Felicia... Richie closed his eyes, rested his forehead against the glass, and tried to remind himself that she was evil, and that he hated her now. He summoned up the image of her on the beach, with the black clothes and the garish eye makeup, the utter contempt on her face as she owned up to her lies. But other memories kept surfacing unbidden -- Felicia frightened and vulnerable, begging for his help in the antique shop; tender and passionate by turns in his bed... How could I have been such an idiot?
He was going to have nightmares about that fight, he just knew it. This wasn't like the first time, wasn't just some strangers hacking away at each other on a bridge. This was Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, running his sword through the body of a woman Richie had loved. Or had thought he loved. It was hard to tell the difference, just then.
She would be alive again by now, all her wounds gone. Would she go away, to Switzerland, or wherever? Or would she come after them again? Maybe he should've just let Mac kill her. But even knowing what she was, he couldn't do it. "No, Mac, please!" he'd yelled, unable to stop himself, and MacLeod had held off on the killing blow and walked away. He hadn't said a word to Richie since then, and Richie knew very well what that meant. He'd been through it before, with more foster parents than he cared to count, driving back from the police station, the hospital, the principal's office, Social Services... The circumstances were different each time, but the pattern was always the same. A major screw-up on his part, followed by a silent drive home, then a final parting speech before he was sent packing. You blew it again, kid. Hit the road.
As they got closer and closer to home, Richie began to think less about Felicia and more about Tessa. She would be waiting up for them, naturally, which meant he'd have to face her when they got there. He wished there was some way to avoid it. He winced, remembering what he'd said to her just before he walked out. We have all the time in the world... unlike you. Maybe he could've come up with something more hurtful if he thought hard for a few days, but probably not.
He knew how insecure Tessa felt about growing older while Duncan remained frozen in time. He'd seen her in front of the mirror sometimes, running her fingers over her face, searching for signs of age. They'd even discussed it once, on a slow day in the shop, while Duncan was out running errands.
"Sometimes I see myself as this withered old crone," she had told him, gazing into her coffee cup with unfocused eyes. "With a walker. Or a wheelchair, even. And there's Duncan, sticking around out of duty, telling everyone I'm his grandmother. Wishing I would just die and put myself out of his misery."
"Tess, come on!" Richie'd reached over and squeezed her shoulder. "You know better than that. Mac will love you no matter how old you get. Besides," he grinned, "you could never become a crone. I guarantee, you'll still be a babe when you're ninety. Future generations of supermodels will turn green with envy when they see you in the street."
"Thanks, Richie." Tessa laughed and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand, as if trying to brush away unpleasant visions. "I know I'm being silly. At least, most of the time I know it. But every now and then, these nasty little thoughts creep out to bother me... It's good to have someone like you around to chase them away." And she kissed him on the cheek.
It was the first intimate conversation Richie and Tessa had had since he moved in. They had more over the weeks that followed, not often, but enough so that Richie felt like they had a connection. Like they were friends. So much for that, now...
"Wake up, we're home." MacLeod's voice snapped Richie out of his brooding. He hadn't even realized that the car had stopped. He got out, remembering for once not to slam the door, and followed Duncan inside.
Tessa was curled up on the sofa with a blanket draped over her legs. She jumped to her feet as they came in, and nearly knocked over the coffee table in her rush to throw herself into MacLeod's arms.
"Duncan! You're all right, you're safe!" The last word came out as a breathless gasp, as MacLeod's arms tightened around her waist. He chuckled softly, and kissed her hair.
"Of course I'm all right. Oh, ye of little faith."
"I worry," she whispered, then pulled away to gaze into his eyes. "No matter how good you are, I'll always worry."
They stood there, encircled in each other's arms, completely oblivious to the rest of the world, including the existence of Richard H. Ryan, professional screw-up. In a way, Richie was relieved -- the confrontation with MacLeod would probably be postponed till morning now. At the same time, he couldn't suppress a pang of envy. No one had ever held him like that. No one had ever looked at him the way Mac and Tessa looked at each other -- until Felicia Martins held his face in her hands and told him she wanted to be with him for the rest of his life. And that had been an lie.
Richie tiptoed out of the living room, determined not to remind the lovebirds that they still had unfinished business to deal with. He made it to his room in silence, locked the door behind him, and leaned his back against it. The sight of his bed made him notice for the first time how tired he was. He couldn't imagine why; Mac had done all the fighting. Richie pulled off his jacket and jeans and let them drop to the floor. He had just enough energy left to make it to the bed and collapse.
