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To Live Again by Sophie
Soph's take on the resolution of the problem's caused by Macleod's Dark Quickening.


Part 3/6

The warm day had turned into a clear, freezing night and Richard Ryan sat on the stone steps, curled around his knees, buried deep in the horrors of his own chill psyche. He'd arrived at the bridge with the same kind of direction that had led him to Paris. This was the place he had waited for MacLeod when he'd gone to face Martin Hyde, then there'd been something to wait for, to hope, now he was just here for the comfort of familiarity. It was really very little warmth in the ice of his soul, just a reminder of how much things had changed: a few years ago, he'd been a thief, sly, self-reliant, oblivious to the nature within himself; then he'd become part of a family, befriended, trusted. The revelation of Immortality had been strange, but MacLeod had helped him through it, even after their relationship changed so dramatically with his first Quickening. Now, had he finally reached what it was to truly be one of his kind, to be alone, and to care only for the Prize? The question was cold, but it had to be answered, had he become so obsessed with survival that he could betray offered friendship and take an easy head? He had no Dark Quickening to blame for what he had become, only his own fears had brought him to the horror in his thoughts. The scene ran over and over in his mind, stark and definite, and Richie buried his head in his knees trying to force it away.

The Highlander hung back from the wreck of a creature he watched; a few more steps and he'd alert the huddled ball to his presence, but as yet he stayed back, appalled by the condition of his one-time apprentice. The clothes were the same, the features were the same, but something irrevocable had changed inside the young man Duncan remembered to make him the feral being that sat separate and tormented on the gentle descent. There was no hint of the lines that had once foretold of an easy smile, there were other, deeper, darker edges to the young face that was so quickly hidden from view. If Methos' description had not been enough, now the Clansman realised without a doubt what he had done to his `son'.

The Scot had been charging all over Paris, possessed by the thought of losing track of his wayward pupil again. Eventually, he'd given up trying to follow his head, he listened to instinct, and surprised himself with the accuracy of intuition. It was late, he was tired, but the weariness in his limbs seemed insignificant compared to the exhaustion he read in the youthful body. Duncan drew in all the courage and calm he could muster and took the final few steps into range of the young Immortal.

Alarm was putting it mildly, as Richie felt the approach of another of his race, he scrambled to his feet and slammed defensively into the low balustrade. His eyes were wild and alert as he scanned the area for the threat. He'd left his sword where it lay beside Tomas' cushions and the vulnerability he felt showed in his startled disposition. He was on his toes, ready to run, when his gaze fell on the tall, dark figure from his past. The youth couldn't define the mess of emotion that the sight gave him, so instead he tried to mask it with cool detachment. He hardened his features and stood his ground as the Highlander made a slow approach.

"Hello, Rich," the smooth, calm tones greeted him as Duncan stopped a diplomatic few feet away.

There was a moment's pause, equilibrium in the silent night as one man hung back and another was lost in indecision. Yet, it would not last; Ryan found any choice was no longer his as emotion broke through the defensive wall. It was quiet at first, a deceptively low harbinger of feelings as he hissed through gritted teeth, "You bastard, MacLeod!"

Duncan was a statue, he displayed no response to the seething retort, except for the slightest hint of pain that clouded his sight. It seemed he sensed the storm coming and merely waited; the younger Immortal could not hold back the tumult and his voice crescendoed as the accusation flew, "Do you know what you did to me?!"

Now there was emotion on Duncan's face, it showed guilt, sympathy, apology. The young man turned away from it, too full of his own pain to deal with another's. He grabbed the stonework, using it's cold support to keep himself upright as water misted his vision and his balance lurched sideways. His body had picked a great time to tell him it was running low on energy. There was too much in the pot of passion, that was all his soul had left, to control his mind, let alone his body, and he began to visibly shake, his hold of the wall being the only stable point and he leant over it.

"I'm sorry, Rich," Duncan disclosed quietly, his voice thick with emotion; it was a tone the youth had heard only rarely, when Tessa had died, when he'd been sent his own way, yet now, in the face of such intensity, it seemed thin, pathetic.

Richie laughed bitterly, his short time with Tomas had shown him just how far away from society he had moved in the lost months and sorry didn't cut it. He wasn't sure what would, maybe time, maybe the need in his soul to forgive, but not yet. For now he hated the fact MacLeod looked so normal, sounded as he remembered, had been able to return to his former self while he was still caught in the whirlpool of the evil Quickening.

