Rating: Adult

*This story is a part of a working series. This story follows "But Deliver Us From Evil."

Summary: A near fatal accident tests Richie and Duncan's family.

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Disclaimer: Highlander and its characters are owned by Rysher Entertainment. I'm just borrowing them and not getting paid for it.

Acknowledgements:

A big thanks to Sharla for the beta read, support and suggestions!

Big hugs to Tia for your encouragement and beta. Thank you!

I would also like to thank Laura for her supportive comments and help.

And a big thank you to all the readers who took the time to e-mail their comments to me with my other stories in the series. Thank You!

Comments are always welcome! Good and bad.

**Story Note** Babinski's Reflex is the involuntary turning upward of the toes when the sole of the foot is stroked. The reflex is a sign of brain injury (head trauma).

**NOTE** This story is the fourth in a series. If you haven't read the other stories you may want to. Story one: The Ties that Bind, Story Two: Home Fires, and Story Three: But Deliver Us from Evil. I hope you enjoy them and the newest installment!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Sacrifices By Dawn Nyberg ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Duncan and Richie had settled into a routine since returning home from France six months ago. Although the holidays had come and gone with little fan fair, Richie genuinely seemed to enjoy himself. Joe and Adam had come over for Thanksgiving, and they had a good time. Richie smiled and laughed. The young man's happiness was the most important thing to Duncan, and he had been relieved to watch the darkness that held Richie in Paris abate. They had spent a quiet Christmas together at home. Joe had invited them to his home again for New Year's Eve--it was becoming a tradition of sorts. Richie had felt up to it, but that was the extent of his New Years Eve celebrations this year. He had returned home with Duncan afterward. Nineteen ninety-six came in quietly, without the emotional tumult of last year's gas explosion.

Facing the new year, Duncan was happy that Richie wanted to return to Seacouver University. His youthful enthusiasm convinced Duncan that he was ready to return and now April was upon them and Richie was still going strong.

"Maaac!" Richie just knew he was going to blow it, and this *damned* tie wouldn't do right. He pulled, yanking it off and throwing it over his shoulder blindly.

"Whoa!" Duncan said, as the knotted up neck tie hit him in the face. "Is there a problem?"

He couldn't help but smirk at the kid; Catherine and her parents had invited the young man for dinner tonight. Duncan remembered when Richie had come home from campus back in January and talked non-stop about a girl he met in his political science class. Duncan had been happy for the youth; he was bouncing back from the experiences with Logan and Sean. Now, Richie and Catherine had been going out regularly for three months. Her parents, both doctors, had finally set aside a special night for him to join them for dinner. Richie felt like they were sizing him up. He liked her parents, but felt inadequate. However, Duncan was quick to tell him that Catherine was the lucky one.

"It's not funny!" Richie said, his cheeks flushing with irritation.

"Calm down, Rich. Come here." The Highlander put the tie on Richie and worked the knot. "Stand still, Richie."

"I'm nervous, Mac. Cut me some slack."

"Well, calm down. The sky isn't falling. It's just dinner, and you've met her parents before," Duncan tried to reassure.

"This is the first dinner with them. They're gonna hate me, Mac," Richie worried, his face the very picture of desperation.

"Hate you? God, Richie, just take a breath," he said, as he finished knotting the tie. "There, perfect." Richie turned and looked in his mirror, investigating Duncan's handiwork.

"Thanks, Mac," Richie said, with a sheepish grin. Duncan smiled and impulsively reached up and ruffled the youth's hair affectionately.

"Oh . . . my . . . God! Maaaac!" Richie protested, turning to look at his hair. Duncan stifled a laugh as Richie shot him a hard look. Duncan raised his hands in surrender.

"Calm down, Richie. You look fine."

Richie looked at the clock, "Gotta go, Mac." Duncan walked the young man out to his jeep. As Richie climbed in and he glanced at his watch; "Ooh, Man! I'm gonna be late. That's just great."

"Richie, calm down. You've plenty of time," the Highlander attempted to reassure him. Richie just offered a nervous smile. "Relax, Rich," Duncan encouraged, his voice gentle as he clasped the young man's shoulder.

"Okay. See ya later," Richie said, as he closed the door.

"Hey, Richie."

"Yeah?"

"Be careful." Richie just smiled at the Immortal and rolled his eyes.

"Sure thing, *Dad*," he said, with a glint in his eye.

"Hey, I'm allowed to worry," was Duncan's response. "Now, get . . . before you really are late."

"Adios, Mac," the young man said, starting the engine.

"Give Catherine and her parents my regards."

"Sure thing. Bye."

Richie pulled out of the long driveway and Duncan returned to the house. Adam was due in an hour. Duncan had challenged him to a game of chess after the ancient Immortal boasted of his prowess at the game of strategy.

***************

Richie sat next to Catherine, his stomach fluttering nervously. Catherine, sensing his apprehension, dropped a hand beneath the table, took his, and squeezed gently. Richie's eyes turned toward her and a small, gentle smile crossed her face. She leaned over and whispered, "They won't bite, Richie. Dad and Mom like you," she tried to encourage him. Her parents were both doctors, but neither of them seemed stuffy. Her dad was as tall as Mac and he carried himself with authority, but his personality was gentle; Richie liked that. Catherine's mother was a very warm woman who never made Richie feel like a fish out of water. Catherine as a younger version of her mother; both were beautiful.

"So, Richard," Celine, Catherine's aunt, spoke, "you attend classes at the university?" she asked, examining him. Richie felt like he was under a microscope. He couldn't help but notice her appearance. She reminded him of the rich women he had seen in Paris with Mac and Tessa. She wore dress pants and a silk shirt. He recognized money when he saw it. Her blonde hair was swept back into a French twist; at least that was what Tessa had called the hairstyle. Richie smiled to himself as fond memories of her crossed his mind.

"Yes," he answered, still unsure of how to pass muster with this woman. Catherine spoke of her often and Richie wanted to pass whatever tests she had lined up for him.

"Hmm . . ." Celine responded while looking at him for an extended period.

"Cut it out, Celine," Robert ordered his younger sister.

"Cut what out?" Celine, said trying to feign ignorance. Robert just rolled his eyes.

"Richie," Robert began as he looked over at him, "don't let her shake your limbs. She's just being Celine." Celine sat silently for a moment.

"Well I never!" she said indignantly.

Richie looked at Catherine, horrified that a family brawl was erupting over him. Catherine looked at him with a knowing smile and leaned over while her father and aunt verbally sparred with each other. Catherine's mother, Loreena, tried to mediate the conflict with an expression of mild amusement.

"They're like this at every dinner. If it's not politics or some family thing they find something else to dig each other with," she whispered in his ear. Richie looked at her. She was beautiful. Her sandy hair hung below her shoulders and smelled of vanilla. Her face was open and her eyes, he would swear, had their own light. Her lips were full and inviting. Finally, coming out of his revelry in her beauty, he remembered that she had said something.

"Are you sure this is okay?" he asked, as he noticed that things were calming down.

"Yes," she whispered.

"Richard." Celine's sudden mention of his name made Richie look up from his plate and he met her eyes quickly. Celine took this as her cue to continue, "I didn't mean anything. I suppose I take the role of doting aunt a bit far, it's just Catherine can sometimes brings home, well..." Catherine interrupted her.

"Aunt Celine! I was young then; give me a break," Catherine chirped out. Richie smiled and put a calming hand on her arm.

"Lost causes," he inserted with a smile toward Celine. The woman noticeably relaxed. Suddenly the table erupted in laughter with Celine being the forerunner. When dinner was over Catherine pulled Richie out to the back yard while dessert was being prepared. She wanted some time with him alone.

"I told you, Richie," Catherine cooed in his ear, "I knew dinner would be just fine. My aunt Celine really likes you."

"She does?" Richie asked in confusion. He thought she had regarded him with nothing less than apprehension.

"Oh, yes!" she comforted as her hand snaked down his back. Richie pulled away, nervously looking back at the patio door for prying eyes.

"Cat! We can't, not here," he urged, as he backed up slightly.

"Oh, Richie," she said with a sigh, "I'm twenty-one," she said, with a hint of frustration and pulled herself up to him again, brushing his cheek with her hand. Richie smiled. Drawn into the moment, he wrapped his arms around her and held her close.

"You don't play fair," he whispered into her ear. She giggled quietly against his neck.

"Catherine! Richie! Where are you two?" It was Catherine's mother, Loreena, calling from the open patio door.

"Over here, Mom," Catherine called around the tree they were behind.

"Dessert is ready. Come inside before you get chilled." Seacouver was never really warm until mid-May. Richie had to admit this April was still cold. Mac had even said he expected one more big snowfall before April was over.

"Yes, Mother," Catherine said in exasperation. Richie just smiled and they headed for the house.

********************

Adam stood up abruptly from the table, the chess match over. Duncan won. "You were just lucky," Adam scowled, irritated at his unexpected loss.

"Yeah. Whatever you say, Adam," Duncan teased, with a smirk. "You want a drink," he asked, rising and heading for the kitchen.

"Beer," was the old Immortal's simple answer.

"So, where's Richie?" Adam asked, idly, as he watched Duncan retrieve the beers from the refrigerator.

"Having dinner with Catherine's parents," he said, tossing the ancient Immortal a beer. Duncan noticed the surprised look on Adam's face. "What?" he questioned, suspecting what he'd hear.

"The boy is getting involved, MacLeod. You don't exactly live a *normal* life. And the boy," he paused, noticing the leveled gaze the Highlander had dropped on him. "He will never have a *normal* life. You know he carries the seed, MacLeod," Adam said in the self-assured tone Duncan hated.

"He deserves a life, Adam. I plan to give it to him. If he wants to get involved with her then let him. He deserves to be happy and I'm willing to support whatever that is." Duncan's tone was defiant. Adam sat back looking the Highlander over and shook his head slightly.

"He is your weakness, MacLeod," Adam said, in an opinionated tone.

"Were you always such a bastard, Methos?" Duncan hissed. The use of his real name made the ancient Immortal raise an eyebrow. Duncan looked him squarely in the face; "Richie is not my weakness; he is my strength. Making bonds doesn't make you weak!" Duncan declared, his anger and frustration plain. Adam raised his hands in surrender.

"MacLeod, you know I like the kid. I didn't mean anything," Adam tried to smooth things over.

"You meant what you said, Adam," Duncan interjected, "but if you hadn't been around last year when I needed you, I would have lost Richie. I owe you," he paused, "so because I owe you and you saved Richie's life I will forget what you said tonight. I will forget *once,* but if you say anything about him being my weakness again," and he paused a moment making sure the Immortal was listening, "if you mention it again, we are no longer friends."

Adam studied the Highlander and knew he wasn't bluffing. He was about to speak when the phone rang.

******************** 30 Minutes Earlier

Richie glanced at dashboard clock for just a second. Headlights caught his attention and he looked up. There was a car with a flat on the shoulder a little way up the road. Suddenly, something darted out into the path of his jeep. A split second later he realized that it was a small child. He saw the parents scramble toward the child who had slipped past them while they busied themselves with the flat. Richie swerved instinctively as he looked once more at the young child, whose eyes were now wide in the headlight beams, much like a deer. It was the last thing he saw.

The jeep hit the guardrail with enough force that it rebounded off the rail. Then it went airborne, rolling over and over. Metal crushed and glass shattered, then all was silent. "Margaret, use the cell phone to call an ambulance!" the man shouted to his wife, once they both surmised that their child was not hurt. He ran for the demolished jeep. It was on its side about fifty feet away. He approached quickly, but cautiously, afraid it might explode. He saw a young man inside, bloody, and unconscious.

"I called. They're coming!" Margaret yelled to her husband.

"Hello? Can you hear me?" he asked trying to reach Richie through the broken windshield. There was no movement, only silence. He put a shaking hand up to Richie's neck, trying to find a pulse as he watched the young man's chest for movement.

"Is he dead?" his wife asked from behind, her voice shaking as she held their child.

"No, but he doesn't look good," he said in frustration. "Dammit! He's just a kid, honey. Go get a blanket out of the trunk, we have to keep him warm until the ambulance gets here." She hurried away for the blanket.

********************

Richie was pulled from the darkness by pleasant humming. Someone was stroking his hair back from his forehead. He smiled. Catherine was on his mind, but the tune, he knew it. Tessa. She hummed that; it was French. His eyes shot open. "Shh . . . Richie," a blurry face soothed, but the voice was unmistakable. It was Tessa. He rubbed his eyes and the face came into focus. He locked eyes with the beautiful French woman; she looked just the same. He could only stare at her in disbelief. "Rest. I'll be here," she urged. Richie closed his eyes as she continued to hum and stroke his hair.

********************

Duncan paced the waiting room. He sat down, frustrated, his mind racing. A chill ran through him as he remembered the phone call from the hospital. When he had arrived, ER trauma surgeon, Dr. Anne Lindsey, had briefed him. She had talked to Duncan briefly as Richie was whisked away to be prepped for surgery. She told Duncan that Richie had suffered multiple traumatic injuries. He had internal bleeding and a severe concussion. She hadn't gone into many details, telling Duncan that she really needed to get into surgery. When Duncan had asked about Richie's chances of survival, she had shaken her head slightly and said, "Mr. MacLeod, his injuries are life threatening." When he had asked if there was anything he could do for Richie, she had only replied, "Pray." That was over five hours ago and still no word about the young man.

