AN: This is told in multiple points of view. I made it as clear as possible to distinguish between the characters.

DUNCAN

As soon as the quickening is over I begin making my way towards the buzz that I am feeling, hoping it is Richie. I know Joe has gone to find him, so I'm not in much of a hurry. . . until I hear Joe's frantic yells.

"MacLeod! Get in here! Hurry!"

Oh, God, something's wrong! I begin running. I feel Richie's presence, but he's not saying anything. Richie quiet is never a good sign.

JOE

I find Richie fairly easily. All I have to do is follow the wheezing. I've seen many things in my days, between my time as a solider and my time as a Watcher there isn't much left that affects me. What I see when I find Richie tears me to shreds. He's just a kid! Barely even nineteen and people treat him like he's some kind of pawn in some twisted game. Sometimes I wonder if he ever wishes someone would take his head and get it over with, I'm sure he isn't very found of the torture he receives regularly. There is no time for that now.

As I finally pinpoint the source of the wheezing I find Richie: crouching strangely in the middle of a room that looks a bit like an abandoned laboratory, his hands tied behind his back, blood all around him, and his eyes squeezed tightly shut.

"Richie!" I hurry to his side. He lifts his head and opens his mouth making a strange gargling noise. I untie his hands and immediately he begins rubbing at his eyes. "Richie! What's wrong?" I ask. He just shakes his head and keeps rubbing. "Let me look." I take his chin in my hand. He squeezes his eyes shut again. "Open your eyes," I tell him. He shakes his head again. "I have to see, open your eyes." He opens them. I can't help but gasp; his eyes that were usually a bright blue, that were usually the easiest way he could make a girl melt into his arms, that usually expressed such joy and happiness. . . look more gray than blue, they are blood shot like I have never seen before, and expressing what his mouth cannot. He can't see me. He can't see anything. And he's in pain. "Richie," I tell him slowly. "Don't rub your eyes, don't blink if you can help it. Do you understand?" He nods and takes a shaky breath. The lights go out. I assume Mac has taken this bastard's head.

RICHIE

I hate being kidnapped. It used to be a frightening experience, now it's just annoying. I have plans for today, but now they're cancelled. I very rarely fight it anymore, it's become very routine: I get kidnapped, tied up, usually gagged because I don't stop talking, and then Mac comes, takes whoever's head, unties me, and we go home. If I had known this was going to be different, I would have fought more.

I'm standing in the middle of this Dr. Frankenstein laboratory, bored out of my mind. There are two guys on either side of me holding onto my arms and my hands are tied behind my back. This really old immortal guy is explaining to me his brilliant plan to kill Mac. It involves chemicals, chemicals with really big complicated names that I can't even begin to pronounce. I ignore him and look around the room. There's all sorts of crap in here. I'd be tempted to play with it all if I was given the chance, but I'm not. I'm not here to play and make things blow up, I'm here to be threatened. . . which I am. What fun.

I notice the immortal (the other guys are just lackeys, mortal to the core) is staring at me. I think this is my line. What was he saying a second ago? I can't remember, I wasn't paying attention. He's still looking at me. I'm supposed to say something, I don't really want to say anything. At least not anything that has to do with his plan, I want to know what time it is so I can see if I'm going to be home in time to watch the game tonight. But, he is expecting me to say something. Think of something witty! Think of something annoying! What do I usually say? Oh, yeah, the staple for when I don't pay attention to the big bad guy's evil plan.

"Go to hell," I say, kinda halfheartedly. My mind's not in the game at the moment, my mind's happily romping through outerspace, content to not make much sense. I'm okay with that. As long as nobody hits me, I don't care what's going on. . . I now officially care what's going on. Who hit me? I don't care who it is, my face hurts. I look at the immortal and set my jaw. I'm not doing this to keep from saying something I'll regret; I'm doing this because nothing has come to mind to say. I really need to start paying attention.

"Fine, if that's the way you want to play it," the immortal says picking up a vile from the little tube holding thingy.

