>Primary Causes


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Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own any of these characters, I'm only borrowing them. I'm making no profit from this so please don't sue me. I promise not to do any permanent harm, hey they are immortal, and to return intact, well almost, them when I'm done with them.

WARNING This story is ADULT in nature for graphic violence including physical torture and rape. It is part one of my Education trilogy, which was going to be a study of the mentor / student relationship between Duncan and Richie until our favourite ROG walked into the story in the middle of this first part and took over.

By common agreement it's been decided that these stories are set in the early part of season four. I'd only ever seen the first and fifth seasons when I wrote it so if there are any glaring continuity or major canon errors I apologise.

For anyone interested the titles relate to the education system in the UK, in which there are three phases Primary, Secondary and Tertiary.

>Amanda watched Duncan as he stood by the refrigerator. He'd offered to fetch her a drink several minutes earlier but he hadn't moved for sometime now. It was almost as if he wasn't there. This didn't really surprise her too much; in fact it was exactly what she had expected. Despite the best efforts of Joe, Richie and herself, the anniversary of Tessa's death was never easy and this year looked like being no exception to the rule. Still, she still felt she had to make one last try.

"Duncan" she said quietly. Unsurprised to get no response she tried again, a little louder. "Duncan, I thought you were getting me a drink". The tall dark figure made no sign of having heard.

Suddenly losing patience Amanda decided she needed some air. After all, in his present state of distraction, Duncan would never miss her for a few minutes. Quickly she grabbed her jacket and slipped quietly through the door and down the stairs.

For his part Duncan was vaguely aware of her presence leaving but he was so lost in his own memories that he didn't react.

As Amanda left the building and started to walk towards her car she heard the distinctive sound of a motorbike and felt the presence of another immortal approaching. Deciding that it was always prudent to be careful she waited in the shadows of the doorway until she saw the approaching figure of Richie. As he parked he looked round cautiously staying close to his sword which was in its usual place on his bike until he saw Amanda.

"How is he?" he asked. "You were supposed to stay with him until I arrived".

"About how you would expect, he hasn't spoken in over an hour. I just needed a break...the tension was killing me" she replied a little more sharply than she had intended.

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I guess there's little chance I'll be able to improve his mood, but at least I can be there if he needs to talk" Richie grinned slightly "Not that that is very likely".

"True, he is the specialist in brooding" Amanda said returning the smile. "Well, he is all yours, I'm going to Joe's for lunch and then I need to ...". Amanda stopped speaking suddenly as she felt the presence of another immortal. A quick glance at Richie confirmed that he was also aware of it.

"Mac?" he asked hopefully.

"Not unless he's had a major change of mood" she replied warily.

Looking around them Richie was the first to see the figure moving slowly toward them. As he drew nearer, he appeared to be an elderly man who walked with hunched shoulders and his head down. The buzzing sensation increased rapidly as he got nearer and Richie suddenly felt very uneasy.

Turning to Amanda he pushed her back in the direction of the dojo and said "Go back to Mac...now!" but it was already too late. The stranger pulled a hand held automatic gun with a silencer attached and shot them both several times. As he felt his consciousness fading Richie heard the man comment "Better and better, now I have two of them" and his last thoughts as the blackness enveloped him were that his highland mentor would probably be next.

The figure with the gun slipped the weapon back into its hiding place and looked carefully up and down the street. Seeing that there was no one in sight he straightened up, immediately appearing half the age he had previously, and walked swiftly back to the rented car he had parked around the corner. This he drove up to where Richie and Amanda lay. He took several pairs of handcuffs from the back of the vehicle, using them to secure Richie's hands behind his back and his feet together. He then checked carefully that Richie was not armed before casually throwing him into the boot. Amanda was next and after he removed her sword from its hiding place, simply dropping it carelessly onto the floor. She was also handcuffed and tossed on top of Richie's body.

Walking back to the driver's door he stopped and looked up at the windows of the loft. "Well MacLeod, this is where it ends. This time you will not ignore me". He quickly jumped in the car and drove away.

Duncan slowly became aware of his surroundings and just how thirsty he was. He remembered asking Amanda if she'd like a drink but realized that he'd never fetched that drink for her. He guessed he'd been lost in the memories again. Looking around and failing to see her, he decided that she must've gone out in search of a drink, probably to Joe's. He was almost relieved. He knew that his friends were trying to help him but all he really wanted was to be left alone with his memories. Now she was gone he'd have some peace and quiet before Richie dropped in later. Pouring himself a glass of orange he returned to the living area and sat down. So lost in thought was he that he never noticed the approach of the new immortal, or the sudden demise and unceremonious removal of his two friends.

Richie woke with a gasp. He hated dying in whatever form it took, and being shot always rated as one of his least favorite methods, but the flood of memories brought back by the day made him moan aloud. After all, today was also the anniversary of the his own first death. He'd never forgotten the shock that had been, nor the look he'd seen on Mac's face as he held Tessa's body in his arms. Cringing at the memory he tried to determine his present situation. He was blindfolded with some kind of tape and had his wrists and ankles held in handcuffs which were too tight and were cutting the blood supply to his hands and feet. He appeared to be lying on a cold and wet concrete floor. To add to the problems he was also aware of the presence of another immortal. Carefully stretching as much as possible within his bonds, he decided that he had no serious injuries and that his immortal healing had completed the repair job required after the shot. Squirming around, he'd just managed to get himself into a sitting position when he felt a third immortal presence and heard a loud gasp followed by a mumbled curse from across the room.

"Amanda? Amanda is that you?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah it's me" came the terse reply. "Have you seen our host yet?"

"Neither seen nor heard, but he can't be far away. I can feel him" he replied. "How do you feel?"

"Like I've just been shot! How do you think?" came the irritated reply. "Do you know where we are?"

"I don't think you need to be worrying about where you are" came a loud voice "You'll soon have far more pressing things to concern you". Richie realized that their captor must've been listening to their conversation. He would've been aware of their presence as soon as they revived.

In a calm and relaxed way Richie said "That may be true but it'd still be nice to know who you are, where we are and what you want?"

"Not that it's important" came the scathing voice again "but I'm an old acquaintance of MacLeod, you are in the basement of my current base and I want to use you as bait until I have MacLeod's head. After I have what he owes me, then I'll decide what fate awaits you. I never refuse a quickening and youngsters are especially sweet, but perhaps you may make a useful ... distraction ... before I remove your head. If you are really good you may even earn yourself a...reprieve".

Richie winced, the tone of the last word convincing him that he'd rather die than be turned into some form of plaything. Still he spoke again trying to understand why they were being treated in this way. "Why don't you just challenge Mac?"

"And make it easy for him?" A note of incredulity appeared in the voice. "No, this way he will be worried and confused when I meet him. By the time he sees what's left of you he will be weakened and easily beaten"

"You can't beat him fairly and so you cheat...is that it?" Richie snarled. "Is that all you are capable of? Are you such a loser that...ugh". Richie was suddenly silenced by a swift kick to the groin which left him gasping and curled up in the fetal position.

