Part Two: The Ties That Bind By Dawn Nyberg

Duncan looked at the boy, and his reaction was a sharp intake of air at the site of the him. He was so pale, he had seen corpse's with more color than Richie had in his face. He was glad the nurse had prepared him, but even so, it was a shock to see Richie in this condition. He had one IV in the back of his left hand, and another IV line in the crook of his right arm. What bothered Duncan the most was the tube inserted down Richie's throat attached to a large machine, Duncan assumed it was a respirator. Duncan took in as much as his mind would allow him to. He stood looking down at the motionless young man, surrounded by noises of machines beeping to Richie's pulse, and the whooshing of the respirator forcing air into his lungs. Duncan's throat tightened as he tried to find his voice.

"Hey, tough guy," his voice thick with emotion as he fought back tears. He sat down next to the bed, taking Richie's slack hand in his own. For what seemed like hours to Duncan he just sat watching Richie for the slightest flutter of an eye lid, or a twitch of his hand as he held it, nothing. Duncan allowed his mind to drift to thoughts of Tessa, he needed to see her, he knew she had been transferred to the morgue, but Duncan couldn't leave Richie, not yet, and he couldn't deal with seeing Tessa in the morgue.

** Day Four in ICU **

Duncan had kept an almost constant vigil in Richie's room, the boy still hadn't regained consciousness, it had been four days since the shooting, four days since the highlanders world had changed forever. Duncan was thankful the doctor had started to wean Richie off the respirator during the second day of his stay in ICU, and the doctor had seemed pleased that Richie's sat's were improved and that his injured lung seemed to be functioning as well as could be expected at this point. Duncan sat watching the young man, he was sure he had every feature of Richie's face memorized by now. He reached a hand up to stroke Richie's forehead along his hair line. Duncan smiled at the unruly curls framing the young fragile face, Richie looked so much younger than his nineteen years.

"Rich? Can you hear me, it's Mac?," Duncan's voice was gentle. Duncan had been speaking to the boy everyday he had been in ICU about anything he could think of to bring him to awareness, but this time was different, and Duncan watched in excitement as closed eyes fluttered opened. Duncan looked into tired blue eyes that fought to focus on him.

"Rich?," Duncan said standing and leaning over the boy stroking Richie's bangs in nervous excitement. "Rich, it's Mac, you're safe, I'm here," he soothed.

"Mac," came out as a scratch of a whisper as Richie focused on Duncan's tired and haggard face.

"Hey," Duncan said as he pressed the call button to get a nurse, he wanted Dr. Collins notified that he had regained consciousness. Duncan couldn't keep the smile from his face, he was so happy Richie was awake, but there were things to be said when the boy was stronger Duncan knew he had to keep his questions at bay, he didn't know how much Richie would remember from the shooting, and he had decided to follow his lead.

Duncan sat out in the ICU waiting room while Dr. Collins examined Richie. Duncan was saying silent prayers that the doctor would say Richie suffered no permanent damage. Duncan had allowed himself to be comforted slightly by the fact that he had known him when he had awakened and even called him by name. Duncan stood when he heard footsteps in the hall approaching the room, and moments later Dr. Collins came through the threshold of the door.

"How is he?," Duncans voice was anxious. The doctor smiled.

"Well, there is no sign of permanent brain damage, he's weak, and were not out of the woods yet, but my preliminary cognitive tests are very positive. He is a bit disoriented, but that is to be expected, he knows he's in a hospital," the doctor studied Duncan's face it was full of questions.

There was an audible sigh of relief from Duncan, "No sign of brain damage," he looked at the doctor not quite willing to feel the simple joy in those few words the doctor had said.

"Yes, things look very good for him cognitively, but....," the doctor paused, and Duncan was quick to speak in that pause.

"But? But what?" Duncan's face took on a serious look.

"There is still a chance of infection, and his blood pressure is quite low, due to the blood loss, he is still critical, but he seems to be a fighter."

"He is a fighter," Duncan smiled and spoke again, " May I see him now?" Duncan wanted to see him, he felt better when he was near Richie.

