Family Secrets

Carol Lucchesi

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DISCLAIMER: The usual disclaimers apply: The concept and characters of Highlander (Duncan and Connor MacLeod, Richie Ryan, Joe Dawson, and Adam/Methos) do not belong to me. They belong to Rysher Inc., and Gregory Widen. I am not even a pissant grad student yet. ;) The characters of Ray/Rene and Kira do belong to me. Other people may use them by asking nicely. Everyone repeat after me -- this is for fun and not for profit!!

The story takes place after "End of Innocence" and before any of the other episodes after that. I have seen those episodes, but that's when I began writing this monster ;) This is my first attempt at Highlander Fiction. My S.O. got me hooked on the show and I point out that he can't complain that some of my free time gets taken up by my muse.

Duncan MacLeod was a man of patience -- honed by his study of the martial arts and philosophy -- and 400 years of practice. . . Today, however, the culmination of all that patience was no match for a sulky young immortal.

"Richie!", Duncan yelled, as he pounded on the bathroom door for the umpteenth time in the last hour.

"Come out of there!"

"Or what?" came the muffled reply.

Duncan was about to respond with how immature he thought Richie was acting when the voice continued, "You gonna take my head?"

Duncan winced. Richie had recently returned from what could euphemistically be called a "growing experience". Richie had left after Duncan's Dark Quickening after Duncan had tried to take his head.

Reconcilliation was difficult, but both had decided that it was worth trying to rebuild the friendship they'd once had, to get on with their lives. Since then, Richie had become bound and determined to live a "normal" life. Unfortunately, he hadn't quite figured out what that meant, so now he was in an adolescent funk, moping around the dojo and sequestering himself in the most inconvenient places, like this morning.

After trying to bite back something equally scathing, he called through the door: "No, I won't Richie, and y'bloody well know that! I thought you wanted to get on with your life, not sulk in the bathroom like . . . like a kid with a pimple on prom night!"

Duncan was shouting by this point, knowing that he wasn't being very mature either, walking that tightrope between feeling bad for him and wanting to smack some sense into him. He went to the kitchen and poured coffee for the both of them. Waiting for R ichie to come out on his own.

Richie bit back his temper and a yelp of pain as he cut himself during Mac's tirade. He stood, glaring at the bathroom mirror, watching the cut heal in a matter of seconds. Wishing that the rift between himself and his former mentor could be healed just as quickly. He knew that Mac had a point. He'd been wandering around aimlessly for the better part of two weeks now. Mulling over and over where he needed to go, and what he needed to do. He'd even gone so far as to pick up a practice SAT test and an application t o the community college, after a half-serious drinking session one night when he'd voiced to Mac that he didn't want to spend this lifetime in a job with his name on his shirt. Mac had encouraged him of course, offering to help him with tuition, paying him to work at the dojo. But the papers stayed idle, Richie not being certain if this is what he wanted to do right now. Mac would push him, ask him questions, questions he coul dn't answer.

"Rich, what are you waiting for? You'll have plenty of time to do all sorts of things." Duncan had told him one evening. But Richie had heard the strain in his old mentor's voice. He hadn't said anything in response, but rather leveled a "who-do-you-th ink-you're-kidding" look at him. Strangely, Duncan was very quiet after that. No words needed to be said, and hardly any were since then. That was 2 days ago. Now, Richie finished his extremely prolonged morning rituals, and braced himself to talk to Mac. Really talk to him. As he went to turn the knob, a familiar, sickening feeling swept over him; his imagination pieced together an imag e of Mac, waiting outside the door, ready to take his head. He hesitated for a moment, then pulled himself together. This was not the time, not the place, he reminded himself - 'It's in the past, Ryan.'

As Mac finished pouring the coffee, Richie came out, looking at Duncan with a mixture of anger, sadness and apprehension in his deep blue eyes. He stood facing Duncan, meeting him eye to eye. He took in a deep breath and admitted what he had been feeling: "Mac, I - I don't know what to do." Duncan began to say something but Richie cut him off. "I know what I want - I want *one* day without some sword-wielding psycho coming after me or someone I love!! But I can't have that - because I'm in some fucking twisted life or death game that I didn't even ask to be in!"

He was pacing around the room now, hands flying, gesturing wildly. Duncan tried to speak, but Richie's glare silenced him. "How can I have a normal life when I don't know who I can trust?"

As soon as he said that, he wished it back. Richie was now looking at him with mute guilt, as Duncan looked at him with pained eyes.

"Richie, we've talked about this. I wasn't . . . quite myself." he said quietly, thinking that was the understatement of the decade. Richie looked at Duncan and said quietly, but firmly, "I'm sorry Mac, I am, the nightmares still come, I still see you c oming after me and . . . and . . . " his voice trailed off.

They were silent for a few moments, Duncan sipping at his coffee thoughtfully and Richie standing in front of him, anticipating a lecture, half wanting to hear one, just like before. 'You're either his student or his peer, he's not your father - and aren't *you* the one who wanted to be taken as a grown up?' he thought to himself.

"Rich," Duncan said horsely, finally breaking the silence, "I can't take back what happened, I can apologize for years and be just as sincere - and I can't change anything." 'And I wish I could take the nightmares away.' he thought painfully, 'I can't be so protective though'. He sighed and continued. "I can only tell you this-you *can* trust me-I want us to remain friends. I can't tell what will happen years in the future. But - let's just take it one day at a time, OK?"

Richie slumped down on the armchair, "OK." He took a sip of the coffee and looked up at Duncan. "I'm sorry Mac."

"I - I understand Richie."

"So," Richie exhaled, "I still don't know what to do."

Duncan shook his head, "Don't - you don't have to go looking for anything right now. Take some time and pull yourself together. I'm sorry if I pushed you towards college, I just want to see you succeed. Take some time."

"What do you mean? Just sit on my butt all day and become the Immortal couch potato?" Richie laughed.

"No-o, I mean *live* one day at a time - get out and . . . go to a museum, go to see a play . . ."

At Richie's 'yeah-right-me-cultured?' look, Duncan rolled his eyes.

"Look, Rich, certain things are going to happen. I don't know what you'd call *normal*, but you can't let this . . . situation ruin your life."

"Even though it's gonna kill me, right?" Richie interjected a bit harshly.

"You don't know that!"

"Oh, c'mon Mac! Do you think I have a chance in hell of being the One? I don't even know that I believe in that anymore!"

Duncan was silent, how many times had he had the same argument with Connor? With his other teachers? With himself?

"I'm sorry Mac, I didn't mean to bring it up. Look, I'm gonna go for a ride, I'll be back later." Duncan nodded. Just then, the phone rang. Richie was passing by and picked up the phone.

"Hello." Duncan watched Richie while he drank his coffee; it was some of the 'personal brew' that Methos had boasted about and brought to him awhile back. It was damn good coffee and Ducan had asked him where he'd gotten the recipe. Methos had just smiled and mu mbled something about showing them how to do it in Brazil. Duncan hadn't asked how old the beans were. After Joe's trial, and Jacob's death though, both Methos and 'Adam Pierson' had disappeared. Duncan was still not sure how he felt about Methos. He had a bad feeling though, that Methos was even *more* uncertain about how he felt about himself and who h e was. Richie was motioning to him as he said to the caller:

"Um, I don't know, lemme check." He put down the reciever and whispered "Joe." Duncan paused, then shook his head. The recent "conflict" with Joe and the Watchers had left their relationship strained at the least. Richie didn't know what it was all about, Duncan was being closedmouthe d and Richie hadn't really talked to Joe all that much. Duncan wasn't sure if he could ever trust Dawson again. 'Just like Richie's not sure about me?' he thought with a twinge. If he was asking Richie to give him a chance, shouldn't he do the same for Joe? Richie paused for a moment, staring at Duncan. When it was evident that he wasn't going to talk, he went back to Joe.

"No, he's not here, can I take a message?"

He paused again, listening, and locked eyes with Duncan as he spoke to Joe. "No, Mac doesn't need me to cover for him Joe, I'm sure he'd talk to you if he was here." Duncan scowled at Richie, who didn't flinch. He just listened to Joe on the other end.'

'Damnit' Duncan thought, Joe had betrayed him, betrayed Jacob, and now Jacob was dead. Another Immortal killed by the 'non-interfering' Watchers. 'But he betrayed the Watchers by becoming your friend.', his conscience pestered. Then there was Methos - whose loyalty to Duncan belied his 'look-out-for-number-one-because-there-can-be-only-one' attitude. Methos had been the one to save Duncan from hi s Dark Quickening, and it was Joe who had stopped him from killing Richie, Joe who had told him about Carter. 'Interference at it's finest, right?' he thought. Suddenly Richie's mood changed.

"Oh, cool." Duncan looked up, Richie was grinning slightly and nodding now. "Yeah, no problem, eight o'clock, sure, right, I'll tell him. Bye. Oh, what? No, I haven't seen Adam lately, OK, bye."

"What's all that about?" Duncan asked, neutrally.

"Oh, Joe's got a new act down at the bar. He wants us to come and hear her tonight. He wanted me to tell you." He paused and then added, defensively, "I'm going." Duncan let out a long breath between clenched teeth. "It's not that I don't want you to go. I can't stop you-it's just-"

"You don't want to talk to him just yet."

"Right."

"Just like for the past couple of weeks." Richie added, arms crossed over his chest.

When Duncan didn't answer, Richie picked up his cuip and drank the last of the coffee, then continued: "Now who's got the zit?"

Duncan scowled, Richie could be annoyingly perceptive at times. "Look, I'll see, OK Rich?"

"OK" Richie nodded, obviously not believing it. "He also wants to know if you've seen Adam."

Duncan tossed off a "Nope, but if I see him, I'll tell him."

"OK, well, I'm going now, see you later."

"Bye. Oh, and Rich, be careful, please?"

"Sure thing." Richie smiled. Think about going to Joe's?"

"Yeah, sure." Duncan said, hoping he looked non-chalant enough.

The trouble was, Duncan didn't even believe it himself. He wanted as much as Richie to have a *normal* life. God knew that he'd tried over several lifetimes to do so. But normal was just an act for him and his immortal bretheren. He had amended things with Richie, but for how long? Sure, they could be friends for the next 50 years or so - until one of them lost their head - maybe until one of them took the other's head. His mind flashed back briefly to the night when he had Rich ie helpless, ready to take his head. He shook his head to clear himself. 'So do what you told him, practice what you're preaching to him, live it one day at a time.' he chided himself. Very deep down inside however, he knew that his life could shatter at any moment. Experience had taught him to cherish the moment, because it could be his last. He'd always found it ironic that his Immortality put him at such a great risk of death on su ch a regular basis.

And how many of his friends had gone - and would go - before him? 'How many could I fight. . . and kill? There can be only one.' he thought bitterly. It was a rule he'd lived by almost his entire Immortal life, but how much did he believe in it? He snapped himself out of it. He decided that he could follow this downward spiral and thoroughly depress himself, or he could try to get through it - like he'd told Richie 'one day at a time'. After all - no one's life was perfect - you could just do t he best with what you had, right? 'So, are you going to go see Joe?' his conscience chimed in. 'Oh, bugger off.' he thought and downed the rest of his coffee.

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

Kira shivered as she took a deep breath of the chill Seacouver air. The weather, however, had little to do with the cold, ill feeling lodged at the base of her spine. She was 'home'; at least it had once been. It was the only place she'd ever been able to call home . . . before her father abandoned her and her mother had been murdered. For weeks she'd been having dreams about this place. Theyh were bits of memory, images of people she didn't know . . . she saw her father; relived in painful detail her mother's murder.

There was also a feeling that she was coming full circle - that she would find the bastards who had slaughtered her mother and destroyed her life. She had one crystal clear image in her mind. It was in every dream, every nightmare, it ended the same way - with her exacting her revenge. Most people would not rely so much on their dreams to guide them. Kira, however, was not 'most people'. She had no past to speak of - her 'real' parents had abandoned her, and of the couple who'd found her, the man whom she'd once called 'father' also left, without a trace, without notice - he'd left - and let her mother die. Then afterwards, after the pol ice, after the foster people came, her father still did not show. She had no roots, no heritage, and her only forseeable future, her motivation for going on - was her revenge on those monsters. So far, all she had were vague leads and vaguer sightings - but she knew what and even a few 'who's'- to look for. So if her dreams led her back to this place, then so be it. She had nothing to lose.

As she walked past the park she'd played in as a child, she heard the piccolo laughter and screeches particular to kids. Memories unbidden and unwanted flashed through her mind as she quickened her pace, heading for her motel. Images of her mother, her bright red hair and green eyes, rosy-cheeked and alive. Slender, and always in control. Her father, who always looked young, with a sparkle in his eyes; his blond-brown hair kept shoulder length. She even remembered the kilts. And she remembered how h is old friend came and took her away from the orphanage, to southern LA, telling her that the loss of her mother had devastated her father so much that he couldn't take care of her. That basically he didn't want to. She didn't believe him at first, but after talking to a therapist , she came to grips with her abandonment. But not with her mother's death.

So she got through high school, fighting sometimes, learning out of necessity how to fight. For her future goals, and for her own survival. Her school had not been on the "elite" list, and she was a small person, only 5'5", Asian, green eyes, fine boned ; so she ended up getting into trouble quite a bit. Then left the foster home she was in and began to search for her mother's killers. And that was it. That was her entire existence. She was so lost in thought she didn't notice the shadow-figure following her from a discreet distance.

"Welcome home, Kira.", the shadow growled.

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

(4 hours later)

Kira pulled out the silver pocketwatch that her parents had given to her for her thirteenth birthday. It was 2:45, almost time for her to meet with her new boss. She paused and let her fingers run over the familiar line of the engraving. She traced the letters 'LOVE MOM AND ' clenching the watch when she came to the roughly scratched out 'DAD'. She steeled herself and put the watch away, carefully. For so long it had been a symbol of her motivation -- that birthday had been the last truly 'happy' birthday she'd had. She wanted her old life back . . . and the watch was a symbol of how much of her life she was spending to exact her revenge, some macabre measurem ent of how much she needed to punish those who took her innocence away.

She took her head, putting herself together and walked into Joe's Bar. Pausing to let her eyes adjust to the dimness, she looked for her boss. She saw him and he acknowledged her with a nod. He was on the phone, so she waited at the bar, ordering a virgin marguerita. Joe limped over to her after a minute. Kira looked at the man, pale and haggard, virtually radiating pain. She wondered idly if he'd always been like that, or if something more recent had caused it. He'd obviously not had an easy life. She dismissed t he momentary pang of sympathy, thinking that no one's life was easy, and that she had enough problems of her own without messing with a stranger's. "Hi Kira.", he said, easing up on one of the stools. Kira held back helping him, she didn't want to embarass him.

"Joe." she nodded.

"Starting a little early?" Joe smiled, looking at her drink.

Kira smiled a bit, "Oh yeah, nothing like a 'grown-up' Slushie to kick off my afternoon binge."

Joe nodded, trying to smile, "Heh, yeah. Ah, you ready to set up?"

"Soon, there's no hurry, right?"

Joe looked towards the phone, not hearing her. Kira tried to lighten the mood a bit.

"You need some time to recruit an audience?", she smirked a little.

Joe snapped out of it and looked at her.

"No, oh no, sorry, I just . . . "

Kira held up her hand, interrupting the apology. "Hey, it was a joke, no problem."

Joe gave an apologetic glance. "Sorry, I was trying to track down an old friend."

It was in the way that he had said that, that made her remember - her old friends - her family . . .

Joe noticed that Kira had drifted off a bit. "Kira -- is something wrong?", he touched her on the shoulder and she started. "Whoa, are you OK?"

"Yeah, sure, just thinking . . . it's nothing." she lied as she thought, 'No, Joe, I am most definitely *not* OK.' She hated her suspicions -- the strange feelings, the tension . . . Joe nodded, apparently she hadn't noticed that for a few seconds her face had turned surprised, then sad, then angry, and that it certainly hadn't seemed like 'nothing.'

The silence had passed 'awkward' and Joe broke it by clearing his throat and getting off the stool. "I'm heading to the office, if you need help setting up, get Mike." He limped a bit, then turned around. "And if you need to talk . . . " He left the sentence unfinished, nodding towards his office.

"Sure, right, thanks Joe." Kira stirred her drink. There was something about him. She wanted to like the old man. Frustrated and sickened at the same time, at this cloud that was hanging over her -- making it so that she could trust no one. And even if it was ever over, could s he ever trust anyone, or be close to anyone, ever again? "What if's nothing, girl." she muttered to herself as she finished her drink and started to set up the sound equipment.

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

After closing the office door, Joe pulled out his guitar and halfheartedly ran through some chords. He wondered why he'd hired that woman so quickly. Even if it was on a temporary basis. He knew it was something about her, nothing he could place. Duri ng her audition he'd listened with two sets of "ears". She had a great, strong voice -- that was easily verifiable. But Joe also listened for the "soul" of the music. As she belted out a few Jazz pieces, and some pop ballads, Joe had heard tremendous s adness and rage, raw and real. He hired her on the spot. Knowing that the customers would love her, and hoping that she could exorcise some of the ghosts that were obviously haunting her. Maybe help him get rid of some of his as well. She'd been so in tense, it showed, glowed around her like an aura. The information she'd given him, right down to the last name, was utterly bogus -- something that should have set off his alarms. Oh, it was good enough to fool most employers -- but Watcher or no -- he had his resources. Joe shook his head -- he had made a lot of mistakes lately, why was he so certain about this? And if his resources were so great, why couldn't he find Methos? 'Because', he thought, he's 5000 years old. If he doesn't want to be found, he won't be found.'