If what's the way I want to play what? I wonder. I keep my jaw set and my glare steady as I try to figure out what I did to make him angry. I feel lackey number one (the guy on my left) let go of my arm and lackey number two (the guy on my right) step behind me and hold both my arms. Uh-oh, I did something horribly wrong! Lackey one grabs my jaw and forces it open as the immortal pours the liquid from the vile into my mouth. I don't know what this stuff is, but I'm pretty sure swallowing it would be bad. The lackey clamps his hand over my mouth and nose to keep me from spitting it back out and breathing. That's okay though, I'm immortal. Not being able to breathe is not fun, but the worst that can happen is I pass out. Not a problem.

My lungs are burning. Ohmanohmanohmanohman do I want to breathe. But I can't, because in order to breathe I would have to swallow, and that would be bad. . . I really want to breathe. This crap is making my mouth burn, it really hurts! My vision is beginning to fade, I can make it! Passing out, here I come! This really burns! Just a little longer! It burns! It burns! Make it stop!

It stops. Uh-oh. I swallowed.

The lackey moves his hand and begins laughing. Stop it! My throat is beginning to close. I open my mouth and try to say something, but nothing comes out. . . well, words don't come out. A weird growling-type noise comes out. Now the immortal is laughing. This isn't funny! This hurts! I am now leaning as far forward as I can trying to pass out, breathe, and talk all at the same time. None of it is happening.

The immortal grabs my face and makes me look at him. I'm still trying my damnedest to breathe, but I'm not too busy to notice the small pile of dust in his hand. Once again, I'm not sure what this is, but whatever he's planning on doing with it can't be good. He smiles, takes a deep breath and blows it into my face. I try to scream, (not a very manly thing to do, I know, but I really want to scream) and I drop to my knees. My throat is closing, my eyes are burning, and now I'm coughing up blood.

DUNCAN

I race down the hall following Joe's yells. He stops me in the doorway of a room and pushes me out into the hall.

"Joe!" I exclaim. Somewhere from in the room I hear a squeak.

"Mac, listen to me," Joe hisses. "This is bad, I don't know exactly what's wrong with him, but it's not good."

"Get out of my way," I growl. I don't mean for it to come out that way, but it does. And it works, Joe steps aside.

I push past him into the room and freeze in the doorway. I've never seen Richie look so pathetic before. He's sitting on the floor in a pool of what I can only assume is his own blood, with his knees drawn to his chest, and his chin propped up on his arms. I go towards him and he scoots away.

"It's me," I tell him placing my hand on his hunched shoulder. "What happened?" He just looks up at me with a bewildered expression. "Say something, are you okay?" He shakes his head no. It's then that I realize what Joe meant when he said he didn't know what was wrong with Richie, there is no way to find out. Richie isn't talking. And he's not staring at me with a bewildered expression because he can't see me. He's staring into space trying not to blink. It was just coincidence I was there. "Richie, I'm going to look at you're eyes, okay?" I tell him as I put my hand on his face. He jumps a little but lets me open his eyelids more and look at his eyes.

They are pale gray in color and so blood shot there's nothing white left. The skin around them looks burned and irritated. He must have rubbed them trying to get what ever caused this out. The only thing I can think of to do is wash it out.

"Come, on. Get up." I help him to his feet. As he stands his toe kicks a vile on the floor. I bend over and pick it up. A little of whatever was in it gets on my hand. It burns like hell. "Richie," I put the vile in his hand after whipping off the liquid on my shirt. "Is this what's in your eyes?" He shakes his head no and slowly opens his mouth, obviously trying to make a noise. Nothing comes out.

RICHIE

We're at the barge, I can tell because there are lots of steps and the floor keeps shifting. I nearly fall more than once. Mac keeps telling me where everything is,

"Table on the left, lamp on the right, step up."

I feel ridiculous. Suddenly it dawns on me where exactly he's leading me. . . the bathroom. Sure enough, in a couple seconds his voice starts echoing. Someone opens the shower door. (Joe I think, because Mac still has both hands on my shoulders.) Mac moves me forward.

