The katana against his trench coat halted him. His face was studiously blank, but Duncan?s expression was open, his eyes alight, a trace of a grin. It quirked an answering smile out of him, despite the hunt for blood that was finally drawing to a close. At the shattered glass he stopped and looked back.
He always was a handsome boy, Connor thought. He raked his eyes over his young kinsman for an instant. Chiseled like a god, muscles slick, that tawny skin the color of honey. Every time he saw him the Scot was more defined, tapering like a wedge to the narrow hips. He exuded confidence, poised like a dancer on the balls of his feet. Pants a bit snug, he noted idly, the smell of sex and sweat in the air. And from the beauty of the woman clinging to the far wall, it was no wonder. Duncan always surrounded himself with elegant things.
"Heh, heh. You look good." And the look he shot at him held all the words unspoken ... go back to bed, tacked on last.
The coat whipped around his ankles as he dropped into the street, searching. The show goes on.
He stared out the window late into the night. The pinpoint streetlights, the heat, and the steam of the city below could not break his reverie. It had been a day full of food and familiar companionship with his younger kinsman. Also one of probing questions from Tessa Noel. Duncan and Tessa had retired hours ago after some sharp words and desperate intercourse. All the unsaid things that his kinsman had kept secret were out in the open, raw and untamed. His arrival, hot on Quince's trail, was decidedly unfortunate.
That Duncan loved the lass was no mystery. He had watched them all day, seeing all the myriad little things that spoke their bond. How he touched her, all the lingering little gestures that poured out of him in a steady stream. Duncan was intimately aware of where she was in the room, a planet dancing around the sun, and when she left, his gaze watched after her until she returned. The way he smiled so softly, the calm, the deference in his manner. He was lit from within with a hundred small fires.
He knew those feelings, the ghost of an old love reminded him.
And Tessa was mortal. And Slan had targeted Duncan. And Connor knew what that meant. And Duncan didn't, at least, not yet. And he had to be sure to intercept that haunting "not yet" before it became the now.
"Too many 'ands'." He said it softly to the ribbons of streets below.
Duncan took the stairs two at a time, slowing at the top, listening, his bare feet noiseless. It was seven and Connor wasn't up? Strange.
He stood a moment at the open door and studied his friend: the strong profile, the hands that could slay resting so quietly. Still sleeping with his sword arm up, he noted. The katana was probably under his cheek. A lifetime of wariness wrapped up in his lean form.
"Connor?" Tessa inquired when he returned.
"Still sound asleep." He sipped his coffee before adding, "he likely hasn't rested well since he started after Quince. He looks pretty worn."
"And you are here." She said the words softly. There was more between these two old friends then either had alluded to. Duncan MacLeod was friendly and gregarious by nature, but this new acquaintance, there was something formidable about him, wildness barely kept in check. She wondered if Duncan had once seemed so feral.
Duncan glanced at her. Tessa was one of the most intelligent women he had known, with uncanny perceptions. The revelations yesterday had been a shock. He knew her brain had gone on logically, but it would be a few more emotional bumps before her femininity chose a path.
"Yes, I'm here. He knows I'll watch over him for a while." He did not add that it was bloody well his turn anyway.
"It's chilly out. Let's skip our morning walk." She leaned, chin on hand, to peer into the handsome face.
Duncan sighed. She did understand. Connor needed rest, deep and untroubled, and Duncan wouldn't go anywhere until he was up. "We can sit on the couch together?"
"Hmm" And watch TV, or read?" Strong fingers laced their way through hers as she spoke, smoothing over her knuckles, warm and intimate.
"Mmm, or something else?"
"Duncan," she laughed, pushing half-hearted at the broad chest. "You really will wake Connor!"
"He sleeps like the dead when he's tired."
She thought that highly unlikely, but the couch was soft and it wasn't cold at all.
"Finally." There was a hint of mockery in the voice. Duncan slouched against the open door frame, white shirt accenting his complexion.
Connor merely grunted back at him. He wondered if he could knock that grin off his face by inquiring if that wasn't quite ruinous to do to a couch, and decided against it. "She's a fine woman, Duncan."