Joe thought painfully, how 5000 years still didn't help him with his recent decisions. Then again, when the two groups you identify with the most declare war on each other -- how can you reconcile that?

He wondered if Mac would show up. Part of him hoped that he would, that Richie could talk him into it. But another part was apprehensive, wondering what would happen. Could he even blame Mac if he didn't show? He was worried, he knew that nothing woul d be the same between them again. His fingers trickled over the guitar, spilling out one of his own songs: "That River", while he thought of how dependent -- how important MacLeod's friendshiop had become to him. Mac, and Methos. God, where were they? Maybe Mac would listen to him, if he told him what he'd done, Joe thought as he rubbed his naked, raw wrist. It was mildly disturbing to not see the familiar Watcher tattoo -- but he didn't regret it. 'At least not yet.' he thought.

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

Ray Peters stood across the street from the blues bar, he grinned as he watched the lovely young woman enter the bar. He smiled, revelling at the manner in which his plan, his great revenge, was playing out. 'Two centuries and it was worth the wait, mon ami', he thought. 'William was right, the mortal world is a stage, but these are *my* players. Like Atropos I will cut their threads at my whim.' All this he thought while feeling the comforting weight of his sword carefully concealed at his side. He thought back over those two long centuries to the cowardly, vile actions of that doomed young woman's father . . .

(FB - Paris, France, shortly before the French Revolution)

Rene St. Pierre sat atop his Arabian steed and surveyed his domain. Behind him he heard the light staccato laughter of his daughter flit over his land as she rode her new pony. He rode out farther and felt as close to a heaven as he could imagine. He took a deep breath, trying to hold onto the absolute perfection of the moment. Perfection shattered when he suddenly felt the unsettling presence of another immortal. Exposed as he was - the price for being able to survey his demi-kingdom - he didn't grab his sword, but rather guided his steed a bit farther for the over of one end of the forest, letting his hand fall gently on the pommel. The figure which burst out of the trees was not nearly as subtle. He rode out on his horse, long hair flying wild behind him, katana drawn and ready . . . Rene breathed a slight sigh of relief - hoping as he was - that the rider was still a friend.

"Ho there my barbarian brother!", he called out in perfect French, smiling, but still not taking his hand from his sword.

The kilt-clad 'barbarian' gave a jaunty smirk as he rode close; yet still noticibly out of sword range.

"Greetings yourself, you shameless fop." he responded with equal fluency.

"Fop? Why Connor, you cut me to the core!"

"Not yet, mon frere", he rumbled.

Rene twitched a bit. Connor was smiling, but he had seen many the campaign when that smile had successfully hidden murderous intent.

Connor broke out in laughter as he watched his old friend, dressed in silks and lace, try to hide that telltale tic.

"Don't worry Rene," he said, sheathing his katana. "I have come seeking your hospitality, not your powdered head."

Rene calmly let out the rest of the breath he'd been holding and smiled. "Of course, you're always welcome in my realm!" he said, waving his hand expansively towards the horizon.

Connor cocked an eyebrow and remarked at that. "Has Louis then been deposed? Are you the new king?" he joked, marvelling slightly at how much his old mercenary partner had changed.

"Bah . . ." Rene scowled, "perish the thought. It's bad enough that rabble even consider coming near our Majesty!!"

Connor decided it was wise to hold his retort, and changed the subject. He heard a young child's laughter and grinned widely. "One of your contented subjects?"

Rene let out a boisterous laugh of his own. "Oui, my daughter. Come, you must meet them."

They rode to the estate. Unfortunately neither Rene's wife nor child were ready to see him riding at full speed with the wild-looking Scot beside him. The blonde, doll-like child shreiked and her mother grabbed her off the pony.

"Rene!" Yvette screamed.

"Yvette, Marguerite, it's all right!" he caleed out. Slowing his horse as he came nearer, and motioning Connor to stop. Connor did, and even pulled back, not wanting to frighten them any more. Though he was a bit perturbed at their reaction. He saw Rene dismount and hold his family close to him. Shushing the child and the woman with soothing words. A minute later he nodded to Connor, who dismounted and led his horse towards them, thinking he was less imposing that way.

He was certainly less imposing to the child.

"Papa! Is he a eunuch? He wears a skirt!", she giggled.

"It is *not* a skirt, but a kilt, petite . . . and I am *no eunuch*." The last half was almost growled under his breath. The girl and the woman blanched at hearing him speak their language.

Connor took Yvette's hand and kissed it gallantly.

"Madame, I apologize for frightening you. Please allow me to present myself. I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I am an old friend of your husband's."

"Yes, I told them that -" Rene said, then turned to his wife. "we met as children, on a trading voyage of my father's, in Scotland."

Connor nodded, remembering only vaguely that they had been somewhere in the North, and that the only 'trading' that had been done was with liquor and scatalogical taunts. Marguerite blushed at the man. "I am sorry monsieur.", she said in her best "grown-up" voice. It came out cracked and trembling.

"It's all right lass, your father made the same mistake, the first time he saw me." Connor tossed a knowing glance at Rene who cringed a bit, then took Connor by the arm.

"Ah, well, I'm going to give Connor a tour here; we'll be in later. If we haven't returned in time for dinner, please begin without us."

"Very well, Rene." Yvette said, though it was evident in her eyes that she did not entirely trust the Scotsman, and she glanced back every so often as she led Marguerite inside.

"Wonderful family." Connor said with only slight sarcasm.

Rene chuckled softly, "What did you expect? Wearing that thing.", He said gesturing towards Connor's kilt.

"Are ye insultin' m'clan?" Connor said, slipping into his brogue and laughing. That was exactly how they'd begun their friendship a century earlier.

"Come, let's not start *that* again." Rene said, leading his friend towards the horizon.

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

(A few days later)

Connor paced around the luxurious guest room. He hadn't liked the little weaselly 'nobleman' who had come to the manor with some of his friends and swept Ray up for some council to formulate some plan for routing out the "rebellious, heathen rabble". But Connor had stayed behind. Something was gnawing at the base of his spine. Before he could ponder it further, he heard the child scream. Drawing his katana, he rushed out of the room and through the great halls until he came to the dining hall.

Marguerite was sprawled on the floor, screaming for her father and mother. One of the 'noblemen' stalking towards her, shortsword drawn and raised.

"What's wrong *my lord*? Afraid you'll stain your pretty lace in real fight? You must attack an innocent, helpless child?" Connor's rage was evident.

"She is a blight! She is spoiled and soft, and if left to live will be just as arrogant and oppressive as her parents! I am doing her a favor! Sending her to the Lord while she still may go!" There was a fanatical wildness in the man's eyes.

Connor advanced towards him, putting himself between the madman and the child.

Marguerite was sobbing hysterically, not knowing where her parents were, and hoping that the man in the skirt would help her.

Connor was tired of mincing only words; he lunged towards the man; blocking his blows, blood boiling. He ducked to aviod the man's blade, whistling towards his head, and lunged upwards. The katana broke through the man's back. He quickly yanked it out and watched as the mad fire left the eyes of the dying man.

Kneeling down by the girl, who was huddled up in her skirts, he spoke softly: "Did he hurt you, petite?"

She shook her head, not looking up.

"Come, I will take you someplace safe."

The little girl looked up at Connor and said softly, "I want to see my mommy now please." She was pale and her eyes were distant. She sounded as if she was half alseep. Connor's heart was torn as he picked her up and carefully headed out of the room.

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

Rene cursed himself after he awoke from his death. Those little revolutionary bastards had taken him for the fool. 'And fool I was, fool I most certainly was.' he admitted. But he swore by God and the King that they would pay. He would make certain of that.

He found that his horse was nearby, and he set off towards his home, planning all the while to enlist Connor's help in getting his revenge. The first wave of sickening fear came when he saw and smelled the faint wisps of smoke wafting over the rise.

He rode faster, digging his heels in tightly, so afraid of what he would find. As he rode over the rise, the sight that assulted him almost knocked him off of his horse:

His home was aflame; debris scattered around the fields and the smell of gunpowder told him that the house had been blasted, gutted. He rode closer, trying to call out for his wife and child, but his throat constricted. His eyes cast around, looking, searching desperately, until he saw her: Yvette, her nearly naked, battered body lying sprawled over some stone debris. He ran to her, falling to his knees. He laid his head against her chest and listened to the painful silence. The void in soul began as the silence and stillness dragged on. He was suddenly seized by the thought of his daughter.

"Marguerite." he whispered. His eyes darted around until he saw a familiar sword standing naked and alone. A human-shaped, still lump beside it.

"Connor, mon dieu." he choked. He ran again, helplessness building inside of him. As he came closer he saw the second sword, the one that pinned Connor to the ground like an insect on a entymologist's board.

Rene took out the sword, wincing as he saw the gore. He rolled Connor over and quickly stumbled a few steps away, gagging, tears streaming out of his eyes as he saw Marguerite and the tremendous blood stain spread across her white dress. He sank to the ground, gathering up his child's broken body in his arms.

The part of his mind that was a father sat mute, rocking back and forth, while the part of his mind, so well versed with war and death went through and reconstructed what must have happened. He glanced over at Connor's still dead body and saw in his mind's-eye his old companion running, carrying Marguerite, more than likely wounded, not hearing the coward rushing up behind him to run him through.

'He tried, he is a man of honor, he did everything he could.' Rene kept telling himself that. But one nagging part of him kept saying over and over again, reminding him of the awful truth: 'He will awaken, while your wife and child will not. He will live, He will love, as they never will, as you may never again.'

Rene had always been a loner. Meeting Connor and hearing about Heather had almost reaffirmed his belief in not getting involved. But Yvette, her husband lost at sea, she still so young, so charming, intelligent. And the child, had been absolutely enchanting. Rene had lost those he loved before. Time had seen to that. And he had seen murder of course. But never had he suffered the brutalness of a loss like now. He felt his heart grow heavy and dark as little niggling doubts ran over and through him: 'How hard did he try?'

Ray grimaced as his hand cramped around the hilt of his blade. His eyes narrowed as he looked towards the bar. To anyone watching, he would seem to be no more than a man lost in thought. But Ray knew that no matter how immortal he was -- his soul had died, had been dead for two hundred years. He was mad, and with any luck, he thought, Connor MacLeod would soon join him in the madness.

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

Richie Ryan stepped into Joe's and let the warmth of the crowded bar settle over him, shivering only as the door shut and blew a freezing gust of wind inside.

He took a seat at the end of the bar, ordered a Guiness and looked around for Joe. When he did catch a glimpse of him, talking to Mike, he was stunned to see how much that Watcher had aged.

Richie, who would remain physically at 19 for as long as he lived, had not been immortal long enough to really watch a mortal age. Joe didn't look 'handsomely mature' as he'd once heard a female paton describe him. He just looked old, and haggard, and tired . . . and sad.

Mac had been closedmouthed about what had happened this time to cause the tension between them, And though Richie hadn't always liked or trusted Dawson, looking at him now gave Richie a feeling that it was a case of Duncan MacLeod pride that was at the heart of this rift.

The young immortal's temper flared again - as it tended to do all too easily as of late. MacLeod *had* to show up!

Joe sighed as Mike walked away to run down the cues again with Kira. he turned and saw Richie at the bar, nursing a beer and scowling slightly. He took that as a sign that Mac wasn't going to show. He made his way slowly to the bar.

Richie noticed Joe approaching and stood up, trying to smile.

"Hi, Richie." Joe said in a gravelly voice, returning the slight smile with one of his own.

"Joe." Richie said, his voice catching a bit. They shook hands and were silent, then Joe pulled Richie towards him and hugged him tightly, like long lost relatives.

Richie stiffened for a moment, then returned the hug; emotions rushing through him. He didn't know how much he'd missed this place until now. Not just the bar, but his life, his old life. After Juvie hall, but before he entered the sometimes nightmarish existence of immortality.

The rumble of the crowd surrounded them, not quite touching them in this moment. They broke the embrace and stood in silence.

Joe looked at the boy, no -- he was most certainly a man now. Searched his expressive blue eyes for some indication that Mac would . . . but no. Joe spoke, breaking the silence. "He's not going to show." He said it matter-of-factly.

"I don't know." Richie said and looked down. "Probably not.".

Joe heard the anger in his voice and placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't be too quick to judge him, Richie. I'm sure he's got his reasons."

Joe paused, his shoulders slumping and his head shaking slightly as he continued. "You . . . weren't there, you didn't see what happened . . ."

Richie cut in, furious. "It's his *fucking pride*, Joe! The Almighty, All-Knowing Duncan MacLeod doesn't want to admit that he's wrong! That's all it is!"

Richie's burst of temper shocked Joe, but only slightly. While it was true -- if Joe had heard correctly -- that Richie and Mac were on the mend, he knew what he'd been through, if only through the reports he'd read. It was true that even though Richie'd found the Watcher's "creepy" at first, he'd saved Joe -- Joe had likewise kept Mac from doing something that he would've regretted when he was under the influence of the "Dark Quickening", Richie hadn't forgotten that either and they were a sort of friends.

There was something more to this rage. Joe made a point to talk to Richie -- someplace quieter.

Joe had considered what Richie said. At first -- when Duncan hadn't returned his calls, or was too *busy* when Joe came by the dojo -- he had been angry. But he knew MacLeod, had been his Watcher for almost as long as Richie had been alive. Joe wished that it was as simple as a matter of pride -- he knew it wasn't and tried to calm Richie down.

"Look, we'll work things out . . . in time."

"I can't believe that he's doing all of this and you're defending him!" Richie exclaimed, clenching the bottle as he drank.

Joe had no answer for him. Maybe he should have been, but he still felt partially guilty for what had happened.

After Jacob was murdered, Joe had nightmares of others in his place. Each time they were one of Mac's friends; each time it was Joe who delivered them into the hands of the Watchers, and each time, Duncan had looked at him with anger and accusation as he took the unwanted Quickenings. One after the other: Amanda, Cassandra, Connor, Methos, . . . Richie. The dreams always ended in the same way: with the Highlander's eyes narrowed, glowing with the fierce power of the multiple Quickenings. Snarling, katana raised - ready to take Joe's head. Joe always awoke sweating and panting - just as he saw the glint of steel; heard it shrieking down upon him.

He wanted to explain this to Mac. How bad he felt, but he was loath to use an old man's nightmares to gain back a friendship.

Richie watched Joe, as the older man became lost in thought. His anger warred with his love for Mac. He guessed it was love. Even after the Dark Quickening he . . . wanted to believe that one day everything would be all right. But still the words rang in his head. He was in the dojo . . .

"Is it because there can be only one? Is that it?"

He heard MacLeod chuckle "I guess that's a good a reason as any."

He fought hard to believe that it wasn't true, that it was just something that some old immortal had made up. He wanted to believe that Mac didn't buy it either. That they would get to "race starships".

The betrayal hurt, because he had grown to love Mac as a father. And that was the only reason he was able to reconcile.

His thoughts were ajumble. He touched Joe's arm to shake him out of whatever sad remembrances were haunting him.

Joe looked up into concerned blue eyes. Eyes that were older than the man in front of him. "You wanna talk about it Joe?" Richie asked

He tried to smile. "No. It'll be OK Richie . . . look, I've got us great seats, the show's about to start, come on."

Richie nodded, smiling half-heartedly. It was obvious that Joe was going to be as tightlipped about this as Mac was. He wanted to get to the bottom of this -- but resigned it to the backburner and tried to get into the mood for an evening of entertainment.

"So, how good is she?" Richie asked.

Joe waited until they'd sat down and looked at Richie with just some of the old glint in his eyes and said "Listen."

Kira stepped onto the stage and tuned her guitar. She'd just tuned it a few minutes ago, but she was stalling. She liked to size up the audience, tonight it was fairly crowded. She saw professionals at the bar mingling with the blue collar workers. 'Class' and 'status' meant little here. These were men and women who had traded in the flourescent-lighted 9-to-5 office and the noise of the assembly lines for the smokey, casual atmosphere of a neighborhood bar.

She saw Joe sitting up front with a young man who was around her age. He had very close-cut, red-blond hair, dressed in well-worn biker leathers with well fitting black t-shirt and jeans. The small part of her mind that was not focused on her mission or her music sent tingles of attraction up and down her spine.

She cleared her mind and began her set. Her music was the only way she knew of to escape the obsession that had held her for the past eight years. She'd had little time or patience to compose, so most of her repetiore consisted of covering other artists, with some improvisations of her own.

She began with Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car', throwing herself mind and body into the beat, into the story; pausing significantly before slowing down into 'Baby Can I Hold You', then wrapping up the *trilogy* with 'Give me One Reason'. It completed what she had considered a metamorphosis of young-girl-with-dreams to young-woman-hurt, to woman-independent. She always lost herself in this *story* and it was evident to those who listened to her.

