This is what this actual tarot card looks like. Many thanks to Merrie Gail for the image!

The Sun

Astrochick

Email me!

Archivist's note: This is the twentieth story of a twenty two part series based on the cards of the tarot. To read the rest of the series you can go here.

"Every man believes that he has a greater possibility." -- Emerson, "Circles"

*************************************************
The typical "please don't sue me" stuff applies here. Duncan, Connor (yes, Connor!), Joe, the Watchers, Methos (mentioned in absentia, as are a few other DPP creations) and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders don't belong to me. Richie is in limbo, and everyone else, on the other hand, is a sick figment of my imagination.

References exist to "The 1001st Regret," "Death," "The Moon," "The Empress," "Wheel of Fortune," and of course "Ouroboros."

There are a few references to an ongoing slash relationship -- but if you've read this far into my little series, this should be a major DUH!

Comments are appreciated!

PS -- only kidding about the cheerleaders! *************************************************

Prologue:

"Hello!
Here I am
Here we are
We are one
I've been waiting for this night to come
Get up!
Now it's time for me to take my place
The make-up running down my face
We're exiles from the human race

You're in the psy--
You're in the psycho circus
You're in the psy--
You're in the psycho circus
And I say 'Welcome to the Show'."

-- Stanley/Cuomo (Kiss), "Psycho Circus"

Mid June, 1999

"I'm really glad Adam's okay," Josephine Bonet sighed in honest relief as she and Richie walked into the dojo, their sole intent to collect a pair of sneakers from the young man?s locker before departing.

"You and me both," Richie heartily agreed as he glanced around the deserted room, looking for some sign of one certain young pre-Immortal. He was certainly relieved that the inquisitive woman had apparently accepted his fabricated story of Adam's "return from the dead."

"I still can't believe the authorities could mess up identifying a body *that* badly," the professor continued. "I mean, you don't just go around informing the *next of kin* unless you're damn sure you have the right *kin*!"

"Mistakes happen," the Immortal absently replied, his mind strangely empty of that gentle tickle associated with the presence of one such as Jamie Crawford. "I wonder where JC is -- it's not like him to leave the doors wide open and the place unattended."

"Maybe he's upstairs?" Jo offered as she too searched the apparently deserted room for any sign of recent occupation.

"Doubt it -- the elevator's down here." Richie's sixth sense kicked in and he wondered if something was wrong. "Stay here -- I'm gonna check up in the loft," he firmly commanded as he took a few steps towards the staircase. He froze mid-stride as the full-fledged mental scream of another Immortal rang through his neurons. He spun, expecting to see his former teacher, returned early from his mysterious and sudden departure of only two days before. He was wrong.

"Oh my god!!!!" Josephine screamed as she watched the bloodied college student stumble into the main dojo.

"Help me... help me...." the disoriented blonde babbled as he took stilted steps towards his friends. "Owwwwww!!" JC cried as his hands clutched the sides of his head, the first experience with another Immortal's presence more than he could handle in his already confused and wounded state.

"Richie, call an ambulance!" Jo instinctively ordered. She ran to catch Jamie as he fell to his knees, the young man apparently in shock.

But Richie knew that the Game's latest entrant was beyond mortal medical treatment. <> "Help me get him to the elevator," he commanded as he threw Jamie's nearly limp arm around one of his shoulders, the new Immortal moaning in incoherent response.

"He needs a doctor, now!!!!" Jo countered, nearly hysterical as she wrapped Jamie's other ragdoll arm around her shoulders. "He's going into shock! Look at all the blood...." With her free hand she motioned to the gaping crimson gash in the student's tie-dyed T-shirt. "He's been stabbed!"

"Jo, please, I'll explain in a minute -- just help me get him into the elevator. Please!"

The look in Richie's eyes, as earnest as it was, still somehow failed to convince Jo of the wisdom of his plan of action. "He needs to go to the hospital," she urgently pushed, her teeth gritted in frustration at Richie?s unexplainable hesitation. "Look at him -- he's going to die if we don't do something," she yelled in confused desperation.

"He already did," was Richie's grim-faced reply. He took advantage of the stunned hesitation of the mortal woman to lurch their connected bodies into the lift and lower the grate. <>

Part 1:

"Welcome to the jungle
It gets worse here everyday
Ya learn to live like an animal
In the jungle where we play
If you got a hunger for what you see
You'll take it eventually
You can have anything you want
But you better not take it from me

In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your knees, knees
I wanna watch you bleed."

-- Guns N Roses, "Welcome to the Jungle"

Richie managed to heft JC's nearly deadweight body onto the green leather couch with minimal help from the still-stunned mortal. Fortunately, Jamie's nearly-catatonic state was an asset at the moment, as Richie certainly had his hands full trying to keep Josephine from calling in the National Guard.

"What do you mean, he already died?" Jo pushed as she stood near the elevator, arms wrapped helplessly around her chest as her eyes oscillated between the still-dazed college student and her some-time lover.

"Gimme a minute," Richie tersely barked, walking over towards the liquor cabinet. "I think we all need a drink first."

"Richie, Jamie needs a *doctor*, not a damn shot!" Josephine cried, her hands banging against the wall behind her with clenched fists. "What the *hell* is going on?!" She stomped off towards the wall-phone, only to have her wrists imprisoned by Richie's fingers, which seemed to appear from nowhere. "Damn it, Richie! I'm calling 911 right now!!" she yelled, the fire in her eyes nearly searing the young Immortal's soul.

Desperate for some way to get through to Jo without a long-winded explanation of Immortality, Richie released one wrist and opened the cutlery drawer behind him. His fingers felt around and found a small paring knife. <> "Watch!" he commanded as he released Jo's other wrist and in a sweeping motion carved a three inch gash into the palm of his hand with the knife.

"Richie!!" Jo screamed, instinctively reaching for the wounded flesh with both her hands. As she gasped in horror, the Immortal healing process began its efficient work, the laceration beginning to close up before her eyes. She dropped the hand and took a step back against the wall, her spine banging into the telephone she'd so urgently wanted to dial just a few moments before. "How???... what???..." the rational-minded mortal stammered as she watched the miraculous recovery of the injured hand.

"I think I'll get us all that drink now," Richie calmly answered, wiping the blood from the still-tender hand with a dishrag. He fetched three crystal glasses and a decanter of Mac's best scotch and calmly set it all down onto the coffee table. In silence, he poured three large servings of the alcohol, still not answering Jo's desperate and quite reasonable question. "Here, drink this," he softly coaxed, handing one glass to the still-shaken and wordless JC.

The new Immortal's pale blue eyes focused on the offered beverage, then onto Richie's comforting face.

"Go on, it's gonna be okay. I'll explain everything. But first, you need a drink. We all do."

JC hesitated for one more moment, then took the short, stout crystal glass with both blood-stained hands and raised the strong elixir to his mouth. He guzzled half the glass, then coughed, nearly spewing the scotch all over himself and Richie.

"Take it easy -- just drink it slowly," Richie coaxed as he left Jamie alone for a moment. Retrieving the two remaining glasses from the table, he walked over to where Josephine still stood, virtually paralyzed in disbelief, at the edge of the kitchen. "Drink this," he firmly ordered. "Then I'll explain everything you've ever wanted to know about me. And then you'll know why JC's gonna be okay."

With eyes wide as full moons and trembling fingers, Jo accepted the glass, chugging down a mouthful in record time as Richie did the same. She stopped to take a quick breath, closing her eyes as she wished it was all some kind of tortuous nightmare. Jo then raised the glass to her lips once more and polished off the scotch.

"Good," Richie encouraged, collecting the now-empty glass from her hands and gently leading her to the living room with one hand on hers. "Sit -- this is gonna take a while."

Her eyes never leaving Richie's strangely calm face, the mortal did as she was told, slowly sinking into Duncan's favorite wing back chair.

Richie sprinted into the kitchen and retrieved the already bloodied dishrag, wetting it before returning to the living room. Handing the cloth to Jamie, he sat down on the couch beside the fellow Immortal. "What happened?" he gently inquired.

JC wiped the dried brownish stains from his hands in silence, then dropped the rag onto the coffee table before beginning his story. "I... I just went to put some trash out in back. That's when I saw them."

"Saw who?" Richie asked, gently patting the blonde's shoulder in encouragement.

"Um, there were two of them, punks. About fourteen or fifteen I think. They were trying to steal my radio," JC explained.

"And one of them stabbed you," Richie correctly guessed.

