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Heaven Sent by Sophie
This is a sequel to another story which can be found at :
Innocence and Justice


Part 1

The dojo was quiet as the two striking figures strode in through the main doors; then again, it was six o'clock on a Friday evening and both the manager and the owner had taken a week off from the city. There was a slight musty smell that said the place hadn't been used in a while, the slight hint that dust had been allowed to settle undisturbed. Both men paused, smiles on their faces, it had been an enjoyable vacation, but it was good to be home. Richie strode past his dark comrade and released the two heavy carry-alls he held with a sigh of relief as his arm muscles flexed and complained at the weight. One of the bags clinked, giving away that, at least, some of its contents were metal. It was a familiar sound when an Immortal was involved in life, and the noise gave even the relaxed pair an unconscious feeling of security.

Duncan snorted at the face Richie pulled as he ran a hand up over his developed biceps and shoulders; it hadn't really strained the sculpted flesh that the youth's loose vest revealed, but his friend never missed a chance to make comment, especially after the minor deception that the Highlander knew he'd initiated. The young man frowned at his compatriot, but it was not a serious indication of his mood, and with a wry smile replacing it, the blond creature disclosed in easy cynicism, "Mac, remind me next time you offer me a mountain vacation to say no."

The Scot grinned and, walking smoothly into his office, called over his shoulder, "Wimp!"

That was too good an opportunity to miss, and Ryan the smart mouth came into play as friend chided friend amiably, "When most people think of a week in the hills, they think of gentle strolls along peaceful mountain paths and taking in beautiful views, not five mile runs split by hours of six dozen training regimes."

"Ah," MacLeod pouted momentarily from behind his desk as he sorted idly through his mail, but smiling added, "Discipline is good for the soul."

"If I wanted discipline, I'd hit Boot Camp," Richie waved a not too serious hand as the friendly banter continued.

In all honesty, the younger Immortal had to admit that he'd had a rewarding break in the calm of the trees; the last few months had been busy and both men had needed the chance to let go of the everyday routine. The vacation had been hard work, Duncan had taken them both to the limits of their fitness, but he'd returned with a sense of satisfaction and achievement. Richie knew he still had a lot to learn and the five days of freedom had added a mass of knowledge not only about the skills he needed to survive in the Game, but also about his closest friend. Mac was a man of many parts, and just chatting round the campfire in the still of clear evenings had revealed stories and concepts about the Clansman that the youth had never before considered. His own background felt a little insignificant in comparison to the wealth of history that accompanied the ageless form wherever he went. Yet, the Highlander had seemed just as interested in his pupil, and the young man had found himself revealing a lot more than ever before.

Duncan grinned widely at his comrade, a clear sign saying, `Well I got you there, didn't I?'. The man's humour was catching, and didn't take long to ease the grimace from the youthful features. Richie smiled and shook his head, he wasn't sure what at, and then bent down to take hold of the smaller sack on the floor, which contained his personal possessions. The more experienced Eternal being watched the athletic figure carefully, most of all the look in his eyes. He caught the ghost that sat at the back of the baby blues as the young man's attention flicked from the conversation to what he was doing, in the between time when thought was suspended, there it was, the phantom that still affected the youth so much, however unconsciously. It had been ten months since Gervace Hemar had vented his sadistic inclination on the challenger he had met by accident, and Richie seemed to have worked through any pain that the experience still caused him. Yet, his companion still recognised the vague impression that was in the talkative being, and he knew that there was more to come out. Richie hadn't spoken of the incident in a long time, it was something he obviously wanted to leave in the past, but, nevertheless, his friend had tried to coax whatever was left inside, out. The one on one vacation had had two purposes, as well as a chance for a change to city living, it had also been an opportunity where the Scot had hoped that his familiar would open up to him. However, they'd covered a lot of ground, but had not broached the sensitive issue as Duncan had tried to manoeuvre his protege into initiating the subject.

There was a slight sense of frustration sitting at the back of the old mind as MacLeod realised that in that one area, the holiday had been a failure. Yet, the face which turned back to him was bright and clear; they'd both been tired, weighed down by the drag of routine, and that was now gone from his companion's manner. Life was being good to all in the small circle of friends at the moment: Joe's Bar was prospering; the dojo wasn't losing too much money; university lecturing suited Duncan MacLeod; Richie was content with his lot, managing the dojo and dabbling in whatever else he fancied. There wasn't much to complain about.

"I'm going home," the youth disclosed with a wave of goodbye.

