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Chessman Chronicles
Helping the Newcomer

By Crys

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Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover

The day started normally enough. I went to my office at my usual time and started working on the stack of personal home pages I'd been contracted to put together. Nothing much exciting, but it was a quiet source of income.

It was about 10:30 when I felt an Immortal walk into range. Since Amanda had left for Paris months ago, I knew about only one other Immortal in town, and he wasn't likely to come to me.

I opened a desk drawer and pulled out my pistol. It wasn't a permanent solution to be sure, but it would buy me time if I needed it. Whoever it was pounded on the door. I relaxed slightly; headhunters would've simply kicked it in.

Since I had a moment, I paid attention to the aura. Definitely Immortal, but painfully young. Less than a year. Hmm, now who knows I'm Immortal and is (or was rather) Pre-Immortal themselves?

Calling out to the door, I said, "Come on in, Nick." When it was indeed Nick Wolfe that came storming in, I calmly put my gun back into the desk before leaning back in my seat.

He came stomping over to the guest chair and flopped down into it before fixing me with a glare. "You knew! You little asshole, you knew and you didn't tell me." He rubbed the back of his neck distractedly.

I sighed at Nick's observation. "Yes, Nick, I knew you'd become Immortal." I fixed him with a thoughtful look. "What'd you want me to do? Announce it the instant I met you?"


I gave him a stern look. "You know better." Sighing, I waved my hand. "Okay, let's say that I did. First off, Amanda would kill me for telling you. For the sake of argument, let's say we didn't kill each other over it. Would you have lived your life any differently?" I didn't even give him a chance to answer before continuing, "Of course you would! Taken irresponsible chances at the very least. Probably gotten yourself killed quite publicly as well. This way, you lived a relatively normal life. And since you're here, it probably wasn't a very public death. What happened?"

I could nearly see the steam coming out his ears. "She shot me," he growled.

I blinked. "She who?" Couldn't be Amanda. She'd never used a gun in her life.

"Amanda! She took my gun and shot me when I was dying of poison."

As absurd as the comment was, it made a certain amount of sense. "Let me guess. It had to be a violent death or else you wouldn't come back, right?"

My words seemed to be taking hold. He'd calmed down to merely "homicidally pissed". He answered my question, "That's what she said."

I sighed. "Sorry to burst your bubble, or perhaps hers, but you would have come back anyway."

He stared at me in shock and disbelief.

I continued, "I've heard that it's a minor distinction." I wasn't about to tell him that where I heard it was from a research paper that was circulated among the Watchers. I continued my explanation, "Pre-Immortals CAN die of old age. Heart attack, stroke, whatever. But if death is caused by an outside agent, be it bullet, crash, or POISON," I stressed, waving at him, "then Immortality kicks in and revives you."

He opened and closed his mouth a few times before any sound came out. Staring at me the whole time, he asked, "So unless I died of natural causes, I would have been cursed with this?"

"It's NOT a curse," I answered immediately, a little ticked at his attitude.

"Sure," he snarled.

I frowned at him. This wasn't the Nick Wolfe I'd gotten to know over the preceding half year before he'd gone to Paris. There was something else bothering him. Rubbing my eyes in exasperation, I said, "Look, you know what you are. You know that there are good points to this. So what's your problem?"

He sighed, suddenly looking terribly tired. "She lied to me."

I blinked. That was not the answer I was expecting. "Pardon?"

He shook his head. "I once asked her if I was going to be Immortal. She said I wouldn't be. She lied to me."

I frowned. "I already told you why Immortals don't tell Pre- Immortals what they are going to be."

He shook his head again. "She TOLD me," he grumbled. And suddenly it became much clearer. In the time since they'd left Toronto for Paris, they'd fallen in love. Even if neither was quite willing to say it out loud yet. This simplified matters in some ways, and horribly complicated them in others. "I don't want this," he muttered, almost to himself.

Suddenly tired of his denial of reality, I said, "Tough. Deal with it." His head snapped up from his stare at the floor, and he glared at me. I got up and stretched. "Look, you've gotten a huge shock. Taking it out on everyone around you won't help matters any." He opened his mouth to retort before closing it and grudgingly nodding. He wasn't any happier, but he got the message to shut up. I continued, "You're probably not thinking straight right now, so I'll forgive you what you've said." I took a breath before continuing. "You're Immortal, with all that entails. You'd better start thinking like one real quick or you'll become a nice, pretty light show for somebody." Casually walking around my desk, I stopped by the coat rack and leaned on the wall.

He gritted his teeth. "I told you I don't want this." He'd twisted around in his seat to follow me as I wandered the room.

I shrugged. Better shock him into reality, then. In a move too fast for him to react to in his awkward, twisted position, I pulled the wakizashi out of my hanging coat and spun to him, stopping the razor edge less than an inch from his neck. In a conversational tone of voice, I said, "There's only one way to remove this 'curse' as you insist on calling it. Are you sure you want me to do that?"

Gritting his teeth, he slowly shook his head. You've got to give him credit. He didn't visibly react to the sword at his throat. Nodding to him, I replaced the sword in my coat and went back to my seat. "Now that we have that cleared up, what do we do with you?" For the first time, I noticed the dark circles under his eyes and his unkempt hair. Looking closer, I saw the fatigue under the surface in the slump of his shoulders. "When was the last time you slept?"

He frowned at me. "Why?"

Great, he probably hasn't slept since dying. Whenever and wherever that was. I sighed at him again. "You may be tougher to kill, but you still DO need sleep."

"I'm fine," he tried to wave me off.

Rolling my eyes, I said, "Sure, Nick." He glared back. On to more practical matters. "Okay, you already know the basics of what being an Immortal is all about. Learning to use a sword is the only one left that you'll need help with. For the time being, you need to lie low and stay out of circulation. You're way too easy a mark on the playing field."

"I can take care of myself."

I growled back, "No, you can't. Not until you learn what you need. A gun isn't as useful against a determined Immortal as you may think."

His fatigue was finally catching up with him. Instead of fighting me, he just asked, "Fine, what next?" He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes.

"Next, you get some sleep."


I ended up taking him to my place and dumping him into my spare room. All of his possessions were back in Paris and there wasn't anywhere else for him to go that would be safe.

While he slept, I made some phone calls.


"Mac! Welcome back from Paris."

"Ryan. How're you doing?"

"Oh, pretty good. Set up house in Toronto. Settling in, and so far it seems like a good place."

"Nice to hear you're doing well. What's up?"

"Found a new Immortal. Well, he found me. Couple things. One, who would you suggest train him? I can't."

You could almost hear the confusion in his voice. "Bring him to Seacouver. I can at least start his training."

