The usual routine. No credit, no money. The town of Bent Creek, OK, is fictional. It is not intended to represent
any specific town in the Panhandle area (this said to avoid flames from friends back home). Was written in
a moment of homesickness right after we moved away from the Texas Panhandle. Takes place after the dark quickening days. Originally written as a reintroduction of Mac and Richie following the DQ (that ain't Dairy Queen hence Mac's hunt for Richie. The series later posted it's resolution which was (of course) much different.

COMMITMENT
by Peg Keeley
onenerveleft59@hotmail.com

The lone figure stood apart from the frantic bustling activity of the international airport. People whose minds were consumed by the passage of time and deadlines, and schedules to meet rushed past never taking notice of him. But for Duncan MacLeod, standing alone, backpack at his feet, clothed in his long black coat, time had no hold over him. He found it an interesting past time to observe people hurrying to and fro and many times he pitied them. Time did not govern him, and yet it did. It had been too long. In over four hundred years, he'd always been a free soul, compelled by his humanity to make association with people that lasted a brief forty years or so before he moved on. There were also the more lasting relationships with those like himself. And the other immortals drifted in and out of his life as luck would have it. One of the most interesting of those was of late acquaintance. Methos, known to most as Adam Pearson, he'd met only two short years ago, yet it felt like they'd known each other forever.

He'd come to the barge with a statement three days ago that had been a bit unnerving. "How long will you be here?"

MacLeod had been in the midst of preparing an Italian dish of ziti. It was something he'd spent more time with since Fitz's death--cooking. It was a satisfying hobby. "What?"

"How long do you plan to stay in Paris?" Methos had asked again, bluntly

He shrugged. "I don't know."

"I was in Germany and met Conner."

That had been a shock. "You saw Conner?" Mac was riveted to him now.

"Yes. We talked about you."

"What did he say?" The meal preparation was long forgotten.

"He was very sorry about Tessa."

That would be expected, but it did not explain the question about how long he would stay. "What else?" he asked
wishing Methos would just come out with it.

He grinned in his usual impish way, his Grecian features topped by his short black hair seeming comical. "You lack patience, Duncan. Does there always have to be something more?"

He turned away. He hated it when Methos played with him this way. "Well, then, stay for dinner?" He countered pretending to change the subject.

Methos laughed. "There is something more. Do you want to know what?"

He made a smirk. "No, why should I?"

"You do."

"No, I don't."

"Do."

He threw up his hands. "Forget it."

Methos walked around the counter to get in front of MacLeod again. "How long was Conner your teacher?"

"Couple of years." He stirred the maranara sauce. "Will you just come out with it?"

"See, you do want to know," he teased. As Mac gave a threatening look he added quickly. "He asked about Richie Ryan."

Mac came up short. He was silent a moment. "What did you say?"

He raised his hands in a shrug. "What's to say? I guess he's fine. Right?"

Duncan betrayed no feeling.

"I didn't tell him," Methos whispered in genuine sympathy.

He glanced at him. "Tell him what?"

"It's like I've always said, you've got to worry about yourself." Methos sniffed the sauce. "Needs more garlic."

"Needs more basil," Mac countered.

"Garlic," he argued.

Duncan slammed the lid on the pot. "You must have had a teacher. How long were you together?"

"Ancient history," Methos replied and gazed at some invisible point for a moment. "We saw almost a hundred years together. Not always as student and teacher; for a long time just as friends. It was Darius who killed him."

Mac stared at him a moment. "Darius?"

He gave a simple smile. "Time does change some things. Your old teacher thought you should go home and keep a promise you made to him."

Duncan had recalled Conner's voice: "The boy will bear watching."

"I'll do it," he'd promised, not realizing the commitment it would be. He'd thought he could just stand back, guide him along for ten or fifteen years. He thought Richie would have many years before he ever came to know his destiny--he'd been wrong.

The clear feminine voice over the speaker announced his flight was loading and Duncan stepped away from the corner and followed the flow of the sea of people to the gate. He'd purchased a first class ticket so he could stretch out. It would be an eternal flight, it always was. First to New York--almost seven hours, then on to Seattle--another four.

The young stewardess brought him a pillow. "You okay?" she asked...

"You okay?" Richie had stood before him, sword in hand for he'd been training.

It felt like a strange dream--a nightmare. His movements and his mind were ignoring his will. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Richie looked a little uncertain. "I was getting a little worried about you."

He gave a grin. "You were? Why?"

"You found Koltek."

"Yeah, I found him."

"I know how much you liked the guy. I'm sorry." He looked confused--and vulnerable.

Mac's will struggled in frenzy against what possessed him--what made him think and act. He wanted to tell Richie to get away--run, but he gave a leering smile and said: "You're sorry."

"Yeah," Richie continued, beliEvang Mac's reaction to be one of deep grief, "well, you did what you had to do, but I know how much you hated it."

"Hated it? You're wrong." His hand slipped into his dark duster and in a quick motion, the katana was swept out and had sliced across Richie's left chest. "I loved it."

Richie staggered back, pain of the injury, and a deeper pain of betrayal and fear on his face. "What're you doin', Mac?"

Mac stepped closer as Richie retreated. "You're a smart little boy, why don't you figure it out?" As the katana lashed out, Richie defended the blows in shocked disbelief. Mac felt his will slipping away, he could not resist becoming this evil. The katana stabbed Richie's right leg.

"Whatever happened, Mac, we can work it out!" Richie pleaded with him.

"Sorry," he giggled, "wrong number." He effortlessly drove forward, playing with his victim for they both knew Richie didn't stand a chance. He even paused to give a curtsey as Richie fell back from a blow. But the evil Mac had become quickly tired of the play and in two quick motions slammed Richie to his knees and the sword from his hand.

Richie knelt, panting in terror, the katana against his neck. "Just tell my why!? The teacher kills the pupil! Is that what this is all about? Is it because there can be only one!"

He'd given a little sardonic laugh. "That's as good as reason as any!" In a quick impulsive move, he'd kissed Richie on the head, then raised the katana in a death strike. Just as the powerful blade started its downstroke, the air had been shattered by a gunblast that Duncan felt more than heard. In shock as he staggered backward he beheld Dawson, gun in hand. Dawson fired into him two more times.

Feeling the fatigue of jet-lag, Duncan paid the cab fare and, as the vehicle pulled away, he turned to view the old Dojo. It was still lettered on the second story window "DeSalvo's Dojo", but Charlie DeSalvo had been dead longer than a year. Mac wished he knew what he would say to Richie and hoped things weren't going to be too uncomfortable. He'd had more than one embarrassing reunion in four hundred years and they were never pleasant. He decided opening the door and saying "hello" might be a good place to start.

As he approached, he felt nothing. It was both a relief and a disappointment. He did not have to face Richie at the moment--which meant he'd still have to go through this. As he unlocked the door and opened it, his foot sent a stack of mail scattering across the wooden floor. He bent down to scoop it up. There was quite a bit, most of it junk mail, some bills. He opened the electric bill, noting the postmark to be three months old. Inside the small maintenance charge was listed as paid through his bank draft. If Richie had decided to leave the Dojo, he'd at least taken care of business. The bills were being funneled through the bank.

