This is part three of the Education Trilogy. It's a direct sequel to my previous stories Primary Causes and Secondary Hurts and completes the trilogy. You really have to read those first or this won't make any sense <g>
Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own any of these characters, I'm only borrowing them. I'm making no profit from this so please don't sue me.
This story is ADULT in nature for graphic violence including physical torture and rape.
A couple of people I need to thank. Firstly Alyssa. She was Responsible for getting me started in fan fiction and was my first beta reader. Aly, I know you weren't available to help with this, but I'd never even have started without you.
Finally a special mention to the most important person, without whose help, beta reading, support and just plain nagging this would never have been completed. She is responsible for any correct grammar or spelling you may find, all errors are of course my own. Penny, my clone, this one is for you.
Richie parked his bike and made his way slowly up to his apartment watched by one very relieved ancient immortal. It had taken Methos some time to find Mac's young protÈgÈ after he left so abruptly and he'd started to get worried. Once he'd spotted him he'd spent several hours following him whilst staying just out of sensing range. He knew that, although the horrific injuries to Richie's body had healed, he was still a little weaker than usual. If Richie had to fight now he'd be unlikely to survive and that would devastate Duncan. For whatever reasons that he hadn't even admitted to himself yet, Methos couldn't allow that to happen.
Studying Richie carefully as he entered the building Methos was reassured by what he saw. He'd half expected the younger immortal to go out and get drunk, or at least to bring a large quantity of alcohol home with him. Certainly considering the number of bars he'd visited in the last few hours it'd been a definite possibility, but as far as he could see apart from looking unusually tired Richie hadn't done anything that stupid. Judging that the young immortal was no more vulnerable in the game than he normally was, Methos decided to suspend his surveillance. As he turned to go he spotted a very relieved looking young man in the shadows on the opposite side of the street. Recognizing him as one of Joe's watchers he smiled to himself and kept out of sight. The guy must have lost Richie earlier in the evening and he'd come back here in the hopes that he would return to his apartment. Leaving the watcher to his job Methos walked quickly in the direction of Joe's bar. There were too many questions in his mind about the events of the last few days and he hoped that as MacLeod's watcher Joe might be able to help him find some answers.
The last customers had finished off their drinks and were just leaving. It had been a busy night and takings were good. Joe moved slowly out from behind the bar to collect the last of the glasses. Placing them on the bar he heard the door open again.
"We're closed," he said, without looking round and trying hard to keep the annoyance he felt out of his voice.
"Is that any way to greet an old friend?" came an amused tenor voice.
"Adam!" A broad smile lit up Joe's face as he turned to greet his visitor. "Good to see you!"
"Hi Joe, Sorry it's taken so long." Methos returned the smile and took the older looking man into his arms for a brief hug. "I was on my way over to see you when I got a bit held up."
"I know" Joe replied. "Mac told me you were around. I actually didn't expect to see you so soon. How's Richie?"
"He's fine Joe, at least physically..." Methos began.
"Of course he is" Joe interrupted. "He's immortal...and that wasn't what I meant."
"I know, Joe." Methos hesitated, then continued in a quieter tone. "That's sort of the reason I'm here."
"Might've known" Joe grumbled. Methos tried to interrupt but Joe held up a hand to stop him. "Its OK, we both know the score."
"Joe, it's not like that...well not really. I need your help" Methos looked up and met Joe's steady gaze. "Mac and Richie need our help."
"I guess I'll see what I can do then" Joe replied. "You help me clean this place up and then we'll talk."
"It's a deal" Methos smiled "I'll lock up, you clean the glasses." With the familiarity of many similar nights shared the two men set about closing the bar.
Amanda returned to dojo loft in better spirits than she'd been for days. She'd spent a busy afternoon shopping and was carrying numerous bags. She loaded her purchases and provisions onto the elevator and hit the button for the loft.
Duncan was standing by the window when he felt the presence of another immortal. Checking to see that his katana was within easy reach he looked across the loft to check who was arriving. Seeing Amanda he relaxed again and went back to his silent contemplation.
Amanda raised the gate and stepped out. She was surprised to find Duncan alone and apparently lost in thought. In fact his whole demeanour reminded her of a recent, similar occasion. For a few seconds she tried to recall the circumstances. Then suddenly the memory hit her with blinding clarity. It had been the anniversary of Tessa's death. The day Ulick had taken her and Richie. She froze, as the unpleasant events of that day surfaced in her mind's eye. Was it only a couple of days ago? It seemed like an age had passed since then. She'd been lucky, well relatively so, at least compared to Richie. No, that wasn't quite true. She'd been saved from the worst treatment because of Richie. Forcing the memories away she took a deep breath and started to unload the elevator.
"Duncan" she called to him quietly. "Hey, I could use a little help here."
"What..." he responded in a distracted voice.
"Bags, Mac. Food" she watched him as she answered. "They need carrying and putting away."
"Oh, yes of course." He turned from the window and walked towards her eyeing the pile of bags suspiciously. "What are all these things? Do I have any credit left?"
"Mainly food and beer. I thought you were catering for a crowd." She kept her voice carefully neutral.
"So did I." Duncan didn't answer the unspoken question and Amanda didn't push. He looked over the pile of bags again "Is this all food?"
"Well, no" she smiled picking out a bag from an expensive lingerie store. "There's a little something here for you."
"For me?" he asked.
"Well, for me to wear for you." She laughed. "Now let's get this food stowed and then we'll see if you like it."
"And if I don't?"
"Well then we can always take it back and you can choose something that you do." She picked up two of the food bags and headed for the kitchen. "After all, it was bought on your card" she added.
"Amanda..." Duncan grabbed another couple of bags and followed her. "What am I going to do with you?"
"I think we'd better wait until we've put these things away" she added. "Then you can do whatever you want with me."
Duncan grabbed her by the waist and pulled her in for a long kiss. As they broke apart and returned to unpacking the food supplies Amanda smiled to herself. She'd successfully broken Duncan out of his brooding. Now all she had to do was get him distracted enough to tell her what had happened in her absence.
Some time later Joe and Methos were sat in Joe's office. Joe was sipping at a large coffee whilst Methos had his customary beer in hand.
"Now Adam. What gives?" Joe asked. "What 's been happening?"
Methos settled into a more comfortable sprawl and began telling Joe the events of the last few days, whilst Joe listened intently. Much of the story, at least the events leading up to Duncan taking Ulick's quickening, he already knew. He was his watcher after all. What he didn't know was how the aftershocks were affecting the Highlander and his student.
Methos finished speaking and Joe waited quietly. When the young looking man seemed reluctant to continue Joe decided it was time for a prompt.
"Adam?" Methos looked up and Joe continued "What exactly do you want my help with?"
"Richie's hurting Joe" he explained "and MacLeod is so busy brooding and trying to protect him that he can't see how much Richie needs to know the truth."
"Damn, stubborn boyscout" Joe cursed quietly. "The last thing Richie needs now is a major Scottish guilt trip."
"Exactly my point" Methos grinned.
"OK, what can we do?" Joe asked.
"MacLeod told me a little about his previous meetings with Ulick but I'm sure there's more. When they were fighting Ulick mentioned an encounter with Connor that Mac obviously knew nothing about." Methos looked directly at Joe as he continued. "I need to know whatever the Watchers know of those meetings." Methos took a deep breath and made the most difficult request "I need to find Connor and get him here."
"You're not asking much are you?" Joe replied. "The Watchers aren't there to help one immortal find another."
"You know I'm not after Connor's head." Methos sounded worried. "All I know is that if we don't help them MacLeod is going to drive Richie away again, and this time he may not have the will to survive. He doesn't deserve that, and neither does MacLeod."
"OK, OK, you know I'll help. I always do!" Joe sounded really tired.
"Great Joe. Now how do we go about this?"
Jo smiled as he replied "Connor's watcher is a friend and I'm sure she can help me find the chronicles we need. It's the middle of the night in New York now but I'll call and ask her first thing tomorrow. I've already found all the references to Ulick in Mac's chronicles." At Methos' surprised glance he continued "Know thine enemy! I started researching as soon as I knew who'd taken Richie and Amanda!"
"Thanks Joe" Methos said gratefully. The more he saw the grey haired Watcher in action the more he understood why he'd been assigned an immortal the Watchers considered to be so important. "That only leaves the problem of getting Connor here."
"Why is that so important?" Joe asked curiously.
"Richie's angry because he thinks MacLeod is being over protective and not letting him fight what he considers to be his battles" Methos explained. "From what Mac mentioned, he feels the same about Connor. If I can get him here then perhaps Connor and Mac can resolve this issue and hopefully both Mac and Richie will be able to see their own differences from each other's perspective. It may be the only way. The problem will be finding Connor and convincing him to come."
"That may be easier than you think" Joe replied. "Connor has list of heads he is hunting and Ulick is high on it. We just need to let him know that Ulick has been sighted in Seacouver and he'll come, if only because Mac is here."
"OK then, now all we have to decide is how to let him know." Methos wondered aloud "Perhaps an anonymous phone call?"
"No need" Joe was laughing now. "His watcher is a friend of Connor's and is quite capable of passing the information without being too obvious."
"Another Watcher breaking the oath?" Methos joined in the laughing "What is it about these Highlanders?"
"Actually it's not like that" Joe explained. "She was a friend of Connor's before she became his watcher. In fact, that was why she was recruited."
"Ah, we are nothing if not a sneaky lot" Methos replied. "I'll leave it in your capable hands then. Now I really need to get some sleep."
"You going back to the loft?" Joe asked.
"No, I'd better find a hotel room...I think Amanda might be trying to break Duncan out of his brood" Methos said in a wistful tone. "I don't want to interrupt anything..."
Joe laughed again "I expect you're right. Come on Adam. Let's go. We can't do any more tonight. You can have my spare room."
"Thanks Joe" Methos helped Joe to stand up and they left the bar together.
Not wanting to wake Duncan, Amanda eased out of the bed as quietly as possible and walked into the kitchen. It was very late, or more like early morning. They'd spent a very enjoyable and enthusiastic couple of hours together before Duncan had finally slipped into an exhausted sleep.
There'd been one awkward moment. Amanda had been kneeling in front of a gloriously naked Duncan when she'd suddenly been reminded of her brutal treatment at the hands of Ulick. OK, so she didn't have handcuffs on her wrists and ankles and she wasn't kneeling on a cold stone floor, but the events were still fairly recent and this brought them to the forefront of her mind.
Duncan had felt her tense up and instantly dropped to his knees beside her. He'd reached out and pulled her shivering body into his strong arms and held her until the tremors ceased. He hadn't asked what was wrong. He hadn't needed to. He'd seen many victims of abuse in his time and knew the type of emotional injuries that went with physical ones.
For her part Amanda had been glad he was there. When she'd calmed down enough they'd carefully resumed what had been interrupted. With Duncan's gentle patience and support she'd gotten past the fears and pushed away the ghosts. She truly believed that she was over her encounter with Ulick, at least over what he'd done to her. It wasn't the first time she'd been abused; nor even the second or third. Being immortal had never protected her from the indignities inflicted on females in certain times and places. What did remain was the guilt. She kept thinking of Richie begging for Ulick's abusive attentions purely to protect her. Why had he done that? What had she done to deserve that? Those images of Richie would stay with her for a long time to come.
As for Richie, now that was a different matter. Despite his bravado and what he'd told her in their prison he'd suffered serious physical injuries and was still suffering the emotional after effects. Duncan hadn't told her exactly what had happened between the two of them, but he'd admitted that they'd argued about Duncan's overprotectiveness and that Richie had stormed off. He also mentioned that Methos had disappeared at the same time to places unknown. Amanda had said no more but felt relieved. She was sure that Methos had followed Richie and would keep watch over the younger immortal.
Reaching the kitchen she looked again at the time and made a decision. Picking up the phone she dialled a number she'd learnt well of late, praying that the owner would still be awake.
Joe handed Methos a beer and sat down in the chair opposite. Although it was late neither man was quite ready to sleep yet. Their discussion covered many topics, all of them trivial. Both of them were aware that they were avoiding the main issue. Eventually they ran out of neutral subjects and a slightly uneasy silence settled in the room. Joe was just thinking of heading for his bed when the ringing of the phone broke the silence.
"Whoever that is it'd better be important" he grumbled to himself as he reached for the receiver. "Dawson" he answered a little abruptly.
"Joe, it's Amanda" she sounded a little hesitant. "I didn't wake you did I?"
"No Amanda, I've only just got home" he responded looking at Methos, who'd looked up in surprise when Joe said her name. "What can I do for you?"
"Well...I don't know how to ask this...or even if I should...but" she took a deep breath that Joe could hear clearly at the other end of the line. "Do you know where Richie is?"
Joe almost laughed. "Relax Amanda, he's safe" he told her. "He went back to his apartment late last night and I've got a watcher on him twenty four hours a day now". He glanced at Methos who looked startled. Full time watching required watchers to operate in teams. This wasn't usually done unless it was believed that the immortal concerned was about to issue or receive a challenge. Joe realised that the oldest immortal was aware of this and he'd have to explain later.
"Thank you Joe." Even over the phone line Joe could hear the relief in Amanda's voice. She waited another couple of seconds then spoke again. "I don't suppose..."
"He's here" Joe guessed what she was trying to ask. He grinned at the oldest immortal as he continued "He was the one who followed Richie until he went back to his apartment and his watcher caught up with him. Do you want to speak to him?"
"No, no thanks Joe...I just needed to know."
"Glad to be of service" Joe quoted in an appropriate sing song voice. "Anything else I can do for you tonight?"
"No...wait yes" she answered with a smile in her voice. "You can thank our aged friend for taking care of Richie and tell him I'll look after MacLeod."
"Consider it done"
"Tell him to watch over you too" she replied. "Goodnight"
"Goodnight Amanda. Sleep well" Joe replaced the receiver and turned back to Methos.
"Just checking up on me was she?" Methos asked lightly. "And why the full time watch on Richie?"
"Yeah, she was. She asked me to thank you for taking care of Richie" Joe replied before continuing carefully. "He's is hurting, and he's vulnerable. That makes him an easy target, at least at the moment."
"That's not all is it Joe?" Methos prompted.
"Damn it, if he's challenged I want to know" Joe replied sharply. "I want to be able to warn Mac or you. He doesn't deserve to lose his head because a slime bag like Ulick used him as a toy!"
"That's what I thought" Methos smiled gently. "You are too good to us all"
"I need to be" Joe laughed "look at all the trouble you get me into. Oh yeah, Amanda said to tell you she'll take care of Mac."
"I bet she will". Joe looked at Methos in surprise. The emotion in his voice at that simple phrase was obvious. Joe couldn't be certain but he thought he detected a trace of jealousy. Methos jealous of Amanda? That merited further investigation, but not now.
"She also told me to tell you to take care of me" Joe stated.
Methos laughed "Well I guess I'd better do just that. It's time we got some sleep" he replied standing up and holding out his hand to the mortal. "Glad to be of service? I didn't know you were a Douglas Adams fan."
Joe took the offered hand and pulled himself to his feet. "Why not? I'm not getting you down at all am I?" Laughing aloud now the two men picked up their glasses and walked up the stairs, the gentle bickering continuing until they entered their separate rooms.
Amanda put the phone back in its cradle and walked back to the bed. As she sat on the edge a sleepy voice asked, "Who were you talking to?"
"Joe" she replied.
"Joe?" Duncan sounded more awake now. "What did he say?"
"Richie is safe. He returned to his apartment earlier this evening" she told him. "And Methos is with Joe."
"Good, I was worried" he replied.
"I know" she answered. "Now go back to sleep, tomorrow is going to be a long day."
"Only if I can hold you." He held out his arms to her.
Smiling she slipped under the cover and into his embrace. "Always, love. Always."
Amanda woke suddenly, screams still ringing in her ears. It was several seconds before she recognised the familiar interior of the loft. She took several deep breaths to steady herself and calm her pounding heart.
Slowly she got her racing thoughts under control and started sorting through the confused memories of the visions she'd experienced. Predictably she'd been dreaming of that cellar, watching, bound helplessly, as Richie begged for and then received Ulick's brutal assault. His first assault she remembered, unashamedly relieved that she hadn't been witness to the later events. Looking around the loft she wondered what had woken her.
A moan from the opposite side of the bed drew her attention to the most probable cause. Duncan lay on his side, facing away from her, where he must have rolled in his sleep. Even in the semidarkness of the loft she could see the tension in his shoulders and back. A second louder moan and a whispered syllable that might've been "no" confirmed her suspicions. Whatever nightmare scenario Duncan was in, he was clearly not enjoying it. She slowly reached across the bed and touched his right shoulder.