Duncan tried to remind himself that if Richie did die from this accident it wouldn't be permanent. *He's too young for the game. Twenty-one is too young, dammit!* he thought to himself. Adam came in with Joe and handed the haggard-looking Highlander a cup of strong black coffee. Duncan sat staring at the floor, his mind sifting through memories of the young man. He tried to stop, but he couldn't.

"Duncan?" The voice from the doorway made him look up. Duncan was relieved to see Catherine's father, Robert. Duncan and Robert had figured out early on, when they had first been introduced, that Robert had treated Richie after the shooting.

Catherine rushed past her father towards the Highlander. He hugged her.

"Thank you for calling me, Mr. MacLeod," Catherine said through tears.

"Richie would want you here, Catherine. Hey, it's okay to call me Mac," he said, with a warm smile, trying to hide his concern. It wasn't successful. His face was an open book, the agony plain.

"Duncan. Who is Richie's doctor?" Robert questioned.

"Dr. Anne Lindsey," the Highlander answered, as he searched the physician's face. "I haven't heard anything since they took him to surgery."

"Okay. Hang tight, I know Anne. She's a fine trauma surgeon, Duncan. Richie is in the best of hands," the man tried to offer some comfort. As a father he could imagine what Duncan was going through.

"Thank you," Duncan said as he shook the man's hand. Duncan had learned to know the Collins family a little since Richie started dating Catherine. Richie had been a little uncomfortable at first with the connection to Cat's father, but Robert had been quick to put Richie at ease. Duncan was grateful for that, and for his previous care of the young man during a very traumatic time.

Catherine sat down with the Highlander and waited. A tremor ran through her as she thought about tonight and how much she cared for Richie. *He can't die. Please, don't take him, God,* she prayed silently. Robert left in search of answers.

"Hello, Dr. Collins," a nurse greeted from a nurse's station on the floor.

"Hi, Maddy. Have you seen Dr. Lindsey?"

"Yes, she's in recovery. She just got out of surgery."

"Thank you."

Robert made his way towards recovery. He donned a lab coat and went into the prep room, scrubbing his hands and forearms before entering the sterile unit. He finally saw Richie and he didn't look good. "Anne?"

"Robert, what brings you in here tonight?" Anne asked, looking tired as she started towards Richie.

"That's my daughter's boyfriend. I wanted to know how he is. What are we looking at?" He could already see the Halo brace on Richie's head. He knew that meant a broken neck. He also noticed that Richie was receiving blood through one of his IV's. Richie had also been given a nasal gastric tube. Anne's face showed the seriousness of the situation and Robert took the cue.

"May I?" he asked, motioning to Richie's chart.

"Yes, of course," Anne said, handing him the chart.

"How has he survived all this?" Robert asked, looking up to Anne after glancing at the chart. He looked over at Richie, who remained pale and unmoving.

"He's one hell of a fighter!" Anne remarked, "but we've got a way to go." Robert watched Anne walk over to examine Richie and his post-operative incisions.

"Have you removed the chest tube?" Robert asked, as she began to pull back Richie's gown.

"Yes. The tension pneumothorax he came in with abated after the chest tube was inserted. His spleen was literally split in two." She continued to examine the multiple incisions. "The right kidney is extremely bruised, but it will recover. He has four broken ribs, three on the right side, and the fourth is on the left. He suffered some blood loss in the accident as well as during surgery, but his count is coming back up." Robert listened to Anne as he read over the post-op notes, waiting to take a look at Richie, himself, when Anne was done.

"What about liver damage?" He asked as he read a comment in the notes.

"The liver had a minor laceration, but nothing significant. I'll watch his blood work, but I don't foresee a problem."

"Good. I don't think he could survive much more," Robert commented, touching Richie's arm. "What about the head injury?"

"Here. Have a look," Anne stepped aside, handing her pen light to the man.

He looked into Richie's pupils and saw what Anne had seen--a bulge in the optical disk. He looked at Richie's skull x-rays. The skull fracture showed up quite clearly. "Dammit," he said, followed by a loud sigh.

"Was his Babinski positive?" Robert questioned, as he studied Richie's x- rays.

"Yes," Anne answered. Robert tested Richie's responsiveness to pain stimuli. He and Anne agreed the coma was deep.

"How was his CAT scan?" Robert needed to be able to give Duncan answers. Plus, he wanted his own.

"The fracture is severe. I'll monitor him for hemorrhaging," Anne said as she finished up her examination." Robert looked at Richie's EEG readings, and was comforted by the brain activity. There was hope, if he had no further complications.

"How bad is the arm fracture?" Robert asked, observing the cast.

"He fractured his right Ulna. It was a clean break. Orthopedics said it should heal without any problems. He dislocated his hip, but they were able to do a successful reduction." Robert just shook his head.

"What about spinal injury?" Robert asked.

"The spinal cord is intact. His cervical spine is another matter. Neuro put him in the Halo for immobilization. The cervical break was lucky. If it had been just a little higher or lower, he would be either dead or a quadriplegic,"

Anne looked up at Robert, "So how long has Catherine been seeing him?" Anne knew the family and was a close friend of Loreena Collins.

"Three months. We had him over for dinner tonight. Catherine isn't taking this well. Now, I have to go out there and tell her all of this. Thank you, Anne. I'd better go talk to his family and talk with Catherine."

"I'll come with you. I'd like to talk some things over with Mr. MacLeod and discuss Richie's injuries."

"Certainly," Robert said with a smile. Anne stopped at the ICU station telling them to page her if Richie's vitals changed drastically or if they suspected a problem.

Duncan heard voices and footsteps approaching the waiting room. He stood, hoping for news. Robert and Anne came around the corner side by side. Duncan searched their faces for answers.

"Dr. Lindsey," Duncan said, approaching her. Robert stepped forward.

"Dad . . ." Catherine stood anxiously and went to her father.

"Hi, Honey," her father said, using his best comforting voice.

"How is Richie? Can I see him?" Catherine wanted answers, and when her questions only earned exchanged looks between the doctors, it sent both hers and Duncan's hearts hammering.

"Please, he's not . . ." Duncan couldn't finish the question.

"No, no, Mr. MacLeod," Anne assured quickly, as Robert took a gentle grip on his daughter's arm.

"Catherine, Honey," he urged, "let Anne speak with Duncan. I'll answer all your questions." Robert took his daughter down the hall to speak to her..

"Shall we sit, Mr. MacLeod," Anne suggested, motioning to a seat in a private corner of the room as Joe and Adam watched.

"Yes. How is he, Dr. Lindsey?" There was a trace of desperation in his voice.

********************

Richie began to stir and he heard a voice, "Richie. Richie, come on. Wake up," the familiar voice urged. He was still a little groggy.

"Tess," he murmured sleepily.

"Yes. Wake up, sleepy head," she chimed. He sat up suddenly, his eyes wide. He stared into Tessa's smiling face.

"It's okay, Richie," she said as she watched the apprehension slip away. A large smile spread across his face.

"Tessa, how?" he asked, looking around. It was his old room at the antique shop. Home.

"It's not important," she said with a soft smile, as she pushed back his unruly curls. He could never forget that smile. She drew him into an embrace. He had something to ask and he reluctantly drew back.

"Tess, where's Mac? What happened? Am I crazy or something?" His face was filled with questions and confusion.

"Mac isn't here," she said, smiling at him. "And you're not going crazy," she reassured him.

"Where is he then?" Richie asked, not quite knowing what to believe.

"He's somewhere else, Richie," Tessa spoke softly.

"Doing what?" his voice was almost agitated. None of this made sense to him. What was going on?

"He's waiting," she said, standing up from Richie's bed.

"Waiting? For what?" Richie asked, as he threw his legs over the edge of his bed.

"You." Her answer was simple.

His confusion grew. "Me?"

"Richie, do you remember what happened?" She turned to look at him.

"Happened?" He started to think, and then it came to him. "I remember a kid, and my jeep." He took a breath, then continued, "I swerved . . ." His breathing quickened and he looked at Tessa in panic. "Am I dead? Did I die?"

"No-no, Richie," she reassured as she pulled a chair to the bedside. She took both of his hands in her own. "You're alive, Richie. Duncan is waiting for you to come back to him." She recognized the hesitation which crossed his young face. "You cannot stay here with me, Richie."

"I know." Part of him wanted to stay, but his home was with Mac now, and it had been for a while. However, he wanted a little longer with Tessa.

"There will be pain, Richie, but Duncan will be with you. He loves you," she said, standing up and pulling the young man up with her.

"I have to go now, don't I," he queried, his smile fading.

"I will have none of that, Richard Ryan," the French woman scolded. "You belong with Duncan. I am always with you, but you have many more experiences and adventures ahead of you."

"Tessa," he hesitated, "A lot has happened. Things . . ." He wanted to tell her.

"I know." Those two words carried the weight of complete understanding. She knew about everything. Logan. The rape. Everything. He turned away.

"Richard," her voice was firm, yet gentle. "Look at me."

"Tessa . . ." His face was anguished.

"Hush, Richie. It was never your fault. None of it. I only wish you hadn't thought your life so worthless. Duncan loves you as if you were his own son. How could you ever want to leave him with the memory of your suicide?"

"I'm sorry. I was sorry, then. I told Mac . . ." Richie was unable to finish as his face crumpled into a sob. Tessa took him in her arms and held him while he wept.

"Shh . . ." she soothed.

********************

"How is he today? I noticed the ng tube was removed." Robert said to Anne as he came to stand beside her. She stood watching Duncan through the glass partition of ICU.

"Yes, I had it removed earlier this morning," she sighed and spoke.

"He never leaves him," she said, studying the Highlander's seated figure.

"I've read Richie's file," she paused and began again. "He was here almost three years ago. He was almost fatally shot in a mugging."

"You were his doctor," she continued looking at Robert. He nodded. "And he was injured in that awful explosion at the university a year ago."

She looked at Robert in frustration. "How many bedside vigils must Duncan endure? And Richie . . ."

Her eyes drifted back to the ICU room, her thought left unfinished. She had read the rest of his file. The rape was documented, but she wasn't about to mention it to Robert in the event Richie hadn't shared it with them.

"Duncan, is it?" Robert asked with a hint of curiosity. He could see Anne had developed a bond to the man over the past twelve days of Richie's coma.

"Don't read anything into it," Anne snapped.

"Uh, huh," he said, with a knowing smile. Anne shot him a hard look.

"I'm going to give him some privacy," Anne said, suddenly, as she turned to walk down the corridor. Robert followed her.

Duncan sat watching Richie. He studied every feature of the young man whom he loved more than life itself. An IV tube snaked into the back of Richie's left hand. The Halo brace looked painful and cumbersome, yet he was thankful for it. He thought back to the moment when Anne had explained Richie's injuries. When she had said Richie's neck was broken, all his air rushed out, as the room tilted and grayed around the edges. He recalled Anne speaking to him in a soothing voice, urging him to put his head down and take slow even breaths for her.

He reached up and brushed the fingers of Richie's right hand where they emerged from the cast. Catherine had come to visit Richie frequently, and she often spelled Duncan while he took a short walk, more times than not with Anne Lindsey.

He had discovered that if he tried to remove the thoughts and concerns of his current situation, he thought of Anne. He found her personality and intelligence invigorating, and he thought she was quite beautiful. He found himself wanting to spend more time with her, but now wasn't the time. His main focus and concern was Richie.

"Toughguy," he said, reaching up and stroking the young cheek. "Wherever you are, it's time to come back," he coaxed gently.

"Come on, Richie," he said, grasping the slack, cast-free hand firmly. "Please, come back to me. To Catherine," he paused, "she visits with you every day, Richie. I think you've found yourself a keeper. She loves you a great deal."

He was trying to find anything and everything to motivate the boy fight his way back. "I love you, too, Richie. Please open your eyes."

********************

"All better?" Tessa questioned, as Richie finally took in a quivering breath and pulled away from her soft supportive shoulder. She reached up with both hands wiping away his tears. He only nodded.

"When?" His voice was small and unsure.

"Now," she said, with a warm smile, as she urged him toward the bedroom door.

"No!" He wasn't ready to give Tessa up again, not yet. He pulled away from her and retreated to the far corner of the room.

********************

An alarm sounded and Duncan's eyes darted monitor bank above Richie's bed. A nurse came running. "What's happening," he bellowed.

"His blood pressure is dropping," she said, as more staff came into the room followed by Anne, who had arrived at the nurse's station just as the alarm sounded.

"Anne! What's wrong," he begged.

"Duncan, you have to step outside. I'll take care of Richie," she answered, urging him to the door. Duncan turned inside her gentle grasp, his eyes desperate.

"Anne, Please . . ." His plea was left unfinished, but she understood. Anne squeezed his arm and went to Richie. Duncan stood helplessly in the hall. They pulled the blinds and he had no idea what was going on inside. He leaned against the wall. Suddenly, he felt Richie's pre-Immortal hum begin to fade; receding . . . gone. He closed his eyes in anguish as the sense of a full blown Immortal overtook him.

"Duncan?" The familiar voice made his eyes snap open as a hand clasped his shoulder firmly..

