Parallels

Mary Ellen

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

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


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After his friend and teacher, Duncan MacLeod, decided to close the dojo and travel, Richie Ryan moved on and entered college. Once again, he found himself living in a less than desirable location. Enrolled in a local college, he supported himself by tending bar in the evenings. He owed his bartending skills to Fiona MacDonald and Joe Dawson. Fiona had mentioned that it was a good way to earn money without too many questions. She had been right.

Richie was in the shower when he felt the presence of another Immortal. None of the Immortals he knew had this address. In fact, as far as he knew, none of the Immortals he knew were in this city. The sensation faded before Richie could reach his sword. It bothered him. There was another Immortal nearby. Richie dressed quickly. He had homework to complete before his classes. Finding it hard to concentrate on the work, he kept wondering about the Immortal who had been outside his apartment.

****

About a week later, Richie was sleeping peacefully when he heard screaming. He sat up to find his apartment filling with smoke. There were sirens and flashing lights outside.

Moving quickly, he pulled on some clothes and shoved his sword into his duffel bag. Smoke was making it hard for him to breathe. It worried him that he could already feel heat. He opened the window and started to climb out onto the fire escape before he noticed flames licking the side of the building just below his window. It would be difficult to get to the street below. He ran across the room to the door.

Thick black smoke billowed along the ceiling. He started coughing almost immediately. Crawling down the hall, Richie made it to the stairway. It was hot and getting harder to breathe. Smoke stung his eyes making it difficult to see.

As Richie tried to maneuver himself down the stairs, he heard voices. A fireman grabbed him and carried him down to the ground floor. Once Richie was outside, paramedics took over from the fireman. Richie kept telling everyone he was okay, but a paramedic put an oxygen mask on him. The oxygen did make breathing easier, although Richie knew it wasnít really necessary. If they stopped paying so much attention to him, he could get away. He would feel much better if he wasnít anywhere near here. He had the vague sense of another Immortal. He kept wishing the firemen would bring out enough people to distract the emergency workers.

When a paramedic tried to take his duffel bag from him, Richie fought to keep it. The guy kept telling him the bag would be safe. Richie knew he would be safer with the bag.

"Let him keep it," one of the others said. "Itís probably all the guyís got left."

As more victims were brought from the building, the paramedics loaded Richie into an ambulance. Siren blaring, the ambulance set off for the hospital. Richie groaned. Thinking his groan was from pain, a female paramedic tried to reassure Richie. Richie closed his eyes tiredly. Now he had to get away from a bunch of doctors. Mac was much better at thinking up stories to tell doctors. Richie tried to remember some of Macís better explanations for an Immortalís healing ability. Nothing came to mind. Heíd just have to take his chances when he got there.

****

Because of a major fire in the city, Mercy Hospital was receiving a steady stream of burn and smoke-inhalation victims. An entire block of buildings was involved. Called to the hospital during the height of the crisis, Doctor Fiona MacDonald assisted with patients in the emergency room. Sensing another Immortal, she stepped out from behind the curtain. Her sword was in her office. The hospital was much too public for a challenge.

A nurse was trying to take away the duffel bag Richie Ryan was carrying. Insisting that he was okay, Richie resisted her efforts. Fiona knew he sensed her as soon as she sensed him. She noticed the young manís hair was singed. His cough indicated his lungs had been damaged during the fire.

"Iíll take care of this patient," Fiona said firmly.

"Whatever you say, Doctor MacDonald."

The nurse gave her an odd look before walking away from them. The relief in Richieís eyes was almost laughable. Glancing around quickly, Fiona took Richie by the arm. The activity in the emergency room had subsided substantially and no one would miss her. She propelled Richie into a hallway. There were puzzled faces as they walked by. Richie was still coughing and smelled heavily from smoke. When they entered the cramped office Fiona shared with a colleague, Richie put down the bag he was carrying.

"Are you okay?"

"Iíll be fine, Fiona. Weíre hard to kill, remember?"

She frowned at him impatiently. Coughing, the young man shrugged.

"My apartmentís destroyed. All my stuffís gone. Iím wearing all the clothes I have."

Fiona asked about his sword. Richie indicated the bag. She nodded. At least he still had his weapon. She had once been left without hers.

Opening her desk drawer, Fiona pulled out a pocketbook. Richie protested. Ignoring him, Fiona wrote her address on a slip of paper. She tried to hand it to him with a wad of cash and a set of keys. Richie took a step back.

"Fiona, I canít."

She frowned at him. He didnít think she was angry. He just didnít want to take advantage of her generosity. It was time he started to be self-reliant. Heíd manage on the streets. He had before.

"Richie, you smell like an ashtray. At least, go buy some new clothes. You can shower and change at my apartment. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen."

Richieís expression changed slowly. The fire had spread quickly. In his rush to get his sword before the smoke and fire got too thick for him, heíd forgotten about everything else. Later with paramedics hovering around him, he sat on the sidewalk, coughing and watching his life go up in flames.

"Youíre welcome to stay with me as long as you like. I have a spare room. Get keys made for yourself."

Richie thanked her. Fiona waved her hand dismissively. If Duncan were here, heíd help the boy. She was only filling in for him.

Fiona inquired about his job. She smiled when he told her he tended bar at night to support himself. When she asked for the address, Richie hesitated. The bar was in a rough part of town. She didnít fit in with the regular crowd. It might make her look like an easy target. He was looking for another bartending job, but most of the better places asked lots of background questions. He figured it was time for him to practice not having a past. His current boss paid him well, allowed him to set hours around his class schedule and didnít ask questions.

"Itís a real dive. I donít want you coming in there."

Fiona studied Richie. He met her gaze defiantly. He saw no problem with his job. It paid the bills. The bar attracted a rough crowd, but heíd dealt with that type most of his life. She shook her head. Richie was capable of much more. He didnít give himself enough credit.

Fiona pondered his concerns. She had no fears for herself. Sheíd been to all sorts of strange places over the centuries. She pointed those facts out to the young Immortal. Besides, if he left for work before she got home, sheíd be locked out. She could come to the bar and get the keys.

