by Maxine Mayer
Richie Ryan sat on a transparent tree stump, his curly redhaired head in his hands, his motorcycle helmet at his feet, his scruffy leather jacket unzipped, and cried. He cried loud and long and nothing he tried to do to stop himself worked. He tried to be philosophical about it - "when it's your time to go, you gotta go" - but that thought didn't make a whole lot of difference. He tried to be blase about it - "hey, nobody lives forever" - but blase had never been his strong suit. He tried to think good thoughts about the future - "at least, there's a heaven, someplace to be, to go, after it's all over downtown" - but since he didn't want to be in this place, or in heaven, that thought was even less effective than the others to improve how he felt.
He was lonely. He missed his friends. He was hungry and thirsty and really worried about Mac. God only knew how his teacher and closest friend - next best thing to a real father - was taking this latest mess!
But worst of all, he felt cheated. He'd already died once - and revived to find he was Immortal. Then, after only a couple short years, he'd lost his head. So not only had he been cheated out of a normal Mortal life - family, kids, a dog, the works - but he'd been been cheated out of Immortal life too.
No wonderful centuries behind him, that everybody did a doubletake when they heard about. What, you, six hundred years old! You don't look it!
No incredible learning experiences, teaching him wisdom, fortitude, humility, real love, all the good stuff. Just - fucking nothing. A couple years training and watching his head. A couple years killing and feeling miserable about it. A couple years on the road, lonely and terribly alone. Loads of women he couldn't stay with. Lots of men he couldn't be friends with. He'd been cheated of life - both kinds. It wasn't fair.
But - there's always a but, Richie thought - there is a heaven. Eternal life. Up here, no more killing. Up here, real eternal peace. Just like the other Methos talked about. Wonderful. Just what I wanted, he thought. How come, you gotta be so damn careful what you wish for, because you just might get it?
Richie lifted his head and looked around. He smiled. Joe would think that and say it. Wonder how Joe's doing, old bastard. Probably crying his eyes out over me. Probably doesn't even believe in God, let alone heaven. Sorry, old man. Wish I could clue you in. That it ain't over even after the fat lady sings. But I can't. You'll find out soon enough, Joe. Sooner than poor Mac. Sooner than that devious bastard Methos, the original Old Timer. He's probably gonna live forever.
The redheaded boy took a deep breath. He sighed. He thought, I'm really really hungry, so there must be someplace to eat. I better start looking until I find it.
He picked up his motorcycle helmet and began to walk through a transparent wilderness that looked like nothing so much as a Glass Kingdom. He wondered whether he was the only Immortal up here. And whether he'd get to see Tessa after a bit.
I couldn't be in the real heaven yet, Richie thought, or Darius would have met me at the gates. Nobody'd met him at the gates. The big glass gates had simply opened up and he'd wandered in and walked for what seemed like days until he'd finally sat down on that glass stump and started to cry.
Richie kept walking for a long time until suddenly he wasn't walking in the Glass Kingdom anymore. He was walking on pavement, on a street in a city he'd never seen before. A big city, by the look of the skyscrapers. Richie looked up at the night sky but he could hardly keep track of the sky and the stars, for all the tall buildings in the way. He caught a glimpse of a street sign and he knew where he was. The sign read Avenue of the Americas so he must be in New York City, where angels fear to tread. Great, Richie thought. Must be an all-night diner around here someplace!
"Get dressed already, Methos. We'll be late for midnight mass," Duncan MacLeod said to his friend and fellow Immortal. "I want to light a candle for Richie before the service. You know how crowded St. Patrick's will be. The lines to get in will be enormous. If we don't get there early, we won't get in at all."
"You want to light a candle? For Richie? Let me guess which saint you're gonna patronize. St. Therese?"
"How do you figure St. Therese, Methos?"
The older Immortal shrugged. "She died young."
"Actually, I had another saint in mind but St. Therese is a good choice. Thanks for the idea."
