I broke a major rule of writing here. This story does not stand alone. Read Worlds Collide: History Fails if you haven't already.
Gaijin is a Japanese word that means foreigner. Oh...and I goofed big time with the location of Connor's ruins. They *should* be in Jedburg. I have them in Glenfinnan and have for several stories now. Ooops.
This is it. NO more Duncan stories for yours truly. Methos talks in complete sentences. Duncan grunts at me. I don't have that kind of patience any more. And frankly, I think the RROG is feeling neglected. :)
All comments and critcism to yours truly, please.
Disclaimer: Methos, Richie, Connor, and Duncan belong to the Highlander Powers that Be. Sarah and Meg are mine. All in good fun. All in good fun.
"So you want me to just sit here while my kinsman might be being beheaded in Japan?" Connor asked, incredulously.
Sarah took a step backwards and dropped into a fighting stance. They had been sparring for nearly an hour and she was both tired and frustrated with his inability to listen to reason. "No. I want you to *think* before you go dragging Richie off to a place where they are whacking heads."
"You said yourself that there'd be no way to prevent him from coming," Connor answered, lashing out with a kick that Sarah blocked easily.
"Just because you got some package from Tokyo doesn't mean that Mac was there," she said, throwing three punches in rapid succession and making contact with his shoulder on the third.
He grunted audibly and winked at her, a gesture that she responded to by falling out of stance and cocking one hip with a smirk.
"Are we sparring, or flirting here, MacLeod?"
Connor faked a punch to the left and swiped her feet out from underneath her with his right ankle. Sarah hit the mat with a thud and pushed her hair out of her eyes.
"Both? And Japan is the most logical place to start," he said.
Sarah took the hand he offered and pulled herself to her feet. "It's the most dangerous place to start."
"If you got a box full of Methos' things, wouldn't you do the same?"
"Not a fair question," she responded.
The truth was, she didn't know the answer to it. Fifty years ago she would have dropped everything and run headlong into the gates of Hell itself if Methos had needed her. Now...maybe. Maybe not. Maybe.
"Yes it is," he said.
Rather than face the question, she dropped back into her fighting stance and threw a punch at his head. Connor deflected it with his forearm and caught her in the side with a fist. He smirked as she glared at him and fought for breath.
"You're being obstinate," she panted.
"You never answered my question," he responded.
"Fine," she grunted and swung again at his head. "No, I wouldn't."
Connor snickered and spun, blocking the punch with his forearm. He retaliated with his free hand, which Sarah blocked; leaving them locked together. "Liar."
Sarah hit the ground once more, victim of yet another sweeping kick. But she brought him with her and they tumbled backwards as she planted a foot in his stomach and flipped him over her head. Connor landed with a loud thud and the air rushed out of his chest. Before he could suck in a ragged breath, Sarah was sitting on his stomach with her fist poised to crush his trachea.
"This isn't about me and Petey. It's about Margaret Ryan," she said. "She's come to grips with the fact that she might lose Richie to the Game. But she shouldn't have to lose him to some Japanese guillotine just because *you* are a worrywart."
"Damn," Connor swore. "How did he ever survive fifty years with you? You fight dirty."
Sarah laughed and tipped back onto her heels. "Who do you think *taught* me how to fight dirty?"
"Methos taught you that?"
She shook her head and helped him to his feet. "Duncan showed me that one, actually. Which brings us back to the subject at hand."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to exhaust every option before you go to Japan. And if you do wind up going, I want you to stay in the Foreign Zones and *leave* if you can't find him."
"He's my kinsman," Connor stated, as if that summed everything up neatly.
"I know that, Connor. And I know that you would die for him. But Meg needs Richie and I need you, so please don't do anything stupid acting on the assumption that Duncan is in need of some grand rescue."
Connor looked at her for a long moment before answering. She was certainly capable of making her own way in the world and had been doing so for over a thousand years. But there she was, dripping with sweat and asking him to please be careful because she needed him. Sarah had never asked him for anything in the four hundred years he had known her. What else could he do?
"Okay," he said. "I'll pump every source of information I can before we go to Japan and I'll come back if I can't find Duncan."
"Shall we go again?" He asked.
Sarah wiped the sweat from her forehead with the tail of her shirt and sighed. "Oh Connor, I'm beat, can't we quit please?"
"Sure," he said, draping an arm around her shoulders and falling into step with her. "Right after you get out of this hold."
Sarah hit the mat for the third time, struggling against his grip and swearing loudly.
"You know," Connor grinned, pinning her arms at her sides, "you're kind of sexy when you're all sweaty and pissed. No wonder your Englishman used to spar so hard with you."
"You know," she answered, looking up at him and narrowing her eyes, "I think your hairline is receding."
Margaret Ryan looked up from her book and smiled at her husband, recognizing the look on his face as the one he wore when about to ask her for something. "Yes, dear?"
"I need a favor. A huge one," Richie said, shifting from one foot to the other nervously.
"You want me to search all of London for pork rinds again?" She joked.
Richie shook his head and came to sit next to her on the bed. There was no easy way to do this. He had to tell her that he had known all along what that strange tattoo she wore was and ask her to put her life at risk to help him. Would she do it? Did he really want to bring her into this? He had to. There was no other way, short of going to Japan and hollering Duncan's name until *someone* answered.
Margaret frowned. Whatever it was that he was about to ask for, it certainly wasn't as trivial as pork rinds.
Richie started to speak, but halted himself. He looked at his wife, started again, but swallowed it.
"*Tell* me," she said. "Whatever it is, it can't be that bad."
"There's no easy way to say this," he said. "So I'm just going to come right out with it. Meg, I need you to help me find Duncan."
Margaret blinked at him. "What?"
He reached over and gently tugged her nightshirt open at the neck, pushing it slightly off her shoulder to reveal the tattoo. "I know what this is. And I need your help."
Margaret Ryan's world came crashing down around her ears. He knew? He *knew*? He knew and he wanted her to help him find Duncan. He wanted her to break into the database and figure out where the younger MacLeod had gone off to. They could *shoot* her for this.
"Are you insane?" She asked, not realizing she had spoken aloud.
Richie laughed, despite himself. "Probably."
Margaret flashed him a wild look that very clearly conveyed the fact that she was *not* amused and scrambled out of bed. "You *know*?"
Her husband nodded.
God. He *knew*. She began to pace. How long had he known? What would her boss say? Would they *really* shoot her if she helped him?
Richie Ryan sat quietly on the bed and watched his young wife pace around the room and clutch her head in dismay.
"You're not supposed to know about this," she said flatly. "How do you know about this?"
"I've known all along," he answered. "I've been around enough and know enough about the Watchers to recognize an incarnation of the tattoo when I see it."
Margaret sank down into a chair and sighed. "They'll reassign me, at the least. Probably to somewhere *far* away from here and you."
"They must have relaxed the rules a lot to even let you marry me in the first place."
She nodded. "They have. You're still not supposed to know about us, though. And the no interference rule is still enforced the same way it's always been."
Richie echoed her sigh. Was Duncan worth the possible execution of his wife? He owed much of his past to his teacher. But his future lay with her. Mortals came and went; he'd been alive long enough to learn that. Meg was no ordinary mortal, though. She was *his* mortal. He had promised to love her until death parted them and the Game presented enough opportunity for that without his putting her at risk for something like this.
"Why didn't you tell me before now?" She asked, drawing him out of thought.
Richie shrugged. "It wasn't important and I didn't want to put you in an awkward position."
"Well, it's too late for that," she said. "I have four immortals in my house and they're all about to embark on a quest to find a fifth."
"Meg, Mac is my friend, he was my teacher and he's like a father to me. I have to try and find out if he's okay. But you don't have to help me...I was just exploring an option that I thought I had. Forget I even asked. I shouldn't have."
Margaret Ryan sighed once more and looked at her husband. She'd met Duncan MacLeod many times. The older immortal had been at their wedding and had danced with her, smiling and proud. He'd come to visit them and sparred with Richie in the attic dojo, chiding him for foolish mistakes and laughing good naturedly when the younger man got the better of him. He'd told Meg embarrassing stories about Richie's youth. They were, for all intents and purposes, father and son.
"I'll see what I can do, but I'm not making any promises. The Japanese split from us, just like they did from the rest of the world."
Richie smiled and offered his arms wide in a hug. "Thanks."
Three days later, Margaret Ryan came home to find four immortals making dinner in her kitchen. Well, Kimberly and Connor were cooking. Richie sat with his feet propped up on a chair and Sarah's nose was buried in a novel.
"Anything?" Connor asked.
Sarah frowned up at him. "Give her a break, Connor, she just walked in the door."
Margaret sighed and took a chair, propping her feet up next to Richie's. "It's okay. And there isn't much to tell. All we know is that Duncan managed to slip his Watcher somewhere in the Balkans about ten months ago. There's been no trace of him since."
"The Balkans?" Sarah asked.
Margaret nodded. "He had been making his way eastward across the Commonwealth, staying out of the public eye."
"Heading for Japan," Connor said.
"Not necessarily," Sarah corrected. "He could have been going to Krakow to see Petey."
Connor slammed down the knife he had been slicing eggplant with and glared at her. "Why is it that you are so insistent that he's not in Japan?"
"Because there is no proof that he *is*," she responded.
"I got a package with his things in it."
"And how many times in your five hundred years have you encountered immortals who use people you are close to as bait?"
"The Ambassador *did* say that Mac was heading for the Orient," Richie offered.
Sarah frowned, she had forgotten that particular tidbit. So, Duncan had seen Methos, and had told him that he was on his way to the Orient. But why?
Connor sighed and returned to slicing. "It would be very like Duncan to go to sit temple in Japan. Or if Hideo's family needed help, he'd be there in a heartbeat."
"Or, if the katana needed repair, the best place to take it would be Japan," Richie added.
Sarah frowned, but nodded. "Okay, so maybe he's in Japan."
"Of course he is," Connor said flatly. "And we need to go get him out."
"It's too dangerous," Sarah responded.
"He needs our help. I am not going to sit here and let him be killed."
Sarah slammed the book down on the table and glared up at him. "And *I'm* not going to let *you* go running off to a place where they are whacking heads simply because of skin color."
"You don't have any choice," Connor answered.
"Just how do you plan on finding him? Are you going to run through the streets shouting his name until they haul you in for insanity and cut off your head?"
Connor frowned, unused to having people question his decisions. "I'll be fine."
"Oh, that's right, I forgot. You're infallible and your head doesn't come off."
Connor leveled a glare at her that would have left most people quaking, but Sarah merely cocked an eyebrow at him.
Richie and Margaret exchanged worried glances and she motioned with her hands, clearly indicating that he needed to do something before things escalated any further.
"I have an idea," Richie interjected.
Connor and Sarah had been locked in a silent contest of wills, but turned to look at him with identical expectant scowls.
"I have stock in a Japanese company that makes microprocessors. They're actually still kind of open to trade with the Western world."
"They have to be," Margaret said, hoping to help. "Those islands aren't big enough to support their population in food and resources."
"Right. So what if Connor and I go to Tokyo on business and have a look around? We should be okay if we stay in the Foreign Zones."
Margaret's jaw dropped. This wasn't exactly what she had in mind.
Connor flashed a triumphant smile in Sarah's direction.
A heavy moment of silence fell and Kimberly glanced around the kitchen nervously. Were they going to drag her off to some foreign country looking for a man she didn't even know? How would they get swords into Japan? More importantly, how would they get *out* of Japan alive?
"Like I could stop you," Sarah groaned, knowing she was defeated.
"I'll call and arrange a transport," Richie said, getting to his feet.
"I'm coming with you," Margaret stated. There was no way in hell she was going to let him go alone.
"No you're not."
She glared up at him defiantly. "I don't know what you remember, but I *never* said the word obey in our wedding vows."
