This is part two of the Education Trilogy and is a direct sequel to my previous posting Primary Causes starting where that one left off.
Standard disclaimers apply. I don't own any of these characters, I'm only borrowing them. I'm making no profit from this so please don't sue me.
WARNING This story is ADULT in nature for graphic violence including physical torture and rape. Actually it's not as bad as the first story and contains mainly angst but there are a couple of flashback scenes. I think this was where I earned my reputation as the angst specialist among my sisters.
Thanks are due to my slash sister and beta reader, Aly. She is responsible for any correct grammar or spelling you may find. All such errors are my own.
A special mention here to my slash sister and clone, Penny. Without her invaluable input this would never have been finished and Methos would've been wearing briefs not boxers <bg>.
"Can't you drive any faster?" Duncan's voice sounded strained and worried.
Methos looked at the speaker in the rear view mirror. If the circumstances had been slightly different he might have smiled. The sight of Duncan as he tenderly held Richie was almost cute and the affection was easily seen in the way Duncan gently cradled his head and brushed his hair out of his face. A glance further down the prone body quickly stopped the smile forming. Richie was a mess. Duncan had thrown his coat over the youngster's body but dried blood and unhealed burns were clearly visible on the exposed limbs. Remembering that these were not the worst of the damage Methos was glad that Richie had not yet revived. As long as he remained dead he wasn't feeling any pain. It would be best if they were safely back at the dojo before that happened.
"I'm going as fast as I can" he replied to the original question. "I'd really prefer not to get pulled by the police for speeding. Explaining the dead body in the back seat could take some time". Methos purposely let the sarcasm show in his voice in the hopes that this would help keep Duncan's mind on the present. This was not the time for regrets or brooding. He had no doubt that there would be plenty of that in the near future but it would have to wait.
"We'll be there soon" Amanda spoke for the first time since they had started the drive. "Only another couple of minutes".
"I wouldna wan' him to wake here" Duncan's thickening brogue showing his emotional state. "Noh like this. It's noh...". His voice faded as he lost the ability to speak, a lump forming in his throat.
"Hush Mac we're almost there" Amanda soothed quietly. "We'll get him home and then see what we can do to help him".
Methos stopped the car behind the dojo, got out and scanned around the area until he was certain there was no one around, whilst Amanda ran to open the dojo. Opening the rear door he carefully lifted Richie out of Duncan's lap and turned to follow Amanda. He hadn't taken two steps when he felt Duncan touch his shoulder. No words were spoken. One look at the unshed tears in Duncan's eyes told him all he needed to know. Gently he returned the battered body to the strong arms that had held him ever since his rescue.
"Come on, MacLeod" he said. "Let's get him inside"
Refusing any help Duncan carried Richie up to the loft. Methos followed behind carrying Duncan's coat and watching him carefully. Every movement told the older immortal what he already knew, that Duncan blamed himself for what had happened. Getting him to accept that there was nothing he could have done was going to be a problem. The Highlander was heading for a major brood and Methos knew that he had to prevent it getting any worse. Richie was going to need all the strength and support he could get over the next few days and weeks and Duncan would need to be free from guilt to provide that. Still that was not the most pressing problem. First they must get Richie as comfortable as possible.
Duncan laid Richie gently on the bed and stepped back slightly as if uncertain what to do next and for a moment Methos was surprised to see the usually calm and confident Scot so unsure. Then he remembered that not only were Duncan's emotions in turmoil but he was still suffering the after effects of a quickening. Ulick may not have been the oldest immortal or greatest fighter Duncan had ever taken, but he had taken many heads and the combination of Ulick and all his young victims made for a powerful quickening. It would be some time before Duncan could assimilate him properly so for a while at least Methos was going to have to take charge of the situation.
"Mac, we need to get him cleaned up" Methos' voice broke through Duncan's dazed thoughts and he started to take more notice of events. They both looked at Richie as he lay on the bed seeing the dried blood that virtually covered his torso and legs. Gently Methos reached out and rolled him onto his front. The blisters from the burns had started to heal but there was still more damaged skin than not.
"There's an awful lot of blood here" Methos mused "It's going to take some time to remove".
"Not if we put him in the shower" Duncan replied. He appeared more centered now that he had something constructive to do.
"Yes, but he's still dead and I'd rather we got him clean before he wakes" Methos explained. "He's going to hurt badly enough without having to scrub this lot off".
"Then we'll just have to hold him" Duncan said. Putting his arms under Richie's shoulders and knees he gently picked Richie up and carried him towards the bathroom.
Methos watched him for a couple of seconds before turning to Amanda. She turned to face him and asked "What can I do?"
"He's going to need to rest and that'll be hard while he hurts so badly". Methos handed her the keys to the rental car. "I suspect the only way we'll get him to rest is sedate him and morphine might be a good idea too. Why don't you go and find something ... appropriate?"
Amanda flashed a quick smile which Methos answered with one of his own. He knew how she was likely to come by such an item in the middle of the night and was sure that Duncan wouldn't approve. However, Duncan's moral beliefs were of minor importance given the circumstances.
"OK, I'll be back as soon as I can" she said as she left.
Methos turned and followed Duncan into the bathroom. He found him adjusting the water temperature with one hand whilst holding Richie against him with the other.
"Here let me hold him" Methos said.
"No." Duncan replied. "Just get in here and help me". He kicked off his shoes, but didn't waste time removing the rest of his clothes, before carrying Richie under the running water. Methos sighed once, quickly stripped off his own clothing until he was left wearing just his boxers and followed them into the shower. Duncan raised his eyebrows at the sight of him.
"I don't have dry clothes here Mac!" he said with a quick grin. He picked up the soap and a washcloth. "You hold him and I'll wash" he instructed.
Duncan held Richie tight against him as Methos gently rubbed Richie's back and legs washing away the blood and semen. The burns which covered his skin were now all forming blisters but these were beginning to heal. A quick shampoo completed the area that Methos could reach.
