Absolution

Mary Ellen

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DISCLAIMER: Connor and Duncan MacLeod belong to Davis-Panzer Productions. Richie Ryan used to belong to them. He belongs to his fans now. Fiona MacDonald belongs to me. All characters are free to return to their original owners, but they refuse to go, so I guess I'm stuck with them for now. Please do not repost this story without asking me first. Direct all comments to me.

Absolutely no permission is granted to use this story in whole or in part in another piece of writing.


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Fiona MacDonald stood admiring the fall foliage. Although she had lived for centuries, the sight of changing leaves always fascinated her. She found the contrasting colors pleasing. When she lived in an area that did not experience the change of seasons, she missed the greens, reds, oranges, and yellows. The possibility of this particular sensory pleasure was one of the things that drew her to the plot of Holy Ground where she built her house.

Fiona turned away from the vista suddenly. She had the sense of another Immortal. She was expecting Connor and Duncan, but wasn't certain when they would arrive. She didn't think they would get to her house for another few days. Besides, she hadn't heard a car. The dogs disappeared soundlessly around the corner to the front of the house. Fiona went back inside. She was walking towards the front door as it opened.

Richie Ryan came in carrying a dusty, beat-up bag.. Fiona didn't recognize the oddly shaped luggage. It wasn't the duffel bag he normally used for traveling. Richie appeared tired and bedraggled. He didn't seem to realize she was there. He should have sensed her as soon as she became aware of him. The young man seemed to be avoiding looking at her.

"Richie? Are you okay?"

Richie glanced at her. She could see he was angry, but it wasn't directed at her. He tried to smile. It only made him look miserable. He shook his head.

"I wrecked my bike."

Fiona grimaced. She knew how much that old bike meant to Richie, even though he seemed to spend more time repairing it than riding it. He moved uneasily without actually going anywhere. She waited for him to speak again. He was still avoiding looking at her. He seemed reluctant to speak.

"How'd you get here, Richie?"

The young man shifted the bag to his other hand. Fiona suddenly recognized it as the saddlebag he usually had on his bike. Richie glanced around the hallway and shrugged.

"I hitched rides when I could. Most of the time I walked."

Fiona sighed. Richie seemed to be hiding something. She couldn't imagine what.

"You didn't have to go to the morgue, did you?"

"No," Richie said shaking his head vigorously. "No one saw the accident. When . . . when I came back, I just got my stuff and walked away."

Fiona nodded. She'd been through events like that herself. She smiled at him. Again, Richie's attempt at a smile made him look miserable. When she inquired about his sword, he pulled the hilt from the bag to prove he had it. He didn't bother to push it back into place. The weapon protruded haphazardly from the opening along with some clothing.

Richie stood silently staring at the floor. Fiona thought he might want something, but was afraid to ask. She wondered why he felt awkward with her. He had no reason. He was always welcome in her home. That was why she had given him a key. Finally, Richie looked at her. He seemed suddenly shy.

"I could use a soak in a hot bath. I still feel kinda sore."

"Use my bathroom. I'll make you something hot to eat when you're done."

She saw Richie relax. This time his smile lit his face. Fiona returned the grin. This was the Richie Ryan she knew.

"Thanks, Fiona. That'd be great."

Fiona watched him walk up the stairs. Something was bothering him that went beyond a wrecked motorcycle. She hoped he would tell her what was troubling him when he was ready. It almost seemed like he expected her to be angry with him for coming to her house. She sighed. This house was the one place he would always be welcome.

****

Richie stopped in the blue bedroom he'd come to think of as his own. He dropped his saddle bag near the bed and went to the chest of drawers across the room. At Fiona's suggestion, he'd left clothes here in case he stopped by unexpectedly. Selecting some clean clothing, he continued down the hall to Fiona's bedroom.

He'd rarely been in Fiona's bedroom. He usually gave her as much privacy as he could. There seemed to be something almost sacred about entering the room. He looked around. The room definitely belonged to a woman, but in a way it wasn't much different than Mac's loft. For some reason, both of the elder Immortals seemed to tend towards sparse, practical furnishings. Richie paused to look at the couch. Although he didn't remember it very clearly, he knew he'd slept there once. Richie shrugged. He always thought a couch was a weird piece of furniture for a bedroom.

Richie continued into the bathroom and started filling the tub with hot water. After being on the road and then having the accident, a bath seemed the most luxurious thing in the world. Richie smiled. He'd finally have a hot bath and a hot meal. Later, he'd get to sleep in a real bed with a pillow and blankets. All of those things in one day sounded almost too good to be true.

