|In the Dark
by Kellie Matthews & Julia Kosatka
Picard leaned back into the sofa in his ready room with a sigh and reached for his tea. If there was anything he disliked more than being forced into going on leave it was picking up the pieces afterward. Riker could easily have dealt with three-quarters of the reports listed on his screen, but regulations required that they come to his attention. As if it mattered whether or not he knew the serial number of the new port relay assembly. His doorchime tweedled and brought him out of his reverie.
He felt the almost imperceptible alteration in his bearing as he went from being 'man' to `Captain'. Seeing Counselor Troi enter the room, the `Captain' persona relaxed a little, but remained dominant. He started to rise, but she waved him to remain seated, which he did.
"Counselor, please, sit down. What may I do for you? Would you care for some tea?" He didn't have to be an empath to know that something was bothering her. Who counsels the counselor, he wondered with a touch of amusement.
She declined his offer of tea and sat down on the opposite end of the sofa. She placed her hands deliberately in her lap as if by that act she could also place her obviously troubled thoughts in order. The silence stretched between them for a few moments, he sipping his tea, she lost in whatever quandary had brought her here. Finally, Troi's shoulders straightened a little and her expression changed to one of decision.
"Captain, I hesitate to bother you with this at all, but there's something I think you should know."
"Yes, Deanna?" With his use of her name his Captain persona slipped another notch. After all the years of serving together, not to mention all she had done for him, she deserved more than the attention of a commanding officer. Right now, she looked as if she needed a friend.
"Have you met our guest, Duncan MacLeod?"
He studied her, trying to gauge her level of disquiet. She seemed concerned, but not overly so.
"No, I haven't had an opportunity yet, though I have read the away- team's reports and spoken to Commander Riker about him. Is there something that isn't in the reports that you think I should know?"
Troi looked down at her hands, then back up at him. "Did the reports mention that he and Guinan are old friends?"
A friend of Guinan's? He felt a surge of surprise and curiosity, and just a little trepidation. Guinan had some very interesting old acquaintances; among them the entity `Q', for example. It was enough to make one a bit wary. However, he himself was also an old friend of Guinan's, and Deanna had termed this man a friend. He trusted Guinan's judgement on that score. His reply was careful.
"Guinan probably has many old friends, and she has exhibited a rather striking fondness for humans for quite a-- long time." He smiled remembering the first time he and Guinan had met. "That's just it, sir." Troi held his gaze steadily, "He says he's human but he's not human."
Picard leaned forward, his eyes intent. "Would you care to elaborate on that?"
She shifted uncomfortably. "I can't really. I just know he's not human. I've never met a human who-- feels like he does."
He frowned slightly, preferring more solid evidence. "So you're reporting a feeling?"
She nodded. "Yes sir. I just thought you ought to know."
"Have you discussed this with anyone else?"
She looked offended. "No, of course not!"
"Have you asked Guinan about him?"
"No sir, I-- wasn't entirely sure of her objectivity in this matter."
His eyebrows went up. "Now that's an interesting statement. Guinan is one of the most objective people I've ever met. What reason do you have to think that's changed?"
"Have you seen her since you got back?"
"No, I haven't had an opportunity to go down to Ten-Forward yet."
"Go. You'll see what I mean."
He sat back and looked at her over steepled fingers. "You have me intrigued, Counselor. Do you think MacLeod is a danger to the ship or crew?"
She thought about that for a moment, then shook her head. "No, I don't. He's a very charming man, I don't think he would cause any harm, but the deception bothers me. That, and Worf."
That got his attention. "What about Lieutenant Worf?"
"It's just that a few hours ago he was suspicious and wary of MacLeod, yet when I saw him just now in the turbolift, he spoke of him as an `honorable warrior,' and told me he's invited him to participate in a holodeck workout! That's not like Worf!"
Picard gazed at her thoughtfully. "I can see why that might concern you, Counselor, but actually, I think it's quite like Worf. Once you've proven yourself to him, he accepts you without reservation. It appears he has done so with our guest, however it would set my mind at ease if you were to speak to Worf and ascertain the reasons behind his actions. I take it that you've not had time to do so yet?"
"No, I just saw him for a moment as I was on my way here. I did plan to speak to him about it, though."
"Good. Is there anyone else you feel MacLeod has had an undue influence on?"
Deanna thought about his question, and slowly nodded. "Yes, actually there is."
"Lieutenant Barclay, sir."
"In what way?"
"Well, he was assigned to help MacLeod transfer his cargo to the Enterprise. A little while ago I got a call from him. He was terribly excited, telling me that because of his conversation with MacLeod, he's going to study cooking, and organic farming techniques, and has even enrolled in Worf's mok'bara class, because, as he put it, `I want to know what it's like to work hard, physically.' Does that sound like Barclay to you?"
He reviewed what she'd told him, and gazed at her, puzzled. "If you'll forgive me, Counselor, those sound like positive developments. It's difficult to consider this man a threat under the circumstances."
She sighed. "I know, and I wouldn't even have mentioned it at all, if it weren't for the deception. I just makes me wonder."
"I understand, Deanna, and I'll check into it." He stood and stretched, working the kinks out of his back. "I think it's time for a trip down to Ten-Forward. Which has the added benefit of getting me out from under this damned paperwork for a few minutes, so I'm grateful to you for bringing this matter to my attention!"
That broke her tension and she smiled. "Anytime, captain."
Picard walked into Ten-Forward and noticed the automatic hush that always accompanied his entry into a room. After a moment conversations started again, but with a bit less animation. He walked over to the bar and looked around, not spotting Guinan's familiar headgear anywhere, though he did see Lt. Barclay conversing animatedly with Ensign Barrow from Hydroponics. That was a surprise. Barclay talking? To a woman? Not silent or stammering? Interesting. He approached the bar and got the attention the young man who was working the counter.
"Excuse me, I'm looking for Guinan, have you seen her recently?"
A quick smile tugged at one corner of the server's mouth. "Yes sir, she's right there." He pointed over Picard's shoulder.
Picard turned and looked. He didn't see her.
"There sir, in the rust and olive."
He looked again, this time looking for the colors the man had described. The only woman wearing them was standing a few feet away next to one of the tables, talking and laughing with its occupant. Her back was to Picard, and it was clear from her figure that it wasn't Guinan. He shook his head.
"Perhaps you didn't hear me correctly, I was looking for Guinan."
This time the server chuckled. "Yes sir, I know. That's her."
Picard looked again, just in time to see the woman turn toward another table. He stared. By God, it was her! But... it wasn't. She was wearing a dress, one not too unlike something he remembered Kamala wearing, and her hair was free of its usual confinement, framing her face in a mass of thin braids. She looked like an entirely different person. She saw him, and grinned, moving closer with that gliding walk that was her trademark. He was relieve to see that hadn't changed.
"Jean-Luc! Welcome back, it's good to see you! How was your vacation?"
"Guinan?" he said, stunned.
"Twenty-three." she said, making a wry face.
"You're the twenty-third person today to say my name in exactly those tones. I should have done this years ago. I seem to have shocked you all senseless."
"I wouldn't say shocked," Picard began.
"I would," Guinan interrupted. "I saw your face."
He chuckled. "All right, you have me there. You look lovely."
She preened. "Thank you, that's better."
"I had no idea you..." he broke off, realizing he was about to put his foot firmly into his mouth. She laughed at him.
"You had no idea I cleaned up so well? Just as well you didn't say that." She steered him toward a seat at the bar and took the one opposite him. "How was your trip?"
"Boring. How was yours?"
"Not. We had a bit of excitement."
"So I'm given to understand. I hear he's an old friend of yours."
"That he is."
She smiled as she answered, and he saw something in her smile he'd never noticed in her before. He found it very appealing, and he found himself wondering why he'd never noticed how attractive she was. Her comment gave him an opening, though, and he was still enough in Captain mode to pursue it.
"How old a friend?" he asked lightly.
"Older than some, not so old as others," she temporized.
"That's not quite the answer I need, Guinan. I hope you'll forgive me if this seems crass, but I feel I should make certain. Some of your old acquaintances have had a rather disruptive effect on this ship and its crew, to put it mildly. Is MacLeod one of that sort?"
Her eyes widened, and she stiffened in obvious offense. "No! Remember, Jean-Luc, `Q' approached you on his own. Had I been on board then, things might have turned out differently. You, of all people, should know better than to think I wouldn't warn you about anyone I felt could pose even the slightest threat!"
He took her hand. "Guinan, I'm sorry, I don't doubt that, but I thought it was quite possible that you hadn't warned me because I wasn't here when he came aboard. Also, Counselor Troi admits to being a bit disturbed by him, and it would not be right of me not to check."
She looked at him for a long moment, then gave his hand a quick squeeze. "You're forgiven. As for Deanna, I'd be surprised if she wasn't disturbed by Duncan. I find him a bit--" she grinned and winked at him. "...disturbing, myself."
He was surprised to find himself grinning back at her rather foolishly, and wondering if she were free for dinner. Before he could make an idiot of himself by asking, she spoke again.
