Duncan waited a few moments until the
wound in his stomach closed, leaving bloody smears on his
white dress shirt. Pulling himself to his feet, he went
over to Richie, who lay inert on the floor. Duncan kneeled
down by him and glanced at his left temple, which was starting
*At least there's no blood,* Duncan
said to himself, silently cursing. What Richie had done
was hotheaded and stupid. Worse yet, it was incredibly risky.
He could have been killed, and then he would have become
Immortal. Duncan was determined that the boy would not have
his first death for many years to come. No one should reach
full Immortality until they attained a healthy level of
maturity. Richie had no doubt seen a lot during his hard
life, but he was by no means a man yet.
Duncan grabbed Richie's shoulders and
gently moved him so he was leaning back against the counter.
Richie's head dropped forward onto his chest, a movement
that startled him awake. Emitting a brief groan of pain,
Richie lifted his head up and opened his eyes. He gingerly
touched his aching temple as the memories of the other Immortal
flashed through his mind. He looked at Duncan, relieved
to see the Highlander hadn't turned into the Headless Horseman,
and then looked around for the woman.
"She's gone," Duncan said.
"But not forgotten," Richie
returned ruefully as he stood up with Duncan's assistance.
"Oh man, what was that chic's problem?"
As Richie rubbed his head with his left
hand, Duncan stepped closer to him.
"Are you OK?" he asked.
Richie stopped rubbing at the colorful
mark on his head and stretched his neck side to side and
back and forth a few times. He wasn't dizzy like he had
been a minute ago. All things considered, in fact, he felt
great until he looked Mac in the eyes. He saw the smoldering
anger barely tucked away beneath concern.
He figured Mac was angry because his
actions could have put the man in even more danger than
he'd already been in. What if by lunging at the psycho woman,
Richie had accidentally sent her forward into Mac instead
of to the side like he'd planned? What if that had given
her the opportunity to take Mac's head?
"I'm really sorry, man," Richie
said hastily, afraid the Highlander was going to explode
and tell him it was time for him to find someplace else
to live. "I was just trying to help."
"I asked if you were OK,"
Duncan persisted in a tightly-controlled voice. He wanted
to verify that fact before laying into the boy.
Richie's face scrunched up in puzzlement.
Why wasn't Mac yelling at him yet? Surely if he was going
to throw Richie out, he would have been screaming by now.
*Maybe he's not going to drop-kick me out of here after
all.* Deciding to take things as they came, he shoved his
hands into the tops of his jeans pocket and stood up as
straight as he could.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Doesn't hurt hardly
Duncan narrowed his eyes and searched
Richie's face for any signs of lying. He saw none. Still,
he thought maybe he should play it safe.
"You were only out for a minute,
but it wouldn't hurt to take you to the hospital and get
you checked out."
Richie took an agitated step back. He
was not going to the hospital. No way. Not as a patient,
and not even as a visitor if he could help it. The trip
with Tessa had been hard enough as it was. Richie knew he
would die a happy man if he never set foot in one of those
sadistic buildings again.
"No hospital, I'm fine, really,
just fine, I swear," he said in a rush of words.
Duncan sensed that Richie's reaction
might be connected with his hasty exit from the hospital
in October. He wanted to ask the boy what demons he was
wrestling with, but didn't. It had taken weeks to
get to where the two were now.
*Which is where?* Duncan asked himself,
then realized their bond was more than just one between
Immortals. He saw himself in Richie. The same stubborn streak
ran through both of them, and Duncan once shared Richie's
cocky courage, although he'd outgrown it hundreds of years
"No hospital, then," he relented.
"But I want an explanation for what you did, Richie."
Richie saw it coming. Mac was going
to scream and yell and, in a matter of moments, Richie would
end up on the sidewalk with his meager possessions. But
Richie didn't want to go back to the uncertainty of living
day-to-day, trying to scrape up enough money to avoid ending
up homeless on the streets.
"I'm really sorry, Mac," he
said. "I was just trying to help."
"Help?" Duncan spluttered.
"Help? By getting yourself killed?"
Richie's mouth dropped open. "By
getting myself killed? I thought you were mad because I
could have gotten you wasted."
"No, Richie, I'm angry," he
said, enunciating the last word, "because by trying
to stop Krissa, you could have been killed."
"Oh," Richie said lamely,
staring at the floor and not knowing what else to say.
Duncan paused long enough to put together
the pieces, then tugged gently at Richie's shirtsleeve to
get his attention.
"I know you were just trying to
help, Richie. But you can't interfere with Immortals when
"Why not? What' s wrong with trying
Sighing, Duncan led Richie to the kitchen
and motioned for him to sit down. He grabbed a clean dish
towel and piled some ice cubes into it. Richie took it gratefully
and held it up against the lump forming on his head. Wincing
at the icy pressure, he waited for Duncan to continue.
"It's too dangerous for mortals
to get involved," Duncan said, although he knew full
well Richie was not truly a mortal. "People have gotten
killed in the past because they tried to help Immortals.
They've been shot, stabbed, burned..."
His voice trailed off as he lost himself
in the memories. He'd known men who'd tried to help him,
not knowing what they were getting themselves into, and
died for their trouble. Their faces would always be with
him, paining his soul for eternity.
Of course, Duncan's concern for Richie
was different than it was for the others. They had not come
back from their deaths; Richie would. But Duncan knew firsthand
that the gift of Immortality had razor-sharp strings attached
to it. Strings that sometimes got so knotted there was no
way to unravel them without annihilating yourself.
