Disclaimers: not mine.

AN: This joins the ranks of "Tough Love" and "A Lesson Learned". It is a companion piece to University Love but can stand on it's own.


The quickening had started a string of explosions in the old factory. The explosions had started a fire. Richie was somewhere inside. Duncan raced through the corridors, up the stairs, and down another hall screaming his name.

"Richie! Richie!" He had assumed Richie had been hidden in the farthest corner possible, but Richie wasn't upstairs. "Richie!" He raced back down the stairs. "Richie!" The heat was becoming unbearable. The smoke was choking. "Richie!" He concentrated as hard as he could to get the faintest sign Richie was somewhere near. Feeling helpless and insufficient, Duncan pushed himself deeper into the heat. The only other possibility was Richie was somewhere near where the battle had been. "Richie!" There it was. the soft presence of a pre-immortal. Duncan searched for the source of the feeling and found a door at the far end of the room he had fought in.

He threw it open. Richie was sitting bound to a chair and gagged. He was screaming and pulling at his bonds. His eyes were wild and frightened. He wasn't sure what was going on. All he knew was that smoke had been leaking into the room for at least five minutes and he had almost given up hope.

"Richie!" Duncan yelled running to him. He used his katana to cut the rope and gag. He folded the cloth that had previously been used to keep Richie quiet and pressed it over the teen's mouth and nose. "Hold that there," he instructed, leading Richie out of the room.

When they got to the fire, he leaned over Richie, trying to cover the boy as much as he could and used his body as a shield from any debris that may fall from over head. Half way across the room, a beam fell inches in front of them. Richie yelped as Duncan abruptly pulled him back. Not expecting the sudden change in direction, Richie tripped over his feet and fell backward taking Duncan down with him.

"You okay?" Duncan asked, helping Richie back up. Richie nodded and coughed a few times.

Duncan put the cloth back over his mouth and once again hunkered over him. They made their way through the fiery maze and out of the factory. Once they were a safe distance away, Richie collapsed onto the ground in a coughing fit. Duncan crouched next to him and covered him in his coat. The chilly January morning air was already beginning to cause the boy, who had been kidnapped out of his own bed while Duncan and Tessa were at a party, to shiver.

"Let's get you home," Duncan whispered encouragingly, helping Richie up again. "You're going to get sick out here in your underwear."

"You're the one that dragged me out of the nice warm building," Richie mumbled back. Duncan put a protective arm around Richie and took him to the car. He wrapped him with a blanket from the trunk before seating him in the front seat where the heat would hit him better.

At a stoplight Duncan looked at Richie. He was covered in soot and there was blood on the left side of his face. Life had gotten too dangerous for Richie. This was the third time in two months he had been close to dying. Duncan had made a mistake taking Richie in. He should have found him a nice family to live with or a nice apartment. He could have paid the rent until Richie found a job and made enough money on his own. The current arrangement was a terrible idea.

After properly pampering, feeding, and cleaning Richie, Duncan sent him to bed. Duncan sat Tessa on the couch and told her his idea.

"No," she refused. "I will not do it!"

"Tessa, it really is for the best. I don't want to do this anymore than you do, but I think we have to."

"I have lived like this for twelve years. I have survived just fine. Richie will be fine as well."

"Richie's the one who always gets hurt. He needs this more than you do."

"He needs to be with us! Duncan, he will take this very personally," Tessa insisted. "He's ego is so fragile; this would destroy him."

"What if I can make sure he understands?" Duncan offered. "Tessa, he could have been killed today."

"But you saved him."

"After he was taken from his own bed! Tessa, he's supposed to be safe here. This is home and he wasn't safe. If I can't protect him here, he needs to be somewhere else."

"And he'll be safer with another immortal?"

"Conner doesn't run into the problems we do here. Other immortals leave him alone. He keeps to himself. Richie will be safe there."

"You think this is best?" Tessa asked after a minute.

"Tessa, I don't want to risk either one of you. It's not fair. If I could keep you with me, I would. But I truly believe this is the best possible solution."

