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Part 2

Scene 8

Darkness had fallen on the troubled island a few hours since, and it had only been the rumbling of stomachs which had brought two combatants back together. Richie had remade his fire and had begun to cook a meal; Altea had returned in a demonstration which said very clearly that no mere male was going to drive her away from otherwise perfectly good food. They'd eaten in cold silence, neither stubborn will trying to breach the no-man's land between them. Ryan had given away none of his feelings since his cry had ripped the woods, a steel gaze his armour against the haughty disdain that protected his opponent in the war of desire.

In the end, Richie retreated from the charged atmosphere, escaping the unbearable undercurrents swirling about them both. The young man grabbed up the plate which his companion had relinquished a few minutes before and headed towards water to clean the dishes.

Altea stared resolutely into the fire, she was not going to gaze after the departing man like some starry-eyed child. Yet she felt his pain all the same. She'd found a way to really hurt him with her repugnance, but rather than being glad to have a defence against an enemy, the young woman recognised shame in her heart. She knew she'd wronged the person who had offered her only friendship and aid, and what was more, she found that she cared about that fact. It was a new experience to consider the feelings of one she would have considered beneath her before waking into such a strange new world.

She was an Amazon, one trained to be high ranking, a priestess, men had not been of consequence in her life. Yet now, one man was threatening her very foundations of belief. There was more in her heart than heedfulness of another human being's feelings and it was time to face it. She wanted this man in a way she'd never experienced before. Not merely physical attraction, he moved her soul as well as her body, and in the solitude of the camp fire, the woman admitted her feelings to herself. The emotion in her gut conflicted with everything she had been taught, everything her people had brought her up to be. Yet that people was gone, remembered only in vague history, and its loss let in the contemplations which threatened her ideals.

Altea had never been one to run away from trouble, but her heart ached as she recalled the hurt in her new friend's eyes and the confusion in her being that her own reaction was causing. She had no solution to her dilemma, neither part of her could possibly meet. Belief was very important, it had kept her going in the frightening years since Immortality had begun, until a fortnight ago she had had nothing else on which to cling. Now the new influence in her life, warmth, a chance of companionship in a way she had never know, menaced her strength and conviction. In a way that was even more terrifying than the isolation which had accompanied her on her path of vengeance.

The girl stared into the burnished embers of the dying fire, letting the heat dry her eyes of any moisture, preferring the prickling hotness to any sign of weakness that may have been there. Instinctively, Altea held back any sign of her emotions, it was not the Amazon way to give in to the failings of women in other cultures. Yet even as she did so, the emotions boiled within. She let the anger back in: a rage aimed at him for causing the tumult in her spirit; a fury in defence against the underlying feelings; a passion with many levels.

Richie crouched by the water's edge, his hand resting in the freezing water, the rinsing action forgotten as the young man lost himself in thought. Questions tumbled over in his mind neither wholly defeatist nor defensive.

'What are you doing here, Ryan?' he chided himself. 'What did you hope to gain?'

His musings went back to the shock and revulsion he'd seen on Altea's face at his admission and her reaction still stung as if it were fresh. Had he really offended her that badly? Were their cultures so different that the mere contemplation of him made her sick? The possibility brought colour to Richie's cheeks and a hotness to his demeanour. A little indigence tried its best to protect his already battered ego -- how dare she judge him by standards out of date by thousands of years? Yet, Richard Ryan had grown up with enough mixtures of cultures in his life to recognise the significance of personal belief, and he could not hide behind bigotry and presumption. He had to face Altea on her own terms, and try to understand what lay behind her actions. In truth he knew very little about her culture. Maybe that was a place to start? Maybe he'd jumped into the ravine at the wrong point; a less precipitous path may be necessary.

Richie sighed and shook his hand as he realised he could not longer feel his fingers. A new chance settled into his thoughts, and he began to formulate a new plan of attack.

Scene 9

If that mobile phone didn't stop ringing soon, Duncan was going to rip off it's battery pack and shove it down it's owners throat ...

MacLeod opened his eyes to realise that the annoying buzzing was in fact real, and the man with the cell phone was a figment of some peculiar dream. These facts did not, however, do anything to alleviate the problem of it being the middle of the night and the phone next to the bed was ringing. Reluctantly the Scot reached out and picked up the receiver.

"MacLeod," he greeted whoever had chosen such a god forsaken hour to call.

"Mr Duncan MacLeod?" the voice on the other end enquired.

