Methos looked into the living room again and saw the girl laying on the couch, she was practically asleep, she paid absolutely no attention to him whatsoever.
"Don't let her fool you, brother," Kronos warned him, "She notices everything, she just likes to pretend she doesn't."
"I had figured as much," Methos replied, "In order to fool all the doctors, something of that sort would have to be going on." He turned back to Kronos and asked him, "How much does she know?"
"Well, it's been a gradual process," Kronos told him, "I'm sure she knows plenty more than she actually says, but isn't that always the case with ones like this?"
"I think so," Methos slowly nodded in agreement.
There were damn few Immortals left who were as old as they were, and unfortunately too many of the younger ones blindly bought into that storyline about Immortals having no parents, no known origin, just mysteriously wind up somewhere where a mortal could take them in and raise them as their own. And they also blindly believed that Immortals couldn't have children, oh sure, it wasn't on record anywhere; in the entire history of the Watcher chronicles there had never been one documented case of it. Of course not, that would be too easy, and too easy for any rogue Watcher to make sure something horrible happened to those children.
The truth was that Immortals were born to two parents like everybody else, and yes their parents were Immortal, not exclusively though. There were three possible ways for an Immortal child to come into the world: either they had a mortal mother and Immortal father, or a mortal father and an Immortal mother, or both parents were Immortal. It sounded very simple and uncomplicated, unfortunately it wasn't as easy as all that. Yes, Immortals had children, but nowhere near as frequently as mortals did. Methos remembered more than once, Kronos sneering as he regarded mortals as the rabbits of the human race, and what was that supposed to make them? Well he could think of a few likely candidates but he never liked to dwell on the idea. Add to the fact that for some reason, older Immortals seemed to have more kids than younger ones. Apparently being young was not all it was cracked up to be, it was only once an Immortal got a few hundred years under his belt that fertility was even a possibility, or so it seemed.
The reason Immortals seemed so limited was because there were so few of them born at any one time. By his own records, Methos estimated that there were still about 10,000 Immortals in the world, and within a decade there might be 1000 pre-Immortal children born between them all. That was the good news, then you ventured into the bad. More children were born to Immortals than actually grew up to become Immortal. It was impossible to get an actual number on the odds, though if Methos had to guess, a rough estimate he'd say the number of those who grew up to be Immortals who fought and died in the name of 'the Game' were probably 1 out of every 3 children Immortals actually had. And the reason why this was was not so simple. Most of the children would never live long enough to even find out if they were Immortal.
Even as old as Methos was, it was still the damnedest thing he'd ever heard about, let alone seen. And then there was the other side of it; for every 100 pre-Immortal children born to Immortal parents, there was also an additional 10 'duds', that for a reason nobody could figure out, when Immortal and mortal parents mixed there was another rarity, plain mortal children born to them as well, but of these very few of them turned out alright either. But for whatever reason, the fact remained that these were overlooked most of all, in preference to looking at the bigger picture which was the answer of Immortals and where they came from.
He could still remember when the 'professionals' had actually broken through with the term 'mentally retarded' like it was a great discovery they'd stumbled upon. They weren't unveiling anything he hadn't already seen a thousand times in his own life. The world was full of these kids; whose brains would never fully develop, or that were deformed, sometimes they had bodies to match those brains, sometimes they couldn't talk, other times they were incapable of learning, every one of them had a problem and even today the experts in the field were looking for a solution to them. If the doctors felt frustrated after 20 years of failure, Methos thought, they ought to try 5,000 years of seeing children like this and knowing damn little can ever be done to improve them. He didn't know why any child was born this way either, but he especially couldn't figure out why the pre-Immortal children were. Of course, thank God, they weren't all like that, but tragically most of them were, all in varying degrees, and so were the mortal children born to Immortals. Some were beyond all hope, a lot of them were capable of making some progress with time and continual teaching but it was only in the most recent years that anybody had had the patience and knowhow to work with them, but the 'normal' Immortals like they had all grown up to be were actually the rarest of them all.
