|In the Dark
by Kellie Matthews & Julia Kosatka
"Thank you, Agent Scully. Here's the situation as we've mapped it out..."
She listened intently as Bennett explained the layout of the general area and the building they were going into. She was troubled by the proximity to water, knowing that if the suspect had a boat of some sort moored nearby, he could escape them. She made a mental note to watch for that possibility.
"Everyone ready?" Bennett asked quietly.
He was answered with chorus of affirmatives that made Scully smile. It sounded like a high school locker-room before a big game. As the other law-enforcement personnel began to take up their positions, she followed the SWAT team toward the warehouse, to the door nearest the blue car that sat alone in the lot. They took up positions to either side of the door, and one of them looked at her, questioningly. She nodded, and stepped forward, her hand on the door handle.
It turned beneath her hand, and Dana was startled to realize it was unlocked. Too easy! A trap? Cautiously she eased it open just a crack. Inside, in the dimness, she saw a single shadowy figure pacing the floor. He was facing partly away from her, but she could tell that he held a weapon. She could also see that he was not Mulder. He was too short and too stocky. Holding a finger to her lips she eased the door open a tiny bit further until she could see what he faced. A puddle of light played over the tableaux of figures on the floor. One of them was stunningly familiar, and she sucked in a silent gasp. She would recognize that long, rumpled figure anywhere. Mulder! Was he alive? Hurt? The only other member of the trio she could see well was a black woman whose mouth was covered with duct tape. Scully winced in sympathy. She knew what that felt like. The woman's eyes were open, and the periodic flicker of her gaze as she followed her captor's movements told Scully she was alive and aware. She quietly pulled the door closed and turned to the man on her left, the one who'd been pointed out at the SWAT team sharpshooter. He bent down so he could hear her whisper.
"The man standing is our suspect, and he's armed, though I can't tell what with. There are three other people in there, on the floor. At least one of them is alive, though she seems to be restrained. When we go in, can you take out the suspect quickly so he can't turn on his hostages?"
The man grinned ferally. "No problem, ma'am."
Scully felt an utterly inappropriate desire to laugh at being called "ma'am" but restrained herself. She looked down the line of men waiting for her move, and mouthed, "On three."
They nodded, and she held up one finger, then two, then three. On the third, she threw open the door and charged in, followed by the swarm of men in riot gear.
"Federal agents! Throw down your weapon!"
The man spun to face them, an almost comical expression of surprise on his face. He focused on Scully, and his hands came up. She realized that what he held in his hands was a gun, not a knife. She stiffened, suddenly aware that she was in danger, and then Mulder moved in a fluid, catlike lunge toward the suspect. They were down on the floor in seconds, and Scully swore in frustration. The sharpshooter couldn't get a clear shot now!
A gunshot sounded, and she stiffened, half expecting one of the two men to collapse, but neither did. After a moment, the suspect managed to free himself and he got to his knees, his gun aimed at Mulder's head. Three nearly simultaneous reports shattered the air, and the man dropped his weapon as crimson bloomed on his chest and back. He touched his fingers to the spreading wetness on his chest, and looked up, his expression an odd combination of frustration and bewilderment.
"But I wasn't finished yet..." he said, quietly, then his eyes rolled back and he tipped slowly sideways to lie unmoving on the floor. Mulder kicked the man's gun out of reach and scrambled to his feet, looking around at the men surrounding him.
"Nice job on the reinforcements Scully."
"It would have been if you hadn't decided to play the hero. We had a clear shot at him until then!"
Mulder looked offended. "So did he, directly at you; and you're welcome."
Scully gave him a grudging nod and knelt next to the suspect, searching for a pulse. There was none. Not that she'd really expected one. She looked up and found Mulder helping one of the other two victims sit up. She recognized the bartender by his silver-shot dark hair. His shirt and jacket were streaked with blood from a wound on the back of his head, and he looked pale and a bit woozy.
"Get some paramedics in here!" Dana snapped, and saw one of the SWAT guys react and begin speaking into his walkie-talkie. She moved to Joe's side and examined him cursorily, relieved to see that the cut at least was superficial.
"I bet you have a hell of a headache," she said, commiserating. "You should get that x-rayed. It could be a concussion."
He nodded, wincing, his gaze fixed the black woman.
"I'm okay, I'm hard-headed. But Guinan... I think that shot hit her, I felt her jerk when the gun went off."
Scully shifted her attention to the woman. Mulder was carefully peeling the duct tape from her mouth, and her dusky skin seemed to have taken on an oddly ashen tone that Scully didn't like at all.
"Where are you hurt?" she asked, examining her, looking for the telltale leakage of blood. "That shot hit you, didn't it?"
The woman nodded, her lower lip caught in her teeth. After a moment she sucked in a breath. "It grazed my arm, that's all. I'll be okay. Get my hands and feet free, please! I've got to find Duncan and help him!"
"He's in no danger now, we killed the man who was holding you hostage here."
"You killed one of them, but not the really dangerous one. Come on, get me loose!"
"One of them?" Scully looked blankly at Mulder. That was something they hadn't even thought of. "There are two of them?"
The woman nodded frantically. "Yes! Damn it, let me go to him..."
"Where did they go?" Mulder asked calmly.
"There..." she nodded toward the west wall, the one that let out onto the dock area. "They're out there." her gaze shifted to Mulder, and her eyes seemed to hold his. "I know they are, I can feel them. I have to help! You've got to let me help."
Scully was only half listening as she began to rip open the woman's blood-soaked sleeve to bare the wound on her arm, but Joe's intense response to that plea made her look up.
"Guinan, no! You don't know what you're doing. Duncan doesn't need any help!"
"Yes he does! You don't know what this guy is like!"
"Yes, I do, and believe me, Duncan would not want help, especially not you and a horde of cops!. He can handle Dane."
"No, he can't. Dane's evil, Joe, like nothing I've ever met before. He's as dark as Duncan is light, maybe even more so. He might..." she broke off and looked at Mulder. "Go to him. If you won't let me help, you go. Don't let him face the darkness alone."
Something about her voice was incredibly compelling. Mulder looked at her, then at Scully. He held out his hand. She hesitated for a moment, then she put her gun in his hand. "Be careful this time."
He nodded, and headed for the door. Scully watched him, wondering why on earth she had just handed him her gun, and why she was letting him do this. She started to call out, to tell the SWAT team to go after him, but the woman put a hand on her arm.
"Please, let him go alone. It will be all right."
Again Dana felt compelled to do as she'd been asked. She settled back down to examine the wound on the woman's arm. It was just a graze, but there was something odd about her blood, and look of the wound. She wished there were better light in the room, and that she had proper equipment, but she didn't. Where were the paramedics, for god's sake? For lack of anything better, she folded a piece of the woman's ripped sleeve into a pad which she held to the wound to stanch the bleeding.
"How do you feel?"
"Like I've been shot," Guinan said drily. "But it's not that bad now that I've gotten more accustomed to it. I'll be fine."
Dana studied her, noting that her color had improved somewhat. She nodded non-commitally. "We'll let the paramedics make that determination when they get here."
Guinan stiffened suddenly. "Paramedics? No... I can't. I'm fine. I don't need to be treated."
Joe looked at her, annoyed. "Don't be a damned martyr, Guinan. Have it looked at. I'm going to have my head examined... something people are forever telling me I need to do," he said with a chuckle. "I want to make sure you're okay. You shouldn't have been mixed up in this to begin with."
Guinan snorted. "You can say that again. But there's no need to worry, everything is fine, I assure you. Now would one of you please get this damned tape off me?"
Joe nodded and dug a folding knife from his pocket, which he opened and used carefully to slice through the tough silvery tape. Guinan stretched her legs, then flexed her arms, hissing slightly in pain from the wound. Suddenly she turned toward the far wall, as if she could somehow see through it. "Quiet... let me hear..."
Hear what, Dana wondered, unable to hear anything but the SWAT guys. She vaguely thought she ought to be concerned about Mulder being out there with a killer, but it was just a stray thought. She returned to what she was doing.
Mulder moved quietly and quickly around behind the building to a dock-like area. He stopped, staring at the two figures he saw. One was the guy in photograph that Bennett had shown him, Duncan MacLeod. The other was slighter, better dressed, and completely unfamiliar. It certainly wasn't Nash. It must be the man that Guinan had called "Dane." The one she had said was the `dangerous one.' They were fencing. No, he corrected himself, they were fighting. This was no genteel match with button-tipped foils, this was a lethal fight. He watched for a moment, trying to figure out if he could get a shot off without accidentally hitting the wrong duelist. How many times had this scene been played out throughout MacLeod's lifetime, and how long had that lifetime had been? Decades, centuries, millennia? The smaller man circled MacLeod, who turned with him, waiting, watching. He struck suddenly, and MacLeod brought his blade up and blocked the cut. Dane turned and struck out again with astonishing speed, and they engaged again.
It was clear that MacLeod was stronger and better-trained than Dane, however Dane seemed to have the advantage of speed. As Mulder watched, MacLeod managed to bring his sword in under Dane's and parried it with a circular motion that neatly disarmed his opponent. Dane stood there for a moment, looking utterly stunned, then as MacLeod drew back the katana for the final blow, Dane slowly began to smile. His smile was both knowing, and unnerving, and MacLeod stopped, eyes narrowed. Mulder raised his gun and started to step forward, but stopped as MacLeod spoke. He wanted to hear what they had to say, and he could wait a moment to declare his presence.
