Duncan glanced into
the rear-view mirror, to the couple in the station-wagon's back
seat, his gaze concerned. There had been silence since they'd
settled into the journey, and the quiet perturbed the Immortal's
sense of the way things should be. Richie had been in contemplative
calm when he had carried his small charge back into the cabin,
but he'd, understandably, flatly refused to go any where near
the cellar area, and had waited like a ghost upstairs while his
companion had gone down and found his shoes and jacket. His shirt
had not been worth replacing on his back, so now he looked more
like a ragged street kid than ever as he half lay across the cushions,
cradling a dozing child to his stained chest. There was a bitter
vulnerability about Richard Ryan that had not been there before
Hemar's attentions, it showed in his thin-lipped, bleak gaze that
stared out of the window, only disappearing in a deep caring as
he responded to a dreamy shift of the toddler. There was not much
the Scot could do, however; he'd attempted to strike up a conversation,
but had been shushed to quiet, supposedly because of the slumbering
form, but it had been obvious that the youth did not want to talk
yet. Reluctantly, MacLeod turned his attention back to the road
ahead, time his only tool.
Richie stared at the
back of his mentor's head for a few moments, he knew that the
man had been watching him, and was more than a little worried,
but he really couldn't think of anything to say. The loss of his
usual eloquence was also a concern to the young being, but the
feelings and thoughts running around his head were too raw to
vocalise at that point in time. The still figure couldn't even
put form to some of the fleeting instincts that crossed his mind's
eye, they were ineptly left in his head as vague impressions of
colour, mostly red and black. Even his brain's own imagery was
an anxiety. The youth didn't like the thoughts he could
interpret, they were extremes of mainly hatred for his way of
life, for the insidious Game which had brought them all to this
point, and even as he formed the notions, he knew that the view
was biased by his emotional state and did the Immortal code an
injustice, but he couldn't help it. That internal conflict wasn't
doing him any good either. Only Penelope- Anne, the dear innocent,
pulled him from the involuntary wallowing, and he let in all the
emotion he could for her when her presence did draw him out of
the stupor. She was safe, a victory had been won, her unique
strength of simplicity would still captivate others for the years
to come. The pain her existence caused was healthy, a reminder
of Immortality's curse, but her bonnie face was more than a counter-balance,
a testimony to how joyous life could be, whether eternal, or a
blink on the face of time. Little Annie needed to live, to perpetuate
her inherent integrity, as evidence that no matter how bad life
could be, there was always a way through it; if Kenny's cold-heart
was a demonstration of how the hex could damage a soul, then Annie's
sweetness and trust was the proof that it didn't have to be like
That thought held almost
desperately in his mind, Richie closed his eyes and leant back
into the seat; more than anything, he was exhausted - constant
renewal cost, and the Quickening had completed the rest of the
task of removing his energy.
Five faces were staring
fixedly at the elevator shaft as the gate was shoved upwards.
Their gazes were anxious, concerned, but Richie couldn't stifle
the sense that they would soon be accusing. How the hell was he
going to tell the children that their ageless father was dead?
The young man hung slightly back of Duncan as they walked out
into the apartment, trying to keep his emotions under control.
Some moments he wanted to turn and run, at others he wanted to
stride over to the close family and wrap them in a hug. Instead,
as Naomi gasped relievedly as she saw her little sister, he bent
down and released the child, watching blankly as she ran to her
siblings and was engulfed in warm kisses - at least there was
some joy. Only Garion did not pay much attention to his sister,
instead, his blue eyes levelled on the unkempt Immortal and asked
the question that hadn't reached the minds of the others as they
greeted their darling. Yet, the youth couldn't say it, he just
stared right on back, afraid of what might lie behind the unsettling
glare if he disclosed the facts. It was Harry who finally noticed
the absences and vocalised with quiet trepidation, "Where's
Richie only heard the
whimper of grief from Naomi as his eyes fell to the floor and
he shook his head with guilty admission. Tears began to fall and
the sound tore at the quiet figure's soul; in this he had failed,
a dear, kind man was dead, and he had not been able to stop it.
The small group were turned on each other, embraces of comfort
passing between them when he did gather the courage to raise his
head. Duncan had moved across to Joe; their sorrow was less open,
but there was the knowledge that a good influence in the world
was gone in the looks which passed between them. No one was taking
notice of him, he was a ghost in the background, and he was glad.
It was an opportunity, and the young man took it; he turned on
his heel and headed out of the door to the early morning outside.
