Fun and Games
Connor MacLeod wants to celebrate Rachel's recent graduation from high school and the two head for Coney Island. But the day they have planned will go horribly wrong.
Rated for L, VNew York, June 1952
Choosing to raise a mortal child, rather than turn her over to authorities already overwhelmed with orphans in the wake of World War II, Connor MacLeod had discovered that his heart, long held aloof and unfeeling in the face of his immortality, had begun to bloom again. War orphan Rachel Ellenstein, who had seen him rise from a temporary death at a German officer's bullets, had instantly wormed her way into Connor's heart with an innocent enthusiasm for life that he'd long ago forgotten. Connor had found that he couldn't just let her be lost to an unfeeling system, and had taken her under his protection to first, get her out of the war zone, and then safely to New York where "Rupert Wallingford" could legally adopt her.
"But I want to keep my name," she'd told him with tears brimming in those startling blue eyes of hers.
"Heh… heh… heh… What's in a name, Rachel?" But he'd understood it was a connection to her dead parents… and to her past that the eight year old had wanted and so her name remained as it had always been. Still… he had doted on her as the years had passed and watched her grow from an endearing child to a gangly pre-teen… until at last she stood on the brink of womanhood. She'd graduated with honors from her private prep school and would be leaving in the fall for a term at Rutgers. His time as a parent was growing short.
"Ever been to Coney Island?" he asked her one Sunday shortly after her graduation.
She gazed at him over her orange juice and smiled as only an eighteen-year-old pretty girl can smile. "I've heard of it, of course." Her smile touched him, as it always did and his own heart felt lighter. He was aware of the sonorous ticking of the antique schoolhouse clock on the kitchen's wall… and its insistent reminder that time was passing him by.
"I never took you?" he feigned a frown and folded the paper, as she shook her head… her blonde curls bouncing slightly. "Then I shall have to remedy that immediately."
"It's over in Brooklyn," she said with a slight smile, as she set her juice down and resumed eating her eggs.
He leaned forward. "Now how would you know that?"
She shrugged. "The girls at school talked about it sometimes. It has rides, nickel amusements, hot dogs, and a beach."
"And boys?" teased Connor.
Rachel blushed and tucked a strand of blonde hair behind one ear. "Now you're teasing me."
Connor sighed and sat back. "I always wondered why you didn't date in high school."
The blush on Rachel's face continued to rise… coloring her face a deep rose. "Sure… I'm going to bring home a prospective hormonal teen boy and introduce him to my sword-carrying father."
"I wouldn't have used the sword on him at first introduction," Connor snorted. "Just if he kept you out past curfew."
She laughed… but he still felt guilty. Had he robbed her of a childhood? Would she have been better off with nice safe mortal parents?
"I'm sorry that my life has kept you from doing things Rachel. That was never my intent."
"I love you Connor… and I will keep your secrets until the day I die," she insisted, suddenly reaching out to clasp one of his hands. "Now don't blame my not dating on your life. I just never met anyone that interests me half as much as you. All the boys I ever met just seemed like that… boys. They have no concept of history, or life and death… war… and its aftermath. For them… it's all about fun."
Connor's eyes twinkled merrily in his youthful face. As Rachel aged, he realized he looked more and more like an elder brother rather than her father… but that was the way of it. He'd died the first time when he was eighteen and while his long life had aged him in some ways… made him leaner, harder, more somber… he would never truly age. In his time, an eighteen year old was a man. He'd had responsibilities and the idea of just having fun had never been instilled in him. Life in sixteenth century Scotland had been far too hard. "Then maybe fun and games for the afternoon are exactly what we need. We'll stroll along the boardwalk, eat hot dogs and cotton candy, play some games, ride the roller coaster and watch the fireworks after dark. What do you say?"
"I say yes," Rachel smiled before rising to kiss his cheek. "It's a date!" she wiped her pale lipstick from his cheek and danced off to get ready.
Connor touched the spot where she'd kissed him. He'd always loved pretty girls… blonde ones who reminded him of Heather… his first wife and truest love… but he'd seldom let himself get truly involved with one for a long time. He shook his head, wondering at the line his thoughts were suddenly taking in regards to Rachel and lifted his coffee cup. The brew was cold… but it made him focus and realize he was just feeling the passing of the years and the inevitability of change. Rachel was grown now. He needed to let her go. She needed to find her own life out there in the mortal world… free from his and the Game. But one last father-daughter outing would be nice… once last time to just enjoy her company without worrying what would become of her if he were suddenly killed. He'd provided for her… he'd set up trust funds for her even as he prepared for "Rupert Wallingford" to die one day soon and for "Russell Nash" to inherit everything. "Life is about change," he murmured to himself and then rose to clear the dishes from the breakfast table and to place them in the sink to soak. They'd have fun… but he'd still take Ramirez's katana with him. After all… he wasn't a fool.
They'd ridden the subway from the Hudson Street station out to Brooklyn and then down to the amusement complex on the southern peninsula of land that was home to what was known collectively as Coney Island. It wasn't an island… but it might as well have been. White sand beaches and boardwalks surrounded an area filled with rides and games of all sorts.
Rachel's eyes were wide with glee and Connor, who likewise had never visited the park in it's nearly one hundred years of existence, found himself laughing at street performers and at children racing past them amidst the attractions.