"I'll hold him now, Mac". Methos gently eased Richie back against him holding him carefully under his arms. Duncan picked up the discarded washcloth and continued the gentle cleaning, relieved to see that most of the wounds to Richie's chest and abdomen were almost completely healed. The only remaining signs were the rapidly fading red lines where the knife wounds had been. Once finished he turned off the shower and stepped out of the cubical. He returned with a couple of large towels and carefully dried Richie's front, legs and arms. He then took Richie back from Methos and waited as the older man dried his back before wrapping the towel around him and carrying him back to the bed. He kicked the comforter onto the floor and laid him very gently face down on the silk sheet.
Methos dried himself rapidly and dressed, leaving his wet boxers and the towel in the bathroom. Returning to the bed he looked at Duncan. "Go and get dry Mac" he said realizing that the younger man still wore his soaking clothes. "I'll stay with him".
Duncan grabbed a clean pair of sweats and disappeared into the bathroom. He returned almost immediately, wearing only the sweats and toweling still damp hair. Sitting slowly on the side of the bed he looked at Methos. The older immortal could see the uncertainty in the normally clear thinking Scots eyes as he spoke. "I'm not sure what we should do. How can we best help him now?"
"Now", replied the older man, "Now we wait". Duncan sighed heavily then gently took Richie's hand. Methos was right there was nothing else they could do. Richie's own body would have to do the rest. Still holding his students hand, Duncan settled down to wait for the buzz that would precede Richie's awakening.
Methos glanced at his watch. Less than two hours had passed since they had left the dojo to go and find Ulick and rescue Richie. By most standards it had been a successful night. The rescue squad had gone in, the hero killed the villain and the hostage was safe. Admittedly neither alive or well...but hey, what was the point in being immortal if you couldn't survive a few deaths? Unfortunately, unlike in a bad movie, the story didn't end there with everyone living happily ever after. Methos knew that the worst part was yet to come. Physical torture, that could be endured, but the emotional scars were often more permanent and took longer to heal.
He looked across the room to the bed where Duncan sat holding Richie's hand and guessed that his friend's patient vigil would soon be over. Richie's immortal body had healed the worst of the damage and he should be reviving in the next few minutes. How badly the whole affair would affect the youngster had yet to be seen.
A sharp gasp of air and the returning buzz warned Methos that the wait was over and he stood up and walked towards the bed. Duncan was watching his student intently, gently rubbing the back of the hand he held. Richie suddenly moaned almost like an animal in pain, the noise reminding Methos uncomfortably of memories from long in his past that he would rather leave there. Before either he or Duncan could react Richie snatched his hand free and curled into a tight fetal ball shaking violently.
For a moment Duncan froze, wondering how best to try to comfort the younger man. He started to reach out to touch him then hesitated as the moans reduced to almost a whimper. He looked at Methos, searching for support. Methos cursed quietly as he sat on the other side of the bed. This was not a good sign.
"Don't touch him yet, Mac" he whispered "Talk to him. Let your voice reach him"
"Richie...Rich...Its OK now...You're safe". Duncan spoke quietly using the same tone of voice he had used in the past to calm frightened animals. "We're home, Rich...you're safe here!"
The whimpers reduced slightly and the some of the tension seemed to be released from the shaking body. Methos nodded encouragement to Duncan who continued to speak in the same way.
"Richie...its over...you're safe"
"Mac?". Richie's voice was so hoarse it was almost non existent.
"Yes Rich...I'm here. You're safe now". Mac slowly held out his arms as Richie finally opened his eyes to look at him.
"Mac!" The word broke off into a single sob and Richie almost threw himself into Duncan's waiting arms, ignoring the agony the movement caused to his still healing body. For a moment the blackness threatened to return, then the awareness of the pain started to recede as Richie's entire world seemed to consist of the comfort offered by the pair of strong arms around him.
"Richie...Oh Rich" Duncan whispered. Slowly he eased his legs onto the bed, leaned back against the headboard and settled the still trembling body more comfortably in his arms.
Methos stood and left them there, Duncan holding and gently rocking Richie. The first step on the road to recovery had been taken. He knew from bitter experience that this first step was vital and often the hardest to make. The fact that Richie had slipped past it so quickly was a good sign and he hoped that the rest of his recovery would be as easy. Somehow, though, he doubted it. Whatever method Ulick had used to break Richie had been thorough. He couldn't help but think that it was a pity Ulick had died so easily. Death was too good for him. He should have been made to suffer more for what he had done to Richie. Unbidden, a brief memory surfaced of a time when Methos himself would have made sure he suffered, or more likely he realised have been the one to break Richie in the first place. Resolutely he pushed that memory back into the darkest corners of his mind. Duncan and Richie were going to need his support in the next few days and neither of them were ready to understand what he had once been.
Amanda hurried back from the pharmacy she had visited and up to the loft. Since she hadn't wanted to waste time she had simply gone to the nearest store. The fact that it had been closed for the night didn't unduly delay her, and the few items she had borrowed would not be missed immediately. As usual she had made sure that she left no obvious signs of her visit.
She used the stairs to return to the loft soon feeling the presence of other immortals and was not surprised when Methos met her at the door with a sword held in one hand.
"Yes, he woke about 10 minutes ago" Methos answered her unspoken question before she could even ask it.
Amanda smiled rather weakly. She didn't like being that predictable, but under the circumstances she wasn't going to be too upset about it. "How is he?" she asked quietly.
"Not good" Methos' smile was also a little forced. "His body is healing but that will be the easy part. MacLeod is staying with him. Hopefully he'll be able to get him to rest."
Amanda looked at the pair as they sat on the bed. Duncan had both arms wrapped around Richie, who was desperately clinging to him. Looking closer Amanda could see that even though Duncan was speaking softly and trying to reassure Richie he looked almost as bad as the youngster. Amanda couldn't remember the last time she had seen the usually calm Scot so shaken.
"I don't know which of them needs the other most" she said in a soft voice. "They both look shattered".
"I'm not sure who's supporting who, either" Methos replied. "Did you get anything useful?"
