Duncan didn't know what woke him. Since Richie had moved in with them a month ago, Duncan had found himself waking up frequently in the middle of the night to check on the teen. Tessa if she were awake would laugh at him; tell him that he was acting like a child with his first puppy. He just couldn't help himself; he wanted this to work so badly. It didn't help that Richie seemed able to find trouble in a paper bag.
Carefully, Duncan removed his hand from Tessa's hip and snuck out of bed. Not finding the boy actually in his room didn't surprise Duncan. He smiled as he headed for the kitchen. Richie was like a garbage disposal but considering how skinny he was when Duncan brought him home, the immortal wasn't surprised.
In the kitchen the light was still on and there was a glass of chocolate milk on the table, but Richie was…Duncan's eyes flicked towards movement on the floor, underneath the table. He knelt down and only then did he get his first good look at the scene.
Richie was lying on the linoleum floor half on his right side, half underneath the table and there was a pool of blood under his hands which were extended in front of him.
"Richie!" Duncan crawled over to the boy still on his knees. Noting that the boy's skin was cool to the touch, he gripped the boy's arms and pulled the boy's head and torso into his own lap. Richie's face was so white, the boy was so still. Duncan patted the freckled cheek, but the boy didn't respond to the touch.
"Tessa, Tessa help!" he screamed before lifting the teen's limp wrists to examine them. He almost didn't notice the knife under them, hidden in the dark blood. Understanding dawned then as he looked at the wounds, lengthwise cuts made deep in the inside of wrists.
Tessa turned the corner, disheveled and pulling a robe around herself. She stopped dead when she saw them, her hands immediately covering her mouth and the robe dropped open again. Her eyes lifted to look into Duncan's, the question in them immediately understood.
"Tessa hand me some towels and call 911, tell them to hurry, he's…he attempted suicide," he finished with a bowed head.
Duncan stood with hands on hips in the washed out looking hospital room staring at a washed out looking Richie. The boy's hair was a shock of red gold against the white sheet and pale skin. Tessa sat beside the bed, dozing with her head in her hand.
The boy had only been with them a month and this was their second trip to the hospital. Duncan remembered the first.
He and Tessa had returned from the cabin and Duncan had not been overly enthusiastic about watching over a teenage hoodlum. It was selfishness he knew. He liked his life with Tessa, but his life was already changing. The Game had already found him.
So he went looking for one Richie Ryan who turned out to be rather difficult to find. After four days of searching, Duncan finally found the boy in an abandoned warehouse, lying amongst miscellaneous refuse to keep warm no doubt.
The heart of the Highland warrior immediately softened. Richie then, like now, looked so fragile, so young and defenseless. Old bruises painted vivid colors on the boy's face and when Richie woke and scrambled to get away, the boy limped.
Duncan managed to bully the kid to the T-bird but his every attempt to help the kid walk was rebuffed. The immortal had known the tough guy routine was an act even at the police station, but right then it had been laughable except that it was more sad than funny. The Richie who shuffled along beside Duncan, pain and weariness etched in his young face, was just a boy, unused to being cared for or about, taught by experience to take care of himself any way he could.
So he had taken the boy to the hospital and then home. Richie had a sprained ankle and a cracked cheekbone as well as bronchitis and was certainly in no shape to care for himself on the streets. Tessa had been none too happy to suddenly have a boarder but she had accepted it, knowing that Duncan couldn't just throw the boy back on the streets and caught by her own maternal instincts at the pathetic sight of the boy. So documents had been falsified making Duncan Richie's newest guardian until the boy turned eighteen in a couple of months.
But this hospital trip was different. Duncan's eyes were immediately drawn to Richie's wrists now bandaged and encased in soft restraints.
