Summary:That fountain just won't go away.
Rating: PG, angst
Category:Short story, crossover
Disclaimer: Put standard disclaimer here.
From the zine "Cascade Beyond the Veil", vol. 1
October 2000, from Skeeter Press
I close my eyes, only for a moment, and the moment's gone. All my dreams pass before my eyes a curiosity. Dust in the wind. All they are is dust in the wind. -- Dust in the Wind, Kansas
Lightning arced across the sky, thunder right on its heels. The winds howled and the driving cold rain skidded sideways. A massive bolt leaped from the clouds, zipping toward earth. Blue light flared nova bright as a sonic boom of thunder threatened to collapse the sky.
Jim Ellison slammed on the brakes, bringing the blue and white Ford to a skidding halt. His sharp eyes attempted to cut through the sheeting water and frantic wipers with little success.
"What is it, Jim?"
Jim barely glanced at his partner, scanning the surrounding buildings, side streets, and alleys. "I don't know. That last bolt of lightning seemed odd. I've never seen lightning quite like that before."
"Well, if that thunder clap was any indication, it must have hit something pretty big. It made me jump. I'm surprised you're even upright, Jim."
Jim shrugged. "I turned my hearing down when the storm started." Distractedly he set the truck in motion again, still scanning the buildings.
Blair said nothing for several minutes while Jim navigated the truck slowly down the street.
"Uh, Jim, what are we doing?"
"I want to find where the lightning struck. You said it yourself. It must have hit something big. I want to make sure it didn't start a fire somewhere."
Minutes passed. Jim drove in an ever-widening circle. The hairs on his neck and arms began to rise. The sensation went away moments later. He doubled back and the sensation returned. He began to work his way westward, following the increasing prickly feel of his hairs.
"Uh, Jim, do you know where you're headed?"
Blair's voice held an oddly hesitant quality. Jim glanced at him then studied his surroundings. With a start, he realized they were getting near the Rainier campus.
"Damn," Jim murmured, knowing in his gut where their search would end. Following his hunch, he took the road that would lead them onto the campus. The tingling in his scalp continued to increase the farther they went, and he knew he was on the right track.
Blair remained silent, but over the rain and wind, Jim heard his heart speed up. Unerringly, Jim guided the truck down the familiar streets. Eventually he pulled to a stop. The Fountain stood mutely in front of them, nothing more than a dim silhouette in the truck's headlights.
Blair let out a ragged breath. Jim sat silent, staring at the place of his worst nightmare. A hand brushed his shoulder, snapping him out of his daze. He looked at Blair helplessly.
"What brought you here, Jim?" Blair asked softly, curiously.
Jim shook his head. "I was following the feel of the electricity on my arms. It wasit was strongest in this direction. When I realized I had the feeling we'd end up here."
"Okay. Why? What led you here?"
Jim shook his head again, looking out the windshield. Something pale caught his eye. "Maybe, that."
Blair followed his gaze. A sharp intake of breath told Jim he'd seen it too.
Illuminated in the truck's headlights, a woman lay crumpled on the ground. Jim and Blair exchanged glances. They jumped out of the truck and ran to the still figure.
She was naked. Blair held back while Jim knelt and checked for a pulse.
"She's alive, Chief. Call for an ambulance."
Blair turned and ran back to the truck.
Jim examined the unconscious woman, looking for injuries or clues to her presence here, out in the open. He could find no injuries to account for her unconsciousness, nor any other signs that she'd been assaulted. How did she come to be here? Why was she out here on a night like this? Where were her clothes? There were no signs that anyone else had been here. It was like she had just been dropped there. Jim glanced up at the black sky. A rumble of thunder echoed behind an arch of lightning. Jim quelled a chill. He had the uneasy feeling that her presence was somehow connected to the lightning that had brought them here.
"Ambulance is on the way. How is she?" Blair asked, startling him.
"Hypothermic. I can't tell if she has any internal injuries, but there's no outward sign of injury. No signs of struggle, assault, or anything else."
"And no clothes."
"Yeah, and no clothes." Jim stripped off his coat and draped it over the unconscious woman. No reason to keep gaping at her or further expose her to the icy rain.
"Any word on your Jane Doe?" Simon asked.
Jim shook his head.
"And you say there were no physical injuries?"
"None. Her blood tests came back clean, too. They're completely stumped as to why she's still unconscious. After they got her warmed up, she should have awakened."
"And we don't have an I.D. on her yet?"
Again, Jim shook his head. "We've exhausted the local database; we're searching the FBI's now, but we both know how long that could take."
Simon sighed, looking distinctly displeased.
There was an abrupt tap on the door before Sandburg poked his head in.
"Jim, the hospital just called. She's awake."
With a nod to Simon, Jim quickly exited the office and followed Blair to his desk. He snagged his coat from Blair and headed for the elevator.
"I wonder if she remembers anything," Blair said as they stepped onto the fourth floor of the hospital.
"We'll soon find out." Jim led the way down the hall, stopping at the nurses' station to ask a few questions.
"She's awake, Detective. She's still a bit confused, and concerned about being in the hospital, but she is coherent."
"Has she given you a name yet?"
"Yes. Tessa Noel."
"Thank you. What room is she in?"
Jim nodded at the nurse and headed for the patient's room.
He stopped outside the open door, taking a moment to study the woman propped up in the bed. Her face was in profile as she stared outside at the dull gray day. She was attractive, Jim decided, and older than he'd first thought. Fair hair hung down to her shoulders in silky strands. Her straight nose, high cheekbones, and bow-shaped lips were the perfect frame for her porcelain complexion.
Jim tapped lightly on the door. "Ms. Noel?"
She started a little, and turned toward them. Her large, gray-blue eyes looked confused and apprehensive. "Yes?"
"Ms. Noel, I'm Detective Ellison; this is my partner, Detective Sandburg. We're the ones who found you last night."
"Please, come in." Tessa shifted, pulling herself up farther in the bed. "Have they reached Duncan yet?"
When she spoke, there was a soft, French lilt to her words.
"Duncan? Who's Duncan?" Jim dug in his jacket pocket for his notebook.
"Duncan MacLeod. He's my fiancé. I thought he'd be here by now."
"What's the number? I'll see that someone gets in touch with him."
Jim wrote down the number Tessa gave him, glancing at Blair with a raised eyebrow. The number wasn't local.
"Ms. Noel, where do you live?"
"In the antique shop Duncan and I own, 'MacLeod and Noel Antiques'."
"It's a former warehouse. We've divided it into living quarters and show room. I have an art studio in back."
"And what's the address?"
"Eleven thirteen West Bay Street."
Jim cast another glance at Blair.
Jim lowered his notepad, chewing the inside of his cheek.
"What?" she asked apprehensively.
"Ms. Noel, are you aware that you're in Cascade?"
Tessa looked stunned. "What? How?"
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Tessa's brow furrowed in thought. "Richie and I were walking to the car. It was dark, and I was cold. We'd reached the car when this manboy reallycame out of nowhere, demanding our money. Richie confronted him. There was a loud noise, then, nothing. The next thing I knew, I was waking up here."
"You don't remember being on the University campus, or it raining?"
"Richie Ryan. He's a friend."
"You have no idea how you might have ended up at Rainier University in Cascade on one of the stormiest nights of the year?"
Tessa shook her head.
Jim sighed. "Okay, I guess that does it for now. We'll get in touch with Mr. MacLeod and tell him you're here."
"Thank you. And thanks for finding me."
Jim smiled a little. "You're welcome. We'll be in touch." Placing a hand on Blair's back, he steered his partner out of the room.
"What do you think?" Blair asked.
Jim smiled slightly. His partner had waited a whole five minutes before asking that question. The smile quickly faded as his thoughts returned to the woman upstairs.
"I don't know what I think, Chief. From what I can tell, she's telling the truth. She either doesn't know or can't remember being at Rainier last night. Maybe this MacLeod can shed some light on the situation."
Jim set the receiver back in its cradle, chewing the inside of his lip. He sat back in his chair and looked at Blair's questioning face. "That number Ms. Noel gave us doesn't go to MacLeod and Noel Antiques. It goes to an art gallery called élan."
Blair's eyebrows rose. "Do you think she gave you the wrong number, or lied?"
Jim sighed. "No, I don't. But I am curious to find out where this MacLeod is."
