This is the second story in a working series. The first in the series is "The Ties that Bind" Summary: Tragedy strikes during the holiday season has Duncan lost Richie forever?

Home Fires By Dawn M. Nyberg

"Come on Richie, get a move on" Duncan shouted up the staircase.

"Comin' " echoed down the stairwell to Duncan.

"Kids . . ." he smiled and muttered to himself.

Just as Duncan was checking his watch he heard footsteps bounding down the stairs. "Walk!"

"Oh, Mac. Chill" Richie said to the highlander.

"I'll 'chill' you in a second" the immortal said as he grabbed the back of Richie's head ruffling his hair ever so slightly.

"Maaac!"

"Don't Mac, me. You're going to break your neck someday on those stairs."

"Hey, I thought you were in a hurry, or is this lecture time." Richie said with a smile that did away with any smart tone that the comment inclined.

"Joe's expecting us in 20 minutes" Duncan said hustling the young man toward the back door of the kitchen.

"Ah, Mac, in case you're wondering were . . . like 30 minutes from town." Richie said opening the passenger side door to the T-Bird.

"Oh really, Sherlock. I was not aware of that. I'll just tell Joe what made us late. You." Duncan said with a grin.

"Narc." Richie said with a scowl that more closely resembled a pout.

Duncan just smiled to himself. He and Richie had settled into a routine in the past fourteen months since the shooting. Duncan remembered the first few months in the new house vividly. The first two months his sleep was regularly interrupted because Richie continued to have nightmares about that night. Duncan would have to spend an hour or two staying up with Richie calming, and reassuring the youth he was safe and everything would be all right, eventually. Joe Dawson had become a regular part of their lives since Tessa's death. Duncan was at first resistant to Joe's offers of friendship, but soon found he liked the man who also happened to be his Watcher.

The car was silent and Duncan looked over at Richie who was watching the scenery go by. "You okay?"

"Hmm . . ." Richie said as he was pulled from his thoughts. "Oh, yeah. fine."

"Uh, huh. What is it Rich?" Duncan said eyeing the boy and driving at the same time.

"Nothin' Mac. I swear!" he added as he saw the highlander lift an eyebrow in suspicion.

"I know you, Richie. Something is on your mind."

Richie paused wanting to speak but not finding the words. He began tentatively, "Mac . . . Is it wrong to feel happy? I am, and I feel guilty"

Duncan looked over at the young man and knew instantly what was on his mind. Tessa. He slowed the car and pulled off onto the shoulder. "Rich" he said looking at the boy who was staring out the window again. "Look at me, Richie" the young face turned to the highlander. "Listen to me, Tessa would want you to be happy and don't ever feel guilty about it. We both loved her and we both miss her, but were doin' okay, aren't we?"

"Yeah" Richie had a sheepish smile. His and Duncan's relationship had always had a strong silent bond, but since Tessa's death, Duncan had become more apt to show affection toward him. Richie figured he was making up for Tessa not being able to do it and for lost time between the two of them. Duncan had fallen into the role of 'dad' whether either of them wanted him to or not. Richie never called him 'dad' or anything, just Mac like always, but the feelings were there. They always had been.

"You sure?" Duncan said pulling Richie from his contemplation's.

"Yeah, Mac, I'm sure" he said with a genuine Richie Ryan smile that Duncan did believe. Just then Duncan's cell phone rang drawing both their attentions away from their current conversation.

"Hello, MacLeod" Duncan said flipping the phone open. He looked at Richie smiled and rolled his eyes. Richie mouthed 'Joe' to him and Duncan nodded. "I know, Joe. Were on our way in the car as we speak."

Richie chimed in the background, "Hey, Joe, cut Mac some slack, it's my fault"

Joe had heard the young man in the background and sighed into the phone to the highlander. "Kids!" Duncan smiled to himself recalling that he had muttered the same words earlier to himself.

"We'll be there shortly Joe, promise" and the highlander finished his conversation and hung up.

"Joe, pissed?" Richie inquired.

"Nah, you know Joe. All bark no bite, especially when you're involved." Duncan smiled. He knew Joe was quite fond of the young man.

"Yeah, good ole Uncle Joe" Richie smiled and laughed.

