Down Came a Blackbird by Raine Wynd
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Author's Notes:
Disclaimer and Notes: If the Panzer/Davis characters were holiday presents, I'd never have any reason to return them. Since they're not, I'll just say that the standard disclaimer applies. Any others you don't recognize are Stonyland residents, and I might be inclined to claim them on alternate Thursdays. This story is a plot bunny that refused to explode, even when I brought out a commando force to intimidate it....

Thank you to my betas and information sources:
  • James McDonald, who let me bounce this idea off him for four months during lunch
  • Rhiannon Shaw, who got this plot bunny hopping my way and helped keep it going, and who first gave me a Matthew Muse
  • Misha , whose numerous suggestions and superfast betaing helped me stay motivated to finish it
  • and last but not least, Tansy, whose medical insight as well as NYC info was invaluable.
  • the Eyrie for the Amtrak information, inspiration, and encouragement
  • to Dana Woods, for the NYC phone company information
  • Parda and Celedon, for helping me with the layout of Connor's loft

December 2000

"I'm going down to grab a newspaper," Nick called to Connor as the other man sat in the sunken living room of the apartment above the antique store. "You want anything from the deli?" As he spoke, he leaned over the railing of the walkway that separated the upper bedroom level from the lower living area. From here, he had a clear view of the half-round sofa on which the older immortal sat, as well as the eclectic mix of modern art and antiques that decorated the living room. Without looking, Nick knew that a home entertainment system occupied one wall of the living room, along with a good-sized aquarium filled with exotic tropical fish. He could see that Connor had pulled the walnut coffee table closer to the sofa to create a makeshift desk. The sight amused Nick; he knew that his teacher had a perfectly good desk in the guest room but preferred the light - and the view of the river - generated by the massive windows.

"No." The blunt refusal of Nick's offer came quickly. Connor never looked up from the laptop he was using as his student grabbed a black leather coat from the wrought iron coat rack at the top of the stairs leading into the living room. Connor knew that the younger man usually went to get a paper on Saturday afternoons, primarily to obtain the crossword puzzle and the movie listings.

Nick hit the button for the elevator, having completely ignored the two swords in the umbrella stand at the foot of the stairs. The highly polished metal doors of the elevator reflected a ruggedly handsome man wearing blue jeans, a thick cable-knit sweater, and black sneakers. As he waited for the elevator, he reached behind his back to adjust the gun holster underneath his sweater; it had shifted when he'd stood.

"Forget something?" Connor asked pointedly without looking, aware of the younger man's tendency to rely more on his gun than his sword. Before his death, Nick had been a police officer and had worked for a security firm on various covert projects. The habit of relying on a gun over a sword was something the older immortal was trying to break.

Chuckling, Nick doubled back to jog down the stairs and then reached for the wolf's head broadsword in the stand. "No," he answered as he tucked the sword in his coat and put on the coat. "Just seeing if Rachel was right about those eyes in the back of your head."

Connor shook his head, irked and amused at the same time. Hadn't the man learned yet that you didn't look to see if the sword had been picked up; metal lifting off metal made a distinctive noise, if you listened for it.

Less than ten minutes later, Connor heard the phone ring. He answered it, noting that it was the internal line connecting the antique store to his living quarters. "Yes?"

"Did you order a corpse for Christmas?" Nick asked grimly. "Because we got one on the back doorstep."

"Gift wrapped and addressed to me?" Even as Connor probed for information, a new immortal presence in the area flashed across Connor's senses. It was faint, not very strong, but it was close, and it flickered as if the immortal was trying to stay just out of the average sensing range. Warily, the Highlander rose to his feet.

"You expecting one?" Nick demanded suspiciously. "You said you'd tell me if you were expecting trouble."

"Aye, I did." Connor kept his tone calm only because he knew Nick's mistrust of immortals ran deep. "And I'm as surprised as you are."

Nick took a deep breath. Connor could almost see the way his student needed to remind himself that Connor had yet to lie to him about anything, especially something of this magnitude. Even after six months of living and training with Connor, Nick sometimes reacted as though Connor would leave him as much in the dark as Amanda had. Given what Connor knew about Nick's experiences, he couldn't say that he blamed Nick for believing that another immortal would be more apt to lie or conceal the truth from him in any given circumstance. While that belief was in some ways a blessing - Connor didn't have to teach any lessons about trusting others blindly - it made some things harder, such as building the kind of trust necessary between a teacher and his student.

"At least," Nick continued after a pause, "there isn't a note with the body. Guy's been mugged and stabbed; his wallet's gone, but he's wearing a high school ring with the name of Craig engraved in it. The snow's covering up his tracks, but from what I can tell, I'd say he stumbled his way here and died trying to get help. Oh, and Connor?" Nick's voice went hard. "If he wasn't one before, Craig's one of us now."

Connor didn't waste any more time talking, but quickly made his way downstairs.