My Hope Is Constant In Thee

Mary Ellen

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DISCLAIMER : Connor MacLeod and Duncan MacLeod belong to Davis-Panzer Productions. Richie Ryan used to belong to them. He belongs to his fans now. Fiona MacDonald belongs to me. All characters are free to return to their original owners, but they refuse to go, so I guess I'm stuck with them or now. Please do not repost this story without asking me first. Direct all comments to me. I want to thank Richard Ruth and Kristine Larsen for being a long suffering and encouraging beta-readers for Fiona's stories. MY HOPE IS CONSTANT IN THEE is the tenth in the series.

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

Duncan MacLeod read the papers thoroughly before signing them. They were absolutely perfect. He had to admit Connor had done well. Duncan frowned. Although he was glad Connor had included him in the surprise the elder man had planned for Fiona, Duncan was slightly annoyed with his kinsman. He'd really rather be in the Highlands with Connor and Fiona than in Edinburgh with Richie, but he had promised to complete this business before joining the others. Duncan worked hard to keep his features composed. The only way to keep Fiona from discovering the MacLeods' secret plans was to get her as far away as possible, so Connor had taken her to the Highlands and left Duncan behind to complete the work the elder man had started.

The younger MacLeod sighed. There was another set of papers to read. Similar to the first, the second deal was to remain secret until a later time. Duncan looked at the clock. He hoped Richie was managing to stay out of trouble. Earlier in the day, he had handed Richie a guide book and told him to occupy himself until his meeting was concluded. He had time to complete this deal before meeting Richie. Lunch in a local pub with the younger man would be a welcome change from the matters which currently occupied his time and attention.

Taking a deep breath, Duncan prepared to read the papers being presented to him. Both Highlanders were determined to give Fiona gifts she would never forget. It was Duncan's responsibility to make certain that happened.

****

Fiona MacDonald sensed another Immortal. She smiled when he stepped up behind her and slipped his arms around her. He kissed her neck before resting his cheek against her hair.

"Happy, lass?"

When Fiona looked around, it was as if the countryside spoke to her soul. She leaned back into the familiar embrace of the man behind her. She was in her homeland with the men she cared most about. In many ways, happy was an understatement.

"Aye, Connor."

Fiona wished Duncan and Richie had made the trip with them instead of staying behind in Edinburgh. She knew Duncan's story about taking Richie sight-seeing was a lie, but both Richie and Duncan insisted it was true. Although she was aware of the hushed conversations between the Highland men, she didn't know what the MacLeods were up to and Connor wouldn't tell her.

Fiona frowned. Connor wanted to take her back to where her village once stood. When he had said they would visit their villages to see how many members of their Clans remained in the area, she had assumed he meant the vicinity and not the exact location of her former home. Odd as it may seem, she hadn't been back to the site since she left with Connor after becoming Immortal. She didn't have the heart. The voices that might speak to her there frightened her. She bit her lip, hoping the company would ease her fears and keep the spirits at bay.

"When are Duncan and Richie joining us?"

Connor chuckled. Fiona had been trying to discover their secret since Duncan had announced he would be staying behind for a few days. Sometimes it had been difficult, but he managed to resist her every attempt to wheedle information from him. He kissed her neck again before answering.

"In a day or two."

He hoped Duncan was completing the deal he had arranged. The negotiations had taken nearly two years. His certainty that Fiona would be pleased with the outcome had given him the patience he needed to continue bargaining with the various parties involved. When someone was being unreasonable, all Connor had to do to remain calm was picture Fiona's reaction to the outcome he envisioned.

"Come, lass, we must be on our way or we won't be prepared for Duncan and Richie when they arrive."

"Where are we going, Connor?"

Connor could tell from Fiona's tone and body language that she would not accept a vague answer. He pulled her closer to him.

"I've rented a house for us."

Connor felt Fiona's body relax against his. He didn't have to see her face to know she was smiling.

"Does that please you, lass?"

Pleased didn't even come close to describing the way Fiona felt. Instead of hotel rooms and restaurants, they would be staying in a house where she could prepare meals for the men in her company. It would be like being home. It would be like being with her Clan. Fiona's smile broadened. Both Connor and Duncan were accomplished cooks. Richie was capable in the kitchen as well. She would have to persuade them to cook for her. She giggled at the thought of the men in the kitchen.

She let Connor take her hand and lead her back to the car. She was disappointed that he had already packed up the remains from their picnic lunch. A bit of caviar and a sip of champagne would be a delightful tidbit before resuming their journey.

"Is there any caviar left?"

Connor chuckled. They had spent an enjoyable break from their car ride drinking champagne and feeding each other caviar and strawberries. He wished he could answer her affirmatively. He would like nothing more than to spend a few more moments in the idyllic setting with her.

"No, lass. We finished the caviar. All the champagne and strawberries, too."

Connor couldn't resist kissing her pouting mouth. She giggled softly as he pressed her gently but firmly against the car before deepening their kiss. When their lips parted, Fiona smiled at him.

"You're a wicked man, Connor MacLeod," she whispered as she pulled him into another kiss.

Breaking their kiss abruptly, the Immortals scanned the area when they sensed another of their kind. Fiona was uneasy that she didn't see anyone. When her eyes met Connor's, he shook his head slightly. Pushing himself away from her, he squeezed her shoulder gently. Fiona smiled at the old sign of affection between them.

"Get in the car, lass," Connor said softly.

Connor slid into the driver's seat while Fiona continued to look for the other Immortal as she walked quickly around the car to the passenger side. While she was getting in, Connor started the car. Once seated, she reached back to where they had hidden their swords. Her fingers brushed the familiar hilt of her Claymore as the car began to move. Reassured, she stroked the hilt of Connor's katana. Fiona straightened up in her seat. The sense of another Immortal was gone which meant they were safe for the moment.

She smiled when Connor brushed her hand gently. He was taking her to the house he had rented for them. She wanted to see it and settle herself in their temporary home so she could prepare for the arrival of Richie and Duncan. She hoped it had a fireplace and a table large enough for all of them. Somehow, she knew it had to.

****

Romero Carsini watched the car pull away. He had finally found Fiona MacDonald again, but she was in the company of Connor MacLeod. It would give him a great deal of pleasure to take Connor MacLeod's head. If it weren't for the MacLeods, he would have likely celebrated over 300 years of Fiona's companionship. Long ago, the MacLeods had come between him and the Immortal woman. Connor MacLeod had caused him to lose a great deal of money in the process. It had taken him decades to rebuild his fortune. As the car moved off into the distance, Carsini nodded to himself. Someday, he would regain his place in Fiona's life and both MacLeods would pay for their actions. He would make certain of that.

****

Richie nearly laughed at the sign. A local amateur theatre group was performing a play. The title was too funny.

"The Immortal Hour," Richie said aloud to himself. "Now, this I gotta see."

Glancing at his watch, Richie decided he could see the play and still have time to meet Mac. Richie flirted briefly with the attractive young woman at the door asking her about the unusual tattoo that encircled her upper arm. Her responses reminded him of Fiona.

After accepting a program from her, Richie took a seat in the small theatre. He glanced at the booklet the woman had handed him. It appeared to have been printed from someone's home computer. Just as the house lights were going down, something on the program caught Richie's eye -- Written by Fiona MacLeod. Dumbfounded, Richie stared at the stage. It was too good to be a coincidence.

****

Richie nearly ran down the street. Mac was probably already waiting for him and growing more impatient with each passing second. Something made Richie hesitate. He took a few steps backwards and studied the items in the store window. During the entire play, thoughts of Fiona had interrupted his concentration. Looking in the window, Richie felt compelled to buy her a small present. Something she could wear. He frowned. He didn't know where that thought came from, but he knew if he bought anything at all it would have to be something she would wear on her body.

A small group of items that had previously escaped his attention suddenly seemed to twinkle. Richie stared at the crystal earrings and matching pendant. The pendant was an unusual shape. He'd never seen anything else quite like it. It looked almost like a goblet to him. A crystal formed the cup above a twisted stem of leaves. Richie frowned. The tiny leaves were almost heart-shaped. The detail on the jewelry was beyond anything Richie had ever seen. He couldn't imagine how long it had taken someone to make it.

Remembering his meeting with Mac, Richie started to turn away, but glanced back at the jewelry. He hadn't noticed the small price tag attached to the chain of the pendant before. Richie read the amount three times. Although the jewelry appeared very old, the incredibly low price was well within Richie's budget. Without really thinking about it, Richie turned around and headed for the store's doorway. Moments later the items in question rested snugly in Richie's pocket.

Richie continued to his meeting with Mac at a pub the elder man had told him about before they parted company earlier in the day. Mac's directions made it easy for Richie to find. Activity in the pub slowed when Richie entered, but resumed when he sat down at the table occupied by his friend and mentor. The Highlander grinned at him briefly before turning his attention back to the well-endowed barmaid who waited to take his order.

"Two shepherd's pies and two pints, please."

The barmaid winked before leaving the table. The two Immortals watched her walk away. They grinned at each other when she disappeared through a doorway.

"I think I may have dated her great-grandmother," Duncan said with a grin. "There's certainly a strong . . . family resemblance."

Richie laughed when Mac glanced back at the doorway the waitress had exited through. Reaching into his pocket, Richie pulled out the small box containing the jewelry he had purchased on his way to lunch. As Duncan watched, Richie opened it carefully. He stared down into the box thoughtfully a moment before pushing it across the table to the elder man.

