|In the Dark
by Kellie Matthews & Julia Kosatka
"I appreciate your frustration, Mr. MacLeod, however I am sure you understand the necessity of the situation," Picard said quietly.
"I suppose I do, but I'll be damned if I have to like it!"
"Liking it is not a requirement. The truth is."
"You won't like the truth."
"The truth is often unpleasant, however it is what we deal in."
"`Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,' Captain. Have you never lied to protect yourself? To protect your friends? Do you tell everyone you meet everything about yourself? Have you no secrets, nothing you would rather be known only to your closest friends? I beg leave to doubt it."
Picard leaned forward, his expression thoughtful as he steepled his fingers. "I can't say that I've never done any of those things as I have done all of them. However, you may rely on our discretion. Unless something about you proves to be a threat to us, or to the Federation, it need go no further than this room."
Duncan looked around the room, from face to face, each person in turn. He lifted an eyebrow. "You're telling me that seven people can be counted on to never reveal my secrets to anyone else?" He laughed humorlessly, shaking his head. "Tell me another one."
Picard stiffened visibly. "Mr. MacLeod, I would, and have, trusted these people with my life. They have never let me down. I will thank you not to insult their integrity."
Duncan looked into Picard's eyes, and found honesty as well as anger in his steady gaze. He shook his head.
"I have no doubt about their integrity, I just know human nature. You don't get to be..." he paused, considering. He might as well tell them, it was all going to come out anyway. "You don't get to be nearly a thousand years old without becoming something of an expert on the subject."
Picard didn't respond for a moment, but LaForge did. "Are you telling us that you were born in the fourteenth century?" His voice held clear disbelief.
Duncan smiled. "No, actually in the sixteenth. I have a couple of hundred years to go before I hit the big one-zero-zero-zero."
Geordie started to laugh, then he looked at Guinan. His smile faded and he looked to Picard, then his gaze swept the others. "You're serious!"
Duncan nodded. "All too."
Beverly's face took on an expression of awestruck amazement. "Eight hundred years? After the tests I ran I can see that it's possible, for you, but I don't understand it! It must be some sort of mutation. Tell me, were your parents unusually long-lived?"
"We have no parents. We are always foundlings."
The look of shock on Beverly Crusher's face was priceless. "We?" she squeaked, clearly stunned. "There are more of you?"
"Quite a few. That's part of why I didn't want to tell you. I expose not only myself, but all those like me. I put them at the same risk that I take on."
"What risk?" Worf asked. "I see no risk in the truth."
Duncan looked at the Klingon, but before he could speak, Picard did so.
"I think I understand. You said it earlier. You've been burned too many times. Witch hunts, persecutions, pogroms."
Duncan nodded. "Not to mention experimentation. Doctor Crusher isn't the first to want to find out what makes us tick. Few have been as gentle. The Eugenics Wars were the worst time for us, fortunately in the chaos that followed we were able to locate and destroy Singh's records. He had six of us, none survived the experiments." He paused a moment, trying not to remember the nature of those experiments, and their results. He'd lost good friends there.
"Duncan?" Guinan said his name softly, drawing him back to the present. Her gaze was warm and concerned. He sighed.
"Sorry. Sometimes the remembering is too much. I get so tired of losing friends." He looked at Picard, "Can you see my dilemma?"
Picard nodded. "I understand it better now, but knowing there are more of you compounds my own dilemma. You may not be a threat, but others like you could be. Unless you can prove otherwise, I feel I must report this to Star Fleet Command."
Duncan realized he was going to have to play his ace. "I can't prove otherwise, I'd be a liar if I were to try. But there's no need to inform Star Fleet, Captain. They know. If you want confirmation, contact Admiral Tamar Dawson. I'd appreciate it if you would do so on a secure channel, of course, but she'll confirm what I've told you."
"Admiral Dawson?" Picard said, clearly surprised.
"Admiral Dawson?" Guinan echoed, with a slightly different emphasis. Duncan looked at her and nodded, grinning.
"Joe finally found a woman who'd put up with him. Delphia reminded me a bit of you." He paused a moment, and winked. "Though nowhere near as intriguing, of course."
She chuckled. "Good save. I want details," she looked around, as if just realizing they weren't alone. "Later."
He nodded, smiling a little at her obvious discomfort. "Later."
Picard cleared his throat. "I know Admiral Dawson, and I will contact her. I do find it odd, though, that you fought so hard against telling us, if Star Fleet already knows."
Duncan gnawed at the inside of his cheek and tried to think of a way to get out of this one. He had hoped Picard wouldn't be quite so shrewd. He should have known better.
"I didn't say all of Star Fleet knew. Our presence is known only to a select few."
"Who does the selecting?" Riker asked pointedly.
He sighed. He was going to have to go one step further. At times like this he wished he had Methos handy. The older Immortal always seemed to take a perverse pleasure in dealing with this sort of thing. `Spin control' as he'd once put it. He hoped Tamar would forgive him for this.
"There's an organization who keeps track of us. They're called Watchers. Members of Admiral Dawson's family have been Watchers for centuries."
"Watchers? This gets more and more convoluted. Now not only are there... what do you call yourselves?" Riker asked.
"Immortals, though it's somewhat of a misnomer. We can be killed. And no, I'm not going to tell you how." He grinned. "I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid."
That drew a chuckle from his inquisitors before Riker continued.
"So we have Immortals and Watchers. Pretty damned convenient if you ask me."
"Not if you're an Immortal. It can be a damned nuisance. Actually, it's not always a picnic for the Watchers, either. My co-pilot was my Watcher, and it didn't turn out to be a great job for him."
Riker's eyes narrowed. "Did you kill him?"
For a moment Duncan was too stunned to speak. When he finally did, it was with outrage. "No, I didn't kill him, damn it! Jeremy Dikembe was my friend! I don't kill innocents!"
"So who do you kill?" Picard asked quietly. "You're a trained swordsman, a fighter good enough to disarm a Klingon warrior. I get the impression you don't fight for fun."
"I fight only when necessary. I fight to save my life, or someone else's," he looked at Guinan. She nodded acknowledgement.
"You fight with a sword?" Data asked. At Duncan's nod, he continued. "That seems rather anachronistic."
Duncan laughed drily. "You don't know the half of it. Suffice it to say our battles are rather... traditional."
"Ah, ritual combat!" Worf said approvingly.
"Exactly," Duncan agreed. "We have some pretty strict rules."
"Would sabotaging a ship fall within those rules?" LaForge asked suddenly.
Duncan turned sharply to look at the engineer, noticing that everyone else had done the same thing.
"Sabotage?" Duncan asked. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the Darius. I just confirmed my suspicions today. Your crash was no accident caused by an aging ship. Someone deliberately rigged those systems to cut out. You're lucky you weren't killed outright." He stopped, and looked a bit sheepish. "I mean, well, you know what I meant."
Duncan stared at him. "Deliberate? Someone deliberately caused those malfunctions?" Cold fury suffused him. "That's murder! Someone murdered Jeremy, damn it! Why? What would be the point? Piracy seems unlikely, as what I carried would be of no value to anyone outside of Valhalla. There's no reason for anyone to do such a thing!"
"What about you? Could someone have wanted to harm you?" Deanna asked.
"It makes no sense. The only people who might want to harm me also know that I would survive a crash, no matter what."
Guinan leaned forward intently. "Maybe that's it. If someone knew you'd survive the crash no matter what, they might have planned it that way, to isolate you. I know from experience that some of your kind are more expedient than honorable."
She had a point. It could well have been another Immortal, looking to take easy prey. The deliberate disabling of the replicator pointed to that, since days without food or water would leave him weakened and less able to fight. But who could it be? He'd been out of circulation for a long time, he didn't think anyone knew where he was, not even his friends.
"It could have been," he said finally. "I won't say I have no enemies, and you're right about expediency. Some of us don't follow the rules. Unfortunately, if they know I was aboard the Darius, they also know my destination. Whoever it is may be waiting for me on Valhalla."
Picard looked at Data. "Commander, how far off-schedule would a detour to Valhalla put us?"
"It will take an additional sixteen hours and twenty eight minutes, sir. I could give you the seconds if you..."
"No, thank you Data." Picard said hastily.
"We don't have to be at Ursa Prime for a week," Riker put in.
"In light of the sabotage to the Darius resulting in the death of your first officer, a Federation citizen, I believe it might not be a bad idea to give you a `lift' to Valhalla, since it will not compromise our schedule. Besides," he smiled. "They have riding stables on Valhalla, do they not?"
Duncan looked at him, puzzled not only by his question, but by this unlooked-for aid. He'd expected them to revile him, not offer to help!
"They do, why?"
A ripple of laughter circled the room. Deanna Troi grinned and took pity on his obvious confusion. "The captain has a saddle he'd like to get out of storage."
Picard grinned. "Perhaps this time I'll actually get to use it for riding."
The captain was obviously a horseman. That explained part of it, but not all of it. Before he could ask, Picard spoke again.
"I think we're finished here for now. Everyone back to stations. Mr. MacLeod, perhaps you would like to work with Mr. Worf to see if you can untangle the mystery of who might have sabotaged your vessel?"
"I would, thank you sir."
Picard nodded and the group began to disperse. As he stood, Duncan leaned toward Guinan.
"I don't understand," he said softly, so only she could hear. "Why are they helping me? I thought I was in for the inquisition, not..." he spread his hands, unable to come up with an appropriate description, "...this."
She smiled. "They're good people, Duncan; fair people. They've been through things you can't even imagine, and to be honest, compared to a lot of what they've experienced, you barely even raise a flicker on the odd- meter. They will judge you on your actions, no more, no less. If you're honest with them and treat them with respect, they'll do the same for you."
He snorted. "Honest and respectful? What am I, a boy scout?"
She laughed. "I've heard almost those exact words from Jean-Luc on more than one occasion. You two are a lot alike. It wouldn't hurt either of you to loosen up now and then."
"What? In public?" Duncan asked in mock-dismay, then spoiled it by smiling. "I still can't believe this."
"Mr. MacLeod?" Picard said, drawing his attention.
Duncan looked up to find the Captain watching him intently. "Yes?"
"I will expect a few more answers over dinner."
Duncan nodded somberly. "You'll have whatever I can give."
Picard nodded back. "Good."
"Now, that is what I call dinner." Duncan drank the last of his wine and sighed, "I can almost imagine being back in Paris, just around the same time I met you, Guinan." He smiled at his host, "A few months before she and I met, I'd been living on a barge across from Notre Dame. A friend of mine ran a little restaurant not far from there and he would have killed for this recipe, Captain. Thank you, for helping bring back a few good memories."
"I'm glad you enjoyed it." Picard picked up the wine bottle and refilled Duncan's glass at his guest's nod. "Guinan?"
"No, thank you, I think I've had enough for one night."
Both men smiled and Picard continued, "It is one of many recipes that have been in my family for generations and it's always something of an adventure to see what the replicators will do to them."
Guinan put down her fork and leaned back in her chair, satisfied, "This time, it seems the recipe came away unscathed. I applaud your ancestors, not only for creating it in the first place, but for having the good sense to hang onto it."
