Highlander: Stolen Child

"Come away, Oh human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery hand in hand

For the world's more full of weeping

Than you can understand."

--William Butler Yeats

It had not always been dark.

He could remember a time when there had been light. He had been warm and safe. He had not always been cold and hungry and wet. There had been laughter. There had been joy. And... there had been love.

He rocked back and forth in the darkness, trying to recall how he had come to be here. But there were no answers. Only the silence, and the dark...

A small light moved slowly toward him in the darkness, and finally shown brightly in his eyes.

"Ahh...I've found you..." she said. She turned the light so it shown on her face. "See... it's only me. Time to go." She reached out her hand.

Implicitly he trusted her. He placed his small hand in hers and crept out of his hiding place.

"That's right..." she smiled and stood up. Her voice reminded him of tinkling bells. "Follow me now, little one." And they made their way through the darkness, carefully picking their way through the rubble.

"I know who you are," he ventured.

She stopped, pausing as though in thought. "Do you little one? Then who am I?"

"Eleanor...lady of the light!" He grinned. The words had come fast and furious and he did not know from where. But they seemed right.

She looked at him thoughtfully, then slowly cocked her head to one side in a movement that seemed eerily familiar.

He tried again. "You're my sister...Ellie." He grinned once more, hopeful that this time he had it right.

She gazed at him intently. "Sister? Hmm... I can do that. Now then..." she crouched down before him and looked intently into his eyes. "What's your name?"

For a moment nothing came to him. Then he smiled. "Derrick! I'm Derrick."

Ellie nodded and smiled back at him. She slowly raised her left hand and gently stroked the side of his face. She pushed a lock of hair out of his eyes. "Derrick," she murmured, " I like Derrick. I can work with that. Shall we go?"

She stood and once more held out her hand. He grasped it firmly and followed her out into the morning light. This time, he was certain, she wouldn't let him go. And he wouldn't lose her. Not again. Never again.

***

Duncan MacLeod concentrated intently on the chessboard. Across from him, George Layton puffed on his pipe, his eyes betraying his amusement. Duncan finally moved the bishop...and sat back.

"Good move... predictable... but still a smart move... a safe move." George quickly, and almost without looking shifted one of his pawns. He puffed once more on his pipe, crossed his arms and grinned at Duncan.

"You're up to something... I know it!" Duncan stared once more at the chessboard, but try as hard as he could; he could not see what his friend was up to. "In the four years of our weekly games...why is it I've never been able to figure you out." Duncan grasped his knight, then let go and stared at the board again, trying to see it not as it was... but as it could be. Still, whatever George was up to, whatever his plan of attack... Duncan could see nothing. He leaned back in the chair and looked about him, feeling the slight sense of a pre-immortal nearby.

The park was filled with people this time of day. Old men, like his friend George, playing chess at the tables... mothers and children in the play area... workers on lunch break from their offices... some at the nearby hot dog cart. Someone was close by... very close.

"Giving up, Duncan? That's not like you... not like you at all." George interrupted Duncan's train of thought.

The immortal shrugged his shoulders and returned his attention to the board. He grasped the knight once more and started to move it.

"Not that one!"

Duncan froze for only an instant, then looked up at the source of the comment.

A small boy of perhaps ten stood next to their table. His sandy hair was shaggily cut and his clothes, which somehow seemed both too big and too small, were ragged and filthy. He carried a faded backpack over one shoulder. Dirt... old dirt... and the aroma of one too long without a bath permeated the air.

"You shouldn't move that piece," the boy said, "not if you want to win." Two wide blue eyes met Duncan's. This boy was the one he had sensed.

Duncan smiled genially. "Oh... and what move would you make."

The boy gazed at the board intently then glanced over at George. He shrugged at the older man as if to ask permission.

"It's fine with me," George nodded and motioned with one hand toward the game.

Duncan watched as the boy touched Duncan's bishop almost tenderly. His fingers seemed to caress the piece as though recalling it or a piece like it from some other time... some other game. He shifted the bishop. Then removed his hand and looked at George.

The old man straightened, uncrossed his arms, removed his pipe and stared at the game. "Well... I'll be..." He moved one hand to his king and chuckled as he flicked it over.

Duncan stared at the board, still not seeing the reason for George's sudden capitulation. "How? Why?"

"The problem my young friend," said George as he began to reset the board, "is that while you see two, maybe three moves ahead, I usually see five or six moves ahead. Now this boy," he gestured toward him and then motioned him to sit down, "sees the board as I do."

The boy seemed suddenly shy. He glanced about as though looking for someone. Finally he nodded, removed his backpack and slid into the seat vacated by Duncan.

George finished setting the board. "First or last...do you care?" Duncan could hear the sense of excitement in George's voice.

The boy shrugged.

George made the first move. Quick as lightning the boy returned the move and George countered. Duncan watched as they quickly moved through the opening set, trying to see what they saw. Five moves into the game, George hesitated... his eyes shifted back and forth over the pieces. He sighed and once more flicked over his king.

He began to chuckle. "Been a long time since I've lost two games in a row... and never in so spectacular a fashion."

Duncan shook his head. "I don't see it." He'd been playing for centuries and considered himself pretty good, but George was one of the best chess players he had ever met. The old man always seemed to know what moves Duncan would make, and always had a counter move ready.

"That, my friend," George replied, "is why I always beat you." He held out his hand to the boy. "Put her there, young fellow. Good game."