The bare brick walls and pipes were familiar to Duncan now, as was the bloodied figure hanging from the shiny metal handcuffs. He looked down at his hands, expecting to see the knife, but instead found a very familiar belt. Running the blood stained leather through his fingers he reached the buckle and examined it. It was almost unrecognisable caked in dried blood, but to Duncan it was unmistakable. He and Tessa had given Richie this belt as a nineteenth birthday present. Since Tessa's death Richie had worn it practically everyday, so much so that the leather strap had already needed replacing once.
"Why are you doing this?" Richie's voice was calm, almost too calm.
Duncan tried to answer, but no words passed his lips.
"Mac" Richie spoke again. "What have I done?"
Still finding no way to answer Richie's questions, Duncan felt his hands release the buckle and slide back along the leather strap. Slowly and deliberately his right arm raised and prepared to bring the belt down across the brutalised back.
"Why Mac? Why is this happening?" Richie's voice seemed to be coming from far away but the pleading tone was all Duncan could hear. Something inside screamed at Duncan. He tried to fight back, struggling to stop the events but the nightmare scene continued unabated.
"Stop it Mac! Why don't you stop this?" The desperation and panic in Richie's voice brought tears to Duncan's eyes, but nothing he felt seemed to stop his body moving.
"You can stop this, Mac. You could've stopped it!"
"No" Duncan's mind shouted but his body ignored it. Duncan felt his arm move, starting to bring the strap down towards his student's back. "No" his mind shouted again. The buckle flashed in the light as it moved. Suddenly something touched his right shoulder...
"No!" Duncan bolted upright in bed knocking Amanda's arm off his shoulder as he did so. Amanda watched as, in an almost identical reaction to her own, he grabbed a few deep breaths forcing his mind to focus on the familiar surroundings.
"It's OK, Duncan", she whispered as she reached out and gently placed her hand back on his shoulder. "It's over, Richie's safe."
"It should never have happened in the first place". Duncan stared at his hands as he continued "For all the good I was I might as well have beaten him myself."
Amanda winced, her own previous nightmare forgotten. In that one sentence Duncan had given her a very good idea of what he had seen. Knowing her Highland warrior well and noticing how he was watching his hands clench and unclench she guessed that he'd been dreaming those same hands had inflicted the injuries themselves. Duncan always took everything so personally and this was becoming a major brood.
"Duncan". Getting no response she tried again. "Duncan, look at me"
Several seconds passed but just before she spoke again Duncan turned slowly and met Amanda's eyes. What she saw broke her heart. He really did blame himself. This was going to need careful handling.
"It wasn't your fault." She knew that remark sounded tired, but it was the truth. Duncan made no comment so she pushed a little more. "You're not responsible for Ulick's actions."
"That's not true" he replied.
"Of course it's true" she said patiently. "How could it be your fault?"
"I should've sensed him...I should've seen him...I should've stopped him" Duncan looked back down at his hands mumbling so quietly that Amanda had to strain to hear "If only I hadn't been so lost in memories...I might've..."
Amanda knew that was the real problem. Duncan had missed their abduction whilst brooding over Tessa's death and he felt that their suffering was the direct result of his distraction. She knew that nothing she could say would remove that guilt so she concentrated on the easier target.
"Even if you had sensed him Ulick would've simply waited until you weren't here. He'd been using this pattern in his hunting for years. Nothing you could've done would've stopped it happening..."
"I could've stopped it. I could've stopped it before it began" Duncan interrupted her. "I was beating him, I should've had his head but Connor let him go. See what happened. See what he let happen..."
Amanda stayed quiet letting Duncan release some of his pent up emotions. She wondered what had happened when Connor and Duncan had met Ulick. Why had Connor not finished it then? What possible reason could he have had for letting Ulick go? This was something she needed to know, but not now. Gradually she let herself return to listening to Duncan's tirade of guilt and anger.
"...Richie is my friend and my student. He deserved better from me than this. What good are 400 years experience if you don't use them? I should've been able to protect him"
"No Duncan, I was the one with him." Amanda spoke quietly but Duncan didn't miss the pain in her voice. "I have over 1100 years experience and I couldn't protect him...I let him down. Damn it, he's so young, yet he was the one who tried to protect me."
Her voice broke and Duncan looked at her seeing the tears in her eyes. Suddenly his own pain seemed insignificant. He hadn't had to watch as that monster raped Richie in his place. If he thought he felt guilty how bad must Amanda be feeling? He reached out and pulled her slowly into his arms holding her as she cried, unsurprised to find his own tears slipping down his face.
"He never deserved that, Duncan" she mumbled into his chest. "He's hurting. We have to help him."
"I know," he whispered back. "I know. Tomorrow, we'll find him. We won't let him down again."
Gently Duncan laid back down on the bed taking Amanda with him and holding her tightly in his arms.
"Tomorrow, we'll find Richie" Amanda whispered. "Tonight..."
"Tonight, we just need each other" Duncan finished for her, giving her a gentle squeeze.
Amanda settled more comfortably, throwing one arm and leg across Duncan's muscular body and head nestling her head on his broad shoulder. Together in the darkness the Scottish warrior and the immortal thief held each other. Neither expected to sleep again, but both were glad of the other's support through the long hours of the night.
Methos woke up from a dream. For a few moments he lay with his eyes closed trying to sort out where he was and for that matter who he was. After 5000 years he'd been a lot of different people and sometimes it was hard to recall which one was the appropriate one for his current situation. Working from an instinct he'd developed over the millennia he remained still, feigning sleep, until the events of the previous few days were brought to the front of his mind.
Ah yes, now he remembered. Richie and Amanda had been kidnapped Duncan had taken Ulick's head and he was in Joe's spare room. That meant he must be Adam Pierson. No, he corrected himself. Since the Scottish boyscout had let his secret out these people knew who he really was. OK, so it was Adam Pierson aka Methos. Having completed his mental preparation for the day he opened his eyes, climbed out of bed and went in search of Joe.
Feeling much better after a decent night's sleep Methos walked into the kitchen. Joe was already there, breakfast preparations spread around him, talking to someone on his cell phone. He acknowledged Methos' entrance with a brief smile before returning to the conversation.
"What do you mean you won't tell him?" Joe sounded a bit annoyed. Methos couldn't hear the reply so he poured himself a coffee and waited whilst Joe finished his call.
"He's where? How did he know?" The hint of anger in Joe's voice was replaced by something closer to amusement. "Damn, might've known. He's just as much trouble as his clansman." Methos didn't miss that reference. Correctly guessing that Joe was talking to Connor's watcher he settled down to wait for an explanation.
"Well, thanks for all your help. Are you following him over?...Pity. it's been a while. I'll let you know what happens. Yeah, you too, bye" Joe finished off the call closing the handset and looked at Methos.
"Connor's Watcher?" the immortal asked.
"Yeah, she's going to fax the relevant parts of Connor's chronicle over as soon as possible." Joe replied.
"Good, the sooner we know what happened the better. Is she going to tell Connor?" Methos asked.
Joe laughed "She doesn't need to. Connor really has been searching for Ulick. I'm not sure how he found out Ulick was headed for Seacouver but Connor is on the plane now. He should be here before lunch time."
"I don't know how either, but it makes this a little easier" Methos' amusement faded slightly as he continued "Have you heard anything from Richie's watcher?"
"Nothing important" Joe replied. "Apparently he hasn't left his apartment since last night, although given the number of times there was movement seen and how often the lights went on he probably didn't get much sleep."
"Guess that was to be expected. Perhaps I'll go round a bit later and see how he is" Methos mused. Changing the subject he asked "Now how about some breakfast? A man could starve waiting for food here."
Joe couldn't help but laugh again and the two friends sat in companionable silence as they ate, before getting ready to face the day.
Amanda stood outside Richie's apartment and looked up at the still drawn blinds. She knew Richie wasn't a morning person like Duncan, but she'd expected him to be awake by now.
Duncan had risen just after dawn, Amanda not long after. Neither one of them had managed any more sleep after dreams disturbed their night. She'd eventually convinced Duncan to go for a run in the hopes that he might burn off some of his frustration. He wasn't going to be able to settle things with Richie if he was emotionally unstable. Once he'd left she had slipped out and made her way across town.
Amanda knew what she needed to do. Although she'd accepted that nothing she could've done would've prevented Ulick kidnapping them, she still felt guilty. In trying to protect her Richie had set himself up as the main target and hence endured the worst treatment. If he'd stayed quiet she was certain Ulick's attentions would've been more fairly distributed. Indeed, if she hadn't escaped and left Richie behind, perhaps Ulick wouldn't have gone to such extremes. Telling herself that 'what ifs' and 'if onlys' were a waste of time she collected her thoughts and concentrated on the task at hand.
Quickly dealing with the exterior lock she slipped through the door into Richie's apartment block. As she did so she noticed a dark haired man watching her from a car across the road and hoped that it was just Richie's watcher. Although she really didn't like the thought that someone was recording her every move it was nice to know that they'd been keeping an eye on Richie.
By the time she reached the door of his apartment she knew he was there. She could feel his buzz and no doubt he could feel hers. She knocked several times, but Richie made no attempt to answer. Deciding that she wasn't going to be stopped by a minor hindrance like a door she quickly picked the lock and let herself in.
"Amanda, I might've known" Richie commented. He was sitting in one of the few clear spaces on the floor leaning against the sofa. "Did you bring the boyscout with you?"
"No, I sent him out for a run" she replied carefully. She was worried. Richie hadn't even bothered to get up and his Rapier was nowhere in sight. "I wanted to see you."
"Just checking the kid hasn't got himself killed yet are you?" Richie asked bitterly. "It's only a matter of time you know."
"No" she replied softly, choosing her words carefully as she eased down to sit on the floor beside him. "I came to see how my brave friend, who went through hell for me is feeling."
"I'm fine" He replied sarcastically lifting his shirt and turning his back towards her. "Look, not even a scratch."
Amanda didn't dignify the comment with a reply. She simply waited until Richie had settled back against the sofa then gently touched his arm. Richie jumped at the contact but didn't pull away. For a long time they sat there in silence before Richie could stand it no more.
"What do you want, Amanda?"
"I just want to talk to you, Richie"
"Why?" he asked watching her suspiciously. "Why do you all suddenly want to talk to me?" Again Amanda chose silence as the appropriate response. Finally Richie spoke "OK, you're here. I'm listening. Talk!"
Amanda took a deep breath and tried to relax. This wasn't going to be easy. Taking heart from the fact that she'd at least got this far she started by asking quietly "Why did you do it, Richie? Why did you try to protect me?"
Richie looked at her. She was nothing if not direct in her approach. He'd expected some nice platitudes or general conversation first, but this was straight to the crux of the matter.
"I don't know" he answered honestly. "It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It's what Mac would've done."
"Thank you" she replied simply. "I do appreciate it. But you don't have to keep trying to prove yourself to me, or Duncan."
Richie's only answer was to shrug. Amanda searched for a new opening in the conversation.
"It really wasn't necessary" she hazarded.
"What do you mean by that?" Richie asked warily.
"Well, much as though it is always unpleasant it would hardly have been the first time." Richie looked puzzled and she started to explain. "There've been times in my life when the possibility of being raped was the least of my problems. In some places it was normal practice and what was expected of the women. In others it was a minor misdemeanour easily overlooked by the general populace."
"That's horrible, Amanda. How did you bear it?" Richie asked.
"I had to get used to it. There was no alternative." She replied.
"How could you?" Richie sounded less certain of himself than normal. "Didn't you hate the men who did it?"
"Not all rapists are male." Amanda replied wondering where the conversation was leading. "And I eventually learnt that hate is self defeating."
"But...didn't you feel...violated...used...worthless...?" Richie tailed off into silence.
Amanda suddenly realised Richie was no longer talking about her experiences but his own. His questions confirmed something that he'd admitted to her in that cellar and she'd always suspected. Richie had been raped at some point in his life. She had to choose her next words carefully.
"At first...yes." Softly she added the question "Like you did?"
Richie wouldn't look at her. He seemed to be studying the back of his hands intently as he whispered "Yes. It was along time ago..." Richie started speaking then suddenly stopped. Amanda waited silently until finally Richie continued. "I was about 13 and in another new foster home. The family were well liked. You know the type, church going, pillars of the community. Hell, I liked them. At first..."
Richie took another deep breath. "Then, one weekend my foster mother took her kids to their grandparents leaving me behind. I wasn't a real grandchild you see. My foster father went out for a drink and brought a couple of his friends back with him. I was asleep when they arrived. First thing I knew he stormed into my room shouting about something missing. I never did find out what. He grabbed me and shook me a few times. I could smell the alcohol. Then he said I was a little thief and I had it coming..."
Richie stopped and for the first time looked met Amanda's steady gaze. She almost gasped at the bitterness she saw in the usually clear blue eyes. "He tied my hands behind my back with his own belt and he raped me. Then he let his friends have their turn, before he did it again. He left me tied up all night, then the following day he burnt the bloodied sheets."
Richie stopped speaking and returned his gaze to his hands.
"Did you tell someone?" she asked.
"Who'd have believed me" Richie replied bitterly. "Everybody liked him and I was just a scruffy kid from the orphanage."
"What happened?" she prompted.
"The following day, before my foster mother returned, he threatened me. If I ever told he would kill me...and I believed him. I really thought he would. He'd sit and watch me...leer at me. When he found out that I was going to be left with him again the next weekend he made it quite clear that it wasn't over. I was so scared that when the others left I ran." Richie laughed, an oddly cold sound compared to his usual happy laugh. "He never got his chance. I had no money and got caught stealing food, so I spent that weekend at the police station. By the time I was taken back to the house he was furious...said I'd spoilt the family name. I got sent back to the orphanage before that week was out."
Richie looked at Amanda as he continued "It never happened again...I never let it. I trusted no one..."
"You trust Mac?" Amanda asked.
"Yeah. Not at first though...but I do now. I know he'd never hurt me." "No he wouldn't...he loves you" she stated.
"Pity I let him down" Richie replied. "I should've stopped Ulick before you got hurt."
"You did all you could, Richie"
"It wasn't enough" he replied. "I'm an adult now, but I can't protect myself any better than that kid. No wonder everyone still treats me like one. It was my fault that you were kidnapped, assaulted..."
"No, Richie, no" she broke in. "There was nothing you could've done. Ulick took us both out too quickly and after that he didn't play fair. If anyone should feel guilty it's me. That bastard not only raped you, he tortured you. If I hadn't run then maybe..."
"Maybe he'd have tried out his little toys on you too." Richie managed a hollow sounding laugh.
"Don't we make a good pair, both guilt ridden" Amanda forced a small smile. "Must've been associating with a certain brooding Scot for too long."
This time Richie's laugh was genuine...still a bit weak but genuine. "You may be right. How about we do a deal here...you stop feeling guilty and I will?"
"It's a deal" she agreed. "Now, when are you going to see Duncan?"
"Hey, give me a break" Richie replied trying to sound as normal as possible. "I've only just agreed to cut out the guilt."
"He's really worried you know." Amanda watched as Richie looked a bit uncomfortable and decided to push a little. "He hardly slept last night."
"OK, OK you win. I will see him" Richie reassured her. "Just...give me a little time. I have some things I need to sort out first." Richie yawned suddenly.
"Good" she smiled. "Guess I'll leave you in peace now. You look like you could use some sleep."
"I had a rough night too." Richie stood up and offered Amanda a hand up. "Thanks Amanda. Thanks for...well, you know."
"Yes, I know...and thank you." She stopped at the door and turned back to face him. "Whatever you may believe, Duncan doesn't think you're a kid. You're his student and his friend...and he's worried about you."
"I know...and I'll see him soon."
Amanda leaned over and gave him a quick kiss. "Just my way of saying thanks. Goodbye Richie." She opened the door and stepped out quickly, closing the door behind her.
"Bye Amanda." Richie watched her leave before turning towards his bedroom. He really needed to catch up on some sleep.
Methos turned the shower temperature up to its highest setting and stepped under the steaming water. Of all the changes and inventions he'd seen through the millennia indoor plumbing came out on top. Especially indoor plumbing combined with a large hot water tank. Cold water bathing in rivers had never been his favourite pastime by any means.
Picking up the soap he luxuriated in the sensations as he bathed fascinated by the bright red colour his normally pale skin was turning. If he'd been mortal he'd have been worried about it, but since it couldn't kill him, at least not permanently, he ignored it.
Somewhere in the back of his mind he became aware of the phone ringing and then Joe's voice answering. Whatever it was would wait. Nothing was important enough to drag him out of this small taste of heaven.
Eventually it had to end. At the first dip in temperature, a warning of the imminent exhaustion of the hot water supply, Methos quickly turned the shower off and reached for his towel. He dried himself, pulled on his favourite jeans and headed out towards the kitchen to see what new information Joe had found.
