Fortune's Fool
By Dawn M. Nyberg


Disclaimer: The Highlander characters are owned by Rysher Entertainment and Davis/Panzer. I'm just borrowing them and making no profit.

Big Thanks to Tia for the beta and for being my spare brain!

Quotes Used:

Excerpt song lyrics: "I will love you," by Fisher

Matthew Arnold, poem excerpt, "Longing."

Indian Prayer - author unknown

Quotes from: Hamlet, (Act V, sc 2) and Romeo and Juliet (III, I, 141)

W.H. Auden poem, "Stop All The Clocks"

Note: This is the sixth installment in a series. If you have not read the previous stories, I suggest you do. You can find them at the Seventh Dimension Archive or at Fanfiction.net. The series is as follows: The Ties that Bind, Home Fires, But Deliver Us From Evil, Sacrifices and Touching Nirvana.

Story # 7 is in the 'thinking' stages and titled "In the Gloaming"

****************************

August 1997

"Cat, honey, I know you love books, but I'm comin' out of my skin, here," Richie remarked.

"Oh, Richie. How often do I drag you to an estate sale? Anyway, they have really old poetry books and maybe I'll be able to use them when I decide on a thesis."

"Thesis? Babe, you haven't even started your grad program, yet!" Richie's voice was amused.

"Laugh, if you must, but two years goes pretty quickly. You know - I don't pick on you about microbiology. I love literature and poems." She turned away from him abruptly. Richie mentally kicked himself. He made a tentative reach for an arm. She moved away, slightly.

"I'm sorry. I was a schmuck ," he offered. He reached up and pushed a strand of her hair from her forehead. "I am sorry." Catherine turned and looked at him. She studied him for a moment. She couldn't stay mad at him - even if she wanted to.

"I forgive you." Catherine bent closer and kissed him lightly on the lips. Richie moved in for a deeper kiss. "Dylan Thomas!" she called out suddenly. Richie jumped.

"What?" He looked around - slightly startled.

"It's his complete works," she held the book up to Richie's face. He rolled his eyes.

"I can't believe I've fallen in love with a bookworm," he commented with a smile. Catherine eyed him and then suddenly swatted his stomach. "Hey!"

"Don't 'hey' me," she scolded in a good-natured tone." Richie lifted his arms slightly in surrender. Catherine laughed.

Catherine hauled Richie around the estate sale most of the afternoon. They walked down the long driveway, toward the parking area. Catherine stopped abruptly.

"What is it?" Richie asked.

"I'm going to miss this."

"Miss what?"

"Us." Her answer was simple, but Richie agreed. The separation coming in September was going to be difficult. Richie knew London was only an airplane flight away, but there was a lot of land and water between them. He was going to make this work. They both would.

"We'll still be an 'us,'" he offered, as he pulled her near.

"Yes, but I won't see you for months."

"Look, we'll make it work. We love each other, right? It'll work."

"In a perfect world, maybe," she offered. "I love you, Richie, but you'll find someone else," she paused, "or maybe I will." Richie studied her, but remained silent. "Oh, Richie, I didn't mean anything by that. I'm not looking for someone else. I love only you."

"I won't be looking, Cat. I can stay faithful."

"I know. Me, too." She leaned in a kissed him. "I'm just having trouble comprehending what it's going to be like not having you in my life, at least everyday."

"I know. I've been thinking about it, too."

"I could always..." Catherine's voice drifted off and Richie interrupted her before she could continue.

"There is no... You 'could always' ? What? Stay here? No way!"

"Richie! It's my life. I can, if I want to."

"Okay, answer me this," Richie scowled. "Do you want to go to London? Has it been a dream of yours to study literature in England?"

"Richie," her voice caught.

"No, Cat. Answer the question, yes or no."

Catherine dropped her eyes from him."Yes," her voice was very quiet.

"Good." Richie said his scowl relaxing. "Don't give up your dreams for anyone, Cat. You'd only resent me, in the long run."

"I wouldn't."

"Yes, you would. And I wouldn't blame you. Look, we can love each other without sacrificing one another's dreams."

"Isn't love about sacrifice, Richie?"

"Yes, but not of your dreams, Cat. We are sacrificing something - each other. We love each other enough to allow the other to pursue what makes them happy. We're gonna make it, Cat."

Catherine looked him over and kissed him suddenly."How'd I get so lucky finding you?"

"I can say the same thing, ya know?"

They had come to an understanding with each other. They hadn't planned to have such a private revelation of their relationship in public, but, with them, sometimes, that was just how things worked.

** Later that night **

"Hey, Rich?" Duncan called up the stairs.

"Yeah?" Richie appeared at the top of the stairs.

"Anne just called and said she's going to be late and I haven't started dinner yet. Do you wanna grab a bite at Joe's, or are you and Catherine getting together?"

"Sounds good, Mac. Nah, Cat is going to campus tonight, to hear some writer talk about stuff."

"Stuff, huh? Sounds interesting." Duncan's voice was amused.

"Mac! You know what I mean. Cut me some slack."

"Did I say anything?"

"Yeah." Richie started down the stairs. "You made it sound like I think Cat does boring things."

"Well, books, poems, and the like, aren't your favorite things, Rich."

"Okay, you have a point, but she likes it."

"I know."

"You wanna eat?" Richie dropped a look on the Highlander. Duncan chuckled and added, "Stupid question, I know. Let's go."

** Joe's Bar **

"Hey, guys," Joe said, as Duncan and Richie approached the bar.

"Hey, Joe," The Highlander and Ryan answered in unison.

"We wanted to grab a bite, Joe. Anne was going to be late and Cat gave him the night off," MacLeod flipped a thumb toward Richie.

"God, Mac! You make it sound like I'm whipped or something." Joe chuckled. "Joe!"

They sat and ate at a back table. Duncan's eyes darted toward the door and Richie noticed the Immortal's hand had dropped toward his coat. "An Immortal?" Duncan nodded. The door to the bar opened and Adam walked in. Adam scanned the room and met eyes with MacLeod and a smirk crept across his face. Richie waved at the ancient Immortal. Pierson approached the table.

"Evening, gentlemen. Missing your other halves - I see," Pierson's voice was amused.

"Have a seat, Adam." Duncan scooted out another chair toward the other man, with his foot.

It was a busy night at the bar, but Joe made time to stop at his friends' table for a visit. "Food, okay?"

"Yeah, Joe. Great," Richie answered first.

"Yes, Joe," The Highlander agreed. Adam merely lifted his beer and nodded. Joe just shook his head at Pierson.

"Alkie."

"Ah, tsk-tsk, Joe. Just because I can hold my alcohol . . ." Pierson answered.

"Uh-huh. Well, discussing your alcohol consumption isn't why I stopped over here. I wanted to propose something," he looked directly at MacLeod and Ryan. "Rich, how would you like to celebrate your twenty-third birthday here? I'd love to close the place for a night and have a private party for you. How does that sound?"

"Joe, It'd be great, but you don't have to."

"I want to. Of course, that is, if you didn't already have family plans." He looked at Duncan.

"You are family, Joe," Duncan assured. "I think it's a great idea. Rich?"

"Yeah, Joe. Thanks. It doesn't have to be huge. Just family and close friends."

"Whatever you want, Rich. Just let me know a head count, in a couple of weeks."

"Okay."

An hour later, Duncan hung up his cell phone. "Is Anne done at the hospital," Richie questioned, as the man hung up.

"Yes. Her car has a flat, Rich. I told her I would come fix it." Before Duncan could say anything, Pierson chimed in.

"I can give him a ride back to the house, MacLeod."

"No, that isn't necessary, Adam," Duncan answered.

"Yeah, Adam. You don't have to. It's out of your way." Richie spoke up.

"I don't mind - unless you'd rather go watch a tire get changed."

Richie looked at the Highlander.

"All right. I'll see you at home. Thanks Adam."

"Not a problem."

Duncan excused himself and left the bar. Adam and Richie sat for a short while longer and started for the door, but not before saying good-bye to Joe. They had closed the place down, except for a small group of people still lingering at the bar.

"Where did you park?" Richie didn't see Adam's car as they exited the bar.

"Down there," he pointed down the street and Richie saw the car parked adjacent to an alley under a street lamp. As they walked down the dark street, Adam stopped. "Wait," his tone dropped and became dangerous. It was a tone Richie hadn't heard from the man, before. "I sense an Immortal." His hazel eyes scanned the street up and down - he saw nothing, but his senses were not lying to him.

"I don't see anyone, Adam. You sure?" Adam looked at him with a look that bordered on amazed. Richie chuckled, despite the situation. "Sorry." Adam shook his head at the young man and drew his sword.

"Stay behind me and head for the car."

"Okay."

They reached the car and a voice called out from the alley. "You!" Adam stopped. A man he did not recognize showed himself. "I thought I felt an Immortal. Shall we?" The man showed his blade. The light from the street lamp reflected on the blade.

"I'm busy," Adam answered - his voice casual.

"You can fight and die, or just die. It's up to you."

"Over-confidence is a stupid thing," Adam commented. The man stepped closer and Adam stepped back making sure Ryan was behind him. "Go back to the bar, Richie," Adam ordered - his tone serious.

"Why?" Richie responded. An incredulous look crossed Adam's face, but he never dropped his eyes from his challenger.

"If the boy won't leave, then so be it, " the other Immortal spoke. He lifted his blade.

"Not in the open! What? Are you both stupid *and* mad?"

"The alley," the man ground out.

"Richie, go back to Joe's. Now!"

"But . . ."

"I'll rid us of the boy," the man took a single step toward Richie. Adam's blade rose, instantly.

