Immortal beloved, p.1

Immortal Beloved, page 1

 

Immortal Beloved
 



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Immortal Beloved


  Highlander:

  Immortal Beloved

  unpublished fiction by

  C. E. Murphy

  Summary: An archaeologist’s claim to have found Atlantis brings five thousand years of memories and missed chances back to Methos’ doorstep. Starring Methos, featuring Duncan. PG rated; no slash. © 1998 C.E. Murphy

  Comments: I wrote this novel in 1998, just before Warner stopped publishing the Highlander novels. I submitted it and received a response saying that in fact they /had/ stopped publishing Highlander, and for a long time I sat on it, then decided I might as well put it on the net for people to read. So it’s more or less been relegated to the status of fan fiction, at this point.

  Someday, in my copious free time, I’m going to write the other two Methos novels I’ve always wanted to write. In the meantime, however, here is the unpublished story.

  Chapter 1

  Her hair was filling the room.

  Hip-length when she was captured, she could only guess at its length now. She could stand on it, folding it back to the top of her head and down to her feet again, half a dozen times. Arms full of the slippery stuff would slide out of her grasp, making the folded count unreliable, and the ends always drifted free; she didn’t know how much more there was than what she could hold folded in her arms.

  No matter how she twisted, she couldn’t escape the tendrils. Her hair followed her as she moved, invisible spiders whose subtle brush were the only contact she had with anything living. She’d broken it off at first, tearing great handfuls apart and letting them go in the little prison. It had not taken long to realize the folly of the tactic: at least while attached to her head, she had some control over the impossibly long strands. Those torn free wound their way around her legs and arms, almost lazily, constricting her movements.

  It was those broken lengths that made her realize that someday the room would be filled with her hair. The thought terrified her. Captivity for eternity was hell enough. Captivity wound motionless in a secondary prison of her own making was enough to set her screaming.

  The sound carried to the walls of her prison, bouncing harmlessly back to her, distorted by water. Only exhaustion stopped the screams, hours or perhaps days later. There was no way to count time’s passage, in the black oubliette. Neither light nor tide passed into the deeps, leaving her with no idea how long she had been trapped.

  Only the first few hours were clear.

  She’d wakened with a surge of pain, screaming air into her lungs, thrashing wildly in salt water. Her skin was raw, and the salt stung it viciously. That pain faded as panic rose. She swam across the room, fumbling in the absolute darkness for the door. The wall curved inward slightly just above the water level, turning from wall to ceiling. She pounded frantically on the curves, the stone not even reverberating with her efforts. Finally she dove for the door, searching with blind hands. The floor lay several feet below her, smooth, but her frenzied hunt found no exit.

  Shoving back to the surface, she reached up, trying to gauge how much room there was between the water and the ceiling. She couldn’t reach the ceiling, which afforded her some scant relief. There was air, for a few hours, at least. Maybe there would be time to find a way out. There had been windows. If the door was gone, perhaps the windows were still there. She dove again, and again, until she had touched every inch of the walls surrounding her. There was no way out.

  Someone was screaming. It was long minutes before she realized it was herself, screaming for her gods, for her mother, for her lover; for anyone at all to save her. Silence answered, and the patient lapping of the water as she caused it to slosh back and forth in the free space in the chamber. The adrenaline was leaving her system, panic replaced by despair, and she slapped her hand against the wall, whimpering. “Please, please, please.” It became a rhythmic sob, growing more distraught as she realized the ceiling was curving more steeply than it had been. The water level was rising. Soon the air would be gone, and she would drown with the rest of Atlantis.

  The water level was rising!

  Somewhere, there had to be a fracture, a break in the stone that let the water in. Again, she dove, running her fingertips over the stone, looking for the flaw. Time and again she floundered to the surface, gasping for air, only to drive herself back under the water, determined to find the passage where the water flowed in.

  She couldn’t find it. The water continued to rise, terribly slowly, but inexorably. The break allowing it to seep in could only be a hairline fracture, too small for frightened fingers to find, too narrow to break further apart for escape. As she pushed her way back to the thin layer of air, she could taste it going bad, stale, with no replenishing breeze to freshen it. Fighting despairing tears, she lay on her back in the cool water, trying to breathe shallowly. She lay still for hours, fading in and out of consciousness as the air continued to thin.

