Disclaimer: Richie, Methos, and Connor belong to the Highlander Powers that Be. Sarah is mine. And I stole Ogelthorpe from Gina Shaw without permission. He's an awesome cat. :)
"You're kidding, right?" Richie asked, stumbling out of the transport in his mirth.
Methos shook his head, smiling under the streetlamp. "Would I lie about something like this?"
Richie bent over double, laughing hysterically and clutching his stomach. "She really did that? *Sarah*?"
Methos smiled again. "She really did."
"Priceless," Richie muttered, heading up the walk to his door. "I can just see it, too."
"If you ever tell her I told you that, I'll deny everything," Methos said as they took the stairs.
The front door was ajar. Richie was too busy laughing to really notice it, but Methos did and it sent a prickle of warning up into the base of his skull. The smell came next, salty and hot, as they entered the foyer. Richie continued to chuckle, but Methos heard the soft squish of liquid under his shoes and felt the slickness of the tiled floor. Richie, still wracked with amusement, said something about not believing Sarah would ever do something quite that stupid and reached for the lights. Something told his companion that that would be a very *bad* idea.
Methos tried to catch Richie's arm before the motion could set off the sensor panel, but the room was flooded with light before he had the chance. He took it all in instantly. The liquid on the floor was blood. The body on the landing was Margaret Ryan's.
Richie stopped laughing.
Before Methos could stop him, Richie was on the landing as well, cradling his dead wife and howling with rage and grief. The world's oldest man stood motionless in the foyer, blood soaking slowly into the leather of his shoes. In the back of his head, the cold rational voice that allowed him the luxury of survival through the traumas of the centuries told him to leave the boy with his dead wife and check the attic dojo. As always, he did what it suggested.
He took the stairs two at a time, tucking the sound of Richie's pain away into another part of his brain to deal with at a later date. The door to the dojo hung on one hinge, victim of the force of a quickening tearing through the room. Inside, just as he had both suspected and feared, lay Kimberly Shelley's headless body. Methos swore loudly and kicked her sword across the room.
Report this, that rational voice said. Call the Police. Two dead bodies in a house full of swords. Call the Police.
Methos stopped at the vid-screen in Richie's study and did just that. Then he descended the stairs, trying not to look at the path of bloody footprints--his own--heading in the opposite direction. When he arrived at the landing where Margaret Ryan had taken her last breath, Methos sank down on the stair next to Richie and put his head in his hands.
Twenty minutes later the brownstone was crawling with London's finest Law Enforcement Officers.
At seven am, Methos checked both himself and Richie into a room at the Drake Hotel. They were both exhausted from hours of questioning at Scotland Yard and he could see a slow numbness spreading through his young friend. He could also see pools of blood and crimson footprints if he closed his eyes. So, quite simply, he didn't.
Instead, Methos stripped Richie of his bloody clothes, ordered him to take a shower, and turned down the sheets on the bed. When Richie emerged from the bathroom, naked and dripping, Methos handed him a tumbler full of Scotch, watched as he downed it in one gulp, and pointed to the bed.
The younger man mumbled something that might have been a thanks and crawled between the crisp cotton sheets. An hour later he finally capitulated to sleep. Ten minutes after that, Methos caved into exhaustion in the chair and fell into dreams of bloody floors and headless bodies. Kimberly. Margaret. Crimson soaked tile. Adrianne. Sarah. Blood in the tooling of his wedding band.
Methos woke to a screaming that could have been his own, but came instead from the bed.
The next time Methos awoke it was to the sound of the small vid-screen screeching in announcement of an incoming call. He scrubbed at his eyes with sleepy fists and answered it.
"Mr. Foster, sorry to wake you."
Methos blinked at the young man who had been taking notes in the Interview Room at Scotland Yard the previous night. Richards. Lieutenant Steven Richards, that was his name.
"Not a problem," he answered. "Is there something I can help you with, Lieutenant?"
"No....I just thought you would like to know that both yours and Mr. Ryan's alibis checked out from last night."
"Of course they did," Methos said flatly. He and Richie had been sipping pints of beer at a pub in Picadilly while someone had broken into the brownstone and destroyed the young immortal's world. There was nothing more to the story.