The younger man was quiet, wondering at the comment. He eyed his clansman. Still a bit pale, but his eyes were clear. The tranquil hours of rest had helped. "She"s everything I want, Connor, and I already know what you"re going to say." He waited patiently, if a bit stubbornly, for the further assessment.
Connor would point out that she was mortal, that she would age and die, that he hadn't even told her the whole truth about the game. This was like calling lightning. Strong words from a strong man. Words of truth that he had been told before and ignored.
"Cherish every moment."
Duncan stared at him.
"There are three things too wonderful for me to bear, four which I do not understand." The tone fell into obvious quotation, weaving the story aloud, "the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship upon the face of the sea, and the way of a man with a maiden."
A poignant pause. "Scripture?" Duncan quested.
"I was a sea captain. I married and buried," he returned, as if it was obvious. "Cherish every moment. Death and life are players on a checkerboard. Only the color of the squares is different. And beauty and sadness are so closely aligned. I've always been able to see you clearly, Dhonnchaidh*, and you've carried a shadow on your soul since Little Deer. For the first time, I don't see it anymore."
The dark immortal cocked his head at the paler one. The elder man had always been intense and a bit bizarre at times. Sometimes he swore Connor had taken one too many quickenings. "You're getting mystical again on me, Connor. You know I hate that." He said it with perfect equanimity.
"Blame it on the little Japanese man."
"He lives in me."
Damn. He had forgotten.
Connor stretched and groaned. "I feel like stiff leather."
"I know just what will help that."
Connor smiled. "I bet you sharpened it just for me."
"Any chance I get to smack you around, old man."
"Coffee first, then you can try."
The day was on.
He didn't think his younger counterpart really understood.
It was confirmed when he found out that Duncan had left Tessa alone to run to the store and Quince paid another visit in the interim, toying and taunting his prey. Slan had clubbed the Highlander flat and then left him alive to play with another day.
Connor wanted to kill Duncan himself when he found out about it. Their words had been decidedly uncivil and tempers were hot.
And it wouldn't end at the challenge point either, Connor grimly thought. Slan was just as notorious for unfair fighting as he was for his vanity. There would be a hidden weapon, a trick or ploy. Something he had perfected well enough to defeat every immortal that he faced so far. Connor aimed to be the death of him, one way or the other. But he didn't want his one time student involved. not when he was obviously trying to dodge the game. Duncan had always been fair and noble in a fight. Connor, more the street fighter, was well acquainted with bastards like this one.
And Duncan, steadfastly, would not let him take this fight. His sense of honor was on the line. The challenge had been issued to Duncan, the threat was to his lover and he was fueled by the territorial nature of a man over his woman.
And yet, and yet, Connor had never seen his protégé so at peace from the inside out. Duncan's soul had wrapped tighter around this delicate French woman than any girl before her. A visage of Heather flashed unbidden through his mind. He shivered, once, all over.
And the young Highlander had been so broken after Little Deer's death. Connor remembered the anguish, the ferocious felling of trees to build the cabin, the tears that came so hard when he finally persuaded Duncan to let down his barriers and weep. Now he had found a deeper love. The elder Highlander did not think he could bear to see Duncan lose everything again.
Connor had arrived too late to make any difference to an Indian woman back then. But he was here now. Ahead of the mark, this time. Seeing the whole picture before the war. The question was, how did he pull a warrior out of the fight before it began?
"Long ago," he voiced his thoughts aloud, "you stopped being my teacher, Ramirez. I wish you'd told me how to keep a bit of leverage over them when you need it. This one is as stubborn as I am. The flat of my sword won?t even beat sense into him anymore."
He raised his head as if listening to something, sight unseen. "I remember, you goddam little wizard, you told me to run too and I couldn't. I had to get dumped on my ass and yelled at a bit. Maybe I should have killed you after all." He grinned, suddenly merry as an imp. "See? You can't even make up your mind!"
Anyone watching would have thought him possessed.