"You'll stop," Adam's tone dropped an octave. The man took another step forward. "He is not apart of our Game. I warn you . . . If you harm him . . . I will kill you just to watch you die. And, then, when you awaken, I will gut you like a fish. Perhaps, then, I'll have your Quickening." There was something in his tone that made the man step back.

"Fine, but if he interferes - I am bound to nothing. Mortal or not."

"The bar, Richie. Go!"

Richie started for the bar and Adam watched him cross the street toward the bar. He followed the man into the alley. "I am Adam Pierson."

"Garrett Christopher."

"Never heard of you." Adam was unimpressed.

Blades were raised and the battle was joined.

Richie heard the clash of swords and turned back toward the alley. He hurried along the darkened sidewalk, toward the alley. He stayed close to the wall and followed the noises of battle. He had never watched Adam fight, before. His tactics and approach are different than Mac's, he thought. Ryan hid behind a dumpster and watched in rapt silence. Adam attacked with a rage Ryan had never seen before.

Garrett parried each blow, but with increasing difficulty. Adam bound the other Immortal's blade and forced it down from its defensive position. Pierson had gained the upper hand.

"This is going to feel good," Adam hissed at Garrett.

Garrett was breathing hard, but still not willing to back down. "What's gonna feel good?"

"Your Quickening," Pierson mused. "They always feel so good, after its been a while."

"Screw you!"

"Now, is that anyway to talk? You can live another day -- if you walk away. It's your choice." Adam offered.

"No!" Garrett yelled.

"As you wish," Adam commented idly.

The battle continued for a short while. But it's only a matter of time before Garrett makes a mistake, Adam thought - and he did. Garrett was beginning to let his anger get away from him and that was going to be his undoing in the end. Suddenly, he dropped back from the fight and Adam saw what was about to happen. Garrett committed his blade in a forward thrust, with all his body weight and momentum and it would be his final mistake. Adam stepped sideways and avoided the blade, as he sliced across Garrett's stomach.

Richie's eyes widened, as he watched Adam take down the other Immortal. Garrett fell to his knees, as his sword slipped from his numbing fingers. Adam stepped behind the fallen Immortal and positioned his blade for the killing stroke.

"Do it!" Garrett commanded. "Make it clean."

"I will." Adam paused and, as the killing blow descended toward Garrett's neck, Adam intoned, "There can be only one."

The Quickening began to gather around Adam. A warm wind buffeted Richie and he stepped out from behind the dumpster. Adam spotted Richie - their eyes met and held one another's gaze. The air was charged with electricity. "Richie! Get awa . . ." Adam's words were cut short as the Quickening hit him. It owned him - consumed him. The power of it threw Richie against the wall. He slid down the wall to the damp pavement of the alley floor. Dazed - he watched in amazement, when Adam was picked up off the ground for a moment, as if by some invisible hand, and released. Once again, the alley was silent and dark. Adam pushed himself up to his knees. He slowed his breathing and centered himself. "Richie?" Adam spotted Richie climbing unsteadily to his feet. Adam got up and hurried over to the young man.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Richie answered, as he rubbed the back of his head.

"Did you strike your head?"

"Just on the wall. No big deal, man."

"Let me see."

"No. Hey, I'm not a baby."

Adam leveled a look on Ryan. "Fine."

"Well, there isn't any blood. Are you dizzy?"

"No, I'm fine."

"You don't listen very well do you?"

"Geez, you sound like Mac." Richie looked over Adam's shoulder. "Where is he?"

Adam looked back at where the Immortal's body had fallen before the Quickening had begun. "Gone."

"Huh?"

"Vaporized."

"That happens?" Richie's eyes went wide in amazement.

"Not always, but sometimes."

"Huh. Kinda saves on clean up, eh?"

Adam allowed the sides of his mouth to quirk up."Yes - I suppose it does. Come on, I'd better get you home before you're missed."

They both walked toward the car and Joe stood at the car waiting.

"Joe?" Adam's voice was surprised.

"Wondered how long you were gonna stay in there. Need any help with the disposal?"

"No. It's taken care of."

"Yeah, Joe! He vaporized!" Richie's said, excitedly. Joe grinned, despite the situation.

"You okay?" Dawson asked, as he looked the young man over.

"Yeah. Joe, you two are like two old mother hens. Is Mac givin' classes or something?"

Joe and Richie both laughed at the idea. Adam merely rolled his eyes - trying not to be amused.

Back at the House

"Stop worrying, Duncan." Anne tried to ease her lover's tension.

"We shouldn't have beat them back, Anne." Duncan's brow furrowed.

"Well, maybe they stayed at Joe's longer."

"I called. There wasn't an answer."

"Maybe, Joe didn't want to pick up. It was after hours," Anne tried to suggest anything to ease the Highlander's concern. "I'm sure everything is fine."

"Maybe, I should . . ." Duncan didn't finish what he was saying, as headlights turned into the driveway.

"See, there they are." Anne smiled.

Duncan opened the front door and stood on the porch, as Adam and Richie exited the car. "A little late."

"Sorry, Mac. We kinda got side tracked."

"Sidetracked?" The question was posed toward Adam.

"I had some business arise that I wasn't expecting."

"Business?" Duncan studied the ancient Immortal. His eyes narrowed and then went wide. "Are you alright, Richie?" Duncan stepped forward, as Richie stepped up onto the stairs of the porch.

"Yeah, Mac. I'm fine. You shoulda' seen Adam. He kicked some ass."

"He bumped his head on a wall," Adam offered.

"Damnit," Duncan cursed, as he pulled Richie up into the light. "Anne!"

"Mac! Calm down, man. I'm fine."

"Duncan, what is it?" Anne's voice was alarmed.

"Adam fought an Immortal and Richie hit his head. Can you check him over?"

"Anne, I'm okay, really. Geez, I've hit my head harder, playing football with the guys." Anne smiled.

"Well, let me examine you, anyway." Her eyes moved in Duncan's direction and Ryan understood that Mac was only concerned.

"All right." Richie turned toward Adam. "Hey, thanks for the ride. Never a dull moment, huh?"

"You're welcome, Richie." Adam knew the Highlander was going to have words with him and he wasn't going to enjoy them.

Duncan closed the front door and stayed on the porch. Adam remained silent. The Highlander walked up to him, "What in the hell were you thinking?"

"MacLeod . . ." Adam tried to form an argument in his defense.
"I don't want to hear it. I can't believe you put Richie in the middle of a battle." Duncan was livid.

"I didn't put him in the middle of anything! He put himself there. It's not my fault he doesn't listen."

"He's twenty-two years old! Of course he doesn't listen, but that isn't an excuse for you."

"He's all right MacLeod! No foul."

"He could have been hurt, Adam." Duncan's voice was low and dangerous.

"In case you haven't noticed - he is an adult, now, MacLeod. He's not that seventeen year old you took in, years ago. You're holding on too tight. Those apron strings are going to strangle you."

"You wouldn't understand, Adam. It's a commitment to have a family. You're just too self absorbed to understand."

"Self absorbed, huh? Who saved his life, after Logan? Huh?"

Duncan stepped back. Adam had never brought up that horrible night - nor, had he ever asked for thanks. He had saved Richie's life, that night.

"I'm sorry." Duncan relaxed the tension in his shoulders. "I was worried about him, that's all. I apologize for overreacting." Adam smirked at the Highlander.

"It's okay. I should have made myself clear to the boy - made him listen."

Duncan chuckled.

"It'll never happen, Adam. He's too hard-headed to listen."

"Like someone else I know." Adam inclined his head toward Duncan. The Highlander smiled.

The conversation ended, Duncan bade Adam good night and went inside to hear Anne's prognosis. He heard Anne and Richie laugh from the kitchen and found the noise comforting.

"Well? How is he?"

"Mac, you know my head is made of concrete."

"Uh-huh - well, concrete isn't invincible. Anne?"

"He's fine, Duncan. Are things all right with you and Adam?" Duncan suddenly realized that he'd said Adam had fought an Immortal. Anne now knew Adam wasn't a mortal.

"Yes, we worked it out. I should talk to you about Adam, Anne."

"What is there to say? I've seen the way your eyes get sometimes and then he'll ring the doorbell. I figured it out a while ago, Duncan. I assumed he was an Immortal and you, or he, would tell me some day." Duncan smiled. He felt lucky to have found her. His attention shifted to Richie.

"I know - I know. You wanna have a talk, right?"

"My office." Duncan's tone brooked no argument. He was mad and Richie knew it. Ryan headed toward the Highlander's office down the hallway.

"Duncan," Anne caught his arm lightly. "Don't be too cross with him."

"I won't. I'm just going to put the fear of God into him," he said with a smile. Anne returned his smile and kissed him on the cheek.

Duncan headed down the hallway. Richie was all ready sitting in a chair in front of MacLeod's desk. Duncan entered and closed the door and walked around to sit behind his desk. He sat and looked at Ryan in silence, for a long moment.

"Mac . . ." Duncan held his hand up and Richie closed his mouth.

"Richie, what in the hell were you thinking?" Mac's voice was low and sharp.

"I - I."

"It's a rhetorical question, Richie. The point is, you weren't thinking. What possessed you? Will you ever learn to listen to a direct order? And you wonder why I worry about you."

"I'm sorry," Richie offered while staring at his hands. "I just wanted to see Mac. I wanted to make sure Adam was okay."

"Richie, he is an Immortal. We are challenged - we fight. It's what we do. You have no place in that fight. He told you to go back to Joe's and you should have gone."

"Mac, I can't help it. I do listen, but I make my own decisions. I'm not a kid."

