Chapter 1: Meeting I: Questions
Duncan MacLeod of clan MacLeod was walking along Paris's streets without any particular purpose. He just tried to enjoy the walk, the City and the weather and not to think about… about anything. Damn, he was sure he did the right thing when he challenged Byron, so why to brood now?
Suddenly, he found himself near Darius church – it often happened nowadays, when he allowed his feet to choose his way by themselves. He considered if he should come in and say "hello" to Father Beaufort, when the unmistakable sensation of Immortal presence froze him where he stood. He nearly saw the priest's ghost in front of the doors, when they opened and a tall, young-looking brunette appeared on the porch.
France, Darius church, several years after the first meeting between Darius and MacLeod.
"Am I here at a bad time?" Duncan sensed two Immortals in the church.
"No, not at all." Darius invited him inside, and Mac saw a woman in black clothes; she was definitely in mourning.
"Jessica is an old friend of mine, she came from Britain recently. She buried her mortal husband there."
"Darius, maybe I should…"
"Duncan, she really needs a new acquaintances here, it will do her good. Come, I'll introduce you."
"Duncan MacLeod of clan MacLeod," said the brunette, extending her hand.
"Jessica Stark," she expected shaking instead of kissing, and he did so. " Nice to see you again."
"Well, here again there is a place of meetings… Even when… " her voice quavered, and something like tears could be seen in her eyes, when she glanced back to the church.
"You didn't know?" he asked softly.
"No, I knew… Just hard to believe in it, you know… It's my first time in Paris since I heard, so I just came to say farewell…"
"I'm sorry, I disturbed you…"
"No, never mind. And I'm happy to see you here," she smiled. " Were you heading somewhere?"
"Oh, would you do me a favor and play a tourist-guide for me? It's been a long time since I was here, and it really would be nice to talk."
" With a great pleasure, my lady," he answered, offering his hand to Jessica.
Three hours later they were sitting in a street cafe, enjoying new sorts of ice-cream.
"So, Jessica, what are you doing in Paris now? Business trip or vacation?"
"Both, I suppose. I decided to unite vacation with some kind of a personal business."
MacLeod didn't like how she pronounced that "business".
"Immortal business? " he asked grimly.
"You could say so," she smiled.
"Do you need any help?" he asked, glancing to the coat, hanging on a chair.
Her smile became broader.
"Chivalrous as always…"
France, Darius church, several weeks after the first Flash Back.
"Well," Darius said to Jess, laying down the letter Duncan had just handed him. "Sister Anne writes, that they will welcome you any time you like. If it's really what you need."
"Yes, Darius, it's exactly what I need – a quiet life in a quiet place, teaching village girls and dealing with my memories. I'm fed up with society. And thank you very much, I really appreciate it."
" That's what friends are for. When do you plan to go?"
"Day after tomorrow, I suppose."
"But you can't go alone," MacLeod interjected."Roads are very unsafe nowadays."
She grinned. "I can't recall any long period of time when roads of France were safe, Duncan. And I can defend myself."
"I'm sure you can, Jess, but why invite trouble when you can successfully avoid it?"
"Lady Jessica, it will be a great honor for me to accompany you to Bluas."
She looked upon Darius, then upon the Highlander…
"Well, I'd be grateful."
"Thank you very much, Duncan, but I'm neither hunting nor running, at least for now. But… If you've lived here for some time, maybe you can help me with some information."
"I'd love to."
She reached for her handbag, extracted small press-cutting and unfolded it on the table. Duncan's heart skipped a beat – the article in press-cutting was devoted to "mysterious disappearing of famous rock-star", and it was Byron who stared at the Highlander from the photograph.
"You knew Byron?" he breathed.
"Oh, I wouldn't say so. I met him back in London in the beginning of his life, Immortal life, I mean. It was very briefly."
" But Benjamin, his teacher, was – is, I hope, – a very good friend of mine. And… I owe him."
"So you want to avenge Byron?"
She nearly laughed. "Duncan, you are old enough to know that revenge is one of the most useless things in the world. And Ben would hardly thank me for that. I just want to know, if Byron really is dead, and the reason why. If there was anything besides "there can be only one", of course. And… since all the European newspapers were writing about that, I thought that I could run into Ben somewhere here. He will need answers… and some kind of friendly support. It always hard to lose your students…"
"So, do you know anything about it?" she pointed at the article.