Amanda held up her acquisitions for Methos' inspection. "These any good?"
Methos nodded and took the various items from her. "Perfect. Just what the Doctor ordered". As he turned away Amanda thought she heard him say sadly to himself "It's been a long time since I could call myself that though." Wondering what pain was behind that statement she followed him into the kitchen.
Methos quickly prepared a syringe and measured a liquid into it from one of the bottles Amanda had brought. He then took a glass and opened the refrigerator. "Good, I hoped he'd have some fruit juice here" He filled the glass with orange juice and then measured a small amount of liquid from another of the bottles adding it to the glass.
Methos looked up to see Amanda watching carefully. "This is a combination of a strong analgesic and a sedative" he explained as he picked up the syringe. "What Richie needs most is to rest and this should help him do that".
"So who is the orange for?" Amanda asked curiously.
Methos smiled grimly "MacLeod". Amanda looked slightly shocked. "He also needs rest. He's hasn't slept for days and he's just taken a quickening. I'm lacing the fruit juice with a mild sedative. It should help him sleep"
With an understanding smile Amanda replied "How are you going to get him to take it?"
"I'm hoping he won't notice" Methos admitted. "It's almost tasteless and the orange should disguise it nicely". He picked up the glass and looked at her. "If all else fails I'm relying on your feminine charms to encourage him." With that he walked towards the bed with Amanda following.
"MacLeod". Methos spoke quietly but there was no answer from the figure on the bed. "Hey Mac" he repeated a bit louder.
"What do..." Duncan started to speak and he turned slightly to look at Methos. However, he broke off when even this slight movement brought a sudden moan of pain from Richie. Quickly he returned his attention to his student who was trembling violently in his arms.
"Richie...Rich...It's OK, just try to relax." Duncan comforted as he gently rubbed Richie's shoulder. "Let your body heal."
"Why is it taking so long?" Richie managed to gasp between shudders. "I've always healed quickly before."
Methos handed the glass of orange to Amanda and sat down on the bed on the opposite side of Richie as he answered. "You are healing Richie, but it's going to take time. Your body has been trying to repair itself ever since Ulick first shot you but it never had a chance to fully heal. It could be several hours yet before..."
"No" Richie moaned. "Not hours...please..."
"I can help if you'll let me" Methos held up the syringe and continued "This will help you sleep and let your body heal."
"What is it?" Duncan asked suspiciously. "How do you know it will help?"
"I've trained and worked as a Doctor more than once in my life, MacLeod." Methos replied sharply. He was about to continue when Richie spoke up.
"Do it!" A slight smile crossed his pained face as he continued "It might just help and it can't kill me."
Methos smiled and reached out to take Richie's arm. "Hopefully by the time you wake your body will have healed." Richie tried to relax and stop the tremors that kept running through his arm. Despite his best efforts Methos found it impossible to insert the syringe. "Damn" he muttered. "MacLeod, you'll have to help me hold his arm."
Duncan moved his hand from Richie' shoulder and helped Methos to steady Richie's arm.
"Mac" Richie looked into his mentors eyes as Methos slipped the needle into his arm and ejected the contents. "Stay with me...please"
"I'll be right here Richie...I promise." Duncan continued to hold Richie as the tremors gradually ceased and he slipped into a deep sleep. With Methos helping they eased him down onto the bed and pulled the comforter over him.
"It might be an idea to put some clothes on him before he wakes again" Methos said with a slight grin. "He certainly won't appreciate being naked in front of all of us, although perhaps in Amanda's case..."
A smile crossed Duncan's face at that thought. "True, but perhaps this is not the time. He'll have left some spare clothes here in his sports bag."
"OK, I'll get them in a few minutes. Once his body is fully healed we can get a pair of sweats on him." Methos replied.
Amanda decided that it was time she did her part and walked over to kneel on the floor in front of Duncan. "You look exhausted, Duncan. Perhaps you should try to get some sleep too."
"No, I want to stay here in case he wakes" he replied sharply.
"Well, at least drink this orange" she countered. "The sugar will help you stay awake." For a long moment she thought he was going to refuse but then he relented and reached for the glass. He took a couple of small sips. "All of it" she encouraged.
"OK. But you get to make the coffee" He replied as he drained the glass.
"Sure thing." She took the glass from him and started towards the kitchen. "Colombian or Kenyan?" There was no reply and she turned back to see Methos gently maneuvering a very relaxed Duncan back onto the bed. Quickly she put the glass down and went to help him remove Duncan's shirt and shoes.
"How much was in that?" she asked as they laid Duncan next to Richie and pulled the comforter over the pair of them.
"Enough to keep him out for a couple of hours at least" he replied. "I didn't expect you to be able to get him to drink it all though!"
"Don't you have faith in my feminine charms then?" she asked slyly.
"I'm sure your feminine charms and other skills are all in first class condition" he replied carefully "but right now I'm most interested in your coffee making ones."
"You..." she looked almost angrily at him, but then she saw the twinkle in the green gold eyes. "OK, I guess we do both deserve a cup" she said with a smile and walked over to the kitchen area.
Standing alone by the bed Methos looked again at the two immortals. Duncan lay on his back with his right arm under Richie who had his head resting on Duncan's shoulder. The affection they shared was obvious and he hoped that this mess wouldn't spoil it. Adjusting the comforter covering the two sleeping forms he whispered "Sleep well, Highlander. I'll watch over him"
While Amanda made the coffee Methos dug a bottle of Duncan's best scotch out. He stood with his back to her as he found two glasses and poured their drinks. By the time she returned with two mugs of coffee he was sprawled on the sofa. She exchanged one of the mugs for the glass he held out to her and they sat together on the sofa to drink them.
"What happens now?" she asked as she raised the glass of scotch in a silent toast to their survival and took a long drink.