Richie glanced at his watch. He didnít have much time before he had to be at school and there was a lot he had to do. After classes, he had to be at work. He wouldnít have time to drop the keys off to her before or after his classes. He scribbled down the address of the bar and gave it to her. He knew she wouldnít give up easily and she was right about needing the keys.

Fiona smiled at him indulgently. She was glad sheíd been able to intercept him in the emergency room. Hospitals were tough places for Immortals. Doctors asked too many questions and ran too many tests.

Grabbing his duffel bag, Richie started for the door. The young man stopped and turned around. Putting the bag down on a chair, he crossed the room to Fiona and kissed her. She stroked his hair affectionately. It was a gesture he was used to.

Suddenly, Richie realized how much he had missed Fiona. She was always good to him. He was glad they met again. Sometimes, he felt lost without Mac nearby. Fiona would be a good substitute.

****

After getting a duplicate set of keys for Fionaís apartment, Richie stopped and bought himself some basic clothing. Between work and school, he really didnít need much. He walked back to what remained of his apartment building to get his bike. If he was going to be able to get around, heíd need his wheels.

The destruction amazed him. It seemed like everything on the block had burned. There were still a few firemen on the scene. He worried that one of them might recognize him, but they were too busy to really notice. He overheard one of them mention arson. The fire had burned hot and spread quickly.

He looked up at what had been his front window. There were still wisps of smoke rising from the exposed framework. Everything was gone. He got the feeling it might be time to move on again.

He was glad this was his last semester of college. Most of his books and notes were in his duffel bag with his sword. Heíd stay with Fiona until after finals. That would give him enough time to decide whether he should hit the road or tough it out here. Maybe he should try to catch up with Mac. Fiona would know where to find the Highlander.

Richie got the vague sensation of another Immortal nearby. The feeling wasnít strong and he couldnít locate the source. It made him uneasy. He tried telling himself that Fiona could be close enough for him to sense. He knew that was unreasonable, so he started his bike and sped off.

When he got to Fionaís, Richie admired her apartment. It wasnít as nice as her house on Holy Ground, but it was more than comfortable. Richie went into the spare bedroom. He was slightly spooked to find it was painted the same shade of blue as the room he slept in at her house on Holy Ground. He quickly dropped most of his stuff on the bed before heading for a shower. Now that he was away from the scene of the fire for a while, he realized Fiona was right when she said he smelled like smoke. He had gotten some strange looks from other people after leaving the hospital.

Showered and changed, Richie called his boss at the bar. The man had heard about the fire and already replaced Richie for the evening. Pleased to have the night off, Richie called the hospital to leave a message for Fiona before he went to his classes.

****

Richie returned to Fionaís apartment later than he expected because he stopped for groceries on his way back. Heíd learned a little cooking recently and thought heíd surprise Fiona by making dinner. He looked around the kitchen. First, he had to find a vase for the flowers heíd bought her.

When the phone rang, Richie debated about answering it, but finally grabbed it thinking it might be Fiona. She could be trying to reach him to make certain she would be able to get into her apartment.

"Doctor MacDonaldís residence."

There was a longish pause before a vaguely familiar male voice asked for Fiona.

"Sheís still at the hospital. Can I take a message?"

"Who the hell are you?"

Now Richie recognized the voice. If a punch with the hilt of a sword was Connor MacLeodís favorite way of getting someoneís attention, this must be his favorite greeting.

"Hi, Connor. Itís Richie. Richie Ryan. Macís . . . Duncanís . . . student."

There was another pause.

"What are you doing in Fionaís apartment?"

Richie quickly explained about the fire and meeting Fiona in the emergency room. The elder MacLeod asked some concerned questions. It surprised Richie when the man offered assistance. Richie declined. Connor told him Fiona always knew where to reach him if Richie changed his mind. Through his contacts, he could have money to Richie in a matter of hours. Richie thanked him again. Before hanging up, Connor gave Richie a cryptic message for Fiona.

****

Fiona appeared happy to find dinner ready when she came in. Richie had been uncertain about making chili, but his host was content with his choice. She seemed especially pleased when he said heíd bought beer to drink with their meal.

Promising to repay her, he gave her the money he had left over from his clothes and food shopping. Fiona frowned. She doubted Richie had much money. She questioned him about it. His only reply was a shrug.

Richie knew he had $20 in his wallet and some small change in his pocket. That would be enough until he went back to work the following night. He flatly refused her offer of $100.

After a short argument, Fiona finally persuaded him to take $40 which was all she really wanted to give him anyway. She started at a much higher figure to keep him from resisting her entirely. Richie suddenly smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand.

"I almost forgot. Connor called. He said youíd know where to reach him."

Shortly before meeting Richie again, Fiona spent a long weekend at her house on Holy Ground with the elder Highlander. He should be somewhere in South America by now. She shook her head. She wasnít really certain where he was. She went to the phone and dialed the number for her house. Connor answered it on the first ring. It made her wonder if he had been waiting by the phone.

To her surprise, he spoke to her in Italian. He said it was to keep their conversation private. As she answered his questions about Richie, she got the feeling he had gotten the same information earlier and was confirming it with her. Then he told her that his plans had changed and asked if he could join her for a few days. She was happy to oblige.

While Fiona was on the phone with Connor, Richie set the table. It startled him to hear her speaking fluent Italian. He assumed it was to keep him from understanding the conversation, but Fiona didnít know he was majoring in languages. He was currently in his second semester of Italian classes. He didnít understand everything she said, but he got the gist of the conversation. He knew they had spoken about him. Richie was glad he didnít understand all of it. Some of what Fiona said made him blush. Another student who spoke Italian taught him some of the choicer phrases. Fiona had already used most of them.

Fiona put the phone down and joined Richie at the table.

"So Connorís going to be here."

Richie grinned at Fionaís expression. She studied him a moment before laughing.

"Very good, Richie. When Connor gets here, speak to him in Italian. Itíll drive him crazy."

Richie laughed, but wasnít so sure he wanted to act on her idea. If the man wasnít amused, the meeting could be dangerous for him. Maybe not dangerous exactly, but at least painful.

