Author's Note: The following short story is a sequel to the short story No Place to Run, Nowhere to Hide, which can be found on this site. elle
Highlander: A Place to Call Home
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter, home from the hill.
from Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson
San Francisco, CA, Autumn 1993
When Diana Hamilton felt the tingle of another immortal, she glanced up from her production meeting and through the plate glass windows facing the reception area one level down. A small smile crossed her full lips.
Straightening up from the table she recapped her marker. "That should do it… Any questions?" There were none as the meeting broke up and her staff headed out of the conference room to complete their tasks for the new campaign.
Diana glanced in a mirror, smoothed her auburn hair and adjusted the collar of her pink silk blouse. Her dark gray pantsuit showed off her slim and well-toned figure. She took a deep breath. With head held high, she exited the conference room, bypassing several underlings with a wave of her hand as she descended the open staircase.
"Duncan," she grinned as they clasped hands and he kissed either cheek, "Now what brings you to San Francisco."
Duncan MacLeod shrugged with a teasing grin. "Just stopped by to see how you were." Diana saw something haunted in his eyes.
She clasped his arm and turned to the receptionist. "Tell Marcy I'm taking an early lunch and will be out of the office."
"Yes Ms. Hamilton," the girl replied.
Diana smiled at her old teacher. "Do I need my coat?"
Duncan chuckled, fully aware of what she was really asking. "I don't think so."
Ten minutes later at Caspar's, an upscale restaurant within walking distance of her office, Diana and Duncan were seated at a secluded table.
"The food here is marvelous," she said barely glancing at her menu. Instead, she stared at Duncan… his dark hair was long and pulled back in a ponytail and his soft overcoat barely hid the shape of his developed muscles. "You've been working out," she said archly.
Duncan glanced up and nodded soberly. "It's been a rough year. I didn't have much choice." There was a sadness in his gaze… that spoke of loss.
Diana waited quietly. She knew the Scots immortal well enough to know that something was on his mind… and that he'd tell her when he was ready. Duncan MacLeod was a man of deep convictions and loyalties. She'd learned that thirty years ago when he'd first found her… and saved her from an early and permanent death at the hands of Jonathan Kelso.
She took a sip of her water and smiled at the memory of that long ago day. The day she'd discovered that she was an immortal… and that she'd have to learn to kill… or be killed.
She'd turned thirty that fall. Her husband Richard had suggested a trip to the mountains… ostensibly to see the turning of the leaves. They'd both wanted children… and Richard had thought a long relaxing week away from deadlines and headlines would work wonders. He'd rented a cottage in the Appalachians and they'd lost themselves for four days within the honeymoon atmosphere of the place. Then Richard had decided it was time to really see the fall colors.
They'd packed a picnic lunch and driven deep into the mountains… on roads seldom traveled… at least by tourists. Amazed at the scope of color and the wonderment of the mountain landscape… they'd journeyed too far… and become lost. As darkness had begun to fall… Richard had driven faster and faster… hoping to find their way back.
What he'd found, instead, was death. A deer had jumped onto the road. Richard had swerved sharply to avoid it. The car flew off and down into a ravine… and crashed. The next thing Diana had been aware of was climbing from the car as it exploded… and being helped back to the road by one of the mountain residents… Caleb Dawes.
Diana still held a soft spot in her heart for the old mountain man and his wife. Millie had died about eight years ago… but Caleb still lived on the mountain with his daughter and her family. The old man had nearly died in his attempt to protect the newly immortal Diana from the headhunting Jonathan Kelso. Had it not been for Duncan MacLeod's intervention… both she and Caleb would have died.
She could recall the event clearly. She'd not understood what had happened to her. She'd been grieving for Richard… but the events of that evening and the following day were like crystal images in her mind. She could still taste the sweetened iced tea or smell the bog where Duncan had fought Kelso. She could hear the sounds of the crash… and the hum of the insects during that fight. She could feel the pain of reviving… and the wonder of that first quickening she'd seen. Duncan had helped her move from lost newborn immortal into a confident player of the game. All Diana was now… she owed to Duncan MacLeod.
"Tessa's dead," Duncan finally said after they'd ordered lunch and the waiter had left.
Diana stared. She'd met Tessa briefly about ten years ago in Paris… shortly after Duncan had begun seeing the young French art student. At the time, Tessa had not known about Duncan's immortality… although that would shortly change. Duncan was, at least to Diana's eyes, totally and completely in love.
"I'm so sorry… what happened," she reached shakily for her glass of water and gulped some down.
