Seven bodies lay in the warehouse. Of them all, Duncan was the first to revive. Quickly coming to his senses, he detected Richie's pre-immortal buzz even as he felt for a pulse. It was faint and erratic, but the sound of approaching sirens was reassuring.
Edward and Ricardo were still out cold from when Duncan had landed on them. They remained wholly oblivious to all that had happened.
Julio was dead by Romeo's first bullet.
The sad irony was that Romeo, too, had died. It wasn't by Richie's hand however, nor Duncan's. That last errant shot into the ceiling struck something in the ventilation system. The structural integrity of the system was already very poor due to use and age, and so an entire section came away. It fell on top of Romeo, crushing him. He never woke up from the sleep Richie had sent him to.
Richie was the only one left alive who had seen Duncan die.
The Highlander knew that he didn't have much time. He ran outside to the T-bird and threw his duster on, making sure to lock his Katana in the trunk of his car (one can never tell with Powell). He had just succeeded in buttoning the duster enough to conceal the massive bloodstains when the first police cruisers came into view. Duncan ran into the middle of the alley to flag them down.
Duncan rode to the hospital with Richie, making this their fourth trip there together. Once again, when Richie was wheeled away, Duncan found the payphone and called Tessa. She came to the hospital immediately, bringing with her a change of clothes for Duncan. The entire affair was all too familiar.
Duncan managed to change before Powell noticed. With his katana in the trunk of the T-bird, MacLeod hung his coat beneath Tessa's in the visitor's coatroom. Together he and Tessa sat down to wait once again.
Inevitably, Powell came to collect the Highlander's statement. In that same small waiting room, Duncan told his story. He told of how he'd left Richie in charge of the store while he went to run errands. He'd met Tessa on his way back and then they'd found the note. He told her to call for help while he went to the warehouse. Richie was incapacitated on the ground, and Duncan said that managed to subdue two of the gang members completely unaware. He then won his fights with the other two, but the last, Romeo as it turned out, pulled a gun. Duncan told Powell how Romeo had shot his own man in attempts to kill him, but the rest of Romeo's shots went wild because Richie had tackled him. In their struggle, shots were fired into the ceiling. Richie was able to subdue Romeo, but he passed out soon after. Duncan barely managed to drag him away before he was crushed by the falling piece of ventilation duct. Romeo wasn't so lucky. Then he heard the sirens and ran outside to direct the emergency crews.
Powell diligently took notes, this time being smart enough to not interject any wise comments. Then it was Tessa's turn, and her story supported Duncan's. They just had to wait for the three surviving gang members to give their side of it, and for Richie to give his.
However, Richie was still off somewhere inside the hospital, and no one in the waiting room had any ideas as to where he was or what had happened to him.
The hours ticked by as slowly as they usually do in such situations, and Duncan and Tessa tried—though mostly in vain—to wait patiently. Eventually, after what seemed an eternity, the doctor came out to speak to the.
"Mr. MacLeod," the doctor greeted quietly, having recognized the man on sight. "First I'm going to say that I'm glad they finally caught the punks that did this. I'm sick and tired of seeing that kid in my ER."
"I'm tired of bringing him here," Duncan added.
The doctor nodded somberly.
"Well," Tessa prompted. "How is he?"
The doctor sighed. "Well we had to recast his arm. He took a good knock there, cracked the cast, but it didn't seem to injure him any. Probably hurt like hell though." He sighed again, trying to decide the best way to continue. "He has another slight concussion as well, but we're pretty sure there won't be any permanent damage from it. We won't know 'til he wakes up though. It's a good thing he has such a hard head." Duncan and Tessa didn't laugh, and the doctor continued. "There is one more thing though," he said. Duncan and Tessa gazed at him expectantly and the doctor sighed for the third time. "We got his tox screens back." Duncan's face paled, but Tessa looked back and forth between the two in confusion. "I'm afraid they drugged him."
"With what?" Tessa asked, angry and fearful.
"Heroin," the doctor answered. Duncan shut his eyes and Tessa gasped. "It was probably to incapacitate him. They didn't give him enough to OD. However, we're going to have to keep him here for a while and monitor his progress as the drug leaves his system. I'm warning you both now; it's not going to be a pleasant experience for him."
"How bad?" Duncan asked.
The doctor shook his head. "Hard to say, especially with his head wounds complicating things. Odds are that he'll recover fully, in time. However, we can never be sure in these cases."