"It's a pleasure to have someone else who appreciates real food to try them on. I fear that most people's palates have been ruined by years of eating synthetics." Picard pushed his chair back and gestured toward the living area, "Shall we?" Picard stepped aside to let Guinan and Duncan precede him into the living room portion of his quarters. He rarely entertained strangers in his sanctuary but MacLeod was different. Guinan's red and gold finery was testament to just how different. In all the years he'd known her he'd never seen her so seemingly carefree and happy. It's as if encountering MacLeod again stripped away the centuries and she'd begun to resemble the young woman he'd met in 19th century San Francisco.
Picard hung back a moment, ostensibly to clear the dinner table, but it also gave the two of them an opportunity to speak privately. Dinner conversation had centered on Duncan. He'd touched on many of the high points of his more than eight hundred years, speaking of the personal side of historic events and where he was when momentous things happened. Picard still had difficulty accepting that the man admiring his small art collection had seen live broadcasts of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. He wished he had years to talk with this man, but he really had only this evening and couldn't afford to indulge his historic curiosity much more. There were other topics to be covered. The relaxed atmosphere could not be allowed to interfere with the purpose of the gathering. Picard had questions that only MacLeod could answer.
"Captain?" MacLeod gestured to the shelves before him. "This is a most impressive collection." Reaching out to lightly touch the shelf near one piece, Duncan continued, "Ixmaili, isn't it? Third cycle?"
"Fourth, actually. You are interested in archeology?" Picard joined his guests at the shelves.
"You might say I have a vested interest in antiquities."
Guinan rolled her eyes at his comment and shaking her head, moved over to sit on the sofa.
Duncan smiled at her reaction. "I used to deal in art and antiques. I've found that it's an interest that has stayed with me." His eyes fell on a small bronze statue of a nude human male. "This is Taylor's 'Prospero' isn't it? I remember attending one of her shows."
"You knew Rena Taylor?" Picard began to wonder if the human woman had been born whom MacLeod didn't know.
"No, unfortunately, we never met, but it wasn't from lack of trying on my part."
Picard smiled at Duncan's expression, "I... discovered her work a few years ago. The original of this statue is in the North American Museum on Earth." Gesturing to include many of the pieces in his quarters he continued, "Replicators many not always do justice to fine food, but they do have their uses."
"How true, and buying stock in MMS Enterprises is one of the smartest things I ever did." MacLeod drifted over to where Guinan was sitting.
Picard nodded, his face taking on a more serious expression, "I can see where virtual immortality would have its advantages." He paused to sip his wine, "Wealth, property... power, all would be fairly easy to acquire for someone who could make plans in terms of centuries instead of decades." Picard sat down opposite MacLeod and Guinan. "It must provide quite a temptation."
MacLeod's eyes flashed for a moment and Picard realized he'd hit a nerve.
"Not to me, it isn't," he said flatly.
"Come, Mr. MacLeod," Picard said, leaning back in his chair, "do you expect me to believe that you've never sought to acquire wealth and power? What of your investment in MMS Enterprises? Surely you didn't invest in replicator technology expecting to lose money?" Guinan settled into her seat reminding Picard of someone watching a play, or a fencing match.
"Of course not, that would be ridiculous, but not to the extent you imply! Captain, think of what you're suggesting." MacLeod rose and began to pace. "Wealth of the type you're implying attracts attention and that's the one thing that we can't afford. There was a time when all one of us had to do was move on to another village, another continent and start over." MacLeod stood looking out at the passing stars, seeming to speak only to them. "Technology began making that harder and harder. You have to plan decades in advance. You need three or four identities to fall back on and all the time watching your... your back." MacLeod turned back to face Picard, his eyes dark and brooding, "As for power, it comes in many guises. You can't understand the kind of power we deal in." He looked into the dregs of his wine and continued more to himself than to the others in the room, "I'm not even sure I understand it."
Picard used all of his training to retain his outward calm. He didn't need to be an empath to see that his guest was deeply troubled. In his fascination with the man as living history he'd nearly forgotten the human element, and he was beginning to believe that no matter what else MacLeod was, he was very human. Still, he mustn't let the man's obvious pain distract him. He needed answers and he needed them now.
"Have you spoken with Admiral Dawson yet?" MacLeod asked as he sat back down next to Guinan, seeming to drawn some measure of strength from her.
"I spoke with her, and she confirmed that you are no threat to my ship or the Federation. That is, however, all she said." Picard let a little of his irritation at that non-productive conversation show. Mysteries between the pages of a book were all well and good, but he despised them on his ship.
"Captain, you have the assurances of Guinan, whom you trust and of a Starfleet admiral. What more can I add? Isn't that enough?"
MacLeod seemed to have lost much of his earlier animation, his dark eyes seemed to look out from a much darker place, but his words sparked the fury Picard had not felt able to show to the Admiral when she, too had thwarted his quest for knowledge.
"No, sir! It is not good enough!" All but slamming his glass down on the side table, Picard radiated the anger and indignation that his youthful temper had evolved into. "What can you add? How about when did your people first appear? How many are you? What of those who don't have the trust of Starfleet admirals? What of those of you who don't have any compunction against plotting for power? I need answers!"
"All right!" MacLeod was on his feet again, anger in every line of his body, "Some of us are power-hungry and vicious! But you know what? We're no worse than you mortals! Maybe we're better! Has that occurred to you? Caligula, Hitler, Khan Singh, they were mortals! At least most of us limit our depravities to ourselves!" Picard could almost see the tension run out of the man as he spent his anger and again, that all-encompassing sadness began to creep back in.
MacLeod sighed and continued quietly as he resumed his seat, "Captain, for the main, we are not builders or makers. That is your gift. You are the empire builders, the artists, the thinkers. We create nothing." He closed his eyes for a moment, "Some of us are evil, but they merely serve to concentrate it in themselves. Can you tell me there are no evil humans?"
Silence settled between them for a moment as Picard considered MacLeod's words. He'd often thought that if only he could live long enough that he could finally find that spark of talent that would let him paint masterworks, or finally get the time to write all the poetry he felt he had in him. What an incredible irony that those who had the time didn't have the ability, or at least didn't think they did.
Light laughter roused Picard from his reverie. Both he and MacLeod turned to Guinan.
"Well? Would you care to let us in on the joke, Guinan?" Picard found himself somewhat relieved that the mood had been broken.
"I was just thinking how much alike you two are. I do seem to always gravitate to type." Picard just managed to keep his jaw from dropping, but he felt warmth creep into his face and fervently hoped he wasn't blushing. Guinan's absurd comment had what he supposed was the desired effect on MacLeod as well since his brooding expression had been replaced by a small, but genuine smile.
"Gentlemen, shall we cut to the chase?" Apparently, Guinan intended to make the most of the current change in atmosphere. "I suspect, Jean-Luc, that no immortal can answer many of your questions. Even they don't know their origins, or numbers." At MacLeod's nod she continued, "If someone does decide to investigate those matters, and it's during your lifetime, I doubt that anyone would object to you being informed of them. After all, you already know of Immortals and the Watchers and you are also a trustworthy person."
Picard watched MacLeod's face carefully and the change there did more to convince him than anything that had been said throughout the evening. MacLeod really couldn't answer and looked interested in being able to someday provide the information.
"Captain, I can give you a promise." MacLeod leaned forward earnestly. "If I ever have reason to believe that one of us poses a threat to any Federation ship, colony or personnel, I'll notify someone immediately. Either a local Federation official, Admiral Dawson or you. I have no desire to see innocents hurt."
Picard nodded, more to himself than to MacLeod, "All right. I will accept that, if I must... and it seems that I must. I'm still not entirely satisfied with this matter, but I can see that I need to take it up again with Admiral Dawson."
MacLeod rose, and offered his hand to Guinan. "It's late, Captain, and perhaps we should end this evening before we find ourselves at each other's throats again." His quiet smile echoed some of Picard's feelings as well. He had no desire to alienate the man before him. Indeed, he wished he had more time to spend with him, to talk with him about all the things that they had in common. Here was a man he could easily call friend, and he hated what he'd felt compelled to do this evening.
"You're quite right, Mr. MacLeod, it is late. Perhaps we can get together again before we leave." Picard's smile widened as MacLeod's eyes narrowed obviously not relishing another grilling, "Just to talk, Mr. MacLeod, just to talk."
After a few more comments about getting together again and exchanging goodnights, MacLeod and Guinan left. Picard picked up his wine glass and poured the last of the bottle into it. Sitting alone in his quarters he let his mind roam over the evening and finished his wine. With a sigh, he rose and collected his guests glasses. After finishing at the processor, he headed for his bedroom. The statue of Prospero that had caught the Immortal's eye sat as always on its shelf and he wondered idly what would have happened had MacLeod ever managed to meet Rena Taylor. He rather suspected his Prospero might have a matching Prince of Denmark. The thought brought a smile to his face and with that he continued his way to bed, touching the light panel on his way out, plunging the room into starlight.
"Can I walk you back to your quarters?" Duncan asked as they left Picard's stateroom.
Guinan looked at him thoughtfully, then shook her head. "No, I have a better idea. Come with me."
"I'm not really up for a crowd," he told her honestly, thinking she planned to take him to Ten-Forward to the party she had mentioned earlier.
"Good, neither am I. Come on, I think you'll like it."
Intrigued, he followed her as she led him to the turbolift and down two decks. "Where are we going?" he asked, finally.
"You'll see," she said cryptically.
He let her keep her secret, and she led him to what he recognized as a holodeck, and stopped outside.
"Don't look," she said as she began to key in her request on the access padd. He stared obligingly at the ceiling until she was finished. "Okay, now close your eyes."
"Is that different from not looking?" he asked, amused, complying.
"Quite," her voice sounded amused too. He felt her fingers lace through his. "Come on."
The holodeck door slid open noisily, and as she led him inside he used other senses to gather information about what she was up to. He heard the low murmur of voices, and the clink of glassware. He smelled alcohol and... cigarettes? It took him a moment to identify it, since it had been so many years since he'd smelled that scent. No one smoked anymore. Some of these holo programs were amazingly detailed. She steered him through the room in a chaotic pattern, and finally put her hands on his hips and guided him down.
"Sit here, and watch your knees, there's a table."
He sat. The chair felt like a wooden one, no cushion, dowel-backed. He reached out and felt the irregular surface of a wooden table under his fingers. "Guinan... what?"
"Shhh, just wait. I'll be right back"
He waited, resisting the temptation to open his eyes. A moment later she returned and closed his fingers around a glass. He lifted it and sniffed, smelling the familiar smoky tang of a good single-malt. He grinned.
"You know me."
"What else would you drink?"
He laughed and took a sip. It was good, very good... and very recognizable. "This is my Laphroaig, isn't it?"
"Guilty, I got it from your cabin."
"Thief," he said, good-naturedly.
"It helps the atmosphere, though."
"What atmosphere? Can I look?"
"In a minute."
A noise louder than the others began, the blurred tones of an amplified guitar. Someone was tuning up. He waited, and the first notes of a blues riff sounded, clear and dazzlingly familiar.
The singer started, a man's voice, husky and soulful. He couldn't stand it any more. He opened his eyes, and confirmed his suspicion.
Her hands closed on his shoulders, massaging lightly. "This is where I come when I want to get away."
"You programmed this?"
"Years ago. I love this place."
"Am I here?"
"Of course you are. It wouldn't be Joe's without you."
He was disconcerted, and flattered. "This is weird."
She laughed. "What's the matter? Don't you like being a fantasy?"
"Umm.... you know, that really sounds like Joe."