They talked over dinner. She was still interested in everything he did. Pleased he was going to college, she dropped numerous hints about helping financially. He declined each time.

After clearing the table, Richie and Fiona took their drinks and left the kitchen. Fiona settled herself comfortably on the couch. Richie sat opposite her. Fiona was concerned about how exhausted he appeared. The excitement and upset of the dayís events had taken its toll on the young Immortal.

"Richie, why donít you go to bed?"

"I think I will. Iím beat."

Richie said goodnight before disappearing into the guest room. He still found it odd that the room was that particular shade of blue. It was almost as if Fiona had decorated it with him in mind. Stretching out on the bed, he fell asleep almost immediately.

****

The next day, Richie was leaving campus when he sensed another Immortal. A man stepped out of a doorway and looked Richie up and down as if appraising him.

"Iím not here for you, boy. Iím looking for the Highlander."

Richie frowned. Aside from the fact that he was getting tired of being called boy, he wondered which Highlander the man wanted. He wasnít certain where Mac was, but he did know Connorís location. Holy Ground seemed like a good idea at the moment. He shrugged. There was no reason for him to tell the stranger anything.

"Iíll find him. By the way, did you enjoy the fire? I set it especially for you."

Laughing, the stranger ran down the block with Richie in pursuit. To Richieís further annoyance, he lost the man in the crowd. Richie glanced at his watch before returning to his bike. He had to get to work.

Thinking about the earlier encounter, Richie wanted to call Fiona and warn her when he sensed another Immortal. He wondered if the man had followed him. He was annoyed when Fiona walked through the door. A few of the regulars turned to look at the attractive woman crossing the room to Richie. They seemed to lose interest in her quickly. Telling the other bartender he was taking a break, Richie guided Fiona to a table where they could talk quietly.

"What are you doing, Fiona? I told you not to come here."

"I wanted to see it. You made me curious."

Richie sighed. Mac had warned him about the Chieftainís daughter. She usually did whatever she wanted. Unfortunately, the barís patrons were not his only concern now.

"One of us was waiting for me after classes. He said he was looking for the Highlander."

"Which one?"

Richie shrugged. He had wondered the same thing.

"I didnít ask. I figured if he only knows about one, why tip him off?"

Fiona liked the way Richieís mind worked. It had taken her a while to learn the value of knowing when to keep her mouth shut. She assumed Richie learned it as a child being bounced between institutions, foster homes and the streets.

Fiona frowned when Richie said the other Immortal claimed he had set fire to Richieís building. Immortals who unnecessarily endangered mortals were dangerous. She vaguely remembered a nemesis of Connorís who dabbled in arson, but Connor and Duncan had defeated the Salamander over a century earlier.

As she was leaving the bar, a man stopped Fiona. He made a few suggestions about how they could spend the evening. Smiling sweetly, Fiona declined the offer. When he reached for her, Fiona grabbed his arm and tossed him to the floor. With one foot planted firmly on the side of his face, she twisted his arm awkwardly at the shoulder. The angle made Richie rub his own shoulder in sympathy. Pulling on the manís arm, Fiona offered him his choice of bodily harm. After extracting an apology from the humiliated man, Fiona waved to Richie and left without any further problems.

****

Nelson Burgess wasnít happy. He had no idea who the female Immortal was or what her relationship was to Richie Ryan. She seemed to be taking care of him. That should have been MacLeodís job. He was the boyís teacher.

Like Ryan, the woman was unimportant. His goal was the Highlanderís head. After he had taken that, he would decide what to do about the other Immortals. All they had to do was lead him to the man.

****

Fiona sensed another Immortal as she approached her apartment. As far as she knew Richie was at school. She entered the apartment cautiously. Suddenly, a strong arm slipped around her waist from behind. Although he said nothing, Fiona knew it was Connor. A real attack would not be so gentle. A hand was placed over her mouth when she protested. She bit it. She heard a grunt of pain as Connor MacLeod withdrew his hand from her mouth. Putting it under her chin, he gently pulled her head back and to the side. She struggled playfully against him. Laughing, he kissed her neck.

"Are you hungry? Dinnerís almost ready," he whispered in her ear.

Her suggestive answer made him grin. She never disappointed him. When he let her go, she spun around and kissed him full on the mouth. Fiona turned to go into the kitchen. The aroma of food was heavenly.

Candles illuminated the room. A stunning floral centerpiece adorned the table. After seating Fiona, Connor produced an elaborately prepared gourmet meal. In contrast to their earlier greeting, the couple ate quietly, talking of Connorís upcoming travels and her work at the hospital. After dinner, they retired to the living room where they sat cozily sipping wine.

"Why are you courting me, Connor?"

He studied her a moment.

"Why is Richie Ryan in your apartment?"

Fiona was stunned. Connor never questioned any of her relationships. She had spent a few months in Italy with Connor before they decided to visit their native country. Unexpected business problems made it impossible for him to leave Italy, so she went on alone. Duncan had been waiting in Heathrow Airport for the same flight to Scotland when they sensed each other. It was an unforeseen pleasure.

She had gotten in touch with Connor just to let him know she had completed her journey safely. He informed her that he would be unable to join her as planned. She was disappointed, but had been content to stay with Duncan. Connor knew she lived with Duncan in Scotland after leaving him in Italy. He hadnít even commented on it.

"After the fire, he had nowhere else to go."

Connor remembered when Fiona had nowhere to go. Passing a cemetery, Connor sensed another Immortal and stopped. It puzzled him that he hadnít been challenged. He caught a glimpse of someone running through the cemetery. He searched the graveyard. It surprised him to see Fiona hiding behind an oversized headstone. The last time he had seen her, she was living as Duncanís wife.

He spoke to her gently as he helped her up. Although the weather was mild, she shook uncontrollably. Thinking she was cold, he wrapped his coat around her. She began to cry. Between sobs, she told him her sword had broken at a critical moment in a battle with another Immortal. After nearly being killed, she hid in the cemetery for protection. Frightened and alone, she had no weapon and little money. He realized she was terrified, exhausted and hungry. She had been in the churchyard for more than a week.