Joe looked up at Methos as he entered the room, amused to see the immortal wearing nothing but a pair of very worn jeans. He held a towel in his hands still drying his damp hair and his skin was red, right down to the toes of his bare feet. Joe was struck by how young he looked. He'd often wondered how old Methos had been at his first death but even Methos himself didn't remember that. Looking at him now Joe guessed that he couldn't have been older than his mid twenties. Suddenly realising he was staring Joe decided to break the silence.
"You should've told me you wanted lobster for breakfast" he quipped.
Methos laughed outright. "Hot water is a luxury, Joe, and I'm a confirmed hedonist."
"Yeah, but was there any need to try and cook yourself?" Joe asked. "I'm amazed you didn't get scalded."
"Actually I think I did" Methos replied looking at the skin on his left shoulder, "but I'll heal and it felt so good."
"A hedonist and a sensualist" Joe grumbled. "I don't suppose you left any hot water in the tank, either.
"Not a lot" Methos laughed again. "It'll soon reheat. What information have you managed to find?"
"Well, Connor's watcher has faxed through all the information she can find in his chronicles about his contacts with Ulick, but there isn't very much. Either the Watchers missed something or Connor never met him face to face after he interrupted that last fight with Duncan." Joe stopped for a moment before continuing. "That was headquarters on the phone. I requested that someone check through Ulick's chronicles to see if they are any more informative."
"Yeah, they might just have something..." Methos' voice tailed off. "Wait a minute, you said headquarters phoned here. I don't believe in coincidence. What did they want?"
Joe almost smiled. Methos was quick, he give him that. Probably why he'd survived as long as he had. But Joe knew something he didn't and he was going to enjoy springing it on him. Working really hard to keep the straight face he replied "Oh, just a couple of questions about the closing report on Ulick."
"Why are they asking you? You weren't his Watcher?" Joe could hear the suspicion in his voice.
"No, but I am MacLeod's and it was his kill" Joe replied carefully. "Ulick is very good at losing Watchers when he needs to and his own didn't see what happened. My report will be the only one submitted."
"You weren't there either" Methos commented.
"No but I've been told what happened...and this way there will be no mention made of the part played by a young Watcher researcher from Paris!"
"Oh" Methos relaxed slightly. "I guess that is a good reason."
Joe almost laughed and ruined his efforts, but somehow he got a rein on his amusement. This was his chance to catch Methos off guard. "Actually there was another purpose to the call."
Somehow Joe kept his voice neutral as he answered "Connor's Watcher is unable to follow him and they need me to assign a temporary Watcher whilst he's here."
"Who've you got in mind?" Methos asked.
"I haven't got anybody available at the moment" Joe replied "but they gave me permission to...improvise slightly."
"And?" Methos sounded curious.
"Well, it seems we have a visiting Watcher in town. A young guy, still in research." Joe couldn't help laughing as understanding flashed across Methos' face. "Congratulations, Adam, you just got your first field assignment. You're Connor's new Watcher!"
The slim, dark haired figure leaned against the wall near the arrivals at Seacouver airport. If the information from the Watchers was correct and there had been no delays along the way Connor should be arriving on the next flight. Methos wanted to talk to him before he had a chance to see his stubborn clansman. To be honest, he was also rather keen to meet the famous Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, their paths having never crossed before.
Connor had something of a reputation for being a headhunter, but he chose his targets for good reasons and his quarry was always the kind of immortal that could not be allowed to be the last. His last visit to Seacouver had been on one such hunting trip although, in the end, Slan Quince's quickening had gone to the younger MacLeod. At least Methos knew that Connor wouldn't take his head without good reason.
Methos thought back over the events of the last few days. The death of Ulick had been necessary and if anything long overdue. He just wished that they could've prevented Richie's suffering at the hands of such a sadist and, far more importantly, the subsequent strain in his student / mentor relationship with Duncan. Methos hoped that this damage could be repaired with a little help from their friends. Besides it seemed that Connor, himself, might have some things he needed to straighten out with Duncan. The Watcher records weren't very helpful, but Methos knew that Duncan still hadn't forgotten what Ulick had said during their fight. In fact he suspected that, had Duncan not considered Richie to be his highest priority, Connor may have been lucky not to have had an irate phone call from a very determined, and annoyed, clansman.
So here he was, the world's oldest immortal, assigned as Watcher to the older MacLeod. The humour in the situation hadn't escaped either Joe or Methos when Joe had told him. They'd both laughed for some time. Now however, the situation was real. He knew that there was no way he could operate like a normal Watcher. Connor would feel his buzz as soon as he arrived.
Methos had thought about this first meeting very carefully. Connor would certainly be extremely uneasy about another immortal presence, especially an unknown one, until he had collected his luggage and sword. If Methos wanted to speak to him on equal terms then he'd better be unarmed too, or at least appear to be. He'd chosen to wear tight jeans and a pullover, leaving his coat in the back of his car. This gave him no place to conceal his sword. Connor should not see him as a threat in his apparent unarmed state. Methos allowed himself a small smile, the appropriate word in that previous thought being apparent. Methos never allowed himself to be completely unarmed.
The first few passengers from the New York flight began appearing. These were the businessmen, rushing to their meetings. Following them were the bulk of the passengers, who proceeded to mill around the luggage carousels. Methos watched the crowd pushing and jostling for a place near the conveyor belt, each eager to get their bags and be away. Then he felt it, the presence of a fellow immortal. The buzz ran through his head strong and sure. This was no new born but a seasoned campaigner made strong by age and quickenings.
Methos scanned the last few passengers. One figure stood out from the rest, a tall man wearing a tan coat. He walked slowly, his eyes sweeping across the crowd. As this search reached him, Methos straightened slightly, caught the steady gaze of the other immortal and gave a single nod. Connor's eyes never wavered as he made his way through the crowd, which seemed to part before him. He stopped about a few feet from Methos, taking in the lack of any obvious weapons and the relaxed way the stranger stood with his empty hands clearly visible at his sides.
"I'm Connor MacLeod, of the clan MacLeod" he introduced himself in the formal manner of immortals meeting for the first time "and you are?"
"Unarmed" Methos replied quickly before adding "and a friend of your clansman."
Connor didn't miss the fact that he had been given no name in exchange. "I'm not here to visit. I have...business...in town."
"You are hunting." It wasn't a question. "Morven Ulick."
Connor acknowledged the truth with a nod of his head "You know him? Is he a friend?"
"He was no one's friend" Methos replied "but I did know him...briefly."
Although somewhat surprised by the use of the past tense and realising the reason for it's use, Connor showed no outward reaction. "You took his head?" he asked.
"No, Duncan did, a few days ago." Methos added quietly "I'd never seen him before, but if I had, I'd have taken the bastard years ago."
"Duncan? What happened?" Connor asked anxiously. "Did Ulick fight fairly?"
"Initially no. Ulick took Amanda and Richie as bait. She escaped. I found her and took her back to Duncan. Once she'd recovered she led us to him." Methos paused and looked at Connor before continuing "Ulick used Richie to distract Mac, and it would've worked. Between us, Amanda and I ensured the fight was fair and Duncan took him"
"What aren't you telling me?" Connor asked recognising the fact that this was a much-shortened story.
"Ulick tortured Richie" Methos replied. "Mainly to upset Duncan, in which he of course succeeded, but also for his own pleasure."
"And?" Connor prompted.
"Richie hasn't come to terms with his feelings and Duncan doesn't know what to do to help." Methos watched Connor closely and continued "This has put a serious strain on their relationship and could tear them apart. I don't want to see that happen."
"What is Duncan to you?" Connor asked curiously.
"He's my saviour" Methos replied, a slight smile crossing his features. "He took on another immortal in my place when I was so out of practice I'd have probably lost my head." Methos' smile faded and he studied Connor, who was looking somewhat surprised. "He's also the best hope for humanity. I've never met a more honourable immortal. The first time we met I offered him my head, almost begged him to take it and my power, but he wouldn't. This is hurting him and I'm worried that if Richie leaves now he may not recover. He's too important to lose."
Connor watched the man standing in front of him carefully. Although they had never met before he was convinced that this last statement was the complete truth. But what a thing to tell someone in a first meeting; saviour? What had Duncan done to deserve that honour? Whatever it was it must've been a major event in both their lives, but one that Duncan hadn't told him about. Still, there was something this stranger was hiding. Suddenly a thought occurred to Connor. "This wasn't just a chance meeting was it? How did you know I'd be here?"
Methos thought for a couple of seconds before replying "Has Mac told you about the Watchers?"
"The mortals who watch us and record what we do? Yes" Connor nodded.
Methos eased the sleeve of his pullover up slightly and showed Connor the tattoo. "The Watchers always try to know where every immortal is. I'm..."
"You're the immortal Watcher Duncan told me he'd met. So you must be Adam Pierson" Connor interrupted. At Methos' nod he continued "What are you doing here? Why are you in Seacouver? I thought you were a researcher in Paris."
"I am...I came to...warn Mac about Ulick." Methos gave Connor a crooked grin and added, "and I'm here because I've been appointed as your temporary Watcher."
"You aren't watched yourself?" Connor asked.
"No the Watchers don't know I'm immortal...and I'd like it to stay that way" Methos replied. "It's the best hiding place I've found in ages."
"I certainly won't tell them" Connor reassured him. "Damned peeping Toms!"
Methos laughed. "I think that's the luggage starting to arrive. Let's get your bags and I'll give you a lift into town."
"OK" Connor replied. "I'll just be glad to have my sword back. How do you tolerate being unarmed?"
Methos smiled as they rejoined the passengers milling around the baggage carousel. "Well now, who says I'm unarmed?"
Duncan was in the dojo. Amanda had tricked him, sending him out running and then disappearing whilst he was gone. She'd left no note, but one of his credit cards was missing again. After two hours his initial annoyance was beginning to turn to concern.
Deciding that he needed to burn off some of the barely contained energy and at the same time try to find some peace in his mind he went down to the dojo. After an initial warm up he started with the most basic karate katas gradually working his way through the list to the more complex ones. Completing these he picked up his katana and started another set of forms. He was beginning to find the calm centre he was seeking when the sense of an approaching immortal washed over him. He turned to face the door, katana in hand and waited for the other to enter.
Amanda walked into the dojo and saw Duncan. One look at his face and she knew she was in trouble. She smiled brightly and said "Hi Mac. Sorry I took so long. I just thought you might like some breakfast." She held up a bag containing fresh bagels.
"Really" he growled. "And this little endeavour took you what...two hours? Did you have to cook them yourself?"
"Mac, that's not fair." She started inching along the edge of the dojo trying to get to the elevator. "I wanted to do some shopping too."
"What no bags?" he replied as he moved to place himself between her and her escape route. "Shopping usually generates lots of those."
"I didn't find what I wanted" she mumbled. Suddenly realising that his stalking movements were about to cut her off, she made a bolt for the elevator. It didn't work. They reached the gate together and before she knew what was happening she found herself pressed against the metal, held in place by strong hands.
Duncan looked at the squirming female he held. Amanda wasn't the only immortal lover he'd taken by any means, but she was the most important. She was the one he kept returning to throughout the centuries, and she to him. His 'bad habit' he'd once told Tessa. Well, right now his bad habit was being a very bad girl. Shifting the grip of his right hand he eased the katana, he still carried, away from her body so that it wouldn't accidentally hurt her.
"Now," he spoke softly near her ear "where've you been and what were you doing?"
She wriggled again, well aware of the effect on her captor. Hearing Duncan suddenly gasp, she put on her best innocent puppy dog look and said "Does it matter? I'm here now, and we're alone."
Duncan pulled her hands down to her sides, holding them against her and effectively preventing any further movement. "Yes, it matters. Now tell."
Amanda sighed. Once he made his mind up like this there was no changing the subject. She really didn't want to tell him she'd seen Richie. Not yet anyway. Duncan needed to feel like he was the one solving all the problems; the leader of the clan. Unfortunately, this time he was part of the problem and he wasn't in any position to solve it alone. He hated to admit he needed help. Slowly she looked at him and saw the determination in the brown eyes.
"I went out early this morning, right after you left. I...just...needed some air."
"Really?" he sounded sceptical. "Where did you go?"
She thought for a second before replying "I was walking...just walking..." her voice trailed off and both she and Duncan stiffened suddenly.
The buzz of an immortal stopped the conversation in it's tracks. Duncan released Amanda and stood facing the door his katana still in his hand. Amanda stayed pressed against the gate but slipped her hand inside her coat and checked for her sword. The door opened.
"Hello, Mac" Methos walked into the dojo with all his characteristic grace. Taking in the scene before him he guessed what had been happening. "Hi Amanda. What's in the bag?"
Amanda held the bag up to him as he approached "Breakfast."
"Ooh, bagels. And they're still hot." Methos winked at Amanda. "What are you doing standing around here? Let's go eat." Quickly he lifted the gate and escorted Amanda onto the elevator.
Duncan watched all this. Something felt wrong and he couldn't place it. Suddenly it struck him. The buzzing in his skull hadn't faded as it normally did once he saw the approaching immortal. In fact if anything it'd just increased. Dimly he heard Methos speak again "By the way Mac, I met an old friend of yours at the airport."
Duncan turned back towards the door just in time to see Connor enter. The two men looked each other over.
Their traditional greeting over they stepped forward and embraced each other like the long time friends they were. For a few moments they stood there just enjoying the moment.
Methos took the opportunity to hit the button for the loft and leave the two Highlanders to their reunion. There would be time to talk later.
"Why did you do it Duncan?" Connor asked. "Why couldn't you leave him for me?"
"I couldn't wait for you" Duncan replied. "After what Amanda saw I couldn't leave Richie there any longer...as it was I was too late to save him from that bastard's sickness." Duncan took a long sip of his scotch. The argument had been going on for some time now and they were just going round in circles. "He owed me his head."
"Ulick was mine" Connor slammed his glass down on the counter.
"What do you mean, Ulick was yours?" Duncan roared at his older clansman. "It wasn't your student he tortured."
"Not this time, no." Connor wouldn't look at him. In fact Connor wouldn't look at anything but the floor and for the first time Duncan realised that there was something much more important behind this argument than the simple matter of who'd taken Ulick's head. He watched as Connor slowly turned and leaned against the kitchen counter, his entire body radiated exhaustion and regret.
"Tell me Connor" Duncan said quietly. "What did he do?"
Connor glanced into the living area where Amanda and Methos were sitting talking to Joe. They were all studiously ignoring the heated conversation in the kitchen, despite the fact that most of it had been at a volume they would've had to be deaf to miss.
"Can't your Watcher friends tell you that?" The bitterness in Connor voice was all Duncan needed to hear to convince him that this was a subject he and Connor had to talk about. Their relationship was just too important to them both. They had long since passed the mentor and student stage and reached the realm of real friends. Friendships between immortals could last for centuries, or even millennia, but they were hard to form and difficult to protect. Trust between immortals was a fragile thing, hard won, and the Game had a nasty habit of interfering. Duncan was not going to lose Connor because of someone like Ulick.
"I don't want the Watcher's version...I want your story" Duncan replied carefully. He glanced across the room to find Methos observing him. As their eyes met Methos nodded once and smiled slightly before apparently returning his concentration to the conversation around him. Duncan took a deep breath and looked at Connor and asked "Will you tell me?"
"Why not?" Connor shrugged looking defeated. "It's just another tale of man's inhumanity, or in this case immortal inhumanity. Them too?" he indicated the group in the living area.
"If you can. I'd prefer it, and it would save a lot of time later, but it's up to you."
Connor turned, stood up straight and faced Duncan. Picking up his discarded glass he replied. "OK then, but you'd better have a new bottle of this scotch...it's rather a long story."
Together the two Highlanders walked into the main area. Connor sat down whilst Duncan collected a new bottle of scotch. He checked the other's drinks were full then joined the group. For several seconds no one spoke, the silence seemed to thicken around them. Finally Joe decided this was silly.
"Did you two get everything settled then?" he asked.
The question was irrelevant and they all knew it, but it served its purpose as Duncan replied "No, but we did make one decision."
"And that was?" Methos prompted.
"I tell you all why I should've been the one to take Ulick's Quickening." Connor replied.
"I need to know why it was so important" Duncan continued "and this way I won't have to give Joe all the details later."
"Some of this will be in the Chronicles but do you mind if I add any bits that are missing?" Joe asked Connor.
"No, you might as well have the truth. If we don't learn from our mistakes we're doomed to repeat them." Connor took a long drink from his glass and started his story.
"I'm not sure where Ulick was born, unless the Watchers know..." Joe shook his head and Connor continued. "Well, he was found in Wales in the early 1500s. I do know this because the immortal who found him was Ramirez. He never told me how long he'd been there or how long he'd been immortal, just that that was where he found him, and that he'd been living alone for some time. Now Ramirez already had a student at the time, Irene, who was still very new, and he didn't feel he could take on another. Instead he took Ulick with them to another of his ex students and left him with him."