That sounded official, and it caused Duncan's fogged brain to clear somewhat.

"Yes," he replied, and pulling the covers off his bed, swung his legs round to the floor.

"Do you know a Richard Ryan?" was the next question.

The Highlander had a nasty flash of Altea standing over his friend's headless body brandishing her labrys, but pushed it aside before his mind became out of control.

"Yes," he responded for the second time. "Is something wrong?"

"Your name was placed on Mr Ryan's lease," the official voice continued, "and the apartment has been broken into. We have been unable to contact Mr Ryan, and so we turned to you. Would you happen to know where we could find him?"

"He's out of town," MacLeod explained, more than a little relieved, "and he won't be back for a few days at least. There's no way to contact him except by driving out to where he is. If I can be of assistance I'd rather not disturb him, he's on a trip with ... with his fiancee."

The white lie might just keep Richie safe on the Island--people were sympathetic to love birds. With the way the young Immortal had been looking the last few days he did not need to be called back so soon after he had left, just to be told his apartment had been burgled.

"Well we really need details of what might have been stolen," the anonymous voice explained patiently.

"I can do that," Duncan offered, "I helped him move in so I know most of the contents."

There was a thoughtful pause.

"Okay Mr MacLeod," the speaker responded, "that would be acceptable. We don't want to interrupt a romantic trip unless we have to. Would you mind coming over straight away."

"Of course," the Highlander replied, even though he felt very far from that sure, "I'll be there in twenty minutes."

"Thank you, sir," the voice said much too cheerfully for two in the morning, "see you then."

Putting the phone down Duncan climbed out of bed.

"That's another one you owe me, Richie," he mumbled to himself, and wandered towards the bathroom.

Scene 1 0

Richie strolled back to camp, leisurely rubbing his wet hair with a damp towel. After a sleepless, but thoughtfully productive night, he'd quit the cabin before his companion had show signs of stirring, choosing an invigorating swim to brace himself for whatever the day had in store. Now, it was only just past dawn, but the young man returned to a camp already active. Ryan paused at the tree-line, chiding himself for not expecting the habitually early-rising Amazon to be awake. He recalled her attitude towards him the night before and reached hastily to button the shirt, which hung loose and open over his shoulders. Alert eyes snapped up from the job of starting the fire, as Immortal senses told their owner she was no longer alone; Richie froze in mid-movement, feeling a little foolish, as she surveyed his half-dressed state. That deep gaze did not settle from the first mildly startled look and for the first time he could recall, the young man could see no defiance lurking behind it. It left Richie vaguely perplexed as Altea broke the unusually short meeting of stares. Something had obviously changed since he had returned to an already slumbering form the previous evening. However, after the rigours of the day before, the youth was not willing to speculate on what that was. He knew he was walking on eggshells when it came to his guest and he had no wish to launch immediately back into another confrontation.

The new attitude drew the young man in, and he wandered forward, forgetting his appearance for the present. Ease of manner didn't seem within either of the young people, but Richie recognised an attempt within Altea to appear as more docile and he tried to echo that.

"Good morning," he greeted as casually as possible; this time his cordiality was rewarded by a courteous nod in his direction.

He smiled blandly, it was a start. Richie stood dumbly watching the young woman work -- he was still having difficulty deciding how to talk to the volatile creature. His scrutiny and awkwardness did not go unnoticed, and the young man was very surprised to find his companion trying to relieve it.

"H-how is the water?" she enquired haltingly, eyes fixed firmly on her task.

Richie snapped the slack jaw of his surprise into, "Ah - great. Cold, but hey, an Immortal never died from a chill."

"Only a man would freeze himself when he could perfectly well use a bowl of heated water once the fire was lit," Altea quipped, but the youth heard the faintest hint of humour in her tone.

He took her lead and glanced at the first abortive attempt to light the fire.

"And if we wait for you to get it going, neither of us would get washed today," Richie teased, grinning impishly.

"Well it is all yours," the woman seemed undaunted, and although she didn't smile, there was a nonchalance in her movements as she turned and tossed him the box of matches.

"Okay," Ryan warmed to the challenge and they swapped places.

Ten minutes, half a box of matches, a collection of colourful insults and some drier tinder later, the pair managed to start the fire.

"Two stones and a spark used to do it," Altea observed wryly as she sat on her haunches and played idly with the remaining matches.

"Yeah, but I bet you didn't leave the wood out all night in the Fall!" Richie answered with a snort, finally warming his hands over the flames.