"We still don't have any leads in the case," the young Lieutenant said with a nervous smile. "But we will."
Methos nodded in a curt gesture that served as both acknowledgment and good-bye and killed the image. "No you won't," he muttered.
The next sound Methos heard was the horrible retching of Richie vomiting into the toilet. He crossed to the bathroom and ran cold water over a washcloth, handing it to the younger man and taking a seat on the edge of the tub.
Richie nodded a thanks and wiped his mouth on the cloth, then hung his head against the porcelin. It was cool and solid against his cheek and was the only thing keeping him from sliding into the giant pit that threatened to open up under his feet.
"I'll call MacLeod," Methos said after a few moments of watching Richie shake. "And Sarie."
"No," Richie moaned. "Not yet."
Not yet turned into a week and Methos was the only other immortal present at Kimberly and Margaret's funerals. He hired a cleaning company to remove every trace of blood from Richie's house. They did a good job. Two days after Margaret went into the ground Methos repeated his offer to call Duncan and or Sarah. Richie responded in the same way and took to walking the streets of London at all hours of the night...unarmed.
A week to the day after the funerals, Richie packed a bag and left Methos asleep in the spare bedroom.
Methos waited another day, just to be certain that Richie had really left, before trying to contact Duncan. The Highlander was still living in Old Seacouver and the lines to the West were, as usual, down. He paced around Richie's study for close to an hour before finally resigning himself to the fact that there was really only one place Richie would go in the end. Even if the younger man didn't know it himself, his ultimate destination was undoubtedly Johannesburg.
He settled himself into the comfortable desk chair and began to methodically search the drawers, looking for the vid-code that would bring him into Sarah's house and trying not to think about the reception his call might get. Surely she couldn't still be angry with him after all these years. And, even if she was, certainly she would put that aside, given the circumstances.
It took him ten minutes, but he found the code and dialed it, holding his breath while he waited for the screen to come to life. When Connor MacLeod's face leapt into view, Methos inadvertently snapped the pencil he had been doodling with in half.
"Well, if it isn't the Skinny Englishman," Connor said with a smile that barely concealed his surprise.
"MacLeod," Methos answered. "Is Sarie there? I need to talk to her. It's important."
Connor's answer came with a curt nod and Methos was left with a lovely view of the late afternoon sun streaking in through what looked to be kitchen windows as the elder Highlander moved to retrieve Sarah. The world's oldest man found himself holding his breath once more.
Connor stood in the doorway to the bedroom they had been sharing, watching Sarah sleep peacefully in her afternoon nap. He had known this day would come from the instant that he had first kissed her in Richie Ryan's London brownstone. He had been waiting for it. She loved him, he knew that, but Methos was part of her soul.
He crossed to the bed and shook her gently, smiling as she mumbled something in her sleep. "Come on, wake up."
Sarah rolled onto her back and stretched lazily, smiling up at him.
"Your Englishman's on the line," he said.
Her eyes flew open. "What?"
A part of her had been waiting for this moment as well. But it was small and buried in the back of her mind and she had convinced herself that the day would never come.
Connor nodded. "I'm going for a walk."
Sarah sat up and caught him by the elbow as he stood. "Connor...wait..."
This was it. Her head was reeling. Petey was on the phone. What could he possibly want after forty years? And Connor, dear lord, Connor was standing there next to her wearing a patient expression that made her stomach churn with guilt.
The elder MacLeod shook his head. "Go on, take the call. He said it was important."
It took her precisely five and three quarters minutes to get to the screen; not that Methos was counting.
He saw her neck and shoulders first as she pulled up a high kitchen stool and perched on it. Both were tanned and well muscled beneath her pale yellow tank top. Her scar had faded still more and was half concealed by the untamed tangles of sun-bleached hair. Long hair. He hadn't seen her with long hair for seven hundred years.
She was looking down at something that was out of his view, but raised her eyes after a moment which lasted no less than thirty years and offered a smile that slammed into his chest with the force of a train. Her features were still exquisitely Celtic, despite the tan that tainted her ordinarily fair skin. The fingers that pushed her hair off her face and tucked it behind her ears were still long and delicate, but undeniably strengthened by over a thousand years of sword work. She would still stand just a hair shorter than he did, were they close enough to measure, and her eyes were that same shade of murky green that had intrigued him for centuries.