I shook my head at the man two thousand some miles away. "I don't think that'll work. You see, it was Amanda who killed him. For his own good." I explained on for a few moments to his incredulous silence before finishing with, "Nick knows you and Amanda have a history. That certainly won't help the situation any."

"Nick Wolfe, that ex-cop that Amanda is 'just friends' with?"

I grinned. "Good, you've heard from Amanda about him. Yeah, him. And based on what I think we both suspect about them, she can't train him either."

"Good point," he said thoughtfully.

That was surprising. I knew he loved Amanda as well. Nick was potential competition. He was taking this way too calmly. Oh, well. It's their problem, not mine.

Mac was continuing, "Well, my next suggestion would be Connor."

"Could you call him, then? I hardly know the guy."

"Sure. Why don't you two come here? Until Connor can get together with Nick, you'll need help protecting him. Besides, we can get him a sword easier that way."

"No," I answered slowly. "Toronto is actually quite Immortal bare. Aside from me, there's only one other Immortal in town, and he knows it'd be instant death from both Amanda and me to bother Nick. Toronto is probably a lot safer than Seacouver. As for the sword, you can have Amanda shuttle a few out here for Nick to try out. But we'll have to keep them from seeing each other. In his mood, seeing her won't help matters any. He blames her for his 'curse'," I explained wryly.

I could hear Mac's long suffering sigh on the other end. "And until he comes to accept his gift, the source had better be scarce. Aye, most new Immortals are like that." He paused. "I've got a better idea. Why don't I send Richie? He needs the break from Seacouver anyway."

I smiled at the thought of seeing my friend. "Good idea. Let me know once you talk to Connor and Richie?" I recited my home and office numbers. "Other than keeping him alive and out of most mischief, there isn't anything I can do for Nick." I didn't have to explain that I wasn't experienced enough myself to train him.

"I'll do that," answered Mac. "Oh, you'd better call Amanda. She's probably worried."

"Okay. Talk to you later. Oh, and thanks."

"For what?"


He chuckled. "What does Amanda call me? A boy scout? We help everyone, remember?"

I smiled as I hung up. Having Mac helping was a tremendous load off my shoulders. With his contacts, help for Nick was much closer to reality.

Pulling out my phone list, I called Amanda's penthouse here in Toronto.

"Montrose residence," Lucy answered.

"Hi, Lucy. It's Ryan."

"Ryan! I was going to call you. I just got a panicked call from Amanda. Nick's . . . changed and is now missing." She sounded genuinely worried. Of course, when it came to Amanda or anyone around her, Lucy was always worried.

"I know. He showed up at my office a few hours ago. I have him over at my place now. If you could tell Amanda that, it'd be a load off her mind, I'm sure."

"Thank God," Lucy breathed. "How is he doing?"

"Under the circumstances, as well as could be expected. I don't think he's gotten much sleep in the past couple of days, but that's also normal for a newly awakened Immortal. He's got a LOT to absorb right now. Which reminds me, please keep Amanda away from here. He blames her for his condition and I don't want either of them saying something that they'll eventually regret. I know she'll want to see him, but staying away is probably better for all involved."

She sighed. "I suppose you're right. Amanda will be so disappointed, but I'll try to keep her away. For Nick's sake. Is there anything I can do?"

I thought about it a second. "No offense, Lucy, but talking to a mortal my do him some good. Once he wakes up, I'll ask if he wants to talk to you."

"No offense taken," she responded brightly. "I'm as mortal as they come. With the blood pressure to prove it." I chuckled at her perpetual good humor. She continued more slowly, "Ryan, I understand why Amanda wouldn't tell me he was going to be Immortal, but did you know?"

I sighed soundlessly. Here we go again. "Yes, Lucy, I knew. And I didn't tell you for the same reason that I didn't tell him. Anybody knowing that kind of information would only alter their perceptions of him. No matter your intentions, you would have treated him differently, just as you treat Amanda, me, and all other Immortals differently. Once he noticed that, his having that information would only hurt him in the long run."

"You sound just like Amanda," she grumped.

I laughed. "Actually, we both sound like every other non- headhunting Immortal that I'm aware of." I switched gears. "Meanwhile, there are a few folks coming into town who will help. I'll call later once I have some news, either way."

Once Lucy and I finished our call, I stared at the phone in thought. I had to assume that the Watchers already knew about Nick. Based on that he said, Amanda's Watcher no doubt watched him wake up. Therefore, he was a known Immortal and I didn't have to worry about the Watchers. The only other question along those lines was whether or not to tell Nick about them. Probably not, I decided after some thought. Telling everyone about Watchers only put them into more danger of widespread exposure.


The next morning Nick didn't take his enforced inactivity very well. "What do you MEAN, I can't go anywhere?!" he snarled at me.

I rolled my eyes. "I didn't say you couldn't do ANYTHING, just that you had to lie low. Oh, and we'll be having some guests within the next few days, so staying close is a good idea for several reasons."

He muttered something under his breath in French that I was probably just as happy I didn't understand.

"As for lying low, you can go out if you want, but going to anyplace that Nick Wolfe is known to frequent would be a bad idea. Word about the new Immortal is no doubt already working its way through the Immortal grapevine. Going somewhere predictable would be close to suicidal." Actually, what I told Duncan the previous day was true. He was probably safe here in town, but I wanted him to start learning paranoia. "Meanwhile, Lucy wants to know if you'd like to talk to her."

His eyes narrowed a little.

I shook my head. "No, Amanda won't be there. Just Lucy."

He thought about it a moment before nodding.


While he and Lucy went out for lunch, I went back to my office. If I was going to stay home for a few days to keep Nick from going stir crazy, I figured I should at least have some work on hand. I still DID have to make a living, after all.

While gathering my stuff up at the office, the phone rang. I grabbed it up, "Chessman."

"Hey, Ryan, it's Richie."

My head came up. "Rich! How's it going?"

"Oh, pretty well. Listen, we're at the Toronto airport. Could you come and pick us up? I'd take a cab, but I don't know where you live."

A slight grin started to form at his use of "we". I had an idea who it was and was looking forward to seeing them. "Sure. I'll be about a half-hour."

"Great. Concourse A. Meet you at the bar?"

"Okay. See you then."


I was still a few feet short of the bar entrance when the Buzz hit me. Since I was expecting Richie, I hardly slowed down. It'd been close to a year since I'd seen him, and was looking forward to spending time with my friend.

Walking in the door, I scanned the crowd until I saw Richie waving. Making my way over to him, I took in his appearance. He hadn't aged at all, of course, but still, he managed to look more mature. Perhaps Hoa had been a calming influence on him. And speaking of her, she was smiling at me as well as I arrived.