When the paramedics had taken Richie away the previous night, Duncan had taken a moment to change and wash the boy's blood off before he and Tessa followed. They were greeted by a doctor who assured them that barring any unforeseen complications, Richie would be fine. Then the man's mouth had tightened into a frown. The doctor had asked them if Richie currently saw a therapist, the frown deepening when Duncan said no. In fact Duncan didn't have any answers to the man's questions; had the boy been depressed, anxious, guilty, impulsive? Duncan thought that Richie seemed anxious and impulsive all the time, and he didn't know any of the boy's friends who might have more insight. And when asked about recent traumatic events, he could only tell the man about the beating that Richie had received a month ago though Duncan didn't know who had done it or why.
All in all the doctor was very displeased when he left. Duncan didn't know what to think. Richie hadn't seemed to be suicidal but then he'd only known the boy a month.
Duncan had refused Connor's offer to get the boy's records though now he was rethinking the decision. He wanted Richie to tell them about his past when the boy felt comfortable. But what if Richie had been a danger to Tessa?
But Richie hadn't seemed like a danger. The boy had been scared at first, particularly after Duncan's explanation of the events at Soldier's Bridge. And Richie covered fear with bravado and disingenuous smiles.
Things had settled down quickly, Richie's curiosity and sunny disposition surfacing. And the boy knew a good thing when he saw it. The boy had a roof over his head and three meals a day…and a job, a legit one. At first Richie had complained mightily about working in the antique store, especially about the boring inventory lists Duncan made him go over to keep the boy off his ankle.
But they both knew that this was Richie's only chance at a future. By the time the boy was fifteen years old, his rap sheet prevented him from getting hired at McDonald's. At the store, Richie had a chance to build references and a work history. And he had two people who cared.
They were still working on that part. Richie had at first slept with a knife under his pillow, but had since decided that the sword-wielding immortal was not going to slice off his head in his sleep. The boy was skittish, desperate for attention and affection but wary of it and rebuffing all physical contact.
Duncan sighed, the sound loud in the quiet room. Had he been wrong? About everything? Maybe he didn't know Richie at all. Suicidal, Richie had attempted suicide. Maybe if he thought it enough times, the reality would sink in.
Richie stirred, the small movement drawing Duncan's eyes immediately. He moved to press the nurse's call button and to stand beside Tessa, waking her with a gentle touch.
Fear and anger knotted Duncan's stomach, the feelings unwelcome if expected. He wanted to shake the boy, to scream at him, "Why? Do you value your life so little?" If Richie had awoken as an immortal…well a suicide wouldn't last very long in the Game.
Large, disoriented eyes opened, impossibly blue in the boy's pale face. It wasn't until Richie attempted to move his restrained hand, presumably to rub his eyes that the boy seemed to take in his surroundings.
"Mac?" the boy croaked. Duncan's anger deflated then like one of those giant pool toys left out in the sun. Richie had turned to Duncan for an explanation rather than turning away.
Duncan opened his mouth to speak. "How could you try to kill yourself?" Tessa blurted out. "Do you know what it was like to find you in the kitchen bleeding to death?"
If possible the boy grew even paler, his eyes wider. Tessa started crying in earnest and Duncan drew her up from the chair and into his arms. The sight of the woman crying seemed to distress the boy further, his mouth opened and then closed without any words coming out.
Did the boy think they wouldn't care? Did he feel that alone despite everything? Duncan had thought that he had a chance with Richie, a chance to make a difference before the boy became hardened like Johnny K. But what if Richie had given up?
Richie's senses finally returned enough for him to speak, one word said with appalled astonishment, "What?"
The sound of the door opening startled them all. Their eyes turned to see a middle-aged woman in a doctor's coat entering the room.
Seemingly unconcerned despite the evidence of high emotions in the room, the woman moved forward smiling, her hand extended to Duncan.
"Good morning, I'm Dr. Keiner." Her voice was strong and sure. She was shorter than Tessa but more substantial and her face was pleasant with dark brown eyes and chestnut hair pulled back in a low pony tail.
"Duncan MacLeod, and this is Tessa Noel. We're Richie's guardians."