"See you on Monday, if not before," Mac returned, leaning over and hitting the button on his answer-phone.

The man raised an eyebrow and his colleague turned on his heel, a look of surprise on his features, as they both heard the first word, "Richie."

The young man couldn't help himself as he recognised the tone, a grin of vague foolishness crept across his face; the soft, silky voice belonged to Naomi, and any mention of her always sent him funny inside. Life at Agatha's ranch suited the raven-haired beauty. Since her adopted father, Patrick had been killed by Gervace, she had become more of a mother to her Immortal siblings, and she seemed to be happy with the role. Her regular letters and phone calls had been full of news about everyone, from Annie's first horseback ride, to Harry's wish to learn to use a sword. Richie had lapped up every piece of information, the link with the unusual family very important to him, and despite the distance from his home to Texas, his bond with them had only grown in the last ten months. Duncan had become seen as a kind of removed uncle to the Eternal children, but the youth was more of an older brother, especially to his darling little Annie. The young man tried to picture himself as Naomi's brother, but somehow, their relationship was very different. There had been no move toward the physical attraction that was between them, but even separated, their covenant had intensified and grown closer. The young woman had gone no further than her novice vows in her aim to become a nun, there being no convents within reach of the ranch, but she had formed strong links with the minister of the small town nearby, and seemed just as dedicated to following God as ever. That was not something upon which the young Immortal intruded, despite his obvious feelings.

Those emotions were written all over his visage as the young man dropped his bag and headed rapidly back towards the office. Duncan just sat back and listened as the message continued.

"Hi there," the gentle voice continued, a smile in the tone, "I've been trying to reach you all week, Richard Ryan, and since you're not anywhere, and Joe says you're out of reach `til Friday afternoon, I'm leaving this message. I hope it reaches you before seven p.m.

Anyway, here goes, I have a BIG favour to ask. You know we were talking about that Church centre you worked at for Community Service? - Well, Agatha and I had a chat afterwards and she suggested that the kids there might like to come and enjoy a week at the ranch. There was a gap in the bookings coming up, i.e. starting next week, and, as I said, I tried to get hold of you this week to discuss it. Since I couldn't, I went straight to the man in charge; I spoke to Father Macey on Tuesday and he seemed to like the idea after I mentioned your name (he had some interesting stories about you!). They have a minibus for transport, but the only problem is, they intend to start on Saturday and drive non-stop to get here, but to do that, they need at least three drivers. They have two, one of the centre helpers and one of the older kids has a licence, but they need a third person. So...(don't freak)...I volunteered you. The father is expecting you at seven tonight at the old hall.

I know you'll help, thank you, Rich.

Annie sends her love.

I have to go now. I can't wait to see you."

Richie's mouth was slack as he stared from the phone to Duncan and took in what had been said. The Scot just laughed; Naomi hadn't imposed before, but it appeared that when she did, she really asked favours. There was a slight look of panic in the youth's eyes as he glanced at his watch; he had fifty minutes to get home, change and be at his beloved's appointment. He was vaguely aware that his companion found his state amusing as he spun, grabbed the bag and hurried for the door.

"Bye, Rich," MacLeod chuckled as he remembered times when he had been in much the same position with his feelings for a woman; for some reason, Amanda came to mind.

The figure who drew up outside the crumbling hall looked far from a person who had just showered, dressed and skidded halfway across town, neither did he fit with the downtown neighbourhood. The young man knew there would be discrete eyes watching him as he parked the bike and climbed off the vehicle. Once he had fitted well into the rough area, scruffy jeans, T-shirt usually covered in grease, but not anymore. Richard Ryan was more sophisticated since MacLeod, but mostly Tessa's influence had steered him towards smarter lines. His clothes weren't expensive, he was still on a modest income, but he did invest in his garments and chose them with greater care. An uptown man had developed out of the street kid, and he was beginning to regret the now habitual care he had taken over his dress that evening. Maybe it would have been better to dress down in the poorer part of the city; his fresh- washed denim and grey, pressed T-shirt were good to look at, they accentuated his strong physique, good for attracting the ladies, but he wasn't partying tonight, and even the neat cut to his blond locks made him stand out in this old haunt. The young man's eyes were sharp and challenged anyone hidden in the shadows to even think about touching his prize possession, as he glanced around the dirty street; secretly, the youth hoped it would be enough, his bank account probably wouldn't stand a dip to refurbish the machine at the moment.

