Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Highlander, nor did I create them. I am just borrowing them from Davis/Panzer and Rhysher Entertainment. No harm is intended.

** Special Thanks to Tia for the Beta read! Big hugs. **

Also, thank you to everyone who takes the time to email feedback for each installment and having the patience to wait for each new story in the series!

Note to Readers: This is story # 5, in a running series. This story follows: "Sacrifices." If you haven't read my previous stories in this alternate HL universe - I suggest you do - they build on one another.

** Story # 6 is in progress and is titled: "Fortune's Fool."

Please send feedback - good and bad!



Touching Nirvana

By Dawn M. Nyberg

"Richie! Come on," Duncan yelled down the hallway to the guest bedroom. Duncan went back to the kitchen to sit and wait. Today the HALO brace was being removed and Richie would be coming home with a cervical collar, to wear until his neck muscles were strong again. Duncan sighed and stood up, looking at his watch. "Rich!"

"Geez, Mac. I'm comin'," Richie answered, as he came into the kitchen, and rolled his eyes at the Immortal.

"Well, you don't seem to be too motivated, Rich," Duncan commented. "You'd think, after eight weeks, you would be ready to get rid of that brace."

"I am," Richie huffed slightly. Duncan just grinned and motioned toward the door.

In the past eight weeks they had attained another level in their relationship. Richie had to admit he couldn't do some things, and had to allow Duncan to help. Richie had quickly dropped the embarrassment of asking for help from the Highlander. Duncan had to do more for him than he had anticipated when he first came home, but the two of them met on a common ground of understanding.

"Do you need help?" Duncan, asked as he unlocked the passenger door to the T-Bird.

"Nah, I got it," Richie answered. On the drive to the hospital, between conversations, Richie's mind wandered back to eight weeks earlier. His lips quirked up a little, as he remembered the first time Duncan had to wash his hair for him after he came home. 'What a mess,' Richie thought to himself.

**Duncan had tried to figure out how to keep the padding dry, and get the job done. Duncan had asked Anne to bring some 'Rinsefree' shampoo from the hospital. Richie remembered reading the label, "Mac, it's gross. This stuff won't work!"

"Richie, this 'stuff' is used all the time," Duncan said irritated.

"Then you use it," Richie said, handing the bottle to Duncan.

"Oh, come on, Richie. Try it at least," he encouraged.

Richie eyed the Immortal, and took the bottle from him popping the top, and taking a sniff.

"Ugh," Richie responded as his nose crinkled.

Duncan looked frustrated." Here! It can't be that bad. Give it to me," the Immortal said, as he grabbed the bottle in question, and took a sniff. "God! What is that?"

"See I told you," Richie said with an indignant look.

"Well, hell," Duncan huffed. "Let me think a second."

They had ended up with Duncan arranging Richie against the tub with a spray nozzle hooked to the water faucet, and he had grabbed a trash bag from the pantry and put it over Richie to protect the padding of his harness from getting wet.

"A trash bag, Mac?" Richie said wide eyed, "What? Are you putting me to the curb tonight?"

Duncan just shook his head, and smiled."You're..." Duncan started to say.

"Impossible," Richie inserted with a grin.

Duncan had lathered up Richie's head with regular shampoo, opting to use that Rinsefree shampoo as raccoon repellent on trash night.

"Maaaac! My eyes! You're blinding me," Richie complained.

"Well, keep your eyes closed," Duncan said, as he wet a hand towel and wiped the suds from Richie's face and eyes. Duncan was mindful of keeping the padding dry, and rinsed the youth's head carefully. "There," he said, as he finished up, and grabbed a towel to pat at Richie's hair. "Now, was that so bad?"

"I'll let you know when I can see again," Richie complained.

"Let me see," Duncan said, as he took Richie's chin in his hand, and examined his eyes. "You'll live," his tone was amused. "Well, I could buy some of that baby shampoo. You know the tear free kind," he offered, with a large grin.

"Very funny," Richie fumed.

"Hey, beggars can't be choosers Rich," Duncan added. The Highlander noted the change in expression from Richie. "Richie, I didn't mean it like that. I like helping you. It's what family does for family." Richie's cheeks flushed, and his eyes looked away.

"I know," came the quiet reply, " I just wish you didn't have to."

"Hey" Duncan's voice was strong, "look at me, kiddo." Richie turned his eyes toward the Immortal. "I wish I didn't have to, either, but not because it's a burden or any inconvenience. I just wish the accident hadn't happened at all. Nobody said this was gonna be easy, Rich, but I'm in it for the long haul."

"Thanks, Mac." **

"Hey, Richie?"

Duncan's voice called Richie back from his thoughts to the present."Huh?"

"You okay?" Duncan inquired.

"Yeah, just zoned out. I'm fine." Duncan just smiled.

"Okay, just checkin' " came his reply. "Anne wants to bring dinner to the house tonight," Duncan said, watching Richie. The doctor had become a facet of Duncan's life, and Richie had grown to like her and not to see her as the enemy. She still didn't know about Duncan's Immortality, but that would come when Duncan thought the time was right.

"Tell her to get Thai," Richie suggested.

"Yeah, that does sound good," Duncan agreed.


**** Three Hours Later ****

Richie watched the scenery go by, as he and Duncan headed home. He kept raising his hand up and feeling where the brace pins used to be, and the Halo. Duncan saw him out of the corner of his eye.

"Feel strange?"

"Yeah, a little," Richie said, moving his hand to his new cervical collar. "This is pretty stiff."

"You know it has to be Rich," the doctor said you have to build up your neck muscles again after wearing the brace."

"I know," the youth agreed dropping his hand to his lap. "Hey, at least this one can get wet!"

"Yeah, but don't forget what the doctor said," Duncan spoke, looking from the road to the boy.

"I know, I know," Richie rolled his eyes, " I can wash my own head, but in order to dry my neck I have to remove the collar, and I'll need help until my muscles are stronger."

Duncan raised an eyebrow."So you were listening to the doctor after all," he commented with a grin.

"How could I not? He made us spend all that time practicing how you need to support my head and neck while it's off. God, I'll be glad when this is all over," Richie sighed.

"I know, Toughguy. Hey, you keep up with those neck exercises the doctor gave you to do, and you'll be back to your old self soon."

"Yeah," Richie idly agreed. "Hey, I noticed Anne didn't stick around to see the brace off. What happened to her?'

"Oh, she had something come up," Duncan said, with a grin, as he put on the turn signal to turn into the driveway.

Richie noticed his grin."What?" Richie asked, and followed Duncan's eyes. "Ah, man," was his reaction as he saw the cars at the house. He recognized Joe's, Adam's, Catherine's parents, and then he saw Anne's. Duncan patted his leg with a smile.

"It was all Anne and Catherine's doing," he said, with a smile, as Richie shot him a look. Duncan pointed up to the porch, as the door opened and the group came out. "They thought we should celebrate. I agreed."

Richie tried to stay irritated, but he didn't feel mad. Instead he felt an incredible warmth that he recognized came with feeling loved, and cared for. His eyes stung, and he quickly rubbed at them.

"Thanks, Mac," Richie's voice a little hoarse with emotion.

"You don't have to thank me. It was their idea," he assured.

"Not for this," he began hesitantly, "for ..." he paused, "for everything."

Duncan smiled, and lightly pulled Richie into an impromptu hug in the car."I'd do it all over again if I had to," the Highlander commented, his eyes mysteriously wet. "Now, let's get out of here. We got a party in your honor to attend."

"You bet," Richie quipped, as he opened the door.

The house was alive with laughter and conversation as Richie and Catherine quietly slipped out.

"I've missed this," Catherine commented as she ran her fingers through Richie's hair freely. She leaned in close, and kissed him.

Richie pulled back slightly."We're not alone, Cat," he said, as he reached up and cupped her face with one hand.

"Oh, Richie, listen to them in there. They aren't going to miss us," she said as her mouth covered Richie's again.

Richie pulled her close. They took a seat on the lawn, and Catherine sat against a tree as she urged Richie back into her lap to rest his head. The sun had begun its descent behind the trees. She leaned over him, and smiled.

"Come here," Richie said urging her toward his lips.

She held firm."No," she said with a smile, as she leaned a little closer, "You come to me."

Richie smiled, and lifted his head up toward her. He reached her lips, and consumed them. He pulled away slowly, and put his head back into her lap. She smiled. "Now, see, that wasn't so bad was it."

Richie smiled."Hey, if I'd known physical therapy was so rewarding," he said with a wink, "I would have gotten laid up a long time ago," he said with a chuckle.

Catherine swatted his stomach making him grunt."Richie! Don't ever say that, again! You almost died," she said as her face tightened in frustration.

"Hey! I didn't mean it. I was just kidding, Cat," he said reaching up to her face and tracing her bottom lip with his thumb. "I'm sorry. Okay?"

Her face softened, and she smiled."All right, then," she answered. "We better make an appearance in the house before a search party is sent out. Mom and dad have been experiencing the empty nest syndrome the last few days."

"Oh, yeah," Richie said, as he sat up with a little help from Catherine. "How's the apartment?"

"Great!"

"I can't wait to see it," Richie commented.

"You will, as soon as I have it all arranged." Catherine smiled, "and anyway you'll get to know the place pretty well." Richie knew what she meant, and as they stood up he pulled her to him with a hungry appetite. "Now, Now," she chided, "anxious boys seldom get dessert," she said with an all knowing smile. Richie and Catherine had put a hold on making love, wanting to learn to enjoy each other without sex, first.

"Tease," Richie whispered into her ear. She playfully swatted him. They walked back into the house together.

"I was wondering where the two of you ran off to," Duncan commented, as he popped a cork on a chilled wine bottle with a smile.

"Sorry, Mac. We were, ah..." Richie said, as his cheeks colored slightly. Catherine looked at Richie and blushed, as well. Duncan's comment left the two slightly flushed.

"Well, you're only young once, right? I didn't expect you two to hang out with us old fogies all night, anyway" Duncan commented, with a smile.

"Oh, Mr. MacLeod," she paused as she noticed Duncan's raised eyebrow, "sorry," she said with a smile, "Mac," she corrected herself, and Duncan nodded. "I wish my parent's were as liberal as you are. You're lucky, Richie."

"Now, Catherine," Duncan interjected, "It's not that I'm more liberal than your parents, it's just that I trust the two of you. You both have good heads on your shoulders, and anyway if Richie had been a girl, I think my tune would be different," he said, as he reached out and fondly ruffled Richie's hair.

"Maaaac!"

**Later that night, after the party**

Duncan moved in his sleep, fighting off a nightmare. He saw Adam, his face grim, he fought against hearing the words coming from the ancient Immortals mouth. "I'm sorry, MacLeod. We were wrong about the boy," his face actually showing emotion, and this scared Duncan.

"No, he'll be fine. Where is he?" Duncan begged. He followed Adam's gesture. Duncan saw Anne approach.

"I'm so sorry," she offered. Duncan found himself alone in a darkened room, and the only light in it illuminated one spot, and Richie was there. Lifeless, and unmoving. Duncan approached him; his steps unsteady. He crumpled to his knees beside the young man. He felt a coldness sweep through him, and he knew Richie was gone. The whys and hows didn't seem to matter, only Richie mattered. Duncan gathered the youth up into his arms. Just as the agony was about to overtake him, he woke up, and sat bolt upright. His breath catching in his throat.

"Duncan?" Anne asked gently, "Are you okay?"

Duncan looked at her taking in the fact it was, indeed, just a nightmare.

"I'm fine. Sorry I woke you. Just a bad dream."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No, I'm fine," he kissed her lightly on the lips. "Go back to sleep."

She smiled, and nestled close to him. She had taken to spending a night or two at the house, and Duncan was glad she was here. He waited until he was sure she was asleep, and quietly left the bed. He had to do something and he wouldn't sleep until he checked on the young man. Duncan crept down the hallway toward Richie's room. The youth had moved back upstairs the night before his Halo was removed. Duncan opened the door quietly, and walked in. He stood over the young man comforted by his deep even breathing of sleep. He gently pulled the comforter up over Richie, and left the room, as quietly as he had entered. The youth was safe, and that was all that mattered to him. He crawled back into bed, and soon Anne moved in sleep to rest her head against him. He smiled as he pulled the sheet up over her bare shoulder, and closed his eyes. Sleep came easily.

*****
"Duncan," the voice was soft, and he felt Anne kiss his lips lightly.

"Hmm..." he said grinning slightly with his eyes closed.

"I have to go. I have early rounds, and I'm in the ER all day," Anne replied. Duncan opened his eyes, and noticed the sun was beginning to break over the trees in the backyard.

"It's time already?" he said sitting up.

