The massive SUV—"one of the safest vehicles on the road today"—swerved wildly, becoming nothing more than a giant steel projectile, aimed squarely at a young head-in-the-clouds dreamer. She looked up, one second too late, to find Death bearing down on her at 50 kph. Her scream harmonised eerily with the screech of brakes and a blast of horns, a symphony of chaos ending with a sickening thud.
§ § §
She awoke with a frantic gasp and a sense of having clawed her way up from a nightmare she could not remember. Vague impressions flashed through her mind: incredible pain, a sense of being taken apart and put back together. Her first desperate breath of air was tainted by a chemical stench, all the more terrible because it was familiar. Anyone who ever set foot in an anatomy lab had the scent of preserved bodies burned forever into their brain. A wave of nausea swept through her; springing in equal parts from the smell itself and the revelation of where she was.
My God! They were going to pickle me. The thought was rejected so violently that her mind reeled with shock. Instinct took over as she reached out blindly in search of her glasses, tumbling off the narrow metal table onto hard white tiles. As she lay in a heap, naked, half-blind and retching her guts out, she had never felt so helpless.
The sounds of her struggles brought footsteps from much closer than she expected. Her efforts to cover herself were interrupted by a bolt through her skull that made the word "migraine" seem small and insignificant. The sound of her own voice echoed harshly in the– she shuddered– morgue, "What’s inside my head?"
"I am," the male voice brought her head up sharply. "I never liked the term Buzz, makes it sound almost pleasant, like drinking too much coffee." A tall dark-haired figure loomed over her, which was itself a surprise. At this distance, she shouldn’t have seen more than a vague blur. That didn’t stop the instant flash of recognition.
"You’re DM; I mean Mac; I mean, you can’t be!" She fought down a fainting spell and an even stronger urge to hide.
"Yes I am. Introductions later, for now— get dressed," a set of clothes were tossed her way which, to her own surprise, she caught easily. Somehow she managed to get dressed under His impatient gaze.
Stubborn curiosity overcame her confusion; she dug in her heels. "Wait a second. How in Heaven’s name do you know that I know who you are?"
"I’ve been doing a little light reading." He waved a thick blue folder, somewhat battered but still unmistakable…
"My portfolio!" The sight of her writings was like an anchor to reality until it struck her that over half her work was DM stories, and here was Duncan himself (well, a rather fuzzy, half-focused Duncan) standing before her. "Look, umm, a lot of people write fan fiction. I never imagined; I mean, part of me may have secretly wished that it was…"
"Real? Trust me, this is as real as it gets. And if we don’t get out of here it’s going to be a bit too real for comfort!"
Another wistful gaze at her precious folder; "I don’t suppose the floppies survived?"
No response, only a plaintive "Writers!" growled half under his breath. He took a quick glance at the mess around them, mentally decided that it might be passed off as an early Halloween prank, and left it as it was. The girl was still half in shock, he practically had to drag her out of the room.
The next few minutes were a blur, quite literally in fact. The world had a soft-focused, unreal quality and it was by architecture alone that Debra recognised the University of Alberta hospital. She wondered briefly if she had been DOA or if she actually got treatment. It was her first step towards accepting that she was—had been—dead.
§ § §
"This isn’t true, it can’t be true." The same argument had been going on for hours, and it showed no signs of stopping. "Orphans, foundlings, adopted children: that’s not me. I have brothers and sisters; more aunts, uncles and cousins than I could count; I’ve got nephews, a niece who at age 5 could break a boy’s heart—" Deb pulled herself back from the edge of babbling. "I have… a family," she finished, with a half-apologetic smile.
"But is it your family?" Duncan asked the question gently, guiding her carefully toward her own conclusions. If her writing was any indication, this one was smart enough to work through it on her own.
She hesitated, looking almost defensive. "Sure, my siblings are all from previous marriages, but we don’t talk about that." A moment of silence, while familiar facts were seen in a new light. "There were a lot of things we didn’t talk about. Like why they never wanted me to research my family tree. Or how I came to be born after my father’s vasectomy." A gentle smile was marred by furrowed brows; "Mom liked to call me her Miracle Baby; but she always had such a strange expression when she said it."
Suddenly she jumped to her feet, pacing the length of the hotel room as if she could chase down the truth—or run from it. "But I’d heard my birth story so many times: how I was a preemie, a difficult birth; I’d almost been born in my parent’s front hall. Mom told me about the search for the doctor; that stupid nurse yelling ‘hold her back, we’re not ready;’ coming out feet first so I’d hit the ground running. My father’s first sight of me was an incubator flying past him in the hall."
Mac nodded slowly throughout the telling; "The same story again and again—so you’d never forget it, or repeated until you believed it?"
She turned as if she wanted to pounce on him, her voice rising for the first time. "My mother would never knowingly hurt me! She—She’d…" anger suddenly dissolved in an unexpected burst of laughter. "Damn that old woman, she’d probably do it; just to keep me from feeling like an Outsider. I always wondered where I got my flair for fiction."
