by Jane Carnall
for Gervaise, with thanks for a wonderful weekend
Duncan glanced up from his beer as Richie walked into Joe's bar. Methos, slouched bonelessly against the bar, was apparently paying close attention to Joe's explanation of baseball, but Duncan saw him tilt his head slightly sideways, unobtrusively observant.
"Hi, Mac." Richie sat down at the table.
"Rich." Duncan grinned at him briefly. "Everything locked up for the night?"
"Sure," Richie said, just as briefly.
"Hey, just asking. Want a drink?"
"Sure," Richie shrugged. He glanced round the room, his gaze passing over Methos as if he hadn't seen him. "Anyone been in?"
"No one but who's here already," Duncan said, and added to one of the waitresses, "Same again for me, and -- " he glanced at Richie.
"Coors," Richie said promptly. "In a bottle."
The waitress nodded, scribbled something down on her pad, and went back to the bar. Duncan saw Methos shift his gaze a little to watch her; it was interesting to see, the way Methos never let anyone, even a mortal, get near him unobserved.
Then another presence loomed. Duncan frowned, shifting a little so that he faced the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Methos lift his head, visibly distracted; Joe stepped back a pace, looking at the door.
Then the door pushed open and Duncan felt a sudden large grin spreading itself over his face. He was on his feet, round the table, his arms out. "Connor," he said, with immense satisfaction.
His elder kinsman managed to keep a straight and sober face until Duncan was actually on him, and then he laughed, hugging Duncan and pounding his shoulder. "Good to see you."
"What are you doing in town?" It occurred to Duncan suddenly that there was just a possibility that his kinsman, an inveterate headhunter, might actually be after a certain ancient head. He didn't dare glance in Methos' direction. And that meant he couldn't introduce Joe, either. "Come on over, Richie and I were just having a beer."
"Oh, I'm here for a few days," Connor said, his usual, evasive answer, and raised his eyebrows at Duncan, smiling like a friendly wolf. "Pleasure, not business."
"That's good to hear," Duncan said. "What are you drinking?"
"Thanks," Connor said. "Some other time."
"Connor," Duncan said.
"Some other time soon," Connor amended. He smiled at Richie. "Come on. My car's outside."
Richie smiled, briefly, but with intense satisfaction, and got to his feet. "Night, Mac," he said cheerfully, and brushed past Duncan on his way out the door at Connor's heels.
Duncan went back to his table, and sat down. A minute later, he felt someone standing beside him, and glanced up. It was the waitress. "I guess you won't be wanting the Coors?" she inquired.
Duncan smiled at her and said, with chilly politeness that bit, "I guess not."
"Never mind," Methos said, appearing silently beside her, "I'll drink it." He sat down across the table from Duncan. "Perhaps he needs cheering up after Kristen," he offered.
Duncan scowled. "It's been going on for two years! Whenever Connor's here from New York."
Methos didn't quite laugh, though he looked as if he'd like to. "Well, there are worse people..."
"I don't care," Duncan said, frowning into his beer. "I don't like it. He's too young."
"He's twenty," Methos observed dryly. He drank from the bottle, and made a face. "Now I remember why I don't drink American bottled beer," he added quietly, almost to himself, and then, to Duncan, "I think in this state the legal age of consent is eighteen."
"He's just eighteen," Duncan said tersely, jerking his head up and glowering at Methos.
"Richie will be eighteen for the rest of his life." Methos shrugged. "He'll have to learn how to deal with that kind of libido eventually. I agree, he could have better taste -- "
Duncan opened his mouth to bark a retort, and then realised that Methos had got him again. After a moment's thought, he leaned forward and said wickedly, "I'll be sure to pass your opinion on to my clansman."
Methos tilted his head to one side and smiled at Duncan. "You do that."
"But I don't like it," Duncan repeated. Almost every time Connor came to Seacouver, he picked up Richie and played with him for a few days, during which Richie would turn up late at the dojo, and leave early, generally with a slightly glazed look in his eyes.
Methos sighed. "Well then, why don't you forbid it?"
"What?" If only it was as simple as that. "I cannae forbid Connor -- " Connor would only laugh.
"No, of course not," Methos said soothingly. "Richie's your student, Duncan. You're his master. If you don't like what he's doing, forbid it. He has to obey you."
Duncan sighed heavily and picked up his beer, taking a long swallow and wiping the foam off his mouth. Sometimes Methos could be quite extraordinarily naive. Teenagers were evidently one of his blind spots. Forbidding Richie to do something was the fastest way to push him in the opposite direction. "I wish I could."
"He's your student, you're his teacher. Of course you can. It's the nature of the relationship. If you really don't like it, you don't have to put up with it. Mind you, I don't see what there is to dislike about it -- "
"The age difference," Duncan said promptly.
"It's about the same as between you and Amanda," Methos murmured.
"That's different. I was older, experienced, when I met her -- "
Methos was smiling to himself.
"Ach, you know what I mean!" Duncan said sharply.
"So Richie is to be celibate until he is -- how old, MacLeod? Two centuries?"
"I don't mean celibate," Duncan said. "Just -- stick to people his own age."
"Mortals," Methos said, and smiled. "Well, MacLeod, if you think that, compel him. He is your student. You know what that means."
"Times are different," Duncan growled ungraciously. He'd considered encouraging Richie to see Connor in the hope that this would put Richie off, but sometimes that just didn't work.
"Not that different," Methos returned.
Duncan was suddenly amused. "Fine. You try it."
It was half past eight in the morning. Richie wandered out of the lift, trying to look casual. Duncan was sitting on the couch with another immortal -- Richie hoped for Amanda, but it was the quiet academic with the odd smile. Still, any company was better than none when Mac was mad at him.
But instead of greeting him with a coldly silent glare, Duncan smiled at him. Richie stopped short, wondering what was going on.
"I'm off to New Orleans this afternoon," Duncan said in a cheerful voice.
Richie smiled back. Maybe that was why Duncan was in a good mood. "Great," he said. "I always wanted to see -- "
"You're not going." Duncan said it as casually as Richie had wandered out of the lift. "You can stay here and get on with your training."
Then it wasn't a free trip to get Richie out of Connor's pants. Richie shrugged. "OK," he said, trying to look disappointed. He was disappointed, a bit, but after all, he had plenty of time to see New Orleans. All the rest of his life.
"I asked Adam to be responsible for you while I'm away," Duncan added, and started to list the chores Richie would be responsible for in the dojo. It was a moment before Richie got his speech back.
"Wait a minute. I don't need a babysitter!" He glanced at the academic, who had an even odder smile than usual on his face. "No offence, Pierson, but come on, Mac -- !"
"Not a babysitter, Richie. A teacher. I'll be away about a fortnight. Don't forget the dojo gets cleaned first thing Friday morning and you have to be there to let them in and lock up after them." Duncan went on, placidly listing the routine, and Richie stared from Duncan to Pierson and back again. Pierson looked amused but annoyed; Duncan, though, was in a wild good humour. "OK, now finally -- come over here, Richie -- " Duncan grabbed his hand, grabbed Pierson's hand, and put them together between his own, palm to palm. He looked at Pierson, and said, in the tone of someone quoting or remembering a ritual, "Your hand is my hand, your head is my head. His head is holy to you, until there are only two, or until I take back my hand from yours. There can be only one."
Pierson stood still, looking back at Duncan. He was frowning a little, now, but mainly he looked pleasantly expressionless. After a moment, he answered. "There can be only one. Your hand is my hand, your head is my head. My hand will not take his head, until there are only two."
They looked at each other a moment, until Richie got exasperated and tugged his hand back. "So what's this, a marriage service? Mac, we haven't even chosen our patterns!"
"It's an old tradition," Duncan said mildly, still grinning at Pierson. "He's your teacher now, until I get back."
Richie looked the academic up and down. "Yeah?"
"Don't worry," Pierson said. "You do what I tell you. Exactly what I tell you."
"Sure," Richie said. He was confused by the slight, arrogant smile that both Duncan and Pierson wore.
Duncan picked up an overnight bag from beside the couch and swung it over his shoulder. "Well, I'm off. See you in two weeks, Richie. Adam."
He was gone. Richie's gaze followed him out, and then back to Pierson. "What is this?"
Pierson shrugged. He was smiling. "Not to worry, Richie."
"Who says I'm worried?"
Pierson said nothing, contemplating Richie with an odd tilted half-smile. It made Richie feel very uncomfortable.
"Look, I'm going out tonight."
"Fine," Pierson said lightly. "Be back here at 8 am. Don't be late."
Pierson sat down on the couch and picked up a book. "Your first training session with me, Richie. Don't be late."
Richie stared at the academic's downcast head. "What are you going to teach me?" He meant it as a challenge, but it came out wrong.
Pierson looked up and smiled. "I'll think of something."
Richie hadn't meant to be late. It had just worked out that way. When Connor was in Seacouver, he'd treat Richie to the best; expensive meals, champagne like angels coming on your tongue, and silky-luxurious beds in some of the best hotels in the city. Richie liked that. He liked the way Connor couldn't have enough of him. He liked sleeping curled up with Connor, and waking to blue eyes hazy with sleep and lust sucking him in. And the sex was fabulous. Experience obviously paid off.
But that morning he honestly hadn't meant to be late. He'd even skipped breakfast. He just hadn't crawled out of bed in time, and even speeding, he didn't get to the dojo till well past eight.
Still, Pierson looked a harmless enough type. Richie pushed his way in the dojo doors. Pierson was standing in the middle of the floor. The presence buzzed at both of them, and Pierson waited until it had faded before he said, "You're late."
"Sorry," Richie said, reasonably enough.
Pierson shook his head. "If I tell you to be somewhere on time, Richie, you'll be there. I'm not MacLeod." He smiled. "I'm worse."
"Sure," Richie grinned. "I'll do better tomorrow. Want coffee?"
"No. Take off your coat. Let's see what MacLeod's taught you."
At first the training session was fairly standard. They moved round the dojo floor, running through techniques and steps and strokes and defences. It was all straightforward stuff; a couple of times Pierson asked Richie to repeat a movement, and stood back and watched. After about an hour, Richie stepped back and lifted his hand. "Take five?"
Pierson shook his head. "The dojo opens at half past ten, as I understand."
"I need a break!"
"No," Pierson said. "You don't need a break. You may want one, but that's too bad. We've found out what MacLeod's taught you. Now let's see what you can learn."
He came for Richie then, swift and deadly, and Richie found himself in the middle of what seemed, at first, a half-crazed attack. He could barely keep Pierson off, and wherever he struck, the other man had moved away. It was some time -- a dazed time of swiftness and sharp edges too close for comfort -- before he realised that none of the strokes had ever come close enough to wound, let alone kill. He was aware, then, of an infinitesimal relaxation from fear -- and then Pierson struck home.
Richie's sword went flying from his hand, leaving it numb, and he faced Pierson weaponless. Pierson's sword gleamed at him, cold as Pierson's eyes.
"Hey, man," Richie said, breathlessly, "you're good."
"Thank you," Pierson nodded, and struck once more, this time with the hilt of his sword, hard at Richie's jaw.
Richie went over backwards with a stunning pain in the lower half of his face. For minutes after, lying there with his head gradually clearing, staring up at Pierson, crouched above him, it hurt too much to speak. When he could focus, he saw Pierson was smiling.
"Don't be late tomorrow, Richie."
Then Pierson got up and walked away. After a while Richie heard the gurgle of the coffee machine in the office. When he could get up, he went through, rubbing at his chin. "I think you broke my jaw," he said.
Pierson was sitting in Duncan's chair, feet up. He looked Richie over and nodded. "First offence. Next time I won't be so gentle."
"But -- " Richie shook his head. "You break my jaw because I was a lousy twenty minutes late?"
"And if you're ever late again, I'll do worse than break your jaw." Pierson was still smiling. "I warned you. If you haven't sense enough to listen, that's your problem." He lifted the coffee cup, and drank. "Not mine."
"I'm telling you, Connor, this guy's a lunatic!" Richie was pacing up and down the sitting-room of the hotel suite, too angry to sit still. "It's like it's military school, all that stuff about 'First offence' and 'Second offence -- "
Connor was sprawled on the couch, eyes closed, obviously not asleep. "Did I ever tell you about the time I had to break Duncan's arm?"
Richie stopped pacing and looked at him. "You did what?"
Connor shrugged. His eyes were still closed. "Sometimes when you're teaching a young immortal, there's only one way to convince him that you mean business and that he really can do what you tell him to do." He chuckled. "My teacher drowned me."
"Because I couldn't swim."
"I mean why -- "
"It's not important," Connor said. "Anyway, Duncan rang me before he left town."
Richie stared at him. "He did?"
"Just to let me know he'd left you with a friend of his." Connor grinned to himself. "I think he didn't want me poking my nose in. Well, I'm not about to. Duncan's your teacher, Richie, not me. If he leaves you with someone else to be your teacher, then you do what he says. What's this about a second offense?"
"I was five minutes late this morning," Richie said furiously. "I wouldn't even have been that but I had trouble parking the bike."