"What?" MacLeod growled.
"It won't do any good for you to kill me, you know."
"What are you talking about?"
"Your friends are dead anyway, you know that. Conroy took care of them, you heard those shots."
MacLeod's stance shifted slightly, angling toward the warehouse, though still keeping Dane in his field of vision. Dane's words obviously disturbed him. MacLeod was clearly weighing his options, and Dane took advantage of the momentary pause to dart to the side and pick up his sword. MacLeod reacted to the threat by bringing up the tip of his blade, but he didn't attack.
"Conroy? What's your Watcher got to do with this?"
Dane chuckled. "Everything. It's him you know, not me. He's been killing them."
"Tell me another one!" MacLeod scoffed.
"But it's true, he's trying to become one of us!"
MacLeod scowled. "Don't be ridiculous. That's impossible. You have to be born an immortal!"
"He doesn't know that. It was remarkably easy to convince him otherwise."
"You told him he could become an Immortal by killing us?" MacLeod asked incredulously.
"Oh, not just us, anyone. I told him that it's how we all got to be what we are. I told him that there was a critical threshold of deaths that it would take, and he's been trying faithfully to reach that goal. It's a shame he won't get the reward he's been seeking. He's been such a good disciple. Who shall we go after next, hmmm? How about... what's his name... Richie?"
"Damn it, Dane! What do you want?" MacLeod's voice was harsh with anger.
"Right this moment? Oh, watching the expression on your face when you walk into that warehouse would be nice. Perhaps they're not quite dead yet... lying there bleeding, dying, as we fight." He chuckled. "What a delightful thought. Eventually, I want your head, of course. Give me your blade and perhaps I'll let Richie live... for now."
MacLeod's expression fairly reeked of disgust. "You're sick, Dane, you always were, however I think you'll leave him alone if I take your head. I can handle Conroy."
Dane grinned. "A child could handle Conroy, I, on the other hand, won't be so easy." He lunged toward MacLeod, who swore and barely managed to block a sweeping upward slash from below that made Mulder flinch in masculine sympathy. That had been awfully close to the family jewels. Dane seemed maniacal in his intensity, coming after him with grim determination. MacLeod blocked, and blocked, time after time, and began to maneuver himself toward the edge of the dock. Mulder wondered if he was planning a dive into the river in order to escape. Dane suddenly seemed to realize what he was doing, for he moved between MacLeod and the water.
"Oh no you don't! I've waited far too long for this!"
Dane cut low, and MacLeod blocked. Their swords rang with the clash of steel on steel, and before MacLeod could recover, Dane stepped back, disengaging, and lashed out with his blade laying open MacLeod's chest and abdomen in a diagonal slash. Mulder saw the bigger man stagger back, moving sluggishly, as if badly hurt. Dane grinned and drew back his own sword to strike. It was now or never. Mulder stepped out of the shadows and drew a bead on Dane, Scully's Sig-Sauer held in both hands for stability.
"FBI! Drop your weapons!"
Dane turned and saw him, cursed roughly and moved to complete his stroke.
"I said drop your weapons!" Mulder shouted again, louder.
MacLeod did as he'd been ordered, simultaneously hitting the ground and rolling to avoid Dane's weapon as it came down. Mulder's finger tightened on the trigger, and a single shot shattered the stillness.
Dane jerked backward, a grimace of pain on his face as his sword fell from nerveless fingers. A bright stain appeared on his right shoulder, just below the collarbone. He stared at MacLeod for a moment, his face feral with hatred, then he turned and let himself fall. A splash came a few seconds later. MacLeod cursed soundly, and looked over the edge. Mulder moved warily to join him, and saw no sign of Dane.
"Damn, we'll have to drag the river."
MacLeod looked at him, and he saw recognition in his face. He must have recognized him from Joe's earlier in the day. He looked back at the dark surface of the water, and shook his head.
"You won't find a body," he said flatly.
Mulder let out his breath, suddenly aware he'd been holding it. "Somehow I knew you were going to say that."
"Then you should have let me take him."
"From where I stood, it looked more like he was about to take you."
"That was deliberate."
Mulder studied him a moment, seeing the truth of that in his eyes, then sighed. "This seems to be my day for getting in the way. I'm Fox Mulder, FBI."
There was a surreal quality to the moment, introducing himself as if they'd met at a party, but MacLeod took the hand that was extended to him.
MacLeod smiled dryly. "Somehow I knew you were going to say that," he said, echoing Mulder's earlier words.
Mulder acknowledged him with an amused glance. "Scully talked to you, then?"
"She did. She knew a few things that surprised me. You people don't strike me as the type who'd be interested in us."
Mulder laughed silently. "You'd probably be surprised at what interests us. But in this case, it was logical. We were tracking an interstate killer."
"Ah, yes. That explains some of it."
MacLeod stared, unseeing, at the water, and Mulder wondered what he was thinking.
"I don't suppose you'd care to give me some details on him; his name, where he lives, that sort of thing?" he prompted quietly.
"It wouldn't do you any good. He can change them more easily than you can imagine."
"Still, it would be nice to be able to make a complete report."
"Frankly, I'd prefer it stay incomplete."
Mulder's eyebrows lifted.
MacLeod grinned ingratiatingly. "Does your report have to mention me?"
Mulder chuckled. "D'you think I could convince Scully you're a figment of her imagination?" He paused a moment, reading MacLeod's expression, and shook his head with a slight smile. "I didn't think so either. Honestly, I don't think anyone ever reads my reports anyway, but in any case, it's clear from what I saw, and what I was told by your friends, that you're a victim here, not a perpetrator. However, we seem to have a plethora of victims, and I can probably get one of them to tell me about this guy if you won't."
MacLeod's head snapped up, his eyes searching. "My friends? Joe? Guinan? They're alive?"
Mulder remembered what Dane had told MacLeod, and realized he must have thought them dead. He nodded.
"I'm sorry, I should have told you earlier. They're fine. My partner brought the cavalry. She's good at that."
"Where are they?"
"Inside with Scully. She's showing off her doctoring skills at the moment. Your friend Guinan insisted I come out here and give you a hand."
Duncan eyed him narrowly. "Doctoring skills? I thought you said they were fine!"
"They are, mostly. They're a bit banged up," Mulder gingerly touched the back of his head. "But then, so am I." His gaze fell to the bloody slash in MacLeod's shirt and he nodded toward it. "And so are you. You might want to get that taken care of."
MacLeod glanced down, smiling slightly. "There's no need."
Mulder's eyes narrowed as he realized there was no wound beneath the slash. He stared for a long moment, then lifted his gaze to MacLeod's.
"That must be handy."
"On occasion. It can also be very problematic."
"Yes, I'd imagine it would. I'm sure there are a lot of people who'd like to know what makes you tick." He paused, thinking of his own experiences. "A lot of not-very-nice people."
"Exactly. So you can see why I'd rather avoid any mention of it in your report."
Mulder nodded. "There are... aspects of the case I don't have to report in as much detail as others."
A noise from behind them brought Mulder's attention around, and when he turned back, he gestured at MacLeod's sword. "I think you'd better put that away before someone besides me sees it. I think the reinforcements are about to descend."
MacLeod nodded and slipped his sword into concealment beneath his coat, buttoning it to hide the slash in his shirt. "You're not at all what I expected out of an FBI agent."
Mulder gazed for a moment at the dark water below the dock, and then turned, his expression wry. "I don't think I'm quite what the FBI expected out of an FBI agent either."
"Guinan, Joe! Thank God! I was afraid you were dead!"
Guinan looked up to find Duncan standing over her. She'd been so distracted by Scully's fussing over her arm that she hadn't realized he'd come into the warehouse with the other FBI agent. She'd known he was safe, she'd felt his presence strongly, while Dane's presence had faded and disappeared; but still she felt a rush of relief at the sight of him. She saw the same emotion echoed on Duncan's expressive face. She pulled away from Scully and wrapped one arm around Joe and the other around Duncan, ignoring the fiery protest from her wound, and just held on. She realized a moment later that she wasn't the only one who was shaking. They stood like that for several moments, then finally she let them go.
"Don't you guys ever scare me like that again!" she admonished them.
"Me?" Duncan said, with mock offense. "What about you? How did this happen?"
She felt a blush burning her cheeks and was glad her dark skin hid that from them. "He must have followed me from the bar. He and his friend snatched me right off the sidewalk. I've been one of those `never thought it could happen to me' types. I guess it's time to take some self- defense classes."
"I'd say so!" He looked at Joe with concern. "Joe, do you feel as bad as you look?"
Joe chuckled. "Nah, I'm okay, but they want me to go get an x-ray to be sure."
"Do it. Concussion's nothing to fool around with." Duncan's gaze returned to Guinan. "What happened to your arm?" He hadn't missed her wince as she lowered her arm, or her torn sleeve.
"Don't worry about me, it's just a scratch," she chuckled, relief making her feel a bit giddy. "You know, I've always wanted to say that."
"I can't say that I'm glad you got the opportunity. You should have that looked at, too."
"It is just a graze, but it could easily get infected. Definitely have it treated." Scully put in from the sidelines where she'd been watching them with an amused expression. Her gaze shifted to Duncan. "So, you were coming here after all."
