"Five more, Richie."

"You're killing me, Maurine!" Richie grunted as he once again pushed against her hands with his foot.

"You're doing great, come on, Richie. Four more."

"No, no, I'm done," he panted.

"Four more. I have a schedule to keep with and papers to fill out here."

"So lie."

"Your goal is to not have to wear a brace by graduation, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"That's a month away. Four more."

Richie sighed. "I want my mommy," he mumbled before pushing against the minimal resistance she was providing. Finally he was done.

"You're doing great, Richie," Maurine told him as she helped him strap the brace around his leg. "A few more weeks of this and you'll be walking aid free."

"I can deal with crutches for the rest of my life."

"Chicks dig gimps. See you on Monday."

"Not if I have any say in it."

"How'd it go, Rich?" Duncan asked from the waiting room. He had been picking him up every day for two weeks.

"Fine."

"You up for dinner tonight?"

"Nathan and the girls are coming over and I have to take a shower. We all know what a production that it."

"Need any help?"

"Mom's at Uncle Conner's if I need any help. Which I don't. I've been bathing myself for years."

"Whoa, nice attitude, I was just offering."

"Look, I'm sore, tired, smelly and hungry; can we just go home?"

"Okay, let's go."

The ride home was silent. Duncan couldn't figure out what was wrong with Richie. Conner and Tessa had been lecturing him that the boy wanted attention. But the more time he tried to spend with him, the angrier Richie got.

Richie concentrated on the passing scenery. He wasn't sure what to make of what Duncan was doing. He had been so attentive the first few years then all of a sudden he was gone. And now he was back. It was all far too weird for him. Usually once someone lost interest in him, that was that. They'd send him back to the orphanage or just ignore him until his social worker came for him. But he was too old for that now. And Duncan had put a lot on the line for him. And Tessa would never let anything happen to him. Tessa. That was why Duncan was doing this. He wanted to make up with Tessa. And to prove how much he loved her, he was going to play nice with Richie. Well, he'd be damned if he was going to let Duncan use him like that. If Tessa asked him to play along he would, but not one second before.

They pulled up to Conner's town house and Richie got out of the car. He wanted to talk to someone about what Duncan was doing. Tessa was on the phone when he went in so he went straight to the shower. He sat down on the toilet and carefully removed the brace that went from his thigh to his ankle. Then he got undressed, put on a different waterproof brace, showered, dried off, wrapped himself in a towel, went to his room and took off the brace as he dried his leg, got dressed, put on the regular brace. He was combing his hair when the doorbell rang.

"Richie, you're friends are here!" Tessa called.

"Coming!" He made his way into the living room. "What'd you get?" he asked Nathan who was holding a few rental movies.

"Jurassic Park."

"Awesome."

"Pizza's on the way!" Tessa called from the kitchen.

"Thanks, Mom!"

Duncan came in with a tray of sodas. "You guys need anything else?"

"No," Richie dismissed him. "Mac.you mind?" he prompted when he didn't get the hint.

"Sorry, Rich. You guys need anything, we're in the kitchen."

"We know." Duncan finally left the room. "Golly," Richie groaned under his breath.

"I thought that your dad?" Shawna asked.

"And?"

"Since when do you call your dad Mac?"

"Oh.he's uh, my step-dad. He kinda adopted me.when he and my mom got married a few years ago. So, movie now or wait for dinner?"

. . . . . .

"Good morning, Rich."

"Mac.what're you doing here?"

"Crime to have breakfast with my family?"

"Just a surprise. Where's Mom and Uncle Conner?"

"In the kitchen."

"Cool." Richie turned to leave.

"You want to go for breakfast?" Duncan interrupted him. "Anywhere you want to go."

Richie paused. "No thanks." He once again started his trip to the kitchen.

Conner and Tessa looked up from the paper they had been examining on the table.

"Richie, we need to talk," Tessa said.

Richie knew that tone. "What did I do?"

