I woke up one morning with this story in my head, and I couldn't get it out of my thoughts. So I took a break from writing the final part of the "A Thing Called Forever" trilogy, to write it. This particular story really got to me emotionally, so it's from the heart, so to speak.
All Highlander characters (Methos, Duncan, Gina) belong to their PTBs. Triona, Stephanie and other original characters belong to my fellow Bloodties creators and me.
And last, but most certainly not least: Thanks for reading! And if you liked this story, please let me know if you would. I love getting mail, and feedback is a rare commodity these days! Thanks!
I'd give this a rating of PG13
She leaned tiredly against the wall of the corridor, rubbing her eyes as she waited for the dizzy spell to pass. It wasn't even noon yet, but she felt like she'd been awake for days. Which, technically, was true. A handful of fifteen-minute blocks of sleep a night didn't really qualify as a good night's sleep by anyone's definition.
"Are you okay?" a voice asked, making her jump.
Putting her glasses back on, she opened her eyes, blinking a few times. There was a man looking at her with concern -- a young, very good looking man with dark hazel eyes. 'If only I were twenty years younger,' she thought with an internal sigh. 'Don't be silly,' she chided herself, 'even thirty years younger, he would never have given you a second look, or even a first one for that matter.' Men like him never did. Taking a deep breath, she pulled herself away from the wall. "I'm fine, thank you. Just... you know when you get up too fast, and you feel a little off balance?" He nodded. "That's all it was."
"Except you didn't just get up," he pointed out helpfully.
He had an amazing voice. Startled she realized he was still speaking to her, and she had no clue as to what he'd said. "I'm sorry. Have we met before?" She shook her head sharply before he could reply. "No, that's silly. I'm sorry, you just reminded me of someone for a moment." Oddly enough, he did, though she realized she'd never set eyes on him before. Still, he seemed familiar somehow.
"No, not silly," he said, smiling a smile that was brilliant in its warmth. "But I'm sure I'd remember if we'd met before."
Manners and charm, and with enough compassion to spare for someone like her. She fought back the tears that welled up without warning, knowing exactly what he saw: a fifty-year-old woman who looked far older, with a face lined by loneliness and tragedy. Hair now more gray than blonde, with only a few mousy streaks left, pulled back in a tight braid. Perpetually tired eyes with dark circles accentuated by large glasses in brown plastic frames. And the rest of her, one beige shapeless stick in a tan pantsuit fifteen years out of date that had been too big for months -- eating wasn't something she always remembered to do. It was easier to just keep cinching up her belt than to think about getting anything new. What would be the point?
She forced a smile. "Thank you for your concern, but I'm fine. Please, don't let me keep you."
"You're not." Again the smile. "By the way, I'm Benjamin Adams. It's my first day at this august institution," he said with a wicked glint in his eyes.
She couldn't help but smile at his irreverence. "The new Forensic Anthropology professor?" He nodded. She held out her hand. "Welcome. I'm Triona MacAlpine, an associate professor here."
Taking the proffered hand, he asked, "What subject?"
"Astrophysics." She wanted him to hold her hand forever. What on earth was wrong with her? She gave herself a mental shake, releasing his hand.
"The proverbial rocket scientist?"
"Something like that." She looked into his eyes for a brief moment before dropping her gaze. "I really should be going. I have students waiting."
"Of course." Dr. Adams stepped back, looking at her intently, as if he were going to say something, then shook his head slightly. "I hope we'll get to know one another better in the future."
Triona didn't reply, just nodded her head before turning sharply, walking away from the disturbing new professor as quickly as possible.
Triona replayed her encounter in the hall with Dr. Adams as she walked to the 'meet the new guy' cocktail party being held for him two nights later - a gathering that she had been strongly advised to attend. 'I hope we'll get to know one another better in the future'. That would only last till the rest of the staff filled him on all the gossip. She wondered how long it would be before he looked at her like everyone else did? And would it be the half-sympathetic half-uncomfortable look, or the eyes sliding past her as if she weren't even there?
Entering the room, Triona stiffened, preparing herself for the social ordeal that lay ahead. She worked her way into the crowded room, avoiding eye contact. Somewhere ahead of her, a voice carried in amongst the din of clinking glasses and the low murmurs of dozens of voices. "So you've met our resident kook, Dr. MacAlpine?" Triona froze. She didn't want to hear any more, but she felt like she was trapped in some distortion of time. She couldn't hear the reply, but she had a fair idea of who the other person was, and the 'voice' carried on as she was pushed deeper into the crowded room.
