Making Scents of it All

The Holy Ground Highlander Forum Midweek Challenge

Archivist’s Note: The stories and vignettes offered here from various Forumlanders have not been edited or changed other than having a spell-check performed and being reformatted for this website.

Contents

The Challenge by Leah CWPack
Alive by Robin
Bear With Me by Pat
From a House to a Home by SwingGirl
Milestones by bookmom
Lavender and Rose by SBO
Uncommon Bonds by Storie
Where the Heart Is by Ysanne
The Smell of Death by lynnannCDC
Salad Days by Wain
Adam’s Peak by Ghost Cat

MWC: Making Scents of it All

Posted By: Leah CWPack <bizarro7@aol.com>
Date:
Wednesday, 23 January 2002, at 11:44 p.m.

This week's challenge, should you care to participate, comes to us courtesy of a suggestion by Hayden:

Write a song, short story or scene that involves a scent that brings back a distant memory to an Immortal character from HL. More than one scent or character can be involved. A flashback is fine, if you prefer.

Remember to put "MWC" in your subject line if you wish to have your entry archived.

Good luck!

MWC: Alive

Posted By: Robin <Catnature@yahoo.com>
Date:
Thursday, 24 January 2002, at 10:58 a.m.

The scent of honeysuckle perfumed the air and transported Methos back over 4,000 years...

It was still cold, but not freezing anymore. Abigail moved to the cave enterance and looked out. "Methos, come look at this. Isn't it beautiful?"

He reluctantly left the warm furs and when to her side. Wrapping an arm around her, he followed her gaze. Snow still covered most of the scenery but Spring had come. Green had replaced white in a few places and the animals were starting to move again. "What am I seeing?"

"Life." she took his hand, "Come with me." She pulled on his hand.

"Always."

She laughed and lead him from their winter prison. He looked over his shoulder for a seconmd and thought of all the time they had frozen to death in each other's arms. They had survived the mob and the winter.

They moved into the glade and the scent of honeysuckle was strong. They ate some of the green shoot from both the trees and the ground. Abigail did know her plants.

They laughed and kissed in the warm sun. With his help, Abigail threaded honeysuckle in her long brown hair. She was so beautiful at that moment. He loved her so.

MWC: Bear With Me

Posted By: Pat <Nutmeg9cat@aol.com>
Date:
Thursday, 24 January 2002, at 1:14 p.m.

This is a chapter in a larger story, (two sections of which I previously posted as they applied to MWCs). I hope to finish the larger story and submit it for a Highlander story contest.

To set the scene, it is two years since the events of Endgame. Mac is living in Seacouver, teaching art history at the University. Methos lives there too, on sabbatical after finally completing his most recent doctorate. MacLeod and Methos are doing hands-on research involving linguistic and archaeological clues which require them to travel together to Europe.

Bear With Me

*Christ*, MacLeod thought to himself, *What a smell!* He was lying in his sleeping bag, trying to breathe shallowly through his mouth. The 5000 year old producer of the noxious odor lay sleeping soundly a few feet away. The two Immortals were camped for the night halfway up the Simalaun Peak in the Tyrolean Alps of southern Austria, a stone's throw from the Italian border. Methos' smelly socks were inside the tent, loopd over the support pole. There was a strong reek of urine emanating from the tent itself. Because Methos had pissed on it before retiring for the night.

It was late May. The journey had begun with the flight from Seacouver to New York, and from there to Innsbruck. The two Immortals had set off with a bare minimum of luggage and their swords. They were seeking the glacier ice caves, which had been revealed to the modern world with the retreat of the Oztal Glacier in the early 90's. The first significant discovery had been the famous Iceman, whose dessicated mummy had been discovered by hikers in 1991. Amid all the hoopla over the prehistoric time traveler, quieter discoveries had been revealed. Cave paintings and writings and stone figures had been dated as far back as 2000 B.C. Linguists and archaelogists had been debating the meaning of the intricate figures, and what appeared to be corresponding text, for the past decade. Charles Guerre, one of the linguists to visit the site in the early years, had published an article on the apparently apocalyptic references in the drawings and text. This had prompted MacLeod to fund Guerre's further research of the fascinating discovery. Guerre was currently working on a book about the find for popular consumption.

MacLeod wondered again what, if anything, was between the two scholars. Methos often sneered at people and their foibles, but the old man seemed to reserve an especially virulent contempt for the French linguist. Duncan knew that Guerre was a rising star in the same department as Amy Thomas at the University of Paris. Guerre was well-regarded in international linguistics circles for his innovative interpretations of statue-menhir, anthropomorphic stone figures with intricate markings. He knew that Guerre possessed an acerbic wit and a cutting sarcastic edge, which he tried, not always successfully, to curb with Duncan, his benefactor. Duncan assumed that Guerre and Adam Pierson had crossed paths in Paris, within their mutual academic circles, engendering a strong dislike on at least Methos' side of the equation. Methos had savaged the mortal linguist's interpretation of the cave writings and drawings, insisting that Guerre had missed some essential material in the photographs he had sent to Duncan. Thus leading to this camping trip with the world's most irritating 5000 year old.

The flights had been uneventful, with the exception of the hassle of getting the swords through baggage claims at several airports. Even with Duncan's credentials as a dealer and teacher in antique weaponry, the task had proved difficult. However, with the exception of Holy Ground, airports and commercial flights were one of the safest places for an Immortal these days. Security was so tight, even Methos, left with only a safety razor and dental floss, was totally disarmed. *Well, maybe not totally,* Mac thought, *the old man could probably still behead someone with just those.* Things got more interesting after the final connecting flight from Innsbruck. With baggage, including the swords, in hand, they had been walking from the tarmac headed into the terminal to the car rental agency, when they felt an Immortal Presence. Duncan had been instantly on alert, all senses primed, adrenaline flowing, as he scanned the tarmac for the source. At the same time, he became aware that Methos was no longer at his side, and his Presence was outside of Duncan's range. He never knew anyone, not even Houdini, who could disappear as quickly and quietly as Methos.

* * *

A tall blonde man with a suitcase in one hand, and sword carrier in another, was there, about 50 feet away. He appeared to be catching a small departing flight, ticket and boarding pass in one hand. When his eyes met Duncan's, the other Immortal gestured with his head to the area behind the terminal. Duncan nodded and followed. He didn't recognize the other man. When they reached the secluded area, Duncan said "I'm not looking for a fight." The other man dropped his suitcase, and with very quick movements, had retrieved his sword from the carrier, before speaking. "Neither was I." His accent was faintly German. "Look," Duncan tried again, "we don't have to do this. We can both walk away. Nobody has to die today." "Coward!", the man practically spat at him, tightening his grip on the sword and assuming battle stance. Duncan sighed and removed his katana from the carrier. He raised the sword hilt high, bowed, and said "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."

The man paled visibly. "D...Duncan MacLeod?", he said, breathlessly. His sword dropped slightly and he took a few steps back. "I d...didn't know...I never expected you here in...MacLeod, look...I'm sorry...Mein Gott..look, MacLeod...", he trailed off, sweat appearing on his forehead. MacLeod smiled grimly and put up his sword. The man backed away, muttering apologies, and, scooping up his luggage, practically ran back to his departing plane. MacLeod took his time putting his sword carefully into the padded carrier. He went into the terminal. It took another half hour to obtain the rental vehicle he had reserved. It was another hour before he felt the Buzz of his travelling companion, as he sipped at his third cup of coffee in the little cafe in the terminal.

