Four days later Richie and Duncan went to the cabin to meet Joe and Sean. Duncan hoped this would be the final go round, that one last weekend getaway would help Richie get onto the right path, and help Duncan keep him there. Richie hoped that the weekend would go by quickly, and whatever happened wouldn't be too embarrassing. He didn't like that he had to talk with Sean again, and he didn't like that Joe was going to be there as well. Joe was his impartial party, his confidant, the one person that treated him normally. Richie had a strong feeling all that would change after this weekend.

Duncan looked at Richie as they dropped their bags in the living room. "You ready for this?" he asked.

"I didn't know that it mattered," Richie answered sweetly.

Duncan rolled his eyes, "Just go to your room, okay?"

"What'd I do this time?" Richie demanded.

"It's not what you've done, it's what I'm about to do. So go."

Richie glared at Duncan. "Whatever," he mumbled as he brushed past him.

Immediately Duncan felt horrible for what he had done. Richie hadn't done anything to deserve it. Richie was just tired and cranky. . . he had had a reoccurring nightmare ever since he had been told that they were going back to the cabin. Richie had associated the cabin with being restrained and under twenty-four hour watch. His sub-conscience had chosen to remind him how much he hated all that, making it nearly impossible for him to sleep the nights before.

"Hey, Mac?" Richie called tentatively down the hall.

"Yes?"

"Can I close my door?" he asked lamely.

"You don't have to go to your room, Richie. I'm just. . . a little on edge right now. I'm sorry," Duncan apologized. He had spent the past nights trying to help Richie sleep, sitting in a chair next to the boy's bed talking to him softly, trying to make whatever was bothering him to go away. Richie slept fitfully through each night, unaware that Duncan knew what was going on. He seemed to like it that way.

"I was planning on it anyway. I just want to know if I can close my door."

"Yes, you can," Duncan told him.

"Okay, that's all I wanted," Richie said closing his door.

Richie dropped his bag in the corner and looked at the bed. It seemed very ominous and yet inviting at the same time. He was tired, really, really tired and all he wanted to do was sleep, but it seemed that every other time he woke up in that bed he was restrained. He decided to take his chances and flopped down. He was asleep before he could even take off his shoes.

Duncan, Sean, and Joe were talking in the living room and drinking coffee an hour and a half later when they heard a muffled yell come from Richie's room. Duncan got up and was followed by Sean down the hall. Duncan opened the door and found Richie sprawled on his bed fast asleep and mumbling.

"He's been doing this all week," Duncan explained in a whisper. "He hasn't really slept in days."

"Let's fix that," Sean whispered back motioning Duncan towards Richie. "How did you usually handle this?"

"I talk to him."

"Before the shooting, I mean. I know Richie's prone to this, how did you handle it before?"

Duncan shook his head. "I didn't, Tessa did." Richie made a strange noise at the sound of Tessa's name.

"What did she do?" Sean prompted.

"Talked to him. . . in French usually."

"Did she touch him?"

"Yeah, she would kind of pet him, a little."

"So try it, be gentle."

Duncan nodded slightly and did as he was told. He began to softly run his fingers through Richie's hair. "Richie, tout tres bien, vous estes ok," he said softly. Richie turned to the sound of Duncan's voice and seemed to settle down a little. Duncan pulled his hand back when Richie moved.

"Keep going," Joe prompted from the door. He hadn't been able to resist seeing what was going on.

"Tout tres bien," Duncan repeated. "Sommeil juste. Vous etes tres bien maintentant."

"I don't feel good," Richie mumbled in French.

"Ce qui est errone?"

"Mes maux d'estomac." Richie's stomach hurt.

"Allez de nouveau au sommiel, vous sera bien," Duncan assured him he would be okay and told him to sleep as he began to back away.

"Le no, Tessa, ne partent pas." Richie pouted, pleading with Duncan not to leave him.

Duncan turned to Sean. "He thinks I'm Tessa."

Sean nodded. "Let him, just keep going."

Duncan sat on Richie's bed and leaned back against the headboard. He once again began stroking Richie's hair. "I'm here," he told him. Richie rolled over and snuggled into him, his head resting on Duncan's knee. "Je suis toujours ici." Duncan repeated.

"Je t'aime," came out as a barely audible sigh as Richie drifted off into a deep sleep.