Richie, frozen at that physical age that kept his hormones from ever really slowing down, was immediately struck by how beautiful and intense this woman was. Her sleeveless, black silk shirt exposed lean, muscular, tan arms, which pounded the chords through him. Her stance seemed to be that of a fighter's and he wagered that her straight, waist-length, black hair was normally bound. She had green eyes that shone with a cold fire. Her face was angular, not soft, cheeks and jawline severely defined. Richie decided that it would probably not be a good idea to piss her off. The way she sang, the words spoke of pain and betrayal, they touched Richie, connected to him. It was as if she . . . understood what he had been through.

Kira was halfway through Melissa Ethridge's 'If I Only Wanted to' when the fight broke out. She cursed audibly then slid her guitar to the back of the stage as she jumped off and headed for the trouble. "Mess up my set, huh?" She didn't have to head far. Trouble, who stood about 6'5" and looked about 240, came barelling towards her.

Kira was obviously his target. 'Great', she thought, tired and excited at the same time. Her research must have paid off, she must be getting close. The burly man had his arm stretched out, ready to grab her. She stepped back, raising her arms, pretending to cower from him. Then she twisted under him, grabbing his arm and using his momentum to send him crashing into the stage.

Unfortunately, Trouble had just been a decoy. His partner -- More Trouble had been waiting for her to do just that. While her back was to him, he grabbed her and held her . . . for approximately two seconds before Richie slammed a well-placed, double-fisted kidney punch. Kira was taking no chances and kicked him in the face as he went down.

Their eyes met, and Richie felt a strange sensation. It wasn't the tingling he got from another immortal, but it was *something*. She smiled at him, "Thanks for the help . . ." she was about to tell him that it wasn't his fight when he motioned behind her. "Look out!" The first thug had recovered and was lumbering again towards Kira, who's blood was racing as well, she beckoned to him, with a feral grin on her face.

The initial fight, which had started over the matter of a misplaced foot had degraded into a full-fledged barroom brawl. Joe was knocking people out of his way with his cane while he headed for his office to call the police. As the crashing of furniture and glass went up, so did his blood pressure. He glanced back at Richie and Kira who were backed into a corner.

Richie he wasn't too worried about -- the young man was a warrior -- thanks partially to MacLeod's teachings -- the only problem would be if he were careless and ended up "dead". Kira was a wildcard though. She obviously looked like she'd had some training as well, and she seemed very much to be enjoying herself. But those men had specifically targeted her, and Joe wanted to know why. After calling the police he looked out again. Mike was dispatching the regulars who had somehow gotten caught up in this mess, with careful force. Richie and Kira were holding their own, but it seemed to be a stalemate.

'So much for community togetherness.' Kira thought as she again ducked under the thug's grasp. The biker-guy was handling the other thug rather well. The thugs, though they didn't look too bright, were not stupid. They soon had Richie and Kira back to back, in a small space, where there was not much room to move. Trouble threw a low punch at Richie, who jumped to the side slightly and stood back. "You can do better than that, right??" he taunted.

Unfortunately this was at the same time that his friend aimed a high blow at Kira, who ducked -- the punch went through and hit Richie square in the back of the head. His ears were ringing and the world was now black with little pinpoints of light sparking in front of him. He reeled and felt the wind knocked out of him. For a moment he panicked. What happened to the woman? Was this a trap? He would have thought of more, but consciousness faded and his last thought, slightly annoyed, was that he really, really really wished Mac had been there.

Kira heard the guy hit the ground and cursed herself for not paying more attention to his position. She was not used to having someone help her with her fights. The goon behind her was kicking him; her angeroverwhelmed her and she attacked the one in front of her -- he was leering and laughing, as if this were just a game to him. She aimed high with her left fist and as he leaned back to avoid the punch, she jabbed him in the solar plexus with her right. He went down with satisfying 'thud'.

She gasped as the chair slammed into her back, sending her crashing on top of the still unconscious young man. Pain arced through her body as she fought to catch her breath. Through the throbbing of her pounding head she heard the crack of a gunshot. She strained to focus on the blurry image of the thug toppling over, a red blossom of blood soaking through his shirt. His 'friend' was already on his way out the door, still doubled over from Kira's punch.

Kira slumped, rolling off of the still body onto the floor, laboring to get her breathing under control. Joe, still holding the .38, limped over to her.

"Are you all right?"

"Yeah, thanks." she shook her head and shakily stood up.

"No problem."

"What about your friend here?" She asked, kneeling in front of Richie, looking at the back of his head.

"He'll be all right. I'll look after him, you, wanna get some ice or something?" Joe said, hoping that Richie would come around soon.

Kira nodded, "In a sec, I just want to see. . ." her voice trailed off. He had his hair cut short and close, so it was easy to see any damage. There was a slight bump. Less than what should have been there. There was something that caught her peripheral vision. It looked like dried blood.

She frowned, there was no evidence of a scratch or a gash. Joe suddenly became a palpable sense behind her. He made no move, he didn't see anything that was out of the ordinary apparently.

"He seems to be fine." Kira said, keeping her voice neutral.

"Good." Joe said, with pained eyes. He saw the blood. He knew she must have too. But she hadn't freaked out, did she know about them?

"Kira, why?" he asked in a low whisper.

She stood up quickly, glaring at him. How dare he ask her questions. "Why what?"

"Why were they after you?"

He seemed like he didn't know. He probably didn't. Kira could have played innocent -- but she was tired, her body ached and she didn't want to jerk around.

"I don't know exactly why, but I am going to find out."

Richie groaned as he began to come around. "Ow. Quit it", he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head. He stood up shakily and looked at Kira and Joe. "Everyone ok?" he asked.

Kira nodded and smiled at him. "Yeah, fine -- thanks for helping me, sorry you got whacked."

Richie almost imperceptibly flinched at her choice of words.

"Hey, it's OK -- I'll live." he smiled. Kira responded deadpan: "I'll bet." She turned around. "See you around maybe."

Joe and Richie were slightly stunned at the woman's cavelier attitude. Kira knew what effect she was having and looked around the room casually,

"Sorry about the mess, Joe, you can take the clean-up out of my pay. If that doesn't cover it, well," she shrugged "give me a raise." She smirked. She knew she was being a bitch, she didn't care. She was pissed at the fight, and she wasn't sure if she trusted anyone right now.

"Hey." Richie stepped in front of her. "What the hell is going on here?"

"That's what I'm going to try and find out, Red." She said, looking him in the eye. In another situation, Richie thought, this might be amusing, the woman only came up to his nose. But she had a powerful presence, and this was not a funny situation.

"I could have been killed!" Richie said, his face quickly becoming red. "And the name's *Richie*."

"A minor setback for you, I'm sure, *Richie*." He was clearly stunned by that remark, but she ignored it and went on " This isn't your fight, you chose to help me, for that I'm thankful, but I don't need your help anymore." With the last word she shoved him back. He failed to catch his balance and landed hard on his rear.

"Kira, wait!" Joe called.

She ignored him and stalked out into the night.

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

"Damn it!" Joe cursed as he watched her head out into the darkness.

He turned and saw Richie grabbing his jacket and heading after her. "Richie, no, wait!"

Richie turned to the man, "Joe, I have to find out what this is about, I . . ." he looked out the door, afraid he'd lose her. "I gotta go!" he raced out the door, leaving Joe to contemplate the nearly trashed bar, and the dead man in front of him.

Joe painfully and awkwardly knelt on the floor. He stared at the body. It was a young man, about 25-30, stocky and tan, blondish hair. Joe unbuttoned the sleeve of the denim shirt he'd been wearing and paled.

There was a tattoo on the man's wrist. It was the symbol of the Watcher's, only it had been inverted. And it was red.

Joe's mind raced, had this man been a hunter? Is that what this new symbol, blood red and upside down, stood for? A mockery of the centuries-old organization? He scrambled up as fast as he could -- he needed to find Mike and dispose of the body before the police could arrive.

He heard a noise from the back and called out "Mike, is that you?"

A softly French-accented voice answered him. "No, I'm afraid I've sent the help home for the night."

Joe turned around to find a tall, well-clothed man, with brown hair and blue eyes. A slight upturned smile and the tone of his voice told Joe that he was in trouble. The fact that he wore a trenchcoat was not comforting either.

"Who are you?" Joe said, belatedly realizing that he still held a gun. He began to bring it up but the man brought one of his own up first and held it at head level.

"Ah, ah, ah. That's no way to treat a patron now, is it? I have no qualms about killing you, Joe Dawson. Even without a quickening, the damage done would do well to serve my purpose."

Joe was no longer surprised to hear that he knew about immortals.

"Are you a hunter?"

"My dear sir, you are hardly in a position to ask questions, but I'll humor you. Yes, and no. I'm a hunter, of other immortals. Specifically one Connor MacLeod. But you see, I am an artist as well. I wish to destroy everything close to that cowardly bastard, and then have him beg for me to end the pain."

Joe was impacted by the hate and rage and bitterness that filled every syllable of the man's tirade. Though he never met Connor, he knew that "cowardly" was not an apt adjective to describe the man.

"He let my family die. And now I'll destroy his." the man said, voice low, whispered almost to himself.

Joe looked down at the lifeless lump on the floor.

"He is a former Watcher, such as yourself. The fool, I told him that I could lead them to 3 or 4 immortals to kill, so they could feel important, like they actually mattered in this world. He didn't even know about me. He deserved what he got..."

"You sent him to kidnap Kira." Joe said, with not-so-thinly-veiled anger.

"Maybe. What does it matter to you?" he shrugged.

"I could ask the same thing."

He looked thoughtful for a moment. Then looked at Joe. "Well, I see no harm in telling you . . . " he said with an unadded "since you won't be able to do anything about it." dancing in his eyes, embedded in the smirk on his face.

"She's MacLeod's daughter. The most recent one, I should add. But come, we must depart now, the delay that I placed for the officers should be 'dying down' about now."

"Who says I'm going with you?!" Joe pulled up his gun and shot the immortal dead.

"I do." A deep voice said behind him. Before he could turn around though, something heavy hit him in the head and he crumpled to the ground.

Richie rode down the road, streetlights giving him enough light so that he risked riding without his headlights. He hoped he didn't attract the attention of the cops, but the road wasn't that crowded and he didn't want her to know that he was following her.

His blood and thoughts were racing. Was she a Watcher, a hunter? She had no tattoo. No. He tried to calm himself down. 'Big deal, she knows about us. Plenty of mortals do.' The cynical part of him commented 'Maybe *too* many.' He pushed that thought out of his head. Right now, he was more concerned with why she was in trouble, and if he could help her.

His cynic's voice nagged: 'Why Ryan, becuase she's gorgeous?' His feelings and reasoning warred. 'It doesn't matter -- I started in this, and I'm going to see it through. It's the right thing to do. It's what Mac would do.'

He startled himself with that thought. Was he just trying to imitate MacLeod? Was that the only thing that gave him direction, when he didn't know what he wanted to do?

He was so lost in thought that he began to get too close to the woman. What had Joe called her? He'd forgotten. He edged back and watched which motel she went to. He drove past and then waited before heading there himself.

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

Kira parked her bike and walked slowly towards her room, trying to calm and quiet her pounding heart -- which she was sure could be heard by anyone within a few feet.

She'd put up her 'bitch' front in the bar for Joe and Richie. But she didn't hate immortals, she only knew a few -- her father, even though she didn't discover that until later, Ray - her father's *old* friend.

Ray had been the one to take care of her, after her mother's murder. He had been the one to take her away from this place -- tried to raise her -- but he told her that his life was too dangerous. That he didn't run from fights like her father did, therefore she was in danger too. So it was bouncing around to foster homes. . . most of which only wanted a teenager to be some type of live-in sitter for the *real* kids.

Her memories became fuzzy at this point -- when Ray had visited her -- on holidays and such, he'd always seemed to come with some bits of information for her. Always admonishing her though, to never do anything rash or dangerous.

She knew that Ray had gone out of his way to take care of her. That someone had taken care of her -- cared about her -- that was what had kept her going when the nightmares plagued her.

The one day that Ray had told her -- shown her -- rather graphically -- about immortals, she was scared -- but after living with them, even unknowingly, she knew that they were human too. She wasn't frightened -- only more confused as to why her father wouldn't come back, wouldn't look for her mother's killers.

Ray explained her father's abandonment behavior was typical for him. Even though it had gone against everything she'd observed about him; subsequent visits to a therapist convinced her that what Ray had done was for the best, and that he was right about everything that had to do with her father.

Then there was Richie . . . she really started to feel bad about her behavior. He *had* helped her. And, immortal or not, he could still feel pain.

Joe apparently knew about these immortals, but she didn't think he was one of them. Nonethielss, she figured that she'd need to straighten things out with them. She had enough problems without worrying about men with oversized, sharp sticks coming after her.

She froze for a moment as she heard the cycle's engine cut out. Hurrying to her room, she opened the door and promptly tripped over something.

"Damn!" she barely caught her balance. She quickly turned on the light and saw that the something was her duffel bag. Her room had been ransacked. Clothing and books, scattered everywhere. The dresser drawers, which she kept nearly empty, were in similar disarray. The matress on her bed had been flipped over onto the floor.

Her head was spinning, she must be so close! The anticipation of finally finding the monsters she was hunting and the danger-fed adreniline rush had her pumped.

"Wow." came a voice that made her jump and fall back into a fighting stance. "a place messier than mine." Richie finished, holding up his hands in a peaceful gesture

"Hey, hey, I'm not here to hurt you."

"Why did you follow me?"

"I . . . " he blushed a bit. "I mean, I wanted to help you."

"Bullshit! You came here to find out how much I know about immortals." she said defensively.

"Well, I can't say I'm not curious . . ." at her I-thought-so sneer he let out an exasperated breath.

"Look, I really did come here to help. I know there is no way to really prove it, but . . . "

He trailed off. He really didn't know what to say.

Kira was quiet, studying him. She trusted no one, except Ray. She hadn't been able to trust anyone for a long time. There was something about him though, that was so innocent . . . so sincere . . . 'Of course, he could have had years to practice this act.' she thought suspisciously.

She was trying to be objective. Trying not to listen to her oversuspiscious nature, or her raging hormones.

"Why do I feel like I'm under a microscope?" Richie said smiling.

"Because you are, Red." At his glare, she felt a bit chastened. "Fine, sorry, Richie."

"Yeah. I didn't catch yours."

"Maybe you should have listened better." she said, 'Why are you trying to drive him away?' part of her yelled.

"Ha ha." He wasn't smiling.

"Yeah, well," she looked at him. " I need to put a governor on this mouth." She looked at him, he was nodding a bit.

"Kira."

"Well, that's half of it."

"No. That's all of it."

"Oh." He looked uncomfortable and curious. "Well," he said, clearing his throat. "it looks like whoever was here did a pretty good job."

She suddenly looked around the room, remembering her picture.

"Shit." She rummaged around through her clothes and her bag.

"What are you looking for?"

"A picture, torn, old. Two women . . . well, one woman, and a girl."

She looked up, desperation and fear evident in her expression.

"Please, Richie." she said horsely. "If you want to help me, look for it."

"Sure." Richie felt that the explanation of 'why' could wait.

Kira searched with growing intensity. Tossing clothes and even crawling around on the floor.

Richie searched too, looking in the emptied dresser and on the nightstand. After about five minutes he got up and went over to her -- she was looking through the nightstand for the seventh or eighth time.

He touched her gently on the shoulder. She jumped and snapped at him.

"Keep looking!"

"Kira," he said softly, not moving his hand. "it's not here. Whoever was here took it." He was calm and rational and firm. Confused about the situation, but clearly seeing what needed to be done.

"NO!" it was the cry of deep loss.

"Kira, why . . . why is it so important?" he knelt in front of her and took her hands. She noticed how sturdy and strong his hands were. For a moment she traced his palms with her fingers. He felt the callouses from where she played the guitar, and on the sides of her hands; suggesting that she was perhaps a student of the martial arts.

She looked up and saw his face etched in worry and concern. Overcome by the feeling that he was the geniune article, and the pain that came with the realization that she could trust him, and was thus opening herself up for betrayal.

Richie was becoming uncomfortable at the silence.

"Kira?" she shooke her head, unshed tears making her green eyes glow in the lamplight.

"My mother, it was the only picture I had." She fought against the memories and the emotions it brought with them, determined not to look like the helpless damsel in distress, but lost. Richie was unmoving, kneeling still in front of her. He had a pained expression of his own as he reached up and touched her face.

"I'm sorry." was all he could say, voice catching.

She looked at him as he swept away a tear with his thumb.

"I . . . I lost my mother too." She didn't ask him how he knew -- hell, she figured he'd have to have been pretty dense not to figure it out. The bond of pain was there, shared and almost tangible.

Richie cleared his throat again, out of necessity this time. "Why would . . . whoever it was . . . take the picture. Do you know who took it?" He asked, moving to sit beside her on the bed.

"I don't know -- exactly -- who or why. I just have an idea." She took a deep breath.

"OK, Richie Ryan, you want to help me?"

He nodded. "Yes, yes I do."