"Rich, this isn't an issue of you being thought of as a child. Your safety *is* the issue. If you interfere while I am fighting, or Adam is, for that matter - you put not only yourself in danger, but Adam or myself. Do you understand what I'm trying to get across to you?"

"Yeah. I was stupid. I'm sorry."

"You're not stupid. Just hard-headed. Promise me you'll listen, the next time one of us tells you to do something for your safety."

"I promise." Richie stood up from his chair. "It won't happen again, Mac." Duncan stood up, also, and walked around his desk. Richie extended a hand, "I promise." Duncan chuckled.

"I know you do." He pulled the young man into a warm hug. "I'm still gonna worry about you."

"I know. Cluck - cluck."

"I'm not a mother hen!"

"Okay, father hen." Richie laughed and Duncan swatted him gently on the butt.

"You're impossible."

Richie chuckled, headed for the door and down the hall. Duncan heard Ryan going up the stairs and he made a detour for the kitchen.

"Are things okay?" Anne asked.

"Yes, I think we came to an understanding."

"Good."

** Two weeks Later **

"It's not a very big list, Rich," Joe commented, at the list of names for the youth's birthday party. "You can have more."

"Nah, Joe. That's the list. I don't need it to be a circus. I just want to have a small get-together."

Dawson scanned the list of guests: Catherine, her parents, Connor, Adam, Dr. Mayer and his wife, Josh, Seth with dates, and, of course, Mac and Anne.

"Dr. Mayer?" Joe questioned.

"Oh, yeah, Dr. Mayer is a professor at school. He's head of the department, Joe. And Josh and Seth are buddies from school. We get together for basketball, when we can."

"Okay, well, if you're sure this is it?"

"I am. Thanks, again, for everything, Joe."

"No problem, Richie. I wanted to." The ringing phone caught Dawson's attention, but Vincent, a transfer from another Watcher region, and his newest bartender, answered it.

"Mr. Dawson?"

"Vincent," Joe sighed, "I told you to call me Joe. It's okay."

"Sorry, Joe. It's Mr. Anthony for you." Joe frowned.

"Okay, tell him I'll be right there." Joe looked at Richie. "It's Watchers' business."

"All right, Joe. I just wanted to give you the list. I gotta get going, anyway. Cat's making us dinner tonight."

Joe arched an eyebrow."Don't have too much fun, kiddo," he joked.

"Joe!"

Joe chuckled. Richie gave Joe a quick hug and left. Dawson turned and made his way to the phone. He felt uneasy about the phone call, Charles Anthony rarely called to just shoot the breeze.

** An Hour Later **

"Problem, Joe?" Vincent questioned, as he saw the serious look on Dawson's face when he hung the phone back up.

"You could say that." Joe rubbed his face. "The Hunters have been reborn."

"What!?" Vincent went pale and he hurried around the counter to stand across from Joe. "But . . . I thought they had been weeded out after Horton died."

"Me too," Joe offered. "But they are up and running again. The Tribunal has issued a Code Red," Joe looked at a piece of paper he had written on during his phone conversation. "They issued the Code for: Stanley Barton, Steven Erdman, Anton Fialkowsky, and Matthew Hale."

"Matthew was always a son of a bitch, Joe. Now what? Where are they?"

"In the states - whereabouts unknown. I need to talk to some people."

"You mean someone, don't you? MacLeod, maybe?" Vincent said with a slight smile.

"I have to Vincent," Joe's voice was serious.

"Hey, Joe," Vincent answered with hands raise, "Do what you have to. I like the guy. You're my mentor, man. I share your views. Watchers and Immortals can mix and even become friends. A Code Red, Joe . . . things are going to get heated up, aren't they?"

"Yes and dangerous. Maybe you should go back to research, until things settle down. I'm sure they'll be lookin' for me. They blame me for James' death."

"No way! I'm stayin'"

Joe rolled his eyes, but chuckled despite the seriousness of the situation. "Fine, but keep alert."

"I will."

"I have to make a phone call." Joe made his way to his office to speak privately to the Highlander.

"MacLeod."

"Mac? It's Joe." The tone of his voice gave Duncan pause.

"Joe, is everything all right?"

"No."

"What's wrong?"

"There isn't anyway to say this, but straight out."

"What is it, Dawson?"

"The Hunters are active again. They've regrouped and are on the move."

"Where are they?" Duncan's voice tone was serious.

"We don't know. I only just heard about this an hour ago. The Tribunal has issued a Code Red. They are taking this seriously."

"A Code Red? Is that what I think it is?"

"Yes. It's a kill order."

"How many?"

"They have issued the order for four Hunters."

"They're headed here, aren't they?"

"The word I received, today, is that all indications point to that."

"I need to call Connor and give him a head's up. Have you told Adam?"

"He already knows."

Duncan still found it odd and hard to remember that Adam Pierson was both an Immortal and Watcher.

"I should let you go, Mac. I have to take care of business. I'll keep you informed."

"Thanks, Joe."

** Catherine's Apartment **

"How is it?" Catherine eyed Richie, as he swallowed a bite of meatloaf.

"Good."

"I don't know how you could tell," she paused, pointed to his plate. "You put the mashed potatoes on every bite before you eat it."

"That's the way I like it, Cat."

She smiled. "You're sure you like it?"

Richie sighed, "Yes."

Catherine frowned.

"Oh, don't be that way. I do like it. You're the next Julia Child."

Catherine laughed.

They talked for a good forty-five minutes, and, after he helped her clear the table and put things in the dishwasher, they sat down on the couch. "Are you ready for dessert?"

"Man, you made dessert, too?"

"I didn't say that," she cooed, as she brushed his cheek with a fingertip.

He smiled."Oh, that kinda dessert."

Catherine stood up and stopped Richie when he began to follow. "No, give me a minute, okay?"

"Okay." Richie's eyes followed her retreat with a glint.


** 10 minutes Later **

"Richie?"

"Yes?"

"You can come in."

"All ready on the way, babe."

He turned into the room,the lights were off and the room was lit by candlelight. Catherine stood in the bathroom door - leaning against the doorframe. The bright candlelight from the bathroom illuminated her from behind. Richie followed her shadowed curves beneath the cream colored negligee. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of her.

"You like?" Her hand ran down a side of the gown, slowly, inviting him. He walked up to her slowly, his eyes drinking her in. His hand started at her hip and followed its contour up her side, to her face. He cupped a side of her face gently.

"I like," he said, as he devoured her mouth.

She led him to the bed and undressed him slowly. His pants fell to the floor. She lifted her arms and he lifted her gown off. He urged her back onto the bed and covered her with his body. He looked down at her face and smiled. "I love you."

"I know. I love you, too." She reached up and looped her fingers through his hair and pulled him gently toward her mouth. Their lips hovered - each wanting the other.

He began to explore her with his mouth and hands. He kissed her hot skin, while his hands moved almost like an artist's brush across the canvas of her body. He suckled a nipple. Catherine involuntarily arched herself toward him. He blazed a trail with his tongue toward her stomach. Her breaths came quicker. He stopped at her belly button and smiled to himself. He could spend a lifetime exploring the contours of her. His tongue circled her navel - she gasped. She reached down with both hands and ran her fingers through his hair. She gently urged him back toward her face. He obliged.

They joined as one and moved in complete synchronization. He moved - she arched. Their bodies both growing toward the same release. His breath came quicker - her fingernails dug into his back. Moaning in unison. Richie collapsed against her. His face buried in the side of her neck - his breathing slowed, as he felt his body quiver against hers. Catherine rubbed his back. He started to move off of her. "No, not yet, Richie." He lifted his head and looked at her.

"Okay." He stayed. He continued to cover her body with his own, for long silent moments. "You okay?"

"Perfect." He stared into her eyes and watched the candlelight dance in them. He kissed her passionately. "Tired?" Her voice had a certain tone he knew too well. He smirked.

"No."

"My stallion," she said, as she giggled. Richie chuckled and covered her mouth, once again, with his.

"At your service, mademoiselle."

They began to move in unison, once again. Their knowledge of the other's body evident. They made love into the early hours of the morning. Once sated, they fell asleep in each other's arms.

Catherine woke before Richie and watched the early morning sun play across his sleeping face. Her mouth turned up at the edges - ever so slightly. She loved to watch him sleep. She gently ran a single finger over an eyebrow and lightly down his nose. He crinkled his nose in his sleep, but did not awaken. She almost giggled out loud, but held it in. She continued to examine the various features of his face with a single finger. She came to his lips and traced them with a feather soft touch. Finally, she moved closer to his face and hovered at his lips. She listened to his quiet exhale and smiled. She touched his lips lightly, with her own, and he moved, slightly.

"Richie?" her voice was soft.

"Hmm?" He hadn't opened his eyes, yet, but she could tell he was near waking.

"Richie?" She kissed him with a bit more firmness and his lips responded to hers. She pulled back and watched his eyes open, slowly. "Good morning, sleepyhead."

"Good morning," he smiled and pulled her close to him. She placed her head against his chest and cuddled. She listened to his heartbeat, until she broke the silence of their morning, once again.

"I've got that appointment this morning, sweetie. We have to get up."

"Not yet, babe." Richie wrapped an arm around her slender waist - holding her close to him.

"I wish we could stay like this forever, but we can't. My appointment is about my September plans for London, Richie. I can't miss it."

"I know," he answered quietly. "It's gonna really happen, huh?"

"Yes," her voice was muffled against his chest. "I wish . . ."

"Don't, honey," he said, squeezing her gently. "We're both doing what we have to. It's gonna work. We're going to be okay."

"I know," she paused. "I miss you already."

"Ditto. I'm glad you'll be here for my birthday."

"I wouldn't miss it."