"Since you seem to enjoy hearing your own voice so much, you can keep me amused while we wait for MacLeod to miss you". Richie suddenly found himself being dragged across the floor by the handcuffs round his wrists. Before he had any chance to get his balance he was dragged to his feet and thrown backwards against a wall knocking what little air was left in his lungs out of them in a rush. He felt the left cuff being released but in his rather dazed state he was unable to make anything of this opportunity. Within seconds the cuffs had been threaded over a pipe running high on the wall and refastened about his wrist. Richie now found himself having to stretch as high as he could reach in an attempt to prevent his shoulders being pulled apart. He pushed up onto his toes to ease the strain a little only to find a heavy foot stamped on his right foot as hard as possible, breaking several of the smaller bones in the process. He tried desperately to stifle the scream which tried to escape his lips.

"Not quite so keen on your own voice now, are you child?" came the rasping voice again.

"Who...are...you?" Richie heard himself say. "Why won't you let me see you?"

A rough hand grabbed the blindfold from Richie's eyes and he found himself looking at a tall blonde man with madness in his eyes. Suddenly Richie had no doubts that this man would do all he threatened, and probably worse. The man turned away from him and Richie took the chance to study the room. It certainly looked like a typical basement. The walls were bare bricks, the floor concrete and there were several pipes running along the ceiling and walls. The only source of light was a 6 foot strip light mounted in the middle of the ceiling. The room was L-shaped and from where he was chained part of the room was out of sight. He could see edge of a table but not what items were on it. He couldn't see the door but it seemed likely that it was also in the area behind him. The man grabbed Amanda by her wrists but to Richie's surprise he did not shackle her to a pipe, choosing instead to use a third set of handcuffs to join those holding her wrists to those around her ankles before throwing her back into the corner of the room.

Laughing the man returned to stand a few inches from Richie. "You want to know my name? I have had many names over the centuries...all of which have struck terror into those who have met me. For today though... you will call me...master. If you behave yourself I may eventually let you know the name of the one who will be your death. Is that understood?"

Richie glared back but made no attempt to answer.

"I said is that understood...child?". Again there was no response from the captive just a look of pure hatred. The man turned and walked round the corner out of Richie's sight for a few seconds. When he returned he had a hunting knife in his hand. He turned the knife over a few times letting it flash the reflected light into Richie's face then suddenly dragged it down Richie's chest tearing through the blood stained sweatshirt and into the recently healed flesh beneath. "I don't like having to repeat myself so, is that understood?"

Richie couldn't stop the pain showing in his eyes as blood ran freely down his chest but he was determined not to cry out. This enraged the man and he grabbed Richie's hair forcing the knife to his throat drawing blood where it touched the soft flesh of this most vulnerable spot. "One more chance or the next cut removes your head." He looked across at Amanda where she lay in the corner. "Perhaps you would prefer me to play with her? Do you think MacLeod would appreciate you letting his female suffer for your mistake? Now...do you understand?"

Richie swallowed against the knife causing it to dig even deeper into his skin, then whispered in a voice weaker than he expected "Yes master".

"What did you say? I couldn't hear you?" was growled into his ear.

"Yes, I understand...master" Richie replied, anger making his voice stronger.

"Good boy, that's what I expected you to say. But since I have some calls to make we'll have to test your new found obedience at a later time. I'm sure you'll be happy to wait here for my return". So saying he turned away and then suddenly swung back round sweeping the knife violently across Richie's lower abdomen causing him to make a strangled scream. "That's should help you remember your manners. Gut wounds are such a painful way to die". With that he left the room locking the door carefully as he went.

Richie's last conscious thought as his blood drained from the two deep wounds and the blackness approached was a cold fear that he hadn't done enough and that their captor would decide to return and start his games with Amanda. He tried to speak to apologize to her but his mouth wouldn't form the words and he slipped into blessed oblivion.

The phone rang, startling the figure sprawled in the chair. For a brief moment he tried to recall what the noise meant, but it was too much effort, and he retreated back into his memories. After a couple of minutes the ringing stopped and he was left in peace. Neither Duncan nor the answering machine he'd forgotten to switch on having made any attempt to acknowledge the caller.

Amanda was annoyed. The handcuffs were far too tight and her fingers felt numb. She lay on her side with the wall behind her back and although she was working hard she had made little progress in her attempt to free herself. How long she had before their captor returned she didn't know but she doubted he would leave them alone for long. He seemed to be the type who enjoyed tormenting his victims and that was best done close range. If only she knew who he was she might be able to help. That voice sounded familiar but she simply couldn't place it. Suddenly she felt the buzz of another immortal. "Richie?" she asked hopefully, but there was no reply. She hadn't really expected him to have revived by now. The sound of the key turning in the lock confirmed her fears. Amanda heard the heavy footsteps enter the room and the rattle of handcuffs as their captor looked Richie over.

"I think you'll have to wait a little longer for your protector to recover" came the all to familiar voice. "In the meantime, you and I can entertain each other and maybe enjoy ourselves"

"Does that enjoyment include me?" she asked "or are you strictly a self...". Amanda stopped as she was grabbed by her throat and forced to her knees. The slap to her face was not unexpected and rang around the room. Blindfolded, with her ankles and wrists still cuffed behind her there was nothing she could do about the situation.

"Well, well, another one who is far to keen to use their mouth" commented their captor. "Let us see what other uses we can find for it". Amanda froze as she felt the knife at her neck, clamping her mouth shut to stop the moan of fear escaping.

"I think you can do better than that" he said as he knelt in front of her "Kiss me".

Amanda turned her head away from the voice and the blade but to no avail. He grabbed her chin turning her towards him and pushed her back against the wall, never once removing the pressure of the blade at her throat. "Either you kiss me or you and your friend over there die here, now and very painfully". Again he pressed his lips to her resistant mouth. "If you wish to live until morning then you had better make sure that I enjoy this!" he growled.

Deciding suddenly to wait for a better chance, Amanda opened her mouth and complied. She tried to keep the kiss neutral but he demanded more. Thrusting his tongue against her teeth until they were forced open he brutally probed all the recesses of her mouth. Amanda felt like gagging but with a show of will power succeeded in holding back the urge. He continued the assault, roughly probing her mouth and then pulling back to bite her lips. Finally he pulled back, his breathing hard and his face flushed.

"Not bad for starters, now let's try for the main course" Still on his knees he loosened the fly on his trousers and freed his engorged cock. He stood up slowly keeping the knife to her throat and used his other hand to slowly stroke up and down his shaft a few times. Releasing it he pushed it against her mouth and said "Kiss it, suck it, pleasure me, as though your life depended on it...because it does" He pressed the knife harder, forcing a gasp from her, and quickly pushed the head of his penis through her now open mouth. "Remember if I don't enjoy this then both of you will suffer for it".

Amanda struggled to breath. Her tormentor had pushed himself so far down her throat that she thought she would suffocate. Stubbornly she refused to give him what he wanted.

One last chance, bitch. Be good, or be dead...it makes no difference to me. If you won't please me, perhaps your young friend will."

At the mention of hurting Richie again, Amanda succumbed to the force. Slowly she started to lick and tease his cock, desperately trying to picture Duncan, to imagine it was him she was pleasuring, to remember what he liked. The image just wouldn't come and she was grateful for the blindfold which soaked up her tears before they fell, preventing her captor seeing them. Then suddenly she felt it, another immortal presence. This sensation was followed by a muffled gasp and a low moan as Richie regained consciousness.

