The concepts of Immortality, and the characters used in this work are from HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES which is the property of Davis/Panzer Productions, Inc., Rysher Entertainment and Gaumont Television, and are used without permission. This is an amateur publication intended solely for the entertainment of its readers. No copyright infringement is intended.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This story takes place in series time several months after "End of Innocence", and "Messenger." Richie and Duncan have come to terms with their estranged relationship and have established a stronger friendship having gone through the Dark Quickening and its aftermath. This is an alternate universe story as things that happen contradict some events in the series. At the end of the story, I will discuss from where the idea for "Mistaken Identity" came. This story was essentially finished in February 1997, long before "Duende" aired. The similarity between the battle here and in that episode is purely coincidental.
CREDITS AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:
I want to thank all the people who edited "Mistaken Identity" and helped me with suggestions and technical advice. Those people are: Sonja E, Linda R, Jackie L, Abraxan, Sheeplady46, Joan M, Mary B, Todd A, Bouquet.
"Tough Guy" has become a common "pet name" given to Richie, but I wanted to know if there was a canonical reference for it. It is used in the Eurominutes of "Counterfeit I".
This story is dedicated to the memory of Richie Ryan and to Jackie L. Without Jackie's love of Richie, and her able assistance, this story would not be as full and complete as it is. Many of the feelings and emotions shown by the characters towards Richie came from Jackie's suggestions. It is because of her deep feelings for the young Immortal that "Mistaken Identity" has become what it is today. I hope I've accurately translated her love for Richie onto these pages. Thank you Jackie.
copyright February 1997
May 31, Minneapolis
"Come on, change," Harry Olsen muttered to himself. The traffic light refused to cooperate and Harry drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. He glanced at the box in the passenger seat - a dozen red and a dozen white roses for his wife. Emily loved roses. The light changed and Harry drove on towards home, daydreaming about how lucky he was to have found a mortal love as wonderful as his wife.
Harry treasured each day of the ten years he and Em had been together. On every anniversary they did something special, but tonight's celebration would be different. Yesterday's call from the adoption agency meant the months of waiting were finally over. By this time next year, they would be parents. Harry had loved children for centuries, but never imagined his dream of raising a child of his own would be fulfilled. Harry smiled to himself and tried to imagine what it would be like to be called "Daddy". He knew his best friend Marcus didn't approve of bringing a child into the Game, but if he couldn't have happiness, what was the point in living forever?
As Harry pulled into the driveway, his smile faded when he sensed another Immortal. He pulled his sword and called, "Marcus, is that you?" When he received no answer, Harry gripped his sword tighter and rushed into the house.
Hearing her husband, Emily tried to scream but all she managed was a strangled groan.
The man on top of her tightened his grip around her neck and laughed diabolically. "Too bad we were interrupted. You were good, while it lasted." He rolled off the bed and calmly zipped his pants.
Harry's Immortal sense told him the intruder was near. The muffled sounds coming from the back of the house sent him running down the hall.
Emily struggled for breath and managed a weak "Harry", but her cry was cut short as the sword pierced her body.
"Em!" Harry shouted as he burst into the bedroom. Sparing only a quick glance at the back of the other Immortal as he leaped from the window, Harry ran to his wife's side. Emily's crimson blood pumped from her chest, staining the white sheets red. Harry put pressure on the wound with one hand and dialed the phone with the other. As he mechanically answered the questions from the emergency dispatcher, Harry watched Emily's life fade.
"Har...Har...," Emily gasped.
"Don't try to talk, sweetheart. Help is on its way." Harry brushed a strand of hair from his wife's face.
"Du...Du...," Emily said weakly.
"Shhh," Harry said. "You can tell me later."
Emily coughed and blood trickled from the corners of her mouth.
Using the edge of the sheet, Harry wiped his wife's face. The knot in the pit of his stomach grew as he recognized the pallor of death come over the one he loved most in this world.
With her last bit of strength, Emily grabbed the front of Harry's shirt and drew his face close to hers. In a barely audible voice she whispered the name of the Immortal who attacked her, and then the light faded from her eyes.
Harry cradled Emily's lifeless body in his arms, rocked back and forth, and cried.
December 21, Seacouver
"Hey, Mac, hurry up! We're going to miss the opening number." Richie Ryan stared at the closed door, willing his friend to appear. When there was no response, Richie slid off the stool at the kitchen counter and walked across the floor of the loft until he stood directly outside the bathroom. "Mac, would you come on! You're..."
"I'm what?" Duncan MacLeod asked as he brushed past Richie and walked to the closet.
Deciding against making a crack about Duncan taking forever to get ready, Richie said, "You're looking pretty good for a guy who was dead a half hour ago." Richie shook his head as he remembered the vicious battle he had witnessed and his struggle to get Duncan's limp, lifeless body into the back seat of the T-bird. "I thought that guy had you after he stabbed you in the side."
Duncan smiled ruefully. "So did he."
"What happened? You seemed to be holding your own up until then."
"I was, Rich." Duncan sorted through several hangers holding his pants.
"I still can't see how he got close enough to hurt you like that."
"We were evenly matched and I had to do something to gain an advantage."
"So you let him run you through!" Richie exclaimed.
"Yes, and it worked, didn't it?" Duncan selected a pair of dark, navy blue slacks and placed them on his bed. "I let him get him over-confident. With his sword in my side, he was very close to me and had no room to maneuver. I was in a position that made it easy for me to take his head."
Richie ran a hand through his hair. "Geez, Mac, you never showed me anything like that."
"That move takes timing, practice and the utmost concentration if you're going to survive it. You weren't ready." Duncan picked up a sweater, tossed it aside, and picked up another.
Studying his young friend's face, Duncan saw some hesitation. In the months since the dark Quickening had almost cost Richie his life, the two had rebuilt their relationship. However, they were no longer teacher and student, but equals on the playing field of the Game. The elder Immortal said quietly, "And now, you are." Duncan had been almost two-hundred when a master taught him the move, but he thought Richie was ready now.
The smile on his mentor's face made Richie realize how much this friendship meant. "Thanks, Mac."
"Tomorrow I'll show you how it's done and also a counter move to it."
"Great!" Richie said with enthusiasm, and then his smile faded. "I guess if I'm going to learn this, it means I'll have to get sliced up."
"Just a bit," Duncan agreed.
For an instant Richie hesitated, then laughed nervously, "What a great thing to look forward to."
As he put a royal blue sweater next to his pants, Duncan continued, "But now, I've got to get my shower and dress. We're late."
Richie glanced at his watch. "Is that ever the truth. Susan is going to kill me. She doesn't like to be late for anything."
"You could go on ahead."
"This is supposed to be your birthday celebration. Why would we want to go without you?"
"It's okay, Rich." Duncan went back into the bathroom. "I've had lots of birthdays."
"Tell me something I don't know," Richie laughed.
Duncan pulled his bloody and cut-up sweater off and tossed it in the trash. "Seriously, why don't you take the T-bird and get Susan. I'll take your bike and meet you at Joe's."
"Are you sure, Mac?"
"Yes. In the time it takes you to pick up Susan, I can get ready." Duncan removed his pants and inspected them. Deciding they only need stain removal, he placed them in the clothes hamper. "If you go now, we'll all arrive about the same time."
"Okay, I'll see you there," Richie said excitedly. He dumped his keys on the table as he scooped up Mac's and sprinted from the room.
Marcus Chen peered through his binoculars at the man driving away in the Thunderbird. Certain that it was the Immortal he had seen earlier in the evening, Chen put the Jeep in gear and followed, being careful to stay out of sensing range.
"There's never a place to park when Joe books a hot band," Richie grumbled as he drove around the block for the sixth time.
"Why don't you go to the parking garage on Stewart Street?" Susan asked. "There's always room there."
"But, it's a mile away!" Richie groused.
"I know." Susan put her hand on Richie's arm. "We can walk back," when he glanced at her she smiled, "together."
