Author's notes: Originally published in Highland Blades 1 from GraphicsOne, still available. Check out their fine line of Highlander and Sentinel gen zines. For more information or to order, e-mail GraphicsOne.
Note: This story was conceived before Richie fo
und out who Methos was and *way* before getting a permanent haircut. Sigh. So it's an AU. Like we'd ever see Richie in tight black spandex on the show...... (evil grin)
It was quiet. Too quiet. And it was cold.
Richie Ryan pulled at the thin bodysuit he wore. Black as night, and made from the newest lycra synthetics, it was guaranteed to reflect almost no light. With it, he could fade into the shadows and not be seen. Unfortunately, it didn't come with a heater. There was virtually nothing between the cold night air and his shivering muscles.
Not that he had time to worry about the chill. Last night was spent in the same tree, examining every inch of the estate he faced. From the tall wall just in front of his hiding spot, to the three story mansion, he had memorized each stone. And found at least four likely places the main office would be.
"It's simple," Adam had told him, the accented voice echoing in his head. "Get in, find the main computer, turn off the security, download the information, and get out. You'll be safe once you pass the outside walls."
Tonight, he would break in. He waited in the shadows, until the full moon had disappeared over the horizon. This gave him only three hours before sunrise. His dirty blond hair was secured under a black cloth of the same material, making him invisible. Or as well as he could hope to be. Stealth, and cunning, were the makings of true obscurity.
It was time. A long pole, placed into a tripod already embedded in the tree trunk, let the rope hang over the wall, several feet away from his hiding place. Careful of the laser beams a small aerosol had uncovered, Richie shimmied out to the end, using the rope to lower himself to the ground. He left the setup in place; this was his way out if all went well.
Quickly, he ran to the building, careful of the uneven and unfamiliar terrain. The chill and the uncomfortable sensation of running almost naked kept his reflexes sharp and his mind alert. He reached a side door, and carefully extracted a tool from the small pack at his waist.
The security system was a Harren Mark 7, only commercially available in the last four months. He had been studying the schematics for the last two weeks, and found that it was barely changed from the Mark 4, a system he had cut his eyeteeth on, professionally speaking. As it happened, a cut here and a bypass there, and the Mark 7 was about as useful as a fake warning decal. The young Immortal resisted a smile, knowing that this was the easy part.
His padded feet made hardly any sound as he slipped through the dark house. He had no fear of interrupting any trysts, or surprising the occupants. His competition came from three very smart individuals, who were waiting for him. He hoped that the lateness of the hour had softened them up, but it paid to be careful.
He hung around the first floor, guessing that his opponents would know the location of the main office, and choose appropriate positions to intercept him. The trick now was to deal with them, so that he could get on with his objective. And that would take?
Richie found the room he had been looking for; the owner's display room. People called it the library, but the books here were not meant for reading. They were an investment. The man of the house had his treasures in this room, and likewise, his most sensitive of guards.
Out came a probe, on came the flashlight in his mouth, and off came the keypad near the door. A touch, a snap, and the room was ready for guests. Now, to find them.
He slunk around the dark house, shadows flittering from the large windows that graced every room. He stopped as soon as he sensed the first Immortal, giving that one a chance to call his or her fellows. It was almost like fishing, a sport he abhorred. Dangle the bait, tease them out, lure them in, and rip them out of the water.
His heart was racing, his hands shaking as he heard the others follow him as he slowly crept away. They were being less than quiet, most of them amateurs when it came to this sort of work.
Lessons he learned in juvie paid off. How to walk, rocking from heel to toe so that no sound was made. The crouch that let your body move as it needed, each reaction unhampered. The way to blend yourself into the shadows, so that the group passing him, trampling like elephants, ignored him despite the sensations of his presence.
Hook, line and sinker.
He shot out of his hiding place, his footsteps echoing in the gigantic hallway, the sound drawing his opponents' attention. They sped after him, running hard, no longer trying to be silent. He led them a merry chase through the first floor, one he had planned as he walked through earlier.
It was the deadliest of traps. Richie knew his outline was plainly visible against the large window directly across from the door of the library. He turned aside at the last moment before the doorway, hiding behind a large pot, while any observer would swear the Immortal had entered the library and moved to hide inside. His pursuers didn't stop; they forged ahead, grouped in the middle of the room, searching for him.
Richie leaned through the doorway, his clothed arm black against shadow. "Gotcha," he said, an allowance, as he triggered the keypad. Within seconds, the security measures activated: the bars slid into place to protect the outside windows, and the large steel door closed off the library. Since the audible alarms had been deactivated, complements of his #3 probe, it happened almost silently. As was the pounding from the other side of the soundproofed steel door.
The young Immortal allowed himself the luxury of a slight amount of satisfaction at his little trap. He now had to worry about one Immortal, find the main office, the computer, and get the heck out of Dodge.
He even admitted he might like fishing.
The computer system was laughable. Not even worrying about passwords, he booted the machine with a floppy, using the hybrid system files to bypass all the security. He hand dialed the modem, then quickly zipped the information and downloaded it to Duncan's waiting laptop. Easy as pie.
Luckily, the homeowner apparently liked his convenience. The entire security system was accessible from this one room, allowing Richie to accomplish his goals in a minimum of time.
He worked quickly. Not just because his adrenaline was running out or he was worried about the last Immortal that should be around. No, Richie Ryan, thief extraordinare, had to desperately go to the bathroom. A fact Duncan would probably never let him live down if the Scot ever found out.
The computer beeped, signaling the end of the download. Not even bothering to take out the disk, he hit the three-key combination that started a hard disk wipe, leaving the computer running. By dawn, the system would only be good for a door stop. Or paper weight. Smiling to himself as the security cameras showed the two still trapped in the library, he left.
Not a soul was around as he sprinted for the outside wall. Nervous, he wondered about that third Immortal. Surely the information was correct. Either it wasn't, or someone got bored and fell asleep on the job. No matter, he was almost home free.
The rope was where he left it, hanging over the tall wall. He shimmied up like Duncan had taught him, wrapping the rope around his leg to help him climb. Once he was high enough, he gathered the excess before knocking out the pole, letting his body swing down and land against the tree. From there he dropped to the ground, not bothering to gather his equipment. All he had to do was leave.
"Hold it," a voice called, the same time that a pair of car lights shone in his face.
Richie raised his arms carefully, blinded by the headlights. All he could see were shadows, as a figure moved between him and the car. "Back up," the voice told him. The female waved whatever she was holding, a gun or something, in Richie's direction.
Wary, the young Immortal stepped back, until he felt the wall against his spine. He didn't bother saying a word, arguing wouldn't help anything. He just wished--
"Perfect," the woman said, as her weapon twanged twice. Sharp pains exploded in Richie's biceps as two crossbow bolts embedded themselves in his body, pinning him to the wall. He opened his mouth to scream at the sudden agony, but only a soft gurgle came out.
The female Immortal reloaded, aiming lower. "You were a fool to come out the same way you went in. Anyone could come along and find your escape route. And then you?re trapped. Helpless. Exposed." Her crossbow fired again, a gut-twisting ache blossoming as a bolt cut between his thighs.
Richie cried out at that, a mournful howl in the night. All he could focus on was that he had lost, pinned to the wall like a bug. "Aaahhhh!" His mouth wouldn't obey his brain.
The woman came closer, admiring her handiwork by the light of the car. Richie struggled briefly, trying to pull his arms off the bolts, but the agony was too much. He felt Amanda stroking his stretched chest as his head exploded. "And no burglar wants to be exposed," she whispered in his ear. Blackness welled up from his stomach, sliding over his eyes. Before Richie could blink, he was unconscious. The last thing he did was piss in his suit.