"Must I go too?" Methos asked. "I can't believe you and Dawson actually believe in this crap. Candles, masses, services. Christmas! Cripes, how long are you two gonna need to live before you get the picture?"
"What picture, Methos?" Duncan asked, straightening his tie and tightening the scarf at his neck.
"That there is no God. That there's no such thing as Heaven. That religion is bunk. Opium for the less-than-bright among us!"
"You're the authority on that, I suppose?" Duncan inquired with a smile. "You know everything there is to know about the afterlife? Because you're so damn old?"
"I'm not saying I know everything. I only know what I've seen. And what I have never seen. God and the heavenly host - I haven't seen."
"That's where faith comes in, Methos. 'Substance of things hoped for, evidence of things unseen' - you know the drill." Duncan shrugged. "It's not easy. Don't you think I know that? You think I enjoy imagining that Richie and Tessa and Darius and Fitz are in heaven, rather than in holes in the ground? Hoping that some day I'll see them again? Think I wouldn't like a bit of assurance? Think Dawson wouldn't like to be granted a vision, so he could be certain that when this life's over he'll be perfect, in the next? All the moving parts intact?" Duncan put on his overcoat. "Nobody likes to think their heart's in the right place but when they die it's gonna be in the wrong place. Under six feet of dirt. Nobody."
"So that's your solution? Faith? You've got no evidence, not a shred. But you accept the story anyway? I can't believe you'd cop out like that, Mac. Where's your courage? Face the truth. There is no God, no heaven, no angels, no demons. Our friends that die are lost to us forever. Only our memories of them remain. There's nothing but the here and the now. Enjoy it while you can - it'll be over soon enough. When the fat lady sings, it'll be the last song you'll hear."
"Why don't we just agree to disagree, Methos? It's Christmas Eve. Joe will be feeling blue enough, with no family left to spend the holidays with. And Christmas always makes him think about Richie, which is not his favorite uplifting memory. He's not gonna live forever, you know. How about we just push past the philosophical bullshit and try spending an evening without a quarrel for once. For Joe's sake."
The older Immortal grinned. "You've got a big heart, Duncan MacLeod. A man could get lost in it. Sure. For Joe's sake. I'll even light a candle."
"You'll keep your witty repartee under wraps?"
"Cross my heart!" Methos replied with a grin. "For Joe Dawson. And for you."
Richie Ryan followed the crowds that moved across Sixth Avenue - the Avenue of the Americas - and turned into 50th Street. He wondered where everybody was going. It must be around Christmas time, judging from the lights and the holiday decorations in all the shop windows. He wondered whether it was Christmas Eve. Must be. Must be, everyone was on his way to midnight mass. Richie grinned. I bet St. Patty's is down the block, on Fifth, he thought. I haven't been to mass since I was a kid. We didn't go to Darius' mass that the brothers said for him. Had our own service. Nothing for Fitzcairn, either. Guess there's no chance of bumping into any Immortals in the cathedral. Anybody past the age of reason seems to have given up on faith.
Richie smiled. On the other hand, I'm barely out of puberty, I still believe.
He chuckled. Now, I don't even need to believe! I got proof! Here I am, proof positive there's life after death! Now, if I could only pass along this bit of wisdom to my friends, I think I'd be happy to move along. I think I'd feel I hadn't been cheated.
Too bad I'm invisible, judging by the way everybody's bumping into me! I see them. I hear them talking. I can even smell the exhaust fumes in the air. But nobody knows I'm here.
Maybe I can make my way back to Paris or Seacouver and eavesdrop on my friends. Find out what they really think. Wonder what they're saying about me. If they agree I got a raw deal. No chance to get ready. No chance to get my soul in order. Maybe that's why I didn't get into the real heaven, just up to that see-through place. Maybe that place is purgatory, for working out my sins. Hope it doesn't take me too long.
Wonder why they let me come back here. That hamburger was great, even if I did need to steal it, because nobody could see me to take my cash. Mac would really chew me out, if he caught me stealing again, after all his lectures and good example. Richie grinned. At least, he can't see me now! Upside number one.
