"Hey there, Happy New Year! Come in." Joe said as he opened the door to his house.
"Hey, Joe" Richie said as he took off his leather jacket. Duncan was right behind him.
"Here, Joe." Duncan handed the man an old looking bottle. "I've been saving this one and thought tonight was a good occasion to open it." Joe accepted the bottle and looked at the label and smiled.
"Hey, Mac you out did yourself a bottle of Dom." Joe smiled.
"Special occasion." Duncan replied.
Adam came around the corner from the family room. The house had a few guests milling about carrying on conversations and laughing.
Their greetings to each other was always short. Joe assumed it must be an immortal thing. After an hour Richie hunted down Duncan and found him with Adam in the kitchen. "Mac, I'm outta here. I'm meeting Chris and Rod at University Row."
Duncan looked the boy over with a familiar face and Richie spoke reassurances, "I know, Mac. No drinking. I'm not. I can't speak for Chris or Rod but I'm promise I won't" he said smiling and put a hand on the immortal's shoulder. Duncan smiled.
"I trust you, Richie. Be careful tonight. Happy New Year."
"Yeah, Happy New Year, Mac and to you, too, Adam."
"Yes, Happy New Year, Richie" Adam replied.
Richie extended his hand to the highlander. "Happy New Year, Mac."
"Happy New Year, Rich" Duncan couldn't resist he pulled Richie into a bear hug and squeezed. Richie pulled back and smiled, blushing ever so slightly. Richie extended a hand to Adam, "Happy New Year" he hurried out of the kitchen calling over his shoulder, "Don't wait up, Mac. See ya later." All Duncan could do was watch the retreating back of the young man he loved, his son. Adam's voice pulled Duncan from his silence.
"Huh?" he said distracted as he saw Richie say good-bye to Joe and leave. "Oh, sorry, Adam." Duncan said finally looking at his conversation companion. The night went on and Duncan mingled and laughed and Joe was coming up with some great one liners that had Duncan chuckling.
"10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . Happy New Year!" the small gathering at Joe's house roared. Duncan saw the famous Times Square ball shining on the t.v. and Dick Clark saying " Happy 1995." Duncan smiled to himself in all the years Dick Clark had been doing this he seemed ageless. Duncan idly thought, *maybe he's immortal.* He dismissed the thought with a laugh and continued on with his evening. When he pulled into the driveway he noted no new car tracks on the snow and knew Richie wasn't home yet, but he didn't expect him to roll in anytime soon. He showered and went to sleep. He bolted upright in his bed, his heart racing he looked around his room and then at the clock beside the bed, 6:45a.m. A nightmare he couldn't remember had startled him awake. He rose and put on a robe and went down the hall, expecting to see Richie's door closed, it wasn't.
Duncan peeked in and the bed was still made he went out to the family room the couch was empty and the jeep wasn't in the driveway or the garage. He tried to shake the feeling he had been experiencing since he woke up. Finally, at 7:30 he decided to shower and dress for the day. The doorbell drew his attention away from pouring the coffee he was about to drink. "Who would be here this early" he muttered to himself. He saw through the window in the door it was Joe. "Hey, Joe. Good Morning. You're up bright and earl. . . ." he didn't finish what he was saying the look in Joe's eyes made him back up.
"No . . . " Duncan said quietly, shaking his head.
"Mac . . ." Joe's voice was shaking his eyes were blood shot and Duncan knew they weren't from a late night but tears. Duncan turned and walked toward the kitchen. Joe went after him, "Mac? Please."
"No, Richie will be home soon. He's just out having fun like a twenty year old should. He's fine." He heard Joe click on the tiny color t.v. in the kitchen and turn the channel. Duncan turned to look and he saw a newscaster standing in front of a scene of chaos, fire, smoke, and devastation. He saw the only thing recognizable to him, half of a burned out sign, it was the college pub, University Row. Richie was going to a party there with his friends. A tremor ran through the highlander and Joe turned up the volume.
