WARNING: Although this is not an "adult" story, it does contain some
of child abuse and non-graphic descriptions of rape which could be upsetting
to some readers.
A slightly different version of this story was first printed in Rules of the
Game 4, published by Dreams and Schemes Press: Catherine Schlein, Editor
Permisson granted to archive at Seventh Dimension
Disclaimer: The characters Duncan MacLeod, Connor MacLeod, Joe Dawson,
Richie Ryan, and Gregor; the city of Seacouver and the concept of the
Immortal Game are all owned by many people, none of whom are me. I am
making no profit off this story and any attempts to sue me will immediately
bring the plaintiff to the attention of the IRS, which has dibs on my income
for the next ten years.
Many many thanks to Sandra MacDonald, who betad this beast in its original
form at least three times; to Cathy Schlein who encouraged me to submit it
for the zine; to Dawn Cunningham and Melanie Riley, who were kind enough to
read it one cold Thanksgiving weekend and say, Yes, you WILL submit this
story; and to Wendy and Judy for liking it.
Special thanks to Dawn for re-formatting the story so it could be posted.
Thanks to Sandra MacDonald for allowing me to build on events that occurred in her stories
"Obligations" and "Studies in Light Epilogue".
Author's note: This story takes place between the second and third seasons of Highlander: The
A slightly different version of this story was first printed in Rules of the Game 4, published by Dreams and Schemes Press: Catherine Schlein, Editor
Permisson granted to archive at Seventh Dimension
Disclaimer: The characters Duncan MacLeod, Connor MacLeod, Joe Dawson, Richie Ryan, and Gregor; the city of Seacouver and the concept of the Immortal Game are all owned by many people, none of whom are me. I am making no profit off this story and any attempts to sue me will immediately bring the plaintiff to the attention of the IRS, which has dibs on my income for the next ten years.
Many many thanks to Sandra MacDonald, who betad this beast in its original form at least three times; to Cathy Schlein who encouraged me to submit it for the zine; to Dawn Cunningham and Melanie Riley, who were kind enough to read it one cold Thanksgiving weekend and say, Yes, you WILL submit this story; and to Wendy and Judy for liking it.
Special thanks to Dawn for re-formatting the story so it could be posted.
Thanks to Sandra MacDonald for allowing me to build on events that occurred in her stories "Obligations" and "Studies in Light Epilogue".
Author's note: This story takes place between the second and third seasons of Highlander: The SeriesComments and feedback welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Duncan MacLeod juggled the groceries and the mail as he walked in the open door of the dojo. Saturday closing was at six p.m. and the few men inside were packing up to leave. MacLeod stepped to the door of the office, saying, "Hi, Kevin. Did Richie call?"
The thin, bespectacled youth behind the desk jumped as he looked up from studying a thick textbook. "Umm, yeah," he replied nervously. His eyes darted around the room, never making contact with the Immortal. "He said to tell you he's running late but he'll be here any minute."
"That's fine." MacLeod turned, heading for the freight elevator and his loft on the fifth floor. Kevin wasn't much for conversation, at least not with MacLeod, who really didn't know him all that well, anyway. Richie had hired the college student just two weeks previously. Richie swore he was a good worker and a funny guy, if a bit insecure. MacLeod couldn't figure out why the kid wanted to work at a dojo, but that wasn't really his business.
Once in his apartment, he stowed the groceries and put on water for pasta. He'd made the sauce earlier in the day and had only to reheat it. Richie had volunteered to provide dessert which would inevitably be something chocolate. MacLeod got out vegetables and started to cut up a salad, glancing over the mail as he did so.
Two square envelopes, the parchment cream, thick and obviously expensive, caught his eye. Elegant handwriting spelled out his name on one, with the address of the dojo. The other was addressed to "Mr. Richard Ryan, c/o Duncan MacLeod" at the same address. A quick review of his and Richie's mutual acquaintances didn't indicate any on the verge of getting married, so the Highlander slit one open, pulling out a single sheet of notepaper and an embossed card. The letter was from Gregor Powers, just a few hastily scrawled lines:
Mac, I probably should have called but things have been hectic!. I'm flying in Sunday for the show opening and I want you and Richie there as my guests. I'll take you out to dinner afterwards. On me! Please, Mac. It would mean a lot if you'd come, and talk Richie into it. Greg.
MacLeod looked at the card. An invitation to the opening of a photography show at a gallery downtown. Duncan raised his eyebrows: the title of the exhibition was "The Power of Darkness and Light, by Greg Powers. He looked up, but he didn't see the loft around him as his mind went back ...
--Images in Darkness and Light, by Linda Plager and Greg Powers. The invitation had been hand-delivered to the gallery, along with a handwritten note from MacLeod's old friend Gregor. "Hey, Highlander, you're the only person I know in this city. Why don't you come see what I've been up to?" He smiled. (Gregor a photographer? That seemed so odd. He'd just assumed the other Immortal would always stay in a medical field. He had been such a dedicated, caring doctor in the old days... maybe too caring. As an Immortal, he'd seen so much death, as a doctor even more.) Then Duncan's eyes fell to the other name and he could feel his face paling. Linda Plager... could it be? How old would she be now? His thoughts were interrupted by Tessa coming into the room.
"Duncan, Richie said-- what are you staring at?"
MacLeod snapped back to the present and looked at the beautiful blond woman whom he'd spent the last, and best, dozen plus years of his life with. "Tessa, are we busy tomorrow afternoon?"
"Don't you remember? Richie's taking us to the monster truck rally." Her accented voice was indulgent. Not so long ago, sophisticated sculptress Tessa Noel wouldn't have been caught dead even thinking about going to a such an event, but it seemed to mean so much to Richie. "Why do you ask?"
"I've, well, we've been invited to the opening of a new photo exhibition. An old friend of mine--" two old friends, the Highlander thought. He stood up, absentmindedly shoving the invitation into the pocket of his dark slacks. "I'll talk to Richie. I'd really like to go to this."
Richie grumbled but was appeased by Mac's promise that they'd go to the truck rally after the reception at the gallery was over. Once at the gallery, greeted by Mac's "old friend" Greg Powers, Richie had, in spite of himself, been fascinated. Duncan also, but he was secretly uneasy that the "darkness" referred to in the Title of the exhibit was Greg's contribution. The "Light", well, that was Linda Plager...--
The shivering of the spine that announced a nearby Immortal swept over him at the same time that the elevator began its noisy journey down to the ground floor. Habit made MacLeod glance to see that his sword was within reach even as the rising lift gave view of a familiar red head and he knew it wouldn't be needed.
"Mac!" Richie Ryan got off the platform, eyes closed as he inhaled deeply. Disappointment flashed across his youthful features. "I thought we were having linguini with clams."
MacLeod grinned at the younger man's downcast expression. "We are. I made the sauce earlier. Don't worry, it'll taste just as good re-warmed."
The younger man laughed easily, sliding onto a barstool across from his mentor. Snatching a carrot, he chomped noisily as he said, "That's all right then. Man, you had me scared for a bit. I even skipped lunch today to make sure I was hungry."
MacLeod staggered back in mock horror. "Richie Ryan skipped a meal?"
"Funny, Mac." Ryan's eyes fell to the envelope and he frowned. "Is that for me?"
MacLeod had forgotten that the other envelope was addressed to Richie. He hesitated, then slid it across the butcher block to the younger man. He didn't say anything as Richie's blue eyes quickly scanned the invitation. His jaw tightened. "Greg." It wasn't a question.
An uncomfortable silence stretched between the two men, both of them thinking about Greg Power's last visit to Seattle, more than a year before. Richie's face darkened as he stared unblinkingly at the card. He didn't seem to notice when Duncan poured a glass of wine and set it on the table.
Richie finally sighed, put the card back in the envelope and took a healthy gulp of wine. "I'd heard he was taking pictures again."
"Heard from whom?"
Richie just shrugged. MacLeod silently bet that it was Dawson. The Watcher didn't normally give out information but he might not have seen the harm in it. He and Richie did seem to be getting along better after the debacle with Horton and the fake Tessa in Paris.
But the Highlander was mistaken. Looking down at the floor, Richie muttered, "Connor told me."
Now it was Duncan's turn to be surprised. The two of them had visited his kinsman Connor in New York City recently on their way back from Europe. But Connor hadn't said anything to him about Greg Powers. The hiss of water boiling over on the stove distracted him before he could comment.
Richie didn't notice as MacLeod moved to deal with the pasta. His eyes were fixed unblinkingly in front of him as visions from a year before played before his eyes:
--"Well, Ryan, why the heck did you jump it?" Angie's voice over the telephone was amused. Richie had downplayed the stunt on the docks with Greg's motorcycle, not mentioning that it had taken seventeen stitches to close the gash in his forearm. Only later had he remembered he had promised to help out at the homeless shelter that afternoon, so he'd called her to eat crow.
Before he could retort, somebody banged loudly on the door. Richie frowned, then told Angie he'd call her back and got up to open the door.
Greg shoved past him. The greeting froze on Richie's lips. Something was wrong. The Immortal looked... wild, angry.....
"You're welcome to hang out." His voice sounded nervous to his own ears.
"I think I've hung out too damn long already"....
Richie could feel his heart pounding as Greg continued to babble things that made no sense. Something about "destroying them all". The pictures? How could he do that?
Greg smashing the statue. Richie jumped, felt sweat start to break out on his forehead. Oh, God. He's losing it. What'm I gonna do?
Mac was at the hospital. Tessa had gone to see a friend and was due back any minute. Oh God, let Mac get here before Tessa. Greg was out of control, Tessa might get hurt...
Greg was so close, his face only inches from Richie's. Trapped. Those eyes so close, so black and hard. No light, no life inside them, dead eyes. "Do you want to know how it feels to die?"
"No... Greg... please..."--
"--Richie?" the concerned note in MacLeod's voice brought Ryan back to the present. He blinked and looked at his friend.
"Mac? I'm sorry, did you say something?"
The Highlander was looking at him, a concerned look on his face. "Are you ready to eat?"
"Eat? Me?" Richie forced a laugh. "What kind of question is that?" He grasped the bowl of salad the Highlander offered and led the way to the table.
Dinner was oddly strained. Richie didn't initiate conversation, answered questions only in monosyllables, and pushed his food around on the plate, rarely putting any in his mouth. That disturbed MacLeod even more than his silence or his sudden pallor: when Richie didn't eat pasta, hell, when Richie didn't eat anything, something was wrong.
Finally, over coffee (or rather, when MacLeod was drinking his and Richie was staring into his mug as if it contained the secrets of the universe), the Highlander decided it was time to cut to the chase. "Are you going to go to Greg's reception?" He kept his tone casual, but his concerned eyes noted the way Richie's fingers tightened on the coffee cup.
"I have to work." The answer came automatically. Richie wouldn't meet MacLeod's gaze.
"It's Sunday," MacLeod pointed out. The dojo was only open for a few hours in the afternoon on Sundays and it was normally Richie's day off.
Richie bolted up from the table, grabbed his wineglass and refilled it from the bottle on the butcher block. Watching him gulp it down with no regard for the fine vintage, MacLeod raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. Instead, he stood and started gathering the dishes from their meal. Richie moved away from the sink as the Highlander approached. He stared unblinkingly as MacLeod scraped the food from his plate. "You want me to go, don't you?" the younger Immortal finally exploded.
The Highlander took his time answering. Richie was upset, his face reflecting his turmoil. Finally, the older man admitted, "Yes, I do want you to go." He dried his hands on a dishtowel and tried to grip Richie's shoulder but his student moved away. MacLeod didn't let the hurt show on his face. "I know your memories of Greg aren't very good. I told you when it happened that I understood how you felt. I was angry with him, too. But that wasn't the real Greg, Rich. That was someone who was very tired, tired of living, tired of losing. You haven't been Immortal long enough to know--"
He was interrupted by the sound of shattering glass. The heavy old crystal of the wineglass disintegrated under Richie's convulsive grasp. Red wine mixed with blood dripped from his hand to the floor. Ryan didn't move, didn't even wince, just stared blankly at the mess.
"Richie!" MacLeod grabbed his hand and pulled him to the sink, shoving the fingers under the cold water tap. Glass imbedded in Richie's torn flesh glittered in the overhead light. Before Mac could wash the glass out, Richie clenched his fingers and pulled away.
"It'll heal, Mac. Everything heals, doesn't it?" His voice trembled as he grabbed a clean towel to keep the blood from dripping on the floor. "You want me to go, fine, I'll go. But I'm doing it for you, not for him." He strode to the door. "I've got to get some air. I'll see you tomorrow."
Long after the sound of Richie's motorcycle had faded, Mac stood still in the kitchen, heedless of the water rushing into the sink. Finally, he turned off the water and started cleaning up the glass on the floor. He wasn't sure exactly what had just happened, but an uneasy feeling pervaded his entire being.
Richie couldn't stand the thought of returning to his small apartment. Instead he lost track of time as he drove aimlessly around town, turning at random, struggling to make sense of his feelings.
He was embarrassed about the way he had behaved with Mac. It had been months since the incident with Greg Powers. He had talked it out thoroughly, with Tessa at first, then later with Mac. Hell, he'd even discussed it with Connor a few times in the dark days after Tessa's death. He'd thought he'd gotten over it. But then, when he'd looked at the invitation and realized that the very next day the Immortal photographer would be in town, he'd panicked. He tried to cover, so MacLeod wouldn't notice anything wrong, but the Highlander knew him too well. Those hooded eyes saw too much sometimes.
It was ironic to realize he'd really liked Greg at first. The photographer was different from most of Mac's Immortal pals. Greg was wild, free... Richie found him intoxicating. Mac and Tessa were trying their best to turn the erstwhile street kid into a responsible, worthy person; Greg made him remember the kid he used to be, the kid who could dare anything because nothing much mattered.
Until the bike accident. When he'd rolled over and seen how close he'd come to the water, when he'd seen the blood pouring down his arm, Richie had been struck by the thought there were some things that mattered. Not so much his own mortality, although he realized he could have been killed, but more the realization of how much his death could hurt Mac and Tessa. It was the first time he fully realized that they loved and accepted him.
When he saw the small bistro up on the right he impulsively decided to stop. He'd left his helmet back at Mac's and the cold air chilled his face. There was a chill wind blowing and his face was numb. Someplace warm and a drink sounded like a good idea.
There were cars in the parking lot, but the place didn't appear overly crowded. Inside was dimly lit, with music coming from a good sound system and the aroma of food. Richie's stomach twisted. He should be hungry, but the few bites of linguini he'd managed to force down at dinner threatened to choke him.
There was a little hassle getting in. The handsome black guy working the door scrutinized Richie's fake I.D. with a knowing grin on his face. "Funny, you don't look twenty five," he commented, handing it back. He stepped closer, so that his words reached Richie's ear only. "Nothing alcoholic, kid, or I'll pull that I.D. and let the neighborhood cop take a look at it."
Richie just nodded. He found a small table in the corner. There was a small combo on the stage, playing an old blues number that Ryan vaguely recognized. He ordered Perrier. Normally he hated fizzy water but at least it was wet and other people ordered it in clubs. Tessa used to get it sometimes, when they went out. It wasn't like ordering root beer or something.
He sipped his drink when it came and looked around with interest. The place was full, but not crowded. Tables were spaced widely apart so that conversation could be heard without having to yell. It wasn't a rowdy group; most of the occupants seeming to be enjoying the music, their drinks or their food. There were no Immortals, so Richie leaned back in his seat and tried to relax.
Ryan's eyelids flew open. There were two men looming above him. One was dark haired, slender... Greg! A surge of panic, immediately quelled as he recognized the man who'd spoken to him. Joe Dawson.
"Joe!" Richie's voice sounded ragged to his own ears. He took a deep breath, trying to slow his racing pulse. "Sorry. You startled me."
"So I noticed." The Watcher leaned on his cane, his eyes on Richie's face. The Immortal looked away, glanced at the other man. Of course it wasn't Greg, just a guy about his own age or maybe a year or two younger. Dawson noticed his distraction.
"Oh, sorry. This is Kerry Park. My Godson. He's up here visiting for a week or so, school break."
"Hey, Kerry." Richie managed a smile. "You guys want to sit down?"
He almost missed the funny look the kid threw at Dawson, but the Watcher was already pulling a seat out. He sighed as he sank into it, the lines of pain easing just slightly on his face. Richie knew Dawson used prosthetic legs and for the first time he realized they might be uncomfortable.
"So, you're a ways from home," Dawson commented.
Richie shrugged. "Just out for a ride. You come here often?" He winced as he said it. That sounded like a line from one of those bad free-love free sex movies of the seventies.
"I know the owner, and I like the blues."
"Oh." Not a brilliant rejoinder. Richie cast about desperately for something to say. He turned to young Kerry. "So, what're you going to do over your vacation?"
The kid was studying him and trying not to be obvious about it. "Well, Joe and I've got a few things planned. There's a photo exhibit I want to see at the Southside Galleries. Greg Powers. He's supposed to be here; it'd be cool to meet him."
"You know Greg Powers, don't you, Richie?" Dawson's voice was quiet. "He's an old friend of MacLeod's."