At that moment, her whole demeanour changed: she stood up straighter, her eyes lost that desperate gleam and she nodded crisply as if coming to a decision. She took a deep breath as if leaping into cold water; then, "I want to see it."
Her train of thought had shifted so suddenly and so completely that it took him a moment to catch up. "What?"
Her voice seemed more confident and she spoke without hesitation; "You can’t pretend you don’t have it, it’s practically a part of you. Your blade, Highlander." Her lips twitched a smile at the last word.
"Be careful what you ask for, you may get it." If asked, Deb couldn’t have said where the sword came from; that is one trick I have got to learn. Despite his harsh words, MacLeod held the katana presentation-style; lying across open palms. She accepted it the same way, with a crude but sincere half-bow.
It was heavier than it looked, yet somehow not as heavy as she had imagined. The enormity of the situation struck her and she was forced to sit down. Her fingers traced the detailed carvings on the cool ivory. "At rest more like a work of art than an instrument of war," she whispered.
He smiled, recognising the words; "Do writers always quote themselves?"
"Only when we discover our words are true." She looked down at her lap; noticed with silent pride that her hands, one on the blade, the other holding the hilt, did not tremble. She let out a slow, even breath; then, before she could change her mind, she squeezed both hands tightly—
Pain! Nobody ever said that Immortality took away pain. Reflexes screamed at her to drop the blade, to escape from danger. She fought down the instinct through sheer will, holding on until she saw blood. She gasped as she forced her hand to open; spreading the long, deep wound even wider. MacLeod did nothing to interfere. He had to admire her; it took a special kind of courage for a writer to maim her own hand.
Her hand was laid open to the bone, yet she could not look away. Watching the wound close itself layer by layer, she discovered that restoration could be as painful as destruction.
Seeming calmer than she actually felt, the new Immortal handed back the bloodstained blade. "Some lessons can be taught; others you have to experience for yourself. Thank you."
Duncan nodded solemnly, "You’ve been through enough for one day. Get some rest."
§ § §
Debra lay on her back on the hotel bed, thoughts and events from the past day (has it only been one day?) running madly through her brain. Even the image of who lay a few feet away in the adjoining room, his well-toned body spread across the sheets, could not distract her from her morbid state of mind. It had been her curse for as long as she could remember that everything she pushed aside during the day came back to haunt her as soon as she tried to sleep.
Tired, so tired, she let her eyes close slowly. Lying on pavement dazed and in agony, the wail of an ambulance, voices: "this one’s not going to make it." Lids snap open, she can feel her own heart pounding, reminding her, at least, that she is alive. The room is so empty, so quiet; she had always hated silence, now, more than ever. The silence of the grave. Slowly she forced her body to relax, one set of muscles at a time, until at last she felt calm. Eyes slide shut once more—cold hard table, harsh fluorescent lights and that horrible, unforgettable smell.
This time she barely held back a scream. She flipped on the table lamp to chase away the darkness. Her automatic reach for her glasses (hopelessly shattered in the crash) encountered instead a pen and paper set. Why not? It wouldn’t be the first time she had written half the night away.
She awoke with a frantic gasp and a sense of having clawed her way up from a nightmare she could not remember. Vague impressions flashed through her mind: incredible pain, a sense of being taken apart and put back together.
Debra looked down at the words on the page, "No!" Viciously, she tore the page and tossed it away. She tried again—
She looked up, one second too late, to find Death bearing down on her at 50 kph. Her scream harmonised eerily with the screech of brakes and a blast of horns, a symphony of chaos ending with a sickening thud.
Both pen and pad went airborne, so violently did she thrust aside the offending words. Beyond the small pool of light, something fell and shattered. Seconds later, the small door flew open and another bolt knifed through her skull. "Duncan!"
He heard the note of panic in her voice; saw the huddled form on the bed heave with sobs. He swiftly dropped the blade before she could see it, rushing to her side. Desperate fingers clutched at him like a lifeline; she gasped out words between the sobs: "Duncan, I can’t…I’m afraid…if I close my eyes…I’ll never wake up again."
She was taking it hard, some of them did; the first night was always the worst. He had to get through to her somehow; "Deb? Debra!" He remembered the nickname she had signed to some of her stories: "Cat?" Surprise more than anything got her attention, "Look at me." Green eyes met brown and, inches apart, she could finally see him clearly; gasping sobs subsided into a single low whimper. "Now listen: you’re not alone, I’m not going to leave you."
"I’m crying. Crying accomplishes nothing," she whispered, quoting her father’s harsh opinion; "Crying just proves you’re weak."
No wonder the poor girl was falling apart; "Don’t ever think that. Tears are what reminds us we’re still alive inside, and crying is sometimes the only thing that keeps us sane."
Her smile was like sunshine after a storm; "A sensitive, sensible man—and it only took 400 years." She had gained one small foothold on her self-control and it was holding, for now. "I’m not built for this kind of thing; I have no strength, no stamina, all the grace and agility of a wounded gazelle. I can’t even bloody well see. Altogether a rather sorry specimen to make Immortal."
"The only thing you’re lacking is confidence. As for the rest, things change."
"Will you? Stay with me, I mean."