"Then call Conner. If he agrees, so do I," Tessa said reluctantly.

. . . . . .

"Bye, Richie," Tessa gave him long strong hug at the terminal at the airport. "I love you. Always remember that."

"I love you, too, Tess," he answered not quite sure where all the emotion was coming from. She was only going to be in Paris a couple weeks. "I'll get you something in New York," he told her. "Something real classy."

"Oh!" She embraced him again. "You are such a sweet boy! I'll never forget you!"

"I don't plan on forgetting you either, Tessa. It's only a few weeks."

"Tess, your plane," Duncan gently reminded, giving her a hug. To Richie's surprise, she gave Duncan a stiff hug and returned to him, planting kisses all over his face.

"Good bye, Richie."

"Bye, Tess."

She turned and walked to the plane. Duncan and Richie watched the plane taxi down the runway before leaving.

"Did you guys have a fight?" Richie asked as they made their way through the parking lot.

"What do you mean?"

"She just acted mad at you," he shrugged. "And then she acted like she was never going to see me again. What does she think you're gonna kidnap me while she's gone? Tie me up and leave me in New York or something?"

"It's Tessa, she hates flying. She always gets dramatic when she has to go by herself," Duncan explained it away.

"Why didn't you just go with her? I can take care of the store."

"I had already promised you a trip to New York to see Conner. It's not as if anything is going to happen to her."

Richie got in the car. "I would have understood. as long as you promised to come back and not ditch me," he added in an accusing tone, but his smile gave him away.

"Don't you want to go?" Duncan asked, paying the parking lot attendant.

"Hey, of course I do," Richie assured him. "I can add it to my list of places I've been mugged. Seacouver, Paris, Amsterdam, New York," he ticked them off on his fingers as he listed them. "I get around."

"You got mugged when you went to Amsterdam?" Duncan asked. "I knew you weren't ready to go on your own."

"Mac, come on I went with a whole group of people."

"And you got mugged?"


"And you didn't tell me or Tessa?" Richie hunkered down in his seat and looked out the window and didn't answer. Since Richie wasn't defending himself that meant only one thing, "You told Tessa," Duncan observed.

"Don't get mad at her, I asked her not to tell you."

"Why do you do that?" Duncan asked in slight exasperation.

"Do what?"

"Tell Tessa things and beg her not to tell me?"

Richie shrugged. "I don't know."

"There has to be some reason," Duncan challenged.

"Maybe because she doesn't do that," Richie suggested.

"Do what?"

"Demand answers. I talk to her when I feel like it."

"It's easier to talk to her?" Duncan asked slightly hurt.

"Face it Mac, you're, like, what? Four hundred years old."


"So, that's 382 years older than me. She can't be more than 33 or 34, she's mortal, and she has that whole maternal air about her. Not to mention, she was raised in the same time period as me, she understands the way I think, and she doesn't have four hundred years worth of experiences to fall back on. She understands that it's easy to get confused. That's just the way it is."

"You have more in common."

"Exactly," Richie agreed. "That's not to say I wouldn't much rather spend two weeks alone with you than her," he added. "Tessa's great at a lot of things. but she makes a lousy." he trailed off.

"Makes a lousy what?" Duncan asked.

"Um.Mac. She makes a really bad Mac. She's a Tessa. That's all," Richie finally answered. Duncan smiled and ruffled Richie's hair with one hand. Richie did his obligatory squirming but smiled just the same. "Both hands on the wheel, hypocrite."

"What?" Duncan asked innocently.

"You always yell at me when I let go."

"So, what do you want to do in New York?" Duncan asked. 'I'm going to miss him,' Duncan thought as Richie chattered away in the passenger seat the rest of the way home. Even if it wasn't baseball season he waned to at least see Yankee Stadium. Madison Square Garden was a must along with Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, the Empire State Building and about a million other places. Richie also talked about how they could fit it all in, in two weeks without killing themselves (or at least him since he was the only mortal on the trip). Little did he know, he had as long as he wanted.

. . . . . .