  Panic regrouped only when her nose bumped the ceiling. A horrified scream tore her throat, the faint metallic taste of blood pooling at the back of her mouth from the force of the scream. She smashed her hands blindly into the ceiling, wasting the little air that was left. In the barest moment of time, the water closed over her head entirely.

  Sinking into the quiet tomb, she held her breath, desperate to extend her life just a few more seconds. The physical desire to simply open her mouth, to breathe deeply, was nearly impossible to resist. Surely if she could not breathe for only a little longer, there would be miraculous escape. Pale stars danced behind her eyes, and the conscious decision to hold her breath failed before the instinctive reflex to breathe.

  A fit of coughing, the attempt to dislodge water from her lungs, doubled her over, sobbing in the darkness. Not until it passed, and she lay floating in a fetal position, did it slowly dawn on her that she was still alive. She did not need to breathe.

  It took much, much longer for the implications of that to settle in. That she, like Aroz, was Immortal.

  Like Methos.

  She would live here until she escaped. If she could not escape, the room would be her prison, but never her grave.

  She screamed. She screamed until her throat was bloody, folded tightly in on herself, biting the knees that she held crushed against her chest. She could feel the sting of salt water in the cuts, and she could feel them seal closed again within moments.

  It triggered motion, making her unfold from the painfully tight fetal position she’d floated in. She kicked towards a wall, and began working over every centimeter of the room with terrified, unseeing fingers.

  It was no longer shaped as it once had been. The walls were melted smooth, a uniformity to them that the architects could only have dreamed of. There were no cracks, no imperfections that might be exploited. Even the fracture that let the water in was too fine to be discovered. The door was simply gone. No hollows or changes in the stone’s texture hinted at what might have been the way out.

  Only in two places did the texture change at all. The stone turned to metal slag, short rough spots on the floor. Recklessly, she scrabbled at them until her fingers bled, trying to gain some purchase in the two small flaws. That she failed each time she tried did not stop her. There was no other choice.

  Nearly five thousand years passed.

  Chapter 2

  Bum. Tha-dum-bump.

  Duncan pulled the pillow over his head and violently willed the knocker to go away.

  Tha-dum-bump-bump.

  The Highlander groaned. “Coming!” he yelled through the pillow, and didn’t move.

  Ba-dum-bum-bump.

  “For God’s sake, don’t ye know what time it is?” he growled into the pillow. Kicking his feet free of the covers, he rolled off the bed. As he stood, a chill of nausea shuddered through him, warning him that the
knocker was an Immortal. In an instant, Duncan came fully awake.

  Instinctively lifting the katana from where it lay, Duncan crossed the long apartment silently, blade held before him. The brief hallway to the door was narrow. Opening the door with the weapon to the fore was a long-practiced chore of turning sideways behind the door, to greet the arrival with the blade rather than his neck. Wary, but not terribly alarmed — most Immortals intent on taking his head wouldn’t bother to knock first — Duncan pulled the door open.

  The slender man at the door was visibly shorter than Duncan, although he stood nearly six feet in height. His head was cocked to the side, an eyebrow arched over deep-set black eyes. Soft black hair spiked in a pattern that suggested it had been slept on recently, strands poking out over a face with the classical features of a Roman emperor. An aquiline nose complimented thin lips, which were currently curved in a rather sardonic smile. A black greatcoat, hitting him at midcalf, was worn over a grey, high-necked sweater and Dockers. A duffel bag was slung over his shoulder, held by there by two fingers.

  “Took you long enough,” Methos said pleasantly.

  “For God’s sake,” Duncan repeated. He rotated the katana behind him, parallel to his arm, and gestured Methos in with a jerk of his head. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

  “Around three fifteen, I imagine,” the other Immortal said. He brushed past Duncan, knocking a light switch on with his elbow as he walked into the living room. It flooded the room, coloring in a couch and chairs that had been shadows a moment before. “Did I wake you?”

