Rebecca Horne lifted her gaze from the menu before her and asked, "What are you going to have?"
"A nice, thick, juicy steak," Adrienne Garneau answered with a wicked grin. She sipped from her glass of wine as waiters moved with smooth efficiency around the small brasserie and the piano player started another song. "Want one?"
"No," Rebecca returned. "Stop teasing."
"Vegetarians," Adrienne sighed, and went back to her menu. "No fun at all."
Sunlight slanted through the windows of Le Precope, picking out the highlights in Adrienne's blonde hair and the gold threads in her blue pantsuit. Rebecca's gaze lingered on her friend, whom she had known for almost ninety years. They had met in that very restaurant when both had shown up for a romantic date with the British correspondent Harrison Elliot, also known as James Powell, and known by a very few as Methos. It hadn't been the first time Methos had mixed up his dinner appointments. Rebecca and Adrienne had chased him down the alley with swords, then returned to have a pleasant dinner by themselves. Adrienne, who'd lost her life in the French Revolution, didn't know about Methos' true identity. She hadn't dined at Precope in the days of Voltaire. She seemed very young, and Rebecca suddenly felt every one of her three thousand years.
"What's the matter?" Adrienne asked.
"Nothing," Rebecca lied. She didn't think she could put into words the melancholy that came to her with increasing frequency as the end of the millennium approached. She had married again, to a man she loved more than she had anyone else, but even his presence in her bed couldn't drive away the fear that her days had begun to be numbered. She had renovated the small chapel on her estate and blessed it in the old Marian tradition, but hours of meditation within its old stone walls had failed to soothe her. On some days she could feel her ties to the world slipping, her anchors casting loose.
"Rebecca, I know that look - " Adrienne started, reaching across the table for her hand, but the sweeping sensation of another Immortal cut her words short. Rebecca had arranged for a table with a good view of the door - she always did - and the two women watched as a handsome, dark-haired Immortal stepped inside, his light summer coat effectively concealing his sword.
Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, her old Highlander friend. Rebecca immediately relaxed. She'd last seen him a month earlier at the wedding of a friend in Monte Carlo. Duncan's gaze swept the restaurant as he sought out the enemy. He saw her, smiled and nodded.
"You know him?" Adrienne asked.
"Yes," Rebecca replied. "From way back."
"He's very handsome."
Rebecca knew that predatory tone in her friend's voice. "Handsome and taken," she said lightly. The blonde woman at Duncan's side had to be his current love, Tessa Noel. The teenager with them, Richie Ryan, had accompanied Duncan to the wedding. Rebecca was glad to see him. She liked the young American enormously, although they'd only spent a few hours in each other's company.
"Taken?" Adrienne asked scornfully. "By her? Can't last long."
Adrienne always had looked on Immortal-mortal romances with a sour eye. Rebecca actually preferred them. She often tired of the company of male Immortals. They fussed too much with their swords, worried too much about the Gathering and tried too hard to impress her. Rebecca, who had swaddled Moses and loved Julius Caesar, was not a woman easily impressed.
Duncan came their way, escorting Tessa with one elbow as Richie trailed behind. "Fancy meeting you here," he said cheerfully, and took Rebecca's hand to kiss it. "Tessa, this is Rebecca Horne. Rebecca, meet Tessa Noel."
"The artist," Rebecca said immediately, and was rewarded by a pleased smile.
"I dabble," Tessa said modestly. She had dressed for lunch in a green silk dress and silver earrings, and looked quite beautiful.
"She does much more than dabble." Duncan kissed Tessa lightly on the cheek.
"Duncan speaks very highly of your work, and he's a man of extraordinary taste," Rebecca said.
Richie piped up. "Tessa is a great artist. One of the best."
"Rebecca, you remember Richie, don't you?" Duncan asked.
"How could I forget?" Rebecca asked as Richie also took her hand and kissed it. His sweet, young charm washed over her along with the faint hum of his pre-Immortality. "We danced the night away."
"The pleasure was all mine," Richie returned, twin blushes appearing in his cheeks.
Adrienne cleared her throat and Rebecca introduced her to the group. "Rebecca speaks very highly of you," Adrienne said, letting her hand linger in Duncan's grasp. "I hear you're quite the romantic."
"I said nothing of the sort," Rebecca immediately protested. Although she and Duncan had shared a bed more than once over the centuries, and in that capacity he was definitely impressive, she valued his friendship more than his sexual prowess.
"Maybe you just look romantic," Adrienne amended, still holding on to Duncan's hand. Rebecca saw amusement light up Tessa's eyes and silently approved of the mortal woman's maturity. She was not easily baited.
"Looks can be deceiving," Duncan said, smoothly disengaging himself. "I'm actually quite a cad."
"Yes, but you're my cad," Tessa said, linking her arm through Duncan's. He rewarded her with another kiss. Adrienne settled back in her chair, her eyes narrowed in jealousy.
As Richie asked, "What exactly is a cad?" the maitre'd led the group away to their table. Rebecca raised her eyebrows at Adrienne and chided, "I've never known you to be so . . . "
"Horny?" Adrienne asked.
Rebecca leaned forward. "I was going to say 'forward.' What's gotten into you?"
Adrienne fiddled with her place setting. "I don't know. It's been a long time since Tom died. I really need to start dating again."
"You do date," Rebecca reminded her friend. "Elliot, Nicholas, Luke - "
"They don't count." Adrienne abruptly changed the subject. "Let's order. I'm starving!"
Throughout the rest of their lunch the women kept up an animated conversation, this being the first time they'd had the chance to lunch together in ages. Rebecca rarely came into the city. She preferred Paris without the wretched automobiles that choked its streets and ruined the beauty of its buildings. The estate near Chartres that she'd owned for over five hundred years suited her needs and desires just fine. Adrienne, who rarely left Paris, filled Rebecca in on all of the city's most juicy gossip while at the same time favored the nearby Duncan with long, appraising looks more appropriate to an infatuated teenager.
"I told you," Rebecca insisted over their desserts of vanilla ice cream. "He's taken."
"That's open to interpretation," Adrienne said with a calculating smile. "Oh, Rebecca, don't give me that disapproving look of yours. I'm a big girl, remember? And Duncan's a big boy."
Rebecca shook her head but kept silent. If Adrienne wanted to make a fool out of herself, she couldn't stop her. From the way Duncan had spoken of Tessa during the wedding reception in Monte Carlo, they were practically married. She had never known Duncan to take an actual wife, though, and wondered briefly what kept the Highlander from being the marrying sort.