"Well, I . . . trust you." They both smiled a bit at that. Richie knew that trust was a fragile thing that you didn't give easily. That she obviously didn't -- and neither did he. She saw the understanding in him. Took that and summed up her courage to go on.

First, she got up and looked in the little refrigerator that came with the room. She took out two sodas and gave one to Richie. "I could really go for something stronger," she said with a wry smile. "But I think these would be better."

He nodded,"Thanks."

"So, for you to understand what is going on, I'm going to tell you everything you need to know about the last 8 years."

She figured that if he were the geniune article, that he would listen to her, if not, he would bolt now and she would be angry and pissed more than hurt.

She waited for a moment, watching to see what his reaction would be. . .

He was still for a moment, wondering just how old she was -- 8 years? He finally shrugged and flashed a smile. "Well, if you've got the time, so do I." He became serious as he added "And I *do* want to help you."

Seemingly satisfied, Kira rested up against the back of the bed, took a sip of her soda, cocked her head at him for a moment, "Richie?"

"Yeah?"

"What were you doing eight years ago?"

"Ahh," he searched his mind, skimming over the truly painful parts and settling on something he thought was a 'safe' answer. "Ah, trying to pass 8th grade as I recall." he said with a sheepish smile.

She stared at him. He realized what she was really asking after a moment. He sighed. "Look, I'm, I've been alive for 21 years, ok?" At her still skeptical glance he said "I'm new at this . . . really."

She nodded, satisfied. "Hm, ok, that's what I was doing too. I had a nice, relatively normal life, until one day, my mother was . . . killed." she had a hard time getting that out. "And my dirtbag dad disappeared."

Richie was speechless. "He wasn't. . . he didn't . . ."

"Kill her? No, he didn't, and I should know." she responded angrily.

"You . . ." he couldn't finish the thought, but she did.

"saw the whole thing." she whispered. The tears began again as she visualized what had happened. It wasn't difficult. She'd been reliving the entire mess ever since it happened. She sounded distance, almost if she were reciting from a book.

"I was in my room, just messing around, it was shortly after my thirteenth birthday. I got a ten-speed that year. Mom came into the room, she looked really scared."

Richie was amazed, she sounded almost like a child, like she was reliving it.

"She told me to get into my closet. It was one of those walk-ins, with the slitted doors. She told me to stay there and be quiet, no matter what. Told me that she'd explain later."

Kira stopped to take a drink of soda, then pulled her knees up to her chin, it reminded Richie of Lily Tomlin as the kid Edith Ann on the Electric Company.

"I didn't want to, I asked her what was wrong, but then I heard gunshots -- and the door was broken -- and she pushed me in, dumped some clothes and stuffed animals on me and . . ." she shuddered. Richie could see that she was playing this back in her mind, could almost see the pictures behind her eyes.

"It happened so fast. She ran out of the room, and I heard screaming, men's voices. She was pushed into the room a few minutes later, she was holding one of Dad's *show* swords. It didn't help her any though. They -- they were looking for me too, she told them I wasn't there, that I'd gone out -- I don't know why, but they believed her."

She clenched her arms more tightly around her knees. "They laughed at her when she told them that Dad would be back any minute. I -- I expected him to burst in at any moment, like a - some Dirty Harry cop, dusting the bad guys." She shook her head a bit "Naive -- so damn naive." it was a comment to herself, not Richie.

"They called him the 'spawn of satan', said he was evil -- wasn't human . . ."

"Did you know -- then -- about us?" Richie asked.

"No. I was so confused -- I started thinking maybe they had the wrong apartment, y'know, they read the address wrong or something." Her laugh was high-pitched and nervous. "Like the meterman screwing up a reading."

She became distant again. Richie waited patiently, part of him keeping watch for any other intruders. The room was a mess still, but the setting didn't matter. Right now it seemed like time had stood still, just for them, so they could work this out. So some sense of the situation could be made.

"They . . . raped her." She choked. "They taunted her -- telling her that she should be grateful that she was getting *real* men, instead of an empty shell that carried no life." Richie twitched at that.

" I mean, one minute they sounded like they were with the mafia and the next they were travelling missionaries. Talking about 'God's will' and 'who really was meant to rule the world.' Oh, she fought them, she never once begged for mercy. She told them what twisted psycho scum they were. She wouldn't back down." Kira's voice was packed with ferocity and pride in her mother.

"So they hurt her. And I was in the closet -- hiding, scared, useless!" Bitter tones cutting the words as she dug her fingernails into her crossed arms. Richie noticed this and gently but firmly extracted them.

"Look, you were a kid, what could you have done? It sounds to me like what kept your Mom going was knowing that you were safe."

She began to tremble, not acknowledging his words. Richie carefully moved himself more on to the bed, sitting beside her and putting his arms around her -- holding her. He rocked her in his arms for a few minutes. His body responding to her nearness, but he didn't act upon it.

As Kira started to calm down she noticed what position she was in. She felt conflicting emotions of relief that she had someone there to share her pain with, but fear that her carefully constructed walls of 'I-don't-need-anyone' were crumbling. She stiffened in the embrace, somewhat embarassed that she found herself holding on to him. She too was trying to ignore the closeness, and what it was doing to her. Wondering if he felt the same.

She pushed him away, but only slightly. "They said that they would destroy 'his kind' -- and anyone who loved them. They called her a traitor to the human race, then. . . they took the sword, and . . . "

She couldn't say it. She couldn't describe it even though she saw every detail vividly in her mind. The blood and her mother's sightless eyes, haphazardly hanging on her bed.

Richie sat there. Watiting for her to continue; sickened by what she must have gone through.

"It's awful," he finally said "Watching your mother die." She looked up with something of a 'how-would-you-know' glare.

"My mother . . . when I was about 5, we were in this corner store -- we went on Fridays . . . she collapsed, right in front of me, it was some brain clot, something, I don't remember exactly what. And she was gone, just like that." His voice was rough, "At least you got to know her. For a little while, right?"

Kira nodded. Her head clearing with the renewed perspective that she was not the only one who had tragically lost loved ones.

"And your Dad?" she asked.

"Who?" Richie asked cynically.

"Ah, looks like we have something in common then." She bowed her head and mumbled something that Richie couldn't quite make out.

"Huh?"

"I said thanks, Ryan. Thanks for . . . well ah." She was no good at this. Richie understood. Before Mac and Tessa -- he hadn't liked feeling like he owed anyone either.

He smiled, "You're welcome." That was all that needed to be said.

Richie was still curious, "What happened then? I mean, if you still want to talk about it."

Kira smiled. "Yeah, I do, I did promise you more than a teaser." She was trying to be humorous in a macabre sort of way.

"For one thing, my Dad never showed -- ever again. The killers left. Then Ray showed up. I was catatonic, so I don't really remember this well. Other than what I was told."

"Who's Ray?"

"One of my dad's *old* friends."

"Ah" he said with recognition.

"He told me -- well -- he took care of me, took me to the cops, I kept asking for my dad, but they wouldn't tell me where he was -- if they even knew. They made me live it over and over and over again!" she whispered harshly. "Until Ray made them stop." she said with admiration and love in her voice.

"Ray took me to his hotel. He said that he had been coming in to visit my dad, that's how he happened to find me."

'What a coincidence.' Richie thought, but kept silent. He could tell that she revered the guy, and he wondered just how much she knew about the Game.

"He tried to get in touch with Dad, but he'd . . . left." She stumbled over the next few sentences.

"I can't remember everything that happened next. Ray had shrinks come to see me, took me out of school. Wouldn't even let me leave the hotel. Not that I really wanted to at first."

She took at drink of her soda, disengaging herself from her cramped position and stretching her legs out over the length of the bed.

"Ray just told me that my Dad had been involved in some military thing awhile back. Which I thought was screwy, because he was an antique dealer. I still didn't know about Immortals then. Hell, I was so confused I bought the military story."

'Antique dealer?' Richie thought, then figured that that was an easy cover for some immortals, especially the older ones. 'And I wonder what other stories she bought into?'

"Well, all he would say was that one of his old -- aquaintences -- had flipped, because dad did something . . . let me see, how did he put it? 'Cowardly, vile and reprehensible.'" She looked up and saw Richie staring off into space.

"Bored?" she asked half-joking.

"No! No. Just thinking." Indeed, his mind was in overdrive-- pulling together little niggling doubts. He was trying to see how he could tell Kira about his suspicions without breaking the delicate bond of trust forming between them.

"He -- said I was in danger -- said that I was a target. That I couldn't even go to the funeral. He said he'd take me to the church, but -- I didn't care about a ceremony. I just wanted . . . " She went silent again and Richie completed the thought.

"You just wanted to say goodbye." He whispered. Feeling much of the same pain, as he remembered Emily.

'He knows!' she thought -- thrilled that someone understood her.

"Yes." she cleared her throat. "He left for a bit, and then came back with the picture. It was a family portrait."

"But you tore your father out."

"No, Richie. He's the one who tore out, tore right out of town! Just when we needed him most!" She took another drink, then swung her legs over the bed, sitting with her back to him. He turned on his side, head propped up on his arm.

"He took me to LA. Told me -- showed me about Immortals, about how this wasn't the first time he'd cut out. That he did the same thing when they were mercenaries a couple of centuries ago. They'd been defending some village and Dad took off rather than defend the helpless women and children -- he ran away."

I still held out, y'know? I wanted to see him come through the door, explain everything, somehow..."

"Did you ever doubt Ray?" Richie asked cautiously.

She cocked her head slightly. "Yes, at first, but the therapist helped me work that out. Said some psycho-jumble about how I'd been attached to him -- my Dad, and that the 'conflict in observed and actual personality was causing dissonance.' " She smiled a bit, then added "Well, *duh*, y'know? Of course I didn't want to believe it. But Ray showed me a letter -- from him saying that he was sorry, what it was too painful to be around me, that I reminded him of her too much and that he couldn't deal with it." She shuddered. "Selfish bastard." she muttered.

Richie touched her lightly on the back. She didn't jump or flinch this time, but she still didn't turn towards him.

"What happened next?"

"Oh, Ray tried to take care of me -- he taught me how to fight -- karate, and all that. Told me about the Game, how there were good and bad immortals, and that immortals like him weren't after The Prize. They only wanted to keep it out of the hands of really evil ones. I was kind of cynical at that one. But Ray was really good to me. He even started to teach me how to use a sword. We were together about 2 years, and then some psycho named . . . oh, I don't remember, but it began with a 'K', came after Ray. Broke in and took me as bait. He didn't hurt me, much," her mouth curled into a sarchastic smile. "But Ray drove him off, didn't take his head though. He said it was too dangerous. I was too old to really adopt, I was 15 by then, so it was being bounced to foster homes. Ray visited me, and he even said he was trying to track the killers. He found one of them, he said, and he said that they were part of this group that wanted to kill immortals, said they were unholy."

Richie felt a sense of unpleasant familiarity descend upon him. "Hunters." He said distatstefully.

"You know of them then?"

"Too well." he said, absently putting his free hand on the front of his neck protectively.

"Well, Ray didn't know it, but I got into his files and found out all I could. It wasn't much, but . . . I dropped out of school and started hunting the hunters. I had always been pretty good at music, singing and the guitar, piano, so I did that. And other stuff."

Richie cocked an eyebrow at that.

"Hey, don't judge me, Red!" She said, but didn't say anything to negate his suspicion.

Richie let it drop. "Do you know who any of these hunters are?"

"Yeah, I have a few names. Let me guess, now you *really* want to help." Richie nodded.

"I wanted to help before, Kira. But you're right. We do have a common enemy."

"By the way, I don't want to pry . . . "

"You're a little late for that Richie."

"Ha ha ha."

"You walked into that." she said smiling. A real smile.

"But who was your father?" he continued.

"That's not prying, hell, if you can tell me he got whacked, that would make my day!" She said with cruel pleasure.

"So, who is he?"

"His name is MacLeod. Connor MacLeod."

Richie choked on the soda and sputtered.

"Who?" he croaked once the coughing fit had passed, running his sleeve across his mouth.

"Connor MacLeod." she repeated, putting up her defenses "I take it you know him?"

"Uh, not well, I met him once, before . . . before I became immortal."

"Oh?" she sounded suspicious of him, but interested.

Richie searched frantically for the right words. He just couldn't reconcille those things she had said about Connor, and the person he had seen.

"Ah, it's kind of a long story." He said still gathering his thoughts.

"I'm game, you listened to me...look, I hate him -- that's all there is to it. But if you want to tell me something, I'll listen. He's not my problem anymore. I'm after the murderers -- I couldn't care less about what happens to Connor MacLeod. I have my own battles."

"OK." Richie said slowly.

"Hey, if you want to -- go ahead and tell me what you know about MacCoward." she said cruelly in a conversational tone.

Richie winced. "It's MacLeod, ok?"

"Defensive, aren't we?" she snapped.

"Did you ever meet a Duncan MacLeod?" he asked, hoping that would be a good opening.

"Duncan?" "Uh yeah, he's a . . . cousin. Connor's about a generation older than him; y'know - 'same clan, different vintage'?"

She smiled thinly at that; vaguely remembering. "Tall, dark hair, in a ponytail? Really big brown eyes?" she asked. Richie nodded. "Hmm, I think he came to visit, when I was about 8 or 9, he was nice enough, I don't remember him much. Is he much like his loser cousin?"

Richie glared at her thinking 'She just won't quit, will she?' But given the circumstances -- he didn't really blame her.

"Um, just let me tell this the way I know it, ok?" he asked.

"Sure." she said, but her posture and voice said that she was not going to change her opinion easily, if at all.

Richie took another gulp of soda, not understanding, but feeling that he had to tell his story.

"Mac . . . Duncan, is . . . well, kind of my mentor. He and Tess, that was his . . ." he searched for the word.

"Significant other?" Kira tried.

"Very significant." Richie confirmed. Kira noticed the sadness in his voice.

"They took me in, I was just this street punk, hell, I broke into their antique shop. And, well,"

"Hang a sec; you broke in, and they -- what -- adopted you?"

"Yeah, something like that -- believe me, I was just as surprised."

He began to explain how he broke in, how Duncan came out and challenged him.

"Well, this big ape crashes through the skylight, and Connor showed up to . . . to protect Duncan and . . . and take Slan." "So he claims." she said, lips pursed.

"Kira, it's true! Look, Connor, he went in Duncan's place, was going to kill Slan, but Slan cheated! He had, like this rocket dagger or something, and he shot it at him, right in the chest. He went right off the bridge, I mean. . . a coward would not go to fight someone -- like -- he wouldn't let his family . . ." Richie stopped, '*Won*-derful Ryan, try wearing combat boots next time you put your foot in it like that.' he mentally chided himself.

He looked at Kira, who had her eyes closed. He wasn't sure if it was because of what had happened to Connor, or because of his thoughtless remark. She spoke after a long minute: "Maybe . . . he wouldn't let his family be hurt Richie, maybe you're right." her voice was low and coarse. She opened her eyes, which were cold and flashing. "Maybe he only considers other immortals truly his *family*."

"Kira, I don't think . . ."

"Maybe he got tired of being hurt by fragile mortals." her tone was sad and bitter.

Richie just shook his head.

"Can you tell me differently Richie, can you . . . really?" she asked, leaning close.

He was at a loss. He was only 21, the MacLeods were centuries older than that. Could he honestly say that someone wouldn't bail out in that situation? He thought of Tessa. Duncan had certainly withdrawn at first . . .

After a few minutes she sat back and whispered. "I didn't think so."

Seeing that Richie didn't seem to be listening she touched him on the shoulder, asking "What are you thinking about?"

"Tessa," he whispered.

After another minute or so, he took a deep breath. He had to get this off of his chest. Strangely enough, Kira seemed the right person to tell it to.

"Tessa, and I, were shot by a mugger." He took another breath. "He was wired, he . . . we both were . . . y'know." She nodded, he was glad she didn't make him say the word.

"Only you woke up," she whispered, taking his hand.

"Connor knew, I think, and so did Mac. They didn't tell me. . . " the words came tumbling out, like they were pounding on the inside of his chest, trying to tear their way out in a torrent of emotion.

"I was too scared to do anything, too scared I'd die. I could have saved her! I could have taken all the bullets, even if I wasn't immortal, I should have, it -- she -- she should have lived!" He broke down, one small part of his mind chiding him for pouring this out, Kira had said it herself, she had her own problems.

He didn't see it, but Kira began to cry again, silently. She lay beside him, cradling his shaking form and shushing him.

"You did all you could, Richie." she said, trying to keep her voice steady while she rythmically smoothed her hand over his forehead. 'Hell of a lot more than I did.' she thought. Suddenly she thought of something painful, but true.

"He still might have killed her. . ." She scooted down until their foreheads touched. "Richie, the only thing that you . . . and I guess I too, am guilty of . . . is surviving."

"She should have come back!" the words tore out.

"I know. Because she was smart, and beautiful, and full of life and love." Kira said wistfully. Richie just stared. "Yeah." he said shakily. "Did you . . ."

"Know her? No, not personally. But I think the same thing about Mom, almost every night, especially lately. I think about myself, jumping out of the closet with my skateboard and beating the shit out of those murdering bastards." She shook her head. "It's stupid."