"There's a step," he warns softly. I lift my foot up and step into the shower. The water comes on and it's freezing cold. I jump back and try to find a place to hide from the water.

"Richie, hold still," Mac says gently. I wish he'd stop talking to me like I'm five. I feel him next to me. I don't like this, even though we're both fully clothed (shoes and all), I don't like him in the shower with me.

'Tell me what to do and I'll do it!' I want to yell, 'Just give me some room to breathe!' The water is warmer now, but I'm still in the corner trying to find some space for myself.

DUNCAN

Richie's cowering in the corner. I wish I knew what he was thinking. I'm sure he knows it's me, be he still reacts strangely to my touch.

He's never been that big. He's actually a little on the small side, but right now he looks about eleven. His hair is running into his face, his features are set in a desperate pout, and his clothes are hanging off his body from the weight of the water. I reach over and slowly slide him up the wall and into the water.

"Keep your eyes open," I tell him as I move him closer to the showerhead.

JOE

Mac doesn't know what to do. Richie's doing everything he can to break free of his grip.

"Richie, stand still!" Mac orders, but Richie keeps fighting. He twists his arms, tries to knock Mac's legs out from under him, anything he can think of to break free. He twists toward me and I catch a glimpse of his face. I see what Mac can't. . . Richie's in pain. I reach in and turn off the water.

"Joe!" Mac looks at me. Richie scrambles away from him and finds a corner to hide in.

"You were making it worse," I explain.

"We need to get that stuff out of his eyes!"

"Fine," I tell him calmly. "But water's making it worse."

"Then what do we do?"

I think for a moment. "We give his body a chance to fix itself. We might not have to do anything. In the mean time we try to figure out what's in his eyes."

After twenty minutes of yes or no questions we know that the stuff in Richie's eyes is a black powder and he doesn't know the name of it. Mac is on the computer trying to get some more specifics. I can hear him muttering to himself as he scans chemistry databases.

I'm not sure what to do with myself. Hanging over Mac's shoulder won't accomplish anything and talking to Richie seems pointless. I sit across from the boy and watch him. He has his hands clamped firmly between his knees to keep from rubbing at his eyes, his head is tilted slightly to one side and hanging. His face reminds me of a puppy who is being punished and doesn't know why.

RICHIE

Either Mac or Joe is on the computer and the other is staring at me. I wish whoever it is would stop. I know I must look really pathetic because they're still staring.

Oh, God! I have to get to the bathroom or the kitchen now! I stand up and try to figure out exactly where I am in relation to everything in the barge, which room is closest, and which route has the least amount of obstacles.

JOE

Richie jumps to his feet and I stand as well.

"What's wrong?" I ask. Mac looks up. Richie opens his mouth and squeaks then clamps his hand over his mouth. His body jerks strangely and I realize he's about to throw up. He moves forward and catches his foot on the coffee table. He catches himself with his hands, but the force of the fall forces liquid from his mouth. Mac catches half of it in a bowl. Mac moves quickly, I hadn't noticed him get up from the computer.

"Go ahead," Mac tells him. "Get it out."

I thought Richie looked like a puppy before. . .

RICHIE

I'm on my hands and knees in the middle of the livingroom puking my guts out. I must look ridiculous. I sure feel ridiculous. . .

DUNCAN

I wish I knew what is wrong with Richie. What ever was in that vile must have burned out his vocal chords, because I'm pretty sure that's what's mixed in the bowl with the burger he ate at lunch. That also explains why he can't talk. He coughs and sputters, and then something big falls into the bowl with a squish. . . I don't want to know what that is. Slowly Richie sits up and leans back against the couch.

"Feeling better?" I ask. He makes a face and nods. I wish he would say something. What I wouldn't give to hear one of Richie's wise cracks right now.

I watch as he carefully wipes at his cheeks, brushing away any signs of the tears that had fallen.

