Richie stared at the well-dressed man who stood across from him in the garbage-littered alley. "You have got to be joking."
"No joke," Duncan said calmly. "I'm offering you a ticket out of here." He gestured to the alley where he'd found Richie sleeping.
"Let me get this straight: you want me to come and live with you for what? You wanna fuck me? Because if you want that, the price goes up, and I'll tell you anything you want to hear." Silently, Richie prayed he was wrong about that assumption, but it wasn't every day a rich man came looking for him. He was broke, and he wasn't planning on ever going back to his last foster home. He had no plans on being anyone's punching bag ever again.
"I don't have sex with boys." Duncan's voice was hard. "And I don't open up my home to help just anyone. You want to live the rest of your life out of the streets, being a thief, getting hassled by cops, fighting with junkies and whores for a patch of asphalt to sleep on? Or do you want to something more with your life?"
Life had taught Richie that nothing ever came for free, and he'd stopped believing that his life would be anything more than what it was. He knew he'd keep hustling for that one big score until it killed him. Still... Duncan MacLeod could've pressed charges for stealing, and there was something weird going on with all the swords and lightning and fighting he'd seen.
"Look, if it's about you chopping that guy's head off on the bridge the other night, I swear to God I won't tell anyone. You and Sir Lancelot can have a grand old party and I'll just pretend it's something I saw when I was high." Richie saw the look on Duncan's face and added hastily, "Not that I know anything about what that feels like, no sirree."
"Yeah, and I don't own an antique store. Don't try to bullshit me. Now the way I see it, you have two choices: you can live like this, or you can live in my house, work for me in the store, and never have to go back to this." He looked up the one street and down the other, his eyes not missing the homeless sleeping in the alley between the towering skyscrapers of downtown Seacouver as the sun sank lower.
"So what's this? So why do you want to play sugar daddy all of a sudden?" Richie asked suspiciously. "You got a nice life. What the fuck do you want to do with me?"
"Let's just say that I'd rather keep my eye on you where I can find you, and not have to search the whole city all over again."
Richie stared at Duncan and tried to look tough. He was tempted by the offer, as his instincts told him he wasn't likely to get a better deal, but he didn't want to appear too eager. "Tell you what. I'll think about it and I'll get back to you." He smiled and did his best to bluff a confidence he didn't feel.
For a long moment, he thought the other man was going to say something more, but then Duncan stepped back. "You do that," Duncan said, and then got into his car and drove off.
Three hours later, having pulled off a successful pickpocket of some people waiting for a commuter bus, Richie was sitting in the McDonald's on Third Street and hungrily devouring a burger and fries when someone slid into the booth across from him. Richie looked up from his meal and saw the slender, sandy brown-haired man dressed in a tan trench coat. His eyes widened.
"You," Richie hissed, "you're a walking corpse."
"Heh." The man smiled briefly. "And you, my friend, are a lousy pickpocket. You took too long."
"What, you were standing there with a stopwatch? Who the hell are you anyway?"
The words were barely out of Richie's mouth when he felt the tip of something very sharp poke at his stomach from underneath the table. The expression on the other man's face went very, very blank, and his eyes were cold. For a moment, Richie thought he was looking at Death, and he swallowed convulsively.
"Right, so you can kill me right here, got it, check," Richie said hurriedly, dropping his voice. "That still doesn't tell me what your name is and what the hell you want."
"Answers. How much of the fight on the bridge did you see?"
Something told Richie that this man wasn't going to put up with less than the truth, and he resisted the temptation to bluster anyway. "All of it, pretty much. Why? You gonna kill me so I don't talk?"
"No." The sword tip disappeared, and Richie tried hard not to show his relief. It was a struggle, and the half-eaten burger felt like a lead weight in his stomach. Unspoken were the words, "but if I wanted to kill you, I could." "The name is Connor."
"So what do you want, Connor?"
"Take Duncan's offer."