MacLeod looked at her innocently. "Me? I was just in the neighborhood. You never know when you'll find a good real estate bargain. I see you managed to find the place without following me after all."
"After all?" Mulder echoed, looking interested. Scully shot him a look that should have singed his eyebrows.
Guinan looked from the petite redhead to Duncan and felt the flare of interest between them. At this point it was weighted a bit toward Dana Scully's side of the scale, but that could change easily. Duncan was still wary of the agent because of the situation, but as soon as the adrenaline wore off he'd be able to see her as a woman instead of a law officer. She stifled a sigh of regret. Even if she were allowed to indulge herself, he was better off with a human woman anyway. Her longevity would be a serious obstacle to overcome.
She took a step back, removing herself from their line of sight, and looked at her arm. The bleeding had stopped, and she felt the telltale itch of healing flesh beginning in the deepest layers below the surface. With any luck, she wouldn't even have a scar. She was damned lucky it hadn't been any worse. If she'd been taken to a hospital, they'd have known within minutes that she wasn't human. In fact, if the light in the warehouse had been any better, her own blood would have betrayed her. Humans didn't bleed deep maroon. She was glad her black clothing hid the color of the blood it had absorbed.
"Guinan? You okay?"
She turned to find Joe regarding her closely. She nodded. "Just a little shaken up, that's all. You?"
"The same. I can't believe Evan would do something like this! It's insane!"
"What was he trying to do, anyway? What did he think he'd gain by killing us?"
Joe's gaze slid away from hers and he shook his head gingerly. "Hell if I know, Guinan. It doesn't make any sense."
She stared at him, her eyes narrowed. His words held a peculiar mixture of truth and falsehood that startled her. She'd never sensed him in a lie before, at least not one that wasn't just a social lie. This time, he knew something that he wasn't telling her.
"Excuse me, Mr. Dawson, would you be able to answer a few questions for me?"
Joe looked up at Mulder, obviously relieved by the interruption. Guinan shot him an `I'll get you later' look, and stood by quietly as Mulder began to speak.
"We've found identification on this man indicating that his name is Evan Conroy. Did you know him?"
Joe nodded. "We were acquainted, though not well. I knew him in connection with a bookstore I once owned."
Guinan sensed another partial lie. Mulder looked as if he did too. "A bookstore?" he queried, clearly waiting for more.
Joe nodded, and then hesitated a moment, as if he suspected the other man knew more than he let on. "We're also... fraternity brothers."
Mulder nodded sagely, and seemed oddly amused. "A fraternity? I see. That would account for the tattoos then?"
Guinan felt Joe's anxiety levels skyrocketing. He shot a glance at Duncan where he stood speaking to Scully.
"I've already spoken to Mr. MacLeod." Mulder said quietly, as if to reassure him. "I know about your... fraternity. It's an interesting one. Its been around a long time hasn't it?"
"A very long time."
"And you have some very old members, don't you?"
Joe's eyes were narrowed with suspicion. "I suppose that depends on your definition of old, doesn't it?"
Mulder nodded. "It does." His shrewd gaze swept over Joe, moved to Duncan, then to Guinan. "And some people are a lot older than they seem, aren't they?"
Guinan felt a flare of apprehension. Could he know? Had her cover been penetrated? Even if it hadn't, would her falsified background stand up to an FBI investigation?
"They are." Joe said flatly. "Can I talk to you privately for a moment?"
Mulder's eyes lit up. "Of course." He looked at Guinan. "Will you excuse us?"
She nodded, she would be able to hear them no matter what, so it didn't matter if they thought they were private or not. She pretended interest in watching the people from the coroner's office loading Conroy's body onto a stretcher.
"You're a Watcher, aren't you? And so was Conroy." Mulder asked Joe.
"How the hell do you know about us?" Joe demanded.
"I have good sources. I know about the Watchers, but you can relax. If you want to spend your life keeping tabs on marginally human beings with unnaturally long life-spans, that's your business. It's a little strange, but it's not illegal. I do however, need to know what the hell was going on here!"
Guinan stopped listening, stunned by the implications of what she'd overheard. Somehow, some way, they knew at least part of her secret! How had they figured it out? If the government knew about her, they might find out that not only was she long-lived, but she wasn't even human, and that would spell trouble. The "black" agencies who kept tabs on extraterrestrial activity were not known for their benevolence. She knew the usual fate of those who were caught. Of course, the ones they caught were usually the ones who most deserved catching, the ones whose experiments on humankind made them targets for the same sort of experimentation in return. She, however, had no intention of becoming a laboratory rat.
She looked around the warehouse, determining that no one was watching her. All the various security personnel were busy collecting evidence and searching for clues. Joe was occupied with Mulder, and Duncan with Scully. It might be her only chance. She stepped away from the pool of light she'd occupied and edged her way through the shadows toward the door. She felt badly about sneaking off, but she didn't have much choice. No matter what Joe, and possibly Duncan, thought they knew about her, it was nothing compared to what they could learn. Then there was the complication of the FBI's involvement. She just couldn't risk it. Now, if only she could get out of there without being noticed.
Apparently everyone was busy inside the building, as no one challenged her as she stepped out into the evening. It had gotten dark, and she stopped for a moment, listening, and heard three men conversing as they searched the cars parked around the corner from where she stood. She hesitated, wanting to avoid being seen. It would be better for her to `disappear mysteriously'. There was no one in sight or hearing behind the building, so she slipped around there and blended into the night.
Scully rose and stood at her desk, stretching stiff muscles. Behind her, the printer began spitting out her report. As she watched the paper accumulate in the tray, Mulder walked into their office. She looked up and seeing the stress in his face, gave him a sympathetic smile.
"How'd it go?"
"Worse than rush-hour on the beltway, but not as bad as a trip to the dentist. He didn't much care for the fact that one of our two serial killers disappeared. I know I hit him, but there's always a chance that he survived that. Skinner'll probably like your report better than he liked mine."
She grinned. "He always does."
He made a face. "Go ahead and rub it in, Scully."
"No thanks, just did." She picked up her report and leafed through it, pursing her lips thoughtfully. "Here, I wanted your opinion on something. Read this part."
He took the report and started to read, then looked up at her, one eyebrow lifted. "You had your laundry analyzed? What, the `Spray and Wash' didn't work?"
She chuckled and rolled her eyes. "I couldn't figure out how I got maroon stuff all over the front of my blouse when I left the warehouse. It wasn't there when I went in so it had to be something I picked up at the crime scene. Considering the fact that we went over the place with a fine-toothed comb and didn't find anything even remotely similar, yes, I had it analyzed. Keep reading."
He did, and his eyebrows lifted. "`The substance appears to be hemoglobin, however the lab has been unable to identify the species from which it came,'" he quoted. "Interesting. From our so-called `Immortal', perhaps?" He thought for a moment, and shot her a sly look. "Just how close were you standing to MacLeod, Scully?"
"Not that close, Mulder. Besides, he wasn't injured. I only treated Joe Dawson and our mysterious disappearing lady, Guinan El- Aurian. I guess I have to wonder if she was one too?"
"I don't think so. You said her arm was cut and bleeding, right?"
Scully nodded. "Yes, it wasn't terribly serious, but it was messy."
"Then she wasn't an immortal. I saw MacLeod take a sword cut that should have put him in the hospital. He was laid open, shirt and skin, nearly from his `naves to his chops', as the Bard put it. It was healed within minutes. If she were an immortal, too, I don't think you would've had anything to bandage... unless there are two types of immortals out there."
Scully stared at him, her eyes narrowed. "You must be mistaken. The blood must have been Dane's and the sword cut MacLeod's shirt without actually touching him."
"I know what I saw, Scully, one minute he was bleeding and the next he was healed. Besides, his blood was as red as yours or mine, not maroon."
Scully bristled. "Why didn't you tell me? You didn't think that was important enough to share with me? I expected resistance to infection and enhanced tissue replacement, but never considered the possibility that it might be virtually instantaneous! I wonder if the speed varies with the severity of the wound? Perhaps MacLeod would be willing to come in for a few tests. Can you imagine what we could learn from him? Studying him could revolutionize medicine!"
He looked at her ironically, "Now you know why I didn't say anything to you... or to Skinner. Think about it from the other side of the microscope for a moment."
Scully frowned a little as Mulder's words sank in.
He continued, echoing her earlier enthusiasm. "I understand your fascination, though. What must it be like? Have you thought about how old he might be?"
"I'd guess about thirty-five, but he claimed to be four hundred and three. I guess life begins at 400."
"He told you that? And you didn't think it important enough to tell me?"
Scully paused a moment, enjoying turning the tables on her partner for a change. "Mulder, the man was obviously either delusional or pulling my leg. In either case, it didn't seem worth wasting your time with."
"What if he was serious, Scully? What if that fantastic immune system you posited were real? Wouldn't it be within the realm of possibility? Given that, is it truly so difficult to imagine that the ravages of time might be held at bay, that a body which could heal itself so quickly and so completely might be virtually immortal? Imagine what that could mean! He and the others like him are truly living history. What have they seen? What must it be like to watch civilizations rise and fall while you remain the same?" Mulder stopped, lost in his visions.
Scully, caught up in Mulder's passionate imagery, shivered and replied, "Horrible. It would be horrible."
