Dark at Heart...dige If I Should Die Before I Wake
"I have something to tell you," Grey said gently.
Tran looked up from the accounts he was working on and studied his old friend's expression. He marveled again at the collected stability he saw there. So strong, so steady. Grey met his eyes with a serene absolute confidence and Tran was awed. He raised his eyebrows in question and Grey smiled faintly. A tip of his head toward the door but he did not speak. Intrigued, Tran stood up and followed him outside. Grey led the way to Lookout Point where the satellite dish stood, gathering signals from all over the world.
During the ten minutes it took to walk there, Tran had begun to feel nervous. Grey was leading him, which was one thing unusual. He had not just spoken what was on his mind, another thing unusual for him. Are you leaving us? was the worst Tran could imagine Grey might tell him. I don't know if I can handle the wondering. In a moment of brief amusement, he imagined himself following Grey all over the world. He met his former student's steady gaze and tilted his head again in question. Tell me, he thought. You know I don't handle suspense well.
They sat beneath the satellite dish, facing each other. Grey reached out and captured Tran's hands, turning them palm upwards and stroking the flesh. Familiar with Grey's habits, Tran waited expectantly for his former student to sort out what needed saying, and blurt it out bluntly as always.
"I've found Methos."
For an instant his mind went blank with surprise. His first thought was, how? Then he thought of Adam Pierson and the Watchers. Pierson must have told Grey. There came the sensation he had almost forgotten over several centuries. The sensation was of a cold, ruthless intent to kill. "Where?"
Grey stroked the underside of Tran's arms, but Tran only barely felt the touch. He was focused on one thing only. Grey said, "I'm sorry. I found Methos the night Dige died."
Tran's focus stumbled. His skin prickled and he shook his head. Why didn't you tell me? He was in Seacouver and I could have taken him then! Tran did not say it aloud. It occurred to him that Grey was beating around the bush. That was even more drastically unusual. "Explain," he said curtly.
Grey twined his fingers around Tran's wrists and held them loosely. Silvery eyes swept into black compassionately. Calm, they said. Be steady, you must be calm. Tran shivered and tipped his head forward in assent. Grey said quietly, "Adam Pierson."
Tran almost asked what else about Adam Pierson. All at once, several things clicked. For so long, Methos had been a word associated with the loss of his mortal life, the murder of his beloved first teacher Chichinquane, and a thousand-year killing spree across the known mortal world. Now, however, Methos' face was Adam Pierson's. He was a person who had in only two years become firmly entwined with Tran's beloved Grey. A number of scattered memories slipped through his mind.
Adam Pierson's sudden panic when he thought Grey was fighting MacLeod. Tran had recognized the all too familiar expression of fear that a wonderful opportunity would be lost even before Pierson had a chance to taste it. Pierson melting under Grey's touch in front of the bar. Watching them, the yielding and aggressive hunger he saw from both men echoed in Tran's flesh, and he had felt the faint jealousy he always had to suppress. Grey gone temporarily mad when Dige died, and in that state of mind wanting to challenge MacLeod, who had already proven his superior. Adam Pierson had somehow disarmed him and brought him to his knees. Not using anything but touch and words, Pierson had both calmed and turned Grey aside.
Too experienced, too rational, too sane to be as young as he looked. Tran had been unable in the pain of that moment to put his finger on what was setting off his subconscious alarms. Too weary and anguished to struggle for more information, Tran had finally let it go. He had sent Grey off with his blessing. "Mariah and I will be together. You need Adam Pierson right now. Regardless of all the half-truths he's told us, he cares about you."
"Regardless..." Tran murmured. His words haunted him. Proof that he had made the right decision -- to let the mysterious Pierson into Grey's life -- sat in front of him. Grey was steady. He was stronger and sure of himself as he had not been in decades. Pierson's -- Methos' doing? Was there a point where Adam Pierson ended and Methos began? Grey's hands were still wrapped about Tran's lower arms. They were the only source of heat that Tran could feel. The winds coiled about him but made no difference in how cold he felt. It was as though everything in him had come to a halt. His throat felt tight. Suddenly Tran felt the cold and began to shiver.
Through the desolation of his emotions, he said to Grey, "Let's go back inside." Yet he could not move to stand up.
Grey, clearly aware of Tran's paralysis, levered his hands under the small Immortal's elbows. With this support, Tran was able to get to his feet. Walking was not so difficult once standing was accomplished. Both men were silent as they returned to the underground home that they shared with Mariah.
Hours later, after darkness had claimed the sky, the feeling of paralysis still had not gone away. The cold had settled deeper into his being. When they retired for the night, Mariah stayed very close to him in bed, her arms around his waist. He shifted back into her embrace and closed his eyes, opening himself up. Her warmth reverberated through him, dispelling the cold.
If there was one person he had done right by in his long life, it was Mariah. He had been her only teacher for that first year after they had found her. While she was still mentally flexible he had taught her everything he could, all the things that Grey and Dige had been unable to learn. He had discovered she had her own special talents to add to the mix, the ability to see and sense the invisible. He had taught her the way he should have taught Grey.
A century as Tran's slave had left its mark on Grey. What would you have been like? Tran had often wondered. You suffered for the things that happened to me after Chichinquane's death. Grey had retained from that time a certain submissiveness. They had never quite been able to face each other as equals. And Grey certainly was his equal if not his superior in many ways.
The only time Grey had truly done something he knew Tran did not want him to was when he went after the Kurgan, twenty-two centuries ago. It was the first time he had ever faced a berserker and he had been no match for him. Tran knew it was his deficiencies as a teacher that had handicapped his beloved student, so he made the decision to lose his head if necessary to give Grey a chance to escape. He succeeded in driving the Kurgan into such a rage that the monster forgot about Grey and instead concentrated on crushing Tran. While Tran was dead and being trampled to a pulp, Grey managed to disable the Kurgan. Grey escaped with Tran's body, blamed his over-confidence for what had happened and never showed such initiative again.
