"Why am I out here and the old guy isn't?" Richie Ryan complained, as he plunked to the ground next to the campfire his friend and mentor, Duncan Macleod had built.
"Richie," he said sternly.
"No, really. Why do I have to be here and he doesn't?"
"Methos hates roughing it."
"Ha! His idea of 'roughing it' is a hotel room with room service. You'd think he love getting back to nature as you like to put it."
"Consider this a learning experience for you then." Duncan stared into the fire a minute. "He had to go to Paris this weekend. Watcher business."
Richie opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it and lapsed into silence. Finally, he said, "I still hate camping."
"What am I going to do with you?" Duncan groaned, reaching over to tousle his hair. "I know something that will cheer you up."
"We're going home early?"
"No. There's a Renaissance Faire in the area. I thought maybe we'd go tomorrow."
"Oh yeah, that sounds like fun."
"Have you ever been to one?"
"Well, no. No, not another learning experience," he groaned.
"It'll be fun. We can critique their fighting skills," he said, ignoring his friend's glare. "You can eat as much as you want and stare at the girls wearing very tight, very low-cut bodices."
Richie had brightened at the mention of food, but frowned at the unfamiliar word. "What's a bodice?"
"Well, it's kind of like a vest, only on women it sucks everything in and pushes it up."
Richie's eyes lit up in understanding and he grinned, "This might be fun after all."
They both paused rising to their feet, each drawing his own sword, as they felt the touch of another Immortal's presence. Duncan realized a second before Richie that it had been too faint to be a full-fledged Immortal. They turned at the same time to face the young woman standing just within the glow of the campfire, her own sword drawn. Duncan fought a sense of déjà vu when he saw her garbed in clothing similar to that of his youth, although it was bit more masculine than what the women used to wear. She was dressed all in black, from her soft leather-riding boots to her tight-fitting bodice. Beneath the bodice she wore a looser fitting, flowing shirt and a pair of tight breeches. There was a dagger in her belt and a sword scabbard slung over her back. It was from there that she had drawn the Roman short sword she held. He noticed a slight bulge in each of her wrist cuffs indicating throwing knives.
"I am Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod," he sated formally, not dropping his guard.
"And I'm Richie Ryan. Just plain Richie Ryan."
"How nice for you," she said, glancing around obviously searching for something or someone. "Well then, Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod and just plain Richie Ryan, what are you two doing out here with swords?"
Duncan instantly lowered his blade and returned it to its' hiding place. "We might ask the same of you."
"Let's just say I don't trust strangers." She tensed suddenly at the sound of a twig snapping behind her, but relaxed when the soft muzzle of her horse butted against her shoulder. "I told you to stay put, Kena," she said softly.
While her attention was on the horse Duncan gestured for Richie to put away his sword and sit down again. He looked at his mentor as if he'd gone insane. He gestured again and Richie unhappily obeyed. Duncan sat as well, saying; "Would you care to join us? We should have something left over from dinner, assuming Richie hasn't eaten it all yet."
She looked at them for a long moment before nodding. When she stepped farther into the light of the campfire Richie sucked in an appreciative breath. She was slim and the bodice accentuated her curves. Her skin was an almost translucent white with a smattering of freckles. What caught his attention was her dark fiery red hair. Although it was pulled back into a braid he suspected it was quite long and slightly curly.
She sheathed her sword and looped Kena's reins over a nearby branch before taking a seat. She nodded a thank you and sipped from the mug of coffee Duncan handed her. "You still haven't told me what you're doing here."
"We're camping for a few days. Although we thought we'd go to the Renaissance Faire tomorrow. I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell us your name?"
"Caitlin O'Reilly. Normally I'd recommend whole-heartedly that you go to the Faire, but something strange is going on there. I think you'd be better off avoiding it."
"Is that what you're running from?" Richie asked.
"Who said I was running?" She said, staring grimly at the flames.
"I'm not that stupid. No one goes running around the woods in the middle of the night on a horse with a sword unless they're in trouble. So, does the other guy carry a sword?"
"No, they carry guns. I didn't have access to anywhere I was. Just hard sharp steel."
"Can I ask why they're looking for you?" Duncan asked, shooting Richie a be-quiet look.
"I don't know. Maybe they don't like Faire workers who know how to handle swords." She rose from her seat suddenly nervous. Handing the cup back to Duncan, she said, "I'd better get going now. It was nice meeting you."
"It was nice to meet you as well," Duncan nodded, producing a business card. "If you're ever in Seacouver, please look us up."
Cait looked at it a moment then slipped it into her belt pouch. "I'll try and do that. Good night, Duncan Macleod, Richie Ryan."
"But...you don't have to go. Mac, tell her she doesn't have to leave."
"It's better this way, Richie. Live. Grow stronger. Fight another day. Words I live by," she said. Swinging up onto Kena's bareback; she nodded one more time before disappearing into the night. Mac watched her go, surprised to hear her echo Methos' words.
"I don't get it, Mac. Why'd you let her leave? She's one of us or at least she will be."
"I know that, but it's her choice to go. There was nothing else I could do without telling her what we are; what she is."
"I still think we should have done something."
"I know, Richie. I know."
They lapsed into silence; each contemplating his own concerns about the young woman who'd just arrived and disappeared so mysteriously from their lives. Almost ten minutes passed when a male voice said, "Excuse me," from the darkness.
Oddly enough it was a man wearing a black business suit.
"Can we help you?" Mac asked, rising to his feet.
"I hope so. I'm Special Agent Carver," he said, flipping open his wallet just long enough for them to see the glint of what might be a badge. "Has a young woman been by here? She might have been on horseback."
"No, can't say as I remember anyone passing by since we set-up camp," Mac shrugged. "Has she done something wrong?"
"I can't say. She's just wanted for questioning right now. Well, have a good night."
Once he was out of earshot, Richie said, "That guy was no more a FBI agent than I am. We shouldn't have let her go."
"There's nothing we can do, Rich, but I think we'll head home first thing in the morning. Try and get some sleep."
The Next Morning
"I'm probably going to regret asking this, but do you know what you want for breakfast?" Mac asked, as they slid into a booth at a small roadside diner.
"Everything," Richie promptly answered with a grin.
Mac just shook his head as he glanced at the menu.
"So, what can I get you, guys?" their waitress asked.
"I'll have two eggs over easy, toast, and a glass of orange juice."
"And you, hon?"
"Well," Richie said, studying his menu. "I'll have the pancakes, two eggs over easy, waffles, toast, bacon, homefries..."
"Richie, look," Mac pointed to the TV playing behind the counter.
"Huh?" He looked up and went still. There was a picture of the young woman they'd met last night on the screen. She was smiling at the camera, decked out in Faire peasant garb. The report listed her as missing.
"Yeah, it's a real shame about that," said the waitress. "She's a sweet girl."
"You know her?" Richie asked.
"Uh-huh, stops by here every Friday night for dinner and Monday mornings for breakfast during the Faire run. Shame about them finding her horse like that, too. Caitie doted on the animal. I think it was a present from her dad before he died. They found it shot dead by the highway this morning. I hope they find who done it. A real sweet girl," she said, shaking her head as she walked away.
"Dammit, Mac. I knew we shouldn't have let her go alone. There had to have been something we could do."
"I'm sorry, Richie. There's nothing we can do at this point. Eat your breakfast."
An Abandoned Warehouse - Seattle, WA
A persistent beep roused Jarod from a fitful slumber. Blinking, he shielded his eyes from the sunlight covering his body. He glanced over at his laptop and saw the 'You Have Mail' icon blinking on the screen. Sliding into the chair he activated the mail program. There was a message from Angelo. Attached to the e-mail was a video file. The message simply said, 'Help her,' with name Caitlin O'Reilly and a business card.
Jarod watched as a flame-haired young woman was dragged kicking into the room. Her hands were tied behind her back. Raines came into the room and gestured for her to be untied. This was a mistake. Her hands came up in front of her. Jarod's eyes nearly bugged out of his head as what appeared to be flames shot from her hands. The goon standing behind her quickly knocked her out as another man moved in front of Raines to protect him. They lifted her up and placed her in a coffin-like box. He recognized it immediately as a sensory deprivation box. He still had nightmares about the one he'd spent time in.
Closing the video file, he brought back up the message with the business card. It was for a dojo in Seacouver called DeSalvo's, owned by a Duncan Macleod. Seacouver was only a couple of hours from where he was. He just hoped this Duncan Macleod would be willing to help.
Three Hours Later - The Dojo
Mac and Richie were sparring with quarterstaff when they felt the faint touch of a pre-Immortal. They both stopped, turning to face the dark-haired man standing in the doorway, holding a slim briefcase.
"Can I help you?" Mac asked, tossing Richie a towel.
"I hope so. I'm looking for Duncan Macleod."
"That's me. What can I do for you?"
"My name is Jarod. Do you know a young woman named Caitlin O'Reilly?"
"Quiet, Richie. Maybe. Why do you want to know?"
"I'm afraid she's in great danger."
Before Mac could stop him Richie had Jarod pinned to the floor, his quarterstaff across Jarod's throat.
"You bastard, what have you done with her?"
"I didn't take her," Jarod said, as Mac pulled Richie off of him. "But I know who did."
"Why don't we move this into the office?" Mac suggested, pushing Richie in that direction. Once the door closed behind them. He said, "Who took her? How do you know? And how did you know to come to us?"
"I was stolen from my parents as a child by a place called the Center. I am what's known as a Pretender. I have the ability to become anyone I want to be. The Center likes to collect people like me to use for their own ends."
"Well, that explains the who, but not why you came to us."
"And why her?" Richie asked.
"I escaped from the Center a little over a year ago, but I still have a friend or two still there. One of them sent me an e-mail message with her name, your business card and a video file."
"A video file?" Mac asked.
