The first things I knew were darkness, cold and pain, not necessarily in that order. So dark I didn’t know whether my eyes were open or shut. The pain was like nothing I’d ever felt before, like every single atom of my body was on fire, but if they had been at least the flames would have cast a light in the dark. I couldn’t tell what was up or down; I might have been laying on something, standing or even floating for all I could tell. Between the pain and the cold my nerves were sending squat to my brain.
And my throat! I’ve died and revived in some pretty interesting ways in my short Immortality but this was certainly one I didn’t want to experience again.
I tried moving, but my limbs wouldn’t or couldn’t respond. Suddenly I felt colder and exhausted. I could smell something metallic and I remember wondering if it was my blood as I slipped out of consciousness.
The second time, the pain in my body wasn’t so bad, I could actually feel the extremities of my body and enough to work out I was lying on my back on some kind of silky material. My throat was still killing me; a ring of fire that soon obliterated everything else and pretty soon I blacked out again.
First instinct this time was to assess the pain: better. My body was down to a dull ache and my throat felt like the time I had strep throat as a kid. I could finally think straight and try to figure out what the hell was going on.
I’d died, that much was obvious. Lying on silk in the dark. My arms and legs were finally doing what I told them to, so I carefully felt around me and confirmed my suspicions when I felt sides and a top. I was in a coffin, so I’d died and badly enough that I couldn’t recover before being buried. But why had nobody come for me? Didn’t they know where I was?
The effort of moving my arms and legs had made me tired, and I realised there couldn’t be much air in the coffin. I slowed my breathing and tried to remember how I’d wound up here in the first place. There was Horton, and Mac, and a racetrack… The memory was there, just out of grasp, but before I could put the pieces together the dark took me again.
Something heavy was laying on me. I reached up to grasp it and to my surprise instantly recognised the familiar feel of the hilt of my sword. What the hell? I thought. For someone to bury me with my sword they must have known me. But why would anyone who knew I was Immortal bury me?
The pain in my throat flared again as I strained uselessly to see my sword and everything came flooding back.
I was overwhelmed by a rush of emotion; anger at Mac and at myself for being so dumb. Fear – had Ahriman been real? And had he finished the job after me and killed Joe, Mac, Methos? Mostly though, I was just plain confused.
Mac had taken my head that night; that was the only explanation that made any sense. No Immortal had ever come back from that, or rather we should never come back from that, so why was I alive? Or was I trapped in some kind of hell? Stuck in a tiny box, alone and in pain for all eternity seemed like Hell to me. But the pain wasn’t as bad as before; it was getting better each time I woke up and that gave me hope. I knew I had to try to break my way out.
I grabbed my sword and, though it seemed to weigh ten times as much as it used to, I raised it up. It was awkward in the small space, but I was able to use the blade to split the silk lining of the lid above me. That took all my strength and I began to wonder just how long I’d been lying there. Knowing I needed to recover before I carried on, I let myself fall into unconsciousness.
It took four more deaths and resurrections to break through the coffin lid. Whoever paid for my funeral sure hadn’t spared any expense. I figured once I was through the lid that getting to the surface would be pretty easy; I’m pretty tall so in theory all I’d have to do is use my sword and my hands to push aside the soft earth and stand up.
Nice theory, but what I found above me was hard and cold, ice crackling between my fingers. It had been May when I died, could it really be winter already?
I broke off a large chunk of ice and sucked at it, glad of the water even though it was so dirty. Then I began chipping away at the dirt above me.
First time, what felt like a ton of soil collapsed on my face, suffocating me. After that I learned to go slower, push myself up gradually. Only took two attempts before I broke the surface. I heard a woman shout and strong arms pulled me from the ground before I collapsed again.
I was lying on silk again and for a horrible moment I though busting out of my grave had been a dream. But then I realised I could see daylight through my eyelids. I carefully opened my eyes and blinked, not used to the light, but my eyes soon adjusted.