Not that he had little to do. He could pay attention to the argument he was hearing across the room, or maybe it was outside. There was that wonderful feeling where his bare skin came in contact with the cool bedding. He could focus on the satisfaction of trapping Duncan and Adam in their own little game.
"You were supposed to be waiting inside, Amanda," Adam argued, pounding on something, probably the sink island. He was angry, practically yelling.
Amanda replied calmly, almost too calmly. "That was your job. I found the best place to apprehend him, and that was it." Almost like she had an ace up her sleeve.
A rattle of cookware followed. Apparently Adam was gesturing wildly. "He was safe once he got outside the wall."
Someone grunted, most likely Duncan. But Amanda answered again. "If he's going to be helping us, he needs to learn that no place is safe. Maybe two hundred years later and two countries over?"
"This wasn't an exercise to teach him the fine art of burglary, it was a test to see if he was faster than the rest of us!"
MacLeod joined the argument, finally. "And he failed, Methos! He doesn't need to be doing this!"
"He didn't fail." Adam sounded like he was ready to spit. "He got into the house four minutes before Amanda could, handled that computer better than you did, and trapped us in the library for eight hours. Or did you forget that little stunt?"
"I'm just saying-"
"Duncan, shut up!" Adam stopped, taking a deep breath, audible across the loft to where Richie rested on MacLeod's bed. "You've made your feelings about Richie's involvement perfectly clear. I just want to know why Amanda cheated to stop him." There was silence, punctuated by shuffling feet and breathing. "Amanda?"
Richie had never heard the female Immortal speak so quietly. "Because Duncan told me to stop him, anyway I could. To discourage him?"
Adam's roar drowned out the rest of her sentence. Richie was frozen, too stunned to moved. "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE THINKING? Don't you want this to work?"
"He's only a boy," MacLeod barked, only to stop. Someone must have gestured, Richie guessed.
There was steel in Adam's voice, controlled and monotone. "You asked me for help. I've given it. Richie's in, or I'm out. Amanda??
It seemed like hours before she replied. Richie found it difficult remaining completely still, but there was no way he was interrupting this. "I- Duncan- He's better at the electronic stuff than I am. And he's got a level head on his shoulders, when he uses it. We need him, Duncan."
MacLeod stomped, as only the Scot in his boots could. "I don't think he's-"
For some unknown reason, Richie suddenly feared hearing the rest of the sentence. He moaned, almost by accident, shifting under the covers and alerting everyone that he was waking up. They came closer, surrounding the bed.
Duncan spoke first, much gentler than his earlier words. "Good morning, sleepy head." A hand brushed the hair out of Richie's face.
"So? did I pass?" the young Immortal asked, blinking, trying to focus his eyes.
Adam chuckled, sitting down on his other side. It seemed strange to be surrounded by all these people. "You did fine, Richie. Better than fine, actually."
For a brief second, the blond wished MacLeod had been the one to tell him that. But getting praise from the Highlander was as difficult as getting blood from a turnip, or something like that. "Now what?" he innocently asked, wondering what other trials he would be subjected to before they accepted him.
The trio looked at one another before Adam spoke. "Now, we rescue Connor."
Today was not a good day. At least, in Richie's mind.
First, Duncan had handed him a fake passport when they changed planes at Dulles, just moments before passing through customs into the international terminal. That's when the Highlander had announced to the officials, rather loudly, that Amanda was his new bride, and that Richie was his son by a first marriage. As if on cue, the young Immortal glowered, but not for the reasons the customs official suspected.
After that, Richie kept biting his tongue every time MacLeod looked at him, as if the Highlander expected a temper tantrum in the waiting area. The young man tried to remain outwardly calm, finally heading off to the restroom when things became unbearable. Only in front of the mirror, surrounded by strangers, did he let the hurt and pain come through.
By the time Adam wandered into the restroom, Richie was drying off his hands, his stoic facade back in place. The other Immortal gave him a wink in the mirror as he washed his hands, but the gesture wasn't responded to. If Duncan could wall himself away behind a phony identity, Richie could as well.
The fake family played musical seats once they boarded the plane. Richie had originally asked for the window seat, but now he wanted the aisle. Duncan took the window, leaving Amanda as a buffer between them. It was unneeded; Richie escaped to the lounge as soon as he was able.
Amanda came to visit for a while, even Duncan tried for a bit, but being answered in short, one syllable sentences would put a cramp in any conversation. Adam had wandered in, toward the last, and sat next to him at the bar. They never said a word to each other, but Richie almost felt a kinship with the other Immortal. Adam was the only one standing up for him against the others. The young ones against the old fogies.
The flight landed in Athens, and then a short limousine ride later, they were at their goal: a large resort complex in the mountains that was roughly translated as "Blue Dolphin Seas." Richie could find no dolphins, let alone blue ones, and they were certainly not close to the ocean. There was a small fountain with a cute dolphin statue in the circular drive, but the color could hardly be called blue.
Duncan ignored the young Immortal as the bellhops took care of their luggage. Amanda examined the furnishings, letting the Highlander approach the front desk. "We have reservations--David Minoute?'
'Yes, sir,' the manager replied, pulling out their information. ?A suite with a view for the newlyweds' and another room to be located elsewhere-" The man glanced over at Richie standing sullenly to the side of the counter.
MacLeod nodded, leaning close. "My son, from a first marriage. I was hoping that he wouldn't be underfoot while?"
The man laughed, understanding. "We will make sure he is well taken care of--and kept out of your hair."
"Thank you," Duncan replied, motioning for Amanda to join him. He turned to Richie as his arm slid around Amanda's waist. ?See you at dinner!"
A bellhop already waited with a key behind the young Immortal, luggage in hand. "Yeah, sure." Although he felt like neither. Just anything to get out of sight, and not deal with MacLeod.
"He's got to be around here," Duncan was whispering to Amanda when Richie joined them later that night. MacLeod turned to the young Immortal. "Did you find Adam?"
"Yeah," Richie replied as he sat. "Evening, 'Mom'. He's in 728, ordering room service.' At the thought of food, his mouth watered. The menu listed quite a lot of interesting sounding dishes, but after his disasters in Paris with ordering, he decided on sticking to the basics at first. "Just a salad,' he told the waiter.
For the rest of the meal, they talked about inconsequentials. Duncan and Amanda finished first, standing and saying good night. "Hey, what about Adam?' he asked them before they left the table.
Duncan turned back, looking slightly angry. "I'll give him a call, and set up a meeting time. Good night, Richie."
'Good night, Ma? Mom. Dad.'
Amanda smiled warmly. "Good night, Richard. Pleasant dreams."
But the young Immortal's dreams were far from pleasant. He was fighting an Immortal, struggling for his life, when MacLeod showed up. The Highlander kept asking the other Immortal why he was fighting a boy, going so far as to interfere when things got tough for Richie.
"What the hell are you doing?" Richie screamed at Duncan.
MacLeod slapped him. "Don't curse at your elder, boy." Richie opened his mouth to argue, but Duncan slapped him again. "You'll always be nineteen, so you better get use to it."
Richie awoke with a start, caught up in the sheets. He looked around his room, not able to find the Immortal he had imagined. He was alone, tired and sweaty. It had not been a good night.
The young Immortal lay back down to watch TV, waiting for the phone call he expected from Duncan. Not wanting to leave, he ordered breakfast from Room Service. But as noon came and passed, the phone still had not rung.