The boy seemed to shrink within himself for a moment... uncertain as to what to do. Then he gingerly shook hands and rose to go on his way.

"You know," Duncan suddenly said brightly, "anyone who can beat George Layton deserves a reward."

The boy glanced back, and shook his head. "I'm fine... I don't need a reward."

"Well..." Duncan paused dramatically, "I was thinking of a hot dog and maybe a soda?"

The boy hesitated. His eyes said it all as he glanced at the nearby hot dog cart. He licked his lips. "No... I can't... I'm not supposed to..." He shrugged.

George smiled at him, "Talk to strangers? Accept gifts? Good lad. Well. I'm George and my young friend here is Duncan. So what's your name?"

The boy looked longingly at the hot dog cart. He then looked around once more as if searching for someone. Finally he nodded. "I'm Derrick."

Duncan pulled out a few bills as he walked toward the cart. "I like them with catsup. How do you like yours?"

"With everything?" The boy grinned.

"Two dogs... one with catsup and one with everything...and two sodas. You want anything George?"

The old man was packing up his pieces. "No... I'm fine."

Derrick sat down again and waited for Duncan to set the soda in front of him and hand him the hot dog. His eyes widened in anticipation as he took his first bite. Some of the chili oozed over his fingers and he hungrily licked it up. Then he grinned once more and bit down again, chewing away and swallowing as if any second the food would vanish before he could consume it. He seemed simply a very hungry little boy.

George leaned over to Duncan. "I still have contacts down in Social Services. If ever a kid needed them... he seems to." Duncan nodded. No child should be on the streets... but a pre-immortal child was looking at an early death... and most likely a permanent one.

As if in response to his thought... he felt the presence of another immortal. He looked around. The people in the park were all moving along... lost in their mortal lives. Then he saw her. She was standing as still as Duncan was sitting. Her clothes were as ragged and worn as Derrick's, and her blonde streaked hair was pulled back from her face and caught up in a ponytail. She looked young, about eighteen, and was thin as though she were years since her last good meal. She wore an old army fatigue jacket that Duncan was certain concealed a blade of some sort. She stared at him... no, not at him... at the boy.

"Derrick!"

The boy turned. A huge smile broke across his face. "Ellie!" He turned back to the two men. "That's Ellie... she's my sister. He leaped up and ran to her. She enfolded him in her arms... but it was Duncan she was warily watching.

George leaned over and muttered to Duncan, "Even money bets she's not really his sister. They never are." Duncan looked quizzically at his friend. "Kids on the street," continued George. "In my thirty-four years with Social Services, I learned one very real thing. These kids make their own families. They're almost never related."

Duncan nodded. "I think you'd win that bet."

"Yeah..." George continued, "and I still think I ought to call my contacts. These kids need help."

Duncan rose and slowly walked toward the pair. Ellie, if that was her name, had crouched down in front of Derrick and seemed to be quizzing him on his activities. As Duncan approached, she rose and maneuvered Derrick behind her while she met Duncan's gaze evenly. Duncan lifted his hand in open greeting, trusting that she would make no sudden moves in the crowded park. "My name's Duncan MacLeod. You two look like you could use some help."

Ellie tossed her head. "We're just fine. Thanks anyway." She turned and grasped Derrick's shoulder, "Time to go little one."

"My pack!" Derrick twisted out of her grip and ran back to the chess table to get his backpack.

Ellie gasped but kept her eyes on Duncan. He smiled and reached into his pocket. He pulled out his money clip and pulled off several twenties. Then he pulled one of his business cards out of his shirt pocket and folded it into the money. "Here," he held out the money to her.

She glanced down at the money then back at Duncan. "We don't need your money. Derrick...let's go."

"How long since you've eaten?" Duncan motioned once more with the hand holding the money.

She chuckled. "From the looks of Derrick's chin, I'd say about five minutes. Really... we're fine. We don't need anything."

"What about a bath... a place to stay. There are shelters." Duncan felt the need to press his case. He leaned toward her and whispered, "He shouldn't be on the street. It's not safe. You know that."

Derrick re-joined them. Ellie placed a hand about his shoulders. "I look after him. We're fine."

"You're not fine. Take the money." Duncan grabbed at her coat and stuffed the wad of money into a pocket.

She gasped and backed away. But she left the money in her pocket. "Thanks. Let's go Derrick." They turned and began to walk off through the park.

After going only a few steps, Derrick suddenly stopped and turned back toward Duncan. A far away look was in his eyes, as if he were listening to something. He nodded, then raised one hand. "Peace be with you Duncan MacLeod." Then he turned and followed his sister.

Startled, Duncan took another step forward as if to stop them. Then he stopped. He shook his head as if to clear it. It had to be just a coincidence.

George walked up beside him, still puffing on his pipe. "You shouldn't have given them money. Buy them a meal...watch them eat it...and get them to go to a shelter if not to the authorities. That's the only way to get them some help. You never know what the money will be used for. Or even if they'll get to keep it."

Duncan nodded at the words of his friend. "I know George... I know." He watched the pair clasp hands and take off running across the grass and up the stone steps that led out of the park. He wanted to follow. But unless they trusted him, he had a sure feeling he'd get nowhere with them... especially with the girl.

Sighing he turned back to George once the children were out of sight. "Same time next week? Maybe I'll finally beat you."

George laughed and slapped Duncan on the back. "That'll be the day. Let me tell you my young friend. I have played chess since I was that boy's age. My grandfather taught me. It was years before I was any good. I've spent a lifetime learning the ins and outs of the game. With every move made, there are fewer and fewer possibilities for a positive outcome. That boy plays as though he's been playing a thousand years. He sees the end of the game in the opening moves. You know... I think he could even beat those new chess playing super computers."