"You can't interfere," Duncan
Richie saw the intensely haunted look
on the Scotsman's face and nodded his head. It wasn't just
that he felt compelled to do what Mac requested, although
he did. It was that he had seen Krissa's and Slan Quince's
wrath and knew he'd have a better chance of adding to the
population if he stayed out of the way of any rampaging
"I understand," he said, and
paused. "So you're not going to, like, kick me out,
"What?" Duncan asked, confused.
"Why would I do that?"
Richie remembered the times he'd been
sent away from foster homes for making mistakes. But he
didn't feel right telling Mac about them. He set down the
towel on the table and fiddled with it.
"Oh, no reason," he said.
"You're still welcome here,"
Duncan told him, then hesitated. He could see Richie was
suppressing some painful memories from his past, and Duncan
knew how much the past could hurt. "Are you sure you're
Richie grinned in spite of the weird
events of the day and ducked his head down in an almost
shy manner before looking at Mac. "Yeah, my head's
fine. Just a little sore."
"I wasn't talking about your head,"
Duncan said somberly. "Richie, there's something going
on you're not talking about. I understand you probably don't
want to share it with me, but if you change your mind, I'll
Richie sat there in the middle of the
kitchen and wondered if he would ever feel comfortable telling
Mac about anything in his past. Despite the fact that Mac
was growing on him, he definitely didn't feel close enough
to share his deepest pain with the man. And even if he did,
Richie worried that he'd look like a wimp if he revealed
anything to the hulking Highlander.
Still, he appreciated that Mac cared.
It surprised him how much it meant to him.
"Thanks, Mac," he said, and
got up to go to his room.
Duncan sat there for a moment longer
before going to check the inventory.
Two words Richie had said to him. Two
words, and that was all. But they conveyed something very
valuable: Richie may not be ready to talk about his past
or trust Duncan completely yet, but he wasn't going to bolt,
And that could be the first step toward
getting the boy to open up.
When Tessa came home, Duncan told her
what happened, knowing it would be futile to try hiding
it from her. Futile and unfair. She was startled and full
of questions, and Duncan decided it would be best to tell
her and Richie about Krissa at the same time. He put it
off as long as he could, getting the two to help him finish
inventory. It was 9 p.m. when they sat down to eat.
After Tessa laid out dinner plates and
a bowl of Thai chicken salad that Richie eyed suspiciously,
"Krissa Charter. She's 600 years
old. I met her for the first time in the late 70s, although
I'd heard about her from other Immortals."
"You mean the first time you met
her was in this century?" Tessa asked him, surprised.
"Yes, but I had heard of her...escapades,
from some friends. She's killed more Immortals than anyone
I know of."
"How many is that?" Richie
asked, pushing away his plate of food. Thai food was too
exotic for his tastes. Right now, he'd kill for a cheeseburger
or a chili dog.
"Hundreds. I'm not sure exactly
how many. I just know that she's never lost, except when
some outside force has interrupted her fight."
"That's what happened when you
two fought?" Richie guessed.
Duncan nodded. "She doesn't like
"What an understatement,"
Richie said. "So she's gung-ho to win the Prize, huh?"
"No. She kills because she likes
"Sort of an Immortal serial killer?"
"That's one way to put it,"
"Who's better?" Richie asked
Duncan paused for a moment, knowing
Tessa would see if he lied with his answer. "She is.
But sometimes luck outweighs skill."
"She'll kill you if you fight her,
won't she?" Tessa asked, her face reflecting the panic
that was unkindly squeezing her heart.
Duncan reached over and placed a hand
over hers. "Not if I can help it."
The phone rang. Duncan was somewhat
relieved at the interruption as he answered it.
"MacLeod?" the female voice
on the other end asked.
"I didn't think it would take you
long," he told Krissa.
Tessa set her fork down on her plate,
her appetite gone. She could tell from Duncan's tone that
he was talking to an enemy. It had to be Krissa.
Richie turned to watch Mac.
"We have unfinished business, MacLeod,"
Krissa's voice purred in Duncan's ears. "Tonight. Meet
me at the park your little tramp was at earlier today."
Duncan looked at Tessa, fear running
through him when he realized Krissa had watched Tessa. "When?"
"One hour," Krissa said and
Duncan hesitated before hanging up the
phone. Richie and Tessa would know what he was leaving to
do, and he knew Tessa would worry. Worse, he was afraid
Richie would follow him.
Tessa came to him.
"You're going to fight her, aren't
you?" she asked, her accent stronger than usual because
of her agitation.
"I have to," he said and kissed
her forehead before looking at Richie. "Stay here.
I mean it."
Before Richie could say anything, Tessa
grabbed Duncan's arm to keep him from turning away.
"You'll come back, won't you?"
Duncan watched the tears slip down her
cheeks. He nodded at her, although they both knew he had
no idea if they'd ever see each other again.
"I love you," she said in
a choked voice as they embraced.
"You know I love you," he
returned and then released her.
Duncan watched Richie stand up and pointed
at him. "Don't follow me."
Richie nodded his head. Part of him
wanted to go after Mac, but part of him didn't because he
was afraid of getting caught in the middle again. And looking
at how upset Tessa was, Richie knew she would feel better
if someone stayed with her. There was nothing Richie could
do to help Mac anyway. He'd already tried once today, and
the results had been pathetic.
Richie stepped closer to Tessa as Duncan
left the shop. She turned away from him, and he saw her
shoulders shake. Unsure if he was doing the right thing,
he turned her toward him, hands laid gently on her shoulders.
The fear he saw on her face tore at him. He didn't want
to lose Mac, either.
"He'll be OK, Tessa," he said,
pulling the older woman into a hug.
Tessa let herself relax in his arms, grateful she could share
her fear with someone else. If Richie wasn't here, she'd
be alone. And that would have been more than she could bear.
End of Part 4