MacLeod sighed. Jessica was his friend; more important, she used to be Darius's friend. She was a good person, never (as far he knew) liked violence, but always cared about mortals. She should understand. And besides, as the last few months had convinced him one more time, truth always becomes known. And better to say it directly.
"Yes, Jessica, I know. It was me who killed Byron."
Her eyes became very earnest, she studied his face for several minutes, then said: "So there was a reason. Could you tell me about it?"
"Yes, of course."
He told her the entire story – in brief, without mentioning Methos or Joe. She kept silence, then sighed.
"I was afraid it would end this way. Byron was a genius, and a genius is a dangerous thing when you are Immortal… It was rather obvious even then, back in London, but… You did what you had to do, and I'm sure Ben will understand. He just deserves to know… Well, I was very lucky, when I met you, Duncan. Now I can focus on finding Ben… Although I'm afraid a chance meeting is the best I can hope for."
"Maybe I can help you, if you don't mind. What's his full name?"
"Benjamin Adams. Doctor Benjamin Adams, actually."
Doctor Adams? Byron called Methos "Doc", and an "Adams" fits… Was it possible that it was Methos Jessica was speaking about? And if it was, then Byron was not just an acquaintance or even a friend, he was his student… Mac suddenly remembered about Richie and Alec Hill. His student… But, nevertheless, what did that change? And he still wasn't sure, maybe it was merely a coincidence.
"Never heard the name, I'm afraid."
She shrugged. "Most likely he changed it. Not all of us are capable of going under the same one through centuries, like you."
"Could you tell me about him?"
She shrugged again.
"Why not? It's not a secret and it was a good piece of my life… Just shortly before you and I met for the first time. …We came across each other in New Orleans somewhere in the beginning of 19th century, I believe. Layonel, my husband, was officer in city's garrison and Ben was a local doctor. He was… kind of a family friend, I should say, although relations between him and Layonel always were a little bit complicated."
"He was jealous?"
"No, that wasn't the case. Their disagreements were rather of political type. Well, Layonel was an officer from an aristocratic family, and Ben was a doctor. One of a few ones, who were more interested in people than in their money or status. And he was the only one who did care about the slaves. Of course they had plenty things to argue about."
Just a coincidence. Mac really couldn't imagine Methos as a person who would care about and protect the slaves. Methos the abolitionist? It didn't make any sense at all. Meanwhile, Jessica continued:
"But they became friends eventually. After Lay's retirement we moved to England, and Ben suddenly decided to join us… I supposed, he was avoiding some challenge in New Orleans, but I'm not sure."
"He avoided challenges? " at least that fit.
"Well, he used to say that he really preferred his Hippocratic Oath to that bloody Game. And I believe he meant it. In England we lived in different places and saw each other quite rarely, that's why I got only a glimpse of Byron those days… And I left after Lay died. So, do you know anyone fitting the description?"
"I'm not sure… But I'll do some checking."
They talked a little more, then agreed that Duncan would meet Jessica the next day at an exhibition in Louvre ("I'm a tourist, after all.") and Jessica left for an appointment, leaving Duncan in deep thought about what he should do. Well, he could go to Joe, tell him the story and ask him to check on Ben Adams. But it wouldn't be very… polite, would it? MacLeod sighed. He knew very well what he should do, if he wanted to help Jessica – he should call Methos and ask him directly about Adams and Jessica Stark. But… But he didn't know just how to begin such conversation. Especially, when he hasn't actually began any conversation with Old Man since… Never mind. Finally, MacLeod decided to invite Jess in Les Blues Bar after exhibition and to rely on chance.
Chapter 2: Meeting I: Questions
Jessica was in the ladies room, when Duncan felt another "buzz". A familiar one, or maybe it just seemed to be; but it was Methos who approached their table, asking,
"Is Richie back in town?"
"No, he isn't. It's…", but before Duncan could go further, he heard a click of heels and an amazed smile broadened Methos's face.
"Benjamin! Is it really you?"
They hugged and exchanged kisses. So that's him.
