AN: Slightly AU. I hope you like. And as always I don't own these guys. If I did. well, things would have played out a lot different.

Unlikely Angel

Richie stood under Tessa's scrutinizing stare.

"Do I pass?" he asked hopefully.

"You pass," she said finally.

"Well, it's about damn time," he mumbled, starting to walk away.

Tessa stopped him with a firm hand on his arm. "Did you get what you need out of your room?"

"Yup, and it's all in your room."

"No unacceptable."

"No porn," he promptly answered.

Tessa smiled despite herself. "Alright. You go help Duncan with dinner while I go to the airport.

. . . . . .

"Ugh." Richie pulled at the collar of his grey, wool-knit sweater.

"Hot?" Duncan asked.

"And itchy. Now I know why this was in the back of my closet."

"Tessa shot down everything else?"

"I don't know why she's so worried. I thought her parents were supposed to be cool?"

"But she's still nervous. This is the first time they've come to visit us. And the first time they've met you. She wants to make a good impression."

"Maybe I should bunk somewhere else," Richie offered in jest.

"Just be yourself. They'll love you. You're Jean's kind of boy."

"That's what they said on the phone."

"Before or after they insisted you call them Maman and Papa?"

"Before, I think. But, Mac, if I'm supposed to be myself why am I dressed in this get up?"

Duncan chucked and tossed some flour onto Richie's sweater. "Oops, guess you have to change now."

Richie grinned. "I like the way you think. Thanks, Mac."

"Just pick something nice."

"Sure."

The phone rang and Richie yelled from the bedrooms that he'd get it. A few minutes later, he came out in an old sweatshirt.

"This is your idea of something nice?"

"No. That was Angie. They're locked out of their car and all their luggage is in it. So I'm gonna go let them in so they can catch their plane."

"Something tells me you don't have a spare key."

"Of sorts," he shrugged. "Back as soon as I can be."

Fifteen minutes later, the door to the apartment opened.

"You made good time. Take the bread out of the oven and change," Duncan said.

"Why doesn't Richie do it?" Tessa asked.

"You're back." Duncan striated up and smiled. "Jean, Genevieve." He took Tessa's father's hand and gave her mother a hug. "Richie had a last minute errand to run. He should be back soon," he added.

. . . . . .

Richie could tell he had taken too long, despite his best efforts, when he saw Tessa's car in the alley. He checked his hair in the side view mirror before going in.

"Bonjour!" he called as he entered. Genevieve jumped to her feet and rushed to him.

"Chou chou!" She grabbed his face and started planting kisses all over it. "Mon, petit!" Kiss, kiss. "Mon seul petit-fils." Smooch, smooch. "Enfin." Smooch, kiss. She stopped kissing but kept a firm grip on his cheeks. "Tessa, il est adorable!"

"Maman, let him go. You're scaring him," Tessa giggled. "And he's a little old to be called 'chou chou', don't you think?"

"It's nice to meet you, Richie," Jean said taking Richie's hand.

"Beenvan ah America. Ju sui sour ku vu appreh-ceerez vorte sehjur," Richie rattled off proudly. Everyone started laughing. Richie's face fell and he looked at Duncan. "Didn't I say it right?" he asked like a little kid who was getting made fun of for something he had no control over.

Duncan schooled his features into a reassuring and accepting smile. "We understood what you meant."

"Then why are you all laughing?"

"We just weren't expecting it," he told him. "It was a very noble attempt. Now go change; dinner's almost ready." Once he was safely out of earshot Duncan turned to the others. "New rule. No laughing when Richie tries to speak French."

"You laughed, too," Tessa pointed out.

"I know. But I don't know how much ridicule his ego can take. We need to choose our battles."

Soon they were all seated at the table eating homemade ravioli and garlic bread.

"Richie, where were you?" Tessa asked conversationally when silence settled over the table.

"Um.helping the Burkes," he answered.

"That was nice of you. With what?"

Richie grinned at Duncan over his glass of wine (that Jean had poured for him despite Duncan's objections). "Car trouble."

"Richie is quite the mechanic, you know," Tessa told her parents proudly. "He can fix nearly anything. Just last week he fixed the toaster. And last month he installed a new security system."

Richie blushed. "I really just helped Mac."

"Tessa, you're embarrassing him," Genevieve giggled. "You're making his cheeks burn."

Silence once again fell over the table. "Duncan, how is business?" Jean asked.

"Scared that I'm not taking care of your little girl?"

"I have my concerns."

"Papa!"

"Everything is going fine, Jean. This has actually been our best year."

"That's not saying much," Richie snorted into his salad.

"Thanks, Rich."

"Richie, behave yourself," Tessa scolded lightly.

"I thought you wanted me to be myself. You can't have it both ways. You gotta pick."

"Be yourself, chou chou," Genevieve told him, reaching across the table and putting her hand on his arm. "Tessa, stop being so hard on the boy."

"Maman, I was only teasing him."