"Can you win me a prize, Connor?" Rachel asked. He grinned, hearing the slightest Highland lilt in her English. There were times she sounded more Scots then he did. It was at moments like this, as she gleefully danced toward a game, holding out her hand in invitation that she most reminded him of Heather and the way she'd tease him and leave at market while she was off to buy a chicken for dinner or a bolt of cloth to make a new dress.
He laughed and followed Rachel. "Depends on the skill required," he teased her. "Nothing with swords, I fear and that is my greatest skill."
"Oh… I recall you can throw a mean fastball," she teased, reminding him of the father-daughter softball game at her school outing when she was twelve.
"Balls it is then," he laughed and stepped up to the counter. He watched another customer throw balls at the milk bottles and smiled, realizing that they were likely weighted or secured to one another in some fashion that was not obvious. One might fall… but all three? It would take a precise throw and a good deal of power.
"Look!" Rachel cried as she clasped his arm. He looked at the stuffed gorilla hanging from a hook and rolled his eyes.
"The little lady has her eye on the monkey Mac," the barker said. "Get nine bottles down with three balls and the monkey is hers." Overweight, unshaven, and smelling of peppermint, tobacco, and sweat, the barker winked and rested three balls on the counter in front of Connor. "Three balls for a quarter," he said.
"Heh… heh… heh," Connor laughed and dug a quarter from his trousers. "What's a quarter in the face of pleasing a pretty girl?"
He removed his coat, carefully handing it to Rachel, who adjusted it on her arm so that no one would notice the katana. Lifting one ball, he hefted it a moment… recalling pitching against the immortal Babe once in a friendly pick-up game. He'd thrown it low and fast and Babe had managed to crack his bat in hitting the ball over the fence. Connor looked behind him and motioned Rachel to back away, and then he did a wind-up and let it fly.
The ball roared into the sweet spot between the three bottles, knocking off the top one and causing one of the bottom ones to rock and then tilt over. It rolled and hit the third one, which didn't move.
"Two out of three!" the barker shouted. "Two with one ball! You can still get the little lady a nice prize. You got two balls left!"
Connor stared at the last standing remaining bottle with a grim smile. He'd have to waste one ball on the bottle and then try for three with the last one. He licked his lips and lifted the ball… again hefting it and staring at the still-standing bottle. Well… he had plenty of quarters. He wound up and delivered the ball hard enough to knock the bottle over. Then he lifted the third ball as he eyed another display of bottles. The barker laughed and stepped back out of his way while he let that last one fly.
The third ball struck true and all three bottles fell. So it was possible.
The barker stared open-mouthed and then chuckled while he reached under the counter for a sock monkey that he handed to Rachel. "You didn't get nine but six is damned good," he said and then looked at Rachel. "No offense miss."
Connor dragged out another quarter. "Keep the monkey. I'm after the gorilla."
The barker grinned widely. "Yes sirree, Mac," he said as he reset the bottles and lined up three balls again. He obviously thought he was going to make a few bucks off the sucker and close early.
Connor had watched the placement of bottles carefully as well as watching what the barker did with his hands after. The bottles were weighted, possibly magnetized, but they were breakable. He took a deep breath and focused on the third set of bottles… the ones still standing. Again… for a moment… he was standing before Babe Ruth and watching the Babe's bat move up and down as the famed ballplayer set himself for the next pitch. Then Connor smiled… wound up and the ball flew from his hands. He grinned as glass broke in the force of his pitch and the remnants of all three bottles rolled around and off the shelf.
"One," Connor said and pointed a finger.
"We got a player here ladies and gents," the barker began to shill. A small crowd began gathering. "Give the man some room!" the barker laughed.
Connor tuned him out and focused on the first set of bottles… the ones that had defeated him last time. He tossed the ball from one hand to the other as he stared at them… thinking of them as he would an immortal's neck in a battle for the death. The second ball likewise flew true. No glass breakage this time… but all three bottles flew off the shelf in the face of the ball's speed. Connor grinned and held up two fingers.
The barker was sweating profusely by this time. From the crowd came a splattering of applause, laughter and cigarette smoke.
"One ball left, ladies and gents! Will he do it? Will he win the gorilla for the little lady?"
Connor lifted the ball, focused and was in mid windup when he felt it… the presence of another immortal. He shot a glance at Rachel to be certain she was safe and then came out of his windup to look about the suddenly silent crowd. The ball was still held comfortably in one hand and he was ready to throw it if he needed to. The presence faded and he took a deep breath… almost shaking in the aftermath of the close encounter. It had been five years since the last time he'd crossed paths with another immortal. Thankfully he'd been on his own and had not had to worry about Rachel's presence… or the presence of mortals. This immortal had felt old and powerful… although it wasn't always easy to discern who actually was old and powerful and who only seemed that way sometimes. In the distance, lightning crackled suddenly.
Some members of the crowd flinched, and a few moved on… wary of what they assumed might be an oncoming rain shower.
"Is everything all right Connor?" Rachel asked. She stepped closer to him and offered his coat.
He shook his head. "Everything's fine." He turned back to the counter and eyed the last three bottles. "Time to end this." He tossed the ball into the air… caught it on the way down and pitched it solidly against the bottles. Once more they went flying off the shelf.
"Three!" he crowed triumphantly as he held up three fingers. "Nine with three balls you said? The little lady will take the gorilla." His voice betrayed a touch of menace.
"Sure, sure Mac. You played professional ball once didn't you?" the barker said as he unhooked the massive gorilla and handed it over to Connor. "Not exactly sporting are you?"
"Neither is weighting the bottles with magnetized iron fillings," Connor retorted. He collected the gorilla, bowed toward Rachel and handed it to her. "Your prize my lady."