"Oh, yes. She lost it, right in the middle of a lecture. She went somewhere to 'rest'." That was said derisively. She could almost see the expression on the voice's face. 'Rest', a euphemism for mental hospital. "A few months later, she was back. Of course, they couldn't fire her, worried about a lawsuit for discrimination. But it's been four years now, and with the budget cuts, I'm sure she'll be packing up her office very soon."
Triona closed her eyes, fighting back the panic and the anger. It was as if the room was collapsing in on her. Backing up, she bumped into someone, she didn't know who, then someone else, and then another. Murmuring the same apology over and over as she made her escape, before finally making it down the corridor to the door and out into the blessed outdoors. Shaking uncontrollably, she sank to the ground, curling up over her knees, trying to calm the violent racing of her heart. Feeling another touch of vertigo, she put her hand out, trying to maintain her balance. Unexpectedly, someone took the hand, steadying her.
"It's okay," Dr. Adams said softly.
She shook her head. No, that wasn't true. It would never be okay again. Trying to answer, all that she could manage was an inarticulate sob.
He took her by the arms, gently drawing her up. "You're freezing!"
In a detached part of her brain, Triona realized she was indeed. She hadn't stopped to get her coat during her escape and all that stood between her and the frigid January night was her threadbare tweed blazer. She couldn't even find the strength to protest as he put his own long wool coat over her shoulders, wrapping her in warmth.
"Come on, let me take you back to your office." His voice was full of concern, and she couldn't understand why he seemed to care. No one had cared for such a very long time.
She wanted to protest, tell him she didn't need or want his pity, but she couldn't gather the energy to even speak. So instead, she just nodded, letting him guide her across the quadrangle; not even surprised he seemed to know where her office was.
Triona had no idea how much time had passed when he finally pushed open her office door, still with an arm around her shoulders, sitting her down in one of the two chairs in front of her desk. "Do you have anything medicinal in here to drink?" he asked in a light voice, a tone she recognized, the kind they'd used in the mental hospital.
Forcing back a hysterical laugh, Triona managed to say, "In my left desk drawer." She gripped the arms of her chair like a lifeline. I will not fall apart, I will not fall apart, she said to herself over and over like a charm. A hand on hers brought her back to the room around her, and she realized she hadn't been saying the words to herself at all. Mortified, she pressed back into her chair. "I'm so sorry," she whispered brokenly.
He made a comforting sound, squeezing her hand. "Here, drink this." He pressed a glass into her hand, filled nearly to the brim with the scotch he'd gotten from her desk drawer.
Triona gulped down half the liquid, not even noticing the burn of the alcohol as it went down her throat. She avoided looking at the man who stood in front of her. She didn't know how to deal with him. It had been so long since anyone had given a damn that she didn't know how to react. It would be so much easier if he'd just be like all the others -- that, she knew how to deal with. God, how barren was her life that simple human compassion was a foreign concept to her now?
"Take a deep breath," his beautiful voice counseled. She nodded and took a smaller sip of her drink. "That's it. Better?"
She nodded again. "Thank you." Still she wouldn't look at him. Raising a nervous hand to her hair, she smoothed it down. Then a hand came into her field of vision, tilting her chin up to look into his eyes. Triona felt trapped by his gaze, as if he knew some secret about her that even she didn't know.
"Would you like to tell me about it?" His fingers brushed her cheek briefly as he drew his hand away. He leaned against her desk, reassuring and patient.
Triona's gaze flickered across the picture frame on her desk, then back, before dropping her eyes once more. "It doesn't matter," she said tonelessly.
"I think it does." He picked up the framed photo. "She's very beautiful, and the little girl... her daughter?"
She couldn't breath and this time she couldn't stop the tears that broke like a dam, spilling down her face.
Dr. Adams looked stricken. "I'm sorry, it's none of my business. Please don't cry."
Triona snatched the photo from his hands, pressing it against her chest, sobbing as if her world had ended. Fighting for control with every ounce of her being, she took a deep shuddering breath. "No, it's not your fault." She held out the photo looking down at a young woman with curly dark hair and blue eyes, holding a little girl on her lap with the same hair and eyes. "It's my cousin Stephanie and her daughter Brianna. Was my cousin," she added in a whisper.
"If you'd rather not talk about it..." he began.
Her grip on the picture frame tightened. "No. I'd like to talk about her." He nodded, not saying anything. "My parents and my aunt and uncle were killed in small plane crash when Stephanie was thirteen. Her parents had designated me as her guardian."