"I love you, too, toughguy," Duncan answered, as tears began to well up in his eyes. "Je t'aime, aussi." Sean and Joe silently left the room closing the door behind them, leaving Richie to his sleep and Duncan to the grieving he had distracted himself from for too long.

. . . . . .

Richie rolled over and stretched groaning softly. He hit his head on something hard. Thinking it was the headboard; he scooted down a few inches and stretched again. Duncan woke up when Richie's head hit his knee. He opened his eyes and squinted into the sunlight streaming in through the window. They must have slept all night. Slowly he got up, as to not wake Richie, and pulled the window shade down. He looked at Richie who was still fast asleep bent awkwardly in the middle of his bed.

"That can't be comfortable," he decided and began to pull off Richie's shoes. Richie moaned and began to stir.

"Mac?"

"Shh, allez de nouveau au sommiel," Duncan whispered.

"Mmkay," Richie answered settling back down to sleep.

"Hey, scoot up," Duncan said lightly taping Richie's foot. Richie drew his knees to his chest, but otherwise didn't move. Chuckling to himself Duncan slowly moved Richie into a sitting position.

"No," Richie protested sleepily starting to wake up again.

"It's okay," Duncan whispered. He dragged Richie a little higher up in the bed then lowered him back down. "Lay down." Richie sighed and settled into his pillow. "Good night, Rich."

"Guniema," Richie slurred back once again falling asleep.

Duncan wondered into the kitchen lured there by the sent of freshly brewed coffee. Sean and Joe looked up from the table as he entered.

"Trapped all night, eh?" Joe asked with a smile.

"I didn't want to wake him up and have to start all over," Duncan explained pouring himself some coffee before joining them at the table.

"So did he sleep all night?" Sean asked.

"I think he drooled on my pants," Duncan answered with a smile.

"I bet when he wakes up that attitude he's had will be gone. What you did for him last night was more than just help him sleep. I think the physical contact was what he needed. He'd never let you do that if he was awake, but he needed it. In a couple hours he's going to feel a lot better and have no clue why."

"That's all he needed? Me to touch him?"

"Not all, but it's going to help."

"Even if he thought I was Tessa?" Duncan asked.

"I think he knew who you were. He just wanted it to be Tessa."

"Oh." Duncan looked at his coffee and thought about what he had just been told. "He never got closure," he said suddenly. "He was still in the hospital, he never got to go to the funeral. He said he didn't care, he had to have though. I bet that's why he kept going to cemeteries."

"That's probably part of it. And at the time he might not have cared, but he certainly does now. Although with how extremely he reacted to her death I don't know if it would have helped much if he had gone to the funeral. Mostly I think he just misses her and he's not sure how to handle the loss. He's not sure how to handle much of anything anymore. And I hate to admit it, but I think taking so much control over him while he was here the first time is part of it. I said he needed to depend on you, he's a little too dependent now."

"Great, so we just screwed him up worse," Duncan snorted.

"We can fix it," Sean assured him. "I've been talking with Joe and I think I know why Richie's still not eating." Duncan looked at him. "He's testing you, checking to see if it's really his decision when you start letting him take charge. Every time you took over again and punished him for not eating, he figured it was all a trick and gave up. He doesn't know how to control what he's doing anymore because he hasn't be allowed to for so long. And he can't tell you 'no' because you're the one in charge. With Joe it was always Richie's decision. Joe came in and encouraged him to break the rules, eat what he wanted, basically act like he did before the shooting, but only if Richie wanted to. Richie liked that."

"He said he felt normal when he was around you," Duncan mentioned to Joe. "I thought it was because you let him eat like that, not because I wouldn't."

"I wouldn't have let him eat anything that was going to hurt him. Splurging every now and again is good for you," Joe said.

Duncan turned back to Sean. "So how do we end his dependency?"

"Give him control and let him keep it. If he doesn't eat, he doesn't eat. Let him work out. He's smart enough to stop when he doesn't feel right. Soon he'll realize that not eating means not working out or going out, not because he's in trouble, but because he'll be tired and weak. Then he'll eat. I bet it won't even take him a week. And once he gains that independence, he'll start looking for more. And within reason you have to give it to him. Treat him like you would have before the shooting, as if nothing was different. Give him a chance to make some mistakes, let him be a kid again."