Duncan looked over at Richie as he got the car back onto the road, "Yeah, well you better never let him hear you say that. You might just find out he isn't as tightly wrapped around that little finger of yours as you think he is"

Richie smiled a mischievous grin and spoke, "Yeah, he's a close second to you"

Duncan swatted at the boys head lightly, "Ya think?" Richie just laughed at the highlander as they drove down the road.

Duncan pulled into the driveway of Joe's house and waved at him as he spotted the man opening the front door for him and Richie. Duncan and Richie walked side by side up the walk, suddenly Duncan's immortal senses pricked up and his arm extended in front of the boy, and Richie stopped. "What is it, Mac?" ofcourse Richie was well aware of what that look in Duncan's eye meant he had seen it enough. Joe understood what was happening and smiled at Duncan.

"Relax, Mac. I told you Adam was going to be here." Joe reassured just as Adam made an appearance at the door.

"MacLeod" Adam said with a slight smile and nod.

"Me . . . " Duncan caught himself and began again, "Adam" he replied with a nod and let the tension slip away. Richie stepped out from behind Duncan who hadn't yet moved from his protective stance in front of him.

"Hey, Adam!" Richie smiled and extended a hand to the old immortal. Adam had told Duncan he was Methos the oldest immortal still alive, but decided he only wanted the highlander and Joe to know his true identity for right now. He thought keeping Richie in the dark about his true identity would be safer for both of them. He was fond of the impetuous young man that MacLeod had taken under his wing and into his heart. Adam still had doubts at the prudence of the "family" life MacLeod was trying to maintain, but knew by experience with the highlander that telling him it was wrong wouldn't do any good. Adam had been first introduced to Duncan MacLeod four months ago through Joe. Adam knew MacLeod loved the boy like a son and would never walk away from him, never.

Taking Richie's hand in a firm handshake, Adam spoke, " Hi, Richie. Nice to see you again. How are classes? Or should I rephrase that, How's your Ancient Rome history class going?" he said with a grin knowing Richie had been having some difficulty with it.

"Okay. I had finals a week and a half ago. I'm praying for a C."

"A 'C'!" Adam spoke up with shock to his voice. As he and the others made there way through the house behind Joe to the dining room for the pre- Christmas dinner that the Watcher had planned.

"Ah! Come on Adam." Richie said with a slightly disgusted tone. "It's boring. I'm doing just fine in everything else. Ask Mac?"

Duncan just smiled at Richie and nodded in Adam's direction backing up Richie's statement.

"Okay, mis amigos, take a seat and dinner will be served." Joe said smiling at the playful verbal sparring that was a common characteristic between the ancient immortal and the brash youth.

"Well, Joe that was wonderful." Duncan sat back in his seat

"Yeah, Joe." Richie smiled, "It was great!"

"I must say, well done, Joe, well done" Adam commented with a smile.

They all helped to clear the table and Joe instructed them to sit back down.

"Hope you guys got room, there is dessert coming up" Joe said heading for the kitchen. He soon reappeared with a chilling bottle of wine and glasses. "Okay ya ready" Joe called from the kitchen. Richie and Adam grinned at each other as if sharing a common understanding.

"Ready" Richie called out.

"What?" Duncan inquired having not missed the look shared between the two of them. Then something caught his attention, it was Joe carrying a cake with a cluster of lighted candles, birthday candles on it. He looked at all three of them standing up, then at Richie and smiled. "You didn't" he said with a mock stern tone.

"We did" Richie chimed in with an exuberant smile.

Joe placed the cake in front of Duncan, "Well, you outta know the routine by now, old timer. Make a wish and blowem' out."

Duncan looked up at Joe then to the other cohorts in this unexpected belated birthday party, "You've got to be joking" Duncan admonished.

"Oh, come on, Mac!" Richie said giving the highlander a nudge.

"Oh, all right" Duncan said admitting defeat. He paused a moment, closing his eyes briefly, opened them and blew out the candles. Secretly wishing for more moments like this one. "Happy now!" he said with a large smile directed at Richie.

"Yep!" Richie chirped, "Now cut it, I'm starving"

Duncan eyed the boy, "We just had a seven course meal fit for royalty and you ate every bite and you're still hungry. That does it, I'm having you checked for a tape worm!"

