Universe: A virtual "6th" season wherein "Modern Prometheus" was the finale of season 5 and ignores all events in the "real" season 5 finale and all of season 6, as well as the last movie. This season takes place 1997-1998

Summary: A short (by my standards) ficlet for the first season existing in the same universe as my other stories. Ever wonder what happened during Tessa and Richie's flight to Paris during Band of Brothers?

Disclaimer: If I owned them why would I waste my time posting to fanfic sites? I'd be off making lots and lots of money! But since I'm not, I therefore don't, nor do I pretend to.

Richie couldn't stop staring at it. His very own (illegally obtained) passport! He didn't even remember when the picture was taken, nor could he fathom how MacLeod had managed to arrange his documents so fast.

It didn't matter now, however. Right now he was sitting in an airport terminal in a remarkably uncomfortable plastic chair next to a very preoccupied and slightly annoyed Tessa, preparing for his first airplane flight, his first trip out of Washington State—let alone the country, the fact that he had no idea when he would be able to return home, and the knowledge that he might never see his friend and employer again. Too many emotions simmering just below the surface, most with thoughts of unpleasant circumstances behind them, had settled rather uncomfortably in the pit of his stomach. With all of this on his mind, the realization that many people get airsick was not a pleasant one.

Finally he couldn't take it anymore.

"Tess, I'm gonna go for coffee. You want anything?" Richie asked as he stood, placing his passport in his pocket and his carryon bag on his seat.

Tessa, engrossed in an art magazine, appeared to have either not heard him or had decided to ignore him.

"Tess?" He repeated, unsure.

"What?" She snapped, looking up at last.

Richie took a quick step back and managed to keep his expression neutral even though he was a few shades paler than he was a moment ago.

"I'm going for some coffee. Do you want anything?" He repeated in a small voice that made him appear considerably younger than his eighteen years.

Tessa softened a bit at the sight. "Non, petit. I'm fine," she said with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

Richie just nodded. "Be right back," he said and then he turned and walked back through the terminal towards the vending machines.

Tessa mentally kicked herself. She didn't need to be so hard on the boy. She knew that Duncan wouldn't be sending Richie along if he didn't feel that the boy's life would be in danger if he stayed. After all, it wasn't his fault. Tessa truly felt sorry for him, having to leave his home and fly half way around the world on a moment's notice. She remembered how scared she had been when she had first come to the states with Duncan twelve years ago. She had been very excited and a little frightened at the prospect, not to mention the fact that she hadn't had to speak fluent English in years.

Richie didn't speak any French, and there was no excitement to look forward to that wasn't overshadowed by the danger surrounding their very sudden departure. The last thing she wanted to do was make the boy more nervous than he already was.

Richie, meanwhile, had found the vending machines, and had decided to keep walking. He went all the way to the other end of the terminal to the coffee and snack stand. He needed to be doing something; the sitting still in tensely feigned companionable silence was killing him. He knew Tessa was worried about Duncan, as she should be. He was worried about him too, not that he could ever admit that to Tessa. After all, what right did he have to try and empathize with her? The love of her life might die very soon. How could he compete with the space they each shared in each other's souls?

Richie kept walking, amused that the tension in his body refused to dissipate with the constant steady motion. He forced his thoughts away from his unique employers and tried to focus on happier things. He thought of the old neighborhood and of all the friends he'd be leaving behind and sending postcards to. He was even more surprised to discover that this train of thought didn't make him feel any better. Gary was dead, he hadn't seen Jimmie or Kyle since the funeral, and Nikki was long gone with Melinda and the drug money. She said she'd get in touch once she'd settle in somewhere. She hasn't yet. That just left Angie and Larry, and Larry was in Oregon trying his hand at motocross. So really that just left Angie. One person, one reason to still consider Seacouver his home, a home he wasn't certain of when he'd ever see again.

Richie bought a small coffee for himself and bottle of water for Tessa for later. He walked back to their gate slowly, sipping his coffee as he went. He tried to feel excited; after all, he was going to Paris. Paris, Ryan. Who'd have thought?

It didn't work.

All he could think about was what he was about to lose. He was about to leave the only home he had ever known. However, with Duncan and Tessa staying in Paris for her new job, the only reason he'd have for returning to Seacouver was Angie, and she had her own life now. Besides, as of right now he didn't have the money for a return ticket. He had a few hundred in the bank, but not nearly enough. He'd be in Paris a fish out of water, completely isolated by the language barrier at the very least. He wouldn't even have his bike. He wasn't certain of the living arrangements, aside from the fact that they'd be staying with Darius until Mac caught up with them. Then he and Tessa would go off and do what it is that couples of twelve years do in Paris. Without the store, Richie didn't have a job. Mac and Tessa were no longer his employers, and Richie was certain they didn't have anything retail lined up for him in Paris, and he wasn't qualified for much else. He was hoping they'd at least help him get set up in an apartment until he could make the rent on his own. Then perhaps he'd start saving for a flight back to Seacouver and the states. That's of course if he could still consider this his home.

And all of it was riding on the outcome of Mac's fight with Grayson. Richie did NOT want to think about that right now. He was too used to losing foster fathers to want to even contemplate the possibility. Since when did Mac become a foster father? Richie caught himself. However, because he was so used to losing families (they always seemed to break up after he entered their lives, or they would send him away to prevent that from happening) his mind went ahead and calculated his options without his consent.

The whole scenario played itself out in his mind. They would learn somehow, probably through a message from Grayson to taunt this Darius guy. Richie remembered Mac telling him to go to Connor if ever something happened. Richie surmised he would have to do that. Tessa would be too busy taking care of Mac's body. He hoped that she would bury him in his native Scottish highlands. Mac would have wanted that. Richie would go with her to the funeral, and then most likely she would return to Paris and her own family. Scotland was English speaking. Richie surmised he could live there a while, getting a job as a farmhand (they have farms in Scotland, right?) or some other form of manual labor until he saved up enough to return to the states if he so chose. Richie just hoped that Connor could take Grayson, and seeing Slan Quince defeat him didn't provide any encouraging thoughts. That dude cheated though. I'm sure Sir Lancelot could take Grayson in a fair fight. He and Mac seemed to be evenly matched in the warehouse…

Before Richie knew it he was back at his own terminal standing in front of Tessa. Once again she was engrossed in the art magazine, although it looked like she was on the same page as when he left.

"I bought you a water, for the plane," he said cautiously, extending the bottle to her.

"Que?" She asked, looking up at him a little dazed. She snapped back to her senses quickly, however. "Oh, thanks Richie," she said, once again falling just short of sincere as she took the bottle from it and stowed it in her carryon.

Richie looked down at her from where he stood. She went back to her magazine but didn't appear to be reading it, just staring blankly ahead. He knew her thoughts were of Duncan. She must be really worried if she keeps slipping back into French, he thought.

"Must you hover?" She asked, looking up at him impatiently, her voice more hostile than she had intended.

"Sorry," he mumbled. He didn't bother to displace his carryon to regain his seat, but chose instead to sit in the seat next to it. He slouched down and sipped his now cool coffee, refusing to even snatch a glance in her direction.

