Richie was blissfully unaware of the world around him thanks to the painkillers being pumped through his system. There was no pain, no fear, only the memories swirling though his mind. If he had had enough muscle control he would have been smiling. He didn't hear any of the commotion going on in the hall. Yells about someone having a heart attack, nurses rushing down the hall, calls for equipment and a stretcher, and someone sneaking into his room.

Duncan waited until the nurses passed him to round the corner and duck into room 527. Had he not been told Richie changed his appearance, he wouldn't have given the boy in the bed a second look. But since he had been warned, he examined the peaceful face first. it was Richie. He lightly touched his cheek and when Richie didn't respond in the slightest he ran his fingers through the boy's dark hair.

"You poor kid," he murmured.

He took Richie's chart off the foot of his bed to find out what had happened. After that he dared a look at Richie's back. He untied the gown and opened it wide. Cuts almost completely covered the skin across his shoulders and down his back. Each one had been meticulously sewn closed with small black stitches. Even after being treated, the soft skin around the cuts was still red and swollen. He ran his fingers up Richie's ribs and felt him breathe slow, steady breaths. A car drove by and the headlights lit the room just long enough to draw Duncan's notice to the small glint of sliver coming from Richie's earring. Curious about what else the boy had changed, Duncan once again consulted Richie's chart. Rachel apparently had collected Richie's belongings, which consisted of a lip, eyebrow and nose ring, leather pants, and a dog collar. That gave Duncan a pretty good idea of what Richie had done. He stayed as long as he dared before tucking a note into Richie's left hand and sneaking back out of the room.

. . . . . .

Conner arrived at the hospital and hour before the nurses guessed Richie would start waking up. He sat in the chair next to the bed and opened his book. Two chapters later, Richie moaned and Conner heard paper crinkle. He looked up and saw a piece of paper in Richie's hand. Because he was still mostly asleep, Richie didn't do anything to keep Conner from taking the paper and reading it.

'Rich- Call me 555-6231 rm. 312 -Mac'

Conner picked up the phone and dialed.

"Richie?" Duncan groggily answered the other line.

"Nice try, laddie," Conner told him. "Richie's going home in few weeks and you're not to see him before or after. I already told him you couldn't come." He hung up.

Another almost half-hour passed before Richie was fully awake. Conner could tell the great change that had come over him since Tessa's arrival. He was more cheerful, talkative, and relaxed. It made Conner re-think his idea of calling a therapist. Richie and Conner played Gin Rummy until breakfast came. Richie fumbled with the oatmeal but refused any help. They found a movie on TV after that. Conner left when Tessa came.

Tessa and Richie talked all morning. Lunch came and once again Tessa was sworn to secrecy before helping Richie eat his chicken soup and Jell-O. He drew the line at her feeding him his roll, but quietly asked her to butter it first. After lunch, Tessa decided Richie was well enough to be in trouble. She sternly, but gently, reminded him of what was expected of him. The rings Rachel had taken home were not going to be returned and the ones he still had in were to be removed. Richie obediently moved to take them out. After a few unsuccessful attempts Tessa removed them for him. "I kinda like that one," he smiled when she reached for the cuff in his left ear.

"No piercings." She wouldn't back down. Once the offending jewelry was removed, she lifted the left sleeve of his gown revealing the sword and lightning tattoo.

Richie grinned nervously. "Get it?"

Tessa refused to smile. "Yes, I get it, and it attacks too much of the wrong attention. I want it gone."

"Can I keep the others?" Richie asked hopefully.

"Others?" Tessa repeated. "What others?"

"I've got one right here," he pointed at his cast. "It's a really cool cross. And one back here; you can probably still see it." He leaned over a bit and Tessa could see the small Celtic knot just above his boxers. "That one's my favorite. I might get a real one of that some day."

"What do you mean a real one? These aren't real?"

"No, they're henna. I didn't wanna do anything permanent before I knew if I really liked it or not."

