Adam continued to stand perfectly still, the only movement a slight tremor. Richie moved closer to him, concern masking his youthful face. He took hold of one arm. "Adam? Adam, it's just a bird. A vicious son of a bitch, of a bird, but it's out there and we’re in here. It's okay."
"What? You mean that jerk is back?"
Adam shook his head quickly.
"You better answer him, Methos. He's going to think you've lost your mind."
"Adam, come on, man. I'm the one he hates."
"No. I- I'm sorry, Richie." Adams voice shook as he tried to talk. "It's not the crow."
"Uh, yeah. I know him quite well, thank you. As a matter of fact he's probably still got my flesh and blood on his nasty little claws." Richie started for the window, but Adam grabbed him with both hands.
"No. Stay away from it. Don't go near it, Richie."
"What's the matter with you?" Richie turned back.
"It's not the crow. That's not…"
"That's not what? That's not what you were looking at?" Richie studied him carefully. "Have you seen someone- something else around here?" He asked hopefully.
"Why? Have you?" Adam was suddenly alert and worried.
"Umm, well you know how this place is. It's old. What did you see?"
"Nothing," Adam shook his head.
"No ghosts popping out?" Richie encouraged.
"No. Have you?"
"No." Richie finally answered cautiously. "It's just that this place can get to you sometimes. Too much atmosphere or something. Mac said too much imagination."
"You told him you saw something?"
"No. It just, you know, creeped me out the first week, that's all."
"Yeah, okay." Adam tried to focus on his friend and ignore the crow.
"Do you believe in ghosts, Adam?" He asked hesitantly.
"No. No of course not." Adam shook his head, speaking quietly. "But we both know there are demons."
"So what's so different about there being ghosts?"
"Well, I don't know for sure. Demons are evil. They were never human. Ghosts are supposed to be humans, right?"
"Formerly." Richie nodded.
"So what am I, Methos? And what does that make you?"
"Despicable." Adam bit out, then covered his mouth, leaving his hand in place, as though he were in deep thought. He couldn't let Kronos bait him like this. He should be smarter than that.
"That bird is despicable." He finally dropped his hand from his mouth and pointed at the bird still on the window ledge.
"Yeah, and then some. The minute it, me and my sword are in one place, it's going to be barbecue."
Adam laughed at the sudden image of Richie, beheading the crow.
"You find that funny?" Kronos demanded.
"Actually what? Kill him?"
"No." Adam shook his head. "Yes. We'll probably have to if we're to be rid of him." Methos looked around the room, the cold glare of his past haunting his features. Finally he shook out of his reverie. "What did you want to see me about, Richie?"
"You said you wanted to talk to me."
"Oh, yeah. It's kind of weird."
"Well, that does seem to be the norm for us, doesn't it?" Adam sat down on the side of his bed and pulled on his socks and hiking boots.
Richie sat backwards in a desk chair and rested his chin on the back. "I had another memory."
Adam froze for a moment. A shiver ran down his spine, as Kronos laughed just behind him. He shook his head slightly. "What kind of a memory? What do you mean another one?"
Downstairs Joe was conducting his own debriefing of Connor and Duncan. "So does this Aaron character think that he can help, Adam?"
"It's hard to say yet." Connor sliced the large roast in front of him. "He seems pretty hopeful. We haven't really had much opportunity to discuss anything without Adam right there."
"So does this other personality have a name yet?"
"It's not a personality as much as it seems to be a delusion. It's not like a different person taking over. It's more of a delusion that he's talking with someone else."
"I see." Joe shook his head. "You know, I've often wondered how someone could stay sane so long. Now I know. They don't." The Watcher sighed deeply.
"Well let's not give up on him yet." Duncan admonished. "He's been through a lot, and come out alright. Once we get to the bottom of whatever is bothering him he will probably be okay."