"I'll be back in a moment," Adrienne said suddenly, sliding from her chair. Rebecca glanced at Duncan's table and saw that he had excused himself. Adrienne followed him around the waiter's station toward the restrooms. Rebecca sipped her wine and waited. Duncan returned just a few minutes later, an uncharacteristic blush in his cheeks. He went straight back to Tessa and Richie. Adrienne appeared several seconds later, radiating disappointment.
"What did you do?" Rebecca asked in disbelief.
"Nothing," Adrienne answered breezily. "Come on, let's go. I'm tired of this place. Let's go spend large amounts of money."
Rebecca signaled the waiter. On the way out of the restaurant she stopped by Duncan's table to say goodbye, but Adrienne went straight to the front door to hail a taxi. Both Tessa and Richie glanced up as she approached, and Duncan gave her an odd look, both wary and puzzled.
"It was lovely seeing you all," Rebecca said, wondering just what had transpired between Adrienne and Duncan in those few moments. "And meeting you, Tessa."
"The pleasure was mine," Tessa offered graciously.
"Nice seeing you," Richie said.
At the curb Rebecca almost quizzed Adrienne about Duncan, but her friend had fallen into a restless, talkative mood and started chattering nonstop about news, gossip and even the weather. At Printemps department store she scooped up and purchased a dozen silk dresses without even trying them on for size. She also bought leather purses, three pairs of boots, silk lingerie from Thailand and a ridiculously oversized hat. Rebecca found herself hard-pressed to keep pace, and by the time they returned to Adrienne's apartment overlooking the Seine, the older Immortal was weary of walking and shopping both.
She made herself a cup of tea and sat out on the small balcony, watching boats glide up and down the river. The spires of Notre Dame rose into the sky, reminding her of a time when it had been Paris' largest structure. Late afternoon bells rang out over the city, perhaps some of them from Darius' own church. She hadn't stopped by to say hello to him yet. She didn't consider him an enemy, but the theological gulf between them hadn't closed over the centuries and she didn't want to revive old arguments, old clashes and hurts and bitterness.
Adrienne emerged from her bathroom clad in one of her new dresses. "I have to go do an errand. Will you be all right on your own for a few hours?"
The question surprised Rebecca. The whole purpose of her trip had been so they could spend time together. Too polite to point that out, she said, "Of course. What kind of errand?"
"Just something I need to do," Adrienne returned, already half out the door. "I'll be back soon."
More puzzled than annoyed, Rebecca kept herself amused during Adrienne's absence by reading a book she'd picked up from a rare antiquities dealer early that morning. Her agent had been searching for it on her behalf for years. Most of her truly favorite works had burned in the library of Alexandria in 391 A.D., but every once in awhile one turned up in monasteries or rare collections. She'd gotten a bit rusty with her medieval Latin and spent the better part of an hour conjugating verbs on one page alone. Adrienne returned just after dusk, triumphantly bearing boxes of chocolates and sweet cakes.
"I thought we could have these for dessert," she said.
Rebecca examined the delicacies, some of which had already been consumed. "Hungry, are you?"
"Famished," Adrienne said. Rebecca noticed that her dress was in disarray, and her stockings bore a long run. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright. "Let's stay home tonight, shall we? I have those old movies we can watch."
Together they dug the vintage projector out of the closet and set it up to display images on the living room wall. Rebecca threaded the brittle eight-millimeter film through the machine while Adrienne broke open a bottle of wine. Over the course of the next few hours, as they laughed and reminisced, Rebecca drank most of the wine while Adrienne devoured most of the chocolate.
The longest stretch of film had been shot along a Mediterranean beach sometime during the 1950's. She recognized the coastline. Most of the faces flickering in the projector lamp's glow were old Immortals, some as ancient as herself. Many had been flabbergasted and shaken by the rapid changes in the world around them. Catapults had given way to canons and missiles and nuclear bombs that could devastate entire cities. Wars no longer consumed regions, but instead the entire globe. Those who'd sworn fealty to monarchs found them toppled by republics - even the steadfast Hapsburg empire had collapsed. And electricity lit up the world beneath airplanes that crossed huge distances in a matter of hours.
No wonder they had come together that summer for reassurance and camaraderie. In an old fortress by the sea they'd feasted night after night by torchlight. Musical instruments and songs lost to the modern world had been lovingly played again. Warriors relived old conquests, poets composed new sonnets. Some young Immortal friends had visited on occasions, Adrienne among them, but none had breached the old guard. Most left after a few days, muttering about those who couldn't put the past behind them.
The camera focused on Adrienne, who posed in her daringingly short bathing suit with a cocky grin. Methos flexed his muscles while Marcus Constantine snuck up behind him and dumped a pail of water over his head. The lens tilted and turned, then zoomed in on Pier Mapes sunbathing on a beach blanket. Rebecca had first met the tall, devastatingly handsome Viking in the short-lived court of King Canute. He'd been mortal then, but with such a powerful pre-Immortal buzz that she'd instinctively reached for her sword. After his first death she'd become his teacher and then his lover; a bad combination, that, and the romance had ended unhappily. But they still remained friends, and last she'd heard he was living in Spain.
Rebecca curled sleepily around a pillow as the last of the images played out. All the old Immortals, all the things they'd seen and done and experienced, and no one knew why. Why they could heal from any fatal injury save decapitation. Why their bodies contained such an awesome, fierce energy that it could light up a night sky. Why they were caught in the Game, and why they fought for some unnamed Prize . . .
"Are you sleeping?" Adrienne asked softly, and Rebecca blinked up from the sofa.
"Hmmm," she said, and snuggled deeper into the clutched pillow.
Adrienne spread a blanket over her and kissed her forehead. Rebecca only dimly heard her friend click off the movie projector and turn off the lamp. She fell asleep dreaming of Immortality, and woke at five a.m. when Adrienne quietly undid the bolt on the front door and left the apartment.
Rebecca blinked at the clock. Where on earth could Adrienne be going at such an hour? To a challenge, perhaps, but in Rebecca's experience most Immortals preferred midnight for confrontations. Besides, Adrienne had acted anything but nervous during the evening, and she was hardly the world's greatest swordswoman.
After a moment's consideration she fought the powerful urge to go back to sleep and instead put on her shoes and coat. She slipped her sword into its hidden sheath and hurried outside in time to catch Adrienne going around the corner. Shadows and darkness still hung heavy over the city, but dawn had begun to creep its way west across the sky and the bakeries had put out their first hot loaves of the day. The tantalizing smell carried on the mild breeze, making Rebecca hungry. Evidently the lure caught Adrienne, who stopped to buy three loaves of baguettes and then hurried away.