"Then you can leave earlier tomorrow morning," Connor said blithely. "I'll ask the hotel to call you at six."
"Don't you mind?" Richie felt curiously dislocated. He had somehow expected more from Connor.
"Why should I? I can always go back to sleep again." Connor swung himself to his feet and came over to Richie, his eyes wide and bright and blue, pulling Richie in against him and kissing at the side of his neck. "It's not that I won't miss you," he whispered, light enough to tickle Richie's ear.
Richie had meant to turn and walk out. But the flood of lust which filled him did not impel him out the door. Besides, tomorrow was Sunday when the dojo was closed. He could just not go back at all. And meantime, Connor was kissing him.
The presence bloomed and buzzed them both awake, Connor rolling off the bed and standing, sword in hand, and Richie still lying there, having grabbed his own sword and holding it raised for a gutting blow.
Pierson stood in the doorway, hands raised and conspicuously empty. "Adam Pierson. I'm just here for my student, MacLeod."
"What?" Richie was pleased to hear a note of burring anger in Connor's voice. "You told him to be at the dojo at eight."
"Yes, I did." Pierson came over to the bed and looked down at Richie. "You're holding that wrong if you want to take the heart. The thumbs need to be under the hilt, like this." He took Richie's sword away from him, casually, demonstrated, and handed it back. Then he looked at Connor again. "Only then I thought, today is a good day for exercises in the countryside. And I also thought, that since the dojo is closed, it's just possible Richie might forget to come in."
"I wouldn't have let him forget."
Pierson smiled. It looked distinctly pyschotic, viewed as Richie was seeing him, from upside down. But Connor, Richie realised, was smiling back. "No," Pierson said cheerfully. "I'm sure you wouldn't. But since I'm here, may I take him with me?"
"Be my guest. Want some coffee while he's getting dressed?"
Connor looked down at Richie, shrugged, and grinned. "You'd better get dressed."
"Fast," Pierson said softly. "You have five minutes. See you outside." He turned and went.
"Connor -- " Richie said.
"No." Connor sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at him. "Oh, hell, Duncan's right. Don't quote me on that," he added hastily. "I think I'll cut this visit short, Richie. You can't use me as a refuge."
"I wasn't -- "
"And I'll see you again in a month or two." Connor leaned in and kissed Richie, soft and hard at once. "Now get dressed. You've got three minutes."
It had rained, on and off, all day. Richie was cold and wet and muddy. Worse, they passed the hotel where Connor had been staying, and Pierson stopped the car to let Richie pick up his bike. A glance up at the darkened windows of the Presidential Suite told Richie that Connor was gone.
"It should take you half an hour back to the dojo from here," Pierson said. "Start supper when you get in."
"I'll go back to my own apartment, thanks," Richie said. He was looking forward, with a passion like no other, to a long, hot shower.
Pierson shook his head. He, too, was muddy to the eyebrows, but somehow it didn't make him look bedraggled. "Just do as you're told," he said shortly. He slammed the car door shut and drove off.
Richie looked after him. "Oh, hell," he said wearily. Well, he was hungry. And somehow he wouldn't put it past Pierson to come to his apartment and roust him out of it. And anyway, Duncan was only away for another twelve days. Richie figured he could put up with anything that long. And then tell Duncan where he got off, landing Richie with this lunatic fanatic.
Pierson was in the shower when Richie came out of the lift. He'd stopped at the office phone below to call the nearest pizza place. When Pierson reappeared, clean and damp-haired, Richie was already stripping off his muddy clothes. "Hope you didn't use all the hot water."
"I told you to start supper," Pierson said coldly.
Richie shrugged. "I did. They'll deliver it in -- " he glanced at his watch -- "twenty-five minutes. If they're late, you don't have to pay for it."
Behind him, as he went into the shower, he heard Pierson laughing, and glanced back, astonished. Pierson was leaning against the back of the sofa, helpless with what sounded surprisingly like giggles. He seemed to feel Richie's eyes on him, and straightened up, trying to make himself look grim, and not altogether succeeding. "Oh, go and have your shower."
The pizza arrived while Richie was drying himself off, and Pierson paid for it, coming back holding the box and a suppressed look of amusement. "You're lucky I like pizza."
"Any Italian with a healthy respect for their country's traditions," Pierson said cheerfully. "Get the plates."
"OK," Richie said. He was feeling much better. If Pierson wanted to eat pizza off a plate, that was fine with Richie. And Pierson sitting munching a slice of pizza, licking tomato sauce off his fingers, was much less intimidating than the man who had, earlier today, rolled him into the mud at least half a dozen times, leaving Richie dazed and bruised and -- twice, Richie thought -- breaking a rib.
Richie folded a slice of pizza and shoved it into his mouth, studying Pierson thoughtfully. On the other hand, Richie now knew four different ways of killing someone when the ground was too slippery for ordinary swordfighting. And Pierson had been equally muddy by the end of the day.
"What did you do today for?"
Pierson shrugged. "You needed to learn it."
"Well, yeah, right, I guess I did." Richie stretched himself comfortably. "Man, am I tired."
"'Man'?" Pierson frowned. "Try: 'I'm tired.' The other makes you sound like an aging hippy."
"'Pardon,'" Pierson corrected.
"What?" Richie realised what Pierson was getting at, but he was too comfortably tired and full of pizza to bother. "Look, man, what's the way I talk got to do with the way I fight? You've been getting at me about it all day."
"Aw," said Pierson, lightly. "How long d'you think you're going to live?"
The question startled Richie. "I dunno. I mean, Duncan's made it to four hundred, Connor's even older. Haven't thought about it much."
"Language changes over time, Richie. You have to know the language of each time you live in, and you have to know it so well that no one will know you don't belong."
"But this is my time." Richie glowered at him. "And I fit in just fine."
"Here, and now, yes, you do. You fit in so well no one would believe that you're not a teenager who was born in Seacouver and lived here all his life. In twenty years time? In forty? In a hundred? You need to know how to change, how to adapt."
"Look," Richie said, patiently, "I'll learn. When I need it."
"You need to know how to learn it now. Because you don't know when you will need it. What if you die?"
"Any immortal needs to know how to change lives in an hour. You could be knocked down by a car tomorrow. Where would you go?"
"Here," Richie said automatically. He shrugged. "Mac would get me a fake passport. Anyway, I've already got two. I died in France."
"Great," Pierson said. "How are you going to change the way you move, the way you talk, the jokes you make, the things you like to do, the foods you like to eat, so that if someone meets you who knew you before you died, they won't believe you are the man they knew who died?"
Richie rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed. "Well... I'd think of something."
"Wonderful," Pierson said without enthusiasm. He leaned back and addressed the ceiling. "He'd think of something."
"Well, I would." Richie didn't want to get into this. "Anyway, look, what's this got to do with correcting how I speak?"
"Learning how to change your speech-patterns can save you from some very embarrassing encounters," Pierson said promptly. "Not to mention your body-language. You're always rubbing at your chin."
"I do?" Richie realised that he was, and took his hand down hastily.
"You can dye your hair, or cut it short, or grow a beard -- but someone who remembers that little trick you have of rubbing your chin as if you can't remember when you last shaved will know you in an instant. And language marks you every time you open your mouth. Learn how not to talk like an ignorant Canadian teenager -- except when you want to be underestimated. That's a useful trick in itself, but one not to be over-used. You are in serious danger of over-using it."
"I'm not ignorant," Richie said, annoyed.
Pierson laughed. "Boy, you're so ignorant that you don't even know how ignorant you are. When was the last time you read a book? -- and motorbike manuals don't count."
"I finished an Anne Rice novel just before Connor arrived."
Pierson started laughing again. "Anne Rice. Oh God." He leaned his head back again, once more addressing the ceiling. "He reads Anne Rice." He looked at Richie. "Was it vampires, castrati, or Beauty?"
"It was Queen of the Damned," Richie said, beginning to be genuinely affronted. "It's a really good book. What's wrong with Anne Rice?"
"What, apart from the fact that her prose style is appalling, and every vampire in America hates her?"
Pierson just stared at him.
"Pardon," Richie corrected himself sarcastically. "Pierson, there's no such thing as vampires!"
"Richie," Pierson said, very gently, "hasn't Duncan told you to stay away from Toronto?"
"We have an agreement with the vampires," Pierson said. "It's a very simple agreement. It has to be, because we don't exactly talk to each other very often. We stay out of their cities, they stay out of ours."
"There's no such thing as vampires," Richie repeated. "I mean, immortal bats that can fly, and suck blood, and sleep in coffins?"
"Not bats," Pierson said. "People. They look as human as we do. They're dangerous, they're hunters, and we stay well clear."
Richie stared. He was still not entirely sure that Pierson wasn't having him on. "And they live in Toronto?"
"And other places," Pierson said. "It's the main vampire city in Canada, that's all." He shrugged. "This is all beside the point. If your standards in literature aspire only as far as Anne Rice, you need something more elevated to read. I'll find you some modern classics. You'll have time in the evenings -- since Connor isn't around any more." He smiled.
Richie had had enough. He finished the last of his pizza. "Thanks," he said, flatly, and pulled on his jacket. "See you tomorrow." He picked up his helmet and turned, saying in unison with Pierson, "Eight am precisely."
Richie muttered "Yeah, yeah," and went into the lift. The door rattled downwards as music started to play on Duncan's stereo. Pierson was making himself comfortable for the evening.
After the dojo had shut for the day, Pierson usually took Richie through his sword practice. He was good, Richie had to admit; nearly as good with a sword as Duncan, and really fast on his feet. Duncan was better at pulling his blows so that the sword never actually connected, but Pierson was, if sarcastic about it, better at explaining what he wanted Richie to do.
Monday morning, Pierson had presented Richie with a stack of books ranging from some guy called Xenophon to some other guy called Marcus Aurelius. He'd told Richie to read them, and Richie had taken them home and left them on the bedside table. He figured they might come in handy if he ever suffered from insomnia, or a leg fell off the bed.
On Wednesday evening, Pierson started asking questions. He sounded for the first time like the professor Richie supposed he was. What made it awkward was that he insisted on fighting and asking questions at the same time -- and he expected Richie to defend himself and answer.
The unstoppable disarm -- the blow that numbed Richie's hand and sent his sword flying -- was always the last stroke of the evening. Richie didn't expect it halfway through a demonstration fight. His sword clattered against the wall, and he stood unarmed, rubbing his hand, trying to tell himself that Pierson didn't scare him.
Pierson advanced on him, sword held low, the point gleaming forward. "You haven't read any of those books, have you?" he asked.
Richie almost laughed out loud. He'd expected some cutting remark about falling down in his sword practice, not this schoolteacher with a sword attacking him for not doing his homework. "No, I didn't. Gonna keep me in at recess?"
"When I tell you to do something, you do it." Pierson sounded coldly amused. "There are no exceptions, no ifs, ands, or buts. You obey your teacher."
"Look," Richie said, trying to be reasonable. He wasn't going to start backing away. "Look, I'll admit, you're teaching me a lot. And I'm working at it, right? But I don't have to do everything you tell me."
"You think not?" Pierson moved, swift and certain. His sword lunged upwards, through Richie's flesh, and when it split Richie's heart it hurt too much to scream.
Richie woke, lurching up to consciousness. He'd seen Duncan come alive before, and the older man seemed to be a hell of a lot cooler about it. It always fucking hurt.
Pierson had killed him. Richie reached out, blindly scrabbling for his sword. Pierson must have dragged him over to the floor beside the bench; Richie could see his own sword, now his eyes were focussing properly again, lying on the bench, well out of arm's reach. He could see Pierson's sword, too. Pierson was sitting on the bench, sideways on to Richie, knees up, leaning comfortably against the wall. Pierson's sword was leaning against the side of the bench, hilt comfortably near to Pierson's hand.
There was an ache in Richie's heart. The first time he tried to sit up, he blacked out and found himself lying down again. Pierson had turned to face him, still sitting on the bench, his sword now between his hands. Richie breathed deeply, pushing himself up, trying to summon anger. His hands and feet were still cold, slightly numb.
Pierson waited until he was sitting all the way up, and leaned forward, and said, softly and almost smiling, "You're my student. You live because I wish it. And you stay alive as long as you please me."
Richie swallowed, bringing his hand up to rub the cold sweat from his face, concealing the fact that some of it was tears. He was afraid. He'd been beaten up before, he'd been threatened by death before, but no one had ever killed him so casually, sat there smiling to watch him recover, and then delivered such a cold warning.
Pierson chilled Richie to the bone. To the heart. And Duncan had let him in.
"Dammit," he said, hearing his voice near breaking, praying that Pierson didn't know him well enough to hear it, "that wasn't fair."
Pierson smiled. "Who said life was fair?"
"Fuck you," Richie said, almost stammering with the anger he was calling up to drive out fear. "Fuck you. I'm out of here." He was scrambling to his feet when Pierson stood, and with a shrug and another smile, drove his sword through Richie where the wound had already healed.
