AN- Thanks again to SC, my only reviewer once again.  I don't know if you're the only reader of this story anymore of if you're just the only vocal reader, but you have my unending thanks once again.  In case there are others reading this, please see the author's note at the very end.

AN2- There's one more bit of French in here translated as it was last chapter.

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Richie slumped back down on the bed, his mind racing.  What could he possibly say to Duncan now?  What could Duncan possibly say to him?

"So he's coming here to—to apologize?"  Richie stuttered at length. 

"He wants to apologize," Tessa clarified.  "But he doesn't know how to reach you."  Richie nodded solemnly.

"He's not mad?"  Tessa nearly laughed but had the good graces not to.

"Of course not!" She reassured.  Richie frowned.

"It's easier when he's mad," he said dejectedly. 

"Are you expecting the 'I'm not mad, I'm disappointed' speech?"  Tessa asked, slightly confused.  Richie laughed.

"Ha!  I wish," he said, finding humor despite himself. 

"What then?" Tessa asked, now truly confused.  Richie sobered immediately as he thought of his next answer.

"Before, when I screwed up, I would dread the lecture that was coming, but then we'd talk everything out and I'd apologize and he'd forgive me, and then we'd banter about it and put it behind us."

"So?" Tessa asked.  "What's wrong with that?"

"It's not supposed to be the other way around," Richie said quietly, deadly serious.  Tessa nodded in understanding.

"You think Duncan is dreading a lecture from you?"  Richie laughed again, wholly and genuinely, and Tessa couldn't help but join in, before the serious mood returned and the laughed ceased.

"He's worried I won't forgive him," he said sagely.  Tessa once again fixed him with a questioning look.  Richie's response was to simply return that look, finding no words to express what he meant.  Suddenly realization struck and Tessa bit back a gasp.

"Were you ever afraid that we wouldn't forgive you?" She asked in concern.  Richie blushed and looked away.  "Richie?"

"I used to," he answered at last.

"But not anymore?"  Once again Richie didn't answer.  Tessa was about to repeat her question when finally the teen spoke.

"Not so much," he said.  "Not since Paris."  Tessa nodded.  Then her expression changed.

"Richie, écoutez moi," she said seriously. (listen to me).  Richie's head snapped around upon hearing the French.  "There is nothing you can do that we won't forgive you," she said.  "Do you hear me?  Nothing."  After a brief pause Richie nodded.  Then he released a fierce yawn.  Tessa's expression changed then to one of guilt.

"Oh, Richie, I'm sorry!"  She exclaimed.  "Here I am talking you to death when you should be resting!"

"It's cool," said Richie before yawning again.  Tessa arched an eyebrow.  "Well, I guess I am tired."

"You guess?"  Tessa said in amusement.  Richie shrugged as he settled himself back down into the bed and burrowed slightly into the covers.  Entirely too much practice had taught him exactly how to get comfortable on a hospital bed with an IV in his arm.  "Rest now," Tessa directed.  "I have to go, but Duncan will be here when you wake up."  Richie smiled even as he felt sleep claiming him.

"He usually is," he said, his eyes closed.  Not long after he was sound asleep.  Tessa took the time to fluff his pillow and straighten his covers before lovingly brushing a few stray curls out of his face.  Her maternal look lingered a little before she turned to leave, intent on finding some coffee, and perhaps, her errant lover.

She ran into Duncan on her way back from the coffee machine.  He was standing in the doorframe to Richie's room, but Tessa couldn't see what expression was on his face.  It was just like the ICU, when Duncan would stand beside the large glass windows and watch Richie from a protected distance.  However, this was a normal room, and thus the doorframe…

"I thought you'd get here soon," said Tessa, startling Duncan out of his thoughts.

"He's sleeping," said Duncan, voicing the obvious.

"Yes." 

"He always looks so peaceful when he sleeps," said Duncan wistfully.  Tessa nodded.  By now they were standing shoulder to shoulder in the doorway.  They stood in silence for a time.

"He fell asleep waiting for you," said Tessa finally.  Duncan winced and Tessa regretted her phrasing. 

"I take it you two… talked?" Duncan asked.  Tessa nodded, ignoring his tone.

"He remembers fighting with us, but he doesn't remember anything of stabbing you, or of the conversation you had."  Duncan nodded.

"What did you tell him?"

"I informed him of what he said to you, and that you were looking to apologize."  Duncan sighed.

"You shouldn't have done that."

"Why not?"  Duncan didn't answer.  "Duncan, he already feels guilty for the stuff that he does remember.  I didn't want him to be sitting there waiting to apologize to us when all you're thinking of is ways of apologizing to him."

"He wants to apologize?" Duncan asked in quiet surprise.  Tessa tensed, mentally counting to ten.

"Of course he does!"  Then her frustration left her and she suddenly became thoughtful.  "You should listen to what he has to say, Duncan."