"Of course, he was sleeping again when I left him, you should expect him to do that a lot, his recovery will take time." The doctor stood and walked Duncan as far as the nurses station and left the highlander to walk the rest of the way to the boys room. Richie was

sleeping when Duncan walked in, and he took his normal position beside him holding his hand. Duncan knew he would have to leave Richie for a couple of days in order to take Tessa's body back to Paris to be buried. The arrangements had been finalized yesterday, he knew he couldn't just leave the teenager he had to leave him in someone's care while he was gone, someone he trusted to care for the only member of his precious family still left, and he knew what he had to do, and who he had to call.

Duncan stood, and gently placed the boy's hand under the covers, and whispered to him, "I'll be back in a few minutes, Rich."

The phone rang and rang, Duncan knew it would be late accounting for the time differences, but on the fourth ring a groggy, irritated voice mumbled, "Hello".

"Connor?," Duncans voice held a unsure tentative tone, as he spoke his clansman and former teachers name.

"Duncan? Is something wrong, are you all right?," Connors MacLeod's irritation from being roused from sleep at four in the morning was replaced by concern.

There was a pause across the phone line, "Connor..... Tessa's gone.... Richie's hurt.... I need your help," Duncan's voice was thick with restrained emotions, and Connor didn't hesitate.

"I'll get the first available flight out my friend," he paused not knowing what to say to Duncan.

"Thank you, Connor," Duncan felt some relief that Connor was coming.

"I'm sorry, Duncan, so very sorry," Connor wished the words would help, but he knew they wouldn't.

Duncan talked briefly to Connor and explained to him what had happened, and that he needed to take Tessa back to Paris to be buried, and he needed Richie to be looked after while he was gone. They hung up with Connor telling Duncan he would be on the next flight out and to expect him. Duncan returned to Richie's room, he was still sleeping soundly, and Duncan took Richie's hand in his own once again, and found himself watching the silent rising and falling of his chest. There had been weather problems at JFK airport and Connor had left a message for Duncan at the nurses station in ICU to tell him he was on a flight that would arrive in the evening tomorrow. Duncan knew he had to tell Richie he was leaving, but he was in and out of it a lot and never awake very long.

He sat forward stroking his forehead gently, and spoke softly, "Rich, can you hear me?" Blue groggy eyes opened, and for an extended moment they held no recognition in them, and Duncan felt a fear rise in him, but they soon focused on the highlanders face, and a weak smile crossed Richies face. "Mac?..."

"Yeah, it's me," he paused and stroked a finger across Richie's cheek offering some reassurance to him. He knew Richie would fall asleep again soon, so he had to get to the point. "Rich, I need to talk to you, I need to leave....." Duncan stopped speaking as he saw the look of panic in the teenager's face, then tears began to well up in Richie's eyes, and he spoke, although it was a mere whisper.

"Leaving?....." was all he could get out, his eyes glistening with unshed tears.

Duncan understood immediately what he was thinking, "No, No...." he soothed, "Not leaving you, Richie. I'll be back, I promise. I've asked Connor to come and be with you while I'm gone, it'll only be a couple of days tops," he said smiling at the young man as he watched Richie's face relax as he understood he wasn't being abandoned by the immortal.

He soon slipped back into sleep, but not before trying to smile for the highlander and whispering, "Kay..." as he fell asleep, again.

Duncan had been relieved that Richie hadn't asked where Tessa was, or what had happened, Duncan wasn't sure he was ready to help the boy with the grief he knew was eminent, he hadn't even begun to allow himself to feel his yet. Connor arrived in the early evening the following day as promised. Duncan was so glad to see his clansman and former mentor, they embraced. Duncan spoke for a short while to Connor in the waiting room down the hall, but soon had his clansman follow him to Richie's room. Duncan went to Richies bedside, and brushed the his bangs away, speaking softly to him, "Rich, it's Mac."

Richie began to stir, and woke up, his eyes still heavy with sleep, "Mac?"