Joe sat quietly and listened. He was a little uncomfortable. He had come to the cabin to help Richie. He knew the story of what happened before, but only Richie's side of it. And now listening to Sean and Duncan something was very clear to him. That night at the bar when Duncan said he knew Richie better than Joe did, he was wrong. Richie hadn't told Duncan most of what happened to him as a child, Richie hadn't told Joe either, but Joe knew.

"He's always been dependent, though," Joe said softly. "Since he was a kid. People have always told him what to do. And he's always listened. He didn't really decide to go out with me that night, I told him to, not directly, but I talked him into it. He didn't want to." Duncan and Sean looked at Joe. "I think there's some things I need to tell you. But you can't tell Richie you know, he doesn't know I know."

"Then how do you know whatever it is you know?" Duncan asked.

"Mac, I've been your Watcher for a while now. When you took in Richie I got curious, looked up his records, and found a couple things out."

"The orphanage won't even let Richie look at his file, why'd they let you?"

"The Watchers have people hidden all throughout the orphanage systems. That's where most immortals are raised these days. I was curious who you had taken in, and I figured I get a jump on his Watchers' file. He is immortal isn't he?"

. . . . . .

Duncan slowly opened the door and looked in on Richie who was still sleeping and snoring softly. Duncan had no idea how much Richie had been through. No wonder he had a hard time trusting people and went around waiting for people to stab him in the back. With Richie it had always been all or nothing. He had been so eager to be accepted and to prove himself when they first met that it never occurred to Duncan all Richie's minor offences had been used to test their relationship. Duncan had passed all his tests before. But after they got back from the cabin and Richie started re-testing the relationship and exploring his new boundaries Duncan began to fail the tests. Richie started testing Joe; Joe passed. Richie began to shift his trust from Duncan to Joe. The only reason he didn't try to completely separate himself from Duncan was because he had become too dependent and submissive. Duncan's need to be in control had made it worse. Duncan hadn't been able to control what had happened to Tessa and Richie that night; he was trying to make up for it by controlling what was happening with Richie now. Richie was too confused and scared to ever tell him 'no' without somebody backing him up. It wasn't too late to correct the mistake. It wasn't going to be easy on either one of them, but it was past time for Richie to take over again.

. . . . . .

"There he is," Duncan announced with a smile as Richie shuffled into the living room a couple hours later. Richie gave him a sleepy grin and lazily waved a greeting to Joe and Sean. "It's about time you woke up," Duncan continued trying his best to treat Richie as he had before the accident. "I was beginning to think you were going to sleep all day."

"I was planning on it, but figured I might as well come out and say hi," Richie shrugged dropping into an armchair and yawning. "What time is it?"

"10:30," Joe answered. Richie looked outside obviously confused about the sunlight, and not aware of how long he had slept. "Saturday morning," he added.

Richie made a face. "What happened to Friday?"

"You slept through it," Duncan answered with a grin.

Richie laughed. "My bad, sorry 'bout that."

"You needed the sleep," Duncan shrugged. "Are you hungry?"

"Not really," Richie answered slowly.

"Okay, suite yourself."

Richie cocked his head to one side. "Did you say okay?"

"Yeah. I can't tell you what to do for the rest of your life."

Richie remained silent and mulled over what he had been told. It was his decision now. The only question was how long would it take for Duncan to force him to eat.

"Richie?" Sean repeated.

"Huh?"

"I said, do you mind if I get a better look at you?"

"What's there to look at?" he shrugged.

"I just want to see how everything is healing."

"You want to see if I've done anything," Richie corrected.

"Why don't we take this to your room," Sean suggested.

Richie looked at Joe then looked back to Sean. "Why don't you take it to my room?" he asked with a cocky grin. He could see Joe smile out of the corner of his eye.

"Richie, I just want to look," Sean assured him.

"Well, I don't want you to look," Richie replied happy Joe was there to give him the courage to fight back, but he couldn't bring himself to look and see how Duncan was reacting to his behavior.

"Why not?" Sean asked slipping into psychologist mode.

Richie made a face, that tone meant that sooner or later he would be tricked into complying. "Cause," he shrugged. Joe tried not to laugh; he could see Duncan's face. . . Richie's behavior was driving him insane and it was all he could do not to step in and order Richie to let Sean examine him.