She sighed, thinking, for a moment of the practical side of such a life. They'd have to move every few years to hide their nature. Friends would grow old and die in the blink of an eye. Immortality could easily become a curse. Looking into her partner's face she saw her own emotions mirrored in his eyes. "Still, I'd love to spend a week or two studying MacLeod's blood chemistry."
Mulder's eyes were bright with amusement, "Here I want to talk with the man, and you just want his body."
Joe nodded to Duncan as his friend paused in the doorway to let his eyes adjust to the relative darkness of the bar. Finishing with his customer, he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and deposited it in front of Duncan.
"What's this, my tab?" Duncan picked it up and glancing at the envelope noticed that it was addressed to both Joe and himself, care of the bar. There was no return address. Intrigued, he turned it into the light to see the postmark. "San Francisco? Who do we know in San Francisco?" He pulled out the single sheet of paper out and glanced first at the signature. "It's about time," he exclaimed feeling an odd mixture of relief and irritation. He read the short message quickly and tossed the sheet down onto the bar in annoyance. "Is this all there is? Just `I'm sorry, see you later'? No explanation?"
Joe shrugged, equally irritated, "That's all she wrote."
Duncan winced, "Please."
Joe grinned crookedly, "It's the first time I've ever seen a 'Dear John' letter addressed to two people. Got to give her an 'A' for originality."
Duncan glanced at the letter again, "At least she apologized. I guess we should be grateful for that." He paused a moment, his initial irritation fading, "I'm glad to know she's okay. I was getting pretty worried."
Joe set a beer down in front of Duncan and sighed. "Yeah. I just wish she'd been a little more specific about where she was going and when she might be back. I mean, couldn't she at least have given us a forwarding address?"
Duncan shrugged, "I get the feeling she doesn't want to be found. I've been there a time or two myself."
Joe scowled, "I guess that shows us how we rate."
"Don't, Joe," Duncan commiserated with his friend, "Don't try to second guess her. We don't know what's going on in her life. And who knows? Even a mortal lifetime is long enough that you never know who you might meet again."
Picking up his beer, he gestured for Joe to raise his glass as well, "To absent friends," he said.
"To absent friends," Joe echoed.
"Commander. I am picking up an automated distress signal in the Koto Barani system." Worf waited with his usual air of barely contained impatience for Riker to acknowledge the information and request additional details. Or not.
"Put it on audio, Mr. Worf."
"There is no audio available, sir. It is a beacon only."
Riker suppressed a smile at Worf's expression. As usual, the security chief seemed to be taking the lack of an audio signal personally. Riker frowned thoughtfully. He knew they were the only Federation ship in the area at the moment, whoever was in trouble might not get another chance. He looked back at Worf.
"Is there anything else you can tell me about it?" Given a chance to provide his commanding officer with something, Worf consulted his board again.
"The beacon appears to be a Type IV, commonly used by small Federation trade vessels."
"Mr. Data, how late would we be picking up the Captain if we detoured to Koto Barani?"
"Approximately three hours, Commander."
"Any ships reported missing in the area?"
Data accessed the necessary records, his hands playing over the console almost too fast for the eye, the human eye, to see.
"Three Federation ships equipped with Type IV emergency beacons have passed within four light years of the beacon's location. Of those three, The Sorka has reached Star Base 108, the Monroe is presumably still enroute to Devani Prime. Only the Darius is currently unaccounted for. It was scheduled to deliver agricultural equipment and a variety of biological specimens to the colony on Valhalla 5 a week ago. The Darius is a two-man cargo vessel owned by the Highlands Trading Corporation.
"Mr. Data, increase speed to warp 4 and change course to rendezvous with that beacon. Mr. Worf, send word to the Captain, tell him we're going to be a little late."
Duncan closed the cover on the biopod's maintenance hatch. So far, the embryos were still safe in their stasis fields. He leaned back against the bulkhead behind him and slid down to sit on the deck. Tired. So tired. Since crashing on this benighted planetoid five days ago (was it only five days?) he'd given himself little time to rest. Between trying to get the ship going again, repairing the beacon and checking his perishable cargo, his days had been full. Not full enough, though, to distract him from the fact that he hadn't had food or water in those five days. His body was capable of pulling moisture directly from the air, and he could go quite a while without food, but it didn't keep him from being hungry, and thirsty. He sat there, head back, eyes closed listening to the barely audible hiss of the life support and tried not to think of the shrouded stasis unit across the cargo bay.
Jeremy. He'd been the most recent in a long line of Watchers who'd been assigned to Duncan over the centuries. After he'd discovered the Watchers late in the 20th century, the group had deemed it a waste of effort to keep his assigned Watchers a secret. He'd deemed it a waste of effort to to try to avoid them. Over the years he'd gotten to know a few of them, like Joe Dawson, Liam Anderson, and Jeremy Dikembe. Those few had been a welcome relief from the constant pretense and subterfuge that was an Immortal's usual relationship with humans, they had proven to be friends as well as Watchers. Jeremy had volunteered to help him crew this trip because of their friendship, and now he lay dead at the impossibly young age of thirty. Duncan tried to remember being thirty but found it increasingly difficult. He shifted around a little, rested his head against a storage container and felt himself drifting off to sleep. His last thought before dropping into darkness was that if no one heard his beacon, immortality could prove to be a great disadvantage.
Wind in his hair, and sunlight hot on his skin. God, it felt good. It seemed so long since he'd felt the wind or the warmth of sun on his face. And motion. He looked down to see he was riding a silver horse. Sparks flew from her metal hooves as they raced over the rocky plain.
Suddenly, the land changed and he was walking through a darkened, ruined city. Fire lit the sky to the east in a maniacal false dawn. Distant screams traced the path of a marauding band of vigilantes who patrolled what was left of the city, one of many such groups. Duncan prowled the alleyways, searching for... something. He couldn't remember what it was but he had to keep looking. Tired, he was so tired, but he couldn't stop till he found it. He sat down on the hood of a burned out car to rest when it hit him, filling his head, freezing his heart and permeating him with an almost insane bloodlust. There was Another nearby.
Sword in hand, he ran until he found himself on a rocky precipice on a world in perpetual twilight. The Presence was still with him, but he couldn't find the source. Frantically, he searched until he was ready to drop, then with the Call so loud he was on the edge of madness, someone laughed behind him and he heard the unmistakable whir of a blade through the air, and felt its edge bite into his neck as he screamed.
Beverly Crusher crouched down before the dark-haired man who sat propped against a stasis unit. He wore the stylized compass-rose badge of a commercial pilot on the collar of his utilitarian jumpsuit, so she knew what he was. Judging from the restlessness with which he slept, he was the throes of a nightmare. She reached out to shake him awake, then decided it might be better to get her scans done while he couldn't object. In her experience, these commercial transport pilots could be an incredibly stubborn bunch when they tried... or even when they didn't try. Opening up her tricorder, she leaned forward to bring it closer to him. Her eyes narrowed as the first, rather odd readings flashed across the readout. How strange...
Suddenly, with a cry, his eyes flew open and he lunged forward, his shoulder connecting with her shoulder hard enough to throw her backwards several feet, where she skidded to a stop a few feet away, her pained yelp still echoing through the cargo bay. Wary blue eyes looked into the stranger's unfocused brown ones. Slowly, he shook off the effects of whatever nightmare he'd had and he began to realize what must have happened. Rising and extending a hand, he approached her with a contrite expression.
"Are you all right? I'm very sorry, I... I..."
"Not a morning person, are you?" Bev asked, using humor to diffuse the tension. Rubbing her right shoulder, she let him help her up and looked around for her tricorder.
"Doctor!" Worf appeared at the hatch, phaser drawn. "I heard you cry out, are you all right?"
The Klingon, as regulations dictated, did not have his phaser pointed at the stranger since he was not obviously threatening anyone, but his stance indicated that his aim could change at a moment's notice.
At Worf's approach, all traces of confusion disappeared from the stranger's face. Gone was the embarrassment, in its place a flash of something... else. He stood lightly balanced on the balls of his feet and his hand made an abortive movement as if to reach for an accustomed weapon.
"It's all right, Lieutenant," Beverly said as she continued to massage her sore shoulder. "I'm afraid I startled him, and he startled me back." She smiled warmly at her `attacker,' inviting him to share the joke.
The pilot relaxed a bit, still eyeing Worf warily. "I'd be grateful if you'd put the phaser away, then, Lieutenant. It does make me a bit... nervous."
Beverly stared as she listened to him. That accent! Combined with the vague familiarity of his features, she knew she should know him.
"Excuse me, but are you from Caldos IV?"
He turned to her, eyes narrowed. "No, why?"
"You seem familiar, I thought perhaps we'd met before."
He studied her for a moment, and then shook his head. "I'm sure I would remember having met you before. However, my... father spent some years on Caldos IV, you might have seen him there."
"Perhaps. May I ask your name?"
"MacLeod, Duncan MacLeod. And yours?"
"Dr. Beverly Crusher, though back on Caldos IV, it used to be Beverly Howard."
He focused on her face, studying her intently. "Howard? Would you be any relation to Felisa Howard?"
"She was my grandmother, why?"
"My father mentioned her a time or two, said she was a grand lady. I'm honored to meet a descendant of hers!" He bowed slightly from the waist, in a courtly fashion.