Connor looked around the four interested faces. "This was the first and probably biggest mistake Ramirez made. Ulick believed that women were mere property, to be used as and when he required. When Ramirez chose to find a new teacher for Ulick and keep Irene with him, Ulick took that as a personal affront." Connor stopped and took another drink.
Methos used the time to look around at the other listeners. Duncan was calm, a study in stoicism, showing no emotion. Amanda looked annoyed, probably by the reference to women being property. Even Joe had tensed up slightly when he heard this, but he continued to listen carefully to every word his watcher training showing through. Methos was making a studied effort to keep his usual relaxed sprawl. Connor's story was awakening some of his less pleasant memories, ones he'd buried deep in the darkest recesses of his mind. Briefly he wondered what the others would think if they knew the truth of his past, that he had committed worse crimes than Ulick. He was sure that they'd be shocked. It was quite possible that Duncan would judge him, declare him irredeemable and try for his head. It would be well within his normal judgmental behaviour. Methos pushed these depressing thoughts aside as Connor resumed speaking.
"As far as I know, Ramirez and Ulick never met again. He mentioned him to me when I asked what would've happened to me if he hadn't found me or if he'd had another student at the time. What I do know is that Ulick failed to learn enough about fighting from his new teacher. Whether this was because his teacher wasn't very good, either at swordplay or teaching, or because Ulick himself was incapable of learning isn't known, but whatever the cause Ulick was barely competent with a sword at best." Connor stopped and took another look round his audience. "I believe the latter...Ramirez's students were always well trained."
"Exactly what happened next I'm not sure. I know word reached Ulick that Irene had left Ramirez and he expected him to return to become his teacher. When Ramirez didn't it seems Ulick decided that he still wanted to be taught by the best. He took his teacher's head, possibly in his sleep, and set out to visit Irene. She later told me he arrived, begging for help, claiming his teacher had been killed by an unknown immortal. He also told her that he was being hunted too and that he was searching for Ramirez. Irene let him stay with her overnight intending to give him directions to find Ramirez the next day."
Methos watched Connor take a long drink from his glass before continuing.
"In the middle of the night Ulick attacked her. Apparently he still hated her because Ramirez chose her over him. Fortunately she was as good as all Ramirez's other students. She beat him, but instead of taking his worthless head, she spared him and threw him out without telling him where Ramirez was. He must have searched, unsuccessfully for several years."
"Where was Ramirez during this time?" Joe prompted when Connor seemed to be getting lost in memories.
"In Scotland...training his last student." A slight smile crossed Connor's face as he thought of his much missed mentor and again he lapsed into silence.
This time it was Duncan who asked "What happened next?" "Ulick found out that Ramirez was dead and that he'd not only failed to return for him but he'd taken a new student in the meantime. He started searching for me. He wasn't very successful and it was about three years after Heather's death before he found me."
"Was this when you fought him?" Joe asked "The Watchers have a record of a meeting between you."
"Yes, he challenged me and I won. I should've killed him there and then, but as I paused ready to take his head he told me he was another of Ramirez's students. I didn't know the truth at the time and in Ramirez's memory I let him go. If only I'd known the truth." Connor stopped speaking again.
"When did you next see him?" Joe asked.
"Not until the time he tried to take Duncan." Connor replied, "but that was some years later. In those intervening years I travelled and met several other immortals. By then stories about Ulick and his hunting methods were spreading. Having decided that he couldn't win a fair fight he started to cheat. He chose mainly the newest immortals but even then he would use mortals as both bait and extra help in his fights."
Connor stopped and looked directly at Duncan. "That was why I knew about him that day in the inn...and why I knew you couldn't trust him to make a fair challenge. I knew you could beat him in a fair fight, but I didn't trust him and didn't want to lose you."
"Why didn't you take him when he killed me later?" Duncan demanded angrily. "You knew he was cheating and you knew he'd do it again. You should have finished it then."
"I don't know." Connor couldn't look at them. "Part of me wanted to, knew I should, but the rest of me still saw him as another immortal that Ramirez rescued. I thought his behaviour was due to lack of understanding and incomplete training. I planned to find him later, and teach him what he needed to know." Connor spoke so softly now Methos had to strain to hear him. "I never realised what a sadistic bastard he was...until it was too late."
"Too late for what?" Amanda spoke for the first time since the story had begun.
"Too late for Irene...and Nicole" Connor whispered.
"Nicole?" she asked gently.
Connor forced himself to look up. Taking a deep breath he continued the story. "After Duncan left me I started my search for Ulick. Eventually this led me to Irene...and there I met Nicole. She was Irene's student. Young, intelligent and beautiful...and I loved her. She woke feelings in me that I thought I'd buried with Heather. She didn't deserve..." Connor tailed off again.
"What happened to her?" Amanda asked.
"Ulick happened." The bitterness in Connor's voice was obvious. "Whilst I was staying with them Irene told me what had happened between her and Ulick and what she suspected he'd done to his original teacher. I was determined to hunt him down and confront him. As it happened, he was hunting...us. Ulick never forgave Ramirez and he never forgot his hatred of Irene or myself. He truly believed that we were the reason Ramirez wouldn't mentor him. I wonder if Ramirez had any idea what kind of man he was?"
Methos recognised the look that crossed Connor's face. He'd seen it too often on his own. It was a look of complete despair.
"Ulick wanted our attention and he got it. He kidnapped Nicole."
"Did you find her?" This time it was Joe who prompted Connor.
"Oh yes, we found her. Everyday, for nearly a month, Ulick would leave a box somewhere on the edge of Irene's estate. Each box contained...pieces...of Nicole. First a finger or a toe, then her arm. The bastard cut her up, slowly...but he didn't take her head. At least, not immediately." Methos could feel the hatred and bitterness in Connor. No one deserved to suffer like that.
"The whole of the time this was happening Irene and I searched but no matter where we looked we couldn't find him. Finally, when he'd butchered her alive, he took her quickening and sent us her head and an address. I argued with Irene. She wanted to go alone but I wouldn't let her, so she slipped a knife in me. When I revived she was gone, and I never saw her again." Connor looked up and faced Duncan across the room. "I know he took her quickening, he made sure that I heard that, but he didn't tell me how. I never found her body."
"I spent the next twenty years hunting Ulick. Eventually he left the country and I lost him. Ever since then I've searched for him, but never got close. Meanwhile he has hunted the young and the weak, using tricks and cheating. He's been systematically wiping out all Ramirez's students, and their students too. He was particularly keen on those immortals Irene or I mentored. I've lost more students to him than any other immortal and each time he took one he'd send me something as a trophy, to remind me he was still out there." Connor looked at Duncan. "I got a tip off that he was coming here and I knew his target had to be you. I have few students left. You are more than that to me...you are my clansman and my friend. I couldn't let him take you. I couldn't lose you too."
When Connor finished his story he sat staring at his hands folded in his lap. Methos watched as Duncan moved until he was kneeling on the floor in front of Connor. Carefully he took his mentor's hands in his own, offering support and understanding. No words were spoken. They weren't needed. Their previous argument was forgotten as Duncan shared his clansman's grief.
Methos nodded to Amanda and Joe and the three of them moved away and into the kitchen.
The sleeping figure stirred slightly, drawing Methos' attention, but didn't wake. Methos was relieved, deciding that Duncan would continue to sleep. He rather suspected that it had been several days since Duncan had got any real rest.
The two of them were alone in the loft. Joe and Amanda had left shortly after Connor finished his story, ostensibly to check on Joe's bar, but in reality to give the two Clansmen the privacy they required. Methos himself had retreated to the dojo office.
Connor had appeared in the office a couple of hours later, announcing his need for a long walk and some time to think. Methos had been surprised when the older Highlander had reached out and shaken his hand. Seeing his confusion, Connor had smiled slightly and expressed his thanks for the push Methos had given him to tell Duncan the truth. He'd even admitted that without this they would probably both have skirted around the subject for weeks, never resolving anything and leaving a permanent scar in their friendship. Things still weren't perfect between the two of them, but they were at least improving.
Methos waited for a further hour in hope that Duncan would come down from the loft. Predictably the younger Highlander had refused to leave the building in case Richie returned; predictable, but not good. This would almost certainly involve him sitting brooding for hours, which was not what Methos wanted to see. Eventually Methos had decided to go up to the loft and find out.
He'd found Duncan half-sitting and half-lying on the bed, an open book still in his hand. Evidently the tension and exhaustion of the last few days and the emotional scene between him and his clansman had finally caught up with him. Gently Methos had eased the book from the relaxed fingers, made himself comfortable on the sofa and settled down to keep watch.
This was two hours ago and Duncan still slept, although less peacefully now. He was restless and Methos could hear him mumbling an odd word. Quietly he moved towards the bed, guessing that whatever horrors Duncan was seeing would wake him soon.
Again Duncan found himself in the cellar. Nothing in the room itself appeared different, the bare walls and pipe work remained unchanged but something was new. Duncan forced himself to look up at the beaten figure hanging limply from the silvery handcuffs.
Richie was barely, if at all, conscious. His abused back and legs were red raw, a mass of dried blood and semen. Large open burns and wounds covered most of what was left of his skin.
Suddenly Duncan became aware of the difference in the room; the stench of burning flesh was almost overpowering.
"Why don't you stop this? Mac? Please stop this!" Richie's voice was weak, almost a whisper. Duncan had to strain to hear it.
Once again Duncan found himself unable to answer. Slowly, dreading what he might see there, he looked at his hands to find his worst fears confirmed. This time it wasn't a knife or a belt he held. In his hand was a large metal rod heated until the end glowed red-hot. Horrified he watched as against his will his hand raised the rod.
"Why is this happening, Mac? You can stop it? You could've prevented it" Richie's voice sounded desperate now. Duncan tried to force a reply, but his body wouldn't respond to his commands.
"Stop this, Mac, please stop this!" Richie begged.
Duncan looked again at the rod in his hand as it slowly moved towards Richie's exposed buttocks...
"No, No, NO!" Duncan's shout cut through the silence in the loft. Methos, who'd just reached the side of the bed watched as Duncan jerked upright. His eyes were open, but obviously focussed on something only he could see and he was trembling violently. His mouth moved, but no further sounds escaped.
Suddenly Duncan grabbed his own right wrist in his left hand. Squeezing hard and for several seconds he appeared to be fighting a battle against his own body. Sweat poured down his face and he continued to shake all over but he refused to release the wrist. In fact, he just continued to increase the pressure until Methos heard the distinct sound of cracking bones.
"MacLeod...Mac" Methos spoke gently, being very careful not to get too close to the other man. "Mac...it's OK...it's a dream, Mac...just a dream" The trembling reduced slightly, but there was no recognition in the eyes of the Scot. "MacLeod" Methos tried again. "Mac...it's just a dream...wake up, Mac...come back to me, Duncan"
Suddenly the glazed eyes cleared, almost as if Methos' rare use of his given name was the trigger. Recognition dawned and for a brief moment deep brown eyes met golden green ones. Then the strong body seemed to collapse, curling in on itself, great tremors running through it.
Now Duncan was free of the nightmare visions Methos moved to the bed and sat beside his friend. Slowly he reached out and touched Duncan's shoulder. Feeling the bed shift under the new weight Duncan looked up at Methos. Seeing the concern in his friend's eyes Duncan forced himself to stop shaking and sit up straighter, unconsciously rubbing his right wrist.
"Let me see" Methos said calmly as he took the damaged limb in his own. A brief examination reassured him that the breaks had been clean and that Duncan's immortal healing would soon repair it. "No problem there, it's nearly fixed" he commented.
Duncan didn't reply, his mind obviously still struggling to separate reality and whatever visions he had seen in his nightmares. When Duncan showed no signs of responding Methos decided to prompt him.
"That was quite a bad one" he commented gently. "Do you want to talk about it?" He didn't really expect the Scot to take him up on the offer but to his surprise Duncan started speaking in a shaky voice.
"I was back in that cellar with Richie...he was...being hurt. Ulick wasn't there." Duncan's voice was getting weaker and Methos had to strain to hear him. "It was...it was me. I was the one hurting him. He kept asking me why. I couldn't tell him." Duncan took a deep breath and looked up to find Methos watching him carefully. Methos tightened the grip on Duncan's right hand that he still held. Keeping the eye contact Duncan continued "He begged me to stop, pleaded with me, but I couldn't. I couldn't stop it. I just couldn't..."
Duncan's voice broke and with it his fragile hold on his composure. Before he realised what was happening Methos had drawn him into his arms and was holding him as the tension of the previous days was released in great gasping sobs. Slowly Methos eased himself and Duncan further onto the bed making the two of them as comfortable as possible and gently he stroked the Highlander's long hair.
After a while the sobs quieted, leaving just a few silent tears and Duncan slowly became aware that Methos was speaking quiet words of reassurance to him. Pulling back slightly he looked up, half expecting to see contempt in the eyes of the older man. What he did find was compassion and shared pain.
"There was nothing you could've done to prevent it" Methos' words finally started to penetrate the guilt surrounding the younger man. As Duncan turned to face Methos the irony of the situation hit him and the slightly amused look in Methos' eyes showed that it wasn't lost on him either. How long had it been, Duncan wondered, since he'd held Richie in the same way?
Suddenly embarrassed Duncan pulled himself away from Methos and sat on the edge of the bed with his back to his friend. Methos watched him as Duncan carefully rubbed the tear stains from his face. He knew that Duncan needed to talk, to get his thoughts straight and put his own pain behind him. Then, and only then, could he help Richie and begin to repair the strained relationship with his youngest student. The problem would be getting the stubborn and proud man to admit it. If Methos let Duncan run away from himself now he would likely never sort out his feelings and, even though Duncan had taken his head, Ulick would have one final victory. Methos couldn't let this happen and decided that if he was going to give Duncan the push he needed it was now or never.
"MacLeod" there was no response from the younger man. "Mac, it's OK. I think you needed that."
Duncan's reply was barely a mumble. Methos didn't manage to make out very much of what he said, but guessed it was along the lines that tears solved nothing.
"Mac, come on" Methos tried again. "Talk to me, Mac. You know it will help."
"Too much talking and not enough action" Duncan replied quietly. "That's what started this in the first place."
"No it wasn't" Methos countered. "What started this was one very sick individual, and you finished him. Now you need to repair the damage, and you can't do that while you're hiding from your own feelings."
Duncan didn't reply, but Methos saw a slight lessening of the tension in the broad shoulders. Once again he decided to risk pushing the younger man.
"Mac" There was still no reply. Remembering the Highlander's earlier reaction to Methos' use of his given name he tried one more time. "Duncan, tell me how you feel."
Methos didn't really expect any form of response but for the second time Duncan surprised him with a reply.
"I feel...anger most of all. Anger that Richie was used to get at me" he began tentatively. "I thought that killing Ulick would solve that, but it hasn't. I'm angry with myself for letting it happen and I feel so guilty. I wish I'd spent longer hunting for Ulick after our first meeting. If I had this would never have happened. And I'm really angry with Connor..." he trailed off.
"What else Mac?" Methos prompted when he seemed reluctant to continue. He was well aware that the situation with Connor was far from completely resolved, but the more immediate problem was Richie.
"I'm frightened that I'll lose Richie again" Duncan admitted. "When I sent him away after he took Mako's head I thought I was right, that it was time. I didn't stop to consider what he felt. He left thinking I never wanted to see him again and I almost lost him for good. If Hyde hadn't chased him back to me I don't know if he would ever have returned. Now he has I want him to stay. I'm scared to let him go."
"You can't protect them for ever" Methos said quietly. Duncan looked up and saw his own pain and fear reflected in the older immortal's eyes. "They have to make their own way. The best you can hope for is that they will survive and you will remain friends."
"I know" Duncan said in a resigned voice. "I just don't know what's best to do now. How can I prevent this tearing Richie away and destroying our friendship for ever?"
"You may not be able to Highlander" At Duncan's distressed look he continued more gently "But you can try. Richie may not be ready to talk to you yet but you can talk to him. Tell him what you told me, how important his friendship is. Offer your support, but don't push or he may feel trapped and run." Methos looked up to see Duncan watching him. He reached out and took the large hands in his own as he continued "Talk to him, explain your feelings but don't ask about his own. He needs to understand what you feel before he'll be able to sort out his own feelings."
"But what if he won't see me?" Duncan sounded unusually uncertain. "He left here so abruptly, and I don't want to chase after him...I might scare him into really leaving."
"Don't worry, he'll come to you when he is ready to talk" Methos replied. "I'll make sure he does" he added under his breath.
"Not now Highlander" Methos stood and still holding Duncan's hands pulled him to his feet. "You need time to think, and so does Richie. Tomorrow will be soon enough."