"Are you embarrassed?"

"Nope," Richie answered shaking his head slightly. "I just don't wanna let you see."

"But you don't know why?"

"I know why. I'm just surprised you haven't figured it out by now. And I thought you were good at what you did." Joe laughed out loud he couldn't stop himself, but did after getting a look from Duncan that clearly said 'Don't encourage him.' Richie was trying his hardest to be difficult, just because he could. Richie knew Sean wouldn't let Duncan yell at him, and he was taking full advantage of the situation.

"You're still alive, aren't you?" Sean asked.

Richie thought for a second. "Fair enough, but the answer's still no."

"Richie, we can do this in your room or we can do it here in front of everybody. It's up to you. But it will happen. And I think you're too self-conscience to do it out here."

Richie sighed, he had been beaten and he knew it. . . but he wasn't going down that easily. "Not gonna happen."

Sean looked at Duncan. "What do you think?"

"I think you need to suck it up, Richie. Maybe you should just let him look. You could have been done by now if you hadn't argued to much," Duncan answered carefully choosing his words not to actually tell Richie what to do. Richie was very confused by his response. He was expecting to get into trouble, get yelled at, sent to his room, ordered to let Sean look, something other than a seemingly indifferent opinion.

"Or we could just drop the whole idea and go on with our day," Richie suggested, trying to get some kind of reaction out of Duncan.

"Or you could let him look, then go on with your day," Duncan replied wondering how much longer he should let Richie get away with what he was doing. Before the shooting he had always tried to keep Richie's attitude in check, and he wouldn't have let Richie get away with this much.

"Or not."

"Richie," Duncan decided that this was a good place to stop him. "Let him look."

"I don't want to," Richie replied

Ten minutes later Richie was in his room with his shirt off and his hands above his head. Sean pinched at his stomach to see if he could get a hold of any fat.

"How much do you weigh now?" he asked.

"One eighty something. . . five, six maybe."

"Not bad. Do you still work out?"

"When I'm not grounded," Richie grumbled.

"How tall are you now?"

"Just this side of six feet, I guess," he shrugged.

Sean looked Richie up and down sizing him up. "That seems about right. You can put your arms down now. You need to either eat more or workout less for a couple months still." He began lightly tracing the scars on Richie's chest.

"Okay," he sighed.

"You're doing well, though. You're just trying to do too much too fast. You need to relax."

"Relax?"

"Yes, relax. Stop trying so hard. You can put your shirt back on. Duncan tells me you've been having trouble sleeping."

"Not really," Richie answered. Sean raised his eyebrows. "Maybe a little," he admitted.

"Do you want to tell me why?"

. . . . . .

Duncan walked across the yard to where Richie stood on the water's edge. "Sean said you wanted to talk to me," he said. Richie nodded but kept his back to Duncan. "Is anything wrong?" Richie shook his head. "Then what is it?"

"I just wanna tell you somethin'."

"Are you going to look at me?"

"Nope," Richie shook his head again.

Duncan smiled. Whatever it was he wanted to say embarrassed Richie "Okay, shoot."

Richie stood silently looking over the water for a minute. "I had a dream last night. . . about Tessa. And it got me thinking. I told her a lot, but I never told her the one thing I should have," he started. "And I wanted to tell you before it's too late." He glanced over his shoulder at Duncan then looked away again. "So, uh. . . I don't really know how to say this. . ."

"Richie, I think I know what you're trying to say. You don't have to say it if you don't want to."

"I want to, it just might take me a second."

"Only if you want to."