She hesitated for a moment; then "Could you just—keep talking? I can’t stand the silence."
He sat on the bed, reached to turn out the light. She leaned into him, closing her eyes with a sigh. He held her gently and, like the bards of his clan, began to recite from memory—
Duncan stood alone, saying one final goodbye to the closest thing he had ever had to family. He felt it was his duty to bring his kinsman home, so that Connor and Heather would at last have their forever….
§ § §
Morning: roll over, reach to night table, grab glasses, open eyes, and put on glasses. The habit had been drilled into her over 20 years; she wondered how long it would take to get out of that same habit. Quickly she realised she was alone in the bed; not surprising, but a girl can dream can’t she? For a moment she basked in the memory of lying in the darkness having that voice reading her own words. She sighed deeply. No time for fantasies. Debra strongly suspected that very soon would her training would begin; starting with the first lesson, "How to fall down", which usually ended up being "How to fall down, frequently, and in as many painful ways as the teacher can think up".
Deb noticed a newspaper on a nearby desk. "Thanks Mac," she said to the empty room. She picked it up, browsing leisurely; she got halfway through an article before it hit her. She was reading— without her glasses, and without getting ink stains on her nose. She remembered the night before, her frustrated "I can’t even see!" and the tiny smile as he replied "Things change."
They say you never appreciate something until you lose it, but that isn’t true. You truly appreciate something when you’ve lost it, and get it back. A thought struck her; she grabbed a pen and held it between two fingers, a sure trigger for the hand tremors that had plagued her for years…nothing. She grinned, putting aside vivid images of being the first Immortal to ever take her own head.
A Buzz ripped through her idle thoughts, a sensation she could almost tolerate now. Someone was trying the hotel door; she dove off her chair, rolling behind the bed. She popped up quickly with the first object she could find; just in time to hear Duncan’s burst of laughter; "Good reflexes; bad choice of weapons." Debra was holding the ubiquitous hotel Bible as if ready to club someone. It was her turn to erupt into peals of laughter. "Well, you’re looking a lot better today," he remarked with a smile.
Speaking of looking, now this was a sight for restored eyes! It took all her effort not to quip "And you’re looking pretty good yourself." Instead her glance strayed to the newspaper; "Yes, I’m much…better."
"I’ve been making a few calls, looking for a teacher for you."
Deb looked devastated; "But I thought—"
"Not a chance, I can’t have a student who’s more interested in the teacher than the lessons. I’m not even sure I should send you to Amanda, considering you had her killed."
"An author has to be willing to expand her horizons." A hearty sigh implied this wasn’t the first time she’d defended that particular tale. "If you only do what you’ve done before, then you never truly challenge yourself."
"That sounds like something I’d say."
"That doesn’t mean it’s not true. I’m willing to challenge myself, and not just on paper." She paused significantly, "Of course, I’m really not much for Gatherings myself anyway. You could just put me in a library somewhere, I’d be happy to read and write my way through the ages. I promise I’ll come up for air every century or so."
Writing through the ages? Mac had an idea…
§ § §
Almost a year had passed and MacLeod was back in familiar territory. An anonymous note had aroused his curiosity, saying that the "Canadian reference" he had requested was now available at Shakespeare and Co. He hesitated for a moment outside the door before entering.
The Buzz hit him a few seconds later, followed by a joyful voice coming from upstairs. "Duncan! You came. Don’t move!" He froze, cautiously. "You are… in paperback fiction, about, hmm, 2 meters from the back stairs."
Mac still couldn’t see anyone, though Debra’s voice was a welcome surprise. "Yes, but how…" The woman at the top of the library stairs, fit and graceful and radiating confidence, was a far cry from the uncertain girl he had rescued a year before.
"Cassandra says I have some very interesting talents. I’m usually accurate to around a half meter, just from the Buzz. Cass hasn’t seen anything like it before. Between training with her and ghost-writing the Methos Chronicles, I’ve been busy."
He watched her coming down the steps; "Debra, it’s so wonderful to see you again."
"Please, it’s Felicia now, Felicia DuChamp." He glared at the incurable punster, who merely shrugged; "It seemed appropriate for a prairie girl." She paused for a moment, some of her old shyness showing through, "I wanted to ask you a favour, before I go home."
"I’m not going to give you a loan."
She laughed, "Don’t need one. I’ve got an advance to do some Highlander novels, Rysher approved and everything. Just one thing…"
Mac had a bad feeling, "Which is?"
"The pen name I suggested, they loved the idea." She cringed in anticipation of the worst, "Debra Campbell?"
He didn’t even need to think about it; "I’d be honoured."
I think I did a pretty good job of avoiding the looming spectre of
Mary-Sue. OK, so I never actually explained why DM himself was in a hospital
in Edmonton just in time to "discover" me; allow me one little indulgence.
Other than being trained by the Witch herself, Cassandra, and my hyper-sensitive
Buzz, I really didn't give myself any undue advantages. Oh, wait, I also
made myself a real author in the end, not to mention the official ghost-writer
of the false Methos Chronicles. Well a girl can dream, can't she?