His stance made clear, the young man turned his attention to the ageing structure outside which he had parked. The once red brick, pitted in places, now almost black with city grime, this place brought back a flood of memories. The would-be criminal had been fifteen when he'd been caught for burglary, and it had been a close run thing between Community Service and Juvie Hall. Father Macey had taken his part, a complete stranger who had just happened to be at the court house with another of his reprobate aides; he'd offered to take the cocky kid on the regime he ran, and that had begun the relationship which had lasted until the youth had moved uptown with MacLeod. As he took in the rusty sign which announced, St John's Church Centre, Richie felt a small pang of guilt that he'd never revisited the place where he had spent many hours even after his sentence was finished.

The Immortal resisted a temptation to slide his sword out of its place on the bike and slip it under the jacket he slung over his shoulder; this was not a place to carry a weapon, even if it wasn't quite holy ground. Feeling a mixture of unconscious nakedness without his protection, nostalgia as memories slipped in and out of focus with every step, and trepidation at meeting the father once more, he walked up to the entrance. Of what the new-stranger remembered, the priest was a formidable little man with a good heart, who had a temper to match a shock of ginger hair. There had been quite a few confrontations between the juvenile delinquent and the man determined to convince him that crime didn't pay, but the youth remembered the stocky figure with fondness.

Taking a deep breath, Richard Ryan put his palm flat on the peeling paint of the heavy door and pushed. He smiled as a high-pitched squeak signalled his entrance - Macey still hadn't managed to get anyone to fix that damn hinge. What lay inside hadn't changed much in over four years. The place was slightly dingy, as the evening light pushed through one spotless window above the door, and the rest of the fair sized open space was lit by old-fashioned cast-iron chandelier contraptions that had been put in with the original building. Next to the door was a huge, beautifully-cared for Whirlitzer, the pride and joy of the centre. A bar made out of crates was halfway down one wall, it served soft drinks only, unless anyone smuggled in something stronger; the sentimental recaller grinned once more as he remembered the red sheen he'd inspired on Father Macey's face when he'd hidden a couple of beers under the main box. A stage, once again crafted from reinforced wooden chests, was directly opposite Macey's Place, as the bar had been christened; that had seen a few good gigs cobbled together by the youth of the streets. Then in the far corner, there was the pool table. It looked to have been given a new baize since the young man had last visited. Finally, right at the back were the rickety stairs up to the office where the youth remembered whichever helper was on duty sitting and keeping a distant watch on the comings and goings. The rest of the building was, as yet, deserted, but as if he'd never left, the blond form was not surprised to see a body occupying the exact place behind the desk that he expected. Only the face was unfamiliar; she was a buxom woman somewhere between thirty and forty, dressed in the informal uniform of centre sweat-shirt and jeans, her hair tied up in a ponytail. Brown eyes smiled at the stranger to her and she pulled off large rimmed glasses as she stood and prepared to descend the stairs.

"Hallo," the female called, tripping lightly down the flight considering her plump proportions, "you must be Richie Ryan. I'm Kathleen Mills."

The young man grinned and held out a hand as the bouncy creature infected him with her intense good humour.

"Hi," he returned easily, shaking hands warmly," and yes, I'm Richie."

"Father Macey said you'd been arriving about now," the bubbly woman almost laughed as the words tripped off her tongue with a fast Irish accent. "I'm afraid he's going to be a bit late, he's been called out to a birth."

Richie snorted amiably, it was just like the priest to be doing six things at once, and blessing a baby was not a new one.

"Doesn't sound like much has changed," the nostalgic being shrugged.

"Well, I'm here to make you welcome," Kathleen was still grinning all over her face as she turned back the way she had come. "Would you like a coffee?"

"That would be great, thanks," the newcomer returned, but didn't begin to follow, instead he asked on a whim, "mind if I take a look around, it's been a long time."

"Be my guest," the hearty female waved wildly about her as she went back up to the ever ready caffeine supply.

A little dazed by his pleasant memories, the youth slung his jacket on the bar and wandered casually over to the pool table. There was a far away look in his eyes as he idly took hold of the eight ball and rolled it across the green cloth. This was where he'd spent most of his free time, taking on all comers - Richie Ryan, hustler extraordinaire; the father had made him put all his winnings in the poor box! There was a quiet sadness in his heart as the Immortal realised that he had left this family without much of a thought when Mac had come along, and he recognised his loss. He'd been selfish, immature, thoughtless, all the qualities which seemed to be the prerogative of the young nowadays - the prodigal son laughed to himself as he considered the form of that thought, how much he had changed, he hoped for the better.