"So they will come off?" Tessa was relieved, she had been expecting more scars to fix after the tattoos were removed.

"Yeah, eventually."

"Then we'll talk about that one later. This one," she tapped his shoulder. "Must go. Agreed?"

Richie sighed. "Fine."

A few minutes later, the nurse came in to prepare Richie for his daily treatment. They were doing all they could to reduce the scars before he even healed. He got daily steroid shots and exams to see how it was working. They also placed a gel made out of vitamin E on the scar tissue to help reduce the scarring; it was known to work wonders. Tessa told Richie that Rachel would be there when he got back before leaving the nurse to her duty.

. . . . . .

For two weeks, Conner, Rachel, and Tessa took turns staying with Richie. They would play cards and board games, watch movies and talk. The night before Richie was to go home, Conner decided to stay the night with Richie. The hospital had slowly been getting Richie used to a new pain killer, which for some odd reason seemed to fill the boy with energy, so at two in the morning Richie was sitting cross legged in his bed chatting away and Conner was praying for the sedative that was on the way as soon as the doctor cleared it. Suddenly a buzz crept through Conner's skull. His posture shifted and Richie stopped rambling.

"An immortal?" he asked.

Conner nodded. "Listen to me, Richie, if the immortal comes in here, I want you to do exactly as I tell you, understand?"


"I don't want them to see your face. You're safer if they don't know what you look like. So you look directly at me and nowhere else." Conner finished just as the door opened. Richie looked directly at Conner waiting to see what he was to do next. "What are you doing here?" Conner asked the immortal. "Never mind. Leave, you have no business here."

"What are you doing here?" a familiar voice asked.

At the sound of his voice Richie's eyes lit up. "Mac!" he tried to turn to face him, but Conner grabbed his jaw and Richie was forced to keep his focus on him. "Bu he a-e-dy nu muh fashe," Richie slurred in protest through puckered lips.

Conner ignored him. "You're not supposed to be here, Duncan."

"What is he doing up right now?" Duncan demanded ignoring Conner's reminder. "He should be resting."

"His new medicine has a side-effect," Conner answered. "Leave."

"Buh." Richie cut in. Conner gave him a no-nonsense look before turning his attention to Duncan.

"If we have anything to discuss, we won't do it here."

"Conner, just give me five minutes," Duncan asked, stepping around the bed. Richie's eyes darted as far right as they could to catch a glimpse. Conner clamped his free hand over his eyes.



"Conner, you don't have to cut him off from the world," Duncan sighed. "He's not a child."


"Shh," Conner snapped giving Richie's jaw a squeeze. "Duncan, outside."

"I'll see you, Rich." Duncan reached down to pat Richie's foot. As soon as his hand made contact, Richie jerked away.

"Out," Conner repeated. As soon as Duncan was gone he let Richie go.

"Conner!" Richie whined. "What the hell was that all about?"

"Listen to me, Richie," Conner said patiently. "I'll explain this later. I promise there's a reason for this, okay?"

"Okay," Richie intoned.

"Alright, I'll be back in a bit. Take whatever the nurse gives you."

"You sure you don't want to approve it first?" Richie grumbled.

"There's a reason, Richie. Just take it, okay?"

"Fine. And Conner?"

"Yeah, Rich?"

"When Mac touched me. Can you tell him it wasn't him? It just. it hurt. Can you tell him?"

Conner gave him a reassuring smile. "He didn't know. I'll tell him. And tell the nurse that they still hurt. She can give them a look to make sure everything is okay."

"Sure. Thanks, Conner."

"That's what I'm here for." He cuffed him in the chin.

. . . . . .

The next evening, Richie was settled into his bed at Conner's.

"Do you need anything?" Tessa asked smoothing his hair.

"I'm good. Just a little tired."

"Then get some sleep. If you need anything, I'm just right across the hall."