Duncan glanced over
his shoulder as he heard the door go, but he did not move, he
had expected the retreat; his companion had seemed reluctant to
face the family when they had climbed out of the car, it had only
been Annie's presence which had brought him all the way inside.
If he went home, all well and good, it would mean at least that
he might have time to think, if not rest, and maybe leaving things
to the next day would be beneficial. Joe's face showed concern,
but he patted the man's shoulder and shook his head in resignation.
Naomi also reacted to the sound.
she started, almost as if she had just remembered his existence,
her eyes were wild and questioning as they fell on Duncan.
It was Annie who answered,
in her usual, direct fashion.
"Bad man hurt
him," she disclosed, a grim frown crossing her already, tear-stained
MacLeod decided it
was better to clarify the statement than leave it as the girl's
eyes clouded with emotion.
him," he admitted grimly, but added almost in consolation,
"Richie took his head."
The young woman seemed
to understand all the meaning that wasn't worded into the thin
statement, and a final check on her siblings, she headed for the
The young Immortal
stood at the top of the fire escape, staring down at the dark
alley below. The sounds of the city moved around him, taking his
soul away and the mood suited his philosophical position. He was
alone as all his kind were, and the anonymity that he had known
growing up made sense to him now. Maybe he had known all the time
that he was different, that he was meant to lead a solitary life
until the time came when his head would roll.
Richie smiled oddly
to himself as a feeling swept through him and he knew he had a
companion. Yet it wasn't the definite pressure of warning that
told him another of his species was close by, it was the faint
aura of beginning, a suggestion of what was to be one day. He
lifted his head as Naomi stopped a little way behind him and waited
for her to break the silence.
"Richie, you okay?"
the young woman enquired quietly, her manner concerned, but unsure.
youth responded honestly, a quaver in his tone as the world rested
on his shoulders.
"Want to talk
about it?" his companion continued.
It was an offer that
the Immortal would have refused, but Richard Ryan had a human
soul, and it was hurting badly. Life had made an awkward turn,
and it had caused a lot of damage to the normally carefree figure.
It clarified in a sense of injustice, and the young man spoke.
"You know what,
Naomi," he breathed heavily, his voice cut with a sudden
bitterness, "when I first met Duncan, when I found out about
him, what he was excited me: being able to live knowing you'd
never have to worry about getting old; to live on a code of honour;
even the sword bit fascinated me, it swept me up with a sense
of romance. I was awed by how life would change if I could be
Then I did become like
him, and I've lived this life for two years now. Sometimes it
seems like forever. And I realised something for the first time
today - it isn't life that changes, it's death. I had to learn
to fight, to be able to kill. I keep a sword near me at all times.
I'm like all the others; we're obsessed by the chance of our own
ending. We don't lose the pain of being mortal when we become
part of the Game, we magnify it. Everytime there's that knowledge
we wonder, 'Is it now that I will die?'.
Stay mortal Naomi,
as long as you can. Enjoy real life, getting older with your friends,
not watching from a distance as they change and you stay the same.
Feel happy that when you cut yourself you bleed naturally, that
healing is a slow process, 'cause one day you'll miss it. Stay
away from the Gathering, it can be a cold existence."
The youth sunk down
on the steps, almost overwhelmed by the strength of self-loathing
he felt. Hemar was gone, but his sadistic brutality would stay
with at least one man for the rest of his life. Richie barely
reacted when a hand was laid on his shoulder, a small sigh escaped
his lips, but he remained turned away from his attendant.
"But it can also
be a very rewarding life," her soft voice soothed. "Patrick
was a wise man, he'd lived long enough to know many things, and
one thing about which he was always so clear was that his life
was a good one. He'd been through hardships, but he'd also had
many wonderful experiences; he smiled when he talked about the
past and his old friends. Take advice from him, he used to tell
us all, 'We have a gift, and with all things, it has many sides
to it, some of them are hidden, some of them are obvious, some
are the bad times, but most are what you make them, and that can
be happy, or sad, lonely, or full of company. Treasure what you
Ryan laughed, a cold,
small sound in the warm night.
he muttered, guilt and anger in his manner.
"And you didn't
kill him," Naomi's demeanour was suddenly quite vigorous,
and she yanked at her companion's jacket to make him turn; the
young man gazed sadly into her beautiful features. "Patrick
is dead because of Hemar and no one else, and you have avenged
that death. He hurt you, but don't let him go on tormenting you,
you're worth too much for that. Without you Garion would have
used that gun on himself, and God knows what state he'd be in
now. Annie thinks the world of you, and I..." the angel paused,
unsure of her words, but then emotion flowed through her spirit
as she admitted, "and just because I am a nun doesn't mean
I don't have feelings for you."
