The next morning saw a solitary figure dark
against the pale soil of his personal battleground. The sleek
apparition could not have been called natural, there was fire
in the tense, worked body, a heat of decision that the kata through
which he moved focused into a pique. Richie was alone in his own
world: Michael had not stirred from his bed as the young Immortal
had snuck out far earlier than the dawn; Harry had cried off from
another tutorial the previous evening, his excuse the late hour
of their return, the truth, his knowledge that his friend would
not have made a good tutor the next morning. Such a surmise was
only too apparent in the hard glare that could have cut a soul
as efficiently as the rapier in hand sliced the air. Things were
going on in the warrior's head, ideas and images that the power
of the kata laid in his mind's eye. As the blade swung into air,
it wasn't mere space through which it sung, but the considerations
within. The Immortal's muscles were glistening, his clothes were
soaked, and in reality, his spirit and physique ached in unison,
exhausted by an indistinct time of disciplined combat. It had
been dark when Richard Ryan had jogged away from the silent farm,
the grey tinge of dawn had been breaking the edge of the hills
when he had drawn the sword for the first time, and now the sun
was climbing well into the sky. Life would have returned to the
comfortable buildings an experience away, but it meant little
to the centred being whose only sign of weariness was the guttural
catch in his throat as his breath passed in and out.
The weapon sliced down through another ghost
of indecision, as for the umpteenth time, Richie faced the ideas
that had been lain before him in the rashness of night. There
was his love, so strong and sure, but in habitual resignation
it hung back behind his logical thoughts, the ones which spoke
to him of the future, however far, when there was a possibility
of the choice being wrong. His mind told him that he had Naomi
now, a friend, a soul-mate, but untouchable, taboo due to her
vows, it was what he knew, the pain to which he had grown accustomed.
Then there was the thump of his heartbeat which told him of the
glorious possibility of that which was shut away from him as yet.
Still, the idea was a little frightening, and what was had a grudging
hold on his thoughts; it nagged at him, suggesting the terrible
future where the decision to alter their relationship was its
destruction - a life without Naomi was not one he wanted to face
anymore. A year ago, Richie Ryan, a free-agent, a man who would
not have thought twice about the offer he had been given, but
the advent of his diva had changed all that. This was a creature
thinking of years to come, not the impulsive, naive boy, but an
Immortal who saw the years stretching before him, and didn't want
the chance of living them alone. His fears were almost logical,
but a love fulfilled made so much more sense to his heart.
Up, defence, twist and cover the back with
the sword; round, slice down. Up, back, protect - and then, the
final, fatal, swift horizontal slice cut through the last monster
of doubt. A hissed breath and he eased his muscles away from the
conflict. A moment of pain ran through the young Immortal, partly
as the world caught up and his mind let in the consequences of
the excessive physical meditation, partly as his decision still
hung uncertain in his thoughts. Yet, it was too late to go back
into the fight, despite the power around him, concentration was
gone and there was no energy inside the figure to push him back
into the kata - the choice was final, and all he could do now
was talk to his beloved.
There was a freedom in the clarification of
destiny, and the man who walked back to the life on the ranch
may have seemed at first glance as an exhausted wreck, but anyone
who looked closer could see a brightness to his eyes and a purpose
in his manner. Youth was spread all around the yard, in various
forms of activity, and those who greeted Richie received a pleasant
smile and a wave, but the one person he wanted to see was missing.
The Immortal was informed upon his inquiry as to her whereabouts
that she had gone to town to help clear up the mess that the partiers
had left in the hall. It was a small frustration, now the election
had been made, he wanted desperately to face his darling and try
to explain himself, but his search in vain, Richie headed for
The young man plodded out of the showers yawning
and trying to stretch relentlessly aching muscles; he hadn't slept
well and that coupled with the intense training session left him
more than tired. Absently curious about how long he had actually
spent in the wilderness of his psyche, Richie picked up his watch
as he sat down on his bed. He raised his eyebrows as he gathered
that the kata had lasted a good three hours, and the reason for
the tingling in his body as it renewed itself made sense. Yet,
it didn't matter; he put down the time piece and then rubbed his
damp torso as his eyes moved to staring front, blankly; there
had been too much concentration for too long, and his brain wandered
around itself in peaceful circles where the hot water had washed
away any thought he had left.