After reassuring her that he was not after her head, he took her to his home and fed her. She offered him what little money she had. He refused. He was not truly wealthy yet, but he didnít need the few pence she had. It wouldnít even buy him a drink.

Despite her protests, he insisted she sleep in his bed. He would make himself comfortable elsewhere. She slept nearly a full day. When she joined him for a meal, she seemed embarrassed and timid. This was not the self-assured woman he met on the Highlands. It was also not the Fiona MacDonald he had seen playing wife to his kinsman.

Gradually, she regained her confidence. She cooked and kept house for him. He gave her money to spend as she wished. She refused him at first, but he persisted. He eventually convinced her to allow him to help her acquire new clothing. It satisfied him to see her personality bloom again.

He introduced her as his cousin and watched her charm all those around her. She carried herself with the bearing of a Chieftainís daughter. Despite her bawdy sense of humor, he thought of her as a lady in the truest sense of the word.

When he thought she was ready, he replaced her broken sword with the undersized Claymore he had acquired as an oddity. It was then that he started training with her. He found she was excellent with a sword. The mentors he had found for her had taught her well. She was an apt student and followed his directions well. He knew she still used the Claymore.

Eventually, Duncan had come to visit and been reunited with Fiona. Connor had always envied his kinsmanís easy closeness with her. She had grown up with Duncan. Although the two sometimes bickered like children or siblings, Connor knew she loved the younger Highlander dearly. When Duncan left, he took Fiona with him.

Connor missed her afterward. They had become good friends. He almost thought of himself as her mentor and teacher. Intelligent and interesting, Fiona provided him with much needed distraction. She was eager to learn. They discussed everything together.

The incident occurred long before they became lovers. Connor never wanted Fiona to feel he had taken advantage of her. He took a sip of wine and held the glass up before him, staring into the color of the liquid. Fiona had been worth the wait. He leaned over and kissed her. They had been lovers for nearly 300 years. He knew exactly who he was in Fionaís life. He whispered an invitation to accompany him on his trip.

Fiona was tempted. She hadnít been to South America in decades. He would be flying on to Europe after that. She knew he would pamper and indulge her everywhere they went. Fiona sighed. She didnít want to abandon Richie so soon after he had lost everything. It didnít feel right. She voiced her concerns.

"Let Richie stay here. You can always come back."

Fiona shook her head. Pulling her close, Connor kissed her gently. She knew she was welcome to come with him. When she was ready, she would.

Richie came in from school. Dropping his bag, he shook the elder Highlanderís extended hand. He had been surprised when Connor called earlier. Connor purposely kept his plans vague and wanted to arrive when Fiona wasnít home. Richie told him Fiona was at the hospital and Connor came to the door a few minutes later loaded down with flowers, wine and groceries. The older man had clapped Richie on the back in greeting. It had been more like meeting Mac than his kinsman.

Taking his books with him, Richie quickly went to the kitchen to find something to eat. The others joined him. Richie prepared to do homework while Fiona put leftovers from Connorís dinner on a plate for him. Connor studied the stack of books on the table. Grinning, he picked up an Italian text book and spoke to Richie in Italian. When the younger man answered him, Connor laughed.

After Fiona put Richieís food on the table, Connor stepped in front of her and put his arms around her. Fiona smiled at him.

"You should get some sleep. Itís been a long day."

Connor grinned at her. She recognized the expression. It didnít imply sleep.

Richie watched the couple. Fionaís relationships were far too complicated for him. Neither MacLeod ever seemed far from Fionaís thoughts. Richie shook his head. Although there were times she left him feeling perplexed, he thought she might be his best friend after Mac. She was interested in what he was doing. She never refused to help him. He decided there was no need for him to understand her. He probably never would anyway.

****

A few days later, Richie heard Fiona and Connor talking early in the morning. He knew Connor was leaving on his delayed business trip. Fiona would be driving the older man to the airport. The elder Immortals were sitting in the kitchen when Richie sleepily stumbled in. He sat with them, sipping coffee and listening to the discussion about Connorís trip.

"Come with us to the airport, Richie. You can keep me company on the way back."

Richie was about to refuse, but thought of the Immortal he had encountered. The man claimed to be looking for MacLeod. If it was Connor, Fiona might be in danger.

"Maybe I should. Just in case that guy shows up again."

Connor MacLeod became very alert. He focused his full attention on the young man across the table. Fiona noticed the change in Connorís posture. He was slipping into fighting mode. He turned his gaze on her. She could see the aggression in his eyes.

"What guy?"

Richie told Connor about his encounters with the unidentified Immortal. Listening carefully, the elder MacLeod frowned. He had known quite a few Immortals who liked playing with fire. He couldnít think of any who might be looking for him. He didnít like the idea that someone might be stalking Duncan through Richie. It put Fiona in danger, too.

"I can postpone my trip."

"Donít. If heís after you, heíll follow you and weíll be out of danger. If not, Iíll tend to it," she said and paused as if in thought. "Thereís always Holy Ground."

Connor nodded in response to Fionaís observation. He wanted to insist she take Richie and go to Holy Ground, but he knew once he did she would stubbornly refuse to do it. If he told her not to, she would accept it as confirmation of her own inclination to stand and fight. If he said nothing, she would continue to consider Holy Ground an option.

He turned his attention to the young man seated across from him. The elder Highlander smiled slightly. Richie was protective of Fiona. It was a good sign. The boy had a sense of honor.

Richie noticed Connor staring at him and wondered what the older man was thinking. The elder MacLeod made him slightly uneasy. Connor MacLeod could be rough and unforgiving. When the older MacLeod looked at him like that, Richie could almost feel the sting of being punched with a sword. He found Macís moods much easier to understand and much less painful.

****

In the airport, Richie watched Connor embrace Fiona again. Richie felt uncomfortable standing too close to them. He didnít want to intrude. When Connor buried his face in Fionaís hair, the young man stepped further away from the couple.

"Come with me."

Connor heard Fiona groan softly in response to his whispered proposition. He knew she wanted to accompany him. It was unfair of him to keep asking her. He felt Fiona tighten her embrace.

"Call me."