The young woman grimaced at the comment about the disarray in which they had left the camp the night before, but she clearly intended no animosity.

"Fire was much more important to us than you modern people," she told him more seriously, and her companion felt the first glimmer of real communication since the early days of their relationship.

The young man glanced into the fire and began as casually as possible, "We must seem strange to you."

"Yes," came the definite reply and there was a tremor in the woman's voice.

Richie looked across, but she had taken his lead and was starring wide-eyed into the flames. He pressed on, "You're a little unusual yourself."

The youth started as the moment of distance shattered and intense eyes were upon him.

"What do you mean?!" the enquiry was clipped.

Altea's demeanour worried the young man, but he had gone too far to step back now. He hoped the sudden insecurity his companion had shown at the observation was not such a high cliff as the previous one.

"You're a little different than I'm used to," he shrugged with a nervous smile, and then added, "no, you're a lot different."

"Is that bad?" the girl seemed anxious, less aggressive for a moment.

"No, no," Richie immediately denied and attempted, "Heck, if every woman on this Earth was the same, life would be -- well -- boring."

His wit failed miserably, and the youth regretted his words as soon as he'd said them. Smart-alec comments, it became rapidly obvious, weren't Altea's style. Her brow creased and thunder appeared in her glare.

"I am not just 'a woman'," the contrary female snapped, "I am an Amazon."

"You think I hadn't noticed?" Ryan couldn't catch the quip before it slipped out.

He winced instinctively and waited for the haughty response he was expecting. Yet, Altea surprised him again. This time it was not pleasant. The young woman's face showed hurt, and the youth regretted his comment whole-heartedly, as he realised he'd been taken deadly seriously. If there was a way to completely misinterpret one another, it seemed that the couple would find it, and Richie knew for certain he'd touched a raw nerve. Altea's demeanour had tensed; his second witticism had only compounded the first, and he was unsure how to climb out of the hole he had dug for himself. There was more going on behind those dark eyes than the young man had realised, and he knew he'd set some kind of ball rolling. The girl had been really making an effort at being cordial that morning; in two openings of his smart-mouth, Richie knew he'd ruined that.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything," he tried to soothe an ego that was well out of his reach.

Altea's reaction was swift, and not wholly unexpected. Richie caught the quiver of her lip and then the woman bolted. The youth didn't move from his spot, only swore, "Damn your mouth, Ryan!"

He stood slowly and turned in the direction in which his companion had fled. There was no sign of her, her agility and speed having taken her out of sight in the blink of an eye. Finally remembering his shirt, Richie began to button it as he strode heavily after Altea.

Scene 1 1

Even the closeness of nature around her could not reduce the fire in Altea's blood. She stood silent and shadowy by the trunk of a gnarled old tree, not quite leaning on it for the support she wanted but knew she didn't deserve. She had disgraced herself, fleeing a battle, only a contest of wills, but something in which she had shown weakness. What was more, the hurt she had felt had shown her more about her personal conflicts than she had wanted to see. Her beliefs, her credo, both and more were fighting against the need and wont she felt for this man, the attraction in body and soul. Richie's words had cut deep; she knew he had little idea of the core in her being that he had touched with his offhand comments, but that didn't stop the young woman feeling open and vulnerable. She was a woman, an Amazon, and he had made light of that. Richie's jibe had sliced deeper than it should, Altea knew she had overreacted, but understanding that fact only made her emotions worse, not soothed them. Not only had she acted like a sycophantic love-sick in front of a man, she had let him get to her so badly that she had chosen flight instead of facing her troubles. He had insulted her, he was a timorous fool -- then why did his opinion matter so much, why did her cheeks still burn at the supposedly ignorable? Nothing made sense any more. As the order and discipline of vengeance fell away, it was revealing a shambles, a confused, lost little girl.

Her natural warrior's senses told Altea he was there long before proximity alerted the always intrusive Immortal warning signal. She hated it, the aching in her head and soul which took away everything else when it was first felt. It was part of what had brought her to this, misplaced her in a world she had never taken the time to understand. Darius had been kind, and she had respected him in a way that had separated him from her normal rules. Yet, Richie was different, a man with dimensions the young woman had never even contemplated in the priest. He belonged completely to this time and situation, with little concept of the threat he posed to her ideals. He had not tried to seduce her, neither had he tried to force his attentions, but the depth in his gaze held as much concern for Altea as if he had. The man affected her soul in ways that should have been irrelevant to the untouched perfection of a priestess. He moved her heart as well as her body.

