None So Vile


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"This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition"

-- William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act IV, Scene III, lines 59-65


Archivist's note: This story contains strong slash implications and may not be to some people's tastes for this reason. However, the implications of slash related activity isn't graphically written or is actively dealt with. If you feel uncomfortable with this type of strong implications, you will have to choose if you still want to read this.

Author's notes: The usual legal stuff applies here. Not mine, no harm, no profit (THAT'S a laugh!).

This story is a response to a rather peculiar group challenge issued to me by the members of the Richie/Methos list. It was decided that this was to be a first time R/M story, set in Paris in late 1992/early 1993; in other words, while Richie was a pre-Immortal. For more information on the particulars, see the notes at the end (I don't want to spoil the various surprises contained herein).

I decided to take the beginning of "Band of Brothers" as my departure from canon. What if Horton and Grayson teamed up to get rid of MacLeod and Darius? Most readers will recognize the dialogue taken from that episode.

The title comes from a Cryptopsy CD. If you've ever seen the cover, you'll get the joke.



[Late January 1993, the gates of St. Julien's Church, Paris]

Steel blue eyes drenched in pain and anguish silently pleaded with the heartless murderer before them. <>

"He won't be the last, Old One," Grayson taunted coldly. "I shall hunt down your proteges, one by one, until you sicken of it and come out of sanctuary to fight me."

"Would it please you that much to destroy me?"

An evil, telling smile presaged the reply. "Immensely." The expression morphed into one of accusation, and disappointment, tinged with disdain. "You could have been one of the greatest rulers in the history of the world. Instead, you cower on holy ground."

Darius was incredulous, and nearly speechless. An innocent man had died for *what* -- an ancient perceived wrong? "That was fourteen hundred years ago. But for you, the world hasn't changed."

Grayson dismissed that charge with a haughty sneer. "Look outside your cloister. What has changed? The means of destruction only." He paused, and stared at his former mentor with boundless disgust. "You're a fool."

"Who's next?" Darius pleaded, fearing for his friends, both mortal and immortal alike.

Grayson could smell the priest's apprehension, sweet and thick, in the air. "You'll have to guess," he taunted maliciously. "Shouldn't be too hard for a man of your insight into a person's soul."

A weighty pause, the gears of Darius' mind furiously whirling into action. "It's Paulus, isn't it?" he guessed.

Still sneering, Grayson turned away, without a further word or clue.

"Grayson--," the priest called out in desperation. "You believed in me, once."

After a beat, the younger Immortal pivoted back to face the former general. "I didn't change, you did." There was nothing further to say. The battle lines had been drawn, the conditions for surrender meted out, and, apparently, refused. Grayson turned his back on the man he once idolized, and strode out into the harsh icy winds of the Paris night, leaving Darius to his guilt and pain.

A hushed, throaty chuckle of satisfaction chortled in the back of the Immortal's throat, as he strolled through the dark narrow street leading away from the church. The sudden sound of a piece of glass crushed beneath the sole of a shoe halted Grayson in his tracks. Fingers instantly flew beneath his overcoat, finding the familiar hardness of his sword's hilt. "Show yourself," he called out menacingly to the darkness. Feral ancient eyes swept over the claustrophobic void surrounding him, knowing the intruder was not one of his kind, yet sensing it was, somehow, someone almost equally as threatening.

"No need for this to come to swords," an icy voice explained from the darkness.

Grayson whirled to face the unfamiliar tone. "Let me be the judge of that," he warily barked.

Slowly emerging into the dim illumination of the tight causeway, a trench coat clad man opened his empty hands to the other's view. "I'm unarmed -- and I'm afraid my head would do you no good."

He knows about... us. A mortal who understood the Game was, indeed, a danger. "Who are you?" Grayson suspiciously called, his hand not moving from its grasp on his steel.

"Someone with a mutual dislike of the priest," the mortal explained. "Pity you let him know your next move, though. I've always found that doing the unexpected was, itself, a victory. Just to see the look on your enemy's face when they realize you've fooled them for the last time."

The Immortal's eyes narrowed, his gaze never shifting from the mortal's deceptively congenial face. "If you have something useful to say, do it. Otherwise, I have things to do," he warned.

"Please, hear me out," the mortal urged. "You want to punish Darius, by destroying everyone he holds dear. I want to see the priest die, as well as his Immortal allies. I have... information... concerning the whereabouts of the priest's favorite pupils. Seems to me we can be of great assistance to each other."

Grayson didn't trust the mortal. Fortunately, trust wasn't necessary in the kind of relationships the Immortal was interested in having. "I assume you have a name," he slowly prodded.

The mortal offered his right hand for the other to shake. "James Horton."

Part 1:

[Early February, Paris]


"Yeah, coming Mac!" The youth bounded down the steps of the barge, popping his curly head into the main living area in time to see his friend struggling with one end of the couch. "Oh, yeah, let me help you with that," he babbled, brushing past an amused Tessa. He flashed the Immortal his best "Sorry!" grin, and hefted the unoccupied end of the couch. "Where do you wanna move this?"

"Ask the master decorator," Mac huffed in resignation.

"Over to the left... no, not that far," Tessa directed, with a wave of her hand. "Wait... no, no, back a few inches. Stop -- there!"

"Isn't this where it *was*?" Richie whispered to the elder man.

"You try telling *her* that," the Scot mumbled in return. "Anything else?" he asked loudly, mustering all the feigned enthusiasm he could.

"No... I think it's fine now," his girlfriend explained, happily. She opened her arms, and welcomed her lover into her embrace with a sweet kiss. "It's beautiful, Mac."

The Immortal smiled, honestly this time. "So are you," he offered, his hands wandering a tad lower than they should in company.

"I think I'm gonna go feed some pigeons or something," Richie offered, uncomfortably, with a gesture toward the top deck, sensing he was suddenly an unnecessary third wheel.

Tessa pulled out of Duncan's amorous grasp. "No, you're going to sit down with Duncan, on that couch you just moved, and let me serve lunch," she ordered.

"Lunch, cool!" Richie flashed a sparking smile, and flopped down onto the furniture.

Mac silently sank onto the other half of the sofa, his mind obviously lost in thought.

"What's up, Mac?" the youth inquired, with furrowed brow.

A shake of his head, and the Immortal dismissed the boy's well-intentioned questioning. "Nothing for you to worry about," he offered in noncommittal explanation.


Duncan chuckled briefly. Richie was a living contradiction. One minute he could be as dense as a London fog, the next, as astute as an eagle's gaze. And, of course, he was never the one MacLeod wanted him to be at any given moment.

"You're wondering where Grayson's hiding, aren't you," Richie accurately guessed.

A weighty nod, accompanied by the folding of arms across the Scot's chest, signaled agreement with that assessment. "Darius was so sure he was going to come to Seacouver, and try to kill Victor Paulus."

"Maybe somebody whacked him?" the youth hopefully offered.

"Maybe," Duncan agreed, wholly unconvinced. Truth be told, he suspected Grayson was playing a well orchestrated game of cat and mouse with Darius, and the Scot sincerely hoped he hadn't played right into the devious Immortal's hands by coming to Paris. But, Tessa had been so excited about the curator's position, and, at least, Duncan could keep an eye on Darius more easily from Paris.

Tessa and Richie had both been admonished about being extremely careful, until Grayson's whereabouts were ascertained. Duncan had no illusions that both of them wouldn't throw caution to the wind at a moment's notice. That just meant he had to work doubly hard to keep them safe. In what he had considered a stroke of brilliance, MacLeod had taken Tessa aside, and professed his concern about Richie's recklessness. Predictably, like the mother hen she had become, his lover had sworn to keep a careful watch on the youth. Likewise, the Immortal had elicited from Richie a promise to help watch out for Tessa. Perhaps if they were looking out for each other's safety, they might, in turn, safeguard their own.

"Here we go, sandwiches and soda," Tessa announced cheerily, placing a trayful of food and beverages onto the coffee table.

"Great, I'm starved!" the pre-Immortal remarked, snatching a half of a ham sandwich from the top of the pile before the plate was in contact with the table. The food barely grazed his lips when there was a loud knocking on the main door.

"'Ello... es anybody 'ome?"

Tessa and MacLeod exchanged confused expressions. It wasn't an Immortal, by the Scot's lack of reaction, so it must be safe. "I'll see who it is," Tessa offered, turning toward the door. She brushed her hands on her jeans, and hustled up the few steps to the entrance. Cautiously peering through the porthole, the confusion in her expression deepened further. Opening the door, she inquired, "Can I help you?"

"Ah, so nice to meet the lovely lady of the home," a curious French man bubbled, as he grabbed her hand, and lifted it to his lips for a kiss.

Smiling in amusement, Tessa glanced over to Duncan, who had now pushed up from the couch.

"And you must be the new owner," the unidentified mortal announced, bustling over to the main sitting area. He reached out with both hands, and clasped Duncan's right hand. "I am Maurice, your neighbor. I own the barge next door."

"Next door," Duncan parroted, shooting Tessa a slightly questioning glance.

His lover stifled a snicker, as she remember their conversation that morning about the tacky little boat moored next to theirs.

"Oui, and I thought I would come over and introduce myself to my new neighbors," Maurice explained, with a smile.

"Duncan MacLeod," the Scot introduced, in resigned amusement. "And you've already met Tessa."

"Ah, yes, bonjour again, mon cheri," the curiously bumbling middle-aged man noted, with a bow. He released MacLeod's hand, and stole another kiss of the French woman's delicate hand. "You remind me of my late wife -- she was also very beautiful, once."

"I'm sorry she's gone," Tessa offered, with sincere sadness.

Maurice shrugged. "She was no longer beautiful, and I was no longer the sole recipient of her affections, it seemed," he offered in way of explanation. "'Ello, and who is this charming young man?"

"Richie Ryan," the youth introduced, with his hand extended. He beamed a smile at their eccentric neighbor, as the frumpy man nearly shook the circulation out of his fingers.

"Oh, and I've come at a bad time, I see," Maurice guiltily announced, noting the luncheon spread out on the table.

"Nonsense, you've come at a wonderful time," Tessa urged, lacing an arm around Maurice's. "Sit, join us. Tell us more about yourself."

The French man glanced worriedly at Duncan, and, seeing there was no blatant opposition to the notion, warmly patted Tessa's hand. "Merci beaucoup, my dear." He hustled into the seat previously occupied by Duncan, and plucked a sandwich off the pile. "Ah, good to see you're eating meat, young man. All these American college kids want is salad and vegetables. What's wrong with a red meat?"

Richie opened his mouth to agree, but was interrupted by the continuation of Maurice's soliloquy. "You seem like a nice young man, I should introduce you to my niece. She's very pretty...."

Part 2:

Meanwhile, across town....

A sound vaguely similar to fingernails grating on a chalkboard rattled Horton's nerves. Over his shoulder, he shot his Immortal accomplice a disapproving glance, then returned to reading the latest reports filed by his idealistic and, mercifully, clueless, brother-in-law. "It seems my plan has worked flawlessly -- the Highlander arrived in town just three days ago."

"*Our* plan," Grayson corrected, continuing to rasp the sharpening stone over his blade. "I can't *wait* to claim his head as my latest trophy," he chortled, confidently. "*After* he's helped me drive Darius from his cloister."

The file folder was closed, then the Watcher tossed it onto the coffee table of Grayson's hotel suite. "All in good time, my impatient friend. All in good time." He leaned forward in the easy chair, folding his fingers into a thoughtful steeple. "According to my sources, he's brought his entire 'family' with him," he slowly explained. Ice-laden blue eyes raised, finding understanding in a, likewise heartless, Immortal gaze. With a sardonic smile painting across his lips, Horton pushed up from the chair, and snatched the file in one hand. "We've added all the ingredients. Perhaps, it would be better to turn on the heat, and let them... simmer... for a bit."

The stone finally ceased its travel along the weapon. "What did you have in mind?" Grayson inquired, with equally immoral intent, with just as grinch-like a smile.

The folder was rubbed against the Watcher's lips as he formulated the fine nuances of a plan. "A little game of Highlander Hide and Seek."

"Whom are we hiding?" Grayson inquired, wondering which of Duncan's loved ones was the target.

A malicious mortal grin widened, but did not answer.


That afternoon

Deep ochre eyes surveyed the church grounds, as the Scot hustled across the narrow cobbled street from his rented car. He pushed open the steel gate, and, seeing nothing suspicious, allowed himself the slightest modicum of relief. The familiar scent of incense brought the tug of a smile to MacLeod's mouth, as well as memories to his mind. It had been far too long since he'd spent time with the priest -- he hoped he would have many years to make up for that egregious oversight.

Pushing open the heavy wooden side door to the chapel, Duncan silently entered the sacred space, feeling safe for the first time in several weeks. The almost immediate mental intrusion of another Immortal's presence instinctively caused him both trepidation and relief, assuming it was merely his old friend, probably hearing confession behind the ornately carved screen of the wooden booth.

A noise behind him caught him off guard, and the Scot turned on his heels in time to see a drably clothed, gangly tall, slender woman rush from the private hallway leading to the priests' quarters. "Excuse me," he started, wondering if this was a friend of Darius'. However, to his confusion, the mysterious figure hastened her steps in response, disappearing through the door on the other side of the church as the Scot's eyes followed. "That's odd," Duncan murmured to himself. He hadn't managed to catch a glimpse of the stranger's face -- a black kerchief covered her long, dark hair, and large rimmed, strangely dark sunglasses hid many of her facial features.

"Ah, Duncan! I am so pleased to see you!"

A smile pushed the previous confusion from his mind, and MacLeod turned to greet the reason for his visit. "I know you thought it was too dangerous for me to come here, but...," he explained, grasping his friend's forearms in a warrior's salute.

"I should know better than to expect you to listen to reason," Darius teased, with a well-lit smile of his own. "I'm glad you're here, though."

"You know where Grayson is hiding out?"

Darius shook his head, a sigh of regret and sadness whistling from his lips. "No, I'm afraid not. He hasn't shown himself in a week."

"Maybe someone beat me to his head," the Scot hopefully replied.

A nervous chuckle echoed in the chapel. "Would that we should be so lucky, my friend," Darius offered, with sincere hope. "However, I fear he is merely playing another version of his perverse game." The priest glanced around the church, noted the presence of several parishioners lighting candles over at one small altar, and gestured for his companion to follow him to the seclusion of the back room. "Privacy is a necessity," he explained, turning to leave.

Duncan nodded, and followed the priest through the narrow doorway leading back to the living quarters. "Who was that woman I saw leaving a few minutes ago?" he inquired.

"Woman?" Darius asked, uncomfortably.

The elder Immortal's attempt to cover his tracks failed miserably. "Yes, tall, dark haired. I saw her leaving from this hallway just before you came out," Duncan warily offered, his eyes carefully studying the priest's body language. "Don't tell me you didn't see her."

Another uncomfortable sigh escaped from Darius' throat. "An old friend, whom I do NOT want getting involved," he explained. "It's bad enough *you* feel the need to come to my defense -- although I suspect you would fare far better in a battle with Grayson than my old friend."

Duncan nodded his head in understanding. Darius would most assuredly want to take special care to protect an Immortal woman from Grayson, and, in turn, he was most certain that Darius' former student would take special sick delight in taking the head of one of the priest's female friends -- after making them suffer.

A shudder shimmied the Scot's flesh, as undesired visuals fleetingly flowed through his mind. "Do you want me to offer her my protection?" Duncan offered gallantly, following Darius into his private room.

"No, that won't be necessary," Darius hastily, and most stringently, retorted. He started a pot of tea, on the small burner he kept in his room for his own use, keeping his back to the keenly perceptive younger man, hoping to contain as much of his, already, far too obvious concern as possible. "She knows to stay out of harm's way, and stick close to Holy Ground. I appreciate the offer, but it's really not necessary."

"Okay, but remember, the offer still stands," MacLeod suspiciously acquiesced. He wandered around the room, his fingers gliding over the accumulated knick-knacks his friend had collected over the centuries. Books, religious artifacts, mementoes of friends lost, and friends still alive, God willing. A bittersweet smile accompanied the grasping of an antique rook in one hand. Of all the things he missed about Darius' company, their chess games were most definitely near the top of the list. He'd meant to pay the priest a brief visit, learn what he could about Grayson's latest escapades, then return to the barge. He hated leaving Tessa and Richie unattended for too long, with Grayson's whereabouts unknown. Yet, he sensed his old friend needed to spend some time with him, and, surely Tessa and Richie would be safe in broad daylight, as long as they kept to the barge.