JOE

I'm glad Richie can't see what's in the bowl in front of him. . . I'm getting queasy looking at it. I look at Richie as he leans back; he looks like he has mascara under his eyes. It takes me a second, and then I realize it must be the chemical.

"I figured it out," I say softly. Mac looks at me and Richie tilts his head to show he's listening. "He has to cry."

RICHIE

I don't have to see Mac's face to know what's coming. He knows two ways to make me cry: a good punch in the nose, and talking about my childhood. . . something tells me I look too pathetic for him to hit me.

DUNCAN

I swallow. I know what I have to do, but I don't want to do it. Maybe I can get Richie to do it on his own.

"Richie, you need to cry," I say softly. He shakes his head firmly. "I know you don't like it, but you have to." He shakes his head again. "Just try."

JOE

Mac has known Richie on a personal level longer than I have, but even I know him well enough to tell just asking him to isn't going to get him crying. I can tell Mac doesn't want to be the reason Richie cries. He's he is doing everything but bribing the boy to cry. It's not working.

Somebody has to do it, and I guess that someone is me. Richie's going to hate me for this, but it has to be done. If his body hasn't fought off the chemical on its own yet, there's a chance it may never.

"Think, Richie. . . all those years begin bounced from family to family. None of them were yours. None of them could ever be yours, nobody wanted you," I can't look at him while I say it. I hear him sniff a couple of times and I know it's working. "You were never good enough," I continue. "You were always too something. . . too small," he turns away from my voice, trying to look indifferent to what I'm telling him. "too stupid. . . too rambunctious. . ." I look at him and I know I can't continue. His chin is shaking, he's fighting for control.

"You were never good enough, and it's your fault," Mac says. Richie tries to stand up, but Mac forces him back down. "Think about Emily," he says. "How she died that day in the candy store. Do you remember what it was like? All those people, she just dropped dead right in front of you."

RICHIE

I wish someone would just hit me and get it over with.

"Think about Emily and Jack," Mac says. This isn't fair! Stop talking! Leave me alone! "Jack left while you were living with them. What did you do to make him leave?" I shake my head. Nothing! I didn't do anything! I was just a baby! "Think about it, Richie, nobody wanted you, and it's all your fault."

"Stop!" I recognize my own scratchy voice.

DUNCAN

Richie speaks and I'm so happy I could kiss him! But I have to keep focused. The tears sliding down his cheeks are black with whatever is in his eyes. It's working, and I have to keep going.

"What did you do, Richie? It's all your fault you know. You ruined everything." He covers his ears with his hands. I look at Joe. He looks almost as bad as Richie does. We both know Richie spent years learning that everything that happened to him isn't his fault, but he still blames himself.

JOE

It's working. But there's one topic Mac is avoiding. Richie blames himself for a lot of things most of which are far in his past. . . but there's one that's still fresh in both their minds. Mac might not bring it up, but it has to be said. I don't think they realize I was there that night. And I saw what they both went through afterwards.

Mac pulls Richie's hands away from his ears and holds his wrists. "It's your fault," he repeats. "All of it. You should have known better."

"Tessa," I say. Mac looks up at me. "You should have saved her. You shouldn't have let her die."

"No," Richie whimpers. "It's not my fault. There's nothing I could have done."

"I saw what happened, you didn't do anything. It's all your fault."

"No!" He's sobbing now. The tears have gone from black to a pale gray. I stop talking. "It's not my fault!" he insists.

DUNCAN

I've never seen Richie so upset before. I forgot Joe must have been there that night. He's followed me around for years.

I can't take Richie's sobbing anymore. I let go of his wrists and pull him to me. At first he fights me, but I assure him we're done and everything's okay, then he relaxes into my arms and continues to sob. I try to think of something to say, but the only thing I can think of is "I'm sorry." I say it over and over again as he continues to cry into my shirt.

JOE

Once again I don't know what to do. Richie's sobbing and Mac just keeps apologizing to him. I'm the one who should be apologizing. I should also leave. I reach over and put my hand on Richie's shoulder.