"What is this?" She held up the paper.

"My economics test.I was wondering where that was."

"And is what at the top?"

"My name?"

"Next to that."

"The date?"

"I'm thinking more along the lines of the big red 'D'."

"Oh.my grade."

"You told us you studied," Conner pointed out.

"Uh."

"Richie, all we've ever asked is that you do your best," Tessa reminded him.

"I know."

"And we trust you."

"Yeah."

"So all you have to do is tell us that you tried your hardest and we'll leave it at that."

Richie looked at Tessa, then tried Conner and ended up staring at the table instead. "Not really."

"Then go to your room," Conner told him. "We weren't going to make you do the extra credit this term because you had so much work as it was. Now you're not going out until you have it done."

"But."

"Richie, every time I saw you while you were supposed to be studying, you were goofing off, saying you were taking a break. So not only did you blow off your schoolwork, which comes first in this house."

"Conner," Duncan interrupted from behind Richie.

"Not now, we're in the middle of something." He turned back to the teen. "You blew that off and then you lied to me and your mother."

"I know, but Dad, I."

No one seemed to notice Richie's slip except Duncan.

"Do you have a legitimate excuse?" Conner asked him.

"No."

"Then get to work."

"Can I at least get something to eat first?"

"Sure you can, Rich," Duncan cut in. "We'll go then you can get to work when we get back."

"Duncan, I believe the lad is in trouble."

"And I believe I'M his father. I'm taking my son out to breakfast."

"Don't worry about it, Mac. I didn't want to go anyway."

"Richie, you messed up on one test. Your grades are fine."

"I wasn't going to go with you anyway."

"What's one meal going to hurt?"

"I dunno, you tell me."

"What?"

"Duncan, are you really that dense?" Conner groaned. "You don't spend anytime with the lad, why would he want to spend time with you?"

"Oh, so he decides to hang out with his tyrant of an uncle?"

"He's not a tyrant!" Richie defended.

"Richie, stay out of it."

"No! Why do I have to stay out of it?"

"Because we're tying to have an adult conversation."

"Sounds like you're just gonna fight.again."

"We are not fighting."

"I didn't say you were; I said you were going to. And if it's just going to be about me, I don't see why I have to leave while you do it!"

"He has a point, Duncan," Tessa put in. "He can hear us anyway."

"I just think this is going to get a little nasty and I don't think he has to be involved."

"He's not a child anymore! You should hear what all he has to say!"

"He is a child! And he's my son and if I don't want him to hear this then he should leave! Richie, go to your room!"

"No! I'm not a child and I'm not leaving! I'm sick of this!"

"Richie, it's okay," Conner said calmly. "If you want to stay, stay. We'll all talk."

"Actually, I want to talk to you in private," Duncan said fiercely, pointing at Conner.

"Tessa, Richie, excuse us for a minute, please," Conner said politely.

Tessa ushered Richie to his bedroom and there the pair stayed.

"What do you think you're doing?" Duncan growled in Gaelic.

"Taking care of your family," he answered.

"I can take care of them just fine."

"Really? Then why was that lad of yours so starved for a father's attention when he came to see me on vacation?"

"What are you talking about?"

"He kept expecting me to go to work. He nearly went into shock when I told him I had to whole week set aside for him. I moved here because Tessa thought it would be a good idea. He still needs a father to look after him and teach him what fathers are supposed to do. He's not getting that from you."

"Conner, you know as well as I that he's not going to be a father."

"Why not?" Conner challenged. "I was a father. You were for a while. And there's every possibility that he will never become one of us and he'll get married and he can adopt. But that's a long way away. You have other things to worry about right now."

"Well, aren't you going to tell me what?" Duncan asked irritably.

"He thinks that you and Tessa are going to get a divorce. He thinks you don't care about him. And I don't think he's far off on either point."

"Of course I care about him. And Tessa and I are not getting divorced."