Whatever Richie had expected from their captor, the sight that came into view as his eyes regained focus sickened him. The sight of Amanda pushed against the wall unable to resist the brutal treatment she was receiving was almost more than he could bear. He tried desperately to raise his voice to protest but no sound would come.

Their captor was aware that Richie was awake and watching and decided to finish this quickly before returning his attentions to Richie. He grabbed Amanda's head and pulled his swollen cock free of her mouth. He quickly spun her to face the wall and removed the cuffs securing those around her ankles to those around her hands. Throwing her head forward to the floor he grasped her hips and pulled her onto her knees. Kneeling behind her he ripped away the thin fabric of her panties, pushed up the mini skirt she wore, tearing it in the process and leaned forwards across her back reaching around her to press the knife to the front of her throat. He pulled back slightly with the blade causing Amanda to gasp and arch her back in an attempt to remove the pressure against her vulnerable neck.

"Perfect. Just keep still, very still" he growled as he used his free hand to push her thighs apart. Slowly he eased his foreskin back and pressed his penis between her legs to her opening.

"Stop!" Richie shouted surprised at the strength of his own voice. "Leave her alone. If that's all you want, leave her be and take me".

A flash of surprise crossed their captor's face. He didn't expect his prisoners to offer themselves, least of all the young, they usually had too much interest in their own fate, but this offer was too good to refuse. Kicking Amanda so hard her head slammed into the wall and collapsed into an unconscious heap, he turned and faced Richie.

"You're not easily broken then?" he said. Richie's only answer was a defiant glare. "I see you still have some spirit left. I like that in my servants but not at the expense of obedience".

"Leave her alone, you bastard" Richie spat.

"Aren't you forgetting your place, child?" snapped their captor. "I will do what I please and you will do what I tell you to"

Richie swallowed once, schooling his expression carefully before replying. "I'll do anything you ask. Please...leave her alone...master!"

A totally evil smile crossed their captors face. This was better than he could ever have hoped for. "Why do you think I'll leave her be? Why shouldn't I just take you and then take her later?"

"Master...please..." Richie began.

"Do you think you can give me what I need?" their captor sneered. "Perhaps you can, but you'll have to ask me properly. Beg slave! Beg for her!"

Richie slowly licked his dry lips and lowered his eyes. "Master... Please....leave her alone...please..."

"Please what child. What do you want?" Richie could feel the man's breath on his face, but he kept his eyes down, refusing to look at him.

"I want...I want you to take me"

Smiling wickedly their captor used Richie's hair to pull his head up and look into his eyes. "You may have your wish, whore. If you're good then she is safe, if not then I'll use her as I please".

Grabbing Richie's shoulders he twisted him to face the wall and swiftly removed Richie's belt. Using the hunting knife again he sliced through the back seam of Richie's jeans and pushed them roughly down past his knees exposing his tight buttocks. Slowly he stroked his own erection back to full hardness. Suddenly, he reached round Richie and grabbed his groin, the knife blade lying flat against his stomach. At the same time his other hand pushed into the cleft of his buttocks, guiding the hardened shaft to Richie's clenched entrance. Without any further preparation he forced the swollen head through the tight ring of muscles and drove his full length into the unprepared passage.

Richie couldn't stop the scream of agony that broke from his lips, the violence of the penetration slamming him into the wall and ripping the skin inside him. Clamping his teeth together he swore to make no other sound as the assault continued. He felt his groin being squeezed unmercifully and the pain from his arse threatened to overwhelm him totally. Each violent thrust from his captor pushed him against the wall. Just as he felt he could take no more and the welcome blackness of unconsciousness approached the pain began to ease slightly. The small rational part of his mind realized that his own blood must finally have lubricated the intrusion but mostly he was just glad to get some relief from the burning pain. Grabbing a quick breath, he closed his eyes again and silently prayed for it to end.

Then it was over. He felt his captor stiffen and thrust deep and hard before spurting into his depths. Seconds later he withdrew, and Richie was forced to gasp at the suddenness of it.

"Not bad, for a mere child" came the same cold voice "You have earned her safety...for now".

Richie heard him refasten his clothing and then his footsteps leaving the room. Richie sagged and tried to breathe slowly as he waited for the pain to recede. He knew he would heal, normally the one big advantage of his immortality, but one he now understood would only be of benefit to his captor. Still held in position by the cuffs, with his ruined jeans around his ankles, he could feel the mixture of blood and semen trickling down his thighs, mingling with the dried blood left from the earlier assault. He felt the world start to defocus, and he slipped towards the approaching blackness.

Amanda had not been idle. She'd regained her senses at sometime during the rape and had used the time to her best advantage. By the time their captor departed she'd managed to drag the side of her face along the floor and remove the blindfold, along with much of her skin in the process, and had got herself up into a sitting position. She looked across the room at Richie and almost gagged. Richie always seemed like a mere child to her, but to see him bound and bleeding for his attempt to protect her was like being kicked in the guts. He looked so weak and vulnerable, his naked buttocks stained with blood and semen. The bruising, which had not yet started to heal, a testament to the previous violence.

"Richie" she whispered "Richie, speak to me." A muffled moan was her only reply. "Richie, I'm sorry. You didn't have to do that for me."

"Yes I did" Richie managed to reply. "Mac would want me to".

"But Richie, he can't do any permanent damage unless he takes our heads."

"He was going to rape you", Richie gasped.

"It wouldn't be the first time...I've been raped before" she started to explain.

With the last of his strength Richie managed to twist round to face her, and she could see tear stains mingling with the blood from the fresh scratches on his face. The movement brought new agony to his abused shoulders, causing the world to reel but as he finally succumbed to the darkness he managed to whisper "So have I".

Duncan woke with a start to find the room in darkness. Checking the time, he was surprised to find it so late. He wondered when he had fallen asleep and for how long. He knew that Richie had intended to drop by that afternoon, ostensibly to spar, though both of them were aware of the real reason for the visit. Although Richie did have a tendency to get suddenly distracted, even he wouldn't have forgotten to call to explain today. Duncan vaguely remembered that the phone had rung at some point and he wandered over to the answering machine to check what message had been left, cursing quietly when he discovered the power turned off.

He picked up the phone and dialed quickly waiting until the call was answered.

"Joe's bar" said the familiar voice .

"Hello Joe"

"Mac, I wasn't expecting to hear from you today", he replied "I thought you were going to spend the evening with Amanda...since its...Aw hell"

"Its OK Joe, I'm all right, just a bit...distracted" Duncan said quietly. "In fact that's why I'm calling. I'm looking for Amanda. I guess she got tired of being ignored, and I owe her an apology."

"She's not here Mac, and I haven't seen her all day."

"Mm...she must be more annoyed than I thought! Has Richie called there today?" Duncan asked.

"I haven't seen or heard from him" said Joe thoughtfully "He said he was going to be with you."

"He was, but he didn't show up" Duncan said getting worried. "It's not unusual for either of them to suddenly change plans, but...I thought..."

"Yeah, I know Mac. Today, well, they would both be more...tactful" Joe paused.