"Yeah, it's me," he smiled at him. Richie looked beyond Duncans shoulder to a shadowed figure behind him, and offered a weak smile, "Sir Lancelot?," he spoke it softly.

Connor came into view and spoke, "Hello, Lad, you'll be puttin' up with me until the old man gets back," Connor looked to Duncan and smiled, Duncan rolled his eyes at his former mentor.

Richie spoke, "Been a long time," he whispered out as he began to nod off again.

"Yes, but we'll get reacquainted," Connor smiled at the young man and patted Richies leg softly.

"Sounds good...." practically came out as a sigh as Richie drifted off to sleep again. Duncan pushed his bangs back, rose and kissed the boys forehead, and whispered, "Sleep Well." Since Richies hospitalization Duncan felt compelled to be more physical with the youth, he was trying to be as gentle and loving as Tessa would have been with him.

** ICU Later the Next Day**

Connor had heard from Duncan, the highlander was constantly checking on Richie while he was traveling. "Duncan! He has been sleeping," he paused, "Yes, I haven't left him, I said I wouldn't," he assured his clansman, his frustration was short lived, he knew Duncan was merely worried about Richie. Connor finished the phone conversation with Duncan and went to sit with Richie. Connor was worried about the teenager as well, but he couldn't bring himself to tell Duncan not more than three hours after he left, Richie had gotten a high fever, and the doctor had told him that he had developed an infection.

Connor knew Tessa's death was taking its toll on his former student, and Duncan hadn't given himself the proper time to mourn. Duncan had told Connor before their conversation ended that he was catching a morning flight out of Paris. Conner had been lost in thought, when a weak voice called out, "Mac?"

"No, lad, it's Connor. Duncan will be back very soon," he sat forward touching Richie's arm, he felt hot, too hot to the old immortal.

"Want Mac..." he whispered.

"I know, soon" was all Connor could think to say. The boy didn't look good, not good at all.

"Connor?" Richie scratched out trying to focus on the immortal.

"Yes, it's me," Connor smiled.

"Feel bad..." was all he could muster himself to say.

"I know, just let the medicine do its work, rest" Connor tried to sound soothing.

"Conn..." Richie's voice trailed off suddenly, his eyes taking on a glazed look. Connor stood up abruptly.

"Richie? Richie!" he started pressing the call button for the nurse at the same time calling out for help, he knew something was terribly wrong. "Richie?" Connor called out his voice rising. Before Connor could react, suddenly Richie's body began arching up, and monitors began beeping wildly. Medical staff poured into Richie's room, and the Scotsman was quickly ushered out. Connor stood outside against the wall, unwilling to go far, he had promised Duncan he would look after Richie. Connor slid down the wall in a crouch, and bowed his head saying a silent prayer. He knew if the youth died from complications of this infection he would be lost forever, it would be a natural death.

After what seemed like a century, the doctor emerged, his face drawn tight, this made Connor shudder. "How is he?" Connor asked quickly, not giving the doctor a chance to speak first.

"Critical, but stable. His temperature spiked suddenly and it caused him to have a convulsion. We've stabilized him, but his temperature is holding around 105, we are trying to bring it down.

Connor felt a knot in his stomach, "What do you mean trying? High fevers can cause brain damage, right? Is Richie going to be..." he left the sentence unfinished his voice steeped in concern for the young pre-immortal entrusted to his care.

"Mr. MacLeod, let's worry about one thing at a time. Richie's critical, but stable." The doctor excused himself and went back to Richie. A nurse approached Connor.

** Paris **

Duncan stood gazing down at Tessa's grave, all the mourners that had come to bid farewell were now gone. He wanted so desperately to see her, to hold her. There was a chill in the morning air, he pulled his coat tighter. "Ah, Tessa, love, I miss you."

