Part 3

Scene 9

Richie and Altea were silent, lost in their own thoughts. Or, in their own private hells. After the long speech she had made to the red-headed Immortal, she was calming herself. In all these years, she had only pursued her vengeance, every other emotion left behind, forgotten. But feelings never really let people alone, and Altea was no exception.

Richie was astonished to discover so much anger and regret in himself. He had always tried to deal honestly with all his problems, he had learnt to meet his responsibilities. To walk his own path. He didn't think this could have robbed him of so much, so deep inside. This person wasn't Richie Ryan, at least not the one he wanted to be. He made a decision, without even knowing it. Something had to change. Now. Richie looked at the young woman in front of him.

"Listen," he said. Altea turned her face away. She didn't want him to see her tears. She pressed her palms against her eyes, trying to wipe those tears away. Richie was moved by her childish gesture and her pride.

It was a matter of Life and Death, here, for Joe, Altea, maybe himself. But he felt the urge to lighten up the situation, to divert her attention, to make her smile. To make things different by all means.

"Do you like music?" he asked.

Altea looked at him, astonished. {This man is crazy!} she thought.

"What?"

"Music. What music do you like?"

"I...I don't know...I don't care--"

"Please," Richie smiled, aware of how strange this could seem of him.

Altea was truly amazed.

"Now, let's--" the Amazon stopped talking.

Richie turned to the door. Another Immortal was coming, interrupting again their confrontation. Altea took her labrys, ready to fight.

"Did they follow you?" she asked Richie bluntly.

"No," he answered. "Mac found this address in the coat you left at Joe's." He reached for the door and pulled it open.

Duncan already had his katana in his hand. Joe was behind him. Altea was tired of waiting, tired of running away, maybe tired of endless confrontations.

"Killer!" she hissed, then, careless of the obvious danger, she charged Joe.

Duncan promptly blocked her axe with his sword, defending his friend. At the same time, both Richie and Joe cried "No!"

"Stop it!" Richie shouted to the woman.

"No interfering, Ryan!" she snapped.

Her eyes locked with the Highlander's deep-brown ones. They were burning with the same fire, with that hidden passion and vigor of someone brought up to fight. She recognized the warrior in him, and smiled. She had always enjoyed a good fight, and this was going to be one.

Altea didn't know that Richie seldom followed orders, intimidation, or even suggestions or advice. He grabbed her by her arm and pulled her back, putting himself between her and Joe. Duncan put down his sword.

"Now we talk!" Richie exclaimed.

"There's not much talking left to do here, Rich," Duncan said "...and you should know the Rules better," he added.

"And you should be tired of killing everyone around you!" Richie spat back at his mentor.

He regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. Duncan MacLeod wasn't a killer, or a head-hunter, Richie knew this. Duncan's eyes filled with...what? Anger? Disbelief? Sorrow?

Joe took advantage of the interruption to speak. "Richie, Macleod, this is none of your business," he said with a sudden tone of authority in his voice.

He looked directly at Altea.

"You told me you believe I'm responsible for Darius's death. Well, I'll admit it. I am, in a way. All Watchers are, because we didn't recognize...the crazy, deadly vipers hidden among us. What can I say? The two Watchers that attacked you have already been caught. They'll be...punished, if that helps. I can't bring Darius back. I would give my life to bring him back. We had hoped that Darius would be the One, because he was a good man, a man of peace. I'm truly sorry for this loss. If my sacrificing my life would change that, I would give it away," he sighed uncomfortably. His expression was one of sincere grief, his eyes compelling.

Richie was still holding Altea's arm, and he could feel the tension slowly fading from her muscles. Maybe Joe's speech had succeeded in touching a soft spot in her soul. But the Highlander wasn't so easily convinced. "How can you trust her, Joe? Do you think your words mean something to her? She tried to kill you, remember?" His disbelief was evident. Duncan had learnt through the centuries that being suspicious was necessary for survival.

{But sometimes surviving isn't the most important thing} Richie thought.

Altea didn't spend time thinking. A challenge was a challenge, for her, and she enjoyed it, too. Through his grip on her, Richie felt her stiffening.

{They're going to fight}, he thought almost desperately.

He turned around to look directly into Altea's face, holding both her arms firmly.

"Don't block me. Don't you dare, Ryan," she whispered to him.

A moment before she was almost ready to let it all go. Now Duncan's words had recalled her pride to her. Richie cupped her face with his hands and forced her to listen to him. She wasn't used to being touched, and this always put her off balance.

