Disclaimer: Not mine. I merely borrow them as a hobby.

Joe looked out of the open office door and into the bar. Richie was sitting alone on one of the stools ignoring the drink in front of him. Joe tried to go back to reading over the legal papers in front of him, to make sure the bar was ready to be licensed before it opened, but he couldn't help looking at the young man slouched at the bar.

"Why don't you let me make you something to eat?" Joe offered coming out.

"I'm not hungry," Richie mumbled around the fingernail he was chewing on.

"I need someone to try out the cheese fries before I put them on the menu."

"When Mac gets here," Richie told him. "He likes that stuff, too."

Joe sighed. "How about some chicken wings?"

"When Mac's here. He'll be hungry."

"You have to eat something."

"I will…when Mac gets here."

"Rich, it's been over five hours," Joe hinted gently.

"So?"

"Come on, you know what that means."

Richie shook his head. "No… he's coming. He'll be here. You just have to give him time."

Joe looked at the worried young man. He knew how he felt; he was friends with Duncan, too. But the truth of the matter was Sladkie was bad news. The meeting time was almost six hours ago. Duncan should have been back before now.

"How about some water, then?" he offered. Richie didn't answer, just switched fingernails. Joe served up the water anyway, along with some scotch for himself. The two sat silently, glancing at the clock every few minutes and waiting.

"He'll be here," Richie assured himself. "Things like this take time."

Joe didn't say anything. As much as he wished the kid was right, he knew that he wasn't. Duncan MacLeod never took this long.

"Richie…" he started gently. "Maybe it's time we…"

"No!" Richie interrupted sharply. "No. There's a reason he's late."

"I know…"

"Maybe it was just a freak Quickening," Richie rambled, looking at Joe hopefully. "Those things can mess you up. You don't know what it's like."

"Neither do you," Joe reminded him before he could stop himself. Damn, he hadn't meant to say that. Sure enough, a guilty flush washed over Richie's face and he turned back to the clock.

"He'll be here."

A few silent minutes later, Richie's whole body tensed. "See!" he exclaimed excitedly, sliding off his stool and going to the door. He stopped short when Amanda walked in, and sat in the nearest stool available, visibly heartbroken.

"What's wrong with him?" Amanda asked. Joe leaned over and whispered about the day's events. "Oh," she replied quietly. "He still…" Joe nodded. Amanda took a breath and went back to Richie. "Come on, Richie, why don't we go somewhere?"

"No!" Richie yanked his arm out of her grasp. "I have to wait for Mac."

"You're going to be waiting a long time." Richie set his jaw and looked away from her. "Come on, we'll go back to my place."

"No! Mac told me to wait for him here." His voice shook in determination.

"You don't have to wait anymore," Amanda told him gently, her own voice betraying her calm.

"No," Richie insisted, shaking his head. "No, don't say that." His voice was half an octave higher than usual.

"Come on, we'll go get some dinner. Joe's treat."

"I don't believe you," he continued, choking up a bit.

Amanda sat next to him. "I think you know it's the truth." Richie took a deep breath, trying to control his nerves. "You know that if he could, MacLeod would have let you know by now. He wouldn't do this to you."

Richie shook his head and sniffed. "It could be anything."

"No, it can't." Amanda stood up and gently helped the now complacent Richie to his feet. "Come on, let's go."

"Where are we going?" Richie asked.

"My place," Joe cut in. "I'll make us all some dinner."

They drove across town to Joe's house and put Richie in the guest room, telling him to relax and they'd call him when dinner was ready. Lost, confused, hurt and scared, Richie obeyed and curled up on the window seat.

Joe and Amanda adjourned to the kitchen. Amanda sat at the breakfast bar, trying to compose herself. As much pain as she was in, she had to push it aside. She now had a young immortal, too unskilled to protect himself, to look after. Joe began searching for something to feed his guests with.

"How long has it been since he's eaten?" Amanda asked, trying to focus her attention.

Joe paused with his head in the freezer. "Probably since this morning. The kid's had a long day." He found a bag of frozen ravioli and put it on the counter, hoping he had spaghetti sauce as well.

"So what happened?"

"I'm not sure." Joe filled up a pot with water and gestured Amanda to move it to the stove for him. "All I know is at about five or so, Mac and Richie show up at the bar. They talk for a few minutes, then MacLeod leaves, gives me a letter and tells me to look after Richie."

"And?"

Joe emptied the sauce in another pot and put it on to simmer. "The challenge has something to do with Richie," he admitted. "I think he was threatened by another immortal and MacLeod insisted on taking the challenge."

Amanda nodded and salted the water. "Richie's under his protection. An immortal can't take a challenge until his teacher decides he's ready. Any challenge issued to Richie automatically defers to MacLeod."

Joe stirred at the sauce. "Poor kid."

"Where's the letter?" she asked.

"In my coat pocket, I didn't want Richie to see it if he didn't have to."

Amanda stood by the counter. Part of her wanted to rush out and read the letter, drink a bottle of wine and cry. But she had other things to deal with right now. Duncan was her dearest friend next to Rebecca, she owed it to him to look after what was most important to him. She helped Joe make dinner, ravioli and garlic bread, leaving Richie the luxury of mourning his loss. When the cooking was done, Amanda went back to fetch the young immortal.

"I'm not hungry," Richie mumbled, looking out the window.

"You have to eat something," she told him. "It's not good for you to skip a meal."

"I don't want to."

"You're upset; you aren't thinking clearly." She sat on the window seat next to him. "Making yourself sick isn't going to help anything."

"What do you care?"