She smiled, letting him know she'd noticed his change of subject. "That's because it is. I had some tapes of his I brought back with me. Danny gave 'em to me, back before I even met you guys. I didn't realize who it was until later. I've transferred these songs to every media you can possibly imagine. It's one of the few things I've kept."
He gazed at her, troubled. "You know, that's been bothering me ever since I came aboard. Why don't you have more things? I'm a certifiable packrat... Picard's the same, and he's only a few decades old. Most immortals are like me, tons of stuff, stored in various places. But not you, you have nothing. It's as if your past doesn't exist."
She stared over his head toward the figure playing alone on the stage, a single spotlight picking out the silver streaks in his hair, highlighting the smooth curve of bicep and forearm where they moved over the guitar. "Maybe thats what I wanted."
He waited for her to elaborate, but when she spoke it was on a different topic.
"You said he married? What was she like?"
He grinned. "Delphia? Like I said, she was like you. A lot like you. I never mentioned it to her, I figured that was Joe's business. They were an interesting couple. Very passionate, about everything. Half the time they fought like cats and dogs, the rest of the time you couldn't separate them with a stick. They had three kids. Tamar Dawson is his great-great- great-great granddaughter. Strong character runs in the family. She's the third Star Fleet officer in the bunch."
"I'd believe that. Joe wasn't exactly a slouch in that department himself. I'm glad things worked out, I always hoped he was happy. I always felt guilty about the way I left."
"Why did you leave that way?"
She sat down next to him, picked up his glass and downed the remaining liquor before she turned to face him fully. "I was afraid."
"Of us?" Duncan was taken aback.
She laughed. "Maybe a little... of what I might do if I didn't get out of there. But mostly I was afraid they'd find out what I was. You have no idea what Earth goverments of the time were doing to people like me."
He laughed humorlessly. "Oh yes I do, believe me. I was damned lucky that Mulder didn't turn me in. I still don't quite know why he didn't. He knew what I was. I even think he believed what I am."
"What about her?"
"Her?" he asked, puzzled.
"The woman... Scully. She was interested in you."
He snorted. "Oh, right. Like I was going to start seeing an FBI agent? Besides... I'd sworn off doctors. At that point in my life I wouldn't have touched her with a ten-foot pole."
Guinan smiled oddly. "It's funny, as I was leaving that night, I remember thinking that you'd be better off with her, because her lifespan was more like your own."
He laughed, shaking his head. "`Lord what fools..."
"...we immortals be?'" she finished with a chuckle. "Willie would be rolling in his grave."
"No, he wouldn't. He'd love it."
Her eyebrows went up. "Shakespeare?"
He grinned. "I'm not telling. Hush now, let's listen. I haven't heard really good blues in a long time."
They sat quietly until `Joe' finished his set and went back to the bar. Duncan watched him, his thoughts fixed in the past. After a moment, he looked up at Guinan again.
"Thanks for this, it's a wonderful gift. I wish I had something for you."
"You've already given me a gift, Duncan. That's why I wanted to do this." She was quiet for a moment, then spoke again. "I'll miss you when you go."
He studied her, hearing what was unsaid as well as what was said. "You have to stay here, don't you?"
She nodded. "I do. For now, anyway. And you have to go, don't you?"
He nodded. "You know I do. But I'll make sure you can find me. If I can, I'll stay on Valhalla awhile. I like it there. I feel at home there."
"I'd like to see it through your eyes, and we should have time tomorrow. The captain has scheduled exchange tours so the colonists can see the ship and the crew can get some fresh air."
"What about our saboteur?"
"What about him?"
"I won't put you in danger."
She sighed. "Life's dangerous, Duncan. I can't spend mine afraid to do anything. I want to do this, let me. I want to see your world."
He considered it a minute, then nodded. "All right then, tomorrow I'll show you around my home. Better bring a cloak, it's chilly this time of year."
"We can find ways to keep warm," she said suggestively.
He grinned. "We might just, at that."
She looked up. "Computer, delete inhabitants, leave setting and music intact."
Instantly, and somewhat disconcertingly, all the other people in the bar vanished. It seemed empty and a little sad without them. He looked at her questioningly.
"I've had fantasies about this place for centuries. Now I finally get to indulge one of them."
He studied her, one corner of his mouth quirking upward as he lifted an eyebrow. "You've never...?"
"Ah... indulged in a little holographic fantasy?"
He got the distinct impression that she was blushing, though it was impossible to really tell.
"I won't say I haven't tempted..." she temporized after a moment.
"You didn't answer the question."
"Nor do I plan to," she said, looking altogether innocent.
He frowned. "It'd be hard to compete with a hologram."
She gazed at him thoughtfully "True. Holograms do whatever you tell them to. You're much more unpredictable."
"Now is that a bad thing, or a good thing?" He leaned forward and captured her hand in his, pushing up the sleeve of her gown. The brilliant red cloth was a warm contrast against her sienna skin. He dipped a finger into his glass and drew a design in whiskey on her skin. She was very still, waiting, watching him with those eyes that simultaneously seemed to reveal nothing, and everything. He bent his head to lick the fast-drying patterns from her, savoring the smoky-spicy taste of liquor and woman in combination. Her eyes glazed slightly and he smiled against her skin, wondering if anyone else on the ship had any idea how fabulously sensual this woman was. He doubted it. She'd been hiding herself for far too long. Her fingers splayed out against his cheek, stroking softly.
The question in her voice was all the invitation he needed. He stood up, drawing her with him, then lifted her bodily onto the table. She lay back, her eyes drifting closed as she reached up and hooked her fingers into the waistband of his pants, trying to pull him toward her. He resisted, and instead began to ease the full skirts of her gown upward. The fabric, was heavy and silky, and she laughed softly as it slid against her skin, bunching around her waist.
"Why Duncan! You're very forward tonight."
"I'll not be outdone by a hologram."
She smiled. "We'll see."
He knew she was teasing him, but he was half serious. He didn't like the thought of being his own competition, however odd a concept that was.
Beneath the dress she wore nothing but herself. His fingers slid up the soft curve of her thigh to touch the center of her. She was already damp.
"Been waiting long?" he queried, pushing his fingers deeper.
She arched, sighing, her body easing to accommodate his touch. "Too long. Ever since you left me yesterday morning... that seems like forever ago."
"A lifetime," he said solemnly.
"A lifetime..." she echoed, then smiled, opening her eyes as she realized what he meant. He'd died and been reborn since then. "You can joke about it?"
He grinned. "Given enough time, you can eventually develop a sense of humor about almost anything."
"That's nice to... ah..." she gasped, "yeah, right there."
He repeated the caress and she let out a long, soft moan. It went through him like a hot knife through butter as he remembered how she'd felt around him the last time she'd made that sound. She reached up, cupping his face in her hands.
"I need you, Duncan."
"You have me, love."
"No, I need you. I'm afraid..."
He studied her. She wasn't lying, there was fear in her eyes. He was stunned.
"What are you afraid of?"
"Of going back to what I was."
He stared down at her for a long moment, and finally shook his head. He eased his fingers deeper into her, more gently this time, with less urgency. "You won't. You won't let yourself. You don't need me to see to that. Only you can do that."
She clasped her hands behind his neck, pulling him down for another kiss. He gave it to her, then lifted.
"Only you," he repeated, insistent.
She nodded, that unsettling panic gone from her eyes. "I know. I just... forgot for a minute. Will you remind me if I forget again?"
He nodded. "Any time, my lady. It would be my honor and my pleasure."
She shivered. "Do you have any idea what you do to me?"
He closed his eyes, remembering how she'd felt, taut and succulent around him, and nodded, smiling. "If it's anything like what you do to me, then I do."
Though they had barely begun, he knew she was as ready as he was. He pulled her toward the edge of the table, and her hands were deft on the fastenings of his garments, freeing him. She raised her hips, angling them toward him, and he met her, their bodies merging in heat and slick pleasure. She wound her fingers into his hair and pulled his mouth to hers, which bowed him over her, and pushed him deep. He kissed her, tasting her, sliding his tongue into her mouth to play with hers as he began to move, slowly, leisurely, pushing deep and withdrawing. She sucked on his tongue, and lifted into each of his thrusts. She was so small, so tight... he drowned her, it was like making love to a creature of liquid fire.
"I love the way you feel, feel Duncan, so cool, so sleek." Her words were a mirror of his, reversed images.
"Fire and ice," he said, using the image they had settled on once before.
"Yes, oh yes."
She locked her legs around him with a strength that surprised him; kissing him, urging him on with hands and mouth and whispered words. He took her fast then, driving both of them until their cries echoed, only moments apart. Pleasure poured through him, into her, melding them. His body shuddered with flashes and sparks of ecstasy, but that was subordinate to his delight in the coherence of their mating. There was nothing that equaled this, nothing at all. No words ever captured the mingling of physical and emotional bliss that this merging of bodies and minds gave.
After awhile his back began to protest the awkwardness of their position, and with a groan he caught her around the waist and sat down on one of the hard wooden chairs with her in his lap. He sighed in relief, trembling a little as their breathing slowly evened. After a little while she lifted her head.
"You're a screamer," she said, grinning. "I like that."
He stared at her, a bit embarrassed "I'm not... I mean, ahh..." He had to stop before he made himself a liar.
She laughed out loud, and he remembered how sweet it felt for a woman to laugh while he was within her. It had been a long time. Too long.
"It's a compliment," she told him. "Shut up and take it."
He shook his head. "Whatever you say."
Lower, her hand began to trace an idle pattern on his hip, her body clasping around him in silky ripples. He sighed in pleasure.
"Guinan, you're far too good at this."
"After six hundred years, I should certainly hope so!"
"Only six hundred? God... I'm robbing the cradle!" he exclaimed in mock dismay. "I'll never live it down."
"What's a century here or there?" she asked, tracing a fingertip down the lines that formed around his mouth when he smiled. "I won't tell if you won't."
"My lips are sealed."
She leaned forward and proceeded to prove him false. They weren't sealed at all. In fact, they were quite open. She began to kiss her way down his jaw toward his neck, the most vulnerable area of his body. It was difficult to allow that intimacy. He hadn't let anyone this close since a human lover had tried to kill him to please another Immortal a century earlier. Could she feel his fear?
"I would never harm you," she whispered in his ear.
That answered that. She felt it. He found her lips with his fingers and traced their outline gently. "I trust you," he rasped, letting his head fall back, exposing the taut line of his throat.
She ducked her head under his chin at that and he couldn't see her, but he felt her, felt random drops of heat spatter his skin. He reached down and lifted her face, seeing the tears in her eyes.
"Guinan? What did I say?"
She shook her head, smiling. "Everything."
He knew then. Trust. For her that was far more important than any romantic nonsense about her eyes, or breasts, or lips.
"I have, and would, trust you with my life." he swore, meaning it.
She gazed at him, her expression oddly distant. "Yes, you will."
He wondered what she meant by that, but before he could ask, she shivered suddenly, this time with cold, not passion.
"Lets go home, Duncan."
"Well, to bed then. It's as close as we have to home."
Sadly that was all too true for her. He wanted that to change. She needed to settle, but it wasn't time yet. Too soon. She needed longer to deal with her ghosts, whatever they were. Still, perhaps he could help her along that road.
"I have a home. I want you to see it."
She smiled. "I'd love to. Tomorrow. Tonight, I just want to sleep with you."
"Just sleep?" he queried mischievously, trying out his most effective pout.
She laughed. "Well... we'll see."