Mac took the freight elevator up to the apartment. The furniture and been carefully covered in white sheets, the fixtures cleaned. The refrigerator was spotless, empty, turned off with the door propped open. He opened the pantry and discovered it completed stocked with canned goods. Richie had seen to it he'd eat when he returned. It was as if he'd been sure Mac would be back.

Duncan gave a smile to himself. That was very much like Richie: always hoping for the best. It was evening, but he decided to go to Richie's apartment anyway.

The old apartment building had not been painted in Mac's absence. As he climbed to the second story, he anticipated feeling Richie's presence. But by the time he'd reached the door, there was nothing. He did not knock. Richie wasn't here. On the way back down, he spotted the manager stuffing notices into mailboxes.

"Excuse me," Mac said.

The elderly man turned to glance at him, his face twisted in caution. "What you want? I got no place to rent. All full."

"I'm looking for a tenant of yours. Richie Ryan."

"You a cop?"

"No. A friend."

The man glared at him coldly another minute, then finally remarked. "I think I remember you. I don't remember if you were no friend or not. Anyways, he moved out."

"He moved?" Mac echoed. "Where to?"

He waved a hand disinterestedly. "I don't know. Somewhere. Don't see him no how."

"When?" he implored more strongly.

He shrugged. "Long ago."
----------------------------

Joe's was still called Joe's, but Joe wasn't there. The bar seemed to be doing pretty brisk business. Mac recognized Mike behind the bar at just about the same moment Mike spotted him.

Mike turned his back to him.

Mac moved to the bar. "Beer."

He poured one into a mug and put it on the counter without ever turning to face him.

"How's things, Mike?"

He did not reply, but seemed to take great interest in the cleaning of a glass.

"Mike?" Mac became aware of the Watcher's snub. "Where's Richie?"

He hesitated, then examined the glass again.

MacLeod pursed his lips recalling the terrible ordeal Joe had faced because he'd befriended his immortal. No doubt
Mike was not so sure how far the Watchers would take that. He, after all, had known and had not reported it. Mac guessed he was taking no chances. "Mike, just tell me if he's been around."

Mike glanced at him with the barest negative shake of his head.
------------------------------

It was always much easier to work out at the Dojo than it had been on the cramped barge in Paris and it was invigorating to work out for hours at a time. But Duncan was still anxious and unfulfilled. It had been a week since his return to the States. By now he was convinced that if Richie were still in the area he would have been by the check on the Dojo. Being alone was part of Mac's immortality he had come to terms with long ago, and so was loneliness. He still hated surrounding himself with the memories of those now absent. Charlie, Amanda, Dawson, Ann.

He stopped in mid thrust towards the punching bag. Ann.
----------------------------------------------------------

Her face glowed with pleasure as she answered the bell. "Duncan! So good to see you!" Ann stepped back to permit him into the house he had rebuilt, then given to her.

"You look wonderful," he said giving her a kiss on the cheek. "How's the baby?"

"You wouldn't know her," she laughed. "She's walking. A head full of black curls!"

Mac was accustomed to how mortals had a tendency to change, grow, age when his back was turned. Ann seemed to have changed only a little and that was reassuring.

"How is your friend?" Ann asked with a laugh.

He blinked. "Who?"

"Amanda, of course!"

He grinned. "Of course. With the Moscow circus last I knew."

"You know, sometimes there does seem to be an up side to this immortal thing," Ann remarked. "It would be fun to have forever to do all thing things most of us dream of--even running away to join the circus. Too bad about that--you know--head thing."

"Ann," he decided to cut to the purpose, "have you seen Richie Ryan?"

Her smile faded slightly. "Not in some time."

"Where's Richie?...

"Where's Andy?" his own voice echoed in his head accusingly as a tormented Warren Cochran stood before him. "Your killed your own student!"

"I know what you must think! What kind of a monster could do such a thing!" Cochran had shrieked.

He had found it so hard to accept--that the teacher would, in a fit of rage, take the head of his student. But deep inside he could not condemn Cochran. Rage or dark quickening--the end result had almost been the same. Almost except for Dawson. In spite of Cochran's pleas, he could not take his head without standing condemned himself

"Duncan," Ann said again, realizing he had not heard her.

He blinked. "What? Oh." He accepted a cup of coffee.

"Are you all right?" She motioned to the couch. As she sat she gave a self-conscious grin. "Guess that was silly. Immortals don't get sick, do they?"

"No," he replied, but thought not physically.

"Richie came here about ten months ago. He said you'd needed to go away, but I could tell he was pretty upset about something. He acted like his world had ended. I wanted him to stay, but he wouldn't." She shrugged. "That's about it -- except I saw him from a distance a month later. He was at the state college."

"As a student?"

"I don't know. I saw him in the courtyard, I was in my office on the second floor of the medical school."
---------------

The registrar's office of the college was packed with young people. The semester was just starting and all those with complaints of all kinds were pushing their way into the face of the registration clerk. Mac stood in the background observing her frustration, aware that she wasn't likely to look up records on someone with all of this going on. He stepped out into the hallway and noticed a custodian's mop propped in the corner. Picking it up, he re-entered the office, mop half covering his face and pushing his way through the line, went around the counter and into the back office and shut the door. He quickly turned to the computer that was already in the screen for enrollees and searched the files for Richie's name.

The screen blinked up what he wanted. Mac wasn't surprised to see he'd signed up for two courses lasted two weeks and dropped out. But what was listed below that did make him stop. The forwarding address to Bent Creek, Oklahoma.
--------------------------

The flat plains broken only by the occasional tree seemed to stretch in all directions as far as the eye could see. The yellow straw left behind the wheat harvest of the early summer whipped in the ever present wind sending chaff skyward where it blended with the blue until the sky itself appeared more yellow than the pale blue of the hot, arid autumn. Mac had never been attracted to dry places although he had spent some time in the Middle East and what was now Turkey, he'd always left as soon as possible. The damp coolness of the Northwest and of Europe were much more to his liking and he wasn't used to the way the air seemed to sap the water out of his body. And the flat road seemed to run forever. Whatever could have possessed Richie, a boy who'd grown up in the city streets, who didn't like nature walks, and hated camping trips, to have so totally changed his style? And what was there for him in a town of five hundred people? Immortals did not usually settle in such small populations. Maybe Ann said it best: he acted like his world had ended. He'd gone to find a new world. But in the panhandle of Oklahoma? Mac wiped the sweat from his brow. There must be a girl in here somewhere.

He passed the sign warning of a speed zone ahead and moments later, the highway became the main road through Bent Creek. He pulled in at a gas station and filled the car.

A young man in a white T-shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap advertising Coors Beer squinted at him from the raised hood of a dusty old pick up truck.

Mac gave a slight smile. "Hi."

He gave a nod, then returned to repairing the truck.

Mac went into the station to pay for the gas. "Where's a good place to eat in town?"

The thin middle-aged woman gave a smile which revealed yellowed teeth. Her limp gray and blonde hair framed her sun leathered face, but the smile was sincere. "Hal's. Right down the road a pace. Can't miss it."

"Thanks," he said warmly and headed for the car. He glanced at the boy at his truck and they again exchanged looks--ones of curiosity.

The restaurant was a small affair with plastic table clothes and dirty ceiling fans spinning above. There was a smell of greasy grill barbecue sauce. Mac ordered a salad.

