Kronos took a step towards Richie, and the boy fell back against the bed. He looked up at Kronos with wide eyes full of shock and confusion and fear and Kronos knew all the questions that were going through his head. He was careful not to make any sudden movements lest he terrify his son anymore than he already had with this sudden appearance. If everything else that had gone wrong in Richie's life up till now hadn't mentally scarred him beyond repair, Kronos had an idea this would definitely do it. But after coming this far, he knew there was no turning back.
"It's been a long time," he said, his voice an uncertain tone but with a hint of assuredness, "How are you feeling?"
Richie didn't answer; he couldn't, he was frozen and caught between horror and awe. He didn't know what to do.
Kronos reached for him but Richie moved back towards the bed's headboard to get away.
"It's alright, Richie, I'm not going to hurt you," he said.
Richie said nothing but the distant look in his eyes said that he wasn't sure what to believe. Kronos took another step towards him, "You know who I am?"
He nodded slightly, "Kronos…"
Kronos nodded in response, "Yes."
He sat down beside Richie and almost laughed at how terrified Richie looked but he knew it wasn't funny. He was certain; if nothing else that he'd gone through in the whole day had pushed him over the edge, this might very well do it.
"If your mother could see you now…"
At the mention of his mother, something crossed over in Richie's eyes that went from shock to remembrance and pain.
"You really knew her?" Richie asked.
"I did, and I'm sorry," Kronos said, "I didn't know she was going to die otherwise I never would've left the two of you."
Richie pushed himself up onto his knees and he looked Kronos in the eyes as he asked him, "Am I dead too?"
Kronos smiled, "Don't worry, Richie, you're still very much alive. I just thought it'd be a bit easier to talk at my place rather than your current residence."
Richie started looking around the room and he asked, "W-where exactly is this?"
"Relax, it's a few thousand miles north of where you're thinking," Kronos answered.
Richie started to reach for Kronos but hesitated and he asked, "Does it hurt to be dead?"
Kronos shook his head, "No, not for the time being anyway, I think that's going to come later."
Richie extended his arm further and finally dug the fingers of his hand into Kronos' shoulder and leaned into him and started crying. Kronos held Richie in his arms and said nothing; he knew that this was emotionally a very exhausting day for the poor boy and he didn't know what to think anymore.
"It's alright, Richie," he said as he sat the boy back down on the bed, "I know what you've gone through, and I'm sorry for it."
"Kronos," Richie was struggling to speak now, "Kronos…" he dared himself to look up at the man who had proclaimed himself his father, "Did you love me? Did you…did you really love me?"
"Of course I did, Richie," he answered.
"You were the only one," Richie said as he lowered his gaze.
"Not true, your mother loved you," Kronos said.
"And she didn't have to because she wasn't my real mother," Richie replied, "I know…"
Kronos pulled Richie closer to him and kissed him, "Don't ever say that. Emily was more your mother than anybody ever was."
"But she wasn't my real mom," Richie cried.
"Of course she was," Kronos told him, "She couldn't have loved you anymore than if she'd given birth to you herself. Believe me, there's a difference in a blood parent and a real one."
Richie wanted to ask Kronos how he knew that since he came from the same beginning as Richie had, but he didn't.
"And you…" Richie had trouble bringing himself to actually say the words, "You were my father."
"I certainly tried to be," Kronos told him, "I always loved you very much, I know I had a God awful way of showing it though…abandoning you and your mother, and then not finding you for 14 years."
"But you took me back," Richie said through his tears, "You took me back…I was the one who blew it by leaving the second time."
"No, Richie, you did what you had to do," Kronos said.
"I'm sorry," Richie said, "I shouldn't have left…I shouldn't have…if I'd stayed…"
Kronos grew very firm then and he grabbed Richie by the jaw to make the boy look into his eyes as he spoke, "Don't say that, don't ever think you did the wrong thing by leaving. You wouldn't have been safe with me, Richie, I was a very unstable man in life, that's another reason why I let you down. That's why I left in the first place; I knew the time was coming that I wouldn't be able to take care of you anymore, so I left before I did anything to hurt you or your mother."
"But maybe if I'd stayed, I could've helped you," Richie told him.