Richie jerked so hard his drink spilled. He stared at the Watcher, thoughts whirling. Was Joe watching Mac then? Yeah, he was. Could he have been around that night? He would have followed Duncan to the hospital, he was assigned to him, I wasn't Immortal yet, they wouldn't have been watching me... Images kept dancing in front of him, memories that he struggled to deny. Fragments of pictures like Greg's: black and white. Himself, talking on the phone. Opening the door. Greg's face, the eyes .. funny. Richie being pressed back up against the shop door, Greg's hands around his neck, choking him, cutting off his air.
Then light, as he pulled himself up to his knees. The phone. Have to call Mac...
The door opening again--
"Richie?" Joe's voice jolted him back to the present. "Are you okay? You look kind of pale," the Watcher continued.
"I'm fine." Richie abruptly rose to his feet. "I need to get going." The Immortal randomly pulled some bills out of his pocket and tossed them on the table. "Kerry, man, it was nice to meet you. Hope you enjoy your visit." With that, Richie turned and practically bolted for the door.
After a startled pause, Kerry Park commented, "Is he always like that?"
"No, he isn't," Joe replied thoughtfully.
"Want me to follow him?" Kerry half rose from his chair but Dawson stopped him. "Not tonight." He sighed. "Are you sure you want to go through with this, Kerry?"
"Hey, Uncle Joe, we had a deal. You're not going to back out now, are you?"
The Watcher shook his head. "No. If Richie's the assignment you want, I won't interfere. But be careful, Kerry. He's seen you now, with me; if he sees you dogging his footsteps he'll peg you for a Watcher before the first day's over."
"He's not going to see me," Kerry said confidently. "I need to prove to my dad that my reasons for not joining the 'family business' don't have anything to do with fear, or thinking I can't do it. If it takes becoming the first Watcher to last a full week on Richie Ryan, then that's what I'll do." He hesitated. "Uncle Joe. Is Greg Powers an Immortal too?"
His Godfather nodded. Kerry whistled, then looked confused. "So what's the deal between him and Ryan?"
Dawson looked toward the door where Richie had disappeared. "I don't know," he answered quietly.
Duncan MacLeod didn't get much sleep. He tried several times to call Richie but only got the answering machine. He stopped leaving messages after the third time, knowing that either the younger Immortal still wasn't home or had no intention of calling him back. Even if he did, MacLeod wasn't sure what he would say. Grow up, Richie. I know the guy beat you, strangled you and terrorized you, but he was just going through a bad time. The Highlander cast his eyes to Heaven. Well, wasn't that in effect what he had said? For weeks after Greg had left Duncan had been blind to Richie's fear and pain. He'd been hurt when he belatedly realized that it was Tessa who had comforted Richie night after night when he would wake from the nightmares MacLeod didn't even realize were occurring. The nightmares persisted for months, even after Tessa's death.
MacLeod shook his head, disgusted with himself. There were too many times when he forgot how young Richie really was, how much his life had changed in the last few years. The Highlander closed his eyes, tortured by a familiar thought. If I hadn't taken Richie in, would he still be mortal? He wouldn't have been shot that night. I didn't have to bring him to live with us. Either Connor or I could have kept an eye on him without putting him at so much risk from every nutcase Immortal or deranged Watcher who wandered by.
He suddenly wanted to hear Connor's voice. It had been several weeks since the Highlander had spoken with his kinsman. He glanced at his watch, realized he'd probably wake the older Immortal, then grinned and started to punch the number into the phone. What was family for, anyway?
Richie overslept Sunday morning. It was past ten when he finally forced his eyes open and focused on the clock. "Shit," he groaned, burying his head in the pillow. His head was filled with vague memories of bizarre nightmares that faded like wisps of fog in the bright sunshine filling his bedroom. After lying still for several minutes he forced himself out of bed and into the bathroom for a shower. In spite of the lateness of the hour he felt groggy, his eyes heavy. The shower didn't help much, but at least he felt cleaner.
He listened to his answering machine while looking in vain for something to eat. The refrigerator was empty so he settled for coffee. Mac's voice sounded worried on the machine. He'd left three messages, all from the night before.
Richie winced. His panic the night before seemed foolish in the bright light of day. After all, what was the big deal about Greg coming to town anyway. He frowned, teased by a fragment of memory, something about a door opening. The door of the antiques shop... but the memory refused to come to his mind and he shrugged uneasily, trying to dismiss it.
He needed to get to the dojo. The billing was already late and if he didn't get a head start on it before patrons started coming in he'd never get finished. Grumbling a curse at his alarm, Richie headed for his bike.
Duncan MacLeod had tossed and turned, counted sheep, drank water and even resorted to hot milk. Finally he gave up trying to sleep and got out of bed about five-thirty. He'd failed to reach Connor the night before and Richie still hadn't returned his calls. The Highlander decided he'd go to the French bakery over on Fifth after his morning run. Richie was going to come in today to do the billing. Maybe his student would enjoy fresh croissants.
MacLeod wasn't around when Richie used his keys to let himself into the dojo office. Charlie DeSalvo had never opened the dojo on Sundays, but several of the regulars had requested it so they compromised: opening from two until six. That still gave Richie a couple of hours to make inroads on the billing.
Or so he thought. He had just pulled up the computer program when he felt the subtle twisting of reality that warned him of another Immortal. Probably MacLeod but he never took that for granted anymore. He reached toward his sword.
The precaution wasn't needed. MacLeod easily strode into the room, carrying a bag in one arm, a covered box in the other. Richie's nose twitched at the appetizing smell of fresh bread.
MacLeod grinned at him. "There you are." The relief in his voice was evident. "I got a little worried when I couldn't reach you on the phone."
Richie looked back at the screen, too embarrassed to meet his mentor's eyes. "Umm, I'm sorry about, well, about the way I acted last night. I guess it just took me by surprise, you know? Greg, I mean."
"That's okay," the Highlander said quietly, balancing the bag on the desk and sliding into the chair opposite. "I should apologize. I didn't mean to pressure you about tonight. Don't feel you have to go unless you want to."
"Tonight?" Richie echoed, feeling his stomach clench painfully.
"You know, Greg's exhibition," Duncan looked at him, puzzled.
Richie gulped. "Yeah, I guess it is Sunday, isn't it?" He saw the look of concern on his friend's face and hastily covered his surprise. "Sorry, it just didn't click that it was tonight." He took a deep breath. "I'm going, Mac. You're right, it's time to put what happened in the past." He forced a laugh that he didn't feel. "It wasn't that big of a deal, anyway, I don't know why I've let it freak me out for so long." His voice was getting stronger. "Maybe it was because it happened so soon before, you know, Tessa and everything, it just seemed more important than it was."
"Maybe," Mac said slowly, staring at Richie. His hooded gaze made the younger man uncomfortable. "Are you sure you want to go?"
"Well, I don't mind going," Richie clarified. He managed a grin at his mentor and felt relieved when he saw Mac relax and smile back at him.
"I'm glad. I think you'll feel better after you see Greg." MacLeod picked up the groceries and started to turn away, but Richie's voice stopped him.
"Mac... when Greg was here before... did he know? About me, I mean. Did Greg know I was going to be Immortal?"
"I don't know, " Duncan admitted. "We never discussed it. He probably did. Does that-- bother you?"
Richie shrugged. "Should it?" Suddenly he felt shaken again, the calm that he'd achieved earlier dissipating like the morning fog. He didn't want MacLeod to sense his growing discomfort, so he looked back at the computer screen. "I really need to get this billing done." There was a tone of dismissal in his voice. For a second he thought he'd overdone it; MacLeod hesitated, but then shrugged and turned toward the elevator.
Once MacLeod was gone, Richie tried to continue working on the billing but he made so many mistakes he finally gave up in disgust. He leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling. His eyes were dry and scratchy, and he felt tired and listless. He suddenly decided he'd go home as soon as Kevin got there. Maybe he'd feel better if he took a nap. Cheered by the thought, he went back to the billing with renewed determination, forcing himself to ignore both his incipient headache and the nervous feeling that somebody was creeping up behind him. After all, there was no one there.
The greeting he got from Greg Powers should have done much to ease Richie's nervousness. The slim, dark-haired Immortal wore his hair longer than he had on his previous visit; other than that he appeared unchanged. He seemed shocked and almost pathetically glad to see both of the other Immortals and came right over, embracing MacLeod enthusiastically. Richie could have sworn he saw tears in Greg's eyes as he thanked the Scot for coming.
Then Greg turned to Richie. Ryan felt himself stiffen, but Greg didn't seem to notice as he extended his hand. "Richie, man. Thanks for coming. It's great to see you." His handshake was quick but firm, ending before Richie had a chance to pull away. "I mean it man, I am so glad you came."
Richie found himself unable to speak. He couldn't honestly say it was good to see Gregor. MacLeod seemed to sense his discomfort and gave him a little nod, pulling Greg away by the elbow. "So, Greg, show me what you've been up to."
"MacLeod, my man, you've got to see this. A series of pictures I took in the Highlands last month..." Greg led the Scot away.
A waiter approached Richie with champagne but he declined. His nap that afternoon hadn't eased his headache or made him any more relaxed, and his stomach was so nervous he knew alcohol wouldn't be a good idea. He spotted a water fountain and got a drink, then just wandered around the exhibit, ignoring the suggested viewing order in the catalog. Tessa had tried her best to give him some artistic appreciation, discovering in the process that he had a real eye for form and color. He knew enough about photography to recognize the brilliance of Greg's work, but he didn't like it. The "dark" shots were the same type as they had been last time: pictures of dead animals, gang violence, starving children. But at the last exhibit, they had been balanced by the serene and beautiful work of Linda Plager. Not so this time. Greg's "light" shots looked contrived, false, as if the same camera lens that captured the agony of starvation in an unnamed African village couldn't look at a mother dog nursing her pups with the innocence such a shot demanded. Somehow the life, the light wasn't there. Maybe the soul, Richie grinned to himself, remembering Linda's impassioned voice when she'd spotted Mac in the gallery at that other show. "This is Duncan MacLeod. If it wasn't for him, I'd still be shooting garbage." "Speaking of garbage," he muttered to himself as he turned a corner and spotted a picture taken at a refuse site. A rat nibbled on some unidentifiable something; two sea gulls circled aimlessly overhead. A dog, mere skin and bones, poked his nose into a paper bag.
The picture made Richie want to puke.
"Like it?" Greg asked softly, coming up behind him.
Richie startled, stepped away, tried to regain his composure. "Shouldn't you be mingling with your guests?"
"You're my guest," Greg pointed out. "I wanted to talk with you."
Richie stared at another photo, this one of a girl, little more than a child herself, staring down at the newborn in her arms. The expression on the girl's face reminded him of Nikki; he hadn't thought about her and Melinda in months. He should call them. "So talk."
"You're not making this easy."
Richie snorted. "Forgive me! You're the one that invited me, remember? I didn't ask for you--"
"Lower your voice!" Greg broke in. "I'd rather not have to get into a sword fight with your guardian angel." He nodded across the room as he spoke. Richie followed his glance and saw Mac. The Highlander was pretending to study a picture but it was obvious he was paying more attention to the two of them. Richie managed a smile and his mentor returned it.
"So he's still protecting his little buddy." Greg's voice was low and sarcastic. "Isn't about time you started fighting your own battles, Richie? I assume you have a sword?"
Richie took a deep breath, trying to control his temper. "I have a sword," he replied evenly. "And why don't *you* just go to hell?" He started turning away but Powers grabbed him by the arm. Richie jerked free and glared at him though icy blue eyes. Greg held up his hands in a gesture of peace.
"Whoa, man, chill! I didn't mean anything by that. God, you're on edge!"
Richie glared at him. "Get this straight, Powers. I came here because Mac wanted me to. And because I need to put a rest to what happened last year. For *my* sake. I don't like you, and we aren't pals. So say what you have to say, and let me get the hell out of here."
Greg looked at him, an unpleasant grin appearing on his handsome face. "You want to put it to rest?" he repeated softly, silkily. "Interesting choice of words." He reached out and touched Richie's arm lightly, drawing his finger down the flesh. "You know, after Mac sent me to Paris, I was scared for a long time. I thought for sure he'd find out, he'd come after me. But he never did. Why is that, Rich?" He stepped closer.
Richie tried to retreat, but he was too close to the wall. "You know why. You're his friend. He didn't want to kill you."
"Is that the only reason?" Greg whispered, looking deep into Richie's eyes. "You didn't tell him what happened, did you?" Cold chills chased each other down Richie's spine. He swallowed hard; Greg's musky cologne was gagging him. "I don't know what you're talking about. Mac knows everything. I told him everything, what happened at the dock and then when you came to the store." He snorted. "I had bruises on my neck for over a week, it wasn't like I could lie about it."
Greg just stared into Richie's eyes. He had weird eyes, the younger Immortal though dizzily. They glimmered like polished obsidian, hard and cold, and impossible to read. What was Greg saying?
"You didn't tell him what happened when I came *back* to the shop," the photographer all but whispered. "There's no way Mac would have let me live if you'd told him about that."
"When you came back?" Richie repeated. There was a roaring in his ears. Gasping for air through his open mouth, he tore his eyes away from the black ones so near, and his eyes were drawn to another picture. Something about it...
"What're you staring at?" Greg turned to look at the picture. He quickly turned back to Ryan, speculation in his gaze. "Oh. Do you like it?" he purred.
Richie couldn't answer. Nausea tore through his stomach. He staggered back, lifting a hand. "Keep-- away," he gasped at Greg, who was trying to grab his arm, a concerned look on his face.
"Richie, what the hell--" Powers started. Another voice interrupted.
"Richie?" A familiar voice, a trusted voice. Mac. Richie turned, but he didn't see his friend. Instead, he saw the old apartment behind the antique shop. Saw himself, lying on the floor. Saw the door, swinging open again. Someone in the door...
Then darkness, calm and peaceful, swirled around him, taking him away where there was no pain, no thought, no memory. Richie welcomed the darkness, surrendered to it, sank into it.
Mac barely caught him before he hit the floor.
Richie slowly swam back to awareness. He was lying on something firm. His hands and feet felt like they were encased in blocks of ice even though something soft and warm was tucked around him. He wasn't sure where he was, but somehow he knew it was a safe place. He just drifted.
He was confused and very tired. For what seemed like a long time but might have been no time at all, he floated in the gray mist between cold light of reality and the warm peace of the darkness. Reluctantly he felt himself being drawn back into the world. He heard a familiar voice, felt a hand lightly patting his cheeks. Somebody lifted him and pressed a cup to his lips. Fragrant steam bathed his face. "Drink this, Richie. Careful, it's verra hot."
He sipped. Liquid, warm and sweet, danced across his tongue. He swallowed, then took another sip. 'Mac's upset about something,' he thought. 'His accent's deeper.' The hot liquid seemed to race through his body, thawing painfully frozen fingers and toes. With a giant effort, he forced his eyes open.
He was lying on the couch in Mac's loft, feet elevated with pillows. Mac sat next to him, holding the mug. He smiled. "Welcome back," the Highlander said, his voice relieved.
"What--" Richie started. His voice failed and he coughed. Mac's arm slid around his shoulders, helping him to sit up. The other man offered the tea again.
"Drink some more of this," Mac said. His voice was gently persuasive, a surprise to Richie who was used to being commanded rather than cajoled. He tried to hold the mug but his hands shook so badly the amber beverage splashed over the edge. Duncan steadied the cup. "Easy," he said soothingly. Richie obediently sipped the fragrant tea until his tongue burned, then pushed the mug away. Mac resisted for a second, then shrugged and put the mug down on the end table. "How are you feeling?"
Richie frowned. "I guess... okay." His confusion grew. "Did something happen? We were at that gallery..."
Mac evaded answering, afraid to agitate him. Richie was still in shock. But what *had* happened? In the chaos at the gallery after Richie's collapse, Greg had insisted the two of them had just been chatting amicably when suddenly Richie started acting "freaky". Ryan had muttered some words while unconscious but Mac hadn't been able to make anything out except Greg's name and the word "door".
"How'd I get here?" Richie asked suddenly.
"I drove you." Mac frowned. The Highlander hesitated, torn between wanting answers and his concern for the kid. Concern won out. "Why don't you go back to sleep, Rich? We'll talk later."
After a moment, Richie nodded and closed his eyes.
MacLeod stayed by Richie's side until the younger man's deep breathing assured him that he was asleep. He took the mug into the kitchen and rinsed it out; tidied up the kitchen. Looked around for something else to do. He didn't feel like reading, and he didn't want to leave Richie to go downstairs. The TV might disturb him. Finally, the Highlander went and laid down on his bed. He'd meant to just rest his eyes, but his lack of sleep the night before caught up with him and before he knew it he had slipped into a deeper doze.
Greg Powers sauntered through the darkened gallery, admiring his work in the dim light.
The opening reception had gone well, Several critics from influential publications had attended and Greg had heard enough of the comments to know the reviews would be favorable. Not that that mattered to him. The show had only been an excuse for coming to Seattle.
He had unfinished business here.
A caressing hand brushed over a photo. He was sure it was the one Richie had been so startled by earlier in the evening. Greg smiled. He remembered posing that picture. He'd had to scour the books at the agency to find a young boy model who looked right. Greg had taken several shots that day, a whole series, but the kid's mother had gotten upset when she'd seen the context of the pictures. Child porn was not a charge he wished linked to his name, so he'd destroyed the majority of the pictures and the negatives while the woman watched. He'd kept this one with her blessing. Stupid woman. She thought this picture was innocent without the others.