At a loss, and somewhat worried, he dressed in shorts and a T-shirt and went looking for Duncan's room. No one answered his knock and he couldn't sense anyone inside. He found the same at Adam's room. Confused, he wandered around the lobby a bit, finally deciding to check out the pool area.
It was filled with all sorts of people, most sitting in chairs, but a few were splashing in the pool. He stiffened when he felt the others, finding them huddled together at a patio table across the water. Duncan glanced over and then turned away, resuming his sentence. Amanda waved and Adam even motioned him over, but it was obvious MacLeod didn't want him with them. Just as well, the young Immortal was hardly in the mood for another confrontation.
He found an empty chaise lounge next to a pair of teenage girls in swimsuits. They were excited to meet someone they assumed was their age. It felt good to be wanted.
Adam came over, some time later. 'So, you plan on joining this party, or are you just here for the scenery?'
Richie looked over at the other Immortal. 'Hey, I wasn't the one who didn't tell me about your get-together. Come on, Adam. It's pretty obvious that he doesn't want me involved.'
"Well, you are involved. And I, for one, am placing my life in your hands." Adam glared at the young Immortal. "I?ll meet you in the bar, say fourish? Bring you up to speed. Remember, I expect you to take as good a care with my neck as I do, or I'll skin you alive with a fishing knife."
"Joy,' Richie shot back as the older Immortal got up and left. "Some vacation this is turning out to be.'
Adam had the grace not to laugh when Richie found out his forged driver's license said he was seventeen. His face was a red as a cherry when he ordered the Shirley Temple instead of the scotch he had planned.
"Remind me never to trust MacLeod with my credentials," Adam added as he took a sip of his own drink. Richie was too upset to even chuckle. "Look at it this way," the older Immortal said. "You do look seventeen, and will for the rest of your life. You're the wet dream of every woman age fifteen to seventy. No hair loss, no dentures, no arthritis. The ultimate tennis pro--forever."
Richie sipped his Coke. "And that's suppose to make me feel better?"
The older Immortal placed a hand on Richie's shoulder, turning him slightly so they made eye contact. "Part of dealing with Immortality is coming to grips with, and ultimately accepting, what you are going to look like for the rest of your life. Plastic surgery can't help, and if you hate how you look now, how will you feel in a hundred years? Take it from me, learn to love yourself."
"I take it you're enamored with your own looks?"
There was a mirror behind the bar. Adam gestured his head to it, so that both men were gazing at their reflections. "It took me quite a while to not cringe at my nose!" That got a chuckle from the young Immortal. "--but yes, I think I look quite dashing."
"But what good is it to look like a kid forever? No one takes me seriously!"
"That's your best weapon. You're not so young that people dismiss you as a child, but you're not old enough for maturity. You're at that perfect age where you are thought of as lazy, reckless, and even inexperienced. Let them underestimate you, and then point out the error when you take their heads." Adam's serious expression faded, leaving behind a curious glint in his eye. "We both know that while your body may stop aging and growing, your mind has not. And I think, even now, you are not so childish as you pretend to be."
Richie shivered as the older Immortal so bluntly reminded him of the means to his survival. He looked down at his drink, no longer able to face the other man. "It's just-- just--."
"MacLeod," Adam finished for him. "Teachers can be the hardest to convince. Just remember, you've taken heads, you can defend yourself. You're not his responsibility any more. You're his friend." The dark haired Immortal finished his glass, then looked at Richie appraisingly. "But I don't think whining about it will change his image of you very quickly."
"I?" Richie swallowed, not knowing how to respond.
Adam motioned for refills for both of them. "Enough about your personal life, we need to get cracking on why we're here. Our main goal at the moment is finding the underground tunnel entrance, here in the chateau, and maybe figuring out who works here that knows the true scope of the operation. One we need to find, the other we need to steer clear of. Any ideas?"
Janie giggled as Richie's arm slipped lower on her hip. They had met that afternoon at the pool, two of the few younger guests that were currently here. Dinner with Mac and Amanda had been stifling, so the young Immortal had moved across the dining room to join Janie and the Millers, who welcomed him. It didn't hurt that he looked resplendent in a tuxedo, or that he had bowed over Mrs. Miller's hand and kissed it gently. A boy with manners did wonders on parents' dispositions.
Now it was later. Much later. And Richie and Janie were slinking around the kitchens, groping and kissing one another. They found a deserted hallway, and without his companion seeing, he picked the lock on the only storage room that the staff ignored.
"Oh, Richie," Janie exclaimed as he started unbuttoning her blouse. Not that he was being forward, her hand was plunged firmly down the front of his jeans. Her fingernails scraped sensitive flesh as he got her top off, her other hand picking at his own T-shirt.
He moaned as she gripped him, diverting his attention from her pants. His hand came up, brushing her long brunette hair from her neck, content to devour her skin as she scraped her claws over his chest. Soon they were as naked as they were going to be, copulating on the cold cement floor under a ghastly green glow of a lit keypad on a blank wall. A Harren Mark 8 keypad that the young Immortal examined more closely than the writhing female in his arms.
Richie was on bottom, letting Janie set the pace. They both softly moaned as the rhythm increased, her hands resting on his pectorals. The Immortal fought vainly to keep his eyes open, but the pleasure coursing through his body was making it hard.
At some point, he noticed Janie was no longer muffling her moans of passion. She was a screamer, and was shouting out exactly how good she was feeling. Even as the young Immortal felt his climax approaching, he winced at the noise they were making. Sure enough, just as he boiled over, the security guards entered and turned on the lights.
"You WHAT!!?" Duncan roared.
Instead of talking to the resort's manager who had been explaining the situation, the Highlander had turned the full force of his anger on Richie. Amanda tried to calm him down as the balding employee urged the Scot to keep a more watchful eye on his son, or else. What wasn't surprising to Richie was that the man had been more upset with where they had been, than what they had been doing. It allowed him to work it so that Janie was escorted to her suite without a word to her parents. The only unlucky thing that had occurred was Duncan being informed and unfortunately, they had added in the part about him having sex.
"I'll take care of it, Mr. Bellam," the Highlander finally told the balding man. He walked the manager to the door and said "good night" before closing it. Then MacLeod turned to Richie, a look in his hooded eyes that was strangely reminiscent of a Dark Quickening. "Go to your room and stay there. Pack your things. You'll be leaving on the first flight in the morning."
Several conflicting emotions surged in the young Immortal, warring to get out. Richie took a deep breath, and tried to explain. "Mac? I was-"
"JUST DO IT!"
The angry bellow caused Richie to flinch. He felt goosebumps break out on his arms and legs, and his heart froze. No explanations were needed. Without another word, he walked slowly to the door, hearing Amanda talking with MacLeod behind him. But he didn't care anymore. All he wanted was out of this mess, and away from the Highlander.
Despite his best efforts, Richie found that he couldn't hold back the tears. They started unnoticed, while he was filling his duffel bag with socks and underwear. One drop landed on his bare arm, shocking him back to reality. Another fell, then another. Before long, he was unashamedly crying as he sat on the bed, his back against the headboard.
MacLeod had never treated him this way before. Never. Even when he first came to live with the Highlander and Tessa, he had been treated like an adult, or a responsible teenager. And since becoming Immortal, Duncan had at least listened to him. Always. Even if he had done the stupidest thing, MacLeod had given him a chance to explain.
But Duncan had been acting weird. And despite what everyone had told him, Richie wasn't all that convinced that the old Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod had come back after the Dark Quickening. The young Immortal knew it would be a mistake to open his heart again to the Scottish warrior. One he would eventually regret. And now, less than a year later, his fears were coming true.