Methos sat down just as the waitress appeared to take his order for coffee. Duncan raised an eyebrow at the choice of benerage, but said nothing. Methos waited until he'd had his first sip, before speaking. "Did you know him?"

MacLeod shook his head. "He never introduced himself. German, I'd say,...not young,...at least from my perspective."

"Let me guess....When he realized he had just challenged the Sundance Kid, he headed off into the sunset as fast as legs would carry him."

Mac snorted, and took another sip of his coffee. "Something like that." He was silent for a few minutes. "I wonder if this is what it was like for Cullen." He looked at Methos to see if he was understood. The old man nodded. "The world divided in two for him. Those that ran at the sound of his name, and those that ran toward it."

"Well, Mac, you know how the Immortal grapevine works. They know you took Kell." *And Connor*

Mac nodded slowly. They finished their coffee without further conversation.

* * *

It took a day's drive in the rented Tracker 4X4 to reach Solden, the last big town before the mountain. Mac drove, Methos dozing, hunkered down like a turtle in his jacket, head against the window. They spent the night in a nondescript hotel and arrived early at the outfitters at the base of the mountains. They were quickly equipped and on their way by mid-morning. Several hours drive on increasingly rougher roads and Mac parked in a designated parking area near the trail. He woke his companion, who sat up blearily. "We hike it from here.", Mac told him.

The day ws sunny and cool, the air fresh with the scent of pine. MacLeod hoisted his pack, glad for the physical exertion after the many days of travel in airplane and automobile. They had figured on two days to get to the cave mouth and two days to get back. They spoke little, but walked in companionable silence. Duncan took a deep breath of the pine-scented air. His thoughts were on the last time he had been in this part of the world. It had been during the war-World War II-he reminded himself. There had been a covert mission, one of many, behind enemy lines, and he had traveled the mountains on foot after a night drop. There had been some screw-up, he never found out exactly what, and the double agent he was to rendezvous with, never showed. As a result, he spent a rather idyllic couple of weeks with a lovely girl, a member of the local Resistance,...what was her name? Lili? Leni? He smiled to himself at the memory.

His companion was not smiling. As Methos inhaled the piney air, he hitched up his heavy pack for the thousandth time, and shifted it away from the sore spot it ws rubbing on his shoulder. He also recalled the last time he had been in these parts. The memories were hazy. Oh, it must have been about 1500 years ago. He had been fleeing from the onslaught of some invading horde or another, striking out across the glacier to elude pursuit. Well, he eluded his pursuers alright. Nobody else would be suicidal enough to have followed him across that deadly plateau in early winter. He must have frozen to death a half dozen times before he found himself at the bottom of a cliff, bloody and battered, but alive. He had felt a kinship with the Iceman since the frozen mummy was discovered several years ago. At least it was spring this time. He hated the cold. He hated hiking up mountains. He hated his new boots, which were rubbing a blister on his left small toe. He glanced at MacLeod. The Highlander was smiling, his expression dreamy, his body language indicating he was enjoying this far more than he should. He noticed Methos looking at him, and grinned, dark eyes shining, as if to say "What a beautiful day to be alive", or some such Hallmark moment crap. Methos opened his mouth, a cutting remark on the tip of his tongue. Then he snapped it shut. *Leave the kid alone. Gods, you'd take candy from a baby just to make it as miserable as you, you old fart. It's not his bloody fault if every bloody bit of real estate on this bloody planet dredges up bloody bad memories for you. You have only yourself to blame for this little adventure.* With an inward grimace, he returned the smile.

They saw no other travellers that day. They pushed on until full dark, both wanting to just get there and both more than capable of establishing camp in darkness. Methos set up the small domed tent they were sharing, while Duncan scouted the perimeter and gathered wood for a fire. As he returned, arms full of wood and brush, he could just make out Methos' lean form. The older man was standing oddly hunched over, and slowly walking around the tent. Puzzled, Duncan peered at him as he approached. His jaw and the firewood dropped at the same time.

"What the hell are you doing!", he shouted.

"Pissing on the tent", said Methos.

"I can see that! What the hell for!"

Methos looked at him as if he were simple-minded. "To keep the bears away."

"Methos, there haven't been bears in Austria in over 100 years."

"Oh....Sorry."

MacLeod turned his back on Methos and gathered up the wood he'd dropped, muttering to himself in Gaelic. He soon had a blazing fire going, and prepared their simple supper of dehydrated instant meals. Methos puttered around in the tent for a bit, then joined him beside the fire. They ate in silence.

"I put the deposit down on the gear, you know," Mac said, after a while. Methos couldn't see his face, but heard the hint of a smile in the voice.

"It does work. In 5000 years, I have never had my head chewed off by a bear in the night."

Mac snorted. "I was attacked by a bear in the night once. In the Highlands. She was after my food. As I recall, I pissed a lot that night, but it didn't keep her away."

"Well, you have to do it before the bear arrives for it to work."

"I'll try to remember that."

The night was clear and fine. It had been a long time since Duncan had sat around a campfire, just looking at the stars. The last time had probably been with Rich on the island. Methos and he talked into the night, swapping stories of travels and travelers, until the fire had died down and they were both yawning. Methos headed for the tent. Duncan gestured towards a patch of scrub. "I'll just keep the bears at bay over there, shall I?" Methos grunted, and headed into the tent. By the time Duncan climbed in, getting a face full of damp sock, the old man was sound asleep. Duncan curled up in his sleeping bag, taking care not to touch the side of the tent, and buried his nose in the sweatshirt he was using as a pillow. He had just time enough to utter a Gaelic curse or two before he too succumbed to sleep.

The End.

MWC: From A House To A Home

Posted By: SwingGirl <SwingGirl3@yahoo.com>
Date:
Friday, 25 January 2002, at 2:23 a.m.

Duncan pulled his car into a space outside of the pizza shop. He had been driving for an hour with no particular destination in mind. He hadn't intended to come to this place. In fact, he had intended to never set foot in the restaurant ever again. As he sat, Duncan took a deep breath, the aroma of fresh baked pizza drifting to him from inside. He shook his head, as though it would stop the memory from surfacing in his mind, but it came anyway, the memory of the last time he had been here.

**********

"Did you bring it?"

"Yes, I brought it." Duncan smiled at her as he noticed how excited she was.

"Well, I know we weren't too sure about this at first, but now I think that this is the right thing to do. Richie needs a real home." She returned his smile then. "With us."

Duncan was about to say more, but Richie, who had gone to use the restroom, came back and sat down across the table from them. He looked around "This is an awful long way to go just for pizza. The food must be pretty good here."

"Actually, I've never been here, but a friend of mine swears it's the best pizza he's ever eaten." Although Duncan didn't really care for pizza, he made an exception this time. The small, casual place had been highly recommended to him, so when Richie had wanted to have pizza, he immediately decided to come here. It was, afterall, to be an important night for them all, but especially for Richie.

"And there's another reason we wanted to go out tonight, too. Right, Duncan?"

"Right. We wanted to give you something." Duncan reached into his pocket and place a key on the table.

"It's a key. You wanted to give me a key." Richie picked it up and turned it in his hand. "What's it for?"

"It's a key to the antique shop."

"The antique shop? Why are you giving me..." A look of confusion crossed Richie's face, to be quickly replaced by one of surprise. "Does this mean what I think it does?"