"Well, you'd better start getting ready, or you're going to be late."

"Yeah."

"You're with the parental units tonight, right?"

"Yeah, Uncle Jerris is in town and Dad hasn't seen him for a while. They want me there. Do you want to come? Mom and Dad won't mind."

"Nah, I think, if Mac isn't busy with Anne, I'll hang with him."

"Okay."

** Later that day **

Richie stuck his head in the refrigerator and eyed the leftovers from Mac and Anne's dinner at home the night before. "Thought I heard you come in."

Richie jumped.

"Man, Mac, make some noise next time," Richie groused.

"Sorry. I was on the phone in my office. You hungry?"

"Nah, I think I look out of habit, sometimes, Mac."

Duncan chuckled.

"So, Mac . . . do you and Anne have plans for tonight?"

"No, she's attending a staff meeting at the hospital, tonight, and she's also going to cover ER until 1am. Why?"

"Ah, I thought, maybe, we could do something tonight. If you want."

"Yeah, sure, Toughguy. I've missed you, lately."

"Yeah, I guess, I've been wantin' a guys night out, too."

"Well, I have to stop by the dojo. Charlie called earlier and I need to sign off on some paperwork. Hey, you up for Joe's?"

"Always, Mac."

"I heard from Connor last night and he's already made his flight arrangements, to come for your birthday."

"Cool."

** Later that evening **

Anne stepped out of her scrubs and tossed them into the hamper and slipped into the shower. It had been a long day and she wanted nothing more than to slip into bed to snuggle with Duncan. She slipped into bed quietly and curled up against the Highlander, placing her head on his chest. He moved slightly, beneath her. "Long day?"

"I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep." She rubbed his chest lightly.

"You didn't wake me. How was the hospital?"

"The ER was actually fairly quiet tonight."

"That's good."

"You have a good night?"

"Yeah, Rich and I had a men's night out."

"So, did you get in some male bonding, Dad?"

"Dad? Oh, Anne."

"Hey, it's just an observation. You can't fool me Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. You've been feeling a smidge of the empty nest syndrome."

"No, I haven't."

"Uh-huh, and you can honestly say to me that you don't wish Richie spent more evenings here."

"Am I that obvious?"

"No." Anne smiled.

"What time do you have to get up?"

"Early. 6:30 am"

"Well, then you'd better get to sleep."

"I guess you're right, but tomorrow won't be a late night. Okay?"

"Okay." Duncan pulled her face up toward his and kissed her. "Sweet dreams."

"You, too."

"I love you," Duncan said, as he kissed her, once again.

"I love you, too."

She turned onto her side and Duncan moved with her - spooning into her slight figure.

** Joe's Bar **

"Hey, Joe. I got your message on my cellphone's voicemail. What's up?" Duncan glance around and noted that they were alone.

'Thanks for coming, Mac. I was hoping you would show up."

"Something wrong?"

"Things are getting tense in the Watcher ranks, Mac."

"Is it the Hunters?" Duncan's voice was serious.

"Yeah, I got a report that Matthew surfaced in Seacouver, yesterday."

"Yesterday!"

"Yes, but he shook the tail. We assume the others are in the city, as well. Mac, if I could wish this away, I would."

"I know, Joe."

"I'm sorry, Mac. Have you told Anne, or Rich, yet?"

"No, but tonight seems like a good time. I didn't want to shoot up red flares any sooner than I had to."

"I understand. I'll let you know if I hear anything."

"Thanks, Joe. Keep your guard up."

"I will. You, too."

The Highlander nodded and left the bar.

** Later that Night **

"Okay Mac. What's up?" Richie sat back on the couch in the family room.

"Duncan, you sounded serious on the phone today, when you called me at the hospital." Anne studied her lover's face.

"Anne, I've never had a reason to mention the Watchers until now." Anne looked at Richie and Duncan spoke again. "Richie knows about the Watchers already."

"What's going on, Mac?" Richie was starting to become concerned.

"The Hunters have regrouped."

"What?!"

"Calm down, Rich."

"Duncan, who are they? The Hunters and the Watchers?"

"The Watchers do just that watch. The keep records on Immortals, but they aren't supposed to interfere with our lives, or the Game. In fact, we aren't supposed to know about them, but a few of us do."

"Are they Immortals?"

"No. Joe is my Watcher. We weren't supposed to meet one another, let alone become friends, but we wouldn't have it any other way. They take an oath and carry tattoos on their wrists. It's the Watcher insignia."

"Are the Hunters also Watchers?"

"Yes, but the worst kind. They hunt down and kill Immortals because they think we are an abomination."

"Oh, Duncan," Anne reached for his hand, as she sat next to him. "But the Quickening - if they aren't Immortals what do they gain?"

"Nothing, except one less Immortal."

"Are you in danger?"

"We all are, Anne, and I think it may be best if you stay away from me, for a while. And, the same for you, Richie."

"No way, Mac! I'm staying."

"Rich," Duncan's tone was serious.

"Mac, I'm not a kid, anymore. I'm staying."

Duncan allowed himself a mild grin. "Fine, but you stay alert."

"Duncan, I'm not going anywhere, either," Anne's voice was just as serious as his had been. "I understand what you've said and I'm not leaving you."

"But . . ."

"But, nothing - I'm not leaving."

"The two of you drive a hard bargain."

** One Week Later **

"Joe?"

"Yeah, Vincent, in here." Vincent followed Joe's voice to the back office.

"What's up?"

"I got a phone call today." Joe's face was deadly serious.

"What's wrong? Was it Mr. Anthony?"

"No. Matthew."

"Matthew?! What did he say?"

"Not much - just that he blames me for James' death and he's going to make me pay."

"Does the Tribunal know?"

"Yes."

"What are they going to do?"

"They have dispatched a Code squad. They are trying to find Matthew and the others. I need to make some calls. Will you hold down the fort, for a while?"

"Sure."

Joe made his calls - he informed MacLeod and Adam.

** September 19, 1997 **

"Richie?"

"Yes?" Richie came down the short hallway of Catherine's apartment.

"Which do you prefer?" She pointed to two different outfits on the bed.

"Which one? They're both fine, Cat."

"Oh, Richie. Pick one, will you? - I'm wearing one of these at your birthday party, tomorrow."

"I like that one."

"Not the dress," she quirked her mouth up, slightly.

"Why do you ask me what I think, when you've all ready made your mind up? Wear the dress, then." Richie's voice was frustrated.

"Oh, don't get in a snit. You really prefer the pant outfit."

"Yes."

"Fine. Pants and sweater, it is."

Richie smiled and pulled Catherine into his arms.




** September 20, 1997 **

"Dhounchaidh," Connor walked toward Duncan, speaking to him in their native tongue. Duncan smiled and pulled Connor into a bear hug in the airport.

"Conchobhar." Their greetings simple, each saying the other's name.

"I thought I was getting a rental car..." Connor was confused by Duncan's appearance at the airport.

"Ah, I thought, why bother? You have to fly out again, tomorrow. I decided I'd just surprise you."

"Thanks. So, has there been any trouble?"

"No, the Hunters haven't made an appearance and Joe hasn't gotten anymore phone threats, either."

"Good. So, how are you holding up?"

"Holding up?"

"The 'little one' is another year older. Twenty-three, right?"

"Yes, he's grown into such a fine man, Connor. I couldn't be prouder."

"I know. What time is the party?"

"It's starts at 7:00, at Joe's."

"Are you worried?"

"What? About trouble?" Connor nodded. "Yes, but I want Richie to celebrate his birthday. Catherine leaves for her graduate studies in London, in two weeks. I want him to have this night with her, and his family and friends. He was excited that you were going to be able to come."

"I wouldn't have missed it, Duncan. After all, he is family."

Duncan smiled.

** Joe's Bar 7:30 pm **

The cake had been cut and music played. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. Joe smiled - he was glad the party was going well. He noticed a couple of the food trays were getting low and started toward the kitchen to get fresh replacements. "Joe?" Dawson turned toward the familiar voice.

"Yeah, Rich?"

"Where are you going?"

"To get more food."

"Let me help."

"Richie, this is your party. I can do it."

"I know you can, but let me feel like I'm doing something."

Joe chuckled. "That's just it, Richie - your party - your birthday. You don't have to do anything."

Richie chuckled. "Joe, come on. I want to. Hey, it is my birthday and you can't disappoint the birthday boy, can you?"

"Well, if you're going to put it like that - come on."

"Hey, you two - where are you headed?" Duncan looked at both men.

"To get more food, Mac. I'm gonna help Joe get it."

"Need me?"

"Nah, we've got it."

Richie turned and paused. "Mac?"

"Yeah," Duncan turned back toward Richie and found himself engulfed in a bear hug. "Oof! What brought that on?"

"Just, because. Is that okay?"

"Always." Duncan smiled and pulled the young man back into his arms. "Happy birthday, Richie."

"Thanks Mac."

Richie turned to catch up with Joe, who had just gone through the kitchen's swinging metal door. "Hey, Joe." Richie looked up at Joe who stood very still - his face serious, as he looked behind Richie. Ryan turned and found a gun in his face.

"Come here, Richie," Joe hissed under his breath.

"Get over there," the gunman said under his breath. "One noise and you're dead."

"Leave the kid alone."

"Shut up, Dawson," Matthew Hale hissed.

"It's me, you want - let him go. Just pull the trigger and get if over with, but leave the boy."

"Joe." Richie started to speak.

"Quiet, Rich."

"Both of you, shut up."

Matthew Hale jerked the gun at Dawson. His face contorted with hate - absolute malice. "Not here, Matthew," Joe attempted to convince the Hunter to take this to alley.