As he turned the corner again, Richie double parked in front of Joe's. He placed his hand over top of Susan's and said, "Yeah, then we'd both be late for the start of the show."
"I'd rather be with you," Susan said.
"Me too." Richie leaned over and kissed Susan. "We'll be alone afterwards," his fingers caressed her cheek, "but it would be a good idea to be here when Mac shows up. After all, this is supposed to be his party." He kissed her again. "You go inside. I'll park the car and jog back." Richie admired Susan's figure as she climbed out of the car. It was still hard for him to believe how happy and fulfilled he felt when he was with her. He didn't remember feeling this good at any time during his short twenty-two years. Richie thought about the night he met Susan. . . . . . . .
Last New Year's Eve, Seacouver
. . . . . . . ."Ohhh, I'm so sorry!" the pretty brunette said apologetically, as half the contents of her glass landed on the young man next to her.
Richie looked at the red wine spreading on the front of his shirt like a crimson flower opening in the morning sun. He gave the woman his trademark killer smile, and said, "It's not that bad." Not nearly as bad as a blood stain, Richie thought.
"Yes, it is." She placed her glass on a table. "You should blot out as much of it as you can and then soak it in cold water." As she picked up a napkin, her hand knocked against the glass, and it crashed to the floor. "I don't believe this!" she exclaimed. "I'm not usually such a klutz."
Grabbing the woman's hand as she stooped to clean up the mess, Richie said, "I'm sure you're not." She was short, only coming to Richie's shoulder, with clear green eyes, and shoulder length hair.
"Well, you wouldn't know it by my performance tonight." She looked into the face of the young man holding her hand and wished she could disappear into the floor. Her heart skipped a beat as she noticed for the first time the deep blue eyes lighting up his handsome face.
"My name is Richie, Richie Ryan."
"Susan Price." Becoming conscious that Richie was still holding her hand, Susan blushed. She thought she should probably pull away, but she liked the feel of his hand over hers.
"Do you come here often?" Richie asked.
"No, it's my first time." Susan looked around the holiday decorated blues club, finally finding her companion across the room. Nodding towards the other woman, she said, "It was my sister's idea to come. She said we needed to ring in the New Year in style."
"That explains it, then," Richie said emphatically.
"What?" Susan asked curiously.
"Why I've never seen your lovely face here before." Richie thought of some of the things Mac had told him about how to treat a woman. Richie looked into Susan's eyes, raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed it.
The act was so out of place and unexpected, Susan laughed. In an instant she wanted to take it back, but instead, she pulled her hand out of Richie's as her blush deepened to match the color of the spilled wine.
"I'm sorry," Richie said quickly. "I shouldn't have been so..."
"No, no," Susan interrupted. "I'm the one who should apologize. You were just being kind." She smiled shyly. "It's just that I've never had my hand kissed before."
"I suppose it is a bit out of place," Richie agreed, "but a friend of mine said it would impress the ladies." Did you blow it, Ryan? Richie thought. He didn't want her to walk out on him before he had a chance to get to know her.
"It did, Richie Ryan." She smiled broadly. Several seconds passed as the two young people studied each other. Susan was attracted to this stranger, yet was nervous about how to proceed. She knew nothing about him. Glancing at the floor, Susan finally said, "I better see if I can find something to clean up this broken glass and wine."
"Just a minute." Richie walked to the end of the bar, nodded at Mike, then ducked in behind the counter. He came back to Susan with a broom, dust pan and bar rags.
As Richie started sweeping up the glass Susan commented, "I take it you're a regular here."
"Yeah. The owner, that's Joe up there on stage, and I have known each other for about three years."
Susan used the rags to soak up the remaining wine, and then put them in the dust pan Richie held. They looked at each other awkwardly for a moment. "I guess I better get back to Janice," Susan said. "She'll think I got lost."
"Okay," was all Richie managed to get out. He didn't want her to leave, but she had already walked away before he could think of anything more to say. Richie watched her cross the room, then went back to the bar, dumped the trash and replaced the broom. He took a stool at the counter and asked Mike to give him a beer.
Several minutes later, Richie had barely touched his drink but he'd made a decision. "Mike," he called, "give me a glass of red wine."
"What kind, Rich?" the bartender asked.
"Whatever that pretty brunette over there is drinking." Richie nodded towards Susan and her sister. "Also, give me one of whatever the other lady is drinking."
With a little knowing smile, Mike poured the drinks and placed them in front of the young Immortal.
Richie downed a big swallow of his beer; for courage, he thought. It took a bit of juggling, but finally he managed to get all three glasses in his hands and made his way across the crowded floor. As he approached the table where the two women sat, Richie said, "It's almost midnight, ladies, and I think we should be prepared to toast in the New Year." He placed their drinks on the table and kept his own in his hand.
Susan smiled broadly. "I think that's a wonderful idea." When Richie didn't sit, Susan realized he was waiting for an invitation and was impressed with his manners. "Please, join us," she said. "This is Janice, my older sister."
As he took a seat, Richie shook Janice's hand. She had long, straight black hair, and dark eyes to match. In some ways, she reminded him of Amanda. "I understand it was your idea to come to Joe's tonight."
"It was." Janice took a sip of her drink. "I wanted to do something special with Little Sis before my husband and I leave for South America."
"South America?" Richie raised his eyebrows in curiosity.
"Carl and Janice are doctors," Susan explained. "They are going to run a clinic, deep in the Amazon jungle, for the native people who otherwise would have no access to medical care."
"That sounds...," Richie wasn't quite sure what to say.
"Strange?" Janice asked. "That's the mild reaction I usually get."
"No, I don't think it's strange," Richie said. "It's just...commendable."
"Or crazy, depending upon one's point of view," Janice looked at her sister. "Susan and Mom and Dad, don't want us to go."
"It's not because we don't think what you're doing isn't right," Susan explained. "It's just that you'll be completely out of touch for months at a time. What if something happens to you, or Mom or Dad?"
"And what if Little Sis needs me and I'm not here?" Janice and Susan locked eyes but neither spoke.
"Maybe I could take care of her while you're gone," Richie offered. Focusing solely on Janice, he continued with a straight face. "I'm honest, dependable, strong, fearless, and...I've had all my shots."
The three young people dissolved in a fit of giggles.
"Reliable?" Susan asked when she caught her breath.
"Trust...wor...thy," Richie finally managed to get out between giggles.
"Faithful?" Janice gasped out.
"Like your favorite dog," Richie responded before succumbing to laughter again.
"Brave," Susan managed to say.
"Loyal," Janice agreed, then giggled.
"Daring and heroic," Richie got out before losing it again.
"But res...pon...ponsible," Janice tried to say with sincerity but the mirth took her again.
"Steady." Susan panted trying to catch her breath.
"As a rock," Richie agreed. For a moment, he stopped laughing, but with one glance at the ladies' faces, he was going again.
"Cour...courage...ous," Susan rasped out before grabbing her stomach as another fit of giggles overtook her.
"A defender of truth, justice and the American way," Janice said with some clarity having finally gotten better control of herself.
With several deep breaths, Susan stopped her laughter. She looked directly at Richie and after several seconds, when he also had controlled his mirth, she said, "My chivalrous knight in shining armor."
Standing, Richie bowed first to Janice, then Susan. "I'm at your service dear ladies." Taking Susan's hand in his, he brought it to his lips and while looking into her eyes, kissed the smooth skin on the back of her hand. "Healthy, too."
The three new friends dissolved into giggles again and laughed in the New Year. . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . .As the memory left, Richie considered what he was going to do. He hadn't rushed into this relationship. He wanted to be sure he and Susan were right for each other. Now, almost a year later, Richie was ready to ask Susan to marry him...he was ready to tell her about his Immortality. He thought of Tessa and Mac. The two of them had been so right for each other and Richie hoped he and Susan could have that kind of special, long term love. Tessa and Mac were together three years before Duncan told her what he was. Richie wondered if maybe he should wait.
