All Your Immortality

Part Three

Duncan and Methos searched Connor's apartment for any clues as to where the older Scot and Richie might have gone when they left New York. They had obviously left quickly, but not extremely urgently. Duncan examined the refrigerator and cabinets. Connor had apparently taken the time to dispose of all perishable items and take out the trash, which indicated that he planned to be gone for awhile. He had not covered the furniture or canceled the newspaper deliveries according to his assistant, Rachel. She had finally taken care of that after Connor and Richie and been gone for several weeks.

"Duncan, I'm getting worried." Rachel rubbed her folded arms nervously. "I'm used to him disappearing like this, but I haven't heard anything for months now."

"Connor's a survivor, Rachel. He'll be fine. He gave you no indication where he was going?"

"None. He just called one day, and said that he and the boy, Richie, were leaving town for awhile. He would call me later."

Duncan's keen eyes swept the living room with scrutiny, finally resting on the cocktail table. There were several books, an antique sculpture, and a small arrangement of stones. In the corner of the room, he recognized Tessa's sculpture. So that is what happened to the one she had been working on before they went to Paris. He hadn't told her at the time, but it hadn't made a lot of sense to him when she was working on it. He, like Richie, didn't always understand what Tessa's sculptures meant, but he was more tactful about his ignorance than his young ward. Seeing the sculpture here in Connor's apartment, it suddenly became crystal clear that this was a representation of what had once been his family.

His hand caressed the form that represented Tessa. If Richie was truly alive, then the majority of his family was still intact. He choked back tears as his other hand brushed against the representation of Richie. Try as he might to rest his hand on the clay, he could not bring himself to touch it. He didn't know how. With Tessa's piece he could clutch hold of it desperately, knowing he would never see her again. But Richie stood somewhere in the shadows between dreams and reality. If he reached out and accepted him too soon, he might disappear forever. Duncan couldn't go through that again.

His mind wandered as he contemplated how these strange misfit forms of clay had become a family. One four hundred year old Scot, a beautiful French artist, and a smart mouth, slightly hyper active, teenage American street kid. And off to the side, standing strong and supportive was Connor's piece, a five hundred-year-old Scot who'd spent so many centuries in France that he now spoke with a French accent.

"He'll need watching."

"I know. I will." Even as Duncan had spoken the words he knew his life was going to change forever. He couldn't begin to predict how or to what extent, but his simple acknowledgement and been spoken with all the sadness the future would bring.

 

As it turned out, watching Richie, soon became a full time job. Duncan had barely slept during that first night after he had left Richie alone in the bear's cave at the old zoo. The argument that Richie would be fine in the cave because he'd lived that way for months was growing thin. What if an immortal came along? At least Michelle always attended school on Holy Ground, where no immortal could harm her. How had Richie avoided other immortals so long?

Most kids did avoid other immortals or they didn't live to be his age. Typically they weren't discovered until they began to branch away from the protection of home and school. Like Richie, most drifted through the foster care system or adoption agencies, never staying one place very long. Duncan had never met an immortal who knew his own birth parents. All were foundlings.

He paced around the shop all morning. Richie had agreed to be in at 8:00 am, yet here it was, nearly 10:00 and there was no sign of him. By 11:00, Duncan decided to close the shop early for lunch and go look for him. When he went to flip the open sign over he felt a faint sensation of a pre-immortal. Richie was shuffling toward the shop, through the pouring rain.

"Hey, what are you doing? Get in here."

"I'm sorry I'm late. My alarm didn't go off."

 

Duncan remembered the bleak surroundings of the cave and doubted that there was such an alarm. "Hey, no problem. Good grief, you're soaking wet. You need an umbrella or a rain coat."

"Yeah, I guess." Richie looked down at his feet as they sloshed onto the carpet.

"Take those off, and we'll throw them in the dryer."

Richie quickly shed the wet shoes and socks and followed Duncan through the store and into the laundry room just off the kitchen. "Okay, drop your stuff there, and then you can take a shower. I've got some old sweats you can wear until your clothes dry."

"No, really, I don't..."

"Yes you do. The guest room has a private shower so you won't have an audience."

"Why do you have a shower in the living room?"

"I have no idea. It was here and we built around it. We have a private shower in our room too. That one isn't used often."