"You haven't met him yet, have you? He and Worf went down to Holodeck 4 nearly an hour ago to do `calisthenics,' as Worf likes to call it. Anyway, they ought to be about finished. Why don't you go introduce yourself?"
Picard thought about Guinan's unexpected metamorphosis, and Barclay's, and nodded. "I think I shall."
She smiled and made her way back toward the bar. He watched her, and became aware that he wasn't the only one doing so. More than one pair of eyes followed her with interest.
Musing on that, he made his way down to the holodeck. There was definitely something different about her now, and it had nothing to do with her clothing or hair. It was something far more intense and personal. He remembered all the times he'd sat with her and talked long into the night, or fenced with her on the holodeck, or even just nodded in passing. Why had he never looked deeper? Why had he never wondered about her dreams, her needs? He'd rather taken her for granted, and suddenly he felt badly about that.
He stopped outside the holodeck and noticed that the program was still running. Curious, he thought for a moment about entering, but decided against it.
"Computer, is this program privacy-secured?"
The small screen next to the programming padd lit up and he watched it with interest. Worf was armed with his Klingon betelH, and his opponent carried what appeared to be a Japanese katana. As he watched they engaged, and he whistled softly. The sort of naked-blade practice they were engaged in could be damned dangerous! He was tempted to stop the program for safety's sake, but as he watched it was clear that there was consummate skill in the way they handled their weapons. The combatants were extremely well-matched as to height, weight, and, he noticed with amusement, hairstyle. Having fought Klingons himself, he had to admit he was impressed by MacLeod.
The balance of power tipped back and forth until finally the man MacLeod caught the betleH between the spikes with his blade and seemingly without effort used his sword as a lever to flip the betleH out of Worf's grasp and onto the ground several feet away. Even on the tiny screen, Worf's chagrin and surprise were clear. They stood for a moment, breathing hard, then Worf clapped the other man across the shoulder and said something unintelligible. MacLeod laughed and put down his sword, reaching out to shake the Klingon's hand. A moment later the holo-background of a Klingon ritual-combat area disappeared and the yellow-on-black programming grid replaced it. The erstwhile combatants headed for the door.
"Deactivate monitor," Picard said quietly as the holodeck doors opened. The small screen went black and he stepped back a pace.
"You shall show me how that move is accomplished. It is a trick I would like to try," Worf was saying as they stepped from the room.
"I'd be happy to, if in exchange you'll instruct me on the finer points of the betleH," MacLeod returned. "It's a formidable weapon."
"It is, but I will admit that it is not so fine a one as your own. It has been in my family only four generations."
Picard saw that MacLeod still carried the katana, which, since it had not disappeared with the program, must belong to him. He glanced quickly at the weapon, taking in the carved ivory hilt and the rippling play of light on the blade which spoke of folded steel. Worf was right, that was no modern replica. Something about it spoke of age and long use.
"Gentlemen." Picard announced his presence quietly. Worf came instantly to attention, but MacLeod's reaction was far more interesting. He dropped into a fighting stance with the easy grace of a fighter, sword up and ready. Seconds later, after his sharp gaze had taken in Picard's uniform and rank pips, the sword dropped into non-threatening position and he straightened. The change was so swift that for moment Picard thought he might have imagined it, but he knew he had not. The man was trained to fight. Perhaps that was part of Deanna's unease. Starfleet was not really a military organization, even its best-trained fighters would be hard pressed to display that sort of battle-readiness.
"Captain, is there a problem?" Worf rumbled, clearly ill at ease at being caught out of uniform, even though he was off-duty.
"No, Mr. Worf, no problem." Picard shifted his attention to Worf's companion. "I've read the reports about what happened while I was away, and thought I ought to introduce myself. I'm Captain Jean-Luc Picard." He held out his hand, and MacLeod shifted his sword to his left hand and took Picard's hand in a firm clasp.
"Duncan MacLeod, sir, late of the Darius. It's a pleasure to meet you, the Enterprise is quite a ship, you must be very proud of her."
"I am, I assure you. I understand you're a friend of Guinan's?"
"I have that honor."
"As do I."
"Mr. MacLeod." Beverly Crusher's voice sounded firm and faintly annoyed. All three men turned toward the source. She was standing in the corridor, arms crossed, with a distinctly displeased expression on her face. Picard shot a glance at the man, and almost smiled at the look of resignation spreading over it. He knew that look. He'd worn it himself on many occasions.
"You, sir, have been avoiding me." The doctor accused, lifting an eyebrow as she waited for a response.
"I... have." MacLeod admitted.
He sighed. "I don't need a physical, Doctor. I'm fine."
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that?"
MacLeod looked trapped for a moment, then a tiny smile lifted one corner of his mouth. Picard waited. This should be good.
"I'm a Christian Scientist."
Beverly looked puzzled. Picard knew exactly how she felt. "A what?"
"Christian Scientist. We don't believe in medical intervention. It would be against my religious ethos to allow a doctor to examine me."
Beverly's eyes narrowed. "Is that so? Why have I never heard of this sect?"
MacLeod shrugged. "Beats me. Go ahead, check it out if you like. Ask your computer."
She stared at him a moment, then called his bluff. "All right, I will." She looked up. "Computer? Search databanks for religious group known as Christian Scientists, especially as pertains to their beliefs about medical intervention."
Moments later the computer's disembodied voice spoke. "Christian Science, a Terran para-Christian Cult whose adherents believe that all healing comes from Deity. This sect adheres to strict policy of no medical intervention."
Beverly looked stunned. MacLeod looked smug. Picard had to work very hard not to laugh. He hadn't seen his chief medical officer so neatly stymied in years. After a moment Bev shook her head, a rueful smile curving her mouth.
"Well, Mr. MacLeod, you've manage to weasel your way out of an examination, haven't you? However, if you could manage to explain to me what you lived on for five days when your replicators were offline and there were no emergency rations aboard, I would certainly like to hear it!"
"I went hungry," he said simply. "It's not the first time, nor, I imagine, will it be the last."
She gazed at him thoughtfully. "That's certainly plausible; however, I also discovered that your water stores were contaminated by that coolant leak. You don't mean to tell me you went without liquid for five days as well, do you?"
"Not at all." He smiled brilliantly. "I had a case of Laphroig aboard that I was planning to sell. Nothing contaminates a good single-malt."
"You..." she sputtered, then rolled her eyes and made a face. "You are a damned slippery character, Duncan MacLeod. Just like your father, from what I hear!"
He chuckled. "That I am."
Picard stared at his CMO. "Don't tell me you know him too?"
Bev turned to him, curious. "Too? Who else knows him?"
"He's an old friend of Guinan's."
"Oh really? Fascinating! Actually, I just met Mr. MacLeod yesterday, but it turns out that his father was a friend of my grandmother's."
Picard studied MacLeod again, thinking it a bit odd that this man had connections to two such vastly different women. But then, perhaps it wasn't so surprising after all. He would admit to being no expert on what women found attractive in a man, but he was willing to wager that this particular specimen would fall into that category for just about every woman aboard the ship. He wondered what Beverly would say if he asked her about him. Would she admit to such interest? He wasn't the jealous type, but with their own relationship so tenuous, it was a little unsettling to find himself wondering how she regarded the man. Shaking off that feeling, he remembered that Deanna had wanted him to try and learn more about the man.
"Mr. MacLeod, would you care to join me for dinner? Guinan is a long-time friend of mine, and I am always pleased to learn more about her friends. Also, I understand you're from Valhalla, and I'd like to satisfy my curiosity about the place. I've heard a lot of fascinating things about it."
To his surprise, MacLeod shook his head. "May I take you up on your offer another time? To be honest, it's been a long week, and after that work-out," he nodded toward the holodeck, "what I really want is a few hours sleep."
Picard nodded pleasantly, but wanted to make sure he understood that it wasn't exactly a request. "I understand. Perhaps tomorrow night, if that's convenient? If not, we still have several days before reaching Starbase 108."
MacLeod gazed at him shrewdly, understanding clear on his face. "I would be honored to meet with you tomorrow night, sir."
With that MacLeod nodded briefly to the three Star Fleet officers, and walked away down the hall. Picard caught Beverly watching him, and cleared his throat to get her attention.
"Well, Beverly, I hope you'll not turn me down too."
She jumped a little, and turned to him, her cheeks a tiny bit flushed. "Is that an invitation?"
"I'd love to, then. Shall we?" She linked her arm through his and they headed for Ten-Forward.
Duncan sat in the dark in his stateroom, nursing two fingers of Scotch and thinking about his life. He was trapped in the web of depression that had afflicted him more and more often of late. It started whenever he thought about how long he'd been around. He'd been born in the sixteenth century, and it was nearly the twenty-fifth now. Soon it would have been a thousand years. What had he done with his life in all that time? What good had he done... and what evil? What mark had he left? Not much of one. He had composed no music, painted no paintings, written no books. His only real contribution had been to help whenever and wherever he could. Normally that was enough, but every once in awhile he wished he could have been more. Deep inside him there was a spark of creation that burned and twisted, but he'd never yet found what it was he was supposed to do.