Removing his cell-phone from his duster pocket, MacLeod flipped open the cover with one thumb, and punched in the autodial. "Tessa -- is everything okay there?" he inquired.

Darius turned around, concern painted across his face. He brought two cups of tea to the chessboard, and set them down.

"Good. Yes, Darius is fine. I think I'd like to spend a little more time here, if you two don't mind. I feel the sudden urge to beat him in chess," Duncan teased, winking at the priest.

Shaking his head, Darius chuckled comfortably, and took his preferred seat at the table. "You haven't learned, even after all this time," he accused affectionately, setting up his pieces for a new game.

"Stay there until I get back, and make sure Richie does the same -- even if you have to tie him to the wheel," Duncan instructed firmly. "I love you, too," he added, then shut off the phone, and returned it to his pocket. "Ready to lose?" he playfully taunted his old friend.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that question?" Darius retorted, smiling honestly for the first time in many days.

Part 3:

Two hours later

THWIP... thud.


THWIP... thud.

A loud, disgusted sigh.

THWIP... chink.


Richie hooted in triumph, glancing over his shoulder to see if Tessa had noted his successful flip of a playing card into a rather expensive vase.

She hadn't. Instead, she remained, as she had for the past twenty minutes, pensively staring out the porthole at the quay beyond.

"Tess, I'm sure he's okay," the youth cajoled. "Him and Darius are probably just catching up on old times -- who knows how long *that* could take!"

The French woman forced a nervous chuckle, and a smile, in the boy's direction. "Thanks, Richie. It's just getting so close to dark -- he promised to be back by now."

"Oh, c'mon, this isn't the *first* time he's been late, right?" The youth pushed off of the couch, and walked behind his surrogate mother, wrapping his arms loosely around her waist in an affectionate hug. "Maybe you lose the time-keeping part of your brain when you become Immortal," he teased, with a lop-sided grin.

This time, an honest laugh issued from Tessa's throat. "You're something else," she explained, turning into his arms to return his hug. "I'm glad you're here."

"Me, too," Richie agreed. "But, I'd rather be out riding my new bike, than cooped up in here," he added. "Not that I don't like spending time with you," he guiltily babbled immediately.

"That's okay, I understand," Tessa retorted, playfully ruffling the youth's unruly curls. "You should be out, enjoying the city." She sighed, and tenderly kissed one of the boy's cheeks. "When Mac takes care of Grayson, I promise we'll show you the city."

"All the *cool* spots?" Richie inquired hopefully.

"Yes, all the *cool* spots," Tessa mimicked, with a grin. A flash of light, seen out of the corner of her eye, caught the woman's attention. "What's going on?" she queried worriedly, peering out the porthole at the flashing lights of a police car parked just beyond the gang plank.

"I dunno," Richie could only add, his forehead scrunching up in confusion and obvious worry. "Tess, wait...," he called out, as she pushed past him and ran for the main door.

She opened the door just as three burly men, dressed in police uniforms, reached the entrance.

"Miss Noel?" a swarthy bulldog of a man, with a thick moustache, inquired.

"Yes, what's wrong, Officer?" Tessa pushed, frantically.

"There's been an accident -- we've been sent to bring you to the hospital."

Tessa glanced back at Richie, who had joined her at the door. "Hospital? What kind of accident?"

"A car accident, involving Mr. MacLeod," the gendarme explained. "I'm sorry, he's in very serious condition, Miss Noel. We should leave right away."

Years of experience with the Paris police raised the specter of serious nagging doubt in Tessa's mind. Duncan was Immortal -- he'd been hurt in a car accident before, and had healed, like he always did, actually leaving the hospital under his own power not long after arriving. However, just after checking himself out, he'd been kidnapped by a seriously disturbed doctor, for his own nefarious experimentation. So many doubts, so little time to process them all. "Let me get my purse," she finally acquiesced, turning back from the doorway. "Richie, get my jacket, please," she implored, grabbing her keys from the coffee table, and tossing them into a small black purse.

"Sure thing, Tess," Richie answered, collecting his black leather jacket and her wool coat from the coat rack in the corner.

"I'm afraid only Miss Noel can come along," the still unidentified officer swiftly noted, as he walked farther into the barge, his silent companions close behind. "The Intensive Care Unit has very strict visitors' policies -- you understand, I'm sure."

That set off unmistakable warning bells in Tessa's head. She surreptitiously glanced over at Richie, and noted that he'd obviously seen through the apparent ruse, as well. "Yes, but Richie can stay in the waiting area. I need him to go with me," she tried to explain, rummaging into her purse for the container of pepper spray Duncan had had the foresight to give her.

"No, I'm sorry. Look, I'm just following orders," the gruff faux-policeman barked, dropping out of character for the moment.

Tessa sucked in a breath, caught the glimpse of terror in Richie's eyes, then spun into action, spraying the obvious henchman in the eyes with the spray. "Richie, get out of here!" she screamed, pushing past the now doubled over man to attack his companions.

The youth got no farther than three steps from his present position, when he was tackled by the nearly blinded goon. A muffled scream alerted him to Tessa's failure to escape, before the room faded away into pain and darkness.


Tessa nobly struggled against the painfully tight grip of the two kidnappers who dragged her by the arms off the barge and down to the quay. She bit the hand of the smaller of the two henchmen, who had clamped a hand over her mouth.

"Bitch!" he explained, then backhanded her across the face.

"Later!" the leader ordered, wiping his tearing and stinging eyes with the sleeve of his costume uniform. "Let's get out of here."

"Tessa, what is the matter?" a concerned French voice called out from their right.

The unnamed ringleader turned, to see a comical little Frenchman, dressed in an apron, and carrying a broom. "This is police business, Monsieur. Please return to your boat," he gruffly ordered.

"Tessa?" Maurice inquired, sensing something was most seriously wrong. He had only met his new neighbors, but they most certainly didn't seem like the type to be involved in anything unseemly. These police, on the other hand....

A spark of understanding flashed in the mortal's eyes, and he raised his broom like a weapon. "Unhand her, you... you frauds!" he ordered, cuffing one of Tessa's restrainers in the head with his cleaning implement.

"Tess!" a woozy Richie called out, staggering out from the barge, a hand holding the back of his head.

"Richie! Go for help!" Tessa screamed, before she was gagged by her kidnappers, once more.

"Get your hands OFF her, you bastards!" the youth ordered, rushing down the gangplank to Tessa's rescue.

The faux cops looked to their leader for a plan, this, supposedly, simple job turning very bad in a flash. With a frustrated grunt, the head honcho shoved Maurice on his ass, and tried to push Tessa into the back seat of their illegally procured car.

"Riiiichie!!!!" Tessa screamed, clawing at the doorframe of the car in an effort to prevent being sealed in what she assumed would be a death trap of a ride. "Get help!"

As Maurice scrambled to his feet, broom still in hand, Richie grabbed one of the henchmen, and tackled him against the passenger's side door. What happened next occurred in a blur the youth could not even begin to understand. Somehow, Tessa managed to push out of the car, falling to the cobblestones with a loud cry of pain and fear. Maurice proved to be the hero of the day, pulling Tessa away from the vehicle. As for Richie? Well, all it took was hearing the leader say "Grab the kid!", and he was off like a bat out of hell, jumping onto his bike, and roaring off into the receding daylight with the bad guys in hot pursuit.


Twenty minutes later, the youth was still leading the doggedly determined ruffians on a desperate chase through the streets of Paris. It had only taken two minutes before Richie had become hopelessly lost. Any hope of finding Duncan, or even the real police, had quickly faded from his brain. His only plan now was to outrun them, before he ended up in a dead-end alley by accident.

The bump on his head was throbbing, and he was nearly blinded by a headache of epic proportions. Still, he rode, for his life, he mused. He jumped the curb of a small plaza, and tore across the well manicured lawn of a sculpture-decorated park. Pushing the bike as hard as he dared, he dodged astonished Parisians, ignoring their shouts and curses as he headed for the exit on the far side. With a relieved breath, he drove the bike through the marble archway, sensing he might have finally achieved his goal. But, alas, a moment of distraction proved his downfall, as the bike landed on a sewer grate in just the wrong way, throwing Richie over the handlebars and into the street with rib-bruising force.

As the likewise injured bike whined in the background, Richie moaned plaintively, struggling to catch his breath. With his last bit of adrenaline, he pushed up to his feet, winced at the pain which wracked nearly all of his body, then stumbled, limped, and nearly crawled his way across the street to a neon lit club.

The swirling cacophony of disco lights, mixed with the driving beat of
overly-loud music, seemed a siren song of safety to the young man. If there
was one lesson he learned while on the streets, it was that large crowds
will *usually* protect you from getting the snot beaten out of you. Not
because they particularly gave a rat's ass about your well-being, of course,
but, rather, because those with sufficient bravado -- and the excess
testosterone -- to want to wish you bodily harm in the first place,
strangely seemed to morph into the meekest of lambs when faced with the
prospect of too many witnesses. Richie prayed whoever was trying to kidnap
him now fell into that category, despite their lame cover as Parisian police.

Summoning up his last bit of strength, he stumbled through the main doors to
the club, bloodied, battered, and, quite frankly, scared shitless. The lump
on the side of his head thumped in time with the music, as he staggered past
wide-eyed, gaily dressed patrons, and he wondered if he had a concussion. It
might explain why these people looked like refugees from a bad Halloween

On a spotlighted stage at the far end of the crowded club, the bleary blue
eyes spied a tall, awkwardly slender woman performing, poured into a far too
tight black dress, precariously perched on ridiculous platform shoes, and
sporting, what he assumed to be, a curly black wig the size of Montana. "I
was born in the wagon of a traveling show, my mama used to dance for the
money they'd throw...."

<<Huh? That kinda sounds like....

A woman shouted at him in French, Richie not certain whether she was trying
to help, or trying to throw him out. The room suddenly began to swirl with
the music, the lights blinking on and off as his eyelids fluttered open and

With his last reservoirs of strength tapped and drained, Richie collapsed to
the dance floor, the scattering crowd of patrons parting like the Red Sea
around him. As consciousness faded from view, the young man's last thoughts
were why Cher was now apparently leaning over him, and should he
be frightened or happy she was reported to like young guys....

Part 4:

Tessa sobbed into her lover's embrace, tears of fear for Richie's fate, as well as a release of nervous energy from her own brush with an unknown, albeit assumed unpleasant, fate. "He's got to be all right," she cried, rocking in the Scot's strong arms. "He's just got to be."

MacLeod tried to soothe her fears, yet, he had many of the same himself. Brushing his lips across her hair, he kissed her several times, tightening his grasp on the nearly hysterical woman. "We'll find him," Duncan promised. "Right now, the best thing you can do for him is to tell me exactly what happened." The Scot glanced up at his new neighbor, currently sitting restlessly in the easy chair, nervously stroking the handle of his broom. "*Both* of you," Duncan added.


"And... that's it. It happened so fast... I tried to get away from them...." Tessa began to cry, once more, burying her face in Duncan's sweater.

"You were very brave," Maurice offered. "You remind me of my cousin, Marie Claire. She once beat off an entire pack of stray dogs with a feather duster."

"Sounds like you learned a lot from her," Duncan noted, gesturing toward the still-gripped broom.

"What, oh, *this*? Well, it was all I 'ad, at the time. They are just lucky I wasn't frying sausages...."

"What are we going to do?" Tessa interjected. "We *have* to help Richie!"

MacLeod brushed the tears from his lover's eyes as he thought aloud. "We can't trust the police apparently...."

"Bah -- those men weren't police. I saw right through them!" Maurice interjected, with considerable disdain.

"How can you be so sure?" Duncan asked, warily.

Maurice puffed up with obvious pride. "It's simple, my foreign friend. *They* had old uniforms! The Parisian police haven't worn that design in three years!"

"How do you know?" Tessa sniffled, rubbing a hand across her reddened nose.

"Is simple -- my cousin, Robert, he retired from the force two years ago this month. You should have heard him complaining when they changed the uniforms."

"How many cousins *do* you have, Maurice?" MacLeod noted, with a hint of humor, despite the grave situation.

The Frenchman shrugged. "My grandparents were very prolific in the bedroom. They loved each other *very* much."

"I can tell." Duncan sighed loudly, kissed Tessa on the lips, then pushed off of the couch, and pulled his cell-phone out of his coat pocket.

"Who are you calling?" Tessa inquired, pushing off of the couch as well.

"Darius," the Scot explained, pulling the telephone book from the pile of magazines, where Richie had dumped it after ordering pizza last. "He mentioned something during our chess game -- I think he suspects Grayson has an accomplice."

"This Grayson -- he is a very bad man?" Maurice inquired, tentatively. The grim expression on Duncan's face was answer enough. "I think I might need something more than a broom to use on 'im," he added, glumly.

Finding the church number in the phone book, MacLeod punched in the number, then shook his head in disapproval. "Dammit -- it's busy." He thought for a moment, silently mouthed a number he was trying to remember, then made another call.

"Who are you calling now?" Tessa inquired, wrapping her arms around Duncan's waist.

"Someone I can trust -- with my life, and Richie's." He waited while the call connected, relief obvious in his face when someone apparently picked up on the other end. "Yes, I need to speak to Mr. Nash -- it's very important. Tell him it's Duncan MacLeod..."


"Damn." Horton slammed the telephone receiver down onto the cradle. "Why is reliable help so difficult to find in this city?"

"Trouble?" Grayson inquired, unfolding his lanky legs from atop the coffee table of Horton's apartment.

"Only a minor setback," the Watcher assured his Immortal accomplice. "It seems Miss Noel succeeded in slipping from our grasp."

"Did they get the boy instead?" Grayson asked, calmly, as he studied his fingernails with feigned interest.

"Almost -- seems he lost them, and his bike, somewhere in Marais, near Rue Vielle du Temple."

"An American boy his age should be quite popular in that part of town," Grayson joked. "Barely legal, and all." He glanced up from his nails, and flashed a sardonic smile at Horton. "Shall we pay the clubs of Gay Paris a little visit? No pun intended, of course."


"Just put him on the bed," the Cher double explained, as a bouncer gently carried the unconscious youth into a private room above the club.

"Hoping to have a little fun with him later?" the mortal teased, lasciviously, as he hefted the bloodied and battered boy onto the bed.

"Hardly. Just trying to stay out of trouble," the Immortal explained. "I suspect he was running *from* someone, so keep an eye out for suspicious strangers."

"The Boss isn't going to like this," the bouncer noted, with a disapproving shake of his head. "You know he likes to keep his nose clean, especially since the cops busted that smack dealer in here last Christmas."

"I'll take care of Pierre, Marcus. You just do *your* job, and make sure the regulars keep their mouths shut if someone comes sniffing around," the Immortal admonished. Several of the performer's recently acquired tips found their way from his garter belt into the bouncer's hand. "Do I make myself clear?"

"Yeah, no problem," Marcus agreed.

"Good -- now, go back downstairs, and tell Victoria she can have my next set for herself."

The Immortal watched the bouncer leave, closed and locked the door, then turned back to the matter at hand. Shucking the wig from his head, he tossed the hairpiece onto a vacant chair, then ran his fake fingernails through his own short, matted hair. "Now, what have we here...."

A pre-Immortal, of that he was most certain. And a quite comely, young one, at that. Despite the layers of blood, bruises, and road tar covering the young man's clothes and skin, the finely made structure of his features was plainly visible. "Quite a pretty young thing, aren't we," he noted, allowing himself the leisure of enjoying the view for a moment, before turning to the task at hand. With a shake of his head, the Immortal snaked a hand under the boy's nicely curved ass, removed a wallet from a snug pocket, and flipped open the leather in search of some ID.

Eyes widened in recognition, as the full weight of the youth's identity hit the good Samaritan like a ton of bricks. "Bloody hell -- it's MacLeod's stray puppy!"

The Immortal turned Watcher rubbed a hand across his face, unconsciously smearing some of his carefully applied rouge and powder. This was bad -- *very* bad. It had been difficult to keep his identity secret from the Highlander earlier that day -- now, he wondered if it was possible to remain anonymous. If he made actual contact with the Scot, would his cover with the Watchers be blown? Bloody hell, the White Knight had no idea about the Watchers' existence -- how could Methos explain how *he* knew so much about the annoyingly inquisitive Scot and his friends without letting slip that little detail?

For the briefest of moments, Methos considered dumping the child back onto the street, and letting him face his fate. After all, it wasn't like he'd die permanently from the wounds they were likely to inflict. What's the harm of becoming Immortal at the peak of your looks? Isn't that why MacLeod had taken the child under his wing -- wasn't the Highlander waiting to become the boy's teacher as soon as he suffered his, apparently assumed to be soon, first death? Why should Methos risk his own neck becoming involved in the child's problems?

