Disclaimers: HL is not mine

AN: This is a fic I dreamed up last year during summer school (government isn't my fav class in the world...) but it just now got high enough on the list to get posted. It's yet another version of how Richie came to stay with Mac and Tessa. It is told in flashbacks which are in bold. The flash backs are set in season one between the episodes "The Gathering" and "Family Tree." I've taken the liberty of putting a few months between the eps. The present part of the story is set in mid season two after "The Darkness" and before "Eye for an Eye." Again putting a couple months between the eps. The time periods are also separated by ####. If there is any confusion, please let me know and I will try to find an easier way to separate the time periods. Thanks!

THE LETTER

"Richie, I really wish you would learn to iron properly," Duncan sighed watching the young immortal haphazardly run the iron over his khaki pants.

"What?" Richie held up the section he was ironing. "Do you see any wrinkles?"

"What about the crease?"

"I don't like creasing my pants, it looks stupid."

Duncan shook his head. "Just don't hurt yourself."

"Oh, hey, did I tell you I found a really good deal on a great apartment across town?" Richie asked.

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah."

Duncan sighed. "We'll go look at it."

"Gee, don't put yourself out or anything," Richie grumbled turning off the iron.

"What?"

"I don't know why you insist on checking out every apartment I find anyway. I'm the one who's going to live there, not you." He started across the loft toward the back stair case.

"Is it wrong of me for wanting you to live in a decent neighborhood?" Duncan asked from his place on the couch.

"Mac..." Richie hung his pants on the banister. "That would be fine, except you find something wrong with every place I find. Bad wiring, leaky windows, rent's too high..." he listed off.

"Well, all that was true. Bad wiring can start a fire. Leaky windows let the cold air in and you have to pay more to heat it and if you can't afford the rent it does you no good."

Richie rolled his eyes. "I could have moved out a long time ago if you'd just trust me."

"Is it really that horrible of me to want to be comfortable with what you pick?"

"What made you uncomfortable with the last place?" Richie asked walking over to sit in the arm chair.

"Richie, I must have seen five drug deals go down on that one street alone."

"So? Mac, I grew up in that neighborhood," Richie defended.

"And wasn't the point of you moving in with Tessa and I to get you out of and keep you away from that neighborhood?"

"That's different. I couldn't handle myself then like I can now."

"Richie, no."

Richie threw his hands up. "You are impossible, MacLeod."

Duncan rolled his eyes as Richie went to find something for to snack on. "You'll thank me." He reached over to the coffee table, picked up the remote and turned the TV on.

"Wow, you must really want to end this conversation if you're gonna drown me out with the TV."

"Be quiet. I just want to watch the news."

Richie found an apple and went back to the living area. "Why? You'll just read about it all in the paper tomorrow. Turn on Friends or something."

"I want to see the news."

"The gunman was stopped before anyone was hurt," the reporter on screen said with a cheery smile.

"Wanna see if you won the Washington lotto?" Richie asked.

"Want to see if you did," Duncan answered.

"Didn't get a ticket this week."

"Then this must have been your week to win."

"Must have." Richie studied the chess board on the coffee table. After deliberation, he moved a pawn. "Mac, your turn."

Duncan looked at the board for a second then moved. "I have you in two moves."

"What? How?"

"A four car pile up on Highway 89 today claimed the life of an elderly woman this afternoon..." the TV droned.

"Like this, move." Duncan prompted.

"Wet roads and dangerous driving conditions are being blamed for the accident."

"Check."

"How?!"

"This."

"The police are still piecing together what may have happened. The bad weather conditions are hindering their efforts to recreate the accident."

"Checkmate."

"How did you do that?"

"In other news, the case that shocked the city and launched an internal investigation in the city's child protection agency two years ago is back in the spot light again today."

Richie and Duncan stopped bantering and looked at the screen.

"You don't think..." Richie trailed off.

"Jonathan Cooper, who was arrested for abusing and neglecting his foster son, was paroled today after an evaluation. Cooper is required to attend alcohol awareness and anger management classes."

Duncan turned off the TV. "Rich, you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Rich..."

"Look, I don't think I'm gonna go to dinner tonight. I don't feel so hot." He got up from the chair and headed to the back stairs. "I think I'm just gonna go to bed."

"Richie...do you want to talk?"