"Why does it matter to you if I do or I don't? And why all the interest in my welfare?"
"You saw us. You need watching, and teaching, and a better life. Duncan can give that to you."
"Why aren't you offering?"
"I can't take you with me where I'm going."
"I don't get it. What are you guys, some sort of secret Knights of the Round Table or something?"
"Or something," was the amused reply. "Did you dispose of the wallets you stole?"
"Of course, you think I'm an idiot?" Richie started to say, then froze as he saw flashing lights reflected in the restaurant's windows and a cop car parked on the curb. He started to rise, intending to run, but a strong left hand clamped down on his arm. He glared at the other man.
"Stay put," the stranger said.
A pair of cops drew up to the table. "Richie Ryan?"
Richie leaned back in the booth and adopted his best casual look. He stuck a French fry in his mouth and chewed it as nonchalantly as possible. "Yeah, so?" He noted that the cop on the right was one he'd tangled with before, and silently damned his luck. "Officer Green, what a pleasure to see you again. New partner?"
Officer Green, a brunette woman of medium height and build, ignored the question. "Were you at the bus stop at First and Seneca around two this afternoon?"
"Is that the one where all the purple and white buses stop at?" Richie stalled.
Officer Green's partner, whose nametag indicated his last name was Paradiso, glared at Richie. "Just answer the question and quit being a smartass."
"Can't say I remember where I was then," Richie said, shrugging. "I was wandering around trying to find this guy." He jerked a thumb at Connor and tried not to smirk. You wanted me to stay, asshole, let's see you run with this con.
"Who's your friend, Richie?" Officer Paradiso asked.
"Connor MacLeod," the man answered. Looking directly at Richie, he said with a perfectly straight face, "Sorry about the mix-up on where to meet."
"Hey, no problem." Richie gestured expansively. He was intrigued; Connor hadn't blinked. Instead, Connor seemed prepared to run with it, and that meant that Richie had to be on his toes. Damn, you're one cool son of a bitch, he thought admiringly.
"And you would be meeting Richie because…?"
"It's a family matter."
"Like pick pocketing?" Officer Green asked.
"No," Connor said flatly. "If you have a problem with Richie," he suggested mildly, "perhaps we can discuss this at the station with a lawyer present."
"Richie Ryan, you're under arrest for theft." Officer Paradiso pulled Richie to his feet, slapped handcuffs on him, and manhandled him out of the restaurant.
Officer Green stared at Connor, who stared back. She blinked first, started to say something, and then changed her mind. "He'll be booked at the precinct on Pine and Fifth Streets if you care."
Connor smiled and rose to his feet. "Thank you."
It was nearly nine-thirty the next morning before Richie found himself free again. He picked up his stuff, only half paying attention to the usual lecture he was getting the heavyset sergeant who, as his parole officer, saw him more times than Richie cared to remember.
"Damn it, Ryan, I don't know how you do it, but you're like a cat with nine lives," the man wound up his lecture. "Your new guardian's here. Better make the most of it."
Startled, Richie looked up at Sgt. Trainier. "Guardian? I'm gonna be eighteen in two weeks, and you're assigning me a new guardian? What the hell kind of crap is— " He heard footsteps on tile headed his way, and looked over at who was coming. He groaned when he saw Duncan and Connor. "Oh, fuck."
Duncan smiled at Richie, then at Sgt. Trainier. "I'll take it from here, thank you."
"You really think you're going to change him?" Sgt. Trainier asked dubiously.
"We'll make sure of it," Connor promised, and it sounded like a threat to Richie.
For a moment, he contemplated running, but then Connor pulled him to his feet and didn't give him a chance to do anything but move forward in the direction he was steered. Connor even sat in the back of the car with him as Duncan drove, as if he knew that Richie had thought about jumping out of the car and wasn't going to let it happen. Once the car was parked in the garage next to the antique store, Richie was escorted through the garage and up the stairs to the luxuriously appointed living room.