Methos turned and started to release Duncan's hands, only to find the younger immortal tightened his grip. He looked up to find Duncan's deep brown eyes, still reddened from his tears, watching him closely. For several seconds they stood there, neither one moving, neither one wanting to be the one to pull away.
Eventually Duncan took a slow deep breath and spoke quietly "Thank you, I owe you for this one".
"That's what friends are for, MacLeod" Methos replied. Suddenly breaking the mood he gave a lopsided grin and tugged Duncan in the direction of the kitchen. "And you can pay me back in beer."
Duncan followed the older man, unable to stop the soft laugh that escaped his lips.
It was late and Methos stood outside Richie's apartment block. Once Connor and Amanda had returned to the dojo he'd left saying that he was going to spend the night at Joe's. Duncan would be with them and they weren't about to let him sink back into his brooding.
Now, however, Methos was worried. Twice since leaving the dojo he had felt the presence of another immortal. At first he'd thought either Connor or Amanda must be following him for some reason, but he hadn't been approached. Seacouver wasn't exactly a popular immortal centre and most of those who did visit the area came to see the younger Highlander, with or without their swords drawn. Whoever was there had been very careful to stay just on the edge of sensing range but out of sight. Methos sighed, there was nothing he could do now, and he had a more important concern for the evening. The unknown immortal would just have to wait for the morning.
Walking casually to the door of the building Methos spotted Richie's Watcher observing him. Fortunately it wasn't one he recognised and he hoped his late night visit would go unrecorded. He quickly let himself in, the poor quality lock providing little challenge since Amanda had briefed him and once inside made his way to Richie's apartment.
To his surprise Richie was waiting at the door although his Rapier was notable by its absence. Amanda's account of her visit had led him to expect far worse and this was an improvement; a small one maybe, but still a definite improvement.
"Adam. I might've known. What is it with you guys?" Richie asked "Still checking up on me? Don't you ever call first?"
"Not if I can avoid it" Methos replied a hint of humour in his voice, "and definitely not when the Highlander is involved." He pointedly looked at Richie's arm that still blocked his way and asked, "Are you going to let me in?"
"Are you going to leave if I don't?"
Methos just shook his head.
"Guess you'd better come in then" Richie waited until Methos had passed him before carefully closing and locking the door. Turning round he saw Methos standing in the middle of the floor looking around him in surprise. Starting from Amanda's description the room was almost unrecognisable. The piles of magazines, clothes and general junk that normally covered every flat surface had vanished. The floor had been recently swept and the furniture washed and polished. The overall impression was that of a hotel room, clean and tidy, but completely impersonal.
"Been having a garage sale?" Methos asked dryly.
"Not really" Richie sounded a little flustered. "I always meant to clear up some time and...well...I kept waking up and I...erm...needed to...well...you know..." Richie trailed off.
"Actually I do know" Methos replied quietly "All too well."
They lapsed into an uneasy silence, neither man sure how to start the conversation. Eventually Methos chose the easiest option.
"You got any beer?"
"Yeah" Richie replied. By the time he had fetched a couple of bottles from the refrigerator Methos was sprawled on the sofa. Richie handed a bottle to the older man and settled down facing him.
"How's Mac?" Richie broke the silence that was threatening to take over again.
"Brooding" Methos replied carefully.
"This isn't easy for him."
"It wasn't especially easy for me either" Richie snapped. "How do you think it feels to be treated like a slave, to be beaten and raped? Not because you deserve it, just to please some perverted twisted mind. Imagine what it feels like to be broken." Richie looked at the floor and added softly "How do you think it feels to have to beg for it to happen?"
"Repulsed, sickened, frightened, disgusted" Methos replied carefully not looking at Richie. "And that isn't the worst of it, is it? You hate your captor for what he's doing, but you hate yourself even more for letting him. And when it's all over you have nothing left. You feel wretched and worthless." Methos looked up and met Richie's blue eyes "Am I close?"
"It happened to you" Richie breathed. "When, and who?"
"Long ago, very long ago. As for who, that doesn't matter anymore. They are all long since dead, mortal and immortal alike."
"But how did you...well...you know..." Richie stopped unable to put the question he needed to ask into words.
"Survive? Get past it? Carry on?" Methos met Richie's gaze again and saw the truth in his guesses. "With great difficulty...the first time. After that it got easier?"
"Easier? How many times has this happened?" Richie blurted out.
"I never counted, but more times than I care to remember."
"More times...? How old are you?" Richie asked.
"Older than MacLeod...or Amanda" Methos replied, careful to avoid answering the question directly.
"As old as Darius?" Richie asked remembering the oldest immortal he had met.
"Yes" Methos replied softly "we were friends."
"Wow" Richie fell silent, staring at the floor, as he tried to comprehend the vast age of the young looking immortal before him.
For a long time the two sat in silence. Methos watched Richie struggle to accept what little he had given away and wondered how the younger immortal would react if he told him the whole truth. Eventually Richie looked up and again met Methos' steady gaze.
"Does it ever stop...hurting...I mean...?" Richie couldn't find the words but Methos knew exactly what he was asking.
"Yes, but not unless you make it."
"And how am I supposed to do that?" Richie asked tersely.
"Well, I always found it important to start by repairing the damage where I could" Methos explained. "When I'd fixed the little things the bigger ones often didn't seem so daunting." Methos looked up and smiled slightly "At least you won't have to try to explain your death and resurrection!"
Richie found an answering smile on his face before he realised it "That's true."
"You do, however, have to patch up your friendship with a certain stubborn Scot" Methos added more seriously.
"I know," Richie lapsed into silence. Neither saying anything; each waiting for the other to start. Methos watched the younger man, trying to gauge his thoughts by the brief flashes of expression that crossed his face. Eventually Richie spoke again, quietly, as if to himself. "I can't do it. I can't face him. I just can't run to him again."
"Again?" Methos queried, guessing what Richie was referring to but hoping to draw Richie out.
"Martin Hyde" Richie couldn't look at Methos as he spoke. "He hounded me, forced me to run to Mac." Taking a deep breath Richie continued to speak. "It seems like all I ever do, all I'm ever going to be able to do, is go running back to Mac. How am I supposed exist like that? What kind of immortal will that make me? Will I ever be able to survive on my own?" Richie stopped speaking but continued to stare at the floor, unable to meet Methos' eyes.
"Live, grow stronger, fight another day" Methos said into the silence surrounding them. "I've lived by that for longer than I can remember. I've even said it to MacLeod on occasion."
"There is no but, Richie. It's a straightforward statement of fact. You'll only be a victim as long as you let yourself be. While you live you can always grow stronger. There is no fight worth dying for." Methos reached across and touched the younger immortal's hand making sure he had his full attention before he continued to speak. "You are immortal. Keep your head and you have all the time in the world. How you choose to use that time, that's up to you."
Richie finally looked at Methos. He saw no sign of either amusement or contempt in the green gold eyes, just total and complete understanding. The idea that an older immortal, probably the oldest immortal Richie had ever met, could understand what he was feeling was somewhat disconcerting and not a little unnerving. Sensing what Richie was feeling and not wanting to make him any more uncomfortable, Methos withdrew his hand and waited for Richie to speak.
"What do I do about Mac? I want to stay friends. I just don't know how to do it."
"Start with what you do know, or can figure out" Methos advised. "What do you think he's feeling right now?"
"Guilt!" Richie managed a weak smile.
"That almost goes without saying" Methos answered the smile "But what else?"
"Anger?" Richie guessed.
"Yes, anger. At Ulick, at fate and even at Connor." Methos saw the confusion cross Richie's face. "Apparently he and Ulick had some previous encounters and MacLeod believes Connor should have taken him years ago." Methos, paused watching the younger immortal digest that information, before prompting him towards the main point of the discussion. "Do you think it's possible that he is feeling the same doubts and fears as you?"
"What? Mac? Frightened?" Richie sounded almost shocked. "You have to be joking!"
"It's no joke" Methos stated. "MacLeod feels these things just like the rest of us; he just hides it better. In this case he has begun to doubt his ability, both as a teacher and as a protector. That may not be so important for you or I, but he was brought up to be a clan chief and needs to protect his clan. The doubts alone could break him."
Richie was silent, trying to assimilate all that Methos had said. Eventually he asked quietly "You said fear? Ulick is dead. What could he possibly fear?"
"Right now, what he fears most is losing his favourite student."
"Oh" again Richie was silent for several seconds before asking, "What do I need to do?"
"You have to make the first move, Richie. He won't come here. He thinks he's driven you away, and he doesn't know how to repair the damage." Methos waited until Richie again met his steady gaze. "You must go to the dojo and see him, or if you can't do that at least phone."
"I don't know...I'm not sure..." Richie started.
"I am" Methos interrupted.
"It has to be this way, Richie" Methos continued. "How much does MacLeod's friendship mean to you?"
"Everything" Richie stated firmly. "Mac's the best thing that ever happened to me. Before he took me in, well, my life was going nowhere. I can't even begin to imagine what would've happened to me without him."
"Then do something positive" Methos pushed slightly "It's up to you."
Richie again took his time in answering, but finally he spoke, just one word "Yes".
Methos stood, reaching for his coat and turned towards the door.
"You're going?" Richie asked.
"Yes" Methos answered him briefly. "I came to see how you were and to convince you to at least speak to MacLeod and I've done that...haven't I?"
"Then my job is done" Methos explained.
"Wait. If you are going to the dojo I'll...go with you"
"Actually I wasn't" Methos said with a slight smile "it's a bit crowded with Amanda and Connor there. I'm staying at Joe's."
"Connor's here?" Richie asked.
"Did I forget to mention that?" Methos smiled again. "He arrived yesterday. He and his student have a few things to work out too." Methos watched the smile that crossed Richie's face before continuing, "I think you also have things to think through tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough to see MacLeod."
Richie was still slightly stunned and, by the time he looked up, was just in time to see the door close behind the older immortal. He wriggled around until he found a more comfortable position and settled down for a long night of thinking.
Again Methos stood outside Richie's apartment block. He was rather relieved, the evening having been more successful then he'd dared to hope. Now all he had to worry about was Scottish pride and American youthful bravado working against each other. Still that was a problem for a new day. First he needed several hours of restful sleep.
Methos turned and started walking towards Joe's when he felt the tingle of an immortal presence on the edges of his awareness. He cursed quietly having totally forgotten about his unwanted shadow whilst speaking to Richie. Quickly he covered his options. He couldn't stay where he was. The intruding immortal might challenge Richie who was in no state to fight. Similarly he didn't want to go back to the dojo and lead trouble to MacLeod. Despite Connor and Amanda being there, the Highlander would insist on fighting his own battles, however unfit he was. Joe's was also a bad idea. Some immortals considered mortals to be worthless toys, or even worse. No, this was one problem that Methos would have to deal with himself. He could, at least, lead this immortal away from his friends and if he had to fight then he would be the one to choose the challenge ground.
Methos winced at the rain, which had started to fall and steeled himself for a very long night. Turning slowly he started walking, leading the unknown immortal away from his friends.
The dawn was a welcome sight for one very tired immortal. For the last few hours Methos had walked steadily around Seacouver, but had yet to see the unknown immortal following him. He'd tried several ways of catching his tail, ranging from walking straight through a well-lit area with no obvious hiding places to leading him on a convoluted route through dark winding back streets. Whoever it was, he was good, Methos had to say that much, but challenging Methos was obviously not in his game plan. Their night time wanderings had taken them past more than one secluded site suitable for a challenge and Methos had even tried sitting and waiting at one such site, but to no avail. Whoever it was kept away, staying just out of sensing range until Methos began to move again.
Now as light filled the cold grey sky, one very wet, tired and cold immortal decided to risk returning to the dojo. There was little choice left, he couldn't keep walking forever. He wondered if the other immortal was as tired as he was, but somehow he doubted it. It would be the height of stupidity to follow or challenge another immortal when already exhausted. He strongly suspected that the other had been leading a nocturnal life of late and was somewhat more awake.
Approaching the dojo he noticed a light on and hoped that Connor rather than Duncan would be the one to greet him. He was in desperate need of sleep, but didn't want to admit to Duncan that he'd been followed all night. It would ruin his "looking after number one" reputation. If he could speak to Connor then maybe the older Highlander would be able to lead the other immortal away and perhaps even get him to show himself. It wasn't much of a plan, but it was the best he could do with so little time and resources.
Methos' slow progress towards the dojo suddenly stopped as he felt an immortal presence return, much stronger and nearer than before. Uncertain whether this immortal was a friend or the unknown, Methos backed into an alley, slipped into the shadows and waited.
A figure appeared at the end of the alley silhouetted against the early morning light. This was no friend. The immortal was not tall, barely five and a half feet at most, with short dark hair. He stood motionless, neither approaching nor retreating. Methos watched as he slowly drew a long sword from the folds of his coat.
"It is time" the voice was cold, emotionless. There was no doubt in Methos' mind that this was to be a challenge. "Show yourself, youngster".
Methos almost laughed aloud. Youngster? Just who did the stranger think he was about to challenge?
"You can't hide there for ever" the cold voice mocked.
Slowly and very deliberately Methos stepped out of the shadows and faced the challenger. He did not draw his own broadsword although he checked his coat was loose for easy access to the Ivanhoe. He didn't think that there would be any nasty tricks, at least not yet. His opponent believed him to be young and exhausted, and if he'd planned on using underhand methods there'd been plenty of opportunity during the long night he'd stalked him.
"Who are you?" Methos asked.
"Gavin Kramer" he replied coldly. "It is time."
"Why now?" Methos asked.
"Appropriate isn't it?" Kramer replied. "Dawn, the start of a new day, a new beginning...and the same time you took his head!"
"Who's head?" Methos was puzzled. He knew he hadn't taken any heads recently, but Kramer was obviously looking for someone who had. He believed Methos was that someone and unless Methos did something to disprove that very soon then the challenge would be made. Methos really didn't want to take Kramer's head but he wasn't planning on losing if things went that far.
"Jason Thomas" Kramer grated out. "He was my student, my friend, my partner...and more, much more...and you killed him...for no reason...except he was there...in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Now Methos was completely confused. Neither name meant anything to him and he could hardly ask for a rain check while he checked the Watcher's database. He was still thinking trying to think of a way to stall, to find out the real story, when his time ran out. Kramer removed his coat and stepped towards him with his sword at the ready.
"It wasn't me" Methos spoke quickly, but still removed his sword and prepared for the coming fight. "We don't have to do..."
Methos broke off as Kramer stepped forward into his first attack forcing him into a defensive move and thus starting the challenge. This set the pattern for the next few minutes. Kramer took the offensive, pushing, trying to break through Methos' guard. Methos let his experience work for him, merely defending himself, leaving his mind free to think and plan.
This was not a situation he wanted to be in. He really didn't want Kramer's head but he had to finish this...soon. Gradually he brought his mind back to concentrate on the fight. He had to find an opening, a way to get through Kramer's guard. He needed to stop this, to kill him...just not permanently. Once that was done then maybe they could find out what this was all about.
As he blocked yet another thrust a plan formed in Methos' mind. Kramer was good, by most immortal standards, but not as good as MacLeod. A simple all out attack might not work. If anything went wrong he might have to take Kramer's head and that would only be done as a last resort. No, what he needed was a diversion, something to distract Kramer long enough for a fatal blow. Unfortunately there was nothing obvious in the alley he could use.
Inwardly sighing in resignation he decided that his best chance would be to let Kramer get past his guard, taking a minor, he hoped, wound in the process, whilst delivering a far more serious attack at the same time. It was risky, very risky, but nothing ventured nothing gained.
Both men were getting tired now and if this was to work it had to be done quickly. Seeing his chance, as Kramer made a slightly wild attack, Methos let the thrust through and felt the cold steel slice into his left arm. At the same time he twisted and his broadsword ripped across Kramer's torso, slicing through the relatively unprotected vital organs. Kramer fell to his knees, blood pouring from the open wound. His sword dropped from his hand as he clutched at his guts.
Gripping his wounded arm Methos took a slow step back as he watched his opponent fall. He guessed that with the rate at which he was loosing blood he would be dead in less than a minute.
The buzz of an approaching immortal washed over them. Methos groaned and started to turn to meet the intruder, hoping against hope that it was one of the Highlanders. Suddenly he realised there was something wrong. He'd expected his arm to hurt, but not this. He was gradually loosing feeling in the damaged limb, and the numbness was spreading. Not only had he lost the use of the arm, but now his shoulder was dead too. An icy cold seemed to be spreading through his veins, creeping inexorably towards his heart. Sudden panic flew through him as he realised the probable cause. Horrified he stared at Kramer.
"Venom" Kramer gasped. "Fast acting...fatal...I'll heal first...your head...is mine...Ryan."