Why had he ever thought he could trust the Highlander again? Even though Duncan wasn't slicing him up and holding a sword to his throat, the pain he was going through now was just as bad. Just as agonizing. When would he ever learn?
Unable to sleep, he tried to use up all the hot water with a shower. It never turned cold, but was still somewhat relaxing. Enough so that his muscles unwound and his jaw no longer clenched. He was drying off when he felt the Immortal, followed by a knock on his door. Richie thought he'd draw his sword if it was MacLeod again, ready for round two.
"So what did you find?" Adam asked as he breezed into the room, hardly noticing the dripping towel-clad Immortal. He only stopped when he saw the bags on the bed, turning to look at Richie. "Decided to splurge for a better room?"
Richie scowled, no longer able to muster any witty comebacks. "Throw me those sweats, will you?" And while he finished drying off and dressing in the bathroom, he told the whole ugly story to Adam through the partly closed door. "So I'm out of here," he finished as he opened the door, combing his wet hair. "None too soon."
"I think not," the older Immortal replied, giving him a look that meant business. "You stay here, and let me work things out with Duncan. If he still insists, I'll fly out with you."
"Adam," Richie cut in, "you have to stay and help them, or they won't stand a chance at rescuing Connor."
Adam shook his head. "If worse comes to worse, we can come back without MacLeod. Right at this moment, I'd rather count on you than him. It's almost like he's sabotaging this whole operation."
"More like I'm doing it," Richie muttered under his breath.
A hand closed over the back of his neck, gripping hard, almost painful. Another grasped his shoulder, fingers digging into muscle. "I don't want to hear another word," Adam hissed in his face. "Right now, you need to be primed and ready. Go whine and beat yourself up afterwards. There's no room for self-pity here. Just teamwork and confidence. Do I make myself clear?"
Richie nodded, his heart pounding in his chest. There was a backbone in the other he had never believed existed. "Clear."
With a playful shove, the older Immortal pushed Richie away. "Now, go make yourself more than useful and stow our equipment in a good, safe spot. I'll go talk to Duncan, and see if we can get this rescue on the road."
"No Duncan?" Richie asked when Amanda showed up at the dining room for breakfast. The female Immortal shook her head, sitting across from the young man.
"He went to Adam's room to talk to him," she informed him. "Again."
Richie nodded, aware of the futility of changing MacLeod's mind. "So, how do you feel about all this?" He didn't want to ask, but he was curious.
She shrugged. "I thought you were taking an incredible risk just to get laid, at first. When Adam explained, well-- It was still a big chance."
It wasn't difficult for Richie to see where this was going. "And your opinion is??
Amanda was at least courteous enough to look him in the eye. "I agreed with Adam, you have the skills necessary." Richie started to smile. "But--I'm not so sure you have the experience and honing to handle this kind of job. You're green, untested..."
She held up a hand. "Let me finish. You're untested under true conditions. So I don't really know if you will carry your share or not. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so I'm willing to give you the chance."
Richie stood up, wiping his mouth with his napkin and tossing it on the table. "Thanks for your indepth analysis." He couldn't help being sarcastic.
A small grin slid across the young Immortal's lips. "I did, didn't I. Tell Mac I'll be in my room, the condemned waiting for his execution."
There was a hint of a smile on Amanda's lips as well. "It's not as bad as that, Richard. He only wants to kill you once or twice, and then it will pass. Keep the knives hidden and he won't go for your head."
Richie waited. And waited. Sitting nervously on the bed next to his two pieces of luggage. Waiting. It was driving him nuts.
He reached for the phone. No one answered at MacLeod's or Adam's rooms. He tracked down Amanda by the pool, who had not seen either one of them. She suggested patience. Richie snorted. Patience was one of those virtues he'd pick up in the next century.
He walked to Adam's room first, being closer. No answer, even though the knock was a moot point, no Immortal was inside. His depression grew when he felt no response outside Duncan's either, but habit made him raise his hand to the door. He was about to futilely rap on it, when he noticed the door was slightly open. Full of fear, he pushed slightly, enough to peek in.
MacLeod was not inside, but two other people were. Richie barely got a look at them before some instinct, left over from his days on the street, caused him to run. They chased after him, calling out to stop, but he lost them once he made it to the elevators.
Heart pounding, he found Amanda, lounging on a poolside chair. "There's-- there's--" It was so hard to catch a breath. The female Immortal looked up at him, reacting in shock to his terrified face.
"Over here," she said as she pulled him to a secluded corner. Once they were out of the main traffic, she tried to calm him down. "Breathe. Again. Now, tell me what happened."
"Two guys--in your room," Richie stuttered. 'They were--were--" He had to stop talking, trying to play over the scene in his mind. "Big. Football big. In suits. Thugs." The word struck a primal chord in the young man. "They were waiting-- for me-- For you. Someone. The bed?? What was it about the bed that he remembered? "It was--messed up." Pieces clicked into place. "Almost like a fight!"
Amanda glanced around the pool. No business suits. "Did you find MacLeod? Or--Adam?"
Richie shook his head. "No sign of 'em." It was still hard to breathe.
"We need to get out of sight. And our rooms are not safe." The female Immortal eyed the front desk. "Come with me," she ordered, grabbing Richie by the arm and pulling him after her.
It had been amazingly simple. The clerk at the front desk had been well aware of Richie's--escapade, and was more than willing to switch his room to another location, especially after Amanda painted a gruesome picture of his 'father's' temper. Now the pair of Immortals were pacing around a different room, trying to guess what was happening.
Amanda fretted. "It's just not like MacLeod to disappear."
"Unless he was captured," Richie interjected from his side of the room. He had been pronouncing gloom and doom since they entered. "They have him, and Connor, and are waiting for us."
"You don't know that," Amanda snapped.
Richie eyed her, realizing the whole rescue was up to them--time had run out and it was now or never. "We do it. Immediately."
"Are you out of your mind? You think we can just waltz in there?"
The young Immortal shook his head, conviction hardening his face. "If they have Mac, and they are trying to find out our plans, he certainly hasn't told them anything yet. And Adam would go to his grave before telling the truth. That buys us some time. Enough to get to them before they do start spilling their guts."
Amanda stopped pacing when she got a look of Richie's face. "And how are we supposed to pull this off, Richard? There's only two of us now."
"Face it," Richie said, standing in front of her. "They were just muscle. The technical expertise is us. We just pull double duty."
The millennia old woman sat on one of the beds, too tired to fight anymore. "And how do we do that?"
There was a chuckle from Richie as he dug in his bag. "Same as we originally planned it. I break in, turn off the security system, you find Connor, and hopefully Duncan and Adam, I join you and we get everyone out. Simple."
Not able to come up with anything better, Amanda agreed. "I'd sure hate to see what you think would be complex."
The young Immortal truly grinned, for the first time since arriving in Greece. "So would I."
Their equipment was still where Richie had hidden it earlier. Now both of them, dressed in the silky black bodysuits, gazed at the one entrance Richie had found. The green keypad on the wall glowed, as obvious as a welcome mat. "Here goes," the ex-street thief said under his breath, moving out of the shadows to the keypad.
Within minutes, a dark hole of an underground passage appeared in the seemingly blank wall. Richie held up all ten fingers until Amanda nodded, then entered the dark passage hewn out of rock. Ten minutes later, she would follow.
After a few downward steps, he came to the first intersection, the halls now of a familiar construction. Choosing right for some unknown reason, he slipped along the corridor, tense and struggling to hear the faintest sound of another person.
The wall felt cold as he pressed against it, leaning around to peek down the corridor. Nothing. Only another passage that split in two farther down. Fine. The main office would be found by random chance in this underground maze.
