Richie was totally numb. Scott had to be Duncan. The reaction on MacLeod's face when he called him Mac was total shock. Tessa, Mac and me, the writing on the back of the photo had read. Don't jump to conclusions, Richie, he told himself again and again. After all a lot of people have gone by the nickname of Mac at one time or another. What had Adam and Connor called him? MacLeod, that was it, and very rarely even that.
Scott had turned away for a moment as though he was trying to hide something. Richie wanted to stand up and shake the truth out of him, but he knew that wouldn't get him very far. What if he was really Scott? That would be too embarrassing. At the same time he was flooded with relief that if this was Duncan MacLeod, he hadn't really killed him like Horton had tried to convince him. Adam and Connor had been telling the truth all along. So why keep the mystery man's identity from him? Why hide that part of the truth? He just couldn't come up with a good enough answer to completely accept that Scott was really his former teacher, Duncan MacLeod. And if his friends were playing mind games with him, was he just supposed to forgive that? Sure he only had half a mind at the moment, but wasn't the idea to rebuild his memory not take advantage of the lack of it?
When Scott turned back around he was still smiling, but in a friendly way rather than in total astonishment. He extended a hand to Richie. "Ready to head back to the lodge?"
"Yeah, sure." Richie let "Scott" pull him to his feet.
"Good." Duncan replied. "Race you!"
Richie's jaw dropped as he watched MacLeod propel himself down the path. "Race? That's at least five miles back that direction! It's only four this way."
"It's the same distance either way!" Duncan hollered back.
"Okay," Richie muttered. "Let's see who gets there first." He turned back the direction they had just came from and started running at a stride he judged might allow him to keep pace with Mac.
Methos sat in the diner across from the pizza parlor. It wouldn't open till noon, but at least here he could get a cup of coffee and some breakfast. He had "borrowed" the keys to the SUV Duncan had rented and spent the entire night trying to find some sign of Michaelis. He was tired, but not quite ready to give up. Besides, he knew he would never hear the end of it when he got back to the lodge.
The sensation of another immortal surged through him unexpectedly. He felt the long coat beside him to make sure his sword was handy. It took only a moment before the door opened. He almost collapsed in relief. Connor wandered over to his table, hands in the pockets of his long coat. He stood there staring at the younger looking immortal for the longest time.
"What is it, Connor?"
"You're really going to eat that?" MacLeod looked at the greasy eggs and bacon on the plate in front of Adam.
"Well that's the idea. What are you doing here?"
Connor sat down and motioned the waitress to bring him a cup of coffee. "Following your young buzz all over creation most of the night."
"I never sensed you." Methos was suddenly taken back. Connor could feel his buzz, but he hadn't felt Connor's? Man, he was getting old.
"Well, truth is I saw you leave, and stayed my distance. What are you up to?"
"The bloody obvious." Methos was getting really tired and grumpy. "Shouldn't you like be watching Richie or something?"
"Duncan is like with Richie. I'm like with you."
"You trust him?" He ignored Connor's sarcastic imitation of his present day vernacular.
"So do you." Connor thanked the waitress when she brought his coffee.
"Would you like a menu?"
"Oh, no thanks." He smiled as he watched Adam swallow the slimy eggs hungrily. After she left he turned back at the subject of his scrutiny. "If you come home, I'll fix you some real food."
Adam looked up with the fork still stuck in his mouth. Come home? He hadn't heard that word forever. Okay, so maybe when he and Richie were living in Greece, they referred to the beach house as home. If he had a home it would have to be there. Yes, he and Alexa had called it home. His heart still ached when he thought of his beautiful late wife. He'd never told anyone they had married. Only Michael had attended the wedding of young Dr. Adam Pierson and his beautiful bride Alexa. And as if the waitress was reading his mind she came back with a plate of hash browns and withdrew the confession from him.
"A cute guy like you should have a wife cooking his breakfast. Never found Mrs. Right?"
"A few times." He grinned over his cup at Connor.
"My wife died a few years ago."
"I'm sorry. What about you, good looking?" She turned to Connor.
"I'm a widower as well." He smiled kindly.
"Oh, is this some sort of support group?"
"No," Connor took over. Adam was obviously getting agitated or depressed. "We're just friends. It's a terrible coincidence. All of our wives have died."
"You mean you've each had more than one?" She probed nervously.
"Yes." Connor looked over at Adam coyly. "Several- each."
The waitress nodded. "I see. Well, let me know if I can get you anything else." She made a beeline back to the kitchen counter.
Adam did his best not to choke on his coffee as he tried to stifle his giggling. "Connor that was downright mean- and perfect."
Connor stood up and dropped money on the table. "Come on, Bookworm, before I take your head."
Adam couldn't shake the feeling that he was being treated like a rebellious teenager and he wasn?t sure how he felt about it. In a way it was what he always wanted. Not that he wanted to be treated like a kid, but he had always wanted to forget that he was 5,000 years old. Connor's refusal to even consider that he could be much older than he looked was sometimes frustrating and at other times a blessing, but couldn't the guy give him a century or two of credit? He stepped outside into the morning sunshine enjoying the warm summer air, his mood trying to lighten despite his best efforts to stay depressed.