Laughingly and with a shake of her golden curls she accepted it and returned his coat. "Oh look at him," she beamed. "Why I think he looks a bit like you… at least when you're truly angry." She held him up. "I dub thee Vanilla Gorilla." Suddenly she looked at Connor seriously. "Uh oh… what do I do with him for the rest of the day."
"Carry him," Connor laughed as he slid his coat on once more. He took her arm and they continued about the midway.
As the afternoon progressed, Connor was sweating profusely and the coat seemed unnecessary… but in light of his having felt another immortal nearby, the sword was necessary. Rachel had tried her luck at a ring toss while he watched and while there… he'd felt the tingle of the other immortal somewhere in the passing crowd. "Let's go," he told her as she threw her last ring.
"But I didn't win anything," she laughed and then sobered as she saw the expression on his face. She gathered the gorilla into her arms without further protest.
He took her arm and brushed aside the crowd to get back onto the middle of the midway.
"You feel someone, don't you," Rachel asked with worry.
"Not now… but twice earlier. I want to be certain we're well surrounded and that I have you safely near me."
"Should we just leave?"
He sighed. It could be nothing… but it could also be a trap. Most immortals wouldn't press for a fight in the middle of a crowd… there were a few insane ones who might… and he really did want to have this day with Rachel. If they left now… would the unknown immortal follow him back to Hudson Street? Mentally he recalled the way and the chances of being waylaid. Maybe the immortal hadn't realized it was him? Maybe he was watching the crowd to see if someone suddenly bolted and left. Maybe… "I think we should just have our day here," he finally told Rachel and looked at the gorilla's face. "Vanilla seems like such a cream puff name for one of so grouchy a countenance," he teased changing the subject.
"Well chocolate didn't rhyme. Besides… I like vanilla."
Connor laughed heartily as they moved along the midway. People they passed pointed and gasped at the stuffed gorilla in Rachel's arms and Connor mentioned the booth where he'd won it to several people when they asked. He grinned, thinking that the barker would likely do a booming business this afternoon. Thankfully, besides that one errant bolt of lightning earlier, the sky remained clear and the sun beat down out from a clear sky. The temperature rose.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Connor watched the roller coaster rush past on the overhead tracks. "Want a ride little girl?" he teased Rachel.
"What happens to Vanilla Gorilla?" she replied.
Connor shrugged. "We'll put him between us in the seat and take him along for the ride." Wedged between them… Vanilla Gorilla accompanied them on ride after ride. They rode the roller coaster again and again… enjoying the adrenaline rush of its bends and turns. He had his own horse on the carousel… posed jauntily as if he new how to ride while Rachel and Connor steadied him to keep him from falling. They took him with them on the Ferris wheel and counted themselves lucky when they were at the top during a brief stop.
"Look at it, Connor," breathed an awed Rachel. "It goes on for miles… and is stopped only by the ocean."
"I remember the first time I ever rode one these things," Connor smiled and hugged her about the shoulders. His head rested near hers. He figured that if anyone had seen them, they'd think they were a couple. His apparent age certainly made it look that way. "I saw the city around me from a new perspective… and I realized how fragile life is."
"Aye," she replied… again unconsciously mimicking his accent. "And the first time you were in a plane… or the first time you climbed the Eiffel tower or sailed across the ocean. I envy that in you Connor… that ability to have the time to do whatever you want."
He sighed and released her. "Not everything I want."
She looked at him tearfully. "Why not?"
"Some things just shouldn't be," he replied. "I can't let anyone in like that any more… I can't bear it when they die."
"You can't keep pushing people away. You're stronger with friends than without them. You shouldn't have to face this alone."
The Ferris wheel began its journey. As they sank faster and faster to the bottom of the revolution, Connor shook his head. "It hurts too much when they die for who and what I am. It happens too often. Better not to care. Better to be alone. Better for them… better for me."
They began to rise once more and for a moment, Connor felt it again… that other immortal. He closed his eyes and sighed. He had a feeling this one wasn't going to go away. Perhaps it was time to leave… before darkness fell… before a man could hide in the shadows and then attack. The Ferris wheel stopped once more and while they weren't at the top, they were near there. When it had stopped this time, Connor thought he heard metal scream and twist and detected a slight bump.
"Damn," he muttered as he looked over the side. This wheel was one of the larger ones and from where they were, people looked small to him. He raked his eyes over the crowd, finally finding the dark-haired man apparently staring at him. Connor couldn't see an expression from here, but he had a feeling that had just been made. Maybe the shadows and the fall of night would be better. But keeping Rachel safe was his main priority.
The immortal saluted him and wandered off through the crowd. That could mean anything… from "fine, catch you later" to "I have you know!" Connor leaned back in the seat as it rocked back and forth in the breeze. At least it was cooler up hear.
"Connor?" Rachel asked, her voiced trembling slightly. "He's back again isn't he?"
"So it seems," Connor replied and glanced down again where a number of carnies were rushing to the Ferris wheel and it's controls. He could see smoke rising from the generator and wondered if it were purely coincidence.
"There are no such things as coincidences," he could hear his old teacher Ramirez say. "Any time things happen… there's a reason. You have to be on your guard then. Another immortal may be arranging a meeting."