"I trusted you, MacLeod," he spat, his volume lower, but no less vehemence in his tone.

"I can't take back what happened, Richie," the Highlander began, and the youth tensed obviously as he felt the man come nearer; the approach stopped and was replaced with, "but I want to try and make things better between us."

"I can't even make myself better, let alone anything else," the youth murmured hopelessly, losing much of his fire as he admitted himself to the care in the other's tone.

The young man hunched over the balustrade, trying to quell the trembling in his limbs; he failed miserably. He couldn't hold onto the hate that was easy, he had to face the root of his emotions, and they were more difficult, more to do with himself than his companion. Yet, the Clansman was there, and he was an ear to listen to a confession.

"I took heads, Duncan," the exhausted being disclosed, his voice frightened by the depth of what he was about to divulge, "I know it because I remember Quickenings. I don't know how many, and I have no idea who or why. They could have been women, children, old men, but I just don't know. God, I think I even have it inside me to go after Tomas. What has happened to me, Mac?"

The reply was not one he expected; hands took him by the shoulders and spun him almost viciously round, and he cringed away from the power in his companion's face. His mentor came almost nose to nose with him and there was nowhere else for him to look save into the heat in those dark eyes. Yet, the anger wasn't aimed directly at the weakening form, but at the doubt in the injured soul. The Scot was plain as he spoke hotly, "You may have given up on yourself, Richie, but the rest of the world hasn't. Don't ever think yourself capable of that kind of hunting, it isn't in you. It was in me, the night I came back into the dojo for you, and it was in me when I killed a very old, dear friend, but it was never part of you! I've known cold-bloodied killers, and you certainly aren't one of them, not even like this. You didn't go for Methos when he was unarmed, did you?" the young man shook his head meekly, dominated by the force holding him.

Duncan was obviously sickened by the lack of fight in his companion, and he let go, moving back and staring wordlessly up at the sky for a few moments. The youth watched him, confused and feeling the effects of more than twenty four hours without food. MacLeod had drained what energy he had left in the short attack of rage. The dark eyes were softer when they returned from heaven, and there was a mute understanding in them. The young man blinked back at him, weary, but finding that his shivering was easing.

"You were always wild and impulsive," the Highlander observed with a difficult smile, "and we've both made our share of mistakes - God knows this is the biggest screw up of all and it's all mine. But I know you, and even when you were at your maddest, you always had a reason for everything. Whoever those Quickenings belonged to, they weren't defenceless. Whatever you think of me, believe in yourself."

Why did Duncan always talk so much sense?! Ryan was angry again, but only for a moment, frustrated by the sanity in his companion while his own being wavered between savagery and civilisation. It was merely a momentary distraction from the loneliness in his soul and that is what filled his visage as the spark died. The battered creature was too tired to hide what he felt anymore, and there was no anger left in him, directed at MacLeod or otherwise. It had been one of the barriers against the terror, and all his defences were running low now. Loneliness, fear, basic instinct was all that was left and there were no more words. Once he would have trusted the Immortal before him without a thought, now there was no other option.

Exhaustion was an unpredictable travelling companion, and one moment, the gaze was locked and conveying so much, the next Ryan felt his legs begin to give way and the world lurched once more. He could do nothing else but let himself slide gracelessly down the wall. Yet, strong arms caught him and he relaxed into the Highlander's hold as disorientation made his stomach churn and his vision spin.

"Whoa there!" Duncan breathed, righting his companion half between himself and the wall. "You really should take better care of yourself, Rich."

"Junk food'll do it every time," Richie murmured, or at least he tried to, but the words mixed up in his mouth.

Mac got the message however, and there was relief in his laugh of response. The young man smiled even as his eyes closed and he swooned again; things were beginning to heal.

Duncan had returned to the barge to fetch his car when initial searches had proved fruitless, and he was glad of it's proximity as Richie became almost a dead weight. The Highlander managed to get the youth's arm around his shoulders and he hauled him, stumbling towards the waiting vehicle. In a way, he was relieved that the failing Immortal had trusted him enough to let go, but that didn't mute the concern for the state of his companion's health. The travel-weary being was thinner than he should have been, all muscle and bone, no fat reserves left and it was quite obvious just how little he had been eating. His skin was tanned, but was rapidly turning grey as the stamina which had kept him going drained away and, although his eyes were open and he was trying to stay upright, he wasn't much help.