Richie collapsed to his knees, feeling the steel move intolerably within him, unable to think, or move, or do anything but feel this terrifying agony. This is how we die, a voice that didn't seem to be his spoke within him.
Pierson was leaning over him. A hand tilted Richie's head up to face him. Pierson said, in the same chilly, calm voice, "That did not please me," and yanked his sword out, upwards, with a twist that wrenched the pain still further, until Richie died again.
Richie woke, lurching up to consciousness. His heart hurt twice over. Once again, Pierson was sitting on the bench, watching him. Richie stayed down this time until he was sure he wouldn't black out when he sat up, because this time, even if he had to leave without his sword, he was getting out that door and not coming back.
Pierson waited until he was sitting all the way up. "I brought you a fresh shirt," he said.
Richie swallowed, and didn't say anything. There were two ragged holes in the old t-shirt he'd worn to practice this evening, the second one larger than the first. And it was soaked with his own blood, layers of it, dried, sticky, and some of it still freshly red. The clean shirt was lying on the bench, by his sword.
"You can stay here until you're recovered," Pierson said. "I got your heart both times. Give it another half hour."
Richie was cold all over, his hands tingling with numbness. Pierson was looking at him as if he expected an answer, so Richie nodded.
"You'd better mop the floor before you leave," Pierson added, standing up. "That's quite a mess." He headed towards the lift, his sword casual in his hand, leaving Richie's sword behind him on the bench. Richie stared after him. Pierson threw over his shoulder, "Be here at eight sharp as usual, Richie."
He was gone, the lift rattling upwards, before Richie, taking in great gulps of air that felt unnaturally hot in his cold lungs, could take it in that it was over for this day at least. Oh God, he was afraid.
Richie shoved the door open and went in, his heart pounding. No buzz of presence greeted him, and he could almost have collapsed on the floor just inside in utter relief. Joe called out "Sorry, we're closed."
Richie came forward into the circle of light from the bar, and Joe put the glass he was cleaning down on the counter and stared. "Richie, are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Richie said.
"You look like hell." Joe came round the bar towards him, frowning, smiling. "Sit down."
Richie sank into a chair and leaned his elbows on the table, head down. "Joe, could I stay here a while?"
"Sure, kid. Long as you like." Joe hesitated. "Wait a minute. Is someone after you?"
Richie heard himself giggle, interrupted by a sob. He took a deep breath and looked into Joe's concerned face. "I think so."
"Joe, don't go Watcher on me right now," Richie said, hearing the desperation in his voice. "I need help."
"Richie..." Joe sighed and sat down. "I can't interfere, kid, you know that. You need to go to Pierson. Whoever's after you, he'll take care of it."
"Right," Richie said, and this time the anger came, staving off the tears that would have embarrassed him half to death in front of Joe. "Right. He's the one who's after me."
Joe sat back, shaking his head in disbelief. "Adam? He can't be. Richie, there's got to be some misunderstanding. Adam wouldn't go after your head. I mean, first, he's just not the type -- and second, Duncan put him in charge of your training."
"He wants to kill me!" Richie snarled. He was not about to tell Joe that twice, with contemptuous ease, Pierson had killed him. Last night, after he'd mopped the floor and changed his shirt and flung the old t-shirt in the trash, he'd gone home, locked the door, and spent the night huddled on his bed. He must have slept, but it seemed as if the whole night had been full of noises that meant Pierson was coming, coming for him again with the sword that ran him through. It was not the fear that made him so ashamed. Somehow it was the shame that fed the fear. He could no more have faced the noise of Joe's bar last night than he could have said anything to Pierson, after the second death. "He wants to kill me, and he's doing it, a slice at a time!"
"Richie -- " Joe said, sounding patient, and Richie interrupted him.
"Look, he's broken my jaw already, twice, he's cracked my ribs like he's playing in a butcher's shop, and he's -- " Richie swallowed. "Look, Joe, just take it -- I'm not going anywhere near him again unless Mac's around. I'm not."
Joe shrugged, and stood up. "All right, kid. Stick around. Did you remember to eat breakfast?"
"I'm not hungry," Richie muttered. He sat still, head in his hands, hearing Joe moving around in the bar and the kitchen behind it. After a while an appetising smell drifted under his nose. Joe put a plate of fried ham and eggs down in front of him.
"Full of cholesterol," he observed, with a pat on Richie's shoulder. "Still, I guess you don't have to worry about that."
"Thanks," Richie muttered. He ate it, forkful by forkful. It tasted like ashes. He got up once he had finished, and took his plate back into the kitchen. There were still some glasses stacked from last night, and plates from Joe's bar staff's supper and what was probably Joe's breakfast. Richie started to do the washing-up.
Joe came back into the kitchen, looked him over, and said, mildly, "Thanks." Richie leaned against the wall, taking his time, washing each plate and drying it before he stacked it. He couldn't think what he was going to do when this job was over.
The dojo should have opened by now. He was supposed to be there. Duncan had asked him to manage it. He was letting Duncan down.
He couldn't help it. Richie stared down at the scummy foam in the bowl. Mac, I couldn't help it. I can't.
Then, from behind him, he felt the buzz of someone's presence. He felt it a moment before the outside door into the bar opened, and Joe called out, "Sorry, we're closed."
Richie dried his hands, frantic but thorough. Wet hands would slip on a sword-hilt. It had to be a stranger. Someone passing through.
It had to be.
"I've come to collect Richie," the utterly familiar voice said, drawling a little. "I might have known he'd run here."
There wasn't any way out of the kitchen except through the bar. Richie picked up his sword and came out, looking over the bar into Pierson's narrow, unfeeling face.
"Adam, maybe the kid could use a break," Joe offered.
Pierson glanced at him and shook his head. "The dojo is closed this morning because I had to come looking for him. I left a note up saying it would be open at lunchtime. It's damned well going to open at lunchtime. Come on, Richie." He glanced at the sword in Richie's hand with open contempt. "And put that thing away before we go outside. You're not getting out of this by getting yourself arrested ---- " he grinned, abrupt and sharp " -- for indecent exposure."
Richie heard Joe laugh, as if it was very far away. He sheathed his sword, and went with Pierson. He knew if it came to a fight, he couldn't win, and if Pierson killed him in front of Joe... he didn't think he'd want to wake up.
Richie spent most of the afternoon sitting in the dojo office with a cup of coffee. There was always a lunch-hour rush as guys who worked nearby came over to work out, and then usually things quietened down for the afternoon. Pierson had gone off somewhere, Richie didn't know where, but he didn't want to take the risk that Pierson might come back and find Richie not there. There had to be a way out of this.
Pierson didn't reappear until Richie was locking up the dojo for the evening. Richie had almost begun to believe he could go home. Go somewhere, anyway.
Pierson said nothing about the morning. Nothing at all. He faced Richie, brought his sword up in his usual opening move, and Richie, having fumbled his own sword out, began the usual parry. He felt clumsy, as if Pierson's eyes on him were cutting him before the sword.
"What's wrong with you today?" Pierson asked.
Richie shrugged, keeping his weapon up. He expected another attack, and had no idea of the direction. All he could do, at the moment, was keep turning to face Pierson, as the other man moved round him, testing and moving through his defences.
"If it's about last night -- grow up. Worse things happen. Getting stabbed through the heart's an easy death, compared to some. You need to learn how to handle death."
Richie nodded. Right. He was keeping the only handle on death he could, holding the hilt tight in an increasingly-slippery grip.
Pierson sighed impatiently, and with one neat flourish, knocked the sword flying. It wasn't his usual disarm. Richie stood still and waited for what would follow.
"Go home," Pierson said. "Get some rest. If you're not in here tomorrow morning at eight, I'll skin you alive. Clear?"
Richie nodded. He went over to pick up his sword, and, careful not to turn his back on Pierson, edged his way out.
When the cleaners were finished, it was past seven am. Richie let them out and locked the door behind them. He was quite cold and clear about this. An interuption at the wrong moment was the only thing that could go wrong.
The lift rattled up. Pierson was sprawled on the couch, eating breakfast. He looked up. "You're early," he said, sounding mildly surprised.
Richie turned, bringing his hand with the gun up and shooting in the same moment. The bullet slammed into Pierson and he jerked up, a piece of toast falling from his hand, his eyes opening wide. He was probably dead right then, but Richie fired again, closer range, to make certain.
Methos shoved the door open and went in. There was no presence here. Joe looked up, looked him over, opened his mouth, and shut it again.
Methos lifted a hand. "Don't tell me you're closed."
Joe shrugged. "I was going to say you look like hell, but I figured you already know that."
Methos laughed abruptly. "I haven't exactly been near a mirror. Where's Richie?"
"He hasn't been by since that morning. Where did you take him?"
"Back to the dojo," Methos said sharply. He moved over to the bar and shifted himself onto one of the chairs. "That kid needs to learn how to live up to his responsibilities."
"I mean, where did you take him when you closed down the dojo?"
Methos blinked. "Joe, what day is it?"
"What?" Joe frowned at him. "It's Monday. You're kind of out of it, aren't you?"
Methos looked at Joe, unblinking. "Since you last saw me," he said, with brittle patience, "Richie shot me, twice. While I was still 'out of it', he injected me with what I think was a large overdose of rather pure heroin. I seem to have spent the past three days dying of it. I didn't know it was three days, because it felt more like a century." He studied Joe's widening gaze and opening mouth, and added, with a curious ambivalence between anger and admiration, "Richie's a thorough little sod."
"He..." Joe looked as if he were choking. "He did what?" With a visible effort, he picked up the glass he'd been polishing and gave it a few more unnecessary rubs. "Well, I suppose you're lucky he didn't tie you up, as well."
Methos rubbed at his wrists, and smiled at Joe. "Fortunately, he's terrible at knots. Or I'd still be there, wondering how to explain it to MacLeod. Now I'd like a beer."
Joe reached down a glass and poured him one, still speechless. Methos raised it, studying it, and took a long drink. "You wouldn't know where he is, would you?"
Joe went back to polishing the much-cleaned glass in his hand. "No. No idea."
"Are you sure?" Methos asked pleasantly.
"All I know," Joe said, with rough annoyance, "is the kid came in last Thursday morning looking about as good as you do now, and with some story about you trying to kill him, a slice at a time."
Methos shrugged. "I had to kill him twice the night before -- "
Joe's face changed, and he leaned forward, interrupting Methos in the middle of the sentence. "You did what?"
"I'm his teacher," Methos said, "for the time being, anyway. These things happen."
"These things happen," Joe repeated, slowly. "He said you'd broken his jaw a couple of times, and cracked his ribs, and he thought you wanted to kill him." He stared down at his hands, for a long moment, and then lifted his gaze to meet Methos' eyes. "And you know what? I thought he was exaggerating."
"Not really," Methos said. "I did break his jaw twice. And ribs always go in training bouts." He shook his head. "Nothing serious."
"Nothing serious?" Joe looked completely appalled. "And you killed him? What for?"
"Well, for not doing what he was told. But you know teachers always kill their students during training. It's the way it is."
"I don't believe this." Joe was shaking his head. "How long is it since you took a student? That kind of -- that kind of medieval macho toughening-up went out of style centuries ago!"
Methos took the glass out of Joe's hands before it broke and put it down on the bar. "It's a lot older than medieval times, Joe," he said. "And it's got nothing to do with being 'macho'. But it never goes out of style, because it's the only right way to train one of us."
"How long is it since you took a student?" Joe said grimly.
Methos shrugged. "Nearly two hundred years."
"Christ," Joe said. He was still staring at Methos as though he hardly knew him. It sounded, Methos thought, almost like a prayer. Joe's face seldom changed expression, but his voice was suddenly very cold. "You know what really gets to me? After you'd done that to him, I just handed him back to you. He must have thought I wouldn't help him -- "
"You couldn't," Methos interrupted. "You can't come between a teacher and his student. Not even another immortal would, Joe, and you certainly can't. How I train him is my business, and MacLeod's. Not yours."
"You call that kind of abuse training?" Joe shouted suddenly, his voice abruptly loud in the silent room. "What the hell are you teaching him, Adam -- how to die?"
"Yes." Methos met his eyes squarely. "How to die. Because sometimes choosing to kill yourself is the only way to survive. I'll break his bones until he knows in his gut he can break his own leg to get out of a trap. I'll throw him into fire -- and he'll know if he has to he can run through fire and live. I'll kill him until he understands that he can die and fight another day. And if you think Duncan wouldn't do exactly the same, then for a Watcher, you are very damned naive."
"MacLeod wouldn't do that to him."
"Of course he would. He's Richie's teacher."
Joe shook his head. "No. MacLeod wouldn't."
Methos laughed... and stopped. "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You don't mean MacLeod wouldn't. You mean... he never has."
"Yeah," Joe said, emphatically. "MacLeod wouldn't abuse Richie like that."
Methos put his elbows on the bar and dropped his head into his hands, shaking it back and forth. "I don't believe it," he said. "I really don't believe it. What a mess."