"Why don't you see what you can turn up on Duncan MacLeod, while I call Seacouver PD and see if they have any info on our Ms. Noel?" Jim said.
"Okay." Blair slipped his glasses on and turned to his computer.
Jim looked up the number for the Seacouver Police Department and dialed the phone. Nearly an hour later he hung up with more questions than he'd started with, a headache beginning to take root behind his eyes. He rubbed a hand over his face, staring at the notes he'd taken.
"What'd you find out?" Blair asked, setting a warm cup of coffee in front of him.
Jim latched onto the mug and took a quick swallow. "Thanks, Chief." Absently, he rolled a pencil in his hand. "Our girl either isn't who she says she is, or there's been a hell of a mix-up."
"Tessa Noel was shot and killed seven years ago by a junkie demanding money."
"Oh. So who is she?"
Jim shrugged, annoyed. What should have been a simple missing person's case was quickly turning into a mystery. He didn't like it.
"What about MacLeod?" Blair asked.
"Other than her name, everything else she told us is apparently true. Duncan MacLeod does exist, he did own an antique store with his long time flame, Tessa Noel. He sold it seven years ago, immediately after the shooting, then he disappeared for a month or so. When he returned, he bought a nearly bankrupt gym called DeSalvo's. He's lived in the apartment above it since then."
"Must be the same guy then."
"Why, what you got?"
"Same info you have, plus, he occasionally teaches a class at Seacouver University on ancient artifacts or something like that. He drives a black, 1965 Thunderbird convertible. He also has another residence in France."
"Did you find a phone number?"
"Yeah. No answer. I left a message. I even called the gym number and left a message with the current manager. He said MacLeod hasn't been around much the last couple of years, but he gave me the number of a bar called Joe's. I guess MacLeod is friends with the owner and usually hangs out there when he's in town."
"Hmm." Jim reached for the phone with one hand, mutely asking for the number with the other. "What's the owner's name?" he asked as he started to dial.
"Joe?" Jim chuffed. "Shoulda known."
After four rings the phone was answered by a gruff voice. "Joe's."
"Yeah, who's this?"
"Mr. Dawson, I'm Detective Ellison with the Cascade Police Department. I'd like to ask you for some information."
"Cascade?" The voice turned suspicious. "What kind of information?"
"We're trying to get in touch with Duncan MacLeod. We were told you're a friend of his."
The answer came more reluctantly this time. "Yeah, I know MacLeod. What's this about?"
"I'm not at liberty to say, Mr. Dawson, but it is important that we get in touch with him. Do you know how we can reach him?"
"Is Mac in some kind of trouble?"
"Would it make a difference?"
An exasperated sigh. "Look, I can't reach him myself, it's more like he checks in with me once in awhile. I'm due to hear from him soon, so I can give him a message to call you, but he'll want to know what it's about, you know?"
Jim sighed. "All right, but it is rather urgent that he contact us. He can reach me at 425-555-4952. It's regarding a Tessa Noel."
A growl erupted from the phone, surprising Jim.
"Tessa's dead! What could you possibly need to ask about her?"
"Did you know Ms. Noel?" he asked.
"I never met her, but I know she was pretty special to Mac. She died almost ten years ago. What could you possibly need to ask now?"
Jim debated with himself briefly. Finally, he said, "We have a woman in the hospital here claiming to be Tessa Noel."
"I see," came the terse reply. "What else is she claiming?"
"That she and MacLeod own an antique store."
"They did." Curtly. "It was sold."
"We know, that's why we need to talk to Mr. MacLeod. We need to find out for sure who this woman is."
There was a long pause. "All right. I'll see if I can get a message to him. If he hasn't contacted you by tomorrow, give me another call. Maybe I can ID her for you."
"I thought you said you'd never met her."
"I didn't, but I've seen pictures."
"Thank you, Mr. Dawson. Would you happen to have a picture of Ms. Noel?"
"I think I can turn one up. You want me to fax it to you?"
"If you could."
"Give me the number. You'll have it in an hour."
An hour later, they were staring at a picture of Tessa Noel. It and the person in the hospital matched perfectly.
"Okay, now what?" Blair asked, his voice shaky.
Jim glanced at his partner, then back down at the picture. "We pay another visit to the hospital, get a fingerprint technician over there, and find out who this woman really is."
Turning on his heel, Jim headed back to his desk, snagged his coat, and made for the elevator. Blair was right behind him.
Jim watched Blair from his loft bedroom. Blair stood by the balcony doors, gazing out into another inky black night. It was pouring just like the night before, but somehow it didn't have the same ominous feel. It was 3:00 AM, and as far as Jim knew Blair hadn't slept more than a couple of hours. His own sleep had been restless, his senses periodically ranging out to check things. One such reconnaissance had clued him to the fact that Blair was awake.
Silently, he padded downstairs and approached his partner. "Chief?" he said quietly.
There was no immediate response. Jim wondered if Blair had heard him.
"What did you feel last night, Jim?"
The question startled him. "What?"
Blair turned to face him now, his eyes haunted. "Last night, at the fountain, what did you feel?"
"Chief, I don't think"
"What did you feel, Jim?" Blair persisted.
Jim stared at his partner, his jaw muscle twitching. He swallowed. "Uneasy. Afraid." He paused. "Impotent."
Blair's eyebrow rose. "Why impotent?"
Jim stood frozen, unable to look away from that questioning gaze. "Impotent to turn back the clock. Impotent to protect you from those memories. Impotent to protect myself."
Blair's expression softened, and a faint smile touched his mouth.
"I know the feeling."
Blair shook his head, raising a hand. "Don't Jim, I know you're sorry for what happened. I am, too. We're okay. But I think it's time we start dealing with the memories instead of trying to ignore them. I think it's importantno, imperative."
"Why? I mean, why now?"
Blair shrugged. "I don't know. I just have this feeling that we're going to need all the stability we can muster, and soon. Otherwiseotherwise I think we might be in serious trouble."
Jim looked away, staring out the balcony doors. He felt unsettled, wary. The hairs on his head and neck prickled. It was as though something was lurking just beyond his awareness.
"You feel it, too, don't you?" Blair whispered.
"You said you felt uneasy. About what?"
"The storm. Finding that woman where we did." Jim tore his gaze from the window and sat down on the couch. "I've never seen a storm like last night's, Chief. It was as if something was waiting to happen. Did you notice that after that huge arc of lightning, there wasn't anymore? Just the rain."
"No, I hadn't noticed that."
"A strike like that should have meant something was burning or at least blasted. Instead, we found the woman."
Blair looked incredulous. "You think the two are related?"
Jim continued to work his jaw, his fists clenching on his thighs. After a moment, he grumbled, "I don't want to, but yeah, I do. I can't get the thought out of my head."
"Jim, that'sthat's ." Blair's voice trailed off.
"Crazy?" Jim spat. "Don't you think I know that?"
"I was going to say something more along the lines of unbelievable."
Jim chuffed, not amused. "Yeah, that fits."
"No, Jim, it doesn't. How many times have we seen or done the unbelievable? By now we oughta be more accepting, don't you think?"
"Just one more attempt to keep everything normal, huh?"
Blair smiled fleetingly. "Something like that. What, specifically, makes you think finding the woman is related to the lightning strike?"
"I was following the feeling of electricity on my arms. It got more pronounced the closer we got to Rainier, and then I started smelling ozone. It was strongest right there at the fountain."
They stared at each other.
"I see what you mean," Blair said softly. He hugged himself, gazing at the floor in thought. Jim let him be. Several moments passed before Blair looked up.
"Okay, I have a theory." Jim waited. Blair flashed him a nervous smile. "What if what happened to musopened some kind of door to the other side?"
"What are you saying, Sandburg?" Jim was afraid he knew.
"What if that woman we found is Tessa Noel, come across from the afterlife?"
Jim scowled. "She's not a ghost, Sandburg! She breathes. She has a heartbeat. She's real."
Blair held up his hands placatingly. "I know, Jim. I'm breathing. I have a heartbeat. I'm real. But I was dead too."
"Don't," Jim said softly. "She's not you. Besides, she's been dead almost ten years."
"Well, maybe this is only temporary. Maybe it was an accident that brought her here, or maybe she's here for a reason. Or both."
Growling, Jim launched himself from the couch and stalked to the kitchen. "And maybe she's just some psycho claiming to be this Tessa." He busied himself with the teakettle.