The Immortal remained
passive, a little shocked by the statement that had been made
so fervently. However, quiet did not fall between them, his friend
hadn't finished her confession.
me when we were alone in that cellar. I hadn't ever met anyone
who had made me doubt that marrying myself to God was best, but
that's how I felt when you looked at me. It took a while for me
to admit it to myself, well until a few minutes ago really, but
now I know whatever happens I can't change my soul, and I can't
be afraid of those very human parts of me. Since I'm being so
honest, I might as well tell you that I had considered following
them through if you came back," she giggled nervously, but
there was no need for her to tell the young man that she had decided
otherwise, he understood the look in her eye. Yet her words meant
a lot, and went no little way to calming the tumult in the injured
spirit. The blond man managed a weak smile and responded, "Thank
Then silence did fall
as each just drank in the other for a few moments. There would
be no meeting of bodies, no satisfaction of the flesh, but souls
did intertwine as they helped the pain of the past couple of days
begin to ease away. There was a union possible in the individual
world of the Immortal, and the youth was glad that a new friendship
had reminded him of the strength and depth of another. There were
good times and there were bad, but friendship could span
It was Richie who broke
the atmosphere; gently he leant forward and placed a kiss on his
companion's cheek. It was a far as he would ever go with a match
he couldn't fully fathom. The girl accepted his affection with
a heavenly smile as he pulled away. Then he stood up.
"Go back inside,"
the less pained form departed with a sense of new peace about
him, "your family needs you as well."
"Will you be alright?"
his soul-mate asked, standing as well.
Richie just nodded;
it would take a bit longer than their one talk, but eventually,
he knew he'd overcome Hemar's torture. Now was a time to be alone,
to work through some of the dark images that the memories conjured.
Mac would look after the injured family for the night and they
could begin sorting things out in the fresh light of a new day.
With one final glance of concern, Naomi turned back to the apartment.
The bus station was
pretty empty, but then it was six thirty on a bright summer morning.
There weren't many people catching the long- haul grey-hound that
was stood in the sun-baked lot waiting for its final passengers
to board. There were a few minutes left yet, and the small group
of four youngsters, and four adults were taking their time in
saying goodbye. It had been a week since the traumas of Gervace
Hemar's designing, and Duncan had come through with a haven for
the Immortal family. The Scot had contacted an old friend through
his links with the Native Americans, who like him had been adopted
by a tribe. They had given her a site that they considered holy
on which to build a ranch, a place she had, in recent years, turned
into a out-door adventure centre for disadvantaged children. Agatha
had been more than willing to offer the refugees a home in the
middle of Texas.
Now everything was
arranged, and it was time for the healing family to leave, goodbyes
were proving hard. The loss of Patrick had eventually brought
Richie closer to his new friends, as close as he considered he'd
ever come to family. There had been little time during the week
that the group had been apart; at first they had just talked,
quiet and subdued by grief, but the youngsters had recovered with
the vigour of childhood, and the elder three had found succour
in keeping them distracted. Richie had lost himself in showing
the strangers his city, the sights and sounds, the quieter
places he knew personally as well as tourist attractions, and
had re-found his skill for amusing banter in doing so. There had
been tough times when sorrow had taken one, or more of the group
by surprise, but the bond which had grown amongst the bunch of
`mismatched' Immortals had only been fortified with the moments
of anguish. Stretching that tie created a mixture of emotions.
Duncan and Joe said
their goodbyes, and there were hugs and tears. Annie had sown
her magic around the Watcher and the elder Immortal, and they
too had come nearer to the displaced family, but they had seen
the wisdom of letting those who had known Patrick spent time alone
together; the men, although letting their presence be felt when
it was needed, had not touched souls quite so strongly as their
younger comrade. They moved back to allow the youth to say his
Tay's face was its
usual, serious, philosophical self as the boy looked up into his
companion's face. There was part of the seventy- three-year-old
man in the look as he held out a small hand in formal dismissal.
Solemnly, Richie took the offered palm, but swiftly pulled the
slender figure into a hug.
"Take care of
yourself, Tay," the youth breathed, a hiccup of laughter
in his voice.
The reaction was slow,
somewhat stunned, as the small form, who held back from much physical
contact, lifted his arms around the adult body and expressed his
own feelings. Tay had not been known for outburst, he was probably
the most controlled of all the injured parties, but there was
a mist in his eyes as the pair drew back from the embrace. He
nodded sagely and the briefest of smiles ran over his features.
