Authorís Note: The following story is a crossover between Highlander and The Sentinel. The Sentinel follows the adventures of Cascade police detective Jim Ellison, an individual possessing genetically enhanced senses, known to primitive cultures as a "Sentinel". Det. Ellison realized these senses five years before the series opener, when he was trapped in the jungles of Peru for eighteen months. Since that time, Det. Ellison has returned to the US and only recently became bothered again by his enhanced senses. Det. Ellison is assisted in controlling his senses by anthropology graduate student, Blair Sandburg, who is studying Sentinels as the topic of his dissertation. Blair Sandburg is a teaching fellow at Rainier University in Cascade.

This story takes place during the first seasons of both series, immediately after the Highlander episode "Free Fall" and after The Sentinel episode "Siege".

For the purposes of this story, Cascade, WA is located approximately 80 miles north of Seattle and Seacouver, WA is located 130 miles south of Seattle.

 

EASIER SAID THAN DONE

A Highlander/The Sentinel Crossover

By Sue Kelley

 

"Are you trying to tell me that we can't file a Missing Persons Report?"

Detective Leonard Powell of the Seacouver Police Department tried not to glower at the well-dressed couple sitting opposite him. The man, tall, well-built, with longish dark hair tied back, had asked the question. His face was completely expressionless, but something about the cold set of his dark eyes and the way his accent had deepened indicated he was angry.

No such subtle clues were needed to detect the emotional state of the willowy blonde woman with him. Anger and something else: fear? guilt? darkened her beautiful face as she snapped, "This is unbelievable! You are the police, are you not? You are supposed to look for missing people--"

"I didn't say we wouldn't look for him," Powell broke in. "Look, MacLeod, Ms. Noel, you can file a Missing Persons Report on Richie Ryan if you want to. All I'm saying is maybe it would be better to wait for a few days--"

"He has been gone for five days!" snapped the woman. "That is what you told us four days ago. Just how much longer do you suggest we wait, Detective? Until you retire so you won't have to be bothered looking for him?"

"Tessa," the man remonstrated quietly. His eyes never left Powell's face.

Powell took a deep breath and tried once more to reason with the couple. "Look. You've said nothing is missing from your house or your shop. Ryan is eighteen now. You told me last time you were in, you had some kind of disagreement with him." He didn't miss the quick glances the couple exchanged. "Maybe Richie is just laying low for a few days. Or maybe he decided to move on."

"Without his clothes? His paycheck?" the woman demanded.

"His CD player?" the man added, smiling briefly. His face became severe again. "I might have believed that the first few days, Detective, but not this long. Tessa is right. He would have come back for his things, at least."

"You've known him for what? A couple of months? I've known him for five years--"

"You've been arresting him for five years. We've lived with him. There's a difference," the man said flatly.

Yeah, and I'd sure give a lot to know just why he was living with you. Why youíd take in the kid who tried to rob your store... You and Ryan come from completely different worlds.

Opening a drawer, Powell pulled out a blank form and filled in the date. "Okay, we'll file the report. But it's only fair to warn you, every cop in this city is out looking for whoever assassinated Senator Bolt. There's not going to be a lot of concern over one missing eighteen year old who in all likelihood left of his own free will."

** ** **

Tessa didn't say anything until after they had pulled up in the alley behind the building that housed both the antique shop and their living quarters. "The report won't do any good, will it?"

"It might," Duncan MacLeod answered, coming around to open her door. "If nothing else, if we hire a private detective that's the first thing they'll tell us to do. This way it's already done." He inserted his key into the lock and opened the door to reveal a small brick passageway. Tessa preceded him in the door and immediately turned to the left, then went up a short flight of stairs to the kitchen. Going directly to the refrigerator, she opened it with a look of desperate hope on her face.

MacLeod, seeing her face crumple, cursed under his breath. "It's still there?" he asked, knowing the answer. Tessa nodded and pulled out the plate holding the triple-layer chocolate-chocolate cake. Richie's favorite. If he'd come home, even if he'd just rushed in to gather his belongings, he would have grabbed a piece of the cake.

MacLeod went to the woman and wrapped his arms around her tightly. "Tessa," he said quietly, "this wasn't your fault, you know."

"I know, but-- Duncan, do you think Felicia found him? Do you think she--"

"No," MacLeod cut her off firmly. "That's not her way. She got Richie on that beach to serve as bait." He forced out the next words, "I'm not saying she wouldn't have killed him, but she would make damn sure I knew he was dead. Otherwise there would be no point."

Tessa nodded and buried her head in his shoulder. Duncan was glad she couldn't see his face. He couldn't tell her the whole truth. If Immortal Felicia Martins had sensed Richie was a pre-immortal--

She didn't, he tried to reassure himself. Not all of us can. And she never showed the slightest sign of noticing anything different about him-

A noise startled both of them. It was the bell on the front door of the antique shop, but the "Closed" sign was in the window and any deliveries would have gone around to the back.

The bell jingled again. Tessa pulled away, her face lighting up. "Maybe it's Richie," she said, swiftly leaving the room before MacLeod could remind her Richie had a key. Still he followed, in time to see her open the door to a rather portly man in a cheap suit.

MacLeod almost groaned aloud. "Commissioner Comanski. To what do we owe the pleasure?" he inquired sarcastically.

"Have you found Richie?" Tessa broke in.

"Richie Ryan? What do you mean, have I found him? Where is he?"

MacLeod sighed. "Richie has been missing for several days," he answered coldly. "We filed a Missing Persons Report on him this morning."

"Oh." Irv Comanski loosened his tie; he was sweating in spite of the fact the day was cool. "I hadn't heard. I'm sorry," he added belatedly at Tessa's glare. "No, I haven't seen Ryan since you brought him down to the morgue last week to identify--" he broke off and flushed uncomfortably.

"The missing corpse," Tessa finished for him. "By the way, did you ever find it?"

She knew they hadn't. The "corpse" had been Felicia Martins. Not two hours after Richie had returned from his fruitless trip to the morgue she had staggered into this shop covered in blood, setting in motion a chain of events that had led to Richie's disappearance.

Comanski ignored the question. "I'm investigating the murder of Senator Markham Bolt. You've heard about it?"

It would have been impossible not to have heard about it. The news had been full of little else for two days, since the popular politician had been discovered in an abandoned warehouse near Seacouver's Waterfront district with two bullets in his brain. Nearing the end of his first term in office, Bolt had recently received quite a bit of coverage for his anti-organized crime stance and it was widely assumed his death was the result of a gangland "hit". The Bolt family was wealthy and prominent in the state of Washington: having founded the city of Seattle in the early 1800s, and Markham Bolt himself had been very well-respected. His murder in Seacouver, 180 miles south of his home in Seattle, had served to focus unwanted attention on the town and its police force.

"You knew the gentleman, MacLeod?" Comanski asked.

Duncan shook his head. "I've done business with members of his family, his grandmother mostly but, as far as I know, I've never met him."

With the air of a conjurer Comanski whisked a plastic evidence bag out of his pocket and presented it to MacLeod. Inside was a receipt from the antique shop, dated three weeks previously, for a set of Venetian goblets. The handwriting was Tessa's. She spoke up, "I remember the sale, but I didn't pay much attention to the customer. I didn't recognize him."

"What's your point, Commissioner?" Duncan asked.

"Just that it seemed a little coincidental: this receipt in his pocket; his car found in a parking garage not a block from here and his body," Comanski said this last as triumphantly as if he'd proved something significant, "found in a warehouse less than fifty yards from one owned by a Duncan MacLeod."

Duncan raised his eyebrows. "That wasn't on the news. But coincidences do happen, Comanski."

"And they seem to happen a lot where you're concerned, Mr. MacLeod," Comanski said, pointedly stressing the "Mister". He looked back and forth between the two of them. "Are you sure neither one of you saw him Monday? He left his home in Seattle at ten that morning and the body was found around three a.m. Tuesday."

Tessa shook her head. "We didn't open the shop Monday at all." Duncan had driven around town trying to find Richie and Tessa had gone to the police station in the morning and spent the afternoon calling hospitals, shelters and what few of Richie's friends she knew about.

Comanski waited, but neither of them had anything else to say. He shrugged and turned to leave. "If anything does occur to you, you know how to contact me. Oh, and good luck finding the kid."

As soon as the door slammed behind the corpulent policeman, Duncan gently grabbed Tessa's hand. "Tess, when you've been looking for Richie, did you ever drive by the warehouse?"

She shook her head, eyes wide. "No, Duncan, I'm not even sure just where it is." Tessa had never been there. Although for tax purposes the old three-story building was used for storage of merchandise for the shop, in actuality MacLeod used it as a sparring ground, and more than once it had been an actual battleground.

"I never looked there either," MacLeod said, turning to run for the back door. "Damn! How could I have overlooked something so obvious?"

** ** **

Richie shivered in the cold wind. He pulled his jacket tighter about him as he crossed the street and entered the dingy diner.

The inside was bright with lights in contrast to the gloomy outdoors, where an approaching storm had darkened the late October sky. Richie glanced around the place. Cleaner than he would have expected from the outside. A long counter separated the dining area from the kitchen. It was quiet and almost empty; Richie had timed it well. Too late for lunch, but still a couple of hours from the dinner rush. Only one booth was occupied, a couple of guys sitting on the cracked green leather upholstery and talking to each other. The one facing the door looked up and Richie felt himself speared by pale blue eyes.

Cop, his instincts hissed.

Richie swallowed and thought about leaving, but the clawing in his stomach and the appetizing smell of food conspired to make him stay. He slid into a seat at the counter just as the swinging door opened and a middle-aged blond waitress wearing too much blue eyeshadow came out carrying a tray of food. She caught sight of Richie. "Just make yourself comfortable," she greeted him, her smile a flash of white teeth surrounded by bright-pink lipstick. "I'll be right with you."

Richie nodded and pulled a menu from the metal clip that held it. His hands shook, both from the cold and from hunger. He'd had nothing since a package of Twinkies the day before. Mentally tabulating the money he had left he decided on beef stew, hot rolls and milk. He longed for a Coke or even better, a Dr. Pepper, but the milk would be more nutritious. Tessa would be proud of him.

Don't think about Tessa. Don't think about Mac. Just another screw up in the long line of Richie Ryan disasters.

The waitress stepped in front of him and plunked down a full coffee cup. The dark fluid smelled heavenly, but Richie protested, "I was going to get milk."

"Coffee's on the house," the waitress said easily. Up close she was older than she first appeared, closer to sixty than forty, but her face and voice were friendly. "You look like you could use something to warm you up." She looked pointedly at the jacket Richie still wore. "I can turn up the heat."

Richie stared at her, then felt himself flushing. "No... no, that's okay." He ordered quickly, then shrugged out of his jacket. Glancing around, he noticed the cop-type in the corner was looking right at him and he forced himself not to turn away hastily. For once in his life, the police had no reason to be after him. He caught sight of the other guy now and frowned at the long dark hair, the bright green shirt and paisley vest. Guy must be an informant or an undercover narcotics cop or something; those two are about as polar opposite as they can be!

"Here you go, Hon." The waitress deposited a basket of hot rolls and containers of butter and honey in front of him. "Your beef stew will be up in a minute."

** ** **

"Jim, what are you staring at?"

"That kid that just came in," Detective Jim Ellison answered. Before he could stop him, the man sitting opposite had twisted around for a look.

"What about him?"

"I don't know... something about him seems... wrong."

Blair Sandburg looked at Jim's expression, an interested light flaring in his own deep blue eyes. "Wrong? What? Something that your senses tell you? Which one? Sight? Smell? Sound?--"

Jim held up a hand to stem the excited flow of words. "Easy, Sandburg. I'm not sure--" He shook his head. "I don't know."

"Concentrate, man," Blair Sandburg's voice changed, becoming deeper, soothing. "Think back, the door opens, the kid comes in--"

Jim closed his eyes, visualizing the scene as Blair spoke. "Not sight, not smell, sound!" He opened his eyes again, his expression triumphant. "His heartbeat. It jumped. " He frowned suddenly. "Just as he saw us." Eyes narrowed in suspicion, he looked over at the counter again.

Blair sipped his coffee, trying to hide the smile on his face. "Well, you can look a little menacing, you know. How's his heartbeat now?" Then, as Jim frowned even more and stared across the room, Blair reached across the table and lightly touched his arm. "Don't try so hard. Focus on him, but only focus your hearing."

Jim relaxed, letting the sounds around him in and then gradually eliminating them one by one until only one was left. After several seconds he shrugged. "Seems okay now," he commented, digging into his bowl of steaming chili smothered with cheddar cheese.

"Good," Blair answered automatically, his mind on his own thoughts. That's too slow, too cumbersome... he's got to be able to just focus without opening his senses to all stimuli... he pulled his ever-present notebook out of his backpack and started scribbling notes to himself. Ellison shook his head as he reached for the Tabasco sauce and added a careful three drops to his bowl. He tasted again, cautiously, then grinned widely and took another spoonful.

"Next time I'll get onions too," he muttered, mostly to himself. "Sure you aren't hungry, Sandburg? I'll even buy."

Blair shuddered, closing his notebook. "No thanks." He glanced around for the waitress and pointed at his coffee cup. "I'm glad food is starting to taste good to you again, but how can you eat that stuff? I hate to think of what your serum cholesterol must be."

"One-twenty-nine," Jim answered frankly, scraping the last of the chili from the bowl. He looked up as the waitress arrived with a fresh pot of coffee. "Miss? Another bowl, please?" He grinned at the startled expression on the younger man's face. "Exercise, Sandburg. You oughtta try it sometime, instead of chasing after all those coeds--"

The door banged open again, letting in another burst of cold air. A couple of young guys entered, swaggering in ripped jeans and tight tee shirts. "Hey, chica," one of them bellowed at the waitress. "A little service here?"

"Just have a seat anywhere," she returned, disappearing into the kitchen. Instead of sitting down, the new customers stepped close to the cash register. The red-headed kid looked up from his stew, then looked away again, shifting in his seat. Something fell from his jacket pocket to the floor. Jim, focusing his sight automatically, noticed it was half of a used bus ticket.

** ** **

Richie jumped when the door opened, looking around nervously. He relaxed. Tough guy wanna-be's. He knew the type. They'd try to buy cigarettes, hassle the waitress when she demanded ID, and generally make asses of themselves. They must not have noticed the big guy in the corner or they would have gone somewhere else to play their games.

The waitress flung the swinging door open, looked mildly surprised to see the two guys still standing there. "I said to have a seat."

"We don't want to eat here, Mamacita," the older and taller of the two drawled. "Just want a package of smokes." He tossed a crumpled five-dollar bill on the glass display case.

The woman stepped behind the cash register and looked at the two sharply. "Let me see some ID."

The kid staggered back in mock-chagrin. His friend sniggered, digging his hands deep into the pockets of his threadbare denim jacket. "Whatsamatter, mama, can't you see I'm of age? Just gimme the smokes."

The waitress rolled her eyes. "I am not your mama, Kid, and I'll be glad to sell you cigarettes once you show me you're over eighteen."

So far the scene was playing out the way Richie had imagined it, but now it took a horrific twist. The younger kid yanked his hands out of his pocket, the right one grasping a small black handgun. "Okay, bitch, keep the smokes, just give us all the cash in the drawer there."

"Jesse, whatcha doin' man?!" his partner half screamed, stepping back toward the door.

Richie heard a deep voice snap, "Police! Drop the gun!" The guy from the booth no doubt. I knew you were a cop, he thought dizzily as he saw the kid's gun stop shaking, aim at the terrified waitress.

Richie exploded into action. He grabbed the heavy chromium napkin dispenser from the counter and hurled it directly at the kid's face, at the same time jumping from his seat and grabbing the hand that held the gun. The gun discharged harmlessly in the air, the waitress screamed, then Richie tightened his grip, forcing the gun down.

Out of the corner of his eye Richie saw the big guy approaching, his gun covering all of them. His long-haired friend was behind him, looking shocked and a little nervous. Richie changed his mind; the younger guy couldn't be a cop; maybe not an informant either; he sure looked as if this kind of thing didn't happen to him every day.

"Okay," Cop said, advancing very slowly. "It's over, guys. Hands up in the air, everybody!"

The older thug and the waitress both immediately raised their hands. Richie thought, Now this is typical. I'm trying to be a good guy and Iíll probably get arrested for it! He still had hold of the younger guy, but as he felt him relax, he started to let go.

"No way, pig!" the kid screamed, bringing his knee up. He missed Richie's groin, but still connected painfully with his thigh. Richie grunted in pain, but managed to grab the guy's arm again. They did a weird kind of two-step and then the kid pulled loose and shoved Richie as hard as he could. Richie staggered back, tried to regain his balance, then felt himself fall. His head connected hard with something and the last thing he remembered was a burst of white light behind his eyes and an explosion of pain. Then everything went very dark.

** ** **

"What is it about you, man?" Blair asked Jim as he knelt next to the red-head. "Do you just like, attract violence?"

Jim Ellison grinned cheerfully, securing the short kid's arms behind his back with his handcuffs. He only had the one pair but that was not a problem; the bigger kid was crouched by the door crying and repeating the Hail Mary in Spanish. He wasn't going anywhere. The waitress was still screaming, but now at the cook who had come running out to see what all the noise was about. Jim stuffed his prisoner into one of the booths and then stepped over to Sandburg. "How's the kid?"

"He's lucky that display case didn't shatter when he hit it, but he's still out cold. I don't know whether he fainted or what."