"I do," Richie assured him. He took a deep breath. "You guys took a real chance on me," he started again staring at the water. "You let me move in and work for you and you barely knew me. You told me about immortals and trusted me not to say anything." He sighed and crossed his arms, not as a sign of defiance but an attempt to comfort himself. "I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with, I have a bad attitude, a short temper, I'm stubborn and I can be a real shit. . . But I can honestly say you've seen me at my worst." His voice shook slightly. "And the fact that you cared enough to stick around and try an' help me after everything I said and did. . . that means a lot. I mean. . . Geeze Mac, you put your entire life on hold for me just to make sure I was okay. You stuck by me the entire time, when most people would'a split the second it got a little complicated." He whipped his cheeks and sniffed. "I've never know anyone that would have done that for me. I never would have expected anyone to. But you did. . . You've done so much for me. And no matter how much I've ever complained, I know that the person I am now and the person I would'a been if you hadn't given me a break when I really needed it. . . They're so different it's literally the difference between life and death. And I'm not talking about suicide. I would have gotten myself into some major trouble by now if you hadn't stepped in and made me straighten up." He paused and thought for a minute. "I spent the better part of eighteen years learning how not to get attached. Then you and Tessa came along. And in less than a year screwed all that up, made me forget everything I'd ever taught myself. It may have taken me nineteen years to get this far, but for the first time. . ." He turned to face Duncan. "For the first time I can honestly say. . ." his bottom lip trembled and he sniffed a couple times. "I feel like such an idiot," he laughed whipping at the tears on his cheeks.

"Richie," Duncan said fighting for control himself. "You don't have to say anything else. Trust me, you've said enough."

Richie shook his head. "No, I have to say this or I could live the rest of my life regretting it. I can honestly say. . . I got attached. I found two people that mean the world to me. And my biggest regret in life is that I never told Tessa. . . I never told her how much I loved her. I don't want to have that regret with you, too," he finished in a whisper.

"Are you trying to say you love me?" Duncan ventured.

Richie blushed, smiled a little, and laughed. "If I didn't actually get the words out, that's what I was goin' for. So, uh. . . yeah, I love ya, Mac." His eyes dropped as he said the words. They stood silently for a couple minutes. He started laughing again. "You know what? I've never said that before. Figures my first time would be with a guy, huh? And of course, I'd be cryin' like a baby."

"Richie, look at me," Duncan said gently raising Riche's chin. "You don't have to feel weird about all this. I know. . . and I love you, too."

"Last night. . . it was you," Richie said softly. "For the past four months, it's been you. I just wanted it to be Tessa so bad. I remember her coming into my room at night, just to check. And I remember her talking to me when I was kinda half-asleep. For the longest time I had no idea what she was saying. . . but now I know, and I never said it back. The one thing I want more than for her to come back is to know that she knew, to know that I told her. . . I've stood out here so many times and just said it over and over thinking that it might help, but it never did." He turned around and faced the water again. "When it happened, you know, the uh, the. . ."

"The shooting," Duncan supplied.

"Yeah. When it happened I wasn't worried, somehow I knew I was going to be okay. Then I saw how scared she was. . . by the time I realized she was dying, she was dead. It was too late to tell her. One minute she was there and the next. . . the next she was gone, and it was too late. I'm never going to get the chance, I'm never going to see her again, hear her laugh, hear her voice. . . what I wouldn't give to have her yell at me one more time."

"Richie, she knew. You told her," Duncan said softly. Richie turned to face him.

"I did?"

"Yes, about a month before. You were asleep when you said it, but that made it all the more special to her. It meant you really meant it, you weren't just saying it. She came in that night to go to bed and she was beaming. I'd never seen her so happy before. She knew, you don't have to worry about that." Duncan put his hand on Richie's shoulder. "And you said it again last night. . . to me, but you thought I was her. Who knows how often you actually said it. You didn't seem very inhibited about it last night; I wouldn't be surprised if it was a nightly thing with you guys."

"I really told her?"

"Yes, you did."

"Well, geeze man, I wish I had known that. All this worrying about nothing. . . And I felt stupid before," Richie gave Duncan a half grin and rolled his eyes. "Well, damn it."

"What's wrong?"

"I thought of something else I need to tell you," Richie laughed a little and shook his head slightly. "Will the torture never end?"

"Richie, you don't have to say anything else."

"Well, uh, this is kinda important."

"Okay, what is it?"

"I know about the will. I heard you and Sean talking about it. I know she left me everything," Richie rushed out. "Is it wrong that I don't want it?" he asked softly.

"You don't want it?"

"No. I mean, no offence to Tessa or anything, but who leaves everything they have to a nineteen year old?"

"Well, in Tessa's defense she thought you were going to older you got it," Duncan told him. "And I think you should take it."

"Mac, I don't want it. You can have it."