"I bought these for Fiona. Do you think she'll like them?"

Wishing he had his loupe, Duncan looked at the jewelry closely. He was nearly certain they were as old as they appeared. He frowned. Whether the jewelry was antique or an excellent quality reproduction, the items were beyond Richie's means. Eyeing the younger man suspiciously, he bit off the accusation of stealing that almost came out of his mouth. Richie had changed greatly since becoming his protégé, even before the younger man became Immortal. He couldn't imagine Richie giving Fiona something he'd stolen. MacLeod cleared his throat.

"These are very old, Rich. Where'd you get them?"

"A little store a few blocks away. Are you sure they're old? They were che -- really inexpensive."

Richie pushed a sales slip across the table. Duncan was shocked by the small amount listed for the items Richie had purchased. If he could have obtained articles of this age and quality for his antiques store at such bargain prices, his customers would have been convinced he had taken a loss on the merchandise while he had easily made an enormous profit.

"You got a great deal, Richie. Fiona will adore them."

"You sure?" Richie asked doubtfully.

Pushing the jewelry back towards the younger man, Duncan nodded. Fiona would undoubtedly love this jewelry. Richie couldn't have timed his purchases better. The younger man picked up the box and sat studying its contents.

"You can give them to her for her birthday."

Richie's head shot up.

"Fiona's birthday is soon?"

Duncan nodded. Connor had planned this entire trip to culminate in a celebration of Fiona's birthday. Duncan glanced at his watch. He had to call Connor before they left Edinburgh to get directions to their next destination.

"After lunch, we'll get ready to leave. We have to bring something Connor ordered for Fiona's birthday with us."

"What is it? A present?" Richie asked, wondering if Fiona would even notice the jewelry when she saw whatever the elder Highlander had gotten for her.

Duncan shrugged. Connor had simply told him that certain items he had purchased would be delivered to the hotel. Everything had been ordered and paid for in advance. All Duncan had to do was take it with him when he left Edinburgh. Connor had been adamant that none of the packages were to be disturbed until he opened them himself.

****

Standing at the bottom of the stairs, Fiona looked around. She was enchanted by the small house Connor had rented. She had just come down from the upper floor where she had been inspecting the bedrooms. Although she felt all the bedrooms were alike, Connor had insisted that one was larger than the others and that she take it for herself. She immediately understood why he wanted her to have the room. There was a breathtaking view from the window. She was puzzled when Connor settled himself across the hall, but she didn't question him. Somehow the sleeping arrangements felt right. Duncan and Richie could have the other two rooms. The house was cozy and spacious at the same time.

Fiona paused in the doorway of the large sitting room. She liked the look and feel of this room. The fireplace, comfortable furniture and rustic table easily made this room the center of activity. She felt more at home here than anywhere else they had stayed in Scotland on this trip. Already occupied building a fire against a slight chill in the air, Connor was muttering to himself in frustration.

Feeling a fit of laughter coming on and knowing it would only deepen the elder MacLeod's frustration, Fiona left the sitting room and went into the kitchen. It was nearly as large and airy as the kitchen in her house on Holy Ground. When Duncan and Richie arrived she would cook a huge meal from the supplies Connor had bought. In his usual manner, he had nearly filled the pantry at the back of the house. They should have enough food for quite a while.

Wondering vaguely if she should cook over the fire or use the modern appliances available to her in the kitchen, Fiona began mentally planning the menu. No matter where she prepared the food, they would eat at the rustic table near the fireplace. Connor and Duncan would enjoy that. Richie would either think it was an unusual place to eat or a great adventure. At least once, she would have to make dinner over the fireplace. She hadn't prepared a meal in that way in nearly a century. Duncan and Connor would understand immediately. Richie's reaction should be very amusing.

Fiona thought she felt someone brush against her. Smiling to herself, she waited for Connor to wrap his arms around her and ask her if she was happy. She would tell him how much she delighted in the house he had rented for them.

"Ceud mile failte kirrt millyah fahlcha."

Fiona spun around at the sound of her mother's voice. The room was empty. She would have sworn her mother had whispered the ancient greeting in her ear. Fiona felt disoriented. Thoughts of her mother mixed with thoughts about the meal she wanted to make when Richie and Duncan arrived. Taking a deep breath, Fiona tried to focus on the two men. She would make them a Highland meal which the group would eat at the rustic table near the fireplace. When thoughts of her mother intruded again, Fiona tried to concentrate on Connor. He would be wanting a meal shortly.

Still muttering to himself about the fireplace, Connor entered the kitchen. He hesitated briefly when he saw the very odd expression on Fiona's face. He couldn't tell if something was amiss or if she was planning something. He allowed his gaze to wander around the room before settling it on her again. He didn't see anything that would upset or concern her. He smiled. The Highland woman had something in mind. He hoped it involved food. His stomach was starting to grumble.

"What are you up to, lass?"

Although she knew Connor would believe she had heard her mother's voice, Fiona decided not to tell him about the incident. At the moment, it seemed too private to share even with him.

"Ah, Connor MacLeod, I am allowed to have secrets, too."

Connor chuckled. If something was troubling the Immortal woman, she would have told him. Her answer also indicated her continued frustration over his refusal to divulge the reason Duncan and Richie had stayed behind in Edinburgh. Watching her wander around the kitchen investigating their new surroundings, Connor thought Fiona seemed more than pleased with his choice of accommodations. It had been a long time since the three Highlanders were in their homeland together. He thought this house would make the experience even more special for all of them.

He had selected this house specifically because each Immortal could have a separate bedroom. Because they planned to visit the site where her village once stood, he thought Fiona might need a place to be on her own to deal with her thoughts and emotions. If she needed him or Duncan, they were only a few steps away. He didn't know how long Richie and Duncan planned to stay in Scotland with them, but once they moved on, Connor planned to court the Immortal woman and entice her into his arms again. Until then, he would remain her friend and teacher without also being her lover. Somehow it seemed right to him that she would return to her home as the independent Highland woman she had been when she left.

Connor's cell phone rang. Smiling, he answered it quickly. Recognizing his kinsman's voice immediately, Connor was glad to hear the younger man had successfully completed the business and was ready to leave Edinburgh with Richie. Connor gave Duncan directions to the house. When he ended the call, he looked at Fiona. In contrast to her earlier expression, she was beaming.

"Let's take a walk outside, lass. I want to explore. When we come back, we'll prepare a meal for ourselves."

"We?"

Connor heard the amusement in her voice. She knew he enjoyed cooking and was comfortable in the kitchen. He wanted to share the experience with her on their first night in their temporary home.

"Aye, lass, we."

Holding her hand, he led her out the back door and down the dirt path. He wanted to walk to the top of the nearest rise and survey their surroundings. Although he had traveled in Scotland with this Highland woman before, it had been a long time since they had lived in a house as if settled here. He wanted to walk and enjoy the scenery with one of the few people who could appreciate it in the same way he did.

****

Connor stared into the fire. Nestled in his arms, Fiona had dozed off. They had laughed their way through preparing a meal which they enjoyed together at the table near the fire. After they finished eating, he had been unable to resist Fiona's invitation to join her in front of the fire. He hadn't intended to make love to her again until after Duncan and Richie left for France, but being by the fire with her had reminded him of the time long ago when he had been Quickened and made love to Fiona repeatedly in front of a similar fireplace. At that time, she had recently become his lover and consented to pose as his wife. The memory was wonderfully sweet. It made him cherish this moment even more.

When Fiona stirred slightly, he looked at her. Like him, she had had many lovers both mortal and Immortal. In this time, in this place, she was in his arms and that was all that mattered. As he pushed her mussed hair out of her face, Fiona smiled at him sleepily. He couldn't resist kissing her again. She responded easily. Connor decided to extend the lease on the house until they left Scotland. He thought Fiona would enjoy setting up housekeeping even for a short time. He knew he would enjoy staying in this house with her. The fireplace was only one reason.

****

When Duncan and Richie walked in the door, they were met by Connor and Fiona. After Fiona gave each man a warm hug and kiss, Connor handed out glasses of scotch. Richie looked at the alcohol uncertainly. He didn't usually drink scotch, but was becoming accustomed to downing the occasional glass with the Highlanders. The foursome clinked glasses.

"Drink up, Richie."

Richie could hear the laughter in Duncan's voice. The first time Richie had drunk scotch with Duncan, he had nearly choked on the alcohol. Mac never let him forget the incident. Following the example of the other Immortals, Richie drank the scotch in one gulp.

"Good lad," Connor said as he poured more scotch into Richie's glass. The elder MacLeod refilled the other glasses.

"Ceud mile failte kirrt millyah fahlcha."

Richie looked at the other men. He could see they understood what Fiona had just said. Connor was tilting his head toward her with an amused expression on his face.

"What made you say that, lass?"

Fiona shrugged. She hadn't been able to get the phrase out of her mind since hearing her mother whisper it to her. Somehow it seemed to be the appropriate way to greet Duncan and Richie.

"Uh, Mac?"

"It's an ancient Scottish greeting, Richie. Fiona wished us a hundred thousand welcomes."

"Oh . . . ummmm . . . thanks, Fiona."

Fiona felt slightly uncomfortable, as if she had said something that she shouldn't have revealed. She smiled at Richie and Duncan. Despite her slight misgiving, she was very glad to see them. Being careful not to spill her drink, Fiona slipped her arms through theirs.