Several more turns later, on the verge of being totally lost, Richie paused in a darkened doorway. He stiffened when he felt the sensation of another Immortal. "Amanda?" he whispered in his radio. He strained to hear any footsteps, or the silent swish of the woman in her bodysuit. Nothing. "Damn," he added, desperately wanting his rapier at the moment.
He was about to call again, a little louder, when a hand closed over his mouth, setting his heart pounding. Another arm crossed his chest, and he was forcibly pulled into the dark doorway, dragged by a strong opponent. He froze, unable to act as he was grabbed, terror paralyzing him. He could feel the man behind him through the thin bodysuit, and he was helpless to stop him.
"Richie?" The word was whispered in his ear as the hand loosened over his mouth. The soft accent and the whiff of cologne were telltale signs.
The older Immortal kept his arm around Richie, locking their bodies together. "So you decided to go ahead anyway. You know they have MacLeod?"
Richie nodded, suddenly aware of footsteps nearby. He relaxed, as much as the adrenaline coursing through his body would let him. His head had moved automatically, but he wasn't sure Adam could tell what he was doing. "Yes. What happened to you?"
They were silent as the footsteps grew closer, barely breathing as two people walked by their hiding place. Richie's black bodysuit hid both Immortals in the darkness. "Had visitors in my room, so I thought it best to stay away. You never returned to your room, and Amanda--"
"We moved," Richie informed him. "So they have Mac. Where is he?"
Adam relaxed his hold, giving Richie a chance to check out the hall. "With Connor. I assume Amanda is looking for them?"
"And I have to find the office."
"I can help with that," Adam replied. "Take the next left, fourth right, and go until you see smoked glass walls. That's it."
"Thanks," Richie whispered. "You'll help Amanda?"
The older Immortal chuckled. "Yes." Adam gently shoved Richie into the hall. "Get going, and make sure those files are uploaded. And hurry. They may already suspect we're here."
Richie followed the instructions, quickly moving down the fluorescent-lit hallways. Adam's directions were flawless. Ten minutes later, he was standing next to the smoked glass walls, and a door that read "Main Control."
The lock used a keycard system, which one of Amanda's handy toys took care of. There was enough light through the glass walls that he had little trouble maneuvering through the office. Lucky for him, those same walls kept him from turning on any lights.
The small glow of a powerbar led him directly to the main network server, all alone in a small, unkept corner. He finally risked a light, turning on the monitor so he could work. In a few, quick keystrokes, he had overridden the UPS and accessed the Internet, deleting all the firewalls and protections that had been established.
A disk from a small pocket of the bodysuit went into the disk drive, and a single program was executed. The hard drives were being systematically compressed and uploaded to a waiting server on the Internet, in Joe's bar to be precise.
His main objective started, Richie began work on the labyrinth's security system. He made several changes, including a fail-safe override on all the locks and doors. He was proceeding to change all the security codes when he came across a large database, doubly encrypted. Curious and hyper, he spent a few minutes hacking at it, obsessed with seeing what was so important.
It was a listing of Immortals. That was obvious after a few records. He did a search for his name, rewarded by a small but detailed report of his life. A whistle escaped his lips as he read items he had never told another soul, even Duncan. MacLeod's record was longer, but less detailed. Amanda's was huge. He tried Adam, remembering when the search failed that he was posing as a Watcher, and that Adam Pierson was probably not his real name.
A snippet from his memory surfaced. A word, used in conversation. Methos. He tried that one word, and was shocked as the file appeared. It was too long to read during a breaking and entering. Not able to let it go, Richie leaned over and turned on the printer, hitting the print key and watching all their files appear on paper.
While the printer and modem were busy, the computer beeped, and a small icon appeared on the screen. New email. Chuckling, he clicked the icon, and the system's mail program appeared. It was innocent, a reply to an earlier post about vacation plans, but the log was open, and Richie found himself skimming the subject headers.
Several were from @watcher.org and one even from email@example.com. That message was a bulletin about the Watcher massacre in France. "So, these are Hunters." Just whispering the word made Richie sick. "God, aren't they ever going to go away?"
He almost turned his head, nauseated, ready to exit the mail program, when another address caught his eye. firstname.lastname@example.org. Richie's hand was shaking as he opened the message.
Richie felt sick. The printer finished printing out all the messages Duncan had e-mailed these bastards. Grabbing the entire stack, he stuffed the papers against his chest inside the bodysuit. They would scratch and itch, but he needed the proof. He needed to show Adam and Amanda what had been actually going on.
*CHA-SHHHHK* The radio in his ear squawked, followed by Amanda's frantic voice. "Richie" We need your help. We've found them, but I think we've got company. Get down here!"
The young Immortal's knees felt weak. Help free Duncan? But Duncan was-- "A--a--" His voice suddenly failed, caught in his throat, even though he wanted desperately to tell the woman what her lover had done. Had done to them all. "Amanda?"
"Get down here, Richard! Level 3, all the way to the right. Hurry!"
The radio fell silent, leaving dead air. Only the knowledge that Amanda and Adam might be in danger got his legs to move.
Connor looked bad. Duncan looked horribly worse. Neither Immortal was conscious, a blessing in Richie's mind. "Here, grab Connor," Adam told him, already holding Duncan over his shoulder. Richie bent down and let the older Highlander drape over his shoulders in a fireman's carry. "Amanda, point. Ready?"
Richie grunted as he stood. The MacLeods were not very light. "Ready!"
They were running down a corridor to the elevators, when Richie felt another Immortal. He turned a bit while running, which was the only thing that saved him. A dart, from something similar to a tranquilizer gun, embedded itself in Connor"s thigh.
Suddenly, the hall was filled with flying darts and shouting guards. Several whizzed by Richie's ear, but he used the unconscious Immortal he carried as a shield. They made it to the elevator just in time. As Richie turned around, and faced their attackers, he managed to glimpse the large man chasing after them, leading a pack of guards. He smiled at Richie, the kind one Immortal gives another across a crowded room. The kind that promises a meeting in solitude, and a challenge issued. Richie smiled back, just as one of the guards took aim.
With his attention on the large Immortal, he never saw the guard fire. He only felt the dart dig into his side as the elevator doors shut, cutting off their attackers and whisking them to the surface. Richie's side blossomed in pain, and his leg buckled. Connor's weight was too much, and he collapsed on the floor of the elevator, buried under an unconscious Highland warrior.
At least he had a good reason to take his shirt off for Amanda. He told the female Immortal as much when she started looking at his wound.
"Grow up, Richard," she snapped, poking at the already healed wound, only marked by dried blood and a wicked looking dart sticking out of his skin. "Does this hurt?"
Richie felt nothing, even her fingers on his skin. Which was weird; he had imagined his response if she ever touched him. "I don't feel a thing."
"That's strange," Amanda replied. She pulled at the dart, looking worried at the amount of skin moving with it. "It's barbed. This is going to be bad." He felt her tense, and then pull away, holding the dart and what looked like a good chunk of his flesh.
But he felt no pain. Until he looked at his side, and saw the bleeding, ugly gouge where the dart had been. "Fuck!" he screamed watching the wound heal before his eyes.
A hand gently patted his cheek. "You're a little young for me. Go ahead and get dressed, before Duncan wakes up and gets the wrong idea."
Richie gulped. That's probably what would happen. He looked over at his mentor and Connor, both Scots riddled with darts. ?Should we--"
Adam chose that moment to return, bellhops lugging two large steamer trunks in the door to Richie's room. Luckily, the Immortal stopped them before they came in too far, and saw the unconscious bodies on one of the beds. "Here, guys. Thanks for the help." A folded bill passed hands, and the young men left smiling. "What have you been up to?"