"You and Kim are staying here, with Sarah" he said.
Margaret's jaw dropped at the edict. She looked to Sarah, expecting the same indignance from the immortal, but was only rewarded with a small shrug.
"You're going to let him hand you an order like that?" Margaret asked, incredulous.
"There's no way in hell I'm going to Japan," Sarah answered. " Richie has nothing to do with it. I like my head where it is."
Kimberly breathed an audible sigh of relief. If Sarah wasn't going, then she certainly wouldn't be expected to.
"You'd do us more good here," Connor said, laying a hand on Margaret's shoulder. "If you can work your Watcher sources some more while we're gone and feed us information, it might help us find him faster."
Margaret looked at the three immortals and saw only a wall of stubborn solidarity. "Fine," was all she could say.
Richie smiled in genuine relief and left the room with Connor on his heels.
"I can't believe you did that to me," Margaret said, watching as Sarah stood and took over where Connor had left off with the eggplant.
Sarah sighed. "Meg, there is absolutely no need for either you or I to go to Japan."
"I can't believe you all ganged up on me like that."
"Nobody ganged up on you, Meg," Sarah said. "I have no desire to lose my head in Japan for the sole sin of being a gaijin, *that's* why I'm staying here."
"I don't need a baby-sitter," Margaret snapped.
Sarah set down the knife for a moment, lest she listen to the inner voice that was suggesting she throw it at the mortal woman. Infant. This woman was a *child* and was very much acting like one. She did, in fact, need a baby-sitter. And it was not a task Sarah was particularly in the mood for.
"Look Meg," she said evenly, turning to face her hostess, "you would do absolutely no good if you went with them. None. You'd slow them down and, if you got hurt, you'd *stay* hurt. It's going to be dangerous enough as it is. Richie doesn't need to be worrying about you."
"I thought you were supposed to be the strong willed woman who held her own in a man's Game."
Sarah inhaled deeply and counted to ten, then lost her temper anyway. "Don't push my buttons, Meg. You'll lose. And don't be stupid and try to follow them. You'll wind up *dead* and you'll *stay* dead."
With that, Sarah spun on her heel and stalked out of the room, muttering at the irony of the fact that the *only* other person who was being rational about this was the youngest immortal in the house.
Sarah wrapped her arms around herself in the pre-dawn chill and sighed, watching Richie and Margaret say their good-byes a few yards away. Young love. Alan MacGreggor had held her hand like that. And Methos had been known to brush stray locks of hair off her face like Richie had just done for his wife.
The platform was nearly empty at this hour, save for a few businessmen catching the redeye Transport to Paris for the start of the day. If she closed her eyes and could tune out the hum of the electricity powering the high-speed trains that made it possible to traverse the Commonwealth in a matter of hours, this could be the same Victoria Station she had stood in a thousand times. It *was* the same station...but the people were different, the city was different...the world was different.
"Take this," Connor said in her ear.
Sarah jumped slightly at the sound of his voice and turned to face him.
"Take it," he repeated, offering his scarf.
Sarah shook her head. "I'm fine."
"You have been shivering since you got to London," he said with a smile. "I never thought I'd see a Highlander *cold*...but you are. Living with the giraffes and lions has thinned your blood."
She rolled her eyes and let him tie the wool scarf around her neck. It smelled like him; a heathery scent that took her back to the Highlands. Connor didn't smell like Methos. He didn't feel like Methos. He didn't sound like Methos. He didn't snore and he didn't know where her ticklish spots were. But, like Methos, he seemed to have an uncanny ability to know what she was thinking and what to say to distract her.
He knotted the scarf loosely and tucked the ends into her coat, smiling. "I'm coming back, you know."
"There is no guarantee of that," she grumbled.
"Have some faith," he said cheerfully. "This is *me*."
She scowled slightly and shoved her hands deep into her pockets.
Connor wasn't sure what to do. This was new--this intimacy with her--and though they had discovered they were very good at sharing physical pleasures, the emotional questions and insecurities were still there. She was, after all, *Sarah*...the woman he had treated as a drinking buddy for centuries. They had been close friends and shared both joy and hardship but, until a few days ago, they had never shared anything even close to an emotional commitment.
"Be careful," she said softly.
He nodded. "I will be. And I'll be back, I promise."
A smirk twisted her lips. "Just don't make me come rescue you, Connor MacLeod, I look stupid in a kimono."
Connor grinned and pulled her into a hug. "I'll bring one back for you. Then we'll see."
"Trust me," she said into his ear, then kissed the side of his neck. "Just come home, okay?"
He stepped back and smiled at her, then planted a soft kiss on her lips. They were cold, but warmed quickly, and he smiled again and her hands brushed against the side of his face and settled on his shoulders.
"I'll be back soon, with Duncan in tow," he said as the transport pulled up.
Sarah kissed him once more, then moved to hug Richie a quick good-bye as the doors opened.
"Be safe," she said to both of them, then stood back with Margaret as they boarded.
"What do you think is going to happen?" Margaret asked as the cars sped away.
Sarah shrugged. "I have no idea. Hopefully they'll find Mac and come home."
The young mortal looked at her for a moment, assessing her mood, then looped her arm through Sarah's elbow and steered her for the exit.
"You don't think he's in Japan, do you?" She asked.
Sarah shook her head.
The immortal shrugged. "Just a gut feeling."
They walked in silence through the station and out onto the street. Margaret watched as Sarah turned a slow circle, examining the immediate surroundings with a curious mix of a frown and a smile on her face.
"What is it?" She asked.
Sarah shrugged and fell into step with her. "Nothing. Just getting lost in a flashback. Do you mind if we walk back home? I could use the air."
Margaret had a million questions for her. What was London like the first time she visited? How had it changed in the past forty years? What kind of memories had she been lost in just now? But she held her tongue. Richie got into these kind of moods upon occasion and she had learned that it was best to just humor them.
"I'm going to go to Glenfinnan," Sarah said, several blocks later.
"You think Duncan might be there?"
"If he were in Europe, we would have caught up with him by now," Margaret said.
Sarah flashed an enigmatic smile. "Not if he didn't want to be caught up with."
Margaret smiled as well. "You under-estimate us."
"You think? It's fairly easy to slip your Watcher, once you know you have one....as Duncan proved."
Margaret nodded, acknowledging that Sarah had just made a very valid point. Even with the incredible technology the Watchers had at their disposal, immortals could and did slip by.
"You know him," she said. "Where do you think he might be?"
Sarah paused to examine a Bakery window for a moment, then continued on without answering. Several moments later, she stopped and turned to Margaret.
"You need to make a choice, Margaret. Either get involved with this all the way, or get out now, while you can. The Watchers were going to execute Joe Dawson for his involvement with immortals. Is that a risk you're willing to take?"
Margaret Ryan had made her decision days ago in her bedroom while her husband watched her pace. "Joe Dawson has been dead for sixty years," she answered.
Sarah nodded. "And he died of natural causes. What about you, Meg?"
"Richie is my husband and Duncan is like a father to him. I'll do whatever I can to help him find Mac."
"Then contact Amanda's Watcher. Check Paris. Check Seacouver. Grill the guy who was watching Mac when he disappeared. I don't know where he is."
"What about Methos?"
Sarah looked sidelong at her and cocked an eyebrow. "What about him?"
"You said yourself maybe Duncan went to see him."
The immortal shrugged once more and shoved her hands into her pockets. "Maybe he did. But I don't know where Petey is either."
[end part 1]
Richie looked up as Connor made his way down the aisle of the transport and moved his legs out of the Highlander's way.
"I just talked to Sarah on the vid-phone. She says to tell you that things are fine back in London and that she's teaching Meg how to use a katana," Connor said, sinking into his seat with a smirk.
Richie rolled his eyes. "Just great. Exactly what I need, a wife with weapons training."
Connor chuckled. "You never know when it will come in handy. Sarah has saved my butt several times."
"What's the story with you two, anyway?"
Connor glanced at his young companion and flashed a mysterious smile. "Sarah and I, you mean?"
"She's one of my oldest and closest friends."
"I know *that*," Richie groaned. "I mean, what's going on now? I know you two are...ummm...."
"Sleeping together?" Connor supplied.
Richie laughed. "Yeah, that's it."
The elder MacLeod smiled once more and turned his focus out the window, searching for words to articulate feelings he didn't quite understand himself.
Sarah had been close to five-hundred when they had met. He didn't remember the details; only that Heather had brought her home and that he had been truly astonished to see a woman with a sword, let alone a female immortal. Later in their friendship, he watched with utter shock as she broke the Kurgan's jaw with a well aimed punch that was punctuated with the hilt of a dagger in her palm. She had stood over his prone form with a booted heel on his throat and a drawn longsword, ready to take his head in the middle of the crowded inn, simply because he had insulted her and thought to make it up with roaming hands. This woman fears no one, he had thought at the time. And that strength appealed to him.
Later still, he watched the twisting of her face when he told her Heather had died and understood that she had lived through the same terrible pain. They had traveled to the Colonies together and he had seen her in the attire of an affluent noblewoman; marveling that the rough edges could be so easily smoothed. He'd been at every one of her weddings, save her first, and had even stood next to her at the end of the aisle once...though that hadn't been in the master plan.
"Kim asked me if I thought you loved her," Richie said.
"Of course I love her," Connor responded.
"Real love? Like the kind you feel when you want to do the hearts and flowers thing?"
Richie could see Connor's reflection in the glass and noted the look of utter bewilderment on his companion's face.
"Love is for Poets," the Highlander grumbled.
"Bullshit," Richie answered.
Connor snickered softly, but said nothing.
"You can look out the window all you want," Richie said. "But this is a long trip and I'll still be here when you finally turn around."
"Maybe," Connor said at last. "Once, when we were a lot younger, I thought I could have fallen in love with her. I probably could have. Maybe I did, even."
Connor nodded once, curtly, then thunked his head against the window. "It's hard to explain."
He did love her. Connor MacLeod was not a man to feel things half-heartedly. She had kissed him and taken him to her bed, but he had loved her before that. It had never been a hearts and flowers kind of love, though. It was the love of two friends who shared a lot in life and who had spent five hundred years nurturing that bond. The potential for more had always been there, but he had never acted on it...and now wasn't the time to start.
"What about now? Are you in love with her now?"
Connor shifted in his seat and settled back against the headrest before speaking. "No. I love her. I'd die for her. But I'm not in love with her and she's not in love with me. She's just....she's just in need of someone to be with now--someone who knows the whole story of Sarah MacGreggor. Someone she doesn't have to be anyone but Sarah for."
"And that's you?"
Connor nodded again. "And that's me."
Richie frowned in slight confusion. It should be *him*. *He* was the one who shared part of Sarah's quickening. He was the one she had leaned on during the year they had all thought Methos dead. He was the one she had told reminded her of a brother lost to Norman raiders over a thousand years prior. Not Connor. Richie.
"Don't worry," Connor said. "You have your role to play. You're linked to her in a way that I can't even begin to understand and fixing her relationship with you is part of the whole recovery process for her."
Richie knew that. He knew that Sarah hadn't singled him out as someone to alienate over the past forty years. He knew that she must have missed him like he missed her...that she felt just as unwhole without him as he did without her. He knew all of that. And he knew how sorry she was. And that she wanted to make things right between them. That didn't take away the pain and anger, though.
Connor saw the emotions cross Richie's face and turned to the window once more, watching the countryside slip past them in a blur. The years passed like the land did now, gliding by in a wash of color and shape. A hundred and fifty years ago, this had been East Germany. Two hundred before that he and Sarah had met up in a tavern in what was now New Berlin and talked about traveling to the Colonies together.