"Right," Joe agreed. "Now Richie's run off -- "
Methos lifted his head, and eyed Joe. "You're right, of course," he said, more briskly. "That's the first thing. I've got to find Richie."
"I doubt if he'll want to see you," Joe snapped.
Despite everything, Methos found that rather amusing. "Since he killed me off in a way that gave him three days head start, no, I don't suppose he does. It was enterprising, I'll give him that, and he's earned three days holiday -- but not more."
"Enterprising?" Joe gave Methos a very peculiar look. "You think he did it just to get a break?"
"Well, it's clear this style of training's a lot rougher than he's used to."
Joe drew a very deep breath. "That morning, in the bar..." He shook his head, and sounded completely exasperated. "How could you not notice it? The kid was terrified of you!"
"Well, it seems to have escaped your attention, too, at the time," Methos pointed out rather sharply. "But now you've made up your mind I'm this abuser of innocent young immortals, you think he was scared?"
"No," Joe said. "I knew he was scared. Christ, I knew he was terrified. But I told myself," his voice was bitter with self-contempt, "that I knew you well enough to know you'd never harm him."
"I wouldn't," Methos said. He was startled, and a little offended. "I don't think I've taken an immortal who was that young since long before your Christ was born. And MacLeod got me to put my hand over him. I didn't know he knew the old words."
"You killed him."
"Would you stop harping on about that? I ran him through the heart twice. Good clean kills. We all learn how to die. He's done it before."
"Three times," Joe said. "He's died three times, including the time he became immortal. The second time he took bullets meant for me, and I owe him one for that. The third time he was killed in a bike race."
"Only three times?" Methos dropped his head into his hands again. "Oh my God."
After a moment, Joe touched his shoulder. "Look, Adam -- you're right. We've got to find Richie before MacLeod gets back. We can talk about this later. I'll call in a few favours, try and find out if anyone's spotted him. You can't go looking for him, he'll run a mile."
Methos had lifted his head before Joe finished, and was studying him reflectively. He had a feeling Joe had read the horror Methos genuinely did feel rather as if it was contrition. Joe wanted to believe Methos was sorry for what he'd done for Richie. Joe was mortal, and however well he thought he understood immortals, he obviously had no comprehension of what Duncan had done to Richie.
However, Methos had to find Richie, and the search might well go faster with Joe's help. Let Joe think what he wanted, then.
Joe was looking at him expectantly. Methos nodded, keeping his face downcast. Joe smiled, looking relieved. "Right," he said, "I'll get on the phone."
"I'm going to go back to Richie's place," Methos said blandly. "I didn't look in when I knew he wasn't there. He might have left some indication of where he was going."
"Sure." Joe picked the phone up. "Just one thing -- if he is there, now, give me a ring and I'll come have a word with him. Don't try to talk to him before I do."
"Of course not," Methos agreed. If Richie had come back, Methos had no intention of talking to him. Skinning him alive was a possibility, and kicking him into next week was another. He left the bar into the morning sunlight, pausing by his car as it occurred to him that, in simple justice, he'd have to tell Richie his assassination had been a thorough piece of work.
He could always do that after he'd skinned him.
Richie's apartment was a mess. Methos picked his way through the debris on the floor, frowning. It looked as if it had been tossed by a professional, but from what Methos knew of male American teenagers, that was probably what it always looked like. Pity. Tidy rooms were easier to search.
An hour later, Methos had discovered more than he wanted to know about Richie's passion for junk food and junk literature. He had also established that Richie had, at least, taken his sword with him. The boy wasn't completely witless, then. He had also, because it simplified the search, cleared up half the mess into a garbage bag.
The books he'd lent Richie were sitting in a tidy, visibly unread stack on the night-table beside the unmade bed. It was obvious Richie hadn't read them. None of their spines were broken.
The books Richie had been reading were all lying on the floor beside the bed, some open and face downwards, covers battered and dog-eared, and the spines cracking where Richie had bent them too far open. Methos picked them up one by one, stacking them carefully on the table. He didn't care to see books, even Anne Rice's rubbish, treated like that. Caxton, inventor of junk literature, had a lot to answer for.
Queen of the Damned. "It's a really good book," said a young, affronted voice. "What's wrong with Anne Rice?"
There's no such thing as vampires!
And they live in Toronto?
"Oh, you little idiot," Methos said aloud, staring down at the vampire on the cover. "They'll eat you alive."
Methos rang Joe from the airport. It seemed only fair.
"I'm fairly sure I know where Richie's gone."
"Great. Where?" Joe sounded relieved.
"Oh, that's my boarding call," Methos said, and put the phone down. It wasn't for another twenty minutes, but he didn't need to listen to Joe spluttering. He went to the bookstore, instead, and bought The Tale of the Body-Thief. It was sure to come in useful, in Toronto.
On long bike rides, Richie had found, miles could go by virtually on automatic pilot. This ride he'd found that happening more often than not. Miles went by, and hours, and Richie hadn't seen them. He was focussed on the feel of his hands gripping the handlebars, of his body moving with the balance of his machine, of the wind tearing at his hair. He never wore his helmet on long cross-country rides.
One thing, he thought, as he crossed the Toronto city boundary; he hadn't felt the buzz of another immortal any time in the past twenty-four hours. That was good. That was the only good thing about this trip. He'd never been to Toronto, and it didn't look worth the ride. But all he had to do was wait here a couple of days, and head back maybe by a different route, and Duncan would be home.
Duncan would be pissed at Richie for walking out on the dojo. But Richie had decided, the long blank day after Pierson had -- had done that to him, that he would rather Duncan sour at him for weeks than one more day of that.
Somewhere to stay for tonight and tomorrow. Somewhere cheap. Richie rode more slowly, looking round for motel signs. He turned off the road, and took another turning, and another, moving at random through the greyish city.
One direction always seemed better than another. Richie was beginning to think he needed to buy a street map, when he saw a bar sign. There'd be someone in there who could tell him where he could find a bed for the night. Maybe they'd even offer him a job. Anyway, he could get a drink. He was thirsty.
He pushed the doors of the bar open. The most beautiful woman in the world looked up as he came in, and smiled, and held out a hand. "Come here," she said, her voice like music. "Come here."
Richie was hardly aware how he crossed the floor. He might have floated. All he could see were her eyes, large and dark, fixed on him. The woman took his hands in hers, her grip surprisingly strong, and bent her head -- this all seemed perfectly natural -- to kiss his wrists.
Methos found him without difficulty. The plane touched down with still six hours of daylight left, and Methos had a lot of practice in finding him. He could probably have done it in less.
The Nightcrawler began broadcasting at midnight. Methos walked through the quiet corridors of the radio station, looking as if he knew where he was going. You could bluff your way into almost anywhere if only you knew how to look as if you belonged there, and Methos had a lot of practice in looking as if he belonged almost anywhere.
The studio door was closed, and the red light was on. Methos waited, watching through the glass window, until the Nightcrawler put on a record and switched his sound system to broadcast the music. Then he opened the door and went in.
The man looked up. His expression did not change. He leaned back in his chair and said, as casually, "Hello, Methos. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I wanted to bring you a present," Methos said. He leaned forward and dropped The Tale of the Body-Thief on the table in front of LaCroix. He waited, staring into the dead eyes. At last, LaCroix dropped his gaze and studied the cover. "Her prose style is appalling," he observed. "But they say it's the thought that counts. Thank you very much."
"You're welcome." Methos dropped into the chair in front of the table, and leaned back, studying LaCroix. "You're looking well. Very, very dead. How have you been keeping?"
"As usual." LaCroix spoke evenly. "How nice of you to inquire. May I ask what you're doing here?"
Methos smiled at him. "I've come to call in a favour," he said. "One of the many you owe me."
There was a pause. LaCroix sat still as if transfixed. At last he, too, smiled, the thin, closed-mouth, vampire smile.
"Who do you desire me to kill?"
"No one," Methos said. "I have a student. A young man. He's somewhere in this city, and I want him back."
"How did he come here?" LaCroix was still smiling.
"On a motorbike," Methos said.
"Of his own free will?"
Methos tilted his head, and stared LaCroix full in the eyes. "He's my student, and I want him back."
"If he is here," LaCroix said, "then he broke the truce. Really, Methos, you should know better. If someone has taken him, they have the right. How can I interfere?" He leaned forward, against Methos' gaze, his face still impassive. "Why should I?"
Methos sat forward abruptly, until they were almost nose to nose. He grinned. "Do you really want to stop owing me favours, Lucius? Do you want me to cancel your debt? I've known you so long, and you owe me so much, that I think of you almost as a friend. I'll cancel your debt forever. If that's what you really want. Is it?"
LaCroix had held himself still, but the smile had died from his face as Methos spoke. When he spoke, his voice was as dead as his eyes. "Very well. I heard that there was some excitement at a bar one of my fledglings owns. The Raven. I imagine that your student is proving most... entertaining."
"Thank you," Methos said, and leaned back in his chair again. "You'd better put another record on. Then you can think of an excuse to leave."
"My grandmother's funeral," LaCroix murmured. His hands were moving, busy on the console, but his gaze never left Methos' face.
Methos flickered a grin. "Or your own."
Richie lurched back to consciousness. His wrists burned. Someone was kneeling beside him, lapping at his throat.
"Leave that," a woman's voice said sharply. "We're not finished with him."
"It's my turn," a voice hissed, breathy against his neck. It tingled in an odd way.
"Wrists," the woman said, like an order. "He's ready."
It felt as if someone was kissing him on the insides of his wrists, two mouths, hard sharp kisses with teeth in them. It burned. Richie could feel his heart pounding. The most beautful woman in the world was leaning over him now, gazing into his eyes. "You love this," she said, gently, intensely.
He did. The burning felt good. He was falling into her eyes, loving it, loving her. It was like burning up in a quickening, an endless fall with the sound of her voice like music in the background.
He heard someone shouting something, remote and far away. His heart was floundering, as if it were trying to beat and couldn't. He felt empty, drained, light. The mouths were no longer sucking on his wrists, and what was worse, the woman was no longer there for him to fall into her eyes.
Someone was shouting. Someone was angry. It didn't matter. Richie slid sideways on to the floor, and died.
Methos was careful not to meet anyone's eyes as they crossed the dancefloor. LaCroix walked ahead of him, the dancers parting for him like the sea around a rock. Methos kept a careful two paces behind him, head bowed. Richie was dead.
As far as Methos could remember, it took nearly an hour to recover from dying from complete exsanguination. But if the vampires had been cautious, and not drained Richie completely, then he might recover more quickly. That would be useful. It would be a bit much to ask LaCroix to carry Richie out of the bar.
The woman behind the bar was drinking red wine. Well, probably not wine. "Hello," she said, to LaCroix. "Have you brought us another vintage?"
"No," LaCroix said. "I have come to collect the young one."
"Ah, too late," the woman said. She pushed the wine glass across the bar. "But you may taste him if you like. He was a little over-sweet, but quite strong."
"Where is he, Janette?" LaCroix asked. His voice was deadly.
"Nicholas came," Janette said. "You know his scrupulous ways. He took the boy home with him."
"Ah," LaCroix said. Methos wished he could see the vampire's face. LaCroix sounded very amused, and Methos didn't trust that vampire sense of humour. "So, my Nicholas wanted to drink undisturbed? But no one should drink alone. I believe we'll join him." He flicked a hand at Methos, turning from the bar. "Come."
Methos followed him. Nicholas was another of Lucius' fledglings, though not one Methos had ever met. This was proving to be a very long night.
Richie was woken by his heart beginning to thump. He couldn't move, though he struggled to do so, and someone leaned over him. "It's all right. You're safe now."
He was lying on the couch. "Mac?" he tried to ask. It still felt like he couldn't quite breathe. He coughed, rolled over, and reached out for his sword, landing on the floor on his face and struggling up to his knees. His eyes wouldn't focus yet. Where was his sword?
"It's all right," the same voice said, from further away. "You're safe."
Richie blinked, and the room was less blurred. It was nowhere he remembered, a big studio apartment with paintings all up one wall. A man was standing a few feet away from him, watching him. "It's all right," the man repeated. "You're safe here."
"Where am I?" Richie asked, blinking again. His eyes were focussing properly now, and he knew he'd never seen this apartment or this man before. The man wasn't an immortal. That was something.
"You're in my home," the man said evasively. "Do you know what you're doing in Toronto?"
"Not a lot," Richie said. "I just got in. I think I did."
"Yes -- early yesterday evening." The man came closer, and Richie shrank back against the couch. His wrists hurt. He wasn't wearing his jacket any more, just a t-shirt. The man stopped, and smiled a tight-lipped smile. "My name is Detective Nick Knight, of the Toronto police. Who are you?"
"Uh -- Richie Ryan. Look, Detective Knight, what happened? I wasn't speeding -- "
"No," Knight agreed. "You weren't. Richie, I have to ask you a few questions. Would you like to make yourself more comfortable?"