Deanna Troi's startling resemblance to Thalassa Demetrious had raked open long-scabbed-over wounds. Gods, but it was so hard to continually lose the people you cared about! By loving mortals, he condemned himself to the pain of separation again and again; yet what else could he do? He couldn't love an Immortal either. It wasn't allowed, all because of some stupid Game, some mythical Prize! What the hell was it, anyway? After a thousand years, it didn't matter any more. He didn't even believe in it any more. That was the worst of it. He'd come to the stunning realization that the Game could be just that, a myth created by some long-dead Immortal who had needed to rationalize his own desire to kill. The legacy of that myth had doomed countless Immortals to fear, and pain, and loneliness. They couldn't just love each other and live their lives as mortals did. They had to hide, and fight, and kill.
Over the years he'd almost managed to convince himself that he didn't need anyone but himself, but sometimes in the night he knew a fierce longing to have someone to be with, forever; and not have to worry about someday facing them across the edge of a sword. Being surrounded by mortals as he was on this ship, seeing them free to love as they would, made him feel the absence of it all the more deeply. Aboard his own ship he could almost convince himself that he was normal. Here, his abnormality was starkly laid bare, and he couldn't hide it from himself even if he could from others. He hadn't had a relationship with a mortal in over thirty years, not since Ginevra had died. He had kept to himself, avoiding contact with anyone other than his Watchers, trying not to let himself care for anyone. Even then, it didn't work well. He had gotten interested in Valhalla despite his best efforts not to, and had ended up becoming friends with Jeremy Dikembe... he just wasn't cut out to be a loner.
He tossed back the remainder of his Scotch in a swift gulp, and stared at the empty glass. Empty. Like himself. His fingers tightened around the glass and it shattered. He swore, staring at the blood dripping from his fingers. The pain began to fade almost before he'd really felt it, leaving behind only a slight tingle. Idly he picked up a piece of the broken glass and drew it across his palm, opening a wound and watching it heal. He wondered if there was another Immortal in the quadrant, preferably one who didn't like him. It was awfully hard to kill yourself when you could only die by decapitation. Not an easy task for any would-be suicide. Far easier to let someone else do it for you.
The door-chime made its damnably cheerful little chirp and he sighed. It was probably the Doctor, still trying to find a way to coerce him into Sickbay. Even so, it would be better than sitting in the dark thinking about death.
The door opened, and someone stepped into the room. He didn't bother to see who it was, but remained staring out at the stars. She moved closer, standing behind him. He knew it was a woman, from her scent, from the sound of her clothing.
"What's wrong, Duncan?" the voice was gentle, and concerned.
"I could feel you all the way from Ten-Forward. Do you want to talk?"
"All right." There was no recrimination in her voice, but she didn't leave. Instead, she moved around the couch and started to sit down next to him.
"Wait, careful..." he picked up several shards of broken glass and moved them to the end-table. "There. Safe now."
She sat, and took his hand, looking at the dark stains that crossed it. "You should see the doctor."
"No need. It's healed."
She looked more closely. "So it is. Must be nice."
"I used to think so."
There was a short silence, then she nodded. "I see."
Of all people, she just might see. "How do you do it?" he asked, obliquely.
She understood, as he had expected she would. "I just take things a day at a time, and I put up walls to keep people from getting too close. But you know, I didn't realize I was doing that until you came. You kind of... woke me up."
"No, don't be. I needed it." She looked out at the stars. "Do you remember the talk we had in your apartment, all those years ago?"
He remembered it. He remembered everything. "Yes."
"I was pretty glib, wasn't I? It's so damned hard not to feel guilty. Even if it had nothing to do with you. And for me, it wasn't just one person, it was my people."
That got through. He turned and looked at her, only to find her staring out at the stars just as he had been.
"What do you mean?"
"You've heard of the Borg, right?"
"They destroyed my world, and assimilated my people, all but a handful. I survived because, as usual, I wasn't home. I've always been so interested in other worlds... my family said I was too interested in them. In the end, I lost them because of that."
"But if you'd been there, you'd have been assimilated too."
She sighed. "I know. Sometimes..."
"...you wish you had," he finished for her. She nodded, and he continued. "I know the feeling. On Earth, during World War Two; there were times I thought it would be so much easier to be one of the victims rather than one of the survivors. I did what I could, but it seemed like so little at the time."
"I heard, and read, and felt... from the survivors. I wasn't there then, my father said it was too dangerous and wouldn't let me stay, though I thought maybe I could be of some help, somehow."
"Your father?" he asked, surprised.
"Yeah, you know, male biological parent," she said, smiling.
"I--" he laughed, shaking his head. "I guess I thought that since you're like me in other ways, you were like me that way to."
"And what way is that?"
"No family. No parents. None of my kind have family."
She shook her head. "Oh, I have-- I mean, had, family. A lot of it. Now it's just me, and Jahn."
She sighed. "My son. When he claims me, that is."
"You have a son?" he asked, stunned, but unable to not ask.
She nodded. "I do. Jahn's... oh, two hundred and three now. He'd be the black sheep of the family if we still had a family. I guess I wasn't a very good mother. Not when he needed me to be. Now that I know how, it's too late." she sighed and looked off into the distance. "We ought to be required to have a license to procreate."
"But at least you can." he said starkly. He felt as if he stood on the edge of a cliff, looking down into a roiling chasm of pain. Her words had opened up a place inside of him that he normally walled off even from himself.
Her head snapped around toward him, her eyes narrowed as she studied him. "Duncan... you..."
"It's not important." he grated out.
"But it is. I can feel it. I'm sorry; I didn't know you felt this way or I would have--"
"You would have what? Hidden it from me?" he interrupted, angrily, though he was more angry with himself than her. After almost a thousand years he kept thinking he'd dealt with this problem. "No, I can't go through life having people hide their families from me just because I can't have my own."
"What about adoption, or fostering?"
He closed his eyes, remembering. Kahane. Viola. Michelle. Douglas. In some ways even the Immortals he had mentored been substitute children for him. "I tried that. It never worked. I was a hazard to them. I've learned that lesson."
"That doesn't make any sense! How can it be dangerous for a child to have a parent who cares about them?"
Duncan sighed. "It's because of what we are. Because of the damned Game, having families is a liability. Our enemies know they can attack us through them. The other problem is that since we can't have children of our own, we're inevitably drawn to mortal children. Even if they manage to avoid becoming bait for a trap, eventually they come to realize the strangeness of having a parent who unlike them, doesn't age, and doesn't die."
She reached out and took his hand, lacing her fingers through his. "I never thought about how hard that would be, or how dangerous. Why do you still hide what you are, though? In this day and age, with sentients as diversely alien and far-flung as they are, why is it necessary?"
"Because even now there are those who would use us as research animals, just to find out how we work. We've managed to avoid that so far, we haven't even tried to find out for ourselves because the knowledge is too dangerous. There are a lot of theories, but no real facts. Is it magic, or genetics, or a bit of both? Who knows?"
"If it could be artificially duplicated, there are those who would do it, and then use their position to enslave those who don't possess the secret."
"There's nothing that says a naturally-occurring member of your kind wouldn't do just that," Guinan pointed out reasonably.
"Nothing but those of us who won't let them." Duncan said grimly.
She gazed at him thoughtfully. "You realize, don't you, that if it could be duplicated, perhaps it could also be... fixed."
He laughed humorlessly. "Oh, I've thought of that. Believe me, I have. And despite these periodic fits of depression, I've come to realize that I wouldn't change what I am. I just want to change how I live. I'm so damned tired of being alone, even when I'm not alone. I'm tired of the guilt, and the shame, even though I know it's not really my fault that I'm alive and they're not. It always seems somehow like it must be. I'm tired of hiding. I'm tired of not belonging to the world I was born on."
She reached out and put her palm against his face. "I know, Duncan. I know. I live with that too." She shook her head. "I have a people without a home, you have a home without a people. We're quite a pair, aren't we?"
He covered her hand with his and turned his head so it was against his lips, holding it there for a moment, feeling the warmth of her palm, the warmth of her presence. Some of the ice inside him started to melt, and he chanced a look at her face. He saw the his own pain reflected in her eyes. Reaching out, he drew her closer, his arms tight around her, hers slid close around him. They sat that way for a long time. After a while she lifted her head.
"If only I'd known then what I know now..." she began.
Duncan shook his head. "Don't. There's no point in that. What's done is done. We can't change the past, only the future."
She sighed. "I know. But it's hard not to think that way. Isn't it strange how things work out? Tell me, something... was Joe Dawson one of you?"
Emotions swept him. The pleasure of remembering a good friend, the pain of thinking about how long he'd been gone. It was always this way, remembering mortals. He shook his head. "No, though I always wished he had been. He was a good man, a good friend."
"You miss him."
"I wish I'd had a chance to know him better."
Duncan grinned. "So did he."