The girl taking the order stood there. "Mister, a salad's all?"

"Yeah," he replied.

She scratched her head with her pencil. "You ain't from around here, are you."

"No." He'd already noticed every head turn to stare at him when he'd entered. Bent Creek seemed like a small town without much desire to increase its population. He wondered how Richie had found it--and if he would have escaped to parts unknown months ago.

She brought a huge salad and bottled dressing. "I told 'im to make it extra big--seeing as you wasn't gonna have no real food," she informed him.

"Oh. Well, thank you."

"Where you from, Mister?"

He shrugged.

A man's harsh voice called from the grill. "Charlene! You git your mind back on your work!!"

She jumped and darted away. "I was jest tryin' ta' find where that Injun come from!" she announced too loudly.

"Weren't neither. You try to shack up with ever' man gots two legs who comes in here!" he shouted back. "I never should'a married ya!"

Mac ate the salad in the hurry.

As he stepped back outside, the blast of sun's heat struck him with as much force as the icy blows of winter in the north. He walked to the car, noticing the boy and his pickup were now parked a few spaces away from him. Their eyes again met. "You got your truck running," Mac observed.

"Huh? Yeah."

"You seem interested in me."

He shrugged. "Not too many manfolk around here wear pony-tails."

"I like it."

The young man spit on the ground. "You one of them gays?"

He grinned, tempted to make a cute remark, then thought better of it. There was a shotgun on the gun rack in the truck's window. "Nope."

"You another one of Abbey's city boys, huh?"

He shrugged. "Could be." Abbey, he'd remember that name. "Can you tell me where she is?"

He chuckled. "Could give you directions out to her ranch, but they wouldn't help you none."

"Try me."

He looked Mac up and down a moment, then chuckled at a private joke. "What the hell. Take the road out of town a fair pace. When you see the red snow fence on the left you go three more miles or so. There'll be a hole in the road, turn right there. Go another pace or two--there'll be a couple of roads, you know? There'll be a bush and some cows. Turn left. At the third cattle guard there'll be another tree. Go left, can't miss it."

"Right," Mac smiled at him, "can't miss it."

"Or," the boy said with a smile, "you could hang around town. Today's seed day. She's bound to show up."

"Seed day," he murmured and turned away. He glanced around and noticed a seed-n-feed store across the road. It was almost the largest building in town, overshadowed only by the large grain elevator that stretched towards the sky. There were several trucks in front. He went inside, noticing the old tongue-n-groove boards on the floor beneath. The smells of grain and pesticides filled the air along with dust and insects. Two old farmers in coveralls, red bandannas and straw cowboy hats sat perched on sacks of seed swapping their opinions about the weather.

"Hi, there," the owner spotted Mac immediately. "What ch'y'all need?"

"Looking for wire," Mac muttered, uncomfortable and not wanting to look conspicuous. It was not going to be easy to 'hang out' here. He felt as though he stuck out like a little girl in her confirmation dress at the mud hole. He was aware of the eyes of the farmers on his back and he tried to hide in the back of the store. If this Abbey was someone who knew Richie, she'd better show soon.

Just then the door opened, ringing the old cow bell above it and a truly stunning young woman with flowing shoulder-length ,strawberry-blonde hair tied back with a leather strap entered. Her denim shirt and work jeans gave her an unusually feminine tomboy appearance. "Hi, boys!" she greeted the farmers.

Their group enlarged automatically. She was included as one of them. "You find that little heifer?" one old man asked.

"Sure did," she responded. "Went and birthed down in a gully."

"You should have called me. I'd have got them out right quick for you," one clucked in a fatherly tone.

"We did just fine, Rudy." She glanced at the old blackboard that had the prices of seed written on it.

Mac already knew this must be Abbey. Not wishing to frighten her, he picked up a thirty-pound spool of bailing wire and brought it to the counter.

The clerk looked at him. "Just one?"

He felt his ears redden. "For now."

The man shrugged and rang up the total.

Mac was aware the farmers and Abbey were watching him.

"You new in town?" Abbey asked boldly.

"Yep," he replied and turned over his money for the wire.

"Who you working for?"

"Nobody." He accepted his change. "Looking for somebody. An old friend."

Abbey's color drained from her face and she took one step back. "I forgot something, Luke, I'll be back for that seed later!" She raced out the door.

Mac was after her. "No, Abbey, wait!"

The farmers had deftly blocked his way. "I don't think the girl wants to see you," one said.

He gave an exasperated sigh. Not being willing to punch an old man, he watched his opportunity escape.
---------------

Abbey's truck spun across the country dirt road sending a plume of dust into the air in its wake. She had tried to call the ranch on the car phone and gotten the answering machine. She'd left a panicked message. At last she slid off the road through the gate that would lead to the ranch house. A few cattle lazily looked up at the speeding truck without much interest as they chewed on their grass. She slowed as she came to the cattle guard just before the barn area--there were two broken rails in it. The act of having to slow to a crawl and ease over the hole was maddening. Honking the horn as she arrived, she jumped from the cab. "Richie! Richie!"

He appeared in the doorway of the barn where the farm machines were stored. "Abbey, what's going on?" He put aside the socket wrench he'd been using to change the spark plugs on the tractor, and put a protective arm around her. "Are Matthew and Hank at it again?" he asked quietly, realizing her fear.

"No, Richie, it's what you said. You know about immortals coming."

He stiffened slightly, a seriousness coming over him. "What happened?"

She wiped a stray hair away and her hands shook. "This man came into the seed shop. I'd never seen him before. Not from around here. He said he was looking for an old friend."

He looked closely at her. "And?"

She scanned his face, not sure what he was looking for. "Isn't that enough."

"Abbey," he gave a reassuring smile, "no immortal is going to announce to you he's looking for me. These things don't involve mortals." He pulled off the bandanna he'd had around his neck and dipped it into a bucket of water, then wiped his forehead with it. "It'll be all right."

"Please, Richie, don't patronize me." She held him close so they were eye to eye. "And don't lock me out."

He hugged her for comfort. "I promise, Abbey. Any immortal shows up here, I'll feel 'em coming. I'll be ready." He cast an eye towards the brilliant sword propped along the door to the barn looking markedly out of place amongst the old, gritty farm implements.
-----------------------

Duncan got out of the car at the gate to the "2B" Ranch and stood gazing towards the ranch house and collection of barns and poultry houses standing in an eye pleasing arrangement about two hundred yards down the private road. He noticed Abbey's truck parked in the yard. Behind the tractor barn, a bright blue tarp half covered a motorcycle. Leaving the car on the road, he started to walk towards the ranch, expecting any moment to sense the presence of an immortal. The dry dust stirred around his feet and the sun beat down on his bare head as he approached. No question, it was really hot. He recalled Abbey's simple, innocent beauty. It was hard to place someone who looked like such a delicate flower could survive, yet alone enjoy this wilting setting. He was almost opposite the tractor barn when sensation enveloped him. It had to be Richie, but he still felt himself moving into a defensive posture. He looked around him, but no one seemed present. Scowling, he stepped into the semi-lit barn and blinked, trying to adjust to the dim light. He moved closer to the hoodless tractor that dominated the barn. Someone had been here just moments ago; a crescent wrench lay on the opened cowling.