Connor smiled. He always kept in touch with her. She was simply avoiding saying no again. He promised to call her from Italy. Fiona sighed. He would call her long before he reached Italy. The statement was another invitation. He knew she loved the villa outside Rome. From what he had told her of his plans, it was possible Richie would be settled before Connor reached Italy.

A boarding announcement was made for Connorís flight. Although she didnít want him to go, Fiona pushed Connor away gently. Part of her wanted to beg him to postpone the trip and return to her house on Holy Ground with her. They could take Richie with them. The boy could occupy himself. She sighed again. Perhaps she would take Connor up on his offer of Italy.

"Keep your head, Connor MacLeod."

He kissed her again as Richie came over to say goodbye to the elder Highlander. MacLeod embraced him unexpectedly.

"Take care of her," he hissed in Richieís ear. Richie nodded.

MacLeod looked back at them before walking through the gate. Forcing a smile, Fiona waved to him. Richie put his arm companionably around Fionaís shoulders. The elder Highlander approved. He thought it was only a matter of time before the two became lovers. He smiled. If he suggested it to them, they would both deny it and Fiona would be angry with him.

****

Richie tried to make Fiona laugh during the ride back to her apartment. He succeeded a few times, but she was quieter than usual. Getting out of the car, they sensed another Immortal. Richie looked around quickly. He saw the Immortal who had asked him repeatedly about the Highlander.

"Let me guess. Youíre looking for the Highlander."

Nelson Burgess smiled at the young manís irritation. It might cause the boy to become careless and give him the information he sought. He saw Ryan reach for his sword.

Stepping between the two men, Fiona stopped Richie. The setting was far too public. Richie started to protest. She hushed him. She could see he was dissatisfied, but she didnít want him to plunge headlong into a battle. Satisfied that Richie wouldnít take action, Fiona turned to the other Immortal. She didnít think this man would challenge her with Richie standing directly behind her. Richie moved closer to her. She could hear every breath he took.

Burgess focused his attention on the woman. Heíd dealt with Immortal women before. Most of them had been easy to defeat or intimidate. He wondered why this one kept Ryan from inviting competition. She stood stiffly in front of him. Her eyes were cold and hard. She didnít seem frightened at all.

"I am the Highlander."

Richie swallowed hard. She had every right to call herself the Highlander, but he had never heard her use the title. It never occurred to him that she would. Connor MacLeod warned him to take care of her. If she fought this man and lost, Richie would take his head after the Quickening. Once again, he didnít think either MacLeod would find much comfort in it. Richie put his hand on her shoulder to pull her back. She shook him off.

Burgess frowned. He knew the Highlander he sought. She was not the man.

"Dear lady, do you know where MacLeod is?," he said with an exaggerated bow.

Fiona easily understood Richieís desire to draw his sword. Turning her back on the stranger, she noticed Richieís angry expression. She touched Richieís arm gently. His gaze never left the other man.

"Letís go, Richie."

Burgess shook his head. They couldnít keep him from the Highlander forever. He thought about killing them to find the information he wanted, but didnít want to challenge them together.

"I will find him."

"And I will find you," Fiona said over her shoulder.

Burgess watched the two Immortals walk away from him. Ryan glanced back briefly before they disappeared into the building. He pondered the womanís statement. No woman had ever threatened him so convincingly before. She might be an interesting opponent . . . or companion.

Burgess turned to go. If MacLeod had ties to both Ryan and the woman, it increased the chances that the Highlander would come to him.

****

Once inside the apartment, Richie began pacing. Fiona understood his frustration. She would have been much happier if she had taken the manís head.

"Fiona, what were you thinking? Whyíd you put yourself in danger like that?"

Fiona turned to face the angry young Immortal. He stopped pacing and stood glaring at her. Richieís face momentarily contorted with rage. Suddenly, he threw his sword on the couch. She could feel waves of anger coming from him.

"Youíre not the Highlander, Fiona."

"I was born on the Highlands over 400 years ago. Just like Duncan and Connor. I am the Highlander."

Richie shook his head. Fiona was missing the point. Identifying herself as the Highlander could get her killed. He couldnít understand why she would want to attract that kind of attention.

Richie felt the cold, sharp edge of a sword against his neck. Heíd been too busy with his thoughts to notice Fionaís approach. She had retrieved his sword from where it landed on the couch and was menacing him with it. When he backed away from her, she followed him. She still had the blade to his neck when he bumped into the wall.

"I will stand against anyone who threatens Duncan and Connor. Understand?"

Richie nodded carefully. He could feel his blade biting into his flesh. Fiona stared into his eyes a long time before putting up his sword. He had seen that same hardness in the eyes of both MacLeods. Dropping the sword back onto the couch, Fiona walked away without speaking. Richie watched as she disappeared into her bedroom.

Richie took a deep breath. He had gone from being angry to being frightened in less than a heartbeat. Retrieving his sword, he stuffed it back in the bag with his books. He glanced at his watch. He had time before his classes, but Fiona was due at the hospital soon. Richie approached Fionaís bedroom carefully.

"Fiona, would you like a cup of coffee before you leave? Iím gonna make some fresh."

"Sounds great, Richie."

She sounded like her usual self. There was no hint of the woman who had challenged another Immortal or the one who just held a sword to his throat. She came into the kitchen as Richie was pouring himself a cup of coffee. He gave the cup to her and went to get himself another one.

When Richie sat down across from her, Fiona could see her outburst hadnít helped the young Immortal. They werenít on Holy Ground and she had menaced him with his own sword. The fear in his eyes had been obvious. Now she saw smoldering anger there.

"I was trying to draw him out, Richie. If he didnít know who the Highlander is, he would have accepted my challenge. If I annoyed or confused him enough, he might have told us who he really wants."

Richie appeared deep in thought. Fionaís reasoning made sense, but her actions still seemed stupid and dangerous to him. He told her so. He was surprised when she smiled at him.

Fiona knew she could never convince the young man across from her. The man could have challenged her at any time. Any Immortal could. She smiled again. Richie was more like Duncan than he realized.

His reaction had been mild compared to what she would have received from Duncan or Connor. She certainly wouldnít have held a sword to either of them. It was more likely that Connor would pin her to the wall with a sword at her throat. With that advantage, he would lecture her at length. Duncan would reprimand her without using a sword. Later, he would be sullen.

