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Part 2

Scene 8

There was a great need in Richie, and it meant that the shift from darkness to reality was very fast. He was free from the Evil, and he knew it instantly, but there was a warning in his awakening brain as well. He opened his eyes, seeing very little clearly, but movement caught his attention. Instinct kicked in with full force as a pinkish blob resolved itself into a hand reaching towards him. Nothing could have stopped him as he desperately rolled away from the touch. That was how it had happened the first time, an innocent moment of contact which had cost him his soul. He was not going to let it happen again.

The young Immortal came to his feet, unheeding of the fact that he was completely naked, with only escape in his mind. The woman who had been reaching towards him was smiling, but then it wasn't really much of a woman anymore. Ryan was appalled as he barely recognised the features of the efficient, blond pathologist he had last met after Professor Landry's murder. A passing acquaintance suddenly meant so much more as the young man took in the changed individual. The glasses, the white coat, the blond hair pulled harshly away from a once inoffensive face, all the aspects the Immortal remembered were there, but now a new quality hung about them. Chilled, Richie wondered if there had been the same touch to his body when the influence had held him. He felt an empathy for the invisible woman beneath the new haze, the subtle hint that this was the new host for the Evil. Yet, as he took in the new creature, the young man knew that what was in his senses was not how others saw this being. The connection between then was still there in the instinct which told him the truth: he could feel the presence of his adversary emanating from the white-coated doctor. However much he felt for the new puppet, Richard Ryan was driven by a knowledge that he did not want that link to solidify once more.

The vague ghost which hung in the once not-unattractive visage filled him with a desperation that he would never have been able to comprehend before. This was not like looking at his death in another Immortal's eyes, he'd been in that position before, this was worse, it was more horrible than he could ever explain. The thing did not speak to him, it did not need to, it just walked around the edge of the table towards it's quarry. Richie needed no other incentive. The Immortal reached desperately for the first thing that came to hand: a trolley full of surgical instruments, and pushed it towards his adversary with every ounce of strength he possessed. There was the crashing of metal as the projectile found it's target and spread it's load all over the floor. The doctor was pushed sideways, and her progress was slowed, but it did not stop her.

There was a momentary look of agony on the face of the tortured woman, an expression Richie was sure had been on his own face several times. Just for a second the pain of the collision had given her a glimpse of freedom, and her torment was shown to the world. Then, if his own fear had not been so strong, the young man would have reached to help the hopeless woman. Yet, terror drowned any guilt Ryan felt about being unable to help the latest victim.

The door was on the other side of the room, Richie knew he was cornered, but this time he was not going out without a fight. He backed away, gazing around for anything he could use, and still the Evil stalked him. It was enjoying the chase, and it really didn't care what happened to the body it was now inhabiting. The momentary loss of control had not bothered it in the slightest, and it was focused on it's target.

The Immortal's mind raced, throwing desperate ideas at him, urging him on, trying to keep down the panic. The pounding in his chest was so great that it felt like his heart would explode. Anything that came to hand was hurled at the enemy, this was a battle with only one rule that circled in his thoughts: "Don't let it touch you." . At that moment, Richie would have done anything to prevent it reaching him. He opened freezer doors and flung the sliding draws in front of his adversary, heedless of their contents. This was no time to be squeamish.

Metal clashed against metal as objects flew and bounced off examination tables. Glass smashed as Richie used beakers to delay the approach of his enemy. Splinters dug into his bare feet as shards went everywhere, but the pain barely registered, let alone stopped him. He had to get away, that was the only thing that mattered at all, but he was fighting a loosing battle. He was running out of room, soon there would be nothing but the back corner to move into. There had to be a way out, any way, no matter how unpleasant, nothing was as bad as the Evil reaching him.

As he moved passed the final table his hand fell blindly onto the instrument trolley next to it. A stabbing sensation in his limb took his attention and his eyes fell on a now bloody scalpel. It was his only chance and his fingers curled round it quickly.

"If I have to, I'll die again," he said suddenly, waving the blade in front of himself, and actually halted the creature.

It looked at him a moment and at the blade, then it smiled again.

"It will just delay the inevitable," it said slowly, "you're mine forever."

"Never again," the Immortal spat back with total conviction, and he was more than ready to turn the scalpel on himself.