There was a sudden sound like roller skate wheels against the concrete and Duncan gave a yelp of pain as a scooter board flew out from under the tractor and slammed him in the ankle. He stumbled back and heard the unmistakable singing of a steel blade being drawn. On learned instinct, the kitana leapt from behind him into his hand and there was a melodic ring as the two blades met crossed. He stood face to face with Richie. The younger man's face appeared as it always would, to be a nineteen year old youth, but the eyes were full of determination and fury. "Richie?" Mac said quietly.

He blinked. "Mac! My God, Mac. I don't believe it." But it was with remarkable slowness that he lowered his weapon arm. He gave a sheepish smile.

"You didn't used to strike first," Mac remarked.

"Yeah, well," he shrugged. "So, how've you been?"

"Okay." There was a tense embarrassment between them. It lasted a moment or two.

Richie suddenly perked up. "You've gotta meet Abbey," he said enthusiastically. "I'm telling you, Mac. I never met anybody like her. I get this feeling when I'm around her. It's like--" words failed him. "I guess it's real love, huh?"

Mac mused slightly, a sparkle in his eyes. "Maybe." He allowed Richie to lead him out of the barn.

"Abbey!" Richie called, heading towards the air-conditioned cow barn. "One of her heifers dropped a calf last night. She's real possessive about those cows."

"Listen to you," Mac giggled. "You sound like an old cowpoke, talking about cows dropping and all."

Richie flushed under his light sunburn. "It's a real life, Mac. Closer to it than I thought I'd ever get. Abbey knows all about me--and us. She knows it all, Mac. I never thought there'd be anybody who'd--you know--be anything like Tessa."

He stopped in the doorway. A momentary frown that Richie missed crossed his face. I hope he isn't looking for another Tessa. He won't find it.

"Abbey!" Richie called again and the young woman Mac had seen earlier rose from a cattle stall. She gasped in shock as she saw Mac. "No," Richie said quickly taking her arm, "it's okay. Really. Abbey Gaines, Duncan MacLeod."

She mellowed from her first look of shock, "MacLeod? The MacLeod you've told me so much about?" She carefully extended a hand for a shake. "Good to meet you. Rich thinks a great deal of you."

Mac grinned politely, but could clearly detect the tone in her voice was almost that of protection. "And I think a great deal of him," he replied looking her straight in the eye, wanting her to know he meant every word.

"Well, you've come a long way. I hope you'll stay for awhile," she invited.

"Of course he will. You will, won't you, Mac?" Richie hastened to say.
------------

The ranch day was long, dinner had been just before sundown and now it was deep twilight as Richie and Mac sat on the porch listening to the coyotes sing to each other. They'll sat in silence for awhile before Richie finally said: "Well, what do you think?"

He glanced at him, then back at the horizon. "About what?"

"You know, Abbey, the ranch, you know."

Mac could tell he was seeking approval and that bothered him. Couldn't Richie be above that by now. What did it matter what anyone else thought? "She's a nice girl."

Richie waited. "And?"

"And?" MacLeod replied bluntly.

He seemed disappointed.

"Richie, what do you want me to say?"

He glared at the ground then seemed to change the subject. "It took awhile, you know. I mean, at first I could hardly eat dinner knowing the main course had been out running around the barnyard that morning."

Mac gave a half chuckle.

There was a long silence for a moment before Richie said seriously. "She's the best thing that ever happened to me, Mac. She knows it all and accepts it. I'm going to ask her to marry me."

He gave a slow nod.

"You don' t think that's a good thing," Richie suddenly snapped.

"I don't think either of you knows what you're getting in to. But it's your decision to make," he said quietly.

Richie got to his feet suddenly. "I've got to check the livestock. We've had some vandal problems lately." He walked away into the darkness, chagrin plain on his face.

Mac continued to sit on the dark porch. He realized that Richie knew less about Abbey than he should and realized that Abbey most certainly did not know enough either. For a brief moment he contemplated if that was what the marriage relationship was all about--exploring the different complicated facets of one's spouse. He didn't know. He'd never married. With sudden revelation he realized that only one relationship of his had ever lasted longer than three years. His love of Tessa had spanned over a decade. He would have married her.

"Is Richie out here?" Abbey's pleasant voice called as she opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch.

"He said he was going to check the livestock."

"Oh." She perched on the railing near him.

"He said you've had problems with vandals."

She crossed her arms. "We've had problems with Matthew Drew and his half brother, Hank," she corrected.

"Oh?"

"Matthew courted me all through high school. I reckon he always believed I'd come back here after schoolin' and be his wife so he'd get the ranch. Probably most of the town thought so, too."

"That didn't happen," Mac supplied.

"Not hardly. Mama and Daddy died in a car wreck last year so I gave up college and we came back here to run the farm. Doing pretty good, too. I guess ol' Matt decides very now and then to try to make it hard. If he can't marry into the land, he wants to drive us off it." She smiled. "Richie's done right fine. Proved to the town a city boy can handle the country."

"It's certainly a new life style."

She turned to give him her whole attention. "Why did you come here?"

He shrugged and did not answer.

"He's told me all about you, MacLeod. You were the first person, maybe the only person, ever to believe he could be anything. When he talks about you it's like--like a kid with a super hero complex or something. Like a little boy adores his father."

"I'm just his teacher."

She tossed her head. "You're a lot more. You are all the family he has. And you left him when he needed you the most."

"I was having a lot more important problems at that time. I wasn't exactly myself."

"I know all that. I'm not claiming I understand it--but he's told me. It doesn't explain why you didn't come back."

He scowled at the porch flooring. "Abbey, we're not like other people. We are solitary beings. We move in and out of each other's lives. It just the way we are."

"It's not the way Richie is."

He bit the inside of his cheek. "Abbey, I know you mean well. I think you and Richie together is just fine, but if you think it will last forever you are probably mistaken and so is he. Enjoy your time together and don't put too many demands on each other."

She leaned against the porch post, arms still crossed. A cool evening breeze gently lifted her wavy red hair. "If you're saying I'll leave him someday, you're wrong. I love him, MacLeod."

"It's not that simple, Abbey. There are other things."

"Other things like Immortals?" she asked. "Maybe no one will ever come here."

He sought quickly for a comparison to give her. "Abbey, it's sort of like a tornado. You know they exist, you know they can kill you, so you spend your whole life drilling and learning what to do when one comes. But you don't really believe one will ever strike you--until one day it does." He shook his head. "It will happen, Abbey."

Her gaze was oddly cold. "We won't leave here, MacLeod. And we won't let anything or anyone take us away. We will always be here."
********************

(Europe 1747)
The mid 1700s had been a flamboyant time in MacLeod's life. He and Hugh Fitzcarin had loved their way across most of Europe. Fitz seemed like a wealth of all sorts of self-taught wisdom.

"A woman, MacLeod, should never be the reasons a man goes or stays."

"But she wants me to stay with her," he replied regarding Rose Ann.

"Of course she does. It is in her nature to possess you." Fitz laughed, then more seriously added: "You cannot afford to be tied to one place."

"But she's beautiful," he replied, seeing nothing else but the flowing gowns of Rose Ann as she approached them from across the lawn. "And her father's estate is her home. This could be a grand place to stay ."