Richie tried to stand. "Amanda got the dart out ? wicked little sucker--but I still can?t move my leg. Those guys are still out."
"Here," Adam said, tossing a walking cane he had gotten out of the top trunk to Richie. "You had a skiing accident and your leg is paralyzed."
The young Immortal caught the cane with ease. "So I get to play Dawson? How long? Do you think it's permanent?"
Amanda came out of the bathroom, holding the dart and showing it to Adam. "I think they use it to immobilize their victims. I'll lay odds Duncan and Connor will be out for quite a while. So what do we do with them?"
"The MacLeods are luggage," Adam said. He slapped the trunks. "Amanda and I are together, with them, and Richie plays crippled student touring Europe and the Mediterranean." He eyed the young Immortal. "Get dressed, and take a cab to the train station. Go ahead and buy a ticket to Paris, a sleeper berth. We'll meet you on board in the dining car after we leave. And if the leg heals, keep limping. Cripples are usually unnoticed." He looked at Richie again. "Amanda, do you have any of that platinum blond hair color left?"
Richie tried to back away. "No, no, no, no@!"
"Where?s Amanda?" Richie asked, once he found Adam in the dining car. It hadn't been hard to make his way there, almost everyone was eager to help the crippled Nordic student find his way around.
Adam looked up from the morning paper. "She's babysitting the Sleeping Beauties."
"Good," Richie replied as he limped over and sat down. "I wanted you to see these." He slipped the papers out of his pocket and separated the ones that bore MacLeod's email address. They were tossed on the table at Adam's place.
"Leg still giving you trouble?"
Richie slapped his numb appendage. "It's getting better. Slowly. Now read them."
Adam's eyes grew wider as he read the messages, finally turning cold and black. "That bloody bastard," he muttered under his breath as he got up and left the car. His coffee and breakfast were ignored, forgotten.
"I agree," Richie replied to no one, as he pulled over the food and began to finish it off. Once he was done, he stopped off to answer the call of nature. He felt the other Immortal approach as he was washing his hands. Probably Adam coming back to ask him a question or something. It wasn't until he opened the door that he realized he was in trouble.
The Immortal was the large man from the labyrinth beneath the resort.
"Eric Duorf," the man said by way of introduction.
It was hard for Richie to hear his words. They were whipped around by the same wind that pulled at his clothes. "Richie Ryan," he shouted back. He eyed the edges of the train car as they stood on top of the last one, the baggage car. They were traveling roughly at forty miles an hour as the train climbed into the mountains, but a fall from the baggage car roof could still cause a decapitation. Then again, that's the reason they were up here.
Eric saluted and then attacked. He seemed confidant in such a perilous situation, while Richie was downright nervous. And that was affecting the fight. The young Immortal was on the defensive from the first moment, his attention torn between his attacker and the edge of the car. This wasn't going to be easy.
For his part, Eric seemed content to torment the smaller man, teasing Richie by urging him on, calling him "young pup" and "boy." Richie was too busy trying to survive to pay much attention.
He overextended his reach, and gasped suddenly in pain, the leg that had been shot buckling and sending him to his knees. Eric laughed, and wished him a speedy journey to hell. The larger man attacked, going straight for the kill, leaving his gut completely exposed.
"Gotcha," Richie said, as he ducked under the slice and jerked his rapier into the undefended stomach of his opponent. It was a wound that stopped Eric cold. Richie stood on his perfectly fine legs and looked down. "Never trust a con artist," he told the larger Immortal, as he jerked his rapier down onto the unprotected neck.
He barely made it down into the baggage car before the Quickening hit him.
It took him some time to shuffle back to Adam's compartment. Even before he sensed the other Immortals, he heard the shouting. "You stupid fool!" Adam screamed, recognizable even when muffled. All sound stopped when Richie banged on the door.
Connor opened it, a man he had never really met. Once everyone inside saw it was him, they resumed their activities. Duncan and Adam were arguing, and Amanda was on a cellular phone.
"How else were we supposed to find out where they were?" Duncan shouted back.
A sly chuckle escaped from Connor's lips. "You must be Richie Ryan," he stated, holding out his hand. "Pleased to finally meet you."
"Likewise," he managed, having to suddenly switch the cane to the other hand to shake Connor's.
During a pause in the arguing, Amanda's words became clear. "Yes, Joe. It's Duncan and Methos at it again." She covered the phone with her hand. "Would you two mind? You're obviously disturbing the neighbors and Joe can hear you across the ocean."
Richie stuck his head around Connor to speak to Amanda. "Did Joe get the download?"
The younger MacLeod caught sight of his student then, and pointed in his direction. "And you!" He stepped toward the compartment door, only to be stopped by Adam.
Connor also blocked his path, but turned to Richie. "Now may not be a good time to be around!"
The young Immortal's head was killing him and it was obvious he wasn't wanted here. Resisting a biting comment, he smiled sadly at Connor. "I'm getting used to it. Tell Adam to find me when it's over. I've got some news." Adam was the only one he trusted right now to tell about the other Immortal.
"I'll do that," Connor promised with a wink as he shut the door. It was quiet in the hallway, except for Duncan's parting shout.
"Don't let him leave!"
Richie shook his head, rubbing his forehead with his free hand. This was getting old. He stumbled back to his berth, wincing with each painful step. He finally tracked down a porter and got some aspirin, which he took using his own saliva, and lay down to take a nap. But sleep wouldn't come. One word kept nagging at his brain. Methos. Why were they using that word?
He pulled out the rest of the printouts, shuffling them into order. He found the listing for Methos and began to read. It was fairly detailed, containing almost four thousand years of actual records and another thousand of speculation. Only the highlights were mentioned, and in the last few centuries, there was barely any notation. Except the last paragraph, where they listed the researcher assigned to the Chronicles: Adam Pierson.
The pieces locked into place. Adam was an alias, he had already figured that out. If the Watchers knew him by that name, it was a sure bet that wasn't what he was known as an Immortal. And what could be sweeter than being your own Watcher? No wonder they could never find Methos ? Adam made sure of it. So who else knew they were the same? Duncan had called him 'Methos' in the dojo loft a while back, and Amanda had called him that just an hour ago. Did all of them know this secret--except him? Surely not?
But all the instances where one of them caught their words, the stalled conversations when he entered a room. All three of them were talking about secrets they were keeping from him. Duncan he had already guessed was lying to him, and Amanda just lied to everyone. But Adam? Methos? He had lied to him about everything, playing him for a sap, offering--support--and--sympathy? to the new Immortal. God, he had been such a fool. He had been asking the Oldest Living Immortal for advice about being a newbie.
Amanda's words echoed in his brain. She had been talking to Joe on the phone and told him. Joe knew-- Joe? That was the final insult. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to stop the tears, trying to bury the sight of all that information in his hands. Of course Joe knew. He and Adam? Methos were buddies. Duncan and Methos were buddies. Duncan and Amanda were lovers. Duncan and Joe were? how could you describe the relationship between Watcher and watched? Duncan and Amanda and Joe and Methos. But not Richie, Not the young pup.
They needed him because he had the skills. Not because he was their friend. Methos? Methos had killed Kristen, because she was a menace to Duncan, not because he cared what happened to Richie. Amanda? Amanda saw him as one large hormone to be manipulated and played with to get what she wanted. Other than that, he was furniture. Joe put up with him because he was Immortal--the Watcher's holy grail--and he was MacLeod's student. It was all part of the assignment. And Duncan MacLeod. Duncan taught him because--because? That didn't even bear thinking about. Obligation? Honor? It had been so easy for MacLeod to send Richie away. Just as it had been so easy to almost kill him and then ignore him for a year.