The young man was still sat gazing into space
when an entrant disturbed his dreamy state. It was Michael, and
his face said that he was a little disgruntled with his comrade;
he glanced once at the dozy youth, making sure that eye contact
had been made before turning and moving swiftly to his own collection
of belongings. The guilt Richie felt this time was justified,
he had deliberately deserted the teenager, and as he watched the
taut back, he felt the need to apologise.
"I'm sorry about this morning's run,"
he began meekly.
"You should be," came from lips
that spoke of disappointment, and the athlete turned around to
confront his companion.
The returned stare was full of repentance,
and Michael was not a boy to hold a grudge; the dark-skinned youth
was well aware of the motivations behind his friend's disappearing
act, and with a shrug, he eventually relaxed the hard stare.
"I needed some time alone, Mike,"
Ryan explained quietly.
"Feeling any less testy today?"
a grin followed the admission and Richie had to nod with a smile
as he recalled his petulant behaviour the night before.
"I sorted a few things out," he
nodded more vigorously and chose to start moving into action to
face the rest of the day; grabbing some clothes, he continued
jovially, "You can tell the others they can lower their riot
The teenager laughed at that, and the young
man was glad that his humour had returned.
"Okay," the boy answered, and finding
the scarf for which he had come in, turned to leave his companion
to get dressed. "When you're ready, come join us at the archery
range, Garion's wicked with a bow."
"I will," the young man promised,
and reached to loosen the towel around his waist.
His hand froze on the tuck as his spirit shifted
and a blur of colour came charging towards him. The young man
collapsed back onto the bed as the missile contacted with him
showing no signs of slacking off an attack. Small hands slapped
his bare chest, and enraged little grunts came from the contorted
young face on which the defender eventually focused. There was
a vehement rage inside the toddler as she pummelled her momentarily
stunned opponent; it was only the second time he experienced being
the butt of the little angel's anger, and Richie didn't like it
one bit. His bonnie sweetheart was not meant to turn on him, upsetting
her was a crime on his conscience and it was instinctive within
the Immortal to try and soothe. As gently as possible, the youth
took hold of delicate wrists, and held the struggling child off
him enough to sit up. The girl struggled and complained hotly,
and for the first time, her compatriot saw a side of her that
worried him; the little cherub bared her teeth and became a menace
which tried to bite where she couldn't scratch.
"Hey!" Richie protested urgently,
avoiding the sharp incisors aimed at his shoulder. "Annie,
what is it?"
"Na-mi cried in bed!" Penelope-Anne
hissed wildly, and her eyes flared with a protective instinct
that her young mind couldn't contain.
Then her companion understood, and his horror
spoke through his face. He knew his words had hurt both in saying
and hearing, but his heart tore into pieces at the poignant disclosure
which showed him exactly how pernicious his actions had been.
There was so much hate in the old-young eyes as a child tried
to accommodate the emotions and concerns that the trapped everlasting
soul had conjured. Yet, the pot came off the boil as the assault
victim's reaction was read and understood. There was still a mass
of feeling inside the small frame and it came out in sobs of prior
angst that Naomi's tears had caused. As the tiny body relaxed
into him, Richie freed her wrists and wrapped himself around her.
"Oh, honey," he calmed, rocking
the trembling form, "I'm sorry. Naomi and I have some grown-up
things to work out."
"Stop her cryin'," the child choked
into his shoulder.
The Immortal stayed silent, there was no response
to such a heartfelt plea.
Noon came and went - there was no sign of
the return of the second wanderer. Once she had recovered from
the fit of rage, Annie became her once-more-hero's shadow. Naomi
not being around, she chose to place her watchful eye on the beloved
she could find, being no more than a few inches from his heels
at any time. Her face was still grave, no amount of reassurance
being enough to soothe her angst completely. The youth had no
words for her, everytime he looked into her deep eyes, his normal
strength failed him, and eloquence just would not surface. He
resisted wording his decision, not only with the toddler, but
with everyone else, it was Naomi's first, she would hear him before
another soul. No matter how much the concern in the young body
screwed up his emotion, he could not break the pact which he had
made with himself at the last second of his battle.
