DISCLAIMER : Duncan MacLeod, Carl Robinson and Matthew McCormick belong Davis-Panzer Productions. Richie Ryan and Connor MacLeod used to belong to them. They belong to their fans now. Fiona MacDonald (along with anyone else you find in here) belongs to me. All characters are free to return to their original owners, but they refuse to go, so I guess I'm stuck with them for now. Please do not repost this story without asking me first. Direct all comments to me. I want to thank Kristine Larsen for beta-reading this story. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is the thirteenth in the series.
Absolutely no permission is granted to use this story in whole or in part in another piece of writing.
Fiona MacDonald lit the Christmas tree lights and paused a moment to admire them. Even though she was alone for Christmas, she insisted on having a tree. She knew many Immortals didn't bother with this particular holiday tradition. Many mortals gave up the practice at some point, too. Fiona shook her head. Although it wasn't part of her Highland past, she liked the custom and included a Christmas tree in her celebrations whenever her circumstances permitted one. There had been too many times when Christmas was just another day to survive. Too many Christmases had been spent working without regard for the significance of the day. Whenever possible, she returned to her house on Holy Ground to celebrate the holidays. She had lived many places. This was where she felt most at home.
Although she was no longer certain of how she felt about some aspects of the holiday, she was certain about sharing it with those she felt closest to. Fiona looked down at the presents still waiting under the tree. It bothered her that the holiday had passed without a sign of either MacLeod. The last she had heard from either of them, they were traveling together. It was unlike them to forget her at this time of year, especially after agreeing to meet at her house on Holy Ground for the holiday. If the Highland trio wasn't going to be together, they usually contacted one another. Reaching up, Fiona took a single card off the mantle above the fireplace. She smiled as she opened it. Inside was a hastily scribbled note from Richie. There were presents for him under the tree along with those for the MacLeods. She had birthday presents for both MacLeods hidden elsewhere. She had no doubt all three men would be in this house before the New Year.
Fiona peeked out the window at her dogs romping in the snow. She could almost believe they were wolves. As she watched their fierce play, it started snowing again. She might be snowed in for a day or two. She shrugged. A fire crackled in the fireplace behind her. Another burned in the fireplace in the ballroom. She had plenty of food and kindling. Turning away from the window, she looked at the glowing tree. She had no fear of being trapped in her home.
Fiona went into the kitchen. She had all the makings for a holiday feast, but had refrained from preparing anything. When Duncan and Connor arrived, she would spend as much time as necessary to cook their Highland favorites. While shopping, she had decided that if she was going to pamper the Highland men, she could indulge Richie as well, and made certain she had some of the younger man's favorite foods. Fiona laughed softly. The young Immortal seemed to like nearly anything she cooked.
The thought of food awakened Fiona's appetite. She had just started to cross the kitchen to make herself something to eat when the dogs charged in excitedly from outside. As they shook the snow from their fur, Fiona felt the presence of another Immortal. Slipping back into the hall, she waited for the other Immortal to be identified. Very few of her kind knew about her house on Holy Ground, so she wasn't frightened, but caution was never out of place. She heard footsteps on her front porch. A key slid easily into the lock. The door opened to reveal Duncan and Connor MacLeod. Both men seemed loaded down with luggage and packages. Stamping the snow off their feet and shaking it from their coats, the two men came inside. Fiona immediately decided they looked cold and hungry. She would gladly make them something warm to eat while they warmed themselves in front of the fire.
Greeting her cheerfully, both men quickly put down their bags. Fiona sighed. She hoped they hadn't arrived with dirty laundry for her to do. When the men shed their heavy coats, Duncan took Connor's coat and went into the ballroom to spread the two wet garments to dry.
Connor smiled brightly at Fiona as he gathered her in his arms. Despite the coat he had been wearing, Fiona could feel the cold from outside on his skin. When he kissed her, she realized just how much she had missed the company of the two men. Duncan cleared his throat loudly. Laughing, Connor accepted the glass of scotch Duncan offered him and released Fiona to his kinsman's embrace. Hugging her tightly, Duncan kissed her. Just having the two men there made Fiona feel more complete, somehow. Christmas had simply come slightly late. She grinned up at Duncan.
"Where's my drink?"
Duncan handed her his untouched glass. Sipping the scotch, Fiona watched him go back into the other room to pour another drink for himself. It was good to have the two men in her home.
"I have something for you, lass. A small advance on your Christmas gifts."
Fiona turned towards the elder MacLeod. Digging in a suitcase, Connor pulled out a small teddy bear. Light brown in color, it held a fake bagpipe and wore a matching plaid tam. The small furry toy puzzled Fiona. It wasn't Connor's style. He handed her the small stuffed animal and pressed the tam. Strains of Scotland the Brave filled the air just as Duncan returned with his glass of scotch.
"Oh, Connor! Not that bloody song again! You've been playing it since you bought that thing!"
Fiona could tell from the twinkle in Connor's eyes that he was enjoying the minor torture he was inflicting on Duncan. They had obviously bickered over this before. Duncan's protests only encouraged the elder man to continue.
"Have some respect, lad. Tis Scotland the Brave."
Duncan rolled his eyes. Connor had spotted the small toy and immediately pronounced it to be something Fiona would love. Duncan didn't see it at the time. He still didn't, but Connor had been adamant. Although they all looked the same to Duncan, Connor had painstakingly selected just the right one. The elder Highlander was fascinated to find that the bear played music. He had delighted in pressing the hat repeatedly. As a result, Duncan was seriously tired of hearing the tune. He saw Fiona smiling softly at the toy. Perhaps Connor had been right. Perhaps it was something she would enjoy.
"His name's Angus," Fiona announced.
"Angus MacDonald?" Connor asked with mock seriousness.
Fiona looked at the furry face of the bear. She had to admit she found it a charming toy. She wasn't certain what had possessed Connor to buy it for her, but she adored it just the same. She grinned at the two men impishly.
"I think he looks more like the MacLeods."
Connor tried to act insulted but ended up chuckling. Duncan merely shook his head. Fiona turned her attention from the toy to the men.
"Are you hungry?"
The Highlanders exchanged a glance.
"Aye, but we'll unpack first," Connor said. Duncan nodded in agreement.
Leaving the brightly wrapped packages the hall, the two men dragged their luggage to the elevator and disappeared inside. Fiona surveyed the packages before going into the kitchen to prepare something for the trio to eat. She assumed the Highland men were up to something, but had no idea what. They would tell her in due time. Opening her refrigerator, Fiona smiled. The only one missing now was Richie.
Richie Ryan stepped off the plane tiredly. He had wanted to spend Christmas with Fiona, but bad weather had gotten in his way. He was relieved to be one step closer to his destination. He had one more connection to make. He hoped this one wouldn't be delayed too long by the weather. After that flight, he would retrieve his baggage, rent a car and drive the rest of the way to Fiona's. Although the weather reports weren't encouraging, he was certain he would make it... eventually. He smiled at the thought of visiting the Immortal woman. She always had a tree and wonderful things to eat. It was the kind of Christmas he had always wanted as a child, but never really had. He could barely wait to see her again.
Richie sighed. After Mac found a manager for the dojo and left on a business trip with Connor, Richie had agreed to accompany Fiona back to France to visit the women's shelter she'd opened outside Paris. The money she received from Carsini's estate was managed by the Brigit Foundation and the shelters were called Brigit's House. Richie had puzzled over the name Fiona had selected until she explained that Brigit was a Celtic goddess and, to her, a house protected by Brigit would be a safe place for women and children.
From France, they'd gone to Italy where Fiona was turning another of Carsini's holdings into a women's shelter. Richie had enjoyed being in Italy and practicing the Italian he'd learned in college. During their stay in Italy, Fiona had asked him if he would consider accepting a position with the Brigit Foundation and continue to help her oversee the opening of additional shelters. Richie made his decision quickly. Although the distress of the women and children bothered Richie, he enjoyed helping them. He understood what it was like for a child to arrive in an unfamiliar environment. He took pleasure in distracting the children with stories and games while their mothers filed the necessary papers with the workers at the house.
After the house in Italy began receiving residents, Richie and Fiona went to London where Richie had helped Fiona oversee the opening of another shelter. They'd come back across the Atlantic and he'd been her assistant in opening several additional shelters using the land, houses and money she'd gotten from Romero Carsini's estate. When Fiona decided to return to her house on Holy Ground, Richie had stayed behind to make certain that the shelter they'd been trying to open did, indeed, open on time and begin receiving residents.
There already was a Brigit's House in this particular city. Because of the weather, Richie had decided against visiting the shelter. He wondered if that had been a mistake. Most of the stranded travelers had been accommodated at nearby hotels by the airlines and the locals had returned home, so the airport wasn't teeming with people. He'd gotten there too late to get a room until his flight was able to leave. Maybe he'd reconsider his decision and go to the shelter until he could resume his journey to Fiona's. Richie sighed again. If his flight were delayed for an extended period, he'd try to rent a car and drive to the shelter.
Fiona sat in front of the fire between the MacLeods. After a full meal and a few glasses of scotch, both men were dozing. They had had a difficult time getting to her home. They had planned to arrive before Christmas, but there had been many weather delays. The drive from the airport had been hazardous. She was thankful they had arrived safely. Although they would have survived an accident, such events were hard forget and difficult to explain. She gazed at the presents they had added to those already under the tree. Most of the new ones were for her from the Highland men. They had a few for Richie in case the younger man showed up.