Yes there was a pattern to it all, and even now Methos didn't know why or how it worked, but there didn't seem to be any way around it. If a child was born to an Immortal father and mortal mother, these were the worst of the worst, these were the children beyond any and all hope, better off dead as horrible as it sounded. If the mother was Immortal and the father was mortal, then they were usually only slightly 'retarded', with the right training they could grow up into functioning people, but still had to be closely monitored because their brains couldn't grasp concepts like deceitful people out to harm them, which for an Immortal was an automatic death sentence. It was only if a child had two Immortal parents that they really came out 'normal', able to walk and talk and think like anybody else deemed 'normal'. And these were where they had all come from, any Immortal who was alive today in the Game, both of his or her parents had been Immortal.
So, knowing what he did about that, why had he never married an Immortal? Better still, knowing this, why had he had so many mortal wives? Well, in the beginning none of them really knew how the process worked; once they did, he took precautions to make sure no wife of his ever got pregnant with his child. He preferred women who already had their own children and that part of their life was nearly over, so it wasn't much of an issue. But in regards to an Immortal wife and why he'd never had one? Well there was always the issue of trust, it was bad enough not being able to trust your mortal spouse not to try killing you in the night, but an Immortal who knew how to kill you permanently, he'd made it a point to get involved with those women as little as possible, much as it pained him to lose out on having children of his own. But he knew it didn't matter much anyway, for as old as he was the odds were he'd only had about 200 kids in his own lifetime, all of them few and far between; and unfortunately damn few of them ever had a happy outcome, most of them had been left out in the wilderness for the elements to claim, as was the custom for those sorts of people hundreds and thousands of years back when nobody understood what was wrong with them and couldn't risk the time and sacrifices it would take to keep and raise them.
Of course, if he'd actually been around, he would've kept most of them despite all the risks he'd run with them. But therein laid a cruel joke on somebody's part, whose? He didn't know, nature's perhaps. For whatever reason, Immortal fathers were seldom ever around when their children were born. Chalk it up to bad luck maybe, unfortunately in more violent and less civilized times, a lot of them were killed in battle and had to disappear before the kids were born, other times their wives disappeared in the middle of the night and had the child somewhere in secret, why? Nobody ever knew, it was just something that happened, and then most of them didn't bother to return, just wandered off somewhere else to start a new life by themselves with just their child. And when it was an Immortal woman who was pregnant, she always ran when she knew the birth was near. Maybe it was an ingrained sense of survival for themselves and their children. As Immortals, you were always hunted, and if it had ever been found out by the rest of the world or even the rest of the Immortal world that you had a child…no, to let anybody else know about that was an impossibility, it couldn't be done and was never done. Luck in part was always on the mother's sides, another inexplicable piece of the puzzle, Immortal women never showed during their pregnancy. They might even be able to claim they didn't know they were pregnant until the birth started, but none of them stuck around to even answer those questions.
That was why so many Immortal babies were foundlings, left somewhere for someone else to find; if there was no trace of an Immortal around, then how could anybody know that it was a pre-Immortal baby? Eventually the child was taken in by somebody, and no one was the wiser until about 20 years later when fate played another cruel joke and welcomed another unsuspecting soul into the Game. Another cruel joke that fate played on them was that the Immortal parents couldn't feel the Quickenings of their own children, that was why in the beginning nobody knew where Immortals came from, because their own parents, if they stuck around long enough, couldn't sense anything from them and thought that they'd somehow given birth to mortals, and on rare occasions they did but for the most part their children were all pre-Immortals just as they had once been. As it turned out, this was very hit and miss, it was not solely the parents who couldn't feel the Quickenings, but they were without doubt and without exception, why half of the other Immortals in the world could and the other half couldn't was anybody's guess.
And here it was thousands of years later, and what he would've thought would be common knowledge by now, was only known to the oldest surviving members of the Immortal race. Try telling it to the younger ones, and do they listen? No. Just like trying to tell them that the Game is a trap and there is no Prize and all the fighting is for nothing, who would believe it? He'd tried before, never gotten anywhere, so he resigned himself to give up and let those idiotic enough to blindly go along with the 'rules' that they didn't know where they came from or how old they were, or even if there was any validity to them, fall to their own fates, which usually left them laying in a ditch somewhere without their heads.