His footsteps sounded on the leaf-litter and Altea fought the jumble of emotions that churned her stomach. The Immortal call had faded, but the young woman could still feel him as he stopped a few metres away; she didn't turn, but gritted her teeth as her mind pictured him standing there, clothing part displaying the physique which had caused the same startling rise in her being a few minutes ago. She dared not face him in case his bright eyes noticed the signs of her situation, the colour in her cheeks, the wetness to her eyes, and the heat in her being, all signs of weakness. Why should she care what he saw? Why did she hide, and from what - herself? Was fighting all she had left, all that truly remained of the hopes and dreams she had held centuries ago? That thought hurt like a physical wound.

"Altea?" Richie spoke gently, anxiously.

His timing could not have been more wrong, and then the girl did turn, her eyes flashing the danger defensive anger brought to the surface. She didn't want him here, she couldn't think straight with her feelings agitated so. The woman was confused, hurt, afraid, lonely, and it all came out as Richie became the catalyst in her crucible. He stood just out of reach, careful, Ryan may not have known the woods, but Altea could see he knew people. It was his careful stance which saved him from the full force of a kick through which the warrior centred all her anger. The woman almost flew at him, possessed by a rage she could not understand nor hope to control. Yet it was not a battle cry on her lips, but a scream, incoherent, animalistic, lost.

Altea's foot glanced off her unsuspecting opponent's ribs as he hastily tried to side-step the attack. He grunted and fell away and she stumbled into the grass as madness misplaced her balance. Neither had been ready for the fury. The Amazon caught herself, at least physically, before she fell, but there was no stopping the vent now it had been opened. Snarling more at the tumult inside than the stunned heap of man on the ground, she dove at him. He was shocked into inactivity, his wide eyes showing trauma and then pain as she landed on top of him, using her limbs viciously. A knee to his ribs stopped Richie from fighting back; bones cracked under the unprecedented assault, and he cried out, disoriented by pain. The Amazon used her advantage to the full and showed no mercy to her unwitting tormentor. She scratched and punched while locking her knees about her victim's chest and applying pressure to the damage which she had already inflicted.

This was the centre of her anger, and as it drove her on, she no longer saw the physical being below her; she was fighting the battle of the ages, her world against this strange place. The fury burnt strong in the furnace of her troubles and Altea screamed louder than Richie. The vulnerable flesh she pummelled stood for all the anguish Immortality had given her and holding back against it now was not an option.

There was no coherence to her movement, the warrior skills left her in the moment of ultimate passion, and the randomness of her strikes saved Richie from another death. A fully trained Amazon was a lethal creature, but whether from unconscious restraint or sheer lack of thought, Altea did not go for the death blow. Instead, the full force of the woman's vehemence eventually focused on pounding her sacrifice's chest. Yet, this offering began to fight back. Altea howled as desperate hands grabbed for hers, ripping away and attempting to return to her rage. Still, every time she pulled away, he reached for her again, making her madder, he wasn't supposed to oppose her. This was no balanced, well crafted assault, and the intensity could not be sustained for long. As her effort began to show, the young woman could wrench away from the grasps less easily. At last, she could not release herself at all. Growling, the Amazon twisted her wrists, trying to free herself, but Richie had had enough. His grip was harsh, borne of the mixture of pain and desperation and he was not letting go. Altea writhed, trying to rear away, but she was like a wild animal caught in a trap and what was left of her energy drained quickly. With it went her rage, and she was left staring down at a very battered and shocked companion.

A deep gash ran down one side of Richie's face and blue sparks signified healing of wounds in numerous other places. His shirt was torn and bloodied; he was shaking with his own exertion, holding her back away from his torso, and what wasn't discomfort in his stare was shock.

Reality hit hard, and the young woman barely believed what she had done. All at once the implications of the violence came rushing in; Altea began to tremble as she recalled the frightening rage and the horror in her victim made her feel sick. Richie was hurting, and as she stilled, he let go of her arms, collapsing onto the leaf mulch, his face creasing in pain. The woman stared down at him, watching the irregular breathing rhythm of a person trying not to move, petrified by the knowledge of her own actions.

When she could move, the first thing Altea wanted to do was leave. She couldn't face this man, explain her actions, even an apology seemed a pathetic idea. For a moment, as the loneliness of her misplacement in time hit her, the young woman even considered offering her head in recompense. That thought frightened her even more; she stood.