Richie shed his dirty clothes and gingerly lowered himself into the tub. Leaning back, he closed his eyes and let the warmth ease the tiredness he felt. He thought he could easily fall asleep in the tub. He opened his eyes when he heard a noise he couldn't identify, expecting to see one of Fiona's dogs. He was startled to see Fiona gathering his discarded clothing from the floor.

"I brought you some extra towels, Richie."

"Uh, thanks," Richie managed to say. He was trying desperately to think of a way to cover himself. There wasn't one. He changed positions, but didn't think it helped. He had pushed the shower curtain to the far end of the tub and would have to stand up to get it. He could feel himself blushing at the thought.

He watched Fiona calmly emptying his pockets of their contents. There were a few crumpled bills and some small change.

"I'm going to throw these into the machine along with the clothes from your bag. Do you need anything else?"

"Uh, I . . . I don't think so."

Fiona looked at him. Richie felt his color deepening. He thought he saw a slight change in her expression. She turned and left the room with his clothes. Richie sunk back down into the water. Frowning, he reached for the soap. It might be best to finish his bath and get out of the tub before Fiona returned.

****

Fiona berated herself as she put Richie's clothes in the washer. She'd thought nothing of walking into the bathroom while he was in the tub. She'd done it thousands of times with Duncan and Connor. It never occurred to her that Richie might be embarrassed.

Fiona grinned. When Connor was alone with her, he sometimes seemed to have all the modesty of a three-year-old. She always expected him to be placed in an embarrassing situation by his readiness to shed his clothing, but he never was.

Fiona sighed as she closed the lid on the washer and returned to the kitchen. She'd promised Richie a hot meal. She hoped she hadn't further alienated the younger Immortal by her thoughtlessness. She was surprised to find Richie staring out the kitchen window.

"What would you like to eat, Richie?"

The young man shrugged. When Fiona walked up next to him, he turned towards her. She could see the uneasiness in his face. Without saying anything, Fiona put her arms around Richie and hugged him. He responded slowly.

"I wrecked my bike," Richie said as if he hadn't told her earlier. "The money you found in my pocket is all I have."

She reached up and stroked his still damp hair. She wondered why it troubled him that he arrived nearly penniless. She could easily supply him with whatever he needed. Everyone needed help sometimes. The hardest thing was learning to accept it.

"None of that matters, Richie. Sit down. I'll make you something to eat."

"It matters to me," Richie said with a puzzled look in his eyes.

Fiona nodded and stroked his hair again before kissing him on the cheek. She wanted him to know she accepted him for who and what he was. She wasn't certain he could understand that just yet, but he would someday.

Richie ate hungrily. As she watched, Fiona wondered when he had last eaten. She thought better of asking him. She didn't want to aggravate whatever was already troubling him. He sat staring glumly at his empty plate. She'd already refilled it twice.

"Are you still hungry, Richie?"

He shook his head. He seemed about to say something when they sensed other Immortals. Fiona frowned when she heard the front door opening. Duncan and Connor had rotten timing. She went out into the hall with Richie behind her.

As soon as he saw Fiona, Connor MacLeod dropped his bags and embraced her. He kissed her so hard, she wondered if he was going to let her up for air. She felt Richie brush by them.

"Richie, what are you doing here? You should have reopened the dojo weeks ago."

"I had a couple of problems, Mac."

Fiona gently pushed Connor away. He let go of her reluctantly. Fiona moved away from Connor and wedged herself between the other two men. Duncan looked at her. He was smiling, but his eyes were angry. Fiona had seen a matching anger in Richie's face.

"This is between me and Richie, Fiona. Leave us alone."

"This is my house, Duncan. You are all my guests."

Duncan's expression softened slightly. She sounded insulted. She had every right to be. He'd ignored her and started an argument with Richie. He gave her a hug and kiss in greeting. Still in Duncan's arms, Fiona turned her head slightly towards the man behind her.

"Richie, go in the kitchen."

Richie didn't move. She didn't have to see his face. She could feel his anger. Richie's anger always seemed to radiate from him like heat. Richie muttered something in response. She felt Duncan loosen his hold on her. Out of the corner of her eye, Fiona saw Connor moving towards them.

"Now, Richie! Go in the kitchen and wait for me."