Abruptly, Richie felt like an idiot, crouching on the floor. The cop wasn't being unfriendly -- or not yet -- and Richie was fairly sure he hadn't done anything too serious inside Toronto city limits. He couldn't have. Richie was sitting on the couch, and Knight had sat down on the chair opposite, before Richie realised why he knew he couldn't have. He'd gone into that bar, and that woman had made an instant pass at him, and then...
"I died," Richie said out loud. He saw Knight looking at him, and grinned, and shrugged. "Sorry, Detective. Must have been a heavy party last night, you know how it is."
Richie stared. "What?"
"I need to know if you know something about yourself."
"Well, I've never been much on self-analysis, but -- "
"Do you know you're immortal?"
Richie stared at him. He hadn't felt the presence. So this guy couldn't be -- but Richie had been dead when they met, did you feel the buzz when you were dead? "Can I take a look at your wrists?" he asked.
Knight frowned at him, looking puzzled, but he held out his hands. Richie grabbed them, turning them over. The inside of his wrist was blank skin, no tattoo. Richie stared up into the other man's face.
There was no pulsebeat in the wrists he held.
None at all.
"What the hell -- ?" Richie let go. He looked down at his own wrists, and realised why they hurt. There were puncture marks over the veins, paired punctures, like large twin needles. Like fangs.
"Oh fuck," Richie said. He laughed. "You know, I knocked myself out getting here telling myself you didn't exist, and you do, and now what do I do?" He couldn't stop himself from laughing, somehow. "You know, this is really crazy, you don't exist, you really don't -- " He was giggling so hard it sounded, even to his own ears, like sobs.
"Yes, I do," Knight said, and slapped him. Richie gulped suddenly and stopped. Knight shook his head. "I suppose that answers the question."
Richie rubbed his face. "Yeah," he said, eyeing Knight warily. "And I suppose you really are a vampire?"
"I'm afraid so." Knight was eyeing Richie. "How long have you been an immortal?"
"About a year and a half," Richie said. "How long have you been a vampire?"
"About eight centuries," Knight said. He sighed. "Why did you come here?"
"Why not?" Richie said. "Eight centuries? Eight hundred years? Really?"
"Why did you come here, Richie?" Knight repeated.
Richie rubbed at his wrists. "It seemed like a good idea at the time?" And then he felt the presence closing in on him. He was on his feet, staring round him. Knight was suddenly at the door; Richie hadn't seen him move.
"Nick Knight," he said to the intercom. He turned and looked at Richie, frowning. "Don't worry," he said, "it's your teacher."
Mac came for me. Richie let out a long breath of utter relief. He sat down on the couch, trying to look relaxed. Hi, Mac --
The door opened and a tall pale man walked in. A pace behind him, Adam Pierson stepped into the room, his gaze lowered. Richie was on his feet and scrambled across the couch, putting it between him and Pierson.
No one was looking at him, he realised after a heartbeat of utter terror. Pierson wasn't looking at anyone, and the tall pale man and Detective Knight was staring at each other.
"Nicholas," the newcomer said, caressingly. "Janette mentioned you had confiscated her toy."
"There's a truce between us and them, LaCroix. I don't want it broken."
"I think it has been broken already," LaCroix said. "Or have I had a lapse of memory? Did we invite him here?"
"He didn't know what he was doing." Knight looked beyond LaCroix, at Pierson. "You didn't warn him not to come here, did you?"
"I suppose you could say this situation is my fault," Pierson said. He sounded curiously unmoved. He still didn't look at Knight. "I apologise for the trouble I've caused." He sounded no more apologetic than he ever did. "However, I want my student back."
Knight moved in closer, circling Pierson, staring from him to LaCroix. "And you're helping him? Altruism, LaCroix? It seems unlike you."
"An obligation," LaCroix said. "I owe this one a favour. And besides," he smiled, tight-lipped but suddenly, appallingly charming, "you're right, Nicholas. The truce is too useful to be broken for such an inferior vintage." He looked across the room and Richie froze. The pale eyes seemed to assess him, sum him up, as if he were no more than a dessert the man wasn't interested in sampling.
And then, again somehow without Richie seeing him move, Knight was between Richie and LaCroix. He spoke, however, to Pierson. "You can both go at dawn."
"Thank you," Pierson said. He glanced sideways, without lifting his gaze, at LaCroix. "I appreciate your help. Don't think I'll forget it. And I appreciate your caution, Nicholas, but I think that I and my student will go now." For the first time he lifted his gaze and looked directly at Richie. "We have a lot of things to discuss."
Richie's hands clenched on the back of the couch. He shook his head, violently.
"He doesn't seem particularly eager to go with you," LaCroix observed. "Perhaps we should let him stay with us. Nicholas would appreciate a fresher source than he uses at present."
Knight had turned and was looking at him. "Richie?" he said. He was frowning. "It's all right. I think you and your teacher would be safer here till dawn, but you can leave with him now if you want to."
Richie swallowed. He could see Pierson, calmly impassive, staring at him with cold warning eyes. LaCroix' eyes were flat and deadly. Knight was half-smiling, looking puzzled, and Richie choked, "Please -- can I stay here -- ?"
"What?" Pierson stepped forward, glaring. "Shut up, Richie. LaCroix, we're going. Now."
Knight turned and looked at Pierson. "You're not taking him anywhere against his will."
"He's my student."
"He's not your slave," Knight said, and moved, with the same dislocating swiftness, to stand beside Richie. He turned Richie to face him, and Richie felt himself falling again, though it seemed he was standing still.
Methos glowered at LaCroix and said, under his breath, "Call him off."
LaCroix smiled thinly. "Nicholas has always been... rather independent."
"Your fledgling?" Methos said, in disbelief.
"Your student?" LaCroix retorted.
Nicholas was staring at Richie, the long vampire stare that overwhelmed the will. There were no vampires old enough to have power over Methos, but it still made him deeply uncomfortable to see it being done to another immortal. Nicholas asked, gently, "Richie, who's your teacher?"
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," Richie said, softly.
Nicholas turned and looked Methos over. Methos ducked his gaze. Out of the corner of his eye he caught LaCroix looking very amused.
"I don't think you're Duncan MacLeod," Nicholas said.
"No," LaCroix said lazily, "his name's Adam Pierson."
"Look at me," Nicholas said bluntly. "Why are you claiming that he's your student?"
"I don't think so," Methos said, keeping his eyes down. "He is my student."
"Have you killed Duncan MacLeod?"
"It's occurred to me." Methos smiled. More and more often, recently. "MacLeod gave me Richie. I'm looking after him."
LaCroix laughed. "Not very effectively, it seems."
"I do my best," Methos murmured, through his teeth.
"Why did you come to Toronto?" Nicholas asked Richie.
Methos held his breath. He was tempted to kill Richie, right here, right now, but spilling blood in front of vampires was one hell of a risk. LaCroix would control himself, but Nicholas was an unknown quantity.
Richie's voice was flat and almost expressionless. "Because immortals don't go to Toronto."
"So why did you come to Toronto?" Nicholas asked again.
"I wanted to go somewhere immortals don't go."
"Why did you want to go somewhere immortals don't go?"
"I was afraid," Richie said. "He was after me."
"Who is 'he'?" Nicholas asked. "Who was after you?"
"Pierson," Richie said. "Adam Pierson."
Methos glared at the floor during this questioning, for want of anything better to glare at. The kid had a damned inconvenient gift for being a bloody troublemaker. Even under vampire influence. Adam Pierson after him. Too bloody right.
Nicholas swung round and came across the room in biting strides. "Look at me," he said harshly.
Methos shrugged. He was angry. "If you insist." He lifted his gaze to Nicholas, staring him full in the eyes.
There was a pause. Nicholas stared at Methos, long and hard. Methos smiled. If this had been a hunt, Nicholas would be prey long since, and LaCroix, at least, knew it. "How old are you?" Nicholas asked at last, in a whisper.
"Older than you," Methos said. He glanced at LaCroix. "Older than your master."
"He's not my master," Nicholas said. "And Richie isn't your slave."
"Duncan MacLeod is Richie's teacher," Methos said. "MacLeod gave responsibility for Richie to me. I am taking Richie with me, and we're leaving. Now. Don't worry, neither of us will be back."
LaCroix circled Nicholas, and strolled across the room. He lifted Richie's chin with one hand. "Richie."
Nicholas glanced at Methos, who shrugged. The worst Richie could say had been said, and LaCroix knew better than to harm anything that belonged to Methos.
"Richie," LaCroix said, mellifluously. "Who is Adam Pierson?"
"He's a friend of Mac's," Richie said.
"Where is Duncan MacLeod?"
"Where do you live?"
"Why did MacLeod go away without you?"
"I don't know."
"How long has MacLeod been your teacher?"
"Since Tessa died."
"Was Tessa your teacher?"
"Tessa was MacLeod's mortal lover," Methos said. "She and Richie were killed by the same man. I don't see the point of this, LaCroix."
"Nicholas has a passion for justice, Adam. I'm just trying to make things a little clearer. Once the young man confirms your story, how can he deny you your right?" LaCroix smiled. Methos stared back at him. He would not normally over-rule LaCroix in front of one of his own fledglings. LaCroix was too useful. But he would like to be sure LaCroix understood that his usefulness was not unlimited. To LaCroix, an immortal this young was as easily controlled as any mortal, and Richie was staring blindly away, his voice clear, his answers monosyllabic.
"Richie, how many months has MacLeod been your teacher?" LaCroix asked.
"Thirteen," Richie said.
"What?" Nicholas moved towards them. Methos followed.
"Be quiet, Nicholas," LaCroix said. He tugged Richie's face up again. "How many months have you been immortal?"
"Eighteen," Richie said.
"What other teacher have you had for those five months?" LaCroix glanced over at Methos.
"No one," Richie said.
LaCroix glanced back at Richie, his face expressing faint, uninterested surprise. "Who was your teacher for the five months Duncan MacLeod left you?"
"Mac didn't leave me," Richie said. "He told me to leave."
"He did what?" Brushing LaCroix aside, Methos grabbed Richie's shoulders. "MacLeod did what?"
Richie jerked back. Without warning, Pierson was right in front of him, his hands gripping Richie's shoulders. Knight was further away, and the tall pale man, LaCroix, was very close. Richie brought his hands up to break Pierson's hold, and Pierson let go.
"Richie," he said, cold and angry, "has MacLeod ever told you to leave him?"
"Yes!" Richie edged backwards, keeping his eyes on Pierson's face, hoping to see some warning of the moment Pierson would strike.
"When?" Pierson took a step closer.
"After I took my first head!" Richie swallowed. "I had to leave. It's the rules."
LaCroix laughed. Pierson looked suddenly, blazingly furious. Richie jumped back, falling over a table, and turned the fall into a roll, coming to his feet by the stairs to the loft. He had moved so fast on instinct, he was three stairs up before he realised that Pierson hadn't followed through.
"Richie," Pierson said. He was still standing by the couch. "What did you think I was going to do to you?"
"You were going to kill me," Richie got out, past a dry throat. He was clinging to the rail, shaking.
"So," LaCroix said, to Pierson, "your kind now throw fledglings from the nest after their first kill. Don't you find it a rather wasteful practice?"
Pierson glanced at LaCroix, but said nothing. He looked up at Richie, shaking his head slowly. "Richie, I just want to get you back to Seacouver. Will you please come down from there, and let's go?"
"I don't think you have the right to take him," Knight said. He was standing behind LaCroix and Pierson, looking up at Richie with an odd expression on his face. "Your claim on him is that Duncan MacLeod gave you responsibility for him. But MacLeod forfeited responsibility when he made his fledgling leave."
Richie stared back at Knight. He didn't particularly want to stay here, but no way was he leaving with Pierson, no matter how mild he sounded. Knight seemed to be arguing on the right side. Knight smiled at him, and said, to Pierson, "If I remember the rules, a young immortal can be claimed as student by the first immortal he meets who wants him. I claim him."
"You're dead," Pierson snapped.
"I'm immortal," Knight said.
Pierson turned, taking his eyes off Richie, who sat back down on the stair, still gripping at the handrail, shaking. "No," Pierson said, and he sounded quiet and mildly amused, "you're dead. Believe me. Lay one hand on my student, and you'll find out how dead."
"Last time I fought someone like you," Knight said, "they couldn't get up after a bullet in the throat."
"You have never hunted anyone like me," Pierson said. He still sounded amused. He hadn't even drawn his sword; he was standing with his arms by his sides, staring at Knight, and Richie could see when Knight stopped smiling, and began to look strangely wary.
LaCroix interrupted. "I think we can discuss this."
Pierson glanced away from Nicholas, and looked LaCroix up and down. "I hope you're right."
"Richie," said LaCroix, in an oddly compelling, mellifluous voice.
"Lucius," Pierson said, in the tone of a warning.
LaCroix shrugged. His voice changed, becoming more impersonal. "Richie, who do you belong to?"
Richie's hands tightened on the rail. "Nobody," he spat.
"Wrong answer," Pierson said. He sounded irritated. "Wrong question. He means who is your teacher, Richie."