She smiled, shaking her head. "You know, it's probably just as well that I had to leave when I did. When I was there studying Earth cultures we were under strict rules not to-- how shall I put it-- `fraternize with the natives.' I don't know that I could have stuck to that if I'd stayed around, and I don't know that I could have chosen between the two of you."
He lifted an eyebrow. "I thought you didn't do threesomes."
"I was young and naive," she said with a wink.
He laughed, shaking his head, and she laughed with him. God, it was good to laugh and really feel it. He shifted position, stretching out, and then he drew her against him so they were touching along the length of their bodies; for some reason craving the physical contact. It was no more than that. He had no other expectations of the moment. He just wanted to touch and be touched by another living being.
She settled against him comfortably, her head resting on his shoulder, her face turned upward. He followed her gaze and found her looking at the stars again. They were both drawn to that view; the brilliant stars and the dark, empty spaces between. Too much like their lives, he supposed.
After a while, Guinan spoke again. "Duncan, why is it you seem to think you don't deserve to be happy?"
"I was cursed by a Gypsy," he told her, dead serious. "She told me I would never find happiness."
She looked at him, smiling a little. "Don't you know that a curse only has power if you believe in it?"
He gazed back at her steadily. "Could I be what I am and not believe in magic?"
She thought about that for a moment, and finally shook her head ruefully. "I guess you've got a point. Still, don't you think a few hundred lifetimes is long enough for a curse to run its course? I have some Gypsy friends, would you like me to have them remove the curse for you?"
He chuckled. "Why didn't I ever think of that?"
Her gaze was candid, and so was her reply. "Because you like brooding, Duncan. You're good at it. Byronic to the core."
He winced. "Ouch. That hurt."
"It was supposed to. Face it, you like being unhappy."
"No I don't!"
"Then break the cycle. Do something to make yourself happy!"
He studied her for a long time, then finally found voice to ask the question that kept slinking out from the shadowy corners of his mind.
"All right, I will. Stay with me tonight?"
She contemplated him for several long moments, then a smile spread over her face, a wide, unforced, joyous smile. "As long as you like," she said finally. "And that will make both of us happy."
He felt himself begin to relax for the first time since he'd come aboard the ship, no, for the first time in years. She reached up and repositioned his arm where it rested across her shoulder, then took his hand and threaded her fingers through his.
"It's nice to find someone who really understands," she said quietly.
He nodded, his lips brushing her hair. "That it is."
For a long time he just held her, his arms a bulwark against their mutual loneliness. She felt safer and more content than she had in years. Gradually, though, she became aware that her body was not nearly so content as her mind. A gentle ache burgeoned low in her belly, a subtle tension infusing her with awareness of him, his body warm and firm beneath hers. She knew he would leave it at this, just being together, but she could feel his need, she felt its echo singing inside her. Like her, he wanted more. They had waited a long time for this... a very long time.
She reached back and let her fingers play along his jawline, feeling the rasp of hours-old stubble against her fingertips. It was an oddly sensual feeling, and a slightly surprising one.
"You still shave?"
He chuckled. "It's a hazard of being an Immortal. Beard-repressors don't seem to work worth a damn on us."
"You could just grow a beard."
"I have, many times, but I prefer myself clean-shaven. I look less like some sort of minotaur that way."
Guinan laughed. "Bullheaded you certainly are, though I agree that you look better without. It would be a sin to hide that mouth of yours."
She moved her fingers from his jaw to the soft fullness of his lips, and she felt them curve in a smile, though he said nothing.
"Do you ever get tired of being told how beautiful you are?" she asked, curious.
He chuckled. "Now there's a double-edged question. Damned if I do, and damned if I don't! I think I'll plead the fifth."
"The fifth what?"
"Amend... oh, never mind. Just an old saying." He sighed and shifted position slightly.
"Are you uncomfortable?" she asked hopefully.
"Just a bit... why don't you turn toward me?"
"Why don't we go someplace where there's more room?" she countered. "I think at our age, making out on the couch is passe."
Duncan laughed, shaking his head. "You do cut right to the heart of the matter, don't you?"
Sitting up, she wondered suddenly if she'd been too direct. Insecurity made her look at him with doubt. He saw it.
"What's wrong?" he asked gently, sitting up as well, and reaching out to cup her face in his broad palm.
"I... " she shook her head. "Nothing. Just out of practice."
He smiled ruefully. "You and me both."
She eyed him with disbelief. "You expect me to believe that?"
"It's no more than the truth."
It was. She realized that now. "Why?" she asked, surprised that this man of all the ones she knew would be out of practice, then she realized she already knew the answer. "Never mind. I know why. With your own kind, there's always the wondering if you might one day have to kill them. With others... after awhile it just seems so unfair, to both of you."
He nodded. "That's it, exactly. Thank God that's not the case here," he closed his eyes, shaking his head. "Guinan, you don't know how much I've needed this."
She looked at him steadily. "Yes, I do. As much as I've needed it."
He smiled. "I'm glad," he said, then as if afraid she'd misinterpret him, he clarified. "I mean, that you understand, not because you've been where I am."
He leaned forward and his hand slid behind her neck, fingers gently tracing patterns on the delicate skin there. She shivered. How had he known? How could he possibly know that was the one place he could touch her that would make her instantly ready for him? He noticed her reaction immediately, and slowly pushed aside her hair, leaning forward. She gasped as his mouth brushed the back of her neck, just below the hairline, sending a shower of sparks through her. First his lips, then his teeth grazed her sensitized skin and a soft moan broke from her throat.
"Look at me," he whispered.
She complied, and found herself startled by the dark fire in his eyes. What exactly was she letting herself in for here? She had a sudden suspicion that it was more than she'd bargained for. He moved his hand from her neck, tracing the curve of her jaw, then gently burnishing the soft pad of her lower lip with his thumb until her lips parted. He bent and brushed his mouth over hers, lightly, but enough to make her feel it with every nerve-ending in her body. Slowly he drew back.
"I wanted to do that the first night we met... but things just didn't seem right then."
"Now they do?" she asked, her voice curiously husky.
He nodded, then his lashes shuttered his eyes closed as his mouth came down on hers again, hungrily this time, drinking her in. She shuddered, lifting her mouth to his as her arms slid around him. He felt so wonderfully substantial, so perfectly formed for her arms. His skin was cool to her touch, but she had no doubt of the warmth inside him. Finally he pulled away, regarding her with such utter seriousness that she was afraid something was wrong.
"Guinan, before we go any farther with this, let me make sure... we are compatible, aren't we?"
She blinked at him owlishly, for a moment not understanding, then realization came and she grinned.
"Yes, Duncan, we are. Some things may be a little different, but the basics are the same. We should have no trouble at all."
He looked so relieved she had to laugh, then she stopped, suddenly suspicious. "Am I the first non-human you've ever been with!"
He nodded. "Aye."
Her grin broadened mischievously. "Oh, Duncan... you're a virgin!"
His eyebrows shot up, then one lowered slightly, leaving the other raised in an ironic query. She shook her head and reached over to pat his thigh reassuringly. Beneath her fingers he seemed as solid as steel, yet as supple as a tiger. She left her hand where it was, loving the feel of him.
"Don't worry about a thing, I know what I'm doing."
His gaze turned amused and one corner of his generous mouth lifted. "I think I might know a thing or two myself."
His fingers returned to the back of her neck. She closed her eyes and leaned into his hand as he stroked her there. After a moment she felt his hand move to her shoulder and he was turning her away from him, lifting her hair. She shivered with anticipation before his mouth finally brushed a kiss behind her ear and his tongue took over where his fingers had left off. The shiver turned into a shudder and her hand clenched on his thigh as she fought for a little control.
"Are you sure you've never done this before?" she managed to gasp.
His chuckle was low and throaty. "Like you said, the basics are the same, even if a few details differ. One thing I do know is how to notice when a woman likes something."
"Well, you just keep right on noticing."
His hand moved to her thigh, fingers sliding beneath the edge of the side-slit in her caftan. She closed her eyes and flexed her knee, feeling the fabric slide with his fingers down the inside of her thigh. She shivered as his hand moved higher, feeling disinclined toward movement, wanting just to be immobile and let him caress her. That wasn't fair, though, so she lifted a hand to touch his cheek, letting her fingertips trace the curve down to the firm warmth of his mouth. He turned his head and placed a kiss in her palm, then caught her hand and moved it back down to her side.
"Be still for now," he whispered. "I want to learn you without distractions."
It was as if he'd read her mind. The coiled spring within her wound a notch tighter. His fingers moved up her thigh to her hip, finding the soft hollow below the hipbone there. She arched into his touch, wanting more. He shook his head, smiling.
"Amazing, isn't it?" he asked softly
"What?" she managed to ask, not understanding immediately.
"The fact that though we come from worlds light-years apart, still we share enough similarities to make this possible. Doesn't that seem odd to you?"
She shook her head. "The strands of life tend to bend in certain ways. It's not so strange when you remember that the old tales of the Preservers are true, we share their beginnings. I, for one, am glad of it; otherwise, this would be an exercise in futility."