"Yes, sleepy head," she said as she ran her fingers through his hair. "Did you have any more nightmares, after you fell back asleep, last night?" she questioned with concerned eyes.

Duncan remembered the nightmare, and shook the memory off quickly."No," was his simple reply.

She didn't push. She had learned Duncan always talked when he was ready, and not before. Duncan got up, and wrapped himself in a robe, and walked Anne out to the car. It was Monday which meant she would be staying in town tonight at her apartment instead of the house.

Duncan walked into the kitchen intent on making some coffee. A yelp of a noise caught his attention; it had come from upstairs. "Rich!" he called out, as he took the stairs two at a time. He got to the boy's room, and spotted Richie sitting on the bed with an embarrassed smile.

"Sorry, Mac," Richie said quickly, as he saw the alarmed look on the Highlander's face.

"What is it? Are you all right?" Duncan said trying not to bellow.

"I'm fine," Richie assured. "I forgot my brace wasn't on, and started to go get up to answer the call of nature," he said, smiling in an attempt to calm the Immortal down.

"Rich," Duncan's voice was stern. "Well, I suppose you'll remember to be more careful next time. Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yeah."

"You're up awfully early," Duncan commented, with a smile.

"Well, I heard you walk Anne out, and Cat's coming over today. We're going to the park."

"Getting out will do you good," Duncan said smiling. "I have to go into the city today. I have some business things to handle at the Dojo, and I'm discussing them with Charlie."

"Okay. Hey, tell Charlie I said 'Hi'," Richie said. Richie had liked Charlie DeSalvo from the beginning, and liked to shoot the breeze with him when he had time to stop at the Dojo.

**At Catherine's Apartment**

"Well?" Catherine asked, her eyes studying Richie. He grinned under the appraisal.

"Well, what?" he said, looking innocent.

"Oh, Richie," she said, exasperated, "the apartment, Mr. Difficult," she joked.

"It's great," he said, as he eyed the lace drapes, "it's definitely a chick pad," he said smiling. Catherine swatted at him, hitting him in the stomach. "Hey, hey! Beat up on a cripple, huh," he quipped.

"You're impossible," she said smiling brightly at him. Richie pulled her to him. "Be careful," she said, as she gently fingered the cervical collar.

"What do you say about trying some of those exercises we tried the other day?" Richie asked with an innocent smile. "You know, the ones with the incentive."

Catherine smiled and walked him to the couch. She sat down with an all knowing smile on her face. She patted her lap, and Richie took the cue. He laid his head down in her lap, as she helped to support his head. "Now, come and get it," she urged. Richie smiled, and raised his head up from her lap, and met her lips with his.

** Two Hours Later **

"Richie?"

"Hmm," he mumbled into her neck.

"I love you."

The statement came suddenly, and left Richie almost breathless. He pulled away from her neck to look at her. They had curled up on the floor a while ago, and just wanted to hold each other, and, as odd as the moment seemed to him, to say what he was ready to, it also seemed perfect at the same time.

"I love you, too," he answered as he pulled her into the circle of his arms. She looked into his eyes, and knew it was the truth, and not just a knee jerk reaction to her admission. He really meant it, felt it. Tonight she wanted to share herself with him, body and soul. Catherine had moved to prop her head on Richie's chest, as he stroked her hair away from her face. She just smiled, as she played with the buttons of his shirt. She began to slowly unbutton them.

"Cat...," Richie spoke, hesitantly.

"Shh," she cooed. "Let me do the all the work."

"Cat...," he began again, only to be stopped with a kiss.

She felt his hesitation and pulled back from his face."You don't want to make love?" she questioned.

"That's not it, Cat."

She smiled at that answer. "Good." She crawled on top of him as his shirt lay open. She bent near his ear. "It's okay, Richie," she encouraged. "Relax, you're not getting graded."

"Cat..."

"Shh... it'll be so much better if you relax. Don't fight it."

Then, suddenly, Richie was back with Logan. The words had been slightly different, but that didn't matter. Richie's body began to tremble. He could almost feel his bones hitting against each other, because the shaking was so profound.

"Richie?" Catherine pulled away, concerned, as she felt the pronounced shaking. She pulled off of him and, when she did, he curled onto his side as he continued to shake. "Richie? What is it? You're scaring me. Please?"

"Logan...," he whispered.

"Logan? Logan, who?" Catherine was terrified at the sight of Richie. "I'll call Mac," she spoke urgently.

Richie caught her weakly by the arm as he continued to shake. His eyes were pleading."No, please. Not Mac" he begged.

Richie knew he had to tell her and he felt he wanted to. She soothed him, as the shaking subsided. Finally, he pulled away from her.

"There's something I need to tell you."

"I'm listening. Whatever it is, I'm here." She reached out for him.

** Two Hours Later **

Catherine's face was streaked with silent tears, as she held Richie in her arms on the sofa. She was still trying to get her mind around the horrific things she had just been told. Richie had told her about the rape, almost dying from shock and his attempted suicide while he was recovering. He had told her with silent tears, that eventually gave way to sobbing. She held him close, as she stroked his hair.

"It wasn't your fault," she comforted. She didn't know what to say to him. They talked well into the night and Richie fell asleep in the circle of Catherine's arms on the couch.

** Meanwhile **

Duncan sat watching Adam move his chess piece, his mind split between the late game and the still missing Richie. "Your move," Adam urged. Duncan didn't really think and moved quickly. "Where's your mind?" Adam sounded off. "That was a bloody stupid mistake a beginner wouldn't even make." Duncan glared at him. Adam studied the Highlander's face and sighed loudly as he slightly shook his head. "Worrying about the boy?"

"I don't want to hear it tonight, Adam!" Duncan's tone dropped, indicating to Adam to tread lightly.

"I'm not implying anything," he assured. "Why are you worried? He is with the young lady and when the young and in love are alone, sometimes one thing leads to another. He's not a child, MacLeod." Duncan just stared at him. "He'll leave the nest someday."

"Yes, but not yet," Duncan cracked a smile.

"Well, consider Richie of the Capistrano variety," Adam began with a smile. "He may leave his home roost for other places, but he'll always return." Duncan smiled knowingly at the ancient Immortal and nodded.

Catherine covered Richie up, as he continued to sleep soundly on the couch and she went to the kitchen and picked up the phone.

"You want a beer, Adam?" Duncan shook his head, as he realized what he had asked, and mumbled to himself, "Stupid question."

"You have to ask," came the sarcastic answer from the old Immortal, as he entered the kitchen. Duncan just rolled his eyes. Just as Duncan was about to say something, the phone rang.

"Here," he said handing Adam the beer and heading toward the phone. "MacLeod."

"Mr. MacLeod."

Duncan recognized the quiet voice. "Catherine?"

"Yes."

"Is everything okay? Is Richie all right?" his voice was concerned.

"Oh, yes," she assured. "I just wanted to call and tell you he's asleep on my couch. I don't have the heart to wake him. I didn't want you to worry." Duncan relaxed and Adam saw the tension leave the Highlander's shoulders.

"That's fine. Let him sleep. Thanks for calling, Catherine. I'll see you in the morning, when you bring that sleepyhead of ours home." Catherine laughed quietly on the other end of the phone line. They said good-bye and Duncan hung up.

"No dramas tonight I take it," Adam gestured toward the phone.

Duncan allowed his mouth to quirk up slightly, at the remark.

"No. He fell asleep at her apartment. She just wanted to let me know, so I wouldn't worry that he wasn't coming home tonight."

Adam just offered a sardonic grin."So, are we going to finish that game now? Or, is your head still elsewhere?"

"Adam!" Duncan raised his voice to a peevish tone.

Adam allowed himself a genuine smile at the Highlander and raised his hands in mock surrender. "Come on. I have a match to win."

"Oh, really? We'll see."

** Catherine's Apartment the Next Morning **

Catherine had awakened earlier, and now sat on the floor in front of Richie, watching him sleep. The morning sun had begun to work its way across her carpet, toward Richie's sleeping form. She smiled, as she watched him stir. "Richie?" she whispered.

"Hmm?" he mumbled quietly. She smiled, again.

"Hey, handsome," she spoke quietly into his ear, "good morning." He opened his eyes, slowly.

"Cat?"

"Yes, it's me." Richie opened his eyes fully, now, and looked around.

"I was here all night?"

"Yes. I didn't have the heart to wake you."

"Oh, man! Mac is gonna be freaked out" Richie began to sit up from the couch.

"No, no. It's okay. I called Mac last night and told him you had fallen asleep. He knows you were safe."

Richie studied her, for a moment."Did you tell him?"

Catherine understood what Richie was asking about.

"No. Last night was between us, Richie" she soothed.

He offered a tentative smile for her."Good. Mac worries too much about me, as it is. He thinks all that stuff is behind us, now."

"Maybe, you should tell him it's not," Catherine offered.

"It is behind me, Cat," Richie began. "Last night just triggered something, that's all. I'm okay. Really," he tried to reassure her.

"I won't push," she said leaning in and kissing his forehead. "I love you."

"Ditto."

"How about some breakfast?" Catherine said, as she headed toward her kitchen.

"Sounds great!"

"Good. How about pancakes?"

"Mmm-mmm... good" he responded.

Catherine giggled."I'll take that as a yes."

"Sounds great, hon."

** Later that Morning **

"So, I'll see you in a week?" Richie said, leaning over the car seat to kiss Catherine.

"Yeah. The big family get together only happens every three years." Catherine commented, as she kissed Richie back. "I'll miss you."

"Miss you too, babe."

Richie climbed out of the car and waved, as Catherine pulled out of the driveway. He turned and headed toward the house. As he reached the steps to the porch, the door opened. He looked up. "Mornin', Mac"

"Good Morning, Rich." Duncan looked the young man over. "Everything okay?"

"Yep"

Richie wasn't sure if he wanted to talk to the Highlander about the Logan flashbacks. He knew that time in both their lives had been hard. Mac never spoke of it to him and Richie didn't want to bring it up. Duncan followed Richie to the kitchen and watched the youth grab some orange juice.

"Want some breakfast?"

"Nah. Cat fed me."

Duncan smiled at Richie."Does she have any food left?" Duncan asked, with a wry smile.

"Maaaac!"

Duncan chuckled."Just kidding."

"So ,what's on the agenda with you and the Doc tonight?" Richie asked, as he pointed to the tickets on the refrigerator held down by a magnet.

"A play at the Victoria Theater," the Highlander commented, as he looked at the clock. "Actually, I should get dressed and go into the city to get Anne soon."

"The Victoria, huh? Not the greatest neighborhood Mac."

"I know, but Anne wants to see this play."

"Takin' the T-Bird?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Mac, come on that theater isn't far from the warehouse district. You'll be lucky if the frames' still there, when you get back" Richie snickered.

Duncan swatted at him."Anne said she was up for a walk tonight; so, I'm parking it close to that little park near the river. The car will be fine, Richie."

"Okay, but don't say I didn't tell ya so when it gets stripped."

"Uh-huh. What are you up to tonight, since Catherine is out of town?"

"I'm just gonna hang out here tonight." Duncan eyed the youth suspiciously, at the statement. "What?" Richie asked in annoyance.

"You feelin' okay?" Duncan's brow was creased in concern.

"Oh, come on, Mac! I'm fine. A guy can want to stay home every now and again."

"Yeah. You sure you're okay? Somethin' on your mind?"

Thoughts about the Logan flashback crossed Richie's mind for a moment.

"Nah, I'm fine, Mac." Richie reassured the Highlander.

"Okay," Duncan relented.

** Two Hours later at the House **

Richie waved at Duncan, as he left, and went back into the house. He wandered into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He wasn't hungry or thirsty and closed the door. He couldn't shake this strange feeling he was experiencing. The shadows across the foyer made him feel uneasy. He turned on some lights. "You're losing it, Ryan," he muttered to himself. He paced around the family room, until he finally paused at the mantle. He smiled at the pictures. Pictures of the three of them. His family. He traced a finger over Tessa's image. "I miss you, Tess," he murmured. The front porch creaked and Richie jumped. He looked out the window and saw nothing. Then the feeling he couldn't define began to assail him, again. He tried to fight it. He heard Logan's voice in his head. He could remember Logan's hands on him, it was as if his flesh remembered each awful touch from that man. Richie felt his body tremble and he fought for control. He refused to lose it. "Get a grip, Ryan," he said to himself. He had to talk, but to who?

Richie found himself in Duncan's back room office. He thumbed through his desktop rolodex and stopped at a name and number. He glanced at the clock and decided the time difference couldn't be avoided. He had to talk to the one person he knew could help him sort out his feelings. The phone rang. Once. Twice. Finally, a muffled sleepy voice answered, "Allo?"

Richie hesitantly spoke, "Sean?"