Duncan nodded and smiled at the naiveté of his mortal friend. George had spent a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect game. Duncan had spent several. But George was closer to it than Duncan would ever be... and Duncan had had some very good teachers. "See you soon, my friend." And Duncan headed off.

***

They stopped running once they'd reached the street.

Ellie looked back as if to be certain no one was following... no one was watching. She sighed deeply. Everything was getting so complicated. She glanced up and down the street and decided which direction was safer. Nodding to her left, she and Derrick started uptown, weaving in and out of the pedestrian traffic. Once she double-backed, and twice she cut through traffic and changed sides of the street.

Derrick said nothing and followed without complaint. He always left it to his sister to decide how they went, and what precautions they needed to take. She was older and knew more about traveling than he did. Finally they reached an alley and slipped into the narrow expanse, making their way among trash bins and garbage. Ellie pulled him into an area between two dumpsters and glanced up and down. Satisfied that no one was watching, she knelt down, opened the basement window of an abandoned building and crawled in. Once there, she helped Derrick enter the same way.

Inside, she settled on the floor and reached into her pocket to pull out her Maglite and the money the other immortal had given her. The business card fell on the floor. She picked it up, glanced at it, and then stuffed it back into a pocket almost without thinking about it. She returned her attention to the money... counted it. Divided it into two parts and handed half to Derrick.

"Squirrel it," she said as she began to do the same. Separating the bills, rolling or folding them into small pieces and sequestering them in different pockets, different places.

"For a rainy day..." Derrick replied and then nodded and did the same. Once done he watched as she hid the next to the last bill. She held up the last one.

"Any requests, little one?"

Derrick thought only for a moment. "Ice cream?" He smiled. It had become his favorite request. "Chocolate?"

Ellie laughed, "Why am I not surprised at that one. OK. We'll get ice cream. Anything else?"

"Just the usual," Derrick replied and then looked thoughtfully at her. "You know, I think we could have trusted him."

"Who?"

"The man at the park. Is he like you?"

"Like me? What do you mean?" She laughed nervously.

"I've seen how you get around people sometimes. As if you know them. As if you have to be careful of them." Derrick sighed. "Like the one who frightens you. The one you're running from."

Ellie looked at him thoughtfully. "Do you want me to take you somewhere? Do you want to go to a shelter, or..."

"NO!" Derrick shouted and threw his arms around his sister. "You promised! You said you wouldn't leave me! You said you wouldn't lose me again! You said..." his voice broke in sobs. "Don't leave me Eleanor...don't leave me."

Eleanor slowly put her arms around the small boy. "Whatever you want Derrick. Whatever you want. I don't want to lose you again, not ever." Tears tracked down her cheeks. "We'll be fine... we'll be fine. Somehow... we'll be fine."

An hour later, they were once more making their way through a crowded street. Derrick was licking away at his ice cream while Ellie continued to keep an eye out on their surroundings and the people they passed. Once Derrick finished the last bite, he squared his shoulders and started looking around at the other street people in the area. Time to go to work.

"That one!" he said suddenly, pointing at a man sitting and rocking on the curb. He was mumbling to himself and seemed oblivious of those around him. Ellie nodded and using change from Derrick's ice cream purchased a sandwich from a street vendor.

"Stay here," she whispered to Derrick. She made her way over to the vagrant, crouched down and offered him the sandwich. The man stopped rocking. He stared at the offered food, then glanced tentatively up into Ellie's green eyes. Slowly he returned her smile, took a long, slow, deep breath, and accepted the sandwich.

"Thanks..."

Ellie nodded and rose to her feet. She walked back over to Derrick. "Next?" She almost laughed. It was at times like this that she felt most at peace. Derrick grinned broadly, clasped her hand and the two of them walked a little further down the street. For a moment, it seemed to Ellie that all was right with the world... as it once had been. Long ago... another land... another city...

On the next block, Derrick found his next prospect. An overworked and very tired mother was wrestling with a toddler, a baby, a small child, and several packages. She was trying to get them all into a brownstone. Her tired voice, filled with curses and screams could be heard ringing up and down the block. Derrick paused... his brow wrinkling in thought. Finally he looked up at his sister and nodded.

Ellie watched and listened... not to what was being said so much as what was not being said. "Complicated," she whispered. This woman didn't need money so much as help. "Wait here." She stepped away from Derrick and slowly approached the woman struggling with her children.

"Hi... you look as though you could use a hand," she ventured softly. The woman shot her a hard gaze, all the while trying to maintain some sense of control. The oldest girl struggled out of her mother's grasp and went running down the steps. Ellie reached out to her. "Hey... your mom could really use your help." She smiled at the little girl. Then laughed briefly as she tapped the girl on the end of her nose.

The girl looked at Ellie, then nodded. Turning, she grasped the hand of her little sister, "C'mon, Becky." The two girls climbed the steps to the door of the brownstone and the older girl opened it for her mother.

The mother watched her girls, then shifted the baby on her hip and the grocery bags in her hands, and nodded at Ellie, "Thanks for the help. You got a way with kids."

"Yeah..." Ellie replied, "it's a gift." She stood and walked back to where Derrick waited patiently for her. The boy grinned and lifted a hand in a high five. "Back at you!" Ellie returned the gesture. Then she hugged him tightly and the two of them headed off up the street.