*Good Morning ... this is Carrie Gillvarey of Channel Seven News with this early morning breaking news. I'm here at the scene of a devastating gas explosion that took place shortly after midnight at the popular college pub 'University Row.' The scene here is of almost complete devastation. The death toll is still climbing. Currently they have found at least 75 dead. Survivors are suffering from severe burns and various other injuries. It is my understanding that the establishment was at capacity when the explosion occurred. It is believed that over 350 Seacouver University students were inside at the time of the explosion. This is one of the worst tragedies to happen in Seacouver to date. Reports are still sketchy at this point and the Police and the Fire Department ask that families and friends, please not come to the scene as it will only hamper their rescue efforts for any more survivors. I have been told that of the victims pulled from the structure are being sent to either St. Francis or Seacouver Medical Center. We will keep you up to date as details come in. This is Carrie Gillvarey with Channel Seven News.*
"Mac?" Joe began
"It doesn't mean anything, Joe. You heard her, they are finding survivors and anyway Richie might not have even been there. He could have ended up at any number of places. He's okay." Just then the news broke in yet again.
*This is Carrie Gillvarey with Channel Seven News . . . this information has just been passed along to me, more dead have been pulled from the debris, the death toll currently stands at 83 dead. The fire fighters feel they will = likely find no survivors still in the structure itself. Behind me you can see the devastation that occurred in the explosion.* The camera panned away from her and Duncan was able to see. The building was literally laid open, the roof was partially blown away with the rest of it caved in. The pub looked like some old smoldering ruin. Scanning the picture he suddenly grabbed the counter dropping his head. Joe stared at the screen to see what Duncan had, the parking lot filled with debris and smoke, but he saw what Duncan did, Richie's jeep.
*As information is made available I will continue to update you on the 'University Row' disaster. . . this is Carrie Gillvarey, Channel Seven News.* Duncan leaned on the counter with his head bowed, Joe rested a hand on the highlanders back.
Duncan stood up, "No, Joe! He's okay. Richie is fine." Just then the doorbell rang. Duncan ran for it. It was Adam.
"I just heard." Adam said stepping inside.
Duncan turned and went back to the kitchen without saying a word. Joe eyed Adam with a lost look. "What do we do for him, Adam? This is killing me. I can only imagine what he's going through."
"It's going to be okay." Adam said as he followed Joe to the kitchen. Adam had seen the news and some of the earlier newscasts. He knew how bad the condition of some of the dead were. He had heard early morning reports of dismemberment's and some had looked nearly vaporized because of the blast. He knew what Duncan did, Richie was pre-immortal, but this he may very well have not survived. He felt the boy was probably lost forever. "Duncan . . ." Adam began. The highlander turned to face the ancient immortal he knew as not only Adam but Methos. Adam had never called him by his first name before it had always been 'MacLeod.'
"Adam, No! I don't want to hear it. Richie is going to be okay. I just saw him not even nine hours ago. He's fine" Duncan's voice trembled slightly. "Excuse me" he said. Adam and Joe watched the immortal leave the kitchen. Joe started to follow and Adam reached out a hand.
"Let him go, Joe."
"But . . . he shouldn't be alone." Joe pleaded his eyes misting. "Jesus, Adam. This can't be happening not New Year's Day, not Richie. He was just a kid."
Adam put a hand on Joe's shoulder, "I know." He was at a loss for what to say.
"He saw Richie's jeep when they showed a shot of the building and parking lot. He knows he was there. Dammit! this isn't right, Adam."
"He'll get through this, Joe. We'll help him."
"I don't think so, Adam. This is going to destroy him. Richie was like a son to him. Hell . . . Rich was his son. God! Tessa and now, Richie." Joe sat down heavy in the chair at the kitchen table and Adam followed suit.
Reality began to edge its way into Richie's darkness. He opened his eyes. He coughed against the smoke and dust from the explosion. He tried to move but he hurt and his head ached. Suddenly he remembered why he was laying on the ground between the wall he parked at and his jeep. He had been standing there talking to Rod getting a breather from the noise and smoke of the pub. Rod had turned heading back to the party mentioning over his shoulder he didn't want to miss the countdown. Richie remembered watching Rod go inside the pub and was about to go back in when the explosion happened. The power of the explosion threw him into the wall, his last conscious picture before the darkness swallowed him up was the pub a glowing inferno of screams . . . then blackness.
Richie coughed again . . . "Hey! We got one over here!" a paramedic called out to a crew member. Richie squinted at them while trying to focus on their faces.
"Who . . ." he tried to speak and only accomplished a coughing fit that nearly robbed him of breath.