"I beg your pardon," LaCroix said, flatly. "Richie, who is your teacher?"
"Mac," Richie said.
"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod?" LaCroix inquired, and at Richie's nod, turned to Knight. "You've had your answer, Nicholas. The boy isn't yours to claim."
Knight looked from Richie to Pierson and back again. His face was stubborn, and grimly wary. "I'm not handing the boy over to someone he's that terrified by. If you want him, Pierson, you have to go through me."
"Fine," Pierson said. "If you want it that way."
"No." LaCroix moved, abruptly, dislocatingly, and was suddenly between Pierson and Knight. "Nicholas," he said, his voice caressing the name. "Don't be a fool. These aren't mortals. Even if you won this fight, what are you going to do with the boy? Keep him shut up here from sunset to sunrise, for a thousand years?"
"No," Knight said. "I'm going to return him to his teacher."
"Oh, I like this," Pierson said. He was grinning. "You're going to walk into one of our cities? Or were you planning to invite MacLeod to come to Toronto?" He stopped grinning, and added, looking thoughtful, "Though he just might. Then again, he would bring a few friends. When was the last time we invaded one of your cities, LaCroix?"
"About three hundred years ago."
"Ah yes, London. I believe most of it burned. Wooden cities are so vulnerable. So are vampires with no hiding-place after sunrise." There was still nothing but mild amusement in Pierson's voice, but it was cold. "Give it up, Nicholas. Hand Richie over. I don't intend to do anything with him but take him back to Seacouver and give him back to MacLeod."
"No," Knight repeated. With another of those dislocating moves, he was suddenly on the stair below Richie. Richie stood up, nervously.
Pierson walked over to the foot of the stair and stood, looking up at Knight, in silence. LaCroix didn't move. He was watching both Knight and Pierson with a peculiar, chilly intensity.
At last, Pierson let out a breath. He looked over Knight's head, directly at Richie.
"I don't want to fight Nicholas," Pierson said. "I don't want to break the truce. I know how scared of me you are, Richie, but I want you to consider the consequences of accepting his protection. This could mean war between immortals and vampires, and when we fight, mortals die too. Are you that frightened?"
Richie fought to keep his voice steady and succeeded only in sounding brashly flippant. "The trouble is I don't know I believe it. Any of it. I mean, vampires? Us and them fighting some kind of immortal war? What is this, some kind of Anne Rice novel?"
LaCroix snarled. His face changed, lips peeling back from teeth, eyes glowing, growling in his throat, and then the beast vanished, and the man stood there, smiling a tight-lipped smile. "What don't you believe?"
"All right," Richie said, his voice shaking. "All right, I take it back."
"Excellent," LaCroix said.
"Richie?" Knight asked.
Richie was shuddering. He uncurled his fingers from the stair-rail. He had clutched it so hard there were marks across his palm. Whatever Pierson meant to do to him, he couldn't let Knight die for him. He couldn't. Richie moved round Knight, going down the stairs. On the stair at the foot, he turned and looked back at Knight. The man's face was deeply impassive, but nothing could conceal the fact that he was also deeply relieved.
"Thanks," Richie said.
Richie let go of the stair-rail, and went across to Pierson, who nodded. "Let's go."
"It's nearly dawn," Knight said. "You might as well wait for daylight."
"Yes," Pierson murmured. "You find the strangest people at Toronto airport, waiting for night flights." He glanced at LaCroix. "Are you staying for the day?"
"I think not," LaCroix said, with a look at Knight. "It's been a most -- interesting visit. I look forward to our next meeting."
"Yes," Pierson said, "I'm sure you do. Sleep well. Pleasant dreams."
LaCroix smiled, a gleaming flash of teeth. He was gone. The door was swinging shut, though Richie had never seen him leave.
"Is he gone?" Richie asked.
Knight glanced round the room briefly. "Yes. Pierson, I want to talk to you."
Pierson shrugged, smiling. "Talk."
Pierson glanced at Richie. "If you're thinking of running," he said pleasantly, "these streets are dangerous after dark. Stay here. I don't want to have to rescue you again." He went up the stairs after Knight, leaving Richie alone.
Upstairs there was a minute bathroom and a slightly larger bedroom. Nicholas led Methos into the bedroom and shut the door. "I can still hear the boy downstairs," he said.
"I think Richie's witlessness is limited," Methos said. "At least, I hope so. What is it, Nicholas?"
"Why is Richie so scared of you?"
"I made a mistake," Methos admitted. "His training seems to have skipped a number of basic lessons. I assumed he understood the essentials."
"What happened?" Nicholas was frowning at him.
"I killed him," Methos said briefly. "And he didn't know why."
Nicholas laughed, almost disbelievingly. "You killed him."
"It's what we do."
"I know," Nicholas said dryly. "Do you still fight with swords?"
Methos smiled. "Are you anxious to find out?"
Nicholas shook his head. "Duncan MacLeod. What are you going to do about him?"
"None of your business," Methos said, pleasantly.
"Among us," Nicholas said after a long staring moment, "someone who abandoned their fledgling after the first kill would be -- " he paused, his eyes quite dead.
"Hunted down?" Methos asked. "Stakes, garlic, fire? Go on, I'm interested."
"Excluded," Nicholas said.
"You kill your own fledglings, if they fail."
Nicholas showed his fangs, briefly. He looked sad and grim. "Sometimes we have to. But we don't live by killing our own kind."
"No, you live by preying on mortals. Somehow I find being lectured on ethics by a vampire rather tiresome, Nicholas. Or have you become vegetarian?"
"I don't hunt humans. Not any more."
Methos smiled. "If you say so."
"I suppose I can't expect you to believe me," Nicholas said, almost expressionlessly. He added, after a moment, "All right. What are you going to do about MacLeod?"
"That's our business," Methos said. "Not yours. Was that all?"
Nicholas shook his head. "No. Are you just going to hand him back to a teacher who failed him?"
"That isn't your concern," Methos said, as gently as possible. "It's mine." He glanced round, tapping the sunbed. "What an interesting alternative to coffins."
"I saved Richie's life," Nicholas said. "That gives me a right to know he isn't going back to get killed."
"I saved your life," Methos said, and smiled. "That gives me the right to tell you to shut up."
"When did you save my life?"
"Just now, on the stairs, when I got Richie out from behind you." Methos stared Nicholas in the eyes. Involuntarily, the vampire glanced away, taking a step back. Methos nodded. "As I said. I saved your life. Richie is my responsibility, not yours."
"All right," Nicholas said. He was looking at Methos again, frowning, not quite meeting the older man's eyes. He almost laughed. "I suppose if you walked into a vampire city to save him, you won't let it be wasted effort."
"Something like that." Methos had gone after Richie mainly because if he let the kid die in Toronto, Duncan would be after his head. And if he managed to take Duncan's head, then Connor would be next in line. It had seemed simpler just to cut out the tangled mess and save Richie. "My hand's over him. I won't take it back."
Nicholas nodded. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Methos tilted Nicholas a smile. "Was that all?"
"No -- wait a minute." Nicholas glanced, involuntarily, from side to side. "What the hell kind of hold do you have on LaCroix?"
"Not one you could use," Methos said briefly. He smiled. "I saved his life." Every time we meet.
"And he's grateful?"
"He feels a sense of obligation," Methos said. "I don't think gratitude quite comes into it." He gestured towards the door. "After you."
Richie shut the fridge door, hastily, as they came downstairs. "We'll get something to eat at the airport," Methos said. "I wouldn't touch anything in that fridge."
"There's nothing but bottles in it." Richie looked past him at Nicholas. "Uh, I guess they're not... red wine?"
"I doubt it," Methos said.
"Cow." Nicholas was looking Richie over.
"I have an arrangement with an abbatoir. It's cow blood. Are you all right?"
"Fine," Richie said, a little too heartily. "Uh, I dunno, I would guess you'd go for some kind of deal with the local blood bank?"
Nicholas shook his head. He finished his study of Richie, and said, very formally, "Good fortune in the years before you, Richie. God be with you."
"Uh, yeah." Richie stuck his hand out. "Thanks for all your help. Really."
Nicholas glanced down at the hand, for an instant looking startled, but then reaching out to take it with his own, shaking it briefly, letting it go. "Any time," he said, and grinned, showing his teeth. "But don't come back."
"Oh. No." Richie swallowed. "No, it was kind of an experience, but -- it's one of these once-in-a-lifetime things, you know?"
"Yes," Methos and Nicholas said, together, and looked at each other. Nicholas had a rueful smile. He looked quite human, for a vampire, which made Methos instantly suspicious.
"There's just one thing," Richie said. "Um -- my bike."
"You left it parked by the Raven," Nicholas said, rather than asked, and at Richie's nod, "I'll get the Toronto PD to transport it back to the Seacouver PD. Report it stolen when you get home."
"Yeah, thanks." Richie looked relieved.
Methos shook his head. "And your sword?"
"I left it on the bike."
"I know." Methos sighed. "Not that it would have done you any good. Here."
Nicholas stared at the swords, his eyebrows rising. "How are you planning to get those on the plane? How do you people get away with carrying those things round all the time?"
"Good paperwork," Methos said. "The trick with bureaucracy is always to work with it, not against it. Come on, Richie. Let's get out of here."
It was Tuesday morning. Richie only realised this when he saw the earlyedition papers on the bookstall at the airport. Only Tuesday?
"It was a long night," Pierson said shortly. It was the first thing he had said to Richie since they left the converted warehouse where Knight lived. He glanced at his watch. "Come on."
The airport restaurant was virtually deserted at this hour in the morning. Pierson glanced at the menu without interest. "Coffee," he told the waitress, and looked at Richie. "Whatever you want. I'm buying."
Richie shrugged. He'd almost stopped feeling hungry. There was something about sitting across the table from a man who'd killed you that spoilt your appetite.
Pierson glanced down the menu again. "Two coffees, then." He looked across at Richie. "Burger and fries?"
"King-size cheese burger, large fries."
When it arrived, Richie ate it, only realising when he was half-way through that Pierson hadn't, yet, made any comment on Richie's table-manners. He glanced over at Pierson. The other man was sitting with his hands wrapped round the coffee-cup, watching Richie thoughtfully. When he saw Richie looking at him, he half-smiled.
"We need to talk," Pierson said. "About a good many things. But I think it can wait till I get you home." He glanced at Richie's wrists. "I'd better buy you a long-sleeved shirt."
"Why -- " Richie started, and choked to a halt.
Pierson looked inquiring. After a moment, he said, not sarcastically, "Yes, what is it?"
"Why haven't these healed yet?"
"They will. Vampire bites don't heal fast. It might take a week or so."
"Finish your burger."
After a moment, Richie picked up the burger again and took another mouthful. He ate most of the fries, too, in the end. Even with Pierson watching every move he made, he was hungry.
The only place that sold shirts in the airport was a tourist rip-off store. Pierson paid an extortionate price for a long-sleeved sweat-shirt with a picture of a wolf, and Richie pulled it on with relief. The air-conditioning was freezing.
On the plane, Pierson pushed Richie into the middle seat, and took the aisle seat himself. The man sitting by the window was a business-suited clone, who looked at Richie's sweat-shirt with mild disapproval and disinterest, and went back to reading through papers from his briefcase.
Richie barely stayed awake through the flight-attendant's safety warnings. Before they took off, he was asleep.
When Richie woke, he was leaning on someone's shoulder, the arm of the seat hard against his side. He was, sleepily, bemused that the business-clone had let him collapse like this.
Then he realised he could see the man with the briefcase out of his half-open eyes. He had slumped the other way in his sleep. His head was pillowed on Pierson's shoulder.
He sat up with a jerk and stared at Pierson, who shrugged at him, looking faintly startled. "You've got another ten minutes before I was going to wake you for the landing," he said.
"Thanks, I'm not tired," Richie said, and yawned involuntarily.
"Have it your own way." Pierson said nothing more to him, and nothing else at all, all the way home to the dojo, except to give the cab-driver the address.
The sign Richie had left on the door four days ago was still there. Under "Closed Till Further Notice", another hand had written "Due To A Recent Bereavement". Richie stared at it, and then at Pierson, who was heading towards the elevator. Pierson glanced back. "Come on."
The loft was a mess. There were bits of rope still lying on the floor by the couch, and stuffing coming out the holes that the bullets had made.
Pierson was pulling his coat off. He kicked off his shoes and sat down on the bed. "I'm going to sleep. Have a shower. Help yourself to MacLeod's clothes. Have something to eat. Clear that stuff up. You won't wake me. But don't go anywhere." He yawned, skull-splittingly. "Because if I have to come after you again, you'll regret it." He rolled over, pulling the coverlet up over himself, and as far as Richie could tell, was instantly asleep.
When Methos woke, it was nearly midnight. Changing timezones twice in twenty-four hours always jumbled his internal clock, but he thought he must have slept at least twelve hours. He couldn't remember whether he'd altered his watch, either forward or back, but somewhere it was nearly midnight.