"But what could it be? For two thousand years he's led a fairly normal life. Then suddenly the Horsemen and Cassandra show up. We get through all of that, then we have the problem with Arhiman. I figured he ran, thinking he'd be next, but instead he's off saving Richie's life. They made it through far more visits with demons than we ever did. He leaves Richie with Connor, comes back to Paris, lives a fairly normal life, reunites you and Richie and then suddenly he's having a breakdown. Why after all of that? Hell, what am I saying? Why not after all of that?"
"He sure held up when he needed to." Duncan confirmed as he dished the small potatoes into a serving dish.
"Maybe that's it." Connor nodded. "We knew he was having problems this summer. That's why I insisted on this little refresher training course the last couple of months. Maybe now that the problems are over, he's finally succumbing to the stress."
"He'll be alright." Duncan nodded.
Connor and Joe exchanged worried looks.
"So how are things between you and Richie?" Joe pretended innocence.
"I'm not sure." Duncan smiled worriedly. "I thought they were fine until this morning. Then suddenly I started getting the silent treatment. The worried treatment or something."
"He's had another memory." Connor finally confessed. Duncan stared at him until Connor nodded reluctantly.
"About what, or do I need to ask?"
"About the dark quickening." Joe gave Duncan a sympathetic look.
"You both know about this? Why didn't you tell me?"
"We just did." They answered together.
"I've been a little busy today, Duncan," Connor reminded him.
Richie was startled when his bedroom door was suddenly flung open. He turned away from his computer to see Duncan standing there looking quite outraged. This was not good. He had that same look that he had worn on his face a few weeks ago when he had rescued him from the satanic worshipers. It was also the look he'd had donned shortly after confessing to Richie who he really was. Oh sure, he'd been all apologetic and fatherly, but once he'd got his second wind he'd laid into the eternal teenager for a half an hour on the stupidity of trying to track Michaelis down himself.
"What's wrong?'' Richie asked nervously
"You tell me."
"I don't know." He swallowed slowly.
"You haven't had any problem telling Connor, or Joe, or Adam."
Richie finally took a deep breath. "Oh."
"You're not going anywhere, Richie."
"You can't tell me what I can do." Richie's blue eyes grew wide when Duncan moved slightly closer. Oh damn, that wasn't a really good way to start.
"Try me. You can't go."
"You have to go."
"What did you say?" The young man stammered.
"You have to go," Mac's voice echoed in his head.
"I said you can't go."
Richie cocked his head just slightly. He was in a loft. Duncan's back was turned to him. "You have to go."
"I have to go?"
"Why? Richie, you and I got past this a long time ago. Why do you have to leave?"
"I- that's not- why did you say I have to go?"
"Richie, that's not what I just said. I said you couldn't go."
"No!" Richie covered his head with his hands. "You said, you have to go. We were in a loft…"
"Oh, my God." Duncan's mouth dropped slightly open as he slowly tried to inhale the air that had just been knocked out of him. His worst fear. Worse than any of his attempts on Richie's life. The one time he had been perfectly coherent. The one time when he had thrust the 19-year-old, a new half-trained Immortal out into the world on his own. The one time that he had joined the ranks of all the previous foster parents who had rejected the boy. "Richie, I'm sorry. If I could have you forget anything, it would be that moment."
"What happened? Why did you send me away?"
Duncan stared at him for a long horrified moment. "I was afraid of losing you."
"What?" Richie asked incredulously.
"You entered the game." Duncan sat down on the side of the bed folding his hands together over his mouth. "You had killed a man I didn't agree with. He was a bounty hunter. He'd accidentally killed a girl you were trying to help escape from him. You wanted revenge. You had him trapped. I asked you not to go through with it. He stabbed you with his sword and you swung. You entered the game."
"So you sent me away? Because I thought I should kill him and you didn't? That was your way of punishing me?"
"I let you believe that, yes. I let myself believe that it was just time to let you go. You were an immortal. You took your first head. It was time to let go."
"Is that the way it usually works?"
"For some, but there's no rule for it. It doesn't have to be like that. I should have been grateful you survived and continued your training. You weren't really ready enough."