"Only because she has other plans to try out once Richie is safe in New York. She's not ready to give up just yet. But she is mortal and isn't going to be around forever. Why you ever thought you could take her for granted.such a lovely, kind, nearly perfect woman.is beyond me. And Richie.well, he needs one of us he trust if the time comes and I'm not talking about clansmen."

"I'm not taking them for granted!"

"Oh really?" Conner asked. "When was the last time you spent time with them?"

"I pick up Richie from physical therapy."

"Before the accident."

"We live in the same house."

"But when have you spent time with them? Had dinner and didn't rush off to grade papers or something? Sat down with Richie and helped him with his schoolwork? Talked to Tessa about something other than Richie?"

"Well, I haven't since you've been here! They're my family, not yours. I married Tessa and I adopted Richie. I love them; I've been working myself as hard as I can to provide all I can for them."

"Are you so daft to think that to be a husband and father all you need to do is give them things? You were a better father before you were a father! You've never been married and you've never had a child. You obviously have no business doing either."

Meanwhile in Richie's room.

"What do you think they're saying?" Richie asked.

"We have something we need to talk about," Tessa distracted him.

"What is it?"

"This summer when you move to New York, you know I'm not coming with you, right?"

"Yeah."

"I want to take Duncan to Paris. I'm not ready to give up on him completely."

"But, Mom."

"I'm not going to force you into anything. It's up to you how you handle your problems with Duncan. I just want you to know what the plan is so you aren't left out."

"But.if you and Mac stay together and I don't wanna.what happens to you and me? I like having you for a mom."

"Duncan and I aren't a matched set. You can have one without the other. I like being your mother and I want to keep it that way. But I also love Duncan and I know there is more to this problem than meets the eye."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why would you stay with him after all he's done to us? You deserve better."

"I might," she agreed. "But if there is a problem to fix, I want to fix it and then make my decision. Maybe he just wasn't ready for all the responsibility of a family."

"Then why did he make himself part of one?"

"I don't know. But I believe that Darius can help us find out."

"That priest guy in Paris?"

"Exactly. Would you be okay if we went?"

"I'm going to be busy in the big city. I don't expect you to sit around just waiting for me to call or something. I'm an adult. Go."

There was a knock at the door. And Duncan's muffled voice asked to speak to Richie.

"Just talk to him," Tessa encouraged. "Nothing that happens with him will affect us." She got up and let him in before leaving herself.

"What do you want?" Richie asked, flipping open a magazine from his bedside table.

"To talk. Can you put that down?"

"I should probably take Buddy out."

"Conner can let him out. We need to talk."

"What about?"

"You and me."

"What?"

Duncan paused for a minute. "I'm sorry, Rich."

"Wow, great talk. I'm glad we had this moment."

"Would you stop being so rude for just a minute?"

"What?"

"I'm tying to apologize to you for what I've been doing."

"Apologize?"

"Yes."

"That's it? Just 'Gee, I'm sorry' and everything's supposed to be okay?"

"Rich."

"Well, that's not gonna cut it! You're nuts if you think I'm not pissed by all this!"

"I want to make it up to you."

"Make it up to me? Make it up to me! How the hell do you plan on doing that? You dropped off the face of the planet for no apparent reason. Totally ignore me unless you were yelling at me for just breathing. You have no clue what I'm in to. You show no interest! And 'I'm sorry' is supposed to make it all better? That's a load of crap!"

"Richie, I know I haven't been around. I have no real excuse except I had no right to do that to you and your mother. It was horrible of me. I got distracted and thought I was doing the right thing when I wasn't. I'm not perfect and I don't pretend to be. I got so wrapped up in trying to give you things that I forgot what you really needed. Me. I ruined this last year; I know I did. And I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted," Richie mumbled. "I have homework."

"I don't believe you."

"Well, what do you expect me to say?"

"I'm sure you have plenty you want to say to me."

"How about get lost?"

"What else?"

"That's it. Get lost."