After much arguing, it was agreed that Conner would take the couch, Tessa would take his room, and Richie would have his own room. Usually Richie would be the one on the couch, but he was still sore so neither Conner nor Tessa would let him. Conner's chivalry would not allow him to let Tessa sleep on the couch and he insisted that she take his room. Only when he reminded her that she would be able to hear Richie better if he needed anything did she agree.

"Night, Tessa."

"Night, petit."

After a few days, Richie was allowed to wonder the apartment at will but Tessa still watched him like a hawk. His ankles had been giving him problems. Richie had to go to the hospital every other day for the steroid shots and the doctors were very pleased with the results. It looked like very little skin grafting would be required.

Once he had been home for a week, Richie insisted on getting that rib eye Tessa had promised him. So Conner, Tessa and Richie met Rachel at Outback Steakhouse for a nice dinner. The next day, Richie insisted that he wanted to be alone and begged everyone to leave the apartment for one day. Rachel busied herself at work and Conner took Tessa to a matinee showing of Phantom of the Opera then dinner. Before they left they made Richie swear that if he had a problem he would call and if he started to hurt he would take a pill.

"Come on, I'm practically healed," Richie smiled as he held his arms wide and grinning. "Just one day, that's all I ask."

Finally, Conner and Tessa left, yelling phone numbers over their shoulders as Richie closed and locked the door. First thing he did was to call for a pizza--extra cheese, pepperoni, sausage, peppers, olives, and garlic. his favorite. He looked through Conner's movies, didn't find anything, then started channel surfing. He settled on MTV. Forty five minutes to an hour later there was a knock at the door. Richie grabbed the cash Conner left him off the counter and opened the door.


"It's paid for," Duncan said handing Richie his pizza. "I met the pizza guy downstairs."

"Thanks," Richie said awkwardly. He balanced the pizza like a waiter's tray on his left hand. "What are you doing here?" he asked after a minute.

"I came to see you. Can I come in?"

"I'm not supposed to see you," he mumbled. "I'll get in trouble." Conner had been lecturing him every day. Over the course of the week and half that he had been home, Duncan's unannounced visits and calls had prompted Conner to restrict Richie from answering the phone or door.

"Since when do you do as you're told?" Duncan smiled.

"Since I got sick of being left," Richie shot back bitterly. He was torn between being happy to see Duncan, worried about getting in trouble, and angry about being in New York in the first place.

"Can I come in?" Duncan asked.

"I'm not sure."

"Richie, you won't get in trouble. We won't break any rules."

"Funny, I think this might go against the 'You're not allowed to see Duncan' rule."

"Then we'll go with what Conner told me. I can't see you if I plan on leaving. I don't plan on leaving. so this is okay," Duncan offered.

"You're not leaving?" Richie asked, his interest peaked.

"No," Duncan told him. "So do you think I can come in? It's not good for you to been standing in the open doorway anyway. You might catch a cold."

Richie thought about it. "I guess." He stepped aside and Duncan moved past him into the apartment. Richie went into the kitchen. "Want some?" he offered as he put the pizza on the table.

"Is that a Richie special?"


"Sure. Can I get you a drink?" Duncan offered going to the refrigerator as Richie got plates. "A soda maybe?"

"Water," Richie answered.

They sat at the table, the pizza between them, and ate in silence. Richie had long since remastered feeding himself and had no problems. Which he was grateful for, because the last two times he had been with Duncan he had been completely humiliated, either sobbing or sitting in a hospital bed with him eyes covered like a child in a racy movie.

"So how are you feeling?" Duncan asked, breaking the silence.

"Fine," Richie answered. "I get my cast off in two days and then after that there's a little surgery and then I'm done."

"Richie, who did this to you?"

Richie concentrated on sauce smudges on his plate. "I don't know." Richie had kept the secret of just who had beaten him, just like the gang leader had said. Just to enforce the point, Buzzbi had dropped in on Richie one day and threatened Tessa as well as himself if he told anyone.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure!" Richie snapped.