A very excellent, albeit self-serving reason, came to mind. Perhaps it wasn't merely neighborhood thugs after the boy. He looked as if he'd been in a serious accident -- and the lump on his head was at least an hour old, by the looks of it. Who would go to all that trouble to harass this child? Who would have a reason to chase, and harm, an American teenager in Paris?

A teenager who just happened to be the ward of one Duncan MacLeod.

"Grayson," the ancient Immortal spat, through clenched teeth. The ante had just been raised considerably.

Part 5:

"UhhhhhhhhhhhhhOhhhhhhhhh... my head...."

"Sshh, try and stay still for a minute."

Richie forced his eyes open, although it took more than a few seconds for his eyes to focus. When they finally did, the bleared baby blues widened in shock and infinite confusion at the face which greeted him back to consciousness. It was Cher, sans wig, but still dressed in the skin tight black costume, and sporting slightly smeared, pancaked make-up thicker than Duncan's brogue on a bad day. "What the...." he started, trying to push up farther onto the bed, and away from the incongruous vision attempting to assault him with a warm washcloth. The agony of his multiple injuries soon put a painful halt to his attempted flight. "Ooouch, oh shit," he wailed, grabbing his sides with bloodied fingers.

"That will teach you to listen," the drag performer admonished, with a disapproving shake of his head. "You're safe, for the moment. Now let me clean you up a little, before you ruin something other than your own clothes."

"Gee, thanks," Richie answered, feeling less than welcomed by the sarcastic stranger. He watched, warily, as the tall, dark haired man carefully wiped the blood and grime from his fingers and hands. "Who are you, anyway?"

"Adam," the stranger offered in explanation, rinsing the washcloth in a bedside bowl of soapy water.

"Gee, that's funny -- I thought you looked more like Eve a few minutes ago," the youth teased, with a cheeky grin. "Owwwww! Careful!"

"Sorry, Richie, but it isn't *my* fault you decided to get gravel embedded in your skin," Methos explained, gently cleansing a sizable abrasion on the youth's right arm.

"Where am I?" Richie inquired, distrustfully, his eyes wandering over the sparsely furnished room. "And how do you know my name?" he suspiciously added.

"I checked your wallet," Methos explained without pause. "To answer your *other* question, welcome to The Nunnery, Paris' finest drag club. You decided to drop in during our Sunday Matinee."

"Sorry --next time, I'll make a reservation," the pre-Immortal joked. "OWWW!!!! Watch it!"

"If you're going to be such a baby about a little soap and water, imagine what will happen when I start with the rubbing alcohol," Methos warned. "Nothing's broken, and I don't think you have a concussion. But you've been banged up pretty badly, and I *need* to clean out your wounds, or they'll get infected. *Then* you'd have reason to whine."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," the youth agreed, unhappily. "Just *try* and leave what little skin I have left, okay?" he groused. His eyes watched as Adam worked, studying the incongruity of the masculine voice and artificially feminized features. "So... you're a performer here," he asked.

"Not regularly," Methos explained, rinsing the increasingly blood stained washcloth once again. "I happen to know the owner of the club, and I fill in from time to time. He's the one who taught me the whole make-up and clothing business."

"Must be nice to be able to change the way you look," Richie noted, with a wince, as the Immortal carefully picked a few pieces of gravel out of his elbow. He wished he'd had the foresight to put his jacket on before leaving the barge, but in the state he was in, he was lucky he'd even remembered how to ride his bike.

Methos was confused by that remark. "Whaddya mean?" he inquired, cleaning out the oozing elbow with meticulous tenderness.

"I mean, you can hide out from people -- ya know, disappear."

"You mean like from who ever chased you in here," Methos correctly surmised.

Knowing he was offering more information than he should to someone he'd just met, and wasn't entirely sure he could trust, Richie became silent.

The ancient Immortal wasn't about to allow this opening to close without a fight. "This looks like road rash -- were you riding a motorcycle?"

The youth nodded. "Dumped it about a block from here. Oh, man, Mac's gonna *kill* me! He just bought that yesterday!"

"Mac? Is he a relative of yours?" Methos inquired, with his best poker-faced expression of innocence.

"Not really -- he and Tessa kinda adopted me, back in the States," Richie explained. The color instantly drained from his face, a sudden flash of clear thought piercing through his still muddled brain. "Oh, SHIT! Tessa! I gotta get help!"

"Wait a minute -- you're not going *anywhere*," Methos warned, pressing a squirming Richie onto the bed. "You're in no shape to help anyone but yourself at the moment."

"But, they could be after her again!" Richie protested urgently.

"Look, I can't help you unless you tell me what happened," the Immortal explained. "Just calm down, and take it from the top...."

Methos' mood sombered further and further with every sentence of Richie's explanation. Darius and he had discussed the possibility that Grayson had an accomplice. Certain *irregularities* Methos had discovered concerning access to the Watcher files of Darius' students and friends had led the ancient Immortal to a most unpalatable conclusion, that there could even be a rogue Watcher involved. The priest had refused to believe that -- he had known about the Organization for centuries, and had the utmost respect for their work, and their adherence to their vow of non-interference. He cursed his friend's unfounded optimism concerning human nature.

He also cursed his self-imposed exile from the Organization at the critical juncture. He'd taken a well documented vacation from the Watchers during the University's spring break, and had, in fact, asked for the two weeks before the University's break off, as well. "Need to catch up on grading and study for comps," he lied. In truth, he needed to stay clear of the line of fire until the Scottish cavalry saved the day, and had promised Darius he would stay on Holy Ground until Grayson was no longer a threat. As much as the priest dreaded the consequences of Duncan losing his head to Grayson, Darius was petrified of the results if his former student gained the Quickening of the world's oldest Immortal.

Thus, Methos had delighted his *old* friend Pierre, offering to reprise his hit performance of the past summer for a "limited three week engagement." A club built on Holy Ground, with his own apartment above, a kitchen, a bar, and security -- such as it was. Nearly perfect. And he had, indeed, remained on Holy Ground religiously, as it were, except for two trips to visit Darius. After today, that was too dangerous to risk, again.

Cursing his lack of direct access to the Watcher database, his mind dared suggest he bring in some additional help of his own. There *was* someone he could trust -- he was loathe to expose his Immortality to his mortal friend and colleague, but, over the years, he always knew it was a possibility. Perhaps it was time for Adam Pierson to disappear -- a few years ahead of schedule, but....

"So, MacLeod was supposed to return home any time," Methos probed.

"Yeah -- he was late, as usual," Richie explained, sadly.

"You never explained why someone might be after your friends," the Immortal prodded. "Who is this guy, *Grayson*?"

Richie bit his lip, partially in response to the sharp pain as Methos washed a nasty cut on his forehead, partially in disgust at his own big mouth. "I... I don't know," he lied ineffectively.

Methos shook his head. "Look, Richie, I can't help you unless you're honest with me."

The youth pushed up on his good elbow, mouthed a silent groan, then shook his head. "Sorry, how do I know I can trust *you*?"

<> Raise the stakes, or fight a battle of wills. Methos decided to risk honesty. "Because -- *I* know Darius, and Grayson."

"You *do*?!??!" Richie blurted out incredulously. "How?" His eyes widened, as an obvious possibility crossed his mind. "You're... one of *them*, aren't you?" A brilliant blue gaze furtively glanced around the room. "Where's your sword?"

A smirk curled the edges of the ancient man's mouth. "Don't worry, it's safely tucked away in the corner, where you won't hurt yourself on it. Besides, this club is built on Holy Ground -- Grayson can't hurt me here."

"Good for you, but how's that gonna save *my* ass?" Richie asked, with a mild pout.

"It's not -- that's why we have to figure out how to get you out of here," Methos answered. "Maybe I should call MacLeod, and have him come and fetch you," he suggested, standing up from the edge of the double bed. "What's the number?"


Methos turned back to face the sheepish child, his cell-phone already in his hand. "Problem?"

"Yeah -- I don't have the number memorized yet."

"Bloody hell... is it listed?"


A weighty, disgusted sigh hissed past the Immortal's lips. "Never mind. It looks like Plan B."

"What's Plan B?"

Methos punched a memorized number into the pad of his phone. "I put *my* neck on the line to save that ass of yours, as you like to put it." With a frustrated cluck, he raised the phone to his ear, and waited for the connection to be completed. "Joe -- Adam Pierson. Look, I can't explain right now, but it's *very* important that you get over to The Nunnery, Rue Vielle du Temple, Marais. No, I'm not inviting you out for a drink -- this is official business. Wait -- *unofficial* business. Don't let anyone follow you, or know you're coming. Ask for 'Cherise' at the front door. They'll bring you up to my room. Yes, yes, I promise to explain everything once you get here. Hurry, Joe -- it really *is* a matter of life and death...."

Part 6:

Replacing the phone on its cradle, Methos forced himself to take a slow, calming breath. He mustn't take out *his* concerns on the clueless child. Best to play it cool and collected, and at least *pretend* this wasn't a crisis. He turned back to the wide-eyed youth, and forced a decent mockery of a smile. "Looks like we've got an hour to kill. I'm sorry, but your clothes are a complete loss, and I can't tend to all your injuries while you're dressed, anyway."

Seeing the boy flinch at the suggestion of removing his attire, he barely resisted an amused smirk. "What I mean is, that a hot bath will serve several purposes, not the least of which is cleaning out the rest of your wounds and soothing your bruises." He pointed to a closed door leading off the far end of the room. "I have a private bath. Let me go run the water for you."

He turned his back to the boy, and had reached the bathroom, when a cry of pain stopped him in his tracks. He spun around to find Richie crumpled on the floor, holding his lower right leg with both hands. "Bloody hell -- what have you done to yourself?" he grumbled, instantly dropping to his knees next to the moaning child. "Let me see." It didn't take his physician's training to discover the reason for Richie's pain -- his entire foot and ankle had swollen and changed to a lovely shade of pale purple. "Looks like you've sprained it badly -- good thing I took off your shoes and socks when they brought you up, or we'd have to cut them off, now."

"Great, just fucking great," Richie moaned sadly. "How the hell am I gonna get out of here, now, if I can't walk?"

"Let me worry about that," Methos instructed, gently helping the injured boy back onto the bed. "For now, you need a warm soaking more than ever." He shook an admonishing finger at the pre-Immortal before turning back toward the bathroom. "Stay put, while I draw the bath," he ordered firmly. "We don't need you doing any more damage to yourself, got it?"

"Yes," the youth dejectedly sulked.

"Good." Methos lingered in the eye contact for a few seconds, then turned back toward the bath. He smirked at the disgusted sigh he heard behind him. <>


"I can get undressed *myself*, thank you very much! Owwww!!!"

"You were saying?" The ancient Immortal smirked uncontrollably at the youth's protestations.

Richie rolled his eyes in disgust, and shrugged his tattered flannel shirt around his shoulders, causing yet another unwelcome streak of pain to shoot through his body.

"Look, I've been a doctor -- I've seen worse... and better," he couldn't resist adding, with a hint of a leer. The increasingly uneasy expression on the youth's face was the only joy he could find in this entire situation -- could he really blame himself for relishing it for a second or two? Pulling himself back into a semi-professional mode, he gave the boy some personal space, and crossed his arms across his chest. "Richie, we've got to get those clothes off of you, and then get you into the bath before the water chills. We can either do this the easy way, or the hard way -- it's up to you."

Deep, pain streaked blue eyes plaintively stared in his direction. Methos cursed the unconscious tugging the puppy-dog gaze caused in his heart. Raising his hands up palm first, he added one final exasperated explanation. "Look, I know you're scared, and you're hurt, and you're probably not used to being undressed by a man wearing a dress, am I right?"

Richie laughed nervously, and flashed a shy smile at the Immortal. "Yeah, I guess you can say *that* again."

Methos smiled slightly. He was finally reaching the boy. "Let me change, and meanwhile you see if you can't at least get your shirt off by yourself -- *carefully*, all right?"

The pre-Immortal nodded. "Okay."

The Immortal joined in the nod. "Good." He turned back toward the bathroom, but was halted by the sound of his cover name.



Richie gulped, then cocked his head to one side. "Why are you doing this?"

<> Methos pondered that telling question for a moment. "I suppose because I don't want to see Grayson hurt anyone else," he offered, noncommittally.

The youth accepted that at face value, pursing his lips and nodding, once more. "Can you take him?" Richie quietly asked, his intent more than apparent.

Methos stared at the inquisitive face, noting the fear barely submerged beneath the false bravado of youth. "I don't know," he hushedly replied, then curtly turned his back on the far too insightful boy.


The ancient Immortal returned to Richie's side a few minutes later, all traces of the make-up scrubbed from his face, the false nails removed, his spiky dark hair brushed into some semblance of normalcy, and dressed in a well-worn pair of black sweatpants. "Better?" he inquired, holding his hands out as he pirouetted for the youth's perusal.

"Yeah," Richie admitted with a guilty laugh.

"Good. I added a little more hot water, and some more bubbles, to the bath," the Immortal explained. "I see you didn't have much luck with that shirt," he noted, gesturing toward the still-dressed boy with a motion of his head.

Richie picked at the tattered hem of his flannel shirt with his fingers. "Nope."

Faking a comforting smile, Methos slowly walked over to the edge of the bed, and gingerly patted the boy's relatively uninjured left leg. "No matter. We'll get you undressed and into the bath in a jiffy." He motioned for Richie to sit up and lean forward on the bed, then carefully began to slide the overshirt off the boy's shoulders and arms. "And, don't feel badly about this -- I once had to undress a French King."

"You *did*?" Richie blurted out in wide-eyed shock.

"Mmmmmhmmm." Methos carefully lifted the boy's scraped and bruised arms above his head, and carefully stripped the tight black t-shirt off the insulted flesh. "He certainly had a good deal more to be embarrassed about than *you*." <> Pushing that unbidden lascivious observation from his mind, Methos dropped the possibly salvageable shirt onto the bed, and forced his eyes to meet the youth's questioning gaze, and *not* linger on the delicious strawberry curl covered plane of manly muscle and youthful softness. "How *old* are you?" Methos asked, before he could stop himself.

Richie's eyes slitted suspiciously. "Eighteen -- why?"

Methos shook his head, forcing an innocent smile to cover his tracks. "No reason, really."

"How old was he -- the king?"

A smirk reclaimed its throne. "Louis was nineteen," Methos fibbed, slightly, to make the child feel more comfortable. "And he'd soiled himself rather badly, after two bottles of red wine decided to defy gravity and not remain in his stomach...."

Part 7:

Methos succeeded in keeping Richie distracted with a highly embellished story about a drunken monarch, as he struggled with the boy's skin-tight jeans. As delightful an image as he was sure the painted-on denim made when the youth was upright, the cotton was a major impediment at the moment. It was a feat to remove the pants without a shoehorn, and without undue contact with the child's flesh. "*Finally*!" the Immortal happily chortled, as he slid the apparent second skin off the boy's feet. He glanced at the blue boxers which remained, and decided to allow Richie their dignity, as long as possible. "All right then, let's get you into that bath," he happily announced, gently pivoting the slender legs over the side of the bed. "Put an arm around my shoulders, and don't put any weight on that foot," he instructed, lowering his body into position.

After a slight hesitation, Richie did as he was instructed, wrapping his right arm uncomfortably around the elder man's shoulders, and allowing himself to be lifted to his feet -- foot, as it were. He swayed slightly, as he tried to keep his balance, then he and the Immortal slowly made their way over to the bath. "Do you need to use the facilities first?" Methos inquired, stopping their joined motion next to the toilet.

A blush started to crimson the cherubic cheeks. "Uh... yeah. You mind...."

"Not at all." Methos unlaced his arm from the boy's waist and quickly excused himself from the room. He closed the door behind himself, and patiently waited until he heard the swish of water swirling down the porcelain drain. He counted to ten, then opened the bathroom door. "Great, now all we have to do is get you into the tub, then." He momentarily considered allowing the boy to retain his underwear, but decided this was no time for false modesty. "Right. Let's get those off of you, and get you into the suds. Can you manage?" he inquired.

A visible gulp rippled the maddeningly inviting throat, followed by a swift bobbing of the curl topped head. "Uh huh," he assured them both, then turned his back on Methos.