Now he cradled the picture close to his chest. The gallery people would notice it was missing in the morning, but he always retained the right to take back any piece he wanted. He'd tell them he'd needed it as a gift for an old friend.
His laughter rang out in the darkened gallery.
The persistent ringing of the phone finally woke MacLeod. The Highlander cracked open one eyelid and regarded the device with loathing, waiting for the machine to pick up. When the cacophony continued unabated he realized he had forgotten to switch the machine on before going to bed. Whoever was on the other end was persistent. The ringing went on and on until it goaded MacLeod to answer it just to have some peace. "Hello!" he growled into the receiver.
A chuckle. "Don't tell me I woke you up?"
"Connor!" Mac recognized the voice of his kinsman instantly. He pulled himself upright in the bed, glancing around blearily until he located the clock. The red digital display read just past midnight. It felt much later.
"I got home this evening, and had seven calls from you! What's going on?" Although Connor MacLeod's tone was light, there was a worried undercurrent to it. Duncan frowned, mentally kicking himself for not realizing how so many calls in such a short period of time would affect his erstwhile mentor. Connor probably thought somebody was dead.
He was saying as much now. "What's wrong?"
"Gregor's in town."
Dead silence. Finally, Connor asked, "How's Richie?"
One of the things Duncan MacLeod had always admired about his older kinsman was his ability to get to the heart of a matter. He glanced over at Richie, an unheeding lump on the couch, as he pondered how to answer Connor's question. "He's... okay. I think." He started telling Connor about what had happened at the gallery, but stopped when he heard soft whimpers coming from the couch. Richie. Crying like a terrified child. "Connor, I've got to go," he said hastily, putting down the phone while it was still making squawking noises. He'd have to apologize to his relative later but for right now Richie was more important.
Richie lay in his bed, wide-eyed, staring into the darkness that pressed around him. He didn't like the darkness. Jeannie had understood that, she'd always kept a little night-light burning for him, but Kent had decided he was too old for that now. Last night he'd forbidden Richie to turn it on. "A big boy, ten years old, scared of the dark!" he'd said. "There's nothing to be scared of. Charlie was never afraid of the dark, were you, son?" Charlie was Kent and Jeannie's real kid, who was fifteen, five years older than Richie. Charlie'd laughed and Richie had felt so ashamed. He'd decided he could sleep without the light.
Easier said than done. Richie tried to close his eyes. When Jeannie had come in to say good-night, she'd whispered that if he closed his eyes he wouldn't know if it was dark or not. It didn't work. When his eyes were closed, he could hear things. Noises. Monsters creeping up to the bed. The creak of the floorboards in the hall. The squeal of the door hinges...
The door. Someone was opening the door. Coming in. Coming to the bed.
Richie opened his eyes--
He was lying face-down. The carpet tickled his nose. His head pounded, and his throat felt raw and burned from the pressure of Greg's fingers. Greg. Oh, God. They guy had flipped. He'd destroyed his pictures, what had he been babbling about? "I could kill you and I wouldn't feel a thing. Because I can't.'
I've gotta get hold of Mac. If Greg's nuts he might--
The heavy door of the antique shop opened again. A blast of cool air in the room.
Greg's voice. "One more thing, Richie." His voice dead.
Ignoring the pain in his head, Richie managed to roll over. "Greg-- you're just confused, man. Mac'll help you--"
A smile crossed the Immortal's lips. "Maybe so, Rich. But you're going to help me now." He started forward.
Richie tried to scuttle away. Too late. Greg grabbed him around the throat again, putting more pressure on his bruised windpipe. Spangles of black and red danced in front of Richie's eyes.
The abruptly, the pressure ceased. Richie lay limply, gasping for air. He couldn't move, couldn't do anything but stare into Greg's eyes. "I'm going to leave you something to remember me by, kid. And you'll have a long time to remember.
Hands fumbling at his belt.
"Richie. Richie! Wake up! You're dreaming. Wake up!"
Hands holding his shoulders. He couldn't breathe, couldn't open his eyes. But he forced his hands up, tried to fight loose. "No--" a strangled cry tore from his burning throat.
"Richie! Look at me!"
Richie forced his eyes open. A face was very close to his own. Richie panicked and tried to jump back but he found he couldn't move. The hands were holding him still.
The hands. Mac's hands.
Richie blinked, looked around, dazed. He was on the couch in Mac's loft, the Highlander kneeling beside him, holding his shoulders in a firm grasp. Mac's face was worried. "Richie? Are you awake?
Richie blinked again, then one of his hands came up and rubbed his throat. It didn't hurt. Funny. He could have sworn... "Mac?" His voice sounded tinny and far away to his own ears. "It's you--" he looked around. "I'm in your apartment?"
Mac's face relaxed a bit and he loosened his grip on Richie's shoulders. "Yes. You scared me, I couldn't get you to wake up. That must have been some dream!"
"Dream?" Richie echoed. He'd been dreaming of--- dreaming about--- what? It was all darkness.
Mac was studying his face. "Can you remember?" he asked gently.
Remember? What could Richie remember? What was he doing here, anyway? "What time is it?"
The Highlander frowned, then looked past Richie's head at the clock. "A little before one."
"One? In the morning?"
Mac's eyes flew back to Richie and he frowned again. "One in the morning. You've been asleep for several hours. I brought you back here after the reception." His brows came down sharply in a frown. "Richie? What's wrong?"
"Reception? Greg's reception?"
Mac nodded slowly. "You passed out at the reception. Do you remember that?"
Richie leaned back and shut his eyes. His memories were so confused. He vaguely remembered Mac picking him up, going to the art gallery. Then... what? Greg. Saying something, something that didn't make any sense. And then nothing.
Mac looked at him sharply as the rate of Richie's breathing increased. The Highlander's eyes were concerned. "Richie? Do you feel faint again?" he asked, putting a hand on the younger Immortal's shoulder. "It's okay. You're safe here."
Richie just shook his head. "I don't know what happened," he moaned despondently. "This afternoon, or last night..." terrified, he sought MacLeod's reassuring gaze. "I'm losing it, aren't I? I'm going crazy." His voice started to rise hysterically, and MacLeod put an arm around him and pulled him close.
"Listen to me," the Highlander insisted. "You are not 'losing it'.
"Then what's wrong with me? Why can't I remember? and I can't stop shaking..." Richie's felt scared and very young. He sank into Mac's warm embrace. MacLeod's arms came up around his shoulders, comforting him. After a second, Richie stiffened and pulled back, embarrassed. MacLeod let him go, then frowned as he looked at Richie's drawn face.
"When's the last time you ate anything?"
The question was unexpected enough that it got Richie's attention. "I don't know," he frowned. "Mac, I'm immortal, I can't starve to death.'
"Actually, you can," Mac corrected. "Did you eat anything today? Yesterday? You hardly touched dinner. Did you eat after you went home?"
Even more embarrassed, Richie shook his head again. MacLeod glared at him, his expression mixing exasperation and concern in equal parts. "Well, there's at least part of the problem." He got up and started for the kitchen.
"Mac!" Richie protested. "I'm losing my mind and you want me to eat?"
"You're not losing your mind. Richie, an Immortal can't not eat. Our bodies require much more energy than normal people. A *lot* of energy. Not eating can slow down your healing, your reactions, cause confusion, even cause you to go into a coma-like state. And you can starve to death, pretty quickly. Come back and die again, until you finally just go into a sort of suspended animation. It's not a pleasant thing." Duncan returned with a package of peanut butter crackers and a tall glass of milk. "You eat these while I fix you something hot. An omelet all right?"
"I guess." Richie fumbled with the package. He wasn't hungry even now. "Mac, is that all true? I mean, about not eating?"
"I don't make a habit of lying to you, do I?" Mac returned shortly, opening the refrigerator for omelet fixings.
Richie nibbled at the crackers until Mac came over with a tray. An omelet, the top draped with golden cheese, nestled invitingly on a plate between two pieces of buttered toast.
He didn't think he was hungry, but the first bite of omelet awakened a gnawing in Richie's belly. He ate with increasing appetite, cleaning the plate and accepting a third piece of toast dripping with butter and strawberry preserves. Mac's tense shoulders eased as Richie ate, and he even managed a smile and a rueful shake of the head as the younger Immortal eschewed a napkin to lick butter and jam off his fingers. "Feeling better?" he asked as he took the tray back to the kitchen.
"Well, yeah." Richie was surprised. His memories were still blurry; the last few days seemed more and more just a product of his nightmares, but the panic in his stomach, the shakiness, and the feeling that somebody was behind him were diminished. He frowned. "All that, nightmares and everything, just because I skipped a few meals?"
There was a silence until the Highlander came back with two mugs of tea. He handed one to the younger man and then sat down in his armchair, lips pursed to cool the steaming brew. "Well, probably not all of it. I think, maybe, Greg's visit has upset you. Maybe brought some memories to the forefront you weren't prepared to deal with." His tone was careful. "Rich, you were really angry with Greg when he left the first time. You were even angry with me for not taking his head. He scared you. There's nothing to be ashamed of there. Hell, he scared me, and I could defend myself." MacLeod paused, obviously debating how to say the next part. "I think you have some unresolved issues with Greg. Things you need to work through."
Richie gave him an incredulous stare. "'Unresolved issues'? Have you been watching too much daytime TV, Mac? I don't have 'unresolved issues'. Greg was nuts. He tried to kill me twice, once with my help with that stupid stunt on the motorbike. He went off and got help and now everything is fine again." He put the mug down on the coffee table with a little thump. "End of story."
MacLeod sighed, "Rich--"
"Mac, I'm tired," Ryan interrupted, scooting down on the couch and pulling the blankets close around his shoulders. He turned his back to the Highlander. "I want to go back to sleep."
He knew he wasn't fooling Duncan; the Highlander would recognize this for the diversion it was. Richie simply wanted to end the discussion. But it was the middle of the night. "Okay, Rich. Sleep well. I'll see you in the morning." MacLeod rose and extinguished lights as he moved towards his bed.
As he dozed off MacLeod berated himself. Richie didn't like talking about feelings, and he had so much penned inside him from a childhood spent in the clutches of an uncaring system. When he and Tessa had taken Richie in, Mac had hoped there would be years of love, affection and security to ease the dark memories that hounded the kid's nightmares. Instead, there had been just a little over one year.
'I miss you, Tess,' he told her in that dark silence of his mind, conjuring up a vision of her. That wasn't as easy at it had once been. Now it seemed that every time he thought of her, he saw her tombstone with the dead body of her look-alike sprawled across it. 'Damn you, Horton, this is something else to pile against your debt in hell. You've even tainted Tessa's memory.'
He lay unmoving for a long time before exhaustion finally pulled him into an uneasy sleep.
When the ringing of the phone woke him again, bright sunshine streamed into the loft and his neck was stiff. The clock read 10:45. Duncan considered yanking the phone out of the wall but reason prevailed and he answered it instead.
It was Greg. "Don't tell me you were still asleep!" Amusement colored his tone. "Whatever happened to that get-up-at-dawn-run-five-miles- while-normal-people-sleep Highlander I used to know and love?"
"He overslept today," Mac groaned.
"You sound like you have a hangover."
"Well, I don't," MacLeod snapped. He glanced over at the couch and saw that Richie was gone, the blankets neatly folded and placed on the cushions.
After a brief pause, Greg asked, "Did I call at a bad time?"
"No." Duncan took a deep breath, let it out again. He forced his voice to be more cordial. "Of course not, Greg. I'm just a little disoriented."
"Oh. Well, look. I'm going to have to leave tonight, my agent called and I have to go to New York. Could we... have dinner before I leave? Just the two of us." He paused. "I'd invite Richie but I don't think he's ready to deal with me yet."
Thinking about the night before, Mac had to agree with that.
"But I'd like to spend some time with you. I have a lot to tell you. Please?"
When Greg added that last word his voice sounded like a little kid's. MacLeod didn't want to hurt him, but he really wanted to talk to Richie, see if he could get Ryan to open up about what was bothering him. It occurred to MacLeod that both Greg and Richie were in fragile emotional conditions right now. He sensed that Greg was still not sure if Mac had forgiven him for what had happened before. And, as far as Richie went, that kid had enough buried traumas and emotional land-mines going to keep Sigmund Freud busy for a few lifetimes.
He had to make some decision. Well, Greg *wanted* to talk, and Richie obviously didn't. "Sure, Greg, that sounds good. What time? There's a new restaurant near the airport. I've been wanting to try it. What time's your flight?"
"I'll pick you up about six."
After Greg had disconnected, Mac hit the automatic dial number for Richie's apartment. It rang ten times without even the answering machine picking up before he gave up. Maybe Richie was downstairs. Yawning, trying to picture Father Knows Best as an Immortal, Duncan headed for a shower.
Richie fumbled with his keys, dropping them twice before he finally got the door to the apartment open. Once inside, he headed straight for the shower, peeling off his clothes and leaving them where they fell.
The phone was ringing as he emerged from the bathroom but he ignored it as he stalked to the kitchen to survey the contents of the fridge. There wasn't much there. Finally, he grabbed the bottle of orange juice and walked out onto the little balcony.
His landlady was down on the lawn, replanting a flower bed. Richie waved when she glanced up at him, then sat down in the lawn chair and enjoyed the crisp morning air while he gulped the juice.
He like this apartment a lot. The old brick building had only six units and was in a quiet residential area. Richie had lived here since he and Mac had returned from France. Actually, the Highlander had found the place and charmed Mrs. Bryson, the owner, into letting Richie have the apartment even though all the other tenants were graduate students at a nearby private college.
In spite of his problems, Richie had to grin when he contrasted this apartment to the fifth floor walk-up he'd rented after Tessa's death. While still in France, Mac had decided to sell the antique shop and move out of the apartment where he'd lived with Tessa. Connor had gone apartment-hunting with Richie that time, and his criteria for a suitable place to live almost completely dealt with escape routes in case an Immortal came calling. *Richie's* sole concern had been expense. Mac's eyes had widened in something like horror when they'd first showed him the place, although he'd never said much. To Richie, at least. Richie had heard him giving Connor a piece of his mind about the neighborhood, the building structure and the fact that the nearest laundromat was two miles away.
Mac much preferred this place, and he'd even given Richie a raise to cover the higher rent. Ryan had gotten his thrift store furniture out of storage and he and MacLeod had spent one warm Saturday moving in as the previous tenant was moving out. That'd been over a month ago and Richie had done no serious cleaning since. The apartment was definitely looking dingy.
Richie decided to give the place a good cleaning. Actually, the idea had an odd kind of appeal. He'd slept heavily for only a few hours after Mac had fixed him the omelet and his mind still felt sluggish but his body was fired with nervous energy. Besides, cleaning might keep him from thinking about the last couple of days.
He quickly picked up the various clothes scattered around the apartment and dropped them into the washing machine in the basement on his way out. Most of his neighbors seemed to be out of town for the break between quarters so he actually had the laundry room to himself. He ruefully examined the good blue slacks that he'd worn to the exhibit. Sleeping in them hadn't done much for their appearance. Richie ended up bundling those under his arm and leaving them at the dry cleaners on his way to the grocery store. In the store itself he grabbed a cart and headed to the aisle where the cleaning supplies were. Although he wasn't a fanatic about cleaning, several of his foster parents had been. Social Services liked to see a spotless house when they came to check on their charges. Richie snorted as he rapidly loaded bottles of 409, Lysol, Windex and toilet bowl cleaner into his cart. Like a clean house could make good foster parents. If that were true, Kent and Jeannie's place would have been heaven. God knows Jeannie spent enough time cleaning it.
Richie frowned and dismissed that thought. Why was he thinking about them? It had been almost eight years since he'd left their home. Eight years since --
He stopped dead in the aisle, cold sweat suddenly breaking out on his forehead. His knees were shaking and he gripped the cart tightly to regain his balance.
"Are you okay?" The guy stocking the shelves looked at him with a funny expression on his face.
"Umm, yeah. Thanks." Richie started walking blindly towards the check- out stand. He forced himself to breathe deeply, to blank his mind. The curious clerk followed as Richie pushed his cart up to a register.
"Sorry, but this is an Express Lane," the girl behind the counter said. Her voice was polite but firm.
Richie stared at her blankly, then looked around. Sure enough, there was a sign that said, "Express Lane, 12 Items or Less, Please" directly over the register. Richie looked down at his cart, picked up two bottles at random and shoved them into the arms of the kid who'd been following him. "Okay," he said. His voice didn't even sound like his own.
The two store employees exchanged looks, then the girl shrugged and started ringing up his purchases. Richie stared unseeingly ahead of him until he heard her voice again.
"That'll be fifty-two twelve. Paper or plastic?"
"What?" Richie gasped. His voice came out pretty loudly and several people looked at him with curious expressions. The clerk actually jumped back, her eyes searching frantically for help.
Too late, Richie realized he was making a scene. "Umm, plastic's fine," he stuttered. Never taking her eyes off him, the girl started to bag his purchases as Richie reached into his back pocket for his checkbook. '*Fifty-two dollars?* What the hell did I buy?'
His hand froze. He suddenly had a clear memory of his checkbook sitting on the kitchen counter back at his apartment. Desperately, he dragged out his wallet, looked into the bill compartment. A five and two rather crumpled ones, plus his paycheck that he'd been carrying around since Saturday. With everything going on he'd forgotten to deposit it.