"You told me about this, this summer? You said I came back on my own?"
"Not exactly. You were being pursued by an old enemy of mine. He liked to terrorize young immortals by setting them up for murder. He wouldn't face you. It was his way of drawing out older immortals. The idea was to have you so confused you'd go back to your teacher for help. You did. You took quite a chance, considering the way we parted. I was so relieved to see you. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know where to begin. I didn't know if you were angry, hurt. I had worried about you for months. That's when I really realized what I had done. When you came back, I knew that it wouldn't matter how far I pushed you out of my life, it would never lessen the pain I would have felt if I lost you. No amount of distance was ever going to change what you already meant to me."
"So did you whack the guy?"
"Oh, yeah. Then you and I got drunk on 200 year old cognac."
They sat on the steps of the bridge, drinking and laughing. Richie was doing his best to keep up with Duncan, swig for swig. They said very little, just the small casual talk of Immortals, drinking. Richie had gotten such a kick out of Duncan's comment that he had seen the bad guy first. Of course, he had. He was 400 years older. It had been over three hundred years since he had seen the man. The more he drank, the more exhausted the teenager became, until he could hardly hold his head up.
"I'm sorry, Mac. I'm really sorry." The boy's mood suddenly switched from giddy to extremely remorseful
"Sorry for what? A little tipsy, are you?" Duncan put an arm around him and held him close to his chest.
Richie shook his head.
"You're not drunk?" Duncan laughed and ruffled his curls.
"Not sorry- for being drunk."
"Well that's good, because neither am I." He planted a light kiss on the blond head crooked in his arm.
"I'm sorry." Richie almost sobbed into Duncan's coat, fatigue and cognac strong in his voice.
"About this problem with…? Don't you worry about that. None of this is your fault. You should have never been on your own." Duncan tightened his grip on the boy and rested his chin on his head.
"But I had to go."
"No, you didn't. You weren't ready."
"I did fine on my own. Till now."
"I'm sure you did."
"Just fine. But I didn't want to go, Mac. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I didn't listen."
"No. Listen to me." Duncan's voice soothed quietly, almost a choking whisper; his mind's eye focused somewhere in the past. "You made a decision. You did what you felt was right. We've all had to make that decision. Sometimes we regret it, but that was no reason for me to send you away. I was wrong. Truth is you scared me when you entered the game. I don't want to lose you, Richie. Ever." Tears threatened.
"Okay." Richie's breathing grew even slower and deeper.
Duncan looked down at the lightly snoring youth in his arms and shook his head. He doubted they'd be drunk enough again to have this conversation. MacLeod smiled in relief as he sat there on the steps watching the sun come up over Paris, holding the son he finally realized would never leave his heart. Finally he scooped the boy up and carried him back to the car.
Back at the barge, Duncan put the exhausted youth into his own large bed. After several weeks of being pursued across half of Europe, and spending a couple of days too terrified of letting his guard down in the French jail, Richie was ready to sleep the sleep of the dead. The boy melted into the warmth and comfort of the blankets, oblivious that his teacher sat beside him, smoothing his hair from his forehead, occasionally brushing away a few tears of his own. The last few months had been a long agonizing strain of constant worry undermining his every thought. If something good was happening he wondered where Richie was, wondered what it would be like to share it with him. Only when other Immortals were around had he been glad Richie was out of harms way. Then of course came the internal battle he waged inside himself almost daily. Was Richie alive? Was he all right?
Never before had a student got to him as deeply as Richie had. Certainly he had always felt a void when past students had left him, but more from the absence of having someone to share his daily life with. With both Tessa and Richie suddenly gone, the pain of having his family ripped from his soul had almost been his undoing. He vowed silently never to allow himself to become so attached to another student. What did that mean for Richie, then? Well, Richie was here and now and he could not turn away from him again.
He collapsed on the couch, thanking God, the boy was back and safe. He had no idea how they would work through this, but he planned to do everything in his power to give them another chance.
