They had both been quiet for quite a while when Richie finally pulled away. He had stopped crying and Connor was fairly certain that he was done, at least until he reunited with Duncan that is.
Connor stood. "I think I need a drink," he said as he picked up the coffee mugs.
Richie blushed. "I'm afraid there's not much left."
"I'll find something," said Connor with an impish grin. "Why don't you go get dressed?"
"Yes sir," Richie agreed submissively, making Connor sigh.
When Richie came back he was wearing a pear of Duncan's sweats. They still looked big on him, but not as bad as the robe had looked. Richie had washed his face again and was looking more like his usual self, albeit rather withdrawn.
"Orange juice?" Connor offered Richie a glass.
"Thank you," said Richie, taking the glass but meaning so much more.
"What's family for?" Connor asked rhetorically with a grin. He allowed Richie a moment to drink his juice, but then decided that it was high time he got on with business. "Have you fully absorbed the quickening?" he asked tentatively.
Richie nodded. "I believe so. I still get flashes of things, but I can't quite place them. There are no concrete feelings, no images."
Connor nodded, steeling his resolve. "Did you see any traces of Duncan?"
Richie blinked. "No, but then I was dead for most of it." Then his gaze dropped to the floor. "I'm sorry."
"That's alright," Connor reassured him. Then he took a moment to mentally brace himself for what was to come. "I can tell you that even if you decided to live through it you would have found naught of Duncan."
Richie cocked his head slightly, not understanding. "You mean you don't think I'd have been able to pick him out of the crowd?" he asked, unsure.
"I mean his face wasn't in the crowd."
Richie shook his head slightly, not following.
Connor pressed on. "Duncan and Joseph had gone to Oregon on watcher business. You were right about Renault being in town for Duncan, but he hadn't found him yet."
Richie just stood there. He blinked a few times and shook his head, trying to understand what Connor was telling him. "What are you saying?" he asked, barely above a whisper.
"I'm saying that it was all a mistake, Richard. Duncan was out of town when Renault arrived. You thought that Renault had taken Duncan's head, but he hadn't found him yet. You found Renault at the airport. He was flying to Portland to hunt for Duncan! You stopped him, thinking that Duncan was already dead, but he wasn't. He's alive, Ridseard. Donnchadh is alive!" Connor finished with his hands resting on Richie's shoulders, and in his insistence he'd slipped and referred to both Duncan and Richie by their Gaelic names.
Richie just stood there, white as a sheet, eyes wide with disbelief. "Mac's… alive?" He asked, his voice working by sheer willpower.
"Yes," Connor assured him, both exhaustion and relief obvious in his voice. "He and Joe came back late last night. They were here when I arrived. Duncan took care of you while Joe and I cleaned the apartment. He's downstairs in the dojo office now, waiting for you."
"But… it can't be," Richie breathed, his voice strained.
"But it is," Connor insisted. "Trust me, if immortals could have heart attacks I would have had one when I saw Duncan standing there alive without a care in the world about Renault. He's alive, Richie. Alive."
Richie shook his head slightly, as if the motion could force his brain to comprehend. "But… why?" he asked after a pause.
Fortunately Connor was prepared for this. "That's my fault, Richie. You had been through so much recently, the condition of the apartment, not to mention your own, a clear testimony to that. You had lost him, avenged him, and died. I didn't think waking up to find him sitting next to you would have been the… healthiest, way to let you know."
Richie stood motionless for a moment, letting it all sink in. Duncan was alive!
"The shock was nearly too much for me, and I didn't have to worry about Renault," Connor added, not knowing what else to say.
Eventually something inside Richie clicked and he nodded slowly. "You wanted to let me down gently," he concluded. Some of the color was returning to his face.
"Something like that," Connor admitted.
"You call… that… easy?" Richie argued in disbelief, referring to everything that had just happened.
"Well no, but I wanted to give you the chance to grieve."
"But… I didn't have to."
"Yes, you did," Connor insisted. "You needed to deal with his loss. Even if it wasn't permanent, at the time you thought it was. Learning the truth doesn't miraculously make all those feelings you weren't dealing with go away." Connor spoke from experience, and somehow Richie understood that.
"Earlier. With Duncan."
"Oh." Richie nodded and half smiled. He knew what Connor had meant now. Crying like a baby was one thing, a necessary part of the cathartic process of acceptance and grief. He was grateful Connor had been there for him. Now he knew why. Connor had gone through the same thing, only he didn't have someone detached to share it with. He had Duncan.
Richie's smile became genuine. He knew that he probably wouldn't have been able to grieve properly with Duncan sitting there. Connor had let him get it all out of his system. The process certainly wasn't over, but it was the biggest and most necessary step to take. Now he knew that he would be able to forego the rest, but he knew that he also needed the release on the couch to get past the shock of the loss and the pain of the weekend whether Duncan was alive or no. That being done, he knew that Duncan was downstairs waiting for him. His grin broke out into honest, genuine laughter. He had dealt with his emotions and now Duncan was alive. It was like a lifetime of birthdays and Christmases all rolled into one brilliant moment.
The quality of Richie's laughter told Connor that he had understood and bore him no ill will because of it, which allowed Connor to laugh in relief and share in the joy.