Fiona smiled. Connor was holding her hand loosely. Duncan had wrapped his arm around her shoulders from the other side. She rested her head on Duncan's shoulder. Fiona felt truly comfortable with the affection of the two men. She had overheard their brief argument over bedrooms. Neither of them had moved into her bedroom. Connor had taken the room closest to hers. Duncan would sleep in the room next to Connor's. The arrangement was fine. It wouldn't be the first time the trio had lived that way. Fiona remembered times when the three of them had slept fully clothed in the same bed simply to keep warm. Measures like those were no longer necessary. One of them always had the means to supply ample food and shelter for the others.
Connor looked into the fire sleepily. He must have dozed off after Fiona's fine meal. He smiled slightly. It wouldn't be the first time. The scotch had certainly played a role in his sleepiness. The fire crackled reminding Connor of earlier times. Fiona seemed capable of making anywhere seem like home. She was always willing to do whatever was necessary make him feel comfortable. She usually behaved as if anything she had was his.
She had once offered him all her money. It was a very small sum, but it was still everything she had. Although he had refused the offer, he never forgot her willingness to leave herself with nothing for him. She would do the same now if she thought he needed it. If he wanted anything, all he had to do was ask her. If he were hungry, she would provide something for him to eat. If he were tired, she would provide a warm, dry place for him to sleep. The same applied to his kinsman. Their earlier arrival was proof of that.
Cold and hungry, they were offered food and a place in front of her fire. It reminded him of typical Highland hospitality. She made no objection when they selected bedrooms or when Duncan poured glasses of her finest scotch. Fiona MacDonald meant it when she called the two MacLeods her Clan. He thought the two people next to him might be the closest he would ever come to a family.
Connor looked up at the Christmas cards on Fiona's mantle. He had read the note inside the card from Richie. He liked the young Immortal and found Richie's attitude towards Fiona to be more than acceptable. Connor smiled. Richie tended to be as pig-headed as Duncan.
Fiona was just dozing off when Connor stirred beside her. Lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed her fingers gently. Fiona lifted her head from Duncan's shoulder to look at the elder Highlander. Connor smiled at her.
"It's good to be home, lass."
Fiona returned his smile. Although she knew he was comfortable in her house, Connor rarely referred to anywhere as his home. She found it gratifying that he used the term to describe her home. Connor left the room briefly. He returned with a new bottle of scotch.
Connor looked at the two people sitting on the couch. His kinsman had fallen asleep with one arm wrapped around Fiona's shoulders.
"You look comfortable, lass."
Fiona glanced at Duncan and then at the empty seat beside her. She patted it lightly as she smiled at him warmly.
"I was more comfortable before."
Connor smiled. As he expected, he was included in her affections. There were gifts under the tree for him. He suspected she was planning something special for his birthday. She was the only one who fussed over it anymore. He rarely bothered unless he was involved with a mortal woman. He poured some scotch into Fiona's glass before refreshing his own drink. Looking into the fire, he sipped his drink. Fiona took great pleasure in celebrating his birthday. He felt her hand slip into his. He smiled. Knowing that she always remembered his birthday was in itself something to celebrate.
Richie sat glumly in the airport. He could barely hear holiday music playing nearby. It was starting to depress him. He wished he were listening to it at Fiona's. Richie shook his head. Fiona wouldn't play music like this. He grinned. She had much more class.
Richie stared out the window at the falling snow. His flight was delayed yet again. It appeared that the airport would be officially closed before long. He couldn't remember the last time he'd heard a departing or arriving flight announced.
Because drivers were being advised to stay off the roads to allow snow-clearing equipment and emergency vehicles free access to the roads, Richie had decided against going to the local shelter Fiona had opened. He hoped the weather would clear soon and allow him to continue on his way. He wasn't certain why he was so anxious to be in Fiona's company, but the few weeks they had been apart seemed like years to him.
The airport was dotted with stranded travelers who had been unable to obtain accommodations for the night from the airlines. People who lived in the area had simply returned home. He didn't pay much attention to the muffled cry he heard. If someone had been injured, Richie was certain that he or she had a traveling companion who was able to help. When he didn't hear any further commotion, he settled back into his thoughts of Christmas at Fiona's.
Richie became aware of someone staring at him intently. He turned to see a small child clutching a tattered toy dog. He smiled at the solemn little girl. She continued to stare at him without any response. Richie frowned. Something was seriously wrong if this pre-schooler was wandering around by herself.
"Hi," Richie said gently. "Where's your mommy?"
The little girl glanced over to an area Richie couldn't see. Hugging the stuffed dog tighter, she shook her head.
"Does she need help?"
The little girl glanced back again and nodded.
"Okay," Richie said, picking up his baggage and getting up. "Why don't you take me to your mommy and I'll see if I can help her."
The willingness of the little girl to take his hand and walk with him troubled Richie. Too many children trusted the wrong person and ended up abused or dead.
"There's Mommy," the little girl said as they rounded a corner.
Richie looked in the direction the child pointed. Clothing and other items strewn around the area seemed to indicate a tremendous struggle. A woman was slumped against a nearby wall. With a groan, the woman tried to lift her head. The front of her shirt was bloodied. When Richie saw blood on her face, he lifted the little girl in his arms and turned her away.
"Someone call airport security!" he yelled. "This woman needs an ambulance!"
Watching a woman in an airline uniform speaking rapidly into a hand-held radio, Richie didn't see the man approaching him.
"Hey you! Put my kid down!"
Richie spun in the direction of the brusque male voice. The little girl in Richie's arms squeaked with alarm. Richie's mind raced with thoughts of how he could protect the little girl and her mother. The man was about Mac's size. Richie didn't think he'd be over-matched, but he didn't want the little girl to see any further violence. Trying to shield the child, Richie backed up towards the injured woman. He had no doubt this man was responsible for whatever had happened to her. Resisting the urge to punch the mortal with all of his strength, Richie could almost hear Mac telling him to stay calm and protect the woman and her child without resorting to violence himself unless it became unavoidable.
"I said put her down! And get away from my wife."
Richie was relieved to see an airport security officer running towards them as a small crowd of stranded passengers gathered in the area.
"What seems to be the problem?" the security guard asked.
Richie stepped out of the way so he could see the woman slumped against the wall behind him. Richie saw the man's expression change instantly as he pulled the radio from his belt.
"I'll tell you what the problem is! He's got my kid! I think he's been messing around with my wife! She must have come here to meet him."
"Calm down, sir," the guard said before giving a brief report on his radio.
"I don't have to calm down. I want him to leave my wife and kid alone."
Richie watched more security rush in their direction. Behind them, two men were wheeling a gurney loaded with equipment. They were followed by a group of men and women. Each member of the group seemed to have something hanging from his or her neck. Although Richie was glad to see help arriving for the woman, he frowned. He could sense another Immortal. He sighed. A challenge was the last thing he needed at the moment. Richie tried to make eye contact with the other Immortal, but turned when a woman spoke softly to him. She was definitely mortal. The sensation wasn't coming from her.
"Give her to me. I'm a police officer," she said showing Richie the badge she wore in a holder hanging around her neck. "You'll need to give a statement in a minute or two... and she doesn't need to see that."
Richie glanced behind him. The two paramedics had reached the injured woman and were asking her questions. Her responses sounded like moans to Richie. The little girl resisted leaving Richie's arms.
"It's okay," Richie said gently. "This nice lady is gonna take care of you. Don't you think that's a pretty cool badge she's got?"
The little girl went to the woman, but continued to watch where Richie went and what he did. Listening to the woman ask the little girl some carefully worded questions about her mother, Richie turned to watch the paramedics work on the woman. Fiona had suggested he become a paramedic. He was impressed by their ability to help and wondered if he should take her advice and enroll in a training program. He could imagine himself working alongside the paramedics he was watching. He would have to discuss it with Fiona once he got to her house.
"How did you get involved in this, sir?"
Richie turned to face the man who had asked the question. He wore a badge in a holder like the one the woman who had taken the little girl was wearing. His soft Southern accent spoke of the American South. The strength of the buzz let Richie know this was the Immortal he had sensed. Just past the other Immortal, Richie could see the man he assumed was the woman's husband talking to another man displaying a badge.
"My name's Matthew McCormick," he drawled. "I'm not here for you. Just tell me what happened."
"The little girl came over to me and told me her mother was hurt and needed help."
McCormick nodded and wrote something down.
"That's true, officer. I saw her wandering around. He was just sitting there and she went over to him."
Richie and Matthew McCormick looked at the woman who had spoken. She held a toddler in her arms and had another child by the hand. Richie remembered seeing her sitting in the waiting area across from where he'd been sitting. The older child had been playing quietly while the younger one slept in his mother's lap. Richie wondered vaguely why the little girl hadn't gone to a woman with children instead of a man by himself.
"Thank you, Ma'am. Please stay in the area. Someone will take your statement later," McCormick said politely and turned back to Richie. "Can I see some identification, sir?"
Richie reached into his pocket and took out his wallet. When he pulled his driver's license out, a business card fluttered to the floor. Handing his license to the McCormick, Richie bent down to retrieve the business card.
"Are you headed home? I have an... acquaintance... there."
Richie wondered whom the man was referring to. He could know Mac, but he could also mean Methos or Amanda. Realizing it didn't really matter, Richie shrugged.