For the forty second time Tessa began at the top of the page. Not surprisingly she was unable to concentrate beyond the first few paragraphs. The newest deconstruction of Pre-Raphaelite theory was just not enough to keep her interested when her lover was out there somewhere preparing for the fight of his life.

She stole a sidelong glace at Richie. Le Pauvre, she thought. He looks so lost, so young. She knew he wasn't sitting next to her on purpose. Every time she opened her mouth she seemed to snap at him. She kept telling herself that it isn't his fault. He was in just as much danger as she was and was probably scared out of his mind, not that he'd ever let on. The cocky, smart-mouthed teenager that had somehow wormed his way into their hearts had been replaced by a skittish, frightened boy.

However, there was something mixed into that fear and doubt she read on Richie's face that she couldn't quite place. Had she not been so preoccupied she might have recognized it: resignation. Richie wore the same look when he thought they were going to throw him out, and it was the same look he wore each time he was ripped away from the few foster homes that worked for one reason or another. The stability of the present circumstances crumbled like a house of cards and the future was uncertain. Powers beyond his control were about to decide a fate in which he had no say. He was scared to the core, like he had been each time, but experience taught him to mask that fear with things like anger, and the resignation came from knowing that there was absolutely nothing he could do about any of it.

This time, however, he couldn't be mad, not at Mac and Tessa. It's not their fault he discovered Mac's secret. They had been unnecessarily kind to him, giving him a job and then later a roof, yet the threat of immortals always lingered. This time Mac had to admit that he wasn't sure he could beat Grayson, and that he had to take steps to ensure the safety of those closest to him. Richie was grateful that he cared enough to send him out of harm's way.

He couldn't be mad at Mac or Tessa for any of it. All he could be was grateful. However, gratefulness felt useless right now. Right now he had the fear and resignation down mostly from habit, but without the emotional protection anger provides Richie felt more lost and helpless than he had in a very long time. Yet the void left by the absence of anger was replaced by something relatively new: worry.

Aside from all of his own self-centered worries, Richie couldn't help but worry for MacLeod. Mac was easily the best father figure he'd ever had, and he was only his employer. He didn't want him to die. Not only that, but he knew that if Grayson won there'd be a chance that he'd come after Tessa. What is it those warlords do? Kill the men, rape the women, and pillage and burn the city? Richie would just have to keep Tessa safe on holy ground until Connor took care of Grayson. If Mac were to die it would be partially to protect Tessa, and Richie would be damned if he let all that be in vain.

Fear, doubt, resignation, and many shades of worry barely concealed in a perfectly rehearsed expression. Tessa couldn't be certain of all of it, but one thing she did know was that she needed to have a talk with Richie, and soon.

Just then their flight was called. Tessa stowed the magazine, slung her carryon over her shoulder, and prepared to board.

"Richie, let's go, they're boarding," she said impatiently when she noticed that he apparently didn't hear the boarding call. "Richie!"

Richie half jumped out of his seat, startled at Tessa's shouting his name and also spurred on by it. He'd been so wrapped up in his own thoughts he'd missed the boarding call.

"Oh, man. Sorry," he said as he grabbed his bag and quickly followed Tessa over to the boarding line.

"Duncan booked your ticket after mine, so I'm afraid we aren't sitting together," said Tessa as she rummaged through her bag to grab her ticket. Richie pulled his out of his coat pocket.

"Ok," said Richie, the resignation showing in his voice.

"We have a brief layover in DC, but I believe we get to sit next to each other on the connecting flight to Paris," she said, snatching his ticket to compare the two. "Oui," she said as she handed his back to him. "We're together on the next flight." The call was made for first class and those traveling with small children, and children traveling alone to board. "I'll see you in Washington, petit," she said as she turned her back and waked down the boarding ramp to the plane.

I'll bet first class was sold out by the time Mac bought my ticket, Richie thought, forcing himself to believe it. Pretty soon they started boarding the coach rows. Finally it was Richie's turn. With a worried glance heavenward Richie presented his ticket to the agent and crossed the threshold to the boarding ramp.

Richie found his seat and stowed his carryon in an overhead compartment. He sat down in the window seat and looked out, grateful that he'd at least be able to look at the scenery. Pretty soon two well-dressed gentlemen took the two remaining seats for his row. Business travelers. At least they won't try and make conversation.

After what seemed like an eternity, the captain's voice came on the loudspeaker. He instructed everyone to pay attention to the flight attendants for the routine safety spiel. Richie was slightly overwhelmed by it all. As he fastened his seatbelt he couldn't help but think of how if Mac was on the plane with them their chances of being hijacked or of crashing were astronomically increased. After all, lately he couldn't even see his friends without some immortal lurking around, and he still had the occasional nightmare about what happened when he and Tessa went to take care of her parking tickets. The guy's just a magnet for trouble.

After the safety instructions were over Richie tuned out the rest. He wasn't hungry nor did he care when they were taking off or arriving. He was in no hurry. He watched out the window as the plane was taxied to the runway and tried to focus on the fear and excitement of his first flight and forget all the baggage that went with it. When the plane began to pick up speed and Richie realized that it was finally moving under its own power he got his wish. He gripped the armrests white-knuckled and gritted his teeth. He glanced sidelong out the window to see the ground getting smaller and smaller and farther and farther away. Pretty soon all that mattered was the horrible popping and ringing in his ears.

Each time Richie was sure that they had reached their cruising altitude the plane ascended again, once again popping Richie's ears and wreaking havoc with his already nervous stomach. Finally the captain's voice came on the speaker and he announced that they had reached their cruising altitude and that they would be arriving in Dulles International Airport in DC in five hours and forty-eight minutes. A short time later the seatbelt sign flicked off, but Richie took that leave your seatbelt on while seated advice to heart. He loosened it a bit, however, to try and appease his stomach.

Richie looked out the window. Everything looked like those model train sets he used to see in toy stores. Small patches of trees, small patches of green, the odd lake here and there, roads with any assortment of cars. It all looked so peaceful down there, as though from up here the world didn't have any problems. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that those thoughts were only delusions, but if they could momentarily keep him from worrying about home, Mac, and everything else, so much the better.

Then the stewardesses came by serving drinks. The businessmen sitting next to him ordered beers, which they had to pay for. Richie just ordered ice water, afraid to tempt his queasy stomach with anything else. He took his first sip tentatively, just wetting his lips with it. It felt good. The businessmen next to him were trading humorous office stories at the expense of those not here to defend themselves so Richie turned to once again stare out the window, trying to listen in but not appear like it. It was a welcome distraction for a while.