The clerk must have realized the problem. "We take credit cards," she pointed out hopefully. The look on her face said plainly that he was being a pain as a customer and the last thing she wanted to do was have to void the transaction.
"I don't--" Richie started, then he stopped and swallowed. Actually, he *did* have a credit card. Mac had given it to him right after he'd moved in. "For emergencies," the Highlander had said. Richie had always felt funny about taking it and he'd rarely used it. Now, though, he brought it out. He'd give Mac the money before the statement came in; right now he just wanted to get out of this store before anything else happened.
It dawned on Richie that he didn't even know if the card still worked. Duncan could have canceled it after that whole mess with Mako. He found himself holding his breath as the clerk ran the card through the scanner.
"Approved" popped up on the LCD screen and Richie let out the breath he was holding in a long sigh. He scrawled his name with an unsteady hand, accepted his card, the receipt and the carbon of the transaction record from the clerk, then picked up his cleaning supplies and gratefully left the store.
The phone was ringing when he entered the apartment and he ignored it again. After it stopped he unplugged it with a quick motion. Unloading his purchases on the table, he rolled up his sleeves and set out to do some serious housecleaning.
Mac tried several times to reach Richie with no success. He spent the afternoon vacillating between concern about Richie's emotional state and annoyance with the younger Immortal for avoiding him. About three thirty he decided to drive by Ryan's place to check on him. Before he could leave, Kevin called from downstairs to tell him the power was out in the dojo. They'd just had an electrician out to replace some wiring a few weeks before, but apparently the problem was still hadn't been fixed. Worse still, Kevin had had the computer opened to the billing program to look up something for a customer, and there was a good chance that all the records could have been lost in the power outage. Grumbling Gaelic curses on all electricians, Mac headed for the yellow pages and the phone.
By mid-afternoon, Richie's apartment was clean enough to have satisfied the most anal social worker. Richie looked around, bemused. 'Too bad Tessa can't see this!' he thought. 'All of those times she ragged me about my bedroom.' He explored the spotless refrigerator and came up with a lone can of ginger ale. Popping the top, he moved out to the balcony and plunked down in the chair. For just a few minutes, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the fresh breeze coming off the Sound. He was tired and it felt good just to rest for a few minutes...
His eyes flew open as a rush of panic tore through him. 'What?' A glance at his watch showed only ten minutes had gone by. He'd fallen asleep. He couldn't sleep. He said aloud, "It's too beautiful a day to take a nap. I'll go for a run!" Then he frowned. His voice sounded different to his own ears, like a young kid's. And since when had he started talking to himself, anyway?
Shaking, he didn't know why, but driven by the need to get away from the apartment, Richie locked the door behind him and set off down the sidewalk.
Mac spent a exhausting and frustrating couple of hours with the electrician, who mumbled something about "Inadequate load-bearing circuits" and then started pulling wires out of the walls. When he was finally finished, the Highlander was two hundred dollars poorer and in addition had been informed that much of the wiring was "Simply unacceptable for the job you're wanting it to do," (translation: several hundred more dollars). With the power back on, he and Kevin booted up the computer to discover the worst had happened: the monthly records were gone. MacLeod had to bite his tongue to keep from saying something rather nasty to Kevin, who should never have been in that program to start with, but nothing would be accomplished by upsetting the kid any further now. As it was, it took him several minutes to get the kid reassured, calmed down and sent on his way. A glance at the wall clock showed him he was going to have to hustle ito pick up Greg on time, but he tried once again to call Richie. Still no answer. Grumbling to himself that he was going to buy Ryan a pager for his birthday, or maybe a cellular phone, Mac wearily went upstairs to take a shower.
Greg Powers thanked the woman at the registration list for the use of her printer. He glanced over the letters again, checking for mistakes, for anything that might give an indication of when or where they were written. Satisfied, he spent some minutes carefully wrinkling each one, then put them into the envelopes he'd brought along. The envelopes were legitimate enough; especially the two with Paris postmarks.
He took a deep breath. He'd spent so long planning this, been so careful. Checking and double checking every point. Finding out Richie was Immortal, while increasing the risk, had only added to his pleasure.
Finally, he'd have his revenge and a Quickening to go with it.
Kerry Park stretched (as much as he could behind the wheel of a Ford Escort), yawned, and blearily fixed his eyes on the entrance of Seacouver City Park. If Richie Ryan ran true to form, he should be emerging from the park any time now.
*Immortals*. Kerry shook his head. He still couldn't believe it. His mind drifted back to the night of his eighteenth birthday. After the party, his father had invited him into the study. His Godfather, Joe Dawson, who was visiting, had come along, too. Kerry had thought maybe his dad was going to talk to him about a car for when he went off to college.
Instead, Dad and Joe had launched into this fairy tale about people who lived forever, chopped of each other's heads as part of some "Game" and were observed by a group calling themselves the "Watchers". To his shock, Kerry learned that his father and Joe were both Watchers. Every male in Kerry's family for as long as anybody could remember had been a Watcher. At this moment, there were seven members of the Park family actively "Watching", and to his utter befuddlement, it was expected that Kerry would become the eighth.
Kerry refused vehemently. Oddly enough, it wasn't the concept of Immortals or their game that bothered him, it was the notion that Watchers actually spent their lives spying on Immortals. Writing everything down in the "Chronicles". Kerry had plans for his life: he wanted to be an author, a photojournalist maybe. He wanted to go to college and have a girlfriend and maybe even go to Europe. He wanted to do what he wanted to do, not be tied to some hundreds-year tradition.
The subject hadn't been dropped over the next several weeks and things between Kerry and his father got tense. Somehow, Dan Park had got it into his head that Kerry was afraid, that he thought he couldn't do it. Finally, when father and son weren't even speaking anymore, Joe Dawson and Kerry's cousin Steve had come down to San Diego to mediate. While they were there Joe received a phone call from Seattle. The most recent Watcher assigned to a young Immortal named Richie Ryan had just quit the organization. Joe and Steve had just exchanged looks and sighs. And it was then that Steve had the idea for the Bet.
If Kerry could shadow Richie for one week without losing him or quitting, Kerry's dad would let his son make his own decision about the Watchers.
Dawson hadn't been too thrilled with the idea. He'd pointed out that Watching could be dangerous, and Kerry needed to go through training. Steve argued that it wasn't like Kerry would be alone; he and Dawson would be nearby. And Richie Ryan wasn't an Immortal who was constantly running afoul of other Immortals; hell, he was practically an infant in the Immortal world.
However, before Kerry could get a week's break from school, Ryan had taken the head of an Immortal named Mako. For reasons that Kerry was a little fuzzy on, Richie then left town. The Watcher organization lost track of him for awhile. Since the Bet couldn't be completed, Kerry went on with his own life. He did go through some Watcher training, but he steadfastly refused the tattoo. In his own mind, he was not a part of this.
Then, one bright sunny day when Kerry was studying in his dorm room at the University of California at Irvine, Joe called. Richie Ryan was back in Seattle.
The Bet was on.
Being Richie Ryan's Watcher was a challenge. The guy knew about Watchers, didn't like the idea, and was damn good at identifying them. He had a bad habit of getting his Watchers in trouble. Dawson had grinned when he'd said this and Kerry had felt his back stiffen. He might hate this whole idea, but he could do it. Richie Ryan wouldn't find it so easy to get rid of Kerry Park.
Kerry had read as much as he could about Ryan, searching for patterns. There weren't many: Richie seemed to do most things on impulse. But he always took the same route for his daily run. When he had jogged out of his apartment in the late afternoon, Kerry tailed him until he was sure Richie was following his normal route, then returned for the car and driven to his vantage point outside the park.
But now Kerry was getting concerned. Richie should have been out of the park by now, heading down through the old-money area known as Swan Lake. Then he'd cross Velvet Hill Road, cut through Crescent Park, and finish up by going down Orange Lane until he was back at his apartment.
That's what he *should* be doing. But he wasn't there.
Cursing under his breath, Kerry started the car and started to backtrack, suspecting that the elusive Richie Ryan had just ditched still another Watcher.
Duncan MacLeod stared across the table at Greg Powers.
Dinner had been pleasant enough. The restaurant was quiet and dark, with the tables spaced widely enough so that conversation was possible. The food was good, and there was plenty of it. An uninspired pianist played softly in the corner of the room.
At first Mac and Greg had conversed easily, catching up on mutual friends. But then conversation had stalled. Greg had been quiet through the maincourse. Now MacLeod made another attempt to break the silence. "So, why do you have to go to New York?"
The other Immortal looked surprised. "Oh, didn't I tell you? My agent called in a favor and got four of my pictures hung in a group show at the ICP."
"ICP? That's great, Greg!" Duncan was honestly pleased for his friend. "What's the name of the show?"
A flash of something crossed Greg's face too quickly for MacLeod to identify it. He laughed shortly while blushing faintly pink. "You've got me! I'm sure he told me, but I can't remember right now." He shook his head bemusedly. "They say the memory is the first thing to go," he intoned mockingly.
The odd silence fell again. Mac sensed, though, that Greg wanted to say something more serious. Finally, Greg put down his fork and looked at the Highlander until Mac gave him his full attention. "Yes?"
"I've been getting some weird letters," the other Immortal said quietly. His eyes were fixed on MacLeod's face with an oddly intent light in them.
MacLeod frowned, puzzled. "Letters?" he repeated.
"Yeah. Four in the last three months." He pulled some papers out of his pocket and offered them to the Highlander. MacLeod took them reluctantly, scanning them. Plain white typing paper. The same message in all four letters: "Vengeance is mine."
MacLeod handed them back to Greg, frowning. "So, who have you pissed off lately?"
"Richie," Greg responded quietly.
Cold anger shook the Highlander. "Are you accusing him?"
Greg shook his head. "I don't know. But, Mac, the first two letters came from Paris. You were in Paris for several months; was Richie there too?"
"He was there for a couple of weeks," MacLeod admitted reluctantly. "Then we traveled around a bit before we came back here. But Richie-- how would Richie even know your address--" he fell silent, thinking about Connor. Greg probably kept in touch with his kinsman, and Duncan knew, from some things Connor had said when they'd visited in New York, that Richie had been in contact with him after the business with Mako. After Duncan had turned him away...
"Look," Greg said, "If these letters are just Richie's way of getting back at me, that's fine. I mean, if it makes him feel better. But what if they mean more? Duncan, we've both seen guys who just couldn't take being Immortal. Hell, it wasn't so long ago that I was walking that edge, myself. If it hadn't been for you," he shook his head. "But, from what Richie told me last year, he didn't have the best upbringing. He didn't have a family, until you and Tessa came along." MacLeod nodded his head. "That's why I jumped at the chance to come here. I thought Richie and I could talk, clear the air. Instead, he can barely be in the same room with me. Mac, I think he's heading for a breakdown."
Duncan stared across the table at Greg. "What are you talking about? Richie's fine."
"Come on, MacLeod. You know that's not true. Just look at him! He's tense, his behavior is erratic, one minute he's up, the next minute he's down. For God's sake, he had a blackout at the gallery yesterday! And you say he's fine?"
"He's having a problem with you," Mac shot back. "He was fine before you showed up." It was an unkind thing to say, but Greg didn't flinch.
"Was he?" he asked quietly. "Mac, I've been there. So close to the edge I wasn't even sure I wanted to come back. I've had the experience. And don't forget, I'm a doctor. It's obvious Richie's having some pretty significant problems. Yeah, maybe I precipitated something by showing up now, but why is he so scared of me?"
"You terrified him," Mac pointed out quietly.
"Okay, but so what? I mean, I'm not excusing what I did, but come on, man! Richie's Immortal now. He has to realize I couldn't really have hurt him."
MacLeod shifted. Something about the way Greg was looking at him made him highly uncomfortable. The other Immortal went on, his words barely a whisper, "I'm in danger. What if Richie comes after me?"
MacLeod stared at him. "Richie wouldna do that!"
Greg lifted an eyebrow, hearing the Highlander's brogue thicken. "I hope you're right. God, I hope *I'm* wrong. And I could be! Even if Richie did write the letters, maybe that's as far as he'll take it. But I'm not going to run. I'll come back in a couple of weeks, and maybe we can sit down together, all of use, and talk about this. Sean Burns saved me, you know, after you sent me to Paris. He saved my sanity, if not my life. He could help Richie. And, Duncan, Richie needs help."
Richie blinked, looked around. This street looked awfully familiar. Where was he?
Instead of cutting through the park as he normally did, he'd decided to go for an extra-long run. He losttrack of where he was or how far he'd gone, until he somehow got off the main road and onto a steep and twisting side-street. Then he just stopped. His legs were burning from the unaccustomed exertion, his lungs shrieking for air; but he was oblivious to his bodily discomfort as he looked around. Small houses. Mostly well-kept. His eyes fell on a house about halfway down the street and his mind froze. Unaware that he was doing so, he moved towards it.
It was a small stucco house, painted tan. Dark brown trim. Rose bushes around the porch, their blossoms vibrant splashes of color against the bland wall. A huge, ancient oak sheltered the whole house. The kind of tree that was just begging for a young boy to climb it.
--Richie, be careful. Not so high! A woman's voice. He could almost see her, plump. Pretty. Short blonde hair, skin that tanned in even the least bit of sun.
Young man, if you fall out of that tree, you won't sit down for a month! Laughing as she realized how silly that sounded.
I won't fall, Jeannie. Hey, you come up too!--
Richie's pace quickened as he approached the house. He was almost running. The front door to the house opened and a man stepped out.
Richie stopped dead. Terror struck him, as suddenly and as powerful as any Quickening. His throat closed. Icy sweat sprang from his forehead, under his arms.
The man, closed the door behind him, looked up and down the street, started to walk across the neatly mowed front yard.
'He's coming. No. I have to get away. I have to hide--'
Richie bolted into the street. His legs felt like cement, heavy and unyielding. His vision was fragmented, visions of the past forcing themselves to his horrified eyes. No! Visions of the past. Then the sights of the present.
He saw the pickup truck coming at him in slow motion. He heard the horn, the squeal of brakes desperately trying to slow the momentum of the vehicle. Then something crashed him into oblivion.
"Oh, shit!" breathed Kerry Park, unaware he'd said the words aloud.
He'd been driving around for what seemed like ages, totally losing track of where he was, putting off the moment when he'd have to call Joe Dawson and admit he, too, had been ditched by Richie Ryan. Somehow he'd ended up on a little, twisty, turning street, somewhat reminiscent of San Francisco's Lombard Avenue. Much to his surprise and relief, he'd spotted Richie almost at once. He frowned. The young Immortal was just standing there, staring. As Kerry watched, he started walking down the sidewalk, faster and faster until he was almost running. Running towards something.
Then he skidded to a stop.
Kerry's eyes were briefly drawn away from the puzzling Richie Ryan as he heard a vehicle coming down the hill. Going faster than the speed limit, much too fast for the winding road, in Kerry's opinion. When he glanced back at Richie the young Immortal was in the street.
In the path of the truck.
Fumbling with his seat belt, with the door handle, Kerry wrenched the door open and stumbled out of the car. Ryan's inert body flew up over the hood of the truck, smashing down into the asphalt. He lay in a crumpled ball, unmoving.
The white pickup truck finally skidded to a halt. As Kerry watched numbly, the driver's side door opened and a girl jumped out. She looked about Kerry's age, petite, with long, wild blond hair. Kerry was close enough to see that her cheeks were smeared with mascara, as if she'd been crying or rubbing her eyes. "Oh, my God!" she screamed, staring at Richie's body. She looked up at Kerry. "I didn't mean to. He was just there. I didn't see him!"
Kerry tried to say something, but before he could force his mind to work the girl had jumped back in her truck and accelerated, tearing back down the hill.
"She's leaving!" a voice yelled.
Kerry looked around. People were coming out of houses, looking shocked. An elderly woman appeared with a blanket. She held up a cell phone. "I'll call an ambulance!"
Kerry's mind suddenly snapped back into working mode. He couldn't let them call an ambulance. The words his father, and Joe Dawson, spoke, rang inside his head. Watchers didn't interfere. But they did everything they could to keep the secret of Immortals safe from the rest of the world.
What if someone noticed the injuries healing before their very eyes? He couldn't let paramedics see Richie. Even if it meant exposing himself to Richie as a Watcher.
The reluctant Watcher dropped to his knees beside the other teen. Even his untrained eye could see that Ryan was badly injured. Blue eyes, dazed and glassy with shock or pain, opened and stared at him. "Do I know you?"
He must be in shock, probably didn't remember meeting Kerry the night before. Kerry answered, "Later for that. Play along with me, I'll get you out of here." Kerry turned to the approaching crowd. "It's okay," he said, trying to make his voice sound calm. "He's okay. Just got the wind knocked out of him." He reached down and put his arm around Richie.
"Hold on there, kid!" A solidly-built middle-aged man put his hand on Kerry's arm, preventing him from lifting Ryan. "Don't move him. He could have internal injuries."
"He doesn't," Kerry insisted, knowing the reverse was probably true. His arm tightly around the other teen's waist, gripping his belt, he bodily hauled him to his feet, wincing as he felt broken ribs move under his hand. Richie sharply inhaled, but bit his lip and didn't make another sound.
"Kid," the man tried to stop Kerry, "You can't just--"
"He's my cousin," Kerry interrupted.
The man looked doubtful. "Really? Not much family resemblance, is there?" He glanced at Richie, then gave a little start and looked at him more closely. "My God...Richie? Richie Ryan?"