"Don't tell me what to do!" Hale hissed. The music from the other room played on, loud enough that their voices were masked.

"Joe . . ." Richie nervously looked from the gunman to Joe and to the kitchen door. He was afraid someone would walk through it and get shot.

"Quiet, Richie. Please." Joe begged.

"Dawson, I don't have time. I came here to kill you. I know the Tribunal is looking for me. I hope you rot in Hell Dawson and I want you to die knowing that I will kill every Immortal I can and I will start with your precious Duncan MacLeod."

"Hey!" Richie raised his voice.

"It would do you well to remain quiet," Hale urged, as he glanced at Richie while the gun remained on Joe. "Time to die, Dawson."

The next moments slowed - Richie moved forward, as the hammer on Hale's gun clicked toward its deadly release. "No, Joe!" Richie screamed, as he shoved Joe to the side and the loud shot rang out. Dawson fell to the floor - thrown off balance by Ryan's shove. Richie's head snapped to the side and he collapsed. Joe caught him in his lap.

"God! No! Richie, please, God!" Joe cradled the young man in his arms. Blood covered his shirt and spatter covered his face. MacLeod and the others heard the shot and ran for the kitchen.

"We're not finished Dawson," Hale yelled as he escaped through the back door into the alley.

"Richie!" Joe was frantic. Tears streaked down his cheeks. "Please, God," he begged. "He's a child."

Duncan was the first inside the kitchen. He saw the open back door and then Joe holding the young man. "Richie!"

"Duncan, out of the way!" Anne pushed him aside. Robert and Loreena followed. Catherine was near hysterics. Connor held Catherine back.

"Joe, let him go," Anne shouted, but not unkindly. "We need to help him."

"What the hell happened?" Robert asked, as he urgently began to assess Richie's condition with Anne. Loreena decided to tend to her daughter. Anne and Robert had things under control. "Someone, call 911!" Robert barked.

"It's already done," Adam appeared in the doorway."

"Richie saved me. He was going to kill me." Joe was beside himself. Adam reached down and helped the man up from the floor.

Adam had to keep the Watcher from revealing anything to others that were out of the loop. "It was an attempted robbery," Adam answered, as he ushered Joe toward the bar and out of the kitchen. Robert shook his head.

The other guests stayed out of the way and kept the front door open, awaiting the ambulance.

"Robert, I've got a pulse, but he's not breathing." Robert held a hand towel to the side of Richie's head. Anne began rescue breathing. She looked into Robert's eyes and the two doctors exchanged looks that the other understood. Tonight lives were changed, forever. There wasn't going to be a happy ending to this.

Duncan stood paralyzed, as he watched Anne and Robert with Richie. He wrapped his arms around himself, as if to warm himself from an inner cold. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he met eyes with Connor. "Connor?" Duncan's voice caught in his throat.

"Shh," Connor pulled Duncan into a hug. "Not now, later."

The paramedics arrived and Anne and Robert, both, went with Richie to the hospital.

** Four hours later **

"Can you tell him," Robert quietly asked Anne, as she stood over Richie in his ICU bed.

"Tell him what? His son is alive, but only because the machines are keeping him that way. Robert, how can I tell him that the Richie he knew a few hours ago is gone forever."

"I can do it," he offered. His voice betrayed his normally strong manner. Anne looked into his eyes and was met with the same feeling that was settling over her - grief.

"No, I have to do it. You need to be the one to tell Catherine. He'll want to see him. Robert, maybe . . ."

"Anne, don't. We've run the tests. He's brain dead. We saw the damage on the CAT scan. Hell, Anne we knew back at the bar. I think we just tried to convince ourselves that it wasn't as bad as our guts told us it was. Damn it! I want to cry and hit something, all at once. Twenty-three years just isn't long enough."

"I need to talk to Duncan. This is going to devastate him, Robert. I'm not sure he'll recover from this. Richie was a son to him."

"Talk from your heart Anne," he offered. "You'll find the right words."

** Ten minutes later in ICU **

Duncan entered the room ahead of Anne. The room was silent except for noises from the respirator and the monitors. Richie's head had a bandage around it, as Duncan looked down at him. He reached down and brushed a cheek with the back of his hand. "What's being done for him, Anne?" Duncan had seen many things in his long life and part of him knew that Richie was gone, but he still clung to hope.

"Duncan," Anne put a hand on his forearm. "I need to talk to you." Duncan looked into her eyes and couldn't hold the gaze, as his eyes returned to settle on Richie's silent features. He sat down in the chair next to the bed and Anne followed suit.


** Meanwhile back in the family waiting room **

Catherine was inconsolable, while her mother held tightly to her, after her father had delivered the bad news. Joe sat on the couch in the corner, with his face buried in his hands as he wept. Adam sat silently next to him. He put an arm around Joe and pulled him into a one armed hug, trying to comfort the man.

"He saved my life," Joe sobbed, from behind his hands. "A child. I've had a life, but he . . . but he never had a chance to live. Adam, this can't be happening."

"Shh, Joe." Adam felt compelled to comfort the man. He wanted, so desperately, to tell him of Ryan's pre-Immortal status, but he couldn't -- it wasn't his place to do so - unless Duncan wanted it.





** ICU **

"Duncan, I wish," she paused. "No, not wish, that's not the right word. There aren't right words for this. Duncan, the Richie we knew isn't coming back."

Duncan looked at Anne with anguished eyes. "He's alive now, Anne."

"Only because the machine is breathing for him. This isn't the Richie you love - we love. Duncan, we have to discuss . . ." She was cut off suddenly.

"No! I can't. Maybe . . ."

"Duncan," her voice was gentle, but the tremor betrayed her. He looked into her eyes and saw the truth he wanted so desperately to deny. "He's brain dead, Duncan. There is no hope. You should think about letting . . ."

"Letting what? Letting go? I can't."

"Duncan, I can't imagine what you're feeling. You've been his Father and I know you look at him as a son. He is your son. These machines can keep him alive, but he's already gone. The machines will keep him alive indefinitely, but to what end? Eventually, he will catch a virus, or infection, and he'll die from that. Do you really want to keep him alive on machines? Would he want that?"

"No," he choked out. He looked at Richie. "I need to be alone with him, Anne."

"Certainly. Take as long as you need." She kissed him gently on the forehead. "I love you." He nodded.

Duncan sat alone with Richie watching his chest rise and fall at the machines will. He held Ryan's hand against his cheek and spoke.

"Richie, I-I love you. Please, I don't know what to do. If I keep you alive you'll most likely die a natural death and be at peace, but if I don't you'll be an Immortal. What would you want? God, I never wanted to make this decision." He let his grief come and with it the sobs that wracked him, as he held Richie's hand.

Connor had waited and decided that he needed to check on Duncan. His clansman had been inside the room for almost forty-five minutes. He entered quietly. "Duncan?" The younger Highlander looked up. His eyes blood shot from crying and cheeks still wet.

"He's gone, Connor. What should I do? I don't - I don't . . ."

"Follow your heart, kinsman."

"His life will never be the same."

"It won't be the same, either way, Duncan. What does your heart say?"

"Turn the machines off and let death come for him along with Immortality."

"You remember, long ago, when I said the boy would need looking after?"

"Yes. I said I would."

"You've done a fine job, Duncan. Now, you'll be there for him as the Father you've always been, but now you'll also be his teacher. Everyone's lives will change - yours included. Life here in Seacouver is over."

"I know, but I can't lose him, Connor."

"Then don't, kinsman. One day the Game may take him from you, but that is the future and we're here in the present - the now."

"Get Anne for me, Connor. I should let Catherine say her good-byes to him, before the machines are turned off."

"Have you considered what needs to be done, afterward?"

"He won't revive for at least a day or two, Connor, the injury is severe enough that he'll need time to mend. Just talk to Adam. He'll take care of getting Richie out of here, tonight. I don't want him spending a night in the morgue. Joe should be told. I'll talk to Anne and make sure she releases him, after it's over."

"You're both going to make it through this. We just have to get through the next few days. Things won't be easy, Duncan."

"I know."

Connor left to get Anne and to talk to Adam. Anne walked into the room. "Duncan?" The Highlander looked up at her when she walked into the room and closed the door behind her.

"I'll sign whatever I have to, Anne. I want to terminate life support." She handed him a clipboard.

"Duncan, have you considered some options?" He knew what she meant.

"No, and that is final. He isn't being cut up." He had nothing against organ donation and, perhaps, if things were different, he would allow it, but not now.

"Anne, I need to talk to you."

"I'm here for you."

"Richie isn't like most twenty-three year olds," he began.

"I know . . ."

"No, you don't, Anne. I had two choices: let him stay on these machines, die a natural death and lose him forever, but turning off the machines is only a stepping stone into a new life for him."

Anne wasn't sure she understood. "Duncan, I'm not sure I follow."

"He's pre-Immortal Anne. He'll revive. Not right away, but he will. His life, my life will be over in Seacouver. He and I will have to leave."

"He's Immortal?"

"Not yet, but he will be." Anne smiled and grabbed Duncan.

"We'll leave, Duncan."

"Anne, you can't give up your life. He's dead to this life, now."

"I understand. I'm going. I'm staying with you and Richie."

"Okay." Duncan hugged her. "The next few days are going to be filled with service arrangements. We'll have to go through the motions, Anne. I'm going to have Adam take Richie to the island, to heal. I have to get him a new identity, but I think I should let him have some input. This is going to be hard on him. I'm not sure what his reaction is going to be."

"Whatever you both need, Duncan. I'm here."

"Thanks. Before the machines are shut off, I want to allow Catherine to say good-bye and have some time with him."