"Yes." Jarod opened up his briefcase and pulled out his laptop. Quickly setting it up he activated the file. Mac and Richie watched in stunned silence.
"Was that fire? And what was that box they put her in?" Richie asked, staring at the frozen screen.
"A sensory deprivation chamber," Mac answered grimly.
"No one should be left to suffer in one of those things," Jarod said quietly.
Mac looked up at him. "They put you in one at some point didn't they?"
"It was one of their ways of punishing me when I didn't cooperate."
"What's a sensory..."
"It's a nightmare," Jarod answered shortly, not wanting to discuss it. "Look. I can get in and out of the Center easily enough, but I need someone with me when I get her. If she's still in the box it'll help if there's a voice she recognizes. It's hard to see after a long period of time in there and I suspect her instincts will be to fight. Will you help me?"
"Of course. We have to, Mac."
"Calm down, Richie. We'll help. Where is the Center?"
"Okay. Let me call Connor. He was still in Seattle the last time I talked to him. He should be willing to fly us there." Mac grabbed the portable and left the office.
"He's sort of Mac's uncle. Same clan, different vintage is the way Connor likes to put it. Although, they both were adopted, so, I guess technically they're not really Macleods either, but I wouldn't try telling them that. Connor was also Mac's teacher, like Mac's my teacher."
"Are you a Macleod as well?"
"Me, no. My last name's Ryan, mostly cause that's what my original foster mom's name was."
"You don't know who your parents are either?"
"No, just one foster home after another."
"I suppose it's better than not having anyone."
"The foster care system sucks. It does more harm than good," Richie said angrily. Seeing the look of surprise on Jarod's face and the underlying curiosity he changed the subject. "What about you? You used to work for these people. Why are you working against them now?"
"The Center was originally intended to do good things, to help people, but some where along the way they went off track. I used to do simulations for them that I thought were being used to prevent things like terrorist attack and things like that. Only they were using them to perform the acts I thought I was preventing. When I finally found out what they were doing and that the Center would never let me go, I escaped."
"How could you not know? Weren't you a little suspicious when they first hired you?"
Jarod looked at him strangely. "I wasn't hired. I couldn't have been more than five when the Center kidnapped me. The Center raised me."
"Jeez," Richie said, taken aback. "I'm surprised they didn't turn you into a monster. That seems more they're style."
"Sydney did what he could to protect me. But even he had to answer to them." Jarod looked out over the Dojo. "Mr. Macleod is your martial arts instructor?"
"Partly, and you can just call him Mac. He took me in six or seven years ago. I was living on the streets doing break-ins for money. I broke into the antique store he and Tess...he used to own. I wasn't quite 18 yet so they couldn't process me as an adult. Mac decided not to press charges, instead he gave me a job and a place to live. Mac's taught me how to fight, but he's also taught me how to live. If it wasn't for him I'd probably be in jail with a boyfriend named Bubba."
"You don't look much older than 19," Jarod said, staring at Richie's profile. The young man had relaxed during their conversation. His features had lost the hardened look that had been there before, making him seem almost boyish and very attractive. Jarod glanced away, startled by the thought, uncertain of the emotions that had come with it.
"I get that a lot. I'm about 25. Good skin I guess. Kind of like Dick Clark."
"You don't know who Dick Clark is?"
"No," Jarod said sheepishly.
Man, he's cute when he's confused, Richie thought to himself. He shifted uncomfortably, now was not the time to be having thoughts like this. Not that he had anything against men being attracted to each other. Mac and Methos were perfectly happy together. Richie just hadn't expected to feel like that again. He pushed away the memory and concentrated on the conversation. "Dick Clark is a TV announcer who has to be like 80 but doesn't look a day over 40."
"Oh. Have you known Caitlin O'Reilly long?"
"Actually, no." Richie shrugged when Jarod looked at him questioningly. "Mac and I only met her last night. Not too long before the guys from the Center got her. We were camping up by that Renaissance Faire she worked at. She just showed up at our campfire, really spooked, and then disappeared again. I tried to get her to let us help but Mac said to let her go. I wish we hadn't now."
"You've only met her once and you're willing to risk your life for her?"
"Yeah, I guess. I only met her briefly, but there was something about her, something compelling. I just wanted to wrap her in my arms and protect her from the world. Strange, huh?"
"Actually, I feel the same and I've only seen her on the video file. I don't understand it or any of these emotions I'm feeling."
Richie regarded him quietly for a moment, "Have you ever been in a relationship?"
Jarod flushed, looking every where but at Richie, "Um, well, no. Not really."
He was about to say something when Mac walked back in.
"Connor is finishing up his business and will meet us at the airport. By the time we get to New York it'll be to late to do much of so we'll spend the night there and leave for the Center first thing in the morning."
"It will give us time to plan, Richie. We can't just go in there blind."
He nodded, reluctantly agreeing. "Have you told Joe where we're going?"
"He's in Paris with Adam," Mac said, using Methos' current pseudonym. "Go shower and get dressed, Richie. We need to get going."
Rising from his chair he gestured for them to precede him out of the office. "Do I still have some spare clothes here?"
"Yes, and they're clean too. Adam swore he saw them walking around by themselves and tossed them in the laundry."
"I knew the old man was good for something."
"Shut up, Richie."
The Center - Blue Cove, DE
"You're never going to believe this, Sydney," Broots said, rushing into Sydney's office. He plowed to a stop when he saw the older man wasn't alone.
"Believe what, Broots?" Miss Parker asked, blowing twin jets of smoke from her nose, reminding him of a looming dragon.
Broots gulped edging back towards the door, "Um, nothing. Never mind."
"Broots," Sydney interrupted. "What is it?"
"Mr. Raines brought in another 'acquisition' last night."
"What's so unusual about Raines starting another of his sick little projects?" Miss Parker asked with a dismissive wave of her hand.
"Let me show you. I don't think you'd believe me if I told you." Broots scooted around Sydney's desk, carefully avoiding Miss Parker. Typing a command into the computer he brought up the security camera video file. "This is when she was first brought in. Some time around two o'clock this morning."
He let the file play through until they put the young woman in the box, then he paused it.
"What do you think?"
"Play it again, Broots. It has to be a trick," Miss Parker demanded.
Dutifully he played it again for them and said, "I think it's real. Carver was treated for some minor burn wounds on his hands this morning at the infirmary. Here's something else to."
"What?" Sydney asked, drawing his attention from the glaring Miss Parker.
Broots moved the time frame of the file forward, "Well, about half an hour after they left her in the box Angelo came into the room. It must have been through the ventilation shaft because he didn't come through the door. He's just been sitting next to the box. He's been there almost ten hours."
"That is odd," Sydney said, looking out over the main room of the Center.
"So Angelo's taken a liking to her. What's odd about that?" Miss Parker asked.
"Angelo never stays out in the open like that for very long, much less ten hours. I'd say there's more to the girl than just the ability to create fire."
"You're both nuts. Who cares what Raines does to his little projects? Our job is to find Jarod and bring him back." She glared at them both for good measure before stalking out of the office. When she was gone Sydney turned to Broots.
"Keep an eye on this young woman. I want to know if anything interesting happens."
"Of course," Broots said, nodding vigorously.
Somewhere Over The Rockies - Connor's Plane
"Hello, cousin," Connor said, smiling as Mac slid into the co-pilot's chair.
"He's fine. He and Joe are in Paris for a few days some Watcher's conference," Mac said, looking out the window, his gaze troubled.
"You're worried about him. Why?"
Connor always could see straight through him. "Not so much about him as in general. I know it's an irrational fear, but I wake up every day wondering if he's going to decide it's time for him to disappear again. I don't know if I could handle it."
"It's natural in a relationship, especially an Immortal relationship, to have fears of abandonment by our partner. It's who we are; what we do; how we survive. Methos loves you, Duncan. I don't think he'd just take off on you."
Mac nodded, not mentioning that Methos had already done so once before. Connor looked back into the cabin at the two young men talking quietly. "What's up with them? I assume you realize he's going to be one of us."
"I know and so is the girl we're going to rescue."
"You're just a magnet for the young ones aren't you?"
"I know. I should just have Immortal business cards made up. Need mentor, will travel."
Connor chuckled, "They seem to have taken to each other."
"Yes, there's definitely an attraction there, but they're both hiding it. I think it's all so new to Jarod he doesn't know what to make of it, and Richie...I don't know. I think he might be afraid to acknowledge his feelings for Jarod."
"He seems to be okay with you and Methos."
"He is, but the first time he accidentally walked in on us he didn't react the way I expected."
A Little Over A Year Ago - The Dojo Loft
"Hey, Mac," Richie called out, lifting the elevator gate. "What's for din..."
He came to a halt seeing Mac and Methos naked and wrapped around each other on the bed. Unbidden, long buried memories rushed to the surface. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to." He started babbling, backing away from them, his eyes wide and face pale.
"Richie," Mac managed to say just before he tripped and fell backwards over the coffee table. Jumping out of the bed, Mac yanked on his sweatpants and rushed to his fallen friend.
"No. I'm sorry," Richie cried, struggling against Mac's hands. "Please don't hurt me. It'll never happen again."
Mac's heart broke at the sound of the young man's begging. He knew Richie wasn't seeing him, but someone from his past. "It's me, Richie. It's Mac. I'm not going to hurt you. It's okay. Everything' is okay. It's me, Mac."
The memories began to loosen their grip and recognition returned to his eyes. "Mac?"
"It's okay, Richie. Everything's okay."
"Oh God, Mac." Richie buried himself against his teacher's chest sobbing for all he was worth. Terrified of the memories he'd thought he'd managed to safely bury. It took Mac and Methos a while to calm him down and convince him to spend the night. His dreams were plagued with nightmares.
"Richie still won't talk about it and I don't push. He's been through more than he should have in his short life."
"You can't protect everyone, Duncan."
