Note: This story take place in the HL3 movie universe, so the events of HL2 and Endgame didn't happen here.
Disclaimer: Not my original characters (except Jennifer and Mitzi), not my created universe. No money is being made from this story.
The Oak and the Ash
by Parda, August 2004
Chapter 1: Uncovered
12 October 2016 -Edinburgh, Scotland
Connor MacLeod had not wanted to spy on his wife. He had, in fact, been performing the weekly task of emptying the trash when he had tripped over Callie, his son's elderly calico cat who had been soaking up the patch of sunshine at the top of the stairs. The contents of the study's trash basket went up, the trash basket went down, and the cat went sideways. Connor went on swearing as he knelt to pick up the scattered papers, while Callie stalked away, tail held high.
A mustard-yellow scrap of paper fluttered out from inside last month's newsletter from the Society for the Historical Preservation of Edinburgh, and Connor reached for it with his left hand as he dropped the newsletter into the trash basket with his right. He paused when he noticed the handwriting on the yellow paper - neatly slanted letters written in thick black ink, a rarity in today's world of v-mail and digi-pens - and he found himself reading what was written there. The receipt was from the Stanford Hotel on George Street in Stirling, for the sum of 120 euros (cash) from Mrs. A. Johnson, on October 5th, 2016.
Connor sat back on his heels, that patch of sunshine warm on his shoulders, and stared at the paper in his hands. Last Wednesday. A hotel room. Paid for in cash by one "Mrs. A. Johnson." But Alex had gone to work as usual that Wednesday morning and been home for dinner that night. Connor remembered; it was only a week ago. He'd made barbecued chicken and roasted potatoes for them. They'd eaten outside in the garden and talked about the Ibero-Celtic archeological dig in Spain, about their children - Sara's agony over her latest English term paper and Colin's latest agony over his latest girlfriend - and about the possibility of visiting Duncan and Susan in New Zealand over Christmas. Alex had been quiet, but no more than usual - or no more than usual lately. No more than usual these last few months.
Connor put the receipt in his pocket then collected the rest of the papers and the trash from the kitchen and bathrooms. He hauled it all to the rubbish bin in the alley behind the house, and then he called Alex at her office at the museum.
She wasn't there. "It's Wednesday," said Sally, one of the student interns, as if that explained it all.
"Wednesday," Connor repeated.
"Why, yes. Dr. Johnson goes to class every Wednesday. She won't be back until five."
"Oh, yeah," Connor agreed, as if he'd known that all along. He added a self-deprecating chuckle. "I seem to be a little disorganized today, Sally. Can you give me the phone number there?"
"I just call her cell phone. She won't answer if she's in class, of course, but she usually checks her messages around lunchtime."
"Of course," Connor murmured, but it was past lunchtime, and suddenly he didn't feel like talking to Alex anymore. "Thanks, Sally," he said, and she signed off with a cheery goodbye. Connor walked from his Georgian townhouse to the Waverly station and caught a ride to Stirling.
He got off the train at twenty after two. Connor walked to George Street then sat on a bench in the small park across the street from the Stanford Hotel. He watched the front door for nearly half an hour. A family of four went in, a white-haired woman in a dark blue coat went out, and just before three, a tall man with graying hair in a gray business suit left the building and turned to the right. Seven minutes later, Alex walked out the front door and turned to the left, in the direction of the train station. She had plenty of time to catch the 3:36 and get back to work by five.
Connor waited another ten minutes before he went into the hotel, an old-fashioned, genteel kind of place. The elderly lady behind the wooden desk in the lobby was impeccably dressed, frostily efficient, and terrifyingly honest. A black fountain pen lay next to the guest book in front of her, the guest book she ostentatiously closed as soon as Connor started asking questions. "I have nothing more to say to you," she informed him. "The staff of this hotel does not answer questions about our guests, and if you do not put that money away immediately, I shall summon the police."
Connor nodded politely as he flipped his wallet closed, and he walked out of the lobby. He immediately went to the service entrance in the back. The West Jamaican man working in the kitchen was much more reasonable. "No, I never seen that lady," he said, peering at a photograph of Alex as he pocketed the cash. "But then I don't see the guests ever." He called across the steamy room to a young woman in a gray uniform with pink barrettes in her blonde hair. "Hey, Cecile! You know this lady?"
Cecile set down a tray of dirty dishes on the shiny aluminum counter and came over to look. "Oh, yeah. Every Wednesday."
Every Wednesday. Week after week, Alex taking the train out to Stirling, renting a hotel room in the middle of the day to take a "class," and never once saying a word. Connor put the picture away, careful not to crease the edges, careful not to crush it in his hand. "How long has she been coming here?" Connor asked, withdrawing more bills.
"Oh, I don't know," Cecile replied as she made the money disappear. "A couple of weeks, I guess. No, September it was, I came back from my vacation and then she started coming, so that's five or six weeks now. Always orders tea and sandwiches for lunch, doesn't she, Jake?" she asked, and the cook nodded vigorously, his short braids swinging. "She tips good," Cecile continued, "polite enough, but not real friendly. Kind of cool, you know?"
Connor knew, especially lately. Alex was usually "too tired" in the evenings, and "still sleepy" in the mornings, and "not in the mood" in the middle of the day. For the last five or six weeks now, maybe longer. At least, that's what she been saying to him. "How many sandwiches?" Connor asked, forcing himself to stay cool as well.
"Two, of course," Cecile said, with a simper and a giggle. "Tea for two. I've never seen her fellow; she always orders before he gets here, and then I'm usually off my shift, except today, because I'm covering for my friend Angela, but I think it's kind of sweet, especially at her age and all. She's got to be forty at least."