Jamie nodded slowly. "Right here," he gestured, his fingers poking at a large stained gash in his shirt just to the left of his breastbone, his eyes widening as he realized he was no longer bleeding.

<> "And they split?"

"Yeah, I guess," JC offered in confusion. "I... I passed out pretty fast. I was bleeding all over the place and it really hurt." He swallowed in an exaggerated way, his eyes searching Jo's face, then Richie's for some comfort. "When I came to, I ran straight back in here to call myself an ambulance, and that's when I found you."

"And you had this strange headache, right?" Richie calmly suggested, not knowing exactly how to describe the Immortal call.

Jamie slowly nodded once more. "Yeah. But... it's gone now."

"Because we're used to each other's presence. If you try really hard, you can still sense it, though." Richie waited patiently for Jamie to find this out firsthand.

"Yeah, I can feel something... kinda in the background of my mind. What is that?"

Richie sighed and the faintest of smiles touched his lips. "It's how one Immortal senses another."

"Immortal?" Josephine gasped. "You're not serious!"

"Dead serious," Richie grimly noted, tearing the gash in JC's shirt farther open. "Look -- no wound. No scar. It's healed, just like my hand."

The professor leaned forward in her chair, her mouth gaping open in disbelief. "My god, it's true."

JC shot up off of the couch like a rocket, scrambled over to the bathroom and looked for himself. Sure enough, despite the dried blood which sullied his flesh, there was no sign of the wound. <> Hearing Richie calling his name, he returned to the living room like a sleepwalker not completely aware of his surroundings.

"I have to make a phone call," Richie explained as he took the receiver off of the wall and punched in a local number. <> He breathed a sigh of relief as the Watcher picked up the other end.

"Joe's."

"Joe, Richie. Get over to the loft. Please."

"Trouble?" the mortal's obviously concerned voice inquired.

The Immortal didn't know exactly what the correct answer to that question was. "Let's just say you guys have a new one who needs assigning."

"Gotcha. I'll be right there. Who is it?"

"Jamie Crawford."

A moment's silence. "Damn -- I knew it. How's he taking it?"

"About as well as you'd expect," Richie noted, his eyes watching as Josephine moved to the couch next to the new Immortal, then collected the bloodied young man in a comforting embrace. "Joe -- I've got another problem."

"Witnesses?" Joe winced.

"Yeah -- Josephine."

"Seems like your life just got a whole lot more complicated," the Watcher dryly replied. "Any idea where Mac is?"

"I was hoping you'd know," Richie admitted, feeling his heart drop a few inches.

"Nada. He asked me to lay off the tailing this once as a personal favor. All I know is that he's on Holy Ground helping an old friend and he expects to be back in a week or so."

"Damn."

A pregnant pause. "Richie... you're gonna hafta start training him you know."

"Me???" the young Immortal incredulously blurted out. "Look, I'm having a hard enough time explaining the basics here and you want me to play teacher?"

"You have any better ideas?" Joe pushed.

"No... but give me a little while, okay? Just get over here and help me deal with this mess."

"Be there in a few," Joe promised before the two men hung up their respective phones.

Richie leaned his forehead against the receiver for a moment, reaching down into himself for the fortitude to continue the explanation. He wished Mac was here, he wished Mac had told JC about Immortals, hell he even wished Methos was around. <> And having Methos around might raise questions he certainly wasn't ready to deal with yet.

"Richie...." Josephine softly called, interrupting the Immortal's self-pitying thoughts.

"Yeah, you need that explanation...."

And so Richie succinctly described the essence of an Immortal's existence -- the healing, the eternal youth, the infertility, the Game, the swords, the heads -- all the while nervously pacing around the loft floor.

Jamie became greener and greener as the narrative progressed. "Oh, man, I feel like an extra in a George Romero movie," he finally offered. "Right outta 'Night of the Living Dead'." He rubbed his eyes as if he was trying to awaken from the worst dream of his life. "So you're Immortal, and Mac is too?"

Richie nodded. "He was born Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, over 400 years ago in the Highlands of Scotland."

"Wow," Jamie breathed loudly. "How old are you?"

A sheepish grin and a chuckle answered. "Hate to disappoint ya, but I'm actually a little *younger* than you are. I died not long after my nineteenth birthday -- almost six years ago."

"So, you're gonna be nineteen forever?" JC tried to grasp.

"Unfortunately, yeah. I'll never look any older. Hell, I'll probably get carded for the next hundred years until they lower the drinking age again!"

<> Josephine's mind went in a direction she hadn't intended as she tried to wrap her usually logical mind around this totally illogical concept of living forever. "And you'll have to move on once people start questioning your fountain of youth, won't you," she sadly realized.

Richie pursed his lips and looked away from the hurt in Jo's face. That question didn't need answering right now.

"So the only way I can die is if someone cuts off my head, right?" JC interrupted, his face taking on a serious, contemplative appearance.

"That's the basic idea," Richie agreed.

"And Immortals go around trying to lop off each other's heads to get more powerful, until there's only one left, right?"

"Some do," Richie shrugged.

"Does Mac?" Jamie hesitantly asked, his eyes showing fear for the first time in the last few minutes.

"No, Mac doesn't go looking for a fight," Richie assured him. "I think he took you in because he expected to be your teacher someday, when you *died.* Like he did for me."

"Why would he do that?" JC quite rationally inquired. "I mean, why bother training new Immortals if we're just supposed to use each other's heads for batting practice?"

Richie had no logical answer. "Because that's the way it's always been," he lamely offered. "It's a matter of honor, I think. You train your students to be the best they can be, and you hope that if you don't survive, that maybe they will."

"To take the place of the children you'll never have," Josephine whispered too loudly.

Richie nodded in understanding and agreement. "Yeah -- that's the best explanation I've ever heard." He saw a puzzled look cloud Jo's face. "What's wrong?" he inquired.

"That scar -- the one you brushed off when I first noticed it. The one on your neck."

The faint white line which encircled the young Immortal's neck suddenly started to itch. "A close call," he offered tersely, hoping she'd get the message and not push further. Fortunately for them all, she backed off.

But Josephine had other, possibly more dangerous questions. "Is Adam one of you?" she asked, her voice full of raw emotion.

Richie nodded, noting the spark of understanding in the mortal's eyes.

"How old is he?" she asked, her voice slightly cracking under the emotional stress. How could she compete with a lover who would never age? <> But still, she just had so many things she needed to know, all bubbling up inside of her at once like a tornado of irrationality.

Richie squirmed uncomfortably, wondering when Joe would appear and relieve him on the witness stand. "He doesn't like to talk about his age," he offered vaguely.

"Kinda like a woman," JC snickered, trying to find some sick semblance of humor in the new upside-down world he inhabited. "Damn, I bet Immortal women are *really* touchy about that!"

"Not all of them," Richie noted with a crooked smile. "Remind me to introduce you to Amanda some time."

"So, how old is the oldest Immortal," Josephine continued to cross-examine.

Richie hesitated, wondering if he could somehow change the subject without arousing undue suspicion. But he knew Jo had the tenacity of a pitbull. Best to answer her questions -- but as briefly as possible. "They say he's five thousand years old," Richie offered, choosing his words carefully. "But no one knows for sure. Most Immortals think he's a myth."

"What's his name?" Josephine pushed, not really sure why it mattered, but at the same time certain it did in some strange way.

?What's with all the questions about old men?" Richie uncomfortably diverted, becoming annoyed with the Watcher for taking his sweet ass time in arriving.

"Call it my natural curiosity," Jo shrugged, fascinated yet at the same time worried about Richie's reaction. "Hell, you've just told me there are people who can live virtually forever -- that you're *one* of them.... Don't you think I'm entitled to have a few burning questions?"

"Sorry," Richie contritely replied. Yes, it would do no good to avoid her questions, in fact it might draw more attention to the issue. "They say his name is Methos."

<> Josephine wracked her brain as she tried to remember the context in which she'd heard that name.

"Wow, five freaking thousand years!" JC gushed, clearly feeling somewhat better about his newfound gift, if only on the surface. "Imagine, witnessing all that history firsthand."

That point wasn't lost on the professor. She stood up and walked over to the youngest Immortal, grabbing him by the hands. "Richie -- do you know what this means?"

"What means?" the azure eyes asked in confusion along with his words.

"This is a historian's dream! Imagine, first-hand accounts of the fall of Rome, the building of the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. Someone has to write all this down, record what these people have seen, what they've experienced."