Tessa reached across the table and placed her hand over Riche's. "It means we want you to live with us."

"Permanently," Duncan added.

Richie didn't say anything. He just looked at the key, then Tessa, then Duncan and back to the key in his hand again. After a few moments more, he quietly spoke. "I can't believe this. Are you sure? I didn't think that you even trusted me."

Duncan sighed and waited until Richie looked at him before he answered. "It's true that I didn't trust you at first, but you've been staying with us a while now and you've given us no reason not to. Tessa and I have discussed this and we think that it's a good idea, especially for you."

Richie jumped up from his seat to hug Tessa while smiling happily at Duncan over her shoulder. "You won't regret this. I promise you. It was just a house, a place to live, but the antique shop will be a home."

"It will be our home, Richie, from now on." Tessa said.

*********

Still trying to rid himself of the memory, Duncan shook his head again. After they had given Richie the key, the evening had been one that would become typical for them. They had eaten and talked. No matter what was going on in their lives, the three of them had made a point to sit down to a meal together at least once a week.

"And now they're both gone. Tessa's dead and Richie's moved on." It had only been a week since Richie had left, but it had seemed like a year to Duncan. He knew that Richie could take care of himself, but it didn't keep him from worrying.

He was startled out of his thoughts by a knock on the window beside him. A man stood there, a concerned look on his face. "Can I help you with something?"

"Actually, I was going to ask you the same thing. I own the pizza place there and I've noticed that you've been sitting here for quite a while. I just wanted to make sure that you're okay."

"I am."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, I'm fine. Thank you though."

The man nodded and returned to his work in the restaurant.

With one last look at the building in front of him, Duncan started up the car and headed back toward Seacouver. As he thought about it again, he realized that neither Tessa or Richie was really gone. He thought about Tessa every day. He still loved her and always would, even if he survived for a thousand years. And Richie still lived. He didn't know when or where, but he knew he would eventually see him again. And then maybe his house, where ever it was, would once again be a home.

MWC: Milestones
(Warning ) Rated R, Flank Alert for those who need it.

Posted By: bookmom, who had a Very Naughty muse today! <slblack@idirect.com>
Date:
Friday, 25 January 2002, at 7:59 p.m.

Milestones

Dec. 21/02

Duncan sat in the little café overlooking the Seine. The water was dark and choppy, as was his mood. Another milestone birthday. The waitress brought his coffee. “Would Monsieur care for some grated chocolate?”

“Merci.” The delicious scents of coffee and rich dark shredded chocolate brought back to him one of his most erotic and loving memories of Tessa.

Dec.21/92

Duncan shivered again as he heard Tessa’s wicked chuckle in his ear. “Ah, my braw warrior can stand the cold here,” and she drew the ice cube down the centre of his chest again, “but can he stand it here?” The ice cube went lower to more delicate pastures.

“Agh, Tess,” was the strangled reply.
“Don’t worry my love, I’ll make it better.” Enveloping warmth replaced the ice cold.
Duncan gripped the sheets more tightly, a low moan escaping his lips.

He didn’t need to see to figure out what she was doing. He couldn’t see anyway. Tessa had bound his eyes the day before. She was slowly killing him on his 400th birthday. What in God’s name had made him agree to this torture? One whole weekend blindfolded and confined to their bed while she used every known means to pleasure him? He’d promised not to touch her either. More torture in his book.

He started out of his reverie as cold lips danced across his chest. His nipples hardened as a cold tongue licked one then the other. Tessa’s strong warm hands rubbed lightly over his muscular torso sending more sensuous shivers coursing through his body.

“Enough with the ice Tessa, pleeeease,” pleaded Duncan.

“Mon Cher has had enough?” She leaned over him, golden hair framing both their faces. She ran her tongue around his lips finally giving in to the kiss as Duncan surged up to capture her mouth. He was breathless and panting.

“Now, now Mon Cher, you promised not to do that. I think you deserve to be punished, non?”

“No! You’re already killing me Tess, what more can you do? No don’t answer that.”

In the last two days she had employed every technique from 91/2 Weeks and then some. Any time he had tried to kiss her or touch her, he was entreated to yet another delicious torture.

Without warning, she began to suck his toes. He almost lost it then and there.

“Now Duncan, do you promise not to do that again?” It fired her passion immensely to see his head thrown back and his long black hair scattered wildly on the pillow.

A strangled groan was all he could manage.

“Good.”

Tessa could see his control was nearing its end again. She had never pushed him this far before and was pleasantly surprised at how much he could take.

Her tongue made its way up the inside of one thickly muscled thigh, sending his hands scrabbling for purchase and his whole lower body arched toward her as her nose came to rest against his tight sacs. She rubbed her face against his velvet hardness making him plead with her once again.

“Pleeease, Tessa, he growled.” It was all he could do to stop himself from dragging her up and…

Blessed relief followed that thought as she lowered herself onto him. Warmth and softness flowed around him and over him. His arms encircled her, and he sighed with the sheer bliss of being able to touch her.

“Bon Anniversaire,” she whispered. “You are my heart and my soul Duncan. Je t’aime mon Cher.” Tessa whispered this over and over as their bodies merged and melded.

He lay exhausted and satiated, the ache in his body replaced by an ache in his soul. He knew one day he would lose the most extraordinary woman he had ever known.

She came back then, the smell of coffee like a balm. He heard the soft whiffle of something being grated before the aroma of bittersweet dark chocolate reached his nose.
“Café chocolat mon coeure?”

MWC: Lavender and Rose

Posted By: SBO, you might want to get out the hankies... <oertlingt@aol.com>
(IP: 129.109.166.146)
Date:
Monday, 28 January 2002, at 3:15 p.m.

Okay, gang, this should come with a schmaltz warning....

Rural France 1660

The noise from the tavern below the inn had ceased. Duncan gazed at the small, sleeping form beside him, the slow rhythmic sound of her breathing the only sound in the room, except the occasional crackle from the dying embers of the fire.

Perhaps that is just my heart breaking, he thought to himself. They knew in their minds, if not in their hearts that they must part. He was still young--still tracing his Immortal path—unsettled and, as she said, “trying to right all the world’s wrongs.” Grace’s village needed her for their birthings and their sufferings—they needed her even more than he did her—Duncan survived injury and had no illnesses while the villagers experienced only a brief moment on earth that seemed full of torments by comparison. From the day they met some months before, at the birth of the baby, Jeanne, he realized how vital her calling had been. But he had needed her also, to clear his head from the effects of his time with Kristin and the loss of Louise and to understand the true strength of an Immortal woman. If they could be happy together for a time, it could restore him just as she restored the sickly inhabitants of her village. And they were happy.

But the wanderlust was strong—nor had he been able to shed his warrior ways. Of this they had spoken many times. He would leave her for a few weeks and return, this arrangement worked for a while, however, she refused to tie him down or become a burden. He was learning another Immortal lesson—letting go, not through beheadings or mortal death—but for a more noble cause. Duncan decided that it didn’t hurt any less.

He tried to wrap himself around her without waking her. Grace stirred and turned to him, and with a sleepy “mmm” gave herself into his embrace. She smelled of lavender and her skin was the color and texture of a delicate rose he’d seen in Paris. Drawing a finger against the softness of her cheek, Duncan sighed sadly—he would never again see, smell, or touch these plants without thinking of her.