"Connor!" He looked at his former mentor in amazement, then happiness, as he realized that Connor's Quickening had over taken Richie's weaker, pre-Immortal one. Richie hadn't entered the game, not yet.

"Are you all right?" Connor inquired with his intense Scottish stare. "How is Richie?"

"There was a problem. I don't know." His eyes drifting toward the covered glass partition. "What are you doing here, Connor?"

"Your personal snoop found me. He called me in New York and said I should come." Connor looked searchingly at Duncan. His former student's face was drawn with fatigue.

"Joe?" Duncan asked in confusion.

"Yes, he said his name was Joe Dawson," Connor confirmed.

"I'm sorry he bothered you," Duncan said quietly. Anne still hadn't come out with word on Richie.

"Don't be, Duncan. I'm glad he called. He told me what happened. How is he?" Duncan began explaining things to Connor.

********************

"Richie! Please, you have to go," Tessa spoke, her voice now firm as she approached the young man. "Do you want to hurt Duncan?"

"No." The answer came quickly.

"Then you must go, Petite." She reached her hand out to him.

"Just a little while longer, Tess. Please," he begged.

"You have already been here too long. If you stay you will not be able to return to the life you left," she said, with an expression Richie had never seen before. Her statement had been vague and he didn't understand. What did she mean, 'you will not be able to return to the life you left?'

"Tessa . . ." He wanted more time.

"No, Richie. You have to go." She pulled him into an embrace and walked him to the door. "You have to open it yourself, Richie. It has to be your choice." He reached out a hand and turned the knob, then looked back at Tessa.

"It's okay," she urged, with a smile. "Remember I love you. I always will."

"I know. I love you, too," he said, as tears broke free.

"Go. Now, Richie," Tessa spoke, with another smile. Richie opened the door and a strong light greeted him. He allowed it to envelop him.

********************

Duncan had been sitting with Richie saying silent prayers of thanks. The past thirty minutes had been a nightmare of waiting, but Connor had been a godsend. Richie's blood pressure finally stabilized and Anne had come out and given Duncan the news. Connor had gone to get some coffee for himself and Duncan. The Highlander sat back in his chair and he rubbed his face, closing his eyes for a second.

"Mac?" The voice was quiet, a mere whisper. Duncan's eyes shot open.

"Richie," he said, in excitement, as he stood up to lean over the boy. Richie's eyes were open and regarding the Highlander with heavy lids.

"Wreck . . . kid?" His mouth worked almost soundlessly. His thoughts were jumbled. He saw flashes of what he thought he remembered.

"Yes, you rolled your jeep. The child wasn't hurt. You saved her life, Richie. You swerved to miss her."

Duncan tried to relieve the youth's anxieties. "Her parents even stopped by the night of the accident to tell me what you did. They've checked on you frequently and they asked me to tell you, 'Thank you.'" Anne came into the room, and saw that Richie was awake.

"When?" she asked Duncan, as she briskly approached Richie.

"Just a couple of minutes ago. I was about to call for you," Duncan said, looking to her and back at Richie.

"Hi, Richie. I'm Anne, your doctor. This may be bright," she warned, as she clicked on her pen light. "Are you dizzy? Blurred vision?"

"No." He coughed against the dryness of his throat. Duncan filled a glass with water and held the straw to Richie's lips.

"Better?" Duncan asked. Richie smiled, unable to nod. Richie moved his legs a little and stopped when he felt an uncomfortable pull between his legs. Anne noticed the reaction and smiled softly.

"It's okay, Richie," she reassured him. "It's a catheter, and maybe in a day or two you won't need it." Anne stepped back and asked, "How does your head feel?"

"I've got a helluva headache," he whispered, his voice straining after the days of silence. Anne offered a sympathetic smile.

"Well, you've had us all concerned. The headache is to be expected," Anne said, as she listened to Richie's heart. Richie knew he couldn't really move, and something told him he hurt, but the pain seemed detached. He lifted his casted arm and looked at it.

"Broken?" he asked, looking at both Duncan and Anne. Duncan nodded. Richie lifted his good arm toward his head, but Duncan stopped him.

"No, Rich. You have to be careful," Duncan said, gently, as he easily stopped the inquisitive hand. Anne proceeded to explain his injuries and the young man seemed to take it all in. He only asked whether he would walk again, and she assured him that it would not be a problem once he had a chance to heal. She finished her examination and left Duncan alone with Richie once again.

"You doing okay?" Duncan asked, as he looked the pale young man over.

"Lucky, huh," was all Richie could whisper.

"We both were." The Highlander's statement hit home with Richie.

"Sorry, Mac," Richie said, his eyelids heavy.

"Richie, don't apologize. You did nothing wrong. You saved that little girl's life."

"Where's Cat?" Richie asked, straining to make himself heard as he searched the Immortal's face. Duncan smiled.

"She's been here every day Richie," Duncan said, as the urge to touch the young man took over and he placed a hand gently on Richie's leg.

"Really?" Richie inquired, trying to smile. He took a breath and winced against the protest of his broken ribs. "What does she think of all this crap?" He motioned towards his head.

"She just wants you well." Duncan stopped when he noticed Richie close his eyes briefly. "You okay?"

"Yeah."

Duncan wasn't convinced. "Are you in pain, Richie," Duncan asked, as he studied the youth. "There's no sense in you being in pain."

"Mac . . ."

"Rich." The single use of his name, in the Highlander's familiar paternal tone warned Richie that only a truthful answer would suffice.

"Okay, yeah, I hurt." The admission came with difficulty; he didn't like this feeling.

"I'll speak to Anne," Duncan said, standing up. "Hey, there's someone outside you might like to say 'hello' to."

"Really? Who?" Richie asked, eyeing the door.

"Wait a sec. I'll send him in and he can keep you company while I go talk to Anne."

Duncan left and returned moments later. Richie watched Connor MacLeod step around the corner of the door and come in.

"Sir Lancelot!" Richie exclaimed, in a surprised whisper.

"Hey, Trouble," Connor greeted, as he approached the bed. "Aging the old man a few years again, huh?" Duncan just rolled his eyes at his former teacher.

"I'll be back in a few minutes. Keep out of trouble, you two," Duncan said, with a smile.

"Okay, Mac," Richie offered, as Connor looked at Duncan.

"Take your time, Duncan," Connor said, with a smile, as he broke into his famous staccato laugh. Duncan returned a knowing smile. He knew his mentor and kinsman far too well.

"Uh-huh, I'll be back soon," Duncan said and left the room.

Several hours later, Duncan sat in the dimly lit ICU room, alternating between watching Richie sleep and reading a book. Connor had taken a quick trip to his hotel and had left Duncan to his own devices until his return. Richie had fallen asleep after Anne had okayed his pain medication. His latest CAT scan showed no bleeding and the brain swelling was abating. Duncan tried not to remember the long hours that he had waited to know if Richie would survive surgery. He wanted to look to the future.

Catherine had visited earlier and fussed all over Richie. Duncan smiled to himself as he remembered.

********************

"Richie! Mac said you were awake. I couldn't believe it when Dad told me!" Catherine had to restrain herself from jumping on Richie in her happiness.

"Hey, Hon," he said, offering her a weak smile, trying to regain some of his voice. He wanted to talk to her. Catherine leaned over the bed. She looked at the cumbersome Halo brace and smiled.

"I can work with this," she declared, and promptly leaned in and kissed the tip of Richie's nose. Richie's face pinked up as he blushed. The audience they had was a little embarrassing. Duncan took the cue.

"Hey, let's give them some time," Duncan said, as he ushered himself and Robert out of the room. Duncan stayed within earshot, but tried not to eavesdrop.

"Richie, are you in a lot of pain?" Catherine asked, as she gently stroked the fingers of his good hand. Richie smiled slightly, but the tight lines around his mouth spoke of the pain.

"Been better," he said, as he took her hand in his.

"I was so scared, Richie. I don't know what I would have . . ." She broke off unable to finish her sentence.

"Hey, I'm okay," Richie tried to reassure her. "I'm like a Timex. 'Take's a licking and keeps on ticking!'" He tried to make her smile; it worked. Duncan watched them through the glass partition, and smiled himself.

"Not funny," Catherine chastised, but laughed in spite of herself. "Hey, I met Mac's cousin. I like him," she said, with a smile.

"Connor? Yeah, he's pretty cool," Richie answered. Then, his face scrunched up a little.

"Something's wrong," Cat sounded concerned.

"Calm down," Richie said, with a half attempted smile. "My calf itches," he stated, as he started to move slightly.

"No moving, Richie!" Cat commanded firmly. "You're supposed to stay still." She pulled aside the covers to reveal his leg and Richie eyed the white gauze bandage.

"What happened there?" He pointed at the bandage.

"Stitches," Cat answered, as she scratched around the bandage for Richie. "Sorry, this is the best I can do. It's probably the stitches itching you. You'll be getting them out soon."

"How many," Richie asked, as Catherine pulled the blanket back over his leg.

"Dad told me fifteen," she paused, " and seven, there." She pointed towards Richie's hairline.

"Did they cut my hair?" Richie asked in annoyance.

"Just a bit. You won't even see a scar. I heard Anne talking to Mac, and she said those come out tomorrow."

"How do I look?" Richie knew he must be a sight.

"Very handsome," she said, as she leaned forward. "And not to mention hot!" She pulled his hand up to her face and kissed his palm. He smiled.

"Let's not start something we can't finish," Richie said, touching her face, as his hand shook slightly.

"Raincheck?" Catherine offered.

"Yes," was Richie's simple answer. "Really Cat, how do I look? Bad?"

"Well aside from the obvious," she smiled, "you look like one giant bruise." She paused. "Do your ribs hurt a lot?"

"Only when I breathe," he said, with a little wince.

"Oh, sweetie! I'd kiss it and make it all better if I could," she said, playfully.

"Tempting. Very tempting," Richie replied, his voice weak but gaining a little volume.

"Catherine," her father stuck his head in. "Richie needs his rest. We should go."

"Oh, Dad. All right, but I'll see you tomorrow, okay," she said, as she kissed Richie's nose again.

"Okay," he said, his cheeks slightly pinking again. Duncan had only smiled, happy to see life in him again.

********************

"Duncan," Connor whispered from the doorway, not wanting to disturb Richie's sleep. Duncan looked at Richie, assuring himself the boy was still sleeping soundly before turning to his kinsman.

"Coffee," Connor said, as he handed the cup to Duncan.

"Thanks," Duncan said, as he grasped the cup. The warmth coming through the styrofoam felt good.

"Let's take a walk." Connor motioned towards the family waiting room. It was empty and they could talk a little without being interrupted. They sat down together on a large hunter green sofa. "How is he?"

"Sleeping. The pain medication knocked him out," Duncan replied.

"I know you said not to apologize for Joe calling you, but I am sorry," Duncan said, watching his kinsman. "I know you don't trust the Watchers as far as you can throw em', but Joe really is a good guy. He was never a Hunter."

"Well, you're right about me not trusting them. But your snoop does seem okay. I talked to him earlier when he and Adam Pierson stopped by to check on Richie."

"Joe. Yeah, he's been great. Richie likes him, and I trust him," Duncan answered, studying his kinsman's face. "You met Adam, huh?"

"Yes, he keeps to himself that one. He has a strong lifeline, though," Connor idly answered.

"He's private, I'll give you that." Duncan wanted to tell Connor more, but he had given Adam his word to keep his real identity as Methos private. It wasn't his secret to tell.

"So how old is he anyway," Connor asked.

"Old," was all Duncan offered. Connor got the drift that it wasn't a topic up for discussion and he let it drop.

"He's a good man, Connor," Duncan paused, "I owe him a lot."

"Owe him?"

"He saved Richie's life . . . after Logan . . . after the . . . the" Duncan couldn't bring himself to say it. Connor's face softened. He'd heard about the rape almost a year ago. He put a gentle hand on Duncan's forearm.

"I know, Dhounchaidh," Connor spoke softly, their native Gaelic slipping out. Duncan raised his eyes to meet his mentor's. He found only warmth and understanding in them. "It wasn't your fault Duncan. Does the boy blame you?"

"No, of course not," Duncan answered, a little more sharply than he'd intended. Connor only smiled.

"If the boy doesn't blame you, then stop blaming yourself!" Connor reached up and squeezed Duncan's shoulder.

"Thanks, Connor."

"For what? Pointing out something your hard head refuses to acknowledge," Connor said with a smirk. Duncan smiled sheepishly at his friend and former teacher.

"Well, that," Duncan said, chagrined. "But, also for coming."

"You're family, Duncan. Richie, too." Connor spoke with firm conviction. Duncan only nodded. There was an unspoken acknowledgment between the two men. A bond.

Connor watched Duncan's attention divert and followed his clansman's gaze. "You fancy that one don't you?" Connor asked, as he saw who had distracted Duncan. Anne was talking to a nurse at the nurse's station.

"Huh," he said, his voice distracted. "You're a busybody, Connor." Duncan's voice a bit snippy.

"Well, I may be that, but I'm not daft, Duncan," he paused, "I've noticed how you look at her. I'm not blind."

"Mind your own business, Connor," Duncan quietly snapped. Connor smiled and lifted his hands in mock surrender.