Once Richie had been able to quit replaying the shower scene from pyscho in his head he actually enjoyed the steamy warmth and made it last as long as he could. It had been weeks since he had managed a real bath. When he had finally ran the hot water empty he stepped out of the shower. True to his word MacLeod had brought in some old sweats and socks he could wear, while his clothes were in the wash. So this was good, he told himself. He still had his head, and MacLeod hadn't tried to visit him in the shower. When he immerged from the guestroom he found the source of his nightmares in the kitchen making a warm pot of soup. This guy was a trip! If he wasn't sword fighting he was cooking and running a store.

"Sit down, lunch is ready."

"I came to work. You don't have to?"

"Sit." Duncan ordered with such force that Richie complied. In a moment he'd placed a hot bowl of vegetable soup, rolls, and hot chocolate in front of the boy. "Now eat, or do you need help?"

"No, I can do it."

Duncan noticed Richie winced every time he swallowed. "Do you have a sore throat?"

"I'm fine." Richie concentrated on his soup. Duncan stood and went to a nearby cabinet. He brought a bottle of Tylenol back to the table, opening it along the way. "Here, take these, unless you have an allergy."

"I'm fine."

"Now." Duncan remained standing over the youth until he had taken the medication. When he was convinced Richie had swallowed both tablets, he returned to his own lunch. "You shouldn't have been walking in the rain last night or today. I could have given you a ride."

"Well, pardon me for saying it, but I don't think you'd exactly fit in my neighborhood. It's kind of dangerous."

Duncan smiled kindly. "Thanks for the warning."

"But I guess you're kind of used to that." Richie had realized how ridiculous his comment was as it rolled off his lips.

"A bit." He smiled again. "Eat your soup and you can have a cold Popsicle. That might make your throat feel a little better."

Richie ate the rest of his lunch quietly. Duncan made a few remarks about the weather and the basketball game they had watched the night before. He knew that Richie was probably just being quiet because he didn't feel good, so he supplied most of the conversation. He worried that they boy might still think of him as a hideous serial killer and subconsciously he overplayed the average Joe roll. Last night Richie had been caught up in the surprise and intrigue over the existence of immortals. A long night in a dark cave might have brought the brutality of it all back into focus.

"Are you like trying to convince me you're a nice guy or something?"

"Excuse me?" Duncan understood what he meant. He was just stalling for time.

"You know I promised you I wouldn't tell anyone what I saw."

"Right. No, either you believe I am or you don't. There's not a lot I can do to convince you of that. I thought we were having a normal conversation."

"Why do you want to?"

"Why not?"

"Look, I just came here to work. Can I do that now? I've got things to do later."

"Yeah, sure." Duncan nodded. This was going to take some work.

He felt bad now that he had chosen a rather strenuous day of chores for the kid. His plan was to make Richie think twice before he broke into another shop. Richie had obviously not returned because he wanted to. He merely felt obligated. He was just serving his community service or doing time in his perception of the situation. Duncan was tempted to tell him to come back another day when he was feeling better, but what was the kid's alternative? An hour-long walk in the rain to return to a cold wet damp cave no longer fit for the animals it was designed for.

"Okay, this is the storeroom I want you to clean out. It needs swept, dusted, and organized."

"This whole room?" Richie scanned the large storeroom not believing his eyes.

"Yep, think you can handle it?"

"Yeah, sure." He lied.

"Good." Duncan shoved the broom into Richie's hand. When his large hand engulfed the boy's he noticed that he felt a bit feverish.

Richie took the broom as he shuddered from a cold chill. He immediately started sweeping the large open area.

"Okay, well have fun." Duncan smiled sarcastically.

"What ever."

"Excuse me?"

"Oh, pardon me, sir! Of course I'll do as you wish immediately."

"Have you got a problem, Richie?"

The kid looked suddenly nervous. Here it was, the part where he gets sent away. It never took long. "Maybe this isn't what I had in mind."

"Well, maybe you don't get to choose. After all I think the punishment should fit the crime."

"What ever."

"Richie, get busy." Duncan turned and walked away, knowing the boy was spoiling for a fight. It was as though he wanted Duncan to toss him out, or as though he expected it and decided to hurry it along. He wondered how many homes the kid had been in. He was just another evil foster parent or a new shelter for the day.

Duncan peeked in at Richie every once in awhile and noticed he was making some progress. He moved slow and lethargically but he kept a fairly steady pace. After a few hours the highlander decided Richie would stick around with out being spied on. He was working quietly in his office when a loud crash shattered the tranquility of the rain pounding outside. Duncan ran into the storeroom to find Richie trying to pick up the pieces of an antique crystal vase.