"I'm going not to far from there."
"Oh, too bad. May I see that, Mr. Ryan?"
"Call me Richie," Richie said, giving the card to the other Immortal.
McCormick stared at it a moment. He seemed to have some odd things in common with this stranger. First, his identification indicated that he came from the same city where Matthew had last seen Duncan MacLeod. Now, he had a business card from the organization that supported the women's shelter where Carl Robinson was currently employed.
"Why do you have a card from the Brigit Foundation? I have a... friend... who works for the shelter they run locally."
Richie tried to show no reaction. Evidently, an Immortal was working at the Brigit's House in this city. Richie wondered if Fiona knew about the Immortal. Maybe he should have arranged to go to the house and check it out. He decided it was better to tell the truth about the card instead of trying to lie when he wasn't in any trouble.
"I work for the foundation that funds the houses."
Nodding, McCormick handed the items back to Richie as one of the paramedics approached them. The paramedic whispered something to McCormick.
"Excuse me, Mr. Ryan. Please wait here."
After speaking to the paramedic for a few moments, McCormick joined the officer speaking to the man who had confronted Richie. A struggle ensued between the man and the cops who were assisted by airport security in subduing and handcuffing him. Straightening his clothes and brushing his hair with his fingers, McCormick returned to Richie.
"She was trying to leave him, but couldn't get a flight out because of the weather. He caught up with her here. Fortunately for her, she had the Order of Protection against him in her purse and the paramedics found it."
"How is she?" Richie asked.
"Not too bad. Good thing the little girl found you and you alerted airport security before he came back. No telling what might have happened if he'd left the airport with them."
The other Immortal paused and looked over at the woman. Richie noticed she was talking normally to the paramedics. The only visible sign that she had been injured was a black eye. The paramedics had covered her bloodied shirt with a blanket. Someone had gathered the woman's possessions and placed them in a shopping bag near the stretcher.
Richie watched as the female cop brought the little girl over to her mother. The child was obviously happy to be reunited with her mother. She pointed at Richie. Richie winced at the frightened, defeated expression on the woman's face. He'd seen it far too many times in the last few months. It was a bitter reminder of what Fiona had told him. A woman's failed escape attempt could result in severe injury or death. If the attempt succeeded, the woman might be left with no money and nowhere to live. Fiona wanted Brigit's House to be an alternative for women like the one he had just helped.
"They need somewhere safe to stay," McCormick said with a very knowing tone in his voice. "Shall I make the call or will you?"
Richie smiled. He'd been thinking the same thing. He didn't feel so selfish making the call to help someone else.
"I think I can take care of that."
After getting off the phone, Richie smiled. The staff had room for the woman and her little girl. They could also accommodate him and were able to help with his other request. A van and support staff would pick them up at the airport. Richie paused a moment and then approached the woman with the two children. She was just completing her statement to one of the police officers. The toddler had once again dozed off in her lap. Her older child was staring wide-eyed at the cop.
"Excuse me," Richie said as the cop returned to brief McCormick on what the woman had said. "Would you like a place to stay tonight with your kids?"
The woman looked at him apprehensively. When Richie handed her a card from Brigit's House, she shook her head.
"But I'm not..."
"I know, but I've just made arrangements for that woman and her little girl to stay there. Doesn't look like the airport will reopen before tomorrow, so I'm going there until I can get a flight out. It might be more comfortable for you and the kids at the house instead of here in the airport. The three of you will have a room to yourselves, and I'm sure there'll be food available."
"Are you sure? I can't pay much."
"No payment necessary," Richie replied.
He had the authority to give this woman and her children permission to spend the night. Under the circumstances, they needed help and he could provide it. If his decision were called into question, he was certain Fiona would agree with his actions.
Fiona watched out the window. Right after breakfast, she had taken off on cross-country skis with Connor and Duncan. The skis were her birthday present to the men and it seemed appropriate to give them to the MacLeods when there was so much snow on the ground. They'd been excited by the gift and insisted on using them immediately. Feeling cold and tired, she had abandoned their expedition to return to the warmth and comfort of her home. She had prepared a huge pot of soup for them and expected them to return at any moment nearly frozen and extremely hungry.
Fiona frowned as the men came into view. They both appeared to be wet and nearly covered with snow. Laughing, they jostled each other as they came towards the house. As soon as they took off their skis, they began throwing handfuls of snow at each other. When they came inside, Fiona could see how wet their clothes and hair actually were.
"What happened to you?"
"He fell," the men said in unison, pointing at each other.
Fiona shook her head. They would never tell her exactly what had happened. It wasn't important. The melting bits of snow at their feet concerned her more.
"Go get those wet things off. You're making a mess."
Connor looked down at his feet. There was a considerable puddle of slush surrounding them.
"It's your fault, you know," Connor said as he squashed a chunk of snow with the toe of his boot.
"My fault! If you weren't so clumsy..."
"I am not clumsy!"
Fiona cleared her throat loudly.
"Sorry, lass. Come, Duncan, we'll change and get the mop," Connor said, leading the way from the kitchen. He paused at the door. "Is that soup, lass?"
"Aye, and you'll get none if you flood the kitchen."
Laughing, the MacLeods headed into the hallway and up the stairs to shower and change before returning to the kitchen and the soup Fiona had cooking on the stove. After a few minutes, Connor appeared wearing a bathrobe and carrying the men's wet clothing. Fiona watched as he took the clothes to the laundry room. She nodded. If they were going to get up to foolishness, they'd better clean up after themselves. She heard the washing machine start its cycle. Connor came into the kitchen carrying a mop. He quietly began cleaning the slush and water from where the men had been standing.
"Duncan's showering, lass. He'll finish up here when he's done."
Fiona shrugged in response. Leaning the mop against the counter, Connor walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. His skin and wet hair were extremely cold.
"Connor! You're frozen!"
"A hot shower will help... as will a hot bowl of soup in front of the fire."
Fiona shook her head.
"Don't expect me to be building a fire for ye."
Connor smiled. He knew she was angry, but her current attitude was more show than substance or she wouldn't tolerate his embrace. As he kissed her neck, he felt and heard Duncan enter the room.
"Duncan will take care of that, lass."
"I'll take care of what?" the younger MacLeod asked, wondering what his kinsman was getting him into.
"Get a fire going in the fireplace while I'm in the shower. There's only a bit more mopping to do in here, lad."
Duncan nodded. He took the mop and finished cleaning the remnants of snow, ice and water from the floor where the men had been standing. Before leaving the kitchen to start a fire in the sitting room fireplace, Duncan paused to kiss Fiona's cheek lightly.
Fiona smiled. She didn't really care how the men had gotten wet during their skiing adventure. Their good humor and camaraderie were precious to her. Both MacLeods had a tendency to be too serious, and that they were comfortable enough with her to relax and enjoy themselves gave her enormous pleasure. Connor was a loner except for those rare times he found a mortal woman he loved. Duncan tended to brood over things too much no matter whom he was with. Much too soon, they would return to their usual lives and the need to disguise their Immortality as best they could. For these few days they would be together to celebrate birthdays and holidays, they were just themselves. They could acknowledge their Highland past and live as a Clan. Soup in front of the fire would touch on that past.
Fiona turned when she heard someone enter the room. She giggled at the puzzled look on Duncan's face.
"There's already a fire going inside."
"I know," Fiona replied with another giggle. "I just wanted both of you to work."
Shaking his head, Duncan laughed. Fiona was finding minor ways to punish them.
"So what do you want me to do?"
Fiona glanced around the kitchen. The soup was ready and Connor should be finished with his shower soon. Suddenly, eating a bowl of soup in front of the fire with the MacLeods seemed to be the most desirable way to pass the time.
"Cut some bread, Duncan," she said taking the pot from the stove. "We're nearly ready to eat."
Richie waited just inside an airport entrance with the two women and their children, while Matthew McCormick and one of the paramedics lingered nearby. Richie sensed another Immortal as a 4-by-4 pulled up to the curb. A tall black man got out from the driver's side of the vehicle and greeted McCormick. Women got out through the doors by the curb. Richie tried to watch the women and children get into the 4-by-4 while keeping an eye on the other Immortals.
Richie saw McCormick point at him and say something to the other man. The black Immortal tilted his head at Richie, but said nothing in response to McCormick. He approached Richie slowly. Richie had the feeling he was being sized up. Suddenly, the other man seemed familiar.
"You're Carl Robinson!" Richie said before the other man could speak.
Carl Robinson glared at the other Immortal. Matthew had said this character calling himself Richie Ryan might have a connection to Duncan MacLeod.
"Now how would you know that?"
"From the baseball card Mac has."
"Mac? As in Duncan MacLeod?"
"And you would be?"
Richie sighed. He didn't seem to have much choice. Neither of the other Immortals had issued a challenge and it seemed unlikely that they would, given the circumstances. He extended his hand.
"Richie Ryan. Mac's my teacher."
"MacLeod still have the dojo?"
Richie shifted his weight uncomfortably. Although Mac had mentioned knowing Carl Robinson, Richie wasn't positive they were still friends. He was fairly certain where Mac was now, but had no reason to give this Immortal any specific information.
"Yeah, but he's not there now. He's been away."
Nodding, Carl shook the other man's extended hand. This Immortal's destination and apparent connection to MacLeod made sense. He'd tried to call MacLeod, but a stranger had answered the phone saying that he was the new manager of the dojo and that the owner was on an extended trip.
