Disclaimers: Richie, Mac, Sean, Joe, Amanda, Tessa, Emily, Angie..not mine.

AN: This story asks the question: What would have happened after "The Darkness" is Tessa had died and Richie had lived without becoming immortal?

Thanks to Dawn N. I got the basic plot for this from one of her stories and she was gracious enough to let me go ahead and post it. Thanks to Tamara who helped me through some writer's block and came up with some great suggestions. Thanks to Ashley for encouraging me to go ahead with the story.

Important note: This story contains subject matter that may be sensitive to some. Please know that I am not trying to take this very serious problem lightly and some details have been altered (i.e. the combination of drugs Richie tries to use will not kill you) just for my own peace of mind. I didn't feel right putting out a suicide manual for all to see.

WILL TO LIVE

Duncan still had trouble putting the words together in his mind. 'Richie is suicidal.' He couldn't admit to himself that it was true, yet here he was helping Sean Burns put leather restraints on an unconscious Richie. . .

"He'll be fine, Duncan," Sean assured him. "We'll get him through this. You just have to remember to be firm. There are things he can and can't do now. And he's not going to be happy with the new rules. But it's for his own good. You and I both know that, and in time he'll see that too."

Richie moaned softly and turned his head. Duncan recognized Richie's wake up routine, he turned his head left, decided it was uncomfortable, turned it right and tried to lift his hand to rub his eyes. We he found he couldn't lift his hand he made a soft pouting noise and tried his left hand, only to run into the same problem. He grumbled something unintelligible and tried to sit up. He couldn't. Slowly he opened his eyes and looked at his surroundings. Sleepily he took it all in. He was at the cabin, in his room. . . tied to his bed? Richie jerked his limbs and found he was indeed tied to his own bed.

"What the hell is this?" he asked himself.

"Good morning, Richie," Sean greeted.

Richie looked at him. "What's going on?"

"We had to take a few precautions, but everything is okay."

Richie pulled at his bonds. "Get these things off me."

"I'm sorry, we can't do that."

"Get 'em off me!" he demanded.

"Richie, we can't take the risk that you might hurt yourself," Sean explained calmly.

Richie turned his head and looked at Duncan. "Mac? Little help here?" Duncan didn't respond. "Mac? Mac!" Richie sounded almost desperate.

Duncan looked at Sean, who shook his head. 'Be firm,' he mouthed.

"Sorry, Rich," Duncan said hoarsely. "It has to be done."

"No it doesn't," Richie pouted softly.

"We don't have much of a choice. You can't keep trying to. . ." he couldn't say it. He had to say it. He had to face facts. Richie was suicidal. "You can't keep trying to kill yourself."

"So you're just going to tie me down and leave me here?"

"Only until you stop saying those things," Duncan insisted.

"Saying what?" Richie demanded.

"That you want to kill yourself."

"I do!"

"No, you don't. You're just upset."

"How would you know?" Richie scoffed.

"Because I know what you're going through. I lost Tessa, too."

Richie looked away. "Who said this had anything to do with her?"

"That's when this all started, isn't it? After Tessa died?"

"Shut up!" Richie yelled keeping his face turned.

"I've hear you at night, crying. . . you miss her. And that's okay, it's good. But you can't keep saying that you want to die, too."

"Not 'too', 'INSTEAD'." Richie corrected shaking his head. "It should'a been me, not her. She didn't do anything." His voice was soft and gravely. "It's not fair."

Duncan wanted nothing more to touch Richie, untie him, and hug him. He moved toward the boy but Sean stopped him. "Keep him talking, you're doing fine," he said softly.

"No, Richie, it's not fair," Duncan said. "It's not fair that she died. It's not fair that the kid got away. It's not fair that you want to leave, too. It's not fair to me. You're all I have left."

"Whatever."

"It's true. Just because you didn't die doesn't make it your fault. There was nothing you could have done."

"It should'a been me," Richie insisted.

"Don't say that."

"Why? It true!" Richie turned and glared at Duncan through teary eyes. "And don't try to tell me it's not! Cause I know it is!"

"Richie, do you hear yourself? How can you say that? It shouldn't have been either one of you."

"But it was her! Why?"

Duncan put his hand on Richie's shoulder. "I don't know."

"Don't touch me!" Richie screamed jerking away. "Leave me alone!"

"Richie," Sean said stepping forward. "We all know you love Tessa. And she loves you. What do you think seeing you like this would do to her?"

"You'd be ripping her heart out," Duncan answered for him. "She could never see you acting like this, it would kill her."

"Then it's a good thing she's already dead," Richie spat. "because this way I don't have to worry about what she thinks."

"Richie!" Duncan scolded. "I better not ever hear you say anything like that again!"

Richie set his jaw and looked up at Duncan. "Hear me say what?" he asked cockily. "That I want to die? That I want it all to be over? That I don't give a shit what Tessa might have thought if she was here? Which one? Because I mean them all. I'd rather be in hell paying for all the shit I've done in my crappy little life than stuck here with you!"

"Watch it," Duncan warned stepping toward Richie. Sean put a hand up to stop him.

"You'd rather be in hell?" Sean asked Richie curiously.

"Damn right I do! But this is pretty damn close. You two always hovering over me, watching everything I do," Richie argued back. "Analyzing everything I say. Trying to find the hidden meanings. There aren't any! I mean what I say! Every God damn word of it!"

"No, you don't," Duncan told him firmly.

"Like hell I don't!"

"Richie, I don't know where all these feeling came from," Sean said gently. "But they came from somewhere, and I want to find out where. I'm sure you do, too. Once we can pinpoint exactly why you feel the way you do we can fix it. Everything can go back to normal."

"The only way everything can go back to normal is if Tessa came back," Richie answered turning his head away. "Now get these things off me."

"Do you promise not to try to hurt yourself?" Sean asked.

"If I do will you let me go?"

"Only if you mean it," Sean answered resolutely.

"Fine, I promise," Richie shrugged.

"Promise what?"

He sighed. "Not to try an' kill myself."

"Okay, then." Sean motioned for Duncan to help him unbuckle the restraints. "Take a few minutes to calm down, then I want to talk to you. So come to the living room when you're ready." Richie rolled onto his side and didn't say anything. "Did you hear me?" Richie still didn't answer.

"Richie," Duncan said angrily. "Answer him."