The look in his eyes was that of a feral creature fighting for survival. He was consumed by his need, and he was capable of just about anything. Yet his salvation came from another direction. All the noise had not gone unnoticed, and the door at the other end opened to reveal a burly morgue assistant. He did not look happy as he surveyed the mess, and his entrance caused the Evil to look round. That was all the time Richie needed, and he drove his body passed the creature as fast as his muscles would allow. It made a faltering grab for him, but he was far too fast in his desperation. The young Immortal just charged up the room towards the door, grabbing a sheet from one of the tables as he went. It looked as if the attendant would try to stop him, but nothing short of a mountain could have prevented his exit.

"Get out of my way!" he literally screamed just before he reached the door, and the glint of light on metal convinced the man that it would be a good idea.

The naked Immortal disappeared into the hallway and at no point did he stop running. He never even looked behind him to check if the Evil was following, he was just fleeing.

Scene 9

After the recent week, the protruding slats of the gang plank's vaguely painful feel under his bare feet was more a relief to Richard Ryan than anything else. They were something familiar in a world that had turned upside down into nightmares; the young man dashed towards his haven from the horrors he'd rather never have contemplated.

The traumatised creature would have been a sight for any observer, covered only in a once-white sheet, his eyes wild and his whole demeanour desperate. It had been a long, hard, haphazard journey across town from the morgue. At first he'd merely been running and hiding, terrified that the new host had been pursuing him. When he'd paused long enough to realise that he'd lost his enemy some distance back, he'd been displaced in the back streets of Paris. Not many passers-by wanted to even look at, let alone talk to a bedraggled madman and Ryan had only himself to navigate. Most had walked rapidly away from his dishevelled form, some, bolder and in groups had laughed and taunted what they thought was just another crazy who'd slipped through the net. Yet, they too had retreated at speed on seeing the scalpel still clutched tightly in his fist.

Dazed and finding freedom a strange place after such close control, Ryan had just walked for a while - aimlessly, lost in himself as well as the city. Then his thoughts had turned to MacLeod, the wreck he had unwillingly taunted. The young man recalled with dread the way which the elder Immortal had once again attacked what had been his form - the consequences had been fatal. That worried the young man. How would MacLeod receive him? Yet, there was a far worse concept in the tortured brain, that of falling victim to the Evil once more. The Highlander was the lesser of the younger Eternal's concerns, and he had called on what was left of his trust in his comrade.

{Reach Mac,} became the one goal in the desperate psyche.

And so, Richie struggled onto the deck of the barge, cold, jumping at every shadow, exhausted, and full of a relief which threatened to drain the rest of his energy. He paused there, grabbing a support as, with the touchdown, his body let him know just how much had been demanded of it. Desperation ebbed away, being replaced with the most overwhelming force, exhaustion. The young Immortal decided it was time to head inside, or he'd collapse on deck.

However, one step forward was rapidly followed by three strides backwards. Horror and despair drew out the very last of Richie's energy as he slammed into the low roof of the barge behind him. His eyes were wild as he stared at the figure which rounded the cabin and he realised that his own emotional state had clouded the survival instinct which had helped him last time; the Evil grinned triumphantly at him through the ensnared host.

"You didn't think I'd given up?" the Thing mused as Richie held the crumpled stance.

The young man was fighting his own self-defeat - he'd been so close to safety, and he'd allowed himself to hope. As that emotion shattered, so did his defences.

"There's nobody home," came the shrugged, unhurried admission as the demon recognised it's advantage.

"Mac!" Richie still called, his tone broken by misery.

His adversary laughed at the futile effort. It knew him well enough after such a possession, and read the self-imposed inability to fight. The new host moved forward, reaching out to take control of its quarry. However, it had underestimated the survival streak which had been borne out of the punk's years on the street. Whatever his brain was battling, Richie's instinct worked overtime faced with the repugnance he felt in his being. The young man slid out from under the outstretched fingers as they brushed the sheet around him. Like a threatened dog, he bristled and, just out of range, showed his teeth. The scalpel wasn't much, but the Evil was once more forced to be aware of the mortal nature of its present host. It hung back, hovering and grimacing nastily.

"Give it up, Boy," the demon warned, "I will win - if you fight me now, you will pay."

"Oh and how?" Ryan spat back. "You can't do much more than you've already done!"

His enemy laughed and murmured a low threat, "I thought you had a better imagination than that, Child."