"So, what was her name?"
"Who, the waitress?"
"No. Your wife."
"Alexa, but I'd rather not discuss that."
"What happened to her?"
Adam sighed. Was Connor just deaf or completely oblivious to anyone's rights but his own? He was tempted to voice the question, but feared the scene that would start when Connor knocked him flat.
"Fine. Don't honor her memory."
"Cancer, alright? She died of a rare form of cancer."
"Were you married long?"
"About three months."
"I'm sorry. She must have been ill before your marriage."
"Yes, she was. All right, you want the whole story, you'll get it. She was a waitress for Joe. I fell in love with her at first sight. I hounded her until she agreed to go out. She didn't want to because she knew she was ill. Joe finally told me what was wrong, but it didn't stop me. I loved her too much to lose anytime we could spend together. Six months later she was dead, and there was nothing Dr. Adam Pierson could do to save his beautiful, tragic wife."
"Are you a cancer specialist?"
"No." Adam was frustrated. "I don't even work as a doctor anymore. I used my license for prescriptions for her if necessary but mostly we let the specialists handle it. "
"You treated Richie too, didn't you?"
"Yes, in Greece."
"Why don't you work as a doctor?"
"Because sooner or later someone is going to notice I'm not fifty years old like all my credentials claim. So, I'm Adam Pierson the graduate student again."
"Then it's time to go back to medical school."
"Maybe someday. Can we just go back to the lodge? I'm really tired."
"Sure. Fifty, huh?" Connor studied Adam closely. He had told Richie he had been at the first Woodstock. "Now was that so hard to admit?"
"Yeah." Adam shook his head and sighed as he headed to the SUV. Connor was hopeless. No wonder where MacLeod got it.
Richie ran through the woods trying to remember if the path he had chosen was truly the shorter route. What if Mac was right? Then you'll run in ten years after he gets there and look like a real dweeb, he told himself. Surely he had been right, but after what felt like three miles he had still not seen any of the familiar landmarks he should see within a mile of home. He concentrated on enjoying the run instead of worrying about the outcome of the impromptu race. If he lost, he lost. He always lost to Connor.
Then he realized how quiet the woods had become. With Mac heading the other way he was all-alone. It had been days since he had got to enjoy any real solitude. Even without their unexpected guests, Connor watched him like a hawk. It usually made him feel young and stupid, but he had long ago given up on trying to convince Connor he was old enough to take care of himself. After all, if what Adam told him was correct he would be twenty-five years old in the fall. Yet he still looked as young as he was treated. He could imagine how it was going to be when he knew he was 100 years old and Connor was still treating him like a nineteen-year-old. What kind of a job would he ever be able to have that people would believe he was actually old enough to hold the position?
Adam had it bad enough. He had already had to give up practicing medicine on a full time basis, because his credentials had long ago passed him by. Richie had tried on several occasions to convince him to go back into medicine, but Adam would only back his way out of the conversation. Suddenly he wondered what Scot or Mac or whatever his name was did for a living. But he had died in his mid thirties, with a face that could pass for older looking late twenties or younger looking mid forties. He, like Connor, had a longer "life span". Hadn't Connor told him that Duncan was also an antique dealer? Maybe he could do that, after all, it seemed to be profitable.
He slowed just a bit as he felt the sensation of another immortal. Scott must have realized Richie had gone in a different direction and decided to follow him. So much like Connor. The buzzy feeling didn't quite feel right. It was different than the one he had felt when he and Scott were running together. It could be Adam or Connor, but something just wasn?t right. He turned completely around, running in place, but could see no one. He was suddenly over whelmed by a sense of fear and erieness. Whoever it was had left the jogging path. The other immortal was hiding in the woods. Now Richie couldn't tell if he was running toward him or away from him. Was he about to pass him? Could this guy just reach out with his sword and take his head at any moment?
His heart began to skip a few beats as he realized it could be Michaelis. Could the man really be that stupid that he would come all the way out here in the mountains to kill him? Knowing that there were three other immortals with him most of the time? Michaelis would have to know his only hope would be to catch Richie alone and unguarded. Damn! Richie realized he'd just set himself up. Panic crossed his youthful features, as he remembered he didn't even have a sword with him. He hated jogging with a sword. It was almost impossible to conceal, and anywhere he could think to hide it interfered as it bang clanged against his lithe frame. Let me live, dear God, and I will never leave home without it again. He shot down the path as fast as he could. The faster his footfalls became the louder and closer the other immortal followed. He heard a crashing sound in the woods, but dared only a glance over his shoulder. He caught just the barest glimpse of a man who could have been anyone.
The other immortal had taken to the path and come out of the trees. A sudden burst of fear induced adrenaline pushed Richie to run faster than ever before. The lodge was in site now. He could see the light in the kitchen window where they had left Joe Dawson cooking breakfast. He almost stumbled down the hill as his feet propelled his body too quickly to keep upright on the steep decline that suddenly leveled into the back yard. Unable and just as unwilling to slow himself down enough he ran smack into the door.