"You mean a grand place to die!" Fitz appealed to his obviously love-struck friend. "Xavier is hunting you. To stay is to die."

Rose Ann had come within earshot. "Duncan!" she laughed. "Duncan, you must walk with me through the roses. They are in such elegant bloom!"

"But I was talking with Fitz," he explained.

"You'd pick a man over a maiden?" she asked, feigning insult. "I think not, or it shall be the scandal of the entire parish."

He hesitated, glancing from Rose Ann to Fitz. "Very well," he agreed taking her arm.

Fitz sighed, very real concern expressed on his face.
********
(present)

Richie parked the old truck outside the feed store and he and Mac got out. He needed to pick up a shipment of seed for fall planting; the one Abbey'd left without yesterday. The bell rang as they entered the store and the shop keeper gave a welcoming nod.

"Morning, Richie."

"Hi, Dave," he replied.

The keeper gave a half nod to Mac, who grinned back.

As Mac carried the first sack of seed out to the truck he noticed the young man and his truck from yesterday pull up. "Hi, again," he called to Mac. "See you found Abbey's place just fine." He and another man got out .

"Yeah," Mac replied and dropped a sack of seed into the truck bed. A puff of dust rose into the air.

"Abbey's, uh, putting in her winter wheat this early?" the man commented.

Richie walked out of the store with a sack over his shoulder. "What do you want, Matt?" he asked unhappy to see him.

"Oh," Mac said pleasantly. "You are Matt? Abbey's told me about you."

"Oh yeah?" Matt remarked with a grin, shoving his hands into his pockets. He gave a grin at Richie looking for signs of jealousy.

"I believe she said you were fixated in your adolescence and needed to go out and find your own woman."

Matt's cheeks flushed a little and the smile faded some. Hank gave an outright laugh and punched Matt's shoulder.

Richie chuckled.

"You just watch it, City Boy," Matt snapped, more embarrassed at Hank's kidding of him than anything. "Abbey is just having a little fling with you. She needs a real man who knows the land to do that ranch right. She'll see that sooner than you think."

"Abbey's got a lot more to her than just a ranch, Hayseed," Richie replied. "And you stay away from that ranch and her."

Hank gave a catcall and Mac took hold of Richie's arm. "Let's just get the seed." They walked back into the seed store. "So, they are the two guys Abbey mentioned," Mac commented.

"Yeah," Richie said. "We know they've stolen five head of cattle. Two months ago they sprayed weed killer on two acres of crops. We lost six thousand dollars worth of milo."

MacLeod said nothing for a moment, he noted the term "we" and couldn't recall Richie using anything else about the two of them since his arrival. "Did you tell the police."

He shook his head. "Hank's dad is the police. He'd like to see his boy get the ranch, too."
-----------

It was mid afternoon as Richie and Mac patrolled the fence line along the highway in the old truck that they came upon a break in the fencing. "See," Richie remarked, "more of Matt's work." He got out and pulled a bag of tools from the back of the truck. Mac and he started to work on the fence.

"You like it this hot?" Duncan asked.

Richie squinted into the sun. "Naw, not really. But it's safe here."

"Safe?" he asked picking up the wire cutters. "You really think that?"

"Look around you, Mac," he spread his arms. "Nobody would come here."

"Unless they were looking for you."

"Why would anybody do that? I'm not the great Duncan MacLeod. I'm just me. This is the middle of nowhere, Mac."

He wiped the sweat from his brow. "You know as well as I do, Richie. They will come. I found you, someone else will, too."

"So, it doesn't matter, right. Wherever I go, immortals will come for me. The gathering and all that. So why not just stay here? Abbey sure won't leave here. I want to be with her. I plan to stay with her for as long as she lives."

"And what about the people in this town? This is a small place. In twenty years when you still look the same, don't you think there'll be some questions? And what about Abbey's safety? You think you can protect yourself--can you protect her, too?"

"So you think I should do what you do, huh?" he snapped, mending the fence forgotten. "Just walk out on everybody every now and then? Stay with her a year, two years--twelve years. Then, what the hell, just walk out. I'm not like that, Mac. My dad did that when I was two. I trusted you and you did it, too." He paused a moment, trying to think. "You know, I don't know what I ever saw in you. Maybe you should learn a little more American History cause I agree with John Adams."

"John Adams?" Mac uttered, not following the connection.

"Abbey told me he said 'There are only two worthwhile kinds of men in this world: those that have a commitment, and those who gain that commitment from others.' You've never been committed to anything or anyone. You play at it, getting involved in the lives of mortals like Ann, or Charlie, but when it really comes down to it, you walk out. You did it to Ann, you did it to Dawson--and you did it to me. If Tessa hadn't died, maybe you'd have run out on her, too."

In a sudden impulse of rage, Mac punched Richie in the jaw. Richie's sat down hard on the dusty ground, hand to his face. "I didn't have any choice!" Mac reminded him quietly, then added. "Don't you ever talk that way about Tessa again."

Richie suddenly looked past Mac at the sky to the west. "Oh my God!" He was on his feet, their argument forgotten.

Mac turned and beheld the sky darkened from the smoke of the blazing field. The flames, driven before the wind were racing through the dry milo, and the fire storm was headed for the ranch house.

Richie had already leapt into the truck and gunning the engine spun out of the field headed for the house that lay half a mile away. Mac, left behind, began to run towards the ranch himself. The truck reached the dirt entry road to the ranch, and spun onto it dust and dirty flying everywhere. He pounded on the horn and screamed Abbey's name over and over although he knew she could not hear him. Worse, he knew Abbey was sleeping on the second floor of the house. The raging flames were less than a hundred yards from the house as he floored the gas pedal. The truck hit the broken cattle guard and the front axle slammed into the hole. Richie was propelled over the steering wheel, and through the windshield to the ground where he rolled several times. He staggered, bleeding from several cuts, black to his feet almost immediately, and ran, limping towards the house.

"Abbey! Abbey!" He shouted, barging through the door. He dashed up the stairway. The heat of the fire was already radiating in the window of the landing half way up. "Abbey! Fire! Come on!"

A sleepy Abbey was just rolling over on the bed. "Richie?" she mumbled.

"Fire!" he shouted, grabbing her by the arm. He turned, and as he did, the back of the house exploded into flame. Abbey screamed.
---------------

Mac reached the yard just as the flames were spreading across the roof. An upstairs window shattered and fire shot out. He turned on the front hose, doused himself with water, and started for the house. Just then, Richie appeared on the burning porch, Abbey in his arms, both of them engulfed in flame. Mac pushed them to the ground and began to beat the flames out. The house was fully ablaze. Mac dragged Abbey who was screaming in pain further away. Richie crawled after them, burned badly, but the blackened blisters already starting to heal.

Abbey writhed on the ground, fists clenched, wailing in pain. The fire had burned away her hair, and most of the skin on her arms and face. Her clothes were burned and still smoking.

"Mac, do something. We've gotta help her," Richie begged.

Mac knelt before Abbey knowing the severe burns were terminal. "Richie," he shook his head, "I can't."

"Do something."

Abbey sobbed the pain intolerable.

Mac drew his sword.

Richie, his own pain forgotten, stared at him in shock. "Mac?" he gasped.