"Yes," the sleepy inflection on the other end instantly gone. "Richie? Are you all right?" Sean sat up in his bed an ocean away, in Le Havre, France. "It's alright, lad. What it is it?" There was still silence. "You're safe, Richie. Are you all right?"

"Yes-No, I don't know," Richie stumbled over his words.

"Hey-hey, it's all right. Start from the beginning," the old Immortal encouraged. Richie began to talk and explain to Sean what he was feeling. He knew the man could help.

** The other end of town. After the play **

"See, I said you would enjoy it," Anne said taking Duncan's arm, as they started their two-block walk back to the car.

"It wasn't bad, I suppose." Duncan pulled her close, for a moment. " I enjoyed the company more," he said with a glint in his eye.

"Stop right there, Mr. MacLeod," she scolded. "Flattery will not get you out of admitting you liked it. Come on, say it."

"Oh, all right. I liked it," Duncan conceded with a rueful smile. It was a warm and breezy Seacouver summer night and Duncan relished sharing it with Anne. They walked the two blocks to the park where they had left the T-Bird. Duncan kept on the look out for any trouble on the way there. He had almost reconsidered the parking choice, but Anne had urged him to leave the car.

"Let's walk to the water, Duncan. It's such a nice evening."

"I'm not sure. It's late. Maybe we should..." his words were stopped by Anne's mouth.

"You're sure you want to leave?" Anne said, with studied innocence, grinning.

"Cheater," Duncan teased.

"Me? Surely, you jest. All's fair in love and war. Isn't it?"

"Not everything," Duncan offered. "You win though. We'll take a walk." He still didn't like staying around very long. He didn't want trouble to find them.

"It's a gorgeous night, Duncan. Neither of us brought our cell phones, and I left my beeper at home. We won't have interruptions. Isn't it quiet?"

"Yes, it is." Duncan agreed. They walked down to the water and stood there arm in arm watching the distant city lights across the bay. Duncan couldn't shake the feeling they were being watched. He casually looked over his shoulder. Anne noticed.

"Duncan, we're all alone. You're worrying over nothing."

"Maybe?" he offered. "But, I think we should be going. I'd feel better if we did."

Anne looked at Duncan and smiled."Oh, all right worrywart."

They turned to go back to the car. Suddenly a shadow came out from behind a tree and something metallic gleamed in the moonlight. The park was dimly illuminated with only sparse lights. Duncan stepped in front of Anne and pulled her behind him. He didn't sense an Immortal. "Duncan?" Anne whispered from behind Duncan, as she clung to his sleeve.

"Shh... say nothing, please," he said, under his breath.

"You stupid or somethin' man?" A tall, slender youth spoke with bravado. "You rich yuppies think you own the world. I want your money, I want everything."

"Hey, friend. Just take it easy," Duncan tried to placate the youth.

"Screw you! You take it easy!" He spat, as he brandished the gun at Duncan and Anne. "I want everything! NOW!"

Duncan knew this was going to end badly. He had to protect Anne at all costs. He couldn't lose her the way he had lost Tessa. A car horn sounded in the parking lot and voices shouted. "Come on man! Do em'! We got a better score."

The youth raised his gun. "Keep your shit, man. Die rich..." he raised the gun and Duncan pushed Anne to the ground. Duncan lunged for the young man. A shot rang out. The youth turned and ran. The awaiting car sped out of the parking lot, leaving Duncan and Anne alone in the darkness.

Anne looked over and watched Duncan crumple to the ground. She rose and scrambled toward him. He knew he was dying and he couldn't get any words out. "Anne," came out as a breathless whisper. Anne pushed down on the large wound.

"Shh, don't talk, Duncan. It's going to be okay. I'll get help." She started to reach for her purse and remembered that neither of them had brought their cell phones.

Duncan's strength was failing and his eyes started to flutter closed. In the back of his mind he knew there would be a lot of explaining when he woke up. "Duncan!" Anne pleaded. "Stay with me" She pushed down on the wound harder. The bleeding was bad. Duncan looked at her for a long second as his eyes closed. "Duncan? Stay with me!" Anne reached up and felt for a pulse. There wasn't one. "No!" She shouted to the dark.

She started CPR, even though the half of her that was a doctor knew it was useless. She knew by experience it had been a hollow point bullet. The damage and blood loss were too severe. She stopped compressions and mechanically checked for a pulse, again. Nothing. It was with that final acceptance that the doctor in her slipped away, and she was only a woman who had just watched the man she loved slip away from her and die. She sat on the ground and pulled him to her. Holding him in her lap, rocking him , as she wept. She cradled his head against her chest, as long minutes passed.

With a sudden intake of breath, Duncan came into life again. He came back in Anne's arms. "Duncan!" she jerked. "No, you were... I'm dreaming."

"No," he gritted out. The pain had not finished receding, yet. Anne lowered him to the ground.

"Don't move! I have to get help," she didn't, medically, understand anything that was happening. This was impossible. 'Maybe, he had a final release of adrenaline that started his heart, again,' she tried to convince herself.

"Anne, please listen," Duncan started to sit up.

"Duncan, stop! You're in shock. I have to get help."

"For what?" he said, with a smile, as the pain passed. "We need to talk."

"Talk! You've been critically shot, Duncan. Lie still. I need to get you to a hospital."

"I'm fine," he said grabbing her hand to make her focus on his words. "Look at the wound," he encouraged. She opened his shirt with urgency. The wound was gone. The only signs, of the injury, that remained were dried and drying blood. Her fingers felt the skin of Duncan's chest, where the wound had been. All that remained of the wound, itself, was a tiny red welt, that she watched lighten and disappear in front of her eyes.

"What? How?" She said, looking at him, her eyes wide with wonder and confusion.

"I can explain," he said with a smile and sat up. Anne watched him in amazement. Suddenly, explanations were the last thing on her mind, as reality sank in. Duncan was alive. She grabbed him and kissed him on the lips, cheeks, nose, forehead, all the while giggling in delight.

"You're alive. You're okay," she said, as she ran her fingers through his hair. "Whatever it is, I don't care. You're alive." Duncan pulled back from her kisses.

"Anne, there are things I have to tell you, now. I would have told you, eventually, but tonight," he paused, looking at his bloody shirt, "well, you could say earlier events of the evening have prompted me to tell you now."

They sat in the park all night. He explained about the Game, Immortals, and challenges. He told her, as he had Tessa, that, if she stayed with him, there would be no children because he couldn't have any. Anne asked questions, and Duncan answered them honestly, and didn't sugarcoat. It was important to him that he be honest with Anne, about everything. They sat watching the Seacouver sunrise, side by side. Anne reached over and put her hand on top of Duncan's.

"Shouldn't we head home?" she offered with a warm smile.

"Home? Anne are you sure?" Duncan asked, as he watched her face.

"Oh, Duncan, is anything sure in life? I know I love you. That is something I'm sure of. I can't say everything has hit me, yet. I understand everything you've told me," she paused, "I want to be with you, Duncan."

"You'll be giving up a lot, Anne," she stopped him, by placing a single finger over his lips.

"Shh, I'm not giving up anything. I'm gaining." She studied Duncan's face, "I trust Richie knows about..."

"Yes. Since, he first came into my life. Anne, there will be challenges. Immortals will come for my head."

"Yes, I know. I remember 'there can be only one.' What an absurd rule, but I remember." They talked a while longer and walked to the car and headed for the house.

** Back at the House **

Richie had fallen asleep on the couch, after his lengthy talk with Sean Burns had ended. Sean had been able to talk Richie through his feelings and flashbacks. He wanted Richie to call him once a week, for a while, and he had agreed. He also encouraged Richie to tell Duncan. Duncan and Anne pulled up to the house. Duncan got out and walked around to open the door for Anne. Her face crinkled up at the sight of his shirt. He offered her a rueful smile. "You're a mess," Anne stated, looking him over in the morning light.

"Yeah, and this was one of my favorite shirts," Duncan said, with amusement. Anne swatted him. Duncan unlocked the front door and stepped inside. He felt the familiar pre-Immortal hum Richie gave off and stopped in the foyer.

"Is something wrong?" Anne questioned.

Duncan put a finger to his lips and peeked around the corner and saw Richie asleep on the couch in the family room. He motioned to Anne and she understood why he had silenced her.

"Rich?" Duncan said, quietly, to the sleeping form.

"Hmm...?" came the sleepy reply.

"Hey, sleepyhead," Duncan said, as he gently ruffled the young man's hair.

"Mornin' Mac" Richie said, through half open eyes. He saw Anne standing behind the Immortal. "Hey, Anne."

"Good morning, Richie," she offered.

Richie looked the disheveled pair over, as his eyes opened more fully. He took in Duncan's bloody shirt, and sat up quickly.

"Mac! What the hell happened to you?" Richie looked at the Highlander intensely for a moment and then at Anne.

Duncan recognized the look."It's okay, Rich. She knows. I told her everything."

"Everything?"

"Yes, Richie."

The young man looked over at Anne, again, and this time he winced suddenly.

"Richie!" Anne scolded. "Where is your cervical collar?"

"Uh, I take it off when I sleep, Anne. I just forgot about it," Richie said in his defense.

"Richard, I don't expect you to sleep with it on, but it serves a purpose. You must remember to be careful. Your neck is still weak."

"Yeah-yeah," Richie said, a little annoyed at being reprimanded by her.

"You okay, Toughguy?" Duncan asked, as he noticed the reaction Richie was having towards Anne's words. "Here," he said, as he offered the collar to Richie.

"I'm fine, Mac. Thanks."

"Hey, why are you sleeping down here, anyway? Everything okay?"

"Huh? Yeah. So, what happened Mac? An Immortal?"

"No, just some punk wanting money, and you're changing the subject, Rich. What's bothering you?" Duncan said, as his brow furrowed in concern. Anne took the cue.

"Well, if you gentleman will excuse me, I think I might freshen up. Duncan, I'll be upstairs."

Duncan smiled at her."Help yourself to some sweats, or something," Duncan offered. She smiled and left.

"Okay. Talk." Duncan said, as he looked intensely at Richie.

"Mac, not now, okay? Later."

"No, now! You're avoiding. What's wrong?"

"You're gonna notice some long distance phone calls, for a while."

"Long distance?" Duncan was confused. He wasn't sure where the young man was headed with this conversation.

"Yeah, to Le Havre."

"Le Havre? Who's in...?" He didn't finish his sentence. "Did you call Sean?"

"Yeah. Do you mind?" Richie said, as he dropped his eyes from the Highlander's.

"No, of course not. Are you okay?" There was a pause from the young man and Duncan studied his silent features. "Talk to me Rich."

"Nothing to say, Mac. I-I couldn't... you know... with Cat. I kinda freaked out, last night."

The Highlander studied the young man he loved like he was his own son. His tone was gentle, "Logan?" Richie stared at his feet. Duncan reached out and put a finger under his chin. "Rich?" he said softly. Ryan's eyes looked into the Highlander's and Duncan saw the raw vulnerability that was in them.

"Sorry, Mac." Richie's voice was quiet.

Duncan shook his head slightly."For what, Rich? You've done nothing wrong."

"I shouldn't be such a wimp. It shouldn't still bother me."

Duncan reached behind Richie's head and cupped the back of it with a hand."Look at me, Richie." Duncan paused and the young eyes met his once again. "You're not a wimp! Do you hear what I'm saying? Hmm...?" Duncan waited for a response.

"Yeah," came out, ever so quietly, from the youth.

"Huh? I didn't hear that."

"Yeah. I hear ya, Mac."

"Good." Duncan pulled Richie to him and embraced the young man. "Would you like for Sean to come here?"

"Nah, the phone is good. He's a great guy, Mac."

"I know. I will always value his friendship."

"He's one of the good ones, isn't he?"

The Highlander smiled at that."Yes, Richie. He is that!"

"So, Anne knows, huh?"

"Yes."

"Is she freaked?"

"She's handling it. I don't think it's quite hit her, yet," Duncan said, as his eyes looked up the staircase.

"Well, she'll just have to get broke in. Ya know..." Richie stopped what he was saying and supplemented with a swishing noise, as he imitated a sword slicing the air. Duncan swatted him lightly in the stomach.

"Rich!"

"Well... it's the truth." Richie offered, with a grin. "Is she moving in?"

"Maybe. How do you feel about that?"

Richie grunted with an amused look on his face at the Highlander's question."Like it really matters, Mac. I know you like her."

"It does matter, Richie. How do you feel about Anne?"

"She's cool."

"Cool? Can you expand on that?"

"I won't mind if she moves in. Okay?"

"She does like you, Rich. I'm not trying replace..." Duncan left the statement unfinished. Richie knew who he meant. Tessa.

"I know, Mac. She makes you happy. You deserve some happiness."