"Whoa! Take it easy" the paramedic urged. "Steve! I need some O2, now." Soon Richie found an oxygen mask over his face. "Okay . . . just relax let us do all the work. I'm Mark and this is my partner Steve, you're going to be okay." Richie tried to move and Mark laid a stilling hand on him. They proceeded to put Richie carefully on a back board and to put his neck in a cervical collar. Richie pulled at the oxygen mask he needed to speak.
"Explosion . . . my friends?" Richie saw the look that past between the paramedics. "No . . ." came out filled with anguish.
"Shh . . . everything is going to be fine. Relax." Mark urged Richie to calm down. The paramedic busied himself starting an IV and attaching a heart monitor to Richie. The paramedic had proceeded to ask Richie his name, and was there family that could be notified. Mark took the information down. Richie wanted to sleep and his eyes blinked heavily. "No, stay with me, Richie" the paramedic urged trying to keep Richie alert. "Come on, Richie" the paramedic pinched Richie's cheek. "Richie do you have any allergies to medications?"
"No" the word sounded distant to Richie's own ears. He watched the medic write something on a clipboard. The darkness called him and he wanted to go.
"Richie! Come on open your eyes" the paramedic took out a penlight and shined it in each of Richie's eyes. "Dammit! Come on kid. Don't quit on me." The paramedic called to his partner driving the ambulance, "Patch me into SMC! We got a problem." Within seconds a brisk and urgent voice came over the handless phone attached to Mark's head.
"Seacouver Medical Center, this is Dr. Withers, what do you have?"
"Twenty year old male, University Row victim found in the parking lot. Head injury. He lost consciousness approximately three minutes ago. Pupils are reactive but sluggish. He is unresponsive to pain stimuli. No apparent burns. Abdomen shows no signs of distention."
"What is your e.t.a?" the doctor asked urgently.
"Under five" Mark said quickly.
"We'll be ready for you" the doctor left to prep his emergency team for Richie's arrival. The medical center had already been busy with some of the victims from the explosion. It would be a long day. The ambulance arrived and the doctor and his team were waiting and whisked Richie down the hallway. Mark ran along side filling the doctor in with any additional information and handing over the available information he acquired from Richie before he lost consciousness.
Two hours later . . .
The phone rang and Adam picked it up. Duncan had retreated to his den. Joe was sitting with him. Neither of the men would let the highlander go to the scene. "Hello, MacLeod residence." Duncan although lost in thoughts of Richie heard the phone ring and Adam answer it. He stood up when he heard the timbre of Adam's voice down the hall. "Yes. I understand. We'll be there right away." Duncan was already down the hall.
"It's Rich! He's alive. Isn't he?" Duncan said grabbing Adam's arm.
"Yes. He is at Seacouver Medical Center" Adam confirmed.
"How is he?" Duncan said already heading for the door. Adam grabbed him by the arm.
"Duncan . . . they said he has a head injury. It's sounds bad." Duncan locked eyes with the immortal.
"He'll be okay. I've got to get to him." Duncan's voice was strong.
"Duncan . . ."
"I heard you Adam. Let's go." Duncan went out the door followed by Adam and Joe. Adam drove all of them to the hospital in is car. Adam made record time from Duncan's house outside the city. He dropped the highlander at the Emergency room drop-off and Duncan ran inside leaving Adam and Joe to park the car.
Duncan was pacing around the waiting room. A nurse had told him to wait for the doctor. Adam watched the other immortal. "Duncan, pacing around isn't going to make the time go any quicker."
Duncan shot the old immortal a sharp glance. Joe made eye contact with Adam and gave a slight shake of his head warning the immortal to back off.
"Mr. MacLeod" Dr. Wither's said looking around the room.
"Yes. I'm here. How is he? How's Richie?" Duncan searched the doctors face but found no answers there. Duncan spent twenty minutes talking to the doctor and he followed him up to the head trauma unit where Richie was. Adam and Joe moved to the fourth floor and opted to wait in the family waiting room of the head trauma unit.
" Mr. MacLeod, as I explained to you, Richie hasn't yet regained consciousness since the ambulance ride. He received a rather hard blow to the head from the explosion. His level of current pupilary reactions and his lack of responsiveness to pain stimuli has classified him as a coma patient."
With a great deal more calm than he was feeling, Duncan spoke with a strong steady voice, " I understand, but when will he wake up?" He wasn't even going to think about the possibilities that he wouldn't come out of the coma.