I held out my hand to Richie as they stood. After a quick shake of his hand, I turned to Hoa and held out my arms for a hug. She gave me one without any hesitation. Leaning over to whisper into her ear, I said, "I'd give you a kiss, but Richie'd likely carve out my heart right here."

She giggled as she released me from the hug. As she was turning around to gather her coat and purse, I glanced down at her left hand. Sure enough, there was a diamond ring there. I almost missed the blue tattoo inside the wrist, but caught it as well. So she'd officially joined the Watchers? Guess so, if she was openly wearing their insignia.

Grabbing one of the suitcases and the sword case that was by Richie's feet, I said, "About time."

Richie graced me with a confused look that was mirrored by Hoa. He asked, "What do you mean? You only called Mac yesterday."

I shook my head as I slung the suitcase strap over my left shoulder. "Not that." I nodded my head toward Hoa's hand. "I was referring to the ring. Congratulations."

Her smile was overshadowed by his, but it was a close call. "Thanks," they chorused.

All three of us were chuckling as I led them to the short term parking lot. "What about you?" asked Hoa. "Anybody new in your life?"

I sighed dramatically. "Amanda hasn't succumbed to my charms yet." Hoa rolled her eyes and Richie snickered. I continued, "Of course, competing with the likes of," I adopted an accent, "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," I dropped the accent as my companions smiled. I did too before continuing, "and Nick Wolfe, I'm afraid I'm out- classed."

They both looked a little surprised. Richie asked, "She and this Nick Wolfe are an item?"

I shook my head. "Neither of them will admit it, but I think so. Know anything about him?" They shook their heads. I opened my trunk and we piled the luggage in as I continued, "He's an ex-cop turned investigator. They met when he was trying to investigate her for a jewel theft." They both smiled. "He saw her die and awaken, and she eventually told him what she was. Since then, she's helped him in the various PI business that he's been contracted for, and they've slowly grown closer. Then they both went chasing off to Paris a few months ago. And then he came storming into my office a few days ago, Immortal. I don't know if Mac told you, but she was the one who killed him." They nodded. I sighed as I unlocked the car. "And here we are." In quite the mess.


We made small talk on the way to my apartment. They'd only recently become engaged, and no wedding date had been set. Despite living in Seacouver, Richie hadn't been Challenged since before I'd left. Hoa had joined the Watchers in an administrative role shortly after I'd left.

As we neared my apartment door burdened only with the sword case, we walked into Nick's Buzz. I held up my hand to Richie suddenly tense look. "It's okay. That's Nick."

I unlocked the door and opened it a crack. Without walking in, I called, "It's okay, Nick. It's me and two friends."

Opening the door the rest of the way, I led the way in. Nick was standing next to my couch, holstering his gun. Richie saw this and nodded. "Good reflexes," he said.

Nick just raised one eyebrow before turning to me. "You know those headaches I've been complaining about? Well, it just got twice as bad as usual."

I smiled. He was learning to hide his Immortality. "It's okay, Nick. They know. And the reason it's twice as bad as usual is because there were two Immortals walking into your range instead of just one. The headaches will pass, but the Buzz stays with you."

He looked over at them. Smiling disarmingly at Hoa, he said, "Which?"

I grinned. "Guess," I offered.

He grinned; Richie frowned. I said, "Careful frisking her for a sword, though. She's likely to hurt you."

He looked at her incredulously. She smiled sweetly. She did not look intimidating at all of five foot five and less than one hundred pounds. I just laughed.

Richie muttered warningly under his breath, "Ryan . . ."

I waved my hand. "Okay, okay. Nick Wolfe, meet Richie Ryan and his fiancée Vu Tran Hoa." He looked crestfallen at the "fiancée" part, but politely shook hands all around.

As they were seating themselves comfortably around the living room, Nick suddenly pointed at Hoa's wrist and said, "You're a Watcher?"

Everyone stopped. I frowned at Nick. "How . . . ?"

He shrugged. "I met one a while ago. Name of Dawson, I think." He leaned back on the couch comfortably. The rest of us were staring at him in amazement.

Hoa muttered, "Brother, it IS a small world after all."

Richie and I chuckled. I said, "Okay, but it'd probably be a good idea if you didn't mention Watchers to anyone. Some Immortals have a tendency to kill them once they learn about the Watchers."

Nick shrugged his acceptance.

I leaned over to the coffee table where I'd put the sword case and opened it, exposing a katana, a long sword, and a military sabre.

Nick looked over at my newest guests and said, "So you're the couriers from Seacouver?"

Hoa nodded from her spot sharing the recliner with Richie. Sharing apparently involved using his lap as her seat. Not that he seemed to mind, of course.

Nick got up and experimentally hefted each sword, swinging it as much as the space allowed. Richie and I kept a wary eye on him. Friend or not, having someone swinging a sword around wasn't something either of us was comfortable with.

After replacing the sabre, Nick said to me, "Are these my only choices?"

I shook my head. "No, but based on your size and strength, those three represent most of your best choices."

He shook his head. "How am I supposed to choose?"

Richie took that one. "For the moment, it doesn't matter. Most every weapon has its own style. You have to start practicing with each before you determine which style you like best."

Nick turned to look at me for a moment before looking back down at the katana. "This one looks like yours. Does that mean you can teach me how to use it?"

I shook my head. "First off, that's a katana, and mine is a wakizashi. Same blade style, different lengths. Secondly, no, I'm not going to teach you swordplay. I'm too young myself. Remember, chronologically you're my senior."

He turned to Richie with a slight frown and raised eyebrow. Richie also shook his head. "No, I'm not going to be your teacher, either."

Nick sighed in frustration. "Then WHO will teach me?"

I grinned and looked over at Hoa. She shrugged indifferently. Nick's jaw dropped. "You're kidding."

Hoa and I laughed. I said, "Yes, I am, but you need to learn something. There's nothing saying she couldn't be Immortal and better with a sword than anybody else. Immortality sometimes will show up in the damndest places. Though Hoa looks harmless enough, she could probably give you a run for your money in unarmed combat. Before you became Immortal, anyway." Hoa blushed slightly at the compliment. "Anyway, as for your sword instructor, he should be here tomorrow. I would have preferred Duncan teach you," I stopped at his growl and nodded. "But that would be a bad idea for other reasons. I can't, Richie can't, Amanda could," I ignored his louder growl, "but probably shouldn't, and there's only one other person who makes any sense that I know. He'll be here tomorrow."

He gave me a dirty look. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"

I grinned, unrepentant. "Nope."

Sighing, he gave up and looked down at the swords. "Ryan, if your sword is the same style as this . . . katana is it?" He continued at my nod, "If it's the same style, do you use the same fighting style as someone with a katana?"