All the words, the entreaties, the anger plays had done not one whit. Not even chiding him about having all the fun and women was working. And as stubbornly as the younger Scot set his heels, so grew Connor's anxious thoughts.
He couldn't let Duncan do this and risk destroying the life he had built with Tessa. Not another loss. He was tired of picking up pieces. And Duncan wouldn't even consider letting the elder man tag along to be his second should the battle go sour, the rules of combat discarded.
"Damn you, Connor," he seethed. "I'm 400 years old. I can handle my own fights! You don't need to follow me around like a nurse maid."
Connor just sighed and studied his hands. Talking to Duncan about this any longer was like charging hell with a bucket of water. It was coming down to subterfuge, of which he had plenty. In an open brawl, he was no match for his kinsman's solid muscles, but stealth and speed were easily afforded. And Duncan trusted him to his undoing today.
This had better be smooth and quick.
When he ran out of time, he baited him into the turn and punched him solidly. Duncan collapsed like a spilled sack of grain and Connor left him cradled in the arms of his lover. Duncan could just be his second this round ... and he hoped the younger man would get there in time to undo the trap that surely awaited him.
"And there had better be one," he said to no one in particular as he drove. "Or there will be hell to pay."
More muscle than brain. The usual.
Connor allowed the power of the larger man to flow over him, giving ground and letting him swipe him back and forth against the railings. Confident and brash, Quince hammered the slighter MacLeod around seemingly oblivious that he was squandering energy on an immortal who had faced large dangerous opponents before.
Bleed out the stamina. Let him think you're beaten. You're tired and no match for him. Stay on the rail. Watch for the trap. Look in his eyes. Stay oriented to the river. Let him swing with all his might and barely block. Let the broadsword get heavier. Wait for it. Watch him. A knife or a gun. Watch the eyes. You're tired, make him believe it. You're easy prey. Stay on the rail near the water. Wait for his guard to drop under the increasing weight. Let his blade slide down yours. Stay near the rail. Watch for the hand to move. Look at his eyes, they'll tell you.
A constant stream of chatter through his mind inside, and outside - the deadly dance. Barely and casually blocking the heavy strokes. Taking the fist like a club in the face. Sparks flying from the steel. Their shadows dancing madly along the buildings behind them.
Finally, a clear shot to his foe's face and the burst of crimson. Slan's tremendous counter, all anger and strength, tangling his sword in the railing.
Connor stabbed with the katana and they locked gazes. He watched the dawn of understanding in Quince that this time, he was the one played with. Connor, already set for the killing strike, registered the ambush belatedly. He doesn't even have to reach for it! No wonder you never see it coming!
The long knife fired like a missile, launching from the handle of the sword.
It took him sharply, straight through the breastbone and heavy as a hammer, nicked the pericardium, missed his heart and tore through his esophagus. Acid like fire etched the site. He cried aloud, reflexively. Only one step to flip over the stone rail of the bridge, no beautiful leaps here -- and then he was falling, swordless, coat half torn off as the wall of water rushed up to meet him.
The bridge supports hid a tangle of debris where they met the river bottom. The smooth water across the top belied all the danger lurking below. It rushed incrementally faster next to the piling and underneath, it churned; whirling and pulling everything toward the tangle of tree limbs, rusted car bodies, dead carcasses, ripped out fences -- ten years of refuse that a river submerges and clings to like treasures.
Connor MacLeod, knocked almost senseless by the plunge into the dark water, was caught in the maelstrom and sucked down. The force of the water crushed him uncontested into the rubbish. It twisted and shattered one leg in the hulk of a car, pinning him helplessly and grinding his weakened body grotesquely.
All of his training in water with Ramirez, vanished. Pummeled, dazed, stricken with pain from this new source, he drowned in short order.
Duncan arrived at Soldier's Bridge, feeling pressured and apprehensive. There were no clashing bodies on the auto deck, throwing shadows on the skyline. Slan was bloody and defiant -- and still alive, leaning on the stone wall near the water with a perfectly nasty smile. He couldn't see Connor anywhere or feel his familiar presence. It could not be. He darted a glance left, then right.
