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Part 2

Scene 4

"Mac," Joe said as Duncan strolled into the bar. "I wasn't expecting to see you this evening."

Duncan grinned. "Don't worry; I'm not staying. I just wanted to have a few words with you about tonight."

"Look, if Richie changes his mind, I'm not going to make things awkward for him."

"I didn't think you would, Joe. Just don't let Methos push him beyond where he wants to go. I don't want Richie hurt."

"I'll look out for him, Mac. Promise."


Scene 5

{Maybe a pleasant evening with a friend is the best way to keep my mind off this Richie business,} Duncan thought, as he was shown to a table. {I can't be too protective of him; it's not good for either of us.} "Peter!" he said with an easy smile. "I hope you've already picked a good wine."

"I did take that liberty," Peter said, grinning, as he rose to shake hands. "And if it's wretched, don't tell anyone. I don't want to ruin my reputation."

"So you still own a vineyard?"

"Through a proxy. I needed to remove myself from the scene for a generation or two. These days I'm a merchant of sorts. I've come to the States on a buying trip, to check out all these upstart American wines."

"But you're still based in France?"

"Absolutely. It's the best place to live."

FLASHBACK: FRANCE - 1918

"I came as soon as I could," Duncan said, as he closed the door to Sean's office. "What's happened?"

"Quite a lot, actually. I'm sorry I couldn't be more specific in my letter, but I was worried about the censors." Sean gestured Duncan to a chair, then began pacing in front of the windows.

"Is someone hunting you?" Duncan asked.

Sean smiled. "No, I don't need your protection for myself. I have been known to wield a sword from time to time, you know."

"I didn't mean..."

"I know you didn't. I need your help with Peter."

"He's gotten his memory back?"

Sean nodded. "As you know, he was a sergeant at the time of his first death. The men in his charge were mostly boys from his village that he'd known all their lives. He couldn't bear to remember their annihilation so he obliterated it, along with the rest of his memories. It's taken me months to unearth that."

"If I'd gotten him to you sooner..."

"You did what you could, Duncan. His second death probably made my job harder, but it was never an easy job to begin with. I sent for you because there are... complications. Peter has a wife and three children in England."

"You didn't know that before?" Duncan asked.

"To be brutally honest, I didn't try to find out," Sean replied. "Being Immortal... changes everything. Loved ones become hostages to fortune, home becomes a place we can only visit every few generations for fear of being recognized... there can be no lasting roots. I thought no good could come of forcing an identity on Peter that he could neither remember nor safely resume.

"Peter was officially reported dead after his second death, although I didn't learn that until a few weeks ago. I sent for you because he wanted to go back to England to see his wife, even though she believes him dead."

"Is that wise? Of course I'll go with him -- I know he's not ready to be out in the Game -- but how is he going to explain his Immortality to her?"

Sean sighed. "You could ask him that yourself, if he were here."

"He didn't," Duncan said in alarm.

"He did. He went off on his own sometime last night. I'd already acquired the necessary papers for his travel and he broke into my office and took them." Sean went to his desk and rummaged among the papers lying there. "I wrote to his wife nearly a month ago, when Peter's memory returned. When there was no response, I sent a wire to the postmistress in his village. She informed me that the wife had gone to London with her new husband."

"Does Peter know she's remarried?"

"Yes," Sean said. "He also knows the children aren't his own. He took that bit of news surprisingly well. He seems to think she may have been unfaithful because she was desperate for children and had begun to wonder if he couldn't give her any -- they'd been married six years before their oldest came along. He seems convinced she'll want him again, Immortality and all."

"If he's wrong..."

"All the more reason for you to find him as quickly as possible. Here are the travel documents you'll need; I've pulled some strings and arranged a short leave for you. This is where I think Peter's gone," Sean said, handing Duncan a bundle of papers. "I'd go myself, but I'm needed here. There are so many Peters... and many of them are much worse off."

"I'll bring him back to you," Duncan promised.

"I know you will. Thank you."