Because he was holding the other man so close, Kerry could feel Richie's heart leap, then start thudding rapidly. Ryan stared at the man, his face rapidly losing what little color he had. His fingers dug painfully into Kerry's arm. "Get me out of here," he whispered
"You got it." Half supporting, half dragging, Kerry got Richie through the crowd, which parted before them, and into the front seat of his rental car. He basically shoved the Immortal into the car, wincing at the moan of anguish Richie tried to smother. Closing the door, he raced around to the driver's side, only to be stopped by the same man that had been talking before. The guy had a weird look on his face, anger and fear and something else, something that Kerry couldn't identify.
"Where are you taking him?"
Kerry jerked lose from the guy's arm. "Don't worry about it." He slid behind the wheel. Before he could start the car, the man reached in through the open window and put his hand on the wheel.
"I need a phone number. Or you aren't going anywhere, I'll keep you here until the police get--"
Kerry blurted out a phone number. The man hesitated, then pulled a piece of paper out of his jeans pocket, along with a ball-point pen. "Say it again." Kerry repeated the number (in reality, it was his lab partner's phone number back home in California), then put the car in gear and drove away.
"Cousin, huh?" Richie gasped. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and he slumped over, unconscious.
Joe Dawson answered the telephone. The voice on the other end was young, obviously upset and it took Dawson a few seconds to place it. "Kerry? Is that you? What's wrong?" Then he asked, grinning, "Don't tell me-- you lost Richie?"
"I didn't lose him. He's right here. He's bleeding all over the car!" Kerry's voice rose in panic.
"Wait a minute. Slow down. What are you talking about?" Joe sank down in his chair and listened with growing concern as the young prospective Watcher blurted out the story. "He was hit by a car? When did this happen?"
"I don't know, about an hour ago. He's unconscious. I don't know what to do!" Kerry's voice was rising again. "I though he was supposed to heal!"
"He will," Dawson insisted. "It just takes a while. How badly is he hurt?"
He could hear the teenager taking a deep, steadying breath. "Pretty bad. I know he's got some broken ribs, and a broken ankle. I'm sure he has some internal injuries, too." Kerry's voice was calmer now. "How long does this healing take, anyway?"
Joe evaded a direct answer. Richie should be doing *some* healing by now, but there was nothing to be gained by upsetting Kerry even more. "Take him to his place. It will be better if he can lie down. I'll meet you there."
There was a short, embarrassed silence. "I don't know how to get back to his apartment," Kerry finally confessed, his voice miserable.
To his credit, Joe kept his voice even. "Where are you? Can you seen any street signs?" After Kerry told him what intersection they were at, Dawson gave him crisp directions for getting back to Richie's apartment, then hung up. He called MacLeod's, but there was no answer. Joe left a quick message, just telling the Immortal to call or come by Ryan's apartment.
Greg insisted that MacLeod didn't need to park the car at the airport. "Just drop me off at Ticketing."
"If that's what you want." MacLeod double parked the T-bird outside the American Airlines terminal. He glanced at Powers and felt a sudden rush of sorrow for the way the evening had gone. "Greg--" he started. Then he stopped. He didn't know what to say.
"It's okay, man." Eschewing a handshake, Greg reached over and gave the Highlander a quick hug. "You're probably right. Hell, maybe Richie didn't even write those letters."
"You don't believe that," Duncan pointed out. Greg shrugged, then opened his door and jumped out, leaning into the back seat for his duffel. "I should be back in a week, maybe ten days. We'll get it all talked out then."
"Let me know when you're coming."
"Will do. Take care of yourself, MacLeod." Giving him a mock salute, Greg hefted his duffel and turned toward the terminal. A car behind the T-bird gave a loud, irritated honk of the horn and MacLeod responded by pulling back out into traffic.
Greg turned back. Once he was satisfied that the lights of MacLeod's car had vanished toward the exit, he walked quickly toward the line of cabs. Tossing his duffel into the seat of one, he slid inside and told the driver, "Take me to the Riverside Hotel."
MacLeod didn't go home. Instead he headed T-bird north to the Coast Road. There was little traffic on the narrow, twisting highway and he lowered the top of the T-bird, reveling in feeling the cool air on his face.
He seemed to make this drive a lot in the last year, every time things got just too much for him. The Hunters. Darius' death. Greg's breakdown.
Then Michael Moore.
MacLeod winced. Remembering Michael was painful. Discovering his longtime friend had another, secret personality, that of mass-murderer Quentin Barnes, had been one of the most horrible moments in Duncan's long life. Barnes had killed four people and attacked Tessa and Richie, before Michael had managed to regain control long enough beg Duncan to take his head, to end the madness that was Quentin Barnes.
MacLeod had had no choice. He'd beheaded his friend with tears running down his cheeks.
The loss of Michael, following so soon on the heels of Darius's death and Greg's breakdown, had left the Highlander emotionally exhausted. He'd desperately needed time, space, rest.
Instead had come Pallin Wolf.
Richie's death, and Immortality.
Too many things, all happening at once.
And now Greg thought Richie was heading for some kind of breakdown. No, he thought Richie was *having* a breakdown. Duncan didn't want to believe it.
Would Richie write those letters? 'Well, maybe,' Mac admitted to himself. He frowned as something teased his memory.
He'd looked at the postmarks; one was illegible, one had been mailed from New York, the other two from Paris. The date on the New York one was one day after he and Richie had left after their brief visit with Connor.
The postmarks. One of the Paris letters had been postmarked the eighth of July. But Richie hadn't *been* in Paris on the eighth; the two of them had left for London on the fifth. The letter had been postmarked three days *after* they'd left the city.
The apartment building was dark and quiet when Kerry pulled into the parking lot. The Immortal was still unconscious and hadn't moved during the drive back. Only the faint rise and fall of chest indicated that he was still alive.
As Kerry started to get out of the car, another car pulled into the lot, stopped, and then Joe Dawson emerged slowly. The Watcher held the door as Kerry manhandled Richie's dead weight out of the passenger seat and up the narrow back staircase to the Immortal's apartment. Fortunately Kerry had found the key in Richie's pocket, and Dawson retrieved it and went on ahead up the stairs to open the door and turn on lights.
Dawson merely shook his head when Kerry finally laid Richie down gently on the bed and the Watcher got his first good look. "Have you seen any signs of him healing? Flashes of blue lightening? Anything?"
Kerry shook his head. He'd worried the whole way back about something. "Uncle Joe, are you *sure* he's Immortal? Maybe we should take him to the hospital..."
"He's Immortal, Kerry," Dawson stated flatly.
"How can you be so sure?" the teen argued. "I mean, it's not like you've ever seen him die and come back to life--" he stopped when he saw the remote, sad look on Dawson's face.
"I was there the night he died, the first time," Dawson said, so softly that Kerry could barely hear him.
Kerry had read about Richie's first death, how he'd been killed in the same shooting that claimed the life of Tessa Noel. For a minute, his mind refused to accept what the older man was telling him. "You mean, you were there? You saw it?"
"And you didn't do anything?" Kerry's tone sounded accusatory to his own ears.
Joe Dawson's faced creased into a sad smile. "Richie asked me almost that same question, when he found out I'd been there. I'll tell you the same as I told him: there wasn't anything anybody could have done. It happened too fast. I didn't know Richie was going to be Immortal, and Tessa Noel wasn't. I saw them both die right in front of me, and I couldn't do a damn thing about it."
Kerry had to ask the question, "If you had been able, would you have done anything?
A mixture of emotions crossed the older man's face. "I don't know," Dawson responded softly. "We don't interfere, Kerry."
"But Tessa Noel wasn't Immortal!" Kerry yelled. "And you didn't know that Richie was. You mean the Watchers would have condemned them just because they were MacLeod's--
"--Family," Dawson filled in. He shook his head. "You didn't let me finish, Kerry. I think I would have tried to save them. But I couldn't."
At that moment someone banged heavily on the door. Kerry started to go answer it, but he was little more than halfway across the living room when the door flew open. A tall man with long black hair tied in a ponytail strode into the room. He froze when he saw Kerry. "Who are you?" he asked coldly. His voice was faintly accented. He didn't make a move toward Kerry but his whole demeanor was menacing. "Where is Richie?"
Kerry's voice failed. He realized this must be Duncan MacLeod, and all he could think of was this man was *four hundred* years old. He'd lived through wars, plagues, seen things first-hand that Kerry had only read about in history books. Fortunately, Dawson came to the door of the bedroom. "It's okay, MacLeod, this is Kerry. Richie's in here." He stepped out of the door to allow the other man to enter. Still stunned, Kerry followed the other two.
Duncan paused in the doorway and took in the situation in a glance. "What happened?" he demanded, pulling off his coat and dropping it into a chair. There was a slight metallic clang as the hidden sword bumped the wall. The Highlander sat on the edge of the bed and started gently running his hands down Richie's body, checking for injuries.
"He was hit by a truck," Kerry said.
"How long ago?"
"A couple of hours. He doesn't seem to be healing." MacLeod looked at the teenager, than glanced inquiringly at Joe.
"A little young for a Watcher, isn't he?" he asked sarcastically.
"Go easy on him, Mac. He kept his head and got Richie out of there," the Watcher chided. "Or would you rather be trying to smuggle him out of an Emergency Room somewhere?"
Mac's hands pressed down on Richie's ribcage and the younger Immortal gave a slight moan but didn't open his eyes. The Highlander started to unbutton his friend's shirt. "You... Kerry, get me some towels and warm water. Oh, and see if Richie has a First Aid kit around here somewhere. Joe, can you find some clean clothes for him?"
Kerry waited for a nod from Dawson before he headed to the kitchen. Joe rummaged in the dresser. Richie didn't seem to own any pajamas but the Watcher unearthed a clean T-shirt and a ragged pair of shorts. He brought them to the bed and helped MacLeod ease off the kid's bloodstained shirt. Bruises marked Richie's torso, including one very black and ugly one on his stomach. Mac palpated it gently and the younger man groaned again and his body stiffened.
"Internal bleeding?" Dawson asked.
"Looks like it." MacLeod glanced up as Kerry came back into the room carrying a large pot full of water. The teenager had several towels clutched under his arm. He sat the pot down on the chair next to the bed and handed the Scot a towel. "Did Richie die?" Duncan asked as he wet the towel and then started to gently clean off the blood.
Kerry shook his head. "No. He passed out, but he never stopped breathing."
"He's taking a long time to start healing," Joe pointed out. The Watcher couldn't keep worry from his voice. "Shouldn't something be healing by now?"
MacLeod didn't answer, but his worried expression spoke volumes. The Scotsman's dark eyes were full of anguish for his friend's pain. His touch was gentle as he sponged away the blood, wrapped gauze around the injured ribs to support them, and then splinted the shattered ankle. Kerry helped him ease the younger man into the clean clothes and settle him more comfortably on the bed. MacLeod covered the still form with a soft, thick blanket, then rested his hand on Richie's forehead, frowning. "He's running a fever." His fingers gently combed through the damp red-blond curls. "Richie, you just rest. You'll be fine." His voice was soft, almost musical. Motioning for the other two to leave the room, he switched on the shaded light next to the bed and then led the way out into the living room, turning off the overhead light. MacLeod turned around and caught Kerry's hand. "You don't have a tattoo," he commented, releasing the teen.
"He's not exactly a Watcher," Dawson sighed.
MacLeod arched his eyebrows. "Oh, really? Then what *exactly* is he?"
"Hungry, at the moment," Kerry blurted out. He hadn't planned to say it, but it was the truth. He hadn't eaten anything since early in the morning. MacLeod studied him for a minute, then his lips twitched as though he were trying to hide a smile.
"Let's see what's in the kitchen. I wouldn't want you to starve to death before you've told me all the fascinating details of your life." Although the words were sarcastic, the tone was unexpectedly kind. Relieved, Kerry followed the Immortal into the small kitchen. MacLeod opened the refrigerator and frowned. With the exception of a quart of milk and a bottle of orange juice, it was empty. The freezer contained a pint of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream. Kerry opened that and found a bowl and a spoon while MacLeod looked through cupboards and muttered under his breath. "Richie!" he finally exploded, letting the last door close with a bang. "That kid has got to learn the concept of 'grocery store'!"
"He went to the store this morning," Kerry volunteered around a mouthful of ice cream.
"Well, he didn't buy food." MacLeod had found the coffee and was spooning it into the pot. He reached into the cabinet above the sink and pulled out three mismatched mugs. Nothing else was said as Kerry finished his ice cream and the coffee perked. After MacLeod had filled the mugs, he pushed the sugar bowl toward Dawson and fixed his dark eyes on him. "I'm waiting," he commented.
Dawson sighed again. "MacLeod, you don't have to know *everything* about Watchers. Let's just say Kerry is trying to decide if he might be interested in joining us."
"What is it, career day at his high school?"
Kerry was getting a little tired of the Highlander. "How does Richie put up with you?" he asked. The minute he said the words he wished he hadn't. He half expected MacLeod to pull out his sword and invite him to lose his head. Or at the very least, to yell at him.
Neither happened. Instead, the Immortal glared at him for a full minute before his eyes lit up with something suspiciously like a smile. "He's had a couple of years to get used to me." He sipped his coffee. "Okay, so I assume you were 'Watching' Richie today... what happened?"
After a nod from Dawson, Kerry briefly sketched the details of Richie's run, ending up on the twisted little street. Heading for the house, as if he recognized it. The man exiting the house. Richie, seemingly in a panic, stepping into the path of the pickup truck. Kerry's lie about being Richie's cousin, and the fact that the man seemed to know who Richie was.
MacLeod frowned at that. "Did Richie act as if he knew him?"
"Well, it looked like he was running from him, but, later, after the accident, he didn't seem like he recognized him. But he was pretty out of it then," Kerry admitted. He'd finished the ice cream and now he went to the refrigerator for the milk. He carefully poured some into the steaming coffee.
MacLeod was frowning. "What was the address?" he asked abruptly.
"I wrote it down." Glancing at Dawson for permission, Kerry pulled the notebook out of his back pocket and leafed through until he found the correct page. "Eight-twelve Fairport. Does that mean anything?"
Mac copied the address on a scrap of paper. "It obviously does to Richie," was all he said.
Greg Powers switched off the TV with a click of the remote. Kicking off his shoes, he leaned back against the pillows bunched in the exact center of the king-sized bed.
He'd suspected before; he was sure of it now. Richie had never told Duncan the whole story of that night in the antique shop. Tonight's conversation over dinner had proved that: MacLeod didn't have a clue. With any luck, he would never suspect. After all, as far as the Highlander knew, Greg was on his way to New York.
Not for the first time, Powers wondered if Richie even remembered that night clearly. He'd been dazed, both from the blow to the head and from lack of oxygen. But at the end there, the look in his eyes... it had been more than fear, more than anger. Something else...
Greg closed his eyes, shutting out the sight of a well-appointed hotel room and instead seeing visions from a year ago.
--Letting Richie's limp body slide to the floor. Looking at him for a second as he lay unmoving on the carpet. His arm still bandaged from the accident at the pier (not that that had really been an accident; Greg had set the kid up for it). Then Greg turned and walked out.
He felt so empty. No, that wasn't true. For the first time in a long time he felt something: anger. Hatred. At Richie; at Tessa; at Linda Plager. Most of all, at Duncan MacLeod, for having people that loved him. For caring about life.
Greg didn't care anymore.
Almost unaware of what he was doing, Greg reversed his steps and went back into the shop. Richie was just coming around, pulling himself to his knees. Looking at him, knowing he was going to be Immortal, Greg felt the anger rising in him again, the rage that Richie's life was still so new and clean and good. Duncan would keep it that way for as long as he could.
But Duncan wasn't here. He was off holding Linda Plager's hand as she breathed her last mortal breath. How useless. Like there was anything the Immortal could do for the dying woman. Like anything *mattered*.
What would happen if he killed Richie, right now? Here. Brought him into Immortality; confronted Duncan with the fact that he'd failed to keep his little friend safe.
It was tempting.
Richie rolled over; saw him standing there. "Greg-- Mac'll help you--"
The kid was terrified. He didn't know that if he died tonight he'd come back to life. He was scared of dying. If Greg killed him now, he'd take that fear away.
Greg stared into those very blue eyes. No matter what had happened in Richie's past, he had a good life here, so sure that Duncan would protect him from everything bad. Now he was facing his death.
Greg said something, he was never sure what. He started forward. The kid tried to get away, but Greg caught him, tightened his fingers around the soft flesh of his throat. Richie's eyes widened, then started to glaze. His lips moved, but no sound came.
Greg let him go. Richie fell on the carpet, gasping for air, too weak to move. His eyes, in mute supplication, met the Immortal's. They were terrified, a cornered animal, desperately trying to find a way out. Greg felt the power he had over the young man. Richie Ryan lived or died at his, Greg's, whim.
Let him live. But let him be destroyed inside, even as Greg was. Let him feel what it was like, through all the long years of his life yet to come. Let MacLeod live with the fact that he'd so completely failed. Destroy the pictures. Destroy Richie. Destroy Linda Plager, Tessa. Destroy everyone the Highlander loved, and then he would understand how Greg felt.
He leapt on the kid; fumbled with his belt, his zipper. Yanked Richie's jeans down. New fear leapt into the kid's eyes, a terror so absolute and deep there were no words to describe it. "no..." his voice, choked, pleading. "No... please..."