But in the meantime the children always suffered the consequences. Even now, for no known reason why, Immortal fathers were never present when their mortal wives or girlfriends gave birth to their children. Just more of the same old joke, even today they could die publicly and have to disappear, and a lot of them did. And very few were there when their Immortal wives had theirs either. That survival instinct for both mother and child was still alive and kicking in the women Immortals and they still felt a dire need to make themselves disappear and start again somewhere. Maybe they were right, Methos thought to himself, after all mortal women were at most risk of dying while pregnant from their husbands killing them, so why couldn't Immortal women be entitled to share the same fears? They had far more at stake with their children than mortals did.
Of course even over a course of 5,000 years, nothing stayed the same, and in more recent decades, Kronos had confided in him of a new suspicion going round through those old enough to know better; finally there seemed to be some kind of mutation occurring with the children. Now, the ones born to Immortal mothers were starting to turn out closer to those with both Immortal parents, and those with Immortal fathers were starting to become the more 'slightly' cases. Oh he hoped that was true, because now he couldn't stop wondering which was the case for this child Kronos was keeping with him.
"Any idea which she is?" he finally asked.
Kronos shook his head, "No, could be any of them…could even be among the best. You know how it is with them, even with two Immortals responsible for creating them, if they're not found within a certain amount of time, then that throws everything off, everything is delayed, damaged…that could be her, or her mother could be one of us, or by this point perhaps even her bastard father could be one of us."
Gooble gobble," Methos responded.
"Whichever it is, she's been here for three months, and what she already knew and what she knows now is anybody's guess where one ends and another begins," Kronos told him.
"How…" Methos asked, "Did you get her out?"
"Oh," Kronos answered in a cynically nonchalant tone that Methos hated, "Just one of those unforeseen dilemmas, one night the asylum mysteriously broke out in a fire."
Methos tried to keep a straight face but he couldn't resist laughing, "Some things never change, 5000 years later and you're still a fire bug."
"While everybody else was scrambling to get out and take the 'progressive' patients with them, I made my way up to the floor she was being kept on and took her down the back exit," Kronos explained, "Before the night was over we were both out of Chicago."
Dead weight in his arm, that's what she felt like. He didn't know how old this kid was, but it was obvious they weren't feeding her enough in the hospital. As he opened the door and turned on the lights, he saw that she was unresponsive, she wasn't moving, she wasn't even trying, she just stayed locked in his arm's grip and her feet dangled loosely beneath her like the ringer in a bell.
Once in the kitchen, Kronos put her down and watched to see what she would do. She stood straight and looked straight ahead at the wall, never glanced at anything else in any other direction. Kronos grabbed her by the arm and jerked her around to look at him and he told her, "Alright, you can cut out the feeble tricks, they don't work on me. I knew from the moment I saw you, that you can see," he lunged at her and saw her draw back, "Hear," he snapped his fingers loudly in her ear and watched her flinched, "And I'll just bet I can make you talk."
She looked at him like a dog about to be beaten. He pointed past her and said, "Look over there." She didn't, so he put his hand on the top of her head and forced her to turn around and look, "Look over there, what do you see?"
She didn't say anything, so he picked her up by the back of her hospital gown and set her down closer to the counter, he pointed to the coffee cup and asked her again, "What is this?"
She looked at him as if she didn't know how to respond. So he picked it up and all but shoved it in her face and asked her again, "What is this?"
"C-c-cu-" it sounded like she was trying to clear a hairball from her throat, but she tried again, "Cu…cu-uuu-cu-u-up."
Well that was a start, he felt certain that already they could forget about the possibility that her father was an Immortal. He picked up a can of table salt and asked her, "What's this?"
"S-s-sssssss-aaallllt," she answered.