Duncan sighed tiredly. Tessa clung to him tightly, both for his benefit and her own.
"Can we see him?" Duncan asked.
The doctor nodded. "Sure," he said with a tired smile. "He's unconscious now, and we've taken steps to ensure that he stays that way for quite a while." The doctor then checked his watch. "Visiting hours are over in a half an hour, and I can guarantee he won't wake up by then, but I'll take you to him anyway." The doctor turned and left the waiting room, Duncan and Tessa silently following his lead.
Richie didn't awaken that night, just as the doctor warned. He slept straight through the night and then the following day. In that time, Duncan and Tessa learned that the boy, Julio, had died from the gunshot wound to his back, and that Romeo had died instantly when the duct fell on him. Also, the three gang members in custody were singing like birds, admitting to each attack on Richie, and many other crimes. Their individual stories corroborated with MacLeod's, but by now Powell wasn't surprised any more.
All that was left was to hear Richie's side of it, and for that he would need to wake up.
Richie finally awoke the following morning. Unfortunately Duncan and Tessa hadn't arrived yet. The bigger misfortune, though, was that Powell had.
"Good morning, Dicky," the sergeant greeted with fake warmth.
"Where's Tessa?" Richie asked quickly, sitting up in bed.
Powell laughed. "Visiting hours haven't started yet," he explained. "She isn't here."
Richie closed his eyes against the sting of tears of relief. "Is she—"
"She's fine," Powell reassured. "You were tricked into going to the warehouse. She was never in any danger."
Richie sighed and opened his eyes, his composure regained. "I thought so," he said.
Powell frowned in confusion. "If you didn't think she was there then why'd you go?"
Richie turned sharply, his gaze seething. "And if I was wrong?" He asked rhetorically. Powell shrugged, not wanting to argue. Richie sighed. Anger was exhausting. "You probably want my statement," he said, resigned, after a brief pause.
"That's why I'm here, Dicky," said Powell.
"Richie," he was corrected half-heartedly.
"So you want my story or not?" Richie asked passively. He was heavily sedated, which accounted for some of his lackluster manner. However, the bigger part was that he was still haunted by the memory of Duncan dying right there in front of him in the warehouse.
Powell flipped open his notebook and clicked his pen. "Shoot."
Richie told Powell about the phone call and how he wrote the note for Duncan. He then said about how he went to the warehouse and knocked on the side door, which they opened into him. He remembered the sharp pain in his arm, but then nothing until he woke up. He told Powell that he guessed correctly that he'd been drugged. When Powell asked about how he knew what heroin felt like Richie casually reminded him of it's relation to morphine, which he'd become quite familiar with these past few months. He told Powell about how his senses were affected, and about how he doesn't remember anything concrete until MacLeod showed up.
He told Powell that he remembered MacLeod suddenly appearing from somewhere and quickly taking down three gang members. He explained how he saw Julio get shot because he happened to be standing in front of Duncan. However, Richie then explained how he'd seen Duncan take three rounds before he was able to tackle Romeo. He told of how he knocked Romeo out and crawled over to MacLeod just in time to see him die.
Had Powell not been standing so far away, and regarding Richie so incredulously, he would have seen the tears in the teen's eyes as he finished his tale. As inappropriate as it was, the first reaction that Powell had was to laugh. Richie once again turned a hateful glare on the sergeant, but he was too tired to put much behind it.
"Kid, you were drugged," said Powell once he'd calmed down. "The smack has obviously affected your memory… that or the blow to the head." At Richie's questioning look he added: "MacLeod's not dead. Not even shot. You must have dreamed that last part, kid. I have no idea where you got that idea." With another laugh and a shake of his head, Powell turned and left Richie's hospital room, leaving one very confused and relieved teen in his wake.
He met Duncan and Tessa in the hallway.
"Is he awake?" Tessa asked, seeing the sergeant exit the room.
"Yeah, he's awake," said Powell. "But his statement's inadmissible on account of the drugs in his system at the time."
"You took his statement?" Duncan questioned angrily. "You couldn't have waited?"
Powell sighed tiredly. "Just doing my job, MacLeod." There was a tense pause that Powell decided to break himself. "You'd better get in there before he falls asleep again. And MacLeod," Duncan and Tessa turned around, having previously begun to walk away from Powell. "He thinks you're dead."
Duncan bit back a comment and nodded slowly. "Must have been the drugs," he said. Powell shrugged and nodded before turning to leave.