For his part, the Immortal pretended to contemplate the pattern of darkened water stains in the ceiling, while the boy wrestled with his shorts. The ancient lech was actually watching the youth's progress -- or lack thereof -- in the vanity mirror. "Let me know if you need help," he accommodatingly offered.

Richie succeeded in getting the boxers as far as his knees, then winced in pain as his bruised rib muscles prevented him from bending down any further. "Ummmmm...."

A silent sigh of appreciation muffled in elder man's throat, as he lingered in the reflection of the deliciously curved ass, unveiled just a mere few feet behind him. He regretfully turned his gaze to the sheepish expression flashed over the youth's shoulder at him. "Well, you've done a decent job of it. Let me help you out with the rest." Methos slowly knelt behind the boy, grasped the sides of the stubborn fabric, carefully, with just the tips of his fingers, then slowly slid the cotton the remaining distance to the floor. The siren's call of those -- possibly... probably -- virginal cheeks made his blood scream, and, despite his pretense at control, his cock begin to shift uncontrollably against his sweats.

Forcing his fingers, and his lips, to remain a safe distance from the intoxicating flesh, he rose to his feet, then slid an arm around the boy's waist. "Step out of them," he suggested calmly, then waited for Richie to comply. Mustering all his self-control, he kept his eyes at the level of the boy's eyes, certain that the pre-Immortal would notice -- and be infinitely spooked -- by any lowering of his gaze below that chaste level. "Lean on me, and get your left foot into the tub, then let me lower you in," the Immortal directed slowly.

Richie hesitated, then did as he was told, sinking below the frothy veil of the bubbles, he hoped before the other man noticed the -- completely surprising --effect his kindness was having on him.

"There -- mission accomplished," Methos happily announced, kneeling beside the tub.

"Yeah, wait until you need to haul my ass outta here," Richie joked nervously. He sincerely hoped the mounting pressure in his groin would recede before it was time to reveal his naked form, once again.

"We'll manage," Methos assured him. He handed Richie a bar of soap and a sponge, then grabbed another sponge for himself. "I'll do your back, you can get the rest," he teased, with a smirk. The immediate blush which colored the boy's cheeks forced more blood coursing through the Immortal's groin, raising his attention to half mast. He shifted uncomfortably, trying to hide the mound in the front of his sweats.

For his part, Richie was in much the same predicament, a situation which only worsened with the sensual stroking of a soapy sponge along his cramped and aching shoulders. "So... what happened when Louis' wife heard about the dancing girl?" he forced himself to ask, hoping the story would take his mind off the sensation of sponge against skin.

It didn't. As the Immortal droned on and on with his tale, Richie absently ran his own sponge along his chest and stomach, his heart -- and, now, hard-on -- much more interested in the occasional slip of fingers off the sponge and along his back. Sometimes it really sucked having a hair-trigger libido -- this was, most certainly, one of those times. But it wasn't just that. Adam reminded him of a guy he'd met on the streets, one of the times he'd run away. A really nice guy, who could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. At the time, Richie was too busy getting his rocks off to consider the ramifications of being sexual with another guy. Now, he was most definitely having second thoughts. The last thing he needed was to get tangled up with an Immortal -- pun most definitely intended.

"Don't forget your legs."

Richie forced his mind out of his crotch, and back to reality. "Huh?"

"You've got a lot of scrapes and bruises on those legs of yours -- make sure you tend to them," Methos explained, sitting back on his heels.

"Oh, yeah." Richie flashed a bashful smile at the Immortal. "Anyone ever tell you that you sound like somebody's mom?"

"Heaven forbid," Methos shuddered.

Chuckling to himself, Richie leaned forward and slowly soaped up his slightly raised knees. He tried to think of anything he could to force a serious lack of interest -- high school math class, taking out the trash, helping Duncan scrape a flattened rat off Tessa's parking space behind the shop.... "Owww!"

"What's the matter?" Methos inquired with concern.

Richie flashed a sheepish grin at the Immortal. "I can't bend far enough," he admitted, uncomfortably.

"Here, let me help you. We need to be careful of that bum ankle, anyway," Methos explained, leaning upright against the tub. He carefully reached his fingers beneath the soapy water and gently sponged the youth's left shin and calf. "How's that?" he inquired.

The boy cleared his throat, and answered with a hint of a nervous squeak in his voice. "Fine."

Barely controlling the smirk he felt screaming to be born, Methos finished cleaning the left foot. <> he mused silently, allowing himself the briefest of mental fantasies. Releasing his grasp of the slender toed foot, he shifted his position on his knees, and prepared to attend to the injured leg. He miscalculated his clearance from the youth's body, and accidentally brushed against what he realized was the head of a very erect, nicely proportioned cock. Pretending not to notice what he had done, Methos gently rubbed the sponge on the boy's right knee, and offered, "I promise to be careful with that ankle." <I should let him *know* what I could do to him.... That thought was as stupid as it was dangerous. In another time, another place, if this boy were *anyone* but the Highlander's protege....

Richie shifted uncomfortably against the hard porcelain of the tub, biting his lip to suppress a moan at the, he presumed, innocent contact. Part of him wished it would happen again, part of him was deathly afraid it would. Part of him was scared to death he'd have to send Adam out of the bathroom so he could whack off before he got out of the tub.

All of him jumped at the sound of a loud knock on the apartment door.

Part 8:

Methos smirked at the youth's startled response. "Looks like the cavalry's arrived," he happily noted, dropping the sponge and pushing up to his feet. "Soak for a few more minutes, then I'll come help you out of the tub." Satisfied that the youth would actually obey his command, the Immortal wiped his wet hands on a nearby towel, and left the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

Richie sank lower into the suds, then winced as his bum ankle accidentally bumped up against the hard side of the porcelain. The only good thing he could say about both the interruption, and the fresh aching of his leg, was that they, jointly, had deflated his embarrassingly hard groin.

He listened to the conversation on the other side of the door, but only succeeded in making out one phrase -- a gruff masculine voice unhappily threatening, "This had better be good, Pierson!"  Great -- now I've gotten Adam in trouble. Sighing to himself, the sulking youth wondered why anyone bothered anymore -- he never seemed to be anything but a nuisance and a liability.

A moment later, the bathroom door opened, and Methos strolled back in, carrying a cane in one hand. "Here -- I borrowed this. Might help get you out of the tub." He scooped up a large, fluffy bath towel in his free hand, and draped it over his shoulder. "Ready?" he inquired of the boy.

"Yeah, I guess so -- I'm just turning into a prune at this point," he sulked, staring at the pale white lines on his fingertips.

"Right. So it'll be like we did before -- put an arm around my neck, and I'll pull you out," Methos instructed patiently. He leaned over the tub, waiting for the youth to comply with his directions, then slid an arm around the slippery waist and pulled up.

Richie splashed out of the water awkwardly, trying to balance on one foot. He was all too aware of his nudity, and dared not glance down to make sure his cock was behaving itself, lest he draw attention to it. The quick wrapping of the towel around his waist brought a relieved sigh to his lips, although he had no idea that the Immortal had, indeed, helped himself to more than an eyeful in the process.

"Good -- now brace yourself with this cane, and slowly step out of the tub."

Taking the wooden walking stick in his right hand, Richie gingerly lifted his injured foot over the rim of the tub, and with Methos' considerable help, managed to hop out and land on his good foot.

"There, that wasn't so bad, was it," Methos happily cajoled, handing Richie another towel to wrap around his shoulders. "If you don't mind, let's wait a while before we try and dress you again, all right?"

"Sure, whatever," Richie agreed with a nod. He was clean, he was covered, and he was curious about who was in the other room.

"Can you walk by yourself, with the cane?" the Immortal inquired, understanding that the boy would most probably feel more comfortable with the situation if he could be, at least, partially self-sufficient.

"Um, I can try." A hesitant, awkward stiff footstep toward the bathroom door was followed by another, and then another only slightly less stiff shuffle. Methos walked out first, then stepped aside, waiting for Richie to exit on his own.

"Behold problem number one," Methos announced, as Richie entered the main room of the apartment.

The youth stood in the doorway, staring at a tall middle aged man with a salt and pepper beard sitting in a stiff-back chair. "Uh, hi!" he offered uneasily, forcing a smile.

The stranger's eyes widened, his face a reflection of surprise, and most definite displeasure. "Adam, what's *he* doing here?"

"He cracked up his bike outside, and passed out in the middle of the club -- I couldn't just leave him there, bleeding all over the place, could I?" A slight smirk blossomed, then retreated. I told you it was important.

Angry color rose in the Watcher's face. "It's none of our business, Adam, and you know it! We don't get involved -- period!"

"Don't get involved in what?" Richie interjected, completely lost in the proceedings.

Methos glanced back at the boy, and smiled slightly. "Richie Ryan, meet Joe Dawson."

"Pleased to meet you?" the boy replied, a definite question in his voice.

Dawson seemed to ignore the social niceties, his gaze still riveted on the Immortal. "You know who he *is*, and you still got *involved*?"

A horrified expression burst forth on the pre-Immortal's face, his free hand raising in protestation. "Um, whaddya mean, *involved* -- believe me, nothing's going on here...."

Methos shook his head and rolled his eyes. This was going worse than he'd expected. No, that wasn't true. He'd expected it to be this bad. "Richie, don't worry -- he doesn't mean it *that* way."

"Oh." The youth paused for a moment, his face creasing in confusion. "So... what exactly *do* you mean, Mr.... Dawson?"

<> The smirk returned in force, a satisfied, smug air apparent in the Immortal's demeanor. "Go ahead, Joe, tell him."

"ME?!?!?!" Dawson protested. "*You're* the one who screwed up, Adam!"

Feigned innocence oozed from the Adam persona. "True, but you're my superior. I certainly don't know how to handle these situations -- I'm just a researcher, remember? Wouldn't want to make it worse, would I?" You're good, Methos. Damn good.

An open mouthed Watcher stared at Methos in disbelief, then at Richie, then back again. He finally rubbed a hand across his face and shook his head. "You got anything to drink around here?" he asked, with a defeated sigh. "Something *strong*...."

Part 9:

Richie gingerly sat down on the corner of the bed, clutching the towels around his body. He watched as his knight in tarnished armor poured three shots of scotch -- a double, which was handed to Joe, a half a shot, which was offered to the youth "for medicinal purposes only," and a perfect shot, which *Adam* downed without hesitation. Grimacing, Richie stared at the pungent liquid, held his breath, then reluctantly drank the vile liquor. "Uck!" he proclaimed in a cough, screwing up his face.

"Give it a few years -- you'll learn to appreciate it," Dawson offered, between gulps of his own. "Ahhhhh," the Watcher sighed, gently lowering his, now empty, glass down onto a small end table. "Liquid courage."

"Let's hope it provides more than just bravado," Methos warned.

Joe sighed, as he wiped a hand across his mouth. "How true, my friend. How true." Another loud sigh, and he stared at the evening's most obvious problem. "Why don't you take it from the top, son," he suggested to the wide-eyed boy who was suspiciously observing him from the bed. "Tell us what happened."

A lower lip slightly protruded. "Why do I hafta go first?" Richie warily inquired. His eyes nervously moved from Joe's face to Methos', searching for an answer, and some much needed reassurance.

With a slight smirk crinkling his lips, Methos slowly strolled over to the bed, and sat down next to the boy. "It's all right, Richie," he promised, gently patting one towel-covered thigh. "You can trust Joe -- I do. Tell him everything you know about Grayson. Remember, we can't help you if you're not honest with us."

Round azure eyes searched the ancient face for any duplicity. "You promise -- you'll help me? You'll help Mac, too?"

Methos glanced over to the stiff chair where the elder Watcher visibly squirmed. "I promise that I will help you get out of here safely, Richie," he swore, without hesitation. "I'll help MacLeod take care of Grayson, if I can," he added, with distinctly less enthusiasm.

Richie pondered this silently, his eyes studying both Watchers. Slowly, a nod began to oscillate his head. "Okay -- I'll trust you. Both of you." Shrugging the towel closer to his chest, he began his tale from the day in Seacouver that Duncan received the runes....


True to his word, Richie recounted the events of the past few weeks faithfully, and in depth. When he was finished, Joe followed suit, giving Richie a much abbreviated, and politically correct, definition of the Watchers.

"Sounds like a bunch of Peeping Toms... or Immortal groupies," Richie chuckled, his unease evident in his voice. He studied Adam's expressionless face. "You *really* just study Immortals -- record what they do, to preserve their history?"

Methos nodded, knowing that he, at least, was lying to the boy. "I spend my time in libraries, archives, trying to find every shred of evidence I can of Immortals' roles in history. My friend here actually gets his feet wet, as it were, in the field."

"Does Mac know about you guys?" the boy asked, innocently. The immediate nervous glance he saw exchanged between the Watchers deemed the question rhetorical. "I didn't think so. He's not gonna like this, ya know."

"He's not supposed to *like* it, Richie," Methos quickly remarked. "He's not supposed to bloody *know* about it!" Another smirk added life to the ancient one's face. "Although, he should be flattered that he has someone as important as Joe as his personal Peeping Tom, as you put it."

Dawson shook his head. "Somehow, I don't think he's going to be impressed, Adam."

Silence hung over the room for a few seconds, before Richie continued with the obvious question on everyone's mind. "So, how are you gonna get me outta here?"

The Watchers were saved from answering that query by a brusque knock on the door. Flashing Richie a reassuring wink, Methos pushed off of the bed, and opened the door a crack. He spoke in French to an anonymous man hidden in the hallway beyond, then shut the door and leaned his forehead against the doorjamb.

"Adam?" Richie called out, his heart beginning to lift up into his throat. "What's wrong?"

Shaking his head, Methos turned with a sigh, glanced at Joe, then slowly walked over to the shade-drawn window on the far end of the room. "Looks like you've been missed," he quietly answered. "Police were looking for you, downstairs."

A visible shudder wracked the youth's frame. "Police? Are you sure it wasn't the guys who were after me?" he babbled, fear widening his eyes.

"Doesn't matter -- they weren't told anything," Methos calmly answered. Carefully, he pulled aside the shade, then peered out into the street beyond. "Joe, turn off the light, please."

"Sure thing." Dawson reached over from his seat and flicked off the light. "What's up?"

"The police weren't the only ones asking about our young friend," Methos explained, cocking his head to one side. Straining his vision, he tried to make out details of the two shapes in the alleyway across from the club. "A pair of men were downstairs, not twenty minutes ago. From the descriptions, one was probably Grayson."

"Damn!" Joe checked his jacket pocket, patting the pistol he always carried for protection. "Pass me my cane, please, Richie."

It took a minute for the boy's brain to register the request, his brain addled by the bump on the head and his quite reasonable fear. "Uh, oh here," he stammered, leaning forward with a wince, as he handed the cane over to its owner.

"Thanks, son." Dawson stiffly pushed up out of the chair, then slowly walked over to join the other Watcher at the window. "Are they still out there?" he inquired, already knowing the answer.

Methos nodded slightly, squinting his eyes as he tried to make out the identities of the two men who stalked the boy. "It's Grayson, all right," he pronounced. "I can't tell who's with him, though."

"Probably his latest flunky," Dawson added, sounding unimpressed.

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Methos warned. "Do you have opera glasses on you?" he inquired.

"Yeah, hold on." Joe reached into an outer pocket of his jacket, and extracted a compact pair of binoculars. "Here."

"Thanks." Raising the lenses to his eyes, Methos trained the magnification on the dimly illuminated figures lurking only a few dozen yards from the entrance to the club. "Bloody hell!" he spat, pulling the glasses away from his face.

"What? What's wrong?" Richie blurted out, wincing in pain as he tried to stand up from the bed.

"Joe, is that who I think it is?"

Accepting the binoculars from his colleague, Dawson raised them to his eyes, and focused on the shadowy figures. "No, it can't be...." Lowering the binoculars from his eyes, Joe stared into the night with his naked eyes, which widened in horrified, undeniable recognition, as one of the figures carelessly moved briefly into the beam of a streetlight. "My god! What the *hell* is *he* doing with Grayson?"

The researcher's face became grimmer than Richie had seen it yet, and the expression scared the youth to death. This was someone you did *not* want to mess with -- not now, not ever. But someone was obviously messing with Adam, now.

Richie almost pitied that still unnamed nemesis. "Who's helping Grayson, Adam?"

Methos glanced at Joe, then reluctantly answered the boy's innocent query. "One of... us," he stumbled.

The youth's lower jaw nearly hit his chest. "A Watcher?"

Sadly, Methos nodded his affirmation. "Someone Joe and I both know. Someone high up in the organization."

"One of the head Watchers is helping Grayson? Why?"