"Let's get in the car and get these women to the shelter. The roads aren't getting any better."
"Fine soup, lass... and a fine fire. We should eat Christmas dinner in front of the fire."
Fiona rolled her eyes at Connor's suggestion. A bowl of soup in front of the fire was easy even with just the coffee table to sit at. She had no desire to rearrange the room in order to fit a dinner table in it and they would need at least one table to hold the amount of food she would most likely prepare. She had decorated each room on the main floor of the house for the holiday.
"Don't be silly, Connor. We'll eat in the dining room. There's no fireplace, but it is decorated."
Connor glared at her. It wasn't his most intimidating glare, but he was glaring nonetheless.
"Silly? Christmas dinner in front of the fire with family isn't silly."
Fiona sighed. Connor was right about Christmas dinner together, but she still wasn't prepared to rearrange her house to make it possible. Her dining room would be a wonderful setting for their Christmas meal together.
"Well," Duncan said thoughtfully, "we could move the Christmas tree into the dining room."
Convinced that he was teasing her, Fiona glanced at him. She could tell by his expression that he was serious about the idea.
"Okay, what are you two plotting?"
"Us? What makes you think we're plotting something?" Duncan asked.
Fiona shook her head. When Duncan had that look of innocence on his face, it was a sure sign that he was anything but. The two men had been gone a good part of the day. They had come back soaking wet and in good spirits. They had to be up to something.
"Do not rearrange my furniture. I like it where it is."
"Would we do that?"
Fiona laughed. She knew these two men much too well. Together, they could be as wild and unruly as any Highland man.
"Aye, you would."
Connor leaned over and kissed her cheek.
"I promise we won't do that, lass."
Fiona smiled at him. She could see it in his eyes. He was planning something and he'd enlisted Duncan's help. She wouldn't know what it was until it was too late to stop them.
Employees of the shelter greeted Richie and the others at the door. A woman extended her hand towards Richie.
"Hello, Mr. Ryan. It's very nice to meet you. I'm Kathy, the supervisor on this shift."
"Call me Richie," he replied, shaking the woman's hand. "These are the women I called about."
The staff members showed no reaction to the injuries of the woman Richie had helped. Kathy spoke briefly to the women with the two young boys before Carl and another staff member took the family down the hall to get something to eat and a place to sleep. Richie heard the older boy talking excitedly when they passed the playroom.
Smiling reassuringly, Kathy went over to the woman with the little girl.
"Hi. I'm Kathy. I'm glad you found your way to a safe place."
Looking around, the other woman nodded uncertainly.
"I'm Nancy. This is Miranda. We don't have much clothes or money. Maybe we should go."
Kathy shook her head.
"Not a problem. Would you and your daughter like something to eat?"
Listening to their conversation, Richie looked at his surroundings. The community room was brightly decorated with a Christmas tree, a menorah, Kwanzaa designs and various other lights and children's drawings. He could see that the lights and colors mesmerized the little girl who had come to him for help. Her mother seemed less taken with their new location.
"Cookies?" Miranda asked hopefully, attracting Richie's attention.
"I think we can find some cookies somewhere," Kathy said with a smile, "but I think maybe you and your mommy should have some dinner first."
Richie watched Nancy closely. Holding her young daughter in her arms, she seemed ready to leave the house at the first opportunity. He wondered what he should do to stop her if she did try to go. Without transportation and with the snow still falling outside, this house was the best place for her and her young daughter. Her expression changed when holiday music began playing softly in the community room. Richie recognized the tune as one Emily Ryan had played repeatedly when he was very young. He always associated it with her and Christmas.
Oh, there's no place like
"Are you okay?"
Kathy's question seemed to bring Nancy back to reality.
"That song... it's one of my mother's favorites. We always watched Perry Como when I was growing up."
Kathy glanced at Richie.
"Have you spoken to your mother lately?" Kathy asked softly.
Nancy shook her head.
"She lives in Florida. I don't have the money -- "
"Come with me. You can call her from my office. The house will pay," Kathy said, taking Nancy's arm. "We have a beautiful room for the two of you and there's plenty of toys in the playroom for Miranda. Do you have your Order of Protection? I can start your paperwork while you're on the phone."
As the two women walked down the hall towards Kathy's office, Miranda waved at Richie over her mother's shoulder. Her toy dog dangled from her other hand. Smiling at her, Richie waved back.
"Cute little girl," Carl Robinson said from behind Richie.
Richie eyed the other Immortal suspiciously. Apparently, he was a friend of Mac's, but Richie had had problems with Mac's friends before. It worried him that two Immortals seemed to be involved with this shelter. He hoped they weren't looking for Fiona. He'd have to warn her somehow.
Richie nodded. The last thing he'd eaten was a bag of chips in the airport. Most of the food places there were low on supplies or had closed completely, so there hadn't been much choice. Carl led him to a small room used as a lounge by staff members. Richie waited there while Carl went to the kitchen and returned with sandwiches and soup.
This other Immortal's sudden appearance bothered Carl. He knew the precarious situation of many of these women and didn't want this stranger upsetting the residents. If he were looking for a former girlfriend, Carl would have to find a secluded spot for a sword fight. In the time he'd worked at the shelter, he'd become very protective of the residents and staff.
"What are you doing here, Richie?"
Richie frowned at the question. The job title Fiona had created for him entitled him to enter any shelter in the system. He wondered why the older Immortal was working at the shelter.
"I work for the foundations that run these shelters. What about you?"
Sighing, Carl got up and refilled his coffee cup.
"Matthew and I tried to help a woman like the one you helped today. We were supposed to meet her and bring her here, but we got caught in traffic," Carl said and paused. He took a few moments to compose himself before continuing. "We were too late. She was shot and killed by her ex."
Richie sighed. That was exactly the type of woman Fiona had founded these houses to protect. He looked over at Carl when the other man came back to the table.
"So you're a cop, like Matthew."
Shaking his head, Carl laughed.
"No, not me. FBI... police... that's Matthew's thing."
"Then that doesn't explain why you're here."
"I came to check it out and liked the place. They're doing good things here."
Richie grinned. Like many of the houses left to Fiona by Carsini, this one stood on Holy Ground. He was certain the other Immortal knew that already.
"And it's Holy Ground."
"Well, there is that," Carl replied with a slight smile.
Richie finished his soup and ate the last half sandwich on the plate as Kathy entered the room, temporarily putting an end to the Immortals' conversation. The mortal woman got a cup of coffee and joined the two men at the table.
"I'm almost done with her paperwork. Nancy's talking to her mother now, so I took Miranda to the playroom and came in here to give her some privacy," Kathy said without any prompting from her male companions. "From what I can gather, Nancy's mother wants to come here or pay to have Nancy and Miranda fly down to visit her. Apparently, she's never gotten to see Miranda."
"Is a therapist in the playroom?" Carl asked.
"She'll observe Miranda. We'll have to talk to Nancy about the services we provide before we treat either of them."
Listening to the conversation, Richie remembered something Fiona had told him when he asked about the cost of running the shelters. There was medical and psychological care available in every shelter at all times. He'd never seen anyone refused food at any time of the day or night. The women were encouraged to contact a family member no matter where that relative lived. Thinking about the cost, Richie had started to worry about what might happen to the women and children if they had to leave because there was no more money available to fund the shelters.
After listening seriously to his worries, Fiona had laughed and thanked him for his concern, but said it wasn't necessary. She had estimated the cost of running each house in the system and assured him that, properly managed, the money from Carsini's estate could fund the entire system for over 100 years before money would be an issue. To avoid attracting attention, the Brigit Foundation accepted donations from corporations and individuals to assist in funding the shelters. Gifts of toys, food and clothing were also accepted regularly. According to Fiona, the donations could extend the funding for the shelters indefinitely.
At the time, Fiona had seemed very impressed that he had even considered that there might be problems in the future. Shortly after that conversation, she had offered him the position with the Brigit Foundation. Remembering the way she had spoken to him, Richie frowned. She sounded proud when he accepted the position. He'd wanted to surprise her by appearing suddenly at her home, but the weather had gotten in his way. He felt guilty about not contacting her during one of the delays. He should have called her by now to tell her he was on his way and would be there eventually.
"I should get back to Nancy. She's overwhelmed right now and I don't want to leave her alone for too long," Kathy said, getting up from the table. She smiled at Richie. "You did the right thing calling us. Nancy wanted out, but didn't even know we existed to help her."
Richie nodded. There was something nice about having his actions confirmed by someone he didn't know.
"Thanks. Is there a phone I can use?"
"Sure. There's one on the wall over there."
After the mortal left, Richie went to the phone and dialed Fiona's number from memory. She picked it up on the sixth ring. Just hearing her voice made Richie smile. He could hear singing in the background. One voice was definitely Mac, so the other had to be Connor. They were singing a very bad -and possibly drunken -- rendition of Jingle Bells. It made Richie wish he were there with them.
"Hi, Fiona. It's Richie."
He heard Fiona excitedly telling the MacLeods to be quiet because he was on the phone. There was a brief chorus of his name before Fiona demanded silence and the men became quiet, except for occasional bursts of laughter.
"Richie! Where are you? When will you get here?"
