Chapter Six:

Duncan had managed to drive Sunderson's car in the opposite direction that Diana and Sunderson had gone. Like her, he watched the mirrors carefully for many miles as he attempted to discover if he was being followed. Part of him had wanted to wait for Martin and his associates to return… but he understood that now was likely not the time. Martin might have too many with him.

The Highlander led a fairly open and settled existence. Even with Tessa's death and his recent change in living quarters and livelihood… they could find him. He'd have to watch for them. But he knew they were coming. Sooner or later… they would come for him. He needed to step up his training in all forms of combat so that he'd be ready for them.

The important thing right now was to make certain that Diana had truly learned everything he'd taught her and would manage to get away… get out of sight… and be able to settle down someplace quiet… at least for a while. As for Sunderson? Duncan shook his head. Maybe with Diana's help, when and if the time came… he'd make the change well.

That had reminded him of Richie. He'd taken Diana's advice the last time, and had returned to Seacouver after seeing her. Her words to him had finally broken through his miasma to train Richie when Annie Devlin had shown up. But then he'd pretty much handed Richie over to Charlie DeSalvo for some training… at least martial arts if not swords. Seeing Richie still brought Tessa to mind all too clearly… and not Annie, not even Amanda had completely banished her ghost. Every time he looked up, he expected to see her. Every time he rolled over in bed… he reached for her. It still felt as if half of his heart had been cut out… and likely it would continue to feel that way for some time.

Richie's being in his life was like pouring salt on the wound of Tessa's death. It had all been so senseless and he'd been unable to comprehend why it had happened and what he could have done… should have done… to prevent that. A thousand times he wished that he'd gone with them as they left Pallin Wolfe's house. A thousand and one times he wished that he'd been standing there when the junkie had pulled the gun. A thousand and two times he wished that he'd been shot and that somehow… the others weren't.

Duncan closed his eyes momentarily as he pictured what should have been. Then he shook it off and found a parking garage where he could leave Sunderson's car. Carefully he wiped it down and then locked it, leaving the keys under the floor mat before walking away. He would return to Seacouver and wait for a letter, a telegram, or a postcard that would say little but allow him to know that Diana Hamilton was alive and hidden. Then he'd focus on getting Dawson to look into the matter of Hunter involvement in her death… and he'd be on the lookout for Horton's followers.

At least Horton himself was dead. Seldom had the death of a mortal at his hands meant so much to him. He almost wished that Horton had been an immortal himself… just so that he could see the look on the man's face as he legitimately beheaded him. But he wasn't. Duncan had been close enough to the man to know that. Besides… there was Horton's daughter.

No… Duncan would play their game for now by retreating to Seacouver and telling Dawson that he was satisfied that Diana's "death" was one of mischance. That would do for now. And he'd concentrate on Richie. He needed to right now… else Richie Ryan would become another immortal lost all too soon to this ridiculous Game… and the Gathering.

-----

Horton stood within Sunderson's bungalow and seethed as he stared at the place. Hoskins' dead body seemed to accuse him of sloppy planning and he wasn't happy. "You were told to observe and not to confront," he said a bit too calmly and evenly to Martin.

"We were outside the place… just trying to check and see if Sunderson was alone so that we could grab him."

"He evidently wasn't alone," Horton replied.

"No sir. MacLeod grabbed Hoskins and then me after Sunderson lured me in."

Is Sunderson one of them?"

"I couldn't tell. I was pulling out all the stops to stay alive. I even told MacLeod I had a family."

"Did my name come up?"

"No sir. I mean… as far as MacLeod goes… you're dead… right?"

Horton nodded. "And I intend to keep it that way."

"I just tried to play into his illusions and confirm only what he already suspected. I didn't give him anything that he could use. I know better."

Horton smiled. "You did well in that regard. You survived to talk to me. Now tell me again exactly what happened. Does Sunderson know about us and the immortals?"

"Well he knows about us, I'd wager. He likely knows that someone killed Diana Hamilton. As to if he knows about immortals… I don't think that came up in the conversation."

Horton sighed heavily and cricked his neck. Then he smoothly pulled the silenced weapon and fired point-blank at Martin's forehead. Regretfully, he'd have to lose this gun. Calmly he unscrewed the silencer and pocketed it before wiping the gun carefully and dropping it to the floor.

Hopefully when as a concerned anonymous caller, he called the police citing that he'd heard a gunshot, they'd put out an APB for Sunderson that would be more effective than anything that he could do. He just hoped that MacLeod was still in the dark about his own involvement in this. Perhaps he should move up his timetable. Perhaps he should contact his brother-in-law sooner than he'd planned. He'd have to do some damage control and put his own spin on things. He'd have to assure Joseph that he'd had nothing to do with this if it came up in the conversation. He could call about Lynn. His daughter still wasn't talking to him. Yes… Lynn would be the perfect opening to finding out just what Joseph knew… and by extension perhaps… MacLeod.