Back in first class, Tessa had abandoned the magazine. She had an aisle seat, the preferred of those who fly often, so she didn't even have the passing scenery to distract her. She let her mind wander over her worries again. Duncan had never been so worried over a challenge before. Mentally she recalled each time he left the loft, sword in hand, ready to do what he believed his duty was. Slan was the first, but Tessa didn't really understand things then. She knew Duncan had gone after Connor, swearing vehemently in languages she didn't recognize. Then Connor came back to the loft, alone, and for a brief moment she thought that her world had suddenly come to an end. Then Connor told her that Duncan was alive and then brought her to the island where Duncan was taking refuge before figuring out the best way to leave her. She knew this; that he was planning on never coming back. Connor had explained it to her on the drive over; about this being the only way he felt he could protect her. She understood that and somehow found herself more than ready to forgive him for walking out after twelve years. It didn't take much convincing for him to stay in her life. From then on they were truly what he had wanted nine years ago: a couple without any secrets between them. Her life was constantly in danger, as was his, but she had accepted this. In fact, she couldn't recall ever having been happier.

After Slan, they had a brief few months of relative peace before the immortals started interfering in their happy life again. First came the death of Duncan's friend Lucas Desiree, which he was determined to avenge. He took Richie with him (who had somehow wormed his way into her heart along the way) one morning and came back late that evening, telling her simply that he 'took care of it.' He told her about how the sheriff was the other immortal and how he tried to frame an innocent man to cover his tracks and that he was able to eventually avenge Lucas's death, but that was it. He spared her the details beyond that, and she didn't ask. It was like the gathering was his other day job. He didn't seem worried, so neither was she.

Then came the debacle with Felicia. If Tessa hadn't pitied Richie she would have killed him herself for bringing danger so close to Duncan (not to mention themselves). She knew Felicia was no match for Duncan, but she also knew she wasn't above using dirty tricks either. This was a hard lesson to learn, that immortals were everywhere and would resort to any means to get Duncan's head. Mortals were just pawns to them, making the incident with Slan even more frightening in that it could happen all over again, and again.

Then she met Caleb. He still gave her nightmares. She knew that his kidnapping of her was irrelevant to Duncan's immortality, his immortality being sheer coincidence. However, for the first time she actually witnessed Duncan's fight. He fought for her safety and her honor, the way knights in the chivalric romance tales from her youth once did. Caleb could have killed Duncan, and it was only by accident that the two of them ever met. She knew she could never live with herself if she was the cause of Duncan's demise, and she very nearly was. Seeing him take a quickening for the first and only time thus far made the horror of it finally and undeniably real to her. Her recurring nightmare was of some faceless immortal cutting off Duncan's head and experiencing his quickening, all the while she is forced to watch and able to do nothing.

In a way, her experience with Caleb helped her to forgive Richie for Alexi Voshin. After all, he was only trying to protect one of his friends and the evil immortal was someone Duncan would have fought eventually anyway, or so he reassured the two of them when it became apparent that he was leaving to face him. Tessa remembered letting Melinda sculpt again, giving her more clay. Eventually Nikki joined them and Tessa watched the two of them bond over it. Art had always helped her when she was preoccupied by something. This time it was watching Nikki and Melinda, who wouldn't have a chance in the world if Duncan lost, that steeled her resolve that her lover would win. She knew this because she knew that he wouldn't let them down.

Then came Reinhardt. Another of Duncan's old enemies. Tessa remembered not wanting to believe that he had returned, knowing that his girlfriend was mortal and therefore incapable of hurting him. In clichéd fashion he had to face Reinhardt to rescue Richie and also prove to Rebecca that he was still alive. Tessa knew that they would have fought eventually as Duncan never forgets an immortal grudge, and she saw how Reinhardt's supposed death affected Rebecca. She wondered then what separated her from Rebecca. If she had lost Duncan what would have happened? Would she want to seek revenge the way Rebecca did? Deep down she knew that she was incapable of such things, that she didn't have the anger and violence that Rebecca carried. However, the fact that she even pondered it was still a discomforting thought.

It didn't help that the next immortal Duncan faced wouldn't have come for him yet. Her involvement in the investigation of Anne Wheeler's death led Duncan to that challenge. She saw the other side of the Rebecca equation and wondered what she would have done had Duncan truly left her after the incident with Slan. Holt was an immortal who confided his secret to Anne but then he left her, and his leaving destroyed her. Duncan had reassured her that if something happened to him that she was stronger than that and that she would be able to move on. That wasn't what she was thinking, however. She had already rationed out what would happen if she thought Duncan dead. Her thinking that she could be like Anne was just her wondering what-ifs of Duncan leaving her the way Holt had done. She knew that now he never would of course, but that didn't stop her from thinking about what could have been.

Each of these was hard on her, yet they all had one thing in common. Each time, even though she worried, something always made her believe that Duncan would immerge victorious. He wasn't arrogant or boastful of his abilities, but she knew he was confident with a sword. Sometimes though the battle doesn't always go to who is better so much as who is luckier. This kept her worrying each time even though she knew that Duncan should win.

This time she knew that Duncan would be facing his toughest opponent yet. His sense of duty made it impossible for him to not challenge Grayson, on top of his sense of loyalty to Darius. However, as much as he tried to hide it, Tessa could tell that much of his usual confidence was missing. He was worried about fighting Grayson, more so than she had ever seen him before. He truly didn't know if he was coming back, and he had to seriously consider the possibility that he might not. Tessa knew that it was easier for him with her and Richie out of the way. He needed to focus on the challenge and on staying alive and not worry about their safety. She understood all the reasons for their leaving, but that didn't make it any easier. She knew that there was a good chance that she would never see her lover again. And if that happened, on top of all else, Grayson would still be out there.

Back in coach, Richie suddenly awoke from a nightmare. He hadn't even been aware that he had fallen asleep. The fact that he couldn't even remember what was so frightening about the dream wasn't much comfort either. He looked at his watch: barely an hour to go. Richie finished his glass of water and resumed his constant gaze out the window.

Soon he felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Here kid, you looked like you could use one," said the slightly tipsy businessman sitting next to him as he handed him a beer. Apparently the stewardess had just walked by. Richie didn't even notice her.

"Thanks," he said as he took a swig from the bottle. It was strong and bitter and Richie made a face. He was used to the urine-colored nearly-water he and his friends drank at parties. This would help take the edge off his nerves, however, so he was determined to finish it.

"You ok, kid?" The businessman asked.

"Yeah," Richie answered, trying his best to sound cheerful. "Just got a lot on my mind."

"Whatever it is kid, dwelling on it sure isn't helping you," the businessman said with the air of a drunken philosopher.

Richie nodded. "Can't help it," he said dismissively.

"Why do you think I bought you the beer?" The businessman said with a laugh. Soon Richie joined him. Once the laughter died down Richie returned to staring out the window, breaking his gaze only to drink his beer. He didn't much care for it, but he hoped it would help to calm his nerves.

Before he knew it the seatbelt sign flicked on and the captain announced that they were getting ready for their final approach. Richie returned his seat and tray table to their upright and locked positions and tightened his seatbelt. The descent wasn't nearly as bad as the takeoff—it didn't take nearly as long and was easier on Richie's stomach, although the beer dulling his nerves might have had something to do with it. His ears were still madly protesting, however.

"Here," said the businessman, handing Richie a stick of chewing gum. Richie took it with a quizzical look on his face. "It'll help the pressure in your ears," he said.