Richie briefly explained about the weather and the woman he had helped. Fiona asked him a few questions about both and seemed satisfied with Richie's answers. Promising to get to her house as soon as he could, Richie ended the phone call. Hanging up the phone, he felt even more of a longing to be in the company of the Immortals currently occupying Fiona's house on Holy Ground. He was certain Fiona's living room contained a brightly decorated tree with piles of gifts under it. He could almost smell the food Fiona would be preparing in her kitchen.
"So who's this Fiona?"
Lost in his thoughts about Fiona and the others, Richie had nearly forgotten about Carl. Uncertain about how much he could trust this man, Richie decided to stick to basics.
"She's a friend."
The other man's laughter startled Richie.
"You're sweet on her!" Carl said, continuing to chuckle.
"Sweet on her?" Richie repeated. His eyes widened as he realized what the other man meant. "No! Nothing like that! She's a friend."
Richie's protest seemed to increase Carl's amusement. Carl shook his head.
"I can tell by the way you say her name. You've got a thing for this Fiona."
Richie rolled his eyes. This guy had everything completely wrong.
"She's a friend of Mac's. She's been really good to me."
Carl studied the young Immortal. In two short sentences, he had given Carl a hint at some important information.
"She's one of us, isn't she?"
Richie nodded guiltily.
"There's more, isn't there?" Carl asked slowly. He thought a moment. "She's involved with these shelters somehow. That's why you told her about Nancy and Miranda."
"She established the foundation that funds them."
Carl looked at Richie thoughtfully. He'd thought a huge committee had planned the opening and operation of the shelters. He should have guessed there was an Immortal was involved in this. There seemed to be a vast amount of experience at work. Knowing that an Immortal woman was behind the foundation that funded the shelters gave him a new insight into things. He wouldn't think of the shelter in the same way again.
"She sounds like quite a woman. I'd like to meet her."
Richie laughed. He doubted Fiona was anything like what Carl expected. A meeting between them could be extremely interesting.
Carl man glanced at his watch. He was starting to like this Richie Ryan. There had to be more to the foundation and its founder than what Richie had told him, but the younger Immortal was being understandably cautious.
"Maybe you should get some rest. Matthew said the airport might be open in the morning. He's got some police conference to go to," Carl paused and grinned. "You want to be your best for Fiona."
Richie shook his head. Carl still had the wrong idea, but getting to Fiona's was still Richie's immediate goal. A good night's sleep was probably the best thing. He might be spending a long day at the airport.
Fiona smiled as she hung up the phone. While trying to get to her home, Richie had managed to help two women by bringing them to Brigit's House. Only one of them needed the services the shelter could provide, but the women and their children had benefited from Richie's actions. Although she knew he would do the right thing without the elder Immortals around, she was unexpectedly proud of him. He had shown good judgment in getting mortal assistance in dealing with the situation and in calling the shelter on behalf of the women.
After a few moments of thought, Fiona picked up the phone and made a couple of brief calls. Satisfied that her instructions would be carried out, Fiona looked around suspiciously. The MacLeods had been singing raucously when she answered the phone. Now, they were much too quiet. Either they had fallen asleep or they were plotting something. She had to find out which it was.
The two men were talking conspiratorially in front of the fireplace when she entered the living room. The conversation stopped immediately, confirming her suspicions that they were planning something. Duncan smiled at her charmingly while Connor took a drink from his glass of scotch. Usually, Duncan was this charming only when he had something to hide.
"So when does Richie get here?"
"Maybe tomorrow, Duncan," Fiona said with a sigh. "The airport's closed where he is."
Duncan poured scotch into a glass and offered it to her. When she took it from him, Duncan was glad she hadn't guessed what Connor had suggested to him. He was certain she would like the surprise that the men had planned. Richie's phone call and the possibility that he would arrive the next day only made things better.
"What's happened, lass?"
Duncan frowned at Connor. He saw no sign that there was anything wrong. Fiona seemed happy and Duncan assumed she was pleased that Richie had called and would be with them shortly.
"Richie had to help a woman who'd been beaten."
Duncan turned towards Fiona quickly. Richie sometimes acted without thinking. He hoped Richie hadn't drawn too much attention to himself in the process of helping someone else. Fiona's demeanor still didn't indicate a problem.
"What did he do?" Duncan asked.
"He had the authorities deal with the woman's husband. He arranged for the woman and her child to stay at the Brigit's House in the area."
Duncan could see Fiona was pleased by Richie's actions. It seemed the younger man had handled things perfectly. Maybe he'd been paying attention when Duncan told him things.
"He convinced a woman stranded at the airport with her children to go with them, as well. He's taking the position I gave him seriously, Duncan. I'm very proud of him."
Richie was up early the next morning, getting his things together in case he could get to the airport and continue his journey to Fiona's. The sound of someone walking down the hall was accompanied by the sensation of an Immortal. As Richie expected, there was a knock on his door followed by Carl Robinson's voice.
"The airport's open, Richie. You might want to grab some breakfast before you leave."
Richie opened the door. His luggage was packed and ready. If the airport had really reopened, he could be at Fiona's by late afternoon. With Carl's help, he took the luggage downstairs and followed the other Immortal to the dining room where the shelter's residents were having breakfast. There were enough small tables in the large room to allow the women and children to eat together as families.
Richie followed Carl to an area where the staff ate. Just before they reached an empty table, Richie heard a gleeful shriek.
Richie turned to see Miranda running towards him. Instinctively, he opened his arms to her. The little girl jumped into his embrace and hugged him tightly before she began talking quickly about the toys in the playroom and the children she had played with since arriving at the shelter. When he saw Nancy heading towards them, he walked in her direction carrying Miranda.
"I'm sorry. She really does know better," Nancy said shyly as she took Miranda from Richie's arms.
Richie grinned at them. He thought Nancy looked much calmer than she had when they arrived at the shelter.
"Not a problem. Are you okay?"
"Thanks for helping me... us."
"That's what Brigit's House is for."
Richie looked around when he sensed another Immortal. It wasn't Carl. This was a new sensation. Carl came up behind him as another mortal staff member entered the dining room.
"Matthew's here, Carl."
"As if I couldn't tell," Carl said loudly enough for only Richie to hear.
Trying not to laugh, Richie followed Carl into the hall where Matthew waited for them. Matthew nodded at them.
"Morning, gentlemen. The airport's open. You should be able to leave whenever you want, Richie."
Richie was distracted by a conversation he could barely overhear.
"But I have to pay something!"
Richie excused himself from the other Immortals while they discussed helping Nancy retrieve some of her possessions from the apartment she had shared with her husband. Matthew and Carl were working out a plan to accompany her personally.
"What seems to be the problem?" Richie asked when he reached the other woman he had met at the airport. She was having a minor argument with a staff member while her sons played happily with toys from the playroom. Both women turned to him.
"I want to pay something for staying here. I can see how much good you're doing. It doesn't seem right for me to take up room when I didn't need it."
"It's not necessary," the staff member insisted.
Smiling, Richie handed a business card from The Brigit Foundation to the woman.
"You needed a place to stay. If you want, you can send a donation to this address."
She took the card and studied it for a moment.
"I belong to a small women's group. We've been looking for a charity to support. I think I've just found it."
Richie grinned. The support of another group of mortals would add an additional layer to disguise the connection of the shelters to Immortals.
"Have you and your boys eaten breakfast?" he asked.
The woman shook her head.
"Go in the dining room and get something. The airport's open. We can leave soon."
After hearing the news that the airport had reopened, the woman happily took her sons to the dining room. Richie watched Carl and Matthew follow her. He trailed after them. Carl was probably going to drive him to the airport with the woman and her sons before taking Nancy back to her apartment. He would be willing to leave as soon as he had eaten. Getting to Fiona's was his only goal now. Talking to Fiona the previous evening had made him anxious to see her and the others again.
"Connor, I have plenty of food!" Fiona protested.
"We'll need more, lass. Especially after Richie gets here."
Fiona recognized that tone of voice. Connor was determined to do what he wanted to do. Nothing she could say would dissuade him from going food shopping. Duncan put his arms around her from behind.
"We want to return the rental car, anyway," he said softly. "We shouldn't be too long."
Fiona frowned. Connor had a habit of buying far too much food. She had done the shopping for their Christmas meal already. Trying to see the bright side, she shrugged. If the two men left, she'd have her kitchen to herself. She could begin cooking their Christmas dinner.
"Aye, Connor," Duncan replied, letting go of Fiona and putting on his coat.
Fiona smiled. Duncan looked like a boy who was being allowed to tag along with his adored big brother. She hadn't seen them act this way for decades.
"Back soon, lass," Connor said cheerfully.
"Wait! What if Richie needs a ride from the airport?"
Duncan pulled his cell phone from his coat pocket and turned it on.
"I have my phone. Have him call me. We can pick him up."
As the door closed behind the two men, Fiona shook her head. They were definitely up to something, but she hadn't been able to get them to tell her what they had planned. They took great delight in keeping their scheme from her. She was certain their desire to go grocery shopping was part of their plot, but she wasn't certain how it fit in.
Fiona put on some Christmas music before going into her kitchen. She'd better start Christmas dinner while the house was quiet. If everything went well, Richie would be joining them before long.
Richie and the others arrived at the airport quickly. Although huge piles of snow seemed to line every street, the roads had been cleared overnight and traffic was moving at a nearly normal rate. The airport was crowded with people trying to get home after visiting friends and relatives for the holidays. Richie smiled. He was doing the opposite. He was trying to get to the people who were his friends and family.