"Anger is what sustained her, Richie," he said quietly. "When she fought Methos, it was in a blind rage. Anger kept her going through the guilt in the aftermath. Anger kept away the grief over Adrianne and the grief over him. And anger over thousands of years of injustice kept Maeve Wallace alive during the Rebellion. We're all alike, you, Sarah, and I. We all know about anger and what it can do to you. She's ready to stop being angry now, and we have to help her fill in that tremendous hole."
"I don't get it," Richie said. "She and Methos had a *thousand* years of friendship and love and she threw it away for a *student*?"
"It's bigger than that, Richie," Connor said.
"I know, I know. And you can't tell me because of your damn Highland honor."
Connor shook his head. "This has nothing to do with Highland honor. I'm not Duncan. This has to do with the fact that it's just not my place to tell you what Sarah isn't ready to."
Richie closed his eyes and thunked his head back against the seat, trying to project the many times he had seen Sarah and Methos spar into what a real fight between the two of them would look like. He couldn't do it. In his mind, someone always smiled. In his mind, one or the other of them checked a blow and winked.
"You were there?" He asked quietly.
Connor nodded, then realized that his companion's eyes were closed and added a yes.
"What was it like? I mean...I've seen them spar...and I've seen her fight..."
The elder MacLeod shook his head and swallowed hard. He had seen the same sights. He had watched sparring turn into playful wrestling matches. And he had seen Sarah's usually animate eyes go completely cold before a fight with another immortal. But what he had witness in London nearly forty years ago had been unlike anything he had ever thought her capable of and the image of her standing with drawn sword in challenge to her beloved Skinny Englishman was one that sometimes haunted his dreams.
"It was cold," he said at last. "And ruthless. She nearly took his head, I don't know how he managed to avoid it. He did what he had to do and ran her through. It took me days to sand the blood stains out of the floor."
Richie nodded, unable to speak.
Margaret sighed contentedly on the couch, curled up in a quilt her grandmother had given her as a wedding present and dozing in and out of the Brandenberg Concerti. Richie had called that morning with the news that they had arrived safely in Tokyo and were conducting a discrete search for Duncan. Sarah had gone to Glenfinnan for the day with the hope of turning up a clue of her own. Amanda was likely to call back that evening, providing she received the message Sarah had left on the vid-phone in her Geneva apartment. And, Michael Robertes, Duncan's most recent Watcher, was on his way to Paris. They were bound to find MacLeod soon. Her life would return to normal and she could stop worrying about her superiors in the Watchers finding out she had helped the immortals.
The CD player whirred to the track that, over a hundred and thirty years ago, NASA scientists had encoded into the Voyager Space probe and Margaret sighed. Bach was so lovely. If she had been an immortal, she would undoubtedly have searched him out.
"Meg!" Kimberly shouted, skittering into the room. "There's someone here!"
Seconds later, the doorbell rang and Margaret's confusion fled. This wasn't just someone, it was an immortal someone and Kimberly had sensed them, which meant they had also sensed her. Margaret leapt to her feet as the bell sounded again.
"Get your sword," she said. "And go up to the dojo. Lock the door and don't come out until I tell you to."
"What about you?"
"Don't worry about me, just go."
She waited until Kimberly's footfalls had faded up the stairs before she took a deep breath and walked to the foyer. The doorbell rang once more and she yanked the door open to find one of the last people on the planet that she would have expected.
The world's oldest living immortal was a bit taken aback, but found a smile for Richie's wife.
Sarah's trip to Glenfinnan was uneventful. In fact, she spent most of it sitting in a pub that was situated across the street from where Rachel MacLeod's inn used to be, listening to stories about the Gaelic Rebellion told by a man that had served as one of Connor's Airmen. The middle aged veteran told her about the night the old inn--which had been serving as a hospital-- was bombed in 2071 by British Troops and leveled, killing everyone inside. His details were vivid, perhaps even more so because she had been slogging through the mud of the nearby field to calibrate Anti-Aircraft guns at the time.
"There's a plaque," he said, "on the stone out front of the inn, dedicated to General Maeve Wallace. She died on the field in York the day we won the war, but she was an incredible leader."
Sarah chuckled into her pint. She'd seen the plaque and was very grateful that the days of Dierdre Pierson had long passed before it had been erected, for the likeness of the General carved in bronze bore a striking resemblance to the young woman who had lived in Glenfinnan nearly seventy-five years before the war. Luckily, the Scottish General had been about thirty pounds too thin and wore her hair cropped and dyed black. Otherwise she would have also borne a striking resemblance to the seemingly young woman sitting at the bar of The Stone Lion.
"I met her once," he continued.
Sarah looked over at him, scaling back through her memories in search of a younger version of the face that had just bought her a third Black and Tan.
"At York, it was. She came to talk to Admiral MacLeod before we launched the air assault. Told me to be careful and not to let the sight of the ground battle distract me."
Sarah closed her eyes and rolled back the years in her head. She remembered her meeting with Connor very vividly. He had told her to watch out for land mines and keep her head down. She had told him to quit worrying and blast the hell out of anything that moved and had the Union Jack painted on it. But there was no recollection of this man, whom she had obviously made a lasting impression upon.
"Aye, but I've gone on, haven't I?" He chuckled suddenly. "Forgive an old veteran his war stories?"
Sarah nodded and smiled. "Of course. If it weren't for people like you, Scotland would not be free."
She never learned his name and he never asked hers, though he did offer her a ride up to the ruins once he found out they were her destination. But, she begged off and set out on foot over land that she had crossed hundreds of times through the centuries. A crumbling foundation was all that remained of the house she had lived in in 1998 when Methos had come back from the dead for the second time. She strode past it with a quick glance, heading up the hill to what was left of Connor's old home. Duncan wasn't there. She hadn't really expected him to be, though it wouldn't have shocked her to find him sitting on one of the piles of stone. This trip was more about solace than about finding a five hundred year old man who was perfectly capable of taking care of himself.
The wind was bitter on the hill and she wrapped her coat around herself, flipping up the collar and shoving her hands deep into the pockets as she wandered through the ruins. There were places on the planet that would always hold meaning for her, no matter how much humanity changed, no matter how many buildings rose and fell around them. This was one of them.
She'd met Connor for the first time in 1547, right here. Heather had introduced them, actually, and Connor had stood protectively beside his young wife, his hand on the hilt of his sword in a rather menacing manner. Heather called him an oaf and a churl for even thinking about raising his sword to a lady and Sarah found herself unable to contain her laughter at the slow flush that worked it's way up through his cheeks. Later that evening, after she had helped Heather cook their meal and tend the stock, Connor had found Sarah sitting on the hillside and they spent several hours in conversation. He had never seen a female immortal before and was rather suspicious. She countered by telling him that *she* had never seen an immortal MacLeod before and if anything was cause for suspect, surely that was it. A slow smile spread across his face and evolved into a chuckle and, at that very moment, a great friendship had been born.
Then, over four hundred years later, she had married Methos on nearly the same spot. Sarah craned her head skyward, watching white clouds race through the azure dome. In May of 1998 the sky had been overcast and rain fell steadily as Richie walked her up the aisle. Connor, Duncan, Richie, Methos, and Robert deValincourt had erected a tent over the area the night before and the guests had all sported umbrellas and raincoats. No one had minded the deluge. And Petey had been beaming.
In the middle of the war, General Maeve Wallace had often sought refuge from the carnage in the solace of the stones. Toward the end, she and Connor met there frequently, by both arrangement and chance, and spent long hours in conversations that ranged back to happier days. Connor...who had always been a friend and was now a lover. Connor...who loved to tease poor Petey mercilessly and whose cologne smelled of the Highland springtime. Connor had brought her Methos' sword in Seacouver a hundred years ago when they all thought he had been lost to the Game. He had cried with her when her attempts to piece it together again in her lap had failed utterly. Connor had been there in London when she tried to take Methos' head and had spent days cleaning the blood from her dojo floor. Connor had shared a platonic bed with her in York, the night she went to see Fiona and found Methos in the Druidess' arms, and they had talked about anger and forgiveness. Connor had kissed her a very tender good-bye the morning he left for Tokyo and she missed him.
"So," Methos said, settling back in his chair and sipping the mug of tea Margaret had provided. "They're off on The Great Duncan MacLeod Rescue, are they?"
Margaret nodded. "Connor and Richie left for Tokyo yesterday."
Methos let out a low whistle. "That's a bit risky."
She nodded again and sipped at her own tea to cover the awkward silence that had fallen.
"Sandra McDonald," Methos said suddenly, examining the novel that had been left on the arm of his chair by its previous occupant. "Sarie loved her stuff, she used to write in the margins."
Margaret tried to swallow the lump that was rising in her throat, but found she couldn't and settled for more tea.
"I don't think I've read this one," he continued, thumbing through the pages. "Is it any..."
She watched the expressions rise and fall on his face in a cycle of wonder and realization, but said nothing. Methos examined the book closely, turning several pages and cocking his head to follow the hand-written notes up and down the margins, then looked over at her.
"Not right now, but yes," she answered. "She went to Glenfinnan to look for Duncan."
Methos set down his mug, closed the book, and rested it on his knee.
"She'll be back in a few hours, if you want to see her," Margaret added.
He sat there for a long moment, staring blankly at the wall behind her head and chewing thoughtfully on his lower lip. There were a million questions he could and wanted to ask about Sarah. There was the opportunity to see her and maybe put things right between them. There was also a 4:15 transport to Sydney that he had booked passage on.
"How is she?" He asked at last.
"She really was in Johannesburg, then?"
Margaret nodded. "She's been here about a week or so. She came to try to fix things with Richie and then got dragged into Connor's quest."
Methos smiled and looked down at the book again. He had read it, actually. In Venice, shortly after he and Sarah had been married. They wandered through the old city and traded off after each chapter, staying hours at cafes and benches to savor the work.
"You can stay," Margaret said. "We have plenty of room. At least stay for dinner."
He shook his head. It wasn't time yet. Sarah was starting to repair the relationships that had been damaged by her retreat after the horrific incident in London forty years prior. First had been Connor. Now Richie. It was likely that she had talked to both Duncan and Fiona in there somewhere as well. His turn would come.
He had pushed her once, in Glenfinnan a hundred years before, to forgive him the anger and pain of thinking he had been killed in Rio and it had worked because they had been in love. During those delicate days, when her mood had fluctuated rapidly in her confusion and amazement, he had also told her that he could live without her being in love with him, so long as their friendship remained intact. That bond was still paramount and he wouldn't risk what shreds of it might be left by pushing now.
"When it's right, we'll bump into each other on the street or something," he said. "There's always been a sense of weird twists of fate between Sarie and I."
Margaret frowned, "And you don't think it was a weird twist of fate that brought you to my door when Sarah was staying with us?"
"If this had been the time, she would have been here."
Margaret threw up her hands. "Damn, you can be annoying. What is so hard about this?"
Methos chuckled and flashed her an enigmatic smile. "We don't have the sense of urgency that you all do," he said.
"You should," she answered. "You could lose your head at any point, just like we can die."
"I know," he sighed. "But I have to trust that Sarie and I will get the chance to talk again before that happens to either of us, or I start to question everything about my existence."
He departed about an hour later, promising to keep and eye out for Duncan and report back if any news came his way and leaving a number where he could be reached in Sydney.
"Don't tell her I was here," he had said as she hugged him a good-bye. "But call if she needs me."
Richie reached into his coat, feeling for the hilt of a sword that wasn't there. It, like Connor's, had been confiscated by customs officials upon their arrival in Tokyo. Connor still hadn't forgiven him for the wisecrack that had initiated the action and Richie himself was cursing the foolishness of the moment.
"Would you wait up, please?" He called, scurrying after Connor, who was at least five yards ahead of him.
The Highlander glanced over his shoulder, but didn't check his pace.
"I don't like this," Richie said, finally catching up and falling into step with Connor.
"I'm not too thrilled myself, but we don't have much of a choice."