By the time darkness fell, they had spent most of the money Ellie had retained and Derrick was getting tired. He moved more slowly and seemed almost half-asleep on his feet.

"Hey... little one... what say we check out a shelter." Derrick shook his head. She caressed the side of his face and sighed. "OK... where to now..." Derrick pointed at an open church across the street. Ellie laughed, "Time to light the candles, right?" Derrick nodded.

They crossed the street and entered the old church. Ellie waited near the door, uneasy as she always was when on holy ground, while Derrick looked for the candles. She knew he'd also put some of the money he had squirreled away in the donation box, but that was Derrick all over. From across the street, she could hear a street musician playing blues on a guitar. She stepped back into the night, still standing at the church door, to listen. She could still sense Derrick inside and out here... she felt safer, more sure of herself. The music filled the air... a tune she had once danced to... happier times...

The musician finished his piece, and began another. At his feet was the proverbial hat. Ellie reached into her pocket and pulled out the last of the change. She glanced back into the church and saw Derrick still occupied with lighting candles. Ellie hurriedly crossed the street to place the change in the guitarist's hat. He nodded his appreciation and she quickly crossed back. As she climbed the church steps, she sensed another immortal closeby. She entered the church at a run, "Derrick, we gotta..." She stopped. He was there. He had Derrick around the neck.

"Hello to you, too." He smiled. Ellie went cold inside. "It seems, my girl, that we have a... situation."

"Ellie?" Derrick was clearly frightened. He struggled in the immortal's hands.

"Tell him to be still like a good little boy."

"Derrick," Ellie moved the fingers of her right hand. The boy nodded. "Please, he's just a little boy. It's me you want."

"Yes... you owe me, my girl...thirty years you owe me. And I will collect... but first, you pay."

Ellie nodded. "Whatever you want Carrera. Just don't hurt him. This IS holy ground."

"Of course." Carrera pulled Derrick closer. "Time to talk."

She took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. Time to listen...

***

The strains of La Traviata emanated from Duncan's sound system. He had settled back in his favorite chair, taken a sip of wine, then returned to reading Les Miserables. A quiet night at home or what passed for home in this city, in this time.

He straightened suddenly. Another immortal. Duncan closed the book and rising, moved toward the door, picking up his katana as he went. Who knew where he lived? Amanda? Methos? He peered through the security eyehole on the apartment door.

In the hallway outside was the girl from this afternoon. She seemed to sense he was observing her. She held up the business card. Then she removed her ragged jacket and held it out to the side. Slowly she turned around and then back. Duncan observed the faded jeans, the torn T-shirt, both in dull non-descript colors. No weapons on her... that left the jacket. Through the door he heard her. "We need your help."

Slowly Duncan opened the door a crack. He flexed the katana in his hand so she could see he was armed. She nodded.

"Please, we really do need your help."

Duncan glanced up and down the hall. "Where's the boy?"

"He's the reason I'm here. Can I come in, I really don't want to discuss this out here."

Duncan opened the door wide enough for her to enter then closed it quickly behind her, re-setting the locks. "Put your jacket down over there." She nodded and complied. If this afternoon she had seemed like a frightened bird, ready to fly... now she seemed more sure of herself, though clearly still nervous. Perhaps she was older than she had seemed. "What happened to Derrick?" he asked.

"An immortal named Joaquin Carrera has him. I have twenty-four hours to get him back... to save him. I need some help."

"You'll need to explain things a little more fully." Duncan motioned for her to sit, but she continued to pace.

"No time."

"Make time."

Ellie halted. "It's complicated."

"Un-complicate it." Duncan returned to his chair, set the katana across his lap and motioned again for her to sit.

Ellie paced a bit more before finally relenting. She sat on the edge of the couch across from him. Her knuckles were white from clasping and unclasping her fingers. "Look, if you don't want to help... fine... I won't bother you, it's just that..." Her voice trailed off.

"Just what?"

She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, seemed to make a decision, and looked at him evenly. "It's just that Darius once told me if I ever really needed help... I could trust you."

Duncan sat up straighter. "You knew Darius?"

Ellie nodded. "For over eight hundred years."

Duncan leaned back in the chair. "Darius never mentioned you."

"Yeah... well he mentioned you, 'Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod!'" She collapsed back into the sofa. "Look, I'm not here to discuss Darius, it's Derrick we need to focus on. I don't have time for long stories."

"Make time."

She lowered her head into her hands, breathing into them. For a moment he thought she would simply leave. Slowly she raised her head and gazed across at him... Finally she sighed. "What do you need to know."

"Start with your name... your real name."

"To know a person's name is to have power over them. I've had a thousand names, led a thousand lives. I don't know you well enough to tell you my true name. Besides, who's to say what a person's true name is."

"I'll settle for what Darius called you."

Her eyes glazed over a moment as though remembering another time... another place... Duncan knew that look; he'd seen it often enough on the faces of other immortals as they strained to recall something. He'd probably worn that look many times himself.

"Eleanor... he used to call me Eleanor." She smiled ever so slightly.

"When did you meet?"

"1164 in Paris, about a year after they began building Notre Dame. Some friends of mine suggested it was time I saw Paris. I had a feeling it wasn't just Paris and Notre Dame they wanted me to see. Whatever their reasons were... I never asked. I met Darius and... he changed my life."

Duncan smiled. "Yeah he could have that effect on people."