Finally, noticing the sun was high above his head, he glanced at his watch, it was already noon. He said goodbye to Tessa, bending down he gently kissed his fingers, and touched Tessa's grave. "Goodbye, my love." Duncan wished Darius was alive, he needed the wise priest and gentle man he called friend. As if drawn there, not long after leaving the cemetery, Duncan found himself at the old church, Darius' church. Standing outside in the courtyard, the memories returned to Duncan. *The church was askew, chairs turned over, and then he saw him, God, No! It couldn't be. "Darius!" he remembered screaming the priest's name. It tore out of his throat almost like a savage battle cry. Rage, pain and engulfing, crippling grief flowed through him*

Duncan realized his eyes stung from unshed tears, the memory of finding Darius, beheaded in his church, still haunted him. Even with the memories, he felt compelled to enter. He sat inside, in a strange way it seemed as if Darius was here. Almost as if the walls had absorbed the ancient immortals quickening that had been wasted. Wasted when Watchers turned Hunters had taken the old immortal's head in his beloved church. Somehow he felt comforted in this place. It was in the quiet of the church, that Duncan let his grief come. It washed over him, he allowed it to, and he wept. Duncan continued to sit long after the tears had ceased. He was enjoying memories of Tessa, her beautiful face, gentle soul. Even now he could hear her lilting voice in his head. He rose and walked toward a wall in a far corner, and lit a candle. "You're in my heart, Tessa, always."

Duncan knew the pain would be raw for some time yet, but he had a reason to get through it, Richie. He had to be there for the teenager, now. Duncan knew Tessa's death would be hard for Richie, too. He arrived at the airport, and decided to check on Richie so he placed a transatlantic phone call to the hospital in Seacouver.

Connor came on the phone, his voice sounded tight, "Hello."

"Connor? It's Duncan."

There was a pause and Connor spoke, "Duncan."

Duncan didn't like the hesitation of his former mentor's voice. He spoke, his voice slightly rising in growing concern.

"Is Richie all right?"

Another pause.

Duncan began to have a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Connor weighing his answer, he knew telling Duncan would only have him worried the entire trip back. But he knew keeping Richie's turn for the worse any longer from his clansman would only worsen the situation.

"Connor, are you there?" Duncan's voice was sharp.

"Yes, Duncan, calm down."

"Dammit! Connor, I asked you a question, is Richie all right?"

A short pause again, and Connor spoke, "No."

It was a short answer, but it spoke volumes to Duncan. His voice wavered slightly, his attempt to steady it failing.

"Please... he's not..." he couldn't finish.

"No, No, Duncan. He's alive" Connor tried to reassure Duncan.

"What is going on, Connor?" Duncan snapped.

"Richie's gotten an infection, Duncan, and he has a high fever."

"Infection? Fever? Connor, when? Duncan's voice took on a dangerous tone as he finished what he was saying.

The line was silent.

"Connor!" Duncan gripped the phone tightly.

"Duncan," Connor spoke, "When are you coming home?"

Duncan knew that tone, and in that last question his former mentor asked, he knew Richie's condition must be bad. He recognized the worried overtones in Connor voice, and it terrified him.

"I'm at the airport now. Tell Richie I'm coming."

He hung up the phone without saying goodbye to Connor, all he felt aside from worry was a rage towards Connor right now, he planned on finding out why he hadn't contacted him. Duncan was able to find a flight that was leaving two hours earlier than the one he had tickets for. He needed to get back to Richie. As the plane lifted off he sent out a silent prayer to God, to watch over the youth, and silently he was bargaining with God to spare Richie and not take him away, not yet. *Please, God, not yet* He closed his eyes for a moment, picturing the teenager smiling, he could almost hear the typical Richie Ryan wise cracks, he smiled inspite of himself. He looked out the window, Paris far below the clouds, he sent out one last silent request, only one word, out into the clouds, but this one was to Richie, *Live.*

The plane landed in Seacouver, it was evening, and the only thing on the highlander's mind was the teenager. He was glad he had only taken a carry on with him, waiting on luggage wasn't something he wanted to do. He grabbed a taxi to the hospital. Duncan exited the elevator, his heart in his throat. He spotted Richie's doctor at the nurse's station and approached him. "Dr. Collins?" his voice had a tentative tone to it. The doctor looked up from his clipboard.