Grey had found Methos and taken him as a lover. Would it have happened if he had known who Methos was from the first? There was no way to know. So he had at last come to Tran to tell him the truth, having made him familiar with the man first. Having made Tran aware of how much the oldest Immortal had done for Grey. Dirty pool, old boy. You did not ask me not to hate him, not to try for his head. Dirty pool. You would not have tried such a thing before. He has somehow made you more independent than I ever did.
Tran suddenly began to shake from the cold in his soul. "You should have demanded or at least asked it of me," he whispered aloud, not aware he was doing so.
Mariah's arms tightened around him. "What did Grey say to you? What is wrong?"
He gasped as his chest ached. He turned in her arms to gaze into her eyes. "He told me where to find Methos."
She was still, her dark eyes meeting his. "What is it he should have demanded or asked of you?" She gently drew him out.
"To let Methos alone." His shivering was acute. "He never demands anything of me. He should feel he has the right."
Mariah kissed his nose, her warm lips fluttering over his skin, easing him. "I will demand of you. Rest tonight. Unless someone takes Adam Pierson's head, Methos will still be there in the morning."
"Hmm." Tran closed his eyes and tried to relax. All of a sudden, her words sank in and he opened his eyes again. "How did you know?"
"There isn't anyone else you would feel Grey has the right to ask you not to kill."
Tran choked on a small laugh. The cold eased off and he snuggled in, his head pillowed on Mariah's chest. "Logical, my lady. Logical."
He could not sleep. His thoughts seemed frozen. At last he slipped from bed, careful not to disturb Mariah. At the thought of her, he unfroze a bit and paused to lock in his mind the memory of her sheer, clean beauty, pure grace and sensibility. The time since Dige's death seemed like an opium dream to him. Mariah had come and asked him to make love to her shortly after their return to the farm. So rarely had anyone come to him that way without triggering his revulsion. Very few people felt genuine, healthy desire for him. Was it, he wondered, simply a matter of his proximity and familiarity? Had he taken advantage of her in her bereavement? As his thoughts turned he went numb and icy again. He slipped out the door and dressed in some of his clothes from the clean laundry.
He crossed their underground complex and entered Dige's suite, which they had not touched at all in over a year. A finger on a switch and the rooms lit. Dust swirled in the air and began to settle as Tran stared around, blinking.
He almost started laughing. Except for the dust, it seemed as though the suite's owner had just stepped out to check the horses and would be back later. A pile of clothes on one chair that had never been put away. A drawer that was half-open. The portfolio set neatly on the couch caught his eye and he walked over to open it cautiously.
Dige's artwork. The heading Dige had written on his drawings caught Tran's eye. He stopped breathing and found he had slid to the floor in front of the couch, the fragile papers held in his hands. Seacouver, '96. Tran forcibly drew in a breath and began to leaf through the papers.
There were a couple of watercolor landscapes, the names of the parks written neatly in the bottom right corners of the paper. They were in rich and vibrant color. There was a painting of Mariah. In it she was surrounded by the symbols of her native language. Behind her were the dim outlines of the types of buildings that had been prevalent in her home region during her youth. The next picture was of Tran himself, done in charcoal and yet it conveyed a sense of color. He was surrounded by great dogs and shadowy forests, his eyes glowing in the darkness. He smiled at the picture, though his heart hurt.
The next few paintings were of Grey. Tran winced as he recognized the first, drawn from the memory of the day they took Grey from Meerschweine. Like a ghost. The miracle of Immortality made even plainer when he healed after they themselves had shot him to death. The second painting relieved the pain of the first. Grey astride the big, black Fresian. He was tilted half sideways in the saddle and seemed to be looking for something. He had his faint, mischievous smile that they had not seen in so many decades. He, too, was surrounded by shadows. They seemed in one glance to be the branches of fir trees. In the next glance they seemed to be swords.
The third picture sent a shiver of ... not exactly recognition, more like suppressed desire... through Tran. Grey and Methos outside the bar: Grey on his knees, Methos' leg between his, Methos' fingers pressed tight against Grey's chest. The picture was only a pale echo of the hunger that had radiated from the two men.
Trembling, Tran set it down. He remembered watching the two of them that night. Tran had not known Dige had witnessed the scene, too. Grey was clearly having a ball seducing the Immortal they thought was Adam Pierson. Tran had been amused, then astonished, when the young man turned the seduction around on Grey. Tran had been forced to move farther away. His sense of their emotions made him uncomfortable and woke desires that usually lay dormant.
The last picture was a brief study of Methos' face. The eyes in the portrait were mocking and yet somehow sympathetic. It was as if Dige had been unable to decide which impression of Pierson he wanted to draw. The mouth was a sharp line of defiance and challenge. Questioning symbols in several languages surrounded the face.
Tran sighed and lifted the portfolio to return the pictures to it. Something slid around inside. He reached in and pulled out a folded piece of paper. The Russian word on the front was "Grey." Tran stared blankly at the paper for a long moment, then unfolded it to read.
Grey, if you are reading this then I am dead.
Tran dropped the paper and put his pounding head in his hands. Of course. He drew in a deep breath and picked up the paper again.
Grey, if you are reading this then I am dead. If MacLeod is as good as his reputation suggests. You came to that bar with him, but then I saw why. I wish... I wish I could have brought the light back to your eyes like he has. Whoever he is. Mariah always tells me that if I want to make love to you I should just do it. Perhaps if this were fifty years ago, before Meerschweine. But then you wouldn't need... whatever it is you need. And I am inadequate. I wouldn't know how to make love to you.
I do love you, I hope you know that. Remember how I used to fight with Tran? I was jealous, but I didn't know it then. And I am so tired.
Don't give up. You are alive again, instead of a ghost. No longer a shallow echo of yourself. I, however, have become the ghost. I am ready to be laid to rest, now. With someone worthy like MacLeod, if he can beat me.
I love you.
Tran bowed his head again between his arms. He strangled a laugh and thought, I knew you were jealous back then. I could feel it steam off of you. What he had not felt was what seemed to be a recent fixation on Grey. My failure. I was keeping a suicide watch over Grey and did not think to do the same for you. Grey was passive but you were active. At first, after the war was over, Tran had attributed Grey's listlessness to the exhaustion they had all felt. As it went on, and Grey nearly died in one of their challenges... Tran had realized it was much more than that.