Connor deposited him on the couch. "Sit," he ordered, and took a seat on the couch next to him.
"What, am I a dog now?" Richie asked. He didn't like how this situation was turning out, and he wanted, badly, to run. Automatically, he checked for the exits, and started to calculate just how quickly he could get to the nearest door.
"No," Duncan answered. "You're my ward. Which means that I went through a lot of trouble and expense to provide you with an opportunity of a lifetime, and you're sitting there thinking about ways to fuck it up?"
"Mac, Connor, you're scaring the boy," a French woman said, stepping into the room. "You're not going to get his cooperation if he's afraid of you." She stepped forward, bringing herself into Richie's view. "Or is this one of the times where you're the all-knowing, wise immortals and I'm supposed to be the good woman who doesn't interfere?" Sarcasm laced her voice, and Richie liked her instantly.
"Tessa, I thought you were working in your studio," Duncan dodged.
"I heard you come in.” She stood and crossed her arms. "He's going to be living here with me, too, you know." To Richie, she said, "I'm Tessa Noel. The Neanderthals standing here won't say it, but welcome home."
"Thanks, I think." He ran the thread of conversation through his mind, and asked, "Immortals?"
Tessa sighed. "Yes. These two— " she gestured to Connor and Duncan, "think they're going to live forever. Unless someone comes along one day and chops their fool heads off." Her hands underscored her words vividly. She sighed again, and shook her head. "Would you like something to drink?"
Richie looked at her, reading impatience and annoyance in her expression. "So why are you mad at them?" He wasn't sure he was willing to digest the whole immortality thing yet, but it jived with what he'd seen so far. "And yes, I would like some water, please."
"Because they chose to tell me you were coming to live here last night, after I caught them forging papers to make the guardianship legal." She glared at Connor. "When you said I would see you again, I wasn't expecting it to be this soon."
Connor smiled. "Seeing you is always a pleasure."
"Hmph." Tessa stalked off towards the kitchen, clearly refusing to be charmed.
Richie looked at Connor. "Forgery? And you were timing me, you bastard. I bet you were the one who called the cops, too."
"It got you here, didn't it?" Connor pointed out.
"Remind me never to piss you off," Richie said. The extent of what the two men had done was beginning to sink in, and his street-honed instincts told him that this chance was something he'd better take. Still, he had questions.
He turned to Duncan. "Is the forgery gonna hold up, or is this all just some big charade to keep me from spilling my guts about what I didn't see on a certain bridge three weeks ago? Because I'm telling you right now, I'd give anything, I'll promise you anything, if it means you don't come after me again."
"It'll hold," Duncan answered. "Seriously, Richie, this isn't completely about the fight. It started out that way, but now I really want to help you become a better person."
"He's only saying that because I pointed it out to him that he could," Connor interrupted. Duncan glared at him, and Richie fought back a chuckle.
"Don't screw this up, Connor. You already interfered enough."
Connor leaned back in his seat and shrugged slightly as if to say, "Somebody had to do it."
"So what now?" Richie asked. "Something tells me this isn't going to be a case where I get to sit around all day and play video games."
"No, it's not," Duncan replied. "I'm offering you a job in the shop – stocking merchandise, selling to customers – in return for a salary, room and board, and the chance to learn anything you want to learn. I'll either teach you or pay for you to learn from someone else. Even if all it makes you is a better, higher-class thief."
Richie stared at Duncan. "You're serious about that."
"Anything I want." Schemes tumbled through Richie's mind, half-formed plans of what he could do with such knowledge, but there had to be a catch, somewhere....
"Within reason. I reserve the right to say no. I'm not your father, and I'm not going to pretend to be one, but I am going to expect that you will treat me and Tessa with respect. No drugs, no wild parties, and no smuggling of women into your room; the walls are thin, and I have really good hearing." Duncan went on to list other rules that he expected Richie to follow, and they seemed simple enough. "Last thing: whatever you do, don't tell anyone about immortality, the fight on the bridge, or that you know I killed someone."