Duncan and Tessa exchanged a glance. He had told her the real version of what had happened, but they had both hoped that he didn't remember it.
Now Richie had seen MacLeod die, and they both doubted that they would be able to brush it off as on account of the drugs. Mentally preparing themselves for what was to come, the couple pushed open the door to Richie's hospital room.
Unfortunately, the teen had fallen back asleep again.
Richie awoke to find Duncan dozing in a chair next to his bed. Richie let his eyes linger on the site for a while, letting the reality sink in. Eventually Duncan, sleeping lightly, felt Richie's gaze upon him and stirred. Their eyes met and they both smiled.
"Powell told me it was true," said Richie. His voice was hoarse. "I didn't want to believe him."
"What's true?" Duncan asked softly.
Richie shut his eyes against the sudden rush of memory. "I saw Romeo shoot you," he said. "I saw you die."
Duncan didn't say anything. Instead he stood and walked around the bed to where the food tray was. Richie's eyes followed him the whole way. There was a pitcher of water on the tray, and a plastic cup. Duncan poured Richie a glass and handed it to him. Richie accepted the cup and drank greedily before handing it back to Duncan, who replaced it on the tray.
"Did I really see that?" Richie asked. "Powell says it was the drugs."
Duncan made his way back around to his chair and reclaimed his seat. "What do you think?" He asked, his tone serious with no trace of sarcasm. That alone gave Richie his answer.
"I think I saw what I saw," he said, studying Duncan's face intently for his reaction.
"Well I'm sitting here now," Duncan said with a smile. "Alive and well."
"Powell said you weren't even hit."
Duncan nodded gravely. Then he stood and lifted his shirt to reveal the flawless and unbroken skin to Richie. Richie stared in amazement before it occurred to him that he was doing so. He somehow managed to resist the urge to touch the Highlander's chest to prove that it wasn't an illusion. Duncan lowered his shirt and sat back down.
"How?" Richie asked after considerable pause.
Duncan smiled slightly and shrugged.
Richie yawned, his fatigue already catching up with him. He hated the fuzzy and detached feeling he had whenever he was awake, but it beat the withdrawal pains he'd otherwise be having now.
"It's a long story," Duncan spoke at last, once Richie recovered from his yawning fit. However, the teen's eyelids were beginning to droop.
"Promise you'll tell me when we get home?" He asked, suddenly sounding very childlike as he shifted into a more comfortable position in the bed.
"Aye, lad," Duncan answered, his brogue tinting the voice he used, choked as it was by sudden emotion.
Richie smiled weakly before once again succumbing to darkness.
Duncan stood and tucked the covers better around Richie, pulling them up to the teen's chin. He brushed a few errant curls away from Richie's face, letting his hand linger slightly longer than necessary, before sitting back down in the chair to wait for Tessa to return with takeout.
The two had a lot to discuss.
Richie spent the next three days drifting in and out of consciousness, which was actually an induced and much preferred state as the last of the drugs left his system. Duncan and Tessa visited him often, but mostly he was unaware of them. Or, if he was awake, he wouldn't remember their visit the next time he saw them. Mostly it was just a comfort to know that they were there. A comfort for whom, however…
By the fourth day Richie was more like himself again, and it was decided that on the fifth he would be fit enough to be released from the hospital, once again into the trusted care of Duncan MacLeod and Tessa Noel.
So of course, Duncan waited until the night before to have that serious chat with her.
"Do you think we can manage to keep him out of the hospital this time?" Tessa asked with casual teasing as she began folding the load of laundry she'd just done. With a sigh and a half shrug Duncan began fishing through the basket to begin matching the socks.
"What's this we, young lady?" He asked with mock seriousness. "As I recall, you're the only one of us who's sent him to the hospital."
"Ha!" Tessa thumped him with a towel.
"What was that for!" Duncan asked, smiling and feigning confusion. "The first time he was stabbed, the second time you hit him, the third time his apartment blew up, and this last time he was drugged. That's three of four to that awful gang, and one to you. You don't need to assault me with inanimate objects just because you feel guilty."
"It was a towel!" Tessa wasn't mad because Duncan was right, she was mad at the jokingly condescending tone of voice he used because, when coupled with his big, brown, puppy-dog eyes, not even that could make her stay mad at him for long.
"And besides," she said, calming down, "he would have had to go to the hospital anyway, even if I hadn't aggravated his infection—which he already had."