"Random street violence… some junkie looking for money. When she didn't have any to give… he shot and killed her. I just got back from Paris. I took her remains over to be buried there… in our city."
He fingered his drink… his eyes obviously focused on a memory. Suddenly he shivered as he picked the glass up and took a long drink. "Sorry," he smiled briefly, "I didn't mean to get maudlin."
Reaching out with one hand to gently clasp his, Diana offered softly, "It's not maudlin. It's life. You were the one who helped me face a future without the man I loved… How can I help?"
Duncan nodded thoughtfully, "Did I? Did I help you?"
"You know you did."
He shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder if I ever help anyone." He met her gaze directly. "Everyone around me dies."
"Who else died, Duncan?"
His eyes widened at her sudden understanding. He nodded briefly, as if making up his mind about something, and leaned forward. "A young man who worked for me was with Tessa. He was also shot."
Diana's gaze narrowed. Suddenly a small gasp escaped her throat. "One of us."
Duncan nodded. "Now I have to decide what to do. Do I train him? Or do I send him away to learn from a more capable teacher?"
"You care about this young man's survival?"
Again he nodded.
"But you're a wonderful teacher, Duncan."
Duncan shrugged. He was hurting… and right now… Diana wondered if he even cared about surviving, much less teaching another one of them to survive. He needed to know a future was still possible.
The server brought their lunch and withdrew. Diana fingered her fork as she shifted the lettuce of her salad back and forth… and then stabbed at a chunk of chicken and lifted it delicately to her mouth. She noticed Duncan was doing much the same. He'd lifted his fork… and was holding it poised above his salad… but his eyes were vacant… as if his thoughts were elsewhere.
He's vulnerable right now, Diana thought. To be vulnerable, and to be immortal, meant that one did not enter into a challenge with a desire to win. He'd taught her that. Duncan had forced her to face her loss… deal with it… and move on.
"If you don't…" he'd told her thirty years ago, "… you'll die. The first challenger you come up against will see that and use it against you. You're immortal. You lived. He died. Now survive… or join him in death." He'd slid his katana along her neck to illustrate his point.
Diana had chosen survival. She'd taken three heads in thirty years… all immortals who'd challenged her. Two had been female… one slightly older than she was and one younger and evidently untrained. The male she'd killed… had been substantially older… and his quickening within her had given her a great deal of confidence in the business world… and in life itself. It had also helped her move beyond a celibate lifestyle.
A small, warm smile crossed Diana's lips. Then she shook her head. Totally inappropriate under the circumstances, she chided herself.
"Do you want to send him to me?" Diana finally said aloud. "I mean… I don't know him… He doesn't know me… but if it would help?"
Duncan shook his head. "I didn't come to beg you to take Richie on… I'm just not certain if I can help him get that killer edge that keeps us going." Duncan sighed as if the weight of the world had settled once more on his shoulders.
Diana understood. She'd seen this in him before… this need to somehow save them all… this need to protect his friends and students from the forces that would destroy them all. He seldom hunted. The only reason he'd been on Kelso's tail that day thirty years ago, was that the man had killed two of Duncan's students… one a young woman he was intimately involved with. Perhaps that was why the Highlander had been so hard on Diana… and why they'd never been more than friends.
Granted, in the time between Richard's death and her taking the quickening of Samuel Quentin… Diana had taken little interest in sex. Ahh… but afterwards. By then, of course… she'd moved on and Duncan was in Europe. If he hadn't been with Tessa when she'd looked him up ten years ago in Paris… who knows what might have happened. Things happen for a reason, she thought. Maybe we were never an item just so that I could be his friend… now.
Diana sipped her water. "Well then… you've decided to teach him."
Duncan stared at her dully.
"And of course that means… you have to be in good shape and on your game."
Duncan nodded. Diana could see the barest hint of a smile teasing at the corners of his mouth.
"To that end… you need a sparring session."
Duncan's smile was a little broader now as he nodded.
"Someone safe… someone who doesn't want your head… someone who knows your tricks and can push you a bit." She winked.
Duncan nodded. His smile was pronounced.
Diana lay her fork down and reached for her purse. "I have to go back to the office. I have a meeting scheduled in an hour, but…" She pulled out a business card. "… meet me here at five." She handed him the card with the address of the gym she frequented.
Duncan took it with a chuckle and then stared at his salad. "Why do I think I should have ordered something a little more filling?"
Diana laughed. "I'll let you buy me dinner."