"I don't want his apologies," he said with a sigh.

"No more than he wants yours," Tessa pointed out.  "Just listen to him, Duncan.  Trust me."  There was a long pause before Duncan finally nodded, sighing heavily.  Tessa passed him her forgotten cup of coffee.  "He just fell asleep, so I don't know how long you'll be waiting."  Duncan nodded again, curling his fingers around the reinforced paper cup.

"I'll see you at home?" 

"Of course."  A smile and a quick kiss and she was gone, leaving Duncan standing in the doorframe alone, holding a rapidly cooling cup of coffee.  Absently he took a sip and noticed how she'd made it to his tastes and not her own.  With a soft smile and a shake of his head, Duncan made his way over to the bedside chair to await Richie's awakening.

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Duncan didn't have to wait too terribly long for Richie to awaken.  The teen shifted beneath his covers, as he was wont to do when waking from sleep.  Usually Richie never moved in his sleep, so any small movement was quickly noticed by Duncan's practiced eye.  He watched with both relief and trepidation as Richie shifted and stretched and finally yawned, blinking blearily awake.

"Have a nice nap?" Duncan asked with natural good humor.  It was always a comforting sight, watching Richie wake up.

"Oh, hi Mac," said Richie as he wiped the sleep from his eyes.  His tone was tired but not unfriendly and Duncan forced himself to ignore it, blaming all hidden meanings on his own paranoia rather than any probable intent.  Richie shoved himself into a sitting position and turned to regard MacLeod intently.  For a moment neither of them spoke.

"Listen, Richie—"

"Mac, I—"  They both began at once.  Then both of them stopped and their joint laughter was heard.  "You were saying," Richie prompted.  Duncan shook his head.

"No, you first."  At Richie's uncertain gaze he added, "I insist."  Richie sighed heavily as he pondered his next words. 

"I don't want you to apologize to me, Mac," he said seriously, looking Duncan straight in the eye.  Under that gaze Duncan inwardly flinched: there was so much sincerity, so much… emotion, present in those blue orbs.  Duncan shook his head.

"Well I won't apologize to you if you don't apologize to me."  Richie opened his mouth to protest, but then shut it quickly and looked away.  "We were both wrong, and both right at the same time," said Duncan, recalling Tessa's earlier words.  "So either we both apologize, or we both just skip that part."

"And move on to the meaningful heart-to-heart talk?" Richie offered, his voice surprisingly devoid of sarcasm. 

"If we both don't want to hear apologies then it seems like the logical choice," said Duncan, the barest hints of a smile tugging at his lips.

"But what if we want to say them anyway?" Richie asked quietly.  Duncan sighed, blinking slowly and getting a handle on his emotions.

"Please don't say you're sorry to me, Richie," said Duncan, mostly into the hand that he had brought up to shield his eyes.  "I don't think I could bear it."  Richie nodded, slightly surprised at this sudden display of emotion from Mac.

"Can I say that I was wrong?" Richie asked quietly.  Duncan lowered his hand from his eyes and fixed a questioning gaze on the teen.  "I shouldn't have acted the way I did," Richie elaborated.  "It was wrong."

"If you want to start expressing wrongful acts, I'd bury you laddie," said Duncan, his brogue slipping through the cracks of his emotions.  Richie smiled despite himself.  It bespoke of the Gaelic he would hear whenever he was sick or in the hospital and pretending to be asleep.  It was a comforting sound, somehow.

"I behaved like a spoiled brat," Richie offered.

"I put my needs above everyone else's," Duncan countered.

"I got into fights with a cop and a street gang."

"I killed the watcher responsible for Darius's death."  Richie tensed slightly but brushed it off.  Hearing of those the Highlander killed was a normal occurrence after all.  Of course, the fact that it is so normal is still slightly jarring.

"I needlessly worried you and Tessa," he continued as if nothing happened.

"I didn't notice how sick you were," Duncan answered. 

"I got pissed when you stopped being my father."  Silence.  Richie then realized what he had said, and his cheeks flushed with embarrassment.  But as much as he wanted to, he didn't look away.  Instead he waited patiently (or at least he seemed to) for Duncan to counterpoint the statement.

"I'm not your father, Richie," Duncan said at last.  Richie nodded barely perceptibly.

"I know."  Duncan sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. 

"Tessa loves you like a mother," he said.  Richie nodded again.

"But she's not," he said sadly.

"No," said Duncan, sadly and yet fatalistic.  "She's not."  Richie sighed.

"I know why you went after… the watchers," he said. 

"And I know that Darius wouldn't have wanted it," Duncan interrupted. Richie raised his hand. 