"What did you do?"

"I'm sorry! Was it expensive? I'll pay for it."

"You couldn't possibly."

"How much was it?"

"Fifty thousand dollars."

Richie gasped as the piece of glass he was holding ripped through the flesh of his hand. Blood began to flow freely onto the floor. "Richie!" Duncan grabbed the hand and pulled the glass out, then quickly applied pressure to the wound. "Come on, stand up and walk with me. I'll hold on."

"Just let go."

"Come." Duncan calmly moved to the kitchen. He ran cold water over the wound, washing away enough blood to get a clear view. The cut was actually more of a gash. "You'll need stitches."

"No, I can't."

"Why?"

"Because I don't have a guardian right now. If there's no one to sign for me, I'll get sent to juvie until they find a home for me. Please? I know they will."

"I'll call a friend of mine who's a doctor. Perhaps he can do it here. "

"Why don't I just hold it for awhile?"

"That won't work and you know it." The minute Duncan let go the wound began to bleed worse. "Hold it tighter, Richie." He quickly grabbed the cordless phone and returned to hold onto the bloody hand. He flipped through his address book for a phone number. "With any luck he' s cutting out early to play a round of racquet ball."

"Is he like you?"

"Yes." Duncan heard Mark Thomas pick up his cell phone. "Mark, its Duncan MacLeod. I need a favor. It's rather important. Could you drop by and bring your bag?"

Duncan listened for a moment. "You know I wouldn?t ask, if it wasn't important. Thanks, I'll owe you another one. See you shortly."

Richie's intensely worried young face looked questioningly at Duncan. "It's okay. He'll be here in a few minutes. We'll just keep pressure on this till he arrives, okay?"

Richie nodded, nervously rocking back and forth. "I'm really sorry."

"It's okay, don't worry about it. "

"But, it's so expensive. I'm really sorry. I've never broken anything that expensive."

"Richie, I have insurance, don't worry." Duncan wasn't lying exactly. He had insurance, it just didn't happen to cover the vase Richie broke. "So what happened?"

"I don't know. I bumped into a statue or something. Like an idiot, I jumped, knocked into the table and it fell down."

"Well, not to worry." The Scot smiled reassuringly. "This reminds me of the time I was about twelve and I cut myself on my father's sword."

"Did you heal instantly?"

"No, not in those days and stitches weren't as easy as they are now. Then when my father found out I'd been playing with his sword!"

"Mad, huh?"

"The wound was nothing compared to his wrath. If I hadn't already been injured he'd have killed me."

Richie looked sheepish. "How did you know?"

"Know what?"

"That I was playing with a sword?"

"There's not too much chance you'll pull something like that over on me." Duncan shook his head. "And fortunately for you, you are already injured."

Richie swallowed nervously. He had lived in plenty of foster homes where it wouldn't have mattered if he was injured or not. He began to rock just slightly, trying to withdraw into the quiet safe spot in his mind. He had spent so much time there as a small boy. It was the only place he could truly hide from everything. Right now he wanted to run away and never come back. How could he deal with this? He'd just broken a fifty thousand dollar vase that belonged to a headhunter. Now he was sitting here bleeding all over said headhunter's kitchen. What if the scent of blood made him go crazy like a wild grizzly or something? Or what if after the stitches were in and the doctor was gone, MacLeod decided to take the money out of his hide? Well at least that would be honest. Right now he had a strong hunch that MacLeod didn't normally act this way.

Duncan soon realized that Richie seemed to be drifting off to another world. He wasn't sure if it was just his personality or if his injury was getting to him. Regardless, he knew he needed to keep the boy awake and alert. "Hey, you know back in my day, there weren't too many real doctors. If you got cut like this your mother or father just pulled out their big old needle and sewed you up. We didn't know much about sterilizing either."

"That's gross, MacLeod."

"Yeah, but true. I remember once when I?." Duncan knew that if he told Richie enough old stories they would pass the time much faster.

 

Mark arrived within minutes, saving Richie from a long walk down memory lane. Richie wasn't real sure why the doctor looked at him so curiously, but it made him a little nervous. The knowing look and funny nod he gave MacLeod increased the anxiety. When Dr. Thomas sat down, though, he seemed to be very relaxed and friendly.

"Well that's a heck of pin prick. Were you bored and had nothing better to do?"