I was in a big room, bigger than any apartment I’d ever owned. Hell, it was bigger than Mac’s dojo. I was still trying to figure out where I was when I felt another Immortal approaching. I panicked for like, a second, until I spotted my sword propped against the wall. No enemy would have left it so thoughtfully close. Come to think of it, an enemy would have just taken my head before I woke up.
I turned to look at the door and smiled as Amanda walked through it. Of all the people it could have been, I was glad it was her. She beamed when she realised I was awake, and walked to stand beside the bed. She stood with one hand on her hip and gave me the once over. She looked thinner, and paler than when I last saw her, but that could have been because her hair was now bleached blond, stark contrast to the black I was used to seeing on her.
“Well, I bet when you fantasised about waking up in my bed, you never imagined it would be like this,” she quipped.
I tried to laugh, but my throat was dry from lack of use and I ended up coughing instead. Concern on her face, Amanda picked up a glass of water from the bedside table and passed it to me. Grateful, I took it and drank, slow at first and then I swallowed the last half in one, causing me to cough a little again.
“Easy, cookie, there’s plenty more where that came from,” Amanda said gently and poured another glass from a jug on the nightstand. I tried clearing my throat.
“How long?” I asked, but it came out barely a whisper. I sipped some more water and asked again. It was better that time.
“You’ve been here a few days,” she replied. I shook my head.
“No, I mean, how long was I…?”
“Gone?” Amanda finished, surprisingly tactful. She placed her hand on my arm and looked down at the floor. “Nearly two years.”
Two Years. I’d been dead for nearly two years. That’s why I’d been so weak and why I’d been in so much pain. I’d been killed for keeps, or at least it should have been, and now, miraculously, I was back.
“You’ve put a cat among the pigeons, and no mistake, young man,” Amanda said, as though reading my thoughts. I nodded.
“When do I ever play by the rules?” I replied. She chuckled and then grew serious.
“It’s impossible Richie. Completely impossible. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you lying in that bed…”
“I bet that’s what you tell all the naked Immortals you put here,” I joked but this time she didn’t smile.
“Nobody ever came back from a… from that. This changes everything,” she said quietly. She patted my arm once and then straightened. “I should let you rest; you’re going to have a lot of hard work ahead of you to recuperate. I’m here, and my friend Nick is too, so if you need anything just yell. We’re on Holy Ground,” she added as an afterthought and then left the room.
There was no way I was going back to sleep; I’d slept enough for one lifetime. Two years? I had no clue how much of that time I’d been dead or how long it had taken me to get out; the passage of time had been impossible to judge in that hole. I pushed back the blankets.
Someone had washed me and dressed me in pyjamas; I wasn’t sure whether I preferred it if it was Amanda that washed me or this Nick. I wasn’t very comfortable with either idea. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and, holding onto the bed to steady me, I stood up. I made sure I had my balance before I let go of the bed and stood straight. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but I put my foot out to take a step forward. That was when I fell over.
I heard rushing footsteps and the door open.
“Oh, Richie! Nick! Come, help!” Amanda called out. I heard her cross the room and kneel beside me. I turned my head to look at her and smiled weakly. I tried getting up on my own, but my arms weren’t paying attention again. “I told you to take it easy,” she admonished.
Someone else entered the room then and shortly after the same strong arms that lifted me at the cemetery helped me to my feet and back into bed. That was when I got my first look at Nick Wolfe. Amanda made introductions, I apologised for being an idiot and then Nick left again.
There was something about Nick that tickled the back of my mind so I asked Amanda about him.
“Yeah, he could be one of us. I hope he won’t, but in his line of work it seems kind of inevitable,” she answered. “He knows about Immortals but I haven’t told him he could be one too.”
That made sense. If Mac had told me the truth, who knows what stupid stunts I’d have pulled. Nick was older and hopefully wiser, but as security it was sometimes his job to take a bullet for his clients. Who wouldn’t be more willing to do that if they knew it wouldn’t stick?