"I am. Now go talk to the lass," Connor encouraged. Duncan just shot him a look. Anne had noticed Duncan and Connor and couldn't help herself. She did feel something for this man, Duncan MacLeod.

"Evening gentlemen," Anne said as she poked her head in the waiting room door.

"Anne," Duncan said, rising from the couch. "How's Richie?"

"His vitals are good, Duncan. He's resting comfortably," she said, with a warm smile. Connor cleared his throat.

"I should go. I'll be back in the morning," Connor said, looking at his watch. "Dr. Lindsey," he said, extending his hand. "A pleasure as usual." He looked at Duncan. "If you need me . . ." Connor began.

"I know. I'll call," Duncan inserted. "I'll see you in the morning."

Connor just nodded and excused himself from the room.

"Was it something I said," Anne queried, with a slight laugh. "I didn't mean to chase him off."

Duncan smiled. "You didn't," he reassured her.

"You should get some rest, Duncan," Anne said, observing his tired eyes.

"I will." They talked a bit longer and finally she urged him to go get some sleep.

Duncan returned to Richie's ICU room. He was still sleeping soundly. Duncan settled comfortably in a chair and soon nodded off.

He was awakened by a gentle hand on his cheek. It was Anne. He looked at Richie still sleeping and then at Anne.

Good morning," she whispered to him. He smiled.

"Already," he said, looking at his watch in disbelief.

"Yes," she answered. "He had a good night," she said, looking over at Richie. Duncan nodded. "Coffee?" Duncan took her hand in his own as his face softened. Anne had become an important part of his life over the past twelve days. The attraction had happened fairly quickly. She had been sweet and pulled him away more than once during the past week to do various things. He found he liked being awakened by her gentle touch, like this morning. Looking at her this morning, his mind quickly rekindled memories of two days ago.

**Two Days Earlier**

"Duncan," Anne's voice got the Highlander's attention as he sat reading a book in the waiting room.

"Anne!" His voice was a little startled. "Is something wrong?"

"No-No, everything is fine. Do you have some free time?" Her eyes sparkled and Duncan smiled.

"Sure, what did you have in mind?"

"Follow me," was all she said. They took the nearest elevator up three floors and got off.

"Where are we going," Duncan finally asked, as he continued to follow her.

"You'll see," was the only explanation she offered. Anne stopped in front of a door. Duncan noticed a gold sign next to it that read 'Conference Room A.' Anne put a key in the door and pulled Duncan in. Duncan noticed the picnic lunch set up on the table. He looked at her with warm eyes.

"You did this," he asked, as a smile spread across his face.

"I thought it would be a nice break for you. Is it okay?" Her voice had an expectancy to it. Duncan chuckled under his breath.

"It's wonderful," he remarked.

"I wish it was warm enough outside, but it's a little too chilly," Anne said, as she walked Duncan to the table. Duncan pulled a chair out for her.

"M'lady," he said.

"Thank you," she replied. She noticed Duncan looking around for a moment. "Is something wrong?"

"No music," he said, with a smile.

"Huh? Well, I didn't think of that. Hey, there's an intercom in this room. I'm sure it gets music." Anne stood and went to the wall, and stared at the intercom. "Let me try this," she said, as she flipped a switch and turned the volume knob. She smiled as a light music station piped into the room. Duncan laughed.

"It sounds like I'm on hold," he commented, with a smile.

"Duncan!"

"I'm kidding," he said, as he raised his hands in surrender. "It's fine."

"Are you sure?" She eyed him.

"Yes, I'm sure," he said, as he rose from his seat to show Anne to hers once again. They ate and talked. When the meal was over Anne disposed of the leftovers and set the picnic basket neatly off to the side. A song came on the radio and Duncan stood up. "Do you dance," he asked, with a smile.

Anne laughed softly. "Like a giraffe on roller skates!"

Duncan chuckled and extended his hand anyway. "Shall we?" He pulled her up from her seat.

"Duncan, I'm not kidding about what I said!" She tried to convince him. "When I was younger and all the girls I knew were getting ready for prom, I was cutting up frogs for extra credit," she explained, as she reluctantly let Duncan lead her to a roomy area near a podium.

"Well, I, for one, am very glad that you did all that extra credit. Because of you, I still have Richie. You saved his life, Anne. But you're not that little girl anymore, and it's time you learned," he encouraged. Anne still appeared unsure, and he paused, "Can you trust me," he asked, with a smile.

"Okay," she said, as she rolled her eyes, "but don't say I didn't warn you."

"Consider me forewarned," he offered.

"It works better if you look at me, and not our feet," he urged. She laughed and looked up. He chuckled and spoke again, "One more thing, you might try letting me lead."

Their eyes met and they broke into laughter. Finally, Anne found her feet as Duncan pulled her close, and they danced. The song ended and Duncan pulled back to look into Anne's eyes. "Thank you for this," he said.

"I wanted to do it," she said, her eyes never breaking Duncan's gaze. Their movement paused as Duncan lifted a hand to her cheek. Each studied the other's eyes. Anne's hand moved up to Duncan's head and she ran her finger's through his wavy hair, which he had left down out of his trademark ponytail.

"May I," he asked, smiling broadly at her, as he drew her face up towards his own.

"I thought you'd never ask," she answered, with a soft smile. Their mouths hovered, but just as their lips touched, Anne's pager went off.

"Damn," she muttered, in frustration, as her face fell onto Duncan's shoulder, their kiss deferred.

"I'm sorry," she said, as she stepped back from him and looked at her pager. "It's the ER. I have to go."

"I understand," Duncan said, as he reached for her lab coat. As he helped her with it, he whispered, "another time."

She turned around, smiling, and nodded. "You'd better go," he urged. "I'll drop these things off at your office."

"You don't have to do that, Duncan."

"I know, but I want to," he assured her.

"Thank you," she said, as she went to the door.

"No, thank you," he said, as he motioned to the door. Anne smiled and left.

*******************

Duncan's mind quickly returned to the present and he looked at Anne, "Yes," Duncan answered, keeping his voice down and rising from his seat.

Coffee sounded good. They walked out into the hall together. Duncan stretched trying to remove the kinks from his back. Anne gave a commiserating smile.

"You should have stretched out on the sofa in the waiting room, Duncan."

"I'm okay, just a little cramped," he said, looking at her and observing how attractive she looked this morning. They soon found themselves back in her office with their coffees and some private space to talk.

"I told them to page me if Richie wakes and wants you," Anne assured him. Duncan smiled sheepishly.

"I'm that obvious, huh," he answered.

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to be with him, Duncan," she reassured, trying to make him comfortable.

"It's hard . . ." He broke off, not knowing what else to say.

"I know," she agreed. "I can't imagine what this is like for you or him," she paused. "Duncan, as his doctor I've seen his previous medical history, what we have on file here . . ." Her voice faded as she became unsure if she should continue. "When we've talked before I didn't want to pry." Duncan looked at her with comprehension; she knew.

"It's okay, Anne," he assured quietly. He took a deep breath and spoke again. "You know about the . . . the rape." His voice was shaky and Anne felt compelled to touch him. She placed her hand gently on his. Duncan covered her hand with his other and smiled.

"Duncan," she began tentatively, "I'm not asking for details and you don't have to talk about anything you don't want to. I don't want you to feel on the spot here, but I'm here if you want to talk."

"I know," he answered, with a smile to back it up.

"The two of you have been through so much together." She watched Duncan's face and the distant look in his eyes. His mind was somewhere else. Perhaps re-living a memory. "Duncan," she called, quietly, as she squeezed his hand gently.

"I'm sorry," Duncan answered, chagrined that his mind had drifted.

"It's okay," she reassured him. In an attempt to change the subject from bad memories she spoke again, "I had asked Robert why Richie never changed his last name," she paused, "I just thought he was . . ." She stopped, wondering if this topic was a bad one as well. The amusement in Duncan's eyes made her feel better.

"He's not adopted," Duncan answered, studying her face. "Richie didn't become a part of my life until he was seventeen. I was his legal guardian until he turned eighteen. He's the only family I have, aside from Connor."

"Well, he's lucky to have you," she said, smiling.

Duncan shook his head slightly and corrected her. "No, I'm the lucky one," he said firmly.

Anne felt a surge of emotion for this man. It had grown over long days and little outings she had planned to get him away from everything, even if for just a short time. She shifted on the love seat and accidentally knocked her empty coffee cup to the floor.

"Oops," she said, using the moment to try and bring her feelings under control as she moved for the cup.

"I've got it," Duncan said, bending with her. Their hands touched the cup at the same time. Duncan took hold of her hand. Their eyes met and held each other's gaze. This moment had been building for a while. Duncan reached up and pushed her hair back behind an ear. Her eyes seemed to smile, as her lips parted ever so slightly. Duncan cupped his hand around the back of her head and pulled her gently toward him. They lingered for a moment, gauging each other. Then they kissed.

It began almost experimentally, both testing the water. The kiss soon progressed to a deeper one that left both of them breathless and wanting more. Her lab coat lay discarded on the floor. She reached up, caressed his face and ran her fingers along his jaw line, pulling him toward her again. He moved to her neck, exploring uncharted areas. Her breath quickened as he reached the nape of her neck and he deepened his exploration with his tongue. "Is this okay?" he asked in a quiet, breathy whisper.

"Mmmhmm," was her only reply, as she let the sensation fill her.

He blazed a trail up her neck with the tip of his tongue. Part of her brain registered where she was, but the other half didn't care. She pushed Duncan down on the couch as he continued to explore her neck. Just as he reached her lips once again, her pager went off.

"Oh, God," she said, breathlessly, into his chest, as she collapsed, deflated.

"I'm sorry," she said as she looked at her pager. Duncan smiled while looking her over.

"Is it Richie?" His voice turned from a lover's tone to a paternal one.

"No. It's the ER, again. I have to go," she said, rising. She grabbed her lab coat and gave it a shake.

"I'll share an elevator with you," he offered, helping her to put on her lab coat. At her office door, she stopped and turned quickly.

"Duncan," she said hesitantly. Duncan just smiled and caressed her bottom lip with a finger.

"Later," he said. She smiled and they left for the elevator.

Duncan returned to the ICU floor after parting from Anne. He sensed the presence of an Immortal and experienced a brief moment of fear, until he saw Connor seated with Richie. Duncan walked into the room.

"Hey, Mac," Richie greeted, his face pale. Duncan studied the tight lines around the young man's mouth.

"You okay?" he questioned.

"Yeah."

"You're sure? Do you need some pain medication," Duncan asked, watching Richie's face.

"I tried to tell him, Duncan," Connor spoke up. Duncan looked at his kinsman.

"Richie, let me ask for some pain medication for you," Duncan offered.

"It knocks me out, Mac," Richie protested, in frustration.

"Richie, sleep is the best thing for you. You shouldn't be in pain. It's not good."

"Fine," Richie said, defeated. Duncan went to the nurse's station and she soon came in with a syringe.

"Dr. Lindsey left instructions if he wanted some," the nurse spoke kindly to them. She deftly injected the contents of the syringe into Richie's IV.

"What is it," Richie asked.

"Morphine," she answered, gently. "Just relax and let it help you," she said reassuringly. Richie's eyelids were already growing heavy.

The nurse turned her attention to Duncan. "Dr. Lindsey left word that she would be up when she could get away from ER."

"Thank you," Duncan answered softly, not wanting to disturb Richie as he began to drift off to sleep. Connor motioned to Duncan and they both left the room quietly. They sensed the presence of another Immortal and turned toward the elevators in time to see Adam and Joe exit onto the ICU floor. Duncan waved to them in acknowledgment.

Hi, Joe," Duncan said with a smile, and then turned the ancient Immortal. "Adam," he said simply.

"MacLeod," Adam replied, then cast a look at Connor and nodded. Connor returned the nod.

"Thought I'd check in on Richie," Joe commented.

"He just fell asleep Joe," Duncan answered.

"Well, I'd like to wait, and maybe see him," Joe said.

"Sure, he'd love to see you," Duncan agreed.

Adam walked over to Duncan. "MacLeod, might I have a word," Adam asked, his voice level, and his face betraying nothing.

Duncan looked him over. They hadn't said much to one another since their disagreement.

"Okay, let's take a walk." Duncan motioned to the elevator and Adam nodded his head in agreement. "Connor," Duncan said, turning to his clansman, "can you stay around until I get back?"

"Certainly," Connor answered without hesitation. Duncan smiled a thank you.

Connor looked around and noticed Joe had taken a seat in the waiting room. He thought to himself, *What the hell?*, and entered the room to sit with the Watcher. "Dawson, right?" he asked after a long moment of silence.

"Yeah, but call me Joe," he replied, looking at Connor and trying to dispel the distrust Connor felt toward Watchers.

"We're not all Hunters," he said boldly. Connor eyed him.

"You don't beat around the bush do you?" Connor commented.

"No, never saw any real point to it," Joe spoke, his voice never wavering.

"Well, I don't either," Connor said bluntly.

Joe smiled. "You don't trust me, do you," he inquired.

"No . . ." Connor paused.

"But . . ." Joe inserted into the pause. Connor was beginning to like this Dawson guy in spite of himself.

"But," Connor started. "Duncan says you can be trusted," he said looking at Dawson. "So, I suppose, that's good enough for me, until you prove him wrong," he said, his voice low and even.

