Absolutely not! she shouted in mental defiance as the familiar, yet unwanted sensation of crawling glass shards swept over her awareness. If whoever the other immortal was wanted to challenge her, they could damn well wait till she'd finished her drink and her cigarette.
Resolutely, Emily took a cigarette from the case on the table. But as she brought it to her lips, a hand holding a lighter appeared in front of her. "May I?" The male voice was pitched low, with a hint of laughter brushing at the edges.
Startled, she blinked as the realization that she recognized the voice sank in. Nodding mutely, she managed a shaky breath as the lighter sizzled to life. He sat down across from her as she took a few steadying puffs trying to get over the shock. It had been nearly fifty years, after all.
"When did you start smoking?" Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod asked with a bemused grin and just a touch of disapproval.
Cocking an eyebrow, she replied, "Half a century and the first thing you're going to do is lecture me about smoking?" He just shrugged, his grin widening, and she laughed. "To answer your question, about fifteen minutes after I started boot camp." She took another puff of her cigarette while she waited for that bit of information to sink in. She wasn't disappointed -- the look on Duncan's face was priceless.
He sat back, closing his mouth with a snap. Then he shook his head. "So now I know why you're here in Singapore."
She nodded. Singapore was a popular R & R spot for Allied forces during this latest major war to break out on the planet. The restaurants, bars, and cafes were always full of troops either leaving or heading to the front lines.
"The first day of three weeks of leave." She sipped at her drink, then swirled the glass, watching the ice cubes spinning around. "There was a war on and Uncle Sam needed doctors," she explained. "So here I am, Colonel Emma Shepherd, United States Marine Corp."
"Marines?" Duncan looked even more flabbergasted than he had before.
"My drill sergeant was in love with you," she said with a smirk. "Made me promise that one day, I'd introduce him to the man who taught me to fight dirty."
"Glad he approved," Duncan muttered, obviously still grappling with his former student being a Marine.
"And what about you? What brings you to Singapore?"
"I'm working with the Red Cross. Just coming back from a few days R & R." A waiter came by, and he ordered a beer. "Another drink?" he asked Emily.
"Please. Gin and tonic," she told the waiter. After he left, she fell silent, staring down at her nearly empty glass. The murmur of conversation in half a dozen languages floated past them in the crowded cafe.
Sighing, Duncan reached over and squeezed her hand. "It's been a long time."
"Yeah." Then she looked up at him, the question in her eyes one she couldn't quite bring herself to ask. "Duncan..." she faltered, shaking her head.
"Methos is all right," he told her, knowing what she wanted to ask. "Amanda ran into him in London a few years ago. He was doing artifact restoration for the British Museum."
Emily couldn't help but notice what he didn't say and the regret in his voice. "Amanda did? Haven't you seen him?" He dropped his eyes. "Duncan? What happened?"
"We… Emily, I haven't seen him in decades," he finally admitted. "The last time was at Joe's funeral. But we didn't speak. Just as well, considering the last time we spoke, it got ugly."
"But why? You were one of his best friends!" The sadness in her voice was almost palpable.
His brown eyes were pained. "After you disappeared, we had a falling out. He thought I'd had something to with you leaving. He didn't take it well, Emily."
"But you didn't!" she protested.
"You know as well as I do that isn't entirely true." He paused as the waiter set their drinks down, taking a swallow of beer before continuing. "I'd never made a secret of the fact that I thought you needed to make a clean break with your mortal life, and that you needed time to stand on your own two feet as an immortal."
"In my letter, I made it clear to him I was cutting all ties. I'm sorry, Duncan, it never occurred to me he would blame you for my actions."
"It's okay. You and I both know you made the right choice. Methos needed someone to blame, and I was the most convenient target." He skimmed the condensation off his bottle with a fingertip. "Though I never expected you to just disappear like you did."
"There was no other way. If I was ever going to stand on my own, it had to be an absolute and irrevocable break." Her voice dropped to nearly a whisper. "I realized that I didn't have the strength to enforce a separation, either for myself or for him. If I couldn't do it after he reentered my life, as much as I thought I hated him at the time, then I never could."