Richie backed away from her and walked down the hall to the kitchen. Fiona watched Connor step out of the younger man's way. After Richie was gone, the elder MacLeod looked at her questioningly. Fiona ignored him. Grabbing Duncan by the front of his shirt, Fiona dragged him across the entrance way towards what had once been the ballroom. He started to protest, but she ignored him, too. Connor followed them, grinning broadly. Confrontations between his students were always entertaining. He shrugged. Fiona wasn't really his student, but he'd trained with her often and taught her many things in the centuries he'd known the Immortal woman.

Once in the other room, Connor went behind the bar and poured himself a drink. As usual, Fiona had his favorite Scotch. He sat on a stool to sip his drink and watch the other Immortals. They were frowning at each other. They often reminded Connor of children or siblings. It was what made their bickering enjoyable.

"Richie has responsibilities, Fiona. He was supposed to reopen the dojo nearly three weeks ago."

"That's enough, Duncan," Fiona began. She was interrupted by a voice behind her.

"You don't have to defend me, Fiona. It's my fault. I screwed up."

Fiona turned towards Richie. He had come in through the dining room. The look on his face told her the anger she had seen earlier had been directed at himself. He felt he'd let Duncan down. Connor cleared his throat.

"Come help me with the luggage, Richie."

Richie frowned. The two elder Immortals had very little luggage. He wanted to get this over with. He didn't want to have this argument with Mac hanging over his head indefinitely. When Richie started to refuse, Connor crossed the room quickly and grabbed him by the wrist. The older man's viselike grip convinced Richie to accompany him.

When they were gone, Fiona turned back towards Duncan. The younger MacLeod continued to complain bitterly about Richie's irresponsible behavior. Annoyed by Duncan's refusal to let anyone explain, Fiona was torn between slapping him and screaming at him. She got her anger under control before she spoke.

"Richie wrecked his bike, Duncan. He died in the accident. He walked in the door a little while ago. I don't know how long it took him to get here."

Wishing he hadn't been so quick to criticize the younger man, MacLeod frowned. He'd better have a talk with Richie before the chasm between them got too deep. He seemed to be very good at driving the younger man away. He wanted to look for Richie, but Connor was blocking his way. He couldn't tell how long his kinsman had been standing there. The older man was holding both katanas.

"You, outside."

"Not now, Connor. I want to talk to Richie."

Connor's expression changed slightly. Duncan knew his refusal had been rejected. He would either obey his teacher's command or suffer for it later. He took his katana from Connor's hand. Connor immediately turned his attention to Fiona.

"Get your sword."

"Connor, have something to eat and take a rest first. You just got here."

The elder Highlander saluted her with his sword.

"Get your sword."

Fiona nodded. There was no denying Connor when he was this determined. He was asserting himself as teacher and Chieftain. She wasn't certain why her participation was required, but Connor didn't seem inclined to entertain questions.

Fiona retrieved her Claymore from the pantry as Connor and Duncan went outside. By the time she followed them, the two men were already involved in serious combat. They were both skilled swordsmen. Fiona watched them with great interest. She was so engrossed in their activity that she didn't notice Richie until he was standing next to her. She smiled at him. He always stood too close to her. She noticed his hands were shoved into the pockets of his jeans.

"Get your sword, Richie. I'll work with you."

Richie shook his head.

"I need to talk to you, Fiona," he paused and glanced at the other two men. "Alone."

Fiona looked at the other Highlanders. They had stopped their contest. Grinning, Connor swatted Duncan with the flat of his sword before nodding at her slightly. Fiona led Richie back to the house as the fight resumed behind them.

Once in the kitchen, Fiona turned to Richie. She could see anger and guilt in his eyes again. She almost wished Duncan hadn't come to the house. At least he could have restrained himself from giving Richie such a hard time. She stroked Richie's hair. He frowned.

"I gotta tell you something, Fiona."

Richie looked down at the floor. Fiona wondered what was bothering him. He seemed almost afraid to talk to her. She couldn't think of anything he could tell her that would make her angry.

"I wrecked my bike . . ."

Richie's voice trailed off. Fiona expected him to mention the amount of money she found in his pocket. The bike and the money seemed to be preying on the younger man's mind.

"You told me that already. What's wrong, Richie? If it's Duncan's precious dojo, I'll take you back and help you open it again. We'll leave in the morning."

Richie remained silent. Fiona stroked his hair again. He didn't respond in any way.

"Richie, was someone else killed in the accident?" Fiona asked gently. Causing the death of a mortal friend or lover was the only thing she could think of that would upset an Immortal so much.

Richie shook his head. Without looking at her, he began to speak quickly. His words seemed to run together and trip over each other.