"It's up to his body really. He may wake up in hours, days, weeks and there is a possibility that he may not" Dr. Wither's didn't give any false hope.
"May I see him now, please?" Duncan asked.
"Yes, I'll take you to him."
Duncan braced himself as he entered the Head Trauma ICU cubicle that was Richie's. Even being forewarned couldn't prepare Duncan. Richie was surrounded by equipment. The young man lie unmoving and so pale that he appeared to be dead. The doctor talked briefly to Duncan explaining the various equipment. "Dr. Wither's, I've heard it's good for people in a coma to have family or friends talk to them, is that true? I mean, is there any reason I can't stay with him as long as I want?"
"There are those of us that believe it helps. I'll make sure to leave word at the nurses station that you have unlimited visitation with him."
"Thank You" Duncan said his voice still strong as his eyes drifted to Richie.
"Hey, Rich." Duncan said as he stroked the youths cheek watching for any movement or eye flutter, nothing. He had been sitting with Richie for the better part of the day only getting up from his seat to stretch and walk around the room but he refused to leave. Adam and Joe had wanted to stay but Duncan told them to go and that he would keep them filled in. Adam had reluctantly left the younger immortal but Joe had needed his car back and Adam was taking him back to Duncan's house to pick it up. Duncan smiled down at the young man, "Well, you sure could have picked a different New Years Day, toughguy. Happy 1995, Richie. Come on, wake up. Please."
Richie's condition had stabilized enough that he was removed from ICU but remained in the head trauma unit in a private room. He still hadn't regained consciousness and the doctor had told Duncan the longer he remained in his coma the less of a chance he would wake up. Duncan wouldn't entertain those thoughts. He had been encouraged to go home nights by Dr. Withers saying he wasn't going to do Richie any good if he ran himself into the ground. Duncan unwilling to be very far from the hospital had been using the loft apartment above the dojo he had purchased after he had sold the antique shop following Tessa's death.
"Good Morning, Rich" Duncan said looking at the boy and went to open the blinds to let some morning sun in.
"Mornin', Mac" the voice was quiet. Duncan spun around to the voice his heart hammering.
"Richie!" he made it to the young man's bedside in two long strides. He couldn't resist the urge to touch him.
"Hey, Mac" Richie coughed against the dryness of his throat.
"Here, drink this" Duncan said as he filled a plastic glass for the youth, putting an arm under Richie's shoulders raising him up to drink.
"Thanks" Richie said with a small grin.
"How do you feel?" Duncan asked studying the boy contentedly.
"Tired" Richie paused "How long, Mac?"
"You've been in a coma for four days" Duncan said pressing the call button, summoning a reply from a disembodied voice.
"Can I help you?" came from a wall intercom.
"Yes. Could you tell, Dr. Wither's he's awake."
"Oh, right away" the disembodied voice answered.
"Yes, I'm right here, Richie" Duncan said taking a seat on the bed resting a hand on the boy's arm.
"How many, Mac?" Richie had to know how many people had died he remembered the accident and wanted to know.
Duncan not wanting to upset Richie feigned that he didn't understand the question hoping the youth would drop it. He didn't.
"Come on, Mac. You know. How many?" he said his agitation growing.
"Okay-Okay . . ." Duncan said trying to calm the boy. "Richie, it was a bad explosion. The bar was filled to capacity."
"How . . . many? Richie asked directly annunciating each word clearly.
"312 in the explosion, Richie" Duncan said watching the young mans face. He hated seeing the whole host of emotions run their course across his young face in seconds.
"Rod? Chris?" he already knew but had to hear it to be sure.
"Gone, Richie. I'm sorry" Duncan said squeezing Richie's shoulder gently.
"How many survived, Mac?"
"Initially 38, but some of the injuries were to extensive and they died at the hospital. Now, only 30 are still alive, counting you." Dr.Wither's walked in just then and a short few moments later Duncan excused himself so that the doctor could examine Richie. The doctor pronounced Richie well on the road to recovery and haply told both men that he would release Richie in a day or two baring any complications. Duncan had taken a walk to make some phone calls and entered Richie's room quietly hoping the young man was resting, he wasn't. Duncan silently watched the youth for a short while. Richie was staring out the window from his bed, his face and eyes haunted. Duncan knew where his mind was.