After parting company from the woman and her two young sons, Richie turned his attention to the other passenger in the van. Nancy sat staring at the crowd entering and leaving the terminal. He hoped she wasn't reliving the terror she must have felt during her last visit to the airport.
"You'll say goodbye to Miranda for me? She's a great kid."
Nancy nodded. She looked at him with a puzzled expression.
"Why did you interfere?"
Richie smiled at her choice of words. Immortals were free to interfere in mortal affairs if they so chose. There was risk for both sides, but sometimes the benefit outweighed the risk.
"Because I could help," he said, hugging her briefly.
Resisting the contact, Nancy stiffened. Richie remembered being told that some of the women would be afraid of other people. He regretted following his impulse to hug her.
"Take care of yourself and Miranda."
Nancy nodded, but didn't say anything as Richie left the van. Matthew and Carl stood outside with his luggage. Richie looked at the Immortals who had brought them to the airport.
"You'll look after her?"
"We'll take her to retrieve her belongings and then return her to the shelter," Matthew replied. "You give Duncan MacLeod my regards when you see him."
Carl extended his hand to the younger Immortal.
"You tell Mac I was asking for him, too. Maybe we can get together sometime."
Shaking Carl's hand, Richie grinned. He'd have to tell Fiona and the others about the Immortals involved with this Brigit's House. Neither of them appeared to pose a threat to the shelter or its residents. He didn't think the shelter could have better protectors.
Saying a final goodbye to both men, Richie took his luggage and went into the airport terminal. As he made his way through the crowd to the airline ticket counter, Richie heard himself being paged over the airport loudspeakers. When he identified himself to an airline employee, she smiled brightly at him.
"Mr. Ryan! We've been waiting for you. We have a seat in first class waiting for you on the next flight out to your destination. Please come this way. They've just started boarding."
Following the woman, Richie shook his head. There had to be a mistake. He hadn't bought first class tickets. Once on the plane, the stewardess showed him to a vacant seat in first class and assured him that there was no mistake. His ticket had been upgraded. As Richie sipped the champagne that the stewardess had given him, a smile came to his face. Fiona must have arranged this first class flight for him. They had flown first class during their trip to Europe. His smile broadened as the plane taxied down the runway. She had arranged for him to continue his journey on the first available flight. He'd be at her house sooner than he expected.
Duncan sighed as he followed his kinsman down the block. He was beginning to tire of carrying the bags and boxes of items the men purchased. They added this current load to what they had already loaded in Fiona's 4-by-4. There was an interesting assortment of groceries and discounted Christmas decorations.
"How many more places do we have to go, Connor?" Duncan asked wearily. He felt like they'd been in every store that was open for business. Evidently, Connor had made numerous phone calls to merchants in the area. Every store they entered seemed to have something waiting for the elder man to pick up.
"Only one more, lad. There's champagne and caviar waiting for us on the next street. I ordered it specially for New Year's Eve."
Duncan grinned as they entered a gourmet shop. Connor seemed to have every detail planned. Fiona would be extremely happy with the surprise the men had planned. Completing the transaction quickly, the MacLeods took the last of their purchases back to the car and left the shopping area.
Checking his cell phone again, Duncan was vaguely troubled that he hadn't heard from Richie. He hoped the younger man hadn't been delayed again. Fiona would be very disappointed if the young Immortal didn't arrive today.
Driving back to Fiona's, Connor and Duncan sensed another Immortal. Connor slowed down. Cautious, they searched for the source of the sensation. There was a car stuck in the snow near the side of the road. Getting out to help, they saw the other Immortal.
Richie Ryan grinned at them. He had recognized the car as Fiona's. The driver and passenger were well known to him. The Highlanders helped him move his belongings into Fiona's 4-by-4 before using her vehicle to pull the car from the snowbank. He would get to Fiona's after all.
"Drive the car back to town and drop it off, Richie. We'll follow you," Connor said as the MacLeods got back into Fiona's car.
Richie started up the car again and turned back towards town. As Connor had promised, the 4-by-4 was behind him the entire trip. After dropping off the car, he left the rental office and got into the vehicle being driven by Connor MacLeod to continue his journey towards Fiona's. Richie smiled as they pulled away. He was finally going to celebrate Christmas with the other Immortals.
During the ride, the MacLeods asked him about the events in the airport and the women he had assisted. Richie wasn't surprised that they knew about the women, but he hadn't expected their concern. They both agreed that he had taken the correct actions in the situation. He hadn't called attention to his Immortality during the incident and he had resolved the confrontation without violence.
"Oh, Mac, Matthew McCormick and Carl Robinson said 'hi'."
Mac twisted around in the front passenger seat.
"Where did you meet Matthew and Carl? You didn't challenge one of them, did you?"
Chuckling, Connor reached over and gently slapped Duncan.
"Don't be foolish, lad. If he'd challenged someone, why would they want him give you a message?"
Duncan nodded. Connor was right. Duncan listened to Richie's explanation of how he'd encountered the other Immortals. He could picture Matthew as a police officer helping Richie in the airport. Carl working in the shelter was a surprise, but Carl did have an understanding for those who needed help and Duncan could appreciate Carl's desire to protect the women and children.
When Connor pulled into the driveway, Richie was the first one out of the car. He stood staring up at the house as the MacLeods got out and opened the back of the 4-by-4 that seemed to be filled with mysterious bags and boxes. The house was as impressive as he remembered from his first visit to it with Mac. Despite being cold and tired, just standing in the front yard made him feel better. Looking at the snow-covered house and grounds, Richie felt like he had stepped into a holiday greeting card.
"Happy to be home, lad?" Connor asked, handing Richie his bags.
Richie nodded. He wouldn't have thought of calling Fiona's house his "home", but it seemed appropriate when Connor said it. Maybe that was why he wanted to get to Fiona's so desperately. He wanted to be somewhere he could call home.
Carrying his luggage, Richie followed Connor and Duncan, who were carrying bags of groceries, towards the house. Stepping inside, Richie smiled. He could smell cookies baking. Fiona's cookies were one of his favorite memories from his previous Christmas visit.
"Aye, Duncan," the elder MacLeod said, sniffing the air. "Something else as well. The lass has been busy."
The men hung up their coats before the MacLeods picked up the grocery bags again. Smiling, Connor stepped in front of Richie and shook his head.
"Come, lass. We have a surprise for you," Connor called.
Wiping flour from her hands, Fiona stepped into the hall wondering what Connor had bought during the unnecessary trip for groceries. Holding bags of groceries, the MacLeods grinned at her. They parted, revealing the young Immortal standing behind them.
Fiona rushed towards the young Immortal and embraced him happily. Kissing him firmly on the cheek, she stroked his hair affectionately.
"Christmas dinner, lass."
Still hugging Richie, Fiona turned towards Connor.
"I thought we could have it tomorrow on New Year's Eve, Connor. It will give me more time to prepare."
Connor shook his head.
"We're together. Christmas dinner. We can all help in the kitchen."
Sighing loudly, Fiona shook her head. She would make as many dishes as time allowed. It was still fairly early in the day and she had been cooking since the men left. They could still have most of the meal she intended to make. The rest could be prepared for Connor's birthday. She made her way back to the kitchen. She had work to do.
As soon as Fiona was out of sight, Connor put down the bag of groceries and grabbed Richie's arm.
"Keep her occupied. Duncan and I have something to do."
Richie swallowed hard as he looked into the intense eyes of the elder Highlander.
"How can I keep her occupied?"
Giving a bag of groceries to Richie, Duncan grinned.
"You'll think of something, Rich. You're good at talking," Duncan said. "Just keep her in the kitchen for a while... help her with her cooking."
Connor pushed Richie in the direction of the kitchen as he followed Duncan out of the house.
Richie entered the kitchen uncertainly. He had no idea what the others were doing or why they wanted him to keep Fiona in the kitchen. She turned and smiled at him.
"Put that down anywhere, Richie. Connor insisted on going grocery shopping. Where did they get off to?"
"They went back to get something from the car."
Fiona shook her head. Connor always bought to many groceries. When Richie left to get the other groceries from the hall, she looked in the bag he had put on the table. She sighed. The contents of the bag revealed the real reason for the men's urgent trip for groceries.
Connor must have wanted to get the ingredients for haggis. She could have told him that would be nearly impossible. He had settled for a ready made haggis, imported from Scotland. At least, he wouldn't be taking over her kitchen at some point. The haggis required no preparation. It merely had to be simmered for an hour or so. She put water onto boil, so the haggis would be ready with the rest of their meal.
As Richie helped her put the groceries away, she asked him questions about the women he had helped and about the shelter they had gone to. He answered her in as much detail as she required. She was proud of him. He'd given assistance to women who needed it in varying degrees.
Fiona was slightly troubled when he mentioned that there was an Immortal working as part of the staff at the shelter and one employed by the local police, but Richie seemed to feel the Immortals were no threat to the shelter or the women. According to Richie, Duncan knew both men. She would have to ask the younger Highlander about them and make certain that they would be of no trouble to her.
"Ummmm... Fiona? Can I ask you something?"
Curious, Fiona turned to look at Richie. She couldn't imagine what he might want to ask.
Richie sighed. He hoped she would be willing to help him. He'd been impressed by the actions of the paramedics at the airport and he wanted to be able to make a difference. It seemed to be the perfect solution.
"Can you help me find a paramedic program?"