Perhaps he should just quietly slip out of the bed and her life. But that would be the coward’s way out, but then how could he face her knowing how she loved him. There was to be no easy answer, but he would lie here one more night in the comfort of her arms about him and their feelings for each other and face what was to come tomorrow.

The parting was difficult, as he’d imagined. Grace put on her bravest face for him. As they embraced for the last time, her composure broke a bit and he wiped a dewy tear from her rose colored cheek and breathed her lavender scent a last time. Grace assured him there would always be a place for him in her heart as long as it kept beating. Duncan promised to always be her white knight, and if any one be foolish enough to wrong her they’d have to face Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.

She watched as his horse rounded the corner and disappeared. She didn’t see him pluck a rose from a nearby climbing bush and crush it to his heart. His horse came to a halt as he wondered if he could go on….

Paris 2002

Duncan MacLeod sat on a park bench in the Square Rene Viviani beside St. Julien’s Church. It was a both a good and a bad place to think He was nearer to Darius here, but once he thought of his mentor, the other faces of those he loved and had lost began to dance in front of his eyes, and he began to mourn once more. It seemed he would never shake himself of the ghosts—especially the one of Connor.

Suddenly, a soft breeze carried layers of scents from the various flowers and herbs growing around him. Lavender, that was it…then rose… He turned to the small plot behind him and blooming side by side were a stalk of lavender and a rose bush bearing a single bloom, with a heavy drop of dew trailing down a soft petal. He brushed it away and remembered. Duncan knew then who then might offer him some solace and softly said, “Grace, perhaps your white knight is in need of your healing heart this time,” and wandered off to find her.

MWC: Uncommon Bonds ~1~

Posted By: Storie, with a flashback from the archives <storie@meteorologica.net>
Date:
Monday, 28 January 2002, at 2:15 p.m.

StorieLine: On April 18 2001 I posted my very first MWC in response to criteria requiring references to slavery and a cell phone. The story never quite left me alone, and came back to haunt me with a vengeance with the latest mid-week challenge. Part I is a revised version of the original Uncommon Bonds; Part II continues the story in response to the latest challenge. If my Muse keeps at it, perhaps in nine more months I’ll have a Part III!

§ § § § § § §

Uncommon Bonds

The smile did not mask the grief in Methos’ eyes. “Would you like to tell me about it?”

She drew herself back from wherever she had been and met his gaze head on. “What’s there to tell? My best friend is dead and it’s my fault.” She covered her face with her hands.

Methos wanted to touch her hair, offer reassurance, but for her to even speak to a man after all she had endured was surely torment enough. He braided his fingers into one white-knuckled fist. “Just start at the beginning and tell me what happened. There’s no hurry. There’s no more danger. You are safe, and we’ve all the time in the world.” He paused to smirk at his own irony. “So…you called a toll-free number advertising a trip to Marrakech…”

She sniffled, smeared away tears with the back of her hand. “I just wanted to do something exciting on my own. Jasmine was always the one to try new things and tell me about them. I was never allowed to do anything by myself. I got so tired of living in her shadow. You don’t know what it’s like to be sixteen years old for one hundred and fifty years! You’re always too young. You never know enough about anything. No one ever takes you seriously. Jasmine was twenty-five at her first death, so her age was perfect for whatever she wanted to do. We were together when I became immortal. She took care of me, taught me everything I needed to know in order to survive. We were like sisters. But she’s not my mother, and I told her so. I called the number because I just wanted to get away.”

She glanced at Methos. His expression morphed fierce-compassionate-angry-sad, but there was no judgment in his eyes. Offering the shadow of a smile, he nodded. “Go on.”

“They told me I didn’t need money. I would work on the cruise ship during the trip in return for my room and meals. When I arrived, they would evaluate my skills and give me a job with their company. I was guaranteed a position.”

Methos winced. “You didn’t tell Jasmine…”

She shook her head miserably. “I knew she’d explain all the reasons I shouldn’t go. Or she’d detail everything that was wrong with my plans and tell me how I could accomplish what I wanted to do, only better and faster and easier…or worse, she would insist on going with me so she could be in charge of the whole trip. And I can take care of myself, I mean, it’s not like I don’t know how to use a sword! So I stopped by the university on my way out of town to send her an e-mail. I knew by the time she checked her messages, I’d be well on my way.”

“But she came after you.”

“I didn’t know it was all a lie! I didn’t realize…I didn’t think…” She shuddered into heartbroken sobs. Sympathy conquered cool detachment as Methos draped his arms around the girl and held her in defiance of personal regrets that had haunted him since the dawn of time.

When the tears subsided Methos called for a nurse, who brought a mild sedative for the young patient; it would not work for very long, but perhaps a drug-induced sleep would spare her the nightmares she had suffered during the waking hours of the previous week. As he exited the hospital, Methos dug his cell phone out of a pocket and keyed in a number. The call was answered promptly.

“You were right, Joe; they were both here. Tell Amy that Jill is alive, but hurting; she has suffered things you’d rather not imagine. She’s going to need friends and a place to stay and time to recover. Local authorities are investigating the organization, but it’s bigger than they are. These ‘travel agents’ are luring young women from all over the world to various countries where they can be traded and sold like livestock.

“Jasmine…” Methos’ voice caught in his throat…”was beheaded attempting to rescue Jill.” Methos lingered for one more question. “All I know for certain is that there is at least one immortal involved. I haven’t seen him, but I have felt him. Don’t worry; I’ll find him.” Methos turned off the phone and closed his eyes against the too-late taunt of tender memories, breathing in an exotic perfume that wafted across the centuries …

§ § § § § § §

MWC: Uncommon Bonds ~2~

Pennsylvania - June, 1850

That she had been forbidden to visit the camp only determined Jane to go. Her parents and siblings retired early in the way of all the local farming families, and it was a simple enough matter to feign sleep until the others gave themselves over to it, and slip out the door.

Jane led the mule a generous half-mile before mounting from a neighbor’s fence. Two miles later she was met by friendly faces and ecstatic greetings, though she wasn’t sure if interest centered on her so much as on Old Dirt. It had not escaped Jane’s notice that the little caravan could use more animals to pull the weight of its people and the wagons in which they lived.

“Fine Djolano.” A toothless old man stroked the mule’s neck with a covetous gleam in his eye. Jane left her mount to his more-than-willing care and set off through the camp, enjoying the spirit of freedom epitomized by the joyously irrepressible music, by the brilliant Romani costumes capering in the firelight.

A familiar face abruptly materialized before her.

“Jane! I thought you would not come.” A disapproving press of the lips; “You did not ask permission; your family does not know you are here.”

“Please, Jasmine. You know how they are. They don’t want us to be friends. I think they are afraid of you all. Papa told Mama after supper that folks are saying some of you must be witches, because you do things ordinary people can’t do - your magic tricks have scared some of them. They call you heathen because you dance. I wanted to warn you that there might be trouble if you stay much longer.”

Jasmine laughed gaily. “Child, do not worry about me and my familia. Everywhere we go, it is the same; people fear what they do not understand. They might enjoy unfamiliar things and learn from travelers who have journeyed to far places as they share their prosperity with those who have less; instead they tolerate us for a very little while, until they have purchased the best of our horses and experienced the benefits of our herbs; until our young men get carried away and help themselves to the surplus of flocks and fields; then priests and physicians become jealous and the farmers become angry and provoke the community to shun us for being unclean and evil. Yes, we will move on eventually. For now, do not be concerned for us - join us instead as we celebrate!”