It took a while for the tears to stop, Richie's mind going in circles, plunging deeper and deeper in a never-ending spiral. He was exhausted and drained, and tired of playing the fool. God, he was twenty-two, considered an adult in every part of the planet. He could take care of himself.
Richie dragged himself from his berth, taking off to find a porter and get on with his life.
Duncan looked up from his plate, uncomfortable at the silence since the four Immortals had sat down for dinner. He tried to lighten the stifling mood. "I'm surprised Richie's not around??
Looks from Methos and Amanda shut him up. Connor had been staying out of things, leaving the two older Immortals to chastise Duncan for his actions. "If I were Richie, I wouldn't be hungry either," Methos commented, sipping his soup.
"We can track him down after we finish, and let Duncan apologize," Amanda added, popping a shrimp into her mouth.
Connor swallowed and sipped his wine. "I would like to thank him for his part in rescuing me." From what Duncan had been telling him these last few years, Richie was a special one.
After an afternoon of being berated by Immortals much older than he was, Duncan was still feeling about as young as Richie was. Everything he had done was because he cared about the young man, but as Amanda and Methos kept pointing out, it could look totally different from the other perspective. But the Scot wasn't afraid that it was something they couldn't work through. After all, hadn't they survived much worse? "I think I'll go!"
"No!" Methos and Amanda replied in stereo.
"You are not about to walk up to him alone. Good heavens, Duncan, you'll make it ten times worse before you even open your mouth." Amanda took another bite and thought while she chewed. "Connor should talk to him first. Pump his spirits up. Then you can prostate yourself and beg his forgiveness."
Duncan's fork almost fell out of his hand. "You're kidding, right?"
A chuckle escaped from Methos. "No, she's not. I'm afraid even that much debasement won't be enough."
The younger Highlander looked between both his friends. "You've got to be exaggerating. What's Richie been telling you?"
Methos sighed, pushing his soup away from him before he leaned back. "MacLeod, he's been oozing pain since you started trying to get him to quit. And I'm pretty sure that he's been doubting your earlier reconciliations."
Duncan threw his napkin on his plate and stood up. "I've got to find him."
A hand on his arm stopped him. Connor's. "Let me talk to him first, kinsman." The elder Scot took off, Duncan's eyes focused on his retreating back.
The Highlander turned around and looked at his friends before running his hands through his long, black hair. "I've been a stupid idiot, haven't I?' No reply was needed.
Connor entered the compartment, trying to keep his face a blank.
Duncan was out of his seat, hope etched across his face. "Is he--" the younger MacLeod asked. He looked around his kinsman, hoping he was mistaken and Richie was outside.
"Sit down," Connor told him, gently pushing him back into his seat with two hands on his shoulders. "Duncan?" There really was no easy way to say this. "Richie got off the train hours ago. He's gone." There was a gasp behind him, Amanda's. And Duncan's face paled.
"Gone?" the younger MacLeod whispered, and covered his face with his hands.
Methos waited several months before tracking Richie down. He was a firm believer in time healing wounds, and maybe the time apart had lessened the pain. It was summer when he made his way to the small village outside of Tieste, Italy.
Richie was sitting outside, near a small cafe, enjoying a pastry and coffee. "I was wondering when someone would show up," he casually said. The young Immortal made no gesture for Methos to sit, but he did anyway.
"Life's been treating you well?" the older Immortal asked, gazing around the quaint place. "Not your normal habitat."
"I work on cars," Richie replied, pointing down the street to a small garage. 'Although bikes are my specialty."
A lady came out and inquired if Methos wanted anything. A shake of his head and she left. "I see. Planning on staying?"
Richie looked up from his coffee, eyeing the other Immortal. Weighing choices and decisions. "Yes. For now. What do you want, Methos? Or did Duncan send you?"
A wry grin tugged at Methos' lips. "How did you find out?" The answer was a moot point, and he realized it. "Forget it," he told Richie, waving his hand. "It's not important any more. Other than--"
"Not to spread your secret identity?"
Methos smiled, not a threatening one, but a truly happy one. "I know you're smart enough to realize that. I'm just being redundant."
The young Immortal was tired of the games, and eyed his watch. "I don't have much time. What do you want?"
"To bring you this," Methos answered, pulling out an envelope and setting it on the table. "It's a letter from Connor, thanking you. He was--upset that he didn't get to talk to you in person."
Richie reached over and grabbed it, stuffing it in his coat pocket. "Yeah, well, shit happens."
"And this," Methos added, pulling out a smaller document and handing it over. "It's your take of the bank accounts we found. All safely stored in a numbered Swiss account. Enough to get you started in whatever you want to do."
A whistle sounded as the young Immortal eyed the balance. "There's start-up money, and then there's start-up money with a few extra zeros. They had that much?"
Methos nodded, pulling one final envelope out of his pocket. "And an apology. From Duncan."
"Keep it." Two simple words that Richie spoke without emotion.
"Read it," Methos urged, setting it on the table and standing. He held out his hand to Richie and waited. "It?s been a pleasure."
The young Immortal eyed it. "I can't tell when you're lying or telling the truth."
The Oldest Immortal shrugged. "No one can. But my friends still trust me."
Richie grasped the proffered hand reluctantly. "Goodbye, Methos."
"Live, grow strong." Methos stepped away and turned toward his rental car.
Richie watched him leave, not moving until after the Immortal had driven away. He reached down, picked up the envelope from Duncan and played with it a moment. He looked at his watch, cursed, and hurried off to work.
Epilogue--Ten years later
Richie Ryan eyed the Income Statement, wondering why the city of Los Angeles had to take so much in property taxes. Heck, he almost had to sell his property to pay the taxes. Not that he had to worry very much. He still had quite a bit over in Switzerland. It was just the principle of the matter. Besides a small amount of start-up money, his businesses should be self-supporting.
He'd done pretty well. Started with a small dojo like Duncan owned up North, adding a full aerobics studio and gym as soon as he could get his hands on the warehouse next door. The small building on the other side was purchased for office and living spaces, and then the corner shop converted into a health bar/restaurant. He bought the rest of the block, adding a sporting goods store and bowling alley. An entire city block of business, the start of his empire. And running it all was the highlight of his life. And his nightly torment.
His secretary, located on the first floor, buzzed him. ?Mr. Ryan? There's a gentleman here to see you. Won't give me his name, just says he's an old friend.?
Richie rubbed his eyes, recognizing the code phrase his Immortal pals used. "That's fine, Susan, send him up." He quickly finished what he was doing and cleared his desk, wondering if it was Gregor, or Kit come to visit. Didn't really matter, he was restless and wanted company.
There was a knock on his door, and he shouted for the Immortal he felt to come in.
"Mac," the young Immortal said when he saw his guest.
Duncan MacLeod was dressed in a tan trenchcoat and jeans, the complete opposite of Richie's Armani suit. "Richie," the Scot replied, shutting the door behind him.
There were several things Richie wanted to say, ranging from angry to hurt to shocked. Nothing specific came to mind. "What are you doing in town?" he finally blurted.
The Highlander sat in a chair across the desk. "I'm a guest lecturer over at USC this month. Thought I'd drop in and say hello."
"That all?" Richie asked, the flood of emotions still making his head hurt.
"Could I take you to dinner?"
Richie's voice was flat as he looked down at the paperwork still on his desk. "I don?t think so."