"Join us, Ben, this is", but studying their faces she decided against introducing. "I take it you two know each other?"
"For some time, yeah."
"Then it isn't Benjamin any more, right?"
"Right", Methos answered, pulling out a chair for Jessica and sitting down himself. "It's Adam Pierson now."
"Adam Pierson," she repeated, tasting the sound. "It fits, but it doesn't really suit you, to my mind. May I use Ben, when not in public, of course?"
"Jess, you can use whatever name you like."
"Oh." Another glance passed between them. "How interesting. But I still prefer Ben. I really liked the guy."
"As you wish, sweetheart, as you wish," he answered ironically.
"So, speaking about addresses, is Adam Pierson a doctor?"
"No, Adam is a linguistics researcher."
"And a brilliant one, I suppose. Easy path, but it's a pity."
"Why?" Duncan couldn't help but ask.
"Medicine really lost a lot if Ben gave it up… But I'm sure it'll gain much more when you return."
"Why do you think I'll return?" Methos sounded irritated.
She shrugged. "You always do."
You always do. The words echoed in Duncan's mind. He knew that Methos had studied medicine, but an eternal healer? Like Grace Chandel?
"You are flattering me, Jess, and you know it… Well, it seems like waiters are ignoring us. I'll be right back."
Methos disappeared in the direction of the bar, and Jessica's expression became earnest. Duncan began to explain "I really haven't heard of "Benjamin Adams" and I wasn't sure…"
She waved her hand, cutting him off.
"Does he know about Byron?"
"Then it's all that matters now."
"Well", Methos rejoined them at their table and it was his turn to ask questions. "What about you, Jess, where are you now? "
"I've been in Sweden for some years… A small university town with medieval background, called Uppsala."
Duncan had never heard about the town, but Methos nodded.
"And what are you doing there?"
"I'm an assistant in a research laboratory, and they say I'm a very promising one."
"Yeah," she smiled and explained, mostly to Duncan: "I sometimes still find it hard to believe that the Earth isn't flat."
They laughed and meanwhile drinks were brought – beers for Methos and Mac and a cocktail for Jessica, which Mac didn't recognize by sight. But Jessica did, and an amazed smile appeared on her face. She tasted the drink, and smile became grateful:
"Of course. You are hard to forget."
"Do you want free advice from an old Immortal, Highlander?" Jessica put half-empty glass on the table and didn't wait for the answer. "When you find yourself having a happy mortal family – be sure that at least one Immortal friend is around. A friend, who, decades or centuries later, will remember those who you loved… And, more important, will remember you as you were, when you were happy…"
Duncan knew what she was talking about; fortunately he had Richie to share memories about Tessa. And he sensed that his presence was an intrusion, even if Jess wasn't hinting at that… So he made his excuses and asked, before leaving, if their meeting the next day was still on.
"Of course it is! Be in Paris and not visit the Opera? Never! And I'm sure Adam hates it as much as Benjamin did."
Methos grinned and Duncan headed to the door, where he was stopped by a meaningful glance from Joe.
"Mac, what's going on?"
"Nothing serious, Joe. We met a friend."
"You sure?" Joe sounded skeptical.
"Sure. Look, Joe, she is my old friend, she is his old friend and she is not the type to look for trouble. Don't worry."
"Easy for you to say, but I could use a little reassurance."
They went to the office, and Mac told his history with Jessica and as much as he knew about her history with Methos.
"Well," Joe said, "I guess she sounds okay."
"I told you, there is nothing to worry about."
"And then why are you looking so grim?"
"I don't know, Joe… It's so… so strange."
"What exactly? The fact that two of you could have common acquaintance without involving any deaths or beheadings? You find it hard to believe that Methos had a few light moments in five thousand years?" Joe asked sarcastically.
"No, Joe, but… It's really strange to learn such things about him… you know what I mean."
"You mean, it's difficult to reconcile the monster Cassandra had described and this doctor friend of Jessica?"
"Something like that."
"Listen, Mac, there were three very long and very full millennia between the two. Some people do change, you know."
Before MacLeod could answer, there was a knock at the door and Joe left the office.
