped bee with images of the fight and the man he had killed. His muscles ached from swinging the heavy broadsword through a battle. As the skies opened up he tilted his head back. Eyes closed, he let the rain wash the blood from his face.
Duncan found himself stopped at the base of the hill, staring out over the Sound. His father had never been a demonstrative man. That hug was one of the few he could remember. But Ian MacLeod had loved him, in his own way. Duncan decided to run back through the park. He could push the pace once he got away from traffic and stop lights.
It was pouring when he reached the deserted park. Duncan ran under the trees for cover. The repetitive cry of a single bird recalled the keening of a woman in mourning. He felt uneasy. The patter of the rain on the leaves sounded like the tread of a hunter stalking him. A single cold drop broke through the canopy and hit the back of his neck. That was when the memory pounced.
Duncan huddled shivering under a tree, not far from the battleground where a sword had ended his life. Rain dripped down through the trees to chill him. He was dead, but still he drew breath. Was this some hell, in which his father renounced him and the villagers beat him as a demon? The uncanny blue sparks had healed his flesh, but his heart staggered from the cruel blows. Was this punishment for his sins, for Robert and Deborah? An eternity spent alone as a beast of the forest?
No. No, he was no beast. He was a man, and not dead. He was Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. He had been on enough hunting parties to know how to survive in the woods.
"I just need…" Duncan croaked. ‘My clan, my home, my life back’, a part of him wailed. "Shelter, an axe, and some warm furs." he corrected out loud.
There was a lean-to a few hours walk up among the hills. He had used it as a lad, when looking after the flocks. No one would need it in this season. Pretending a determination he didn’t feel, Duncan pushed himself off the ground and staggered towards his goal.
Shuddering from the rapidly dropping temperature, Duncan raced out from under the trees. He sprinted through the park before coming to a gasping halt under a bus shelter. The metal grid seat seemed designed to leach the heat from a man’s bones, so he squatted in the corner. ‘Rain this heavy never lasts long,’ he reminded himself. The sound of the rain on the shelter roof comforted him as he waited out the downpour.
Duncan drowsed by the fire, lulled by the rain drumming on the low eaves overhead. He’d rebuilt the stone croft himself, under the direction of his teacher, Connor MacLeod. The man was a harsh taskmaster, but it was a relief to finally have a kinsman, and a home, again.
"That wool won’t card itself." Connor commented, knitting by firelight.
Duncan eyed the pile of wool at his side with distaste. The smell was as familiar to him as his own sweat, but the thick, gritty oil that still coated the wool after an ash-water bath made him feel unclean. "This is women’s work," he complained.
Connor snorted. "I don’t see any women here to do it. So unless you’re planning to pull out a rib and christen it Eve, you’d best get back to work."
Duncan glanced up. Suddenly daring, he joked, "Can I practice on one of yours first?"
It startled a staccato laugh from Connor. "Why don’t you master wool-carding first, before you try your hand at miracle-working."
Reassured, Duncan went back to coaxing the tangled raw wool through the needles of the comb.
The storm subsided to a steady, drenching rain. Duncan left the bus shelter and ran the last mile back to the dojo. He was soaked by the time he got there. His wet clothes clung to his skin, and his shoes squished against the pavement.
Duncan unlocked the door and turned on the lights, opening the dojo for early-morning workouts. Normally he felt energized after a run, but today he just felt tired. His footsteps echoed in the empty space.
Richie had opened the dojo with him a few times, but the boy had always been a night owl. He had tried to offer Richie a family and a safe refuge here after Tessa’s death, like Connor had once given him. For a time, he had succeeded.
Duncan automatically avoided the spot on the floor where he had once nearly taken Richie’s head. Richie had come back after the Dark Quickening, but things would never be the same between them. Now it hardly seemed worth the effort of keeping the place up.
Duncan plodded up the stairs. As he reached the second floor landing, he felt the buzz of an Immortal in the loft. It was probably just Richie, but he wouldn’t face any Immortal with just a short sword if he could help it. Cursing softly under his breath, Duncan went downstairs to pull a katana off the wall, and then squelched all the way back up to the loft.
Duncan cautiously opened the door to his loft, katana held up to protect his neck. As he eased into the room, he saw Methos, rather rumpled, lying on the couch under a pile of blankets. His combat-ready stance relaxed. No threat here, except to his larder and peace of mind. "Methos," he asked, "have you ever considered phoning ahead?"
Methos wrinkled his nose at the thought and complained, "Where do you keep that comfy blue wool blanket I used last time…" He petered off, inspecting Duncan. Methos’s eyes flicked to the sword before moving assessingly up and down his dripping frame.
"What have you done to yourself?" he muttered, sitting up in the couch, before continuing loudly in an acerbic tone. "If you must exercise at this time in the morning, there is a fully equipped dojo just downstairs where you could workout in the dry. You might even want to take up mall walking; I hear it’s very popular among the Big Band set."
Duncan flipped the katana up behind his arm. Trying to hide his delight at Methos’s magical appearance on his couch, he countered weakly, "Well, what are you doing up at this time of the morning?"
Methos gestured extravagantly at the pillows and blankets decorating the couch. "I’m not up, MacLeod, I’m trying to get some sleep. I had to catch a red-eye flight. The Watchers are on some kind of economy kick, most unpleasant." Taking pity on Duncan’s bedraggled state, he continued, "Now get into the bathroom and get some dry clothes on, before you ruin that nice hardwood floor." Methos promptly pulled the covers up over his head.
Duncan proceeded into the bathroom, sat down on the john to take his sopping shoes and socks off, and then peeled the sweats and the harness off one piece at a time. As he hung them over the tub to dry, he considered his friend napping in the next room.
"And MacLeod," came a distant order from the couch, "don’t forget to wake me up in time for the first set at Joe’s. He says there’s a terrific band booked for tonight, could get a deaf accountant up on the dance floor."
"I’ll wake you in time," Duncan reassured his houseguest. There were advantages to staying here in Seacouver. It meant his friends always knew where to find him.
Besides, not that he’d ever admit it to Joe, sometimes the rains did remind him of Scotland.