The Immortal went cold at the far from idle warning. He hadn't the energy to run again, and he was beginning to wonder at the futility of flight - his enemy was too powerful. He needed time, time to recover, time he didn't have. His grip tightened on the sharp blade in his fingers and he waved it at his adversary once more, but this time there was no real strength behind the gesture.

"I've warned you once," the other hissed, patience waning quickly. "You have no way out of this."

That was true, in his dive away from the creature's reach, the young man had moved to the river side of the barge, and his exit was now cut off. The man was really beyond conscious thought, his wits scattered by exhaustion and the dreadful prospect of returning to supernatural slavery. A previous, half-baked idea led him as he chose the only way out he had left. The hold he had on the scalpel remained firm, but he altered the direction of the blade. The young man made one small gasp as he plunged the razor's edge into his body. The knife slid between his ribs and penetrated his heart.

The pain numbed surprisingly quickly and the Immortal wondered if he'd missed. He glanced down at his chest and saw the protruding weapon, and then he stared across at the darkening face of the pathologist. Strength drained from his limbs and it was into the enraged adversary's arms that his failing body collapsed, but then nothing mattered anymore.

It cursed the troublesome youth as the body fell on its host and forced the mortal to slam into the cabin door. The Evil almost dropped the, for now, useless corpse as the impact sent it into retreat for a second. Instead, however, the man sank gracelessly down onto the deck, Richie's head and shoulders resting awkwardly in her lap. With some effort, the host heaved the limp form onto his back and stared at the protruding scalpel. The body's original owner shrunk away from the ideas that the demon displayed to her as its rage and frustration worked on the ways in which Ryan would pay for this second inconvenience - trying to escape was one thing, it admired the Boy's ingenuity in a way, but twice was not quite so amusing. There was only one way to do this, pull out the knife and wait for the first signs of revival - the Boy would not escape this time, it would be ready. The creature reached out its host's hand for the handle of the knife. However, as its fingers touched the metal, voices drifted over to it.

"Come on MacLeod," Methos tried to snap his companion out of the silence.

Duncan was having none of it - he ignored both Joe and his fellow Immortal as they steered him back to the barge. As so often in recent days, his thoughts were on Richie and the terrible mistake. His emotions were kind of blurred and indistinct now, it was safer that way - a haze of the indefinable rather than the awful clarity which could possess him. The smiling face hung in his mind's eye for a few moments, then it was replaced by the statuesque, unforgiving stare of the ghost. Absently he wondered when Richie, or whatever sought vengeance for the death, would come for him - somehow he hoped it would be sooner rather than later.

It slowly dawned on the Highlander that they were all stood at the bottom of his gang-plank and that both his companions were staring at him and waiting for some kind of response - to what was a mystery. Their faces were serious and concerned, but he glared at their sympathy, he didn't deserve it.

"Go home," he muttered moodily and strode past them onto the boat.

His pair of shadows followed hot on his heels. MacLeod was not in the mood for their company; he was about to turn and shoo the do- gooders away when something caught his eye. The Immortal's heart jumped a beat as he saw the figure sprawled on his deck. He'd seen the red stain on white cloth first, the contrast drawing his eye, but his attention quickly focused on the grey face. The young features were calm in death, far from the accusing stare of the last encounter. Hope rose in the Highlander and it drowned all else. His pace quickened and without hesitation, the man strode across to the corpse. He knelt down and his hand went rapidly to the instrument of death still protruding from Richie's chest.

However, Methos was nearly as fast as his friend, and suddenly there was an urgent grip over Duncan's, stopping the withdrawal.

"No," the elder objected sharply, "not yet."

"It's Richie," the Scot breathed incredulously in way of explanation, sure his comrade must not have recognised the body.

"I know," the other answered, and Duncan's face darkened as Methos' distrust of that fact was made evident; the man continued quickly, "Look, Duncan, things haven't been all that they seem recently. We don't know what this could be."

"Richie!" the Clansman protested, his hand still clenched around the scalpel handle and his emotions ruling his head.

"You killed him," Pierson hissed acidly.

The shock tactic worked and Duncan let go of the knife as the pain of that moment came back to him. He stared down at the corpse and remembered a head severed from a body. Of course, there was no sign of that now.

"Look, Duncan, I hope this is Richie," Methos took him by the shoulders, his demeanour more gentle now he'd stopped the impulsive action, "but we can't know that. This could be a trap set by the demon."