"Duncan? Is something wrong?"
"Everything's fine." He was standing by the window, toying absentmindedly with the curtain sash. She couldn't see his face, only his silhouette, backlit by the glow of a streetlight just outside the window. "I'm sorry if I woke you. Go back to sleep."
"Only if you join me." She patted the mattress by her side.
"In a minute." He dropped the curtain sash, but did not turn around.
Tessa reluctantly climbed out from under the warm covers and went to stand behind him. She wrapped her arms around Duncan's waist and leaned against him. She could feel the tension in his back and shoulders, though he relaxed slightly at her touch.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she whispered.
Duncan didn't answer for so long, she almost gave up and went to back to bed.
"It's Richie," he said finally. "I can't decide whether to be angry with him or feel sorry for him."
I should've guessed. For the past few months, if something was worrying Duncan, chances were that Richie was involved. The boy was obviously important to him for reasons Tessa didn't understand. There was more to it than just a desire to get a good kid off the streets, even if that was all Duncan would admit to.
"I thought I was reaching him," he continued. "I thought he liked living here with us. Yet he's willing to run off with the first pretty face that comes along and makes him an offer."
"He came back."
"Yes, because Felicia lied to him. What if the next girl that comes into the store is sincere? Am I going to wake up one morning and find he's run off again?"
Tessa bit back an uncharitable urge to suggest that this might not be a bad thing. That wasn't her real sentiment anyway, just a remnant of the previous day's irritation. She liked Richie, though the liking had taken a bit of time to develop. After having Duncan all to herself for twelve years, it was hard to adjust to having another person around all the time, especially when that person was a teenage boy congenitally incapable of shutting up. And his background had not been reassuring -- for the first few days after Richie moved in, Tessa entered the shop every morning expecting to find the cash box cleaned out and the kid gone. But weeks and months went by, and Richie stayed. He seemed sincere, and enthusiastic, and anxious to please. For the first time, Tessa had someone with whom she could talk about Duncan without the secret of Immortality shadowing the conversation. And sometimes, when the enthusiasm slipped, Tessa saw shadows of past hurts in Richie's eyes and knew how much he needed her and Duncan in his life.
So why was he so willing to run out on them?
"What did he have to say about it?" she asked.
Duncan shrugged. "I don't know. We haven't really spoken yet."
"You haven't?" Tessa pulled away from him in surprise. "Why not?"
"I was wired after the fight, he was obviously upset about Felicia -- it wasn't a good time for rational conversation." He chuckled softly. "Not that it's easy to have a rational conversation with Richie at the best of times. I figured I'd let us both get a good night's sleep before I sat him down and started lecturing."
"Of course. I can see how well that's working out." Tessa wasn't sure if this delay was such a good idea. She knew that Duncan tended to deal with his problems by turning inward and working them out for himself. But Richie seemed to have a need to talk every question to death before he considered it resolved. Making him wait overnight was probably a mistake.
Well, there was nothing to be done for it now. Tessa took a step back, pulling Duncan after her. "Come back to bed. Whatever Richie's motives might be, I doubt he's going to run off and elope with anyone tonight. You'll sort it out in the morning."
Duncan allowed himself to be pulled along, back to the warm covers and Tessa's even warmer arms. The possibility of him getting a good night's sleep was becoming more remote by the moment. But then, some things were worth staying up for.
"Hello again, Richie!" Felicia's harsh voice mocked him, making his name sound like an insult. He tried to move, to yell for help, but his limbs would not obey him and his voice stuck in his throat. All he could do was watch helplessly as she raised the sword. Moonlight glittered on the blade.
"Did you really think I'd go away like a good girl?" she sneered. "I don't believe in leaving loose ends behind me." She laughed, and the blade slashed down--
Richie sat bolt upright in bed, arms flung out to ward off a blow that never fell. He was drenched in sweat. His heart pounded in his chest as if it was trying to fight its way out. He looked around the room frantically, searching every shadow in every corner.
There was no one there, of course. He'd been waking up like this all night, though not always from the same dream. Sometimes he was on the beach, watching MacLeod take Felicia's head. Sometimes she took MacLeod's, and he saw her grin at him just before the Quickening hit her, mouthing the words, you're next. And other times, like just now, she was in the room with him.