"Not really. My wakizashi is about a foot shorter. I also fight with a second blade, which is relatively uncommon."

Nick nodded and turned to Richie. Richie looked at him for a moment before asking, "Yes?"

Nick looked equal parts uncomfortable and confused. "Um, what style do you use?"

Richie appeared to think about it. I said, "Most Immortals won't answer that question. To answer it gives away information, and that's dangerous." I sighed. "As a whole, we're a paranoid, selfish bunch. Even those who are not active headhunters still tend to be loners. I'm answering your questions for two reasons. One, I know you. Two, I trust Amanda's opinion, and she trusts you." His jaw tightened, but he didn't say anything. I shook my head with another sigh. "Like it or not, Amanda really does have your best interests at heart, Nick. It'll just take time for you to realize that."

He started muttering in French. Again.

Leaving him to quietly steam, I turned to Hoa and Richie. "It's been months since I had a good sparring match. Either of you interested?"


As it turned out, Hoa did want a workout after the plane ride. Leading the way back out to my car, I took everyone to a nearby martial arts dojo that I had a membership at. Given that it was the middle of the day, it wasn't terribly surprising that we were the only ones in the exercise area.

As Hoa walked toward the women's locker room with her duffel over one shoulder, she said to us over her shoulder, "Just be a minute, boys."

Richie and I headed into the other locker room as Nick wandered the exercise area. I was rather surprised he'd come. Must have been out of boredom. As I changed into my T-shirt and shorts, I asked Richie, "How good is she?"

He grinned in expectation. "Better than when you left. I trained her as far as I could, and Mac's been training her further. She isn't in his league yet, but she can keep me on my toes until she starts to tire out."

Richie and I were well into our stretching exercises with Nick looking disinterestedly on when Hoa re-entered the room. I'd seen her in her workout tights before, but that certainly didn't mean I wasn't willing to see her again. Based on the way Nick's attention was riveted on her, he had much the same opinion. Totally ignoring the both of us, she started stretching.

I heard a snicker beside me and looked over just in time to see Richie wipe the grin off his face. "Down, boy," he said with a smile. "She's off limits."

Blushing slightly, I started a light kata to get myself limbered up. When that was completed, I went over to the cabinet where the practice weapons were kept. Calling out to Hoa, I asked, "Still use a two foot wakizashi, Hoa?"

Without moving from the uncomfortable looking stretch with her face almost touching the mat as her hands clutched her ankle, she replied, "No, I use a katana now."

I nodded and began rummaging through the weapons, pulling out a three foot curved "sword" and wooden replicas of my own weapons of choice.

I turned as she fluidly stood up. Walking over, I flipped the "katana" over so I caught it by the blade before handing it to her. Taking my two weapons in hand, I led the way over to the exercise mat.

As we faced each other and assumed defensive stances, Nick called out, "Hey, I can't believe you're going to do this, Ryan! You'll hurt her." Richie put a hand to his mouth as Hoa turned a glare on Nick.

Fighting to keep a smile off my face, I turned to Nick and said, "Don't worry about her. She's had plenty of sword training."

His face registered clear disbelief. "You say so, man."

Hoa and I refaced each other. Since I didn't know how good she was, I stayed in my defensive crouch and forced her to make the first move.

It didn't take long before I was convinced that she HAD improved. A lot. I had to work like crazy just to stay even with her before she started to tire out. Immortal metabolisms and healing powers meant that it took us a LOT longer to become fatigued than it did for mortals. Eventually, she started slowing down. When that happened, it was only a matter of time. A bad angle and a tired hand gave me a chance to disarm her. "I yield," she said between pants, leaning forward with hands on knees.

I stepped back as well, also breathing heavily. Turning to Richie, I said, "You're right, she HAS improved."

He merely nodded.

Nick had watched the whole thing in silence. I turned to him and asked, "See enough of the katana style to know if you like it?"

He nodded. "I've seen Amanda fight with her sword. Now I've seen a katana. What's that third sword's style look like?"

I shrugged. "I'm not very good with a sabre, so I can't show you the style very well. If Hoa promises not to beat me up too bad, I can TRY to use one for a while and show you."

She glanced over at Richie with a raised eyebrow before nodding to me. She obviously knew Richie preferred the cutlass and would be a perfect example of the style that Nick was asking for. But Richie wasn't interested in showing off his skills to Nick.

Walking back over to the weapons closet with my swords in hand, I exchanged them for a heavier, longer version. Once back over to the practice mat, Hoa had a wicked grin in place as she raised her retrieved katana. It only took her twenty seconds to hit my arm hard enough to raise an instant bruise.

"What'd you do that for?" exclaimed Nick.

I backed off a step to answer his question. "She saw a hole in my defenses and used it."

"Yeah, but did she have to hurt you?"

I just gave him a look that spoke volumes as Hoa giggled and Richie snickered. "Against Immortals, the rules for Hoa are that anything goes short of the neck. Partly this is to make it easier for her, since she doesn't have to check her swings. Partly this teaches Richie and me to fight even while hurt. Besides, I've already healed." I swung the arm in full circles to demonstrate.

Nick frowned a little. "This'll take some getting used to."


I was in my den the next afternoon doing some of the work I'd brought home when I felt a Buzz approach. No, two Buzzes. Nick had gone to lunch with Lucy again and Richie and Hoa were out doing the tourist thing.

As I headed toward my sword, I paid attention to the auras. One was Nick. The other was roughly eight hundred years old, with a strange mix of head's worth of power. Lots of medium strength ones, and a few strong ones as well. That made me nervous.

I reached my sword just as Nick walked in with a little boy in tow. Nick looked excited as he said, "Ryan! I'd like you to meet Kenny. He's new. Kenny, I'd like you meet a friend, Ryan Chessman."

He smiled at me nervously. I was thinking rapidly. Kenny, apparent ten year old boy. Every Watcher had heard of him. And I'd heard a few more stories from Duncan and Richie.

Nick clearly had no idea of what he'd just let into my home. He was headed into the kitchen, nearly dragging Kenny along, talking all the way. I grabbed my Ka-Bar knife and carried it inconspicuously. I leaned on the door frame to the kitchen to keep an eye on my guests. Nick was still talking, "I just died recently, so I don't understand any of this myself. Ryan here refuses to teach me, but he's arranged for someone to come and train me. I mean, I knew about Immortals ever since Amanda told me," Nick had his back turned, so he didn't see Kenny's eyes widening, but I caught it. Nick was still jabbering away. "But I never guessed that I'd actually become one." Trying to look inconspicuous, Kenny got up and casually walked toward the door.

And nearly bumped into me. Eyes again widening momentarily, he quickly composed himself and said, "May I please go to the restroom, Mister Chessman?"