Rebecca knew exactly how to trail another Immortal - a difficult task, but not an impossible one. She followed Adrienne through a maze of tangled back streets for almost a half-hour before her friend disappeared into a church. Holy Ground at such an hour? Rebecca waited outside, watching the street-sweepers do their work, but after thirty minutes she grew impatient and went inside. The pews were empty, the devotionals unlit. The door to the rectory was locked from the inside. A grilled gate hung open in the sacristy, and Rebecca peered down a narrow, dark flight of stone stairs. The damp, powerful smell of the Paris catacombs rose up to meet her.
She nearly turned back right there. Of all places Adrienne would pick - the catacombs. Of all the dark, claustrophobic places in the world - the catacombs. Of all the wretched, dark, damp, claustrophobic - Rebecca stopped herself from following that dismal line of thought. She hated underground Paris, the empire of the dead. But she had trained herself to ignore fear whenever possible, and so she slid her hand along the smooth stone wall and descended into the darkness.
Another iron gate hung at the bottom, and one beyond that. They had both been forced open. At the second gate Rebecca found a burning torch and liberated it from its sconce in order to follow the long tunnel ahead. Ancient rock quarries, some dating from the Roman era, ran underneath the city for hundreds of kilometers. The Inspector Generals of Quarries over the centuries had reinforced the limestone walls with rubble and dry stone, but in some places she could still see the rough walls and domed roofs. Wet gravel crunched underneath her feet, and the steady drip-drip of water brought her to her first row of femurs and skulls, a wall stacked as high as her chest.
The remains of seven million dead had been disinterred from Parisian cemeteries in the 1700's and moved into the catacombs - men, women and children she might have known, their names and histories and stories irrevocably lost in time. Empty eye sockets and cracked craniums met her dispassionate gaze. Skeletons meant nothing to her - she had killed too many people with her own hands and seen too many deaths in war to be afraid of earthly remains. The darkness, though, was another thing altogether. The dark and damp, and the sense of the whole city pressing down from above -
Rebecca took a deep breath. At the next junction of passages she paused. A crumpled paper bag and trail of bread crumbs caught her attention in the northern tunnel. Just as Rebecca reached the next crossing of passages, a woman's shriek reverberated off the stone. Another scream followed, this time longer and agonized, most definitely her friend's voice.
"Adrienne!" Rebecca shouted. "Where are you?"
White-hot flashes of a Quickening barreled down the stone passage. Rebecca instinctively flung herself to the wet ground. Her hair stood up on end and her skin tingled as the electrical charges surged overhead. She covered her head and listened to the terrible howls of pain, taking solace in the fact that at least Adrienne had won whatever unlikely challenge had brought her to the bowels of Paris.
When the Quickening had cleared and only the stench of ozone remained in the air, Rebecca brushed herself off and moved to the gallery ahead. She found Adrienne naked, bloody, panting and trembling against a wall of bones, a bundle clutched in her arms. Her torch burned from its discarded spot on the rough ground, and she looked up in fear as Rebecca approached.
"Who is it?" she demanded, casting one free hand for her fallen sword.
"It's just me, Rebecca." The older Immortal approached slowly, numb surprise spreading through her body as she realized what exactly her friend held. Rebecca whispered, "What do you have there?"
Adrienne relaxed and smiled, her face filling with beatific joy. "Come look. It's my daughter."
"Daughter?" Rebecca echoed, still caught in disbelief, unable to believe the evidence of her own eyes. The slimy, bloody newborn sucking from Adrienne's left nipple was very definitely a baby girl. "But . . . how?"
"You're not meant to know," Adrienne said with an eerie calmness, stroking the baby's forehead. "None of us are. Only during these few, brief minutes. Isn't that sad?"
Something small and brittle caught in Rebecca's vision, and she lifted her torch. Not far from where Adrienne sat, a newborn's skeleton rested in a tattered piece of cloth. Beyond that, another pile of even older, smaller bones. Abandoned children. Forgotten newborns.
Faintness spun her head and she sat down before she fell down. Immortal women did not bear children. Immortal women certainly did not bear children in underground vaults when just a few hours ago they'd been able to fit into slinky dresses. Rebecca rubbed the side of her head and admitted, "I don't understand."
"We're not meant to know," Adrienne repeated. "Don't you see? How could you raise a sword to a man who might be your son? How could a man raise a sword to his own daughter? The Game could not go on."
Rebecca couldn't help but stare at the baby girl, whose tiny fist waved in the cold, damp air. "The father is an Immortal?"
"Of course," Adrienne said, catching the fist and kissing it.
"Who?" Rebecca asked. "Do you remember who?"
She was thinking of lunch at Le Precope and Adrienne's open desire of Duncan MacLeod. She was thinking of the moment when Duncan had emerged from the brassiere restrooms looking flushed and unsettled, as if he'd accepted a rather forward invitation and already regretted it.
Adrienne saved her from her speculations. "Jonathan Kellman, at the University," she said in a distant voice as she cradled the child. "You've met him. Always good for a quick seduction. Poor man has no idea. None of them do."
Seduction, conception, gestation, birth - in what? Twelve hours? There had to be a reasonable explanation, but then again she'd never found anything reasonable to explain Immortality itself, or the Game that drove her kind to stalk and hunt and kill each other.
Adrienne looked up suddenly with wet eyes. "Will you take care of her for me? Will you take her to Darius?"
"We'll both go," Rebecca offered weakly.
"You don't understand. In a few minutes I'll forget all about her. Then I'll try to put as much distance as possible between us. It's how it happens, every time." The tiny bones behind them proved the veracity of that, but Rebecca refrained from looking at them again. Adrienne kissed her daughter's smooth, small head and let tears fall on the baby's brow. "Darius will know what to do. Give her my stepmother's name, will you? She was a good woman."
Rebecca had a dozen more questions to ask, but before she could open her mouth Adrienne handed her the baby to hold. The umbilical cord had already shriveled up and fallen from both mother and child. Adrienne stood in the flickering light, tears streaming from her eyes. She gathered the torn remains of her clothes, picked up a torch and fled the gallery.
"Adrienne! Wait!" The newborn wanted to suck Rebecca's breast, and she had to urge the strong mouth away. She grabbed the remaining torch and hurried down the passage. "How many children have you had?" she called out. "How often?"
But Adrienne would neither stop nor answer. The babe began to cry, a loud and hearty sound that echoed disconcertingly off the neatly stacked bones and skulls. Rebecca took a moment to wrap the tiny, helpless form in the warm lining of her coat. She followed the tunnels back to the church and found Adrienne sitting in the pews, deep in prayer. She had dressed herself again, with buttons missing from her blouse and a long rip in her slacks. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise at Rebecca's appearance.
"Rebecca!" she exclaimed. "What in the world do you have there?"
Rebecca stopped as surely as if she'd run into a brick wall. "A baby," she said faintly, searching her friend's face for any sign of deception.