Not an hour ago, they had received a message, typed in English, indicating that they were to meet an unknown party at a restaurant near the edge of the Foreign Zone and exchange a large sum of Yen for knowledge of Duncan's whereabouts.
"You don't really think it'll be this easy, do you?" Richie asked.
Connor stopped to check the street signs and ignored him for the moment. Their destination was on the next block. "No," he said at last. "I don't. Be ready for anything."
Richie nodded and wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers. He'd feel better going into this with a sword in his coat. Or a gun, maybe. The neighborhood was deteriorating rapidly and he wouldn't have felt comfortable in it even if the people loitering on the street had spoken his language and weren't looking at him like he had just landed from a trip to the moon.
Ready for anything. Right. He'd fought in wars. He could do this. Richie took some deep breaths to center himself and looked around.
The next thing he knew, Connor was swearing loudly and embroiled in hand to hand combat with two men in black. Richie reached for the smaller of Connor's assailants, but his hands found only air as he was yanked off his feet from behind. He saw the bricks of the decrepit building up close as his face was pressed against them. He heard harsh voices speaking in Japanese, mixed with oaths in what he could only assume was some ancient Gaelic dialect. His nose was filled with the acrid scent of garbage, body odor, and Sake. A sharp prick forced a cry as a hypodermic needle was jammed into his neck. Then Richie Ryan's world went black.
[end part 2]
Three nights later, Sarah was pulled out of a lovely dream by the sensation of her head exploding into a buzz. Her hand went instinctively to the side of the bed where her rapier was leaning, but she stopped mid-reach.
Richie. Ever since their quickenings had mixed in Glenstrae, she had been able to distinguish his buzz, often being able to sense it long before he came into the traditional range. Richie was home, but the buzz wasn't powerful enough for him to be traveling with Duncan and Connor. She waited, wondering if the MacLeods simply had not come into range yet, but nothing happened.
Moments later, Richie appeared in her doorway, not bothering to knock.
"Connor's not with you?" She asked, gesturing toward the light console.
Richie blinked in the sudden illumination. "No."
She took in his disheveled appearance silently, noting that he most likely hadn't changed clothes in several days. "What happened?"
"I had to haul ass out of there. We got separated," he answered, coming to take a seat next to her on the bed. "You were right. It was some kind of set up. And whomever sent that box of Mac's things to Connor knew exactly what they were doing."
Sarah ran both hands through her hair and sighed. "And?"
"I'm not sure. We were mugged on the street. I was drugged, I think, and I woke up outside the Foreign Zone, without my identification and *with* a pocket full of synthetic heroin. I did the only thing I could do."
"And ran like hell," Sarah nodded.
Richie sighed. "I should have tried to find him."
"You wouldn't have been able to," she answered. "You did what was right....you saved your own head."
"*You* would have tried to find him."
Sarah thought a moment. Yes, she would have. But Richie had more to lose than she did. "Don't beat yourself up over it," she said. "You did what you had to. That's what survival is all about."
"Doesn't do me much good to be alive if all my friends are dead," he grumbled.
"Doesn't do your *wife* much good if you're dead," she countered with a smile. "Come on, Richie. You're a hundred and twenty-six years old, it's time to stop judging yourself against what a bunch of old farts like Connor and I would do."
"Mac would have stayed."
Sarah laughed. "*Duncan* has such an overblown sense of duty and honor it's amazing he ever gets anything accomplished. You're *alive*, Richie. That's what counts."
"You're not mad at me?"
"For not staying in Japan to get your head whacked off? No. I'm not mad at you."
Relief fled across his face. Richie had spent most of his trip back in a silent debate about how Sarah would react to his arrival without Connor. Most of it, he could admit now, was driven by guilt. Had he been able to get past that on the long and harrowing journey, had he been able to stop projecting the worst images into his head when thinking about Connor's fate, he would have likely realized that she would react precisely the way she did.
"Meanwhile," Sarah said, "your face is now likely in the police computers in Tokyo. You'll never be able to go back."
Richie shrugged. "It's not a company that makes a lot for me anyway."
A small smile twisted Sarah's lips. From motorcycles and Grunge Clubs to big business...sometimes it was hard to believe this was the same Richie that had challenged her out of foolish pride a hundred years ago. That boy had been hot headed and cocky. This man was thoughtful and discerning, ran several of the largest companies in the Commonwealth, had a wife, and was in the throes of teaching his first student. Richie Ryan had changed a lot since their first meeting. He had changed even more in the past forty years and she regretted not being around to see it.
"Are you tired? Want some food?"
"Thanks, Mom, but no," he smirked. "I'm kind of wired, actually. It's been a while since the old adrenaline has pumped like this, you know?"
She flashed him an unadulterated smirk. "So...going to go wake Meg up for your coming home ritual?"
Richie flushed an incredible shade of dusky crimson.
"Go on," Sarah said, giving him a playful shove.
"Actually," he said, managing to wrestle his embarrassment under control, "I'd rather spend the time with you."
Sarah cocked an eyebrow at him in a manner that very clearly conveyed a little bit of shock and a lot of amusement at his expense.
"Not like *that*," he groaned. "I just meant that...well...we haven't seen each other in a long time and I thought we could...I don't know...talk or something."
Sarah smiled and climbed out of bed. "Let me get dressed. We'll go prowl the streets of Old London."
An hour later, Richie Ryan and Sarah MacGreggor were walking slowly along the Thames. The elder immortal had her collar turned up against the brisk night air and was hugging herself in a vain effort to stay warm, her eyes trained on the water as it slipped by them on its way out to sea. Richie's hands were shoved deeply into his wool coat and his breath hung in a frosty cloud around his nose and mouth. They knew they were being followed; that, a few yards behind them, two Watchers slipped from shadow to shadow, aware of each other and exchanging silent glances of commiseration that their charges had picked such a cold night for a stroll.
"We could ditch them," Richie offered.
Sarah shrugged. "There isn't much they don't know about us, there's no need."
"I just thought that you might...that it might be easier for you to talk if we were really alone."
Sarah halted mid-stride and glanced at her young companion. "Richie, they already know the story."
"Yeah, well, I don't," he answered.
Sarah nodded. "I know."
"So tell me."
She nodded once more and launched into the tale of the events leading up to the night she had tried to kill her husband--Methos--in their own home, only a few scant miles from where they presently stood. He listened with his mouth slightly agape and looked like he was ready to explode with questions, but glanced furtively at the shadows that were their Watchers and fell into a whisper.
She nodded yet again.
And again, a mute assent.
"But how? We're supposed to be sterile."
"I know. I can't explain it really," she said, taking his arm and continuing along the path. "But it's possible. And it was the only thing that would ever drive me to raise my sword against Petey, you have to believe me."
It was Richie's turn to nod. Connor had been right. It *was* big. No. It was colossal. "Does...does Mac know?"
"No, and don't tell him. It won't accomplish anything now."
Richie understood. The knowledge of a child that had been killed would send the younger MacLeod into a tailspin. He'd pick up his katana before he thought about it and someone--someone close to Richie, be it his teacher or his friend-- would wind up without a head. And then someone else would pick up a sword and more friends would die. It would come down to him, too. He would be the one who would wind up having to stop it. Irony at its finest...the boy immortal taking the parental role.
"How do I fit into all of this? Why did I get punished because you screwed things up?"
Sarah glanced down at her booted feet and sighed. "I never claimed to be perfect, Rich. All I can say is that it took me a very long time to get my head on straight again. And then, well, then it was the middle of the war and I had other things to think about. After that, it was too late. Too much time had passed and I felt like the damage had already been done."
"You know you could have come to me."
"I know. What can I say? I made a huge mistake. I should have gone to you. You have always been able to...I don't know...to calm me down, make me see straight, or *something*. But at the time, I was too livid to do anything but wallow in it. I didn't want to be around any one or anything that even remotely reminded me of him."
Richie nodded, then blew out a sharp breath. He'd been through that in the months following Duncan's Dark Quickening and this thing with Sarah made more sense to him now. Of course it would take something as serious as a child to come between her and Methos. And, no matter how irrational her actions had been, of course Sarah had only done what she had to do to live with herself.
"It's something I hope will never happen again."
"What about them?" Richie asked, with a barely perceptible jerk of his head toward their Watchers. "Do they know about Adrianne?"
Sarah shrugged. "I'm sure they know what her role in it was, yes. But I don't know if they know about her relationship to Mac and me. It's not something that should be widely spread. It's a knowledge that has the power to change the Game forever."
Sarah chuckled and linked arms with him again. "Can we walk again? It's freezing."
"What happens now?" Richie asked, steering her in a wide circle and snickering as both Watchers ducked into nonchalant poses against the fence along the walkway.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what happens with you and Methos? Are you going to go look for him?"
Sarah shook her head. "You forget, Kid, we have a MacLeod to rescue. Maybe two."
Connor MacLeod paced a weary circle in the small room he had been imprisoned in for close to a week. How could he have been so stupid? So predictable? And what had happened to Richie? The Highlander didn't think he would ever forgive himself if the young immortal had been executed.
The last thing he remembered was telling Richie to be ready for anything. From there, he had only vague images of a flash of steel in the darkness. He knew he had been drugged and the dull ache in his side upon his return to consciousness had told him that he had also been injured in a fight. But there was nothing more. And, try as he might to remember, the last image of Richie he had was of the young man wiping his hands nervously on his pants.
Connor had awoken in this very room, with a pot of water near his elbow and a fresh plate of food on a low table near the door. Once a day, a large man with a sword at his belt entered the room, leaving a fresh tray of food and taking away the chamber pot. Connor knew nothing of his captor, for the man refused to even acknowledge any of his questions.
Twice he had tried to escape by lying in wait for his strange excuse for a butler. Twice he had been unceremoniously knocked unconscious nearly instantaneously. The second time he had come back to the world with a lightweight, yet utterly unbreakable, chain around his ankle that was hooked to a ring in the center of the floor. It allowed him to move about the room, but prevented getting close enough to the door to attempt another sneak attack.
There was a nagging paranoia that Sarah had been right all along about the box of Duncan's things being a lure. And there was plenty of time to nurse it.
Margaret Ryan looked over her shoulder nervously and heaved a sigh of relief as the sound of footsteps receded down the hall. She had precisely seven minutes while the Director was taking his evening walk around the courtyard. All the possible leads on Duncan in Europe had turned up utterly blank, suggesting that the immortal had simply dropped off the face of the planet. She'd searched the database reports from Africa and the Middle East, but found nothing. There were three choices left: Australia, Japan, and the Americas.
Watcher Headquarters had been a-buzz all day with the news that the lines of communications with the West had been up long enough for John Bennett to send his monthly report in. It was a rarity, to say the least. And it might just be the break Margaret had been looking for. She glanced at her watch, sat down at the Director's desk, and said a silent prayer to whatever god or goddess that might be listening.
Please don't let him walk in. Please let him have left the report open. There was no way she would be able to break encryption codes or guess passwords, even if she had the time.
Luckily for Margaret Ryan, there had also been a commotion at Watcher HQ that day. Amanda, unbeknownst to Margaret and at the suggestion of one Sarah MacGreggor, had walked in the front door, pretending to have the old building confused with the Tower of London and demanding to be given a complete tour. The Director himself had been called to deal with her and had spent the better portion of his afternoon trying to herd the insistent immortal out the door; thus not allowing the chance for him to deal with John Bennett's report properly. Amanda couldn't have timed her grand entrance more perfectly if she had had the place under surveillance; the whereabouts of every immortal in the Western Hemisphere sat neatly in an open file on the desktop of the Director of Watcher Operations for the Commonwealth of Europe's computer.
MacLeod, Duncan. She had to type it twice because her fingers were moving too fast from fear. The computer whirred for a moment that seemed to last an eternity and Margaret nearly dove under the desk for cover when the wall clock chimed.
