New York City
September 19, 1974
Rebecca Horne stepped in from the cold, driving rain into the warmth of the Soho nightclub and stopped against an invisible wall of smoke, folk music, conversation and Immortality. Delicately she shook water from her trenchcoat and rose-colored scarf. The long wooden coat rack to her left had one open peg, but she kept her coat on to better conceal her sword. She didn't think she'd need it - her prey, sitting at the bar and meeting her buzz with a smile of recognition, had no idea she'd already marked him, or that he'd already lost the battle.
He rose and met her, taking her chill hands in his. He still wore his dark hair long, and would forever be the same handsome warrior from the Scottish Highlands she remembered meeting over three hundred years earlier.
"Rebecca," he said above the music. He smelled of strong beer, which would make her job so much easier. He'd be easy to persuade and even easier to bed. That he was a notoriously fabulous lover just happened to coincide with his primary qualification as a fellow Immortal whose seed she needed to complete her mission.
"Duncan," she smiled, and kissed his cheek.
Rebecca let her hand cup his strong jaw, as her thumb caressed his soft cheek. "Starving."
Twenty-four hours later, in a deep patch of woods off the New Jersey turnpike, Rebecca opened her eyes to the dark evening sky, tapering rain, and the last silver flashes of a Quickening dissipating in the wet canopy of pines, maples and birches above. She traced her fingers delicately across the perfect curve of her newborn son's skull. He suckled on her right breast, his small blue eyes fixed on her, his tiny left arm making circles in the air. He was as naked as she was, still bloody from birth and smeared with mud, but perfect in every respect.
Tears slid down Rebecca's face as she marveled once again at the miracle of Immortal birth. Then she grieved, because only through the grace of these few hours could she remember her hundreds of other babies. Soon instinct would drive her to abandon this newborn also to the currents of Fate and history that rushed like invisible rivers through the world.
For the moment all she could do was rub the soft, peachy fuzz on the top of his head. He had her hair, not his father's, but he suckled as fiercely and enthusiastically as Duncan had.
Rebecca held him to her breast, cupping his tiny buttocks, feeling the beat of his fast heart through the thinness of their wet skin. With a small, O-shaped yawned he slipped into sleep and nestled closer against her. He was still sleeping an hour later when she set him down on a cushion of paper towels and toilet paper in the women's restroom of the highway rest stop four miles down the road. Rebecca hovered in the recovered shreds of her clothes, torn between a fierce protective love and the scream of her instincts to abandon the child and leave. Fighting instinct, she went back to her son and wrapped him in her rose-colored scarf.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, but no answer came from the cold tile walls or harsh fluorescent lights.
She'd gone no more than five feet into the dark night when she heard him begin to cry. Rebecca stopped as if a knife had been plunged into her heart, and then her legs carried her further away beneath the whipping trees and occasional flashes of lightning.
He kept crying, louder and louder, the wails slicing through the air, her flesh, her heart, but already Rebecca was forgetting why she should care.
A moment later she thought she heard a baby cry, but it was obvious she was all alone at the highway rest stop. Besides, she thought, no mother could be so cold and cruel as to leave a child unattended by the side of the road.
Rebecca pushed on into the night.
The morning mail brought a letter from Tessa's friend Natalie, a bill from the French tax authority and a cream colored envelope postmarked from Monte Carlo. Duncan slit it open with a clean butter knife. Tessa had suggested brunch on deck, and Duncan had hauled up a small table and two chairs to set on the bow. The warm sun in a flawless blue sky promised a good summer, and the breeze carried delicious aromas from the bakery down the boulevard. The Seine, running high with the last of the spring floods, carried tour boats and pleasure craft past them and around the Ile de la Cite. The tourists had started returning to France, like pesky pigeons swirling down from the sky.
"It's a wedding invitation," Duncan told Tessa, reading the gold-embossed card twice. A smile spread on his face. "My old friend Brenyar."