"Please Mac.  Just let me."  Duncan nodded, and Richie sighed.  "It was the fact that you left for Seacouver without planning on telling us," he said, forcing his voice to remain emotionless.  These hurts were far from healed, but, like Tessa said, there really was no blame.  "Then Tessa decided point-blank to follow you," he continued.  "Neither of you asked me."  Duncan blinked his eyes closed and momentarily let his guilt overwhelm him.

"I just assumed you would follow…"  Was Duncan's eventual reply.

"Don't you know what happens when you assume?"  Richie asked, raising an eyebrow in the style he'd learned from Tessa.  Duncan couldn't help but laugh, and it was desperately needed to ease the tension in the room.  Richie then sobered, and Duncan sensed the changed.  "Mac, I was angry because, when we got back from Paris, I remembered that you guys weren't my parents, and I took that anger out on you."

"Richie—"

"Let me finish, Mac.  Please."  Duncan nodded, bracing himself for the worst.  "In Paris," Richie continued, "it was so easy to forget that I was just the punk kid who ripped off your store.  I thought that I was a different person over there."  He looked down then, and his next sentence was said so softly that Duncan almost didn't hear it.  "I pretended to be your son."  Duncan took a wincing inhale that he couldn't keep silent and Richie flinched and still avoided eye contact.  Finally Duncan spoke.

"And Tessa and I took on the roles of parents," he said. 

"Until you took off to avenge Darius," said Richie, looking out the window on the opposite wall.  "That's when I knew that pretending wasn't any good.  That's when… That's why I got mad.  Because I couldn't pretend anymore."

"Tessa and… I can't have children," said Duncan, loathing to make the amendment.  "I guess she had convinced herself that she didn't want any.  Then, well, then we met you, and…"

"And I became the son you couldn't have," said Richie thoughtfully.  It really hadn't occurred to him that Mac and Tessa would have wanted a son as much as he thought he'd wanted parents.

"We all just assumed…"

"And we were all wrong," Duncan finished.  Richie smiled. 

"I still feel like I should apologize," said Richie.  Duncan's face darkened.

"Are you still angry?"

"No!" Richie reassured all too quickly.  He sighed in frustration and ran a hand through his already tousled hair.  "It's… I'm not mad at you."    

"What then?"  Richie sighed again. 

"I guess… I guess I just didn't want the illusion to end, ya know?  I know we never said anything, about how we felt n'all.  But I was… In Paris, I liked how it felt."

"We all did," Duncan reassured.  Richie nodded.  "But Richie, just because I'm not your father doesn't mean you're not a part of my family."

"I know," Richie said softly.  "Thank you."  Duncan laughed.

"You don't need to thank me, Richie," he said, and Richie joined in the amusement before growing serious again.

"What I wanted to apologize for," he began.  Duncan instantly grew serious as well.  "Was for forgetting that, when we moved back to Seacouver."  Duncan nodded, once again feeling tears prick at his eyes but he refused to let them fall.

"And I wanted to apologize for my selfish behavior allowing you to have doubts," he said.  Richie grinned.

"But we're not apologizing."

"No, we're not apologizing," Duncan readily agreed, sharing in the smile.  It was understood then, in their lack of apologies, in their lack of groveling for forgiveness amidst rampant self-bashing, that even if such things were unneeded, they were freely given.  For in a loving family, there is nothing to forgive, and it is the love that makes it so, for it drives the members to asking.

"So what happens now?" Richie asked at length, disturbing the comfortable silence that had gradually replaced the laugher.

"Well," Duncan began, "first you rest and get well."

"Then what?"

"Then we take you home."  Richie smiled.  Home.  The loft.  Mac.  Tessa… Home. 

"And then?"  Duncan grinned.

"Well, I have a store to run," he said.  "But I think there's a job opening for an errand boy."  Richie laughed and Duncan thanked God for the sound.

"Are you offering me my old job back?"

"It's yours if you want it."  Richie laughed again.

"Why do I always get jobs from you when I wind up in the hospital?"  This time Duncan laughed before turning serious once again.

"You should sleep," he said.  "The most important thing is for you to get well."  As if on cue, Richie yawned when he opened his mouth to protest that he wasn't tired.  Duncan merely glared at him and Richie's cheeks flushed.

"Well, I guess you won't buy that I'm not tired."  Duncan grinned.

"Not on your life."  Richie flopped himself back down onto the bed, somehow managing not to disturb his IV in the process.  Duncan sadly shook his head at this learned skill.  It was all he could do to resist tucking the lad in.

"You'll be here when I wake up?" Richie asked, sounding very young as he made himself comfortable on the hospital bed.  Duncan smiled warmly.

"Always."      

FIN

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AN3- Well, that's all folks.  Love it?  Hate it?  Something in between???  Whatever your opinions, I humbly beg you to share them—constructively if possible.  As an aspiring author I need to know what I do well and what I do poorly so that I may better improve my craft.  So please, tell me!