"Mmm," he breathed, "...now that would be a shame." His fingers strayed lower, making her tense in anticipation. His expression changed, one eyebrow lifted. "Speaking of differences... forgive my curiosity, but is it natural?"
She knew immediately what he referred to. "It is for me, for whatever reason. No body hair at all."
"Ah, that explains it."
"You don't... mind, do you?" she asked, suddenly nervous.
"Mind?" He grinned wickedly. "I subscribe to the Vulcan philosophy, infinite diversity in infinite combination."
She laughed. "Infinite combinations? Sounds wonderful... but I'm afraid we may have to settle for less, at least this time around. I do have to work tomorrow."
Duncan chuckled. "We'll see what we can manage. What do you like?"
She gazed into his eyes, finding them compelling, lit with both humor and desire. She swallowed heavily, and almost dragged him down to her when she remembered where they were. "I'd like to get off this couch. I still say we're too old for this."
He smiled and held up his hands in surrender. "As you wish." He rolled to his feet in a smooth movement and extended his hands to her.
She put her hands in his, and he drew her to her feet, then up against him. She'd almost forgotten how tall he was, but being nose-to-chest with him reminded her forcibly. He slid his fingers under her chin, lifting her face, and bent to take her lips with his; molding her mouth, urging her lips apart, then tasting her with his tongue. Her arms slid around him, her body angling into his, feeling the strength and substance of him. It rocked her, warmth flowing from where they met to swirl and surge in the deep places inside her, places she'd tried to pretend she didn't have any more. How could she have forgotten this? He led her in a kind of dance, their bodies swaying together, pressed together along breast, and hip, and thigh. She didn't even realize what he was doing until she felt the edge of his bed behind her knees. Without breaking their kiss he slid his hands down her body to her hips, lifted her onto the bed and followed her down, settling himself beside her. The ease with which he accomplished the change in position amazed her, and she pushed gently against his shoulders until he finally released her. She caught her breath and looked up at him, eyes wide.
"My God, Duncan... and this is you out of practice? I think my poor old heart couldn't take you in practice," she said, only half joking.
He smiled, a liquid, melting smile, and put his fingers against her lips. "Hush now, stop hiding, stop distracting. Let's find out who we are together."
She felt heat flood her face as she realized he'd seen through her attempt to take the edge off the intensity by making light of it. She'd hardly known she was doing it, but he had. She caught her breath as he found the catch on her caftan and it yielded to his touch, falling open. His fingers skimmed a path down the center of her body, from the hollow of her throat, over the slight rise of her breastbone, into the declivity just below it, farther, to her navel, to the gentle rise of her belly. He stopped there, his hand a cool, soft pressure.
"Like velvet..." he whispered. "Silk, and velvet. There is such a mystery to you."
She shook her head, embarrassed. "No mystery, just a woman."
"Woman is mystery," he corrected her, his other hand cradling her face. "So much mystery, I'll never fathom it all."
She shivered delightedly. God, she loved it when he talked like that! There was a poet buried inside him, despite his claims to the contrary. She reached up and took his hand, moved it forward until his fingers were against her lips. Delicately, she let her tongue flick out to taste each one. He closed his eyes, seeming to focus every bit of his concentration on what she did. A soft moan purred from his throat, and she smiled. Oh yes, he knew how to feel, how to extract every last bit of sensation from life. On her belly his hand flexed, pressing lightly, his long, blunt fingers reaching downward, skimming the soft, bare skin that had surprised him earlier.
She tensed, not quite ready for that touch yet, and instantly he stopped, his hand retreating, moving higher, coming to rest on her ribcage, just below her breast. She felt her nipples tighten but he made no move to touch her breasts, instead he gently drew his other hand away from her mouth, carrying hers, and his lips found her wrist. She arched involuntarily as fire arrowed through long-unused pathways to add more fuel to building conflagration in her belly. He looked at her, eyes narrowed and knowing, then very deliberately drew a path down her wrist and into her palm with his tongue.
She heard a broken moan, was that her voice? She couldn't believe it! He'd never been with a woman of her species before, yet twice now he'd unerringly discovered places only a man of her own kind should know.
"Duncan... how did you...?" she let the question fade, knowing it was foolish.
She felt his mouth move on her skin as he smiled, felt his breath against her skin as he spoke.
"Your body told me. I listen well."
She laughed breathlessly, a little frightened by the feelings he engendered in her. This time, her attempt to divert his attention was deliberate. "And here I thought I was the Listener."
It didn't work. He kissed her palm, and spoke against it, his lips tickling her. "Shhhhhh... just feel."
He made love to her hands and wrists like most of her human lovers had paid court to her breasts. Kissing, licking, sucking, until she was out of her mind with pleasure. She wanted to repay him in kind, but he wouldn't let her go long enough for her to reach him. After a bit he stripped her caftan off completely, turned her onto her belly and went to work on her neck again; using lips, tongue, teeth and breath to bring her to the edge time and time again. He found that her sensitivity extended the length of her spine, and took advantage of that, delicately nipping and kissing his way up and down her back. By that point, all she could do was clutch at the sheets and moan from the aching delight and frustration of it.
It wasn't until she found herself opening her thighs and pushing back against him, trying to make him take her, that she realized he was still fully clothed. That brought her to herself, and she rolled over and pounced on him, yanking open his coverall until she could get at bare skin. After some trying she managed to bare a vee of skin from neck to just below his navel, but was stopped there by the way the damned thing was made. It thwarted her efforts to relieve him of it without his complete cooperation, and by that time he was laughing too hard to do much in the way of that. Determined not to be bested by a piece of fabric, she got a fistful of coverall in each hand, and yanked, hard. The coverall tore with a satisfying rip, and Duncan surged to a sitting position, eyes wide.
"What are you about, woman? Destroying my clothes?"
She grinned triumphantly. "If that's the only way to get you out of them, yes! Don't worry, I'll get you a new one."
Since he was sitting up she was able to drag the sleeves down and off so that what was left of the jumpsuit lay in shreds around his hips. She stared at what she'd revealed, then looked up at his face. He'd gone quiet on her, but she could see the banked embers in his eyes, waiting to flare. She put her hands against his shoulders and pushed him down onto his back. He let her, and even lifted his hips to free the fabric from beneath himself so she could finish what she'd started. She dropped the mangled coverall on the floor, and for a long moment she just studied him, amazed.
"You're so..." she began.
He sighed. "Yeah, I know. Beautiful."
She grinned. "Big."
A quizzical smile lifted one corner of his mouth. "I've been around long enough to know average when I see it."
"Duncan, nothing about you is average. Nothing at all."
He shrugged. "Not had many human men, have you?"
"More than you have, in all likelihood," she said with a knowing grin. "Trust me on this."
He blushed. She wouldn't have noticed, except that it started somewhere around his sternum and moved up. She watched it, fascinated.
"What did I say?"
He shook his head. "Nothing."
"Ah... I see," she said, knowingly, though she wasn't quite sure she did know.
He made a strangled sort of sound and hid his face in his hands. She wondered exactly what that reaction meant, and then realized his position left him singularly vulnerable. A slow smile lit her face and she eased herself over him, leaning down. When she found him, he shuddered, his hands ravaging the covers. She cupped him in her hands, and closed her mouth around him, letting her tongue steal out to taste the tender, silken length of him. His pulse beat against her lips, fast and strong. She could feel the trembling in the muscles of his thighs as he fought for control, and smiled inwardly, pleased by his reaction. She's learned a few things over the years, herself, she'd never known a man who objected to having a womans' mouth on him. Duncan was no exception.
Duncan wondered how long he was going to be able to take it. He was used to being the one in control since after so long, no matter how much he tried to lose himself in sensation, he generally wasn't able to completely relax. That was certainly not the case now. Whether it was knowing there were no other immortals to guard against aboard the ship, or perhaps simply the sense of rightness which being with an equal gave, her touch set him off like no woman had in a very long time. His sensitivity wasn't helped by the extended period of celibacy he was coming off of. That hadn't really been natural for him, and his normal inclination toward sensuality was reasserting itself in spades.
Until she'd turned and started on him, he'd been able to keep his own desires subordinate, but now they were almost out of control. Not wanting to end things quite this soon, and knowing he would if she didn't stop, he reached down and tangled his fingers in her braids, feeling them slide and writhe against his palms like Medusa's snakes. For some reason even that was profoundly erotic. He gently urged her mouth away from him, and only when she'd let him go did he begin to relax, his breathing ragged and shallow. She looked up at him with the self-satisfied grin of a cat in a dairy, and he found himself laughing. God... it felt good, both to laugh, and to feel. She'd done that. She'd done both.
"Guinan, you're a witch," he said softly, running a fingertip along the full softness of her lower lip.
She laughed. "I've been called worse." Her fingers idly traced the line of dark hair that arrowed downward from his chest, randomly dipping down to remind him who was in charge. He closed his eyes and cupped his hand over hers the next time it strayed, holding her palm against him. It was almost as hot as her mouth had been.