"Hey, understand this, Toughguy, I am happy. I'm happy we're a family, and that you're in my life."

"Geez, Mac. Gettin' sentimental on me, in your old age!" Richie smiled at the Immortal.

"Hey, watch yourself," Duncan chided, with a smile. Both men heard footsteps start on the steps and both looked up to see Anne descending.

"Is it still 'men only', or can I join in?" Anne said amused, noticing the mild tension, that was apparent before, was now gone. Or resolved, she wasn't sure which. Duncan reached out an arm for her and she walked up to his side, as he pulled her close.

Richie smiled at her."Welcome to the club," he said with amusement.

Duncan leveled a look at the youth."Rich," he warned.

Anne gave Duncan's waist a squeeze."Oh, Duncan, he didn't say anything wrong," she assured.

"Yeah, Mac," Richie agreed.

** Three weeks later **

"Where's Richie," Duncan asked, as he scanned the backyard from his place at the grill.

"He said he'd be back, Mr. MacLeod. He ran inside the house." Catherine answered, as she handed Anne a bowl of potato salad. "I'll go hunt him down."

"It's Mac, Catherine," Duncan corrected the young woman, with an amused smile.

"I know. I'm sorry."

Catherine ran up to the house and went inside. She called out Richie's name, but didn't get an answer. She went into the foyer and called his name out again at the bottom of the stairs, "Richie!"

"Yeah," answered a familiar disembodied voice from upstairs.

"Everyone is ready to eat."

"I'm coming," Richie answered from the top of the staircase, as he came into Catherine's view. He bounded down the stairs. It didn't take Catherine long to notice what Richie was now missing.

"Richie! Where is your brace?"

"Take it easy, Cat. I've been doing extra exercises for weeks, now, in my room at night. I'm fine."

"And, when did you get a medical degree, huh?" she chided.

"It's fine."

"Mac, isn't going to be happy. Anne's going to freak" Catherine suggested.

"Come on. I'm hungry and I better get out there before Adam and Joe eat us out of house and home." Catherine laughed at that.

"Uh-huh. If that's not the pot calling the kettle black. This from the human version of a Hoover."

"Hey, now! That hurts," he kidded. She came up to him and put her hand out and touched his face. He pulled her to him and kissed her. She pulled away after a long moment and looked at him with worried eyes. "What?" he questioned.

"You're sure," she said, as her hand fell gently to his neck.

He smiled. "I'm sure."

Duncan was finishing the last of the hamburgers on the grill when Anne's alarmed voice startled him.

"Richie!" Anne's alarm making everyone seated turn quickly in the direction she was looking. Duncan's eyes narrowed on the young man. He looked over at Adam.

"Will you take over," he asked the ancient Immortal. Adam rose to the occasion without so much as one under his breath comment. Duncan stared in awe. Adam just looked at him, as he took the grilling utensil from the Highlander's hand.

"What are you waiting for?" he said, with a hint of a smile on his lips. Duncan strode over toward Richie.

Anne had already beat him to the youth."Richie, go back and get your brace this second. Do you want to undo all that has been done? You could hurt yourself! There are reasons for time tables, Richard."

"Hey, my neck is fine. I'm not going to wear that damned brace another day. I'm fine."

"Richie, don't take that tone with Anne," Duncan warned.

"Or what, Mac? Huh? I'm an adult, in case you didn't know! And, she's not my mother."

"Richie!" Catherine placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to calm him. He shrugged off it off.

"Duncan, calm down," Anne said lightly. "I overstepped, a bit. I apologize, Richie."

Ryan dropped his eyes from the doctor. "Sorry, I blew up," he offered.

"It's okay. Maybe you could meet me halfway on this," she offered.

"What did you have in mind?" Richie questioned.

"Let me examine you inside the house. Just to be on the safe side."

"All right," came the reluctant reply.

Duncan began to follow them."No, Duncan. We'll be out shortly. We have guests and the food is going to get cold."

Duncan looked at her, for a long moment. "It's okay," she assured him. Duncan nodded, extended an arm to Catherine, and they both walked back to the picnic table.

** One Month Later **

The morning sun came in through the blinds of Catherine's apartment ---- as Richie opened his eyes. His gaze quickly went to the soft hair that spread across his chest and shoulder ---- he smiled. Catherine stirred against him. He moved his face toward the top of her head and inhaled. He loved her scent. He lightly kissed the crown of her head, as it rested on his chest. She opened her eyes and looked up into his. "Good morning." He smiled, as he said those words.

"Mmm... " she nestled into his chest, again, with a smile and coo of contentment. She traced her finger down the middle of his chest, slowly. She turned her lips into his chest and kissed it. Her finger continued to blaze a trail down his chest ---- to his stomach ----
she reached the point where the sheet began ---- she looked up into his eyes, once again, with a mischievous grin, as her finger continued its descent.

"Whoa!" he said, as he laughed. "Better not start what we can't finish, babe."

Catherine looked at the clock."There's plenty of time," she cooed as she traced her finger back up from under the sheet to gently circle one of Richie's nipples.

"Babe, I have to run home yet, and make it to my appointment with Dr. Mayer about applying for my grad studies. We graduate in two semesters ya know."

"Are you sure you can't stay?" Catherine whispered, as she began to suckle one of Richie's erect nipples. Richie groaned deep in his throat and pulled Catherine up toward his face and devoured her mouth. Catherine pulled away from his mouth ---- smiling. She began a passionate trail down the middle of his chest ---- alternating between kissing his warm skin or drawing lines with her tongue. Richie enveloped her in his strong arms and soon was on top of her. Catherine wrapped her legs around his and arched into him ---- urging. Richie moved rhythmically until Catherine's breath came in shallow, quick gasps. She squeezed her fingers into his back, as they climaxed together. Richie buried his face into Catherine's neck ---- in love ---- content.

"I love you," he whispered in her ear, as he lifted his head and gently kissed her ear lobe.

She ran her hands through his curly hair and cupped his face as she looked into his eyes."I love you, too." She glanced at the clock and frowned.

Richie followed her eyes."I know, but I have to," he said apologetically.

"I know," she answered as Richie climbed out of the bed. The sunlight hit his naked body that still glistened with sweat. She smiled and her eyes surveyed his every contour, as he reached over the chair to grab his clothes to take them into the bathroom. "Hey," she said, smiling to the retreating figure.

"Yeah?"

"Save some warm water for me," she said, with a smile.

Richie grinned at her."Wanna share?" he offered.

Catherine laughed, threw the sheets back and went to him.

"I take that as a yes," he mused. She swatted his bare backside. "Ow."

** At the University ---- Later that Day **

"Well, Richard," Dr. Mayer began. "It's just about that time isn't it? Have you considered staying on at this university for your graduate studies? Or are your eyes set somewhere else? With your academic standing, and excellent performance, the department is prepared to offer you a teaching fellowship and complete tuition remission for your degree."

Richie sat, dumbfounded, by the unexpected offer. Tuition had not been a problem for him, because Mac had always paid for it. He grinned slightly at that memory. He had refused Mac, at first, but the Immortal had a way with manipulating words, when he wanted to, and Richie had caved in.

"Dr. Mayer," Richie paused. "I had considered a couple different universities, but Seacouver is home. My family is here and I have been happy at the university."

"That's wonderful to hear, Richard. Well, think it over. The slot is yours in the microbiology department, if you want it."

"Thanks."

Richie and Dr. Mayer talked a bit longer and finally finished things up around 2:00. Richie stood and extended his hand to Dr. Mayer, and smiled. "Have a great day, Dr. Mayer."

"You too, Richard."

Richie left the office with a lot on his mind. He really liked the microbiology program, here. The only snag was, that Catherine was considering a Master's degree abroad and she had asked him to consider going with her. He had a lot to think about and he really wanted to go over his options with Mac, before he made any concrete plans.

Richie pulled into the driveway, saw the T-Bird, and was glad Mac was home. He pulled his 4X4 into the garage. Mac had bought him this as a replacement for his Jeep after the accident. Richie walked toward the side kitchen door and into the kitchen.

"Mac?"

"In the office, Rich," came a muffled reply from down the hallway off the kitchen. Richie poked his head into the office. Duncan looked up. "Hey, Rich."

"Hey," he paused a second, "You got a second, Mac?"

Duncan's brow furrowed slightly."Everything okay?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. I wanted to talk to you about my meeting at school."

"All right. What's going on?"

Richie sat and discussed his options, with Duncan, at length.

"Rich, money isn't a problem. If you want to study somewhere other than Seacouver it wouldn't be a problem."

"Mac, you shouldn't be paying for my graduate studies."

The Highlander sighed. "Richie, we've covered this ground before. I want to pay for your education. Do you remember what I said to you, the last time we talked about money and school?"

Richie's eyes dropped slightly and he looked at his hands."Yeah," he answered quietly.

"What was that?"

"Yeah," Richie answered more loudly.

"And, what did I tell you?" He prompted.

"That, before Tessa died, she wanted me to go to college and you guys had decided, together, that you were going to put me through college."

"So... is the question of education money still an issue?"

"No -- Thanks, Mac."

"It's okay, Rich. So, now it's up to you. Where do you want to study?"

"I gotta think," he replied.

Duncan studied the young man. "Richie?"

"Yeah."

"I noticed you came in early this morning, again. It's the third night this week."

Richie blushed at the Immortal."Maaaac!"

The Highlander chuckled quietly."Hey, just asking. I know you're an adult. You love her, don't you?"

"Yeah... Yeah, I do," Richie agreed. "She's great, Mac." Duncan raised an eyebrow and Richie caught on. "Mac! I didn't mean that."

"I know. I'm just playing with ya, Rich." Duncan and Richie had grown into a comfortable relationship since Tessa's death. Richie trusted and depended on Duncan as if he were his father. It hadn't mattered to Richie, for a long time, who his biological parents were. Tessa and Mac were his family, his parents. Tessa would always be his mother in his heart. Anne would never replace Tessa, but he accepted her friendship and her relationship with Duncan. Life was good.

** Later that Night **

"What's on your mind, Duncan?" Anne asked, over her wine glass.

"It's nothing," the Immortal assured her. "I'm glad we could have a quiet dinner at home, tonight," he added.

"Me, too. You know, you're not going to get out of the question as easily as that, Mr. MacLeod." The Highlander smirked at her words. "So, what is it?"

"Rich."

"Is something wrong?" Her voice was concerned.

"No-No," he reassured. "We spoke about graduate school today."

Anne smiled -- knowing now what the cause of Duncan's pensive look was."Impending empty nest syndrome, huh?"

"What?"

"I'm a doctor, Duncan. I recognize the signs," she quietly laughed, as she reached her hand over her plate and placed it on Duncan's forearm -- gently.

The Immortal chuckled."It's going to be strange not having him around."

"I understand. He'll be okay, though. He's a survivor. He takes after you, in more ways than either of you are probably willing to admit."

"I know he'll be fine. It's just -- it's..." he hesitated.

"You'll miss him," she inserted.

"Yes."

"Where is he, tonight? Catherine's?"

"That's where he said he was headed, when he left," Duncan answered.

"I hope they're being safe, Duncan. You did have a birds and the bees conversation with him, a long time ago, didn't you?"

"Anne, he's never needed me to explain those kinds of things to him. He's responsible."

"Richie's responsible, but his twenty-one year old hormones aren't." Duncan burst out with a loud chuckle at her frank comment. "Hey, I doubt you'll still be laughing, if he ends up making you a grandfather."

If only he could... he thought silently to himself. The Immortal had never told Anne about Richie's pre-Immortal status. She didn't need to know. Not yet, at least.

"Earth to Duncan," Anne said waving a hand in front of Duncan's distant looking eyes.

"Huh? Oh, sorry...," he replied.

"I didn't mean to imply anything by the grandfather comment, Duncan. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Anne. Richie and Catherine are fine. I trust them and him."

"Okay," she agreed with him, but her reply held some doubt.

** Downtown Seacouver **

"Richie, let's go in there," Catherine pulled on his arm.

"The bookstore?"

"Yes," her voice excited. "They have a section of old and rare books. I'd love to find something for my mom's birthday."

"All right, let's go in." Richie gave in.

"The old books are up in the loft area," Catherine said, pointing up the wooden staircase.

"You go, babe. I think I'll check out the magazines."

Catherine kissed him quickly on the cheek and went up the stairs. Richie stood at the large magazine rack in the back of the old building, idly thinking to himself that Catherine and bookstores were a lethal combination. She could shop for a couple hours, easy, in a bookstore. Then, a voice, he'd never forget, came from behind him.

"Still full of potential, I see," the faceless -- yet familiar, husky feminine voice spoke.

Richie spun around to face Felicia Martins."Felicia?!"