Kronos shook his head somberly, "Nobody could help me, Richie, by that time the damage had run its course. You deserved better than what you had for a father."
"But you were the only one who ever wanted me," Richie said as he tightened his hold to Kronos, afraid to let go for fear of losing him again.
"A long time ago that was once true," Kronos responded, "But you're not alone anymore…I might be dead but I'm not the only person in your life anymore."
Richie continued to cry as he told Kronos, "But everybody else who ever did is dead too…Emily died, Tessa was killed, Gary was…" his voice started to break, "He was murdered…who…" he buried his face in Kronos' shoulder, "Who's left?"
"My brother for one," Kronos answered.
Richie pulled back and looked at Kronos with disbelieving eyes, "What?"
"Methos," Kronos nodded his head, "Don't give me that look, he loves you, he just doesn't like to let people know…get to be his age and you start to get a bit cynical about that."
"I just don't believe it," Richie said.
"Richie, if it weren't true, why would he have done what he did today?" Kronos asked, "I don't want you being sore at Methos for telling you about me, I put him up to it, but he tried to make it as easy for you to take as possible, because he doesn't like seeing you hurt, nor do I."
Richie didn't sound as though he believed what Kronos was telling him. "You're serious? Methos….he loves me?"
"Very much," Kronos answered, "And he's not the only one."
Richie looked at him with eyes now pink from crying that were full of interest and curiosity as he asked, "Who else?"
"Jezebel for another, you know she simply adores you," Kronos said.
Richie's face started to turn a shade of pink as well as he remembered Kronos' wife, whom he had met a few months ago.
"And that friend of yours, the bartender…if you pay attention, Richie, you'll find out you're not as alone in this life as you think," Kronos explained.
"And what about you?" Richie asked.
"Me? Well, I'll always love you of course…and I'm going to tell you the same thing I told Methos…you know it hit him very hard when I died. Despite all the rotten things I've done to him over the years, I still loved him, and I know he felt the same way, he could just never bring himself to say it because it hurt him too much. We didn't have a lot of time to even try and make amends for the past because we didn't see each other for 2,000 years, and when we finally met again…well you know what happened from there," Kronos told him.
"I remember," Richie said, "Methos didn't come back for over a month, and when he did, he looked like hell."
"He'd just lost his only surviving family, and he stuck himself with the job of burying us all," Kronos told Richie, "That probably wouldn't have been so bad except he spent the next month sleeping out beside us all…you'd be surprised what that will do to a person…he was so depressed when he lost us, I don't think anybody was sure he would survive."
"Really?" Richie asked.
"We may only be killed by losing our heads, but even Immortals can die from loneliness. Trust me, many is the Immortal still walking around who stopped living a long time ago because they lost whatever they had to live for, and Methos was almost one of them."
"But he's alright now, isn't he?" Richie asked.
"As much as he will be," Kronos replied, "And that in itself was no easy task. You don't want to know what I had to put him through to bring him back to his senses. It about killed him having to let go…until he found out he really didn't have to. I'm still going to be around…" he smiled at Richie, "It'll take a lot more than just dying to keep me out of somebody's life. That said, I don't want you thinking either that just because I'm gone you're going to be alone in the world. You know that's not true."
"I suppose so," Richie answered, "There's one more thing I want to know."
"Methos said that you found me in a trashcan when I was little."
"It's not that I don't appreciate it but why did you take me home with you?" Richie wanted to know.
Kronos met his gaze and answered, "I don't know. I really don't know. I'd seen a lot of God awful things that are beyond any words that exist, happen to people for no reason, but I never saw anybody in the situation you were in. I may have been a heartless bastard in my life but I wasn't about to let you die and be stuck as an 18 month old Immortal until somebody put you out of your misery."
Richie didn't know what to say so he decided to be smart and say nothing. After a minute he responded, "I think I'm losing my mind."
"Methos said the same thing," Kronos told him, "And for a while he was very convincing about it…but you see how he is now, does he look like somebody who's gone crazy?"
"I don't know," Richie answered, "I don't know what one looks like."
Kronos laughed and tightened his arm around Richie's back. "You know, when you came back the second time, there'd be nights you woke up screaming and didn't recognize anything. Do you remember that?"