"Sarie," was all he could say.
"Hi, Petey," she responded.
There was a moment of awkwardness while they took in sights that neither had seen for far too long. Methos found himself smiling, but it faded quickly as he watched her face twist into a concerned frown.
"You're at Richie's," she said, suddenly recognizing his surroundings. "Is everything okay? Connor said..."
Methos' face twisted into a frown of its own. Connor said. Connor MacLeod was undeniably sleeping with his wife. The bastard. She was scrubbing his back in the shower and slipping into his arms on the couch. It didn't matter that Methos had taken other lovers in the forty odd years since they had last been together. It didn't matter that she had certainly done so as well. What mattered was that Connor MacLeod was where he wanted to be.
Sarah groped for the pitcher of juice that Connor had been squeezing when Methos had called and poured herself a glass. She swallowed hard; ingesting the sudden realization that she had managed to weave a very tangled web by introducing Connor into the conversation.
"Is Richie okay?" She finally choked out, desperately hoping that Methos would allow her the cowardice of changing the subject.
"No," Methos answered, wholeheartedly relieved that she had switched topics. "He's not. Margaret and Kimberly are dead."
Sarah's jaw dropped. "Dead?"
"One of us. It happened about two weeks ago."
"Christ," Sarah sighed, setting down the glass.
Meg had been a good friend in the short time that Sarah had known her. And Kimberly hadn't even had the time to learn how to really live. But Richie...Richie had lost the first woman he had loved enough to marry. She remembered how that felt, despite the fact that her first husband had been dead for over a thousand years. It howled through a soul, taking everything that was good and strong, leaving only anguish.
"He left here two days ago," Methos said. "I'm sure he'll find his way to your place eventually."
Sarah chewed on her lower lip and nodded. "Are you coming?"
Two thousand miles away, Methos sighed and glanced around the study. His eyes fell on the mantle and sought out the picture of himself and Sarah on their wedding day in Glenfinnan. They had spent sixty years together in London, not ten miles from where he sat presently. And it had been precisely forty years and a hundred and ten days since he had last seen her; not that Methos was keeping track. He didn't mark time. That was for people who were interested in its passage. And he was far too old for that kind of indulgence.
She hadn't come to the phone angry. In fact, she had looked pleased to see him. Maybe it was time.
"We have plenty of room," Sarah offered.
*We*. Methos blanched.
Sarah saw him pale and hunch forward ever so slightly and silently kicked herself for bringing Connor back into things. She wanted to explain to him that things weren't what they appeared to be, but no words would form.
"I've done all I can for him," Methos said tightly.
Her face softened. "Petey, I...I didn't mean it like that..."
Methos swallowed and forced himself to look her squarely in the eye. "Yes you did. Keep an eye out for Richie, he needs you. I have to go."
Sarah reached instinctively toward him, but her fingers came up hard against the screen. "Wait."
It took all of his will, but Methos shook his head and cut the power to his monitor. Then he looked down at his hands, flexed his right fist, and calmly punched a hole in the screen, breaking several bones in the process.
[end part 1]
Two days later, Richie arrived at Sarah's office in the Anthropology Department of Winnie Mandela University. His eyes were rimmed with lack of sleep and he looked as if he hadn't bothered to eat or shower for days.
Sarah had the department secretary cancel the rest of her Archeology seminars for the day and wrapped her arms around Richie without a word. He stood limply in her embrace for nearly a minute before bringing his own arms up around her shoulders and sagging forward.
There was none of the awkwardness he had felt when Methos had tried to comfort him and none of the embarrassment that flooded him when he thought of how Duncan would react to the news. Instead, there was a feeling--finally *something* broke through the numbness in his chest and replaced a tiny bit of the huge chunk that had been torn from his soul. Sarah was warm and smelled like a forest in the Springtime. Her arms were strong and she just stood there letting him pour his nothingness into her. He could stand there forever.
"She's dead," he said, speaking into the side of her neck.
Sarah rubbed his back and brought a hand up to his neck, tousling his hair gently. "I know."