"You feel guilty too." He said

"Of course. I feel like it should have been me. Against all reasoning, I want her to be here. Maybe D- Connor would have stayed then."

Richie noticed the slip, but said nothing.

"I was just a street punk. I had more foster frequent flyer miles than anyone I knew. Mac didn't need me."

"But he took you." Kira said. "I guess Connor didn't need me and, well, that's that. Duncan could have sent you away, but he didn't."

Richie thought for a moment. "I guess, he felt obligated."

"Even though you probably reminded him of her? No, Richie, it takes something stronger than obligation to do that. It takes something like love. See, I don't think Connor loved me. I really don't give a shit." She said, a little too cavelierly. She continued, "You ever think it's because he loves you?"

"Love?" Richie tried out the word on his tongue while trying to think of Mac in that context, remembering his thoughts in the bar earlier this evening, so long ago he thought tiredly.

"You all are still friends?" She asked cautiously.

"Yeah," he replied after a pause.

"That didn't sound too convincing," she said.

So he explaing about the "Evil" Duncan MacLeod. She seemed stunned.

"Woah, so, the more . . . evil quickenings a good immortal takes, the more 'at risk'? that immortal is to become evil?" she summed up.

"Well, I don't think it's that scientific, but that is the gist of it." Richie replied.

"Maybe Connor took the head of a coward," she smirked. Pulling up her defenses in a way.

Richie sighed. "About your D-" she glared at him before he could finish, he quickly amended "About Connor. I don't know what happened on his end . . . and I know what you told me, but he's not a coward, and he's not evil."

She became very still. She told herself that it didn't matter what Richie thought of Connor. It just didn't matter. She knew what she knew. But she couldn't help but get angry at the feeling that Richie was just sticking up for a fellow immortal. She quickly and not at all gently disentangled herself from Richie, still silent.

"Kira! What? Aw, what is it, Kira?" he said, feeling the careful bridge between them slipping away.

"He didn't abandon *you*, Red."

She was callous and distant again. Richie was exausted, emotionally and physically. He just blurted out the only thing that came to mind.

"Have you ever thought that maybe this Ray dude wasn't *quite* on the level?" She had been standing up and now she quickly bent down over him, but he didn't give her a chance to talk.

"Do you know the Rules? We're supposed to kill each other Kira. Some of us don't just hunt heads, we try to make friends -- immortal *and* mortal. But there are some of us out there that will do anything, and I mean anything Kira, to take another immortal's head!" He was kneeling on the bed now, yelling at her.

She didn't want to hear this. "NO!" she shouted, taking a step back.

"Ray is the only person who cares about me!" she cried out.

Richie stood on the floor right in front of her. "Where is Ray *now* Kira?!" They were toe to toe, and Kira didn't have an answer. Ray had been helpful when she was younger. Unknowingly keeping her motivation for revenge alive by telling her how he was tracing down the culprits. But ever since she turned 18 and left LA, he had been very inaccessible. She couldn't accept that she'd been duped again. She had been raging so long, hating so long. A part of her screamed to listen to Richie, that this quest of her's was Quixotic, destroying her.

She looked up, emerald green meeting sapphire blue eyes. Richie could see that she was warring within herself. Something in her eyes pleaded to help her stop the see-saw of emotions that gripped her.

"Kira, Ray -- he's not -- look," he swallowed. "I -- I care." There, he'd said it. As he was saying it, there was something in his heart that confirmed it. He hardly knew this woman, but there was a fire in her, to match his own. A burning, an understanding. A kinship. He hoped that she understood, and felt the same.

Hope flared in her. Did he mean that? She wanted to, ached to listen to him, but the anger and rage slammed against her mind. Crying out for revenge. Listening to Richie meant negating the past eight years, somehow discrediting every feeling, every thought that she'd had. Considering that almost every feeling and thought worth remembering had been focused on revenge. Her mission was the only stability she had. She had a defense mechanism for this kind of conflict though.

She slugged him, hard.

He saw it coming, but the night's events had drained him and he fell back, landing on the floor. Kira just stood there, barely contained instability and anger in her eyes.

"Ahh." Richie rubbed the left side of his face. "We're not making a habit of this." he muttered.

"No . . . he . . . he couldn't betray me." she whispered, taking a few steps back.

"You're right," he said. She looked at him openmouthed. "Because he was never on your side to begin with." he finished.

He saw her leg shooting out and grabbed it "Not this time!" he said, pulling her off balance. She fell on top of him, writhing and cursing.

He didn't want to hurt her, but he had to make her see his point. 'And hope that I'm right.' he thought as he struggled to subdue her. She was much stronger than she looked, and fast. But the night had worn thin on her too, and after a few minutes he had her still. Her mouth held in a snarl, murderous and mad.

"What next, tough guy, going to try to get what you *really* came for?!" she spat.

Richie was sickened by the thought. "Kira! I'm not here to hurt you! I'm a friend!" he sounded exhausted and honest.

Some rational part of her mind really did understand that. He really might have been able to do more than just fend off her attacks and hold her still. But she said nothing.

"Kira -- " Richie said, breaking the silence. "It's just a theory, but those -- the circumstances are just too pat. He *happened* to be in town; he took you away from the cops? Last I heard I think they would have called in Connor. *He* kept you in the hotel; *he* gave you the letter from Connor. . . ."

"He didn't kill her!" she screamed. Richie could tell that it was going to get ugly again if he pressed that point.

"Maybe. But he may have taken advantage of the situation. You said it yourself -- you were a kid, traumatized." he finally said.

She was coldly still. Not wanting to believe Richie. But his words were not unfamiliar -- there had been times -- late at night while she lay awake in her foster-home-of-the-week, when she wondered . . .

She felt the sting of tears start and viciously rubbed her eyes. Richie, understanding how it felt to have no direction, no foundation, no one and nothing to believe in, sat there with his grip on her wrists relaxed, watching her eyes dart back and forth as she processed what he'd said.

They were both exhausted by the emotional roller coaster of the night, so he waited, enjoying the respite to a degree, until she pulled her arms away. "I. . . don't know if you're right, Richie. Ray did take care of me, until it was too dangerous for me to stay. . . he"

"I think he used you, Kira." Richie interrupted quietly, but firmly.

Her expression hardened, "Yeah, maybe." she resigned her screaming, hurting psyche to the back of her mind. Pulling on the shield of her vengence, the armor of her mission. Richie watched the change, silently. Wondering if he looked much the same when he tried to lock up his humanity, and frightened that she, and maybe even himself, were entirely too successful.

"All it means is that I've been fucked over again." she said bitterly, harshly.

"It may mean that Connor didn't split on you either." he suggested softly.

"Maybe, but I can't believe. . . " she signed "look, I can't worry about it now. If Ray was after him, and didn't kill him, then why didn't he suspect anything?"

"I don't know, maybe he did -- maybe he just couldn't find you." he trailed off. "But Joe might know something." he said, not knowing if Joe could, or even would deliver. But it was something to do, something to move forward.

"Is Joe . . . one of you all?" she asked. "One of us all? Immortal isn't a bad word, Kira." somewhat defensively. She shrugged, waiting for an answer.

"No, he's . . . a - a historian. Specifically someone who records the history of immortals." He said.

"So there's a bunch of guys who just watch you?" She shivered a bit "Creepy."

He nodded. "They aren't supposed to interfere, but, well, maybe he can help."

"They sound harmless, unless -- unless they decide to blackmail you."

"Most of them are all right, at least they used to be." Richie said the last part softly.

"Used to be?" she asked quizically.

"The Hunters are an outlaw branch of this group. . ." Richie suddenly remembered Kira's description of the murder, what the men had said. Kira saw his eyes go wide and his complexion pale.

"What? What is it, Richie?"

He didn't answer her 'Another immortal working with Hunters? Like Xavier St. Cloud? Oh no. Oh shit.' Richie felt the pressure of a situation that had just leaped over their heads.

"Talk to me, Red!" she shook him. He was so preoccupied, he didn't even notice the nickname that she insisted on using.

"Hunters -- think that Immortals are -- unholy. Witchhunters." he summed up bitterly.

"Yeah, I gathered that." she said impatiently. "I've read something about them."

"But Ray's immortal. I'm pretty sure it was the Hunters. Ray couldn't have been involved in the murder."

Richie quickly told her about Xavier St. Cloud and Peter Horton.

"Horton?" she interupted.

"Yeah, why?" he said.

"He's one of the names I found in Ray's files. Ray said he was working on the murder, for me not to get involved. But I . . . "

". . .Conveniently found the files just lying around." Richie finished. No smugness, as neutral as he possibly could. Before she could say any more he stopped her and went on. "Look, we need to talk to Joe, I'll bet he's still at the bar. . . and while were at it we need to talk to Mac too." This shit is bigger than the two of us." He said when she started to protest.

"Fine, I'll talk to Joe, but do we really need to bring Duncan into this?" she said.

"Yes," he said urgently. "Ray, *if* he's in on this, is cheating. And if he's cheating then he needs to be. . . " he cut himself off, realizing that he may have crossed the line again.

". . . disqualified?" she completed with a twisted smile.

"Um," he gulped, "yeah."

"You're right." she said.

Richie waited for the rest of it "But?" he promted.

'He catches on quick.' Kira thought.

"But, only if he's involved. And if he is invoved in my mother's death . . . " she looked at Richie with feral, narrowed eyes. "I'll take his head myself."

Richie said nothing, hoping that it wouldn't come to that. If she lost it, and went after Ray . . .

"Tell me again why we need Duncan?" she finally said, in a lighter pitch.

"Well, strength in numbers for one." he said

"Is that the only reason?"

"It's a good reason." he dodged.

Kira let that go.

"OK, fine, let's clean up and get out of here. I'm going to pack up and settle at the desk. It's probably not a good idea to come back here."

"You can crash at my place." he said, mentally kicking himself and envisioning that combat boot again.

Kira noticed him wince after he said it. She actually was kind of hoping he'd offer. Though she had no idea what she was doing, listening to her body and her . . . was it her heart that was telling her that Richie was one of the good guys? 'You don't have time for a relationship.' she chided herself. 'But he's not exactly the boy-next-door.' she shot back. 'Though he looks just as yummy.' That was something that both sides agreed upon.

Richie's face was living up to his new nickname and Kira figured she'd better say something. "That's cool. If we live through this I'll take you up on that offer."

Richie flinched at that. "We will." he said.

"How did you live so long, Pollyanna?" she retorted, cynically, but with a touch of sadness.

Once they'd cleaned up and were outside, the night air revitalized the both of them. Kira paused for a moment to look up at the full moon.

"Kira?" Richie asked after he noticed.

"Full moon." she observed.

"Er, yeah."

After that recieved no response he tried something else. "It's pretty."

"Mm-hmm. Actually -- I was thinking more about lunatics. You know it comes from?"

"Luna -- moon's influence, yeah, I know." he said "What about it?"

"I just realized that in the space of a couple of hours we've basically told each other our deepest pains and secrets."

Richie had noticed it too. "Well . . ." he said, after a moment. "I guess, um, the circumstances, ah, and . . .hey, I never claimed to be sane" he smiled weakly; hoping that he hadn't made a complete ass of himself.

Kira did begin to feel a bit uncomfortable, but also excited. He was a good guy. 'Who chops off heads.' Reality kicked her.

'Well, I've met worse.' she thought, turning to Richie and smiling mischeviously.

"Hell of a first date, eh, Ryan?"

Richie was dumbstruck by the turnaround from muse to tease.

"Uh." he retorted brilliantly.

"I'm just full of surprises, get used to it." she teased.

"You're full of *something* all right." he muttered, knowing she could hear.

She just smiled as they got on their cycles and rode off into the maw of Night.

Duncan MacLeod sat by the window in his loft, doing what some of his friends would call "brooding", but what he merely called pensiveness, thoughtfulness . . . 'It's brooding.' his mind told him. Thoughtfulness was not being on the same page of a random book that he'd taken off the shelf an hour ago. It was only around midnight, and his nerves were starting to hum, wondering where Richie was. Even though he didn't live at the loft, Duncan was . . . was what? Had he wanted Richie to come back and tell him about Joe, so he could seem interested in what the Watcher was doing, how he was doing? So Duncan wouldn't have to go there himself? So he could alleviate his damned nagging conscience?

He rubbed his temples and closed the book. He decided that he was in a rut, and he needed to get out of it *now*. Perhaps he had been too obstinate for too long. He picked up the phone and dialed the bar. He let it ring a few times then quickly hung up. He chided himself for getting nervous, and dialed again. This time he let it ring about ten times before putting the receiver down. 'Odd.' he thought. It was Thursday, and he knew from prior experience that the bar often didn't close until at least 2 or 3 am. He couldn't think of a reason why they wouldn't be answering. Actually he could, but he put that down to his penchant to believe the worst, although he didn't quite discount the feeling.

He was considering going down there when he felt the presence of another immortal. He took his katana and stood by the doorway. Then he heard the elevator hum. He began to relax a bit, thinking that it might be Richie, but his heart was pumping and he still stood at the ready.

As the elevator got closer, the presence began to echo slightly in his ears, before resigning itself to the background. Richie stepped off the elevator and looked at Mac. He froze, images of Duncan from his memories and nightmares threatening to overwhelm him. Duncan barely saw the girl behind him begin to rush at him, and he quickly put the katana at rest, stepping back.

There was a beautiful young Asian woman standing in front of him. Clearly not afraid of him or his blade and clearly pissed off.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing!" she yelled.

Richie had shaken off the images and put his hand on her shoulder. "It's OK, just because we can tell when there's another one of us around, doesn't mean we know who that person is."

His voice was rough and shaky. He didn't tell Kira that it *was* possible. He was also upset at himself. He had frozen like a frightened helpless animal, he couldn't even go for his sword.

"I didn't mean to -- startle you, Richie. I'm sorry." Duncan said. He felt a stab of guilt at Richie's evident fear.

Kira looked at Duncan, relaxing slightly, remembering the man who had come to visit her parents when she was a child. She looked at him with recognition, a look that wasn't lost on Duncan.

"Do I know you, miss?"

"After 400 years I suppose one does forget the little inconsequentials." she said, cruelly. Richie winced inwardly at telling her Duncan's age. He had hoped this would go smoothly. 'After that greeting?' he thought tiredly. It was going to be a long night.

Duncan frowned. He didn't recognize her at all, she apparently knew about immortals, but who had told her? And why?

"Oh, it's ok Duncan, I was just a kid at the time. I wouldn't figure you'd remember me, at least not after your friend thought that I wasn't worth knowing anymore."

Duncan was getting angry, who was this child to come into his home and insult him?

He looked at Richie, as if to say 'You brought her here.'

Kira saw the look and stepped up between them. "Three words Duncan: Caitlin and Connor."

Duncan was stunned. Recognition was almost instantaneous. "Kira?" He took a step closer, she didn't move.

"Yeah." she said.

"Where? I mean, you disappeared!" He said, trying to reconcile the image of the eight-year old child with the woman in front of him.

"Is *that* what he told you?" she exclaimed, and laughed. "Ohhh, he's more of a coward than I thought!"

Duncan took offense at that. "Connor's no coward! When he found . . . found Caitlin, he was devastated, and when you weren't there. Good Lord, Kira, he was frantic. He was calling the police night and day! We spent weeks looking for you!! Finally, we thought, I -- we thought you were dead!"

She stood toe to toe with him, and for a moment Richie thought she was going to dump him on his ass. Instead, her voice became low and throaty. "I've got a newsflash Duncan MacLeod, Kira MacLeod *did* die. She died when she saw her mother raped and murdered like an animal! She died when her father *abandoned* her to deal with it by herself!! Because I reminded him too much of her! He cut out! *He* disappeared!! His fucking mortal playthings broke and he didn't want to take the time to fix them!" She was screaming now.

Duncan didn't step back, but he was calmer in his reply. "Kira, I don't know who told you that, but that is a lie. Connor never abandoned you. He loved you, he loved Caitlin."

"C'moff it -- we were his flavor of the decade or something." she said.

"No you were not!" Richie chimed in. He looked exasperated. Duncan looked at him, Kira was glaring.

"Kira, we talked about this, what about Ray?" he said, taking her hand.

"Ray?" Duncan asked. The two youths in front of him ignored his question for the moment, staring at each other in a silent battle of some sort.

"Will someone *please* explain what is going on!?" Duncan said, finally.

Kira stepped away, motioning for Richie to tell him. She was still confused, she wanted to trust Duncan, but if what he said was true. That meant that Richie was right. And for the past eight years she had hated the wrong man. She had been violated. Betrayed. A psychological game of chess was being played between these Immortals, and she was but a pawn.

But if Duncan was lying. . .then he was just protecting Connor. Protecting his own. And what about Richie? What if he -- what if the whole gig at Joe's was just a setup? Her mind was spinning, she felt sick, with and of all the suspicions she felt. 'Calm down, breathe, you have to start somewhere, you have to trust someone, sometime.' she was repeating this to herself. She realized that the room was quiet, and that Richie and Duncan were looking at her with twin gazes of concern. She felt a wetness on her cheeks and realized that she'd been crying. 'Cripes! I'm losing it!' she thought angrily as she rubbed her hands across her face.

