The Ring
A Forever Tomorrow Story
By Michele R Mason

Seacouver June, 2002

"I need a loan, Mac." Richie said the words quickly, in one breath. His blue eyes darted from the older Immortal's, moving to a spot somewhere over Duncan's shoulder and then returning. Frozen forever at the threshold of adulthood, Richie looked all of nineteen-years-old. Of course, part of that was probably due to the fact that he had grown out his hair in recent months; the other part was that he was wound tight as a spring at the moment and more nervous that Duncan had seen him in quite a while.

Duncan continued chopping carrots, only giving his former student a momentary glance. Long enough to take in the details he had noticed, but not long enough to make Richie any more nervous. As it were, Duncan was surprised that the young Immortal remained on the barstool. "What for?"

Not that he wouldn't give Richie the money anyway, no matter what the reason. He'd been taking care of Richie for so long that he had forgotten what it was like not to offer the young man monetary support when he needed it. Richie made up for it with his help at the dojo - he was actually the full time manager, and he did a damn good job of it. And he did more to help Duncan keep his books straight than any accountant ever had.

But he still fell back into his fatherly role at times, and there were certain questions that had to be asked. Although, Duncan had a glimmer of why Richie was asking this particular question now; he was reasonably certain it had a great deal to do with Ami Jackson. On what level it had to do with her, Duncan couldn't begin to guess.

"I want to go back to school." Duncan looked up in surprise at those words, and Richie hurriedly continued. "I'm going to finish this time, Mac. I mean, I already started those business classes right, so I figure, I'll finish up with like a Bachelors in Business. Maybe a minor in accounting or something."

"School?" Duncan transferred the carrots to a nearby bowl and started on another stick.

"Yeah, school, Mac." Richie folded his arms across his chest. "I know, it's probably the last thing you expected to hear me say, but I said it. And I mean it. I want to do this."

"Why?" The older Immortal paused in his carrot chopping, meeting Richie's intense eyes.

Richie turned a dark shade of pink. "Well, it's like, I was thinking you know, about starting my own life sometime. I can't depend on you forever, Mac. And Ami has this great idea about starting a bookstore or something, and I could help her out with that. I mean, if I had some idea of how to actually run a business."

"You take care of the dojo fine."

"I know. But it's not the same. I kinda thought that it would be nice if Ami and I had our own business like you and Tessa-" Richie shrugged. "I guess it's a pretty dumb idea, huh?"

"Does Ami think it's a dumb idea?"

"I haven't exactly mentioned it to her yet."

"Now, why doesn't that surprise me?" Duncan shook his head.

"I don't want to yet, Mac. I want to be back in school first. You know, show her that I'm actually doing something with my life. That I might have something to offer her in a few years.

"God knows I don't have anything to give her right now. A one bedroom apartment and the shirt on my back. She deserves better than that, Mac. Ami should have more than that."

There was something in Richie's eyes as he said the words. A blind and undeniable passion that Duncan knew he had never seen on Richie's face before. His young friend was completely and totally dedicated to Ami Jackson, which was something that Duncan MacLeod had never thought he would see. Richie and Ami's relationship had taken a long time to get off the ground, and really hadn't begun to show any signs of being anything solid and stable until around this past January.

Duncan ate one of the carrot slices. "That sounds pretty serious Richie. Have you bought a ring yet?"

"It's in a safe deposit box."

The Highlander nearly choked on the carrot. That was not the answer he had been expecting. "What?"

"I bought an engagement ring," Richie confessed, his blush becoming even deeper. "I just can't give it to her yet. I'm not exactly husband material right now, Mac. A few more years and-"

"Do you have a receipt?" Duncan had already left the kitchen and was moving toward the tall wardrobe. When Tessa had given him those instructions all those years ago, he had never imagined that a day would come when he would actually carry out her wishes. Of course, he hadn't imagined that a day would come when Tessa wouldn't be there to carry them out herself.

"A receipt? For what?" He heard the confusion in Richie's voice.

Duncan opened the bottom drawer of the wardrobe and pulled out a small wooden jewelry box. The box was Tessa's. He could see her holding it, laughing while the music played-

He closed the door on that memory. "To return it."

"Thanks a lot, Mac. Glad to know you have so much faith in me."

Laughing, Duncan turned to face Richie. "That isn't what I meant. Get over here, Tough Guy. I've got something to show you."

Richie approached slowly, his curiosity overriding his wounded feelings. His blue eyes widened as he evidently recognized the jewelry box. "That's Tessa's."

"Yeah, it's Tessa's." Duncan carried it over to the couch and sat down, holding the box in his lap. He lifted an eyebrow expectantly, and waited while Richie sat down beside him. Then he opened the box. Nestled in the velvet folds was a small ring of gold, two emeralds buffeted a marquise cut diamond. Duncan lifted the ring carefully, showing it to Richie. "It was a family heirloom. Tessa's great- grandmother gave it to her grandmother; her grandmother willed it to Tessa when she died."

Richie let out a low whistle. "What is that thing? A carat?"

"Three quarter carats. A very high quality diamond too." Duncan held the ring so that the light glittered off the diamond. "It was one of the things that Tessa told me she wanted you to have."

"Huh?" Richie pulled his eyes away from the ring. "Why would you talk about that?"

"Have you ever heard of a will, Richie?" Duncan sighed. "Tessa and I had new ones drawn up when we took you in. When we were going through some things, Tessa pulled out this ring. She told me that if anything should ever happen to her, I was to give this to you when the time was right."

"When the time was right?"

Duncan smiled, his eyes moist. He could still hear Tessa's accented voice. "I believe her exact words were: I think that I want Richie to have this when he finally decides to get himself a wife and settle down."

Understanding dawned in the clear blue eyes. Richie scooted away from the ring. "No way, I can't take that Mac. It's Tessa's. You should have it."

Duncan grabbed Richie's hand and pressed the ring into it. "Tessa wanted you to have it. And you should have it. Put this on Ami's finger. I think that if Tessa was still alive, she'd insist on it." He closed Richie's fist around it. "And don't wait. If you wait, you'll find a million excuses, and time will slip away. We have all the time in the world. Mortals don't, Richie."

Richie stared down at the ring, his voice tight. "Thanks, Mac."

"Yeah, well, don't thank me yet, Rich. I still want to see you actually finish school." Duncan looked away, feeling the mist of tears in his eyes.

"You got it, pal." Richie commented. Then he hugged his mentor, and Duncan hugged him back. "You don't have any idea what this means to me, Mac."

"Oh, I think I do."

"You don't mind if I don't stay for dinner, do you?" Richie stood, fist still clenched around the ring. "I kind of have some affairs I need to put in order."

"I think that I'll live without your company."

"Good," Richie turned and nearly sprinted to the elevator.

"And Richie?" Duncan called after him.

"Yeah, Mac?" He turned back, slipping his sword into the folds of his jacket.

"Try to be romantic about it. Hopefully, Ami's only going to hear this question once in her life. Make it memorable."

"You got it, big guy."

Duncan sighed and returned to his dinner preparations as the elevator descended. Somewhere, he knew that Tessa was very, very pleased.

And so was he.