"I know it's asking a lot Joe, but could you check? Please, I'd be a lot happier." Joe noticed that Duncan really did sound worried now. He was tempted to agree this was unlike either of them.

"I'll make some calls and get back to you"

"Thanks Joe, I'll be here."

Duncan put the phone slowly down. Grabbing the empty glass he'd left by the sofa he went over to the kitchen to wash it. He knew that this wasn't essential, but he suddenly felt the need to do something. That done he tidied away a few loose items and looked around him in search of another distraction. When the phone rang a couple of minutes later he snatched it up.

"Joe, what have you got for me?"

"That's no way to greet an old friend, Highlander." The voice was cold and mocking. "I've got something you may miss!"

"Who are you? What do you want?" Duncan searched his memory. The voice was familiar but he just couldn't place it.

"What I want is what you owe me...your head."

"When and where?" Duncan wasted no time on pleasantries.

"Tomorrow will be soon enough. I'll call. In the meantime I'm going to have a quiet night in with your friends. Or maybe it won't be so quiet. Depends how soon they scream. Perhaps I may decide their heads will make a nice entree"

"Let them go! Its me you want..." Duncan started only to hear the line go dead. "Damn it, No...".

Duncan slammed the receiver back into it's cradle, cursing in several languages as he did so. Yet again, someone was using his friends to get to him. The ringing of the phone brought him back to his senses.

"Yes" he snapped into the receiver.

"Mac...its bad" Joe started.

" I know, he just called. Who is it Joe? What happened? Where are they?"

Amanda sat for a couple of minutes regret and grief at Richie's last statement running through her. She'd long suspected that his life before Duncan took him in wasn't particularly pleasant, but to have that belief confirmed so completely came a something of a shock. Duncan had once mentioned that he suspected Richie had suffered some abuse during his early years. It had taken time for Richie to learn to trust him, and months before he stopped having nightmares, but Duncan had never suggested anything as violent as rape. Perhaps he didn't know. Amanda thought back to those times she'd lived on the streets. She knew that there were ways to survive. It just seemed rather depressing that in all the intervening years there had been little change.

"Richie?" Amanda whispered gently. Although she could feel his buzz but there was no reply. She looked across at his body where it hung limply from the cuffs around his wrists and winced. She could see that the cuts to his chest and abdomen had already healed but his ruined jeans were soaked in blood and there was a large pool forming beneath his feet. Even immortals needed blood, it would be some time before his self healing body had sufficiently replaced what it had lost and for him to regain consciousness. Silently giving thanks to whichever deity had decided to give Richie this respite from the pain, however brief, she set about trying to find a way to improve their position.

There was no sound from outside the room, but the door was very heavy and would muffle all but the loudest noises. She suddenly realized that she could no longer sense the presence of a third immortal. Either their captor had left the building or the place was so large that he had simply left her buzz range. Hoping that the former was the case, Amanda wriggled around until she was in a sitting position with her hands cuffed behind her back. She rested her hands on the floor and slid slowly backwards until her wrists were beneath her knees. Finally bending her knees and twisting slightly to the right as she did so, she slipped her hands past her feet and stretched out again.

"That would've been a whole lot easier without the cuffs" she mumbled to herself as she twisted around to kneel and then stand. "Now lets see what other uses I can find for our friends little toys". There were several knives, two more sets of cuffs, a couple of large pieces of wood, a box of very large nails and a hammer on the table by the door, but nothing she could use as a lock pick. After several seconds she picked up the hammer and sat down with her back against the wall. She took several deep breaths before gritting her teeth and bringing the hammer down hard on her left ankle. The gasp of pain sounded loud in the confined space and for a moment she froze listening for movement from outside the door. There was none. Either there really was nobody in the building or the thick door had masked the sound and she had remained unheard. Quickly grabbing the cuff and trying to ignore the pain, she pulled it as far over her ankle as it would go before her healing body started to repair the damage and it got stuck. Raising the hammer again she repeated the process. It took two further tries before the cuff slipped off her left foot and her feet were free, albeit with the cuffs still hanging round her right ankle. Leaning back against the wall again she waited a moment for the pain to recede and the bones to reknit before starting on the second pair of cuffs. These would be more difficult as she had no way to get any leverage onto the hammer swing. A sudden gasp and moan of pain distracted her attention.


"Hush, Richie, I'm here. Give it a minute and let yourself heal" Amanda said gently. She pushed herself to her feet, gingerly testing the still repairing ankle and limped to stand in front of him. "Hang in there, you're safe for the moment...he's not here".

Richie forced himself to look up and was relieved to see Amanda alone in the room. "How did you get those cuffs loose?" he asked as he noticed the loose cuff round her right ankle. She held up the hammer for him to see. "Oh...not nice" he sympathized as he realized what she must have done.

"Not my favourite way of removing cuffs but it works" she replied. "Now you just wait there while I get my hands free and then we'll see about getting you down from there"

"Like I was planning to go anywhere else". Amanda looked up and almost smiled at the sarcasm in his voice. At least he seemed to be holding together for the moment.

Amanda turned away not wanting Richie to have to watch her deal with the cuffs. Suddenly the presence of a third immortal washed over them.

"Damn" Amanda cursed as she tried to get a better angle to use the hammer. "Got to get these off before..."

"Amanda, no, don't" Richie broke in. "Get over there behind the door. When he comes in hit him, hard, then run".

"No way Richie, I'm not leaving you here".

"You have to" Richie sounded resigned. "I'll be OK. He won't take my head. He needs one of us alive if Mac is going to come here"

"But that won't stop him hurting you. What if I were to hit him and then put these spare cuffs on him? That would..."

"No! He's bigger and stronger than you and his hands are currently free. What if he's carrying a sword?" Richie looked straight into Amanda's eyes. "I need you to do this Amanda. I can't do it. I need you to be safe. I need to know you are safe. Please!"

Amanda saw fear in Richie's blue eyes but also the determination. He was not going to let their captor win. All she had to do was get free and get help. Surely she could do that much.

"Please Amanda, you are faster than me." A slight smile crossed Richie's features. "After all, I'm the one who got caught when I tried to break into Mac's antiques shop. You've had centuries more practice at quick getaways"

"OK, I'll do it, but I'll be back with help and then we'll deal with our friend"

"You just worry about getting away...he's mine!" Amanda didn't miss the venom in Richie's voice. Footsteps sounded on the stairs outside the door. "Now, get over there...please!"

Amanda kissed Richie briefly and whispered "For luck" then she slipped silently into place behind the door.

Their captor opened the door and before he even had a chance to realize that Amanda had moved she brought the heavy hammer down hard on the softest point of his skull. There was a sickening crack of bone and he slumped to the ground.

"Richie, what if..." Amanda started to ask.

"No Amanda, go, now"


"Now, before he wakes!"

Amanda looked from Richie to their captor again and made the hardest, but only possible, decision she ever had. There wasn't time to free Richie and too great a chance that their captor could revive. A final quick look at Richie and she turned to the door.

"Watch your head, Amanda" Richie whispered.

"And you. We'll be back soon, I promise". With that she ran quickly up the stairs. Richie held his breath until her buzz faded praying that she had got away and that there had been no mortals ready to stop her. Then he resigned himself to wait for whatever punishment their captor would inflict.