"So how long did I sleep?" Richie had listened to the story intently, hungry for any information from his past, desperate for any grain that would help him understand why he and MacLeod had ever become as close as everyone kept insisting they had been.
"Well over twenty four hours." Duncan laughed lightly. "You knew you were home. You knew you were safe, and I wouldn't let anything happen to you."
Richie wondered how that must feel. What would it be like to sleep that comfortably around MacLeod? To not worry about losing his head in his sleep. Had there really ever been that much trust between them?
"So did we ever talk about it again? Why you sent me away? I mean when we were sober?" Richie lifted his chin off the back of the chair.
"No. I didn’t know if you remembered what you said or not. I didn't want you to feel that way. You did what you felt you had to do. We didn't agree, but it was not a situation I should have tried to judge you for. And truthfully I had just used that as an excuse. You would have been better off with Connor, Richie, from the very beginning. I was pretty lousy as a teacher."
Richie just stared at him. He didn't know what to say. What was Mac saying? Was he giving him back to Connor? Shuffled once again? Adam to Connor, to Duncan, to Connor? What had he done? "But- I- "
"Nothing." Maybe Mac was right. Maybe he should go. It wasn't fair to either of them. All this distrust and anger. But he had just got things worked out. He was going to college. And he was going to have fun. Adam was here- they were like brothers- best friends. They had met girls- maybe not the loves of their lives, but something that seemed normal compared to the last few years. And it had all happened since meeting Mac again. Things had been going great until these damn memories started. But had it had all been based on lies? No, Mac had told him the truth from the start. He had refused to renter this relationship with out the truth. It's just that the reality was so much harsher. Hearing about those problems had been like listening to something that happened to someone else. Now it was real. Now he didn't understand how he and Mac had lasted more than ten minutes.
There were colleges in New York.
"Come on, dinner's waiting." Duncan stood up, eager to change the subject.
"I'm not hungry." Richie turned back to his computer. His arm banged the mouse and the screen saver disappeared.
"Too bad, you're eating anyway." Duncan moved threateningly closer. His eye caught the WebPage Richie was reading.
"Cronos? What are you reading? Are you in the watcher database?"
"No," Richie shook his head nervously. "I'm just doing some research. Mythology, you know?"
"It's from Adam's time. I just wanted to know what kind of religion they had then."
"Why?" Duncan leaned over and started scrolling through the web page. "What is this? Who was Cronos?"
"You don't know?" Richie was almost shocked.
Duncan frowned. "It was a little before my time. Saturn?" Duncan read. "The father of Zeus? Oh, Cronos is the Greek name? He looks like Father Time."
"Yeah, he's that, too." Richie nodded.
I AM THE END OF TIME! Kronos had once shouted in MacLeod's face. Duncan refocused and continued to scan the screen. "Richie, would you send me the URL for this? Or print this out?"
"What has Adam said to you? Why are you suddenly interested in mythology?"
"Nothing." Richie tried to lie well- really.
"If you know anything that could help him…?"
"What are you talking about?" Richie was darn tired of being left clueless. If MacLeod wanted him to trust him, why did he only offer him half-truths and cover-ups? What did they think was wrong with Adam? "Why does Adam have to keep seeing Knight, anyway? If he doesn't want to go, why are you and Connor making him?"
"It's for his own good. He's having some problems. Surely you've noticed."
"Nothing that drastic." Richie mumbled hoping to get Duncan to give him more details.
"Richie, if you know anything that could help us help him, you really need to tell me- or Connor, okay?"
"What's wrong with Adam, MacLeod?" Richie tried to stay focused on the computer screen. He wasn’t going to budge an inch if he didn’t get some answers of his own.
Duncan pulled his rolling chair back and grabbed Richie, dragging him to his feet and over his bent shoulder.
"What in the hell?" Richie exclaimed.
"I warned you what would happen, if you called me MacLeod again."
"Put me down!"