"I'm sorry, it was the only thing I knew to do." He nods his head but keeps his face buried in Mac's chest. I give Mac a waive and leave.

RICHIE

Mac just keeps apologizing. I don't think he knows what to do or say. Not that I do either. I feel really stupid but I still can't stop crying. My vision is beginning to blur into focus. So I guess the manipulate Richie and make him cry plan worked. But I'm still not very happy about it. After a few minutes I don't sound so pathetic and I can actually breathe without having to gasp between sobs.

"Richie, look at me," Mac says.

"I am," I reply. "I'm looking at your shirt. . . it's white. . . and wet." I sound like I'm twelve my voice is so high pitched. I don't know if Mac's laughing at how I sound or what I said. Eitherway he's laughing. That is a good sign.

"Look at my face," he says.

"No," I answer, but look up anyway. I'm kinda hunched over so he's eyes are a good three inches above mine. I feel like I'm eight and sound like I'm just hitting puberty. . . ridiculous doesn't even begin to cover it.

DUNCAN

Richie's voice can't decide if it wants to be high and squeaky, deep and manly, or normal.

"We didn't mean it," I say.

He nods. "I know."

"We didn't mean any of it. We just needed to get you crying. . . it was the only thing we could think of."

"You coulda punched me in the nose," he suggests with a shrug.

I laugh again, I never thought I would miss his jokes. "I'll remember that for next time."

This time he laughs. "There won't be a next time, trust me."

Richie's voice keeps squeaking and his eyes are a little glazed over. I can tell he's fighting to focus on me.

"I don't think you should be driving," I say. "Why don't you stay here until you're back up to snuff." Richie sits up and looks away. "That's still you're room."

"Fine," he answers softly.

RICHIE

I feel weird staying with Mac. I don't know why, it's not like I didn't flat out live with the guy for a year. But for some reason it's different now. I go into my room and discover I still have clothes there. I change and get into bed. Mac comes in and asks if I'm hungry. I tell him no, I don't feel like eating and he leaves again. I can tell he's thrown off by my lack of appetite. I don't care. I just want to sleep.

DUNCAN

Richie's not hungry. That's usually not a good sign. I decide to let him be and go to bed myself. At around three o'clock I hear him in the kitchen. I can't tell by the sounds if he's having trouble seeing or not. I do notice that he only has one light on, I wonder if he's trying not to wake me or if the light hurts his eyes.

I wake up around nine o'clock. I get out of bed and make my way across the barge to Richie's room. It's empty. I know he's still here though, I can feel him. I go up top and find him sitting at the table reading a book. I smile. It's rare to ever see Richie in hats; it's even more rare to see Richie wearing a hat with the bill forward. He looks up as I approach him and I notice he's wearing sunglasses, too.

"Light bother you?" I ask casually.

"Little," he shrugs.

"So why are you out here?"

"It smells like puke in there."

He's right, it does. "Mind if I join you?"

"Why not."

"You're not mad at me are you?"

"No," he looks at me. All I can see of his face is a lopsided grin. "Course not. Everyone else gets to torture me, why not you, too?"

"Is this one of your 'I'm going to crack jokes because I'm mad' things?"

"No this is one of my 'I'm going to crack jokes because I have a voice' things." His voice squeaks at the end of his statement. "Even if I am suffering through Peter Brady syndrome."

"You sure you're not mad?"

I can only assume he rolled his eyes. "Man, you're as bad as Joe was this morning! I'm fine. I'm not exactly thrilled that I made a complete idiot out of myself last nigh, but I can see, I can talk. . .so it's all good."

"You're sure?"

"Mac, I'm sure. What do you want me to swear on a bible or something?"

I smile again. I've suffered through thousands of stories about girls, horrible jokes, smart-ass remarks, and endless back talk with this kid. I never thought a couple hours without his rambling would be worse. "Fine, I believe you." I put my hands up in surrender.

"There's a first," he scoffs at me.

Then again, it would be nice if he didn't have such an attitude. . .

FIN