AN: This is based off the idea that Richie was let into the world of immortals on a need to know basis. And now he needs to know more.
"Remember to lift with your legs," Duncan reminded Richie as they removed the base of the large sculpture from the back of the delivery van.
"I know," the teen grumbled.
Richie had only been working at the store a little over a week. But even he didn't need to be reminded to "lift with his legs" every time he had to pick something up.
"Mind my manners," he finished, struggling up the walk half hunched over.
They carefully maneuvered their way through the open doorway of the posh uptown office building. A waiting employee directed them to the area prepared to display the sculpture. Duncan mumbled directions to Richie as they made sure the base was properly placed in the area. They stepped back to look.
"Is it right?" Richie asked, he could never tell with those art pieces. They all looked like a kindergarten art project to him.
"Yup, next piece."
Richie groaned and drug his feet as he followed his new employer out to the van used to make large deliveries.
"Hey, don't be so down," Duncan teased him. "You get your first pay check tomorrow."
That perked him up considerably. "How much do I get?"
"Haven't done that part yet. But you get it tomorrow." He ruffled the boy's hair. "You get that side," he directed before Richie could react to the contact. "On three…"
Two trips later the display was assembled and finished. The final amount of the bill paid and the two were off to meet Tessa for dinner.
"Looks like we got done just in time," Duncan commented as it started to drizzle.
Duncan and Tessa had been careful not to overwhelm their new employee and tenet with too many extravagances at once. So they had chosen a nice, yet not too fancy, Italian restaurant for dinner.
"What do you want, Richie?" Tessa asked, noticing him squirming a bit.
"I dunno… maybe just an appetizer or something."
"Are you not hungry? Do you feel ill?"
"I feel fine."
"Surely you're hungry," Duncan said. "All I've seen you eat today is a bowl of cereal and a hot dog."
"I had a snack."
"Okay, so some cereal, a hot dog and a pretzel…" Then Duncan realized something. "Do you not like Italian food?"
"No, I love Italian food… it's the prices I don't get along so well with."
"Richie," Tessa started patiently. "We've been through this. You don't have to pay when we go out. It's part of your pay. That's what 'room and board' means. Your room and your food."
"Do you have any idea how expensive that can get?"
"You let us worry about that," Duncan told him. "In the mean time, get a real dinner."
When the waitress came around, Richie had decided on fettuccini, Duncan and Tessa both ordered eggplant parmesan and house salads for the table. When the check came, Duncan was careful not to let Richie see the total as he paid and signed the credit card slip.
"Well," Duncan started as they stood up to leave. "I need to run by the bank and make another couple of stops, what do ya say, Rich? You want to come?
"Do I gotta?"
"No, just thought you might want to."
"Well, I…" he fumbled with the words.
"I think he just wants to go home," Tessa spoke up, putting her hand on Richie's shoulder.
"Is that okay?" Richie asked Duncan.
"Sure. You can just go with Tess."
Duncan walked Tessa and Richie to the car before going to the van himself. Richie twisted in his seat to watch the immortal walk to the paneled van, covering his head with his coat to protect him from the rain.
"Do you think he's mad I didn't go with him?" he asked.
"Of course not," Tessa assured him starting up the car. "He just wants you to feel included."
"You don't gotta, you know," he said softly.
"You don't gotta worry about me. I can stay outta the way if you need me to. I don't mind."
"Oh, I didn't mean it like that," she rushed to assure him. "He likes you, and he likes having you around. But he doesn't know how to just tell you. So he wants to include you to show you. You understand?" He nodded. "Good." She put the car in reverse and pulled out of the parking space then into traffic.
"Can I turn on the radio?" Richie asked not a block away from the restaurant.
"Just not too loud," she allowed him.
Duncan pulled in front of them waving as he passed. Richie grinned shyly and waved back. Tessa smiled to herself, Richie was slowly starting to relax and accept his place with them. After another block, Richie started singing under his breath along with the song. She reached over and turned up the radio.
"Sorry," he mumbled. "Bad habit."
"I just thought you liked the song. I don't mind you singing."
"Oh, cool." He looked back out the window and started singing again. "I thought Mac was going to the bank?"
"He is. It's only a mile away from the store."
"Oh. Didn't realize it was that close…"
They stopped at a red light as the rain started to pound down on the canvas top of the Mercedes. Tessa squinted through the windshield. "Help me look for cars," she told Richie, turning the radio down. "Put your seat belt on," she added. Just as he clicked the belt into place, the light turned.
