She walked into the bar late one night, when the place was crowded and no one would notice a sad stranger, and especially not a harried bartender with far more problems than just an unusually thirsty crowd. She took a seat at the bar and ordered a draft beer, and didn't protest when the bartender accidentally delivered a brand other than what she'd ordered. I'd have pegged her for a white wine kind of gal, myself, slumming for an evening, but then again, I probably paid more attention to the door than some. Trouble had a way of walking in, and it wasn't always immortal.
I suppose, in hindsight, that I should’ve just ignored her. I’d had long practice ignoring what I didn’t want to get involved with, and I could’ve sat at that bar all night just letting life swirl around me. I usually did, most nights. This night was different somehow. She wasn’t stunningly pretty; in fact, she was rather ordinary, but she was at least as tall as me, and that curtain of midnight-black hair down to her thighs drew notice. She’d taken the stool next to mine, one arm easily catching her hair and drawing it over her shoulder so that it wasn’t in her way as she sat down. Dressed in what appeared to be new blue jeans, a blue long-sleeve silk shirt that complemented her dark gold skin tone, and high heels, she looked distinctly uncomfortable sitting there.
“Not your usual hangout,” I observed, unable to resist the urge to comment.
She looked up at me then, and I had to stifle my gasp of surprise. Her left eye had clearly been punched; though the swelling had faded, it still looked bad. “No,” she agreed, stroking the beer bottle nervously and speaking to be heard over the music. Even so, I had to lean closer to hear her, and she barely controlled a flinch. Abruptly, she took a swallow of her drink, then grimaced at the taste. “I take it this is yours?”
“For now,” I told her.
She chuckled, and I watched her face light up with amusement. Even with the bruising, it turned an otherwise plain oval face into something beautiful. Still, she radiated sadness underneath the momentary good humor. Curiosity had already been the death of me more times than I cared to remember, and still I found myself wondering about her. In some ways, I wish I hadn’t chosen to indulge in my search for answers. Tonight, however, wasn’t a night to think of such things. Something about her, maybe the full moon, maybe the fact it was Halloween – to this day, I don’t remember what it was that drew her to me. All I knew was that she was in Joe’s and she didn’t belong.
“And tomorrow it could be somewhere different?” she hazarded.
I took a sip of my beer, using the opportunity to study her more, and then shrugged casually. “Possibly.”
“Typical man. No commitment.” She set the bottle on the bar and pushed it away from her.
I shrugged. “You’re in the wrong place for commitment.”
“True.” She sat there, tapping her fingers in time to the music as she turned slightly away from me, and I considered the conversation, such as it was, to be finished. Leaning back in my chair, I debated the wisdom of trying to talk to her more. Seeing how much she was enjoying the music, I decided to leave her alone.
It wasn’t until I saw Joe behind the bar that I realized how much time had passed. He’d been playing, jamming with the hired band at their request. A quick glance around the bar showed that the crowd had thinned considerably, and I knew without looking at my watch that it was getting close to closing time. I was not surprised when Joe didn’t greet me; he knew I would either be there waiting, or not. Since I really didn’t want to mess with traveling internationally with all the increased attention to security, and Mac was off with his kinsman being a pair of immortal magnets elsewhere, Seacouver – and especially Joe’s – was the perfect place to be a the moment.
What surprised me, though, was Joe’s reaction. He took one look at the woman beside me, and grinned widely. “Of all the gin joints in town, Lily,” he drawled, deliberately slow, “you just had to walk into mine.”
She laughed, low and smooth. On another woman, that kind of laugh might’ve sounded rehearsed, artificial, but that wasn’t her style. “Of course. Where else I can hear blues this good?” She paused, then added, “I didn’t know this was yours, Joe.”
“All mine,” he proclaimed proudly. “Paid the bank off just yester– God, Lily, what the hell happened?”
She shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
“Nothing, hell.” Joe quickly grabbed a bar rag and scooped ice into it. “At least put this on it.”
She waved off the ice pack. “You know what works for me.”
He stared at her a long moment, then sighed tiredly. “You’re just like your old man, you know.”
“Not quite,” she corrected him. “The curse is… different for me.”
Curse, I wondered, what curse? She’s not immortal; I’d have felt her presence long before now. I couldn’t always tell with pre-immortals, but that was an iffy ability at best. In a crowded bar, a pre-immortal could feel just like the low hum of a full immortal at close range. Even as I tried to figure out what she meant, Joe was swearing.
Lily glanced around. “Do we really need to go into this now?”
He half-chuckled. “No, but you’re staying after closing. Lord, woman, you’ve grown up; it’s been years since we last talked. Are you sure you’re old enough to be out this late?”
She laughed. “I’m legal now, Joe. I’m not sixteen anymore. As for the rest – get me what I need, and we’ll see.”