Richie hugged his knees to his chest and rocked from side to side. It was almost morning. The sky outside his window was growing light. He was not going back to sleep. Might as well get up.
It took him a few seconds to actually work up the energy to move. Then he climbed out of bed, picked up his clothes from the floor, and stood there for a long time wondering if he should put them away or just go ahead and pack them. In the end, he just dropped them back on the floor and tiptoed out to the bathroom.
The shower made him feel a little better. He took much longer than he usually did, though not as long as he wanted to. Only the thought that MacLeod and Tessa would not appreciate waking up to find all the hot water gone drove him out of the shower stall.
His towel had a great big "R" embroidered in one corner -- part of Tessa's never-ending campaign to break him of his habit of just using the first towel that happed to be within grab. He'd told her that monogrammed towels were snooty, but secretly he liked the idea. It's not like his life had offered a lot of chances to be snooty, after all.
Richie clutched the towel, looked at his foggy reflection in the mirror, and felt a great big surge of self-pity coming on. The urge to wallow in it was almost irresistible, but he squashed it, deciding to go and get started on the weekly inventory for the store. It needed to be done anyway, and the work would keep him distracted. As he dressed, a childish little voice in his head whispered that maybe, if he made himself extra useful, Mac would decide he was worth keeping around, but he knew better than to pay attention to it. He had tried that approach in the past. It never worked.
Two hours later, he was sorting shipping receipts in the office behind the store when Tessa came in.
"Good morning, Richie." She looked at him with mild surprise. "Up a little early, aren't you? Come in and have breakfast."
"I'm not hungry," he muttered. Tessa reached across the desk and plucked the pencil from his hand.
"You missed dinner last night, you should eat something now. Come on."
Richie stood, but made no move to leave the room. Tessa watched him with growing impatience.
"Well?" she prompted. "Are you waiting for your food to grow legs and come over?"
"No." Richie swallowed, took a deep breath, and blurted out all his thoughts in one marginally coherent burst. "Look Tessa I'm really sorry about what I said to you yesterday it was a vicious thing to say and I said it to be vicious not because I meant it so I'm sorry please don't be mad at me I didn't mean it and I'm sorry okay?" He had to stop then, because he was out of air. He hoped he got all the important bits out. Tessa was still watching him, and he couldn't read her expression at all.
"Apology accepted," she said finally. "And I'm not mad at you, not anymore. But I am a little hurt."
Richie would've preferred mad. "I wish I could unsay it, Tess. I wish I could undo the last couple of days entirely."
She shook her head. "That would be too easy. If we could undo all our mistakes, we'd never learn anything. I'm assuming, at least, that you learned something from all this?"
"Yeah." Richie muttered. "Just another learning experience. I seem to be having a lot of those lately."
"Well, none of them will do you any good if you starve to death. Go and eat."
Richie went. After all, he couldn't hide in the office forever. And he really was hungry. But when he came into the kitchen and saw MacLeod at the table, his stomach churned and he knew he wouldn't be able to eat a bite.
He sipped some orange juice, nibbled on a piece of toast, and listened to Mac and Tessa discussing the likelihood of finding anything worth while at an estate sale in the Napa Valley this upcoming Saturday. They sounded exactly the same as usual, which was really weirding Richie out. It didn't make sense. How could they act like nothing had happened, when something so obviously had?
Out of habit, he got up and started to gather up the dishes, but Duncan stopped him.
"Do that later, Richie. I want to talk to you."
Here it comes, Richie thought grimly. He noticed that Tessa had done a quick fade, leaving him and MacLeod alone in the kitchen. He sat back down.
"Okay, then. Talk."
"Richie," he said finally. "Do you like it here?"
Richie's blue eyes widened. His expression did not change, but MacLeod thought he was surprised by the question.
"Of course I do, Mac! You and Tessa, you've been great." He swallowed, and looked away. "Best thing that's ever happened to me."
"Then why were you so quick to leave with Felicia? It's as if you were trying to get a way from us, and grabbing the first chance you got."
"No! It's not like that, Mac, it's--" Richie broke off. MacLeod waited for him to go on, but all he got was an increasingly awkward silence.
"What is it, Richie? I really want to understand, but you have to give me something to work with."