"Like the Talamasca," JC offered.

"Who?" Richie inquired, not noticing the lift had begun its ascent into the loft.

"The Talamasca -- a secret Organization in Anne Rice novels," a deep voice answered.

Richie and Jo turned around to face Joe Dawson just as the grate started upward towards the ceiling. The Watcher slowly walked into the loft and glanced at the three faces which looked to him for an explanation.

"Are you one of us too, Joe?" JC asked hopefully.

"Nah, sorry kid," the bluesman gently answered as he warmly thumped Richie on the shoulder in support. "You'd have felt me coming if I was."

"Oh, yeah, right, right -- I forgot about that," Jamie blushed in embarrassment.

"But you know all about Immortals, don't you," Josephine correctly surmised.

Joe walked over to the liquor cabinet and fetched a clean glass, then helped himself to a belt of scotch before easing himself into the corner chair. "I've known about Immortals longer than JC here's been alive," he admitted.

And with that, Joe Dawson added a few more pieces to the puzzle du jour.

Part 2:

"The villas and the chapels where
I learned with little labour
The way to love my fellow man
And hate my next door neighbor."

-- G.K. Chesterton

After explaining the Watchers and a bit more of the scholarly history of the Game, much to Josephine's delight, Dawson offered to take JC to his place for the night for safe-keeping, realizing that Richie and the mortal woman had a great deal to discuss -- in private.

So it was that Richie and Josephine found themselves sitting on the mortal's living room floor, eating Chinese take-out straight from the containers -- Richie with a fork, and Jo with a pair of chopsticks.

Their conversation was stilted at first, topics much more than banal than Immortality were bandied back and forth as both conveniently avoided what really needed to be discussed.

As Jo toyed with her vegetarian tofu dish, she realized that she owed the young Immortal one hell of an apology. "What an idiot," she mumbled guiltily to herself, finding her appetite had suddenly waned.

"Hmmmm?" Richie queried between mouthfuls of General Tso's chicken. "Who you talking about?"

The history professor plunked the half-eaten dish onto the coffee table in self-disgust. "Me. I'm a pompous, pontificating, know-it-all idiot." She rubbed her eyes with one hand and glanced away, not able to meet Richie's sincere gaze.

"What are you talking about?" the Immortal softly pushed, realizing that the older woman was precariously close to tears. He placed his cardboard box next to hers and reached over to collect her in a reassuring hug. To his surprise - no, scratch that, to his dread -- she pushed him away and stood up.

"Me. Remember all those times we talked about war and peace and philosophy and I was so damn sure that there was no such thing as justifiable violence?"

Richie closed his eyes and hung his head, shaking it slightly before raising his eyes towards her again. "Jo -- don't do this to yourself. You had no way of knowing what I am... what I have to do."

"Exactly, what you *have* to do," Jo continued, pacing around in back of the couch uncomfortably. "You didn't ask for this, you had no say in setting up the rules of the Game. Yet there I was, spouting my mouth off like I knew exactly what I was talking about from personal experience. God, how could you sit there and listen to that." She paused and turned to catch the Immortal's eyes. "No wonder you broke it off -- you knew I'd never be able to handle this." She laughed. "Just what you didn't need, a pacifist Greenpeace radical trying to put a daisy on the end of your sword. Now it makes sense."

"Jo...." Richie started, standing up himself and walking to within an arm's reach of his companion. "It's not your fault."

"No, but it's not yours either, Richie. It's not your fault that you have people trying to murder you every day of your life."

"It's not that bad," the Immortal tried to explain. "You make it out like I get challenged every day. I've gone months without a challenge."

"But the next one always comes, doesn't it," the mortal bitterly noted, wringing her hands.

"Yes... at some point, yeah. It always does." Richie gently took her hands in his and raised them to his lips. "That's why most Immortals never tell anyone about what they really are. Because they're afraid to...."

"Afraid of being rejected?" Josephine winced, a tear collected at the corner of one eye.

Richie nodded slightly. "Yeah, but also afraid of putting people we love in danger. That's why I pushed you away, Jo -- not just because I was afraid you'd turn away. But because I wanted to protect you."

Jo remembered the stranger who'd accosted Richie outside of Joe's club the night they'd broken up. It all made sense, in a horrible kind of way. "And now?" she whispered, her voice quivering as the tear rolled down her cheek and landed at the corner of her mouth.

Graceful hands cupped her face and tenderly held it close as warm, full lips kissed away that liquid sadness. "That's completely up to you," Richie breathed, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead, then the tip of her nose, then her mouth once more.

Josephine felt her brain give way to her heart as she melted into his embrace, her fingers desperately clinging to his back as her mouth sought the reassurance of his. The Game could wait, dammit. At least for a few sweet moments.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The lovers lay in the antique brass bed, finishing their now-cold Chinese with renewed appetite.

"Want a bite?" Jo offered, holding out a piece of tofu clutched in the scissors-like grasp of her chopsticks.

"Ugh, no thanks," Richie teased. "Tofu's not real food in my book." His face sank in concern as he noted Jo's downtrodden reaction. "Hey, don't take it personally -- I'm sure the tofu industry will survive without my support."

The mortal placed the white box and sticks onto the night table and started rising from the bed.

"Hey -- what did I say?" the confused young man asked, putting aside his leftovers.

"Nothing," Jo sadly noted as she scooped her favorite green silk bathrobe from the dressing table chair. "It's reality time again, that's all."

"Meaning what?"

Jo sighed loudly as she finished tying the belt, then turned to face the gorgeous man who had just made love to her.

Eternally young and gorgeous.

Immortal.

So unlike her already sagging body. "This was a mistake," she matter-of-factly stated, walking towards the door.

"Oh no you don't," Richie demanded as he sprang from the bed, picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder before dragging her back to bed. "You're not gonna walk away from this, not now. Not after what just happened."

"What just happened was a mistake," Jo blurted out again as she scrambled to get up from the bed once again.

"Why? Give me one good reason why?" Richie pleaded as he pinned her arms to the bed with his hands. "I love you."

Tears welled up in the mortal's eyes once again. "That's why it was a mistake," she whispered.

Richie blinked hard, releasing the woman's arms as he shifted his weight farther back on the bed. "I don't get it."

"I don't want to hurt you," she explained as she wiped her eyes with the back of one hand. "And if I pretend that I'm okay with all of this, I'd be lying. I don't know how I really feel about this... about you being Immortal."

"About the Game," Richie whispered in understanding tinted with familiar disappointment.

"I want to be okay with this, really, I want to," Jo urged, gently stroking one of the young man's hands with hers. "It's just... so much to deal with, you know?"

Richie pursed his lips and nodded, his free hand idly playing with the sheets.

"I love you with all my heart, Richie Ryan," she admitted. "I just don't know if it's enough. I don't know if I can be the person you need me to be." She paused, not caring about the rivers which flowed down her face. "I want to be, more than I've ever wanted to be anything in my entire life. I... just don't know if I can."

"So, what now?" Richie asked with a glimmer of hope still tenaciously holding on to one corner of his heart.

"We take it step by step I guess," Jo concluded, a faint smile lighting up her face as Richie gently wiped the tears from one of her cheeks. "I'm gonna try really hard, but you're going to have to be really patient with me, okay?"

"I can do that," Richie promised. "Whatever you need, whatever I can do to help."

"You have more important things on your mind," Jo prodded him, poking the muscular chest. "Jamie needs you a lot more than I do right now." She raised a finger to halt the protest which initiated on his lips. "I'll still be here. And I'm not saying we can't see each other -- I just think that *this* can't happen again. Until we figure out where we're going." She replaced her fingers with her lips, savoring the mixed taste of soy sauce and Richie. "Until I get my head together."

Chaste, comforting kisses sustained them for a few moments, the lovers finally collapsing in an all-encompassing hug.

Richie sighed as he glanced over at the alarm clock. "I guess I should get dressed and go home now," he reluctantly offered.

"I don't know about you, but I don't think I'm going to get much sleep tonight," Jo admitted as she snuggled greedily into his arms.

"Me neither," Richie realized. He kissed the top of Jo's head. "You still have that gourmet hot chocolate?"

"Two flavors," she answered with a grin.

Fifteen minutes later, they were in the living room, sipping their hot beverages, Jo in her bathrobe, and Richie in a borrowed pair of sweat pants.

"This was a good idea," Jo admitted, blowing across the top of her steamy cocoa.