Alex was fifty-three, and Connor didn't think any of this was sweet at all. In fact, the tightness in his gut made him want to vomit. He breathed slowly and deeply before he asked, "Does she use the same room?"
"Usually, unless someone's already in it."
"Anybody in it now? I want to see it."
"Oh, I mean ... I couldn't ..." Cecile looked around nervously, and Connor handed her another few bills. "Well, I suppose," she agreed. "Georgiana just finished cleaning it, I know, because there's a couple coming in tonight at four. We've got a few minutes. You just want to take a look, right?"
"Right," Connor agreed and followed her out of the kitchen and up the narrow service staircase at the end of the hall. She unlocked the door for him, then stood anxiously just inside the room, fidgeting impatiently. Connor glanced once at the queen-sized bed, neat under its blue and white coverlet, then he went to the spacious sitting area in front of the bay window. He twitched back the white lace curtains and stared across the street to the small grassy park below. Did they sometimes walk there, hand in hand? Or did they spend all of their time in that bed?
Connor closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe slowly, evenly, calmly; forced himself to let go of the curtain before he ripped it off the wall. Never lose your temper in a fight. He pulled out his phone and took a picture of the view from the window, then took a picture of the hotel room, the bed looming large.
Alex was late getting home that night. She'd been late a lot lately. "I've got a huge amount of work to do, Connor," she'd told him. "You know what it's like, getting ready for a dig." She was planning on leaving this Friday for Spain, and she'd be gone for eight weeks. This time she hadn't asked him along. In fact, she'd pretty much told him not to come. "We won't have much time to do anything together anyway, Connor," she'd said when they talked about it last month. "I'm heading up one of the teams, so I'll be really busy. Besides, John and Gina have been asking you to visit. They need some help building the rock walls around their new house, and you haven't seen Davey for nearly a year, and you know how fast children grow. And you can spend Thanksgiving with them."
And Connor had agreed to her eminently logical plan. He was supposed to fly out to Denver on the twenty-first to see John and Gina and their toddler, a week after Alex left for Spain, for an archeological dig. For two months without him.
Connor didn't bother to make dinner for her tonight. He sat in the kitchen while the darkness gathered around him, a bottle of Scotch on the table, a single shot of untouched whisky by his hand. He was not going to be drunk when she got home. He was not going to lose his temper.
He was not going to kill her.
Around seven o'clock, she let herself in the front door then called out his name uncertainly in the dark house. Connor didn't answer. He listened to her slightly uneven footsteps as she came through the hall, her limp a legacy of that car crash a year and a half ago. He blinked when she turned on the kitchen lights, and she stopped in the doorway, blinking too. "What's wrong?" she asked immediately, her gaze pausing on the bottle, then going to him. "Are the kids all right? Is Duncan-?"
"They're all fine," Connor told her.
Alex sighed in relief and came into the room, dropping her purse on the floor, then taking the chair across from him. "So, what's wrong?" she repeated.
Connor slowly lifted his head. "You've been really busy at work for the last couple of months, haven't you, Alex?" he asked, giving her a chance to tell him the truth.
"What?" she asked, her eyes narrowing in a good show of confusion. "Of course I am; I've told you-"
"Busy every day?"
"Yes, every day," she agreed easily. "Meetings, scheduling, last minute supply problems ... you know what the chaos before a dig is like." She leaned forward with a smile. "Look, Connor, I'm sorry I'm late for dinner, but-"
"Busy with a class?"
"A class?" she repeated, and the word sounded of blank surprise, but her eyes showed sudden fear. "I don't-"
"Talk to me, Alex," Connor demanded, reaching over to take her hand in his, the bones of her slender fingers bird-delicate in his grip. "Talk."
Alex stared at him across the table, her dark-blue eyes narrowing. "You're hurting me, Connor."
Connor relaxed his hold on her slightly, but he didn't let go, and he didn't look away. With his left hand, he picked up the photo of the hotel room and dropped the picture on the table between them. "Busy every Wednesday, Alex? For the last six weeks?"
She glanced at the picture and yanked her hand away. This time Connor let her go. She shoved her chair back from the table and sat there, poised on the edge of her seat. "You've been spying on me?" she asked, her voice quivering with anger.
"You've been lying to me," he snapped back, his own words icy calm, with that frozen rage he knew so well, and had never once shown to her. She shook her head mutely, her lips pressed tight together, then rose from the table and started to leave. Connor shot from his chair and grabbed her by the arm before she had taken two steps, yanking her around to face him, crushing the smoothness of her silk blouse into the softness of her skin, so that he could feel the bone of her arm between his fingers and thumb. "Don't you ever lie to me!" he snarled, but Alex only stared back, silent. "What's his name, Alex?" Connor demanded. "What's his name?"
"You think-," she began, with a half-strangled and incredulous laugh. "You think I have a lover? Me? Me?" she repeated, the word rising high and hysterical. She blinked rapidly, and tears slipped down her cheeks as she asked in bewildered despair, "Who would want me?"
"Alex...," Connor whispered, as his rage drained away in a confusion that left him nearly shaking with sick relief. He released his grip on her arm and reached out to hold her, because whatever was going on, it sure as hell wasn't some clandestine affair. "Alex," he said again, gently now, but she pulled away from him and ran stumbling up the stairs. "Oh, Jesus," Connor muttered, and he stood there for a moment with his hand over his eyes, before he went to try to comfort his wife.
Continued in Chapter 2 - Memories