"You're the one who said you thought the lightning and finding her were connected." Blair's voice was still soft, calm.
Jim slumped, setting the kettle on the burner with a thud. He said nothing as he turned the fire on, watching the blue flame.
"Damn," he whispered. Blair approached quietly, and he looked up. "I hate this shit, Blair."
Blair's heart skipped a beat, and Jim smiled bitterly to himself. He didn't use Blair's first name often. When he did, Blair reacted to it like a punch, only internally. Blair's sympathetic gaze nearly undid him.
"I know you say you do, Jim, but something inside you must have accepted it. You've gone through this too often not to acknowledge it. You said it yourself."
Jim's throat closed on the emotion Blair's soft, caring words evoked. He closed his eyes, willing himself to relax. Keep this up, Ellison, and the next thing you know you'll be bawling your eyes out, or begging for a hug. Disgusted with himself, he tightened his jaw. He opened his eyes, and met Blair's knowing, concerned gaze. He gave him the tiniest of nods, acknowledging the truth of the statement and Blair's intangible support. "We've both gone through this shit too often."
Blair smiled faintly. A moment later his expression turned serious. "This is part of why we need to deal with those memories. Neither one of us wants to dwell on what happened, but we can't keep pushing it into a dark corner either."
Again, Jim barely nodded. The kettle whistled and he occupied himself with getting mugs and tea, and pouring water. Handing a mug to Blair, he jerked his head toward the living room and led the way. He settled on the couch. Blair curled one leg under and sat down next to him.
"So you think this has something to do with what happened before?" Jim asked, after taking a sip of tea.
"My death at the fountain. You can say it, you know."
Jim tried not to flinch. Clearing his throat, he repeated, "So you think this has something to do with your death at the fountain and that crap with the spirit animals?"
Blair sighed, such a weary sound. Jim tried to make himself open to the impending discussion.
"I died," Blair said simply. "With Incacha's guidance, you came after me. You went through a door that should have been one-way only, and you made it stay open until you could retrieve me. Maybemaybe now the door here is weakened or broken because of your actions."
Jim's gaze turned inward, remembering.
Jim stared down at Blair. Disbelieving. How could he be dead? No! A blue light began to shine from Blair's still face. Jim looked up hopefully, into the serene countenance of Incacha.
"Use the power of your animal spirits!" Incacha ordered, holding up his hands.
Blue light flashed and Jim broke away from the others, dropping to his knees beside Blair. Hesitantly, gently, he touched Blair's face.
The wolf stood looking at him, turned and trotted away. He, the panther, called silently, rushing after it. The wolf stopped and turned around. Wolf started running. He ran. Wolf leaped. He leaped. And merged briefly with Wolf. They landed safely.
Blair's heart started. Jim shouted in relief, beginning CPR again.
Jim blinked and took a ragged breath. He mentally shook off the remembered vision, and nodded. "Okay, so this door or whatever has been weakened. It's been over two years since"
"My death," Blair finished for him.
He scowled, but continued, "Why now? What was the catalyst?"
"The lightning obviously had something to do with it."
"Yeah, but what was the trigger? Did this door attract the lightning that cracked it open again, or was it just coincidence?"
"I don't know, Jim."
Jim stared out the window at the rain. "Yeah, me neither."
A minute passed. Blair shifted, preparing to get up. Jim reached out a hand, staying him. Blair cast him a quizzical look.
Jim dropped his hand, glanced outside, then met the puzzled gaze. "Whatwhat did you feelat the fountain?"
With a soft gasp, Blair sank back into the cushions. It was clear he hadn't expected that question. Jim warmed at the look of gratitude Blair sent him, and he knew he'd done something right by his friend for a change.
Blair ran his fingers through his hair. Licking his lips, he spoke quietly. "You know, last night was the first time I'd been near it since" Blair chuckled nervously. "Guess when I'm talking about it, I have trouble saying it, too. Since I died."
"No, I didn't know that."
Blair nodded. "I don't think I was consciously avoiding it. There was always another way to wherever I was going. Last night, it was kind of surreal. I was thinking, I died here. Jim revived me here. The real spooky thing is, for a moment I thought I saw the wolf standing beside the panther. Then you spotted that woman and they were gone. I was afraid she was dead, too, and then she wasn't, and I was calling for an ambulance, and I didn't have time to worry about it anymore."
Blair obediently took a deep breath, flashing Jim a small smile.
Jim studied him for a moment. Blair had told him his thoughts, but nothing else. "What did you feel, Blair?"
Another smile, though Blair kept his gaze on the coffee table. "Scared at first. Uneasy, like you, then something happened."
"Like what?" Jim asked, seeing a change come over Blair, even now. The tense body began to relax.
"I still felt uneasy, like something weird had happened, but the fear went away, and this calm settled over me. I can't really explain it. It's like, I was scared shitless for even being near that place, but then I saw the wolf and panther, and I knew I had nothing to be afraid of anymore. What happened was in the past and I had come out the other side with more than I had when I went in." Blair turned his head to look at Jim. "I came out with a piece of you in here." He tapped his fist over his heart.
Jim stared at him. He didn't know how to respond to that.
"It's okay, Jim. You don't have to say anything. I know it sounds corny, but that's just my interpretation of things."
Jim opened his mouth to say something sarcastic, but closed it again. Now was not the time for his cruel tongue. Instead, he shook his head, smiling faintly. "Only you, Sandburg. Only you. Corny it may be, but I think I can handle it." That was the closest he was ever going to come to admitting he felt the same about the vision.
Blair must've understood; his face broke into a brilliant smile. "Thanks, Jim."
"So what do we do about this door?" Jim asked, steering their thoughts back to the immediate problem.
"I don't know that we can do anything."
"What about this woman? If she is Tessa Noel and is supposed to be dead, do we need to send her back?" In one corner of his mind, Jim couldn't believe he was having this discussion.
"I don't know. Her presence could be temporary, it could be that we have to send her back to protect the space-time continuum, or it could be that it doesn't make a difference."
"Space-time continuum? Sandburg, you've watched too much Star Trek."
"If she came through this door, what's to stop others from making the jump across?"
Blair sobered. "Maybe last night was a fluke."
"And maybe that fluke could happen again," Jim said, voicing the fear they both felt.
"Maybe," Blair admitted.
Jim and Blair had barely entered the bullpen that morning when Rhonda announced, "Jim, call for you on line two."
"Thanks, Rhonda." Jim hung up his coat and sat down, reaching for the phone on his desk as Blair snatched both their mugs and went to the break room.
"Detective, this is Duncan MacLeod. I understand you've been looking for me."
Jim straightened in surprise. "Yes, Mr. MacLeod. Thank you for calling."
"Joe told me you have a woman there claiming to be Tessa."
"Yes. She was found the night before last, unconscious. When she regained consciousness, she told us her name and gave us yours. When we tried the number she gave us, we reached an art gallery."
"I haven't lived at that number sinceTessa died."
"I understand, Mr. MacLeod. The last thing she seems to remember is walking toward a car with a friend. A young man came out of nowhere, she heard a loud noise, and that's it."
"God." The word was barely breathed.
"Do you recognize what she described, Mr. MacLeod?"
"Yes. That's the night" Duncan cleared his throat. "Tessa was killed. That was seven years ago."
The faint Scottish/British accent had noticeably thickened.
"I understand how difficult this must be, Mr. MacLeod"
"Detective, this has happened before," Duncan interrupted brusquely. "I'm flying in from Paris. I'll be there this afternoon. In the meantime, I recommend you look for signs of plastic surgery."
"What do you mean this has happened before?" Jim asked.
"This isn't the first time someone has tried to impersonate Tessa."
"I see." Jim's nerves were starting to tingle with suspicion. "Mr. MacLeod, is there anything specific you can tell me that only Ms. Noel would know?"
There was a long pause. "No, nothing that isn't too personal."
Jim sighed, but let it go. "All right."
"What's the name of the hospital?"
Jim hesitated before he answered, "Cascade General."
"Thank you. I'll be there in a few hours. I want to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible."
"Thank you, Mr. MacLeod. We'll be expecting you."
Jim slowly put the receiver back on its hook. He looked at Blair, chewing his lip.
"So that was MacLeod, huh?" Blair asked.
Jim nodded and reached for his coffee.