In front of them, Duncan slowly pulled into the intersection. Tessa gasped and Richie screamed an explicative as a little sports car slid through the red light and plowed into the van, its nose scooping under the chassis and flipping the delivery van. After a moment of shock, the sports car changed gears and drove away. Richie fumbled with his door jerking at it, then unlocking it, then trying to jump out still secured by his seatbelt.
"Damn it!" he fumbled with the belt then jumped from the car.
"Richie…" Tessa was already in front of him. "Stay back," she ordered him before approaching the overturned vehicle. "Mac?"
There was no response. Inside, Duncan was hanging upside down, held up by his seatbelt, blood on his head and face.
"Holy…" Richie crouched next to her. "Is he…"
"Get back," she snapped at him. Richie backed off. "Duncan?" she tapped on the window, still no response. Tessa swallowed and tried to open the door. It was stuck. "Get something to break the window," she told Richie, searching the ground. He appeared a few precious seconds later with a hunk of concrete from an alleyway.
Tessa smashed at the window a few times, cracking and eventually breaking it. She reached in and blindly unhooked the seatbelt, letting Duncan fall to the roof of the car. She started tugging at his lifeless, heavy body, trying to remove him from the van. Richie silently, confusedly, joined her and together they pulled him from the car.
"What are we doing?" Richie finally asked as they drug the body towards the car.
"Just help me."
Thunder and lighting kept seemed to have covered up the noise of the wreck to the few patrons waiting out the storm in the shops on the street. They fumbled in the rain and as quickly as possible got the body into the car. Tessa put the car in gear and drove away. Richie sat awkward and quiet in the front seat, staring at the blood on his hands and shirt.
"Richie…" Tessa started, not sure exactly what she would say once she got his attention. Luckily, Richie didn't seem ready to discuss anything and remained silent the short trip home. "Open the door then help me," she told him. Silently, he obeyed. They tugged and heaved and made it as far as the couch. "Here."
They positioned him in what looked like a comfortable position. Richie collapsed on the armchair and didn't move, but watched Tessa clean Duncan up, take off his dirty blood-stained shirt, and cover him in a blanket. She took a deep breath and sat on the coffee table facing the teen.
"I'm sure you have a lot of questions about what is happening here."
"He's dead," Richie replied in a scared whisper. "There's no pulse, he's not breathing… he's dead."
"It does look that way," she agreed. "But he's not." He looked at her, eyes wide and frightened. "I know you are very confused right now. Duncan can explain it better than I can. But everything will be okay."
"You aren't gonna kill me, are you?" he asked. "Cause this seems like one of those, 'I'd tell you but then I'd have to kill you' things…. I can keep my mouth shut," he promised. "I haven't told anyone about the swords or that weird light show thing…. I don't gotta know the whole thing. I can just pack my bags and go," he rambled. "I know how to keep quiet."
"Nobody is going to kill you," she tried to look as non-threatening as possible. "Everything is fine. Mac can explain it better than I can…"
"But he's dead…"
"Give him time," she told him.
"People don't come back from the dead."
Duncan coughed on the couch and sucked in a few deep breaths before he sat up.
"Whoa!" Richie leapt to his feet and all but tumbled over the back of his chair as he rushed for something to hide behind.
Tessa moved to Duncan's side and spoke quietly to him for a few minutes. He whispered something in return and she nodded before going to their bedroom. Richie peaked out from behind the armchair, like a small child caught up after his bedtime.
"You're going to catch your death in those wet clothes," Duncan commented, his voice tight from the pain of resuscitation.
"Yeah, well…" Richie fumbled for a witty come back, but he was too confused and, frankly, freaked out to think of anything.
"Why don't you go get cleaned up," he suggested, free of the aftereffects of death. "Take your time, get your thoughts together, and when you're ready we can sit down and have a little talk about what you saw tonight."
Richie stood up, stalk still, and didn't answer for a few tense moments. For a second Duncan thought he might bolt, but the teen nodded, then went back to his room, passing Tessa on the way.
She had taken a shower and dried off. "Did you talk to him?" she asked, belting her robe.
"He needs time to sort out what he saw before I can explain it to him."
"So he's getting cleaned up and I'm trying to think of something to make him relax." Duncan got up and wandered into the kitchen. "Any ideas for what his comfort food might be?"
"Everybody likes cookies," she suggested.
"But do we have any?" he asked, looking through the pantry. "Bingo." He pulled out a half eaten package of Double Stuffed Oreos. He got a platter and a couple glasses out of the cabinets.