"I don't know what to do now. What am I supposed to do?"
"Come home with me," she responded. "We'll get you fed and cleaned up and take it from there."
"I don't want to do anything," Richie said, turning his face into her hair. "I don't even want to be."
Sarah's heart broke in half. It wasn't right that he had to face this. It wasn't right that Meg had been taken from him. No one should have to hurt like that. Least of all Richie.
"I know," she said. "Come on. Come with me."
Forty-five minutes later Richie was clean, had a small meal of bread and fruit in his stomach, and was sleeping fitfully under a thin blanket in one of Sarah's guest rooms. His hostess sat sobbing on the deck that ran the length of the back of her home, wrapped in a blanket of her own and soaking Connor's shirt with her tears.
Connor MacLeod had a million questions for Richie. Did he have any idea who might have done it? Who and when was his last head? Had he met any immortals since that night? Did he have any long time enemies? But Sarah wouldn't let him ask any of them.
"There'll be room for vengeance later, Connor," she said. "Right now we have to get him out of this hole."
Problem was, Richie liked it in his hole. It was safe and quiet. None of the winds raged in there and he could forget about the last time he saw his wife and concentrate on better moments in their history. The first time he saw her had been at a museum exhibit on twentieth century rock and roll music. She had been wearing a green sweater and khaki pants and he fell in love instantly. They made love for the first time on a beach in the Canary Islands in the middle of the day. He remembered the taste of her mouth, the slickness of the sun tan oil gliding on their skin...the sun on his face. Meg had helped him find Duncan two years ago and had given Sarah a stolen copy of her dead daughter's Watcher Chronicle. She had pulled all kinds of Watcher strings to get his sword and Connor's katana back from Japanese customs. And she had died from a twisting slice to the chest, spilling her blood all over the white and green tiles of their foyer.
If he had been home instead of out having a drink with Methos, it wouldn't have happened. Between them, the two immortals could have protected Meg and Kimberly. Hell, Richie Ryan could have fought off an army of immortals single handedly to save his wife. When he allowed himself to venture down that avenue of thought, Richie wound up curled in a tight ball in whatever location he had been in at the time. Connor found him once, outside the door to the downstairs bathroom, and tried to offer some comfort. But his words only brought more pain in the form of humiliation and guilt. Sarah found him several times and responded the same way she had on the first day in her office, by holding him silently and letting him pour his emptiness into her own body. They often fell asleep like that and Connor would come in and drape blankets over both huddled figures, sometimes wrapping his arms around Sarah and staying until just before morning.
Richie thought about Tessa and was plagued with haunting dreams of the days before she was lost to the world. They always ended the same way...with two gunshots and a pool of blood on a green and white tiled floor. Sometimes there were bloody footsteps leading away from him. Once Duncan came and took his head, admonishing him for not being able to protect Tessa and Margaret. Once Methos came and told him that Sarah was dead, blaming him.
That one had brought him back to the world screaming.
Connor came running with drawn katana, convinced someone was in the house. It took him nearly twenty minutes to get Richie calm enough to believe that Sarah was quite alive and had simply gone to the grocery store. He made the boy get out of bed and follow him out onto the deck in the cool evening air.
Richie looked at the spectacular purple and golden sunset without interest. He watched passively as Connor lit the deck lamps, absently stroking the fur of Sarah's cat, a huge grey and white mass of furr named Ogelthorpe, as it purred in his lap.
"What did you do when Heather died?" Richie asked.
Connor chose to continue to stare out across the yard, rather than face the sadness in his young friend's eyes. "I burned the house and left Scotland," he answered.
"Did it help?"
The Highlander shook his head deliberately and inhaled a deep breath of the clean African air. "No."
Two weeks later, Connor received another call from Methos. He stood in the bedroom, still wet from his shower and keenly aware of the fact that the other immortal's eyes kept wandering over his left shoulder to the unmade bed in the background.
"Sarah's not home," he said.
She had finally managed to convince Richie to leave the house and they were out fossil hunting up in Olduvai with her Freshman Archeology class. It was the first time the young man had gotten dressed since his arrival and, even with the speed of the transports, they wouldn't return until after midnight.