The afternoon was warm, the youngsters were
spread out, enjoying free- time, and without a doubt, getting
into mischief. Richie was playing his role of chaperone as he
walked around the buildings, searching out groups and now couples,
making sure nothing too off base was happening. Yesterday Kathleen
had only had to look out for Luke and Jessie finding a quiet place,
today, his job was much more complicated. The aforementioned pair
were well in view in the main yard in front of the kitchen window,
playing baseball with as many as they could rope in, displaying
their innocent side to Agatha, who was baking inside. Yet, oddly
enough, neither Randy and Amber, nor Jake and Martha were anywhere
to be seen, despite Mary wearing her best friend's jacket in an
attempt to confuse, and Jamie doing a passing impression on Randy
in baseball cap and glasses. There had been strenuous attempts
to enlist both group leaders into the game, but they were
not that gullible. The buoyant woman had agreed to join in, but
with a wink at her comrade had sent him off prowling the barns
for the young sweethearts.
The task caught the mischievous side of the
young man, and he had been scanning the area ahead for anything
near a bucket of water to cool any ardours he might locate. He
was in a good mood, and an `evil' grin played across his baby-face.
Almost stalking, a playful hunter in his eyes, the youth headed
swiftly round the next corner as he recognised sounds of voices.
His air of fun fell away, and alarm daggered through the Immortal
as he realised which other pair of faces had been missing from
the collection back at the impromptu baseball diamond; Pog stood
only a few metres away from him, his attention on Biff - the tomboy
was the young man's centre of concern. The skinny creature was
not short, but she was dwarfed in size and brilliance by the sword
which she held up above her head. The blade glinted in the sun,
displaying its razor edge to the ogling eyes of the children,
and only the newcomer recognised its power. Richard Ryan flipped
"No!" he screamed madly, a pot of
righteous anger surging through him as he crossed the gap between
the youngsters and himself with speed made of his emotion.
Biff cried out in fear as his omnipotent form
descended upon her and ripped the weapon from her trembling hands.
She fell away from him, stumbling wildly as she saw the danger
in his eyes that the weapon inspired.
"What the hell do you think you are doing?"
the Immortal demanded at top volume. "Do you know how dangerous
There was no coherent reply from the girl,
only a mew at the instinctive rage she experienced from her superior.
Ryan did not see the terror he created, possessed by the disastrous
possibilities that had entered his head the moment he set eyes
on the scene. In some demented kind of demonstration, the ageless
being swung at a nearby fence post, slicing clean through its
top. He was seething with emotions he couldn't control as he exploded
again, "That could have been your leg, or an arm!"
The girl screamed, falling to her knees, Pog
turned and ran, his face white with dread. Richie stared down
on the wreck his charge had so quickly become, and realisation
of his action dawned. The alarm had led him, and it drained away
so quickly it froze him for a few seconds. Guilt replaced his
anger as Biff's sobs crawled into his ears; he knew what image
he had cast. As slowly as possible, he lowered the rapier to his
side and walked over to the terrified girl. She cowered as his
free hand reached out to her shoulder, afraid of the rage that
had so recently been present. Remorse in his voice, the young
man tried to make amends.
"I'm sorry, Biff, I didn't mean to frighten
you," he murmured, crouching down into her view and keeping
the elegant sword as far behind him as possible. "It's just
you frightened me."
The admission stopped the tears, it had been
unexpected. The youth's face was open and honest as he tried to
explain the storm he had become, "I shouldn't have yelled,
but I know how dangerous this sword is. When I saw you holding
it out like that, I went into automatic. I'm sorry."
It was then that a crowd of people came charging
round the side of the barn, led by Jon. They'd heard the yelling,
they'd met Pog in his flight, and their faces showed their concern.
The Native American's manner showed a little paranoia as he thought
of an Immortal losing it, he calmed amazingly quickly when both
perpetrators of the incident looked over to him. Mouths hung open
as those who had not seen the weapon laid eyes on the crafted
handle and tended blade. Pog hung anxiously behind Jake, still
unsure, having so recently witnessed such rage. Yet, Biff saw
the reaction the others were having to a sudden stranger once
more, and chose to rectify her part in the situation. Shakily,
she stood up and held out her hand to her companion; she couldn't
find any words, there was still the vagueness of fear in her eye
as her mind played back the few seconds of uncontrolled concern,
but her meaning was obvious. It was an offer of peace, and the
young man took it. Slowly, he stood, his fingers grasped around
a trembling hand, and then he turned to Jon.