"Maaaac!"

"Just kidding . . . I know, I know, you're still a growing boy" Duncan said reaching up and ruffling his hair. Richie playfully ducked away, slightly blushing at the affectionate display in front of an audience. Duncan cut the cake and Joe served it up.

"I know your birthday was the 21st, but I thought including it as apart of the early Christmas dinner was a good idea and I ran it by Rich and he agreed" Joe stated as he popped the cork on the wine.

"Oh, did he now." Duncan said eyeing the young man.

Joe began to pour out glasses of wine and Duncan spoke. "Since it's a special occasion I'll over look the fact that you're underage, Rich. Pour him a glass, Joe."

"Mac, ya know I'm almost 21" Richie said trying to assert himself as he took the glass from Joe.

"Uh, huh. Let me do the math you just had a birthday three months ago, right? The way I look at it you're ' I'm almost 21' doesn't mean squat for another nine months. Until then you're underage, toughguy" Duncan chided with a smile that belied the verbal reprimand to the young man. Richie sat there in a quiet huff doing a very good impression of a puffed up rooster. The night came to a close and everyone started saying their good-bye's.

"Thanks Joe for the dinner and the cake. It was wonderful." Duncan embraced the man.

"You're welcome, Mac. It was my pleasure. You two still going up to the cabin for Christmas?" Joe questioned.

"Yeah, were leaving tomorrow morning. I want to be there for Christmas Eve." the highlander stated looking from Joe over to the still sulking youth. He whispered to Joe with a warm smile, "Santa has a few surprises this year."

"Well by the looks of him" Joe said looking over at Richie across the room with Adam, "it might be lumps of coal."

"He'll be fine, Joe" Duncan reassured knowing the young man as he did.

The drive back to the house outside the city was a quiet one. Duncan decided to break the silence. "Are you still upset, Rich?" Duncan said to the still silent Richie beside him.

"I'm not a kid, Mac" Richie said with a defiant tone.

"I know. I shouldn't have said anything, I'm sorry."

Richie looked over at the highlander, the man he secretly thought of as his father and the best friend he would ever have , he studied his face for any deception behind the apology. He saw none. "It's okay, Mac. It's in the past."

"So were okay?" Duncan asked examining the boy.

"Yeah" Richie said with a smile.

There was a traffic jam on the road leading out of town. Duncan figured the traffic congestion was due to the fact it was December 23 and the majority of these people were either last minute shoppers or holiday travelers. He and Richie passed the time talking for awhile then when it had been quiet for a little while Duncan looked over at Richie and saw that he was fast asleep. Duncan smiled inwardly to himself at the sight. This was there first real Christmas together since Tessa's death he wanted it to be special for Richie, yes, they had a Christmas come and go very shortly after the shooting but Richie was still recovering and both men were numb. Duncan wanted them to make new memories as a family starting now, this Christmas. Duncan had chosen the cabin as the place to celebrate the holidays with the boy because it was peaceful and safe from The Game. Duncan turned into the long driveway up to the house and parked the car. He looked over at Richie who was still fast asleep. Duncan analyzed the present situation and quietly got out of the car, the boy didn't stir at the sound of Duncan's door closing.

"Okay" he whispered to himself as he gently opened the car door to wake the young man. "Rich, wake up. We're home." Richie stirred slightly.

"Mac?" Richie said with sleepy inflection.

"Yeah, sleepy head. Come on." Duncan replied while gently grasping the boy's arm.

"We home?"

"Yes." he said as he helped him out of the car and urged toward the kitchen door.

"Kay' " was the sleepy reply as he allowed Duncan to guide him toward the door.

Duncan managed to get Richie in bed taking off his sneakers and sweater leaving him clad only in his jeans. He covered up the youth stopping to look at him, "Goodnight, Rich" he whispered to the sleeping young man. He felt an urge to do as Tessa would have, he bent and lightly kissed the boys forehead. He turned the corner lamp out and closed the door behind him. He walked to his bedroom smiling inwardly feeling a distinct warmness inside him that felt good, felt right. Duncan stared at the ceiling trying to figure out what had awakened him. He looked over at the clock beside him on the nightstand the illuminated numbers read 2:35 a.m. Finally, a noise sounding close to a muffled cough made its way down the hall and Duncan got up. He didn't bother putting on a robe, he went down the hallway in his pajama bottoms and stopped at Richie's closed bedroom door. He stood outside listening for a moment, but it was the familiar sound he heard that brought him head long into the room, he glanced at the empty bed and walked with purpose to the light coming from beneath Richie's bathroom door.