  Duncan leaned on the doorknob without closing the door, watching Methos make himself at home in the flat. “What do you think?”

  Methos dropped his lanky form onto the green leather couch, and the duffel bag beside it, looking Duncan over.

  The Highlander was bare to the waist, wearing flowing gi pants. Faint red marks left from sheets and blankets criss-crossed oddly over a well-muscled torso. Black hair, cut short, was disheveled, and brown eyes under heavy eyebrows were sleep-filled. Only the katana glittering behind his shoulder, and the loose, easy grip on it, suggested Duncan was fully awake.

  After briefly considering the Highlander, Methos ignored the question. “I had an idea,” he announced instead.

  With a sigh, Duncan shut the door, relocking it. “It couldn’t wait until morning?”

  “It could have,” Methos said thoughtfully, “but my plane just got in, and the cab ride out here took all my money. I was sure you wouldn’t want me to sleep in the street.”

  Shaking his head, Duncan came back into the living room, sitting in an armchair across from Methos and leaning forward to put the katana on the coffee table. “You could have stayed at a hotel next to the airport and called in the morning. I’d have come out to get you.”

  Methos stretched out on the couch. Even relaxed, he had a nervous energy about him, something that suggested too little sleep and too much caffeine. It gave him the aura of an overworked graduate student, completely belying five thousand year history the Immortal man actually had. “I hate sleeping next to airports,” he explained. “Planes keep me awake. All that noise pollution.”

  Duncan smiled despite himself. “It’s better to wake me up in the middle of the night?”

  Methos looked over with a grin, folding his arms behind his head. “Infinitely. What’s the point in friends if you can’t impose on them? You were,” he prompted the other man, “about to ask me what this great idea of mine was.”

  “It can’t wait until morning?”

  “Of course not. I couldn’t stand the idea of you lying there all night, awake with suspense. I’m doing you a favor.”

  Duncan snorted, sinking back into his armchair. “All right, Methos. What’s this great idea of yours?”

  “I’m glad you asked,” Methos said modestly. “I was thinking about the Watchers.”

  Inadvertently, Duncan glanced at Methos’ wrist. Though he couldn’t see it, the Highlander could visualize the blue tattoo on the inside of Methos’ left arm, a circle encompassing an exaggerated Y. It was the symbol of an ancient organization of mortals; historians who, for centuries, had observed the Immortal Game, recording battles, but never interfering. It was a secret society, and a world-wide network. For the past decade, Methos, the oldest Immortal, had worked for them, as a research scholar called Adam Pierson. Pierson’s focus of study was the legendary Immortal, Methos. The Watchers weren’t sure if Methos was still alive. Adam Pierson kept it that way.

  “What about them?” Duncan asked warily. He’d learned the hard way that not all Watchers followed the non-interference rule. While the years had built a friendship between Duncan and his own Watcher, Joe Dawson, the Highlander still harbored some suspicion and doubt of the society as a whole.

  “You remember the Methuselah crystal, and the Watchers who found out I was an Immortal?”

  Duncan nodded. The race between Watchers and Methos for the Immortality crystal had nearly cost first Amanda, and then Methos, their heads. Legend had it that the crystal would grant Immortality to the mortal who carried it. Methos had wanted it for his beloved Alexa, dying of cancer. The Watchers had wanted to it to be able to share the Immortality their charges were gifted with. In the end, the crystal had been lost, and the Watchers killed in the battle for it.

  “They weren’t terribly happy to discover they’d been harboring an Immortal in their ranks all those years,” Methos went on. “It occurs to me the rest of them are going to find out eventually, one way or another.”

  Duncan nodded again. “So disappear. I’ve always wondered why they didn’t figure it out when you took Kristin’s head.”

  Methos shrugged, thinking back on the woman. Obsessed with Duncan, Kristin had come after him through the centuries, and the chivalrous Highlander had been unable to bring himself to take her head. Less concerned with niceties, Methos did it for him. “They thought you did it,” Methos explained. “That’s what Joe put in your record. Anyway, I have a better idea than disappearing.”