"How old?" Tessa asked, delicately spreading strawberry jam on a fresh croissant. Natalie's letter, already open and fluttering beside the champagne glasses, could wait until later.
"Old," Duncan confirmed. "He was a Teutonic Knight in Prussia who died at the Peace of Thorn in 1466."
"If you say so," Tessa smiled, holding out a long, elegant hand for the card.
Duncan shook his head. "I can't believe he's getting married! I won't believe it until I see it."
Tessa arched her eyebrows at the date inscribed on the card. "This Saturday, only three days from now. That's the day of Aunt Helene's seventieth birthday party."
"Oh." Duncan's smile faded. "I forgot."
Tessa's eyes took on a gleam. "I bet you did."
"I did, really! I adore your Aunt Helene and you know it."
"You despise her only slightly less than you loathe my mother."
"I love your mother with all my heart," Duncan protested. "I can't help it if she considers me the Anti-Christ."
Tessa laughed. "You despoiled her daughter and carried her off to savage America. What do you expect?"
"Someone had to despoil her daughter," Duncan said, moving his hand up the smooth firmness of her thigh and beneath her white linen shorts. "It was a tough job, but I was up for it."
"Very up, if I remember correctly."
"It was exhausting."
"And you'd do it again."
"In a minute," Duncan vowed.
"Good," Tessa said, pulling him into a kiss. She hadn't always been able to joke about the strained relationship between her mother and long term lover. It had taken years for Marie Noel to finally accept Duncan's presence in Tessa's life and express a small, grudging respect for their love. Tessa said she was thankful they at least could speak on the phone to each other without getting into an argument.
Duncan thought the relationship between mothers and daughters was one of the eternal mysteries of life, the secretive teaching and passing of womanhood through generations. Only rarely did he let himself think of his own mother, who'd treated him as her own child and never let on the secret that he'd been a foundling. At some point he must have had a birth mother as well, but she was an unknowable face and unresolvable puzzle. No one knew how Immortals reproduced. No Immortal knew his or her own true parents.
Duncan found it hard to keep kissing Tessa while thinking of mothers, and dedicated his thoughts to despoiling instead. He was about to propose a lewd suggestion when a voice broke through the mingled taste of their lips, tongues, strawberries and champagne.
"Are you guys at it again?" Richie complained groggily. "Isn't it a little early in the morning to be titillating the tourists?"
Tessa broke away from Duncan's mouth. Duncan turned to glower at the American teenager standing just a few feet away in ragged shorts and an old green T-shirt, hiding in the shadows of the hatch. "It's not early," he said sternly, "it's nearly noon. The next time you come stumbling in drunk at one a.m. singing "I love Paris in the springtime," be prepared to sleep on deck."
"At least he didn't break curfew," Tessa said brightly.
"Yeah, I didn't break curfew," Richie pointed out. He came over, squinting painfully against the sunlight. "I'm sorry, guys, really. I lost track of time with those guys from the bike shop. And I didn't know German beer was that strong. Honest."
Duncan merely grunted.
Richie eyed the plates and glasses on the table doubtfully. "Is that what's for breakfast?"
"There's cold cereal downstairs," Tessa suggested sweetly.
Richie reached towards the champagne bottle. "How about hair of the dog - "
Duncan slapped his hand away. "How about not?"
"Mac, you're way too grumpy this morning," Richie told him, reaching for a croissant instead.
"I'm not grumpy," Duncan said. "You know we want you to make friends here in Paris. But you still have to be careful."
"Yes, Dad," Richie smirked, and sat down on the deck with his feet swinging over the river. He pulled the croissant apart between his fingertips. "Don't tell me, though, that you never went drinking when you were my age. Didn't they have keg parties in Glenfinnan?"
"No keg parties, trust me."
Duncan hesitated fractionally and Tessa pounced with, "Yes, what about the wenching?"