The terrified little girl turned and, wrapping her arms around herself in defence against the disgust she felt, began to walk away. This was not fast flight, she hadn't the energy left for more than a stagger. Yet she was halted by a thin, unsteady voice.

"Altea, stop running," Richie begged.

"I can't do this, I can't live this life," the girl admitted in a rush, unable to look back at the damage she had done.

"Let me help you," brought a strange mixture of relief and disbelief as Altea wondered at the depth of feeling in the young man that could move past her viciousness so fast, and she hung her head in shame as he offered, "Talk to me."

There was movement behind her, slow, halting, but she wasn't going anywhere. She so desperately wanted to accept the comfort being offered, but all her upbringing and training cried out against it, guilty at the need. The warrior trained into her from birth failed her again, she could not hide behind the face of battle which had served her for the years of vengeance. She was trembling visibly by the time a hand reached out to her shoulder and felt the spasms; it was gentle, careful, reminding her of another.

"I miss Darius so much," she admitted, and began to turn.

The rest of the movement was done for her, and Richie pulled his companion into his arms. Altea didn't reach back, she couldn't yet, it was beyond her, but she accepted the undemanding embrace, burying her head silently into the offered shoulder.

Scene 1 2

"You look like death warmed over," were the first words out of Joe's mouth as MacLeod wandered into his bar.

"Yeah, well so would you if you'd been out of bed since two this morning," the Highlander shot back, and the expression on his face told Joe that that wasn't the only thing bothering his friend.

Being an observer had it's advantages and the Watcher went into listener mode.

"Anything wrong?" he enquired calmly.

"Someone trashed Richie's place last night," Duncan told him and glanced sourly at the coffee his companion placed in front of him. "The police think it was a burglary gone wrong, but I couldn't spot anything that had been taken."

"Is that good or bad?" Joe prompted.

MacLeod looked up at him and he didn't look all that sure.

"Well," the Highlander started, "I know there wasn't much there of value, but the TV and VCR were worth taking. It was like someone systematically went through the whole apartment and broke everything they found. Whoever it was even slashed the couch to pieces."

Both expressions mirrored each other then, Joe had to admit that was worrying. When strange things like this happened around Immortals they rarely had a normal explanation.

"Altea?" the Watcher asked, unsure of where his companion's thoughts were going.

MacLeod shook his head immediately.

"No," he explained, "I know for a fact that she was gone long before this could have happened and there were a few of her things just a mangled as Richie's. This doesn't feel like a fight between them. The police think it was a junkie high on crack, but I'm not so sure. The destruction was too carefully thought out."

"Method in the madness," Joe commented, and Duncan nodded at him.

He knew they were both working round to the same conclusion and the Watcher decided to step in before his friend had to ask.

"I'll check with the local network," he said evenly, "see if there's anyone in town we should know about."

"Thanks," MacLeod replied and had to smile, "you read my mind."

"Yeah well after so many years you're getting predictable," the barman quipped.

Scene 1 3

She was sat a few feet away from him, elbows resting on her knees, head in her hands, silent and unmoving. Richie wanted to reach out to the vulnerable figure, soothe the troubles so clear in her manner, but, although she had seemed grateful for the embrace a few minutes ago, he knew his affection only made things worse. So, he sat, still and calm, on the damp ground where they had settled once Altea's trembling had subsided. She didn't want to know he was there for now, so he contained his feelings and had to be satisfied with watching her desperate meditation.

The frenzied attack was like a dream, far in the past already for the young man as were the wounds it had caused. The speed with which he'd recovered, not physically, that was nothing unusual, but mentally, the lack of shock, felt a little strange, but all that was left was an overwhelming concern for the motives behind the assault. It was so obvious that Altea was hurting far more than the injuries she had inflicted on him, and the unsure creature brought out Richie's protective side. He wanted so badly to make everything better, stop the pain in her soul and it took all his self-will to hold back the instinct he judged would smother his companion.

Instead, the observer ran his gaze over every detail of the unhappy form. Her attire was functional rather than flattering, loose for easy movement, and barely feminine. She was slender, but her curves were hidden by sweats, and the way in which her jacket had fallen off her shoulders and now rested halfway down her back made her seem like a street urchin. Her incredible hair was tousled, untidy curls obscuring much of the hands she held to her face; Richie suppressed another urge to lean forward and stroke away one of the stray bangs. The young man was fascinated by the stillness, after the intensity of the fight, the contrast was extraordinary, even the chill Fall breeze seemed to have left them alone in the clearing. Altea didn't seem to be breathing, a baggy shirt hiding any rise or fall of her bosom. He had to force himself to take in breath as the atmosphere around him demanded his compliance to the calm.

