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29 December 2011 @ 06:42 pm
Shadow Dance 1/1  
Hey folks, the big reveal has occurred over at hlh_shortcuts so I can now reveal that I wrote Shadow Dance for marbleglove. Since it's a prequel to Saving Burning Bridges and therefore part of Watcher!Abby I'm reposting in its entirety here.

If you've already commented on the comm, thank you and I will answer you soon, I promise, but in the meantime I'm so happy it was enjoyed. For those who haven't read it yet, here it is:

Shadow Dance

Budapest, Hungary, 1967

The last time Methos had been in Budapest was a century previously, in the company of Byron, and the city had changed beyond all recognition in that time. Much of her landscape was the same and familiar buildings surrounded him, but the spirit of the city had been stifled under the thumb of Communism. A once vibrant place of music and joy felt cold, dreary and lifeless to him now.

Perhaps he was projecting some of his own emotion onto the place; he was feeling a little melancholy, in one of his rare self-reflective phases. He hadn’t spoken with Silas or Caspian, merely observed from afar that they were still alive and prospering, and such proximity to his brothers had lead to this bout of philosophising.

It didn’t help that he was having a hard time getting back to the West.

His current identity, Matthew Weston, had come to the attention of Her Majesty’s Secret Service in his final year at Cambridge. Getting in and out of the new Eastern Bloc had become decidedly tricky so it suited Methos quite nicely to join MI6 and allow them to make his travel arrangements.

Once he’d accomplished his needs, Matthew would die, leaving Methos to start over. It was a waste of a perfectly good degree and a well-crafted identity, but he always kept at least one in reserve for a speedy change of persona. It was worth it to check that his brothers were safe and that the world was still safe from them.

Unfortunately, things went a little astray when Matthew got himself shot escaping from the KGB.

He’d managed to make his way to Hungary, but he was now stuck behind the Iron Curtain under the name Nikolai Kuryakin, waiting for his contacts in the area to come up with an exit strategy that didn’t involve him getting shot trying to scale the Berlin Wall.

Nikolai was a student, which allowed Methos to move about relatively freely in the city without being questioned by the secret police about why he wasn’t in work. It also allowed him to spend a lot of his time drinking, which quite suited his current mood.

He was studying engineering at the university; his usual choices of medicine and history being inappropriate. Medicine might attract unwanted attention from the government and make leaving difficult. The definition of history under Communist rule would be fascinating, but Methos knew that sooner or later he’d end up saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and get in trouble. So he picked a nice, non-descript but useful course and kept his head down.

In a month or so he’d be back in Paris and ready to start fresh, but for now this would suit him well.

*-*

The evening had begun like any other; Nikolai and some of his friends from the university were sat in a bar, drinking and discussing things in the way that only students can; turning the most mundane of topics into a lengthy debate.
Their group had been joined by a petite young woman in her late teens or early twenties that Nikolai had not met before. She was perhaps four feet nine, and had mousy brown hair that was cut in a no-nonsense bob at her shoulders. She wasn’t a conventional beauty, and she wore no makeup, but there was a quality about her that demanded attention. Her look could have been quite severe on another, but on her it was quite charming.

She had seated herself at the edge of the group and was now watching the discussion, seemingly enraptured. Most of the girls who tagged along with them liked one of the boys and would hang on every word they said, but this one seemed different; she seemed to enjoy the words themselves as much as the content of the talk and she bore no interest in any one particular speaker.

Methos found her intriguing, but Nikolai was a quiet lad so he’d need to pluck up the courage to speak to her.

Nikolai was spared this however, as she approached him as the group began to disperse for the evening.

“Your Hungarian has a curious accent,” she said without introduction.

“I’m Russian, but I don’t like to tell everyone that,” Nikolai replied. The girl examined him for a moment, and Methos was reminded of a bird by the way she cocked her head to one side inquisitively.

“No, that’s not it,” she said eventually. “I’ve heard Russians speak Hungarian. Your accent is good, but it’s not right. You were going for Muscovite, I’d guess.”

“I was born in Moscow,” Nikolai replied, affronted by the accusation, but secretly Methos was amused by this fascinating woman with a good ear.

“Perhaps if we speak Russian, I will hear it better?” she asked in flawless Russian.

“But surely, you would prefer to speak Romanian?” he countered in equally flawless Romanian, deciding two could play this game. He grinned widely when he saw he’d startled her.

“You have a good ear for an engineer Mr Kuryakin.”

“And you have me at a disadvantage; you know my name and subject and I know nothing about you.”

“My friends call me Hettie,” she replied with a smile.

“Hettie? That doesn’t sound Romanian.”

“Henrietta. My father is German. My mother is Roma and I…” the petite brunette gave a nonchalant shrug. “I have a gift for languages and so I study them here. I like to listen to people talk though; it’s the best way to hear the music of a language.”

“Like Henry Higgins,” Methos said before he could stop himself.