"So it seems," he repeated again, and then ruffled her hair and hugged her with both arms. "But we're safe my bonny Rachel. We're high above the Earth and no one can reach us. Not now. And no one will separate us,' he continued as he looked into her blue eyes. "Not ever." He would step away as her parent… let her lead her own life… that hadn't changed. But he wouldn't shut her out entirely. He wanted her in his life… but he couldn't let her all the way in. He couldn't bear it if she died because of him.
Since there was nothing else to do but wait they waited.
They were trapped near the top the Ferris wheel for two and a half hours. In that time, he and Rachel had talked about her college plans, her career plans, and his plans for a "death" in a few years. Shadows were lengthening by the time they were down… men had manually had to advance and brake the huge wheel and it had been a long slow process.
"I'm starved," Rachel commented as they walked away from the crippled ride. Connor nodded. They needed to eat… and hot dogs sounded good about now… slathered with brown mustard and piled high with onions and peppers. Two Italian sausages with large lemonades filled the bill and the crowds had thinned by this time. He neither felt nor saw the other immortal. Had he left? Had Connor lucked out in that it was a passing thing only? He still worried about that.
They were near the peninsula tip and it would take time to work their way back towards the subway station in the north. "We better get going," he told her as he finished his lemonade and tossed the cup into a trash bin. He shifted Vanilla Gorilla into his arms for a bit as they began their walk. In the darker blue of the evening sky, Connor could see the first stars peeking out. The barkers on the midway had turned their booth lights on already, and the neon lights of the rides were blinking about them in a dizzying whirl. They'd be setting off fireworks over the water as soon as it got dark. Connor had truly wanted to hold Rachel in his arms as they stared at the colorful blooms in the night sky.
They moved north slowly, fighting the crowd that seemed more interested in going south toward the tip of the peninsula and the fireworks show. Then… ahead of them… he felt the immortal. Connor stopped and looked around.
'Rachel, do as I say. I want you to turn around and head south. Stay with the crowd."
"But Connor," she protested.
"For your life Rachel. Go now. I'll find you when I can. Stay with the crowd and be careful!" He handed the gorilla to her. "Now go, dammit!"
Rachel backed away from him. She looked frightened and hurt that he was yelling at her this way. But she didn't argue, she turned and headed south. Connor felt his heart rip in two. He'd pushed her away, but if he had to fight… he needed to be focused on his opponent and not on her. He couldn't protect her and fight for his life at the same time. Maybe the immortal hadn't gotten a good look at her face. Maybe she'd be all right. Now he had to do what he did best… meet another of his kind and perhaps fight for his life.
The crowd continued to file around him as he stood, waiting in the gathering gloom for a good look at his opponent. Then Connor noticed the crowd surging away from someone else as they surged around him. Someone who, like him was rooted in position… watching… waiting.
The other immortal wore a black coat and sneered petulantly at him, his hands stuffed deeply into his coat pockets. "What have we here?" His accent seemed to indicate he was American. He bore a scar that twisted from the corner of his mouth and along his right cheek before vanishing beneath his long brown hair. Connor's eyes flickered about him. Rachel, he thought. This wasn't the immortal he'd seen earlier from the Ferris wheel… but he couldn't worry about Rachel right now.
"We're in a crowded place," he said as he stepped closer to his opponent. His hand itched for the hilt of katana. Not yet! he screamed silently to himself.
The other shrugged. "Not for much longer. Kevin Brighton, of Oklahoma Territory."
Connor took a deep breath. There were, after all, a few formalities. "Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. We don't have to do this."
Brighton shrugged again. He looked like he wished he had a hat to shift back on his head… like he belonged in some Saturday matinee western. His black duster whipped about his jean-clad legs. Connor could even see the tips of cowboy boots on the man's feet. "It's what we do," Brighton said.
He moseyed to one side of the midway and stood watching the passersby. Connor moved to stand at his side, fearful of just leaving… and fearful if the man had a partner out there… one who was even now assaulting Rachel.
"So what brought you out here today?" Brighton was asking him.
Connor shrugged with an ease he did not feel. "Oh you know… a day out with the wife and kids. They grow so fast."
"Kids?" Brighton looked at him with surprise. Then he nodded. "Right… that's your attempt at sarcasm I reckon. Don't hold with it myself. Bad enough to kill a man… worse to kill a man just because of who he is without even knowing him."
"Even worse to kill a friend," Connor snapped bitterly.
Brighton looked at him. "We're friends?" Oh… you're talking about another one. Naw… I don't make friends with our kind. It's not safe."
Connor nodded. "So I've told my students. Though I don't think they ever really believed that."
"You're old enough to have students. That means you're pretty good," Brighton mused.
"Good enough to know when to walk away and when to fight. You should walk away," he warned Brighton.
"Now see… I don't think so. I think you and me will have our little fight, I'll take your head and then I'll stick it to your girlfriend. Ought to be easy to find carrying that stuffed gorilla around." He smiled thinly. "Bet you didn't think I saw her… the little blonde." He grabbed his crotch and squeezed. "I like blondes. Is she natural? Haven't seen one in a while except if they're young. Of course to me… they're all young… but there have been a few that weren't more than girls. Blonde pigtails… ankle socks… still missing their baby teeth. He grinned and winked. "Get 'em young and they're yours forever."
"I'll kill you if you touch her," Connor snarled.
"Yeah… but you'll be cold and dead before too long." He cackled slightly and then winked. "Catch me if you can," he slipped back into the crowd moving south with a wave.