At last, the screen leapt to life with a recent photo of Duncan and a brief entry that indicated that he had just been assigned a Watcher named Gina Shaw.
Duncan MacLeod wasn't in Japan. He was in Old Seacouver.
[end part 3]
"Repeat after me, Richie," Sarah said, taking him by the shoulders. "I am *not* going to follow Sarah to Seacouver."
He scowled up at her. "It's dangerous."
"That's not what I said."
"You're not funny, you know," he answered.
"I wasn't trying to be," she said, releasing him and turning back toward her bag.
"Richie," she echoed.
He groaned in utter frustration and kicked the dresser. "You know, I'm not a..."
"Kid any more, yes, I know," she said. "But you are a husband and you do have a student that you have to protect until she can do it herself. You can't do that from Seacouver, unless you want to drag Meg and Kim along for the ride."
He shook his head. "It's too dangerous for you to go alone, there's no way in hell I'm taking *them*."
Sarah zipped her bag and sat down on the edge of the bed, watching him pace a circle from the door to the dresser and back. "Exactly. And you can't come to Japan with Duncan and I, so you might as well just stay here and try to live a normal life."
"You can't go to Japan either," he said.
"Like hell I can't."
"You wouldn't go before."
"And I wouldn't go now, not if it were just a hunch that Connor was in trouble. But this isn't a hunch, it's real. And since I can't go alone, I'm taking Mac along for the ride."
"At least let me come to Seacouver with you. You haven't been to the states in a hundred years. Things have changed. It's not a safe place to be."
Sarah nodded. "I know. I watch the news. And I don't doubt that you saw some horrible things when you were fighting over there, but I've lived through more wars than I hope you'll ever see. I can take care of myself."
"It's not just war," he said.
And it wasn't. It was famine and disease. It was lawlessness and a cold disregard for human life. He knew that, he'd lived it.
In 2004, the United States had erupted into violence on almost every border. Cuba, partnered with the Iraqis and backed by several of the more militant Middle Eastern sects tired of fighting for a small piece of land on the Gaza Strip, had invaded the southern most states, garnering Florida, Louisiana and Alabama in a bloody six day battle. Naturally, the US threw every resource they had into the War Machine and a full scale war ensued. Six months and seventy thousand lives later, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and parts of Georgia were lost as well.
Native militias had initially armed themselves to participate in the protection of their country, but, under the clever leadership of Arthur Freeman, had instead decided that the only way to preserve American life was to capture land of their own. Utah, Montana, Washington, Oregon and most of California fell easily without the protection of the once great but now bedraggled US Armed services. The Freemen had their country for eighteen glorious months. Then Canada got involved and managed to acquire land they had been desiring since before the days of Lewis and Clark. Now a war zone, the Pacific North West was locked in a series of riots lead by the Freemen in vain effort to regain their lost territory.
What was left of the once great nation rapidly degenerated into squabbling factions, determined to protect only their own borders against invasion from neighboring states and foreign countries alike. The nature of the chaos varied from place to place, but lawlessness prevailed once the New England border was crossed.
Methos and Sarah had only returned to the US once after their marriage in 1999 and Duncan had left for Paris in 2003 and chosen not to come back. Amanda had better things to do with her time than fight pointless wars. Joe Dawson and Fiona moved to Ireland and spent their days tending the garden and making music. But Richie Ryan had been young and eager to experience the thrill of fighting that his friends had been through so many times.
He fought against the Cubans until a bullet took his life in public. He fought against the Freemen in Colorado, trying to preserve the union of his country. He fought in Kansas and Arkansas when they battled the Iowans. Then, he grew tired of death and destruction and began to realize that his contribution didn't matter in the grand scope of things. Six months later, he went on Safari in Africa with Methos and Sarah in celebration of the five thousand and twenty-fifth birthday of the world's oldest living immortal and felt little guilt for leaving the mortals to their wars in the West.
"I know that too," Sarah said. "But you forget, I can't get sick. And I'm not going to be there long enough to die of starvation. As for the rest...well, I carry a sword wherever I go and I know how to use it. I'm also rather competent at hand to hand combat, in case you hadn't noticed."
He swallowed. Richie had seen those roving gangs in what used to be the heartland of America. They had no respect for life in any form and wouldn't think twice about filling her body with bullets before they defiled it in ways he didn't care to remember. Connor would want him to go. Methos would want him to go. And he couldn't stand the thought of losing her to a hell like that, however unlikely the idea might be.
"I'm going," he said. "You can either accept that I've changed a lot in the past fifty years and take me along as a partner, or you can continue to think of me as a child and I'll follow you, but you're not going alone."
Sarah looked up at him for a long moment. This was not the Richie Ryan that had challenged her and lost in Seacouver a hundred years ago. This was a man who had fought in wars. This was a man who had a wife and responsibilities in his own life, but was willing to forego them to make sure that she made it safely to Old Seacouver; not because of some chivalric notion of protecting the weaker sex, but because he honestly didn't want to entertain the thought of her being hurt.
"Okay," she said. "But we drop you off back here in London and you do *not* follow us to Japan."
"Deal," he offered a hand.
Their transport landed in what used to be New York City and Sarah's jaw went completely slack. The once familiar skyline was all but gone and a cloud of black smog unlike any she had ever seen hovered over the urban sprawl. Richie left her gaping on the platform and went in search of transportation across the country.
"Is it all like this?" She asked upon his return.
"No. Most of the North West is part of Canada now and they are fairly close to what it was like when we lived here. Still lots of uprisings from the Freeman Movement, but you can compare that to the IRA in the late 1980s in London...occasional riots and bombings, but nothing like this."
Sarah nodded mutely and followed him through the remnants of the once regal Grand Central Station. She had taken her first train from there in 1915. Her fellow passengers wore suits and pressed linen dresses. She herself had purchased a new hat for the occasion and had sat sipping gin and tonics with a nice gentleman from Westchester county who was bound for Boston to meet his fiancée's family for the first time. It had been a glorious adventure in high style.
But, this place was filthier than it had even been in the twentieth century and, sword or not, she wouldn't have strayed from the lit walkway for all the money in the world.
"We have to take a train up through the Adirondaks into Ottawa, then we can catch another one across Canada to Seacouver," he said, drawing her out of thought.
"Trains? That'll take *days*."
Richie nodded. "Yep. But they're high speed and it's the only way, short of going back to London and hopping on a freighter."
Sarah sighed. "When's the next one leave?"
"Tomorrow morning at eight."
"We'd better find a hotel, then," she said, shouldering both her bag and the case that held her rapier.
Richie laughed. "A hotel? You think the Milford Plaza is still open? Trump Towers, maybe? Maybe we could take a walk down Broadway and catch a show...I hear Cats is making another run."
Sarah frowned at him. "You don't have to be so sarcastic. So I'm a little shell-shocked, sue me."
He grunted a response and crossed the platform in long strides, staking out a decrepit bench and parking himself in front of it. "This'll have to do."
Sarah's mind revolted at the very thought. It was mid-winter in New York. And the bench smelled like urine and other bodily fluids she didn't care to identify. But, damnit, she had slept in worse places with worse company.
"Fine," she said. "We should share a coat for a blanket, though, for warmth."
Richie nodded once more and stripped off his wool trench coat. She settled down next to him and sighed. This was going to be a long night.
And it was. Somewhere around two a.m., three men woke Richie by dragging him from the bench by his legs. He cracked his temple on the way to the ground and fumbled to his feet in a pain induced haze to find Sarah making a valiant effort to hold them off.
"Don't just stand there!" She ordered, glancing at him as she ducked a punch.
Two seconds later, that particular assailant lay prone, clutching his badly broken nose and howling in agony. Four seconds after that his partner found himself with three broken ribs and a shattered kneecap. The third man, who had been searching through Richie's duffel in the fray, looked up at her and dropped the bag, backing away slowly. He bumped into Richie, who swept both feet out from underneath him and kicked him soundly in the stomach as he hit the platform.
Sarah drew her rapier and lay the point against the first man's throat. "You can leave, or you can die. It doesn't matter to me."
He scrambled to his feet, helped his friends to theirs and the three limped away as quickly as their wounded bodies would allow.
"Are you okay?" Sarah asked.
Richie sat down on the bench and moaned, clutching his head. "I'm fine."
Sarah sank down next to him and examined his wound briefly, then sighed. "I'm getting complacent," she said. "They had you on the ground before I even knew they were here."
He shrugged. "They had me on the ground before *I* knew they were here too."
Sarah noted the drawn expression on his face and frowned. It might take some time to heal from a head wound like that one. "Lie down and see if you can get some sleep," she said. "I'll take watch."
"I'm okay," he grumbled.
She rolled her eyes. "Shall I get you a bullet to bite on, then? Just lie down. I'll wake you up if anything happens."
Richie wanted to protest, but his head was swimming and a cold sweat ran down his back. Maybe if he just lay down for a few minutes and rested his eyes....
The next thing he knew, it was full daylight and Sarah was shaking him awake as a train rattled the station.
They spent the next three days in a cramped, musty train compartment with thirty other people and a goat. Richie managed to hold off complaining about the smell for the bulk of the journey, but finally capitulated on the third morning when he awoke to find said goat nibbling at his shoes. Sarah, despite her initial revulsion at the facilities on the train, had fared the journey well and laughed uproariously as he batted at the rather insistent goat with his sword case.
"Have I ever told you about the time a camel ate Petey's pants?" She asked, still laughing.
Richie flopped back into his seat as the goat's owner led the animal away and sighed with relief. "Do I even *want* to know why a camel was eating his pants? Was he wearing them at the time?"
She laughed again. "No."
Richie cocked an eyebrow. "And just where were *your* pants?"
Sarah smirked. "Mine were on my body, thank you. We were traveling in Egypt in the middle of the dry season and it was about a hundred and fifteen degrees. When we stopped for the mid-day heat he decided that he was going to cool off in the Nile. So he strips down to his skivvies and goes wading, leaving his clothes on the shore. Me, I'm under a tree trying to take a nap. I'm almost asleep and I hear him screaming in about twelve different languages. So, naturally, I sit up and take a look around. Seconds later, one of the pack camels we had been using comes running past me with Petey's pants hanging out of its mouth and Petey hot on its heels cursing up a storm. Dripping wet, half naked, and hollering about making camel-loaf."
Despite the fact that he was hungry, smelled like a goat, and was extremely grumpy, Richie Ryan burst out laughing.
"He had apparently stuck a handful of grain in his pocket at some point and forgotten about it," she added, still chuckling at the memory. "That camel ate a hole about the size of my head in his pants."
"So he spent the rest of the trip without them?"
She shook her head. "He patched them with part of his saddle pad and spent the rest of the trip complaining about how it itched."
"I can see that, you know. I really can."
Sarah nodded. "I'm sure he could tell you some equally funny and humiliating stories about me, if you asked."
"I'll have to keep that in mind next time I see him," he said with a smirk.
She smiled and looked out the dusty window. "We're almost there. This landscape is starting to look familiar."
Richie nodded. "About an hour or so, I'd say. Then what do we do?"
"Start scouring the city, I guess," she shrugged.
An hour and twenty-seven minutes later, the train creaked into the Old Seacouver Station and its passengers began the process of disembarking. Richie and Sarah got separated by a family with six small children and he stepped out of the stuffy compartment into a blast of ice cold wind and a buzz.
Miraculously, Duncan MacLeod was standing not four feet away.
"Richie?" The Highlander asked.
"Mac!" Richie exclaimed, threading his way through the crowd. "What are you doing here?"