Scene 6

FLASHBACK: LONDON - 1918

{What if he's not there?} Duncan wondered for the thousandth time, as the taxi slowly made its way across the city. {How am I supposed to track down one young Immortal in all of London? What if he's not even in England?}

He sensed the distant presence of an Immortal as the taxi reached its destination. {Please let it be Peter,} he thought, as he paid off the driver. {Now is not the time for a fight. If it's not Peter, then let it be a friend, or at least not an enemy. Be someone like Connor or Fitz; I could use some help on this fool's errand.}

As the taxi drove off, Duncan realized that the sensation was coming from the church nearby, not the house in front of him. {Holy ground? As good a place as any to meet a strange Immortal.}

He edged into the cool dimness of the church and saw Peter standing barely twenty feet away from him, looking alarmed by Duncan's arrival. After a quick glance around to make sure they were alone, Duncan swooped down on Peter in a few angry strides.

"Where have you been?" Duncan asked.

"To see my wife and children," Peter said, with a dullness belied by the pain in his eyes. He had obviously been weeping. "Actually, to see someone else's wife and children."

Duncan looked sympathetic as he took Peter's elbow and sat him down on a pew, but he was still annoyed. "Anyone could have taken your head."

"Yes, they could have," Peter said calmly. "Do you imagine I'd care?"

"Sean would care and so would I," Duncan said fiercely. He sighed heavily before continuing, "Peter, as bad as you feel right now, one day you might wish you'd been more careful."

Peter looked at him blankly, then the ghost of a smile played across his lips. "You mean if I lost my head now I might live to regret it?"

Duncan smiled in spite of himself. "Something like that. Where do you want to go? We've got time to visit your village, although Sean wouldn't approve."

"No; let's go back to France," Peter said. "My life is there now. There's nothing for me in England."

PRESENT:

"You still miss her," Duncan said gently.

"Oh, yes," Peter replied. "We never stop caring about the ones we love. Even when they betray us. And I still think of Sean, of course. We hadn't been that close in the last few years, but that was my fault, my weakness. I should have trusted him more."

"Sometimes we push away the people we need most, without even meaning to."

"Duncan," Peter said hesitantly, "this may not be the best moment to bring it up, but... I know you've done a lot for me already... oh, this is useless. I didn't come here for old times' sake, although it's good to see you, of course. I need a favor, Duncan, rather a large one. I want you to take my head."

"You can't be serious," Duncan protested. "Why?"

"I can't live with myself anymore, and I'd rather my Quickening went to one of the good ones. Duncan... I killed Sean."


Scene 7

{Maybe this wasn't such a good idea,} Joe thought, as he watched Richie listening to one of the tapes. {I tried to pick something "easy" -- the last thing I'd want to do is start with something like Tessa's death -- but I'm not sure how he's taking this.}

Things had begun comfortably enough, with Joe quietly explaining that he'd record Richie's reactions on one tape recorder while playing tapes on another. At the start of the project, Methos had wanted to make videorecordings but Joe had vetoed that idea. It was hard enough to ignore the presence of a tape recorder; shoving a camera in someone's face would torpedo any chance of getting relaxed, spontaneous conversation. "It's not supposed to be the damned Inquisition," Joe had insisted, and Methos had quietly if unhappily relented.

This particular tape had begun with some banter between Duncan and Methos on Immortality, and Richie had grinned widely while listening to Methos recount one of his "funerals" he'd attended in disguise. That discussion had segued into a debate on how much Immortals should associate with pre-Immortals. Although the voices on the tape sounded good-natured while they rehashed a familiar argument, Richie had tensed slightly as he realized where the conversation was heading.

Joe looked over at Methos, who nodded minutely as if thinking, {Yes, I saw. He's on edge.} Richie shifted uneasily on the couch and wondered how soon he could leave Joe's office without getting teased about it later.

On the tape, Methos's voice was saying, "Being acquainted with pre- Immortals is one thing, MacLeod. What you did goes far beyond that. Yes, the transition to Immortality is easier if someone they've known from before can explain things. But you weren't just an acquaintance. You gave the boy a home. You got attached. That isn't practical."

"Actually, it was very practical." Richie could hear a hint of anger in Duncan's voice. "Richie was nearly eighteen when we took him in. Tessa and I could have done nothing, walked away, forgotten all about Richie. And within weeks, he would have been arrested again, but this time as an adult, and he would have gone to prison. Not a juvenile detention center; prison. I think you've lived long enough to guess what would have happened there. Richie was damaged enough when we took him in; if he'd gone to prison, I don't think there would have been anything left of him. He would have become a monster, and the last thing any of us needs is an Immortal monster."