"Richie, it's pretty obvious that you're mad at me. You have to have more to say. Tell me how you're feeling."

"Fine, you wanna know how I feel? Fine. I hate you. That's how I feel!"

"Rich."

"You're just like everyone else.only worse. At least with them I knew how they felt about me. I knew what they wanted from me. I knew what I had to do to make them pay attention to me. I knew what to do to make them happy. With you the only thing I could ever think of was to stay the hell away."

"Richie, I."

"But I don't care anymore. I got Mom and Uncle Conner and that's just fine with me. So you go back to your students and have fun with them. I'm all set."

"You think you don't need me?" Duncan asked.

"I know I don't. Look, I hear what you, Mom and Uncle Conner always yell about. And maybe I'm not like other kids. But because of that, I know how to move on. And I have. So you do your thing; I'll do mine and everything will be fine." He paused. "It's not like I'm going to be here much longer anyway."

"New York?"

"Yup. Right after graduation."

"Richie. I'm sorry."

"You said that."

"And I mean it. I know that's not going to help anything."

"Then why bother?"

"Because I don't know what else to do! Richie, I know I screwed up. I messed up everything with you and your mother. I had no business trying to have a family. Obviously I'm not cut out to be a father or a husband."

"I'm not going to disagree with you."

"I'm not asking you to. All I'm trying to do is apologize."

"Fine. You apologized. Your conscience is clear. Now, I have homework to do."

"Do you need any help?"

"Not from you."

Duncan sighed. "You're still mad at me?"

"Look, Mac, I know I owe you a lot. I owe Mom, too. But I think we're even. I don't have to play nice to you and you don't have to play nice to me. So stop bothering."

"I'm not playing nice. I'm trying to get things back to the way they were."

"Don't you get it, Mac? Things can never be the way they were. You ruined it! You didn't care about me and I don't care about you."

"Richie, I do care."

"It's too late for that! You ruined it! You ruined everything! Everything was supposed to be perfect when we moved here. And just so long as you weren't around it was. Everything was going fine with me and Mom and it only got better when Uncle Conner moved here. I'm all set. You have nothing to feel guilty about, so what's the big deal?"

"The big deal is I let you down."

"Don't worry about it."

"It's not that easy, Richie. I care about you. I moved us here and did everything I did because I wanted to help you and give you what you never had."

"And what is that?"

"Stability. Security. A family."

"I had that in Washington."

"You didn't have security or stability. You had to keep changing who you were. You were always looking over your shoulder making sure no one could blow your cover."

"Everything was fine in Washington."

"Oh really? I seem to remember a certain incident that was not just fine."

"Everything else was okay. I had friends and I was doing decent in school. Everyone was happy. Everyone got along."

"But you were in danger."

"But everything was. Everyone was happier."

"We can be happy again. Just give me another chance."

"I did. I gave you lots of chances. I asked you to help me with my book report. My history project. I asked you to come to my games. I tried to show you my paintings. I tried to get you interested in anything but it didn't work. I gave you your chances."

"One more, Richie, I swear I won't let you down this time. Just talk to me. Let me back in."

"I'll think about it."

"That's all I want."

A month later, Richie, Nathan, Ginger, and Shawna stood in the park posed and smiling in their caps and gowns. Their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles snapped pictures. Richie had been very busy with physical therapy, exams, getting everything ready for New York and trying to work things out with Duncan.

"Okay, lets get some with just Nathan and Shawna," someone's mom decided.

Richie was still in a brace. Not the full leg one, the new one went from his thigh to his shin and he could hide it under his pants. His limp was still there, but it wasn't as noticeable as before.

"Now Richie and Ginger."

Richie had worked very hard on his schoolwork and ended up with a two point nine GPA. Tessa, Conner and Duncan were very proud of him. Richie was very proud as well. He had worked really hard and earned every last one of those points.

"Just the girls."