"You're so hot," he said, thrusting gently against their cupped hands. Without the slick moisture of her mouth on him, the stimulation was easier to take.
She nodded, her fingers curling closer around him. "We must have different basal temperatures, you seem cool to me."
He regarded her curiously. "Do I? Interesting!"
She smiled wickedly. "It certainly is. In fact, the contrast is quite... stimulating."
He imagined what she meant, and his smile echoed hers. "Fire and ice?"
"Don't worry, I won't melt," he said, he slid his hand up to her wrist, tracing tiny, intricate patterns on her skin until he felt her shiver with response. Her erogenous zones were certainly unique; her back, her wrists, and... where else, he wondered? Were she human he would know his next goal, but she wasn't. Well, if there was one skill he'd learned over the years, it was how to ask directions when he was lost.
"Show me, Guinan. Where next?"
She looked at him for a long moment, her dark eyes unfathomable, then she took his hand and put it over her mons. He curved his fingers over the rise, down into the shadowed cleft, feeling heat and moisture. She closed her eyes and arched slightly, her thighs opening to his hand. Further exploration informed him that she was indeed much the same as a human woman. Though the bareness of her was startling, he recognized the small lift of her clitoris, the soft convolutions of inner and outer lips leading to the deep well of her body. He eased a finger between the folds, touched the heart of her, and felt her hand tighten on him in response. He smiled a little. That too was the same.
He reached over and ran his hand up the outer curve of her thigh, past the generous swell of hip, and into the incline of her waist. He leaned over and pressed a kiss against the lush curve of her belly, stroking his hand down, following it with his mouth until he reached his goal without startling her. Her scent was like mulled wine on a cold night, sumptuous and spicy, utterly alien, utterly compelling. He pressed her thighs apart and tasted her, and as she arched and sighed he found her flavor as subtly intriguing as her scent. He cupped the generous curves of her hips in his hands and tilted her up to meet his mouth. She encouraged him, one hand curving over the back of his head, her fingers tangling in his hair, following his movements. Her hips lifted with each stroke of his tongue and she made small, wordless sounds of pleasure that drove him on. He used his fingers to part her and drank from the source of her sweetness. She shuddered, her hands clutching at his shoulders.
"Duncan..." she gasped, "N'aann, Duncan... idai!"
He couldn't understand her words, but he knew what she wanted anyway. He slid a finger into her. She was slick and fiery, and stunningly tight. This woman had borne a child? How? This, apparently, was one of those differing details. He eased his finger deeper, and she eased with it, relaxing. He relaxed a little himself, having been a touch concerned for a moment there. He soothed another finger into her and she wiggled a little. He took the hint, caressing her with long, gentle strokes. She sighed, and the wiggle became an undulation, rhythmic and soft. He rested his head against her thigh and spread his free hand across her belly, pressing lightly, while his other hand caressed her both within and without.
"So warm, so rich... like the earth in my hands," he whispered.
She shuddered suddenly and moaned, and he felt the pulsing clasp of her around his questing fingers. He smiled. That was the same, and it told him everything he needed to know. When the pulses faded, he gently withdrew his hand from her and let his fingers rest on the furled softness of her, feeling her shiver at his cool touch. After a moment she sighed and reached down to run a finger along the edge of his ear.
"Lovely, Duncan, but I want more."
"God, I certainly hope so," he said fervently.
"Come to me now," she whispered, holding out her arms.
He slid up her, coming to rest with his hips between her thighs, arms braced to keep his full weight off her. She shifted beneath him, lifting to him, and slipped a hand between them to guide him. A moment of caught breath, then he was inside her, held softly in the cradle of her body. He closed his eyes and fought the urge to cry. There was homecoming in this, life, contentment, even though his body still ached for completion.
She reached up and took his face between her hands, urging him down to her, and he kissed her, claiming her mouth with all the passion he owned, as his body seized the initiative, driving deep into her liquid fire. She held him to her, wrapped around him, moving with him, accepting him, taking everything he had to give. After so long without, he had no control. He took her with an elemental ferocity, yet she made no protest to his near-violence, and even urged him on. The end came on him fast and hard, and he shuddered to a halt, buried in her heat and softness as he threw back his head and cried out his release, his body taut with almost painful pleasure.
When it left him, he sagged against her until he remembered how small she was, then he turned onto his side, carrying her with him. She shifted a thigh over his hip and held him, gently stroking his hair away from his face so the cool air could reach him to still his panting. They lay so for a long time, until he finally caught his breath and looked at her, his expression rueful and apologetic.
"I'm sorry, love. That wasna' my best effort."
She chuckled, a deep, low sound that he could feel in his bones. "Oh yes, Duncan, it was. That was the best compliment you could have given me."
He stared at her for a moment, then a slow smile tugged his mouth upward.
"Aye, I suppose in a way it was."
She looked at him quizzically. "Did you know your accent gets thicker when you're... overwrought?"
He grinned, nodding. "So I've been told."
"I like it, it suits you. Too bad it's already fading."
"If you want to hear it, I suppose you'll just have to get me...overwrought...again." he said, winking.
She trailed a hand up the back of his thigh, and higher, stroking softly. "I don't anticipate that being much of a problem, do you?" she asked, doing something very interesting with the muscles inside her. He felt himself stirring, and shook his head slowly.
"It doesn'a seem so, does it?"
Sunlight. She wished there were sunlight, the warm, focused, butter-yellow light of Terra's star. Instead there was just the cool, soft glow of the Enterprise's lightpanels. It just wasn't the same. Still, waking up was a pleasant thing this morning, surround as she was by the warmth and human comfort of Duncan's body. He lay behind her, cradling her against him. Guinan glanced down at his hand where it rested on her thigh, noting how light it seemed in contrast to her own chocolate-brown. She smiled, thinking that it probably wasn't often he was thought of as fair-skinned. She knew he was awake. Quiet, she sensed, but peaceful. So was she. She reached down and put her hand over his, idly tracing his fingers with hers.
"I could get used to this, Duncan."
He chuckled. "Good morning to you too."
He stretched. She felt the muscles move beneath his skin, and closed her eyes, savoring the closeness.
"Thank you for staying," he said, his voice shaded with meaning. "That's twice in one lifetime."
"That you've brought me out of the darkness."
"We brought each other."
"You never seem so far in the dark as I do."
"I hide it better," she sighed. "Any idea what time it is?"
"I usually have breakfast with Deanna, she'll wonder..."
"No she won't," Duncan interrupted, amused. "She's a Betazoid, remember? She'll know why."
Guinan felt her skin warm, and shook her head, laughing at herself. "I'm blushing. I don't believe it."
He smoothed the backs of his fingers over her cheek, sensing the heat there. "Why?"
"I--" she frowned, and finally figured out how to say it. "Because this isn't who I am to these people. They won't understand it."
"What's not to understand? You have the same needs, and wants as any of them! Why would they think you sexless? And what about Picard? I thought I sensed something there."
"Oh, that. There was something there, once, but we're just friends now."
Duncan shook his head, smiling ruefully. "Just friends. God, how I hate those words. I can't even remember how many times I've said that, when I didn't mean it. It's as easy to lie to yourself with them as it is to others."
She shook her head. "He's more than half in love with Beverly Crusher. I won't come between them, it wouldn't be fair. What's past is past."
"But what's fair to you?"
She turned finally, and looked at him evenly. "You are."
He returned her gaze, head tipped slightly to one side as he assessed her words. "I see."
She scowled, sensing his withdrawal. "What do you see?"
"More than you think I do. I may not be psychic, Guinan, but I've a lot of experience with human nature. You think I'm fair for you because I'll be gone soon."
She felt a shock of recognition as he spoke. He was right. But did it have to be that way? She chose her words carefully.
"It's true you'll be leaving soon, and I won't be going with you. We both know that. But now that we know about each other, there's no reason why we can't... keep in touch, is there?"
He shook his head, looking intrigued. "No, there's not."
"You'll know where I am, I'll know where you are; and I'll be there if you need me."
"What of your needs?"
She smiled. "It works both ways, right?"
He nodded, slowly. "If you want it so. Guinan, I..."
A chirp from the door-annunciator interrupted him, and he frowned. "Just a minute, let me see who that is."
He rolled out of bed, grabbed his pants and tugged them on as he walked out of the room. She sat up, listening intently.
"Come." Duncan's voice was matter of fact.
She heard the hiss of the door opening, then Worf's earthquake- rumble voice.
"nuHpIn'a' MacLeod, we have practice, do we not?"
Her eyes widened. Worf had used a seldom-used Klingon appellation to preface Duncan's name. Loosely translated it meant weapons-master, but had somewhat of the feel of the Earth term Sensei to it. She was more than a bit startled to hear Worf accord such a title to Duncan.
"Worf, forgive me friend, I... have company and I'm afraid I overslept. Give me a few minutes and I'll join you on the holodeck."