Either man would feel badly afterward and find some way to apologize to her without taking back anything that had been said. Perhaps she would take Richie out to eat. He could pick the restaurant. Maybe theyíd see a movie, too. Richie usually enjoyed a treat like that.

Before leaving for work, Fiona kissed Richieís forehead. He grinned at her despite his anger. He wasnít certain he could stay angry with her for any length of time.

****

Richie and Fiona fell into an easy routine. They both had busy schedules. The pair usually managed to have one meal a day together.

The mysterious Immortal continued to appear from time to time, but never issued a challenge. In fact, he rarely spoke. It seemed he was waging some sort of war of nerves. Fiona advised Richie to ignore the man. It was difficult, but Richie complied.

Richie was alone in the apartment studying for finals when the phone rang. He picked it up. He routinely took messages for Fiona.

"Doctor MacDonaldís residence."

Duncan MacLeod hesitated. He couldnít believe he was speaking to the one person he had been unable to contact. He was calling Fiona to see if she could help him locate the young Immortal.

"Richie? What are you doing in Fionaís apartment?"

Richie grinned. It had been a while since he heard Macís voice. He quickly told his mentor about the fire that had displaced him and meeting Fiona again. Richie was happy when Mac said he was returning to reopen the dojo. He missed the older manís friendship. Mac wanted to know if he was interested in having his old job back. Richie jumped at the chance. He had been seriously thinking about moving on after graduation anyway. Bartending was starting to wear a little thin and he was beginning to feel he was cramping Fionaís style. He thought about his apartment in Fionaís house. The house was close enough to the dojo to make getting to work easy.

"Look, Richie, Iíll be there tomorrow. Donít tell Fiona. I want to surprise her."

Mac hung up before Richie could tell him about the Immortal who claimed to be hunting the Highlander. Richie wondered if he should tell Fiona that Mac was coming. They should all be on their guard.

****

Fiona was certain Richie was hiding something from her. There seemed to be a secret dancing in his eyes. When she returned home from the hospital, she sensed him in the apartment. His finals schedule was different from his class schedule and she wasnít certain when heíd be around. A delicious smell greeted her as she opened the door.

"Richie? What are you making for dinner? It smells wonderful."

She got no answer. She noticed that a dozen red roses had replaced the flowers Connor bought her. Someone was definitely in the kitchen. She could hear them. Worried, she drew her sword and walked slowly across the apartment. As she slipped up to the doorway, she saw Richie sitting at the table with an open text book in front of him. He grinned broadly. A man stood at the stove stirring something in a pot.

Fionaís sword clattered to the floor as she ran into the arms of Duncan MacLeod. He kissed her repeatedly. Richie took Macís place at the stove. He was hungry and didnít want dinner to burn. Besides, whatever Mac was making smelled great. He hoped it was as good as the meal Connor had prepared during his visit.

Richie glanced at the Immortal couple. Fiona seemed different in Macís embrace than she had in Connorís. He could tell Fiona missed the elder MacLeod. Her expression seemed to indicate that Mac more than eased the separation.

MacLeod put his hands on Fionaís shoulders and pushed her away from him slightly. He looked down at her seriously. He was puzzled by the Immortal who seemed to be looking for him. The description Richie gave was meaningless.

"Richie told me what happened. That was stupid, Fiona."

She tried to answer him, but he wouldnít let her interrupt. She could tell from the look on the younger Immortalís face that he had already been lectured. She smiled at Richie. He rolled his eyes in response.

MacLeod shook her hard. Startled, she looked up at him. Duncan rarely treated her that way. It was more Connorís style. She could see he was incensed. Heíd be morose later and it would be up to her to try to cajole him. Connor was much easier in that respect. Well, sometimes he was.

"Never do that again. Never endanger yourself because of one of us."

The lecture continued. She could predict nearly every word. Nothing he could say would keep her from standing against anyone who threatened him or Connor . . . or Richie for that matter.

"I do what I must, Duncan."

MacLeod shook her again. As usual, she wasnít listening to him. Since they were children, she ignored him when it suited her. It drove him crazy. He frowned at her. He didnít want her to jeopardize her own head for his. It was foolish. Under these circumstances, he knew Connor would deliver the same message to her.

"You canít just challenge any Immortal who comes looking for me."

Fiona could see the brooding in his eyes. Watching Richie put their dinner on the table, she hoped he could help her keep Duncanís mood from becoming too dark. Duncan was still talking. He wasnít wrong, but he wasnít right either. She was an Immortal just like him.

While the trio ate, Richie chatted happily about work and school. Fiona knew he was trying to lighten the mood, but Duncan barely responded to the younger manís statements. She could almost see Duncanís mind working. After dinner they moved into the living room.

MacLeod sat on the couch silently staring into his wine glass. When Fiona sat down next to him, he looked at her out of the corner of his eye and shook his head. Richie watched them quietly from across the room. He had seen enough of Macís moods to know that the Highlander was still angry.

"Fiona, I donít want to live with the idea that you were killed because of me."

Fiona slipped her hand onto Duncanís shoulder. He had thought of himself as her protector as long as she could remember.

"My first death came while I fought the enemies of my Clan. You and Connor . . . and Richie . . . are my Clan now. I will stand with you."

It overwhelmed Richie to be included in her list. She had willingly taken care of him when he had been drugged and left for dead. This time she took him in after the fire. He thought it was because of his relationship with Mac. He never realized her feelings for him were that deep.

MacLeod put his arm around her and pulled her close. He kissed her briefly. He didnít want her to fight in his stead. Sometimes he wished she would just stay on Holy Ground. At least, he would know she was safe.

"Youíre taking Richie with you when you go, arenít you, Duncan?"

Mac looked at Richie questioningly. The younger man shrugged. In keeping with his mentorís wishes, he hadnít said anything to Fiona about their plans. He stopped trying to figure out how she always seemed to know things.

Fionaís question turned the conversation to other topics. Fiona saw Duncan smile. It wasnít easy, but they succeeded in changing Duncanís mood. Richieís enthusiasm about reopening the dojo helped immensely.