"No wenching," Duncan said firmly. "Not unless you wanted the girl's father to castrate you with a rusty knife."
Richie winced. "No thanks. Dating must have been pretty hazardous."
"But interesting," Duncan said, careful to keep his thoughts away from Debra Campbell. Tessa knew nothing about Debra. Recounting that tragic story of young love and untimely death didn't seem fair in this day and age. He picked up Brenyar's wedding invitation and tapped it against the white tablecloth, momentarily lost in thought. When he looked up, he found Tessa gazing through him as if she could read his mind.
"Why don't you take Richie with you?" she suggested.
"Take Richie where?" the teenager asked.
Duncan reluctantly said, "A wedding."
"No thanks." Richie made a face. "Bad disc jockeys, stale cake, stupid clinking glasses - all weddings are the same."
Tessa asked curiously, "What makes you the wedding expert?"
Richie said, "Trust me," but refused to elaborate, and concentrated on dropping bits of croissant to the squawking ducks that had congregated below the bow. "Though I suppose being a best man would be cool - hint, hint."
Tessa picked up Natalie's letter and feigned interest. Duncan sipped at his champagne. Richie said, "Or not. How about I just stay home?"
Duncan leaned back in his chair. "That's not a good idea. I remember the last time you stayed home alone. Chicken salad, anyone?"
"Not funny, Mac," Richie groaned.
"Just as well," Duncan said, continuing on as if he hadn't heard. "I don't think you'd like Monte Carlo very much anyway."
Richie's head and interest perked up. "Monte Carlo? Where they hold the Grand Prix? Where that movie star queen lady drove off the road? James Bond movies and casinos? That Monte Carlo?"
Appalled at Richie's loose grasp of world events, Duncan managed to say, "Yes, that Monte Carlo."
"Well," Richie said brightly. "That's different. I could be persuaded to go to Monte Carlo."
"It's either that or Aunt Helene's seventieth birthday party," Tessa said.
The teenager looked directly at Duncan. "I'm persuaded. When do we leave?"
Rebecca Horne hated weddings. She'd enjoyed her first two or three hundred, but had gradually grown tired of the traditions, the socializing, the quarreling in-laws, and especially the bad musicians. She'd only come to this one because Brenyar Luneberg had once saved her head from an Immortal pirate in Penzance, England, and she owed him at least this one favor. That her own husband John couldn't come due to business commitments made the event worse, but she promised herself she'd only stay an hour at the reception and then discreetly excuse herself.
Given the number of Immortals on the guest list, Brenyar had wisely scheduled his wedding on Holy Ground and the reception at a small inn only steps away. Both the chapel and the hotel stood on the hillside high above Monte Carlo's glittering bay, and as sky turned golden with sunset the chapel bells began calling the wedding to order. Amanda hadn't been able to come, but Duncan MacLeod arrived thirty seconds before the bride began her walk. With him was a mortal teenager in a brand new suit who looked nervous and out of place. Duncan and the boy edged into seats across the aisle exactly two rows ahead of Rebecca, directly in her line of vision, and seemed to bicker about something with their voices pitched low.
The wedding march began for Brenyar's American bride, and the guests rose. Rebecca watched with politely feigned interest as the woman started down the aisle in a puffy white dress with ridiculously large sleeves. The minister bade the audience to be seated. Bored after the first tired phrases, Rebecca found herself staring at Duncan and his friend and wondering why her old Scottish warrior had teamed with a mortal teenager. She didn't think he had married, but maybe the boy was an adopted son. It had been almost twenty years since she'd last seen Duncan in America, and the teenager looked almost that old.
The image of Duncan MacLeod changing diapers and rocking an infant amused Rebecca, but was followed swiftly by an ache of emptiness. John knew they could not bear children. Rebecca had resigned herself to that cold fact centuries ago. But recently a maternal yearning had filled her body with a strange warmth and pull, prompting her to go so far as to check with a local orphanage. She hadn't talked to John about adoption yet. She wasn't sure he wanted to become a father, not after so many years of independent living and comfort.