"Where on earth did you find a baby?" Adrienne asked.
"Adrienne, where are we? Do you remember?"
The younger Immortal blinked at the stained glass windows and high crucifix. "St. Paul's. I come here every now and then for morning prayers. I'm surprised to see you of all people in a Catholic church, though."
"I found this baby," Rebecca said, reminding her again of the child.
Adrienne's face screwed up in distaste. "I've never been one for children, myself. I think I'll head home now - I'm very hungry, and surprisingly tired. Are you coming?"
Rebecca asked, carefully, "What do you think I should do with this baby?"
Adrienne's eyebrows shot up. "Is that what you have there? A baby? Where did you find it?"
Rebecca couldn't help but wonder if she'd fallen into some odd dream of twisting words and perceptions. Adrienne could not see the baby unless directed to it, and she forgot about it within seconds. With a heavy sense of dread she told Adrienne she'd meet her back at the apartment in a few hours. Adrienne cheerfully promised to make eggs and pancakes when she returned, then slipped out into the summer morning.
Rebecca sat in the pew and held the infant tightly. The revelation of Immortal birth hung heavy in her chest. It took no small leap of imagination to picture herself in Adrienne's place, giving birth to a child in secrecy and darkness. But how could she forget a son or daughter? And how could she possibly leave a defenseless infant to die on the catacomb floors, as Adrienne had done at some point in the past? There had been nothing deliberate or deceptive about Adrienne after the fact - she simply could not perceive the child, and showed not even the slightest maternal interest in its well-being or existence when faced with it directly.
In her moments of reason, Adrienne had urged her to bring the baby to Darius. Well, who else? He'd lived in Paris for an amazingly long time, and she'd bet this wasn't the first time he'd sheltered a newborn. With a grim sense of determination and a vow to find more answers, Rebecca set out for St. Joseph's Church.
Rebecca walked for twenty minutes through the back streets of Paris, careful to avoid other pedestrians. When she reached the small church not far from the Seine, she followed the preternatural sense of another Immortal to the study and found Darius sitting calmly at his desk. He had one hand flat on his bible and the other wrapped around a small china cup. Sunlight fell on the flagstone floor, tourists murmured on the street outside, the smell of tea wafted from the pot on the table, and the two of them gazed at each other in silence for a long moment before he stood up.
"Rebecca," he said, his voice as warm as always, his accent the last jumbled trace of a dozen lost civilizations. "I'm honored."
"Darius," she returned. "I'm puzzled."
She undid her coat and revealed the infant.
"Ah," was all he said. He crossed the space between them. First he kissed Rebecca's cheek, then he cupped the newborn's head. She'd fallen asleep in the sling Rebecca had fashioned for her.
"Her mother said you would take care of her," Rebecca reported evenly, and he looked up with a flash of surprise.
"Yes," he said, covering quickly, but not quickly enough. "Of course."
"Did you think she was mine?"
Darius stroked the baby's cheek with a long finger. His hands were always stained with something - blood, earth, ink, sacred wine. She remembered that about him. Rebecca caught his hand and forced the ancient Immortal to meet her gaze.
"She's the daughter of Adrienne Garneau. I arrived just as Adrienne gave birth in the catacombs with a Quickening in the air. Is that how it always happens?"
"I don't know," he said, his eyes dark and unreadable. He took the infant into his own arms. Rebecca felt an unnamed loss as the weight shifted. Darius continued, "I've never been there at the delivery. Sometimes, afterwards, the children are brought to me for safekeeping."
Rebecca found the courage and breath to ask, "Have I brought you children before?"
Darius moved to a basin and stand by the bookshelves. He picked up a soft cloth and dipped it in holy water. With a slow, loving tenderness he wiped the child free of dried fluids and blood. "You'd be better off not knowing the answer to that," he said mildly.
"It's a question that only leads to heartache. What if I say yes? What if I tell you that you've brought me children for centuries, and that some of your sons and daughters walk the city today?"
Rebecca sat down.
Darius continued, in a soft and relentless voice, "Will you look for them in every challenger you meet? Study their eyes and features and manners, and wonder if they come from your loins? You'll drive yourself mad."
"This is all madness," Rebecca murmured, and although she could see the wisdom of his argument, the need to know pulsed through her like an independent heartbeat.
The priest reached some interior decision and looked up with a somber expression on his face. "You have never brought me a baby."
She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Just because she hadn't brought him children didn't mean she hadn't borne any. She rarely visited Paris. Her life had been spent in other corners of the globe, centuries of travel and learning and adventure. She'd been making love to Immortal men for almost three thousand years - the possibilities for offspring were enormous, and wondrous, and devastating.
"Have you . . . " she started to ask, then stopped.
"Undoubtably," Darius said, sponging the last grime from the newborn's chest. "I don't know with whom exactly, and I don't know when or where, but I'm reasonably confident my own seed has gone far in the world."
When he finished drying the child he rang for his secretary, and asked her to fetch some infant formula from the pantry. She went with a knowing look and no questions asked. Rebecca said nothing until Darius put a cup of strong tea in her hand and made her drink from it.
She hesitated before drinking. "Mold?"
"Earl Grey," Darius said. "Duncan hates my special concoctions, and he visits often."
She sipped cautiously. "If I were you, I'd wash the pot."
For a moment she thought about Duncan. The Highlander had been charming and handsome from the day she and Amanda first met him in a crowded marketplace. She remembered a thorny tryst in an English meadow, a longer night of love in Rome, an impromptu and fun encounter in Cypress. The last time she had slept with him was New York City, back in the early seventies.
"Duncan and I - " she murmured aloud, and flushed.
Darius' expression didn't change. "It doesn't mean anything. Just because an encounter occurs doesn't mean a birth will follow. Judging by my limited observations, every woman seems to have her own cycle of fertility. No two of you are the same. It might be twenty years between children, or two, or two hundred."
"And you're the only one who knows?" Rebecca demanded, indignance pushing through the weight of everything else. She found it humiliating that this man, this priest, the ordained representative of her ancient enemy the Catholic Church, had alone been entrusted by fate with such an awesome secret.
Darius sipped his own tea. "I don't know who knows," he offered mildly. "It's not a topic for casual conversation. It's certainly not a thing to be publicized."
He was right, of course. How could any Immortal go into battle knowing that his or her opponent could easily be mother, father, child, grandchild? All Immortals had to be family in some way, although she had no idea how far back or to what extent the tree spread. Then again, perhaps the knowledge they might be fighting their own children or parents would persuade many Immortals to put down their swords, to pursue peace instead of battle.