She shook hands with each of them before turning her attention to the bewildered boy in the bed. "I'll examine you and we'll have a little talk about these restraints, alright?" Turning back to the two adults, "If you'll wait outside."
Duncan nodded. Richie was seventeen and that did give them access to his diagnosis, but he knew they wouldn't be allowed to sit in on any psychiatric evaluations. Tessa led the way as they headed for the waiting room down the hallway.
Sitting in the hard plastic chairs, Duncan wondered what they were talking about. And he still wondered why? Why, why, why? Had something happened? Had he done something to upset the boy? Was it telling the boy about immortality? Was Richie unhappy with them?
He and Tessa had set ground rules for the boy immediately, Richie had to do chores and work in the store, he couldn't be out any later than midnight, and couldn't have friends spend the night. The punishment was to dock the boy's pay. Richie had tested the limits at first, like all teenagers. Duncan just didn't understand.
Thirty minutes later the doctor walked in.
"I removed the restraints, but I'll need to keep him here for 72 hours to determine if he needs to be committed."
"Committed?" Duncan and Tessa's voices chorused.
"A last resort, I assure you. You should go ahead and find a therapist for when you take him home. That is if he's still going home with you."
"Yes, of course."
She smiled. "These things take time, don't expect a solution overnight. Just let him know you care."
Duncan nodded tightly. It had been foolish to assume that all Richie needed was a safe place to stay and a few hot meals. He waited for the woman to walk away before turning to Tessa. "Perhaps you could go get us some coffee from the cafeteria. Let Richie and I talk." Tessa lifted her face to kiss her lover's cheek before turning toward the elevator.
Duncan entered the hospital room quietly. Richie was sitting up, his arms crossed over his chest, a sullen and defiant jut to his jaw. Tough guy, Duncan thought affectionately.
The immortal sat in the chair beside the bed, which put him vaguely at eye level with the boy.
"Richie," he began.
"I didn't try to kill myself," the boy interrupted, not looking at the immortal.
Duncan stared at the boy, mystified. "What?" Richie couldn't seriously be trying to deny what he had done.
Bold blue eyes turned to look at him, the mulish jut to the boy's chin even more pronounced. Enunciating carefully, Richie repeated his words.
"Richie," this time exasperation colored the affection in Duncan's voice. "Denying it won't make this go away. We just want to help you."
Duncan didn't miss the tears that filled the boy's eyes before Richie closed them. "I knew you wouldn't believe me. No one ever does."
"What other explanation is there? When I went to check on you last night and found…all the blood…" Christ his throat was closing up. Duncan lowered his eyes to compose himself. He couldn't fall apart, Richie needed him, but he had been so scared. A month, he couldn't even keep his makeshift family safe for a month.
"I don't know what happened? I didn't have any reason to kill myself…things have been great." Richie suddenly found the blanket on his lap supremely interesting, anything to avoid looking at Duncan.
Taking a chance, Duncan reached his hand out to tilt the boy's face back up and to his surprise; Richie did not immediately pull his face away. Pleading blue eyes looked into his own brown ones.
Speaking carefully and with authority, Duncan asked him, "So you have never attempted to harm yourself?" Richie had never outright lied to him before.
Richie did pull away then, his eyes returning to the blanket. "I didn't say that, but this isn't like that."
"What makes it different, this time?" Duncan's voice was soft, hopefully inviting confidence. But Richie just turned his face even farther away.
"I don't want to talk about it."
Duncan mentally strangled the frustrated growl that caught in his throat. "I need you to trust me, tough guy. I would do anything to keep you safe and happy, but I can't help if you won't talk to me."
Richie snorted. "How can I trust you when it's obvious that you don't trust me?"
Duncan hadn't had an answer for that. Fortunately then the doctor had interrupted, insisting that Richie attend some group counseling sessions. The boy had grumbled but acquiesced when she told him that he would be allowed to put on the sweats Duncan had brought.