A sword was suddenly imbedded in the wood over his head.
He slowly looked up at the shining metal then turned just slightly, but strong hands grabbed his shoulders, whirling him around and throwing him off the back porch and onto the ground.
"You won." Scott stood over him with a sarcastic smile plastered on his face.
"You son of a bitch!" Richie gasped for breath as he tried to get up. "I thought-"
"That I was Michaelis?" Duncan dropped down low enough to push the boy back on the ground.
"The hell you did. You didn't think at all! What if I was Michaelis?"
"But?" Richie tried to sit up again, but Duncan shoved him back down.
"Where's your sword?" Duncan asked harshly.
"I- I- "
"You didn't have it with you, did you? Did you?"
"No, but I figured you had yours!"
"Well, now that's bright." Duncan shook his head. "So you take off four miles in the opposite direction? No wonder Connor doesn?t let you out of his sight. You're just as brainless now as you've always been."
Richie brought himself completely up in one swift move and propelled himself into Duncan, knocking him over. Duncan grabbed his arms and easily flipped him over on to his back again. "Now what is that suppose to prove?"
"You son of a --"
"Watch you mouth. Get up." Duncan stood up and pulled him to his feet. "Come on, let's see what you can do. Try to get a swing in."
"Sorry, I know this game." Richie was still panting and seething with anger as he jumped up, swung his feet out and knocked Duncan's legs out from under him. "Never do what your opponent expects." He pointed at Duncan. "But you should know that, shouldn't you?"
Duncan laughed as he used both feet to wrap around Richie's ankles and pull him onto the ground. He got to his knees quickly shoved the kid all the way down onto his back again. "Are you tired, Richie? You don't seem to be able to stay on your feet."
Richie brought his knees up into Duncan's back, but MacLeod grabbed one of the flying legs and flipped the boy onto his stomach. "You fight dirty, don?t you?"
"I fight to live." Richie managed to choke out against the ground.
"Then maybe you should think to live as well." Duncan stood up realizing he'd made his point well enough. He didn't really want to hurt the kid.
"You want to know what I think?" Richie pushed himself to his feet. "When you first came here, I thought maybe you were Duncan MacLeod. Now I'm just glad you're not." Richie pushed past a stunned Duncan and went to the house. He pulled the sword out of the door and lunged it point first into the ground near MacLeod.
"Morning, Richie." Joe smiled as he came out onto the porch.
Richie grumbled something and hurried into the house.
Joe looked with sympathy at MacLeod who still stood there trying to regulate his breathing. "Give it time, MacLeod. He'll come around."
"To what?" Duncan pulled his sword out of the ground. "Hating me? Taking my head?" His breathing increased as his voice grew anxious. "This isn't going to work. I've lost him for good, haven't I?"
"MacLeod, don't be ridiculous. This little battle of wills- whatever it was about- is exactly you and Richie. The two of you locked horns over fresh squeezed orange juice versus concentrate."
"But we were family then. Now, I'm just some stranger interfering between he and Connor." Duncan ran a hand across his face trying to rub away the distressed look he wore. "He has a new life and I don't have any place in it."
"I don't believe that and neither do you," Joe turned back into the house. "Where are Connor and Adam? I've got this huge breakfast waiting and no one is here to eat it."
"Looking for Michaelis. Methos left shortly after midnight. Connor followed him."
"Now that is a funny relationship." Joe laughed.
"Excuse me?" Duncan followed him into the house
"Connor just can't help himself can he? The clan chieftain. He refuses to believe Adam is Methos, doesn't he?" Joe poured MacLeod a cup of coffee.
"Yeah, it is pretty funny. But you've got to admit it is awful hard to believe. If I hadn't met several of his old friends, I probably would have a few doubts myself."
"No, you believed in him from the beginning. Just like you believed in Richie and Richie believed in you."
"Well those days are gone." Duncan sat down at the table with his coffee.
"Mac," Joe shoved a hand through his hair. "So you're strangers again. Start over. If I remember right, it took a little work to rein him in, didn't it? He didn't trust you and who could blame him? But you stuck with it."
Richie had slept a lot over the next few days after Duncan and Tessa had found him burning with fever at the zoo. Duncan attributed the need for rest to his illness and the lack of having any really good sleeping arrangements for some time. Within a week he was back to normal and volunteering to work in the shop again. Tessa refused to let him go back to the task of sweeping out the storeroom, claiming that the dust had done nothing but aggravate his condition his first day at the shop. Duncan realized she knew more about children than he ever would, so he left the decision to her.
Once Richie was finished with his assigned chores of the day he announced he was going out to meet some friends. For all he knew he might have just announced he committed murder. Duncan and Tessa looked worriedly at him.
"What? I can't go out?"
"No, no, that's fine." Duncan stammered. He knew he had to jump into full-scale father mode and did his fastest thinking. "I just think we need to discuss when you'll be home."