"How old were you?" he asked softly.
"Twenty-four. I was in university when it happened. My parents had never been too keen on my major, wanting me to get an MBA, or go to law school, but I'd refused. So when I was left with Stephanie, I had no way to support her properly, not like she deserved. The province took her away, put her in foster care, and I convinced myself it was for the best." Falling silent, Triona was lost in the past and all the 'what might have beens'. All the regrets of choices made and not made.
"She fell in with a rough crowd, hooked up with the proverbial 'bad boy', there was a robbery, a murder, and she went to prison." Triona shook her head. "The same old story, right? When she got out, I tried to help, tried to reconnect, to make up for my failure. But she hated me, blamed me for everything that had happened. And she was right; it was my fault. If I'd just fought a little harder..." Her voice drifted away, sounding old and tired.
"You can't blame yourself for the choices of others, no matter how much you love them," he said earnestly. Something in his voice made him sound much older than he was.
"What would you know about regret, Dr. Adams? Your life is just beginning."
"You would be surprised." There was no censure in his voice, but Triona felt guilty.
'I'm sorry. You've been nothing but kind, I have no right..." she knew she was babbling.
He reached over, squeezing her hand again. "It's okay."
Triona looked down at the photo and continued her story. "She tried to get her life back on track, but old habits can be hard to break. She would call me for money, knowing I was too guilt ridden to refuse. And then she ended up pregnant -- Brianna was the result. But her birth seemed to be the catalyst for Stephanie to finally get her life turned around." Fighting back the darkness that came with the memories, she forced herself to absolute stillness, as if that way, the dark couldn't find her. "Four years ago, when Brianna was seven, her father showed up again - released from his latest stint in prison. He murdered Brianna and her mother. This photo," her voice broke, "this photo was the only thing I kept when I went through Stephanie's things, after...."
He refilled her glass and she gratefully took another swallow of the soothing liquid. "Four years ago; that was when you had your breakdown?"
She nodded. "I was giving a lecture and I broke, totally fell apart. Or so I'm told. I don't remember much about it. But everyone else does - Dr. MacAlpine, the mad professor."
Benjamin pulled the second chair closer to hers and sat down. "Have you ever talked to anyone about what happened?"
"You mean someone that wasn't being paid to listen to me? No."
"Then it's long past time isn't it?"
This time, she didn't avoid his gaze.
She gently laid the photo of Stephanie and Brianna on the top of the packed file box, caressing it with one finger. Another touch of vertigo... they seemed to happen so often now. Too much stress, not enough food or sleep. Not a good combination.
"So it's true."
Triona didn't turn to look at him. "They finally managed to rid themselves of mad Dr. MacAlpine."
"You could fight it, get a lawyer..."
She shook her head. "No. It's time to leave."
"Where will you go?"
"There's nowhere to go, Benjamin."
He grasped her shoulder, turning her around to face him. "Just like that? You're giving up?"
Triona shook her head tiredly. He had so much passion. "I gave up a long time ago. It just took me this long to realize it. There's nothing left."
"You are so wrong. Believe me when I tell you there are always possibilities."
Smiling sadly, she reached up to squeeze his shoulder. "You are a fine young man, Benjamin. You're compassionate and caring, and you'll make some lucky woman a fine husband some day."
"Will you stop that!" he exploded. Startled, Triona stepped back. "You have many years ahead of you. Stop acting as if you were at death's door!"
Now she was angry. "No, you stop it! We've known each other but a few months. I will always be grateful to you for caring, for trying to help, but you know as well as I do that once I leave here, it's the end. Oh, there will be a few phone calls, an occasional cup of coffee in the beginning, maybe a card at Christmas for a few years after that, but that is all there will ever be!" She sighed, her anger dissipating as quickly as it had come. "You have so much ahead of you, Benjamin. And that's how it should be. I made my choices, and I have to live with them. You can't change that, no matter how much you want to. I can't allow you to be my crutch."
Benjamin scrubbed at his hair in frustration. "You are the most stubborn woman I have ever met!"
Triona just smiled. The last few months had been as close to normal as she'd felt since her parents died. Benjamin had been like a ray of light in the darkness of her life. But now it was time to let him go. He had a life ahead if him - one that didn't include an old woman that he felt some sort of responsibility for. She knew that, and it was time he did as well.