At that admission, Duncan showed his surprise. He hadn't spoken to his comrades much in the last few days, and the idea that the old man believed him now seemed alien. Methos merely continued, "Yes, I think it's real."

"Still, we have to risk it," MacLeod was sure of that.

"I agree," Joe had been forgotten in the sudden discourse, but his voice was full of the same hope as the Highlander when he came up behind the pair of Immortals.

Methos glanced at both men, his features showing his concern, but his look turned to resignation at the purpose in each face.

"Alright," he agreed, "but not here, not on deck. Lets get the body below."

Scene 1 0

There was almost a reverence in the way Duncan MacLeod gently laid the body of his surrogate son down onto the couch, almost as if the young man were no more than a sleeping child. Methos' concerns were momentarily muted as he watched the tenderness with which the Highlander arranged the dead limbs into a comfortable lying position, placing the blond head onto a cushion. He even adjusted the filthy covering as if it were the softest blanket. Then the old man stared at the pallid features, wondering what lay behind them. Was this yet another facade? Could he trust his own instincts, which had been the same as MacLeod's? No matter what his head told him, the ancient Immortal didn't want the answer to be no. He'd already been surprised by what he felt for this young man, and he could no longer say it was merely for MacLeod's sake. As he observed, the deathly repose of the corpse affected him greatly, just as it touched his companions.

Joe hung back and Methos sensed his quiet disbelief. Despite their recent conversations, this had been an unexpected turn of events. Like all of them, the Watcher had experienced too much in the last few days to trust anything. He was as fixated by the cadaver as Duncan, and both men came to stillness as the Scot knelt in front of the burden he had lain down.

As the world paused, Methos caught up with his own mind. It was obvious neither of his companions were going to act - it was up to him. He gave the dark man a moment's contemplation close to the body, and then prudence told him to separate the Highlander from what seemed to be his prot‚g‚. Gentle now, aware of the fragile nature of his friend's psyche, the old man walked forward and laid a hand on Duncan's shoulder.

"Move back, MacLeod, we have to discuss this," he told his comrade.

The cruel jolt, that Methos had given him on deck, hung in Duncan's eyes, and the ancient regretted it then. Yet, it had been necessary and it seemed to be serving its purpose. With resignation, the Scot silently obeyed. Joe offered the dark man a sympathetic look as he stood and walked away from the possible threat. Methos deliberately put himself into the space that his companion left. One thing of which he was sure, in this, everyone except Duncan MacLeod was expendable, even if it meant that he became the first line of defence. His presence safely between the Highlander and any danger, the old man addressed the situation once more. He paused a moment to consider their position, and then reached into his coat. Withdrawing the blade held there, he presented it to MacLeod. Although his comrade reached automatically for the hilt, the man stared down at it dumbly for a moment as it lay limp in his palm. Then Methos received the questioning glance he was expecting.

"If things turn out badly, you're the only one who can stop it, MacLeod," the old man disclosed evenly, finding himself surprisingly calm with the idea.

Yet, he once again faced a hostile reaction to his admission of possibility. Both his colleagues did not seem willing to admit the chance of the worst and their frowns echoed this. It was then that Methos realised he was as tense as his fellows, because he snapped at their silent backlash, "Look, I want this to be him as much as you do. In fact, I think it is him, but we don't know what could be in there with him. Ask yourself this question, MacLeod - how did he get here?"

"By the look of his feet, he walked," Joe answered bluntly.

Methos glared at the avoidance of the issue and countered, "You know what I mean! Where's he been all this time? Why's he here now?"

At this point, the old man wasn't going to admit to either friend that this was not a course of action he had anticipated from their enemy. He was the only Devil's Advocate in the room and couldn't shirk the task now. He pressed on despite his own feelings, "I'm going to remove the knife, be ready for anything. If you have to use the sword, MacLeod, do it, on me or him."

His gaze was stern and bored into the Highlander's soul. The point was made, and reluctantly, the dark man nodded. With the knowledge that Duncan would do what was necessary, Methos turned to face whatever fate destiny held.