"Dammit!" seethed Connor as he tried to follow Brighton. He pushed through the crowd trying to see either Rachel or his opponent and uncertain which one he hoped to find first. On the one hand, he needed to be certain Rachel was all right. He'd find her and they'd leave. Immediately! On the other hand, he realized this monster would grab another child and rape her if he didn't stop him once and for all. Within his mind, Connor could see the Rachel he'd first met… eight years old in that winter of 1943… terrified and alone. To the reality of his memory, he wedded a vision of her being raped by the German officer he'd killed… an officer who now wore the face of Kevin Brighton. It didn't matter that Rachel was eighteen now… that she was grown. She would always be that pig-tailed little girl to him… the one who clung to him with wide-eyed wonder when he'd survived those bullets. "It's a kind of magic," he'd told her then. And it was… but it was also a curse.
Frantically, and with growing frustration… Connor MacLeod pushed into the crowd.
Rachel's illusions about Connor MacLeod had stemmed from that first meeting when she'd been a small and very frightened little girl who'd seen her parents killed. They'd told her to run and hide and she had done that. She'd remained hidden in the straw of that barn long after they were dead and the Germans had moved. At least she thought they had moved on. And then Connor had come. He'd found her and wrapped his arms about her as he carried her out of that place. He'd come like a prince in one of the fairy tales she loved to read… one who would save the princess and one day marry her.
That's when the gunshots had rung out and he'd fallen atop of her. Once more she'd remained still and quiet… hopeful that the man who had shot the prince would not see her… would just walk away. Then a miracle had happened. She knew that miracles were real. Father read them to her from the Torah. Miracles were God's way of saving his chosen people. Her prince woke up and winked at her. "It's a kind of magic," he'd told her when she'd managed to whisper that she'd thought he was dead.
Then he was on his feet and before Rachel could quite grasp what was happening, the German was dead and her prince was victorious over his opponent. That was the image she carried in her heart about Connor MacLeod or Rupert Wallingford, as the world knew him. He hadn't just saved her life that day… he'd saved it every day since by making her a part of his life. He'd gotten her out of Europe and instead of dropping her off at a refugee center; he'd brought to America… the Promised Land where he was a wealthy businessman… a true prince of industry. He'd adopted her, letting he keep her own name and had enrolled her in one of the finest private girls' school in New York. He'd paid for horseback lessons when she was ten. He'd given her gifts and toys… enough to truly spoil her… and he'd loved her in his own way.
When she was twelve, he'd finally told her his real name… "It's a secret, Rachel. You must promise never to tell another living soul." And she hadn't. She never would. It was about then that she'd begun calling him Connor when they were alone. Certainly she still referred to him as "Dad" when with her friends… and duly introduced him as "Mr. Wallingford" to her teachers. He'd sat in the synagogue when she was thirteen and though he, himself, was not Jewish, had encouraged her learning. If someone asked about his personal faith, he would shrug and say he was raised Catholic, and let the matter drop without comment. He'd once told her that he respected all faiths… but that as an immortal he'd seen and done too much to ever believe that one faith was the only truth.
Immortal. Her prince was immortal. One day she would be grown and he would still be young. It had fed many of her dreams over the years. Once, as Mary Jo Kroenhauer's sleepover, when they were drooling over Clark Gable and Marlon Brando pictures, she'd wondered why. Those men weren't real heroes the way Connor was. They were men with pretty faces who played heroes on the silver screen. But she'd held her secret in her heart. Her prince was a true hero. At Jean Shapiro's one day last winter when they were talking about boys, the end of the year formal, and losing their virginity, Rachel had bit her tongue rather than make fun of her friends for swooning over pimple-faced boys who had no concept of what life and living were all about. Rachel was quite certain if Bobby Fields or David Rosenblatt was ever faced with a German with a machine gun… that they'd piss in their pants and fall to their knees. They weren't immortal and would never be able to measure up to the man that Rachel thought of as her father… her friend… her prince… and her savior.
And then somehow after that thought had come to her, she'd realized one night over dinner that Connor truly was immortal and that he looked only a few years older than she did. Oh he covered it well with an unshaven face and a grim expression most of the time… but he really was little older than most of the boys she knew… at least physically. Emotionally… he was far older. And Rachel wanted older. Didn't the princess always marry the prince at the end of the fairy tale? Maybe he was waiting for her to grow up enough and then he'd tell her that she too was immortal and they'd live happily ever after.
Rachel liked to think she'd moved beyond such fairy tale affairs… but there were days… like today… when it almost seemed possible. She hugged the stuffed gorilla as if it was life preserver as she walked fearfully along with the crowd. Connor had taught her years ago that if he met another immortal… she was to do exactly what he told her. She was not to waste time arguing… she was to follow his directions… or it would all be over with. "When I fight, Rachel… I have to focus on my opponent. I can't worry about anyone else… if I do… I'll make a mistake and that will be the end of it."
So she'd left him as he'd instructed… but she kept looking around for him. Surely he would be along shortly. He'd said he'd find her. All she had to do was stay in the middle of the crowd where she was safe. It was while she was looking over her shoulder that she ran smack into the young man.
"Whoa!" he said with a smile and held at her arm's link. "Watch where you're going."
"I'm sorry. I was worried about my friend. He's back there somewhere," she sputtered… thinking to herself that she couldn't have sounded lamer.
He looked behind her at the crowd and then smiled again. "I'm sure he's fine. If you like, I can wait with you."
Something about his smile made Rachel suspicious. Some inner feeling bothered her. Why was he being so nice? Something in his eyes warned her that despite his smile and pleasant words… he wasn't a very nice man. She backed away from him, her hands knotted in the fake fur of Vanilla Gorilla. "I don't think so," she said haltingly. "I'd better try finding him." She turned to leave and had taken a dozen or so steps when she heard him call her name.