"Rich?' Duncan called out. A muffled sounding reply came from behind the door.

"Yeah"

"You okay?" Duncan said with his hand on the doorknob.

"Uh, huh... sorry I woke you, Mac. Go back to bed, I'm okay." Richie didn't sound too convincing to the highlander. Then the noise of Richie getting sick again brought Duncan into the bathroom. Richie was dimly aware that Duncan was rubbing his back he was too concerned with his spasming stomach to care.

"Rich?" Duncans voice sounded concerned. Richie sat back resting against the tubside with his eyes closed. Richie opened his eyes when he felt a cool cloth brush over his face. He looked into the concerned eyes of the highlander.

Richie offered up an attempt at a smile and fell short. "I think I ate one too many pieces cake" Richie stated his face twisting up at the memory of how much he piled into his face at Joe's house. Duncan smiled commiserating with the boy while putting a hand on Richie's forehead.

"Well you don't have a fever. Are you feeling better now?" Duncan said eyeing the boy with his usual intense scrutiny when inquiring about his well being.

"Yeah. My stomach is still a little crampy, but it's going away. At least I don't feel like I want to puke my guts out now till I die" Richie said with a slight smile.

"Well let's get you back to bed. You sleep get some rest." Duncan gave Richie a hand up from the floor.

"What time are we leaving for the cabin?" Richie said as grabbed some water from his sink washing his mouth out.

"Maybe we should stay here for the holidays, Rich." Duncan said

"Oh, Come on, Mac! I ate too much, I'm not sick." Richie said with agitation. Richie did want to go to the cabin and that was a miracle to him because he had always claimed to be a city boy. Truth was he was actually looking forward to hanging out with Duncan at the cabin.

"Well," Duncan said looking the young man over " I guess we could."

"Great! we gettin' up with the birds?" Richie said as he pulled off his jeans leaving himself clad in boxers.

"I'll wake you up at 6:00" Duncan replied. Richie grumbled ever so slightly as he climbed into his bed and pulled the covers up around himself. Duncan bid him goodnight once again and turned off his light.

**At The Cabin**

Richie threw his backpack over his shoulder as they approached the cabin, "Brr..." he said as he hunkered into his jacket more deeply. "Damn, it's cold, Mac."

"It'll warm up once I get a fire going, Rich" Duncan patted him on the back and started up the front steps to the cabin. A hour later with the generator up and running, and a fire in full blaze the cabin was indeed toasty. "Okay" Duncan called to Richie from the kitchen as the youth warmed himself at the fire.

"Okay, what?" Richie called out looking toward the kitchen and at Duncan pulling a bulky looking cardboard box from the cellar beneath the floor of the kitchen.

"Now, we decorate" Duncan said with a grunt as he lifted the box onto the floor. Richie's face took on a look of amusement and shock as he understood what the highlander had meant.

"You're kiddin', right?" pausing and studying Duncan's face, "You're not kidding. Oh, C'mon, Mac" Richie said in exasperation.

"Hey, who made me blow out candles, huh?" Duncan said smiling, "It's Christmas Eve, Rich, humor me." Richie knew how important this particular holiday was for the both of them. Christmas was always Tessa's favorite and it was their chance to create new memories.

"Okay . . . but only if I get to put the angel up" Richie smiled as he quietly snickered. Duncan grabbed the boy in a playful choke hold and ruffled his hair. Richie blushed at the affection but didn't pull away. "Maaac!" The evening was everything Duncan had wanted it to be, special and memorable. Dinner had been good and the tree stood twinkling in the corner of the cabin near the window. He looked over at Richie curled up on the couch asleep, he pulled an afghan over him and walked to the window to watch the snowfall.