"Yeah, I heard ya," Richie mumbled.

"Good, I'll see you in a while." Sean turned and left.

"Richie," Duncan said softly. "I know you're angry right now. And you're hurting, but killing yourself isn't going to help anything. Give Sean some more time. He knows what he's doing. He can help you. He wants to help you, but you have to let him." Richie didn't say anything so Duncan turned and left, leaving the door open. He found Sean in the living room patiently waiting for Richie. "He's not going to come, you know," he said.

"He will in time," Sean answered. "But you came. Do you want to talk?"

Duncan looked at Sean. "I can't believe I didn't see this coming. I should have known. I didn't think he'd take it this hard."

"You had no way of knowing. The human mind is a complicated piece of work. It has a way of catching anyone off guard. No matter how well you know someone, they can always surprise you. For instance, I've known you for a couple hundred years and never would have thought you would take a teenage boy in. Even under these special circumstances. You never seemed the type."

Duncan sat down across from Sean. "I guess not. Are you sure it's safe to leave him alone?" he cast a glance down the hall to Richie's room.

"I can see him from here," Sean said with a slight smile. "As long as he leaves the door open he can't do anything. And if he closes the door, I'll open it back up and tell him he's not allowed to."

"I don't think he'd be very happy with that. He's very private."

"He can have he's privacy back once he demonstrates he can be trusted with it. But right now, lets talk about you. How are you handling everything?"

Duncan sat quietly for a minute gathering his thoughts. "I can handle Tessa's death," he said softly. "Right now I'm worried about Richie."

"Okay, fair enough. Tell me what happened before you called me. I'm still not quite sure what all happened." Sean had met Duncan and Richie two weeks ago at the cabin. He had only been able to get Richie talking once, but when Richie noticed Duncan listening he had refused to say anymore.

"The night Tessa was shot, Richie was as well. . . but he survived. He recovered. He healed. . . without becoming immortal. About a week after he got out of the hospital I noticed he wasn't eating or talking much. I guess I was too distracted to notice before then. I tried to talk to him, but he insisted everything was fine. He started losing weight, and he didn't have much to lose to begin with. He started becoming really withdrawn. Telling me he was going to Angie's all the time. Then one day I called to ask him to stop by the store on his way home. . . Angie hadn't seen him in weeks."

"Do you know where he had been going?" Sean asked.

Duncan shook his head. "No, he won't tell me."

"He told me. He was going to cemeteries."

"Why?"

"He felt at home there. He felt that was where he was supposed to be."

"How long has he been suicidal?" Duncan asked in alarm.

"Weeks," Sean answered. "But he hasn't told me if he's tried to act on it yet. For all I know today was the first attempt. Once he trusts me more I want to give him an exam, to check for any signs of attempts."

"He kept taking aspirin and decongestants. He claimed he had headaches and his allergies were bothering him. Do you think he was trying to OD?"

"Did you ever actually see him take the aspirin?" Sean asked. Duncan shook his head. "Maybe we should check for a stash. He might just be biding his time."

"Then why did he try to cut himself?" Duncan asked. The memory of Richie crouched in the kitchen at three o'clock that morning holding a butcher's knife at his wrists was still fresh in his memory.

Sean shrugged. "Maybe he felt that it would be faster, that we wouldn't notice. . . that it would hurt more. A lot of the time people in Richie's situation feel they deserve to be in pain. That they should suffer. Now, what made you want to call me?"

"I just thought he needed to talk to someone. And if I was part of the problem, you were the only one he could tell."

"Do you think you're part of the problem?"

"Yes. I do. He won't talk to me, tell me anything. He just keeps lying. I must have done something wrong."

"So, you're telling me you feel Richie's withdrawn state is your fault?" Sean asked watching Richie go into the bathroom and immerge with a glass or water.

"Yes," Duncan answered turning around when he heard Richie's door close.

Sean stood up and calmly walked down the hall to inform Richie of the new rules. Duncan followed to assure Richie that his inevitable temper tantrum wouldn't change anything, what Sean says goes. Without knocking, Sean opened the door. Richie looked up, surprised by the sudden intrusion.

"Raised in a barn?" he snapped, closing the drawer of his bedside table quickly.

"Barns hadn't been invented when I was raised," Sean answered.

Richie smirked. "Smart and funny, the women must be falling over themselves to be with you."

"I came to tell you you're not allowed to close your door."

Richie's eyes widened. "Excuse me? Since when do you make the rules around here?" he demanded moving towards them.

"Since now," Duncan said from the doorway.

"What? This is ridiculous! Why can't I close my door?"

"Because you broke your promise," Sean answered.

"Did not!" Richie defended.

"What's in the drawer?"

"Nothing."

"There's obviously something there if you were looking in it."

"Fine, none of your business." Sean stepped past Richie and went to open the drawer. "Hey! Stay out of there!" Richie said moving to stop him, but Duncan grabbed him from behind. "Mac! Let go of me! Leave me alone!" He fought his grip.

"Is this what you were going for?" Sean asked pulling a fistful of pills from the drawer.

"Let go of me!" Richie ignored Sean's question.

"Richie answer the question," Duncan ordered.

"No! Let me go! I don't have to tell you anything!"

"Richie, just answer the question!"

"Yes!" Richie screamed. "Yes! Okay? I was going for them! What do you care?"

Duncan turned Richie to face him, still keeping a strong grip on the boy's shoulders. "I care! How can you say I don't?" Richie stared up at Duncan and didn't respond. "Richie, do you think I don't care?"

"Let me go, you're hurting me," Richie said softly.

"Isn't that what you want?" Duncan snapped instantly regretting it when a look of horror appeared on Richie's face. "Richie I . . ."

"Let me go!" Richie screamed pulling himself out of Duncan's hands. He stumbled back, surprised to break free so easily and ran out of the room.

"Richie!" Duncan called chasing after him.

Richie ran out the front door of the cabin and paused trying to figure out where to go. What did it matter? Duncan and Sean would just find him and haul him back. He'd at least give them one hell of a fight. He picked a direction and ran. He could hear Duncan and Sean chasing after him. He jumped over a log and dodged around trees. He could feel thorns and rocks cut into his bare feet with each step he took. After a couple minutes his feet were slick with blood. He paused a second and tried to figure out where he was going. He started back up the steep hill.

"He's headed for the cliff!" Duncan shouted over his shoulder to Sean.