Silvio's Gym was a busy and upscale place to work out. Diana had never sensed another immortal here… and sensing one now as she checked in… was unnerving. Duncan, she insisted to herself, It's only Duncan. The card she'd given him would allow him to use the facilities as her guest. Already she could sense he was in the small sparring facility to the rear of the main floor.
Diana changed in the women's locker room into sweat pants and a sports bra. For a moment she considered which weapon to take. Normally she never carried her heavy challenge sword in here… opting instead for a foil or training sticks… or her smaller lightweight blade that served her in emergencies. Chuckling to herself, she pulled the stronger blade out. Duncan likely had only his katana with him. If she were going to give him a real workout… help him exorcise his demons… and his sorrow and guilt… she'd need the heavy one. They'd just have to be careful.
Entering the windowless room, she took in the mats spread across the floor and hanging on the walls. Two men, Tom Considine and Pat Davis were lounging against one wall… watching Duncan go through his kata.
She'd sparred with them occasionally over the years… and beaten them soundly every time… Tom had made some comment at one time about how unusual it was to find a woman who really was into this stuff. Pat had laughed and wished aloud that he wasn't married. Diana joked with them… but did not socialize with them.
On the far side of the room… Duncan MacLeod was deep into his workout. He'd stripped down to a pair of sweatpants, his bare chest gleaming with sweat. His dark hair hung damply about his head, and Diana could not help but notice how developed his muscles were. He hadn't been kidding when he'd said he'd had a hard year. Evidently he'd been working out quite a bit.
And even with all of that, she thought, … you couldn't save her… or prevent your young friend from joining the game.
Setting her bag down in a corner, she watched Duncan's moves for several moments.
Pat laughed aloud. "I think maybe this guy could give you a run for your money, Di!"
Diana nodded. "I'm certain of it."
When Duncan finished and glanced at her, Diana bowed and introduced her sensei to the others. Immediately their faces reflected a sudden understanding of why Diana usually wiped the floor with them.
"No wonder you're such a hardass when we spar," Pat said and held out one hand to Duncan in a firm handshake. "You should be proud of her. She's in here coupla times a week… very dedicated."
Duncan returned the grip and smiled with a slight teasing smirk. "Coupla times a week? Thought I taught you to work on this daily."
Diana laughed. "Coupla times a week… here."
Then he walked over to the mats. "Shall we?"
"With or without?"
Duncan glanced at the two men. "Without… I'm warmed up… but I doubt you are." If people were watching… he'd likely not want to spar with their weapons.
Diana nodded and laid her blade aside as she stretched and warmed up with a few sample moves. She'd warmed up some in the locker room… so that she was more ready than he'd have thought, perhaps.
Ten minutes later, both of them were sweat-drenched and breathing heavily as they circled for another go around. Duncan's technique was flawless as always… but Diana could sense him holding back… not really wanting to hurt her in front of witnesses… and it was there that Diana saw an opening. Not much of one… but a tiny glimmer of something she could try.
After one particularly brutal chop on her arm… Diana grasped it in pain… as if it were broken and turned from Duncan moaning and bending over. As expected… he dropped his guard and leaned over her with concern on his face.
At that point she struck, tripping him up and lashing forward with one fist into his face. Then she pulled back smirking.
Duncan glanced up at her as he rubbed his jaw. "You have been practicing."
"I had a great teacher," Diana grinned as she bounced on the balls of her feet. He'd be after her now… but maybe he needed to.
Tom and Pat gave her a round of slow and measured applause sprinkled with laughter. "Way to go Di! Love to stay… babe… but dinner calls. See ya!"
"Cowards!" she yelled after them. Her eyes never left Duncan. He winked and then glanced at their swords. "Thought you'd never ask," Diana said as she backed up to get hers.
Moments later the practice room was filled with the urgent sounds of steel on steel. It took only minutes before Duncan disarmed his student and laid his katana against her neck. "I see your sword skills haven't progressed as well as your martial arts skills and hand-to hand."
Diana shrugged and lifted her head, exposing her neck more fully to his blade… a show of respect and acknowledgment that he was the master. "I find I don't need the sword as much as just being able to wipe up the parking lot with would-be muggers."
Lowering the katana and stepping away from her, Duncan bent to retrieve her sword and toss it to her. "Perhaps you should."
Diana raised one eyebrow as she caught the broadsword and flourished it expertly. "Why?"
Diana's eyes widened. "I don't feel a pull to go anywhere or kill every immortal I meet. Maybe you're wrong."