"I know, but it doesn't mean I don't wish I could. What's odd is, just as much as Jarod and Richie seem to be attracted to each other, they both appear to have an overwhelming need to protect this girl."
"Even more than the Boy Scout's?"
"God, who told you about that nickname? I want to protect her the same way I'd want to protect any of my friends. With them it's different. Stronger, I guess."
"Stranger things have happened," Connor said with a shrug.
Watcher's Council - Paris, France
Methos sank bonelessly into a chair at the Council table, while Joe awkwardly settled into the one next to him. Across from them sat the heads of each watcher division, their faces devoid of emotion. Each one of them was so average in appearance as to go completely unnoticed in a crowd, and they were proud of it. Bright intelligence burned in their eyes.
"Adam, Joe, we've asked you here for some very serious reasons," began Talbot Sutcliffe, the head of the Council.
Methos idly studied his fingernails. He had less and less patience for this every time he had to deal with these people. Since the Kalas and Horton fiascoes had occurred the Council spent more and more time interfering.
Joe glanced at his friend wishing he so nonchalantly bored in front of these people. "Well, we assumed it wasn't just a trip to say hello."
"I'm afraid it's very serious, Joe. And I suggest you pay attention, Adam, this greatly concerns you," said Jacqueline Deveraux. She was the oldest member of the Council.
"What?" He asked not looking up. "Has someone found Methos?"
"No," Talbot said in annoyance. "It has been brought to our attention that you are engaging in a relationship with Immortal Duncan Macleod. This is a blatant disregard to our prime rule of non-interference."
Methos straightened up, his eyes hardening. "Firstly, it's none of your business. Second, it's just a friendship, no more than the same relationship Joe has with him; and third, how'd you find out?"
"Things like this are our business. We do not approve of Joe's friendship with Macleod but we have allowed it to continue because of his limitation. You have no such excuse, nor are you just friends with Macleod."
The black and white photographs fanned out as they slid across the table. Joe picked one up; Methos barely glanced at them. That was all he needed. They were pictures of a dinner date he and Mac had gone out on a couple of weeks before. Several of the shots included him and Mac kissing."
"Who took these?" Joe demanded. "I sure as hell didn't. I'm Macleod's Watcher."
"Another Watcher following his Immortal happened to notice Macleod in a restaurant kissing a man who looked remarkably similar to the researcher Adam Pierson. You know such relationships are forbidden, Adam. Especially when it concerns someone with the knowledge you possess."
"What? The Methos project? Mac would never and has never asked for information like that. If you think he would the you know nothing about him at all," Methos said angrily, his knuckles white as he clenched the arms of his chair.
"Adam," Jacqueline said gently, "why would you risk your career like this? Over an Immortal who will leave you when you begin to age and grow old?"
"You know nothing, Jacqueline. You all know nothing for all your watching. The Highlander is not just any Immortal. He is a kind and decent man. Duncan Macleod is our greatest hope for the Gathering." Methos rose from his chair so fast it tipped over backwards. "I don't give a damn if you approve of my relationship with him or not. I quit."
With that he stalked out of the room slamming the door behind him. There was a moment of stunned silence before Talbot said, "You're Macleod's Watcher, Joe. Why didn't you say something? Why wasn't it reported?"
"Because I wasn't about to destroy the only thing that's made two of my closest friends the happiest they've been I years. If it means my job, so be it, but don't expect another Watcher to be able to follow Macleod. He knows what to look for," Joe growled, pushing himself out of his chair. They watched him leave in silence.
"I want them both dead. This cannot be allowed to continue."
"But, Talbot," Jacqueline started.
"No. Not only are they setting a bad example, but they both know too much. If they were ever compromised it would be disastrous."
Joe caught up with Methos on the street. "Adam, I had no idea."
He held up a hand stopping him. "I know. I don't blame you. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Gods, I need a beer. Come, I know of a small alehouse a few blocks from here. They have some excellent brews."
"One of these days that stuff is going to kill you," Joe grinned.
Methos smiled his lopsided smile. "Who wants to live forever?"
Three AM - Connor's New York Penthouse
Mac and Connor entered the hallway, swords drawn, just as Richie reached Jarod's door, his own sword ready. All three could hear the whimpers coming from the other side. Cautiously at first, then in a sudden rush Richie burst into the room. There was no one there. Jarod tossed and turned on the bed caught in his own nightmares, emitting child-like whimpers and cries. Richie crossed the room to his side, laying his sword on the dresser as he went.
Perching on the side of the bed, he grasped Jarod's shoulders and gently shook him awake. "It's okay, Jarod. It's over. No one is going to hurt you. I promise."
Jarod came awake with a start, sitting bolt upright. His eyes, widened in fear, took a moment to focus on Richie. He gently stroked Jarod's cheek. "It's okay. It was just a nightmare. They can't hurt you anymore."
Richie gathered him into his arms, holding him close as he began to cry and then sob. Stroking his hair, Richie softly murmured gentle reassurances. Connor nudged Mac, then pulled him out of the room when he didn't move. Several minutes passed before Jarod lifted his head, still sniffling. Richie wiped his cheeks, "Okay?"
Jarod nodded, unable to look Richie in the eye.
"Look at me, Jarod," Richie commanded softly. When their gazes met he leaned forward, giving Jarod plenty of time to turn away before their lips met. He kissed him once, gently, not much more than the brushing of their lips against each other. When Jarod didn't protest he kissed him again with more passion. He traced the outline of Jarod's lips with his tongue, teasing them open so he could deepen the kiss.
Richie pulled away so quickly Jarod almost fell forward. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that," Richie said in a rush, standing up. "I'll leave you alone. I'm sorry."
"Wait," Jarod said, as Richie reached for his sword. "Please don't go."
Richie turned towards him uncertainly, "I..."
Jarod looked down, unsure of himself, then met Richie's eye. Both could see their confusion mirrored in the other. "Please stay with me? I don't know if I can sleep. The nightmares..." He trailed off uncertainly.
"I'll stay," Richie sighed. Crossing to the other side of the bed, Richie lay down on top of the covers, his arms folded behind his head. After a moments hesitation Jarod lay down, snuggling up against him, his head on Richie's shoulder. Richie tensed for a second but then relaxed, enjoying the feel of Jarod pressed against him.
He was just starting to fall asleep when Jarod spoke, "Richie?"
"Why do you carry a sword?"
"You put a sword on the dresser when you came in. Mac and Connor were carrying swords as well. Why?"
"Would you believe me if I said it was for protection?"
"Why not carry a gun? It seems it would be a lot easier to hide."
"I guess we're just old-fashioned kinds of guys."
"I don't believe you, but it's all right. I won't pry."
"Maybe when this is all over I'll be able to tell you why."
"Okay. Good night, Richie."
"Good night Jarod."
Morning - The Center Blue Cove, DE
"This access pipe leads into the sub-levels of the Center. A friend will be meeting us to show us where she's being kept. Then we'll follow the same route back out," Jarod explained to Mac and Richie as he cut the chain holding the grate closed. Connor was waiting with the van they'd rented.
"This friend can be trusted?" Richie asked. He was dreading going into that pipe. He hated dark damp places.
"I trust Angelo with my life. He's the one who sent me the video file. I'd take him with us but he wouldn't do well outside the Center. He can't survive on his own."
"What about an alarm system? We know the room is being monitored by a camera," Mac asked, following Jarod into the pipe. Richie took a deep breath and followed. It was tall enough for them to walk up right but not very wide.
"I know how to bypass their alarm system. As for the camera it's being looped so they'll never know we were there."
"Motioning for them to be quiet he pulled a small black box and two wires out of his jacket pocket. They had reached what appeared to be a dead end with a utility box wall. He quickly attached the one end of each wire to two terminals on the box. Opening the utility box, he attached the other ends of the wires to the two terminals inside. He waited a second after pressing a button on the box before flipping six switches in the utility box. With a slight grinding sound the dead end wall slid halfway open. Gesturing for them to slip through, he closed the utility box with the black box inside.
Once he was through the door and it had closed he took the lead again. They moved deeper into the bowels of the Center, going through so many twists, turns and double backs that Mac and Richie were quickly lost. Jarod stopped suddenly, motioning for them to wait. He moved a few steps ahead where they could see him talking to someone around the corner. After a moment he gestured them forward.
There was another man crouched against the wall, his shaggy hair partially covering his face. His eyes darted nervously around, only holding their gazes for a few seconds at a time.
"Mac, Richie, this is Angelo. Angelo, these are my friends."
"How d'you do?" Richie nodded, moving a step forward. Angelo reminded him of Mikey, a mentally retarded but good-hearted Immortal he'd known a few years back.
"You help her," Angelo said. Taking both their hands, he said, "You love her."
Releasing them he turned and started down the corridor. He had an odd walk, half-crouching. They'd only gone a short way before he crawled into a ventilation shaft. They had no choice but to follow him. Richie hoped they reached Caitlin soon; he was having a hard time controlling the trembling in his body. He really hated small places like this.
The others stopped in front of him. There was a slight grating sound then he heard Angelo jump to the floor below. He quickly followed them. They were in an essentially bare room. A chair sat in the middle of the room beneath a bare bulb. In the corner sat the box. Angelo had already crossed to it and was petting the top.
Richie moved to join him but Jarod stopped him.
"There are at least two sweepers outside the door," Jarod said. "We have to knock them out. They're bound to hear us releasing her and set off the alarm."
Mac nodded and gestured to Richie. Drawing their swords, they took up positions on each side of the door. Mac knocked lightly on the door. They heard the guards move in the hallway then the door began to swing open. Rage coursed through Richie as he caught sight of the machine gun coming through the doorway. Without thought he sprang into action, his sword sweeping down, severing the hands holding the gun. Before the now handless man could register what happened Richie brought his sword around in an almost instinctive move, relieving the man of his head.
The second guard rushed forward only to impale himself on Mac's katana. Another quick slice opened his throat preventing him from screaming. Certain there were no more guards about to come through the door Richie joined Jarod and Angelo at the box.