Amanda bit her check. "Of course I care. I thought we were friends."

"Leave me alone."

"Richie, you have to take care of yourself. If you don't eat how are you going to keep your strength up? What if an immortal came? They'd kill you."

"I don't care."

"You're giving up?" Amanda snapped standing up. "After everything MacLeod has done for you, you're just giving up?"

"It's none of your business!"

"The hell it isn't!" she screeched. "Do you have any idea what it would do to him to see you like this? And me just standing by letting you do it?"

"Well, then it's a good thing he can't, now, isn't it?" Richie shot back.

Before she could stop herself, Amanda slapped him. Hard. A bright red hand appeared on his face almost the instant hers moved away. "Don't you ever, ever say that!" she screamed. "He gave his life for you! We all lost him because of you! You owe it to him! You owe it to me! It's not your decision anymore! So you get your ass up and into that kitchen!" She grabbed his shirt and, surprisingly, hoisted him to his feet. "And if you don't get your act together, I'll take your head just like you want!"

Richie stood rooted to the ground, his hand slowly made its way to the stinging cheek. "You hit me…" he said dumbly.

"No less than you deserve!" she shot back.

"Amanda…" Joe said from the doorway, shocked.

"I said go," she sneered at Richie, who couldn't seem to find the muscle control to move. "If you don't get to that table, so help me…" She drew her sword.

Richie took a shaky breath, the blade against his neck. "I'm going," he finally answered in a small voice, edging away from the blade. "I'll eat." He inched his way to the door, pausing to look at Joe, guilt, humiliation and fear in his eyes.

Joe looked at Amanda who stood in the center of the room, sword still drawn, tip on the ground. Her shoulders started shaking and she slumped to the floor crying into her hands. Joe closed the door as she started sobbing, giving her privacy. He turned to join Richie in the kitchen, almost expecting him to be in the same position as the immortal in the bedroom.

Richie was sitting at the table, food on his plate, pushing the sauce around with a piece of bread.

"I really fucked up this time, Joe," he sighed, not looking up. "Everybody wants to kill me."

"Not everybody." Joe put his hand on the back of Richie's neck. "You're both just upset. You need time to figure it all out."

Richie watched Joe carefully sit at the head of the table. "You're not mad at me?" he asked.

"There's nothing you could have done," he said. "If you had gone to face the guy, you would have died. Mac didn't want that. It was his decision. He knew what he was doing."

"But it's my fault he went. The guy challenged me, not Mac."

"But according to Amanda, it was Mac's job to take any challenges you got."

"I'm the one who pissed him off."

"Richie," Joe said patiently, pouring them both a glass of wine. "There is nothing you could have done. Everyone knows that. Amanda is just upset right now. Give her some space. In the mean time, if you need anything…I may not be immortal but I can help."

Richie smiled weakly. "Thanks."

The two sat in amiable silence for the meal, picking at their food more than eating, but unsure of what they would have to do if they stopped. Finally, the food was too cold to even play with and they had to stop.

"I'll clean up," Richie offered.

"I'll help."

Richie cleared the dishes to the sink, while Joe ran the water. Joe washed, Richie dried, then put the dishes where he was directed.

"I think I'm kinda tired," Richie announced before things could get much more uncomfortable.

"You can take the sofa bed in the office," Joe told him. "We'll give Amanda the guest room." He showed Richie to the room at the back of the house. "It used to be the garage," he admitted. "If you get cold, there're extra blankets."

"I'll be fine."

"Do you want help making the bed?"

"I got it."

Joe turned to leave the room.

"Joe?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks… you know…for…for whatever," the teen mumbled awkwardly.

"You're welcome."

Richie went back to making the bed, then stripped down to his boxers and crawled in. He had forgotten how uncomfortable sofa beds were. The bar down the middle made it nearly impossible to get comfortable. So, he lay in bed, his mind wondering. He tried to keep his thoughts off Duncan, but he couldn't do it. He tried to concentrate on the uncomfortable sleeping arrangement, but that was his own fault. If he hadn't gotten Amanda mad, he probably would have gotten a proper bed for the night. And he wouldn't have gotten Amanda mad if he had kept his damn mouth shut. And he would have kept his damn mouth shut if he hadn't been upset. And he wouldn't have been upset if Duncan hadn't died. And Duncan wouldn't have died if Richie hadn't pissed off the guy at the market. And he wouldn't have been there to piss off the guy at the market if he had gone the day before like Duncan had told him. And Richie would have gone the day before like he had been told if he hadn't been desperate to do his laundry. And he wouldn't have been so desperate for clean clothes if he had…

"God!" he groaned sitting up.

This wasn't working. He wiggled his way out of the bed and made his way back into the kitchen. The entire house was quiet. He decided Joe wouldn't mind if he helped himself. He rummaged around in the cabinets until he came across one filled with alcohol. Perfect. He looked through the bottles until he found vodka. Surely that would be strong enough to knock him out for the night.

It smelled horrible.

It tasted even worse.

But, he poured an amount he was sure was more than he needed in a large glass, replaced the bottle and went back into the office. As he sipped at the strong liquid, he explored Joe's desk. There were Watcher files piled in one drawer. He flipped through them as he drank. His vision got too blurry to read a bit faster than he had expected. But he discovered that the stuff got better the more you drank. As quietly as he could, he crept back to the kitchen to retrieve the bottle. He could always give Joe the cash to replace it. A few more drinks and he couldn't stand up anymore. Then he sat and drank some more. And when sitting was too difficult, he lay on his stomach and tried to drink it that way.