I shook my head. "No. Sit down."

Nick turned from the omelet he was making. "What's the matter with you, Ryan? Let the kid use the bathroom."

Staring at Kenny, I said, "He isn't a kid, Nick."

And just as fast as that, everything changed. Quick as lightening, Kenny pulled a switchblade from somewhere and struck at me with it. When I jumped back to avoid the blade, he bolted for the front door. I caught him before he made it and grabbed his arm. He came around with the blade leading, sinking it into my side, between the ribs. Before I became incapacitated, I rammed my knife as hard as I could into the middle of his chest.

Nick hit the kitchen door just in time to see Kenny die and me reach for the knife sticking out of my ribs.

"What the hell did you do that for?!"

I gritted my teeth and yanked the blade out. Gasping, I dropped the knife and laid my hand over the bleeding wound. Waiting for my healing capacity to bring the pain down to merely excruciating, I hissed out, "Like I said, he's not a kid. He's eight hundred or so."

He stared at me a moment before his eyes flickered to Kenny and back. "Huh?"

My breath was coming easier, and I got up. I checked on Kenny and was gratified to see the handle was protruding right over his heart. He wouldn't be waking up until after someone pulled the knife out. Good, I had time. Still holding my aching side, I headed to the storage closet. "Come on. Like I said, he's old. He looks ten, so he uses the 'innocent little me' routine to put Immortals off their guard before killing them. He made a play at Richie and Duncan a few years ago. Nearly got them, too. This 'kid' is a serious menace."

Once I could stretch without bleeding, I got the plastic drop cloth I'd used from painting the guest room, one of my folding chairs, and a roll of duct tape. Carrying the stuff back to the living room, I spread the plastic over the middle of the room and placed the chair right in the middle of it before dropping the roll of tape onto the floor next to the chair. Walking back out to Kenny, I noticed that his and my blood had soaked the door mat and was spreading across the tile just inside the door. However it hadn't spread onto the carpet yet. I pulled Kenny up into a fireman's carry and hefted him to the chair. He bled more over me, but the shirt was a total loss anyway. At this stage, I was more worried about my carpet than anything else. Propping him in the chair, I strung tape from his left shoulder to right hip and across the back of the chair before stopping at his shoulder again. Repeating on the other shoulder, I drew an X over his chest to hold him upright. Tearing off a piece, I placed it over his mouth. Something occurred to me, and I placed the roll of tape down. I quickly frisked him on the chance that he had more blades on him. Sure enough, there was another switchblade tucked into his right sleeve. I tossed that one onto the couch before picking up the tape again. Grabbing one elbow, I started another piece of tape there before dragging the other elbow over and taping them together. Keeping the piece going, I started spiraling down his arms, stopping only long enough to force his palms flat together before taping them as well.

Nick had watched all this in stunned silence. I was kneeling down, reaching for an ankle, before he asked, "What are you doing?"

"Immobilizing him," I answered. Ankles got taped together, then to one of the chair legs. After a moment of thought, I taped his knees together, too.


Still kneeling, I turned to Nick. "I could kill him right now, but I thought I'd give Richie the opportunity. Besides, once Richie gets back, he can tell you about Kenny as well. That way, you don't think I'm a monster." He gritted his teeth, but didn't say anything. I'd apparently come pretty close to the mark with that comment. I cared what he thought of me, but I wanted Kenny dead more than that. More to the point, Kenny NEEDED to be dead. As clichéd as it sounded, it really was for the good of all Immortals. Standing up and dropping the tape next to the chair, I said, "Nick, I need to shower and change. You have to swear to me that you won't touch him or do ANYTHING until I get out. I know you don't really believe me, and that's part of why I'm holding him until Richie returns. Just believe me when I say that he's dangerous."

Nick frowned, looking back and forth between Kenny and me.

I sighed. "Look, just don't touch him until I have a chance to convince you, okay? He'll be fine when I pull the knife out, you know that."

He slowly nodded before sitting down on the couch.

I took a quick shower and put on some new clothes. After a moment of reflection, I pulled out the gun holster that Richie had given me as a present last year. Threading a belt through it, I put it on. Pulling the gun out of my closet, I check the clip and slipped the Glock into its holster.

Over-reaction perhaps, but why take chances?

Going back out to the kitchen, I grabbed a trash bag and threw my bloody clothes and the floor mat into it. I was gratified to see Nick hadn't broken his promise. He was just staring at Kenny's temporarily dead body. Grabbing a few old towels, I filled a bucket with water and headed out to the front room. I was just finishing cleaning up the spilled blood on the tiles in front of the door when Richie walked into range.

Walking back to the living room, I dumped the now bloody towels into the trash bag. I said to Nick, "It's Richie."

He settled back down with a frown. "How do you know?"

I smiled. "Magic." Why bother confusing him with the truth?

A knock sounded on the door. I checked the peephole before letting Hoa and Richie in. They were both laughing at something they said as they entered. The laughter died as they saw me carrying a bucket full of bloody water.

Hoa raised an eyebrow. "Teaching him swordplay?"

"Ha, ha," came from the other room.

I grinned tightly. "Not quite." I walked into the kitchen and dumped the water down the sink before joining them walking into the living room.

Richie had made it to the door when he stopped dead in his tracks. A smile that was equal parts happiness and maliciousness blossomed. "Ryan, you shouldn't have. And here I haven't gotten you a Christmas present yet."

Frowning, Hoa joined him and took in the same scene. She gasped in horror for a moment then frowned. "Kenny?"

Nick had been watching all this with a frown. "You two know him." It wasn't a question.

Richie grinned with pure feral delight. "Yeah."

Hoa nodded as well. "There are few Immortals that I think are truly evil. But Kenny is one that I honestly feel deserves a summary execution. He suckers Immortals in and kills them when they let their guard down. Who knows how many good Immortals have been killed by this kid."

I looked at Nick with an "I told you so" look but didn't say anything more about it. After thinking for a moment, I said, "How do we want to handle this?"

"Kill him," stated Richie flatly. Neither Hoa nor I blinked.

Nick was clearly shocked. "I can't believe you're all talking like this! I thought you were better than this."

The comment was clearly designed to sting. It didn't work too well. I said, "The easy answer is that there can be only one. And that's a good enough reason for most. But you're right. A few of us are different. We need more reason to murder than that. However, this Immortal," I waved at Kenny, "is another case altogether. He is EVIL, Nick. I don't plan on executing him, but setting up a fair fight is just fine with my conscience."

Nick twisted his lip in aggravation, but didn't say anything.

"Where?" asked Richie with a touch of eagerness.

