Disclaimer: I don’t own Highlander or any of the characters of Highlander, and I’m not making any money out of them, I’m just doing this for the love of the shows involved. All rights and ownership belong to Davis/Panzer and Rysher Entertainment and anyone else who actually owns them, I’m just trying them on for size and I promise to return them good as new.
Warning: This story contains a non-graphic same sex relationship, so don’t read it if that sort of thing offends. 1. The Light
Duncan returned to his cell after main meal, as he almost always did. He had come to the monastery to be in seclusion on holy ground, not for prayer. As he did nearly every night, he knelt on the floor of his cell and let the guilt and despair wash over him.
He had lost so much in recent times, too much for anyone to bear, even an Immortal, even one such as Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. First Tessa, shot in a random street crime. His fault. Fitz, killed because of that bastard Kalass. His fault. Sean Burns. Although he accepted that was partially due to the Dark Quickening, he still felt guilt about all of his actions during that time, most of all the death of Sean, who had only tried to help him. Richie. Richie’s death had almost broken him. That was definitely his fault. He had retreated from the world after the death of his protégée, and it was only the intervention of Joe and Methos and his sense of duty to defeat Ahriman that had brought him back from the brink. But he was hollow then, nothing really bringing him back to himself.
When he thought that Connor had died, he had something to live for, to investigate and avenge him. But then he wasn’t dead and … That wasn’t his fault, but he kept going over it again and again, wondering if there could have been something he could have done, some way to have defeated Jacob Kell without killing Connor. But at least he had Kate to bring him through that.
And now she was dead too. Taken from him on their wedding day, as she had been all those years before. The gypsy’s curse echoed through his mind day and night “You will love many women, MacLeod, but you will never marry!” He hadn’t listened when he proposed to Tess, and she had been taken from him. He didn’t listen again when he asked Kate to renew their vows, and she had been challenged only hours before the ceremony. Hate and thirst for vengeance had once again quashed all grief, all rational thought, until he had taken the head of the other Immortal, but then it had overcome him, as though all the grief that he had been keeping inside since Tessa had burst forth, washing away all his strength in one terrible tidal wave.
The Buzz shook him from his reverie and he turned to see one of the monks in the doorway of his cell.
“I’m sorry to disturb your prayer Brother MacLeod, but you have a visitor.”
“A visitor, this late?”
“He said it was most urgent he speak with you. He’s one of us.”
Methos, thought Duncan as he rose and followed the monk to the vestry. So the old devil has finally tracked me down. I wonder what’s so important that he would look for me? Well, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, I’m nobody’s champion anymore. I’m not sure I ever was.
As he entered the vestry, the visitor’s back was toward him, but he could see immediately it wasn’t Methos. The frame was different, and the stance, but yet there was something so familiar about him too. As he approached he felt the all too familiar Buzz and the other Immortal turned to greet him. Duncan stopped, mid-stride, and stared in amazement.
“I really have no idea why I’m alive Mac. Best I’ve been able to figure out is that when you defeated Ahriman, it released my quickening back to my body. There are vague references in some of the ancient texts to a reward for the Champion, to him having his ‘sins’ taken away. We guessed that at the time you defeated Ahriman, the ‘sin’ you felt worst about was me. I don’t pretend to understand it but it’s the only idea that makes any sense that Methos and I could come up with.”
“Methos? You’ve spoken to Methos?”
“Only since you came here. I was trying to find you, trying to make sense of it. He and Joe and Amanda have been helping me … recover.”
Richie pulled down the collar of his turtle-neck to reveal a slowly fading scar. A scar that formed a perfect ring around his neck.
“O god, Richie…I’m…”
“Hey, Mac, don’t sweat it, I’ve had ten years to get past this. I’ve completely forgiven you. At least I didn’t end up like Kalass right? Besides, I always did like turtle-necks.” So like Richie to make a bad joke. Duncan could almost believe it, if he wasn’t so unsure of himself, if he hadn’t had so many tricks played on him. “I woke up and it was dark. My throat was killing me, and my head felt like the worst hangover in history. I think at that point the wound was still open and I bled out. I died and revived, maybe ten times before I felt vaguely human again. I guess that was my body trying to heal a wound I was never supposed to recover from. Plus I’d been in the ground a year before I came back, so I guess I had started to…”
“decompose..” whispered Duncan. A shadow passed over the young man’s face, briefly showing the harrowing times the boy had been through. He nodded and then continued.