Richie took a step back from the woman. Felicia smiled as her eyes surveyed him. Richie looked behind himself, searching for an easy escape -- then, thought of Catherine upstairs. Felicia sensed his apprehension and raised her hands slightly, in surrender.

"Hey! I come in peace." She tried to calm him.

"Yeah, right," Richie snapped.

"Look, Richie. I've changed," she tried to reassure.

"Uh-huh," Richie practically hissed. "It takes centuries for a person like you to change."

Felicia's gaze narrowed on Richie."Spoken like a MacLeod," she quipped. "Still with the lord and master, huh?"

"Screw you, Felicia," he snapped under his breath.

"We already did that, and..." she paused, " if memory serves, it was very delicious." She purred, as she reached out to touch his chest. Richie slapped her hand away. "What?"

"Leave me alone, Felicia." Richie started past Felicia and she grabbed his arm and brought it up behind his back -- pushing him into a secluded aisle of the bookstore.

"It didn't have to be this way." Her voice was even -- with no underlying threat. Richie stared at the books -- his face shoved into them. He resisted -- her grip tightened. "Stop it, Richie! I don't want to hurt you. I've changed -- I saw you and thought I would say 'hi'. That's all," she tried to make him understand.

"Then, let go," he ground out, from between clenched teeth.

Felicia looked at him and couldn't resist -- she leaned forward and kissed the back of his neck and released him. He spun around -- his eyes filled with rage.

"I'm sorry," she offered.

Richie turned to leave. "Richie, wait!" There was something in her voice that made Richie stop, but not turn around. "I'm sorry for everything -- for the night on the beach -- the shop -- everything."

"Yeah -- okay -- whatever," he said, under his breath, still not turning to face her.

"I mean it, Richie. I have changed. It was you that convinced MacLeod not to take my head that night, wasn't it?"

Richie turned slightly and only glanced at her briefly -- holding her gaze, for an instant.

"Yeah." There was a silence hanging between them now -- thick and absolute.

"Richie?" It was Catherine. "Richie? Where are you?" Richie turned toward the sound of Catherine's voice and when he glanced back toward Felicia -- she was gone. "Richie?"

"Yeah," he called out. "Over here."

"I was wondering where you got off to. I bought a book of sonnets, for my mom.

Are you ready to go?" Richie looked hesitantly back, for a moment.

"Something wrong?" Catherine questioned.

"Huh? No, everything is fine. Come on," he said putting his arm around Catherine -- urging her toward the door.

** A couple of hour's later -- at home **

Richie came into his usual entrance -- the kitchen door. Duncan and Anne were already upstairs, but the light was still on. Duncan had seen the lights from Richie's car, as he pulled into the driveway.

"Mac?" Richie stood half way up the staircase calling for the Immortal.

Duncan put his robe on and looked over at Anne that was curled up reading a new medical journal. "Be back in a minute. I'm going to go see what he wants."

"Okay -- I'll keep the bed warm."

Duncan smiled.

"Rich?" Duncan came out of the bedroom and spotted Richie standing in the stairwell. "Something going on? You and Catherine have a fight or something? I didn't expect to see you tonight." The Highlander gave a knowing grin to the youth. Duncan was about to say something quip, but stopped himself when he saw Richie was trembling. He went down the couple of stairs to him. Duncan reached out for him. "Richie?"

"I saw her. Mac. I -- I..." his voice was shaking. The anger had slipped away and what seemed to be left was a rekindled fear from the past. Duncan studied Richie's face and instinct took over. He pulled Richie to him.

"Okay. Take a breath, Richie. Start over. Who did you see?"

"Her, Mac..."

"Her -- who?" Duncan's concern growing, as he felt the trembling increase.

"She came up to me in the bookstore -- Felicia, Mac. It was Felicia."

Duncan immediately put Richie at arm's length -- looking him over."Did she hurt you? Threaten you?"

"No. She apologized -- said she's changed. I don't even know why I 'm shaking."

"It's okay, Rich. Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah."

Anne had heard the concerned tones in Duncan's voice and came into the hallway. "Is everything okay, Duncan? Richie?"

"Yes," Duncan assured her. "I'm going to take him downstairs. I'll be up, later."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. He's okay." Anne nodded and returned to the bedroom. Duncan took Richie to the kitchen and planted him in a seat. He began to brew some herbal tea for the youth. "She didn't threaten you?" Richie shook his head. "What did she first say to you?"

Richie shook his head slightly."I dunno. It didn't make much sense -- she came up behind me -- I knew that voice."

"Didn't make sense? What did she say?"

"Something like -- 'still full of potential, I see' -- but it was her voice -- I remembered it."

Duncan jaw tightened as he fully understood the implications of Felicia's statement. She had always known about Richie's pre-Immortal status. Duncan talked to Richie into the late night and finally walked him to his room, to sure he actually made it to the bed. The kid was exhausted. Duncan climbed into bed with Anne -- trying not to jar it.

"Is he okay?"

The sudden question in the dark startled the Highlander."I thought you were asleep."

"No. I wanted to wait for you. Is everything okay? Richie looked like he had seen a ghost."

"Well, I guess he did, sort of. Just a bit of the past found him. He'll be okay."

"You sound worried. Should I be concerned?"

"Everything is going to be okay, Anne," Duncan reassured her and pulled her into his arms. Duncan slept lightly that night -- listening to every noise of the night and the settling house. His Immortal senses -- sharp and ready -- waiting for a threat.

Richie tossed fretfully in his bed. Felicia's voice penetrated his dreams -- he could feel her lips against the back of his neck -- he gasped and sat bolt upright in the bed. He scanned his room and studied the shadows. Everything was as it should be. He fell back against his pillow -- wiping at the sweat on his forehead.

"Damn," he muttered. "You're losin' it Ryan." He punched at his pillow and pulled a sheet over himself. He soon drifted off, again -- his dreams filled with memories of the past -- making love to Felicia -- the beach -- begging for her life -- and the bookstore.

Duncan woke up early -- tense and in need of a kata. The events of the previous night had occupied his mind most of the evening. He got out of bed and began to put on a pair of sweats.

"You're up early," Anne said from her pillow, as her eyes followed the contours of Duncan in the early pre-dawn light coming in through the window.

"Sorry, I woke you," he offered.

"I was awake. Where are you going?"

"Outside -- to exercise."

Anne smiled and patted the empty spot next to her."Well, if it's exercise you want -- you can get it here," she cooed.

Duncan smiled and walked over to her. He crawled onto the bed and leaned over her. He pushed a strand of hair from her forehead.

"Can I have a raincheck?"

"Sure," she smiled and took his hand in hers and kissed it.

Duncan got up and closed the door behind him. Anne looked over at the clock -- she had some things to do this morning at the hospital.

** Later that Morning **


Duncan had noticed the dark circles under Richie's eyes earlier, as the youth moved around the kitchen silently, but chose now to discuss them.

"Did you get any decent sleep last night?"

"Had some bad dreams. Mac, do you think Felicia will show, again?"

"Probably not -- I think it was a fluke you crossed paths, but keep your eyes open, okay?"

"Yeah."

"Hey, kiddo -- the big 22 is just around the corner. You're going to be an old man!" Duncan joked.

"Yeah-Yeah. Laugh it up, Mac. You're the pot calling the kettle black."

Duncan smiled."Have you thought any more about grad school? I know it's still a little way off, though."

"I'm still thinkin', Mac. I don't want to be away from Catherine, but she's leaning toward London and you know how I hate London's weather."

Duncan nodded -- he did remember the last time Richie was there -- it was the three of them -- Tessa, Richie, and himself. Richie had caught the flu there and was miserable. It either rained or was overcast nine of the twelve days they were there. The youth had vowed never to go back and hadn't -- except for a transfer at the airport, on an occasional trip.

"Well, I'm sure, when the time's right, you'll know," Duncan assured.

"Yeah, I guess," Richie agreed. "So where are you headed?"

"The dojo. Charlie is on vacation, starting today, and I'm going to hold down the fort until he gets back. What about you?"

"Not sure. I'll probably hang around here, for a while. Catherine has plans with her mom."

"Hmm... you wanna come with me?" the Highlander offered.

"Nah, thanks anyway Mac. Maybe I'll stop by later, but no guarantees."

"All right. Stay out of trouble," he said, as he smiled at the youth.

"Yeah -- Yeah."

Richie had decided to do some maintenance on his 4X4 in the garage. There was a cool breeze this morning and he could smell Fall in the air. He was under the automobile when he heard a car pull up the driveway. He assumed it was Anne coming home from her business at the hospital. He continued to work under the car. He heard footsteps come across the gravel and anticipated hearing Anne's voice, but it wasn't her.

"Morning, Richie," the husky female voice made his heart jump into his throat. He looked at the legs of the female voice. They were jean clad, with a pair of leather hiking boots. He saw no sword dangling around her legs, but he envisioned one was hovering above.

"Are you gonna stay under there or what?" He slid out slowly and looked into Felicia's dark eyes. There was no sword in sight. "MacLeod isn't here? I was hoping to catch him."

"Why? To challenge him?" Richie blurted out.

"No. I just wanted to set some things straight, that's all."

"I told him I saw you."

"I figured you would. I just wanted to wait a day, or two, to let him cool off. When is he coming home?" Richie just looked at her -- defiance in his face. "Okay -- I can wait then." Richie's eyes widened. "I see that got your attention," Felicia said, with amusement.

"He'll be gone for most of the day," Richie offered hesitantly.

"Oh. Well, I guess I could..." Felicia's voice dropped off as a look came over her.

Richie knew that look; he had seen it on Mac -- an Immortal was nearby. A black sedan pulled slowly into the driveway and stayed parked at its edge.

Felicia's eyes darted to Richie. "You know that car?"

"No," Richie answered quickly.

A man exited the car. Felicia made eye contact with him. She recognized the Asian Immortal as Shoko Fushimi, she had been avoiding him, until now.

"Go inside, Richie. Now!" She ordered.

"No."

Felicia grabbed him by an arm and shook it.

"I said," she ground out between gritted teeth, "go inside."

Shoko's walk was slow and direct. Felicia drew her sword keeping him in her peripheral vision, as she turned back to Richie. "Richie, please go. I can't worry about you." Her eyes were pleading, and in that moment Richie realized she had changed.

"Felicia Martins," an accented voice called out. "I have waited a long time for this." Felicia turned to face the fellow Immortal. She stepped protectively in front of Richie -- her sword at ready.

Shoko eyed Richie -- he knew whose house this was -- "I have no quarrel with MacLeod's little one. Of course as long as he stay's out of my way."

Richie stepped out from behind Felicia."Up yours, asshole."

Shoko's gaze narrowed on Richie.

"Richie," Felicia's voice warning, "go inside, this isn't your business."

"I can't leave you out here with him."

"Yes, you can and you will," she ordered. Her attention faltered and Shoko took advantage and drove his katana through her side. Her eyes widened as she looked down at the blade coming through her.

"You cheating bastard," Richie yelled.

Shoko pulled his blade out of Felicia in one fluid movement and she collapsed to her knees. One hand holding her sword, the other grasping her side, as blood flowed through her fingers.

Shoko lowered his sword to his side, as he delivered a lethal kick to the side of Felicia's head. She crumpled to the ground as blood pooled around her head wound.

"No!" Richie screamed as he looked at Felicia's vacant staring eyes -- he backed away as memories of Tessa's sightless eyes filled his head. He wasn't able to help Tessa, but he could help Felicia. He bent down and touched Felicia's blood covered cheek. He pulled his bloody hand back and wiped it on his shirt, in anger.

Without thinking Richie grabbed Felicia's sword from her lifeless finger's and leveled it at Shoko.

"I wouldn't advise that," the Immortal offered.

Richie didn't lower the sword. "I won't let you take her head. Not like this," he gritted out. "There's no honor in it."

Shoko smiled and lunged for Richie. Shoko drove Richie back behind the house, out of sight of the road.

"Now, it begins..." Shoko raised sword and nodded at Richie.

"Shoko!" a voice screamed from behind them. Felicia stood there blood covered, but healed. "Your fight is with me." She approached Richie and took her sword from him.

Shoko stood a few steps back and watched. "Go inside, Richie." Felicia reached up and brushed his cheek, "It's okay. Go." Richie nodded and backed up. Felicia raised her sword and intoned the very word's Shoko had only moments ago, "Now, it begins." Blades connected and the battle was joined.

** The Dojo **

The office phone rang and Duncan stepped away from the filing cabinets to answer it. It had been a fairly slow day, but there were some regulars working out. "Dojo," he said, as he picked up the phone.

"Mac!" Richie's voice was panicked.

Duncan clutched the phone. "Richie, what is it?"

"Mac. It's an Immortal. They're fighting. Mac, help!"