"Ah, Mr. MacLeod," taking in Duncan's tired appearance and suit bag labeled with airline identification tags, "Did you come directly from the airport?"

"Yes, Tell me. How is Richie? I received news he has an infection." Duncan's face looked pale and tired under the overhead light.

"He's still critical, but his temperature is coming down, slowly."

"Critical? What is being done for him?" Duncan's voice was strong his concern plain.

"The infection is bad. I've started him on a strong IV antibiotic. He is young and quite a fighter" the doctor tried to reassure Duncan. The highlander was filled in on Richie. The doctor told him about the convulsion, the possible effects of a long-term high fever. Duncan listened and wanted desperately to see the youth. Connor had felt Duncan, he knew he was near. He waited and the highlander still hadn't shown up at the ICU cubicle that was Richie's. He rose to take a look. He had spotted Duncan down the hallway talking with the boy's doctor. Duncan had just finished his conversation with the doctor, and he spotted Connor, the earlier feeling of rage returning at the sight of him. His thoughts were momentarily distracted as a nurse spoke to him. "Mr. MacLeod, would you like to leave your bag here at the station?" the nurse smiled at him.

"Yes, Thank you very much" he smiled in return and left his bag with her.

He approached Richie's room, and passed by Connor without even acknowledging his former mentor. He went right to the youth's bedside. He took in the IV lines, the monitor attached to wires on his chest. He was pale and completely still. Duncan gently laid a hand on the Richie's forehead, he felt the fever that still burned within him. Never taking his eyes off the young man's face, he spoke. The anger welling within him, he ground out through clenched teeth his voice taking on a dangerous tone, "When, Connor?"

Connor knew his former student and that tone. "Not long after you left, about three hours."

Duncan turned and looked at Connor, "Damn you, Connor," he kept his voice low, but the anger was palpable. "You had no right! Richie is my responsibility, my family, not yours."

"Duncan, I'm sorry. You needed your time in Paris, I wanted you to have it."

"Don't tell me what I need!" he paused and began again, "And don't ever assume anything again on my behalf." Duncan returned his attention to the motionless youth and without looking at Connor he spoke, "I want to be alone with him." Connor knew it wasn't a request and left the room without a word. Duncan sat down in the chair beside Richie's bed and took the youth's hand in his own. "Hey, tough guy" his Scottish burr coming through. Duncan watched the silent rise and fall of Richie's chest and listened to the reassuring beeping of the monitor next to the bed that told him the boy still lived. He reached a hand up to stroke Richie's cheek, "Don't leave me Richie, please." Duncan rubbed at his suddenly stinging eyes. Duncan settled back into the chair taking Richie's hand in his own. Duncan soon gave into what his body needed, sleep.

**Two Days Later in ICU**

The waiting room coffee wasn't strong enough for Duncan, he rubbed at his neck trying to relieve some of the tension. Connor stayed away mostly giving him some breathing room since Duncan's return from Paris. But not today, he sat quietly in the corner of the waiting room trying not to be a bother, but support if needed. "Code Blue... Room 12... Code Blue... Room 12." That was Richie's ICU room number. Duncan momentarily looked at Connor his face going pale as panic filled it. Duncan dashed down the corridor towards the youth's room. Medical staff stopped him, but not before he saw Dr. Collins working feverishly over the boy. Duncan knew the sound that was coming from Richie's room... the monitor's beeping he'd found to be so reassuring wasn't beeping, just a long loud buzz came from it that dug into his soul. It seemed like forever before the doctor came out. Duncan knew Connor was nearby but his eyes didn't look to him, but to the doctor. Duncan found himself unable to ask the doctor, he just looked at him. Dr. Collins face was gray, the lines around his mouth were tight, but it was his eyes that made Duncan start to tremble. "Mr. MacLeod, I'm so sorry, we tried, but we couldn't resuscitate him. He's gone."*

Duncan jerked awake and looked frantically around the ICU room, he then looked to Richie. *Thank God*, he thought, *Just a nightmare.* Duncan rose from the chair and felt compelled to touch the youth. He gently stroked Richie's forehead. "I'm here, Richie." Duncan smiled down at him. Then amazed he felt movement in his hand he looked down and watched Richie's fingers curl around his own. "Rich?" he watched for the slightest flutter of an eye, any movement. Then the clouds parted in his world that had become so dark, Richie's heavy lidded eyes opened.