"I don't need it. And right now you may think you don't, but who knows what's going to happen in the future. You might hit a snag, run on some bad luck, any number of things. Even if you don't spend it, you should take the money in case of an emergency. . . just to have around if you ever need it. She wanted to make sure you would have some security when you got older. She wanted you to have it, Richie," Duncan insisted.

"I guess that's why you didn't seel the Mercedes?" Richie ventured.

"It's not mine to sell," Duncan shrugged. "Half of the money from the store is yours, too, you know," he added.

"That's why you wanted to be sure I didn't mind when you sold it?" It was all becoming clear to Richie.

"Yeah. I didn't want to tell you, because I didn't know how you were going to react. I probably should have, though. I'm sorry."

Richie smirked. "I wouldn't'a told me either, man. Don't worry about it."

"So, what do you want to do about the car? You don't need to answer now, just you need to start thinking about it," Duncan told him leading the way back to the cabin.

"I wanna keep it," Richie said resolutely following him across the porch. "She hated my bike. I'm gonna keep that, too, but. . . maybe I'll use the car a little more often."

. . . . . .

*SIX MONTHS LATER*

"Are you sure this is the right place?" Amanda asked as Duncan pulled to a stop. "I've only met Richie once, but this seems a little out of his league."

"This is the address he gave me," Duncan shrugged. "And there's his car." He pointed out the white Mercedes across the street. "This must be it."

Richie had moved out four months earlier and had refused to tell anyone where to. He didn't want anyone to see it before he had it ready. So, for the past four months when he wasn't working out or working at the dojo he was working on his apartment. He had painted, replaced the carpet, redone the kitchen, and who knows what else. Now he felt he was ready to show everybody.

Duncan got out of the car and waited for Amanda before crossing the street to the apartment building. Together they climbed the stairs up to the fifth and final floor, Richie's floor. It seemed it was entirely Richie's floor, the stairs dead ended at a small landing leaving enough room for two or three people to stand.

"This can't be it," Amanda repeated for the third time. "You can't seriously believe this is it. He's not even twenty, there's no way he could afford this."

"He's a clever boy," Duncan shrugged. "You'd be surprised at what all he can do once he puts his mind to it." He assumed Richie had come around and used some of the money he had inherited from Tessa to move out. Duncan was glad he did it, Richie needed some independence from Duncan, and he needed to make peace with everything that had happened in the past ten months. Moving out seemed to have given him just that. Duncan knocked lightly on the door and was slightly surprised when Joe opened it.

"You have got to see this," Joe said stepping aside for them to enter.

Duncan and Amanda stepped inside and took in the living room before them. It was neatly and conservatively decorated with a simple brown leather couch, with matching love seat and chair all forming a neat 'u' shape around a coffee table with the couch facing an armoire that was undoubtedly hiding the TV and stereo. It didn't look like anything they were expecting to see in Richie's apartment. They ventured further in and saw the dining room set for four. Past the dining room was the kitchen where they found Richie standing in front of an indoor grill poking at steaks.

He looked up with a smile. "Hey!" he greeted. "Sorry about not answering the door myself, I'm just scared these'll burn if I blink or anything," he apologized indicating the main course.

"Duncan," Amanda gasped making her way to Richie. "There is no way that this is that gangly little thing I met in Paris last year." She ran her fingers across Richie's back causing him to giggle and blush.

"I'm just gonna take that as a compliment," he said trying his best to be calm, but failing miserably.

"I'm just saying that you have turned into one nice piece of man," she continued. Richie grinned and blushed harder.

Over the past months Richie had hit his target weight and had started working out with Duncan regularly resulting in a fully developed physic that girls found hard not to stare at as he passed on the street. He had also abandoned his youthful curls in favor of a short almost military hair cut, making him look everyone of his almost twenty years and maybe one more. The guys at the dojo stopped picking on him, which gave him a slight self-confidence boost that was evident in the way he now carried himself. The awkward, unsure teenager had completely vanished leaving a confident young man in its place.

"Amanda, he's too young for you," Duncan reminded her.

"What's a couple hundred years?" Richie asked flashing Amanda his most charming smile.

Joe clapped his hand on Richie's shoulder. "Down boy."

"Got any wine glasses?" Duncan asked changing the subject and placing the bottle of wine he was holding on the counter.