"When I'll be home? You mean like a curfew? Sheesh! I haven't had a curfew since I was twelve."
"Well, you're seventeen and you'll have a curfew."
"It's no big deal. I can take care of myself. I'll be home later."
"You'll be home by 10:00."
"What? Come on man, the law says eleven."
"I'm the law and I say 10:00." Duncan realized Richie was about to burst. "That's my best offer. Take it or leave it."
Richie started to leave until Tessa's French accent stopped him. "Richie, you will not leave this house until you've had your dinner."
Richie wanted to object, then realized he could do with some food. "Oh, alright."
He was surprised when dinner went as smoothly as it did. Duncan and Tessa had both lost the paternal tone in their voices and acted perfectly relaxed. Unfortunately, for Richie he took the relaxed attitudes as leniency and when his friends tormented him about going home early, he couldn't quite see the harm in staying out just a bit longer.
Richie knew it had been a mistake when Duncan and Tessa were still waiting up for him when he finally wandered in at 11:30. He had seen the look in Duncan's eyes from several of his foster fathers. He was really going to get it now. Well good, maybe it would give him a good reason to leave.
"Yeah, well, something came up."
"What? Business as usual?"
"I was just at a movie with friends."
Richie quickly thought of a current movie that was playing, but his delivery was weak and he couldn't carry it off well.
"There's no need to add lying to the offences, Richie."
"Duncan, perhaps he is telling the truth," Tessa suggested until Duncan looked at her in surprise. He wasn?t in the mood to play good cop, bad cop.
"We'll discuss this in your room." Duncan wasn't phased when both Tessa and Richie turned shocked looks on him. "Go on. Get ready for bed."
Richie nervously left the room, all the bravado suddenly gone. MacLeod was going to kill him. Even worse, though, was the fact that he had made him mad at Tessa. Somehow he didn't think MacLeod would harm her, and if he did have had such tendencies she wouldn't put up with it.
Once he got to his room, he began packing his bag. He had a few extra clothes now that Tessa had bought for him, but it wouldn't all fit in the small backpack. He would leave the newer things. After all he didn't want their charity. As he looked around the room for any of his other items, he began to realize how much he was going to miss the place.
Should he leave? Or should he just stay and take whatever MacLeod dished out to him? It might be worth it to have the good food, a job and a warm room. It wasn't the first time he had to make the decision. It had actually been nice having some place to come home to. Until he told his friend that he had to go home he had even enjoyed the sound of the words.
He would stay and take what was coming to him. He just didn't have the strength to find a new home on the streets tonight. When he heard MacLeod knock on his door, he quickly threw the backpack to the side of his bed.
"You aren't dressed for bed."
"I was just picking things up a bit, I'm sorry."
"It's okay. Richie, look at me."
Richie dared an upward glance. When Duncan reached out to take hold of his arm and chin simultaneously, the boy flinched. Duncan noticed the reaction, but chose not to make a deal out of it.
"What time is your curfew?"
"If you break your curfew again, you'll be grounded for two weeks. Is that clear?"
Grounded? That was it! This guy was easy. He laughed in relief.
"You find that funny?"
"No! No, it's just that-" Richie hesitated for a minute then decided to go for it. After all MacLeod had been around the block a few times. He knew what Richie's life had been like. "I thought- well, I thought- "
"That I was going to hurt you?" Duncan frowned.
"Yeah," Richie nodded shyly, studying his feet.
Duncan watched the nervous kid for a moment. He knew that he could terrify him or calm his fears, mold him or break him. Or he could lose what little control he had over him. "Richie, I could get a little mid-evil if the situation called for it, but I will never actually hurt you. No broken bones, no scars, no drunken rages, no slapping you around the house. Okay?" Duncan lifted the boy's chin until their eyes met.
"Promise?" Richie finally asked the question that was terrifying him. Why did it come out so childish?
"I promise." Duncan put a reassuring hand slowly around Richie's neck. When the teen didn't pull away, the Scot risked slightly pulling him forward. When he still didn't resist, Duncan pulled him into a hug.
"Now you get ready for bed, okay?"
Richie nodded as Duncan released him.
Duncan suddenly felt his nerves grate. He tried not to let it get to him, but he couldn't take it anymore.
"Richie, let's think of something else for you to call me. That just doesn't feel right."
"I'm sorry, Mac- " Richie stopped suddenly.
"There you go. That'll work. I've answered to that off and on a few times over the years."
"What did I say?"
"Mac. Works for me."
"Cool." Richie smiled shyly.
"Now, get dressed for bed then come on out in the kitchen for some hot chocolate, okay? We need to discuss school. It starts next week, you know?"
"No, I've already graduated." Richie ran around to the side of his bed and fumbled in his backpack.
"You're only seventeen." Duncan smiled.
"Yeah, but I got all my credits, and I took a night school course to make up for a class I failed. And my birthday is just later than everyone else's is. My social worker set it up. She knew I'd drop out if I didn't get it over with, I guess." Richie proudly produced a bound diploma with his tirade of excuses. "See?" He beamed up at Duncan, his warm blue eyes smiled proudly.