“You’ve read Pygmalion?” Hettie asked, surprised again. Nikolai grinned.

“Surprised an engineer would take an interest in literature?”

“Surprised a Russian would have read Shaw,” Hettie replied with a grin of her own. “It’s getting late, I should get home,” she added. Nikolai nodded.

“May I walk you?” he asked. She smiled and nodded and the two began to walk down the street; he measuring his steps to keep pace with her.

As they walked the short distance to her apartment building they chatted about the evening’s debates; who had been a good orator, who was full of hot air, and the value of the discussions.

“I just do not see how a group of students sitting in a café can change anything just by talking,” Hettie said. “We must accept the world that we live in.”

“So cynical for one so young. Times are hard, I will not deny that, but change can begin with the smallest of actions,” Methos replied. “Governments rise and fall, all things shall pass.”

“You shouldn’t say such things, especially not on the street! Someone might hear,” Hettie warned in a hushed voice. She stopped at a door and pulled out a key. “This is me. Would you like to come inside? I have coffee, and maybe something stronger.”

Nikolai hesitated for a moment, he was inexperienced with women.

“I’d like that,” he answered. Hettie smiled and pushed one side of her hair back over her ear before turning and opening the door.

*-*

They had talked for hours, about everything and nothing, drinking wine and putting the world to rights. As the sun rose over the Danube, Nikolai took his first tentative kiss, one that was returned in earnest by Hettie. The second kiss was more certain, and by the third Nikolai could no longer keep his hands off. They moved into the bedroom and stayed there the rest of the day, eventually falling asleep in each other’s arms.

The next few days followed a similar pattern, one that was only punctuated by the pair separating to attend classes. Nikolai was revelling in first love and Methos was cherishing the joy of being with a passionate and intelligent woman once again.

He knew it couldn’t last; in a few weeks he hoped to be gone, a few months at most, but then all relationships with mortals couldn’t last, so there was nothing new there. What mattered was the here and now and it was just what he needed to shake him from the melancholy that had been dogging him of late.

He decided that Nikolai’s father wanted him to have a classical education and had taught him secretly at night to read and write in many different languages. It allowed Nikolai to help Hettie practice by conversing in French, German, English and occasionally even Latin. She would laugh at his accent and that made Methos smile.

Days turned into weeks quickly and still Methos had heard nothing. He was beginning to fear his contacts had been captured. He would have to think about alternative arrangements soon.

*-*

It was a dark and cold autumn night; Nikolai had been working late at the library and his footsteps echoed on the empty cobble streets as he hurried home. Everyone with half a brain was safe and warm in their own homes on a night like this. He was only a few feet from his front door when he felt the presence of another Immortal.

He debated ignoring it, just going inside and pretending to be an innocent mortal. But there were too few people on the street and he didn’t like the coincidence of how close he was to home. He scanned the dark pavement and spotted a shadowy figure on the corner. It gave a nod and slipped around the corner. With a sigh, Methos followed.

Once they were away from the main road and away from any witnesses, the other Immortal stopped and turned to face Methos.

“I told you we’d meet again one day, Tiberius,” he said. Methos drew closer and recognised the man as a slave from Gaul he had met in Rome. He did not think they’d parted on bad terms, and they’d not met since so he could not think why the man wanted his head.

“Did I offend you in some way, Brennus? I certainly can’t think of a reason for you to hold a grudge for nearly two thousand years,” Methos answered.

“There is no grudge, but there can be only one.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Methos replied and pulled his sword from his coat.

Brennus was instantly on the attack, charging at Methos with his massive double-handed broadsword. For most it would have been an impractical blade; too long and heavy for actual combat, but Brennus was a bear of a man; each of his upper arms were almost as thick as Methos’ thigh.

He was big and strong, but not that quick and Methos sidestepped the charge and brought his own weapon up to swipe at Brennus’ side as he passed.

Methos wasn’t in the mood for this fight and he was cursing his lack of other weapons; he’d only had time to collect his sword on his way out of the Russian morgue and he’d had no opportunity since to procure a new gun.

Brennus was wearing shabby grey overalls and he was covered in grime, presumably from an industry of some kind. Methos hoped that meant he’d just come off-shift and would tire quickly. Speed and agility were the only advantages he had, where Brennus had strength and reach.

In order to at least negate one of those, Methos ducked in close before Brennus could take another swing, getting close enough to make swinging that great sword difficult, but still leaving enough distance to swing his own, shorter sword.

Unfortunately, Brennus was not stupid and he simply brought his sword up vertically, the pommel connecting squarely with Methos’ jaw with a sickening crack. The force of the blow made Methos stagger back, giving Brennus the room to raise his blade again and run it straight through Methos’ chest before pulling it out to deliver the final blow.

Methos’ sword fell to the floor, clattering on the cobblestones, followed swiftly by Methos himself falling to his knees. He clutched at the wound in his chest and blood bubbled over his fingers, staining his shirt. He looked up at Brennus, surprised more than anything else.