Told that Richie would be occupied the rest of the day, Duncan had met up with Tessa downstairs and they had driven home. Duncan was determined to come back and spend the night with the boy despite the doctor's insistence that that wouldn't be necessary. Nobody liked to be alone in the hospital. Besides he needed to do whatever it took to convince the boy to talk to him.
The metallic smell of blood was overpowering as they entered the back door. Duncan ushered Tessa through the kitchen quickly as she looked positively green. He would need to clean it up himself before his planned nap.
When he re-entered the kitchen, he was struck again at the amount of blood that had pooled under the table. It never failed to surprise him, how much blood was in the human body, how much blood a person could lose and still live. In the middle the blood hadn't even dried but was instead tacky.
Lastly Duncan picked up the glass of chocolate milk on the table, almost smiling as he remembered Richie talking Tessa into buying the Nesquick powder…and chips and cookies and half a dozen other things the Frenchwoman had sworn not to buy. Richie was certainly a charmer when he chose to be.
Course it was odd, that Richie would have made a glass just before slitting his wrists…and the boy hadn't even finished the drink.
Duncan arrived back at the hospital at nine o'clock that night. Richie was already sitting in bed, looking sullen. All of the immortal's attempts at conversation were brushed off, effectively giving Duncan the silent treatment, though the boy did take the magazines that Duncan had brought.
When a nurse came in with a sleeping pill for the boy, the immortal practically breathed a sigh of relief. He doubted Richie would be able to sleep well in the hospital and he was certain that lack of sleep would do nothing to improve the boy's attitude.
That night when Duncan woke, he was immediately aware of the low whimpering noise that disturbed his sleep. Wincing slightly at the odd angle his neck had been in, Duncan moved quickly to Richie's side. The boy was on his side in almost the fetal position, holding himself tightly against the shudders that jerked his body and seemingly trying to stifle the sounds of his distress.
Duncan knew that victims of trauma and child abuse often had nightmares or flashbacks and yet to see it happening to this boy, who seemed so full of life and happiness, a boy he had taken into his home and heart…he reached out his hand to stroke the red hair, attempting to soothe the boy.
At his touch, Richie stilled completely. Then, with trembling movements, the boy turned to his back, his legs opening hesitantly.
"Don't hurt me, I'll be good, good," the boy whispered the words as if they were an oft repeated prayer.
Without thought, Duncan shut the boy's legs, turning Richie onto his side again. Almost in a panic, he rubbed the boy's back, perhaps too vigorously but the boy didn't wake. In fact it seemed to jar the boy from his nightmare and Richie settled back into a deeper sleep, the tension disappearing from his face and body.
Duncan sat back down in the chair beside the bed, but he didn't go back to sleep. He sat up, staring at the now peacefully sleeping boy and thinking, thinking that he really didn't know anything about Richie.
He wanted to wake the boy and demand an explanation; he wanted to know exactly what had happened. But did he really need to know? It was pretty clear what had happened except for details like when and who and how long.
Besides, hadn't he already proven that interrogating the boy wouldn't work? Richie wanted Duncan to trust him, believe that he was telling the truth. But if Richie didn't do it, then who did? Was someone trying to kill Richie?
Either way, if Duncan made the wrong choice, Richie's mortal life would most likely end at seventeen. If he believed the boy and Richie was lying, it would just give the boy more opportunities to kill himself. But if he didn't believe the boy and Richie was telling the truth…then whoever had slit the boy's wrists would be free to try again. And Richie would never trust Duncan.
When Richie woke in the morning, Duncan was already up. Having made his decision, the immortal felt a renewed sense of purpose and he puttered around the small hospital room restlessly.
He waited until after the boy had gone to the bathroom, returning in the clean sweats, Duncan had brought the night previous. Richie was still giving him the silent treatment.
Finally the boy sat down again on the bed, reaching for the magazine. Duncan intercepted him, moving the magazine away and sitting down in the bedside chair.