Jim frowned, his keen olfactory sense picking up a faint, familiar smell. Blood. He noticed a red smear on the sharp corner of the counter and dropped to one knee beside the kid and Blair, turning the kid's head very gently. "Damn. Looks like he hit his head." He bent over, one hand on the kid's throat, then straightened, pulling his cell phone from one pocket. "He's breathing okay, but his pulse is a little shocky. See if you can find some ID; I'll call an ambulance." One long arm snaked over and grabbed the kid's jacket. As Ellison tucked it closely around the boy's shoulders, he felt something hard and metallic in the pocket. It proved to be a key on a brown plastic ring with the words "Madison Motel" and a number 17 on it in scratched white paint. He frowned. "Madison Motel. That's a block or so from here, near the bus station." Remembering the piece of paper he'd seen fall to the floor earlier, Jim stepped over and picked it up. As he'd surmised it was a bus ticket, one way to Cascade from Seacouver.

Blair had managed to get the kid's wallet out of his pocket and was holding it as if he weren't sure what to do next. Jim took it from him, noticing almost absently that it looked new and fairly expensive. Inside was a driver's license in the name of Richard Ryan with a Seacouver address. The picture and description matched the kid on the floor. A little more exploration revealed a voter's registration card, sparkling white and new, a dog-eared Social Security card and a Blue Cross card, all belonging to Richard Ryan; thirty six dollars and change, a receipt from the Madison Motel made out to "Richie Smith" and some snapshots. Jim raised his eyebrows. The bus ticket and a false name on the hotel receipt could mean the young man was a runaway. He said as much out loud and Blair looked at him.

"How old is he?"

Jim had looked at the license, but hadn't paid much attention to the birthdate. He opened the wallet again. "Hmm. Well, he's eighteen, but just barely. His birthday was in September." He frowned, realizing that what at first looked like decorative stitching was in actually a hidden pocket with something stiff inside. "This is interesting," he commented, pulling out a gold MasterCard. "Issued from State Bank of Seacouver." He glanced up to see the look on Blair's face. "What is it?"

"It's just, I don't know, looking through his wallet seems a little nosy."

Jim stared at the younger man. "I'm a cop, Sandburg. He's an unconscious victim of a crime. What if he were a diabetic or something, or if he was allergic to some medication--?"

Blair held up a hand. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry, man. I just feel kind of-- funny about it."

"Well, don't. You didn't look through the wallet anyway, I did." Jim cocked his head, listening. "I think that's the ambulance now."

A faint moan caused both of them to look down. The kid's -- Richard Ryan's --eyelids were fluttering and he moaned again. After several seconds the eyes opened and he looked up at Blair. "Oh, my head."

Blair smiled. "Hurts, does it?" he asked.

"Don't try to move," Jim cautioned as the kid showed signs of wanting to get up. "There'll be an ambulance here in a minute to check you out."

Blue eyes, a little darker than Blair's, widened suddenly. "Ambulance? No, no way. I'm okay--" He started to sit up, only to fall back with a moan.

"Look, kid, Richard, I said don't move!" Jim put his hand on the kid's chest. "You just need to relax. Everything's going to be fine."

Ryan had his eyes closed tightly against the pain. Blair patted his shoulder reassuringly. "Listen to him. He used to be a medic. Besides, if you donít listen he'll just yell louder until you do."

"Funny, Sandburg." Without looking the Sentinel could tell the screeching tires outside belonged to a patrol car. "I'm going to take our would-be gunman over there outside. You stay here and don't let Richard move around." Blair nodded.

** ** **

Duncan had been gone for over an hour and Tessa was pacing back and forth, smoking one of her rare cigarettes and willing the cordless phone to ring.

She'd taken the "Closed" sign out of the window, hoping that business could provide a distraction; plus they'd been closed so much lately. Finally the jangling of the bell announced a customer and she turned in relief.

A man entered the shop. Tall, slender, early forties, with hair of an unusual silver blond color. He moved easily in a dark suit and a long overcoat that proclaimed Savile Row just by the cut and quality of the material. As he stepped near Tessa she caught the scent of expensive cologne.

"Can I help you?"

The man smiled, showing perfect white teeth. He was close enough now that she could see his eyes. Green eyes, with no warmth in them. Like polished agate.

"Dear lady. The pleasure would be mine, but I was looking for someone else." The voice was cultured, flavored with a faint accent that Tessa couldn't place. "I was in here a few days ago and a young man waited on me." He pulled a card out of his pocket and presented it to her with a faint inclination of the head.

Tessa's breath caught in her throat as she looked down at the card. Richard H. Ryan. Richie had had the cards made up and he had been so proud of them that both Tessa and Duncan had refrained from teasing him.

Tears stung her eyes and she turned away quickly, blinking them away. "I'm sorry, Richie isn't here right now--" she stopped as something occurred to her. Turning, she looked at the man again. "When did you say you were here?"

The man shrugged. "A few days ago. The young man was showing me a certain item; I decided to purchase it and I want to make sure he gets the commission. When do you expect him back?"

Tessa felt her heart start to pound heavily. The man was staring at her as if he could see right through her. Then his head came up and he looked around with a wary expression on his face. The expectant look changed to something else and before she could react he had turned to the door. "Another time, dear lady," he said, flinging the door open and running across the street, mindless of traffic. She just caught a glimpse of the car he got in--- it was a new-looking Mercedes-- before the door to the living quarters slammed open and Duncan stalked into the room, sword drawn. He surveyed the shop in a glance, then, seeing she was alone, laid his sword down on one of the display cases and rushed to her side. "Who was it? Did he try to hurt you?"

"No, I'm fine. I've never seen him before," Tessa replied, burying herself gratefully in his arms. "Duncan, he was looking for Richie. He had this card and said that Richie had waited on him a couple of days ago."

MacLeod stared at the scrap of paper in a kind of dawning horror. "Damn."

"What?" Tessa pushed away from him and stared into his face. "Duncan, what's wrong?" Belatedly she remembered that he'd gone to the warehouse. "Did you find something?"

"Yes. Someone's been living there. They built a fire, and there were a couple of Dr. Pepper cans and some junk food wrappers about."

Tessa drew in a deep breath at the name of Richie's favorite drink. "You think it was Richie?"

MacLeod hesitated, then reluctantly pulled something out of his pocket. With horror Tessa saw it was identical to the business card the stranger had brought in. "Richie had some of those in his wallet," she breathed.

"I know."

"So if Richie was there when Senator Bolt was killed--"

"He may have seen something, heard something."

"And you think that this man, this Immortal that was here, was the killer?"

"It's possible. Tessa, what did he look like?"

Tessa described the Immortal as best she could, including the cold green eyes and the unusual hair, but Duncan shook his head. "He doesn't sound like anyone I've ever met," he said.

The anguished look on his face almost broke Tessa's heart. "But Richie must be all right! I mean, this man was here looking for him, so he must not know where he is either. Duncan, shouldn't we call the police?"

"I don't know. Tessa, he's an Immortal!"

"But if the police think that Richie may have seen something, they'll at least look for him! And if we give them a description of the man who came here--"

MacLeod frowned. Finally he said, "You're right. You call Comanski and tell him we might have some information for him."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to see if I can track down Connor. Maybe he'll recognize an Immortal by that description."

** ** **

Richie was terrified.

He did not want to go to a hospital. He wanted to get up and get out of here, to go back to the bus station and get as far away as thirty-six dollars would take him. But every time he tried to move, either the big cop guy or his long-haired friend would gently push him back down, or his own whirling head would do the job for them.

When the paramedics came in they didn't listen to him either. The big guy, whose name, it appeared, was Ellison, flashed his badge and from then on Richie might as well have been invisible. Well, not invisible exactly because all the activity centered around him, but he didn't have any say about it.

The dizziness and the roaring in his ears got so bad that he closed his eyes, just for a few seconds he thought, but when he opened them again they had started an IV with some clear liquid in a bag. The sight of that huge needle stabbed into the crook of his arm made him even more dizzy and he laid back again, vaguely surprised to discover he was lying on a stretcher.

The young guy with the long hair stayed beside him, talking to him, and when the paramedics picked up the stretcher to put it in the back of the ambulance, he climbed in and sat by Richie's head. One of the paramedics climbed in too, and then the ambulance started moving with a jolt. The movement and the wailing siren merged with the pounding in his head and he closed his eyes with a moan.

"Do you feel sick?" someone asked. He couldn't tell if it was the paramedic or the other man; he didn't know what he answered or even if he answered, but hands rolled him over on his side. Just in time, too, as his stomach picked that moment to expel everything in it.

When it was over Richie fell back against the flat pillow under his throbbing head. "Damn," he muttered weakly, feeling cold tears streaming down his face. "That cost me six bucks."

Somebody chuckled and he forced his eyes open to focus on a pair of very blue ones looking down at him. The guy from the diner. He was holding Richie's hand and Richie, oddly enough, felt grateful for it.

"Who are you?" he croaked out.

"My name is Blair. Blair Sandburg." He smiled. He had a very warm smile. Richie squinted at him, trying to figure something out. "How old are you?"

"Twenty-six," Blair answered promptly. "How old are you, Richard?"

"Richie," the teen-ager corrected, then froze, feeling terror shoot through him. "How'd you know my name?"

"It was in your wallet." Funny thing, the guy almost looked embarrassed. "Is there anybody you want me to call when we get to the hospital?"

"Mac..." Richie started, then he remembered and shut his eyes, trying to force back the tears. Not Mac, not Tessa. They wouldn't want to hear from him now, and it wasn't safe... It's not safe? Why not?

"Mac who?" Blair asked insistently. "What's the phone number?"

Richie tried to shake his head which was a mistake. He whimpered at the pain spiraling through his skull, closing his eyes tightly again. He heard voices, heard the word "hospital", and knew he had to get away. He had to run! But he was tied down and Blair was holding on to his hand and he couldn't get free. His stomach heaved again, and he knew he was going to be sick but then the blackness came and with a sob of relief he surrendered to it.

** ** **

Comanski wasn't at his desk. The young man Tessa spoke with on the phone said he would have the detective call her as soon as he returned. He asked what the call was in reference to and she hesitated, then simply stated she had found some information the Commissioner wanted.

Tessa made omelets, remembering that neither she nor Duncan had eaten lunch. MacLeod came out of his office and announced that his kinsman Connor didn't recognize her description of the Immortal either. Duncan poured two glasses of wine as Tessa served the omelets. They were just sitting down to the table when the phone rang. Tessa jumped.

"It might be Comanski," Duncan commented. Tessa nodded and reached for the receiver.

It wasn't Comanski. It was Powell, and his first words made her heart leap into her throat.

"There's been a response on the Missing Persons Report you filed."

** ** **

Blair Sandburg sat in the waiting area off the Emergency Room of Cascade General, clutching the coat and a plastic bag containing the effects of Richie Ryan. The ER nurse had come out with the stuff shortly after the gurney carrying the young man had disappeared around the corner. Blair was politely, but firmly, detoured to the waiting area and presented with a clipboard of paperwork to complete. He managed to fill out the top section using the information from Richie's driver's license, then handed the papers and the Blue Cross card to the ward clerk.

With bureaucracy satisfied for the moment, he went through Richie's wallet, taking out everything, looking for a phone number or anything that might indicate who "Mac" was. He had no success with the first quest, but hit paydirt on the second. One of the snapshots, that looked like it had been cut down from a larger picture, was of Richie sitting on what looked like a fallen log. A beautiful blonde woman was seated next to him and a tall man with dark hair stood behind them, a hand resting lightly on both of their shoulders. The man and woman were older than Richie, but they didn't look quite old enough to be his parents. Blair flipped the picture over. Me. Mac and Tessa. On the Island. Blair sighed, then stuffed the picture back into the wallet. Pulling out the driver's license, he walked over to the nearest pay phone. Dialing long distance Information, he asked if there was a Seacouver listing for a Richie, Richard or R. Ryan, giving the street address on the license. He wasn't too surprised that there wasn't. Well, no real problem there; Jim could access the police department computer to find out the phone number that went with the license.

The nurse called his name and he looked up, then stood, gathering his coat and Richie's along with the bag containing the wallet, the motel key and another ring of keys. The nurse didn't say anything, but gestured for Blair to follow her. He did and found himself outside a curtained-off cubicle. A harried-looking doctor greeted him and said they were waiting on Radiology to come take some X-rays; that the young man was in and out of consciousness, in considerable pain and highly agitated. The doctor obviously assumed Blair was a relative, or at least a friend, and Blair didn't tell him any differently. He nodded agreement when the doctor asked him if he would be willing to try to calm the younger man down.

Richie's eyes were closed tightly when Blair slipped around the curtain into his cubicle. Dropping the coats in the corner, Blair came close to the bed, smiling at the nurse who was recording Richie's vitals. The IV was still going, there was an oxygen tube in his nose and a bank of monitors chirping, humming and beeping.

The nurse finished writing in the chart and patted Richie's hand. "Mr. Ryan, your friend is here." She said to Blair, "My name is Marcy. If you need me, just hit that red button there. Or yell, I'll hear you." Flashing a reassuring smile, she left, yanking the curtain closed behind her.

"Mac?" Richie asked hopefully. He cracked his eyes open and looked at Blair in confusion. "You're not Mac."

"No. I'm Blair. Remember me from the ambulance?"

Richie moved his head slightly, closing his eyes. "My head hurts," he moaned.

The doctor had told Blair they were reluctant to give the boy anything for the pain until they had an idea of what kind of injuries he had. Blair said, "I know it hurts. They're going to X-ray you soon and then they'll be able to figure out what to do." I hope, he added to himself. Blair was not all that trusting of modern medical practices, preferring a more natural, holistic approach. He decided to see if he could get some information. "Richie? I tried to call your friend Mac, but I don't know his number. Can you tell me what it is?"

"Five three--" the boy started, then stopped. "Mac doesn't want to hear from me." Even groggy and filled with pain, there was no disguising the desolation in his voice.

"You sure about that? What about," Blair remembered the woman in the picture, "What about Tessa?"

Richie's eyes opened at that. "I hurt her."

"You did? How?"

The curtain jerked back and an orderly entered, pushing a portable X-ray machine, the doctor Blair had spoken to right behind. "Okay, Richie," the doctor said, faking a cheerful voice, "We're going to take some pictures and then we'll be able to dim the lights in here a little bit. That should ease your headache."

Blair started to step away from the bed and was surprised when Richie grabbed at his wrist. "Are you going to leave?" There was no mistaking the fear on his face.

"No, not if you don't want me to," Blair soothed. "I'm just going to step right outside and get out of the way, okay? But I'll be right there."

Richie held his eyes for a second and then nodded, laying back. Giving him a reassuring grin, Blair slipped out.

Jim Ellison was waiting for him. He had gone onto the station while Blair had accompanied Richie to the hospital, in order to do the arrest report. Glancing at his watch, Blair was surprised to note it was almost six p.m. He'd lost track of time sitting in the waiting room.

Ellison face held a cat-ate-the-cream look that Blair was starting to recognize as meaning the detective was immensely pleased about something. "Hi, Chief," Ellison smiled. "How's the kid?"

"Scared and in pain. I'm not sure how much he's aware of whatís going on. What are you doing here?"

"Well, you need a ride home, don't you? Or were you planning to walk back to that demolition zone you live in?"

Blair hesitated. "Thanks, but I think I'll stay around for awhile." He rushed on, "Do you think maybe you could go back to the station and track down the phone number for Richie's address? I don't know if he lives with this 'Mac' person he asked for--"

"It's 'MacLeod' and yes, he does."

"What?" Blair stared at Jim, whose smug look deepened.

"After I got the juvenile delinquents booked, I called Len Powell. Heís a detective down in Seacouver; an old friend of Simon's." Blair nodded at the mention of Simon Banks, the Captain of Major Crimes and Jim's boss.

"And?" he prompted.

"And before I even got the kid's name out of my mouth, Powell was telling me there was a Missing Persons Report filed on him. Apparently, the kid's an orphan, been in and out of foster homes and shelters all his life. Powell didn't go into a lot of details, but somehow the kid ended up with a couple named Duncan MacLeod and Tessa Noel. Seems he disappeared several days ago after some kind of argument and they've been frantic ever since. Powell was going to call them and I gave him my cell--"

A ringing sound from underneath his coat stopped him. Ellison made a face as he finished "--phone number." He flipped the phone open. "Ellison... Yes, Mr. MacLeod?"

** ** **

While Duncan was still on the phone with the Cascade policeman, Tessa ran to their room and started throwing night things and toiletries into a weekender bag. She packed a change of clothes for both herself and Duncan, then went down the hall to Richie's room and found some jeans, a clean T-shirt, and a sweater, and put them into the bag together with a couple of pairs of underwear and socks. She carried the bag out to the living room. Duncan was still on the phone, with Powell this time, canceling the Missing Persons Report. He ended the conversation hastily and hung up. "I called the airport. There's a small commuter flight between Seacouver and Cascade, but it's already booked for tonight. And it would probably take almost as long to fly into Sea-Tac and rent a car, then drive to Cascade, as it would to just drive the whole way. We should be able to make it in four hours, maybe less if traffic isn't too bad around Seattle."

"Where is Richie?"

"Well, right now he's in the hospital." Duncan reached for her hand to reassure her. "He was involved in an attempted robbery and he got knocked in the head; apparently he's awake and talking so maybe it isn't very bad."

"He tried to rob someone?" Tessa was sad but resigned. After all, they had met Richie when he tried to rob the antique store. But Duncan shook his head.

"No, apparently he was something of a hero. He kept a waitress from getting shot." He took the suitcase from her hand. "I asked Detective Ellison not to tell Richie we were on our way."

Tessa, who had been following him through the apartment, stopped dead. "Why?"

"Because I don't think Richie is thinking right now, he's just reacting. He's been reacting ever since Felicia staggered in here. Plus, if he did see something the night Markham Bolt was killed, he's likely to be in a panic."