"I don't know. MacLeod said someone's tried to impersonate Ms. Noel before; that we should look for plastic surgery scars. The question I have is, why? Why go to the trouble of impersonating this woman? Plastic surgery is damn expensive and a bit too permanent for it to have been a small time scam. Was Ms. Noel some kind of heiress?"
"She was a reasonably successful artist. According to the records, some of her pieces are still on display in Seacouver and Paris," Blair said.
"But art's a talent you can't fake, so it doesn't make any sense that someone was trying to take over her career. What about her estate?"
"Moderate. It all went to charity and MacLeod."
"What about this MacLeod?" Jim asked. "Could someone have used an impersonator to get at him? You did his background check. Anything strike you as odd?"
Blair shrugged. "I didn't find anything out of the ordinary on him."
"I suppose we'll find out this afternoon."
"You don't think she is an impersonator, do you?" Blair asked.
"Not of the surgically-altered variety, anyway. I checked her over pretty thoroughly, Chief. She didn't have any telltale scars." Blair stared at him expectantly. Jim sighed, leaning back in his chair. "No," he murmured. "If she is who she claims and if what we think happened, happened, how the hell are we going to write it up?"
"Like we always do, man. With a fair dose of creative writing." Blair grinned.
Jim scowled, tossing a wadded up piece of paper at him. "Don't you have some reports to finish up or something?"
Blair laughed. "Yeah, yeah. The Richardson homicide, and the Jake burglary."
"Then get to it. I'm going to go update Simon."
Blair waved him away, already turning his focus to the waiting reports.
A few minutes later, Jim returned and sat down to his own paperwork. Blair finished the two reports and passed them to Jim. He looked them over, added a few notations, signed them, and put them in his out box.
"Jim, I'm going to do a search on the Net for occult practices and see if there's anything there that we might be able to use on our problem."
Jim looked up. "You suppose there'll be anything there?"
"Don't know, but it's worth a shot."
"Just don't come up with anything requiring blood sacrifices, okay?"
"Got it, no blood sacrifices. I take it any other sacrifice is okay?"
Jim gave him a dirty look.
Blair laughed and went back to his computer.
Jim sat back in his chair and watched his partner. He couldn't stop thinking about their discussion before dawn that morning. More accurately, he couldn't stop thinking about the fountain, and Sandburg's death and resurrection. Had his actions that day left the door open to the other side? Was that freakish storm responsible for the woman's presence? Was Tessa back from the dead? If so, how were they going to close the door again? With a faint sigh, Jim shook off the troubling thoughts and went back to work.
The rest of the day passed quietly. Jim immersed himself in paperwork, working on theories for some of their open cases, and making a few calls to informants. Blair continued to do research. They took a break for lunch at noon, and returned to dive back into the mundane.
At ten minutes to five, Blair sat back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. Jim set a mug of coffee in front of him, and took his own seat. After taking a sip, he said, "No luck?"
Blair shook his head. He reached for his coffee. "Not a thing. I've looked under occult practices, tribal ceremonies, anything I could think of even remotely related to the 'other' dimension. The closest I've come is a shamanic ceremony claiming to open and close the door to the afterlife at will, but it doesn't say whether it will work on a door already partly open."
"Well, come on, let's go home. Maybe that brilliant mind of yours will come up with something while working on supper."
"Uh, Jim, it's your night to cook."
"Yeah, so? Doesn't the cook get any help?"
Blair shook his head, grinning. He shut down his computer and stood up. Jim passed him his coat, already shrugging into his. Before they could make good their escape, a records clerk dropped a folder on his desk and continued on her way. Jim picked it up, flipping it open.
"I'll be damned," he said a moment later.
"It's the fingerprint report on our mystery woman." Jim looked at Blair. "She really is Tessa Noel."
Blair paled. "Oh, man."
"Let's go have a talk with her, Chief."
Jim tapped on the door to Tessa's hospital room, and entered.
"Thank God you're here! Am I going crazy? Is it really 2000? How did I lose seven years of my life? Have you contacted Duncan? Is he still alive? I haven't heard from or seen him, and no one will tell me anything!"
Blair automatically moved to soothe her. Jim let him, for once content to let his partner perform his magic.
"Hey, I know this must be pretty frightening for you. Pretty weird actually, but we're going to try to help you, okay?"
Tessa hugged herself. "Can you tell me where seven years of my life have gone? Where Duncan is? Is heis he ?"
Jim took this as his cue. "I spoke to MacLeod this morning. He's on his way from Paris."
"Paris? Of course that's where he'd be now. How did he sound?"
"Excuse me?" Jim asked, puzzled.
"Did he sound okay? Was he happy? Angry?"
Jim hesitated, unsure how much to say. "Uh, he sounded fine. Surprised, but fine."
"Surprised?" Tessa nodded, dropping her gaze to the bed. "I suppose after seven yearsabsencehe's moved on." She pierced Jim with gray-blue eyes. "I have been absent, haven't I? I've been missing for seven years and you happened to find me. Is that what happened?"
"Uh, what has your doctor told you?" Jim asked uneasily.
"My doctor is an idiot. He was even scared to tell me what year it was. If I hadn't seen the television playing in the loungeTell me, please, Detective. Did Duncan give up on finding me? Did he think I was dead?"
"Please, Ms. Noel, why don't we wait for MacLeod to get here? He'll probably be able to answer your questions better. We're not sure what's happened, but I'm sure we'll figure it all out," Blair said.
"Ms. Noel, can you tell us again, what's the last thing you remember?"
Tessa sighed shakily, and repeated her story.
"And you're sure you don't remember anything after that?"
"No, nothing. There was a bright flash of light, a loud noise, then nothing. The next thing I knew, I woke up here with seven years of my life gone!"
Jim rubbed his forehead, trying to formulate how he was going to say what he needed to. He didn't get the chance.
There was a sharp rap on the door. It opened to reveal a tall, dark-haired man. Grace and power emanated from the black trench-coated form. Intense, dark eyes swept the room, coming to rest on Tessa. MacLeod, Jim presumed.
"Duncan!" Tessa exclaimed happily.
Duncan slowly stepped into the room, staring at the woman who claimed to be Tessa. "Who are you? Who sent you?" he growled.
Tessa's smile faltered. "Duncan?"
"I asked who are you?"
"It's me, Tessa. II thought you'd be glad to see me."
"I'd be overjoyed if you were really her, but my Tessa's dead. Seven years. I've been tricked with her face before. I'm not going through that again."
"Dead? What do you mean? Duncan, it really is me." Tessa stared beseechingly at him. He remained unmoved, watching the hope fade from her eyes.
"Please," she whispered, "believe me."
It would be so easy. She looked and sounded so much like his Tessa. An old familiar ache started in his chest, but he pushed it down. He couldn't trust it, not after the last time. He'd been drawn in by the woman's uncanny resemblance to Tessa, blinded, unwilling to see the woman's true nature. Richie had been right, he'd been living a fantasy, attempting to make that woman into his old love. It hadn't been fair to her or to Tessa's memory. The coup de grace had been discovering that she was part of an elaborate plot to kill him. He'd fallen for ithard. Never again.
"Mr. MacLeod, can I speak to you outside for a moment?"
Duncan flicked his gaze to the taller of the two strangers. Reluctantly, he nodded and left the room. The big man followed him out, while the smaller man stayed in the room.
"You're Ellison?" Duncan asked, holding out his hand.
"Yes. Jim Ellison. And you're obviously MacLeod." Ellison accepted the proffered hand.
Duncan smiled a bit sheepishly, but caught something indefinable in the other man's eyes as their hands touched. What did he sense? Could he know I'm Immortal? Does he know what's going on here?
"What did you want to talk to me about, Detective?"
Ellison seemed to come back from his momentary distraction and refocused on Duncan as though nothing had happened. "Why don't we go to the waiting room where we can sit down?"
Duncan nodded, and followed the detective to the nearby lounge. They each took a seat.
"Mr. MacLeod, this is going to sound strange, but we think she really is Tessa Noel."
"Nay, I canna believe it," Duncan blurted, the Highland brogue of his youth momentarily escaping. "I was there the night Tessa was killed. I know she was dead. I held her lifeless body in my arms."
Duncan was startled to see genuine sympathy and understanding in the other man's eyes. It wasn't the usual and patently false, "I understand your pain" sympathy, but an honest-to-god "I've been where you are, I know what you're feeling." Duncan asked mutely for an explanation.