"Come, sit in front of the fire."

Fiona took them into the large sitting room where a fire blazed in the fireplace. Richie was amazed by the amount of food which seemed to cover the table. It seemed to him Fiona would have had to cook for days to prepare that much.

"I hope you're hungry, Richie."

There was laughter in Connor's voice now. Richie wondered if it was Fiona or Scotland that raised the spirits of the Highland men. He never remembered either of them being in such a good mood. Looking around the room, he decided it was the combination. He was inexplicably feeling happier himself. Richie watched Duncan pile food on a plate. Connor joined his kinsman and student at the table. The two men discussed the various dishes as they made their selections. The younger MacLeod made himself comfortable in a chair near the fire and began eating.

"Help yourself, Richie. This is your home, too."

Richie turned to Fiona. She always seemed to encourage him to treat wherever she was living as his home. After years of being a foster child without a place he could truly consider his home, the Immortal woman's hospitality always overwhelmed him. Despite her invitation to help himself, she went to the table with him and served him while explaining what each dish contained.

"The haggis is delicious, Fiona," Duncan mumbled around a mouthful of food.

"Connor made it," Fiona replied smiling warmly at the elder Highlander. She had enjoyed sharing the kitchen with him. It reminded her of times past.

Duncan made a series of choking noises eliciting laughter from the others.

"Haggis. I've heard of that. What is it?"

"Don't ask, Richie," Fiona said, putting some on his plate. "Just taste it. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it."

Connor cleared his throat loudly. They were talking about the one dish he had insisted on making himself.

"If you don't eat it, Richie," Connor began sternly. He paused for effect. Richie was starting to look nervous. In spite of his attempt to feign irritation, Connor chuckled, "there'll be more for me and Duncan."

"Aye and I think I'll have seconds now."

Going back to the table, Duncan refilled his plate with more than just haggis. He returned to his seat as Fiona sat down next to Connor. Both of his Highland companions seemed to be comfortable and relaxed. Although he had been doubtful when his kinsman announced he had rented a house for them, Duncan liked the house Connor had chosen. He felt at ease here.

He glanced at Richie. The youngest of them was completely involved in eating. Duncan didn't blame him. Fiona's cooking was excellent as always and seemed to be an improvement over the meals they had eaten in restaurants for some reason. Although he hated to admit it, Duncan thought Connor's haggis was the finest he had tasted in a long time.

As Richie went back to the table to help himself to more food, Duncan could see the glimmer of mischief in his kinsman's eyes. Connor appeared decidedly amused that Richie had devoured everything on his plate as if he hadn't eaten in days. Connor nudged Fiona when Richie took more haggis.

"Leave the lad alone, Connor," Fiona said quietly.

Appearing even more amused, Connor smiled roguishly at the Highland woman.

"Will ye fetch a drink for a thirsty man, wench?" he asked lifting his empty glass where Fiona could see it.

Eyeing the elder Highlander disapprovingly, Fiona stood up with a defiant toss of her head.

"What's in it for me?" Fiona asked with a suggestive smile as she sauntered across the room to get the bottle of scotch Connor had left on the table when he got his meal.

His food momentarily forgotten, Richie watched the proceedings with his mouth open wondering if there was a fight brewing. He'd never heard Connor refer to Fiona as a wench or anything else that had the slightest suggestion of disrespect. Fiona had no fear of either Highlander and usually spoke her mind readily.

Fiona walked slowly back to where the men sat. When she poured scotch into Connor's glass, the elder Highlander slid his arm around her waist. The MacLeods looked at each other and laughed.

"We'll have none of that," Fiona said removing Connor's arm from her waist expertly.

Duncan grinned. This was the barmaid he had encountered from time to time over the centuries. Although neither man fit into the category, Fiona had always known how to handle amorous drunks. Duncan's grin widened. She was headed his way with the bottle of scotch. Winking at Connor, Duncan rubbed his hand over Fiona's leg while she refilled his glass. She calmly pushed his hand away and moved on to Richie. The younger man was still staring at the others. Realizing Fiona wanted to pour him another drink, Richie quickly picked up the glass and held it for her. Fiona returned to her seat and filled her own glass.

"A fine young gentleman," she said, nodding towards Richie. "How did he become involved with louts like you?"

Richie expected one of the Highlanders to erupt in anger at Fiona's insult. Instead, they both erupted in laughter. With a sigh, Richie took a sip of scotch before going back to his meal. Sometimes he didn't understand the sense of humor exhibited by the others.

"What do you think of the haggis, Richie?" Connor asked when the laughter subsided.

"It's good. Spicier than I thought it would be," Richie replied around a mouthful of the dish in question. "It's some kind of meat, right?"

"See, lass? I told you it was worth chasing down that three-legged bird."

Duncan turned his attention to his plate. If he looked at the others, he'd start laughing again. He caught Richie eyeing the remaining haggis on his plate suspiciously.

"Three-legged bird?"

"Oh, aye, lad. Fast and smart things they are. Not easy to catch, but worth it. Not unlike Highland women, eh, Duncan?"

Richie had had his doubts about the dish Fiona said Connor had prepared. Now, he really wondered about it. Mac was struggling not to laugh while Connor was clearly teasing him. Fiona had refused to tell him what it contained. There had to be a reason.

"Okay . . . what's in it? It's something disgusting, isn't it?"

Fiona rolled her eyes. She wished Connor had left Richie alone. She found Richie's enjoyment of the food gratifying and had special desserts planned. She didn't want the meal ruined.

"Only offal," the elder MacLeod replied. The look Fiona gave him surprised him. She was actually losing her temper. He didn't understand her reaction. The boy had clearly enjoyed the Highland delicacy and they were only playing with his 20th century sensibilities.

"Offal?" Richie asked weakly, looking at the others. Although he didn't know what it was, he hoped the elder MacLeod was saying offal and not awful.

Mac sputtered with laughter next to him. Connor seemed extremely amused as well, but Fiona wasn't laughing. She seemed sort of angry. He wondered if he had done something to annoy her. He loved her cooking. He hoped she didn't think he was insulting her.

"A sheep on the Highlands was something very valuable, Richie," Fiona said. "Still is. When we slaughtered one, we had to find a way to use it all."

Imagining what would be left after the appetizing parts were gone, Richie made a face. His stomach was begining to churn. Maybe the elder man had been saying awful after all.

"You mean like hooves and stuff?"

The MacLeods were now laughing so hard that they were wiping tears from their eyes. Fiona giggled but composed herself quickly.

"No, Richie," Fiona said and giggled again. "That we gave to the dogs. Haggis is the lungs, liver and heart of a sheep boiled with oatmeal and spices in the sheep's stomach."

With a stricken expression on his face, Richie stared at the small amount of haggis which remained on his plate. He'd eaten nearly two helpings of it. No matter how good it tasted, it was gross.

"EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!"

Fiona frowned at Connor. Richie looked ill. When the younger man started to get up, Fiona stopped him.

"Haggis is a delicacy, Richie. People have eaten it for more centuries than Connor's been alive."

"But it's . . .but it's . . . ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!"

Sighing deeply, Fiona pushed Richie back into his chair. There was one thing she could use to distract him. She hoped it would work.

"If you're sick, Richie, you probably won't want dessert and I've made something special."

"Dessert?" Richie asked perking up slightly.

Connor looked at the Highland woman curiously. She had ordered him out of the kitchen to keep her desserts secret. He had no idea what she had concocted, but she had been occupied in the kitchen for an extended period of time. He noticed his kinsman was paying more attention to the conversation as well.

"Did you make those really good cookies you made for Christmas?"

Fiona smiled at Richie. She could hear the little boy he had once been in his question.

"Yes, I made shortbread."

The MacLeods grinned at each other. Fiona's shortbread was some of the best they had ever eaten. They had often fought over the last piece. Fiona frequently ended the argument by eating the last piece herself which usually annoyed them even more.

"Oh, and a little something else you might like."

Fiona looked at the men. From eldest to youngest, they were suddenly all children whose faces were bright with expectation of a special treat. She didn't think they'd be disappointed.

"Finish eating while I bring out dessert."

After Fiona left, Richie poked the remaining haggis indecisively with his fork. He had been enjoying it until the others told him what was in it.

"It doesn't bite, Rich."

Richie frowned at Mac. He was tired of being teased about the food.

"Don't ever do that to me again, Mac! Why didn't you tell me what was in it?"

Duncan sighed. Richie was angry. He understood the younger man's reaction, but he also knew why Fiona had just served some haggis to Richie without giving any details.

"Because you wouldn't have tried it if I did, would you?"

Richie shook his head. He certainly wouldn't have eaten any of it, if he'd known in advance. Richie poked at the haggis again. In a way, it reminded him of chili. He really liked chili and had heard all sorts of horror stories about what got ground up with beef. He ate another small piece warily. Despite the ingredients, it wasn't awful. He heard a snort of laughter from Connor. Richie sighed in resignation. Like nearly choking the first time he drank scotch, haggis was something else he would be teased about for a long time.

Fiona returned and placed a plate heaped with shortbread on the table. Admonishing them not to fill up on the buttery cookies, she left again. Connor took one cookie before starting to prepare the leftover food for storage in the refrigerator. Richie and Duncan followed his example.