Richie panted and screeched to a halt at the edge of the cliff. 'I can't do it!' He thought. 'Why can't I do it?'

"Richie, stop!" Duncan screamed desperately. "Don't!" He ran up behind the boy and grabbed him around the waist and pulled him back. Richie let out a yelp as they crashed to the ground. He rolled off of Duncan and started to run again, and ran headlong into Sean, who grabbed him around the wrists.

"Richie, I think we need to have that talk now," Sean said calmly, keeping his grip as Richie tried to jerk away.

"I don't care what you think!" Richie yelled. "Let me go!" He shifted his weight as far from Sean as he could. "I don't wanna talk to you! I just wanna die! Why won't you leave me alone?"

"Because we don't want you to die," Sean answered.

"I don't care!" Richie screamed back.

"Richie, we just want to help," Duncan explained taking hold of his left arm.

"No!"

"Why don't you want us to help you?" Sean asked letting go of Richie and taking a seat on a nearby rock.

"Because, I don't! Let me go!" He try to pull from Duncan but didn't have enough strength left to get away.

"Do you not want to say why or do you not know why?"

"I don't know! God! Just leave me alone, please," he began to beg.

"Richie, no," Duncan answered. "I don't want to lose you. If we leave you alone I'm scared of what you might do."

"Well, ya didn't wanna lose Tessa either. But shit happens. And this is gonna happen whether you want it to or not," the boy was panting and starting to sway a little.

"Not if I have anything to do about it," Duncan insisted.

"You don't," Richie retorted weakly.

Duncan studied the boy carefully. "Richie are you okay?" He loosened his grip and took hold of Richie's other arm as well. "Richie?"

"Lemego," Richie mumbled as his knees gave. Duncan held him up and looked to Sean for help.

"Let's get him back to his room," Sean said standing up.

. . . . . .

The restraints were back. His door was open. He felt sick. And he still wanted to die. Richie stared at the ceiling and replayed the last month in his mind. Tessa had been killed. Nobody had ever straight out told him, he had figured it out while he was in the hospital. Nobody mentioned her, he never heard from her, it was obvious she had died. He had been the lucky one, the bullet had settled into some soft tissue and had easily been removed.

The loft felt awkward to be in. Everything was Tessa. He couldn't stay there for any extended amounts of time. His room was the only place he felt relaxed. She had very rarely gone in. She knew he liked his privacy and was happy to give it to him. But she had always been ready to listen and talk if he wanted to. He had told her things that only he had known. Things he had never planned on telling anyone. . . like the time he had almost shot himself when he was eleven. Duncan hovered, always checking to make sure he was okay, never really meaning it, just going through the motions.

Day to day life became miserable. All he could think about was Tessa and how she had died and he hadn't. She was the one Duncan loved. Richie still didn't really know why they had let him move in, or what he was doing there. He had needed a place to live at the time. Anything was better then nothing. Tessa was the one Duncan loved. They were engaged. Tessa loved him, too. She should have been the one in the hospital bed, not Richie. Richie was just some charity project Duncan worked on in his spare time. Nothing serious. They had a relationship. What it was exactly, Richie wasn't sure. But there was something there. But not what Duncan and Tessa had. They had true love. Love that was rare to find. Love that deserved to be ended by old age, not a random shooting.

Graveyards became comfortable. Graveyards became home. They were the only place that seemed as miserable as he felt. Duncan wouldn't have understood what Richie was doing, so he told him he was going to Angie's. Angie had blown the whistle. Duncan was furious.

So he drug him to the cabin. Maybe the mountain lions would eat him. That's when Richie met Sean Burns, some immortal psychologist. Basically an old guy who thought he knew everything. He sat Richie down and talked to him, tried to get him to talk back. Finally out of sheer annoyance Richie began to talk. Let a few things out into the open. But Duncan was nosey and listened. Richie stopped talking.

Then, it had all become too much. Sean was always asking him about Tessa, how did he feel about the loss? How did he feel about Duncan now? How did he feel in general? He felt like dying. Richie had known it was a mistake to say it the second he heard his own voice say 'I want to die', but it was too late; the damage was done. So he put on a face and played along. Made it seem like Sean was helping. He stayed quiet, but responsive. He spent a lot of time in his room. Every now and then there would be a knock on the door and he would make some kind of noise to prove he was alive. Sean and Duncan didn't take him seriously, nobody ever did. That wasn't true, Tessa had.

One night he decided that he needed to be taken seriously, and waited for everyone to go to bed and snuck into the kitchen. He found the biggest knife he could and decided it was time. He must have made some kind of noise loud enough to wake Duncan, because the next thing he knew he was being wrestled to the ground and the knife was gone. Good for them, they stopped him once. . . he still had the gun.

He had woken up tied to his bed. He wasn't happy. He tried to run away, passed out and woke up once again tied to his bed. Life sucked, and he wanted it to be over. He heard someone walking down the hall and closed his eyes.

"He's still not a wake," he heard Duncan whisper softly.

"He probably hasn't eaten enough today, it made him weak," Sean answered. Richie tried not to smile. Shows what they know, he hadn't eaten at all. . . not for a long time. Sean checked Richie's pulse and breathing. "He'll be fine. We'll get him to eat when he wakes up."

"I'm going to stay," Duncan whispered telling Richie Sean was leaving. "I'm sorry toughguy," Duncan whispered brushing Richie's hair back. "I know you don't like this, but it's the only solution." His voice was thick with emotion. "We really do want to help, we just need you to let us. Stop pretending, talk, let it all out, it will help. . . I promise." Richie turned his head away and made a soft noise hoping Duncan would think he was bothering him and leave. It didn't work. "I didn't mean to snap today," Duncan continued. "You've got me pretty scared. I already lost Tessa, I don't want to lose you, too." Richie pulled gently at the restraints and tried to scoot away, he was pretty sure Duncan was crying. "I don't know what I did to make you think I don't care what happens to you, because I do. You have to believe me, you mean a lot, you're a big part of my life, and I want you to stay. I don't want to treat you like this, I know it will probably just push you farther away, but it's a chance I'm willing to take to make sure you're safe. Richie, you have to believe me. I don't know what else to do, I just want to help. Please, let me help."