"Oh, Duncan, the two of them were so in love."

"I know."

"Will Richie be able to let go of his old life here? Let go of Catherine?"

"He'll have to. I'll explain things to him. Anne, I want to keep him unconscious, until I can get to the island. Is there something you can give to Adam to keep Richie out?"

"Yes, I can give him something. Duncan, how fast will he heal?"

"He'll be a new Immortal. He'll most likely heal slowly and the injury is severe. Why?"

"Well, the brain injury gives me concern. He's brain dead, Duncan. What happens?"

"He'll revive and his body will repair the injury."

"I think it's a good idea to keep him under, as well. He is liable to have a lot of problems, until he is fully healed." MacLeod nodded.

"Adam has been a doctor, on and off, more than once, Anne, just explain things to him. He's the only one I can send to watch out for him that I can explain away at the services, but he's a Immortal and I can't send Connor."

"No, you can't. It would look funny if he weren't at Richie's service. What about that?"

"I think we'll have a memorial service and I'll just tell everyone that I'm scattering his ashes privately." Anne nodded in agreement. "We should go get Catherine."

"Duncan?"

"Yes?"

"Are you holding up okay?"

"Barely. When you shut the machines off, I'd like to be alone with him."

"Of course."

Catherine pushed open the door, slowly. Anne had told her what to expect when she saw Richie. As she reached down to touch Richie, her hand trembled as she touched him.

"Richie?" Her face crumpled into a sob, as she bent over him and placed her head on his chest. She closed her eyes and listened to his heartbeat and tried to imagine they were both in her apartment, asleep in her bed - their bed. The noises from the respirator and heart monitor brought her back to reality. "Please, don't leave me," she begged. She looked at the chair beside his bed and frowned. She gently crawled into the bed beside him and nestled close. "Richie, I love you. We were supposed to have years together. Please, just open your eyes." She remembered what her father had said and her mind accepted the news, but her heart still fought the truth.

"You have my heart, Richie," she spoke quietly, only to him. "You have it always. It's a permanent lock. I don't know if I can do this, Richie. I don't know if I can say good-bye. I won't say good-bye, only, until we meet again." She kissed his cheek gently. Her fingers wanted, so desperately, to run through his curls, but the bandage prevented that. It didn't matter in the end to her. She had every feature memorized - she had watched him sleep many nights and she would take those mental pictures with her. "You're in my heart, always, my love. Always."

She kissed him on the lips, as a tear rolled down her cheek onto his face. "I have to go now, my love. You're with me always, Richie." She bent close to his ear. " 'Til my body is dust, 'til my soul is no more, I will love you." Her mouth crumbled into a sob, once again. She stayed with him a moment longer and rose from the bed and glanced back to his still form and whispered, ". . . and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." She opened the door and left. She walked into her mother's waiting arms and fell into them.

"We should take her home, Duncan," Robert said, as he stood beside MacLeod. "If you need anything..."

"I know. Thank you. Please, take care of her, Robert."

"I will. You're in our prayers."

"Thank you."

Duncan stood next to Richie, as Anne prepared to turn the respirator off and disconnect the tube from his mouth. She turned the IV off first and changed the setting on the heart monitor to silent mode, but the light blips still showed up along with his heart rate. "Are you ready?" She asked, as she stood by the respirator machine.

"I don't think I'll ever be ready for this moment, Anne. Just do it."

"I'll be quick Duncan. You'll have time with him, before . . ." she left the sentence unfinished. He understood what she meant - before his young heart stopped beating and his mortal life ended, forever. She flipped the button to off and one last whoosh noise escaped from the machine and then there was silence. She removed the tube, leaned over and kissed Richie on the forehead, then left Duncan with him.

Duncan felt compelled to hold him. He crawled into the bed and pulled Richie up into his arms. He rested the young head on his chest, as he held him close. He pulled one of Richie's hands into his own. "I love you, Rich. I'll always be here for you. You're my son. Please, forgive me for this." He continued to hold Richie close and he glanced at the monitor. He watched the numbers begin to drop in increments 50, 45, 42, 33, 25, 20... then, nothing. There was no tremor, no noise, just peace, in the end. Duncan held the boy close and wept for the loss of his young mortal life. Despite knowing that death would not hold him -- Duncan wept and grieved. Today, Richie Ryan died and life was forever going to be changed, for many people. Duncan stayed with Richie another twenty minutes and felt he should allow Adam to have him, now. There was still no Immortal song in Richie, but death would not hold him - Duncan trusted in this.

** Three Days Later **

Duncan sat in the front pew of St. Luke's as Father Rainey spoke, "Eternal rest grant unto him, O lord, and let perpetual light shine on him. And may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen"

"Amen." The entire church answered back in unison.

"Duncan would you like to speak?"

Duncan stared at the coffin that sat in front of the church altar. When cremation had been mentioned Catherine had become very upset and Duncan decided, against his better judgment, and, for her sake, said there would be a burial, but no open casket.

"Yes, Father." Duncan stood up and approached the priest and turned to face the crowd. The church was full. Richie had touched more lives than he had known. He estimated 50-60 people sat in the pews. "Hello," he began, uncertain of what to say. "I think Richie would be glad to see all of you here, today. I thank you for being here for him. To quote him - he would probably say, "Cool, look at the turn out." Duncan smiled to himself. There was a small collective chuckle from everyone. They knew it was true.

"There isn't anything I can say that will make things better for you, or myself. Richie was one of the best things to ever come into my life. I feel blessed for having him. I have heard that a candle that burns twice as bright can burn only half as long. Richie was a truly bright candle, and he could burn only half as long." A muffled sob escaped from Catherine and a handful of others. Duncan looked down at his hands folded on the podium, for a moment and then to the coffin. He knew it was empty, filled with sand bags and that Richie wasn't in it, but safe and alive at the cabin - still he felt grief and loss. He looked longingly at the coffin, "Go with God, Richie."

Duncan walked down the marble stairs from the podium and stood in front of Catherine. He lowered a hand to her, "Catherine, would you like to say something?" She wiped her tears and nodded. She took his hand, with purpose, and he walked her to the edge of the stairs, where let her finish the walk on her own. In her other hand, she carried a small book. Duncan saw the strength in her and understood why Richie loved her so.

"Hello." Her voice trembled for only a moment. She centered herself and continued. She would be strong, for Richie. "I could stand here all day speaking about how special a person Richie was, but we already know that, in our own special ways. He used to shake his head at all my literature books and poetry books - it wasn't his thing, but he was always supportive of my dreams. I want to read something today, for him and myself, and I guess all of you." She took a breath and opened a marked page in the book she carried.

"This is a poem from W.H. Auden and titled 'Stop All The Clocks'" She paused and looked at the coffin, "I love you, Richie."

She looked down at the book and began to read the poem: "Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, silence the pianos and with muffled drum, bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead. Scribbling on the sky the message he is dead, put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. He was my North, my South, my East and West, my working week, and my Sunday rest.
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song: I thought love would last forever: I was wrong. The stars are not wanted now; put out every one; pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; pour away the ocean, and sweep up the woods; for nothing now can ever come to any good."

She looked up at the faces of everyone, quietly closed her book and walked toward the coffin. All eyes were on her - she brought a single hand to her lips, kissed her fingertips, placed them at the head of the coffin and whispered, "Come to me in my dreams, and then by day I shall be well again! For so the night will more than pay the hopeless longing of the day." She sat back down next to her parents. Duncan's heart had swelled for the girl. She had carried herself well and expressed her love for Richie, eloquently.

** At the gravesite **

Duncan had chosen a quiet cemetery - peaceful and away from the city's loud hustle and bustle. After Father Rainey said the proper prayers, he looked to Duncan. He approached the head of the coffin. He looked at the mourners standing and sitting by the graveside. "I learned an Indian prayer of sorts, years ago and the author was unknown, but I think it's appropriate to say to all of you, today. I think it has a message Richie would like to leave with each and every one of you." Duncan surveyed all the mourners, once again, and began:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glint on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain. When you wake in morning hush, I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circling flight. I am the soft starlight at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there. I did not die."

Duncan smiled slightly and returned to his seat between Anne and Connor. The day ended with good-byes at the graveside. Duncan had requested no gathering of family and friends, afterward. No one questioned that - all were aware of his loss and respected his need for privacy.


** One Week Later **

The canoe glided silently over the lake water, toward the island. Anne sat behind Duncan and watched her lover paddle in the early morning sun. They had left before sunrise to get to the lake and the cabin. They had left Connor back at the house, to field any calls of sympathy. "Duncan?"

"Yes," the Highlander asked, as he glanced back at her.

"How do you feel?"

"The closer we get to the island . . . I don't know, Anne. It'll be the first time I've seen him, since the hospital. I just want to touch him and know . . ."

"Know what? He's alive?"

"Yes."

"We'll be there, soon. Adam was going to start reducing the sedatives. You shouldn't have to wait too long for him to open his eyes."

"I just want to be there, when he does."

They reached the island and, as Duncan pulled the canoe up onto the shore, Adam came down to meet them. "Good Morning."

"Adam, good morning. How is he?"

"Sleeping, but he should start waking later today. Hello, Anne."

"Hi."

They walked up to the cabin. Duncan wanted to see Richie and went to the youth's room. The door was cracked and he entered slowly. Adam and Anne held back, to allow him some time. Duncan went over to the bed quietly. He surveyed the IV running from his arm. Duncan smiled down at him and ran a hand over his hair pushing back a hand full of curls as he did. He watched the even rise and fall of the youth's chest. Duncan knew the youth had healed completely within a day or two, but was glad for the sedatives - now he could be with Richie for his awakening into Immortal life.