"Do I look stupid? Like I told you that day, who would believe me? Besides, why the fuck were you fighting that guy anyway?"
Connor spoke. "We fight to save the world from Evil. We fight because The Game goes on."
"Game? What Game?" Richie soon regretted asking that question, for he shortly got a crash course in immortality. Oh yeah, he thought, there's a hell of a catch to this offer. There were no curtains on the windows of the living room to hide the true colors that were starting to show. Part of Richie goggled at what he was hearing even as he began to accept it as truth; it was, after all, the only thing that made sense given what he'd seen so far. Oddly, he was more inclined to believe Connor and Duncan because they'd gone to great lengths to insure his silence.
Sometime in that discourse, Tessa came in with glasses of water for all of them, and she sat down next to him and rested her hand on his thigh in a reassuring gesture. She added her own viewpoint as well, sounding sad and slightly bitter with the knowledge she carried. When Duncan, Connor and Tessa were finished, Richie found his hand had somehow become entwined with Tessa's.
He took a deep breath and said, "Whoa. This is all so Star Wars or something. And you want me to learn from you? To live here? To work for you? I thought Connor said he couldn't teach me."
"I can't," Connor answered. "I have no room in my life for a student or ward."
Duncan looked at his kinsman and shook his head. "What he means, Richie, is that he's too much of a target, and you'd be too much of a risk to him."
"And I wouldn't be a risk to you?"
"No more than I am," Tessa said softly, and Mac reached across the table and squeezed her hand tenderly. Words passed silently between them, and Richie had to look away; it seemed too private a conversation to watch.
"So what's the difference?"
Connor held Duncan's gaze for a moment.
"If it came down to it," Duncan said quietly, "I'd rather have Connor helping me track down the son of a bitch who tried to use you to hurt me than the other way around. He can function better alone; I'm more inclined to have people around me."
"Clan Chief," Connor teased him gently.
"So were you, once upon a time."
"Once," Connor allowed. "You're still doing it." He turned to Richie. "So. Think you want to live like this? Mac's going to work your ass off in return."
"Hmm, let me think: Choice A: run away and live on the street. Survey says: bzzt! Been there, done that. Choice B: expose the three of you as forgers, con artists, and possible thieves, and look like an idiot when the judge looks at my record and says I'm on crack and these are fine, upstanding citizens, and what proof do I have. Survey says: bzzt! I would need a lawyer, and the court-appointed ones barely care to show up for court. Yeah, right, like I'd win that one. Choice C: take the offer to live like a king and do what's expected of me like a good little boy, and keep my mouth shut about anything weird or possibly unlawful. Survey says: dingdingding! We have a winner folks! I think.," Richie paused and looked at Mac. "I think I'd be a stupid ass punk to turn down a gift horse like that. I'll stay."
Promise You Anything
(Steve Earle, Maria McKee, Patrick Suggs)
No curtains on my window**
Outside the sun is sinking low**
I feel you letting go
I will promise you anything
Wind whispering in your ear
I'll tell you what you want to hear*
If you'll only let me near
I will promise you anything
Well, I don't have to prove my intentions are golden
I don't have to tell you where we're goin'
Feel somethin' wild baby out there blowin'
If you follow me
Run with me if you dare
Hold on I'm gonna take you there
Solemn as a prayer
I will promise you anything*
No curtains on my window
Outside the moon is hangin' low
True colors start to show**
I will promise you anything
* indicates lines used in the story
** indicates partial/modified line used
The Offer by Raine Wynd
Disclaimer and Notes: Panzer/Davis still owns the Highlander characters, and I'm still just playing in the sandbox. Written for the Fall 2004 HL Lyric Wheel; lyrics for "Promise Me Anything" by Steve Earle sent to me by Carene. Thanks to Dragon and Nevada for the final proofing.