"Your honor is so important to you? Then show it." Richie spoke only for her. "I'm sure Darius wouldn't want you to go off into the world and start killing, not even his own murderers. If you really want to honor him, respect his wish for peace. Even if you don't trust any of us, respect him."

Altea stared at him in silence.

Duncan spoke with his deep, warm voice, in a tone that Richie knew so well, the one that made people shiver.

"If she wants a fight, she's got one. If you can convince her to leave Joe alone, she can go. But, Richie, if something happens to Joe...it will be your burden, I guess."

Richie had closed his eyes for a second, listening to his friend's words, and re-opened them to find Altea's tears wetting his fingers. "Let me go," she whispered to him, her soul too broken to bear being watched. She had buried her sorrow and grief beneath her need for revenge for too long. She was definitely out-numbered here. Even if she didn't believe what the Watcher had said, and believed even less the Immortal warrior {oh, I could show him a trick or two, I bet!}, she did trust this young man who was daring to touch her. {And he hasn't claimed me as prey, yet!}.

Altea could still hear Darius's voice inside her head...how could she ignore it? {I can't, can I?} she thought. {This isn't my world, my rules don't apply anymore...I've lost everything, Darius.}

"Deal," she said, but her voice was trembling so much, she had to repeat it louder: "Deal!"

She pushed Richie away and stepped in front of the Highlander.

"You. What's your name?"

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."

"Well, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, stay out of my way and I'll stay out of yours."

She turned to Joe.

"I think you're responsible. As you said yourself. But I won't take your life, you'll live with this guilt. Consider yourself extremely lucky, Watcher. And remember, if you put someone after me and I find out, I'll kill your spy."

Altea was furious with herself now, and all she wanted was to go away and cry herself into exhaustion.

"Now go away!" she added coldly.

Dawson glanced at the Highlander and started to limp away. Duncan stopped at the door and, without turning, told Richie: "We have to talk. I'll wait at the dojo."

Then he moved on without waiting for the answer.

The two left behind heard the T-Bird roaring, then once again it was silence.

Richie looked at her. He didn't want to leave like this.


Scene 1 0

Old Rules...

Altea ignored him. Richie sighed.

"Do I have to go?" he asked her. Daring, as always.

"Sure," she said, but her tone was expressionless.

Richie wondered what was still keeping him there. He looked at her: she was attractive, but there was more than that. He could feel her loneliness, her empty soul, her need to start anew, like a sharp knife plunged deep in his own body. And she was different. Altea had something that, for the first time in years, only Richie could understand and empathize with, not Duncan, not Joe, not Methos. Something that belonged only to him. They were much more alike than at first it could seem. They needed each other's company and friendship, that was Richie's conclusion.

To convince her was a totally different thing.

"Where are you going?" he asked her, keeping his place near the open door.

Altea didn't know. How could she answer that? She didn't have anywhere to go, not to mention money. She hadn't planned anything apart from her revenge, and had spent her time pursuing her murderous intent. Dawson had been the last one on her list.

The rest of her life was a big, black hole. The young woman felt so tired and angry at the same time, and this red-headed Immortal had messed up everything, by saving her life and by bringing back Darius's sweet and reassuring smile to her...

Richie Ryan guessed from her silence that the answer to his question was "I don't know". He felt a wave of pity and solidarity surging through him, and blindly followed his instinct. He put a hand to the back of her neck and pulled her close to softly kiss her. A very gentle, tender, caring kiss, right from his heart.

She hadn't expect it, and was bewildered and dismayed. And furious and shocked. No man had ever...

In a moment, Richie found himself with his back to the wall, an aching jaw, a bleeding lip, and an angry, scowling Amazon.

"Don't you dare do that again, Ryan! I could take your head right now!"

"Better not!" Richie laughed heartily, somehow defeating her anger. He hadn't the vaguest idea of how to cope with her, yet. A sudden idea enlightened him.

"I care 'bout my head, lady, and, besides, I saved your life, remember? You said I could...what was that?...Oh, yeah, claim property on you!"

Richie crossed his arms over his chest.

{That's it, got you there,} he thought with amused self- satisfaction.

Altea was even more startled then before.

{Oh, no!} she thought, {You bastard! I don't want to...}.

But that was part of her Code of Honor, one of her warrior-rules. She had already broken so many of them, she had to stop somewhere or very soon she wouldn't have anything of her past left.