"Mac..." it was quiet, almost inaudible, but Duncan heard him.

"Yeah, Rich... I'm here... I'm here." Duncan soothed.

**Three Days Later**

Duncan came into Richie's private room, his arms full. Richie looked at the Highlander and smiled. Duncan took in Richie's pale complexion but was encouraged by the smile. "You should be resting" Duncan spoke with a smile.

"I was, geez, Mac ... sleep, sleep, sleep. Of course, I could always enjoy another coma" the Richie said trying to prod the old immortal in a good- natured way.

Duncan took on a serious look, and suddenly ruffled Richie's hair. "Not funny, Rich."

"Just kiddin', Mac. So what's all the stuff" he said noting the load Duncan had placed into the seat before ruffling his hair.

"Some p.j.'s for you, some bike magazines to read"

"Thanks, Mac."

Duncan put the magazines on the stand next to the bed. He hadn't talked to Richie about Tessa, yet. But he was sure the young man knew and just wasn't ready to be told yet and he wasn't going to rush him he was still weak.

"God, I can't wait to get out of this gown." Richie said as he pulled the p.j.'s over to him.

"Be careful, Rich." Duncan stood quickly afraid Richie would pull an IV line out or disconnect a wire. "Here let me help."

"Maaac!" came out as exasperation and embarrassment mixed. Richie moved a little to quickly and jerked with pain from his incisions from surgery.

"See! I told you. Are you O.K.?" Duncan's voice was concerned.

The pain receded and Richie looked into the concerned eyes of the highlander, "I'm fine, Mac." He saw the hint of disbelief in Duncan's eyes, "Really... I'm O.K., promise!" and he smiled.

He wasn't thrilled with needing help to dress himself, but he let the highlander help. The day had almost come to an end, and visiting hours were almost over, and Richie had been making Duncan leave at night to get some real sleep instead of cat naps. It had been eleven days since the shooting, eleven days of being confined to the hospital and now Richie was ready to ask Duncan the question his heart already knew the answer to. He began with a tentative note to his voice, "Mac?"

"Yeah, Rich?" Duncan had heard the hesitation in the young man's voice.

"Mac... I... I," he couldn't find the words he wanted to say.

Duncan knew suddenly, *the* conversation was about to take place, and he felt his throat instinctively tighten with emotion. "Richie, I've wanted to tell you, talk to you about everything." He stopped and looked to the young face. "You weren't ready to hear everything, and I didn't know how to say things." his voice grabbed. Richie's eyes had silently filled with tears. Duncan saw this a rose to sit on the bed and he took Richie's hand in his own. "Tessa... she's... she's gone, Richie. " Duncan watched this look of absolute loss and grief pass over Richie's young face. Instinct made him pull the youth into an embrace and he felt his shoulder dampen. He held Richie until the young man pulled back out of the embrace.

"I'm sorry, Mac. Shoulda' been me," he said, not looking at Duncan.

Duncan gently but firmly took Richie's chin in his hand, "Listen to me, Richie" he made the youth look at him. "Don't ever say anything like that again, if I had lost both of you, I couldn't have handled it. *We* both lost Tessa" he tried to emphasize that to the young man. Richie didn't ask any questions and seemed to draw into himself a little. Duncan figured this was how the boy coped with grief. Duncan decided now was the time to discuss the move that was going to be coming. He explained he was going to sell the shop and they were going to move, he had all ready bought a house outside the city for the two of them. Richie didn't say much, only nodded. Duncan made sure he understood the move wouldn't happen until he was released from the hospital. He didn't want to go home that night, but Richie had told him to go, and Duncan reluctantly left him.