Duncan started to tell Richie that he had come to pick up a package from Toronto, but the world exploded. Scraps of metal from the train and splinters of wood from the ailing platform rained down on them and screams rang through their ears. Before Richie could get his mind around what was happening, fifty seven men and women dressed in the blue signature uniforms of the Freeman Faction swarmed onto the platform and began boarding the train. He stood there, watching dumbly as they waved ancient machine guns and herded the panicked crowd into a corner of the platform. Then, Duncan yanked him by the elbow roughly, nearly pulling him off his feet.
"Wait!" He called.
But Duncan ignored him.
The sound of gunshots brought them both up short and Richie turned to search for their source. There was a knot of violence centered around the car that he had just disembarked from and Richie's heart dropped into his stomach when he saw that Sarah was in the middle of it. He watched in utter shock as she wrestled a gun out of the hands of one of the rioters and smashed the butt into his face, killing him instantly. His amazement only grew when she flipped the rifle expertly in her hands and pointed it at the chest of a woman in blue.
"Sarah?" Duncan asked, his jaw equally slack.
Another explosion rocked the station. When the dust settled, there were shouts from down the track and the figures in blue swarmed toward one of the box cars. By the time Richie got to his feet again, the scene was equally swarming with the modern day equivalent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; their trademark red jackets in stark contrast to the grey rubble.
Moments later, Sarah scrambled across a fallen beam and appeared at his shoulder.
"Hey, Mac," she said, tossing her rifle to one side.
Duncan smiled a curt greeting and grabbed Richie's elbow once more, hauling him through the chaos.
"And in local news today, four were killed at a Freeman Riot staged this morning on platform number two of the Seacouver Rail Station. Two bombs brought down most of the structure, but all deaths were the result of hand to hand combat three of the deceased were members of the Freeman Movement. The Royal Canadian Police are accepting responsibility for two of the three Freeman deaths. The third, identified only as a Caucasian male in his mid thirties, came at the hands of a passenger on the train who has not been identified. The final victim, identified as nine year old Monica Kramer, was killed by Freeman gunfire while disembarking from the train. Government sources refuse to confirm, but an unnamed official from the railroad indicated that one of the boxcars on the train had been loaded with medical supplies, weaponry, and electronics."
"Just great," Richie moaned, turning off the screen of the small video unit situated on a crate in what used to be the relative comfort of Duncan MacLeod's dojo loft. "You're a wanted woman now, Sarah."
"On the contrary. They're likely to give her the keys to the city," Duncan answered.
"They can keep their damn city," Sarah said, picking bits of shrapnel and splinters from her thigh. "Who the hell would want to live in this place? Idiots storming train stations for supplies..."
Duncan smiled. "You've done that. We did it together in the Gaelic Rebellion."
Sarah scowled at him. "*We* never killed children, Duncan. Never."
"Is that why you..." Richie asked, shocked.
Sarah nodded and threw a piece of metal roughly the size of a nickel into the bowl Duncan had provided. "That guy had just put six bullets into a nine year old because she was screaming for her mother. Ow! Shit!" She swore suddenly, tugging at the last remaining bit of shrapnel.
"Nice," Richie said. "Real nice. Killing a kid because she was scared."
Duncan moved over and squatted in front of Sarah, examining the rapidly healing wound. He poked at her thigh for a moment, then yanked out the scrap with a tug that made her roar in agony.
"They're not all like that," he said, handing Sarah a towel to staunch the bleeding. "Some of them are only fighting because they think it's a good cause."
"This has been going on for ninety years, Mac," Richie said. "You'd think they would have learned it's a *lost* cause by now."
"They feel like they are being oppressed.....like Canada has taken their land and their way of life. It's the same thing we all fought for in Scotland."
Sarah sighed and stretched her legs out in front of her, craning her head around to look at the room. It was hard to believe that it had once held artwork and treasures from Duncan's past, for now it was simply four stark brick walls and what was left of the ancient kitchenette. The dojo downstairs had been stripped of its hardwood floors during one of the cold snaps shortly after the wars had begun.
She hadn't fought in the Gaelic Rebellion because she had believed the Scottish had been oppressed by their English neighbors. She hadn't fought to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Scottish boys in the British armies over the centuries. She had fought because her father and brothers would have and there was a duty to carry on in their absence, even if they had been such for centuries. She had fought because Duncan had come to her and told her how badly the Highland armies were in need of a leader and because, as a Chieftain's daughter, she was honor bound to be one. She had fought because Douglas Gunn had the enthusiasm and passion for freedom that she had herself once owned. And she had fought because it provided a worthy distraction from the pain she had been carrying around since the night she had nearly killed Methos in their own home.
"I didn't fight in Scotland because I thought the Scots were being oppressed," Richie stated flatly.
Sarah cocked an eyebrow at him from across the room.
"No?" Duncan asked.
Richie shook his head. "I fought in Scotland because you and Sarah and Connor were shaping forces in my life and it was a way to pay you back...to offer what I could in way of thanks. And I fought because I have part of Sarah in me and I couldn't *not* fight," he said.
It wasn't the answer that Duncan had expected from his former student, but it left him smiling. "Regardless," he said, "I doubt you two came here to talk about old times or take a stroll down Memory Lane, right?"
Sarah nodded. "We came to find you. I need you to get me into Japan."
"Japan? Are you insane?" He'd been to Japan recently...and had no desire to return.
"I know. But Connor is there and we need to get him out, if it's not already too late."
Duncan got to his feet and paced around the room once. "What is Connor doing in Japan in the first place?"
"Looking for you," Richie answered.
"Looking for *me*?"
She nodded again. "He got a package about a month ago that had some of your stuff in it. It was post marked Tokyo and he was convinced you were there and in need of rescue."
"Meliko," Duncan grunted, continuing to pace.
[end part 4]
Tikeo Nashi sat quietly at the desk that had belonged to his father, his hands folded neatly in front of him. His mother, the once very beautiful Meliko Kao, would die soon. She wasn't even sixty years old, but she would die of a wasting illness that none of the finest doctors in all of Japan could cure. The doctors did not know about the small vial of crushed rhododendron root tucked into a secret place near her bedside, but Tikeo did. And it shamed him greatly.
His father had been one of the most powerful men in Tokyo and had died a tragic, yet honorable, death in a transport accident nearly five years before. Their family was revered for their wealth and business prowess, and had been for generations. But his mother, the woman who had raised him and groomed him to take his father's side, had been poisoning herself quietly for weeks. It would have been quicker and less painful for her to have chosen any number of alternate methods of suicide. But Meliko was a smart woman, and knew that a suspicious death would bring shame upon her son.
It was too late for that. Even if no one else ever found out about his mother's death, Tikeo would know what drove her to suicide. Tikeo would know that his entire life had been a lie...that she had never loved the man who would have given her the world for a smile...that her heart had always belonged to a gaijin that she had been communicating with secretly for nearly four decades.
The gaijin, Duncan MacLeod, had been to see Meliko a few short days before the onset of her illness. Before the visit, his mother had been a-glow with anticipation. Two days afterward, she had begun to kill herself slowly.
He drummed his fingers on the desk. This Duncan MacLeod had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. None of Tikeo's many resources could find him, and none of the communications he had sent to MacLeod's Solicitor in London had been answered. His mother had shown him a box of things that belonged to MacLeod and told him a story about the gaijin having to leave Japan in a rush or face her father in battle over a perceived dishonor when she was but a girl. She had told him about MacLeod's kinsman, Connor, who had been with him at the time and who had also been easy enough to track down.
The box had been mailed to Connor MacLeod nearly a month ago and, just as expected, the Scotsman had arrived in Tokyo, eager to find his kinsman. If things went according to plans, Duncan MacLeod would arrive in another few days on a similar mission...and Tikeo Nashi would have his chance to avenge an imagined wrong.
"Meliko?" Richie asked.
Duncan nodded and wandered into the kitchen area, making himself busy poking around on the remaining counter top for a few minutes before answering. He sighed suddenly, made his way back across the loft, and sat down next to Sarah.
"I found this," he said. "It was on the floor where the refrigerator used to be."
Sarah took the object he handed her and examined it closely for a moment, then closed her hand around it and smiled at him. "When we moved out of my loft in Glenfinnan I found a whole case worth of these behind the fridge. I could have killed him!"
Richie flashed them both a confused look.
In response, Sarah held up an antique bottle cap. "Petey's brand," she explained.
Richie chuckled. Margaret had accused him of throwing bottle caps behind their refrigerator shortly after Ambassador David Logan had dropped Kimberly off.
"Meliko is a Japanese woman that I was involved with about forty years ago, before they went back to the old ways. She was beautiful and I loved her," Duncan said.
"But?" Sarah asked, rubbing the bottle cap with her thumb.
"There's always a but," Richie added.
"But things didn't work out."
Sarah raised her eyebrows at Duncan. "Obviously. Is she one of us?"
Duncan shook his head.
"So what's the deal, then?" Richie asked.
"Her father was a Swordsmith. I brought the katana to him to have the hilt reset. She was eighteen."
When it became apparent that Duncan wasn't going to continue, Richie got up and wandered around the loft, fighting back the urge to slip into nostalgia.
"We need to go to Japan," Sarah said.
Duncan nodded. "Hideo's family will help me. You should go back to London with Richie."
"I'm going with you," she responded. "The last time I let a MacLeod go alone, he didn't come back."
For the second time in a week, Sarah found herself stepping onto a transport platform with a slack jaw. Grand Central Station had been a shock, but the Tokyo Center for Commerce and Travel was nearly beyond her comprehension.
To begin with, it was the most pristine white she had ever seen; no dirt, no trash, no graffiti. Spotless. Along the wall farthest from where they stood was a row of silver booths that people were stepping into and out of. A sign above them translated roughly to "Sonic Showers". Across from them, a series of headsets hung from hooks. After watching for a few moments, Sarah realized they were some kind of communication device that looked like it might project an image directly into the user's eye. The European Commonwealth had made little advancement since Japan had withdrawn its technological prowess from the open market, but it was obvious that the Japanese had not remained in the same kind of stasis.
What shocked her most, though, was not the surreal quality of her surroundings, but the fact that all of the natives were dressed in traditional looking garb. Bright colors and elaborately embroidered silk surrounded them in a sea of Japanese men going about their daily business. She and Duncan, along with the host of businessmen that had disembarked the transport with them, stood out as beacons of simplicity in their shirts and pants that were so high fashion in Europe and the West. Men. They were *all* men. She might very well be the only woman in the entire station.
Security was everywhere, herding the latest arrivals into customs lines with weapons that could only be called guns in that they bore a faint resemblance to ballistic rifles. The elongated barrels twinkled with a series of lights and they looked to weigh only a fraction of what a typical gun that size would.
"Lasers?" She asked Duncan.
He nodded. "Give me your sword."
Duncan stopped walking long enough to face her briefly. "They won't let *you* carry it through. Women aren't allowed to be armed. Stay behind me, don't say anything, and be a dutiful wife."
Sarah blinked at him, but handed over her sword case. She followed him through the customs counter and allowed him to answer the questions asked, even though her Japanese had been nearly flawless three hundred years before he was born. A retinal scan left her squinting and headachy, but she managed to follow him out into a waiting area.
"Don't let them know you speak Japanese," he said.
Sarah frowned. "Time was when it was considered *polite* to learn the language of the country you were visiting."
"Not here, not now. Do what you can to be like the model wife from Medieval Japan and let me do the talking."
Her frown deepened, but she nodded. "One crack about this dutiful wife bit to anyone and I'll beat the crap out of you."
Duncan grinned at her and took her elbow in a very husbandly manner as a middle-aged Japanese man approached them.
"Duncan MacLeod?" He asked.
The Highlander nodded. "Lijen Koto?"
The man who was to be their host bowed at the waist. "It is an honor to meet you," he said in broken English.
"It is our honor to meet you," Duncan responded in perfect Japanese. "We are very grateful that you are allowing us to stay in your home."