Joe and Methos exchanged an exasperated, saddened, angered expression. Was there a rational answer to that question? And, did it really matter, anyway?

They had a traitor in their midst. A very powerful, well connected, dangerous traitor.

A traitor who was also family, in the true, not metaphorical sense.

Sensing that Joe was having an understandably difficult time processing this revelation of betrayal, Methos gently squeezed the mortal's shoulder, then walked back and flicked on the light. "We don't know, Richie," he answered, honestly, and with weighty regret.

"Then we've got to get rid of that bastard, too!" Richie urged. "He's helping Grayson! He knows all about Immortals -- he can help Grayson hunt down anyone!"

Closing his eyes, Methos nodded in agreement. He turned his head to the left, and opened his eyes to find Joe leaning against the wall, next to the window, looking every bit as devastated as the ancient Immortal was sure his friend felt. "We'll take care of him," he promised, solemnly. The pain in Joe's eyes, as the mortal turned his gaze to meet Methos', tore at the Immortal's heart. There was no other way -- but that certainly didn't make it any easier. Blood -- or at least marital ties -- might be thicker than water, but Dawson had apparently decided it wasn't thicker than the ink which stained his wrist.

Part 10:

Deciding Richie didn't need to know *everything*, Methos changed the subject from the identity of the traitor, to a more relevant topic. "We need to get you back to the barge," he thought aloud, staring at the boy. "Can you put any weight on that leg, yet?"

Richie tentatively tested his foot against the floor, then cringed in pain. "No -- it's still killing me!"

"You'll need someone to help you walk, then. I can get you an escort," Methos planned. "Joe -- where is your car?"

Dawson shook his head. "Two blocks down. No way we can get past Grayson and Horton without taking a very long detour."

"Bloody hell." The Immortal pondered their options -- there weren't many at this point. "We should assume that they don't know you're here -- and we need to keep it that way. We need a distraction, something to draw them away from the club so you two can leave through the front door safely." Swallowing hard, he reluctantly added, "Looks like I'm bait."

"Why do you need to put yourself in danger?" Richie asked. "Why can't I just sneak out the back, then hide in the side street until you draw them off?"

"He'd know you were there," Methos thought aloud, without thinking.

Puzzled, the youth cocked his head to one side. "How?"

Covering, Methos merely offered, "Horton's a Watcher -- it's his job, remember?"

"Oh, yeah."

Grateful that the guileless boy swallowed his lie without hesitation, the Immortal next had to face Dawson's keener inquisition. "What makes you think they'd be interested in *you*, Pierson? Horton wouldn't think twice about you -- you're just a paper pusher, a desk jockey."

This time, Richie picked up on the hint. "Because -- he's an Immortal!" His brain unfortunately chose this particular moment to put two and two together. Throughout Dawson's entire explanation of the Watchers, he'd completely forgotten that Adam was one of the people they supposedly studied.

Adam Pierson was an Immortal pretending to be a Watcher!

His head already hurt too much to try and figure out all the ramifications of *that* little twisted epiphany. What was abundantly clear from the shocked expression on Joe Dawson's face was that he'd had absolutely *no* idea that Adam was Immortal -- well, he hadn't until Richie had characteristically opened his big mouth and shoved the entire lower half of his body into it.

"Um, oops, sorry about that, Adam," Richie babbled. "I didn't know...."

"Neither did Joe, obviously," Methos added, with resignation. He shrugged, offering a slight, sheepish smile as his defense. "Sorry about that, Joe. I've been meaning to tell you, but...."

"Save it, Adam," Joe interrupted, rubbing a hand across his now aching temple. "I can't deal with any more problems, right now. We'll discuss this later -- *much* later."

Methos nodded, relieved that his friend wasn't going to push the issue -- for now. He was almost relieved that the secret was out in the open -- Joe was a good friend, and he hated lying to him about what he was. *Who* he was would have to wait -- it was in Joe's best interest to be mercifully in the dark about *that* little tidbit. "Whenever you wish, Joe."

"For now, let's just get Richie back to the barge in one piece. You sure you wanna play decoy?" Joe inquired, understanding the nature of Adam's risk. "You don't want to get in a fight with Grayson -- he's damned impressive with a sword."

The smirk couldn't resist flashing. "I'm not so bad myself, Joe. But, you're right -- I have no intention of challenging Grayson. Give me the keys to your car, and I'll take the long way to the barge. After I've gone, some of my friends will give you and Richie a lift straight there. Agreed?"

<> Dawson uneasily nodded in agreement. "Fine. I hope you know what you're doing, Pierson, or you're gonna have the shortest file in the Chronicles!"

Ignoring the supreme irony in that well-intentioned remark, Methos instead rummaged in his closet for some clothes for Richie -- and himself. "Let's get him dressed and out of here, then...."

Part 11:

Tessa paced the length of the living space, her arms folded across her chest, fingernails digging into her upper arms. She was terrified, nearly hysterical with worry. Richie had been gone for hours, and there was no sign of him. The police had located his bike across town, broken and abandoned. God only knew what shape the boy was in, right now. Wiping the tears from her cheeks for the hundredth time, she felt her heart tear further as Duncan slammed the phone back on to the receiver. "Nothing? The police have nothing?"

Steel-jawed, the Scot shook his head, as he scooped his lover into a comforting hug. "Get your jacket -- I'm going to drop you off at St. Julien's, then go look for him, myself. You'll be safe with Darius."

"You've got to find him, Mac -- he's all alone, and he doesn't know the city that well, yet."

Smoothing her hair with one hand, Duncan tenderly kissed her worry-creased forehead. "I will, Tessa. I promise."

The sound of a car stopping on the quay startled the lovers, Duncan releasing Tessa in order to collect his katana from its resting place on the coffee table. "Stay here," he warned, grimly, then peeked through a porthole. A man walking with great difficulty and a fancily dressed female companion, slowly limping with a cane, made their way toward the barge, as the car sped off into the night. The gently prickle of a pre-Immortal presence teased his senses, as the unidentified couple reached the gangway.

Hustling toward the door, Duncan stood behind it, his sword raised in a defensive stance, just in case. A loud knock pounded on the door, followed by the urgent call of his name by a familiar voice.

"Richie!" Tessa cried, running for the door.

Bewildered, Duncan unlocked the door and allowed the pair to stumble through the door. "Richie!" he echoed, catching the boy in his arms.

The youth savored the safety of the Scot's burly embrace. "Mac! Oh, man, I am *so* glad to see you!"

"Richie! What are you wearing?" Tessa laughed through her tears of joy, pulling Richie from Duncan's grasp for a hug of her own.

"We kinda needed disguises," Richie offered, embarrassment coloring his cheeks. "Oww, don't hug so hard, Tess!"

"What's wrong? Are you hurt?" Tessa fussed, helping the boy over to the couch.

Leaving his lover to play mother hen for the moment, Duncan extended his hand to the silent mortal. "Duncan MacLeod," he warmly offered.

The Watcher accepted the hand and pumped it firmly. "Joe Dawson."

"Thank you for helping Richie. How can I repay you?"

Joe waved Duncan off. "Don't be so eager to thank me until you hear the whole story," he warned. "Can I sit down?" he asked. "My legs aren't so good," he joked.

Studying the mortal with newfound suspicion, Duncan nodded his assent. "Please. Make yourself at home."

"Thanks." He stiffly walked over to a wing backed chair, and awkwardly lowered himself into it.

"Oh, here, sorry, Joe," Richie guiltily said, handing the cane back to its rightful owner.

With a smile, the Watcher accepted the wooden pole, setting it next to his chair. "No problem, kid." He watched the way Tessa fussed over the boy, and his smile widened further. "Taffeta suits you, by the way. Too bad he didn't have pink."

"Funny," the youth sulked. He pulled off the long blonde wig, and dropped it onto the couch beside him. "It was the only thing he had that wasn't skin tight," he explained, defensively, picking morosely at the crinoline puffed skirt of the red evening gown.

Duncan stifled a chuckle as he watched the scene before him. After the tension of the past few hours, he allowed himself to savor this lighthearted absurdity before demanding answers. He sensed Tessa needed it, as well. The sound of another car pulling up along the barge, and the ominous presence of another Immortal immediately chilled his blood. "Stay there -- we have company," he barked at the kibitzing trio.

"Grayson?" Tessa inquired, wrapping her arms protectively around the youth.

"Possibly." His katana at the ready, Duncan cautiously moved back toward the door.

"Mac, don't worry -- it's probably just Adam," Richie suggested urgently.

Peering through the small window in the door, MacLeod's face scrunched up in confusion. "Does *Adam* usually wear black lame'?" Shooting Dawson a questioning glance, Duncan noted Joe's relaxed expression, then turned back to the answer the knock on the door. Carefully he opened it an inch. "Who are you?" he gruffly barked.

"Adam Pierson -- I'm a friend of Joe's," a lighthearted voice answered. "May I come in, please?"

"Mac -- Adam saved my ass, he's okay," Richie urged, trying to stand up, only to collapse back onto the couch in pain.

His expression still wary, and his katana only slightly lowered toward the floor, Duncan slowly opened the door the remainder of the way.

"Thanks -- it's a bit chilly for a backless dress this time of year," Methos joked, as he entered, his stiletto pumps clicking against the wooden floor of the barge. "I see you both got here in one piece," he noted, with obvious relief, smiling at Joe and Richie.

"No thanks to your friend's driving," the Watcher complained. "Let me guess -- he used to work as a taxi driver, right?"

"Still does," Methos answered, with a smirk. "Adam Pierson," he offered, extending a hand to Tessa. "Please excuse the outfit."

Tessa accepted the hand with a grin, laughing as her hand was daintily raised to the ruby lipsticked lips for a kiss. "It's lovely, actually," she remarked. "And you certainly wear haute couture better than Richie," she teased.

"Gee, thanks," the youth sullenly pouted, feeling completely ridiculed.

Duncan chuckled, wiping his hand across his forehead. "Would someone like to fill me in on what's happened?" he suggested, walking back to the living room area.

Methos opened his mouth, but no words came out. The mental song of an approaching Immortal distracted him, his eyes furtively searching out the entrance, then Duncan's face for a sign of worry or relaxed expectation. He found the former. Drawing his own sword from the folds of his black velvet cape, he joined Duncan in carefully moving toward the entrance.

Duncan dared a glance out the door window, only to find a familiar face staring back at him. Releasing all his tension in one exhaled breath, he lowered his sword, and opened the door. "Connor. I wasn't expecting you until tomorrow."

"I caught the last flight out from London," he explained, happily noting the apparent lack of crisis in his cousin's demeanor. He walked into the barge, smiling at a familiar face. "Hello, Tessa," he offered, smiling at the French blonde. A eyebrow arched, as he surveyed the explosion of taffeta seated next to the woman. "Richie -- you've changed since the last time I saw you."

"Funny, Connor," the boy petulantly whined. He rubbed an eye, then frowned as he found his fingers smeared with mascara and eye shadow. "Shit...," he lamented loudly, staring at the dark mess on his hand.

"Careful -- don't get it on the dress," Methos warned. "I promised I'd return it in the same shape I borrowed it."

Joe broke out in a deep rumble of a chuckle. "Joe Dawson," he offered, holding his hand out to the elder MacLeod.

"Connor MacLeod," the Scot answered, aware that his Nash cover was already useless here. "Are you part of this circus?" he inquired, gesturing to the two cross-dressed men.

Dawson shook his head. "Not by choice."

Connor nodded. "Heh heh. Smart man." Glancing over his shoulder, he noted Duncan standing near the fireplace, just observing the motley crew assembled. "Cousin -- some scotch, then some explanations."

Duncan smiled slightly, then turned for his liquor cabinet. "Sounds good, Connor."

"Not for me," Richie protested, holding up his clean hand in protest. "I've had enough for one night."

Connor smiled. "That would explain the outfit, lad."

The youth rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Someone please tell me this is a dream, please."

"Sorry, kid," Methos teased, carefully setting aside the discarded wig, before settling himself into the tight unoccupied part of the couch next to Richie. "Look on the bright side -- at least I didn't make you put on stockings...."

Part 12:

A round of scotch and several explanations later, Richie limped back into the main part of the barge, leaning on Tessa for support. "There -- more acceptable, Connor?" he inquired petulantly.

Connor glanced over at the sweats and t-shirt clad boy. "Much." A smile lightened his expression. "But you missed some lipstick."

Tessa rubbed her thumb over the corner of the youth's mouth, removing the offending smudge of paint. "Not any more," she announced, smiling herself at the still uneasy pre-Immortal.

"Thanks, Tess." Richie pecked her cheek affectionately, then sank onto the couch next to the ancient Immortal with a loud "umph."

Methos studied him with amusement. "I hope you hung up the dress -- it will wrinkle horribly otherwise."

Richie shot him an extremely annoyed look. "Don't worry -- Tessa took care of it."

Duncan's face remained grim despite the tableau. "How come you never told me about The Watchers, Connor?" he accused, still reeling from Richie's tale of pursuit and Dawson's admissions concerning the Watchers. Tessa sat down on the arm of his chair, and he wound an arm around her waist.

Connor shrugged slightly, then savored another mouthful of his student's scotch. "Because, I knew how you'd react. Seems I was right," he shot back with a grin.

Rolling his eyes, Duncan wiped a hand across his face. "How do you *expect* me to react? I've never been one to be paranoid, but this is testing my patience."

Ignoring the younger Immortal's complaint, Connor turned to "Adam." "I take it the Watchers don't know they have a wolf in the fold."

"Yes, and I'd rather they stay blissfully ignorant, if you don't mind."

Raising his glass in mock toast, Connor chuckled. "Heh heh. Don't worry, *Mr. Pierson*. If you can pull the wool over their eyes, you're a better man than I."

"I don't like this," Tessa interjected. "I don't like people spying on us -- it's not right."

"I'm with her," Richie agreed, then paused, before adding, "Even though you *did* save my ass."

Joe wiped his hand across his eyes, wearily. "We try not to 'spy', Tessa. We merely document the history of Immortals -- we record, but take an oath of strict noninterference."

"Interesting definition of *noninterference*," Duncan charged.

Dawson became even more self-protective. "Hey, would you rather we'd let Grayson get Richie?"

Duncan had a painful counter argument. "I wasn't talking about Richie -- I was referring to Horton."

Joe's defensiveness quickly melted away into shared shame. Not only had the Organization and everything it stood for been tarnished, been made a joke, his own family had been betrayed by this snake. The only silver lining to this cumulonimbus cloud was the fact that his sister wasn't alive to be hurt by all this.

Connor raised a hand to stop the volleying of blame. "Does it matter whether we agree on the Watchers' meaning or method? Grayson and Horton need to be stopped, before anyone else gets hurt." He paused and locked his pale blue gaze onto his former student's pained eyes. "Before Darius loses his head."

"Grayson can't touch him on Holy Ground," Richie blurted out. "Right, Mac? Immortals are safe on Holy Ground."

Duncan sniffed loudly. "Only from other Immortals, Richie. Horton could kill him, or get Darius off Holy Ground, and let Grayson take his head."

"Duncan, we can't let them get to Darius," Tessa urged.

Removing his cell phone from the pocket of his jacket, Joe offered, "Don't worry, I'm one step ahead of the game."

"Who are you calling?" Duncan inquired.

"Someone I trust with my life -- and Darius'. Someone who'll find Horton's twisted little game as sick as I do." Waiting as the phone connected, Joe finally spoke. "Ian -- Joe Dawson. Listen carefully. I need you to stake out the church, 24/7. Use as many people as you need, but only those you can trust -- and I mean *really* trust. Whatever you do, don't let Darius out of your sight, and don't let any of our guys go *into* the church. *Not one*, do you understand? Not me, not Jacques, no one." He paused, obviously listening to a confused reaction from his colleague. Nodding, he patiently offered only slightly more information. "I understand, Ian, but this is an emergency. We've got a traitor in the Organization -- maybe more than one, I don't know. Darius' life has been threatened, and we both know he's too important to lose this way."

Duncan raised an eyebrow at that last comment. For someone who merely "observed", Joe Dawson certainly had a strong feelings about Immortals  -- an obvious respect, awe, perhaps even envy. But his sincerity concerning protecting Darius, and flushing out Horton, convinced the wary Scot that, perhaps, he was a bit hasty in his judgment of the mortal's motives.