"We ran her prints. They matched."
Duncan felt as though all the air had left his body. "She was dead," he whispered. "I buried her in Paris."
Ellison dropped his hand and leaned forward on his elbows. "I believe you, MacLeod."
"Then how can this be?"
"Sometimes unexplainable, even unbelievable, things happen. The night we found hersomething was strange that night. The air" Ellison struggled to find the right words. "Maybe it had something to do with the violent storm we had that night. I honestly couldn't say."
Duncan's focus sharpened at that. "Storm?"
Ellison gave a small, self-deprecating smile. "Yeah. It was raining in sheets, and the lightning was intense. Sandburg and I were searching for a possible strike zone after one particularly close bolt, and that's when we found Tessa."
Ellison nodded. "She was lying there in the rain. I thought maybe she'd been struck by lightning, but there wasn't a mark on her."
Duncan stared at the detective. It sounded like a Quickening. But whose? He'd have to find outlater. What mattered right now was the woman in that room. Tessa. Back from the dead? Was it possible? Were they being given a second chance?
"What are you saying, Detective? That some kind of freak storm brought my lover back from the dead?" Were there other kinds of immortality?
"I know it sounds crazy. Believe me, I know," Ellison said with a helpless shrug. "But at least consider the possibility that sometimes death isn't a permanent condition."
Duncan's keen eyes studied Ellison's. What exactly did this detective know? Who was he? A Watcher? Something else? "You sound as if it's not just a possibility to you."
"Uh, let's just say I've had to deal with a lot of strange things in my life, and this has all the earmarks."
Not a Watcher. After that whole mess with Jakob Galati, Duncan was known to every Watcher in the organization. That meant Ellison wouldn't still be hedging around the idea of Immortality with him. Instead, the detective seemed to be hinting at other secrets, things he knew and wasn't going to divulge. Duncan wondered what he was hiding, and if it was dangerous. He thought about Immortals and Quickenings, and their own need for secrecy, and decided not to press for a better explanation.
"You believe it's truly her, don't you?" he asked. Ellison nodded, and Duncan felt something ease within himself.
"Do you know if" How did he ask this? "Is sheis she here for good?"
Ellison smiled sympathetically, but shrugged. "I don't know."
Duncan stood and headed for Tessa's room. "I have to see her. I need to apologize."
The detective followed, saying nothing.
When Duncan opened the door, Tessa's tear-streaked face turned toward him. He swallowed, unable to make himself move. Could this be? Could she be real? His Tessa. Of all the women he had loved over his four centuries, she was one of the most dear. He had often fantasized about them living and loving together for lifetimesif she were Immortal. A second chance. Don't blow it, MacLeod.
Tessa must've seen something in his expression; she smiled tentatively. Duncan moved to her side.
He could do nothing but stare at her dumbly for a moment. Peripherally, he was aware of the young man's departure, but ignored it.
Tessa's smile widened just a little. She said softly, "It really is me, Duncan. I don't know how to make you believe, but"
"Shh," he breathed, touching her lips with gentle fingers. "Tessa."
"God, I'm sorry. So sorry," he whispered.
"It's all right, Duncan. I don't know what happened before, but I'm here now. Really here."
Duncan simply stood, gazing at her, drinking in her presence. Slowly he grasped one of her hands and bent to kiss it, his eyes never leaving her face.
She smiled indulgently, releasing a soft giggle. "Oh, Duncan."
He returned her smile, still holding her hand.
Tessa reached up with her free hand, and cupped the back of his head. Her fingers carded through his hair. "You've cut your hair."
Duncan nodded, watching her. When her soft-eyed gaze returned to his, he smiled again.
"I never thought you'd cut your hair."
"Do you like it?"
"Mm, maybe. I'm definitely going to have to get used to it."
Duncan was still smiling. "Maybe I'll grow it out again." His smile faded as he recalled the reason for the haircut.
"Duncan, what is it?"
He shook his head, and brushed Tessa's lips with his fingertips once more. "Nothing. Just a memory."
They gazed at each other, neither saying a word. Some silent signal passed between them, and Duncan leaned closer, closer, until his lips brushed Tessa's. Her arms came around his neck and held him. With a faint, choked-off sob, Duncan let himself relax into her embrace, deepening the kiss. His hands sank into her silky hair, caressing, kneading. It was a long moment before either seemed willing to break the kiss. When they did, Duncan drew away, placing lighter kisses on her eyes, nose, and mouth. Their eyes met, only inches apart.
Duncan's voice was barely a whisper. "I've missed you, Tessa."
She gazed up at him with shining, compassionate eyes. "I'm sorry I've been away."
He smiled and kissed her. Drawing away, he grasped her hand and sat down in the chair next to the bed.
There was a soft tap on the door.
Ellison and the younger man entered the room.
"We just spoke to the doctor. Since they can't find anything wrong, he's going to release you," Jim said, looking at Tessa with this last.
"When?" she asked eagerly.
"As soon as the nurse brings the paperwork around."
"Uh, we'd like it if you'd stay around for a couple of days, in case we have any further questions."
"We'll be staying at the Cascade Towers." Duncan cast a grin at Tessa. "I want to keep her to myself for a little while."
The other two men smiled, but said nothing.
"Oh, Mr. MacLeod, this is my partner, Blair Sandburg. In case you have questions, you can reach us at one of these numbers."
Duncan took the proffered business card. "Nice to meet you, Detective. Do either of you know of any dress shops close by?"
"Yeah. There's a Chandler's just around the corner. Or the gift shop downstairs has some clothes," Blair said.
"Thank you." Duncan stood up and turned to Tessa. He gave her one more kiss. "I'll be back soon, sweetheart."
Tessa smiled, squeezed his hand and released it. "You'd better be."
Duncan brushed her fingertips with his own, then walked out with the two detectives.
Duncan opened the door to their hotel room. Dropping his bag just inside to hold it open, he turned toward Tessa. She looked at him curiously. He gave her a devilish grin and swept her off her feet.
She stifled a startled scream. "Duncan!"
Duncan carried her into the room, kicked his bag out of the way so the door would swing shut, and gently deposited his burden on the bed.
Tessa chuckled, wrapping her arms around his neck as he came to rest on top of her. For a long time they simply shared hugs and kisses. Duncan reveled in the feel of having Tessa in his arms and, hopefully, his life again. After a while they were sharing more than kisses. Time ceased to exist for the re-united lovers.
"I love you, Duncan." Tessa sighed contentedly and snuggled more comfortably into Duncan's side.
Duncan caressed her hair with his fingertips, that arm being used as a pillow. "I love you, sweetheart. You'll never know how much I missed you, thought about you."
Duncan rolled toward her and held her gaze. "Don't be, Tess. I'm just glad to have you back." He closed the minimal distance between them and kissed her.
When he released her, she smiled.
Duncan dropped another quick kiss to her mouth, then rolled to his feet. "Shall we eat dinner in?"
"Yes." Tessa wrapped her arms around his waist while he was still within reach, and hugged him.
Duncan covered her arms with his, enjoying her embrace. Finally, he turned around. Cupping her face, he kissed her, then patted her playfully on the butt. "Go on. I'll order us some food while you get your shower."
He smiled. "Yeah. After I make a phone call."
As Tessa gathered her new clothes and went into the bathroom, Duncan glanced over the hotel menu. He placed their order, then dialed a long distance number.
"Joe. It's me."
"Mac? You in Cascade?"
"Yeah, as if you didn't know."
"I'm with her now. I don't know how, Joe, but it really is her."
"I don't know that, either. Listen, Joe, did anyone take any Quickenings here recently?"
"How'd you know? There was a Quickening three nights ago."
"A relatively young Immortal named Brad Hays. Young but pretty good, according to his Watcher."
"Not good enough, apparently. Do you know who took it?"
"Hays' Watcher didn't recognize him, and I haven't heard from anybody else."
"Okay, Joe. Let me know if you find out who."
"You think a Quickening brought Tessa back?"
"It might have something to do with it, yeah."
"Okay, I'll see what I can find out. I'll call you in the morning."
"All right. We're staying at the Cascade Towers." Duncan hung up. After a moment he went to join Tessa in the shower.
Dinner was an enjoyable, entertaining affair. They took turns feeding each other, often dissolving into laughter as one or the other of them missed a mouth. When most of the food was gone and they were both pleasantly full, Tessa snuggled back into Duncan's arms with a glass of wine.