Guinan grinned, clearly visualizing the look on Worf's face. He would feign indifference, while simultaneously being curious who Duncan was with, and disdainful of the loose mating practices of humans. She'd seen him wear that expression before, usually around Will Riker.
"I see. I will wait, as you wish."
She heard the door close again, and Duncan walked back into the bedroom, yawning as he ran his fingers through his hair. Yawn completed, his expression turned rueful.
"I'm sorry, I'd forgotten I was to meet him this morning for our workout." He grinned. "You drove all thought right out of my mind."
She laughed. "You silver-tongued devil, you! Are you sure you're Scottish, not Irish?"
He didn't miss her meaning, and grinned. "I'm sure. Stay if you like. I'll be back in an hour or so."
Something began to niggle at her, some dark current of perception eddying just out of sight. She put out her hand.
"Duncan, don't go."
He paused as he pulled on the padded tunic he wore to spar in, and looked back at her.
"Is something wrong?"
She tried to focus on the vague unease, and couldn't make it come clearer. Whatever it was, it didn't seem all that serious. It was nothing like the foreboding she had when real danger threatened. Finally she shook her head. "No, nothing really. Just a... feeling."
"Don't worry about me. I'm a big boy."
She grinned. "I noticed."
He laughed and took his katana from its place on the shelf. "Later."
She nodded and watched him leave, wondering what was bothering her. No doubt she'd find out in due time. She settled back into the warm hollow where he'd been, and let her eyes drift closed again. Moments later she opened them again with a sigh. The unpleasantness that was hovering on the edge of her perception her wasn't going to let her get back to sleep, she could tell that already, so she might as well get up. She made use of the bathroom, then checked the time, and made a face. It was well past the time of her usual breakfast with Deanna. She slipped into her caftan and sat down at the comunit.
"Personal message, Guinan to Deanna Troi, is she available?"
"One moment," the machine responded. Seconds later the screen filled with Deanna's face. She was smiling. No, she was grinning, her eyes alight with mischievous humor.
"Good morning, Guinan. Did you have a nice night?"
"As a matter of fact, I did, but you knew that already."
"Not really, though I suspected. I was a little worried when you didn't meet me, but a quick check on your whereabouts told me I didn't need to fret. And I'll have you know that though I was tempted, I refrained from snooping further."
"Good girl, I'm proud of you for not succumbing to those Lwaxana impulses."
Deanna laughed. "Well, since you missed breakfast, how about lunch? I don't have any appointments after eleven, and I want to hear all about it!"
Guinan feigned amazement. "Deanna Troi! I had no idea you were such a voyeur!"
"Of course you did! All Betazoids are voyeurs, it's genetic. How about it?"
"Oh, all right, but only if you promise not to pry."
"Who, me? Pry?" Deanna batted her eyelashes innocently. "Never."
"All right then, I'll see you in--" she stopped suddenly, an overwhelming feeling of shock, pain, and darkness closing around her like a suffocating curtain. A presence she'd just begun to get used to vanished soundlessly from her mind, as if someone had flipped a switch. She heard Deanna's moan, and knew she'd felt it too.
"Duncan!" she gasped, on her feet and running without even taking the time to close the connection on the comunit. In the corridor she stopped suddenly, confused. Which holodeck had he been going to? He hadn't said, and he wasn't wearing a locator so the computer wouldn't be able to find him easily. Worf was a different matter. She turned to the monitor panel on the wall.
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Worf."
"Lieutenant Worf is in sickbay."
Ice seemed to form inside her, but she shook it off and began to run, her bare feet soundless on the carpeted floor. People looked at her oddly as she passed them, clearly taken aback. She didn't care. She only hoped that what she had sensed was not what she first thought. Worf's presence in sickbay seemed to indicate the worst, though. Duncan had confided his fears that someone had deliberately sabotaged his ship. Could that someone be aboard the Enterprise? Could they have gotten to him?
Ahead she saw the turbolift doors closing, and called out "Hold!". The door reversed, opening, and she threw herself into the car, startling the three crewmen already there.
"Emergency override, sickbay!" she panted, knowing that would prioritize her request to the top. The lift doors slid shut and she watched the indicator light dropping as they began to move.
"Are you hurt? Can I help?" one of the three asked.
She turned, and recognizing the man as one she had spoken to many times in Ten-Forward, she shook her head. "No, Sam, it's not me, I'm just... needed."
He looked relieved. Before he said anything else, the doors opened and she dashed out, turned the corner, and flung herself toward the sickbay doors. She stopped short, staring, taking in the frantic activity around one of the biobeds.
"Get those stasis fields working, Alyssa!" Crusher was saying, to her nurse. "Damn it, these readings don't make any sense. Worf, get out of my way! T'mer, we're we're going to have to do a replacement, we'll want to use the Tarvi-2028, it's the only one we've got that will handle someone this size."
Worf turned and moved away, and Guinan gasped, seeing him covered with blood. So much... and human blood, that brilliant crimson, not the chalky-pink of Klingon blood. His face was a mask of suffering. He stood watching for a moment, then his fists clenched, and he threw back his head and let loose with the blood-curdling howl of a Klingon warning heaven that a newly-killed warrior was about to enter.
In the silence that followed Worf's cry, everyone seemed momentarily stunned into inactivity. She had to know. Determinedly, she strode forward into the gap Worf had left around the biobed. Duncan lay there, still, white, and utterly lax. His tunic had been sliced open down the front, and was as soaked with blood as Worf. His broad chest was holed by a dreadful wound, it was clear that the stroke had pierced his heart.
For a moment she wanted to scream, to cry, to demand justice from whatever deity seemed set on ruining any chance at happiness for either of them, then just as suddenly, calm settled around her. What had Duncan said? Decapitation could kill him, as could certain types of energy weapon. Nothing else. No matter what it looked like, he was not dead. Not really. She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked up into Beverly Crusher's anguished blue gaze.
"Guinan, I'm so sorry. I'm doing everything I can, we've got him in stasis so he won't deteriorate, and we're going to replace his heart, we have a mechanical on hand that should work, at least until he can be fitted properly with the correct one, or a cloned replacement."
Guinan took a deep breath, and shook her head.
"No, Beverly. Take the stasis fields off. He'll be fine."
Bev's eyes widened, and Guinan sensed her dismay quite clearly.
"You don't understand, Guinan. He's gone, his heart was damaged beyond repair. Replacement is the only thing that will save him now."
Guinan reached out and took Beverly's hands in hers. "I know he's gone, Beverly. I felt it happen. But trust me, I know what I'm saying, and I'm not crazy. It's not necessary."
"It is if I'm going to save his life!"
"You don't need to save his life, Bev. He would not want you to do this."
The doctor drew back as if Guinan had struck her. "Not you too! I checked out that Christian Science line he fed me. They support two colony worlds, and neither has any record of a member named Duncan MacLeod."
Guinan stared at her, puzzled. She vaguely remembered something about a religious group called Christian Scientists from her days as a student on 20th century Earth, but what did they have to do with Duncan?
"Beverly, I have no idea what you're talking about, but I do know that Duncan would not want any kind of intervention. Have you checked for a Med-alert?"
"I..." Beverly suddenly looked less sure of herself. "No, I haven't."
The doctor turned back toward Duncan's still form, and made an adjustment on her tricorder, then scanned him. A moment later she turned to Guinan, her expression stunned.
"You're right. He has a `do not resuscitate' order encoded on a biochip implanted in his forearm. I can't believe this! It's insane! Damn it, Guinan, I can save him if you'll let me!"
Guinan shook her head. "I can't, Beverly. It will be all right, trust me. Have I ever lied to you? Turn off the stasis units."
Beverly started toward the biobed, but was brought up short by a hail on the comm.
"Laforge to Crusher."
With a sigh, she tapped her badge. "Crusher here, what is it Geordi? I have an emergency situation here!"
"I'm sorry, doctor, but I'm registering an unusual power drain which seems to be originating in sickbay."
She looked around, her expression blank. "Here? But there's nothing..." her eyes narrowed, and she lifted her tricorder again. "It's the stasis units. They're running at four times normal power levels! No wonder the readings were so odd! But that doesn't make sense... it's like they're fighting something."
Guinan put her hand on the doctor's arm, drawing her attention once more. "Beverly, they are. Turn them off."
They stood for a moment, gazes locked, then Beverly nodded, and reached over and switched them off.
"What the...? The power drain just stopped."
Laforge's voice sounded puzzled. Beverly looked equally so. Guinan went over to the bed and took Duncan's hand, feeling only emptiness where normally he was so full of life. It was hard not to weep at that, to have faith that what he'd told her was the truth. But it had to be.
Behind her the sickbay doors opened, and she sensed Deanna and Jean-Luc's familiar presences as they entered the room. She smiled a little ruefully, knowing that Duncan was going to be unhappy about having a reception committee around right now.
"What's going on here, Mr. Worf? Why did you put out a detention order on yourself?"
"Captain, I have killed nuHpIn'a' MacLeod. I must be detained."