"Can you put this somewhere safe?"
he asked, holding out the rapier to the neutral figure.
"I'll put it in the study," the
man responded seriously, aware of the damage limitation that was
"Biff and I are going to sit down and
have a talk," was the completion of the dialogue as the young
man decided what to do.
The kitchen was a place to get a glass of
water for the white girl, and Richie quickly sat her down as they
moved out of full view of the gathered company outside. He ran
the tap and then offered over the glass; Biff glanced at him,
feeling shy and unsure now that they were alone again.
"I'm sorry," she managed in a whisper
so faint her lip movements were more intelligible.
"Then that makes two of us," Richie
agreed, standing back against the table to give the youngster
some room. "I shouldn't have yelled like that, and I shouldn't
have left the sword where curious people could find it. When I
lost it, I was more angry at myself than you, it was a stupid
thing to do."
"That makes two of us," Biff hiccuped
an attempt at a laugh of recovery.
"I think that makes quits," the
young man smiled back trying to force away the remnants of tension
in his body. "I won't lose it again, if you won't go playing
with sharp blades."
Gradually, Biff began to ease up, and eventually,
Agatha came up with an idea that was meant to patch up any problems
left. The impressive woman brought every person on the farm into
the kitchen and the dining room, and ordered them all to start
helping her with the baking. Cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, anything
for which the woman had trays and tins and ingredients, the cook
dolled out to her minions for construction. Flour began to fly,
dough was mixed, chocolate chips eaten before they reached the
bowl, and the heady incident was studiously forgotten.
Richie let out a yelp of pretend consternation
as several raisins flew in his direction - the joke had been a
bad pun, and he deserved the barrage, but he was damned if he
was going to take it lying down.
"The currant of this dialogue
is starting to date," he intoned like some kind of
bad poet, and more groans came from all over the room.
Agatha turned on him for that one, and grinning
all over her face despite the terrible joke, she waved a spoon
at him and ordered, "Down to the basement with you, Boy,
get me some apples before we decide to use that sword on you."
The young man made a hurt face and Jamie laughed
with an `Ah' in his tone.
"And you James," Agatha commanded.
The boy groaned, but stood willingly enough
to lead the way to the cellar door. His companion flicked a piece
of unnamed dried fruit at his nearest neighbour before turning
and heading after the youth. He ducked inside the doorway as several
return projectiles headed his way. His quick exit was in perfect
time with an entrance; Naomi walked into the bombsight of a kitchen
as her loved one disappeared into the fruit cellar.
Richie laughed to himself as he watched Jamie's
back and brushed flour off his shirt. He was a mess, due to the
fact that he'd been coming up with bad jokes all afternoon; it
was a defence mechanism, he knew it, but it was helping to heal
the rift that had opened up so suddenly, and he enjoyed creating
laughter. There were a lot more puns and one- liners from where
the last two had come, and these poor kids hadn't heard many of
them yet - it was party time for Richard Ryan, the comedian. The
young man ran his fingers through his hair to clear some of the
white dust that had settled there, going over some more of his
repetoir. His eyes were on his feet as he neared the bottom of
the stairs, but as Jamie moved off to find the apples, he looked
up after him.
The room was dingy, lit by a bare bulb a few
feet away - the walls were earth held back with wood, the air
smelt damp. The pain came from his head, Ryan knew it as soon
as he felt the nausea, but he couldn't control it. Suddenly, images
ran through his mind, memories of a time ten months past when
a basement had been the scene of his torture. Hemar's face, twisted
and demonic daggered into his perception, a nightmare that cut
at the Immortal's soul. The agony, the hate, the self-loathing,
the disgust, it all flooded back into his unprepared spirit with
the speed of a tidal wave and it shook his foundations as truly
as if it had been physical.