"So, I stayed for awhile, then moved on. I returned for visits over the years." She paused. " I was in Africa when he died." She shrugged as if it were no big matter, shaking her head.

Duncan looked her over carefully. She was hiding something, but she was essentially telling the truth. Still...

"So, tell me about this Joaquin Carrera. I've never heard of him."

She sighed. "I was a part of a medical mission in Chile back in the 1930's. We had arrived at a small church-run orphanage when Carrera and his bandits raided the camp. He wasn't an immortal, yet. They shot the place up... gathered us all into a group... the priest, two nuns, eighteen children, a doctor, another nurse, and me. Maybe he wouldn't have killed everyone. Maybe... but I sensed he was serious. I grabbed for one of the rifles and shot him. They shot me, of course... but I thought with Carrera dead, the others would be safe. He was the one wanting to kill everyone... the others seemed reluctant. I found out different when I woke up."

"They were all dead," Duncan interjected flatly.

"Yeah... everyone dead... the priest... the children... everyone... We had all been buried in shallow graves. Carrera, too." Ellie rose and walked over to the window, gazing down on the street below.

"Why didn't you take his head?"

She folded her arms across her chest and turned back to him. "Why didn't I take his head?" She shook her head. "Don't you think I've asked myself that? We were all buried in the cemetery... holy ground. I could have dug him up, drug him off and..." Ellie sighed once more. "I guess I thought maybe, just maybe, he deserved a second chance.

"I shoved some heavy rocks over onto his grave. I built quite a pile before I felt him quicken. Then I left him there. I don't know how many times he died before he clawed his way out of there. I don't know because I ran. I'd made him immortal. I couldn't kill him... I just couldn't. And I knew I couldn't teach him... I couldn't trust him.

"In 1969 he found me. I met with him. He didn't want to fight... but he did want to destroy me... or at least, he wanted to destroy my life. He promised to kill anyone I cared about, anyone I be-friended, anyone I loved..." Her voice trailed off. She closed her eyes and shivered. "I left. I cut myself off from mortal friends. They have only one life and I wasn't going to be the cause of any more mortal deaths."

"What about immortal friends?"

"Most are dead. The few that remain have their own lives... their own troubles." Ellie returned to the sofa and quickly sat down, perched on the edge once more. "Look, Derrick is the only one who matters. I have to save him. He deserves a life. He deserves a chance."

"What is it you expect me to do." Duncan took another sip of his wine.

"Carrera said if I showed up in twenty-four hours, he'd take my head and let Derrick go. I need someone to make sure he keeps his word. I need you to get Derrick away from him. Please." Tears streamed down her face. "I know he's lying about letting Derrick go."

Duncan stared intently into his wineglass. Finally he looked over at her, "If Carrera was such a danger to you, why did you keep the boy with you? Why put him in danger?"

Ellie smiled and shrugged, "He's special... he needed me... he had no one... and he..." She closed her eyes.

"Reminded you of Darius?"

Ellie started. A look of understanding crossed her face. "You, too?"

Duncan nodded. "Did you teach him to play chess?"

"No... I didn't know he knew." She ran her fingers through her hair. The band had loosened so she took it down and then pulled her hair back into a ponytail and replaced the band. "He knew my name. He says things... he does things... I know it's not him... but still... sometimes..." She glanced back at Duncan. "I promised him he'd be safe... and he wants to be with me. Things were pretty good for us until about six months ago when Carrera picked up my trail again. I guess I figured wrong that we could just disappear onto the streets."

"Where are you supposed to meet?"

"In the park, near the hill where the kids play 'king of the mountain.' You know the one I mean?"

Duncan chuckled. "I know the one."

"So... are you gonna help?"

He rose and turned off the music. He stood for a moment in the silence thinking. "You can stay here tonight. We'll talk in the morning. I need to think this through."

Ellie nodded reluctantly. She seemed resigned to having to wait. Suddenly she glanced up at him. "I hate to ask, but... if I'm going to die tomorrow, I'd like to take one last shower."

Duncan laughed and showed her the bath. "There's a robe on the door you can use."

"Thanks." She shut the door behind her and he soon heard the water running.

He knocked on the door later. "Ellie? I have some clothes that might fit you." She opened the bathroom door. She was wrapped in his robe and her hair hung wetly about her shoulders. Already she looked better and she certainly smelled better. He held out the clothes. "A friend left them here. I don't think she'll miss them. She's a little taller than you, but they might fit."

She reached out for them. "Black? And more black?" She laughed. "Not really my color. But I was reluctant to put mine back on." She glanced down at the filthy pile of ragged clothes she'd removed.

Duncan leaned down and gathered them up. "I think I'll just dispose of these." He turned to go, then turned back. "Unless...?"

"No... go ahead. I don't think I'll be needing them." Ellie shut the door again. When she came out Duncan noted that while the pants seemed a little long, the turtleneck fitted her tightly. Amanda's clothes seemed somehow too big and too small on the blonde immortal, just as the clothes the boy had been wearing earlier had seemed. Duncan nodded in understanding. Derrick's clothes were likely also secondhand... they hadn't been bought new for him. On her feet, though, she had her own shoes. She looked down at them. "Your friend's didn't fit."

He offered Ellie a glass of wine. She shook her head. "Got any tea?"

"I think I could find some." Duncan went into the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove. Behind him, Ellie went to her jacket and pulled out a Maglite, as well as a K-bar, a military knife. Duncan paused. She set the small flashlight aside and hefted the knife in her hands with practiced motions, she shifted it back and forth between her hands, flipped it into the air and caught it on the way down. Then she looked over at him. "Interesting choice of weapon," he offered.