Richie savored the flavor of the rich cookie. He'd never tasted anything like them before spending Christmas at Fiona's. They'd quickly become one of his favorite treats. After that visit, he had bought a package of shortbread in a store. They were good, but didn't compare to the version the Immortal woman made. He assumed it was because hers were freshly baked.

When Fiona entered the room carrying a bowl, both MacLeods let out exclamations of joy. Richie had no idea what she had. It looked like slices of jellyroll in a bowl with some sort of pudding. Fiona served the Highlanders first. The two men gobbled the dessert eagerly. Fiona put an equal portion on a plate and hesitated. She frowned down at it before offering it to Richie.

"This is trifle, Richie. A bit of jam, eggs, cream, milk, sugar, flour, sherry and kirsch. Think you can handle it?"

Blushing, Richie accepted the plate from Fiona. Mac was grinning at him while Connor chuckled quietly making Richie wonder whether they would ever let him forget his reaction to the haggis. As the Highland men were taking second portions over Fiona's objections, Richie took his first taste of the dessert. It was wonderful. He watched Mac feed a spoonful to Fiona. Laughing, she licked the custard from her lips. Connor quickly put some trifle on a plate and offered it to her. Absentmindedly, Richie spooned more of the sweet dessert into his mouth.

"More trifle, Richie?"

Startled by the elder MacLeod's quesiton, Richie looked up to find Connor standing with the serving spoon poised above the bowl. Richie was about to refuse the offer when he realized his plate was empty. Connor filled Richie's plate before finishing his own second helping. Taking another mouthful of the trifle, Richie looked around the room. He had the oddest feeling he knew what it meant to be part of a Clan.

****

Richie looked down at the program he had gotten when he saw The Immortal Hour. He wanted to ask Fiona about it, but felt oddly hesitant as if asking about it was the wrong thing to do. Watching her laugh with Mac, Richie decided there was nothing to be lost by asking a simple question.

"Fiona, do you know anything about this?"

Fiona stared at the theatre program Richie held. The title of the play brought back a flood of bittersweet memories. She left the room without saying a word.

"Fiona?"

Duncan came up next to Richie and stopped him from going after the Immortal woman. The younger Highlander regretted not warning the younger man about the play he had seen.

"She doesn't like to talk about it, Richie. Give her a few minutes. She'll be okay."

Richie turned and looked at Duncan. He never meant to upset Fiona. He only wanted to know if the unusual play he had seen was something she had written.

"There was one character, Mac. Da . . . Da lowa. I could swear it was Me-," Richie lowered his voice so the elder MacLeod wouldn't hear. "Adam Pierson."

Startled, Duncan glanced over at his kinsman. Convinced the elder man hadn't heard Richie's statement, Duncan pondered Richie's words. Despite Richie's mispronunciation, Duncan knew exactly who Richie meant. He had never connected Methos with the Celtic figure of Dalua. It was an interesting analogy. The oldest Immortal certainly had ways of driving him nearly insane.

"I doubt that, Richie. You can ask Fiona about it at some point . . . but not just now."

Wondering why Fiona didn't want to talk about the play, Richie looked at the program again. He knew she wrote children's books now. It made sense that she might have written other things earlier in her life. He looked up to see Fiona standing in the doorway. It bothered him that she looked as if she had been crying. He hadn't meant to upset her.

"Yes, Richie. I . . . wrote the play."

Fiona disappeared as quickly as she had appeared. When Richie looked at Mac, the younger Highlander inclined his head towards the doorway. Richie immediately left to find Fiona.

After Richie was gone, Connor turned to his kinsman and tilted his head slightly. He had found the hushed conversation between the other two men interesting.

"Who's Adam Pierson?"

Duncan groaned inwardly. He knew better than to believe that something had escaped his kinsman's attention. He had to choose his words carefully. The two men had never met and he had no right to reveal any of Methos' secrets.

"A friend."

The words sounded stilted and inadequate as soon as they left his mouth. Duncan wished he could think of something clever to say that would divert Connor's attention. The elder man was likely to pursue the matter until he was satisfied with the answer. Duncan had a feeling that the longer he could keep Connor and Methos apart, the better off all of them would be.

"One of us then."

Duncan nodded in response. Considering his kinsman's reaction, Connor assumed there seemed to be things about Adam Pierson that were better left unsaid. He wondered if Fiona knew the Immortal in question. He would ask her at some later date. This was not the time.

"Keep the boy from upsetting Fiona again. Something seems to be troubling her and it had better not be the two of you."

Connor chuckled. Duncan actually looked worried. He faked a punch at his kinsman. Laughing, the younger man ducked. Placing his hand on Duncan's shoulder, the elder MacLeod became serious.

"Something is bothering her, Duncan. I do nae know what, but she'll tell one of us eventually."

Duncan nodded. If something troubled the Immortal Highland woman, she was very likely to confide in one of the two Highland men.

****

Richie was awakened by the sense of another Immortal. The door to his room opened slowly.

"Are you awake, Richie?" Duncan asked softly.

"Yeah, what's up, Mac?"

"It's Fiona's birthday. Come to Connor's room. He's got a surprise for her that involves all of us."

Sitting sleepily on the edge of the bed, Richie noticed Mac still standing in the doorway.

"You can take a quick shower in Connor's room, but . . . um . . . don't bring clean clothes."

Puzzled by his mentor's words, Richie pulled on a pair of sweat pants before walking quietly to the elder MacLeod's bedroom. Connor was just coming out of the bathroom rubbing his hair with a towel. Like Richie, both MacLeods were wearing t-shirts and sweatpants. Richie accepted the invitation to shower quickly. When he stepped out of the shower, he could hear the other men talking softly. Richie put his clothes back on before leaving the bathroom and rejoining the MacLeods.

Richie was surprised when Mac quickly stripped to his skin while Connor laid a length of MacLeod tartan on the floor. Mac slipped on the long linen shirt Connor offered him and knelt down to place a belt underneath the fabric before gathering the tartan into pleats. Repeating Duncan's actions, Connor was soon wearing only a linen shirt while preparing his own length of fabric.

After donning a woolen waistcoat, Mac positioned himself on the fabric spread on the floor. Richie frowned. He couldn't imagine what his mentor was about to do. Mac folded the tartan across his hips and fastened the belt around his waist. When he stood up, a length of fabric hung down nearly to the floor. He deftly twisted part of the loose fabric and tucked the ends under his belt. Connor lifted the remainder of the fabric and placed the folded portion over his kinsman's left shoulder. The younger MacLeod fastened it to his waistcoat just below his shoulder with the pin Connor handed him. Duncan then assisted Connor with finishing his outfit. The elder MacLeod pinned the excess fabric to his waistcoat.

"So that's a kilt," Richie said grinning. "I thought it was made more like a skirt."

Duncan winced. Richie had an unfortunate way of putting things.

"Aye, you can get kilts made that way now, but this is the way we dressed ourselves on the Highlands," Connor replied, adjusting his sporran.

Watching his kinsman, Duncan checked the positioning of his own sporran. Connor had chosen well. The leather pouches were roomy and not overly fancy.

"What's with the purses?"

Duncan braced himself. Connor was likely to explode, considering Richie's continued feminine choice of vocabulary.

"It's a sporran, Richie. Think of it as a fanny pack. If you didn't notice, a kilt has no pockets."

Richie tilted his head.

"What do you put in it?"

"Lunch, usually. I put a flask with a wee drop of scotch in these," Connor said with a smile as he began to unwrap something else. Tossing a linen shirt to Richie, he continued. "Your turn, Richie. Get undressed and put that on."

His mouth open, Richie stared at the elder MacLeod. Connor pulled another piece of fabric out and spread it on the floor. When Richie didn't move Connor stopped pleating the new length of fabric long enough to frown at Richie. Shaking his head, the elder man returned to his work. Richie watched him place a belt under the fabric.

"Uh, Mac?"

"It's for Fiona's birthday, Rich. Let's not keep her waiting," Duncan said hoping to avoid making Connor angry. With Fiona upset and Connor angry, it would be less than an enjoyable day.

Richie turned to Duncan. His friend and teacher had to understand.

"I'm not wearing that! Unh unh. No way. I'm not wearing a skirt!"

"Skirts are for women. Only men wear kilts," the elder MacLeod said standing up. "Get undressed and put your shirt on."

Duncan could hear the finality in Connor's voice. He would not tolerate much more reluctance from Richie. Duncan could also see Richie becoming more stubborn. The younger man's hands were on his hips. The younger MacLeod hoped this was not about to get ugly.

"But you're not wearing underwear!"

When Connor rolled his eyes, both MacLeods began laughing. It took some time before the two Highlanders got themselves under control. Still chuckling, Connor threw another piece of clothing to Richie. When Richie unfolded the clothing, the sight of silk tartan boxers started Duncan laughing helplessly again.

With a deep sigh, Richie undressed and put on the shirt and silk boxers. Somehow he felt silly wearing the items. Following the instructions of the other men, Richie laid down on the fabric Connor had laid out for him. The Highlanders quickly folded the material around him and fastened the belt at his waist. When he stood up, they helped him arrange the excess fabric. Duncan pinned it for him.

Glancing at the other men, Richie suddenly noticed that the MacLeods wore identical fabric and pins. His outfit was different. He looked at the motto on his pin.

"My Hope is Constant in Thee," Richie read aloud. "I thought the Clan MacLeod motto was 'Hold Fast'."