There had been no warning, no conscious thought
of connection, no hint of anything to warn him about entering
another cellar, separate, but too similar to the nightmare of
the past. Pictures in his head, ones only seen in dreams that
were thankfully half forgotten when he awoke, they all hit the
Immortal's unprotected being with the clarity and strength of
true recollection. These were distortions, unreality caused by
the emotions that mixed with the true events which had passed
in the uncertain time in Hemar's power. The walls shivered, the
ceiling felt too near; Richard Ryan was not claustrophobic, but
there was a heaviness about him as he experienced the destruction
of normality. The moment knocked the young man off his mental
feet and he lost his bearings on the real world in the mass of
cruel imagery. The body close by was not that of a child, it shifted
in the sea of despair and formed into the gloating that had been
Richie grabbed the pillar beside the stairway,
attempting to fight off the abrupt touch of terrifying helplessness,
but the world swam with images: the whip, the knife, the cross-bow,
brilliant in his troubled recollections, tormenting his sanity.
The feelings that ran through him were stifling, also dangerous
and his breathing faltered against their pressure; he knew in
the back of his troubled mind that Jamie was the presence close
by, but still there was a murderous edge to his thoughts as he
connected a body with the picture of the German warrior in his
mind - the connection was illogical and scared the youth as he
tried to force it away. The room itself, through all the mental
pictures, was beginning to turn, and, trembling violently, the
youth knew that he was going to lose any semblance of control
that he still held if he stayed in the focus of his memory any
longer. At last, he managed, "I have to leave."
His sentence was so normal, so ordinary, but
the way he said it, his tone uncontrolled, rising and falling
pitch, wild edged, made his companion turn. Richard Ryan did not
hold the human facade, the funny man, the jester, over him now
- he was the Immortal, but a broken creature, the warrior touched
by claws of sadistic destruction. The danger that was in his manner,
in the air around him was turned inwards, protective, but at the
same time, gnawing into a damage soul. The agony that crossed
the young face threatened to engulf the watcher. Jamie was a statue
of horror as a savage gaze met his for an instant, and he felt
a vague panic at the intent in those penetrating eyes. Then his
comrade spun erratically on his heel and dashed up the stairs,
his face a death mask, drained of colour.
The atmosphere upstairs was jovial, most having
returned to mixing their own cakes and testing others' mixtures
with varying degrees of appreciation. Naomi had gone over to the
sink, to help a courageous Indian in the mountain of washing up.
The apparition which darted across the room and out of the open
door caught everyone's attention, no more so than Agatha and Naomi.
There had been no doubt as to the distress on the young features,
and it did not take a genius to work out the connections.
"Oh, my God, the cellar," Agatha
breathed, glancing at her lodger, "I didn't think."
There was no comprehension from most of the
room, only silence as the words floated across to them; they were
street kids, they'd seen the look of shock, terror, pain on others
faces when life had been rough - a friend abused by a loved one,
raped, mugged, traumatised by violence, it was not uncommon, and
they all recognised the same innate manner that enfolds a victim.
Richard Ryan gained another new perspective in the young eyes.
In a second, Naomi's face had gone from shock,
through a strange indecision, to complete concern, and then she
too ran for the door after the helpless creature she loved.
Richie was stood on the porch, leaning heavily
over the railing, coughing in gulps of air and trying not to be
sick. The world was slowing down from the mess of light and colour
it had been, but he was still shaking badly, and was not aware
of much around him. A hand on his arm caused a violent start and
he shied away from the gentle touch, his gaze wild and unsteady
as he sought the owner. The young man calmed a little as soon
as he recognised his goddess through the smog of his emotions.
"Richie, are you alright?" came
the soft voice of loving care.
The shaken man couldn't help himself, he snorted
in self-mockery and admitted sharply, "No."
His gaze as he looked out at the distant horizon
was scared and angry and showed the shock which the memories had
caused the normally self- present Immortal. He was always ready,
alert, looking around the next corner, it was the nature of the
Everlasting, the consideration that there was another always looking
for a Quickening. Naomi had seen the manner before stood on a
dark fire-escape, and it was a cold thing to have back. The young
man realised the feelings were there as soon as the palm still
rested on his arm held tighter and he glanced back at her. There
were questions and reassurance in her eyes at the same time, and
she murmured again, almost as a plea this time, "Are you
There wasn't really a rational answer to that
question, the unsettled youth was not sure one way or the other
as the gentle presence ran through his heart. Instead, he replied
with a slightly steadier, surprisingly logical assessment of his
condition. His idea of himself formed as he spoke the words, flowing
from his mouth in a manner that was barely controlled.