Duncan wrapped a strong arm across kicking legs as he quickly made his way down the backstairs case and into the kitchen. Connor, Adam and Joe glanced up from the table then back at each other and then their plates.
"Pass me the potatoes, Adam." Connor motioned and reached for a roll.
"Sure," Adam passed the bowl across the table.
"Would somebody help me, please?" Richie was not about to act like an idiot. He wouldn’t give MacLeod the satisfaction.
"Where are you going?" Joe asked casually.
"To the pond, I think."
"Why?" Adam tried to keep a straight face.
"He doesn't like me to call him MacLeod." Richie's voice trailed off as Duncan pushed open the screen door and barged out doors.
"Mac? Mac, this really isn't necessary, okay? I'll quit calling you MacLeod, okay? I swear. Mac? Mac. Mac, Mac, Mac, Mac, …" His voice nearly vibrating with each step on the hard ground. Okay, so maybe he would act like an idiot over this.
"What?" Duncan shouted as he pushed open the garden gate.
"I'm just showing you that I know how to say Mac." Or maybe he’d just annoy the hell out of MacLeod for revenge, but there was absolutely no way he was going beg or plead or anything else for that matter.
"Where did this MacLeod crap come from?"
"I don't know. Maybe this whole tension thing. The memories? I don't know. Come on, put me down! We can talk about this, okay?" Okay, so fear was starting to eek it’s way into his mind. He just really wasn’t in the mood to be tossed in a pond. It was hot and he was getting really, really irritated with MacLeod.
"Oh, I plan to." Duncan stormed on.
"Why is this such a big deal, Mac?"
"Because you are not a co-worker, an enemy, or even just a friend. You are my student."
"And you are my kid- even if you aren't a "kid" kid anymore, got it?"
Duncan pulled Richie off his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and threw him in the pond. He stood there for a moment watching as Richie made his way back to the surface sputtering.
"You son of a- "
"You can always go back for seconds."
"Damn it! I can't believe you did that!"
"I just want you to understand that I mean what I say, and you can trust me to keep my word."
"Well, at least I can trust you to be a jerk!" Richie splashed the water hard at him.
"Isn't trust a wonderful thing?" Duncan smiled and turned back to the house. On at least one level that felt good, except for the part about him being trusted to be a jerk. He was tired of being held responsible for the past. What was it going to take to regain the boy's trust? Had the last few weeks been a sham? Had Richie really not trusted him all summer?
Five minutes later Duncan had just collapsed at the table and began eating, when Richie burst through the door dripping wet. It was an effort for everyone else not to laugh. Richie bounded up the back staircase, amid the fading giggles. Moments later he reappeared wearing cutoffs and carrying two large towels, one of which he dropped over Adam's head. Adam took one look at the towel as he pulled it from his head, then at Richie as he vanished out the back door. He jumped to his feet and ran up the back stairs for shorts, resisting a five thousand-year-old urge to swim au natural.
"That looks like fun," Connor looked up at the others with a growing grin and suddenly stood up and hurried to the stairs.
"What about dinner?" Duncan shouted after him. Joe had also left his seat, carrying a glass of ice tea.
"Put it away, it'll keep!" The older Scot hollered back down the staircase.
"Yeah, MacLeod. Don't you know, you aren't suppose to eat before you swim?" Joe let the door bang on his way out.
Duncan stood fuming as he surveyed the table covered in serving dishes and half eaten plates. "Not again."
Connor stopped outside of Adam's door, when he heard the soft insistent tones. He leaned just a bit closer as the voice continued, obviously oblivious to his immortal presence.
"Why can't you just go away, Kronos? Why are we your only source of entertainment? Don't you have a war you can start or a government you can over throw?"
There was a pause as Adam must have been listening to the response. At first Connor worried that he had realized he had company outside the door.
"Just leave Richie out of this. Why torture him with those memories? Those will come back soon enough on their own. It's bad enough that you have to destroy what's left of my sanity."