"Okay. That's not what I'm here for anyway. I need to talk to you."

"Then talk."

Duncan took a deep breath. "I was wrong to leave you here. I made a rash decision. I'm sorry."

"Apology accepted."

"There's more. Conner made me realize what I had done. He made me realize how you felt. He told me the first night I got here that he wasn't going to let me see you if I was just going to leave again. And I had every intention of leaving. But he cut me off, completely. When I asked how you were, all he would say was 'He's fine' and I hated it. I had to know. But I couldn't find out. Conner wouldn't tell me and neither would Tessa or Rachel. All I knew was you were here and I couldn't see you. I was so mad; it wasn't fair. I kept thinking to myself 'How can Conner do this to me?' then it changed to 'How could I do this to Richie?' I love you, Richie. I thought you'd be safer away from me, that's why I left." His eyes brimmed with tears. "The entire time, all I thought about was you and Tessa. I couldn't concentrate on anything. I was worried you were mad, or hurt. or worse, getting along fine without me."

"I'm fine, Mac. Conner's a great guy. I like him," Richie said.

"Richie, I know you like Conner. But I want you to like me, too."

"I do, Mac."

"Richie, I know nothing will ever be the same. but I want you to come home. Come with me. Please?"

Something crossed Richie's face. "Mac, I'm leaving. In a week, Conner and I are going to Scotland. Then after that, I'm meeting Tessa in France and I'm gonna stay with her. I guess I figured you knew."

"No," Duncan answered, his voice breaking. He had poured his heart out to Richie only to have it stomped on. "I didn't know you were going anywhere."

"I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," he assured him. "I just wanted to be the one to take you to Scotland. I was going to show you were I was born, take you to meet my parents. well, they're dead, but their graves."

"I'm sure Conner will take me," Richie tried to make Duncan feel better. "I'll make sure he does," he added when a tear escaped Duncan's control. "Mac." tears welled in his eyes. "I'm sorry, just. I don't know what to do!"

"No, Rich, don't apologize. You're not doing anything wrong. I just never thought someone else would. it's my own fault." Duncan gave Richie a smile. "Listen, think about it. If you ever change your mind, give me a call. I don't care if it's eighty years from now, I'd love to have you back home with me."

"Okay," Richie answered. "But hey, we have a week until I leave. There's no reason for Conner to say I can't see you now."

"Sure thing, tough guy. Here." Duncan took a pen and wrote on a napkin. "This is my hotel, room number, and phone number. Call me and keep me posted. I want to hear how everything turns out, okay?"

Richie took the napkin. "Okay." Duncan ruffled his hair and left. Richie stayed at the table and didn't move. He was still there when Conner and Tessa came home.

"Richie?" Conner called running into the kitchen. "The door was unlocked, is everything okay?"

"Don't be mad," Richie told him.

"Why would I be mad?"

"Mac came over."

. . . . . .

Richie's cast came off as scheduled and he went in for surgery with the promise of no one being able to tell what had happened. By the time they were done only one scar remained noticeable, just above his left hip. Conner had mentioned that Richie should pick one out to keep reminding him of what he had done. That one received minimal treatment. It was still visible, but you couldn't tell it had come from a bullwhip.

Richie woke up very early the morning before his trip to Scotland. What Duncan had said wouldn't leave him head. He had even dreamed about it during his surgery. He had made his decision. He got dressed and snuck past Conner who was asleep on the couch and out the door. It took a few tries, but he finally got a taxi to stop for him. He gave the cabby Duncan's hotel address.

Duncan jerked awake when his phone rang.

"MacLeod," he answered.

"Can I come up?"

"Richie? Where are you?"

"The lobby, can I come up?"


Five minutes later, Richie was sitting on the foot of the bed while Duncan ordered room service.

"Is everything okay?" Duncan asked as he hung up the phone.