I promised to keep my mouth shut and then asked about getting some food. I’d suddenly realised just how I hungry I was; must have been the news that it had been two years since my last meal. The apartment was above a club/restaurant that Amanda also owned and ran so a few minutes later she had a hot meal for me. It was something French and unpronounceable but it was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted.
The next couple of days weren’t very different. Nick and Amanda kept me company when they could, and I got to know and like Nick better. When they weren’t around I read or watched TV; my French was better than when I first got to Paris, but I couldn’t understand much of the TV until I found a channel that showed reruns of American sitcoms.
I tried to get up a couple of times a day and on the second day, with a little help from Nick, I was able to make it to the bathroom. By the fourth day I was able to make it on my own. When I’d finished, I opened the door to find Nick on the other side, applauding.
“It’s no big deal, I’ve been doing it by myself since I was two,” I said.
“Baby steps, Richie. This isn’t exactly a regular wound to recover from,” he replied and gently guided me back to bed. I smiled.
“I know it will take longer than normal. Hell, there’s nothing normal about any of this. It’s just weird to feel so…”
Two days after that I was up and about again. Still unfit, but not weak anymore; it was like my body had been reset to the unpractised teenager I was after my first death. My brain remembered all the moves, but my body had forgotten how to execute them; I was going to have to learn everything, all the muscle-memory, all over again.
I started to train again; nothing too strenuous at first, just walks, short runs and some Tai Chi kata to get my muscles working again. Nick would come with me and even though I knew he was babysitting me I was glad of the company. I liked Nick, it was good to talk to someone closer to my own age, and I’d never admit it but I was kinda nervous to be off Holy Ground; I’d not even picked up my sword since I woke up in Amanda’s bed, how could I win a Challenge?
Ten days in, we came back to Sanctuary after a session to find Amanda had company.
“Son of a bitch! Richie?!”
It was a good job Joe was sitting or he’d probably have fallen down.
“Didn’t you tell him?” Nick asked Amanda.
“Of course, but telling isn’t the same as seeing,” she replied.
“Hi Joe,” I said. What else was there to say?
“He comes back. From a beheading. And he says ‘hi Joe’. You are one frustrating… C’m’here,” he said.
I obeyed and he turned on the stool to hug me.
“It’s real good to see ya, kid.”
“It’s good to be here,” I quipped.
“Do you have any idea…?”
“How I’m back? No idea. Books are your department Watcher-man.”
Joe shook his head, I’d guess from a mixture of wonder and disbelief.
“There’s never been a recorded instance of anything like this in the Chronicles. I called the Old Man, asked him to come with everything he’d gathered on Ahriman,” Joe replied.
“You think the answer is there?” I asked at the same time Amanda said,
“You asked Me…Adam here? Did you tell him about Richie?”
“Hell, no, I want to see the look on Mr. ‘I’ve seen everything’s’ face,” Joe answered with a grin that was soon mirrored by Amanda and me as we tried to picture Methos’ reaction.
“So this … Adam,” Nick left just enough pause to imply he knew Adam was an alias “Another ‘old friend’?”
“Mm-hm, and I know you’ll love him,” Amanda said dismissively before she stood up and started to leave. “Oh and now look at the time, I simply must dash. There’s a sale at this little boutique I know and if I don’t hurry, the purse I had my eye on will be gone. Au revoir mes petits!” she finished as she breezed out of the room.
“Did anyone else get the feeling she’s not telling me something?” Nick said when she’d gone. Joe and I said nothing.
Methos turned up a couple of days later, in his own sweet time as always. Amanda greeted him down in the bar and then brought him up to the apartment where me and Joe were waiting. The look on his face was priceless; I wish I’d had a camera. For a fraction of a second the ‘I’m bored with the universe’ attitude was replaced by a look of wonder.
Then he drew his sword.