"It took a lot of courage to do what you did."
She shook her head, laughing harshly. "I let it drag on too long, even after I'd made my decision to leave. I was weak. All I did was make the end more painful for the both of us. If it hadn't been for the violets," she finished softly, almost as if she were talking to herself.
At the look of surprise on her face, it was obvious she didn't think she'd said it aloud. Absently, she stirred at her drink with a swizzle stick, remembering. "Violets. Yes. It was..." She stopped, gathering her thoughts, and taking a deep breath before starting over. "Valentine's Day, 2008, I'd realized you were right; that I needed to let go of my mortal life. So I started to plan. I knew I had to do a better job than I had after my first death, or Methos would find me again. It was like I was planning my own funeral."
"It would have been," he agreed sympathetically.
Nodding, she continued, "By the summer, I had everything planned; all I had to do was leave."
"But there were violets."
Smiling a little, she said, "There were violets. I'd had a hellacious day. Derek and I had lost a patient, I'd yelled at pretty much every surgical resident on my team, I'd been at the hospital for nearly twenty-four hours, and I knew that my life as Emily Scott was nearly over. It must have been 3am when I got out of surgery, and I was past exhausted. But when I opened the door to my office, I found my desk covered in violets and Methos asleep on the couch, waiting for me. I started to cry and couldn't stop. He held me and comforted me, not having any idea why I was really so upset."
"So you stayed."
"I stayed. I just couldn't do it. I loved him too much, loved the life we had too much. I convinced myself that it would all work out, that I just needed to give it time. And supposedly, we had plenty of that," she observed wryly.
"And then you were challenged," he said quietly.
"Uh huh." She closed her eyes tiredly. "And Methos' reaction to that event irrefutably drove home just how wrong I'd been. I still had everything in place that I needed to disappear, so I did… finally. Something I should have done the day that Methos had walked back into my life."
"I'm so sorry, Em; sorry for you, sorry for Methos."
"I always told him that immortality was a cruelty. Nothing's happened in the last half-century to make me change my mind," she said bitterly.
"Has it been that bad?" he asked with obvious concern.
"Bad? No, not particularly. It is what it is." She shrugged. "The last few years have been better, as crazy as that sounds here in a war zone. But happiness can be found in the strangest places, don't you think?"
"Yeah, it can. And I'm glad you've found some small measure of it."
"And what about Methos? Do you think he's found happiness? I kept telling myself that after five thousand years, the fifteen we spent together must seem like nothing to him. That once he'd accepted I was gone, he'd let go and move on. I wanted… no, I needed to believe that was true."
Duncan sighed, centuries of sadness and joy melding into the sound. "It doesn't work that way, sweetheart. But I think you know that."
Swallowing hard, she nodded before taking a gulp of gin, and then another, brushing away tears with her other hand. Whatever she might have said in response was interrupted by a new arrival.
"Em, is everything okay?" the black-haired man asked in concern, flashing a sharp look at Duncan.
"David! Oh my god, I'm sorry! Is it that time?" Emily looked at her watch.
"No, I'm early." He handed her a handkerchief, worry evident in his dark, peat brown eyes. "What's wrong?"
"I'm fine, really." She smiled up at him, dabbing at her eyes. "Just taking a walk down memory lane -- you know how it is."
He ran his fingers across her close-cropped red curls before his hand slipped down to caress her cheek. "You're sure?"
"I'm sure." She reached up to squeeze the fingers that lingered at her jaw. "But where are my manners? David, this is Duncan MacLeod, I've told you about him." She looked over at the man who had been her teacher and her friend. "And Duncan, this is Colonel David Blackhorse; my fiancé."
Duncan stood, extending his hand to the other man. "It's good to meet you, Colonel." The two men, nearly the same height, took the measure of each other as they shook hands.
"Likewise," David replied. "Em's told me a lot about you. I know it's been a long time since you've seen one another." A look passed between him and Emily. "I hope the reunion has been a happy one?"