They stood on the hillside overlooking Glenfinnan, it was perhaps a mile down the hill to the village. It was chill and windy, and Duncan noticed Guinan drawing her heavy cloak tighter around herself. His own cloak was open, furling in the wind, his hair blowing wild around his face. She shivered
"How do you stand it?"
"The wind under your kilt."
He grinned. "I'm a Celt. We're hot-blooded."
She laughed, and turned, surveying the landscape. He loved this world. It suited him. He fit here, like a part of the landscape. Duncan looked down at the cluster of buildings below, and smiled.
"They've done a good job. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was back home, in the Highlands, five or six hundred years ago. It looks just as I remember it."
She didn't lie. Valhalla was beautiful, in a worn, weathered, harsh kind of way.
"Isn't it hard for you to be here?"
He turned to her curiously. "Why should it be?"
"I thought it might remind you too much of your past, of things perhaps better left unremembered."
He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, his eyes once more focused on the distant cluster of dwellings. After a moment he shook his head.
"It's a rare day that goes by without something reminding me of an event that, as you say, is perhaps better left unremembered. It's a hazard of living this long, I think. There are times when the regrets seem to outweigh the satisfactions, but I'm learning how not to resist the memories when they come. It's better just to let them happen, let them flow through me, instead of resisting and letting them knock me down."
In the distance, a bell began to toll, the sound shivering through the air with almost crystal clarity. His smile widened.
"Watch the door of the school. This is always fun."
She followed his gaze and waited. The door of the building in question opened, and small figures began to pour out. The sound of distant shrieks and laughter was carried on the breeze. The children ran and tumbled like water in a brook. After a moment taller figures begin to emerge from other buildings to herd children away from the school. Parents, retrieving their children at the end of the day. He felt the usual stab of jealousy at the sight. Perhaps it was masochistic to stand here and watch them, but he felt somehow compelled to do so.
"If it's fun, why does it hurt?" Guinan asked quietly.
He focused on her, surprised for a moment, before he remembered what she was. He shook his head. "Sometimes I forget you're empathic. Sorry."
"Why should you be sorry for having feelings, Duncan?"
He smiled ruefully. "Because envy is such an evil emotion to have. I shouldn't inflict it on others."
"Envy? That's not what I felt."
"But it is. I envy them. I know I'm not meant to have children, I know it here," he tapped his forehead, "but somehow that makes me want them all the more. I'm like a mule, chasing after the proverbial carrot on a string," he laughed dryly. "In fact, mule is all too apt a simile, in more ways than one."
She looked like she was controlling the urge to smile as she replied.
"Why? Because you're being an ass?"
She chuckled at his startled expression.
"Excuse me?" he said warily.
She sobered. "It seems to me that this is tearing you apart, and it's needless. Duncan, if you want kids, do something about it! You told me yourself that most of the other Immortals think you're dead, you haven't had a confrontation with one in years. What would be the harm in trying again?"
He shook his head. "Even if I could trust that they would be safe, there's still the fact that I'm not normal. I've seen it happen to others, I've seen it happen to me. Kids need normalcy. I don't age, I would stay the same as they grew old. How could they handle that?"
Guinan looked at him for a long, silent moment, then she smiled oddly. "Well you know, Duncan, you'll never know unless you try."
Her words made him remember. Anne, Paris, four hundred years in the past, but he remembered it as if it had happened today. They were standing in a hospital corridor. He had won his fight with Daimler, Anne had seen it all, right down to his collapse after the Quickening had ended. He'd taken her to the hospital to make sure her fall had not harmed her or the child she carried. The child she had said she wanted him to be a father to. He'd allowed himself to dream again, then she'd killed the dream. In his mind's eye he heard himself as they left the hospital.
"For a moment I thought we were going to lose her. He did tell you it was a girl?" His voice had reflected the excitement he felt. He had envisioned himself caring for the baby, then the child... the young woman. The fantasy had delighted him. Anne's response had been surprisingly terse, considering the good news.
"Yes, he did. Duncan, I want to go home."
"The car is right outside."
"No, I want to go home."
Ah. He understood. She wanted to leave Paris, and go back to the States. He'd nodded. "We'll go together."
That was when she'd done it. She'd shaken her head, and said "No. I think I have to go alone."
"Alone..." He'd turned away then, so she couldn't see the pain on his face, couldn't see what her words had done to him. "Whatever you want. I understand."
"Yes. You almost lost the baby." He knew that wasn't the only reason, but he'd been trying to save himself the deeper hurt of hearing her say it. She hadn't taken the hint.
"It's more that just that, Duncan."
He had lashed out then, frustrated, hurt, and angry. "You knew what I was, you knew what my life was like! What was I supposed to do? Let him walk away?"
"No, you had to kill him. Duncan, I understand. I wanted you to kill him! At the time I would have taken his head myself!"
Not hearing her, he had gone on defending himself. "He killed Bernard. He would have killed you."
Anne's voice had gentled slightly then, as if she'd finally begun to realize what effect her decision was having on him. "I understand, but I can't live my life like this, Duncan! I thought I could, but I can't! Duncan, I'm a doctor, I save lives, I don't take them! I can't start wanting to take them!"
He felt the cold fog of despair closing around him again, felt yet another chance at normalcy slipping away, but he understood what she was saying, and couldn't argue. He nodded curtly, unable to trust his voice.
Her uncertainty had called to him, and he'd turned, embracing her, letting her think it was all right, even though it wasn't.
That had been the last time he'd dared to let himself hope. Never again. He'd tried so damned hard, he'd been so honest, laid himself bare, and she'd ripped his heart out. Not maliciously, but just as painfully. He lifted his head and looked at the dark face regarding him seriously.
"Guinan, I have tried. Time after time. And every time I've tried, it's been taken away from me. I finally gave up. Only a fool comes back for that treatment time after time, and though I may not be a genius, I'm not a fool either. Immortals are just not meant to have families. We're not meant to love. It's not part of our destiny."
She put her hand on his arm, and looked up at him, her dark eyes sympathetic. "I know that feeling, but I also know it's not true. You're as deserving of love as anyone, more than many. You're one of those truly rare people who give more than they take. Why should you be denied the one thing you truly desire?"
He looked away from her with a sigh of defeat. "Haven't you heard a word I've said? It's just not meant to be."
Her hand tightened on his arm, and she shook him slightly, like a mother dog might shake an errant puppy. "Don't give me that `fate' crap, Duncan MacLeod! You know as well as I do that your destiny is governed by free will, not three old women with a ball of string and some scissors. Make it happen! Take control of it!"
She was angry. It was the first time since he'd met her again that he'd really seen her angry. But it didn't help.
"I can't do that to a child, Guinan! Or maybe more honestly I can't do it to me. It's as much dread of them coming to hate and fear my difference that keeps me from it, as it is fear that they might take some kind of psychological damage."
He gave her the truth. The fear that lay at the core of everything he'd told her so far. He had been different all his life, and knew what difference inspires. Fear. If he tried to parent Human children, they would come to resent him, possibly even to fear him. He saw the truth dawn in her eyes, saw her accept it, and her face held such sympathy that it hurt. He turned away from it until she spoke, her voice gentle and quiet.
"I think perhaps you were just born on the wrong planet, Duncan."
He eyed her, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
Her smile widened. "I know at least a dozen kids who'd love to find a parent who lives as long as you will. In fact, I could have used a hand with one of those myself."
He went still, not quite trusting that he'd understood. "What are you saying?"
"My people's lives are long. Not as long as yours, perhaps, but does that matter. Most of those who were left behind by the Borg were babies, too young to be really useful to them and thus discarded. We're a slow- maturing race, and those babies are children now. Some have gone to homes on Earth, or Betazed, or Vulcan, but there are others still waiting for a place to belong, for someone who will take them for what they are. You're more like us than any of the other Federation sentients. You'd do well with our children and you wouldn't have to hide what you are, because to them it would seem perfectly normal."
He stared at her, her words slowly sinking in. They made sense. A chance, perhaps finally, the right one. He opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again, looking around as a sense of presence began to manifest. It felt peculiar, though, muted and amorphous. Guinan stiffened, and looked around too, her expression a study in distaste.
"What is that? I've felt that before!"
The presence finally solidified, and Duncan pushed Guinan behind him, facing up the hill, waiting for whoever it was to make themselves known. Guinan stepped out from behind him, looking annoyed.
"I'm a big girl Duncan, I don't need you to play knight in shining armor!"
"Guinan, someone's here for me. You don't need to be involved in this."
"How do you know?"
"I can sense when another immortal is near. I feel a... presence, a warning sign. I feel that now, but they've come for me, not you."
"How did they find you?"
"How do you think they found me? It has to be the same person who sabotaged the Darius. They knew I'd come here. They..." He stopped, eyes narrowing as a figure moved into sight over the rocks that had hidden him from view. There was something familiar about him. Something all too familiar. A shudder rattled him to the core. "Dane."
"Hello MacLeod, it's been a long time." Dane's cold, blue-white gaze ranged over to Guinan, and his eyes widened. "You! But you're a mortal!" He studied her intently, moving toward her.
Duncan moved with him, interposing his own body between Dane and Guinan.
"Now this is interesting. How can you, a mortal, still be alive so many years later? Could it be that perhaps you're not a mortal?" He shifted his gaze to Duncan again, a knowing expression on his face.
"This explains why you keep company with her, doesn't it MacLeod? I couldn't figure it out before, but it makes sense now! You're trying to learn how she does it, aren't you?"
"How she does what?" Duncan asked, his voice harsh.
"How she hides her presence from other Immortals. I've never seen anything like it."
"She's not hiding anything, she's not one of us."
"Oh come now, you don't really expect me to believe that, do you? I remember her! And I can see that she remembers me," he looked amusedly at Guinan. "Can she fight? I guess we'll find out eventually, but I think I'll take a page from your book and see if I can learn her secret first. There's no point in killing her until that advantage is gained."
Duncan clenched his fists, then willed the fear away, letting his hands relax. "There is no secret, she's not an Immortal, she's not even human. Leave her out of this, it's between you and me!"
Dane sighed, shaking his head. "Do you always have to be so such a goody-two-shoes? If you like, you can try to protect this one again, but this time there are no civil authorities handy to interrupt us. I know you haven't fought in years, you're rusty. I, on the other hand, have."
Dane brought out his sword, a seaxe, somewhat short-bladed but no less lethal than Duncan's katana. Duncan drew his blade as well.
"Guinan, this is my fight," he said evenly, hoping she would take the hint and run.
She didn't move, damn it. He chanced a glance at her, and found her staring at Dane with something of the mesmerized fascination of a moth for a spider.
"Guinan, go!" he hissed, reaching up to unfasten his cloak, letting it fall so he wouldn't get tangled in its folds. Dane's attention snapped back to him. He saw the other man's gaze flicker over him, and saw the feral smile that bloomed as he took in the traditional garb.
"Still playing the Highlander after all these years? You're such a barbarian, MacLeod. Such a romantic. That will be the death of you yet. I, on the other hand, am a thoroughly modern sort of warrior."
He dropped his sword, and reached into his coat, bringing out a phaser. With a shock, Duncan realized that Dane meant to stun him, and then take his head. He was planning to cheat. What defense had he for that? An odd calm come over him. Was this how it felt to accept death? It wasn't so bad. He would fight, he had no choice. He had to give Guinan a chance to escape. But if he died, he died.