Shoving him onto his stomach, Greg leaned close to his ear. "You know what's going to happen, Richie? There's nobody here to stop me. MacLeod can't protect you from this!".
The kid screamed once, then went limp.--
--Greg turned the limp body over. Richie's eyes were open, staring at him. No, Greg mentally corrected himself, not at *him*, but something else. He didn't even seem to realize Greg was there. Powers grabbed him and shook him; the blue eyes remained empty. Not afraid.
What have I done?
Duncan will kill me.
He heard the rattling of a key in the back door. A woman's voice. "Duncan? Richie? I'm home."
'Tessa. Oh, God. I've got to get out of here...'--
The phone rang.
Startled from his reverie, Greg grabbed the instrument before the shrill sound could recur. It was the front desk, confirming his seven a.m. wake-up call.
Tomorrow, it would end.
Greg felt very tired. He let his head rest back against the pillows, thinking longingly of his cottage by the sea. The sound of sea gulls. The brackish odor of sea water, mixed in the morning with the scent of freshly ground coffee.
When it was finished, he could go home. With Richie dead, he could finally forget.
MacLeod prowled restlessly around Richie's apartment. The younger Immortal still slept, curled up on his side in a fetal position. He had finally started to heal, but it was very slow and his breathing was still erratic, his pulse faint. Mac figured the younger Immortal had several broken ribs, internal injuries, a concussion or possibly a skull fracture. Even if Richie had been healing as expected, his injuries would have kept him confined to bed for at least twelve hours. MacLeod was confused about why Richie's healing ability appeared to be hampered. Lack of food and rest were factors, he was sure, but there had to be more.
Joe Dawson had taken his godson home. As much as MacLeod hated the whole idea of the Watchers, he'd had to thank Kerry for his quick thinking. Kerry had acted as if he were worried about Richie; he'd argued to stay but Dawson, with one quick look at the MacLeod's set face, ordered Kerry out the door.
A muted sound reached the Highlander's ears. Swiftly he strode to the bedroom door and eased it open. Richie was clutching his stomach and moaning, but he opened his eyes and focused on MacLeod as the Immortal stepped to the side of the bed. Richie's face was bloodless in the dim light, his eyes heavily shadowed. "Mac... it hurts," he groaned. His breath was coming in little gasps.
"I know," MacLeod said soothingly, sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling Richie close. "Just try to relax. You'll heal soon."
"Make it stop hurting," Richie begged.
The Highlander felt hot tears sting his eyes at his friend's obvious agony. "I can't, Richie. Just stop fighting it. Let yourself go." MacLeod rocked Ryan in time with his soothing words. Richie rested his head on the other man's shoulder and closed his eyes and he soon slipped into a restless doze. Duncan sat beside him speaking soothingly, until he was sure that his friend was asleep, then the Highlander stood up, stretching painfully. He frowned at a pang of hunger. Glancing at his watch, he grimaced when he realized the lateness of the hour. He'd done nothing but pick at dinner and he was starving now, but he already knew the contents of Richie's kitchen didn't stretch to edible food. He reluctantly picked up the phone and dialed the number of an all-night pizza delivery place that Richie had posted prominently on the refrigerator.
Assured that his meal would arrive within a half-hour, Duncan wandered aimlessly into the kitchen. Needing to do something with his hands, he ran some hot water into the sink and began to wash the bowl and spoon Kerry had used earlier, along with the coffee mugs. His eyes swept the small room. It looked much the same as it had the day Richie had moved in. He'd kept the faded red gingham curtain at the window over the sink. The material looked grungy; it could do with a good washing. Mac grinned. It was reassuring to see one thing dirty in this place; the rest of the apartment was spotless; very unusual for Richie! As he turned away from the window, he caught sight of wooden recipe box next to the stove.
MacLeod recognized the battered wooden box with a stab of pain in his heart. He reached for it with an unsteady hand, opened it and pulled out one of the cards from the crowded interior. He blinked back tears. A recipe for stuffed mushrooms in Tessa's handwriting. The recipe box had been hers, given to her by her grandmother. Although Duncan himself was by far the better cook, Tessa had loved to experiment in the kitchen. If a recipe was a success she'd write it down and tuck it into the box. Duncan leafed through them, his mind swarming with memories as he read the notes in his beloved's handwriting. He had to close the box finally, but he caressed the wooden top as he did so. He'd had no idea that Richie had kept it. When he'd returned from France after the funeral, he'd asked Richie to take care of closing the shop and apartment and disposing of the contents. Many of Tessa's personal belongings Richie had sent to her family in France, or given to her friends in Secouver. Duncan had never thought about the recipe file, but he would have assumed Richie would have sent it to Mme. Noel. Or maybe to Tessa-Marie, Tessa's niece. On second thought, it made sense that Richie would keep it. Not only did the kid love food but cooking together was something that Tessa and Richie had done when Mac wasn't around. The Highlander remembered one night, when he'd come home very late after battling an Immortal named Ross Carrington. The kitchen looked like some disaster had hit; Richie was dozing on the couch and Tessa had been waiting up for him, with a plate of whatever it was they'd occupied the hours cooking. Some kind of dessert. Smiling, Mac put the box back where he'd found it. He knew Tessa would be happy that the young man had kept it.
In a twilight world between sleep and wakefulness, Richie Ryan twisted desperately away from the memory flooding his mind. It came closer, closer, taunting him, unfolding in on the big screen of his mind. The protective wall his mind had raised over a year before crumbled before the rush of memory, and Richie opened his eyes to see the scene in the antique shop being replayed again. "No," he whispered.
A knock on the door announced the arrival of the pizza MacLeod had almost forgotten about. MacLeod pulled a twenty out of his wallet and paid the driver, trying not to stare at the kid's spiked fuchsia hair and his nose ring.
Mac plopped a couple of pieces of the greasy, stringy mess on a plate and stuck the box with the rest of it into the oven. A little rummaging through a cupboard turned up an unopened pint of vodka behind the spices, tea, coffee and cereal. The Highlander dumped a healthy amount into a glass and followed it with orange juice. Pizza and a screwdriver in the wee hours of the morning. Richie must be rubbing off on him.
What was that sound?
The Highlander paused, listening, then wearily moved over toward Richie's bedroom, easing the door open with his body.
It took a few seconds for his eyes to become accustomed to the dim light, then he saw his friend sitting up in the middle of the bed. He had his arms wrapped around the knees pulled up close to his chin and he stared straight ahead, unblinking. Every line of his body shouted tension.
"Rich?" Mac asked softly, stepping all the way into the room.
There was no answer. MacLeod felt the hair literally stand up on the back of his neck. He forced reluctant feet to walk across the room, sitting on the side of the bed and putting his hand on Richie's brittle shoulder. "Richie."
When Richie still made no acknowledgment of his presence MacLeod put both hands on either side of his face, wincing at the chill feel of the younger Immortal's flesh. He forced Richie's head to move, until he could stare into the vacant blue eyes. "Richie. It's me. What's wrong?" He could hear that his voice was shaking. Richie was scaring the hell out of him.
Finally, the eyes blinked, looked at him with awareness. "Mac--" Richie started shaking violently, one hand reaching up to clutch his mentor's. "Mac, I remember."
MacLeod wanted to push the boy back into the bed, to cover him warmly, to try to stop this violent shaking. He didn't, sensing that something critical had happened. He made his voice as calm, as reassuring as he could as he asked, "What do you remember, Richie?" He chafed the icy hand in both of his warm ones. The shuddering grew more violent. Moving by instinct, Mac put his arms around the younger man, pulling him close. "Tell me, Richie. What do you remember?"
Richie didn't answer. His eyes continued to stare ahead at some vision. Mac frowned, then pulled the bedspread up and around Richie, wrapping his arms around him again and rocking him gently. "Richie? Where are you?"
He wasn't sure why he'd asked the question that way, but to his surprise it brought a response. "The shop."
"The antique shop?"
Richie nodded once. Tears filled his eyes, spilled over his cheeks. He made no move to wipe them away; MacLeod doubted that he was even aware of them.
"You were at the hospital. Linda's dying. It's late, but you wanted to... be there."
Fingers of ice gripped the Highlander's spine as he realized the night Richie was re-living. 'The night Linda died. I was at the hospital. Tessa had gone to Natalie's for something, and Greg came by the shop...' "What happened?"
"...Greg came by." Richie's voice was tiny, desolate. "Mac, why? What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing, Rich. You know that. Greg was just--"
Richie didn't appear to hear him. "I tried to get away, Mac. I tried. But I was so dizzy, and it hurts...." his hands fisted. "Why did he come back? He'd left, he was gone... why did he come back? Why couldn't I stop him?" Sobs were starting to shake his body.
"He came back?" Duncan frowned. This was a part of the story he hadn't heard before. What could--
Oh, God. God, no.
MacLeod gripped Richie's shoulder's tightly. "Richie, what happened?" His voice was alien to his own ears; cold, shaking with rage. Richie flinched, trying to pull away, but Mac didn't let him. The Highlander took a deep breath. "Richie," he started, his voice more gentle "Greg choked you, knocked you out. He left. You thought he was on the way to the hospital. What happened then?"
"I was going to call you, at the hospital. I'd left the phone on the steps, I couldn't stand up, so... and then he came back. Mac I tried to talk to him, but he just... he grabbed me and he was choking... I couldn't get away. And then he-- changed." Richie's voice broke off and he shook his head violently.
"What?" Mac practically yelled the word. He shook Ryan fiercely. "Tell me!"
Richie jerked away and raised his hands over his head protectively. "No... don't..."
Aghast, MacLeod stared at the hand he'd half-raised towards his friend. "Oh, God," he whispered. He touched the younger man, ignoring Richie's flinch. "Please, Richie," he whispered. "I wouldna hurt you. But please, tell me what happened."
The pain, the desperation in his voice couldn't penetrate the fog that surrounded Richie. He was seeing the past. The door opening. Greg kneeling over him. Knowing what was going to happen. Knowing it was going to happen again and he couldn't stop it...
--The antiques shop faded replaced by an older vision. Greg was still there, no...that wasn't Greg, was it? Charlie? and Kent.
"Well, you little whiner. You told! Remember what I said would happen to you if you told?"
"No! I didn't!"
The slap. His head hitting the headboard. Everything going dark and fuzzy. Rough hands tearing off his pajamas, turning him over. "Richie'll be leaving us, son. This time let's give him something to really remember!"
Hurting. Oh, God, please make it stop! Oh, God it hurts!
"Dad, it's Mom! Dad, make him shut up!"
"Be quiet, you little bastard!"
Hands shoving his head into the pillow. He couldn't breathe. Fighting, struggling for air...
He couldn't breathe...--
"Richie!" MacLeod's voice thundered in the younger man's ears. "What did he do to you?" MacLeod didn't want to hear the words but he had to hear them. And Richie had to say them. He couldn't deny what had happened any longer.
"They raped me," Richie Ryan whispered.
The first streaks of dawn were coloring the sky in the east when Connor stopped his rental car outside of Richie's apartment building.
For several minutes he just sat behind the wheel of the vehicle, too drained to move. Every muscle in his body ached with weariness. He'd been on airplanes most of the night. New York to Atlanta. Atlanta to Dallas. Dallas San Francisco and finally to Seacouver. He'd driven by the dojo but hadn't even gotten out of the car. There was no "buzz"; ergo, there were no Immortals there. He knew Richie's address but, being unfamiliar with the town, it took him almost an hour to find it.
He finally stepped out of the car. The precognant feeling of Another hit him as soon as he stepped onto the sidewalk outside of the building. Connor allowed himself a slight smile. The feeling was strong. More than one Immortal was in the building. A quick glance at the mailboxes in the vestibule told him which one was Ryan's apartment, and with a groan he started up the five flights of stairs.
Duncan flung open the door before Connor had even had a chance to knock. The younger Immortal's mouth dropped open in shock, and he lowered the katana he had raised to a threatening position. "Connor!"
"Duncan," the older MacLeod greeted as he pushed past his kinsman into the small living room. He glanced around curiously, recognizing furniture he had helped Richie shop for after Tessa's death. There was no sign of Richie. A blue blanket was half on, half off the couch and a plump pillow had been rounded into a basketball shape. The blond Immortal raised his eyebrows at his kinsman. "You look like hell," he commented, noticing the harsh lines and gray smudges of fatigue under Duncan's eyes.
"So do you," Duncan returned. He put the katana down near the door. "Connor, what are you doing here?"
Connor shoved the blanket aside and sat down on the couch, shifting to avoid a broken spring from poking him. "You always say that," he commented idly. "Whatever happened to 'Hello, Connor! It's good to see you, Connor!'"
After a minute Duncan's lips quirked. "Hello, Connor," he parroted obediently. "It's good to see you, Connor. Now, what are you doing here? Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"
"The answer to that's rather obvious, isn't it? I didn't decide to come until you and I kept playing phone tag with each other. Is there any coffee?"
Duncan nodded and started toward the kitchen. "I was just going to make some fresh." He dumped the sludge from the previous pot down the sink and rinsed the carafe, then filled it with clean water. Moving slowly, as if each movement had to be individually choreographed, he spooned coffee into the filter, dumped the water into the coffeemaker, and set the glass carafe to catch the dark fluid. He found a clean mug for Connor-- Richie might only own three plates but he had quite a collection of coffee mugs-- and started aimlessly opening cupboards.
Connor had followed him and stood in the door watching him with a frown. "What are you looking for?" he finally asked.
Duncan let the cabinet door close with a muffled thump. He laughed a little. "I have no idea," he finally said.
Connor's eyes softened as he studied him. "Where's Richie?" the other Immortal finally asked, noticing an empty vodka bottle sitting on the counter.
"Asleep." Duncan nodded at the bottle, "With some help from Tzarvich there."
Duncan's face darkened and his hands tightened into fists. "I put him on a plane back to New York last night. I should have beheaded the son of a bitch."
Duncan's voice was thick with rage and loathing. He rubbed at his eyes. "Why are you here?" he asked again, exhaustion ringing his words.
There was a pause while Connor debated how to answer that. Finally he just told the truth, "I thought Richie might need me. I thought *you* might need me.
Duncan stared at his erstwhile mentor, seeing him all too clearly now. "You know." It wasn't a question. "You knew. And you dinna tell me?" his voice was rising. "Damn you, Connor-"
"Lower your voice!" hissed the other Immortal, glancing at Richie's closed door warningly. "And sit down!" He pulled his kinsman down to sit next to him on the couch. "I didn't tell you because I didn't *know.* I suspected."
"But you just said--"
"Listen to me!" Connor stopped to pull in a breath of air, to collect his thoughts. He needed to be calm. Duncan needed him to be in control now, because the younger Immortal wasn't. Connor hadn't seen him like this since right after Tessa's death, and he knew his kinsman well enough to know that now, as then, there was a lot of guilt mixed up with the grief and anger. Duncan had always tried to protect everyone in his little world. The impulse that had led him to offer Richie a job and a home had been prompted as much from a desire to keep the kid safe as from the duty of keeping an eye on him.
"After you took Tessa's body back to France, Richie had nightmares. A lot of nightmares. He would say Gregor's name in his sleep. But when he'd wake, and I'd ask him about the dreams, he'd deny it. He said he was dreaming about Tessa, about the shooting. I didn't believe him, but he was having enough problems. I didn't want to push him any more.
"After Richie killed Mako, and you kicked him-- after he left here," Connor frowned, he still heartily disapproved of the way his kinsman had handled Richie's first kill; "He called me. He was in Minneapolis, he never told me why. I flew there and met him. He was still having those same nightmares, about Greg. One night he woke up screaming Greg's name. He was terrified. I asked him if Gregor had raped him." His kinsman winced at the word. "He flatly denied it. I wanted to tell you what I suspected, but how could I? Gregor was your friend."
Duncan's hands clenched. "He's nay my friend," he growled.
Connor ignored him. "I called Sean Burns yesterday. I was worried, Gregor and Richie in the same city. Sean was *more* than worried. Gregor left Paris months ago, against Sean's advice. Sean didn't want to tell me specifics, but he finally told me Gregor had admitted raping Richie."
Duncan turned away to stare out the window at the sunrise. "I asked Richie, right after Greg left, what had happened. He said Greg hadn't done anything 'sick or perverted' as he put it. I think he blocked out the memory. When Greg came back, it started to resurface and--" he shrugged.
After Richie had forced out the horrible words the night before, the sobbing and shaking had worsened until he couldn't catch his breath. Then he'd started to gag. MacLeod had helped him to the bathroom just in time. Richie vomited violently the scant contents of his stomach, then bile. Even when there was nothing left to come up the spasms continued, so violently that it seemed as if his insides were erupting. A desperate MacLeod had forced him to swallow several shots of straight vodka until the younger Immortal had simply passed out. Duncan had cleaned him up and tucked him back into bed, then hovered over him until Richie's breathing had become more regular, indicating he had slipped into deep sleep.
"What did you do then?" Connor asked, knowing too well the raging fury that would have gripped his kinsman.
After a heavy silence, Duncan mumbled, "Go look in the bathroom."
Connor raised an eyebrow and lost no time going to the door in question. He stepped into the tiny cubicle and looked around, his mouth puckering in a soundless whistle.