He looked at the papers in his hands again. Was that why you finally went back to look for your heritage, Dige? You could do nothing for Grey and needed something to distract you from it? I was not watching. I should have been.
He had been too absorbed in Grey.
Tran could not stop himself from remembering how in 1951 they had gone after Slan Quince, whose favorite mode of attack was terrorizing and destroying his opponent's mortal family until he finally issued a challenge. By that time, the opponent was usually so distraught that he or she could not fight well and so died. Tran and the others had no one for Slan to attack. He knew nothing about them, nor that they were together.
Slan had beat a hasty retreat when he realized he was losing to Dige. Tran had fought him next, defeated him quickly, and left a post-hypnotic suggestion just in case Mariah lost. She did not, but Slan was able to escape from her. That left only Grey.
Grey had been the last to face Quince, but before the challenge was over a fire started in the warehouse where they were fighting. Tran saw Slan leave the building. When Grey did not emerge, he went in to find out why.
He found Grey huddled in a dark corner underneath a stairwell, clothes dripping with blood. There were a number of rents in his clothing. Stunned, Tran knelt beside him. An angled gash was healing on his neck, not deep enough to leave a scar but horrifying in its mere existence. Almost more terrifying was the stillness emanating from Grey. It awoke memories long buried.
After they returned home, Tran had crept into Grey's room. Once, his presence would have awoken his old friend. That time it did not even make Grey stir. Tran laid his fingers on Grey's temples. He concentrated until there was the familiar, disorienting shift of his senses. The world dropped away and only he and the sleeping Grey existed in a pool of darkness. He put his lips next to Grey's ear. "Fight to win," he whispered. He felt Grey pull back slightly and drew on his inner strength to repeat the command. There was a shimmer of sensation as his words passed into Grey, and he withdrew.
If nothing else, Grey would find it difficult to commit suicide.
With Dige involved in a search for his roots, it had fallen to Tran (with a great deal of assistance from Mariah) to seek some sort of cure for Grey. Tran had refused to countenance the idea of asking the Immortal priest Darius for help. He did not want Grey to flee onto Holy Ground, which just might happen. Darius was killed a few years ago and the point became moot. Mariah, who had been searching for alternatives, heard of Sean Burns.
Burns was a psychiatrist famous in the mortal world. By chance Mariah had learned, from someone in Japan, that the man was a fellow Immortal. Gleanings from the rumor mill painted a picture of a gentle man who must possess some strong power of persuasion. "He could make the Sphinx roll over and wriggle like a puppy if he wanted to," was the statement Mariah had quoted, smiling.
Mariah had first seen Duncan MacLeod the day of Sean Burns' death. She arrived at the estate that day and just been dithering over how to introduce herself when the Quickening lit the sky. It went on and on until the darkness settled down. Mariah had run towards it, then carefully peered over a wall.
It was not hard to recognize Duncan MacLeod. In the last few years he had become a name to be reckoned with and they would be challenging him soon. He was aggressively intimidating another Immortal who she could not identify from this angle. The most peculiar thing, to Mariah, was that it was the unidentified man who held a sword. He looked uncomfortable with it, miserable as he used it to shield himself from MacLeod. Her eyes fell on a limp form sprawled near the two men. She knew without a doubt that it was Sean Burns.
MacLeod seethed. He broadcast a curious combination of emotions, almost all corrupt. Lust, rage, sadistic joy. Yet, somewhere within it she thought she caught a wail of horror.
She had also felt like wailing. She returned to the farm and described the incident to Tran. Then she and Dige went camping together for ten days.
Tran shook his head. Mariah, he knew now, had not sought out Sean Burns only for Grey but for Dige, as well. She had been oddly resigned when she returned to the farm. When she told him what had happened, he had felt that way, too. At some point, Mariah must have decided she had done everything she could do for Dige, and had stopped trying. By the time Dige succeeded in getting himself killed, Mariah had already been mourning his death for a year.
He got to his feet. No more living in the past, he thought. Yet he felt so rootless in the present. How did Methos live with HIS past? Grey loved the Oldest Immortal but then, he tended to love blindly. Tran held the note against his chest. A goodbye, and careful silence so that no one knew what Dige had been up to. That was the only way. He slipped the note back into the portfolio with the portraits and returned it to its resting place. Gathering himself to his feet, he shut the lights off and crossed their complex again, this time going towards Grey's suite. He walked into the sense of Grey's presence, felt it seep into him and level out. As he stepped through the doors, the light came on in Grey's bedroom. Tran found himself hesitant. This would have been much easier if Grey was asleep. He stepped into the bedroom. Grey had his head tilted and was regarding him from the bed, eyes worried. Tran felt numb. "You weren't asleep."
"Neither were you," Grey replied, smiling slightly. His smile faded to a look of concern. "You look... ill."
Do I? thought Tran. He shivered. A vision obscured his sight. Grey's face, ashen where it was not slick with blood, eyes staring blindly. This vision was not new, and Tran shook his head to wipe it away. "You did drop a bombshell on me," he said, trying to sound normal.
Grey held out his hand, inviting Tran onto the bed. Tran stared at the hand blankly, his mind stopping for a moment. His throat constricted. He swallowed hard and stepped closer to Grey. He dragged his gaze from the hand to Grey's eyes and reached out. The moment their hands touched, he slammed his Quickening out. One harsh blow with his thoughts and Grey crumpled unconscious in the bed. Trembling, Tran stroked the man's face helplessly. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he whispered. "You won't blame yourself if you sleep through it." There was a fallacy to that logic and he knew it, but he tore himself away. Stopping only to don his winter gear, he fled the house for the airstrip. Climbing into the ultralight, he stopped halfway in and turned to look back towards his family.
Mariah, he reached out.
She woke instantly and touched back at him. Startlement rang as she saw the plane through his eyes. Then quick demand: Don't do this!
He shook his head. Please, take care of Grey for me. Tell him it wasn't his fault. It would have happened, sooner or later. He closed his mind to her furious protests. Minutes later he was airborne.