The utter destruction of Duncan MacLeod was still his main purpose, and he had other plans in motion that would destroy the Highlander once and for all.

Meanwhile, he could concentrate on Sunderson. If the man was running… then he was either one of them, or he knew about them. Either way… he was a dead man. The other loophole was the Hamilton woman. Martin still hadn't been able to confirm if she were alive or dead. Perhaps it was time to pump one of his contacts in the San Francisco police department about the state of the official investigation. Satisfied that the evidence in the bungalow appeared that Sunderson had killed two men and fled, Horton eased out of the house and down the beach where he sauntered along the sand, an oddly dressed man on the winter beach in a suit and topcoat. His narrow tie fluttered in the wind, a red line around his throat like some hideous gash. He was unaware of the effect.

Soon, he would have destroyed them all. He had copies of the records of all active immortals in the Watcher files. It had taken him years to amass them all. He'd entered the files on his computer and had recruited many of the dissatisfied Watchers over the years… the ones angry that someone else had the gift of immortal life… the ones sickened as he was… of the unremitting violence of their lives… and the ones convinced that no immortal could win the game and remain a "good" man. They had to die… all of them. Even the saintly Darius.

Even though his followers had been drummed out of the Watchers for the most part… although a few still remained safely within those ranks… they could still accomplish their goal. One day soon, all the immortals would be dead. The more that they could kill and make certain that the quickenings were lost… that no immortal ever received that power… the sooner the world would be safe for true men. The Game and The Gathering would become meaningless in the greater scheme of things.

-----

The Rocky Mountains gave way to the wide midwestern plains, where the highways were like long straight ribbons of asphalt bisecting the flat landscape. Large wet flakes of snow began to fall and soon covered everything with a winter blanket of heavy white.

The "thock… thock" of the wipers and the hum of the heater were the only sounds in the car. Diana was curled up asleep under a blanket in the passenger seat and Garrett had turned off the radio. He hunched over the wheel, concentrating on the gradually vanishing road before him. Ahead he could see lights off to one side.

He glanced at Diana. She'd insisted on driving through California and over the mountains. She'd controlled every stop… and made certain that their exposure to others had been limited and that neither of their faces was clearly seen. She'd bought hair dye at one stop and had lightened her hair and darkened his. Each time he looked in the rear view mirror and saw dark hair where his Nordic blonde hair had once been… we wondered at what he'd lost and what he'd gained.

He was still a reporter on the grandest of stories. His sojourn as a sports reporter had been more of a testament to his athletic build, his familiarity with playing sports, and his good looks than where his heart truly lay. He wanted to be a real reporter and win a Pulitzer. Hell… every reporter secretly hoped to do work worthy of a Pulitzer… but he didn't just want to do the work… he wanted that baby on his mantel so that he could prove that he was more than just a pretty face. But he was uncertain how he could go about telling this story. Maybe he'd have to write it up as fiction… or perhaps a screenplay. His active imagination could see all of this played out on the big screen… immortal warriors fighting one another with swords throughout the centuries. It could happen. Meanwhile… he'd go along with Diana and her plans, and attempt to learn all that he could.

Slowing carefully, he pulled into the truck stop and parked well away from the lights as Diana always had. She shifted beneath the blanket but didn't awaken. Garrett decided a couple of cups of coffee… maybe a burger would be just the thing. Quietly he alit from the vehicle and softly closed the door behind him so as not to wake her. She'd been running on adrenaline and she really needed to sleep. Stuffing his hands into his pockets, he slipped his way across the icy surface of the parking lot, leaving footprints in the snow. His breath made small clouds of mist fog before his face.

In moments he was inside the brightly lit and raucously loud diner. He leaned on the counter near the register and placed an order "to go" and then sauntered over to the jukebox to check out the music. He was finding some really good old tunes on some of the choices, but he doubted he'd be here long enough to hear them. It looked like the regulars… or at least the diners… had put quite a bit in. The playlist was fairly long. He ginned at a passing waitress whose long black hair, plaited into a single braid, swung seductively behind her as she passed. Her dark eyes and exotic features bespoke her Indian heritage. She smiled back at him. Suddenly he felt like himself again. Good looking… well built… a real chick magnet. The worries of the past few days faded away.

Just then his order was called. He smiled back at her and winked as he sauntered confidently to the counter, checked the order and paid, carefully peeling off one of the bills that Diana had given him to hold onto. The cashier's eyes widened and then she fumbled to make change. Evidently she didn't see many hundreds in here.

Garrett stuffed the change in his front jeans pocket… thanked as he picked up the sack and tray with his order… and pushed his way out the front door. The snow was falling even more heavily now. He shivered in the sudden chill of the weather and headed for the car at the far end of the parking lot.