Tessa had forgotten about the Immortal visitor. "Oh, Duncan. Do you think Richie's in danger?"

"He should be safe enough. No one but you and I, and now Powell, knows where he is."

** ** **

Jim Ellison closed his cell phone thoughtfully. Blair had gone down the hall for coffee and he accepted a styrofoam cup from the younger man's hand. "That's funny," he said aloud, taking a deep breath. He made a face as his taste buds were assaulted by a fluid that tasted strangely like lineament.

"What's funny? Is that MacLeod guy going to come here?"

"Yeah, he said he would be leaving right away. But he doesn't want the kid to know he's coming."

Blair frowned. "Why not?"

"I don't know, he said something about Richie tending to run first and ask questions later. Seems real odd to me... I don't think that kid's going anywhere for awhile--" He broke off as the sounds of yelling pierced his ears. One didn't need to be a Sentinel to hear it; Blair turned too. A nurse popped out of Richie's cubicle and looked around, then spotted Blair and beckoned frenziedly for him. Blair tossed his coffee cup toward a trash can and took off down the hall, Jim close on his heels.

Richie Ryan had managed to pull himself to a sitting position and was struggling to get off the bed. The doctor was trying to gently shove him back down with one hand while the other waved an X-ray film in the air. "Look, Richard, if you would just calm down--"

"I am not spending the night in this place. You can't keep me here against my will."

The doctor caught sight of Blair with Jim looming behind him and said, "Mr. Sandburg, a little help here? Richard... Mr. Ryan seems to think he can leave."

"Mr. Ryan" was having great difficulty even maintaining his balance. Blair hastened to other side of the bed and grasped his shoulder. "Look, Richie, you need to relax."

"I won't stay here. I can't stay here!" Panic colored the kid's tone. "Look, I'm eighteen, okay, I'm an adult. I'll sign whatever papers you put in front of me, but I won't stay here--"

"Why not?" Jim interjected in his most reasonable tone. Blair was on one side of the kid and the doctor on the other; the detective stood at the foot of the bed and stared the kid down.

Richie blinked, then winced, one hand flying to his head. "I don't have any health insurance."

"Yes, you do," Jim returned evenly. "We found the card in your wallet."

"It's been canceled," Ryan muttered hastily.

"No it hasn't," Jim said. Actually, he had no idea whether it had or not, but he could tell the kid was making up excuses.

The doctor waved the X-ray in front of Blair, who hadn't said anything. "He has a concussion. He could have a subdural hematoma or any number of other things. He needs to at least spend the night here, where we can wake him up every few hours and make sure he doesn't slip into a coma."

"That makes sense," Jim pointed out. "Head injuries are nothing to mess around with, kid."

The teenager had calmed a little, but he started struggling again at Jim's matter-of-fact tones. "I need to get out of here. I'm not going to go into a coma and I don't have a subdural tomato thing." He glared viciously at the doctor who was trying to inject something into his IV. "Don't you dare! I'm fine! Just let me out of here!"

"You are not fine," the doctor fired back.

Ellison thought this whole argument was academic; he could tell from the pallor of Richie's face, as well as his erratic breathing and wild heartbeat, that the kid was probably going to pass out soon. He doubted if he'd even make it to the door. And once the kid was unconscious the hospital could do whatever they wanted. Before he could point that out, though, another voice spoke up.

"He can go home with me," Blair volunteered.

"What?" Ellison, the doctor and Richie all said, in varying tones of shock, fury and relief.

Blair shrugged and ignored Richie and the fuming detective, speaking directly to the physician. "Look, you said he needed to stay calm and quiet, he obviously can't do that if he's fighting every minute about being here. I have the room and I know what to look for, I'll wake him up every two hours and make sure he's responsive and if anything goes wrong I only live about ten minutes from here."

"Sandburg, are you nuts?" Jim bellowed. No one paid any attention to him.

"Man, that's nice of you, but--" Richie said weakly, finally relaxing back on the bed.

Blair raised his eyebrows. "It's either me or the hospital, Richie. You try to dismiss yourself against medical advice and we'll just have to follow you until you keel over, which should be somewhere around the parking lot." He jerked his head at Jim. "You know he's a cop. He can arrest you for vagrancy and handcuff you to the hospital bed."

In spite of his fury, Jim had to suppress a smile. Give Sandburg his due, he was a master at BS. Vagrancy. Now that was a good one, although since Richie Ryan apparently had taken a room at the Madison Motel, he technically wasn't a vagrant. But either the kid didn't know that or Blair's self-assured tone convinced him otherwise, because he gave Jim a wary look through sunken blue eyes and relaxed a little, nodding his head.

"Okay," he said faintly.

"Okay?" Blair repeated, although Jim couldn't tell if he was talking to Richie or the doctor or both.

The doctor hesitated, glancing from Richie to Blair and back again. "It would be for the best if he stayed here," he started, but he must have seen the stubborn expression on the kid's face as well as Jim could. "Okay," he surrendered. "But you follow my instructions to the letter, and you," he continued, turning on Blair, "keep a close eye on him and bring him back in if he won't wake up, if he starts talking strangely, anything."

"Now wait a second," Jim broke in. Blair and the doctor both glanced at him like they'd forgotten he was even there. "Can I have a word with you, Chief? Out in the hall, maybe?"

Blair nodded and looked back at the doctor. "Is Richie ready to go?"

The man sighed in defeat. "Let me put together some things you may need, and then I'll start getting the paperwork in order."

Blair looked down at the kid in the bed. "You just relax and cooperate, okay? I'll be right back."

** ** **

"Sandburg, are you nuts?" Jim repeated as soon as they were away from the green curtain. "Hate to tell you this, Chief, but this isn't a stray cat we're talking about here, it's a human being with what could be a severe injury; a human being, by the way, whom you know nothing about. He could be a ax-murderer or a con man or a --" words failed the detective as all the possibilities flooded his brain.

Blair leaned against the wall and folded his arms across his chest. "And in all probability he's just a hurt kid who is all alone and scared," he pointed out. "You saw him, Jim, he can barely sit up, much less heft an ax."

"And why exactly is he your responsibility, anyway?" Jim demanded.

"Oh, that's priceless coming from you, Mr. Sentinel." Jim jumped and looked around, even though Blair's voice had deliberately been pitched too low for anyone else to hear. "We are all responsible for our fellow denizens of Mother Earth."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Oh, please! In what free-love, new-age commune did you learn that piece of tripe? Or is that what they teach in Ph.D. school these days?"

Blair's eyes lit up, even though only a trace of a grin crossed his face. "Actually, my mom taught me that a long time ago. And she is pretty new-age. Look, Jim, he did keep that waitress from getting shot; you said yourself that you couldn't have stopped that guy without shooting him, so Richie in a way saved all three of you. Besides, I know what it's like to be all alone and sick in a hospital with no one around."

"Oh?" Jim raised his eyebrows and waited, but Blair clammed up. With a deep, heartfelt sigh, Jim shrugged. "Fine. Have it your way. But if he's spending the night with you, I am. too. Besides, I was a medic in the Army, I'm fairly sure I know more about head injuries than you do."

"Hey, man, you're always welcome at my place." Battle won, Blair regarded him with a sunny smile. "I've got an extra blanket, and there's plenty of floor."

Jim groaned. "I'll go by my place and get my sleeping bag. Maybe stop by the grocery, too, since I've seen what you try to pass off as food. You just get yourself and our young hero home and I'll meet you there." Jim turned on his heel and stalked for the exit, wondering for roughly the zillionth time in the last month just what saint he'd pissed off in order to have Blair Sandburg in his life.

** ** **

The rain, which had been little more than an irritating drizzle when they left, turned into a horrendous deluge before they'd gone fifty miles. MacLeod peered through the T-Bird's windshield, muttering ancient oaths from his childhood. Tessa huddled in the passenger seat, shivering despite the car's laboring heater.

MacLeod had chosen to take the Coast Highway; it was the shortest route and it missed most of Seattle. Unfortunately it was two-lane much of the way and signs warned of the hazards of mudslides and falling rock. At Duncanís direction, Tessa pulled out a road map and flipped on the overhead light to study it. "We can detour over to the Interstate just after we pass Alton Beach. That's about ten miles up the road-- Duncan! Look out!"

MacLeod swerved the wheel wildly to avoid a large rock that plummeted to the road. Smaller rocks and gravel caught in the wake pelted the classic car as its driver fought to maintain control. Finally the T-Bird skidded to a halt on the opposite edge of the road, facing the oncoming traffic, had there been any. MacLeod flipped on the hazard lights and reached over for Tessa. "You all right, sweetheart?"

She nodded, and melted into his welcoming arms with a little sob. They clung to each other tightly until her shivering was less and then she pulled away, grabbing some tissues for her face. "I swear, after we see Richie and I know he's all right, I think I'll strangle him! What was he thinking?"

MacLeod laughed a little at her opposing urges. "I said before, Tessa, I don't think he is thinking. He's just running."

"From what?" she demanded. "Felicia is gone. Why didn't he come home that night? Why did he go to the warehouse? The murder just happened Monday; he's been gone since Friday night."

MacLeod didn't answer. He was remembering the fight on the beach. Richie's face when he begged for Felicia's life. And then the look on his face when he'd said, "Mac, I'm sorry," and Duncan, exhausted, angry at Felicia, at Richie, but most of all at himself for ever letting the woman into their lives, hadn't answered. He'd turned away from the teenager, walking along the beach until he'd felt calmer. When he returned to the spot more than an hour later, Felicia was just stirring, and Richie was nowhere to be seen. MacLeod had assumed the boy had gone home. Maybe if he'd said something to the kid, or looked for him before he went back to the apartment, none of this would have happened.

Silently, Duncan started the car and turned back onto the highway.

** ** **

They were just south of Alton Beach when they saw flashing lights ahead. The rain was so heavy MacLeod could barely make out a figure waving at him to halt. The man jogged closer and leaned into the open driverís side window. Water dripped from his hat and soaked his yellow slicker. "You folks heading into Alton Beach? 'Cause the road is closed just past there."

"We're trying to get to the cut-off to the Interstate," MacLeod answered.

The policeman shook his head. "You can't get through. Mudslide early this morning. Where you heading?"

"Cascade. It's urgent that we get there as quickly as possible."

The man shook his head again. "No way. Not before morning. Coast Highway is closed from here to Seattle, rockslides, mudslides, you name it. The road crews think they'll have the slide cleared by midmorning at the latest, and then you could get through to the Interstate. But tonight, no way. Your best bet is to get a room in Alton Beach and wait it out, get a fresh start in the morning. Rain's supposed to slacken off about sunrise."

Tessa and Duncan stared at each other in dismay.

** ** **

"You live here?" Richie asked fuzzily as the taxi drew to a halt in front of a dark warehouse. Blair hopped out and came around to help the younger man.

"Yeah." Blair supported Richie's weight; the kid was none too steady on his feet. "Just me and about a thousand rats."

Richie stopped dead. "Rats?"

"Hey, I'm just kidding," Blair assured him. Actually, the warehouse did have rats, but they usually stayed out of sight. Richie was dragging and he wouldn't be awake long enough to see them anyway.

"Oh," the kid said, starting forward again. Blair got the door opened and got them inside and Richie looked around blearily. "Nice."

Blair laughed. "You don't have to be so polite. I know what it looks like. But I just can't stand campus life, living in a dorm you know, and the rent on this place is within my price range, plus I don't have any close neighbors to annoy."

"No, I meant it," Richie insisted. "I've seen worse. Hell, I've lived in worse."

Blair looked at him closely, seeing the sincerity in his face. He helped the kid take off his jacket and guided him to sit down on the lumpy couch he'd scavenged from the Salvation Army. "You sit there for a minute. I'll get the heaters going and find you a sweater or something to put on." Richie's T-shirt was stained with blood and Betadine from the hospital. "How's your head?"

Richie closed his eyes against the ceaseless pounding in his skull. "Ummm, well, terrible."

Blair chuckled as he rummaged through his clothes for a clean pair of sweatpants and a dark blue sweatshirt. "Here. These should fit okay and they'll be warmer and more comfortable to sleep in than jeans." Richie accepted the clothes and looked around. Blair said, "The bathroom's up there, but why don't you wait a bit. I'm going to make some herb tea. It'll warm you up."

Richie closed his eyes again. Herb tea. Mac would love this guy. There was a heavy blanket of some kind behind him and he wrapped it around his shoulders, snuggling into the warmth. There was something at the back of his mind, something he knew he should be worrying about, but the head injury and exhaustion combined to send him into a somnolent daze. He was vaguely aware of sounds, a teakettle whistling, the ringing of the phone, Blair's low voice; but he didn't pay attention as his body slowly relaxed for the first time in what seemed like forever. The couch dipped beside him and he felt a warm mug being pressed against his hand. "Richie?"

"Hmmm?"

"Look, man, I know you're sleepy, but try to drink a little of this, okay? The doctor gave me some pills he insisted you take, then you can crash for awhile."

Richie pried his eyelids open and accepted the heavy white mug Blair was pressing into his hand. He sniffed the tea suspiciously. "What's in it?"

"Chamomile, comfrey, vivian, some other things. It'll ease your head."

Yep, definitely Mac's kind of guy. He sipped the liquid cautiously. It wasn't too bad; hot chocolate would have been better, but this was light and almost fruity. He took another sip and looked around him. "Wow. Some place."

"Have you ever lived in a warehouse before?"

Richie jumped, cursed as the hot liquid sloshed over his hands. Blair leaned forward and snatched the mug before more could be spilled. "Hey, man, easy! It was just a question. I guess that was a 'yes', huh?"

Richie didn't answer. Blair leaned back and studied him carefully, then nodded to himself. "So how long have you been on the streets?"

"I'm not!" Richie protested. "I mean, I was, but I'm not, well, I wasn't."

Blair snorted. "You sound more like me than I do!" He handed the mug back to Richie. "That was Jim on the phone earlier."

"Jim? Oh. The cop."

"Yeah, I guess the two of you never introduced yourselves. Jim Ellison. He went by his place and then he was going to go by the Madison Motel and pick up your stuff."

It was Richie's turn to snort. "He doesn't need to. My 'stuff' consists of a toothbrush, a razor and a comb." He didn't mention all three were new, bought within the last few days.

There was a long silence, but it was not an uncomfortable silence. For some reason Richie felt safe with Blair. Maybe because Blair had seemed to understand how he felt at the hospital, perhaps because the student wasn't that much older than Richie. In the last few months, since moving in with Mac and Tessa, Richie hadn't been around many people his own age. Tessa was thirty-five, but she was so sophisticated and elegant and so French that Richie often felt as gauche as a child around her. Mac of course was an Immortal, four hundred years old even though to all appearances he was only in his thirties also. Richie had met several of their friends, but they were all like Tessa, rich and cultured and educated about things he didn't even have a hope of knowing. Maybe that was why he had fallen so hard for Felicia-- he gave a little gasp at the thought of her swinging that sword at Mac. His eyes popped open and he looked around wildly. Blair was gone and both mugs were sitting on the packing crate in front of the couch. Richie realized he'd fallen asleep.

"Richie? Did you say something?" Blair appeared from somewhere carrying a plastic tumbler and two bottles of pills. He looked sharply at Richie's face. "Hey, man, what is it? Your head worse?"

"It can't get any worse, I hope. I'm okay. I was just, remembering something."

Blair looked at him with those understanding blue eyes, seeming to hear more than Richie was saying. "Well, here. Take these miracles of modern medicine and then I'll help you to the bathroom."

** ** **

Blair pulled the thickest, warmest blanket he owned over Richie's sleeping body and turned off the lights closest to the bed, leaving that area deep in shadow. He set the alarm for two hours hence and then wearily plodded to the couch. It was growing colder in the warehouse so he wrapped himself in the Serape blanket before lifting his laptop into his lap. Jim should arrive shortly.

Blair closed his eyes for a minute, suddenly aware of just how exhausted he was. It was tempting to just give in and take a nap, but he had way too much to do.

It never failed. No sooner had he pulled up his notes and gotten well and truly engrossed in the lecture he was preparing on Death Rituals among Native American Tribes, than the phone rang again. Blair jumped, cursed, and looked around to see where he had left it this time. He set the laptop aside and disentangled himself from the blanket, lunging across the room to silence the shrill ringing.

"Oh. Mr. Sandburg? Dr. Kyle Green here. From Cascade General, I treated Richard Ryan tonight?"

It was a good thing he added the last bit because Blair wouldnít have known his name. "Oh. Yes, Doctor?"

"Well. This may not be important, but I felt you should know. A man came here oh, fairly soon after you and Mr. Ryan left. He said he was Richard Ryan's father and demanded to see him. The Admissions clerk told him that Richard had been discharged and he became most upset, yelling and making quite a scene. Security had to escort him out of the building."

"Richie's father?" Blair repeated. "I hardly think that's possible."

"Well, I saw the man. I would think he was too young to have an eighteen year-old son, but appearances can be deceiving."

"I'll talk to Richie when I wake him up next time, but I'm sure there must be some mistake. Thank you for letting me know." There was a faint tone of dismissal in his voice.

A short, unhappy silence on the other end of the line. Finally the voice said, "I'm afraid there's something else."

Blair felt cold chills up his back. He clutched the phone tightly as he said, "Oh?"

"You see, the Night Shift clerk is very new and very young and well, somewhat stupid. So when someone called about an hour ago saying he was Richard's father and asking with whom he had left --"

"--She gave him my name," Blair finished.

"No actually it's worse than that. She gave him your address."

** ** **

"She did what? " Jim exploded.