Fiona hugged Richie briefly. He would be an excellent paramedic. Just knowing he'd decided to take her advice was the best present he could have given her.
"Of course, I'll help you. There are many fine programs. I'm sure we can find one that will suit you."
As Fiona returned to her stove, she watched Richie take a cookie from one of the plates.
"Are you hungry, Richie? I can make you something to eat."
Munching on the cookie, Richie smiled. He'd thought about Fiona's cookies during most of the flight. It was pure torture to be standing in front of a table filled with them and not eat one.
"No, I just wanted a cookie."
"Don't eat too many, Richie. I'm planning a big dinner... speaking of which, where are Connor and Duncan? They said they were going to help."
Fiona left the kitchen before Richie could stop her. Curious about why the Highlanders had wanted him to distract her, Richie followed her down the hall. There had been mysterious boxes and bags in the back of her car when the MacLeods stopped to help him. It seemed to him that they only took the bags that obviously contained groceries when they arrived at the house. As they walked down the hall, Richie became aware of the holiday music playing in the background.
Oh there's no place like home
Fiona peeked into the living room. To her relief, her furniture remained where she had last seen it, but the Highland men were nowhere to be seen. They were definitely here. She could still feel their presence. Hearing a rustle in the other room, Fiona walked towards what had once been a ballroom.
She hesitated in the doorway. Wearing matching red sweaters and Santa hats, Connor and Duncan were decorating a small pine tree. Boughs of holly decorated the fireplace mantle and the bar. A table that she had never seen before stood in front of the fireplace. The table was covered with a Christmas tablecloth and a pretty Christmas centerpiece had been placed precisely in its center. She wondered how long it had taken them to agree on where the exact middle of the table was.
"What are you doing?" Fiona demanded.
"It's for Christmas dinner, lass!"
Fiona frowned. She'd said they couldn't rearrange her furniture. She hadn't told them not to buy additional furniture and decorations. Connor grinned at her.
"With the food on the bar where we can serve ourselves and a fire in the fireplace, it should be perfect, lass."
"And the tree?"
"It's real!" Connor said proudly.
Fiona rolled her eyes. It was obviously real. There was a burlap sack wrapped around the roots. The MacLeods had placed it in a basin.
"When the ground thaws, Connor and I are going to plant it outside. We saw the perfect spot when we were skiing."
Fiona sighed. As usual, Connor's plan made sense. The bar would be a perfect place to put the food. The tree would be a lovely addition to her property. It was pointless to argue with them. Instead, she gave them each a kiss. The entire idea would make a lovely Christmas celebration for the Immortals.
Richie wished he had a camera. He didn't think he would ever see both MacLeods wearing Santa hats again and, for some reason, Fiona kissing them reminded him of the old song about a boy seeing his mother kissing Santa Claus. When he laughed, Fiona tilted her head at him.
"Help them, Richie. They're making a mess."
"No, we're not!" Duncan protested.
Fiona folded her arms across her chest.
"Yes, you are... and one of you can light a fire in here. We can eat, if you ever get that poor tree decorated."
The MacLeods grinned at each other.
"There's a sweater and hat on the bar for you, Richie," Connor said. "You can't help unless you're properly dressed."
"Me? I'm not -"
Richie was interrupted when Fiona put the Santa hat on his head. When he turned to look at her, she put her arms around him and hugged him tightly.
"Welcome home, Richie," she said softly.
Richie smiled. It was the second time this house had been referred to as his home. He took the sweater Fiona offered him. Taking off the hat, Richie pulled on the sweater over his head.
"Richie, bring chairs in from the dining room. I have to get back to my kitchen," Fiona said as she placed the Santa hat on Richie's head again. "Presents after dinner, Connor?"
Connor considered her suggestion a moment. He'd only been thinking about decorating this room for Christmas, but he liked the idea of exchanging presents. He nodded.
"Aye, lass, if you like."
Duncan stood at the bar rummaging in a box. Fiona frowned as he took more ornaments from the box and placed them on the bar. They would have to be gone from there before she could bring the dinner in and she didn't see how they would fit on the small tree.
"Connor, where's the mistletoe?" Duncan asked just before he pulled the mistletoe ball from the box. He grinned at Fiona. Holding the mistletoe over her head, he kissed her. Connor grabbed it from his kinsman and kissed Fiona under it. Giggling, she pushed the men away.
"I must get back to my kitchen."
She left the room to the sound of the men laughing behind her. She was certain they would find a place to hang the mistletoe. She would decide whether she wanted to avoid that particular spot later.
With the help of the men, Fiona brought the food she had prepared into the ballroom. She smiled. They had done a wonderful job of decorating the room. The small tree looked like a miniature version of the one that stood in her living room. A fire blazed in the fireplace. The bar was loaded with food and drink. Chairs had been arranged around the table to accommodate one person at each end and two people facing the fire.
"What do you think, lass?"
She smiled at him playfully.
"I think I'm tired from being in the kitchen cooking all day."
Connor chuckled. She was pleased but wasn't ready to admit it to them. He knew exactly how to fix that.
"Then, sit at the table and we will serve you."
Fiona took one of the places facing the fire. Duncan prepared a plate of food for her while Connor poured wine for all of them. She had seen his wine selection and each one was excellent. She took a sip of wine as Duncan placed food in front of her. When Richie sat next to her with a plate piled with food, she looked over at him.
"You took haggis, Richie?" she asked in surprise.
"A little," Richie replied with a shrug. Seeing it on the bar with all the other food had reminded him of the elaborate meal Connor and Fiona had prepared in Scotland. The memories of that part of their trip were pleasant. He wanted to relive that time if only for a few mouthfuls.
The MacLeods joined them in a few minutes with their food and took the places at either end of the table. Sitting to Fiona's right, Connor grinned at his kinsman before smiling at her. The Christmas they had planned to spend together was happening and it was better than he had imagined. Fiona had prepared a wonderful meal for them to enjoy in front of the fire.
"Connor," Richie asked in a puzzled voice, "did you make the haggis?"
Startled, Connor looked at the young Immortal. He hadn't expected Richie to even go near the haggis. He thought the way they had teased Richie about it had probably made him reluctant to ever look at it again.
"No, I bought it, Richie. Why?"
With a shrug, Richie poked at the haggis on his plate.
"I just wondered. It's not as good as what you made in Scotland."
Connor chuckled. They might succeed in turning the boy into a Highlander yet. He might even find an opportunity to practice with the younger man. He would be able to judge his kinsman's ability as a teacher by the boy's skill.
Before taking a sip of wine, Fiona glanced at the elder MacLeod. Richie's compliment had obviously touched him. She wasn't certain it was because Richie liked Connor's cooking or simply because Connor was enjoying celebrating the holiday together. As she put her glass down, Connor refilled it. She smiled at him. His idea of the four of them meeting at her house for the holidays had been a good one. Perhaps they could do it every decade or so. She wasn't certain it would be practical to get together more often, but she certainly wouldn't object to doing so. The door to this house was always open to these men and times like these were always welcome.
"Everyone ready for dessert?" she asked.
"Not me, Fiona, I'm stuffed," Richie replied, pushing his plate away.
Just as he had anticipated during his journey, everything Fiona had made was delicious. He was certain he'd explode if he ate anymore, but he was curious about what else might come from Fiona's kitchen. The cookie he had eaten earlier was wonderful.
Fiona looked at him in surprise. The young Immortal rarely refused anything to eat, but he had eaten everything he had taken earlier.
"Not even for cookies... or clootie dumpling?"
While Duncan and Connor grinned broadly at the mention of the treats she had prepared, Richie was frowning slightly.
"What's that?" he asked.
Fiona giggled. His first experience with haggis had obviously taught the young Immortal to be cautions when the Highlanders mentioned foods he wasn't familiar with.
"Cookies? Oh, they're like these little cakes..."
Duncan stopped when Fiona threw her napkin at him. The foursome laughed.
"Like fruit cake, Richie," Fiona said.
She watched the young Immortal's eye light up. The desserts were ready to serve. If the men would help her clear up, she would bring the desserts from the kitchen. When Connor stood, Fiona looked up at him.
"Presents first, lass. Maybe that will build an appetite."
The Immortals sat near the brightly decorated tree in Fiona's living room, surrounded by discarded ribbons and wrapping paper. Boxes had been opened to laughter and expressions of appreciation.
Watching Fiona caress the lingerie he'd bought for her, Connor remembered a time when the mere thought of Fiona's underclothes had flustered him beyond reason. To buy the lacy items Fiona was currently examining, Connor had walked into a trendy lingerie shop and flirted with the saleswoman while he made his selection. Time seemed to change a great many things.
Smiling confidently, Duncan offered a small box to Fiona. During his recent trip with Connor, he had scoured antique stores in Scotland looking for just the right gift for her. He was certain she would like what he had eventually found. It was something he had thought about giving to her for a long time, but somehow never actually did so.
Fiona opened the small box Duncan had handed her. She gasped when she saw the contents. After all the centuries she had wanted this particular gift from the younger MacLeod, he had finally given her a luckenbooth. She had many signs of his feelings for her over their long lives, but for some reason, she always wanted this particular one.
"Duncan, it's lovely!"