The loft looked a little tidier. Richie had stacked some of the mess, and swept the floor. Methos couldn't see him. He pushed himself to his feet, stretching luxuriously. He had the feeling that Richie wasn't far away.
The kid was curled up at one end of the couch -- the undamaged end -- fast asleep. Methos looked down at him a moment. Well, it would give him some time to think out what to say to Richie. By the time the plane had touched down in Seacouver, he'd been so tired he was surprised he could walk straight.
A little later, showered and changed out of the clothes he'd slept in, Methos wandered back to check on Richie. Still asleep. Even sleeping, though, the kid looked tense, as if poised for action. You got that way in enemy territory, when sleep was a necessary but terrible risk to take.
MacLeod kept a well-stocked freezer. Methos wandered back to the kitchen area and began to put together a large meal. He was starving, and Richie, whenever he woke up, probably wouldn't be in much better state.
Richie didn't wake up until Methos started chopping vegetables. At the first thump of the cleaver against the chopping block, the kid jerked to his feet, grabbing up his sword. He was facing Methos across the kitchen counter, his sword out in a classic defence position, before his eyes really seemed to wake up.
Methos smiled and waved the cleaver at him. "Thanks, but I prefer this for cooking with."
"What?" Richie blinked the last sleep from his eyes. "Uh... sorry." His sword fell, and he backed off a few steps. He was wearing a shirt and a pair of jeans, both a size too big for him. "Sorry."
Methos went back to chopping onions. "Supper should be ready in about half an hour, if you want to take a shower or something."
"I, I already showered... I didn't mean to go to sleep."
"You had a busy day yesterday." Methos grinned. "So did I."
"Supper?" Richie looked doubtfully at the pile of vegetables Methos was cleaving into splinters. "For me too?"
"Aren't you hungry?"
"Yeah..." Richie swallowed, and managed a grin. "Mac says I'm always hungry."
"I did enough for four. It should feed both of us." Methos gestured at the stereo. "Put on something to listen to, if you can find anything that isn't opera."
"Got it," Richie said, looking very relieved, and went off to look along the CD shelves.
He busied himself along there for long enough, as Methos had thought he would, for Methos to finish chopping the vegetables and tip them into the wok. Eventually the sound of Freddie Mercury singing filled the loft. Richie came back, saying "Didn't know Mac had all that Springsteen and Queen."
"He didn't. I gave it to him. Never could stand opera."
"Me either," Richie said. He still looked awkward, standing there, looking as if he would rather be almost anywhere else.
"Spanish red, I think, with this," Methos said. "Look in that cupboard and find a bottle with Rioja gran reserve on the label. Get it open and find the glasses and plates; it'll be done in five minutes."
"Sure." Richie edged past Methos, careful not to touch him. He glanced down into the wok. "What is it?"
"Do we eat it with chopsticks?"
"If you want," Methos observed dryly. "But I intend to use a fork." He bit down on a laugh, keeping his face straight and solemn. He wanted Richie to relax. It would be easier that way.
They settled themselves at either end of the couch, plates in laps, the opened bottle and the glasses on the low table. Methos poured the wine, and passed one cup to Richie. He lifted his own. "Good health."
"Cheers," Richie said automatically, taking a drink, and looking surprised and pleased at the taste.
"We begin," Methos said, after he'd tasted the paella and made certain it was up to his usual standard, "with what you did to me on Friday... don't drop the glass."
Richie put the glass down on the table. He was as far back along the couch as it was possible to go, and his face was white, though his chin was tilted defiantly. "What are you going to do?" His voice wasn't very steady.
"What I'm doing," Methos said, through another mouthful of paella, "is appraising it." He swallowed. "Shooting me was good, though waiting till I'd turned my back on you would have been even better. And I don't know what MacLeod's going to say about the couch, but that's not my problem. The heroin overdose was inspired." He waved his fork at Richie. "You must have got hold of some good stuff -- it took three days. Your knots were almost useless. Once I'd finally died and come round again, it only took me a few minutes to get loose. Of course, I've had practice. Going to Toronto was a bad mistake, but you know that. If you needed to get away from me, holy ground somewhere outside the city would have been your best option. Still, apart from that, not bad."
Richie was sitting very still, his fork buried somewhere in his plate. His throat was working. He didn't say anything.
"What's the problem?" Methos took a large forkful of paella and chewed appreciatively. "Don't you like it? It's not poisoned."
Richie started to laugh. It sounded as if it hurt him. When he started shaking, Methos retrieved the plate from his lap and set it on the table beside his wine-glass. Richie leaned forward, head bowing, giggles like sobs breaking in his throat. It went on for quite some time. Methos watched, and ate paella.
"Sorry," Richie managed, wiping his hand across his eyes. "I just -- I thought -- "
"You thought that if I'd break your jaw for being five minutes late, and kill you twice for not reading books you'd been told to read, that I'd do something unthinkably hideous to you for killing me." Methos shook his head. "Sorry, Richie. I'm all out of unthinkably hideous for the time being. You'll have to make do with paella." He pointed at the plate. "If it's cold, there's more in the wok."
Richie picked up his plate and again and took a massive forkful. "Tastes all right," he mumbled, through his mouthful.
"Good. Don't try to talk with your mouth full. You'll choke. We have a lot to discuss, and it's hard to have a meaningful conversation with a dead man." He paused thoughtfully. "Unless it's a vampire... no, I very rarely have meaningful conversations with vampires, either."
Richie picked up his glass and took a healthy swallow of the wine. Methos poured him some more. Cautiously, Richie asked, "Uh... why did you do it? Break my jaw and..." he stopped. "Were you pissed with me or something?"
"No," Methos said. He finished his paella and put the empty plate on the table. "Richie... the first thing you have to understand is something very basic. Listen to me carefully." Richie nodded, looking up from his plate. Methos waited until he had Richie's full attention, and said, very distinctly, "Duncan MacLeod is an arsehole."
"What?" Richie looked blank.
"An honourable arsehole, a chivalrous arsehole, an arsehole who can handle a sword like no one else on earth, but an arsehole. An arsehole who can't teach."
Richie was still staring blankly. "But Mac..."
Methos sighed, muttering under his breath "I thought this would be the difficult bit."
"Mac's..." Richie swallowed. "But..." He looked very uncertain. "Look, I know Mac's not that good at explaining stuff, but..."
"Oh, you've noticed."
"But he's a lot better than me at everything. He can't -- " Richie stumbled over it, and shrugged. "It's hard for him to get down to my level. I know that. He's taught me a lot, though. He's been really good to me. I mean, you know, if it wasn't for him, I'd be dead."
Methos tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling. He sighed. After a moment, he looked back at Richie. "Because of him, you nearly died yesterday. Monday. Can you remember that far back?"
"That wasn't Mac's fault." Richie looked as if he were biting back the impulse to say "It was yours."
"No?" Methos picked up his glass and took a thoughtful mouthful. "Richie, I made a very bad mistake with you last week, for which I'm sorry. I didn't realise I'd scared you. And I shouldn't have."
"You killed me," Richie said, with disbelief.
"Yes," Methos agreed. "But you're immortal."
"I know that," Richie said indignantly.
"Then why were you so scared because I'd killed you?"
There was a pause. Richie was shaking his head. "But -- "
"What scares you about dying?"
"I don't want to die!"
"Why not?" Methos finished his glass with a flourish and set it down on the table. "You don't want to lose your head. But what's so frightening about dying? Are you scared when you cut your finger?"
"I'll heal," Richie said. "Anyway, it's different."
"You healed when I ran you through the heart. Half an hour later, you were talking to me." Methos frowned. "Though I didn't think much of what you had to say. Richie, what's the first lesson? What's the first thing an immortal learns?"
"Well," Richie shrugged. "How to handle a sword."
Methos leaned back and exchanged looks with the ceiling again. "That was the first thing MacLeod taught you?" he asked, in the tone of one who already knows the answer. "Yes, of course. But what's the first thing you learned? You were shot. Then you opened your eyes again, and you were still alive. What did you learn, in that moment?"
It seemed so obvious, that Richie hesitated, wondering if it was a trick question. "That... that I can't die?"
"Right!" Methos laughed aloud. "Dead right! So to speak."
"But that's... that's not a lesson."
"It's the first lesson. It's the first thing we all have to learn to live with. It's what MacLeod should have cut into you, from the start. And I'll bet he just handed you a sword and started you on fencing lessons."
"Well, yeah." Richie looked uncertain. "Well, after he'd thrown me round the dojo a few times. It still seems like that's the first thing you really need to know. I mean, what if some immortal comes after you and whacks you, right at the start?"
"'Whacks you'?" Methos sighed. "It's always amazed me how fast languages degenerate. You learn Latin, and next thing you know, everyone's speaking Italian. Never mind. If an older immortal comes after your head, your teacher is supposed to 'whack' them on your behalf." He frowned. "I thought MacLeod didn't buy this place for a couple of months after Tessa died?"
"No, I had to sell the antique store first. He was looking round for a bit before he thought of this place."
"So where did he give you your first lessons?"
"Here. After he moved in."
Methos was conscious of a sudden, flowering rage. He hadn't let it out to play in well over two thousand years, but the impulse was still there. With some calmer part of his mind, he noticed that Richie had shifted back to the far end of the couch again, but he was too furious to say anything reassuring. "Just what did that arsehole do for the first two months?" he shouted.
Richie had stopped eating again. He said in a small voice, "He was really upset after Tessa died..."
"Oh, sure, of course, that's a wonderful excuse. That's really wonderful. Tessa was mortal, she was going to die someday, and MacLeod knew that. He knew that when he took up with her. You're his student."
"Well," Richie swallowed. Methos realised, with a shock, that the kid wasn't far off tears. "Mac never exactly wanted me for a student. I just... I needed his help. Mac's always been really good to me. He's my friend."
With an effort, Methos stilled his rage. "We won't argue about that," he said carefully, and then shook his head, contradicting himself. "No. We will. If MacLeod didn't want to teach you himself, he should have found you another teacher. Think about it, Richie. He's done the very least he could. He's taught you how to be a passable swordsman, but that's nothing for him -- MacLeod likes playing with swords. He's been playing with you."
"He's my friend," Richie repeated, and his voice cracked.
"Some friend," Methos said sarcastically. "Get it into your head, Richie. MacLeod had obligations toward you, and as far as I can see, he hasn't met one of them. What's this about him throwing you out?"
"What?" Richie stared.
"You told us about it Monday night, if you remember. MacLeod threw you out after you took your first head, and told you it was the rules."
"Not exactly," Richie said uncertainly. "He just told me to leave. I figured it was part of the rules he hadn't told me yet. I keep running into things like that." He smiled, as if at himself. "I mean, Mac probably picked everything up first go, so he doesn't always go over everything."
"There are only two rules you can't break," Methos said. "And even Duncan must have told you those. You can't interfere in a combat once it's started, and you can never kill on holy ground." He paused. "He did tell you those, didn't he? He didn't just expect you to pick that up as you went along?"
"Well, I knew those before I was immortal," Richie said. "I'd been living with Mac for over a year by then."
Methos leaned back and addressed the ceiling. "Let me see if I have this straight. After two months of feeling sorry for himself, MacLeod finally gives Richie some sword lessons. About four months after that, Richie takes his first head and MacLeod throws him out. About five months later, MacLeod graciously agrees to take Richie back, which amounts to giving Richie more sword lessons and letting him work for MacLeod." He stopped, and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said, to the ceiling. "I still don't see where Richie's debt to MacLeod comes in." He looked at Richie. "Unless you borrowed money off him? No?"
"No," Richie said, looking thoroughly confused. "Mac won't lend me money. Says I've got to earn it for myself."
"Sanctimonious bastard," Methos muttered. "That's the last time I buy him a beer."
Richie put his plate out of the way on the table, and visibly, summoned up the courage to ask a question. "Pierson -- why don't you like him?"
"I do like him." Methos was startled. "What makes you think I don't? I think he's been a complete bastard to you, but that's your problem." He paused. "Of course, Duncan gave me responsibility for you. Which makes it my problem." He hesitated, turning it over in his mind. "My hand's over you, for the moment. I could refuse to take it back."
Richie looked at him, and said nervously, "What d'you mean?"
"Keep you as my student."
"Why would you want to?" Richie was pressed against the far end of the couch.
"Well," Methos said, with a sudden mischievous grin, "Duncan's always telling me I've got to be more responsible. And I hate seeing a job done badly."
"But he's taught me really well. I'm just not as quick as he is."
"Has he taught you how to break your own bones?" Methos leaned forward, pressing his points. "Could you break your own hand if it was the only way out of a trap? Can you run through fire, and keep going even when you can feel your skin frying? Can you kill yourself?" He shook his head, grimacing with disgust. "You don't even know how to die."
"Are you going to do that to me?" Richie's throat was working again.
Methos shook his head. "Not before Duncan gets back. No time. I'd need six months at least to teach you. That's what I'm offering to give you. I'll hurt you, yes. You'll hate me, yes. You'll be terrified out of your mind, yes. But Duncan will never do it for you."