"Thanks," Richie said as he put the gum in his mouth.

True to word, the gum helped his ears equalize and they didn't hurt nearly as much as before. The plane was on the ground before Richie knew it, the ground rising awfully fast to meet them. Once there they were taxied to the gate. When the seatbelt sign flicked off and the captain gave the usual platitudes the businessman on the end stood and retrieved their bags from the overhead compartment. Richie thanked him for also retrieving his bag and the three made their way off the plane. Richie saw Tessa waiting impatiently for him in the terminal.

"There's Tessa, I'll see you guys later."

"Later, kid," said the businessman who bought him the beer.

"See ya," said the other and together those two made their way out of the terminal and over towards the baggage claim.

"Come on," said Tessa. "We have to go to the other end of the terminal for our connecting flight."

Richie just nodded and fell in behind her as she walked briskly towards their destination. Once there she dropped her bag and slunk into one of the plastic waiting chairs. Richie put his bag down and sat next to her.

"How much time do we have?" Richie asked.

Tessa looked at her watch. "Half an hour," she said, and Richie nodded. Then Tessa's face contorted slightly, much to Richie's chagrin. He saw her French temper flaring just below the surface.

"Richard Ryan, have you been drinking?" She asked, her voice sounding low and dangerous.

Richie blushed slightly under her gaze. "The businessman sitting next to me bought me a beer. He said I needed it," Richie admitted, figuring it was best to tell the truth.

"Do I have to remind you that it's illegal?" Tessa asked, sounding more annoyed than angry.

"No," said Richie, suddenly very interested in his shoes. "The man just bought it and gave it to me. I didn't ask him to."

"But you didn't refuse it," Tessa countered, her voice rising.

Richie just shook his head, hoping that the chair would swallow him whole.

"What would Duncan have said?" She asked, her voice returning to its normal volume and cadence. Richie recognized it instantly: what would your father say? Spoken by disappointed foster moms after Richie had gotten in trouble. It was the only time anyone ever referred to the foster father as just 'your father.' Richie looked up sharply and met Tessa's cold, unyielding gaze. He knew she was right. Mac wouldn't have approved at all.

Suddenly he felt the need to be sick. He quickly excused himself and hurried to the bathroom despite Tessa's calling after him. Once there, he quickly locked the stall and emptied his stomach contents into the commode. The beer tasted even worse on the return trip and Richie had only himself to blame. Somewhere in his subconscious mind though, he knew that it wasn't the beer that made him throw up. He was worried about Duncan, and had let him down in the process. Tessa had pointed out what he already knew, but having to stare that realization in the face was more than his already nervous stomach could handle. The last thing he ever wanted was to realize that he had let the highlander down.

Once he was satisfied that his stomach had ceased its protests Richie left the bathroom. He went over to a vending machine and bought a bottle of water and then returned to the bathroom. He used the water to rinse his mouth out and then drank what was left. Still not satisfied, and mostly just still embarrassed, he went to the duty free shop and bought a pack of gum, hoping the mint flavor would chase the rest of the sick from his mouth.

"Where the hell have you been?" Tessa asked, her temper resurging at Richie's lengthy absence. "They'll be boarding in a few minutes!"

"Sorry," Richie mumbled as he sat down, once again not in the chair immediately next to hers. She noticed him chewing the gum and smelled the mint in the air.

"Serves you right," she said with a smile, but not a vindictive one, but she immediately regretted the statement. She had incorrectly assumed that Richie had been sick as a result of the alcohol. She half-expected him to come up with a smart-assed remark, but he didn't. If it were possible, Richie seemed to sink even lower into the chair. He didn't say anything, didn't even look away from the spot on the floor he was studying. Tessa thought he resembled a puppy that had just been whipped for disobedience and regretted every ill-chosen thing she had ever said to him. She was about to say so when the boarding call came over the intercom.

"That's us," she said softly as she stood and grabbed her bag. Richie nodded silently and followed suit. "Let me see your ticket." Richie handed it over without question, without so much as looking at her. Tessa compared their tickets. "We've got consecutive seats this time," she said as she handed the ticket back to Richie. "Remember to keep your passport ready for when we land."

Richie just nodded absently. He pulled his passport out of his jacket pocket to be sure it was still there, then he shoved it back in again.

They boarded the plane and Richie just followed Tessa as she led them to their seats. They were seated in first class on the left-hand side. Richie took the window and Tessa took the aisle. There were four seats in the middle column, and two in the right-hand column. The seats were big enough that Richie was able to stow his carryon beneath the seat in front of him and Tessa did the same. She noticed Richie had shifted in his seat to lean against the side of the plane, putting himself as far away from her as possible. Tessa was determined to make amends for being so hard on him earlier.

"Do you feel better?" She asked, her voice sounding soft and maternal.

Richie had to kick the automatic reflex that assumed her concern was false. This is Tessa. "Better enough," he said instead of his ready-made colorful response. He still didn't try for eye contact.

Tessa was at a loss for how to proceed. However, Richie didn't seem to notice Tessa's moral dilemma. He was too busy worrying over his own fate. He knew that he'd screwed up and let Mac and Tessa down by accepting the beer. He also figured that his stunning display of digestive pyrotechnics made up for it in some way. He'd still feel guilty, but it isn't like he wasn't punished for his actions.

That's the way Richie thought: actions and reactions, or rather, events and consequences. The world was very black and white to his young mind. He drank the beer, illegally, and let Mac and Tessa down by doing so. Being sick was his punishment for breaking the law and his guilt and Tessa's wrath were his punishment for letting her and Mac down. Two misdeeds quickly garnered two appropriate consequences; the cosmic balance of Richie's life has been restored. Therefore he can move on to contemplate more important things, like his immediate future.

Richie broke into the antique store because he needed some quick cash. He failed to get that cash and those he was indebted to took the payment out of his hide. His failure met its consequence. He had seen more than he should have seen during the break in, and MacLeod traded him his freedom in return for his silence. He then took a job at the store, giving half his paycheck back to MacLeod to pay for the window and the alarm system he damaged in the break-in. Again actions were met with appropriate consequences.

When working at the store inadvertently landed him in the hospital, Mac and Tessa invited him to live with them during his recovery. Then when he lost his apartment, Mac and Tessa let him move into the loft permanently. In return he was drawn into the world of immortals, learning Duncan's secret and witnessing its effects first hand. Ever since they made it clear that they weren't going to throw him out at a moment's notice, Richie knew that the best thing to ever happen to him in his entire life had just occurred. Ever since that moment, he has been waiting for the consequences of that. Equal though opposing forces. Whatever the consequences were, in the back of his mind he always feared them because they were going to be enormous. They would have to be, to counteract all that was good in his life.