The ancient steeled himself against the innocence in the passive young face - he had to be prepared for anything. Carefully, his senses taking in the whole aspect of his task, ready for any change, Methos bent over the body. His fingers were almost shaking as he reached for the protruding knife. The metal was cold in his tight grip and cooled the sweat on his palm. Breath tight in his throat, he pulled. The blade moved through flesh with a slither that turned Methos' stomach. As the scalpel came away he chided himself over the squeamishness, it wasn't as if he hadn't done this before. Yet, circumstances seemed to be overtaking him, and the old man hovered dangerously close to the body, drawn in by compulsions he could not fight. He was unaware of how much time passed as they remained caught in the tableau, consciousness moving only as fast as events. Yet, even when time did begin again, the old man's reactions were barely fast enough to respond to the instantaneous revival. Methos wasn't sure what he had expected, but it was no ordinary Immortal resurrection which he witnessed at close quarters. As usual, a sharp intake of breath was followed almost immediately by the snapping open of eyelids. It wasn't confusion that showed in those eyes, however, but sheer terror. The befuddlement usually in a re-awakening body seemed to have transferred to the old man as only instinct threw him out of the way of the driven form which catapulted himself off the sofa. Yet, Richie wasn't that co-ordinated, and his flight came to a rapid halt. His legs slammed into the coffee table, and with a cry he collapsed into a protective ball.

Stunned, Methos slowly righted himself and approached the cowering figure. The man was still cautious, shocked by the extreme nature of the youth's revival. However, the young man's demeanour would have reached the hardest heart.

"Richie?" he murmured quietly, lowering himself to the shivering form's height.

Ryan lifted his head from his arms, his blue eyes clouded as he gazed at the carefully passive approacher. The instantaneous fear was still present, but held in check by a desperate hope. The old man moved smoothly, aware of the sensitive balance within the wild-faced youth. He was aware of being examined as the deep gaze was fixed on him in a manner spurred by the obvious emotions. The ancient was sure now, he was looking at Richard Ryan, damaged, frightened, abused, but a human being none-the-less. The knowledge removed any apprehension that was left in the old Immortal and it seemed Richie picked up on this. Methos didn't think he'd ever seen so much relief in another face.

Suddenly there was a grip on his wrist, harsh in it need.

"Methos," Ryan breathed and then whatever self-control he had left broke down.

Methos wasn't sure if the youth was laughing or crying, he sounded hysterical, but the action shook his whole body as first one hand, then another gripped onto a friend. Methos accepted the onslaught with more calm that he felt as he considered what experience had driven his comrade into such a condition.

Scene 1 1

The Richard Ryan that had awoken on the barge had been barely recognisable to Joe, but half an hour later, the young man sitting wrapped in one of the Highlander's robes at least partly resembled the person the Watcher remembered. His gaze was haunted, nervous, and it had taken this long to coax more than one word at a time from him. And if Richie's condition worried the silver-haired man, then Duncan's was another matter entirely. The Scot no longer seemed catatonic, that, at least, was a relief, but now he appeared unsure of what to do next. Methos had handed out liberal amounts of his host's whiskey, but where the ancient man had downed his and Joe himself had taken a large swallow, Richie and Duncan seemed much more interested in each other than the beverage each held. The alcohol remained untouched as the two men sat opposite one another, their gazes flicking between the floor and each other, never quite meeting.

Dawson had left Methos to take charge, falling into his habitual mode as observer. Yet now emotions were settling, he discovered a need for answers. His concern for both anxious men came through as he addressed Richie directly for the first time.

"Where have you been?" he asked with more bluntness than he intended.

This catalyst seemed to finally fix the two Immortal's stares on each other. His tone broken by regret that was also echoed in his features, the younger man answered, "Mac knows."

"I didn't think you were real," Duncan told his young friend as if there was no one else in the room.

"I was supposed to kill you," Richie continued the conversation in the same manner.

Yet, this was not an appropriate time for a private discourse, and aware of this, Methos chose to interject directly, "What has been going on? Have you seen Richie before this, MacLeod?"

"I've been haunting him," Ryan returned bitterly, the ancient succeeding in drawing his attention away from Duncan for a moment.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Joe asked, but then immediately knew the answer, regretting the question as he saw the pain in the Highlander's face.

Again, Methos chose not to dwell on anything too long, and pressed for details.

"What happened to you, Richie?" he enquired.

"I met a man in a fog," the young man responded almost distantly, chill in his voice, "and then what people saw wasn't me anymore."