Against her better judgment, Triona accepted Benjamin's invitation to dinner. It had been six months since she'd lost her job, and she'd done her best to adjust to the new reality of her life. Yes, her job had had many aspects that had damaged her soul, but it had given her a sense of some sort of purpose. Now, she had nothing. There were so many empty hours, and so many of them beyond that, like a dark maw waiting to swallow her.
As the months passed, she'd done her best to avoid Benjamin, but he was so persistent, popping up with no warning, knowing that if he'd asked she'd come up with some fake excuse as to why she couldn't see him. Triona knew he was trying to help, and that he worried she might try to take her own life, so he hovered around the periphery of her life, keeping tabs on her. But being with him hurt, while at the same time, she ached to see him just once more. She fought with herself day after day, trying to come up with the strength to let him go. She had to, there was no longer any alternative, because somewhere in those unending dark hours, she'd finally admitted to herself that she loved him. Now her fear was that he'd figure it out. Triona couldn't bear that possibility - could imagine all too well his pity and disgust and her humiliation if he discovered her pathetic secret. It was the final straw in a life that had been nothing but sorrow. So when he'd called this time, she'd picked up the phone, promising herself this would be the last time she would see him. By next week, she would be gone, somewhere where she could be alone with the pain and the memories.
They had had a wonderful evening, and all the while, she did her best to commit every moment to memory. This would finally be the end. He insisted on walking her home, and she let him - one last memory for her mental scrapbook.
They turned the corner, cutting through the park that led to her street. She laughed at some silly thing he said and he smiled down at her. Then he stiffened.
"What is it?" she asked, sensing something was wrong.
He took her shoulders in a strong grip. "Go home, Triona, as fast as you can. Don't stop for anything!"
She had a thousand questions, but she didn't ask even one, just nodding. He gave her a little push. "Go!"
She went, but another wave of vertigo hit her, making her stumble, and then a sharp pain exploded against the back of her head. She knew only blackness as she fell to the snowy ground.
Triona groaned, grasping the back of her head and finding blood slicked hair. The sound of metal crashing against metal made her wince as she levered herself up off the ground. Feeling around for her glasses, she found them, putting them on, wincing again as her eyes focused. But she wasn't sure she believed what she was seeing -- Benjamin and another man were fighting with swords. She tried to stand, but a wave of nausea and searing pain forced her back down to the ground. Police, she must call the police. Fumbling in her coat pocket, she found her phone, managing to dial 911 all the while trying not to let panic overwhelm her. A female voice issued from the phone and Triona tried to respond, but she felt herself blacking out again. Closing her eyes she took several deep breaths, the freezing night air burning her lungs. She tried again. "Sebastian Park," she said weakly. "A man... trying to kill my friend... hit me... bleeding."
Opening her eyes, she once more tried to focus on the scene before her, all the while, the 911 operator trying to get more information from her. But the cell phone slipped unheeded from Triona's hand, as time seemed to virtually stop. The clash of metal echoed forever, now the only sound she could hear. All else was silence. A sword arced, like liquid fire, leaving a trail of bright light in its wake before falling with deadly grace. It found its mark with a brutal accuracy; Benjamin was dead. Now there was no sound, none at all, as if they were outside the veil of the physical world. His body fell and the moment froze. She heard her heart beat, once, twice, then like a wave, sound and time came roaring back. Triona collapsed in on herself, beyond help, beyond hurt, as her universe shattered into a million shards, never to be put back together again.
Fire, burning, screams that were raw, primal, like flesh being ripped open again and again. Overwhelming agony. The end of everything. Alone forever. And still the screams went on and on. Blackness. Nothingness. Escape.
A voice finally pierced the nothingness, his voice. "Are you okay?"
If she opened her eyes, she'd be back in the hall, that first day they'd met. No, he was dead. She saw him fall. Crazy. Mad Dr. MacAlpine. She wanted the blessed nothingness back. The pain to go away. The voice of the dead man to stop. "Benjamin," she whispered. Then the screaming started again - her screams, she realized in some distant corner of her broken mind. This was hell. Punishment for her sins, for her failures.
A cool sensation at her throat. "This will make you sleep for awhile," his voice said. He sounded concerned. There was a hiss, pressure, and a slight burning sensation where the coolness had been. Benjamin had always worried about her. Now he was gone. No one left... Then her precious blackness returned to wrap her in its cool embrace.
