What He Doesn't Know
Title: What He Doesn't Know
Author: Jinni (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: All things BtVS belong to Joss Whedon, et al. All things Highlander belong to Panzer/Davis, et al.
Distribution: The normal places.
Author's Notes: Takes place after "Blood on the Pavement" in the "Rewriting History" series.
Duncan stepped back from his student, watching Willow with an appraising eye as she went through the motions. The sword he had given her to practice with gleamed brightly in the mid-afternoon sun, glinting as the light hit it. Her skin was covered in sweat, yet still she didn't complain. Not so much as a whimper.
"Good." He nodded after another five minutes of watching her careful control, repeating the actions over and over again. He wanted them to become second nature to her; reflexive, as they were to him. "Now - try to defend yourself."
Willow nodded, raising her sword into a beginning stance, just as he had taught her. She easily countered the first thrust he had made, doing nothing more than defending, just as he had told her to do. After a few more swings of the sword he called out. "Faster!"
She adjusted to the increased tempo automatically, beads of sweat popping out on her forehead. Her face was red now and she was breathing hard, but still she didn't ask to stop or utter a single whining complaint.
He pressed on, harder and faster, taxing the frail limits of her learning with moves that she hadn't even seen the counters for, yet.
It was when she began to stumble that he decided enough was enough for the day.
"You should've told me you were getting tired." He admonished her gently.
She shrugged. "I figured you knew better." A soft laugh escaped her lips. "It's not like it'll kill me, right?"
He smiled ruefully. "Right."
"Well, then - all the better for me. What doesn't kill me can only make me stronger.... or however that goes."
Duncan laughed, wiping off his blade and gesturing to a pile of soft cloths for her to do the same. She sank to the ground wearily, pulling almost listlessly at the pile before getting one free.
"You don't have to push yourself so hard."
She looked up, squinting against the sunlight. Her hair looked like a mass of flames. "I don't? What happens if someone finds me before I'm ready, then? I run as fast as I can and hope to live another day?"
"Honestly?" He asked, his lips quirking into a smirk. "Yeah. You get away. Get to holy ground. You live to fight another day."
She met his eyes, green to brown; as if she were searching his soul by sight alone. It was unnerving, but it was just one of those weird quirks that she had.
"I don't like running away from a fight." She sighed at last, her eyes drifting down from his to the sword that lay across her lap. "I used to be able to defend myself. It's. . .hard."
He couldn't begin to imagine what it felt like for her, to suddenly lose a tool such as her magic, something that she had been used to having at her command for so long. Something that had saved her life, as well as her friends' lives, and now Tessa's and Richie's too, more often than not.
And now she was, by her standards, powerless.
It had to be hard. The closest he could come to imagining how it would feel was thinking of losing one or both of his arms. Only that would make him feel truly defenseless.
That, and the knowledge that she was now Immortal, was playing heavily with her psyche. He could see it in the lines of her face, she was getting stressed. And that was never a good thing.
"I can't even imagine what it's like for you," he started slowly, sitting down on the ground across from her, a few feet of green grass separating them.
She smiled, sadly. "I don't know of any way to describe it, either. I had all of this power. Limitless, maybe. I could do exactly what I did that night - save and destroy. And now. . ." She shook her head, eyes fixed on the ground. "Now I couldn't do a simple fire summoning. I can't make it rain. I can't levitate a pencil - and that was one of the first things I ever learned."
"I wish I could tell you why this happened to you." He offered. "I wish I could make it all better."
She laughed, teary eyes darting up to look him briefly in the face before flitting back to the ground. "You can't, though. I know the deal, don't worry. This is just the way Fate is, bitch though it may be."
He turned back to the sword he held, rubbing it down gently, with care. This sword had carried him far in life, in the Game. It was his truest friend.
He looked up, a question in his eyes, when she stopped herself. "What?"
She frowned. "I was just wondering. When Richie comes in the room, I feel something. . .not like what I feel from you. Why is that?"
Duncan sighed. It was only a matter of time before she caught onto that, though he had hoped for sooner rather than later. "Richie is Pre-Immortal. One day he'll be like you and I."
He could see the wheels spinning in her head, trying to connect paths of logic that probably were making no sense.
"He doesn't know." The elder Immortal offered. "In case that's what you were thinking about."
She nodded, slowly. "I can see that. Otherwise he would have put himself in front of Tessa that night." She frowned. "Why haven't you told him?"
"What he doesn't know can't kill him." Duncan shrugged. "You've seen how reckless he is. What would it be like if he knew he couldn't die, hmm? A thousand times worse. He'd end up getting killed and then he'd be in the Game. He's like a son to me, Willow. I don't want that for him. Not yet."
"Not ever?" She asked softly.
The Highlander was the one with the sad smile this time. "Sometimes, yes - I wish there was a way to save him from all of this. But there isn't. One day his first death will come for him and there won't be a single thing I can do to stop it."
He watched her lean back on her elbows, her face a mask of thought and concetration. She bit her lip and exhaled sharply. "If I hadn't stopped that guy. . .Richie'd already be one of us. I cheated death."
"You don't know that." Duncan argued. "It could have been Fate, pure and simple."
Her eyes were so lost, clouded with the kind of distance that deep thought always brings.
"I hope you're right." She nodded finally, sitting back up to finish cleaning off the sword in her lap. "Death doesn't like to be cheated."
The comment slid over him, bringing a shiver to his spine. She was just being paranoid. What else could he expect from someone that had spent their lives living as she had? There was nothing wrong or 'off' about Willow having been there that night. It was just one of those random things in life that happened for the better. If she hadn't been there --
Tessa would be dead.
And he'd be training Richie right not instead of Willow.
He wasn't ready for that.
Maybe not ever.