AN: Ido not own HL or the related characters or concepts.
The world had changed a lot since Duncan MacLeod was born. Of course, changes were to be expected over the course of 1,400 years. Well, give or take a year or two. Birthdays lost their appeal after the first few centuries. Many things lost their appeal after so many years. Fresh, new springs, the first snow of winter, the leaves turning in the fall: things that had once held the Highlander in awe, barely registered in his mind. Everyday was just another day.
Sure, some days he met up with an old friend. Some days he issued a challenge. Some days he received a challenge. Some days he received good news from an old friend. Some days he received news an old friend had died. Some days he had to kill an old friend.
He had made many immortal friends over the years. Many had already passed on. Only a few remained… less than a few. One. Methos.
'There can be only one,' Duncan thought with a bitter smile.
That law had governed his life. That horrible, senseless, violent law. The reason he had killed so many. The reason why so many had been killed. So many of his friends and the few he had let close enough to become family. His family. All had died. The mortals of various reasons. Some weren't his fault. Some he felt responsible for. Some of those he had forgiven himself for. Some he could never seem to forgive.
If either of them had done what he did, he would have forgiven them. If either had done to the other what he did to them, he would have forgiven them. But to forgive himself seemed impossible. Richie had been a complete accident. Connor had forced his hand. But somewhere, deep down, he couldn't accept the explanations. It wasn't good enough. It didn't justify what he did.
He stopped his self indulgent pity musings when he heard mumbling in the kitchen. He got out of bed and walked down the hall of his small 22nd floor Chicago apartment, pausing at the mouth, listening for more noise. Someone was moving around in the kitchen, mumbling about not getting it. It wasn't an immortal. There was no buzz. But the closer he crept, an odd sensation washed over him. Not a warning. A calming feeling. One that relaxed his tense, on alert muscles.
Duncan straightened up from his creeping crouch and finished the rest of the trip to the kitchen upright and confident. He stopped short in the kitchen entry. This couldn't be happening. Richie was standing in his kitchen, bent over an insta-oven, puzzling at it, biting his lip in concentration, touching it here and there, trying to figure it out.
"I give up," the young man sighed, leaning on the counter across from his nemesis. Duncan didn't have the voice to answer. "You go away for a few hundred years, come back, and look at what they throw at 'cha," he continued, still staring at the contraption. "All I wanted was some popcorn." He finally turned and looked at Duncan. "Is that really so much to ask?" He grinned the crooked, sloppy, adolescent smile that had haunted Duncan's dreams for so long. But now, somehow the smirk was a comfort.
"You have to turn it on first," Duncan finally said, moving on autopilot to the kitchen controls. "Like this." He touched the wall behind the young man and in a few quick taps, the insta-oven lit up, hummed, and slid open. "Here." He reached in and took out the bowl of perfectly popped corn and offered it to Richie. "Extra salt and butter," he added.
Richie took the bowl and sat himself at the table, digging into the snack with relish. "Do you have any idea how long it's been since I had popcorn?"
Duncan covered his awe and wonderment, by checking the contents of the refrigerator and pulling out two bottles of beer before sitting down and openly gawking.
"What?" Richie finally asked, licking butter off his fingers.
"You're dead," Duncan said.
"And you're in your underpants. But you don't see me rubbing your nose in that."
"What are you doing here? You are… actually here, right?"
"Well, as far as I can tell I am. I mean, being here is the plan. So, I assume that I am indeed here, so, yes."
Duncan smiled at the ramblings. Then they fell silent, just keeping each other company and sharing popcorn.
"You look older," Duncan broke the silence once the meal was finished.
"You do, too…you cut your hair."
Richie smirked. "You should have kept it long, looks funny that way."
"I'll grow it back out." He paused. "Why are you here? Why now?"
"Do we really have to talk about that right now? Can't you," he waved his hand at the panel in the wall. "Conjure us up a pizza or something?"
Duncan got and went to the panel. "How is it, that even after….you can still eat me out of house and home?" he grumbled good naturedly.
"You know you missed it." The oven slid open and Duncan took the hot pizza out and put it on the table. "I gotta get me one of those," Richie commented before taking a slice.
Duncan took a slice as well, at a loss for what else to do. They ate the pizza and drank beer until it was all gone, and there was nothing left to do but talk about what was happening.
"Mac…" Richie said slowly as Duncan looked at him expectantly. "It's time."
"Every thousand years…" he prompted.
"Ahriman? I thought I defeated him."
"For then. It's a cycle."
"Now what? I just do it all over again?" Duncan shrugged. "At least I already know what to do."
"You don't get it, do you?" Richie asked. "You think anyone would be worried if you already knew what to do?"
Duncan paused as realization hit him. "The hermit…"
Richie nodded gravely. "You were supposed to do it ages ago, you know. But you were too stubborn to figure it out."
"Isaac? He's just a kid! He's barely a century old! It can't be him!"
"You know how you had a special feeling about him?"
"He reminded me of you," Duncan said. There was no way Isaac, his most recent student, was the next in line. He was just a boy. "I got the same feeling the first time I met you."
The spirit shrugged and blushed a little. "I guess he figured he'd have an extra millennia to make his plan. I don't really think I would have been able to do it anyway…"
"You? You were supposed to..."
"Be next? That's the rumor at least. But Mac, Isaac can do it. He'll be fine. He just needs a little edge on the competition."
"And I have to give him that edge."
"Yeah. Soon… now. It's the only way it'll be a fair fight," Richie insisted. "You have to, Mac."
Slowly, Duncan nodded. "And if I do… Isaac will win, he'll be alright?"
"If all goes well."
"I need a better answer than that."
Suddenly, Richie looked out the window at the night sky. He stared for a moment, his eyes holding a silent conversation with the stars and moon. He sighed and turned back to Duncan. "I gotta go."
"Now? You just got here…"
"Not really my choice."
"You never kept my curfews."
"You're not him," Richie pointed out reasonably.
"Since when do you follow all the rules?" Duncan teased.
"Since they gave me a harp and made me sing in a choir." He smiled his crooked, mischievous grin. "So… I'll see you soon, right?" he asked as he stepped toward the apartment door.
Duncan nodded, not ready to say goodbye again. "I'll do it as soon as I find him."
Richie smiled a meeker, disappointed smile. "Okay." And he walked out the door.
"Wait!" Duncan tried to pull the door open but it was locked. He tugged a few times, but it didn't open like it had for Richie.
Some things never changed. No matter what contracts and treaties were signed, evil was always just around the corner, waiting to pounce. Duncan had spent the majority of his life fighting for the good side, training others to do the same, hoping to over come it all. One thousand years ago he thought he had made a difference. He thought he had set the wheels in the right motion, pushing civilization forward to a time of peace. But instead, he had hit the reset button. And his life had truly gone full circle. He had once taken a champion's head. And now, as a champion, he had to pass all he had gained onto the next one.