Richie is sitting with his back to the corner of the wall in a little cafe in San-Francisco airport. He’s sitting there feeling tired but not overly so, just feeling the pleasant buzz after the job well done, having vague thoughts of spending some time somewhere warm and festive doing nothing. He is finding himself in some sort of fugue stage of his life - between places and friends and occupations.
There’s the most cheerful vibe you could find in the overcrowded space full of strangers going around - Christmas carols, a smell of cinnamon and oranges, marshmallow melting in the hot chocolate - though Richie is oblivious to it all. Richie is thinking.
He was restless for the most of the last twenty years - the whole business with Duncan and falling out with him, not keeping in touch with Methos or Joe or Amanda gave him freedom to find for himself something that defines him, not what others had tried to instill in him. He hadn’t been lonely these years - too busy studying and working, making mortal friends and lovers safe and happy, exploring the world… He has been lonely for some time now, though, he’s grown tired of the constantly changing faces around him, of having to move every couple of years - he thought of settling somewhere, but there was nothing he found himself interested in doing for a long period of time.
Richie fidgeted in his seat thinking of what he was to do now. He got here about an hour ago and still wasn’t sure what possessed him to go to the airport - he didn’t even like to fly. Yes, there were times when he constantly barreled between Europe and America, but the last time he was up in the air was good fifteen or so years ago. He even managed to cross the Atlantic by the ship three times in the past few years…
He signaled a waiter to bring another cup of coffee and debated if to indulge in a piece of cake when the strangely familiar voice said with a persistent force: “I don’t want to know what you are talking about, Jorge, just please, could you stop doing it till we get home.”
Somebody who sounded far too young to be a student of one Duncan McLeod whined from somewhere behind the bush that hid Richie from the vast emptiness of the waiting hall -
“I’m not doing anything, I’m just thirsty.”
McLeod sighed and Richie found himself wincing inwardly waiting for the familiar outburst…
“Find a table here, I’ll bring others”.
Richie listened to the familiar echo of the sure steps when it hit him - he felt only the weak pre-immortal buzz this time, not the patented powerful McLeody buzz he was so accustomed to always feel around the stubborn Scott. He even made a move to stand up and then abandoned it midway not sure if he wanted to say “Hi” to his former teacher.
Richie sat heavily in his chair and opted to wait.
He didn’t try to look at the boy who was with Duncan hoping the former will find a table at the same cafe. Several minutes later he heard the boy’s distinctive voice with Spanish accent addressing the waiter. Duncan wasn’t back yet but the boy wasn’t alone. Richie heard the soft swishing sound of a wheelchair and Joe’s husky voice asking the boy whether the table he’d found would be big enough for them.
Richie nearly jumped out of his hiding spot.
“I’ll bring more chairs and we need a kid’s chair too.” The said Jorge went on to look for the extra chairs and Richie was left with the silent Joe on the other side of the plant.
Richie’s phone chirped quietly and he opened his Whatsapp.
“Hi, Rich where are u?” Methos never bothered with the grammar while on the modern devices. “still in Alaska?”
They’ve resumed their friendship about a year ago when Richie came to Japan from Alaska for a week where he had worked as a research assistant and a photographer at a scientific station and literally bumped into Methos in a restaurant. While he never bothered much with the formal education unlike his older friend, Richie liked to hang around the wise and the educated people. He even began his career as a photographer taking pictures for a microbiologist - while it was pretty boring he managed to take some truly fascinating pictures.
“Nope, got fed up with the cold. Looking for something new…” It turned out Richie was quite the grammar purist in his messages.
“where r u?”
“In the SF airport.”
“I dunno yet.”
Richie was about to write something else when he heard Duncan’s voice speaking German.
“Sie haben wollen?” A very young and tired voice said something quietly and Duncan asked Joe to hold Trudy on his knees.
“Okay, who wants tea, juice or plain water?” A discordant chorus of the young voices began to list their preferences.
“I want sparkling mineral Evian.” The girl’s french accent sounded lovely but a bit too posh.
“Sure, Geraldine, we all know what you want by now and I’m sure Jorge already found it for you.” Duncan’s voice suddenly sounded very tired.
“Sit down and drink your coffee.” Jorge, who apparently was the eldest of the merry gang, pushed Duncan to the chair directly before Richie on the other side of the plant.
“what’ch duing?” Richie jumped out of his skin. He forgot that he had his phone in the palm of his hand and the vibration of the message startled him.
“wtching Dncan with kids.”
“Apparently his.” Both Methos and Richie were perplexed by this statement though for different reasons.
Richie left this message without an answer and turned his attention to Duncan. He couldn’t see him clearly through the plant though he saw that while being tired Duncan looked somehow different. Good. Richie shifted in his seat to be able to see the group better and found himself eye to eye with Joe, who was sitting in the automated wheelchair with a sleeping three years old on his lap.
“WHAT KIDS?” The message managed to sound angrily bewildered even in the silent mode.
“Tell him to come to celebrate the New Year with us, I’m sure he’ll be able to find the address without help,” Joe smirked and despite being much older, whiter and wheelchair-bound managed to look or at least sound the same as twenty years ago.
“Is she…?” Richie nodded to the girl. He wasn’t sure who she was but she surely was different.
“No, she’s just pre-immortal. Duncan and the gang went to Germany to adopt her and bring home.” Joe said it as if it were the most natural thing in the world - to go somewhere to get a pre-immortal kid.
“How did he…?”
“Don’t know, he has his sources and he does it all by himself, I’m just a helping hand dealing with the kids - I’m not much of a helper with the home stuff.” Joe shrugged and beckoned the older boy. “Jorge, meet Richie. He’s Duncan’s student.” Joe didn’t ask him, but Richie guessed what he really had in mind - the boy looked at him with poorly concealed envy.
“Real student.” Richie smiled at him. “Don’t be jealous, he’s quite heavily handed as a teacher.”
Jorge nodded happily and the student sighed. “You are at the right age and I’m sure you could convince Duncan to teach you.”
Somebody snorted behind their backs and they found Duncan sleeping awkwardly curled around his untouched cup of coffee.
“Poor guy.” Joe smiled and turned to Richie again. “You wouldn’t recognize him these days.” He nodded to the bunch of five to six kids ages five to eleven sitting around the table with their gadgets. “Duncan really didn’t know what he’d gotten involved in when he found Geraldine on his barge five years ago. Three months later he’s tried to pass her on to his friend Valincours, but you know him…”
“So, he decided to run the boarding school for the pre-immortals?”
“Something like that.” The younger man turned to Joe with a question in his eyes. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m serious and you don’t know this new Duncan…”
“I know his stubborn character.”
“It’s not only that…” Joe gestured towards his oldest friend and Richie looked at Duncan as if he saw him for the first time. If he hadn’t known Duncan for one of the most dangerous immortals in the world he sure would’ve thought of him as an overtired step dad to a dozen of all-sufficient kids.
“Do you know that I practically do not feel his buzz, as if he himself were pre-immortal or something like that.”
Joe listened to him incredulously but then nodded. “I was thinking we were lucky not to be spotted before, but…”
“WAT kiDS?” Richie’s phone chirped one more time and he snickered.
“Are you sure I should invite Methos? He can corrupt even a three-year-old.”
“He will do good for Duncan.”
“He will… he will… Do you think I…?” Richie hesitantly wiped his hand on his jeans and looked over to Duncan who slumped even further down the table.
“I was sure you already decided…”
“You could help me persuade Dun to teach me.” Joe and Jorge said almost simultaneously and Richie nodded to both.
“I could even teach you myself…” Jorge lit up.
They heard a loud groan from the direction of Duncan and smiled to each other.