"Behind ya on the left," Richie answered as he began taking the stakes off the grill. He glanced up and caught Duncan's eye with an innocent smile. Duncan smiled back.

"How old are you?"

"Almost twenty-one," Richie answered with a shrug.

"Almost twenty," Duncan corrected. "Too young, so don't even ask."

Richie made a face and turned his attention to the backed potatoes in the oven. Even with his newfound confidence, he still found it hard to say no to Duncan. Duncan used this to his advantage without rubbing it in Richie's face subtly keeping Richie from doing anything he wasn't supposed to. It seemed to work and Richie seldom complained.

After dinner they all settled down in the living room.

"Did you really do all this yourself?" Duncan asked.

Richie glanced around the room. "Yup. That's why it took so long."

"I never pegged you for the do-it-yourself type," Joe commented. "But you did a great job."

"Thanks. I, uh, spent some time living with a real home improvement nut when I was a kid. I used to follow him around and help whenever he'd let me. It's actually a lot of fun, a lot of work, but a lot of fun."

"One of those 'I did this' things, huh?" Duncan asked.

"Men and they're tools, it never changes," Amanda huffed.

Richie grinned. "Would you rather talk paint colors or something?"

"I'd rather get the grand tour," she said standing up and pulling him to his feet.

"You've already seen everything," Richie insisted with a grin.

"I haven't seen the bedroom," she purred. Richie's grin widened and he couldn't come up with anything to say.

"And you won't," Duncan said patting the couch for Amanda to sit back down. "He's too young for you, Amanda. So stop trying."

"But, Mac, it's just a room," Richie said.

"No buts."

"Kiss mine," Richie shot back with a grin, that quickly vanished when he realized what he'd said.

"Well, I want to see this room, too. So, while you guys duke this out, Amanda and I will go have a peek," Joe said standing up.

"Sorry," Richie said as soon as Amanda and Joe left the room.

To his surprise Duncan smiled at him. "I can't believe you said that," he chuckled.

"Me neither."

"It's about time you stood up for yourself."

"Huh?"

"I've been waiting for you to say something other than 'sure thing' or 'yeah, just a sec' when I tell you to do something."

"You have?"

"Yeah, you are your own person you know." Richie just looked at him. "But don't think that this means you get to go off and do whatever you want, I've still got my eye on you."

Richie smiled. "Big brother's always watching. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a beautiful girl in my bedroom and I'd like to be there with her," he said heading down the short hall.

"Too young," Duncan called after him.

. . . . . .

*ONE MONTH AFTER THAT*

Richie was sound asleep, Duncan had half expected him to still be awake. Quietly he put down the alarm clock and stood over the sleeping boy. . . no, man. The alarm went off and Richie sat up with a groan.

"You have got to be kidding me," he mumbled to himself not opening his eyes as he blindly slapped the clock hopping to hit the snooze button. When the offending noise stopped he dropped face first into this pillow still unaware that he had company.

"So that's why you're always late," Duncan said. Richie jumped and turned to face him. "You know, if you would just get up when the alarm goes off, you wouldn't have such a problem."

"I want my key back," Richie said putting his hand out.

Duncan chuckled. "Happy Birthday."

"Why are you here?" Richie whined dropping back to his pillow.

"It's tradition."

"You didn't do this last year," he pointed out.

"You weren't twenty last year," Duncan explained.

"Mac, it's six o'clock in the morning!"

"Actually, it's a little after midnight."

"What?" Richie sat up and looked at his clock. "You changed the alarm?"

"You never wake up when I try. And I wanted to be the first to say happy birthday."

"That's the funny thing about birthdays," Richie mumbled laying back down and closing his eyes. "It's still going to be here at six-thirty, so come back then."

"Get up," Duncan pulled the blankets off the bed. "We've got to get going."

"No, YOU'VE got to get going, I'M going back to sleep."

"Up."

"No."

"Get up."

"Maaa-aaac!"

"Up."

"Fine, give me five minutes," Richie grumbled sitting up. As soon as Duncan left the room Richie promptly settled back down to sleep. Just as he was blissfully slipping off into unconscienceness the alarm went off again. "Aw, damn it." He sat up and hit the alarm off button. "No use even tryin' now."

. . . . . .

"Are you even going to tell me what we're doing?" Richie asked from the passenger seat of the T-bird.