"I am somewhat surprised you had no suspicions," Darius said. "You've spent a large portion of your life in communities of Immortal women. Didn't you observe any odd, cyclical behavior?"
"We came and went at will," Rebecca reminded him. "If a newborn appeared on the doorstep or on a forest altar, it was considered an offering or an omen. We received both Immortal and mortal children over the years, with no way to tell until the child reached puberty."
Darius nodded but said nothing. The secretary returned with the formula and he offered the job of feeding to Rebecca. Although she adored babies in general, she felt too disconcerted and disoriented to stay any longer. Rebecca gathered her stained coat and said, "You'll find her a good home?"
"Do you keep records?"
"No. It's too dangerous, and serves no purpose." Darius sounded and looked sincere, although it would not be the first time he'd lied to her.
Rebecca lingered in the doorway. "Adrienne asked she be given her step-mother's name. It's Monica."
"I'll see to it," Darius promised.
She couldn't bear to stay at Adrienne's apartment that night, not with the knowledge of the baby and all the unexpected revelations hanging heavy in her heart. Rebecca invented a lie about John, that he was feeling unwell and wanted her to return to Chartres. Mortal men liked to be coddled. Immortal ones, too, for that matter. Rebecca and Adrienne kissed each other farewell and promised to get together soon, and Rebecca drove back to her estate with a thousand questions in her head.
She didn't confide in John. Although he knew about Immortals, Rebecca didn't think he was quite ready to hear his wife might suddenly go off, have an affair and give birth one day. She didn't call Amanda or Methos or any other old friend. The question of her own possible children ate at her nerves, and she started combing through her diaries for dates and encounters.
Methos, Marcus Constantine and Pier Mapes. During that summer of 1953, in the fortress by the sea, she'd renewed her acquaintance with all three of them. To the best of her recollection she hadn't scurried off to give birth afterward, but who could say? If she returned to the castle and combed its deepest cellars, would she find skeletons? The thought kept her up at night, made her dreams restless with ghosts of abandoned babies.
Connor MacLeod. She'd slept with him and found him as talented a lover as his kinsman, if not more. That old goat Ramirez, who'd been Connor's teacher, had taught her a thing or two about love in his time. Byron had been an insatiable but selfish lover, Sean Burns a bit more thorough in his attention but overall quite dull.
Rebecca stood at the windows of her library, gazing at the summer grass, each blade an Immortal child cast loose in the world by women like herself. Three thousand years had brought her a great many lovers - poets, priests, philosophers, kings, knights. Shoemakers and chefs and even a rabbi, once, back in New York City. Just counting her encounters took the better part of two days - how could she ever hope to narrow down possibilities of parenthood? Most of the men she'd made love to were younger, which meant that she could be their mother - the very thought made her fling her glass at the wall. Of all the adjectives she applied to herself, she'd never dreamed of including "incestuous."
Better to accept that she had biological children in the world and would never know their names, their faces, their likes or dislikes. She had raised any number of adopted children in her lifetime, had loved them and buried them as her own, and would have to be content with their memories. The forgotten flowers, the ones blown away on the breezes of time, would grow in their own gardens and lead their own lives.
The resolution to leave the matter alone led her to a period of depression that lasted for the rest of the month and into early July. Adrienne invited her to come to the city for Bastille Day, but Rebecca declined. Duncan wrote and said he and Tessa were bringing Richie to the Cathedral in Chartres to better his education - could they stand guests for a few days? Paris had turned muggy and unbearable, tourists had overrun the main attractions, and he was tired of running into "old acquaintances" at every turn.
She hesitated before inviting them. An ex-lover of the Immortal variety was the last thing she wanted to see. Young Richie Ryan's pre-Immortality would only remind her that a mere eighteen years ago his mother had given birth and forgotten all about him. For several minutes she wondered if he might be her own. Hadn't a wedding guest in Monte Carlo made that very assumption? Then she remembered Duncan had found Richie in Seacouver, that the teenager had grown up there. She hadn't been to the west coast of the United States for at least a hundred years and so he couldn't possibly be hers.
John was going away on a business trip to Spain. She consulted him about Duncan's request, and he said guests might just be the thing to cheer her up. Rebecca doubted it but sent a warm note of welcome anyway. Two days after John left for Barcelona, the refugees from Paris appeared at her front door.
"Thank you for having us," Duncan said, kissing her cheek and offering her a bouquet. "Another day of no air-conditioning on the barge, and I would have been lynched."
Tessa looked frazzled and flushed in the hot summer sun. "We truly appreciate it. It's weather like this that makes me actually miss Seacouver."
Richie trailed behind with both hands full of suitcases. "Nice place," he said, squinting up at her fourteen-room chateau. "You wouldn't happen to have a swimming pool, would you?"
"Yes," Rebecca smiled, and let Richie kiss her cheek. "There's quite a nice swimming pool. Tennis courts and horse stables, too."
"How about psychotic revenge-seekers and mercenaries?" Richie asked, a glint in his eyes.
"That's enough," Duncan said sharply. "Why don't you take those suitcases upstairs?"
"Oui, mon capitan," Richie said. He scooped up the bags. "Where exactly am I going?"
Rebecca answered, "The third door on the right is your room, and the one after that is Duncan and Tessa's."
When Richie had gone, Rebecca asked, "Mercenaries?"
"Who can figure kids these days?" Duncan shrugged dismissively.. Rebecca decided to press him on it at dinner. The Highlander never seemed to endure a dull moment - part of his charm, actually.
Over the next few days she found herself enjoying her role as hostess, and with revived spirits took them through the town's medieval attractions. Tessa had not been to the gothic Chartres Cathedral since her school years, and Duncan had only visited once or twice over the centuries. Rebecca escorted them through the Crypt and Treasury, and she and Richie climbed the towers while Duncan and Tessa rested.
The beautiful plains of Beauce spread out for miles in all directions. Richie took in the town below, leaning over so far she fought the urge to yank him back for his own safety. Wind ruffled his reddish-blond curls, a color not entirely unlike her own. "It's not a very big town," he observed.
"It never was."
"But it's such a big cathedral."
"There's been a church on this site since the 4th century," she said. "Before that, Druids worshipped here. Later it became an important pilgrim center. Kings and commoners alike came to see the clothing worn by the Virgin Mary."
She had showed the tunic to them in the Treasury - ancient fabric, worn to threads by time and human hands, hermetically sealed for protection. She had not told Tessa or Richie about its importance in her own life, or the Marian cults that had once flourished in parts of the world. Duncan, who knew about her religious beliefs but did not subscribe to them himself, kept his opinion to himself.
"You know what's the good thing about France?" Richie asked, quite unexpectedly, as he kicked at a stone in the tower. "All these old buildings and history and things. I wasn't impressed at first, but it grows on you."