"She's always raggin' on me. It was just a joke." Richie jumped to her defense.

"You'll get used to them," Duncan added. "They're always going at it. Your daughter finally met her match in him."

"This I have to see," Jean smiled. "My Tessa without the upper hand."

"Someone's gotta keep her in her place," Richie boasted proudly.

"And we all know you are more than happy to be the one to do that."

Richie rolled his eyes at Duncan and they settled into a comfortable silence. Not until they settled in the living room for dessert did anyone speak again.

"Chou chou, how old are you?" Genevieve asked. "Chou chou?"

"Rich," Duncan prompted when the boy didn't answer.

"Oh, is that me?" He looked up from his pie.

"Yes. She asked how old you are."

"I'm 18."

"That's what I thought Tessa said," Genevieve said with a nod. "And when did you graduate?"

"Last June."

"That's good; we've only just missed it."

"Well, why don't we get started decorating the tree?" Tessa interjected when she noticed Richie start to squirm from all the attention.

Duncan and Richie had gone to pick out a tree the day before. They found a large spruce that was so big they had to rearrange the living room to make it fit. While they were busy, Tessa went around town getting decorations and stockings. She and Duncan had always spent Christmas at her parent's house in Paris so had never bothered to get decorations for the loft.

Richie had happily put the stockings up that night, fussing over them until he finally got them in the perfect order. His was in the middle framed by Tessa's and Genevieve's and Duncan's and Jean's were placed, in turn, on either side.

Tessa and Genevieve took charge of decorating the tree. They sat Richie on the floor unwrapping the ornaments and handing them to Duncan and Jean while the women directed their placements. "Up, to the left. The lights are crooked. No, not there. Down, down, up, little more. little. there. Now move that one up a branch. Yes, right there." Once the ornaments and lights were placed, Jean, being the "oldest" of the family gathered, had the honor of putting the angel on top.

Everyone stepped back to admire their festive creation. After they had properly oohed and ahhed they set to work putting out the nativity set. Richie, being the youngest in attendance, was given the job of putting out the baby Jesus when they got back from midnight mass the next week. After that they separated to hang wreaths, place candles, wrap garland, and finish decorating. Once they were done, Richie was sent to shower and change in Duncan and Tessa's room while Jean and Genevieve got settled in his room.

Duncan was waiting for Richie when he went out to take his place on the couch.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"Looks real classy." Richie vaulted over the back of the couch.

"I meant Tessa's parents."

"They're friendly," he offered.

"Friendly?"

"Very friendly?"

"Very friendly."

"Okay, so Tessa's mom is really really really friendly. But her dad is pretty cool."

"Genevieve is quite an enthusiastic woman. You'll get used to her."

"Good. uh. is that all you wanted?"

"Well, that and tomorrow while we go shopping, don't let her enthusiasm go to your head. Modesty is a virtue."

"Do you have to be so cryptic so late at night?"

"Just remember what I said."

"I'll put it on a billboard."

"Good night, Richie."

"Night."

. . . . . .

"Should we wake him?" Tessa asked, looking over the shoulder at the dead teenager on the couch who had slept through morning greetings and the event of making breakfast.

"He has to eat," Duncan shrugged.

A minute later, Richie was with everyone else at the table grateful Tessa insisted he slept in something other than his boxers as usual. Though he was just wearing a pair of Duncan's flannel pants and one of his own baseball jerseys, it felt much more appropriate than his underwear. After the dishes were cleaned and put away and Richie got dressed, they got into two cars and headed for a group expedition to the mall. Tessa and Genevieve insisted that with five shoppers, two trunks and an extra backseat were necessary.

Once in the mall they made arrangements for when and where to meet and split off into little groups. Richie found himself being drug from JC Penny to Foleys to Old Navy and then Structure by a very enthusiastic Genevieve. It took both of them to lug all the bags out to Tessa's car.

An hour later, Jean found Richie lusting over everything he could see in the electronics store.

"Needed a testosterone fix?" Jean asked, startling Richie who was playing a sample computer game.

"Came to see if my stereo is on sale. It's not."

"How much is it?"

"Four hundred dollars."

"Is it made of gold?"

"Might as well be. Three CD changer, internal antenna for the am/fm radio, duel cassette player, detachable speakers, ports for surround sound and a remote. Tell me that's not worth four hundred dollars."

"It sounds very impressive."

"It is. I've been saving for months. I was hoping to catch a Christmas sale. But believe you me, I'm gonna get it."

Jean smiled and put his arm around Richie's shoulders. "Show Papa your fancy record player."

"CD player," he corrected.

Richie and Jean bonded over gadgets and gizmos. Their common interest dominated the conversation as they bought lunch in the food court and wondered the mall making purchases here and there. At five, they all met by the coke machines at the entrance they came in through. All were still laden with bags despite all their trips to the cars during the day. Richie had to ride home in Tessa's car because his presents were in the backseat of Duncan's car. On the way home, Tessa made him promise not to go in certain closets because that was the only space they had to hide his gifts in. Richie pointed out that he didn't go in his room since Jean and Genevieve were staying there and thusly they had plenty of room to hide things. But he promised not to go in the closets until told the coast was clear.