The pair slammed into the hood of the car as Richie made one lurch too many. The young man groaned and stayed leant over the long nose where Duncan left him as he searched for his keys. A laugh escaped his mouth and he murmured, "Ouch," but it sounded distant, and almost delirious to the worrying Scot. The Immortal decided that whatever Methos and Tomas had started could wait, his friend needed food and a lot of rest - a phone-call would suffice when they reached the barge.

The world spun again and Richie sunk down further into the car seat, closing his eyes; he'd taken out a very large loan on will power over the last couple of months, and nature was making him pay for it all at once. He leant his head against the window and let the pitching in his body ease off. He hadn't realised just how much he'd been running on adrenaline, but it was quite plain now. He groaned as his stomach complained loudly, he couldn't say he had much appetite, but his gut was burning, demanding something to fill it. That was where MacLeod had gone, into the gas station where they had stopped to furnish him with a fast energy fix. If it hadn't been for hunger, the young man would have slept, his limbs had turned to lead and his thoughts to grey nothingness.

Ryan started and opened his eyes rapidly as his body gave him an unexpected adrenaline burst. It was nothing more than the Immortal warning signal to tell him another was close, but he hadn't moved far enough down the path to normality for it to wash over even his exhausted consciousness. He sighed and mentally chided himself for the momentary slip as he eyes fell on the logical source of the supernatural touch, Duncan returning, grocery bag in arms. It was like being a new-born again, jumpy and uncertain of the meaning of the shift in his soul, yet now, there was little fascination or novelty about the alarm which just frustrated his need to sleep.

Still, instinct was a difficult thing to circumvent after using it so intensely, and the youth caught himself eyeing Duncan's movements as he opened the vehicle door and took his seat. Only as the tall Scot met the silent stare did he drop the wary observation, a little guilt in his face. Whether his comrade saw it, or not, he chose to ignore it and began rummaging through the buy.

"Here," the Highlander offered warmly, holding out a steaming, delicious smelling croissant under the young man's nose; his stomach complained noisily once more and Richie grabbed the food as much to cover the sound as meet the need.

Duncan laughed momentarily, and returned his attention to the bag, source of more choice odours. The youth just stared down at the warm pastry for a while; if truth be told, his stomach was so empty that the smell of food was a little nauseous. Eventually, aware of the weakness in his limbs, the quiet creature took a tentative bite.

"It won't poison you," Duncan observed in a friendly scoff as he placed a plastic cup of coffee on the dash, but he received only a withering look for his trouble.

Ryan chided himself for the second time in a few moments as his comrade's grin straightened and he stared guiltily down at the wheel. Things were still awkward, and most of it was his fault. Duncan was trying so hard to make things better and the youth couldn't help but resist a little, a streak of self-pity which told him to make his mentor suffer like he had. Yet, he hated the edge as soon as he noticed it.

"Sorry," the subdued youth murmured, "I'm a little tetchy."

It was quite a relief, if somewhat confusing to hear a snort come from the Highlander. Duncan was shaking his head in disbelief as his brought it back up to meet the quizzical manner it inspired in the weary man.

"Tetchy doesn't quite cover it, Rich," he observed, irony heavy in his tone.

Richie just took another bite of his croissant, his frown aimed more at himself than the dig from his driver.

An hour, a phone call to Methos, and a trip to Richie's hotel later, Duncan walked back into his barge to find his guest just wandering out of the shower. Wrapped in a towel, free of the travel battered clothing and clean shaven, the young man looked almost human again. His skin was grey, and his eyes still held the vague haunted look which had settled over him once he'd been able to focus again, but at least, Duncan considered, he didn't look like he'd collapse any minute.

"Thanks," he responded, his tone still lower than the Scot remembered, as he threw him the bag he'd gone to fetch.

"I just grabbed them at random, so don't blame me for the fashion sense," the elder smiled at the grateful look in the other's eyes; he couldn't raise the grin he wanted to see, but things were improving.