Since moving into the loft he has played a role in the gathering, leading the highlander to challenges that he shouldn't have had yet, and even acting as bait. So far his punishment was his acceptance that he was nothing if not another liability to the Scotsman who he had subconsciously seen as the best foster-father he ever had. MacLeod had taken him off the streets, the consequences being Kiem Sum, Felicia, Reinhardt, and Alexi Voshin to name a few. However, each was dealt with as though it was an isolated incident. Gary's death compensated for Duncan losing Kiem Sum as a friend (friendships spanning centuries taking precedence), being Reinhardt's bait compensating for introducing Duncan to Felicia, and knowing that he'll never see Nikki and Melinda again somehow made up for Duncan having to face Voshin so soon. All was equal. All was balanced. What then were his consequences for his unbelievable stroke of good fortune in being asked to live in the loft?

Richie went over the equation again and again in his mind and did not like what he saw. He lived with and worked for them in Seacouver. That was one side of the equation. The other side of the equation was the other side of the Atlantic. He had nothing to do with Grayson, so he wasn't worried. That was Mac's karma for his friendship with Darius. Richie knew that his equation would balance out once he got to Paris.

That was it. Richie suddenly realized, all his life in Seacouver it was as though the scales of justice for his life kept seesawing, never resting perfectly balanced. He was leaving Seacouver, perhaps permanently, because now he had nothing tying him there. In Paris, after they receive word of Duncan's fate, the scales would be balanced at last. Richie would be on his own in Paris, Mac and Tessa having no job for him. He also knew that having him around as a boarder was putting a cramp in their love life, which frustrated them both at times. If Mac won, he'd have them give him contacts for a job and apartment in Paris, and he'd move on with his life. It was the freshest possible start.

If Mac didn't come back (something that Richie hated thinking about, but necessity bade him do) then he would stay to take care of Tessa. He would be the one to inform Connor, and to follow up to be sure that Duncan was avenged. He would help Tessa bury him in his native Scottish highlands. Then Tessa would probably want to return to her family. He forgot where in France they lived exactly. Upon seeing Tessa safely there, he would call the scales balanced at last. He hated thinking about it, but knew that it was his duty to do those things if that outcome prevailed.

Whether Mac won or lost was immaterial here. Either way, eventually he'd be in France with a clean slate, finally able to start a new life, one free of the shadows of all his past transgressions and their subsequent consequences.

Richie was so engrossed in these thoughts that he only passively registered the plane's takeoff. He even failed to notice the presence of the stewardess proffering beverages until Tessa touched his shoulder, effectively bringing him out of his reverie.

"Richie?" she asked, the patient and sympathetic tone in her voice surprising him.

"What?" He responded dazedly.

"Do you want something to drink?"

"Oh, uh, yeah… Um… Just a ginger ale, I guess."

The stewardess removed a can of ginger ale from her cart and emptied it into a glass filled with ice. The glass was rather large, the entire contents of the full-sized can fitting perfectly inside it. The perks of first class. The beverage stewardess made her way down the aisle as Richie sipped his soda. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that Tessa had opted for grapefruit juice.

Richie settled his vision on the carbonation in his soda. His mental rationings had effectively distracted him from what he deemed to be the worst part of flying. However, it had done something much more valuable to him, too. Richie had realized that Seacouver was no longer home. It couldn't be; it wasn't in his karma. Richie was able to abandon the worries about Seacouver being home and his never seeing it again. He didn't have to worry about his future. France was his future now, and a clean slate. Sure not seeing Mac and Tessa as often (he was sure they'd invite him to dinner on occasion, or at the very least send him birthday and Christmas cards) would be hard at first, but they had given him the opportunity to start anew. It was the best gift they could have given him, given his present circumstances.

Then there was the nagging possibility that Mac would die in Seacouver. However, he had everything all planned for in that circumstance too. It would be very hard on him; he knew that no amount of mental preparations would change how hard he would take the news, but he had a plan, and a responsibility to Tessa. He wouldn't fail her, or MacLeod. The strict confines of duty would ease the transition, and in the end he'd still be left with the clean slate. For Richie Ryan the final outcome would be a victory. Its price was astronomically high, but there was nothing he could do about that. Mac and Tessa were his salvation, and salvation always comes at a very high price.

Resolved that now all he had to worry about was Duncan fate, Richie was able to turn his mind towards the task at hand. He needed to get an apartment lined up in Paris, and some sort of income. He spit his gum out in a napkin and took another sip of the ginger ale, trying to muster the courage to talk to Tessa about such things.

It was Tessa who spoke first, however.

"Is your stomach still bothering you?" She asked, concern tinting her voice.

Richie didn't know what she was referring to at first. "Oh, no," he said, realizing she was referring to his choice of ginger ale. "I just didn't want to tempt fate." He finished by flashing her his most disarming smile.

Tessa returned the smile readily, yet slightly wary. She knew that she had to talk to Richie. Anyone could see that he was deftly avoiding talking about what was really bothering him, and that she wasn't helping matters any by being so short with him. She wanted to reassure him, to get him to open up to her, for him to let her help him with whatever it was he was dealing with right now (even through she could make several educated guesses). She eventually figured that casual conversation had to be the first step.

"You know, Richie," she began, "when we get to France, you'll be old enough to drink."

Richie turned to her in surprise. "You mean I'll automatically age three years?"

She was relieved to see some of the old Richie returning, and it gave her the resolve to continue. "No, I mean that the French approach their alcohol policy differently than in the states. In France, they consider eighteen to be old enough." Her voice was light and conversational, but Richie was still cautious.

"Does this mean you and Mac are gonna let me drink in Paris?" He asked, secretly praying that she would say no, which would mean that they were planning on keeping as close an eye on him over there as they did back in Seacouver.

"It won't be illegal, Richie. Duncan and I will just trust that you will be responsible and make good decisions."

"Oh." He knew that his prayer wouldn't be answered, but still, the microsecond where he was able to hope was both a blessing and an act of cruelty. They were going to trust him to be responsible because they weren't going to be there for him anymore. I guess this is what normal kids go through when the go off to college.

Silence returned as Tessa was unsure how to proceed. Actually, she was unsure what emotions were coloring Richie's answer. He sounded resigned almost, but she couldn't place it. All she could think of was that he was worried about Duncan and worried about his first trip out of the country. It all had to seem pretty intimidating to an eighteen-year-old. As much as Tessa wanted to believe that that was it, she knew that somehow there was more to it than that. The question was what.

She was spared the difficulty of having to restart the conversation by Richie beating her to it. He had finally worked up the courage to address the problems at hand.

"Tess?" He asked hesitantly.

"Yes, petit?" She answered expectantly.

"When we get to Paris, are we going to be staying with Darius?" Richie was almost certain the answer to that question was yes, but he needed to be sure that it was indeed true for the 'we.' Also, it seemed as good a starting off point as any.

"Yes, until we hear from Duncan," Tessa answered, sounding more confident that they would in fact be hearing from him after the challenge than she actually felt.

Richie just nodded. "You'll be working at the museum then, right?" He asked.

"I'm being given a briefing on my new job tomorrow afternoon. If I like it Duncan and I will decide what to do from there." Tessa kept her tone light and conversational, hoping to put Richie's fears about his sudden uprooting at ease. It wasn't her fault that she misjudged where these questions were coming from and how Richie was interpreting her answers. Later on she would berate herself for not seeing the truth.

