Universe: A virtual "6th" season wherein "Modern Prometheus" was the finale of season 5 and ignores all events in the "real" season 5 finale and all of season 6, as well as the last movie. This season takes place 1997-1998

Summary: A series of miscommunications and coincidences causes Richie to (falsely) assume that Duncan's dead, and we all know what happens when we assume…

Disclaimer: If I owned them why would I waste my time posting to fanfic sites? I'd be off making lots and lots of money! But since I'm not, I therefore don't, nor do I pretend to.


Monday

"What a crappy weekend!" Joe exclaimed as he and Duncan entered the dojo. It was just after two a.m.

"I've had better," said Duncan as he dropped Joe's suitcase and his own duffle and shut and locked the door behind them.

"I wonder why Methos wasn't there," Joe mused.

"Yeah," Duncan agreed. "I thought you said those two were good friends?"

"I thought they were," said Joe. Then, after they had left the hallway and entered the main room: "thanks again for the ride."

"No problem," Duncan dismissed as he picked up the bags again and headed for the elevator.

"No, really MacLeod. You didn't have to," Joe insisted earnestly, putting a hand on the highlander's shoulder.

"What was the alternative? Tell you I'm too busy?" Duncan asked with mild sarcasm, making light of the situation.

"I could have taken the bus, or a cab."

"If you had taken the bus you wouldn't have gotten there in time."

"But you took an awful risk."

"I did what any friend would do." Duncan was still trying to make light of a situation that Joe wasn't about to let him just brush off as an ordinary road trip.

"An immortal driving his watcher to the funeral of one of the most highly respected former North American chapter directors nearly four hundred miles away? Sure, that's an everyday occurrence," Joe exclaimed, exasperated.

"And letting a friend miss the funeral of his mentor is?" Duncan returned.

"I guess not in the Scottish highlands."

"Besides Joe, I haven't been down to the Oregon coast in years."

"Someone could have recognized you. Then what would have happened?"

"But they didn't."

"But they could have!"

Duncan sighed. He was too tired to be having this conversation now. "Look Joe," he said, putting the bags down again and turning to his friend. "I know you had no intentions of having me drive you, but with your van in the shop you couldn't have arranged another ride in time for the funeral." He was speaking as though explaining something complex to a small child, with the same air of patience mixed with exasperation. "To take the bus would be cutting time too close for comfort and a cab would cost you nearly five hundred bucks. You know me, and I'd like to think that we're good friends. Do you honestly think that I, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, would let a friend miss his mentor's funeral, regardless of whether or not he had openly asked me for help?" Duncan gave a touch of the brogue to his name and title for emphasis.

Joe was about to protest when he saw the sincerity in the highlander's eyes. "But did you have to stay the weekend?"

"And let you bus or cab back?"

"I could have arranged a ride with Mike," Joe insisted.

"And do what for the week he was visiting his family in Salem? Could you afford that hotel for a week while keeping the bar closed?"

Joe sighed, admitting defeat at last. In truth he was grateful for the highlander's presence. He went out of the way for him, putting himself in a potentially dangerous situation in the process, without even a second thought. Not to mention his presence during the emotionally draining ordeal of burying the man he saw as a second father was like a calm port in a raging storm.

"But did you have to stay at the same hotel as the five hundred or so watchers that turned out for the event?" Joe asked, more to make a point then to rehash the argument. He felt guilty for putting Duncan in such potential danger and no amount of rationalizing or logic—or even friendship—could change that.

Duncan just grinned sheepishly and half shrugged in response. He opened the elevator and made to grab the bags again.

"Thanks for letting me crash here, too," Joe added, making sure that the immortal knew just how grateful for everything he had done for him he really was.

Duncan merely laughed. "I just didn't feel like driving all the way across town and back to drop you off. It's… two seventeen a.m."

"But you would have if I asked you to."

Duncan was about to retort by saying that after such an emotional ordeal Joe really just didn't want to be alone and sought refuge amongst his true friends, but he was cut off by the buzz of an approaching immortal.

"Is it Richie?" Joe asked, recognizing the look on Duncan's face. Richie was supposed to spend the Columbus holidays with Duncan.

"Probably," said Duncan, putting the bags down and fishing his Katana out of its hidden pocket in the lining of his coat.

"Richie?" A voice called from the outer hallway, proving that it was indeed not his student. Duncan recognized the voice just before otherwise unidentified individual stepped through the doorway into the main room.

"Connor!" "Duncan!" They spoke at the exact same time, with mirroring tones of great surprise.

Duncan stowed his sword and crossed the room, a large grin on his face. He hadn't seen his teacher and kinsman since the time of Tessa's funeral.

Connor, on the other hand, still held his sword, pointed down with outstretched arms, in readiness. He was as white as sheet, his eyes wide and unbelieving.

