AN: Special thanks to my beta Professor Lori Belle. I berdened her with this and she was a great sport ! I'm sure I drove her nuts but she went along with me the whole way through. THANK YOU LORI!!!!! Okay folks that's that! But no worries! There is a sequel in the works. Set in Hawaii. Heather and Duncan and Richie will all be there. So don't be too mad. I plan to start posting it after the new year. I need a break from this uni. So to celebrate I have a new story coming called Yes, Master. It is a little darker than my other stuff, but I would love to see what people have to say. Expect it in a month or so! Thanks for all the reviews and please take the time to leave one more! It was a pleasure writing for all of you!

Richie's silence on the drive home unnerved his companions. Adam kept looking at Richie in the rear view mirror, who was stuck between the MacLeods in the backseat. Duncan was trying to calm the already stoic boy and Conner seemed mesmerized by the twitching in Richie's left hand. Joe was scribbling furiously in the front seat a preliminary report of the day's events.

When they reached the ballet studio, Richie was already crawling over Duncan before the car stopped. He was out of the car and on his way up the stairs by the time the Duncan had taken off his seat belt to go after him.

"MacLeod," Adam stopped him. "I don't think he's in the mood for playing the gracious host right now."

"I'm not leaving him alone like this," Duncan argued. "A quickening has never affected him like this before. Something's wrong."

"He has a point, Adam," Conner agreed. "There is something wrong with the lad."

"I think this has nothing to do with the quickening," Adam said calmly. "I think this is a normal, human, emotion."

"I don't think he'd be that upset over Masters dying," Duncan said.

"Think MacLeod," Adam groaned. "What else has happened to him in the last twenty four hours?"

They all thought for a minute. "He proposed to Heather," Joe said. "Yesterday afternoon."

"You don't think." Duncan started.

"No wonder he's." Conner added.

"Poor kid."

"Now do you understand why he should be left alone?"

"He needs someone," Duncan insisted. "Even if he just has someone to ignore, he has someone."

"How old do you think he is, six?"

"You don't know him."

"I do know him. And I know that you baby him too much. How do you expect him to survive?"

"What if someone came for his head? He probably wouldn't fight!"

"Who, MacLeod? Who in this town is immortal and not here?"

"I'd feel better if someone stayed with him."

"And I suppose you're volunteering?"

"If no one else will."

"I say we let Richie decide," Conner cut in. "If he wants someone to stay, he can pick who."

"Fine. Who ever he picks, stays."

"Fine," they all agreed.

They all trooped upstairs. "See? The door is unlocked," Duncan pointed out reasonably as he opened the door.

Richie was sitting on the couch in sweat pants with a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand. "What took you guys so long? I almost thought you were going to leave me alone without me yelling at you to go away."

"Tell me you've been drinking that for a month and not ten minutes," Duncan said, moving to take the bottle.

Richie stubbornly held onto it. "I just started."

"You drank all that!?"

"No. I've barely had any. But there's more if I need it."

"You aren't going to finish this," Duncan insisted trying to take the bottle again. "I'll pour you some."

"I know how much I can handle, Mac."

"Something tells me you're not counting ounces tonight, Rich."

"I'm not much in the mood to remember anything right now, much less how much I've been drinking."

"Richie, I know what you're going through."

"What the hell do you know?" Richie interrupted. "What the hell do you know about this? Nothing. Don't even try to tell me you understand what's going on."

"Richie, I'm sorry this happened.."

"I don't want your pity," Richie said slowly. "I don't want your advice and I don't want to talk to you and I don't want you here. Go away."

"I'm not leaving you here alone."

"Then I'll go somewhere else."

"Richie, I'd just feel better if someone stayed with you. Just pick someone."

There was a slight pause. "Conner or Adam, I don't care which," Richie finally mumbled. "Whoever it is, order a couple pizzas, I'm starving."

"Why don't you go to my place; take my car," Adam gave Duncan his keys. "Richie, do you mind if we both stay? You're going to be quiet and I want someone to talk to."