I always knew I should have bought a second plane, Mariah thought as she ran to Grey's room. His presence washed around her and she shouted his name. She paused in mid-step when she realized there was no answer. That only stopped her for a second, though, and she quickly entered his bedroom. Oh, no. Grey was slumped sideways on the bed, unmoving. She breathed a sigh of relief when she realized there was no blood. Whatever Tran had done would not be complicated by the need to heal a physical injury. She jumped onto the bed.
She cradled Grey's face between her palms. She almost laughed at her own thoughts: My mind to your mind. She shut out the room around her and opened her other senses to reach Grey.
His spirit shimmered, save for the mass of darkness that blurred and distorted much of it. She felt a quick sorrow. If she were Tran, she would have just slashed at the mass, tearing it open and forcing Grey awake in agony. Tran was not gentle about these things, as he had not been gentle when he knocked Grey out. She was not Tran and was glad of it. This would take longer, but it was something she had always wanted to do for Grey.
Grey, she reached in to him. Tran's gone after Methos. He's gone after him in my plane. We have to warn Methos or he will kill him!
There was a vague, confused stirring around her. The shimmer encountered the blackness laid there by Tran and subsided. Mariah cursed to herself. She intensified her efforts, desperately. TRAN WILL KILL METHOS, OR METHOS WILL KILL HIM!!!
The stirring around her increased, Grey shifting, shaking, trying to wake. He pushed at the darkness, then suddenly shied away from it. Mariah noticed then that some of the darkness stank of age. This was not the time to wonder at it. Her despair was genuine and she used it to attract his attention. I love him, she thought. He'll go like Dige if he can't kill Methos. You know that.
Grey shivered and heaved at the darkness. It was slow and painful going, Mariah letting him rest against her when he grew tired. She did not shift his attention to the more ancient darkness. Perhaps someday they could address that and learn what lay beneath it. There was no time, now.
The room swam into focus around them. Grey curled up and pressed his palms against his temples as the pain of the struggle subsided. His voice was thick when he spoke. "You said he's taken the plane?"
She nodded. "Do you know how glad I am, that for once you went against his will?"
Grey lifted his head to look at her, blinking with a lack of comprehension. He shook his head and scrambled out of the bed. "Let's go. He'll be a day ahead of us at the least."
"He has left everything, Grey," she said, as calmly as she could.
He stopped in the midst of gathering clothes to gaze a question at her.
"Everything. He does not have his passport or any money. That will slow him down." Grey's face went white with dismay and self-recrimination. Mariah quickly put her fingers on his lips. "He said it was not your fault, that it would have happened sooner or later. Believe him."
"I should have softened the blow, somehow."
"How?" Mariah asked. "Grey, we must warn Adam -- I mean, Methos."
Grey shook his head fiercely. "I can't do that to him."
She lifted her head in surprise. "You can't attempt to save his life?"
He leaned down and rested his forehead against hers. "It's hard to say which of them I would be betraying by interfering. Methos is definitely a match for Tran. And if I warn him...." Grey stopped speaking and let out a long sigh. "If I do, I don't think I'll be able to stop myself from begging him not to kill Tran. Time and chance happen to us all. I knew the risk when I decided to tell the truth."
Mariah stroked Grey's cheek, understanding. "Then perhaps we should not go at all."
Grey kissed her hand. "I must go," he grinned with a surge of mischief, "now that you've woken me. Perhaps I can turn Tran aside if I can find him. I don't want to lose either of them."
They dressed, collecting their paperwork and Tran's. As Tran had taken the plane, they would have to drive. Someone had to tend the horses and dogs while they were gone. They would have to go first to the Ymeragas, their nearest neighbors, apologize profusely for disturbing them in the middle of the night and beg for help because of an emergency that could not be truly explained. The nearest airfield was a six-hour drive away. From there they would have to take a plane to the International Airport, which was liable to take four more hours. Then there was the flight to Paris.
Paris at night was a glittering gem from the sky. Tran had appropriated a child's ticket and convinced the family that they wanted to stay one more day before they returned to France. The stewardesses were very kind to him, a child whose family obviously had sent him home early. Seeing his tired, distressed look, they coddled and mothered him. Their kindness allowed him some release from the turmoil in his mind, and he slept half the flight. Going through customs had made him recall seeing the movie Star Wars over two decades earlier. "You don't need to see his identification," he muttered to himself as he left, feeling a slightly hysterical amusement. Already he felt caught in an undertow as mesmerism drained his strength. He shivered, wondering just how insane he must be to have forgotten all of his ID.
Adam Pierson was not in the phone book. A check with the operator revealed he had an unlisted number. Tran would have to wait until daytime to get into the city records. The crafty eldest Immortal just might have his records flagged so that if anyone asked for them he would know he was being tracked. Perhaps Tran could find one of those Watchers? He could think of no way to look. He himself attracted people's attention, being a small Asian child out in the midst of the night. A surge of anger passed through him whenever a car slowed down, its driver perusing him with a hopeful expression.
Someone was following him. Three young men had detached themselves from the front of a building and were slowly closing the distance between them. Not Watchers, he was sure, remembering how Melinda Krager had been alone and totally inconspicuous. He tasted their feelings. Covetous greed, malicious boredom and a low flame of lust. A sneer curled his lip, the cold rage inside him seething. He turned into an alleyway innocently. They followed him in and began speaking. He knew French, but paid no attention to their words. He watched them as they formed a circle about him. One of them snatched at him then caught his jacket, lifting him up. Without a thought he sliced one of his blades through the youth's throat. A gurgle and the body went down like a puppet whose strings had abruptly been cut. There was an instant before realization set in to the other two. Tran killed one before the youth thought to run. The other made it two meters, screaming, before Tran's dagger caught him in the back of the neck.
He killed the three vicious adults in the space of a breath. He had not lost his touch. This recalled the old days, before he had taken Grey. That thought tore through the cold in his being and knotted his throat. My god. He stood frozen for a moment, then snatched his dagger from the boy's body and fled into the night.
When he was far from the scene of his crime and the sound of police sirens, he made his way up to the top of a building. He huddled on the roof and curled around the insistent pain in his chest. He rubbed his eyes. Mariah's going to be so angry, he thought helplessly. Grey would not, but Mariah would be. Mother, daughter and sister to me. I have to find Methos, now.