"It is. That's Fiona's tartan and Clan emblem," Connor said distractedly. The elder man appeared to be looking for something again.

Richie looked down at the tartan. Thinking of how Fiona included him in her Clan, wearing the colors of the Clan MacDonald seemed tremendously significant. Richie was suddenly hit in the face by a pair of socks. He looked up. Duncan was sitting on the bed putting on a similar pair of socks.

"Put those on, Richie," Connor said, joining his kinsman. "Unless you have an objection to socks as well."

While the Highlanders laughed, Richie sat on a nearby chair and started pulling the knee-length socks on over his bare feet. He wondered what kind of shoes Connor was about to produce for him to wear.

"Connor, you can nae wear those!"

The disdain in the younger MacLeod's voice made Richie look at the other two men. Connor was calmly preparing to tie the pair of black sneakers he was wearing. The elder MacLeod shrugged.

"Why not? As far as I'm concerned, sneakers go with anything."

Duncan frowned. He couldn't think of a single reason. The modern dress shoes usually worn with a kilt had just as much to do with what he wore on the Highlands as the sneakers.

"There are sneakers for both of you over there," the elder MacLeod said with a wave of his hand. "When you're dressed, go downstairs and finish preparing breakfast. I must see to Fiona."

****

Still in her nightgown, Fiona stood staring out the window at the countryside. She didn't want to go back to the site of the village where she had grown up and met her first death. The prospect was too disturbing. Alongside her mother, she had tended the sick and wounded of her Clan since she was old enough pick herbs and hold a scrap of cloth to a wound. Fiona fought back tears. She often wondered how many of her kinsmen had died from wounds left untended because her own injuries had kept her from helping them as she normally would. Her guilt was irrational, but it haunted her from time to time. Survival was unlikely in the battle that had taken place. She had survived only because she was an Immortal.

She sighed. She could hear and feel Connor's approach. She didn't want to tell him that she simply didn't want to go. He seemed to enjoy the idea. Perhaps she could stall or discourage him.

"Time to get ready, lass."

Fiona turned away from the window to face Connor. Seeing him in a kilt nearly took her breath away. She had considered refusing to return to her village unless they were properly dressed. Fiona shook her head. She had no such clothing. This was her opportunity to object.

"I wish to be properly dressed, Connor. I can nae return home like this."

Connor turned and left the room abruptly. Hoping she hadn't insulted him, Fiona turned back towards the window and stared out. She wasn't certain she wanted to know what awaited her where her village once stood.

Connor went to his room to retrieve the first part of his birthday present for Fiona. He sighed as he picked it up. He knew all of Fiona's moods and behaviors. Something was bothering the Highland woman and he didn't think it was merely a desire for traditional clothing. Knowing she would tell him eventually, Connor shook his head. Perhaps this gift would ease her mind. Fiona seemed startled when Connor returned with the package. He smiled slightly as he handed it to her. The memory of another time might cheer her.

"This is for you, lass."

Connor knew from her expression that Fiona recognized the phrase. He had said it centuries earlier when he had come to visit her while she was still a student of Hamish and Ruth and brought her tartan to fulfill a promise.

"Happy Birthday, Fiona MacDonald of the Clan MacDonald."

Her face bright with curiosity, Fiona opened the package to reveal a linen leine and a MacDonald tartan arisaid. She touched the fabric reverently. She owned a modern outfit in MacDonald tartan, consisting of kilted skirt, silk blouse and matching shawl which she wore occasionally, but this was the kind of clothing she would have worn in her village. Fiona was speechless. She had never expected Connor to anticipate her desire to wear Highland garb. He kissed her forehead gently.

"Put it on, lass, and then come down to breakfast."

Connor left her again, closing the door behind him. Fiona quickly shed her nightgown and donned the leine. She smiled. It reached perfectly to her ankles. She closed her eyes for a moment and imagined she was in her father's house once again. Just the touch of the cloth brought back a jumble of memories. Picking up the MacDonald tartan, Fiona found a MacDonald Clan emblem pin, a leather belt and a small leather pouch. She smiled. Women didn't wear sporrans, but a pouch was a handy accessory. It felt heavy. She giggled at the small flask inside. It was just like Connor to think of everything.

After placing the belt on the bed, Fiona made a rough measurement of the length of fabric she would need to reach from her waist to her ankles. She carefully placed the measured tartan over the belt and laid down on the cloth. Once she pulled the cloth around herself and fastened the belt around her waist, Fiona stood up and pulled at the cloth to adjust the length. When she was satisfied the tartan cloth hung evenly to her ankles over the leine, she pulled the remaining cloth over her shoulders like a shawl and fastened it with the MacDonald emblem brooch. Searching quickly through her belongings, Fiona found the small pin Duncan had given her before either of them had ever heard of Immortality. She used it as a second fastener on her arisaid.

Fiona looked at herself in the mirror. Fashions had changed a great deal since she had been born. Her tastes had changed along with them. After all this time, she looked and felt like herself in these clothes. She was in her homeland wearing the same sort of clothing she had worn until she left the Highlands. It was right. She could feel it. She still had misgivings about returning to the site of her village, but she felt more prepared dressed this way.

****

When she entered the sitting room, Fiona was greeted by the sound of three men singing Happy Birthday. What Connor, Duncan and Richie lacked in singing talent was made up for with their enthusiasm. Fiona accepted birthday kisses from each of the men. Although she thought he looked wonderful, Fiona could see Richie was uncomfortable in his kilt. She stroked his hair affectionately. He blushed slightly.

"You remind me of an old saying, Richie. A man in a kilt is a man and a half."

Richie's blush deepened. Fiona thought Connor and Duncan were standing just a little taller in their Highland garb after hearing the saying. She hoped it was because they knew she believed it was true. Fiona kissed Richie gently before sitting down at the table and allowing Duncan and Connor to wait on her. It was her birthday after all.

Duncan tried not to stare at Fiona. Seeing her dressed this way, she was suddenly the woman he had nearly married. She was the woman who had come looking for him after he had been banished from his Clan because of his Immortality. He remembered seeing her walk confidently into the campsite he shared with Connor. She had run into his open arms without hesitation. As he took his place at the table, Duncan decided to give voice to the emotions he left unsaid in the woods centuries earlier.

"You're a bonnie lassie, Fiona MacDonald."

Fiona smiled at Duncan. Seeing the MacLeods in their plaid nearly made her feel she had traveled back in time somehow. It made returning to her village more troubling. The last time she had seen it the homes were destroyed and the inhabitants dead. Only she remained. She tried to fight the overwhelming feeling of loneliness with the company of those surrounding her.

Connor frowned. Fiona usually had a stronger reaction to compliments like the one Duncan had just given her. He was certain something was troubling her. Connor contemplated his kinsman's words. Duncan had described Fiona perfectly from the time she had stepped into their campsite as a pre-Immortal until this moment and beyond. He thought about the last time he had given her tartan. Although she had worn it proudly, she had refused to give up the tattered piece of cloth she had brought with her from her village. A scrap of that tartan was carefully preserved under glass in the library of her house on Holy Ground along with a piece of the cloth he had brought her. It was part of the reason he wanted to return to her village with her. He thought she needed closure.

"Does the plaid please you as much as when you were still the student of Hamish and Ruth, lass?"

Fiona giggled. She had cherished that length of cloth beyond its actual value.

"Connor visited you when you were a student? I didn't know."

Fiona could hear an undercurrent of anger in Duncan's voice. She had never told Duncan of Connor's visit. Evidently, neither had the elder MacLeod. The passage of time between Connor's visit and her reunion with Duncan made Connor's visit a distant, but cherished memory. After Duncan found out she was Connor's lover, his jealously made it nearly impossible for her to utter Connor's name. She sighed.

"I wasn't important, Duncan. Connor brought me MacDonald tartan while I was still with Hamish and Ruth."

Duncan frowned. He never remembered Fiona lying to him before.

"Is that all? You always told me you didn't see him again until we were together."

Fiona's pained expression made Duncan regret he had spoken. Connor had mentioned that something appeared to be bothering the Immortal woman. He had only added to her discomfort on a day that should have been special for her. In an uncomfortable moment of insight, Duncan understood why Fiona had never mentioned Connor's visit. Centuries after the event, he was acting like a jealous boy. He reached over and squeezed her hand gently.

"I'm sorry, Fiona. Is that the tartan in your library?"

Fiona nodded. Duncan could see she was near tears. His guilt multiplied. He shouldn't have commented on Connor visiting her while she was still a student. Instead of pursuing the subject, he should have just apologized and let it drop.

"One piece is what Connor gave me. The other is what I was wearing . . ."

Duncan moved his chair next to Fiona to wrap his arms around her. He instinctively knew the other piece of tartan was what she had been wearing the day she was killed in the raid that destroyed her Clan and village. He whispered reassuringly to her. She shook her head suddenly.

"I do nae wish to go back. I do nae wish to go . . . home."

Connor straightened up in his chair suddenly. He knew something was bothering her, but he never expected that she didn't want to return to where her village had been. He had been to Glenfinnan numerous times. Duncan had also returned to their former home. It seemed unnatural to him that Fiona didn't want to do the same. Connor sighed. Glenfinnan hadn't been the site of a massacre. Fiona's last memory of her village was one of death and destruction. Still in Duncan's arms, Fiona looked at Connor when he squeezed her shoulder gently. The look in her eyes troubled the elder Highlander. Places rarely frightened her.