"I'm glad you like it," the younger MacLeod replied and kissed her.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the expression on his kinsman's face. For some reason, the elder MacLeod appeared highly amused. Duncan rolled his eyes when Connor presented a small package to Fiona. She opened it quickly, revealing another luckenbooth. Fiona giggled. It was sweet to have the same affectionate symbol from both of the MacLeods. Although the design was similar, the pins were slightly different. She would be able to tell them apart easily, but would wear them with equal feeling.
Richie frowned. He'd been so happy during his trip to London with Fiona when he found a piece of jewelry he thought she would like. The woman who sold it to him had said it should make the woman he gave it to very happy, which seemed to confirm his feeling that Fiona would like the jewelry. Because he was never certain what to give the Immortal woman, he'd decided to save it until the Immortals were celebrating Christmas at Fiona's house. He was sorry he had done that now. It was much too similar to what the MacLeods had just given her.
"Is that for me, Richie?"
Richie nodded glumly.
"I'm sorry, Fiona," he said handing her the small, brightly wrapped package. "I'll get you something else if you like."
Wondering why Richie suddenly seemed so unhappy, Fiona opened his gift. She looked at him in surprise.
Richie couldn't understand why Fiona seemed shocked by the gift. The MacLeods were also staring at him oddly. He squirmed uncomfortably. It was only a piece of jewelry like the others she had just received. He couldn't see why everyone's attention was focused on him.
"Do you know what this is, Richie?" Fiona asked softly.
"A pin?" Richie replied doubtfully.
Fiona frowned at Richie in exasperation. She couldn't tell if he was simply playing innocent or if he truly didn't know what the pin signified.
"I thought it was pretty. Is there something wrong?"
Fiona shook her head. The younger man had merely bought her a piece of jewelry.
"It's beautiful, Richie. It's also very romantic."
Richie swallowed hard. He could hear Carl's laughter ringing in his ears.
"It's like an engagement ring, Richie," Duncan said. He couldn't think of a better way to explain the significance of the jewelry to the younger man.
When Richie blushed, the MacLeods laughed loudly. Fiona scolded the men. Connor kissed her cheek gently before standing up.
"I think we could all use a drink."
"The pin is lovely, Richie," Fiona said and smiled. "I have proof that three men care about me very much."
Chuckling, Connor distributed glasses of wine to the others. He was certain the boy had no idea what he had bought for Fiona.
"Aye, lass, that you do," the elder MacLeod said as he took the last two packages from under the tree. He handed the larger one to Richie before sitting down next to Fiona again.
Richie opened the package from Connor uncertainly. He couldn't imagine what the elder MacLeod would give him. Inside was a length of tartan and a Clan pin. Richie frowned at the tartan. He didn't recognize the pattern. It definitely wasn't MacDonald or MacLeod.
"Thanks, Connor. What Clan is this?"
"It's not a Clan, exactly. The Irish Clans wear the tartan of the county in which they live. The Ryans live in County Carlow. That's your tartan, Richie."
Richie fingered the cloth thoughtfully. There were families in Ireland who had worn this tartan for centuries. He wasn't certain he could actually claim relationship to them, but somehow the cloth made him feel like he was part of two Clans: one was the Ryans who resided in County Carlow; the other was the people in this room.
Fiona watched Richie touch the tartan reverently. Connor had just handed him a heritage to explore. It was a magnificent gift.
"Connor . . ." Richie started uncertainly. "Connor, will you teach me how to make a kilt out of it? Like we did for Fiona's birthday that time in Scotland?"
Connor nodded. He would gladly teach the boy how to prepare a Great Kilt. He had purchased ample cloth for it, hoping the boy would ask.
Richie took a Clan pin from the box. It was similar to the pins Connor had provided when they wore kilts in Scotland.
"Is this the Ryan crest, Connor?"
Richie studied the pin. Something was written around the edge of it in a language that Richie couldn't read.
"What do the words mean?"
"Malo More Quam Foldari is the Clan motto, Richie," Connor said. "It means I would Rather Die than be Disgraced."
Richie nodded solemnly. The motto sounded like something Mac would say. Maybe it was one of the things his mentor had been trying to teach him.
Fiona smiled at Richie. She wasn't certain the Clan motto suited the younger man, but his actions in helping the women and children had proven that he had as much honor as the MacLeods who sat on either side of her. Connor interrupted her thoughts by presenting her with the final gift from under the tree.
Sitting between the MacLeods, Fiona opened the package Connor handed her. It was from both men. She unwrapped it anxiously. The box revealed a framed photograph of a landscape. The place seemed vaguely familiar. It was definitely Scotland, but beyond that, Fiona couldn't understand why the men would give her an elaborately framed photo.
"Don't you recognize it?"
Fiona shook her head in puzzlement at Duncan's question. He looked at his kinsman over her head.
"You were trained there, lass. It was Hamish and Ruth's farm."
Tears blurred Fiona's vision. She wiped her face impatiently. Duncan brushed her cheek gently before kissing her.
"It's yours, Fiona. Connor and I bought it for you."
Fiona threw her arms around Duncan's neck. Connor deftly caught the photograph before it slid off her lap onto the floor. He watched her kiss his kinsman. When she turned to Connor, he could see her emotions were about to overwhelm her, so he pulled her towards him. She cried into his shirt briefly. Lifting her head from his chest, she kissed him. Sitting up, she touched Connor's face while she reached for Duncan's hand.
"Thank you. Thank you both."
Connor held the photograph where she could see it.
"The cottage is in ruins, lass. It's being rebuilt. It will be as it was when Hamish and Ruth took you in."
Tears welled up in her eyes again.
"Well, except for the plumbing," Duncan said.
Despite her tears, Fiona giggled. The gift was nearly priceless.
"Will you work the fields as Hamish once did?"
Taking the photograph back from the elder MacLeod, Fiona shook her head in response to his question. Although she would keep the cottage and some land around it for herself, she had plans for the rest of the property. She would make it part of the holdings of the Brigit Foundation and house orphans or homeless women and children there.
Gazing at the picture, Fiona could almost see Hamish in the fields and Robbie, the dog, waiting impatiently for her to see to the flock. Somewhere nearby, Ruth tended her garden of medicinal herbs. As memories flooded her mind, Fiona frowned. A women's shelter wasn't the right use for the land. Hamish had worked it with all his heart and soul. It should remain a farm to honor his memory. /p
"I don't know what I'll do with it," she said slowly. "Perhaps I'll create a wildlife preserve there... or a working farm which recreates the life I remember when I lived there with Hamish and Ruth."
Richie's head shot up at Fiona's statement. She always spoke fondly of her mentors. He was surprised that she didn't plan to keep the property all to herself.
"Tis a big decision, lass. You should take your time and think about it."
Still staring at the photograph, Fiona nodded. Connor was right. She should think this over carefully before she made a final decision about the land. If she could think of a suitable plan, perhaps she could include the site where her village had once stood. No matter what she decided to do with it, the land would still be hers.
Fiona smiled at Richie. He had been studying the tartan that Connor had given him, but the conversation had distracted him. She wanted to include the younger man in her plan as a small reward for his actions. At least, she could decide what to call the organization that would oversee the management of the properties.
"The Ryan MacDonald Trust has a nice ring to it, don't you think?"
Looking back down at the tartan, Richie grinned. He liked the idea of having his name included in one of Fiona's projects.
"Come, Duncan, let's put dessert out. We'll tell you when it's ready, lass," Connor said, squeezing her shoulder gently.
Laughing about the three pins Fiona had received, the MacLeods headed for the kitchen. Sitting opposite Fiona, Richie was engrossed in examining the tartan Connor had given to him. Listening to the MacLeods working in the other room and watching Richie, Fiona smiled in the soft glow from the tree. She had received a wonderful present this holiday. Her Clan was together.
Angus MacDonald was the name of Fiona's father.
Fiona offers all her money to Connor in Bread and Ale. During the events of that story, Connor buys clothing for her and is embarrassed when he is asked about undergarments for her.
Fiona inherits the possessions of Romero Carsini after she defeats him in Unforgiven.
"Briganta or Brigit was the Celtic goddess of fire, the hearth, healing, marriage, childbirth and of poetry, celebrated by a festival to welcome the spring, usually held on the first day of February. She was renamed Bride and the feast became the Day of Bride. It was thought that she spent the winter imprisoned within Ben Nevis by the Cailleach or Blue Hag who destroyed everything on earth and brought darkness over the land." Page 21 "Scottish Customs" by Sheila Livingstone 1997 Barnes and Noble Books.
Matthew McCormick and Carl Robinson appeared in Manhunt (episode). Carl also appeared in Run for Your Life (episode).
Richie and Duncan visit Fiona at Christmas in Heart's Desire. It's Richie's first visit to Fiona's house on Holy Ground.
Connor, Richie and Duncan wrap and wear Great Kilts for Fiona's birthday in My Hope is Constant in Thee. As their gift to Fiona, the MacLeods purchase the land where her village once stood and give her the deed. Connor and Fiona prepare a meal for Duncan and Richie that includes haggis.
A man gave a luckenbooth to his beloved as a sign of his affection. After their marriage, it would be pinned to the blanket of their firstborn to ward off evil spirits.
Clootie Dumpling is a spiced fruit dumpling. I found a recipe for it at http://www.ifb.net/webit/recipes.htm.
For more information on the Clans of Ireland, see http://www.clansandnames.org/.
Hamish and Ruth appear in Prelude and in A Place Near the Fire along with Robbie, the dog.
Home for the Holidays composed by Al Stillman and Robert Allen (c)1954.