Jarod touched Richie's shoulder getting his attention. "Angelo just told me that Caitlin is like him. She's an Empath. She can sense your emotions. He's tried to keep in contact with her to keep her calm, but you're upsetting her because all she can feel is your anger. You have to control it."
Richie stared at him a moment then took a deep breath, centering himself. If he could believe she could start fires with her bare hands he could believe she was an Empath. With a nod Jarod indicated where her head would be, while he undid the latches. As soon as he started lifting the lid Richie began speaking as soothingly as possible.
"It's all right, Caitlin, you're safe. We're going to get you out of this place. It's all right. You're safe now."
He kept repeating those words, stroking her face as son as he could reach her. They all gagged from the stench that rose from the box. Apparently provisions had not been made in the case she needed to relive herself. She was tied down to the box as well. Jarod quickly worked to free her while she blinked up at Richie.
"Is that you, plain Richie Ryan?" She whispered hoarsely. He could tell her eyes still weren't focusing quite right."
"Yeah, plain Richie Ryan to the rescue. Mac is here to. He's guarding the door. You're gonna be fine. Jarod, use this." He handed Jarod his sword when he saw he was having trouble with the last restraint.
"You shouldn't be here," she said, shaking her head. "I didn't want to put you in danger. It's why I left. You have to get out of here before they come back."
"Shush. It's okay. I've dealt with worse than these sick bastards." He looked up when Jarod touched his wrist. The restraints were gone.
"Caitlin, my name is Jarod. I'm here to help you. Do you think you can sit up? I know how disorientating the box can be. We need to get you out of here."
Gently they helped her sit up, then lifted her out of the box and placed her on her feet. Her legs wouldn't hold her so they both helped support her. She looked from one to the other, a strange expression on her face, before looking around the room. Cait smiled at Angelo, recognizing the mind that had touched hers, keeping her sane while she was in the box. She frowned suddenly realizing something was missing.
"My sword. Where's my sword?"
"Don't worry about it," Richie soothed. "We'll get you another one."
"No. I need my sword. My Uncle Adam gave it to me before he died. I have to get it back."
"Raines has it."
They turned to stare at Angelo.
"It's on his desk."
"I'm not letting that twisted son of a bitch keep my uncle's sword," Cait ground out. Realizing he was going to win this argument he called to Mac.
"Change in plans, Mac. We're heading into the lion's den."
"What? We have to get out of here. Its not like we can just waltz around and no one will notice."
"We'll go through the ventilation conduits. No one will see us," Jarod put in.
"Please, I have to get my sword."
Mac nodded in understanding. "I don't like this, but all right. Let's go."
Quickly they got back in the vent. Caitlin was already regaining her strength, only needing a little support.
Broots noticed almost immediately when Angelo looped the video and audio feed in the cell. He'd gone quickly to Sydney's office. The older man then waited as he disengaged the loop. They were just in time to see Richie and Mac make quick work of the two sweepers. Miss Parker walked in to hear their plans to retrieve the sword from Raines' office.
"Damn Raines and his projects," Miss Parker snarled. "He's going to get us all killed."
Sydney and Broots followed as she stormed towards the office in question.
"What do you mean you've lost contact with her guards?" Raines demanded, in his gasping, gravelly voice.
"One minute they were there the next they were...." He never finished speaking as the blade of a sword emerged from the front of his chest. Richie stood, pulling his sword from the body. Mac jumped down from the vent, his katana ready. Jarod and Cait followed him.
"Who are you people? How did you get in here? You're going to pay for this, Jarod."
Three more sweepers burst into the room to be quickly cut down by Richie and Mac. Cait advanced unsteadily towards Raines.
"Where is my sword, you demented bastard?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Let me refresh your memory." She brought up her hands, small flames already jumping from them.
"As much as I hate Raines I will shoot you if you kill him," Miss Parker said from the doorway.
"Parker, no," Jarod moved to stand in front of her. This effectively prevented her from shooting Cait and kept Mac and Richie from slicing up Parker. It also meant Cait couldn't flambé her either.
"Jarod, what are you doing?" Almost everyone said at once.
"I don't want you hurt, Parker, but I can't let you hurt these people either. You have to stay out of this."
"I suggest you do as they say, Miss Parker," Sydney said from behind her. "That goes for you to, Mr. Raines."
Reluctantly she lowered her gun. Raines lifted the sword and sheath from behind his desk. Once Cait had her sword Mac gestured for Miss Parker and the others to move out of the doorway. Sydney and Broots quickly moved but Parker glared at him for a moment before complying.
"This isn't over, Jarod," she hissed.
"I know," he said, nodding. Cait stumbled slightly and he rushed to help her. He looked at Richie who was on her other side.
"I have to lead us out of here."
Richie nodded, shouldering most of her weight. Luckily for them Raines office was somewhat isolated. They'd made it halfway down the hall without running into anyone when Miss Parker made her move. Before Mac could shout a warning she'd fired, shooting Cait in the back.
"No!" Jarod screamed, as Cait pitched forward dragging Richie with her. Pulling the gun Connor had given him, just in case, he fired blindly at Miss Parker not stopping to watch her fall.
"Oh, God, no," he cried, choking on a sob as he knelt next to Cait's still form.
"Jarod, listen to me," Richie said, grabbing his arm, "we have to get her out of here. We have to go now."
"She killed her. She didn't have to."
"Jarod," Richie shook him, this time getting his attention. "I don't have time to explain, but we have to get her out of here."
Nodding numbly, he helped lift her up into Richie's arms. Without letting go of her hand he led them into one of the many abandoned sections of the Center. Angelo appeared out of the darkness, his sorrowful eyes even sadder than usual, at the sight of her still body. Suddenly she spasmed and gasped for air as her heart started beating again.
Jarod and Angelo nearly fell over as they stumbled backwards in shock.
"But...but I don't understand. She was dead. Parker shot her. She was dead. Wasn't she?"
"I can't explain now, Jarod. We have to get to Connor and away from this place first. Okay?" Richie asked gently.
He just stood there staring until Mac shook his shoulder. "Jarod, we have to go now!"
It was Angelo who got them moving, leading them to the secret door they had come in through. At that point he disappeared back into the darkness. Jarod keyed in the code, not even noticing that Mac had out his cell phone and was talking to Connor. Slipping it back into his pocket, he said, "Connor will be at the fence in a minute. I told him what's going on."
Once in the access pipe Richie led the way, still carrying Cait, while Mac kept Jarod moving with a hand on his back. At the fence they piled into the van while Connor grinned in the drivers seat.
"Strap yourselves in, folks. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
"Well, it's been an interesting weekend," Joe said, as Methos signed the hotel register and returned their keys to the clerk. "We are now both officially out of work."
"Well, yes and no." Methos slung his bag over his shoulder and picked up Joe's.
"Yes and no? How do you figure? We both just quit the Watchers."
"True, but you still have the bar and I still have the bookstore."
"Yeah, if you ever show up you might even sell some books."
Methos rolled his eyes ignoring this latest insinuation that he was lazy. It was hard work to look as lazy as he did. Besides, he was five thousand years old; he deserved to be lazy. The sound of squealing tires from his right made him turn. He was just in time to a masked man lean out of a fast moving car holding a semi-automatic assault rifle. Without thought he lunged for Joe just as the gunman opened fire.
He felt three bullet burn a fiery path through his back and into his chest. One passed all the way through him grazing Joe's thigh. Methos knocked them both over, sagging to the side when they hit the pavement.
Joe rolled him onto his back, wincing when Methos whimpered in pain. "Oh God, Adam."
"I hate being shot," Methos moaned, beginning to cough up blood.
"It's only a little wound. You'll be fine," Joe said. They both knew he was about to die a very public death. They weren't going to be able to hide his return to life from the Watchers. The wail of ambulance sirens was just audible when Joe felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. He turned to find Jacqueline Deveraux kneeling next to him.
"I'm so sorry, Joe."
"Why, Jacqueline? Why?" Joe demanded.
"No one leaves the Watchers, Joe," Methos whispered, struggling against the pain. "We both knew that."
"Hush, Adam. Save your strength," Jacqueline said, smoothing his hair back from his face. The tears streaming down her cheeks. The paramedics arrived then and quickly loaded Methos into an ambulance. Joe was helped in to a second one. Jacqueline rode with him, although he refused to speak to her. An Inspector Tremblay met them at the hospital.
"Yeah, that's me."
"You were with the young man, Adam Pierson?"
"Yes, how is he?"
"I'm sorry, M'sieur Dawson. M'sieur Pierson died before he reached the hospital. Do you have any idea as to who shot at you?"
"No. I have no idea," he said, glancing at Jacqueline. She stared right back.
"You are sure, M'sieur Dawson? Things like this do not happen everyday in Paris. You must have some idea."
"I don't know who did it," Joe growled. "Can I see my friend's body?"
Tremblay glanced at the doctor who was bandaging Joe's leg. With a nod, he said, "Of course, M'sieur. He has been taken to the morgue."
With a grunt Joe pushed himself off the gurney and began limping out of the ER. Jacqueline followed behind him. There was no one in the morgue when they reached it. Methos had been laid out on the examining table; a sheet covered the lower half of his body. Hie eyes flew open and he began gasping for air as they reached him. Jacqueline stared in shock while Joe hunted around for Methos' clothes.
Sitting up Methos spotted Jacqueline. "Well, this is just wonderful."
"Oh God, Adam. I'm so sorry," Jacqueline said, the pity evident in her eyes.
"For what?" He asked, pulling on the shirt Joe handed him. "Because I'm an Immortal now? Or because you have to report this to the Council? What are you sorry for, cause I'm sure as hell not. Hey, I don't have to worry about Duncan leaving me because I'm old and decrepit."