"Wow," Duncan exclaimed as he opened the diploma. "And here's a picture of the proud graduate in his cap and gown."
"Yeah, Angie's mom took that."
Duncan heard the tinge of regret in the boy's words, and he knew Richie would have liked to have had parents of his own there. "Can we show this to Tessa? She'll be very proud of it."
"Well sure." Richie tried to stand a little straighter. "Can I show her?"
"Of course." Duncan handed it back. "Bring it in and we'll discuss college, then."
"What! Me in college? That just doesn't sound like me, Mac?" Richie sniffed at the smell of scorched milk. "Is Tessa making the hot chocolate?" He grinned as the smell permeated the house.
"With my help," Duncan nodded and ran from the room.
Connor sat at the large desk in his study. Duncan perched on the edge toying with a stapler. It had started to rain again shortly after breakfast. Both Adam and Richie had vanished to their respective rooms for a welcomed rest. Joe was working at his laptop in the kitchen. Duncan had been nervously trying to explain the early morning altercation with Richie. As much as he blamed Connor for a lot of his problems, he did value his opinion, which he was getting an earful of.
"Duncan, it's just because he doesn't know you. He doesn't remember the way you and he communicated- barbaric as it might be. Give him time."
"Well he doesn't want time. Do you know what he told me? He said that he first suspected that I was me. That I was Duncan MacLeod. Now he's glad I'm not!" Duncan stood up suddenly in pain as he stapled his thumbs together. "Damn! That hurts!"
Connor tried not to laugh as he took the stapler from his younger kinsman and pulled the staple free. "It's a wonder you haven't lost your head in a paper cutter."
"I've managed to hang onto it just fine, thank you." Duncan sucked at his injured thumbs, first one then the other. "You know how I am with modern contraptions."
"He realized you could be you? Oh man." Connor plopped back in his chair. "We're going to have to tell him the truth. Surely, he'll understand we wanted him to know you first."
"We're not telling him, yet, I won't stand a chance."
"How can you say that? Don't you get it, Duncan? He doesn't even remember Duncan MacLeod, yet every instinct in him has been to find you."
"Because Adam told him I might know what happened. Well Adam was there ten seconds later, he just didn't want to tell him his teacher took his head."
"But you didn't know it was him."
"I should have. I should have felt his presence. I should have- "
"Duncan, what are you saying? It wasn't him, as you now know. Let go of the guilt."
"That's why I didn't feel his presence. Of course. That's why nothing clicked that the demon had suddenly become Richie. Everyday for all this time, I have wondered about that. Cursed myself. Hated myself for being too stupid, too slow to react differently. I really did kill the demon, not Richie."
"Yeah," Connor nodded sarcastically as he watched a huge chunk of guilt fall off of Duncan's shoulders. It was almost funny to watch his whole countenance change before his eyes as the realization set it.
"Oh, wow." Duncan's face suddenly relaxed into a smile. "Do you know what this means?"
"Yeah, you can quit kicking yourself around."
"Why didn't I figure this all out then? Why didn't I realize Richie was still there?"
"Well, you said Adam was there too. There was a demon involved as well. It must have been very confusing."
"Oh sure, blame me again." Adam peeked in the room.
"Bookworm, I figured you would be sleeping the day away after your all night hunting expedition."
"I can't sleep." Adam sprawled on the couch against the wall.
"Good, then you will sleep tonight and I won't have to run around looking for you. What the hell did you think you were doing anyway? You told Duncan last night you didn't know if you could take him."
"Well, I thought I'd give it a try. I can't run from every fight."
"This isn't your fight."
"Richie is my friend."
"And I'm his teacher." Connor came to his feet and went to loom over Adam threateningly. "If anyone is going to fight this guy it's going to be me. You pull a stunt like that again, you will regret it. I can easily make you wish you were dead."
"Been there, done that." Adam looked away sadly.
Connor leaned over closer until he had Adam's full attention. "But not with me. Remember that."
Adam slowly nodded, accepting Connor's threats as a promise. Connor gradually stood up and moved back to his desk, just as Richie came in. Adam broke his own trance with a large yawn and slid his lean form outward until he was lying on the couch.
"Hey Richie, what's up?" Connor asked.
"I, I just wanted to talk to Scott."
Duncan looked over at Richie curiously. He was now operating with a ton less guilt, so the kid had better tread easy, but his heart still wanted to melt. This was his Richie, alive and physically well. The sweet, angelic faced, delicate featured, reddish blond curls he and Tessa had fallen for so long ago. In the flesh. No demonic hallucination, no psychotic episodes.
Richie shuffled nervously, mistaking Scott's silent stare as a threat. "I just wanted to tell you, I'm sorry about this morning. I know you were trying to make a point and I didn't need to be such a jerk about it." Richie took a deep breath as he tried to find the words he was looking for. Adam yawned and rolled sleepily over on the couch with his back to them all, which caused all eyes to avert to him momentarily.