Bev gazed at him thoughtfully, thinking him delightfully mannered and damned fine-looking to boot. "Your father knew Nana? Hmmm... I don't recall Nana mentioning anyone named MacLeod."
"How about an Ian MacGilvray?"
Her mouth dropped open. "Ian MacGilvray? You're kid... no, you're not! That's why you look so familiar! You look just like the holos she had of him! But your name is MacLeod?"
"It's my mother's name," he grinned "They weren't married."
Bev couldn't help but return his smile. "Why doesn't that surprise me?"
He chuckled. "I can't imagine."
As she was about to answer, Worf cleared his throat loudly, and she caught herself. "Here I am reminiscing when there's work to be done! Let me find my tricord... oh. Damn." She picked up the tricorder from where it had fallen and studied it in dismay. The instrument had hit the wall with enough force to disable it. She sighed.
"Well, I guess it's up to time-honored methods now. Does anything hurt?"
He shook his head.
"Good. Your arm, please?"
Looking a bit puzzled, he extended one arm. She pushed up his sleeve, found his pulse, and started to count. A minute later, satisfied, she let him go.
He looked wary. "Why?"
She grinned. "I said lean down, not bend over. I just want to check your pupil response."
He complied, and she saw amusement in his eyes. She noticed he had very long eyelashes, and his eyes were a rich, warm brown. Feeling a little annoyed with herself for noticing something like that at a time like this, she thumbed her search-beacon on and flashed it briefly upward. His eyes dilated equally, and she stepped back.
"Well, according to primitive methods, you seem fine, but I'd like to run a full scan on you back in sickbay to make sure. Worf, how do things look?"
"Commander LaForge is assessing the situation in the engine room. Lieutenant Barclay reports that only one of the biopods appears to have sustained any damage. However there is a body in one of the stasis units." Worf sounded faintly disgusted, as if he were annoyed to have to deal with such an occurrence.
MacLeod sighed and some of the life seemed to go out of him.
"My first officer, Jeremy Dikembe, was killed in the accident. I'll notify his family as soon as I can get to a working comunit."
"What caused your vessel to crash?" Worf asked, looking a bit suspicious. Beverly was pretty sure he hadn't missed MacLeod's abortive reach for a weapon earlier.
"I'm still not sure," MacLeod said. "I'm a pilot, not an engineer. Jeremy handled that end of things. One minute we were doing warp 4 on course for Valhalla, the next all hell had broken loose and we were god-only- knows-where with only our thrusters working. Jer went back to the engine room and managed to get the impulse engines on-line but they failed again as I was trying to make planetfall. I managed to guide us into the flattest place I could find, but we hit pretty hard. I was knocked unconscious, and by the time I came to..." he sighed. "There was nothing I could do."
"What killed him?" Beverly asked, wondering how MacLeod had managed to come through the accident apparently unscathed.
"Coolant leak. The emergency bulkheads in the engine room sealed the area off when the leak was detected, so the rest of the ship was unaffected. The automated systems vented the room, but it was too late. Jeremy was already gone."
His voice sounded hollow, and his eyes closed for a moment. Bev reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm sure you did everything you could."
He took a deep breath and straightened, nodding. "Thanks. Do you think I could speak to your engineer? I'd like to know if there's any life left in the old girl."
Beverly assumed he was talking about the ship. "Certainly. Worf, you said Geordi was in the engine room?"
The Klingon nodded and led the way as they walked the short distance.
"How long have you been stuck here?" Bev asked, looking back over her shoulder at MacLeod as they stepped into the engine room.
"Five days... no, six now. Not that long, in the overall scheme of things, but long enough that I'm certainly glad you heard the beacon. It wouldn't have been pleasant to go much longer."
"I'd say not... especially with the replicators out." Geordi said, coming out from underneath a access-panel. "You're the pilot?"
MacLeod nodded, eyeing Geordi's visor curiously.
"Then may I say that I'm impressed? I can't believe you managed to land this thing basically intact using nothing but thrusters!"
MacLeod smiled. "Thanks, it wasn't easy. So... what's the verdict on the Darius?"
LaForge looked unhappy. "You're not going to like it. The engines are beyond repair, and there's major structural damage to the hull."
Duncan sighed. "I was afraid of that. I bought her used, and she's been good, but when these ships go, they go," he looked around at them ruefully. "I guess I'm going to have to bum a ride to the closest starbase and rent a salvager. What sort of ship are you from? Do you have room for a hitch-hiker?"
Geordi chuckled. "I think we can spare a bunk and some cargo space for you. I'm Geordi LaForge, by the way, chief engineer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise."
The castaway looked momentarily stunned. "The Enterprise? Good God... I've been rescued by the bloody Starfleet flagship?"
Bev grinned. "That you have. We'll have Barclay see to your cargo and you can beam back to sickbay with me."
MacLeod stiffened, and shook his head. "I'd like to oversee the cargo transfer myself, if you don't mind. It means a lot to some people who are trusting me to bring it safe to them. I gave them my word."
"Is a fine officer, I'm sure. I would expect no less of the Enterprise, but still, 'tis my cargo, and I'd like to handle it. I'll also need to see to having my own things transferred as well. It would be better if I could do this myself, please?"
Worf nodded. "That seems a reasonable request. Follow me."
Bev watched them go, a bit piqued, eyes narrowing. She knew a stall when she saw one, and MacLeod was definitely trying to avoid sickbay. Why? She touched her combadge.
"Crusher to Barclay."
"When our guest finishes overseeing the cargo transfer, make sure you bring him to sickbay if you would."
"Yes ma'am. I m-mean... sir."
She smiled. "Thanks, Crusher out."
Duncan checked the readouts one last time then stretched to work the kinks out of his back. He and Lieutenant Barclay had gone over all six of the remaining biopods to make sure they hadn't sustained any hidden damage from the crash. The seventh had cracked like an egg when its supports gave way and it slammed into a bulkhead. Fortunately, it hadn't contained anything terribly important and most of its cargo was duplicated in some of the other pods. Duncan patted the number 6 pod and smiled. This one had come through all right.
"I'm a-all f-finished ov-over here, sir. This one is... just f-fine." Barclay, ill at ease at the best of times, shifted from one foot to the other while his hands fluttered like wild things seeking shelter from a predator.
"So is this one. Fortunately." Duncan's smile widened.
Barclay hesitated, obviously curious about the contents of the pod, but uncertain if he should ask or not. Curiosity eventually won out over caution.
"`F-fortunately', sir? What's in it?"
"Horses." Seeing the other man's blank face, Duncan elaborated. "Valhalla is a low-tech colony. In some areas, like medicine and communications, they use modern methods, but they grow their own food, and build their own homes from native materials, and choose to not use highly technological transportation except in extreme emergencies."
"They ride h-horses? N-no ground cars or t-transporters or-or anything?" The engineer in Barclay couldn't believe he was hearing the truth, but the closet romantic in him warmed to the idea. "But, if they don't have any mechanical means of t-transport, how... how have they managed without th-these horses? I mean, don't they al-already have some?"
Duncan sobered and nodded. "They did... until a few years ago. Then the horses on Valhalla developed something now called Reigert's Syndrome. Half of them died and of those that survived, two-thirds were sterile. They've had to wait until they were certain they could guard against it before bringing in replacements.. A vaccine was developed and a few months ago they contracted for these embryos." Duncan noticed that his companion had stopped listening and was lost in his own thoughts.
Barclay started and looked down at the deck, embarrassed.
"I'm s-sorry, I was just wondering..."
"Oh, I, well...", the shy engineer stammered a moment then took a deep breath and replied slowly," I was just w-wondering what it would be like to live in a p-place like that." He paused, as if seeking approval, "I mean, we-we use technology for everything. I-it would be very strange I think."
Duncan found himself warming to the awkward young officer. "Tell you what, Lieutenant," Duncan took the datapad from Barclay's hand and laid it down on the pod next to his own, "I lived on Valhalla for a few years. I'll tell you everything I know about it and how the people live there if you'll show me where a man can get something to eat on this ship." Duncan took Barclay by the elbow and steered him toward the door. "My replicators have been down since the crash, and I'm starving!"
"Uh - Sir, I'm supposed, I mean, D-Dr. Crusher said..." Duncan interrupted him as they exited into the corridor just a few yards from a turbolift.
"I know. I know. Dr. Crusher said for you to bring me to sickbay after we finished here. Well, you can still take me by sickbay, but we both need a break. I don't want her to lecture me because my blood pressure's too high and my blood-sugar's too low."
The lift's doors whooshed open at their approach and Duncan looked guilelessly at his companion obviously waiting for Barclay to give the command.
Barclay sighed in resignation, and stepped into the lift with MacLeod right behind him.
"10-Forward," he said, and surprised himself by not stuttering. Even though he knew Dr. Crusher would not be pleased he was actually looking forward to spending more time with MacLeod. He was one of the few people Barclay had ever met that didn't seem at all put off by Barclay's manner, and besides, he was curious about Valhalla.
The lift doors opened and Barclay stepped out. "T-this way, sir."
"Come on, Barclay, call me Mac. I'm not your superior officer! Hell, I'm not even a Fleeter!"
Barclay was momentarily taken aback, but then he realized that MacLeod was extending a gesture of friendship. He nodded.