Yet, it proved to be a facade; the calm was fakery, hiding the disquiet in both young people, and neither could hold back the moment of truth for ever. Richie's gaze shifted from examining the detail on his companion's sneaker to meet her bleak stare as her head came up. No tears, her eyes were dry, that wasn't the Amazon way - for a moment, Richie hated the Amazon way. It had made this woman hard, her feelings hidden almost too far down for him to reach; as he felt it, he realised guiltily that he was jealous of the code she put before everything else, it was the chasm between them. The thought must have shown in his eyes, because the young woman murmured earnestly, "I'm sorry."

Richie smiled, dumping his excess baggage for the time being, trying to offer reassurance in its place.

"You weren't going for my head," he answered her remorse honestly, "anything else is part of the lifestyle in the company I keep."

Altea frowned, but he shrugged at her and pressed on, "Look, if that fist fight has helped us start to talk, then I'm glad it happened."

"You are more forgiving than I," the young woman observed.

"Maybe I am, I don't know," Ryan saw an opportunity and went for it, "that's what I want to find out. I don't know squat when it comes to you or where you come from. How do I rate in your scenario, pond life, or is that too high for a man?"

Richie waved his arms exasperatedly at his companion, now was no time to be holding back how he felt. Altea's frown deepened, but it wasn't with the usual indignant anger, at last they seemed to have gone beyond that. She looked away, in thought rather than to avoid his gaze, and she seemed to be struggling for the right words as she began, "Men were not considered necessary for an Amazon, we could stand alone, unshackled by anyone, not even another woman."

She glanced back at him to gauge his reaction, and Richie experienced a sudden rush of blood to his face as he realised she spotted exactly what he was thinking.

"Oh, we had women and men for that," she informed his flushed visage, and there was a twitch at the corners of her mouth; yet the amusement was gone in a moment. "I've never really spent time with a man before."

"What about Darius?" the next question as a logical progression to Richie, but he noted that it seemed unexpected to Altea.

The surprise lasted only a second, and then the implication caught up with her; the woman explained, "Darius was different."

She looked vaguely relieved when Richie nodded; he knew what she meant and empathised, "Yeah, I only knew him a short time, but the guy never did fit a mould."

Altea's face was sad as she smiled in recollection of the gentle creature whose loss had touched all who had known him. Still, the beloved priest was an old grief, and there were new ones to be handled. The youth's mind flicked back to the previous track, and he chose to be direct as he prompted, "So what did men do to Amazons to make them hate us."

"We didn't hate you," his companion snapped back, her eyes flashing with the fire which it was comforting to see returning.

Richie didn't back down, and his gaze was even, but heavy as he waited for a proper answer. Altea sighed and began, "It is more complicated than that; there was no one event. We wanted to be strong, to stand alone." She paused, her thoughts crossing her face in a grimace of discontent as she fought for the right words. "Other tribes treated their women like chattels, we fought against that," her face cleared to a vaguely shocked realisation as she admitted, "We did the same to them."

"BC Women's Lib," Ryan grinned, trying to soothe the uncomfortable realisation in Altea's visage; he failed, and decided it was best to leave the jokes till a later date. "Have you heard of Women's Lib?"

The woman shook her head, her curiosity muted by her conclusions about her own race.

"It was still considered a man's world until the sixties, when the sexual revolution happened," Richie launched enthusiastically into the socio-political history lesson. "The fairer sex decided not to take shit from men anymore, and thirty years later, we're just about sorting it all out. Equal rights for men and women, a lot of people are trying to level the playing field, everyone treated equally despite their sex, or race or colour, or anything else for that matter. It works, sorta, there are problems on both sides, but we've been trying to work it out." Then an idea struck him and he chuckled, shaking his head and observing, "It took them thirty years, and we're trying to do it in a few days."

Altea silenced him with a hand on his arm; the surprise showed in his face as he stared into hers now only a foot away. She seemed to have taken him seriously again, but her touch was tender, and he saw deep, slightly anxious sincerity in her gaze. She didn't say anything, he was quickly learning that his companion was a creature of few words, each one spoken with thought and meaning, but that even more could be said without them. Both sides were now making an effort; understanding was still a little way off, but a start had been made.