"Ryan? But I'm not Ryan!" Suddenly Methos understood. He'd been mistaken for Richie, and he could see why. He'd been seen at both MacLeod's dojo and Richie's apartment in the last couple of days, whereas Richie had been almost a recluse. "Damn you" Methos snarled at him "Why didn't you just ask?" Kramer didn't hear as he fell face first onto the blood soaked tarmac.
Realising that they were both now in serious danger of losing their heads to the approaching immortal Methos tried to turn to leave but he couldn't move. The numbness had spread and now his left leg was paralysed. The movement unbalanced him and he fell to the floor on his hands and knees. Struggling against the encroaching blackness he forced his head around to see a slim figure watching their every move from the head of the alley. Before he could identify the observer the icy paralysis reached his heart stopping it in mid beat. Death was instantaneous.
Richie walked slowly towards the dojo. Although it was still very early and raining steadily he'd left his bike at home, deciding to walk in an attempt to calm his nerves. Although he'd slept very little since Adam's visit, at least he hadn't spent the entire night reliving his ordeal in nightmarish visions. In fact he had slept quite well for a couple of hours before his conscience had nagged him into unwanted wakefulness. After a few hours staring into the darkness at nothing in particular he'd come to some conclusions. The most pressing of these was a definite need to see his mentor. What he was going to do when he did he wasn't quite sure, but anything was better than leaving things the way they were.
As he walked he thought back to the last time he'd seen Mac. He'd been angry and frustrated and had taken it out on the nearest person and the stubborn Highlander had stood his ground. After their somewhat heated conversation he'd left the dojo. Mac had followed and then he'd done it; he'd pulled his sword on Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, and he'd kept his head to tell the tale. A slow blush crept up his neck as he remembered his actions. What a fool he must've looked. What chance would he have had if his challenge had been taken seriously? Fortunately surprise had helped him and Duncan had let him go before he'd really realised what was happening.
Now, days later, he could look back and see his actions differently, almost as if he'd been an observer. At the time he'd had no thoughts other than his own pain and disgrace. He hadn't been able to see that there was nothing he could've done to prevent what had happened. All he'd seen was a victim, unable to defend even himself. Mac's almost instinctive protectiveness had just made this worse and he'd done the only thing he could think of at the time...run.
Since then Amanda and Adam had both visited him trying to stop his destructive slide into self-pity and loathing. Amanda had shown him that she didn't blame him and was proud of what he'd done to protect her. Adam, well his short visit had changed his outlook and made him look at things differently. He'd shown him that once a victim didn't necessarily imply always a victim. Then he'd made him think about the events from Mac's point of view and suddenly the over protective actions seemed to change. No longer were they demeaning, but were more an expression of guilt and relief. Richie wasn't sure he fully understood his mentor's reactions, but at least now he was prepared to talk, and more importantly to listen. All he had to do was to take that last vital step. He had to go to the dojo and find Mac.
So here he was heading towards the familiar territory with a very unfamiliar case of nerves. How would his mentor react? What would he say? What would he do? So lost in thought was Richie that he was almost on top of the alley before the distinctive sound of blades clashing forced its way into his brain. Somewhere, close, two immortals were fighting for their lives.
With a start Richie realised that he was unarmed, his Rapier still in his other jacket. It'd never occurred to him to pick it up when he left the apartment. What had he been thinking? A swordless immortal was a headless one, unless he was very lucky. That was one of Mac's earliest lessons, taught to even the newest immortal. How could he have forgotten that? Did he truly value his life that little? A growing sense of outrage filled Richie's mind and for the first time since Ulick had brutalised him he began to understand what the damage had really been. No matter how young or green he might be he had the same rights as any other immortal and as far as he could see there were only two choices. He could either prepare to and when necessary fight, or simply declare himself worthless and wait for some immortal to take his head. New resolve filled him. He wasn't ready to die yet.
Richie turned his head from left to right, trying to locate the combatants. Gradually the sounds led him to the dark alley. Staring into the darkness Richie strained to see, to identify the immortals involved. For a brief moment he registered only a tall figure and irrational fear for Mac's safety rushed through him. The Highlander couldn't die, not now, not before they had settled their differences. Slowly the rest of the scene filtered in and he realised the true identity of the taller man.
Richie watched in shock as Kramer's wild thrust apparently slipped past Adam's guard, and ripped into the taller immortal's arm. Just as quickly he realised the real intention of the move, Adam's own broadsword slicing the unknown immortal almost in two. As Kramer sank to the ground he saw Adam start to turn towards him, obviously sensing his buzz. Suddenly he became aware that Adam was in trouble. His movements appeared awkward and almost uncoordinated. There was clearly more than an arm wound affecting him.
"Venom" Richie heard the stranger gasp. "Fast acting...fatal...I'll heal first...your head...is mine...Ryan." What the hell? Richie couldn't believe he'd heard that right. Adam had taken a fight for him, after all he'd said about picking up the pieces and rebuilding his life? Richie had trusted Adam and yet, here he was doing exactly what Mac had, trying to protect him.
"Ryan? But I'm not Ryan!" Adam's puzzled question stopped Richie's thoughts dead in their tracks. Now he was totally confused. Adam didn't know that this stranger thought he was fighting him? Just what had happened here?
"Damn you" Richie heard Adam snarl. "Why didn't you just ask?" He watched, in fascination, as first the stranger and then Adam fell to the wet ground and lay still.
Now all seemed quiet Richie walked down the alley to where the immortals were lying. Quickly he checked the unknown immortal, convincing himself that he would not revive for several minutes from the gut wound Adam had inflicted. Still not recognising him and needing to know who he was Richie carefully searched his coat pockets looking for some form of identification. He found none. Deciding that he would just have to wait and ask this stranger when he woke, Richie picked up the dropped sword, being careful to hold it by the hilt only and carried it with him to where Adam lay. Placing it on the ground by him, within easy reach, he switched his attentions to Adam.
If what he had over-heard was correct then Adam had been poisoned and certainly the angry red skin tone surrounding the cut in his arm showed that something was unusual about the wound. Gently Richie shifted the limp body into the shadows and arranged it in as comfortable a position as possible. Retrieving Adam's dropped broadsword and placing it inside his own jacket Richie returned his attentions to his mysterious challenger, still wondering who he was and what he wanted Richie for.
"Poison" Richie said to himself, unaware that he'd spoken aloud. "Why me? Why did he have to cheat?" Unable to answer these or any other questions, at least not yet, Richie again picked up the stranger's sword and then ripped several pieces from his bloodied coat. Being careful to touch only the hilt, he used the rags to wipe clean the sharpened edges until he was sure all traces of the poison were removed. This done he placed the weapon back where he'd first found it next to its owner. When he revived this unknown immortal would get the chance to challenge Richie if he wanted. Only this time the fight would be fair. Satisfied that he had done all he could Richie settled down to wait.
A groan brought Richie's attention back to the figure lying a few yards away. Silently drawing Adam's Ivanhoe he stayed just out of the nameless immortal's sight, waiting, watching to see what he would do. As he'd hoped the stranger seemed unaware of his presence, the disorientation which so often accompanied death and revival having confused his memories so that he didn't remember Richie's arrival. Indeed it would appear he assumed the immortal buzz was coming from the still very dead Adam.
As Richie watched he struggled to his feet and reached for the sword Richie had carefully placed back where it had fallen. Unsteadily he made his way to where Adam was lying and gave the prone body a solid kick. Seeing no reaction he raised his sword and brought it down towards Adam's exposed neck.
Richie had seen all he needed to. Even as this unidentified immortal raised his sword to strike Richie was moving to intercept the downward sweep with the Ivanhoe. By the time the still rather shaky immortal had registered Richie's presence he was pushed against the nearest wall with the edge of the broadsword against his throat.
"Where in the rules does it mention the use of poison?" Richie asked angrily. "Or taking your opponent's head when he's dead?"
"He deserves it!" Richie didn't recognise the voice.
"Why?" Richie asked, increasing the pressure of the sword against the other's throat. "What did he do?"
"He killed my partner...in cold blood." By now the other immortal was gasping for air and Richie let the pressure ease a little. "We were in Europe, Spain. He met Jason in a bar one night. Jason came home all excited about this young, mentorless immortal. Wanted me to train him. The following morning he set off to meet him, to bring him to me. He never came back." The stranger stopped speaking, drawing a shaky breath before continuing. "Ryan took his head for no reason. I've been hunting him ever since."
Richie thought quickly. Spain...Jason...? Yes, now he remembered Jason Thomas...although he was much older than Richie, he still appeared young and very enthusiastic...like a less cynical version of himself. They'd become friends very quickly and arranged to meet the next day, but Richie had never kept that appointment. Now if only he could remember... Damn...Martin Hyde! Suddenly things became clear...all of them. It was a time he preferred to forget. That was the night Hyde had found him and started his pursuit. Over the next few weeks he'd chased Richie to Paris...back to MacLeod. Richie had never kept that appointment because by then he'd already left town, running and hiding. So, if he hadn't killed Jason who had? Probably Hyde himself. Although Jason wasn't as old as he normally liked his prey he was no green youngster. This stranger probably had no idea that a fourth immortal had been in town and had jumped to the obvious conclusion.
"Now Ryan must die." Richie's thoughts were interrupted by the other immortal.
"What if he didn't do it?" Richie asked frantically stalling for time, trying to prevent the inevitable.
"He did" the reply was short and to the point.
"But what if..."
"No more questions!" The stranger pushed against the sword trying to throw Richie clear. "Ryan dies here and now."
"But he isn't Ryan" Richie almost shouted. "He's called Adam, Adam Pierson."
"Names are easily changed" the nameless immortal commented nastily. "He is Ryan. I followed him yesterday. He visited the Highlander and then went home. When he left later I followed him again. I followed him all night until the time was right."
"He isn't Ryan" Richie was finding it hard to control his temper. This stranger had been trailing Adam ever since he'd left his apartment hours ago. The older immortal must have been exhausted even before the fight started.
"How do you know?" the unknown immortal snapped. "He could be lying to you too."
Richie took a step back, removed the Ivanhoe from the stranger's throat. Holding it in front of him, ready for use he spoke coldly "I know...and he doesn't need to lie to me...because I'm Ryan."
For a second the unidentified immortal froze and then he moved, grabbing his sword and bringing it up ready. Richie had been ready for this move and simply stood his ground, sword ready.
"You bastard" he shouted. "Why did you do it? What did he ever do to you?"
"I didn't..." Richie started but was interrupted.
"You were the only other immortal there. It must've been you" the stranger snapped.
"It wasn't me" Richie started to try to explain "Martin Hyde was there. He..."
"Never heard of him." He wasn't going to be persuaded. Since Jason's death he'd lived for this moment and this moment alone.
"He took Jason's head, not me" Richie tried one more time as the stranger advanced slowly towards him. "I wasn't there that morning. He'd already driven me out of town."
"NO" The first lunging attack was made and the fight started. Richie parried the wild thrusts easily, the extra weight of Adam's broadsword feeling strange after his own much lighter Rapier, but not totally unknown. Duncan had ensured he tried many swords of different sizes and weights, as you never knew when you might need to use someone else's. However, the unfamiliarity was working against Richie and he was forced backwards by the violence of the assault.
No further words were spoken, both men's minds fully engaged on the fight. It soon became clear that his attacker was better than Richie, more experienced and stronger, but he was angry and out of control. Richie, being smaller and lighter, had the advantage of speed and manoeuvrability, and he was in better control of his emotions. The overall result was a very evenly matched fight, which could go either way.
The initial assault over, the two combatants circled each other, looking for openings or weaknesses, some way to get past the other's guard. Back and forth they moved, neither one managing to gain the upper hand. The fight continued in this manner, clashes of steel and grunts of effort echoing in the deserted alley until finally Richie's luck seemed to run out. Stepping back to avoid another strong thrust from the heavier man he lost his footing on the wet ground and stumbled. A desperate twist prevented the sword from striking its intended target leaving instead a deep gash across Richie's left hip. Blood poured from the wound as Richie scrambled to get clear, to deny his challenger that final sword stoke.
Instantly he drew first blood the stranger stepped back and watched the younger immortal, as if waiting for something to happen. Richie, struggling to regain his balance with one leg now useless, couldn't understand. He should be moving in for the kill, not giving his opponent time to recover, and yet that was exactly what he was doing. Unless...of course, Richie suddenly realised what was happening. Damn him! His unidentified challenger had never planned to win using his fighting skills alone. His plan was simply to wound, as he had Adam, then to allow the venom to act for him. He hadn't noticed that Richie had cleaned his blade and there was no venom present. Such tricks were outside the rules, but in this case could be turned back against their user.
Remembering what he'd observed when he'd first entered the alley Richie held his damaged leg totally still, letting the other man believe that the venom was spreading through his blood, paralysing as it went. Playing for time, allowing his hip to begin healing, but being careful to keep the healing hidden from his challenger, Richie gradually held more and more of his body still, trying to imitate what he'd seen happen to Adam. Despite the healing he was loosing a lot of blood from his hip and needed to finish this, quickly. Keeping Adam's sword in hand he allowed his knees to buckle, crashing to the floor with a jarring impact that hurt even though he was expecting it.
As soon as he fell his nameless attacker moved, coming towards him a vicious gloating smile on his face. "How does it feel to be helpless, young Ryan? Is this what you did to Jason? You must've done something similar. You could never have beaten him fairly, child."
"I didn't kill him" Richie gasped, the pain and fear in his voice not all feigned. The stranger's inadvertent use of the same dismissive term that Ulick had taunted him with shook him. For a brief moment Richie was no longer in a dark alley fighting for his life but chained against a wall whilst he was brutally assaulted. Quickly Richie took a deep breath, desperately trying to calm himself. He knew that if he let old terrors distract him, he was as good as dead. What was needed now was total and complete concentration. It was time to put Ulick and his 'pleasures' behind him. Looking up again he faced the older immortal with fresh resolve.
"Save it" he was taunted again. "Or tell it to your God when you see him."
"Stop, please. I can prove I didn't kill him" Richie continued. He knew what he would have to do, but he really didn't want to have to take anyone's head if he could avoid it.
"Never" his attacker snarled. "You killed him and I'll die before I'll let you live!" Slowly he lifted his sword for the killing blow.
As the sword started to fall Richie moved. For the second time in less than an hour the Ivanhoe interrupted the other immortal's killing stroke, only this time he didn't block the blade directly. Rolling under the swinging blade, onto his undamaged right hip, Richie thrust the broadsword upwards piercing through the stranger's recently healed guts and ending with the point deeply embedded in his heart. A look of disbelief crossed the older immortal's face before his sword fell from his lifeless fingers and he collapsed onto all fours. Richie pulled the blade clear of the body, continuing to roll until he was kneeling beside it. With his left hand he pushed the strangers sword away out of his opponent's reach.
"Will you listen to me now? Richie gasped. "I...didn't...kill...him!"
"Never" the dying immortal grated. "I'll hunt you forever! You or me, there can be only one!"
Richie had no choice. This would never be over. His challenger was never going to listen. He had to end it here, today. He raised the broadsword high, then let it fall, severing the nameless neck in one clean stroke.
This last expenditure of effort was too much for Richie's weakened body and he fell forwards, the rate of blood loss too great to sustain consciousness. He never saw the quickening gather, nor the first arcs of energy as they sought and entered his unconscious body.
Connor was alone in the loft. He stood and watched as rain fell steadily from the cold grey skies. Although it was a couple of hours after dawn the heavy cloud kept the overall light level low, leaving dark corners in the cramped alleys and streets. There were very few passers-by, it still being too early for the general populace to up and about. Indeed this was part of the reason that Connor was alone.
Duncan's frustration and restlessness had been driving both Amanda and Connor crazy. He'd desperately needed to go out for a run, to burn off some of this pent up energy, but he'd refused to leave the dojo, just in case Richie called. Eventually they'd convinced Duncan that if Richie was going to appear it wouldn't be this early in the morning. Duncan still hadn't entirely trusted their motives, obviously remembering that Amanda had used this same excuse previously and then disappeared to places unknown while he was gone. Despite all his efforts she still wouldn't tell him where she'd been. As a result he'd refused to leave unless they went with him. It had taken some negotiating before he'd finally agreed that Connor could stay behind, to monitor the phone and any visitors, but he'd stuck firm where Amanda was concerned. The look on Amanda's face as she was led out into the cold, wet morning had been priceless. Even thinking about it brought a smile to Connor's face.
Now Connor was waiting. He knew that Adam had been planning to see Richie the previous night and he hadn't yet returned. Even if he'd then gone to spend the night at Joe's he should've been back by now. Connor was just as worried as Adam appeared to be about his clansman and his student. Adam knew this and promised to let him know what had been said. This was the main reason why Connor had needed to stay behind, but there was something else he wanted to ask this immortal who called himself Adam. For someone who Duncan had told him publicly declared that he looked after no one but himself, he seemed very protective of the younger Highlander. Connor remembered that at the airport Adam had referred to Duncan as his 'saviour'. What was going on in this relative stranger's mind? Connor wanted to know. He was just as protective towards his own favourite student as Duncan was of Richie.