She threw a glance at him over her shoulder and began to run. She had to get away from him! He was dangerous! He was likely the man Connor was afraid of! She had to find Connor! Swiftly she ducked through and about the surging crowd. The lights on the midway were on by this time, setting off everything in a harsh glow interspersed with dark shadows.
He caught up to her within minutes and pulled her into the shadows, one large hand firmly over her mouth. "I'm not your enemy Rachel. I'm like Connor… but I'm not here for him. I'm here for the other one." He met her gaze and nodded slowly. "I'm going to lift my hand now. Promise not to scream."
He dropped his hand but still held onto her. "Now where did you see them last?"
"I didn't see another one… just Connor."
He looked up at the sky as the first of the fireworks was fired off. Then he looked at her again. "Where was Connor when you last saw him?"
"Why should I trust you?"
He laughed. "Good girl. You shouldn't. If Connor taught you anything it was not to trust any of us. Right?"
"Do you know him?"
"No," he said in a clipped voice. "But I know of him. You might say I've followed his career with interest."
"His career? It's his life! This stupid game you're all involved in will claim all your lives. What a waste!"
He nodded as he looked at her thoughtfully. "You think so? You could be right." He squeezed her arms where he held them. "Now where was he?"
"You're hurting me."
"You have no idea what real pain is." A shadow of something crossed his face… some vestige of memory perhaps. She'd often seen Connor look that way and then he'd tell her a story of his past. The man released her arms. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I may be able to help. Now where did you last see him?"
Rachel watched him carefully. Finally she made a decision… one she hoped would not be a mistake. "Back towards the carousel… the big one with the painted horses.
He looked up the midway and then nodded as if to assure himself that it made sense. He grasped her arm. "Come along,"
"You're taking me with you?" She struggled a bit. He clamped his hand more tightly. "I trusted you!"
"I know. But Brighton's a sick SOB. Connor would have my head if I left you here and Brighton got to you first." He winked at her. "And I'm rather attached to my head."
She stopped struggling and let him lead her along. She could still scream if she needed to… although the screams from the roller coaster nearby might well drown hers out. "I'm not a child," she complained. "Don't treat me like one."
He smirked and chuckled as they walked. "You are to me."
"So how old are you?" she asked. "What's your name?"
"I've had many names. And as for my age…" he shrugged. "Old enough to be your grandfather several times over."
He froze suddenly.
Rachel followed his gaze to find the scruffy looking young man in the black coat. He grinned at her and wriggled his tongue. Rachel flinched and looked away.
"Is that him?"
"Kevin Brighton. He gives our kind a bad name. He was a gunfighter and bank robber before he died… and a murderer and child molester after. You might say having an extended lifeline gave him free reign to give in to his darkest desires. Even if the police kill him… he comes back for more."
"And only an immortal can stop him," Rachel replied in understanding.
Her companion nodded. Then he lifted his face and called out to the other man. "You'll have to look elsewhere Brighton… this one's mine."
"Have fun! She's a little old for my tastes anyway. By the way… the MacLeod is on my tail."
"So I gather," he replied. "Best take off then."
Rachel shifted Vanilla Gorilla; she'd still managed to clutch him tightly despite what was happening… almost as if he were her lifeline to Connor. The immortal Brighton cackled and turned away while her companion let out a deep breath as if relieved that he'd escaped a fate he feared.
"What do you mean I'm yours?" Rachel asked him. She was gauging the screams of the crowd and trying to figure when and how she should scream.
"Turn of phrase. He thinks the worst of all of us. He thinks we're all like he is. Even Connor MacLeod."
"And you're not. Like Brighton I mean.
He gave her a penetrating and thoughtful look. "Not any more. Not for a long time."
His words chilled her. Here was a man who'd likely done far worse in his immortal life than she could imagine. She bit her lip as he hurried her along.
She saw Connor fighting through the crowd ahead. "Connor!" she yelled. His gaze met hers. Her companion dropped his hold on her and let her run forward into Connor's embrace.
"You're all right?!" he nearly sobbed. "I was afraid he'd get you."
"He might have except for this other man."
"What man?" Connor asked.
Rachel looked around. "He's gone. He said he was like you and Brighton… that's the other man. He said he was after Brighton."
Connor peered about. "I think I should get you out of here. If he follows us… I'll just have to deal with him then."
"He knew my name. He knew your name."
"Brighton? Yes… I told him mine."
"No… the other man. He had dark hair."
Connor started. The other immortal… the one he'd seen from the Ferris wheel had been dark-haired. "Did he hurt you?"
"No… well yes a little… but that was to find you. He wasn't very nice… but he said he wasn't here for you."
"He knew our names?" Connor stopped and looked around again. This wasn't good. He liked to know who was around and what their intentions were. If an immortal knew their names… he might well know where they lived… how to get to them. "Damn," he muttered. He wrapped an arm about Rachel's shoulders and walked beside her… his eyes scanning the crowd… his sense on edge. How had he missed feeling the other one this last time? Had he been distracted?
"Focus Highlander," Ramirez' voice fluttered through his mind. "If you fail to focus on what's important, your head will leave your body. And then my young friend… that will be the end of it."
But Rachel was what was important. Her safety mattered to him. He kissed her hair and continued to worry as he held her tightly. Behind them… fireworks were erupting with greater rapidity and the crowd's attention was on the fiery display. The main entrance to the subway station wasn't much further.