"Not now."

"Okay, if you want to. I'll be here."

"Thanks." Richie went up the stairs and opened the door on the left. He flopped face first onto his bed and kicked off his shoes.

######

Tessa had gone to Paris for a week and Duncan was on his own. He always got a killer case of insomnia when she wasn't in the bed with him. So to pass the early morning hours, he decided to drive to a diner and read a book and drink some coffee. He was in the booth in the corner reading when something caught his eye, a boy standing on the sidewalk digging through his pockets. On closer inspection, he realized it was the boy who had broken into the antique shop earlier that week. Duncan put his book down told the waitress he'd be right back and walked out the door.

"Hey," he greeted the boy.

The boy looked up startled. "I'm not doing anything," he insisted quickly.

"I didn't say you were."

"Then what's your deal?" the boy asked defensively.

"I was just coming to see if you wanted to join me," Duncan told him in all sincerity.

"Yeah, right."

"You just seemed like you were trying to scrounge up some money for something. I'll pay if you're willing to keep me company."

"I was just lookin' for bus money," he insisted. "And I got it, so don't worry."

"Okay, I was just offering."

"Whatever," the boy rolled his eyes and started off down the sidewalk.

Sighing, Duncan went back to his book. He didn't know why but he felt something was wrong. A boy that age shouldn't be out on the streets by himself at two in the morning. After twenty minutes, it started to rain.

"It's just going to get worse," the waitress told him as he stared out the window. "I'd suggest you leave before you're stuck here the rest of the morning."

"Good idea," Duncan consented gathering his book and coat into his arms. "Thank you," he added handing the waitress a twenty-dollar bill.

"You're tab was only $6.50," she protested as he opened the door.

"The service was wonderful," he told her with a grin. Still not wanting to go home to an empty loft, Duncan took the long way back. He passed the little league fields and saw
someone sitting in one of the covered dugouts in attempt to get out of the rain. Duncan turned into the parking lot and trained his lights on the figure. It was the boy again. Duncan left the engine running as he got out of the car and ran into the dugout.

"Bus fare, huh?" he asked the boy.

"What are you, like, stalking me or something?"

"I just happened to notice you on my way home," Duncan shrugged. "Speaking of, shouldn't you be home right about now?"

"Can't," the boy answered simply.

"Why not?"

"Locked me out."

"Why?"

"Because they don't want to be interrupted. What's with all the questions?"

"Can I take you somewhere?" Duncan offered.

"Got nowhere to go," he answered.

"So you're just going to stay out in the rain all night, by yourself, until your parents let you back in?"

"That's the general plan."

"Would you be willing to change your plan?"

"How?"

"I have a couch; you can use it if you want."

"You mean, you're offering to take me back to your place?"

"Only if you want to."

For a second, the boy seemed to seriously consider the offer. "Yeah, right," he scoffed. "I don't walk on that side of the street, buddy."

"What?"

"I'm not turning tricks for anyone. I'd rather take my chances out here."

"What?" Duncan repeated.

"I know what game you're playing," the boy insisted. "You think just because you're offering me a place to stay I'm gonna be so grateful that I'll do whatever you want me to. Not gonna happen."

"Do what I want you to?" It suddenly occurred to Duncan what the boy was talking about. "That's not what I'm offering. You can call whomever you want and tell them where you are. I'll give you the exact address. I just won't be able to sleep tonight knowing I left a defenseless boy on the streets to get mugged."

"Well, I'm not gonna sleep in some stranger's house."

"Then don't sleep. I have cable and pay-per-view; you can watch movies all night. I also have a ton of leftovers that need to be eaten."

"And you'll stay away from me?" the boy asked.

"I won't touch you, you have my word."

"Okay," the boy said after a minute. "But the second anything gets weird, I'm outta there."

. . . . . .

"You'll get sick if you stay in those wet clothes," Duncan said disappearing into his bedroom when they arrived at the loft.

"So lemme guess, you want me to just take it all off?" the boy shot back glancing around.

"And put this on," Duncan added handing the boy some sweats. "You can change in there." He pointed to the bathroom when he glanced nervously at him.

"Kay," the boy nodded and went to change. A minute later he emerged with his wet clothes in a bundle in his arms. "Wada I do with these?" he asked.