“Then I realised where I was and blind panic set in.” Duncan was mortified as he realised that Richie had woken in the dark confines of his coffin. “I’m just glad Joe had the mortician stitch my head back on so neatly, or I might still be dead.” Richie said this at the look on Duncan’s face, a joke in an attempt to ease the tension of the moment. It didn’t work, so he ploughed on with his explanation. “After the panic subsided I tried to punch my way out, but it was a lead lined casket, so I kept breaking my hand. I let it heal, and then began again. Eventually, after I don’t know how long, I finally broke through and dug my way to the surface. By some weird miracle of chance I broke through on the day that Amanda came to visit my grave.” Richie chuckled “Man you should have seen the look on her face! I thought she was going to faint, but instead I did. I woke up in her bed, and she made some joke about me always fantasising about doing that.” He chuckled at the memory. “I was pretty weak, she told me it had been two years since you… since I died, so all my muscles had atrophied. She nursed me back to health, slowly and painfully. It was about a year before I could walk again and then I had to get back in the Game, so I spent another two years training and getting back to the level of fitness I was at before. Amanda found out that Joe had my sword buried with me so she helped me go back to the graveyard to get it from my coffin. Then I tried to find you. I looked in Paris and in Seacouver, then I tracked down Joe and Methos but they didn’t know where to find you either, they hadn’t seen you since Connor... Not very professional for your Watcher, I must say. I thought it would be easier to wait for you to come back, I figured you would, sooner or later, so Joe and Methos helped me look into the myths surrounding Ahriman to try and figure out what had happened.”
Duncan couldn’t believe all this; it was too much to take in. Could this really be Richie, back from the dead? No Immortal had ever returned from a beheading, it wasn’t possible. But there he was, and there was the scar. If only he had some proof it was really him. But that wasn’t what he asked, maybe because the part of him that wanted to believe didn’t want to offend Richie, maybe because he wanted this to play out before he confirmed his suspicions.
“How exactly did you find me? I made sure that nobody could trace me.”
“We couldn’t. About six months ago a guy came around, a head hunter, figured I was an easy mark because I’d been out of the Game so long. He was wrong, but he liked to taunt me, said that the last head he’d taken belonged to someone who’d been here, and that you were, and I quote, ‘cowering in a monastery like a little girl’. After I took his head I did some checking and I’ve spent the last few months going from monastery to monastery looking for you. I must have seen half the globe trying to find you. I tried Paris first, and then all the Buddhist monasteries, this was nearly the last place I thought to look. Finally I found you!” Richie saw the look on his face “Hey, what’s the matter big guy? Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“Yeah, I am, but…”
“You’re still not sure it’s me? I get that, why shouldn’t you be suspicious? What if I told you something only we would know?” He waited for Mac’s assent, trying to think of something that would convince him of the truth. He knew this would happen, as it had happened with Joe and Methos. Amanda had been the only one not to require convincing because of what she witnessed, the state he had been in when he rose from the grave. Still it took him a moment to think of the right story. He contemplated a light-hearted anecdote, perhaps the conversation they had had about racing starships in four hundred years time. Then he remembered something more personal. “Mikey… after you took the head of Tyler King, Mikey told us what happened to Alan and Ellen … you convinced me that there was only one option. You were going to do it, but I stopped you and I walked Mikey into the tunnel… When I drew my sword, he realised what was happening, but he didn’t run… instead he lay down on the tracks so the oncoming train would do it for me…” Richie couldn’t stop himself shedding a tear over the memory of the innocent Immortal’s death. He looked up to see that Duncan too was crying, and the Scot grabbed him and pulled him close into a hug. He held him for ages, the two of them sobbing and saying so much without words, saying everything that was needed, until finally there were no more tears to cry. Duncan held on for a few minutes more, not wanting to ever let him go again, Richie, his friend, his brother, his son in all but blood.
