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Ships in the Night

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Oakland, California
2017

Richie shut his car’s trunk and froze. There it was again. Slowly, with broad gestures, he pocketed his keys and phone. He stepped around to the driver’s side door. His lowered eyes flicked up and down the dark, quiet street, from one pool of yellow lamplight to the next.

Richie had felt the tide of another immortal’s presence while he’d picked up his order in the hardware store. The silent roar could have come from any of the little shops on this side of the road, or the parking lot of the grocery store opposite, or a driver stopped at the intersection. It didn’t have to amount to anything. A hundred times since he’d tried to lay down his sword that last fall in Seacouver, Richie had managed to walk away without confrontation. He counted those times better than victories. No harm, no foul. Live and let live.

Until and unless the Gathering really came, Richie figured that standing your ground armed was for gun-toting creeps in Florida. Even Mac had evolved years ago, upgrading his honor code to defeat Ahriman.

The wave of presence crested. Honed metal glinted in the narrow alley by the laundromat.

Didn’t look like this was gonna be one of those better times.

When the glint grew into a drawn blade, Richie reached back below his brown leather coat for his own sword. He didn’t start these things anymore. But when he had to, he ended them. The further from home the better, ever since home had become the heart who’d hunted him down and decked him for letting her think he’d died on that Paris racetrack.

Had he told Angie today that he loved her? God, he hoped so. At least he’d taken out the recycling.

“Richie?” The blade’s tip rose, shifting an offensive angle to defense. Its wielder stepped into the light. “Richie Ryan?”

Richie froze again. She looked familiar, this other immortal, with her thick black hair, perky nose, and pouting lips. Shorter than him, taller than Angie. Pale. Thin. Shadowed eyes. She wore a white jacket, and her black-gloved grip on her sword’s hilt rotated just the way Amanda... “Michelle?”

Seconds felt like years; the years behind, like seconds. The one Thanksgiving that Richie had gotten to spend with Mac and Tessa, before that druggie punk had ended Tessa’s life and changed Richie’s forever, they’d gone to visit friends ... what were Michelle’s parents’ names? ... and the adults had thrown the teenagers together to amuse each other. Richie had pegged Michelle as spoiled, he remembered. He’d been sure that Michelle was looking down her rich-girl nose at him. She’d obviously looked up to Tessa and crushed on Mac for years before Richie had broken into their antique shop.

Mac had known even then, Richie realized: two pre-immortal kids running around. Was that as odd as it seemed, or were they more common than Richie had thought? He didn’t think he’d ever imagined another immortal so close to his own, real age, someone else who’d grown up Gen X now posing as a Millennial, someone else who might yet remember He-Man, the Pac-10, and Y2K when Y3K came around. The Watchers had nothing on Mac when it came to keeping other people’s secrets. Did Michelle know about Mac? About Watchers? She clearly knew about swords...

Like mirror images, Richie and Michelle both sheathed their weapons.

Michelle leaned against the brick wall. She kept her arms loose at her sides. “You don’t look a day older.”

“You do,” Richie said. When he heard that out loud, he grinned. “I mean, at least you made it out of high school before you—?”

“Drove off a cliff? Not quite.” She tipped up her chin. “But I’ve earned a couple of degrees since. And when did you—?”

“Get shot? Less than a year after that Thanksgiving with your family. Uh, how are they? Your parents, I mean?”

“Mom’s Facebook says they’re fine. But doesn’t everybody’s?” Michelle looked searchingly at Richie. The hollows under her eyes suggested that she was short on sleep. She bit her lip. “I wish you could tell a headhunter by his face.”

“Hey, lady, you’re the one hanging in alleys with her sword out.”

Touché. Do you hear from Dunc—”

Richie’s phone vibrated with a text notification and played the first percussion riff of Napalm Death’s “Instinct of Survival." Angie’d probably missed her train again, helping just one more client at the city’s affordable housing authority. He wanted to go pick her up. He wanted to text back the fencer emoji and the peace symbol. But he wasn’t yet sure that code applied.

Richie had to agree with Michelle. You couldn’t rule out an immortal as a headhunter just because you’d shared turkey stuffing and pumpkin pie once in the days before either of you knew you might live forever. He dropped the hand that had instinctively reached for his phone.

“Work?” Michelle asked.

“Personal,” Richie answered shortly. He saw Michelle’s expression close. Thinking of the question she’d almost asked — Mac’s name, had to be — and how she held her sword — Amanda’s grip, no doubt — he risked an opening. “My wife. She loaded her own ringtone, I swear.”

Michelle’s eyes widened. “One of us?”

Richie shook his head. He’d been with his share — okay, more than his share; he could laugh now at the perks of being Mac’s shadow — of immortal women. But the relationship that had stuck had turned out to be with someone he had to watch aging away from him every day. He struggled to keep up. Angie still looked young for her age ... their age. But if they both lived long enough, he was doomed to lose that race.

“Does she know?”

“Oh, yeah.” Richie felt a smirk twitch his lips.

Michelle put her gloved hands in her pockets and raised her eyebrows.

“We’ve known each other since third grade, on and off,” Richie explained. “She figured out about ... me ... on her own, what, about twenty years ago, I guess.”

Angie had tracked him down. For lying by omission, for letting her mourn another friend gone without goodbyes, and most of all for trying to laugh it off when she’d suddenly turned up, he’d more than deserved her solid right hook. Rebuilding their friendship had been the hardest work of his life. Again and again, he’d almost given up. Walked away. But she’d understood what he’d felt about the other Methos preaching truce in Seacouver that fall. And she’d been the first to see why they had to lay down their swords when he’d stood by Mac facing the demon in Paris that next spring. Again and again, Richie had eaten his heart out over the ideal and the real of immortality. He’d found relief in plain humanity through Angie’s clear eyes.

Never easier to appreciate someone than when you’re not quite sure you’ll see her again, is it?

Richie trailed his fingers on his car’s hood. “We’re not exactly normal. I get it.”

“She knew you before, and she knows you now.” Michelle crossed her arms. “That’s great. Really. Not many of us get that, I think. It’s probably something we get one shot at, that first time only, to carry on.” She closed her eyes and tipped her head back against the wall.

“Hey, we’re all about the second chances.” Her vulnerable posture rattled Richie, like she was inviting her own beheading. Hunters went where the prey was, but sometimes prey walked right up and lay down. Her white jacket was crazy easy to spot. “Are you thinking of your parents?”

“I should have let go by now, right? Like they’re already dead. Or I am.”

“No,” Richie answered with a firmness that surprised him. In his short, long life, he’d seen the difference between what Mac, Amanda, and even Methos said when they were dispensing wisdom, and what they did when they were fighting for love. “Hang on. Hang on tight.”

Michelle smiled wistfully. She uncrossed her arms. Her right shoulder shifted forward as she reached inside her jacket.

Richie jumped around the hood of his car. He stretched one hand toward her arm. His other went back for his sword.

Michelle pulled out a claim ticket for the laundromat beside them. She raised her eyebrows.

Richie stepped back. He spread his hands wide. After a second, he laughed.

It was one of the better times, after all.

— end —