The sense of urgency he felt he could not have explained. Time seemed very short. He composed himself where he sat, calmed the flowing thoughts in his mind. The panic and rage settled as old disciplines took hold. His mind went utterly steady, then he let go. He spread out, to lie like a thin blanket over the city. The distant Presences of other Immortals tugged at him. The unaware signals of three fairly young ones, less than a century old. The shifting Presences of three others who were some centuries old. Tran did not bother to count the centuries. One was probably Duncan MacLeod. Grey had said MacLeod spent time in Paris. The shimmering, laughing proximity of one who was close to Mariah's age. He could find no others at this level. Seven Immortals in his standard range, not a one old enough to be Methos.
Was Methos truly in Paris? He would have to go deeper.
"It is dangerous to go too far," the Immortal who had taught both Tran and Grey had told them long ago. "The farther you reach out, the more difficult will be the experience of returning to your body." Tran shrugged and put the memory aside for now.
The distant Immortals suddenly loomed close, their Quickenings crowding around him, tugging at him. His sense of self spun precariously. He tipped, his own energy brushing against someone else's. Thoughts and images drifted through him, so hazy he could not make any sense of them. Tran blew himself out, feeling hollow and empty as he shifted still deeper. At this level the Immortal signals rang shrilly in him. He was beginning to lose focus when an anomaly attracted him.
There was a whisper among the bells. A voice that had once been great was now reduced to an almost doddering murmur. It went its own way among the louder voices, aware of nothing but itself. Tran focused on it and held its sound and tone within himself until he had an absolute sense of its location. Could this be Methos? He began to draw himself together to move his body.
His cry echoed across the rooftop. He covered his ears to the sound then snatched his hands away as his flesh burned. Staggering to his feet, he struggled over to the chimney and huddled against it, pressing his hands and body against the solid bricks. Their cold, hard reality grated on him but helped him balance. He calmed his frantic breathing. He concentrated, thinking intently, "zero squared zero, one squared one, two squared four, three squared nine, four squared sixteen...." He was in the thousands before he could think clearly or feel safe letting go of the bricks. Thankfully, he no longer felt that the building was moving out from under him. There remained a sensation of brilliant flashing. Every step he took was as if he had never felt it before. Moving as fast as he felt he had to, he did not stop to marvel. The sensations became grating. He ignored them and went down into the streets of Paris. He would find the place that signal had been. He would find out what it was.
Three hours later, at around two a.m., Tran broke into an old, brick building. He was very close to the source of the signal, but now he felt nothing. It had been a very strange, vague signal. Once inside, he stood and closed his eyes, listening to the building. The steady breathing of sleeping people, the building fairly well ventilated. Nothing unusual. He shook himself again. The alarming new feeling had worn off after an hour or so, leaving an incredible fatigue in its place. The sense of urgency still drove him as he stepped through a doorway leading to where the signal had been.
He knew it was there, though he could not feel it. He looked at the crib beside him. A cheap construct. There were four others in the room just like it. This must be an orphanage. His eyes were drawn to the baby sleeping in the crib. The child was approximately one year old. Soft, downy hair curled on its head. The tiny, rosebud lips were parted as it breathed. The delicate perfection of its hands was a marvel of creation. He glanced at the small name-card. Etienne-Stuart. Suddenly he realized what the signal was that had drawn him to this place. The baby was Immortal. Or he would be. Shaken to the core, Tran sank down beside the crib. A baby Immortal like Hamzad, whom they had found one thousand and eleven years ago, when they still lived south of the Caspian Sea. The memories unfolded, blinding him to the present.
"I heard something," Mariah said. She reined in her horse and cast about, listening.
Craggy rocks and desert sand surrounded them. It was late in the day, the winds still hot. The sound of the wind blowing was like a keening ghost among the rocks. Mariah's three companions heard nothing unusual, but they waited patiently. Mariah was sensitive and nervous sometimes. They knew to be patient until she had settled with whatever had disturbed her. Their desert garb fluttered in the winds as they waited. Mariah urged her horse forward and then to the right, leaning that way in her saddle, head tilted as though to catch the slightest anomalous sound. She dismounted. Leaving her horse standing patiently, she began weaving her way among the rocks.
He opened his senses and cast out to see what had attracted the girl's attention. For a moment he sensed nothing unusual, then he realized what it was. It was not a sound that had drawn Mariah away. An ache in the air, fear, incomprehension, hunger and thirst. She had not learned yet to ignore such things. There were too many people so distressed in the world and he and his friends were too few to help them.
Mariah cried out and bent down amongst the rocks. Tran, Grey and Dige dismounted and hurried to see what she had found. Alarmingly, she had taken off her headgear, freeing her long, thick black hair. She was wrapping the cloth around something, all the while murmuring soft, meaningless noises.
She looked up at Grey as they gathered around her. "He needs milk," she pleaded, for Grey's mare had a foal at her side.
There in her arms was a tiny baby, probably no more than a few days old if that. It was covered in dust, and its lips were cracked. The rocks it had lain among had largely sheltered it from the sun. Tran stared at it in surprise. Where could the tiny speck of life have come from? There had been no caravans through the pass in days and they never traveled with a woman as pregnant as that. Perhaps a slave had borne the babe and her owners had abandoned it.
Grey had already dashed away. He returned with a bowl of fresh milk and a clean cloth. They soaked the cloth and then let the milk drip into the baby's mouth. Their attention was totally absorbed in the child, leaving Tran and Dige out and feeling bewildered. Footsteps from behind them caught their attention but it was Achmed, and they relaxed. He greeted them with a nod and a smile, and then stared in surprise at the baby.
"May I inspect the infant?" he asked Mariah softly. She nodded and let him unwrap the small bundle. Achmed studied the little body carefully until he found a small, oddly shaped birthmark. Upon seeing it, he and Mariah exchanged understanding glances. The girl held the baby close, while the mortal was clearly inclined to keep it far from himself.
"The mark means bad luck," Mariah explained quietly. "I think he's had enough of that, don't you?" She did not look at the others, but gazed hopefully into Grey's face. "Let us raise him," she said.