"We've come so far, lass. It's time you went home."

Fiona sighed deeply. Connor was right, but she still didn't want to return to the site of her village. She could almost smell the burned homes and bodies. It was a scene she had relived in dreams and nightmares many times over the centuries. She didn't need to go there and see it again.

"Tis Holy Ground, lass."

Fiona looked from Duncan to Connor. In her grief, it had never occurred to her that the site of such carnage would be a sacred place. The MacLeods had buried her Clan. Connor was right. They would be going to Holy Ground. Fiona kissed Duncan briefly before removing herself from his embrace. She still had misgivings about visiting her home, but she was in the company of the men who had honored her dead. The bodies had been laid to rest and the ruins would be gone. The thought reassured her.

A sudden movement interrupted her thoughts. Blushing slightly, Richie offered her a small box.

"Happy Birthday, Fiona."

Accepting the package from the young Immortal, Fiona opened it wondering what other surprises awaited her. Certainly, the MacLeods had something for her aside from the tartan she wore. Fiona was stunned by what she saw. The craftsmanship was exquisite. She wasn't certain she'd ever seen anything like the jewelry Richie had just given her.

"Do you like them?" Richie asked uncertainly. Fiona was simply staring at the jewelry. Despite Mac's reassurance, he hoped he hadn't bought something Fiona hated.

"Oh, Richie!"

Fiona quickly took the earrings and necklace from the box. She admired the way the crystals caught the light. The jewelry must have been terribly expensive. She looked at Duncan questioningly. The younger MacLeod shrugged.

"It's beautiful, Richie," Fiona said putting the jewelry on. "You shouldn't have spent so much."

"I thought of you when I saw them," Richie said. He paused and in a puzzled voice added, "Actually, they seemed to want me to buy them for you."

Fiona kissed Richie gently. He was blushing again. Trying to dismiss it as Richie's sometimes overactive imagination, she pondered his statement. She had felt compelled to put the jewelry on. Perhaps he had felt a similar compulsion to buy it. Even though she couldn't see them, she could tell the crystals in the earrings were sparkling.

Connor admired the gift Richie had given Fiona. The jewelry was magnificent and understated at the same time. It was an extraordinary choice on the younger man's part. Connor had once given Fiona a necklace and bracelet that he swore glowed when she wore it. This jewelry seemed to have the same illusive property. It appeared to sparkle brightly as soon as she put it on. Richie had chosen well. The gift had put some of the glow back in Fiona's eyes.

"Ummmmm . . . what are these?"

Fiona giggled at the young Immortal's hesitant question. She wondered if he would ever taste anything again without seeing the recipe first.

"Scotch eggs, Richie."

Although Fiona had told him what they were called, Richie still didn't know what they were. Part of him wanted to try one, but a small voice in his head kept reminding him about the haggis. Although he liked the haggis, he tried not to dwell on what it was made of. Maybe he shouldn't have asked about the eggs either. Fiona had probably been right not to tell him about the haggis.

"They're hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage," Fiona explained taking an egg from the plate. "You'll like it."

Richie followed her example. He braced himself slightly before biting into it. He was delighted to find it was exactly what Fiona had said and he did like it. He finished one scotch egg and took another.

"We've packed a picnic lunch, lass. All your favorites for your birthday."

Fiona nodded. Although she still had misgivings, she was beginning to understand that she had to return to the site of her village. She had stayed away much too long. Richie's gift gave her a sense of serenity. It she was ever to return home, today was the proper time.

****

As they stood outside waiting for the others, Duncan tried not to laugh at Richie's reaction. Wearing a kilt obviously disconcerted the young Immortal. Stepping out of the house, Connor stood proudly in his Highland garb.

"Feeling a breeze, laddie?" Connor joked noticing the younger man's discomfort with the unfamiliar clothing. The elder MacLeod chuckled good-naturedly. "Think of it as wearing shorts, Richie."

Richie gaped at the elder man before frowning down at the outfit. It still felt really weird, but Connor's suggestion of thinking of it as shorts helped. He couldn't imagine what it felt like without underwear. He was certain he never wanted to know.

Adjusting his sporran, Connor grinned at his kinsman. He hadn't worn a kilt in a few years, but it was a sensation he was accustomed to. Feeling the cloth of his kilt move and a soft hand sliding up the back of his naked thigh, Connor turned his head to find Fiona with her hand under his kilt.

Resting her hand on one of Connor's posterior cheeks, Fiona gave it a firm squeeze. The change in Connor's expression was nearly too much for Duncan and the younger MacLeod laughed out loud. He knew exactly what Fiona was doing to Connor. Fiona had done the same thing to him earlier. She was using her bawdy sense of humor to ease any remaining anxiety about returning to her village. Duncan took a quick look at Richie. The younger man seemed close to going into shock. His expression made Duncan laugh again. He was certain Richie worried that Fiona was about to do the same thing to him. It was highly unlikely that Fiona would behave that way with Richie, but Duncan was amused by the thought of Fiona's reaction when she discovered silk tartan boxers under Richie's kilt.

Fiona giggled when Connor gently batted her hand away.

"Oh, I just wanted to see if it's true about what Scotsmen wear under their kilts," Fiona said as innocently as she could. Duncan laughed again. She had used exactly the same line in exactly the same tone on him. It had earned her a hug and kiss.

Exchanging a glance, both MacLeods laughed. Fiona knew very well what Highland men wore under their kilts. Grinning, Connor grabbed her hand and started pulling her towards the car.

"Sit in the back with me, lassie, and I'll teach you what you need to know."

Richie slid into the front passenger seat. Hearing the murmur of Connor's voice behind him, Richie turned around slightly. Connor and Fiona were entwined in each other's arms. Richie was reminded of Connor's behavior after they rescued Fiona from her wrecked car. The elder MacLeod seemed to be comforting and protecting the Immortal woman.

As Duncan got into the driver's seat, he glanced at the couple in the back. Fiona still seemed unhappy about returning to her village. Talking to her softly, Connor was most likely trying to coax her into a better frame of mind. Seeing them huddled together gave the younger Highlander an idea. Duncan grinned as he pulled away from the house.

"Knock it off back there, you two!"

The couple kissed quickly. Connor whispered something to Fiona which made her giggle. Her whispered reply made the elder Highlander laugh and hug her. Still grinning, Duncan slowed the car down and turned to look at the passengers in the back.

"Don't make me separate you!"

"Yes, Dad," Connor said mockingly.

Trying to appear serious, Duncan gunned the engine. The other Immortals laughed. Richie saw Connor and Fiona separate although they continued to hold hands. Connor pointed out the window and spoke softly to the Immortal woman. She looked in the direction he indicated and nodded.

"Are we there yet?"

Duncan turned to look at Richie. The young Immortal was the only one who would have experienced these conversations from the child's viewpoint. Duncan heard his kinsman's chuckle mingle with Fiona's laughter in the back seat. Hearing Fiona's laugh, Duncan felt better about taking her back to her home. He had never quite lost the memory of the carnage he had seen when he accompanied Connor to bury Fiona's Clan. It had intensified his pain at the loss of Little Deer and her tribe. The Highlanders had honored that Clan as well.

Fiona giggled again interrupting Duncan's dark thoughts. Connor was whispering to her and pointing at Richie. Duncan smiled. The elder MacLeod was probably telling her about convincing Richie to wear a kilt. Thinking of the members of the Clan MacDonald he had known, Duncan took the turn off that would lead them to Fiona's village. It was time to honor them once again.

****

When she got out of the car, Fiona pulled the top of her arisaid up to cover her head as a sign of respect. Taking a deep breath, Fiona stepped onto the former site of her village reluctantly. The centuries had replaced the appalling ugliness she remembered leaving behind with the great beauty of her childhood. The grass and trees seemed to be brilliantly green. The air was sweet with the smell of land and foliage, not rank with blood and ashes. This was the beautiful countryside she had played in as a child and worked in as an adult. She was home.

She glanced at her male companions. In her eyes, they were handsome in their kilts. If her village still stood, these men would be their honored guests. Duncan and Connor represented the Clan MacLeod. Richie was her kinsman from another branch of her Clan. There would be great feasting in their honor. Fiona smiled slightly. She was certain the picnic the men had arranged would be a suitable repast.

Fiona touched the ruined stone wall. She remembered her father building it with the help of their Clansmen. Standing next to it, she could nearly hear their voices as they worked. They shouted and joked despite the difficulty of the labor . . . or maybe because of it. She had helped her mother bring food and drink to the men before joining them in their work. She smiled. One of the stones she had laid was still in the wall. It glittered as it had centuries earlier. The men had teased her good-naturedly when she said it was a pretty stone. A wall had no need to be pretty.

"So, you've finally come back, daughter. We've been waiting."

When Fiona turned at the sound of her father's voice, the cloth slipped from her head and settled back around her shoulders. She expected a ghost, but he seemed as solid and real as the men who were her traveling companions. Absentmindedly, Fiona adjusted the fallen tartan into a shawl again. Once Chieftain of the Clan MacDonald, Angus MacDonald was dressed as if he were prepared to attend a meeting of the Clans like the one Fiona had just imagined. Fiona always thought her father looked fine and handsome in his kilt. He stood surveying her and her companions.