Duncan laughed at her insistent expression. The slight tension hung between them for a brief moment before he flung a matched pair of socks at her. She shrieked and dodged and Duncan nearly died laughing.
"What was that for!"
"Retaliation for the towel."
Pretty soon the laundry was strewn about the floor, much of it to be rewashed later, in the aftermath of a childish clothing-turned pillow fight. Much later, because two lovers cannot play-fight on their bed and lust leave things as they lie. Certainly not lovers like Duncan and Tessa.
Later that afternoon, as they lounged in each other's arms and surveyed the utter wreck they had made of their bedroom, Duncan's thoughts returned to the cause of their banter: Richie. He also realized that their love life had been lacking this kind of playful energy as of late. And the reason was Richie. Richie was on his mind, there was no denying the fact, and with good reason. So, he might as well get it over with.
His lover sighed next to him. "What about him?" She asked carefully.
"I think I need to tell him the truth."
Tessa sat up partially and looked down at him intently. "What truth? You mean about your immortality?" Duncan nodded. "But, why? Duncan?"
The Highlander sighed. "He saw me die, Tess."
"But Powell explained to him that it was the drugs that made him think that."
"I'm not sure he believes him," said Duncan, his opinion of Powell showing through.
"But it's a plausible explanation, Duncan," Tessa insisted. "The doctors said so."
Duncan nodded. "It is," he agreed. "And Richie might have believed it."
Duncan sighed again. "But he was there at Soldier's Bridge, Tess. Remember? He saw the swordfights. He saw Connor die and then revive, and he saw me kill Slan, and take a quickening."
Tessa nodded. She hadn't forgotten. "But I thought you told me you had talked to him?"
Duncan laughed suddenly, but it died just as quickly. "Yeah, we talked," he agreed almost ruefully. "I told him some cock and bull story about being in the SCA to explain why everyone carries swords and knows how to use them, and I got him to accept that I killed Slan to avenge Connor, but really that we fought in self defense, and that I discovered Connor alive when I dove for his body. I didn't explain why I didn't involve the police, but a kid like Richie knows better than to ask that. And I didn't explain about the quickening, either."
"So you're saying that he doesn't believe the lie about the drugs because of everything else he's seen?" Tessa asked, but she already suspected the answer.
Duncan shrugged. "Richie's a bright boy. And right now, he's a bright boy with a lot of unanswered questions."
"And you think the only way to answer them is with the truth? Duncan, you told me once, right after you told me your secret, that it can be dangerous for someone to know the truth about you."
"The last time Richie was curious, he followed Connor, and it lead him to Soldier's Bridge. What if Slan had won, and caught him snooping? At least, if he knows the truth, he'll realize the danger, and he'll be able to recognize the warning signs and know what to do."
"What do you mean, know what to do?" Tessa asked, confused. "You think he's just going to run into another immortal on the street?"
Duncan knew that the odds of that happening were very real. Many headhunters kill pre-immortals and then take their heads as soon as they revive. Of course, he couldn't tell Tessa that.
"He works here, Tess. What if an immortal came by the store, to buy a sword, or worse? He should know about holy ground, at least."
Tessa nodded. That last part, at least, made sense. If Richie was going to be working in their store, then if, God-forbid, Duncan tells them both to run, he won't question when Tessa heads straight for St. Michael's down the street.
"That's true," she acquiesced. "But, Duncan… I didn't mean just dangerous for him."
Duncan finally sat up and, being on equal levels with Tessa, looked her straight in the eye.
"Do you think he would betray me?"
Tessa blinked slowly, fighting tears, and looked away. "When Connor drove me to the island," she began, "he told me of all the things immortals do, to gain against their opponents. He told me what happened to Heather."
Duncan clenched his teeth and silently cursed his kinsman. He knew that Connor had just wanted to be sure that Tessa was sure; it would save a lot of hurt in the long run. But still…
"She made a choice, to stay with him until she died, because she loved him. That's the choice that I've made. The choice to be with you. But…"
"But how could I trust someone with my secret that I wasn't going to love for the rest of their natural life?"
Tessa nodded slightly, still averting her eyes for the shame of her question.
"Tess, I told you about my immortality because I love you so much that I didn't want there to ever be any secrets between us. I wanted to see if you could love—I don't know… the real me. All four hundred years of it. You are the first woman to ever love me for who I truly am, not for whom and what I convince the world I am." Duncan gently cupped her chin and brought her face up so that she was force to look him in the eyes. "I love you, Tessa. More than anything else in the world. And my reasons for wanting to tell Richie have nothing to do with my reasons for wanting to trust in you." He smiled at her, and she smiled back, and then they enveloped each other in an embrace that lasted for many minutes.