"Oh no you don't!" Guinan said from behind him. She grabbed his arm, and he heard the odd little chirp of a communicator being activated. "Guinan to Enterprise, emergency! Two to beam-out on my coordinates!"
Duncan had time to register Dane's stunned expression before the world faded away, and reformed entirely new. Even having heard her, it took him a moment to register the fact that he was now standing on a transporter dais aboard the Enterprise, not on a windy hillside on Valhalla. and that he was staring at a concerned-looking transporter technician, not Tanner Dane. He was momentarily glad that Worf had cleared him to carry his sword, since otherwise his arrival would have been heralded by an alarm claxon.
"Damn you Duncan MacLeod, don't you ever do that again, do you hear me?"
He turned to Guinan, and found her standing beside him, arms akimbo, hands fisted on her hips, her compact form radiating fury.
"Do what?" he asked stupidly.
"Give up! I felt you! You gave up! You were going to let him have you!"
"No I wasn't!" he protested. "I was..." he broke off. Was that what he'd done? He reviewed his own actions. Maybe she was right. "I didn't mean to," he finally said, feebly.
"Hah! You've been trying to give up for ages, this is just the first time you've almost succeeded, and I won't have it!"
"You won't have it?" He asked incredulously. "It's my goddamned life!"
"Yeah, it's your life! Remember that!"
A few feet away, someone cleared their throat, reminding both of them that they weren't alone. They looked at the transporter tech, then at each other, and Duncan saw the corners of Guinan's lips twitching. He knew she was trying not to laugh, and it infected him, he felt the muscles in his face straining to keep his angry frown in place. They were squabbling like a pair of four-year-olds.
He shook his head, and let himself smile ruefully. "You'd think at our ages we'd be past this, wouldn't you?"
"I guess you're never too old for childishness."
He chuckled. "I guess not. Thank you, if you hadn't been there..."
"I know. But I was. Obviously you're not meant to die today. Come on, let's get out of here."
He nodded and followed her out. A few steps down the corridor, it suddenly hit him, how near a thing that had been, and who it had been. He stopped, and shuddered, raking his fingers through his hair.
"Are you all right?" Guinan asked quietly.
He nodded. "Yeah, I guess. That was a lot closer than it should have been. It's rather handy having the Enterprise here to get my sorry ass out of trouble."
She grinned. "Your ass is far from sorry, but I got it out of trouble." Her expression went hard, and he knew her next subject before she spoke. "You didn't tell me Dane was still alive."
"I didn't know for sure, not until just now. I haven't seen or heard of him in nearly two hundred years. I hoped he was dead. Guinan, why didn't you run?"
"It wasn't time. I knew I had to stay there."
He studied her, one eyebrow lifted. "Your `gift'?"
"If you want to call it that. I do have a touch of precognition. I just knew there was a reason for me to stay. Now I know why. I had to stay because if I hadn't, he'd have taken you, and it's not your time yet. You have a lot to do before you go."
"You can tell that?"
She smiled. "Not the way you mean, but yes. He knew you were here. He knew exactly where you were. How?"
Duncan stared at her thoughtfully. "Good question. He's no technophobe, as you could see. Perhaps he used a scanner. I don't register as a normal human, so if you know what to look for, you could find me."
"That must be it. So, what do we do now?"
He stared at her. "What did you say?"
She stared back. "I said, what do we do now? Since when are you hard of hearing?"
He cut her off. "I heard you, I just couldn't believe you said it. You know I can't involve you in this. I have to settle it. It's between us. Civil authorities and punishments have no effect on an immortal!"
"Duncan, he might kill you!"
"I don't think so, not if we're fighting as equals. Because it's been so long since I last fought another Immortal, he probably thinks I'm rusty, but I'm not. I've never stopped training, and my sessions with Worf helped. He's one of the more accomplished swordsmen I've met, not to mention being a great deal stronger than most of them as well. I can take Dane. I could have taken him last time we met, if we hadn't been interrupted. This is something I have to do. If I don't, he'll just keep coming back. He seems to have some sort of fixation with me."
Guinan regarded him for a long, silent moment, long enough that he began to feel uncomfortable, then finally she nodded.
"You're right, this is your battle. But you should be equally armed. I can get you a phaser."
He crossed his arms and squared his chin. "That... that isn't the way it's done. It wouldn't be honorable."
"Honor!" she huffed. "You've been spending too much time with Worf! The hell with honor, let's talk about expediency!"
He almost snapped back at her, but something made him stop and think about it first, and his answer was considerable gentler than it might have been.
"Guinan, if I have no honor, what makes me any different from Dane?"
She sighed. "I should have known you'd have an answer for me. Fine, be honorable. Just don't expect me to."
He grinned. "You couldn't be dishonorable if you wanted to, so don't try that one on me. Look, I have to take care of something down in cargo bay 4 before I go planetside again. Will you meet me there in twenty minutes? There's something I need to find before I go back to Valhalla and confront Dane. Something I've been meaning to give you."
She looked at him suspiciously. "What?"
He shook his finger at her. "If I told you then it wouldn't be a surprise, now would it? Just meet me there."
Guinan stood watching Duncan walk away, feeling the unmistakable stomach-clench of a premonition. He needed her. He was in danger, and he needed her. Hoping the urgency of the feeling didn't mean he wouldn't be safe for the next few minutes, she dashed to her quarters to change her clothes. She pulled on her fencing whites, knowing that the sophisticated fabric armor would turn a blade long enough for her to get out of its way. Over them she pulled on the loose-fitting tunic and trousers that had almost become a uniform to her. Checking in the mirror, she was satisfied that no one would suspect she wore body armor beneath her clothes. That done, she knelt in front of the box that sat on the lower shelf of one end-table, and hesitated a moment. Was this right? Was she supposed to do this? Nothing answered her, save her own need.
Steeling herself against the memories she knew she would unleash, Guinan opened the box. Carefully unwinding the tapestries that bound it, she freed the tooled and dyed leather belt and sheath that held her chadith. It had been a very long time since she had even thought about the contents of the box, let alone held them in her hands. As she drew the blade and stared at its damascened length, she remembered her mother handing it to her. She could even remember the chanting of the other women, and the scent of incense that had drifted in the air. The chadith dagger was one of the gifts which ritually marked the advent of womanhood on El-Auria. The tradition had been archaic, no one actually used the blade to defend their honor by the time she had come of age, but the symbol had persisted. Tai'ai'la... had she had ever really been so young? So incredibly, unknowingly young?
She examined the chadith carefully, noting that despite her neglect, the blade was in beautiful condition. Not a speck of rust marred it, and the edge was still sharp enough to cleanly sever a strand of hair with only the slightest pressure. Its weight and heft were very different from that of her fencing foil, but she had no doubt that she could wield it effectively if necessary, and it had the advantage of being small enough to conceal beneath the drape of her tunic. She put the belt around her waist, surprised to find that it went around. Apparently she hadn't changed as much as she thought she had. Fastening the catch she felt the weight settle into place, oddly familiar though it had been aeons since she had worn it. She thought of Picard's foil, Worf's betleH, Duncan's katana... this was her own heirloom blade. It seemed somehow appropriate that she should use it now.
She looked into the box for a moment, seeing the few bits and pieces she had saved from her past, and for the first time it struck her as a little odd that she hid them away like this. As if by hiding them she could deny the pain of her history. Perhaps that was exactly what she had been doing. Interesting, how a small change to ones environment could bring about rather important self-revelation. Duncan's appearance had served to remind her that her life had held far more good than bad. Why had she gone so long denying that?
Duncan was good for her. By helping him, she helped herself, since his problems were in many ways similar to her own. Thinking about him reminded her that he was waiting, and she quickly got to her feet and headed for the door, then paused. Deliberately she went over to the concealed storage unit near the replicator and took out a small, old-fashioned personal phaser. It wasn't as powerful or bulky as the ones the Enterprise crew were issued for away missions, but it could prove just as handy. Now that she knew who was after Duncan, she had no qualms at all about using it, if it became necessary. She set it on heavy stun and clipped it to her belt next to the knife, and adjusted her tunic to hide both of them. Amazing what loose clothes could conceal... a weapon, or a psyche.
Duncan pawed through a storage bin, annoyed that he hadn't been able to locate the item he wanted. He knew it should be there, he remembered packing it when he'd left the Darius. A small lacquered box, which held several carefully wrapped carvings. The box and what it contained were some of the very few bits of his past he always carried with him, since they were small enough to transport easily. Speaking of which, he needed to get this stuff sent down to the warehouse when this thing with Dane was over. He smiled, realizing he had already made up his mind that he would win. The less doubt, the better. He sat back on his heels and tried to remember exactly what he'd done with it.
He remembered going to his cabin and packing clothing, his katana, his books and disks, his personal stuff... books. That was it! He'd put the box with his books because it was the same size and shape. With a grin he went to the other storage unit and opened it. Sure enough, the box was there. He lifted it out and opened it, spilling the silk-wrapped objects it contained into his hand. He remembered Guinan standing in his loft over the dojo, looking at these with reverence. He hoped her memories of that evening were as good as his own. He'd realized from the starkness of her quarters that she had nothing pleasant left of her past, and he wanted to give her back a piece of it.
He put the figurines back in the box and closed it, then turned toward the door to meet Guinan outside, as he'd found what he was looking for. Halfway to the door he felt the sickening surge of recognition flood him, felt his heartbeat quicken as his body responded automatically to the perceived threat. Another immortal was near, on the other side of the door. Dane? How could he have gotten aboard? But who else could it be? Duncan carefully set the lacquer box on an out of the way storage drum, and drew a fold of his plaid forward to conceal his sword. Stepping forward, the sensor in the door `saw' him and opened it.
The corridor was filled with a herd of children milling around in excited array. From their clothing and accents he knew they were Valhallan, not children from the Enterprise. It was a tour group! Of course! That's how Dane had gotten aboard. He studied the group carefully, hoping that he was wrong, that the presence he had felt belonged to someone other than Tanner Dane. He saw a Star Fleet ensign looking a bit besieged, he saw the familiar faces of the children, many of whom he knew. There were only a handful of adults present, among them Tara Kinnon and Rob MacPherson who taught at the school, and some parents clearly along to help keep the group from attaining critical mass. He almost smiled at the futility of that, then he saw Dane and all humor fled.
The other immortal stood at the rear of the group looking around tensely, clearly he felt Duncan's presence. He had his hand on young Dinah Fitzpatrick's shoulder, and the girl looked distinctly uncomfortable. He went rigid, anger flaring in a white-hot wave. He wanted to grab the man and throw him across the corridor, but he restrained himself. He saw Caitlin Matheson and Gillian Blackshear attempting to corral a pair of little hellions near him and hoping Dane wouldn't hear him over the gleeful noise of the kids, he quietly spoke to get their attention.
"Gill, Callie, do me a favor would you?"
Callie looked up, recognition bringing a smile to her rounded features. She and her husband were friends of his, and he knew he could trust her to stay calm.
"Duncan! Welcome home! What can we do for you?"
"Without making a scene, would you get Dinah away from that man? He's not a healthy person to be around the children. I'll take care of things once you've separated them. He won't make a scene in front of the whole group."
Gillian scowled, turning. "I'll see to it." She moved through the sea of children like a ship under full sail, and stopped blocking Duncan's view, and fortunately, Dane's as well. Her voice was clear and calm as she spoke.