"Bloodthirsty little animal, aren't you?" queried Nick.

Richie leveled a stare at him. "When it comes to this little prick, damn right. Listen to Ryan, Nick. Kenny DESERVES to die. We'll give him a fair chance to defend himself, which is more than he gives his opponents. In that, we're being more honorable than he is." He turned to me. "Where?" he asked again.

I shrugged. "Lots of options. Couple parks outside of town could be used after dark. Go far enough out of town and just pick a deserted country road. I'm sure there are spots in the industrial park that would work after dark as well."

"Okay, then," said Richie. He held up one of the bags he had brought in. "Got some lunch makings. May I?" he nodded to the kitchen.

"Sure," I said.

"I still can't believe you're all doing this," muttered Nick.

Hoa sighed and rolled her eyes. Turning to me, she asked, "Ryan, you mind if I use your computer for a few minutes?"

Since I had an idea what she was about to do, I agreed readily. As she left, I looked over at Nick. He was still frowning at Kenny. In exasperation I asked, "What, you want me to talk to him and find out the truth?"

He looked up and frowned at me in confusion. "Yes," he answered slowly.

"Just promise me you won't interrupt my talk with him, okay?"

Still frowning, he nodded.

I nodded back. No harm in waking Kenny up to talk to him. He wasn't going anywhere. Getting up, I walked over to the dead boy and yanked out my combat knife. Fishing through the pile of bloody towels, I got one that was relatively clean and sat down on the couch to wipe down the knife. Once I had cleaned my Ka-Bar sufficiently, I retrieved Kenny's bloody switchblade from where I'd left it by the door.

I was almost done cleaning it when Kenny gasped in pain. After coughing for a few moments, he shook his head and looked up. Seeing Nick looking worriedly at him and me calmly cleaning his switchblade, he tried to move his arm, only to find them taped together. He tried moving around and only succeeded in tilting the chair around a little.

Finished with the switchblade, I folded the blade away and placed it on the coffee table. Reaching behind myself on the couch, I got the other switchblade and placed it next to its mate. Kenny's eyes were riveted to the blades for a moment before looking up at me with fear in his eyes. He then turned his attention to Nick and rocked again.

I said, "Don't bother. You're taped in there pretty good. Even if you do manage to get somewhat free, I won't hesitate to kill you again before you make it to the door."

He stopped rocking, but still stared at Nick. Now he began making muffled sounds.

I almost smiled. Now to give him enough rope to hang himself. "Kenny?" His eyes swung back to me. "I'm tempted to kill you outright, but Nick here has convinced me to talk with you. If you promise to behave, we'll take the tape off, okay?"

He nodded. I glanced over at Nick, and he got up. Walking over to the boy, he pulled the tape off as gently as possible. Once the tape was off, he smiled at Nick. "Thanks." He turned to me. "Do I know you? Why did you kill me like that?"

I shook my head. "No, you don't know me. As far as why, well, you stuck a knife in me first." I gestured down at the switchblades in front of me.

He frowned a moment. "Well, I'm sorry about that. I just don't like people grabbing me like you did. The last time someone did, he hurt me." Tears started to form and he sniffled a little. "A lot."

I mentally applauded. This kid was good. But I knew that already. Time to start laying the trap. "Sorry about not trusting you, but my teacher told me that I shouldn't trust anyone. The more harmless they look, the more dangerous they can be."

He tried to look even more harmless. "Well, in my case, it's true. I'm only fourteen. My family died in a car wreck four years ago. It was months before I knew what I was."

I nodded. "Well, it surprised me that you had a reaction to the name 'Amanda' in the kitchen earlier." Nick frowned by still held his peace.

Kenny shrugged as much as the restraints allowed. "That was my mother's name."

Hoa walked into the room and handed me a couple sheets of paper. Taking a seat beside Nick, she looked steadily at Kenny.

For his part, Kenny looked dumbfounded at her calm expression. "Ma'am, could you please untie me? This is pretty uncomfortable."

Without looking up from the pages I was reading, I said, "Kenny, do you know what the Watchers are?" I glanced up to see his reaction. He frowned in confusion before shaking his head. Hoa raised an eyebrow at me. I nodded at her. "Go ahead. Won't hurt anything."

She thought about it a moment. Shrugging her acceptance, she tilted her wrist so Kenny could see her blue tattoo. "Watchers have existed for thousands of years. We're mortals who keep track of everything we can regarding Immortals and the Game."

He blinked in astonishment. "Wow." He sounded like he'd been told a neat secret. His aura was a chaotic mess. He was on the verge of panic, but it didn't show.

I returned to the pages Hoa had given me. "Let me get this straight, you say you died for the first time four years ago, right?"

He frowned a little, but nodded. Nick was just looking confused.

I held up one sheet. "But it says here that about SIX years ago you were in Seacouver. You tried to kill a Doctor Anne Lindsey, Duncan MacLeod, and Richie Ryan." I looked up at him with a frown. "How can that be?"

Hoa's face showed no reaction. Nick's jaw was hanging slightly open, but he was starting to look angry. Kenny frowned. "That can't be the truth. Whatever this lady gave you, it's a bunch of lies. I died four years ago. I've been running and hiding ever since."

Richie chose that moment to come walking back in the room with a plate of sandwiches. He saw Kenny alive and smiled. It wasn't a pleasant expression. "Look who's awake." Richie put the plate onto the table and collected a sandwich for himself and one for Hoa.

Kenny's jaw was collecting splinters. "Shit!" He glared at me. "You knew all along."

I nodded. "Yep. And you helped me prove it to Nick." Kenny started snarling in a language I couldn't begin to place. Based on his facial expressions, it wasn't polite.

I stood up and handed the pages to Nick. I got myself a sandwich as well as he started flipping through them, growing progressively angrier. He got to one point and blinked in astonishment. "Amanda was your teacher?"

Kenny stopped his ranting and turned to him. His eyes got a sliver of hope in them. "Yes. And I'm sure she'd be VERY angry if you were to allow anything to happen to me."

Richie tried to stifle the laugh, but it came out as a snort. "WAY wrong answer."

Nick glared at the both of them. "Shut up."

Richie smiled and turned to Kenny. "After you tried to kill Mac the second time, Amanda intervened and saved your life. But she also removed her protection of you. Or have you forgotten that little item?"

Kenny was growing pale.

I smiled a little. "Let's see. You tried to kill MacLeod twice, Doctor Lindsey, Richie here, and now you had your sights on me and Nick. In case you weren't aware of it, Amanda rather likes everyone on that list. I seriously doubt you could expect any help from her." I glanced at Nick's frown before adding, "Not that it would matter to Nick anyway."

Kenny now looked well and truly panicked. "Look, let me go and I swear none of you will ever see me again."