“I thought I’d lost you. I thought I’d lost everything.”
“Hey, it takes more than a little beheading to get rid of me. I didn’t think you’d get so mushy big guy. I knew I should have told the one about racing starships.” Richie grinned, that same old grin, and it made Duncan smile for the first time in years.
“Always the tough guy, eh Richie?” They both smiled at the use of their old nicknames for each other.
“I love the hair by the way, short is a good look for you.”
Duncan smiled sheepishly; he had originally cut off his hair in a gesture of mourning and penance after he had killed Richie. It was a common ritual in the three cultures he held most dear, his own Highland roots, the Samurai tradition and the beliefs of his adopted Sioux family. “I fancied a change.”
“So, you ready to leave here now?”
“Maybe. I don’t know though. I’ve been out of the Game for three years now.”
“Well, at least walk me to my bike.”
“You’re not going to stay here?”
“Now that I know you’re here, I’m tempted… but, I’ve already paid for a room in a hotel, and given the choice between four star luxury and a monk’s cell...” They both chuckled at that. Same old Richie. “I’ll come back in the morning if you like.”
“Ok. Sure, I’ll walk out with you.” They walked out of the monastery toward the main gate, chatting amicably about old times, as if nothing had changed, as though the years since they last saw each other had just melted away. It felt good to Mac. Perhaps it was time to rejoin the world. He noticed they had left the grounds and still hadn’t reached Richie’s bike. “Why’d you park so far away Rich? We’re well off holy ground here.”
“I know.” Something in Richie’s tone made him turn, just in time to duck to avoid Richie’s swipe at his head.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“What do you think? You’ve tried to do it to me enough. Do you really think I could forgive you so easily? Did you think we were even? Three times you tried to kill me Mac, three times. I guess third time was the charm huh? Well let’s see how you like it.”
“Richie… No, please” Duncan spotted a fallen branch, and rolled towards it, picking it up in time to parry Richie’s next blow. “I’m begging you, don’t do this.”
“Begging? That’s not like you Mac, the great Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.”
“I’m not doing it for my sake, Richie, you probably do deserve to take my head, I’m saying it for your sake. Killing me like this would send you down a path you don’t want to walk.”
He took another swipe at Duncan, missing by inches and taking off the end of the log. Duncan dropped the useless weapon and lunged at Richie, coming close to remove the advantage of the armed man. With one swift move he disarmed him and pointed the blade at Richie’s neck. He pulled back a little when he saw his young friend was smiling, but he was still on guard.
“Now we’re even Mac. I think you’re ready to rejoin the world, and the Game, don’t you?”
“You sneaky little…You’ve been around Methos too long.” Duncan said. Richie grinned as an exasperated Duncan returned his sword. “I’ll meet you here in the morning and we can go home together.” Richie hugged him and went to his bike, which was parked just off the road, out of sight. Duncan watched him ride off then returned to his cell, to pack.
Richie had arranged for the barge to be returned to its regular berth, so the two headed for Paris. They would return to Seacouver eventually, but for now they just wanted each other’s company again, like it had been in the beginning of Richie’s training, after Tessa… The grief tugged at Duncan again at the thought of Tessa, but it was bearable now that he had Richie back. They had both been through dark times but together they would find their way back to the light.
The weeks and months passed quickly, as the two friends just enjoyed being alive again. It was safe enough for them to be out and about, ten years had passed since Richie’s racing accident so nobody would recognise him, and he was using his ‘Richard Redstone’ alias to be extra cautious. So, they would go to the cinema, the races, Duncan even managed to drag Richie to the ballet, and although the younger man swore ‘never again’ he secretly enjoyed the skill of the dancers.
When they stayed home, they chatted, they played chess. Richie had always been pretty good at the game, but Duncan was impressed with how much his game had improved.