The blackness receded. The screams had stopped, so had the pain. It was quiet. Somewhere, there were birds, the sound of wind in the trees. The murmur of soft voices. Footsteps. A hand took hers. A voice, a new one this time, spoke to her. "Triona, it's Duncan. I know you're in there somewhere, sweetheart. Please come back to us." This voice sounded concerned too, just like Benjamin. Benjamin. Her heart contracted with remembered grief. "Methos is so worried about you, and Lucia needs her mother. She asks about you every day."
Methos? Lucia? Triona felt she should know those names. An image of a little girl with red hair and bright blue eyes.
A hand stroked her face, smoothing her hair back. "You promised Lucia she could go to the First Sunrise Ball this year and that you'd let her pick her own dress. You don't want to disappoint her, do you?"
"Keep talking to her, Duncan," a woman with a French accent said. Another voice that somehow seemed familiar. There was a soft whir. "I'm registering more brain activity. It's not a lot, but more than we have seen. I'm going to decrease the dosage slightly and see what happens."
"I've been teaching her to dance, and she can't wait to show you how well she's doing." His voice held a forced brightness. "My goddaughter is a natural. She takes after you, Triona." He squeezed her hand. "Anything, Gina?"
The woman sighed. "No, I'm sorry."
"There is no way to know what happened when grandmother was trapped in the quantum beam. It seemed like only an hour to us, but to her it could have been months, or even years," another female voice said. "Scans of her RNA show exposure to a quantum flux field, so not only might she have been out of time, but in another reality entirely if there was even the most microscopic fissure in the space time continuum."
Quantum flux? Other realities? None of the voices made sense. Then she heard the one voice that she knew absolutely.
"She's not going to get better, is she, Gina?" He sounded exhausted, his voice full of sadness. "It's been ten days and there's been no improvement. When you decrease the drugs, she gets worse."
"I just don't know. We all know that Immortals are not immune to mental breaks. But I'm working with so little knowledge of what happened to cause hers; it makes it even more difficult to diagnose properly. I don't even know it it's truly all psychological, or if there's some affect from the quantum energies she was exposed to that we just have no way to monitor."
"Don't give up on her, Methos," Duncan said. "She's strong and she has so much to come back for. There's still a chance that LaCroix may be able to reach her. At least wait till he and Stephanie make it home."
"Even Lucius won't be able to reach wherever it is she's gone. I'm afraid she's never going to come back." His voice broke. "What am I going to do if she doesn't? I can't leave her like this."
"Don't go there, not yet!" Duncan said sharply. His voice softened. "You're exhausted, Methos. Don't think the worst. Whatever happens, you won't be alone."
"When I got to the lab, and found her trapped in that thing, I was alone. She was gone from my mind for the first time in centuries. I thought she was truly dead." He took a shuddering breath. "And now, what I feel isn't really her. It's like looking into a fog and only seeing a faint outline with no real substance."
Someone was crying. Benjamin was crying. Triona struggled against the confusion and the beckoning darkness. He shouldn't be crying - not for her. But he was dead. The dead don't weep. But he'd always comforted her when she cried. She had to do the same for him. She loved him so much and couldn't bear the fear and grief that poured down on her. She had to tell him she was okay, that he could go on with his life, just like she'd always wanted. For him, she would turn back from the void.
She opened her eyes. Duncan was holding a sobbing Benjamin against his chest, trying to comfort his grieving friend. "Benjamin, don't cry. Please don't." She could barely hear her own voice, wasn't even sure if she were really speaking. "Please," she entreated.
The two men rushed to her side. "Triona?" It was if Benjamin didn't really believe it was her. Hope battled against the anguish in his eyes as he touched her.
She reached up to stroke his face to reassure herself that he was real. "Don't cry. Not for me." Her voice was stronger this time. She walked farther from the void. It was as if a flame were drawing her closer to its warmth. Closing her eyes, she let the warmth envelop her. She'd been so cold for so long. Then the warmth became familiar, as if a part of her she'd lost had returned. It was as if Benjamin was there with her, sharing the light and the warmth. No, that wasn't it. Benjamin, but not Benjamin. At least, not in this reality. The shattered shards reassembled themselves, the broken window into that other sad life now whole, blocking the darkness. Opening her eyes once more, she breathed his name, "Methos."
He'd been right - there were always possibilities.
* Slight addendum 3.27.06: There's a whole lot of stories in this series, and some stand on their own with no previous knowledge better than others. If you're looking for a 'crash course', I'd recommend my two clip stories (as I call them): The Last Time We First Met & When Did Forever Die?. They give you a pretty good overview without having to read a bunch of stuff you may not really want to :)
The sequel, Should the Dawn Return, here.