Chapter 3: Old debts
Verdi's "Rigoletto" was incredible. So exciting that Duncan managed to put all other intruding thoughts aside, focusing on the soaring music. But afterwards, when he and Jessica were seating in a restaurant... The subject of conversation smoothly changed from the performance to Italian opera in general, to Italy itself, then back to France and it's arts…
"Alas, Ben always has had very strange tastes in music," Jessica said during the dessert. "But fortunately he has other merits."
"You mentioned you owed him." Somehow the question sounded appropriate at the moment, though he was ready for the "that doesn't concern you" answer.
But Jess only shrugged and smiled kindly.
"Well, to begin with…"
New Orleans, 1807.
(A year before events in "Indiscretions" Flash Back)
Colonel Stark and his wife Jessica were returning home after a dinner in mayor's house. Dinner was really boring and Jess was glad the evening was over. Suddenly, when they were a few paces from their house, she sensed… not a Presence, but a danger; someone's stare, a vague sense of threat.
"Jess, what is it? Is it…"
Before she had time to answer, a shot rang out, Layonel fell into her arms and time slowed to a crawl. Colonel's adjutant ran in the direction of the sound, a crowd of frightened servants and slaves surrounded them…
"Carry him into the house! Gently! Roy, fetch Dr. Adams. Immediately!"
Jess hadn't studied medicine since the invention of fire-arms, but she saw that the wound was very bad. Fortunately, Benjamin arrived quickly, but she didn't like the look on his face.
"Ben…," she asked pleadingly.
"Jess," he answered, voice steady and earnest. "I'll do everything that I can, but I'm a doctor, not a magician."
She nodded, swallowing her tears, and stepped back, giving him space.
"But he lied, he was a magician. Lay survived and we had another 10 years together. You know what that means."
Yeah, he knew. Another 10 years with Tessa – it was all he could ever dream for. But there had been no miracle or magician to save her that night. Or to save Steven, Ceirdwyn's husband. Or Alexa…
Two days later, the three Immortals were again sitting in Le Blues Bar at the same table. This time it was Jessica's idea, and she managed to orchestrate a light-hearted conversation about cultural events in Paris.
"Oh, by the way, speaking about fashion and old debts, and since I'm on vacation… Does anyone of you know, where Kristin is nowadays?"
"In a place where she should have been long ago," Methos answered. "In hell."
"Nice to hear! Who deprived me of the pleasure?"
"Me." Methos was looking directly at his mug.
"You?" Jess was astonished. "Why on earth did you do that?"
"Look, Jess, I'm sorry, I know it was your fight and I'd have gladly left it to you, but…"
"Ben, I'm not offended, just surprised. Anyway, I'm happy that all those naive Immortal boys are safe from her now."
"You had a quarrel with Kristin?" Duncan finally found his voice.
"You could say so. That… lady," the tone she used made "lady" sound even worse than the word she actually meant, "stole my student back in 15th century. Not that I was jealous, but she killed him three years after. And he was a nice kid. Couple of centuries later, she tried to repeat the trick, but I was able to stop her, with a little help from our common friend… Alas, circumstances didn't allow us to finish the fight. And I still don't understand why you decided to do it."
"There was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up," he rose. "Excuse me."
Jess shook her head.
"He reentered the Game to kill Kristin. Unbelievable."
"He did it to protect me," Duncan said nearly in a whisper.
"You? You are not some naive boy she would victimize."
"I was a few centuries ago. Lucky enough, I figured out what she was, but I couldn't bring myself to kill her. He did it to protect me. And my student as well."
"That makes sense. To protect someone he cares - I mean, really cares – about, it's a reason for him. Maybe the only reason he would issue or to accept a challenge."
Methos rejoined them and Jessica changed the subject to something mundane, but Mac didn't hear it. Kristin's name awoke a flood of memories. Kristin, Richie, Maria and what happened afterwards… Walter and Claudia Jurdine, Alexa, Anne and her little Mary… K'oltec. To protect someone he cares about… Methos had left Alexa for nearly a week, to protect him, to help him face his dark side and defeat it. It suddenly occurred to Duncan that later, in Bordeaux, he had merely returned the favor. Helped Methos face his dark side and defeat it. Why hadn't he thought about that earlier? In those words? To protect someone he cares about… Of course, neither Methos nor Amanda had the right to interfere in his dealings with Keane, but since when had caring for a friend become a crime?