“What are you celebrating?”

Jasmine spread her arms wide and threw her head back, laughing to the stars. “Life!”

Her enthusiasm was contagious. It was the first thing Jane had noticed about her, after the vivacious smile and that cascade of lustrous, blue-black hair. Jasmine was beautiful and exotic, which Jane so desired to be, and offered friendship that was sadly missing from teenager’s life. Jane’s mother was a silent woman and rigid as though all affection had been drained from her heart at an early age. A married sister, two brothers and a father who believed firmly in the merits of hard labor left Jane both suffocated and lonely. Her mother had taught her to read before her father had determined that farm folks had no need of luxuries like education, especially his only daughter, who would fulfill her duties to mankind by marrying young, having as many children as she was able to give her husband, and raising them like Mama had raised her. Jane shuddered, remembering.

“I might not have much life left to celebrate. Papa said today that I should get married soon. I told him I don’t know any boys and he said he had somebody in mind. I’m scared, Jasmine. I don’t want to marry a stranger and start having babies. There are things I want to do first. I just don’t know what they are.”

Jasmine smiled warm and sincere. “We will talk more about this later. Your happiness is important, though your parents might not think so. It’s not that they don’t love you. The way of life your parents have followed doesn’t always permit for such nonessentials as happiness. Working so hard to raise and harvest crops, take care of the animals, maintain the farm, raise children strong and healthy and of good character - years of thankless dedication can take the heart out of people. They want security for you, Jane. Whether or not you are happy, they want to know you will have a place to live and food to eat and a family of your own.”

As tears flooded Jane’s eyes, Jasmine removed her colorful shawl and draped it around the girl’s shoulders, untied a scarf from her narrow waist and wound it in Jane’s hair. “Now, we forget all that and have a good time. Later we will discuss your future. Later we will talk of serious things. Now - we dance!”

And she did. Stringed instruments came alive around the fire even as Jasmine and Jane joined the throng already surrounding the musicians. Without noticing just when and how, Jane found herself leaping and twirling with the rest, imagining only briefly the revulsion her parents would feel if they knew she was dancing, and dancing with the Romani. They were strangers and foreign to all she had ever known, but they accepted her without reserve, shared their fire and their food and their fun, offered companionship and friendship and a sense of belonging Jane had never experienced before.

Time ceased to exist as the music played on into the night, fast and slow, for dancing and for singing. Jane did not know how long she had been among her new friends when angry voices carried into the camp, punctuated by gunfire. A woman screamed, a dog’s growl was cut short, and the music died. Jane watched horrified as torch-bearing men streamed throughout the camp, setting fire to the ornate wagons, shooting indiscriminately at women and men alike. The mood escalated into a frenzy and by the time they reached the communal camp fire, the interlopers were in blind rage. Jane staggered backward as a child who had held her hand just moments before was trodden under the hooves of a viciously driven horse. She heard Jasmine screaming her name and turned just in time to see one of the men impale her from behind, see the light fade from Jasmine’s eyes, watch her sag to the ground as the lifeblood flowed from her chest…the man turned his gaze on Jane, and the girl felt the last of her world crumbling away as she recognized her father’s brother. Did that mean her father was here, too, murdering her friends, shedding innocent blood?

Jane turned to run amidst the gunfire and the screams and the shouted accusations that justified the verdict. She had made three steps when she felt the impact and looked down in horror to find her abdomen partially eviscerated by gunfire at close range.

“Pagan dog!” came the reason. “No-good gypsy trash! Go back to the hell from whence you came! Let’s see your demon magic fix this!”

Jane’s legs buckled as she pulled Jasmine’s shawl tighter around her shoulders in one last act of defiance. It didn’t hurt, Death, she thought; it was actually quite gentle and easy, to just collapse against the grass and close her eyes. Chaos came in that final moment, as soul and body were torn asunder, as the spirit was rent from her body with the final breath of her brief life. She felt the division of the physical and spiritual. Why wasn’t it leaving, came her last thought. Why wasn’t her spirit going home?

There must have been a period of rest, of peace; later, she could not remember, nor would she ever remember when Death stole precious moments of her life. It all came together in one horrifying rush, soul and body reuniting, colliding inside her, the breath of Life filling her lungs and causing her to gasp in terror, eyes opening wide against the momentary agony, screaming out in protest against this aberration of reality.

The scream emerged as a whimper.

Jane sat upright before memory reminded her that she wasn’t able to do so. She looked down at her chest and stomach, trying to take in what she was seeing that could not be true. Gone was Jasmine’s shawl and her own bloodied dress. A nightshirt had been buttoned around her, clean and white. Jane shoved her arms through the sleeves and raised the shirt to look at her stomach, unblemished as when she had left home…when? How long ago? And where was she? Jane looked around the tiny room, recognizing the inside of a wagon, but not one of the Romani wagons. None of the garish fabrics and musical ornaments graced this one - just rough wood and a couple of rusty lanterns for decoration. It was daylight - Jane could see that much. She turned sideways on her mattress - muslin stuffed with straw - and waited for her mind to clear, to recall where she was and how she had arrived.

Her pondering was rudely interrupted by an inner vibration, distant at first, then increasing, thrumming through her mind, through the very core of her being. Terrified anew, gasping with fear, she put her hands to each side of her head and cried out against the unwelcome invasion she had never experienced before and could not identify.

“Mama!”

A door opened at the back of the wagon; someone stepped inside and closed it quickly. The thrumming subsided to a dull throb as Jane shrank back from the individual before her and decided she surely must have lost her mind.

She swallowed hard. “You’re not my Mama.”

Jasmine’s smile was bittersweet. “And you’re not my daughter. But we are all that’s left to each other this morning. I have many things to tell you, to explain to you, but first we need to distance ourselves from your hometown. Say goodbye in your heart, Jane, because you can’t go back, not for a very long time.”

“You look different. Oh, Jasmine, your hair! What have you done to your hair!”

“What, you don’t like my new look? I’ve needed a change for a while, and now is as good a time as any to make one.”

“You look like a boy in those clothes.”

“That’s the idea, my friend.”

“Jasmine…”

“We’ll talk about it later, Jane, I promise we will.”

“Jasmine, I saw you die. I was dead, Jasmine, I know I was dead, I felt it, felt it…here,” she touched her stomach, “and here!” she crossed both hands on her heart and leaned against Jasmine’s shoulder, sobbing for only a moment before Jasmine held her back at arm’s length.

“It is important for us to travel now. You get some rest. There are some clothes for you in that trunk - neither the height of fashion nor the perfect fit, but they will serve their purpose for a time. I will explain all this later. The horses are hitched and we’re ready to go. Let me know when you’re hungry,” and she rose to leave.

“Jasmine…where are the others? Your familia? Our friends? They can’t all be gone…”

The smile tapered into an expression Jane could not decipher. She pressed further, in spite of herself. “Is it my fault they are all dead? Did Papa come after me? Is that why it happened?”

“Later,” Jasmine insisted. “Rest now, quietly. Don’t poke your head out the window and don’t make any noise for a while. In a few hours you can come out and sit by me. Maybe you can even take the reins for a while.”

“I’m scared.”

“Trust me.”

Jane was too tired to consider if there were any other options. She lay back against the fragrant mattress and closed her eyes and allowed herself to be rocked to sleep by the irregular sway of the wagon.