"Richie, last night I did a lot of thinking. If you say that you did not slit your wrists…" He looked at the boy gravely, waiting for Richie's acknowledgment of his carefully selected words. At the boy's nod, he continued. "Then I believe you."
Standing up again, Duncan began to pace the space in front of the bed. "Which means that someone else did." He paused letting the words to sink in. "I need you to tell me everything that you remember from that night."
Richie settled back against the bed's headboard. "I don't remember anything really."
"Well, why did you get out of bed that night?"
The boy smiled sheepishly, the sight absurdly welcome to the Highlander. "I was hungry."
Duncan smiled back, shaking his head. "I figured. Why the Nesquick?"
Richie shrugged. "I only really drink it at night. I had a foster mother who said that eating before bed would keep you awake, so she always fixed us a glass of Nesquick."
Then the boy's expression changed, like he was looking inward for a moment and he frowned. "I don't remember anything after that though, just feeling really tired."
Now it was Duncan's turn to frown, an idea of where to start looking for evidence of foul play forming in his head. Richie's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"So what now?"
"Now I'm going to head back to the apartment, I've got an idea."
"What? You're leaving me here?"
"Yes, Rich. First of all, we don't have any proof yet, and secondly you're safe here for now. The doctor said you could come home tomorrow."
Duncan gathered his coat and made to leave.
"Wait, what do you mean yet?"
Duncan just smiled and told the boy to have a good day…and not to give them any reason to hold him longer.
Duncan hurried back to the apartment. Having accepted that someone else was responsible, the immortal was now worried that Richie may not have been the only target.
Tessa was there in the kitchen, unharmed when he entered. A smile bloomed on his face at the sight of her, still in her robe, sleep tousled, sipping her coffee at the kitchen table. He leaned over to give her a kiss, which quickly turned passionate rather than affectionate.
She pulled away, though her eyes were bright and laughing. "Miss me?" She asked impudently.
"We haven't spent many nights apart," he answered, kissing her again. Then he remembered why he had hurried back. Reluctantly pulling away, Duncan moved to sit in another chair, rubbing his face absently and feeling the weariness of a sleepless night.
"Tessa, I'm not sure that Richie did try to kill himself."
"He swears he didn't do it and I don't think that he would lie to me, not outright like that."
"But then who…?" The Frenchwoman's words trailed off as she considered the consequences of the news.
"Exactly, we need to find out who and I'm not certain who the target is. You could be in danger too."
"Do you think it's an immortal?"
Duncan sighed. He wondered the same thing. "I don't know. There wasn't an immortal here that night, but if he were using mortals…" Duncan stood up. "I had an idea though. Richie said that he came down here to get a glass of Nesquick and then felt really tired. The food could be drugged."
Tessa gasped and Duncan laid his hand over hers in a reassuring gesture. "I was going to gather up all the food that could be tampered with and take it to a lab I know of. Care to help?"
Tessa accompanied Duncan back to the hospital that night. They entered Richie's room to find the boy sitting on top of the covers, staring dejectedly at the same magazine he had read last night.
"Thank God," was the boy's response when Tessa handed over a new stack. The Frenchwoman smiled at the normal Richie response. Duncan knew they were both glad to see the boy behaving at least a little like his usual self.
They told the boy about gathering up the food to be tested by the lab, but other than that they did not discuss anything about their current situation. In true Richie form, the boy anxiously filled up the dead air with mindless chatter, making jokes that they laughed at more out of their own anxiety than anything else.
Duncan knew that Richie didn't want to talk about his past and he didn't want to pry but he couldn't help feeling like ignoring it wasn't the best way to deal with the situation. Whether or not Richie had attempted suicide the night before last, it was obvious that the past was not as dead and forgotten as the boy wanted to pretend it was.
Tessa left just after ten thirty, leaving Duncan and Richie to spend another night in the hospital. After Richie's nightmare, Duncan wanted to stay with the boy in the hospital but he didn't feel that Tessa would be safe in the apartment alone. Having Tessa stay the night with a married friend was the best compromise.