"Sssh! Not so loudly." Blair cast an anxious look over toward the bed, but Richie hadn't moved since he'd settled him there. A quick glance at the clock confirmed that he still had over half an hour before he needed to wake the younger man. Ellison was checking the doors to make sure they were locked.

"Damn, Sandburg! This lock doesn't even catch!"

"I know," Blair responded. He grabbed a straight backed chair and propped it against the door. "I secure it this way." He felt himself flushing at Jim's incredulous stare. "Well, I do when I remember," he muttered. "It's not like I have anything that valuable to steal anyway."

"What about your life?" Jim asked pointedly. Satisfied that the warehouse was as secure as he could make it, he collapsed on the couch and surveyed his surroundings. "It's freezing in here."

Blair silently handed him a blanket and fiddled with the control of the small space heater he'd bought at a garage sale. "I'll make some hot tea," he volunteered.

"Why don't you just turn up the heat?"

"Well, I don't ah, exactly have heat. The building isn't heated." He rushed on at Jim's incredulous stare, "Well, it's so big and drafty I wouldn't be able to afford to heat it anyway. So, did you get Richie's stuff from the motel?"

Jim pulled out a small paper bag and tossed it on the coffee table. "That is the extent of Mr. Ryan's worldly possessions." He rubbed his jaw. "I don't like this mystery 'father' turning up so suddenly. What did Ryan have to say about it?"

"He doesn't know. He was already asleep when the call came." Blair put two earthenware mugs on a matching tray and carried it to the couch. "So whoever called probably wasn't Richie's father--"

"I got the distinct impression from talking to MacLeod and Len Powell that Richie doesn't have a father. At least not one he knows about." Jim picked up the mug and stared into it doubtfully. "This isn't some dried weeds or something, is it, Sandburg?"

"It came from a box, man. So who was it? MacLeod, maybe? Did he fly instead of drive?"

Jim took a cautious sip of the brew and made a face. "No way it could be him," he said, standing and heading for the kitchen area. "He called, when I was on my way here. He and his girlfriend hit a roadblock on the Coast Highway. There's been some bad mudslides down there and they can't get here until tomorrow. They're holed up in a motel. He gave me the number, in case Richie took a turn for the worse. I didn't tell him where Richie was, just told him to call me when they got to town." He opened a cupboard and poked around in it. "Okay, Chief, where do you keep the sugar?"

"Refined sugar is a poison." Blair relented at Jim's glare. "There's some honey on top of the refrigerator." He slumped down on the couch. "Richie and I talked a bit, before he fell asleep. He didn't say much, but I think you're right. He's on the run from something, or somebody."

"And I have an idea who," Jim grunted, sitting back down. He pulled his small spiral notebook out of his pocket. "There's something about this Duncan MacLeod guy that doesn't add up."

Blair glanced at the sheets closely covered with Jim's handwriting. "What did you do, run a check on him?"

"On both of them." Jim held up a hand to forestall the protest Blair started to make. "Look Chief, you've spent the last month telling me I'm some kind of protector of the tribe, right? You're a member of that tribe; plus, at the moment you are the only thing keeping me functional. So I'm going to check out some waif you drag home."

Blair controlled his annoyance with an effort. "So? What did you learn?"

"Duncan MacLeod has no actual criminal record; but he does seem to turn up a lot when the Seacouver PD investigates mysterious happenings. He's an antique dealer, owns a shop in Seacouver and also agents for several people, including our esteemed governor, and the Bolt family. Seems rather well off. Became Richie Ryan's court-appointed guardian in August. Ryan apparently had a juvenile record, but it was sealed when he turned eighteen. Don't know what he'd done."

"Theft, mostly," a voice said from the bed. Richie sat up, blinking in the dim light. "Look, Detective, Mac didn't take me in for anything illegal or immoral or whatever you're thinking. He's a good guy."

"How are you feeling?" Blair asked.

Richie rubbed his temples and winced. "Like they're playing the Superbowl in my skull, complete with half time activities," he admitted sourly.

"You can have another pain pill," Blair offered.

"In a minute. It hurts, but I can think clearly for a change. Look, Detective Ellison, I heard part of what you said. Mac and Tessa are good people. They've done more for me in the last couple of months than anybody else has my whole life. I'm the one that screwed it up."

Jim frowned, but not because of what Richie had said. "Do you hear something?" he asked Blair.

"Just the wind rattling the overhead doors," Blair said.

"No, it's something else, like a scratching..." Jim concentrated. "It's gone now." He directed his attention back to Richie. "So this MacLeod is a great guy, been great to you, and you run away?"

Even Blair could hear the sharply inhaled breath. "No-- it wasn't--"

The power went out, plunging the building into cold darkness.

** ** **

Mac focused on the small alarm clock next to the bed. The red digital readout showed 2:43 a.m. From the sound of rain drumming on the motel balcony, the storm was still going strong.

Carefully, so as not to disturb the soundly sleeping Tessa, he slid out of the bed and walked over to the window, pulling the drapes back and staring unseeingly into the sheets of rain.

The Alton Beach Best Western wasn't the Ritz, but the room was clean, the water ran hot in the shower and the bed was deliciously comfortable. Worn out from six restless, worrying nights, Tessa had fallen into a deep sleep immediately. As far as she was concerned, the worst was over. They'd get to Cascade, Richie would be fine; whatever misunderstandings or hurt feelings that had caused him to run away in the first place would be resolved and by this time tomorrow the three of them would be back home. Even the suspicion that Richie might have seen Markham Bolt's murder didn't disturb her terribly; Richie would tell the police, the murderer would be apprehended and that would be that.

Duncan wasn't so sure. He couldn't ignore the nagging feeling in the back of his mind that was yelling at him to get to Richie now. Richie was in some kind of trouble, he just knew it.

Maybe they should have left a message for Comanski, or maybe Duncan should have told that Detective Ellison that Richie might know something about the murder. Why hadn't he?

MacLeod knew why. He took care of his own. Tessa, Richie, they were his family; his to protect and Duncan simply didn't trust anyone else to do it.

The phone rang. Duncan crossed the room in two swift strides and grabbed it, silencing it before it could ring again and wake Tessa. "Yes?"

"Front desk, Mr. MacLeod. You wanted to be informed about the state of the roads? We just got word they've cleared the slide north of town and the highway is clear to the Interstate cut-off."

Duncan thanked the clerk and hung up the phone. He glanced at the clock again, then at Tessa. Making up his mind, he gently shook her awake. "Come on, sweetheart, it's time to go."

** ** **

"Well, it's not the breaker," Jim announced, shaking the flashlight in a vain effort to keep the batteries alive. He cocked his head. "Sure you paid the electric bill this month, Chief?"

"Ha ha, yes I paid the bill. It's probably the storm." Blair picked up the phone, started to punch in a number, than stopped with a muffled curse. "Phone's out too. Jim, can I use your cellular? I'll call Cascade Utility, see if they know--"

"The electricity and the phone are both out?" Jim interrupted, alarm bells going off in his head. "That's it. We're getting out of here."

"What?" Blair exclaimed. "Jim, it's pouring! Where will we go?"

"My place."

Blair stared at him. "Does this have anything to do with the phone call from the hospital?"

"What phone call?" Richie asked, his voice fuzzy.

"Somebody showed up at the hospital claiming to be your father and the hospital gave them Sandburg's address," Ellison told him.

"My father?" Richie repeated, confused. "I don't have one-- oh, my God!" Panic drenched his words as he scrabbled out of the bed, only to pitch forward on his hands and knees.

Jim and Blair reached him at the same time. Jim bodily hauled him back to the bed. "What are you so afraid of, Ryan? Or who?"

Richie looked like he was trying to answer, but the sudden movements had been too much for him. His eyes rolled back in their sockets as he collapsed bonelessly on the bed.

"Great," Jim groused. He wrapped the blanket around the young man and lifted him easily over his shoulder. "Get your coat and shoes back on, Chief, we're getting out of here."

Even in the short time he'd known Jim Ellison, Blair had learned the futility of arguing when the older man used that tone. He shoved his feet into shoes, threw his damp coat around his shoulders, and led the way to the door. Jim looked out first. The rain, if anything, had intensified and he could barely see the hulk of Blair's Corvair. His truck was across the street. "We'll take your car, it's the closest. Got your keys?"

Blair pulled them out of his pocket in answer and started out the door. "Can you manage Richie?"

"We're fine. Just go on and unlock the doors."

Standing water was well over ankle-deep. Jim shambled through it, following the slighter figure of the anthropologist. Blair got the car doors opened, turning on the ignition and automatically turning the radio down and the heat up, before twisting to help Jim settle Richie in the back seat. The teenager was still unconscious and Jim supported his head as he laid him across the seat. Then he ran around to the passenger side.

"Fasten your seat belt," Blair said hurriedly as he put the car into gear. Jim's hand came down on top of his.

"Stop the car!"

Blair had barely touched the gas pedal, now he yanked his foot away as if it were burning hot. "What's wrong?"

"The car--when you put it in gear it made a funny sound, like a click."

"Jim, if this is another crack about my car--"

"No. We're not going to risk it. We'll take the truck." He opened the door, only to jerk back as the window shattered from the impact of a high-caliber bullet.

"Sandburg! Get down!"

Blair was already doubled over in the seat. Jim covered him with his body as another bullet punched through the back windshield, spewing shattered glass over Richie's still form. "That's a military issue rifle," Ellison muttered. Two more bullets blasted the car. Blair gasped and tightened his arms around his head.

Jim pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched in the speed code for Police Dispatch. "This is Ellison, Major Crimes! Officer and two civilians pinned down, shots fired, officer needs assistance! Repeat, we are under fire!" He gave the address and waited for the operator to repeat it before he closed the phone. "You okay, Sandburg?"

"I don't have any holes in me, if that's what you mean. Is it over?"

"Stay down!" Jim snapped. He raised his head cautiously, focusing on the roof of the building across the street. Sentinel-enhanced vision spotted a figure climbing down the fire escape ladder, a rifle swung over one shoulder. Ordering Sandburg to stay still, Ellison kicked the passenger door open and slithered out onto the pavement, gun at the ready. He heard sirens coming closer. Must have been a unit already in the vicinity, he thought, rising to his knees and scanning the area. The gunman he'd seen was gone. Jim heard a car motor start up. "Damn!" he swore, jumping to his feet and racing across the street. Taillights vanished into the rain; seconds later a squad car screeched around the corner on two wheels.

Jim holstered his gun and jogged back to the car. Blair was rather shakily leaning into the back seat, carefully picking glass shards off of Richie with his left hand. His right hung awkwardly at his side. Jim smelled blood.

"Chief," he said sharply, reaching for Blair's arm, "You're hurt!"

"Just a piece of glass in my shoulder," Blair gasped.

"Let me see." Gently, Jim turned Blair around and ran his fingers over the other man's back and shoulders. Sandburg stiffened and gave a little gasp of pain. "Damn," Jim swore.

"What?" Blair's voice was trembling.

"That's not a piece of glass, Chief. That's a bullet."

** ** **

The waiting area was twelve paces deep, twenty paces long. Jim knew this because he had paced both ways repeatedly since arriving at the hospital with Blair and Richie. The younger men were being cared for now and no one had come to give the detective any information yet.

His boss, Simon Banks, had been and gone already, promising to get units out looking for the gunman. Both he and Jim knew it would probably be a wasted effort; the heavy rain had prohibited Jim from seeing the man very clearly or catching the license plate of his car. The only things that Jim was sure about was that the assailant had been male, approximately five-ten, and that his hair had been blond, almost silver blond.

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim looked up to see a tired-looking, middle-aged woman wearing a white lab coat over green surgical scrubs. She approached him with her hand outstretched. "Dr. Patsy Kinser. You're with Blair Sandburg?"

"How is he?" Jim demanded.

"He's going to be just fine. The bullet barely lodged in his shoulder, we got it out with only a local anesthetic. He's a little shocky, but that may be more from the circumstances than the injury. I'd like to keep him here for a couple of hours, just to be on the safe side, but we probably don't need to admit him."

Jim drew in a deep breath and let it out in relief. "That's good news, Doctor. Thank you so much. How about the other one? Richie Ryan?"

"I don't know, I didn't work on him. I believe he's going to be admitted, but his doctor should be with you shortly."

"Can I see Blair?"

"Sure. He's in Treatment Room 7."

** ** **

Blair had been given a mild sedative and was groggy, but still worried about Richie. Jim soothed him as well as he was able, then when Sandburg drifted off to sleep the detective went looking for someone who could tell him about the teenager. Surprisingly, that someone turned out to be the same doctor that had seen the youth the first time. "Well, Detective, I get my way this time," Dr. Green said with grim humor. "I'm going to admit Richie to the hospital."

"How is he?"

"He has several cuts from the glass, a couple required stitches. One cut near his jugular could have been very bad indeed. But I think it will heal without even scarring. He's drifting in and out of consciousness. Would you mind speaking with him? Heís very worried about you and Mr. Sandburg and he doesn't seem to believe me when I tell him you're both fine."

Jim felt vaguely ashamed of himself. Part of him had been blaming Richie for Blair getting hurt. He followed Dr. Green into another cubicle, this one with blue walls instead of green.

Richie was again hooked up to an IV and monitors. His eyes were bleary and unfocused and there were dressings on his neck and both hands. When he caught sight of Jim he started to struggle upwards. Jim gently pushed him back. "Easy, kid, don't try to move around."

"You're okay?" Richie asked faintly. "Blair?"

Jim patted his shoulder. "He's okay. Down the hall, but he'll be out of here in a couple of hours. They're going to have to admit you this time, Richie."

The blue eyes were filled with fear. "No--"

"They have to, kid. No argument." He paused. "Richie, I need to know what's going on. Somebody tried to kill us. But I don't think they were after 'us'; I think they were after you. Is that right?"

After a long moment, Richie nodded, then his eyes drifted shut. "Richie? Do you know who it is?"

There was no response.

"Detective?"

Jim turned around. Dr. Green was standing just inside the doorway. "These people say they are Richie's family."

Jim tensed and reached automatically for his gun. A woman came in first, tall, beautiful, with long blonde hair and warm eyes which widened with anguish when they saw Richie. She would have raced to the bed if Jim hadn't moved to stop her. "Ma'am, just one second--"

"Detective Ellison? I am Duncan MacLeod." It was the same faintly accented voice he'd heard twice before over the phone.

Jim let go of the woman, who promptly slipped to Richie's side, picking up his hand and speaking softly in French to the unconscious teen. Jim studied the man whoíd entered the room behind her. Long, dark hair, pulled back. Tall, his own height or maybe taller, but a little thinner. Jim correctly concluded that the body under those expensive but casual clothes was in excellent condition.

MacLeod's focus, like the woman's, was on Richie Ryan. He swiftly moved past Ellison to the other side of the bed, where he laid his hand lightly on the boy's forehead. Jim moved so he could see his face. In that second he revised his opinion of Mr. Duncan MacLeod somewhat. No matter what else might be going on, the man obviously cared deeply about the boy.

"Hey, Tough Guy," Jim heard him whisper. The woman, a brilliant smile lighting her face, reached over and grasped his free hand.

The monitor gave a slight "blip" and Jim noticed that Richie's pulse and respiration had elevated slightly. After several seconds his eyes opened. The detective watched with interest as the boy first focused on MacLeod, then the woman, then back at MacLeod.

It was an amazing thing. The fear that had been in Richie's eyes ever since the first time Jim had noticed him slid away. "Mac?" the boy whispered. "I'm not dreaming? You're really here?"

"We're really here," MacLeod confirmed gently. "And we'll stay right here until you're ready to go home."

"Home?" The boy's eyes filled with tears. "You mean, back to Seacouver, back to the shop?"

"Home, Richie. Back home with us."

"Where you belong," the woman added, leaning closer to the bed. Richie moved his head slightly to look at her and his face shadowed. "Don't cry, Tess," he protested, apparently not realizing there were tears brimming in his own eyes.

Behind them Dr. Green cleared his throat. "We'll be moving him up to his room in a few minutes. I'm going to step out to the desk; just ring the bell if you need anything."

MacLeod looked up and nodded his head. Then he saw Ellison, apparently realizing for the first time the detective was still in the room. He frowned, puzzled.

Jim briskly stepped to the foot of the bed, ignoring the voice inside that urged him to step out and let this family reunite in peace. "I'm glad you're here, Mr. MacLeod. I was just asking Richie... who is trying to kill him? And why?"

MacLeod stiffened. For a brief flash Jim wondered if he was going to protest. The expression on Jim's face must have deterred him because he turned back to the teenager in the bed. MacLeod patted Richie's shoulder. "It's going to be all right, Rich. Just tell Detective Ellison what you saw."

Richie sighed. "You know, Mac?"

"I know you were hiding out at the warehouse."

Richie squinted a little in the harsh fluorescent light. His eyes were fixed on MacLeod's face as he whispered, "I saw him shoot the guy. Mac, it was like a movie, the guy was tied up in a chair and, he... he just picked up the gun and shot him in the head.... I don't know how many times." The kid's words were slurred and hard to understand, as if he had a mouth full of Novocain.

Jim's senses picked up something and he frowned. Glancing up at the monitors, he saw that the readings looked quite different from before. His glance fled back to Richie. The teenager was even more pale and his eyes were tightly slammed shut. "Man, my head is pounding.... I'm--quick, I'm gonna--"

Ellison and MacLeod both reacted swiftly. MacLeod snatched a basin from the counter and the detective gently moved the woman out of the way, then rolled Richie onto his side. MacLeod supported the kid's head as he vomited green liquid into the bowl. "Richie?" the Scot asked, his voice concerned. "Richie!" There was no response.