Duncan walked back into the loft slowly. As he'd expected he'd found Amanda's sword lying in the alley behind the dojo and Richie's sword still in the holder on his bike. The quantity of blood in the alley gave him little doubt as to the method of their abduction. The name of the immortal that Joe had told him was in town brought him no comfort. This particularly nasty specimen of an immortal had never won a fair challenge, despite his 500 years. He fought only the very young or, very occasionally, those to whom he bore a grudge, and he had a large one with Duncan. Unfortunately Joe had been unable to find out where he was since neither Richie's or Amanda's watchers had checked in. Duncan had no idea where to even start looking for his friends. He would have to wait for one of them to call. He walked to the window and looked out but he wasn't seeing anything. His mind was seeing events of the past.

1628 Near Inverness, Scotland

Duncan looked round the tavern uneasily as the buzz hit him. It had only been an hour since Connor had left to attend to some business and he had expected that to take at least a couple of hours. Slowly Duncan scanned the crowd and came to rest on a tall, blonde man. The man was also taking a great deal of time looking over his fellow patrons. Eventually his observation stopped as he made eye contact with Duncan and smiled. Taking two fresh ales he walked slowly over to the table where Duncan sat, never once looking away from Duncan. Despite the apparent friendly gesture Duncan felt very uneasy.

"I'll join you". There was no hint of a request in the cold statement. Duncan made no attempt to reply.

"A MacLeod, no less. Are you Connor?"

"I am Duncan MacLeod, of the clan MacLeod. Connor is ma clansman. And ye are?"

"My name is not important to you...youngster" he replied. Watching Duncan's reaction to his words he saw the truth of his statement. This was indeed just a youngster. "Ah, so the Highlander has a new student. This changes things".

"Wha' d'ye mean?" Duncan asked warily.

"Well, I had planned this trip as a sort of reconnaissance. A quickening, now that will be a bonus"

"D'ye challenge me or ma clansman?" Duncan asked.

"I'd be a fool to challenge a swordsman of Connor's ilk, but you are little more than a newborn"

Before Duncan could reply they both felt the buzz of an approaching immortal and looked round to see Connor hurrying to the table.

"Are ye challenged?" Connor asked Duncan "Are ye?"

"No' yet but..." Duncan's reply was cut off by Connor.

"I am Connor MacLeod , of the clan MacLeod and I challenge ye"

Duncan stood quickly to face Connor "Noh, he's mine"

"No' this time Duncan" Connor replied. "Well, will ye follow me outside?"

"I think not" he said with a smile. Standing and turning to face Duncan he added "Another time Highlander". He walked quickly away as Connor grabbed Duncan's shoulder to prevent him from following.

"Wha' did ye do tha' for?" Duncan demanded. "I coulda..."

"Noh Duncan, no' this time" Connor started to explain, "He only challenges those tha' he thinks he can beat, the youngest o' us. I heard tha' he was here and I came back to stop him".

"How could ye? Do ye have nae honour?" Duncan raged "What d'ye..."

Connor pushed Duncan back into his seat and forced him to listen as he explained all about the stranger's ideas and methods of fighting. By the time he had finished Duncan accepted that refusing to fight a man who had to cheat to beat even the youngest immortals was no slur to his honour.

"There'll be another time, Duncan" Connor said quietly.

"Aye, tha' there will" he replied. Then almost to himself he added "I'll make sure o' it"

Amanda stood for a moment in the shadows and tried to make some form of plan. There had been no guards in the building and she had made a rapid escape running for about a mile before finding this dark alley to hide in and take stock. Their prison had been a basement in a disused warehouse. In fact Amanda realized she must be less than two miles from the dojo. Now all she had to figure out was how to get there. A single female walking the streets at night was hardly in the safest position, even if that female was immortal. Amanda hadn't seen their swords as she ran from the building but she hadn't wanted to spend time looking for them. Richie was still there and still in danger, and time was wasting, but the lack of sword was making her very nervous. At least her ankle had healed. She'd just have to keep moving and try to be inconspicuous.

That thought brought a smile to her face. Inconspicuous. Here she was running along dark streets barefoot. Her captor had torn her miniskirt and ripped her panties off during his aborted rape attempt, her rather flimsy blouse, which had a large bullet hole in it, was doing nothing to disguise the fact that she had chosen not to wear a bra that morning and she and her clothes were covered in blood stains. There was little chance that anyone who saw her would fail to notice her passing, but hopefully they would see the state she was in rather than her face and not recognize her again. In any case they would probably assume that she was the victim of a rapist not a kidnapper. That thought removed the smile from her face as she remembered that Richie was still a prisoner and rape was probably not the greatest of his worries.

Turning a corner she felt the buzz. Quickly she stepped back into the alley she just left and waited as a car pulled slowly past the end of the alley. If she was lucky it would just be some random immortal who had no interest in her quickening but even as she thought this she heard the car draw to a stop. Risking a look round the corner she saw the driver's door of the unfamiliar car start to open.

"Damn! Why now?" she muttered as she slipped further into the shadows towards the end of the alley. There were three possible scenarios and two of them were bad. The immortal slowly approaching her position could be their captor or some other unfriendly immortal. In either case, without her sword, she had little chance in a fight. She'd have to try and lose them in the dark alleys and then flee. The very remote possibility of a friend she discounted almost immediately. For a couple of minutes she slank along the dark alleys keeping to the shade as much as possible, but whoever was following her was good and she was no closer to losing them. Then she made an error and got herself cornered in a dead end. The other immortal followed her then stopped about ten metres in front of her, a short but deadly sword clearly visible.

"Come out and let me see you" the voice sounded familiar, not their captor, but she couldn't place it immediately. "Come on, I don't want your head"

The stranger took one more step forward into a small pool of light and she saw his face.

"Methos" she gasped as she took a very shaky step towards him.

"Amanda? Oh God, Amanda, I thought it was you. What happened to you?" Methos quickly reached out his arms as she almost fell into them.

"Richie and I were kidnapped as bait for Duncan" she started to try and explain "I escaped but he's still there. I have to get..."

Methos swore several times in a language that she didn't recognize. "I was just on my way to warn MacLeod. An old enemy of his was seen at the airport three days ago."

"Big guy, blonde hair?" Amanda asked.

"Yeah that's him, a real sadistic bastard too"

"I could've told you that! Who the hell is he, and what has he got against Duncan?" Amanda suddenly shivered within Methos' arms. He took one look at the state of her and picked her up.

"Let's get you back to safety, then we can decide how to deal with our unpleasant problem" he said as he carried her swiftly to where he had parked his rental car. Amanda thought she should be doing more but the exhaustion was setting in and she allowed herself to be taken back to the car and driven to the dojo.

Richie pulled at the handcuffs round his wrists in the vain hope that either they would come loose or that the pipe they were secured to would break. It soon became clear that it wasn't going to happen. He knew his time had run out when the sudden sense of another immortal presence and a gasp of indrawn breath warned him of his captors revival.

"Damn you! You're going to pay for that". Snarled his captor as he stood up and moved to stand in front of Richie, a trail of blood from his healed skull now marring the otherwise perfect blonde hair. "How did you do that? How did you get her free?"

"Me? I didn't help her". Richie stared straight into the man's eyes. "She didn't need my help. She outwitted you all on her own and she..."