"We're going to the cabin."

Richie glared at Duncan. "Mac! I didn't do anything!" Almost a year later, Richie still hated going to the cabin.

"It's just us, I promise. I just need to do this outside."

"Do what outside?" Richie asked suspiciously.

"You'll see," Duncan grinned at him.

Richie yawned. "I hate it when you do that."

Duncan chuckled. "Still half asleep?"

"I'll tell you when I get there, right now I doubt I'll remember anything that's happening. I'm running off of, like, maybe half and hour of sleep. . . maybe."

"Then you should go to bed earlier," Duncan said.

"If I had known you were planning on kidnapping me in the middle of the night I would have," Richie assured him curling into the seat.

"Going to sleep?"

"Workin' on it," Richie yawned. "It'd be easier if you'd shut up."

"I've got your present in the trunk, so you better watch it."

Richie looked at him. "If I have to get up at midnight and go to the cabin to get whatever's back there. . . then I don't want it."

"You'll want this, trust me."

Four hours later Richie wrapped his arms tighter around himself wishing he had brought more than just a sweatshirt. He scooted closer to the fire Duncan had built.

"It's freezing out here, Mac. Can't we go inside?"

"No. Now be quiet and listen," Duncan said looking at Richie through the flames. "A long time ago, a clan was formed in the highlands of Scotland," he started letting his Scottish burr slip through. "And the people elected a leader. He was the strongest, bravest, and smartest of all the men. His clan trusted him to lead them and protect them in battle and he did." Richie began wondering if Duncan's story had a point. He was tired and didn't care if he was at the cabin, there was a bed right inside waiting for him, and he wanted to sleep. "Years later the elected leader, the chieftain, died. His role and duties were passed onto his eldest son. From then on the role of chieftain was passed from father to son. If the chieftain had no son, a son of the clan was chosen. No matter if he was the biological son or a chosen son the boy was told at sunrise on his twentieth birthday." Duncan looked directly at Richie, who smiled faintly and sat up a little taller. "The son was told on the day he became a man, and to seal his destiny he was presented with a clan sword forged just for him by the chieftain." Duncan stood and motioned for Richie to follow. "I have no son, and have chosen you as my successor," he said solemnly handing Richie something wrapped in the MacLeod clan tartan.

"Is this what I think it is?" Richie asked with an embarrassed grin.

"If you've been paying attention, then yes."

Slowly and carefully Richie unwrapped the sword and held it closer to the fire to get a better look. "Forged by the chieftain. . . that means you made this, right?"

"Actually, I'm breaking tradition a little. There's not really a clan to become chieftain of, so this is more symbolic than anything. But that was forged by the chieftain, my father made that sword and gave it to me on my twentieth birthday," Duncan told him.

Richie's eyes widened. "This is the sword your dad gave you?" Duncan nodded. "This is 380 years old?"

"382," Duncan corrected.

"Close enough. . . why are you giving this to me?"

"Because I don't have a son to pass anything along to. You're the next best thing," Duncan smiled with an innocent shrug.

"Well, I guess since I don't have a dad to pass anything along to me. . . you're the next best thing, too." Richie held the sword up and looked at it. "You dad made this? It's awesome. . . and it's really mine?"

"I couldn't make you a sword, but I could make that sword yours," Duncan pointed out the neat engraving on the blade just under the hilt that read 'Richard Ryan'.

"Dang, Mac," Richie grinned. "So, you ever gonna show me how to use it?"

"Maybe some other time," Duncan told him. "I'm sure you'll learn one of these days." The sun began to rise over the water. Duncan looked at Richie, who was staring at the sword, transfixed by awe and wonderment. Duncan grinned. "What the hell, come here." He led Richie into the yard. "Okay, put your right hand under the hilt. . ."

AN: That's the end. I have a possible sequel floating around in my head. Who knows if I get the chance I might write it. Right now I have another story that I've started posting that I need to finish. Oh, and as I've mentioned in other stories when I explored other languages. . . I don't speak French. So anything French in this story was gotten from a translator site. If any of it was wrong (which is entirely possible) please accept my deepest and most heartfelt apologies. And if you'd like you can leave corrections in a review and I will change my mistakes. Thank you for taking the time to read my story, please take a few more seconds out of your day and leave a review.