But then, he thought of all the strange things Anne saw that Mac didn't explain. It drove her away from him. Richie didn't want Susan to leave him because he was Immortal, but he also didn't want her to leave because she didn't realize what life with him would be like. There had already been misunderstandings when Richie had to leave suddenly and he couldn't tell her it was because he sensed another Immortal. Richie decided that tonight, when they were alone, he would tell her everything.
Susan stared until she could no longer see the car. She crossed her arms in front of herself and hugged. She couldn't believe how lucky she was to have found such a special man as Richie. They'd been dating for almost a year. At first Richie was very distant, but lately things were getting serious.
"Where's Richie?" Duncan asked.
Jumping, Susan turned to the tall, dark man standing behind her. "Scare the life out of me, why don't you?"
"Sorry." Duncan smiled sheepishly.
"It's all right, I just had no idea you were there. You walk like a cat."
"We couldn't find a place to park, so Richie went to the garage on Stewart."
"I guess we should go inside and..." Duncan paused as he felt another Immortal. Turning his head he located the sensation coming rapidly from behind him.
"What's wrong?" Susan asked.
The Jeep slowed slightly as it passed, but Duncan was unable to see the driver.
"Duncan, are you all right?" She'd seen the same look on Richie's face, and he never explained it.
Continuing to stare at the departing vehicle as the buzz faded, Duncan said, "I'm fine. Let's go inside." He opened the door and held it for Susan to enter.
"Mac," Joe Dawson said as the Immortal entered the club, "I see you're moving in on Richie's girl."
Susan laughed. "Not a chance." Slapping Duncan playfully on the shoulder, she said, "He may be okay-looking but he's not the man for me."
"Just 'okay-looking'?" Joe smiled. "I think you're losing your touch, Mac. Or maybe, you're getting too old."
With a 'please stop' glance at Joe, Duncan helped Susan into a seat at a corner table. "I'll be right back. You go ahead and order something." Duncan went to the bar, leaned close to Joe and said quietly. "Someone was just outside."
Years of experience with Immortals allowed Joe to read the expression on his friend's face as more than just a general statement. "Is he still here?"
"No, and that's what's strange. He slowed, but didn't stop when we sensed each other."
"He can take care of himself, but..."
"I know – you have to go anyway." Joe watched the four hundred year-old man walk away with long strides.
Duncan stopped for a moment at Susan's table. "I forgot something. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Laughing, Susan said, "Am I going to be stood up by both you guys?"
"No," Duncan said with a forced smile, "we're just going to be a little late." As he walked away, he thought to himself, 'I hope'.
Joe's Watcher oath was at war with his friendship. Just as Duncan put his hand on the door handle, Joe shouted, "MacLeod, wait!"
Turning back towards the bar, Duncan waited for Joe to reach him. "I really need to leave."
"You took the head of an Immortal named Harry Olsen earlier tonight," Joe said quietly.
A shiver ran through Duncan as he again had to come to terms with the fact that his kills were watched and recorded. "Your point?"
"Olsen always traveled with a friend, Marcus Chen."
"I didn't sense anyone else until a few minutes ago."
"It could be Chen, because he won't be far behind. They'd been together at least six hundred years."
"I have to leave, Joe." Duncan pulled open the door, then turned to his friend, "Thanks for the information."
Susan watched the whispered exchange between Duncan and Joe and wondered what was going on. She recognized the far away expression Duncan had earlier as the same one she had occasionally seen on Richie's face. Whenever it happened, Richie disappeared with a promise to return in a little while, but usually, it was the next day before he came back. Susan remembered one of the times he left her. . . . . . . .
August 18, Seacouver
. . . . . . .Susan pulled herself out of the pool and sat on its edge with her feet dangling in the water. The brilliant full moon cast a soft glow over the back yard, reflecting off the water and getting swallowed up in the shadows under the tall trees that lined the fence. She watched the smooth glide of strong muscles in Richie's back as he approached. When he turned and pushed off to make another lap, she marveled at his stamina. The next time he came towards her she said, "Hey, don't you think it's time to quit?"
Grabbing the edge of the pool, Richie treaded water beside Susan. "You're the one who wanted to go swimming."
"Yes," she brushed her hand against Richie's cheek, "but I didn't think that's all we'd do."
The thrill that ran through Richie at Susan's touch made him glad he was still in the water. "It's too hot to do much of anything else."
Susan leaned down and kissed Richie. "I can think of one thing I'd like to do."
Getting out of the water, Richie sat beside Susan. Taking her in his arms, they kissed passionately. "You mean like this," he said when they broke for air.
"Yeah," she agreed. Susan scooted away from the edge of the pool, gently pulling Richie's arms to show him she wanted him to follow.
"Where are we going?" Richie asked as he slid along with Susan.
"Away from the water." Susan ran her fingers through Richie's hair, brought his face to hers, and kissed him. With her lips against his and her arms around his neck, she laid back and drew Richie down with her. "We wouldn't want to fall in."
Richie looked into Susan's eyes so close beside his. "And what might we be doing that would put us in danger of that?"
Susan moved her head and nestled it in the crook of Richie's shoulder and arm. She rubbed her hand across his chest and down his other arm. Finally, she said, "Make love to me, Richie."
Catching Susan's hand in his, he kissed her palm. He wished he could see her face as he asked, "I thought you told me you wanted to wait."
Susan rose up and looked directly at him. "I said I wanted to wait for the right guy." She leaned over him and her breasts brushed against his chest. With only the thin fabric of her bikini top between them, she pressed herself against his bare skin, and kissed him again. When they pulled apart, she whispered, "I've found him."
"You're sure?" Richie touched her face.
Just as his hands found the clasp on the back of her top, he felt it. "Damn!" Richie exclaimed.
"What?" Susan asked.
Gently rolling Susan off him, Richie sat up and tried to locate the other.
"What is it Richie?" Susan saw a distant look in his eyes and watched him turn his head from side to side.
"I've got to go do something," Richie stood quickly. "You stay here." When Susan began to follow him, he turned back. "Please, Susan, stay out here," he snapped more sharply than he intended.
"Why?" She furrowed her brow in puzzlement. "I'm just going in the house."
Richie calmed his voice so he didn't sound like he was commanding her. With a forced smile, he said, "There's no reason for you to leave the pool. It's cooler out here." He leaned over and gave her a quick kiss. "I'll be back before you know it." With that he sprinted to the door and disappeared inside.
Susan was a little angry at being treated like a child in her own backyard. She sat in a pool chair and wrapped a towel around her suddenly chilly shoulders. In a few minutes, the sound of Richie's angry voice intruded in her thoughts. He was in the front yard, so she wasn't sure she understood what he said. It sounded strange, almost like, 'Let's take this somewhere else. This is a nice neighborhood and I wouldn't want to mess it up with the likes of you.' She wondered what it was that Richie had to do so suddenly.
Two hours later, Susan woke up and went into the house to bed. Alone. . . . . . .
. . . . . . .As the memory faded, Susan took a swallow from her glass. Richie hadn't come back that night. When she saw him the next evening he told her he'd gotten tied up at work and couldn't get back. Every time she asked him what kind of work he did, he evaded her questions. They had a big argument that night and it was over a week before they saw each other again. Since Duncan left tonight in the same mysterious way Richie often did, she wondered if maybe they worked together. Susan decided that when Richie came back, she was going to find out why he kept disappearing.
Richie parked the T-bird in a back corner on the second underground level of the garage. Susan was wrong about it being empty and it had taken him quite a while to find an empty space. He was almost to the elevator to go up to ground level when he felt the other Immortal. Richie put his hand on the hilt of his sword and turned to locate the buzz. He saw a short Asian man getting out of a Jeep a few dozen feet away. His apparent age was about twenty-five, and he had short black hair and coal black eyes.
"I'm Marcus Chen and I'm here to take your head." He swung his sword in a circle as he walked towards his adversary.
"Richie Ryan." He pulled his sword, and shrugged off his coat. Why now, Richie thought. I'm going to be late getting back to Susan. "Can't we walk away from this?"