Richie was pretty sure Duncan was crying, it made him want to cry, and he didn't want to. If he did Duncan would know he was awake, who knows what havoc that would reek. He turned his head when he was sure Duncan had left. That little revelation sure put a wrench in the works. This wasn't going to be as easy as Richie thought.

. . . . . .

"How are you feeling, Richie?" Sean asked sitting across from Richie in the living room. Richie shrugged and looked away. "The same?" Richie thought for a minute then looked at Sean.

"Does Mac talk to you?"

"Yes, he tells me how scared he is that you are going to hurt yourself, carry out one of your threats."

"Does he talk to you about Tessa?"

"He wants to work through that on his own. Between you and me, I think he's avoiding thinking about her, using what's happening with you as a distraction."

"Glad to be of service."

"Why are you so curious about what Duncan thinks?" Sean asked leaning forward. Richie shrugged and looked away again. "Do you want to make sure the way you feel is okay? Are you using his emotions to validate your own?"

"I don't know," he shrugged.

"Because people handle death differently. Older people and younger people react differently. Plus, it depends on how directly involved people are. You were a lot more involved in Tessa's death. Duncan just saw the end result, you saw beginning, middle and end. You can't gauge your feeling by his."

"Who said I was?"

"I think you are. Isn't that why you want to know how he feels?"

"Do you tell him everything I say? Or is you doctor/patient confidentiality selective?"

"I don't think it will help Duncan much to hear everything you say, not that you say much. But I think knowing how he feels is helping you," Sean answered having expected Richie's sarcasm.

"Oh."

"What was it like that night?" Sean asked after a minute. "What do you remember?" Richie stared at him, trying to decide what to do. Duncan's words ran through his mind 'I just want to help. Please, let me help.' "Do you not like to talk about it? Sometimes talking about it helps. I bet it would make you feel better."

"Tessa used to say that," Richie said softly, feeling his chin begin to shake.

"Did she used to listen to you?"

"Yeah." His nose started tingling.

"Did you like that?"

"Yeah." His breathing was ragged.

"What did you tell her about?"

'Stop pretending, talk, let it all out, it'll help. . . I promise.' He took a deep breath. "Everything, anything, I just liked having someone listen. I think she liked having someone talk." Tears gathered in his eyes. "She never judged me, told me what I did was wrong, she just listen and told me everything was okay now, I was safe, nothing was going to happen." He paused and looked at Sean who was looking intently at him. "The last thing I remember about that night. . . was Tessa looking at me." The tears began to slide down his cheeks, he made no move to stop them. "She was in pain, I could tell. She didn't say anything, she didn't have to, I know what she wanted. She wanted me to help her, and I couldn't. I wanted to, I tried, I swear I tried! But I couldn't. Then she died. Right in front of me, just like Emily. I couldn't help either one of them."

"Who's Emily? What happened to her?" Sean asked. Richie shook his head and sniffed. "You must be uncomfortable, do want to stop for today?" Richie nodded. "Okay, then we'll stop. I think you'll find that talking about it is helping, it's not just a lie we're feeding you. If you want to talk again before tomorrow, just find me, I'm always ready."

Richie nodded and began wiping at his cheeks. He didn't know why he had brought up Emily. That had been fourteen years ago. Maybe this was working. He hadn't been thinking about anything while he was talking, he wasn't trying to regulate what he was saying or tell him what he wanted to hear. After listening to Duncan talk the day before he had felt guilty for what he as doing. He still felt guilty about Tessa, but he could do something about what was happening now. He knew he had hurt Tessa when he hadn't helped her and just let her die. He knew he was hurting Duncan by trying to kill himself. He couldn't make it up to Tessa, but he could make it up to Duncan. And he knew where to begin.

. . . . . .

Duncan looked up as Richie stepped out onto the porch. "Hey, how'd it go in there?" he asked, figuring Richie wouldn't respond.

"Good," Richie answered with a slight nod.

"Glad to hear that. You feeling any better?" he ventured hoping to keep Richie talking.

"A little more confused, I started talking about Emily."

"Really? I didn't see that one coming."

"Me neither, I wanted to tell you something."

Duncan put his book down and motioned for Richie to sit next to him on the bench. Richie declined the offer and continued to stand with his hands behind his back. "What'd you want to tell me?"

Richie took a deep breath. "You have to promise not to get mad yell, first," he said softly avoiding Duncan's gaze.

"Okay, I promise not to get angry and yell."

"Okay." Richie held out his right hand fist down. He somberly looked up at Duncan waiting for him to make the next move. Duncan held out his hand and Richie dropped something into it.

He looked at it. "What's this?" he asked fully aware of what it was.

"A bullet," Richie answered.

"Where'd you get it?"

"I found it, at the loft, in the hutch. . . with this." He brought his left hand out from behind his back loosely holding Duncan's pistol by the butt with the barrel pointing down, careful to keep his fingers away from the trigger. He held it out for Duncan to take. "Are you mad?" he asked softly when Duncan didn't say anything.

Duncan swallowed. "Yes," he started slowly.

"You can yell if you want," Richie told him shrinking back a little. "I swear I won't do anything."

"I'm not mad you," Duncan assured him. "I'm mad at myself for not thinking to look if you had this. Have you had this the whole time?" Richie nodded sheepishly. "Are there any more bullets?"

"No, I only figured I'd need one."

"Why are you giving this to me?" Duncan knew why, but he wanted to hear Richie say it.

" 'Cause I don't want it anymore," he whispered.

"You don't want it?"

"No, I don't need it. I changed my mind, I don't wanna die." His voice broke and he fought for control. He didn't want to cry twice in one day.

"Richie!" Duncan dropped the pistol and bullet onto the bench and pulled him into a tight hug, "You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that!"

"I'm sorry," Richie whispered.

"It's okay," Duncan assured him. "It's okay. This is a big step. A very big important step." He let go of the hug but kept his hands on Richie's shoulders. "What made you change your mind?"

"You," Richie sniffed a couple times. "Yesterday, I heard you. You thought I was asleep, but I wasn't."

Duncan couldn't help but laugh. "You heard all that?"

Richie looked confused by Duncan's laughter. "Didn't you mean it?" he asked slightly hurt.

"Oh, Richie, yes. I meant it. I meant it all, every word. I just said it when I thought you were asleep because I didn't know how to tell you to your face. But you heard it all?"