"I have them once in a while," Richie teased with a wink.

"Tell me about Darius," the mortal asked, remembering how Joe had spoken reverently about the deceased priest. "He retired from the Game, right?"

"Yeah, since he was holed up on Holy Ground, it was easy to do," Richie explained. "It's suicidal otherwise. I should know."

"What do you mean?" Jo asked, her face reflecting her confusion.

Richie sighed as he stirred his drink. "His name was Daray. Of course, I didn't know that at the time...."

-------------------

About 4 AM, Richie finished his story of how he'd almost lost his head to William Culbraith, and how he realized he could never escape from the Game -- unless he wanted to become a priest.

"So I guess I owe Adam one," the mortal noted as she stirred her second cup of hot chocolate.

"For what?" Richie asked, wondering if the late hour was muddling his brain.

"Well, from what you just told me, Mac was going to let you run around without your sword. Joe explained to you that it was Adam who persuaded him to go after you."

The Immortal chewed on that thought for a moment. "Yeah -- yeah, I guess you're right. Huh. I never thought of that before."

"Sounds to me like he might be your guardian angel," Jo teased as she gingerly took a sip. "There's something I've been wanting to ask all day," she added.

"Shoot," Richie encouraged.

"Well, you said that when you take another Immortal head, you absorbed some kind of essence from them, right?"

"Yeah, their Quickening."

"And this contains their knowledge and power of some kind."

Richie shrugged. "So they say. I'm not really sure what it is."

Josephine shifted around in her chair. "Are you consciously aware of that other Immortal's presence within you?"

The young man thought for a moment. "No, not usually. It gets buried, I guess assimilated is the best word I can think of."

"Like the Borg Collective?" Jo teased.

Richie smiled. "Maybe. Anyway, you don't have any conscious side effects. It's like they never existed, except that you've gotten some kind of energy from them. I really don't know what good it is -- maybe we won't know until it's down to the last two."

That thought sent a chill up the mortal's spine. "You said not usually."

The Immortal nodded. "Sometimes you keep memories or habits, harmless personality quirks." He paused and then his voice became hushed. "Sometimes, in really rare cases, you can be taken over by the personality of the person you've just killed."

"Has that ever happened to you?" Jo inquired with interest.

"Once."

"How did you... fix it?" the mortal wondered aloud.

"You mean how did I get back to my normal self, whatever that is?"

Jo nodded silently.

Richie shrugged. "Not sure. Adam took care of me. I guess when he *killed me*, I mean stabbed me, it drove the other personality into its proper place."

Something in the young man's eyes when he described that event caught Jo's attention. They'd avoided one very important subject all night -- perhaps now was the time to clear the air.

"Is that how you two first got together," Jo guessed, already knowing the answer.

The Immortal nodded, somewhat guilty. "Not exactly the best foundation for a relationship, is it."

Josephine leaned forward in the rocking chair and gently clasped one of the young man's hands. "It shows you can count on him when you're vulnerable and in need. I'd say that's a great foundation."

Richie smiled and raised her hand to his lips. "You make this way too easy, ya know."

"What," she laughingly replied.

"Loving you."

Their eyes met for a few disconcerting seconds, then Josephine broke the mood, excusing herself to the bathroom.

She shut the door behind her, closing her eyes as she leaned up against the door for a minute. She took a moment to regain mastery over her emotions. Finally satisfied with her regained composure, she looked at her reflection in the mirror. From across the room, she still resembled the perky college student who wowed her peers with her brains and curvaceous figure. But as she walked over to get a closer look, the signs of time became too noticeable to ignore. Fine lines traced her once-smooth skin, her once-firm breasts sagging slightly under her thin robe.

And Richie would be young and beautiful forever.

-------------------

She emerged from the bathroom five minutes later, hoping her eyes weren't too obviously puffy from her brief crying spell. Putting on her best cheerful face, she strode into the living room, ready to start a "safe" conversation....

A sweet, relaxed smile blossomed over her face at the sight she found. Her Prince Charming was asleep where he sat, head leaning back against the top of the couch. Loathe to disturb him from this much-deserved rest, she silently picked up her grandmother's antique quilt and covered the young man with the ecru croquet blanket before planting the barest of kisses on the crown of his head. "Sleep well, my darling," she whispered. "No one will hurt you tonight."

As if in response, Richie mumbled something incoherent in his sleep and, clutching the soft quilt to his chest, rolled over into a fetal position.

Then it hit Josephine, like a Quickening. She suddenly remembered where she'd heard the name Methos before ....

It was the name Richie called out in his sleep the night he thought Adam was dead.

<> she thought, quickly trying to dismiss the idea. But yet it made such perfect, logical sense. Why else would Richie have been so defensive at her questions about the oldest living Immortal. Richie wanted to protect her -- he would also want to protect the other person he loved.

With an audible sigh, Jo picked up her mug and reclaimed her perch in the rocking chair. Richie Ryan loved her -- she believed that without hesitation. But he also loved a man. An Immortal man.

An Immortal man who walked the earth before writing itself was invented. No wonder Richie was so drawn to him.

<> she mused. She wondered how she'd ever be able to compete with a legend.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

"Thanks for breakfast," Richie grinned as he kissed Jo good-bye, his mouth still tasting of maple syrup.

"Any time," she offered with a smile. "Dinners are good, too."

"You're on," the Immortal eagerly replied. "Friday?"

"Friday's great," Jo beamed. "You can tell me how Jamie's training is coming."

"So we can commiserate about our students, right?" Richie teased the professor.

"Something liked that." She hesitated for a moment, then pulled the young man's head towards hers for a sweet, brief kiss. "Take care of yourself until then, okay?"

"I'll do my best," Richie agreed, kissing her forehead one last time before turning to leave. He stopped at the doorway of the bungalow and turned around. "You got a pen and paper?"

"Of course," Jo answered as she collected one of her red grading pens and a piece of scrap paper from the end table.

"Thanks." Richie scribbled a name and overseas phone number onto the paper, then handed it and the pen back to the mortal. "If something every happens, to me I mean, or if you ever need help, and you can't get to Mac or Joe, call this number."

Josephine stared at the series of numbers and the name. "Brother Enrique? Isn't that your friend in France?"

Richie smiled. "Yeah. He's in a Franciscan monastery outside of Paris. His real name is Enkidu."

The professor's eyes widened. "As in Gilgamesh?"

The Immortal nodded. "Although he claims to have nothing to do with the original legend. But with him, ya never know."

"How old...." she stammered, not even completing her sentence.

"Four K, give or take a few. He's never given me an exact number. Not that it matters with him -- he's just a great guy, and I trust him with my life." He paused. "Adam trusts him too," he added, hoping he didn't need to elaborate any more.

"Then I trust him implicitly," Josephine quietly noted, stuffing the paper into the pocket of her bathrobe.

Richie nodded once more and turned to leave. He'd hoped that telling Jo the truth would decrease the complications in his life. Instead, it somehow increased them.

And one even more serious complication awaited his less-than-expert guidance.

Part 3:

"To teach is to learn twice over." -- Joseph Joubert Pensees

(two days later)

"Okay, let's try this again. Ready?" Richie lunged at his newbie student with a half-hearted attack, hoping this volley would last longer than the last. Jamie blocked the initial impact, then struck his own blow on his teacher's sword. With a hopeful smile, Richie returned in kind, his feet dancing to the side as he tried to make this workout more three-dimensional than the previous. The gangly blonde Immortal took a few steps backwards in response, then lunged at the more experienced man's abdomen far too aggressively. With a loud sigh, Richie knocked the sword from his student's hands, then ran the steel of his practice sword along the older man's neck for effect.

"Oh, man, I just *suck*, don't I?" Jamie winced as he tried to catch his breath.

"You just need more practice," Richie reassured his dejected sparring partner. And I need more patience. Hoping to bolster the college student's confidence, he took two steps back and picked up the other sword, handing it back to JC. "C'mon. One more time. Maybe I'll even let you kick my ass."

"Hey, that sounds like fun," Jamie answered with a lighted grin, eagerly gripping the hilt of the offered weapon with one hand as he wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead with the back of the other hand. He assumed a defensive stance and waved with the fingers of his free hand. "I'm ready -- let's go!"