"No! You killed a good friend of mine tonight and you are going to pay with your life." Chen was now only a few feet in front of Richie.
"I what?" Richie asked.
"You know what I mean," Chen said angrily.
"What are you talking about?" Richie held his sword in front of himself. "I didn't kill anyone."
With his sword swinging ominously, Chen continued, "Yes, you did, just a few hours ago, down on the docks."
Richie began to understand. "It wasn't me."
"Now I suppose you're going to tell me someone else was there?" Chen asked contemptuously. "I saw the Quickening rise into the sky from a few blocks away. By the time I was close enough to see, you were getting in a car with a sword. I watched you drive away, alone, in the T-bird." Chen pointed his sword directly at Richie's chest. "The same T-bird I followed tonight that you drove in here."
Realizing the man was here to avenge the death of the Immortal MacLeod had killed Richie tried once more to diffuse the situation. "I did not take Harry Olsen's head."
At the mention of his friend's name, Chen lunged at Richie. A quick sidestep by his opponent is all that kept Chen's sword from piercing Richie's chest. "You say you didn't kill Harry, yet you know his name." Chen advanced on Richie with a series of quick cuts and thrusts. "Spare me the innocent act."
With a sense of determined resignation, Richie returned Chen's blows. Richie knew the man had mistaken him for MacLeod, but Richie was not one to back away from any challenge. It was the fate of all Immortals to fight to the death and even though he didn't like it, tonight Richie felt he was going to have to kill again. Besides, he mused, when he eliminated Chen that would be one less battle for Duncan to fight.
Marcus Chen feigned a high blow, and then put all his weight behind an up-thrust aimed at the taller man's mid-section.
With a resounding crash, Richie blocked the thrust that would have disemboweled him, but he stumbled backwards into a car. Quickly regaining his balance, he went for Chen. The shorter Asian man easily countered every swing Richie made. Suddenly Richie felt the searing agony of steel biting into his flesh as Chen's blade sliced a deep gash in his upper thigh. Richie fell against a pickup. Taking a deep breath to internalize the pain, Richie swung high, then low making solid contact with Chen's ribcage. The shorter man grabbed his side and stepped back. The two combatants eyed each other warily, and then returned to the battle in earnest.
Duncan left Joe's bar at a run and leaped onto Richie's bike. As he sped away, he realized he had no idea where to look for the Immortal he had felt earlier. The man hadn't stopped, so maybe he wasn't interested in a fight. However, Duncan's centuries of experience gave him a feeling of foreboding and he headed towards the parking garage on Stewart. At least he could be sure Richie was okay. He wasn't certain why he still felt so protective of the young man, but Duncan knew he would never lose his desire to help Richie, just as Connor was always ready to help Duncan.
As he entered the parking structure Duncan heard the unmistakable sound of steel on steel. Heading down to the level where they were, he screeched the bike to a halt several yards from the action. With his eyes locked on the duel, Duncan stumbled as he got off the machine and started towards them.
Chen spared a quick look at the Immortal who entered the garage. In the poor light Chen couldn't see his face, but he did see him coming closer. "You can't interfere!" Chen shouted. Noticing that his opponent was also looking away, Chen struck a solid blow across Richie's side.
A glance towards the newcomer told Richie it was Duncan. He saw his friend take a couple more steps, and then stop. The rules of the Game dictated that this was Richie's fight and, regardless of his feelings, he knew Duncan would honor that. In the split second their eyes locked, even without being able to see Duncan's face clearly, Richie felt respect and concern from his friend and mentor. He paid for his moment of inattention with a savage cut between his ribs when he failed to stop Chen's blade. Richie gasped at the pain and stepped back. He then pushed the attack forward and struck at Chen with renewed resolve.
Duncan backed up against a concrete post. He choked out a strangled, "Richie." Knowing the man attacking Richie was probably Marcus Chen come to avenge Harry Olsen's death, Duncan wanted desperately to shout that he was fighting the wrong man. But their battle was intense and Duncan feared if he said anything, he would break Richie's concentration even further. Experience had taught Duncan that such a distraction could be fatal.
Having made that one good body blow, Chen hoped the battle was turning in his favor. He managed to land his blade on his opponent's body several more times but inflicted no serious damage. This latest of his rivals was either quite experienced, or he had a good teacher.
Richie felt himself tiring. Except for some minor cuts on Chen's arms, Richie had been unable to get through Chen's defenses. Richie's own skin was on fire in several places but he did his best to ignore the pain.
It was agony for Duncan to watch the battle. Not since he'd seen Fitz fight Kalas had Duncan felt so impotent. With the eye of a warrior trained in the art of killing, Duncan admired Richie's skill. His young, former student was doing quite well.
The searing fire in Chen's chest with each breath told him he was exhausted. His opponent was gaining the advantage, and Marcus knew he was going to lose if he didn't take a chance. He advanced on Ryan, got very close, and then dropped his guard.
Duncan gasped as he watched a replay of his own combat just hours earlier.
Richie thrust his sword into Chen's right side. Encouraged by finally making some headway, Richie tried to draw his sword back to strike again, when he realized he was too close to be effective. As he stepped away, he saw Chen throw his sword into the air with his right hand, catch it in his left, and swing. It was the last thing Richie Ryan saw.
"Noooooo," Duncan groaned as he fell to his knees and closed his eyes against the sight of Richie's head lying separated from his body. As the first white tendrils of the Quickening began to strike Chen, Duncan bowed his head.
The energy transfer shattered the parking garage lights, and all the glass on the vehicles anywhere close to Chen. When it was over, Chen leaned on his sword in exhaustion and eyed the other Immortal in the pale light coming from the street lights outside the garage.
As he heard the power of the Quickening fade, Duncan looked up...up into the eyes of Richie's killer. MacLeod's mind went numb with the denial of what he'd just witnessed. His limbs felt like lead weights. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand removing the tears that threatened to overflow.
Chen struggled to stand, and staggered towards his Jeep. He didn't think the wound in his side was fatal, but he wanted to get away to have time to heal.
Duncan was on his feet in an instant, advancing on the other Immortal with sword drawn. He wasn't about to let Richie's killer get away.
Marcus stopped when he recognized the man approaching him. While he had not seen the Immortal who killed Emily Olsen, and Harry had seen him only briefly, Harry had described him in as much detail as possible. The long black hair, the katana, the man's height all convinced Marcus he was looking at the murderer. "You...you're the one Harry was tracking. You're MacLeod." A cold fury engulfed Marcus and stabbed at his insides like a hot poker.
"Are you Marcus Chen?" Duncan shouted. The blood pounded in his head as the adrenaline rush pushed him forward.
"Yes," he acknowledged with barely controlled anger. "And I am the man who will be back to take your head." Chen kept his sword ready as he eased towards the Jeep. "I plan to keep my promise to Harry and finish what he started. Ryan killed him before he could kill you, but you won't get away from me."
"Harry...Harry Olsen," MacLeod asked, "the man who challenged me tonight?"
"Challenged you?" Marcus glanced at Richie's body. "But he was driving away from the Quickening."
"Yes, in my car," Duncan hissed. "Olsen challenged me – we fought – he lost."
"Ryan didn't kill Harry?" A knot formed in the pit of Chen's stomach as he realized he'd just killed the wrong man, probably an innocent man.
"No, but you killed Richie, and now I'm going to have your head." Duncan swung his sword at the neck of the much shorter man.
Still confused about why Ryan had been at the scene of Harry's death, Marcus almost missed MacLeod's move. Chen barely deflected MacLeod's blow and stepped back. He grabbed his side as a spasm of pain hit him from the still open wound. "You'd attack me when I'm not at my best – when I'm seriously wounded and after a Quickening?" He countered a second move from MacLeod aimed at his injured side. "But then, I suppose a man like you, a murderer of mortals, has no honor."
The statement stopped Duncan for a few seconds. It wasn't really against the rules to fight someone so soon after a Quickening, but it wasn't considered fair either.