"Mm, this is nice," she said softly.
"Mm hm." Duncan ran his fingertips lightly over her shoulder.
"So tell me what you've been doing for the last seven years."
Duncan shrugged, not really wanting to discuss it.
"Come on, Duncan. I have to catch up. What did you do afterafter ?"
Duncan captured her free hand and kissed her palm. Reluctantly, he told her about the last seven years of his life. She listened quietly, occasionally asking questions, absorbing it all.
"You haven't said anything about the store, or Richie."
Duncan stiffened, drawing away.
"Duncan? What is it? What's wrong?"
An ache that never went away flared in his chest. "Richie's dead."
Tessa gasped, and sat up straight, her eyes going wide.
"Tessa?" Duncan felt her start to tremble beneath his hands.
"The night you rescued me from that evil man. You told Richie to take me home. We were walking toward the car, and somebody came out of the dark. He was waving a gun. Demanded money. Richie started toward him. The gun went off. I saw Richie jerk, then I felt a blinding pain. That's what happened to me, wasn't it? That's how I died."
Duncan held her tightly now. "Yes," he whispered. "You were shot and killed by a junkie looking for a few dollars."
"And Richie? He died that night, too?"
"His first death."
"Richie was an Immortal."
"Did you know that when he broke into our store that night? Is that why you took him in like you did? Why didn't you tell me?"
"We're able to sense pre-Immortals like other Immortals, but their presence isn't as strong. It's one of the unwritten rules of the Game. You don't tell pre-Immortals what they are because they grow too reckless. I didn't want you burdened with the secret."
"Our Richie. An Immortal." Tessa closed her eyes and seemed to accept the idea. "Then what happened?"
"Afterthe funeral, I took everything from the store that I wanted to keep, and turned the rest over to Richie to sell. I told Richie to watch his head and retreated to Paris for a while. I wasn't in any condition to take on a student."
"Oh, Duncan." She reached out and captured the single tear that rolled down his face. "Is that when--?"
"No. Richie survived just fine. I finally made peace with the fact that I had to go on without youwe both didand I took him on as my student. I was hard on him because I knew he was at a disadvantage being born so late in the Game. But he didn't let me down. You would have been proud of him, Tess."
"I was proud of him the moment he chose to live with us and leave his street life behind."
Duncan chuckled sadly. "Yeah. But that street upbringing gave him an edge in the Game. He had the instincts needed in a Challenge. He survived a number of them before ." Duncan closed his eyes, remembering the pain, the shame of
"Who was it, Duncan? Did you get the bastard?"
He didn't want to tell her. She wouldn't openly hate him, even though she should, because he knew how much of a son Richie had been to her. She would be disappointed and hurt. Could he live with her condemnation as well as his own?
"Me, Tessa. I was the bastard whotook Richie's head."
Tessa started. She turned in his arms, nearly spilling their wine. "What?"
Duncan met her gaze reluctantly, and nodded.
After a long moment, she said quietly, "You must have had a good reason."
Duncan closed his eyes again. "Some people think so. I don't agree."
He opened his eyes. "It's a long story, and one that's impossible to believe unless you were there."
"Well, considering I'm sitting here, apparently back from the dead, I think I can believe almost anything."
Duncan sighed. "The short version is that a very powerful demon was accidentally released, and wanted to destroy me. Apparently I was the only thing that stood between it and the world. Joe and Methos thought I was going insane, but RichieRichie had faith in me. He stood up for me. He stood beside me, and the demon, Ahriman, didn't like that. Ahriman lured me to the old racetrack in Paris. He played with my mind, made me see enemies who weren't there. I thought they were all figments, hallucinations. The more I fought, the more there were. I swung, connected, and took a QuickeningRichie's Quickening. With Ahriman's laughter ringing in my ears, I realized what I'd donetoo late."
"Did you take care of this demon?"
Silence greeted him. Duncan studied Tessa's face as she thought about what he'd said. She looked at him, sympathy in her eyes.
"That's the reason for the haircut. A warrior's shame shown in his shorn locks."
"Yes," he whispered. "You remember."
Tessa reached up and ran her fingers through his short hair. "I do. When did this happen?"
"Three years ago."
"He was still just a boy," she said softly.
"No, Tessa. Immortality forced him to grow up quickly, but you're right. His life was much too short. Because of me."
"No. Because of that demon," Tessa said vehemently. "Oh, Duncan. It sounds like the last few years have been very painful for you."
"What's a few years amongst a few hundred?" Duncan tried to keep the bitter edge out of his voice.
"Everything, when they're the most recent."
Duncan drew Tessa closer, and leaned his head on her shoulder. He relaxed as she held him to her. His sweet, loving Tessa, so willing, so ready to forgive him his sins.
"It's all right, Duncan," she whispered. "It's all right."
After a while, Duncan sat up. He took Tessa's glass, and set both glasses on the nightstand. Drawing Tessa to him once more, he settled back against the wall.
Duncan stirred. The phone rang again. With a groan, he reached for it. The warm body next to him snuggled a bit closer.
"What did you find, Joe?"
"An Immortal by the name of Juan Korbus. Know him?"
"He's been around about five, six hundred years. Likes to hunt younger heads. The oldest Immortal we think he's gone after was about three hundred and fifty"
"Watch yourself, MacLeod. Apparently he's been known to play dirty."
"I will." Duncan replaced the receiver and turned his attention back to Tessa. She was more than willing to reciprocate.
After a shower and breakfast, Duncan placed a call to the police department. Ellison reluctantly agreed to show him where they had found Tessa. While they waited for the appointed meeting time, Duncan took Tessa on a shopping spree.
"This is where you found her?" Duncan stared at the college campus and the fountain in the middle of the quad.
Duncan looked around. The campus was relatively quiet, with only a few students about. At five-thirty in the afternoon, Duncan guessed that classes were pretty much over for the day. At night, in the middle of a rainstorm, it was probably completely deserted. Duncan walked toward the fountain, wanting a closer look. Tessa and the others followed at a slight distance. He hadn't wanted her to come. He feared she'd have bad memories of the place; more importantly, he feared that maybe being back at the place where she had returned would take her away again. But he was equally terrified of leaving her at the hotel. So, he had compromised with himself and asked her to stay with the detectives at all times.
Duncan leaned over and trailed a finger through the still waters of the fountain. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, or if he was looking for anything. He heard a soft gasp behind him, and turned to see Detective Sandburg looking pale.
"Are you all right?"
Sandburg jerked his head, trying to smile. "I'm fine. Just some bad memories associated with this place."
Duncan was puzzled, but didn't pursue it.
"You're standing almost in the exact spot where we found Tessa," Ellison said. He patted his partner's shoulder reassuringly.
Duncan didn't answer. His attention was on the manthe Immortalhe sensed approaching from the other side of the fountain. Duncan shifted his stance ever so slightly, unsure about this stranger.
"Hello!" The voice seemed friendly.
"Hello," Duncan answered warily.
"I'm Juan Korbus, I don't believe I've had the pleasure?"
"Duncan MacLeod." Duncan managed to bite back his automatic "of the Clan MacLeod."
"Ah! So you're the famous Highlander. Oh, imagine my fortune when I take you on."
Duncan didn't respond.
"Now, come, come, MacLeod. Surely you're not going to turn me down?"
"Aren't you forgetting something, Korbus?"
Korbus glanced at the three people behind him.
"Yes, of course, too public. Besides, for some unfathomable reason this spot is Holy Ground."
With faint surprise, Duncan realized it was true. He'd felt the soft "song" of the place since he first set foot on the grass.
"There's a park just west of here. Midnight. Good day." With that Korbus was gone, swiftly walking back the way he'd come.
Duncan watched him leave. Tessa came up beside him, and he wrapped an arm around her waist. She knew what was to come.
"What was that all about? You know that guy?" Ellison demanded.
Duncan scowled. Korbus had put him in an untenable position by challenging him in front of mortals. He was furiously trying to come up with some kind of explanation to dodge the detective's suspicions, when he turned to meet Ellison's keen eyes. He knew then that a dodge was out of the question.
"I've never met the guy, but I know who he is."
"Who?" Ellison nearly barked the word.
Duncan ignored the question, casting a dark glance in the direction Korbus had gone. "I wonder if this was an old burial ground," he murmured, looking for a plaque or something marking the spot.