The room was literally a war zone. Some tremendous force had shattered both the mirror and the heavy pebbled glass doors around the shower. Glass was everywhere. Streaks of dried blood covered the walls, the fixtures, and there was a puddle of red fluid below the sink.
Connor exited the bathroom and walked over to his kinsman, seizing the other's strong wrist in his hand. He turned it over to see the pale skin underneath. Any open wounds would have long since healed, of course, but there were faint red lines showing where deep slashes had marked the flesh.
Duncan looked half-defiant, half embarrassed. After demolishing Richie's bathroom, he'd taken a shower, ignoring the shattered glass underfoot and welcoming the sting as water beat his violated flesh, then crawled onto the couch with a blanket and a pillow. Alone in the dark, the tears he'd been holding back since Richie had made his tormented confession finally forced their way from his eyes. At some point during the night he'd slid into a restless sleep plagued by half-remembered nightmares.
Connor just looked at him and shook his head. He went into the kitchen and retrieved the broom and a dustpan and started to sweep up the glass. After a few minutes, Duncan joined him with a can of cleanser and some rags and started scrubbing the bloodstains from the walls and cabinet.
When the bathroom was as restored as they could make it, Duncan offered Connor breakfast. "There isn't much," he added as an afterthought. "You have your choice of cold cereal or leftover pizza."
With a horrified grimace, Connor chose the cereal, which happened to be frosted flakes. There was enough milk left for them each to have some, although Duncan had finished off the orange juice the night before. When the sparse little meal was over, Connor retired to the couch for a nap.
Exhausted from his night of travel, Connor dropped off quickly but woke shortly to observe his kinsman pacing around the room like a caged animal. Connor watched him thorough half-closed eyes for awhile, then finally sighed and gave up even trying to sleep. "Will you please relax?" he implored, reluctantly sitting up.
Duncan spared him an abstracted glance. "Go back to sleep."
"I can't sleep with you stomping around the place. For God's sake, Duncan! Why don't you go home for awhile? Change clothes, at least."
"What if Richie wakes up?"
"What if he does? I'm here, remember? Besides, if he's in the shape you said he is, he'll probably sleep for hours."
Duncan looked tempted, but reluctant. Doing nothing was driving him crazy, but he didn't feel right about leaving. Connor went on, "You could go buy some food. The kid needs to eat. Hell, you and I need to eat! I draw the line at cold greasy pizza and water for lunch and dinner."
Before Duncan could respond to that, the phone rang. The younger Immortal grabbed it quickly, not wanting the sound to disturb Richie. Connor heard him say, "Hello", then "Yes". After a long pause, during which Mac's brow furrowed, he said, "I'll be there in a few minutes," then rather abruptly hung up. He's getting into a bad habit of hanging up on people, Connor thought idly. He said aloud, "What's up?"
"You met Dawson when you were here before, right?"
"Your Voyeur? I mean, your Watcher?"
Ins spite of everything, Duncan had to laugh a little at Connor's words. "Yeah. Anyway, that was him. He was here last night--actually, it was one of his people that got Richie away from the accident. There's something he thinks I should know, but he wants to meet down at the waterfront."
Connor frowned in turn. "What do you think that's all about?'
"He's probably run across some information that he thinks is important, but that the Watcher code forbids him from telling me. He breaks the rules a lot, I think, but he probably doesn't want other Watchers to know he does it."
"Do you trust him?"
Duncan pondered the question. "I'm not sure," he said, slowly. "He risked his life, for Richie and I, in Paris. And he seems like a good person. I guess I want to trust him, but I don't trust his Organization." The Highlander shot an concerned look toward Richie's bedroom. "I should be back soon." His breath caught in his throat, "Connor, what are we going to do when he wakes up?"
The fear in his voice brought back memories to the older MacLeod, memories of that first year in the Highlands after they had found each other. Desperation. He hadn't heard it from his kinsman since. Duncan MacLeod was a man who liked knowing what he was going to do, even if his path was completely wrong,
He felt Duncan's eyes on him, waiting for an answer. He was so sure that Connor would know what to do. But of course Connor didn't, any more than he'd known how to answer Richie a year before when the newly-born Immortal had continuously asked him what would happen if Duncan never returned from Paris. "We handle it, Duncan. However we have to." He sighed, resting his heavy head in his hands. "Just go, will you?"
Greg parked his rental car on the street above Richie's apartment. If he'd estimated correctly, he should be just outside of Immortal sensing range but close enough to watch the building with the binoculars he'd picked up in a sporting goods store. He saw MacLeod's black T-Bird pull out of the parking lot and smiled. Richie was all alone.
The messenger should be there shortly.
He sighed. In a way he'd be sorry when this was over. Last night, in the hotel, replaying the memory over and over again--he liked remembering it, every terrified expression, every whimper. The scream.
Once Richie was dead, all he'd have would be the memory.
'I could take him again, before he dies.'
The thought excited him. And then another thought. He could make a permanent memory. He could videotape it. All of it.
Excitement tensed his muscles. He put the binoculars in the seat next to him and started the car. He'd passed an electronics store on the way.
Good thing he'd brought his American Express.
'It was my fault. I knew more had happened. Why didn't I make him tell me?'
Duncan MacLeod stared unseeingly into a cup of coffee. Dawson wasn't there yet, but the manager of the small waterfront cafe had assured Mac the Watcher was on his way, then shown MacLeod into a small, private dining room. Coffee and hot rolls appeared as if by magic. MacLeod poured a cup of the fragrant fluid but ignored the food. His stomach was none too steady.
Guilt gnawed at him. For the truth was, he *had* suspected. Richie had just been too traumatized. Physical danger didn't scare the kid, so it had bothered MacLeod that Richie continued to have nightmares about Greg. Several weeks afterwards, he had asked Richie point-blank if something more had happened that night in the shop. Richie insisted vehemently that Duncan knew the whole story. Perhaps too vehemently. Had he been repressing then, or lying? The truth was, MacLeod didn't want to know. Greg was his friend. He had let the other man go, arranged to get him help. He didn't want to know that Greg had done the one thing he would be totally unable to forgive.
Dawson slid into the seat across from the Highlander. Dark circles ringed his eyes; his complexion was the color of old mayonnaise. He looked as bad as MacLeod felt.
Dawson poured himself a cup of coffee. "How's Richie?"
"He was still asleep when I left. Connor's there." MacLeod rationalized that if Dawson didn't know Connor was in town already, he would shortly.
Sure enough, Dawson didn't look surprised. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a piece of fax paper. "I think you should read this." He took a sip of coffee hastily.
MacLeod read the small printing. His jaw clenched. "How long have you known?"
"I didn't. It was never reported to me. Richie wasn't an Immortal then; you weren't home that night and Gregor's Watcher reports to a different division. Last night, Kerry ran a search through the international database, looking for any mention of Richie's name. Gregor's Watcher filed that right after Gregor left for Paris. When Richie was identified as an Immortal, it should have been flagged to cross-file in his file, but it wasn't." He studied the Highlander's face. "You didn't know, did you?"
"Not until last night," MacLeod answered shortly. "I think Richie--I don't know--he repressed it or something. Last night, after you left--" he broke off, feeling the tears spring to his eyes as he remembered Richie's anguished sobs in the dark, foul-smelling bathroom.
"That would make sense." Dawson drew in a deep breath. "Mac, there's more."
MacLeod just stared at him. The Watcher went on with difficulty, "We have an... associate who works downtown in the Hall of Records. She pulled up all of Richie's old records from Children's Services and dumped them into the Watcher database.
The Immortal clenched his jaw, filled with fury at the thought of such a casual violation of Richie's privacy. "So?" he ground out.
"Look MacLeod, I know you don't like it, but we serve--" Dawson broke off as Duncan raised his hand.
"Look, Hoe, just tell me what you found out."
The Watcher hesitated, then handed another flimsy piece of paper across the table to MacLeod. "I think it would be best if you read it for yourself," he said quietly. "Kerry ran that address on Fairport through the computer; that's what came up."
Richie staggered into his living room, mouth tasting like old gym socks, head pounding. "Mac?" he faltered, looking around. His eyes widened. The bundled up figure on his couch was not Duncan MacLeod, but Connor MacLeod. 'Connor? What the hell is he doing here? When did he get here? Where's Mac? He was here, wasn't he? I remember--'
What did he remember?
Richie absently wandered out the front door. He shivered, belatedly realizing that he was only wearing shorts and a T-shirt. He turned to go back inside, but stopped when he heard footsteps on the stairs. A young guy wearing the uniform of a local messenger service bounded up the steps two at a time. He looked at Richie. "Richie Ryan?"
Richie nodded numbly. The kid handed him a clipboard. "Just sign at the X."
Richie shook his head, accepted the clipboard and shakily scrawled his name. He looked down at the small brown paper parcel the messenger shoved into his hands. "What is it?"
"Hey, guy. I just deliver it." Whistling a current radio hit, the messenger turned and bounded back down the stairs. Richie studied the package. It was square, about nine inches wide and less than an inch thick. The handwriting was unfamiliar. Curious, Richie carelessly tore off the paper to reveal a framed photograph. A sheet of notebook paper was stuck to the glass, obscuring the image. Richie turned it upside down to read the note, which was in the same purple ink and very precise printing.
You seemed interested in this at the gallery so I'm giving it to you.
Please accept it. I really hope we can sit down someday and work out
everything that happened last year. I really am sorry. I don't think
I've told you that before. I was nuts, man, but that's not the real me.
Please, call me here at the hotel and we'll go out for a drink, or
dinner, or somewhere you can beat the crap out of me... then let's talk.
BTW- the picture's called "A Father's Love?"
Greg BTW- the picture's called "A Father's Love?"
Heart pounding suddenly for some reason, Richie tore off the piece of paper and looked at the photograph. He remembered it from the gallery show. A picture of a young boy, maybe eight or nine, sitting up in the middle of his bed. The boy was staring at the half-open door, at the man who stood in the door, looking at the child. The man was wearing a toweling bathrobe and his legs were bare. He was smiling at the child, but the child wasn't smiling back. His face looked frozen, his eyes huge. A child's dream of a room surrounded him: games, toys, posters of sports heroes. A child's dream of a room surrounded them: games, toys, posters of sports heroes. The kind of room a little boy named Richie Ryan had always imagined, but never had. Games, toys, those were for the "real" kids in the family, and why hang up a poster when you won't be staying that long anyway--
--It was different at the Marker's. Kent had bought him a poster like that the first week he lived there. Richie'd been so surprised, he'd thought sure it was for Charlie, but Kent had said, "No, it's yours! Where do you want to hang it? Over your bed? On the door?"
They'd decided to hang it opposite the bed, where Richie could see it last thing at night and first thing in the morning.
His eyes went back to the picture. The man, coming in to say good night to his son.
Or coming in to--
Kent had a robe like that. He wore it to cover his nakedness when he and Charlie--
The picture dropped from his nerveless fingers.
The paper was titled Report of Abuse of Child in Foster Custody. MacLeod rubbed his tired eyes. He studied the date. Richie would have been what-- nine, ten? Foster parents were listed as Kenneth (Kent) and Jeannie Marker, and the address was 812 Fairport. Sparing a glance at Dawson's drawn face, Mac read about Richie's eleven months with Kent and Jeannie Marker and their son, Charles ("Charlie") aged fifteen when Richie had come to stay.
The Marker family was well-known to Children's Services. They'd been "short term foster care" parents for three years prior to requesting a long-term placement, preferably a hard-to-place child. The family was characterized as being warm, loving and supportive. Kent Marker worked out of town during the week but was home Friday through Sunday. Jeannie was referred to as a "housewife" (less enlightened times); son Charlie had had some school problems in the past but had overcome them. The report did mention that another child, a girl, had died some years previously and that the Marker's preferred boy foster children.
Along had come Richard Ryan, long-term ward of the state. Richie had had what was euphemistically referred to as "problems" in a previous foster placement, and as a consequence was underweight, suffered from nightmares and was behind academically. He was just what the Markers had asked for, and he was placed in their home six weeks before his tenth birthday.
For several months, it seemed like an ideal placement. The various visiting social workers (MacLeod counted six different names) were pleased: Richie was gaining weight, seemed happy; he was doing better in school and the Markers expressed delight in having him.
The first hint of trouble came after eight months. C.C.S had received a couple of strange reports from the school. Richie had some unusual injuries, nothing too serious, but bruises that he couldn't seem to explain. At the same time, he started having some trouble in school, talking back, even falling asleep. A "routine investigation" resulted in Charlie Marker finally admitting that he'd taken Richie with him to visit a friend one day, and left him with the friend's older brother, a retarded boy who had a history of inappropriate sexual behavior. It was assumed that the boy had molested Richard. The boy's parents were apologetic, the Markers distraught, and all involved felt it was just an unfortunate event that wouldn't happen again.
MacLeod clenched his jaw even tighter at the notion that the molestation of a ten year old child could be considered an "unfortunate event". 'Oh, my God. Richie.' Not for the first time, he wondered how Ryan had survived his childhood with any fundamental decency intact.
Back to the report. County Children's Service decided to keep a "closer eye" on the situation. (This apparently meant twice monthly visits by the social workers). The problems in school continued, and during one of her visits, social worker Margaret Haugh had noticed Richie looked as if he'd lost more weight . Putting him on the scales revealed his weight at an all-time low. Jeannie Marker appeared embarrassed but explained it was difficult to get Richie to eat sometimes. Two days later, Haugh documented a call from the school again, reporting Richie was vomiting blood.
Why Richie wasn't taken to the hospital immediately wasn't clear. Mrs. Marker scheduled him to see his doctor the following Monday, and then left town for a family emergency. She was expected to be gone overnight but she returned home sometime after midnight. Insert from a police report: "Subject stated that upon her arrival home she heard Richard screaming. She ran into his bedroom and discovered her husband holding a pillow over child's face. Subject stated she hit husband until he let go, then grabbed child (unconscious) and ran next door to call police. Kent Marker and Charles Marker taken into custody. Richard Ryan transported via EMS to hospital for treatment of injuries."
Quite a list of injuries. In addition to being suffocated, Richie had bruises, burns, a broken wrist, ruptured spleen and "rectal tearing, bruising and trauma associated with being sodomized."
MacLeod shoved the chair back. He had to move, to tear his eyes away from those words. His hand clenched on the paper as if he could hold it responsible for the long-ago damage done to a young child who'd had no one to defend him. He knew his face must be a study, emotions racing through him.
"It's terrible, I know." Dawson's voice was very soft.
"What happened? -- After?" MacLeod choked.
"Richie didn't testify. The Marker boy did. Apparently it had been going on for some time. Kent Marker had encouraged Charles to molest Richie while he watched. Then, later," Dawson steadied his voice, "Marker did the molestation and Charlie watched. He said he was afraid to tell his mother and Richie never said anything." Dawson stopped, swallowed with difficulty. "Charles Marker said there had never actually been any... penetration, until that night. The DA tried to prove that Marker knew it was over, that once Richie's doctor saw him, he'd be removed from the home, and that Marker planned to kill him that night. The jury didn't believe it; they convicted him of child abuse and rape, but not attempted murder. He got five years. Served less than three."
Three years? For molesting and raping, trying to kill a ten year old child! MacLeod put his head down on the table, feeling cold tears roll down his face.
Connor woke up suddenly, jerked from sleep by the warning buzz of another Immortal. "Richie?" he called sleepily.
No answer. Hair rose on the back of Connor's neck. He stood up, reaching unerringly for his sword. He glanced inside Richie's open bedroom door. The bedcovers were rumpled and the room was empty.
The apartment wasn't that big. Richie wasn't there.
But the hum of an Immortal was.
Connor strode to the front door, flung it open. His eyes fell on something and he stooped to pick it up. A framed photograph, the glass shattered. A step on the stairs drew his attention and he slowly stood up.
Greg Powers stood on the stairs, a video camera in his hand.
Connor raised his sword.
"There can be only one," he intoned softly.
Duncan screeched the T-bird to a halt at the curb. Flinging open the door he leapt out. Behind him Dawson struggled out of the passenger side, trying to follow. MacLeod stopped dead.
"Mac?" Joe asked tentatively.
Before the Highlander could answer, a weird tingle raced through the air, an odd silence, an awaiting. Lightning crashed overhead.
"Oh, shit," breathed Dawson.
"Get down!" MacLeod yelled. He threw himself on top of the Watcher as every window in the building popped and shattered.
Dawson found himself on the ground, mud and grass in his mouth. He spat it out. "Who?" he gasped.
"I don't know." MacLeod stared at the building.
Slowly, the maelstrom ceased. The wind dropped. MacLeod slowly got to his feet, then reached down and helped Dawson, steadying him until he regained his balance. "Richie," the Highlander murmured, his face ravaged.
Dawson grabbed his arm. "Mac, no. Kerry's not here."
"What?" MacLeod stared at him.
"Kerry's car isn't here. Mac, he was watching Richie today. Richie can't be here."
MacLeod stared at him, then pulled loose and ran for the building. As he reached the outside door, it opened and Connor MacLeod came out.
Richie blinked, looked around. He was back on Fairport Street, just up the hill from the house that he now remembered. He'd lived there for how long? A year maybe. With Kent and Jeannie and Chuckie? No--Charlie. He'd liked it there. They seemed to like him. He'd been crazy about Charlie. Kent hadn't been home much but Jeannie was like the mother he'd always dreamed of having. Then Kent had changed jobs and he was going to be home more. Charlie had been so excited and Richie was, too. He'd even started to think maybe he'd get to stay there... He'd started to feel safe.