§ § § § § § §

Blessings,

Storie

MWC: Where the Heart Is

Posted By: Ysanne <ysanne_1@yahoo.com>
Date:
Monday, 28 January 2002, at 1:16 p.m.

Amanda lay quietly on her side, the duvet tucked cozily around her and one arm bent to pillow her sleek head. Her usually mobile face wore an expression of intense concentration. She studied Duncan MacLeod as he slept, her bright brown gaze traveling slowly over the face that was so familiar, yet always so intriguing. She raised an index finger to feather the curve of one thick brow, and then lightly explore the velvety skin of his temple and the prickly line of his jaw. She closed the small distance between them and cat-like, rubbed her face gently against MacLeod’s smooth shoulder, closing her eyes to savor his warm, unique scent.

Immediately she was taken back to the very first time she had met MacLeod, kissed him, and picked his pocket. His scent had been the same, albeit stronger in those days of sketchy personal hygiene. He had been such a charming mixture of rube, rake, and youthful sweetness that she and Rebecca had been unable to resist him. While Rebecca had liked the handsome Scot well enough, and even learned to trust him, Amanda had been drawn to Duncan in a myriad of ways, only one of which was mutual lust.

She smiled dreamily as she recalled the hectic, dangerous excitement of her earlier years; in those days she had followed anything or anyone that took her fancy. She had broken every rule, and reveled in the breaking. Unfortunately, her impulsiveness sometimes landed her in more trouble than she could handle. Much as she hated to admit it, the Highlander had sacrificed his Scottish dignity to rescue her from a sultan's dungeon, to excavate her from a shallow grave after she had been shot while robbing banks, and to save her from angry Nazis. There may have been a few more incidents, but she hurriedly whisked them back into her box of memories without examining them.

She sighed with the realization that their times together had often meant rescue for her but trouble for MacLeod. With the trouble came shouting and arguments as well as exquisite hours of making up, so why did she keep coming back for more? There were legions of men easier to please and eager to indulge her every whim, whether legal or illegal. Actually, there were very few boy scouts among her acquaintances.

She shook her head ruefully and snuggled closer to MacLeod’s solid strength, With his steady, dependable heart beating under her ear, she mulled over the ways her life had changed in the centuries since they had met. Even though their relationship was not easily defined, MacLeod had provided a haven for her restless spirit by simply offering his open heart every time she returned. Without planning it, without even knowing that she needed it, she had been subtly altered by his friendship.

Raising herself on one elbow, she kissed each corner of his lush mouth, and caressed the slight abrasiveness of his morning beard. Her lover stirred under her touch, and she enjoyed watching him wake. With his eyes still closed, he voiced a contented “mm” and then captured her hand with his larger one to press a kiss into her palm. He stretched slowly and thoroughly, then gathered her into his arms, revealing sleepy dark eyes that were full of humor and affection.

“Amanda,” he said softly, smiling up at her.

There it was, the hot, sweet piercing of her heart. Through all the long years she had never lost the intensity of that feeling; she knew she never would. She returned his smile with a look so uncharacteristically tender that Duncan's eyes widened a bit, and his arms tightened around her. Suddenly feeling very vulnerable, Amanda hid her face in his neck and nuzzled the warm flesh there, flesh scented with the memory, acceptance and love that meant home.

Ysanne

MWC: The Smell of Death

Posted By: lynnannCDC
Date:
Sunday, 27 January 2002, at 9:16 p.m.

He moved through the battlefield and the realization came to him that death still smelled the same. Blood. Sweat. Smoke. Vomit. Urine. Fear. The centuries had not changed the smell of fear. Only increased the bite of it with the acrid smell of the spent gunpowder that lingered over the land.

The cries of the wounded and the dying were still the same. That hadn’t changed at all -- only the language was different. Men still called out to their God, pleading to Him, cursing Him, and they cried out for loved ones in a distant land they would never see again. They screamed in agony and whimpered in pain. The men, the horses. It burdened his soul that he had once been a participant in the very act of it, delivering it to those who opposed him. Death.

He knelt and gave brief comfort to one, and then moved on. It was the presence of another like him that gave him pause. He did not scan the faces of the men, for such an act would reveal him to the Other. He did not fear death, but he did not wish for it when there was so much for him to do. He could only continue to move, picking his way through the dead and dying.

A brief moment of contact and the truth was revealed.

A sword partially drawn.

The challenge made.

“I am Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod.”

We meet at last. Only your kind would carry a wounded comrade. “I’m Darius,” the holy man said quickly, softly, dismissing the sword with a glance. “You won’t need that.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

thanks for reading
lynnann

MWC: Salad Days

Posted By: Wain <wamba.wamba@verizon.net>
Date:
Sunday, 27 January 2002, at 6:34 a.m.

"What’s with this onion?" Richie took a careful sniff of his salad. "It smells weird."

He speared a white curve with his fork, peered at it, and nibbled. "It tastes like licorice or something."

"That’s not onion, Richie," Tessa, "it’s fennel."

Duncan swallowed a mouthful of salad before saying, "Go on, Rich. Eat it. It’s good to try new things."

Tessa said, "My mother used to put it in salads. It’s good."

"Is this how they get French people to eat weird stuff like snails and frog legs? Brainwash them when they’re kids?" Richie asked, poking his fork in the salad and looking under the lettuce for suspicious ingredients.

Tessa looked hurt. Duncan turned a no-nonsense glare on Richie, who dutifully stabbed into his salad bowl and raised the fork to his mouth.

He put it down and said, "Tess, it’s not like you’re not a good cook or anything. You’re great; I mean it." He drew the fork along the rim of the bowl, and the salad fell back inside. He twirled the fork for a moment and started pulling the thin slices of fennel to one side of the bowl.

"It’s just," Richie said, "I don’t know how to explain it. I guess I’m not hungry."

Tessa looked at Richie’s bowl, where curved fennel slices were being sorted to one side, held in place by the vinaigrette.

"Richie, what are you doing?"

§ § §

"Richie, what are you doing?" Mom asks. I’m on the ground ‘cause there’s a puddle there with a rainbow in it, and I can swirl the rainbow with my finger.

Mom takes my other hand and makes me stand up. She puts a tissue in her mouth and cleans my finger with it.

"You’re going to get dirty, Richie," she says. "Look, here comes our bus."

She gives me the special bus card, and if I’m careful, she’ll let me show it to the bus driver.

"What’s the number on the bus?"

The numbers are big and red and on the front of the bus. "Two seven," I tell Mom.

She gives me a big hug. I like Mom’s hugs. They’re the bestest hugs of all the moms I had, ‘cause she’s soft but her hugs are real hard and they don’t hurt.

Mom lets me pick the seat on the bus, and I like the window. I like to blow my breath on it so I can draw pixtures. If the ride isn’t too jiggly, I make believe that the bus isn’t moving but that the stuff outside it is moving. Flying houses are funny. I wish I can live in one.

We get off the bus near the post office, and I say bye to the bus driver. Mom starts to hit my knee and I say ow but it doesn’t really hurt.

"Ow?" Mom asks. "Did that hurt?" and I say no, and she smiles and says my pants look clean now. She looks at the bottom of my pants and turns them over and looks mad.

"You need new pants again. You’re growing like a weed, Richie," Mom says.