Kronos felt his eyebrows rise, more out of amusement than actual surprise. "Very good," he put it down and turned her to face the wall the clock was on and asked her, "What's that?"
He spent the next half hour having her name the items around the house, with a little coercion he managed to get her to cut the sounds down to half the length she was using which was still twice as long as they actually were, but it was a start. After that he took another look at her and decided she needed to be cleaned up. So he took her into the bathroom, filled the tub with hot water, in one move he ripped her gown off and with another he picked her up and threw her into the tub. She hit the bottom hard and screamed in response to the hot water on her skin. She also screamed when he washed her, though he was nowhere near the point of scrubbing her raw, and she didn't stop screaming until he had her out of the tub and wrapped up in a towel to dry.
Mildly retarded? Might be. Or was it just possible she was kept in a captivity for so long that any normal learning development was permanently stunned? That was what he had to find out, and he knew it wouldn't be easy or quick, which was just fine with him. He'd waited 200 years to find a pre-Immortal child, he could wait a little longer to make her talk.
He let her sleep in the bed that night, she lay where she collapsed upon impact and never moved during the night. The next day he went out and got some clothes that were roughly her size so she could go outside without drawing too much attention to herself. And from there, it was all trial and error. He let her explore the house and look over everything and coaxed the words out of her to describe everything she touched and looked at and picked up to assess how much she had already learned before this point. He also watched the way she carried herself and the little movements she made, more like a 5 year old than a teenager; she kept tripping over her feet, tripped on the stairs repeatedly, got her knees all banged up, for a brief period she crawled up and down the stairs. She pulled her hair frequently and instead of biting her nails she would latch her teeth onto her hand or her arm, more of a sucking sensation than actually biting herself.
Altogether, after he'd had a few days to observe her, he figured he could pinpoint her current mental capacity as being somewhere between a 1st and 2nd grader's, that was a generous estimate though. It wasn't of much matter to him, he knew that given the time and work, that the children like this were capable of learning; to what extent was anybody's guess but he was going to find out, now he actually had a chance to.
A well guarded secret from the old days that most people would be disemboweled before they found out was that he was a sucker for children, and apparently that hadn't changed all that much in the thousands of years that followed; until he could get the girl settled he didn't have the heart to kick her out of his bed at night. She was still having trouble grasping basic words so was at a loss to communicate, her mental buildup thus far seemed to be matched with a much younger child, one that needed frequent attention and close contact with other people; but the fact remained that she didn't know him or this place, the proverbial stranger in a strange land, so she tried keeping to herself, she curled herself into as small a ball as possible when staying on her side of the bed for the night. After a couple of weeks he managed to put her in another room of the house, but it was still a gradual process; the first few nights he'd wake up to the sudden surprise that she'd crawled back into bed with him. She didn't know him, but it was starting to become apparent, she trusted him, as odd as that may seem.
Immortals' children, despite their setbacks, could never cease to amaze. He had figured since she had so much obvious trouble in even speaking, that there couldn't be any way she could read yet. Showed what he knew. One morning he came down and found her in the living room with the morning paper; he had thought she was only looking at the pictures, but upon closer look he saw that though her mouth was closed, it was moving as if she was about to start reading the paper out loud. He'd had a lot of experience watching people over the centuries, and he'd gotten so that on many occasions he could tell what the first word somebody would say when they opened their fat mouth, just on how they moved their lips when they were still closed. But she didn't open her mouth, and no sound came out; after she discarded the paper and went into the kitchen, he found the paper and glanced over the front page story, the print matched up with the words she had been trying to say.