I hope you're more ready than the last time! Richie grimly attacked once more, satisfied with the initial defense of the inexperienced swordsman. Jamie returned the volley with a slice that wasn't half-bad, then switched quickly to a defensive pose before his teacher's sword contacted with his. Another few exchanges bolstered JC's confidence as a student as well as Richie's confidence as a teacher. Eager to see just what the taller man could do, Richie got creative with his offense, quickly pushing Jamie beyond his capabilities. All too soon, JC ended up on the dojo floor with the tip of Richie's sword at his Adam's apple.

Richie's premature disappointment took a back seat to his need to keep JC focused. Removing his blade from the tender flesh, he extended a hand to the prone man to help him up. "That was good -- much better. You're getting the hang of it! You just need more practice."

JC reluctantly took the hand and clambered to his feet. "Yeah, like a hundred years or so. Think you can put the Game on hold until then." His words may have had humor, but his steel-blue eyes reflected only fear.

"Hey, I wasn't exactly Zorro when I started either," Richie offered in encouragement. His thoughts were halted by the sensation of an approaching Immortal. "Maybe that's Mac!" he thought aloud, desperately hoping it to be true.

MacLeod pushed open the door to the closed dojo and sauntered inside.

Connor MacLeod.

The elder clansman smiled at the two sweats-clothed men, realizing they were clearly involved in a non-serious combat. "Got sick of having Duncan knock you on your ass I see," Connor joked as he walked towards Richie with a hand extended, his sneakers making little sound against the wooden floor.

Richie eagerly grabbed the offered hand and pumped it enthusiastically. "Connor, I am soooo glad to see you." The youngest of the Immortals turned his head and motioned towards JC. "Jamie -- this is Connor MacLeod. He was Mac's teacher."

JC wiped his sweaty palms on his navy sweat pants and reverently offered his hand to the elder MacLeod. "I'm honored, Mr. MacLeod. Richie's told me about you."

Connor shook the hand while chuckling in amusement. "Don't believe everything you hear." He noted the deer-in-the-headlights look in the blonde's eyes. "So, I guess you're new to our little game?"

"That obvious, huh?" Jamie nervously laughed. "Three days to be exact."

"He yours?" Connor asked Richie, his voice a mixture of surprise and pride, feeling strangely grandfatherly towards Duncan's favorite student.

"Not by choice," Richie sighed. "Mac picked a bad time to go save the world. I think *he* was planning on taking on a new student -- just not this soon."

Connor nodded thoughtfully, his eyes recognizing the frustration in Richie's face. "Jamie, would you mind...."

JC blinked away his silent awe at the trench-coated old Immortal. "Uh, yeah, yeah, sure," he stammered. "I'll be upstairs," he explained as he tripped his way over to the lift. "It was an honor to meet you, Mr. MacLeod."

"Nice to meet you too, Jamie," Connor replied. "And please, call me Connor."

"Connor, right. Thanks!" JC closed the gate behind him and watched the other two Immortals as long as he could as the elevator lifted him towards the second floor.

Connor chuckled once more as he watched JC's feet disappear. "I see Duncan's still taking in strays."

Richie laughed nervously. "Yeah. At least *he* knows what to do with them!"

The elder MacLeod smiled warmly as he clapped Richie on the shoulder. "I don't know how he convinced Tessa to take you in."

"Gee, thanks," Richie groused with a crooked half-smile. "I wasn't *that* bad."

Both men laughed. "Yes, I was," Richie admitted.

"Looks like you're in over your head."

Richie nodded sheepishly, his hands planting onto his hips.

"It's harder to train a new student than you thought, isn't it?"

Pause. Richie contemplated that truism. "Yeah. I wish Mac was here."

Connor smiled. "Makes you feel sorry for him, having had to deal with you."

"*Oh* yeah!" was Richie's heart-felt reply.

"Makes you appreciate him a little bit more, doesn't it?"

The younger man had no immediate response.

Connor affectionately ruffled his hair. "Don't sweat it. Duncan didn't appreciate *me* until he had to deal with you. And you weren't even his first student. You were, how should I put this, a *special* challenge."

That made Richie laugh. "Gee, thanks! That's supposed to make me feel better?"

"Heh, heh. No, but it's supposed to give you some perspective on all of this."

Richie shrugged. "It wouldn't be so bad if it had been *my* decision. I'm sure Mac was planning on taking on that responsibility himself. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Connor's face became serious, "No -- you were in the *right* place at the *right* time, as far as that young man is concerned. Jamie needed help, and you were here. Otherwise...." he made a slashing motion across his neck.

"It's just such an awesome responsibility, Connor," Richie explained. "I mean, I've literally got his life in my hands! I don't like that feeling!"

The Scot nodded in understanding. "Do your best, and when Duncan comes back, graciously step aside."

Richie cocked his head to one side. "Are you speaking from experience here?"

Connor smiled enigmatically. "Perhaps. Let's just say Duncan will be very sympathetic to your situation when he returns. If he isn't, just mentioned Loch Ness."

"What, he had the monster as a student?" Richie joked.

"No, well, at least not *that* beastie. I think that honor belongs to you, actually," Connor teased.

Richie chuckled as he shook his head. "Thanks, Connor."

"Hey, don't mention it." The elder man turned to leave. "Tell Duncan I was in town on business and decided to surprise him. I'll be in touch."

"Sure thing," Richie noted. He paused for a moment as he watched the other Immortal reach the inner doors. "Connor--"

The Scot turned around to listen.

"When I saw you, my first thought was 'thank God! Connor can take over!'"

"And now?" the Scot inquired.

"He's my responsibility. At least for now. And as long as he's *my* student, he's gonna get the best damn training I can give him."

Connor looked at the floor and smirked.

"What?" Richie inquired.

"Heh, heh. You sound like Duncan now."

Richie rubbed his eyes with the heel of one hand. "Great, now I've become my father."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," the other man noted.

The two Immortals laughed. "Yeah, there can be only one Duncan," Connor corrected himself. "Seriously, you know he's very proud of you, Richie. You're the best student he's ever had. The most frustrating, but the best nonetheless."

Richie pursed his lips and thoughtfully shook his head. "Thanks. Coming from you, that means a lot."

The elder man shrugged. "I always knew you'd turn out okay -- if Duncan didn't kill you out of frustration first."

An impish smile curled up Richie's mouth. "Take care of yourself, Connor. And thanks."

"You, too. We'll have to get together one day over a pitcher of beer, the four of us, and torment Duncan."

"I'll look forward to it," Richie warmly answered.

Connor nodded, then pushed open the inner dojo doors, silently rejoining the outside world, and with it, the Game.

Richie watched him leave, then sighed. He glanced at the ceiling and made a silent promise to himself. With that he headed to the elevator. Jamie had had a long enough rest by now. It was time to get back to work.

Part 4:

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
-- Henry Adams, "The Education of Henry Adams"

(Friday)

Richie glanced at his watch with a disapproving scowl. <> A myriad of unpleasant reasons for Jamie's tardiness paraded through the young Immortal's mind, each brushed away before the next tormented him. The most welcome signal of another of his kind caused him to spin around, facing the dojo doors in time to see the college student running into the gym at full throttle. "There you..."

"Oh, man, I am so totally screwed," Jamie breathlessly blurted out, as he ran past Richie and into the safety of the office.

Richie was about to follow his student into the office and demand an explanation when it manifested itself in the flesh. Two sets of blue eyes instinctively trained on the opening inner dojo doors, one in terror, the other in concern.

A burly Nigerian Immortal with a shark-like smile and bulging muscles slowly strutted into the gym, his scimitar in his left hand. "Run home to Mommy, I see," the deep, rumbling voice chuckled in amusement as the Immortal advanced towards the office.

"Excuse me, but do I know you?" Richie interrupted, stepping in the path of the challenge-minded stranger.

The intruder glanced at Richie with an expression combining amusement and derision. "You look like you're fresh from your mother's teat as well. Since when do children teach other children?"

The bile rose in Richie's throat, but he contained it, well aware of the familiar tactic to throw him off balance. "I don't seem to remember inviting you in here, pal. So unless you explain yourself really fast, I'm gonna hafta kick your butt outta here," he humorlessly announced, his jaw firmly set.

"I'm here for *him*," the stranger announced, pointing over Richie's shoulder towards the terrified JC, who stood in the farthest corner of the office, arms wrapped protectively around himself.

Richie resisted the urge to look at Jamie himself -- he already knew what he'd find anyway. "Now, why would you want to do that?" he instead cajoled, trying to dissuade the obviously superior swordsman from challenging his green student.

The dark Immortal smiled once more. "Do I need a reason? Okay -- there can be only one. Does that meet with your approval?" he sarcastically spat, trying to move closer to Jamie.