"Tell me," she said finally without pulling away. "Tell me why you trust him."
Once again Duncan wanted to tell her about Richie's impending immortality. If she knew then she wouldn't question his decision to trust Richie. However, he couldn't have her treating him any differently. Richie needed a nice, normal life for as long as he could possibly have one, because once an immortal enters the game, that's all the normal they can ever have.
Unfortunately, Duncan took too long while pondering these things. Tessa pulled away and looked him in the eye.
"Duncan," she said seriously. "If he knows about your immortality, he could let it slip to others, and that would be dangerous for you. I need to know why you trust him, Duncan. Please."
The highlander sighed, trying to settle on an answer. "When I found him in the warehouse, right before the fighting started, we shared a glance. I saw something in his eyes. He trusted me to make everything better. It was as though, now that I was there, everything was going to be all right." Duncan laughed slightly. "I think he thought me invincible or something." Tessa nodded, seeing how her lover could have that effect on people, but waited patiently for him to continue.
"Then… I got shot. That kid, Romeo, shot me, but I hadn't died yet. You know the report: Richie, drugged as he was, tackled the kid and nearly fractured his skull… Tess, he was most definitely out of it, but he still knew that I was dying. He crawled over to me… You didn't see his face as he watched me die…"
"But he knows you're alive Duncan," said Tessa, forcing her voice past the lump in her throat. She needed to be sure that he was sure, or else she wouldn't allow it. She couldn't. "You did make everything all right."
"Yeah," Duncan agreed, his thoughts suddenly far away. After a few moments he blinked back to the present, his resolve set. "Look, Tess, I don't know how to explain it so that you'll understand. But Richie deserves to know. After all that's happened, after all he's seen and all he's been through because of my immortality, I can't not tell him. When he comes home, he's going to have questions, and I can't look him in the eye and lie to him. Not anymore."
Tessa nodded gravely. She accepted Duncan's explanation, and therefore, she had to go along with his decision. She only hoped that it was the right decision to make.
"Then tell him," Tessa said at last, forcing a ghost of a smile to her face.
Duncan knew what an admission this was on her part, and suddenly drew her into a tight embrace. "Oh, thank you, sweetheart," he said into her hair as he kissed her.
"Don't thank me yet, Duncan," she said as she felt her body begin to give in to his ministrations. The rest of that thought remained unsaid.
They brought Richie home the next afternoon. He remained awake just long enough for them to steer him into his bedroom. There he slept straight through to the following morning. Tessa had an early appointment with the Bicentennial Committee, so it was just Duncan and Richie, and the Highlander intended to use the time wisely.
He started with omelets.
"Are you glad to be out of the hospital?" Duncan asked as he slid his breakfast creation off the skillet and onto Richie's plate.
The teen looked up and made like he was going to say something, but then his look suddenly switched to one of confusion. "How many times have you asked me that?" He asked, the question genuine.
Duncan shrugged with a half-smile. "Too many," he answered.
"Yeah," Richie agreed. "But how many?"
Duncan's face grew serious. "Just once is too many."
Richie nodded gravely before taking a sip of his orange juice. "Where's Tessa?" He asked suddenly.
"She's meeting with the Bicentennial Committee about her sculpture," said Duncan, sitting down in the seat across from Richie. He had a steak knife next to his plate, but he was only eating with his fork. "Listen, Richie…" The teen looked up expectantly, but was thrown by the unreadable expression on the Highlander's face. "We need to talk."
Richie froze, his fork laden with eggs midway to his mouth. He was afraid of what Duncan was going to say next. Was he going to talk about his tendency to get injured (as so many authority figures had done), what had happened at the warehouse (because his nightmares didn't mesh with his waking memories nor with the police reports), or about the living arrangements (which were currently undefined).
He swallowed thickly. "About?"
"What do you remember from the warehouse?"
Option number two. Richie slowly put his fork down, trying to decide the best way to answer this.
"I woke up drugged, then you showed up, kicked ass and saved the day. Julio and Romeo died, the rest were arrested. I wound up in the hospital again. What else is there to tell?"
"You could start with what you remember."