"I'm not sure" he replied raising his glass and watching her carefully. "It will depend on how Richie deals with what happened and how MacLeod deals with his guilt. It could take sometime before we know for sure." He reached out and took the now empty glass from her suddenly numb fingers. Carefully he turned her to lie along the sofa and threw a rug over her. "They aren't the only ones who need to rest Amanda but I wondered whether you would fall for the same trick" he whispered to the sleeping immortal. "Sleep now, I'll keep watch."
Methos stood and took the glasses into the kitchen to wash before sorting out the mess left in the bathroom. Once everything was tidy Methos stood and looked at the three sleeping immortals in the loft. He said a silent prayer to a couple of long forgotten deities then settled down with a book to watch and wait.
Duncan was standing looking at a blank metal door. There was nothing to distinguish it or tell him what was behind it, just a single key. Reaching out he turned the key and the door opened slowly away from him revealing an L-shaped room with a few pipes running along the top of bare brick walls. Stepping into the room he saw that there were no windows and what little light there was came from a single strip light in the ceiling. A table was placed against the wall but, try as he might, he couldn't focus on the items placed upon it. Two more steps into the room and he could see what waited for him behind the corner of the room.
Richie stood there quietly, his Rapier held loosely in his right hand, it's blade resting against his denim clad thigh. He said nothing as Duncan loosened his coat and reached inside. Slowly Duncan withdrew his hand from the folds of his coat and displayed not the katana Richie expected but a pair of handcuffs. His eyes widened slightly and for the first time he spoke.
"Mac? Mac what are they for?"
Duncan didn't reply. Instead he reached out with his left hand and carefully took the Rapier from Richie's grasp. He turned, took a couple of steps back towards the door and carefully placed it on the table next to the previously unidentifiable objects. With a slight start he realised that these were all visible now and he quickly inspected each item. The metal on the knives and hammers shone slightly with reflected light. Returning his attention to his student he turned round and moved forward again until he could reach out and take Richie's right hand. Slipping the cuff over the slim wrist he tightened it.
"What are you doing?" Richie asked. He made no attempt to pull away as Duncan turned him to face the wall and reached the loose side of the hand cuff up and over the pipe.
"Why are you doing this, Mac?" Duncan pulled Richie's free hand up and tightened the second cuff around his wrist. He turned leaving his student stretched against the wall and returned to the table. Picking up one of the knives he turned it over in his hand several times catching the light.
"What have I done?" Richie's voice made Duncan look up again. For some reason the fact that his student was now totally naked didn't surprise him. He stepped up behind him taking a new grip on the knife in his right hand.
"Mac, stop this." Slowly Duncan raised the knife and pulled it down Richie's back. The long, deep cut bled profusely. Duncan's eyes followed a single trail of blood as it dripped down the abused back to pool on the floor.
"Why are you doing this to me?" Duncan raised the knife again and a second parallel cut appeared next to the first.
"Why don't you stop this? Mac? Please stop this!" Duncan raised his hand again. A third cut joined the others.
"Stop this, Mac please stop this!" Richie's voice sounded desperate now. Duncan raised his hand a fourth time watching in fascination as the sharpened edge drew fresh blood from the abused body.
"Mac" Richie gasped as he writhed in pain "Mac...please"
"Mac...MacLeod!" Duncan heard the urgent plea and felt a hand grab his shoulder.
"Come on MacLeod. Wake up." The voice insisted "It was a dream, just a dream"
"Richie" Duncan gasped as he tried to sit up suddenly.
"Hey, careful Mac" Duncan finally became aware that this was the voice of a friend.
"Richie? How is he? I was..." Duncan groped blindly until he felt someone's hands clasp his and hold them firmly. Taking several deep breaths he tried to calm his racing heartbeat.
"Its OK, it was a dream" the soothing voice continued. After another second or two Duncan managed to associate a name with the voice.
"Methos. Where's Richie?" he tried to pull free of the hands but the grip just tightened slightly.
"He's right here Mac. Still sleeping. Although you were shouting loud enough to wake the dead" Methos allowed a slight smile to creep across his face as Duncan finally became aware of his surroundings and stopped fighting. "I've just given him another shot" he continued indicating the empty syringe by the side of the bed. "He should sleep for a while longer yet."
Methos held Duncan's hands for a few more seconds before taking the right one and placing it on the head of his student who was laid on the bed beside him. He continued to watch as Duncan visible relaxed and his laboured breathing returned to normal.
"That was quite a bad one" he commented gently. "Do you want to talk about it?" He was unsurprised when the Scot didn't to take him up on the offer.
"No" Duncan still sounded a little shaky but he was more in control than he had been. "Not now, I just...needed to know he was safe"
"He's safe" Methos replied. "I promised you I'd watch over him. Although I don't think you noticed" he added in an undertone.
Something about the way he said that alerted Duncan. Suddenly he realised he was half dressed and just how deeply asleep he'd been. Something he would never have let happen while Richie needed him unless...
"You drugged me?" The question was asked tersely with just a hint of annoyance in the tone.
Briefly Methos thought about denying it, but something inside told him that this was one occasion where trust required him the truth. Keeping his face expressionless he replied "Well, actually, Amanda gave you the orange juice" Duncan raised his eyebrows and Methos hurriedly continued "but, yes, I put something in it to help you sleep. You really needed the rest and I wasn't going to let Richie wake before you did."
"And where is your coconspirator?" Duncan asked.
"Over there" Methos replied. He risked a quick grin. "I gave her a taste of her own medicine, but she should be waking soon."
Duncan felt he should be angry but he couldn't stop the smile that spread over his face. He was still a little shaky as the result of the dream and the thought of Amanda falling for one of her own tricks broke through the wall of anger and guilt he was facing.
Methos was relieved to see some of the tension in his friend released this way. "Come on, Mac. Let's go find something to eat." Methos stood and gently pulled at the hand he still held. "Richie will sleep for a while yet and you need to eat. Besides, I don't want to have to face Amanda on my own when she wakes."
Duncan looked up at the almost pleading eyes and lopsided grin Methos was giving him. Returning his gaze to Richie he gently brushed the hair out of his face, then he let Methos pull him to his feet and lead him towards the kitchen.