"You'll get used to it," Richie said to her, with a little grin. "It won't be terrible, and you heard MacLeod, I have to keep a close eye on you. I'm responsible. Think you can start by packing your things and coming to my place? I don't like it here."

Altea stood still for several minutes, then nodded, mumbling -- probably in her own language -- something Richie was sure wasn't too respectful.

{There's no escape...this young man has trapped me with my own rules}, she thought. She still had her pride, her self-esteem; she would follow the code. And, somehow, this resolution didn't rest too hard on her. Altea felt the warmth of his kiss still on her lips...and blushed.


Scene 1 1

Duncan was in the office. Sitting at his table, waiting. He hoped Richie would come. He felt he had over-reacted in this whole Amazon story. He knew it.

Acting as though he were Joe's personal guardian-angel. But then he remembered so well his shock seeing Dawson first threatened and then hurt by the young woman. He couldn't help it. She could have killed Joe. And he would have stayed dead. Sometimes it was so difficult to remember that Joe Dawson was mortal, that his friend would die, with no second chance.

And then, so many memories had come to him, all of them tinted by the blue of sadness and loss, all because of this woman.

Darius, most of all.

Memories...how could you cope with them? Again and again and again...

They always come back to haunt you, sooner or later. {To make you angrier. Stronger. Harder.} Part of being Immortal. A heavy burden.

Memories were the wildfire burning in Altea's mind, her reason to fight, to kill, to run.

Memories, sweet and bitter, were what he shared with Richie. Something that tied them together.

Duncan sighed.

Maybe memories were haunting Richie as well lately, and Duncan couldn't help his young friend. He gave another quick glance at the dojo entrance, and at the same time sensed another Immortal approaching. He would have distinguished that particular footstep in a hundred: Richie was there.

The young man stopped just past the entrance, hesitant. The Highlander waved him to come over, and Richie nodded. The young man joined him behind the glass partition, a familiar place. He leaned against the door frame, hands tucked deep inside his jacket pockets.

{Now, how do I take back the things I said?}, the read-head wondered. {I hurt him...}

Neither man knew exactly what to say, like so many times before. Richie, as always, opened his mouth first and faced what he thought was a probably hostile Mac. Bright, blue eyes fixed on deep, dark ones.

"She's staying with me. I don't think she'll make any trouble," he started, waiting for his friend's reaction, his gaze still locked on him. "Nothing really dangerous, anyway. Look, Mac. I know she's weird, but she's...everything's so difficult for her, I wanna help her out. Any problems with this?"

There.

"I don't think she's weird. She's afraid, and alone...just your kind of girl, Rich. I only hope there won't be any more trouble." Duncan paused, smiled at the younger Immortal and relaxed in his chair. "So, it seems you've found a new interest in life," he quipped, amused.

Richie blushed, then grinned happily.

"Was it so obvious?" He asked, pleased to see a sparkle of the old Mac in the tall man in front of him.

Duncan nodded, as much released as Richie to slip back into the old, well-known paths of their friendship, never really forgotten but somehow, sometimes, set aside.

"Mac. Stop it. You want to make me look like a fool, don't you?" Richie protested, but not with much energy.

"No, I don't. You'd do what you want anyway, you've never listened to me. Just, you know..." Duncan trailed off, searching for the right words, not wanting to sound paternal, or unsure, or his usual suspicious self.

"I'm here," he offered, simply.

There.

"I know. Whatever." Richie answered, after a short silence.

"So, what about Chinese?" Duncan asked, getting up from his seat and grabbing his leather coat. An offer Richie usually wouldn't refuse.

The red-headed Immortal smiled. "I'd go for Italian."

"Fine with me. I want to stop at Joe's bar, seeing how he's doing. Maybe you'd like to have a word with Methos," the Highlander added, walking past his friend and heading for the exit.

"Yes, maybe..." Richie answered, thoughtful. {What do I know about Amazons and such? A big nothing. Maybe I could ask Methos for help. Maybe he will tell me something.}

He shrugged, following Duncan out of the dojo.

{At least, I can try}, he thought.

Somehow, some of his ghosts had vanished. Just as real ghosts should when their time is past.

Duncan dealt with his own, and so did Methos and Joe. Perhaps Richie was going to have to deal with Altea's ghosts. However, he was willing to face whatever was waiting for him.

{He would never step back from danger}, Duncan thought. {Or let someone down. Even if it means risking his life.}

"You have never lived with someone else, before. I mean, only you and her," he said, turning on the ignition.

"I'll manage," Richie answered. And smiled.

The End

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