Richie shook his head. "Sorry."

Kenny dredged up his courage and pasted a sneer across his face. "What, so one of you is going to execute me?"

I shook my head. "Nope. Just have a fair fight. I'll even be nice, Kenny. What sword to you prefer?"

He rolled his eyes. "What's it matter?"

"So I can let you use one when Richie fights you tonight."

Richie grinned unpleasantly. Kenny looked frightened again. "Um, a short sword."

I nodded. "I'll have a few for you to choose from. Now, you have one last choice. Do you want to be alive and gagged, or dead until we go?"

"I don't suppose I could eat?"

I looked around the room. "Anyone willing to feed him?"

It turned out that Nick was. They spent the next hour talking, with me playing guardian. Anytime Kenny strayed too far from the truth, I just pointed to a few lines in Kenny's condensed Chronicles.

After catching him in the fourth lie, Nick walked away in disgust. Turning to Kenny, I asked, "Gagged or dead?"

All the fight had apparently left him. For the moment, anyway. "Huh?"

I explained. "Do you want to be gagged or killed until we get to the battlefield?"

He glared at me.

I shrugged. Picking up one of his switchblades, I flipped it open before walking around behind him.

"Gagged," he muttered.

I nodded and replaced the blade on the table. Tearing off a fresh piece of tape, I pasted it over his mouth. "Now, as long as you behave, I won't kill you. If you don't, I won't hesitate. Got it?"

He nodded sullenly.


I laid out the two short swords and my own wakizashi in a line on a park bench. I smiled grimly. Perhaps Kenny would even recognize the first short sword. After all, I'd gotten it off of one of his former students.

After laying out the swords and checking that my gun was ready, I pulled the switchblade out of Kenny's chest. I'd had to kill him after all when he kept trying to scoot the chair out of the room when nobody was looking.

Pulling out a cleaning rag, I wiped off the switchblade as we all waited for Kenny to revive. Hoa waited patiently beside Richie; Nick was nervously pacing; Richie kept stretching out his shoulders, despite the fact that he'd already gone through a full stretching routine.

Kenny revived within five minutes. After coughing a few times, he looked up at me with anger blazing. "That hurts, asshole."

Ignoring his comment, I pointed at the bench. "I have two short swords and a wakizashi for you to choose from. You get one. Hoa will put the others back into my car after you've chosen. Richie has agreed to give you ten minutes to stretch, relieve yourself, or whatever before beginning the fight. Running won't do you any good. You're probably the slowest runner here, and I have a gun. I give you my word of honor that if you fairly beat Richie, then nobody will touch you. At least until after the Quickening has finished." I gave an evil smile. "And then I'll Challenge you and cut your heart out. But since that won't happen . . ." I shrugged. Kenny sneered at me. "Any questions?"

He shook his head.

Opening one of his switchblades, I cut the duct tape from around his knees, elbows, ankles, and then hands before stepping back. Once out of reach of him, I folded the blade back up and stuffed it into a pocket before pulling my gun.

Kenny slowly pulled himself up from the ground and started trying to stretch. Being cramped up for a few hours had apparently stiffened him up considerably. He slowly walked over to the swords and experimentally hefted each. Finally deciding on the one that his former student had no more use for, he slowly limped away, stretching all the while. Once he'd backed off a few feet, I walked over and retrieved my own wakizashi as Hoa grabbed the remaining sword and walked off toward my car.

Kenny had seen me pick mine up and put it into my coat. "You were willing to let me use your weapon?"

I nodded. "If you wanted to use it, yes. I gave you as much choice as possible." I waited a beat. "You're welcome, by the way."

He looked at me for a moment before giving a slight nod. "Thank you."

Kenny turned back to his stretches, progressively moving into more and more extravagant movements. His aura was doing funny things, but I put it down to the tenseness of the situation.

Hoa had put the remaining sword into my car and was coming back to Richie's side, giving Kenny a wide berth. As she approached, his random movements took him progressively toward her until they were ten feet apart. At the point, he dropped all pretense of stretching and jumped at her. By the time I could snap a shot off, Hoa was in the line of fire. As he went rushing by the startled Hoa, Kenny reached out with one fist and punched her in the stomach. Crossing around behind her doubled over form, he kicked out one knee from behind and she fell to her knees. Quickly taking her head in a one armed lock from behind, he brought the blade to her neck.

"Hold it!" he shouted over Hoa's coughing. Richie and I stopped dead in our tracks. Shit. Now what? For lack of anything better, I drew a bead on what I could see of him. I was a pretty poor shot, but if he did something stupid, I'd like SOME options.

"If you hurt her, you little shit, I'll," began Richie.

"Kill me?" interrupted Kenny. He gave a humorless laugh. "Wasn't that the idea anyway?" He turned to me. "Put down the gun."

I hesitated. If I did that, he'd be able to make it to the woods before I could get a shot off.

"Now," he growled. He pressed the blade closer to Hoa and she sucked in a breath.

Not seeing any other options, I slowly crouched down and laid the gun on the grass. "You'll never get out of here if you harm her. You have to know that."

He grinned. "That's why she's coming with me. We'll be borrowing your car, Chessman. Toss the keys over here."

"Don't do it," said Hoa.

"Shut up," Kenny snarled to her, kneeing her in the back.

Her small gasp of pain nearly brought Richie forward at a run, but he checked himself before he finished the first step.

"Now," Kenny said forcefully to me.

I slowly reached into my coat pocket and pulled out my key ring, thinking furiously all the time. There HAD to be a way to get out of this mess. Not seeing anything else I could do, I tossed the keys to land beside him.

Nobody caught them. As everyone was tracking the keys in flight, I heard a sudden CRACK from the side. Kenny's head snapped to the side, and he fell over. Hoa scrambled up and rushed to Richie as I snatched up my gun and aimed at Kenny again.

When I realized that he wasn't moving for a little while, I looked over to the source of the gunshot. Nick was calmly holstering his gun and walking forward.

When he leaned forward and picked up the fallen sword, I asked, "What're you doing?"

"Pest control," was the answer as he swung the sword.

"Shit!" Richie and I chorused. I took off running straight away from Nick. I could only assume that Richie was doing the same.

After making it a hundred feet or so, I stopped and turned around to see that Hoa was okay. She and Richie were about the same distance from Nick that I was in a different direction. Seeing that they were okay, I watched Nick.

I'd taken a few Quickenings myself and watched Richie take one, but they were all young compared to Kenny. It was quite the light show.


The next afternoon, Nick listened as Richie and I were catching up on our lives while Hoa was out shopping.