"Mac's right," Joe's voice chimed in. "I've seen all the old paperwork on Richie -- police, social workers, school files, hospital records -- and he was about half a step ahead of disaster."

Richie sat there motionless, silently rigid with tension, while his brain absorbed the fizzing shock of realizing Joe knew as much about his childhood as he did. {More, maybe; I don't remember some of the foster homes too clearly. How much has he told Mac? Stop this...}

The tape ground on remorselessly. Methos was saying with amusement, "Sounds like he hasn't changed much."

Everyone laughed, then Duncan said, "Oh, he's changed incredibly. I don't think he trusted anyone when I first met him. He had quite a smart mouth on him, Mister Tough Guy, but underneath was a good kid who'd been hurt too often.

"We had to be so careful in the beginning, not to hurt his pride, not to push too much, not to show too much affection. He'd shy away if you paid him a compliment or reached out to pat him on the shoulder. He simply didn't know how to handle it.

"Then all of a sudden he changed. He'd been making progress for some time, become more sure of himself, but one day he just... blossomed. He smiled more easily; he wasn't so wary of physical contact; he actually started touching me, kissing Tessa. The funny thing is, it happened not too long after a conversation where I'd come down on him pretty hard for taking a foolish risk. I'd gone too far and really scared him; I remember him standing there wide-eyed, like a frightened animal, afraid to move. I tried to smooth things over as soon as I realized what I'd done, but inside I was cursing myself for losing my temper and undoing all the progress we'd made. I expected him to regress after that, but he didn't. Maybe once he'd seen my anger and realized he could survive it, he relaxed.

"Richie's changed so much, overcome so much. Sometimes I think, if I had known... if I'd known about Richie, and that Tessa and I would have so many years away from the Game... I could have given Tessa the child she wanted; we could have taken Richie in not long after Emily Ryan's death. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have gotten him before other people hurt him, when he was still small enough to cuddle in our laps."

Richie felt the heat rising in his face, and fought a pricking sensation in his eyes. {Oh, Mac, I didn't know,} Richie thought, as he struggled to maintain his composure. {How can you talk about this stuff so calmly, so easily, like you're not ripping open your soul? Like it doesn't matter if the whole world knows your feelings? How am I supposed to do that?}

With effort, he refocused his attention on the tape, just in time to hear Methos saying, "... deluding yourself into thinking he would have been your little angel."

Both Joe and Duncan chuckled, then Duncan said, "I know better than that."

Methos's voice persisted, "I just can't imagine you raising a small child, Duncan. It can be quite a lot of trouble, you know."

Duncan said, "I would have taken him in diapers," with an affectionate simplicity that left Richie breathless.

{I've got to get out of here before I lose it,} Richie thought. On the tape, Joe was saying something and Duncan was replying but Richie didn't listen, couldn't listen. {Why can you tell them things you can't tell me?}

Joe pressed a button and Duncan's voice fell silent. "Richie? Are you all right?" Methos asked.

{No. I'm not all right. I think I'm going to throw up. Shoot me again, Joe; give me some excuse to be anywhere but in this room. Methos warned me, but I thought he was just trying to scare me off.} Richie glanced at Methos, expecting him to be annoyed by his weakness or smug about being proved right, but his face held nothing but patient understanding. {He's done this. He knows how hard it is. What has Joe asked him?}

"I'm okay," Richie lied. "It's just... a little more personal than I was expecting."

{Okay, so now's not a good time to discuss what sort of childhood you might have had with Mac and Tessa,} Joe thought. {Let's go back to something that's simply a matter of factual recall.} "Do you remember the conversation Mac was talking about?" he asked.

If anything, Richie became even more uncomfortable. {What have I done?} Joe wondered. {I thought you'd be a little embarrassed, but I wasn't expecting this. I was watching you two that day in the alley and I've always wondered what happened after he took you inside, but it can't have been that bad; Mac would have told me. Wouldn't he have?}

Richie could feel Joe watching him closely, trying to decide if he was pushing too hard, too soon. {Oh, yes, I remember that day. Vividly.} He took a slow, careful breath, then another. {Okay, Joe, we made a deal. This much, at least, I'll give you.}

"I remember," Richie said, "although I wouldn't call it a conversation. He yelled at me." He paused, gathering the courage to say more.