I don’t know what a weed is, but I think it’s big and tall. Mom starts to walk, and I go with her, and we don’t step on any cracks on the sidewalk. We walk to the pet store, and I look for the fish in the window that looks like the fishie night light Mom put in the bathroom so we can get there when it’s nighttime.

"Mom, do you think that fish think that it’s raining all the time?" I ask, and Mom says prolly. I think so, too.

Then we go to the post office. I like the door there ‘cause it’s magic and when you jump on the magic spot on the floor, the door opens all by itself. Usually I can open it three times before Mom tells me to stop it. Then I go where Mom is, to this wall with lots of little gold doors on them, and all of the doors have funny spinny doorknobs with numbers. I can reach the bottom row of doors now, and I make all of the doorknobs have the same number on the top.

"Look, Mom!" I say, and I show her the doorknobs. "I spinned them all to the same number."

Mom is on her knees so she’s little like me, and she looks at the doors and asks me, "Is five your favorite number because you’re five?" and I smile ‘cause she’s right.

Mom lets me go bathroom at the post office. I like the bathroom ‘cause they have those standing-up peeing things on the wall, and I can pee like a big guy. Maybe next time Mom and I go to the store in the church basement the lady will have pants for me that have a zipper. Then I’ll really be a big guy.

"Did you wash your hands?" Mom says

I say yes and ask if we look like mountains to germs because we’re so big and they’re so little and Mom says that germs don’t have eyes. How do they see where they’re going?

Then we go to my favoritest candy store. I run to the comics books and lay on the floor and read them with my Luke Skywalker action figure. The floor is shiny and cold on my tummy. Luke likes the comics books this week. Me too.

Mom calls me, and Luke and I go to the counter.

"Can you say hello to Mr. Stubbs, honey?" Mom asks.

"Hello, Mr. Tubby."

Mom says I can have a piece of candy.

"Just one," Mom says.

And Mr. Tubby takes the top off the candy jar and says I can have two. He winks at me and his big, hairy eyebrow wiggles up and down.

I take two pieces of licorice and start to eat one, and Mom looks at me with her eyebrows up so her far head looks like it’s going to disappear.

"Fanks for the licorice," I say, and Mom’s far head comes back again and she smiles.

I go back to the comics books, ‘cause Mom says we’re going soon but she and Mr. Tubby are talking, and when grown-ups talk, they like to talk for a real long time before they go. I go past the mirror and stick my tongue out, and it’s all brown from the licorice. When Mom’s not talking to Mr. Tubby anymore, I’m gonna ask her why mirrors have all of the colors that we are inside them.

I get Luke out of my pocket, and the other piece of licorice is Darth Vader and Luke gets him with his light saber. It’s not the real light saber ‘cause I lost it, but I found a stick in the park, and Mom painted it for me. But it kills the bad guy anyway, and then he’s licorice again and I eat it.

Then Mr. Tubby makes a funny noise, and Mom falls down just like she does when we play ring around the rosey. She falled down really good this time, and I tickle her and tell her it’s time to get up, but she’s playing really, really good today, and makes believe that I’m not tickling her.

Mr. Tubby goes away into his little room and comes back again and tells me to stop. I tell him that Mom’s a really good ring around the rosey player, and he looks at me funny. I wait a little for Mom to get up, but she doesn’t.

I hear an ambulance and some police mans and ambulance mans come inside and look at Mom, and I’m scared. Mom says it’s okay for big guys to be scared sometimes. Mr. Tubby picks me up so high I can touch the lights if I want to, but I don’t want to.

"Well, lad," he says. "What are we going to do with you?" and I look down, and Mom’s on this little bed with wheels and the ambulance mans are taking her outside, and I don’t want them to do anything with me ‘cause I didn’t do anything bad.

A police lady comes in and says I have to go with her, and she gives me a hug, but she’s not soft like Mom and her belt’s all pokey. Mr. Tubby gives me another piece of licorice and a comics book, and the police lady asks if I ever been in a police car for a ride before.

§ § §

"What are we going to do with you?" Duncan asked, exasperated.

Startled, Richie mixed the fennel back into his salad again and pushed away from the table. "Look, guys, I think I’m just not hungry tonight. I’m going to go for a walk or something."

He started for the door, and Tessa called after him to ask if he was all right.

"Yeah. Fine. No problem." Richie’s voice was thick. He was on the sidewalk before the last word was out of his mouth.

"What’s wrong with him?" Tessa asked, half rising from her seat.

Duncan put his hand on her arm to stop her. "I don’t know. Let him go; he’ll let us know when he needs to talk."

"Are you sure?"

Duncan nodded at her reassuringly, and she sat down again to finish dinner. She examined a sliver of fennel on the end of her fork. "If he’s not back in an hour, you’ll go and look for him," she said.

"I promise."

MWC (last week's) Adam's Peak

Posted By: Ghost Cat <ghost_cat@hotmail.com>
Date:
Friday, 1 February 2002, at 2:08 a.m.

MacLeod's eyes swept the room casually, noting a tile floor, little wrought iron tables, comfortable armchairs and sofas and finally the pleasantly crackling fireplace. Cargo and James had all the marks of a modern trendy coffee shop-except the coffee. The shelves behind the counter were completely filled with jar after jar of loose tea. Depending on who was asked, Cargo and James had anywhere between seventy-five and a hundred different teas, and not a filter bag in sight.

Fitzcairn would have loved this place Duncan thought to himself, hiding a smile behind the rim of his cup. He savoured the taste of a variety Deb had simply insisted he try; in spite of the name (Samurai… the woman was incurable) it was an excellent brew. Thinking of Deb, he sighed into his cup, provoking a wisp of steam. MacLeod hadn't heard a word from the author since she left for a vacation down in New Orleans. She's not a child. If Debra couldn't take care of herself by now there wasn't anything he could do about it. Forcing worry from his mind, he hitched his chair closer to the fire and leaned back to enjoy his tea. Such was the relaxed mood of the place that he sat with his back to the door.

Duncan was jolted out of his reverie by the sudden presence of another Immortal nearby. Scalding hot tea splashed from a hastily dropped cup; the armchair was fortunately too heavy to overturn as he leapt to his feet. An amused voice spoke almost at his ear, "Relax Mac; you wouldn't want to make a scene." MacLeod knew that voice; he turned around slowly, confirming his suspicions. "Sheila? How-"

The redheaded Immortal laughed gently, taking a seat on the other side of the fire. "Q stealthing," she answered quietly. "I'm sure you've always suspected it. Matthew says that once you learn a skill, it's good to practice it."

"Matthew?" It was beginning to seem as if everything was to be a question today.

Sheila shrugged, slouching into the chair in a manner that clearly announced to whom they were referring. "Well, I can't exactly call him 'Methos' in public, and learning mortal combat from 'Adam' is just too weird; so we compromised."

It was Duncan's turn to laugh. "And how has, um, Matthew, been treating you?"

"Working me to the bone, sometimes literally. He's on his way here. I told him, after everything he's put me through lately, I deserve a Cargo and James moment." She paused for a moment, frowning as she searched for a familiar face. "Speaking of the C&J Experience, where is Debra? I was sure she'd retreat here after losing half a novel just before deadline."