His sentence was cut off by a slap that slammed the back of his head into the wall. "I told you before...you will call me master"

"No". Relief that Amanda was safe filled Richie and the anger he had held in check before to protect her finally flared out of control. "Never! What can you do to me? Cut me? I'll heal. Burn me? I'll heal. Kill me and I'll still heal"

"I can take your head". He bent his tall body over until his head was level with Richie's and glared into Richie's eye's. "You won't heal then".

"No I won't". Richie's voice was steady now his rage giving him strength. "But if you take my head Mac will find you and fight you, and he will take yours".

"Only if I choose to fight him...and I don't. He'll be too busy being the great hero, rescuing his protÈgÈ as his Clansman did for him." Richie's captor leaned in closer to Richie's face and in a dangerously calm voice added "He owes me his head and I intend to take what is mine".

Turning and taking a step away he kicked Richie's discarded belt. Slowly he picked it up and ran the supple leather across his palm and through his fingers. "You know, child, there's nothing sweeter than the quickening of a youngster. It's even better when they've taken no heads but it doesn't really matter." He turned back to face Richie still playing with the belt. "Your quickening will be mine...but not yet. You and that bitch have forced me to change my plans, and I don't like that. MacLeod will still come, but now I have only one of you to provide the distraction. I intend to see that you are very distracting indeed".

Stepping back he slid his right hand along to the end of the belt leaving the strip of leather and the buckle swinging freely. He raised the hand and smiled nastily. Understanding clearly what was to happen Richie gritted his teeth and clamped his jaw shut, determined not to give this madman the pleasure of hearing him scream. The belt lashed out, silver buckle catching and tearing the skin from his left shoulder even as the length of leather ripped through the remains of his shirt and drew a vivid red mark across his flat stomach. Richie gasped with the suddenness of it but managed not to cry out. Their captor grabbed his chin and looked at him closely.

"Such restraint in one so young. I don't think this is a new experience for you. Could it be that the Highlander has found this necessary?" Releasing Richie he raised the belt above his head again. "No, he's too honourable for that, and that will be his downfall. He'll come for you. I won't need to call. That bitch will lead him and I'll be waiting...as will you".

The belt flashed out as he spoke the last, leaving a second mark below the first. Again the hand was raised and the belt fell, and again, settling quickly into a steady rhythm. Each time the belt moved an inch lower leaving a set of parallel red line over Richie's stomach. Suddenly Richie realized the leather was getting uncomfortably close to his unprotected groin. With a last desperate effort he twisted managing to turn his face to the wall exposing his bare back. His captor laughed but there was no break in the rhythm of the beating. Time and again he brought the silver buckle and leather down on Richie's back, buttocks and legs continuing long after Richie had ceased to feel anything and had slipped into the blackness of death.

Duncan was still standing at the window. Joe had phoned and the news was bad. Neither Richie or Amanda's watchers were going to be able to help. They had both been found dead less than a mile from the dojo. Duncan's attention was attracted by movement in the alley below. He watched as a nondescript dark blue car pulled to a stop. The door opened and the driver got out walking quickly to the other door. Opening it, he reached in to pick up the limp body in the passenger seat. As he did so, Duncan saw his face for the first time.

"Methos...what the..." his voice trailed off as he identified the person his friend was carrying. In seconds he was running for the stairs to help carry Amanda up to the loft.

Once they had placed her on Duncan's bed in the loft, Duncan turned to Methos, a thousand questions running through his mind.

"What's going on? Where did you find her? And where's Richie?" he demanded of the older man.

"Hey, give me a chance. I only just got here" Methos exclaimed. He continued the story as Duncan walked towards the bathroom. "I flew over to warn you that you were likely to get a visit from an old... acquaintance. About two miles from here I felt a presence and thought I saw Amanda disappear into the shadows. I wondered what she was doing and followed her and its a good job I did. She's totally exhausted. I was bringing her to you when she blacked out in the car."

By the time Methos had finished his explanation Duncan had returned with a bowl of warm water, a washcloth and two towels. Gently Duncan washed the dried blood and dirt from Amanda's unconscious body whilst Methos found a suitable tool and removed the handcuffs from her wrists and ankle.

"Thanks Methos." Duncan looked at his sometimes friend. "I really appreciate you..."

"Forget it Mac." Methos smiled. "Right now we have a problem..."

"No. Not we. I have a problem. Morven Ulick is mine!" The venomous tone of Duncan's voice didn't really surprise Methos. He'd taken the time to read the entries concerning Ulick in Duncan's chronicles before leaving Paris. He knew there was still a big score to settle.

He looked up at Duncan and asked "Tell me about him?"

1628 Near Inverness Scotland

Duncan was angry. Despite all Connor's attempts to raise his spirits he still felt that the encounter with the blonde haired immortal earlier that day hadn't been honourable. Connor kept trying to explain that the challenge had never been made, names had not been exchanged and that Duncan had done nothing wrong, but to Duncan it felt like he had been branded a coward. Eventually Connor had left him sitting on a rock outside the town saying that if he wished to brood he could do it alone. This had raised a smile from the younger man...he wasn't the only MacLeod who brooded.

Now here he was, sitting alone as the evening drew in and the chill started to work its way through his clothes. He'd just about decided to return to the inn where he knew Connor would be waiting and the ale would be flowing freely when he felt the distinctive buzz that signified the approach of another immortal.

"Connor...is tha' ye?" Duncan stood and looked around quickly. There was no sign of his mentor and friend.

"There will be no rescue for you this time youngster". The voice was that of the stranger but Duncan still couldn't see him. "I will have your quickening and your friend is not here to intercede for you"

"I dinna need his help. I can fight ma own battles" Duncan drew his sword and stood his ground. "I am Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod and I challenge ye. Wha' say ye, d' ye accept?"

"Oh, I accept youngster." The blonde man appeared suddenly behind Duncan. "I am Morven Ulick, and your head is mine".

The battle was swiftly joined. It soon became obvious that for all his youth Duncan was by far the better swordsman and Ulick was loosing. They circled each other warily, both so involved with the fight at hand that neither sensed the approach of another immortal.

Connor observed the fight carefully for a few seconds assessing his clansman's chances, deciding that his younger friend would win a fair fight. He then scanned the area for that which he knew must be there, and that Duncan would've missed, and quickly spotted the mortal crouching in the shadows, a throwing knife balanced carefully in his hand. Slowly Connor drew his own sword and started to move towards this second man with the intention of disarming him and ensuring the fairness of the fight. He was only halfway to his target when his time ran out. In a move he himself had taught his younger clansman Duncan succeeded in disarming Ulick and forcing the older man to his knees. As Duncan stood above Ulick and raised his sword the mortal stood and threw the knife with deadly accuracy into Duncan's chest piercing his heart.

Several things now happened in rapid succession. Duncan collapsed to the floor in a heap as Ulick managed to roll clear of him. Connor meanwhile launched himself at the mortal taking him totally by surprise and removing this threat to his clansman. Turning back he saw Ulick take the sword from Duncan's now lifeless hands and raise it.

"Do it, and I'll take yer head before his quickening leaves his body"

Ulick looked up to see the cold eyes of Connor glaring at him.