Richie looked out the window. "I don't care."

"Duncan," Conner whispered. "Let the lad have his way. You'll hear everything anyway."

"Take care of him," Duncan answered, obviously hurt but refusing to show it.

"I always do."

Conner got some glasses out of the cabinet and sat on the couch with Richie. "I hate to see a man drink alone."

Adam shooed Duncan and Joe out the door and went to order the pizzas. The three drank in silence until the pizza came. Richie got up and paid the delivery boy and got the food. He didn't bother with plates or napkins just put the boxes on the coffee table. Conner had noted that Richie had yet to finish the glass of Jack Daniels in front of him. Apparently he had been waiting for the food to arrive, because he downed the liquor like it was a coke and poured himself some more.

The silence set in again. Richie broke it as he started on the last slice of the second pizza. "How'd you guys figure it out?"

"Logic," Adam answered. "It wasn't the quickening. It had to be Heather."

"Oh." He stared at the pepperoni on his pizza. He took a bite then dropped it onto the greasy cardboard. "I felt like such an idiot. I mean what do you say after that? 'Oh, it was just an idea. Want some more pie?' And the way she looked at me. I was the monster in a little kid's nightmare. I think she was scared of me. Me! It's like.. She was waiting for me to pull my sword on her. She asked if I had it with me and when I told her I did, she backed away. The closest we were was when we were in the car. She wouldn't even look at me. She ran. ran. from the car to her house. She didn't say anything. just ran. I have never felt so ridiculous. ever. I shouldn't have asked. But I was so sure she would. I mean. I loved her. Hell, I love her. And I thought she did, too. I mean, she was my Tessa. I knew it. Everyone knew it. And now." he sighed and didn't finish his sentence.

"I think you're ready for bed," Conner told him.

"I'm not a child. I can decide when I'm ready for bed."

"Richie, look me in the eye and tell me that you don't want to go in your room and curl up in a little ball to die."

"I'll go when I'm ready."

"Let him be, Conner," Adam interjected.

"Thank you," Richie said, pouring the last of the Jack Daniels into his glass.

He finished off the glass in a few long gulps. He got up and went to get another bottle. His steps were steady, even if he did sway a little when he was trying to stand still. He made it back to the couch with no mishaps and settled down with the bottle. Conner took it from him to pour a little into his glass. Richie finished it, then poured some more. Soon he had made a rather large dent in the second bottle.

"You know something?" he said suddenly, looking at Adam.

"You're drunk?"

Richie paused to think about it. "Maybe a little," he decided. "You're not gonna tell Mac are you?"

"Wouldn't dream of it."

"Good. yeah, that's good. He thinks I'm five. maybe six. six on a good day. I haven't been that young in. in. in a long time. Long, long time. Don't think he knows that." He sighed deeply. "You know what else?" he asked Conner.


"He thinks he's my dad. But he's not. I'm immortal. We don't got dads. I had one though. he was a reeeeeaaaaaal ass. So I killed him. Oh, wait, you were there! And." he lost his train of thought. "And Mac thinks I'm a baby. He thinks I can't take care of my self. I can you know. Yup. I got lots of money. lots and lots of it. A whole lots of it. I mean, Tessa, Mac. now Greg? Lots of money. I don't need him. Nope. I can do it."

"You're really good at getting yourself drunk."

"It's easy though. Just gotta drink a little. Yup. Tessa used to give me wine. Mac said she would turn me into a drunk. I may be drunk, but I'm not a drunk. There's a difference. Big one. That's why I came all the way out here."

"Because you're drunk?" Adam asked in mild amusement.

"No. 'Cause he thinks I'm five. He wasn't supposed to do this."

"Do what?"

"Everything. Car, computer, credit card, cds, stuff. I was gonna do it. I was gonna be. be. just me. I didn't want him to do this. I was gonna do it. I was gonna prove to him. I was. not a baby. I was just as okay at being on my own as him."