"It's been good seeing Duncan again," Emily assured him softly.
"You'll join us, Colonel?" Duncan asked.
Smiling, he shook his head. "You and Em have a lot to catch up on." He leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. "We have some time before we need to be at the airport. I'll wait for you at the bar."
"Okay." Reaching up, she squeezed his arm. "I love you."
"Glad to hear it." He grinned. Then he noticed the full ashtray at her elbow. "I thought you quit?"
She looked up at him with wide blue eyes. "I know you did."
"Em!" he said with fond exasperation.
"I'll quit when we get on the plane to San Francisco! Promise!"
He shook his head. "Uh huh." Then he turned his attention back to Duncan. "It was good finally meeting you, Duncan."
"And you." Once more, the two men shook hands.
"He knows," Duncan said as he watched David walk away.
She didn't disagree with his statement. At his expectant look, she said, "He commands a Special Forces unit. He's trained to be observant, and he's very good at what he does." She lit another cigarette. "I'll tell you the whole story one day," she promised. "Hey, I have to quit cold turkey in a few hours! I intend to enjoy what's left of my freedom," Emily protested, seeing the look on Duncan's face.
But instead of scolding her, he asked, "How did you two meet?"
"Over a gurney. The left side of his face had been crushed and I was his surgeon. After he'd recovered, David decided the best way for him to express his gratitude to me for saving his boyish good looks was to ask me out. That was two years ago."
"He's that happiness you've found?"
"He is. David's a good man -- a big damn hero. Kind of like someone else I know," she said pointedly, grinning at him. "He puts up with my surgeon's ego, he laughs at my jokes, and he cooks! What more could a girl ask for?"
"I'm happy for you, Emily."
"So you're heading to San Francisco?"
"We're going to settle there after our tours are done, so we plan to buy a place while we're there this time. Then we'll have a home to go to together when this war is over."
"Invite me over for dinner one night?"
"Deal! And I promise I won't cook." Giggling, she asked, "Do you remember that week we spent on your island? And you tried to teach me how to cook trout?"
"That was a mistake," he said, rolling his eyes. "You almost burned down the cabin."
"I did warn you! But I boned the damned thing perfectly!" Her eyes took on a faraway look. "I remember when I told Methos about it afterwards, he said you were like Don Quixote tilting at windmills if you thought you could actually teach me to cook."
"I'm the eternal optimist."
"You always had faith in me, even when I didn't."
"I still have faith in you, Emily."
"So does David. Even after I told him everything, he still loved me. I want to be a good wife to him, even though I wasn't one to Methos."
"That's not true. I was there, at your wedding, when you were still mortal, before you knew what you were. You loved Methos without reservation, even knowing his past, what he was; even after he plunged a knife into your back to trigger your immortality. Don't you know that was the truest gift of love that you could have ever given him?"
"It wasn't enough." Her voice cracked. "In the end, it wasn't enough."
"Love is never wasted, sweetheart; never."
"Maybe." She fought back the tears that welled up in her eyes, using David's handkerchief to wipe away the ones that escaped
"Love him, Emily. Love David in the time you're given. It will hurt in the end; their lives are so short. But your love won't be in vain. Remember that."
Duncan took her hands in his. "I know you have a plane to catch. Contact me when you're back. I don't want another fifty years to go by this time."
"David would like to get to know you."
"I'd like to get to know him too."
Nodding, she squeezed his hands. "I've missed you, Duncan. Thank you, for everything. I'm not sure if I ever told you what you mean to me."
Standing, he leaned down, kissing the top of her head. "God speed, Emily."
"Be well, Duncan."
One last reassuring smile and he was gone, lost in the mill of bodies in the packed cafe. She caught sight of David, sitting at the end of the bar, his familiar profile outlined in the dim light. She would never love anyone like she had Methos, but her love for David wasn't any the less for that, she knew that now. Snubbing out her cigarette, she stood. Duncan was right; love was never wasted.