"I didn't mean what I said. Really." Richie nodded nervously biting the inside of his lip. "I'm sorry. It was pretty childish."
Duncan nodded his head also. "Apology accepted." He barely choked out through raw emotion and not the anger anyone else would have imagined was there, including Richie.
"Yeah, well okay. Good." Richie started backing out of the room. "Thanks."
"Well that was touching," Connor laughed. "You really shouldn?t have been so nice about it, Duncan. It did my heart good to see that apology hug, and all the smiling and making up."
"Shut up, Connor."
"Isn't guilt wonderful? This room has turned into a regular confessional today. Maybe I should become a priest."
"And who would you confess to every time you broke your vows?" Duncan wondered aloud.
Connor only smiled. Adam snored lightly.
Well, that didn't go so well, Richie thought to himself as he wandered into the kitchen in search of food. Joe's laptop computer was still on the kitchen table, but the Watcher was no where to be seen. Richie resisted the temptation to see if it had internet access, and went to the refrigerator for a sandwich. When he sat down at the table with his plate, curiosity got the best of him. He looked around to see if anyone was coming. Rolling the mouse with the slightest "accidental" brush of his hand the screen saver went away. "Download complete", flashed on the screen. "File name: Michaelis". Without so much of a second thought, Richie clicked the file open.
There before him was a complete list of all of Michaelis' known kills. Profile after profile revealed all his victims were relatively young in appearance and actual age. Michaelis had killed one centurion whose first death had been at the age of twenty during the American Civil War. He had been a little smaller than Richie was. Another guy was eighteen when his tribe was purposely given small pox infested blankets in the early 1800's.
"So, it's not just age, it's size. Or he just screwed up." Richie continued to read. Michaelis himself was 324. Richie decided he wouldn't be sending him a birthday card next month. "Joe already had all of this. Why is the file just now being downloaded?" Richie scrolled past the endless statistics, until he came across current location. As of two days ago, Michaelis was said to be in the Catskill Mountains. His watcher had even provided the address. "Choose your battles, the ground, and initiate the attack."
Richie studied the address on the computer screen until he had it memorized. He knew the cabin. It was located near the back edge of Connor's property.
Richie suddenly felt resigned to what he must do. If he died, he died. Fine, but if he lived and someone else died in his place he wouldn't be able to stand that. This was his responsibility and he might as well get it over with before he lost his nerve. He went upstairs for his sword.
Joe had gone to the study just after Richie had left, to let the MacLeods know that he was downloading a new file for Michaelis. He spent the next hour debating the intelligence of a plan that involved hiding Duncan's true identity from Richie. He found it ironic that it was now the younger clansman who wanted to keep his real name a secret.
"Come on, Duncan," Connor argued. "He just told you he hadn't meant what he said. If anything he was trying to get you to admit who you were."
"But how am I going to make him understand why it was a big secret? How am I suppose to explain to him that the third time I tried to take his head, I actually did? Okay, so I didn't, but do you have any idea how hard that will be to explain?" Duncan spoke in lowered tones, trying not to waken Adam or take the chance that Richie would happen by and hear him. "Sorry, Richie, it's me Duncan MacLeod, your long lost surrogate father. My hobbies include beheading immortals, opera, antiques, and seeing how many times I can narrowly miss killing my all but adopted child? I know you can't remember any of this anyway so why don't I just pretend it all never happened, too, and we can go off and start a new life together and live happily ever after until the next time I'm under a psychotic hypnosis, have a dark quickening or your likeness gets possessed by an evil demon. What the hell kind of an offer is that?"
"Has he always been like this?" Joe asked Connor who nodded dramatically. "It's got to be the Catholic upbringing. Guilt."
"I was raised Catholic, Richie's Catholic. It's got to be more. Because he's also a self righteous, hypocritical, judgmental bore." Connor pushed Duncan off his desk.
Joe grinned as Adam sleepily turned over. "I wonder how many religions he's had?" He nodded in Adam's direction. "Hey, Adam? What religion are you?"
Adam mumbled something that sounded like, "lots, then Christian."
"Yeah, okay." Joe leaned over the arm of his chair and prodded the young looking immortal with his cane. "Where were you baptized?"
"John. Saint John." He rolled back away from Joe throwing his arm over his head.
Duncan became alert. "Where's that?"
"Let him sleep and quit tormenting him." Connor laughed and so did Joe.
Duncan was the only one who understood the nonsensical answers. Someday he would have to get Methos to tell him more about the Holy Spring that he had taken him to during the dark quickening.
It took Joe about ten seconds to assess the situation when he, Duncan, and Connor had gone to the kitchen to see the new file Joe had been expecting. As far as they knew, Richie had gone back upstairs to sleep and Adam was doing likewise in the study.
"That little bastard!"
"What?" Connor and Duncan both looked up in shock.
"This file has already been opened and here's half of Richie's favorite sandwich."
"What could he have found out?" Connor asked.
Joe looked over at them both. "Let me read through and I'll find out."