Jim shot another look at the monitors just as a red light blinked into existence and an alarm sounded. "Damn," he swore, stabbing the call button. When no one appeared immediately, he barked at the woman, "Go out there and get somebody. Tell them we've got a problem."

The woman looked from him to Richie. MacLeod was close to the kid's face, patting his cheeks and calling his name urgently. "What's wrong?" the woman said, her voice rising in anxiety.

"GO!" Jim roared.

Tessa Noel blinked, then before she could move, the curtain was jerked back and medical personnel spilled into the room. Dr. Green took one look at the monitor board before yanking MacLeod away so he could take his place. "Richie! Come on, Richie, answer me!" Pulling a penlight from his pocket, he pried open an eyelid and flashed the light into it, swore softly, then repeated the action with the other eye. "Donna!" he snapped at the nurse who had relieved MacLeod of the basin and was pouring the contents down the sink. "Page Neurology and get someone down here Stat!" He directed another nurse to start Richie on oxygen before looking at the three petrified adults. "Step outside, please."

"What's happening!" MacLeod demanded, his faced suddenly drained of all color.

"I'll be with you as soon as I can, but right now you need to give us some room to work."

Ellison put a hand on MacLeod's elbow. The other man jerked free. "Look, MacLeod, they need to take care of Richie." He all but dragged the other man from the room. Tessa had already exited and was standing in the middle of the hallway, her arms wrapped tightly around herself and terror plain on her face. Not knowing what else to do, Jim guided both of them down to the little alcove where there were a few chairs and a machine that dispensed coffee, water, hot chocolate and ice.

** ** **

Although he didn't know it, Duncan MacLeod was perfectly mirroring Jim Ellison's actions of earlier as he paced back and forth across the small waiting area. Tessa sat quietly in a chair, styrofoam cup of coffee clutched in her hands, staring at the abstract painting on the wall with the intent gaze she usually reserved for Great Masters. Ellison had vanished somewhere. Theyíd heard nothing in the hour since they had been evicted from Richie's room.

In his four hundred years of life, Duncan had never mastered the art of waiting patiently while someone he cared for was in danger. And he did care for Richie. He wasn't sure when or how that had happened; he'd originally only taken an interest in the kid because he and Connor had both sensed Richie would be Immortal someday. Duncan had promised his kinsman he would keep an eye on the kid, be there for him when the time came. He didn't plan on making Richie a part of his family, his life, until he'd tracked the kid down and realized fully just how alone he was.

A would-be thief Richie might be, but he had pride and he refused MacLeod's offer of money to find himself a decent room. Not knowing what else to do, Duncan offered him a job, overriding Richie's derisive protests by pointing out Richie knew the truth about Immortals, therefore it was in his own best interest to keep him out of trouble. There was, he'd gone on, making his tone as menacing as possible, only one other option. From the way the kid's eyes widened, MacLeod knew he'd assumed what the Immortal wanted him to assume.

So Richie came to work in the shop, and two days later when Social Services showed up, belatedly worried about a minor living on his own, MacLeod forestalled a mess by moving Richie and his few possessions into the spare room and petitioning the court for temporary custody until Richie reached eighteen.

Tessa had been reluctant at first and the first few days had been uncomfortable, with Tessa alternating between suspicion and resentment, and Richie exhausting himself and everyone around him with his nervous hyperactivity and chatter. Then Duncan had to go to Spokane overnight on business. Something happened during that time, neither Tessa or Richie would tell him what, but when he arrived home late Sunday afternoon it was to the shocking sight of the two of them cheerfully playing Monopoly in the kitchen with a giant bowl of popcorn on the table between them.

From then on Tessa was Richie's staunchest defender; he in turn regarded her with an affection that was palpable. Sometimes Duncan almost felt left out.

And then the Immortal who called herself Felicia Martins had invaded their lives.

Footsteps in the hall had MacLeod turning to the doorway, but it was only Ellison with another man in tow, a young man with long, curly hair; rather pale and with his arm in a sling. Mac realized he must be Blair Sandburg, who had been injured in the shooting outside his home. Ellison made the introductions and Sandburg shook MacLeod's hand. Then he sat down next to Tessa and started speaking to her in a low, concerned voice.

"Have you heard anything?" Ellison asked. The cop looked tired and MacLeod realized he couldn't have had much, if any, sleep the night before.

"No," he answered.

Ellison rubbed a hand along his short dark hair. "Look, MacLeod, I need to ask you some questions."

"Not now!"

"Yes, now! Richie was describing a murder in there, from what I heard. Somebody tried to kill him, and could have killed Sandburg and I in the process. I think I deserve to know what the hell is going on!"

"Detective Ellison--"

"Call him Jim," a voice offered from the other side of the room. Both men turned to see Blair Sandburg sitting beside Tessa, watching them quietly.

Ellison glared at the young man for a second, then his lip quirked in something like a smile and he glanced back at MacLeod. "Jim," he said.

MacLeod relaxed the stiff set of his shoulders. "Jim," he agreed.

"Do you prefer Duncan or Mac?" Blair prodded.

"Either one. Richie calls me Mac." The Immortal hesitated, feeling he should say something more to this young man with the intense blue gaze. "I-- thank you for helping Richie. I'm grateful. And I'm sorry about your injury."

Blair grinned. "I have a feeling that I'd better get used to bullets flying around," he quipped. "But you're welcome. I like Richie."

"So do we," Tessa chimed in softly. Blair patted her hand.

MacLeod looked back at the police detective and sighed, trying to put his thoughts in some kind of order. These two men had been sucked into this snafu because they'd tried to help Richie. It was only right that he tell Ellison the truth, or at least an edited version of it. "I'll tell you what I know. But a lot of it is guesswork.

"You've gathered that Richie lives with us? A young woman with, umm, connections to my business was visiting. She wanted something of mine and she tried to use Richie to get it. When he found out, he was pretty upset, and also, I think he thought I was angry. Well, no, he was right about that, I was angry. So instead of coming home he took off. I own a warehouse near the waterfront. I think that's where Richie was hiding out. I found some things that suggested he'd been there."

What Felicia Martins had really wanted was MacLeod's head. She had passed herself off as a new Immortal when in actuality she was hundreds of years old, an active player in the Game. She'd seduced Richie, convinced him to run away with her, and used him as bait. Duncan's katana had been thirsty for her blood, its owner disgusted and enraged both at Richie's gullibility and his own culpability for putting the boy at risk in the first place. Only Richie's pleas had kept MacLeod from killing Felicia, and the Highlander was still wondering if he might someday regret that decision.

Ellison had been quiet, apparently reviewing MacLeodís story. Now his pale blue eyes narrowed. "Near the waterfront? And Richie said somebody was tied to a chair and shot in the head." He paused. "He saw who killed Senator Markham Bolt?"

Duncan nodded. "I think so."

"And now the killer is after him. But how would the killer know who Richie is?" Ellison demanded.

MacLeod quickly told him about the man who had come into the shop with Richie's card, of course leaving out that the man was an Immortal. "Richie had just picked up those cards a few days before, and he'd already run away by the time the man said he'd waited on him. I know Richie had some of the cards with him and I found one at the warehouse."

"And the assassin found one too," Ellison finished. He glanced at Tessa. "Can you give a description to a police artist?"

Her eyes widened. "Why didn't I think of that? I can draw him for you myself!"

"Are you an artist?"

Blair snorted. "Forgive him, Miss Noel, Jim isn't exactly up on the art world. Jim, this is Tessa Noel! She's the sculptress the University has just commissioned to do the centennial exhibit."

"Oh," Ellison answered. He looked at MacLeod, lost. "Can she draw?" he whispered.

Duncan felt his lips twitch. "She can draw," he assured the detective.

Dr. Green entered the room followed by another man, this one older and with a shock of white hair. "Mr. MacLeod, Ms. Noel. Can we sit down? I'm afraid the news is not very good."

** ** **

"Surgery!" Tessa gasped, gripping Duncan's hand tightly. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"We have no choice, Ms. Noel." The older doctor, who'd introduced himself as Dr. Jones, a neurosurgeon, pointed again to the X-ray of Richie's skull. "The blood clot is dangerously close to the brain stem. It could shift at any time, without warning, and in all probability the boy would be dead within seconds."

Duncan shook his head, trying to clear it. The doctor's words were ringing in his head, ominous words like "fenestration", "aerate" and "cerebral vascular accident". He stared at the X-ray film, at the tiny spot that was the object of so much concern. "It looks so little," he murmured, not even aware he was speaking out loud.

The neurosurgeon shot him a quick glance. "It is little, but it's in absolutely the worst possible place. All autonomic functions, life sustaining functions, are controlled from the brain stem. Think of it as a sophisticated computer, millions of dollars worth of technology and something as simple and as innocent as dust on the wrong chip can cause the whole thing to malfunction."

"Why didn't this show up before?" Blair Sandburg asked. Duncan had almost forgotten that he was still in the room. Ellison was too, but he had retreated to a corner and was speaking urgently into a cell phone.

"The clot didn't form immediately," Green answered. Duncan thought he saw a flash of something cross Blair's face. The doctor apparently saw it too, because he said firmly, "It wasn't anybody's fault. That clot would have formed even if he'd spent the night in the hospital. It was just a fluke, we wouldn't have seen it because we wouldn't have been looking for it, not there."

That didn't make sense and MacLeod frowned. "What do you mean?"

Jones answered, "It's called a displacement injury. It's rare. See, the actual impact to Richie's head in the original incident was here," he pointed to an area on the X-ray. "That resulted in a concussion and some mild edema -- swelling-- both of which were noticed by Kyle, Dr. Green here, and his team."

Duncan nodded to show that he was following the explanation. Jones went on, "But incidents to the brain don't occur in isolation; there was an increase in, well, in pressure, for lack of a better word. So the brain tried to find ways of routing around the injured area; in affect, the brain itself caused the clot."

MacLeod opened his mouth to speak, closed it again and swallowed hard, trying to coax some moisture into the tissues. "The risks?" he finally managed. "This surgery, digging around in his brain... If something goes wrong--" he couldn't complete the thought. Visions of Richie, paralyzed, brain damaged, eventually doomed to become Immortal... how long would he last like that in the Game?

The two doctors exchanged glances. "Mr. MacLeod," Dr. Jones finally said, very softly, "Because of where the clot is, and Richie's overall condition right now, if something goes wrong -- he'll die on the operating table."

"Oh, God," Tessa whispered, her voice stricken. She buried her face in Duncanís shirt and he could feel her trembling. His own mind was filled with horrifying images. Richie was too young, dammit! Too young to become Immortal At barely eighteen his body wasn't even fully developed yet; not to mention his emotional state, battered and scarred after a lifetime spent in the clutches of an uncaring system.

Automatically, as if he was watching from outside his body, Duncan saw himself scrawling his signature on papers attached to a clipboard. Following Tessa and the doctor into the room where Richie was being prepped for the surgery that would either save his mortal life or end it.

Tessa had managed to pull herself together. Ignoring the preparations going on around him, she went directly to Richie's bedside and knelt beside it, talking very softly in his ear. Duncan stood behind her, holding Richie's slack hand, trying to infuse the boy with strength.

Tessa was speaking in French. Duncan listened and smiled. She was exhorting the boy to fight, to get better, telling him of all the things they had planned to do: the opera, the ballet, the wonders of the holiday season.

It was doubtful if Richie would exert much effort for the opera or the ballet, but it would take a far more blasé heart than his to turn away from what Tessa had planned for Christmas.

"Does he speak French?" someone asked. MacLeod turned to see a young woman had entered the room carrying a covered tray. Her English was perfect, but there was just the faintest touch of something there that told Duncan it was not her native tongue.

"No," he answered quietly, looking at Tessa with love and his eyes. "But he'll know what she's saying."

The woman smiled and nodded, waiting until Tessa had stopped speaking. Then she stepped to the side of the bed. "It's almost time, the orderlies will he here to take him to the O.R."

Tessa looked at her, nodded and bent back to Richie's still face. "It will be all right, Richie," she murmured to him, kissing his forehead. "We'll be right here waiting for you when you get back. And when you feel better we will have a little talk about young men who run away from home and don't even bother to clean up their rooms first." She kissed him again.

MacLeod looked down at the still figure of the boy and knew he had to say something. He squeezed the lax hand tightly. "You heard her, Richie. We'll be right here waiting for you." He paused, feeling the tightness in his throat. "Hang in there, Tough Guy," he said finally, his voice husky.

He stepped away from the bed, pulling Tessa with him. The other girl gave him a reassuring smile as she reached under the cover on the tray and pulled out a razor.

Tessa stiffened. "What are you going to do with that?" she choked out.

Confused, the girl looked from Tessa to the razor. "I have to shave where the incision will be."

"Tessa, sweetheart, they have to do it. You know that," MacLeod whispered in her ear.

"I know... I just --" she stopped and took a deep, unsteady breath, ignoring the tears that were once again spilling down her cheeks. "You be careful," she warned the girl, trying to force a smile. "Our Richie is very particular about his hair."

The girl gave her an understanding smile. "I will."

There was a light knock on the door and Dr. Green stepped in followed by a couple of orderlies pushing a gurney. He looked at them both. Tessa took a deep breath, then let go of Duncanís hand and walked out of the room. As MacLeod was following her, Green caught him by the arm. "Mr. MacLeod, if it's any help, Dr. Jones is the best. If Richie was my son, Jones is the one I'd have doing the operation. If anybody can do this, he can."

** ** **

Richie had been in surgery over two hours when Jim Ellison found MacLeod in the Surgical floor waiting room. The Highlander was sitting in a chair, his elbows resting on his knees, staring unseeingly at the television set. "Good movie?" Ellison asked lightly, sitting down in the next chair.

MacLeod blinked. "I suppose," he answered flatly.

"Where's Ms. Noel?"

"Your friend Blair went down to the cafeteria with her for awhile. You should talk him into going home, Detective -- he doesn't look well."

Jim noted the "Detective" rather than his first name. He stretched out his legs. "Sandburg is a bit stubborn. He won't go anywhere until he knows how the surgery went. Besides, I don't think his place is all that safe at the moment."

"I guess it wouldn't be." MacLeod took his eyes of the TV to look at Ellison. "Did you report what Richie saw? I'm surprised the hospital isn't full of FBI agents."

"My captain called the Seacouver PD and spoke with the detective in charge of the investigation. Oddly enough the FBI isn't involved, yet. We have some plainclothes in the hospital and a pair of uniforms outside the Operating Room. I'd like to assign an officer to Ms. Noel, too."

MacLeod sat us straight, alarmed. "Tessa? Why?"

"Well, she did see the suspect," Jim pointed out. "That was an excellent picture she drew, it reproduced very well. We're running it though the computer now. I'm betting this guy is a pro, a hired killer."

MacLeod frowned. "What makes you say that?"

"The weapons, for one thing. Last night he was shooting at us with an extremely high powered rifle; the bullet that hit Sandburg was fired from the roof of a seven-floor building several hundred feet away; the bullet traveled through the roof of the car, through the seat and still had enough velocity to wound Sandburg. That's military issue or maybe Russian manufacture, not what you can buy at the local gun shop."

"I've been wondering about something you said earlier," MacLeod said suddenly.

"What?"

"How did the killer know Richie was in Cascade? How'd Richie get here, anyway?"

"Bus," Ellison answered promptly. "I found the ticket. He took the 11:15 bus from Seacouver, arrived in Cascade about four a.m. Checked into the Madison Motel between six and seven in the morning, then as best as I can tell, he laid low until he walked two blocks to that diner to eat. I met Sandburg there about two-thirty and we'd been there maybe fifteen, twenty minutes when Richie came in."

MacLeod frowned. "The news said Bolt was killed sometime late Tuesday night or very early Wednesday morning?"

"Yeah. The body was found at three ten. ME report estimates time of death between ten p.m. and two a.m.; something about weather conditions that night made it difficult to pin down. But since Richie saw the murder it had to be before eleven-fifteen." Ellison frowned in turn. "How far is the warehouse from the bus station?"

"About a half mile. But," MacLeod added slowly, "that area is really deserted. Especially at that time of night. The bus station would have been the closest place for help, or to find a phone."

"Does Richie have a car?"

MacLeod shook his head. "He has a motorcycle, but it's parked in the alley behind our shop and it has been all week. He was on foot that night."

"So what do you think happened?" Ellison prodded.

MacLeod was silent for a few moments, busy with his own thoughts. "We've been having a big problem with vagrants breaking into the building," he said finally. "I turned off the water and put a lock on the main. Richie doesn't have a key to that lock; the only time he would go there normally would be with me. So he would have had to get water from somewhere else."

"I see. So Richie was at Bolt's warehouse for water and he saw the killing? Then ran?"

"Well, running would have been Richie's first impulse in that situation," MacLeod said dryly. "And not that bad of an idea. He knows the area well enough, he would have realized the closest reasonably safe place would be the bus station." Rocketing through Duncan's head was the thought, If the Immortal who came to the shop was the killer, he might have been able to sense Richie as a pre-Immortal.

"But that doesn't make sense, MacLeod," the detective argued. "What you're saying is that Richie sees a prominent public figure being murdered. He runs away, headed to the nearest place he could get help, which is the bus station. The bus station where there is always a police officer on duty. But instead of telling the officer what he's seen, Richie jumps on a bus to Cascade? Why Cascade?"

"Offhand, I'd say because that happened to be the next bus leaving," Duncan said with a humorless grin. "You don't know Richie; he doesn't trust the police. If he thought the killer was right behind him, and the bus was there, getting ready to leave, he'd jump on it. And one other thing, he wouldn't have known it was Senator Bolt that was killed. Even if he was close enough to see the shooting, Richie wouldn't know his elected officials if they came up and shook his hand. He might be able to pick President Bush out of a line-up, but I'm not even sure about that." MacLeod clenched his fist. "Damn! If he had just called me, maybe this all could have been avoided."