A brief flash of light from outside the window drew his attention. Suddenly very alert Connor scanned the area he could see from the window. The weather wasn't the right kind to produce thunderstorms. With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach he watched until he saw a second flash, coming from a nearby alley. There was little doubt in his mind as to what he was seeing. Some immortal had just lost his head, and with the exception of Duncan and his friends there were damn few in Seacouver to choose from. Dreading what he might find he headed down the fire escape and ran in the direction of the quickening.
By the time he reached the alley the visual display was over, but it was unmistakably the correct location. Broken glass littered the floor and the smell of ozone was still strong enough to block out the less pleasant aromas found in such places. Drawing his own sword he stepped out. The dim grey light of the morning did little to illuminate the alley and it was with some effort that Connor managed to make out the shapes of three bodies lying on the ground. Three bodies? What had happened? And exactly who'd received the quickening he'd seen? Slowly he made his way towards the nearest body, which was set apart from the others and propped against the wall.
Even before he got close he recognised Adam. A gentle prod with his toe produced no response and a quick check revealed the cold skin and lack of pulse. This surprised Connor, as, despite the amount of blood staining his clothes and skin, there were no major wounds visible. In fact the only obvious sign of his having recently been involved in a fight was a minor cut to his left arm. This was healing, but slowly, too slowly. Puzzled but not unduly worried Connor continued his survey moving to the other two bodies.
Both lay face down on the wet road and were covered in blood. The nearest was soon revealed as the source of the quickening, the head lying close to the severed neck. Using his foot again Connor rolled the head so he could see the face of this dead immortal. A sense of relief flooded through him as he realised that whoever this had been, he was a total stranger. This time, at least, the electrical display of the quickening hadn't been brought about by the death of a friend.
Finally Connor moved to the last body. Again he used the toe of his shoe to check for any signs of life before rolling the body over. Richie's young face looked more peaceful in death than Connor remembered seeing him at any other time. A quick check revealed the probable cause of death as shock from lack of blood. The deep wound on his hip was rapidly healing but the stains on his jeans and the pool of blood under him testified as to the amount he'd lost. Connor had little doubt as to who had taken the quickening. From the obviously recent wound and positions of the bodies it would appear Richie had bested the stranger, despite taking a fatal wound in the process. The big question was how had Adam been injured and why was he taking so long to heal.
These and other questions would have to wait. Time was getting on and there would be greater numbers of people in the streets soon. Quickly Connor dragged Richie across to sit next to Adam, arranging them to look like a couple of drunks to any casual observer. Provided no one got close enough to see the blood they should be safe. Next Connor returned to the less pleasant task of removing and hiding the body.
Once this job was completed he started to think about how they were to get back to the safety of the dojo. A quick look at his watch told him that Duncan wouldn't be back anytime soon, so they were on their own. He couldn't risk leaving them where they were while he fetched a car. Someone might find them and see the blood, or worse still see one or both of them revive. No, that was just not an option. Connor would have to find a way to get them both to safety. He was just contemplating what clothing, if any, could pass unnoticed through the streets when he felt a returning buzz and brought his attention back to the reviving immortal.
Richie woke with a gasp, trying to sort the confused memories into some form of order. His initial reaction, trying to move, was quickly shown to be the wrong one. Pain lanced through his hip causing the world to spin around him for a few seconds and he rapidly closed his eyes again.
"Careful, young one." Richie heard the calm voice but although it was familiar he couldn't immediately identify its owner. "Let your body heal first."
Richie managed to take a deep breath and the world gradually reduced its nauseating rotation. "Connor?" he whispered as his fogged brain finally managed to make the connection between the voice and the name.
"That's right" Connor replied with a sharp laugh.
Richie forced his eyes open again, pleased to find that this time the world stayed exactly where it was supposed to. He glanced around him, surprised to find himself sitting next to the still dead Adam Pierson and no sign of his challenger. "What happened?" he asked in a much steadier voice.
"I thought that was my line!" Connor replied amusement still evident in his tone.
Deciding that he'd get no sense out of Richie unless he told his story first, Connor explained, "I saw the quickening. By the time I got here all three of you were dead." Connor saw the next question in Richie's eyes before he even asked it. "Don't worry, I've taken care of the body. We have to get you back to the dojo, though. Before anyone sees you like this."
"Adam?" Richie asked.
"Still dead, and not healing properly" Connor said briefly.
"Damn him" Richie cursed. "He used some form of venom to poison Adam."
"Venom? That might explain the slow healing" Connor mused aloud. "Can you stand yet?"
Shakily Richie climbed to his feet and tested his now almost completely healed hip. "I'll do," he said.
"Good we need to get Adam out of sight without attracting attention." Connor slipped his coat off and handed it to Richie. "Take your jacket and shirt off and wear this. That should hide most of the blood on your jeans."
Richie looked surprised, but did as asked. Once he had his shirt off Connor took it and moved to where Adam was propped. Quickly he removed Adam's blood soaked shirt replacing it with Richie's less damaged one. He pushed the bottom of the shirt into Adam's jeans hiding the bloodstains around the hem, thankful that Adam's colour of choice was black.
Connor tore a couple of relatively clean pieces from the shirt he held, handed one to Richie and kept the other in his hand. Carefully he used this cloth to wipe over Adam's face, removing as much of the blood as he could. Seeing what the older immortal was doing Richie used his piece to clean his own face. Richie's jacket was totally ruined and Connor threw it into the nearest dumpster along with the remnants of Adam's shirt. Richie watched in silence, glad he had chosen not to wear his favourite leather jacket. This done, Connor looked them both over.
"Now what?" Richie asked.
"Now, we're jush a couple of drunksh, and one dead drunk, goin' home" Connor slurred.
Richie couldn't help laughing. Together the two men collected the two swords lying on the floor, placing them both with Connor's own inside his coat for the short walk to the dojo. Next Connor hoisted Adam off the floor, draped Adam's right arm over his left shoulder and waited for Richie to take his place on Adam's other side. Slowly they started to walk, Connor deliberately staggering as they went, encouraging Richie to do the same.
"So" Richie asked as he got into the swing of things, "just how many drinking songs have you learnt in 450 years?"
Ten minutes later they were safely ensconced in the loft. Their luck had held. The only person who'd seen them took one look at the three apparently 'inebriated' men, crossed the road and walked away as fast as possible, showing absolutely no interest in their various forms of undress. Still it was a relief to be back in the relative safety of familiar surroundings.
"Come and get cleaned up, Richie" Connor ordered, as he appeared from the bathroom carrying several towels and a sponge. "I'll see what I can do with Adam."
Richie dragged himself up from the chair he'd collapsed into and made his way slowly towards the shower. Once Richie had disappeared in to the bathroom, Connor filled a bucket with hot water and made his way to the bed. Gently he stripped off the shirt and began trying to remove the worst of the blood from the unresisting form that they'd laid there. Two buckets later he'd done all he could. He threw the bed spread over Adam then settled down to wait.
Richie reappeared briefly, wearing Duncan's robe, before heading downstairs to find the spare clothes he kept in his locker. Once he was dressed in his own sweats he joined Connor, who was sitting at the end of the bed watching the still not yet revived Adam.
"Why is it taking so long?" Richie asked.
"I'm not sure" Connor replied honestly. "Whatever that venom was has slowed his healing to a crawl. Look!" Connor showed Richie the wounded arm. It was definitely healing, but very slowly. "At this rate it'll be several hours until he wakes."
"He was fighting my challenge, protecting me." Richie spoke quietly but the accusation was easy to hear. "Whoever he was, he thought that Adam was me."
"Did he know that?" Connor indicated the figure on the bed.
"I'm not sure." Richie thought back to those few intense moments. "I don't think so. When he called him Ryan, right at the end of their fight, Adam seemed surprised."
"So he didn't know he was taking your challenge then?" Connor asked forcing Richie to at least consider that possibility.
"I don't know...I guess it's possible." Richie was silent for a moment. "So if Adam didn't know that he was looking for me...then..."
"He was probably just protecting himself" Connor finished for the younger man.
Richie looked at Adam. "He looks so young. I wonder how old he really is."
Connor was surprised at the sudden change of subject but went with it. Richie would talk when he was ready; there would be no pushing him. "You don't know?"
"No, not exactly" Richie replied. "He did admit that he's older than Mac, closer to Amanda's age, but that's all I know."
"Does Duncan know?" Connor asked, his protective streak showing where Duncan's choice of friends was concerned.
"He might...I think...probably...but he's never told me." Richie replied. "Why are you so interested?"
Connor thought about lying, but decided that this might be exactly what Richie needed to hear, to get him talking. "I'm always interested in any immortals who hang around Duncan...especially older ones."
"He's too trusting at times" Connor replied. "I don't want him to lose his head because of that."
"You're trying to protect him" Richie realised.
"Of course," Connor replied, "all mentors do. But don't tell him that."
"But he's Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod" Richie sounded shocked.
"Yes he is" Connor replied with a smile. "But he's still my favourite student."
Richie was silent, thinking about what Connor had just said. The idea that Connor was protecting Duncan was almost overwhelming, almost as much as the idea that Duncan needed protecting.
"Then..." Richie trailed off, unable to voice all he was feeling.
"Richie, all mentors try to protect their students" Connor began explaining. "It's not unusual. We all do it. It doesn't matter how good your student is."
"Then when Mac..." Richie spoke aloud trying to get his racing thoughts into some kind of order. "I mean...I hate it when Mac tries to protect me. It makes me feel so...useless...as if I'll never be any good. I know I'm young, but I'm not a kid anymore."
"And Duncan knows that, Richie" Connor continued. "At least his mind does. His heart tells him something else. The hardest thing to learn about being a mentor is when to let go." Connor laughed briefly. "Even I'm still learning that!"
"Then you're still trying to protect him?" Richie asked.
Connor laughed again "Why do you think he was late for that fight with Slan Quince?" At Richie's startled look he continued, "Yes, we both knew you were there, your own pre immortal buzz gave you away." Richie still looked confused, after all he'd had a lot to come to terms with over the last few days. Connor took pity on him and explained. "Duncan was late because he was still recovering. I picked a fight with him and then sucker punched him. He was out cold when you hitched a ride in my car. I planned to take Quince myself, before Duncan arrived. It would've worked too."
"If Quince hadn't been packing a rocket launching sword" Richie added laughing now himself. The idea of Duncan being laid out cold by Connor was very amusing to the younger immortal. "Does he know why you did it?"
"Possibly, although I swore that it was because I wanted Quince's head." Connor waited to see if Richie would say more. Certainly their conversation appeared to have helped. Richie was no longer angry with Adam, and seemed to be less so with Duncan. He'd obviously never really thought about the events that night from that point of view. Probably far too interested in the events themselves, Connor mused, since that night had been Richie's first experience of both immortal sword fighting and revival.
An immortal buzz broke both their trains of thought. In unison they looked towards the figure on the bed in time to see it jerk and take in a convulsive gasp of air. Adam had finally revived.
The first thing Methos felt was pain. His entire body ached; every muscle was cramped; his nerves felt like they were on fire. Each beat of his heart or laboured intake of breath sent a stabbing pain through him. What had he been doing to feel like this? Lying as still as possible and keeping his eyes shut, he began to assess his surroundings and situation. He was lying on something soft and there was some form of cover over him. Good start, most prisons didn't have such niceties. Continuing his assessment he became aware of voices, familiar voices, and realised they were speaking to him.
"Adam...we're safe." That was Richie.
"You're in the loft, Adam." Connor's voice this time.
Slowly he forced his eyes open, blinking several times. Even the dull light filtering through the window from the grey Seacouver skies proving too much. Connor reached out and touched the now almost totally healed arm. White-hot pain blazed through Methos' nerves and he jerked away from the other immortal's touch.
"Don't!" Connor heard the pain in Methos' voice and instantly pulled back.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Not sure" Methos replied tensely as he tried to keep the pain at a bearable level. "Like...pins and needles...all over...but worse."
"It must be the venom" Richie guessed.
"Yes" Connor replied. "I think it must have affected his nervous system."
"Whatever it did it was quick." Richie commented. "It only took seconds to paralyse him."
Methos thought back and the events of the fight became clear. He remembered the coldness spreading through his body from his wounded arm. That must be it. Whatever the venom had been it seemed to work on the nerves, affecting not only his movement, but also his pain receptors.
"Lie still" Connor advised. "Let your body purge it from your system."
"I...haven't got...any...other plans...right now." Methos replied.
Connor and Richie watched as flashes of pain crossed Adam's face. Gradually these seemed to reduce in intensity and duration.
"Better?" Connor asked.
"Some" Methos' voice sounded a little less strained. "I guess I feel slightly singed now, instead of feeling like I'm being burnt alive."
Connor gave a short laugh and even Richie had to grin at that.
"Richie, why don't you go find Adam a drink?" Connor said. Whilst Richie was in the kitchen Connor helped a now rapidly recovering Methos to sit up. By the time Richie returned he was able to take several sips of the water being offered.
"What happened, Adam?" Richie asked. "Why did you take on my challenge?"
Methos looked at Richie, surprised not to see anger in the younger man's eyes. He didn't know what had been said between the two immortals who'd rescued him, or even the events leading to that rescue yet, but he'd expected Richie to be more resentful of his part in it.
"I didn't" he replied carefully. "I thought he was after Mac."
"What?" the other two asked at the same time. "Just what did you think you were doing?"
"Kramer, Gavin Kramer, followed me yesterday evening when I left here. I could sense him, but he never got close enough for me to see." Methos looked at Richie looking for signs of recognition in his eyes but saw none. "After I left you I felt his buzz again. I decided to try and lead him away from you and Mac. Neither of you have had an easy week. I didn't want you taking a challenge unrested and unprepared. He followed me all night, despite several perfect opportunities to challenge." Methos looked at Connor and continued "I was leading him here, hoping you would help me. I thought that between us we could perhaps corner him and see what he wanted. I was just too tired to out think him alone."
"What happened?" Richie asked. "How did you get him to fight?"
"I didn't...well not exactly" Methos explained. "He was waiting for the 'exact' time that he believed you took his friend Jason Thomas' head. If I'd known that I could've gone and got some sleep and been more awake for the challenge. Then I wouldn't have had to resort to such drastic measures."
"You mean taking a hit, to score a greater one?" Richie queried.
"Yes" Methos replied "You saw that?"
"That was about when I arrived. I saw you kill him and heard what was said, but then you collapsed yourself."
"Ah, so it was you I felt" Methos responded. "I thought it must've been when I revived back here. What were you doing out so early?"
"I was on my way here to see Mac" Richie replied.
Connor's sharp laugh caused them both to look at him. "And to think I convinced Duncan to go running, by saying you'd never visit this early."
For a moment all three immortals shared in the humour of the situation.
"What happened after that?" Methos asked still smiling. "I seem to have missed things?"
"Kramer?" Richie checked the name and Methos nodded "Well, you were both dead but before I could do anything Kramer started to revive. I stayed out of sight and watched what he did." Richie paused then added "He would've killed you where you lay. I couldn't let him do that...to anyone...but especially not since he thought you were me. I didn't have my rapier...it was still at home in my jacket. I used your Ivanhoe to stop him. We fought and I took him."
Richie stopped speaking. Connor and Methos exchanged glances before Connor took the plunge and asked "Did you kill Thomas?"
"No!" Richie sounded saddened. "We met in Spain. We could've been friends. Before we had a chance I had to leave town...fast."
"What happened?" Connor had to ask, but Methos had a growing suspicion that he already knew the answer.
"Martin Hyde" Richie replied. "He chased me back to Mac, killing mortals along the way; making it look like me. I guess he thought one immortal wouldn't make any difference."
"We can check, but I suspect you're right" Methos said quietly. "We'll ask Joe later. What happened after that? How did I get here? Did you bring me?"
"Not exactly" Richie answered. "I was rather dead at the time."
"What?" Methos sounded surprised.
"I saw the quickening and went to investigate" Connor explained. "All three of you were dead. I dealt with Kramer, then when Richie revived we brought you back here."
"I'm glad you did...I do so hate public scenes." Methos' smart arse comment got the other two laughing again. He swung his legs off the bed and stood slowly, testing the muscles as he did so. "Now, I really need to get properly cleaned up, and then find some food. I don't know about you but I'm starving."
"I'm hungry too" Richie piped up.
Connor laughed. "You're always hungry, young one. OK, you get a shower, Adam, and you find him something clean to wear, Richie. I'll go and see what I can find to eat in this establishment." The three immortals stood and went about their various tasks, each glad to have survived another encounter with their own kind.