This could not be! A paroxysm of cold rage swelled in him when his eyes fell on the dragon head katana, abandoned on the bridge.
"Slan!" He leapt the railing like a catamount, feeling the call of battle take root and pull all his focus into the coming fight. "It's over now!"
He threw all of his ferocity at the other man.
If he kept struggling, he would just drown again. He couldn't feel the torn leg anymore. The water was cold and he was unable to move enough to keep the numbness down. In the dark of night, he couldn't even see enough to break it again to free himself. A drift downstream would be nice about now, he thought silently.
The imbedded knife was a dull spike in his chest, the hilt of the blade too slick for his numb fingers to grip. Pierced through the breastbone and healed around it, he doubted he could jerk it out anyway. Another curse of never having brute strength when you needed it.
Pay attention to your breathing, Highlander.
He would have told Ramirez to shut up, but it took too much effort. Pinned by the twisted leg and the weight of water against the wreckage, Connor could only turn his face aside of the current a little and concentrate on his even breaths. He remembered that fearful first toss into the loch so long ago.
Gods, I was a boy then, he thought.
You still are, young Connor.
This time he did answer, bubbles drifting away as he swore at the familiar voice.
He took Slan's energy and searched through the threads of power, going to his knees under it, listening, fearful of what he would sense, what he might find. But, no Connor. No laugh, no echo, no impression of the original Highlander at all.
The bridge was in good order; if he had taken Connor, the lights of the nearest blocks would be down. The realization was slow in coming and then washed him sweet as rain.
If Slan didn't get him, then he was alive somewhere, sans his sword.
Why without the sword? And he knew immediately: the water.
Connor had taken a dive off the side. That was why Quince had leaned there with that sneer. He had tossed him off the bridge.
Connor wasn't so easily tossed, however, so that left only one other thing. Slan had pulled some trickery that forced Connor into free fall to escape with his neck. He had abandoned the sword, hoping his clansman would find it and start looking.
Duncan went over the stone railing without a thought.
This was certainly an arduous task, he grumbled mentally. Duncan had treaded water, diving repeatedly, searching.
He had felt Connor's immortal song kick in about half the way down, looming suddenly stronger as he hit the water after his jump. But it receded steadily as he floated down river. He pulled himself ashore, slipping and cursing, to slog his way back under the bridge and wade in. Only to have to repeat it. And repeat it again and again.
He paused as he felt the familiar presence that could only be Connor.
What in the hell? What was that sea dog doing - sitting on the bottom? When he found him he was going to kill him himself, he swore internally. He was cold and breathless and his hair was in his eyes and he felt like laughing and crying at the same time -- Connor was alive. Somewhere out in the rolling water, reviving and dying, his immortal signal blinking in and out.
Too bad it wasn't directional.
He drifted and dived, filling pockets with stones to sink to the bottom, and sloshed ashore over and over again, desperate to find him before daylight and the onlookers and the questions he knew they would ask. Once he drowned, too far from the surface to make it. He revived 100 feet past the bridge. It made his skin crawl to think he had been groping possibly at some downed animal at the bottom, thinking it was his kinsman.
Hours later he realized that Connor's quicksilver ringing was not truly winking on and off. It changed because he kept floating downstream, unable to hold his place. And he stumbled, suddenly aware of something important that in his chaotic state of mind he had completely forgotten.
His clansman didn't drown!
He clapped his hand to his forehead. Mystical beastie indeed and a well kept secret! So well kept that he didn't remember it until now, fetching in and out of the water like a misguided dog. He cursed at himself, feeling suddenly like an idiot.
Connor did - not - drown. Oh lordy, how had he overlooked a natural ability refined by two staggeringly wise immortals: Ramirez and Nakano! The elder Highlander had always thought there were more with strange talents amongst immortals.
There were many tales of fey and eldrich spirits amongst the Celtic people. Songs and folklore were full of them in the old country, spoken at firesides and sung in alehouses. Duncan had heard them growing up and Connor had spun him tales when his young student wearied of constant practice and wondered at the gift of life without death. It was an easy way for the older Scot to comfort the fears and disbelief of a young immortal.