"I'm here, Toughguy. I've missed you. It's time to wake up." He talked a short while to Richie and, finally, felt he should go thank Adam for taking care of him. "I'll be back soon. I love you." He kissed Richie on the forehead and left the room.

**Richie was in a beautiful garden - he had awakened here and Tessa was with him, for what seemed like days. They had enjoyed long talks, as they walked the garden paths, together. "Richie?"

"Yeah, Tess?"

"You know that I love you, right? I always will."

"I know, Tessa. I've always known. I wish things were different."

"Oh, Richie," she said gently, as she bushed his curls back and kissed his forehead. "Things are the way they are. We can't change the past."

"Tessa, why am I here? Why won't you tell me?"

"Duncan will explain things to you."

"But why can't I remember?"

"You will . . . when it's right."

"I miss you."

"I know. I miss you, too. Richie, things are going to be frightening when you leave this place, and me. Please, don't be afraid. You're not alone. Things will seem very big, but you will get through it. You have Duncan and I'm always with you."

"What's going to be scary and where is Mac?"

"Let Duncan explain things. He's waiting for you. He will always be there for you. He loves you."

" I know. Love him, too," he answered, as a sheepish smile curled his lips

"I know you do. It's time for you to start back, Richie."

"Now? Not yet. Tessa, I feel like something happened, something bad. Did it?"

"Richie, your life is going to be full of a lot of changes when you leave me. It will be frightening - I can't imagine it won't be."

What, Tessa? I can't remember anything solid." Richie felt something in the pit of his stomach and he didn't like it. "I don't want to leave you." His voice raised in a panic.

"Shh, everything will be okay. You must leave me, Richie. Duncan will be there for you. Trust him."

"I do trust him, Tess."

"I know. I'm so happy the two of you have become so close. You both make me very proud."

"Thanks Tessa."

"Richie, you need to go back now."

"Now?"

"Yes. I'm always right here," she said, as she placed her hand on his chest, over his heart. "Always." He nodded. She pulled him close and kissed his forehead once more, tenderly. She pointed to a path for him to walk down. "Don't look back, Richie. Always look forward."

"I will, Tessa. I'm gonna see you again, right?"

"Someday."

He started down the path - uncertain of what waited at its end, when he got there.

** "Duncan? How is he?" Anne studied her lovers face. She was happy to a calmness there she hadn't seen in a while.

"Sleeping. Adam, you've done a wonderful job of taking care of him. I can never thank you enough."

"You're welcome."

"Adam?" Anne was looking over the medical supplies she had given him.

"Yes?"

"You're down two Dilantins. Have the seizures been frequent?"

"Seizures?" Duncan's voice was thick with concern.

"Duncan, it's okay. I suspected there would be side effects from his brain injury, as it healed. Well, Adam?


"They weren't too bad. A couple of them took more than one dose to stop. He's been seizure free for almost three days, now."

"Good."

The sun began to set on the cabin and Duncan had taken to sitting at Richie bedside - waiting for him to open his eyes. Finally, it was almost 8:00pm when Richie's hand flinched in Duncan's gentle grip. "Richie?" The Immortal's voice was gentle.

Richie heard a familiar voice calling him from the warm hazy place he had been. He knew the voice and fought to find his way back to it. "Richie, it's Mac. Open your eyes."

The heavens shone down and Duncan felt his heart swell, as he looked into sky blue eyes. Richie focused on the Highlander for a long moment. "M-Mac." It was a mere whisper, but Duncan understood.

"I'm here, Rich. Take your time. You've been unconscious for a while. You might be a little mixed up, okay? So, don't get upset." Richie's eyes drifted away from Duncan and he looked around the room. His brow furrowed.

"Cabin?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"We have a lot to talk about, later, Richie. Rest. I'll be here."

Ryan closed his eyes and fell back asleep. Duncan couldn't contain his emotions any longer. He cried silently at Richie's side. Duncan walked into the kitchen. Anne and Adam both looked at him. "He woke up."

"Is he coherent?" Anne stood from her chair.

"Yes, he knew me and he recognized we were at the cabin. I told him we'd talk later and to rest. He's asleep now."

** The next morning **

Richie woke with the early morning sun on his face. The fog of sleep had lifted somewhat and he looked around the room from his pillow. He saw Duncan asleep in the chair beside his bed. He had no recollection how he came to be at the cabin and he was confused. He tried to think what the last thing he remembered was, but everything was mixed up. "Mac?" The older Immortal woke instantly.

"Richie." He kept his voice even and gentle. "How are you feeling?"

"Confused. Why are we at the cabin? Hell, how'd we get here?" He tried to sit up, but found it difficult.

"Here, let me help you," Duncan helped Richie to sit up and propped pillows behind him. "Richie," he began slowly. "What is the last thing you remember?"

"I'm not sure," Richie's brow furrowed. His eyes narrowed and widened suddenly. "My birthday . . . it was my birthday party, right?"

"Yes. Do you remember what happened?"

"A Hunter . . . a gun. Joe!" Richie looked around frantically.

"Hey-hey, calm down. Joe is fine. He's healthy as a horse. The Hunters were caught the night of your party. It's over. The Watcher Tribunal handled the problem. We're all safe." Ryan relaxed.

"But, how'd we get here Mac?"

"You remember the gun, Richie. Do you remember anything else?"

"I-I pushed Joe out of the way. I remember... the gun fired and then nothing."

"You were shot, Richie."

"Shot?"

"Yes, it was bad. You were shot in the head." Richie's hand immediately went to his head. "You're fine, Rich. No marks, no scars."

"But, how?" Richie searched the Highlander's face. He saw warmth there, but when he asked 'how' he detected a hint of sorrow. "Mac, tell me. How?"

"We have a lot to discuss."

"I died, didn't I?"

"Yes."

Richie clutched the blankets around him, as the implication of that 'yes' hit him. He shook his head. He began to feel hot tears welling in his eyes. He fought against them, but to no avail. "No, Mac." His voice was small and scared and it shattered Duncan's heart. The older Immortal stood up and sat down on the bed. He held Richie, as they both cried.

"I couldn't let them keep you on machines, Richie. I just couldn't. Anne told me you were brain dead and that there was no hope. I did what I had to."

"What about Cat?"

"She's mourning you." Duncan decided the truth was what Richie needed, now. Richie's face crumpled into another sob.

"I love her, Mac. I-I can't do this."

"Yes, you can."

"I have to see her, Mac."

"Richie you can't. She said good-bye to you. She's trying to learn to live without you. She's leaving for London, next week. If you go to her - she will have to give up everything. Her parents can never know. She'll make the same sacrifices Tessa made for me, the same Anne is making."

"But, I love her, Mac."

"I know, but love her enough to let her go. Do you want her to give up her life for you?"

"No. I-I don't know how to do this, Mac."

"You have me, Rich. I'm not going anywhere. Not now, not ever."

"I can't go back to Seacouver, can I?"

"No. I'm going to wrap things up over the next month, then I'd like to show you my homeland. Would you like to live in Scotland?"

"Scotland?"

"Yes, and you can even attend classes there."

"How?"

"I'm arranging new papers for you. Birth certificate, a passport and all the essentials. I'm even going to get you a college transcript made."

"I have to change my identity?"

"Yes."

"What's my name?"

"I thought I would let you decide that, or I can help?"

Richie started to get up and Duncan held a hand out. "I need to get out of here, Mac." The youth tried to walk, but he couldn't quite coordinate his feet. "What's wrong with me, Mac?"

"It's okay. You had a severe injury and you're new to healing. I'm sure some things will take time. You haven't walked in over a week."

"How did I lose so much time?"

"I had Adam bring you to the island. He kept you sedated, while you healed, and until I could get here."

Richie fought to walk. He stood willing a leg to take the first step, but all that happened was an uncoordinated stumble. He started to collapse. "I've got you." Duncan held him firmly against himself.

"I want out of here!" Richie was becoming agitated at himself and the situation.

"Calm down."

Anne had heard Richie shout, as did Adam. They both appeared in the doorway of the bedroom. "He's having trouble walking."

"Just let me go! I'm a damned cripple!"

"This isn't permanent, Richie. Please, calm down." Duncan was concerned. The youth grew more agitated and Anne walked over to help. She motioned a hand toward the kitchen. Adam knew what she wanted - a sedative to calm him down.

"Richie," she began. "Calm down, listen to Duncan.

"No! I can't be like this. I don't . . ." his voice trailed off suddenly, as his eyes rolled back and he stiffened.

"Get him to the bed, Duncan!"

"What's wrong with him?!" Duncan watched in agony, as Richie began to have a seizure.

"His brain is misfiring, Duncan. He got too excited and on top of trying to walk... Adam get me the Dilantin." Adam left the room. She injected Richie with the anti-seizure medication and it halted the seizure. "Duncan, he is mostly healed, but he is, most likely, still repairing neural pathways. He hasn't walked, so those pathways were overloaded. He will be fine."

"Will he always have seizures?" Duncan was worried. This would be a weakness as an Immortal.

"No, he didn't suffer from them before the shooting. I believe, once all his neural connections are healed, he will be fine.

"I agree," Adam inserted. He hoped an Immortal opinion would help.

Duncan hadn't slept well, but the morning brought new possibilities.

"Would you like some coffee?" Anne asked Duncan.

"No, but thanks."

"Did Adam get off okay?"

"Yes. Connor should be up in a couple of days. I wanted to spend more time with Richie."

"I understand."

"I think I'll go workout."

"All right."

"Come and get me if he wakes, okay?"

"Sure."