“There can be only one,” Brennus repeated.

The last thing Methos was conscious of was what sounded like a scream before he slipped into oblivion, expecting never to return.

*-*

He awoke with a gasp and surprise and quickly looked around. His eyes took in Brennus lying on the floor a few feet away with his own sword sticking out of him; Methos’ own sword was now laid beside him and on his other side a nervous and worried Hettie stood over him. When she saw he was conscious again she didn’t seem surprised, just relieved. She smiled and stooped to help him up.

“Come on, we should get off the streets before someone sees,” she said.

Methos nodded his agreement and got to his feet, picked up his sword as he did so and then, leaning on Hettie a little for support, they headed back to his apartment.

They made it the short distance to Nikolai’s flat unnoticed and Hettie helped him onto his couch. She started to fuss after him, but Methos waved her away with a hand.

“Give me a minute and I’ll be fine,” he assured her with a smile. She regarded him for a moment and then nodded.

“I’ll make some tea.”

As she bustled in the little kitchen, Methos shifted to watch her; she seemed supremely calm given the circumstances. He knew she didn’t have any tattoos, so he was curious as to her lack of surprise.

“I knew you were a stoic young lady, but I must say you’re taking this remarkably calmly,” he commented. Hettie paused in her work and turned to face him.

“I should have realised you’re Immortal sooner. All the little things that didn’t quite add up about you. Maybe I just didn’t want to see,” she replied. “I knew you weren’t Russian,” she added before returning to making tea. Methos chuckled.

“No. The name of the country I was born in is long forgotten. But how do you know of Immortals?”

“My mother was rescued from the Nazis by one. He’s become a good friend to my family,” she replied. Methos could hear the challenge in her tone so he held up his hands in a placatory gesture.

“I have no interest in the Game. And I don’t kill friends of friends,” he said. He got up from the couch and wrapped his arms around Hettie from behind as she waited for the water to boil. “You saved my life, liebschen” he whispered into her ear and then kissed the side of her face.

She leaned into the kiss and then turned into it, embracing him until she pulled back for air.

“The world’s a better place with you in it. For me anyway,” she said with a smirk. She patted his chest and then pulled away, forcing him to let go. “Now, I have tea to make.”

Methos stepped back and let her continue her task, watching as delicate hands made quick work of warming the pot and placing the leaves inside. Once the pot was filled with water, he stepped forward and drew her into his arms again.

*-*

“The tea will be stewed,” Hettie said with amusement as she pulled her top back on. Methos snickered.

“I’m pretty sure it’s cold too,” he said.

“You distracted me,” Hettie admonished. “Afraid I’ll learn too much about you?”

“Not at all.”

Hettie sat down on the bed beside him and nestled into him, entwining the fingers of her right hand with his.

“Why are you in Hungary? It isn’t to study engineering.”

“I came here for the English Government, but I got killed before I could get back,” Methos explained with a half-truth. “Hettie, I care for you, but you need to know that I plan to get out as soon as possible.”

“Don’t we all? But leaving isn’t easy. My father’s plan was that I should come here to study and then claim German repatriation, but the government official said that a parent wasn’t good enough, that my father should have sought repatriation after the war,” Hettie explained. “Now I am stuck here, hiding from the secret police under an assumed name. But I intend to get out.”

“Henrietta, I believe you,” Methos said. He was glad to hear her say that; despite his casual words he was more than half in love with this woman and he did not like the idea of leaving her to the tender mercies of the secret police, or Brennus should he track her down.

“Would you do one more thing for me?” Hettie asked.

“You saved my life and I’m in your debt. What can I do for you?” he replied, expecting her to ask him to take her with him.

“Can I at least know your real name?” she asked. Methos chuckled in surprise.

“You do not know what you ask, liebschen. But for you I can do this one favour, if you will give me the same courtesy,” he replied after a second. Hettie smiled and nodded.

“Henrietta Lange,” she answered.

“And, sweet Hettie, I am Methos.”

“Methos? Just Methos?” she said and thought a moment. “Just how old are you?”

“Old enough to know better than to be helping you. But I owe you my life and you are far too rare a creature to be stuck under Communist rule,” Methos replied and planted a kiss on her forehead before disentangling himself from her and rising from the bed. “I have some people I need to contact; I’ll be back soon.”

*-*

Making a call to America was not easy, but it was worth the risk. Matthew McCormick owed Methos a favour, and his position with the CIA made him perfectly placed to help. It hadn’t been worth calling in the favour for himself, but it enabled him to get himself and Hettie out of Hungary and headed toward Paris in a matter of weeks.

Hettie would have to be a CIA asset for a few years, but she had been happy to agree to that for the chance of a new life in America. Methos would disappear once they reached Paris, but he would make sure that he knew where to find Hettie and that she would always know how to get in touch with him.

He cared deeply for Henrietta Lange and he owed her his life; that was a debt he meant to repay.