"I have some information," Methos responded, snapping another pencil neatly in two under the desk. "The woman who killed Meg and Kimberly is named Katja Schemm. She came back for Richie last night."
Connor nodded. "Did you kill her?"
"No," Methos said. "She wouldn't take my challenge and it wasn't really my battle to fight."
The Highlander nodded again. It wasn't how he would have dealt with the situation, but it was acceptable.
"I found her going through his desk in the study," Methos continued. "She knows he's with Sarie...at your house."
"It's Sarah's house," Connor answered, tossing his towel onto a nearby chair.
"Regardless," Methos swallowed and averted his eyes downward to his own hands. They were easier to look at than the oil painting of a celestial calendar that he had hung in Sarah's apartment in Seacouver--now visible above a bedside table behind Connor. "She knows where he is and I'm betting she shows up on your doorstep soon."
"Do you know why she's hunting him?"
Methos shook his head and forced himself to look at Connor once more. "No idea. But I thought you should know."
"Thank you," Connor said, pulling on a shirt and starting on the buttons.
Methos nodded and reached for the control pad, but Connor's voice stopped him.
"She misses you."
The world's oldest man cocked an eyebrow at Connor in a gesture that clearly took in the room the Highlander was standing in and all that it implied. "Does she?"
"I wouldn't lie about a thing like that," the Highlander answered. He held Methos' gaze for a moment, then cut the power to the screen.
"The name means absolutely nothing to me," Richie lied.
Connor believed him. Sarah did not, that much was obvious from the expression on her face.
Maybe if he kept repeating that phrase he would start to believe it himself. The name Katja Schemm meant everything to him. She was responsible for Margaret's death. And he had killed her husband in Munich in 2094. But there wasn't room for that guilt on top of his own. It would open up the windows and let the winds howl again, drag him screaming into reality; remind him of the blood on the floor and the marble hardness of his wife's dead flesh. So, instead, Richie Ryan climbed back into his hole and stayed there for three days.
[end part 2]
On the morning of the fourth day, Sarah was in the garden, trying to coax life back into a rose bush when the buzz hit. Connor had gone to the city for the day and Richie was upstairs, probably in the same fetal position she had left him in two hours ago. She pulled off her gardening gloves and grabbed her rapier, making her way across the garden to the front side of the house.
A woman was standing on her front stoop....tall, lanky, Aryan, and making no bones about the fact that she was carrying a rapier of her own.
"Don't even think about it," Sarah warned as the other immortal reached for the doorknob.
"You protect the boy?"
"This is my home," Sarah answered. "Who are you?"
"Katja Schemm. I'm here for Richie Ryan, not you."
Sarah nodded grimly. "He's not ready for you."
Katja Schemm flashed a purely malevolent smile. "Neither was his student. She died on her knees, pleading for mercy."
If the German had known even the slightest bit about Sarah, she would have recognized the set of her jaw and the hardening of her eyes as a precursor to cold anger. But she didn't. It was too subtle.
"I should kill you for that alone," Sarah said icily. "I should carve out your heart and hand it to you."
Katja Schemm was not used to being spoken to in that tone of voice. All of the other female immortals she had encountered had been frightened of her. But not this one. She backed up a step, coming up short against Sarah's front door. "I have no quarrel with you."
"Not yet, you don't," Sarah answered. "But if by some stroke of bizarre luck you actually kill Richie, I'll carve you into tiny pieces before I take your head."
Bravado had worked in the past. "You think?" Katja replied, raising her sword.
"I've killed dozens of immortals, I can kill you."
Sarah almost laughed. In fact, she started to and it took a supreme effort of will to bring her amusement under control. She could gut this woman and lop off her head before the German had time to think, but it wasn't her task to complete. Instead, Sarah disarmed the interloper with a twisting flick of her wrist, drawing blood.
"I killed dozens of immortals before Richard the Lionhearted returned from the Crusades, freulien," she said.
"He killed my husband," Katja protested, clutching at her wound.
"I don't care. Come for his head on my land again, and you'll find yours on the ground."