Damn, damn, damn. He had wasted time. Connor was not coming up, which meant he was in trouble somewhere under the water. "Come on, MacLeod, use that pudding upstairs," he said to himself, wading out yet again. He picked up two stones and walked back upriver. "I don't think I like this bridge anymore, Connor," he said as he plunged in.
Clacking the stones together with a steady pattern, one not found in nature, Duncan played the old familiar game of hide and seek -- with a twist. He drifted with the water, head turned to listen, boneless, noiseless, becoming one with it. He was just a bit of flotsam on the top.
Still nothing. He crawled out and started over again.
"Come on. Come on. Where are you?"
Finally! A pounding reply, metallic sounding under the water and eerie in the darkness. He was near the bridge piling, but Duncan was already drifting past and had to climb back out and go around by foot.
For a moment he stood on the bank and studied the expanse of moving water. It had been a while, but he remembered that there was a land mine of cover for fish near bridge supports, and it provided a great place to lose lures too. Connor was either snared in the deadfall or impaled or both.
God, he hated this. Diving in the dark without being able to see where he was going, what he was facing. His mind could conjure ghastly visions, but he shook himself free and waded back in after his lost friend. "Connor MacLeod, I'm getting tired of saving your-" the last word clipped off in the river.
Cold. Pressure on his ears. He had taken a prodigious breath before ducking beneath the water. Fighting the sucking whirl. Feeling the touch of fear skittering along the back of his mind as the whirlpool tried to catch him. Connor was down here; he felt his presence thrumming and steady. It was probably this turbulent eddy that had brought him under.
God, he hated this.
A brush of something hard and slender across his thigh, ripping his hands when he swatted reflexively at it. Barbed wire. A moment of panic. He lost his air and surfaced with a mighty kick.
"Dammit. Get hold of yourself, MacLeod." He calmed himself, mentally reciting a litany against his fear. "I can't find you, clansman, unless you find me too," he said to the unbroken surface.
Under again. Curling his body tightly to avoid any snares of wire. The vortex caught him with catastrophic power and forced him down. He fought his panic with thoughts that focused him: to not fight the battering rush of loose debris tumbling with him. To live inside the circle of his dread and not crumble. To hold his wits and his breath --- only to have it smashed out of him against something nameless and crumpled in the dark.
He reached out instinctively to hold on, momentarily stunned and disoriented. His fingers were slashed by broken glass. Door? Automobile? Part of a flood ravaged house? He groped about with both hands, nearly blind in the murky darkness.
Twisted metal and wood planks and tangled tree roots and strips of cloth and fishing line: a horrifying trap! His air was gone - and he knew he had to fight to get back out before he succumbed - and the water was relentless - and he could not remember which way was the surface - and his lungs burned like fire - and his head was beginning to pound - and he---
Hands out of nowhere seized him, sidling up his face, pulling him by neck and hair and ears. A face, distorted by water appeared. A mouth, cold as steel, pressed abruptly against his own and blew out a puff of air that he half drew in and partially choked upon.
Sweet Mother of God! Connor! Spanning the gap between life and death.
And Duncan was desperate and near drowning, thrashing and flailing, mind chaotic.
The hands were ruthless and managed him with practiced ease, clamping on jaw and neck, twisting his entire torso by controlling his head - holding him near. Giving him breath after breath after breath.
"Calm," the word was near his ears, spoken loud and slow to counter the distorting water. "Breathe."
He clung there, like a burr, braced against the shattered hulk of metal and let Connor breathe for him. His heart pounded furiously and his limbs were weak. He had to consciously force down the irrationality and incalculable terror that preceded a death like this.
It was a long time before he leaned his forehead against his friend's, their unspoken signal that he had self control again. This was old and familiar, playing around underwater with Connor. He relaxed into the pattern.
"Drill," the elder MacLeod said. "One."