He snorted. “Now why would I give you a reason not to stay?” he countered. Almost absently, he refilled my beer mug, but I knew him well enough to know that he’d done so deliberately. There was some reason he wanted me to stay, and I suspected she was it. “Don’t let him –” he jerked a thumb towards me “—talk you into anything.”
“Hey!” I protested. “I’m not selling anything.”
“No?” he countered. “That’s not what you told the girl who was sitting there last night.” He grinned wickedly and headed towards the back room.
She turned to me then. “So what did you tell her?” she asked, amused.
I smiled and took a drink. “Nothing you’re likely to believe right now.”
She laughed. “Probably not.”
“May I have your attention please?” The sultry voice of Joe’s sometime lead singer and senior waitress poured across the speakers as the lights in the bar switched on to full intensity. “On behalf of my boss, Joe Dawson, and all the staff here at Joe’s, this is Merrily, wishing everyone goodnight, safe driving, and Happy Halloween. The bar is closed. Don’t forget tomorrow is Ladies’ Night, and as always on Thursdays, I’ll be singing the blues. Again, Joe’s is closed. Good night.”
If I was smart, I would leave now, not get involved. It was two a.m. and I had better things to do, like getting sleep and avoiding trouble entirely. If I were smart, I’d listen when I told myself that Joe was fully capable of protecting himself, and he didn’t need me to run interference, especially when it was clear Lily was someone he knew. If I were smart, I would forget about finding out whatever haunted sad strangers with too attractive smiles. I’d had that lesson pounded into my brain enough times over the years to not forget it. If I were smart, I’d wait until tomorrow to harass Joe about missing out on Watching both Highlanders in action. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t harassed him about that once this week already.
“I suppose –” Lily interrupted my silent self-debate, “you’re staying, too.”
“What makes you think that?”
She glanced around. The staff was herding what few stragglers remained outside, and performing closing duties. “You’re still here, the staff is ignoring you in their effort to clear the place, which means you regularly stay after hours,” she pointed out, “and you still have a full glass.”
Deliberately, I drank until the mug was half full. “Not anymore.” I made no move, though, to put on my coat. That would’ve been the smart thing to do, but I’d never claimed to be smart.
Just then, Joe returned, dusting off a green wine bottle. He spent a few more minutes making sure that his employees had left, promising Merrily that I’d help him in exchange for working off my now-legendary bar tab (which wasn’t as extensive as he made it sound), then locking the doors.
“Sorry, this hasn’t been needed for a while,” Joe apologized as he showed Lily the bottle. I couldn’t read the label entirely, but what I could see was faded, as if it had sat for decades.
She raised an eyebrow. “Where on earth did you get seventy-year-old elixir?”
“Your father gave it to me,” Joe told her as he reached for a cork puller. “I always figured I might have to use it on him.”
“Then you know it’s nearly pure.” She hesitated, and glanced at me.
“Oh, don’t worry about him. Lily, this is Adam Pierson. He’s the most secretive bastard I know. One more secret won’t kill him. Adam, this is Lily d’Arneaux.”
She looked at me. Her eyes seemed oddly luminous as she inhaled deeply before shaking hands with me. “A friend of my friend is my friend until proven otherwise,” she said formally. Without taking her eyes off of me, she told Joe, “Pour a shot and replace the cork quickly.”
He did as she requested. The liquid was thick and smelled like scorched caramelized burgundy mixed with blood. The scent threw me. The last time I smelled something like that had been – I couldn’t remember, and the memory was slipping from my grasp the harder I tried to pull it from wherever my brain had stored it.
She paused before she took the glass and looked at me. “I apologize in advance for what you’re about to see. Joe, may I stay with you tonight?”
He nodded. “Of course. Anything else I need to know?”
“Give me another shot when the sun rises, else I won’t change back.” She offered Joe a wry smile. “Took my father a long time to figure that part out.” With those words, she stripped out of her clothes, neatly folding them with a speedy efficiency that spoke of long practice. Once she was completely nude, she reached for the glass and drank.
For a minute after she set the glass down, nothing happened. Then I started to notice her skin was rippling, her facial features were shifting, becoming more canine as black fur sprouted to coat her nudity. Within seconds, her body was on the floor, the stool she’d been sitting on shoved aside as her body writhed with the pain of changing into something other than what it had been designed to be. Now I remembered where I’d smelled that particular wine before, and I swore as a long-forgotten conversation abruptly made sense.
“Lily’s a werewolf.”
Joe seemed amused as he came around the bar to where Lily lay, apparently unconscious but in wolf form. “Don’t tell me you haven’t met one before.”
“Not like this,” I retorted. I didn’t want to admit that after so many years, I’d begun to doubt what I’d heard and thought I’d seen. “So what do we do with her now?”