"We have to get going, Adam, before they come back to embalm you," Joe said from the doorway.
"You're taking this pretty calmly, Joe."
"Yeah, well I've had my suspicions."
"You suspected he was an Immortal and never reported it?"
"No, I overheard Mac and Richie speculating that he might be pre-Immortal, but I sure as hell wasn't going to ask him to die to prove the suspicion. Now can we please get out of here?"
"Let's," Adam agreed. Grabbing Jacqueline's arm, he pulled her along with them as they snuck out the rear entrance of the hospital. Outside they quickly hailed two cabs; one for Jacqueline and one for them.
Joe got in the cab but Methos paused a moment to say, "I can't stop you from telling the Council about me and I won't bother to try, but I will say this. If anything and I mean anything, happens to Joe and I suspect the Watchers are behind it I will make sure the Council pays. An eye for an eye, Jacqueline. Remember that."
She stood there watching them leave, stunned by the look she'd seen in Adam's eyes. It was the look of a killer; of a man killed without regret or remorse. It made her wonder if he was truly a new Immortal or one who was far older and had managed to escape their notice. Although, that was a speculation she would not share with the Council. It was bad enough that Joe and Adam were alive.
"What are you going to do now?" Joe asked.
"Go home, spend some time with Mac."
"That wasn't what I meant."
"I know, but it's their move. I'm not going to change my life because they know I'm Immortal now. Besides I helped design their computer system. I can always go in and quietly delete myself."
Joe shook his head in amazement. Every time he turned around the old guy had a new trick up his sleeve. They sat in silence for a minute before Joe said, "Mac's going to kill us."
"Nah. He'll just be dark and brooding for a couple of days and that'll be it."
"I hope you're right."
"Of course I'm right."
Once they'd reached the airport it had been decided they wanted to get as far away from the Center as possible and were returning to Seacouver. Jarod and Cait were sitting tensely in their seats, waiting for someone to explain what was going on.
"We'll be holding steady at this altitude for a while so feel free to move around," Connor announced over the intercom.
Undoing their seatbelts Mac and Richie turned to face Cait and Jarod.
"What is going on? Why did those people kidnap me? And how did I heal from the bullet wounds. I know I don't have the ability to heal people or myself."
"We can answer the second question. Jarod will have to answer the first," Mac said.
"You're like me and Mac and Connor. You're an Immortal. You don't grow old or get sick or die, unless you get your head chopped off. That's how the Game works. We fight each other, taking each other's heads to receive the Quickening until there is only one of us left. I'll be honest; you may live years, decades, centuries or even millennia. Although that's unlikely since the time of the Gathering is here."
"Immortals? Quickening? Gathering? You're kidding, right? This is all just some hallucination from that box."
"That's why you carry swords," Jarod said.
"Yes," Richie nodded. "I wanted to tell you last night when you asked, but I couldn't without explaining everything. It's not something we go around talking about."
"Are you really twenty-five?"
"Yes. I only died for the first time about seven years ago. Mac is about 400 and Connor is somewhere near 450."
"This is a joke. It has to be." Cait was having a hard time believing what was happening."
"Cait," Mac said patiently, "you believe in your abilities to feel others emotions and to start fires with a thought, right?"
"Yes, but those are tangible. People see the fire and I know I can feel emotions. You and Richie are both concerned about me and poor Jarod is just plain confused. I also know you're worried about your lover, an older man I think. Jarod and Richie are attracted to each other, but they're confused because they're also attracted to me. The feeling is mutual by the way. But Immortality? I can't see or feel it so how can I believe in it?"
They all looked a little surprised when she read their emotions so accurately. Mac cleared his throat, "Uhm, yes, well, we can show you that Immortality is real. Richie."
"Connor is not going to be happy about us getting blood on the seat," Richie said, standing and drawing his sword.
"I'll pay the cleaning bill," Mac shrugged, then steadied himself as Richie plunged the sword into his heart and quickly withdrew it.
"My God," Jarod stared at Richie in shock.
"What did you do?" Cait demanded, pressing a folded blanket against the wound. "He's dead. I can't read anything from him."
"Just wait a minute," he said, calmly taking the blanket from her and wiping off his sword before he put it away.
Mac's eyes flew open and he gasped for air; startling Cait causing her to fall over backwards.
"But...but...but you were dead," she stammered out.
"Yes, I was, but I'm Immortal. Nice stroke, Richie; went right through the heart."
"Yeah, well, I had a good teacher."
"I meant Connor." Richie grinned when Mac glared at him. Mac turned to Cait, "Can you believe in Immortality now?"
She nodded mutely in shock. Jarod was suddenly full of questions.
"What about your parents? Were they Immortal? Will your children be Immortal? How do you know who is Immortal and who's not?"
"We can't have children," Mac said gently, watching Cait's reaction. She just nodded, still trying to accept the whole situation. "All Immortal's are foundlings. None of us know our true parents, just the people who raised us."
"But my dad never said I was adopted," Cait said.
"We don't always find out until after our first death. When I came back after my first death my father cast me out as a demon and told me that I had been brought to him by an old woman as a foundling. Just because you weren't of his blood didn't make you any less his daughter in your father's eyes, Cait. I'm sure he loved you very much. As for knowing who's an Immortal and who's not without running them through to see if they come back, we can feel each others Quickening."
"Quickening? You said that before. What is it?" Jarod asked.
"It's kind of like our soul. It's our memories and personality. To another Immortal it feels like an odd buzzing. When you first come into the range of another Immortal it's very strong and intense, but once you recognize the source it dims to just background noise. If you concentrate you should be feeling it right now."
Her eyes unfocused as she concentrated on sorting out everything. Her eyes focused again, "I can feel three of you. I can tell you apart by your emotions, but I feel something else. That's odd." She looked at Mac and Richie. They were upset about whatever it was she was sensing.
"Um, we'll discuss that later," Richie said, licking his lips nervously. "Jarod, why were they after Cait anyway?"
"Hmm? Well, I suspect Raines found out about your empathic gift somehow. I couldn't tell you by what method. Empaths are one of his special projects. Angelo is the result of one of his experiments in enhancing the ability. I had managed to develop a serum, which reversed the damage done to Angelo's mind. Unfortunately Raines had gotten hold on a young boy with the same abilities as Angelo. Raines started doing to him what he did to Angelo. I had to give the last dose to the boy. There was nothing I could do for Angelo." He was quiet for a moment, staring out the window, then, "From what I saw in the video file he wasn't expecting you to be able to conjure fire. The sensory deprivation box was probably intended as a means of heightening your empathic ability, but served just as well in confining your fire starting gift."
"That still doesn't quite explain why he wanted Cait," Mac said.
"If you show Angelo a picture of someone he can tell you what they're feeling and Raines can usually pick out some sort of weakness from it. I suspect what he wanted with Cait was a tame normal-looking adult with heightened empathic abilities to use in meetings with clients and business associates as an edge."
"Why in hell would I go along with something like that?"
Richie saw the same haunted look he'd seen the night before creep into Jarod's eyes. "Enough time in one of those boxes and you'll do just about anything to avoid it. Believe me."
She touched his cheek gently. "I'm sorry, Jarod."
"It was a long time ago."
"Not long enough for the pain to fade."
"Uh-hem," Mac coughed, getting their attention. "Your sword, Cait, may I see it?"
"Sure," she handed it to him. "My uncle gave it to me a few days before he died in a car accident."
"I see. It's a very old sword," Mac said, studying it carefully. "Roman short sword, probably dates almost back to that time. You've kept it in remarkably good condition."
"My dad and uncle were big on maintaining one's weapons. Uncle Adam said your sword is your best friend, to treat it any less is to invite death."
"Adam?" Mac's eyebrows shot up in question. "What was his last name?"
"Pierson. He wasn't my real uncle, just my dad's best friend. They both taught me how to fight, while we toured the Faire circuit. My dad taught me stage-fighting while Uncle Adam taught me how to defend myself and even kill if it became necessary. He also helped me harness my empathic and fire-starting abilities."
"What kind of work did they do that they knew sword-fighting? Or was it just a hobby?" Richie asked.
"Dad was a fight-master. There were several different shows that he would choreograph and train the actors for. I don't know what Uncle Adam did for a living. He would come and go whenever he felt like it. We wouldn't hear from him for months and then he'd appear at a Faire and stay with us for a year. You just never knew," Cait said, then covered her mouth stifling a yawn. "Sorry. I guess this whole thing has taken more out of me than I thought."
"No problem. Why don't you take a nap?" Mac suggested.
"That's a good idea," Richie said. Before Cait could open her mouth Jarod had grabbed a couple of pillows and Richie was pulling out a blanket. Mac watched them quickly make her a bed and tuck her into it. Shaking his head, he went to join Connor in the cockpit.
"I'm guessing things didn't go according to plan?"
"Do they ever?"
"On rare occasion. How did she take finding out about the Game?"
"Well, she didn't believe us at first, but she does now. I'll pay the cleaning bill, by the way."
"Cleaning bill? You got blood on my seats? Duncan!"
"Calm down, Connor. It's not that bad." He looked out the window while Connor muttered beside him. "She's an unusual young woman."
"They usually are."
"I'm serious. Besides the fact that she seems to have formed a bond with Richie and Jarod even before she met them she has some unique abilities. She's an empath and a fire-starter."
"I've heard of empaths before, but a fire-starter?"
"Um-hmm. She can literally shoot flames from her hands. Quite an interesting phenomenon, really. It gets even better though."
"What? She can teleport too?"
"No. Her favorite dead uncle who taught her sword fighting is none other than Adam Pierson, AKA Methos."
"You really know how to pick them don't you, cousin?"
"Apparently. It should be interesting when they're reunited."
"She doesn't know? You didn't tell her?"
"No. I want to see Methos try and wriggle out of this on his own."
"Yeah, well, he deserves it with some of the stunts he's pulled on me."