"Father," was all Fiona managed to say. Smiling slightly, her father nodded his approval.

"Uh, Mac?"

"Quiet, Richie."

Duncan wished Richie would kept quiet. There appeared to be a shimmer in the air where Fiona's attention was directed, but it was probably just a trick of the bright sunlight through the trees. She seemed to be talking softly to herself. He knew Fiona sometimes seemed able to see things others could not and wondered if she was seeing something now or was just lost in her memories. He didn't know where either would lead her and wanted to stay focused on the Immortal woman. If returning to her village overwhelmed her, he wanted to be ready to offer whatever comfort she needed.

Duncan shook his head. The memory of burying Angus and Finnat MacDonald reemerged and tore at him in a way he never expected. Refusing all help from Connor, he had laid the Chieftain and his wife to rest himself. He remembered weeping bitterly over their bodies. Despite the differences between their Clans, he had loved and admired Fiona's parents as he loved and admired Fiona. Duncan felt awkward suddenly. It was as if someone was staring at him intently.

Fiona wondered why her father was staring at Duncan. She was beginning to think her father didn't recognize Duncan after all the centuries. The Chieftain's gaze shifted to the elder MacLeod.

"I see you still look to the MacLeods, lassie."

Fiona could hear the amused anger in her father's voice. She knew this mood well. He was displeased, but would do nothing more than tease her.

"Hush, husband. Duncan is a good lad."

Fiona's father shrugged non-committally. Fiona's mother turned to him impatiently.

"Do you forget what these very MacLeods did for us, Angus MacDonald?"

Fiona looked from Duncan to Connor. They had returned to the carnage that had once been her village and buried the remains of her Clan. It was a gesture Fiona never forgot. Her Clan being able to rest in peace meant more to her than any gift either man had given her in the centuries since the battle which destroyed her village and left her Immortal. She would never be able to repay them.

Tears welled up in Fiona's eyes. Dressed in Highland finery, her mother and father stood before her as if alive. She could think of nothing she would enjoy more than to be in her father's house once again.

"I did nae forget," Angus MacDonald said with a shake of his head, "but the boy is not MacDonald."

Fiona couldn't help but smile. Her father was not to be dissuaded when he had a mind to complain. She glanced at Richie. He seemed somewhat out of place wearing a kilt when the Highland men around him wore theirs with such ease. Regardless, she wouldn't hesitate to claim him as her kinsman.

"He wears the plaid to honor me."

Finnat MacDonald smiled. Fiona could see her mother accepted Richie.

"In that, he honors us, daughter. He's a good lad like Duncan."

Smiling, Fiona's mother looked at each Immortal in turn.

"Husband, do you nae see?"

"Aye, woman, I see."

"See what?" Fiona asked.

Moving away from her husband, Fiona's mother reached up and stroked Richie's hair. Richie was confused by the gentle breeze across his skin. It made him feel calm. Although the sensation of the breeze lasted less than a heartbeat, the feeling of calm remained. Richie heard an indistinct sound. It sounded far away but close at the same time. He would have sworn someone was whispering in his ear.

"Eager and hopeful. The sword of power. Ceud mile failte kirrt millyah fahlcha, Richie Ryan."

Finnat MacDonald left Richie and approached Duncan. She laid her hand on the younger MacLeod's chest.

"Patience and strength."

Richie noticed the change in Mac's expression. He seemed puzzled by something. Richie wondered if Mac was feeling the same unusual breeze Richie had felt earlier.

"Uh, Mac?"

"Quiet, Richie."

The command had come from Connor MacLeod. Although he could see and hear nothing out of the ordinary, Connor was certain something was happening that was very likely beyond his understanding. He thought Fiona might be somehow communing with her parents. She was speaking in nearly a whisper, but he thought he had heard her utter the words mother and father with great love and respect. After centuries, he wished he could do the same. He wished to be among his Clan or hold Heather in his arms once more.

"Wisdom," Finnat MacDonald said gazing up into Connor MacLeod's eyes.

Connor was startled by the sensation that someone or thing had brushed against his hand. He thought he heard a woman's voice, but was unable to understand the single word he thought she said. The sensation and Fiona's odd behavior made him wonder if the stories he had heard about the area had some basis in reality. He had heard repeatedly that attempts had been made to rebuild on this site, but were abandoned because it was deemed to be haunted. There were numerous tales about sightings of ancient Clansmen wandering the countryside and sometimes threatening those who encountered them. He had silently laughed at the stories, thinking of the tales of ghosts and fairies he had heard around the fire as a child. Now, he wasn't so certain the tales were the products of overactive Celtic imaginations and a culture steeped in tradition and legend.

Connor's admonition to Richie made Fiona wonder if the men could see and hear her parents. Shaking her head, she sighed. She wished someone could confirm what her eyes and ears insisted was standing close enough for her to touch, but there had been very little reaction from the men when her mother touched and spoke to each of them. Certainly, Duncan would have spoken to her mother and father if he could see them. He knew them as well as she knew his parents. Also a Chieftain's son, Connor would have addressed her mother and father respectfully. Richie was far too curious and friendly to allow a stranger to approach him without speaking to him or her.

Fiona's mother approached her daughter last. Fiona wished for the touch of her mother's hand, but could only feel the same vague sense of someone brushing lightly past her that she had felt in the kitchen her first day in the house that Connor rented. Seeing her parents now, convinced Fiona that her mother had come to welcome her home and bless the house they would stay in. She hoped Connor had leased the house for an extended period and did not plan to leave as soon as Duncan and Richie continued their travels.

"You are abundance and healing, daughter."

"Mother, we are not -- '

Fiona felt her mother's fingers brush ethereally against her lips.

"My hope is constant in thee."

Hearing her mother utter their Clan motto brought tears to Fiona's eyes. Fiona wished she could embrace her parents, but sensed that was not to be. She watched longingly as Finnat MacDonald returned to her husband and slipped her hand into his.

"Lass, Duncan and I have a present for you. We wanted to give it to you here."

Fiona was startled by the unexpected sound of Connor's voice. Watching her parents, she had nearly forgotten the presence of the others.

"Why here?" Fiona asked confused. She never remembered either Highland man insisting on being in a specific place to give her a gift. Duncan came to stand on the other side of her. Glancing at him, Fiona frowned. Too many things about this day needed an explanation. She didn't think one was forthcoming from Duncan.

"It's the reason I stayed behind in Edinburgh, Fiona," Duncan said softly.

Fiona heard her father snort in disgust. She looked over at him.

"Typical longwinded MacLeods," he said with a wry smile and a shake of his head. "Never come directly to the point."

Fiona's mother reprimanded him immediately. Watching them, Fiona giggled. Although she knew her parents loved each other, the couple didn't seem able to resist bickering now and then. She composed herself when Connor spoke again.

"Fiona, we are returning this land to the Clan MacDonald," Connor said solemnly. "Duncan and I have bought it for you. The place where your village once stood is in your hands."

Connor handed Fiona the packet of papers which represented the deals he had made over the last two years to engineer this gift to her. Overwhelmed, Fiona could only stare at them. After all her fears about returning to her home, she found that the MacLeods had purchased the land for her. It seemed more than fitting that her parents were somehow present to witness the gift.

"Did they get the land to the river?"

Angus MacDonald's practical question focused his daughter's thoughts. As she tried to think of a way to ask the men how much land they had actually purchased, Duncan tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to Richie.

"The land from just past where Richie's standing to the river is yours. You have water rights, too."

Angus MacDonald grinned broadly. Taking his wife's hand, he led her away in the direction of the river he had asked about. Fiona thought she could see the rest of their Clan - all dressed in their finest clothes - waiting for the Chieftain and his wife. Moving forward, Fiona tried to follow her parents to be reunited with her Clan. Her father turned and smiled at her.

"Tis nae for you, lamb. Stay with Duncan and the others."

Fiona smiled. When she was a child, her father's favorite pet name for her had been lamb and he often told her to stay with Duncan and the other children to discourage her from interfering in Clan business. Although he rarely called her lamb after she grew to adulthood, it remained a cherished show of affection from him. Suddenly too fatigued to catch up to them, Fiona stopped and watched the her parents longingly. As Fiona called out to them, they faded into the distance.

Fiona felt someone brush against her. Hoping to see her mother again, she turned quickly to find Duncan standing next to her. Feeling unsteady, she took the younger Highlander's arm. With his help, Fiona returned to where her father's house had once stood. She wanted to revisit the place she had shared with her mother and father before meeting her first death and becoming Immortal.

Duncan understood exactly where Fiona had led him. He remembered the cottage that had once stood on this site. The younger Highlander frowned when Connor joined them quietly. He wished Connor hadn't insisted on bringing a picnic lunch. Fiona looked terribly tired. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn she was ill. Impulsively, he put his arms around her. She leaned into him immediately. When they returned to the house, he would insist that she nap while the men prepared her birthday dinner.

"I'm tired," Fiona said vaguely uncertain about what had occurred since their arrival at the site of her village. She was certain they hadn't been there very long, but she felt thoroughly exhausted as if she hadn't slept in days.

"I think we should go, Connor."

To Duncan's surprise, his kinsman agreed. He had expected the elder man to insist on going ahead with his plan to eat their lunch where the Chieftain's house had once stood.

"Give me the keys, Duncan. Sit in the back and take care of her."