Duncan bounded up the kitchen staircase, hollering for Richie. He didn't really expect to find him in his room and he was right. "Damn, when did he leave? Maybe he's outside." Duncan threw up the blinds in the second story bedroom window and looked out into the surrounding area. Richie was no where in sight.
Duncan stormed back down the stairs. "I don't care how old he is or who he thinks he is, he will wish I wasn't Duncan MacLeod when I'm done with him!"
"I take it he's not upstairs?" Connor stood up from looking over Joe's shoulder.
"No," Joe answered. "He went to visit some of the other tourists." When all eyes turned on him he continued as he nodded at the computer. "Michaelis' local address."
Connor looked back at the computer screen. "I know that area. Let's go. Perhaps Michaelis isn't there and he's bought some time. Joe will you stay with Adam until he awakens fully? Michaelis could come here."
"Yes, just go."
Richie found the cabin empty when he arrived, but he had no doubt this was the right place. He considered trying to break in, but decided it wouldn't do him any good. All he could do was let Michaelis know he had been there. He contemplated that idea for a minute. Why not? After all, Michaelis had started this game shortly after Adam had left New York. They had run into each other at the pizza parlor one afternoon and Michaelis had stalked him for several weeks, until Connor had insisted they leave town. Rachel was on a safari in Africa, so Connor decided to close the shop.
Maybe he should toy with Michaelis the way he had been toying with him for so long, but how long could he get by with that? It took perfect timing to manage to escape from Connor for even a few minutes. With reinforcements in the form of Scott, Adam and Joe, it had taken a miracle. The idea was just so tempting, though. Besides, if he tried to wait around for Michaelis to come back, Connor would realize he wasn?t home. Of course they might still think he was sleeping upstairs. But what if Joe notices the file is already open? Oh, yeah. They were going to be so ticked.
Oh come on, Richie, you're here to do battle with an immortal. Quit worrying about what your teacher is going to say. After all you're probably going to die today. Then Connor is going to be really pissed. You're worrying again.
Then it hit him. Yeah, he probably was going to die today. After all Michaelis was far more experienced than he was and a lot bigger. He was actually going to die, yet he still had no memory of what it was he had lived for. But what was his other alternative? To run? To be a coward? He may not know who Richie Ryan really was, but instinct told him he had never been a coward.
He couldn't just leave this fight to someone else. What if Adam had found Michaelis last night? How was he supposed to have lived with it if his "brother" had been killed? This was his responsibility. He could not be a coward, and he could not risk letting one of his friends die. After all, Connor and Scott had lived hundreds of years. What a waste it would be to lose them now. Richie Ryan hadn't even managed to last a quarter of a century. His past was a blank. He could die today and never be missed.
Okay, so maybe Connor would miss him. Scott claimed he would, but right now Scott wasn't exactly at the top of his list, though it would be nice to live long enough to find out if he was really Duncan MacLeod. Then of course there was Adam. Adam had spent a great deal of time keeping him alive. He would be really ticked and probably wish he could kill Richie himself. This new guy Joe seemed to like him too. It really would be nice to live long enough to remember his past and what these people meant to him.
Then he remembered the day he and Connor had made the long drive to the lodge.
Richie awoke to the pinkish clouds of sunset. Where was he? He was moving along a rode it would seem by the trees that swooshed past him through the window of the car. Why did the view seem so funny? He felt around him a bit and realized he was laying in the back seat of Connor's SUV. His jaw was a little sore and he was a bit stiff. Memory flooded back. Connor had punched him. Connor had knocked him out cold and now here he was traveling along in a car along a country road. He sat up with a sudden rush to make sure who was driving.
"Good afternoon, Sleeping Beauty." Connor's sarcastic accent greeted him.
Richie felt a sense of relief as the panicky fear that Michaelis was actually behind the wheel abated. But he wasn't relieved enough to be friendly. He flopped back down on the seat with a groan and lay there letting the throbbing in his head settle down. "Damn you."
"You wouldn't be the first." Connor's voice even smiled.
"You didn't have the right to do that."
"Sure I did. I'm your teacher, and I will tell you when you're ready. You're not ready."
"And when will I be in your estimation?" Richie challenged.
"Maybe a year. Maybe never. It depends on how you use that stubbornness. There will always be some you are never ready for. Don't let it get you down."
"So, if Michaelis was more like me, I might be ready?" Richie sat up eagerly and climbed into the front seat.
Connor cocked his head slightly and gave it some thought. Finally he nodded. "Maybe, but if he was more like you he wouldn't be the type to pick a fight."
"I don't know if that's a compliment or not, but I meant size- and experience." Richie added as an after thought when he saw Connor about to object to only the size requirement.
Connor laughed his warm choppy laugh. "Don't be in such a hurry, Richie. You have the potential to grow very old."
"I doubt it. Not if I never get any experience."
"So you want to go out killing immortals just to get some experience?"
"No, of course not, but it just doesn't feel right running from a fight. I'm not a coward."
"No, damn it, you're not," Connor laughed. "But it would be a hell of a lot easier to keep you alive if you were."
