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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 4/6

October was being its traditional self the next morning, grey and threatening rain; there was a calm over the city, only disturbed by the occasional rumbling of the high, almost purple cloud, that, promised a downpour, but kept hold of its water. Methos couldn't help wondering what storm this strange peace heralded; there was a feeling in his bones that it wasn't just the weather and the conversation he and his oldest comrade had had the previous evening only went to solidify the instinct. Still, it was a wonderful morning, powerful to anyone with the ability to feel it, and the ancient chose not to dwell on the future. Portents were Tomas' realm and all the Watcher chose to deal with at the early hour, at which he took a walk, was returning the sword which Richie had abandoned. That was how he came to be leaning on the wall overlooking the river and watching a comforting scene.

The dark man smiled to himself, as he remained out of range of the activity he didn't want to disturb. Two Immortals, opposites in many ways, one tall and dark the other shorter and blond, one with age in his eyes, the other still holding onto the vague naivete which came with youth - they were stood a metre apart on the roof of the boat, moving together in perfect tandem to a rhythm in the mind. Concentration was complete, faces fixed in meditative calm, bodies relaxed, but working to their full, as they moved through a kata. The exercises were slow, perfecting balance and poise as well as working on the strength required, but there was no doubt in the viewer's mind of the lethal nature of the kicks and punches if need be. He was aware of being in the presence of the warrior at his most obvious, life and death rested on the skill in the trained bodies and it was not only the specific moves, but the flow of mind and flesh that made the beings below him dangerous.

Each man was inside his own mind, but at the same time working to a beat felt by both souls, the very nature of Immortal life, and Methos felt quite invigorated just watching. He was happy to see the pair in union once more, he had always noticed something about the way the two Eternals treated each other - the student-tutor relationship was always a special one, but there was more to this one, a spark of youth against age which told him that these two were distinct from the rest of their kind. The old man even caught himself wondering if one of them would eventually take the Prize. The strength was back in Ryan's eyes as he focused on the immediate, and Adam could see no sign of the wild, uncontrolled creature he had met only a few hours ago. In sweats, his lean body concentrated on the exercise, there was no clue as to the trials suffered by the young Immortal, and the Watcher recognised peace in his face as he closed his eyes and relaxed into a knee bent, feet apart, well-balanced stance. The two men became statues, the only movement a steady deep breathing from the abdomen.

Methos let them have their calm for a few minutes, but eventually he chose to disturb the meditation. He was down on the dock, strolling easily towards the barge when he felt the touch of the others. Then he was given the briefest hint that Ryan was still only on the road to recovery. His blue eyes snapped open and his survey of the area was sharper and more alarmed than his elder companion's. His gaze settled as he recognised the trench-coated visitor, and he shook his head to himself as he bent to pick up a towel at his feet.

"Good morning, Gentlemen," Adam greeted with a grin as he set foot on the gangplank, and then he made sure he met the youngest's gaze before he disclosed, "Feeling saner today, Richie?"

The enquiry was earnest and honestly concerned, and the youth nodded, but chose not to elaborate, turning instead to awkwardly gaze at Duncan.

"Tomas will be glad to hear that," the Fox added, but then turned swiftly to the Scot, following the quiet youth's lead, aware that he was making the young man feel awkward; he knew how unusual the previous twenty four hours had been, even in his own experience, and now was not the time to discuss them. "Got any breakfast to offer a poor researcher?"

"Twenty minutes earlier and we'd have made you work for your food," the Highlander laughed and waved him on board.

Methos just grinned, he admired the passion in his friends, but took his own workouts at a different pace. Richie made no reaction to the humour, and the ancient began to realise that it wasn't just his manner which was unsettling the youth. He'd forgotten how much Tomas had unnerved him when they'd first met, even in a time when mystics were not uncommon, and adding his own history to that plus the nightmare of the last few months, the old man could not really blame the young Immortal for his uncouth behaviour. He was therefore not phased when the youth mumbled an excuse and headed for the other end of the boat to that which his companions were headed. There was worry in Duncan's eyes as he watched the young man retreat, but he met an easy smile from his more detached comrade.

"Give him time, Duncan," he disclosed smoothly, "I'm a shock at the best of times. Tomas has a way of unnerving people too, between us we're quite a lot to take."

"He was always so forward, too forward," the Highlander mused, his tone regretful.

"Duncan!" Adam chided with a pat on his back, "Yesterday he was a wreck, I'd say he's improved a hundred fold."

The Scot just shrugged and led the way into his home.