MacLeod shook his head once, a smile softening the firmness of the gesture. "That particular crisis went far beyond curable-by-tea proportions. The Northlander has gone south." He cringed slightly as he added, "With Amanda." Any further discussion was curtailed by the interruption of yet another Immortal presence. A man with dark hair and a taste for heavy-knit sweaters slipped in so casually that even the servers didn't look up. Sheila noticed him though, and the way she quickly crossed the room to greet him suggested a relationship that had gone beyond mentor and student. You sly old devil Duncan thought to himself, belatedly attempting to dab a wet tea stain off a silk shirt.

Methos was at that awkward middle stage and he hated being awkward at anything; no longer a complete C&J novice, he wasn't completely comfortable with the whole concept either. This much tea in one place reminded him of rich caravans crossing the desert. Half the time, he wasn't sure if he should buy something or just pillage the place. Idly, because it was expected here, he picked up one of the small tester jars and sniffed the contents. Finding nothing to pique his interest, he put that one down and picked up another. Always attracted to the best, he gravitated toward the rare section. He hesitated at a jar containing pale leaves, dusted with a silvery fur almost like peach fuzz. His fingers closed over the jar; without even a glance at the label, he held it close and inhaled deeply-

Blessed solitude, a landscape that was harsh but beautiful. The constant half-floating sensation that comes from living over seven thousand feet above sea level. Air so clear and pure that the wind could pick up a delicate scent miles away and make it seem as if you stood in the middle of its source. The subtle scent of the lightly furred plants as they sprouted their first leaves announced the coming of another spring. There was a time when he had survived for years, sometimes decades, on nothing but a tea brewed from those white tips.

A hand touched his shoulder gently; "Is everything okay? For a moment you looked like you were a million miles away… or a thousand years." He shook himself back to reality, mentally cursing his lapse in vigilance. He gave his student his most reassuring smile, "No trouble, just…remembering." He caught the attention of one of the servers. "I'll have a large-" he finally looked down at the label, an ironic smile curling his lip-"Adam's Peak." Openly curious, Sheila took an amazingly short time to choose her blend, student and mentor returned to the table, waiting for the tea to steep.

"Adam's Peak," Sheila remarked with a suspicious frown. "Is there something you neglected to mention, oh Mentor mine?"

"A mountain, in Sri Lanka. And before you ask, no, it certainly wasn't named after me. Although in a strange way, it may have influenced how I named myself." Duncan and Sheila shared a sidelong glance, neither one of them had ever seen him quite so philosophical nor were they quite sure what to do about it. "It's one of the few places on Earth that is considered a Holy Site to no less than four major religions. There's a mark near the peak-Sri Pada they call it, the Holy Footprint. The Hindus say it was a step from Shiva's dance of creation; Islam maintains it's Adam's own footprint, from standing a thousand years of penance on one foot after losing Eden. Buddhists say the Buddha himself left his true mark beneath the obvious one, on a giant sapphire. Even the Christians got in on the act, claiming it was a print left by St. Thomas when he first 'converted' the local people." A bit of the old self-mocking humour returned as he added a flippant "I'm sure you can guess which belief I favoured."

MacLeod chuckled softly; "I always pictured you as being a closet Shiva supporter. Creation through destruction is just your style." With a sly look in her eye, Sheila asked, mock casually, "So, what really *did* leave that mark on the mountain?"

Methos paused noticeably, hiding his obvious discomfort behind a front of righteous indignation. "Now look here, Young Lady, show a little respect for your elders. I may have been around for a while, but that doesn't mean I'm older than a bloody mountain." Any further commentary was delayed by the delivery of their drinks: two cups and two gently steaming teapots.

Everyone stopped to pour, with Duncan refilling his cup just to be sociable. Methos had his nose practically in the cup even as he poured, taking in great deep breaths of aromatic steam. Looking at him, Sheila couldn't help but laugh. "Are you going to drink that, or just inhale it?" MacLeod winked slyly at her across the table, "Well, he does have the nose for it." The Old Man didn't seem to notice the needling; it was as if he were in another world. Could it really be that there had been *some* pleasant memories in his long history? No, there was more to it than that. Duncan had seen the look in his eyes, swiftly masked; it was an expression rarely seen, but unmistakable… guilt.

While MacLeod was still frowning his suspicions into his cup, Sheila took the direct approach, as blunt as ever. "Debra may not be here today, but even I can smell a story in this one. You've got a pleasant fire, a warm soothing drink and two sets of sympathetic ears. I wouldn't kill you to share *some* part of your life with the people close to you."

Methos stayed silent for the time it took to drink his first cup of Adam's Peak. He poured his second cup, staring into the steam as if seeking visions. He started his tale in an unusually subdued voice; the others leaned forward instinctively. "I was in a bad way when I first got to Sri Lanka. I had just left the Horsemen, but in rejecting my past, I rejected the only identity I had ever known. An irresistible need for solitude drove me onward; I needed somewhere where I could think. If you'll forgive the phrase, I went off to find myself." It was sheer luck that avoided twin spit-takes at that one. Methos paused for another sip and continued.

"Landing on this small island off the coast of India, I felt as if I were the ultimate outsider and I was sure that I was the first human being to touch the top of that mountain. I was half right. The mountain was… I can't explain it. It had its own kind of savage beauty, a peaceful solitude. This was a place that I wanted; no, needed for my own. But I wasn't alone."

"You spent a thousand years or so travelling with three other Immortals and you couldn't share a mountain with one Immie you had never even met?"

"Don't interrupt woman; you weren't there, you can't understand. I wanted this place and, despite my desire to change, the only way I knew to get something I wanted was to take it." He closed his eyes, bowing his head; it took a visible effort for him to continue. "I found a flimsy excuse for a fight; he wasn't much of a challenge…"

It was Duncan's turn to speak up, barely managing to keep from being overheard. "You took a head on a site that was Holy to four different religions!?!"

Methos held up his hands, speaking quickly as he tried to explain. "I said it's a Holy Site now. At that time, none of those cultures had even heard of the place. How was I to know that the Veddas already thought it was the home of one of their guardian spirits? I waited for the power to come, but I could never be ready for what hit me. The body burned to ashes right before my eyes. The stone itself vaporized, as if the mountain wanted to erase all evidence of the death. There was nothing left but a man-sized impression in solid rock-"

Sheila's voice was an awed whisper; "Sri Pada, the Holy Footprint."

"-Exactly. "That's what the mountain did to the body of my rival; I was blasted from the peak like a dog shaking off fleas. I was barely alive, even as our type counts it. "The local people seeing the lightshow, must have thought there was a war in heaven. Then they found me, a fallen angel. They took me in, sheltered me. My care became a sacred trust, passed down from generation to generation. There is a period of time where all I remember is gentle hands, and tea. It took centuries, but I recovered. After my miraculous revival I could have gone; I should have disappeared. These people respected me, but they didn't worship me. And I still felt that amazing sense of calm and serenity. I had found myself, but I had found something else I hadn't even known I was looking for… a home. It didn't last long. Rumours of the Mark flourished, spread by bored sailors, and soon the pilgrims started coming. When they built a shrine around the spot, I knew my solitude was lost forever. I had forgotten the place. Until now."

A story like that could only elicit dead silence. Not an accusatory silence, nor a pitiful one. This was a shared silence, a silence to honour a very personal revelation. Methos leaned back in his chair, cup in hand, sprawling casually. "Maybe I could go back there." Sheila and Duncan exchanged glances, wondering if he was serious. "I could harvest tea for a few decades, kind of an extended holiday." The same mental image wandered through their minds. Laughter burst from three throats as one. "Come on Methos, I'll buy you a real drink."

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