"Well, it accessorized with my ensemble." She lifted her head and began laughing uncontrollably. In the midst of her laughter she collapsed on the floor and began to sob. "I'm just so damned tired... so damned tired."

Duncan nodded. The kettle whistled and he poured her the promised cup of tea; chamomile, to help her sleep. He carried it over to her and held it out. "Get a good night's sleep. You'll feel better tomorrow. You'll be able to think more clearly." He headed toward the linen closet and pulled out a pillow and some blankets. "Here, you can take the couch."

She smiled up at him weakly, then reached for the blankets. "I think I'd prefer the floor. Old habits die hard." Without another word she fluffed the pillow spread the blankets over her and lay down. The empty teacup sat beside her. The knife was safely hidden away.

Duncan wasn't certain he could trust her. But he'd have the katana nearby, and he would get only light sleep this night. He was going to have to figure out a plan. Some way to make the game have a positive ending... some way to win.

***

At dawn, Duncan arose and dressed. He could hear the girl moving about in the outer room. When he opened the door, she was standing by the window, gazing down into the street below. There was a wistful expression on her face.

"Did you sleep well?" Duncan asked as he headed toward the kitchen.

"Sure... just fine."

"Thought I'd make an omelet. How's that sound? And I could use some coffee."

She smiled, "Coffee, I love coffee." She closed her eyes and pantomimed smelling a hot cup of coffee. "Have you decided? Because... if the answer's 'No' I need to figure something else out."

"I haven't said 'No'." Duncan busied himself with making breakfast.

Ellie wandered aimlessly about the room. She paused by his copy of Les Miserables and picked it up. Slowly she caressed the spine and then opened it, flipping through the pages. She smiled. Then closed the book and replaced it on the table. She continued to explore the room. Finally she sat at one of the barstools across the counter and slowly began to sip the hot coffee he had poured.

"How did you meet?" Duncan finally ventured, breaking the deadening silence.

"Oh... I was backpacking across the Midwest a few years ago when I sensed him. I found him under a highway bridge. He was scared and alone and didn't seem to know who he was or how he got there. But then he seemed to know me. He was so alone. And he was desperate not to lose me. I just figured I'd get him someplace safe. But he..." she shook her head, unable to put into the words the confusion Derrick inspired in her.

"I wasn't talking about Derrick."

Ellie glanced at Duncan sharply, her brow creased. Duncan served up the omelet. Ellie picked up a fork and began to push the eggs over the plate. Finally she set the fork down. "Just what is it you're asking?" Her face betrayed nothing. There was no expression, only a flat statement... a flat question.

Duncan took a forkful of eggs. He chewed thoughtfully a moment, then swallowed. "How do I know you're telling the truth? What proof do you have of any of this... of even knowing Darius?"

She nodded back at the table; "It's his book..."

Duncan took a sip of coffee. "You'd know that by looking at the inscription..."

"Signed by Victor Hugo. They corresponded for a while."

Duncan nodded. "Again... all you had to do was look at the book."

Ellie smiled broadly, her green eyes twinkled. "And inside the front cover is written something that I'll bet you can't read. Two symbols..."

"And you can..."

"I wrote them."

Duncan leaned back, "So... what do they mean?"

Ellie took a bite of the omelet. "I've never been entirely sure. My..." she paused, "My teacher once told me I had been writing them since I was a child. I wrote them in dust... in water... in the ashes of the fire." She looked evenly into Duncan's face. "The first one has something to do with time, the second one, I think, means unity."

"In the end there can be only one," Duncan laughed.

"I don't think so... that never seemed entirely right. Understand I don't remember any of this. It's all second hand. But I learned them again, and once I showed them to Darius. I think the old one knew... the one inside..." Her voice trailed off.

Duncan peered closely at the girl. Once again, there was much more to this than she was willing to say. But he sensed that although she wasn't being entirely truthful... there was truth here.

"If I help you with Carrera, help you get Derrick away, and you survive," Duncan finally said, "I need your promise on something."

"On what?"

"You'll let Derrick go. He's too vulnerable on the street with you. Like any child, he needs a home, regular meals, school, a family, a chance at a normal life."

Her eyes seemed to flash even greener for a moment. In a faraway voice she whispered, "One day you will have to kill the boy... or watch him grow old and die..." She closed her eyes. When they opened, they seemed once more like ordinary green eyes. She slowly let out a long breath. She nodded. "I promise."

"What was that?"

"Just old memory. Don't you get old memories sometimes? From other lives... memories of things you know you've never done... places you've never been.. words you've never heard."

"In the quickening," Duncan nodded agreement. Still... there was something else going on here. He took another bite of his omelet, considering what to say next. Finally he looked over at her, "OK, enough pleasantries. I need to know everything you know about Carrera. Everything he said. The way he said it. Everything."

"Of course," Ellie leaned forward, resting her elbows on the bar. "Do you have an idea."

"Possibly..." Duncan took another sip of coffee.

Ellie nodded and began to tell him all she knew about Joaquin Carrera.

Duncan listened closely, sometimes interjecting a question for additional information. The beginnings of a plan began to coalesce.

***

Three hours later he checked out the park. Duncan could sense nothing. But he still felt that if he could trust what Ellie had told him, Carrera would be planning something. Duncan had left her behind at his place... he was still suspicious, but he needed to give her some space... and he wanted to see the lay of the land for himself.