Duncan walked out the door of the cabin and went down near the lake to begin a kata. Richie began to stir in the bed. He opened his eyes slowly. He looked around the room. It was still the cabin. He wished it had all been a bad dream, but it wasn't. He was an Immortal, now, like Mac. He sat up and this time his body didn't rebel. He tried a tentative move to stand and he was glad his legs cooperated. He tried to take a step and one led to two and soon he was at the door. He followed the noises he heard to the kitchen and he saw Anne standing by the sink, rinsing out a pan.

"Hi, Anne."

She jumped in surprise. "Richie! You should be resting."

"I'm okay." He looked around the room. "Where's Mac?"

"Outside." Richie glanced to where her finger was pointing.

"He must be pissed at me, if he's working out."

"Richie," Anne admonished. "How can you think such a thing?"

"Cause', I didn't handle things very well."

"Didn't handle things? Please, Richie you've been unconscious for a week and your body has been through a terrible shock. He's not mad with you. He loves you. You know that don't you?"

Richie turned away from her and looked out to the lake and the Highlander. "Richie?"

"Yeah, I know, but I'm gonna be a burden to him."

"Richie, you aren't a burden. He loves you and would do anything for you. He would never think of you as a burden, and you now it."

"He told me about Scotland. He's giving up Seacouver, his life, everything for me."

"You're home to him, Richie. Wherever you are, is the right place for him."

"He loves you, Anne. I'm even messing that up, for the two of you." Richie turned toward Anne.

"What? You've done nothing, Richie. I'm going with Duncan and you. I want to."

"You are?"

"I love Duncan . . . and you. I'm going."

"How's Cat?"

"She loved you a great deal, Richie. She will carry you in her heart, always. She's strong. She will be okay."

"I wish . . . I wish," his voice trailed off.

"I know-I know," Anne pulled him into a hug. Richie clung to her for support. He was the first to pull away. He walked toward the other window, near the bookcase and looked out into the woods. Something caught his eye on the bookshelf and a smile crept over his face. "What is it?" Anne asked, when she saw his face. Richie picked up a paperback.

"It's Cat's," he said, holding it up. "She must have forgotten it, when we were all up here. It's Romeo and Juliet." He laughed, as he looked at all the margin notes she had made. Comments and favorite passages marked. "She really loves Shakespeare and poetry."

"I know. She read something at your service. It was very touching. Wait," she said, as she approached the bookcase. "I think I spotted a paperback of poems. Ah-ha, here it is. I'm sure it's here. This book is a collection." Anne leafed through the index, "Yes! It's here." She looked at Richie with searching eyes, as she held the book. "Are you ready for this?"

"I'm never gonna be ready, Anne." The doctor looked at Richie with a curious look. "What?"

"Nothing, its just that's what Duncan said to me, when I asked him if he was ready for me to turn . . . to turn off your life support at the hospital.

"Oh." Richie looked back out at the lake and watched the Highlander go through the motions of an intense kata. "Is he okay?"

"Yes. He's worried about you, but the alternative would have destroyed him, Richie. He will always be there for you."

"I know." He looked at the book in his hand and inserted a piece of paper to mark the spot without reading the text. "Maybe, I'll give it some time. I can read it later. I should talk to Mac."

"I think he'd like that. Do you need help with the stairs?"

"No, I'll take it slow."

"Okay."

Richie walked down the stairs and toward the Highlander and it was the first time he felt an Immortal essence - another's Quickening. He stopped suddenly, as the feeling became more powerful and then disappeared. Duncan turned suddenly, toward the sensation. "Richie!"

"Hey, Mac," Richie offered, with a grin.

"Hey, yourself," Duncan answered, with a warm smile. He went up to the youth and before Richie knew it, he was enveloped in the Highlander's strong arms, held in a bear hug.

"Oof! Man, Mac leave some air." Richie chuckled.

"Sorry. I'm just - I'm just so happy to see you up and around. You're healthy."

"Thank goodness for small favors, huh?"

Duncan's smile faded. He studied the young man before him.
"Are you angry with me?"

"For what? You saved my life. You did what you thought was right."

"Richie, I wouldn't blame you, if you were upset with me."

"I'm not, Mac. Can I ask you something?"

"Of course, anything."

"Did you always know?"

"About you and your Immortality?"

"Yeah, did you?"

"Yes, from the first moment we met, I felt what you could become. I wanted to keep you safe and away from the Game. I started to think you would never be in it. I wanted so desperately to give you a normal, stable life. I never wanted to have to train you to kill or be killed. I never told you about your Immortality, because you always took risks anyway. And, it's tradition to never tell a pre-Immortal what they could become. I hoped you'd never know."

"I'm glad I didn't know, Mac. So, you're my teacher now, huh?"

"Yes, but there isn't a rush to begin, just yet."

"When do we leave?"

"I'm here for another two days, then Anne and I will go back to the city and Connor will be here. I'll get your new papers and it should only take a month. Then we'll be in Scotland."

"I'll be someone new, when we leave, won't I?"

"Yes, and I wish I didn't have to rush you, Richie, but, before I leave, I need your choice for a name."

"Can I think about it?"

"Certainly!"

"I'm gonna let you finish up, okay?"

"I don't have to."

"No, I want to go inside. I want to be alone for a while. Okay?"

"Sure thing, Toughguy."

** Later that Evening **

"I should check on him. He's been in there, a long time." Duncan looked down the hall with concern.

"Duncan, I know you want to be there for him, but he needs time."

"I'm sure reading that poem Catherine read at his service is tearing him apart."

"He's strong, like you, Duncan. He'll make it through this. He'll come out when he's ready."

"All right, you win."

Richie sat on his bed, his face streaked with tears. He had read, and read again, the poem Catherine had read for him at his service. '. . . He was my North, my South . . .' He knew she had loved him, but this poem put a depth to it. He sat back against the headboard and put the book aside. "Oh, Cat. I'm so sorry I hurt you. I never wanted to cause you any pain. I'm so sorry." He rubbed at his face with a tissue. "Thank you for loving me, Cat," he whispered to the empty room. He drew in a shaking breath and stood up. There would be more changes to come, but they seemed less frightening, knowing Duncan was going to be by his side.

** Evening before Duncan and Anne Leave **

Richie looked out the screen door and spotted MacLeod down by the lake staring out at the water. He watched the Highlander for a long moment. He had been thinking what identity to take. Names - only one had crossed his mind and he was nervous about bringing it up to the older Immortal. 'What if he says no?' Richie's mind raced with possibilities. He took a deep breath and went to talk to Duncan. Anne watched the youth walk down to the lake and returned to her packing. Connor was set to arrive first thing in the morning, so she and Duncan could return to the city.

"Mac?"

"Yes?"

"Can I talk to you?"

"Sure. What is it? Something wrong?"

"No. I wanted to talk to you about my new name. I didn't forget to think about it."

"Okay. I'm listening." Duncan watched Richie shift from one foot to the other. He recognized the signs - the younger Immortal was apprehensive - maybe even frightened. "What, Richie?"

"Can we sit?" Richie motioned to the grass.

"You've got it. I'm all ears."

Anne had walked by the window earlier and had watched the two men sit down. The conversation looked serious. Although, she couldn't hear what was being said, she found herself riveted to the window. This conversation, whatever it was about, looked monumental. Finally, Duncan stood and lowered a hand to Richie. Anne watched Richie take the offered hand and Duncan pull him up and into a fierce hug. She looked at Duncan's face - he was beaming.

** 28 days later **
October 18, 1997

Connor hiked alongside Richie, in silence. They had enjoyed many long talks, in their time together on the island, but he knew the youth missed Duncan. "He'll be here on Friday, Richie."

"I know. I'm just anxious. I mean, you're great and all, Connor, but, well, you know."

"Yes, I do. I'm sure he misses you, just as much."

"I'm scared, Connor."

"I know that feeling. Immortality isn't any easy concept to grasp, but you'll learn. You have Duncan, and you have me. You are my kin."

Richie smiled sheepishly. "Do you think Mac will resent me one day?"

"Resent you?! What made you ask that? Of course not!"

"I just worry that he's giving up a lot for me, Connor."

"You make sacrifices for family, Richie. He'll never resent you. Never!"

** Friday Morning **

Richie was very anxious to see Duncan and Anne. He had been on the island for a month. Connor had made big strides in getting him to accept his Immortality and things weren't easy yet, but, at least, they didn't seem impossible. He sat on a rock with Catherine's copy of 'Romeo and Juliet'. He had made himself read it. In a way, the play reminded him of his life. He had found one line in the play - his favorite, 'Oh, I am fortune's fool!' and he was. He felt that line, with every fiber of his being - he understood it and lived it. He was fortune's fool.

The presence of an Immortal came over Richie. He assumed it was Connor. He still found the feeling odd. "Hey there, Toughguy."

Richie jerked his head toward the familiar voice. "Mac!"

The Highlander carried a thick brown envelope. Richie looked at it. "Is that the new me?"

"Yes. Are you sure about this?"

"It's the one thing I am sure about Mac, in all of this. No doubts. You?"

"Never."

The two Immortals sat down on the rock and Richie opened the envelope and looked through everything. A smile crossed his face. Duncan wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "You've given me a gift, Toughguy."

"Nah, Mac you gave me one."

"We should go up to the cabin. Anne is anxious to see you. We'll be leaving tomorrow." Duncan pulled the youth into another quick hug. "Come on."

"Okay." Richie clutched the envelope to himself for a moment. He looked once more at his new birth certificate before sliding it back into the envelope along with his new passport and other papers. Duncan kept his arm around the young man and they walked back toward cabin.

That day, Richie Ryan was officially dead and Richard Ryan MacLeod was born.



** To be continued **