"I just figured we'd all be better off," Richie burst out. "I mean, no matter how great you guys have been, I know I'm the third wheel around here. I come in when you two want to be alone, I talk when you want it quiet, I break up the routine. Then Felicia shows up, and she says she wants me. Not because she wants to keep an eye on me, or because she thinks reforming me would make a nice public service project--"
"Whoa, hold on there," MacLeod interrupted. He thought he was beginning to see the problem. "Is that why you think I keep you around?"
"If not for that, then why?" Richie demanded. "Don't tell me you took one look at me, that night in the store, and said to yourself, 'Hey, self, there stands a guy I'd like to hang around with for the next few years, just for the pleasure of his company!' It's not like we have anything in common."
MacLeod suppressed a sigh. For a second, he considered telling Richie exactly what it was they had in common, but he knew it would be a mistake. Unable to give Richie truth, he had to make do with a carefully edited version.
"It's true we don't have much in common, yes. But I didn't take you in just because I was afraid you'd talk, or because I enjoy taking on charity cases. You have the potential to be much more than a petty thief living in the streets, I knew it as soon as I saw you. It would be a shame and a waste to let that potential be lost for lack of a break."
"So you decided to provide the break?"
"That's right. And believe it or not, Tessa and I do enjoy your company. Even if you do drive us crazy sometimes."
"Mac..." Richie looked genuinely shaken. He seemed to have trouble believing what he'd just heard. "You don't want me to leave then?"
"What? Of course not! Why the hell would I want that?"
"I don't know -- you seemed so pissed off last night..."
So that's what's got him so bothered. MacLeod reached across the table and put his hand on Richie's arm. Richie looked slightly startled at the contact, but he didn't pull away.
"I was angry," Duncan admitted. "But Richie, it's possible to be angry at somebody without wanting them to leave forever. If I did that, I wouldn't have any friends left at all. I wouldn't even have Tessa! You get angry, then you forgive, then you move on. That's how relationships work."
"Not my relationships," Richie muttered. Duncan felt a sudden, vicious urge to track down every one of the kid's foster parents and kick the crap out of them.
"You didn't stay up all night thinking that I'm going to kick you out in the morning did you?"
"I hope not. Because you look like you haven't slept a wink."
"I..." Richie stared at the table, reluctant to admit to a weakness despite all of MacLeod's reassurances. "I've been having nightmares about Felicia."
"Are you afraid she'll come back?" Duncan asked gently.
"Sometimes." Richie shuddered. "But there's other things, too." He described each dream. "I keep thinking -- if the fight had gone the other way, if she'd killed you, it would've been my fault. And now she'll probably go and hunt other people, because I wouldn't let you kill her." He wanted to say more, but never got a chance, because Duncan was laughing. Richie felt his face grow hot. He didn't think this was in the least bit funny. He looked up, and Duncan instantly wiped the smile off his face, though his eyes still danced.
"I'm sorry, Richie. It's just that sometimes I don't understand how you can have such a low opinion of yourself, and at the same time believe you're the center of the universe."
"Yes, you do. Everything in the world is not your fault, you know? Felicia Martins came to town hunting specifically for me. One way or another, we would've ended up fighting. You're not responsible for that. I wasn't mad because I blamed you for the fight, I was mad because you tried to run off with someone you barely knew." Sometimes, talking to Richie was like talking to a five-year-old. Had he been the same when he was eighteen? Duncan couldn't remember. "As for what Felicia might do from now on -- that's her choice. Maybe she'll go on as she has. Maybe she'll be worse. Maybe she'll get religion and reform. But just because you asked me not to kill her, and I chose to listen, doesn't mean we're responsible for her actions from now on."
"Is that what you believe, Mac?" Richie challenged. "If you find out next week that she killed some Immortal's wife, or girlfriend, or child, will you tell yourself that and believe it?"
"Yes," MacLeod shot back. But Richie kept staring at him, and eventually he had to look away. "Well... maybe not right away. But eventually, I'd get it through my thick skull. And the one thing I wouldn't do, no matter what happened, is blame you, I promise you that. And here's something else I promise -- when you leave here, it will because you're ready to leave, not because you made a mistake, all right?"
"All right," Richie said. It wasn't really all right, not yet, but for the first time since the previous night he felt that it might be all right eventually. Even that was a huge improvement over his earlier state of mind.
"Good." Duncan reached across the table and mussed Richie's hair, ignoring the boy's embarrassed attempt to duck the gesture. "I'm glad we got that resolved. Now you can do the dishes.
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