"It's all I can do," he replied tight lipped. He quickly plunged the blade into Abbey's chest and she went limp.

"NO!" Richie screamed in horror.

MacLeod took hold of him. "Richie! You've gotta trust me in this!"

"Trust you!" he shouted, "good God, Mac-"

"Richie!" he cut him off, "that feeling you talked about--that drew you to Abbey? It drew me to you once."

Richie stared, not comprehending.

MacLeod stepped back and pointed at Abbey as she gave a sudden gasp and began breathing.

"She's..." Richie whispered, his horror transformed into wonder as Abbey's charred flesh began to rapidly heal itself..

Abbey was sitting up now. "Richie?" she whispered in awe. "What's happening? What have you done to me?"
---------------------

Blackened char was all that remained of sixty acres of grain, the ranch house, and one hen house. Forty chickens had died. The fire department, alerted by a traveler on the highway, had arrived in time to save the cow barn.

"Awful sorry 'bout all this," the fire chief had tried to comfort Abbey. "We'll check it out, but you know how dry it's been. Anything could have set it off."

After he left, Abbey turned to Mac and Richie. "But anything didn't."

"Abbey, we can rebuild all these," Richie encouraged placing an arm around her. "What really matters is you are alive."

She looked at him through tear-filled eyes. "Am I, Richie? Am I? I don't really know what I am. One of the walking dead or something."

He was anxious to have her see what he saw. "Abbey, don't you get it? We really do have forever now. What's this little ranch when the whole world's out there?"

There was a new look in her eye he didn't understand. "I don't want the whole world, Richie. I want my land. The house is gone, a barn, a whole season of crops, even the damned truck!" She viciously kicked the fender of the truck that pointed it's front end into the ground, the front axle torn from the frame. She turned her back and walked away into the cow barn.

Richie started to follow, but Mac stopped him. "Give her some time to herself. This all is a pretty big shock to her," he advised.

Richie nodded. "For us all. You knew, didn't you?"

He nodded.

"But you didn't tell me."

"Would it have made any difference?"

"I don't know." He glanced at the closed door to the cattle barn. "You'll teach her, Mac, right?"

MacLeod also looked at the closed door, but did not respond.

Matt's pickup pulled into the ranch stopping outside the last cattle guard. Abbey was picking through the remains of the burned house, picking up an occasion object. A picture of her parents had survived, the glass broken but the photo intact. A tea-kettle that had been great-grandma's was still there--this had been it's third fire.

Matt and Hank got out of the truck, hands in their pockets, and watched as Mac and Richie finished pulling the Abbey's pickup out of the hole. "Bad day here," Matt muttered and approached Abbey. "Wanted to make sure you were all right," he called to her ignoring the others.

She turned to face him, anger ablaze in her eyes. How could she find a way to tell this moron he'd killed her. She knew she couldn't and also realized that he probably had hoped he had. The memory of the agonizing burning, Richie in flames, forty blackened chickens, and her season's crop loss flashed before her. "Go to hell, Matt."

"Down right un-neighborly of you," he replied, the small grin still present. "Came to offer my services."

"They aren't wanted."

Matt's tone got serious. "I've put up with this nonsense for nearly a year, Abbey. I'll buy this ranch outright from you right now, take it offa your hands."

"It's not for sale," she fired back, fists clenched.

By this time, Richie and Mac were there, and Hank had moved in to protect Matt's rear. "Get away from her," Richie ordered, grabbing Matt's arm.

Hank intercepted him, making a wide swing with his closed right fist for Richie's head. Richie blocked it and returned one of his own into Hank's abdomen. Hank grunted, stumbled back into Mac who grabbed him by the neck and pulled him aside.

"Stay outta this," Mac said in a quiet threatening way, "or I'll see that ya do." He kept a hand on the younger man's collar.

Matt and Richie scuffled in the dirt, exchanging blows. The first did not last long. Although Matt was taller and heavier than Richie, Richie had clearly bested him. Matt lay in the dust a moment wiping blood from the corner of his mouth.


"Get out of here," Richie panted, "and don't come back again."

Abbey came to stand by him. Her voice shrieked maniacally: "Get off my land! Next time you come back here, I'll kill you!"

Mac raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
***************
(Europe 1747)
"Of course you will stay," Rose Ann said bluntly, without thought. "You cannot leave me, Duncan."

"But you don't understand," he pleaded with her. "I must go. I haven't a choice."

"We all have choices. Mine is for you to remain here."

Fitz, standing close at hand, rubbed his forehead with a hand. "This isn't working, MacLeod," he whispered into his friend's ear. "You will just have to go."

"But I canno'. She is my love."

Rose Ann gave a satisfied grin towards Fitz. "Our love is greater than you, little man."

"MacLeod," Fitz implored. "Xavier is here! He is in the city! You must go at once!"

"You will leave at once!" Rose Ann shouted at him, "or I shall have my father's guard put you on the gallows!"

Fitz took a step away.

"Rose Ann!" Duncan jumped up, clearly torn between the two.

"MacLeod!" Fitz shouted.

"Duncan stay! Guards!" Rose Ann, red-faced with rage ordered. Four of them appeared instantly, swords drawn. "Take that man!" She pointed towards Fitzcarin.

"Rose Ann, no!" Mac shouted as he and Fitz drew their blades.

Her mouth hung open for a moment. "You would fight me! You belong to me!"

"I belong to no man--or woman!" Mac responded, finally seeing her for what she was. As her guard advanced across the courtyard, he and Fitz both backed towards the arch that led to the garden. In a sudden sprint, they turned and raced out into the lawns and were scrambling over the high stone wall.

"She would truly have killed us!" Mac murmured in wonder when they were clear.

"Aye. It was not enough for her to love, she had to possess as well," Fitz explained.

"And I've left everything behind!" Mac moaned. "My clothing, my money!"

Fitz grinned and slapped his shoulder. "But you still have your head."
***********
(present)


Abbey held Richie's sword awkwardly in front of her. "I don't think I can do this," she whispered.

"Sure you can," he replied. He came to stand behind her, arms around her and gripped the sword with her. "Basics first." He slowly raised it with her and brought the sword across in a slow arc to the right, then back to the left. "Let the sword do the work for you."

"This isn't me, Richie."

"It is you, Abbey. You have to learn this to stay alive. The strength is in the sword; you guide it. It'll help you."

"Sounds like something out of mid-evil science fiction," she muttered.

"An immortal comes for you, and it will be real enough," he answered. He guided her through several moves over and over but could see her heart was not in it. He recalled his early education and how devoted he had been to perfecting the moves. Maybe he'd had the right incentive--Annie Donagan had been seeking his head. "You've got to make the sword part of you," he advised.

She dropped her arms. "Richie, this is no good. I can't do this."

"If you don't, you'll die."

"I'll have you, won't I?"

"What if I'm not there? What if somebody takes my head? You'll have to fight your own battles, we don't interfere."

She looked closely at him. "Then MacLeod was right. You will leave me someday."

"Abbey, it's not like that." There was the slam of a car door outside the barn and Richie went to investigate.

It was MacLeod returning from town with supplies. He motioned Richie to come to him. "There's one of us in town."

Richie blinked in surprise. "Mac, are you sure? Nobody's been around here in almost a year."

"Somebody is now." He pulled two sacks of food from the car. He carried them over to the tent they were living out of.