"He drugged us, and you let him get away with it?" Amanda was almost shouting her outrage as she paced round the loft.
"You didn't mind when he did it to me" Duncan replied calmly. "In fact, I seem to remember you helping him."
"That was different. You needed the rest." Amanda snapped. She stopped pacing and looked at the two male immortals. Something had been bothering her since she had woken a few minutes ago and she had just realised what it was. Duncan was sitting, no almost sprawled she corrected herself, on the sofa finishing a sandwich and a bottle of beer, whilst Methos busied himself in the kitchen preparing food. This switching of roles would have been almost comical under any other circumstances. She wondered what had happened between the two men before she woke. This was just about the last thing she had expected to see.
Trying to keep the offended tone in her voice she asked Methos "What would've happened if another immortal had arrived to challenge Mac whilst we were all sleeping?"
"I'd have dealt with the challenge" he replied.
"And what if there was more than one?"
"Then I'd have shot them and kept them dead until you woke up" Methos explained looking at Amanda as he spoke. "You all needed the rest and I'm quite capable of looking after you. Believe me, I have no intention of letting anything happen to you...any of you."
Amanda watched Methos carefully, surprised to see his gaze drift over the Highlander as he spoke the last words. Whatever had passed between the two men she may never know but it had certainly been for the good.
Duncan put his plate and the empty bottle down and stood. "I think I'd better keep an eye on Richie, he should wake soon."
"Probably a good idea, MacLeod" Methos replied. He walked back towards the sofa handing a plate with a sandwich on to Amanda as he passed. Sitting down in the seat Duncan had vacated he proceeded to eat his own meal.
Amanda watched Duncan walk to the bed and sit carefully on the side. He reached out and gently touched the young immortal's face. When Richie didn't wake he eased himself slowly onto the bed, leaning back against the headboard, lifting his student's head as he did so and bringing it to rest in his lap. One large hand moved to squeeze Richie's shoulder slightly before Duncan settled down to wait.
Amanda couldn't help smiling as she watched. "I wonder if Richie knows how much Duncan cares about him" she commented. When there was no reply from Methos she turned and looked at him. He was lying across the sofa in one of his best patented sprawls, his eyes closed and his breathing even. The plate with the unfinished sandwich was balanced on his chest and he held a half empty beer bottle in his left hand. Amanda reached over and removed both the plate and the bottle. She picked up a blanket and gently covered the sleeping immortal. Bending over him one last time she placed a kiss on his forehead.
"Sleep well old man" she whispered. "Its our turn now and we'll watch over you."
Richie was running. The walls of the corridor around him were featureless brick but he could see pipes running high along the tops of them. He stopped, leaning against the nearest wall, gasping as he tried to get more oxygen into his labouring lungs. Then he heard it. The sound of large heavy footsteps coming nearer and nearer. Pushing himself back to his feet he turned and ran again, trying to out distance this pursuer. The steady footsteps never seemed to get any faster but they kept getting closer no matter how quickly he ran. Deciding that flight was impossible he chose to fight. Without really knowing how he found his Rapier in his hand and he turned to face his pursuer.
There was nothing there. Surprised, Richie checked over his shoulder in the direction he had been running. The footsteps had stopped. Turning carefully in a complete circle he confirmed there was still no one there. He allowed himself to relax slightly, leaning against the wall again as he did so.
The sound of breathing close by made him start. Standing right in front of him was a tall figure. The low light level made it impossible to distinguish any features other than the blonde hair. Richie took an involuntary step backwards only to feel the bricks of the corridor wall pressing into his back. Slowly the figure reached out towards the rapier. Richie tried to lift the weapon, to defend himself, to do something, anything, but to no avail. He was totally paralysed and at the other's mercy.
"Now child, you won't be needing that" came a cold hard voice as the rapier was removed from Richie's unfeeling fingers. "Your Highland mentor isn't here to save you this time. This time, you are mine".
Richie struggled to speak, the numbness in his body having extended to include his voice. Drawing on all his strength and determination he managed to grate out just one word "Why?".
"Because, youngster, you aren't ready to face the world alone yet" the voice explained. "You are young and foolish. Merely a child. Your Highlander was also a fool to sent you out alone so soon. You can't protect yourself and you are easy prey for any immortal. You need proper training and protection. Since he isn't prepared to do it then I shall. If you please me and you are good enough I shall teach you that which you need to know to survive. You may one day be able to fend for yourself. If not, then your young quickening will not go to waste".
"Mac will find you" Richie struggled to speak. Despite feeling as though there was a heavy weight lying on his chest he had to express his defiance...he had to.
"Like he did last time?" the voice replied. "Oh yes, he found me. He and his friends. And he killed me. But he didn't save you". The voice took on a mocking tone and continued "You are still mine. You will always be mine. I am your master and I shall deal with you as I please. Now, it pleases me to see you learn the meaning of obedience".
Suddenly Richie found himself back in the cellar prison. His face was pressed against the rough brick wall. His naked, beaten body hung from the cuffs as his blood stained the floor below him. His captor stood close behind him and Richie could feel the heat from his skin as he leaned against him to whisper in his ear.
"Look boy, remember this?" the voice rasped. Richie felt a hand grab his hair and force his head to turn to look at the red hot metal rod held in his captor's hand. "This is what happens to insolent, unruly children. They need to be shown the proper way to behave...and they need to be punished when they are disobedient."
Richie felt the heat of the rod as his captor moved it slowly past his ear and over his shoulder. The rod was kept close to, but not quite touching, his skin as it was moved further down his back towards his unprotected backside. The hand holding his hair let go and moved down to part the firm buttocks.
"Remember this youngster? Remember what it felt like?" Richie didn't answer and the voice continued "Do. You. Remember. Slave?"
Richie whole body tensed, the memory of unbearable pain ripping through him. His captor brought the rod into position and leaned against him to provide the necessary leverage. As the heat and pain seared the tight ring of muscle he finally found his voice his screams ringing through the cellar...