"Duncan, are you with us?" Jess asked cheerfully.
He managed to answer and even to take part in conversation for the rest of the evening. He would think about it later. Alone.
Chapter 4: Conclusions
Jessica spent two weeks in Paris, acting excited and enthusiastic like she was a young student, and this was her first time in the City. She went sight-seeing, attended museums and theatres, etc, with either Methos or Duncan to accompany her. Sometimes they all met and shared a drink or a lunch, chatting about everything . Or nothing. It was obvious from their occasional slips that Jessica had known Methos long before "Benjamin Adams" and every meeting brought up even more questions in Duncan's mind, but… He was very well aware that he had no right to ask them. And maybe it was for the best – he was not sure if he could handle any more secrets. He had enough things to brood about as it is.
But everything, good or bad, comes to an end eventually; and on a cloudy Sunday evening they saw Jess off on the train. (She still preferred trains to travel inside Europe.) Right now there were just two of them, on the platform, since Methos had wandered off to buy something for Jess.
"Thank you very much, Duncan, for everything. It was a marvelous vacation, one of the best I've ever had."
"Always at your service, my lady. It was a great pleasure for me, too".
"If you find yourself in Sweden, I mean, in the near future, call me, I'll show you the best of the country."
"It'll be really great…" And it was his last chance to ask her anything and Duncan could no longer resist to the temptation.
"How long have you known him?"
"Methos?" It was first time she had used the name, at least in Duncan's presence. "Since the early years of Christianity, I believe."
"And…" He didn't know, how to continue. But Jess smiled and passed her hand over his cheek. It was a different smile from those he had seen the past couple of weeks, and Duncan suddenly realized that she was certainly no young college girl or even an English lady. This woman was at least five times older than he. And something he might call "the wisdom of ages" was now mirrored in her eyes.
"I'm not blind, Duncan. I see that there is something between you two, and it is more than just the death of Byron. But you'll get over it, both of you." She glanced away for a moment. "I know he likes to hide it, but he is a good person. And a very good friend, as you are. I'm really glad you two became friends, Duncan. And I'm sure Darius would be glad, too."
Duncan was still startled by the last statement, when Methos appeared and handed a paper-bag to Jess.
"Your chocolates and Cola, Jess. How you can drink this?"
"Well, a girl must have her weaknesses." She put the bag on the platform and hugged Methos tightly. While they were sharing a long kiss, Duncan finally managed to collect himself.
"Remember, Ben, you have my e-mail. It's much easier to stay in touch in this century, isn't it?"
"I know, you are a little bit paranoid, but there is more then one language that no one else would understand. And I really hope to see you in Uppsala."
"Send me a wedding invitation – and I'll come anyway."
"Who knows, maybe I will, maybe I will…" She hugged him one more time, then turned to Duncan and kissed him on the cheek. "Take care, Duncan MacLeod of clan MacLeod. Watch your head."
She got on the train and it departed a minute later. The men watched the train until it disappeared from sight, then looked at each other.
"She is a remarkable woman."
"Yeah, she is. A friend you can always rely on."
Duncan decided not to look for any hidden meaning in the sentence.
"She said you saved her husband." Mac really didn't know why he said that.
"And before Middle Ages I was happily married to her beloved foster daughter. It's called a life, MacLeod." He started to walk away.
What did he want to say? That he was sorry about Byron? That he regretted his harsh words uttered during incident with Keane? That he did appreciate everything Methos had done for him? That he still valued his friendship, that he could and wanted to accept the past and appreciate the present? That he was eager to know him better, to know more about him – not to judge, just to understand? To be able to help?
"Joe's bar is closed for tonight, but there is a good new place not far from here. They claime to have more then 30 sorts of beer."
Methos didn't quite believe what he just had heard. It was an official peace offer. Maybe an awkward one, but, honestly, it was more then he had hoped for. Maybe he should send a thank-you letter to Jess, just like in good old England?
"30 sorts, you're saying? Well, let's check."
"Just curious. Methos, when did you believe that the Earth is round?"
"Who says I believe in such a bullshit?"