"Okay, Mac." It sounded a bit awkward, but he thought he could get used to it. "In here," he said, gesturing to the elegant frosted-glass and wood doors of Ten-Forward which slid open at their approach. Mac stopped for a moment, looking around, and whistled softly.
"This is some mess hall!"
Barclay felt a rush of pride. "The Enterprise is some ship." he stated fondly. "We don't have a mess hall. We have Ten-Forward."
"Aye, I can see that. Well, would you mind if we sat there?" He indicated an empty table near the huge viewport. "I've always had a weak spot for a good view."
"Anywhere you like."
Mac made his way through the tables to the one he'd chosen. Barclay noticed he drew a few curious glances, mostly from women, and he had the sudden hopeful thought that maybe if he hung around with MacLeod for awhile, it might improve his image.
"So, Barclay, what do you recommend here?"
"Really. We have the best replicator programs in Starfleet."
Duncan sighed. "Replicators. Oh well."
"There's a good selection of hydroponics too."
MacLeod's expression lightened. "That sounds better. I confess, I prefer real food when I can get it."
"Is that a taste you acquired on Valhalla?"
"No, I've always been that way, but it was easier to get real food there, for certain."
"I guess that would be an advantage. Is real food really all that different?" He suddenly realized he hadn't stammered in three or four sentences, and decided it must have something to do with MacLeod.
MacLeod looked thoughtfully off at the stars, and finally nodded. "Yes, and no. It doesn't taste all that different, but the body knows. There's earth, and air, water and sun in real food. Replicated food is missing those elements that give us life."
Barclay goggled. Philosophy, from a Commercial Pilots Guildsman? Unheard of! He was fascinated.
"B-But replicated food is just transformed from other substances. W-Why don't they have t-the same... elements?" Damn. Stammering again. If he hadn't noticed he was doing better, he wouldn't have started again.
Mac frowned reflectively. "Perhaps they were once, but they've been transformed through mechanical means. They may nourish the body, but not the soul."
"Doesn't technology--" Barclay began only to be interrupted by a hail from his combadge.
"LaForge to Barclay."
He tapped the device, activating it. "Barclay here."
"I need you in Engineering. We're running a recrystallization routine and we're short-handed with Pfannen and Suvar both out."
"Aye sir. On my way." He sighed, and looked at MacLeod. "I guess I'll have to talk with you some other time."
MacLeod nodded. "Anytime, Lieutenant. I won't have much to occupy me here."
Barclay smiled, pleased that Mac was willing to talk again. "I-I'll see you around," he said, as he headed for the doors. MacLeod waved and turned back to the stars.
With Barclay gone, Duncan felt a bit at a loss. He wasn't sure where he was supposed to be, other than sickbay, and that he planned to avoid as long as possible. Medical technology had become entirely too efficient for his tastes. His physiology would drive the machines, and doctors, crazy.
He flagged down a server and ordered a meal and an ale. He was more than pleased to find that the bar offered not only the popular synths' but the real thing as well. Then he leaned back in his seat and looked out at the splendor before him. No matter how many years he spent in space, he never tired of the majesty of it all. Once again, he pitied the mortals around him. Having grown up with this spectacle at their beck and call, they had lost some of the awe that he felt would remain with him always.
Guinan adjusted her hat one last time before leaving her quarters. The odd feeling that had woken her during the night was still with her. It was familiar, but she couldn't quite place what it meant. A slight prickling at the back of her neck, a tension at the base of her spine. Whatever it was, she felt sure it would make itself known in its own good time.
Greeting people as she headed toward 10-Forward, Guinan was aware of a growing sense of expectation. Whatever it was that put her on alert was getting closer. The simulated teak doors opened and Guinan glided into her domain, nodding to one of her waiters and speaking to several people on her way to the bar. What she was feeling right now she hadn't felt in years, centuries, perhaps. She scanned the crowded room for... someone or something out of the ordinary.
There, by the port in the forward corner of the room, a man with long dark hair pulled neatly back, seated alone, body half turned from the room, eyes rapt on the passing stars. Her pulse-rate picked up, her breath going shallow as she suddenly realized who it was.
As the first flush of stunned surprise passed, a smile lit her face and she began to weave her way over to his table. Whether he was intent on the view or his own thoughts, she couldn't tell, but it was him. She knew that face well, she knew that... presence too. Impossible though it was, she knew this man, though she'd thought him centuries dead.
For a moment she doubted herself. Perhaps, just perhaps the resemblance wasn't as great as it seemed. Maybe he was merely a descendant of her long-dead friend. Either way, she had to meet him. She had to know.
The chair closest to her was turned slightly out from the table, as if someone had just left, or as if he were waiting for someone. Never having been one to let an opportunity slip, Guinan slid into it. The man turned, shock coloring his face as he recognized her. That told her everything she needed to know. It was him.
"So, it is you. I don't know how, but it's you." She grinned, and assumed a very bad Cuban accent. "You got some 'splaining to do, Duncan MacLeod."
Duncan was on his feet and reaching instinctively for his sword, when for the second time that day remembered it wasn't at hand. He'd had to bring it aboard in his baggage, which had been beamed directly to his quarters, wherever that was. Seconds after that, he realized that he hadn't felt the unmistakable Presence of a fellow Immortal. He sat back down, warily, hoping he hadn't looked as odd as he suspected he had; and leaned forward, studying her face intently. She looked only a little older, but much, much wiser. He saw a world of experience in her eyes, and wondered if his own looked like that as well.
"Guinan... my God! Is it really you?"
"It is. I could ask the same, but the look on your face already answered that question. It's been a long time, Duncan."
He shook his head, looking amazed. "Now there's an understatement if ever I've heard one! I don't understand, how can you still be alive? What are you?"
"I'm an El-Aurian. I used that as my name when I knew you, but it's really the name of the world I was born on. My people have very long lifespans compared to humans. Or should I say to most humans? Now it's my turn. What are you?"
He sighed, and shook his head. "Good question. Am I human? I've never been quite sure." He looked around and realized that several of those closest to them were watching them curiously, and probably trying their best to eavesdrop as well. He couldn't have that. "Guinan, can we go somewhere more private to talk? This is too... public for my needs."
She eyed him narrowly. "Secrets, Duncan?"
She studied him a moment longer, then nodded. "Follow me."
She stood up and began to walk toward the door. As he followed, he registered her clothing rather than her face, and frowned, a little puzzled by their rather nun-like aspect. He remembered her wearing bright, African-inspired prints that he thought had suited her well. He smiled, realizing that those `suitable' styles had been as foreign to her as a Vulcan's robes would be to him. Was her current dress haute-couture on El-Auria? Probably.
She led him out of Ten-Forward and around the corner to a door where she keyed in a lock sequence. It opened onto a large stateroom, she stepped inside, and motioned him in.
"Welcome to my parlor."
He chuckled. "I seem to remember you saying that to me once before."
"You have a good memory."
"Amazingly enough, I do. I sometimes wonder how, considering how much I have to remember."
"How old are you, anyway?"
"I was born in 1592," he smiled wryly. "In just a little over two-hundred years, I'll be a thousand."
She looked a bit stunned, and sat down abruptly. He took a seat across from her as she spoke again
"I can't believe this! You're older than I am! I'm still around because for my people, that's normal, but how can you still be alive? You owe me some answers. Are you alien? Clone? Android?"
He laughed. "Android? Now there's a new one! I wonder if I could get away with that?" His smile faded, and he sighed. "You deserve the truth. I was born on Earth, and lived most of my life there. As far as I know I'm human, but my unusual physiology has allowed me to live far beyond what's normal for humankind. There are others who, like me, live very long lives, though compared to the general populace we're quite rare. We've been called Immortals by some, though that's somewhat of a misnomer. It's true that after a certain point we don't age, and we don't die under normal circumstances, but there are ways we can be killed permanently. Decapitation, certain types of energy weapon. If we're killed, temporarily, by anything less than that, we generally recover."
She stared at him for a long time, then shook her head in clear amazement. She shook her head, smiling ruefully. "Here I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about Humans, and then you tell me this! I... why didn't you tell me when I knew you before?"
He looked at her, one expressive eyebrow lifted. "You really have to ask that? I don't remember you telling me you were an alien, either."
She smiled. "You're right. But why should you have had to hide it? You weren't an alien."
"It's not something I normally tell anyone about. We have to hide what we are, we've always had to. When we've been found out in the past, we've been seen as witches, demons, aliens... whatever society fears is realized in us, though in truth most of us would rather help humankind than harm it. We represent too much of a temptation to too many people, and despite our immortality, we're too vulnerable." He sighed. "Then, too, we have to hide from our own kind."
"From your own kind? Why?"
"Because of the Game."
He shook his head, his expression eloquent of disgust. "It's a stupid name, for it's no game at all. It's deadly serious. There is an essence, an energy, that's released when we die. If one of us kills another, the killer gains that essence. Each gain makes us stronger, harder to kill, more... powerful. We have no knowledge of why we are, of what or who we are. The single rule we live by have says that we have to keep killing each other until there's only one of us left."
She looked horrified. "Duncan! That's..." she broke off, groping for a kinder way to say what he knew she was thinking.
"Insane?" He supplied. "I know. I decided that a long, long time ago. I've tried to avoid it, but sometimes, when they hunt me down, I can't."