"No...no...NO!" Richie's voice broke off in a loud pain filled scream.
"Richie...Rich...Its OK you're safe now." Duncan spoke gently and quietly trying to calm the frightened figure in his arms. "It was just a dream, Rich, just a dream." Abruptly the screaming stopped and Richie pulled out of Duncan's arms curling into a fetal ball. After a few seconds he started to shake, silent tears running down his cheeks.
"It was a dream, Richie, only a dream" Duncan repeated in the same calm voice. He reached out a hand towards his student carefully avoiding touching the still shaking form.
"Mac?" Richie asked weakly.
"Yeah" Duncan replied. "You're OK now, Richie. It was just a dream."
"Mac" Richie repeated, his voice much stronger now.
"I'm here, Rich" Duncan assured him again. Slowly he let the outstretched hand gently touch Richie's shoulder. When the younger immortal didn't immediately pull away he risked squeezing gently.
"Oh man, that was some dream" Richie commented his voice still a little shaky. "Everything seemed so...well...real".
"It was just a dream, Rich" Duncan continued in the same reassuring tone. "You're safe now. Nothing's going to hurt you. I won't let it". Instead of having the expected calming effect on the younger man Duncan realised that his words had done quite opposite. He stopped speaking and waited for Richie to start talking wondering exactly what he had said wrong.
Richie couldn't believe what he'd just heard Duncan say. All of a sudden he was back in the dream, in that cellar listening to Ulick's taunting voice. "You aren't ready to face the world alone...Young and foolish...Easy prey...Merely a child...need proper training and protection". That was it, that was the problem. Here he was, immortal, admittedly still very much a youngster and he kept running back to Duncan. He shouldn't need protection. Hell, Duncan had had to come to his rescue again, just like he did when Walter Reinhardt used him as bait. Admittedly he wasn't even a true immortal then, but both Duncan and Reinhardt must've known the truth. When was he going to really stand on his own feet? When was Duncan going to let him. The Highlander was single minded to the point of being zealous in the protection of his clan. He'd not only rescued Richie he had...
Damn! The sudden spike of anger that shot through Richie made him tense up all over again. Ulick should've been his. This was something they were going to have to talk about. But not now. He right on the edge of his control and the last thing he needed was another fight.
Slowly he stretched out his tense limbs and took a deep breath. Without looking at Duncan he rolled away to sit on the opposite side of the bed. Carefully keeping his back to his mentor he said "I'm OK now".
"You sure Richie?" Duncan asked gently. "That was some a nightmare."
"Yeah, Its cool Mac" Richie said studiously studying his feet. As Duncan stood up and walked towards him round the bed he stood up quickly. Still avoiding eye contact he asked brightly "I'm starving. Is there any food around here?"
"I'm sure we can find something for you" a third voice called from across the room. Richie looked up to see Methos just rising from the sofa and Amanda sitting in the chair.
"What is this, an immortal convention?" Richie asked looking at each of them in turn. "Or do you think I need three of you to protect me?"
Methos caught Duncan's eye across the room and shook his head once, just in time to stop the Highlander making any comment. There would be plenty of time to talk later.
"Go and sit down Richie." Duncan decided to stick to a nice safe topic where Richie was concerned, that of food. "I'm sure I can find something for you to eat." He walked across the loft into the kitchen closely followed by Methos.
"Is there any more beer?" asked the older immortal using the innocuous question to break the tension that had started to settle in the room. Duncan found a bottle in the refrigerator and passed it to Methos. He then began hastily preparing a meal for Richie whilst Methos divided his time, watching both the Highlander and his student. Richie prowled around the loft uneasily for a couple of minutes before stopping suddenly.
"Think I'll get a shower, Mac" he said.
"Right" Duncan replied. "This should be ready by the time you're finished."
Methos continued to watch as Richie grabbed some clean jeans from the holdall he kept in the loft, entered the bathroom and quickly shut and locked the door.
"Well that went well" Duncan commented quietly from behind him.
"You didn't expect it to be easy did you?" he replied. "There are a lot of things for him to come to terms with. Give it time MacLeod. Give him time. He'll talk when he's ready and not before." Even as he spoke Methos was thinking hard. Although he had never chosen to specialise in psychiatry, like all doctors, the basics had been part of his training. He wondered exactly what Richie had dreamed, that he felt the need to cut them off so abruptly at a time when he most needed support. Whatever it was would probably be the key to his recovery. It could well be sometime before Richie could tell them. Until then, all they could do would be to wait.
Duncan sighed and reached for another plate to wash. Dinner had been a very difficult affair. The tension in the room had been almost palpable, like static energy. So bad, in fact, that he wondered if he would have even noticed the buzz of an approaching immortal through it. Not that it would have been a major problem with Methos there. He doubted that the ultimate survivor would let anything upset his natural warning system. Methos and Amanda had tried to keep a conversation going but the small talk had interested neither himself nor Richie and they had both withdrawn into their own thoughts.
Glancing back into the main part of the loft he saw the oldest immortal back in his customary sprawl on the sofa. Neither Richie or Amanda were to be seen. Richie had left the table as soon as he had eaten saying that he was going down to the dojo and making some vague comments about needing to work out. Duncan had almost intervened and reminded him that he still needed time to recover but a look from Methos had stopped him. Whatever Richie was thinking and feeling there was nothing they could do to help until he was ready to let them.
Sensing Duncan watching him Methos looked over. Duncan quickly averted his eyes, pretending full interest in the plate he was washing. Who was he kidding? Certainly not Methos, nor Amanda for that matter. Once Richie had gone downstairs she had suddenly decided that she was going shopping. She had promised to replenish the food stocks and even persuaded him to lend her his credit card. Neither of the male immortals had been fooled. She knew that Duncan had things he needed to sort out in his mind and, although she would no doubt have preferred it otherwise, the one who could best help him was Methos. By leaving them alone she had hoped to get the process started and right now was probably taking her own feelings out on his credit card. A slight smile crossed his face as he thought about how he would make her express her apologies and thanks later.