"Not exactly."

"Have you had stitches before?"

"Sure."

"Good, you seem like a fast healer, you'll be good as new soon." Mark smiled up at Duncan not missing the Scot's warning glare.

Richie watched as the doctor rummaged through his bag. "Duncan, does Tessa have a sewing basket, I forgot my needle and thread."

Richie started to get up, but Duncan forced him back down. "He's kidding, Richie. Relax. Aren't you, Mark?"

"Oh, here it is," the doctor produced a suture kit.

The teen was relieved when the doctor applied a topical anesthetic and antiseptic before giving him a shot to numb his hand. "So, any reason we're not doing this in my office or at the hospital?"

 

Richie started to answer, but was seized by a violent coughing spell. Duncan gave him a quick glass of juice and replied for him.

"Richie, is currently a free agent- a few months too soon."

"I see." He began to sew the wound closed. "So why are you hanging out with this cantankerous Scot?"

"Just lucky I guess." Richie didn't really want to talk, and he didn't really consider himself lucky. If only he knew MacLeod wouldn?t some day take his head.

Within minutes the doctor had finished sewing and dressing the wound. "Now to check out the real problem. Open wide and say ahhhhhh."

Richie did as ordered without questioning. Before he was done the doctor had given the boy a complete physical. He seemed to realize the kid had been without medical care for some time. When he finished he gave Duncan an accusatory look. "He has an infected throat, two ear infections, and bronchitis, on the verge of pneumonia, and one cavity."

"Hey, don't look at me, I just found him."

That seemed a rather strange way for MacLeod to respond, but then MacLeod was rather strange.

"Well, he needs medical care. I'll give you several prescriptions, but I want him in bed for the next few days. I'll stop by tomorrow to check on him. The cavity can wait till his birthday, if it's really that close. I'm going to start him off with this shot of penicillin. This should help the wound and everything else. Is he staying with you?"

"Yes."

"No!" Richie exclaimed.

"It's here or Juvie, Richie, take your pick. By tomorrow you'll be in a hospital anyway, if you don?t."

"He saw too much the other night, Mark. He thinks I'm a raving lunatic and doesn't really trust me."

"Oh, I see. The light show and all?" Mark nodded along with Duncan. He turned back to his bag and prepared a second shot, which he administered as he talked. "Oh, Richie, I wouldn't worry about this guy. The game has been going on for centuries- maybe forever. It's what we do to survive. Most of us can get along, but then some idiot comes along and tries to ruin your life. If he's not stopped, he stops you. It's as simple as all that."

"Have you?"

"I'm alive, right? Luckily in my business I get to save more lives than I take."

Richie nodded his head thoughtfully. He was very tired and groggy. It might be nice to spend the night in a real bed. He yawned loudly. The guestroom was nice. The doctor seemed to think MacLeod was okay. Before he realized it, Duncan had pulled him to his feet. When his knees started to buckle, the older man caught him up.

"Just relax." Duncan soothed.

"Don't worry, Richie. I gave you something to help you sleep. You'll be fine."

"Kay." Richie was so drugged he didn't even remember why he had started to object earlier.

"Why did you do that, Mark?"

"He needs rest and he needs to stay off the streets, which is where you obviously found him. He doesn't trust you, but he can't go anywhere else. By the time he wakes up he should realize you haven't killed him yet, despite the opportunities. Then maybe he'll trust you."

Richie slept most of the late afternoon and evening. Every so often he would wake up in a violent coughing fit. Mark had ordered antibiotics and inhalers, which Duncan had the drugstore deliver along with several cartons of juice and more Popsicle's. He found himself suddenly playing nursemaid to a teenage boy. It wasn't the first time in his life he had to care for an ailing friend and he actually proved to be quite good at it. The kid finally seemed to accept the fact that he was ill and that Duncan was not going to kill him. The turning point came when Richie's fever soared to 104 F during the night. Duncan had stayed in the guestroom with the boy until his temperature had finally began to drop. Richie had babbled incoherently for awhile, yet clearly enough that Duncan could tell he was dreaming about past abuses. He tried to sooth him as he bathed his forehead with cool clothes and encouraged him to drink ice water. The longer he was with the boy the more he realized just how much it would mean to actually have a child of his own. It was at once sweet and terrifying.

When Richie awoke to find MacLeod sitting over him he was somewhat nervous. Here he was asleep in a bed in a room he had never slept in before, in the home of a man whom he'd seen kill someone a few nights ago.