Richie shook his head.
"Well, I remember one time I went in to see what was the matter, and you were nowhere to be found. I looked behind the door, in the closet, out the window, but I knew you were nearby…I found you under the bed, you were talking to yourself, rambling a bunch of incoherent things. I'm sure that at the time, you weren't even aware I was in the room although I was about six inches away from you." He shook his head in remembrance, "It must have taken half an hour to get you out from under there and even then you…didn't have any idea where you were. I used to lie awake at nights wondering 'if Emily were still alive…what could she possibly do for something like this?', if anybody knew an answer I'm sure it would've been her. She always seemed to know how to handle you."
"I guess she had a lot of practice," Richie said.
"She did," Kronos told him.
Richie looked at Kronos and asked him, "Are you ever sorry that you took me in?"
Kronos shook his head, "How could I be? For a long time you were the only good thing in my life, don't you know that?"
Taking some comfort in that answer, Richie leaned into Kronos' shoulder again and replied, "Well everybody else who ever did was sorry they had by the end of it."
"Well I never did," Kronos said, "You were never any trouble."
Richie pulled back and looked up at Kronos with wide, disbelieving eyes, "How can you say that? After everything I put you through?"
Kronos smiled at Richie and pulled the boy close to him again and said in response, "After all the years it took in the beginning to straighten Methos out, putting up with your nightmares was nothing."
"What about when I got arrested?" Richie asked.
"Well that was definitely no trouble because you never told me," Kronos said, "And why you didn't I still don't understand."
Richie sighed and leaned in close to his father again and said, "I'm still sorry I left you."
"Don't be," he answered, "You made the right decision. I know it doesn't seem like it now and it's impossible to understand because you weren't there…but if you were, you would've hated it, and me, and yourself for staying."
Richie didn't say anything in response to that, he didn't know if there was anything to be said. He stayed where he was and rested his head on Kronos' shoulder and closed his eyes; taking solace in the fact that in this very moment, he was back with his father, where he should've been a long time ago. And nothing and nobody was going to take him away again.
"Everything you've done," Richie answered, "If you hadn't helped me when you had, I think…I think I'd be pretty messed up right about now."
Kronos laughed, "Yeah, that's probably a safe bet."
Richie looked around the room and noticed it wasn't so dark anymore. In fact it was starting to become light, and that made him think that whatever time it was here, it had to be nearing morning back on the other side, meaning there probably wasn't much time left for him to stay here. As the thought of losing Kronos again entered his mind, he subconsciously tightened his hold on the other Immortal so as not to slip away.
"Now don't get yourself upset again," Kronos told him.
"I can't help it," Richie replied.
Kronos knew he couldn't, this whole ordeal had been building up since before Richie even knew what had happened.
"Don't say it," Richie was starting to lose it again, "Just don't say it…"
Kronos felt Richie tighten his grip and lean further into him than before, and he knew Richie was dreading the moment when he would have to leave.
"Richie, you know you have to go back."
"I don't want to," Richie responded.
"This is familiar," Kronos commented as he stroked through Richie's short hair.
"Kronos, I'm scared," Richie confessed, "I don't want to go back."
Kronos forced Richie to look at him as he spoke.
"I love you, Richie."
"I love you too," Richie said, not sure where this was going.
"I know you don't want to leave, I know that none of this has been easy for you."
"It's not just that," Richie told him, "I don't want to leave you."
"You're not going to, Richie, not really…I'm going to tell you what I told my brother…I may be dead, this is true, but it hasn't done much to stop me in the way of coming and going from here to the other side. Actually I've found death to be quite liberating…makes it a lot easier to get around…in such, if ever the time comes up that you need me, I'll always be within reach. Anytime you need me, I can just drop in for a little…" he smiled at Richie mischievously, "Posthumous visit."
"Are you serious?"
"Rarely in my life was I more serious than I am now," Kronos explained, "You see, Richie, for Immortals, death really isn't as final as everybody thinks."
"I still feel terrible for leaving you again, that's how this whole thing got started."
Kronos smiled at him and told him, "Don't worry, you'll see it's not so terrible when you get back. You'll be back here soon enough so don't go pressing your luck with it."