Methos leaned back in his seat and watched as Richie and Connor finished eating. The three immortals had talked while they ate, simply enjoying each other's company, glad to be alive. The main subject of their talk had been the younger Highlander. Connor had many tales to tell about the exploits of young Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. Privately Methos wondered what Duncan would have to say to Connor when he found out exactly what stories he'd given Richie to use as ammunition.
Still it was probably worth it. Richie looked more relaxed than he had in days. Methos suspected that this was Connor's intention. Certainly the laughter at his mentor's expense seemed to have taken Richie's mind off the awkwardness of the coming encounter. Instead of the previous dread it appeared as if he was almost anticipating it now.
As Connor started yet another tale of Duncan's naivety Methos turned his mind to the next hurdle. Duncan and Amanda would be back soon. How was he to ensure that this meeting went smoothly? Hopefully both would be in a better frame of mind than when they last met. A repeat of the sword incident wouldn't help the situation any.
The beginnings of an idea formed in Methos' mind. He wanted to ensure neither Duncan or Richie realised that the other was here until they were face to face. Yes, this could work. He was sure this would work. All he needed to do was to explain what he wanted Connor to do, without alerting Richie.
Leaving Connor and Richie clearing and washing the used plates, Methos followed his scheme and found an excuse to go down to the dojo. He would wait there for Duncan and Amanda to return. If he and Connor could pull this off Duncan and Richie should be alone together before they even realised it. This was important. They'd all worked hard over the last couple of days to help these two relax and begin to understand both their own and the other's feelings. It was essential that they were honest with each other, and any anticipation could give one or both the time to put up the walls again.
While he waited Methos relaxed in one of his favourite meditation poses. Although he knew his body had completely removed all traces of the venom, the memory of his unpleasant awakening stayed with him and he imagined he could feel every nerve tingling. He wasn't going to forget the feeling of that awful paralysis spreading through his body in a hurry. He'd hoped that some time spent in meditation would settle the incident into his memory, but it wasn't to be. He guessed that the part of his mind which was alert, expecting the return of Duncan and Amanda, wasn't going to let him.
His thoughts were disturbed by the anticipated buzz. Always one to be careful he checked his broadsword was within easy reach, then closed his eyes and settled back into position, to any observers, looking like a man intent on his meditations.
Duncan led the way into the dojo where he stopped and looked at Methos. Feeling eyes upon him, Methos opened his own and gazed at the Highlander in return. What he saw pleased him. The tension that had been visible in the younger man's shoulders for days had gone. The run had clearly been exactly what he needed.
"Methos" Duncan smiled, much to Methos' satisfaction, "When did you get back?"
"Oh, a while ago" Methos returned the smile. "Long enough to eat breakfast. Connor's upstairs waiting for you."
As Duncan headed for the elevator Methos reached out and touched Amanda's arm. "Stay here" he said quietly, too quietly for Duncan to hear.
"You coming Amanda?" Duncan asked, his hand on the elevator gate.
"Not yet," she replied watching Methos carefully, wondering what he had planned, "I'll catch you up."
Duncan looked surprised, but decided not to question her. Whatever Amanda was doing Methos didn't look overly bothered by it. After five thousand years he'd probably found more ways than most to fend off unwanted female attentions; even those of women like Amanda.
Duncan pulled down the gate and hit the button. As the elevator rose he felt the presence of another immortal wash over him. Remembering that Methos had told him Connor was in the loft he turned ready to greet his clansman. Gradually he realised something was wrong, the buzz felt strong...too strong...as if...as if there were more than one immortal present. Of its own volition his right hand reached for the hilt of the katana inside his coat.
Connor looked at his watch and wondered, not for the first time, where Duncan could be. It wasn't that he was running out of stories about his former student, far from it, but Richie wasn't stupid and would soon realise that he was being manipulated. Given his current state of mind that was the last thing he needed.
It had seemed so easy when Adam asked him to keep Richie in the loft, wait for the elevator to start and then beat a hasty retreat. His coat, with his sword in its customary place, was already close to the door. Adam had said that unless there was a quickening in the dojo the next time the elevator moved it would contain one stubborn Scot.
Connor finished yet another story. The rattle of the gate downstairs and the sounds of the elevator mechanism moving were the signs he was waiting for.
"That must be Adam" Richie commented.
"You can never be too careful," Connor replied, smiling slightly as he spoke.
Swiftly Connor stood and walked to where his coat was lying. Picking it up he reached for the familiar hilt of his sword. Despite Adam's assurances Connor wanted to be certain that Duncan was returning to the loft alone. Carefully he looked round the corner of the shaft, waiting for the occupant to come into view.
Even as Connor saw the long dark hair and the Celtic clasp holding it he was moving. Swiftly and silently he returned his sword to his coat and slipped out of the door.
Richie watched all this in rapidly growing confusion. His own rapier was still at his apartment where he'd left it but Duncan kept several swords in the loft. He'd checked the proximity of the nearest as soon as he felt the immortal buzz but hadn't retrieved it. Somehow with Connor there and obviously checking for himself who was approaching, it seemed, well, sort of pretentious. After all this was Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod who had taught Duncan MacLeod. If Richie still held Duncan in admiration, which he did, then Connor was held in nothing less than awe.
Before Richie realised what was happening Connor was gone, leaving Richie alone to meet the newcomer. He stood, facing the elevator, ready to face his fate. The figure of his mentor came into view. Duncan's right hand was inside his coat, his fingers no doubt touching the katana's hilt.
The elevator stopped and for a brief moment neither moved, each very aware of the other, but uncertain how to proceed. Duncan was the first to recover. He deliberately released his grip on the katana and used his right hand to raise the gate, trying to show Richie that whatever had happened the last time they met, there was no fight between them.
Richie remained perfectly still, watching as Duncan stepped into the loft. Duncan in turn observed Richie. Carefully he removed his coat hanging it in its usual place before continuing towards the younger man. He stopped just out of arm's reach, looking as uncertain of himself as Richie was feeling.
"I'm sorry, Richie..."
Both started speaking at once, then lapsed into an embarrassed silence. Richie looked away, unable to maintain eye contact any longer. Finally Duncan broke the silence, speaking quietly but firmly.
"Richie, I'm sorry...Ulick was hunting me. He should never have involved you, or Amanda." His voice faltered slightly and he stopped speaking, taking a slow deep breath to steady himself.
Richie looked up at him and his vivid blue eyes met Duncan's deep brown ones. For a second neither moved, then once again Duncan broke the silence.
"And when he did...it shouldn't...no...I shouldn't have taken so long to find you. I left you there, and that bastard...when I think of what he did to you. I..." Again Duncan trailed off into silence.
Richie watched as unshed tears filled his mentor's eyes. Suddenly he began to truly understand the extent of the guilt the Scot was feeling. Slowly and carefully he started speaking, trying to explain his own pain and fears.
"It wasn't what he did, or even how he went about it, Mac. It was just...well...he...he used me like...like some kind of toy...there was nothing I could do to stop him...and I was angry...really angry...but not with him. At first I thought I was angry with you, for not preventing him from taking me." Richie held up his hand as Duncan tried to interrupt before continuing.
"Then I realised the truth. The only person I was truly angry with was myself. I let it happen and I was unable to stop it. I may still be young and inexperienced but I am immortal. You won't always be there to protect me...I can't and don't expect you to be. I need to stand on my own two feet and I have to be able to do that without protection."
Duncan watched Richie carefully, longing to speak, to comfort his student and tell him that he was wrong to demean his abilities, but he couldn't...not yet. Richie had obviously thought about little else since the events of his torture. He needed to talk this through, to put events in the correct perspective in his own mind, and Duncan needed to know what he was thinking.
"I believed I'd let myself become a victim, and I hated myself for that weakness," Richie started speaking again. "Then Adam came to see me. He convinced me that it wasn't my fault, but much more importantly he told me that I would only ever be a victim for as long as I let myself be one."
Richie looked up and met Duncan's eyes again. His next words were more than a statement, they were a promise to both himself and his mentor.
"I don't want to be a victim, and I won't be. Never again!"
"Adam was right" Duncan finally spoke softly, not wanting to break the mood and honesty of the occasion, but needing to offer some kind of support to his student. This kind of soul searching wasn't easy and he could only guess how hard this was for Richie.
"I'm still angry" Richie spoke again, "but now I've come full circle and I'm angry with Ulick, no-one else. What gave him the right to use me like that? What did I do? I hate him, both for Amanda and myself." Richie took a deep breath. Once again he stared at the floor, unable to meet his mentor's steady gaze.
"But most of all I hate him for what he did to us. You're the most important person in my life. You gave me a home, a purpose and a life. You gave me hope when I had none. That bastard took it all away from me...for what? Why did he think it was his right? I know I still have a lot to learn. I can't lose you now...I need you...I..." Richie broke off, unable to continue speaking around the lump forming in his throat.
Duncan swallowed hard, his own throat also feeling very choked up, as he reached his hand across the distance separating them. Gently he touched Richie's chin, lifting it until blue eyes were forced to meet brown. Unshed tears glittered in both pairs of eyes. Slowly he moved his hand again, this time coming to rest on Richie's shoulder. A gentle nudge was all it took. Both men stepped forward at the same time, Richie almost falling into Duncan's offered embrace.
"You haven't lost me" Duncan murmured. "You'll never lose me. Whenever you need me I'll be here."
They stood like that for several moments, neither shedding the tears, but both very aware of the emotions of the moment. Eventually they parted and stepped back, each taking deep breaths trying to steady themselves after such a soul-searching conversation.
"Coffee?" Duncan asked, careful to keep his tone as neutral as possible.
"Please" Richie replied as he gradually got his racing thoughts back under control. Duncan studied him until he was sure he would be okay, then turned towards the kitchen.
"Why Mac?" Richie sounded slightly unsure again. "Why was Ulick hunting you?" Duncan turned back towards Richie, his face a closed mask. "Please, I need to know." Richie's voice had a desperate edge to it, as though the answer was something he dreaded, but had to face.
"It's a long story" Duncan began. Richie's expression hardened, the defensive look returning. "But we have plenty of time" Duncan continued.
A smile slowly spread across Duncan's face as a similar expression formed on Richie's. Richie had been honest with Duncan, despite his fears and now Duncan would return that favour. Together the two immortals walked into the kitchen, long stories requiring large quantities of caffeine.
"So you got there and..." Joe asked trying to get the story straight, at least in his own mind. How much would go into the Chronicles he wasn't sure yet. That, as always it seemed, depended on Methos.
"When I arrived all three of them were dead" Connor replied, "fortunately only Kramer permanently so." Looking up he saw the still unasked questions on the Watcher's face. "By the time I'd dealt with the body Richie was reviving. Between us we got Methos back to the loft."
"Did Hyde kill Jason Thomas?" Amanda asked.
"Yes" Joe replied, "although probably not entirely by choice. Hyde liked his quickenings to be from older, more seasoned immortals. Thomas was one of the youngest he ever took. His Watcher thought that Thomas was something of a surprise to Hyde, being better than he expected. Hyde might have lost if he hadn't pulled a couple of really desperate moves. The report suggests that he may have taken Thomas' head almost by accident."
"Some accident" Amanda commented, but before she could say more the phone rang. Joe stood slowly and made his way to the bar to answer it.
"Hello Joe" the familiar baritone voice with a hint of a burr replied.
"Mac. What's happening? Is Richie...?" Joe found the questions tumbling out.
"He's fine, Joe" Duncan interrupted him. "We both are. Did the others show up there?"
Joe looked across at the table where the three immortals were sitting. They'd been there when he arrived to open up, locked doors rarely stopping either Amanda or Methos for long.
"Yeah, they're all here. Do you want to speak to them?" Joe asked.
"No, not just now" Duncan replied. "I've...no we've still got some talking to do and then we have to collect a certain Rapier and return it to its rightful place. After that maybe we'll spar for a while..."
"It's okay" Joe laughed, "you don't need to explain. Not to me anyway."
"Maybe not, but there is something I do need to do" Duncan stated firmly. "I need to thank you, and the others for your help. Will you tell them?"
"Sure Mac. Can we expect to see you today?" Joe asked.
"Yes, we'll both be there this evening."
"I'll tell the others. See you later then." Joe paused before adding "And, Mac, I'm really glad that you've worked things out."
"So am I, Joe, so am I." Joe couldn't miss the joy in Duncan's voice as he hung up. He put the phone back in its cradle and walked back to where the others were waiting. Three pairs of eyes watched him all the way.
"Well?" Amanda broke the silence. "What did he say?"
Joe looked at each of the immortals in turn. Each face showed concern, each waiting to hear how the reunion between their younger friends had gone. At that moment Joe knew just how much Duncan and Richie meant to the small group. Joe couldn't resist the temptation to extend this moment. He paused, his own face a study in composure, giving nothing away, until he could wait no longer. The smile that had been threatening ever since he put the phone down spread across his craggy features.
"They're fine, they're both fine." was all he said. It was all he needed to.
Connor's face broke into a smile, a smile that broadened when a rather excited Amanda kissed him unexpectedly. Joe watched them, amused as always to see such unabated enthusiasm in immortals of their age. Meanwhile the tension that had been in Methos for days eased, his already seemingly relaxed slouch deepening into one of his patented sprawls. As Joe returned to his bar and to his work he had to wonder how this oldest immortal managed it without sliding right off the chair.
Amanda leaned closer to Connor and whispered something about dinner and dancing in his ear. Methos watched the interplay between the two younger immortals with amusement. Whatever Connor thought he was getting into he was in for a big surprise, Amanda's nights on the town rarely ending up as planned. Briefly he tried to recall what valuable artefacts or jewellery were currently on display in Seacouver.
Excusing himself quietly Methos was unsurprised that his departure went almost unnoticed. When Amanda flirted, she really flirted, and great men fell, greater men even than the senior Highlander. He made his way to the bar to speak to Joe.
"Joe, I've got to go. I've some things I need to do," he said to the greying barman.
"Okay Adam." Joe knew better than to ask what things. He'd get no answer unless Methos wanted him to. "Mac and Richie will be in later, you'll be here then?"
"Yeah...later" Methos replied non-committally as he turned to go. At the door Methos stopped and looked back. Connor and Amanda were still deep in conversation, oblivious to the rest of the world. Joe was at the bar, doing what he did best...watching and waiting.
Suddenly Methos felt superfluous. Duncan and Richie no longer needed his help. They would arrive here tonight to find their friends waiting, ready and willing to do whatever they could...always assuming that Amanda hadn't got them both arrested in the meantime. Joe would be there too. All three of them had known and cared for the younger Highlander for far longer than Methos had known him.
Even as this realisation hit him Methos' mind was planning. A quick review of recent events confirmed that there was nothing left at either Joe's or the loft that he couldn't live without. Years of rapid getaways had made Methos an expert in this. It was time for Methos to disappear and young Adam Pierson to return to Paris.
The decision made, Methos left the bar and climbed into his car. A quick phone call booked a seat on the first available flight to Paris and left him just enough spare time to return the hire car and check in.
His route to the airport took him past the dojo. Before he was even aware of making a conscious decision Methos pulled the car into the roadside and stopped the engine. He looked up at the loft windows. Although he was well out of buzz range he imagined he could feel the Highlander's presence. Thanks to his efforts and those of his other friends, behind those windows Duncan and Richie were now rebuilding their shattered relationship. The satisfaction of a job well done should've been Methos' overriding emotion...but it wasn't. If anything he felt cheated.
When he'd heard that Ulick was hunting he'd jumped at the chance to bring a warning to Seacouver. Ever since Duncan had left Paris after taking Kalas' quickening he'd looked for any excuse to meet the charismatic Scot again. At first he'd almost thanked fate for providing the excuse he'd been seeking. He'd had no doubt that Duncan would beat Ulick in a fair fight, and he'd intended to ensure that was what happened.
Unfortunately for them all his plans had been scuppered and he'd been forced to improvise. Neither Amanda, nor especially Richie had deserved their treatment at Ulick's hand. By the time Methos had arrived the situation had already gone bad and he'd been forced to turn his scheming mind to damage control and repair.
"The best laid plans..." Methos commented to the empty car, the irony of the situation not escaping his sharp humour. He restarted the engine, but didn't immediately pull away. Once again his gaze returned to the loft windows. This trip may not have gone to plan, but maybe it wasn't a dead loss. His actions had helped Duncan and perhaps that would count in his favour if the Highlander ever had to confront some of the uglier incidents in his long history. Somehow Methos didn't expect the highly honourable and moralistic Scot to readily forgive his less than pleasant past actions, any more that he'd ever truly forgiven himself.
Pulling his thoughts back to the present, Methos turned his gaze away from the building and pulled off into traffic. Okay, so things hadn't gone as he might have hoped, but he wasn't unduly worried. The circumstances just hadn't been right, however, they were immortal and Methos could wait. There would be another place and time for them.