"Oh man, what am I doing here still?"

"You've been very sick. Mostly you've slept for the past couple of days."

"I'm sorry. I'll get out of here in a minute."

"Why would you want to do that?"

"This is your home. I didn't mean to stay so long."

"Richie, you are a guest. Don't worry about it."

"A guest?"

"Sure. Why not?"

"I can think of lots of reasons. Where are my clothes?"

"You don't need them. You still have a fever and several days of medicine to take."

"Several days? I can't do that. I have things I have to do for people."

"Richie, you're career as a thief is done and over. Forget it."

"That's not what I mean."

"What ever." Duncan mimicked one of Richie's earlier responses.

"Look, I can take my medicine with me, right?"

 

"Wrong. Now, I don't want to be a hard ass, but you are going to stay here until you're well, or you can go back to juvie. It's your choice."

"Damn it, MacLeod."

"Watch your mouth. Is it really so bad here?"

"No, that's not it."

"You still don't trust me, do you?"

"Well, sure. I'm mean why not after all this, but I- I just don?t get it."

"There's nothing to get. You're going to stay here until you're better. Then if you still want a job you'll have one."

"But what about your lady?"

"Well, she'll be back tonight. Her plane arrives at 6:30. So I'm going to fix her a big dinner."

"I'm sure she's not going to want me hanging around."

"She and I have already discussed the possibility of you working for us. I'm sure just as soon as she realizes you need a place to stay she won't mind."

"I have a place to stay."

"The bears' cave at the zoo, is not exactly a safe, warm, cozy home, is it?"

"How did you know?"

"I followed you the first night to make sure you got home okay. You're not going to go back there again."

"You can't tell me what to do."

"Sure I can. You listen to me here or you listen to the guards in Juvie." It's your choice.

"This is intimidation. That's illegal, you know?"

Duncan smirked as he nodded. "Yes, at it's best. You stay here until your 18th birthday. After that, if you still aren't happy, you may leave."

"This sucks so big."

"It doesn't have to. It's your choice. Now we're going to take your temperature and if your fever is down you're going to get a shower."

"This is so weird! How can you?" Richie was cut short as Duncan stuck the thermometer in his mouth and placed a hand on his forehead.

"Well you've still got a fever, I can tell you that."

Richie gave him a sarcastic smile followed by a heart felt frown.

 

"You did what?" A french accent shrieked.

Richie jumped nervously at the sound of Tessa's exclamation, which could be heard from the living room. Now he was in for it. She was back and she obviously wasn't happy to find that she had a semi permanent houseguest. "How could you, without asking me?"

"We talked about it."

"We talked about him working here. Not living here!"

"Tessa, he can hear you."

"Good! Let him."

On that happy sentiment, Richie could hear no more responses. He dragged himself out of bed and began to dress quietly and quickly. He stuffed his few possessions in a small bag and waited for the right moment to make his escape. Once he heard Duncan shuffle Tessa off into their room, he slipped out of his room and through the living room. From the sounds of things as they passed by his room they had obviously found a subject they could both agree on. MacLeod would be too busy to worry about him for awhile.

 

Duncan and Tessa lay snuggled up in bed. "Did I mention that I missed you?"

"No, but you certainly have a nice way of showing me. You can show me all night if you want to." Tessa laughed.

"Umm, I'd love to."

"But?"

"But, we have dinner waiting. If it hasn't ruined by now."

"Ah yes, dinner, and the matter of your young guest. Duncan, what were you thinking, inviting a thief into our home?"

"Tess, you said yourself the other night, he's just a boy. You said he needed a break. You should have seen the way he was living. He's too young to rent a room or an apartment. He has no one to sign for him."

"So sign for him."

"No, Tess, it's not just that. Would you please just talk to him? Just meet him."

"I think you've already made up our minds."

"No, it won't be like that. If you really don?t want him here then he'll have to go."

"Duncan, he's not a puppy. You can't try him out and then send him to the pound if he doesn't train well."

"Oh, I think he's used to it. After all he's been in and out of one foster home after another. He pretty much expects it not to work out."

"Well, he's a smart boy."

"Yeah." Duncan set up and started to dress. "I guess you both know what you're talking about."

"So, why doesn't he think it will work?" Tessa was suddenly very curious.

"Oh, I don't know. He doesn't think you'll like him. He's kind of terrified of you actually."