"No, I can't just go to the Council and report them -- we need more evidence first," Joe argued into the phone. "Look, it's complicated, Ian, and I really don't want you in the middle of this. Just make sure *no one* tries to get to Darius. If they do, call me, immediately. Got it?" Joe exhaled in relief after a minute, nodding slowly. "Thanks, Ian. I knew I could trust you. Yes, I promise I'll explain everything -- once we've nailed this sucker. Thanks." Closing the top of the phone, he replaced the device into his pocket. "Problem one solved. What do we do now?"

"We wait," Connor pronounced, pushing out of the easy chair he'd claimed for the better part of an hour. "I'm going to St. Julien's. If Grayson and his cronies come for Darius, your friend will need back-up." Grabbing his trench coat from where he'd tossed it over a dining room chair, he patted his hidden katana with intent. "*Armed* back-up."

Joe nodded in agreement. "Gotcha. Thanks, Connor."

"Are you gonna go after Grayson?" Richie inquired of Connor with worry-widened eyes.

"No -- *I* am," Duncan interjected grimly.

"Duncan -- ," Tessa protested, grabbing his hands in hers.

The younger MacLeod kissed her forehead, then tugged at her fingers. "It's the only way, Tess. Everyone is in danger. You, Richie, Darius. You know it as well as I do -- someone has to take care of Grayson."

"Why does it have to be *you*?" the French woman dissented.

A forgotten voice pronounced from the couch, "Because -- he actually stands a chance of *beating* Grayson."

"Stands a chance? That's not good enough!" Tessa cried, pushing off the arm of the easy chair.

"Tessa," Duncan softly offered, following her as far as the bathroom before she locked herself inside.

"She's right, you know," Connor agreed, standing near the fireplace. "It's not good enough."

"It's all we have," a grim-faced Duncan offered in reply.

The two Highlanders stared at each other knowingly, then the elder nodded slowly. "You never were one to back down from a challenge," Connor remarked. "I seem to remember having to smack some sense into you -- more than once."

Duncan chuckled, remembering their *disagreement* over Slan. "Not this time, Connor. You take care of Darius, I'll handle Grayson."

Connor grasped his former student's upper arm affectionately. "Tell Tessa I said good-bye. I feel the sudden need to beat Darius in chess. Good luck, Duncan."

"Thanks, but I think you'll need it more, if you think you can win at chess with him," Duncan replied, with a slight smile.

A devilish twinkle appeared in the elder man's eyes. "I have secrets even from *you*, Cousin," he added, then waved good-bye to the rest of the motley crew before fading into the night.

"I think I'll be saying 'good night', as well," Methos announced, pulling his discarded wig back onto his head.

Dawson shot his colleague a disgusted look. "Whoa, wait just a minute there, pal. You haven't said what *you're* going to do?

"*Do*?" Methos incredulously chortled. "Haven't I done *enough*? I'm not getting involved. One of us has to live up to the Organization's oath."

"Too late, buddy, you're in this up to your garter belt," Joe accused. "Besides, you're in no position to preach about the honor of the Organization, *are* you?"

"He's kinda gotta point, ya know," Richie tentatively interjected.

"No one asked for your opinion," Methos growled. He reached into his black beaded purse and pulled out his compact. "All right, I'll pop into Headquarters and do some snooping in the computer records, and try and see if we have any other leaks in the Organization -- satisfied?"

"Fine," Joe remarked, stiffly pushing out of his seat. "I'll even give you a ride back to the club."

"How considerate," the ancient Immortal drolled bitterly. He frowned at his reflection in the mirror, then swirled the applicator across the powder.

"I can't believe people actually buy this disguise," Richie proclaimed. "A chick with *that* nose?"

Unfazed, Methos applied expertly placed swipes to his face. "You'd be surprised. A little powder, some shading, and it doesn't look so... prominent."

The youth laughed, then winced at a twinge of pain in his side. "The only kinda powder that's gonna make *that* schnoz look smaller is gun powder!"

Slowly shutting the compact, Methos frowned at the brat. "Next time, I'm leaving you for the wolves."

Part 13:

[The next day]

Horton stared out at the city beyond, scowling in the general direction of Notre Dame. "We need another plan, Grayson. It seems my brother-in-law is on to me."

"What makes you say that?" his Immortal partner in crime queried, pouring them both cognac.

"Call it intuition." Horton pulled back his hand, allowing the sheer curtains to fall across the large picture window of his apartment. "I know how my colleagues operate, and there are far too many peering eyes trained on Darius' church." He turned, reaching out a hand to accept a snifter from the Immortal.

"Then we find a less well guarded target for the moment," Grayson coolly suggested. "Perhaps one with a Scottish brogue?"

Horton gently clinked his glass against his associate's. "Exactly what I was thinking. A direct assault, or perhaps something a little more... entertaining."

Pursing his lips, Grayson contemplated the options before him. A sly, sick smile unfolded. "I'm in the mood for a beautiful blonde," he offered, then sipped his liquor.

"Have anyone in mind?" Horton toyed, knowingly. He smiled just as evilly, then sipped his cognac.


[Several hours later]

"Owww, not so tight, Tess!"

"Sorry, Richie." Tessa loosened the ace bandage she was winding around the boy's injured ankle. The swelling had subsided nicely over the past twenty-four hours, but the limb was still tender to the touch, and Richie was far from being able to put any real weight on that leg. Maurice had come through with a pair of crutches, which he just happened to have in a closet, leftover from some relative's misadventure.

"Stop whining, Richie," Duncan called out from the galley.

"I'm *not* whining," the youth protested.

Tessa smiled. "You're not? What would *you* call it, then?"

Richie wrinkled his nose at the smell of the muscle cream Tessa had rubbed on his still aching ribs. "Voicing my opinion," he offered, with absolutely no credibility.

Tessa fastened the bandage with the metal hooks, then stood up from the floor in front of the couch. "So am I. And it's *my* humble opinion that you're whining!" she teased, playfully ruffling the boy's curls.

Richie pouted into his hot chocolate. "Gee, what does a guy have to do to get some sympathy around here?"

"Deserve it." Duncan emerged from the galley with a rather impressive sandwich. "Here -- this should make you feel better." He set the plate onto the coffee table in front of Richie. "Nice to see your appetite wasn't hurt in the accident."

"Cute, Mac. Really cute." Richie gingerly leaned forward and snatched half the multi-layered meal. He took a large bite, chewing as a thought came to him. "Mac, when are you gonna go look for Grayson?" he asked, nervously glancing at Tessa.

Duncan shook his head. "I don't know. I thought he'd have made a move by now."

"Maybe you should call Joe and ask if he knows where Grayson's hiding out."

Tessa wrapped her arms around the Immortal's waist. "Maybe he's gone."

A sad smile crossed the Scot's face. "He's not. Joe's people spotted him, briefly, yesterday. They lost him in a large crowd near the Eiffel Tower."

Richie cocked his head to one side. "Why hasn't he come after you, Mac? Is he afraid of you?"

"Who knows what kind of sick game he's playing, Richie. I didn't want to have to go looking for him, but...." Duncan let that thought slide away into the ether. Hunting Grayson meant leaving the barge, and that, in turn, meant leaving Tessa and Richie defenseless. *That* was not an option, especially with Richie still less than able to defend himself.

The sound of the telephone broke his concentration. "I'll get it," he announced. Stalking over to the phone, he pulled the receiver off the cradle and brought it up to his ear. "MacLeod." He listened to a familiar voice on the other end, nodding in understanding. "Right. I'll take care of him. You get over here and watch Tessa and Richie. Thanks, Joe." He hung up the phone, then swiftly collected his duster and katana.

"They've found Grayson?" Tessa correctly surmised.

Nodding, Duncan donned the coat, pulling his ponytail out from the collar. "He's on the bridge -- watching the barge. I'm going after him." He swept Tessa into a passionate kiss, then hugged her close to him. "You'll be fine -- Joe's coming right over."

"Duncan...." Tessa fought back the choke of emotion in her voice. "I love you," she whispered, clinging to her lover.

"I love you, too." Kissing her hair, he glanced over at Richie, now staring at him nervously from the couch. "Keep the door locked until Joe gets here," he instructed. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Mac, good luck."

The Scot nodded, forcing a smile before unsheathing himself from Tessa's embrace. He rushed from the barge, Tessa locking the door behind him as instructed. She watched through the window as he ran down the gangplank onto the quay, her heart falling farther into her stomach with each long stride.

"He'll be okay, Tess."

She nodded, wiping a tear from her eye before wrapping her arms around herself. "I know. He has to be." <>


Horton pulled the collar of his gray trench coat around his chilled neck. A satisfied smile curled his lips as he watched the Highlander rush for his car. Pulling a walkie talkie from his pocket, he pushed the talk button and simply said, "Bait taken...."

Part 14:

"C'mon, c'mon, C'MON ALREADY!" Shoving the heel of his hand into the horn, Joe Dawson took out all his frustration on the hard plastic of the steering wheel. He'd told Duncan that he was a mere mile from the barge, and that he'd arrive to watch over Tessa and Richie in 5 minutes. The first part was most certainly factual, the second.... Well, an inane fender bender on this dangerously crowded and narrow side street, thirty seconds after the Watcher had hung up his cell phone, had made that an impossibility. Nervously he glanced at his watch. It had been almost fifteen minutes since he'd completed that call, and he had no doubt the Scot was either frantic, or had rushed out to meet Grayson, leaving his "family" unprotected.

Flipping open the top of his phone with one hand, Joe hit the on button. To his immediate horror, there was absolutely no response from the gadget. "Shit, no no no, the battery can't be dead *now*!" Trying to rouse the dead device into granting him one last emergency call, he shook the phone, punched every button he could think of, then tossed it into the back seat of his car with a loud "argh". His eyes scanned his surroundings, looking for any escape route -- a driveway, an alley, anything wider than a sidewalk which would allow him to drive to the barge unfettered by the crowd gathering around the heatedly arguing drivers. Finding no such getaway possible, he pulled into a parking space on the near side of the street, shut off the engine, and decided to make it by foot. Patting the steel in his coat pocket, he stiffly pushed his artificial limbs as fast as they would respond. He just prayed he hadn't sent Duncan into a trap.


"I wonder where he is?" Tessa nervously mused, tapping her fingertips on the barge door. She peered through the round window, her eyes searching the quay for the Watcher's car.

"Maybe he's doing what he does best -- watching. From the street," Richie offered, helpfully, as he shifted into a sitting position on the couch. He winced in pain when his bum ankle accidentally bumped against the coffee table.

Tessa wasn't so easily cajoled. "He should have at least let us know he's here." Her eyes trained on the sight of a dark sedan driving swiftly down the cobblestones, stopping just in front of the gangplank. "Finally!" The relief in her voice soon turned to panic, when she observed two familiar forms emerge from the car. "Richie! It's Grayson's men -- they're back!" Checking the lock on the door, she rushed across the living area to the phone.

Richie pushed up into a sitting position, reached for his crutches, and awkwardly climbed to his feet. "Shit -- you sure?" His head whipped in the direction of the pounding on the door. "Shit!" he exclaimed again.

Tessa frantically jabbed at the connection switch on the telephone, trying to get a dial tone. "It's been cut off!"

"Damn! I can't fight 'em off like this!" Richie looked around for a suitable weapon, but found none. "Tess, get out -- *now*!" he urged, slowly maneuvering himself toward the door. "Run to Maurice's and get help."

"Richie , I won't leave you here -- you don't know what they'll do to you!" she cried, throwing her arms protectively around him.

"Can't be any worse than what they did to me last time," he joked, forcing a smile. "Besides, I think they'd do a whole lot worse to you." The sound of the door beginning to give way under the constant pounding made his heart race even faster. "Go, Tess, please! I'll just slow you down. I'll try and hold them off as long as I can, okay?"

"No, Richie -- I'm not leaving you," the woman argued.

Licking his lips, Richie forced himself to remain calm. Balancing his weight on the crutches resting in his armpits, he peeled himself from her embrace, and held her hands in his. "Tess, you have to. If you don't, they'll grab both of us. Don't let them use *both* of us against Duncan. Please." He pushed her in the direction of the back exit. "Go!"

Tessa opened her mouth to argue, but the sound of the lock finally giving way changed her mind. She had to get help. She just prayed Maurice had more than a broom this time. With one final glance at the brave young man, she raced for the exit, squeezing out of sight just as the door burst open.


Joe Dawson breathlessly staggered down the stone steps which led down toward the barge. Every muscle in his body ached, his heart threatening to burst from the exertion of trying to jog on artificial limbs. He noticed a dark car parked in front of the barge, and his stomach clenched. "Shit!" he barked to the dusk air. Removing his pistol from his pocket, he pushed his weary frame even faster as the engine roared to life.

A woman's voice screamed "Stop! Stop!" Tessa and Maurice raced out from the gaudy boat next door, the funny little Frenchman brandishing a shotgun in his hands.

Dawson raised the pistol and shot at the car, his bullet missing a tire by only an inch. He aimed again, but the car sped past him, nearly running him over. As the vehicle passed by, he tried for the back tires, but missed, swearing loudly as he emptied the chamber of bullets.

Tessa and Maurice caught up to him. "They've got Richie!" Tessa screamed between sobs, falling into Joe's arms. "Where were you? Where *were* you, dammit!" She punched his chest, frustrated, scared, despondent, and more than a little guilty, herself, at failing Richie.

The sound of another car roaring down the quay caught their attention.

"Duncan, he is 'ome," Maurice noted, clutching his rifle to his side.

The Scot's car stopped abruptly, the engine shut off, and Duncan shot out of the driver's side door. "Tessa? Are you okay?"

"Duncan!" Tears streaming down her face, Tessa pushed out of Joe's arms and tumbled into her lover's embrace. "They took Richie!"

"I got caught in traffic -- hadda hoof it the last few blocks," Joe blurted out, guiltily. "I woulda called you, but my cell phone was dead. At least I got the license plate of their car."

MacLeod glared at Dawson momentarily, then nodded in understanding. "It was a trap. Grayson was gone by the time I got there. I should never have left them alone." He kissed the top of Tessa's head, resting his cheek against the golden silk of her hair. "Let's go inside, Tessa. I'm sure we'll hear from Grayson. He doesn't want Richie. He wants me... and Darius."

Sniffing back her tears, Tessa nodded in understanding and turned back to the two silent men behind her. "Thank you, Maurice. You did your best." She paused, wiped a hand across her face, then added, "You, too, Joe. I know you tried. Really."

Dawson nodded lamely. "Yeah, but trying ain't good enough. If I'd *tried* in 'Nam, I woulda been dead." He trained his eyes on street above, a serious scowl on his face. "I hope you're laughing now, Horton. Cause when I find your sorry ass, you're gonna wish you'd kept your oath."

Part 15:

[The next afternoon]

The sound of a door opening somewhere beyond his darkened prison roused Richie from his semiconscious state. He'd lost track of time -- whether he'd been held captive hours or days he really couldn't say.

<> The truth was, even if he *was* hungry, he was too scared shitless to notice. Scared and sore. He'd managed to hold the goons off for a few minutes, brandishing his crutches like deadly weapons. He'd even connected one with the side of the smaller kidnapper's face, splitting open his lip. The creep was so ugly Richie wasn't sure anyone would notice.

He'd been overcome, as he knew he would, and was dragged, kicking and screaming, as best he could, out to the quay, stuffed into the trunk of the car, and driven off. The sound of bullets firing after the car terrified him to no end -- he was sure that with the way his luck had been running, one would have passed right through the metal and put him out of his misery.

The way he was feeling now, he momentarily wished one had. The sound of keys jangling, just outside his cell, pushed all memories from his brain. He scooted back against the wall of the basement, kicking some of the dirty sleeping bag out from under him in the process.

The metal door slid aside, and a light switch was flipped on. Richie raised his handcuffed arms up to block the light from his unadapted eyes. Loud, slow footsteps clomped down the wooden steps, then a solitary figure rounded the corner into view.

His eyes beginning to adjust to the stark illumination of the naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling, Richie stared at the new arrival. He was tall, thin, well-dressed, well-manicured, but most definitely not well-intentioned. Everything about this man, from his expression to his body language, screamed malice. The ominous, evil looking, wavy bladed sword the steel-eyed man wielded in his right hand sealed that impression. "Grayson," Richie spat, not needing a formal introduction.

A sardonic smile leered back at him from above. "I'm flattered. My reputation obviously precedes me."

"Don't be. You're gonna be dead meat when Mac finds you."