They were within fifty feet of the station when he felt the other immortal. Connor froze and looked around. Brighton stood calmly off to one side. "Here, Highlander." He gestured about toward a dark and broken small coaster. "We won't be disturbed. Winner takes all… even the girl." Brighton grinned as he crossed their path.
"Are you still a virgin girl? Or has he ravished you every night since he took you in? Did he sleep in your bed to ease your nightmares? Did he kiss your hair and hold you? Did you lie awake in your bed and dream that he'd come to you… love you… you?"
Rachel covered her ears and wanted to scream at him to shut up. "No!" was all she managed to let out in a strangled moan.
"That's enough Brighton," Connor said. "Now stop it. This is between you and me."
"You know that's not all MacLeod. You know you want her. If you win… I'll be inside you and you'll f--k her brains out. That scares you doesn't it? Are you a eunuch man? Doesn't the quickening fill you with life and make you want to grab the first woman you see and slam her against the wall and take her? I'll have your precious little blonde unless you stop me. And in stopping me… you'll become me."
Feeling a second immortal, Connor looked over his shoulder to see the slightly built, dark-haired young man. "Is that the other one Rachel?"
She looked up tearfully and nodded. "That's him."
"Go to him… now."
"Do as I say woman!" Connor took a deep breath. Again she was so like Heather sometimes. "Rachel… please? I won't be long." He looked at the immortal. "I don't know you."
"We've never met Highlander. But I know of you."
"If you fail to protect Rachel, or hurt her in any way… I will have your head."
Behind him Brighton cackled. "Ahh… but first you have to survive. Come MacLeod… the Game awaits us."
Connor gestured Rachel toward the other. He wondered if he were making a mistake. But he wanted Brighton dead. He wanted to feel the satisfaction when his blade went into the man's throat. By this time, Rachel had reached the mysterious immortal. He put an arm about her protectively.
Connor met his gaze and then gave a curt nod as he pivoted and drew his blade. "Then let's play, Brighton." He lunged toward the other man, even as he pulled a cavalry saber of the last century and blocked Connor's stroke. Again and again the Highlander laid into Brighton who backed up until they were both climbing the darkened ramp of the inactive coaster. He put Rachel and the other out of his mind for the moment. He had to focus on Brighton. He was small, suitably trained, executing a few brilliant blocks, parries and strokes in answer to Connor's. But his range was limited. He'd not worked with other blades… he'd not trained with the best swordsmen in the world… immortal or mortal… and he wasn't creative. But… he was powerful and all it would take would be one good blow… and a mistake on Connor's part… and he would lose.
It was always thus. He could die any time he was in a fight. He'd spent years training to be the best he could be. He'd spent more years fighting others every chance he got… and then he'd spent even longer training young immortals he found… and keeping everyone at arm's length. He couldn't afford entanglements. Entanglements were weaknesses. He couldn't let a piece of shit like Brighton walk the earth one day longer. Connor redoubled his blows… hearing the satisfactory sound of metal on metal… and feeling the occasional nip as his blade slid across skin. He winced in pain as some of Brighton's blows sliced into his skin. They lunged against one another, traded blows, tripped, fell, got up and fought some more. It wasn't pretty… of that Connor was certain… and it was tiring.
He wiped blood and sweat from his face as he and Brighton breathed heavily trying to catch their second wind.
"Damn but you're a tough mother," Brighton said and then spit blood.
"You haven't seen anything yet asshole," Connor laughed, letting its staccato tempo calm him. He was in the zone now… he was where he needed to be and he had a good feel for his opponent's capabilities. He talked mean and likely was… but he was a pussy. Connor raised the katana to block Brighton's sudden lunge and then shoved backwards off of the track. As he turned to leap after him, his foot got stuck in the track. "Damn!" he snarled and pulled at it.
He could sense Brighton on his way back up. Connor managed a glance at Rachel, fighting to be free of the other man… fighting to get to Connor. She still was clinging to that stupid gorilla. Then Connor focused on Brighton and took a deep breath as he set himself for the attack. This move might well break his leg.
It did. He leaped, turned and sliced with sudden ferocity and felt the bone snap. He screamed in pain as he went down… but the blow had been true. Brighton fell to his knees and then over to one side… his head fell all the way to the ground. Connor could hear Rachel still screaming… her cries of terror mixed with those of the people having the time of their lives. And above him… the fireworks exploded again.
Then the quickening rose… a blue mist shot with lightning… a swirling column of power. It rose high into the air and then exploded in light that dipped and dove toward him. The power reached him and crackled along the rails… lighting up the neon lights while transformers and generators exploded in great gasps of pyrotechnics. By this time… Connor was caught in the quickening like a man caught in an electrical storm. He writhed back and forth as the power slammed into him again… and again.
"Wait," the immortal told Rachel.
"You wait," she screamed and slapped him, pushing the stuffed gorilla into his arms. "Connor needs me."
"You cannot help him now. He must fight his own battles," the man said. He held her tightly as she sobbed and watched Connor in the throes of the power. He was illuminated by the blue light of the quickening, while the flashing neon lights strobed about him in a kaleidoscope of color. It was like something hellish… and it was too close to the nightmares of her youth. "It's killing him!" she screamed. Connor had explained the phenomena to her… but she'd never seen it… never imagined the sheer power and terror of it.
"No Rachel," the immortal whispered, "It's invigorating him. It's making him stronger, more powerful. He's going to need it."