"This should be interesting. I may stick around."
Outside the Dojo - Later that Evening
Stepping out of the cab, Methos paused feeling the presence of not one but four Immortals in the loft.
"What's wrong?" Joe asked, getting out beside him.
"It would seem Duncan has visitors."
"It's probably just Richie."
"Not unless he made two clones of himself."
"Well, we might as well find out what's going on. They already know you're here."
In deference to Joe's injury and Methos' laziness they rode up in the elevator. When he opened the gate he wasn't surprised to find several eyes on them. He was surprised to see Cait sitting on the couch.
"Uncle Adam? But..." she stared at him rising to her feet. "But you died. You died almost ten years ago."
"Um, yes, I can explain that." He looked desperately at Mac, who just shrugged indicating he was on his own.
"Explain? Explain that you didn't trust Dad or me enough to tell us you were Immortal? Do you have any idea of how we felt when we heard you were dead? It took two days to get Dad sober again and I was heart broken. I idolized you. I would have done anything for you, but you couldn't trust us. Explain that. I'd really like to hear this."
"I'm sure...," Jarod started to say, touching her shoulder.
"No, Jarod. I want him to explain."
Methos idly wondered who Jarod was and why he and Richie were hovering so protectively around her.
"Caittie, I'm sorry. I wanted to tell you. I was going to tell you, but you were still too young. If I had told you or your father it would have brought up a whole lot of questions I wasn't ready to answer and you weren't ready to hear. The car accident was an accident and I died. I had to disappear. I was going to come back in a few years and tell you, just not right then."
"Questions? Like what? I want the truth, Uncle Adam. I assume your name is Adam Pierson, isn't it?"
"Actually, my real name is Methos and before you ask I'm around 5,000 years old. The next question you're probably going to ask is did I know Patrick O'Reilly wasn't your real father. Yes. I know because I'm the one who gave you to him. Thanks, Mac." Methos took the beer and sat down in the armchair. Mac sat on the arm, his right hand falling to gently massage the back of Methos' neck.
"If you gave me to Dad then you know who my real parents are?"
"No. I found you in a far corner of the Colorado Faire. I'd known Patrick a few years and knew he would take good care of you."
"So, I still don't know where I came from."
"None of us do," Methos said sadly.
Joe looked around at all the sad faces and realized they'd forgotten he was there. "Uh-hmm."
"Oh God, Joe, I'm sorry," Mac said, rising and grabbing a chair for him. He frowned noticing Joe's limp was even more pronounced than usual. "Joe, this is Caitlin O'Reilly and Jarod. I'm sure you've guessed Cait is newly Immortal. This is Joe Dawson, a friend of ours and a Watcher."
"A watcher? What do you watch?" Jarod asked.
"What? You mean people will be watching everything I do? Why'd you tell him I was Immortal?"
"Relax, Cait," Richie said, stroking her left hand; Jarod had a hold of her right. "We all have Watchers. Well, except for Methos, but that's because..."
"Not anymore," he interrupted, figuring now was as good a time as any to tell Mac about Paris.
"What do you mean not anymore?" Mac frowned down at his lover.
"It wasn't his fault, Mac," Joe put in.
"Why don't I believe that?"
"I'm hurt. I'm really hurt." Methos started to rise.
Mac pushed him back into the chair. "Tell me what happened."
"The Council found out about us. Another Watcher passing by a restaurant happened to notice us inside having dinner together and took some pictures. When they tried to tell me to discontinue the relationship I quit."
"I quit also when they turned on me," Joe said.
Mac looked from one to the other, his frown turning into a full-fledged scowl. "You don't just quit the Watchers. You both know that."
"We do now," Methos muttered. Joe winced knowing Mac was about to explode.
"What happened, Methos?"
He sighed staring down at his beer, "They shot at us."
"Is that why Joe is limping?"
"Yes, but it's nothing to worry about. It just grazed him. None of the other bullets hit him."
"They hit me," he said in defeat. Mac got up and paced a few steps. Opened his mouth, closed it again, and paced a few more steps.
"It's not a big deal, Duncan. So, Adam Pierson is an Immortal now. They don't know I'm Methos. I'm still safe from head-hunters looking for the legendary Methos."
"Legendary? You always did have a big ego," Cait snorted.
"I do not."
"Unfortunately, he is a legend," Richie said. "Methos is the oldest known Immortal to still be alive."
"I have good survival skills."
"Yeah, you hide," Richie said, his voice full of sarcasm.
"I do not."
"All right, but only some of the time. I'm not a coward. Anyway, now that we have that out of the way, who is the thoroughly confused young man and why are Connor and Caittie here?"
This time Mac couldn't meet Methos' eyes and started to turn red. "It's kind of a long story."
"Not really," Cait said. "I was being chased by these wackos Saturday night. I ran into Mac and Richie camping by the Faire, but I didn't stay long. The wackos caught up with me, kidnapped me, and took me to this dungeon. This guy on an airtank there expected me to do whatever he said. After I tried to turn him into a crispy critter they locked me up in a box. Jarod found out somehow and he located Mac and Richie and they contacted Connor, then they all came and rescued me. End of story."
"And knowing Cait there's a million details left out. Like how did Jarod find out and why'd he come to Mac and Richie?"
"Well, to make another long story short. I was raised by the Center. The guy on the air tank is Mr. Raines and the wackos are a sweeper team that works for him. They kidnapped Cait because of her empathic ability. When she didn't cooperate they put her in a sensory deprivation box. I have a friend still in the Center who told me about her and sent me a copy of Mac's business card which had been found on her. I went to Mac and Richie, assuming they were friends of hers, to ask for help rescuing her. We went in and rescued her. While we were leaving Miss Parker shot Cait. I shot Miss Parker." Jarod's eyes widened suddenly in shock. "Oh god, I shot Miss Parker."
Bolting to his feet, he rushed to his bag and pulled out his cell phone. Dialing, he paced impatiently waiting for the call to go through. "Sydney, how is she? She's alive? Critical? Oh god, Sydney, I didn't mean to...I...I'll try. Cait? She'll survive. It wasn't as bad as it looked, but don't let anyone know. Okay. I'll talk to you again soon."
With a click he closed the phone and leaned back against the wall before sliding down it into a sitting position. Cait and Richie were by his side in an instant. Cait took both his hands in hers while Richie gently caressed the back of his head with one hand and the other rested on top of their clasped hands. Joe and Methos looked at Mac in question, but he just shook his head.
"It'll be all right, Jarod," Cait said softly.
"But I shot Miss Parker. I might have killed her."
"But you didn't," Richie put in, his eyes darting briefly to Mac. "You reacted without thinking. We don't always mean to hurt the one's we care about but it happens. There's nothing you can do about it. All you can do is forgive yourself and move on. We'll keep in touch with Sydney and he'll tell us how she's doing. I'm sure she'll be fine."
"Do you think so?"
"Yes," Cait said. "I refuse to let this be anything other than a happy ending. Everything will work out."
Jarod nodded and rested his check on their hands, needing to feel their closeness and comfort. The others discreetly moved into the kitchen.
Joe and Methos waited patiently for Mac to explain what was going on in the living room.
"I still don't quite understand it," Mac said, sipping from a fresh beer. "Even before they all really met each other they seemed to feel a bond. The only one who seems completely comfortable with it is Cait. Although, knowing what I do of Jarod and Richie's histories I can kind of understand it. The whole thing is complicated."
"When isn't it, with you?" Joe asked, drawing chuckles from Methos and Connor.
"It's not like I do it on purpose."
"No, but it's why we love you," Methos said, quickly kissing him.
"Hmm, well I offered to let everyone stay here tonight. I didn't know you would be back so soon, but with those people from the Center still after Jarod, and possibly Cait, I figured they were better off staying here. At least until we can start their training."
"Their training? I thought only Cait was Immortal." Joe said.
"She is," Methos said quickly, when both Macleods seemed at a loss for words. "But think about it, Joe. If this bond between the three of them is real then it makes sense that Jarod should be training with them."
"I still don't follow you."
"You know that our concern is that we put the mortals we love in danger when we reveal our secret, right?" Mac said.
"That I understand."
"Then take it a little farther. If Jarod already knows sword fighting and how to defend himself then he becomes less of a target. It means Richie and Cait spend less time worrying about him"
"All right. I'll buy it." Joe knew there was more they weren't telling him but he let it go. There were probably some things about Immortality he didn't want to know. But then again, he looked thoughtfully at the trio in the living room. They had moved back onto the couch. Richie was sitting on one side with Jarod leaning back against him. Cait was gently massaging his feet, smiling as his eyes slowly drifted shut in sleep.
"A good foot massage always helps me calm down when I'm upset," Cait said quietly.
Richie smiled down at Jarod. "I'd say it worked."
Mac squatted down next to the couch. "It's time we all went to bed. Connor is leaving early in the morning and we have to decide who is going to teach you and Jarod," Mac said to Cait.
"I wanted to ask you, is he..."
"Sort of," Mac interrupted quickly. "We'll explain later, not now. Methos has offered to continue your training if you're willing, Cait."
She looked over at where Methos was standing at the counter, staring at his beer. With a shrug, she said, "As long as he doesn't mind getting hamstrung a few times."
She saw him smile and knew that had heard her. She could also sense his amusement and smug certainty that she'd never be able to follow through on it. "You always did have a big ego, Uncle Adam. I've been practicing in the past ten years."
He glanced up at her startled, then nodded in understanding. "We'll see, little one. We'll see."
"We have to decide who'll teach Jarod. Connor has to get back to New York."
"And I don't think I'm good enough yet to teach him. Why don't you train him? You didn't do too bad with me"
"Are you sure, Rich? I don't like having more than one student at a time. I've always felt it takes something away from both students. I don't want you to feel like I'm abandoning you or anything."
"It's okay. I'm to the point where I'm learning more on my own and just need someone to spar with. Besides, watching you work with Jarod I might learn some of the lessons I missed the first time around."
