Scotland, April 20, 1746
“It’s not safe for you to stick around.”
Malcolm peered at his captain through the growing shroud of fog. “I have to. The laird has the right to know that his last remaining son now lies rotting in the bloody mud of Culloden. I don’t know that there’s anyone else who escaped to bring him the news.”
He looked away, trying to hold in his grief until he was alone. “I owe the man that much courtesy after all he’s been to me, especially when Fergus wouldn’t have been part of that bloodbath if not for me.”
Alex put his hand on Malcolm’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I know the MacLerie Clan treated you like family and that Fergus was as a hive brother to you.”
“In all ways but one.”
Fergus had been human, after all, and physical intimacy was something he couldn’t give. It hadn’t mattered. He’d been the first man on this wretched planet with whom Malcolm had been able to form a real friendship and who’d known about his alien nature and had not shrunk from it. That Malcolm had been unable to protect the man during the battle despite his superior strength and speed was a bitter failure that would haunt him until the end of his days—another to join one that already ate at him since the crash.
“It’s more than that, though. I need to go for me. I can’t do this anymore, Alex.” He raised his eyes to his captain. “I simply can’t.”
He took in a deep breath and held it until his lungs burned before letting it out again. “When I refused to join Dracul’s mutiny against you, I thought he’d give up his murderous plans quickly. These humans may be backward, but they don’t lack courage or numbers. And yet, he hasn’t. Century after century, he continues to maneuver in his quest for power. It’s getting worse, not better.
“He’ll never quit until he has succeeded or been killed.” He shuddered with his emotions. “I’m sorry, sir, that I lack the will to keep on fighting. It’s not in my nature—or perhaps it’s been too much in my nature. I’ve fought long and hard these many centuries and more eagerly than I should have, especially this last time. I don’t want to be that man anymore. Forgive me,” he added, bowing his head and trying not to wish that he’d died along with Fergus.
Alex squeezed his fingers briefly before letting go. “It’s all right. I understand. We started out as explorers and scientists. Despite our training, we were never meant to fight at all, never mind endlessly. Dracul has corrupted us in many ways.”
A horse nickered, reminding Malcolm that they weren’t alone and time was not on their side. The longer he kept Alex and the others, the greater the risk they’d be found by the Sassenach and executed—or, rather, the English soldiers would try to do so. They wouldn’t succeed, but his brothers-in-arms weren’t invincible. There was no benefit in taking the chance, not to mention that Val had rescued a pretty human boy who still looked stunned from what he’d witnessed during battle and appeared frightened to death over his uncertain fate.
“You should go, sir, please. I won’t change my mind on this and can only say I’m sorry to abandon you.”
Alex shot him a quick smile. “You aren’t—or, at least, I don’t see it that way. I appreciate your loyalty more than I can say. I can only hope you find some measure of peace here.” He looked around the ever-shrouded area. “I can see why you’d love it. So like home with its rugged terrain and its cool mist.”
Malcolm nodded. “I can make a good life here, sir, even if the laird tosses me out on my arse for not keeping his son safe.” He paused. “Where will you go?”
Alex shrugged. Their mannerisms had become ingrained within their group over the many years they’d lived among humans. It helped them blend in but also had become second nature. “To the lowlands for the moment. Try to hide in plain sight. Maybe we’ll go back to the continent in due time or even to the so-called ‘new world’. America is a big and bold place—or so I’ve heard. A place where a person can become reborn.”
“Until Dracul gets his hands on it.” Malcolm couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice.
“Wherever he goes, whatever he does, I will stop him.” Alex stated it as fact, but the weariness in his tone was obvious.
Guilt ate at Malcolm, and yet, he couldn’t go on. “You could stay here, sir. The Highlands are big enough for all of us to find refuge.”
Alex shook his head. “No. The people here will be under siege for years to come. No need for us to add to their trouble by drawing Dracul’s attention. We will be fine, and I mean it when I say that what you’ve done for me since our crashing here is no small thing.”
But for me, we wouldn’t have been marooned here at all. The confession stuck in his throat. After all these years, he still couldn’t speak of it.
“Sir?” He waited until Alex looked over his shoulder. “I don’t want to lose touch. I will try to find you once I’ve settled and get you word on what I’m doing. And if there is ever a time when you need me and no other to set Dracul back on his heels again, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”
Malcolm stood watching until the last of his crewmates had been swallowed up in the mist. He waited another few minutes, absorbing how, for the first time in his entire life, he was truly alone. He briefly considered simply disappearing into the fog and living a solitary life for as long as nature and his own constitution would permit. What difference did it make now? He would never see his family or his hive again. Likely that was the last he’d see of Alex and the others, too, regardless of his recent promise.
He was no use to anyone, except he did have one last task that must be followed through. He owed Fergus’ father that courtesy call. After that, who knew? It made no difference, in any event. There was no life on this planet that he could imagine living. Who could ever matter as much as Fergus had? Likely he wouldn’t forge a bond that close, even with a lover—if such a man even existed. He’d never found more than a transient bed partner in all these centuries.
No, in the here and now, there was only honor. He would discharge his duty and let fate take him.