"Me?" Tessa gathered the covers around her as she sat up. "You and Connor are the ones running around with swords and darn near killing him. Why would he be afraid of me?"

"I don't know. I told him he was being silly. Why don't you come meet him and see if you can't change his mind."

Tessa had a sudden look of understanding cross her face, which was quickly followed with slamming a pillow into the back of Duncan's head. "Nice try, Duncan MacLeod."

Duncan captured the pillow and turned back to claim a long passionate kiss.

"Okay, I surrender." Tessa smiled. "I'll come and meet him."

"No hurry. Take a bath and I'll get dinner warmed up. I heard him up awhile ago."

"You like having him around, don't you?"

"I haven't thought much about it."

"Yeah, sure. I think you enjoy having a boy around. Maybe immortals should be able to have children. It doesn't seem to be fair."

"Only if they were immortal too, Tessa." Duncan said sadly.

"Of course." Tessa smiled understandingly.

"I'll get dinner."

Duncan stopped in to check on his young patient. Finding the bed empty he half expected to find Richie in the bathroom, but when he turned around he realized the door was open and he wasn't there. Well maybe he got hungry and was tired of waiting for him to come back.

"Hey, Richie, are you starving?" Duncan called out as he entered the kitchen. "No, Richie. Oh this is just great." He quickly made a thorough search of the building but didn't find the boy anywhere. He could not pick up the faintest sensation of the young pre-immortal.

"Tessa, I have to go out." Duncan called into the bathroom where he could here the shower running.

"What?"

Duncan went in and explained to Tessa what was going on. Instead of the relief on her face that he'd half-feared and expected she was immediately concerned. "Hand me a towel. I'll come with you."

"Tess, you don't belong in that neighborhood."

"I'm a grown woman Duncan, I think I know where I belong. Don't you dare leave without me. This is my fault. He must have heard me complaining."

A half an hour later Duncan and Tessa entered the bear cave at the abandoned zoo. Tessa was appalled at the sight of so many runaways in one location. It was a warm night and a number of the kids were standing around, smoking, talking, and drinking. A few were a bit more athletically inclined and were roller-skating around the old park.

"If everyone knows that these children are here, why don't they do something about it?"

"The jails aren't big enough. Half of them are 18 if they're a day. The other half would give fake identities."

"And Richie lived here?"

Duncan smiled at her use of the past tense. "Yes, back here in the bear's cave."

"Now how unsanitary is that?"

"Shh." Duncan heard several voices. He slowly looked around the corner. He tried to control the shocked look on his face, studied each of the teens for a moment and decided Richie wasn't in there.

"What did you see?"

"Let's just say that Richie wasn't one of them."

"What were they doing?"

"Having a post adolescent raging hormone field day."

"What?"

"An orgy."

"Oh mon Dieu. Children?"

"Well, yes, in my opinion. Let's just move on."

"Where is he then?"

"Let's do some asking."

Duncan spent the next hour, looking around the zoo for Richie. He questioned several groups of kids, but all insisted that they hadn't seen him around. Duncan was beginning to believe them.

"But where else would he be?"

Duncan was thoughtful for a moment trying to recall what Richie had said that first evening. "The lion's den." They rushed across the zoo grounds trying to remember where the old lion's den was. The zoo had been closed for several years, but both Duncan and Tessa had spent a number of afternoons here when they had first moved to Seattle.

"It was over here!" Tessa insisted and headed down a dark path on her own. Duncan rushed to catch up with her. As they grew closer he was suddenly hit by a pre-immortal hum.

Tessa didn't miss the reaction. She almost gasped as she realized what had happened. "Duncan! Is he immortal? Is he like you?"

"No, Tess. He's just a boy."

"So there's an age requirement?" She asked sarcastically.

"No, but Richie is not immortal." Yet.

"But he will be, won't he? That would explain that comment Connor made about being a teacher."

"Tessa, he must never know, no matter what. That's one of the rules, especially in Richie's case. If he found out, he might do something foolish. If he dies this young, he will never be able to survive in the game."

"Then what if he lives to be an old man?"

"That won't likely happen. And when the time comes, say when he's reached his peak- I would probably help him along."

"Help him along? You mean kill him?"

"It would be for his own good."

"You are crazy. This is all crazy."

"Shh. Let me check in here." Duncan slowly entered the lion's den. The further in he went the stronger the faint hum became. Then he saw him. Huddled in a ball in the back corner of the man made cave shivering with a fever. "Hey, Richie, dinner's ready."