"Dane! He was one of you? That finally begins to make sense. He was an immortal, like you!"
Duncan nodded, his expression bleak. "He was."
"And the woman Dane tortured, your lover, the one you told me about, she was too?"
He closed his eyes briefly, and nodded again.
"So when you killed her, you gained this... power, from her? Oh Duncan, no wonder you felt so guilty! That's horrible!"
He shuddered. "It's one of the worst things I've ever had to do. But she begged me. I couldn't refuse her."
"I know. We've been through this, you know I don't fault you for it. Duncan, this explains so much that never quite made sense! The way you reacted to certain things, way you feel..."
"The way I feel?" he queried, clearly curious.
"Your presence, your `aura,' if you will, is so much stronger than that of most humans. I never understood why, before, now I do. It also explains why I felt something similar from Dane. And it tells me what Evan Conroy was trying to gain by those killings."
Duncan nodded. "Dane had convinced him that he could become one of us by killing. It wouldn't have worked, of course. The only way to become an Immortal is to be born one. But Evan wanted it so badly, he believed Dane when he told him that," he shook his head, sadly. "Poor Evan. He's not the first to want immortality, nor will he be the last. Fortunately for him, he didn't have to find out the hard way that it's not all it's cracked up to be."
Guinan looked at him quietly for a moment, her eyes narrowed. "Having a hard time with it, are you?"
He slouched back in his chair and nodded. "Aye. Sometimes I wonder if I haven't lived long enough."
She sighed, looking off into some unknown distance. "I know what you mean. I've felt that. It's hard not to, sometimes. You wonder why you're still here when so many others aren't, you wonder what purpose you serve."
He was surprised to realize how good it felt to talk like this, to have someone understand what he felt, and know it wasn't just lip service. She'd been there. She knew.
"I'm glad we met again," she said suddenly. "I've never been happy with the way we parted."
"Me either. It's funny, you and I could have told each other our secrets then, and been better off! But we didn't realize it."
"That's the thing about secrets. They isolate us, even when they don't need to." He put hand behind his neck, trying to massage out the tension there, and flexed his shoulders. That led to a yawn, and he shot an apologetic glance her way. "Sorry, I'm tired. I've been trying to keep my ship running on chewing gum and bailing wire since she went down. It's been a long five days."
"It was your ship that went down on Koto Barani?" Guinan asked, then seconds later she smiled and shook her head, answering her own question. "Of course, where else could you have come from? What happened?"
"I honestly don't know. The Darius was an old ship, but she was in good shape, and we never had any kind of engine problems before. And it wasn't just the engines, either. It was everything. Engines, navigation, hell, even the replicators went offline! The only system that didn't fail was life-support. If I could think of a reason why, I might suspect someone sabotaged the ship. But what I was carrying wouldn't be valuable to anyone but the Valhallans. There's no logical reason for anyone to sabotage my ship."
"Duncan, a ship doesn't have to be old to have systems failures. We have them all the time! In fact, if I hear Geordi grousing about the starboard power coupling one more time, I'll scream! Sometimes things just happen. Don't let yourself get paranoid."
"You're right, of course. I just want someone to blame for Jeremy's death besides myself. And no, you don't have to remind me that it wasn't my fault. I know it already." He leaned back, and closed his eyes for a moment, as much to shut out her sympathy as to rest for a moment.
"You are tired, aren't you? Why don't you go to your quarters and rest?"
He opened his eyes and sat forward again. "I was hungry, I asked Barclay where I could get dinner."
"But you've taken care of that now?"
"I did, thanks."
"So, what's the real reason?"
He stared at her for a moment, eyes narrowed. "Don't tell me... El-Aurians are telepathic."
"Not exactly, but sort of. Enough to know when someone's lying to me, in any case."
He grinned wryly, shaking his head. "It figures. All right, I admit it. I'm trying to avoid Dr. Crusher."
"I don't want her finding out what I am, and if I set foot in sickbay, she'll know something's up. She thinks she needs to examine me and won't believe me when I tell her I'm fine."
Guinan chuckled. "That's our Beverly all right. But you could have gone straight to your quarters and gotten both rest and food... they did assign you quarters, right?"
"Probably, but I haven't a clue where. After I checked in my cargo with Lieutenant Barclay, he took me to Ten Forward, and then he had to leave. Frankly, I'm a bit lost here. My ship was big enough for me, and my first officer, and that's about it. The Enterprise is a blessed floating city. Besides, even if they have assigned me quarters, I can't go there, because then she'll know where to find me."
"True, but you can't avoid her forever."
He grinned. "No, but I might just be able to avoid her until I can think of a good way to put her off."
Guinan laughed, and the rich, throaty sound took him back years. It was somehow fitting that he'd met her again in a bar. She glanced up at something over his left shoulder, then back at him.
"Look, I have to get back to Ten-Forward, there's a new shift about to start and I need to be there. You're welcome to stay here if you like. She won't be able to find you, and you can sleep. I won't be back for hours. How does that sound?
He sighed. "Like heaven, but you're sure I'm not putting you out."
"What are old friends for? Beverly will probably be annoyed with me, but I'll pretend I didn't know she was looking for you. The bedroom and bathroom are that way," she pointed. "Feel free to use both. The replicator's in the corner there if you get hungry again."
She stood up, and he rose as well, reaching out to catch her hand.
"Thank you, I know you've no reason to trust me, not after all this time. I appreciate it more than I can say."
She gazed at him for a long moment, then her eyelids hid her all-too- expressive eyes from him. "The fact that you once risked your life to save mine might have some bearing on the matter. I'll see you in a few hours."
On that note, she left. He looked around, not wanting to pry, but curious about her tastes. The compartment seemed peculiarly muted, like her clothing. He saw no past in her room, no mementos, no artifacts... nothing that betrayed the fact that she, like he, had more years than met the eye. He found that rather odd, considering the fact that unlike him, she lived here. There seemed barely more possessions than would fit into a couple of carryalls.
Feeling somewhat of an intruder, he went to the bedroom. Like the sitting room, her bedroom was almost spartan. Her bed was wide, though, and looked comfortable, covered with what looked like a down comforter, and piled with pillows. He touched it, and found it firm, but yielding. He sat down, and started to lie back, then changed his mind. Shower first. He hadn't had a bath in days, and he'd had too many centuries of etiquette drummed into him to do something that inconsiderate. He got up and headed for the bathroom.
Guinan paused a moment outside her quarters and reached up to touch her headdress. After a moment's hesitation, she slipped it off. For some reason she wanted to be the Guinan she had been when she had first met Duncan, rather than the Guinan she had become in the intervening years. It felt odd to take it off, as if she had removed a shield from between herself and the rest of the world. She hadn't realized she'd been doing that. Funny how you could help everyone else with their problems and still not be able to see your own. It had been four hours since she had left him in her quarters. For most of that time she'd fought the urge to go check on him. She'd finally given in, realizing it was in part simply the need to make sure she hadn't imagined it all.
She ran a hand through her hair, which she still wore in a multitude of sleek braids, as she had all those years ago. A crewman passed and glanced at her briefly, then stared. She forced herself to nod politely, and he looked embarrassed and moved on. He'd probably never seen her without her head covered before. Very few people aboard the ship ever had. She looked down at herself, and realized she'd been hiding behind her clothes as well. She hadn't denied herself lovely colors or textures, but she had chosen styles as androgenous as a J'naii's. It was as if with the death of her world, she had tried to deny her own love of life. She had become prematurely old, dispensing wisdom and empathy, but refusing anything in return. Only now did she begin to see how empty that was.
She sighed and entered her quarters, quietly, leaving the lights low. He was there. She could sense him, sleeping, and didn't want to disturb him. She sat down for a few moments on the couch and tried to relax, but she felt as if she were a cat someone had been petting backwards.... full of static electricity and on edge. This was ridiculous! Just plain silly! She got up to return to Ten-Forward, and stopped. She had to go look. She had to see him with her eyes, not just her Othersense.
He was sprawled out on her bed in the boneless relaxation of deep sleep. Judging from the amount of skin showing here and there beneath the rumpled covers, he was naked. She kept her eyes on his face. It was funny how all men seemed to have the ability to look incredibly innocent when they slept, no matter how old or how experienced they actually were. Duncan was definitely no exception.
She noticed again that he had incredibly long eyelashes. They probably rivaled Deanna's. In fact, he had a rather Betazoid look about him, that sort of same unconscious grace and sensuality. She made a face. `Stop thinking about sensuality, Guinan,' she admonished herself silently. `It's not a good idea.' Shaking her head, she turned to leave, and brushed against the small table next to the door. It rattled, and he stirred at the sound, rolling onto his stomach. She froze, and watched him for long moments until she was sure he wasn't going to wake up. Finally reassured, she relaxed, but she didn't stop watching him. Damn, the man was surely a work of art. He looked awfully good lying there in her bed, his skin seeming dark against the creamy linens. It was so tempting to just reach over and see if he felt as good as he looked.