The young Immortal
turned to Harry, and there was no surprise in their parting wishes.
The teenager had been killed in a gang fight in the thirties,
but sixty years difference had not stopped a bond of brotherhood
forming between the two street-punks. Hands clasped around opposite
wrists in a bold sign of unity and the youths pulled themselves
together into a firm bear hug.
"Don't do anything
I wouldn't do, Bro," the modern city kid intoned like it
was a gang slogan.
the older quipped back and caught his friend a camaraderic clip
around the ear.
Richie laughed, and
shaking his head, turned to Garion. His smile remained, but he
rejected the easy chuckle as the wide, soulful eyes of the eldest
fake-boy gazed up at him. The blond form was still erratic, still
worrying at times as his prior experiences broke through and threatened
his nature, but Garion was Garion, and had to be accepted as he
was. Since the less than amicable beginnings, the youth and he
had come to an understanding, which although not always close,
was well meant and welcome. Now, they both knew that they could
scream and shout at each other if the moment so took them, and
there would still be a strength between them that they would never
"Keep them all
on their toes for me," the young man spoke sincerely, laying
a hand on the child-being's shoulder and squeezing.
"Someone has to,"
was returned with equal earnest, and there was a crack in the
That was all that needed
to be said, and shrinking down into a crouch, the youth moved
on to the next in line. Annie was pouting and fidgeting on the
spot as her young mind grasped the imminent departure. Richie
was going to miss the magic of her presence, even the pain, which
she still inspired if he paused to think about her, was preferable
to her absence. Yet, he knew that the city wasn't safe for her
innocent Quickening, and he had to let her go. A sad little frown
on his brow, the young man reached up behind him into the hidden
recesses of his jacket. A sigh in his manner, the Immortal admitted,
"I'm gonna miss you Penelope-Anne."
"Miss you too,"
the little girl muttered, keeping her hands firmly behind her
back as her blame for the separation laid on the nearest adult.
"I'm sorry I can't
come with you," Richie continued, feeling heavy in his heart.
"I'm sorry that we lost Pol as well," the beloved doll
had been discarded by Hemar when he had taken the child, "and
I can't replace her, but..."
The young man held
out his offering, it was a traditional cloth doll, stripy legs,
patched dress, woollen, red hair, and a bright, smiling face.
"The lady in the
shop said she was called Raggedy-Anne," Richie smiled as
the girl's face lit up with wonderful joy.
The soft toy was squashed
between two bodies as the angel gasped her delight and wrapped
her arms around her carer's neck.
"Thank you, Rich-ee,"
her words were half cried, half giggled.
The young man engulfed
the small form in his embrace; there weren't any more words to
express the strength of his feeling for the paradoxical spirit,
so he just held her tight and empathised.
It was a reluctant
young man who finally released the eternal child. As he stood
once more, she hugged the new doll to her and blinked back tears.
Richie's eyes were misty as well by the time he finally turned
to bid farewell to his soul mate. Her smile was sad as he put
a palm to her cheek and felt her soft skin; his heart leapt as,
with a gasp of a sob she threw her arms around his shoulders.
Gladly he responded, enclosing his limbs around her waist and
holding almost intimately close.
"Thanks for everything,"
she murmured warmly in his ear, "I love you."
The youth choked on
his own words as he heard the admission; the actual statement
had gone unsaid as it had become obvious to everyone that if circumstances
had been different there would have been a union. Holding back
too much powerful emotion, the young man whispered back, "I
love you, too. Please keep in touch."
"Wild horses couldn't
stop me, Richie Ryan" Naomi chose laughter through her tears
as they broke the hold. "You just make sure you reply to
"I'll make sure
he does," Duncan threw in a quip he hoped would ease the
tension between the thwarted love.
Richie had to laugh
at that one, and with a brief brush of a kiss to his companion's
cheek, he let go of her completely. The young form remained static,
a brief smile on his face as he watched the close group walk towards
the bus. He managed a wave as the vehicle turned out of the station,
and he drew in a deep breath as Mac laid a hand on his shoulder.
"How about breakfast
at my place," Joe's husky tones caught both men in a daze.
Richie smiled, a shrug on his shoulders, and continued brightly,
"Maybe you oughta start a line in them, Breakfast at Joe's
- Best Everyone Knows."
His companions groaned
at the dreadful rhyme, as the youth waved a billboard shape in
front of him. He laughed as two hands contacted with his shoulders
and pushed him on towards where they'd left the car. The bad times
were past, and the good times could cope with their stain. It
felt warm inside to joke again.