"Then why are you here?"

"I wanted to talk to you."

"Okay." Duncan sat next to Richie on the bed.

"This might get a little weird, why don't we wait for the food?" Richie offered.


Richie showed Duncan his scar and blemish free back, wrist, and ankles until the food came. They ate breakfast for a while but then Duncan couldn't take it any longer.

"What's up?" he asked.

"I thought about what you said. You told me how you felt. so I guess it's my turn."


Richie swallowed. "As far as I'm concerned the worst thing anyone could do to me is leave. you did that. And what's worse is you made Tessa leave, too. Neither of us wanted to, but you wouldn't listen. That's not fair."

"No, it wasn't."

"You really screwed me over, you know," Richie continued. "For a month, all I did was try to figure out what I did wrong. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. It drove me insane. I couldn't come up with anything. Then I guess Conner had enough; he bribed me to go out. He promised me I could call Tessa. The whole time I was out, I thought of ways to beg Tessa to come get me. But it didn't work." The tears came again. "I tried to tell myself I didn't care anymore. I tried to move on. And this is what I did to myself. I'm not blaming you. but I did everything I could think of that you guys wouldn't let me do. And I'm really sorry, Mac. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn't."


"And then. then when I made the worse decision of my life. God, that stupid gang. the whole time they were whipping me all, I could think about was how disappointed you guys would be if you ever found out. Tessa has yet to really yell at me, you know, just really let me have it. And then you came and started talking about going home. once Tessa got here, New York became home. See, I learned a long time ago that home wasn't where you lived, it wasn't a building, it was who you were with. You guys are home. But see; now I'm lost. 'Cause I'm home with Tessa, but it's not the same."

"Then go home, Richie," Duncan told him.

"Only if you come, too," Richie said. "I came to ask you to come home. Please?"

"Richie," Duncan smiled. "Of course." Richie smiled back. "Does Conner know you're here?"

Richie rolled his eyes. "No."

Duncan took Richie back to Conner's to explain what had happened. Conner had seen Richie leave and had told Tessa but both feigned worry when the boy arrived. The four talked about what they were going to do. Duncan thought it was important for Richie to go to Scotland and offered to meet them in Paris when they were done. Conner said he had a better idea and gave Duncan his plane ticket and told him to take Richie instead.

"I can add it to my list of places I got mugged," Richie joked with a smile. "New York didn't work out."

After much pressing, Richie told everyone everything that he had done. He studied the floor as he told them about the parties, the drugs, the drinking and the gang.

"That's who whipped you?" Duncan asked.

"No!" Richie insisted looking up quickly. "I didn't say that!"

"Oh, yes you did," he insisted. "You said it in the hotel room."

"That's not what I meant," Richie said weakly.

It took nearly another hour to drag the truth out of Richie. As soon as they did, the first thing Conner and Duncan did was to jump for the phone.

"No!" Richie yelled, jerking the phone form their hands as they fought over who was going to call. "They'll kill me! They'll kill Tessa!"

"Richie," Duncan said reasonably. "Where are you going tomorrow?"

"Scotland, if you tell anyone."

"And Tessa's going to France. All we have to do is give a statement, press charges, identify them and leave."

"What about trial?"

"I'll fix that for you," Conner assured him. "You just set the wheels in motion. I'm sure we can exaggerate the threats enough to submit a video testimony."

Finally, Richie relented and let them call. As it was, they had to postpone Scotland for a week to identify the gang members that had been present at the whipping, but Richie insisted that Tessa leave as scheduled. Richie was allowed to submit a video testimony and soon he was on a plane to Scotland. He sat happily in his first class seat staring out the window.

A few hours into the flight, Duncan leaned over to him. "By the way. you're grounded."

Richie smiled despite himself. "I never thought I'd be so happy to hear you say that." 'Besides,' he thought to himself. 'How bad can being grounded in Scotland be?'