`No! No, no, no! You will stop that,' she told herself sternly. `He's off limits. He's a human, he's just a baby, and you're a... ' She stopped suddenly, feeling as if someone had just turned on a light. She was thinking in the past! He wasn't just a baby, he was a good two-hundred years her senior! This wasn't twentieth-century Earth, and she wasn't on a research visit any more. There were no rules to follow, save those she made herself. This was now, here, and there was no reason on earth why she shouldn't indulge herself, should the opportunity present itself. A smile curved her mouth. This could be fun. She stepped out into her sitting room again, and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She studied her reflection, dissatisfied with it. This wasn't who she wanted to be right now. After a moment's thought she went to the replicator and began to program it.
Deanna Troi stretched and sighed, wiggling her toes in her uniform boots, wishing she'd changed clothes before coming down to Ten-Forward for dinner. Toes were not meant to be cramped up in shoes all day. They were meant to go barefoot on soft carpets of grass. She indulged in a brief fantasy of that, and had just gotten to the part where she was about to wade into a crystal-clear stream when she became aware that she was no longer alone. She glanced up, and had to look twice before she recognized the woman who stood by her side.
"Guinan?" she asked incredulously.
The woman nodded, a mass of dark braids bouncing as she did, and she smiled. Her smile was instantly recognizable even if the rest of her wasn't. "What can I do for you?" she asked, still smiling.
"Me?" Deanna managed, weakly, taking in the changes. Gone was the halo-esque cap, and matronly tunic-and-trouser combination she had affected ever since Deanna had known her. In its place was a flowing and highly flattering vest-like garment of painted silk over a snug-fitting teal bodysuit. Somehow she looked years younger, and both less and more approachable.
Guinan smiled. "Don't you usually want something when you come in here? What'll it be?"
"Oh, yes. Well, I... Guinan! What have you done?"
Guinan laughed. "I needed a change. I was tired of being Our Lady of Ten-Forward."
Deanna sat forward, letting her empathic senses range out, and was startled by what she found. Guinan obviously sensed her probe, because she shook her finger in mock-reproach.
"Now, now, Deanna Troi, you know that's not polite!"
Deanna grinned. "It's not, but it works. Who is he?"
Guinan grinned back. "A very, very old friend."
"One of your people?"
"I want to meet him!"
"You will, I'm sure. In fact, Beverly's probably going to ask you to try to bring him into sickbay for her."
Deanna stared at her, puzzled. "Why? Is he ill?"
"No, he just doesn't like doctors."
"Now that's not true, doctors are fine people, I just don't happen to need one."
The voice from behind her had been preceded by an almost overwhelming sense of presence. Deanna turned to see who that sensation, and the mellifluous baritone belonged to, and found herself gaping. He was a big man, olive-skinned and dark haired. He had beautiful dark eyes, and a mouth that made her think of candle-lit bedrooms and satin sheets. He was smiling at Guinan in a way that certainly explained what had prompted her sudden transformation! Before Deanna could gather her wits, his eyes narrowed and the teasing smile on his face faded as his skin turned chalky- pale.
"Thalassa?" he asked, looking and sounding as if he'd seen a ghost.
Deanna felt a wave of emotions from him; fear, surprise, elation, loss, guilt. It was physically painful to feel what he was going through, and it had come as too much of a surprise to put up shields against. She put out a hand as if to bodily push him away.
"Please, stop. I can't-- it hurts!"
He stepped back, still looking stunned, and the sensations faded somewhat. She relaxed a little, rubbing her temples. "Thank you, that helps."
"You're Betazoid." he said, realization dawning as he looked at her dark-in-dark eyes. "God, I'm sorry! I didn't realize! It's just that you look so much like her! I'm afraid it was kind of a shock."
"Her?" Guinan asked, her voice sounding rather odd. "The woman you..." her question trailed off but it was clear he knew what she meant.
He nodded. "Yes. Her."
The guilt-feelings strengthened and Deanna flinched. Guinan stepped forward and put out her hand, gently touching his arm.
"Duncan, you know it wasn't your fault."
He swallowed hard and nodded slowly, and the feelings subsided to a more manageable level, leaving behind melancholy and resignation in their wake. He shook it off enough to turn to Deanna, his expression concerned.
"I'm sorry I hurt you, but for just a moment I thought you were someone I-- lost, a long time ago. You could be her twin."
"It's all right, you couldn't have known I was an empath, and you were obviously surprised by my appearance. I'm Deanna Troi, I'm the ship's counselor."
He took her hand and briefly brushed his lips across it. She shivered pleasantly, thinking she could do with more of that. But no, this one was off-limits. The last person she'd want to offend was Guinan.
"I'm Duncan MacLeod, pilot, late of the Darius."
As he introduced himself, she realized he was the man they'd rescued from the crashed ship. "You're an old friend of Guinan's?" she asked, trying to steer the conversation to less painful subjects. "What a coincidence that we should be the ones to find you!"
"Aye... I didn't even know she was still alive." He exchanged a warmly amused glance with Guinan.
"Nor I him." Guinan echoed, that same amusement lacing her tones.
"Are you El-Aurian too?"
Duncan looked at Guinan again, smiling as if they shared a secret, and slowly shook his head. "No, I'm human, born and raised on Earth."
Deanna thought that highly unlikely, but she didn't call him on it. He certainly didn't feel human. He was far too intense. Still, she realized with a start that he hadn't been lying about being born and raised on Earth. Maybe he was half-human, like herself. "So why does Dr. Crusher want to see you?"
She's afraid I might have been injured in the crash. I've assured her that I'm fine, but she'd rather see for herself."
"That is her job." Deanna pointed out, defending her friend.
"It is, but I'm not one of her crew."
"True," she admitted, though in actuality she suspected it was because he knew Beverly would see right through his little pretense of being human.
Ordinarily that attempted deception would send out warning flags all over the place, but she trusted Guinan to know friend from foe. Whatever reason he had for his masquerade, she knew Guinan wouldn't let him endanger the ship or its crew. It made her faintly uncomfortable to be party to his subterfuge, no matter how innocent it might be, but she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
"Would you like to join me? I was about to have dinner."
He shook his head. "No, thanks, I've eaten, but I appreciate the offer. Guinan, can I have a word with you?"
She nodded and they moved away together to the far end of the bar, speaking quietly. Deanna toyed momentarily with the idea of trying to probe the newcomer further, then thought better of it. She had to trust Guinan in this. She looked around the room, and noticed that other people appeared interested in Guinan and her companion as well. That was not really surprising. Guinan's metamorphosis was nothing short of amazing, and Duncan MacLeod was, quite frankly, beautiful. It would be hard not to notice them.
A familiar figure strode through the doors and she lifted a hand to wave Worf over, then stopped. He looked like a thundercloud, and his gaze was focused on MacLeod. Uh-oh. Trouble. She watched him march across the room toward his quarry, and decided maybe she was needed there, if only because she had a calming influence on Worf. She stood and hurried across to join them.
"Mr. MacLeod," Worf rumbled, at his most formal, and most menacing. "You brought weapons aboard this ship without notifying me,"
MacLeod turned from his conversation with Guinan, clearly surprised.
"Weapons?" he echoed blankly.
"The transporter logs registered two bladed weapons amongst your belongings."
Duncan relaxed visibly. "Oh, the swords! Forgive me, I didn't think to notify you, I didn't realize you would need to know. They're heirlooms, I couldn't leave them on the Darius for salvagers to carry off."
That was apparently not the answer Worf had expected. He looked grudgingly mollified, and Deanna was relieved that she wasn't going to have to intervene.
"I would like to inspect them."
"I would be more than happy to let you see them, if I knew where they were. At the moment, I really don't know where they ended up."
"Your personal items were transported directly to your quarters."
"I know, but I don't know where that is."
"You were not informed of the location of your quarters?"
Duncan shook his head and Worf looked annoyed.
"Lieutenant Barclay should have familiarized you with them."
MacLeod studied Worf, and spoke calmly. "Lt. Barclay was called away to Engineering by Commander LaForge before he had a chance to tell me. It was not an error on his part."
Deanna's appreciation for the man went up. It was very considerate of him to make the effort to keep Barclay out of trouble. It wasn't something many people would have thought of. Worf nodded acknowledgement.
"Thank you, I will bear that in mind. You have been assigned to guest quarters on deck 10, not far from here. I will escort you there."
MacLeod looked past Deanna to Guinan. "Later?" he queried.
She nodded. "I'll find you."
Worf looked from MacLeod to Guinan, a rather puzzled expression on his face as he studied the bartender. Deanna suspected he was as surprised by her appearance as she had been. He finally looked away from her to MacLeod, and spoke. "If you will follow me?"
MacLeod nodded and followed him out, leaving Guinan and Deanna at the bar.
"He seems like an interesting man." Deanna commented mildly.
Guinan chuckled. "You don't know the half of it."
"Oh? Tell me more?"
"Nope, not me. It's not my place to tell. Suffice it to say, there's more to Duncan MacLeod than meets the eye."
Deanna made a disgusted face. "Well I could tell that much without your help, Guinan! You're a terrible tease!"
She laughed out loud "Guilty. Now, are you ever going to order dinner, or are you fasting tonight?"
"Fast? Me?" With a grin, Deanna allowed herself to be distracted. She had less than 3 hours before they rendezvoused with the shuttle the Captain was on, and she wanted a chance to finalize her crew report. Jean-Luc Picard was one of the few people she knew who usually returned from leave more stressed than before they left. As for Duncan MacLeod, she'd have to find out more about him some other way. She wondered what sort of records the Pilot's Guild kept, and if they were accessible to the public.