Richie shut his eyes and looked quickly away. The images were all a jumble. He remembered his nightmares, and he knew what Powell told him. He also knew what logically is and is not possible. But then, this is MacLeod…
"I remember you fell," Richie said at last, the surrealistic and slow-motion imagery of Duncan crashing to the floor permanently etched into his mind. Of course, no one could fall that far without breaking bones, but then, his fall was broken…
Duncan was unsure how to interpret this. "Fell?"
Richie nodded. "From the sky," he continued. "You landed on Edward and Ricardo, like something out of a comic book."
Duncan nodded, admitting to this fact. It was also an indication for Richie to continue.
"Those two were out cold," Richie added.
Then he shrugged. This is where the images start to disconnect. "But Snake, Julio, and Romeo were still standing," he said at last. Duncan saw the teen's face contort into different shades of remembrance and concentration. He gave him all the time he needed. "I don't remember what happened to Snake," he said at last. "I know he got arrested, but…"
"He attacked me with the baseball bat," Duncan reminded him.
Richie paused a moment, and then nodded. "And then you took it away from him?" This time it was Duncan's turn to nod. "I remember… You dropped him fast and easy." There was another pause. Duncan knew that Richie was trying to decide how to continue. The only ones left to talk about were Julio and Romeo, and both of them were dead.
"What else?" Duncan prompted, not wanting Richie to leave it there. The events themselves were traumatic enough to warrant the need for open discussion, let alone the other reasons for this conversation.
"Romeo had a gun," Richie said evenly. "Romeo always had one. It belonged to his old man. He never used it, except shooting at old beer cans in the ally behind the hangout." Richie laughed suddenly. "You know, I don't ever remember him being a good shot? That's why he hardly ever carried the gun with him. That and cuz his old man used in to knock over a few liquor stores so it's traceable."
Duncan nodded. "He brought his gun to the warehouse," he said, trying once again to steer the conversation to where it needed to go.
"He would have," Richie agreed. "After what happened at my apartment, they knew the cops would be watching the hangout, so they had to move. They use the warehouses when they need to lie low for a while."
"So Romeo had his gun," Duncan reiterated.
Richie shut his eyes, the images suddenly coming in a tumbling rush, too fast for him to sort through. He blinked rapidly and looked away, trying to clear them from his vision.
"Julio's dead," he said at last, and even though he wasn't looking for confirmation Duncan nodded anyway.
"Romeo shot him."
"Yeah… He shot him…" The images would not be denied. Richie couldn't shut them out and nor could he make sense of them. They seemed to flash in and out in any order they so chose, almost like watching a slideshow through a strobe light, only there were pieces missing and rearranged. Richie couldn't focus on any one piece long enough for anything to make sense…
Until suddenly it all snapped into place. Suddenly the right tumblers clicked and the mosaic took shape for what it's supposed to be. The projector in Richie's mind finally shifted into the correct gear. Images upon images came flying at him, one right after another. He saw it all, in bright, stunning slow motion, exactly the way it happened.
"Romeo shot him!" Richie said with sudden vehemence. He stood up just as suddenly and seemed to pace in a quick circle behind his chair. "He shot him, but he didn't mean to. He wasn't aiming for Julio!" Richie turned and bore a fiery gaze down upon the Highlander from across the table. "He was aiming for you, Mac. Julio just… got in the way."
Duncan nodded again, gravely and with guilt. "What else?" He persisted, not letting Richie let go of the memory. Richie renewed his pacing. "Richie?"
"I don't know!" The teen shouted.
"Yes you do."
"No I don't!"
"You remember," Duncan persisted, standing now. "Romeo shot Julio and then what? What happened next?"
Richie suddenly grabbed his temples. He moaned, more from frustration than from pain. "It doesn't make any sense!"
"What doesn't make sense?"
Stunned silence fell as Richie didn't know what to say next. He just stood there, breathing heavily, staring across the table at MacLeod, whose expression was unreadable.
"What doesn't make sense?" Duncan asked again, calmly.
Richie took a few deep, shuddering breaths. He knew what saw. He knew it because his nightmares told him so. Every time he'd wake up screaming in the hospital and the nurses would sedate him and send him right back into the warehouse again. Every time they'd say it was the drugs in his system making him see things and feel things that weren't real, things that stole his memories and replaced them with nightmare images. Richie had memories, and Richie had nightmares. And now he knew that there was no difference between them. When he awoke in cold sweats from having seen the things he'd seen he'd been able to reassure himself that it wasn't real. It couldn't have been real. MacLeod was standing not five feet away from him. It couldn't have been real.