"I won't betray Mac, not now, not ever," Joe said, his voice slightly raised in defense of himself and his loyalties.

Connor smirked. "What?" Joe demanded in response to Connor's smirk.

"You betray your own codes. Why would I believe you wouldn't betray Duncan," Connor spoke under his breath.

"Mac and Richie are like family to me, I . . ." Connor interrupted him.

"Like," he spat, "like family, *not* family! They *are* my family," Connor said, his voice biting. "And if anything should ever happen to . . ." This time Connor was cut off.

"I would give my life for either of them, if I had to," Joe spat. "I betray the codes I've lived by, for more years than I care to count, because of friendship," Joe hissed. "Friendship and loyalty." Connor studied the mortal's face and the tension lines relaxed around his mouth, and corners of his mouth turned up slightly.

"I believe you, Dawson," he smiled, "Joe." They paused, each gauging the other in the silence. Connor broke it first. "So, this Dana Brook, you got following me around." He stopped when he saw Joe's eyes widen.

"You know who your watcher is," Joe said in shock.

"Well, I'm not daft, and I didn't just fall off the turnip truck," Connor said, smiling.

"You have her working at a firm I import through, right?" Connor said, looking at Joe.

Joe wasn't volunteering any information. Connor filled in the name for him, "Davis Imports." Connor had a look of amusement on his face.

"Really, Joe," Connor began, "She always trips over herself to handle my shipments and asks about my trips. And I've seen her following me a couple of times."

Joe made an annoyed noise deep in his throat. "I'll have a talk with her," he said, suddenly, his voice a little gruff.

"No-No, leave her be. I'd rather have her watching me than some other Immortal who might . . ." He left it unfinished.

"Chivalry isn't dead I see," Joe chirped, relaxing. "We do train our people you know," he continued in defense of the Watcher's training.

"Still doesn't keep them alive when the Immortal they are following decides to cut the extra weight," Connor said, smiling and adding, "pardon the pun." Joe smiled.

******************** Meanwhile . . .

Duncan and Adam stood up on an access roof above the ICU wing. "So what did you want to talk about, Adam," Duncan said, looking over at the old Immortal.

"We never got to finish our conversation the night the accident happened," Adam paused, "I didn't want to bring it up until Richie was stable and you had some time."

"Nothing to finish, Adam," Duncan said, leaning on the tall ledge and looking out at the city of Seacouver.

"I think there is," Adam said, his tone light, yet serious. Duncan looked over at him. "I'm not going to make excuses for who I am, but I apologize for giving you the impression that I think you're wrong."

Adam had known what he wanted to say, but wasn't sure whether he was making himself clear or making matters worse.

"But you do think I'm wrong," Duncan interjected. Adam knew their relationship was on thin ice. He measured his words carefully.

"You're not wrong, MacLeod. You have chosen what is right for you, and Richie," he paused, searching the Highlander's face.

"You have been able to make it work." He knew he had Duncan's attention. "Having a family, I mean."

"I hear a 'but' in there, somewhere," Duncan said, his voice flat.

"But nothing, MacLeod," Adam replied.

"Let me help you out," Duncan began. "You're saying I'm not wrong. But, you think my logic is, right?"

"No, I never said that," Adam insisted, a little irritated.

"Yes or no, Methos," Duncan said, using the old Immortal's real name. "You think that trying to have a family is a mistake for Immortals." Adam couldn't lie, so he straightened and met Duncan's hard gaze.

"Yes, I think it's wrong for Immortals to try the family life. Normalcy isn't in the cards for us, MacLeod. We come into this world alone, and we are meant to leave it that way." A hint of an undefinable emotion in Adam's voice made Duncan soften; he wasn't sure why.

"Adam, I have cursed my Immortality more than once over the centuries. I have tried the family life before and failed. But, my friend," he paused, a soft smile turning up the corners of his mouth, "what you get out of it is more than worth the risks. I will never regret my time with Tessa and Richie. We had some wonderful moments together as a family. And now, thank God, I still have Richie. No, normalcy isn't for us in a narrow sense, but look at the bigger picture."

Adam just looked at the Highlander. "You're a good man, Adam," he said lightly, "but you shouldn't be so closed off to allowing yourself to care, to feel." Duncan paused, "Adam, if I died tomorrow, would it bother you," he asked, with a sly smile. Adam's eyes darted up to Duncan's.

"Of course," Adam answered, with a smirk, "I'd have to find somebody else who always has my favorite beer on hand."

"Beer! Can't you be serious for a minute, Methos," Duncan said, in a huff.

"I am," Adam answered, with a sardonic smile.

"Why do I bother," Duncan grumbled, raising his hands to the heavens.

"What do you want me to say, MacLeod? What? Wax poetic for you? It's not in my nature," Adam spoke, his voice unwavering.

"Don't give me that line, Adam," Duncan hissed in frustration. "Not in your nature. What the hell *is* in your nature? From what I've seen you're capable of being the most calculating son of a bitch I've ever known!" Duncan couldn't help but notice the satisfied look that came over the ancient Immortal's face. Duncan's annoyance grew.

"And?" Adam inserted. Duncan's eyes widened.

"You're enjoying this, aren't you," Duncan spat. Adam's face remained unchanged, but a hint of laughter lit his eyes. "Damn you, Adam! You're such a bastard."

"Sticks and stones, MacLeod," Adam teased, never breaking eye contact with the Highlander. "Are you quite done?"

"Yes! Very done," Duncan said in irritation, as he turned to go.

"Wait! MacLeod." Adam put a hand on Duncan's forearm. The Highlander spun around to look the ancient Immortal in the face.

"What!" Duncan hissed.

"Listen to me, Highlander." Adam's voice took another tone.

"I have." Duncan replied.

"MacLeod, you have notions of Methos the myth; you have from the beginning," Adam began. "Have I lived up to a single one?" Duncan's expression softened.

"No," he answered, with a slightly amused look.

"Didn't think so," Adam offered. "You want me to be some repository of knowledge. I've seen many things, done many things, in my five thousand years. Not all have I been proud of. But, MacLeod, I am basically the same man now as I was then. I'm not a wise old sage full of advice. I am, who I am. A man who has walked the earth for five millennia. You often think I'm a bastard . . ." Adam stopped when he noticed the Highlander's raised eyebrow. "Okay, you always think I'm a bastard," he amended with a smile. "I am. I admit that. I haven't survived five thousand years being anything less than a bastard or calculating. You think I never get to the point, and that I'm not serious, but I am. MacLeod, I've learned many things in my life, but there is one thing I have mastered and that is the art of subtlety."

"What does subtlety have to do with anything," Duncan asked under his breath.

"Subtlety, MacLeod, extreme subtlety even to the point of formlessness. I have found this method the best, both in directing an opponent's fate and in building a friendship." Adam stared at Duncan and smiled. "You, MacLeod, you like to beat the grass to startle the snakes. It's who you are."

"Beat the grass?" Duncan looked confused.

"Yes, MacLeod! When you think someone is reserved and unfathomable, you create a stir to see how they will react. So, you asked me if your death would bother me. That is your way of beating the grass to startle the snakes," Adam said, in a light tone.

"I thought you weren't an old sage," Duncan said, behind a quiet chuckle. "But you never did answer my original question," he prompted. Adam glanced at Duncan and sighed.

"Ah, Highlander, I knew a man, a life time ago; a good man, full of words and thoughts. He said something to me once, and I have always remembered it, 'I strove with none; for none was worth my strife; Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, art.' I still agree with him, except for one thing. You, MacLeod, I would strive with. You are one of the greats. You are a man of honor, and worthy of the Prize. I may be unconventional, even abstruse, but I have never pretended to be otherwise. Accept me, and I will accept you, and even your fuzzy logic on family life. But, if it endangers your head, I will speak my mind, even if you don't want to hear it," he paused. "Have I answered your question, yet?" Duncan just looked at him, and nodded.

"Good, is this done?" Adam prompted.

"Done? This talk was your idea," Duncan said, flabbergasted. Adam smirked.

"Fair enough," he agreed, lightly.

"You're a good man, Adam." Duncan extended his hand. There were many unknown facets to the man in front of him.

"You wouldn't say that if you knew my entire past," Adam offered.

"We've all done things we regret, or would change, if we could. Even me, whom you consider the Boy Scout of Immortals," he said, with a huge smile.

"So, we have an understanding," Adam asked.

"About my fuzzy logic." Duncan lifted an eyebrow "And about you being a calculating bastard," he said with a smile. "Yes, I think we have." Adam smiled a sardonic grin, which the Highlander had come to recognize as the man's trademark.

"Good," was Adam's simple answer. " I need a drink," he quipped. Duncan rolled his eyes.

"You always need a drink, Adam," he said, with a laugh. Duncan extended his hand to the ancient Immortal.

Adam took Duncan's hand in his own, firmly. They had found common ground. Each, finally, knew where the other stood. The groundwork had been laid for a strong friendship.

"We'd better get back. I think we've left Joe and Connor alone together long enough," Duncan said, as Adam nodded in agreement.

********************

"Mr. MacLeod," a petite nurse, with auburn hair, called from the doorway of the waiting room.

"Yes," Connor said rising quickly. "Is Richie okay?"

"Oh, yes. He's fine. He's awake now. I just wanted to let you know."

"Thank you," Connor said, with a smile. The nurse smiled and left the room. Connor turned to Joe. "Why don't you go," he said, motioning toward the doorway. "Richie would like the company and Duncan should be back any time now."

"You're sure," Joe questioned

"Yes, I'll wait for Duncan," Connor said, as he stretched his back.

"Okay, thanks," Joe said, as he made his way out of the waiting room. Richie smiled at Joe as he came into the room. "Hey, Joe." His voice was tired and he was a little dark under the eyes.

"How ya feelin' kiddo," Joe asked, as he sat down.

"Okay," came out, sounding like a sigh.

"You sure?" Joe thought Richie looked worn out. He had peeked in on him a couple of times before today, while he slept, but today the kid looked like ten miles of bad road.

"Not you, too," Richie said, with a hint of annoyance.

"What," Joe asked curiously.

"Nothing." Richie didn't want to pursue this conversation. He was too tired and the pain was bad today. He unconsciously winced and his face blanched slightly as a wave of pain rose up. "Rich?" Joe asked, his voice a little alarmed.

"S'okay, " he said, as he managed to get a grip on the pain. "It'll pass."

"Look kid, if you're in pain tell them," Joe said, his voice stern. Richie smiled. "What," Joe said, irritated.

"You're as bad as Mac," Richie offered.

"Let me get some pain medication for you, Richie," Joe insisted eagerly.

Richie reluctantly answered Joe. "Okay," he said, the pain lines in his face showing. Just as Joe was about to get up, Anne came in on her rounds. Joe told her Richie needed something for the pain and he left, so she could examine him.

"Richie," Anne began, "I'd like to put you on a machine called a PCA."

"What's that," he asked.

"It's a machine you get to control. It will give you a dose of pain medication when you need it. You only have to press a button and it will inject the morphine into your IV line."

"Won't that make me addicted?" Richie asked watching her face.

She smile and shook her head. "No, it's very safe and there is no risk of addiction. It just makes things easier for you. With the machine, you have some control over your pain management. How does that sound?"

"Okay," he said a little unsure. "How long do I have to be on it?"

"Only until we have the IV's removed. Then I'll put you on oral pain medication." Anne said, as she jotted some notes down in his chart.

"Anne," Richie said, blushing slightly.

"Yes," she responded, wondering what the blush was about.

"When can I have this thing removed?" he asked, timidly, as he motioned toward the sheet.

She smiled, realizing why he was blushing. "You mean the catheter," she asked, with a smile. He nodded.

"Right now, if you're up to it and think you can go on your own without a problem."

"Yeah, no problem there. I just want it out."

"Okay," she said, as she approached the bed.

"Whoa," he protested, clamping down on the sheets with what little physical strength he had.

"Richie," she admonished, "I'm a doctor. There is no need for modesty." She grinned and lowered her voice, "I'm not gonna see anything I haven't already seen."

Richie's face turned a dozen shades of red and back to white again. "Yeah, I know," he said quietly, "but . . ." He left it unfinished.

"But, you'd prefer I had a male nurse do it," she inserted.

His face brightened. "Yeah, please," he implored.

"Okay, give me a minute. I'll go fetch Sam. He's great, and I think he's working ICU tonight," she said, with a smile.

"Thanks," Richie said, quietly.

"You're welcome, Richie. Hold tight," she said, as she left.

She stepped out into the hall and nearly ran into Duncan waiting outside. She smiled and impulsively put a strand of stray hair behind an ear. "Oh, hi, Duncan."

"Hi, is everything okay in there?" He looked concerned.

"Oh, yes, he's fine," she assured him. "Wait a few minutes, okay? I'm going to get a male nurse to remove Richie's catheter."

Duncan gave her an understanding smile and let her go in search of the nurse she wanted. Anne returned a minute later with Sam and showed him which room. A few minutes later he emerged, and Anne thanked him.

"You can go in now if you want, Duncan," Anne said with a smile.

"Thanks!" He said, as he looked at Connor, "Are you sticking around?"

"If you want me to," Connor said, matter-of-factly.