Once again Richie nodded, his suspicions being confirmed. He would be staying with Darius, so at least that meant a temporary bed for a few nights. If Tessa likes her new job then she and Duncan will decide if they will stay in Paris or not.

"So if you don't like it, will you go back to Seacouver?" Richie asked, his voice sounding like that of a trepidations child. Tessa of course assumed that he was worried about leaving the only home he had ever known.

"I would assume so," she said after a moment's thought. "We'll probably stay in Paris for a time, the vacation would do us all a bit of good," she said with a genuine smile that Richie found himself returning. An extended vacation in Paris with Mac and Tessa… It sounded too good to be true. "After that, I guess we'll go back to the store. As you said, we have a good business there and I'm just starting to build a name for myself as an artist."

Richie nodded, still smiling. The best-case scenario would be if Duncan won the challenge and if Tessa didn't like her new job. Because it was the absolutely perfect solution Richie knew that it would be impossible.

"I'm sure you'll like the job, Tessa," he said, sounding sure of himself, but the cheer in his voice was off slightly, just enough for Tessa to notice it.

"I'm glad one of us is," she said, and they both laughed the laugh of those trying to ease a tense situation.

Silence once again returned. Richie was trying to find the courage to ask the remainder of his questions, mostly because he was afraid of the answers. Tessa saw that Richie was the one most willing to offer such questions. She presumed that it was because Richie was worried about Duncan that he was choosing to voice his concerns about the possibility of living in France instead. That meant that the best she could hope to do was answer his questions and try to offer reassurances that she knew wouldn't truly help if it was indeed Duncan's fate he was worrying about.

"What's you new job like?" Richie asked, still sounding like the very young asking questions about the grown-up world.

"I'm not exactly sure," Tessa admitted. "I'm in charge of the exhibit as it tours. I guess that means that the people who deal with getting it to tour, where it goes, and what goes with it, are going to have to answer to me. I think I'm also in charge of publicity, but I'm not certain of that."

Richie nodded and returned to his ginger ale. Regardless of what the job entailed, Richie knew that there wasn't any way he could be hired on as an assistant, mostly because he didn't speak French. If he had any delusions of working with her, he could lay them to rest. One thought did occur to him, however.

"So will you actually be working in the museum?" He asked hopefully.

"My office will be on the second floor, though I don't know how often I'll actually be in it," said Tessa.

Richie's face lit up with the hope of possibility. "Do you think you could help me get a job there? I could be an English speaking tour guide for all those British and American tourists." Richie sounded like a kid begging his mother for permission.

Tessa smiled. "Sure, Richie," she said, laughing slightly though Richie knew it was good-naturedly. "If you really want to I'll see what I can do to help. Most of the Paris museums are owned by the same parent company. I'm sure one of them is hiring alternate language tour guides."

Richie smiled genuinely perhaps for the first time since leaving the loft all those hours ago. He could get a job, one that he could do easily. All he would need to arrange was to stay with Darius until he had enough for first and last payment on an apartment somewhere. He knew that Darius, as a priest and good friends with Duncan, wouldn't turn him away. The prospect of a job made everything else seem brighter. He even momentarily abandoned his worry over Duncan.


Tessa wasn't sure why Richie was so excited about the prospect of getting a job. She thought that he would just be content to be a typical freeloading teenager for a while. Perhaps he thought that they would look down on him if he didn't have one?

Richie's mood swung rather quickly after his elation. He saw that his life would be manageable. He had quite a few job prospects (if Tessa was right about his being able to apply to multiple museums) and had rationed that he would be able to stay with Darius until he could afford his own place. He would still need to learn French, and the separation from Mac and Tessa won't be easy, but he'd manage, he'd move on. He could do it.

Realizing that he no longer had his own fate to worry over, Richie's thoughts came thundering back to Duncan. He didn't know if he'd ever see the man again. His time in the loft was the closest to having a real family that Richie had ever experienced since Emily died, and he had experienced quite a few attempts in his short lifetime.

"You're worried about him, too, aren't you," said Tessa. It wasn't a question.

Richie nodded. Then, for the first time, he held eye contact with Tessa for more than a brief second, as though he was searching her face for answers.

"It's part of who Duncan is. If we want to be with him, then we have to accept it."

Richie brightened a little. She said 'we.' "I know," he said. "It's just… I'm not used to caring so much." Richie shrugged and looked away, embarrassed by the honesty.

"I don't understand."

Richie was suddenly afraid of how she interpreted that statement so he felt motivated to clarify. "What I mean is, well, I've been working for you guys for five months, living in the loft for four. My average stint in any foster home was about six months." Richie paused, seeing if she was following his train of thought. She was still with him, but hadn't extrapolated greater meaning from what he just said, so Richie continued:

"I started the whole foster family thing when I was about six. It was hard each time it didn't work out, especially at that age. You start to think that it's all your fault. Then you learn to mask your self-doubts by blaming everyone else, especially the foster parents. I learned really young that family isn't a permanent establishment and is more of a temporary arrangement based on money and convenience."

"That's horrible!"

Something Richie loved about Tessa was her genuine naivety when it came to how bad children of the DSS have had it, and her instant desire to make all the bad go away. She was the foster mom who never let the novelty of the new son wear off. It was a first for him, and he liked it, even though he was at the age of majority when he moved into the loft with them.

"Yeah," Richie admitted. "I was a little too jaded and cynical for someone my age."

"I should say so!"

Richie was touched by her concern but laughed it off dismissively anyway. He didn't feel comfortable with the pseudo mother-son bonding thing right now, believing that their relationship would soon be leaving that sphere.

"Anyway, by the time I was ten I had gone through eleven foster homes, intermingled with four brief stints at the orphanage. I would always get my hopes up about each new home, and I always took it very hard when they sent me back." Richie made eye contact with Tessa again. The sympathy in her eyes was both comforting an unnerving as she hung on his every word. "Each new time I allowed my hopes to rise less and less, so that I wouldn't be so hurt when it eventually didn't work out. In my mind I had already dismissed each attempt as a failure waiting to happen."

"How could you have gone on like that?" Tessa interrupted. She had heard brief tidbits and anecdotes about Richie's childhood, but he never painted such a depressing outlook on the entire experience. Granted she had allowed for the misfortunes that he had described (and there were many), but she had always assumed that there was good mixed in with the bad. Apparently the spread was not as even as she once thought.

"It was easier that way, actually," Richie admitted. "You get hurt less."

"But when were you ever happy, always on the look out for such betrayal?"

Richie was taken aback by her use of the word 'betrayal,' not even he had stamped such a harsh word on it. In truth he just accepted it as inevitable and usually somehow his fault. Betrayal is personal and not foreseen. Her use of the word was jarring.

"I guess I just took one day at a time," Richie said at last. "Every day that nothing bad happened was a good day. I was happy then, I guess."