Richie nearly jumped out of his skin as his sword crashed to the floor not two feet from his left leg. He spared it a quick glance, then returned his gaze to the window, staring blankly out into the African sky. The lofty room was used as Sarah's dojo, complete with all the usual accouterments and the smell of floor wax, but if he focused on the sky, which was unlike any other sky he had seen in its incredible shade of azure, he could block out mental projections of what Methos must have seen in the attic dojo of the brownstone.
Moments later, Sarah's torso appeared squarely in his view; the hilt of her rapier evident at her hip. Richie sighed and turned his eyes to the opposite wall.
"Pick it up," she said.
Richie ignored her.
"Pick it up," she repeated evenly.
And again, no response.
He heard it first: a soft swooshing noise. It was followed by a quick rush of air against his face and the bite of metal at his throat. She wouldn't. He knew that. How could she? And did it really matter if she did? At least then the pain would stop.
The blade bit deeper and Richie felt blood trickle down the side of his neck. Instinct inspired him to edge to the left to relieve the pressure, but it moved with him. He raised his eyes to find Sarah looking down the length of the blade at him.
"You think I won't?" she asked.
Richie gulped. Her jaw was set. The muscles in her arms and shoulders were flexed and poised to strike a blow that would neatly remove his head. And there was nothing he could do about it if she was serious.
"Pick it up," Sarah said once more.
She took a half step back, allowing him the freedom to reach for his weapon, but keeping her own leveled at his throat. "I saw you in the window, Richie. You would have let me take the challenge for you."
He nodded and got to his feet, encouraged by the sting of metal under his right ear. How could he explain to her that he simply didn't care? That his whole world had been ripped from him in the course of one evening...that the guilt was overwhelming?
She should understand that. She had cried in his arms in Seacouver when Duncan had told her Methos was dead. She of all people should know what it felt like to have that hollow wind whipping through her body.
"I'm not Duncan," she said, lowering the rapier. "I'm not your teacher, not your protector. It is not my responsibility to mop up for you."
Richie breathed a sigh of relief and was rewarded for it with a searing pain across his chest. He looked down to see blood welling and let out a yelp of protest.
"You can go fight her, or you can stay and fight me. But you are not going to hide in my house and sink into oblivion."
"No buts," Sarah said, swinging hard.
Richie managed to get his sword up in time to stop a blow that could have taken a good chunk out of his side. They had sparred a million times, but she was not sparring now. Sarah pushed him relentlessly, swinging and thrusting in a blur of silver streaks until he was backed into a corner and off balance. She brought him to the ground with a kick that dislocated his left knee. A flick of her wrist sent his sword spinning out of reach.
"Go ahead, do it," he growled, screwing his eyes closed. "I don't want to be here anyway. Not without her."
"Get over it," Sarah responded. "Do you think I felt any differently when my family was killed? Or when I thought Petey was dead? What about Connor? Do you think he didn't want to die when he lost Heather? And Duncan? Katja Schemm lost a husband, Richie. You're not the first. And Meg won't be the last. It's who we are. It's what we have to live with."
"I don't want to," he yelled. Anger was something besides pain, at least. "Do you hear me? I don't want to!"
Sarah tossed her sword aside and squatted in front of him, reaching out to take his hand. "I know. But you have to."
"Why?" he sobbed. "Why?"
Sarah's face twisted in sympathy and she pulled him into a hug, rocking back and forth slowly. "Because it's the unspoken rule, Rich. Everyone dies but us."
"It sucks," he said through his tears.
"I know. But you have to believe me, the sun will rise tomorrow and you'll be here to see it. So you might as well keep putting one foot in front of the other."
Connor nearly sprawled headlong over Ogelthorpe, but caught himself on the railing of the deck, muttering a curse in ancient Gaelic.
"That's not a very nice thing to say about Ogie," Sarah said from the hammock. "And I believe it's supposed to be about cows, anyway."
The Highlander laughed and climbed in next to her, tucking one elbow behind his head and draping the other arm around her waist. His laughter faded to a smile of utter contentment as she rolled onto her stomach and planted a soft kiss in the hollow of his throat.
"You should come to bed," he said. "It's almost two am."
Sarah nodded, but they both knew she would not come to bed until Richie came home. Connor shifted underneath her, using her body heat to take away the chill of the night air.
"Do you feel that?" She asked.