Richie grinned shyly. He could never stay mad at Connor long enough. "When will I be ready to keep myself alive?"
"Someday, maybe never."
"The age you died is a definite disadvantage. Like it or not, you may always have to be guarded like a nineteen year old kid."
"That would really suck."
"What, you're tired of me already?"
"No, of course not. It's just that for as far back as my memory goes I've been guarded like some fragile object, and secreted around like a stolen one at that. I don't get it. Why can't I remember the past? Why do I have to be under lock and key? Adam said I was an orphan, so why does it really matter if I know who I am or if someone takes my head? At least I could breath."
"You talk a lot for someone who can't breath."
"You know what I mean." Richie glared from a sideways glance and nervously tapped his fingers on the dash.
"Yeah and I think you're being a whiner. Why should no one care just because you were an orphan and can't remember your past? What is it that you are saying, Richie? You think we should all quit caring about you?"
"I just don't get it. You and Adam have completely changed your way of life because of me. Just because you feel like you owe it to some guy I can't remember and who obviously doesn't care if I'm alive. First Adam, taking me away to live in Greece until I got better, and now you coming out here to- where the hell are we, anyway?"
"Upstate New York. I have an old hunting lodge. I thought we could stay there for awhile. I'm tired of the city anyway. We can train better up here. Less interruptions, cleaner air-"
"Like that matters. We are immortals." Richie turned on the radio blasting them with the latest Bon Jovi hit. I'm not going to live forever, I just want to live while I'm alive.
"That doesn't mean that healthy things aren't good for us." Connor quickly changed the radio station and turned it down. "It just means we can recover quicker- and come back to life, of course. Look, Richie, I understand your frustration, but you need to get some things straight."
"Like what?" Richie turned back to the Bon Jovi station. You gotta stand tall when they're calling you out. Don't bend, don't break, baby don't back down.
"Stop that." Connor turned the music off completely. "I'm trying to talk to you."
"Fine." Richie turned around in the seat, his back to the door, fully focused on Connor. He sat there with a pouting look on his face. "Give me all your wisdom and insight."
"I might give you another bop in the chops if you don't straighten up."
"I don't believe you did that." Richie turned the rearview mirror around to look at his jaw. Naturally there wasn't so much as a bruise left.
Connor readjusted the mirror while trying to keep an eye on the road. "Richie, be still. Listen to me."
Richie finally sat still and looked up at him with those blue eyes and baby face. Connor had to stifle a laugh. He was such a kid. "Look, Richie. Adam and I haven't done all of this just because we felt we owed it to Duncan. We did it because of you. You are our friend and we want to help you. Eventually we may run into Duncan, yes, and I'm sure he'll be very grateful, but we have kept you alive for you as much as for us. We happen to enjoy having you around."
"But I'm such a pain in the ass. You said so yourself."
"Yes, you are, but it has nothing to do with your amnesia or with Duncan MacLeod." Connor grinned.
"Damn it, Connor. I hate it when you do that." Richie shook his head in frustration.
"Look, just because you don't have a memory and you don?t have an actual family doesn't mean you have no value. The rest of us know you and remember you. Duncan would be here if we could find him to tell him you are with me. Did it ever occur to you that he might not know where to find you?"
"You said he was away on business."
"Well eventually, he'll have to come back." Connor tried a quick save, wishing now they had told him from the start that they really had no idea what happened to Duncan. Control the frustration MacLeod. "And he'll wonder where you are. When he does, Adam will be there to tell him."
"How do we know? How will we know if Adam finds him? He doesn't know where we are. There's no phone number to reach him at."
"He'll figure it out. I'll try to contact him soon. I swear I'm going to buy him a cell phone. I can't just go leaving messages everywhere. Michaelis could catch on."
"No, idiot, in New York. When Rachel gets back from her safari- "
"You let her go everywhere!"
"Richie, she's sixty years old and has seen the world. She survived WWII. She doesn't come attached with a permanent-honing device that attracts immortal bad guys. Sometimes, fathers have to let go." Connor said sadly.
Richie wasn't lost to the hidden meaning behind Connor's words. That would really suck. How could you raise a mortal child knowing they would one day be older than you and eventually die?
"But, little immortal punks like you can stay around forever if you don't do something stupid." Connor grinned. "So don't do something stupid."
Richie remembered the sadness behind Connor's eyes that afternoon. He had realized Connor was trying to prepare himself for the eventual loss of his daughter. Connor was a tough guy, but he obviously loved deeply. Suddenly Richie felt like a complete idiot. Connor really did care about him. Connor had treated him like his own son for over a year. And now he was probably going to get himself killed and Connor would end up killing Michaelis anyway. So his death would be senseless. Why was he worried about something as stupid as his honor anyway? Go home and think about this some more. Yeah, go home.
Richie turned away from watching the cabin and went back to the trail. After a hundred yards of cursing himself and alternating between calling himself a coward and an idiot, he felt the buzz. He turned around slowly, freezing in his tracks.
Michaelis filled the narrow path.
To Part 9