"You learned the important one, Rich. You're still alive."
"Yes, well, now that we're all teary-eyed," Methos said, gently touching Mac's shoulder and breaking the mood. "I think it's time we all go to bed. Why don't you get those cots we bought while I dig out some extra linens."
Mac nodded in agreement. It didn't take long to get everyone settled for the night.
In their own bed Methos smuggled up against Mac, his hand splayed across the Scots well-muscled chest. He could feel the steady beating of his heart. "I still can't get over Richie and Cait," he said, quietly so as not to disturb the others.
"And Jarod," Mac reminded him.
Methos flicked his hand in dismissal; "I don't know Jarod so I can't really comment on that."
"Like it's stopped you before."
"Hey. You can just sleep alone."
Mac grabbed the waistband of his boxers before he'd done much more than sit up. "Get back here, old man," he growled playfully.
Lying stiffly back down, he didn't respond to Mac's gentle caresses until a hand slipped beneath the waistband of his boxers. Mac caught his gasp in his mouth, kissing him deeply. Slipping his hand back out he caressed Methos' cheek. "Forgiven?"
"Always," he smiled, the cynicism replaced with affection. "As I was saying before, I can't see Richie and Cait together. He's young and reckless and I don't want to see her get hurt. He's just not her type."
Before Mac could say anything Cait spoke up, "You have no clue what my type is Uncle Adam. It's been ten years since the last time you saw me so be quiet and go to sleep. And quit getting each other all hot and bothered. I am an Empath, you know."
The only sound in the darkness sounded suspiciously like Connor snickering.
A Week Later
Connor had returned to New York and, despite everyone's protests that it was still to dangerous, Joe had gone back to work at the bar. Richie and Jarod were sitting with their backs against the wall separating the main room of the dojo from the office. Cait and Methos were sparring as Richie pointed out the different techniques they used to Jarod.
In a sudden move Cait dropped to one knee landing inside Methos' guard and a little behind him. Before he could move out of the way there was a glint of silver. Methos bellowed in pain and rage as she cut his Achilles tendon for the third time that day. Richie and Jarod listened in awe as he cursed in several different languages, most of which had been dead for centuries, if not millennia
Cait just calmly wiped the blood off yet another small knife she had pulled from one of her mysterious hiding places,
"That's it," he growled in English finally, "I'm using a bloody metal detector on you every time we spar."
"If you think it will help you beat me," she said, so sweetly he glared at her in suspicion
"I don't trust you. Especially not with that look on your face."
"Good. We're even, because I don't trust you. Besides, I'd told you I've been practicing and I've only been following your advice."
"Use whatever means necessary to survive and win, even if it means retreat. My knives are a necessary means to surviving. They've come in handy on more than one occasion"
"That wasn't quite what I meant."
"Well it should have been," Mac said, coming out of the office. Tucking a tanto into the back of his belt, he raised his katana in salute, "Ready for another round?"
Cait shrugged, "Sure. Why not?"
Richie's mouth opened but no sound came out as he watched them face off.
"What? What's going on?" Jarod asked in confusion, looking from Richie to Mac and Cait.
"Somebody's in for a rude awakening," Methos said, limping to a bench, his leg almost healed.
"That remains to be seen. Richie, close your mouth. It's just a little sparring session."
They watched as Cait and Mac went after each other. First blood went to Cait, making her grin. It was quickly replaced by a frown as the next two hits went to Mac. Dropping to one knee, she tried the same trick she'd used on Methos and almost lost her hand with her knife. Rolling out of the way to her feet, she quickly rushed him.
In a flurry of flashing steel and sparks they danced across the room. Cait's small knives were scattered around the room where Mac had knocked them from her hand. In two places they were imbedded in the wall. One was closer to Methos' head than he preferred.
Pausing a brief second to plan a new attack, Cait was caught off guard when Mac suddenly spun. He deflected her sword with his and buried the tanto in her stomach without anyone seeing him reach for it. Jarod and Richie were on their feet in an instant, but Methos stopped them.
"Calm down, children. He isn't going to take her head. Sneaky little thing isn't she?" He said to Mac.
"Reminds me of Amanda." Mac removed the blade, then held her down when she tried to sit up. "Lie still for a moment. It will heal faster."
"How," she paused gulping for air, "how did you do that?"
"I waited until you'd forgotten about the tanto to use it." He shrugged when she glared at him. "It's the same trick you were using on Methos. Giving him the impression that you were only carrying one or two knives when you actually had closer to a dozen on you."
Pushing herself up on her elbows, she grinned, "Fourteen to be exact."
"Fourteen?" Methos bellowed, advancing towards her. "You sneaky little bitch. Shut up, Richie. It's not funny."
"Yes...it...is," he gasped out between gales of laughter. He was laughing so hard Jarod had to hold him up.
"Bloody children," he growled. Stalking into the lift, he slammed the cage down and scowled at them until he rose out of sight. Mac shook his head, "All right you three, hit the showers. If you promise to be good we may even go to Joe's tonight."
"Do you mean it?" Cait asked. All three perked up. They'd only been confined to the dojo for a week, but they were still restless. It was also difficult for them to do anything about the relationship between the three of them with Mac and Methos constantly watching.
"Yes, I mean it."
"Yes!" Richie shouted. He moved to kiss Jarod, stopping halfway when Jarod's cell phone rang. Every night at 6 o'clock Jarod called Sydney to find out if Miss Parker had woken from her coma yet. It was 4:15. Jarod stared at the ringing phone afraid to answer it. Finally Richie picked it up and handed it to him.
"Hello, Sydney." He sat down on a bench, Richie beside him. Cait kneeled in front of him while Mac made a discreet exit.
"She is? She's awake," he said softly, without thinking he wound his fingers through Richie's, leaning against him. Cait massaged his lower thighs trying to soothe the guilt she felt from him.
"Does she...I...thank you, Sydney. Tell her...tell her I'm sorry."
Disconnecting the call he carefully put the phone to the side. He closed his eyes unable to look at either of them, as he tried to hold back the tears that threatened to overwhelm him. Cait wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheeks to his chest. She didn't know how to soothe him. While she was glad for Jarod's sake that Miss Parker was alive and awake she secretly wished she wasn't. No matter how you looked at it Miss Parker had taken something away from her that day. Had taken it without a thought to how it would affect Cait's life.
Gently rubbing the small of his back Richie searched for something to say. "Mac took a Dark Quickening several years ago. He almost killed me. The only thing that stopped him was Joe shooting him. I felt so betrayed. My teacher, the man I looked up to as a father, had betrayed me and I didn't know why. I took off. Challenged every Immortal I came across. It didn't matter to me who they were or if they were good or evil. I just hoped they would be better than me and take my head. Everything I believed in, everything I thought to be true and right had been destroyed. I was on a major self-destruction kick and was determined to bring down everyone around me. Then one night it happened.
"I encountered another Immortal but I was so drunk at that point I could barely stand much less hold a sword. Instead of taking my head though, he just knocked me out and took me back to the abandoned church he was living in. He got me sober and told me his name was Matthew. He's a missionary of sorts, had been all his life, which is a little over 2,000 years old. Anyway, he got me to tell him about what had happened with Mac. Considering who he was I expected him to tell me that I should forgive Mac what he had done because it was what God wanted. Instead he told me that I need to face Mac because I needed to forgive myself. Of course, I couldn't see why I needed to forgive myself until I realized that I blamed myself for Mac's betrayal. I had decided that I hadn't lived up to Mac's expectations of a student and he had decided to eliminate me. I needed to prove to myself that I was worthy of Mac's respect.
"Matthew told me that God understands that we have our weaknesses and are going to make mistakes. He understands that we cannot always forgive, but we can try to understand. We also have to learn how to forgive ourselves before we can forgive others."
Jarod nodded, "I guess. I don't know if I can."
"This isn't an overnight thing, babe," Richie said, shaking his head. "It was almost six months before I was ready to face Mac again and even longer before I was really able to forgive him."
Turning Jarod's face towards him he gently brushed away the tears from his cheeks. "Everything will work out."
"Good." Jarod leaned forward to kiss him. It was a light kiss at first, just a gentle pressing of lips, but then Richie ran the tip of his tongue over Jarod's lips tasting him. With a soft moan Jarod parted his lips allowing Richie access. He lost himself in the feeling of Richie's tongue gently exploring his mouth, tasting him, caressing him. Cait spoke, getting their attention.
"Um, hello, Empath here? I think you two need to hit the shower."
"Sorry, Cait," Richie grinned at her. Jarod blushed and looked away.
Sliding back a little, Cait nudged his knee, "Go hit the shower, dear. I love you, but you stink. Richie'll be right behind you. I want to ask him something."
Jarod nodded, leaned forward and brushed his lips against hers, then headed to the shower.
"What's up, Cait?" He pushed a strand of strawberry red hair out of her face and behind her ear.
"You and Jarod need to...uh...um, consummate your relationship."
She gave him a 'don't-be-stupid' look. "You need to have sex."
"I understood consummate. I don't understand why we 'need' to," Richie paused, "well, there is the fact that I'd love to jump him, but..."
"No. That's exactly it. You both want each other and you're both afraid to do something about it. Which is driving me crazy, by the way. It's hard enough trying to keep control of my own raging libido, but with the added pressure of yours and Jarod's, well I'm getting ready to explode. For all of us to move forward you two need to acknowledge and do something about your feelings for each other."
He stared at her for a moment. "So, you're saying I should go in there and seduce him?"
"All right," he said hesitantly.
"You know it's not like this is a bad thing."
"I know," he grinned and kissed her. She leaned into him, nipping at his lower lip and then sucking on it. Cait pulled away, her breathing ragged, "Go, before I jump you, right here."
With one last kiss he rose and walked into the men's locker room.