Using MacLeod's hesitation to his advantage, Chen sprinted the last few feet to his Jeep. "We'll meet again soon, Highlander." Thankful his vehicle hadn't suffered any damage other than its glass; Chen turned the ignition key and sped away.
Duncan started after Chen on foot but stopped when he heard a voice from the dark.
"We've got to get out of here, Mac. The police will be here soon and..." Joe's voice cracked, "...and we can't let them find Richie."
For a moment, Duncan's eyes met Joe's as he stepped out of the shadows into a sliver of light. Duncan wondered if Dawson was here as a friend, or a Watcher until he saw the glisten of tears in the other man's eyes. Silently Duncan put away his sword, and walked over to stand above Richie's body.
The smell of death, the blood, the bodily fluids, was familiar, yet tonight it sickened Duncan. He knelt beside his friend, reached out and picked up Richie's still hand. As the tears came, he took several shallow, ragged breaths. "R...Ri...Richie..." Duncan's voice caught in his throat. "Why," he cried out, "why did you have to die? You were so young...Tough Guy."
MacLeod hung his head and squeezed his eyes shut trying to block out the horror in front of him. But he kept seeing Chen's body impaled on Richie's sword - he kept seeing Chen's final downswing and the slow motion of Richie's body as it fell to the floor. "Oh, Richie, if I'd shown you that move earlier, would you have been able to counter it? Would it have made a difference?" Duncan shook as the deep sobs continued to rack his body. "Sometimes, even for Immortals, tomorrow is too late." Duncan wiped at his tears, but they continued to come, seeping out through his closed lids. "It's too soon...too soon. You had so much more living to do."
Several minutes passed as Duncan cried silently. He didn't want to believe Richie was dead. But, there was nothing to say...nothing to do, except to go on. He'd done it countless times before, but it never got easier. Richie had been there for him when Tessa died. They had helped each other through her loss, remembering what a wonderful person she was. Now, Duncan was alone again, with no link to the most wonderful years of his long life, with no one to help him through his latest loss. Who would be with him to remember Richie? The family they had been for such a short time was gone – shattered by Immortality.
When he felt a hand on his shoulder, MacLeod looked up. Maybe, he wasn't completely alone. "Why, Joe? If Chen wanted to avenge Olsen's death, why did he kill Richie? It was me who should have fought him."
"Some Immortals don't need a reason to kill. You know that," Joe said angrily. He paused, remembering some of Chen's Chronicle. "But, Marcus Chen is an honorable man. From what I heard tonight, he truly believed Richie killed Olsen." Choking back his tears, Joe continued, "It was an honest mistake, a case of mistaken identity." Blowing his nose, Joe said gently, "We really need to leave before someone comes. We'll come back tomorrow and get Richie's bike."
By the time they located the T-bird, and Duncan had Richie's body and sword in the trunk of the car, Duncan's grief had hardened into a resolve to find and kill Marcus Chen. Duncan left the garage with a single-minded purpose.
As Joe drove back to the bar he thought about the many Immortal battles he'd witnessed in almost thirty years as a Watcher. None of them had bothered him like seeing Richie beheaded. All the other men and women were strangers and he could view their deaths with complete objectivity. Their death was just something that happened when Immortals fought. He had no emotional attachment to them like he did with the energetic young man who'd become such an important part of his life.
"Well, old man," Joe said aloud to the empty car, "I suppose that's one good reason the Watchers have rules about not getting involved with Immortals. It's too hard to remain objective when it is a friend's life on the line." Pulling into his parking space at the back of the bar, Joe wondered how MacLeod was going to deal with this latest loss. Richie was more than just a friend – he was like a son to Duncan. How could anyone survive all the killing and death for hundreds of years and not lose their sanity? Getting out of the car, Joe remembered Susan, sitting alone in his bar waiting for her lover to return. He dreaded having to be the one to tell her that Richie was dead. He didn't know how she was going to deal with the loss either.
A few friends from his old neighborhood attended Richie's funeral held three days later, Christmas Eve. Susan sat between Joe and Duncan in the chairs beside the casket. The three of them were the closest thing to family Richie had. Throughout the short graveside service, Susan sobbed quietly and Joe kept an arm around her for comfort. Afterwards, when only Richie's 'family' remained, Susan blew her nose, wiped her eyes and took several deep breaths. Finally in control of her emotions, she asked, "Do you think the guy who did this will ever be caught?"
MacLeod felt the rage course through his body. He stared across the cemetery, a look of hatred on his face. After several seconds he looked down at the closed casket in front of them – Richie's casket. Duncan clenched his fists, unconsciously reaching inside his coat for the hilt of his sword. With deliberate effort he relaxed, then faced Susan. "I've always believed those who do evil will be judged and pay for their crimes."
"Susan," Joe began, "I told you it was complicated."
"Yes, and you said to not ask a lot of questions." Susan wiped her teary eyes again. "Knowing he was an undercover policeman does explain why Richie was so secretive about himself, but he wasn't working Saturday night. What happened?"
Duncan looked at the Watcher and raised an eyebrow. He'd not heard the story Joe told Susan when he returned to the bar.
With a quick glance at MacLeod, Joe explained, "Anyone who does what Richie does...did...is never really off duty. I don't know exactly what happened, the police won't say, but I do know Richie had to be on guard constantly." Joe hesitated for an instant as he heard a sharp intake of breath from MacLeod. He continued, "I can only guess that someone with a score to settle caught up to Richie."
A stab of pain pierced Duncan's heart. He shut his eyes against the tears that threatened to overflow again. Even though he knew Joe's tale was meant to satisfy Susan's need for an explanation, it was uncomfortably close to the truth.
"But I need to know more," Susan said with resolve. She couldn't believe the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with was dead. Richie had become her best friend, her lover and now he was gone. "I...I have to know why. After the holidays I'm going to talk to the chief of police."
"No, you can't do that," Joe pleaded. Swallowing hard to control his moment of panic, he continued, "Richie believed in what he did. Being an undercover officer was dangerous work and he wouldn't want you to ask a lot of questions and maybe put his fellow officers at risk."
Susan sighed in resignation. "I guess you're right, but no one will ever know Richie was doing something important."
"We'll know," Duncan said as he took Susan's cold hands in his, "and we'll remember him. It doesn't matter that his death won't be reported on the nightly news or show up in some police department data base."
"He was a good friend." Joe placed his hands over top of Duncan's and Susan's.
"He could make me laugh when there was nothing to laugh about," Duncan said.
"He was always there when I needed comfort or a shoulder to cry on," Susan added.
"I'm a better person for having known him," Joe continued.
"He was always there to listen to me, to help me, even when the times were hard," Duncan added.
"I'm going to miss him," Susan whispered.
"So will I," Duncan agreed, "and I'll always regret not telling him how much his friendship meant to me." He swallowed hard and blinked to hold back his tears. "I never told him I'd miss him..." Duncan's voice caught in his throat. In an almost inaudible voice, he finished, "...when he was gone."
"We'll never have another friend quite like Richie," Joe said.
"No, we won't," Duncan added, "but we can remember him and through our memories, his spirit lives on."
"Yeah," Susan's tears returned as she took one last look at Richie's grave. "I know I'll remember him until the day I die." The three of them stood and Susan hugged Joe, then Duncan, and then walked away.
As he watched the young woman leave, Duncan whispered, "So will I, no matter how many centuries that may be."
Joe looked down at Richie's grave and remembered a cold day on a Paris street. I'll never forget what you did for me the first time we really talked alone. Even though you said I gave you the creeps, you came to me for help when MacLeod was absorbed by a woman who looked exactly like Tessa. Suddenly a car pulled up and someone shoved a gun out the window. "Dawson, look out!" you shouted. Seconds later you lay in the street, bleeding from three gun shots to the chest. "How bad is it?" you asked. I told you, you were dying, yet through the pain, you managed to make a joke. "Not again. Stick around, I'll be right back." You died for me that day. You saved my life yet you shrugged it off. "I was there. It was happening. Let's call it reflexes." Damn good reflexes, my young friend.