Nah, no upside there. Methos would tell me I was chicken-and-egging it. If they could see me, I wouldn't have needed to steal that hamburger. But I gotta steal to eat, and so I'm glad they can't see me. Circle time! Ah well! Would I love to really talk to the old timer. Bet he could still teach me a thing or two. Like, how to clean up the crap I'm carrying so they'll let me into the real heaven. Bet he knows a few shortcuts, living as long as he has. Bet he'd tell me, too, now that I'm no competition to him in the Game!
There it is! St. Patrick's Cathedral! Now, that's big! And crowded! Upside number two! I can get in without any problem, now that I'm invisible. Just slip on by....
No! I don't believe it! It's them! "Mac, Mac!" Richie shouted, pushing past everybody who milled around the church steps between him and his friends. "Mac! It's me, Richie! Mac!"
Nothing. Nothing. All three of them - and nobody sees me. Nobody senses me. Damn! Not even Methos - and he's really sensitive. Guess I've got no buzz now. Duncan's got it all, everything I was. That's the drill - you get the Quickening, you get the whole enchilada! No wonder they can't feel me.
Well, to hell with it. I'm going in with them. I can hear them and see them. I can sit with them. Maybe pray with them. That can't hurt. Who knows when I'll ever see them again - I could be dragged out of here and up to that see-through place again any second. I'm gonna just hang here until they whisk me away. It's where I want to be, anyhow.
Richie followed Duncan, Methos and Joe Dawson into the cathedral and stood next to them as they moved slowly along in the line leading to the marble statue of a female saint he didn't recognize. He watched Mac kneel and light a candle, while Dawson stood next to him with bowed head, leaning on his cane. Methos stood on the other side of Duncan, his lips tight. He looked like he was in a lousy mood, for a guy about to celebrate Christmas Eve mass. Richie wondered what was bugging the old timer.
"Look, guys," Methos said suddenly, "I'm feeling a bit under the weather. Having trouble breathing in this crowd. I'll wait for you outside, on the steps. Take your time. Light your candles. Hear mass. Enjoy."
"Methos, you promised -" Duncan said, looking up from his prayer.
"So sue me! I can't do it, Mac. Richie Ryan, for all his youth, was a good guy. He never tried to lie to himself. He faced the truth. I can't do less, and still honor his memory. There was no reason for Richie to die - no cosmic purpose. The truth is, there is no God. This is a farce. Richie doesn't need your candles or your prayers, Mac. He was a good man, pure of heart, innocent. No reasonable loving God would take him - not like that, before his time. No Demon would want him - he was too good. He was of no use to anybody, dead. His only purpose was life. He got a kick out of it. He gave joy - while he lived. He should still be alive. I won't pretend I believe otherwise. Sorry, Mac, Joe. I'll see you outside."
Richie followed Methos out of the cathedral. He thought, you really believe that, Methos? That I was so good a Demon wouldn't want me? That God wouldn't take me - or if he did, I'd be in heaven and wouldn't need Mac's candles or prayers? I wish you could hear me, Methos! I wish you could see me. Because I really could use a candle and a prayer. Maybe they'd get me past the empty spot and into the real heaven.
Richie watched Methos find a seat on the steps way around the edge, as far from the crowds still hanging out in front of the church as he could get. The old Immortal buried his face in his hands, his shoulders hunched up. Then suddenly he raised his head again, took a deep breath and stood. He sniffed the air, his brow creasing in a frown. He turned first one way, then another, his right hand automatically unbuttoning his coat and reaching inside to grasp his sword.
Richie almost shouted for joy. He senses me! He feels something! Old bastard! What a nose for buzz he's got! I bet I could have learned that, if I'd lived long enough - learned to sense us a long way off, like Methos does! Richie grinned. Come on, Old Timer, come on, face it, face it! Nobody here but us ghosts! Face it!
He watched as Methos' hand grew lax on his sword, then dropped to his side. He watched as the old Immortal stopped turning in place and grew very still. He watched as Methos' mouth twisted into a grin. Then Richie tried really hard to reply to the Old One's question, "Who is it?"