"Look," she said, and recounted quickly what she'd told Richie. Saying only that Ray had "taken care" of her. Then Richie continued with what he thought had been Ray's *real* motives. Richie hesitated, but told him what had happened at the bar. Duncan twitched when he thought that Richie and Joe were in danger, but he stayed silent. Kira told him a bit about how she had spent her formative years and Duncan felt a pang of pity for the girl. She had deserved better. He didn't like the fanatical bent with which she told him about her plans for revenge either, but he let that slide too, for the moment.

Duncan's countenance turned sour as he listened to Richie's idea that there may be another Xavier St. Cloud out there. He mentally went through the list of both his and Connor's living enemies. "Ray Peters." he muttered, then his eyes lit up. "Rene St. Pierre!" he slammed a fist in his hand.

"What?" Richie and Kira both asked. Duncan remembered what Connor had told him about what *he* had been doing during the revolution.

"Damn him, I should have known."

"Known what Mac?" Richie pressed.

"During the French revolution, Rene was a wealthy landowner. He had a wife and child, and he -- he loved them very much. Connor was visiting and, well, the revolutionaries slaughtered his family. Connor had tried to protect them, but he was run through." Duncan swallowed as he remembered what had happened to the little girl Connor had tried to protect. "They, they raped his wife, and killed his daughter too. Connor died trying to protect her. He, Rene found him, still dead. He could have taken his head. But he didn't. He told Connor that he'd understood. Connor tells me he was grief stricken, and that at one point he did threaten him, but that he 'came to his senses'."

He took a breath. "I was afraid that he didn't really forgive him. It's never easy to lose someone you love." For a moment his expression reflected unbearable pain. And Kira knew, she *knew* that whatever else he said. That one sentence was sincere. That softened her slightly towards him. That, and something else that was nagging at the back of her mind.

Duncan shook his head. Kira was looking at him with an unreadable expression.

"So -- you're saying that this guy -- waited 200 years or so to get revenge on Connor." she didn't sound convinced.

"Probably." Duncan said.

"But, I mean, why? Why then -- why like that? Why would he take care of me? Take me to the cops and. . . "

"Kira," Duncan interrupted, "He didn't take you to the police. Not unless he bought off the entire police department. Connor and I went to the police. No one there had seen you. I think that in the state you were in it would have been very easy for Rene to have taken you someplace, and made you believe that you were at a station. Those 'therapists' may have also had something to do with it."

Kira looked angry, her fists clenched and her stance stiff. "Were you there Duncan? Were you here when the murder happened?"

Duncan nodded. "I lived here too, with . . . someone. Connor and I simply didn't see much of each other." he left it at that.

"Kira. . . " Richie touched her arm, she viciously tore away.

"Why should I believe either of you? How do I know you're not enemies of Ray's and . . . and" her head hurt trying to think about who was telling the truth and what it meant. She kept coming back to this! Who she could trust, who she needed to believe, and what she needed to do.

"Kira," Duncan said quietly, with that look that Richie knew so well, the look that meant that Duncan was about to play his Ace in the hole.

"How do I know that you're who you say you are? How do *I* know that you aren't someone that Ray hired? Some punk off the street?" Richie took offense at that and his eyes narrowed as he glared at Duncan. Duncan ignored him. "How do I know that Kira, tell me that!" He stepped menacingly towards her.

"Don't!" Richie stepped in the way, holding his arms out. Duncan grabbed them and tried to push Richie out of the way. Richie kept holding on to Duncan and they went down to the floor. Richie began to punch Duncan, with pent up rage and anger.

Partially from what had happened earlier, and partially because he was angry at himself for not questioning Kira's story, and he hated having to even be so suspicious.

Kira was stunned for a moment. She had never thought of that. 'Of course.' she thought. 'No one thinks to question their own authenticity.' She watched the two struggle, almost through a haze.

She thought for a moment, "I have to believe someone. Believing Ray . . ." she thought about her two years with Ray, and all the visits, always seeming so innocent, yet always leading to a discussion of the murder, of the killers, of the pain, and the betrayal. He always made her angry, made her cry. He was turning her into a monster. . . no he had succeeded. It was true that she wanted revenge. But was this right? She felt tired. She had never really thouroughly questioned herself or Ray before this.

'Just because you haven't doesn't mean you shouldn't.' she thought. Gods, what *was* she doing? She felt . . . she wasn't sure what the feeling was. All she knew is that somehow, because of her. Two friends were fighting on the floor. And maybe she still had a family, maybe. Maybe she should see what Duncan and Richie had to offer. She began to try and balance herself. To see their side of it. And the gods help them if they were not true, because what she had declared about Ray, she would hold true for them.

She had been betrayed, one way or another. And heads *would* roll. But it would not be based on emotion, but on the truth. 'Whatever that might be.' she thought.

The nagging thought broke through as she remembered the visit that Duncan made. She remembered that she came down with the flu shortly after he arrived, shortly before her parent's wedding anniversary. Duncan had told them to go on out to dinner, that he would take care of her. And he had told her a story. She remembered his smiling face, his melodious deep voice, as he told her a story of a faerie, and King Arthur and. . .

"The Lady of Shalott," she whispered. Her mother had sung to her -- later on, a song that was based on the poem that Duncan had used to tell her the story.

"Stop!!" she shouted. "Stop this now!!" she grabbed Richie and pulled him away. Duncan hadn't tried to hurt him, merely fend off his blows, much like Richie had to Kira earlier.

"Richie, stop," she knelt beside him. "He's got a point. He doesn't really know, and neither do you, that I am who I say I am. I guess, I guess that I have to trust someone now. And -- I do trust you Richie." She looked at Mac, who was still staring at her.

"That's nice." he said sarcastically. "Now, prove yourself." Richie stood up, Kira did as well.

"She doesn't . . ." Richie began.

"Oh yes she does Richie." Duncan hated to do this. He wanted to believe that the young woman was Connor's adopted daughter. But he knew that if something seemed too good to be true, than it more than likely was. He wasn't really angry at Richie for wanting to help her. Just, something nagged at him, and he needed proof. He didn't know how to prove Connor's side of it just yet. He *did* need to know who she was though, before he tried to prove anything.

Kira looked at him for a moment. Then began a soft monologue.

"I was 8. I had the flu, you babysat on their anniversary. I was a whiny little brat, and I got you to tell me a story. Not one of those cheap 'Once upon a time' deals either. And you did. It was sweet and it didn't have a happy ending. Even though you didn't want me to know that she died at the end of it. I was smart and I figured it out. Then Da-Connor," she stumbled, "He got pissed, told you to learn something that won't scare his kid. But you both came in the room when you heard Mom singing to me." she paused here. She had learned the song, and she sometimes sang it when she was by herself. Over the years she'd associated it more with her mom than with Duncan, but she knew the story, knew the song. She knew that this would make or break her, so she sang:

"On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road run by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott. "

Duncan froze, as he strained to hear the first few whispered words. As recognition struck him, and his memories were evident in his eyes, Kira's confidence grew. She sang -- thinking of her mother, of how sweet and silvery her voice was, how beautiful she was. She tried to put all of her emotion into the music, into the soul of the story. nytelover@buffymail.com "Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott. "

Richie stood still, aparently the song was convincing Duncan, he looked at Kira and was still struck by her beauty and her passion.

"Only reapers, reaping early,
In among the beared barley
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly;
Down to tower'd Camelot;
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers ''tis the fairy
The Lady of Shalott. "

"Enough." Duncan croaked, his throat dry. "Enough. I believe you."

She hadn't sung that in a long time. She had made a decision. For some reason, she couldn't place it, it went against most of her rational thoughts, but she felt that she was finally going in the right direction.

"And, " she looked at him, "I -- believe you. Don't make me think otherwise though." she said with a promise of retribution in her voice. She had done it, she had taken a step into the unknown, but she felt more clearheaded than she had in a long long time.

Duncan held out his hand. She took it, carefully. Richie placed his hand on her's.

"You know what this means." Duncan said.

Kira nodded. "Ray needs to answer some questions. One way or another, my mother will be avenged."

Duncan sighed inwardly. "One thing at a time. First, don't you think that we should call Connor? Let him know that you're alive?"

Kira tensed. Did she want to see him? If Duncan and Richie were telling the truth, and if she trusted them, didn't she believe that? If they were telling the truth, then she had wrongly hated Connor all these years.

"No." she said, she was too scared to face him. And she couldn't let any sorty of fear stop or slow her down now. "Not now. I'm going to take care of this, with or without your help. My way."

Duncan was about to argue with her when the phone rang. Duncan picked it up.

"Hello?"

"Mac." It was Joe. He sounded groggy, dazed.

"Joe? Are you all right?"

"No Mac, I'm not. There's a guy here, he wants to talk to you." Joe tried to sound normal, but Duncan could hear pain, and fear in Joe's voice.

"Who?"

"He's after Connor. Mac," Joe stopped. Duncan could hear someone slap him, his blood quickened in anger.

"They're going to kill me." he said.

Suddenly another man's voice came on the line.

"Hello Highlander. I believe you know who this is."

"And how would I know that?" Duncan asked.

"Because I followed your protege and Connor's brat. I have a man watching your apartment. Really Highlander, you can afford better than that I would think." The tone was conversational, pleasant, even.

"You bastard, what do you want with Joe?"

"You, the boy, and the girl. And eventually the head of Connor MacLeod."

Duncan was seething. All of the tension building up lately now had an outlet. His troubles with Joe and Richie were relegated to the back of his mind. He simply knew that Ray was wrong. Wrong for what he'd done to Kira and now Joe, and it was time for it to stop.

"You're crazy Ray. You're trying to get vengence, not justice, for something that happened two centuries ago! Connor wasn't at fault!"

"On the contrary Duncan, it doesn't matter how long ago it was. I know that Connor still grieves for Heather. I still grieve for my family. The pain doesn't go away! And I am quite sane I assure you."

"So you kill an innocent woman and warp their child?" Kira bristled at the "warped" comment, but a look from Richie quieted her. After all, did she really want to *defend* what she had become?

"Don't try my patience Duncan MacLeod, I want you and the *children* to meet me at the abandoned school. You know the routine, no one else, no authorities. Cooperate and everything will be fine." He sounded calm and rational; Duncan knew that he was anything but.

"I will expect you in 30 minutes." Ray hung up.

Duncan slammed down the receiver.

"Mac?" Richie asked, somewhat tenatively.

"He's got Joe. Come on." Duncan's voice brokered no argument. Richie and Kira were unusually quiet. Outside, he told them to take separate bikes and to split up. "He's got someone on us, maybe more than one. Kira, you know how to get there?"

"Yeah, I remember the area." she said. They were all business now as Duncan outlined where they would meet. No one needed to ask her anymore whether she believed them. She was still confused, and very angry. Angry at Ray for what he did and at herself for believing him. Losing herself, totally disgracing the memory of her mother, and hating with a passion a man who probably didn't deserve it. Duncan's words rang in her ears louder than the chopper's engine.

'You're trying to get vengeance, not justice!'

She needed to fix her life, she determined. 'But first I've got to live through tonight.' she thought.

At about the same time that Kira was beginning to forge a new identity, Adam Pierson was walking the streets of Seacouver, still struggling to find his.

He came upon Joe's Bar. His defenses and alarms began to tingle as he saw the police swarming around. He ducked around back and thanked some of the older gods that Joe had not bothered to change the locks and slipped in the back storage room.

He saw a man-sized lump in the dimness and rushed over. It was Mike. He'd been hit over the head with something. He was bleeding, but Adam didn't think that it was life threatening. He opened Mike's eye and checked, it did look like he had a concussion. He was suddenly very afraid. He tried to peek out to see what was going on outside in the bar. His blood froze as he saw the body being zipped up in the bag, and the police hovering over the outline.

"Oh, by the gods, no, not Joe. No. No no."

He knew that the police would be searching the rest of the bar and that he had to leave now. But he just wouldn't move. He felt sick and lightheaded. He had come to apologize to Joe, and to talk to him. Word was that he had left that Watchers and . . . and 'Oh, they couldn't.' the shocked part of his mind thought. Another part, the one that most people saw, barked out, 'Of course they could have, and they probably did.'

Adam ran out of the room and out into the night. He had to tell Duncan.

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

Joe Dawson looked up to the immortal in front of him. He didn't exactly have a choice. He was tied to one of the old, plastic cafeteria chairs. The bonds were more to keep him from falling off than from him escaping. Ray had conveniently decided to remove both of his prosthetics and place them across the room.

Ray wasn't paying much attention to him. There were no more thugs, no guards. Either he had some backup somewhere, or he was so confident that he could kill Duncan, Richie, Kira, and from the way he'd been talking Connor, and not worry. Suddenly Ray looked around, the way Duncan did when another immortal was around.

"Ah, the guest of honor." he muttered, with a smirk. He gagged Joe and patted him condescendingly on the head. "Just sit here and look pretty, I'll take care of the rest." he sneered.

A rugged looking man walked in, with brown-blond hair and gleaming eyes. He wore a worn beige trenchcoat, and a grim look for Joe. He looked at Rene as they clasped arms.

"Rene. I wish we could have met under better circumstances." His voice was rough, with no discernable accent, yet not quite a lack of one either.

"As do I, mon frere, as do I. But, as you can see, I have stopped the threat for now. They won't harm Duncan or his young protege as long as I have their leader." He motioned towards Joe, who suddenly felt lightheaded. He knew where Ray was going with this, and he was in no position to talk or otherwise manuever his way out of this. He only hoped that Duncan and the others could get here in time.

"Is all this really necessary though?" Connor said as he motioned to Joe and then to his legs.

"Connor, this man heads an organization who wants us all dead! Permanently! It was by luck alone that I heard him trying to plot against your kinsman. Have you seen Duncan?" Ray asked, as he turned slightly to the side to glare at Joe.

"I went by the loft, there were bulletholes, glass, the place had been destroyed. There was no sign of him." He said, with a heavy voice and another glare at Joe.

"Maybe he could tell us something." Connor said, stepping forward to remove the gag. Joe stood still, if Connor would hear him out, maybe he had a chance.

Before he could take it off, they both sensed the presence of two more immortals. Connor cocked an eyebrow at Ray, turned to the door, and began to draw his katana.

"No, Connor, that's not necessary." Ray whispered urgently. Connor sheathed the sword and turned around to see Ray pointing a .357 at his head.

"We don't want to ruin the reunion, do we?" He said, smiling cruelly.

In a heartbeat, Connor knew with a sick certainty what this was all about. He had trusted Rene; believed him when he said he didn't hold his family's tragic death against him. Now he knew that his trust was misplaced.

'Great, Connor.' he thought to himself. 'Unfortunately misplaced trust can lead to a misplaced head.'

Duncan and Richie had arrived at the school and looked for Kira. There had been no sign of her bike or her. Richie was hoping that she hadn't arrived before them and rushed in carelessly.

"Think we should wait?" he asked.

Duncan was staring at the building, his gaze was hard, as if he hoped to see through the dirty brick. "No." he said finally, curtly. "She'll come."

They entered carefully, on the lookout for more of the "hired help" Ray apparently had acquired. They found none, and as they came closer to the auditorium they felt the sensation of two immortals.

"OK," Richie said, "I wonder if he brought a friend."

Duncan became even more tense "Connor." he said, "Come on."

Richie was curious, and a little offset by the certainty of Duncan's that it was his kinsman. A little niggling doubt tried to burrow its way through his thoughts. 'He *can* tell who it is . . ..' he pushed it back down. This was not the time nor the place. He had to put this behind him.

They entered the room only to find out that Ray had the home court advantage. Duncan and Richie both froze, anger apparent on their faces as they took in the scene. Joe, tied to the chair, without his legs, which were laying on a table on the other side of the room. Connor at the wrong end of a .357, and Ray with the classic cat-that-ate-the-canary look on his aristocratic mug.

"Ahh," Ray said, ever the gracious host. "Welcome, gentlmen. So glad you could make it. But, aren't we missing someone? Hmn?"

"She's not here." Duncan said, rage and anger barely contained in his deceptively soft tones. He stepped forward and moved to draw his katana. "Ah ah ah, young Highlander. Not unless you're just dying to see a Quickening. At this range, who do you think would get it?" His gaze was a direct challenge. Duncan scowled and sheathed his blade.

"Now, I see that, but she is supposed to be here. After all, I went to a lot of trouble to see that these two be reunited. It should make for a most amusing evening." Ray said, still ever the aristocrat, but one with little patience left.

While the "plesantries" were being exchanged, Kira, who had found a back way to the stage, was crouched down amidst dusty cardboard stage props and an old, cobweb-blanketed piano.

She could hear what was going on, but she couldn't see anything. 'Damn.' she thought. 'I've got to see what the hell is going on! I know for sure it doesn't sound good.'

"Who are you talking about?" Connor asked, angry at Rene's insanity and his own stupidity. Duncan opened his mouth to speak, but Ray interrupted.

"I told you that you would finally know who killed Caitlin and took your daughter Kira, did I not?" Ray asked, smiling at Connor.

Connor said nothing, but glared daggers at Ray. Realization was nearly instantaneous and he forced through clenched teeth "You!"

Ray shrugged playfully, ignoring the heated hatred borne through 4 icy glares.