Two days later, Duncan and Richie were on a plane to New York to meet Conner. Richie, who had an unhealthy enthusiasm for flying, spent the entire trip looking out windows, wondering why certain things were happening, and chatting with the crew to get his answers. By the end of the flight, Duncan wondered how Richie still had enough energy left to be excited about being in New York. Conner met them at the gate. Richie's energy suddenly left him and, for the first time since Duncan had met him, he became shy. After all, the last time he had seen Conner, he had just come back from the dead after falling off a bridge.

"Well, lad," Conner said putting an arm around Richie's shoulder and leading him to baggage claim. "I think you'll like it here."

"Probably," Richie answered. "Mac'll have to drag me back on the plane to go home."

Duncan shook his head slightly at Conner who gave him a disapproving look. Conner sent Richie to the luggage carousal to collect the bags so he could talk to Duncan.

"I thought he was in too good of a mood," he scolded. "How could you not tell him?"

"I'd never get him here if he knew he wasn't going home," Duncan defended.

"Maybe because this is a bad idea."

"If you think this is such a bad idea, why did you agree to it?"

"Because I think being with me is better for him than being with a total stranger. Hopefully, Rachel will be able to help when he has a nervous break down," Conner retorted.

"Do you think it's going to be that hard on him?"

"I know it will."

"This is Richie we're talking about, he'll bounce back. He'll understand."

"If you're so sure he'll understand, why did you lie to get him here?"

"Got 'em!" Richie announced before Duncan could answer. He struggled toward the two under the weight of their bags. "Don't look at me," he defended when Conner gave him a quizzical glance. "The small one is mine. Mac brought his whole wardrobe." He indicated the (much) larger of the two suitcases. Richie didn't know that both were filled with his clothing.

. . . . . .

When they got to Conner's apartment he showed them to the guestroom. Richie was surprised to see only one bed. Duncan had mentioned Conner only had one spare room so they would have to share. He didn't say anything about only one spare bed. Richie kept his mouth shut while Conner was in the room as well, but when Conner left so they could get ready for dinner, Richie glared at Duncan the entire time.

"What?" Duncan finally asked.

"I'm not sleeping with you," Richie told him.

"Then don't."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means there's a couch if you have a problem with it," Duncan told him with a smile.

Richie tried his best to look angry but after a minute he smiled. "I should have known."

Dinner was at a nice mom and pop Italian diner. The three men enjoyed a nice leisurely meal. Conner told stories about Duncan and Duncan tried his best to be annoyed, but Richie's smile and laugh were contagious. This was going to be the last time he saw that smile or heard that laugh in a long time, if ever again. For dessert, Conner took them to the best ice cream cart in the city. They ate their ice cream as they walked around Times Square. Duncan was sure Richie was going to have a heart attack when he found where MTV's broadcast came from. Richie was finishing off the last of his cone when they got back to the apartment. They settled in the sunken living room where Conner told more stories, this time about Duncan's training.

"He really wasn't that good?" Richie asked in disbelief.

"How do you think he died in battle?" Conner asked with a grin.

"I was the chieftain's son!" Duncan protested. "Don't listen to him, Richie, I was good."

"Not according to your teacher," Richie chided. "I bet you were the type that forged report cards."

"I never went to school," he reminded him.

"Do your parents know that?!" Richie asked in shock.

Conner laughed from his chair. "I see someone is quite the handful," he smiled. How Duncan could give up such a fun young man was beyond him. Sure he had heard stories of Richie's temper and stubbornness, but his charm far outweighed any of that.

Despite his best efforts Richie started to yawn after an hour or so.

"Looks like you're ready for bed," Duncan smiled.

"I guess," Richie yawned back.

"Go get changed, then get back out here," Duncan instructed, taking Richie by the arm and shoving him off the couch and swatting at his butt.

"Maaac!" Richie groaned looking at Conner with an embarrassed grin. Over the course of the night he had come out of his shell.

"Get going, tough guy," Duncan ordered.

"You appear to be changing your mind," Conner observed once Richie was out of hearing range.