Richie readjusted his position, still keeping his body between the challenger and the office. "Why bother with him?" the desperate teacher tried to reason. "He hasn't even taken his first head. What could he possibly be worth to you?"

"Every little bit helps, boy," the African explained. "Maybe you should learn that yourself." Once more he tried to advance towards the cowering Jamie, only to find his way blocked by the persistent Richie.

"Not here, not now," Richie grimly threatened, his intent clear. His eyes stared down the larger man, his inner fortitude even outweighing the strong arm he held against the challenger's broad chest.

The intruder nodded and took two steps backwards, then raised his sword to point at JC. "An hour -- the warehouse on Sackett and Fifth. Be there." His eyes lowered as did his sword tip, both focusing on Richie. "Alone."

Richie silently stood there, his face still rock hard with determination and protectiveness, watching as the Nigerian turned to leave.

Once the stranger was safely past the outer doors, JC emerged from the office, visibly shaken by his encounter, and gratefully clapped Richie on the shoulders. "Thanks, man. I owe you a *big* one," the disheveled Immortal babbled, grateful to have had apparently escaped his first challenge. To his surprise, his teacher didn't comment, just brushed past him into the office and grabbed the phone.

JC scurried to follow the more experienced Immortal. "Hey, sorry, Richie! I was minding my own business and this jerk comes outta nowhere and wants me to fight him. I hightailed it here as fast as I could. Did I screw up?"

Richie shook his head as he put the receiver to his ear. "Jo -- Richie. Something's come up. No, it's okay. Can I just stop by later with a pizza?"

Jamie lightly punched the door frame in frustration, realizing that this wasn't over.

Richie finalized his plans with the mortal and said his good-bye. Before hanging up, he added "Love you," before returning his attention to his increasingly distraught student. He took a deep, cleansing breath and turned to face JC. "We have a problem."

"No, you mean *I* have a problem," Jamie corrected. "That guy wants my head, and he's not gonna leave me alone until he gets it, right?" The solemn nodding of his teacher's head made his heart sink deeper into his stomach. "Great. Like I said, screwed with a capital S." He wiped his face with his sweaty hands. "I can't even get out of my own way with a sword, let alone take him. What am I gonna do?"

Richie silently thought to himself, wondering if there were any real options. His first challenge had come from someone Duncan knew, and he'd had time to learn how to disarm Annie. This opponent was totally unknown, and left handed -- there was no way JC would last 30 seconds with this guy.

"I... I can split town, right?" JC stammered, desperate to forestall the Grim Reaper in any way possible.

"Someone else would just find you and make the same challenge," his teacher explained with a heavy sigh. "You need more training."

"This is hopeless," Jamie sighed, aimlessly wandering into the dojo. "Who am I kidding? I'm not cut out for this shit. I'm just roadkill, any way you slice it -- pun intended. Might as well get it over with, right?" The resigned Immortal sank to the floor and sat down on the practice mat, hugging his knees to his chest. "Maybe he'll get it over with really fast if I just stand there like a pinata. It can't hurt much."

"Trust me, it hurts," Richie corrected him, squatting down next to him and placing a hand on the college student shoulder. "It hurts the people you leave behind."

JC ruefully laughed. "Yeah, if I *had* anybody who cared -- who'd miss me anyway?"

"I will, for starters," Richie explained. "And Jo... and Mac. And how am I gonna tell Cindy that her favorite non-astronomy major just stood there and let himself get slaughtered, hmm?"

That got a rise out of Jamie. "She'd never know -- she doesn't know about Immortals, right?"

"That's not the point," his teacher continued. "You asked who'd miss you -- I just told you. You want to hurt them, fine. I'm not gonna be a part of that." With that he stood, walking a few feet away from his self-pitying student. "A very brave girl taught me that life is worth living, no matter how long or short your life turns out to be. You never give up -- not until the very end. You fight, and you live. And you appreciate those around you, because you never know when they're gonna be taken from you. You got that?"

JC nodded, his eyes no longer resembling a blinded deer's. "I wanna live."

Richie smiled slightly. "Good. So let's figure a way out of this."

"How? What the hell can we do?" JC begged, rising to his feet once more. "I can't beat this guy!"

A story Tessa once told Richie about a similar circumstance involving Connor and Duncan managed to worm its way into the young teacher's consciousness. "No... but maybe I can."

Jamie's eyes widened as he shook his head in violent opposition. "No way, man! I'm not gonna let you fight this guy for me!"

"Who said it was your decision to make?" Richie purposefully noted, walking over to his gym bag to collect his bike keys and sword.

"No way in hell," JC demanded, grabbing his teacher by the arm and spinning him around. "*I* don't wanna hafta tell Dr. Bonet I got her boyfriend killed cause I was a wuss who couldn't fight my own battles."

Richie firmly removed JC's hand from his biceps. "Don't worry about it." He returned to his preparations, only to find the taller man's hand reaching for him once again. This time he spun around with a pissed look on his face. "Look...," he spat, jabbing a finger into JC's T-shirt. "It's gotta be done. Just let me go and don't make a federal case outta it, okay?" His expression softened a tad as he noted the concern and guilt in JC's face. "It'll be okay," he calmly promised, patting his student on the shoulder.

Without a further word, Richie nodded in understanding and walked towards the door with his weapon.

JC stood there like a stone pillar for a second, then sprang after his teacher. "No... wait, Richie, I can't let you do this...." That was the last thing he said, because as soon as he got within arm's reach, the other Immortal punched him in the jaw, knocking him unconscious instantly.

Richie sighed as he shook the pain out of his fingers. "Sorry, JC. I'll apologize later." He knelt down and fished the keys to JC's car out of the jeans pocket and tossed them into the corner behind the trash can. They'd be found later... *much* later.

--------------------------------------------------

JC awoke with a groan a few minutes later and groggily rose to his feet, his hand readjusting his still-aching jaw. "Shit, Richie...." He stumbled out into the street, and swore as he noted the motorcycle was gone. Regaining his equilibrium, he ran for the dojo office and grabbed the phone off the hook. He thought for a moment who to call. He didn't know Joe's number, and didn't have the time to go through information. Whispering a prayer to St. Jude, he hit the auto-redial button, hoping Josephine could get them both to the warehouse before it was too late to stop the fight.

--------------------------------------------------

Richie cautiously walked into the abandoned building, the muted sunlight of the late afternoon sky the only illumination. He knew his opponent was here -- the call was unmistakable. His steel raised in a defensive pose, he advanced into the main floor space. A sound coming from somewhere to his left caused him to whirl around in that direction, every muscle at the ready to engage in instantaneous combat.

"So, the whelpling sent Mommy to fight his battles for him," the booming voice taunted.

"You wanted a fight, okay. Let's fight," Richie tersely explained.

The Nigerian strutted into the main area, the two Immortals circling in that familiar ritual of sizing up your opponent. "Fine. I'll get his worthless head -- after I take yours."

"We'll see," Richie retorted without emotion. "Richie Ryan."

"Kweku Odesina," the darker man offered with a bow before assuming an offensive posture. "Shall we get this over with?"

"You read my mind."

---------------------------------------------------

"Where is it? I don't see it!" Josephine shouted, barely able to contain the tears as she drove around the block once again.

"There! That must be it!" JC announced, pointing at the dilapidated building. The car screeched to a halt and was thrown into park, the two figures running into the building without care for personal safety.

But it was over before they arrived.

The initial crackle of blue lightning began just as the mortal scrambled into the scene of the battle with JC at her heels. "Richie!!!" she screamed as she fell to her knees a dozen feet from her lover. JC fell to the floor as well, protectively covering her with his body as they watched in horror.

The electrical surge jerked the young Immortal's body like a marionette with a grand mal seizure, his mouth open in a silent scream as the life force of the defeated opponent assaulted every fiber of his being. He sensed the proximity of his newly arrived student, but he was powerless to communicate that knowledge. As his eyes managed to latch onto Jo's horrified face, he felt his heart ripped from his chest by a force stronger than the Quickening which wracked his body.

And then the storm passed, the victorious Immortal collapsing to his knees in an exhausted mass. He felt familiar arms wrap around his shoulders and he pressed his lips into the mortal's cheek. "I'm okay," he managed to whisper as he tried to catch his breath.