Rebecca tried not to think about her own barren womb and concentrated on Duncan and his friend. The teenager had blond hair with a tinge of red in the curls, and in profile seemed quite handsome. Duncan's hair was longer than she'd last seen it and was pulled back with a silver Celtic clip. His dark suit, cut of expensive cloth and immaculately tailored, did him justice in all the right places. The teenager looked about as interested in the ceremony as she was, and fidgeted with a bible pulled from end of the bench until Duncan snatched it from his hands.
Rebecca smiled and tried to focus on the ceremony. A few minutes later she found herself staring at the teenager again, wondering why he seemed so familiar to her. Surely they hadn't met before. After several minutes of concentration she realized he bore the faint, elusive hum of a pre-Immortal, which made his connection to Duncan a little clearer. The Highlander had found himself a protégé who would one day wield a sword.
Duncan must have sensed her stare, because he turned around and sought out her gaze. Rebecca smiled, raising one white glove in greeting. Duncan smiled. The boy turned around curiously, and Rebecca met his questioning gaze. For some reason her heart skipped a beat in her chest and she felt herself flushing. The teenager turned a little pink himself, and turned around on the bench.
Rebecca chided herself for her reaction. She couldn't possible feel anything romantic towards a child, no matter how handsome he might be. Actually, as she stopped to consider it, the feeling wasn't romantic at all. Instead the teenager had triggered a deeper, more mysterious reaction in her heart, as if she really did know him, as if they were somehow linked.
Slightly unnerved, she kept her eyes on the bridal couple and the priest for the rest of the ceremony. When it was over she managed to slip out of the chapel into the cool night air before Duncan and his friend. The short, sweet grass of early summer eased gently down a slope to a wooden bridge and flower gardens. The guests wandered beneath the palm trees and over the gurgling brook to the restored medieval inn where Brenyar had laid out a feast. Rebecca maneuvered to be first in the receiving line to greet the happy couple. Brenyar, six foot five and over two hundred pounds, scooped her up exuberantly and kissed her on both cheeks. His tiny bride seemed less than pleased with his enthusiasm, and when her hand shook Rebecca's it was cold and limp.
"I'm so glad you could come," the bride muttered.
Rebecca's table was near the displayed wedding cake. She found herself hoping that Duncan and his friend would be seated on the other side of the room, but fate brought the Highlander directly to her.
"It's so good to see you!" Duncan said, wrapping her in a heartfelt hug.
Rebecca took in a deep whiff of his cologne and rubbed his strong, powerful back. "It's good to see you too," she said. "I didn't know you were coming."
"I would have done anything to get out of Paris," Duncan smiled.
Before she could stop the words, she heard herself say, "Where's your young friend?"
"Richie? Men's room. He said his tie is too tight, but I think he's just being difficult."
Rebecca could hear the fondness mingled into Duncan's exasperation. "He has great potential, I see."
Duncan looked slightly uncomfortable. "He doesn't know."
"I won't tell him," Rebecca promised.
The room filled quickly with couples, conversation and freely flowing wine. Rebecca had just finished hearing about Tessa's new exhibit in Paris when Richie arrived at the table. He seemed slightly intimidated by the fine china, sumptuous buffet tables, exquisite furnishings and refined guests. Duncan introduced him as "Richie Ryan, a friend from America," and Rebecca took his hand in hers.
A thrill of recognition shot through her again, as if she knew him. But then it was gone, like the last bolt of a Quickening into the sky, and if he felt anything it didn't show in his clear blue eyes.
"Pleased to meet you," he said politely.
"The pleasure is mine," Rebecca told him. "Please, sit down."
He wound up between her and Duncan. Two other couples fleshed out the opposite side of the table - a mortal couple from Marseilles who were friends of the bride, and an Immortal ballet dancer and his mortal wife. Rebecca knew the ballet dancer only slightly, but Duncan knew him from way back and began an animated conversation about modern choreography.