Richie rolled his head over and looked at him. "Oh man."

"Oh yeah, you're busted." Duncan scooped him up. "Looks like you lost your old room?"

"Yeah, and all my stuff. Put me down."

"Not hardly. Grab that backpack, Tessa."

"Why are you doing this?"

"Richie, just be quiet. I'm not in the mood to explain my every move."

Tessa reached out and touched Richie's forehead causing the boy to flinch. "You have a fever. What were you thinking coming all the way across town in this weather?"

"I don't want to be in your way."

"If you are in my way, I will be the first to tell you."

"You did. Loud and clear." Richie was too ill to care what he said or how it might be taken.

"Oh, Richie, I'm sorry. When I came home I was tired. Duncan threw all of this at me. Let's just you and me start fresh, okay?" She caressed his cheek.

Richie nodded and closed his eyes.

"Now how did you get him to agree so quickly?"

"Never be afraid to apologize, Duncan."

 

Duncan smiled to himself as he thought of how quickly Tessa had charmed the teen into a second chance. As it worked out Richie's pitiful history played on her sympathy and she was usually very accepting of the boy. There were plenty of rough spots between all three of them, but most of the instances served to draw them closer.

Rachel watched Duncan, who was seemingly lost in his own world. He was so much like Connor, always carrying the weight of the universe, and its past, on his shoulders.

"I still don't see anything here that would help." Methos sighed heavily as he walked in and flopped down on the couch in defeat. "Everything is the same as when we were living here. Except Connor isn't here to tell me to keep my feet off the coffee table." Methos started to put his feet up on the table until he noticed the pattern of runes he almost kicked around.

"Hello! Runes? I don't remember these." He swung his lean frame back up and snatched a couple of them up. "Maybe this will give us a clue."

"Don't!" MacLeod almost shouted.

"Relax, MacLeod, I know how to read these. Besides they're turned over. I have to pick them up."

"Put it back where you found it. Exactly." Duncan moved threateningly closer.

"Mac- "

"Now!"

"Fine. Don't accept help from an expert. They were right here and here." Methos carefully placed each rune just where he had found them.

"He's gone home." Duncan stared at the arrangement carefully.

"What?" Methos griped. "You haven't even tried to read them."

"Connor doesn't understand runes, and never cares to. That pattern is a universal camper's sign that shows you've gone home. He's laid them on a piece of our clan's colors."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes," Duncan was almost smiling. "Now the biggest problem is deciding where that home is. He has several."

Adam nodded slowly. "So I guess we start checking them one by one."

 

As Duncan and Adam walked along the streets of New York City, trying to find a restaurant for dinner, Duncan remained almost completely quiet. Adam chattered nervously, hoping for some hint of forgiveness from MacLeod, but he was beginning to realize it wasn't going to come.

"Here, this pizza place is good." Methos was opening the door before Duncan could respond.

"How do you know? Oh, I forget, you're five thousand years old, you know everything."

"Yeah, we had pizza every night back in the bronze age."

"Do you really have to eat right now?" MacLeod followed him into the restaurant.

"Yes, I'm famished. Besides our plane doesn't leave for three hours."

"Adam!" The waiter shouted. "It's been months since I've seen any of you. Where are your friends?"

"Well, they've been out of town apparently. We came here hoping to find they had returned. But no luck."

"Ah well, you still have good friends here. What can we get you?"

Adam quickly ordered an extra large pizza with the works. Duncan chose a booth as out of the way as possible. He watched as Adam conversed easily with the waiter. Two more patrons, a mother and son team, entered the otherwise empty restaurant. The boy was obviously in his late teens and tired of being led around all day shopping. The mother was a tall gorgeous blond in her late thirties or early forties. Duncan watched as the two debated over the pizza and their earlier afternoon. How many times had he watched such playful bantering between Tessa and Richie? Just in the short year they had spent together they had developed such a deep bond. Tessa often drug Richie along on shopping excursions much to his mocked disgust. He would pretend he was just being used as a "mall caddy", but he loved the attention even more. Duncan had been pleasantly surprised with the ease in which the two had taken to each other. Richie seemed to fill the void Tessa tried to hide. She enjoyed mothering the teenager as much as he enjoyed being mothered.

 

"I can't believe we're getting married." Tessa almost purred in Duncan's ear as they lay snuggled in bed, practically hidden in the plush comforters.