Jo clutched the young man to her chest, the tears streaming down her face like a blinding summer downpour. She opened her eyes and saw a dead face staring back at her from the bloodied floor. Recoiling in horror, she pushed away from Richie and staggered a few feet backwards towards the door.

Realizing what she'd just seen, Richie rose to his feet and motioned to JC. "Get her outta here," he hoarsely barked, grateful that *this* time his student obeyed without question. He watched in broken hearted despair as the weeping woman was led to safety. For he knew....

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Two hours later, Richie knocked on the door of the quaint bungalow, his heart in his throat. After a long moment of uncomfortable silence, the door opened a crack, and a sob-swollen face answered. "Can I come in?" he softly pleaded, already knowing the answer.

Josephine avoided his intense, pain-soaked gaze, staring down at the ground instead. "I'm sorry, Richie," she weakly apologized, quickly wiping her eyes with the back of one hand. "It's just...."

The Immortal pursed his lips and nodded knowingly. "Yeah, I know. It's horrible. And you can't be a part of it."

Jo sobbed as she nodded, the tears streaming down her face as she tried to get out the words. "I... I thought I could... I wish I could...."

"It's okay," Richie softly coaxed, taking a step back from the door. "I won't bother you again." As his heart shattered into subatomic pieces he turned and walked towards his bike.

"I love you, Richie," the plaintive voice called out from the house.

The Immortal wiped a tear from his eye as he got onto his bike. "Love you too. Good-bye, Jo."

Part 5:

"The transformation of brothers into enemies has puzzled the human imagination at least since Genesis. For Genesis begins the story of mankind not with a murder between strangers, but between brothers. It is precisely because the difference between them is so slight that the roots of the crime remain so mysterious."
-- Michael Ignatieff, "The Warrior's Honor"

(The next morning, dawn)

Josephine sat on her couch, her knees drawn up to her chest as if she was trying to keep her heart from falling out of her body. She'd spent the entire night like that -- well, when she wasn't pacing, throwing things, or pouring herself shots of brandy.

It was a nightmare -- yet it was so very real. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw that body-less face leering at her. She shuddered in renewed horror. It was just too awful to contemplate, her beloved Richie reduced to a murderer....

And for what? Why?

That was the worst of it. Why?

Why Immortality... Why the Game?

Why did she love him so damn much it felt like she'd died along with that unknown corpse which haunted her every waking thought?

She shoved a hand into her bathrobe for a fresh Kleenex, instead finding a wadded up scrap of paper. She opened it and stared at the phone number written in red ink.

The color of blood.

Richie had told her to call this ancient Immortal if he was ever in trouble, or if she ever needed someone.

If she ever needed someone. God, she never needed someone more than she did at this moment.

Grabbing the cordless phone off of its cradle, she hesitantly punched in the numbers. If there were answers to be had, maybe a four thousand year old man could help her find them.

----------------------------------------------

(Two days later)

The three Immortals and one Watcher shared a pitcher of beer at their favorite blues bar.

"So, you ready to begin training with me?" MacLeod questioned JC, his eyes searching Richie's face for tacit permission.

"Sure," the long-haired blonde nodded with a grin. "Richie says you're the best."

"Don't tell him that, he's got enough of an ego as it is," Richie joked, his eyes signaling their assent to his teacher. He was graciously stepping out the way, just as Connor had suggested. Jamie's brief stint as his student had taught him a valuable, yet simple lesson -- teaching is harder than it looks.

Mac chuckled as he sipped his beer. "No, I'm not the best teacher. Richie was a finer student."

"Oh, yeah, riiiight," Richie snickered as he rolled his eyes. "That's not what you used to say."

"Well, I didn't want you to become a slacker," Duncan explained. "I knew you had potential, and I wanted you to realize it to the fullest."

"No, you wanted to kick my ass because I was a royal pain," his former student argued. "If you weren't so patient with me, I'd have been out on the street in a heartbeat."

The Highlander shook his head. "I wasn't nearly as patient as I could have been," Duncan started. "But I thought it was for your own good."

"Okay, I hate to interrupt this mutual admiration society," Joe horned in, "but if you keep this sugary shit up, I'm gonna go into diabetic shock."

Richie and MacLeod both chuckled, the elder man warmly thumping his former student on the shoulder. "You did good, Rich," he affirmed, gesturing towards Jamie with his head.

"Yeah, well, I figure if it was a good enough stunt for Sir Lancelot to pull, it should work for me too," he sheepishly acknowledged before gulping down a mouthful of beer. "I just wish other things had worked out differently." His eyes couldn't hide the raw pain which refused to abate, even now.

"Maybe they will," JC whispered as he pointed towards the door.

Richie's eyes locked onto the professor's face as she slowly made her way past the other occupied tables towards their secluded seats in the corner. He stood to greet her, nervously licking his lips. "Jo -- it's good to see you," he offered hopefully, gesturing to his chair.

"Good to see you too," she calmly returned, nervously fingering the light summer sweater which was draped over one arm. "I'm not staying," she explained as she waved off Richie's offer of a seat. "Hello, Mac," she awkwardly fumbled, her discomfort rubbing off on all concerned.

"Josephine," the Scot warmly answered. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way."

"Me too," she whispered, a hint of a catch in her voice. Shoring up her self-control, she directed her attention to the only other mortal at the table. "I came here to see you, Joe."

"Okay," the Watcher cautiously answered. "I'm all ears."

The professor uncomfortably glanced at the three Immortals who hung on her every word. "I've been thinking... and I've come to a decision."

Joe nodded in encouragement. "Something I can help you with?"

Josephine nervously tucked her hair back behind her ears. "I was wondering if... if you were in the market for another researcher."

Richie's eyes widened in shock. "You wanna join the Watchers?" he asked, not sure he understood her meaning.

"Only as a researcher," she quickly added, avoiding Richie's intense visual scrutiny. "I'm a historian. This is the chance of a lifetime -- to finally be able to learn the truth of history from the people who actually made it. I'd be crazy not to want to help."

Joe studied her face and realized that despite her obvious inner turmoil, she was genuine in her offer. He also realized that this was neither the time nor the place to discuss this. "Stop by tomorrow morning and we'll discuss it over coffee."

Jo nodded. "I'll be here." She stroked JC's shoulder gently. "See you in class next semester if I don't run into you before that, okay?"

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it," the college student replied, trying to sound as normal as possible.

The mortal turned to MacLeod. "Take care of him, okay?"

"I'll do my very best," the Scot promised.

The professor nodded once more and after the briefest looks at her former lover, silently turned to leave.

Richie watched her as she slowly threaded between the mortal patrons and reached the outside door. A firm punch to his arm caught his attention.

"What are you waiting for?" Joe urged. "Go talk to her!"

Without another thought the youngest Immortal sprinted towards the door, catching up to her just outside the club. "Jo, wait!" he called out as he stopped a few feet away.

The mortal turned to face those damn irrefusable azure eyes, knowing her resolve was weak at best.

"Thanks," Richie explained, gently grasping her hand in his. "Thanks for understanding."

Jo shook her head, aware that Richie misunderstood her intent. "I didn't do this for you, Richie. I did it for me." She gently stroked the tapered fingers with her own. "That was the academic in me talking. I wasn't lying to Joe -- this is the greatest dream come true for a historian. Nothing more."

The Immortal blinked hard, feeling his hopes dashed even before they were able to grow. "What about the woman?"

The professor shrugged, gently pulling her hand out of his grasp. "She's still confused."

Richie pursed his lips and nodded, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I'm sorry."

"So am I," she regretfully explained, her eyes glistening with nascent tears. Sniffling once, she reached into her large purse and pulled out a dog-eared paperback book. "I called Enkidu," she explained, handing the slim volume to the Immortal. "He suggested I read this."

Richie gingerly accepted the book. "The Warrior's Honor. Humph, sounds like a book Mac coulda written himself."

"Enkidu thought it might help make things a little clearer," Jo continued.

"Has it?" Richie hopefully inquired as he nervously fingered the book.

"Maybe," she shrugged. "We'll see. It's a lot to think about," she explained.

"Take your time," the Immortal urged softly. "I'm not going anywhere."

"And you're not getting any older either," she added. "People already think I'm robbing the cradle -- what happens in ten years, when I'm in my forties and you look young enough to be my son? What will they think?"

Richie flashed his sexiest grin. "That I have exquisite taste in women," he replied with a lift of his eyebrows.

Jo laughed, for the first time in days, then became serious once again. "I'm trying, Richie. I'm really, really trying."