"Bastard," she screamed. "Let me go!"
He let he go only when the storm had passed. She scrambled up the small coaster, stepping gingerly over Brighton's headless body with a grimace of distaste, and then falling on her knees beside the bloodied but unbowed Connor. She flung her arms around his neck and sobbed in relief.
"It's all right Rachel," Connor said with a laugh. "Hey… it's a kind of magic."
She sobbed even harder… recalling his words to her from long ago and buried her face in his chest. He clung to her and held her.
"My precious Rachel," he said. "I've done you a great wrong."
"What wrong have you ever done me?"
Connor looked at her sadly and brushed a lock of hair from her face to wipe her tears. "I made you love me. I should have let you go long ago."
"I'm not going anywhere," she insisted.
"I know," he held onto her, his eyes on the other immortal waiting below. "We need to go before we're noticed."
He managed to rise, wincing still at the damage to his left leg, and let her help him down the ramp. They stopped just short of the other immortal. Connor tiredly raised the katana. "Do I have to fight you too?"
The other shrugged. "Maybe another time."
"Why did you help?"
The man looked around. "I didn't really do anything. Non-interference and all that."
"Who are you?" Connor wanted to know.
"Someone very old and very wise."
"What does that mean?"
The stranger laughed. "Didn't Ramirez tell you not to ask too many questions?"
Connor focused on the easy stance of the other. He was hiding something… and he was definitely dangerous… but not right now. "Ramirez taught me many things. He said he'd had many teachers."
The man shrugged. "And so he did." He turned and headed off into the night, the fireworks still bursting in the night sky. "I wouldn't stick around too long. Someone's going to notice that body before long."
"I didn't get your name?" Connor called after him.
"I didn't give it. Live, grow stronger Highlander. Your time is not yet." And he was gone.
"Is he an enemy?" Rachel asked.
Connor carefully hid the katana in his coat and belted the coat tightly about his slim, muscular form. "Evidently not tonight."
"Tomorrow my dearest Rachel is another day."
"And what about us… or the chance of us?"
Connor sighed and shook his head. "I will love you until the day I die Rachel… but I will never let anyone I care for be used against me. I can't afford it."
She was crying silently again, the tracks of her tears reflected the flickering lights about them.
"Let's go home Rachel… we'll talk about this another time. I'm tired and I could use a long hot bath."
She laughed and held up Vanilla Gorilla. "At least we have a chaperone."
"Aye lass… at least we have that."
Rodney Talbot skipped down the stairs into the basement vaults of the New York Watchers main facility and looked through the various rooms until he found his friend. "Hey… thanks for yesterday. My wife truly appreciated my being available for our first anniversary since the baby was born."
Ben Pierce, gangly, dark-haired and with a set of thick, heavy, black-framed glasses over his face glanced up from the file drawer he was working on. "Oh sure… no problem."
"And man you got to see Brighton bite the big one. And by Connor MacLeod no less! How close were you?"
Ben shrugged as he pulled a file and shut the drawer. "Close enough."
"I just read your report. You don't know much about swordfights and how to describe them do you."
Ben peered at him through those coke-bottle lenses of his that sometimes reminded Rodney of Superman's identity as Clark Kent. It was if those glasses altered or changed Ben's appearance that no one truly saw him… they saw the glasses. "Well… that's why I'm in research and not on the line," Ben observed dryly.
"Yeah… but I do appreciate your doing this for me. Man who would have thought that Brighton would get it the one night I'm not there. Still… couldn't have happened to nicer one. I hated the things he did. He was a real monster."
Ben sat at the wooden table and stared thoughtfully at the file before him. "Oh I don't know. There are worse ones."
"I guess ever since Jenny was born I worry about monsters like that out there. It's hard to just watch and record sometimes."
Ben nodded. "So it has ever been."
"You know buddy… sometimes you sound like an old man."
Ben leaned back and a small smile crept across his face. "I shall have to work on that."
"Yeah… well I'm off to the director's office to get reassignment. Hope I get someone like MacLeod this time. See ya!" He waved and was gone.
The pleasant smile faded from Ben Pierce's face and he removed the thick-lensed glasses and folded them in his hands as he opened the file and read what it contained. It was time he was gone again. He had the information he needed… what he'd been searching for… the present location of his old comrades. He needed to fade away before someone around here got suspicious. He smirked at his personnel file with the attached picture. Photography was becoming a real pain in the bum sometimes. He peeled off the photo and ripped it into small pieces before putting the pieces in his pants pocket. Then he replaced the photo with that of another man whose thick lenses were prominently displayed across his face. Pierce smiled and closed the folder before replacing it in the file drawer. He was done here. It was time to go.
He didn't like any immortal knowing he was about… not even as honorable a man as his old friend Ramirez's last student. He'd continue to keep an eye on MacLeod and on MacLeod's students as he always did. They were some of the good ones. There were too few immortals like them out there… and if he were to continue surviving… he needed for those few good and honorable ones to take out the scum like Kevin Brighton. They would be the stronger for it. They were still young enough to have passion in the game… something that had grown old for him long ago.
Maybe one day he'd have a real talk with Connor MacLeod… but not now. Not yet. He rose and left behind the identity of Benjamin Pierce, mild-mannered Watcher researcher, and vanished once more into the faceless crowds of humanity covering this planet. He was alone once more… he would survive… and that was what was important. Maybe he'd go to Bora Bora. Bora Bora was very nice this time of year.