Richie leaned his head against Kronos' chest and responded, "But I miss you."
"I miss you too, Richie, but your time's not up yet, you've got to go back now. Richie, you have an opportunity most people will never have, but even for our kind, time runs out prematurely, so don't go looking for anymore trouble than you can help."
Richie said nothing and just nodded his head. His eyes were starting to burn and he could just tell it wouldn't be long before he fell asleep. Kronos sensed this as well and pushed Richie back against the mattress and drew the sheets up over him. Richie could see everything starting to blur and he knew he hadn't much time left. There were still so many things that he wanted to say to this man. He wanted to tell Kronos that he loved him, that he hated him, that he despised him for abandoning he and his mother all those years ago, that he didn't care if he never went back to the other side. But no words came out, and it turned out he needn't bother trying. Kronos knew, and Richie knew that all was said between the two that had needed to be said on this night. If what Kronos had said was true, Richie knew he would get another chance later on if there was anything he forgot now.
The last thing Richie saw when he looked up was a blurred vision of Kronos standing over him; more or less the same way he had woken up. Only now, Richie knew that the nightmare was over. But still, he wasn't quite ready to go back alone just yet. He grabbed Kronos' wrist and asked him not to leave; to stay with him a while longer. Kronos pulled down the sheets on the other side of the bed and slipped in alongside his son and reassuringly kept a tight hold on Richie's hand as he started to drift away. Richie couldn't keep his eyes open any longer and everything went black and then everything was perfectly quiet.
It was early morning and the sun was just starting to shine through the windows of the loft. Methos awoke and staying on his side of the bed, took in the sights before him. He saw the glare of the sunlight as it lit up the room, he could hear birds outside the window, and he just knew that this was going to be a better day than the previous one. Turning over onto his side, Methos saw Richie asleep in the other side of the bed. Richie looked as though he hadn't moved an inch the whole night; he still lay flat on his back and all smoothed out like a corpse. But today, there was something different about the boy's appearance. Even with Richie being asleep still, Methos could see the kid looked different today, he looked somehow…better.
Richie rolled onto his side in his sleep; one of his eyes opened once, then again, and then the other eye joined it and he saw there was someone else in the bed with him, and he started to smile.
"Hey," he said quietly as he came around.
"Good morning," Methos replied, "How're you feeling?"
"I'm great," Richie answered as he sat up.
"Glad to hear it," Methos said, "Did you sleep well?"
"Yeah," Richie nodded, "I had some weird dreams though, but I didn't wake up or anything."
"Well that's good to know," Methos told him as he sat up as well, "You're looking better today."
Richie didn't say anything for a minute and his gaze didn't seem to be set on anything in particular. He appeared to be considering something to say, and after a short while, he decided to go through with it.
"What is it, Richie?"
"Uh…" Richie had quite a bit of trouble bringing himself to make eye contact with Methos as he asked, "D—do you love me?"
"What?" Methos started to laugh. But then he saw Richie was most serious in his questioning.
"I had a dream last night…Kronos said that you loved me…do you?"
Now it was Methos' turn to be silent for a moment. A dream, he thought, and he had a good idea as to what sort of dream. He didn't speak as he considered an answer before settling for, "Sure, why not?"
"I'm serious," Richie told Methos as they got out of bed.
Methos didn't say anything in response for a moment, and finally he said, "I know…and I do…believe that. I know, I could be more believable in it, but…get to be my age and you're not always so clear on things you should be. You know how it gets, you get so tired of not being able to trust anyone, so…sick to death of the people you're supposed to be able to trust, turning on you…and after a while you start to just think 'oh well I'll never get attached to anybody else so it can't happen again'. But we should know better than that, it always happens. I especially should know better because I've tried the longest to believe it. I do well in convincing people that nothing can effect me, that I'm just some heartless old bastard only looking out for himself…I should be so lucky. I keep hoping one day I'll reach the point that nothing surprises me anymore, nothing can make me feel anything anymore. But I know that's not going to happen, I still keep finding myself in situations where I let the most deceitful organ in my body," he pounded his heart, "Do the thinking for me…and I know I'm going to regret it and I usually do…I suppose the two of us are more alike than we'd be comfortable in thinking. But Kronos was right, I do love you…I'm sorry that I wasn't the one to find you when you were younger…maybe if I had, you'd have had something more of a stable life than you have."