Ellie had been nervous about his going. "Carrera said he'd know if I got there early. He said he'd kill Derrick..."

Duncan had overruled her. "I don't think he'd be looking for me. And, I'll be careful."

Once he returned, the two of them went over possibilities. Finally, there was nothing left to go over. All they had to do was wait.

At precisely eleven p.m. they approached the small hill in the deserted park. Standing at the top was, Duncan assumed, Joaquin Carrera. The immortal was clean-shaven, dark-haired, and well dressed. He looked every inch the role he was playing... private detective out to "rescue" a kidnapped boy. He'd even warned Ellie not to go to the police. He had paperwork to prove his story. He'd already contacted the local precinct about his mission. "Who do you think they'll believe?" he had taunted her last night, gesturing toward her. "Me or some street hussy... probably working the streets and renting out the kid for enough dough for her next fix. By the time your tox' screen came back, I'd be gone and the boy'd be dead."

"I never had the head for chess," she'd told Duncan earlier that afternoon. "I can play... I know how each piece moves... but I never got the strategy angle. I just re-act to the moves... I don't see the end of the game. I've always had trouble seeing the consequences of the decisions I made."

"Well," Duncan had replied, "that's why you got me."

"My, my, my... little girl... what have you brought me... sacrificial lamb or a challenge." Carrera clasped his hands before him. His long coat blew behind him in the breeze. His voice retained no accent of where he was from.

"I'm just here to make certain you keep your word and let the boy go." Duncan's posture mirrored Carrera's. "I'm Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod."

"Never heard of you. Besides, I don't recall giving my word," Carrera seemed amused. "Besides, I don't really think you'll be in any shape to challenge me. Right little girl..."

Duncan started and shifted position so he could see both Ellie and Carrera. Ellie's knife was in her hands.

"Where's Derrick?" she yelled.

Carrera spread his hands wide. "Oh he's alive... and nearby. I'll tell you where he is once your friend here is dead. Of course, if you choose... you can walk away now and the boy will die. Trust me on this... he will die in oh... about ten minutes... give or take..."

"Go find Derrick," Duncan interjected. When Ellie didn't move, he drew his katana. "Ellie!" She looked up, suddenly aware again. "Go find Derrick, now." Duncan's voice was low and quiet. It was the plan... if only she would follow it. She nodded and backed off. Then turned and ran down the hill.

"Well now," Carrera smiled, drawing his own blade, "this should prove interesting. I never felt she'd bring me a sacrifice... not in her nature. Did she tell you what she did to me?"

Duncan began removing his coat while circling his opponent. "She told me you murdered those children." He carefully watched as Carrera circled. He noted the small twitching and flexing the other made as they each sized each other up.

"Well now... she misspoke herself. I didn't murder those children. She did, when she murdered me... Now, there are other children I've... well... I don't like to brag." He lunged quickly swinging his sword. Duncan parried and switched positions.

"Nice move," Carrera smiled. "The little girl has actually brought me someone worthwhile." He smiled once more and the battle was joined.

***

Ellie moved far enough away from Duncan and Carrera so that she couldn't sense them. Had Derrick been up there... she would have known. She breathed shakily and closed her eyes... she had to concentrate. Slowly she made her way about the base of the hill in a spiral moving outwards. If she could just concentrate... but the sounds of combat kept distracting her.

"Focus Eleanor... focus." She kept moving. And then... finally... just the barest sense of him. She headed in that direction. She stopped when she got to the shore of the park lake. She looked around in the darkness. The park lights didn't really reach to this area. He was here. She could sense him... but where?

She tripped over a clod of loose dirt. She kicked it absently and then stopped... She knelt on the wet grass and began to feel about her. Yes... the soil beneath the sod seemed loose here. She ripped back the sod and began to dig frantically with the K-bar. "Derrick, I'm coming love... I'm coming. Hold on."

Behind her the sounds of the battle continued... but it was no longer important... only getting to Derrick was.

Finally the blade of the knife hit wood. She cleared an area of dirt and began to pry the box open. Behind her, the crackle of quickening lit the sky. She slammed against the wood, finally shattering the lid. Derrick lay so still within. She reached down and began to pull him up. She still sensed him... he was alive... but he was so very still.

She felt for his pulse. Slow... very slow. Pulling out her small Maglite she checked the pupils of his eyes. They were dilated and sluggish. But they did react to the light. "Derrick..." she lightly slapped the side of his face..."Derrick, honey... wake up." The boy moaned ever so quietly, but made no further sign. Behind her, Ellie felt an immortal approach.

She clasped Derrick closely to her. If it were Carrera, they'd die together. She'd see to it. She wouldn't abandon Derrick. Not again. Never again.

"Ellie?" It was MacLeod. "Did you find him? How is he." He knelt beside them.

Ellie rocked Derrick in her arms. "He's alive. But I think he's drugged."

"We've got to get out of here." Duncan reached over and picked Derrick up in his arms. "Let's go." They headed around the dark lakeshore, away from the hill and what would likely be a gathering crowd on the hilltop.

Ellie felt numb. She followed the immortal. She had no choice. She wouldn't leave Derrick.

***

Duncan sat quietly in chairs at the emergency room. He watched Ellie pace back and forth beside the observation window. She seemed completely wrung out.

A nurse approached her. Duncan rose and quickly walked over to help.

"And you don't know his name?"

"No..." Ellie murmured. "He didn't seem to know who he was when I found him. He just said Derrick... no last name... no family."