"Well, I *was* telling the truth about these bastards." he said, motioning his head towards Joe. "There is a group of people, an offshoot from *his* people who want us all dead. I just happened across some of them, they already knew who you were, all I did was point them in the right direction."

Ray took great pleasure in the increasingly horrified look on Connor's face, and his voice became more enthusiastic and gleeful. "It was rather easy to convince them to destroy your family too. That lot is absolutely fanatical Connor, totally off their rockers. Really crazy." He grinned maniacally.

"No." Connor whispered. Even though he knew it was true.

"Of course, your dear sweet wife managed to hide Kira, unfortunately she was dreadfully traumatized when she witnessed the brutal rape and murder of her mother."Ray said with mock sympathy. His voice grew serious and deadly as he looked down the sight of the gun at Connor.

"Much as my sweet babe must have when those bastards took Yvette. Eh, Connor?"

Connor couldn't help but wince. He knew he had done everything he could have to save Rene's family. But he was still pained that he had failed. He found his voice and spoke, coarsely. "What did you do to her?!"

Ray paced around. He was careful to keep the gun raised, near enough to Connor's head, but out of reach. "Ah, that is the million dollar question, is it not?" He paced some more.

Richie couldn't stand this anymore. *Something* had to happen. "He brainwashed her!" he spat angrily.

Ray looked at Richie, but spoke to Duncan: "Keep your boy quiet, MacLeod! Loud noises bother me, make my fingers twitch." his voice was venomous.

Richie didn't look at Duncan, he was too busy trying to glare Ray into oblivion. But he noted the hand placed firmly on his arm and said no more.

"I just took care of her, Connor, much as you took care of my Marguerite. After all, someone had to take care of the poor thing. Considering that her selfish coward of a father didn't want her anymore." His voice oozed with contempt and sarcasm as Connor's face twisted in rage.

"The little thing learned to rely on me." Ray continued, puffed like a peacock.

This time it was Duncan who spoke up. "And you twisted her love for her mother into a thirst for vengeance and turned her against her father!" He was seething now. Connor felt a stab of pain. Kira was alive, apparently Duncan and Richie had met up with her at some point. But if what Duncan was saying was true . . . gods, what had he done by simply trusting Rene?

"Now, where is the lass?" Ray wondered aloud. He knew that she would not disappoint him. He had narrowed her focus for so long, even if the boy and MacLeod had convinced her that she had been used, she was still predictable.

Kira's legs were burning from her having crouched in one position for too long. She was flushed - the last eight years of her life invalidated by 10 minutes of a raving lunatic. The betrayal was out in the open, like a festering scab, scraped open with a rusty blade. She was partially to blame as well, letting one emotion dominate her, filling the empty void that was her soul.

'I've got to fix this.' she thought, slowly and painfully making her way to the corner of the stage which was obscured by the old dank curtain. She caught a glimpse of the situation and cringed. The sight of Joe being held as hostage, saddened her, and pissed her off royally.

Duncan and Richie looked safe for now, but both looked ready to pounce and tear Ray apart. 'Take a number.' she thought. She forced herself to look at Connor. Her heart was pounding. Her gut twisted as she saw her father for the first time in years, looking no different than that fateful morning when he left to run some simple errands. She felt disconnected from her body, knowing that she needed to move, but not being able to make anything work.

Which made it that much easier for Ray's henchman to grab her.

"Aahh!" she snapped to the side as she was hoisted up by the scruff of her leather jacket.

"Hullo pretty. You're late." he said in a ringing baritone.

On the other side of the curtain, everyone but Ray turned to the outcry. "Ah," he said. "I see we've found our missing guest."

The man pushed aside the curtain. He stood about 6'10" and was muscular, with close cropped blond hair and a wicked grin on his face.

"Kira!" Richie called out.

Connor looked at the young woman, looking rather angry and undignified dangling from the henchman's grip.

She must have been tired of it because in a blink she had yanked her arm out of one sleeve and dropped off the stage. Her legs were still sore and she stumbled. Connor moved forward, and at an angle from Ray, but Ray pulled the trigger and shot his kneecap. Connor went down with an anguished growl, but rolled forward and kicked Ray with his good leg. Ray tripped and dropped his gun.

The thug was about to leap down from the stage on top of Kira, Richie ran towards the stage, yelling a warning. She looked up and rolled to the side. "Aw, how'd you know I liked big, bad and gruesome?" she taunted Richie came from behind and tried a kidney punch . . . it only irritated the blond, who swung his arm back. Richie saw it coming and jumped back, grabbing the arm and twisting it to the breaking point.

Kira followed up with a kick to the face. Duncan ran towards Ray, who was reaching into his trenchcoat. Connor had his katana drawn and was standing unsteadily, focusing on Ray with feral intensity.

"NO! Duncan! He . . . is . . . MINE!" Connor growled.

"Yes, old friend whatever machinations I have used, this is ultimately between us." Ray said, teeth bared. "The challenge is joined, young Highlander. This is not your battle." Ray called out, not looking at Duncan.

Duncan scowled, stepping back and going to get Joe's legs. He quickly went to the man.

Ray was preoccupied and didn't move to stop him. The two opponents stared at each other. Silently they mutually reviewed their past friendship and the events that brought them to this moment, their blades drawn, screaming through their beings for blood. Knowing that for one, this battle would be the end.

Connor quickly scanned the room. Duncan was tending to the man tied to the chair, something that puzzled him, but he paid no real attention to it. He glanced over at the woman, who with Richie had subdued the henchman. He was unconscious and the youths were little worse for wear.

Connor couldn't quite grasp that the little girl he thought he'd lost so long ago, was this tough-looking woman, so vibrant and alive.

Their eyes met. Multitudes of emotion flashed through their glance. Pain, hope, sorrow, shame, and understanding.

He looked at Rene, and pushed all that aside as his opponent saluted him. Connor automatically did the same - picturing in his mind his family, as they were when they were whole.

They began.

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

Kira and Richie were watching the two men fight, both with skill and passion. They knew that there was not much that could be done right now, other than simply watch.

Duncan had brought Joe's prosthestics to him, took off the gag and worked on taking off the bonds. He noticed that the ropes were bloodstained and that one of his wrists was raw. Joe winced as the rope aggravated the wound.

"Sorry." Duncan said and froze as he realized that the raw wrist had no tattoo, and neither did his other. Joe noticed Mac's hesitation and brought his wounded arm up, cradling it slightly.

Their eyes met. Joe was trying to say what he needed to, and it seemed almost surreal, with Connor and Ray fighting in the background, Kira and Richie on the sidelines, watching both the fight. With every so often Richie glancing back at the big blond man, to make sure he was still out of the equation.

"I chose." he said simply, his voice tired and hoarse.

Duncan's throat constricted as he nodded and helped Joe reattach his prosthetics. They worked in silence, the impact of knowing that Joe had chosen this stubborn Scot over a career that had spanned a majority of his life -- his *mortal* life -- hit him like an ice shower, with sudden clarity and much pain.

He questioned just how much he deserved loyalty like Joe's, especially with the way he had been acting.

He looked up at the gray-haired man. Joe deserved a chance to talk and Duncan had been denying him that. He owed him that much.

"I'm sorry, Joe." It was a start. Joe nodded, as if to say that that was enough for now. That they would talk later.

Kira slowly migrated towards the fight. Richie was concentrating on the two men, rather than her, so he didn't notice. Some detached part of his mind was remembering Duncan's teachings and analyzing the style and technique of the combattants, gaging their skill. And he liked what he saw.

Ray was losing, clear and simple. He had been, after all, mostly out of the Game since his plan began almost 10 years ago. Even the man who came "hunting" him had only been a hired henchman, another player in Ray's production to snare the girl deeper into his control. Now, he was facing the consequences of being out of practice and outclassed.

'No! I can't! I'm too close, I can't fail now!' the thoughts screaming through his mind.

He had to gain the upper hand, had to get Connor off his guard, somehow.

Kira took step after slow, trancelike step around the rough perimeter of the fight. The two men turning in rough circles around the room. She felt like she was outside of some perverse, twisted snow dome scene. So detached.

She could tell that Ray was losing. She didn't know whether to be happy or scared that she would be next.

Duncan and Joe exchanged looks, they could tell that the elder MacLeod was closing in for the kill.

Connor noticed none of this. He had one goal, one target. His entire being was focused in every upswing, every block and dodge. If he kept himself focused on defeating his opponent he didn't have to think about the woman he would have to face afterwards, or the fact that until so recently, he believed that the man he was trying to kill was once a trusted friend.

Beads of sweat trickled between Ray's back, he had made the possibly fatal mistake of becoming overconfident. He knew that for his plan to truly come to fruition he needed to thoroughly destroy Connor MacLeod.

He saw his chance to do just that from the corner of his eye, watching the battle in rapt attention.

He made a powerful swing that set Connor off balance, he recovered too quickly for Ray to strike again, but Ray wasn't aiming to strike, instead he ran. He started to run past Kira, who was tired of standing around, she felt like she had to do something. Suddenly all of her rage towards her mothers death, her abandonment, her lonliness and suffering came pouring out, and she rushed to tackle the fleeing immortal.

"Bastard!!" she screamed

"Kira, no!" Richie and Connor yelled

Which was exactly what Ray wanted. At the last second he turned and grabbed her, pulling her off balance and laying his blade across her neck.

She cursed her impetuousness, and knew that she could not, *would* not allow herself to be used again.

"Stay where you are, *all* of you." Ray called out, making eye contact with the others in the room.

Richie had started to move towards Ray, but stopped when he pressed the tip of his blade against Kira's neck, breaking the skin and letting the thin stream of blood trickle down the blade. She twitched sharply, but made no sound.

"Ah ah ah, boy -- not unless you want to kill her." he whispered.

Ray stepped back, heading for the side steps of the stage "I do believe it is time to regroup." he said with a triumphant grin.

Connor had had enough. "You dare call me coward?! Stop hiding behind a child, face me!!"

There was no answer, and suddenly the rest of the curtains came down, cutting them off from the stage. Ray's voice came muffled and from no certain direction.

"This is not about fighting fairly, Connor, this is justice! This is making you suffer as you made me suffer!" He boomed with righteousness.

"What is just about putting me through this hell? What did I ever do?" they heard Kira yell, a nervous edge to her voice.

"Nothing child, nothing at all." Ray said, loud enough for all to hear.

"You were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time," he paused, "with the wrong person." his voice carried all the promise of retribution.

Joe whispered urgently to Duncan "We've got to do something, Mac, he's going to kill her!"

Duncan had the same sinking feeling, "What? We don't know where they are, and if he hears us, she'll be dead anyway." Duncan got a far away look, as if he were weighing it still as an option.

Richie was overcome with frustration. He felt so helpless, and guilty. Even though he knew that Ray would have brought her and Connor to this point without his involvement, even though this mess had begun long before he or Kira were even born, he felt a sense of responsibility.

Behind the curtain, in the dim light, Kira was trying to regain her balance. Ray kept moving her around, ever so slightly, so that she couldn't get a firm stance on the ground. She felt his breath, steaming onto her sweat-soaked neck, as he whispered. "I'm sorry child, I truly am."

Outside the curtain, they saw a sword poke out. Connor ran to the stage and tried to knock it away. He was too far though, and missed. He heard Ray grunt and saw his foot peeking out from the bottom. He leapt up to the stage, shouting, "Face me!!"

There was no answer, instead he came bursting forth, with Kira as a shield at his side. Connor knocked the sword away, out of his hand, and with lightning speed went for the killing blow.

Ray fell backwards and pushed Kira forwards, over his legs. Connor tried to pull the thrust back, but could only fall to his knees as Kira was impaled on the katana. Her scream ripped through the auditorium and reverberated what seemed a million times over.

"NO!" Richie cried, echoed by Duncan and Joe. As they looked on, horrified, not able to truly grasp what they had just witnessed, they watched Connor pull the katana out, staring mutely at Kira. Ray had recovered his sword, and had taken a few steps back, watching, glorifying in his triumph.

Connor gathered her limp form closer to him, attempting to stop the flow of blood. She was breathing shallowly, and her eyes were closed. "Kira, talk to me, please."

Memories made bitter by the present flooded his vision: Holding her as a babe; the way that Caitlin clutched her tightly when they had found her abandoned on their very doorstep, her green eyes shining with sorrow and hope.

They shared the same vibrant, glowing eyes. The same eyes he had seen dulled by death in Caitlin. And now, Kira's light was fading.

Richie had meanwhile ran up to the stage in blind fury. He had pulled his sword and was screaming. "Bastard! She was innocent! She never did anything to you!" He swung with immense force and little strategy. Ray felt the young man's rage; it was a palpable presence that pushed him back, barely fending off the strong flurry of blows.

"Bah, she wanted the same thing I did, boy. She wanted to kill those responsible for her mother's death!" Ray retorted.

Connor was trying to stanch the flow of blood still. His warrior mind knew that it was too late -- but Connor had been a father, and he fought with passionate ferocity to save his child.

Their eyes met again. He thought he saw her pale lips moving, trying to say something. He looked at her, knowing what she said. Tears, burning acidic streaks down his face.

"Goodbye." he answered, silently, not able to speak.

Duncan had run to the stage. "Richie, stop!" Richie ignored him. Duncan knew that Connor would want Ray. He deserved to fight him first. It was obvious Richie would not back down though. He was debating on whether or not to interfere. And wondered if Richie won, what Connor would do.

Richie had wounded Ray on each limb, and had a few chances to take his head. But he didn't -- he obviously wanted to make him suffer. Duncan felt no mercy either. He would probably have done the same.

"You're dead, you son of a bitch, dead!" Richie was concentrating all of his pain, his loss of what was and what might have been, and kept hacking away at Ray, fast and furious.

Connor looked up then, and spoke in a low tone that could have shattered a steel wall.

"She's dead."

Silence enshrouded the room; everyone was still. Connor's face was unreadable, Joe had his eyes shut, his lips moving slightly. Richie had a look a mute shock on his face, and Duncan's countenance was pensive and sad. A triumphant smile tugged at the corners of Ray's mouth, a gleam of fevered victory in his eyes.

"She was never anything to you, was she Rene?" Connor asked softly. "Nothing more than a means to an end?"

"Everyone has a purpose." He leveled back.

"She didn't have to die." Connor said.

Ray's eyes narrowed. "Eye for an eye, Highlander. Your child's life for my little one."

Richie couldn't take this anymore. "This is crazy! You keep talking about how Connor was a coward and it's all his fault that your family died then; where the hell were you, huh?! Of on some wild fucking goose chase, getting yourself trapped into something. Hell, if Connor had gone off to help you -- they would have died anyway!! At least they had a chance with him there. How can you blame him? How dare you? Is it because you can't face the fact that you were wrong? Wrong to believe them, wrong to leave? Just . . ." He trailed off, running out of steam now, but he had gotten everyone's attention.

Ray looked dazed; as if someone had stolen into his soul, taken it's innermost core and brought it out for all to see. For so often after the massacre, he *had* blamed himself. Logic had tried to scream through his grief-induced madness that Connor was not at fault. But he could not live with himself, were that the case. The nightmares, the visions of their broken bodies and tortured screams, all calling him to blame, haunted him until his mind was forced to defend itself. And it did so by taking him and making him, Ray, the man who had had no control over those life-altering events, a director in his own fantasy. A fantasy where he was the hero, he was the one wronged. And he could control everything . . . everything.

But to do that he had to first project all of the guilt and blame onto the only other person who might have been able to help.

Connor nodded with approval at Richie, then held his blade up in salute. "This ends now, Rene. Here. One way or another, this will be settled."

Connor forced all destructive emotion aside; he knew what he had to do. Rage and pain had only brought him more of the same. He knew that his emotions had contributed to Kira's death. But he would deal with that later. To do this he had to call upon all of his skills, and his passion that he knew he was right.

A nagging voice tugged at the back of his mind. 'Rene must have done the same thing. One mission, logical in design, emotional by nature. He thinks he, too, is right.' His glance wandered back to the motionless body on the stage. He looked at Ray, with not so much anger as resignation.

"I did what I thought was right." Ray said. Some of his self-righteousness was gone, but there seemed to be little remorse. Confusion more than anything was apparent on his face. His production was a failure, his actors were ad-libbing all the lines. His purpose was gone it seemed.

"I suppose we all must do what we believe to be right." Connor said.

Ray heard his death sentencein those words. When he saw Connor-- the warrior detached from the man -- he knew that only by some miracle would he survive. The world around him became surreal. He had what he wanted, didn't he?? The girl was dead, Caitlin was dead. But Connor was not an hysterical wreck. He wasn't on his knees offering his head in grief and guilt. Plus, what MacLeod's stripling had said had dredged up old memories, old feelings that were not the white hot lances of revenge. Rather, he began to see the situation from another point of view. He had stopped acting, his body responding automatically to fighting stance, he was only reacting.

The three spectators stood side to side, their will for Connor to win was crackling electric in the air. After a few minutes it was clear that Connor had the upper hand. But suddenly he faltered, and so did Ray. Duncan turned his head slightly and Richie only furrowed his brow in confusion. The presence of another immortal began to impinge upon their senses. It began softly and increased in intensity.