"You mean it?" Richie asked, a bit suspicious, "You really love me?"
Methos nodded, "Of course I do."
Methos saw the painful look in Richie's eyes as the young man explained, "Very few people have ever said that in my whole life…whenever somebody does, I like to be sure I heard them right."
"You did," Methos told him.
Richie took a step closer to Methos and started to reach out to him but hesitated. Methos grabbed Richie and pulled him close to him for a minute and he heard Richie mumble a "Thanks."
"Are you feeling better now?" Methos asked.
Richie nodded and pulled back.
"Good, why don't you go get cleaned up, and I'll straighten up things in here."
Richie nodded again and headed off to the bathroom. Methos made the bed look presentable again and he went over to the couch and saw MacLeod was still asleep.
"MacLeod," Methos whispered as he knelt down beside Duncan, "MacLeod," he said again quietly, then he tried a third time, "MACLEOD!"
With a scream, Duncan awoke and fell off the couch and onto the floor. "What happened, what's going on?"
Methos chuckled to himself and replied, "Good morning."
Duncan looked up at him, "What's going on? Where's Richie?"
"Washing up, he's alright, MacLeod. He got through the night fine and I think he's better now."
Duncan let out a long breath as he got up and said, "That's a relief, but are you sure?"
"Well, I think he's still going to come across a couple of rough corners in the process but yes…I'm confident he's going to be alright now," Methos said, "Now that the truth's out and he's had time to take it all in and think about it. Now that he knows he wasn't always alone and unwanted…you wouldn't understand that because you were raised as the chieftain's son and everybody made a big deal over you. People like Richie and myself however always get kicked to the curb when we're outlived our usefulness to whoever took us in. Because that's the only reason anybody did, not because they cared about us but because they had a use for us for their own gain. That's why it was easier to come from me because Richie's life and mine really haven't been all that different. Do you understand that?"
"I think I do," Duncan replied.
"Good," Methos said, "Because I'm still not much in the mood for having to repeat myself."
The phone rang and Methos went to answer it. MacLeod couldn't hear who was on the other end of the line but he heard Methos' part of it, which wasn't much, mostly a bunch of 'uh-huh's' and 'I see's'.
"Okay," Methos concluded, "We'll see you then," and he hung up.
"Who was it?" Duncan asked.
"That?" Methos asked, "That was Jezebel. That woman's proving all the time to be more and more like her husband. I told her not to get involved in the matter but she says she hopped a plane heading out this way from Oregon and she's going to be meeting with us in half an hour. Says she wants to see how Richie's doing and to see if there's anything she particularly could do."
"Oh boy…and might that be?"
"I really couldn't say," Methos replied, "As long as I've known her she's always been very philosophical…but these days she seems to have traded it in for psychological…of course she doesn't let that get in the way of her intelligence and what she knows, and what she knows is people, people like Richie who have suffered most of their lives so she especially would probably know what to do with him."
Methos went over to the bathroom door and pounded on it a couple of times. Over the running water he heard Richie call out, "Yeah?"
Methos opened the door and stuck his head into the steamed room, "It's just me. Jezebel just called, she said she wants to meet us at the airport in half an hour to see her and that includes you."
Methos closed the door behind him and he seemed to think of something then.
"You know, MacLeod," he said, "Jezebel really deserves more credit than she gets in most regards. She knew before anybody else that Kronos was Richie's father…you remember that day she was here and she said how Richie looked like him?"
"I remember," Duncan responded, still not amused by that incident.
"When I told her the news, she wasn't much surprised at all…she said that she knew there was something to Richie that reminded her of Kronos…I personally can't see what it is but I suppose after being raised by the man for several years, that's bound to happen."
"And what did she have to say about it all?" Duncan asked.
"Not much, she just wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help. I told her it would be best if she stayed where she was but…"
"She never listens," Duncan said.
"She has her own mind and she uses it, that's why Kronos married her," Methos told him, "Now, we better get ready to go meet her at the airport."