"But he didn't let you."

"No! He got worser! Where are you taking that?" Richie asked, trying to grab the bottle out of Conner's hand.

"You said you were done," Conner said.


"Just now. You said you were done. Didn't he, Adam?"

"Yes, you said you were done."

"Oh. okay then. Where was I? Oh yeah, he got worser. He was always sending me stuff. And he puts money in my bank account. Did you know that? He doesn't think I do. But I do. I'm not stupid. He does it. And he. he. I'm just as good at stuff as he is! I'm not his little brother, either. I don't have a brother. Ever! Just me and. We used to be just friends. When we first met. But now. he wants more and I don't. But you can't tell him that, because he's a baby. He gets hurt real easy. But I don't wanna. I wanna be me. Not his kid or his brother. me. Just a friend. Like us."

"You look tired," Conner cut in. "I think you need to get some sleep."

"You sleep."

"Richie, it's late, get some sleep."

"Fine. You're like Mac. You're not my dad either."

"No. I'm a friend. And as a friend, I think you should get some sleep."

"Fine." Richie got up and weaved his way into the bedroom.

"That was quite a speech," Conner commented.

"It's about bloody time," Adam said. "I thought he was never going to get out on his own. Now that we know he wants to, I know he will."

. . . . . .

Richie had decided to skip the graduation ceremony. He was in no mood for pomp and circumstance. So, he packed up the loft and loaded it all into his car. Duncan had wanted to drive back with him but he insisted he do it alone. And with Conner and Adam backing him up, Duncan agreed. Richie had just looked for anything he might have missed and was on his way to leave when Alex stopped him in the hall.

"What?" Richie asked. "Are you going to beat me up because I broke your sister's heart? Because she was the one that called it quits."

"I know why you broke up," Alex said calmly.

"She told you? Oh, shit, she told you! She promised she wouldn't!"

"She didn't tell me, I already knew."

Richie paused. "Knew what?" Alex pulled up the left sleeve of his shirt and showed Richie his watcher tattoo. "When?"

"The wedding. I saw you and that man. Mike explained everything to me. I'm sorry, Rich."

"Me, too. Look, if Heather or anyone ever needs anything. You'll be able to find me. I'll do whatever I can for as long as I can. I promise. You guys can always come to me. And if I'm not around, you got Mac, or Conner, or even Adam I bet. He's bark is worse than his bite.

"Thanks, Richie."

"Don't mention it."

"So you're headed home, huh?"

"Yup. See you around. unless you're doing your job right."

"Watch your head."

"Always do."

Richie had been home for a week and still wasn't feeling very social. So when Mac invited him to join him at the bar, he wasn't very surprised to get no for an answer. But when he got back and Richie was gone, he was a little curious. Until he got his answer. In the form of a note. On the coffee table. It was in Richie's almost feminine handwriting that Adam always made fun of him for.

'Dear Mac, I'm sorry. I had to go. I had to do this. I can't take it anymore. So I'm leaving and will be long gone by the time you get this. I have to try this on my own. I don't need anyone to fall back on anymore and this is the only way I can prove it to myself, and you. I'm so grateful for everything you've done for me. You never had to bail me out of jail, you never had to give me a job, you never had to do anything you did. But you did anyway. And as much as I didn't deserve it at the time and don't deserve it now, I know you'd do it again. That's who you are. Well, this is who I am. A loner. I need my space and time. Please don't try to find me. I know you have your ways. But this is what I have to do. I'm sorry. I left the car and computer. I don't feel right using them and I don't feel right being the one to sell them. You don't have to worry about me. I'll be fine. I learned from the best. Richie Ryan

. . . . . .

*One year later*

Duncan read the letter again as the plane landed.

'Mac, I just wanted you to know that I'm okay. I have a good job and I'm doing fine. Nobody has come after my head. I'm keeping a low profile so it shouldn't happen anytime soon. I know this is pointless to say, but you don't have to worry about me. Richie P.S. I'm sorry I left without saying anything. I knew you would just try to keep me from going.'