Connor was sitting in the hall on a chair, and stood when Duncan exited the room. "Duncan we need to talk" Connor tried to make his voice sound penitent.

Duncan looked his former mentor squarely in the face, "Not here," and motioned them to leave the hallway.

That night the two Scots mended the rife that had happened when Duncan returned from Paris. Duncan told Connor that Richie had asked about Tessa. Connor listened and offered words of support. "Duncan, their is some business back home that requires my attention, but if you need me to stay, I will."

"No, Connor you need to get back to your own life. Richie and I will be fine," he said with a reassuring smile.

The next morning Duncan took his kinsman to the airport and saw him off. Connor had instructed him to say ' good-bye' to Richie for him, and as he put it, 'give the lad a hug for me from grandpa.' Duncan grinned widely at Connor. Duncan left the airport to go see Richie. Duncan walked down the hall towards Richie's room and spotted Dr. Collins coming out. "How is he?" Duncan asked watching the doctor's face.

"He's a very anxious young man to leave this place."

"Yes, Richie was never one for hospitals" Duncan smiled.

"Well, I'm prepared to give him his walking papers. How about I release him tomorrow?"

A broad smile crossed Duncan's face. "I'd love to take him off your hands."

"Okay, you've got him. I'll start the release papers now."

"What time tomorrow, Dr. Collins?"

"We should have him out of here by noon. I'll give him one last check-up before release"

"Is there anything I need to know? Special instructions?"

"I'll write everything down for you and give you his prescriptions he'll need to finish"

"Thank you, again. Does he know?"

"No, I thought I'd let you give him the good news"

Duncan and Dr. Collins shook hands and Duncan thanked the man again for saving Richie's life and he let him return to his rounds. Duncan entered Richie's room with a smile. Richie looked over at him from his bed.

"What, Mac?" he said studying the highlanders odd smile.

"What do you mean, what?" Duncan feigned understanding what Richie meant.

"I don't know? You look like you're hiding something"

"Okay, I have something to tell you."

"Okay... What? Is it bad?"

"Calm down, Rich." Duncan saw the tension in the young man's body and told him before the youth crawled out of his skin. "You're sprung as of tomorrow."

"You mean I'm outta here"

"Yep, tomorrow I get to take you home." Duncan said with a warm smile and ruffled Richie's hair.

The release went off without a hitch. Dr. Collins told Duncan that Richie needed to take it easy until the incisions were completely healed and the stitches were removed. He instructed no heavy lifting for at least a month longer. The drive back to the shop was a little quiet. Richie wasn't talking much just watching the scenery go by. "You okay, Rich?" Duncan asked a little concerned.

"Yeah, Mac." Richie was quiet again. Duncan had told him the shop had sold a week ago and that he had been packing things up. His mind was thinking about the last time all three of them had been at the shop. Everyone was happy. Tessa and Mac had just gotten engaged and then Palin Wolfe had happened. Now only memories were left and he didn't even get to say goodbye. The T-bird pulled up behind the shop and Richie noticed that Tessa's car was gone, he didn't ask about it. Duncan came around to the passenger side of the car and helped Richie out and into the workshop area. Richie kept his eyes straight ahead he didn't want to see any of Tessa's sculptures.

**The Last Night in the Shop ( two weeks later)**

Duncan had been almost police like with Richie and making sure he took it easy as the doctor had ordered. He was glad the stitches had been removed four days ago. The youth never asked about Tessa even avoided talking about her. Duncan let that alone for now. He knew Richie would talk when he was ready. Duncan had taken Richie out to the new house and showed him around. Richie seemed to like it and had already picked out his room. The shop was basically empty except for a last few items a moving truck was getting tomorrow: their beds and a few boxes. Duncan was fixing some subs for him and Richie. The sounds of the shower running made its way to Duncan in the kitchen and he knew Richie would be a few minutes. The young man took the worlds longest showers. Richie stood under the hot spray letting it douse his head. His hand traced the two scars on his chest from the bullet wounds and the surgery, constant reminders. A reminder that he lived and Tessa didn't. *Nice car.* Richie jerked around his heart pounding, that voice, he knew that voice. He tried to shake it off and turned back to face the water spray.