The look in his eyes told all three observers that he wasn't ready to go into greater detail yet. Still, he continued to talk, returning his gaze to MacLeod as he muttered, "It hates you. It wants you dead more than anything else in this world. And it enjoys any pain it causes you. The rest of us are playthings, but you can stop it."

"How?!" Duncan demanded urgently.

The young man's expression showed his dismay and frustration as he admitted, "I don't know. I don't know anything about it except what it decided to tell me, and that was more than anyone ever wants to know."

"Can you tell us anything?" Joe asked as gently as he could, trying to quell his immediate need for details.

"It can't stand pain or death," Richie replied and his gaze fell to his hand; the youth paused a moment as he stared at the untouched palm, obviously lost in himself. Eventually he finished, "That's how I got away."

Dawson glanced at Methos, needing some support from his fellow questioner. He felt like an interrogator, forcing answers out of someone unwilling to divulge them. The Watcher saw similar feelings echoed in his comrade as they each tried to maintain the balance between the need for information and the sanity of their friends. It was a delicate operation where a step too far could mean descent into the madness of the last few days.

"Do you know what it'll do next?" Methos took the next initiative.

"Except torture its new host?" Richie asked acidly, and then returned, "No." The young man closed his eyes against his horror as he murmured, "That poor woman."

Yet, as time had passed, Ryan appeared to be more and more aware of his emotional state and how unhelpful it was. Shortly, he shook his head and continued with more presence, "I'm sorry, no, I don't know what it'll do next, but I can tell you not to make contact with anyone you think could be the host. It transfers bodies by touch. That's why I killed myself on deck, I couldn't get out of range any other way."

Joe admired the strength in his friend as he dragged himself back from the edge. The moment of clarity was followed by another of silent pain, but he seemed better able to cope with it. More sure of his own emotions, the Watcher moved forward and laid a hand on his comrade's shoulder.

"Well you ain't the host no more," he drawled, and with a bolstering smile breathed honestly, "It's good to have you back, Richie."

Scene 1 2

Duncan closed the door on Joe and Methos as the two men headed tactfully for anywhere but the barge. The Scot knew that they'd deliberately left he and his returned prodigal son to talk, but the mountain was becoming steeper even as he considered scaling it. The bare facts from the last few days had been exchanged and digested, but neither MacLeod, nor Ryan had been forthcoming about their personal views on what had happened. After the torrent of initial relief, Richie had chosen to focus his concentration on the stark details in order to help keep his emotions in check. They had been obvious in his open visage, but they remained unspoken.

When the need for information had come to a close, and the nerves of both subdued individuals had begun to show, Methos, in the role he had taken as lead in the conversation, had decided then that it was time for those feelings to be addressed. Neither Duncan nor Richie had been given a choice as the old man had bundled Joe out of the barge on an unnamed errand.

So it was that as he turned from the portal, the Highlander's gaze was firmly fixed on his still untouched whiskey. He was gathering courage to face an accusation he remembered from those deep blue eyes. Yet, he didn't have to begin the new conversation. The first disclosure was plain and even as Richie told him, "This isn't your fault."

Duncan's gaze immediately centred on the young man, who had stood to face the guilt in his comrade. He still looked a little like a lost soul, clothed only in the robe and the ghost of his trauma showing in his visage, but a strength was beginning to reappear in his manner. The Scot recognised Richie's attempt to show him that he was not too delicate to talk plainly. The dark man chose to meet him halfway.

"But if I hadn't.." he trailed off, at a loss for words, not quite sure what he was trying to say.

"Hadn't what?!" his companion demanded hotly, his stress showing. "I walked into that race track, into that trap. I wasn't pushed by you, Mac. Don't blame yourself, that's what It wants."

The vehemence and hatred in the strained voice startled Duncan and his reaction remained open. The young man seemed distressed by his extreme emotion, but he didn't back away from them.

"What do you think It did all this for? We can't let It destroy you!" Richie yelled, a hysteria at the back of his stare.

"Stop it, Richie!" MacLeod countered with equal strength, as he felt the desperation in his friend. "Stop fighting for a moment. Relax, talk to me, it's over."

"Over?!" the reply was indignant.

"For now," the Highlander clarified; he slammed his glass down on the table as he strode past it, and grabbed hold of his young prot‚g‚, "Over for now, Rich. Let go."