"You've been here all day. Go back to the loft," he encouraged.

Duncan had invited Connor to share the loft with him. The Highlander had been using it, instead of driving back to the house. He didn't want to be far from the hospital. He stayed at the hospital mostly, but the loft was close by and provided a decent place to sleep and eat in a pinch.

"You sure?" Connor raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I'm going to sit with Richie. I'll probably stay the night unless he kicks me out." Connor smiled and turned to leave. Duncan said goodbye to Joe and Adam.

"Duncan," Anne's voice was behind him. He turned.

"Yes," he smiled.

"I wanted to fill you in on something I discussed with Richie."

Duncan frowned. "I thought everything was okay," he said, anxiously.

"It is, Duncan," she reassured him. "I've prescribed a PCA machine that will allow Richie to give himself pain medication in his IV without having to ask for it."

"Is that safe?" Duncan questioned.

"Yes, completely. Duncan, would you care to take a walk? I'm off duty now."

Duncan smiled at her warmly, his eyes drinking her up. "Sure, let me check in on Richie first."

"Certainly," she answered, with a bright smile. She hadn't been able to keep him off her mind since their interrupted interlude.

Duncan entered Richie's room and saw that he was sound asleep. He approached the bed and gave the young man a warm look. He gently rearranged the covers, mindful of the IV, then quietly left the room.

"He's asleep," he said, in a low voice.

"I'll leave word to have me paged if he wakes and wants you, okay?"

"Thank you, Anne."

"It's not a problem," Anne assured him. "Just give me a second while I leave word with the nurse's station.

Evening had begun to settle in on Seacouver already as Duncan and Anne took a walk through the hospital's atrium located in the new trauma center.

"It's beautiful in here," Duncan observed, as he looked around at the blooming flowers and tiny clipped trees. He watched water bubble out of a tall stone statue standing in a larger pool. The air smelled sweet.

"Yes, it is. I come here to relax sometimes during down times in rounds and the ER." They took a seat in a decorative wooden bench in a secluded area in the back of the atrium. They could see the lights of Seacouver out the large window beside them.

"This is my favorite spot," Anne said, looking into Duncan's eyes.

"I'm glad you shared it with me," he answered, as he gently cupped her face in his broad warm hand. She nuzzled into it briefly before she lifted her hand and laced her fingers with his. Anne leaned in toward Duncan, her mouth parted slightly in invitation. His hand encircled the back of her head, his fingers moving through her hair. He pulled her to him, and their lips met. The kiss was both gentle and urgent.

Nearby voices drew them apart. Anne smiled as she pulled away. "Not the most private place," Duncan said, as he also smiled, "How about a rain check?"

Ten minutes later in Anne's office . . .

"I apologize, Duncan," Anne said, a little chagrined at the interruptions that seemed to plague their times together.

"It's okay, Anne."

"Well, I'm off pager now, unless they page me to locate you for Richie," she said, as she removed her pager from her hip. It slipped from her fingers and fell to the carpeted floor of her office.

"Let me," Duncan said, quickly, as he leaned down to retrieve the pager and placed it on the lamp table on his side of the office couch. He smiled as he remembered the last time he bent to retrieve something for her. Anne slipped out of her lab coat, and placed it across the back of the couch. She smiled.

"Now where were we," she said, with a hint of a seduction in her tone.

Duncan grinned. "How about cashing in that rain check," Duncan suggested, softly, as he brushed a stray strand of hair off her cheek.

"I thought you'd never ask," she said, leaning into him. She pushed him down on the couch, and began removing his shirt, one button at a time. "The door's locked," she commented idly, as she noticed him throw a cautious glance in its direction.

"Good," was all he said, as he devoured her mouth with a deep kiss, drawing her face down to his. She followed his lead while kicking off her shoes. She pulled him up slightly and he obliged. His shirt fell free; he pushed her up and began to remove her scrub top. She helped as he lifted it over her head. Duncan tossed away her scrub top with a flip of his hand. He admired the lacy bra for a lingering moment before opening the front clasp and allowing it to fall away, forgotten. He cupped her full breasts. Anne's breathing quickened and he drew himself up to her. He explored her neck, an ear lobe. Duncan sat up as she reached down to unfasten his belt, and gave assistance.

"I can do this," she said, her voice light "I am a doctor you know," she said, with a grin.

"Well, then, by all means," he said, leaning back and taking the time to admire her figure. She pulled him up, his belt on the floor, his jeans unbuttoned and unzipped. She crawled up onto him, as he slipped his hands inside the waistband of her scrub pants, pulling them off. She kicked them free. The kicking motion sent both of them rolling off of the couch and onto the floor.

"Oof . . ." Duncan grunted, as she fell on top of him. They looked at each other and laughed slightly.

"I'm sorry . . ." Duncan cut off any further words by covering her mouth with his. Their bodies were now devoid of all clothing, all barriers.

Anne straddled Duncan taking the lead. Duncan admired her strong nature. His hands reached up to her waist as she positioned herself over him. She rocked back taking in all of him. He reached up and cupped each full breast in his warm broad hands. She lowered herself onto his chest, as she worked herself back and forth. He kissed her mouth, their tongues meeting briefly as they explored one another. Anne pulled away slightly as she rose up, still keeping him inside her.

Duncan raised enough to take an erect nipple into his mouth, and suckled gently. A slight moan slipped from Anne. Duncan rolled over, taking dominance now. He was careful not to pull out. He descended on Anne. Her hands pulled at his back, urging him to go deeper. He pulled her face to his, never breaking his rhythm. Anne's hands traveled down his back. Each hand grabbed a side of Duncan's buttocks and squeezed. She pushed him forward, urgent with need.

"Duncan," she whispered into his ear. Duncan felt his own need surge, but he didn't release himself until Anne was ready. Her breathing started coming in shallow, quick pants, as Duncan thrust deeper and faster. She clenched his back as she reached her climax. Duncan released himself just as she began to quiver under him. He stayed inside her until her breathing quieted and her hands loosened on his back. He pulled out, but stayed on top of her. He pulled his head up to look into her eyes. They were glassy, but happy. She smiled up at him, spent, but she felt wonderful.

They were quiet for a moment. Duncan broke the silence. "I'm sorry," he began as he looked into her eyes. A startled look crossed her face. "No-no, not about this," he reassured her. "I apologize for the environment. The floor I mean. You deserve better."

Anne smiled. "I didn't mind," she whispered into his neck, drawing him into another kiss. Duncan felt the desire in her kiss, and pulled back looking at her with knowing eyes.

"Again?" he asked tentatively.

Anne responded by rolling him onto his back. "My turn," she said, as she straddled him once again. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," he said, as he pulled her down onto his chest. She lingered there a while, as she forged a path down his chest with her tongue. She came back up, and suckled one of his nipples. A slight noise, like a moan, came from Duncan. She pulled back and brought herself down once again on him, taking all of him into her.

An hour later . . .

Both lovers lay spent on the floor. Anne had retrieved a blanket which she kept in her office for late night shifts. They were bundled up in it, together. She nestled herself into Duncan, as he held her close. They talked and shared intimacies.

"So how about dinner sometime," Duncan said, with a grin. Anne smacked his chest playfully. "Well, we've kind of done things a little backwards," he offered.

"I suppose, but it seems right. Doesn't it?" Anne offered.

"Yes," Duncan agreed. "What time is it?"

Anne craned her neck back towards her desk. "11:30. No pages," she said, as she curled up to the Highlander once again.

"No, Richie must be sleeping soundly," Duncan said, pulling Anne closer.

"You love him a great deal, don't you," she asked.

"Yes. He's my family, Anne. He means the world to me," Duncan stated without hesitation. He knew how he felt, and Anne admired that.

**In The Morning**

"Good morning," Anne said, as she kissed Duncan's chest.

"Morning? Already?" His voice was groggy. "What time is it?"

"6:30. I have a shift that starts at 8:00. I could freshen up here, but I should run home," Anne said, smiling at the man beneath her.

"I should get ready, too," Duncan said, sighing as he sat up. They had moved to the couch late last night, after their lovemaking.

"I have a shower," she offered, as she motioned to a closed door adjacent to her desk. "You can shower here, and run out for a change of clothes," she suggested.

"I think I will. Connor will be here around 8:00 or 9:00," Duncan started to get up and stopped. "Care to join me?"

Anne smiled at him knowingly. "Now, let's not start something we can't finish," she said, looking the Highlander over, as he stood and the cover fell away. "Use the shower. I'll see you later."

"Come here," he said, as he reached out for her. He pulled her to him and kissed her neck.

"Not fair, Duncan," she said pulling away, her face crestfallen.

"Later," he breathed into her neck.

"Yes," she whispered into his ear.

** At the Loft **

Connor was finishing his cup of coffee when he heard the rumble of the loft elevator and felt the presence of another Immortal. He made his way calmly to his sword. *You can never be too cautious,* he thought to himself, although he figured it was most likely Duncan. His assumptions were proven correct, as he saw the familiar features of his clansman through the wooden grate.

"Morning, Duncan," he said, as the younger Highlander entered the room.

"Morning," Duncan replied, with a smile.

"I trust everything is okay at the hospital," Connor spoke, while studying his kinsman. There was something about him this morning.

"Yeah. Couldn't be better," Duncan said, heading toward the bureau he had put some clothes in. "I just wanted a fresh change of clothes." Connor continued to study Duncan. "What?" Duncan asked, as he pulled off his shirt and retrieved a clean one.

"Nothing," Connor said, with a slight grin. He was silent for a moment. Duncan was buttoning his shirt when Connor spoke again, "You were with a certain lass weren't you?" he asked, his voice light.

Duncan stopped in mid-button. "Connor, mind your own business," Duncan said, in a slightly irritated tone.

Connor snickered to himself. "I take that as a 'yes,' " he commented with amusement. "I know, I know," he said, smiling; "Never kiss and tell."

"Connor," Duncan said, shooting him a look. "I don't have time for this," he muttered, as he crossed the room towards the kitchen.

"Make time," Connor said, as he followed Duncan.

"Connor, leave it alone," Duncan said, as he poured himself a cup of coffee.

"Fine," Connor said, as he turned to gather up his coat and sword. Duncan followed his actions with his eyes.

"Why are you so pissy all of a sudden," Duncan asked, as he rinsed his mug out and put it in the sink.

"I'm not. I said 'fine,' that's all. You'll talk when you want to. You always do," he said, his tone even and light.

Duncan made no comment as he looked at the clock. "I'd better get going. Richie will be awake soon," Duncan said, as he grabbed his coat.

"I'm right behind you. I have some things to take care of first. I'll see you at the hospital, later. Okay?"

Duncan nodded and descended in the elevator, leaving Connor.

**The Hospital**

Duncan made it back to the hospital by 8:30 am, and made his way to ICU. He walked into Richie's room quietly. He still slept. Duncan took a seat beside the bed and picked up a magazine he had left behind to read until Richie woke up.

"Morning, Mac," Richie said, his voice still slightly groggy.

"Hey there, buddy," Duncan said, smiling. "How ya doin' today?"

"Okay." Richie offered a lopsided grin.

"Is this new machine helping?" Duncan asked.

"Yeah, it's better than asking for painkillers," Richie answered.

"Anne told me about it. I'm glad it's helping," Duncan said, reaching out and resting a hand on Richie's arm. Anne knocked on the threshold of Richie's ICU cubicle.

"Bad time?" she asked. Duncan looked up and smiled. "No, come in," he said, eagerly.

"It's my rounds, and I wanted to check up on you, Richie," Anne said, approaching her patient.

"I'm fine," Richie said, watching her check the PCA machine.

"You haven't used many doses," she commented and looked toward Richie. "How is the pain?"

"Not bad. I'm dealing with it," Richie answered.

"Not bad, huh? Well, you shouldn't let yourself suffer," Anne said, as she eyed the young man.

"I know, but it knocks me out." Richie complained in irritation.

"Sleep is good for you! As you heal, the dosages will be lowered and it will manage your pain without knocking you out. Be patient, Richie," Anne said, trying to be supportive.

"Patience isn't his strong suit, Anne," Duncan said, standing up from his chair.

"Maaac!"

"Oh, don't get in a snit, Rich," Duncan said, patting the youth's leg.

"Snit? Since when do you say words like snit?" Richie smiled.

Duncan grinned at him and then looked to Anne. She studied her lover's face and smiled at him. Duncan returned it. The silent action hadn't escaped Richie's notice, but he said nothing, just watched.

"You'll be going for some tests today, Richie. Our Orthopod and Neuro guys want to see you," Anne said, standing by Richie.

"Huh? Orthopod? Sounds like some strange bug," Richie said, making a face.

"I suppose it does sound like a bug," she said with a soft laugh. "He's a bone doctor and he'll be conferring with your neurologist about your neck and the Halo."

"Everything's okay, isn't it," Duncan asked, his voice concerned.

"Oh yes, the tests are routine," Anne assured him. "You don't have to worry, Duncan. Richie is in safe hands."

Duncan smiled. "I know. Thank you, Anne," Duncan answered, his eyes drinking the woman in.

Richie watched their exchanges, and it hit him. He sat in stunned silence. Anne finished her examination and Duncan walked her to the door and returned to Richie's bedside. Richie just looked at him with a cat-that-ate-the- canary smile.