He closed his eyes trying to relax in the heat of the water. Richie finished up and got out of the shower. Duncan heard the water shut off and went back to his task of finishing up their subs and a salad for dinner. Richie finished drying off, he put on some boxers and pulled a towel up to his face to dry it as rivulets of water ran from his wet hair. *How about a ride?* Richie gasped and looked around the bathroom. As if transported back he spoke to an empty bathroom, " Some other time" he turned for Tessa, "Let's go." She wasn't there he turned in a panic his eyes no longer seeing the bathroom walls but the street, and the strung out kid. *Now! Give me your keys. I want your rings, wallet, necklace. Come on! * Richie reached inside imaginary pockets, his fingers grabbing air and bringing up a non- existent wallet handing it to a gunman that wasn't there. *Hurry, Come on!* His heart was pounding his breath was quickening. "It's okay, it's all right," he said to the shower door but to him it was the strung out kid. *That's all you got? You got more, where is it? Where's her purse?* Richie's attention now drawn to another voice, Tessa's voice. *I don't have a purse, I swear. Only the rings.* Richie turned back to the kid when he heard a clicking noise. *You lying, bitch!* Richie watched in slow motion as the bullet tore into Tessa throwing her down to the ground with a scream. He turned toward the strung out kid, he heard the shots, felt his chest explode in pain and he cried out.

Shouting and banging on his bedroom door made Richie open his eyes, he looked over and saw Tessa's sightless eyes . . . he was remembering now the moments before Duncan got to them. "No, Tess, no" he said lying on the floor. He curled into a fetal position staring at Tessa and soon the reality of where he was truly set in. He heard Duncan banging and calling to him.

"Richie! Richie are you all right?" More banging . . . "Answer me!"

Richie heard his bedroom door crash open as Duncan shouldered his way in. Duncan tried the bathroom door, it was also locked. "Richie! Answer me, please."

The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. Richie could no longer keep buried the feelings that were eating him up. He gave into them now for the first time since the shooting; great, shuddering spasms of grief that seemed to wrench his whole body. The door crashed open and Duncan looked at Richie curled up and sobbing. He went to him.

"Richie?" he said gathering the boy into his lap.

"She's gone, Mac." he sobbed out. " I coulda' stopped the guy. Why didn't I?"

"Shh . . . Rich, you couldn't have done anything. It wasn't your fault." he soothed.

"It hurt's to remember, Mac."

"I know, tough guy. I'm here, you're not alone, you never will be, again. Understand?"

Duncan gently rocked Richie in his arms until the sobbing quieted down. "We are going to be okay, Richie. I promise," he said trying to comfort and calm the young man.

**Morning (moving day)**

Duncan walked around the shop one last time, letting the memories shared in these walls wash over him. He could almost hear Tessa's laughter and voice echo through the now empty rooms. He whispered a good-bye to Tessa and made her a promise to watch over Richie and to always keep her in his heart. Duncan walked out the front door of the shop turned, closing it, forever. A prick on his immortal senses registered, he felt the comforting pre-immortal hum of Richie near. Duncan turned toward the street and spotted Richie standing just across from the shop looking at it and him. Duncan approached the young man. "It's just us now," he said with a reassuring smile. "Let's go," he said motioning towards the T-Bird and Richie complied with only a half-hearted smile and no comments. Duncan watched Richie start past him and spoke, "Richie . . ." The young man turned to face the highlander, " Come here," Duncan opened his arms to Richie and he walked into an embrace, and Duncan held him tightly for a long moment. He released him from the embrace but kept an arm around his shoulders as they walked to the T-Bird. Duncan thought to himself as he opened his car door and sat down in the car looking over at Richie, *It's moments like this that create, the ties that bind*

To be continued . . .