The youth's mouth worked, but no sound came out as the presence of his comrade cut right through the wall he'd been steadily building. Defeat loomed heavy in his face. It hurt the insightful Scot to see the loss and agony of remembrance in the other as he ripped away his self-protection, but it was a necessary action.

"You know what that Evil did to me, Richie," Duncan sighed, "you saw it. I thought I'd killed you and I hated myself. I didn't want to live. I can't describe how I felt when I saw you lying there on deck. God knows I've had enough second chances with you, and yet, here is another one. I'm not passing it up. Talk to me."

"I couldn't stop that thing," came rushing out of Richie's lips, the memory of his despair heavy in his tone.

The Highlander released his friend, but sank down in tandem with him as with the young man's discharge of emotion came a physical failing. MacLeod perched on the coffee table, holding his friend's attention. The guilt in the younger Immortal's face was almost overwhelming and he breathed, "I'm so sorry, Mac."

Duncan laughed softly, glad at least that the pain was revealing itself. He laid a hand on Richie's trembling arm and asked, "Do you really think I blame you?"

After a moment, Ryan shook his head. He sighed.

"I felt so helpless," he murmured, "I could see you, but I couldn't even make a sound. It wasn't like anything I've been through before. I've been scared before, trapped, but not even Kristov compared. Then I was a prisoner, but it was never so.." he struggled for words, and forced out painfully, "..intimate. It knew everything about me, I couldn't hold anything back - I couldn't even control that. There wasn't anything it couldn't touch. I didn't know how to fight even the way it made me feel. It was pure luck that I got away. Every time I think about it, I freak out. I'm out of control - I don't know what I'll do next."

"Dammit, Richie," the Highlander reacted honestly, his grip echoing his conviction as he reassured, "you've been to hell and back. You don't have to cope alone anymore. Whatever happens now, we'll face it together. Don't be afraid of what you're feeling, scream, shout, throw things if that what you need to do. Let it out."

The young man had moved beyond words, but MacLeod could see everything he couldn't say in his gaze and body language. The Scot became aware, as he stared into those blue eyes, that he was his comrade's link to sanity. It was a desperate need, but the wont gave Duncan a strength of necessity. His own hurt seemed insignificant when he took in the fear in the struggling youth. He knew without a doubt that if ever he had needed to be the rock, it was now. The dark man rejected any self-consideration that remained, everything else drowned in compassion for his vulnerable companion. Richie seemed so young, adrift in his own fervour. MacLeod offered himself as an anchor.

Both men dealt with the younger's trauma. Ryan hovered on a brink into destructive horror. Escape was not the end of the young man's ordeal, but the Highlander was determined that it was to be the last moment of it he faced in isolation. The momentary crisis drained away with what little energy Richie had regained in the short time since reaching safety. Without the strength to hold his aide's gaze, instead, the young man slowly leant forward into his embrace. He made no sound, nor did he reach for the man on whose shoulder he rested his head, but the Scot felt his comfort absorbed none-the- less. He placed his arms around the still form and laid his chin gently on his charge's short cut hair.

Scene 1 3

As the door to the bathroom closed behind Richie, Duncan picked up the empty glasses. The crystal had been drained twice since the exchange between friends had begun. It had been a difficult experience; they had experienced each other through more than just words. The emotion in the room had been so strong it was almost an entity in itself. Yet the shared anguish had brought the two men closer than they had been since the dark Quickening. MacLeod felt more like a father now than he ever had before. The child in the young man needed him. Richie was so obviously vulnerable, traumatised to a point when even his bravado couldn't help him. Duncan wondered if a similar state had taken his friend after the terrible confrontation of a year ago. As the dark man recalled the hostility that his betrayal of Ryan's beliefs had caused, and how long it had taken them to recover a relationship, he swore it would never happen again. He would never abandon his tyro again.

Once practical issues had begun to re-impose themselves on Richie, he had expressed a need to rid himself of the gore of his escape. The gentle hum of the shower starting up joined the clinking of the glasses; it was such a normal sound, almost like stepping back in time to a period in their lives before the fledgling had found total independence. MacLeod recalled that Winter when Ryan had first returned after the killing of Mako. It felt comfortable. Despite the momentous events taking place outside, inside the walls at this time, the Highlander felt content.