“If what her father told me holds true for her, this stuff—” Joe pointed to the bottle “—will keep her knocked out just long enough for us to get her somewhere else. Mike’s coming in tomorrow to open up; I don’t need the questions about why I have a wolf here.”
I sighed, knowing that meant I was picking her up. Joe was strong, but he’d been on his legs all night, and his cane meant he only had one hand free. “Don’t you have any normal friends?” I muttered crossly as I slipped on my coat.
Joe laughed as he tucked the bottle in his coat pocket. “Since ‘Nam? Nope.”
Lily was surprisingly heavy. She stirred slightly as I maneuvered her into the backseat of Joe’s car. By the time we reached Joe’s house, she was awake. I didn’t quite know what to do with her; the last wolf I’d ever encountered outside of a zoo was one I’d shot for killing cattle, and that had been over fifty years ago. Guessing she’d react to English much like a pet dog would, I kept my commands simple as I directed her into Joe’s house.
Joe brought up the rear of our little procession. He hadn’t been inclined to talk during the seven-minute ride to his place, and I knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t give me any straight answers unless I figured out what, precisely, to say.
Lily spent a few minutes checking out the living room. I left her to her explorations and followed Joe into his bedroom. “You knew her father?”
“He owned the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris when I was attending the Academy.” Joe sighed tiredly and sat down. “I used to go in there all the time after classes; it was one of the few places I could go that no one looked at me wrong.” He looked at his legs as if remembering something and closed his eyes. “Last time I saw Paul was at Lily’s sixteenth birthday party. That was in ’95. I lost track of them after that.” He opened his eyes. “Go home, Methos. You can ask Lily all the questions you want in the morning.”
I wasn’t so easily brushed aside. “And tomorrow, Lily will be gone, and you’ll tell me I probably had too much to drink and was imagining things. Joe, you trusted me to stay with you when Lily changed into … whatever she is. I need to know the rest of the story.”
“You need?” Joe shot back. “I need sleep. I may not be as old as you, but it’s been a hell of a long day.”
“I’ll give you a massage,” I offered quickly. I wasn’t leaving until I heard more. The fact that the offer would help Joe was purely coincidental.
Joe stared at me a long moment. A small smile grew as he realized the opportunity I was handing him.
“You’ve been standing on those legs of yours all day,” I pointed out quickly, needing to qualify my offer before Joe tried to milk it for more than it was worth. “If you don’t have blisters on those stumps, I’ll be surprised.”
“Oh, and as my personal physician, you’re duty bound to make sure I don’t have any.” Joe’s voice was dry.
“Something like that, yeah.” I grabbed the excuse, too aware that I wasn’t his personal physician, but I had patched him up more times than I cared to remember.
Joe sighed tiredly and stripped down to his boxers. Sitting on the bed, he took off his prosthetics. As he did so, I took my coat off and put it on a nearby chair, careful to keep my sword close. Soon, Joe and I had worked out an seating arrangement that allowed me to attend to his stumps.
“One night,” Joe began, “some punks tried to rob Paul while I was there. I was in the back, reading, when I heard this horrific scream. I thought I’d been too late to help him. There was all this blood and his clothes were in a shredded pile. One of the punks was lying in the doorway, his throat mauled.
“I was scrambling to find the phone and call the police when I heard a bark and I felt this dog – at least I thought it was a dog – nudge me. I stopped what I was doing. Then right before me, it happened. One minute there was a wolf, the next the wolf was human – and it was Paul. After I got over my shock, he told me he wasn’t the only one – that his entire family line had been cursed with lycanthropy.”
“You knew werewolves were real?” I asked incredulously.
“As real as a five thousand year old man.” Joe shrugged. “I thought you knew. Besides, who’d I tell who’d believe me? CNN? The newspapers? They’d think I’ve been watching too many X-Files reruns. I got enough complications just dealing with you immortals. You mean to say you didn’t?”
“I’d heard some things, but nothing that made any sense until now. I thought I’d just heard fairy tales.”
Joe snorted, then grunted when my fingers found a particularly tense spot. “Every fairy tale’s got some basis in fact.”
“Yes, but most of it that I know about was political commentary at heart,” I countered. “Not the whole someone-turning-into-an-animal business.”
Joe shrugged. “Gilgamesh is the one who wrote ‘the legends are all true’, buddy. Didn’t you read that when you went through the Academy? Or was your Academy attendance all bullshit and lies?”
“Hey, I went,” I protested. “I wanted to know what you guys were all about. Plus, Ian would’ve noticed if I skipped out on classes – he thought I was the son he never had. And we’re not talking about me here, Joe. What’s with the elixir?”