"Uh-huh." His face crumpled and a loud sob escaped him. "I'm sorry, Mac. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I just didn't know what to do. I hurt so bad, and I just want it to stop, and it's the only way I know how!"

"Oh, Richie!" Duncan pulled him back into a hug. "We can fix that."

"I just want it to stop!" Richie sobbed. "I have nightmares, every night. I can't close my eyes without seeing it! It just happens over and over and over and I can't make it stop!" His voice was tight and he was hard to understand. Duncan just held him and strongly as he felt he could without hurting him. "I'm sorry I didn't stop him, I wish I could go back and change it. I should have done something! I wanted to. Mac, I swear I wanted to!"

"Shh, Richie it's okay. You didn't do anything thing wrong. There was nothing you could have done. It's not your fault."

"Yes it is!" Richie insisted. "I should have done something!"

"What could you have done?" Duncan asked him. "You were shot, too. It's not your fault, you hear me? Its not you're fault."

"Mac. . ." Richie started but didn't finish what he was originally planning on saying. Instead he moaned softly. "I don't feel so good," he managed to mumble before everything faded first to gray then black.

. . . . . .

Richie groaned and rolled onto his side. He couldn't bring himself to open his eyes; if he did he would have to face reality. . . and Duncan. . . and Sean. He wasn't ready for that yet. He could hear Duncan whispering but his head was too foggy to make out what was being said. He felt movement around him and began to wonder what was going on. Slowly he opened one eye. His vision focused on Duncan's hand resting on one of the restraints. Immediately he sat up.

"No!" he pleaded pushing himself into his headboard. "Please, don't! I didn't do anything! I just wanted to keep it!" he explained desperately.

Duncan looked up, surprised by Richie's reaction. "I'm not going to. . ."

"Oh, God, please don't!" Richie continued trying to figure out what he had done wrong. "I'll eat I swear, just please don't!"

"Woah, woah, woah, Richie, calm down." He reached towards him, but Richie jumped away.

"Mac, I hate those things. I'll try harder I swear, I'll do whatever you want me to, just don't please! Don't put those things on me!" his pleadings turned into desperate whispers.

"Richie, lie down," Duncan said softly. Richie did as he was told and began to whimper softly. Slowly he stretched his legs out and laid his arms at his sides, silently pleading with Duncan the entire time. Gently Duncan reached over him and picked up a restraint. Richie squeezed his eyes shut and didn't move. "Open your eyes," Duncan told him. Once again, Richie as he was told. Duncan was holding all four restraints in one hand. Silently he walked to the hall and dropped them outside the bedroom door. "I'm not going to put those on you again," he assured him softly.

Richie regarded him carefully. "You're not?"

"No, I was taking them off the bed. I know how much you hate being tied down."

"Oh," Richie said rolling back onto his side facing away from Duncan, slightly embarrassed.

Duncan sat on the edge of the bed and looked at Richie's back. "What did you just want to keep?" he asked softly, trying to sort out Richie's rambling in his head.

"You're gonna get mad," Richie told him.

"No I won't," Duncan promised. "What did you keep?" Richie didn't respond. "You need to give it to me, whatever it is. I promise I won't yell."

"Top drawer."

Duncan got up and opened the dresser. "There's nothing in here," he said looking at the t-shirts.

"It's in the blue shirt, on the left."

Duncan picked up the blue shirt and unfolded it. Inside was the picture of Tessa Richie had kept next to his bed. The glass and frame were broken and several of the larger pieces had dried blood on the edges.

"Did you cut yourself with this?" he asked softly. He noticed that he nearly always whispered around Richie now. Richie nodded into his pillow. "When?"

"Last week." Duncan could barely hear him over his own ragged breathing. As far as he had known they had always gotten to Richie before he did anything.

"Okay. . ." Duncan said slowly sitting back down.

"You're mad aren't you?" Richie still wouldn't look at him.

"No. But I think there's a lot more you haven't told me." Richie didn't respond. "Where did you cut yourself?" Richie rolled onto his back and looked at Duncan with the same face he had made when handing over the gun. He gently rested his hand on his chest. Duncan put the shirt and the picture on the bedside table and lifted Richie's shirt. His chest was covered in jagged cuts all around the scar from the bullet wound. "Anywhere else?" he asked calmly. Richie shook his head. "What else have you not told me?" Richie looked away and mumbled something. "What?"

"I don't eat," he repeated slowly. ". . .at all. I haven't for a long time," he admitted watching carefully for Duncan's reaction.

"Anything else?"

"No. . . you're mad. I can tell. I'm sorry, Mac. I try. I try, really I do. I just can't. I don't know why."

. . . . . .

"Duncan, calm down," Sean said putting together a sandwich for Richie.

"I can't believe this," Duncan groaned falling into a chair. "I thought we were making progress."

"You are."

"How can you say that? You didn't see his chest. Or his ribs. I could count every single one of them."

"But he let you see, that's progress. He gave you the gun, he gave you the glass, and he told you he wasn't eating. How can you say you're not making progress?"

"He won't tell me anything until I promise not to get angry. He's always scared I'm going to yell."

"Are you angry?"

"Yes, but not at him. . . it's what he's doing to himself."

"So tell him." Sean put the sandwich on the table. "Richie can you come in here?" he called down the hall. "Duncan, he can't leave until he eats something. He's going to complain, but he can't leave. I'll decide when he can, but you'll be the one to tell him."

"What's up?" Richie asked from the doorway.

"Sit down," Sean said pulling out a chair.

Richie sat down and looked at the sandwich. "How did I know this was coming?" he sighed.

"You have to eat," Sean told him.

"I know. . . but I don't want to."

"You have to."

"I don't want to," Richie repeated.

"You still have to."

"Mac," Richie whined. "C'on I'm not hungry."

"Richie, just try," Duncan told him.

"I can't," Richie insisted.

"Trying can't kill you, but not trying can."

Richie made a face and looked down at the sandwich. He looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world but at the table. Slowly he put his hands on the table, then pulled off a small piece of bread. He held it for a few seconds then ate it. Duncan watched waiting to see what Richie would do next. Richie swallowed and looked directly at Sean.

"There, you happy?"

"Almost. You have to eat more."

"I don't want to!"

"You already started, all you have to do is keep going."

"Man, c'on, I can't," Richie said pathetically shaking his head.

"Just a little more."

"Mac!" Richie once again turned to Duncan for help.