"I know," the Immortal encouraged, barely resisting the urge to smother her in his arms.

Clutching her sweater closer to her chest, she chuckled once again. "It's crazy. A couple of days ago I had a perfectly normal conversation about Immortality with a four thousand year old man. Am I losing my mind?"

"No," Richie answered with a smile. "Not unless I've lost mine too."

They stood there in awkward silence for a moment, the full moon turning Richie's flawless face into an alabaster statue which took away the mortal's breath, and her heart. "I have to go," she managed to explain, tucking that stubborn loose lock behind her right ear.

"I know," Richie agreed, taking a step back towards the door.

Jo nodded in understanding, then rushed over and gave the Immortal a chaste kiss on the cheek. "Take care of yourself, please?" she begged, her fingers softly stroking his temple.

"I always do," he whispered, his lips so tantalizingly close to hers.

The professor lingered in that bittersweet touch for a final moment before backing away, turning towards the parking lot and briskly walking off without another word.

Richie sighed as he watched her figure disappear behind the side of the building, then pressed the book cover to his lips. He closed his eyes as the subtle hint of her perfume lingered in his nostrils, then took a closer look at the recommend book. It naturally opened to a well-read passage, and he adjusted his angle so the moonlight and streetlights combined to illuminate the words:

"What the history that stretches back to Durant seems to teach is that war survives all forms of outrage at its barbarity, and that it is pointless to dream of a world beyond war or to imagine a world where the warrior's art is no longer needed, and that the path of moral reason lies in subtlety, even casuistry: accepting the inevitability, sometimes even the desirability of war, and then trying, if it is possible, to conduct it according to certain rules of honor. The struggle to make warriors obey the codes of honor is not a futile or hopeless task. Rules honored more in the breach than in the observance are still worth having. There are human and inhuman warriors, just and unjust wars, forms of killing that are necessary and forms that dishonor us all."

Richie shut the book and raised it to his lips once more in silent meditation on all his gift... or curse... of Immortality entailed.

Epilogue:

"All our endeavor is based on the belief that, even in the middle of the worst depravities of war, man retains a fundamental minimum of humanity. Events like this can make it very difficult to maintain this belief. But without it we would have to admit that nothing distinguishes man from beast, and that we will not admit." -- Red Cross field delegate, quoted by Michael Ignatieff, "The Warrior's Honor"

(Several days later)

Richie plopped down onto the couch with a loud "umphh," placing his freshly opened beer onto the coffee table as he flipped open the laptop. Reaching over to the end table, he scooped up the phone and removed the jack from the underside before replacing it back onto the table. As he kicked off his shoes, the Immortal connected the computer to the outside world and booted it up.

While the electronic beast was awakening, he took the first sip of his cold beer, relaxing into the back of the couch as he wiggled his toes in lazy Friday afternoon comfort. Jamie had been right -- the Internet *was* addicting! His student -- scratch that, *former* student -- had helped him set up a website for the bike shop and gotten him an email address. The rest, as they say, was history. Now it was a daily ritual, checking his email as soon as he got home. Hell, he checked his email before he checked his answering machine.

With a resigned snicker, Richie clicked on the appropriate buttons, entering the Information Superhighway full throttle. First, check the email, then, surf a little. With a few clicks of his thumb, he initiated the streaming of personal communications. Forty email messages?!?! Oh, man! How do people keep up with this? When the download completed, he found that more than half the messages were from the motorcycle email list he'd signed up for the night before. Another five were unwanted spam, and a few more were inquiries from people who'd found his company site. That left the personal messages he really wanted to read. One was from Jamie, babbling about his progress in his training and asking if Richie needed any more cyber-help. The Immortal smiled wistfully as he deleted the message. I guess we both taught each *other* something. A short, cordial message from "Brother Enrique" made him smile even broader. He was glad that St. Jerome's was on-line and so easy to find on the Net.

The next address was unfamiliar, but the name attached to it certainly wasn't. With his heart in his throat, he clicked the file open and quickly scanned the email for good news. He wasn't disappointed:

---------------------------------------------------
Subject: Welcome to the Electric Circus!

Date: Fri, 11 June 1999 10:04:17 From: Clarissa Bowen

To: Richie Ryan r_ryan1974@hotmail.com

Hi, Richie!

I was happy to hear you're on-line now! Our friend in France gave me your email addie and I couldn't resist clogging up your in-box *G*.

I also wanted to tell you that I've heard from our other "mutual friend." He's fine, and grumbling about the lack of good beer wherever he is. I've learned to listen without asking too many questions . He mentioned that you've managed to lasso him into hanging out for a few months -- congrats... or is it condolences!! I hope you two are still speaking by Christmas. :)

Anyway, I hope you're not too mad at me for my little part in the OTD's masquerade -- I can't seem to refuse him anything. You probably know how that is ;) He *is* one of a kind.

Take care of yourself, and I'll pass along any info I get. I hope we get to meet very soon -- we can commiserate on our lack of taste in men.

Rissa

PS - ask HIM what "OTD" stands for.
-----------------------------------------------------

Richie snickered to himself as he scrolled to the next message. He'd reply to the Watcher later. <> He was relieved to hear that Methos was in one piece, especially after that false scare he'd gotten a few weeks before. He certainly didn't want to go through *that* ever again.

Yes, things were really looking up for the young Immortal. With one exception.

Perhaps he'd thought that too soon. His eyes widened as he saw the next message. With anticipation and dread, he opened it, silently hoping it was good news:

-----------------------------------------------
Subject: The woman says .....

Date: Fri, 11 June 1999 12:04:17 From: Josephine Bonet

To: Richie Ryan r_ryan1974@hotmail.com

"The Blessed One continued: 'The Tathagata teaches that all warfare in which man tries to slay his brother is lamentable, but he does not teach that those who go to war in a righteous cause after having exhausted all means to preserve the peace are blameworthy. He must be blamed who is the cause of the war. The Tathagata teaches a complete surrender of self, but he does not teach a surrender of anything to those powers that are evil, be they men or gods or the elements if nature. Struggle must be, for all life is a struggle of some kind. But he that struggles should look to it lest he struggle in the interest of self against truth and righteousness.'

'He who goeth to battle, O Simha, even though it be in a righteous cause, must be prepared to be slain by his enemies, for that is the destiny of warriors; and should his fate overtake him he has no reason for complaint. But he who is victorious should remember the instability of earthly things. His success may be great, but be it ever so great the wheel of fortune may turn again and bring him down into the dust. '

'He whose mind is free from the illusion of self, will stand and not fall in that battle of life. He whose intentions are righteousness and justice, will meet with no failure, but be successful in his enterprises and his success will endure. He who harbors in his heart love of truth will live and not die, for he has drunk the water of immortality. Struggle, then, O general, courageously; and fight thy battles vigorously, but be a soldier of truth and the Tathagata will bless thee.'" -- Buddha, The Gospel.

I think that about sums it up, doesn't it?

I made a lasagna last night -- vegetarian of course. Think you might come over and help me with the leftovers?

It'll work out. It has to. I don't know how, but I've decided I just can't imagine my life without you in it.

Love,
Jo
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Richie yanked the cord out of the back of the computer and grabbed the phone from the table, reattaching it before punching in the mortal's telephone number.

It really *was* going to be all right -- for everyone.

And the journey continues....

Notes:

1) In "The Moon," Methos faked his own death to flush out a stalker.

2) Jamie Crawford (JC) was first introduced in "Death," and has appeared in several other stories since then. He is a twenty six year old college student.

Part 1:

The faint white scar is a remnant of the alleged racetrack incident. "Ouroboros" ties up that nasty little loose end.

Part 2:

1) Richie and Jo met in "The Empress." There are several allusions to events in that story in this work.

2) Daray is the name of the OTHER Methos (from The Messenger) in my fanfic universe. See "Ouroboros" or tirnanog's fanfic for more info on him.

Part 4:

1) Cindy Wilson, Seacouver University astronomy professor and Jo's best friend, was introduced in "The Empress." JC is a student of hers.

2) Claudia, the Progeria patient introduced in "Wheel of Fortune," is the "very brave girl."

Epilogue:

Clarissa Bowen (Rissa), a Watcher in Paris, was introduced in "The Moon." She is a former lover of Methos' and a friend of Enkidu's. Watch for her to become important in future stories .

References:

Buddha, "The Gospel"

Michael Ignatieff, "The Warrior's Honor" (NY: Henry Holt & Co., 1997)

To the Authors' pages