Duncan looked down at Richie's grave and remembered a time he came into the barge and observed Richie. I'll never forget watching you swing my sword, thinking you were alone. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod," you said. Already you were imitating what you'd seen of my life. Did you think the life of an Immortal was romantic and exciting? With another swish of the sword you lowered your voice and said, "I'm Connor MacLeod. Same clan, different vintage." Little did you know that someday you would live and die by the sword. I wanted to protect you from this world of Immortality for as long as I could. Your very Immortality was the curse that shortened your life, my young friend.
Joe thought about the night Richie learned Methos' true identity. You really didn't want to believe, it. You asked, "Joe, help me out here. I mean, five-thousand years of wisdom, him?" I assured you the man before you was the real Methos. But that didn't matter to you. "It's not the name I care about. It's the message I believe in." You became upset when MacLeod tried to convince you the 'other' Methos was wrong. "I'm talking about peace here, fellows. I'm talking about a chance to end the killing forever," you insisted. Maybe, dear friend, if peace for Immortals was possible, you would still be alive.
Duncan thought of the time when the 'other' Methos came to town. You were convinced the Immortal who claimed to be Methos was right. You explained, "You guys don't understand what I'm saying. It's not the name that I care about. I mean, this Methos, that Methos. It's the message I believe in." I told you what the Immortal was saying was wrong and it would get you killed. "Okay, fine, whatever," you said. I upset you, but you stuck to your ideals. You said, "I'm talking about a chance to end the killing forever. And you know something, of all people, I thought you would understand." I did understand. I wanted to believe as much as you did. Maybe, dear friend, if peace for Immortals was possible, you would still be alive.
Duncan shivered involuntarily. Not certain if it was the winter chill seeping in or the emptiness in his soul, he said, "Come on, Joe, I'll take you home."
Neither man spoke during the short ride. "You want to come in for a while?" Joe asked as he opened the car door and stepped onto the sidewalk.
"No," Duncan said a little too quickly. With pain filled eyes, he looked at his friend. "I appreciate you coming with me today, but right now I need to be alone."
Leaning heavily on his cane, Joe spoke softly. "I understand." However, Joe knew he could never understand what it was like for MacLeod to always lose everyone and everything he loved. He turned and walked away.
For a moment Duncan focused on the row of houses on this street where Joe lived, imagining the joy of the families inside. He knew he would never have a normal life like this. Having Richie in his life was as close as he had ever come to having a son. Now, that had been ripped away from him by Marcus Chen.
On the way home Duncan passed by throngs of last minute Christmas shoppers. He didn't want to face the crowds, but knew he needed some groceries. In the days since Richie had been killed, Duncan hadn't eaten much. Most of his energy had been spent in trying to track down Richie's killer. As he parked in front of the store, Duncan remembered the last time he was here, on his birthday. . . . . . .
Three nights earlier, December 21:
. . . . . . ."So, do you think giving Susan a ring for Christmas is a good idea?" Richie asked.
"It all depends. Are you going to..." Duncan stopped as he and Richie felt the presence of another Immortal. Locating the tall, muscular, fair-haired man at the side of the building, they glanced at each other, and then both walked over to where he stood. As the two approached, the man backed farther into the shadows and away from any mortal audience in the parking lot.
With eyes locked on the Highlander, the man said, "I'm Harry Olsen and I'm here for Duncan MacLeod." Pulling out his sword, he continued, "You fit the description."
"I am Duncan MacLeod, but I have no quarrel with you."
"Well, I have one with you." The man swung his sword menacingly and took a step closer. "I'm going to take your head for my Emily."
Duncan removed his sword and took a defensive stance. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do!" Olsen shouted. "Emily was my life – my mortal wife – and you killed her."
"I didn't," Duncan said calmly. "You've mistaken me for someone else."
"If you are Duncan MacLeod, then I have not."
"What makes you think Mac killed your wife?" Richie asked.
Olsen didn't look away from MacLeod as he answered. "Just before she died in my arms, Em told me the man who ra...raped her and stabbed her with a sword announced himself as 'Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod'. She had no reason to know your name if you hadn't been there."
A shiver ran through MacLeod as he wondered if maybe this was something he'd done while under the effects of the Dark Quickening. Maybe he had done things he didn't remember. "When was your wife killed?"
"Six months ago, in Minneapolis. I'd gone to the store and when I came home I felt an Immortal. I only caught sight of him briefly as he leapt through our bedroom window, but he had long black hair pulled back into a pony tail and carried a Japanese katana." Harry nodded towards Duncan's sword, "Like that one."
"Well, that's not much to go on for identification, is it?" Richie asked.
"It's enough for me." Olsen swung his sword again.
"Six months ago I was in Paris," Duncan said. He hid his relief at knowing he hadn't committed this heinous act while he wasn't himself.
"I don't believe you," Olsen said resolutely. "We're going to settle this, now, down on the docks where there aren't so many prying eyes." He began to back away, but kept his sword at the ready.
"We don't have to do this," MacLeod said. "You've got the wrong man."
The anger in Olsen's face was unmistakable. "I don't have the wrong man!" he said through clenched teeth. "Come and die, Highlander."
Duncan sighed as he realized there was no reasoning with Olsen. He was too full of grief and hatred. Duncan handed his keys to Richie. "This won't be over until one of us is dead."
"Mac..." Richie started, but knew there really wasn't anything to say.
"Bring the car down to the pier." With a quick smile, Duncan added, "But don't park too close.". . . . . . .
. . . . . . .The memory faded and Duncan got out of the car. He started towards the store, but stopped in mid-stride as he felt the presence of another Immortal. Scanning the faces of those nearby, no one acknowledged him. Turning in a slow circle, he saw Santa Claus coming out of a Salvation Army building next door. The face was obscured by the white hair and beard of the costume, but MacLeod knew he was the source of the buzz. The two men locked eyes for a moment, then walked towards each other, meeting half way.
"Duncan MacLeod," Santa said, "I've been looking for you."
With a flash of recognition Duncan hissed, "Marcus Chen!"
"At your service," Chen nodded, "though at the moment I've assumed a different persona."
"We have some business to settle," MacLeod said deliberately with emphasis on the 'business'.
"Yes, we do," Chen agreed coldly, "but not yet." He waved his hand from his head towards the ground. "I have other appointments I must attend to first."
"Why are you dressed like that?" MacLeod asked contemptuously.
As if in answer to the question, a little boy, probably five or six years old, ran up to Chen. "Santa! Santa!" the child shouted excitedly. He was carrying a box almost as big as he was.
Kneeling down to the child's level, Santa asked, "And what can I do for you, young man?"
"I...I..." he stammered.
Santa smiled at the boy, and brushed a strand of reddish-blonde hair out of his face. "That's all right. Just take your time and tell Santa what you want."
"My mommy told me you wouldn't be able to come this year. But I knew you would."
Marcus glanced up at the dark-haired young woman standing next to MacLeod. Her coat was thread-bare and her canvas shoes had holes in them. It seemed clear this family was having a hard time making ends meet. Marcus again focused on the child who continued to speak in a rush.
"...wouldn't forget me. I've been good all year."
"Bobby?" the woman said, prompting the child.
After a quick look at his mother, Bobby continued, "My mommy told me to tell you thank-you for the fire truck." Bobby squeezed the box tightly to his chest and his smile broadened into a wide grin. "It's just what I wanted."
"Santa always knows what good little boys want," Marcus said and patted the child on the head.
"We need to go now, Bobby," the woman said and took the child's hand in hers.
As he stood, Marcus noticed the tears in the woman's eyes and saw her mouth the words, 'Thank you'. He watched her for several seconds, and then turned back to MacLeod. "That's why I'm dressed like this." Studying the face of the taller man for a moment, Marcus continued, "For over a century Harry and I have worked as Santa and his helper, and before Santa, we acted out the part of Father Christmas, or Sinter Klaas. We volunteer with a charity in whatever city we're in." He paused, the pain of losing his dear friend searing through his mind like a wildfire. "Or, at least we did."