They hadn't spoken much the rest of the way back to the barge; Richie had finished half the pastry and taken a couple of sips of coffee before slipping into a light doze; Duncan had been happy to let him sleep. The young Eternal had still looked decidedly peaky when they'd arrived at the river, having nearly hit the roof of the car when his comrade tapped him on the shoulder to wake him, but he had been able to get himself to the boat while the Clansman left to fetch him some fresh clothes from his hotel.

Now silence fell again, as each man failed to find something to say to his associate. Duncan could see something in his young friend's face, a need to talk, a wont for knowledge, but a lack of confidence to begin; this was going to take time. The more experienced being chose not to labour the awkward silence, so with a smile, he turned from the uncertain stare and strolled into the main living area. He wandered around for a bit, fixing himself a drink, looking out the portholes at the same view he saw every day, anything to keep his attention off his visitor and allow the youth at least a little peace in the open-plan home.

Eventually, his patience was rewarded as a body approached him. Richie had dressed quickly, leaving out extras such as feet-covering, but he'd hung back. He'd sat almost motionless on the corner of the bed, glancing occasionally down the steps at the `oblivious' back of his host, but most of the time at his hands resting on his knees. The Highlander was waiting when he began his tentative descent into the main room. Duncan remained staring out of the porthole, giving the youth a chance to gather himself, and he smiled to himself as he heard the opening word, "Mac....?"

The familiarity was returning.

The elder was still smiling, but with more reserve as he responded and swivelled to face his companion. He was not about to make this difficult for the subdued young man, and he held out one of the two tumblers of whisky he'd been cradling for the last quarter of an hour. Richie was caught off guard by the offering and glanced down at the amber liquid, his tired, but relentlessly active brain taking a few moments to register the meaning. Then, slowly, he took the glass.

"Can we talk?" the request then followed.

Duncan nodded, and led the way to the sofa.

Once seated, both men stared into their glasses for a few moments, it was Richie's lead, and he seemed to be having difficulty finding the words, so once more, his mentor waited.

"Have you ever lost it like this, Mac?" the enquiry came at last, as the youth looked up and his tone expressed all the anxiety he was feeling, "I mean, so badly that you don't remember what you did."

Duncan took in a deep breath and considered his answer carefully.

"Yes," he sighed, feeling some of the pain in memory that he had felt the first time through, "I've told you what I was like when Little Deer and Kahani were slaughtered, I hunted and nothing else. I was possessed and only Jim Coltec brought me out of it. There are times during that period that I can't remember to this day, but most of it comes back eventually, Rich. You're too tired to even think straight at the moment, when you've had time to rest up, you'll begin to sort it all out."

That admission created a vaguely worried frown on the young visage, and it didn't take much for Duncan to realise at what the concern was aimed.

"What has happened has happened, Richie," the Highlander disclosed sympathetically, "you can't change it, but you will want to remember it eventually. Whatever you did, whose heads you took, you can't go back now, you can only learn from the past."

Ryan looked down at his glass again, but he was staring through it, focused on nothing, looking inside. Eventually, he smiled, a small, anxious gesture, but it added a sparkle to his washed out persona. There was vague humour in the irony of his tone as he questioned, "Were you born sensible, Duncan MacLeod, or did it take practice?"

The Highlander snorted and then took a swig of his drink; his manner was easier as he admitted with a wry grin, "Took about four hundred years. I was worse than you when I was young, but hot blood was the sign of a warrior then - still is today," Richie chuckled at he underhanded compliment. "My temper led me into more than one fight and my manhood into more than one lass' bed."

The younger Immortal laughed, not for very long due to his low energy levels, but he leant back into the sofa with a returning confidence around his comrade. Duncan laughed with him, relieved by the freedom in his companion's sound. He remembered a night around a campfire, when two men had talked in the true sense of the word and he wondered if that sort of closeness would ever return to the strained relationship; the Clansman hoped so. For now, he was the one with sufficient drive to continue the conversation, so he launched into an anecdote. Richie relaxed on the cushions, tumbler rested on one knee and listened with a distant, ghost of a smile playing over his lips and his eyes beginning to close as his friend announced, "I remember one time...."

Duncan caught the glass as his listener finally nodded all the way into slumber and his hand released the forgotten beverage untouched. The Scot smiled at the peaceful shape of the young features and stood to find his own bed, it was not late, but the stresses of the day had had their affect on him as well.

End of Part 3