Duncan started his thirty second count and began searching along his clansman's body for the source of trouble. His hand encountered the blade with a bump. The swift stroke of pain convulsed Connor's air out of him with a blurt of bubbles and the long fingers on the back of Duncan's neck clenched. He had to wait for his kinsman to catch his breath before he could pick him back up. It seemed an astonishingly long wait for that next puff of air.
Connor could walk and talk, even do swordplay that was incredibly graceful beneath water. He laughed like a seal, Duncan remembered with a stroke of affection. But anything truly painful, a cut or stab that went deep enough to inspire heavy immortal healing, brought drowning. The Scot simply frayed at the edges with the pain, lost his focus and died. They had bloodied the loch for weeks trying to figure out why until Connor began cringing whenever Duncan dove down to him, knife in hand.
Enough was enough, Duncan thought grimly. I'll not have him fearing me killing him.
He would not pull the blade out underwater for it was buried to the hilt. Connor would drown if he made the attempt. The blade could not be the problem so what held the elder Highlander trapped here!
Another count ended. He turned his face sidelong for the next inhalation of air, the casual intimacy not intimidating. Life and life. Breath and breath. How the body remembers the lessons taught so long ago, rarely practiced today.
His leg? Duncan felt down the pinned body of his old master and found the problem. He tightened his mouth as he searched, cataloguing injuries mentally. Displaced patella, compound fracture tibia and fibula, no healing at the bone edges yet, they were too far apart. His brother's leg was a mess, twisted grotesquely around the snarl of metal that he was pressed against. How many times did he die trying to free himself? he wondered.
Another breath. Duncan pressed his brow to Connor's, holding his face on either side, the signal to talk.
"Bad," Connor confirmed. One word that encompassed everything.
Duncan nodded, foreheads together so Connor could feel the motion.
"Load," came the next order from the elder Highlander.
Hyperventilation. Easy to do in a basketball game, more complicated underwater. Duncan accepted breaths of air one on top of the other until he felt giddy and his hands tingled - all the while knowing that Connor felt worse, driving himself nearly mind numb with too much oxygen while giving Duncan the 30 % that was leftover. Perhaps the better for what was ahead?
Duncan pulled away and went for the savaged limb. It took strength and he leveraged what he needed by wrapping one thigh around part of the debris. The give of bone was nearly soundless underwater, but Connor wasn't, screaming above him helplessly. It was a horrifying mix of bubbles and anguish. To his credit, his hands didn't tear at Duncan where he worked. The grim younger immortal suspected that he was raking his fingers down his face in agony.
Then he had him free and, gathering the front of his thrashing comrade's shirt in one hand, he launched with all the strength coiled in his legs for the surface. He popped to the top like a cork and blew out the stale air explosively, letting the river drift them around behind the piling and into the backwash. They settled there like a couple of water bugs.
Connor had been reduced to fine trembling, dying, twitching spasmodically as he dwindled away. Duncan was helpless to prevent it. It was too late for air and his pulse was already gone, just the reflexive motions of the body were left. He held him and talked quietly in the old tongue until he stilled and the presence shivered away to naught. It was terrible, as always.
"Can't get what you want, climb on a back that's strong," Duncan announced seriously when Connor opened his eyes. The quote was for both of them. A reminder of interdependence forged long ago. And then, not so seriously, he added, "And it's always a pleasure to be necking with you, clansman." He couldn't help but chuckle.
Connor's face was ashen, but his eyes were suspiciously bright. "Glad I haven't lost my touch," he shivered out between his teeth and then coughed up more water.
"Let's get you out. Daylight's on us and the 'Lookie Louies' will arrive shortly and snarl up all the traffic to watch us."
The older man grunted assent, still dazed with cold and pain and death.
How did he get here?
Standing outside the door of Duncan's home -- no, belie that, it used to be Duncan's home -- Connor MacLeod halted. He was cold and tired and hungry, not necessarily in that order. He wanted something to eat and a woman to comfort him and sleep also, not necessarily in that order.
But here he was, waiting for the words to give to this lady whom he must face. It rankled a bit that this arduous chore was left to him, but he understood.