Connor smirked and ran his hands up under her shirt, resting them on her waist. "I feel *something*."
"No," Sarah rolled her eyes. "The air."
After a moment of contemplation, Connor became aware of the sensation she was referring to. A high pitched humming danced on the edge of his consciousness and brought the hair on his arms up on end. A quickening.
Sarah got up and paced over to the stairs, descending slowly and moving with great purpose toward the middle of the lawn. She waited for Connor to join her, then pointed to the South. He nodded and put and arm around her shoulder. They stood like that until the last licks of lightning died out of the night sky.
"The warehouse district," he said.
"Katja Schemm," Sarah answered.
"Positive. He's part of me, Connor. I'd know it if he were dead."
Connor sighed. "What now?"
He knew that Sarah would understand the question to be broader than Richie Ryan.
She turned in his embrace and heaved a sigh of her own. Theirs had been an unspoken pact from day one; born out of a friendship that was old enough to transcend the boundaries of romance. It had been easy to forget that during the past two years. Sarah had simply wrapped herself in the blanket of love that Connor had offered her and they had lived together, letting their friends and neighbors believe them to be married--half believing it themselves. He had even given her a ring--emerald and diamond--on what should have been their four hundred and seventeenth wedding anniversary, joking that it was better late than never.
"I never wanted to claim you," Connor said.
Sarah smiled. "Connor MacLeod, you carved out a big old notch for yourself in my heart over four hundred years ago. You know that."
"That was before I knew about Methos."
"He's not coming," she said.
"I think he will."
Sarah shook her head. "Connor, please don't feel like you have to bow out on the off chance that Petey might want to come back."
"That was the deal, Sarah," he said softly. "You know that as well as I do. This was never about the kind of love you and he have. It was about the kind of love you and I have, and they're not the same thing."
He thought she might get upset, but Sarah surprised him with a full blown smirk.
"Is this the let's be friends speech?" She asked.
"Can you do that? Can you go from this back to that...back to what we had before I met your skinny Englishman? Drinking buddies and comrades in arms? No tears?"
Sarah hugged him tightly, breathing in his scent and memorizing the feel of his arms around her. Then she pulled back and kissed him the same way she had two years ago, standing in one of the spare bedrooms of Richie's brownstone in London. It was warm and soft and left Connor smiling.
"Thank you," she said. "I..."
Connor smiled and ran his thumb over her lower lip, then brushed lightly at her cheek. "No tears, remember?"
She nodded and turned, leaning her back against his chest and holding both of his hands tightly. An hour later, Richie called goodnight from the deck. She thought about going to check on him. But Richie was an adult and she wasn't ready to let go of Connor just yet. Two hours after that, dawn found them asleep in the hammock.
"Did you get your calls made?" Sarah asked, setting down her notes as Richie entered the room.
He nodded and took a seat in a wicker chair across the table from her. "I'm selling the brownstone."
She gave him a half-smile and shuffled through her papers for a moment, lost in preparing Monday's lecture.
"Where's Connor?" He asked.
Sarah chewed on her pen thoughtfully before answering and he suddenly knew that her response would amount to 'not here anymore'. "Geneva," she said. "He's...well..."
Gone. Connor was gone.
Richie watched her force a frown away and took her left hand from across the table. If she didn't want to explain the intricacies of the relationship, he wouldn't ask her to.
"Do you want some help cleaning it out? The brownstone, I mean," Sarah asked, squeezing his fingers with a small smile.
Richie leafed through a book on Hominid origins, wondering if immortals had been around that long and trying to screw a casual expression onto his face. "Methos said he'd do it."
She looked up sharply, her jaw working to form a response. It was rare, but there were times when Sarah's face was a clear mirror of her thoughts and Richie watched the silent dialog she was having with herself with great interest.
"Oh," Sarah said finally. "Good. It's easier when you have someone there."
What was rarer still was for him to find himself in a position to offer advice to his elder peers. He'd passed up the opportunity before; but not today. He took the pen from her right hand and set it down gently, then folded her fingers into her palm and closed his hand over them.
"Do you remember York, during the Rebellion?"