“I didn’t have much to do but read and play board games during that first year. Amanda didn’t even have a video player and my French wasn’t good enough to watch TV then.”
Richie had already told Duncan that he had used some of his convalescence time to improve his languages, how he now spoke German, French and Italian reasonably fluently. The two often conversed in these languages for practice, and for fun. “It helped to keep busy, stopped me focussing too much on the pain.” Richie had told him. Whether he had meant the physical pain or emotional, Duncan didn’t know. Richie probably meant both. He explained that he studied a correspondence course in business, and then in computing, and, once he was physically capable, had immersed himself in his training, spending three or four hours a day going through kata and practising sword moves. Since their return to Paris, the two had trained together, moving through kata and fencing, and Duncan was impressed by Richie. He was even better than Duncan remembered; perhaps almost as good as himself in certain elements. Perhaps better in some, he thought a little grudgingly, and then berated himself for the thought. “The pupil surpasses the teacher.” He thought aloud.
“Huh?” said Richie
“Nothing, Rich. Nothing.” He smiled as he remembered the second conversation he had ever had with Rich. It had been at the police station after Richie had broken into the store, and the youngster had said he was a fast learner. “Fast but lazy.” Richie had said. Well, mused Duncan, I guess he got over the lazy part.
About eight months later they were walking along the Seine, heading back to the barge, arms laden with the ingredients for a feast that Duncan was preparing for Richie’s birthday. Richie had only agreed after Duncan agreed to celebrate his ‘unbirthday’ with him, since the Scot no longer remembered when his birthday was, or at least refused to tell Richie. The two of them were laughing about the last time they had got really drunk together when they felt the Buzz. As they looked around for the source, they both lay down the groceries and reached into their coats for their swords. A figure stepped from the shadows of a nearby bridge, sword drawn and pointed at Richie.
“Richie Ryan I presume.”
“Hm, I guess he’s after me then. Sorry big guy.” he said conspiratorially to Mac, then louder to his challenger, “I am, and you are?”
“Oh brilliant, a drama queen. Well if we’re going to do this, can we get it over with please? It’s my birthday, and I don’t want to waste it fighting you.”
“If you are in such a rush to die.” Richie stepped forward, but Duncan held out his arm to stop him.
“Oh Mac, I’m a big boy now. I don’t need you to protect me anymore, remember?”
“Okay” came the reply, “I was actually just going to say that I’ll go back and start cooking so don’t be long.”
“If you two love birds have quite finished?” Richie drew himself into a starting position, as Mac picked up the groceries and headed back to the barge. As he walked along the bank, he could hear the clash of swords echo all around him, bouncing back off the underside of the bridge. Despite what he had told Richie, he was worried, of course he was. He didn’t doubt Richie’s ability, but you never knew if a stranger was better than you, or if they might get lucky. He had only just got him back and he didn’t want to lose him again. He stopped as he realised the sound of metal had stopped and turned back to see flashes of light. He waited, for what seemed forever, trusting that it would be Richie, but ready if it wasn’t. There was a bend in the river, so he felt the victor’s presence before he could see him.
“That better be you Mac, I am not in the mood for another fight to spoil my birthday.” Duncan inwardly gave a huge sigh of relief.
“Hurry up Rich, these bags are heavy.”
A few days later, the two of them were taking a stroll, enjoying the warm Paris sunshine. “Let’s go home Rich.”
“Yeah, sure, we’re heading back to the barge anyway.”
“No. I mean home. Back to Seacouver. Let’s see if there’s enough of the dojo left to salvage the business. And Joe and Methos must be wondering what happened to you.”
Richie laughed. “I hadn’t even thought of that. I guess I should have told them I found you. But do me a favour first, yeah?”
“Well Seacouver is my home town, but I’ve never seen yours. Take me to Glenfinnan, let me see Loch Shiel. Show me where you grew up.”
Duncan looked at his young friend, slightly surprised by the request. “Of course I will.”