The letter had arrived a little over a year after Richie had left along with a check for all four years of school that Duncan had paid for. By that time, Duncan had all but given up on finding the boy; the watchers had lost track of him long ago. He knew that if Richie was okay he would contact him given time. And he had. Richie had done a good job covering his tracks; he didn't take into account the postmark on the letter would tell Duncan he was in Detroit, Michigan. After that, he was easy to find.

As soon as the doors were opened, Duncan forced his way off the plane and to the car rentals. It took one phone call to start a chain reaction in the Watchers' system that ultimately took ten minutes to locate Richie's address. Duncan pulled to a stop in front of the nice, but little house and got out of the car. He took a deep breath and started up the front walk. The door was open before he had a chance to knock. Richie stood on the other side.

"I got your letter."

"Figured," Richie shrugged, stepping aside to let Duncan in.

"Check, too."


"You didn't have to do that, Richie. I told you I wanted to pay for it."

"And I told you I was going to pay you back. I keep my word."

They stood and looked at each other. Neither man looked any different.

"Why did you leave?" Duncan finally asked.

"I had to," Richie answered simply.

"Without a word? Just sneaking away into the night?"

"I was afraid you'd haul me to Joe's and lock me in the store room again."

"Richie, why did you wait so long to contact me? Do you have any idea."

"How worried you were? Probably about the same as me," Richie interrupted. "I waited so long, so that I knew I could do this."

"Do what?"

"Say good-bye."

"Why?" Duncan demanded.

"Because I have to.

"No, you don't," Duncan assured him, closing the small gap between them. "Richie, why do you have to leave?"

"It's not going to work out," he answered, monotone.

"What's not going to work out?"

"You and me. Me and anybody. It never works."

"We can make it work."

"No, we can't. It's pointless to even try. It never works."

"Life has a way of making things work out, Rich."

Richie shook his head. "The only thing life ever taught me was that because I'm immortal, it's never going to work out. I have to accept that."

"Richie, that's not true."

"Oh yeah? Greg, the guy who was supposed to be my father tried to kill me, Heather left me. I finally got a real job, but I'm gonna have to leave soon, I can't contact any of my old friends, because I'm 25 and I look like I'm 19!"

"What does that have to do with us?"

"We're immortal, Mac. You said it yourself; we might have to face each other. I can't do that."

"Richie, I would never kill you."

"If you had to you would.and so would I."


"Mac, this is that way it has to me. I don't have a choice. The closer we are, the easier it is for me to hurt you. I don't want to do that, Mac. I have to do this, you gotta understand."

"But I don't," Duncan insisted. Richie had been the one person he figured would always stay.

"Then I'm sorry." Richie turned his back to him.

Duncan just stared. "Fine," he said quietly. "If this is what you really want."

"I don't," Richie interjected, turning back around. "Believe me, Mac, I don't want this." His voice began to shake. "But I have to do this."

"You've made your decision," Duncan responded curtly. "It's not like you've never made a decision I didn't like before. I can live with this. If it's what you feel is right, then we'll do it."

"Mac, I'm sorry."

"I know. Me too."

"So I guess this is it, huh?"

"I guess."

"I'll see."

"Rich, MacLeods don't say good bye. You know that."

"But I'm not." he began to protest, but Duncan cut him off.

"Richie," he said, putting out his hand.

"Duncan," Richie returned after a slight pause. They grasped each other by the forearm until Richie pulled Duncan in for a hug. "I'm sorry, Mac," he whispered over his shoulder.

"Me, too. tough guy," Duncan answered. He didn't want to, but when Richie began to pull away he let go. Then he did the hardest thing he had ever had to do; he walked away.

It took all the control he had, but Richie didn't go after him. He did go to the window and watch Duncan go to his car. Duncan looked back just in time to see Richie turn from the window.

The last thing either man saw was the other walking away.