"It's me, Methos! Richie Ryan, pure of heart! It's me!"
"Who is it?" Methos repeated, the smile leaving his face, replaced by a stern look. "Show yourself."
"I can't! I'm trying! Look, I'll throw my helmet at you!" Richie did, but the helmet bounced off the old Immortal down the last few steps of the cathedral and into the street without Methos appearing to notice he'd been hit by it. Richie sighed, exasperated. "Damn."
"Is it you?" Methos said cautiously. "Richie? Is it?"
"Yeah, it's me. For all the good it's doing us. Wish you could see me. Or at least hear me. Wish you'd give me some advice. I'm in a bind. They won't let me into the real heaven - in spite of my reputation as a good guy. Guess your recommendation doesn't carry a whole lot of weight up there. Could you give me some advice? I guess I must've done something wrong, downtown, or I'd get to see the others - the ones who are in heaven. Darius. Tessa. Maybe by now even Fitzcairn's earned his wings. What do you say?"
"Richie Ryan. You're making a liar out of me, aren't you?" Methos asked, clearly talking to himself without showing any sign he cared what anybody thought about that.
"Yeah, it's me. It's me." The boy's voice was low and discouraged. He stared at his boots. Methos wouldn't answer his questions, he was sure of that now.
"Richie." The old Immortal repeated the boy's name. "It's you. I know it's you. So. There is a God."
"I guess. I dunno. Never seen Him. I haven't seen anybody since I got up there. Some kind of transparent Kingdom. Lots of roads. See-through trees. Stuff like that."
"Richie, why are you here? You didn't come for me, did you?"
"I got hungry, kept walking. Looked for something to eat. Before I knew it, I was here, in New York City. I didn't know you guys were here - I thought you were still in Paris or Seacouver. That's all I can tell you, Old Timer. Except - I sure miss you guys."
"You having a spot of trouble passing on, kid? Don't tell me you're hanging on to us?"
"Maybe. Maybe that's what it is, I'm hanging on. But not to you guys. See, I really feel cheated. Dying so young. And I do miss you guys something terrible."
"Richie Ryan, turn right around and move out. The fat lady sang. There's nothing more for you here. Scoot. Go on with you. Scoot. Haunting us won't help."
"I'm not haunting you."
"You did everything right, Richie Ryan. You honored the elders. You listened to your teacher. You were humble, admitted when you were wrong. You never despaired of life. And you died for your friend."
"Methos - you gotta listen to me!" Richie shouted. "I'm not just hanging on! They won't let me go up, or out, or further - whatever! They sent me to you guys!"
"Greater love than this hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friend. Richie Ryan, if you can hear me, know that."
"Would you listen to me for a minute, Methos! I know that! I know what I did! I know why I died! I was murdered! They used Mac to murder me! I'm okay with that! Now - tell me what to do to move on out!"
"I still feel you, you sonuvabitch! Goddamnit. Mac would give his right arm to feel you for a minute. Joe would be so happy, if he could look at you again, just once. But no. You come to me. I've got no use for you, Richie Ryan. You're no use to me, dead. Stop haunting me! Get the hell away from me! Now!"
Richie sighed. He felt very sad. He thought, okay. Okay, Methos. I'm outta here. I don't know how to get to the real heaven. As usual, I get no advice from you. But I won't bother you any more. I wish you'd go back inside, though. Keep Mac and Joe company. They need you. As long as you don't believe, you're breaking their hearts. I know you don't want to do that. Richie walked away, down Fifth Avenue. After a dozen steps, he looked back and waved to the old Immortal.
Methos stood still, almost as if he was waiting to feel an Immortal aura disappear. He put his hand to his heart and pressed. Then he took a deep breath and muttered, "I knew it would happen some day. I've finally lost my mind."