Richie found himself staring at his plate while Duncan prattled on about dancing. He was acutely aware of the very beautiful Rebecca on his left side, and even more aware of how tight his tie was. Duncan had knotted it back at their hotel, as they tripped over each other trying to get ready. A late night of gambling in Leow's Casino made them oversleep, and Duncan had already threatened to toss Richie over the barge's stern if he told Tessa.
"Have you even been to Monte Carlo before?" he heard Rebecca ask, in her smooth and cultured voice.
"No," Richie admitted. "First time."
Silence. The waitress brought soup, which bought them a few moments of busyness as the beef was ladled into bowls. Richie shifted in his chair, wondering how stupid he could sound in front of Rebecca. Immensely stupid, he guessed. From the moment he'd first seen her she'd awed him into being tongue tied and bashful. Amanda had been hard to approach, but he'd managed to talk to her after awhile. Rebecca, though, seemed even more beautiful, and vaguely mysterious as well. Looking at her made him think he'd forgotten something important, something deep and powerful that didn't even have a name.
Duncan was caught up in his own conversation, so Rebecca tried to draw the teenager out. "Have you enjoyed the city so far?"
"Mmmm hmmm," Richie said.
She wondered if all American teenagers were so hard to engage in a simple dialogue. "You're from New York City?"
"No, Seacouver," he said, glancing at her curiously. "Why did you think New York?"
Rebecca smiled. "I thought everybody in America lived in New York City."
"Never even been there, except to change planes at the airport," Richie said, dropping his attention back to his soup.
The ballet dancer's wife had been to New York, and hated it. Rebecca listened to her whine about the prices and rudeness. When the waitress came back with salads, Rebecca asked Richie, "Do you live in Paris now?"
"Mmmm hmmm," he said.
"I always disliked Paris myself," she said. "Too crowded, too cold, too much stone."
He raised one shoulder in a half-shrug. "I didn't like it for awhile, but it kind of grows on you."
The hotel's maitre'd called the tables one by one to the buffet line. Rebecca's eyes widened at the amount of food Richie crammed onto his plate, and Duncan teased the boy with, "Leave a little for the rest of us, Richie."
"I am!" Richie protested. "I've got to make up for breakfast." But his worried eyes met Rebecca's and he asked, hesitantly, "Too much?"
"No," Rebecca reassured him. "You're not taking too much."
Back at the table Duncan and Rebecca began catching up on news of shared friends. Seated between them, Richie shoveled food in his mouth and tried to keep low. A society matron in a stiff blue hat came over to talk to the ballet dancer, and her eyes swept over Duncan, Richie and Rebecca. The ballet dancer introduced her to Duncan, and she said, "So pleased to meet you. This must be your wife and son. The family resemblance is obvious."
Rebecca choked on a sip of water, and Richie had to pound her on the back. The movement knocked her wine glass over into his lap and he jumped up, nearly knocking a waitress into the next table. After much fussing and apologizing Richie escaped to the restroom. He stood by the full mirrors and marble counters, dabbing at the spot with a wet napkin, and sighed Duncan came in.
"I'm sorry," he said quickly, "I didn't mean it."
"Didn't mean what?" Duncan asked, puzzled.
"To ruin the suit. To cause so much uproar."
"Stop worrying about the suit," Duncan sighed fondly. Richie had been worrying about the cost for three days. The Highlander had taken him to one of the best shops off Rue de St. Germain and put the small, obsequious tailors to work. Richie flushed and squirmed under their attentions but managed to stay still for the measurements and fittings. One moment, though, still stood out in Duncan's memory - one of the tailors had evidently surprised Richie by stretching a tape measure inside his upper thigh, and Richie jumped back pale and trembling. It wasn't the first time Duncan suspected Richie's past held more ghosts than just unsuccessful foster homes and petty crime. But Richie refused to talk about the incident, and Duncan reluctantly respected his privacy.