"Dinah, you're not with your partner. Go find Michelle and stay with her now, sweetheart. And thank you for keeping an eye on her, sir."
Dane muttered something unintelligible and let Dinah go. The girl skittered quickly away, looking over her shoulder as if to assure herself that he wasn't following. Duncan felt a wave of relief wash over him as the group moved on, Callie and Gillian bringing up the rear, making sure none of the kids were within Dane's reach. As Gillian moved, Dane saw Duncan, and he stiffened, then shot a glance at the two women, and arched an eyebrow in question. Duncan smiled and nodded, and Dane drew an invisible hash-mark in the air, scoring a point to Duncan. Within a few moments they were alone in the corridor, only the echo of children's voices bearing witness to their passing.
"You would stoop so low as to threaten children to get to me?" Duncan grated out.
"Why not? It would have worked, had you not seen me first. They're just cattle, and with the way humans breed,there are always more of them around. You've more lives than a cat, MacLeod. I carefully arranged things so you'd be alone for me on that planetoid, and then you go and get yourself rescued by a damned battleship! Then again on the planet... your friend's quick thinking saved you yet again. Very annoying. I bet you thought you'd gotten away from me, didn't you? You didn't think I'd follow you."
"The decision to leave wasn't mine."
"I noticed. She's quite protective of you, but then you always did seem to have that effect on women. She is fascinating, that one. I must find out how she shields. It will be a most valuable asset."
"I told you she's not one of us! She's an El-Aurian."
Dane lifted his eyebrows in obvious disbelief. "There you go again, making up stories. It's just too obvious, MacLeod. El-Auria? I've never heard of such a place."
"That hardly matters now, it's between you and me, and I don't intend to lose. This time no phasers, just blades."
Dane sighed. "I did have to give up my phaser to get aboard. Their security wouldn't let me bring it with me. Fortunately, this can be shielded much more effectively." He brought out something that looked rather like a flashlight, and thumbed a switch on its side. The air in front of him shimmered and changed, revealing a sword, the same one he'd had on the planet. Duncan wondered how the hell he'd managed that trick, but didn't have time to dwell on it. He took a step back, triggering the door mechanism again.
"I don't think this is an appropriate place for what we do. Come on, in here."
Dane looked suspicious. "What's inside?"
Duncan rolled his eyes. "It's a cargo bay! It's full of boxes, all right? What does it matter, anyway? It's a place to fight."
"I don't like traps," Dane said tightly.
"I don't set traps." Duncan replied, equally terse.
To his surprise, Dane laughed. "True. You're too damned noble, aren't you? Lead on, MacLeod. Let's finish this, it's gone on far too long."
"It certainly has."
Duncan backed into the cargo bay, freeing his sword from his plaid as he moved. Dane advanced on him, sword extended. Behind him, just before the door slid closed, Duncan saw movement and let his gaze flicker past his opponent for a moment. He swore under his breath as he saw Guinan slip inside before it closed, to stand half-hidden by the arch of the doorway. Damn her, what the hell did she think she was doing? She should be safely out of harms way!
Pain scored his arm, drawing his attention immediately back where it belonged. Dane had struck, and he'd instinctively parried, but not in time. The fading sting and itch told him it was a minor wound, though, and he ignored it. His katana was longer than Dane's seaxe, and he was taller, so he had better reach. He used that to his advantage, wrapping a blow around Dane's defenses to leave a slash and a darkening stain along his ribs, through his finely tailored suit. Dane growled and moved back, then darted in a stabbing attack. Duncan dodged it, and they closed, swords hilt-to-hilt. Duncan managed to break free and he scored another hit before stepping out of range. Dane lunged and slipped a little, his slick-soled shoes not finding a purchase on the smooth floor of the cargo bay. Duncan's moccasin-style boots had soft, gripping soles that gave him an advantage.
Dane was fighting strangely... his defenses were unusually sloppy, and his assault unusually intense. Time after time Dane attacked in a way that left him open to a return blow. Puzzled but too busy to ponder the meaning of it, Duncan took advantage of it, touching Dane time after time until he was staggering with blood loss. He finally dropped to his knees, and even as Duncan thought `this is too easy' he drew back his katana and brought it down.
Something grabbed his sword and it rebounded away with the same force he'd put into the blow. The effect threw him several feet and he landed on the floor, stunned, arms aching from the impact. He saw Dane rise, a triumphant smile on his face. His mind refused for a moment to grasp that Dane wasn't dead. How could a dead man be walking toward him? Then he understood that somehow the blow had been turned aside... though how Dane had done it he had no idea. He rolled to his knees and tried to lift his sword to ward off the blow he knew was coming, but his arms were still too shaky to work properly and the blade wavered. He concentrated, trying to steady it, when there was a sudden movement behind Dane.
"You're cheating," Guinan's said, her voice clear and hard, "...and that gives me the field."
Dane stopped mid-stride, clearly caught off guard. He jerked around, mouth open in astonishment as Guinan's arm came around from behind him and rammed up under his solar plexus. His eyes widened as his breath hissed out, and he slowly collapsed over on himself. She withdrew her hand and he saw that she held a blade, dark with blood. Dropping her dagger, she bent to wrest Dane's blade from his hand. He scrabbled, trying feebly to retain it, and then with his other hand he found her dropped dagger. Duncan lunged forward to stop him and sprawled on the floor, a foot short of his goal, like a batter tagged out trying to slide into third base. Dane lashed out at Guinan, laying her open from navel to breast. Duncan moaned, closing his eyes momentarily, only to open them a moment later when Guinan, unbelievably, laughed. He stared, stunned. She seemed unhurt, and he could see a white gleam beneath the torn fabric of her tunic.
"You lose," she said, amusedly, then with her free hand reached down and tore loose something at his throat. A second later she held up an object that looked for all the world like a necklace. She tossed it toward Duncan.
"Never trust a sociopath, Duncan."
He picked up the object, studying it. Up close it was clearly some sort of technological device, and bore what looked like Ferengi glyphs on one side. He still wasn't sure what it was. He levered himself to his feet and looked at Guinan to ask, and stopped cold, stunned.
"No!" he managed to shout, a hand extended as if that could stop her. It didn't, of course, and he flinched at the all-too-familiar whistling sound of a blade slashing down, then the dull, wet sound of it impacting human flesh.
He shuddered, knowing that he had come within seconds of being on the receiving end of that sound. He wasn't sorry Dane was dead, but he wished she hadn't done it. It wasn't fair to put that burden on her.
From the corpse, a swirling mist of energy rose and swayed toward her, then abandoned her to reach for him. He was momentarily surprised that it left her. Once more he'd forgotten that she wasn't that like him. He shook his head, as if that would turn the Quickening aside. He wanted no part of Tanner Dane, not even this. He didn't even believe in the Game any more, why should he play it?
A tendril found him, shockingly cold, ecstatically painful; as if he had taken the substance of space inside himself. Cold, dark, empty, yet strangely seductive. He wrenched away, one hand over the entry point as if he could physically ward it off. Ward it off. He remembered something as another bolt shook him, and he moaned, shaking his head again.
"Give me his sword!" he managed to croak out, backing away.
She pulled her gaze away from the writhing energy and looked down at the weapon in her hand, clearly puzzled, then shrugged and moved to give it to him, skirting the mist-like tendrils carefully. He took the sword in his left hand and crossed his katana over it, placing the weapons between himself and the mist like a barrier. He'd only managed to do this one other time in his life, but he had to try. He couldn't bring himself to accept Dane's darkness into himself.
The mist struck at him, and he moved to intercept it. It hit the crossed blades and recoiled, shooting off to zip crazily along the wall panels until it faded. Another tendril tried to reach him and he blocked it as well, working as hard to refuse the dark gift as he had fought to kill the man who carried it. He saw Guinan crouched next to a storage box, watching him, watching the energy, her eyes wide with amazement and a touch of fear she hadn't shown when confronting Dane. He flinched from that. God, the last thing he wanted was for her to fear him! He wanted to reach out to her, to take away the fear, but the Quickening hadn't finished with him yet.
An energy tentacle got past his defenses and struck him full in the chest. It staggered him, filling him with torturous delight. He shuddered, trying to resist the impulse to yield and let it take him. Suddenly she was there with him, ducking under the swords to come up inside the circle of his arms. Her hands covered his, guiding him, supporting him. With her help he managed to deflect the last of the streams away to ricochet around the room, expending themselves against the ship. He realized after a moment that the sway and lurch beneath his feet wasn't just his own exhaustion. The ship was reeling. He hadn't even thought about what a Quickening might do to the all-too-fragile shell of a starship. He prayed to any deity that would listen that it do no real harm.
Finally the energy gave up. He watched it shimmer and lick against the walls, then disappear with a plasmatic crackle along the conduits. He sighed, and let his arms fall, releasing Guinan from his embrace as he did. She turned and slid her arms around him, holding him close, her breathing as fast and labored as his own. Finally she leaned back a little and looked up at him with a wicked smile.
"Was it good for you too?"
He couldn't help it. Despite everything, he laughed. She wasn't the first to make that dead-on comparison, nor would she be the last, but somehow this was the first time it had seemed amusing instead of perverse. As they stood, laughing, the door into the corridor opened and a gaggle of gold-uniformed security officers poured into the room, led by an annoyed- looking Worf. He stopped, surveying the scene, and motioned for his team to lower their phasers.
"Evidently you no longer need our assistance. I take it this was the saboteur?"
Guinan nodded. "It was. I heard him admit to it." She smiled suddenly. "Sorry, Worf. We were kind of in a hurry or we would have let you take care of it."
He nodded, looking at Dane's body, and a little ways away, his head. "An effective, if messy solution. I salute you, MacLeod."
Duncan shook his head. "Salute Guinan, not me. Without her I'd be the one lying there."
Worf looked at Guinan in astonishment, then shook his massive head. "I do not know why I am surprised."
Guinan chuckled. "Neither do I. I've taken you down in mok'bara, and, beaten Picard three out of four matches with sabers."
He nodded, then looked at her apologetically "I am sure you were justified in doing this, but we will have to investigate."
"I know. It's not a problem. I activated the bay recorders when I came in, I trust they will show that we acted in self-defense."
Worf nodded again, and turned to MacLeod. "The scanners registered a massive discharge of energy, what sort of weapon was he carrying that would cause it? We could not identify the source or type of energy involved."
Duncan snorted. "I'm not surprised, and it wasn't a weapon, it was him. That's what happens when an immortal dies in the presence of another immortal. We've never been quite sure exactly what causes it, or why it only happens if there's another of us present. As for what it is, I suppose you could call it a `soul,' for lack of a better term."
Worf looked dissatisfied. "Commander LaForge will not be pleased."
"No, he certainly isn't," said the man in question who had come in behind the security team, tricorder out and scanning. "How the hell am I supposed to explain to the captain that someone's soul knocked out the damned starboard power coupling?" He sighed, shaking his head. "Oh well, I guess we've seen weirder things. We're just lucky the damage wasn't any worse. Next time, take your fight planetside."
Duncan nodded. "I'm sorry, I didn't have much choice."
"No, I don't suppose you did. Well, at least I'll have time to get things back in shape before the captain gets back."
"Where is he?" Guinan asked.
Geordie grinned. "Well, he went planetside about an hour ago, and he took his saddle. I'd say he went riding."
"Good. He needed that after the vacation he had" she turned and looked at Worf. "Can we go? I need to change."