The water felt so good running over his skin - it was a long time since Ryan has taken the thought needed to appreciate the massage of a decent shower. He'd been too tired to care the night before, but now the droplets felt so pleasant on his worked muscles. The young man leant his head against the wall and relaxed as the cascade tingled down his spine. Yet the water couldn't wash away the dissatisfaction with the way he had dealt with Methos. It wasn't that the man himself made him uncomfortable, the Highlander was a legend in Immortal circles as well; it wasn't even embarrassment at how he had acted the day before, he was beyond regret for that; it was the strangeness he's been feeling since Tomas had come into his life, and Adam Pierson was a link to the wizened old man. His rational mind was telling him that things weren't as they seemed to his instinct, but still there was the touch on his soul that said something had changed in his life yesterday, not something related directly to anything that had gone before, something new had begun. His psyche had altered in the months since the Dark Quickening, he noticed the new edge to his persona that wasn't going to be blunted as quickly as it had been sharpened, and it was that raw edge which was telling him that Tomas was not a crank and recognised the turn his path of life had taken.

The dream of the old man's beheading still hung in his thoughts, muted by the rational new day, but none-the-less worrying. He couldn't say why, after all, his experience told him it was only a dream, a subconscious formation of thoughts, but its impact remained. As his mind tumbled, the young man came to the conclusion that there was still a lot he had to sort out, the decision was a comfortable one, an admission that was a healer in itself. There was a lot of thinking to be done, alone and in company, but for now, he needed to do it alone.

The youth was feeling more at ease with the idea of Tomas' mysticism once he'd admitted to himself that he didn't have to rush his acceptance of it.

Adam was pleasantly surprised to receive a smile of welcome from the blond youth when he exited from the bathroom, presentable in both mind and body. He recognised more of the man he had briefly known, and grinned back as the young man joined them in the living room.

"Sorry for blanking you," Richie apologised with no lack of directness, as he took a seat, "It took Duncan two years to civilise me and I've sorta regressed."

Methos laughed and observed, "Blanking is better than a sword in the face any day."

Ryan gave him an apologetic look that said butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, and raised another chuckle, from Duncan this time as well.

"Talking of swords," the ancient continued, reaching down behind the sofa and picking up the rapier he'd placed there, "I think this belongs to you."

Richie took the weapon and held it up, gazing up and down its blade with a loving care that all Immortals who wanted to survive had for their first line of defence.

"Thank you," he replied gratefully, "I feel kinda naked without this nearby."

Methos and Duncan just looked at each other, they had no need to vocalise the similar feelings they harboured.

"Well," the old man glanced back over to the him as the youth lowered the blade and pressed on, "I have to get going, thanks for letting me crash here, Duncan."

The Scot stood up rapidly as his guest got to his feet and his mouth opened to make a protest. Adam just watched the two men, leaving them to this moment themselves. He'd seen purpose in Richie's manner the moment he'd stepped into view and he'd suspected something like this. Ryan was quicker to more words than the Highlander and he argued, "Don't worry Duncan, I'm not gonna disappear again, I just need to sort some things out, practical as well as in my head - you should see my laundry pile," he grinned, but only raised a dissatisfied purse of the lips from Duncan; the young man continued, "I'll phone you later, Mom, I promise."

The Watcher sniggered at the sarcasm, but shut up as he received a glare from his host.

"Oops," he looked to Richie and shrugged, the young man smiled.

The healing Immortal straightened quickly however and replied to the concern in his comrade's eyes.

"I'll be okay, Mac," he breathed earnestly and let the elder see the vague anxiety that still haunted him. "I just need to do some thinking."

There was a moment when Methos wondered if the Highlander was about to object again, but there was only a pause and then he nodded silently. Before there was any chance for another response, Richie turned and grabbed the bag he'd brought out of the bathroom with him. The rapier slid easily into the hold-all and then, with one final, grateful glance to both men, the young Eternal was gone.

Methos stood and patted his comrade on the shoulder; MacLeod still had a worried frown on his face.

"He can take care of himself, MacLeod," the old man advised, with as much confidence as possible, but he couldn't help his own pang of anxiety; the storm was near to breaking.

There was plenty of time to do everything and Ryan was taking life easy; he was enjoying the lack of pace after so long living on the edge and he'd actually enjoyed the mundane tasks of a visit to the laundrette and getting a descent haircut. He'd returned to his hotel and done his best to clean the dust off his jacket, and the brown leather had gone from beige to its original rich chocolate with a touch of burgundy. He'd made sure he'd eaten a decent midday meal and the afternoon became the time for thinking. He'd just started walking, exploring the city without much thought for where he was going and more for the mental promenade which accompanied the physical exercise.