For dinner, it was decided that they would go to Tessa's favorite restaurant. Richie was once again forced into nice clothes that he continually avoided. But Richie admitted that the promise of lobster made it worth it. When the bill came, Jean and Duncan both reached for it.

"Allow me," Jean insisted.

"You're our guests," Duncan argued.

"I want to treat my daughter and her family to dinner."

"You don't have to do that. You're on vacation."

"But."

"That's your argument for when we come to visit you."

"I will not hear of it."

"I got it!" Richie interrupted snatching the leather bill folder before either man could protest. He opened it up to see the total of 254 dollars not including tip. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed.

"Richie!" Tessa snapped, giving him a solid whack in the shoulder.

"Sorry," he apologized. "But man."

"Tessa, don't hit him," Genevieve ordered. "But chou chou, mind your language."

"I didn't mean to. It slipped out." He pulled the credit card Duncan had given him a month before out of his wallet and slid it into the pocket. When the bill came back Richie nearly had a heart attack when Tessa whispered to him to add a seventy-dollar tip. But he did it none the less, signed, and they went back home.

When they got to the store Jean held Duncan back to speak with him.

"What did Papa want?" Tessa asked when he joined her in their room.

"It's about Richie," Duncan mouthed. Richie was changing in the bathroom. Once Richie had gone off to bed, Duncan explained. "Your parents want to buy Richie that stereo he's been saving for."

"You sound disappointed."

"Is it wrong to ask them not to buy it?"

"Why? Richie would love it."

"It ruins the lesson."

"What lesson?"

"That he has to work for what he wants."

"We buy him things all the time." Tessa didn't understand.

"We buy him things he needs. He has to buy what he wants."

"Duncan, it's Christmas."

"I know that. And I have every intention of buying him everything on his list. That stereo isn't on the list."

"Neither is that Star Wars movie set you bought him today," she pointed out. "But you know he likes it so you got it for him. He would love to get the stereo."

"But he's been working for it. I know he'd have a heart attack when he opened it, but at the same time it ruins all he's worked for. And what does that teach him? Work really hard and you will get what you want handed to you?"

"He's a child. He set a goal and worked toward it. Shouldn't that be rewarded?"

"The reward is that he gets the stereo when he's done. I know it seems heartless, but it will be better for him to earn it on his own. And he's not expecting it; he's not even hoping for it so he won't be disappointed."

"That's true," Tessa consented. "He'll have plenty of surprises under the tree. Tell Papa no. Richie's getting spoiled enough as it is."

"We don't want him to get selfish."

"No, we don't."

"I'll go talk to him."

"Maybe I should," Tessa offered.

"I'll do it."

Jean was waiting for Duncan in the living room. He and Richie were chatting about computers and the internet.

"They have internet at Mr. Burke's work. Sometimes Angie and I go over and mess around. It is so cool. E-mail, game sites, you can find information on anything."

"The internet is an entertaining place to go. When I first got a modem, I could sit in my office for hours."

"You surf the net?"

"It's part of my job. My company manufactures computers, modems and other electronics."

"I didn't know that."

"We do. It is an ever-changing field. It's hard to be bored."

"That is so cool. I've never known anyone who did that before."

"Richie, will you excuse us for a minute?" Duncan asked from the hallway.

"Um." Richie searched for a place to go. Genevieve was in his room, Tessa in hers, Duncan and Jean in the living room. All that was left was the kitchen. "I'll get some water."

"I assume you're going to say no," Jean said in French.

"Tessa and I would prefer that Richie finish earning the money himself."

"Would you object to me giving him money towards it?"

Duncan paused. "I really would rather he earned it somehow. He's had it pretty cushy here and we're afraid he's getting used to things being given to him just because he wants them. We've been trying to teach him the importance of working and earning the money to get things for himself; not to expect things to show up in his room."

Jean nodded. "He's your responsibility; I have to respect that. If you would rather I didn't, I won't."

"Thank you, Jean."

"Can I come in now?" Richie called from the kitchen. "I'm getting bored and I have to go!"

"Come on in, Rich," Duncan called first in French then corrected himself in English.

"Hey, can I ask something?" Richie asked after he had taken care of his needs.

"Or course," Jean answered.

"What does choo choo mean and why does Tessa keep saying I'm too old to be called that?"

"It's what little kids call trains," Duncan answered.

"Chou chou is a nickname used for young children in France," Jean explained. "Someone as old as you would never be called Chou chou. except Maman calls all her grandchildren Chou chou and Tessa and her brothers always correct her."

"Ah." Richie nodded. "Does it mean anything or is it just one of those things?"

"Technically." Duncan started. "It means little cabbage. or Brussel sprout."

Richie wrinkled his nose. "Yup.definitely gotta bring a stop to that one."