Connor tried to be as still as possible. Adam must not have noticed him because he'd followed so close behind him, never truly separating their underlying hum.
"Hurting MacLeod will get you what? A brief moment of pleasure from an eternity of madness?"
Connor managed to stop the last breath from turning into a gasp. What was Adam up to? What was he planning?
"You know that if I kill Aaron, I'll have both MacLeods after me. I won't live to see the end of the day."
Suicide? Is that what this was about? Was Adam's delusion trying to get him to get himself killed? Was this Adam's way of hiding from himself- to get himself killed? Connor would have to talk to Aaron about this. There had to be something they could do to help him.
The door separating them was suddenly flung open. Adam froze perfectly still, unspoken words hanging on his lips.
"Did I scare you?" Connor laughed his trademark laugh. "You going swimming, Bookworm?"
"Uh, yeah." Adam comically rolled his eyes as his thoughts came back to him, and glanced down at his cut-offs and bare everything else.
"Good. I haven't been swimming in years. Not like this anyway. Half tempted to go the old fashioned way." Connor raised his eyebrows.
"The rest of us might prefer you didn't." Adam managed to collect enough of his own thoughts to make a jab at the Scot.
"Yeah, I wouldn't want anyone to develop a complex or anything." Connor laughed again and went to his room.
Adam shook his head and ran down the stairs, praying that Connor had not been listening to him talking to Kronos.
"Hey, Mac?" He called with forced lightness in his voice.
Duncan was trying to stuff everything into the refrigerator. "Hey, I could use some help here."
"Yeah, sure. I'll send Richie back."
"Maybe I should just give up my job as a professor and become a maid." Duncan pulled the refrigerator door open with a foot.
"No money it." Adam let the door bang.
After clearing away the table, Duncan went upstairs, trying to decide if he wanted to go swimming. Connor was just starting downstairs, already dressed.
"Took you long enough." Duncan smiled.
"I've been trying to get hold of Aaron."
"Something come up?"
"I heard Adam in a conversation with Kronos."
"You heard Kronos?"
"No, of course not. It's all in his imagination. There is no phone in his room. His cell phone died on the way home. He was talking only to himself."
"What did he say?"
"He blamed Kronos for Richie's memories. He thinks he is trying to hurt Richie to cause you pain. He was arguing about killing Aaron, that we would then kill him if he did."
"You couldn't get hold of Aaron?"
"No. I think he and Angie were having more peace negotiations tonight." Connor couldn’t quite hide the comically tinged disgust in his voice.
Duncan smiled sympathetically. "Well, we'll just have to keep a close eye on him. I'm going to try talking to Richie again. I think he knows more than he's letting on."
"Why do you say that?"
Duncan led Connor to Richie's room. Just as he hoped the web page was up that they had been looking at originally. Thank the stars for a cable modem. "He was reading about Cronos earlier."
"This guy's on the Internet?"
"No. The Titan Cronos, Zeus' father." Duncan began scrolling through the web page.
"Looks like father time." Connor watched the images and text go by.
"He is. That's where that legend came from. He mutilated his father with a scythe."
"Pretty Freudian." Connor laughed but got serious when Duncan frowned.
Duncan suddenly went rigid and stared as though he'd entered another world. I do so miss the old ways. Duncan remembered standing inside the barn opposite the outlaw immortal he knew as Melvin Coren. Kronos- as he knew him now- held the scythe with all too much familiarity for a gunman- as he stood over Duncan ready to lop off his head.
"What is it?" Connor insisted.
Duncan shook his head. "Nothing. Just remembering that bastard."
"Come on. Let's go have some fun with the boys."
Duncan laughed at the use of the word "boys." Connor would always be Connor. He might admit he believed that Adam was Methos, but the old Scot would never vary from his perception of the younger appearing immortal. Must have been one too many hits in the head somewhere along the line that made him so stubborn.
Coming soon! Part Nine of The End of Time
To the Authors' Pages