  Duncan sighed. “All that dedication to history, and he’s doctoring the records. All right. What’s your better idea?”

  “Everybody doctors the records,” Methos’ voice was unconcerned. He toed his shoes off, sending them thumping to the floor. “I need to die, really spectacularly.”

  Duncan’s eyebrows shot up. “Beg your pardon?”

  Methos swung his legs around, sitting up. “In front of a lot of Watchers would be particularly good,” he said eagerly. “I wake up befuddled. ‘What? Me? An Immortal? After all this time studying them? It can’t be!’”

  Duncan pursed his lips. “You’re insane.”

  Methos leaned forward. “No, listen. It’ll work. Look: I’m mortal, you’re Immortal. Why’ve you spent all this time hanging around me? The Watchers know Immortals can sense the undeveloped Quickening in potential Immortals. You’re doing … ” For a moment the older Immortal’s conviction failed, and he continued more gently. “You’re doing something they’ve seen you do before. Befriending a potential Immortal to train him if he gets in an accident.”

  Duncan looked away. “Richie,” he said, quietly. “Dammit, Methos, I don’t want another student. I’m not ready for that again.”

  Methos’ smile quirked as he straightened up again. “I wouldn’t exactly be your average student, Mac,” he reminded Duncan. “It’s a cover story, and I need your help to pull it off. When we’re through, I’m Adam Pierson, died 1999, age thirty-four.”

  Duncan sighed, looking back again. “You think it could work,” he said doubtfully.

  “Sure. And just think — I’d be the only Immortal with two records in the Watcher files.”

  Duncan laughed. “You’re hopelessly vain, old man.”

  Methos tilted an eyebrow in acknowledgment. “I’m also practical, MacLeod. They won’t be looking for Methos in me if they see Adam Pierson die the first time.”

  Duncan thumped his head against the back of the ch
air. “I’ll think about it,” he grumbled. Knowing he was agreeing to the scheme, he lifted his head again to glare impartially at Methos. “You can’t live here,” he warned.

  Methos’ eyes widened. “Would I impose on your hospitality like that, Mac?” The innocence didn’t fade from his face as he added, “Can I have a blanket, by the way? The couch is comfortable, but you keep it chilly in here.”

  “What makes you think I’m not going to throw you out on the street?” Despite his words, the big Scotsman got to his feet, searching for a blanket. “What,” he asked over his shoulder, “makes you think they’ll assume it’s the first death, anyway? That they won’t figure you’ve been pulling the wool over their eyes all this time?”

  Methos stood, to finally shed his greatcoat. “Because I’m a very good actor, MacLeod. I can’t afford a bad performance.”

  Duncan balled up a blanket and flung it down the length of the room at Methos, hitting him in the back of the head. “None of us can.” Two pillows followed the blanket. Methos turned to catch them neatly, grinning. “Don’t you ever stay in hotels, Methos?”

  “Not if I can help it. Researchers. Underpaid everywhere.” Methos’ tone was mournful.

  “I’m overflowing with sympathy. Go to sleep. I’ll tell you all the flaws with your hare-brained idea when I’m awake enough to think.”

  Methos shook the blanket out, grinning. “Good,” he said brightly. “We should have the whole thing done before that happens.”

  -o-O-o-

  The sunbeam crept determinedly up the bed. Duncan ignored it fiercely, even as it warmed him to the point of discomfort. Only when it slid over his face, turning the pleasant darkness behind his eyelids to a gold-tinged wall of fire did he roll out of bed, groaning reluctantly.

  The apartment was silent, the heap of blankets and pillows on the couch unmoving. Rubbing his face, Duncan scowled good-naturedly at the couch’s contents, and made his way past it to open the door and get the newspaper. Shaking it open, he went into the kitchen, setting the teapot on to boil. The headlines were typically depressing: war in India, a cop shot on duty, studies finding drugs were less and less effective against tuberculosis. With a sigh, Duncan flipped the paper over to read the lower half, and chuckled. “Wake up, Methos. Somebody’s claiming to have found Atlantis.”

 
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