Mac had decided to close the dojo and take off on a trip with Connor. He told Richie to take some time off on the condition that he return before the younger Highlander to reopen the dojo. After the older Immortals left, Richie took off on his bike. Part of the way through his trip, the bike broke down. Richie repaired it as best he could. Nothing he tried worked for any length of time. Eventually, he was far from home with a bike in need of repair and not enough money to buy the parts necessary to fix it.

Richie stopped talking. Fiona waited for him to continue, but he remained silent. It was almost as if he'd forgotten what he was saying. She studied his face. He was deeply troubled. Nothing he said so far seemed particularly disturbing. She wondered why he hadn't just called her to come and get him. This wasn't the time to ask a question like that. It might only give the younger man more reason for self-reproach. She asked him the most neutral question she could think of.

"What happened, Richie?"

"I . . . I broke into a bike shop and took the parts I needed. I knew it was wrong. It went against everything Mac's taught me." Richie shook his head. "It was the opposite of everything you and Connor and Joe taught me, too. When I got the bike running again, I took off as fast as I could. I just wanted to be as far from there as I could get."

Richie paused again. Fiona stroked his hair, but he didn't look at her.

"Is that when you had the accident, Richie?"

Richie nodded glumly. When she took his hand, he met her eyes. She could see the self-loathing in his expression.

"We've all done things we're not proud of. I know I have. So have Duncan and Connor. Trust me. You can't avoid it living for centuries."

Richie's face twisted with anger.

"It was wrong, Fiona. I stole those parts. I haven't stolen anything since I met Mac."

Fiona sighed. She knew exactly what he was feeling. She was never a thief like Richie or Amanda, but she had stolen. When she mentioned it to Richie, the disbelief was clear on his face.

"My sword was broken in a fight with another Immortal. I had little money. I was hungry and frightened with nowhere to go. I stole some food and retreated to a cemetery."

Her statement surprised Richie. Whenever he came to her during a crisis, she asked about his sword. She obviously feared being left without a weapon. He'd been without a sword once himself. He'd gotten arrested trying to steal a replacement. Until recently, it had been the last time he attempted to steal anything. He was still embarrassed by the thought. An offer of food usually followed her inquiry about his sword. The events she described still seemed to color her thinking. He tried picturing himself in her predicament. It seemed like she was trapped without any chance of escape. He certainly didn't see a way out.

"How'd you get out of it?"

"Connor found me. He took me in and gave me this sword," Fiona said indicating her Claymore.

Fiona frowned. She thought of that experience every time she looked at the sword. She wasn't certain what would have happened to her if Connor hadn't found her. She probably would have starved to death in the cemetery. The thought of repeatedly starving to death made her shudder. Eventually, some unscrupulous Immortal would have dragged her off Holy Ground and taken her head without a second thought.

At the time, she felt she barely knew Duncan's kinsman and teacher. He had always been polite, but distant, with her. She'd half expected Connor to take her head once she was off Holy Ground. Instead, he had been gentle and understanding. She was suspicious when he offered her his bed. She had resigned herself to sleeping with him. She had no choice. She was under his control. Instead, she slept alone. Connor slept in another room. He made certain she had food, clothing and a warm place to sleep. She hadn't been treated that well since she lived in her father's house. Duncan was always good to her, but Connor had treated her as a Chieftain's daughter. He had introduced her to his associates as his cousin. She had been proud to be thought of as part of his family.

Watching Fiona's changing expressions, Richie listened to her story. Richie glanced at the Claymore leaning against the wall. He always assumed her teachers had given her the sword she used. She always spoke lovingly of Hamish and Ruth. Somehow, he couldn't imagine Connor MacLeod giving anyone a weapon.

She slipped her arms around him. This time he responded immediately. She'd once taken him in after a fire left him homeless. She never asked him for anything in return. He wondered if there was a connection between her actions and the story she had just told. She obviously meant it when she told him that nothing that had happened mattered to her.

"Oh, are we interrupting?"

Richie froze. He became acutely aware of holding Fiona in his arms. He knew Mac would think nothing of it, but Richie wasn't certain how the elder MacLeod would react. He doubted Connor knew anything about his relationship with the Immortal woman. The Highlanders exchanged a glance before smirking at the younger man.

"What do you think, Connor?" Fiona asked, grinning at Richie. He was blushing. She assumed the expressions of the older men probably had something to do with that. She knew exactly what Duncan and Connor were like.

"I think I'm hungry and you mentioned food earlier."