In his mind Methos was thinking of how oddly branched his immediate family tree was, that he knew about. Apparently with one relative he'd inherited several others; previously his three brothers were the only surviving family he'd had, only now from one brother he'd also gotten a sister-in-law, a nephew, and, he thought as he glanced over at MacLeod, a surrogate little brother with a swollen head. Damn but how odd, and quickly, life could spin from one sordid event to another.
A few minutes later, Richie emerged from the bathroom clean and looking presentable for the day.
"Let's go," Methos said to him.
"You know how you've always said you wanted a family?" Methos said to him, "Well now you've got one…one big psychotic, dysfunctional family that we'll be lucky if nobody kills anybody else in their sleep…" he leaned in to Richie and said in his ear, "Particularly if Jezebel manages not to kill MacLeod….Anyway," he said loud enough for both men to hear him, "Jezebel's plane lands in about fifteen minutes and she made it plenty obvious that she intends to stay in town for quite a while so I would suggest we don't keep her waiting. She's been very easy to put up with so far but don't forget who she was married to and don't think those two didn't rub off on each other. Let's go."
The three men headed downstairs and out of the dojo to go to the airport. On the way there, Richie thought about what Methos had told him. And he also thought about what Kronos had told him the night before. He knew that the whole ordeal from last night had felt like a dream but he just knew that it couldn't possibly be. He could never try explaining it to Duncan because it wouldn't make any sense to him, but maybe Methos would believe him; for that matter he thought, perhaps Jezebel would too, he recalled she seemed to be very much in tune with things nobody else was. He also remembered Methos' comment about now belonging in a large, dysfunctional family, and as he considered what that meant, he liked the idea. As he glanced over at Duncan he was aware that the idea was not without its flaws but he guessed most families had those they could overlook.
But there was something else to the whole thing that made Richie suspect the worst was probably over. He knew for fact now that whatever happened from this point on, there would be somebody watching over him. And he also knew that when and if the day should come that he lose in a fight, at least he knew where he'd be going, and he already had an idea about some of the people he would be meeting up with again. Knowing that was what really made this easy for him now; that he wouldn't have to just guess anymore about what if anything there was after this life. As much as he dreaded always being hunted by other Immortals, he feared even more that when the time came he lost his head, that his death would prove to be one dark, empty void. At least now he was aware that such was not the case; and he already knew one interesting person he could look forward to seeing again when his time was up, and having this knowledge suddenly took most of the fear out of the thought of dying someday. He remembered Kronos' warning to return to his life and enjoy it as his time would end soon enough. But at least now, Richie thought, he had something to look forward to when time ran out, and that was returning back home to his father.
For now he would make the most of whatever time he had, and being Immortal he knew it was more than most others would get. It was then that Richie remembered something else Kronos had told him the night before; about how even in death he was quite free to come and go from the afterlife to this one if ever he was needed. And it was then that Richie realized what it had been that restored Methos' will to life; knowing that death couldn't stop the people who had loved him from remaining in his life. For a long time, Richie hadn't anyone in his own to care about him; at least now he knew otherwise. And as he considered all the people who were in his life now because everything had happened the way it had; an idea came to him that perhaps things from here on out wouldn't be so horrible after all.
A similar thought was racing around in Methos' mind as he too considered the family he had now as a result of everything happening the way it had for them all. He had been so worried the day before and the night before, for some reason he still couldn't figure out, that after Kronos' business with his son was taken care of, that Methos wouldn't see or hear from him again. But now he thought he knew better. Death hadn't been enough to keep Kronos away from him as it was; there was no reason to suggest it would start to do so now. Methos knew that his brothr would linger around for quite some time whenever he felt like making an appearance; and sometimes he would know when such times came, and other times he wouldn't have a clue when his brother was poking around. But at least he knew he could still see his brother, and communicate with him, and he hoped that one day the same could be said for Silas and Caspian as well. For the time being however, he knew they would all have their hands full just putting up with his sister-in-law, so he was thankful for the two families he belonged to; the one that existed in the here and now, and the other, much older family who was waiting for him and watching him from the other side. And he hoped that death wouldn't prove as final for his other brothers either; he hoped someday to meet with them all again, and he hoped it would be soon.