"He scared you?" Methos prodded gently.

"Yeah. He scared me. I'd never seen him that mad before. I... usually, when somebody yelled at me like that, I'd wind up at Social Services or maybe the Emergency Room. But he didn't hit me, and he didn't kick me out. He calmed down and sort of apologized and I got the impression he'd been mad because he was worried about me. I was kind of confused by it all. I mean, let's face it; I wasn't the sort of kid people worried about."

"And that's when things changed between you?" Joe asked.

Richie Ryan, teenage thief, would have lied to him, but this Richie couldn't. "No. That was when, more or less, but not why. Later on, Mac set up a trap for this psycho guy, with Tessa as the bait. It didn't come off the way he'd planned, and he told me to take Tessa and get out of there. Only I didn't leave right away, like I was supposed to. I stopped to disable this guy's bike and he came after me." Richie's mouth had suddenly turned dry, now that he was coming to the hard part.

"Tessa ran him down to save you," Joe said. "I remember the Watcher's report."

"She saved me," he agreed. "She hit the guy and was pretty upset by the whole thing. We went back to the store and Mac was talking to her about it, trying to make her feel better, when he found out the whole thing had happened because I hadn't left when he told me to. He didn't say anything at the time, but he gave me this look... I knew I'd blown it, big time. That I'd been wrong about him being worried about me.

"I'd seen his type before. They yell at you, maybe beat you, and then act like they're sorry, 'cause they want to think of themselves as good guys. Then they're all smiles, only the next thing you know, they've found some very logical reason why you just aren't fitting in. Time to hit the road, kid." {God, I sound so bitter, so pathetic. Is my self- pity as obvious to them as it is to me?}

"So what happened next?" Methos asked.

Richie sighed. "I went to my room; slipped away when they weren't paying attention. I knew the big farewell speech was coming, but I was tired and my leg hurt and I just couldn't face it right then. I went to bed but I didn't sleep. I guess I was too busy calling myself an idiot for thinking Mac and Tessa might have been different.

"It got late. I heard them switch off the TV after the news. Tessa was saying something about me, but the only part I caught was my name. Then someone tapped on my door. I didn't want to talk to them, so I didn't do anything. I was hoping they'd think I was asleep and leave me alone. The door opened, and Mac called my name softly. I didn't answer him; I just lay there thinking, `Go away'.

"But he didn't leave. I heard him come over to the bed, and then there was nothing for a minute. I could feel him looking down at me, and I fought to keep my breathing slow and steady even thought my heart was pounding." Richie hesitated, caught up once again in the panic of that moment.

"You were afraid," Methos said. "You thought he was going to beat you?"

"Not that he would beat me," Richie answered slowly. "I could have taken that."

"That he'd reject you," Joe suggested.

Richie nodded, because he didn't trust his voice anymore. {Just a bit further,} he thought, while looking at the floor, his hands, anything but their faces. {These guys are your friends. They won't make fun of you.}

"So what actually happened? Anything?" Methos asked.

{They're your friends.} "He bent down and kissed me on the forehead. For a second, I thought maybe I'd gotten it wrong, that it was Tessa kissing me goodnight -- she'd kissed me on the cheek a couple of times - - but then I caught the smell of Mac's aftershave."

Richie glanced up, half-expecting them to laugh, knowing they sometimes still thought of him as a kid. Joe had a faraway look in his eye, as if remembering a sentimental moment from his own past. Methos's smile had a dangerous quirk to it, and Richie hoped he wouldn't tease Mac about what he'd said. {Maybe I should stop here? I've given them excuse enough. No; I promised them I'd tell it all.}

"After he kissed me, I heard Tessa chuckle, but she sounded further away, as if she'd come to the doorway and seen the whole thing only by chance.

"Mac whispered, `Don't tease me. He nearly got himself killed today.'

"Tessa said, `I know.' I could hear Mac walking away from me when she said, `When did it happen, Duncan? When did he become `our' Richie?'

"Mac said `I'm not sure. All I know is that I couldn't bear to lose him.' Then his voice got less serious and he said, `And how do you like having a little boy, Miss Noel?'