“What the hell is going on?” he demanded, advancing toward me. Amanda grabbed his arm to stop him.
“This is Richie, he’s back… somehow,” she insisted. Methos shook his head slowly, never taking his eyes off me.
“I saw him crawl out of his grave,” Amanda said.
“This impostor may have you fooled, but not me,” Methos replied and shook Amanda off his arm.
“This is Holy Ground,” Joe reminded him. That made him lower his sword. And pull out his gun instead.
I did the only sensible thing I could and raised my hands in surrender.
“I am who I say I am, Methos,” I said, emphasising the secret of his real name, “Let me prove it.”
“You’ve got thirty seconds.”
“You told me who you are because someone else claiming to be you convinced me to put down my sword. It didn’t change my mind,” I told him. He lowered his pistol a little but continued to glare at me.
“You could have found that out from someone, Joe for example.”
“He couldn’t have told me what happened a couple of days later,” I replied. The gun was lowered further. “I wanted to know more so I brought a case of imported beer and we talked and drank all night and then…”
“Ok, I believe it’s really you,” he said as he holstered the gun.
Amanda got a wicked glint in her eye.
“Now, just hold on, are you certain? I think we should hear the whole story,” she said.
“I don’t want to hear more,” Joe protested.
“Trust me, you never will,” Methos replied. “And you certainly won’t,” he said to Amanda, who pouted.
I mouthed ‘I’ll tell you later’ and winked.
“I saw that, brat. Breathe a word and I’ll kill you repeatedly in inventively painful ways. Capiche?”
Something about the seriousness of the way he said that struck me as hilarious and next thing I knew, the four of us were laughing, hard. It felt amazing and right at that moment, I didn’t really care why I was back, I was just glad I was.
“I think I’ve got something,” Nick said and passed Methos an ancient text. “My Latin’s kinda rusty though, so…”
Methos quickly scanned the text and I envied the number of languages he knew. It was one of my ‘new life resolutions’ to do more with my Immortality, starting with learning as many languages as possible.
“Yes, this has possibilities. I’m going to need to cross-reference it with the original Etruscan, this Latin translation is littered with inaccuracies,” he said eventually.
“Care to let me in on the breakthrough?” I asked.
The three of us had been nose-deep in ancient texts for weeks. It was slow-going because Nick had only a basic grasp of Latin and I knew nothing beyond English and my basic French, so really most of the work was being done by Methos. We’d been searching through all the Chronicles for even a hint of an Immortal coming back after a beheading while Methos scoured the Ahriman lore for a mystical explanation.
“It speaks of a reward for the Champion. Something about his biggest sin being released when Ahriman is defeated,” Methos explained.
“That would make sense. Killing you must have weighed heavy on MacLeod at the time, right? So maybe killing this thing released your Quickening back to your body,” Nick said. I nodded.
It was still hard to even hear Mac’s name spoken out loud. I was a mess about the whole thing, and instead of trying to work through it I’d just been avoiding. It was easy to focus on getting better, on training, on being with Nick and Amanda and ignoring the knot in my gut.
In my head I knew it had been an accident, and that it was Mac’s ‘biggest sin’ kinda proved that, but in my heart I couldn’t help but feel anger and betrayal. This wasn’t exactly the first time he’d tried to kill me. Third time’s a charm, I guess.
But he was my mentor, my brother in so many ways; I knew I’d get past this one day. In the meantime I’d just stay away from him for a few decades.
“It’s the best idea we’ve come up with. Let’s just go with that. I’m tired of looking at all these damn books. Thank you, both, this means a lot to me,” I said.
“Any time, Rich,” Nick replied with a smile. He stood and stretched, a few joints cracking as he did, and then left the room.
“I love a good mystery, kid, especially when it involves scouring ancient texts,” Methos said. “Just don’t make a habit of turning my entire universe on its head, ok?”
“Sure thing, old man. Listen, I owe you a beer.”
“The hell you do. You owe me twenty.”