The mature, contemplative form was not on his own for very long; even before Kathleen returned with the beverage, there was a crashing at the door and the youth turned to see a huddle of six youngsters striding into their domain. All the bodies stopped stock still, eyes hostile, faces suspicious as they laid gaze on a stranger. Four boys and two girls, all clad in ripped jeans, filthy T-shirts and leather jackets which had seen better days - it brought back more recollections for the Old Boy. Richie recognised one face, the eldest boy of about sixteen, tall, brown haired where a thin layer dusted his shaved scalp; the face was older, but the young man remembered the face of the wanna-be-a- teenager he had mainly ignored when he'd been one of the gang. It pained the older man to know that he couldn't fit a name to the face.

Richie turned from the table, his feet slightly apart, his arms at his sides, his face passive; it was a surprise to him how easily the stance came back. This wasn't his turf anymore, so it was up to the others to make a move first, those were the juvenile rules that flooded back through his brain. Despite his maturity, the young man felt it necessary to abide by the code, and so he waited, cool and aloof.

The group were packed closely together, and all eyes examined him carefully. Instincts of the street died hard, even in the protection of the church hall, and they were looking for weapons and gang badges. From first glance, the newcomer was clean, so the skinny leader decided it was time for identification. It struck the Immortal how similar his present lore was to the stand-off situation as the young figure stalked a little way in front of his friends and challenged, "Who are you?"

"Name's Richie Ryan," was the return, but there was no sign of recognition back the other way, the pair had not arrived at speaking terms by the time the youth had left. "I'm here to see Father Macey."

That raised an eyebrow, Richie may have been well-dressed, but he didn't look like any church worker in the kids experience. The young man smiled at the reaction, it was time for a more adult approach to the situation.

"He's an old friend," he explained turning back to the pool table and playing compulsively with another of the shiny spheres.

"You play?" came from another young mouth, an expectant note to the voice.

The youth grinned to himself, his back turned, as he recognised a tentative feel for a hustle, and answered carefully, "Now and then."

He glanced back over his shoulder, his face straight once more as one of the younger boys, who looked to be styling himself on his chief split from the crowd. There was a hint of mischief in the green eyes which twinkled at him, and the venture seemed too tempting to let go. The youth decided to waggle some bait in front of the teenager.

"Want a game?" he asked innocently.

"Worth anything?" came the next, not too unfamiliar phrase.

The laugh that responded was not meant scornfully, this one was almost as bold as he remembered himself. Looking like he'd fallen for the move, the `victim' replied amicably, "Since you put it that way, ten dollars sound fair?"

A smart nod and there were grins of satisfaction from all six faces. They were expecting a victory. The naivete of the newcomer seemed to ease their initial hostility, and the small group moved around the pool table. Richie fished a note out of his pocket and laid it on the wooden part of one cushion. Then, as footsteps came up behind him, he turned smartly round and grinned at Kathleen. There was a suspicious smile on the woman's features as she held out a steaming mug and enquired, "What's going on here?"

"Oh, nothing," the young man grinned back, and winked when he was sure that all of the youngsters couldn't see.

"Right you are, then," was returned, her tone heavy with mirth as she shook her head disapprovingly and headed back to her refuge.

The Immortal took a swig of the smooth liquid and then placed the pottery firmly on top of the stake. With a winning smile, he took a cue offered him by one of his hosts and prepared for battle.

Half an hour later, there were eighteen more bodies in the hall, the juke box was blaring rock and the young challenger, who had been introduced as Randy, was not looking as confident. He had proved himself to be a good player, but Richie had found that he had not lost his knack for the game. The black ball sunk elegantly down the top left hand pocket and the Immortal stood straight, a grin of triumph on his face. Casually, he picked up the money he had laid and turned to his frowning companions. They knew they'd been had, and weren't very happy about it.

"I was hustling in here when you, Jake," he had been reminded of the eldest boy's name, "were hanging around us for a chance at an errand to run."

The victory was not to be supercilious, however, animosity was not what the young man wanted, instead, he offered the bill to his fellow competitor and disclosed in admiration, "Great game, Randy, another year and you'll be taking `em all like I was. Does Father Macey make you put your money in the poor box too?"

The look he received in return was pleasantly surprised, and the gift was not turned down.

"Buy your friends a round," was the friendly command, "and I'll set `em up for another game."