There wasn't anything Jim Ellison could say to that.

** ** **

The neurosurgeon had said Richie's surgery would take a minimum of three hours. For those three hours Tessa and MacLeod both seemed very calm. Tessa leafed through magazines she had bought downstairs in the gift shop and MacLeod borrowed her sketch pad and worked on what appeared to be a floor plan. From remarks he made Blair gathered the floor plan was their antique shop and he was planning how to rearrange the stock. A trained observer -- and Blair was one -- could tell that Tessa read each page two or three times before turning it. MacLeod seemed fascinated with moving around a suit of armor.

At three hours, ten minutes into the surgery, MacLeod put down the sketch pad, consulted an old-fashioned gold pocket watch, checked it against the diamond encrusted watch around Tessa' wrist, and started to pace.

Three hours, twenty two minutes. Tessa spread her magazine wide open and began folding each page inward.

Three hours, fifty minutes. Tessa reached into her bag, brought out a bottle of Cutex nail polish remover and some cotton balls, and began stripping the rose lacquer off her nails.

Four hours five minutes: footsteps in the hall. Both Tessa and MacLeod froze in place as Dr. Jones strode into the room, still wearing surgical greens. He glanced around the room searchingly, spotted the two of them, and gave a large smile. "Everything went fine. Richie came through the surgery with flying colors."

Tessa emitted a choked little sob and turned to bury her face in MacLeod's chest. The Scot, face lit up in relief, wrapped one arm around her shoulders while firmly shaking the doctor's hand. "Thank you, doctor, thank you so much. When can we see him?"

"He'll be in Recovery for several hours. As I said, everything went well, but we'll want to monitor him very closely in ICU until he regains consciousness." The doctor sat down. "I'd like to speak with you about what you can expect in the next few days."

Forgotten for the moment, Blair let out his pent-up breath in a deep sigh. A wave of exhaustion swept over him, so profound that he actually felt his limbs tremble. His wounded shoulder suddenly throbbed as if it would remind him of its presence. He realized just how little sleep he'd had lately.

Or food, he silently added as his stomach sent up a violent clamoring.

He looked back over at MacLeod and Tessa. They were listening to the doctor intently. Smiling, Blair slipped out of the waiting room.

He was heading for the main entrance of the hospital when a familiar voice called his name. Surprised, Blair looked up to see Jim Ellison striding down the hall, a large manila envelope in his hand. "How's Richie?" the detective asked.

"The surgery is over; looks like he'll be just fine," Blair assured him in relief. "I'm gonna head home, man, hit the sack. I'll catch up with you later."

Jim grabbed his good arm. "Not so fast, Chief. You aren't going to your place until we catch our gunman." His face became grim. "They still up there?"

"You mean MacLeod and Tessa? Yeah, man, why?"

"Come with me," Jim answered shortly, setting off down the hallway toward the elevators.

He said nothing else until they arrived at the surgical waiting area. Dr. Jones was gone, but Tessa and MacLeod were in the same seats Blair had left them in, wrapped in each others arms. Jim gave a quick nod of his head to a dark-haired man that Blair had vaguely noticed earlier, assuming he was relative of another patient. Now he belatedly realized the man must be a plainclothes police officer.

"Detective -- Jim," MacLeod greeted him, "did Blair tell you that Richie is going to be all right?"

"He did. That is great news," Jim responded. He paused, then went on, "Ms. Noel, do you think you could look at some pictures for me?"

The blond lifted her head from the Highlander's chest to regard Jim through eyes that were bright with happiness even if tears were still spilling down her face. "Of course... pictures of what?"

For answer, Jim opened the envelope and pulled out a piece of flimsy fax paper. Blair could see enough to realize it was a black and white reproduction of a mug shot. "Is this the man that came to your shop?"

Tessa studied the picture, a tiny frown between her eyebrows. "It could be, but the quality of the picture is so poor. I can't say for sure."

"How about this one?"

This picture was color and much clearer than the previous one. Tessa gasped, "That's him!"

"Are you sure?" Jim asked intently.

"Yes, of course. The hair is even the same, that silver blond color."

Jim took a deep breath. Oddly enough, he didn't look happy about this positive identification. "Then we have a problem," he said.

"What's wrong, Jim?" Blair asked.

"The man in those photos was named Erik Lindstrom. South African national of Swedish parents, made his living as a high-dollar enforcer for the Gariboldi crime family out of Chicago."

"'Was'?" MacLeod asked, his tone flat.

"'Was'. Lindstrom was found shot to death, rumor has someone high up in the Gariboldi family started to suspect his loyalty." Jim sighed again. "So, Ms. Noel, you can see my problem with this -- you're identifying somebody who is dead, and who has been dead for the last eighteen months!"

** ** **

MacLeod walked quietly into the Intensive Care Unit, giving a brief smile to the nurse exiting Richie's cubicle. "How is he?" he asked, his voice hushed. Something about the ICU made him feel he should whisper.

The nurse -- when he and Tessa had come in the first time, at midnight, she'd introduced herself as Carol Jenkins -- smiled back, her eyes tired. Long night, he supposed. Every cubicle in the ICU was full.

"Richie's doing just fine," she assured him. "I'll be going off shift soon. His day nurse will be Marlene Morrison; I'm sure that, once things calm down a little, say about nine or so, she won't have a problem with you visiting a little longer than ten minutes."

That had been the procedure all night: ten minute visits on the hour and half hour. MacLeod had come on the half hour and Tessa on the hour. In between they'd catnapped fitfully on one of the long couches in the waiting room, surrounded by other family members who couldn't or didn't want to leave the hospital. A patient had died around three a.m.; MacLeod had jerked awake from a restless doze at the sobs of the man's wife, the muffled shriek from his oldest daughter.

Duncan stepped close to the bed. Richie lay as still as he had every other visit, eyes closed, bandages on his head only a little more white than his complexion. Green oxygen tubing curled on his face, feeding into his nose. IVs in his left arm, a blood pressure cuff continuously attached to his right.

"Hi, Richie," MacLeod said self-consciously. He had to clear his throat. "It's six-thirty in the morning; if we were home I'd be waking you up for a run. Of course, you'd probably throw your pillow at me!"

He waited, praying for some movement, anything: a flicker of an eyelid, twitch of the mouth, anything. For all the staff's assurances that Richie was doing fine, a part of MacLeod wasn't going to relax until those blue eyes opened and, even more, that mouth opened and started spilling out words at its usual break-neck speed.

"You know," he told the silent figure, "I didn't realize how much I'd gotten use to the sound of your voice. I'll bet you never thought you'd hear me admit that!" His hand slid down to grip Richie's cool, slack one and he squeezed gently. "Come on, Tough Guy, you can do it. Wake up now, please?"

He waited, studying Richie's face desperately. A flicker of something drew his attention upward and he studied the bank of monitors behind the bed. Richie's pulse and respiration had increased slightly. "Richie? Can you hear me?"

The readings jumped again. Before MacLeod could move he felt the slightest, tiniest pressure on his hand. He looked down in disbelief to see Richie's fingers curl around his own.

** ** **

Jim Ellison didn't get much sleep. He tossed and turned most of the night. Had he been alone he would have given up and gone downstairs, turned on the TV and lost himself in some mindless infomercial, but since Sandburg was crashed on the couch that wasn't an option.

Jim didn't like houseguests. He hadn't liked them before his senses went crazy and he sure didn't like them when soft breathing sounded like a cement mixer. But Sandburg was wounded and exhausted, and Jim wasn't going to have him going back to his unheated, unsafe warehouse in his condition, especially since there were police officers staked out there, hoping against hope their gunman/killer might show up again. And Sandburg hadn't been any trouble: since Jim's sleeping bag was still at Blair's, the student had just curled up on the couch in a nest of blankets and been sound asleep even before Ellison had brushed his teeth.

His cell phone shrilled. Jim reached for it before it could ring again.

"Ellison! What's this about a dead assassin running around in my city?" The booming voice of his superior, Captain Simon Banks, assaulted his ears.

"Good morning to you, too, sir," he sniped. "I know it doesn't make any sense, but the Noel woman identified Erik Lindstrom as the one that came into her shop looking for Richie Ryan; as far as whether or not he killed Senator Bolt, I guess we'll just have to wait until Ryan wakes up."

Simon snorted. "If he remembers anything after brain surgery. In the meantime, I've had the governor, half the Seacouver PD, the FBI and the Treasury Department on the phone half the night. Nobody is happy, Jim. Erik Lindstrom is dead."

Jim rubbed his eyes. "Sandburg had kind of an idea, sir."

"Oh, God. Do I want to hear it?"

"Witness Protection Program," Jim answered succinctly.

There was a long pause, then Simon snorted again. "Now I am worried: I had the same thought! The FBI denies it, but then you know those guys. They'd deny anything if it suited their purposes. Only thing is, why would they put Lindstrom in the W.P.P.? If Michael LaFiamma and the whole wonderful Gariboldi family are still alive and well in Chicago -- hey, did you know his nephew is a cop?"

"Who? Lindstrom's nephew?"

"No, LaFiamma's nephew. John, no Joseph, I think. He's down in Houston; according to the Chicago PD the nephew made things a little uncomfortable for some of the mob guys and his uncle worked out some kind of deal. Blood's thicker than water, I guess."

Jim didn't care. "What did you really call about, Captain?"

"Oh, just wanted to give you a piece of information. The forensics team doing the sweep at Sandburg's found a partial print on those cut power lines; apparently our boy didn't wear his gloves. Seems rather strange, given the weather that night, but maybe ghosts can't get frostbite. But apparently they can leave fingerprints!"

"Ghosts?" Jim repeated.

"Yeah. The fingerprints belong to Erik Lindstrom."

** ** **

They moved Richie out of ICU and to a private room on the eighth floor late in the afternoon. The teen hadn't regained consciousness, but he was showing signs of responsiveness when they spoke to him: body movements, twitching of the eyelids, increased pulse and respiration. All were positive signs, the hospital staff assured MacLeod and Tessa. Dr. Jones, when he visited just before dinnertime, seemed pleased at Richie's progress. He glanced at the cot that Duncan had requested, then at Tessa, looking tired and uncomfortable in her rumpled clothes, and said, "You know, there's a very good hotel just a few blocks away; the two of you could use some rest, maybe have a good meal."

MacLeod shook his head, although he was dying for a hot shower. "We'd rather be here when he wakes up," he answered. Besides, he had no intention of leaving Richie alone and unprotected while an Immortal assassin roamed the streets of Cascade, even if the hospital was full of policemen.

Ellison had been by three times, growing more agitated each time that Richie couldn't be questioned. Blair had visited too, but that was different: he honestly seemed concerned about Richie. Since he hadn't been allowed in ICU he'd gone out and brought a picnic lunch back for MacLeod and Tessa to eat in the waiting room.

"He may not wake up," Jones said absently, busily making notes in the chart.

"What!" Tessa gasped, blood draining from her face. Duncan leapt up from his seat.

"What do you mean?" he demanded harshly. "You said he was doing fine, there were no complications!"

"He is doing fine," Jones said, puzzled, looking up at them. He closed his eyes in something like dismay. "Oh, brother... I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it must have sounded. What I meant is that you're picturing he's going to wake up like waking up in the morning, all faculties intact, open his eyes and immediately engage you in conversation."

"Well, actually conversation isn't Richie's strong suit in the mornings," Duncan commented, calming at the expression on the doctor's face. "So that isn't how it will happen?"

Jones shrugged. "Well, it might. But on the other hand he may continue this way, showing increased responsiveness when you talk to him, maybe gradually opening his eyes for a few minutes at a time; could take several days, a week even, for him to be fully awake."

MacLeod frowned. "And when he is awake? How will he be? I mean, will he remember us, will he be able to talk and..." Will he be Richie?

"No reason to think he won't. There may be some memory loss, I seriously doubt he'll remember the time between the original incident and being readmitted to the hospital, although he might. The human brain is such a miraculous thing, we can't predict how it's going to react. However, I can predict," he finished briskly, closing the chart, "that you two are going to collapse if you don't get some rest!"

** ** **

"Look, I can stay here for awhile if you want to go check into a hotel, grab a shower, eat something," Blair offered. He grinned. "I'm car-less at the moment anyway and Jim is like insisting I stay at his place until they catch this guy. He's going to come by here and pick me up about nine or so."

Tessa and Duncan exchanged looks. "I would like to shower and change clothes," Tessa said tentatively.

Duncan clenched his jaw; heíd been doing that a lot lately; maybe Ellison was contagious. "What if the killer comes here?"

"Uh, Duncan, that's why there are police all over the place," Blair pointed out. "Uniforms and plainclothes-- Jim hand-picked the guys guarding the door."

Yes, but they aren't Immortals! Duncan thought. On the other hand, surely even an Immortal assassin would want to avoid the police, and if Blair was right in the room with Richie, what could happen?

He glanced up at the clock. "All right," he said. "Just for an hour or so."

** ** **

Blair yawned, rubbed at his eyes, then put the textbook face down on the floor. Standing, he stretched and stepped into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. His reflection, pale, strained, with dark shadows under the eyes, stared back at him. Blair made a face at the mirror and grinned. He switched off the bathroom light and returned to his chair.

His arm had bothered him most of the night before and he'd been almost afraid to go to sleep, concerned he'd make a noise and disturb Jim. He knew it must be hard for the Sentinel; trying to block out all the stimulation so that he could sleep.

There was a soft knock and the door opened, letting in the uniformed police officer that had been on guard duty outside the door. Blair had seen him around the station; Alan Palmer was his name.

Palmer clutched a large styrofoam cup in each hand. Both cups bore the logo of The Coffee Hut, which was across the street from the hospital. Blair's nose twitched; he could smell something delectable. "Don't tell me that's amaretto cappuccino?" he asked hopefully.

"Yeah. Want some? One of the guys downstairs brought it up; he took a break and said he started feeling bad about me up here. He got an extra for himself, but when I told him you were here he said you're welcome to it."

"Great!" Blair accepted the cup and pulled off the lid, sniffing greedily at the aroma. "Man, I hope this isn't decaf. I am dragging tonight."

"A cop drinking decaf?" Palmer laughed. "Dream on." He raised his cup in a toast as he backed out of the room, closing the door behind him. Blair gulped a large mouthful, then settled back in the chair with his textbook.

** ** **

A giant yawn almost dislocated his jaw. "Must have been decaf after all," Blair muttered to himself. He tried to see the time but he couldn't focus on his watch. "Man, this is ridiculous, must be the lighting or something in here." He frowned; his tongue felt thick.

Maybe he could lay down on the cot; take a short power nap. Suiting action to deed, he sprawled face down. He just needed to close his eyes for a few minutes--

He heard the door open and softly close again. Footsteps. Blair forced open eyelids that were determined to stay glued down. A blurry figure in surgical greens, wearing a cap and mask, was leaning over Richie. Something white was in the figure's hands, something white and fluffy and it leaned over Richie, gently descending on to his face.

NO! shrieked a voice in Blair's woolly mind. He tried to sit up, but his muscles weren't taking orders from his brain. In spite of his struggles his eyelids were closing again and blackness swam up to meet him...

** ** **

Jim Ellison and Duncan MacLeod bumped into each other at the elevators. Scowling, Jim allowed the Highlander to board first then followed, pressing the elevator button for the eighth floor. The lights in the lift seemed abnormally bright and he closed his eyes for a minute.

"Bad day?" MacLeod inquired.

"You could say that." Jim had spent most of the day fielding phone calls: a resolute FBI agent in Chicago who steadfastly insisted Erik Lindstrom was dead; the Governor's office, the Seacouver PD and the Justice Department, all wanting to know what was happening in the investigation. Not to mention the hounding from the press.

"Where's Ms. Noel?" he asked.

"I left her at the hotel to get a few hours rest." One corner of MacLeod's lip turned upward. "She wasn't very happy about it."

The elevator slowed to a stop and with a bing! the doors slid open onto the eight floor. MacLeod stepped out, then stopped so quickly that Ellison plowed into his back. "MacLeod, what the hell--" then the detective looked down the hall, to see a huge commotion at the end of the corridor.

"That's Richie's room," MacLeod murmured, blood draining from his face. He bolted down the hall, Ellison hard on his heels. They reached the door and peered into chaos.

A middle-aged man wearing a white lab coat was pounding on Richie's chest and barking orders at two nurses. Sandburg lay in a boneless huddle on the cot, another nurse leaning over him, patting his cheeks. Jim quickly focused his senses on Sandburg. Pulse slow, too slow really, but steady.

"What the hell happened!" MacLeod roared.

"He stopped breathing," one of the nurses volunteered.

"He didn't just stop," the doctor, at least Jim assumed he was a doctor, had ceased CPR and was leaning over Richie's head. He sighed in relief and his shoulders relaxed. "OK, he's breathing now. Nurse, increase the oh-two to three point five liters." The other nurse, an older one, nodded and reached behind the bed to turn adjust a knob. She settled the pale green tubing back in Richie's nose. The doctor was watching all the monitors closely and after two or three minutes he nodded again and stepped away from the bed.

MacLeod was still frozen in the doorway. Jim had knelt on the floor next to Blair's still form. "Chief," he said softly, then louder, "Sandburg!" There was still no response and he looked around. A half-full styrofoam cup was underneath the cot. Jim sniffed the liquid. Coffee, amaretto, milk, and something else. "This coffee's been drugged.

"That makes sense," the doctor growled. He took the cup from Jim's hand. "We'll have this analyzed. I'd bet it's some kind of narcotic, sleeping pills of some sort, maybe."