"America has its own buildings of historical importance," she pointed out.
"Not like this. This Cathedral is almost eight hundred years old, right? The oldest ones in America can't be more than four hundred or so. I'm only eighteen - makes me feel like a baby."
Rebecca smiled. "I'm over three thousand - you are a baby."
"Immortals," Richie muttered good-naturedly. "Always showing off."
Rebecca hoped that he would live so long. "When's your birthday?" she asked.
"September 20th. When's yours?"
"The modern-day equivalent is sometime in June, I think," she said. "Our calendar was a bit different than the one used today. I haven't celebrated it in a long, long time."
For lunch they ate at the Grand Monarque, the best restaurant in town. Dinner at the house that night was a more leisurely affair. After the meal Rebecca went to her library and checked her records and diary, more out of idle curiosity than anything else. Where had she been on or about September 20, 1974?
New Jersey. She had flown from Newark to Miami to visit old friends in Key Largo. No problems there.
But on the night of September 19, 1974, she had made love with Duncan MacLeod. For several hours. In his little SoHo apartment while rain and wind rattled the cheap windowpanes and Santana spun on the record player. She remembered the beginning of the evening clearly - she'd gone looking for him, in fact - but the ending was blank. Had she gone off and given birth to a boy that would grow up under the name of Richie Ryan - Duncan MacLeod's son?
The thought made her sit down in her favorite chair and pull a throw over her shoulders. Richie and Duncan. She and Richie and Duncan, bound by a triangle they were never meant to recognize. After several minutes she comforted herself with the fact Richie had grown up in Seacouver - three thousand long miles from New York City. The timing couldn't be anything other than coincidental.
But the next morning brought even more proof Richie Ryan was her son.
Rebecca and Duncan had half-finished with a light breakfast of fruit and croissants by the time Tessa and Richie appeared. The two came into the dining room quarreling good-naturedly about which cathedral was more beautiful - Notre Dame de Chartres or Notre Dame de Paris. The morning sun through the tall windows glinted off something hanging around Richie's neck, and Rebecca's attention focused on the object.
"I still think Chartres is prettier," Richie offered, sliding into a chair. "Maybe I'll be an architect someday. I could build big flying - what did you call them yesterday, Rebecca? - big flying buttresses."
"Yes, buttresses," Rebecca murmured, staring at the polished quartz hanging around Richie's neck. "That's a lovely crystal you have. May I see it?"
"Sure." Richie pulled the leather cord over his head and handed it to her.
"You've always fancied crystals," Duncan said to Rebecca.
"Yes, I have." Her interest in and study of so-called 'occult' objects had never been a secret to any of her friends. Duncan didn't know about the Methusalah Stone, though, or any of the other special items she'd collected over the years. The quartz Richie wore could have been mistaken for any old hunk of mineral except for a small silvery vein running through it.
She looked up from the cool crystal to the blue-eyed teenager. "May I ask where you got this, Richie?"
He shrugged. "I've had it since I was a kid. It's the only thing I've managed to hold on to over the years."
"You found it?"
"No," he said. "Not that I remember. I just always had it, even when I lived with my first foster-mom, Emily."
"I have a rather extensive collection," she said. "May I compare it to some of my other pieces? I'll bring it right back. It's a . . . unique piece."
"Sure," Richie shrugged. "You know where to find me."
After breakfast Duncan took Richie and Tessa riding. Rebecca locked herself in her library and with trembling fingers compared Richie's quartz to her own specimens. There. A perfect match with the rest of the Rennes-le-Chateau shards she'd picked up on her way to the Third Crusades. Each night she'd lain awake in the Lionheart's camp, studying the crystals by firelight and tracing their threads of silver. She'd worn some of them as jewelry over the years, losing pieces here and there, and she was sure she'd misplaced one sometime during her month in New York in 1974.
She remembered the tiny skeletons in the catacombs and how they'd been wrapped in cloth before their abandonment. Perhaps the same impulse that drove Immortal women to abandon their children allowed for the leaving of small momentos, fragile ties to their lineage.
But if Richie Ryan had indeed been born out of that encounter between she and Duncan in New York City, how had he managed to wind up in Seacouver?
And more importantly, if he was her son, did he deserve to know? Did Duncan?
Rebecca sat by her window and watched the summer breeze ruffle leaves in the trees. She decided she couldn't tell either of them anything, not until she had more answers. Acting before she lost her courage, she telephoned her solicitors in Paris and had them hire a very successful, extremely discreet private detective in America. The detective promised to have a report for her within seventy-two hours. In return she promised to pay an exorbitantly high price for his services. At lunch she gave Richie his crystal back, and managed to say nothing more than it certainly was a remarkable piece.
"Thanks," Richie said. "I'm kinda attached to it."
Rebecca couldn't help herself after that. She found herself staring at Richie from afar, memorizing the details of his face. She listened to everything he said with rapt attention. She decided he was brash and cocky. Reckless. Impulsive. He knew very little about world events, disdained politics in general and had a keen interest in girls. He was also bright, charming, cheerful, brave. He would make a good Immortal someday, although she imagined he would have a rather rough training period - if Duncan became his teacher, she didn't envy him the task.
Her son. Her child. How else to explain the surge of connection she'd felt ever since the first time she'd seen him in Monte Carlo? On the fourth day of the visit, while all four were riding horses in the woods, Richie fell from his horse and landed with a heavy thud in a ditch. A sharp, icy fear cut through her as surely as any sword, and she fought the urge to leap from her horse to his side.
Duncan had beaten her to the action, anyway. He helped Richie sit up and rode with him back to the house, where the teenager was immediately put to bed diagnosed with a swollen knee and bruised ego.
"It's just a sprain," Duncan said, placing an ice pack on the injury. "It'll be fine in a day or so. You were lucky."
Richie sat in bed with his arms crossed over his chest, embarrassed and annoyed at having fallen. "From now on I'm sticking to things with motors," he said darkly. "I don't care what you guys think, they're safer than big giant animals."
"Here," Tessa said, handing over an aspirin and a glass of water. "This will help."
Rebecca disliked aspirin, and had herbs that would do a much better job of reducing the swelling and pain, but she kept both her distance and silence.
Two mornings later, Duncan and Richie commandeered the kitchen in order to make pancakes. In a very short time, flour dusted both of their faces and batter dotted the counter and floor. Tessa and Rebecca watched from the kitchen table as the men cheerfully argued over how long to cook a pancake, how many blueberries to use, whether thick ones tasted better than thin ones, and how to properly warm maple syrup. The maid entered and gave Rebecca an envelope that had come via messenger. Her mouth suddenly dry, her stomach in knots, Rebecca excused herself and locked herself in the library.