Duncan stood staring out the window and let his mind wonder to thoughts of Tessa and he whispered, "Merry Christmas, Tess. I love you." He left Richie to sleep on the couch warmed by the fire and he retired to his bedroom. *"You have taken good care of him."*

Duncan turned toward the familiar voice he still remembered so well. "Tessa?" He fixed on her, she was beautiful, even more than he remembered, and he idly thought to himself was that even possible, she had always been a vision.

*"Hello, Duncan"* Tessa cupped his face in her hands, *"Merry Christmas, my love."* and she placed a feather light kiss on his lips.

"Tessa, how?"

*"Shh . . . that's not important. I've missed you, I've missed you both."*

Duncan held her in his arms and relished the feel of her and the scent of her. "Oh, Tessa. I have missed you, so much. So very much."

*"I know, love."* she paused and spoke again, *"Thank you, Duncan"* the statement was simple but left Duncan slightly confused.

"Thank you? For what?"

*"For loving me as you did and becoming a father to Richie."* The statement had caught Duncan off guard. He stood in silence not knowing what to say to her. She smiled at him and cupped his chin in her hand, *"Penny for your thoughts"* she said as her hand moved from his chin to stroke his hair.

"Loving you, Tess . . . don't thank me. I'm the reason you were taken from me, from Richie." Duncan said his voice tight with self recrimination.

*"Duncan MacLeod!"* Tessa scolded. Duncan looked into her face his eyes stinging from unshed tears. *"I will thank you. You loved me and made me feel as though I was the center of your world."*

"No! Loving me robbed you of a life, Tessa. You could have done so much more, had children, known motherhood if it wasn't for me" the tears silently fell down his cheeks now.

Tessa held his face in both of her hands. *"Oh, Duncan, Shh...."* she wiped at the tears flowing down his face. *"You filled my life, I wanted for nothing. My life was full, I have no regrets in loving you, you always gave me the choice. You were my choice."* Tessa paused and her face took on a serene smile. *"Duncan, I missed out on nothing. I was a mother and 'we' still have a wonderful son."* she looked into Duncan's eyes, *"Thank you for bringing him into our lives. I couldn't have loved him more if I had been his real mother."*

"Tess, you would be so proud of him."

*"I was always proud of him "* her reply was simple. She smiled once more at Duncan. He saw the unsaid goodbye in her eyes.

"You're leaving again?" he said his voice thick with emotion.

*"I was never here to stay, Duncan. No good-byes . . . only until we meet again"* she leaned into kiss him. Their lips met, he smelled her hair as it brushed across his cheek.

"I love you, Tess" it came out slightly choked his scottish burr thick.

*"And I love you"* the words surrounded him, held him, went through him and she was gone. Duncan stood in the dark silence of his room and spoke softly to the emptiness.

He recalled a piece of a poem, " . . . Though lovers be lost, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion" he spoke as tears cascaded down his cheeks as he wrapped his arms around himself.

Duncan awoke with the winter morning sun on his face. *Had it been a dream* he thought. He swore he could still smell the scent of Tessa and whether it really happened or was a dream he wasn't going to question the gift he had received. Duncan rose from his bed and wrapped a robe around himself and headed out to the family room. Richie was still fast asleep. The room had become slightly chilled as the fire died in the night. Duncan quietly added some wood, and got the fire going again. He made his way to the kitchen to start C= hristmas morning breakfast for himself and Richie. Richie woke up to the smell of sausage cooking and coffee brewing.

"Morning, Mac" Richie said rubbing at his eyes and yawning slightly.

"Good Morning, Rich" Duncan said with a smile "Merry Christmas."

Richie smiled back and dropped into a chair at the kitchen table, "Merry Christmas to you, too." Richie turned eyeing the tree.

"Patience, Rich. Let's eat first and then it's gift time" Duncan was happy to see Richie wasn't so old that he didn't get excited about opening gifts. Duncan was often comforted at Richie's ability to still look at things like he was a child experiencing it for the first time. Duncan sat in the overstuffed chair opposite Richie as he opened a gift from the young man. "Hmm . . . I wonder what it is" Duncan said as he gave it a shake.

"Shaking won't tell ya squat Mac" Richie said smiling.

Duncan opened the box and pulled away the tissue paper to reveal a thick leather bound book embossed with the Clan MacLeod name. "Rich . . . what have you done!" Duncan said beaming at the boy.