She nodded. It had been a gruesome battle and she had watched hundreds of people die. The only way to survive a day like that with your sanity intact was to completely remove yourself from it, keep moving forward, and do what you had to, hard as it may be.
"When I walked into my house and saw Meg's body, part of my brain tried to detach itself like it did at York...tried to rise above the gore and do what had to be done. But I couldn't do it," he said. "It was just too much and I fell into a hole. You and Methos did that. Neither of you listened to that rational part of your brain that was trying to save you anguish and you guys wallowed in it for forty years. It's time to stop."
"It's not that easy," Sarah said flatly. "It's not like letting go of someone who is dead..."
"Exactly," Richie interjected. "He's not dead. He's alive and so are you, but it won't always be that way. How many times are you going to let the sun rise without fixing this thing between you? Keep track, Sarah, because one day it's going to happen and one of you won't be here to see it."
She swallowed and composed her face expertly before answering. "You want me to come to London."
"I want lots of things," he answered with a sigh. "I want Meg back. I want my life to be simple. I want it to be like it was in Seacouver before Methos left--when we were all together and happy. None of those things are possible. What I don't want is for you two to spend the rest of forever like this. We had to kick you in the ass to see it back then, and now I'm kicking you again. Even if it's really over--if there is nothing left of how you guys loved each other--there is still the friendship. You owe him an explanation for what you did. Then, you two take it from there."
Sarah looked over at him, wondering how someone who had been so impetuous and reactionary a hundred years ago could suddenly have matured into such a wise man. It had taken her centuries to see even half of what Richie did about the world.
"Not London," she said. "Clearing out your house is about you, not about Petey and me. You need your time...not to have to deal with us trying to take each other's heads."
"That won't happen, Sarah."
She scowled. Methos had every right to challenge her. "What makes you so sure?"
"Because I know you. And I know that you'd offer him your head on your knees before picking up a sword against him again."
Sarah squeezed his hands with a smile. "You are *relentless*."
"A class A pain in the ass, yep. Learned from the best."
She flopped back in her chair and glanced around the room. Africa was hot, even in the rainy months. She hated the heat and she was tired of teaching seventeen year olds about evolution. Connor had done his part in hauling her out of the hole she had dug for herself, as had Duncan. Now Richie offering a final tug toward solid ground.
"Let me do this," he said. "Let me help you."
"By dragging me to London and making me and Petey place nice?"
"If that's what it takes, then yes."
Sarah inhaled deeply and blew it out with a sigh that sent the hair on her forehead sailing upwards. "Okay, I'll go. But you have to swear to me that your pushing ends here. If things don't work out, then they don't work out. Not every story has a happy ending."
"I know all about endings that aren't happy, trust me," he said. "But I promise that I won't play cupid if you promise to give it a fair shot."
She extricated her fingers from his grip and offered her hand to seal the bargain. There would be time to panic about the details later.
"What about you?" She asked.
Richie shrugged. He had felt better. He had walked on a beach with the most beautiful creature on the planet. He had also seen her put into the ground next to his first immortal student, both of whom would still be alive and vibrant had he been home.
"I feel like I failed them both," he said.
Sarah shook her head, wishing she could banish the guilt for him. There was so much of Duncan in the boy. So much honor, so much duty, so much remorse over things that were beyond his control. "You didn't. What happened was supposed to happen, for whatever reason, no matter how tragic and horrible. If you had been there you might have been killed, too."
"I loved her, Sarah. She was so beautiful."
He was falling again. The earth opened up under his feet and Richie felt himself slipping. But before he could lose sight of the surface, before he could even think about a place where it didn't hurt to know that Meg was gone from his world forever, Sarah was there; pulling him across the table into an awkward hug and telling him that Meg would be with him always.
"How do you know what to say to make it feel better?" He asked with a sniffle.
She smiled warmly and brushed a stray tear from his cheek. "Because I've been through it, Rich. And I can tell you that it'll stop hurting eventually and you'll only carry the love around with you. It make take ten years...it may take a thousand, but I guarantee you that, one morning you will wake up and nothing of the horror and pain will be there."
He couldn't imagine a day like that. But he trusted her. Richie wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve and flashed a rueful smile. "The sun will rise?"
To Part 15: Almost Home
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