"You guess?" Tessa was still mortified by Richie's confession. In the back of her mind she saw how it all fit together with Richie's behavior when he first came to live with them. That, however, was secondary to Richie's present state of mind, which Tessa was beginning to grow painfully aware of.

Richie just half-shrugged and returned to his ginger ale. "Well anyway, like I said, this whole thing isn't new to me. My families were always temporary and constantly changing. I was always uprooted eventually. I'm used to it."

"No one should be used to that!" Tessa remembered how hard it was for her to leave her family and move to America, and she had been twenty-five at the time.

"Tell that to the state of Washington," Richie said sarcastically.

All of a sudden something in Tessa clicked. "Richie, what did you mean when you said you've never cared so much about being uprooted before?" She asked, hoping that she wasn't right about his answer.

"Oh that," said Richie dismissively. He had almost forgotten how this conversation had started. "When I was old enough to understand the difference between 'good' and 'bad' foster homes I looked back on my history. I've been to twenty-four foster homes in just over twelve years. I would describe three of those as being 'good,' until the shit hit the fan anyway." At the horrified look on Tessa's face, Richie added, "It's not that bad, Tess. I would describe fifteen of them as indifferent. I only had six bad experiences."

"Mon Dieu!" Tessa exclaimed, her voice barely above a whisper. She didn't know what outraged her more: the fact that Richie had had six bad experiences, or the fact that he saw that number as acceptable or even favorable.

"At any rate," Richie continued, anxious to distract her from that present thought, "that made twenty one homes that I didn't care about leaving, and six of those times I was more than happy to leave. I got used to the leaving part being relatively easy to the point where the biggest hassle became separating my stuff from the stuff they gave me that they wanted back."

If Richie was trying to make Tessa feel better it certainly wasn't working. She managed to school her outward expression and repress the sudden urge to hug the teenager, but that was about it.

"But this time is different?" She asked, nearly fearful of the answer.

"Yeah," Richie admitted as he blushed. "When losing families is nothing new, and usually not very hard on you, it surprises the hell on you when you find yourself actually caring about it." Richie looked away as he finished his statement, very uncomfortable about being this honest with Tessa. He was only obliging because he felt obligated after all she had done for him, and also because he felt she deserved to know how much he appreciated her.

"You do care about what happens to this family," she said, finally sounding genuinely happy since all conversation began. Her worst fears had been laid to rest, as irrational as they were.

"Yeah, I care, Tess," Richie assured her, shocked and kind of hurt that she might think he didn't. "Of course I care." Richie decided to throw caution to the wind and just lay his feelings out on the table. He just hoped to God that Tessa wasn't holding aces. "You guys have been the best family I've ever had since Emily died. I almost wish that I had broken into your store earlier, when I was a bit younger in my career as a petty criminal. Tess, you guys cared so much about me. I was eighteen, you didn't have to. Damn it, you guys are like the foster family I always wanted but never had. Of course I care that it's ending." Richie tried to hold her eye contact throughout, but the honesty and emotion were too much for him and he broke off. "I just wish that it had gone on longer."

Tessa sat silent for a moment, stunned. She had always hoped and wanted to suspect that Richie felt that way, but she was never really sure. She was touched that he felt that way, and felt privileged to hold such a high place with him. She knew that his trust, respect, and even things such as love, were not easily won from the teenager. If anything could have made her happy in this time while worrying for Duncan, this was it. She had fight to keep the smile from her face so that she could finish clearing things up with Richie.

"I feel the same way, Richie," She said enthusiastically. "But just because family situations change does not mean that the family is goes away."

Richie returned his gaze to her, his eyes threatening tears, but his face not showing the same comprehension.

"We are family, Richie; a little unorthodox maybe, but still a family nonetheless. Just because we are no longer living in the states, or just because you no longer work for us, doesn't mean that you are any less a part of this family. You don't need to work at the museum. You don't need to do anything. You're stuck with us for better or worse, mister, whether you like it or not."

Tessa was on the verge of tears herself by the time she finished her speech. Richie had a bit more practice in not crying than she had, so his face was still dry. His eyes stung and his vision was slightly blurry, and his voice was filled with emotion, but he hadn't yet begun to cry.

"You mean it?" He asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"Absolutment!" Tessa gripped his shoulder for emphasis.

"But, if I don't work at the museum, how will I pay rent?" He asked. The seriousness in his voice was painful to hear.

Tessa shut her eyes briefly against the tears. "Rent?" She asked. "When have we ever made you pay rent?"

"Mac signs my paychecks. I always assumed—"

"Well you were wrong," Tessa assured sharply. "We paid you eight dollars an hour. Find your pay stubs and do the math with the number of hours you worked. You'll find that the only withholdings were for taxes."

Tessa sounded hurt and insulted, like she was speaking to prove herself. Richie instantly regretted saying that, or even thinking it. It had just seemed logical at the time that they would do that. He had never actually bothered with the arithmetic to see if it was true. Richie had to redouble his efforts against stubborn tears in light of this newest revelation.

"I'm sorry," he apologized, his voice sounding small.

Tessa wiped her eyes quickly to clear her vision. "Mon Dieu, petit. What are we going to do with you?" She asked, shaking him by the shoulder ever so slightly. They both laughed another one of those brief, tension-releasing laughs. At some point they both wondered when laughter was ever truly genuine.

"I still need a job though," Richie said, returning them to the primary vein of their conversation. "I doubt my next landlords will be so generous."

Tessa's face hardened in an instant. "Your next landlords?" She asked, her voice low.

"Yeah, I mean, well—" Richie stammered, suddenly unsure of himself.

"Have you heard nothing I said?" Tessa asked, exasperated. Realization then suddenly dawned on her. "Is that what you've been thinking, Richie? That we would just take you to Paris and then dump you out on your ass?"

Richieonce again wished that his chair would swallow him whole. If Tessa was using profanity, in English, she must be really mad.

In truth, Tessa was more shocked and hurt at the ease of Richie's assumption.

"What have we done to make you think us so heartless?" She asked. It was an honest question, not the rhetorical ones he was used to hearing during similar guilt trips.

"It's not heartless," Richie said, trying to explain.

"Then what is it?"

Richie was at a loss as to how to answer that. "Routine," he said at last into his ginger ale. He didn't have the courage to look her in the eye and see the disappointment there.

Tessa closed her eyes and took a deep breath, mentally counting to ten, in French. She had always feared that Richie would think this; that she and Duncan would be lumped in with every other foster family he has ever had. She knew that it was just his way of protecting himself, and that no one has ever given him cause to believe something different could happen, but the reality still stung. She told herself that Richie didn't mean for his revelation to hurt her, he was never deliberately cruel. On the contrary, the worst things he's ever said to them, the fiercest insults, were the things he said that were based on incorrect assumptions that he believed were true and therefore not painful at all.

"Although my saying it won't do anything," she said at length. "I am sorry that you have been treated that way by the people where were supposed to love, protect, and support you." Her tone of voice clearly conveyed how she felt about those people.

Richie stole a glance at her face, briefly making eye contact, before looking down and away sharply, embarrassed and uncomfortable by the mutual display of emotion.