The young man smiled after the group, who wandered off chattering quietly about the generosity of their guest. The Immortal's face fell and the cue flexed in suddenly tight fingers as his soul sang in warning. For the first time since entering the building, Richie cursed his lack of a weapon as alarm daggered through him with the certain knowledge another of his kind was close by. Urgently he scanned the room, the wooden stick held in his palm almost like a staff. As the door opened with the grinding shriek, Ryan's mouth went slack. His eyes locked with a familiar pair and ideas that hadn't even occurred to him rushed in. The black-clad, red-haired priest hadn't changed, not surprising since he was the source of the unnatural call.

There were vague nods of welcome from distracted parties all over the hall, but some, including Jake and his people noticed the connection that had been made across its length. They watched with fascinated intrigue at the reaction of the `old friend' to the unusually still form of Father Macey. Slowly, the young man put down the cue, this Immortal he knew would not be armed, and began to walk as calmly as he could manage over to the short stature. He was almost trotting by the time he crossed the distance, but he stopped smartly in front of the gently smiling face.

"Hallo again, Richie," came the smooth greeting, and a hand was offered.

Unsure of himself, thrown off base by the discovery, it took the ex- delinquent a few moments to respond. Then his trust in the familiar figure came through, and with a smile of bemused surprise, he took the palm in both his own.

"Hallo, Father," he breathed, almost at a loss for words.

"Shall we go upstairs and have a talk?" came the next, understanding suggestion.

"You knew!" Richie charged, sitting heavily into a seat in the office that Kathleen amicably handed over. "Is that why you took so much interest?"

"Partly," the priest shrugged easily, he wasn't hiding his motives anymore, "and partly because I liked you."

The young man wasn't sure whether to be angry, or pleased that not one, but two Immortals had seen their way to trying to help him. He shook his head and admitted quietly, "I don't believe this."

"I know," Macey empathised with a remembering look in his eyes, "I didn't know to begin with; you were the first not-yet-Immortal I'd met in my sixty odd years of existence, and I just thought I felt an affinity to you. It wasn't until an old `friend' of mine dropped by and asked me if I knew I was dealing with one of us that I realised how obvious a conclusion it really was."

Richie snorted, a recollection suddenly made sense and he asked dryly, "That wasn't the month you suddenly became all over protective and we had the slanging match about the demerits of joy riding?"

"That was it," the holy man nodded vigorously and rolled his eyes. "I was terrified you were going to get yourself killed at fifteen."

The youth smiled wistfully to himself as the image in his mind clarified and he disclosed openly, "I nearly took a hike out of here that night."

There was a look of past angst in his companion as the short form continued more seriously, "I think I'd have come after you if you had. I nearly did when you left us so suddenly the last time. It was only when I discovered that Duncan MacLeod had taken you under his wing that I backed off. I heard the name as near legend and considered that he was probably better for you in the long run anyway."

The pause that followed as both men took in the statement was an easy one of old friendship. Ryan had known the father as a teenager, but he decided that he still knew him as an adult. Not much had changed, and his feelings for the diminutive fellow had not altered, even with the revelation. There had always been a bond between them that consisted of penitent and confessor, and the young man decided it was time admit his guilt; he spoke honestly, "I'm sorry I didn't come back even just to say goodbye."

"Arghh!" the rector waved a dismissive hand and answered plainly, "you were young, you had a new exciting life to lead. I was glad for you. And anyway, you have come back."

"And there's been a lot of water under the bridge," the youthful Immortal observed with a contemplative frown. "I'm glad I left my sword on my bike, or I might have drawn it - the shock sensing you gave me."

Father Macey laughed, there was no reply to that; instead he disclosed `evilly', "Oh, the nice machine outside some of my boys were eyeing?"

The youth looked startled at the news, but settled at the teasing sparkle he saw in the other's eyes, and the finish, "Don't worry, I put my `special' blessing on it - they won't even scratch the paint."

The returned stranger had to grin, this was the man he remembered, kind, amiable, and always ready to wind up the nearest person if he was given the chance. He felt comfortable with the old manner and it reminded him of part of Naomi's message. His tone thick with fake accusation, he pressed on with, "You can still pick out a weak point, can't you? And talking of harassing absentees, Naomi tells me you've been telling her stories about me when I'm not there to defend myself."

The priest chuckled with intent that could have been considered unchristian if it hadn't been meant in such good humour. He perched himself on the edge of the desk, hands in his pockets in a familiar gesture of `you-got-me', and returned sanctimoniously, "I was merely opening her eyes to your bad points, she was more than able to furnish me with your good ones."