Jarod was already undressed and in the shower. Stripping off his clothes Richie walked into the shower area. Jarod's back was to the door so he didn't see him come in. He grinned when he realized Jarod was jerking off. Coming up behind him, he circled his arms around Jarod's waist grasping Jarod's stiff member in his hand.
"Need some help with that?"
Jarod just moaned as his hand began moving up and down. Richie nipped and kissed his neck and shoulder as he caressed him. His breathing was coming in short gasps letting Richie know he was on the verge of climaxing. Releasing him, Richie ignored Jarod's whimpers of protest as he moved around to face him. It took Jarod a moment to open his eyes and focus on Richie, his body still tingling from the feel of Richie pressed up against him.
He caressed Jarod's cheek, brushing his thumb across his lips. "I want you."
It took him a moment to reply. "I want you too."
"No," Richie said, stepping closer. "I want you. I need to feel you inside me."
Jarod stared at him, his eyes so wide Richie wondered if they were going to fall out. He swallowed nervously. "I...I've never...I've never done this before."
Grinning he leaned into Jarod, kissing him. "It's all right," he whispered. "I'll teach you."
His hands roamed over Jarod's chest caressing him as he nibbled at his lips and jaw line. Placing feather light kisses along his collarbone, Richie made his way down Jarod's chest, stopping to pay special attention to his nipples. He licked each pink nub of flesh until they hardened, then he suckled them, rolling them with his teeth. His fingers skimmed across Jarod's skin, seeming to be everywhere but the place Jarod wanted them most. His cock.
"Riiiichieee," he whimpered, needing but not sure of what it was he wanted. He felt him smile against his chest, before those maddening lips began trailing kisses across his body again. He shuddered as finally Richie's hand closed around his aching cock. Looking down, he watched as Richie's small pink tongue darted out to lap at the tip of his cock. He gasped in startlement and pleasure, his hips bucking forward trying to keep in contact with that tongue.
With a low chuckle Richie grasped his hips holding him still. He felt Jarod's fingers tangle themselves in his hair as he took the mushroom shaped head of Jarod's penis into his mouth. Sucking on it gently, he listened to Jarod moan. Moving his head up and down, he would take as much as he could into his mouth before sliding it back out, his tongue tracing a path over the thick vein that ran along the underside. He could feel the tension beginning to build in Jarod indicating he'd have to stop soon if they wanted to continue in other ways. Slipping a hand between Jarod's legs, he rubbed a fingertip over Jarod's puckered entrance.
Suddenly he was hauled up off Jarod by his hair and pushed back against the wall so hard he cracked his head, making him see stars. Before he could react his hands were pinned above his head, a hard body pressed against him seeking entrance. He struggled to get free but the terror, current and long forgotten, overwhelmed him holding him captive.
Jarod held Richie up against the wall, kissing him, pressing against him. He wanted, needed, to be joined with Richie but didn't know how. He felt Richie moving against him but didn't realize Richie was fighting him until he heard, "Please, no."
Instantly he backed off in confusion. "Richie, what is it? What's wrong?"
Cait and Methos burst into the shower as Richie slid down the wall and curled into a fetal position. Methos shut off the water watching Cait and Jarod kneel next to the redhead.
"What happened?" Cait asked, frowning when Richie flinched away from her hand.
"I don't know. Everything was going fine. We were...," Jarod gulped, blushing bright red. "We were...."
"I know what you were doing, but what set him off? One minute all I'm getting is mind-numbing pleasure from the both of you, the next he's so terrified I almost wet myself in panic."
"I'm not sure. I pushed him up against the wall. A little harder than I'd intended to, I guess."
"That's it," Methos broke in. "You used force on him."
"But I didn't..."
"Mean to, I know," Methos said gently. "You couldn't have known. I only suspect because of an incident about a year ago when Richie walked in on Mac and me."
Ignoring the water on the floor, Methos kneeled next to the almost comatose young man. In the years he'd been a doctor he'd worked with several of the mentally distraught. Unable to deal with what had happened to them his patients would go into a similar state in an attempt to hide from it. The best course of action was usually direct confrontation. Grasping one of Richie's arms, he was not surprised when the young man fought back. He made sure he had a hold of both arms before forcing Richie to look at him.
"Look at me, Richie. It's Methos. Do you understand? It's Methos. I'm not going to hurt you. No one is going to hurt you."
It took a few seconds but rationality quickly returned to his eyes along with confusion. The confusion was replaced by understanding and regret as he saw Jarod fidgeting uncomfortably behind Methos.
"Oh god, Jarod. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," he said. Richie could see the hurt and uncertainty in his eyes. Before he could say anything a rather upset Highlander burst in.
"What in hell is going on?" Mac demanded, his brogue so thick they could barely understand him. "I could hear Richie screaming all the way upstairs. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Really, I am," he said when Cait looked at him strangely. "It's just, Jarod accidentally triggered a bad memory. I never meant to react the way I did."
"I was afraid this would happen," Mac sighed. Helping Richie to his feet, he handed him a robe. Methos did the same for Jarod. "I haven't pushed, but I think it's time we had a talk, Rich."
Grimacing, he drew the robe tight around him. "I don't really want to talk about it. No one needs to have my nightmares."
"No, I don't..."
"Yes," Methos interrupted angrily. "If you won't talk about it for yourself then do it for Cait and Jarod." He gestured at Cait who was huddled against Jarod trying to block out the anger and underlying fear she was picking up from Richie. "For some reason the three of you have formed a bond. What hurts one of you hurts all of you."
He stared at them for a long moment before nodding his head in resignation. Richie had known this would have to come to an end sooner or later. He'd just wanted to believe they could have a happy relationship together. That this time might be different.
He followed them upstairs, but instead of sitting on the sofa with Cait and Jarod he took the armchair. It hurt too much to sit near them when he knew they would reject him after what he was about to say. He tried not to wince at the sight of them holding hands, supporting each other.
"Why don't you start at the beginning, Richie? What happened to cause this?" Mac suggested.
"It started when I was thirteen."
"Hardly," he snorted. "Until then all the foster parent of the month would do is smack me around with the occasional trip to the hospital. No, I was thirteen the first time I was raped."
He swallowed back the bile that had risen in his throat at the memory. Almost eleven years since it happened and he could remember it like it was yesterday.
It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when Richie let himself in the door of his latest foster home. Unlike many of his other foster families it was only him, his foster father, Doug, and another foster kid, Matt. Doug was pretty easygoing and let him and Matt do whatever they wanted. Matt was really cool too. Even though he was sixteen he'd let Richie hang out with him.
He was supposed to go to detention after school, but he'd decided to sneak out and go home so he could hang out with Matt. Doug wouldn't get home from work until after five. It had taken him a while, but he'd finally realized he had a crush on Matt. At first he'd tried to deny it, telling himself he was only interested in girls that way. It didn't work. So today he was going to see if there was any chance Matt might have the same feelings for him.
First he stopped in the kitchen to grab something to snack on. He always thought better with a full stomach. Closing the refrigerator door he paused, certain he heard voices coming from the back of the house. Matt probably had a friend over or was watching a video in his room. Either way Matt would probably let him hangout.
Walking down the hallway, he raised the volume on the Walkman Doug had given him. Doug was really cool. Always giving him and Matt presents; letting them get their favorite foods at the grocery store; and even letting him watch R rated movies.
Matt's door was closed over but Richie pushed it open. If Matt had wanted to be left alone he would have closed it all the way.
"Hey, Matt..." Richie ground to a halt in shock. Matt was on the bed on his hands and knees, naked. Behind him was Doug with his briefs pushed down around his thighs. It took him a moment to realize they were having sex. Blushing bright red he started stammering out apologies as he backed out the door.
This seemed to break Doug and Matt out of their own shock. Matt grabbed at his clothes, but Doug was more concerned with Richie. He didn't make it two steps into the hallway before Doug grabbed him by the collar and dragged him back into the room.
"You little shit, why aren't you at school?"
"I...I snuck out of d...d...detention. I'm sorry. I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"That's not good enough. You weren't supposed to be home until after 3:30. Why couldn't you stay in school you little brat," Doug growled, before drawing back his arm and smacking him. Richie's head snapped back, a trickle of blood starting at the corner of his mouth.
"Easy, Doug. The kid has a crush on me. He probably figured he'd get to hang out alone with me," Matt said, catching Doug's arm when he raised it a second time.
"Is that so?" Doug looked at him, a speculative gleam in his eyes, making Richie shiver. "I knew you were into guys the first time I saw you. What do you say we break him in, Matt?"
"What? No!" Richie began to struggle as Doug started stripping him. Doug smacked him again dazing him. Stunned he barely felt the following blows. He put up little resistance as they finished pulling his clothes off him. The feel of his hands being tied above his made him renew his struggles.
"No. Don't. Matt, please don't," he begged. He could see the tears in Matt's eyes as he gagged Richie, Then Doug was forcing his legs apart.
"No!" Richie surged to his feet. Everyone jumped, startled. Trembling violently, Richie put distance between himself and the others.
"After that they never left me alone for very long, and when they did I was usually tied up. I tried running away three times. The first two times they caught me before I'd even gotten a block away from the house. The third time I got smart. I paid another kid at school to pull the fire alarm. It was really easy while we were all outside to slip away. It was almost four months before Child Services found me. I was sent to a new foster home. My new foster father tried his best to beat my 'unnatural tendencies' out of me. Apparently Doug told them I'd run away after Matt rejected an advance I'd made towards him."
"That's when the flashbacks started happening?" Mac asked.
Richie closed his eyes, swallowing convulsively. "No. They started when I was sixteen. After a gang of bikers stumbled across my sleeping spot in a warehouse and decided to have a little fun. They left me with the scars on my back and the flashbacks." Wrapping his arms around himself, Richie couldn't look at the others. "So, that's it. That's my messed up life. I'll see you around. Say bye to Joe for me."