But it was. It had really happened. He was sure of it now.
"What are you, MacLeod?" Richie asked at last. He wasn't afraid, nor was he overly curious. To the Highlander, he just sounded tired.
That's when Duncan picked up the steak knife.
"I am immortal."
Faster than Richie could see, Duncan dragged the steak knife across the soft flesh of his forearm, just above the treacherous veins in his wrist. Richie's eyes went wide as the red stripe appeared and ruby droplets trickled down and, as though commanded, pooled in the palm of his hand. Before Richie could offer comment, however, the blue sparks of Duncan's quickening laced up and down along the incision, sealing it instantly. When the show was over, Duncan wiped away the blood with a napkin and showed the unbroken skin to Richie.
"Romeo did shoot you," said Richie with quiet triumph, and Duncan nodded. "And before, with your sword, I cut you, didn't I."
Duncan nodded again. "I was born Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod, in the highlands of Scotland four hundred years ago."
"You're four hundred years old?"
Duncan nodded for the third time. Richie paused to process this information.
"Immortals don't get grey hair?"
Duncan laughed. "We don't age after our first death," he explained.
"Immortals live just like everyone else, until they die. Then we wake up, and it's as if we never died in the first place. After that, we're immortal. We don't grow older, and we don't die permanently. We revive."
"So, when I saw you die," said Richie tentatively, "I must have passed out before you… woke up?"
Duncan nodded yet again.
Richie sat down again. "So you live forever?"
"Almost," said Duncan, also sitting. Richie returned his gaze to the Highlander. "There is one way we can be killed."
"Decapitation," said Richie. It wasn't a question.
"We—immortals, we don't know for certain why we exist, or what caused each of us to be immortal. But we live in what we call 'the game,' and this game has rules. The most important one is this: in the end, there can be only one."
This time Richie nodded. He was leaning his head into his hands, his fingers gently massaging his temples as though that would make his brain process the information more smoothly.
"So you hunt each other with swords and cut each other's heads off," he deduced. "Like you and your cousin and the masked man on the bridge that night." Then he laughed suddenly. "That was an amusing lie you told me, though."
"So who's your cousin?" Richie interjected suddenly. "I'll bet you're not really related."
"Actually," said Duncan. "Connor MacLeod technically is my kinsman, but he's a good seventy five or so years older than I am. He was my teacher."
"Well, I died in battle, and then woke up like nothing had happened. I didn't know about immortals or the game, let alone that I was one. Connor found me and taught me what I needed to know to survive."
This time Richie nodded. "So, when you said that Slan came looking to kill you, he was just playing the game?"
"Technically yes," Duncan admitted.
"And when you killed him, it was just part of the game," Richie furthered.
Duncan wasn't sure he liked the implications. "Yes, but Slan had threatened Tessa. He would have come after her if I didn't agree to fight him."
"What was your cousin doing, then?"
Duncan laughed slightly. "Well, as I said before, he likes to protect me. Teachers get that way about students; it's kind of an occupational hazard."
"So he fought to protect you, you fought to protect Tessa, and Slan fought because he was playing the game."
"Essentially," Duncan agreed.
"So, what's so great about this game then? Why do you play?"
Duncan sighed. "I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth. There's a prize for the winner, for the last immortal, but none of us are really sure what it is. Some claim that it's the power and ability to rule the world; others claim that you get your mortality back. There's a lot of speculation but that's about it. Some of us are fighting for a shot at the prize, but most of us are just fighting to stay alive a while longer."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you remember the lightning on Soldier's Bridge?" Richie nodded. "That was Slan's quickening. You saw my quickening just now: it was what healed my arm. When one immortal kills another, we absorb their quickening into our own. We get their memories, their power, their abilities, and their knowledge, in bits and pieces. The older you are, and the more heads you've taken, the more powerful your quickening becomes. Many immortals hunt just to collect them."
"Immortals like Slan?"
"Yes, but he was also into the sadistic pleasures of killing in general."
A lengthy pause ensued. Richie appeared to be lost amongst his own thoughts, and Duncan was almost afraid to disturb him there.
"You could have just let me believe that the drugs made me think I saw you die," he said at last. "It was as good an explanation as any. Why'd you tell me the truth?"
"Do you wish I hadn't?"
Richie was about to say something, but suddenly thought better of whatever it was.
"It's, like, a heavy duty secret," he said instead. "It's like, Bruce Wayne telling people he's Batman. Only Alfred knows."