Lijen Koto, descendant of Hideo Koto the long dead Samurai, smiled. "Our families are honor bound, we are like brothers."
"This is my wife, Sarah," Duncan said.
Sarah stepped forward and bowed at the waist.
"She doesn't speak Japanese," Duncan added.
"It is better that way," Lijen said, nodding at Sarah. "She will not hinder us with comments."
Sarah chomped on her lower lip and caught the smirk in Duncan's eyes, but said nothing. She remained silent as Lijen led them through the station and into his private transport and said nothing the entire fifteen minutes that it took to get to the Koto home. Once there, she allowed Lijen's wife, Anh-Ly, to lead her to a screened off portion of a side room.
"Sleep," Anh-Ly said in English, gesturing to a mat on the floor. "You and husband Duncan."
Sarah smiled. "Thank you."
Lijen's wife smiled as well and pointed to a low chair. "For you," she said.
Sarah examined the object on the chair and wasn't sure whether she wanted to smile, or fume. It was beautiful. Silk. She held it up and the indigo material took the form of a kimono. Her pants and sweater were, of course, quite inappropriate.
"I make long. My husband say you will be tall," Anh-Ly said, struggling at nearly every word.
Sarah crossed the room to stand next to her hostess and bent to whisper in the smaller woman's ear. "Arrigato," she said, in Anh-Ly's native tongue. "It is beautiful and I am honored to wear it."
"You speak Japanese?" Anh-Ly exclaimed, then clamped a hand over her mouth, glancing nervously at the door.
Sarah nodded. "Better than my husband does, but this is our secret, yes?"
Her hostess smiled conspiratorially and reached into the folds of her own kimono, producing two exquisite jade hair pins and handing them to Sarah.
"Arrigato," the immortal repeated.
Duncan was deep in conversation with their host when Sarah emerged clad in her new attire. He stopped mid-sentence and stared at her for a moment, then rose to greet her with a kiss on the cheek.
"Don't you look lovely," he said.
Sarah avoided making eye contact, as any dutiful wife would in the presence of others, and squeezed his elbow. "Anh-Ly made it for me. It's too short."
Duncan looked down at her bare ankles and smiled. "Lijen wants to take us to Kyoto tomorrow," he said.
"What about Connor?"
He smiled and squeezed her arm slightly as a warning. "Meliko will find me, now that I am here. You should just enjoy Lijen's hospitality."
"I hope your kinsman is as lucky," she responded with a sweet smile and a nod in Lijen's direction.
"Sarah says she would love to see the temples," Duncan translated, turning toward their host.
Tikeo Nashi sat behind his father's desk and thumbed through a series of animated holo-images with mixed emotions. His plan was working. But there was a complication that he hadn't counted on.
The images had been taken not two days prior, at the Kyoto Shrine: Duncan MacLeod, walking next to a small Japanese man; his western bulk dwarfing his companion with quiet nobility. This man, whom his mother had harbored a secret love for despite the wonderful husband Tikeo's father had been, had taken a wife. Tikeo had seen animated holos of their arrival at the Transport Station and had seen the blonde woman hand Duncan an oblong case like the one he carried his katana in. This woman, Duncan's wife, carried a sword and undoubtedly knew how to use it. That meant that she was like Duncan and like Connor. Unaffected by the weight of time. Unhindered by physical deterioration. Immortal.
Perhaps that had been why Duncan had refused to marry Meliko all those years ago; because he had this woman waiting for him back in Europe. Had been lying to her when they had sat in her father's garden and spoke of love? There were stories, from his great grandmother's days when Japan had been at war with the west. In those days the gaijin had come to the islands and claimed to love the Japanese girls; told them they were rich and asked them to come to the United States to live in mansions. But it had all been lies. Japanese women left and went to lives of hard labor in sweatshops to feed hungry children while their husbands went out carousing with the white women.
Had that been what Duncan MacLeod was planning on luring his mother into? A hard life of toil while he took this white woman out on the town and bought her jewels? She wasn't very beautiful. Her features were sharp and her body was too lithe to be considered sexually appealing. What did he see in her? Why did they exchange laughing glances behind the back of their Japanese host?
It didn't matter. His mother would never see this woman. If she came to the house with her husband, he'd have her taken to the small room where Connor MacLeod was being held. If she caused trouble, he'd have her head removed. His men, the Samurai that held themselves filial to the Nashi family, would do his bidding and not ask questions.
Of course, the only one he had intended to harm was Duncan MacLeod. His family held enough power that he could get away with the death of one gaijin, claiming self defense. It was unlikely the authorities would believe *two* people had to die to protect the Nashi family. Maybe this woman was not a threat after all. Perhaps she was, like any good woman should be, obedient and submissive and would not question her husband's decisions in anything. Perhaps he had simply brought her along to Japan as a means of spoiling her and she would be content to stay out of her husband's business.
Not likely. She was, after all, a woman. And her husband's business revolved around his alleged love for *another* woman. She was bound to cause trouble.
An angry gesture on his part ended the holographic display. This wasn't a risk he could take. There was someone who could provide him with information about this woman who carried a sword and walked with her head arrogantly erect when her husband wasn't looking. Tomorrow, he would grant his guest an interview.
[end part 5]
"If you don't tell me the rest of the bloody story, I'll go hunt him down myself," Sarah said quietly into Duncan's ear.
He shifted uncomfortably on the mat and drew the covers up to his chin, then shoved them back down around his waist and sighed. They had been at the Koto's for three days and Meliko had not contacted him. Sarah was growing rapidly weary of waiting around, despite the fact that she and Lijen's wife seemed to be getting along quite well and that their youngest daughter had taken an unmistakable liking to the immortal woman.
"Mac, this is ridiculous, he could be dead by now. We have to find this woman," she added.
"Meliko wouldn't kill Connor," he said. "She likes him."
"Likes him enough to lure him to Tokyo as bait," Sarah snapped.
Duncan frowned. Luring Connor to use as bait didn't sound like the woman he had loved. Not one little bit.
Sarah propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at him expectantly. She'd known Duncan for centuries and knew very well that he wouldn't talk to her until he was ready. Connor would open up if you pushed the right buttons. Richie would spill his guts if you just sat and listened. Methos required more patience than that, but would always wind up telling her just about anything. But Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod had a stubborn and silent streak in him a mile wide.
He looked up, noticing the scar on her neck for the first time in a long time, and sighed. It must have been an very ugly wound upon its infliction--running from just under her chin diagonally down to her left collarbone. She had been patient with him for three days and he knew it wouldn't last much longer. He might as well tell her the story.
"I brought the katana to Meliko's father about forty years ago," he began. "Connor came along for the trip and to have some nicks taken out of his sword. Xiang Kao was a patient and thorough Swordsmith, we wound up staying for close to a month while he did his work. She was...perfect....probably one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen."
"And you fell helplessly in love with her," Sarah said.
Duncan nodded and rolled over onto his side, facing her. "She wanted me to marry her and take her out of Japan, but Xiang forbid it."
"And you, being the noble guy that you are, adhered to her father's wishes."
He nodded again.
Sarah sighed and flopped onto her back. "So for the sake of a lover she had forty years ago, she lures Connor to a place where they are chopping off heads. Nice."
"I don't think it's Meliko we have to worry about," Duncan muttered.
"Oh Lord," Sarah groaned. "The whole story, Mac. Now."
"It's not like her," he sighed. "She's gentle and kind. She would never do something like that."
"A woman can change a lot in forty years, Duncan," Sarah said quietly.
Duncan shook his head. "But not in six months."
Six months ago it had been early Summer in Tokyo and he had come to visit his former lover. They had been communicating semi-regularly since the day her father had forced him to leave with a challenge of swords. He did love her. And he had wanted to marry her, but circumstances--both his own and her family's--hadn't allowed it. She sent letters to the office of his Solicitor in London, telling him nothing of her marriage and child. And he had responded, knowing that it was the wrong thing to do.
Her most recent letter had begged him to come visit...before I am old and grey and ugly, it had said. Duncan had been in Krakow, visiting Methos when his lawyer had forwarded it. The world's oldest living immortal had been amused by the long distance affair and had urged Duncan to go see the woman...for closure, if nothing else, he had said. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod had been weary of the world, tired of the follies of man, and had allowed Methos to talk him into seeking solace in a woman he had loved forty years ago. It had been a mistake.
Meliko Nashi was still a beautiful woman. She had greeted him in a gorgeous crimson kimono adorned with hand embroidered silk birds. He told her of his immortality and she smiled, asking him to show her the world as he knew it. Then, she introduced him to her son, Tikeo, and things got complicated.
Honorable to his core, Duncan had refused her request to take her out of Japan, knowing it would shame her son. Mothers did not run off with gaijin....especially mothers of sons who were the sole heir to a small dynasty like the one Tikeo stood to inherit. He had left her. Not because he wanted to, not because he enjoyed the knowledge that he had most likely broken her heart, but because he had to...because he could not condemn a man like Tikeo Nashi to a life of dishonor so that he, Duncan MacLeod, could be loved.
Connor glanced around the elegantly furnished room he had been brought into. He had several choices: he could try to escape, but there was a man with a sword standing next to the door and his hands were bound behind his back, he could choose to not offer any information--for surely that was why he had been taken from his cell--but that could result in any number of unpleasantries. He had, of yet, not been harmed, but that certainly didn't mean his captors were not capable of it.
"Your wisest decision would be to cooperate with me, Connor MacLeod," a voice said from behind in reasonable English.
Connor turned to see a young Japanese man enter the room.
"Do I know you?" He asked.
Tikeo shook his head. "I am Tikeo Nashi. You met my mother forty years ago. Meliko Kao. Do you remember her?"
Connor searched his memory for a moment. He and Duncan had come to Japan about forty years ago...Duncan. Duncan had fallen in love with the daughter of the Swordsmith. Damn. If he lived to be ten thousand, Connor thought, he would never understand why it was that nothing was ever even remotely uncomplicated in the life of his clansman.
"I remember your mother," he said. "She made a much better host than you."
Tikeo frowned and took a seat in a comfortable plush chair, leaving him standing. "Are you well? Do you need anything?"
Connor rolled his eyes. "As well as a chained animal can be. Though I could use a nice steak and maybe some Milk Bones."
Tikeo glanced up at him briefly, conveying very clearly that he was not amused by Connor's wit, and sighed. "I have some questions I'd like to ask you."
"And I should answer them because?"
"You don't have to answer," he stated flatly. "But doing so might speed up your release. I know about you, Connor. I know what you and Duncan are and I have enough means to assure that you could spend a *very* long time in my home. Or, alternately, all I need do is call the local authorities, tell them you broke in and your head will wind up in a basket in the center of town."
Connor flinched. He liked his head where it was.
"They are really quite harmless questions," Tikeo said. "All I want to know is who is this woman Duncan has married?"
"Married?" He echoed. "What are you talking about?"
Tikeo waved his left hand and a servant brought a holo-plate for Connor to see. When he caught sight of the woman in the image with Duncan his first instinct was to laugh at the very thought of marriage. But worry wrestled his mirth to a halt and he looked over at his captor coldly.
"That is not Duncan's wife," he said.
Tikeo Nashi cocked an eyebrow. "Really now? Then who is she?"
Connor glanced down at the image again. Sarah looked completely different in Japanese attire. Her kimono was a few inches too short and her hair was pinned up in a style he'd never seen her sporting before. But it was Sarah.
"She's *my* wife," he snarled, taking an unconscious step forward. "And if any harm comes to her, I'll kill you with my bare hands."
The guard was at Connor's side in a heartbeat, his curved blade caressing the Highlander's throat. Tikeo Nashi sat back in his chair and folded his hands neatly in his lap.
"I don't have to call the authorities," he said. "I could have you killed right here, right now and no one would question it."