"Where are you?"

"Home. Hurry!"

"I'm on my way! Do you hear me? I'm coming ..." Duncan practically yelled into the phone.

"Hurry," was the last thing he heard from Richie, as the phone slammed down. Duncan grabbed his keys and ran for the door. He glanced at Tom Parker, a regular, who helped out occasionally.

"Tom, I have an emergency at home. Can you lock up?"

"Sure."

"Thanks," Duncan never slowed as he burst out the door to the T-Bird. His mind was racing. Who was fighting? Adam? Who? His mind was focused on one fact -- Richie was in danger. Duncan drove as quickly as he could. The thirty-minute drive felt like hours. He saw the dark sedan blocking the driveway and pulled onto the lawn. He launched himself from the car at a dead run, ran up onto the porch and into the house.

"Richie! Richie! Answer me! Where are you?" Duncan looked frantically around for a moment as his eyes fell on the phone sitting on its cradle -- blood covered. "Richie!" He heard the sound of swords coming from the back of the house and ran toward the sounds of battle.

"Mac!" Duncan's heart leapt when he heard Richie calling his nameand ran into the kitchen. Duncan stared at Richie for a long moment, as he took in the bloody shirt.

"My God! You're hurt," Duncan said, as he grabbed Richie.

"No, Mac. It's not my blood. It's Felicia's. Mac, you gotta help her," Richie pleaded, as he pointed to the battle.

Duncan stepped outside. Both Immortals were sweat-sheened, but were still fighting hard. Felicia and Shoko both faltered a split second as they felt the approach of another Immortal. Each Immortal showed the signs of a hard battle. Felicia bound Shoko's blade bringing it down as she kneed him. He gasped and stepped back. Felicia looked up at MacLeod and nodded. Duncan returned the nod. The Highlander recognized the Asian man.

Shoko came back at Felicia, fury in his eyes."You can not interfere, MacLeod," Shoko called over his shoulder, as he and Felicia circled each other.

"It's been a longtime, Fushimi," Duncan idly commented back.

The Immortal shot him a glance. The moment cost the Immortal. Felicia dropped a knee and drove her sword upward -- impaling the Immortal. Felicia quickly withdrew her blade and circled around behind Shoko. Duncan realized she had just used the same move on Fushimi he had used on her, years ago, on the beach.

Fushimi clutched at his stomach."Finish it," he gritted out.

Felicia raised her sword."There can be only one," she intoned, as she brought the blade down on Shoko's neck.

A hushed silence came over everything, moments before the quickening. The quickening ignited into a maelstrom of electricity.

Duncan threw Richie to the ground covering him with his own body, and watched as the power of Fushimi's quickening overtook Felicia. It threw her back as she wailed against the onslaught -- then silence.

Duncan pulled himself off of Richie."Are you okay," he asked, as he surveyed the youth.

"Yeah, Mac," Richie assured him.

"Stay here," Duncan urged, as he approached Felicia, his sword drawn.

"You won't need that, Highlander," Felicia said, as she tried to get to her feet.

Duncan offered her a hand. She took it.

"Why are you here, Felicia?"

"I wanted to see you. I wanted to make things right with you."

"This isn't a good way to start," Duncan said pointing in the direction of Shoko's body.

Felicia grinned. "Sorry about that," she offered.

"You put Richie in danger," Duncan pointed out.

"I didn't think Shoko had followed me here. I thought I gave him the slip in Brussels."

"Apparently not."

Duncan pointed to a distant spot in the woods. "You can bury him there. I'll get him there for you, but you're on your own after that. This is your mess to clean up."

"Got a shovel?"

An hour later, Felicia emerged from the heavy thicket, satisfied that Shoko's body would not be found. Duncan sat on the back stairs waiting for her.

"How's Richie?" She asked, as she looked around for him.

"Fine. He's off with a friend, getting rid of Fushimi's car."

"A friend?"

"He can be trusted."

"Fine."

"You should go Felicia. Before he gets back."

"MacLeod... I'm sorry about before. I have changed."

"The past is the past, Felicia. I can forgive, but I will never forget. You threatened the two people in my life that mattered the most. I won't forget that."

"I understand. You haven't told him, have you?"

"No, and I'm not going to," Duncan warned.

"It was just an observation, Highlander. You've raised him well. He's become a good man."

"He always was, Felicia."

"Yes," she paused. "I should go," she offered. "Would you tell him good-bye for me?"

"Yes."

"Thank you."

Duncan nodded.

She began to walk toward her car.

"Felicia," Duncan called after her.

She turned."Yes?"

"Forgiveness aside, I don't want to see you, again."

"Fair enough." Then she turned and went to her car.

Duncan watched her drive away.



** Later that Night **

"She's not coming back, is she, Mac?"

"No."

"What did you talk about?"

"It's not important."

"Joe had the car demolished. Nobody's ever gonna find it."

"Good." Just then a set of car lights turned into the driveway and Duncan went to the window. It was Anne.

"What's Anne gonna say?"

"I'm not sure," Duncan offered.

Richie excused himself and went to his room, while Duncan went to meet Anne as she came in the back door. The phone rang.

"I'll get it," Richie shouted.

"Hello?"

"Richie?" The voice was unmistakable. It was Felicia.

"Hi," Richie wasn't sure what to say. He wasn't as angry with her, now. Not after she'd tried to protect him.

"I want to see you. I need to talk with you." Richie looked at his watch. Catherine was with her parents, tonight. "All right. Where?"

"Can you come into the city? Do you know where the Night Wolf is?"

"Yeah. I can be there in thirty to forty minutes."

"I'll see you then."

Richie couldn't describe the feeling in his stomach. It was a combination of hesitation and old feelings brewing. It left him a little unsettled. Richie prepared to leave and descended the stairs. Richie followed the sound of voices to the kitchen. Duncan and Anne looked up as Richie entered.

"Are you all right, Richie?" Anne asked quickly, as she did a visual survey of the young man.

Richie smiled."Mac, already told you about today, huh?"

"Yes."

"I'm good."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah."

Duncan noticed Richie's car keys in his hand. "Where are you headed, Toughguy?"

"Out. I'm meeting a friend."

"Was that the phone call?"

"Yeah."

The Highlander studied Richie for a second and then nodded. "Okay, stay out of trouble."

"Hey, Mac! You know me."

"That's what scares me," Duncan joked.

Richie rolled his eyes."Later."

Richie exhaled loudly, once he closed the backdoor behind himself and started to walk toward his car. He hadn't realized how worried he had been that Duncan would notice he was hiding something about the 'friend' he was meeting. He left for the city.

Richie pulled into the parking lot of the 'Night Wolf.' The lot was a little crowded. Richie got out of his car and began to walk toward the club. He was torn by feelings that he was betraying Catherine in some way by seeing Felicia; and not telling Mac the whole truth bothered him, as well. He looked up to see Felicia leaning against the side of the building, not far from the entrance. She pushed herself away from it with a foot and started toward Richie. She smiled and extended a hand to him.

"Thanks for coming," her tone soft.

"Figured it was the right thing to do. Mac's gonna be pissed." Felicia nodded in agreement, but said nothing. "We goin' inside?"

"I thought we could walk a while, instead of talking over music. Is that okay with you?"

"Yeah." They walked toward the park, side-by-side, in heavy silence.

"Man, Richie," Felicia said, finally breaking the silence, "we keep talking this much and we're gonna have nothin' else left to say." Felicia grinned at him.

Richie cracked a smile and laughed lightly."I guess you've got a point," he agreed. They both walked toward a park bench and sat down. The only illumination they had was from the overhead park light.

"Richie," Felicia began tentatively. "We have a lot of bad water under the bridge, but I want things to be okay between us."

"Like you just said, Felicia, it's 'bad water under the bridge.' The key phrase being 'under the bridge.' It's the past."

Felicia nodded."So, I couldn't help but notice that night, after you left the bookstore, you had a girl with you. Girlfriend?"

"You were watching?"

"Not spying, if that's what you're getting at. I just wanted to make sure our little fluke meeting didn't freak you out too badly."

"Oh."

"Well, is she the girlfriend?"

"Yeah."

"Love her?"

Richie looked up at Felicia and met her eyes. "Yes."

"Good. You know, after I straightened my act up, I thought about you a lot."

"You did?"

"Yes, and what I had lost and could have had with you." Richie eyes widened, as his eyes darted back up to Felicia face. "Ya see," she pointed to him, "How can a girl refuse a guy that can blush," her tone was light, but it made Richie look away, uncertain how to reply.

"Uh- Felicia," he began.

But Felicia interrupted him."You don't have to say anything Richie. I know you're involved and I didn't want to talk to you about rekindling anything that we could have had in the past."

"Then, what is it?"

"I just wanted to say I was sorry for the past and to tell you that, when we made love that one time, it did mean something to me."

"You don't have to say that to me, Felicia. I was a pawn."

"Maybe in the end, but when I was with you it was 'real.'

"Real? You threatened my family. You would have killed Tessa, if you could have, and maybe me, just to get to Mac."

"Never you, Richie. I won't lie. If I could have killed Tessa, I would have, but I'm not that person, anymore. I'm sorry. People can change, Richie."

"Mac says it takes you guys centuries to change and even then we mortals have the old saying, 'a leopard never changes its spots.' "

Felicia's eyes dropped in disappointment, but she lifted her face back up toward Richie's."I deserved that, but the fact remains I have changed. If I hadn't, I would have let Shoko skewer you, today."

Richie held her gaze. She was telling the truth -- she had changed. "You have changed, but Mac isn't going to forget the past, so soon."

"No, we spoke. You're right. Perhaps, in a century or two," she offered.

"Maybe."

"Well," Felicia said looking at her watch, "It's getting late. You should be getting home."

Richie looked at his watch it, was a little after midnight."Yeah, it is late." They walked back to the club parking lot. "You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, Richie. Take care of yourself, okay?"

"I will."

"Hey," Felicia said reaching into her pocket and handed him a business card. "If you ever need anything, you can contact me here."

Richie took the card from her and looked at it."Sword and Stone Renaissance Recreations," his voice surprised.

"Yeah, I found out quick, on the west coast, people will pay a lot for something fake rather than buying the original."

Richie smiled."Thanks," he said as he put the card in his wallet.

Felicia made a tentative gesture to hug. Richie moved in and hugged her. Felicia closed her eyes -- relishing the feel of him, once again, but pulled away -- not wanting him to be the first to do so.

"Remember if you ever need me -- for anything."

"I will." Felicia turned to walk toward her car.

Richie watched her go. "Hey, Felicia."

She turned."Yes?"

"Watch your head, okay?"

She smiled -- he already sounded like an Immortal. "Always do."

Richie pulled into the driveway, parked the car in the garage and went in through the kitchen, quietly. The lights were off and the house was quiet. He started toward the stairs.

"How's Felicia?"

The voice in the darkness made Richie jump. It was the Highlander.

"Fine."

"You okay?"

"Yeah."

"Are you seeing her, again?"

"No, she leaving town. Mac, we had things to clear up between us. I had to go."

"Did things get cleared up?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Good." Duncan rose from his seat, "Well, you're home now -- I think I'll go to bed."

"Mac, you didn't have to wait up. You don't have to worry about me all the time."

The Highlander stopped and turned to the young man."You might as well ask me to stop breathing, Richie. It would be an easier task."

Richie grinned. "We okay, Mac? You mad?"

"Nah, I'm not mad and we're fine. It's late. You better get some sleep, or you'll be in a bad mood in the morning."

"I'm not that bad."

Duncan just raised an eyebrow at that statement.

"Okay, some mornings... maybe," he offered.

Duncan reached over and grabbed the back of Richie's head and pulled the youth to himself, and gave him a quick hug. "Night, Rich."

"Night, Mac."

Richie's 22nd Birthday

Duncan walked into the house with the mail, "Richie."

"Yeah, Mac." Richie came out of the kitchen with a spoon heaped with chocolate icing.

"You've got some mail here," Duncan indicated the mail in his hands. "Looks like you've got a couple cards." Duncan pointed to the one on top, "This one's from New York."

"Connor?"

"Who else?" The Highlander answered with a smile.

"Duncan," Anne's voice called to him from the kitchen.

"Coming. Rich?"

"Yeah," Richie answered absently, as he looked up from his mail.

"The spoon," Duncan said, as he reached a hand out.

"Oh, yeah. Thanks Mac." Richie handed the cleaned-off spoon to the Highlander , before he went off with his mail.

Richie took his mail and sat down in the family room to open it. He leafed through the junk and then looked at the two card envelopes. One was postmarked -- New York City and the other was from Los Angeles. Ryan smiled -- he knew who had sent the one from LA. He opened it, first.