"I'm not wrong." Duncan picked up a white towel from the floor and mopped his face. "The Gathering is here. You need to be prepared."
"And your young friend?"
Duncan was silent as he seemed to consider what she was saying and not saying.
"If it is the Gathering… how long will he survive without proper training? He won't have centuries or even decades to learn. He may not even have years." Diana closed in on him and gently brushed one damp lock of his hair from his face with a smile. Then she stepped away, making it clear by giving him space, that she was only concerned for him… and for his young friend.
"I will spend more time with my sword, Duncan… but if the Gathering is here… my days are numbered… and you know that. Maybe all our days are numbered."
Duncan nodded slowly as he regarded her. Diana saw an even greater pain in his eyes than just what he was dealing with.
"Who else?" she finally asked.
Duncan sighed deeply. "Darius was murdered a few months ago."
Diana's eyes widened. She'd never met the priest… but Duncan had spoken of him in glowing terms when she'd been his student. "A great general who gave up a warrior's life to become a man of peace," she recalled him saying. "He's likely the best of us." If even Darius had been taken… then the future looked dark indeed.
"I want you to be careful," Duncan said softly. "There are mortals who watch us… and sometimes… they kill us. They have no respect for holy ground."
"Mortals?" Diana mumbled as she tried to make sense of this. "Mortals killed Darius? Why?"
Duncan shook his head. "Jealousy… madness… who knows. All I know is that there are dangers out there. I just wanted you to know."
The door opened and two other patrons entered. Diana nodded as she gathered her things. "I'll meet you outside," she said quietly and left.
Following a shower and a change of clothes… soft slacks, a T-shirt, a suede jacket, boots… Diana met Duncan in the lobby. He was dressed as he'd been earlier… jeans, sweater, long coat. His face was still solemn and filled with grief.
Diana flashed him a warm smile and squeezed his arm reassuringly. "I've been there Duncan. I understand. And I know words are useless. If you need anything… anything at all… you can count on me."
Duncan smiled thinly as he nodded. "Just knowing that helps. Thanks Diana." He glanced up sharply and peered around.
"What is it?" Diana had felt nothing… but then she was much younger.
Duncan focused on a man signing in at the desk. "Do you know him?" he asked Diana quietly.
She peered at the man and flashed him a smile when he turned suddenly to see her looking at him. He nodded as he passed by and headed to the locker room. At the door… he glanced back at her… meeting her gaze… and then entered to change.
"Never saw him before," she said… her face slightly flushed.
"You might want to keep an eye on him," Duncan said with a grin.
"Why?" Diana glanced back at the locker room again.
"In case he has an accident."
"You mean he's? Then why don't I feel him?"
Duncan shrugged. "Not all of us do. It's different. Maybe you'll be able to sense him if I'm not around."
Diana nodded. "Guess I may spend even more time here than I do now," she laughed.
Duncan joined her in the laughter… and for a moment… he seemed genuinely tickled… then the sorrow returned. "Let me give you a rain-check on dinner. I've got to go home… but at least I saw you once more… warned you."
After walking out, he paused and then faced Diana once more. "You remember Connor?"
"Your teacher… your kinsman?"
Duncan nodded. "He came to see me last year. He was… different. Something had happened. A few months later I met him in New York. He vanished after that."
"Vanished? Do you think these mortals you spoke of did something to him as well?"
Duncan shook his head wearily as he grasped her elbow to escort her to her car. "I don't know."
Diana looked warily around. "How would I know them?"
He lifted her left hand to his lips and then turned it over to kiss her inside wrist. "They bear a strange tattoo here… a symbol… evidently an old one." He traced a shape lightly there and then blew on it.
Diana shivered as he blew on her wrist. Nodding she assured him, "I'll remember… and I'll be careful." She glanced back at the gym with a smile. "And… I'll keep an eye on our friend."
Duncan kissed her cheek. "Stay safe Diana Hamilton… stay safe."
Diana flashed him a smile as she started the ignition. "I will… Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." In her rear view mirror, she saw him lift a hand in a farewell wave as she drove away. Somehow, Diana felt that she would never see him again.
In the shadows across the street, a blonde-haired man in a trench coat smiled grimly. Pulling out his mobile phone he punched in a number. "Mr. St. Cloud… I believe I have acquired a target for you… a most interesting target. No… not MacLeod… not yet. I want him to suffer for a while. One by one we will eliminate those he cares for… until he is utterly alone… and then… Mr. St. Cloud… we shall both have our revenge."