Then.... something had happened. What was it? Richie frowned. He could almost see it.... The young Immortal started to walk down the hill towards the house
The evening before, the closer Richie had drawn to the house the faster he'd moved. It was different this time; he felt himself slowing down as he came down the hill towards the house. Every step brought back a memory.
The corner. Waiting for the school bus. Being teased by the other kids because of his old battered lunchbox. He hadn't told Jeannie but Charlie must have. The next morning she surprised him with a new one. He could never remember anyone giving him something "just because" before. The little jiffy-mart. Spending his allowance on candy, baseball cards, maybe a comic. He'd been afraid to do it, but Jeannie had said it was his money, he could spend it how he wanted.
Sliding down the snowy hill on a flat cardboard box. The next weekend, Kent came home with a sled. He and Charlie and Kent had spent all day out in the cold and snow. Jeannie had hot chocolate waiting when they got home....
At the front yard, he just stopped and looked at the house, quiet in the afternoon sunshine. All the good memories walking here, but now... his heart was pounding uncomfortably. He could feel sweat breaking out on his forehead
A car pulled into the driveway, a blue compact station wagon. A blonde woman got out, walked around to the back, started pulling out sacks of groceries. Richie tried to speak but he couldn't make his numb lips form words.
Even though he didn't say anything, she looked up and spotted him. "Can I help you?" she asked politely, picking up two of the heavy bags and using her elbow to shut the hatch. She stepped closer to him. "Did you need to-- Richie!"
Both bags of groceries crashed to the sidewalk.
The woman stared at Richie.
He found his voice, or rather a voice. The voice of a young child. "Hi, Jeannie,"
The two Highlanders stared at each other. "Who?" Duncan whispered.
"It's not Richie," Connor said quickly. "It was Gregor." His face darkened. "He showed up with a video camera. I don't know what he had planned. I didn't ask," he spat out.
Duncan just stared at him. "He was mine!"
"He's dead," Connor pointed out dryly. "What does it matter who did it?"
After a silence, Duncan nodded and his shoulders relaxed. "Where is Richie?"
A ringing from inside Dawson's jacket. The Watcher pulled out a cellular phone, answered, "Dawson here." He listened, then looked at the two Immortals. "Richie's back at Fairport Street. Kerry said he just went into the house."
Richie slowly walked into the house, down the short hallway, turned left into the living room.
He was barely aware of the woman behind him, only vaguely aware of how the room looked now, with the afternoon sunshine streaming through the windows, the floor-length peach draperies pulled as far to the side as they could be so the sun could come in. Instead he saw the room in another time, dressed up for Christmas. Stockings hanging from the mantle, a huge wreath with gold balls and red lace and velvet bows above it. The tree in the corner where the rocking chair was now. Not a big tree, but it was real; Charlie and Kent had gone to the woods somewhere and cut it down. Richie had hoped to be invited to go along but he understood: that was something the "real" kids did with their dads. But he and Jeannie had had fun too, spending all afternoon in the kitchen making cookies and stringing popcorn for the tree. That night they'd eaten the cookies while decorating the tree, and Charlie had handed Richie the star to put on top.... The next day, Kent and Jeannie had gone Christmas shopping and Charlie had mixed up fake snow and he and Richie had gone wild on the windows. Really, too wild, but Jeannie and Kent had just laughed when they'd seen it.
He stepped back into the hall, walked past the dining room without even looking. Through the swinging door into the kitchen. Looked around, stunned. "It's different," he commented.
He'd almost forgotten Jeannie was there until he heard her voice. "We re-did it after Kent came back home."
The words hit Richie like a blow to the stomach. He looked down the hall, slowly moved to the intersecting hall that led to the bedrooms. Unerringly he stepped to the second door on the right. The plain white wood door was closed. He put his hand on the knob.
"Richie, are you sure you want to go in there?"
He didn't hear her. Other voices were in his ears, talking low, talking loudly. He couldn't understand what they were saying. Maybe if he opened the door he could hear them more plainly.
The door swung open.
--"You don't need the light on, Richie. Only babies have to sleep with the light on. You're not a baby, are you? You're a big boy. A man."
"It's okay, Richie. I'm your brother, 'member? I wouldn't do anything to hurt you. It's fun..."
"Let me take off your pajama bottoms Richie. You'll like this. It feels so good..."
"Drink this hot milk, Richie. It'll make the bad dreams go away."
"Dad, he's so groggy. What'd you do?"
"We can't run the risk of him struggling, getting bruised. I put sleeping pills in the milk, just enough to make him cooperative."
"Lie still! I don't want to hurt you. What's wrong tonight? You know you want this..."
"This'll be the last time, Richie. You're going to be leaving soon. We'll have to make this a night to remember."
"No, Dad, I don't want to do that!"
"You do it Charlie! A real man would do it."
It hurts it hurts no no no NO!
"Richie, stop screaming! Dad, make him stop!"
No Kent No No it hurts so much NoNONO
"Dad! Mom's car just pulled in!"
"Shut up, you little bastard. Shut up!"
Something dark and soft coming over his face. Hands holding it down. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't breathe it hurt so much....
Then the pain going away and the soft, welcoming dark and he knew he wouldn't ever have to wake up again.....
He opened his eyes. The antique store. The lights harsh, stabbing pain in his head. A body standing in front of the lights. Kent? "I'm going to give you something to remember." Hands forcing him to turn over...
Darkness again. He wanted the darkness... He could forget in the darkness.
"Richie!" A woman's voice. Hands shaking him. Blond hair, anxious blue eyes. "Tessa?" No. Tessa had long hair, this person's hair was short. And Tessa was dead, wasn't she, gunned down on Briarcliff Street in the dark. But Heaven wasn't dark, was it? He'd been shot, too, but it was so dark.
"Richie!" A hand slapping his face.
Richie gasped, his hand flying to his cheek. He forced his eyes open. He was sitting on the floor, back against the wall. A woman knelt next to him, shaking his shoulders. "Richie! Are you okay now?"
Tears were spilling from his eyes and he couldn't see. Roughly he drew the sleeve of his shirt across his eyes and blinked hard, trying to focus. He looked through the open door and saw a small, neat room. No bed. No poster. Just a desk with a computer on it; an aquarium, a couple of chairs.
"Richie?" the woman asked again, insistently.
He looked at her. He knew her. Jeannie. Jeannie Marker. What was she saying? "You remember it, don't you?"
He couldn't answer. No matter, she kept talking. "I checked on you a couple of times. They wouldn't let me see you in the hospital, they wouldn't let me come near you. I kept telling them I didn't know what had been going on, but they never believed me. Margaret would talk to me, though. You remember her? Margaret Haugh, your social worker? She understood, it wasn't my fault. She said you didn't remember."
Richie opened his mouth. "Why?" he managed to choke out.
"Kent was sick, Richie. He was sick. I didn't know. He couldn't help himself... after he changed jobs, and you were here, all the time. He couldn't stop himself, you were just such a temptation... And Charlie didn't know what he was doing... you know that. Charlie never did anything bad to you. Kent didn't mean to hurt you. But they sent him to jail! If I had just sent you back --"
Richie clambered to his feet, tried to stagger away. 'I can't hear this, it was my fault?'
"Jeannie, what the hell is wrong? The groceries are all over the front lawn--" A man walked around the corner, stopping dead when he saw Richie.
Not very tall. Dark hair going gray. Heavier than he had been. But the voice was the same.
Richie backed up, his eyes desperately searching for an escape. Kent stood between him and the front door. "I've got to get out of here!" Not even aware of what he was doing he pulled out his rapier from beneath his coat. Jeannie screamed.
"Jeannie! Call the police!"
Jeannie ignored her husband, yanking on Richie's arm. "Richie, don't do it. Richie, it was just because you were in the house, he couldn't help himself. He's being punished. He's got prostate cancer. Isn't that enough for your revenge?"
Richie stared at her. 'What the hell is she talking about!? Not his fault... my fault?'
His stomach twisted with nausea. There was a roaring in his ears. He should know the feeling, there was something familiar about it--
A door slammed. A different voice, yelling his name. An familiar, accented voice.
Two men came around the corner. The one in the lead stopped dead when he saw the tableau. "Richie, put it down."
'Put what down, Mac?'
What was he saying? "Killing him won't help, Richie. You still have to live with what he did to you."
"He didn't do anything!" A woman's voice shrieked the words.
Connor stepped around his kinsman and grabbed Jeannie's arm, pulling her into the bedroom. "Shut up," he hissed.
Shivering, Richie pressed away from all of them. His eyes flew around, seeking the one person who could help him. The one person who had never lied to him or let him down. "Mac," he whispered.
"I'm right here," MacLeod said reassuringly, coming to his side. The older Immortal put his hand on Richie's sword. "Do you think I can carry this for a little while, tough guy?"
Richie stared at the sword as if he'd never seen it before. He nodded that Mac could take it, but then he couldn't seem to make his fingers let go. Mac smiled at him as he gently pried it loose. Richie's knees started shaking violently and Duncan put an arm around his waist, pulling him into an embrace. "It's going to be okay, Rich. You're going to be okay now."
Richie wanted to believe the softly spoken words but he couldn't. "Everything's so screwed up in my head," he whimpered.
"We'll get it straightened out. You've done the hardest part, Rich. You've faced your past." Not saying a word, or even looking at Jeannie or Kent, Duncan urged Richie down the hall to the front door. Connor stayed behind. Richie could hear his voice but couldn't make out the words.
Richie didn't say anything until they exited back into the fresh air and sunshine. Then he looked at MacLeod and asked "What do I do now?" His voice was frightened.
"I'm not exactly sure, yet," MacLeod admitted. "But you don't have to do it alone, Rich. I'll be right there with you."
Kerry and Joe watched quietly from the front porch as MacLeod helped Richie to the car. Richie didn't acknowledge them, but Mac smiled briefly as they walked past. The Highlander helped the younger man into the back of the T-bird and then went around to the driver's side.
Kerry turned to Dawson. "Joe."
Dawson tore his eyes away from the car. "Yeah?"
"I can't do it, Uncle Joe. I can't be a Watcher. I can't *not* interfere. When Richie went into the house, and I thought there might be trouble, I couldn't just stand by and observe. And I've only known him for a couple of days. I can't imagine what it would be like if I had known him for longer, fifteen years like you've followed MacLeod. I can't do it."
Joe didn't answer for a long time. Finally he said, "Okay."
"Okay?" Kerry sounded surprised. "You're agreeing with me?"
"You *did* interfere. So did I. Someday," Joe added slowly, "I'm probably going to have to explain why I told MacLeod where Richie was. Why I've given him information in the past. I think I did the right thing; other Watchers would say I didn't. Your father wouldn't approve. Besides, Kerry, you're young. The Watchers aren't going anywhere. We've been around almost as long as the Immortals. We'll be here if you ever change your mind."
EPILOGUE: ONE MONTH LATER
Duncan MacLeod stood quietly at the edge of the woods and watched Richie. The younger Immortal sat cross-legged on a huge boulder, face lifted toward the sun. MacLeod knew that below the boulder there was nothing but a dizzying drop to the lake far below. He made himself comfortable leaning against a tree. He knew Richie was aware of his presence.
Several minutes later, Richie turned his head so that he could see his friend. "Did you get Sean to town?"
MacLeod took the words as an invitation and stepped out onto the boulder, dropping to sit by the younger man. "I did. He'll be back in ten days." The Immortal psychologist had come from Paris twice in the last month, staying for several days each time to help Richie. Connor flew out from New York every Thursday night, came to the cabin and relieved Duncan until Monday. Duncan never liked leaving Richie, but Richie insisted that somebody had to keep an eye on Kevin at the dojo.
"Am I going to have to move again?" Richie asked suddenly.
MacLeod started; Richie rarely initiated conversation these days. It took him a few seconds to realize that Ryan was talking about his apartment. "Oh. No, I don't think so. Dawson had somebody go tell your landlady some story about a wiring problem, and she believed it. The damage has all been repaired." Connor had insisted on paying for it. Gregor's body had disappeared and MacLeod assumed the Watchers had taken care of that. Sometimes the Immortal's watchdogs did have their uses.
They sat there for a long time, until the sun slid down in the sky and the air grew chill. Mac touched Richie's elbow lightly. The younger Immortal wore only jeans and a light T-shirt and his skin was chill. "We'd better go back to the cabin, Rich."
Richie nodded and stood up.
He was silent during the walk back to the cabin MacLeod had built over several decades; silent while they ate dinner. Duncan talked, expecting no answer.
Richie had gone into deep depression after he'd confronted his past. He didn't talk, didn't sleep, didn't eat. After several days of that, Duncan had bodily hauled him to the island. The change of scene did seem to help some; Sean's visits helped more, but Duncan knew it would be a long time, if ever, before the old Richie was back.
"You're mad at me, aren't you?" Richie asked suddenly.
MacLeod almost dropped the plates he was holding. Putting them carefully on the counter, he turned and faced his friend. "Why would I be mad at you?"
The redhead shrugged. "Because I'm not mad."
MacLeod searched very carefully for the right words. "Richie, I'm angry, okay, I'm furious, but not at you. Why would you think I would be?"
Richie didn't answer directly. He walked across the living room and looked out the darkened window. "I know I should be pissed off," he said finally, "I know it wasn't my fault, no matter what Jeannie said. Nobody has the right to treat a kid that way. I just can't..."
"Make yourself believe it?" Mac suggested. "Or make your gut believe it?"
He had Richie's attention. The younger Immortal turned to look at him. "What do you mean?"
"You can know something is a fact, and still not believe it." Mac picked up a butcher knife. "I know if I plunged this knife in my heart right now, I'd come back to life. So there's nothing to be afraid of." He tapped his head. "I know that here." His hand moved to his stomach, "but here, well, that's different. You know that you weren't to blame, but maybe there's a little voice inside that says you deserved what happened when you were ten years old?"
Richie's face darkened. He hesitated, then sat down on the battered old sofa. Mac watched him carefully, then began to heat milk for hot chocolate.
Neither one of them said anything for several minutes, when they were sitting in front of the roaring fire with mugs of hot cocoa liberally dosed with brandy. Richie had been staring into the flames. Now he said, "I don't think that's it."
"So what do you feel, Rich?"
"Confused," Richie said finally. His voice was very small.
"About?" Mac prompted.
"Remember when we were in France? I mean, the first time, the time with Tessa, when we met Marc and Alan?"
"When Marc admitted he... attacked that girl, he kept saying stuff like 'She got in the car. What'd she expect?' Anyway, after it was all over, Tessa and I were talking about it and she said something like, 'Rape isn't about sex, or love, or passion. It's about power'."
Confused as to where this was going, but just so grateful that Richie was talking to him, Mac nodded again. Richie went on, "That's what I don't get. Greg I can kind of understand. But what power did Kent want? I was just a kid. What kind of power did Kent want over me? I mean, he had power."
"And you may never understand," Mac pointed out. "It was his problem, Richie, not yours. The only way you could understand why is if you could crawl in his head. And even them you might not understand because I doubt very seriously that he knows. And it's not your 'monkey', as the saying goes. Your monkey is how you cope with what he did to you. And you can be angry, Richie. You have every right to be as angry as you want. But then you work through it, and finally, you try to let it go."
"I want to let it go now!" Richie burst out. "I don't want to be angry. I don't want to get mad at him. I can't get mad because-- then--"
"What?" Mac grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him gently. "Why can't you be angry about what they all did, not just Kent. The whole family--" Richie stiffened and tried to pull away. Mac let go of him instantly. Richie turned his back but not before the other Immortal could see the tears spilling down his face
"I can't because... if I get angry, it means the good times weren't really..." Richie's face was red, he was talking so fast the words were falling over each other. "They were my family, Mac, the only one I had until you and Tessa, and if I lose that..." he stopped, his shoulders shaking.
Silence stretched between them.
"Then tell them to me?" Duncan said finally.
Richie looked up. "What?"
"Tell me the good things, Richie. Right now. Tonight, tomorrow, whenever. You tell them to me, and I'll remember, and I'll keep them safe. Then, later-- someday when you've worked through your anger and you *want* to remember the good times again...they'll be safe with me."
"Why would you do that?" Richie asked. "You hate Kent and Jeannie for what they did, Mac, it shows on your face every time you look at me."
Duncan struggled for the right words. He sensed Richie hanging onto his answer. "Rich, do you remember Piton?"
"The nutcase dressmaker? Yeah. Why?"
Duncan smiled in spite of himself. "He was a 'nutcase' as you said. A murderer. I had to take his head. Just as I had to take Michael's. And it was hard, Richie. Hard because although I despised what they'd become...they were *still* my friends. We had a lot of good times. After they were gone-- I couldn't let myself remember those times...because it was so tainted with what had happened later."
He looked into the fire. "But gradually, I started to be able to remember Michael the way he was before. Remember the good times we'd had; the friendship we'd shared. Piton--well, I haven't been able to do that with him. But I hope, someday, I can."
Richie looked at him for a long time, then he slowly nodded. "So, if I tell you--"
"I'll listen. And I'll remember."
Richie sat down on the hearth, his back to the roaring flames. He didn't say anything for a long time.
Finally, he started, "The kids on the bus always made fun of my lunch box...."
Never the End
Highlander Back to the Filing Cabinet The Jungle