Tomas had made his position in the scheme of things less than clear, he was The Savage, that was all he knew, further than that, his role was a mystery. The idea worried him a little now that he recognised the roller coaster beginning to start. Idly, he wondered if Methos had felt the same way when he'd first stepped onto the ride - it certainly didn't seem to be bothering him at five thousand. Yet he'd already been party to the air of mystery the old man liked to keep about himself, whether he admitted it or not, and he felt a vague resignation to discovering information when it was intended. Richard Ryan was a practical creature by nature, as he'd once told MacLeod, if he couldn't see it right there, it wasn't real, but that had begun to change when Immortality had reared it's head, first as MacLeod and then in himself. Now, he was more open to possibility and he couldn't shake acceptance of the unusual qualities of the pale mystic. He had very little grasp of what he'd unwittingly become a part, but he felt it as keenly as if he'd known it all along. He chose to push that thought to the back of his mind, there were other considerations that had to be sorted first, before he would even be capable of whatever Tomas had in mind.

Richie Ryan was a battered amnesiac, and there was still very little clue as to his actions in the missing months. Ideas, feelings flowed through his brain, mostly extremes of emotion: hate - of what he was unsure, maybe the parody of MacLeod the Dark Quickening had created; fear - of his own kind, all of them, no matter what race, creed, gender, age, all were associated with betrayal; pain - however he had spent his time, there was physical as well as mental anguish, the Quickenings had not come easy, and the young man was a little grievous that he didn't even have a scar to give him a clue to those battles. As he walked further into his psyche, the images were becoming sharper, preparing to lead to actual recollections, but the journey was slow and full of dead ends.

The young man was lost both in the city and in his mind by the time he was brought swiftly back to reality. Basic survival instinct nagged at his thought-lost being and eventually brought him back to the real world with a dagger of alarm. His eyes had been gazing ahead, but not really seeing more than enough to stop him colliding with people and objects. Yet, some part of him was still alert, watchful for danger, and the sight three men apparently strolling nonchalantly ahead of him and the instinct that there were more behind, was what brought him back to the present. Adrenaline erupted into his system as the situation became suspicious. He had wandered down a back street, deserted until the three large hulks had moved past his slow pace; that hadn't bothered, him, but their whispers and occasional glances back at him, had begun to tweak his interest.

One of the trio looked back again and recognised the youth's return to reality and the hardening of his features. He tapped his comrade's shoulders, and Ryan halted smartly as the threesome turned around. He was passive as they approached, aware of them and two set of footfalls behind him; his alert senses picked out a knife at one of the men's belts, another slid a nunchaku from under his coat, the third in his view was wearing a knuckle-duster.

"Anything I can do for you gentlemen?" Ryan questioned, his tone icy cold, his being poised for them.

They were large men, none of them looked particularly intelligent and their bulk was only partly muscle, these were thugs and it was obvious that their intent was violence. They seemed over-confident, smiling in a triumph that mis-assessment of their victim created. Their only response to his enquiry was from the knife-bearer, who pulled out the dirty blade and waved it in the young Immortal's direction. Richie didn't even flinch, the first move wouldn't be coming from that direction. The youth couldn't help the rush of excitement that ran through his system - he was a warrior by nature and the prospect of a fight was not altogether unpleasant. His eyes flashed and his body tensed as he heard the movement behind him; he reacted as soon as he felt the first attempt to grab him.

A hand grabbed his right wrist, it was swiftly removed by a flick up of the elbow a twist and then the weight of an arm coming down on the limb. Ryan grinned despite himself as he heard the sickening crack of bone and the howl of the unseen attacker. Yet, there was no time to pause as the first hoodlum fell away, there was another lout on his left shoulder. Now was the time that hours spent in repetitive kata was rewarded, and his movement was smooth and precise as he leant slightly forward, raised his left elbow and jabbed backwards. A grunt and then he swung his fist downwards - this was not a pretty situation and his attack was coldly efficient as the other collapsed to his knees, the faint moan, that only comes with one specific injury, on his lips. The young fighter was already half leaning forward, so he leant a little further and twisted to bring his leg up in a final kick to the face to finish the second opponent, then he fell into a well aimed roll past the trio, who hadn't even moved yet.