"Why?" Ellison asked.
"Because this ground is hallowed. Usually that means a chapel or a graveyard was here once. Or perhaps there was a miracle performed here."
Ellison jerked as if punched. Sandburg paled.
"Hhow--? How do you know this is hallowed ground? And what does that have to do with your 'friend'?" Ellison demanded.
"Is there someplace we can go to talkin private?"
Though shaken, Ellison's eyes narrowed. His piercing gaze was unwavering as he studied Duncan. A glance passed between the detectives, and Ellison nodded.
Blair sat on the loveseat and watched. He watched Tessa sitting quietly beside Duncan, saying nothing. He watched MacLeod leaning back against the couch with a patently feigned ease. And he watched Jim prowl the living room like a disgruntled cat.
"Let me get this straight. You're telling me that Immortals exist. That you're one of these Immortals, and that guy at the fountain today was an Immortal. And he challenged you."
Blair smiled at Jim's incredulous tone. He had to admit, the story did sound pretty farfetched. Unfortunately, it also seemed to be true. Duncan had proven that to thembeyond the shadow of a doubt. There was a bloodstain on Duncan's shirtover his heartto remind them. Blair knew Jim's pacing was his way of trying to deal with yet another trip into the strange and "wonderful" world of the sentinel. Poor Jim. If he could ever readily accept his role as sentinel and all the things that came with it, the man would be truly awesome.
"Yes," MacLeod answered.
"What kind of challenge are we talking about?" Blair asked.
MacLeod's dark eyes fastened on him.
"A duelwith swords."
Blair saw Jim's attention snap to Tessa. What had he picked up? An increase in her heartrate? Respiration? She probably knew what these duels entailed, and they made her nervous.
"Why the challenge?" Jim asked. Blair was surprised he didn't press for a clarification about the duel or question Tessa.
MacLeod seemed a bit surprised as well; one eyebrow cocked. "It's part of the code we live by."
"What? You just go around fighting each other?"
"Some of us do. Others avoid fighting unless cornered."
"And where do you fall, MacLeod? Do you seek or do you avoid?" Jim studied the Immortal. "No, I can tell you're the type who doesn't usually go hunting for these 'challenges.' But you don't avoid them either."
MacLeod met Jim's gaze. Knowledge passed in that look. Blair hid a smile. One warrior recognized another.
"Where does Korbus fall on this scale?" Jim asked. "He seemed pretty quick off the mark."
"Korbus is a hunter. He targets younger Immortals."
"And you're younger?"
"I'm older than his usual choice of opponents, but I am younger than him, yes."
"Do I want to know how you know all of this? All I heard was a name."
"I haveconnections. And no, you don't want to know."
Jim paced to the balcony doors and looked out at the city lights. He turned around and leaned against the brick. "And you can tell the area around the fountain is Holy Ground because you're Immortal?"
"Another one of the rules. Immortals can't fight on Holy Ground, any Holy Ground. We can feel it."
"Like you can feel another Immortal?"
Jim looked at Blair. "Chief, was there ever a chapel or cemetery where the fountain is now?"
Blair met his gaze and slowly shook his head. Jim's not going to like where I think this is going. He obviously thinks so, too.
MacLeod asked, "You both reacted when I suggested a miracle. Did something happen there?"
Jim and Blair stared at each other.
"Go on, Jim. Tell him," Blair urged softly. Jim closed his eyes briefly. Blair gave him an encouraging nod. Only by talking about it, could Jimcould both of thembegin to heal from that ordeal. The other night had gone a long way toward that healing. Talking to others about it was the next step.
His eyes never leaving Blair's face, Jim took a deep breath and told them.
"You were right," Jim said some minutes later. "A miracle did happen at the fountain."
MacLeod didn't even bat an eye at the explanation. Blair figured he'd probably seen many "miraculous" things during his four hundred plus lifespan. Wow.
"This must seem like old hat to you," Blair said.
MacLeod shrugged. "I've dealt with similar things before, but I wouldn't call it old hat."
"Man, think of the history I could learn from you! An anthropologist's dream!"
MacLeod's mouth quirked into a wry smile.
"What?" Jim gave him a look. "Right, right. Stay on the topic. But you have to admit it'd be fascinating to learn what people really did back then, wouldn't it? From firsthand accounts."
Jim shook his head indulgently; before turning his attention back to MacLeod. "These challenges: Do they involve any kind of energy discharge, like electricity?"
It was MacLeod's turn to pale. "Usually. Why do you ask?"
"When I shook your hand yesterday I got zapped pretty good. I thought it was just static electricity, but you didn't seem to react to it at all."
"You got zapped?" MacLeod shook his head. "Where are you heading with this?"
Blair caught Jim's glance, and took up the explanation. "Jim and I have this theory. We think, in order to bring me back, he had to force open adoorto the other side. Afterwards, it either didn't close all the way or it was damaged so it couldn't close all the way. We think Tessa's here now because that door was blown open by a strange bolt of lightning. Lightning that stopped abruptly, though the rain didn't."
"And you think this lightning was caused by an Immortal?"
Blair nodded. "Sounds kind of farfetched, doesn't it?"
MacLeod looked at them, his gaze resting on Jim. "Actually, I've been having similar thoughts since you told me about the violent storm you were having the night you found Tessa. I knew a Quickening had to be responsible, but I didn't know how."
"Quickening?" Jim asked.
"That's what we call our energy, our life-force. The release of a Quickening usually causes a brief electrical disturbance."
Tessa laughed quietly, her eyes rolling. Blair guessed MacLeod's words were something of an understatement.
"And a Quickening is released how?" Blair asked, having a pretty good idea he knew.
After a moment of stubborn silence, MacLeod said, "By the Immortal's death."
"We're talking real, never coming back death, aren't we?"
"And just how is that accomplished? How do you permanently kill an Immortal?"
MacLeod looked Blair directly in the eyes. "By taking his head."
Blair's eyes widened. "That's what these challenges are, aren't they? Fights to the death."
Blair shot to his feet and started pacing. "I can't believe you go around killing each other! That's barbaric!"
"Unfortunately, those are the rules of the Game."
"Game? How can you consider lopping off people's heads a game?"
MacLeod leaned forward. "There's nothing casual about this game. When your life is at stake, it makes you very serious about it. The reward for winning is the other's Quickening."
"What's the Quickening do? Blow stuff up and open spirit-plane doors?"
"The Quickening doesn't actually do anything. It's the process of absorbing the loser's Quickening that causes the lightning storms like the one you saw the other night. Taking a Quickening is painful and exhausting, not just because of the preceding fight."
Blair looked beseechingly at Jim. "You don't buy into this, 'Game', do you, Jim?"
Jim shrugged. "Whether I buy into it or not is irrelevant, Chief. I don't like it, but as long as the Immortals don't involve mortals in their so-called 'Game', I'm not inclined to get involved. It's their business. From the sound of it they've been at this a very long time, and have a very distinct code of conduct."
"Mortals aren't part of this. Most of us try very hard to keep our affairs from mortal eyes. Duals are never meant to be public. If Korbus hadn't approached me so openly today, I doubt we'd be having this conversation now."
Blair turned to Tessa. "Surely you don't accept this?"
Tessa rubbed MacLeod's tense arm before looking at him. "I hate the sword fights. I hate watching Duncan leave to meet some Immortal. I'm afraid that he won't come back. But, yes, I've accepted it. Duncan's a good and decent man. He doesn't go looking for fights, but he won't turn from one either. When the Game found him again, he tried to leave me after he defeated Quince. He wanted to protect me from the whole Immortal thing, but I wouldn't let him. I swore I'd stay with him, because I love him. He was always afraid that an Immortal would use me to get to him. A couple tried, but ultimately it was a random shooting that took me away from him, not another Immortal."
MacLeod put his arm around her and leaned back into the couch. He kissed her temple and held her close.
Blair watched them for a moment, chewing his lower lip. He sighed reluctantly, beginning to accept Immortals and their Game. But first he had to try one more time. "Has anyone ever tried to stop it?"
MacLeod smiled sadly. "Many in fact. Most are dead now. No matter what good intentions a few might have, Immortals are prone to the same failings as mortals. Some are evil. Some aren't. Then there are the ones in between who try to prevent the evil ones from taking too many of the good ones."