When the Immortals got back to the car, Duncan assisted Fiona into the back before climbing in after her. Yawning, she leaned her head on his shoulder. She curled into him when he put his arms around her and crooned an ancient lullaby. She was asleep before very long. Duncan kissed the top of her head affectionately.

Sitting in the front seat with Connor, Richie watched the couple in the backseat. He could still remember the calming gentle breeze he had felt while standing on the site where he knew Fiona had met her first death. It was a beautiful place and he felt oddly at home there. He was disappointed that they wouldn't stay longer and eat the picnic lunch Connor had spoken of, but Fiona had appeared exhausted when Mac suggested they leave. She was sleeping soundly. Richie turned to the man beside him. Connor was older than Mac. Maybe he had an explanation for the odd events.

"Uh, Connor? What happened back there?" Richie asked uncertainly.

Glancing in the rearview mirror to catch a glimpse of a sleeping Fiona, the elder Highlander shrugged. He had no idea what Fiona saw or thought she saw and he wasn't about to speculate.

"We'll have to wait for Fiona to tell us, lad."

****

Duncan had to wake Fiona when they arrived back at the house. She had been snoring softly for part of the ride. She looked around sleepily before smiling up at him and kissing his cheek. Duncan hugged her in return.

"Connor, did you say something about a picnic?"

"Aye, lass. Are you hungry? Shall we break bread here?"

Fiona nodded. She was suddenly extremely hungry. Frowning, she wished she hadn't been so tired while they were at her village. Somehow eating there seemed fitting now, but she had no desire to ask the men to drive back to the site. Perhaps they could return before Richie and Duncan left for Paris.

Walking hand in hand, Fiona and Duncan selected a spot under a large tree to have their picnic. Connor and Richie followed them, carrying the picnic basket and blanket. Fiona watched as the men spread the blanket on the ground. As soon as the blanket was ready, Fiona sat down. She still felt vaguely tired and was glad for the opportunity to rest. Joining her readily on the blanket, the MacLeods began unpacking food from the basket. She watched each item they had selected for their luncheon with great interest. It seemed the Highland men had gone out of their way to bring all her favorites.

Fiona looked up. Richie was standing at the edge of the blanket uncertainly. His discomfort with the unfamiliar clothing was obvious. Fiona giggled watching him trying to decide how to sit on the ground with them.

"Just sit down, Richie."

Richie studied Mac and Connor a moment before settling awkwardly on the blanket. Richie couldn't understand why the Highlanders seemed perfectly comfortable seated on the ground while he felt nearly naked. He glanced at Fiona. She had an odd expression on her face.

"You're wearing underwear?"

Fiona looked at Duncan. She knew from recent experience that the MacLeods were naked under their kilts as tradition dictated.

"He's not a Highlander, lass," Connor said. "He's wearing silk MacDonald plaid boxers, if that makes you feel better."

Fiona giggled again as Richie's face reddened. He certainly wasn't accustomed to having his underwear discussed during lunch.

Connor made a great show of opening a small jar. He spread some of the contents on a cracker while Duncan opened a bottle of champagne. As Duncan poured champagne for everyone, Connor fed the cracker to Fiona. She prepared a cracker which she fed to Connor. They toasted each other with the sparkling wine before drinking from their glasses. They ended with a kiss.

With considerable ceremony, Connor handed the small jar to Duncan. The younger MacLeod repeated the ritual with Fiona before the Immortals began eating the rest of the food the Highland men had prepared for the occasion. Fiona was delighted that the men had included so many of her favorite foods in their picnic. Refreshed by her nap in the car, Fiona was ready for a good meal.

As they ate, Fiona looked at the men who had accompanied her on this journey to her home and her homeland. She was gratified that her parents had approved of her choice of companions. Despite his discomfort with his clothing, Richie seemed to be enjoying the food the MacLeods had packed in the basket as much as the Highlanders. Fiona wondered if he would ever consent to wearing a kilt again. Every time she looked at him, she thought a man in a kilt is a man and a half. Someday in the future, she would bring Richie to Scotland and they would revisit the place where she grew up on the condition that he wear a kilt.

Fiona's thoughts were interrupted when Duncan mentioned an incident with one of her uncles at a Clan Gathering. Fiona laughed. She had nearly forgotten the episode. It reminded her of another time when they had ridden the same uncle's horses without his permission. Duncan continued to reminisce with her about their shared experiences on the Highlands.

Connor listened to the conversation with great interest. Fiona rarely spoke about members of her Clan. She always seemed to shy away from the topic. Despite her earlier resistance to going home, she was now speaking freely of her life before she became Immortal. Connor smiled slightly. He had been correct. Fiona needed the closure of seeing her childhood home didn't consist of ruins and corpses.

Fiona smiled at Duncan. There had been terrible times between their Clans as well as wonderful periods of friendship and celebration. Through it all, they had managed to remain friends. Fiona fleetingly wished they had been mortals and had been allowed to marry. She sighed softly. If that were true, she wouldn't have ever known a number of people she had cared deeply about. Most importantly, she would never have known Connor or Richie.

"Ceud mile failte kirrt millyah fahlcha, Richie Ryan."

"Huh?" Richie said looking at Fiona. The words were familiar, but he still didn't recognize them.

"A hundred thousand welcomes, Richie. My mother greeted me that way when Connor and I arrived at this house. She said it to you when she stroked your hair earlier."

Richie was startled by Fiona's statement. It couldn't possibly be true, but how could she know about the strange breeze he had felt during their visit to the site of her village.

"Your . . . mother."

Although the disbelief was clear in Richie's voice, his face registered confusion. Fiona really couldn't blame him for being doubtful, but it was true.

Connor could hear Richie's doubt when the young Immortal spoke. He could see his kinsman was not convinced either. He hoped Duncan would have the sense to keep his mouth shut and allow Fiona to continue without his skepticism.

"Yes, Richie, my mother. She touched each of you."

"Where did your mother touch me, lass?"

Fiona smiled at Connor.

"Your hand. She touched Duncan's chest, but she was always fond of Duncan."

Connor saw Duncan's expression change immediately. Evidently, his kinsman had felt someone touch his chest. Connor looked at his hand. He thought someone had touched him. He smiled slightly remembering the ghost stories he had heard when trying to buy Fiona's village for her. Connor watched the Immortal woman who was still reminiscing with his kinsman. The jewelry Richie had given her twinkled in the dappled sunlight. Connor sighed. Fiona hadn't translated the ancient greeting exactly for Richie. A hundred thousand welcomes to the land of Enchantment was closer to the actual meaning. Looking at the sparkling crystals, Connor wondered if Scotland had enchanted all of them.

****

Author's notes

My Hope is Constant in Thee is the motto of Clan MacDonald of Clanranald, Fiona's Clan. Alternately, the motto is All Hope is Constant in Thee.

Ceud mile failte kirrt millyah fahlcha is Scottish Gaelic for A hundred thousand welcomes to the land of Enchantment.

The other set of documents Duncan signs will be discussed at another time.

The Immortal Hour (along with many other works) was written by William Sharp under the name Fiona MacLeod . . . or was it? Fiona promises to explore this issue in other stories.

In a volume of William Sharp's works which his wife published after his death, Dalua (Da-loo-a) is described as "the Amadan-Dhu, or Dark Fool, the Faery Fool, whose touch is madness or death for any mortal". Since Methos once described himself as "Death on a horse," Richie's analogy may be correct.

Fiona becomes Connor's lover and receives jewelry from him in Crescendo.

Connor brings MacDonald tartan to Fiona in A Place Near the Fire.

The MacLeods rescue Fiona from a car wreck in Likely Suspect.

The terms plaid and tartan have two different meanings, although they are sometime used interchangably. Plaid is the cloth itself. Tartan is the pattern on the cloth.

Information on the wrapping and wearing of the Great Kilt can be found on many websites. The information used in this story was obtained from http://www.scottish-selection.com/tweb/greatkilt/index.htm.

Information about how Highland women dressed is harder to find. Much of what is used in this story came from http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/ and History of Highland Dress by John Telfer Dunbar (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1962). The leine is similar to the linen shirts the men wear under their kilts. The difference is the woman's leine is ankle length while the men's is usually mid-thigh. An arisaid is a length of fabric which a woman would wrap around herself over the leine. I made up Fiona's method of dressing herself based on what I thought logical from pictures and illustrations and the instructions on wrapping a Great Kilt.

Richie first spends Christmas at Fiona's house on Holy Ground in Heart's Desire.

You can find a recipe for Scottish Trifle at http://www.ichef.com/ichef-recipies/Desserts/14106.html. Additional recipes for Scottish dishes can be found through http://www.rampantscotland.com/. For a humorous view of haggis, visit http://www.electricscotland.com/haggis.

Romero Carsini will reappear.

The things Finnat (FIN-ahtch) MacDonald says to the Immortals are significant in Celtic tradition. Eternally young, four of the Sidhe (faeries or deities) usually interact with mortals around the time of the summer solstice. Representing wisdom, love, hope and strength, their symbols are the Tree of Life (wisdom), the Grail (love, abundance and healing), a sword (the sword of power) and a crystal (past and future). The jewelry Richie buys for Fiona is in the shape of a cup (Grail) entwined with leaves (Tree of Life) and contains crystals. Of course, all the Immortals are carrying swords. Fiona was born on the summer solstice. (For some additional information, see http://www.celticsiren.com/".)

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