She put the envelope flat on her desk and told herself, quite reasonably, that she didn't have to read the report. She could file it away or even burn it. But she had to know. She ripped open the end and pulled out a thick pile of documentation that began with a cover letter from the detective and ended with a photocopy of Richie's forged birth certificate.
Richie Ryan's first documented foster mother was Emily Ryan. All records prior to that had been destroyed in a City Hall fire in 1979. The detective had tracked down a cousin of Emily Ryan's, and the cousin produced a faded letter from Emily that said Richie's parents had died in a highway accident in the fall of 1976. Copies from the Seacouver Times on October 3rd of that year revealed the couple's names as James and Susan Braden. Their car slid off the road on an icy patch of ground, slammed into a tree and then rolled over. Two-year-old Richie had been thrown clear of the wreck and was found wandering the highway alone in the freezing rain, dressed in a secondhand pair of Oshkosh overalls with a crystal in his pocket.
When the state contacted Susan Braden's brother in a Portland trailer park, he denied ever having a nephew. He claimed the couple had "found" a newborn infant in New Jersey at the start of their cross-country trip two years earlier. Unable to have children of their own, they'd decided to keep him. The date they put down on his faked birth certificate was the night they found him - September 20, 1974. The police combed missing-infant reports and hospital records from New Jersey, New York and half of the eastern seaboard, but it was determined that Richie had no family and he was put into Emily Ryan's care. Given the nature of the Braden's custody of him, the state allowed her to change his surname to Ryan prior to the final stages of adoption - an adoption which never did take place. Emily's husband left her quite unexpectedly for another woman, and Emily died of an aneurysm six months later.
A loud knock on the door startled Rebecca from her study of the sheets. With a hammering heart she called out, "Yes?"
"It's Duncan," came the reply. "Are you going to eat your pancakes?"
Rebecca twisted a lock of hair between her fingers, the remnants of an old nervous habit. "I need to attend to some business," she called out. "Finish up without me."
Silence for a moment. She knew Duncan; he was trying to decide whether or not he should interfere, help or offer some other assistance. "All right," he finally said. "We'll be out by the pool when you're done."
Rebecca leaned back in her chair and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Circumstantial evidence, all of it. She had made love to Duncan in SoHo one rainy night in September, 1974. Newborn Richie had been found the next day in New Jersey, where she flew from Newark to Miami. From an early age he'd possessed the very same hunk of quartz she'd lost sometime during that trip. He had her hair color. He had Duncan's stubbornness and many of his strengths. He was going to be Immortal some day, and Immortals came from Immortals, and if she didn't stop thinking about it she was going to drive herself crazy.
She couldn't ask for any firmer proof.
Rebecca was Richie's mother, and Duncan his father.
"Madam," one of the maids said to Rebecca, appearing poolside. "There's a telephone call for Miss Noel."
Rebecca called Tessa from the pool. Tessa wrapped herself in a short robe and went inside, saying that she had left Rebecca's number with her boss and family. Duncan and Richie continued to splash each other and play around in the crystal blue water, their laughter carrying high into the clear sky. Duncan's olive skin darkened with every passing hour in the strong sunlight, while Richie's reddening shoulders betrayed the need for more sunscreen. Just like her own fair skin, she thought, watching them from the distance of her lounge chair and the discretion of a pair of sunglasses.
She rehearsed a speech she'd give to the Highlander. "Immortal women seduce Immortal men, then go off, bear their children and abandon them. Surprise! Richie's your son."
No, too direct.
"Duncan, have you ever wondered where Immortals came from?" she'd say casually, and draw him firmly and gently into the net of her conclusions.
No, too subtle. Duncan MacLeod sometimes needed the thud of a hammer on his skull in order to accept the unusual.
She could take the coward's way out and ask Darius to tell him, but she didn't think the priest would be of much help. He obviously had his own opinions about the matter, and keeping the secret counted as a high priority.
Rebecca checked her watch. She never drank before noon. That vow had been sorely tested after reading the detective's report that morning, but she held fast and planned to reward herself for her discipline with a very large and cold martini.
"Rebecca, come on in," Richie urged, hanging from the side of the pool and flashing her a smile that would melt the heart of most teenage girls. His strong legs scissored the water behind him. "Marco Polo - more than just the name of a world explorer, it's a pool game, too."
Duncan swam up beside him, his eyes bright and amused. "Yes, come on. Don't make us go up there and toss you in."
"You wouldn't dare," Rebecca warned, but before the challenge could be tested Tessa came out of the house wearing an unhappy expression.
"What's the matter?" Duncan asked.
"The Customs Bureau lost our exhibit records," she said. "It's all a mess. Pierre has asked me to come back to Paris and straighten out the affair."
"Tell him you're on vacation," Richie suggested.
"I'd love to," Tessa said, "but I can't. It's my responsibility."
Duncan pulled himself from the water and reached for a thick towel. Water dripped from his muscled shoulders. "Real life always intrudes on the idyllic in the end," he mused, sounding quite like a philosopher. "We knew we'd have to go back sooner or later."
Richie made a face. "I vote later rather than sooner."
"You could always stay here," Rebecca blurted out, before she could censor herself. "It won't take long for you to finish, will it, Tessa?"
The Frenchwoman tilted her head. "Just a few days. Duncan, Richie, perhaps you should stay here - it's much cooler than in the city, and so quiet and lovely."
"Where you go, I go," Duncan said gallantly, and kissed his lover on the top of her head.
Richie offered a smile. "Ditto. Although I think it's great here, I'm sure the American girls at the youth hostel must be missing me by now. I'm their guide to Paris, after all."
Rebecca saw her chances of speaking privately with Duncan fleeing before her eyes. "Surely you can stay one more night?" she asked, trying not to sound desperate.
Tessa sighed. "We have an appointment first thing tomorrow morning with the inspectors. I'll need to go into the office tonight and see what records I can recover from the computer."
"I hate to leave so quickly," Duncan said, "but it seems like it can't be helped."
Tessa and Richie went upstairs to shower and pack. Duncan lingered by the pool until they were out of earshot and then sat in the chair beside Rebecca. He wore that serious look of his, one she remembered all too well.
"Something's wrong, isn't it?" he asked Rebecca quietly. "You've been acting removed all morning."
Removed? She couldn't have been more involved if she tried.
"It's nothing," Rebecca said casually, a lie of amazing magnitude. "I received some surprising news."
Duncan searched her expression. "May I ask about what?"
She met his gaze straight on. "Some friends of mine, casual lovers, had a child. Quite a shock."