"Well, d' ye wish to fight me, or are ye leaving?" Connor's voice was totally steady as he held his sword in front of him. Ulick looked again at the exposed neck of the younger man lying in the mud and made his decision. He dropped the sword and hurried away leaving Connor alone to wait for Duncan to revive.

"And you never saw him again?" Methos asked.

Duncan looked up from where he was just finishing washing Amanda's feet. "No. After I left Connor, I searched for him for about two years, but I found no trace of him".

"I'm surprised that Connor let him go. He usually had more sense. You are the one that makes that mistake" Methos replied.

Duncan smiled as he answered "Yeah. I was rather annoyed at the time but Connor said that the fight was mine and that I'd won it fairly. For him to take his head wouldn't have been right. I've never quite understood why, he usually doesn't hesitate." The smile faded as Duncan continued "He told me I would get another chance. I just didn't expect..."

Methos looked up as Duncan's voice trailed off. The guilt was clearly visible in the younger man's face. This wasn't good. He would need a clear head for the coming confrontation. Picking his words carefully, Methos tried to get Duncan to concentrate on what they had.

"OK, we know that he has Richie and that he is holed up somewhere near where I found Amanda. She told me that much. All we need to do is wait for Amanda to recover so she can guide us. Then we can go and fetch Richie back and deal with Ulick".

"No, this is my fight" Duncan snapped.

Methos took a deep breath and counted to ten in three different ancient languages before replying. "Yes, the fight is yours. But if you expect him to play fair you are more of a fool than I thought. Although he no longer uses mortals, he has a nice line in guns and poisons. Amanda and I will go, but only to ensure he doesn't cheat". Methos looked up, pleased to see agreement in Duncan's face. "Now why don't you go find some clothes for Amanda to replace these, then we'll be ready to leave all the sooner".

Richie regained consciousness with a gasp. He hurt all over. For a few moments he couldn't remember where he was or what he had been doing to feel so bad, then the sound of his captor's voice brought all the details back into vivid focus.

"Good, you're awake. So glad you could join me". The pleasant tone of the voice at belying the contents of the speech. "I'd hate you to miss the next round!" He continued as he moved various items around the basement.

Richie didn't reply. He needed all his concentration just to keep breathing. Gradually the various aches and pains started to fade as his body caught up with the necessary healing and he twisted slightly to look over his left shoulder. What he saw made him wish he hadn't. A small furnace had been placed in the corner of the room. Protruding from it were several pieces of red hot metal with insulated handles. Richie may not have lived through the frontier days of America but he had seen enough old Westerns to recognize a branding iron when he saw one.

Noticing Richie's attention his captor began picking the irons up, one by one, studying each carefully, as if trying to select the best tool for the job. "Now, let's see, where shall we start?"

Richie turned again to face the wall, fear and pain causing him to shake and making the handcuffs rattle. How much more would he have to take? How much more could he stand? His only comfort was that his actions had given Amanda the time she needed to escape and she was safe. All he had to do was wait. Amanda would find Mac, and Mac would come. He heard the footsteps behind him and felt the heat of the iron as it hovered over his back, moving slowly from the base of his spine to his neck. His body was tense and he gritted his teeth, expecting the pain and yet it didn't come. He remembered previous beatings and how he had occasionally found a place in his mind that the pain couldn't reach. He tried desperately to find that point now. Suddenly there was movement behind him and the brand was slammed into the wall an inch above his head between his stretched arms. The shock of this move caused an involuntary gasp to escape from Richie's lips and brought his attention back to the man who stood behind him.

"Now, now. No phasing out. You wouldn't want to miss the best part, would you?" The brand was slowly removed from the wall, passing close enough to Richie's skin that he could feel it's heat.

Richie collapsed back against the wall with blood rushing in his ears as his legs gave way, the release of the tension being more than his overworked immortal system could stand. The pipe above him groaned a little as his full weight hung from it, but it held. He never heard his captor return the first brand to the furnace and select another. He had no warning and no time to prepare before the red hot metal was pressed against his bare buttock. Defenses gone he screamed long and hard convulsing violently as the pain flowed through his body.

Suddenly the brand was withdrawn and Richie's scream died down to a whimper. He could smell the sickening scent of seared flesh. His captor merely smiled and returned to the furnace to make his next selection.

"This was where I found Amanda" Methos said as he pulled the rental car to a stop. He'd convinced Duncan to let him drive. There was no sense in advertising their presence until they had to and Duncan's Thunderbird was a little too obvious for a clandestine approach. Amanda got out and looked around for a couple of seconds. She was wearing one of Duncan's shirts which was far too big but fortunately had found a spare pair of her own jeans and shoes in the loft. She pointed to the road on the left.

"Down there, then expect to turn right" she instructed.

"Where do you want me to turn?" Methos asked.

"I'll know when I see it" she replied "Now move! Richie needs us"

Amanda continued in this way directing Methos towards the building she had made such a rapid escape from. Duncan sat silently in the rear seat. His own katana rested across his knee, and he had placed Richie's rapier in his jacket. Both Amanda and Methos had their own swords and he suspected several other weapons each, but Duncan carried only the swords. This time it would be an honourable battle...he would make sure of it. He just hoped that he would be able to return the rapier to it's rightful wielder.

"Stop! That's it! He's in there" Amanda cried out bringing Duncan back to full attention. He was out of the car before Methos had stopped the engine and would have run straight into the building but for Amanda. She caught his arm and held him back.

"No Duncan. This fight may be yours, but we are going to make sure he can't cheat" She continued to hold him until he stopped pulling. By then Methos had joined them.

"Just for once, Highlander, swallow that damn pride and let us help". Methos said quietly.

Duncan looked from one to the other of his two friends seeing the same in both their eyes that he felt himself. Anger, fear and determination. Relaxing slightly he nodded slowly before leading the way towards the door.

Morven Ulick looked at the limp body hanging in front of him. The stench of burnt flesh filled the air. There was scarcely an inch of flesh on Richie's back, buttocks or legs that hadn't been assaulted. He'd even added his own special touch to the soles of Richie's feet. Some of the earlier burns were starting to heal now but even immortal healing couldn't keep up with the rate at which the damage had occurred.

Ulick continued studying, looking for some new target until he felt the new immortal presence in the building above. Quickly he grabbed a bucket of water he'd fetched for just this purpose and threw it into Richie's face.

"Come on child. You don't want to risk missing the big hero's arrival do you?" Richie moaned in response, the shock of the cold water having almost brought awareness back to him. Smiling Ulick reached for his favourite iron, a round metal rod about ten inches long. Using one hand to hold Richie steady he impaled the red hot metal roughly into the tender passage between Richie's abused buttocks. The scream which followed was long and loud ceasing only when the abused body finally lost consciousness.

Ulick smiled again. Leaving the rod in place he reached for his sword and stood by the door to await the Highlander's arrival.

In the derelict factory above three immortals froze as a scream echoed through the building. Methos was the first to recover and he grabbed Duncan's arm just in time to prevent him running headlong down the stairs to the basement. The scream stopped as Duncan reeled round to face Methos.

"Let me go!" He snarled almost pulling free.

"Not until you stop and think" was the heated reply from the older immortal. "We know Richie still has his head but unless you keep yours he's suffered in vain. Now do you remember how we discussed this?"