Dear Richie,

I wanted to wish you a happy birthday! If you're ever in
LA don't forget to look me up! Well, I'm not much on
Sentiment, so I won't ramble. Happy 22nd!
Be happy! Be well!

Take care,
Felicia

Richie smiled at the card a moment longer and tucked the card back into its envelope and opened Connor's.

Rich,

Have a great birthday! I wish you
health, happiness, life, and the love
of a good woman. Happy 22nd, lad!

Connor

Richie carried his mail upstairs to his room. Duncan stood in the kitchen and watched Anne ice Richie's birthday cake. Anne looked at Duncan and whispered.

"Does he know that Connor is flying in to surprise him?"

"No."

"It should be a good turnout, tonight," Anne commented.

"Yeah, it'll be a full table." Duncan came up to Anne and pulled her away from her icing duty. "I'm in the mood for something sweet... And it's not the cake."

"Oh, please, Duncan! Did that line ever work for you," Anne laughed lightly.

Duncan smirked."That was the first time I've used it."

"And, the last, I hope." Anne pulled Duncan to her and kissed him briefly, but long enough to leave him wanting more. "Now, I have to finish everything in here for the dinner. Do you have to get Connor?"

"No, he's renting a car at the airport. He'll be here by six."

"Good. Now, keep Richie out of here. He keeps getting into the icing."

"I'll try."


Later that evening

Richie sat in the living room, with his arm around Catherine. The house was full. Catherine's parent's were in attendance, as well. Joe and Adam sat on a love seat, discussing various topics with one another, over drinks. Duncan and Anne talked with Robert and Loreena. A familiar sensation hit Adam and Duncan at the same time -- an Immortal. Duncan smiled and waited. The door bell rang, a short time later.

"Rich do you want to get that?"

"Sure, Mac. You expecting someone?"

"Just answer the door," Duncan said with a grin on his face.

Richie approached the door and through the glass he could see a face he knew quite well -- Connor's.

"Hey!" Ryan shouted, as he opened the door. " I got your card and I didn't think you were gonna be able to come, this year."

"I like to be unpredictable, lad. Happy birthday, Richie." Connor reached out and pulled the young man to himself, gave him a hearty bear hug and a pat on the back.

"Thanks, Connor."

The evening was full of celebration and laughter and Duncan watched everything with a full heart. Richie had been wanting to talk to Mac about a new development, that had occurred earlier. He had gotten a call from Dr. Mayer, from the university, before everyone arrived at the house for the party. The man had informed Richie that he was eligible for early graduation by one semester. He had explained that, because of Richie's lab proctoring and the extra course work he had completed with the proctoring, made him eligible for that early graduation.

Richie was thrilled, but he wanted to tell Mac privately. Dr. Mayer had also reminded Ryan of the open slot in the grad program, if he wanted it. He did, but what about Catherine? She wanted to do her grad studies abroad and he didn't want to keep her from that. They would work things out. The party had begun to wind down and everyone was mostly chatting and relaxing. Richie walked over to the Highlander.

"Mac?"

"Yeah, Rich?"

"Can we talk?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"In your office," Richie asked hesitantly.

Duncan studied the young man for a long moment and put his arm around his shoulders."Sure."

"Thanks, Mac."

They excused themselves from the party.The Immortal showed Richie into his backroom office and closed the door behind him. "Is everything okay, Richie?"

"Yeah, Mac. You worry too much," the young man offered.

"Well -- where you're concerned -- I have to."

"I spoke with Dr. Mayer from school, today."

"And?"

Ryan went on to explain to the Immortal what had been said to him, concerning early graduation, if he wanted it, at the end of the following semester.

"That's great, Richie. I'm very proud of you!"

"Thanks Mac. That means a lot."

"You've worked hard, Richie, and it's paid off. Have you decided what you're going to do?"

"I'd like to graduate and I think I'd like to attend grad school, here, if that's okay."

"Okay? I'd love to have you attend locally, Rich." The Highlander was excited. He didn't have to suffer an empty nest, with the young man separated from him by an ocean. He suspected the young man would want to move out soon; but if Richie wasn't mentioning it -- he wasn't going to bring it up to the young man. "Have you told Catherine?"

"No. I wanted to tell you, first."

"Well, I think you should tell her and I'd love to make the announcement, tonight. I think it's great news Richie."

"Can I borrow your office to talk to Cat?"

"Sure."

Later that night at Catherine's apartment

"Oh, Richie... I'm happy for you... really."

"You sure could fool me, Cat," Ryan's voice was doubtful.

I'm sorry," she offered. "I guess I was hoping that you would change your mind about London. Plus, you're getting done an entire semester before me."

"I can't stand the weather in London. I considered going there -- just to be with you, but I can't, Cat. I love you, but I'd really like to start grad school here. I'd love to visit, but I'm not gonna live there. And, as far as graduating early goes - wouldn't you do it if you could?"

"I know. I'd stay Richie, but I want to see the world. I love you, too, but there're things I want to see."

"I understand, babe. I don't want you to pass up anything. I'm gonna be here and we can try out the long distance relationship thing, if you want to."

"Want too?" Catherine's face was pensive. "Are we breaking up?"

"No! I just thought you might like to be free in London. That's all."

"Free? Are you asking because you want to be free here?"

"No!" Richie was emphatic. "I don't want you to be unhappy, Cat. I'll wait as long as I have to. I want to have a future with you. You know..." Ryan left the statement unfinished.

Catherine blushed and threw herself at him."I love you... I love you," she giggled and kissed him all over his face.

"Geez, if I'd known you would have this kind of reaction, I would have brought up the future a heck of a lot sooner!"

"Well, what kind of reaction did you expect?"

"I wasn't sure. I mean... I just wanted you to know, I see you in my future... our future."

"I love you, Richard Ryan."

"Love you too."

Catherine moved her lips across Richie's lips. Almost teasing. Her mouth moved across his face until she reached an ear. Her lips enveloped a lobe and she suckled.

Ryan moaned, "There should be a law against this."

"Do you want me to stop?" Catherine whispered into his ear.

"Hell no." Richie swept his arms beneath her and picked her up in one fluid motion. His lips found her neck and then blazed a trail up to her mouth -- crushing his mouth into hers. It was a kiss of passion and an undefined hunger. He wanted her and she him. He carried her to the bedroom.

This night they made love... the kind that binds soul to soul and mind to mind, forever.

Catherine watched Richie as he slept next to her. She smiled to herself, as she watched him crinkle his nose in sleep. She listened to his shallow even breaths. She gently placed her head on his chest -- falling asleep to the sound of his heart beating.

Two Months Later

The smells from the kitchen were wonderful. Richie kept poking his head into the kitchen -- only to be chased off, by both Anne and Duncan, as the Thanksgiving preparations were in full swing. "Rich, I told you stay out! You keep dipping."

"Aw, Mac! Come on."

"Don't 'come on, Mac' me! Out."

The youth tipped his nose up at the Immortal."I guess I can take a hint... I know when I'm not wanted." He said, in a huff. He turned on his heel and left the kitchen.

Anne and Duncan exchanged looks. Anne smiled."He was just kidding wasn't he?"

Duncan turned his head momentarily back to the empty space Ryan had just filled.

"Yeah..." , but the hesitation in his voice made Anne raise an eyebrow.

"Maybe you should go check," she offered. "After all he has been a little down, since Robert and Loreena took Catherine with them to have Thanksgiving in Vermont with family."

"I know," the Highlander agreed. "I'll go see."

Duncan walked into the family room and spotted Richie. He was standing by the fireplace. He noticed right away that the young man was looking at a very familiar picture that still graced the mantle. It was the one of the three of them -- Richie, Tessa, and himself. He saw the distant look Ryan had in his eyes. "You okay?"

The unexpected voice startled Richie and he jumped."Geez, Mac! You trying to give me a heart attack?"

The Immortal grinned."No," he offered. "You thinking about her?" Duncan motioned to Tessa's smiling face.

"Yeah. I remember how she loved Thanksgiving, Mac. I still miss her."

"I do too, Rich," Duncan answered, as he put a hand on Richie's shoulder. "Part of me always will, but I have my memories and, as hard as it seems in the beginning, life does go on.

"I know."

"Richie?"

"Yeah?"

"About the kitchen a while ago... you weren't really upset about me kicking you out, were you?"

The young man laughed."Nah, Mac. You know me... just giving you a hard time. Gotta keep you on your toes."

"Well, I just wanted to make sure. Anne was concerned that you'd been hurt." There was a stretching silence, for long moments, between them as a look came over Richie that telegraphed he wanted to ask a question.

"Okay, what is it?" Duncan had seen this look before -- it always preceded a question the young man was uncertain about asking. "Spit it out."

"Are you gonna marry Anne?"

Duncan stood in stunned silence, at the sudden question."What prompted that question?"

"That's not an answer, Mac."

"No, I guess it's not," Duncan agreed. "I don't know Rich. We're happy with the way things are going. We haven't discussed it. Why?"

"Just wonderin'."

"Do you have a problem with it?"

"No. I like Anne, Mac. I've told you that. But, are you in love with her?"

"Richie... where is all of this coming from?" The Highlander looked the young man over intensely for a moment and suddenly he understood. "Is this about you and Catherine?"

"Huh?"

"Come on, Richie. You can't get anything by me. Are you thinking about marriage?"

"Sort of, but not just yet."

"You've talked about things with her?"

"We talked about a future together, but not yet. We have school and stuff. We're not talking engagement, if that's what you're getting at."

"Well, the two of you have good heads on your shoulders. I'm sure when the time is right, you'll both know."

"Thanks Mac."

"No problem."

"When does everyone get here?"

"Connor and Sean are coming in on the same flight. They're scheduled to arrive around three. Joe and Adam will be here about the same time."

"Full house this year -- it's nice. I'm glad Sean is coming. I haven't seen him for a while."

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to touching base with him."

Three Days Later

Richie sat at the computer in Mac's office, finishing up a project he'd been working on since deciding to take the early graduation. He leaned back in the chair and reached up to massage his neck. It had been aching, on and off, since he'd removed the cervical collar.

"Richie?" Anne's voice called from the doorway.

"Yeah?" Richie said, dropping his hand from his neck and turning to look at her.

"I just made some hot chocolate. Would you like some?"

"With marshmallows?" His face broke into a warm smile.

Anne laughed lightly."I think we have some."

"Sure. Let me save this and I'm set."

"Okay. Hey, Richie?"

"Yeah?"

"Are you having neck pain? I noticed you were rubbing it."

"It just gets achy... I'm okay."

"You sure?"

"You worry too much, Anne."

"I'm just being your doctor, Richie, that's all," Anne commented.

"I'm good, Anne. Anyway, I asked the rehab doctor if it was okay and he said it's to be expected."

"Who did you speak with?"

"Dr. Lawrence."

"He's a good doctor. I trust his word."

"Good -- now, I'd like some of that hot chocolate."

Richie got up and walked down the hallway with Anne. "So, how long was Mac gonna be gone?"

"He was having lunch with Sean and Connor before they caught a plane back to New York."

"It was nice having them visit," Richie commented.

"Catherine gets back today, right?"

"Yeah, later."

"So..." Anne hesitated. She was uncertain of the question she wanted to broach.

"Go ahead... what ever it is -- ask me." Richie said, before he took a drink of his hot chocolate.

"I don't want to step on toes, or offend."

"You won't."

"Richie, are you and Catherine practicing safe sex?

Richie choked on his hot chocolate. "What?!"

"Well... " Anne waited for an answer.

"Anne!"

"Richie!"

"Why would you ask me that?"

"I'm just concerned about the two of you."

"Anne, I've known about the birds and the bees for a while now. Catherine and I are adults, and very capable of making decisions for ourselves. Did you talk to Mac about this?"

"Yes, I did."

"And?" He prompted.

"He said he trusted you and didn't think he needed to talk you about things."

"So, I guess you don't trust me or Cat, huh?"

"No-No that's not it. Perhaps, I overstepped..." she offered.

"There's no perhaps about it, Anne."

Anne realized that she had gone over-and-above, and should have remained quiet about her concerns. "I'm sorry, Richie. I apologize."

Richie studied Anne for long moments and then smiled. This was the woman that had filled Mac's life with happiness and love and he was glad for that. She had always tried to befriend him. Richie decided to go the extra mile. "It's okay. I think I can see where you were trying to come from."

"Do you?"

"Yeah, but I just need you to believe Catherine and I know what we're doing and how we feel about each other."

"I do, Richie. I am sorry, really."

"It's okay... like I said, you were coming from a good place. But, all things aside, let's not go down this road, again. Okay?"

"Okay," Anne agreed and smiled at the young man. Richie moved forward and gave her a quick hug. "That was unexpected."

"Well, let's just say, I don't like to be predictable," Richie offered, with a wide grin.