Scene 1 4

Even with the description circulating discretely there was no information coming back the other way. No one knew of any red-haired Immortals in town, and so the woman remained a mystery. Joe was beginning to think that there had to be some other explanation as he put the phone down on yet another wasted call and looked up at his new customer. Point of fact, she was his only customer and he was very quickly regretting this point.

"Hi," he said as his mind caught up with his eyes and he realised that the woman he was trying so hard to track down was in fact standing in front of him, "what can I get you."

What was worse was the fact that he knew the face as well. The hair colour had changed, but the dress sense was still as gothic and the features as vicious. Even as he recognised Felicia Martins he tried to keep the shock out of his face.

"Information, old man," she said without trying to hide the threat she posed. "I'm looking for a friend of yours, and if you can't tell me where he is you're going to regret breathing."

It was as she walked towards the bar that Joe caught sight of the knife in her hand. Now nobody had mentioned that she was using that sort of persuasion, and the Watcher had a feeling that the woman may be reaching the end of her patience, which wasn't good news for him.

"Where is Richie Ryan?" she asked bluntly.

"I don't know," was the immediate response, and Joe stood back with his hands raised as Felicia cut a grove in the bar's varnish.

"Try again," the woman told him and dug the knife into the wood to illustrate her meaning.

The Watcher decided that the only way he could guarantee coming out of this one with everything intact was to play her game. Running away wasn't exactly an option, and all he could hope for was that someone would come in.

"He said something about going out of town for a few days," Joe hedged as Felicia glared at him. "Friends out of state," he lied hopefully.

"Know the name of these friends?" was the next question.

The red hair really suited Felicia's temperament, and she looked the part of the hellcat as she twisted the knife in her hand.

"Look lady," the Watcher tried, hoping that distracting her would help his case, "I really didn't hear much about it. If you want to know where Richie is you'll have to talk to Duncan MacLeod, he was who the kid was talking to when I over heard as much as I've told you."

Playing dumb was the only thing Joe could think of to do, but the anger in Felicia's eyes didn't make him think he was doing too well. She leaned over the bar, knife raised, ready to lunge at him if he tried to get out of the way. The bar owner only began to breath again when the door banged open and one of his regulars walked in. Where the knife vanished to Joe couldn't say, but one second it was in view, the next it wasn't.

"I'll be seeing you, old man," Felicia said coldly, and then she turned and left.

"I'm sorry, Sid," Joe said as soon as she was gone, "but I have to close. Something very important just came up."

Scene 1 5

Altea accepted the proffered mug of fresh coffee and rested it on her knee just in front of her chin, blowing the vapours away from her. She nodded a thank you to her companion, but said nothing - there was another question coming, she could see it on his face as he considered how best to pose it. The young woman was discovering just how curious a soul Richie could be, as they had spent the hours since the fight walking and talking. They'd returned to camp only half an hour ago, the afternoon demanding that they fill their bellies with something or have their voice drowned by the rumbling. They'd covered many areas, Richie doing most of the asking, although Altea had eventually found the urge to make enquiries of her own. Yet, she had learnt a lot just from listening to the way in which her companion posed his delvings. In some ways, she found his curiosity almost childlike, over enthusiastic, even blithely irrelevant at times. Still, it seemed to make sense to him, and the Amazon was content to see him through his questions.

There had still been some awkward moments, raw nerves that could not be soothed by a few hours' conversation, but understanding was beginning to make those moments less destructive. Both young people were less nervous of each other's reactions, trusting more that restraint would be used and that neither was trying to undermine the other. This man was turning out to be an interesting creature, and Altea knew that her fear of accepting him had begun to dissipate. That thought was still quite frightening, there was a lot of complications that could come from lowering her barriers, but wont had mixed with necessity, and she had begun to comprehend the modern world through the dangerously likeable young man.

Now she smiled at him as he crouched by the fire, coffee pot held almost forgotten in his hand, his eyes unfocused as he contemplated his own thoughts. Sometimes the silences could be longer than the spurts of conversation, but everything revealed a little more about one to the other. In his own way, this young man was as vulnerable to the rigours of Immortal life as she; he'd suffered and benefited from it, and his openness about his own experiences had encouraged Altea to follow his lead.

"So you spent your whole life being tested to become a warrior?" eventually the enquiry came, and Richie's blue eyes centred back on his companion.