"Joe helped. Do you like it?" the question was tentative. "It's about your Clan."

"Like it? I love it!" Duncan got up from where he sat. "C'm'ere" Duncan said as he opened his arms and embraced Richie as the youth stood up. He held the boy for a long moment then pulled back with a look Richie couldn't decipher.

"Somethin' wrong, Mac?" Richie said now a little unsure.

Duncan smiled, "No. Everything is right for a change" he reached out and ruffled Richie's hair. "I love you, Rich."

Richie looked at the highlander in surprise, he had never heard those words before. He shifted his feet while looking down at the floor his cheeks coloring, and a quiet reply came. "Me too."

Duncan pulled Richie into another hug and then released him. "Let's finish opening these presents."

"Okay, I'm next" Richie said with excitement. They had just finished opening the last of the gifts and Richie stood starting to gather the wrapping paper up.

"Don't you want this one, Rich?" Duncan said waving a small square box at the young man.

"Mac, another one. You already gave me so much already. Duncan had given Richie an expensive watch, CD's, and even cloths, mostly sweaters and some shirts. "I already made out like a bandit" he said with a wide grin.

"This is the last one, I promise" the highlander said waving the box in front of Richie's eyes like a carrot to a horse. "But if you don't want it."

"Hey, I didn't say that" Richie said reaching for the box dangling in front of him. Duncan grabbed it away. "Hey, Come on, Mac. No fair!" Duncan laughed and handed the small box to the boy.

"Okay, here."

Richie sat down on the couch and gave the box a giggle.

"Hey! No shaking." Duncan said with a smile.

Richie just smirked and pulled off the paper and ribbon. Inside was a picture of a jeep. "What's this, Mac?" Richie said throwing an quizzical look at the immortal.

"Keep going" was the only reply from the highlander.

Richie set the picture beside him and noticed there was something wrapped up in tissue. He pulled the tissue away from the item to find a key on a black leather key chain. He held the key up and looked at the key ring and he read it aloud to himself, "Wrangler." Suddenly it hit him and he picked up the picture and stared at it then back at the key in his hand then to Duncan's beaming face.

"Merry Christmas, toughguy."

"A jeep. You bought me a jeep? Are you nuts, Mac?"

"Ah, No. I don't think so. I'm tired of worrying about you on that bike and now you can get to the university without getting a ride from me." Duncan said in a matter of fact tone.

"Mac, this is a brand new jeep." Richie said still in shock. "I can't . . . "

The immortal held a hand up halting the youth's refusal. "You can, and you will, Rich. I wanted to do this for you, let me."

Richie studied the highlander for a long moment. "Mac, I don't know what to say. . ."

"Thank you, will work just fine." Duncan added in with a smile.

"God! A jeep. Yeah, I mean . . . Thanks, Mac! Thank you." Richie stood up and made a tentative gesture for a hug and he received one.

"It's at home waiting for you." Duncan spoke after they pulled out of the hug. I hauled Joe with me to shop for that jeep. I hope it has everything you might like. Joe said a CD stereo was a must for you. So I got you the best system they offered for it. I got you a hard top that is removable and you can use a soft top for the spring and summer if you want."

Richie just stared at Duncan. Duncan saw the look in Richie's eyes and grinned. "It's okay, Rich. Breathe or something."

Richie laughed slightly, "Oh, it's just that, wow! I guess I'm in shock."

"Well, I can see that." Duncan said in amusement.

They stayed at the cabin until December 29 and made their return in order to be back before New Years. Duncan had promised Joe he and Richie would stop over for New Years. Duncan knew Richie had his own plans for New Years with friends from the university but the youth had said he would stop in to see Joe. As soon as they pulled in the driveway Richie was looking around.

"Where is it, Mac?" he said in excitement.

"Patience, toughguy. It should be in the garage."

Richie was out of the T-Bird in a flash and Duncan followed behind. Duncan found Richie inside the jeep crawling all over it. He jumped out and popped the hood taking a look at the engine. It wasn't long before the youth wanted to take it for a drive. Duncan said his good-bye's and watched Richie pull out of the driveway. He watched him head down the road and went inside the house.