“I don’t know what it is,” Joe said honestly. “All I know is that it’s used to heal a werewolf when it’s injured. Paul told me if it’s really old, it could kill a werewolf if it drank the whole bottle. He never said how old the elixir would have to be, and I never asked. He said if one ever attacked me, a gun or a sword would work to stop it long enough for me to get away. Figured – oh, damn it, that hurts, give me a minute – that was enough for me.”
I backed down from the massage and waited for Joe to regain his composure.
“Go on, give me hell for being on them all day,” Joe groused.
“Now why would I do that?”
“Because it amuses you?” Joe took a deep breath and I picked up where I left off.
“Not when you’ve taken all the fun out of it by expecting me to,” I told him. “So you’ve known Lily since she was born.”
“Pretty much,” Joe confirmed. “I couldn’t stay involved with her life, not with the secrets I was already keeping. She’s just one of many people I lost track of when Mac’s life started heating up again. It was a hell of lot easier to Watch when the biggest event in his life was what restaurant he and Tessa were going to eat at that Friday night.”
“Do you miss that?”
“What, spending hours watching him and Tessa eat meals I couldn’t afford without an expense account?” Joe snorted and sat up, waving away my hands. “I don’t know. The Gathering seemed a hell of long ways off then.”
“Oh, come on, Joe. You can’t base the Gathering on the immortal trouble magnet that is MacLeod,” I countered. “Either of them. The statistics always look skewed when you see it from that perspective. The idiots are always going to go after the Highlanders, and Mac hasn’t met a lover yet that’s not trouble in some way.”
Joe chuckled. “Yeah, there is that.”
Lily plodded into the room then, nosing the cracked door open. I had to resist the urge to pet her. She wasn’t a dog and I wasn’t entirely certain if she’d remember anything I did. Watching her move closer to us, I was struck by a thought. “I’m glad Mac isn’t here to see this.”
“You plan on telling him?”
“And miss the surprise?” I climbed out of bed as Lily came up to that side. “Hardly.”
Joe looked at her then checked where she was in relation to his wheelchair. “Lily, you’re in the way.”
She whined apologetically, and then stepped back. Joe swung himself into his chair and headed towards the bathroom.
“You know the way to the guest room, Adam,” Joe said pointedly.
I knew when to take a hint. “Come on, Lily. Let’s let an old man get some sleep before sunrise.” It felt weird to talk to her as if she was a small child rather than a young woman in wolf form, but the brief exchange Joe had had with her had been telling. I wasn’t planning on sleeping – sunrise was only a few hours away – and I didn’t want to take any chances. Picking up my coat, I led the way out.
“Thank you,” Lily said later that morning over a late breakfast. Watching her transform again had only made me think that I’d thought getting a Quickening sometimes was bad enough. No trace of her injury remained. “I know you probably have a million questions. I’ll start by answering the simple one: yes, I am a werewolf. It’s my family curse, and it is hereditary among the members of my line.”
“You said you weren’t like your father.” Joe spread butter on toast as he waited for her reply.
“That’s right. I can’t change into werewolf form unless there is a full moon or I’m forced by something like the elixir; strong emotions sometimes can trigger the change. For the rest of my family, it’s as natural as breathing. The shifts of the moon do not affect them, nor do they require outside forces to submit to the change.”
“So how did you end up with a black eye last night?” I asked. “Given what you just said, you could have—”
“I could have overpowered the jerk who hit me and really given him a fright, yes,” Lily snapped. “Believe me, it was tempting. But my people have rules about such things.”
“Death before dishonor is horribly overrated.”
Joe shot me a warning glance. “You’re not going back to this jerk, are you?”
Lily didn’t answer, choosing instead to busy herself with pouring another cup of coffee.
“Oh, Lily,” Joe began. “Does your father know—”
“My father is dead,” Lily stated flatly. “My cousin is alpha now.”
“And you’ll take abuse from him?” I hoped not, but I was beginning to suspect she lived according to pack rules.
“You are not of my world. I don’t expect you to understand.” Lily finished her coffee and stood. “Thank you, Joe Dawson, for your hospitality. I hope to see you again.” Turning to me, she said, “May your sword stay sharp and true.”
Startled, I could only look at her.
A small smile played on her lips. “You think a wolf can’t scent steel?” Amused, she added, “Besides, we werewolves have legends of our own. My father loved to tell me the ones about who live forever and die by the sword. I never quite understood how that could be.” So saying, she left the secluded café we’d chosen for our breakfast site.
Chuckling, Joe remarked, “The look on your face… I wish I had a camera.”
“Don’t you start on me, Joe,” I said sharply, annoyed.
He only snickered more, and I had the feeling that this was not the way to start off November.
**** Finis ****
©11.4.01 Alice in Stonyland/Raine Wynd