"Come on," he said, smiling, "Duncan's waiting."
They headed into the elevator and Connor told it to descend.
"What did you call me?" Richie asked suddenly.
"Back there, when you told me, you called me something."
Connor's confusion fell into a sheepish grin once he realized what Richie was talking about. "Ridseard," he repeated. "It's your name, in Gaelic."
Richie just grinned and shook his head, too happy right now to pursue the topic once the answer had been given. Then suddenly Connor whispered something in Richie's ear, and Richie turned to him, his smile now ten times broader.
The buzz hit them just as the elevator hit the ground floor. Connor lifted the grate, but Richie was out into the dojo before it had reached the top.
"Mac!" He called, sprinting to the office.
At the buzz Duncan had stood from his desk. Now he stood in the office doorframe and saw Richie running towards him. Richie stopped about ten feet away, a wide grin on his face, drinking in the sight in front of him. Connor approached and stood slightly behind him.
"Richie," Duncan greet cautiously, almost afraid to smile. He then nodded to Connor, who did smile.
Richie took a few faltering steps forward. Duncan matched them, not wanting to rush the lad. After those first few steps Richie found his momentum and he made his way to Duncan.
"I love you Donnchadh," he said as he threw his arms around his teacher, the Gaelic rolling off his tongue quite naturally.
If Duncan held any illusions about keeping his composure during this reunion they were shattered here. He returned Richie's embrace.
"I love you too, Ridseard," Duncan answered in Gaelic as he felt the tears slide down his cheeks.
Richie laughed slightly, his voice choked with emotion. "That's my name in Gaelic," he said. "Connor told me."
Duncan looked over at Connor, who winked, and then hugged Richie tighter. "I'll teach you more sometime," he vowed.
Connor turned around and headed back to the elevator. He had already has his moments with Duncan, now it was Richie's turn and he didn't want to interfere. He had reached the grate when Joe Dawson walked through the doorway.
"Look who's alive," the watcher said cheerfully.
Richie and Duncan slid out of their embrace, but Richie kept a reassuring hold on Duncan's sleeve. Duncan noticed this and smiled, resolving not to mention it.
"Joe!" Richie exclaimed enthusiastically, gesturing with his free hand.
"You look much better than you did early this morning."
"I feel better, Joe, believe me."
Joe stuck his hand out and Richie shook it eagerly, only pausing for a moment before releasing his right hand from Duncan's sleeve. The highlander didn't move at all.
"Glad to hear it," said Joe. "Congratulations on Renault, by the way," he added as they parted hands.
Richie's jaw clenched at the same time his face paled. "I killed him," he said matter-of-factly, but his voice held hints of anger and disgust. "Mac, I thought he'd killed you, and—"
"Don't worry about it, tough guy," Duncan dismissed. "He was in town for my head."
"You stopped him before he could get to Duncan," Connor added, just now joining the conversation.
"I guess this means I owe you," Duncan concluded lightly.
"Let me out of cleanup duty we'll and call it even," Richie offered seriously, though his eyes were still shining, and everyone laughed. "But seriously Mac," Richie continued soberly, "where the hell were you?" There was touch of anger in his voice at the question.
"I'm afraid it's my fault," Joe admitted truthfully. "My car broke down and I needed to be in Oregon early the next morning. Mac graciously offered to give me a ride both ways."
Richie nodded. It made sense. "The funeral?" he asked.
"An old friend of mine. A watcher."
"He's still in Oregon, visiting relatives in the area."
Richie nodded again. Everything was fitting into place. He felt rather foolish for it all, and guilty, especially for putting Connor through it too. "I'm sorry," he said to no one in particular, but it was Connor who answered him.
"For what exactly? You were worried about Duncan, and did everything in your power to discern his whereabouts. You exhausted every lead, every possibility, and eventually arrived at the only possible conclusion. Granted you may have committed a little breaking and entering, thievery, and hacked a computer or two, but for what purpose? To avenge your teacher. Duncan would have done the same for me and had I the resources back then I wouldn't have had to wait four hundred years to do the same for Ramirez. It's what we do, lad. It's part of the game. You should never apologize for that." Connor's words were honest and true, but Richie still had one more concern.
"You're not gonna get in trouble, are you?" he asked Joe, sounding small.
"Who me?" Joe asked nonchalantly. "Nah. All you did was view those files. You didn't try and copy the database or change information or anything like that. It should look like I accessed the database while in Oregon to check up on a lead I had about an immortal coming for Mac's head." Joe was being overly optimistic, but right now it didn't matter. All that mattered was reassuring Richie, and if he had to lie through his teeth to do so then so be it. He would deal with the consequences later.
"In any case," he went on, "let's not worry about it now. I believe the dead man over here was going to take us all to lunch."
"I what?" asked Duncan, surprised and amused.
"That's a wonderful idea Duncan," Connor agreed, catching on. "I don't remember the last time I had a decent meal."
"Depends how you define decent," Richie said.
"I seem to recall a lovely Italian place in the heights…" Connor suggested as he lead Duncan towards the front door. Joe and Richie followed suit, and moments later the dojo doors closed behind four very happy individuals.