"And your name, miss?" The nurse waited. Ellie looked at Duncan.

"I'm Duncan MacLeod... I brought the boy in... I'll try to answer your questions." He motioned to the nurse and then concentrated on her questions and giving answers that really didn't give away anything. From the corner of his eye he watched a second nurse motion to Ellie, who entered the observation area. She sat down next to the bed and pulled her legs up into the chair. She reached over to hold Derrick's small hand, and bowed her head. Her thin shoulders shook and Duncan knew she was crying.

"MacLeod?" Duncan turned. George Layton was making his way over. "I'm here, now what's this all about?"

By this time the nurse, satisfied that she had all the information she was going to get, moved off.

"Thanks for coming, George," Duncan pointed at the kids. "Do you really still have some contacts in Social Services?"

George Layton peered through the glass. "Damn... is he going to be OK?" He watched as Duncan nodded. Satisfied, he continued, "Yeah... I got contacts. What do you want me to do?"

Duncan told him.

George shook his head. "That's bending more than a few rules... but yeah... I think I can swing it. But you got to promise to fill me in someday on just what happened."

Duncan smiled. "Of course... just not tonight." Through the glass he saw Derrick stir.

The boy reached over to Ellie and smiled wanly. Duncan heard him whisper to her. "Eleanor... don't cry... everything's fine. You didn't lose me. You found me. Everything's fine. I knew you'd come. I knew you'd find me."

Duncan wondered if he was doing the right thing. Those two really did seem to have a connection. Still...

***

Derrick was in the hospital for three days. Ellie was at his side the entire time, refusing to leave. Duncan let George field the questions from Social Services. Finally everything was set. Derrick was released into their custody. A week later, he was placed with a reliable foster family that George had known personally over the years.

Ellie had watched silently as Derrick was led away. Duncan had hugged her with one arm, understanding just how hard this was for her. Derrick had said nothing, resigned to their parting. George had promised to facilitate one final meeting after the boy was settled in. He and Duncan would be the chaperones. George had managed to keep Ellie's involvement in Derrick's plight minimal and off the record. She wasn't a minor... nor would she be charged with kidnapping or child endangerment. Duncan had explained to George that it was just a situation that had spiraled out of control.

A week after being placed, Derrick and Ellie were briefly re-united in the park, with Duncan and George keeping an eye on them.

The two weeks had been good for each of them. Derrick had filled out a bit. His sandy hair was clean and recently cut. He wore new jeans, new sneakers, and a bright red shirt under his new jacket. He wore a blue cap emblazoned with NY on it. He had run to meet Ellie, flinging his arms about her in joy, and laughing happily. They shared an ice cream and seemed to be performing some dance on the grass near the chess tables. They twirled about and stepped back and forth in an intricate pattern. Ellie held his hands and at one time twirled Derrick about.

Ellie had gone through a remarkable transformation. She no longer looked quite so young, nor quite so lost. Mid-twenties if Duncan were to guess how old she'd been when she had become immortal. Her once blonde-streaked hair was now dark and cut in a short bob, just longer than her ears. Instead of jeans she now wore a long sleeved grey-green dress... long... body fitting... no decoration or jewelry. The color suited her. The dress was the same color as her eyes. When she danced, her skirt twirled outward about her. For a moment Duncan had the impression that the two of them might have been dancing together for a thousand years. Then they collapsed laughing on one of the benches and began to talk quietly.

"Do you think she'll try to bolt with him?" George puffed on his pipe and considered the pair.

"No... I don't think so. I think she knows this is the best thing."

Ellie leaned down and gazed into Derrick's blue eyes. Then she lightly tapped him on the end of his nose and laughed. The two stood up and hugged one another for a long embrace. Then Derrick moved back. He said something to Ellie that Duncan couldn't hear. She nodded and caressed the side of his face. Then she leaned over and kissed the top of Derrick's head.

George walked over to them. He offered the boy his hand, nodded at Ellie, and led Derrick off... across the park... up the stone stairs... back into the mortal world.

Duncan came up behind her. She had clasped her hands behind her and was shifting back and forth, as though she were still hearing the strains of some silent music. "So, Ellie... what are your plans now?"

"Oh... a little visit to a bus station locker... pick up a passport I've got squirreled away and move on, I guess. Do you really think they'll let us keep in touch?"

"George promised to let me have Derrick's address and email. When I get it... I'll pass it on. Providing, of course, you let me know where you are."

Ellie smiled mysteriously. She slowly lifted one foot and began tracing patterns in the grass. "I'll be in touch. Thanks MacLeod."

"You know..." Duncan began, "I still don't know your name or just who you are. I still don't really know anything about you."

"Woman of mystery," Ellie grasped her skirt and curtsied demurely. "Really... I'm just a girl... making my way in the cold cruel world the best I can." She laughed, and her laughter reminded Duncan of tinkling bells. She was suddenly very still. She looked him over thoughtfully. "Besides," she continued, "I'll always be Ellie to Derrick. And maybe to you, too." She backed off. "Gotta go."

Duncan watched as she tripped lightly over the grass and up the stairs. She paused at the top, turned for a moment to wave and then vanished into the passing crowd.

#30#

Note: This was created as a modern tag to my very long and very complicated addition to the Highlander saga. It was chance for Duncan MacLeod to play Boy Scout. Within it are contained a few of the clues to Ellie's past and the long road she has traveled. Have fun and remember:

Place nicely with others

and

Don't run with sharp objects

For the head you take may be your own.