Worf nodded. "I know where to find you if I have questions."
She took Duncan's hand and urged him toward the door. "Let's get out of here."
They walked in a rather subdued silence to her quarters. As they stepped inside, he saw her tunic gape along the slash Dane had put in it, and he reached out to slide a finger down the rent.
"I thought you were dead..." he said softly. "It scared the hell out of me."
She put her hand over his, guiding his fingers farther inside so he could feel the heavy fabric beneath the tear.
"I wore my fencing armor. I knew Dane was dangerous, and I've no desire to leave this life just yet. I've got too much left to do. I'm sorry I frightened you, but I just couldn't stand there and watch him kill you because he cheated."
"What was that thing?"
"A personal shield. Latest Ferengi make, too. Usually they're full-body protection but he'd modified his so it only covered his throat. I think that's why he let you cut him so many times, to sucker you in, to make you think he was vulnerable."
Duncan nodded. "It's funny, I remember thinking it was too easy." He rubbed the back of his hand against the armor, feeling the softness of her beneath it. How could someone so soft be so strong? At that nonsensical thought, he realized he was feeling a little stunned, in shock. She'd killed Dane. She'd done... something, something he'd thought impossible. She'd kept the Quickening from him. He still couldn't quite believe it.
"You shouldn't have killed him," he said. "It wasn't your fight."
"Duncan, he made it my fight four hundred years ago when he tried to use me as bait. I don't feel guilty, so do me a favor and don't feel guilty for me, okay?"
He nodded, smiling a little. "Understood."
"Good. You know, I didn't quite believe you when you told me about the energy thing. Not until I saw it... not until I felt it. It's strangely seductive. I could tell you wanted to let it in."
He shuddered and dropped onto her couch, his face in his hands. "I did. It's impossible to resist. Guinan, you can't imagine what it's like. Sex, only a thousand times more intense. Pleasure that's simultaneously agony."
"I don't have to imagine, Duncan. I felt it, though not quite like you would... you seem to be more attuned to it than I am, it seemed to really want you, but it settled for me once I figured out how to draw it."
"And I wanted it, but at the same time it was him and I wanted nothing of him to become part of me. I felt like I would be--" he paused, searching for the right word, and found it. "I felt contaminated by him. Can you understand?"
She nodded, a frown on her face. "Rape."
"Worse. Imagine enjoying it."
She shivered. "Duncan..." she knelt and drew him into her arms.
"Sometimes I can forget who it was," he whispered against her shoulder, "...forget their evil, forget everything but the experience; but not this time."
"It's all right, you did what you had to."
"No, you did it for me. What I don't understand is how you did it. I've never been able to refuse a Quickening before, not in all the years I've been what I am."
She looked uncomfortable. "I don't know how I did it. I just wanted to help. I just knew you needed me. What happened was as much a shock to me as it was to you. It was like when I touched you, the knowledge of what to do was just there; as if I've always known what to do, and was just waiting for the need to arise."
He shook his head, confused. "How could you know what to do if you'd never done it before?"
She made a frustrated face. "I don't know! Damn it, Duncan, there are all kinds of things my kind should be able to do that I never learned, because there were no teachers left by the time I got around to wanting to learn. Maybe it's something I would have eventually learned about, maybe there is a need for something similar among my people. I don't know, and there's no one to ask!"
Her agitation was clear, and he felt somehow ungrateful for even having asked. "I'm sorry, it just seemed so oddly convenient. But I'm thankful to you, more than you can possibly imagine."
"There's no need to be, Duncan. None at all." Her hands framed his face, then her lips were on his, soft, warm, alive. He kissed her back like a starving man, breathing her breath, feeling her heartbeat in her mouth, in her body. Finally they broke, and he leaned against her with a sigh.
"`Breathe me, beloved...'" he said softly, quoting.
"`Ravish me, so I can pass on to sleep, and to love.'" she quietly gave him the next line.
He lifted his head, staring into her eyes, amazed to find she knew the poem, and could make the association. "`I feel death's rejuvenating tide transform my blood to balm and ether.'"
"`I live by day full of faith and courage.'" she gave him the next line, and waited, then joined him in the last few words. "`And perish by night in holy fire.'" **
"Perfect." he said, and closed his eyes.
She tugged him to his feet, and he followed her into her bedroom, to the wide, creamy bed he'd occupied once, alone. He remembered wondering if the spiced-wine scent that clung to it was a perfume she favored. Now he knew it was her scent, the natural essence of her. Her let her push him down onto the bed and sat watching as she stripped off the ruined tunic, revealing the heavy fencing gear that had saved her life. At her waist a brightly-patterned belt held a phaser, and a small sheathed dagger... the one which had saved his life. She removed the belt, smiling, and laid it on a small table.
"Never thought I'd ever have a use for that," she commented, stepping out of her trousers and unfastening the jacket. She seemed completely un-selfconscious , but he was quite aware of how the white fabric framed the heavy fullness of her breasts and the conical thrust of her nipples.
"Why is that?" he asked, trying to distract himself.
She chuckled. "It's a virtue dagger."
He found a smile forming. "You're not planning on using it on me, are you?"
She grinned back. "Only if you don't make an attempt my virtue."
He shook his head in mock fright. "Ah, no! I've seen what you can do with that thing, I'll not chance it! Come here and I'll endeavor to ravish you."
She grinned, picking up on the reference back to the poem he'd quoted. She shook her head. "No, you stay right there and I'll ravish you."
She removed the fencing breeches, slid the jacket off her shoulders, and came toward him. His body responded fiercely, still flooded with unspent adrenalin from his duel with Dane. She knelt on the bed, straddling his thighs. With great deliberation she unpinned the brooch which held his plaid at the shoulder and tossed it onto the table with her dagger. Next she removed his belt, which let the careful pleats of his kilt untuck until it was merely a loose spiral of cloth around his waist. She pushed him gently backward until he lay flat.
"Scoot," she said, nodding toward the headboard.
He obeyed, making certain his kilt slid off and to the floor in the process, leaving him clad only in his shirt. She unlaced that as far as it would go, and slid her hands into the opening to caress his chest. He purred under her touch, sensing her warmth where she straddled him. Only the thin cotton of his shirt separated his flesh from hers; he could feel heat and moisture through it, and he arched upward. She closed her eyes and rubbed herself against him in long, slow strokes. The scent of clove and ginger grew stronger, and knowing its source aroused him savagely. He reached out to hold her lavish hips in his hands and guide her over him again and again, the tenuous shield of his shirt growing damp as she rode him. The fabric began to bunch and slide with her movements until there was nothing dividing them. She was slick, sultry, and as eager as he was. She stopped for a moment, maneuvering, and then she was sinking down, surrounding him.
"Isn't this sort of duel much better, Duncan? Life, not death," she whispered, her hips circling, her body undulant, sucking. Her words brought back to him thoughts of the icy delirium he'd just avoided with her help, and his hands tightened on her hips.
"There's no comparison, love, none at all."
He slid his hands higher, to her shoulders, then down her arms to bring her hands in front of her, in reach of his lips. He edged his teeth along her wrists, wringing a gasp and shiver from her. The shiver went all the way inside, to where she held him. Unable to lie still he lifted beneath her and she lost her balance, falling forward, bracing her hands against his chest. She pushed herself upright again and shook her finger at him, smiling.
"You be still, I'm the one doing the ravishing here!"
He sat up, looping one arm around her waist. "It works better together," he said as he claimed her mouth with his again.
She shifted her weight forward, tightened her legs around his hips, and began to move, a slow, subtle rise and fall, an internal kiss. He let one hand slide around to cup her rear, the other moved down into the moist heat of her, his fingers spread to trap the soft knot of nerves between them. She pulled her mouth from his, gasping.
"Duncan... ah... please..."
He massaged her, his fingers straying, only to return again and again to the seat of sensation. One of her hands slipped down, past his, to caress what little of him wasn't contained within her, then move lower, into the super-sensitive area just below. He tensed, trying to keep his control. She put her mouth by his ear.
"Don't fight me Duncan, let go."
"Did that last time... not this time!" he managed to pant.
She laughed, and licked softly at his ear. "But I like it."
He sucked in a breath through his teeth. "I know... but I think you'll like this better."
Deliberately he leaned forward far enough to overbalance them. She looked surprised as she found herself on her back beneath him. The change pushed him into her hard, and very deep, and she arched, making a soft sound as her body adjusted to his. He could feel the changes inside her, the lengthening, the ripple of muscle around him. Now that it was done, he wasn't sure the change in position had been all that good an idea. He slowed down, moving just enough to keep the edge on her pleasure, not enough to trigger his own.
"Mmm... that feels good," she sighed, lifting a hand to stroke his chest, letting it follow a line down the center of his body to where they merged. Her fingers were wet and slippery, teasing him unmercifully. He reached down and managed to grab her hand.
"Not now," he hissed. "Please."
She gave him an unrepentant look and her other hand came around to rest on his rear, then started to work its way down...
"Damn it!" He let go of the hand he had and reached back to grab the other one. While he was at it, she went for him again in front. He managed to keep the hand he had while removing the other one from its adventuring. He circled her wrists with his hands drew her arms above her head. She stretched beneath him, her eyes liquid and mysterious. He loved her eyes, so dark, so full of life, humor, passion. He said as much, and she smiled, her lovely full mouth curving with pleasure.
"You make me feel those things," she whispered, arching up into him. "You fill me."
He laughed softly. "I'm doin' my best."
She wiggled in a way that sent his pulse skyrocketing.
"Do better," she said huskily.
He looked down at her, and slowly nodded, accepting her challenge. He let go of her wrists and slowly sat back on his haunches, withdrawing from her. She looked disappointed, and started to speak, but he pressed a finger against her lips and shook his head. He moved from between her thighs and knelt beside her, placed a hand on her hip, and gently urged her onto her belly.
She made a deep, approving sound, and stretched full-length, her fingertips touching the headboard. He reached up and put one hand around her wrists, making sure she couldn't reach back to torment him, then he swept her hair aside and began to kiss the back of her neck, working his way down his body as he had once before. Her response, arching and shivering under his lips, told him she enjoyed it. He let his teeth graze lightly over her skin, following it with soothing licks. She shifted her weight, coming up onto her knees.
He needed no further urging. He knew what she wanted. He wanted it as deeply and passionately as she did. He slipped a hand between her thighs, parting her, then moved into the silky wetness of her, burying himself. He couldn't suppress a moan as he did, feeling the taut clasp of her around him. Letting go of her hands, he drew her up against him, hands cupping her breasts as their bodies merged. She reached back to pull him flush against her, her hips moving as he stayed stationary within her.
He circled one arm around her, just below the breasts, and let his other hand slide down her ribs to her belly; stroking, reaching low to find the soft cleft of her sex. She shifted her thighs wider, and found her, stroking his fingers rhythmically over the swollen flesh. He nuzzled her hair out of his way and began to nibble at the back of her neck until she moaned, and her body tightened almost painfully around him, then exploded into a flutter of contractions. She sagged in his arms, and only his arm around her and his body inside her kept her upright. He wasn't sure what kept him upright. Sheer will, probably. He wasn't going to lose control this time.
Gently he eased down, taking her with him, until they lay on their sides, still tangled together. He could feel the little aftershocks of her pleasure ripple the smooth walls of her sheath around him. He continued to move lazily within her, torturing himself with the feel of her. Creamy-slick-hot-close... the gingery scent of her arousal sharp in his nostrils. He let his hand cup her mons, fingers gently coaxing the last of her response from her, and hoping to arouse her anew. After a few moments she took a deep breath and rolled her shoulders, stretching slightly.