Ellison's eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"

"He's Dr. Rucker," MacLeod answered, "I met him before I left for the hotel." The dark-haired man stepped closer to the bed, staring anxiously at Richie. "Is he going to be all right? What happened? Why did he stop breathing?"

Dr. Rucker stooped and picked up a pillow that had been thrown on the floor in all the confusion. He handled it carefully, using only the index finger and thumb to lift it. "Somebody tried to smother him, with this. But the alarms on the monitors went off and whoever it was got away."

"What?" Jim snapped. "Where the hell was the guard?"

No one knew. Jim strode out into the corridor. The chair was there, a paperback book and another styrofoam cup on the floor beside it. This cup was empty, but Jim could still catch a whiff of the same odor he'd smelled in Sandburgís cup. Looking around, the detective focused on a closed door across the hall marked "Clean Linen Room". Jim pulled his gun as he cautiously opened the door. Racks of linens: sheets, towels, pillowcases, blue and green and yellow blankets, were shoved into the room. The odor of starch and disinfectant assaulted his nose.

And at his feet lay the still form of Sgt. Alan Palmer. Dead.

** ** **

Duncan squeezed Richie's slack hand once, then tucked the hand beneath the blankets and stood, stretching out the kinks in his back. He walked to the window and looked out into the cold night.

Almost two a.m. Six hours since someone had tried to smother Richie with a pillow from the linen room. Since Blair Sandburg had been drugged and another man murdered. Guilt roiled through the Highlander's gut. I should have been here. If I'd been here--

Richie had apparently suffered no additional injury from the attempt on his life. Sandburg was in a room down the hall, under observation for what the hospital lab had confirmed was a sub-lethal dose of chloral hydrate. Had he drank the whole cup of coffee he would probably have died too, like Palmer, a twenty-year veteran of the police force, father of three kids.

There was a faint rap on the door and it opened to allow Jim Ellison entrance. He didn't seem surprised to see Duncan still awake. "I wanted to tell you, we have three men on duty outside your hotel room. I just checked in with them; everything's quiet."

Duncan nodded, fighting down anxiety. There was no reason to believe Erik Lindstrom, if that was indeed the killer, knew that Tessa was in Cascade or realized she could be any danger to him. Duncan didn't want to leave Richie, and Tessa was probably safer where she was, with the protection Ellison had assigned.

Studying the other man, he felt a rush of empathy. Ellison looked exhausted. The anger and grief that had clouded his eyes as he knelt in the linen room beside the dead police sergeant were still plain. His jaw was clenched so tightly Duncan wondered how he kept from breaking a tooth. "How's Blair?" Duncan asked carefully.

The clenched jaw relaxed, if only a fraction. "He's still asleep, but his vital signs are normal. He should wake up in the morning no worse for wear." A faint smile quirked Ellison's lip. "This will probably be the best night's sleep he's gotten in months."

"I'm sorry about Sgt. Palmer," Duncan said gently.

Blue eyes blazed. Jaw muscles clenched even more tightly. "He was a good man. But of all the stupid things to do--"

"Have you pieced together what happened yet?"

"Oh, yeah, I've pieced it together. Asinine! A hospital security guard brought up the coffee. It was given to him by a man wearing a Cascade police uniform who asked the guard to bring it to Palmer and whoever was sitting in the room with Richie. The guard didn't suspect anything was wrong so he brought it up and gave it to Palmer. Apparently Palmer gave a cup to Sandburg. Blair wouldn't have known not to drink it. Palmer should have known better." Ellison took a deep breath. "The guard positively identified a picture of Erik Lindstrom as the 'officer'. For some insane reason, the hospital's Chief of Security did not share the pictures of Lindstrom we gave him, with his guards."

Duncan started to speak. Suddenly, he felt the tingling awareness that warned of another Immortal nearby. Conscious of the comforting weight of his sword in his coat, MacLeod stepped to the door and flung it open.

Nothing. Two police officers in the hall looked up from their card game.

"MacLeod?" Ellison asked from behind him. "What's wrong?"

Duncan ignored him to demand of the two officers, "Has anybody come by here?"

They both shook their heads. Duncan looked around again. His eyes fell on the emergency exit. Something about the door looked wrong. He stepped closer, hearing Ellisonís sharp inhalation of breath behind him. "The alarm's been disabled on that door! I checked it myself not thirty minutes ago!"

"Stay with Richie," MacLeod ordered, hand on the door to open it. Ellison grabbed his elbow.

"Excuse me? Where do you think youíre going?"

Duncan looked at the detective. "I can't explain it, but you don't know what you're up against!"

"And you do?"

"Yes. I do. This is my life. It's not yours, Ellison. Just stay here."

Ellison stared at him incredulously. Then he glanced at the two officers. "Tyler, you go in that room and you stay with Ryan until either Mr. MacLeod here or I tell you to leave. Got it? Martinez, you guard that door. And call Sebring and tell him to stay with Sandburg."

Both officers nodded crisply, and one stepped inside the room; the other pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a number. Jim turned back to MacLeod. "After you," he said, gesturing at the door.

** ** **

The fire stairs ended at a door on the ground floor. The lock on this one had also been disabled. No alarms shrieked as MacLeod pushed it open and he and Ellison found themselves in a cul-de-sac formed by two wings of the hospital. The stairs and door probably dated to before the newer west wing of the hospital had been added.

"Easy way to get out and pretty much guarantee no one would see you," Ellison admitted. "The parking lots and main entrance are on the other side."

MacLeod pointed to the west, past more flower beds and lawns, gradually merging into a heavily wooded area. "What's that? Those trees, I mean. Part of the hospital grounds?"

"No. That's part of Cascade River Parks."

MacLeod looked at him. "At this time of night, this time of year, a park would be deserted, wouldn't it?"

Ellison nodded slowly. "And we didn't know about this exit; all the guards are at the parking lots and the main gates. No one to see somebody going into the park."

Wordlessly, MacLeod turned toward the trees.

** ** **

Ellison and MacLeod moved cautiously through the woods. Inky-black darkness surrounded them. One could hardly believe this was still the middle of a bustling city; that ten minutes brisk walk in any direction would bring one into people and lights and cars.

The wind was picking up as the latest storm moved in from the Pacific. Leaves whipped past MacLeod's cheeks, bringing with them the odor of damp sea air, and long decayed vegetation and wet earth.

The sense of an Immortal had faded, then grew strong again. Wordlessly, Duncan yanked his katana from its hidden sleeve. Ellison jumped. "What the hell is that, MacLeod?" he demanded, lowering his gun.

There was the crack of a bullet and Duncan jerked back as the fiery lead tore through his shoulder. Staggered, he dropped his katana and then fell to his knees to retrieve it. Ellison didn't take cover, moving in a circle, gun at the ready.

Silence. Dark. Stillness.

** ** **

Jim stared into the darkness, opening his senses as far as he could, focusing his sight, his hearing, hearing the rustle of the leaves, the chittering sounds of night insects, the roar of the river....

"Detective? Ellison!" Something struck him across the face.

Jim gasped, sucking icy cold air into lungs that had been without too long. There was a face very close to his, concerned dark eyes staring into his. He recognized the face. "MacLeod?"

"Are you all right?" the Scotsman asked, his voice concerned. "I didn't think you were breathing."

The faint ache in his head and the pounding of his heart were proof to Jim that he hadn't been breathing, but he didn't say anything on that subject. How could he explain it? Sandburg called them "zone outs": when Jim could be so carried away by one or more of his hyperacute senses that his brain and body literally forgot to function.

Jim smelled the blood. With difficulty he remembered what had happened. "Are you all right?" he demanded, trying to reach for MacLeod. "You're wounded."

MacLeod stepped backward hastily. "No, I'm not. The bullet must have just startled me--"

"Bull!" Ellison snapped, snatching MacLeod's arm, feeling the stickiness of the blood on his sleeve. "For God's sake let me see--"

The hand on MacLeod's arm felt a strange sensation, like a tingling warmth. It was so strong that Jim forgot what he was saying and focused on the shoulder of the man before him. Flashes of cobalt blue flickered about the wound. A faint smell tickled his nose, but he could not identify it.

"Ellison," MacLeod started again.

Jim ignored him, placing his hand directly on the ragged hole in Duncan's jacket. He felt that warmth again, but faintly this time. No fresh blood welled from the wound.

"Take it off," he demanded, pointing to MacLeod's jacket.

He heard the other man give a deep sigh then he complied. Jagged hole in the sweater, but unmarked skin below.

"My God," Jim whispered, "it's healed." He stepped back, staring at the other man. "What are you?"

** ** **

Duncan closed his eyes and muffled a groan. How the hell had the police detective seen that wound? It was so pitch black out here--

Well, no matter. He had seen it, and somehow the Immortal suspected Ellison would be satisfied with nothing less than the truth. He sighed again. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was born 400 years ago in the Highlands of Scotland."

He heard the sharply indrawn breath from the other man as he added the next bit: "I am Immortal."

** ** **

Later, when MacLeod had time to think about it, he was amazed at how readily the police detective accepted his story. Duncan didn't tell all of it, of course; there wasn't enough time and this wasn't the place. He covered the high points, including a little bit about the Game, and beheadings, and the fact that their quarry, the real killer, was also an Immortal.

At that Ellison finally reacted. "How do you know?" he demanded.

"We have a sort of early warning system, a feeling that tells an Immortal when another is near by."

Ellison was putting the pieces together. "So all those reports that said Lindstrom was killed--"

"Were true. He was. Only not permanently. It could have been his first death, or it could have been the latest of many."

Ellison was silent for a moment, then "That explains the sword."

"Never leave home without it," MacLeod quipped.

"So, if you know he's an-- Immortal-- does that mean he knows you're one, too?"

"'Fraid so. Look, Ellison, while we're discussing this, Lindstrom could be getting away, or doubling back to the hospital--"

"Lindstrom is on the riverbank, that way," Ellison interrupted, pointing to the northwest. MacLeod stared at him.

"How can you know that?"

Jim winced. "Damn." He paused. "For now, let's just say that you have an early warning system and I have a tracking system." He started to head for the riverbank, but MacLeod caught his arm.

"Detective, your gun will be of no use to you. Are you going to try to arrest him?" Disbelief colored MacLeod's tone.

"Well, what would you suggest? Beheading him?" Jim suddenly realized that was exactly what the Immortal had in mind. "Forget it, MacLeod, your -- 'Game' isn't part of this. He's a suspect, I will arrest him and if there's enough evidence he'll be tried by a jury of his peers--"

"I'm his peer," MacLeod said quietly. "And judgment is up to me. Ellison, he attacked and tried to kill Richie. Twice. And he'll keep trying until he succeeds." Or until he makes him Immortal, a little voice in the back of Duncan's mind screamed. He shook his head, silencing the voice, and abruptly turned and moved off in the direction Jim had indicated.

He wasn't surprised to hear the detective following.

** ** **

The Immortal was waiting for them on the grassy bank that gently sloped down to the fast moving Cascade River, swollen from the recent rains and rushing between mammoth boulders to its rendezvous with the ocean.

The full moon broke between ominous clouds as they emerged from the forest, bathing the clearing in a silvery-light, catching and reflecting on the sword Erik Lindstrom held in his hand.

Lindstrom looked much like the sketch Tessa had made of him. From somewhere he'd grabbed a jacket to throw over the surgical scrubs that had allowed him entrance into Richie's room. His eyes flicked to Jim, still clutching his gun, to MacLeod, holding his katana. He made a little bow in the Immortal's direction. "Erik Lindstrom," he introduced himself proudly.

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Mac returned, his accent deeper than Jim had noticed before.

Jim could see the expression change on Lindstrom's face. His eyes widened. "You're The Highlander? What's your involvement in this? I have no quarrel with you."

"You know me?" MacLeod asked.

"We have a mutual friend. Alex Hill. He found me, you know, after--" Lindstrom made a vague movement with his hand. "He taught me." There was a pause, then he went on, "I don't want to fight you."

"You're after Richie Ryan; you've tried twice to kill him," MacLeod snarled. "Maybe I want to fight you."

"Richie Ryan," Lindstrom repeated blankly. Comprehension dawned. "The kid? Well, so what's he to you?"

That cavalier comment seemed to stun even MacLeod. "What's he to me?" he repeated, his pitch elevating with each syllable.

"Well, yeah. Look, MacLeod, I'm a business man. It's what I do, what I've always done. I take a job, I don't leave any loose ends. The Ryan kid was a loose end. He blundered into the warehouse in Seacouver and he saw too much. That's all."

"That loose end is my friend," Mac spat out furiously. "He is under my protection. You want him, you have to go through me."

Lindstrom bowed a little. "If that's the way you want it, MacLeod." He raised his sword.

Both Immortals had completely ignored Jim Ellison, but now Lindstrom's eyes flickered over him. Recognition sparked in his eyes. "I know you," he purred. "You were there with Ryan and that long-haired kid, in the Corvair. You must be Ellison. I've heard of you. Big man, Special Forces, Black Ops, that kind of thing." His smile grew wider. "I'll enjoy doing you."

"He's not a part of this, Lindstrom!" MacLeod's voice cracked like a whip.

"That's where you're wrong, MacLeod. You're the one that's not a part of this. Ellison here got away. His little hippie friend got away. And the kid got away three times. That's bad for my rep. I have an obligation to my client, you know." He looked back at MacLeod. "Last chance, Highlander. You can walk away. I owe Alex and you're his friend." He secreted his sword at the same time pulling out a gun. "Just leave me alone to take care of loose ends."

** ** **

Rage swept the Highlander. This man had tried to kill Richie. Three times. For no more reason than because he was a "loose end". Only luck or more likely the Hand of God had spared Richie to this point. He said a grateful prayer that apparently Lindstrom had not realized the young man was a pre-Immortal.

No one was safe. Not Richie, or Tessa or Sandburg or Ellison. He shot an agonized glance at the detective who was just standing there holding his gun, either stunned or off in one of those bizarre trances of his. Then Duncan stepped between the other two. "I said, you go through me."

Lindstrom sighed. "If that's the way you want it," he said. The wind picked up, pushing clouds to cover the moon.

The sudden darkness distracted MacLeod just for an instant. But it was long enough for Lindstrom's finger to tighten on the trigger. For the second time a bullet tore through Duncanís shoulder. His katana dropped from his nerveless fingers and he fell to his knees in the grass. Stunned, The Highlander waited for the killing blow.

Another shot rang out. Lindstrom jerked, then crumpled forward. Blood blossomed from a hole in his back.

MacLeod struggled to his feet as Ellison stepped around him. "I was beginning to wonder about you," the Immortal gasped, clutching his arm. Immortal or not, gunshots still hurt.

"You were blocking my shot too," Jim pointed out, kneeling beside the temporary corpse. "How long will he... stay dead?"

Duncan shrugged. "It varies. Not very long, probably."

The two men were silent. Ellison spoke first. "If I arrest him--"

"How? Jail's not going to hold him, Ellison. Richie, you, Blair, even Tessa... none of you will be safe as long as he's alive."

Jim took a deep breath. He didn't like it, but he knew what MacLeod was saying was true. Prison walls would be no protection against a man who could not die. Sooner or later Lindstrom would escape and no one would be safe, not those victims he was hired to kill or any innocent person like Richie or even Sandburg, who'd somehow gotten in the way. "So what do we do now?"

"First, we give him a chance to wake up. Then, I fight him."

"Why don't you just behead him now, while he's still dead?"

MacLeod looked faintly horrified at the mere thought. "It's a Game, Ellison. It has Rules."

The Immortal at their feet started to stir. MacLeod stepped back, assuming a fighting position. "Get out of here, Ellison."

Lindstrom's eyes opened; he coughed, blinked. Focused on MacLeod. The katana, ready.

The moon came out from behind the clouds, brightening the clearing with that ethereal light.

Silence.

Lindstrom staggered to his feet. His eyes met MacLeod's. "I can't talk you out of this?"

"Would you leave Richie alone? All of them? Would you stop killing mortals?"

Lindstrom shook his head. "No to all of the above. It's what I do, MacLeod. I killed my first mark when I was thirteen." His face darkened. "And after I'm done with all of you, I have some unfinished business in Chicago. I need to go show them that the rumors of my death were greatly exaggerated." He pulled his sword.

"Get out of here, Ellison!" Mac ordered.

Jimís senses just barely shouted a warning. A rush of displaced air, light reflecting off a blade as it surged through the air where he had stood just an instant before. Off balance, the detective stumbled and Lindstrom lunged for him again. MacLeod was there, blocking the swing with his own katana, then instinctively bringing his blade up. Lindstrom heaved around, his sword tearing through the air, but he was off target and the blade merely caught Duncanís arm. Lindstrom was defenseless for the blow that followed. A killing blow.

MacLeod just stood there as Lindstrom's body collapsed before him. Something-- Jim knew what it was even though he didn't want to admit it to himself--flew through the air to land heavily several feet away. "Ellison," MacLeod said very calmly, "you'd better take cover."

Then all hell broke loose.

** ** **

Morning. Clean light spread over the city of Cascade. A flawless blue sky kissed the ocean.

Jim lightly tapped on the door of room 438, opened the door and peeked in. The blinds were still closed, but he could easily see the sleeping form in the bed. Tentatively the Sentinel reached out with his senses: heartbeat, respiration, both normal. Blair sighed in his sleep. Jim smiled and softly closed the door as he left.

Down the hall he greeted the guard, then stepped inside Richie Ryan's room, startling MacLeod and Tessa Noel out of a deep embrace. "I'm sorry," Jim said, feeling his face turn red.

"Don't worry," came a weak voice from the bed. "They do that all the time."