"Are you alright, kinsman?" Duncan asked. He had expected to at least shake hands with his teacher, but stopped automatically out of sword's reach when he saw Connor's stance hadn't changed when his expression had.

This seemed to bring Connor out of his trance. He blinked a few times, hard, as if to be sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him.

"Connor?" Duncan repeated hesitantly.

Connor's expression suddenly changed. He dropped his sword unceremoniously and closed the gap between them in one stride. Then he threw his arms around Duncan in a fierce embrace. Taken by surprise, it took Duncan a second to respond, but then he returned the hug with enthusiasm. He heard Connor muttering thank you over and over again, softly to himself, in Gaelic. Then to Duncan's increasing surprise, Connor didn't break off once the embrace was returned. Historically a man of ritualistic stoicism, Duncan was surprised and slightly worried by this uncharacteristic show of emotion. Connor offered one last Gaelic blessing heavenward, and over Duncan's shoulder Joe saw the elder MacLeod quickly and deftly wipe away the tears that had fallen down his face. His composure was quickly regained and then he returned his student and kinsman to arms length, regarding him as though they hadn't seen each other in centuries as opposed to a few brief years.

That momentary spell was broken as Duncan's painfully inquisitive look was met with a fist. In one punch Connor splayed Duncan flat. He slid a few feet across the wooden floor and remained there, out cold.

"What the hell!" Joe exclaimed, quickly crossing over to Connor and the unconscious Duncan.

"Where's Richie?" Connor asked icily.

Joe tightened his grip on his cane. "We haven't seen him," he said tightly.

"Obviously!" Connor's tone spoke volumes of his negative totals of patience.

"Actually we thought you were him coming in. He was supposed to spend the weekend with Duncan," Joe offered, trying to ease the tension radiating from the elder immortal.

"Was supposed to?" Connor's tone changed. It wasn't as exasperated but it didn't lose any of its frost.

"Something came up and Duncan and I wound up in Oregon this weekend. I don't know if Richie actually stayed here because we haven't caught him in if he did." Connor's gaze shifted quickly to the still-unconscious Duncan. "It wasn't an immortal," Joe added quickly. However, he wasn't about to divulge the true purpose of their visit.

Connor's expression softened slightly, as if the proverbial gears were turning. "Did Richie know you weren't going to be in town?" he asked carefully.

"Duncan called and left him the message," Joe answered, unsure of where this was going.

"But did either of you actually speak to him?"

"Well, no, but—"

Connor didn't allow Joe to finish his statement. Instead he walked straight past him into the office. Joe cursed aloud and followed, and found Connor using the office phone.

"What exactly are you doing?" he asked, seeing Connor dial too many digits for it to be a local call.

Connor raised a finger to signal that he needed a minute. "I don't think Richie got your message," he said heavily, handing Joe the phone.


Duncan regained consciousness in relatively short order. He massaged his jaw and sat up groggily, trying to piece together what just happed. Connor had arrived at this time of night, looked at Duncan as though he was seeing a ghost, embraced him in a hug that conveyed more emotion than Duncan could ever remember seeing from his teacher, and then he promptly knocked him out with one well-placed punch. Duncan massaged his jaw, knowing that a few moments ago it had been broken. He then heard Connor and Joe talking in his office and stood to join them, debating whether or not to punch his clansman in return before or after asking for an explanation. He stooped to pick up Connor's discarded Katana as an afterthought and marched into the office to find out what the hell just happened.

When he reached the office he saw Joe holding the phone receiver with a horrified look on his face and Connor sitting in the desk chair, his head in one hand shielding his eyes.

"You dropped this, coz," said Duncan, standing in the doorway and offering the Katana to his teacher, hilt first.

Connor looked up and regarded Duncan quizzically for a moment, and then stood quickly and went to retrieve his sword. "Thanks," he said rather sheepishly as he returned it to the inner pocket of his trench coat. It was as if he just realized that he'd been without it.

"You mind telling me what this is all about?" Duncan asked, his resolve to give his teacher a taste of his own medicine melting when he saw how exhausted—both physically and emotionally, Connor really looked.

"Trouble," said Joe, coming out of a trance of his own.

"Trouble?" Duncan echoed questioningly as he walked over to his desk.

"Big trouble," Connor affirmed as he pushed the button to replay the last-played message in his voicemail box. Joe hit another button to enable the speakerphone and there was the customary computerized 'beep' before a voice came through, sounding distant and mechanical through the electronic device, but it was still instantly recognizable.

It was Richie.

Connor… I don't know how to say this so I'll just say it. Mac's… Duncan's, the voice nearly broke, dead. A moment of ominous electronic silence, then: I've worked out who. The bastard's tryin' to leave town. I'm gonna try and catch him at the airport… More electronic silence, this pause being longer than the last. I've left my key under the front doormat. At the dojo. All the information is upstairs on the counter… I don't know when you'll get this message. Hopefully you check you messages often in case— Richie suddenly cut himself off. The uncensored anguish in his voice was physically painful to hear. It was obvious that the young immortal was struggling to maintain his composure. This son of a bitch is mine. This time there was anger and finality in Richie's voice. I'm sorry. An electronic beep signaled the end of the message, the computerized female voice kicking in a moment later asking Duncan how he wanted to proceed.