Duncan's mind raced as he thought of the echo he picked up in the loft. He hoped that he'd been right. It certainly felt like the stirrings of a newborn immortal. Richie only knew that this was unlike any other sensation that he'd had when another immortal. Joe noticed the tension in the air and looked around for the new guest.

Ray looked up, "No!" he whispered.

Connor knew that he could not allow us to sway him from his mission. He could not be sure, not totally, that what he was sensing was what he thought it was. "Duncan." he said, which was all that was needed. Duncan went to where Kira lay and knelt beside her.

Ray shook his head harder and with growing ferocity as Connor slowly backed him to the edge of the stage.

"No!" he cried as he fell backwards and off.

***

Falling, floating. Everything was strange and dark, and eerily quiet. Deathly quiet. There was a persistant fluctuating heat in her chest. The feeling was difficult to pin down. At points it was white hot pain -- while at others it felt as if she were soaking in a warm bath.

She was trying to remember where she was and why, and more importantly, *who* was she? She felt as if she simply existend to experience those fluctuating sensation. No purpose, no meaning.

'*Kira*'. The voice was cool, sparkling spring water, tripping and tumbling through a lush green field of clover, echoing through her soul and filling it with peace. She didn't hear it so much as feel it, as one of the warm pulses struck her.

Kira. That was her name, once. She had vague memories of a young, beautiful woman and a young handsome man, telling her that it meant "Light". They said that she had brought light to them. As if -- as a family -- they were one clear crystal, tightly bound and beautiful.

Every time the pain lanced through her, she saw the crystal being shattered into myriad, delicate silver shards. Each one painfully sharp, and impossible to put back together.

She tried to move and found she couldn't. She couldn't open her eyes, couldn't hear, couldn't speak. There was only the pain and the pleasure. She knew that the images in her head were just memories, constructions. She saw the woman again, and she saw herself, dangling by puppet strings. When she tried to see who was in the image, pulling the strings, she saw only a foggy outline. As she focused more on it, the outline of a man appeared. She recognized the man. Pain tore through her as she screamed this time, not knowing if it was real or only in her imagination. Then again, she might herself be 'only imagination'.

Her mind, such as it was, reeled with agony. She needed direction, she needed to move, she needed to . . . run. She could feel herself moving, running away from the man, She had tried to pull the woman with her. But her strings were too tight, and she could not cut through them, they were as thin as spider's silk, but as strong as steel.

The beautiful, flame-haired puppet opened her emerald-green eyes. The same flowing, watery voice washed at once over and through her.

"Time to leave, Kira. I can't go with you. Remember, you tried to take me with you before, and it didn't work. It only held you back. It kept you from seeing yourself. Go back. You need to go back".

"Nooooo!" she screamed, finally understanding. "Mama, no, don't leave me!"

"I cannot leave. But you must. You have found others to be with, others who you need, who need you too. Don't worry, we will be whole again, all of us. But you can't do that unless you know who you are and where you fit."

The voice became both sad and hopeful as she felt it fade to a whisper.

"Goodbye, child of my heart. I love you."

The crystal shattered. She was falling through pitch black space, with silver-blue lightning cascading over her, around her, through her. It filled her up until all she could hear was the buzzing pressure of the energy, echoing inside her skull. ***

She couldn't decide what was worse, the stabbing pain in her chest from trying to gulp in as much air as she could, or the raucous buzzing in her brain. She sat up and felt large, strong hands take her by her shuddering shoulders. She heard through the din, gasps of shock, footsteps, another set of hands. She opened her eyes to see blurred images of Duncan and Richie, kneeling beside her. Duncan with a concerned look and a slight grin, and Richie smiling from ear to ear, as if he couldn't stop.

"Can anyone turn down the volume?" she croaked. Her lips were cracked and dry and her throat was parched. "What is that noise, anyway?"

Richie and Duncan exchanged glances. Then they looked back at her. Richie was about to say something when they heard Ray cry out. Connor had just run him through.

Ray was dying. He knew the feeling all too well. Only this time he knew that he would not be waking; able to compare this death with that death, trying to joke in the face of the horror that he had become. A mockery of humanity.

As he knew, with ever increasing certainty that his was his final battle, his mind grew cold and logical. He remembered the dreams, the nighmares, with more clarity. He remembered that ever since he lost Yvette and Marguerite, that he had only one wish, aside from his revenge. To be able to die like a mortal. He had tried to bury that wish with his revenge. And even as he screamed with anger as he felt Connor's child rise as one of them, he knew that Justice *had* been served. By all that was holy. All that he had ever held holy.

He had wasted his long life. He had only been a shell, a zombie. It was only fitting that as she rose like the dawn, he should retire to his grave for eternity.

***

Kira saw what Connor was about to do. She knew that this was what immortals did. She knew that he was pissed at Ray, hell, *that* was an understatement. She'd wanted to whack him herself. She held her hand up to grab onto Richie's shoulder, to help pull herself up. "How did I get on the floor in the . . . first . . . place." she stumbled as she saw the bloody hand, her bloody hand. The memory slammed into her like a missle. Ray had pushed her, straight onto Connor's . . . sword.

"Oh . . . oh." she was stunned. She felt for the wound that she knew should be there, knowing that she would not find one.

"No, oh gods, no. This, this isn't real, I'm dead, right?" She was still pale, shaking from the cold that gripped her spine.

"No, Kira. You know . . .who you are." Duncan gently whispered.

Richie had stopped smiling, and stood, smirking, looking at Ray. "You failed! She's alive."

Connor was both relieved and saddened. His daughter was alive, but at what ultimate cost? The two feelings warred with each other. He knew without looking that she was upset. Of course, they all were, at first. But she would have guidance. He owed her that much, if she'd have it from him.

Kira looked down at Ray. Where she once saw a powerful, generous man, she now perceived a pitiful shell of one. And what was worse, the ever increasing darkness of his eyes reflected herself, twisted into that same, narrow, one-track mindset. He had made her, shaped her, into some twisted child-clone of himself. She was sickened at the memories.

His grand production had come crashing down upon his head. His motives, his fiction, his justification no longer supporting him. He questioned himself, and in questioning the fantasy world he had created, he had lost the iron-clad faith in its reality.

All of his careful planning? The fever and the passion, the energy he had put into this, all for naught? How often since his quest began had he really remembered his family? He could see the terrible, tragic scene where they had been found, certainly. Those events looped through him daily. But when was the last time he had felt love, and not hate, at remembering the way Yvette had smiled, the way they had made love, or the innocent eyes of his daughter? They had become no more than symbols; icons for destruction. He had tarnished their memories.

Connor still had not looked back at the stage. He needed to do this, now.

As he saw the steel move, as he heard it screech in harmony with the resurrected nightmares of his guilty conscience, he cried out:

"I was wrong!"

***

Kira twitched as she watched with sick fascination, the head roll. Ray's anguished expression frozen, his sightless eyes windows to only the painful past.

She was enraptured by the blue-white mist that gently rose from his body. It was so similar to . . . something she had seen before. She couldn't quite place it. As the lightning began to strike, Duncan hopped off of the stage to get Joe farther away from the Quickening. Richie stood behind her. She felt him, she could feel herself, pulsating in harmony with the flashes and crashes of the mystical storm. It was as if they were all on the same frequency.

She stood all the way up, shakily, with Richie's help.

"You OK?" he asked, not knowing what else to say.

She looked at him and cocked an eyebrow. "Let me get back to you on that one." she quipped finally. She couldn't blame him for the question, after all, what do you say to someone who wakes from death so unexpectedly? She looked over at Connor; he was cringing with the force of the Quickening. Glimpses of memory, most of them of Rene's family, as they were when he found them dead.

He doubled over in pain as he saw his own Caitlin, lying broken and battered on Kira's bed. The ghostly image of Yvette St. Pierre in her death throes, hovering over her, like a shroud. Finally, mercifully, the Quickening released him and he collapsed to the ground.

Duncan was beside his kinsman in a moment, helping him to his feet as he clapped him on the shoulder. No words were needed. They knew what needed to be done next.

Connor and Kira stood barely a foot apart now. Richie standing to the side and slightly behind Kira; Duncan in realtively the same position by Connor. Joe stood off to the side. Watching, because ironically, he could do nothing else at this moment.

Father and Daughter studied each other for long moments.

"Kira, I'm . . . sorry." he said. For what he wasn't sure. Probably for the same thing that Ray was ultimately sorry for. Not being there at the right time.

"For running me through, sure, fine, forgiven, it happens." she was nervous and babbling. She thought that if she tried to be a smart-ass it wouldn't be too hard to talk to him, it wasn't working.

His lips twitched a bit, but he said nothing for a moment.

"You know who you are?" he asked

"Haven't the foggiest, but whoever I am, I'm immortal." she paused and looked beyond him at the corpse. "Well," she continued, hoping that the humour would eventually take the edge off "relatively, anyway." she smiled slightly. It was either crack jokes or scream and cry in confusion. And she had had enough crying for one night.

Connor smiled too. She remembered that smile. She tried to remember that he wasn't the man Ray painted a picture of. She had to try now . . . so that they could be. . . together. If that was even possible, she wondered. Remembering what Richie had told her about Duncan, remembering that before Ray went psycho, that he had been best friends with Connor.

'What the hell, you can't live in fear and suspicion all the time. That's not living. Ray made that one obvious.' she thought.

She recalled what she had decided earlier that evening, eons ago. She had to trust someone, sometime.

But would they trust her??

"Ahh," she cleared her throat and looked up at him "I screwed up Connor. I believed him." she said.

He nodded.

"We made the same mistake." was all that he said.

She nodded.

Neither of them could keep from it any longer. The pain and the fear, the excitement, the anxiety. . .; every emotion coursing through their veins and they needed an outlet. Connor took a step and swept her into his arms. She stiffened at first, but then tenatively gave in. it wasn't one of those things that could be explained intellectually. She had to hug him. She wasn't sure if she could, or would even be allowed to call him "Dad" again, but they needed to talk.

She felt 3 pairs of eyes on them and gently broke the embrace.

"Ah, I take it that I don't have to try and swing one of those really long sharp sticks right now, right?" she had said it jokingly, but she was terrified. Knowing about immortals and actually *being* one were worlds apart.

That got a slight chuckle out of everyone.

"No, not now." Connor's mouth curved slightly upwards. "We have *much* to talk about, however."

Kira suddenly realized how tired she was. And how she didn't want to face this now. It was all going so fast! She had to postpone this until later, without pissing him off.

"I don't know about you, I wasn't lit up like Times Square on New Year's Eve, but I'm kind of wasted now. Ah, we can talk about this tomorrow, right?" she tried to be casual, but was expecting a scathing retort. She didn't know why, but she was almost expecting to fail.

To her relief, he nodded. "Sure, do you have a place. . . "

"Yes." Kira and Richie chimed in unison.

Connor raised his eyebrows and Duncan shot Richie a "watch-yourself" look. Kira caught it and retorted. "Get your mind out of the gutter, old man." Her eyes sparkled, for what was the first time in a long time, something else than fevered fanaticism.

"You all can use the bar tomorrow. It's closed, after what happened tonight anyway." Joe said cringing inwardly at the prospect of explaining the body to the cops.

"Who are you?" Connor asked straightforwardly. "Are you really part of some group that gets voyueristic kicks out of watching us?"

Joe shook his head. "No," he said with a finality that made it all seem real. "I'm not. . . anymore."

Duncan took his kinsman's arm. "I'll explain later, Connor. All right, Joe. We'll meet at the bar tomorrow." he looked a bit awkward and added "Thanks."

Joe nodded and the three men headed for the door.

"You kids don't stay up too late." Connor looked back and winked at the two.

Richie blushed. Kira looked at him, and the sight was just somehow so . . . so *normal* that she had to laugh. Really, really, with no restraint, no bitterness, she simply had to laugh.

And there was light at the end of the tunnel.

***

The young man, who was anything but, who sometimes went by the name Adam Pierson, looked at the loft and felt his world -- what was left of it -- crashing and crumbling around him. First Joe. Now the loft destroyed, with no sign of MacLeod, or the Ryan boy.

He felt the presence of two immortals and took cover. He had neglected to bring his sword. Wandering around as he had been lately, he had forgotten a lot of things. Or had tried to. But just because he was without blade didn't mean he was defenseless.

Duncan and Connor looked at each other as they stepped off the elevator and slowly, cautiously,made their way through the loft. Duncan was tired and he really did not want to deal with this.

"You've got two MacLeods out here, with verra short fuses. It'd do ye a world of good to come out." Duncan said.

The man sometimes known as Methos let out a sigh of relief, coupled with a shudder of fear. Did MacLeod really want to see him? He came out of the room, hands raised, so that his lack of a tattoo was very obvious.

Duncan was shocked. He thought he might be angry, but seeing Methos there, sans tattoo, and with obvious fear in his eyes, he only felt relief. Knowing that he was ok. Maybe it was relief that the oldest immortal had come to a decision, or maybe it was the decision itself, or . . . 'who cares.' he thought as he stepped slowly forward, sheathing his katana, Connor did not do the same.

"You can put it down, Connor, he's a friend."

"So was Ray." Connor said, deadpan. He was tired, and didn't want any more surprises that night. He needed to think. He needed to rest. He wanted to put down his blade, but he would not allow Duncan to fall into the same trap that he had.

"I see you were busy tonight." Methos said, trying to break the ice.

It was just then that the tired younger Scot noticed the condition of his loft. "What the blazes?"

Connor cut in. "It was like this when I came. You mean there wasn't . . . "

"No, it was fine when we left. Ray must have had one of his henchmen ransack it." he fumed.

He looked at Connor, and sighed. "Connor, go get some rest, we have a long day tomorrow." Connor looked at the stranger.

"And you are?"

"That's a good question, Highlander." At Connor's unmoved expression he sighed.

"Call me Adam Pierson." Methos finally said. He needed to talk to Duncan about Joe. He didn't need to deal with this one too.

Connor studied him for a moment, the man had no blade, he didn't seem much of a threat. The T-shirt and form-fitting jeans seemed to hide no weapon. He cleared his throat and looked at Duncan who nodded the OK.

"Adam." Connor said and headed for the guest room, looking back at Duncan who was shooing him away.

The silence stretched between the two men.

"MacLeod." Methos choked. "I -- I was by the bar tonight. I saw Mike, and the police, they were taking away a body, and I think . . .gods, I think it was Joe."

"No it wasn't." Duncan assured him. "Joe was kidnapped." Methos'face fell as he heard that. "He's all right. Och. It's a long story." he said. Noticing that he had been slipping into his native brogue, he yawned. He was tired.

Methos cleared his throat. "I'm glad he's all right. I didn't mean to intrude. I--" Duncan didn't know what the old man had been doing for all this time, but something inside of him told him that a fresh start was needed.

He put a hand on his arm in friendship.

"We can talk about it tomorrow, at the bar." When Methos didn't answer. Duncan shrugged. "Unless you don't want to."

"No. Yes, I do. But after, ah, after what happened."

Duncan waved a hand. "There's a Scottish proverb, Methos. It goes 'Be happy while you're living, for you're a long time dead.'" At the quizzical look he smiled. "I'll try'n explain tomorrow.

"Try and explain, what?"

"As I said, it's a long story, and I don't really know how it's gonna end. I think we'll both get an idea of that tomorrow."

And with that, the younger Highlander retired to his room.

***

(Two days later)

Richie and Kira lay in bed, feeling wonderfully entangled. They were still basking in the afterglow, and in the prospect of their budding realtionship. Which made what Kira had to say that much more painful.

"Connor is taking me to Scotland." she whispered.

Richie sighed.

"I guess it had to happen." he said, trying to be detached. Anger feeling it's way to the top.

"Don't pull this crap on me, Red." she said, rubbing his buzz cut hair. "It doesn't mean that we'll never see each other again."

"I know." he gave in reluctantly. "I just thought that we might,ah , shit, you know what I'm trying to say." he turned to her and stroked her smooth, angular face with his hand.

"I know." she said, returning the gesture. "But he and I have a lot to work through. And -- you're not champing at the bit to get that pretty head of yours severed from this rather appealing body, are you?"

He shook his head, smiling. "i guess we do have some time." he said.

It was her turn to sigh.

"Do we?" she sat up quickly. "See, I don't know what I think. I've tried to see so many sides to the same arguemtent lately that I feel like the friggin' UN trapped in one body."

"You know, a very wise immortal said that doing what we do is necessart, but it doesn't have to get in the way of really and truly *living*, y'know.

Kira laughed. "When did you make that one up, oh wise one? she asked.

"Ahh, let's see, when did we stop watching Forrest Gump?" he laughed.

Richie began braiding her long black hair, as they watched the sun splash forth through the window.

"Is this normal, Richie?" she said, waving her hand around.

He was quiet for a moment, then spoke softly. "Nah. I think that you're normal when you find something or someone crazier than you are. So I wouldn't call this normal." he paused. "Does it matter?"

She turned around and kissed him, soft and slow. He was the first one she'd been able to do that to. She wasn't sure what all of this meant but she knew that for the first time in a long time, she was on her way to becoming whole. She might not make it, but at least she would do some living on the way.

"I guess not." she said, pulling the covers back over them.

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FINIS.

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