"Richie? You okay?" Duncan kept his voice low trying not to startle the young man. Richie stared out the window a moment longer and turned his face to Duncan.
"Yeah, Mac" the answer sounded almost like an effort to say.
"Richie, Talk to me. What's going on in your head?" Duncan's voice was concerned as he studied the haunted features of the young man. Duncan could see Richie's mouth tighten around the edges and his eyes broke away from Duncan's gaze. He recognized the signs that the boy was closing up and bottling up his feelings. He wasn't going to let him. "Come on, Rich" he sat down on the bed to get Richie's attention. The young man was still resisting. Duncan reached out and gently clasped one of Richie's shoulders. He could feel the tension within. "You need to talk about it, Richie. I want to be here for you. Let me please" he tried to sound reassuring "It was a terrible thing that happened and I'm so sorry you lost your friends, Richie." Duncan saw the emotional battle raging behind the young eye's and wanted desperately to take this pain away but he couldn't. He knew Richie had to go through it in order to get to the other side of this tragedy.
"Why, Mac?" the question had come quietly and without preamble, it slightly caught the immortal unprepared. He tried to measure his answer before speaking but opted to let it come naturally.
"I wish I had the answers you needed, Richie. I don't. I don't understand why it happened and I certainly don't expect you to. In my 400 years I've seen a lot and it all stays with you, but some questions are never answered. I have learned that asking 'why' can drive you crazy. Sure we know why the explosion happened but not why all those people had to lose their lives on a night when things were starting over. Richie, we can both ask 'why' but there will never be an answer, but I do know I have been thanking God each night that he spared you. Your friends lost their lives and so did all those young people and it isn't fair, but you survived Richie, and that is a gift and don't ever feel guilty about that." Duncan stopped and looked at Richie who had turned his head away again and looked out into the darkness and the city lights.
"Mac . . ." Richie looked back at Duncan his face streaked in tears. "It hurts to remember but I do. I remember images, noises, but what sticks with me is talking to Rod and watching him walk back inside . . . then the explosion happened a few moments later. I keep seeing it, again and again." Richie's face crumpled into a sob and Duncan took the young man into his arms and held him while the sobs racked him in waves. Duncan continued to hold Richie until the shaking sobs quieted and the youth pulled away. Duncan reached for a tissue beside the bed.
"Here" he said handing the tissue to Richie with a warm smile, "Blow."
Richie smiled sheepishly at him but complied.
"Better?" Duncan asked lovingly clasping the back of Richie's neck and gently squeezing.
"A little . . . Thanks, Mac" Richie said smiling slightly at Duncan.
"Don't thank me, Richie. I'm always here for you, always, no matter what. You're my family and you've been there for me,too." Duncan pulled the boy into an embrace and hugged him tightly. "I love you, Rich. I don't know what I would have done if I had lost you. I just thank God, I didn't." Richie pulled back and smiled at the highlander.
"Love you, too" the words were still strange to say. Not strange because he didn't mean them but to voice them. He liked that the old immortal had opened up to him in the past year. Richie had figured it was Duncan making up for Tessa being gone. He inwardly smiled at that notion even in death Tessa had managed to provide for him the emotional grounding he had never really known growing up in the foster care system and later the streets.
"You need to rest, Richie. Close your eyes, okay." Duncan urged the boy down onto the bed and pulled the sheet and blanket up and tucked it around him. Duncan caught the look that came over Richie's face and knew what was coming.
"Maaac!" Richie said with a look of mock horror on his face.
"I know, I know. Your an adult." Duncan said with a smile and still continued to tuck the covers up around him.
"I can't believe you're tucking me in. God, this is embarrassing." Richie said realizing there was no point to complaining the highlander was in full paternal mode.
"Sleep" Duncan quietly ordered.
"You goin' home?" Richie said turning onto his side and pulling the blanket over him as Duncan helped.
"When you're asleep. I've been staying at the dojo, it's closer." Duncan spoke quietly watching Richie's eyes grow heavier with each blink. "Now, sleep."
"Kay. . ." came out sounding closer to a sigh and Richie was asleep. Duncan sat watching him for another twenty minutes ensuring that his sleep would be peaceful and free of nightmares.
Duncan reached out a hand and placed it on Richie's forehead, "Goodnight, toughguy. Sleep well."