Putting away the last of the dishes Duncan realised he had run out of excuses. He reached into the refrigerator and withdrew the last two bottles of beer. He removed both caps and threw them away knowing that Methos would simply toss his onto the loft floor otherwise. Briefly he mused that Amanda had better return soon or Methos would be beerless. Wandering over to the sofa and handed one of the bottle to Methos and sat down in the chair. For several seconds the two men looked at each other, neither one prepared to start the conversation. "Is this the last bottle?" Methos asked.
"Yeah" Duncan replied smiling slightly. He knew small talk when he saw it as well as did Methos but he was grateful for the easy start to the conversation. "Amanda promised to fetch more."
"Not the same stuff she brought last time I hope" Methos replied wincing. "That was awful."
"I gave her my Visa card" Duncan reminded him. "You know she always chooses the best when its my money."
"That's true" Methos replied laughing gently. For a couple of minutes the two men sat in silence each waiting for the other to broach the subject most on their minds. Finally Methos decided to take the plunge. "How are you doing Mac?" he asked carefully.
"I don't know" he replied honestly. "I thought I'd be so pleased when Richie woke, but now, I feel...almost useless. He's shut me out completely and I don't know where to start to get back inside."
"You can't push it Mac. He needs to sort his own feelings out first before he begin to deal with them." Methos considered his next words very carefully. "You also need to be clear in your own mind as to how you feel. Its still very recent. Can you say that you have that clarity yet?"
Duncan thought for a full minute before replying. Methos didn't expect him to give away much, so he wasn't surprised when he got an evasive answer.
"I'm angry. Angry that Richie was used to get at me" he stated coldly. "I killed Ulick, but its still there. I should have finished him off the last time we met. Or perhaps Connor should've..." he trailed off into silence.
"What else Mac?" Methos prompted when he seemed reluctant to continue. This was interesting. Duncan had told him some of what had happened when he and Connor met Ulick, but obviously not everything. Then again, given what Ulick had said to Duncan about Connor, perhaps he didn't know the full story himself. Methos made a mental note to check what the Watchers knew about these meetings.
"There's nothing else, just this blazing rage." Duncan said abruptly. Methos didn't respond immediately. Whether Duncan knew it or not that was a blatant lie. Methos could clearly see the guilt in his eyes. Anyone who knew him would be able to tell that he blamed himself, but until he was ready to admit that there was nothing Methos could do. Like his young student he needed to want help before he would accept it.
"Well, I wouldn't try to force Richie to talk to you until you have cooled down then" Methos replied. "I'm sure that the last thing he needs now is another lecture..."
"I'll talk to him when I want to" Duncan snapped back, the suppressed anger surfacing too easily. Carefully and deliberately pushing it down he replied more calmly "He's my student and I know what he needs."
""What?" Methos almost laughed. "You can barely control your own emotions and you want to talk to him about his. You'd better think about this Highlander".
"I have thought about it, constantly". Duncan stood up leaving his half empty beer bottle on the coffee table. "I'm going down to the dojo."
"Let him be for a while" Methos continued. "You both need to be ready to talk. This is one conversation you do not want to force, MacLeod."
"I'm not forcing it...I just...need to be there for him".
"Stupid, pigheaded, stubborn Scot" Methos grumbled almost under his breath. Fortunately the object of his mumblings didn't hear. As Duncan headed for the elevator Methos wondered whether he should intervene, then decided against it. This was not the time to knock some sense into that stubborn head. He just hoped that Richie didn't react too badly to the lecture he was likely to get. If he did then it would be up to Amanda and himself to help the two of them pick up the pieces of their relationship.
This sudden need to help the proud Highlander took Methos somewhat by surprise. When had he started caring about anybody else? That was strictly against his look after number one survival instinct. He wondered, not for the first time, what kept bringing him back to Seacouver and to Duncan MacLeod. Maybe the Highlander wasn't the only one who needed to spend some time sorting out his feelings.
He drained his beer, and after a moments thought finished off Duncan's discarded bottle too. He tried to pretend that whatever was happening in the dojo below was not his problem and didn't concern him, but he had never been very good at lying to himself. Admitting that the outcome of Duncan and Richie's conversation could, indeed, be very important he rose from the sofa, slipped silently out of the loft and down the stairs to observe.
Duncan stood in the elevator as it descended and wondered what had just happened. What had Methos said to upset him, and why had he reacted so abruptly? What was it about the oldest one that caused such intense reactions to him? Knowing that he needed all his wits about him for the coming conversation he pushed those thoughts away. There would be time another day to assess his relationship with Methos. Deliberately he began letting his mind seek out the calmness learned through years of training, the same calmness he tried to find when fighting. By the time he stepped off the elevator all thoughts of Methos had been left behind and he was focussed on the one thing most important to him at the moment.
He entered the dojo and saw Richie attacking the punch bag with rather unnecessary enthusiasm. Given the force with which the young man was hitting it he was sure that he must be hurting himself. Duncan was rather relieved that the dojo was still closed to the public. He hadn't opened it again since Ulick had first taken Richie and Amanda, just left a note on the door announcing it's closure until further notice. It wasn't good business practice, but he'd had more important matters to attend to, one of which was currently trying to beat an inanimate object to death.
For several minutes he said nothing just stood and waited for the younger immortal to acknowledge him. It soon became obvious that this wasn't going to happen and that he would have to make the first move. Taking a deep breath he walked slowly towards his young student.
"Do you want someone to spar with?" he asked in as neutral a tone as he could manage.
"No" Richie replied without looking at him. He continued to hit the punch bag with increasing force. Finally Duncan could stand it no longer. He stepped forward catching and holding Richie's hands in his own forcing the younger man to look at him.
"That's enough for now" he said determinedly forcing his voice to stay neutral. He turned Richie's hands over unsurprised to see the broken and bloody knuckles. "I think we ought to get these cleaned up".
"You think?" Richie snapped, "Its always what you think."
"What do you mean?" Duncan asked in genuinely puzzled.