As he easily rolled to his feet behind them, and the three men turned, their faces told the combatant that they were reassessing their prey. He could have run now, he was a lot lighter and easily faster than the gang, but the youth was pissed at their sudden assault and far more, he wanted to know why. The speed with which he'd dealt with the two crumpled forms on the asphalt gave him enough confidence to stand his ground. He stayed still where he stopped, feet slightly apart, knees bent enough to flex at any skirmish, and he smiled at the more wary oafs, the glint of conviction in his glare.

"Any of you Neanderthals care to join your friends?" it was a big word for Richard Ryan, he'd come a long way in four years and he liked the ability to word play.

There was not a lot of comprehension on the three faces, but the hulk with the nunchaku eventually gathered that the delivery was an insult. His face clouded and he flexed the nasty-looking chain.

"OOh, am I supposed to be worried?" Richie baited very successfully.

He was quite glad that they appeared to be attacking him one at a time, and was more than ready for the charge of the leather-clad yob. It became quickly obvious that the man's chosen weapon was for show rather than because he was good with it, and a duck and a quick chop to his ribs and the attacker staggered backwards. So far, Ryan had been the only one to lay a punch. Yet, the youth stepped rapidly away as the fallen's buddies decided that two on one would be fairer. The knuckle-duster missed, but the young man grunted as the filthy blade caught him across the stomach. He retaliated with a hefty side-kick which sent the man to join his fake martial-artist comrade in a mess on the ground. As they tried to untangle themselves, the young Immortal gave his full attention to the last remaining member of the assault team. Amusement had turned to focused anger in the blond youth when his flesh had been sliced and there had been the full power of anger in the blow - the oaf left on his feet had fear in his eyes now and there was a dawning of reality that he was facing more than just some punk kid.

The scruffy man took a step back as Ryan paced towards him, but this was an alley, and he found a wall behind him. The Eternal had fire in his eyes as he grabbed the petrified creature by the throat and slammed him into the brickwork. The large man was a good half-foot taller and had quite some bulk on the athletic youth, but he cowered at the steel in the visage which came close to his.

"Want to tell me why it takes five of you to jump me?" the Immortal snarled intensely, his voice low and menacing.

"Je ne comprends pas!" the other gabbled weakly.

Ryan hissed nastily, but didn't press the question, there were two men behind him still mobile. He smacked the lout's head against the wall and spun on the spot as he slid down the masonry. Knifeman and his buddy were stood side by side and it didn't appear that they'd learnt their lessons. The Eternal side-stepped the projectile which came at him and smashed into the wall; Richie glanced down at the broken knife and then back up at the now weaponless thrower a look of disdain on his features.

"Either of you two parlez Anglais?" he asked sharply, his patience for this distraction running low.

"I do, Shitface," the battered nunchaku wielder spat.

"Oh what charm," Ryan responded the sarcasm heavy in his tone, he'd had enough of this fight and these men were mortals, he didn't want to hurt them too badly. "Well, Shakespeare, are you gonna tell me what this is all about."

"Your wallet," came the growled response.

Richie shook his head and eyed the more wary men pityingly, there was no way five louts would spend their time jumping a `kid' for his money.

"Oh please, guys," he returned pacing out away from them and the wall in case they picked another moment to restart the assault, "I'm not stupid. Who sent you?"

"I did," came from further up the shadowy street and the youth heard a pht.

He turned rapidly to the sound as something sharp penetrated his leg. The young man recognised the face which was behind a silenced gun, it was one of Tomas' men, but now there was no smile of support. The Immortal glanced down at his leg, a little confused, it didn't feel like a bullet - it wasn't. A dart had landed deep in his thigh and Richie began to feel its contents shift into his system. Confusion was the young man's first reaction, but then survival cut in and, rapidly, he pulled out the foreign object and ran. He made it to within a few metres of the main street before his leg gave way and he fell to his knees. There were footfalls behind him and the young man reached desperately up at the wall, trying to find a hold to pull himself up, but his fingers refused to take a hold. He couldn't find reason behind what was happening, why was someone coming at him with drugs, this definitely wasn't the Immortal way. Was Tomas involved, had he been betrayed again? The world spun as a hand grabbed his collar and he struck out in fury at the body behind him. This time he was dealing with a trained man, he could feel it as his blow was effortlessly deflected and his wrist caught. Ryan snarled more at the idea of another betrayal than at the form that had a vice-like grip on his arm.

"Bastard," he slurred and tried to wriggle away, but his senses were failing him too rapidly to make him any match for the strength in the body holding him.

Richie was helpless as the drug finally took full affect and his eyes rolled in his head.

End Of Part 4