Richie was more than ready to get out of the hospital. Duncan pulled into the driveway and Richie spotted both Adam's car and Joe's. He looked over at Duncan and lifted an eyebrow almost in perfect imitation of Duncan himself. Duncan just looked at him with a curious grin.
"Mac, what are they doing here?"
"Huh? I wouldn't know." Duncan said with a smile that gave him away.
"Yeah, right." Richie spoke under his breath.
They got out and went into the house and Richie walked into the dining room and Joe stood there with a warm smile. "Hey there, kiddo. How ya feeling? You sure know how to scare an old man."
"You're not old, Joe. I'm okay. What's all this?" Richie asked eyeing a food= spread on the table.
"For you. It's a welcome home dinner." Joe pulled out a seat for Richie. Adam made an appearance as he came in from the family room closing up his cell phone.
"Sorry. It was a call I had to take." Adam said as he entered the room.
"It's cool." Richie said as he watched Duncan carry in some things that Richie brought back from the hospital. "Hey Mac, I can help."
"No, Rich. It's all right, I got it. Visit with Joe and Adam. I'll be right back."
The dinner went well and everyone had retired to the family room to talk. Duncan noticed Richie had gotten up about twenty minutes ago saying something about getting more to drink and he hadn't come back, yet. Adam was going on about something and Duncan was distracted and looking towards the kitchen. He stood. "I'll be back" he said to Joe and Adam and left. Duncan went into the kitchen and found no Richie. His brow furrowed slightly, where could he have gotten off to? He opened the back door and walked outside. He spotted some footprints in the fresh snow leading to the detached garage. As he approached he felt the small fissure that registered on his immortal senses that told him the young pre-immortal was inside. He opened the side door to the garage and entered.
"Rich?" Duncan said not readily spotting the young man. A quiet reply brought his attention towards the front of the jeep.
"Are you okay?" Duncan said concern edging his voice as he rounded the 4X4 vehicle.
Duncan came around to the front of the jeep and saw Richie. He sat on the garage floor his back up against the wall. His eyes were red and he impatiently rubbed at his moist cheeks. Duncan silently sat down beside him, saying nothing at first. Then he spoke. "You wanna talk?"
"Nothin' to say, Mac. I had to see it, that's all" Richie said motioning to his jeep that still bore damage from the explosion. The windshield was cracked, the driver and passenger windows were shattered and the body of the jeep had many scratches, and dents all over it.
"We'll get it fixed, Richie"
"It won't make what happened go away." the young man said matter of factly.
"No. It won't" Duncan agreed. "But we go on, right?"
Richie looked over at Duncan, eyeing him for an extended moment and spoke, "Yeah, you're right. We go on." Duncan reached out a hand and cupped the back of Richie's neck pulling him into an impromptu hug.
"Ready, to get out of here, toughguy" he said warmly to the young man beside him.
"Yeah. Guess we should before Joe sends out a search party" he said mustering up a smile for Duncan.
"Good, come on" Duncan said lending a hand to Richie to help him up. Richie walked beside Duncan and wrapped his arms around himself feeling the winter chill. "Cold?" Duncan questioned.
"Yeah, feels like snow again, tonight." Richie said looking up at the greyish- white winter sky.
"How's a fire sound?" Duncan said reaching over and pulling the boy to his side wrapping an arm around his shoulder.
"Great! Thanks, Mac."
"Not a problem, come on let's get inside before you catch cold."
An hour later Duncan showed Joe and Adam out and bid them a goodnight. He joined Richie on the couch. The youth stared at the dying fire. Duncan got up to add some more wood to the fire. "There that should do it for awhile" Duncan said taking a seat on the couch, again. Richie sat huddled in the corner of the couch. "Why don't you stretch out, Rich?"
"I didn't want to crowd you."
Duncan smiled "There's plenty of room." Duncan grabbed a pillow from behind him, "Here" he said placing the pillow on his lap, while motioning to Richie. Richie smiled sheepishly.
"You sure?" he said eyeing the highlander.
"Yeah, come on. Get some rest. I'll be here" he said patting the pillow. Richie complied and soon drifted off to sleep comforted by the close presence of the immortal and the warmness from the fire place. Duncan sat watching the flames and Richie's face peaceful in sleep. Duncan relished the warmth from the fire and this moment with Richie and thought to himself, *home fires should always be cherished, and this one he would carry with him for a long time to come.*