Tessa wasn't about to let him off the hook so easily. She moved her hand from its resting place on his shoulder and cupped his chin with it, turning his head and forcing him to meet her gaze.

"You listen to me, young man," she said. Her voice was deadly serious. "I don't know what else Duncan and I can do to prove to you that we will not abandon you, not ever, no matter what, so I will just tell you plainly. You are a part of this family, Richard Ryan. I don't cast off family members like old shoes, and neither does Duncan. If you expect that of us then you will be sorely disappointed. You're stuck with us, Richie, so you'd better get used to the idea." Tessa held his chin, forcing the eye contact throughout her speech, the importance of it making it easier for her to restrain her tears.

Richie wasn't so lucky, however. A single tear escaped and rolled partway down his cheek. "You mean it?" He asked, his voice soft and choked with emotion.

Tessa's face softened at the pain in his voice. Gingerly she moved her thumb to wipe the errant tear away. "Of course I do, petit."

Richie saw it in her eyes that she was telling the truth. That was all Richie needed for him to lose the battle with his emotions. The rest of the tears began to fall freely. Tessa pulled him close to her, lifting the arm rests out of the way so she could hold him better. She rubbed his back and whispered soothingly to him in French all the reassurances she could think of. Richie cried on her shoulder pent up tears of fear and pain that were then replaced by tears of happiness and relief, the last vestiges of logic forcing him to do his best to keep the volume down because they were in public. Tessa knew this and stole a glace around the first class cabin, the look on her face silently warning the other passengers that she would dismember anyone who said a word.

Richie calmed down after several minutes and pulled away. Tessa fished through her purse and pulled out a few tissues, which Richie readily took.

"I know it's true," Richie said once he had cleaned himself up a bit. "I know because the others always said stuff about how I was 'living with this family.' None of them ever said that I was a part of it."

"Oh, petit…" The rest of the thought was silenced by the arrival of her own tears. Tessa laughed through her first sobs and then wiped her eyes with another tissue.

Richie smiled and took one of her hands in both of his. They both smiled warmly at each other with smiles reserved only for happy family moments. These smiles turned into genuine laughter and both had the answer to their earlier unspoken question.

For the first time Richie had confirmation that he had a real family, that he was actually a welcomed part of a real family instead of an outsider residing with one because they chose to show him charity or because they needed the money. It was a new feeling, and he liked how it felt.

These warm thoughts were suddenly chased from his mind by the remembrance of why they had this conversation. Richie felt that the family was changing, and he felt this way because he and Tessa were on a plane to Paris. They were on a plane to Paris because Duncan was facing the challenge of his life back in Seacouver. He had finally found this family only to have it potentially ripped away from him. Screw Connor, Richie would hunt down and kill Grayson himself.

Tessa noticed the change in Richie's expression and the sudden presence of tension in his upper body.

"Don't even think it, petit," she said gravely. "Yes, Duncan could one day lose a challenge and be taken from us. Or I could be hit by a crazy Paris taxicab. If something were to happen to one of us, you wouldn't suddenly not matter to the other. God forbid that Grayson wins, I will not suddenly take back everything I just said. I said we are family, for better or worse, remember? Well 'worse' is bound to happen one day, c'est la vie. That is life. If it happens because of Grayson, you and I will deal with it together." Tessa reversed the grip and took both of Richie's hands in her own. "If the roles were reversed… I know Duncan feels the same way. I'll say it again, Richie. We are family, and that's what family does."

Tessa finished her speech and looked to Richie expectantly. He looked up and met her gaze, his eyes brimming with fresh tears.

"I know that now," he said, his voice sounding too cheerful to match his countenance. "I do." Richie smiled and nodded for effect. "But that's not gonna stop me from worrying about Mac. I just found the best family in the world. I don't want to experience the 'worst' now."

The raw honesty of that sentiment renewed Tessa's tears as well. She pulled Richie into another embrace, this time he rested his head on her shoulder and she wrapped her arms around him.

"Nor do I, petit. Nor do I."

Tessa just held him, content to let her own tears fall silently unhindered. Eventually she could tell by Richie's breathing that he had fallen asleep. She reached into the seatback in front of her and pulled out a blanket. She draped it over them, holding him tighter so that it would fit them both and thankful that even the blankets were bigger in first class. She rested her own head on top of his, happily deciding that because she could not have children with Duncan that God gave them Richie instead. She was pleased to discover that she couldn't be happier with that arrangement, and that she wouldn't change their family for the world. Well, she would eliminate the gathering, but other than that… These pleasant thoughts were enough to distract her from her worry long enough for her to fall asleep with Richie in her arms.

Richie awoke, startled to discover that his pillow was shifting underneath him. Upon regaining a sense of awareness he was even more startled to discover that his pillow was Tessa's breast and he sat violently upright. He was momentarily frightened by those discoveries until he remembered where he was and what had just transpired, then relief flooded through him and he was suddenly aware that Tessa was speaking to him.

"Richie?" She asked. He could tell by her tone that she had tried speaking to him several times.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, Sorry Tess. What is it?"

"Put your seatback up, we're landing soon."

"Oh." Richie returned the seatback to its upright and locked position, and followed suit with the tray table after he finished his now lukewarm and watered down ginger ale. He regretted not having any gum as they began their descent.

The plane landed at Orly Airport on time and without incident. The captain announced that the local time was seven fourteen a.m. and that the temperature outside was fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit, thirty-six Celsius. He then repeated the announcement in French and German. When the plane had finished being taxied to the gate, Tessa and Richie grabbed their carryon bags from the floor. The stewardesses then came by with customs declaration cards, which Tessa instructed Richie on how to fill out properly. That being done and the cards collected the passengers were allowed to disembark.

Richie followed Tessa off the plane. He was momentarily frightened that his false passport would arouse suspicion, but he was ushered through customs without much scrutiny. In hindsight he realized that it was stupid to worry. After all, Mac did this sort of thing all the time.

Once through customs Tessa guided Richie through the throngs to the baggage claim with him holding onto the shoulder strap of her carryon like a child on a leash. They didn't have to wait too long for their bags to appear, much to Tessa's surprise and delight. Bags in hand they headed up the escalators towards the main lobby of the airport.

"It's just after seven thirty," said Tessa, looking at her watch. Richie checked his as well and then adjusted it accordingly for the time difference. Tessa waited patiently as he turned the knob to move the minute hand and decided that she needed to buy him a new watch and soon, since the one he was wearing looked like it was ready to fall apart at any minute. Once Richie finished with his watch he looked up at her expectantly.

"Darius's rectory is in the Latin Quarter," she said. "I know a lovely restaurant near there where we should be able to get some breakfast."

Richie smiled broadly, the thought of food always enough to lift his spirits. "Let's go," he said cheerfully.

Tessa returned his smile. "This way," she said as she led him through the airport lobby and out the main entrance where she hailed one of the many waiting taxis.

Any passing stranger would have thought that Tessa was once an unwed teenage mother because there was no question in their minds that they were seeing a mother and son climb into a cab to head for parts unknown.