"As for causing an uproar," Duncan continued, "I'm sure that will happen much later, when Brenyar gets a little more drunk. You're doing fine."
"I'm like a fish out of water here, Mac," Richie complained.
"So jump in and start swimming. You can do it. I have faith."
Richie would need to do it, Duncan reminded himself. Many of the men and women in that room would be his peers, and Richie would need to be able to carry himself on the international stage if he planned on a long life. He couldn't tell Richie that, of course. He watched the teenager blot out most of the wine and then Richie told him to go back to the dinner while he waited for his pants to dry.
Richie hid in the bathroom until the stain was barely noticeable and then slipped out of the bathroom. Music poured from the main room, and he could see couples gliding firmly to something that sounded old and German. Richie turned from the room to a set of red carpeted stairs. From the top step he could look out a tall, narrow stained-glass window to the immaculate hotel grounds. He sat down, listening to the music, feeling unaccountably lonely and empty inside.
"Maybe I should have gone to Aunt Helene's birthday party," he muttered.
"Who's Aunt Helene?" asked a woman behind him, and Richie turned to see Rebecca smiling at him.
"Kind of like the Wicked Witch of the East," Richie said glumly.
"May I join you?"
Richie obediently scooted over. Rebecca's green skirt rustled as she sat on the step beside him. "Nice view you've found," Rebecca observed. "Quiet here. Not like in there."
"I hate weddings," Richie confessed.
"And I really hate this tie," Richie added, pulling ineffectively at the noose knotted around his throat.
"Let me help." Rebecca's smooth fingers found the knot and loosened it without undoing the crisp, clean lines. Richie held himself perfectly still under her touch, his eyes locked on her face. "Better?" she asked softly.
He nodded, his throat dry. He didn't want to be rude, and said, "I'm sorry - I just - it's kind of weird. I feel like I know you."
"But you don't," Rebecca said somberly. "We just met."
"Like I said, it's weird," Richie said. He looked away. "I can't believe that woman thought you were my mom. Not that you couldn't be - I mean, not that you shouldn't be -" He stopped, frustrated at his inability to express himself. He muttered, "Okay, Ryan, open mouth and insert foot."
Rebecca put her hand on his knee. "It's all right. I understand."
"It's just - well, I don't know who my mom is."
"And I've never had children," Rebecca reassured him, "although I would dearly love to."
They sat on the stairs together, listening to the strains of a waltz drifting from the wedding. For a few sweet minutes, Rebecca allowed herself to imagine Richie was her son. She could picture him as a squalling newborn, maybe with a patch of peachy fuzz on his head. He would have been loud and strong, she thought, a mischievous toddler and rambunctious adolescent. Now he was almost a man, his face losing some of its roundness in favor of a firm jaw and clear gaze that reminded her of Duncan.
You better teach this one well, Rebecca thought silently to Duncan. Teach him how to live. Take care of him.
Her her maternal fantasies faded, leaving her with the teenager she didn't know, sitting on the stairs while everyone else danced inside. As if reading her thoughts Richie said, "We should probably go back inside."
"I suppose," Rebecca agreed. Richie stood and helped her to his feet.
"Look," he said, blushing, "I'm not really good at dancing and stuff, but Tessa taught me how to waltz on the barge, and if you don't mind me stepping on your feet and stuff, would you like to dance?"
Rebecca smiled. "I'd love to."
They went inside together, arm in arm, strangers who'd met at a wedding.
Author's Notes: This one was one inspired by Jim Byrnes and his band, although Sue Factor was the first one to ever suggest a Richie/Rebecca piece - thanks, Sue! Thanks to Rachel Shelton and Angela Mull for helping me again with those pesky typos, mistakes, and commas.
The original version of this story was posted in 1996. This version, dated 7/00, has a few minor differences.