"Why?" Duncan was puzzled by this unknown Immortal. Someone who played the part of a children's character didn't seem like a headhunter, but his centuries of experience had taught Duncan that looks could be deceiving.
Chen wondered what kind of man this Scot was. How could he brutalize women and kill defenseless mortals and live with himself? "We...I do it to bring some happiness into the lives of others. Is that so hard to believe?" Chen pulled the Santa beard down below his chin. "I was in Asia Minor near the town of Myra in 310. A great and generous man, a mortal bishop of the Church died that year."
"You knew the real St. Nicholas?" Duncan asked incredulously.
"No, I never met him, but I did know of his life and his work with the children and the poor. I'd become Immortal only a few years earlier and didn't understand why I'd been chosen to live forever. Seeing what he'd accomplished in his forty short years of life made me see I could make a difference."
"And you've been doing it all these centuries?"
"I do what I can. It's not been my life's work, but at this time of year I like to help the children who otherwise wouldn't have much of a holiday." Chen paused. "What do you do to make this world a better place, MacLeod?"
Duncan didn't know what to say. He tried to help people, but could he point to anything specific? In recent years it seemed that all he did was just go through the motions of living.
When MacLeod didn't speak, Marcus continued, "Immortality is a gift. We can either do something worthwhile with our lives, or just survive. We all have that choice. Harry and I chose to try to make a difference." Marcus took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "This year Santa doesn't have a helper because you killed him." Opening his eyes, Chen's cheery Santa face changed to that of a hardened Immortal, a man more than willing to kill. "For that, and for Harry's Emily, you will pay with your life."
As he pondered how he was going to convince this man of the truth with no proof, all Duncan could say was, "I didn't do anything to your friend's wife."
"So you say," Chen spat, "but Harry saw you there and Emily said it was you. That's good enough for me."
"I didn't do it!" Duncan insisted. "But even if I had, your fight is with me. Why did Richie have to die? He had nothing to do with Olsen's death."
Chen leaned against the building, and then whispered, "That...that was a mistake." He rubbed his hands across his face. He knew the remorse he felt for killing Richie Ryan would stay with him for the rest of his life. "How old was he?"
"What?" Duncan asked.
"How old was Ryan?"
"What difference does that make?" Duncan asked angrily.
"It matters...to me," Chen said quietly.
"Twenty-two," Duncan replied with a stab of pain. He had lost a friend, but Richie's death so young was a waste of a talented, loving young man who could have, given the time normally allotted to Immortals, contributed so much to the world.
"Oh, God!" Chen exclaimed. "He was just a baby."
"Yes, for our kind, he was," Duncan agreed.
Marcus Chen had killed in wars, he'd killed evil Immortals, but this was the first time he knew with certainty that he'd killed an innocent. He wondered if maybe he was as bad as the mortal killer standing before him. What gave him the right to judge others? "Ryan shouldn't have died. If I could give back your friend's life, I would."
"Did you give him a chance to explain?" Duncan demanded.
"What was I supposed to think?" Chen asked loudly. Then, noticing people staring, he lowered his voice. "I saw him put a sword in the car and drive away from Harry's body. I was blinded by rage and thought I'd found Harry's killer."
"And with no more proof than that, you killed him." Studying the face of the other Immortal, Duncan saw no malice – no evil. Yet, he couldn't get the sight of Richie's headless body out of his mind. Duncan remembered something. "Where did you learn that move you used against Richie?"
"My wife, Mei Ling, and I invented it about three-hundred years ago," Chen responded.
"Your wife?" Duncan asked incredulously. Memories of his time in Mongolia come flooding back as he thought of the beautiful Chinese master who taught him so much.
"Yes." Marcus paused, thinking of the happy times he spent with Mei Ling so long ago. She taught both Harry and him the arts of battle, but she gave her heart to Marcus. This reminder of Harry brought Chen back to the present. "Your friend didn't convince me he was innocent and he was more than willing to fight." With a sigh, Chen continued, "I'm not a saint, MacLeod, and it is, after all, what we do."
"Yes," Duncan put his hand inside his coat on the hilt of his sword, "and I'm ready."
"Later," Chen said as he straightened his Santa wig and beard. "I have several stops that I need to make this evening."
"Not later," MacLeod hissed, "now! I've been searching..."
Chen interrupted MacLeod's outburst. "I've been busy trying to finish, alone, all the deliveries Santa has to make before tomorrow." He was torn between his desire to complete the work that Harry had loved so much, and his burning need to remove this monster from the Game. Anyone who killed mortals as this man did had to pay. "I haven't forgotten you or the promise I made to Harry at Emily's grave."
"When and where?" MacLeod demanded.
"I'll be done with the last of the children by nine-thirty. I'll meet you at ten tonight on pier fourteen."
"I'll be there and you will die," Duncan said coldly. He turned his back on Chen and walked to his car.
Joe was in the bathroom getting ready for bed when he heard someone banging at his front door. He had just finished several hours of research and wanted sleep. The banging came again, louder this time. "Yeah, yeah, hold your horses," he shouted. Glancing at the clock as he walked through the kitchen, Joe saw it was just after midnight. He looked through the peephole in the door and then pulled it open. "Mac, what are you doing here?"
"Can I come in?" Duncan asked tiredly. His battle with Chen had been brutal and afterwards all he wanted was rest. But he had been drawn here, to the only person in the city who understood what his life was like.
Stepping back, Joe let his friend into the room. His coat was gone and MacLeod held the katana, tip up, behind his right arm. Joe closed the door and then turned on the light. "You're a mess. Who was it?"
Duncan snorted. "You mean you don't already know?" He pushed a loose strand of hair from his face.
"Even Watchers take Christmas off," Joe laughed, "unlike some Immortals." When his attempt at humor fell flat, Joe said, "Go into the kitchen. I'll make us some coffee." Following behind MacLeod, Joe saw long bloody cuts across the back of Duncan's sweater and on both legs of his pants. Congealed blood and bits of flesh covered the normally shiny surface of the sword. As Duncan sat at the table, Joe could see more cuts on MacLeod's legs, and arms. A dull, red line across his chest traced the path of a particularly nasty gash that was very recently healed.
Duncan placed his sword on the floor under the table and leaned back in the chair. The physical pain from his wounds was gone, but the mental images from this last battle nagged at him. Behind closed eyes he saw Marcus Chen stumble over a loose board and fall hard on his back-side. The sound of his opponent's sword scraping the pavement as it skittered away echoed in his head.
Joe made the coffee in silence. Years of watching MacLeod and studying the Chronicles of his life gave Joe a deep understanding of the man's character. For MacLeod to have come straight from the battle without even cleaning his sword was a sign that something major was bothering him. The sword was an Immortal's lifeline and nothing was more important to him. As he waited for the coffee to brew, he turned to his guest. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Without moving, Duncan said, "I beheaded Santa Claus tonight." Duncan remembered making the final, effortless down-swing of the katana and felt the release from three days of pent-up rage. He again heard the gentle thwack as his blade connected with the flesh of Chen's neck, and then the dull thud as the head hit the ground.
"What did you say?" Joe asked quietly. For the first time he noticed the still-moist blood oozing from a deep cut at Duncan's collar.
MacLeod rubbed his hands across his face, opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. "Santa Claus, Joe. I killed Santa Claus tonight." The vision of the headless body lying at his feet clothed in the joyful red and white costume played across Duncan's mind.
"I think you need something stronger than coffee." Joe pulled a bottle of Scotch from the cabinet and poured a glass. He put it in front of his friend and sat down. "Who was he, really?"
As he relived the tingling agony and ecstasy of the Quickening joining his own, Duncan whispered, "Marcus Chen." He recalled the doubt he felt about the outcome of the struggle when Chen's blade sliced into the tender skin of his neck. The pure luck of Chen's stumble had saved Duncan's life.
"Good." Joe slapped the table. "Richie deserved that."