Richie was describing how he'd caught a petty thief in the dojo one night when another Buzz entered our range. Nick reached for a gun; Richie reached for a sword; I was paying attention to the aura. A little older than Mac, and slightly fewer heads. That did in no way diminish my respect for his probable skill. Slightly fewer heads than Duncan MacLeod was still pretty damn good.

A knock sounded on my door. Pulling my sword and walking over, I called out, "Connor? That you?"


Replacing my sword, I opened the door to reveal the lanky Immortal. Who had his hand in his coat. He recognized me, but was taking no chances, apparently. Standing aside, I waved him in. He entered to find Richie flopping back down on his seat and Nick warily resuming his as well.

As I closed the door behind him, I said, "Thanks for coming, Connor. I hope you can help us out."

He and Richie nodded to each other. I didn't realize they knew each other, but they apparently did. He then turned his piercing stare onto Nick. "So you must be Amanda's friend Nick." As always, Connor's bizarre accent totally defied description.

Nick bristled at the comment. "Was," he growled.

Connor merely raised one eyebrow and gave a small smile as he pulled his empty hand out of his coat and folded his hands in front of him.

"So you're going to teach me to use a sword to cut off people's heads," challenged Nick.

Connor's smile got a touch bigger. "That remains to be seen."

"So why're you here?"

"I owe Amanda one. Besides, Duncan asked me to come." Utterly calm.

"Duncan?" Nick growled, eyes narrowing. Richie's eyes were slowly brightening in anticipation.

I sighed. "Nick Wolfe, meet Connor MacLeod." I anticipated the next question by adding, "Kinsman to Duncan." I smiled at the elder MacLeod. "Same clan, different vintage."

"Great!" Nick exploded. "I can't get away from you guys!"

Time to shock him again. "Since you say you're not Amanda's friend, let alone anything more, what do you care if she jumps into bed with a MacLeod?"

He turned to me to shout something before stopping himself.

Connor was wincing. "I do wish you'd phrase that differently."

Richie nearly burst into laughter. I grinned. "Didn't you once say that he gets most of the good women?"

A soft smile formed on Connor's face. "Hardly once, but I take your meaning."

Richie choked out, "You two have met?"

I nodded. "Flying back to Seacouver from London after my training with Cassandra, Duncan and I had an overnight layover in New York City. Connor was good enough to host us for the evening."

"Which is to say that I showed them a good bar," added Connor.

"You most certainly did." Not to mention the stories the two MacLeods traded for hours.

Nick was still stuck on Connor's surname. "What if I don't want you for my teacher?"

Richie blinked in astonishment. I sighed in exasperation. "Connor here is one of the better swordsmen around who is taking students. You got four choices, Nick." I raised a finger as I ticked off each. "Ask Duncan to train you; ask Amanda to train you; hope you don't get yourself killed before finding another teacher; or ask Connor to train you."

"I can take care of myself," he said sullenly.

Connor turned to me. "You didn't tell Duncan that he'd be acting like a spoiled brat."

"I didn't think he would," I sighed.

Nick started muttering in French again. To my delight, Connor answered him. I couldn't follow any of it, but Richie was frowning in concentration as he listened.

After perhaps a minute where Nick got progressively louder and angrier, Connor suddenly jumped forward with a left cross that knocked Nick out of my recliner. Before Nick could recover, a katana blade was resting against his neck.

"Still think you can take care of yourself?" asked Connor mildly.

Nick glared at Connor, but nobody moved. Finally, Nick said, "Ryan, are you going to get this maniac off me?"

Leaning back on the couch, I said, "Connor?"

He didn't even look up. "Yes?"

"If you're going to kill him, please do it somewhere else. I don't want to have to explain this to the police. Besides, I can't afford to repair this place after a Quickening." Connor nodded; Richie raised an eyebrow; Nick turned slightly to stare at me in shock. I looked mildly back at him. "What, you expect me to defend you after your recent behavior?" I leaned forward to add emphasis to what I was about to say. "You've been given an incredible gift, Wolfe. You just have to bend that stiff neck of yours enough to give yourself a chance to enjoy it."

A knock sounded at the door. Connor threw a questioning glance at me.

"Don't move," I said to Nick. He glared daggers at me as I stood up.

Checking the peephole, I saw Hoa with a armload of bags. Throwing a grin at Richie and a wink at Connor, I opened the door.

She came walking in talking, "Rich, you'll never believe the deal I found on jewelry for," she broke off as she took in the scene. Connor standing over Nick; Richie and I without any weapons in sight. "Okay, what'd I miss?"

As I recrossed to the couch, I said, "Connor MacLeod, meet Vu Tran Hoa, Richie's better half." She smiled at him uncertainly.

He said, "Ah, the lass is taken?" I nodded calmly, Richie with a frown. Connor sighed as he turned back to Hoa. "Oh, well. I'd offer to shake, but my hand is otherwise occupied."

She nodded with a frown. Slowly putting her armload of bags down next to Richie's chair, she walked over to Connor. "So you're the infamous Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Duncan's talked about you."

He smiled. "Only the good parts are true."

Nick spoke up acidly, "I hate to break up such a touching scene, but when are you going to get that thing away from me?"

I answered, "Just as soon as you start acting like an adult."

Richie smothered another laugh behind his hand. Hoa, apparently deciding that there wasn't any real danger here, went over and took her usual seat on Richie's lap.

Nick spared a glare at Richie before visibly reining in his anger. Once he calmed himself down some, he looked up at Connor again. "May I get up now?"

Connor nodded before swinging the sword around in a semi-circle to let it rest "at ease" against the back of his arm. Stepping back, he allowed Nick some room. Nick cautiously stood as Connor watched for a moment. Nodding slightly, Connor turned to walk to the couch. The instant his back was turned, I felt Nick's aura flare dangerously. I opened my mouth to stop Nick, but he'd already started moving. Jumping at Connor's back, he was stopped cold in midair by the hilt of the katana slamming backward into his jaw. Nick crumbled to the floor. I closed my mouth, not bothering to voice any warning to the unconscious man on the floor.

Richie and I shared a raised eyebrow as Connor replaced his sword into his coat. Taking off the coat and laying it over a nearby chair, Connor took a seat next to me before asking calmly, "Any good pubs around?"


It was almost two years later when I received a letter in the mail.


First, I want to thank you. I don't know if it's for putting up with me, helping me find a teacher, being a friend, or just for being there, but thank you.

Second, you were right. This IS a gift. Once I had some sense beaten into me (literally), I realized just how valuable a gift it really is.

Last, hope to see you in June.

- Nick

Also in the envelope was an invitation to the wedding of Nick Wolfe and Amanda Montrose in the coming June in Paris.

Well. This will certainly be interesting. And I have so much to tell my friends . . .

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