Blair suspected MacLeod was talking about himself. He conceded defeat and dropped back onto the loveseat. "It still seems like a waste."
"I agree, but it's a fact Immortals have to liveor diewith."
Blair nodded reluctantly.
"If a Quickening is what opened this door, will another one close it?" Jim asked.
"And there's a Quickening no matter who wins?"
MacLeod met Jim's gaze. "Yes."
Blair looked at Jim in disbelief. "Jim, how can you condone this? We're talking about death here!"
Jim raised his hands in supplication. "What do you want me to say, Chief? MacLeod's already answered the challenge. He's not going to walk away. And I'm not going to insult his honor by asking him to. For Tessa's sake I hope MacLeod wins. For my conscience's sake I hope the other guy is a black-hearted bastard, but I don't know that. All I can do is accept that it's out of my hands, and hope that either outcome will close that door. Call me selfish, but I don't want to know what else might come through that door if it stays open too long."
Blair wasn't happy, but he didn't say anything. He understood Jim's pragmatism. He thought he understood MacLeod's honor, but he definitely didn't like any of it.
Into the thickening silence, MacLeod said, "If it helps any, I know Korbus is a less than honorable fighter. He hunts Immortals younger than he is, and wins by any means necessary. That includes using other weapons."
"Isn't that against your precious rules?" Blair asked.
"Of course it is, that's one of the reasons I accepted his challenge. The only way to sanction him is to fight him, but he avoids confrontations with older Immortals or those better trained."
"You said you were younger than him. Do you think you're better trained?"
Blair cocked an eyebrow. The man was confident without a trace of conceit. "Judging by his reaction to your name, he's heard of you. If what you say is true, why would he challenge you?"
MacLeod snorted with disgust. "Because some think my Quickening is the key toother things."
"Is it?" Blair wondered what MacLeod wasn't saying.
MacLeod shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I'm not losing my head without a fight, regardless of the reason."
There was nothing more to say to that.
The park was deserted. Wind rustled the few remaining leaves in the trees and whipped around the legs of the lone figure standing in the clearing. The sky was devoid of clouds. The light of the full moon illuminated everything in its eerie glow, making it seem almost as bright as day. It glinted especially brightly on steel held in the figure's hand.
From out of the shadows another lone figure approached. He strode confidently forward and stopped a few feet from the waiting form.
"Right on time, MacLeod. Excellent!"
Duncan studied Korbus, alert for any sudden movement. "Let's get on with it."
Korbus raised his sword.
Three people watched the lightning in a cloudless sky and heard the distant thunder. Only Jim heard the screams of a man in agony. He turned his gaze toward the fountain. Would the Quickening close the door? How would they know?
Jim felt the hairs on his arms rise, and smelled ozone in the air. He looked toward the light show. One huge arc of lightning leaped across the sky, and a muffled boom reached their ears. Jim heard a sound, like the thud of a heavy door slamming shut. He looked at the fountain again, seeing nothing different. He felt as though he was wrapped in yards of cotton batting for a moment, then his ears popped and the pressure was gone. Only a faint tingling remained to tell him it had happened. That, and the presence of Tessa Noel.
"Did it work?" Blair asked softly. "Can you tell?"
Jim smiled, laying a hand on Blair's shoulder. "Yeah, Chief. The door's closing. We shouldn't have to worry about creepy-crawly things coming from there anytime soon."
Blair swiped a hand over his forehead dramatically. "Phew, I'm glad of that." He grinned.
Jim tapped him on the head before turning his attention to the silent Tessa. Blair said nothing further. Wordlessly, they stood behind her and waited. Soon, they would know who had survived.
Several minutes later, Jim straightened, peering off into the darkness. Someone was approaching. Within moments MacLeod came into view. He was limping a little and obviously exhausted, but he appeared whole.
"Duncan!" Tessa ran to him.
MacLeod caught her to him in a heartfelt hug.
"Let's go home, Tessa."
"I can't, Duncan."
"What? No! Tessa, please? Don't do this." Under his breath, he added, "Please, not again."
Tessa pressed her fingers to MacLeod's lips. "Shh, shh. It's all right, Duncan. You'll be all right. I promise you."
MacLeod buried his face in her neck, inhaling her scent.
She stroked his hair comfortingly. "The door is closing, Duncan. And I belong on the other side."
"What ifwhat if you don't go?" He gripped her tightly.
"It's not my decision, or yours. I don't belong here anymore."
"Then why did you come back at all?" MacLeod cried angrily.
"You defeated a demon. Maybe this was your reward."
"To lose you again? That's no reward, that's a curse."
"Then maybe it's my reward," she said softly. "Because the last thing I remember of that night was regretting not having the chance to say goodbye to you."
MacLeod's breath caught on a sob. "Tessa," he whispered.
"Shh, Duncan. Everything will be okay. I love you. I always will."
"Oh, God. Tessa!" MacLeod gently eased her to the ground.
"And, Duncan, you've got to stop feeling guilty about Richie. He doesn't blame you. He knows it was Ahriman."
MacLeod closed his eyes for a moment. "Okay, sweetheart. Whatever you say."
Tessa smiled, looking off into the distance. When next she spoke, her voice was weak, barely audible. "Please stay safe. You wouldn't want to disappoint me or Richie, would you?"
"No," MacLeod whispered. He was openly crying now. "Don't go."
With the last of her strength, Tessa brushed his face. "I must, but I will always be watching. Goodbye, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." Slowly, her eyes closed, and she began to fade away.
"No. Tessa." MacLeod tried to hold her closer, but it was like holding air.
"Remember." Whispered on the wind. "I love you, Duncan." She was gone.
Jim and Blair watched in wonder, as the last traces of the Tessa Noel vanished. Jim moved forward, and dropped a hand on MacLeod's shoulder. "The door's closed, MacLeod. I'm sorry."
The Immortal stood. Jim's hand fell away. MacLeod looked at the ground, then at them. "She was here. Wasn't she?"
"Yes," Jim said firmly.
MacLeod nodded. "Don't worry about Korbus. We clean up after ourselves."
"Good. You have no idea how I was dreading writing up a beheading for our boss." Sandburg said, staring at the fountain. Jim brushed his arm, and Blair flashed him a reassuring smile. "I'm sorry about your loss, man."
"Without the two of you, we wouldn't have had this chance to say goodbye. Thank you."
Silence as each man lost himself in thought.
"Do you think I could be here by myself for a while? Or will Campus Security come and demand that I explain myself?"
"Don't worry about Security. Sandburg and I will go clear you." Jim took a step toward the truck, stopped, and turned around. "She was right, you know. Everything will be all right. Eventually." He put an arm around Blair's shoulders and continued on.
"Is he going to be okay, Jim?"
Jim followed Blair's gaze to the solitary figure. "Yeah, Chief. He still has a lot of living to do."
In the rearview mirror, he saw MacLeod kneel by the fountain, and heard him whisper, "Goodbye, Tessa."
Smiling at Blair, he put the old blue and white Ford into forward motion and headed for home.
The campus was quiet. Most of the students were asleep or ensconced in late-night study. Only campus security roamed the grounds on once an hour patrols. The fountain lay quiescent, just a dark shape against the darker background of night. No one passing by it would know that just days before it had been the nexus to another 'plane'.
A light breeze blew. Moonlight glinted off the gentle ripples created on the water. The night creatures went about their business, paying no mind to Man's creation or presence. Bats clicked and flitted overhead, snatching insects out of the air. An owl hooted nearby.
Suddenly, the breeze stilled. The night sounds stopped. Not a creature moved. The very air seemed to thicken.
The water exploded. Bubbling. Roiling. Churning. Frothing. A shape emerged, pushing and straining against the envelope. Claws raked at the suddenly viscous fluid, but did not penetrate. A pillar reached ten feet high, but still the water held. With an angry screech the shape fell back beneath the surface. The water calmed, only a fading ripple left to show for the violence of a moment before.
Another moment of total silence passed.
The breeze returned. With that release the night creatures resumed their interrupted activities, once again ignoring the fountain. Moonlight glinted off gentle ripples--for the moment.
Same old song. Just a drop of water in an endless sea. All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see. Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind. -- Dust in the Wind, Kansas
"Cascade Beyond the Veil", vol. 1 is still available from Skeeter Press. Check out http://www.skeeter63.org/zines/ for more information.