"What?" Duncan asked, as he noticed the smile.

"Nothin'," Richie said, quickly.

"Uh-huh, give, Richie. What is it," Duncan asked, as he studied Richie's face.

"Can I ask you a question," Richie asked.

"Okay . . . shoot," Duncan offered.

"It's personal." Richie left the sentence hanging.

"What is it?" Duncan sat back in his seat, preparing for the question.

"So, what's with the googly eyes between you and Anne," Richie asked, as he grinned at the Highlander.

Duncan's eyes widened slightly, then narrowed. "Googly eyes? You're delusional," Duncan said, trying to back pedal from Richie's observational comment.

"Come on, Mac. I'm not blind. Anybody with eyes can see the looks the two of you are shooting at each other." Richie said his voice a little petulant.

"Richie . . . " Duncan didn't know what else to say.

"Just tell me you two aren't boffing yet," Richie commented idly.

A stunned, then annoyed look crossed the Immortal's face. "Watch your mouth, Rich," Duncan snapped in irritation.

Richie recognized the signs, and rolled his eyes. "God! Mac, you're sleeping with her, aren't you? My doctor."

"Richie!" Duncan's voice held a warning note.

"Ah, man," Richie said, in frustration. Duncan stared at the young man with his famous intense Scottish glare. Richie felt uncomfortable under the man's glare. "Mac, I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It's just . . . you know, she's my doctor."

"Anne's a good woman, Richie," Duncan said, the annoyance fading from his tone.

"I'm not saying she isn't, Mac," Richie said in his defense.

"Then don't be disrespectful toward us." Duncan said, keeping his voice even.

"Mac! Just because I said 'boffing' doesn't mean I was being disrespectful," Richie said, in exasperation.

"Fine. Just don't say it again." The Highlander's tone was one of finality.

"Yes, sir," Richie said, with a flip of his good arm.

"Richie?" A familiar voice drew both Richie's and Duncan's attention to the door. It was Catherine.

"Cat," Richie said, with excitement.

Duncan stood up. "Hello, Catherine. I'll give you two some privacy. It's good to see you. How are your parents?"

"Oh, they're fine, Mac. Dad is away at a symposium and Mom is doing rounds right about now."

"Give them my best," Duncan said, smiling at her.

"Sure, but you don't have to go. I feel like I'm running you off," Catherine said, her face a little worried.

"You're not. I have some things to do," Duncan paused, noticing the bulky backpack she was carrying. "That's a lot of homework."

"Huh? Oh, the bag. This is all catch-up for Richie. All of his instructors gave me his assignments. He won't have to repeat the classes this way."

"Cat! You brought me homework," Richie's bewildered voice chirped. "And I thought you were here because you missed me!" His smile lessened any sting the comment could have caused.

"Oh, Richie," she said, as she looked back at the Highlander. "I'll keep him occupied for you," she assured MacLeod.

"You do that, Catherine," Duncan said, smiling at her. His look then transferred to Richie. "Richie," he paused, trying to rein in his frustration over the youth's reaction to his and Anne's budding relationship. "We'll talk later," he turned and left without any further preamble.

Catherine shifted a concerned look from the empty doorway to Richie. "Okay, what happened?" she said, staring at her boyfriend with all-too- knowing eyes.

"It's nothing. Mac and I will work it out. We always do," Richie assured Catherine, hoping it would appease her.

"You sure you don't want to talk about it," she questioned.

"Yeah."

"All right then I'll drop it I guess," she said, as she leaned in and promptly kissed the tip of Richie's nose. He smiled.

Duncan had been walking around for a couple of hours when he found himself in the atrium. He needed to work through the conversation with Richie in his head. He didn't want to fight with the boy. He sat down on the bench he and Anne had shared yesterday.

"Duncan?" Anne had come around the corner to take a moment in her favorite spot, when she spotted the Highlander. He looked lost in thought, sitting on the bench. He turned his head from looking out over Seacouver when she called his name.

"Anne!" he said, surprised, and stood up.

"Are you okay, Duncan?" Anne asked, studying his face.

"Yes," he said, quietly, and sat back down.

Anne followed suit. "Anything I can help with?" Her tone was concerned.

"Richie figured us out," he said, idly. "I would have liked to tell him, myself, but he saw through us. I guess I lost my patience, and got irritated with him."

"He doesn't like the idea of us seeing each other," Anne covered Duncan's hands with her own. Duncan just looked at her. "Duncan, I don't want to be the cause of a rift between the two of you."

"Anne, stop," Duncan said, his voice strong. "It's new to him. I think he has more trouble with you being his doctor than being with me," he tried to reassure her.

"Duncan," she began tentatively, "I read through his file again, and about the shooting. Richie wasn't the only one involved in the shooting. There was a woman."

Duncan's throat tightened and he looked away. "Tessa," he whispered, almost too quietly to be heard; but Anne had heard it, loud and clear.

"Tessa?" Anne left it a hanging question. She could see this was incredibly hard for him. She worried that she'd opened old wounds too soon.

"She-she . . ." What could he say? Tessa encompassed so much for him; she had been so many things. His love, his life, his heart; but he couldn't say that to Anne, at least not that way. "We were to be married," he began, suddenly, afraid to stop talking for fear the words wouldn't come again. "We were together twelve years. We . . ." He paused, taking a breath, "We were all a family for a while. Tessa, Richie and me. She died instantly," his voice wavered slightly and Anne moved closer to his side.

"You don't have to say any more, Duncan." Her mind was racing. She couldn't imagine losing a lover after twelve years to something as senseless as a mugging. She tried to wrap her mind around the fact that Duncan had to deal with her death and Richie's near- fatal injuries all at the same time. She was amazed at the strength of this man.

"Anne, I would have told you."

"Shh . . . I know. I should have waited. I was wrong," she said, quietly.

"No, it's okay," Duncan said, reaching up and touching her cheek gently with the back of his hand. She reached her own hand up and laced her fingers through his.

"Maybe I should talk to him, Duncan," Anne offered.

"No, it's my job, Anne," Duncan said, smiling. "I'll work it out."

"You're sure?"

"Yes." He looked at his watch; he had been gone for over three hours now. "I should go talk to him, Anne," Duncan said, as his eyes softened when they fell on Anne.

"Of course!" She stood hastily. "I should be getting back, as well."

"Wait," Duncan said, smiling and taking her in his arms, briefly kissing her softly. "Thank you."

Anne pulled back smiling. "For what," she questioned.

"For understanding. And for being you. We'll talk more later, Anne," Duncan said, gently squeezing Anne's hand.

"I'm always willing to listen, Duncan. When you're ready."

"I know." Duncan walked Anne as far as the elevators and went to see Richie. He entered the ICU.

"Mr. MacLeod?"

Duncan walked toward the short brunette at the nurse's station. "Yes," he said, standing at the station.

"You might give the orderlies a minute or two to settle him," the young nurse offered.

"Settle him," he said, a little confused.

"He had some tests today," she reminded him, with a smile.

"Oh, yes. I'd forgotten," he said, with a sheepish smile.

Just then he felt an Immortal presence and turned toward the elevators. It was Connor. "When they're done, I'll be in the waiting room."

"Sure thing, Mr. MacLeod."

Duncan smiled at his clansman and motioned to the waiting room. Duncan sat down, smiling to himself, as he remembered Connor had figured Anne and him out, as well.

"Duncan, is Richie okay," Connor asked, his voice tight with concern.

"Yes, they ran some tests. They're just settling him now. Connor . . ." Duncan began, with hesitation.

"The boy figured you and the lass out, right?" Connor offered, with a sly grin.

"Damn you, Connor," Duncan said, in exasperation, not anger. "How do you always do that."

Connor snickered. "So, sue me," he said, in amusement. "Let me guess. It didn't go well," he offered.

Duncan shook his head slightly. "Oh, I don't know. I got irritated with him. I shouldn't have." Duncan voice was a mixture of confusion and annoyance.

"Duncan, the boy's reaction, whatever it was, stems from something else." Connor's eyes were soft and knowing.

Duncan understood. "You mean Tessa," Duncan began. "Anne's the first woman I've become interested in, since Tessa.

"I figured. And who has been the center of your world since?" Connor said, with a grin.

Duncan's eyes widened in realization. "Richie," he said simply. It had been just the two of them since Tessa's death.

"Mmmhmm," Connor responded. "He's a smart lad, Duncan. I'm sure he has already thought it through."

"I shouldn't have become irritated with him," Duncan chastised himself under his breath.

"Hey, I've become familiar with that lad's temperament, and I'm sure what ever he said was just the right thing to put a barb under your skin," Connor said, with a grin.

Duncan nodded and smiled. "He does know my buttons," he answered.

"And you know his," Connor inserted. "You're both hard-headed," he paused and smiled, "like father, like son."

Duncan looked at him, but didn't correct the embellishment. "Yeah, well he's got a little of good ol' Uncle Connor in him to," Duncan said, as he looked at his clansman and mentor.

"I should hope," Connor said, puffing himself up a little. Then he broke into a laugh. "Go talk to the boy, Dhounchaidh," Connor urged. "You don't need me here. I'll be back later."

"You don't have to go, Richie likes your visits," Duncan reassured Connor.

"I know, but right now it's between the two of you. You'll be fine. Now, go."

"All right, I'll see you later." Duncan left the statement open-ended.

"Yes, later. Now, do I have to take you in there myself," Connor's voice urged.

"No. I'll see you later. " Duncan clasped Connor's hand and nodded, "Connor."

"Duncan." Their familiar parting words, no good-byes or sentiment.

Duncan stepped into the doorway of Richie's room. Richie's eyes were closed. The lines around his mouth showed discomfort, and his face was more pale than usual. Duncan stepped forward in concern, his reason for coming forgotten. "Richie?" His voice was full of paternal concern.

Weary blue eyes opened. "Hey Mac," he gritted out.

"Richie's what's wrong? I'll get someone," Duncan said, starting to turn to go to the nurse's station.

"No, Mac," Richie said, his voice urgent. "It's nothing. The tests were no picnic. I'm okay," he assured the Highlander.

"You're sure?" Duncan wasn't sure he was convinced.

"Yeah, Mac. Don't hover," Richie voice was petulant, not weak, and Duncan was reassured. "Mac . . ." Richie began. "I was an ass. I'm sorry."

"No, Richie. I'm sorry," Duncan said, pulling up a seat to talk to the young man.

"Mac! Let me talk, please," Richie's voice was urgent.

"Okay," Duncan agreed quietly.

"I'm sorry for how I said everything. After you left, and Catherine was gone, I started thinking about things. I was a horse's ass."

"Richie," Duncan began. "You know you're first, and foremost, in my life. I'm always here for you, no matter who else comes into my life. You know that, right?"

Richie smiled and his eyes stung a little. "Yeah," he said, his voice tight with emotion.

"Good," Duncan said, patting the youth's leg.

"So, did you bag the babe?" Richie said, with a laugh, trying to lighten the emotional weight in the room.

"Rich!" Duncan's eyes leveled on him.

"Just kiddin,' Mac. Just kidding," Richie said, raising both arms slightly in a mock surrender. Duncan smiled.

**Two weeks later**

Anne pulled up behind the familiar black T-bird, and hurried out. Duncan had parked in the driveway, and was walking around to help Richie out of the car. Duncan approached the passenger door with a smile. The past few weeks Richie had spent in the hospital hadn't been easy. Duncan was proud that Richie had completed his classes for Spring quarter from the hospital and was home in time to enjoy a Seacouver June. Adam had tutored him in one of his more difficult classes. Who better to go over world history with, the Highlander mused to himself. Duncan thought back to a tutoring session he had overheard.

*******************

"This isn't microbiology, Richie. It's history. Listen to me," Adam's tone was impatient.

"I am listening, and microbiology is a hell of a lot more interesting than this crap." Richie's tone was irritated. "It's putting me into a coma."

"Oh, really," Adam spoke, sarcasticly. "You know, they say 'those who forget history are condemned to relive it,' " the ancient Immortal offered.

"Oh, is this my cue to care," Richie retorted abruptly. "I'm bored."

"Well, I leave you to your own devices then," Adam said, shortly, as he stood.

"Adam, wait," Richie said, hastily.

"What," Adam said, reaching for his coat.

"Look, you're the only one who can help me. I don't have to love it. But, I'll listen. Deal?" Richie offered.

Adam shrugged off his coat and sat back down. "Deal. Now where were we?"

********************

Duncan's mind wandered back to the present again, as he heard Anne's voice.

"Careful, Duncan," Anne cautioned Duncan, as he helped Richie get out of the car.

Richie wouldn't be free of the HALO brace for another eight weeks and it was still awkward moving around in it. Richie had spent the last couple weeks finishing testing at the hospital and learning how to care for, and move around in, the brace.

"Don't try to turn your head, Richie!" Anne swatted his arm when he attempted to turn toward her voice.

Richie had learned to know Anne pretty well, once she and Duncan had started seeing each other. He liked her. She wasn't Tessa, but Mac deserved another chance at love, Richie thought to himself. Duncan hadn't told Anne yet about his Immortality and Richie knew, when he did, that would be a big step for the Immortal.

"Slow," Anne chirped.