"Oh." Duncan looked relieved. He'd probably been expecting the worst sort of news - the announcement of an old friend's death, perhaps, or the issuing of a dreaded challenge. Nothing as mundane or irrelevant as someone else's children.
"You haven't told him, have you?" Rebecca asked. "Richie."
He blinked at the sudden shift in topics. "Told him what?"
"About what he'll one day be."
"No. Should I?"
"No," Rebecca said after a moment's thought. "Knowing his future Immortality would probably encourage him to take foolish risks."
"That's what I think, too," Duncan said. He slung his damp towel around his neck and pulled at the ends. "You know what Tessa said last night? She thinks you have a crush on Richie."
"A crush?" Rebecca sputtered. If she'd been sipping liquid, she would have choked.
Duncan grinned. "She says you keep looking at him in the most unusual way."
Rebecca turned her face toward the pool. "Has Richie said anything?"
"No. He just naturally thinks he's the object of every woman's attention."
She didn't miss the humor in Duncan's voice, but she refrained from responding to it. "I think Richie is a charming young man. He intrigues me. But don't think for a moment I have any sinister or romantic designs on him. I'm very happily married."
"I know." Duncan moved to the end of her chair and sat there until she met his gaze. "Tessa didn't mean anything by it. She thinks it's cute, how he gets women to dote on him."
"Hmm." Rebecca decided that Tessa had seen and sensed too much. "He probably gets it from watching you."
Duncan laughed. "Probably," he said, and went to go pack.
"Duncan - " she said, when he had gone a dozen yards.
He turned back to her, his warm brown eyes alight with curiosity, his dark hair streaming down his back. "Yes?"
We have a child together, she said silently. He is ours and I love him.
"Nothing," she said.
The maid told Rebecca there was a distraught woman waiting for her in the foyer. Rebecca, who'd sensed the arrival of another Immortal moments earlier, went downstairs and found Amanda standing with hunched shoulders and bloodshot eyes. She had her hands buried deep in the pockets of her lightweight raincoat. The rainy day suddenly seemed much darker than it had a few minutes earlier.
The women looked each other in the eye.
Amanda said, simply, "Darius."
Rebecca sat down heavily on the marble steps. Darius. Dead. The concept defied all reason.
"Who?" she asked weakly.
Amanda shook her head. "Not one of us. It was done on Holy Ground."
On Holy Ground. Rebecca's hand went to her mouth. Darius had secluded himself for years in St. Joseph's, avoiding Death, but Death had come to him in the end. At the hands of a mortal, no less. No Immortal would have dared. She thought she might be physically sick. Before she could decide whether to cry or flee or vomit, Amanda came and sat at her feet and put her head against Rebecca's knee.
"Duncan found him," she said. "It was horrible."
Rebecca's hands went to the top of her protege's head and rested there. A wind whipped around the house, the faint shrill cry of a banshee.
"Duncan's making the arrangements," Amanda continued, her voice choked with grief. "There's a funeral mass at St. Joseph's on Sunday."
Rebecca's skin went cold. She stilled the fingers that had been stroking Amanda's dark locks. Amanda looked up, her gaze narrowing in suspicion.
"You're coming, aren't you?" she demanded. "You have to come!"
"I can't," Rebecca said tightly. "Not to a Catholic Mass, Amanda. You know better than to ask me."
Amanda pulled back, her face white with anger. "Can't you put aside the past for once? It was his faith. His belief. He dedicated his life to the Church, and he was your friend."
Old arguments, old differences in opinion, but pain blossomed in Rebecca's chest as surely as if she'd been spiked with a medieval mace. She shot to her feet and gripped the banister for balance.
"You know what the Church did to me! How can you ask me to put it aside?"
"The Inquisition ended hundreds of years ago!"
Rebecca ground out, "I remember it as clearly as yesterday. I remember the hot irons and the tortures and being burned alive, over and over again. All in the name of Darius's Catholic Church. He knew what they did to me, and became a priest for them anyway. So don't talk to me about belief or faith or friendship."
She stalked away, her fury so white-hot she would have instantly welcomed an enemy to kill, but the only villains of the day were the cowards who had slaughtered Darius on Holy Ground and the ghosts of the men who had tortured her in the name of God. Amanda came to her an hour later, when day had slipped to the deep gloom of dusk. She slipped up behind Rebecca and put her arms around her waist. They stood at the window looking out at the nothingness beyond the glass.
"I'm sorry," Amanda murmured. "Forgive me."
Rebecca leaned back and let the tears flow down her face. "He can't be dead," she sniffed. "It's too soon. Dammit, Darius, we still had so much to talk about."
But he was gone, and no regret or prayer could bring him back. Within a week Duncan, Tessa and Richie were also gone, on their way back to America. Rebecca didn't even get the chance to say goodbye to them. Amanda stayed for a few weeks, sharing Rebecca's grief, but she moved on before the gray weather of autumn and left Rebecca alone in the house with her husband, her crystals, the maids and a lingering, festering, burning desire.
"What do you want for Christmas?" John asked one night as they lay cuddled in bed, a wine bottle already tipped on its side, the low firelight casting long shadows through the room.
The words came out of Rebecca's mouth faster than she could censor them. "I want to go the United States," she blurted out. "To Seacouver."
"Seacouver?" John's eyes widened in surprise. "What for?"
"Duncan MacLeod lives there. I have some business to conduct with him, and I thought maybe we could make a holiday out of it."
John shuddered with anticipated cold and pulled her closer. "Christmas in Seacouver - rainy, wet and cold. Hardly any better than here."
"Only for a week or so," Rebecca wheedled. "It's a charming little city, and we can always fly to California or Hawaii or somewhere warm afterward."
John's hand moved down under the sheets, his fingers light and ticklish against her hip. "Can't you just call him on the phone?" he asked, nuzzling her neck.
"No," Rebecca said, as a wave of desire rose up in her. She cupped John's head between her hands. "I need to see him in person."
Rebecca would tell Duncan that Richie was their son. Or maybe she wouldn't. She would tell Richie he was her child. Or maybe she wouldn't. She couldn't choose a path until she reached Seacouver and talked to them both and listened to her heart. A child deserved to know who his parents were, but the Game and the quest for the Prize eliminated most normal considerations. She would take baby-steps on the way to the truth, as many as needed.
"I suppose a trip to America would be nice," John said, his hand moving lower, sliding into the cleft between her legs, and Rebecca thrust forward to meet him
She had ties to the world again, anchors that weighed heavily. Her husband. Her son. Darius was dead but she was alive, and though the awesome secret of Immortal parenthood hung heavy in her chest, it carried with it sanctity and magic and the steady reassurance that even if she died, her bloodline - Richie and all his unknown siblings - would carry on.
She really couldn't ask for anything more than that.