A low chuckle echoed off the bare cement walls of the cellar. "Ah, the innocence of youth. One's heroes can do no wrong." The Immortal's face became suddenly hard and bitter. "Until they betray you," he grimly spat. Cocking his head to one side, slightly, he knelt down in front of Richie, roughly grabbing the boy's face with one black leather gloved hand. He examined the grimy features, reveling in the fear shining brightly in those wide blue eyes, despite the boy's pretense of bravado. "I wondered why MacLeod bothered to keep you around." Releasing the face, he stood. Tugging on the six foot chain which connected the handcuffs to a thick water main, he dragged Richie to his feet, the youth groaning in from pain and fear.

Holding the chain wrapped around his left hand, he raised his blade to Richie's neck, bracing the edge just under the moaning child's chin. "I could take your head, you know."

"Why? It wouldn't do you any good."

A smirk formed on Grayson's face, then twitched knowingly. "No, it wouldn't. Not now."

Richie's face scrunched up at that comment. Releasing the, seemingly, non sequitorial thought from his brain, he instead insisted, "Mac's gonna come looking for me."

The blade was withdrawn from Richie's neck. "Oh, I'm sure he will." Grayson dropped the chain, allowing Richie to fall back to the floor in a pained pile. "In fact, I'll even give him a hint, or two. Once I get what I want."

Richie stared up at his jailor. "What's that?"

The Immortal pursed his lips, then smiled smugly. "The priest."


Duncan paced the length of the barge, while Tessa sat, as she had for most of the day, curled up on the couch, hugging her knees to her chest. "Why don't they call?" she plaintively asked, gesturing toward the phone.

MacLeod's face grew grimmer. "They will. They're just playing with us -- trying to unnerve us."

"Well, it's working!" With a loud sigh, Tessa unwrapped her arms, shoved herself off of the couch, and sought the momentary solace of her lover's arms.

Enveloping Tessa in his embrace, Duncan glanced at the clock. It had been nearly 24 hours since Richie's disappearance. He expected they would be hearing from Grayson soon enough. There was nothing else they could do but wait.

Joe had tried his best to get a lead on Grayson, his goons, or Horton, but all had seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. Connor was sitting tight at the church, keeping a careful eye on the, now distraught, Darius.

The priest suggested he give himself to Grayson, willingly, in exchange for the boy's safe return. He was tired of hiding, tired of people around him dying, or being hurt, because of his former student's misplaced, rabid hatred. It was time it all ended.

<> Duncan had promised his friend. <>

Tessa nearly jumped out of Duncan's arms at the sound of the telephone. Gently pushing his lover from his chest, Duncan snatched the phone off its cradle. "MacLeod," he barked. His tense expression changed into one of pure hatred. "Grayson." Steeling his jaw, he listened to the hastily listed demands. "How do I know Richie is all right?" he pressed. He sucked in a breath, then nodded, his nostrils flaring. "I'll keep my end of the bargain, Grayson. Just make sure you do the same." He slammed down the phone with such force than he cracked the plastic of the receiver.

"What did he say?" Tessa pressed, wrapping her arms around his waist from behind.

Duncan turned around, scooping her into a tight, mutually necessary, embrace. "He wants Darius," he merely said, resting his chin in the top of her head.

"We can't let Darius fight him -- he'll be slaughtered!"

Nodding solemnly against her hair, Duncan replied simply, "I know, Tessa. I know."


The first thing the next morning, Duncan made several last minute calls, making sure everything was in place. Joe was on alert, waiting for his last minute instructions. Connor was, likewise, standing by at the church, and Methos was on his way, apparently ready to play his part in the well-crafted plan.

Grayson had told Duncan to remain at the barge to await instructions, and the Scot had done just that. One hour before the prescribed fight time, Grayson was to call Duncan, giving him the location Darius was to meet him. When one of Grayson's spies had ascertain that the priest had, indeed, left the church -- alone -- only then would Grayson call Duncan, on the barge phone, and give him Richie's location. If Duncan failed to answer the phone, the boy was to be killed, immediately.

*Adam* had a plan for smuggling Duncan out of the barge, and to the fight scene undetected. Everything had been taken care of, it seemed.

Richie's life -- and Darius' -- depended on it.

Part 16:

"Ding Dong, Avon calling."

Duncan failed to smile at the humor, pulling the barge door open so the other Immortal could enter. "Funny, Adam," he dryly drolled, waiting as the disguised man entered the barge.

"I thought it was. Hello, Tessa," Methos offered, peeling off his sunglasses.

Tessa interrupted her nervous pacing of the floor long enough to force a fake smile. "Adam."

Methos dropped the sunglasses onto the dining table, followed by the kerchief and long dark auburn wig he pulled from his head. "Not haute couture, but it will attract less attention," he explained, shucking the long, loose black overcoat from his lanky frame. He pulled out shoulder pads from the lining, then draped the coat over the back of a chair. As Duncan watched, warily, Methos pulled off the bulky sweater he was wearing, and kicked off the black penny loafers.

"Do you mind if I finish changing here?" he inquired of Tessa, who shook her head in response. Methos paused, as Tessa turned her back, discretely, then shucked off the wide, flair legged, polyester pants which remained on his slender frame. "I hope these fit," he mumbled to himself. "Here," he then remarked, tossing the garment to the Scot. "Put these on." He eyed the snug fitting turtleneck the Highlander wore, and nodded in approval. "The shirt can stay -- it won't add any bulk."

Duncan stared disapprovingly at the pants, then slung them over his shoulder as he unfastened his jeans.

Methos opened the oversized purse he'd brought with him, and extracted a miniature cassette recorder, a pair of jeans, and a thin wool sweater. "Not bad," he murmured in approval, watching as the larger man squeezed his body into the stretch pants. "As long as no one looks at your bum, this might actually work," he teased, pulling his jeans up and over his hips.

Glaring in mildly tempered disgust, Duncan allowed himself to be soothed by the touch of Tessa's hands on his ass from behind. "There's nothing wrong with his *bum*," she insisted in her lover's defense.

Shrugging, the ancient Immortal snatched the wig from the table. "I'll take your word for it. It's not my type." With that, he plopped the wig onto the Scot's head, then tugged the faux hair into place. "Red is your color," Methos teased, fluffing the hair around Duncan's shoulder's.

"You're enjoying this too much," MacLeod warned. "Remember -- I still carry a sword."

"So you do. Let's hope you do more than *carry* it when you face Grayson." Turning back to the table, Methos swiped the black kerchief off the table and draped it over MacLeod's head, tying it into place with a neat knot. "There. A little lipstick, and no one will know the difference." With a delighted smirk, he fished into his purse and retrieved a metallic tube. "Make a kiss for us," he teased, screwing the lipstick up into view.

"Let me do that," Tessa insisted, grabbing the make up from Methos' hands. She carefully applied the ruby cream to her lover's mouth. When she was done, she pulled a Kleenex from the box on the coffee table. "Blot on this," she instructed, placing the tissue between Duncan's lips.

"Lovely," Methos added in approval, taking his lipstick back from Tessa's hand. "Just remember to remove it after you get to the church. Somehow I don't think anyone will believe a cross-dressing priest outside of Mardi Gras."

Duncan glowered at the elder Immortal. "Don't worry, I won't."

"Good." Snatching the tape recorded from the table, Methos checked that the tape was rewound to the beginning. "Let's get the rest of it ready, shall we?"


The threesome waited in silence, staring at each other and the telephone. Despite the adage about a watched pot, the telephone mercifully rang, plucked off the cradle mid-ring by the Scot. "MacLeod," he barked. The expression on his face told Methos and Tessa the identity of the caller. "Fine, I'll call him and tell him," he grimly replied. "Don't worry -- he'll be there. I'll be waiting for your next call." He hung up the phone, paused a second, then yanked it up to his ear again, dialing Joe's cell phone.

Methos and Tessa waited impatiently, listening as MacLeod told Joe the location of the fight. The Scot next called Connor, telling him to be expecting him in a few minutes.

"Are you going to be able to make it there in time?" Tessa queried after the calls were completed.

Duncan pulled on Methos' long coat and pulled the back of his fake hair out from underneath the collar. "We don't have a choice," he grimly admitted. He tucked his katana within the folds of the coat, then wrapped an arm around Tessa. He kissed her deeply, leaving her lips tasting of his mouth and red paint.

"Be carefully," Tessa whispered, fixing a smudged corner of his lipstick with her thumb. "I love you."

"I love you, too." Pulling the keys to Methos' car from the pocket of the coat, he raced toward the door. "Make sure you and Connor get Richie," he ordered to the elder man.

"We'll take care of him," Methos promised. "Just give Grayson what he deserves."

Duncan nodded coldly. "Don't worry -- I will."


The Highlander made the drive to Darius' church in record time. Parking on the side street, he mingled with a small group of parishioners entering the building....

Ten minutes later, a monk emerged from the side of the church, his brown wool cowl pulled up over his head as protection from the biting winter's wind. Walking briskly to the street corner, he raised a hand and hailed a cab....


Methos absently drummed his finger tips on the smooth wood of the coffee table, watching the steam rise from his cooling tea. He hadn't wanted it, but had allowed Tessa to make it for him to give her something to do, something to take her mind off this damnable waiting.

As if in answer to his silent prayers, the phone rang almost immediately. Snatching the tape recorder from the table, he raised a finger to Tessa's lips, signaling for her silence, then carefully pulled the phone off the cradle. He clicked the tape recorder on, then placed it next to the mouthpiece.

"MacLeod," a disembodied voice spoke into the receiver.

Methos pulled the recorder away, clicked it off, then held the receiver next to his ear to listen.

"So far, so good, MacLeod," Grayson smugly announced through the phone. "The priest is on his way to meet his fate."

Clicking the recorder on, again, Methos brought it up to the mouthpiece.

"Cut the bullshit -- where's Richie?" MacLeod's voice demanded.

Removing the recorder from earshot of the phone, Methos clicked it off, listening for Grayson's response.

An evil chuckle filtered through the wire. "He's in an impounded car lot, three blocks from the Eiffel Tower. He shouldn't be too difficult to find -- after all, he's the only pre-Immortal there."

A chill ran down Methos' spine. He was tempted to add his own heartfelt threat to the Scot's. Instead, he played Duncan's next rehearsed line.

"You better not have hurt him!"

Haughty as ever, Grayson wasted no time in rubbing salt in the emotional wound. "Afraid I've made him one of us before his time? Don't worry, his pretty little head is still attached -- and still mortal."

<> Feeling his blood boil in his veins, Methos took great delight in playing the last of Duncan's prerecorded remarks.

"You're dead, Grayson. I swear it."


"Sticks and stones, MacLeod. After I've dealt with the priest, I might just give you a shot at my head. I believe I'll enjoy taking your Quickening. But not as much as I'm going to relish Darius'. Good-bye, MacLeod." The call disconnected abruptly.

Methos tossed the recorder across the barge, the metal and plastic shattering in a hundred pieces. "Let's get you next door to Maurice's," the Immortal urged, snatching his bulky wool sweater and his sword from their resting places. "Give me the keys to Duncan's car. I need to get to Richie -- *now*!"

Tessa grabbed her purse from the couch and pulled her jacket from the coat rack as she followed *Adam* toward the door. "Aren't you going to call Connor?" she asked, confused.

"I'll use my cell phone from the car," Methos promised. "I don't want to waste a minute." Given the abnormally cold temperature of the day's weather, Richie's probable physical condition, and the distinct probability that the boy was *not* being kept indoors at the moment, it was imperative that he reach the youth as soon as possible, before he developed pneumonia, or worse. <> he thought. <>

Part 17:

Horton peered through the binoculars, smiling sickly to himself at the sight of a monk hustling down the deserted side street next to the warehouse. He punched an autodial button on his cell phone. "Your present has arrived," he smugly announced. "I hope it's all you've hoped it would be." Still smiling, he ended the call, replacing the phone in the pocket of his trench coat.

The smile was wiped from his face by the familiar sound of cane against concrete.

"Don't even bother, Horton," a familiar voice ordered. "We know all about your little *alliance* with Grayson."

Horton swallowed, trying to keep his ever-cool demeanor as frosty as usual. "What do you mean, Joseph? I'm just watching. What are *you* doing here?" Moving his muscles as little as possible, he wrapped his fingers around the grip of the pistol hidden in his pocket, next to his phone.

His brother-in-law wasn't fooled in the slightest. "Cut the bull shit, James. I have enough evidence to haul your ass in front of the Tribunal and have you tried on treason charges. We both know the punishment for that."

Horton chuckled, slowly sliding a finger onto the trigger of his gun. "The pot is calling the kettle black, I see. Or are you merely 'observing' as well?" Not waiting for an answer, he turned swiftly, pulling his gun from his pocket and swinging it level to Joe's chest.

He never had a chance to fire. Joe took his life with a single shot to the heart, a silencer effectively muffling the sounds. Horton died as he had lived -- in secrecy, in the shadows.


The Immortal call sang through Grayson's brain -- sweeter than any time he could remember. A smile curled his lips. Oh, how he was going to enjoy this. With sword in hand, he turned to face the cowled figure now walking into the dimly illuminated warehouse. "Finally, Darius. I have waited so long for this. How I'm going to enjoy every moment of this."

The wool garment was flung aside with a flourish, revealing a katana-wielding Scot with a sick smile of his own. "So am I, Grayson. So am I...."


Methos nearly drove through the fence of the closed impound yard, stopping the Citroen in the nick of time. Not waiting for Connor to arrive from the church, he grabbed a large tool box from the back seat and rummaged through it for some small bolt cutters. He cut through the lock on the chain link fence, then pushed the gate open, running inside. "Richie!" he called out, his eyes frantically searching the artificially illuminated lot. He waited, but the only sound he heard was his own rough breathing. Swallowing hard, he ran for the office building. Peering through the windows, he saw no sign of anything amiss. <> Methos realized. <> A grim expression hardened the ancient man's face.

The only way he was going to find the pre-Immortal was to sense his presence. Wiping a hand across his face, Methos pushed every thought from his mind. The tingle of one who had not yet come into their Immortality was much less obvious than the mental roar of a full-fledged Immortal. He needed to open his mind up to Richie's unconscious call for help. He needed to find the youth on his first pass through the numerous aisles of abandoned vehicles. He shivered from the cold, his bare hands tingling on their own from impending frostbite. He tucked them under his armpits and began a slow, methodical search of the lot, one row at a time....

He was midway down the third row when he heard Connor drive up. Without hesitating, he continued his search, straining his brain in a vain attempt to, somehow, connect with the youth without actually being in range.


"Over here!" Methos answered. "Start on the far right," he barked, pointing toward the farthest row of cars.

Connor nodded in understanding, jogging to the extreme edge of the lot, a crowbar in one hand.

Desperation was beginning to gnaw at the edges of Methos' mind. Richie had been out here for at least an hour, probably a lot more, and the temperature was well below freezing. He didn't know how much longer the youth could survive these conditions....

Suddenly, at the very last car in the row, Methos felt it -- very faint, very low. But so very, very sweet. "Connor!" he called out, waving wildly with one arm. He peered into the windows of the abandoned Buick Skylark, but didn't see the boy. << The trunk!>> He knocked gently on the broad back of the brown car, calling out, "Richie! Can you hear me?" Putting his ear to the frigid metal of the trunk, he heard a weak, muffled reply. "Richie -- it's Adam! We're going to get you out!"

Connor breathlessly arrived with the crowbar. He, too, felt the pre-Immortal presence, and heard the faint sounds emerging from the locked trunk. "Stand back," he ordered, wedging the end of the metal rod in the tight metal crevice. With a loud grunt, he bore down with all his weight, popping open the trunk on the first try.

"Richie!" Methos pushed the Scot aside, scooping the blanket-wrapped huddled mass into his arms, and gently pulling him from his metal grave. "Take off the gag," he barked to Connor.

MacLeod dropped the crowbar, and unknotted the bandana from the boy's mouth.

"Connor," Richie weakly whispered, his face pale and his breathing labored.

The Scot smiled at the youth. "Good to see you, lad. You're going to be fine now."

Methos felt Richie shiver -- no, convulse -- from the cold, and turned toward the car. "Go and start the engine," he ordered to the younger Immortal. "Blast the heat as high as you can." He felt the icy skin of the boy's nose connect with his neck, instinctively seeking the warmth of another body. "It's all right, Richie. We'll get you warmed up in no time," he promised. A sigh was the only response. Ignoring the aching of his strained arms, Methos walked toward the car as fast as he could, his only thought delivering Richie to the security of a warm vehicle.

Connor opened a back door of the rented sedan and watched *Adam* slide the limp youth into the back seat. "Get in back and warm him up," he suggested.

Methos climbed in beside the now moaning boy and collected him in a tight embrace sprawled across his lap. Connor slammed the car door behind him, then climbed into the driver's seat and threw the car into reverse.