"Watch the front step, Richie," Duncan warned, as he wrapped an arm around Richie's waist.

Richie rolled his eyes and stopped. "Okay, you two are going to protect me to death. I'm fine. God, you're both such mother hens, I don't know who's worse. I can walk up the steps, Mac."

Duncan looked at Anne, she nodded. Duncan released him. "Fine," he said letting go. Richie started up the steps, and smiled to himself, as he could see that both Duncan and Anne had moved closer, waiting for him to falter. He didn't.

He walked into the foyer. "God, it's great to be home!" He breathed in the air. "Sure beats that hospital smell." He started for the staircase.

"Wait, bucko," Duncan said, stopping the youth's progress. "You know what Anne said; it would be better if you stayed down here for a while."

"Maaac! Come on this sucks! I want my room!" Richie was irritated. "Come on, Anne. Cut me some slack."

"Eight more weeks," Anne said, with a smile. "Hey, Duncan got the spare downstairs bedroom all set for you. You'll be free of the HALO soon."

"Here, Richie," Duncan urged, starting to lead the youth toward the room.

"I got it, Mac! I know where it's at," he said, his voice angry.

Duncan let him go. Anne put a hand on his arm. "Let him go, Duncan. He's been so dependent on others for so long, he just wants some freedom now. He'll be okay. I guess we were suffocating him," she said, with a smile.

"I know. I just worry," he said, with a rueful smile.

"I know, but he's not a child. I guess I can't get out of doctor mode with him, and you're still in protector mode."

"I'm always in protector mode with him. The way he finds trouble," Duncan's voice was gentle.

"I think he would have driven you gray as a toddler," she joked.

Duncan smiled at the idea of Richie as a chubby, trouble-finding toddler. "You have a point. How about we make some lunch. Connor's stopping over on his way to the airport." Connor had stayed until he was sure Richie was well on the road to a full recovery. He had been conducting his business long distance, but now it was time to return to New York.

"Sure. Go check on Richie, you know you want to. I know where things are."

"Thanks," Duncan replied.

Duncan knocked on the closed door. "Rich?"

"Come in," came the quiet reply.

"Am I welcome?" Duncan asked lightly.

Richie rolled his eyes. "Yeah," he paused. "Mac, I know you guys are trying to help and all. It's just, you don't have to hover, ya know?" Richie offered an olive branch.

"I know. I'm just happy to have you home, and I worry you'll hurt yourself."

"Mac, you can't protect me twenty-four/seven," he laughed, "especially from myself."

The Highlander smiled. "I can try," he said, with a chuckle.

"Where's Connor?" Richie asked.

"He should be here in a little while. He had to pack and was locking up the loft for me."

"Okay, I really just wanted to say good-bye before he heads back to New York."

"Yeah, he wanted to see you, too," Duncan commented. "Catherine and her parents are stopping over later, as well."

"Yep, she stopped by the hospital last night and told me."

"Do you want to join Anne and me in the kitchen?"

"Maybe in a little bit," Richie offered.

"Okay," Duncan agreed and left the youth.

Richie made his way out to the kitchen a few minutes later, just in time to spot Connor's rental car pulling into the driveway. "Sir Lancelot's here," Richie announced, turning to answer the door.

"I can get it, Rich," Duncan offered.

"I've got it, Mac." Duncan nodded and turned to Anne, who smiled at him.

"Congratulations," she said, her smile wide now.

"For what," he asked.

"Letting the little bird spread his wings a bit," she nudged Duncan gently in the side.

"Hey, I'm not the only one around here who's . . ." Any further speech was halted as Anne kissed him.

She pulled away. "I have an excuse, I'm his doctor," she said, behind a grin.

"Come here," Duncan said, pulling her to him. Their private interlude was interrupted.

"Hey! You guys, geez! It's like the middle of the afternoon," Richie said, as Connor stood behind him with a knowing smile.

"Richie," Duncan said, his tone lowering.

"Leave him alone, Duncan," Anne said, standing up for the youth. Richie looked at her in surprise, then smiled, turning a satisfied look at the Highlander.

"Ganging up, huh," Duncan said, smiling at Anne. Anne just swatted Duncan's stomach.

Anne and Duncan finished cleaning up the lunch plates and came back into the room. Connor was putting on his jacket.

"Leaving?" Duncan asked.

"My flight leaves in a little over two hours, and I have to drop off the rental car," Connor said, as he reached a hand out to Anne. "Thank you for everything you've done, Anne," Connor said, motioning to Richie.

"I'll miss you, Connor. Take care of yourself," she said, as she hugged him.

"Always do," he said, as he pulled away with a smile. "And as for you, pup," he said, with a chuckle, looking at Richie. "Keep out of trouble. I'd like to visit under different circumstances," he said, gently cupping the boy's shoulder and squeezing.

He turned and looked at his former student. "Duncan."

"Connor." The younger Highlander nodded, with a smile. Duncan walked his kinsman out to the front steps.

Anne went to stand next to Richie. "They didn't say good-bye?" she questioned the young man.

"Nope, never do," he offered. The phone ringing interrupted them; "I'll get it."

Anne watched Duncan hug Connor and head back toward the house.

"Who was on the phone, Toughguy?" Duncan asked.

"Joe and Adam. They're coming by." A car pulled into the driveway, catching Richie's attention. "Hey, Cat and her parents are here," he said, as he hurried off.

"Walk," Duncan bellowed.

Richie slowed and called over his shoulder, with a snicker, "Okay, *Dad*!"

The Collins family stayed until dusk. Richie and Catherine retreated to the back patio while Joe and Adam talked with Duncan and Robert Collins. Loreena and Anne took over the kitchen to discuss things.

That night after everyone was gone and Richie headed for the guest bedroom, still grumbling that he couldn't go back to his old room yet. Duncan sat on the couch holding Anne.

"Do you have to go," he mumbled into her neck.

"Yes, I have an early shift in the ER tomorrow," she said, as she nuzzled him. She stood, "I should get on the road."

"I'll walk you out," Duncan said, putting his arm around her.

"Tell Richie I said 'bye'," she said, grabbing her car keys.

"I will," Duncan assured.

"Duncan, don't forget his pain meds are in the kitchen, if he needs them."

"I won't forget," Duncan said, with a smile.

Duncan waved at Anne as she headed down the road and he went back into the house.

"Anne leave?" Richie's voice startled Duncan.

"Hey, I thought you might be resting. It's been a busy first day back home. How ya feelin' Toughguy," Duncan said, with a smile.

"I'm okay. But, I guess I am a little tired," Richie agreed.

"Can I get you something," Duncan asked, "Do you need any pain pills?"

"Nah, not yet," Richie said.

"You hungry or thirsty?" Duncan asked.

"No, I'm fine, Mac," Richie said, with a smile.

"Oh, Anne wanted me to tell you she said 'bye,'" Duncan said heading toward the kitchen. Richie followed.

"She should have come back. I was just listening to music."

"We thought you might be asleep."

"Oh."

"You sure I can't get you something?" Duncan asked again.

"Mac, I'm fine," Richie insisted.

"Okay-okay, I was just asking," Duncan said raising his hands slightly. Richie grinned. They talked a while longer before Duncan noticed Richie's heavy eyelids. "Hey, kiddo, maybe you outta hit the hay," Duncan suggested gently.

"Yeah, maybe you're right." Richie looked at the kitchen clock. "How lame is this? I'm twenty-one and going to bed at 8:00!" Duncan smiled. When Richie started to stand, Duncan did as well.

"No, Mac. I got it. But, thanks."

"If you're sure," Duncan answered.

"I am." And Richie left for his new temporary room.

Duncan put away some dishes and picked some things up around the family room. It had been twenty minutes since Richie left to get ready for bed. Duncan decided to peek in on him, before he settled in with a good book for a quiet night. He saw the guest bathroom light was on and he could hear Richie muttering under his breath. He stood at the door and listened for a minute. **Dammit! Why is this so hard? It didn't seem so difficult in the friggin' hospital** Duncan debated on whether he should knock or say something. **Ouch** came from behind the closed door. That simple word prompted Duncan to knock with concern.

"Rich! You okay?" Duncan waited, his hand on the doorknob. He heard a loud sigh, and Richie mutter something he couldn't quite make out. "Richie?"

"I'm okay," came the hesitant reply from the young man ensconced in the bathroom.

"You sure?" Duncan still stood outside the door.

"Yeah," came the quiet answer.

"Can I help with something?" Duncan inquired.

Richie sat in the bathroom and looked at the door. "Yeah," came an almost inaudible reply. Duncan knew how much Richie hated asking for help.

"Can I come in?" he asked.

"Yeah."

Duncan entered the bathroom and found Richie seated on the closed toilet lid with a crestfallen face. "It didn't seem so hard in the hospital, Mac," Richie said in frustration. Duncan smiled warmly at the young man.

"I know, but you'll get the hang of it, and I'm here to help when you need it, Rich. Don't be afraid, or ashamed, to ask. Got it?"

"Yeah," Richie said, his voice deflated.

"What were you trying to do?" Duncan asked.

"Clean the pins, like I'm supposed to, but I can't get the back ones." His voice was frustrated.

"Well, I'm not surprised. I doubt I could either," Duncan tried to reassure the young man. "Here," Duncan said, picking up a cotton Q-tip, dipping it in hydrogen peroxide as he cleaned around one pin, and then applied some antibiotic ointment around the pin area he had just cleaned. He repeated the same procedure on the last pin Richie couldn't reach. "Okay, all done. What next?" Richie hesitated. "Come on, Rich," Duncan encouraged.

"I washed up, but . . ." Richie paused. "But, I can't get under the vest like I'm supposed to on this damned thing, Mac," Richie said, his voice a combination of anger, embarrassment, and frustration.

"Hey, it's okay, Richie," Duncan said in a gentle tone.

Richie eyes met the Highlander's and he smiled. "Thanks, Mac."

"You'd do it for me. Right?"

"Yeah! Of course," Richie said emphatically.

"Thought so," Duncan said, as he dampened a wash cloth. He had sat through Richie's HALO care lecture before leaving the hospital, so he knew its care requirements. Duncan gently reached under the vest edges as far as he could, cleansing Richie's skin as they had been instructed.

"Almost done," Duncan commented, as he reached for some powder. He shook the container over his hands and put the powder up under the vest edges. "There, that wasn't so bad was it?" he commented, in a light voice.

"Thanks, Mac," Richie said, with a sheepish smile.

"It's okay, Richie," Duncan reassured him. "Now, tomorrow do you want to tackle getting your hair washed?" Richie rolled his eyes. "It has to be done, Rich, and you can't do it yourself."

"I know. I just wish you didn't have to take care of me like I'm some damned baby," Richie huffed.

"Richie, I know you're not a baby. Sometimes you have to accept you can't do everything. Let me help you. I want to," Duncan said, taking a seat on the edge of the bathtub.

"Okay," Richie agreed, reluctantly.

"Hey, I could always ask Adam to help," Duncan said, with a lifted eyebrow.

"What," Richie said, suddenly. "He'd drown me, Mac," the boy said, with a slight smile.

"You might be right," Duncan answered, idly. "So, I take it you're stuck with me then?"

"Yeah," Richie answered, quickly. The ringing phone interrupted them.

"I got it," Duncan said, quickly, as he grabbed the phone beside Richie's bed.

Richie listened to Duncan talk and heard the name Charlie, and knew it was Dojo business. Richie had met Charlie DeSalvo a few times after Mac bought the place from him, both as an investment, and as a place to work out after hours. Charlie ran the place for Duncan. Richie heard Duncan ask Charlie to 'hold on,' and he poked his head into the bathroom. "Charlie has water heater problems again, and some business questions. Should I just call him back?"

"No, Mac. I can handle everything else," Richie assured the Highlander, as he stood up.

"Okay. Could you hang up for me when I pick up the extension," Duncan asked.

"Sure thing, Mac." Duncan smiled and left the room. Richie picked up the phone and waited. Soon Duncan came on, and Richie hung up.

He went back into the bathroom and brushed his teeth, and finished a few other things. He hurt a little, and decided to take a pill. The day had been long and he was tired, but glad to finally be home. He walked over to his stereo, which Duncan had brought down from his real room, and put in a CD. Finally, he sat down on the bed and yawned.

Thirty minutes later Duncan finished talking to Charlie. The house was quiet, except for some low music coming from Richie's bedroom. Duncan was about to knock when he noticed the door was cracked. He entered silently. Richie had fallen asleep.

Duncan looked the young man over. He was glad to have him home. The cast on his arm had already been removed several days before. The only reminders of the accident were the HALO brace, which Richie was expected to be in another eight weeks, and the thin surgery scars under the borrowed button-down pajama top. Duncan didn't want to wake him, as he grabbed a fleece blanket to cover him. Duncan turned the stereo off. He felt compelled to touch the young man, and he did ever so lightly. "Night, Rich," he whispered.

At the doorway Duncan stopped and looked back at the sleeping youth. His recovery wasn't finished. He had a little way yet to go, but he was home where he belonged. Duncan thought to himself, if loving this young man was fuzzy logic according to Adam, so be it. He was willing to sacrifice whatever he had to for Richie. After all, loving someone was full of sacrifices. It was a price Duncan was willing to pay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Feretory@aol.com To be continued...