"I suppose we report the van stolen tomorrow morning?" Tessa asked.
"Best idea I can think of. We sure can't go get it ourselves."
"What about the blood? Can't they identify it as yours?"
"Why would they think it was mine?" Duncan asked. "I don't look like I've been in a wreck recently. It'll just end up unsolved."
"I think I hear Richie," Tessa said. "Do you need help?"
"I think I may need to do this alone."
He set a platter of cookies set out along with two large glasses of cold milk on the table when Richie emerged, in sweat pants and an old basketball jersey. "Come on and sit down," he encouraged him, sitting down at his own seat. Richie sat down at his place next to him. "Go on, they're not poison," he gestured to the cookies.
"I'm not hungry," Richie answered.
Duncan tried not to smile as Richie reached for the cookies. "Well," he started. "Do you want to ask questions, or do you want me to explain?"
"What happened? You died, you should be dead, but you're not."
"I know. See, Rich, I'm immortal."
"You can't die?"
"I can. Remember what you saw on the bridge? And I told you, you didn't need to know all the details?" Richie nodded. "Now you can know the details. That man, who died, was immortal, too."
"How can he die if he's immortal?"
"Uh…Well, that's just what we're called. Like, a panda isn't really a bear, but people call it one anyway. You understand?"
Duncan smiled; he didn't know Richie knew that word. "Exactly. So, that light you saw…" He proceeded to explain the logistics of immortality, quickenings, and the Gathering. When he was done, he sighed. "Any questions?"
"How old are you?"
"I'll be 400 in December."
"Where are you from?"
"What's your real name?"
"What about Tessa?"
"She's mortal, like you."
Richie fell quiet, trying to sort out all the questions swimming in his head, then decided just to ask. "Do you know lots of immortals? What happens if you get cut or something? What's it like to die? Where are you really from? Like, some alien planet or are ya mutants or something? Was that other guy immortal? The one who fell off the bridge? And what was that thing that hit him anyway? A rocket? How old is he? Where's he from? Are you guys related? How did you get your sword? Where does any immortal get a sword? And how do you get the proper papers to get your license and junk? Do you know how to forge that stuff? Or do ya gotta pay someone? And what do you tell someone who forges the papers for you? Are they immortal, too? Are all immortals bad? Or just some? And how come no one notices you guys around? I guess the cops must be really stupid not to notice a bunch of bodies with no heads lying around..."
"Rich!" Duncan finally interrupted. "Can you breathe between questions so I can figure out what you're saying?" Richie paused and looked at him, waiting for his answers. "Well, that guy on the bridge, I assume you mean Connor...we're kinsman and he's a bit older than me. He was my first teacher. I got my sword from a close friend; I'm not sure about Connor, or other immortals. I used to forge my own papers, but now with computers, I have someone else, another immortal, do it for me. Not all immortals are bad, but…" he paused to make sure he had Richie's full attention. "You are not to approach or speak to any immortal unless I have told you specifically that it's okay. If I tell you to do something or go somewhere when there's another immortal, you have to do it, you understand?" Richie nodded. "Say it."
"If there's an immortal around, do what you tell me."
"And if I'm not here, you follow Tessa's orders. If she's not here, go straight to Holy Ground and don't leave until I come get you. Under no circumstances what so ever are you ever to try to fight an immortal."
Richie took the pause as a cue. "Never fight an immortal."
"Good. What were your other questions?"
"What happens if you get cut or something?"
"The Quickening heals it."
"Can I see? I mean, does it hurt?"
"It hurts me just as much as it hurts you," Duncan admitted. "But for the sake of demonstration…" He pushed away from the table and took his pocket knife out of the junk drawer. Richie didn't move from his spot at the table. "I thought you wanted to see?" Richie got up eagerly and followed the immortal to the sink. "Don't want to ruin Tessa's floors."
"I'm the one who has to sweep and mop them," the teen reminded him.
Duncan smiled. "It happens pretty quickly, so be ready." He held his hand out over the sink, and then drew the knife across the back of his hand. Blood began to seep out immediately, and almost immediately, the light of his Quickening flickered back and forth closing the wound.
"Dude…" Richie watched entranced, eyes wide and unblinking until the cut was gone. "Can you do that again?"
"No. It hurts"
"Just as much as it would hurt you."
"Oh right… you said that."
Duncan sighed, and smiled. He knew kids were curious. And he knew Richie had a knack for sticking to finding out what he wanted to know. Better him than some other immortal. "Okay, but just one more time…"