"Refrigerator's next to you. Stove's over there."

Fiona's dismissal of Connor's request surprised Richie. She'd volunteered to make him something to eat. She was leaving the other men to fend for themselves.

"Fiona, I'd like a few minutes alone with Richie," Duncan said walking up to stand beside her. He really wanted an opportunity to make amends with the younger man. She wrinkled her nose in response.

"Go take a shower, Duncan. You smell like you've been mucking out a barn."

Duncan gave her an embarrassed grin. She let go of Richie and turned to watch Connor rummaging in her refrigerator. He appeared to be examining everything he found inside.

"Both of you go shower. I'll make you something to eat."

Connor smiled broadly. He had visions of all his Highland favorites prepared by a Chieftain's daughter. He wondered if he could persuade her to let him build a fire in the living room fireplace.

Fiona turned back towards Richie. She had a surprise for the young man that she was saving for a special occasion. She tilted her head at him. Although this occasion certainly wasn't special, Richie needed to feel special. Fiona decided that was enough.

"In the meantime, Richie, there's something in the garage for you."

Richie looked at her doubtfully. He came to her house for food and shelter until he could return to the dojo. He didn't want anything else from her. She'd already given him too much. Fiona pushed him towards the front of the house. A curious pair of MacLeods followed them. Fiona finally opened the front door and made Richie go outside. He walked slowly towards the garage.

"What have you done, Fiona?"

She grinned at Duncan. He didn't like the look on her face. He glanced at Connor. He could tell Connor recognized the expression as well. Fiona had done something she was proud of that neither MacLeod would like. Richie let out a shout of pure joy that drew the elder Immortals onto the porch.

Richie stood in front of the house next to a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He was stroking the large black bike lovingly.

"It's beautiful, Fiona."

"It's all yours, Richie."

Richie's face was filled with a stunned happiness. Composing himself, Richie shook his head.

"I can't accept this, Fiona. It's too much."

Fiona frowned at him. With a sigh, Richie held out the keys. It pained him to reject ownership of the bike, but he couldn't accept the expensive gift.

"You're spoiling him, Fiona," Duncan said.

"No more than I spoiled her . . . or you," Connor replied, starting down the steps towards Richie.

Connor snatched the keys from Richie's hand, jumped on the bike and rode away. Fiona sighed. Connor wasn't wearing a helmet. She was in no mood to scrape him off the pavement.

"How'd you pick it out, Fiona?" Richie asked.

"Oh, it was easy. I just rode all of them until I found the right one."

Despite his objections, Duncan smiled. He could imagine Fiona riding each bike. She had probably asked the salesman endless questions about them. The man must have been relieved when she finally selected one.

Connor roared up on the bike. Dismounting, he grinned. Fiona could see he'd enjoyed the ride. She was starting to think seriously about buying a bike of her own to keep at the house. Riding them had been fun.

Connor bounded up the steps, stopping suddenly when Fiona blocked his path.

"Give Richie the keys, Connor."

Connor turned and tossed the keys back to the young Immortal. Richie caught them easily.

"It's a great bike you've got there. Enjoy it."

There was something about Connor's tone that told Richie he'd better not try to return the bike to Fiona. Looking at the bike, Richie thought over the options. He could keep the bike and make Mac angry or he could give the bike back and have Fiona and Connor mad at him. Opting not to be outnumbered, Richie walked slowly back towards the garage. He thought he might be able to handle Mac's anger. They'd fought before. It seemed like a bad idea to have the elder MacLeod angry with him about anything that involved Fiona. Entering the garage, Richie picked up the helmet he'd seen earlier. When he returned to the bike, Fiona was waiting for him.

Fiona offered to pay the bike shop for the parts he had stolen and any damage he'd done when he broke in. Richie started to refuse, but Fiona told him he could repay her if he wanted. Richie agreed. The thought that his theft could be turned into a purchase eased his guilt. He brightened when Fiona suggested they try to salvage his old bike. If he told her where the accident had occurred, she would make the arrangements. The bike could stay in her garage afterwards.

Duncan watched Fiona and Richie discussing the bike. Richie had the look of a child on Christmas morning. Connor seemed to be staring at the pair intently.

"What are you thinking, Connor?" he asked his kinsman.

"I think if I don't go take a shower, I'll never get anything to eat."

****

Author's notes

Fiona's memories of breaking her sword during battle, stealing to survive, taking refuge in a cemetery and being rescued by Connor are detailed Bread and Ale.

To Part Eight, "In Denial".

To the Authors' Pages