At her words, Tran's hackles rose. Raise a mortal? It was difficult enough becoming attached to an adult and losing them! He opened his mouth to protest and met Grey's anguished eyes. He thinned his lips in refusal and the tall man bowed his head.
Seemingly unaware of this exchange, Mariah turned to Tran and pushed the tiny, living bundle into his arms. "He's so small, Tran. For that mark, no one will care for him. If he lives he will not even have a dog's life. We are the only ones."
Tran's arms closed around the infant even as he stuttered in fury, "We can't raise a baby!" His protest lost much of its force as he found himself taking the milk-soaked cloth and feeding the helpless creature. It hurt to hear the tiny sounds the baby made. So little to be so unwanted. He turned to Dige for help, but the other man was watching Mariah with his usual besotted expression. Tran sighed in exasperation. He wondered if he would ever become accustomed to this. Grey would obey him out of habit. Dige could be intimidated into line. Mariah, however, cut his defenses full of holes and moved through his emotions like water through a sieve. He had sought to harden himself against her influence and thus far failed. It was strange that the one person he could not dominate should be a young woman. Then again, perhaps it was not. Her experiences after first death had not been far different than his after he had lost his teacher. That gave him empathy for her that he did not feel for Dige, and had not felt for Grey until it was too late. And this little baby... he gave in. A mortal could suffer unspeakable horrors and not live long enough to recover. If they raised him, they could make sure this boy would be strong and have a happy youth behind him.
Ten years passed unmarked except by the growth of the boy, whom they named Hamzad. One morning, Tran stood on the cliff over their canyon and listened as intently as he could with all of his skills. Nothing, still. He had stood there for hours trying to focus on the source of his unease. It had troubled his dreams during the night with the stench of blood and the memories of his last few challenges. It remained a subtle tang disturbing both him and Mariah at the morning meal. She and Dige had gone to ride the perimeter, searching for anything unusual. Grey tended to Achmed, who was in his final decline.
Youthful minds suddenly shifted into his range. Hamzad and his friends. Tran frowned. If something terrible was going to happen, perhaps he should send the children away.
Suddenly the unease clarified itself into an absolute sense of a latent Immortal. Startled, Tran turned toward the trail the children were coming up. There was a sudden rush of hoofbeats. The horses rounded a corner and raced up the trail. Seeing Tran ahead, their riders began reining them in. Hamzad was at the front, Tran noticed with some pride. The boy was shaping into an extremely talented rider. Which of them was the young Immortal, he wondered. Then he knew and a sense of panic washed over him.
The boy saw the shock on Tran's face and leaped down from his horse. Tran dug his fingers into his palms to prevent himself from shouting, "Be careful!" As Hamzad joined him, Tran suddenly noticed for the first time that the boy was taller than he was. He thought, How time does pass. Not for him, as soon as he does something foolish and gets killed.
Memories swamped Tran. Hamzad up trees, climbing cliffs, trying to go down the well to see where the water came from. Ill with one or another childhood sickness that was known to kill. As an infant, abandoned and exposed to die.
Tran flinched back in surprise as a hand waved in front of his face. "Uncle Tran? What is it?" Hamzad was asking.
Too close to the cliff edge! Tran suddenly thought. He grabbed the boy's arm and moved them both away. "Nightmares," he replied truthfully. "Send your friends home. I'm having premonitions...." Half-truths. He was having terrifying visions of the boy dying in any number of ways.
Calming himself and pretending nothing was wrong proved worthwhile for more than one reason. The pang of amusement he felt when Grey dropped the tray of dirty dishes he was carrying from Achmed's quarters made Tran feel better. He almost laughed when Dige and Mariah returned later and stood frozen in the doorway, their mouths hanging open in shock as realization hit. He could not laugh at the bewildered Hamzad. The boy could see the shock that each member of his family obviously felt. He began to look very nervous.
They had been careful, with Achmed's help, to raise Hamzad in the beliefs and customs of the region. Someday the boy would seek a wife and a life. They did not want him crippled in society by ignorance. All the things they had taught him all these years had suddenly taken on new meaning. All of the cautions they had given him became of deadly importance. Do not eat too fast; do not climb up there; keep your injuries clean; do not burn yourself.
He had always known his birthmark signified ill luck, but it was not until his parents began acting horribly over-protective that he thought to be afraid. It took a few days for that fear to be replaced by annoyance then exasperation, and finally anger.
"Just leave me alone!" he shouted at them one evening. He snatched up the tray of food for their mortal friend and stomped into Achmed's quarters, leaving the beaded curtains waving wildly behind him. The four mature Immortals stared after him in various degrees of guilty concern.
Grey suddenly chuckled from his seat on the pillows. "If I'd known he was one of us when we found him, I would've gone insane with worry in that first year."
"I would have taken his head when he was two," growled Tran half-heartedly.
Mariah laughed and shook her head at them. "We're driving HIM crazy. We must..." she shook her head again and sat down on the pillows around the low table. A tear escaped the wall of her eyelashes. "If we can't treat him normally again, we must foster him out or he will hate us."
Dige sat up urgently. "We can't do that. We can't cut him off from us no matter how angry he is. Not without explanation."
They were still arguing the matter very quietly when Hamzad came out of Achmed's quarters. He looked calmer. He turned to Tran. "Uncle Achmed is calling for you."
Tran took a long, slow breath when he stepped into the room. The sweet-scents managed to cover the smells of old age, but they were so thick in the room it made it difficult to willingly draw a breath. He knelt beside Achmed's bed and looked at the man fondly. The once-heavy black hair was white and wispy; the skin so thin Achmed's skull was sharply visible within. The lively dark eyes remained and turned, twinkling, on Tran.
"He's one of you," the old man stated, smiling. "I wondered."
Startled, Tran gaped at Achmed, taking a moment to pull himself together. "Does he know?! Why did you wonder?"
The thin, cracked lips spread wider, the ancient eyes twinkled even more. "He had to have been there for days before we found him. Babes have remarkable powers of recuperation, but I think if he was a mortal babe he would have died." Achmed reached up, his bony hand trembling until it settled upon Tran's hair. He stroked the fine strands paternally. "He doesn't know. He is simply frustrated. And you," Achmed let his hand slip down to cup Tran's chin, "are afraid he will be like you. An eternal child."