Duncan stood, obviously disappointed, but respectful of Richie's wishes. "I understand. Goodbye, Rich." The tremors Richie had been holding were allowed to shake his body once Duncan had left. But the sensation never wavered, as if the Immortal was standing just outside the door. The Scot came back in quickly and looked straight at Richie. "No. I'm not going to give up."
"What do you want, MacLeod?" Richie was tired. And cranky. And not in the mood for the Highlander tonight.
Duncan smiled. "I'm asking you to dinner.'
The Highlander's face fell. 'Maybe later?"
"No.' Richie rummaged in his drawer, pulling out a crumpled, faded letter. 'And since you're here, you can have this back." He tossed it to Duncan, who immediately recognized it.
"You never opened it?" MacLeod asked, waving it.
Richie looked anywhere but at the Scot. 'Nope. I always figured if it was important to you, you'd say it to me in person."
Duncan crumpled it up and shoved it into his pocket. "Fine. I wanted to know if there was a chance we could work this out. Salvage our friendship. I still want to know."
'I don't think we can," the younger Immortal replied. He didn't mean to hurt Duncan, but his words stung anyway. "You'd better go.'
'Fine,' the Highlander snapped back. "If you want it to be over, it's over. Goodbye." Without waiting for a reply, Duncan left. Richie didn't release his breath until the sensations faded, leaving him alone again.
It took him some time to pull all the papers out again, and even more to get his mind back on work. He knew it would be a terrible night, and most likely he wouldn't be in tomorrow. But now, he just had to finish what he was doing, and then he could go have a breakdown.
Richie was just getting back into the swing of things when he felt an Immortal. It had to be Duncan. His hand clenched his pen too tightly, and it snapped, the loud crack echoing in the silent office.
The Highlander burst in, much too cheery for Richie's taste. "Hi, I'm Duncan MacLeod!" He held his hand out, like he expected Richie to shake it.
It was too much. Richie pounded on the desk and stood up. "What the HELL do you want?"
With a smile still on his face, Duncan dropped his duffel bag on the floor. "I'm new in town, and I'm looking for a place to work out."
"Go away, Mac. This is a private club for members only?"
"Fine, so make me a member." There was a gleam in Duncan's dark eyes.
A memory stirred in Richie's head--his first meeting with Charlie DeSalvo. The young Immortal almost choked, realizing MacLeod was playing out that scene in the dojo. "Oh, great. Next you want to try the initiation."
Duncan practically beamed and spread his arms wide. "Whatever you want. Shall I throw you around a mat? Or do I run the gauntlet of your students?"
Richie sat back down in his chair, rubbing his eyes. "God, I'm not going to get rid of you, am I."
That was the reaction the Highlander had been waiting for. "Nope."
It took a second for Richie to make up his mind. He pressed a button on his phone, paging his secretary. "Susan? Set Mr. MacLeod up with an unlimited account. All access. Bleed him dry using whatever payment plan you want. And try and find one of the keys to my private studio for him."
A Scottish eyebrow rose at the last sentence. "Private studio?"
"Yeah. Third floor over the restaurant. That way you can practice or duel without scaring the natives." Richie motioned in the general direction. "Just try and keep the bloodletting down, I've already had to replace the flooring twice."
Richie eyed the work he had left. "Now go away and leave me alone."
Duncan gave him something that resembled a formal bow and picked up his duffel bag. "Good night, Rich," he said at the door before he left.
They ran into each other about twice a week over the next month. Richie worked out whenever he could spare the time, and that occasionally matched up to Duncan's schedule. More often, the young Immortal would head to his private studio, only to find the Highlander there. Duncan would quickly gather up his things and apologize for his timing, leaving Richie alone as quickly as possible.
Toward the end, they managed to be at the juice bar together, spending a few moments to talk about the weather or public affairs. Nothing remotely personal. The month passed, but Duncan still came, the times they were together turning into three times in a week, then five.
One day, Richie stumbled upon an impromptu demonstration by Duncan. Working through some easy forms with a katana, the Highlander had attracted a few of the more serious martial artists. Not one to let a visiting professor hog the attention in his own dojo, Richie had joined in, moving in synch to the Scot. MacLeod stopped at the end, but the young Immortal continued, moving into harder forms. Duncan took up the challenge, both continuing until neither could hold a sword.
They made their way to the bar, ordered juice drinks, and commiserated about how out of shape they both were. Richie left laughing and in good spirits, for the first time in a while.
They began working out together. One night Richie found Duncan in the private studio, and he insisted MacLeod stay. They barely spoke, concentrating on their swordwork. The next week Duncan joined Richie on his infrequent morning run, letting the younger Immortal show him the neighborhood.
After a while, Richie looked forward to seeing Duncan. He was always in a bad mood during the Highlander's trips around the world, but he tried hard not to let it show. When he stumbled across Susan tipping Duncan about his schedule, he pretended not to notice. And he spent more and more time with Duncan at the juice bar.
One day, the Highlander absently turned back as he was leaving, catching Richie's attention. "I've started remodeling a house up in the hills. You should come by and see it. Tell me what you think of the paint."
Richie cocked his head, studying the Scot. "Awfully long way to come work out. I could suggest a few places."
MacLeod had shaken his head. "It's worth it." And blessed him with a warm smile before turning around and leaving, letting Richie ponder the thought.
Susan walked into Richie's office late one night. He was already pissed because he was starving, and the note in her hand looked suspiciously like trouble. He was right.
?If you want to see the Highlander alive, be at 37188 Belview Road. Top floor. One hour. Come alone.?
The note was unsigned. "Damn," Richie cursed, pounding his fist on the desk. He continued to curse as he grabbed his rapier from the side of his desk, snagging his trenchcoat as he rushed toward the door. The warehouse district was clear across the metroplex, and an hour was pushing it. "Damn."
He was ten minutes late. He took an elevator to the top floor, and started moving through the maze of rooms. He stopped when he felt another Immortal. "Where's Duncan?"
The Highlander stepped from the shadows, casually dressed, looking none the worse for wear. "Right here," he calmly said. He had his hands in plain sight, both empty as he walked slowly toward Richie.
The young Immortal lowered his rapier. "What the fuck is going on?"
MacLeod shrugged. "I didn't think you'd say yes if I invited you to dinner."
Richie looked to the side and spotted the table, set for two, hidden in the darkness. He also began to smell the wonderful aroma of delicious food. "You set me up!"
"Yes," Duncan answered calmly. "We'll talk. Just talk. Not about workouts, or the weather, or how to run a business. We'll talk about us. You and me. And see what happens."
The urge to throw down his rapier and throw a tantrum was extremely strong in Richie. He needed to lash out. "You didn't have to trick me."
Duncan's voice was low and smooth, very calming. "Yes, I did. Someone told me I could draw you back with patience, but I was getting desperate."
"Our situation is not desperate!"
"It is to me."
Four simple words, weighed against tons and tons of past pain. But Richie wanted to believe. Almost had to believe. And found those four words made the hurt go away. He found what he once felt about MacLeod buried deep inside. It got him to the table, where a dinner fit for a king waited.
He poured out his soul while they ate, wincing each time Duncan frowned or looked hurt. But each time, the Highlander's smile returned. And he listened as the Scot said his piece, holding his breath against the words that would tear his heart apart, but those words never came. Never hate, never anger. Only fear and worry and uncertainty. And a lot of love.
They talked well into the night, until the food was cold and the wine lukewarm. At some point, Richie realized he had found a friend in MacLeod again, only this time it was based on respect, and shared passions, and equality. No deaths, no breaking and entering. No obligations or honor. Mostly love and companionship that surrounded them with the warm glow of close friendship.
Sometimes it takes desperate measures.
And sometimes it takes patience and love.
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