"You think?" Connor answered evenly, refusing to back up, despite the fact that the sword was biting into his neck. "You don't think Duncan would question it?"
"Your kinsman will be dealt with accordingly, I assure you," Tikeo said, baring his teeth in a gruesome smile.
"I don't appreciate being used as bait," Connor growled.
Tikeo waved a dismissing hand and the guard stepped back leaving a slightly relieved elder MacLeod to flash him a deadly glare.
"Well, you won't be for much longer," his captor said. "Your kinsman will receive a message tomorrow, detailing what he must do to earn your freedom."
"He won't," Connor lied.
Of course Duncan would. Of course the honor bound chivalrous fool would do whatever this lunatic asked. Connor sighed inwardly. Duncan was a good man. But he was sometimes too predisposed toward martyrdom for his own good.
"That remains to be seen," Tikeo answered. "What also remains to be seen is what role your wife will take in this."
"Meaning women are unpredictable and sometimes irrational. I know little of you kind, MacLeod, but somehow I suspect a woman who was raised in the uncouth society of the west and carries a sword will not take kindly to her husband being used as bait."
Uncouth? He thought the west was uncouth now? Connor snickered, despite the gravity of the situation. This pup had no idea how uncouth the world could be and had been. But he was right about Sarah. She wouldn't take kindly to her husband, for indeed he was that--despite the strange circumstances surrounding their marriage--being used as bait. What Connor wasn't sure of was who would take the blame for that...himself, or his captor.
"If you harm her, I'll kill you with my bare hands," Connor repeated with a smile at the guard.
"If it comes to that," his captor answered, "you'll already be dead."
Duncan did, in fact, receive a message from Tikeo Nashi the very next day. He debated inwardly about telling Sarah of its existence, but she solved the problem by appearing in the doorway of Lijen Koto's study dressed in her Western attire and carrying her sword.
"I don't think you should go," Duncan said.
"You can't stop me," she replied.
And he knew that she was right.
"Let's at least hear him out," Duncan said as they were escorted through the corridors of Tikeo Nashi's home.
Sarah MacGreggor nodded once, taking mental note of the path back to the front door.
Their host met them with a thinly veiled smile in the very room he had interviewed Connor in not twenty four hours prior. He offered tea, which they both accepted with grateful bows, and sat down behind his father's desk.
As Duncan and Sarah moved to take the seats he indicated, a guard appeared at her left elbow.
"No woman carries a weapon in my house," Tikeo explained curtly.
"No proper host denies a warrior his weapon," she responded.
Tikeo stood abruptly, scowling. "Very well, but I refuse to deal with insolence in my own home. You will stay here while Duncan MacLeod and I take care of our business."
Sarah's initial reaction was anger, but Duncan's hand on her elbow reminded her of where they were and what the consequences of violence could prove to be. She sighed inwardly as Duncan flashed her a reassuring smile and settled back into the chair, watching him leave the room with their host.
"What is it you want from me, Tikeo?" Duncan asked, following the smaller man down yet another hallway.
Tikeo stopped short and turned to face the man he believed to have robbed him of his honor.
Duncan took an unconscious step backwards and found himself backed against the chest of Tikeo's Samurai.
"My mother is dying," Nashi said. "She has been poisoning herself because of you. I want you to see her one last time...to see the results of your actions. And then, I want your head."
"My head?" Duncan laughed. "You're going to challenge me?"
Tikeo shook his head. "I have others to do my fighting," he said, nodding toward the guard.
Duncan looked over his shoulder and did a quick assessment of his foe. It was likely the large man knew how to use the jade hilted katana at his belt. "And if I refuse?"
Tikeo looked up and smiled most malevolently. "Then you die anyway, as do your kinsman and the woman."
[end part 6]
Sarah managed to sit quietly for a total of twenty minutes before she got up to pace. The guard at the door watched her cross the room repeatedly, but said nothing. His orders were to leave her alone unless she caused trouble. If that happened, he was to shoot her with the pocket laser his employer had provided. Under no circumstances was he to engage her in a sword fight; Tikeo Nashi had been very clear about that. He was to shoot her with the laser and take off her head.
That suited him just fine. It would be a waste of his great skill to engage a woman in battle.
She paced the length of the gorgeous rug slowly, wondering what the best course of action would be. It was unlikely that Nashi had taken Duncan away to simply talk. He knew what they were and, consequently, knew how to kill them. Sarah wondered briefly if Duncan's quickening would rip through the house and find either Connor or herself, should he be parted with it. It wasn't a pleasant thought to entertain. Neither was wondering how they were going to get back out of Japan, since it was very likely this day would end in violence of one sort or another.
Twenty one steps from one end of the rug to the other and back. Sixteen jade statues of what looked to be cranes on the shelves. Nine bonsai trees. Six porcelin tea cups engraved with gold leaf on the low table near the couch. And one guard; with a sword at his belt and a laser pistol in his pocket. This was shaping up to be a long afternoon.
Duncan gasped audibly when he saw the woman he had been in love with forty years ago. She was a shell, propped up amongst silk pillows and breathing in shallow rasps. He wanted to go to her, to tell her how sorry he was for the anguish he had apparently caused, but her son stood between them.
"She will die soon," Tikeo said flatly. "I have had all the best doctors in Japan here, but there is nothing they can do. The poison has eaten away at her insides. Do you see what you have done?"
Duncan nodded and bowed his head. "I'm sorry."
"Your sorrow does not rebuild the dishonor of my mother's suicide," Tikeo spat. "We were one of the greatest families in all of Japan. But it was all a lie. My father would have given her the stars and the heavens if she had asked, but only you were in her heart."
"She never told me she married," Duncan said. "If I had known, I never would have continued contact with her."
"Lies," Tikeo answered, ushering Duncan out of the room.
The Highlander followed quietly, acutely aware of the Samurai behind him and the narrow space of the hall they were standing in.
"Blood will not restore honor, Tikeo," he said.
"I'll be the judge of that."
Duncan glanced at the Samurai, whose face was void of all expression, and leveled an even gaze at his host. "What will happen to Sarah and Connor?"
"They will be escorted from Japan."
"Your word on that?"
"And it's a fair fight, right? There is no honor in cheating."
And again, Tikeo nodded, confident that his man could kill the gaijin.
Duncan sighed and looked once more to the Samurai. "I have no quarrel with you," he said.
"You have shamed the house of Nashi," his opponent answered.
Seventy-seven pleats in the silk of the elaborately decorated screen that marked off one corner of Tikeo Nashi's study. Fifty-six paces around the outskirts of the room, minus three or four to skirt the stern looking guard with the sword. Three monkeys on a vase near the window...and the unmistakable sound of clashing swords.
Sarah stopped short. Swords? The clock was ticking loudly in the otherwise silent room, but there it was again. Metal on metal. It was a sound she knew well. And this was likely the only chance she might get.
"It's warm in here, don't you think?" She asked the guard in flawless Japanese. "I'm going to take off my sweater...don't be alarmed, I swear I won't try anything. Look, I'll even set my sword over here on the table."
Whether it was the sound of a European woman speaking his native tongue, or the sight of the considerable amount of flesh revealed when she pulled off her sweater and straightened the tank top beneath it with a smile, it didn't really matter. One of the two distracted the man enough for her to grab an ivory handled letter opener from the desk and fling it at his chest with a deft flick of her wrist.
The guard howled in agony as the point tore into his right shoulder. Sarah swore and dove behind the desk; her aim was off by about a foot and he was reaching for the laser. The terminal of Tikeo's computer exploded into a thousand pieces at a direct hit from the deadly beam and she very quickly decided that she didn't need to actually feel what a laser blast could do to her body to know that it would hurt. A lot.
This was not a good situation. She scanned her immediate surroundings quickly, praying that something useful would come into her line of vision before the guard made it around the desk. The letter opener hit the floor and splashed blood onto the carpet. Two footfalls sounded.
And there, on a stand five feet away, sat a ceremonial dagger. It might as well be five miles. Another footfall. There was no choice.
Sarah scrambled to her feet and dove for the knife, catching it in her left hand as a searing pain raced across her back. She hit the ground rolling, came back to her feet, and flung the knife all in one motion. Both occupants of the room crumpled to the floor at the same moment; one victim of a laser burn that scored most of her back, the other clutching a ceremonial dagger that had embedded itself into his heart.
The immortal groaned and crawled toward her sword, waiting for her healing to begin. The mortal merely stopped breathing and died.
Just as Sarah was finally fully recovered from the laser blast, the door burst open and two more guards entered the room, swords poised for combat. She sized them up quickly and got to her feet.
Duncan MacLeod plunged his katana through the belly of Nashi's Samurai and twisted it upwards, knowing that the man would rather die than be shown mercy.
"It's over," he said.
Tikeo Nashi hung his head. His best warrior had been defeated. His mother was dying. There was nothing more he could do. The gaijin was right. It was over.
Connor woke from a fitful sleep with a buzz ringing in his head. He reached for a sword that wasn't there and had quite a bit of trouble resigning himself to the fact that he would be at the mercy of the immortal on the other side of the door. For a moment, his hope soared. It could be Duncan or Sarah. Still, it wasn't wise to simply sit and wait. Determined to go down fighting if the need arose, he reached for the only moveable object in the room, his chamber pot, and readied himself.
Moments later, a sharp cry sounded from outside his cell and the door slid open. Connor squinted against the sudden illumination from the hallway and tried to make out the features of the tall figure standing in the doorway.
"You look like hell."
Connor MacLeod grinned. Later, there would be time to feel embarrassment about being rescued by Sarah--and no doubt she would rub it in--but right now, he was overjoyed to see her.
"Here comes the cavalry," he answered.
Sarah strode into the room, smiling, but stopped a few feet away from him. Her smile faded to a look of disgust and she screwed her face into a most unattractive scowl.
"Um, Connor? Could you stop waving your..."
The Highlander chuckled sheepishly and set down the foul smelling pot. He straightened up in time to be engulfed in her hug and kissed squarely on the mouth.
"Good Lord, what happened to you?" He asked, taking in the site of her bloody clothing and the livid bruise on her cheek.
Sarah bent to examine the shackle around his ankle and pulled a jade pin from her hair to work the lock. "Suffice to say I was out numbered for a while."
Sarah glanced up at him briefly, "Not sure."
"Right here," Duncan said from the doorway. He stepped over the prone figure laying in the hall and entered the room. "We probably don't have much time."
Sarah grunted in agreement as the lock sprung open.
"Nice to see you again, Duncan," Connor said. "See, Sarah, I told you he was in Japan."
She stood up and rolled her eyes at him, but made no response.
"I'm only here to save your butt, Connor," Duncan retorted, striding over the unconscious guard again.
"What'd you do to this guy?" Connor asked, looking down. "Is he dead?"
Sarah shook her head. "I just borrowed his retinal scan to open the door. He'll be fine. There are, however, two dead bodies in the study."
"And one in the dojo," Duncan added. "We need to get on a transport out of Japan. Now."
Tikeo Nashi watched his guests leave from a the window in his mother's bedroom. When they had vanished from his view into the dense shrubbery on the grounds, he turned slowly and knelt by his mother for a few minutes.
She was frail and would likely pass on within the next few days. Meliko had been unconscious for the better part of a week now and would never know that her love had been to see her. It was better that way, Tikeo decided.
He kissed his mother on the hand and rose, crossing the room to a mahogany trunk that held some of the Nashi family treasures. His father's katana, a ceremonial blade with a magnificently carved hilt, lay wrapped in silk near the bottom of the chest.
Tikeo was to have worn this sword on his belt when he wed. He unwrapped the silk and drew the blade, pausing a moment to admire it in the light. Then, Tikeo Nashi plunged his father's sword into his own belly in the first motion of the traditional Japanese suicide. It was, at least, an honorable death.
To Part 13: There But For the Grace
To the Authors pages