Richie couldn't help himself, he blushed at the insinuation as though he were a self-conscious juvenile once more, but he smiled as well.

"Touche," he admitted and received a nod of agreement.

"Anyway," the holy man continued with a fresh breath, "we must move on to the details of your very generous offer."

The youth snorted at that, and informed his companion, "Naomi's offer - I haven't been in town all week, so she volunteered me, not that it's a problem. MacLeod is always up for a good cause, so getting the time off from the dojo will not be any trouble. But, I would like to know exactly what she's gotten me into."

Macey laughed heartily at the admission and observed ironically, "Women! I knew the priesthood was the right option.

Well, for your information, you'll be driving in shifts with Jake, one of my boys, and Kathleen to arrive at the ranch by Sunday evening. There are five days of activities planned and then you'll be doing the same thing on the way back the next weekend. As for what is actually going to go on at the farm, I can't really say; Naomi gave me a brief description over the phone, horseback riding and such, but we organised this so quickly its all been a bit of a muddle, hence our lack of one driver - I'm already booked up here and can't go.

Apart from that, I think all that's left is to introduce you to the kids you'll be chaperoning for the week, and believe me when I say you'll need all the guile you had when you used to try and outsmart me to keep up with them."

Richie shook his head once more at the inverted compliment, and pondered his position as the priest walked to the door and leant out. The youth didn't think of himself as much of a group activities person, sport having been about his limit at school, and the idea of being responsible for a mass of youngsters was a little daunting. The news that the bouncy worker was also along for the trip made him feel easier, she had an air about her that said she could cope with almost anything. Being back in his one time haunt had made him feel quite young again, when the rigours of the Game outside this almost forgotten world had made him mature fast. The combination of youth and the sense of reliability that hung in his self-image gave him a funny feeling inside. He pushed the musings away as Macey's accent came out while he yelled good-naturedly, "All of you who've been jumping at my every whim for the last three days, up here now please."

Within the minute there were sixteen teen bodies, eight boys and eight girls, crammed into the little office in front of the desk and Kathleen, Richie and the rector were stood opposite them. All the young faces were excited and expectant, and the ex-delinquent was glad to see that Jake and crew were all involved in the expedition. Introductions were brief, names flowed that the young man was sure he'd have to learn as the opportunity arose, and a brief explanation of his presence received welcome grins from those with whom he was acquainted. Then was time for the briefing.

The priest's stance was authoritative as he surveyed the small part of his life's work, and his tone echoed it as he disclosed, "Well, it's almost time for the go, and I have some words of wisdom for you all. You kids have been selected by the votes of your peers, and that means you're responsible for their good will. You are representing St John's when you visit this ranch, and I expect you all to behave with that in mind. I want no reports coming back of behaviour not fitting of my elite. As for the details, you know most of them, but I remind you that you must all be here, ready and packed, one bag only, by eight a.m. What you pack is largely up to you, but when it comes to clothes, I'm sure you all have a fine selection of denim. However, please make sure that it is not ripped, remember, they are for your own protection, not just a fashion statement. Also, when it comes to the parts of you that are not covered, St Johns has splashed out for you," the man reached for a box and began tossing tubes of sun bloc at the youngsters. "Use it please, or you'll end up in the nearest hospital with not much skin left. As for your heads, you must wear a hat, that goes double for you and Randy, Jake.

Is that all clear?"

There were serious nods from all quarters, none of the children, ranging from twelve to seventeen were going to jeopardise their places on the excursion by being flippant. The young Immortal empathised with the looks of animation in the bright eyes; he knew from experience that these rough-looking bunch were all like he had been, the city their only experience, and the world outside was a thrilling prospect.

"Okay, thanks gang, see you tomorrow," Macey dismissed with a smile, but called, "but Jake, could you stay for a few minutes to discuss the driving rota."

Richie went home an hour later feeling warm and content. He was looking forward to the trip, and he'd taken a bit of time to get to know the group he would be shuttling around; he liked them, and he thought they liked him, especially after a few riotous stories about his exploits while under the priest's watchful eye. He hoped that the position of respect he had gained thanks to the outcome of the pool game would help in controlling the rabble, who, from recalling his own disposition and observing the way they interacted with each other, he judged could be a handful. He was in, more so than Kathleen, who was seen as a kindly carer rather than one of the gang, and it seemed to stand him in good stead when it came to discipline. It looked like a tricky rope to walk, halfway between bud and boss, but as he rode home, the young man considered that he was up to and excited by the challenge.

End Of Part 1