"Mac, I really need your help with Abbey. I can't get her interested in defending herself."

He nodded. "Does that surprise you? She's a farmer, not a warrior."

"But, Mac, she'll die."

He patted Richie's shoulder. "We'll just keep working with her, but keep her here. Don't let her go into town." He returned to the Thunderbird and pulled out a thin velvet bag containing a foil. "Maybe this will help, too." He carried it to the barn just as Abbey came to the door. He carefully slid the sword out of the bag. "For you." He told her, placing the weapon reverently into her hand. "Keep it with you. Make it part of you. It may be the only friend you have."

Richie remembered Mac saying those same words to him three years ago. It had felt to him like an induction into a special group, a place to belong. By Abbey's expression, to her it was like a judge passing sentence. He knew unless she changed, he'd always need to protect her. And how long could that last?
--------------

Matt paid for a beer and left the bar, the can in hand. As he did, a young stranger approached him.

You Matt Drew?" he asked.

\Matt belched from his brew. "Who wants ta know?"

He gave a thin smile. This local-yokel was just what he wanted. He'd serve as an excellent excuse when it was over. "Evan Walsh, at your service." he said with a nod.

"You some kind of priss or something," Matt snarled.

"There's talk around your town that you torched a certain young lady's fields."

"Ain't so," he fired back. "Nobody can prove that."

Evan chuckled. "No matter to me, Mr. Drew." He said the name as though it had some importance. "You see, I would like to see you get what you want."

His eyes narrowed. This fellow was a stranger, and not to be trusted. "Who the hell are you? Some Fed?"

Evan gave another thin laugh. "I assure you, I am no law official. Shall we just say--we have a mutual interest."

"What's that?"

It is remarkable how stupid these country people can be. Evan thought as he took a drink of his mineral water. "You want the land or not?"

Matt just stood there.

"Very well." Evan turned away. "I shall take my business elsewhere."

"Wait a minute," Matt called him back. "I'll hear 'ya out. You just speak plain now."

"Plain?" Evan said in distaste. "All right, I shall try to keep this simple. You want the land and you shall have the land--for a price. One hundred thousand dollars."

"Where the hell do I get that kind of money?"

Evan shrugged. "Appears to me that your Mama was kin to Lawrence Gaines after his daughter. Since your blessed Mama is dead, that ranch should be yours."

"I know all that."

"Since sweet Miss Abbey was Gaines adopted child, she's no blood kin and could have been your wife, excepting she didn't take a fancy to you," Evan commented in a mildly bored tone.

"Tell me somethin' I don't already know." Matt's eyes narrowed.

"If she is out of the picture, the ranch is yours, you bonehead."

"You gonna kill her?" Matt whispered.

"What do you care? You can have that million dollar ranch for my price, or you can wait forever. And believe me, Matthew, it would be forever."
-----------------

Over the next two weeks, the construction crew came, cleared away the remains of the old house and laid the foundation and the framework for the new house. Richie spent most of his time handling the business of ranching, hoping Mac could handle the business of Abbey's training. But it seemed to be going very slowly. He could tell by Abbey's sullen attitude and Mac's short temper that little progress was being made. The weather had cooled off some, which was a blessing. One evening Richie and Abbey took two horses out to ride the perimeter fencing.

"It's a nice evening," she commented as the gentle breeze kissed her face and lifted her hair.

He nodded. "I used to wonder how I'd ever make it here. It was so different."

She laughed. "Yeah, you did seem all thumbs in the beginning. But you did just fine."

"Sort of like you. I know this immortality thing is a real shock to you. But like I learned the ranching you've got to learn this. It'll get easier, but you've got to want to."

"That's just it--I don't want to."

He frowned. "To stay alive, you've got to learn to defend yourself. What part of that don't you understand? That's the way it is."

"Why? Who made up these rules?"

He almost laughed. "Boy if I haven't wondered that myself a time or two." He was silent a moment, concentrating on the horse's movements. "Who decided you'd have the ranch and Matt wouldn't?"

"It's not the same. There are laws-"

"But it is the same. Who decided your great-grandfather would get here first and settle this ranch?

"That's history, it's the way it turned out. His destiny, I guess."

"Then this is your destiny. None of us asked for it, none of us can change it, we just have to live with it--or die with it." He suddenly pulled the horse up short as he felt the warning sensation.

Abbey gave a gasp beside him as she sensed it also. "Richie, what is this?"

"Stay on your horse," he ordered as he spotted a figure stepping out from behind some brush. He pulled the sword from his saddle and dismounted. "Identify yourself," he demanded of the man.

"I'm Evan Walsh," the other replied with a small salute of his sword. "And I've come for you."

Abbey gripped her saddle-horn so tightly her knuckles were white. She realized she had not brought the new sword.

"Why?" Richie asked of him, sword up and ready.

"Why?" Evan laughed. "Because after I take your head, I can have your lady's, too. I get the money and the local bumpkin gets the land."

They touched swords and assumed fencing position. In the dim light, it was hard to see, but Richie could tell Evan seemed no older than he himself. Not that appearance mattered. Evan may have been immortal for a thousand years. Evan thrust forward and Richie countered it with an octave that pushed Evan's blade to the side. He turned with a low sweeping arc that Richie took a step back from and used to make his own thrust as the sword passed by, drawing blood from Evan's upper left arm.

Evan stepped back, more wary now, making little circular movements with the tip of his blade, each watching the other and trying to guess the next move. Evan lunged in with a sudden high inside sixte that Richie deflected with a high, fifth guard, defensive movement that brought his blade high and parallel. The blades clashed, sparking in the evening light. Each man's guards and parries irregularly timed, created a sort of death dance that Abbey, frozen in fear on her horse, realized only one would emerge from. Evan thrust forward with a feint that started to the left and using his wrist, cut quickly towards the right. Richie caught it just in time, bringing both swords close and locked for a brief moment before Richie used the opportunity to deliver a punch to Evan's face with his left hand. As Evan stumbled back, Richie leapt forward with a deep chest thrust and found its mark. Evan stumbled to his knees, Richie's rapier through his heart, eyes wide, mouth agape.

Richie cast a glance at Abbey, still clinging to her horse. Pulling his sword free from Evan's chest, he raised it high overhead. "In the end, there can be only one." It whistled through the air, slicing cleanly through Evan's neck. Richie stood there a moment, arms extended, sword still in his right hand, as Abbey, white-faced, was forced to come to terms with their reality. A white luminescent mist slowly rose from Evan's sprawled body, then a bolt of lightening arced from the sky, striking Richie.

The horses bolted. Abbey's threw her and raced off into the darkness, Richie's right behind. From the ground, Abbey shielded her eyes as lightening played off the fencing, dancing along the posts, exploding a transformer out near the highway. Richie cried out as the bolts of energy all focused on him.
---------------

Mac looked up as the unusual lightening display lit the sky to the south and knew right away what it was. Snatching up the kitana, he raced to the corral where two horses remained, and leapt onto the bare back of one, goaded it to a full gallop around the fence, then with a touch of the heel the horse cleared the fence. He came upon the two runaway horses first, and just let them pass by. His heart in his mouth, he tried to coax even more speed from his mount. The blazing quickening had faded away.