"I'll wash 'em," Duncan decided reaching for the clothes. He noticed the boy was clutching a fistful of change in one hand as if he were scared Duncan would steal it from him. "Make yourself at home," he instructed over his shoulder. "Anything in the fridge is fair game."

The boy slowly wondered into the kitchen continually pushing up the sleeves of the sweatshirt that he had borrowed. He opened the refrigerator and peered inside wondering where to start. He decided to play it safe and only ventured to eat anything that was prepackaged and unopened. He found a container of yogurt and a beer and began looking for a spoon.

"Let's just keep this legal, shall we?" Duncan asked putting the beer back in the refrigerator and giving the boy a soda instead.

"You said anything," he protested.

"I changed my mind," Duncan retorted.

"Fine, just give me my clothes and I'm outta here." The boy abandoned his food and began to walk away.

"I meant, I changed my mind about anything being fair game; beer and anything else a boy your age can't have is off limits."

"Oh," if Duncan didn't know better he'd swear the boy sounded almost grateful he wasn't being kicked out.

"Sit down, let's talk," Duncan prompted setting the yogurt and soda on the table.

"Why are you doing this?" the boy asked opening the container. "You don't even know my name."

"Sure I do, it's... Ryan something."

The boy grinned. "Close."

"Not Ryan?"

"It's something Ryan," the boy clarified seeming pleased with the little game he had created.

"Then I'm at a loss," Duncan admitted.

"It's okay," the boy assured him with a grin. "We're even 'cause I just know you're Mac something."

"MacLeod, Duncan MacLeod." The boy nodded and began digging hungrily into the yogurt. "Now it's your turn to tell me."

"Ryan's fine."

"That's not fair, I told you," Duncan insisted wondering why at four hundred he felt so content playing childish games with a seventeen year old.

"I didn't ask you to," the boy returned, his innocent grin being replaced with a more mischievous one. "You can't expect me to repay you for something I didn't ask for."

Duncan nodded. "Point taken." He guessed that this was the boy's way of finding out what he had to do in return for shelter for the night. "So what are you doing on the streets by yourself?"

"Avoiding the muggers," he shrugged.

"Your parents just kicked you out?"

"Not permanently, just until they're done being horny."

Duncan smiled at the boy's bluntness; although the trait was providing entertainment now, Duncan was sure it's what got him into trouble. "So, Ryan, when can you go back home?"

"Tomorrow morning after nine, before ten."

"Okay," Duncan nodded. "I have a store to run so I have to get some sleep. I'll put some blankets out for you. The couch and TV are all yours."

"Thanks," came the awkward reply.

The next morning, Duncan found the TV on and the boy sound asleep on the couch curled in a ball under the blankets.

"Hey, Ryan," Duncan whispered shaking his shoulder. "It's nine forty-five, you want a ride home?"

"Nine fort-five?" Ryan repeated sitting up. "Crap, I'm gonna be late. Where are my clothes?" he demanded hurriedly untangling himself from the blankets.

"Right here," Duncan handed him a pile of neatly folded freshly washed clothes.

Ryan didn't waste anytime and changed right in the middle of the living room. "Thanks for everything," he said as he sat down to tie his shoes. "I'd stay and clean up, but if I'm late I'm dead."

"That's why I offered you a ride. It'll be faster than walking."

"Okay," Ryan nodded hastily.

Seven minutes later, Duncan pulled to a stop in front of the apartment building Ryan had led him to. "This is it?" It looked decent.

"Yeah," Ryan glanced at his watch. He knew it took exactly one minute and thirty seconds for him to get to his apartment from the street, that left him three minutes and fifteen seconds before he had to leave. "It's Richie, by the way."

"What?" Duncan asked.

"Richie, my name is Richie Ryan."

"I knew it started with an 'R,'" Duncan smiled. "You don't want to go in there do you?" he asked noting the boy's bouncing knee and constant time checking. He guessed Richie had it all timed out to the last second.

"Not really," he admitted.

"Your dad real harsh on you?"

"Yeah."

Duncan thought for a minute. He couldn't think of a way to keep the boy with him.

"I gotta go," Richie relented. "Thanks for everything. I'll pay you back when I can." Before Duncan could respond Richie was sprinting into the building.

"You're late," Jonathan Cooper greeted Richie.

"No, I'm not," Richie panted.