"I want you to go to my house and let Tess know that I'm still alive and that Quince is dead." Duncan said it softly when they had rested a while after the underwater ordeal. All the words, dribbling out of a heart fractured with pain.
Connor had taken up the sword in an attempt to hold a shield around Duncan and his Tessa - and Duncan decided he should leave her? Connor wanted to slap him cross-eyed. Pity, he didn't have the strength. It was so plain to him. He had always been able to see Duncan's soul. An unexplainable, nearly inexpressible thing, but true nonetheless.
He sighed. Tessa would be grateful and sad and confused, all at the same time. She might even be angry that he was alive and here, while Duncan had seemingly abandoned her. He felt old. This was not what he wanted. This was not what his heart saw. This was not the truth.
And it was somehow fitting that Duncan didn't even realize what had transpired. He thought Slan had merely thrown a blade and Connor was unlucky. It had never dawned on him that he wouldn't have been able to counter it either. And if he hadn't prepared for the absolute necessity of escape, he would never have made it to the water.
Connor had saved his tanned ass and Duncan need never know. There was no one there, save the boy, to witness any of it anyway. A nice tidy ending. He liked those.
She was waiting at the door. Startled to see him, but instantly reaching to pull him in. She was wearing one of Duncan's shirts, long legs beautiful beneath it. Her eyes were swollen from crying. She asked if he was all right, a welcome surprise. And on the heels of it, her queries about Duncan, her face open as the sun and easily read.
She loved him. Truly. Deeply. One soul connected to the next, only recently separated. "Connor, where did Mac go?" The perfect voice was even. Her eyes burned him. She was casting all her hope upon him, willing him to erase the distance between her heart and Duncan's. To not let them fall. To stretch enough to see them joined again. One man standing in the gap for them both.
"He didn't tell me," and he glanced to watch her eyes for the truth. "But I can guess."
He saw it in her face, the trust and entreaty, the sureness of her heart. Climbing on a back that was strong. Duncan was a fool to try to dislodge this woman from his life, no matter that her years were limited. This was his Dulcinea, his beautiful and gentle lady. And Duncan was Don Quixote, charging valiantly if a bit misguided.
"I asked Connor when he rowed me out here, if he had a lady friend," she began softly, "and he told me he did."
Duncan, watching the firelight move shadows around in the hollows of her naked body, was startled. "He never said a word to me."
"I was surprised too. He seemed so lonely." Tessa waited a moment, before adding, "I asked him why he would do this, go against your will and bring me here. He said he saw something in us, something sacred and true. Not to be brushed aside easily."
She needed to talk, he knew. The nightmare of the past few days would require lots of talking.
"Something eternal," she whispered, fingers soft in his hair, mindlessly combing. "Capable of reaching across any distance, no matter how vast." She looked down at him. "I asked if he felt that way towards his lady - he said yes, without an instant's hesitation and then laughed." She smiled. "That laugh."
Duncan snorted. He knew all about that laugh in a variety of settings and elements. But something nagged at the back of his mind. "Did he tell you what her name was?"
"That's the strangest of all, he never did tell me. Said it was not important what the given name was, only what you knew them to be in your heart. That was their true name." She glanced sidelong at the magnificent body lolled so carelessly near her, satiated after passion. "You forgot to warn me that your 'friend from the old days' was a bit of a muse."
Duncan chuckled. There was no answer to give her. "And?" he prompted gently.
"He said he thought of her as his blossom."
It was quick and deep, like the blade of a knife, and so crystal clear in his mind. Reaching across the miles his kinsman had already traveled away from the island and the 400 years of distance from a lonely grave in Scotland. There was only one lover that dwelled eternal in the oldest Highlander's soul.
This one was his. Connor had been trying to tell him that for days.
He had not been listening. And even in listening, he had not heard.
"Duncan?" she inquired, alarmed, seeing his eyes shut over abrupt shadows.
"Hold me. Just hold me. Don't let go."
"Always," she replied, reaching for him. "Always, my love."
*note from the author, Dhonnchaidh is the Gaelic word for Duncan.
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