"He's so reckless," Tran said softly.
"Not more than any mortal child. Let go and trust in fate." The man turned his head to look at his journals piled against the side wall. He stared glumly at them for a time, then shifted his head back to Tran. "Why didn't you know he was Immortal before?"
Tran laughed half-heartedly. "We sense each other, you know. Yet until a few days ago, we didn't sense him. We have raised him and somehow we never felt anything different about him from any mortal child."
Achmed looked thoughtful. "Perhaps that is what keeps the babes safe, that their elders cannot sense them." He let his hand fall back to the bedcovers, tiring. He stared hard at Tran for a quick moment. "Don't you think he looks like Mariah?"
Tran shrugged. "I suppose he does. They were both born around here."
Achmed smiled. "Relatively speaking. Something in the set of his body and face reminds me of Grey, too."
There was another moment of meeting the mortal's mischievous eyes before Tran made the connection. It was over ten years ago that Grey and Mariah had been... well, it was all very strange and Tran had never known quite what to make of it so he had said nothing. Then suddenly Mariah was with Dige instead. Shocked, Tran asked, "Do you know something I don't know?"
Achmed shook his head on the blankets. "No, but I have always wondered where baby Immortals come from."
"So have I, old friend. So have I."
It was the hardest thing they would ever have to do. Once again they allowed Hamzad to play with his friends and help on the farm. They began teaching him to handle a blade. In the midst of everything, Achmed Al Khazar died, and all five of them mourned his loss.
Hamzad topped out at nearly the same height as Dige but had a stockier build. He grew a beard to match the one Grey had taken to sporting and Tran had to admit that the two of them did look very similar, though the youngster's eyes were as dark as Mariah's. Hamzad left them to seek his fortune when he was twenty-two years old. It cost them a great deal not to go with him. Hamzad was young and the world held many wonders.
It was two centuries later that Tran was standing on that same cliff edge as when he had first learned Hamzad was Immortal. Just standing, daydreaming, when he sensed someone coming. He chose to stand and watch in the name of hope. The man was dressed in rich clothing and rode a perfect, finely boned desert horse. He reined the animal in, leaped down and strode confidently toward Tran. He was weather beaten, his face covered in laugh-lines. He had a salt-and-pepper beard that reminded Tran very much of Grey's. He had been in his late forties when his first death took him. He radiated confidence and bemused delight. It was momentarily disrupted by startlement before the bemusement returned in force.
"Uncle Tran," he greeted the smaller Immortal affectionately.
"Hamzad," Tran replied, having to force the name through his suddenly tight throat.
Hamzad had come to pay his respects to the four peculiar hermits who had raised him. He had never allowed himself to hope that any of them were Immortals.
The dim room lit by nightlights came into focus around Tran. Fighting the fatigue that dragged at him, he pulled himself up to stand looking down at Etienne-Stuart. He puzzled over the impression he had received while scanning. He must have misunderstood. His impression of former greatness had to have been the sense of the baby's full Immortality which would begin to show in perhaps a decade. He reached down and let his thumb rest in the baby's tiny palm. The small hand curled reflexively around his touch. Tran closed his eyes and thought, Shall we do it again, Mariah? Raise another baby? Hamzad's face arose in his mind but it was neither child nor young man. Hamzad had become an Immortal when he was fully mature, and he was incredibly self-confident.
Tran opened his eyes and shook his head. What am I thinking? Yet he picked up the baby carefully and held him close, breathing in the faint milky scent of his skin. "Etienne-Stuart," he whispered, to fix the name in his memory. He set the baby back down as a wave of exhaustion threatened to swamp him. Barely able to stand, he made his way down the hall. Passing a desk he snatched up some paper and a pencil before he found a storeroom. Retreating into it, he jammed the door shut. He leaned against the wall and began writing. When he finished, he had three separate notes that he folded carefully together and pocketed. He threw clean laundry from a shelf onto the floor for bedding, shut off the light and fell into a fitful slumber.
He slept only a few hours, waking when he heard the sounds of people moving in the halls of the orphanage. He was still exhausted, but the sense of urgency from the night before had returned. He slipped out of the building and wandered the streets of Paris.
He walked for hours until finally his legs were trembling. He had only been vaguely aware of his own exhaustion before but now he had to sit down. He sat at the base of a statue and rested his head on his knees, closing his eyes. Tired as he was, he could not keep out the vague sense of the people near him. Most were self-absorbed. Now and then someone noticed him and felt sympathy, but moved on.
There was the barest brush of another Immortal. Tran was too disheartened to look up. The sense blossomed full and leveled out. The other could surely sense him but broadcast a resolute blandness. Tran opened his eyes and shifted his head to look about, curious. There the tall, trenchcoated form was amongst the many people on the sidewalk. If he had not already known Adam Pierson, he would never have been able to identify the other Immortal. Tran could not move, he was so surprised to have found the other man. A slight shift of stance, a tilt of the head as if to relieve a crick in the neck, and Methos looked at him. With his exhaustion, the emptiness in his stomach, Tran felt admiration. To see five thousand years of experience go into looking inconspicuous was something of a treat.
Methos was on his way to Shakespeare & Company when he sensed the other Immortal. He shrugged it off. Friends would announce themselves. An enemy would follow him. For anyone else Methos could do anonymous face in the crowd. It was his favorite trick he had learned from Watchers. The other was nearby, though, and Methos shifted slightly to see if he could spy without obviously looking. Good lord.
The small boy staring at him from the foot of a statue was Tran. He looked ragged and exhausted, his eyes dark pits. Then he seemed to come out of his shock. His eyes blazed with the fire of obsession. He stood in a fluid motion and crossed the street straight toward Methos who thought sadly, You've gone and done it to me again, haven't you Grey? Just like with Cassandra. If only this turns out half as well.... The oldest Immortal had no doubt that it was full recognition burning within those black eyes.