"God, you're good at that," she said huskily. "It's so nice not to be the teacher this time."
He smiled, knowing exactly what she meant. She tried to look back at him, but it was too awkward, and after a moment she gave up. "Duncan, I want to see you."
She moved, sliding off of him. He managed not to whimper as she left him, feeling suddenly cold and abandoned. She turned over and pushed him onto his back. He propped himself on his elbows and watched her study him, her limpid gaze warm with pleasure, a secret smile curving her lips. Her palm cupped him, warm, though not nearly so hot or so welcoming as her body. He couldn't resist the urge to move in her hand, to thrust against her palm. She chuckled and her hand closed around him, stroking, then a moment later she was bending to engulf him in her mouth.
He arched, a dark moan caught in his throat. He threaded his fingers into her hair and held her head as she greedily consumed him, not forcing, but following her movements. The touch of her lips, her tongue... the incredible heat and slick wetness, the power of her touch. He writhed under her expert caress, trying to hold onto his self-control Her hand moved lower, caressing him, lifting him, her fingers slid between his thighs and he was lost. He gave up and let her take him past the edge, waves of pleasure washing over him as she drank him in.
He collapsed with a low groan as she lifted her head, her expression supremely self- satisfied. In fact, it could be called a smirk. He found himself grinning back at her, foolishly, as she crawled up so she was lying against his chest.
"Now that was good for you too. I could tell."
He nodded, still grinning. "More than good, love."
She beamed. "I'll accept that compliment."
Lower, her hand began to trace an idle pattern on his hip. He felt a flush of renewed interest.
She glanced down at him and smiled. "I see those amazing recuperative powers of yours work in other ways as well."
He chuckled. "You're not the first to notice that."
"I'd imagine not," she said, winking broadly.
Guinan stared out at the sunset, watching the light filter through the gathering storm clouds like some Turnerian painting, feeling a little sad, a little apprehensive. The view toward the mountains from the gardens behind Duncan's house awe-inspiring. No wonder he'd chosen this place to build his home. Of course, his home was no less awe-inspiring. How many people lived in an authentic medieval mansion that dated from seven hundred years earlier? He'd had the building imported, stone by stone, from Earth. She still couldn't believe anyone would have wanted to raze something this beautiful to make room for an apartment building. It even had a chapel. That she understood quite well. Being what he was, holy ground made this place not just a home, but a sanctuary. One thing was for certain, with forty rooms, he had plenty of room for a family.
"I wish we had more time," she said finally.
"You can come back any time you like."
"I know." Guinan sighed, and looked at him anxiously. "You do understand, don't you?"
Duncan nodded. "Of course. Kismet, fate... whatever you want to call it. You can't leave them yet."
"Not yet. There's something left undone, something I have to finish. I don't know what it is yet, but when it happens, I'll know."
He smiled. "You've told me that ten times now. Guinan, I understand, all right? I'm not angry. I'm not upset."
She smiled and shook her head. "I know, I just can't help making sure. I don't want there to be any misunderstandings."
"Don't worry, I think I'm old enough to handle this," he grinned. "Besides, we still have a lot of planning to do. You'll be hearing from me."
"True. Sorry to be so insecure."
He laughed. "It's nice to see it happens to you, too."
She eyed him narrowly. "It's a good thing you said `too'."
"I wouldn't dare do otherwise, my nose would start to grow."
She laughed, then leaned back against him with a sigh. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you too." The emotion in his voice told her he wasn't just echoing her sentiments. He meant it.
"Whatever will you do without me here?" she asked, jokingly.
"I'll endeavor to bear up manfully under the strain."
She grinned and stood up, brushing grass and twigs off her rear. "Well, I guess it's time, they're going to leave without me if I don't get back." She reached for her communicator.
She stopped, her hand hovering over the device. "What?"
"I have something for you. If I remember right, you once expressed a liking for this." He dug in his sporran and came out with a small object. He caught her hand and placed the item on her palm. It was light, and oddly shaped. She regarded it curiously, then unwrapped the silk that shrouded it. In the fading light the amber turtle fetish gleamed warm and golden, like a little sun.
"Oh, Duncan! I didn't even know you noticed!" she said, remembering the first time she'd seen it. He'd been making coffee, and she hadn't thought he'd been watching her at all.
He looked a little embarrassed. "I have a good memory."
"It's beautiful, but... why?"
"I wanted you to have something from your past that you can look at with happy memories instead of painful ones. At least, I hope that's what you'll have."
"Of course I will!" She smoothed her fingers over the back of the fetish, feeling the tiny lines of its carved shell, and grinned. "A turtle, eh? Are you saying I tend to live in a shell?"
"Hopefully not any more. Maybe it'll help remind you not to go back in. It has other symbolism as well, turtles are long-lived."
"I thought so."
"According to the legends of the people who carved this, Turtle carried the world on her back. Without her, there would be no place for living things to rest, no peace, just endless wandering."
She looked at him, saw the serenity in his dark eyes, and smiled. That was new. "That's lovely. Thank you. I'll put it in my quarters-- out where anyone can see it."
He smiled happily. "And you'll let people in to see it, right? No more hiding by yourself?"
She nodded gravely. "Nor will you?"
"How can I, now? Or at least, in a couple of months."
"True. I hope you know what you're getting yourself into."
"I haven't a clue... but does anyone ever?"
She shook her head, laughing. "No, or they'd never do it. And despite warnings from those of us who do know, they keep volunteering!"
"It'll be good for me."
"Tell me that in twenty years and I may believe you."
Her communicator chirped at her, and she sighed. "Last call. I really have to go."
"I know. Come back."
"As soon as I can." She stood on her toes to kiss him, and stepped away, touching the communicator to signal her readiness. She lifted a hand and saw him do the same.
"Godspeed, Guinan," she heard as the world disappeared.
Duncan looked up from his workscreen, drawing himself out of the past he was putting into words and back to the present. The shrieks from outside had become a bit on the shrill side. He sighed and pushed his chair back, going to the door to look out. As he'd suspected, things were getting out of hand. He pushed open the door and strode out into the summer warmth, and managed to peel E'lan and Amber off Donal who lay on his back flailing feebly at his attackers. The boy scrambled to his feet and retreated a few steps to stand with Dhavi and Ewan.
"I told you it's not nice to gang up on the boys, E'lan."
"Donal started it!" Amber said, glaring at her brother who was now prudently shielded behind the other boys. "He said we were just girls!"
Duncan chuckled, shaking his head. "Donal's too young to know that there is no `just' about girls. Don't mind him. He'll grow out of it."
E'lan looked up at him, her dark face set in a frustrated scowl. "But how long will it take him? We've been trying to teach him for two years!"
He laughed again. "Face it, love. Males are slow. I learned, but it took me several hundred years."
E'lan stared at Donal in dismay. "But he's human! At that rate he'll be dead before he learns!"
"No, he won't. Remember, they learn faster in recompense for their shorter lifespans."
She nodded thoughtfully, and sighed. "Maybe soon, then."
"If you keep teaching him, it should be. But next time, one-on- one. It's not fair to..." he broke off, feeling a powerful surge of Presence. E'lan and Dhavi looked around, curious.
"What's that?" Dhavi asked, "It feels like you, but you're here."
Duncan looked at the figure who stood between him and the house, frowning because the sun was in his eyes and he couldn't see them clearly. Whoever it was, they were strong. He hadn't felt a presence like that in a very long time. Dane hadn't even come close to this level.
"I'm not sure who it is, Dhavi, but stay here while I find out."
He strode back toward the figure, tensely realizing that his sword was in the house and he would have to pass them to get it, then stopped in his tracks as the shadow of the house blocked the sun and he could see who it was.
"What the hell? Guinan?" He was confused. She'd never set off his `alarms' like this before.
She put her hands on her hips and looked at him in mock offense. "That is not the kind of greeting I expect from you, Duncan."
He covered the distance between them, and greeted her properly before speaking again.
"I'm sorry, but..." he stopped, realizing the sensation wasn't coming from her, but from farther away, behind her. He looked from her, to the house, and back, noting her sly smile.
"All right, what have you done?" he asked sternly.
"I ran across someone I thought you might want to see."
She turned and waved to someone inside the house. A tall, slim, dark-haired man stepped out, looking as if he were a bit unsure of his welcome. Duncan stared, a slow smile spreading over his face as he realized who it was.
"My God... Methos? Is it really you?"
Methos nodded, looking oddly tentative. In all the years Duncan had known him, he'd never seen the man anything other than self-assured. He gestured at Guinan.
"She said you wouldn't mind... that you'd want to see me..."
"She was right. Welcome, friend. If it had been anyone else I'd have gone for my sword, but you're always welcome."
"I wasn't sure, after what happened..."
"Oh for god's sake, Methos! That was three hundred years ago! Live and let live, all right?"
The other man smiled finally, the old, familiar, slightly irritating smile Duncan remembered all too well. He was about to say something about it when a sudden chorus of shrieks and yelps from behind him told him his earlier attempt to mediate the altercation hadn't taken. He sighed, looking from Guinan to Methos, who was looking rather puzzled.
"Excuse me for just a minute," Duncan said as he turned and waded back into the fray. This time he grabbed the aggressors around their waists and stood with a squirming girl under each arm, waiting until Donal was again safely out of reach before he set them on their feet.
"You two, go inside until you've cooled off," he said sternly. They protested loudly, but he held fast, and finally they turned and sulked off into the house. He turned to the boys.
"You three, go down to the village and spend a couple of hours at the library reading up on gender equality. When you come back, I want essays."
That set up howls of protest louder than those his other commandment had evoked, but the boys finally turned and headed off down the path. He turned to find Methos and Guinan grinning at him, and after a moment, found himself grinning back.
"In fact, Methos, I'm glad you're here. I could use some help."
Methos backed away, his hand spread. "I was just stopping by to say hi..."
"Oh no you don't. You owe me. I said live and let live, not forgive and forget."
Methos sighed. "All right, for a while anyway. But I don't owe you forever."
"No, just long enough to get this bunch through puberty."
Methos stared at him, appalled. "Oh my god..."
Guinan chuckled. "I thought he might come in handy."
"And you were right, as usual. Of course, we could use you around for the girls."
"I've got to get back to the Enterprise..." she began, hastily.
Methos chuckled. "Easier said than done. Which piece were you planning to get back to?"
She made a face. "You told on me!"
"I didn't want to be stuck here alone with children." He eyed Duncan meaningfully. "Besides, you said you wanted a change of pace."
She smiled, her expression softening. "Actually, I'm looking forward to that."
He smiled back. "So am I."
*NOTE: Poetry used in sections 6 and 14 are from "Hymns to the Night" by Novalis (Georg von Hardenberg, 1772-1801), translation by Dick Higgins, c. 1988, MacPherson ed., ISBN: 0-914232-90-8
**NOTE: The flashback scene to Anne and Duncan in Paris is from the third-season Highlander episode "Mortal Sins," written by Lawrence Shore. No copyright infringment is intended.
***NOTE: The reference Picard makes to sculptor Rena Taylor referrs to the fanfiction "A la Q" by Kellie Matthews-Simmons and Julia Kosatka. We don' need no steenkin' permission to use our own story! :-)