About halfway there a heavyset man with a beard and long brown hair… greasy-looking and blowing in the wind stepped into his path. In his hand was a knife. "Hand it over… now."

Garrett froze. Without a word he shifted the cardboard tray of food and drinks to his right hand and rammed his left into his pocket. He handed the man the wad of bills. The man grinned. For a moment the red neon of the truck stop sign glistened off of a metal tooth. Then Garrett felt his fist slam against his gut. He hissed and stumbled against the man who hit him again. "Thanks, buddy," he said and then was gone.

Garrett stood for a moment… feeling the warm coffee spill down his leg. He shivered in the cold while attempting to draw an easy breath again. He still felt winded from the punch and his gut throbbed, but otherwise he felt fine. Slowly he made his way to the car, his steps slow and hesitant. By the time he was there, the spilt coffee had cooled and his leg felt cold where his pants were wet. He fumbled to open the door and then climbed in awkwardly. For some reason, it was getting harder and harder to move.

Diana sat up with a sudden start. After rubbing her eyes, she asked him. "Where are we?"

Garrett sat for a moment, trying to get his mind around her question and wondering how to tell her that he'd been robbed… that their extra money was gone. He finally shook his head. "I spilled the coffee."

Diana looked at him oddly and then carefully took the tray from his lap. Oddly he felt warm fluid again.

"You fool," Diana said gently. She grabbed the blanket and pushed it against him. Garrett looked down… finding it odd that the blanket was soaking up so much fluid. He hadn't bought large coffees. But it was hard to think. It was even harder to say anything… and now it was getting hard to see.

He smiled at Diana's tear-stained face. "I goofed."

"Yeah. But it'll be fine… you'll see."

Garrett closed his eyes and surrendered to the darkness.

-----

Christmas of 1993 was not one Duncan MacLeod felt like celebrating. For the first time in thirteen Christmases… he was alone. Even Richie had left following his killing of the immortal lawman Mako. Duncan had turned his back on the impetuous youth. If he wouldn't listen to him… he couldn't teach him. Richie had crossed the line and it was time to leave.

Duncan realized as he walked home from the store on Christmas Eve just as darkness was falling that he was alone. Charlie had invited him to join him and his girlfriend Helen tonight but Duncan had figured he'd be a fifth wheel at what would otherwise be a small intimate evening. His friends the Websters had invited him to Christmas dinner… but Duncan had assured them that he'd be fine on his own. He stopped at the door of the closed gym and unlocked the mailbox to get the mail. Once inside, he crossed the darkened gym fumbling for the elevator key as he juggled his grocery bags so that he could handle the freight door.

He entered the elevator, closed the gate, and then turned the key in the controls. The cage rattled slightly as it rose. Once it stopped on the upper level, he locked it into position and then opened the gate. As he entered his rooms, he tossed the mail on the couch and flipped the lights on. Then he set about making a dinner.

Once he'd eaten, he flipped through the mail… stopping at a photo postcard of a snow-covered Cumberland Gap. He turned it over.

"Happy Holidays! D & G"

Duncan wadded the card in his hands and sat for a long moment smiling at memories of Diana as a new immortal. She'd made it. She'd reached her destination and let him know that she was fine. He leaned forward and pulled a match from a matchbox. He set fire to the card and dropped it into an ashtray, watching it blacken and curl. Now nothing tangible of her would remain. He could safely talk with Dawson now and find out if Horton's followers were still creating problems. He wouldn't know precisely where she was… but he could guess. He might even ask Dawson if he could see Diana's file. He doubted the old Watcher would allow him to see the file… but he might.

"D & G"

Evidently Garrett was still with her. Duncan chuckled and wondered how Diana was managing to keep the young man from turning himself into the authorities and how she was keeping him from writing up that big story he so desperately wanted to tell. Well, she'd manage. She'd always been a clever one. Maybe she wasn't the best or the brightest of his students… but she was a survivor. Maybe he'd take a trip to the Appalachian Mountains one day soon and try to find her… and then again… maybe not. After all… she deserved a quiet life and a place to call home. He was far too well known among to the Watchers. If he went there… they'd find her again… and so would the renegade Watchers.

Glancing around his empty loft… Duncan made a swift decision. He picked up the phone and made a call. "Craig… Duncan. Merry Christmas. Listen… is that invitation for dinner tomorrow still open?"

#30#

I hope this story has been fulfilling to readers. I figured out fairly early that my choice of villain would not allow for a satisfying confrontation as they eventually do meet Duncan MacLeod within an episode or two of where I ended the story, and that until then, he would have no idea that James Horton was still alive, nor that Xavier St. Cloud had joined forces with him.

As always,

elle