They flew to Edinburgh on the next available flight and then drove the rest of the way in a rental. Duncan was slightly concerned that the local publican might remember him from his previous visit. It had been a long time since he had seen Rachel, but they had been intimate, and well, things might be…awkward. She had kind of accepted that he was the same Duncan MacLeod of legend, but he had never given her an explanation, and seeing him unchanged after more than a decade might require one. His concerns were unfounded however, Rachel was away and nobody else in the village recognised anything other than two more ‘damned American tourists’. That suited Duncan as the locals generally ignored the tourists and it meant he could take Richie to all his childhood haunts.
They rode out each day, having leased a couple of hunters from a local stable. Once again Duncan was impressed by his friend’s skill, astounded by how much he had learned in the intervening years. From the way he handled a horse, one could imagine that he was from a time when horses were the only available transport, and he said as much.
“Wow, thanks Mac. Amanda taught me, and I loved it so much I’ve tried to ride as often as possible. Still doesn’t quite beat the thrill of going a hundred and twenty round a track, but it’s a close second.” They both laughed and spurred their horses on.
They were riding out across the moor, galloping along long-forgotten paths, when suddenly Duncan reined in his horse and changed direction, slowing to a trot. Richie followed, curious, but saying nothing, he had seen that look on Mac’s face before and knew it was best not to question him.
Mac led him along the path a little way, then stopped and dismounted by a small stone. A headstone Richie realised, followed by the further realisation that it must belong to Debra Campbell. Duncan knelt beside the grave and tended to it, clearing away the weeds and moss so that Richie could see his assumption was correct. He dismounted and knelt beside Duncan, resting a hand on his shoulder, and the two knelt in silent prayer for all the ones they had lost.
Richie washed the soap from his face and examined himself in the mirror. He was thirty-three now, but the face that looked back at him was still barely a man. He was beginning to realise just what being Immortal meant. The only change in thirteen years was the scar around his neck, a scar that was diminishing with every Quickening. Already it was only a faint white line, which probably wouldn’t be noticeable to anyone who didn’t already know it was there. Good, he thought to himself, once that’s gone there’ll be nothing to remind Mac of what happened. Plus, I can stop wearing these damn turtle-necks, he added to himself with a wry smile.
They were back in Seacouver, just returned and recovering from slight jet-lag. Richie had slept on Duncan’s couch because they had returned in the early hours and he didn’t want to go to his own empty apartment. Later they would go to see Joe and Methos, but not just yet. It suddenly dawned on Richie that he didn’t want to be apart from Mac, and that he still didn’t want to share him with anyone, even their dear friends. Feeling his presence, he looked at Duncan in the mirror with the simple realisation that he loved this man heart and soul. He turned to face him and looked him directly in the eyes. Duncan returned his gaze, unblinking, staring at him with a white hot intensity. Richie knew that Duncan had made the same realisation as he had, and at the same instant they each took a step toward the other, closing the few feet between them. Duncan took him in an embrace as firm and fast as that at the monastery, and they kissed, ardently, rapidly, as if realising they had wasted time and they were trying to make up for all the lost kisses. Richie could feel Duncan’s mouth against his, warm and soft, could feel his tongue exploring his mouth. Neither one ever thought they could feel this way with another man, but their time apart had led them down this path, and it felt so right. Duncan took the lead, gently pushing Richie toward the bed. Later they would go to see Joe and Methos, but not just yet.
Epilogue: six months later:
The phone rang out, breaking the silence of the night. Groggily, Duncan disentangled himself from Richie and leaned over the sleeping Immortal to pick up the receiver. “Hello?...Mark?...What’s up? It’s four in the morning….uh huh…sure thing, I can be there tomorrow…no problem.” He hung up, and Richie looked at him through one sleepy eye.
“Who was that?”
“An old friend of mine. He’s not one of us, but he knows about us. He’s asked for my help with a case. I hope you don’t mind, but I said I’d go to California to help.”
“Hey, no problem. I need to take a look at the dojo books, it’ll be easier without any…distractions.” Duncan smiled and kissed him. He would need to buy a plane ticket in the morning, but nowhere would be open for hours yet. The L World will continue in Part 2: Lessons