"Dear God," Duncan breathed, slipping into Gaelic. "How?"

"I don't know, my friend," said Connor in English. "I received that message this morning. I was in India on business—antique business," he amended quickly for Duncan's sake.

"So he probably left that message—"

"Eight thirty last night, New York time," Connor finished for Duncan.

"That's five thirty Pacific Time," Joe translated.

"Would we feel him from here?" Connor asked, moving quickly out of the office towards the elevator.

"No," said Duncan, immediately following him. "The buzz won't kick in until you are almost at the second floor."

Joe hung up the phone and replaced the receiver before heading out, just behind Duncan. The three entered the elevator and Duncan turned the key, sending it aloft.

No buzz greeted them. Not even when the elevator docked and Duncan threw the grate up.

"Richie!" Joe called as the exited the elevator.

"He's not here," said Duncan.

Immediately they noticed the state of the apartment. Richie had really done a number on the place. Among other things, the table was carved cleanly in two, one half splintered by many blows. Joe and Duncan both swore under their breath as they entered the kitchen area.

"What's this then?" Connor asked, mostly to himself, as he found a pile of papers on the kitchen counter. "Jean-Pierre Renault?"

"That must be him," said Joe.

Duncan swore vehemently again in Gaelic, prompting Connor to look up with an amused expression on his face. Joe made mental note to ask one of them what it meant at a later date.

"I take it you know him then?" Connor said, his amused tone would have fooled anyone but those who knew him best.

"We ran into each other in Marseilles, 1740-something. He's a headhunter, kills for the thrill of it with no remorse. And he cheats."

Connor repeated Duncan's curse.

"You think he's here for you?" Joe asked Duncan.

"Richie did," said Connor. Then: "It says here that you two fought, but that you left without taking his head." Connor was puzzled.

"I was lucky to escape with my life," Duncan defended.

"Wait a minute Mac," said Joe, his watcher instincts, momentarily dulled by fatigue and the nature of the evening thus far, were finally kicking in. "Isn't that when you blew up the baron's stable?"

"I only meant to set him on fire," Duncan defended. "How was I supposed to know there were powder kegs beneath the floorboards?"

"Ouch," said Connor. "How many?"

"Only a half dozen."

"Ouch," Joe echoed.

"No wonder he wants your head," said Connor.

"On top of being a headhunting scumbag already," Joe added.

"Richie…" Duncan breathed, suddenly fearful. There was a half-second pause. Then:

"I'll call headquarters, see if either Richie's or Renault's watchers have filed any reports yet."

"The kitchen phone's ripped out," Connor informed the watcher.

"Bedroom," said Duncan.

"Right." Joe hurried into Duncan's bedroom faster than either immortal had surmised a man with a two prostheses could move.

"I need a drink," Connor declared, his voice making the statement sound very true.

"Liquor cabinet's in the living room," Duncan said absently, inspecting Renault's file more closely.

"It's empty," Connor said shortly thereafter.

"What?" Duncan quickly joined his kinsman in the living room and discovered that Connor was in fact correct. All of the bottles were missing. He cursed again.

"Over there!" Connor pointed to a stash of the remains of empty spirit bottles in the corner. They were small bottles, but the alcohol formerly contained in them was old, potent, and exotic.

"He… must have thrown them there, from here," Duncan concluded haltingly.

"That looks suspiciously like that bottle of brandy I gave you last Christmas," said Connor, eying a broken bottle beneath the coffee table, the spilled remains of it staining the table and the floor.

"It was…"

Duncan waked over and picked up the top of the bottle by the stem. It looked suspiciously like it had been broken over something, most likely the coffee table. "Richie…" Duncan didn't know which emotions were strongest: the worry he felt not knowing whether or not his student was dead or alive, the guilt he was already feeling in case Renault had taken his head, or the crushing weight of the realization that Richie had done this in the aftermath of learning of his supposed death. Richie had a very difficult time expressing his emotions, but the broken bottle clearly showed anger. And grief. And pain. And regret.

And love.

Connor walked slowly up behind Duncan and placed his hand on his student's shoulder, clearly understanding how Richie felt and also empathizing with Duncan over the worry of the potential loss of his student.

"Mac!" Came a strained cry form the bedroom. It was Joe.

Duncan dropped the brandy bottle shard and he and Connor practically sprinted to the bedroom. Connor was in the lead and stopped short in the doorway, causing Duncan to nearly run into him. He was about to protest when he saw exactly what made Connor stop so suddenly:

Richie.