"If you'd asked two days ago," he
disclosed with a sad smile in his eyes, "the answer would
have been `fine', but this place has a strange affect on all of
us. Down there was only the result of the atmosphere here. I can't
explain it. I thought I was over this, but down there, everything
came back - that bastard, his toys, everything all at once.
God, look at me, I'm shaking, I can't stop."
The Immortal stood up, away from the support,
staring down at his hands that were visibly trembling - it was
unnerving for someone whose life depended on a steady poise. Yet
he was not deserted - as the world spun a last time in vicious
disquiet, the hard, unfeeling brace was replaced by another that
was far more comfortable; Naomi wrapped herself around his trembling
chest, holding him tight, demonstrating her love. Instinct was
powerful at that moment, and the youth reached right back without
hesitation. The very scent of the beauty beside him helped cool
the horror in his mind, and he breathed her in as deeply as he
could. It was a day for heady moments, the air was hot and dry,
a gentle breeze on occasion to relieve the fire just enough to
make life bearable - this was the second intensity in the last
hour and Richie's breeze of companionship took away his own flames.
He laughed again, but not this time the harsh tone of scorn, but
a light, admirable sound which made an observation.
"I had so many words for this,"
he murmured easily, kissing the top of his darling's head fondly,
"but I don't need them, do I?"
Naomi looked up at him, her eyes wide and
twinkling. There was so much passion in her gaze that the world
went away again, just for a second. Then the woman blinked, knowing
full well the affect she was having on her companion. There was
a subtle smile on her sensuous lips as she returned, silky smooth,
The movement was so natural, the young man
bent his head down and met the soft, sweetness. Everything felt
right, and his soul moved as Richard Ryan basked in the wonder
of what was to be.
The porch was overlooked completely by the
dining room, and no one was overly subtle about their presence
in the viewing gallery that the chamber became. Richie's troubled
exit had been as much a shock to the community as it had been
to him, and the embrace was a welcome lightening rod for the tension
that had grown. A lot had happened that day, not all of it a demonstration
of healthy thought - the love being displayed was something that
made sense and was comfortable. It was not going to be allowed
to pass without supportive comment.
A whoop came from several sources inside the
house. The couple's heads came up and they glanced over their
shoulders in surprise - they had not been aware of the eyes on
them, their world only having consisted of immediate things. Naomi's
cheeks coloured at the mass of knowing grins, and with a shy smile
she buried her head in her companion's chest, much to the enjoyment
of the onlookers. The ex-street-punk, more used to situations
where he made a fool of himself took the good- natured whistles
with an ironic smile.
"At last," Luke called, none of
the insinuation in his tone being halted by the glass between
"Hay loft's very comfortable!" Randy
added, grinning all over his face and his statement being backed
up by a giggle from Amber.
Richie raised an eyebrow, but the boy didn't
even have the `decency' to look abashed at the implications of
his statement - in fact, Kathleen laughed raucously and slapped
the child on the back. Richie felt his darling's hold on him tighten
a little at the suggestion, but in full view, he wasn't about
to respond, except for a discrete, similar return, while being
watched. There was a passion in the young bodies, a pique that
now met, would not diminish easily, but openly responding to such
obvious intimations was not advisable unless one wanted to suffer
continuous jibes for the rest of existence. Instead, the young
man gave the gathered company a long hard stare and suggested
heavily, "Haven't you guys some cakes to be baking?"
The teenagers stayed a long moment, in which
Richie had the frustrated thought that they might never go away,
but they possessed an amount of politeness, and eventually, accompanied
by winks and signs of raucous support, the whole party began to
turn back to the activity which had been disturbed minutes earlier.
The Immortal watched them move, the seconds dripping away slowly
as expectation drew them out. At last, all eyes were, at least,
not so obviously on the pair, and then the young man turned his
attention back to the delight in his arms. The brush of colour
on the young woman's face as it paled was no less an attraction
than the all-encompassing smile that touched her lips, or the
sparkle in her eyes. They were attuned, one intention, as they
whispered like excited school children, "The barn."
[NOTE: Richie and Naomi get it together!!!!
The ADULT: version contains more detail]
End Of Part 5