****

Richie returned home from the last of his final exams. He could sense an Immortal in the apartment from out in the hall. Fiona should be at the hospital. It might be fun to have some time alone with Mac now that he had no school work to do.

Entering the apartment, Richie saw Mac kissing Fiona. He couldnít actually see the Immortal woman, but her hands were tangled in Macís hair. They stopped kissing long enough to casually greet Richie. It was as if he had interrupted them while they were watching television.

Fionaís sword was on the floor by the couch. Macís katana leaned against the wall near where the couple was standing. Richie assumed the current activity had been proceeded by a sword fight. He decided not to think too hard about that. The couple was still kissing. Uncomfortable, Richie wasnít sure where to look.

"You guys want me to leave?"

"Donít be silly, Richie," Fiona murmured.

Richie was about to slip into his own room when he sensed another Immortal in the hall. He glanced at the couple across the room. Mac and Fiona were still standing together, but they were focused on the door. Fionaís hands rested on the Highlanderís chest.

The doorbell rang. After looking out the peephole, Richie started pulling his sword from his duffel bag. It was like some kind of bad joke. Both MacLeods arrived at Fionaís apartment with flowers, wine and food. Now, the Immortal arsonist was just outside the door, holding a bouquet of flowers.

Thinking silence might be prudent, MacLeod put his hand over Fionaís mouth when it appeared she was going to say something. Pain made him jerk it back suddenly.

"You bit me!"

Out in the hall, Burgess heard a manís voice. It didnít sound like Ryan. If the Highlander had finally shown up, this was not the time or place for them to meet. He took off at a dead run. Although he was intrigued by the Immortal woman and her claim to be the Highlander, MacLeod was his goal.

Richie cursed when the man disappeared from his view through the peephole. The sense of another Immortal faded. Richie turned back in the direction of the couple behind him.

"You bit me!," Mac protested again, rubbing his hand.

Fiona tangled her hands in his hair and pulled his face towards hers. Her kisses silenced his complaint. His arms moved back around her.

Richie sighed. He still didnít know where to look. Maybe he should just spend the evening in his bedroom.

"Iím hungry. Iím gonna make something to eat."

Fiona gave Duncan two quick kisses. When she turned her head, he buried his face against her neck. She squirmed in his embrace.

"Donít, Richie. Iím going to cook."

MacLeod straightened up in surprise.

"You are?"

Fiona smiled at the tone of Duncanís question. She gently pushed his arms away and went into the kitchen. He trailed after her.

Richie put his things in his room before joining the older Immortals. After Mac poured wine for them, the trio worked together to fix themselves a meal. It took longer than usual. The elder Immortals kept stopping to kiss.

Richie was relieved that their ardor cooled once the food was ready. He didnít think he could eat if they continued their affectionate display.

Fiona questioned him about the test heíd taken earlier in the day. Mac joined in with some comments on his education and the plans for reopening the dojo. The conversation was so normal Richie was beginning to think heíd been hallucinating when he came in. He knew he hadnít been and wondered how long it would take the couple to resume their earlier activities.

Richie volunteered to clean up after dinner. He thought it might give the couple the opportunity to retreat to Fionaís bedroom. Instead, he found them sitting on the couch together. They were talking quietly. Fiona smiled at Richie when he came in. Richie flopped down on the other couch. He had been up early to get some studying in before the test. Since drinking wine and eating, he felt sleepy. He could hear Mac and Fiona talking. Occasionally, heíd comment on the discussion. Their voices seemed to be getting further and further away. Maybe after they went into Fionaís room, heíd turn on the television.

****

When he woke up, the room was dark. He was still on the couch. Someone had thrown a blanket over him. It was most likely Fiona. She was always looking after him. Trying to decide between going to bed and getting something to eat, he sat up. The kitchen light was on. Curious, he went into the kitchen to see what he could scrounge up. Wrapped in a robe, Fiona stood at the stove. She looked sleepy.

"Richie! I thought you were asleep for the night. Iím just making tea. Want some?"

"Iím kinda hungry."

Fiona grinned at him. Richie always seemed to be hungry.

"Cookies on top of the refrigerator."

Richie reached up and got the container. He couldnít imagine where Fiona found the time to bake. They chatted while they waited for the water to boil. Mac came into the room just as Fiona finished making the tea. He immediately grabbed her and kissed her. Richie watched her tangle her hands in Macís hair. He rolled his eyes. He had hoped to avoid this.

"Whatís with you two today? Youíve been sucking face since I came in."

Fionaís hands dropped to MacLeodís shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his neck. Resting her head on Macís chest, Fiona laughed helplessly.

"Nicely put, Richie. Thanks."

Ignoring the irritation in Macís voice, Richie enjoyed the sound of Fionaís laughter. She seemed a little too serious since the departure of Connor MacLeod and the continued presence of the other Immortal. Mac scowled at Richie. Somehow, Macís angry stare wasnít as disconcerting to Richie as Connorís. Well, not quite, anyway.

Trying to regain her composure, Fiona glanced at Richie. She quickly buried her head against Duncan again. He kissed the top of her head. When she looked up at him, he grinned wickedly. She tried to look at him impatiently, but laughed again instead. He playfully tugged at her robe. Fiona batted his hand away.

"Sit down, Duncan. Have some tea."

Frowning at Richie, Mac went into the other room. He returned with a snifter of brandy. When he put it on the table, Fiona immediately picked up the glass and took a sip. Mac moved his chair closer to her. Their brief kiss was interrupted by giggles from Fiona. The laughter was still shining in her eyes when she turned to the younger man across the table. Unexpectedly, she became serious.

"That man knows where I live. He knows youíre here. He might be planning to pick us off one by one."

MacLeod frowned. According to what the others had told him, the man had appeared at Fionaís apartment building before. This time he had been brazen enough to come to her door. He had to be dealt with soon.

****

After a long day at the hospital, Fiona was opening her car door when she sensed another Immortal. She thought Richie or Duncan might have come to meet her. Both of them had tried to talk her out of going to work that day. She was surprised to see the male Immortal who claimed to be looking for one of the MacLeods.