Methos looked up at the sky and then at the cathedral doors. "Okay. Okay. You want me to go in, I'll go in. Bit nippy out here, anyway." He walked up the steps and slipped into the church, searching for Duncan's aura. He latched onto it and found his friends in a pew not far from the statue of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Before Methos joined Mac and Joe, he went up to the statue and touched its marble cheek. "You're one helluva saint, Therese. You should meet Richie Ryan. You'd like him. True, he's no saint. But maybe by now, he's an angel."
Richie Ryan walked down Fifth Avenue shaking his head. He thought, at least I'm not hungry anymore. Wonder how long they're gonna keep me down here. Not much point to it, if nobody can see me or hear me. And if I don't need to eat. Strikes me, if the purpose of coming back to earth is to help people, it would be cool if they could see me and hear me. Not that I've got anything really wise to tell them.
He kept walking and suddenly his feet were on a transparent road again. He sighed. Back here again. Crap. This has got to be the most desolate, boring, isolated waiting room I've ever seen!
Then the road turned green under his feet and the glass turned blue. The see-through trees took on solidity and became houses. Wow, Richie thought, that's more like it! All it needs is some people, and this place wouldn't be half bad!
"Richie!" Richie turned, his face reddening at the familiar accent. "Richie! Where have you been! We've been worried about you!"
"Tessa! Darius! Boy, am I glad to see you guys!"
"Where have you been, Richie?" Darius asked. "We have been waiting for you. You almost missed the Christmas Eve celebration. There will be singing."
"Some fat lady, no doubt," Richie mumbled.
Darius said, "What?"
"Nothing. Just a joke."
Fitzcairn came out of a small house and told Richie, "That's right, my boy. You're as bad as Duncan. Always making jokes. Never on time. Never do what you're told to do."
"Look, guys, they sent me back to the city - New York City -"
"Who sent you?" Tessa asked. "Nobody goes back. Once we are here, we remain here, waiting for our friends and loved ones."
"I don't know who sent me. I don't know the rules. All I know is, somebody sent me back to New York City tonight, Christmas Eve. I don't know what year it is there, but Duncan and Joe and Methos don't live in Paris or Seacouver anymore. I saw them at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Joe looks really old. Then I talked to Methos outside the church but he couldn't hear me or see me. Nobody could. So I just kept going. Then I landed here, finally, with you guys. Am I glad to see you! I thought I'd never get to the real heaven!"
"You belong here, Richie," Darius told the young Immortal. "With us."
"Well, they sent me back down there. I can't figure out why."
"You didn't happen to come across my pipe down there, did you, my boy?" Fitzcairn asked.
"Nope. I wish I'd thought to look for it, though, old man," Richie replied.
"Never mind. The powers that be don't much like me smoking."
Darius interrupted. "Methos couldn't see or hear you?"
"Nope. But I think he sensed me. Or something. He kept talking to me, and I kept talking to him, but it was like two ships passing in the night. But I'm pretty sure he sensed something. Maybe not my aura - Mac's got that now. But - something."
"Then, that was all that was needed. They sent you back for that. So Methos could feel something and know you still live. That was enough."
Richie frowned. "He kept telling me to move on - like I really wasn't trying! But when I asked him how, he didn't give me an answer."
"That's Methos' way, Richie. He doesn't give advice," Darius replied. "But he gives something better."
"What's that?" Tessa asked with a smile.
"He gives a good push. A big push. In the right direction. And often that's more than enough."
"I dunno, Darius. It worked this time, but it's not usually any good," Richie told the Immortal priest.
"It's always good. Sometimes, it takes a bit longer, that's all."
"You mean, like with Mac? He never gets anything on the first bounce."
"That's what I mean. But he understands in the end."
Tessa added, "I don't know who this Methos person is, but if he's helping Duncan, I'm grateful. I'll say a prayer for him."
"How about we all do. The celebration is about to begin," Fitzcairn said.
Suddenly the heavens were dark but studded with stars. The air rustled with angels' wings. Richie Ryan looked up and grinned. My first Christmas in heaven, he thought. I hope that fat lady doesn't sing opera! But - whatever! This is far out. Totally. Wow!