"Just a little more, Richie," Duncan said softly.

Seeing this was a battle he wasn't going to win, Richie gave in. Once again he stared at his plate. He opened the sandwich and explored its contents. He picked up a slice of tomato and felt he was about to throw up. He put it back down. He took a deep breath and began ripping off small pieces of lettuce. He slowly ate each piece. After half an hour he had only managed to eat half a piece of lettuce.

He looked up at Duncan with a strangely ashamed, yet firm, expression. "Mac, I can't eat anymore."

Duncan looked at Sean, who nodded. "Okay, that's enough for now. Maybe later, huh?"

"I think I'm gonna be sick!" Richie exclaimed getting up and running to the bathroom.

"Rich, you okay?" Duncan asked opening the bathroom door. He found Richie kneeling in front of the toilet with his index finger down his throat trying to gag himself. Richie looked up at him surprised by the intrusion. "What are you doing?" Duncan demanded at the same time Richie yelled,

"Get the hell out!"

"No!" Duncan dropped to his knees next to Richie grabbing his wrists. "What do you think you're doing?" He yelled.

"Leave me alone!" Richie shouted back pulling himself free.

"What are you doing?" Duncan demanded not realizing he was yelling until he heard his own voice echoing in the small room. "What's wrong?" he asked fighting to control his anger.

"I don't feel good," Richie explained lamely. "I just wanna throw up."

"Is it because of the food? Or do you think it's something else?" Sean asked from the doorway.

"Why does it always have to be something else?" Richie demanded struggling to his feet. "Can't I just not feel good? Or am I not allowed to do that, either?"

"Richie, calm down it's just a question," Duncan ordered unable to control his anger any longer.

"If you're so big on the question and answer games you play for awhile, I'm sick of it!" Richie barked trying to push past him.

"I'm not the one with problems," Duncan retorted holding him firmly.

"Well good for you! It's not my fault I don't know what the hell's going on in my head! I keep answering all these stupid questions with stuff I haven't even thought about in years. I keep having all these weird dreams. I can't explain a damn thing that's going on. You guys keep looking at me like I have two heads or something. It's not my fault! It's not like I do it on purpose! I just do! I don't have any control over what I do anymore! It's not fair!" Richie screamed finding the strength to push past Duncan. Sean stepped out of his way and Richie retreated into his room slamming the door behind him.

Duncan moved to go after him, but Sean put his hand up. "Let me be the rule enforcer. You're the one he needs to depend on not me," he said as he put his hand on the doorknob. Without a moments hesitation he opened the door. "You know you can't do that," he told Richie sternly but gently.

Richie was sitting cross-legged on his bed, arms crossed and glaring, the poster child of the unhappy teenager. "Whatever," he responded rolling his eyes.

"What?" Sean asked.

Richie set his jaw and snorted before responding. "I know."

"Know what?"

Richie sighed heavily out of his nose and clenched what was left of the muscles in his arms. "I can't close the door," he said slowly.

"Until?"

"Until I can be trusted with my privacy," he finished through clenched teeth. Sean had made it a point that Richie know why each and every rule had been made, and if Richie broke a rule he had to repeat the rule and the reason it was being enforced before Sean would leave him alone.

"Okay. And just so you know, from now on you stay with one of us for an hour after you eat. And the bathroom door stays open a crack, so you can't start throwing up." Sean told him. "Do you understand?" Richie nodded. Sean raised hie eyebrows and Richie groaned repeating what he had been told word for word. Satisfied Sean turned and left. Richie stared coldly after him, daring Duncan to say anything as he walked past his room to the kitchen.

"I've never had to force him to eat before," Duncan said looking at the mostly untouched sandwich. "I was usually pulling food out of his mouth, not pushing it in."

"But he ate," Sean said.

"And then tried to throw it up."

"He doesn't know why though. My guess is whatever was keeping him from eating convinced him he was sick. It's a basic animal instinct to try and vomit if you feel you ate something bad. This is normal behavior."

"What's normal about the way he's acting?" Duncan asked.

"Everything. These are normal reactions to situations like this. He hasn't told me much, but what I can gather is he didn't have a typical childhood. I'm sure he's hiding abuse, physical and emotional, something about what happened to Tessa triggered feelings he's been hiding. It all became too much and he acted out on them. My job is to sort out the emotions find what's causing what and help him learn to handle the impulses. He's depressed, Duncan, and he has survivor's guilt. I'm pretty sure he's got guilty feelings about this Emily person, too." Sean sat down at the table and motioned for Duncan to join him. "Guilt is a tricky thing, a little is good. But sometimes people feel guilty over something they had no control over, like Richie and Tessa's shooting. Some people can handle it, others can't. You can, Richie can't.

I can talk to him, listen and figure out what's going on. I'll tell you what you need to know, but your role is to be supportive and to end the uncomfortable situations. For instance, just now, I called him to eat, I made him eat. Then when it was okay for him to leave, you told him. He broke a rule, I reprimanded him. When certain rules are ready to be dropped, you'll be the one to tell him. I'll be the one he associates with having to do something he doesn't want to do, you'll be the one who makes it stop. Eventually, he'll stop wanting to talk to me and favor you. I'll leave then, but you can call with questions. I don't know how long it will take, but in the mean time I'll help you learn how to handle his temper without pushing him away. You seem to basically know what to do, but your temper is what's going to slow you down."

. . . . . .

Three days later at two o'clock in the morning Duncan awoke to the call of nature. On his way back to bed he noticed a thin stream of light running down the middle of the hall. He stepped out of his room and walked toward the bathroom. He could hear water running and figured Richie had made it a habit to shower in the middle of the night because he had to leave the bathroom door partially open. He decided to leave Richie alone and went back to bed, but waited for the bathroom light to be turned off before trying to go back to sleep. He closed his eyes and listened to Richie pace the hallway. Then he heard soft footsteps disappear, but not into Richie's room. Unable to take not knowing any longer Duncan got out of bed to find where the boy had gone.

Richie stood in the kitchen trying to work up the courage to open the refrigerator. He knew he wasn't supposed to be in the kitchen alone, not after they had caught him with the knife. He stared at the cool steel door and tentatively reached for the handle.

"Richie?" Richie whirled toward the voice and immediately dropped his eyes to the floor and clasped his hands firmly in front of him to show he wasn't doing anything wrong.

"I'm sorry," he apologized quickly.