"Well, if it isnít the Highlander."

Burgess grinned at her. He had made inquiries about a female Immortal calling herself the Highlander, but no one had any information about such a person. A few of his contacts insisted there were actually two Highlanders, both male. Burgess laughed at them. There was only one MacLeod. It was just like the Highlander to lead others to believe there were two of him.

Fiona tried to retreat when he drew a gun. He shot her without hesitation. With her as bait, he could easily attract the man who called himself the Highlander.

****

Worried by Fionaís lateness, Mac went to the hospital to look for her. Alone in the apartment, Richie waited impatiently. He picked up the phone as soon as it rang, hoping it was either Mac or Fiona.

"Tell the Highlander I have the woman. Iíll be waiting."

The man gave Richie an address. Richie didnít recognize it, but it sounded like it might be near the bar where he worked. He started threatening Fionaís kidnapper, but the man laughed at him and hung up.

Richie quickly dialed Macís cell phone number. MacLeod was not exactly pleased by Richieís news. He told Richie that Fionaís car was still in the parking lot with her sword in the trunk. There was a splatter of blood nearby. The two agreed to meet at the hospital. Richie could direct Mac to the correct neighborhood from there.

****

Nelson Burgess watched his prisoner come back to life. He didnít want to hurt her, but would if the Highlander didnít cooperate. She groaned softly. Burgess picked up his sword. Her weapon was still in her car, but heíd been around long enough to know not to trust another Immortal. She sat up on the cot.

"Feeling better?"

The string of curses the woman uttered surprised him. She knew how to swear in several languages. He raised his sword. She fell silent, but her anger was clear on her face. He sat down next to her. She got up and walked away from him. He followed her. Just as he got to her, they both sensed another Immortal.

Burgess quickly placed his hand over her mouth. He didnít want her to warn the Highlander. She bit him so hard his hand bled. He slapped her viciously. She staggered backward.

Fiona braced herself against the wall behind her. She tried to fight the swimming blackness of unconsciousness the way Connor had taught her. She got the strong sense of another Immortal nearby. A familiar voice eased her fears.

"Bad move, pal."

Burgess glanced at Ryan. He had no interest in the young Immortal. The boy was carrying his sword with the blade down as if he didnít expect to fight.

"Go away, boy. I want the Highlander."

"So you keep saying."

Burgess turned at the sound of a manís voice from behind him. Tall and dark, the other male Immortal held a katana in front of him. There was a smaller sword at his side. It looked like a toy in his hand. Suddenly, he tossed the smaller sword away. Burgess watched it tumble through the air until it was caught by the woman. She saluted the stranger with it. The man returned her salute before looking at Burgess.

"I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I am the Highlander."

Burgess shook his head. There was only one Highlander and this was not Connor MacLeod. He couldnít imagine why so many people seemed to want to lay claim to the title. His thoughts were interrupted when he had to scramble away to avoid being slashed by the katana.

Richie quickly moved closer to Fiona. He could see she was ready to fight and wanted to keep her away from the combatants. He whispered a warning about interfering. She glanced at him before focusing her attention on Duncan again. The Highlander would win this fight or the victor would lose his head.

Burgess watched the man approaching him. He had fought Connor MacLeod long ago and had to abandon the fight to keep his head. Now, he was ready to renew the challenge. This man identified himself as Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander. It didnít matter. He was still the wrong man.

"Iím looking for the boyís teacher."

"You found him, pal."

Burgess glanced at Ryan. The younger Immortal was pointing at the dark man brandishing the katana.

MacLeod lifted the katana again. In a flash of recognition, Burgess realized he had seen Connor MacLeod in the exact same stance. There must really be two Highlanders. Burgess always assumed it was just a clever ruse by Connor MacLeod to confuse his enemies. He used his sword to fend off the next blow.

Unlike the MacLeod Burgess knew, this manís movements were almost catlike. Burgess battled his opponent back towards the others. Duncan MacLeod was somehow less aggressive than Connor MacLeod, but managed to be just as forceful. Burgess was pleased with himself when he slashed MacLeod across the chest. He followed up with a blow that caught MacLeod in the ribs. Stunned, MacLeod went to his knees. Burgess thought he heard the woman gasp as blood poured from the wounds.

Burgess moved in for the kill. After this Quickening, he would be more than prepared to meet Connor MacLeod. Maybe this man knew where the Highlander was. Heíd have to be careful. There were two other Immortals present.

Richie struggled with Fiona. He didnít want her to watch Mac lose his head. He didnít want to witness it himself. Holding her Claymore with both hands, Fiona refused his suggestions to turn away. When she stopped actively resisting him, Richie looked at her. Her expression prompted him to turn back toward the action.

When Burgess raised his sword to take Duncan MacLeodís head, he felt the katana enter his chest. As his sword slipped from his grasp, Burgess looked into the face of the other man. There was no longer any doubt in his mind that he was facing the Highlander. The glint in his eyes was unmistakable. The last thing he saw was the flash of the katanaís blade.

The strong Quickening lifted MacLeod off the ground. Afterwards he knelt near the decapitated body. He rested his head tiredly on the hilt of the katana. When he felt Fionaís arm slip around his shoulders, he leaned into her slightly.

"He wanted Connor. He thought there was only one Highlander."

The information troubled Fiona. Burgess had missed Connor by only a few days. Wondering how the elder Highlander would react to the news, she turned her attention back to the Highlander at hand. Over MacLeodís objections, Fiona gave Richie the keys to the Thunderbird. She insisted Duncan sit in the backseat with her. Richie looked back at the elder Immortals as he started the car.

Complaining about a residual headache, Mac snuggled up against Fiona. Resting his head against her shoulder, he grinned at Richie. Richie rolled his eyes.

"Iíve resigned from the hospital."

"Whereís Connor, Fiona?"

Fiona glanced at her watch before answering Duncanís question.

"Lima. Connor has nothing to do with my resignation, Duncan. Iím going with the two of you."

Richie glanced in the rearview mirror. Macís grin was bigger than before. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. His own grin was nearly the same size.

To Part Six, "Identities".

To the Authors' Pages