Picard and Troi spoke almost as one, each one equally stunned. Keeping Duncan's hand in hers, she turned so that she could see the others, and listen to Worf's explanation, though she knew what had happened.
"We were sparring, and I was careless. In so doing, I cost a warrior's life. I must be punished."
A sudden change pulled Guinan's attention back to Duncan, as beneath her fingers she felt a presence begin to grow. He hadn't lied to her! Her relief was so fierce that it blocked out everything else. She put her head against their clasped hands and felt his essence suffuse the empty shell of his body. His hand twitched, his fingers closing around hers.
He gave a sudden, sharp, painful-sounding gasp, and his eyes opened, their earthy depths unfocused and bewildered. She felt the others center their attention on her, and on Duncan, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was that he was back. He reached up to touch her face with his fingers, leaving red smudges on her cheek from the blood on his hand.
"Welcome back." she said softly, putting her hand over his, not caring about the blood. "I'm glad to see you."
"I--" he started, then winced. After a moment he managed a weak smile. "I'm glad to see you too, but God... what happened to me? I feel like I've been hit by a truck."
"Close. It was a Klingon."
He looked puzzled for a moment, then realization flooded his face. "Oh no-- tell me I didn't--" he looked down at himself, and saw the blood, then lifted his head enough to look past her to the stunned faces of the Enterprise's captain, chief medical officer, counselor, and chief of security. "Damn." he muttered as he slumped back onto the biobed with a sigh. "I hate it when this happens."
She nodded, smiling a little. He started to sit up and Beverly stepped closer, her hand on his shoulder. "What do you think you're doing? You shouldn't even be alive, much less sitting up!"
Duncan let her push him back down on the bed. Guinan moved over to get out of Beverly's way. Duncan's face was a mask of resignation. He'd obviously decided that there was no point in fighting it any more. She reached out to clasp his hand again and felt waves of fear flowing from him. He might be consenting to the exam, but he greatly feared its consequences.
"It's all right, Mr. MacLeod," Deanna said, obviously sensing his fear as clearly as Guinan did. "Dr. Crusher just wants to make certain that you're all right. She's not going to hurt you."
"Not intentionally," he said flatly.
Picard spoke quietly, "I can assure you, Mr. MacLeod that we mean you no harm, but you must admit that this incident raises some rather interesting questions."
Duncan sighed,"I know it does. Believe me, I know. Also believe me when I say that while I trust you are all good people, I'd rather not answer those interesting questions. I've been burned one too many times," he paused, "literally."
"Nevertheless," Picard responded, "we cannot let those questions go unanswered. This, however, is not the time to speak of such things. It can wait until after the doctor has finished." He turned to Worf who was now flanked by two rather bewildered security guards who'd answered the detention order, "Mr. Worf, would you assign an escort to wait for Mr. MacLeod? Oh, and remove that detention order on yourself. Have them show him to the observation lounge when he's ready." Picard turned back to Duncan, "After Dr. Crusher releases you and you've had a chance to clean up, I'd appreciate an opportunity to talk with you about this."
Duncan sighed, looking remarkably mulish, "If you insist. It's your ship."
Guinan winced a little, anticipating the Captain's response. She was relieved when he made no comment, glad that he'd grown beyond the need for such things. The last thing she wanted was for two of her closest friends to dislike each other. Giving Duncan's hand a gentle squeeze, she released it and went to wait by the door for Picard. Knowing him as she did, she knew he'd want to speak with her about Duncan.
Beverly looked up, her face flushed with amazement. "This is incredible! There's no sign of a wound, no soft-tissue damage at all! No sign that this injury ever occurred, though I do see a rather incredible amount of skeletal scarring. You've been pretty hard on your body, Mr. MacLeod."
Duncan snorted. "You know what they say... `shit happens.'"
They all stared at him blankly, and after a moment he shrugged.
"Well, they used to say it" he muttered.
Guinan chuckled. "Don't let Data hear that one."
"Please." Deanna said, smiling.
Picard looked over at the Doctor and caught her eye. "Dr. Crusher, please report as soon as you release Mr. MacLeod." As Beverly nodded distractedly, absorbed in her tricorder readings, he turned to Guinan, clearly still amused by that last exchange. "Guinan, I'd like to speak to you."
She nodded, and they left the room together.
Beverly Crusher stood in the turbolift, mentally rehearsing the report she was to make to the captain. It was distressingly bare of substance, which he wasn't going to like it at all. She didn't like it much herself. She wished she'd had more time! The researcher in her was fascinated by Duncan MacLeod. He was just so amazing! He had taken her examination with ill grace, but what she had found just whetted her appetite to learn more. She had finally let him go, with extreme reluctance, knowing that the captain was waiting for her report, and for the man.
The lift stopped and the doors opened. She stepped out onto the bridge and nodded at Deanna and Will, then made her way up the ramp to the Ready Room door. She adjusted her lab-coat, flicked her hair out of her face, and touched the chime. A moment later the door slid open, and she stepped inside. Guinan was seated on the couch across from Picard, who was half-sitting on his desk. The scene appeared relaxed, almost informal, but she could sense an underlying tension. Jean-Luc seemed glad to see her.
"Doctor, what have you discovered about our guest? What is he?"
"He's... human, mostly, but at the same time, he's not."
"I can't. It would take months of research, years perhaps, to find out why he is the way he is. I can tell you he's got the most bizarre immune system I've ever seen. His cellular regeneration processes are nothing short of phenomenal. Normally there would be a measurable amount of degradation during cellular replacement. We all lose and replace millions of cells daily, and each replacement cell is minutely, though measurably, less perfect than the one before. In Duncan MacLeod, each replacement cell is identical to the previous one. It's as if at some point in his life he was simply frozen in time. I've never seen anything like it."
"The fountain of youth." Picard said, drawing from the imagery of mythology.
Beverly nodded. "In a matter of speaking. "
"How old is he?"
"According to the medical scanners, he's around thirty or thirty-five, but according to his DNA mutation patterns, he's approximately that number of generations removed from us."
"Thirty generations? That would be... good God! Nine-hundred years?" He frowned. "Could he be a time traveller from the future then, like the `future historian' that Rassmussen impersonated?"
Beverly shook her head emphatically. "He can't be from the future, it doesn't work that way. The mutation rate is constant and measurable, like a kind of clock. If he were from the future, I'd be able to tell that as well. Another thing... he has antibodies to disease agents which haven't been present for hundreds of years. Things like bubonic plague, smallpox, AIDS, Rigilian Fever... the list is almost endless. It seemed like every test we ran came back positive. To have antibodies against diseases that no longer exist he has to have lived when those diseases were in existence. For example, the last smallpox virus was intentionally destroyed in the early twenty-first century, so he has to be at least that old."
Picard looked at Guinan questioningly. She shook her head.
"I first met him late in the twentieth century, on Earth, but I don't feel I can say anything more than that without violating his trust. What he was doing there, how he got there, how he got here... you'll have to ask him."
"You're not being very helpful." Jean-Luc said, clearly exasperated.
Guinan sighed unhappily. "I know, and I'm sorry. But it's his life, not mine. All I can tell you is that he poses no threat to you, or to this ship."
Picard sighed. "I know that you believe that to be the truth, but you must admit, you are prejudiced in this matter."
Guinan's posture altered subtly, becoming slightly stiffer, her chin lifting. "Everyone views the world through their own prejudices, Captain. Mine are not the issue here. He is not a threat to us, however we may well be a threat to him."
Picard looked puzzled. "In what way could we be a threat to him?"
"Ask him." Guinan said intensely.
As her challenge hung in the air, Worf's disembodied voice sounded over the com system. "Captain, Mr. MacLeod is waiting for you in the Observation Lounge."
"Acknowledged, Mr. Worf. Ask the senior staff to join us, please."
Picard gestured for Guinan and Beverly to follow him. "I shall ask him, Guinan, but will he answer?"
She shrugged. "Time will tell."
Duncan slouched in his seat, feeling surly and ill-used. He shot periodic glances toward the two security officers who stood at the doorway. `Escort' indeed. He knew a guard detail when he saw one. The conference room was juat a genteel prison. He felt as if he were awaiting sentencing. Waiting for the words that would end his life as he knew it, end his freedom. Perhaps not just his, but that of all those like him. He had no one in particular to blame, it had been inevitable, but he was in no mood to be reasonable about it. He sighed, and turned deliberately away from the room, looking out through the observation windows, glad that he at least had the stars.
He heard the doors open. It sounded as if several people had entered the room, not just Picard. He didn't give them the satisfaction of turning around. After a moment, he heard a gentle cough.
Guinan's voice. He sighed. He couldn't be rude to her, even if he wanted to be rude to the rest of them. He turned around.
"Hello sweetheart, I see the inquisition has arrived."
Data, the android lieutenant commander Duncan had heard about but not yet met, cocked his head slightly to one side. "Sweetheart is usually used as an expression of affection. It does not appear to belong in the same sentence as `the inquisition'."
"I was talking about two different things. I have a great deal of affection for Guinan, however, I can't say the for the rest of this nonsense."