"Richie," Duncan took a step towards him but stopped as Richie backed away.

"I know, I know. I'm not supposed to be in the kitchen because there are too many things I could hurt myself with," he mumbled not sure what was going to happen. Sean was usually the one who confronted him when he broke the rules.

"So why are you here?" Duncan asked genuinely curious.

"I have a headache, thought maybe I was hungry. . ."

"You want to eat?" Duncan asked excitedly; the hardest part of everyday was getting Richie to eat anything.

"Maybe," Richie shrugged still refusing to look up.

"Okay, so let's give it a shot," Duncan jumped at the chance to change eating from a chore to a decision. He reached around Richie and opened the refrigerator. "See anything that looks good?"

"Not really," Richie answered after a minute.

"Okay," Duncan started opening cupboards. "Just yell if you see something."

"Nothin'." Richie shook his head angrily, his mounting frustration with himself evident.

Duncan thought for a minute. "Maybe something to drink?" he offered. Richie shrugged. "We'll try that," Duncan decided and poured two glasses of milk.

He sat at the table and silently Richie followed. He watched Duncan drink and spun his glass in his hands. With obvious difficulty he lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip, belatedly followed by another. When he finished a quarter of what little had been poured for him he decided he had had enough.

"Does this count as eating something?" he asked softly.

"I think so," Duncan answered.

"Oh," Richie sat quietly staring blankly at the table. After a minute he looked up stifling a yawn. "I know I'm supposed to hang around for an hour and everything, but I'm really tired. Can I just go to bed?" Duncan looked off put by the request. "At the very least can we go to my room? I don't care if you come, I just wanna go to sleep."

"Okay," Duncan got up and put the unfinished milk in the refrigerator for later. "Go ahead, I'll be there in a minute."

Richie nodded and started down the darkened hallway. Duncan noticed he stayed as far away from the bathroom as he could as he passed it on his way to his room. Duncan sat back down at the table and folded his hands in front of himself. He need time to collect himself before facing Richie again. Not two months ago Richie had been a loud, rambunctious, normal teenager. He had been eager to please and always acted on good intentions. He had needed nothing more than some positive attention and a gentle shove in the right direction to make sure he did the right thing.

But one night, one moment, one action had changed all that.

Duncan almost physically shuttered at what he saw when he entered Richie's room. The boy was curled up in his bed already asleep. He was thin and pale; a mere shell of who he had once been. He sounded pathetic every time he spoke; a mixture of shame and embarrassment clouded his usually cheerful voice as he asked for permission to do the simplest things. . . go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, close the door so he could change without someone accidentally seeing him. He obediently did as he was told for fear of getting into trouble (something the old Richie never seemed to worry much about), he constantly need reassurance that nobody was mad at him, and reacted with total fear whenever there was a hint of anger in someone's voice as they spoke to him.

Duncan settled into the overstuffed chair that Richie loved so much and contented himself just watching the boy sleep. Richie rolled onto his back and stretched out, then after a couple minutes he rolled onto his stomach and buried his head under the blankets only to kick off the covers and curl up in the middle of the bed minutes later. 'No wonder he hated the restraints, he's never still,' Duncan thought in mild amusement as Richie groped blindly for the blanket and flopped over again tangling himself in it, while mumbling something. Then Duncan remembered that Richie had mentioned his dreams a couple times and began wondering if this was one of them. Richie stopped moving around and came to rest in the position he had been stuck in while being restrained and began mumbling again.

"Rich, you okay?" Duncan asked softly getting out of the chair.

"Mac," Richie moaned softly.

"Yeah?"

"Ugh," he complained.

"What's wrong?"

"Don't."

"Don't what?"

"Please don't," he begged turning his head. "Don't, Mac, please."

"Richie, Richie, wake up." Duncan softly shook his shoulder.

"Don't!" Richie sat up panting. Confusedly he looked around. His eyes eventually came to rest on Duncan. "Mac?"

"You were having a nightmare."

"Oh, okay," he said nonchalantly lying back down.

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

"I don't remember it," he shrugged.

"Are you just saying that?"

Richie thought for a minute. "Yes," he answered turning away.

"Do you not want to talk about it?"

"No. Are you going to make me?"

"No. . . but I'm sure Sean will want to talk about it tomorrow."

"Okay," Richie answered already drifting back to sleep. Duncan waited until he was sure Richie was asleep then went to back to his room to think about what had just happened.

. . . . . .

A week later Richie somewhat begrudgingly talked with Sean daily, but had begun to find it easier to talk to Duncan, which he did regularly. Eating was still a chore and heated debates always started over food whenever Richie decided he didn't want to eat when Sean told him was time to. Richie had decided that he liked being outside and spent as much time as he was allowed just sitting in the yard where he could easily be seen from the house, which was the rule that had been set. As long as they could find him when they needed him Richie could go wherever he wanted (with the exception on the woods and too close to the water) after letting someone know where he was going. Richie was at first happy when he heard this, then realized it was a fancy way of saying he could go into the yard in front of the cabin and only there. He still spent days just wondering around or lying in the grass staring at nothing and only coming in when told he had to.

Richie was sitting in the grass letting the sun warm his face when Duncan came out with lunch. 'Let the battle begin,' Duncan thought as his shadow crossed Richie's face.

"Not hungry," Richie said not looking up.

"You're never hungry, so it doesn't matter," Duncan responded.

"Aw, man," Richie grumbled taking the plate. He inspected the sandwich, tuna fish and pickles on wheat. "Now, here's a real incentive," he said making a face.

"Eat it," Duncan told him.

Richie sighed heavily letting Duncan know he wasn't happy before he began his picking apart the sandwich ritual. He carefully removed any tuna essence from a pickle before staring at it. Duncan sat down next to him patiently waiting for him to put it in his mouth. Which he did, after a few unsuccessful tries.

"Not so bad is it?" Duncan asked.

Richie made a face as he chewed. "Tastes like tuna," he complained.

"So does the rest of the sandwich."

"Great," he drawled as he began ripping apart the bread and scraping off the tuna scraps.

"You have to eat some of the fish," Duncan told him preparing to fight. Richie looked at him, then at the small pile of tuna and mayonnaise on his plate, then back to Duncan. "You have to." Richie crinkled his nose and scooped a little onto his finger.

"I don't like tuna," he announced.

"You have to."