Richie let out an involuntary sigh of relief. Methos exploded to his feet and grabbed Richie's shoulders, bending him back over the couch. "You are such a stupid, damned, ignorant idiot," he said tensely, his nose inches from Richie's. "Don't you understand anything I've been telling you? There are things that MacLeod hasn't taught you. Things you really need to know. MacLeod's taught you the easy stuff. He's missed everything that would have cost him anything to teach you."
"Because he's never killed me?"
"Never killed you. Never really hurt you."
To Methos' surprise, Richie laughed. It was cracked, but it was genuine humour. "He's thrown me into the walls more times than I can count."
Methos grinned, but he shook his head, tightening his grip. "You don't know what real pain is," he said softly. "You really don't. And you really need to find out."
"Why?" Richie's head was straining backwards, his throat taut. He was visibly desperate to get away, but Methos was going to finish.
"Pain is a handicap. Pain can cripple you. But if you know you can get up and fight, though every nerve is screaming, then you're free of pain. If you can throw yourself down a cliff to get away from someone who wants to take your head, though you know you'll be broken on the rocks below, you're free of the fear of death. And that's when you really are immortal." He let Richie go and stood up, turning away. "Why am I wasting my time talking to you? You're clinging to mortality the way you cling to MacLeod. You'll even let him kick you out, and still come running back to him when he wants to play at being your teacher again." He turned. "There's no rule that said he had to throw you out. Can't you even understand that?"
Richie was standing right behind him when he turned. He looked nervous, but determined. Methos lifted an eyebrow at him. "Well?"
"Mac just threw me out because he felt like it?"
"Congratulations. The boy has ears," Methos said softly. He went back to the couch and sat down, arms spread along the back. "What gets me about this, Richie, is even the bloody vampires wouldn't have done it. If anyone had told me before Monday night that I'd meet a vampire who could lecture me on morality, I'd have -- " Methos grimaced in disgust. "I don't know."
Richie looked down and pushed one of his sleeves up, inspecting his wrist. The bite-marks were still clear. "If it wasn't for these, I'd still find it hard to believe it really happened."
"If it serves as a reminder, I hope they never heal," Methos said. "Richie. Don't tell Joe where you went."
"What about Mac?"
"I'll tell MacLeod. Don't tell Joe. The Watchers don't know about the vampires, and they mustn't."
"Because the vampires would wipe them out."
"It's what they do. They're hunters. Predators. They live for the pleasure of killing. And they don't like being watched. They especially don't like anyone keeping records on them."
"Knight didn't hurt me...?"
"I know." Methos poured himself another glass of wine. "He says that was cow blood in his fridge. But I wouldn't trust any vampire further than I could see them." He drank a mouthful of the red liquid, smiling faintly. "On the other hand, I suppose he might be just another chivalrous arsehole. I'll give you this, Richie; he didn't kill you. But he was nearly a thousand years old, and at one kill every two or three days, that would make..." Methos paused a moment "...about a hundred and twenty thousand mortals he's slaughtered. Even the most evil, the most ruthless of our kind, would find it hard to match that total."
Richie sat down on the couch as if his knees were sagging. Methos refilled his glass for him. "Don't tell Joe you went to Toronto. Don't tell him about vampires."
"What if he sees these?" Richie looked down at the bites on his wrist again.
Methos smiled. "Band-aids. And wear a long-sleeved shirt."
"OK," Richie said at last. "Why didn't Mac tell me about them?"
Methos shrugged. "He probably thought that if he told you vampires are real, you'd head right off to Toronto to take a look. Which you did. Except you probably wouldn't have killed him before you left." He added, studying Richie. "I had to call in a favour one of their master vampires owed me, to get in safely and get you out again. I'm not sure I could pull that off twice. Don't go back."
Richie shifted uncomfortably where he sat. "Right, yeah." He picked up his glass and cradled it between his hands. "You know, I'm just realising... it must have taken a lot of guts to go there, knowing vampires are real. I'm sorry I got you into that. And, uh, thanks."
"You're welcome." Methos finished his glass, glancing at his watch. "I'm going back to bed for a while. You can sleep on the couch."
"I'd rather go back to my place," Richie started, and shut up when Methos looked at him.
"You're staying right here where I can keep an eye on you," Methos said, very softly. "You closed the dojo, and it's staying closed. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yeah," Richie said. He nodded. "Yeah. Clear."
"Good." Methos stood up, stretched himself, and yawned. "You can do the washing-up. We're training downstairs tomorrow morning -- "
"Eight am, sharp," Richie said.
"Nine," Methos corrected him. "I've had a rather draining week."
At nine o'clock, Richie was downstairs, facing the elevator, sword in hand. At ten past nine, Pierson wandered out of the elevator, still yawning.
"You're late," Richie said.
Pierson looked at him sleepily. "Going to break my jaw?" Abruptly, he swung into a swift attack, and Richie found himself back on the defensive. He backed down the dojo in a series of parries, wondering how the hell anyone could wake up that fast. At five to nine, he knew Pierson had still been asleep, snoring quietly in a huddle under the covers.
At the far end of the dojo, just as Richie was about to back up against the doors, Pierson put his sword up and stepped back. "Repeat that." When Richie hesitated, he beckoned with his hand. "Come on. Attack."
Richie grinned. "My pleasure," and began the darting lunge that Pierson had first pushed at him.
Pierson's moves were all defensive, and he moved back along the dojo as Richie came for him, but it was clear to Richie that all Pierson's moves were controlled. He's playing with me.
Richie slipped and went to one knee under a neat parry from Pierson's sword, and grabbed at Pierson's sword-wrist as he thrust upwards. His sword-point was brushing Pierson's stomach, just below the breast-bone.
Pierson didn't move for a moment. He looked down at Richie, and almost smiled. "Not bad. Only one problem."
A moment later, Pierson's foot hooked behind Richie's ankle and sent him sprawling. Pierson had caught Richie's sword by the blade and wrenched it out of his hand. He reversed the sword neatly and stood over Richie, both his sword and Richie's now at Richie's throat. "You should have followed through."
"I didn't want to -- " Richie started, and then stopped.
Pierson threw his sword back to him. There was blood on the hilt, and the blade. "Why not? Get up, and see if you can do that to me again."
The main doors opened, and somebody walked in. Richie remembered he'd forgotten to lock up after taking the garbage out earlier. Pierson glanced away from Richie. "Sorry, we're closed. How did you get in here?"
"The door was open." It was Joe. He sounded very wary. "What's this about a recent bereavement?"
Pierson laughed a little. "I'd just died."
Richie sat up, cautiously, but Pierson let him. He looked across at Joe, who was watching him with an odd look, almost apologetic. "Hi, Joe. Good to see you."
"And you." Joe rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "Is everything all right?"
"Well," Richie said, and stopped himself. "Yeah, Joe, everything's fine." He pushed himself to his feet. "We're just practicing."
"I thought," Joe said, to Pierson, "you were going to give the kid a break."
"I'm still thinking about it." Pierson grinned. "I just can't decide on the right bone."
"Richie, are you all right?"
"Yeah," Richie said. He had only just realised what made this morning's session different from the other mornings. It wasn't Pierson who had changed. It was him. "Yeah, I'm cool." He grinned. "Thanks, Joe."
"We'll see you later," Pierson said.
Joe shook his head, and shrugged. "Maybe I should go."
Pierson smiled, raising his sword in an ironic salute. "Maybe. If blood upsets you." He looked at Richie. "Now see if you can do that to me again, and this time, don't pull the blow, or I'll run you through."
"Now you know I'm going to do it," Richie said, moving into an attack position, "it won't work."
"Right. It's a good move, but you can only use it once." Pierson began to circle Richie, ignoring Joe. "When you use it, kill." He went for Richie in a flurry of blows, ending in the final unstoppable disarm.
Richie's sword clattered on the floor. Joe had stepped out of the way.
"Pick it up. Why didn't you stop me?" Pierson asked.
"I can't," Richie said, moving round to face Pierson as he crouched to pick up his sword. He straightened up.
Pierson went for him again. As he passed Joe, who had stepped back again, Richie heard Pierson mutter "Get out of here."
Richie's sword went flying. Richie was beginning to get annoyed. He was rubbing his wrist as he went to collect his sword. The bite-marks still ached, and the tendon hurt wrenchingly.
"Stop me," Pierson said, coldly. "Don't just stand there and let me do it. Keep your grip on your sword."
Richie went for him. He saw Pierson laugh, but the sword that met him was as swift and certain as ever. Richie felt the numbing blow slam at his wrist, and clung to his sword. It hurt, but he was still holding it, though he had heard it clatter away.
"Change hands," Pierson said. "You've broken your wrist." He backed away, and crouched to pick up his own sword. "Now come at me again."
"Left-handed?" The sword felt awkward in Richie's left hand, but his right hand was numb and he couldn't clench his fist.
"Any way you can." Pierson wasn't smiling, but he sounded pleased. "What, are you going to ask your opponent to wait while your wrist heals? Fight or run, Richie, and if I were you, I'd fight."
"Why?" Richie moved into the attack, realising that he had to reverse the position of his feet if he was going to lunge with his left arm. His right hand was tingling.
Pierson grinned suddenly. "Because if you run away from me again, I'll shoot you in the back."
"You don't have a gun." Richie parried.
"How do you know?" Pierson countered, turned, and brought his sword up in a swift move that flipped Richie's sword out of his hand and brought his own sword up to Richie's throat.
"How did you do that?" Richie asked.
Pierson shrugged, holding his blade very still. "It wouldn't matter to you. You're dead." He backed off one step. "Work it out for next time. Joe, was there something you wanted to say to me?"
Richie turned and looked at Joe. The older man was standing with his arms folded, shaking his head slowly. "No. Not any more. See you around, Richie."
"Sure, Joe." Richie backed off from Pierson to pick up his sword again. He hardly noticed when the doors swung closed.
Pierson shook his head as Richie moved into a defence position. "No, we're through for now. You'll practice left-handed today."
"My wrist feels OK." Richie waggled it experimentally. "Well, it will in a bit."
"That's nice," Pierson said. "You'll practice left-handed today. If I see you using your right hand for anything but wiping your nose, I'll break it."
Richie brought his sword up in an echo of Pierson's ironic salute. "Yes, boss."
"You're learning." Pierson yawned. "Now I'm going to have breakfast. I'll be back later." He wandered back to the elevator, his sword over his shoulder, and glanced round. "And clean your sword. There's blood on it."
The dojo was closed. The doors were locked, and there was a sign up, in Richie's handwriting, "Closed Till Further Notice". Below it, Methos had scrawled "Due To A Recent Bereavement". Duncan looked at it, taking out his keys. "Wonder who died?" he muttered.
The dojo had been cleaned that morning. Duncan felt the presence -- doubled -- and shoved the elevator gate upwards. Methos and Richie were sitting on the couch, oddly close together.
"Hello," Duncan said.
"Why did you close the dojo?"
Methos shrugged. "I died."
Duncan opened his mouth, closed it, and sank into the chair opposite. "I don't want to sound unsympathetic," he said carefully, "but that doesn't sound like a good reason."
"A sign of respect," Richie said brightly.
"Oh yes?" Duncan looked at him. "Was that Adam's idea?"
"Absolutely not," Methos said. "It was entirely Richie's idea. But I agreed with him. Once I recovered."
"What's been going on?"
Methos and Richie looked at each other. There was a curiously similiar expression on their faces.
Duncan shook his head. "I've got a bad feeling about this. What have you been teaching Richie?"
"Oh," Methos said, and shifted a little closer to Richie. "This and that. He's quite adaptable."
Duncan looked at them suspiciously. They were sitting very close together, and Richie looked very relaxed. He was fairly sure that if Methos had seduced Richie, this wouldn't be how Methos would break the news, but only fairly sure. "Is there something I should know about?"
"Oh yes," Methos said. "We slept together."
"You did what?"
"Well, I slept," Richie said. "I don't think Pierson got any sleep."
"No." Methos smiled sideways at him. "You kept me up all night."
Duncan laughed. "Come on. The truth. What happened?"
"I'll... go into that later. Connor rang, by the way. He said he'd be over later this evening. He wants a word with you."
"Sure." Duncan was frowning, puzzled. He glanced over his shoulder at the kitchen area. There was an empty wine bottle on the counter. "I see you've been making yourself at home."
"Su casa es mi casa," Methos said, and stood up, pulling Richie with him. "I'll take the kid over to Joe's for a drink. We'll see you later."
The couch looked a little odd. Duncan frowned at it, and glanced at Methos. "Didn't you forget something?" He stood up, holding out his hand.
Methos shook his head. "No, I don't think so." The elevator door clattered shut behind him. Duncan looked more closely at the couch. Bullet holes. He turned back to the kitchen counter and picked up the empty bottle. Fifty-year vintage Rioja, gran reserve.
"What the hell?" Duncan muttered. The phone rang. Duncan picked it up absently. "MacLeod. Oh, hi, Nick, what's new?"
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