Intimations of Destiny
by Meredith Lynne

Thrust, parry, cut.

Thrust, parry, cut.

One more time and my arm was going to fall off, I just knew it.

Thrust, parry, cut.

My arm held, but the positive attitude gave out.

"C'mon, Mac," I whined. An hour spent working out with a guy like Duncan MacLeod was enough to make anybody whine a little. It was enough to make me whine a lot. "Aren't you tired? Hungry? Bored?"

"Keep your arm up, Rich," he said, completely ignoring my questions.

And then he knocked me on my ass and stood over me with his katana at my throat.

For about the tenth time in the last hour.

Ah, well. At least my legs would get a few minute's rest. I squinted up at him, wondering what I was going to see this time. Annoyance, because I wasn't really trying very hard? Or laughter, maybe, because I looked like jerk, sprawled in the grass with my jeans ripped in twenty different places and enough dirt on my face to grow a small garden? No way to tell with Mac; if I'd learned anything from hanging out with him so long, it was to expect the unexpected.

He stretched out a hand, and I let him pull me up. He wasn't smiling, which was a sure sign I was about to get an earful. Probably the patented Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod 'How to Lose Your Head' lecture, which generally started with a list of all the stupid things I did that were gonna get me killed someday and ended with all the ways I'd have to change if I wanted to live forever.

"This isn't a game, Richie," Mac said. Which was kind of funny, because it was a game, it was the Game, and I had to wonder how he could say that with a straight face. "You have to fight like you're fighting for your life. If you don't, you're dead. Think about what you're doing, think about the consequences of not doing it right when it counts. You're not invincible, Richie."

Invincible? My jaw dropped. What kind of idiot did Mac think I was, anyway?

"You think you have to tell me that?" I demanded, glaring at him in a way that would've gotten anybody else decked. "I'm young, Mac, but I'm not stupid. I worry a hell of a lot more about dying now that I'm an Immortal than I ever did when I was just plain old Richie Ryan." Didn't he know I stayed up nights wondering who might be out there looking for me?

I was young, half-trained, and I hung out with an Immortal who'd pissed off just about every other Immortal who ever lived. The Dojo needed a revolving door to handle the endless stream of bad guys from Mac's past who came calling -- any one of whom would be more than happy to relieve me of my head just to mess with Mac's. Invincible? Immortal? What a joke! The average lemming had a longer life-expectancy than I did.

I turned to storm off, but Mac stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. Just as well; he had the keys to the car and it was fifteen miles through the mountains back to Seacouver.

"I know you're scared, Richie," he said. "We're all scared."

"Yeah," I said, avoiding his eyes and trying not to notice the compassion in his voice. "I can see you trembling from here."

Mac sighed, and looked away from me. "It's not fair that we have to live and die the way we do, but at least we have a fighting chance. Mortals don't."

God, he was thinking about Tessa again. He had that look. I hated that look; it made me think of Tessa, and that was the last thing I needed. I had enough nightmares to keep me entertained without her showing up in my dreams again. Those first few months after she was killed I could never decide which were worse: The ones where I pulled the trigger myself, or the ones where I managed to save her. The only real difference was whether I woke up screaming, or crying.

No. I wasn't going to think about Tessa. And I'd be damned if I was going to think about death anymore with the sun shining down on me and sandwiches in the cooler next to the car.

Besides...Mac was right, in a way. Not quite the way he intended to be, maybe, but still. I hadn't died that night; I'd been given a second chance. So I was living on borrowed time, so what? Borrowed time was more than most people got. Even if somebody killed me tomorrow, I'd had more life than I was strictly owed.

It didn't take the fear away, but it made living with it a little less traumatic.

"Got it," I said, hoping instant agreement would distract him. It was certainly enough of a rarity to deserve some notice. "Can we have lunch now?"

Mac sighed, "Which do you value more, your stomach or your head?"

I grinned. "Can I get back to you after we eat?"

That earned me a thwap on the back of the head, but it also earned a laugh. And it chased away Mac's empty look, which made me feel a bit better, too.

Not a lot. But maybe enough. I might not be worth much in terms of the Game, but if I could take some of Mac's hurt away, I wasn't a total loss. God knew he'd hurt enough in the past few years. He'd earned a little laughter.

So I covered. I laughed with him as we ate, and tried not to resent the training when it was the reason for it that I hated. I'd work harder after lunch. Give everything to it, like Mac wanted, even knowing that someday it wouldn't be enough. I could hide it, but I couldn't stop the shiver that crept up my spine at that thought, even in the warm sunlight.

Somewhere in the world there lived a man whose blade had my name on it.

And I couldn't help wondering who that man might be.