Abbey got to her feet, not stopping to dust herself off and ran to Richie's side where he knelt, keeping himself upright against his sword. "You okay?" she whispered.

He managed a nod, still panting to catch his breath.

There were sounds of an approaching horse at full gallop and they both sensed another presence. Abbey yanked Richie's sword from his hand and he collapsed onto the ground. She spun towards the source as Mac, sword already in hand came into view. Recognizing him, she let the sword droop.

"Richie?!" Mac shouted dismounting before the horse had come to a halt.

"Okay, Mac," he replied, slowly getting to his feet.

MacLeod heaved a sigh of relief and glanced at Abbey, seeing the terrified, tear-filled eyes, and knew she'd just received her most important lesson ever.
-------

The lowing of the cows awakened Mac shortly after sunrise. He blinked in surprise. Ordinarily they had all been up and at tasks by now. He stepped out of the tent and looked around. The ranch was still. He walked to the cow barn where the three milking cows were complaining. Abbey had not come to milk them. He hurried back across the yard to Abbey's tent and stuck his head in. She was gone. He looked quickly across the yard and realized the Thunderbird was missing, too.

"Richie!" He hurried back to the tent and awakened him. "Abbey's gone. She took the car."

He staggered out of the tent, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Maybe she needed to go to town."

"She didn't even milk the cows."

Richie checked her tent. "Her sword's gone."

"I'll get the horses."
---------------

Abbey found Matt baiting a fishhook at the small pond outside town. In the early morning, the carp were biting well, he'd already caught three.

"Morning, Matt," she said quietly.

He spun in surprise, not expecting to see her. "Abbey," he murmured.

"It's over."

He scowled. "What's over?"

"I know you sent that bastard last night."

"Huh?" He nervously licked lips.

"He told us--right before Richie killed him."

Matt's mouth dropped. "He killed him?"

She drew the foil. "And now I'm going to kill you."

"What, the hell, is that?" he shrieked, his voice rising a full octave. "Abbey, you can't be serious."

"Can't I?" she replied coming closer. "You just wouldn't leave us alone. You had to keep coming."

He scrambled backwards along the bank, knowing he had his fishing knife in his pack and trying to reach it. It was unbelievable that this girl he'd known all his life was threatening to take his life. His fingers closed over the blade. "Don't do this, Abbey, please!" He suddenly flipped the knife towards her and it caught her in the chest.

With a cry, she dropped to her knees, hands around the hilt of the knife, then fell to the ground.

"Oh my God, oh my God," Matt jumped up, nervously running his hands through his hair and thinking desperately what he would do next. He quickly decided to throw her in the pond--he looked around for a rock big enough to weigh her down. Grabbing one from the bank, he hurried back to Abbey's body and rolled her over. Shaking in fear, he knelt over her.

She suddenly moved, her right hand snatching up the sword at her side.

Matt gasped in horrified disbelief. This was something straight out of a horror flick.

Abbey ran him through with the sword before he could issue a word. Just as she stepped back, she felt the approach of an immortal. She retrieved the sword and turned.

Richie dismounted and tied the horse to a tree. "Abbey? Are you all right?" He noticed the blood and hole in the center of her blouse.

She nodded. "Matt. He tried to kill me." She gestured to the slain body.

Richie stared from her to Matt. "Abbey, you killed him."

"Of course. Matt would have killed me--he already had--twice!"

He took her by both arms, looking at her closely. "Abbey, he couldn't kill you. You know that! You came looking for him. You left this morning and came after him."

She couldn't look him in the eye. "What was I supposed to do? Just let him keep on coming after us? Richie, I have to protect the land. Nothing is more important than the land."

He stepped away, hand to his head, terrified at how Mac would view this. "Abbey, that doesn't matter now. I think we should leave here."

"Leave here! I've just finally solved our problems and rescued the land from this guy! I'm not leaving here!" She paced back and forth for a minute. "My land is here! Don't you see that? I thought you shared my commitment to it. You can leave if you want."

"We need to leave together--now."

They both turned as they sensed Mac's approach. As Duncan stepped down from the horse, Richie hurried to him. "Mac, he was gonna kill her, Mac. She just didn't stop to realize-"

He brushed past him and stood before Matt's body, face set, anger just barely hidden.

Abbey looked as his expression. "It had to be done," she finally said.

"Not by you. It is not our place to deal with mortals."

"Mac," Richie interjected. "She didn't know any better."

"Of course she did," he fired back. "Why did she leave at the crack of dawn without telling us!"

"He's right, Richie," Abbey replied, picking up her sword. She lifted it into a defensive position. "What happens now? Do you kill me?"

Mac shook his head. "I'm not going to take your head." He turned his back and walked to where Abbey had left the car, got in it and drove away.
-------------------

Richie and Abbey arrived at the ranch just as Mac finished putting his pack into the car. "Mac, are you leaving?" Richie murmured to him.

"I have to leave," he replied.

"No, Mac, don't do this. It doesn't have to be this way!" he pleaded.

"For me it does." He walked to the driver's side of the car.

"Please, Mac, just this once. Abbey needs you. I can't possibly teach her everything."

He nodded. "I know."

"She didn't know any better," he offered again.

"She did!" he shouted at him. "And if you stay here it will happen again. She is changing, Richie, can't you see that? She doesn't care about you or me. She doesn't care about what it means to be immortal. She is possessed by this land. That's all there is to her."

Richie slowly shook his head, fighting back the tears. "I love her, Mac."

"It'll pass."

In anger he threw up his hands. "I just can't believe you'd say that! Don't you have an ounce of commitment to anything but yourself!"

MacLeod grabbed him so tightly by both arms his nails dug into the flesh. "It is that commitment to what's right that's forcing me to do this. Can't you see that? Stay here, do what seems kind, but it won't be right. If you stay and train her you will eventually be training your own killer."

He backed away, slowly shaking his head. "Maybe you're right--you'd better leave."

Mac hesitated, realizing at last why Conner had wanted him to come back and at the same time understanding it had been too long and his warning was going to go unheeded. "Richie," he said gently, "please come with me now."

"I can't."
--------------

Mac returned to the dojo with plans to place it for sale. He wasn't sure where he'd go, but there seemed to be no purpose to the studio any more. In three months it still had not sold. He was dusting the floor one afternoon when he suddenly sensed an immortal. He looked up as Richie came in the door.

"Hello, Richie," he said simply.

"Hi, Mac," he answered quietly. He lay down his helmet and backpack.

"You okay?"

He nodded without enthusiasm. "You were right."

Mac was silent a moment. "I'm sorry."

He slowly went to the pack and pulled out the foil Mac had given Abbey. "I, um, brought this back to you."

Mac laid it on the office desk making no comment.

"Last week she, um, killed Hank Drew. He'd left her alone since Matt's death. There wasn't any reason." He took a breath and slowly let it out. "She had changed so much. I tried to get her to see that she was obsessed by this thing about her land. Then, the day before yesterday, she had a calf fall into the ravine. He died before I could get him out. She went nuts." He slowly shook his head. "She came after me. Mac, she tried to kill me. She almost succeeded." His voice was barely a whisper by now. "I had no choice."

Duncan put an arm around his shoulders in comfort. There were no words to say, so he said nothing. He knew their commitment would see them through.

END