She nodded, sipping the coffee, and finding it too hot, answered, "Mm, it was what most of us wanted. There was no higher honour than to be a warrior. There were some who didn't have the spirit for it, and chose other roles. We thought they were not as good as we were," Altea surprised herself as she felt a flush of shame at that, it was not something she had considered wrong before. The woman pressed on, "The goals were all very clear, pass the next test, be chosen for further training, very competitive, but there was still a closeness amongst us, we were all sisters. Your life was not so clear?"

Richie shook his head vigorously, and Altea thought she saw pain in his eyes, but he moved beyond it as he replied, "I did a lot of fighting, but it wasn't to pass any tests. I wasn't really close to anyone for very long until Mac and Tessa took me in. Some of us used to hang, but it was a loose group; we'd look out for each other when things got really bad, but most of the time it was number one that counted -- bit like The Game really."

The look on Richie's face showed discontent, and the hurt wouldn't go away this time. As the frown stuck in place, Altea chose to meet it.

"You don't like The Game?" she asked directly.

"It sucks," Ryan told her vehemently. "When I first found out I was Immortal, I thought the rules didn't have to apply to all of us. Mac didn't seem to live like that, so there was no reason I had to. When he went for my head, I flipped out, started training real hard, took heads I'm not proud of, and things got pretty bad for a while. Now...now I think I see life from both sides; every reason for going for a head is different, some come after you, some just happen, especially when you hang around with The Highlander, but I'd never go hunting for the sake of it. If they don't threaten me, I don't hassle them."

The passion in the young man's tone had lessened as he spoke, becoming more of an earnest disclosure. Their discussion was turning personal again, and he placed the coffee pot back beside the fire, turning more directly to Altea. He sat down, and the pair gazed at each other for a few moments.

"I haven't trusted anyone since Darius," Altea admitted, a little unsure of herself; Richie didn't seem surprised when she tried to gauge his reaction, and he waited for her to continue. "He was the only person in this world who tried to understand me on my terms. The others, doctors, care workers, do-gooders, they never really wanted to know, they just wanted to change me, make me see I was wrong, that their way was best."

"And I was doing the same thing?" her companion observed quickly.

"No," the young woman returned immediately, but then paused as she thought more clearly about the question; she made a face and began again, "Yes, maybe I thought that, but it wasn't as clear, it was mixed up with...other things."

Altea dropped her gaze to the mug on her knees, nervous of what lay in her mind, unwilling to admit to this man that he'd made her consider that maybe his way was best without even saying anything. She was still anxious about the sexual aspect of this fledgling friendship; she had admitted to herself that she felt a deep attraction to the handsome youth, but how to deal with it remained undecided. Her old life -- that was a strange thought, accepting the distinction so quickly -- still held significant meaning to her, and she didn't want to reject all of it. What to keep sacred and what to adapt would only become clear through experience; choices had to be made, but for now, some were too difficult.

The young woman looked up, and had to smile; it was so obvious that Richie was biting his tongue, as she read curiosity about the 'other things' written all over his face. He was making a supreme effort to consider her feelings, and he'd backed off a good deal since yesterday. Patience, she was learning, wasn't Ryan's strong point, but he was doing his utmost right now, and she appreciated that. She knew she was about to disappoint him, but hoped he'd understand.

"I think the soup's done," Altea nodded to the pot hung over the fire.

It wasn't so much a hint as a neon sign, and Richie accepted it. He made a face at her, not letting the moment pass without at least unspoken comment, but then he put down his own cup and they both stepped back from the edge of too much candour.

Scene 1 6

It took an hour or so to get every piece of information on Felicia together. There was an extensive list of all the people the woman had killed and several interesting pieces of data that Joe gathered together after he closed and locked the bar's door. As soon as he had completed his task he had climbed into his car and headed straight for the dojo.

"Joe," MacLeod greeted as his friend walked in, "what's up?"

"I know who's after Richie," was the grim response, "and you're not going to be pleased."

"Let's go upstairs," Duncan decided quickly.

"It's Felicia," the Watcher announced as they both entered the loft.

He handed the Highlander a folder of all the information he had gathered.

"Ever since you let her go she's become more and more destructive," Joe explained to his friend, "her Watcher surmised that she couldn't actually deal with defeat. We thought she was in prison in Denver awaiting trial for murder, but it seems she swapped identities with another inmate. They found the woman dead in her cell after Felicia made her escape."

"And now she's after Richie," Duncan seemed to be clarifying his thoughts aloud.

Felicia Martins was by no means the nastiest Immortal on the face of the planet, but she was trying hard for the post. Her chronicle was not pretty reading, and Joe just hoped they could find her before she came anywhere near their young friend.

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