Duncan's finger traced the swirls of the wood grain pattern in the table top. His sense of satisfaction that Richie's killer was dead warred with his feelings about the man whose life he'd just taken. "Richie is dead, Joe. Chen being dead won't bring Richie back."
"No, but it makes me feel better."
"Does it?" Duncan asked. When Dawson didn't respond, Duncan continued. "After four-hundred years losing people never gets any easier."
"So, what do you do? How do you keep going on?" Joe asked.
"I remember the good times, the fun times we had together."
"Like the time Richie came back after winning those races in Florida. Boy was the kid ever excited about that."
Duncan smiled. "Or when he was throwing paper airplanes at me and teasing me about Da Vinci's accomplishments."
"Or the time Richie wanted to be the manager of that rock star. He was so sure he was going to swing the big record deal."
"Or any of the times he was talking about the latest girl in his life."
"Yeah," Joe laughed, "and there were lots of those."
For several minutes the only sound in the room was the gentle gurgle of the coffee maker. Finally, MacLeod looked directly at Joe. "I felt a blind rage as I faced Chen tonight. I wanted his head Joe, as bad as I wanted Kern's or Kalas's, even though I knew Chen wasn't evil."
"Does that really matter? He killed Richie."
Duncan pulled off the band that held his hair and let it fall loose around his shoulders. "It should matter. Or am I to become as evil as the worst of us, killing for no reason?"
"It wasn't for no reason," Joe insisted.
"Then what is the reason?" MacLeod asked wearily. "Why do we kill each other? Tell me, has anyone made sense of it, ever? Why did Richie have to die, or Olsen, or Chen?"
Joe studied the distraught Immortal sitting in his kitchen, and calmly said, "I can't tell you why Immortals kill each other, but I did find out something about why Harry Olsen came after you."
MacLeod took a swallow of the Scotch. The liquor burned his throat, but he didn't taste it. He was numb inside, dead to all sensations. "Well, are you going to tell me or is it one of your Watcher secrets?" he asked sarcastically.
"This afternoon I had a visit from Olsen and Chen's Watcher. He said after Olsen's wife was killed he went crazy looking for her murderer. He was convinced it was you."
"I know that much. I tried to convince Chen I was innocent. I tried to get him to see that if he could be wrong about who killed Olsen, even though he saw Richie drive away from the body, that he could be wrong about me." MacLeod finished off the glass of Scotch and poured another. "What I need to know is why Olsen thought it was me who killed his wife."
"Martin was watching Chen the night Emily died. His account of the incident dealt mostly with Olsen's reaction and subsequent search for you."
"This Watcher reported that I killed a mortal and you didn't know it was wrong?" Duncan glared at Joe.
"Hey, Mac, I didn't see the entry. It was cross-referenced to your file, but I don't check everything that's added right away."
"Some Watcher you are."
Ignoring the snide remark, Joe said, "After Martin left, I did some digging. During the last fifty years there have been similar incidents where one Immortal is mistaken for another. Some of the chronicles describe the mystery man as a chameleon."
"Who is this guy?" MacLeod demanded.
"We don't know." At Mac's dark scowl, Joe continued, "He's always claiming to be someone else. Most Watchers only know their own assignment and a few other Immortals. They don't know he's not who he says he is. By the time the reports get back to headquarters and are cross-checked, he's long gone."
"It sounds to me like a young one is taking out the seasoned players in the Game without risking his own life," MacLeod said. "As long as someone dies, that's one less for him to face."
"Yeah." Joe stood, got two cups and the coffee pot and returned to the table. "Our records on him are sketchy, but all indications are that he has never taken a head. He assumes the identity of some powerful Immortal and then kills a mortal close to another Immortal. The impersonator then disappears, leaving the other two to fight it out." Joe paused as he poured the coffee. "I guess that means he thinks you're one of the best, one to be taken out by trickery."
"And Richie died because of it."
"Come on, Mac, you didn't kill Richie."
"Maybe I didn't take his head," Duncan said loudly, "but he is dead because of me." Duncan stared into the depths of the hot, black liquid, and then continued more softly, "because of who I am." Duncan's soul felt as dark as the coffee. He wanted the pain to go away. He wanted to stop feeling. In his mind Duncan heard Richie speaking – repeating Duncan's own words back to him. They all stay with you. Everyone you've loved, and everyone you've killed, they never leave you. When you stop feeling, when you stop hurting, that's when you're dead inside, and that my friend, is when I'll worry about you. "Richie," Duncan whispered. Having Richie's Quickening inside him wasn't the same as having his friend back, but at least Duncan knew in his times of need, like how, Richie would be there to help him.
Joe sipped his coffee and wondered what MacLeod was thinking. As one of the few mortals in the world with an intimate knowledge of their life, Joe still couldn't begin to understand what went through the mind of an Immortal at a time like this. A significant part of their existence was kill or be killed. For honorable men like MacLeod or Marcus Chen, where was the dividing line between justice and revenge? "Are you going to go after the guy?"
"He's got to be stopped, Dawson. An Immortal who kills mortals can't be allowed to live. Harry Olsen's wife and three good men are dead because of his games, because of his cheating."
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know. How do you find a ghost? How do you find someone with no name?"
Joe placed a hand on Duncan's arm. "Together, my friend, we'll find a way."
With a deep understanding of the conflict such a choice caused the Watcher, Duncan said, "Thanks."
Mid-afternoon, Christmas day.
Duncan walked up the steps of the gaily decorated house. After knocking, he stared at the Santa figure hanging from the eaves. He was tangled in the lights, and some of his reindeer were hanging off the roof with him. Richie had bought the figure for Susan and helped her put it up. They'd all gotten a big laugh out of the silliness of it. Duncan almost smiled.
"Duncan, what are you doing here?" Susan asked. She rubbed the tears from her puffy, red eyes and opened the door. "Come in."
"No, I can't stay. I only came to tell you..." Duncan paused. It was difficult to let a mortal into even this little bit of his world, but this woman Richie planned to marry had a right to closure. "The man who killed Richie is dead."
"How?" Susan questioned. "When?"
"It's better if you don't know the details."
"But, how can you be so sure the bastard paid for what he did?" Susan asked angrily. When Duncan said nothing, just looked at her with a steady gaze that bore into her soul, realization dawned. Susan's curious nature made her want to know the whole story, but something in the manner of this dark, mysterious friend of Richie's told her to not push. "Thank you," was all she managed to say.
Duncan gently brushed a tear from Susan's cheek, turned and walked away.
Closing the door, Susan wished again that Janice was with her. Now more than ever she needed to talk to her big sister. With nothing left to keep her in Seacouver, Susan decided she was going to go to South America to help Janice and Carl in the hospital. She felt Richie would approve of her choice to give care to those who needed it most.
As he got into his car, Duncan decided that tomorrow he would go to the Salvation Army and see if he could find out something about the child Bobby and his mother. Pulling out into the street, Duncan began to make plans. He would establish a fund in honor of Richard Ryan, a little kid nobody wanted as he grew up, to help Bobby and other children in need.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The idea for "Mistaken Identity" came from a lengthy discussion thread on the HIGHLA-L list. It was while reading the 'Whack Richie' and 'Whack Richie Not' threads on a cold Saturday night in January 1997 that I started this story. I didn't do it! The list made me do it! I also had a perverse desire to see an Immortal behead Santa Claus. "Mistaken Identity" gave me a vehicle to explore both ideas.
I wanted to get the story finished and posted before the end of season five. But, alas, real life got in the way and here it is, eight months later, post "Archangel". I must say that having started this story long before "Archangel" aired, and now completing it months afterwards, it has taken on a different tone. The basic story is the same, but the raw emotion and feelings of loss are more profound. I've never been a Richie lover, or Richie hater. However, having now written "Mistaken Identity", I can honestly say I've come to appreciate the young Immortal a little more. Some have said that my way of treating Richie's death gave him more dignity than he was shown in "Archangel". I hope so. Richie would never have been so stupid as to walk into Duncan's sword without trying to defend himself.