Richie and Duncan were on shaky ground. They got along okay, but each snapped rather easily. One minute they would be okay, the next one or the other had said or done something that set the other one off. Conner was trying to help them along and continually talked to Richie and reminded him how much it meant to Tessa that he and Duncan get along.

"Just the boys."

Tessa and Duncan had plans to go to Paris for the summer. They were going to take the time to work things out between them. They were even going to go to Duncan's good friend, a catholic priest named Darius.

"Family pictures now."

Everyone took turns taking pictures of the graduates and their families. Richie was moving in with Conner the same day Duncan and Tessa were going to Paris. They were all going to fly to New York where Duncan and Tessa would catch a connecting flight to Paris.

"We better get going if we're going to get the kids to the ceremony on time."

Everyone piled into cars and caravaned to the high school for graduation which was being held on the football field. Richie was toward the middle of his class in alphabetical order. He took a deep breath as his row got up to make their way to the stage that the tech theater students had built.

"Jonathan Alexander Namin. Meredith Courtney Nasini. Richard Ryan Noel- MacLeod." Richie stood up straight as he walked to the middle of the stage to get his diploma from the principle.

"Congratulations."

Richie took the paper with one hand and shook the man's hand with the other. "Thank you." He could hear Tessa, Duncan, and Conner yelling over all the other noise. He spotted them in the crowd and smiled and waved. They waved back and beamed with pride.

They went to one of the nicest restaurants in town to celebrate. Tessa had made Richie's favorite cake for dessert. They stayed up late talking and laughing just like old times. The next morning they made one last check before heading to the airport.

Tessa fussed over Richie the entire flight to New York.

"Are you sure you'll be okay on your own?" She asked for the fifth time.

"I won't be alone, Mom. I'll be with Uncle Conner."

"And don't give him any trouble."

"I won't. I'll be busy with classes."

"Oh, I'm so proud you."

Once they landed there was just enough time for lunch before Duncan and Tessa's flight.

"Be good," Tessa reminded Richie as their flight was called over the PA system.

"I will."

"Take care of him," she told Conner.

"I will."

"Richie, I hope that we can still talk even though we'll be in Paris. Come visit on breaks or maybe we'll come here. But I want to keep trying."

"Okay, Mac."

"And I want you to know that I'm proud of you. You couldn't do anything to make me more proud."

"Thanks."

"Last call for flight 259 to Paris, France."

"We better go, Tess."

"Be good, Richie," Tessa said once again giving him a strong hug,

"I will, Mom."

"And keep working on your art."

"I will, Mom."

"I'm going to miss you so much."

"Me too."

"I love you, Richie."

"I love you, too, Mom." They let go. "Bye, Mac."

"Good bye, Richie."

Richie was top of his class at the conservatory. His art was continually bought at such high prices that after just a year he bought his own artist loft in Greenwich Village. By the time he was twenty-six, he had two pieces in the Museum of Modern Art. Both of which were on display with Tessa's sculptures. By the time he was thirty, the Noel's had their own room to display both of their artwork.

At thirty two, Richie was killed when his building caught fire while he was painting on the roof. The fire started on the third floor and when it reached his loft his oil based paints caught fire and some of the unopened tubes and cans exploded. Richie went quickly. When he woke up and realized what had happened, he turned to Duncan for help. Richie and Duncan moved to rural England where they could train and Richie start over. He and Duncan bonded over training and became best friends.

Tessa died nearly forty years later in her sleep. Conner was killed by another immortal one hundred and twelve years after that. Duncan and Richie are still looking for the immortal.

AN: Okay, guys, that's it. The end. I'd like to take this time to thank each and every one of you for your support during my writer's block. Everyone had great suggestions and there was no way I could use them all, so please don't fell bad if your ideas weren't used. It all came down to which one I could write the best. I hope you all enjoyed this story even if it did get away for me and take on a life of its own. I think it turned out pretty okay and I hope you do, too. Once again THANK YOU TO ONE AND ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT, REVIEWS AND IDEAS!!!!