"We're getting what?" Duncan mocked a groggy surprise. Tessa made a playful smack at him, causing the old Scot to practically giggle.

"You're not getting out of this. Remember Richie is a witness."

"What was his reaction?"

"Shocked, but happy. He didn't understand why after all this time."

"Well, you mortals are always so impatient."

"But he was happy." Tessa nestled closer to her lover. "Duncan, we're going to be a real family now. You, Richie, and me. Mrs. Tessa MacLeod. Mrs. Duncan MacLeod. Richie? Hey, that won't work. Duncan, we have to adopt Richie." Tessa propped up on an elbow excitedly.

"We have to? Are you pregnant?"

"I think you had too much to drink. Yes, of course we have to. It would be perfect."

"Tessa, Richie's far from perfect."

"You know what I mean."

"He's almost nineteen, Tessa."

"Good. Then it will be even easier. All he has to do is agree. No background checks, no social workers. Wouldn't it be wonderful?"

"You do remember that he is immortal?"

"So? I'm marrying an immortal. What difference does it make? Oh, you're not going to try to convince me of there can be only one, are you? You could never hurt Richie and you know it. Even if it was just the two of you left on earth."

"You're right, of course."

"Don't you want to? I know how you feel about him. It's obvious to everyone. Even as crazy as Gregor was, he saw it."

"It's a big step." Duncan tormented. He'd spent the last hour or so mulling the idea over himself as Tessa had slept soundly in his embrace. He just couldn't get used to the idea that he was finally going to have a chance at a real family. He'd thought several times over the last twelve months about making a legal claim on Richie, but full scale adoption was almost as scary as marriage.

"What would it change? The past year has been one long trying test and I think we've passed it with flying colors. So has Richie. Please say yes, Duncan."

Duncan melted into her eyes for a moment. How could he resist? He had no argument. A family of his own was a dream come true. "Of course, Tessa. You're right. We already are a family. Let's make it official."

"Do you mean it, really?"

 

"I'm game if you are."

"Oh Duncan this is perfect. Who knows how many other pre-immortal orphans there are? This could be the way we have children."

"Well let's just take this a step at a time. Let's go see what Richie thinks."

"No! Not yet. Have the papers drawn up first. Let him know we're serious. All he'll have to do is sign on the dotted line. We'll take him out to dinner and spring it on him. He won't have time to get nervous or worry." Tessa plotted.

"Okay." Duncan nuzzled her ear. "But what if he turns us down?"

"Then I'll box his ears. He feels the same about us, Duncan, you have to see that."

"You're so sexy when you're all motherly." He began kissing her.

 

"MacLeod?" Methos tried desperately to get his friend's attention.

"What?" Duncan looked over startled.

"Quit staring at them. You're making them nervous."

"Hey, buddy, have you got a problem?" The teenager challenged Duncan even as his mother took hold of his arm and told him to be still.

Duncan gave a weak smile. What a Richie, he almost laughed. "I'm sorry. You two reminded me of my- family. I'm sorry."

"It's alright." The woman smiled sweetly but uncomfortably. "Joey, eat your dinner and leave the man alone."

"Me?" The indignant youth turned back to his mother. "He's the one eyeing you like a psycho."

"Be quiet, Joey. Eat."

Duncan shook his head and turned back to stare at his plate, which Methos was piling high with pizza and breadsticks. His focus locked on the food.

"Now what?" Methos asked disgustedly.

"Where's my salad?"

"You sat here like a gargoyle when the waiter took our order. If you wanted a salad you should have said so."

"Great." Duncan took a bite of a bread stick. "Great."

"Come on, it's great pizza. Richie and I ate here every chance we could escape the drill sergeant. I never understood why it was okay for him to eat all the junk he wanted, but he treated us like Jenny Craig rejects. Not while you're in training. Blah, blah, blah."

"You know, you whine a lot for a five thousand year old man."

"I'm just saying?"

"Connor's rules. Live with them or don't live. I know the routine, I was a student of his before he got all nineties and sensitive, okay?"

"Sheesh, must have been as bad as training with- oh say you- or Kronos."

Duncan gave him his best 'you've got to be kidding look', and flung a small portion of a bread stick at him. Methos looked at him in disbelief, but took it as a sign of progress. Why should he care what Duncan thought of him? The man had never truly liked him to begin with. MacLeod just tolerated him because of his age.

To Part Four