"Richie!" Tessa leapt to the side of the bed, MacLeod right behind her. "You're awake! How do you feel? Are you all right? Do you have any pain? Do you need the doctor? Duncan, go get the doctor or the nurse or somebody!"

"Tess, I'm okay." Richie struggled to sit up. He winced, putting a hand to his head. "Wow, who turned on the merry-go-round?"

"You're dizzy?" MacLeod asked, leaning over the boy. "Is your vision okay? How many fingers am I holding up?" he demanded, waving three raised fingers in the air.

"Three. Would you two please slow down?" Richie pleaded, still feeling around his bandage. A horrified expression swept over his face. "Oh, geez, you let them cut my hair?"

After an incredulous silence, laughter tore through the air.

** ** **

Later, when the doctor had examined Richie and announced he was well on the path to a complete recovery, Duncan and Jim slipped out, leaving Richie with an ecstatic Tessa. The police detective handed MacLeod a file folder. "If I can get you to sign this report about last night?"

Duncan eyed him warily, then opened the folder and rapidly leafed through the pages as Jim went on, "It was awfully fortunate that you picked up that sword when Lindstrom dropped it and managed to kill him before he shot me, since he had me dead to rights like that."

MacLeod's lip quirked. "Too bad that I beheaded him rather than just stabbing him in the back, though."

"Well, the heat of the moment." Ellison shrugged. "You saved my life, and I'm grateful."

Duncan signed his name. As he handed the papers back he said, "That goes both ways, Detective. Thank you."

"Hey, we all have secrets to keep."

"Like how you knew where Lindstrom was?" MacLeod asked. He held up a hand. "No, I don't want to know. So. Now what?"

"Well, Lindstrom was strictly a killer-for-hire. He may have kept records or something on who his employers were, but we have no idea where his base of operations was."

"So it's not over," MacLeod said quietly.

"It is for you," Ellison pointed out. "The danger to Richie was Lindstrom, and he's dead. Richie's safe."

"Yeah." Duncan stepped back to the door

** ** **

Richie slept most of the first few days, but by Thursday he was alert and seemed more like his old self. He was quiet though, and that worried Tessa. "Something's wrong, Duncan," she fretted.

"Well, the quiet is a nice change," Duncan tried to joke.

"I'm serious!" Tessa flared.

"I know you are, sweetheart." Duncan put his arm around her. "Maybe he's tired of the hospital. You wait and see, when we get started for home tomorrow he'll perk right up. You'll probably be ready to gag him by the time we hit the city limits."

** ** **

Blair stuck his head around the door. "Hey, Rich, can I come in?"

Richie looked away from the window he'd been staring through. "Blair! Yeah, hey, please, come on in." He looked at the covered container Blair held. "What's that?"

"You were griping about the food, so I brought you something to eat."

"Oh?" Richie asked cautiously. He liked Blair a lot, but he'd already figured out that the guy was a health food addict on a par with Mac. The aroma from the styrofoam container was tempting, though, so he opened it to find a cheeseburger and French fries. "Great! Real food!"

Blair laughed. "Compliments of Rita."

Richie looked up with his mouth full of cheeseburger. "Who's Rita?"

"The waitress at that diner, the one you saved. Jim and I went there for lunch today and she insisted on sending you something, along with her thanks."

"I didn't save her," Richie protested, "Jim got the guys, not me."

"Well, that's not the way she remembers it. Or the way Jim or I remember it, for that matter," Blair returned. "Face it, man, you're a genuine hero."

"Some hero." Richie put the burger down; he'd suddenly lost his appetite. "I ran off and let that Senator Bolt guy get killed."

Blair shook his head. "You still don't remember what happened that day, Richie. From what I know, you couldn't have saved him, and the killer would have just killed you too, if you'd tried."

"I guess," Richie muttered, turning back to the window.

"Hey, man, what is it? You seem awfully low today."

Richie was silent for a long time, then he said, "Mac and Tessa are going back to Seacouver tomorrow. Tessa has a meeting with the Park Commission about some statue she's doing for them."

"Oh," Blair said blankly. Then his face lit up. "Hey, I've got an idea. They have VCRs out there at the main desk for patients to borrow; we'll get one and I'll bring over some movies. I've got a bunch I need to screen anyway for this new research project I'm doing. MacLeod and Tessa coming back on Sunday? or Monday?"

Another long silence. "They won't come back." Richie's voice was very quiet.

"What?" Blair shook his head. "They told you that? What's going on?"

Richie shook his head. "No, they didn't say that, exactly, but they didn't have to. I mean, why would they come back? What's up here for them?"

"Well, you're here," Blair pointed out. "For the moment, at least."

Richie shrugged.

There was another silence.

"Richie, tell me what's going on in your head," Blair finally said.

"Nothing. I mean, why should they come back? I'm nothing to them. I'm just some punk kid who broke into their place one night and for some reason Mac decided to give me a break and a job and a place to live, and then I screwed that up, and then..." abruptly Richie broke off and turned to the window, trying to hide the tears in his blue eyes.

"Man, you are so wrong," the graduate student said. "I don't know why they took you in, and I don't know what you did that you think is so terrible, but I do know that those two care about you. They're your family, Richie, and family doesn't just walk away because things don't go smoothly."

Richie snorted. "I wouldn't know," he said bitterly. "I never had a family."

Blair shrugged. "Maybe not, but you have one now. Richie, man, I'm telling you, MacLeod and Tessa love you."

Richie turned startled eyes on Blair. "Love?"

"Yeah, love." Blair shook his head. "Man, are you blind or what? Why do you think they came all the way up here? When you were in surgery and then before you woke up, they never left this place until the doctor practically dragged them out. Jim had a guard on your door and Mac still wouldn't leave. And Tessa! Man, every time you so much as wince she's out there yelling at the doctor or the nurses to do something. When you were in surgery she and I went down for coffee and all she talked about non-stop was you."

Richie stared at him. "I don't--"

"Look, Richie, maybe I don't know what happened that caused you to run away--"

"I didn't run away!" Richie flared. "I'm eighteen."

"So? You ran, Richie, and face facts, you weren't running from Lindstrom, you were running away from home."

"It's not my home. It's Mac and Tessa's, and I'm just somebody in the spare room."

"You don't believe that," Blair said.

Richie held his gaze for a minute and then looked away. "Well, okay, maybe I'd like it to be home, but it's not."

"Oh, I think it is." Blair smiled. "Richie, when I was growing up we -- my mom and I-- we moved all the time. I remember I asked her once why we were going to leave 'home' again. She said 'Sweetie, home isn't a place. Home is in your heart and with the people you love and who love you.'"

"Your mother is a very smart woman," came a deep voice from the doorway. Duncan stood there, intently looking at Richie. Tessa was standing next to him, her eyes suspiciously bright. Mac came farther into the room. "Blair, could you leave us alone for a few minutes? Tessa and I would like to take you and Detective Ellison out to dinner tonight, to say thanks -- maybe you could call him and relay the invitation?"

Richie shot Blair an imploring look, but the grad student ignored him as he scrambled out of the chair. "Hey, no problem. Be warned, though, Jim's idea of a good dinner is like, Sizzlin Sirloin or something. Richie, man, I'll come by after classes are over."

** ** **

Tessa slipped into the chair and Duncan perched on the opposite side of the bed, effectively cornering Richie. He couldn't stare out the window because Mac was in the way; if he turned in the other direction he saw Tessa dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex. So he looked at the TV. He'd muted the volume when Blair had come in, and the noon news report played silently on the screen.

"Richie," MacLeod started. "There are some things we need to talk about." He glanced at Tessa apologetically. "We should have had this discussion earlier, but I thought it would be best to wait until we got you home. I was wrong about that."

Startled, Richie looked at the Highlander. "Home?" he repeated, as if he'd never heard the word before.

"Yes, home! Our home, where we live. Our family."

Richie shook his head. "You mean, you'd let me come back?"

"Let you!" Tessa burst out. "You have no choice, Richie, do you hear me? You are coming home with us." She wiped the tears from her face with an impatient hand. "Do I need to buy some rope before tomorrow so we can tie you up and put you in the back seat, or are you coming willingly?"

"Tomorrow?"

"Well, of course. We told you we were going home tomorrow, and the doctor is going to discharge you so you can go too. Did you really think we'd leave without you?" Tessa asked.

Richie stared at her, then made a sudden movement. Before either of them realized what was going on, Tessa and Richie were hugging each other and their tears mixed together trickling down their faces. "But I've caused so much trouble," the teenager said, his words muffled in Tessa's neck.

Duncan cleared his throat with difficulty. "No, you had trouble. You didn't cause it. The only thing you did wrong was to run instead of coming home and letting us help you." He paused and grinned. "And we will talk about that, but don't worry, I'll wait until you're back on your feet."

Richie pulled loose from Tessa, blinking his eyes rapidly to hide the tears. "You guys--- you guys are--" he paused, took a deep breath and went on, "You two are the best people I've ever met. I just don't understand why... I mean, after everything with Felicia," he glanced at Tessa, his heart in his eyes, "What I said to you--"

Tessa laid two fingers across his mouth. "Hush. I was angry and so were you. We both said a few things we shouldn't have. It's over."

Richie looked at the TV again, trying to regain his composure. There was a dark-haired woman being interviewed by the newscaster. Richie frowned, he had the funny feeling he'd seen her before, but where-- he remembered suddenly and his eyes widened.

"Richie?" MacLeod half rose from his seat. "What's wrong?"

Richie tried to speak, to tell him, but it was like there was no air in his lungs. Duncan followed his gaze. He frowned. "The news show?"

"That lady--" Richie choked out. "Mac, I -- remember! At the warehouse! When that guy got killed, she was there! She was watching, she watched him get killed and she-- she was laughing about it!"

Tessa threw a startled glance at the set. "Duncan, isn't that--"

MacLeod nodded. "That's Melinda Bolt."

Richie stared at him.

"Senator Markham Bolt's widow," the Highlander finished grimly.

 

Epilogue

From an article in the Seacouver Journal, December 2.

After fifty-six hours of deliberations the Grand Jury failed to indict Melinda Bolt on charges of murder in the death of her husband, Senator Markham J. Bolt.

The body of Senator Bolt, 48, was discovered October 30 in a Seacouver warehouse. He had been shot three times in what police later described as an "execution style" killing.

Prosecutors alleged that Melinda Bolt, 34, Senator Bolt's second wife, hired a professional killer, Erik Lindstrom, to kill her husband. Witnesses testified that Bolt had recently discovered Mrs. Bolt was having an extramarital affair. Family members testified before the Grand Jury that Bolt was seeking a divorce. Under the terms of a prenuptial agreement signed in the 1988 Mrs. Bolt would receive a lump-sum payment of $500,000 if the marriage dissolved before ten years had passed, plus support for any children.

Senator and Mrs. Bolt have one child, a son, David, age 2. Senator Bolt had two older children from his first marriage.

Mrs. Bolt admitted under oath that she was having an affair with a Seacouver businessman but denied having hired Lindstrom. Lindstrom was killed in Cascade after an attempt on the life of prosecution witness, Richard Ryan.

Ryan, 18, testified that he witnessed a man shoot Senator Bolt while a woman watched. Ryan identified the woman as Melinda Bolt. Ryan left Seacouver following the murder and it was several days before he told his story. Ryan said that he fled because he was in fear for his life.

Although Ryan maintained his story under relentless questioning by Mrs. Bolt's attorneys, much was made of the fact that he never mentioned Mrs. Bolt's presence at the scene until after he was recovering from brain surgery.

A visibly angry ADA Janet Gimlin was harshly critical of Judge William May's refusal to allow the testimony of Cascade police Detective Jim Ellison. Gimlin stated that Ellison was witness to two attempts Erik Lindstrom made on Ryan's life. Judge May issued a statement saying in part "Ellison's testimony would have been pertinent if the Grand Jury was investigating Erik Lindstrom for the attempted murder of Richard Ryan, but it has no relevance in the current situation."

Bolt's attorney released a statement saying, "Mrs. Bolt is understandably relieved that she has been vindicated by the Grand Jury's findings. Although there might have been problems in her marriage, Mrs. Bolt loved her husband and only asks to be left alone to grieve her loss."

** ** **

"What's the deal?' Richie asked, leaning back against the counter in mock-exhaustion. "Is business booming all of a sudden or what?"

"Get used to it," Duncan returned lightly. "It will be this way until Christmas."

The Highlander was glad for the rush of business, if for no other reason than keeping busy had helped Richie's mood. The young man had been depressed since the Grand Jury had failed to indict Melinda Bolt, feeling that it was somehow a reflection on him.

They had been plagued by reporters in the week since the Grand Jury's decision. One in particular had been especially persistent, pouncing on Richie every time he walked out of the shop. But even Randi MacFarland had to give up in the face of unwavering "No comment" occasionally interspersed with "Get out of my face, lady!" and finally appeared to have given up. Duncan just wanted to put the whole thing behind them.

As if divining MacLeod's thoughts, Richie said suddenly, "Did you see the paper this morning? She's moving out of the house."

MacLeod didn't have to ask who he was talking about. He sighed. Since when does Richie read any part of the paper but the comics and the sports section? Aloud he said, "Let it go, Richie."

"Let it go, Mac? She killed her husband and thanks to me she got away with it!"

"How was it your fault, Rich? You heard what Janet Gimlin said, without your statement the DA wouldn't have even charged her. The police suspected Melinda Bolt, but they didn't have any real evidence."

"Fat lot of good I did," Richie muttered. He slid off the counter. "Better get ready, Mac, looks like we've got a big-money customer coming in. Check out that car!"

MacLeod glanced up at the sleek limousine that had just glided to a stop in front of the shop. A uniformed chauffeur stepped out and swiftly came around to the rear passenger door, opening it and carefully helping an elderly woman to alight. The Highlander inhaled sharply as he recognized the dignified form.

"You know her?" Richie asked.

"Corinna Bolt," MacLeod answered, hastily going to the door.

** ** **

Richie stood back and watched as Mac greeted the petite elderly woman warmly, ushering her inside the warm shop. Mac was talking about a new collection of Venetian glassware that had come in, but the woman waved her hand. "I'm not here to shop, Duncan, not today. I'm afraid I've been very delinquent in my Christmas gift-buying this year."

"That's quite understandable," MacLeod said gently. "Then how can I help you?"

"I wanted to talk with your young friend here," Corinna Bolt announced abruptly, turning suddenly to look at Richie. The young man felt himself impaled by a pair of piercing blue eyes.

"Me?" he squeaked.

Richie was sure the woman wanted to rail at him for screwing up and allowing her grandson's murderer to go free. He felt his jaw drop open when the woman approached him with her hand outstretched, saying "I wanted to thank you, Mr. Ryan."

"Thank me?" Richie breathed out after a startled silence. "For what? She got away with it."

Duncan winced, but Mrs. Bolt smiled. "She won't go to prison," she corrected him. "But she didn't get what she wanted. Melinda did not know that my grandson had already changed his will. Under his new will she will receive even less that she would have under the prenuptial agreement." She shrugged. "Possibly you don't know that according the laws of this state, an insurance company can refuse payment in event of suspicion the beneficiary had something to do with the death of the insured: they don't have to be able to prove it. Melinda can fight, but she's going to find herself very short of ready cash. And I'm afraid those high-dollar lawyers of hers may make themselves scarce when her true financial picture is revealed."

MacLeod smiled. "And that true picture--"

"Will be reported on the evening news," Mrs. Bolt finished. She looked back at Richie. "I've just come from my attorneys. Melinda signed an agreement this morning that in return for the $500,000 promised her under the prenuptial, she will relinquish all claims to Mark's estate, to the Bolt family assets, and to her son."

"She's giving up the child?" MacLeod asked.

Mrs. Bolt nodded. "David will be raised by the Bolt family, where he belongs. Hopefully he'll never have to know that his mother had his father murdered. I owe this to you, Mr. Ryan. The insurance company was very impressed with your testimony; it gave me the leverage I needed to force Melinda to give up David."

Richie's head was whirling. "I'm glad... but it's still not right!"

The matriarch looked at him for several seconds. "Possibly. You're very young, Mr. Ryan. You still see the world in black and white. Right and wrong. When one gets to my, age one settles for what one can get. Even if Melinda had been tried and found guilty, it wouldn't have brought Mark back. The best thing is to take care of Mark's son." She extended her hand to Richie. "Please know you have my gratitude, Mr. Ryan. And if I can ever be of any help to you--"

Richie shook his head violently, his heart pounding. "No. I mean, thank you, but no. I... I.. " he looked at MacLeod. The Highlander was smiling at him, his dark eyes warm and reassuring. A light step behind him indicated that Tessa was there too, being silently supportive. Richie took a deep breath and managed to shake Mrs. Bolt's hand. "Thanks for the offer, but I have everything I need."

Mrs. Bolt looked from Richie to MacLeod and then back again. "I can see that." With a farewell smile, she started for the door.

Richie watched her, his thoughts confused. He kept seeing a small child, a small red-haired child, all alone in the world-- "Mrs. Bolt!"

"Yes?" She turned to face him.

"There is one thing. The little boy--"

"David?"

"Yeah." Richie stopped, then struggled on, "Could you... just make sure that somebody always loves him -- that he knows he has a family?" His voice trailed off and he shook his head in dismay about how corny it sounded.

Mrs. Bolt studied him for a long time, then her eyes lit up in the warmest smile he'd ever seen. "Richard," she said, addressing him by his first name, "that I can make sure of."

Richie let his breath out in a sigh. "Good," he smiled. He looked at Mac and then at Tessa, then back at Mrs. Bolt. His next words were addressed to her, but he knew Mac and Tessa would know that he was really speaking to them when he said, "'Cause everybody needs a family."