He stood up tall and shoved his hands deep into his pockets, tilting his head slightly down to the small man and smiling in greeting. "Hello, Tran. Where is Grey?" The question, meant to imply that he had no idea that Tran was after him, had a surprising effect. Tran stopped in mid-step. The blaze in his eyes snuffed out. Worried, Methos asked quickly, "Is he all right?"
Tran stood motionless, staring blankly towards Methos for a long moment. He said quietly, "He is fine. At home, sleeping."
Methos let his shoulders sag with the relief he felt. However, he was confused. "Sleeping?" he queried. Tran shrugged noncommittally. Methos watched the eyes flicker back to life and burn brightly again. They were attracting some interested glances from passersby. There was no point in pretending that he did not know why Tran was there. Methos spun lightly on one heel. "Come on," he called back over his shoulder and strode off.
Methos allowed his long, strolling stride to carry him forward, forcing the small man to make an effort to keep up. With luck, Tran might drop from exhaustion. Methos smiled wryly to himself. Unfortunately there was no chance of that. Tran would keep coming until one of them lost his head. Methos had seen that obsessed expression before. There was no help for it if he wanted to live and oh, he did.
He ignored it when he felt Tran move in close. He pretended not to notice that the smaller Immortal dropped something into his pocket. Whatever this was, it was light and caused no change in Methos' balance. It could wait until later.
They left behind the crowded streets and strolled down side paths where people were fewer, but still appearing often enough to make it safe for him to keep his back to Tran. As soon as they stepped into a little-frequented area, Methos stopped and turned to allow Tran to come up beside him. They stood two meters apart and met each other's eyes. Methos said calmly, "We don't have to do this."
Once again Tran's eyes, which had been speculative, went blank. "Yes, we do."
Methos studied him, wondering what the small man was hiding. He struck with his words, voice soft and thrumming. "I have grown quite attached to your Grey."
For an instant the blankness broke and shivered with pain that triggered anger. "Don't bring him into this," Tran hissed.
"How can I not? You would never have identified me if not for him."
The bland statement had its desired effect. Tran's body was visibly shaking. His eyes shied away from Methos' then snapped back resolutely. "I made him sleep. This will be over before he wakes."
Methos rested his weight on his heels and let the corners of his mouth turn down disapprovingly. "I am sure that will comfort him and he will feel absolved of all responsibility."
"He is not responsible! I would have found you sooner or later!" There was a rising hysteria in Tran's voice. His tight control was breaking.
In his life Methos had learned that it took a great shock to sway an obsessed individual off course. He had been considering the Tran situation for some time. He hardened his voice and played his trump cards. Grey was Tran's weakness. "He told me how you found him and took him from his people. You shaved his beard and embedded a chain in his neck to remind him at all times that he was your slave. He couldn't sleep for a year! You --" Methos stopped as he realized what had struck him as odd about Grey's story. Tran no longer looked menacing, but trapped. Methos asked gently, "What else did you do to him?"
Tran closed his eyes and backed away a few steps, his shoulders hunched. "Grey... doesn't remember much about that first year."
"I suspected as much," Methos replied softly. "He only seems to remember being always afraid. He attributes that to the chain."
Tran turned his head away from Methos. He straightened his shoulders and stopped shaking. Once again he turned his blank black eyes to stare at the other man. "Challenge, killer."
Methos thought, Do you really think you can take me while you're in this condition? He said nothing and nodded his head in a resigned manner. I'm not beaten yet, though. If there is a way for both of us to survive this I will find it. We lose so much in our lives. My Grey shouldn't have to lose you after so long.
They took it to the caverns under the city. The underground chamber they found was musty. The sound of dripping water echoed throughout the space. Lights left and forgotten by maintenance crews had gone yellowy with age. They cast distorted shadows around the two men who had entered the chamber. Tran discarded his heavy jacket and stood lightly, the two Wakizashi held easy in his hands. Methos sighed and drew his own Ivanhoe sword. There was a long moment of inaction as the two men sized each other up.
It was Tran who moved first when it became apparent that Methos would not attack him. He flowed across the room to strike from Methos' left. A shift and the strike made no contact. Methos pivoted to keep Tran in front of him. The small man moved in for another strike in the same manner. This time he came in closer, forcing Methos to parry the Wakizashi. The old Immortal was careful not to extend himself. It was better if his opponent misjudged his reach. Tran's strategy, both recorded by the Watchers and remembered from MacLeod's account of their challenge, was to largely stay out of his opponent's reach and inflict debilitating injuries until exhaustion diminished his opponent's skill. Of course, thought Methos, you've been careful in the past never to come into a challenge dead tired yourself.
He fought a defensive battle for now. The fact that he made no attempt to attack forced Tran to come in closer, or the fight would have simply petered out. Tran came in several times trying to stab with his blades, but Methos was able to cross both with his larger blade and force the other to disengage. He was aware that the small Immortal was becoming careless. Reviewing the patterns of the fight so far he found a repeating theme that stunned him so badly he almost missed the next parry. He laughed wryly to himself and thought, Grey, if it hadn't been for you I wouldn't have let this go on long enough to notice.
He went on the offensive, driving Tran back. The exhausted man took a brief second to register the change in strategy and with a fierce grin tried to dive under Methos' blade and stab him. Methos called on skills he rarely showed and took to the air, leaping over Tran. Not meeting the expected resistance, the small man tumbled and rolled back to his feet easily. Methos deliberately twisted his face into an angry expression and shouted, "Enough!" Tran sneered back at him and came whirling in to attack again from Methos' left.
Methos triggered the spring and felt the firm weight of his other blade settle into his hand. Tran had expected him to avoid the strike. Methos thrust his smaller sword through the other Immortal's stomach, and the Wakizashi never touched him but slid skittering across the floor. He felt a twinge of sympathy for the agony he knew the other must feel. He released his smaller blade and spun, bringing his long sword around for the blow that would end this challenge.
If I Should Die Before I wake, I Pray the Lord My Soul To Take by Sylvan
Special thanks to my betas, Dvorah, Sara and Nancy, for asking all the important questions and catching spelling, grammatical, and other such mistakes. Highlander is copyright 1997 Davis/Panzer Productions. Methos belongs to them. Grey, Mariah and Tran (amongst a few others) are my doing!