"Are you contradicting me?"

"No," Richie quickly answered.

"Go in the kitchen and do the dishes," Jonathan ordered. "And I'd better not catch you doing anything you're not supposed to."

Richie nodded and went to wash the dishes trying his best not to look at the brownies on the table. If he didn't see them, he wouldn't want them. When he was finished, he wiped down the counters and swept then went straight to his room.

"Hey, Max," he greeted the dog who was locked in the kennel in the corner of his room. "Have you been in there all night?" he closed his door before opening the kennel. The medium sized dog bounded out of the kennel trying to decide if he should stretch or jump up on Richie first. "I bet you have to go out, don't you, boy? Let me see if we can go." Richie left his room and went into the main room of the apartment.

"What are you doing out here?" Jonathan demanded.

"Can I take the dog out?"

"Stay where I can see you. And you better have everything done."

Richie got the leash and hooked Max to it before going to the small park behind the building.

"Hi, Mrs. Castillo," he greeted the old woman knitting on a bench.

"Hello, Richie. How are you?"

"I'm fine."

"He kicked you out last night," she said pointedly. "Where did you go?"

"This guy's house," he shrugged sitting on the bench and unhooking the leash.

"What have I told you about accepting help from strangers?" she asked grandmotherly.

"He's not a stranger."

"What's his name?"

"Mac... Mac..." Richie fumbled as he tried to remember his name. "It's Mac," he decided on.

"Well, this Mac fellow better be a gentlemen."

"He is," Richie assured her. "He's really nice."

"Richie!" a voice boomed from a third floor window. "Get in here!"

"What did you do?" Mrs. Castillo asked with a sigh. Jonathan was forever angry with the boy.

"Nothing," Richie insisted. "Here, Max!" The dog came over and sat at his feet. "He told me to do the dishes and I did. And I swept and did the counters, too. I don't know what's wrong with him."

"Richie!"

"Better get up there," Mrs. Castillo prompted. "I could use someone to walk Nana, tonight," she hinted. "I'll pay you."

"I'll try," Richie answered jogging back to the building.

"What the hell is this?" Jonathan demanded holding up a T-shirt. Richie didn't answer. "It's the laundry. Why isn't it put away? I told you to do it last night."

"I didn't get a chance, Amy came over," Richie insisted. Amy was Jonathan's girlfriend and for the life of him, Richie couldn't figure out what she saw in the guy.

Jonathan slapped Richie across the face. "Don't back talk me."

"I wasn't!"

The man grabbed Richie by the back of his neck. "Do it now. And then we'll talk about punishments." Richie tried to move away but he just tightened his hold. "You understand me? As a matter of fact, we won't talk. Do the laundry then pick a belt." Max growled and bared his teeth. Jonathan glared down at the dog then kicked it grinning at the yelp that escaped the dog's throat.

"Leave him alone!" Richie jerked out of his grip. "He doesn't know any better. Come 'ere, Max, come 'ere boy." Richie bent down and pet the dog lovingly trying to comfort it.

"Get that mutt out of my site," Jonathan sneered.

"Kennel, Max, kennel!" Richie ordered as nicely as he could. With his tail tucked between his legs, Max sulked to Richie's room.

"Better get started. I need a good work out," Jonathan smiled. "Get me a beer first."

Richie went to the kitchen to get Jonathan's beer and hurried back to the living room to hand it off. He took the laundry basket into his room and folded it all before putting it away as neatly as possible in the appropriate drawers. He double checked everything to make sure it would pass any inspection Jonathan might throw at him.

He hovered behind the couch waiting to be noticed before he spoke. "I'm done."

"Took you long enough." Jonathan grabbed him by the back of his neck and all but drug him into his bedroom. "Open the door," he ordered pushing Richie toward the closet door. All his belts hung on a hook over the back of the door.

Richie stared at the weapons of torture trying to decide which would hurt the least. With a shaking hand, he reached out and took hold of a thin brown, cracked leather belt and handed it over to Jonathan.

A wicked, satisfied smiled crossed the man's lips as he took it. "Turn around." Richie did as he was told, and faced the wall. "Take it off."

Richie slowly took of his shirt and jeans, so he was standing in the room in nothing but his too small briefs. He heard Jonathan snap the belt in the air a few times and closed his eyes. It would be over soon enough.