In the back seat, Methos adjusted the thin blanket around Richie's shoulders. He checked the boy's body quickly, finding no signs of serious injury. Pulling a knife from the back pocket of his jeans, he cut the ropes binding Richie's ankles and wrists. "Sorry," he apologized, after Richie moaned in pain at the contact with his still sore ankle.

"S'ok," Richie mumbled, snuggling his face into the delightful warmth of the Immortal's body. His nose fit so nicely in the indentation of the elder man's neck, the sensation of *Adam*'s breathing a comfort in itself. He wrapped his arms around the Immortal's neck, not really understanding what he was doing, or caring how anyone might interpret it. Adam was safe, and Adam was warm. So very warm.

Methos relished the contact, allowing all his fears to flow away with the strong beat of the youth's heart against his. All his fears, save one.

The sound of a cell phone made Richie jump.

"It's okay," Methos urged, sliding the phone from the front pocket of his loose jeans. "Pierson," he answered. A loud, relieved sigh hissed from his lips. "That's great, Joe. We've got Richie. He's fine." The Immortal flashed a smile at the inquisitive face staring up at him. Despite his better judgment, he succumbed to the heat of the moment, and brushed a tender kiss against the chilled lips. "We'll meet you back at the barge," he spoke into the phone, then shut off the phone, setting it on the seat beside him. "Grayson's been taken care of," he announced.

"Good," Connor replied from the front seat. "We can all breathe easier now."

"Yes. Yes, we can," Methos agreed, smiling at the shocked, wide-eyed youth staring at the ancient man with slightly parted lips. The hint of a blush had begun to bring some much needed color back into the perfect teenaged skin. Raising his eyes toward the front seat, he made sure he couldn't see himself in the rearview mirror, then leaned his head down to capture those enticing lips, once more. This time the kiss was real, and very mutual, Richie sighing into the loving contact.

Their mouths parted silently, Methos brushing a brief kiss across the boy's forehead before pulling him into a tight, warming embrace. "We'll finish this *discussion* later," he whispered, resting his lips against a cool ear. "After we've sorted through all this."

Richie nodded his head against the Immortal's chest. He closed his eyes, and lost himself in the security of the moment. Mac was safe, Darius was safe. Tessa was safe. *He* was safe. But more than that, somehow, something else had come out of this nightmarish hell of an experience. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but he knew that he felt so happy, so content, lying there in Adam's arms. He'd deal with all the stupid baggage he was sure his brain would come up with later. *Much* later. For now, he couldn't think of anywhere he'd rather be. <>

*With* Adam.

The sensation of fingers tenderly stroking his dirt-matted curls brought a broad smile to the youth's face. "I'm glad you found me when you did," he murmured, his voice sounding stronger than it had only a few minutes before.

"So am I," Methos agreed. "You were turning into a popsicle."

"Yeah," Richie agreed. He scowled slightly, the scrunching of his forehead as it rested against Methos' chest felt by the elder man.

"What's wrong?" the ancient man inquired.

"How did you find me? I couldn't really make any noise."

Smirking to himself, Methos simply tightened his embrace. "A wing and a prayer," he answered vaguely, gracing the tousled, grease-scented, curls with another kiss.

Part 18:

A solitary figure dropped a cigarette on the ground, stomping the smoldering butt with the toe of a boot. He was bored, he was freezing and, dammit, he wasn't getting paid enough. Raising his wrist, he scowled at his watch. His boss should have called him by now. <> He raised his binoculars to his face and peered at the barge below. It looked as lifeless and empty as it had the past several hours. The dark, brooding man in the photograph hadn't left the barge in that entire time. Two women had been seen leaving; the gorgeous blonde, he recognized from the photo, had gone to the joke of a boat moored next door, and a large, homely woman, who had arrived and left within half an hour. Other than that, nothing.

The twin beacons of headlights driving onto the quay startled the hired gun. He licked his lips, watching intently as the car parked in front of the barge. After a moment, a tall man with a cane stiffly emerged from the sedan. <> he inquired. Still peering through the glasses, he watched a figure emerge from the passenger's side door. It was difficult to tell in the darkness, but the figure appeared to be wearing... a monk's habit.


The sound of a woman's voice pierced through the darkness, the blonde emerging from the shabby little boat and running straight into the monk's arms. <> *Very* strange. This might be the sign he was waiting for. Dropping his binoculars to the ground beside him, he grabbed his rifle, raising the sight to his eye. He placed the woman in the crosshairs, noting the beaming smile on her face as she hugged and kissed the dark haired monk.

"That's no damned monk!" the assassin muttered to himself. "That's the guy in the picture!"

His orders had been very explicit. If the man in the picture was seen leaving the barge before his boss called, he was to shoot the man on sight. Similarly, if too much time passed without a phone call, and the man and the blonde appeared *too happy*, he was to kill them both -- the blonde first.

"Sorry, sweetheart," he mumbled, resting his index finger against the trigger. "Don't worry -- your boyfriend will be right behind you...."


"Richie's fine," Duncan assured his lover, showering her in kisses. "Everyone's safe, now."

Tessa fought back the tears of joy. "Oh, Duncan, I was so frightened."

"She was very brave," Maurice interjected. "I was very proud of 'er."

The sound of an approaching car interrupted the reunion. Duncan peered at the approaching headlights and smiled at the sight of Connor's rental car. "Here's Richie, now," he announced.

"Good to see you, Duncan," Connor said with a grin, emerging from the driver's door. "We've found your stray," he joked, opening the back door of the sedan.

Richie emerged, limping out onto the cobblestones, the filthy blanket still wrapped around his shoulders.

"Richie!" Tessa screamed with joy, running to scoop the boy into her arms.

The first bullet rang out the first second she left Duncan's arms, missing her by a few inches.

The world slowed to sloth speed. Richie reacted instantly, without hesitation, yet, time seemed to crawled by. "Tess!" he screamed, throwing himself in front of her to shield her from the unseen assailant. The second bullet pierced the night, tearing through Richie's tender flesh like a flame.

Chaos ensued, Immortals and mortals alike scrambling for safety. Joe ducked behind his car, pulling his own gun from his pocket. He searched the night with his eyes, but saw no sign of the assassin. Connor pushed Maurice behind the rental car, out of harm's way. Methos dove for Richie's limp body as Duncan, likewise, covered Tessa with his larger frame. The night grew silent, no further bullets raining upon them.

"Tessa! Are you all right!" Duncan cried out, pulling his lover into his arms.

"Yes, yes, I'm fine!" she assured him. "Richie!" she cried.

"He's dead," Methos dispassionately announced, cradling the blood-soaked, broken body in his arms.

Tessa screamed, "Nooooooo!!!!" trying to claw her way out of Duncan's embrace.

"Get her into the barge," Methos calmly instructed. "I'll take care of Richie." He called out to the other Scot, and suggested, "You help Maurice, then come back for Joe."

Connor nodded, then hustled the stunned Frenchman past Richie's corpse toward the gangplank.

"Damn!" Joe spat in resignation and disgust, the sounds of Tessa's continuing wails filling the night. "We almost made it out in one piece. Damn!"

Methos gently closed the lifeless eyelids with the fingers of one hand, then pressed his mouth against the death-chilled lips. "Don't worry, Joe, we did. Just a slight change in plans."

"What?" The Watcher didn't know what stunned him more -- Adam's apparent cavalier attitude toward Richie's death, or his apparent necrophilia.

"He's one of *us*, Joe," Methos explained, cradling the youth's healing body in his arms. "He'll be *fine*."

Dawson's eyes widened. "Richie's Immortal? Damn! No wonder MacLeod practically adopted him!"

The knowing smirk flashed, despite the situation. "Precisely. Horton's little posthumous attempt at a last laugh failed, my friend."

Connor emerged from the barge and gently helped Joe to his feet. "Let's get you inside, where it's safe," he urged.

"Thanks, Connor," Joe replied, allowing the Immortal to help him up the gangplank.

"C'mon, brat, let's get you inside, before you revive," Methos suggested to the lifeless body in his arms. With a loud "umph," he hefted the dead weight into his arms, then stumbled up the gangplank, toward the sound of Tessa's sobs.

Methos gently placed Richie's limp body on the couch, loosened the blanket and smoothed the curls from the boy's forehead.

"What a shame. 'e was so young, so very young," Maurice, muttered to himself, nursing the large glass of scotch he'd been handed a minute before.

"Richie," Tessa sobbed, pushing Methos out of the way.

The ancient Immortal left the mortal woman alone to fuss over the boy's body, helping himself to a glass of the younger MacLeod's alcohol. He stood next to the Scots, and Joe, gulping down a large mouthful of the liquid. "Did you tell her?" he asked Duncan.

"I tried -- she was too hysterical to listen," Duncan answered. His eyes froze, as the first signs of a new Immortal life sang through his brain. A bittersweet smile crossed his lips, the knowing expression immediately shared by the elder Immortals.

Dawson watched the reaction with fascination. "What? He's coming back?"

Methos nodded, then turned his eyes toward the couch. If Tessa hadn't been so hysterical in her grief, she would have noticed the color had already returned to the youth's cheeks. Because she hadn't, the first Immortal gasped breath took her completely by surprise.

It completely terrified Maurice, who knew nothing of Immortals. Spilling his alcohol all over his sweater, he crossed himself and began uttering a Hail Mary. Connor chuckled softly at the mortal's reaction, and walked over to wrap an arm around the terrified Frenchman's shoulder. "Don't worry, you'll get an explanation -- and all the scotch you can drink," he promised, with a grin.

Tessa cried out, raising a hand to her mouth in shock, and relief. "Richie, Richie... are you all right?"

Coughing the fluid from his lungs, Richie slowly tried to sit up. "Owwwwww... shit... that hurt," he moaned, rubbing his chest. He opened his eyes, then shut them again, trying to shut out a strange, dull thrumming in his head. "You never told me it hurt to be Immortal, Mac," he complained, rubbing his temples.

Duncan snickered, then poured another glass of scotch. "Just open your eyes and relax, Tough Guy. It'll pass in a minute."

"Okay." Richie sat up, took a deep breath, then smiled at Tessa. "You're okay," he sighed, in relief, melting into her desperate embrace.

"Richie!" she sobbed, unable to form any more coherent words than his name.

"Hey, I'm okay, Tess. See?" He kissed her hair, then smiled at the ashen face of Maurice staring back at him from across the room. "Um, hi, Maurice. Ask them -- they can explain it better. They've had more practice."

"I sincerely 'ope so," the Frenchman babbled with wide-eyed wonder, accepting a fresh glass of scotch from the elder Highlander with a gratitude. He gulped down half the portion, then shook his head briskly.

Methos knelt by the youth, studying the boy's surprisingly calm demeanor with suspicion. "You don't seem very surprised," he inquired.

"No, I was kinda hoping I was right -- otherwise, I'd be dead right now." Richie grinned at the glass of scotch he was handed from Mac, and swallowed the amber liquor. "Ewwww, I was hoping Immortality made this stuff taste better," he griped.

The ancient Immortal peered at the newly Immortal youth. "How did you know?"

Richie swallowed, then glanced up at Duncan. "It was a bunch of things. Once, I tried to sneak up on Mac, in his office, at the antique shop, and he knew I was there. I could never figure that one out." He lowered his eyes to meet Methos' questioning gaze. "You told me I couldn't sneak out the front of the club -- that Grayson would know I was there," he reminded the ancient Immortal. "And Grayson said some weird stuff to me, when I was kidnapped." Licking his lips, he broadened his mouth into a cheeky, smug smile. "But the kicker was how you found me. You could feel me, right? You can tell if someone's gonna be Immortal."

The smirk was well-deserved. "Bright boy. You rise to the head of the class."

"Speaking of class," Connor interjected.

"Not now, Connor," Duncan warned, glaring at his former teacher. "Richie, why don't you go take a hot shower. I'm sure you need one."

"Great idea." Richie tentatively pushed off the couch, favoring his previously injured ankle. To his surprise, the pain was gone. "Hey -- cool!" he blurted out, jumping up and down on the leg. "Everything's healed!"

"Go take your shower," Methos ordered, rolling his eyes at the boy's enthusiasm. "Before you get blood on everything."

Part 19:

Richie emerged from the shower, only to find he was the subject of a heated debate. He toweled his damp curls with a towel, his body snuggled in Duncan's terrycloth robe. "Excuse me," he interjected, staring at Connor, Duncan, and *Adam* with concern. "Where'd everybody else go?"

Duncan sighed loudly as he drew a hand across his mouth. "Joe's gone home, and Tessa's walking Maurice back to his boat. He's a bit tipsy."

Pursing his lips, Richie nodded in understanding. Planting his bare feet into the rug, he dumped the towel onto the back of an easy chair, then slung his hands on his hips. "So.... what's the big discussion about?"

Methos saw the incipient insult in the youth's eyes. "Go ahead, tell him, MacLeod."

Sighing once again, Duncan glanced at Connor, then *Adam*, before answering. "Richie, every new Immortal needs a teacher -- someone to teach them what it means to be in the Game. How to fight, change your identity, the code of honor we live by...."

A loud snort at that last remark was accompanied by a dramatic roll of the ancient Immortal's eyes.

Shooting *Adam* a disapproving look, Duncan continued his explanation. "When Connor and I first met you, when you broke into the antique store, I promised him I'd look after you."

Richie nodded in understanding. "Oh, so *that's* why you took me in -- so you could be my... teacher, when I died. Gee, and I thought it was because of my sparkling personality," he teased.

Duncan chuckled softly. "Well, that, too, Tough Guy."

Cocking his head slightly to one side, Richie motioned with one slender hand as he spoke. "So... I need a teacher. Don't I get any say in this?"

The younger Scot blinked. "Yes, of course. If you want." His face curled in a concerned scowl. "Richie, have I done something to hurt you?"

"No, Mac, that's not what I meant," the youth quickly babbled, waving both hands in protest. "I mean, you're like my best friend. No, you're more than that -- you're like my big brother, like...." He paused, then smiled broadly. "You're like the father I never really had."

Duncan's face relaxed at that comforting thought. He nodded in understanding, not really knowing what to say in response.

"But that's the problem, doncha see?" Richie continued. He glanced at Connor, hoping to find understanding. "It's time to leave the nest, right? It's time I learn how to fly. Maybe I need a different perspective -- someone who can teach me about Immortality without trying to be my... dad... at the same time." He noted a slight, bittersweet smile curl the elder Scot's lips. "*You* understand, don't you, Connor."

"Aye, lad," Connor replied. "I do, indeed." He flashed a smile at Duncan, thumping his former student on the shoulder. "You've done well, Duncan. The boy is ready to make his own decisions."

Trying not to show his disappointment, Duncan nodded solemnly. "You have someone else in mind?"

"Um, yeah, actually, I do. Someone *else* I know I can trust. Someone who's saved my butt almost as many times as you have, Mac. At least, lately." Richie turned his eyes to the only person who hadn't interjected their opinion into this discussion. "If he wants me, that is."

Methos caught the gaze and lost himself in it. So much had happened over the past few days. His cover was on the verge of being blown, he'd lost his heart, and, perhaps, truly found it in the process. "I think it's time Adam Pierson died," Methos announced. "Time to start over. Time for a new beginning." He smirked, then allowed his lips to relax into a true smile. <> "Yes," he simply answered.

"Oh, yes...."

The End

Authors notes:

Here was the full challenge:

- serious first time story
- set in Paris, late 1992/ early 1993
- Richie is still pre-immortal
- Adam/Methos is working part-time in a drag show club. Costume must include lame and heels
- canon can be ignored
- a battered/injured Richie stumbles into the drag club and that is how R and M meet
- Mac meets Adam/Methos at this point
- Tessa meets Adam/Methos
- Darius is in the story
- Joe is in the story
- Connor is in the story
- Amanda is NOT in the story
- Kronos is NOT in the story
- Horton is NOT in the story

I had the option to include any character I wished even if it did go against the vote (hence my inclusion of Horton). I also had the option to decide whether or not Maurice would be included.

The setting for the club described in this story is realistic. According to,

"The gay and lesbian communities in Paris, although more open and public now than ten years ago, are still somewhat discreet. On the rue Vielle du Temple in the Marais a number of busy, gay night spots and bookstores can be found."

One further note -- *after* finishing this story and posting it on the Richie-Methos list, I was informed that one of the stories in the "Evening at Joe's" volume has Richie in a dress. Scary to think that a certain "eccentric" director and I might think alike!

Back to the Authors' pages.