There was always time for new beginnings, Richie thought to himself. Anne and he had gotten off to a rocky start, from the get-go. Richie decided he would no longer measure her against Tessa. Anne was her own woman and, quite simply, not Tessa. But if Mac loved her then she must worth getting to know -- maybe even let into his heart --omeday. However, starting as friends, on equal ground, was a good foot forward, Richie considered to himself. "Hey, Anne?"

"Yes?"

"What do you think of this? Let's drive into the city, to the dojo, and grab Mac for lunch. After all, Charlie is there, today, and Mac is just catching up on the books."

"Sounds great! He'd probably like the distraction."

"Good. Let's go.

December 1996

"Richie?"

"Yeah," he mumbled, with his face in a large box.

Catherine eyed him, from where she stood. "Great view," she commented at the view of his butt coming from a large cardboard box.

"What?" he grumbled. "Cat, what possessed you to put tiny ornaments in such a huge box? And what view are you talking about?"

"Your butt," she laughed. "And a larger box let me fit more in there."

"More! I'm practically inside the box, Cat," he commented. "You could put a body in this thing."

"Oh, don't be a grumble, Richie. It's Christmas Eve and we're together." She swatted his rear end playfully.

He came out of the box with a mischievous grin on his face. "Come here you!"

Catherine giggled and ran for the hallway in her apartment. Richie grabbed her from behind. She turned to face him, as he pushed her up against a wall. She put up a little struggle, but mostly just laughed at him. He paused for a moment and moved in close to her face.

"You smell like a cookie," he said as his lips brushed up the side of her neck and he gently enveloped an ear lobe.

"Cookies, huh?" Her hands moved up his back and she reached up with a hand, to run his hair through her fingers. She loved doing that - even as he slept she would do it. She loved how it would curl around her fingers, as if holding them. Richie's lips moved back down her neck.

He looked into her eyes for a moment - hovering at her lips. "We're not going to get the rest of the ornaments up are we?" Richie just smiled and scooped her up in his arms and headed for the bedroom.

"I'll take that as a no," she said as she kissed him, deeply.

*********

Later that night

Catherine laid her head on his chest, as he stroked her hair gently. She loved feeling the warmth of him next to her naked body. "Richie?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you for staying tonight. I know Christmas is important to you and Mac."

"Cat, I wanted to be here. Mac's got Anne and, anyway, as long as we're together on Christmas day - Mac's cool with me not being at the house tonight."

"Was Christmas always such a staple for you two?"

Richie was quiet for a moment, before he answered her. "Tess always loved Christmas. It's always been important to Mac and I, but more so since she died. It was the first real big holiday, aside from Thanksgiving, that we had to get through together after she died."

"I'm sorry," she answered, as she lifted her head from his chest to look into his face.

"Don't be. Mac and I did okay... I think. We make a good team."

"You love him a great deal - don't you?"

"As much as he loves me, I imagine. He's been great, Cat. I don't know where I'd be, right now, if it hadn't been for Mac and Tessa taking me in, all those years ago. He's been like a father to me."

"You two have been on your own for awhile, haven't you?"

"Three years."

"I still wish I was graduating with you, this summer."

"You're not that far off... you'll get out in December."

"Yeah." Catherine traced circles on his chest with her finger. "I love this," she commented idly to him.

"What? Playing with my chest hair," he mused.

"No!" she swatted him playfully. "This - being with you. When we're like this, it feels like we are the only people in the world."

Richie smiled. He gently took her face in his hands and turned her eyes toward him. "I love you."

"I love you, too." She scooted up and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you to, babe - it's hard to believe you put up with me long enough to get to our first Christmas together," he joked.

"Yeah... you can be a handful," she countered. She laughed at the stricken look on her lover's face. "I'm just kidding." She suddenly grabbed his face and placed random kisses, everywhere.

Richie laughed out loud."You're nuts!"

"And, that's why you love me so much." He just chuckled.

The room fell silent between them and Catherine crawled on top of him under the covers and stared down into his eyes - studying him, as if trying to memorize every feature.

********

Catherine found herself studying Richie, again, as he slept. Her finger gently traced along his eyebrows and nose. She stifled a giggleas she traced his bottom lip and he made a face in his sleep. She didn't understand what this incredible need was in her to memorize him, but she became lost in it. She listened to his shallow breathing and smiled. Finally, she did, as she always did - she ran her fingers through his hair - gently, to watched it curl around them, as it always did. And she fell asleep with her head on his chest - listening to his heartbeat beneath her.


Seven Months Later
June 1997

Richie walked across the quad, toward Mac, Anne and Catherine, in his graduation gown. Duncan had a wide smile on his face. He met Richie halfway and gave him a big bear hug -- momentarily lifting him off the ground, as he did. "I'm proud of you, Toughguy."

"Thanks Mac."

Duncan released his grip on the young man. "I'm glad it's over though," Richie commented as he pulled at his gown. "This is worse than a monkey suit."

Duncan just smiled, as they walked back toward Anne and Catherine. "You're a college graduate, now. How does it feel?"

"Good, but, now, I've got grad school."

"But you're looking forward to it," Duncan commented.

"Oh, yeah. Mac..." Richie's voice dropped away.

Duncan stopped their advance toward the women.

"What is it?"

"Mac... do you think Tessa knows? I thought about her, when I accepted my degree."

Duncan smiled warmly at the young man, then reached up and cupped the side of his face in his hand.

"Yes, I do. She was always proud of you, Rich, but, I'm sure she's beaming today."

"Ya think?"

"I know. Now, let's go celebrate."

One Week Later, at the Cabin

Duncan watched with amusement as Anne and Catherine tried their hand at fishing.

Richie stepped up to the Immortal's side and quietly chuckled. "Mac, maybe letting them fish, wasn't such a great idea," Richie offered.

"They wanted to try, Rich. Anyway, did you want to be the one to say no, to either of them?" Duncan said with an amused look.

"Uh... no," Richie answered, with little hesitation. "But, Mac they're supposed to catching dinner and, so far, all they've caught is each other's fishing lines and snagged rock moss. We're going to starve."

"You and your stomach," Duncan chuckled. "We aren't going to starve to death," Duncan answered. "We have plenty of food stocked at the cabin."

"I know. I'm just being..."

"Difficult," the Highlander inserted.

"I'm good at it."

"Well, I can't disagree with you."

Later that Evening, at the Cabin

"Duncan... " Anne called to the Immortal, from the kitchen.

"Yes?"

Anne and Catherine had failed at the fishing, but Duncan and Richie had been quick to build them back up. The Immortal had told them that the fish stayed toward the middle of the lake in summer... it was a lie, of course, but it had worked - the woman were happier. "Duncan, I've really enjoyed the time we've had here."

"Me, too."

Anne looked out the window, and smiled, as she watched Richie and Catherine sitting together by the lake. "They do make a nice couple."

Duncan followed her gaze."Yes, but..." he buried his face in her neck and kissed it. "We make a good one, too."

Anne laughed."Yes, I agree." She turned to fully face him and wrapped her arms around him. "Duncan... I love you." Her voice was soft, but her eyes penetrated him.

He drew her close."I love you, too."

**********

Duncan stared at the ceiling of his and Anne's bedroom at the cabin. He had been awakened by something... But what? He listened to the sounds of the cabin, but all he heard was the natural sounds of the night. Anne was curled beside him and sleeping soundly. He eased out of the bed, without disturbing her, and went to investigate. He walked past Richie and Catherine's door and noticed it was slightly ajar. He continued past it and saw that the front door was open. He looked through the screen door and saw a dark image standing down by the water's edge. He let his eyes adjust to the night and allowed the full moon to illuminate the mystery person. It was Richie. Duncan drew on a pair of shoes and walked down to the lake.

"Richie?" The young man jumped.

"Mac! I didn't hear you." Richie kept his eyes down and looked back to the water. "I'm sorry, if I woke you," he said quietly. "I was skipping stones."

"So, that's what that noise was," Duncan admonished. "Rich, it's three in the morning." The youth still wouldn't look at him. "Richie, look at me." Hesitantly the young man met the Immortal's eyes. They were shiny - he had been crying. "Richie?" Duncan reached out and wiped away a stray tear, as it welled over and ran down the young cheek. "What's wrong?"

"Don't be mad, Mac."

"Mad? Richie what is it?" Duncan was concerned not upset.

"It's nothing, Mac. I was just thinking... I mean I had a dream and when I woke up... she was on my mind."

"She?" Duncan was confused. "You mean Catherine?"

"No," Richie paused. "Tessa."

"Why would I get mad about you thinking of Tessa?"

"Because... I know you must think I don't give Anne a chance and..."


The Highlander cut him off."Rich, I would never get angry over that. And I think you and Anne are doing pretty well. She isn't Tessa, Richie. She never will be. It's okay if she's still in your heart - we don't have to make excuses to ourselves, or others, in matters of the heart. You loved her Richie, as did I. Moving on after Tess was a big step, for both of us. I will always love her and she owns a piece of my heart, even now."

"Mine too, Mac. I just remember the last time we were out here, with her."

Duncan smiled at the memory. "Yeah... I remember it to. You had your first lesson about poison ivy - two minutes too late and Tessa had you drenched in calamine lotion."

"Laugh it up, Mac. I was miserable."

"You lived."

"Yeah. Tess was great, Mac. She was like a..."

"Mother," Duncan offered softly. Richie nodded and looked away quickly. Duncan reached out, pulled the young man to him and held him. "I love you, Richie. Do you know that? I mean really know it?" The youth's face was buried in the Highlander's shoulder, as he nodded.

He lifted his head and looked at Duncan."Yes, I know. I always have, Mac. Love you, too."

Duncan smiled and ruffled Ryan's hair. "I know. . . " he paused and added, "I always have, as well." Richie grinned.

"Never apologize about thinking of her, or missing her, Richie. She's a part of you - now and forever. She's with me everyday. I'll never forget her and neither of us should have to, in order to move on." Richie nodded. He understood what Duncan was saying.

"You ready to try and go back to sleep? We've got a full day's hike ahead of us, tomorrow. The ladies are really looking forward to it."

"Yeah. Let's go." Richie and Duncan started to walk back toward the cabin and the youth stopped. "Mac?"

"Yes?"

"Thanks."

Duncan merely smiled and cuffed the back of the youth's head. "Come on. Seven AM will be here, soon enough."

*********

The trip to the cabin had been a success and Duncan chalked this trip up into one of his warmest memories. June was always a nice month to visit the cabin. Duncan was glad that he was with Anne and that Richie and Catherine had, come as well.

They had enjoyed the week long stay. Duncan had been able to spend time with Anne and she had enjoyed the time away from Seacouver. Richie and Catherine were visibly in love and Duncan was overjoyed that the young man he loved as his own, had overcome the many challenges his young life had given him. His heart was full.

It was early, and the cabin was still asleep, as Duncan walked into the kitchen to make coffee. When the coffee was done, he poured himself a cup and went out onto the porch. Duncan thought back to three days earlier and remembered the talk at the lake's edge with Richie. The following day had been a good one, for all of them. The hike was beautiful and the picnic lunch had been the perfect touch. The Immortal reflected back on Christmas, before bringing in the new year -- it had been his and Anne's first, as well as Richie and Catherine's as a couple. The warm memories filled him and he smiled to himself. Suddenly, he felt the familiar and comforting pre-Immortal hum of Richie's approach.

"Mornin', Mac," Richie said, as he came outside to sit with the Highlander.

"Good morning. You're up early."

"I heard you in the kitchen. I thought I'd join you. I wanted to thank you, Mac."

"For what?"

"Letting me invite Cat here, with us."

"Why wouldn't I?" Duncan asked, confused.

"Because, she doesn't know about Immortals and you always said letting people in, that don't know, can be dangerous."

"I have said that. But she's the woman you love and if she's going to be a part of your future, then, one day, she will have to be told about me. But, not yet."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Richie offered, with a grin. "It's hard to believe she and I have been together over a year already."

Duncan smiled. Sounds from inside the house made them both turn their heads, as Anne and Catherine came to the screen door.

"Good morning, ladies," Duncan said with a smile. Richie got up to go inside to help with breakfast and Duncan waved him on. "I'm gonna finish my coffee, Toughguy. I'll be there in a minute."

"Okay, Mac."

Duncan sat on the porch stairs and looked out at the still lake, as the morning sun sparkled off of it. He could hear the voices and laughter behind him, in the kitchen. This was one of those moments that you feel completely alive and content, he thought to himself. He stood up and turned to go inside the cabin. As he turned, he saw Richie, Anne and Catherine placing dishes down -- making food -- laughter and life filled the cabin -- in that moment, Duncan felt as if he had touched nirvana.


To be continued...