So clearly she could read, but again, to what extent? He didn't know that either, and that unfortunately they would never know because it seemed no matter how hard anybody tried, these children could never explain as well as they could understand; even the best of the best had a fair share of problems in communicating, they often came up blank for words or selected the wrong ones to use in their speech. And it was always obvious that they knew they got it wrong because they easily became frustrated when it happened; and in time he'd gone through the exact same thing with her, more often than not though, it was for the things she couldn't say than the ones she did. These children to some degree had to have had the mental capacity to be self loathers when this happened; Tommy on more than one occasion when she couldn't get a word right would beat her hands against the wall or the table and hit herself in the head and start crying. Very quickly he learned to come up behind her and restrain her when it first started; he grabbed her around the waist and lifted her off her feet long enough to sit down and get her settled on his lap and he grabbed her by the wrists and hands so she couldn't hurt herself, and waited for her to wear herself out. Certainly nobody ever said being a parent was easy, but being parent to a child that would one day become Immortal, even a surrogate parent, that had to be among the hardest things for anybody to pull off. The damn mortals had no idea what they took for granted.
"And," Methos said, folded his arms against his chest, "For three months' time, what progress have you been able to make?"
Kronos shook his head, "Not much, as you well know it's a very gradual process."
Methos nodded, he did remember.
"But progress is progress regardless of how slow it is," Kronos added.
Methos nodded again, "Like when they bulldozed Chernobyl, two minutes only per day every day without exception."
"Something like that," Kronos replied.
Methos nodded towards the living room and commented, "She seems pretty normal at first glance."
Kronos nodded, "Took a while to get her even that far."
"So…how's she doing now?" Methos asked.
"I'll let you decide for yourself," his brother told him.
Kronos went to the living room and called out, "Tommy, will you come in here?" A minute later the girl entered the kitchen with him. Kronos gestured to Methos and said, "This is my brother, Methos, say hello."
Tommy sheepishly raised her hand and gave a single, far spread wave.
"You can do better than that," Kronos told her, "Say 'hello'!"
"Hello," she said flatly.
He smiled at her, "Hello, Tommy, how are you?"
Tommy turned on her heel and pressed her face against the back of Kronos' jacket. His response was to give her a light elbow to the jaw and told her, "You know better than that."
Methos noticed the look on her face as she gazed to the floor uncertainly, and he said for her benefit, "She's just shy." When he took one step towards her, she turned and pressed herself against Kronos so hard she about knocked him down.
"That's the understatement of the century," Kronos told his brother. He added to her, "Cut that out," and slapped her away, though it was more sound than actual impact.
Methos rolled his eyes and commented, "You always did have a way with children."
"Don't let yourself be fooled, this is purely for your benefit," Kronos assured him, and gave Tommy a small shove towards the doorway. Tommy reached her arms out and braced herself against the doorframe, but left the kitchen, and returned a moment later with a book she was apparently reading. She opened it to a spot near the middle and read for Methos' benefit, "'Sex is a fine word, everybody got sex?'"
"Cute," Methos said in his usual tone of sarcasm.
Of course it would be too much to expect that Kronos would have any issue with it. He merely turned to the girl and told her, "Go get dressed."
Tommy nodded and left the kitchen, and this time stayed gone for several minutes. Once she was gone, Methos couldn't help commenting, "I wonder whose she is?"
"Nobody we know, that's a safe bet," Kronos remarked.
Methos nodded glumly.
Fate was a cruel joke. The mothers were driven away from their homes and their families by some internal inexplicable sense of survival for them and their children, and the Immortal mothers left their children where someone else could take them in and raise them. But such was not always the case. Feral children and pre-Immortal children often went hand in hand. Being a foundling was not all it was cracked up to be because sometimes they might not be found for a couple years depending on if someone else dumped them somewhere, if the animals got to them, if the animals accepted them as one of their own. Children who grew up among wild dogs, and lived as wild dogs, were not uncommon the world over, some were found as toddlers, some were found at 8, others weren't discovered until they were nearly teenagers, there was absolutely no rhyme or reason to any of it. Even now though, many wondered what the purpose was for those found later on; still today it was believed what children learned in their formative years was what would stick with them the rest of their lives. And when they said formative, they meant 3-4 years old tops, what then could be accomplished with a child who'd lived in the wild with no people around, for 10-11 years? Oh but, he knew the answer to that one too, and most days it was too painful for him to even remember. As an Immortal, you learned early on that fate being cruel just came with the territory, but it was always different when children were involved.