"Nothing" Richie replied "Forget it, Mac."
Duncan would have pushed, but he realised that this was not the time to do that. Keeping hold of the younger man's hands he led him to one of the benches and pushed him into a sitting position.
"Wait there!" he ordered disappearing for a few seconds. He came back and knelt in front of Richie as he said "Let's get these cleaned up". Using a damp cloth he had fetched he began gently wiping the blood from Richie's skin.
"Why bother?" Richie suddenly asked as he pulled his hand away. "I'm immortal. I'll heal. I always do" his voice fading to almost nothing as he finished the statement.
Duncan stayed where he was but said nothing, forcing himself to wait until Richie looked up and met his eyes.
"He's dead?" Richie asked "Ulick's dead?"
"Yes" Duncan replied simply.
"You killed him" It wasn't a question. There was a long pause when neither man spoke then Richie asked quietly "Why did you kill him?"
For a moment Duncan thought he had misheard. How could Richie be asking why he had killed him? The guy had been evil, just plain evil. Even if he hadn't have tortured Richie he would have taken him. A vivid memory flashed through Duncan's mind and he had to swallow hard as he recalled his first sight of his student's battered body. Pushing the image away he remembered Richie's question.
"Because, he owed me his head". It was the wrong thing to say. Richie stood up quickly, knocking Duncan sideways off his knees and onto the floor, as he stormed away to stand by the punching bag again.
"No, Mac" Richie was almost shouting "His head was mine. You took that away from me."
"You weren't in any state to fight him Richie" Duncan replied trying hard to keep his own temper in hand.
"You could've kept him for me" Richie stated. "I'm sure his head could've waited the few hours I needed to heal."
"Anyway, we had unfinished business from our last meeting and..."
"That's just it Mac. Its always the same story". Richie was shouting in his frustration. "Some old acquaintance of yours shows up and its, hey, let's use the kid as bait. Better still, lets beat him up a bit first. He's immortal, he'll heal. It'd be better if they took my head...at least then I'd know I have some kind of value to them. Well I'm sick of it Mac. I'm sick of being seen as nothing but a kid. Someone you need to protect. Ulick should've been mine. You could have kept him for me, but no. You had to play the hero again and save me. Well I don't need protecting and I don't need you".
"Richie, that's not what happened here" Duncan started trying to explain. "I know you aren't a kid, but you were hurt and I ..."
"No Mac, never again. Its time I stood on my own feet and fought my own battles. Last time you threw me out, but this time I'm leaving of my own free will". Richie grabbed his holdall and turned towards the doors. "Please don't follow me. I. Do. Not. Need. Anyone. To. Protect. Me."
"Wait, Richie. I didna mean..."
"Goodbye Mac". Richie slipped quickly through the door and down the stairs. For a few seconds Duncan sat on the floor where Richie's push had left him trying to sort out exactly what had been said and what was happening. Suddenly realising where events were leading and what was about to happen if he did nothing he leapt to his feet and followed Richie down to the street outside the dojo.
He found Richie attaching his rapier to his motorbike, which was parked where he had left it before Ulick's first appearance. As he heard Duncan approaching, Richie glanced over his shoulder but returned to his previous task once he determined there was no immediate threat.
"Richie...wait...I..." Duncan started as he tried to sort his confused thoughts into some form of order. "Look Richie, don't go...we need to talk about..."
"No Mac, we don't need to talk, not yet" Richie interrupted him. "You need to think, and I need to get away for a while." Deliberately Richie kept his back to Duncan as he swung his leg over the bike and took the keys out of his pocket.
"Richie, please" Duncan stepped forward and reached for the keys in Richie's hand. Before he had time to think about what he was doing Richie reacted. He grabbed his rapier and turned in his seat to bring the sword up between himself and Duncan. Shocked, Duncan froze and for the first time since the argument had started looked at and met Richie's steady glare. What he saw in the blue eyes shocked him. Rage. Pure unadulterated rage. How much of it was directed at him and how much at recent events he wasn't sure. The sheer intensity of it caused him to take a step back. Richie made the most of Duncan's shaken state. Quickly he replaced his sword into its hiding place and started the bike. Turning back to look at his mentor he was surprised to see Duncan still standing in the same place, as if frozen. A sudden wave of guilt flashed through Richie's mind. Whatever else this man might have done Richie knew how much he owed him. Suddenly he felt the need to say something, anything, to try and explain.
"Mac" Duncan's eyes shot up to meet his but he didn't make any other move. "We will talk, Mac, just...not today. I need time...I've got to sort a few things out..." Richie's voice trailed off. He simply couldn't put what he was feeling into words.
"Do what you want!" Duncan was amazed how calm and controlled he sounded. Richie pulling his sword on him had really shaken him. What had he done that was so unfair? How could he have pushed his student to that extreme? So many things that needed to be said were being left hanging between them but wasn't that better then all out warfare. Slowly and deliberately he turned his back on Richie and started walking back to the door.
Richie sighed. He kicked back the stand he pulled onto the street accelerating rapidly away.
Duncan stopped at the door of the building listening as the engine noise of the motorbike had faded into the distance. Still dazed by the turn of events he slowly entered the building, crossed the dojo and headed for the elevator.
Methos watched the Scot from the shadows. Cursing quietly he waited until Duncan had returned to the loft before slipping out of the building. Whatever Richie may think, he wasn't ready to take on any challenge for his head. He still wasn't fully recovered from Ulick's vicious treatment. Methos wanted to follow him and check that the young man didn't do anything stupid. Then he needed to visit Joe. There was far more to Duncan's previous encounters with Ulick than the Highlander was admitting to. Perhaps the Watchers journals could shed some light. Methos hoped so. There would be little he could do to repair the relationship unless he knew all the details.
He still wasn't truly sure why it was so important to him to help this student and his mentor, but it was. He briefly thought of Duncan alone and brooding, but Amanda would be back soon and he was sure she could distract him. No right now Richie was the main problem. With a last backwards glance at the building he set off to start trying to pick up the pieces.