"She chuckled again, but her voice was muffled, like maybe Mac was holding her and nuzzling her neck. She said, `He's a big boy, and I love it,' then they left my room and shut the door."

"And you wept," Joe said. It was a statement, not a question.

{Damn you. For a nice guy, you can be a real bastard.} "Yes," Richie admitted.

"Why?" Methos asked. Richie wondered where he'd acquired a talent for making the most innocent-sounding words seem deadly.

"I don't know," Richie forced out. "I was all mixed up; it was just too much. I felt so dumb... I should have seen it coming..."

"Oh, you saw it, all right," Joe countered. "You just didn't believe it. You wouldn't let yourself believe it, because of the way you'd been treated in the past."

Richie nodded stiffly. "Other places I'd been, sometimes, the people acted nice but it was only on the surface. I thought maybe Mac and Tessa weren't like that, but I wasn't really sure, and then I screwed up and I thought it was over, but then..." He struggled for control as the tears he'd been fighting spilled over. He swallowed convulsively and went on. "The things they said when they thought I was asleep, when there wasn't any reason to act nice... I was so ashamed of myself for not trusting them... and I was so happy... I fell asleep thinking, `Somebody wants me.' "

Richie looked up and saw Joe regarding him with compassion, with the sort of all-embracing acceptance that demands confidences. Sometimes Joe seemed older than any of them, even Methos. And Methos -- this time he wasn't wearing his I'm-planning-something-and-you-aren't-going-to- like-it grin. His face was impassive, carefully controlled, but his eyes hinted at some inner pain. Perhaps he knew what it was like to be nothing, to feel alone and unwanted, then suddenly find yourself loved?


Scene 8

"No, I don't remember doing it, but I... I've had nightmares about Sean's death," Peter said. "I think they're repressed memories trying to resurface. I've forgotten things before, when it was convenient."

"Not because it was convenient; because you had to, in order to survive. Blaming yourself for Sean's death is wrong. I know you weren't responsible. I won't take your head."

"If you don't, then someone else will, and soon. Someone's been tracking me. Six weeks ago, I was attacked by mortals but managed to escape. I don't know who they were working for or what they wanted but I wouldn't be surprised if one of us is behind it. Sean was one of the best; there must be at least a few Immortals who'd avenge him if they could. But if it's not one of the good ones who's stalking me... I can't take that risk. I want my Quickening to go to you."

The waiter returned with Duncan's credit card, temporarily silencing their conversation. Duncan signed his name absently, remembering Keane. {You're right about other Immortals wanting to avenge Sean's death. I would have done it myself, if I could.} "Let's go back to my place."

"Then you'll do it?" Peter asked hopefully.

"We need to talk," Duncan said. {Yeah, we can discuss who really killed your teacher. If there was ever a time when I needed some of Richie's talent for fast talking...}

It was beginning to rain steadily as they left the restaurant. Peter turned up his collar saying, "Just as depressing as the weather in Scotland. No wonder you like it here," with a grin.

Duncan was about to defend Scotland's honor when he was stunned by a sharp blow to the head. Instinctively, he twisted to lash out at his attacker but he was already losing consciousness. He heard a muffled curse as he fell to the sidewalk. {Good. Just wait 'til I wake up and then you'll really be sorry.}


Scene 9

Duncan woke in near-darkness, bound and gagged. He was lying in the back of a large van or truck, judging by the noise and occasional bumps as they hit potholes. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he could make out the shape of another man, similarly bound, lying near him -- Peter. {Who's responsible for this? Hunters? Does Peter even know of the Watchers' existence?}

Peter groaned and shifted slightly as he returned to consciousness. A shape appeared suddenly in the darkness to check Peter; at least one of their captors was with them.

"Have a nice nap?" the man asked, with a sarcastic pleasantness that made Duncan tense against his bonds. The man must have sensed the movement, because he suddenly shifted his attention to Duncan. He raised his gun and said, "Don't. There's no need for things to get unfriendly. Your friend here is worth a small fortune. Once we've gotten the ransom, he'll go free. As for you -- well, if you're worth something, we'll let you go, too. If not... well, I'm sure all of the pieces will turn up eventually."


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