Cleaning up the remnants of the afternoon only took a few minutes, and with the comforting knowledge that his friend was safe, Duncan settled down with a book. The experience was so refreshing it felt as if normality had been away forever, even though it had been only a few days. MacLeod recognised this settling of his emotions from other periods of trauma in his long life Yet this crisis had been the closest he had come to total self-destruction. The Highlander buried any alarm this concept caused him in the most ordinary of pursuits.

The script held only part of the reader's interest as his focus drifted between the printed page and the sound of the water running. Richie had been in the shower for sometime, obviously washing away more than dirt. Duncan caught himself listening intently to the drumming sound his instant reaction guilt at eavesdropping. He tried to centre his attention on the words in front of him, however he couldn't hold back the trickle of relief when he finally registered the cessation of the background noise. The silence was welcoming, peaceful and the Scot finally ceased his auditory surveillance. The book also fell into his lap as he leant back into the comfortable chair and closed his eyes for a moment.

Comfort died in a split second cry.

The scream that broke the Highlander from his reverie chilled his blood; it was Richie. Echoes of the young man's reawakening echoed in the sound, magnified tenfold. The terror contained in the wail should never have been found in human experience. It instantly spurred the Clansman to his comrade's aid, but he made it no further than a few paces. A voice, calm, cold, self-assured, malicious in it's tone slithered into his senses. Duncan turned.

"Peek-a-boo!" the image of Kronos leered his eyes flashing a deep red.

The Scottish warrior reached for his sword, his knowledge of it's position once again instinctive. His spirit had been restored and the demon faced a proud, enraged defender. The traumatised cry still rang in the Highlander's ears and he raised his blade against its catalyst. Kronos laughed. As the cackle filled the room, it was saluted by a crashing. Richie literally slammed through the bathroom door and thudded into the opposite wall. Without co-ordination or real conception, the young Immortal slid down the surface just behind where his mentor stood. MacLeod took an agonising moment to assess his friend's state of total incoherence. The youth clasped a large towel around himself, half hiding the utter terror in his face. It was little protection against something that was happening inside his head.

"Now isn't this cosy," their adversary jeered and wandered across the room, seeming casual while maintaining a healthy distance.

The point of Duncan's blade followed the Evil as he moved.

"Just dropped by to see how you boys were doing," Kronos continued sickeningly, "I see you're missing me."

MacLeod was on the verge of exploding, but his protege beat him to it. An angry growl escaped Ryan's lips at the taunting and drew the adversaries' attentions. The demon seemed ironically impressed by it's one-time victim, Duncan contained concern with warrior stoicism. The young visage held little rationality as the eyes slowly turned towards the nemesis, blazing defiance. The blond creature was wordless as he deliberately stood, pushed that one step too far. Fear drowned in pathological rage, a tool in the monumental struggle against panic. The Scot stared from one being to another suddenly an outsider in this conflict as natural fought supernatural will. As his friend began to shake the Highlander decided to sever a dangerous link, and stepped between them.

"Get out," Duncan seethed, centring on his enemy.

Momentary annoyance lanced across the apparition's features, but was soon replaced by morbid amusement.

"Aw....don't wanna play?" the Evil purred, and paused, a deceptively impish grin on his face. "Oh well," it continued almost sounding whimsical, "places to go, people to possess. Bye bye, Boy, touch base with you again sometime. Ta ta, MacLeod, be seein' ya!"

And with that the figure moved swiftly and unnaturally to the door by which it had entered. The casual nature of this malicious intrusion fired Duncan to action, and he pursued what he knew to be mere illusion. Emerging on deck, there was no sign of the spectre, but another was displayed to the Highlander. Stood silently, passively on the wharf, safely out of reach, the Scot recognised the woman he knew to be the new host. The demonstration halted the man in his tracks. However, rather than spur him on after the Evil, it made him immediately aware that this victim was as yet beyond his reach, but another remained below, within his protection. He refused to allow his warrior instinct to lead him away from his charge as his vow saved him from reckless pursuit. It was not yet time for confrontation and he turned back to his home.

MacLeod in his momentary hunt had been unaware of Richie's reaction to the demon's exit. His concern magnified as he re-entered the barge and caught sight of his friend lying senseless on the floor. The length of the barge became an insignificant distance as he crossed it in a few strides. The Highlander's soul reached out to his companion as he saw a limp and bloodied palm still holding a red- smeared razor blade. Duncan knelt down slowly and reached for the defensive weapon, hatred burning for the Thing which had brought his protege to this.

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