Duncan nodded unable to trust his own voice.

"Right, then we go, all of us" Methos said releasing Duncan's arm. "There is one sick bastard in that basement who will never see another day".

Holding the Katana in front of him Duncan walked slowly down the stairs. He wasn't surprised to find Ulick waiting just past the door. As he took in the sight of the furnace and the smell of burnt flesh he knew what had been happening and it took all the self-control developed over four hundred years not to attack Ulick there and then . "So Highlander. We have come full circle and now you must come to the rescue of your student" Ulick gloated. "Come here and see how eagerly he waits for you".

Duncan walked past Ulick to see round the corner of the basement. Gasping in horror Duncan reached out to touch the tortured body before him oblivious to anyone or anything else. Behind him Ulick raised his sword. At that moment a shot rang out and the sword dropped from the suddenly lifeless hand.

"Two against one...that's hardly by the rules is it?" Ulick snarled at Methos.

"One more move and I'll kill you and take your head before you recover" Methos said from the doorway, "And I'm way too old to have any worries about honour or fairness when dealing with the likes of you!"

Amanda slipped into the room careful not to get into Methos' line of fire. She kicked Ulick's sword towards Methos and then proceeded search Ulick removing a loaded gun, an aerosol canister and two throwing knives from his clothing. These she simply slipped into her own pockets.

"Where in the rules does it refer to those items, Ulick?" Methos asked as he retrieved the sword. "Upstairs, now". Ulick took a final glance back at where Duncan was gently removing the iron from Richie's body and walked slowly past Methos and up the stairs.

Amanda turned back to Duncan as he threw the still hot iron across the room and started trying to get the handcuffs free from the pipe. "Its time Duncan. I'll do that. You go and finish this". She continued murmuring gently as she removed his shaking hands from the cuffs and pushed him towards the stairs. "Go on, Methos is waiting. I'll stay with Richie. He'll be OK now".

Duncan finally seemed to snap out of it. "Look after him for me" he said to Amanda and then gripping the hilt of his katana tightly and with a single glance back at Richie he walked away to face Ulick.

At the top of the stairs Methos was waiting. Ulick stood in the middle of the empty room his gunshot wound now fully healed. Duncan looked at Methos who still held the gun and was watching Ulick carefully.

"He is mine". The venom in Duncan's voice would have shocked Methos had he not seen what this man had done to his student.

"I know...I'm only here to watch" He replied easily, handing Ulick's sword to Duncan with his left hand. "Finish it. Then we can take Richie home".

Duncan walked over to Ulick and threw the sword at his feet. "Pick it up." Ulick hesitated until Duncan took a couple of steps back. "Pick it up Ulick. This time there will be no cheating. Just you and me and two swords".

The two immortals circled warily for a few seconds before the first clash of swords. The initial exchanges were cautious, almost as if they were sparring, each combatant testing the skill of the other and looking for any weaknesses. After a couple of minutes things started to change. Duncan began to press the attacks further, keeping Ulick on the defensive, trying to wear him down and into a position where he could disarm him and finish it.

From his vantage point, Methos could see that, even in his current agitated state of mind, Duncan was easily the better swordsman. He watched as Duncan scored first blood, cutting a four inch slice into Ulick's left thigh.

"Not so good without your tricks are you?" Duncan goaded as they parted. "Perhaps you should've spent more time practicing, and left the young to do the same."

Ulick retreated unsteadily, his leg wound closing slowly, but still making the movement difficult. "What I should've done was to finish you the first time we met, and that mentor of yours too. Would've saved me a lot of trouble all those years later"

Surprise crossed Duncan's features "Connor? what do you mean? When did you see him again?"

Ulick laughed "He never told you? Not surprising really...no-one likes admitting their mistakes, especially not to their students." Playing for time to let his leg finish healing, Ulick added "Unless, of course, he had other reasons".

"What reasons? What mistakes?" Duncan felt himself getting even more angry than before. Desperately he tried to find the calm, detached feeling needed to fight at his best. "And what reasons could he have?"

"Ask him yourself" Ulick replied. "Oh sorry, you won't have that chance will you?" As he said this he sprang forward, his leg almost completely healed, attacking with a flurry of blows. Duncan's reflexes took over as he blocked each blow with a sure swift move.

For long seconds the fight continued in this way, Ulick forcing Duncan back, until Duncan saw his chance. Ulick, thinking he had Duncan beaten, became overconfident. On his next attack, instead of blocking the thrust, Duncan stepped backwards, causing Ulick to overreach. Duncan suddenly stepped forward and trapping Ulick's sword arm. Two quick moves, and Ulick was disarmed, his sword well out of reach, and his right arm twisted behind his back. Duncan kicked Ulick's legs from under him, he fell to his knees and the fight was over.

Duncan looked at Ulick, hatred for the man still running hot in his blood. He leaned forward until his face was only inches from Ulick's and snarled "Connor will get that chance to tell me, when I tell him how you died". Raising his sword he added "Something Connor did tell me...There can be only one". The katana's blade flashed as it moved swiftly downwards, severing the neck cleanly. Duncan watched as the headless body slumped and the quickening began to gather and added quietly "And it won't be you".

The quickening hit Duncan, energy lancing into him from all directions and shattering glass in the skylights and windows around the factory. He held the katana out in front of him as the strange mix of pain and ecstasy coursed through him, it's power driving him first to his knees and then onto all fours. Methos didn't bother to move. He had little fear that the energy released would hurt him, and if it did he would heal. Instead, he carefully returned the gun to his pocket and waited for the quickening to end. Once it did, he walked over to where Duncan knelt, head bowed and held out his hand.

Long moments later Duncan slowly looked up. He seemed tired, the last ravages of the quickening still reflecting in his brown eyes. Methos waited, his hand still outstretched.

"Come on, MacLeod" he said softly "Let's go and fetch Richie".

Brown eyes met golden green eyes, silently acknowledging the support being offered as a large hand reached out and took the waiting one. Slowly the two immortals made their way across the glass strewn floor and back down the stairs to the cellar.

Amanda watched Duncan as he left the basement and then set about getting Richie free. Trying hard not to look too hard at the wrecked body, she slipped out one of her concealed lockpicks and set about removing him from the pipe. She caught Richie's body as it fell, gently lowering him to the floor, where she proceeded to remove the rest of the cuffs. She'd just completed the task when the quickening started in the room above.

Duncan returned shortly afterwards, Methos giving him unobtrusive support. Amanda and Methos exchanged relieved but concerned looks as Duncan knelt and cradled Richie in his arms.

"Come on Mac, let's take him home" Methos said. He knelt in front of Duncan and would have taken Richie from him. One look at Duncan though and he changed his mind. Instead he assisted the younger man to stand as he cradled his young student in his arms. With Amanda bringing up the rear they headed back to the car.

"What happens now?" Amanda whispered to Methos as they helped Duncan to ease Richie's head onto his lap in the back seat of the car.

"I don't know" he replied. "With Mac's love and support he'll get over it eventually, but its going to take time". He glanced at Amanda's worried expression. "Hey, don't worry. Time is the one thing we have plenty of".

The End

To part 2: "Secondary Hurts"

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