Glaring at Duncan out of the corner of his eye; Richie stuck his finger, tuna and all, into his mouth. "Balch!" he stuck out his tongue trying to rid his mouth of the strong tuna taste.

"More."

"No more," Richie contradicted handing the plate to Duncan.

"A little more." He tried to hand the plate back.

"I don't want it." Richie crossed his arms.

"I don't care," Duncan retorted. Richie looked up at him eyes wide. "That's not what I meant. . ."

"I know what you meant," Richie snapped.

"Then why did you look at me like that?"

"Like what?" Richie demanded jumping to his feet.

"Like I slapped you," Duncan answered standing up as well.

"I don't know." Richie turned and started toward the cabin.

"Richie." Duncan followed him. Richie ignored him and quickened his pace. "Stop." Richie froze on the stairs and waited for Duncan to catch up. "Sit, now." Duncan pointed at the bench on the porch and Richie sat. Duncan held out the plate. "Take it." Richie took it. "You're not getting up until you eat half." Duncan folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the porch railing.

The order registered in Richie's mind and he slowly folded himself in to a more comfortable position before he started eating again. It took him nearly an hour to satisfy Duncan. When he was told he could leave he confusedly looked back up at Duncan.

"You don't have to stay anymore as long as you don't start throwing up," he told him.

Richie nodded and retreated to the farthest corner of his boundaries and sat back down in the grass. The sun was no longer out. In the time it had taken him to eat, winter storm clouds had rolled in. He didn't care, he was somewhat alone. Duncan picked up the plate and went into the cabin to find Sean. This had been his first attempt to feed Richie by himself. It had gone better than he had expected, but he still felt awkward ordering Richie to eat.

"How'd it go?" Sean asked as Duncan entered the kitchen.

"Half." He tilted the plate so Sean could see.

"That's pretty good. What did he say when you told him that he didn't have to wait with you anymore?"

"He didn't say anything, he just left."

"Was he mad you made him eat so much?"

Duncan looked out the window and craned his neck to get a clear view of Richie. "He's still pouting, if that tells you anything."

"He'll be fine in less than an hour," Sean assured him. "He never stays mad for long. Easy to bruise, quicker to heal."

"Looks like its going to rain," Duncan commented at the same time the clouds let go of their load in a soft but steady rain.

Richie had been lying in the grass with his hands behind his head half asleep when it began to rain. At first he didn't move and let the drops dampen his clothes, face, and hair. It hadn't rained in a while, which was rare in that part of Washington. After a couple minutes he sat up and watched the rain on the water. He began wondering if he should go inside. He didn't want to and decided that he'd stay out in the rain as long as they let him. He started thinking about Tessa, she loved the rain. Whenever the storms got really bad she would make hot chocolate and sit staring out the windows. Or sometimes she would open the large gate-like doors to the alley in her workshop and watched it rain from there. Every now and then Richie joined her and they would sit silently just watching. Emily loved the rain as well. Back then Richie had been young, barely a toddler, and scared of the storms. She would tell him stories to distract him during the day, and let him sleep with her at night protecting him from the thunder and lightening. A few tears began mingling with the rain on his cheeks as he sat, watched, and remembered.

Duncan and Sean watched Richie from the porch. The boy didn't move, just sat and stared.

"I wonder what he's thinking?" Duncan mumbled.

"Why don't you go ask him?" Sean suggested. He had been gently shoving Duncan and Richie together more and more over the past week, slowly working his way out of the picture. Duncan looked at him for a second then slowly walked to Richie.

"Hey," he greeted softly, but Richie still jumped.

"Do I have to?" Richie asked.

"Have to what?"

"Go in."

"No," Duncan answered with a shrug. "Not if you don't want to."

"Okay." Richie pushed some hair out of his eyes and went back to staring. He could feel his spirits rising; he had been allowed to make a decision without having to make sure what he decided was okay to do. He could decide to go outside, but sometimes he had been told 'no'. This time he decided and that was that.

Duncan sat next to him close, but keeping his distance. "Tessa and I used to do this," he told him softly.

Richie looked at him. "Me, too."

"Really? I thought you hated nature."

"I do, most of the time. But, I dono sometimes. . . sometimes the company makes it worth it." Duncan didn't respond. He wondered if Richie was talking just about Tessa or him to, if maybe this was Richie's subtle way of reaching out to him. "When I was little," Richie started excitedly. "Emily and I used to go out and splash in the puddles after it rained. One time she woke me up, it had to have been, like, four in the morning or something equally as strange and we went outside. I started dancing around and singing, and she was just laughing. . . she thought I was a total nutcase. And we made enough noise to wake up the neighbor's dog and he started barking and howling and then all the other neighborhood dogs joined in. . . people's lights started turning on so we ran back inside so nobody would know it was us." His story over he lapsed back into silence and stared at the rain. After a couple minutes he started to shake slightly.

"Are you cold?" Duncan asked.

Richie shrugged. "A little."

"Do you want to go inside?"

"No. . . you gonna make me?"

"You'll get sick if you don't. You've probably been out here too long already."

"Fine." At least his decision had stuck for a while, even if it did get corrected rather quickly. Richie got up and waited for Duncan before heading back to the cabin.

When they got to the porch both paused trying to figure out what to do about their muddy, wet clothes and shoes. Richie looked at Duncan for a second, smirked, then settled down on the bench to take off his shoes. Duncan watched him, wondering what he had been smirking about. For the past month or so a smirk from Richie had always been followed by a smart- ass remark, not a seemingly innocent action. Richie smirked again as he stood back up and began to strip. Soon there was a pile of clothes at his feet and all he was wearing was his boxers. He looked up at Duncan nodded curtly and vanished into the cabin, only to come back half a minute later to hand a very confused Duncan a towel.

"Problem solved," he announced with the first genuine Richie smile Duncan had seen in nearly two months.

"Now you're really going to get sick," Duncan laughed. "Go inside," Shrugging Richie gathered his clothes and went to find something dry to put on.

Duncan watched him leave. For the first time all the progress Sean had promised they had been making was clear to him. The shy, reserved, worried Richie had vanished. The old Richie, the Richie that did whatever first came to mind no matter how strange of random it may be, the Richie that needed nothing more that a gentle shove in the right direction and a light smack to keep him there was back. Now the only question was which Richie would surface when they got back to Seacouver?