"And you and Tessa are the only mortals who know about me," Duncan added.
"Well, I get why you told Tessa," said Richie. "But, why tell me?" Richie's words said one thing, but his eyes said another. Aside from still being slightly in shock from all that has happened, he really wanted to know why MacLeod chose to trust him. Sure, he figured that he'd earned the man's trust enough that he could live in their loft and work in their store with no worries, but a secret like this… There were bound to be implications beyond what MacLeod had said.
"I'm not going to make light of this, Richie," MacLeod said at last. "It would be dangerous for immortals if the public were to know about us. I've lived through witch hunts before, they aren't pretty. The survival of our race depends on its secrecy, especially since we don't know the final fate of the winner of the game. It's very important that you keep this secret, Richie, but I feel that I can trust you with it. Please don't prove me wrong."
"You can trust me, Mac. I won't let you down," Richie pledged in all seriousness.
Duncan sighed. Of course, there was more to tell.
"But you asked me why I trust you," he continued. He paused long enough to hold Richie's eye contact before continuing. "I won't explain why I trust you, it's more of a feeling than anything else, but I will explain why I told you. You see, Richie, if you're going to be living and working here, another immortal, one like Slan, might show up looking for me. As dangerous as it is for immortals when mortals know about us, it can be dangerous for mortals when they associate with immortals." Duncan paused to let that statement sink in.
"So I could be used against you, like Tessa was by Slan?" Richie asked.
Duncan nodded seriously. The two sat in silence for many minutes, Richie pondering over everything he'd just learned, and Duncan was content to let him be. Finally it seemed as though Richie came to some sort of conclusion, because when he looked back to Duncan, his eyes were clear and decisive.
"So my knowing makes things dangerous for you, but I need to know because my being here makes things dangerous for me," Richie said finally, summing everything up.
"That's one way of putting it," said Duncan. "But I feel like I can trust you Richie. You're still an employee, and you can live here for as long as you need to."
"Thanks, Mac," said Richie with a smile.
"What are friends for?"
Richie blinked. "F-friends?"
"Yeah, you know, people you care about, people you hang out with, get into life and death situations with, and tell life-changing secrets to. You know, friends?"
Richie blushed almost to match the ketchup on his now-cold omelet. "Thanks Mac," he said quietly.
"Don't sound so surprised," said Duncan. "When it comes to revealing my immortality, only my good friends are worth the risk." Richie blushed again. "To tell you the truth, I'm actually relieved that you still want the job, and are willing to let Tessa and I help you until you're back on your feet again."
"What do you mean?" Richie asked, genuinely curious. It seemed as though the earlier heaviness of mood had faded slightly in the wake of the almost cathartic experience of their conversation.
"Well, I haven't shown my immortality to many, but I have shown some. And I've heard stories from other immortals that have done the same. You took it… rather well. Especially the part where I told you your life could be in danger if you stayed here."
"Well," said Richie, "maybe I think you're worth the risk."
There was a brief pause before they both started laughing, Duncan because Richie effectively stole his line, and Richie at the look on the Highlander's face, which was briefly one of confusion before being one of immense relief.
"These are cold," Duncan said at last, gesturing to their plates. "I should probably make some more."
"Yeah, I think so," Richie agreed, still laughing.
Duncan stood and collected their plates and redirected his energies towards making another breakfast for them. They still had a lot to discuss. Richie needed to know about holy ground, for one thing, and they needed to come up with some sort of plan for his living arrangements. But such things could wait for now. Indeed, Richie had potentially hundreds of years to worry about holy ground and other aspects about immortal life. But Duncan didn't have to worry about that now, because he more sure than ever that he would definitely be able to worry about it later. He and Richie were friends, and there was trust between them. That meant that the Highlander had staked a claim to being Richie's teacher when the time came, hopefully many, many, many years from now. And that is what he had wanted from the beginning. That's what all of his efforts this far had been striving towards.
And now his future student was sitting at his kitchen table, patiently waiting for more eggs. Duncan sighed a contented sigh. There were still headhunters around every corner, or more like Romeo that he couldn't predict or protect against, and countless other worries out there in the world they lived in. But for right now, Duncan, in his kitchen, waiting for his lover to return from her meeting, while he cooked breakfast for his employee, friend, and future student, after they had both happily accepted the risks of being in each other's lives, couldn't have cared less about the evil lurking outside their door. For right now, life was good, and the sudden realization that they were out of cheese the only worry.