"I have to, Conner," he replied defiantly. "But I want to give him something first. I hope you don't mind." He held up the intended gift. "I was going to give it to him when he died, but I want to give it to him now."

Richie came back into the room in boxer pants and a t-shirt before Conner could reply, so he just nodded his consent.

"Come here, Rich," Duncan said. Throwing a self-conscious look at Conner, Richie obeyed. "I want you to have this." He reached around Richie's neck and fastened the necklace chain in place. "Conner gave it to me a long time ago and now I'm giving it to you."

Frowning in confusion, Richie looked down at the flattened piece of round metal that was hanging from the chain by the hole in the center. There was writing on both sides. "What is it?" he asked.

"It's for protection," Duncan explained feeling a lump rise in his throat. "That is a Gaelic blessing. It protects whoever owns the necklace. I want to make sure you're always protected."

Richie looked back and forth between the two. "I don't get it," he admitted softly.

"I want to make sure you'll be okay when I'm gone," Duncan told him.

"Did you get challenged?" Richie asked. "Don't you think you can take this guy. maybe you need this." He reached to unfasten the chain.

"No, Richie, I haven't been challenged," Duncan said. "I have to go."

"Go where?"


"I want to."

"You can't come with me, Richie. Stay here with Conner." Tears were stinging at his eyes. It was almost harder to say good-bye to Richie than it had been to Tessa. At least she had had the decency to get mad, Riche just looked hurt.

"Well, you're coming back, right?" he asked.

"No, Richie. This is it."

"But, Mac," Richie protested, eyes brimming with tears as well.

"I'm sorry, Richie."

"No," Richie whispered. "Please, Mac, don't," he begged as a tear slid down his cheek.

"Oh, Richie!" Duncan pulled him into a fierce hug that Richie refused to let go of. "I know you don't like this. But it's what has to be done."

"Mac, don't leave me," Richie continued. "Don't be like everyone else."

"Richie, I love you," Duncan whispered as he forced him away.

"Mac." Richie was openly crying now. Duncan had never seen him cry before. "Mac, please."

"Hey, buck up, tough guy," Duncan whispered feeling his control over his tears lessening. "You'll be fine with Conner."

"But I don't want to!"

"I know you don't, I don't either."

"Then why are you doing this!?" he demanded.

"Because it has to be done. I'm sorry, Richie."

"No, you're not!" Richie insisted. "You don't care! You just want to get rid of me!"

"No! Richie, that's not true!" Duncan told him sternly. Even if Richie was acting mad, Duncan could tell it was out of rejection and fear.

"The hell it isn't!" Richie screamed back, his voice tight. "You lied to me! This whole time, you've been lying!"

"Richie, don't believe that. It's not true. I lied to get you here, but everything else was the truth. I care about you; I want you to be safe. That's why I brought you here. You have to believe me, Richie, I love you."

"Then don't leave, please." Richie abandoned his anger and went back to being hurt.

"I have to, tough guy." Duncan pulled him into a final hug. "Take care of yourself. And listen to Conner. And don't do anything stupid."

"Please," Richie tried one last time.

Duncan kept a hand on Richie's shoulder as he looked at his kinsman. "Take care of him."

"I will," he promised replacing Duncan's hand with his own on Richie's shoulder.

Duncan cuffed Richie in the chin, looked at him one last time, and left.

"Mac!" Richie started after him, but Conner held him back. "Mac! LET ME GO!!" he screamed fighting Conner's grip.

"Come here, lad," Conner said softly, turning Richie around to face him. "Let him go, be strong," he coached.

"I don't want to," Richie told him stubbornly. "I want him to come back."

"But he's not. You're nearly a man now, you can handle this."

"No," Richie whimpered. "Why?" he asked after a pause.

"Because he loves you," Conner told him as he embraced him. "You'll be okay. Let it out."

"Leave me alone," Richie mumbled pulling away and retreating to what he figured had become his room.

He collapsed on the bed; tears spent, and stared at the ceiling. Unconsciously, his fingers curled around the small pendant on his necklace. A few minutes later he fell asleep.