Duncan knew he needed to talk to the boy before the sleeping pill kicked in and so the immortal got right to the point once they were alone.
"Rich, I made you an appointment with a psychologist for the day after tomorrow."
"But you said you believed me?"
"I do, but this situation has obviously brought up some bad memories." Cautiously, Duncan sat on the bed beside the boy.
"Maac. I've been to them all, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors. I'm fine."
"I know you are tough guy, but you need to talk to someone." The pointedly left out 'since you won't talk to me' hung in the air between them. Duncan took a deep breath, bolstering his own courage before continuing the conversation.
"You had a nightmare last night, about someone touching you. Rich, were you abused as a child?" The words stuck in Duncan's throat but he was through skirting around the issue.
Richie's eyes widened in shock before he looked down at his lap guiltily. "I didn't want you guys to know about that, that I'm even more damaged than you thought. I didn't want anyone to know."
Duncan had to struggle to keep his hands to himself. He had seen the juxtaposition of old pain in a young face, but in the eyes of immortals much older than the teen in front of him. He wanted to crush the boy to him in a hug, chase away the monsters under the bed. What kind of person could have hurt a child like that?
But Duncan remembered the doctor's words. It might well be his presence as an adult male in the room where Richie was sleeping that caused the boy to have nightmares. But eventually Richie would learn that Duncan could be trusted. He just had to give the boy time.
"You can't go back, Rich. Now we know and the knowledge hasn't changed how we feel about you."
That night was a replay of the previous. Rubbing the boy's back seemed to be an effective means of comfort, for which Duncan was thankful.
Still when Richie awoke in the morning, he was much more energetic than Duncan had seen him since the incident, owing no doubt to the fact that the boy would be discharged from the hospital that day. All he had to do was meet one more time with Dr. Keiner.
Duncan had already spoken with the doctor. She had said that Richie seemed to be well-adjusted, probably due to prior counseling and the boy's own determination. Unfortunately nightmares were very common and they would probably disappear on their own.
Still she warned him to watch out for signs of depression or passivity, increased anxiety, or, particularly, evidence of self-harm. The doctor explained that the introduction of a new male influence on Richie's life or his impending eighteenth birthday could have brought up old feelings of fear and worthlessness.
Her words about self-harm made Duncan realize that he had never seen Richie without pants, not when he went to wake the boy up in the mornings, not after a shower, not when the boy would run or play basketball, never. Was it because of a need to stay clothed and protected or because he was hiding evidence of self-mutilation or of past abuses?
The doctor must have seen his trepidation at the enormous responsibility he realized was ahead. Things had changed irrevocably. And all Duncan could do was promise to keep an eye out.
Tessa came to pick the two men up and they all went out to dinner. Richie was genuinely excited, excited to leave the hospital, excited to wear real clothes again, excited about good food. Perhaps the boy was also excited to still have a home to go to, to have two people who knew he wasn't perfect but cared for him all the same. At least Duncan hoped so.
And the boy's excitement did much to alleviate the tension that threatened their interactions that evening. Until they made it back to the apartment. Then Richie became quiet, almost unsure.
Fortunately Duncan was prepared. He had rented the latest action movie blockbuster and the three of them spent an enjoyable evening on the couch. Together.
As bedtime approached however, it was Duncan who began to feel nervous. Richie had had nightmares two nights in a row and he didn't want to leave the boy all alone. But he didn't think that Richie would appreciate Duncan camping out in the boy's room.
And he still had one question to ask the boy before turning in, so he walked the boy to the bedroom door. "Rich, can we talk for a minute?"
Richie seemed less than enthusiastic, rolling his eyes but the boy nodded as he sat down on his bed.
"Is there a reason you wear pants all the time?"
At Richie's perplexed and slightly affronted expression, Duncan elaborated. "Do you harm yourself? Have you ever?"
Richie seemed more embarrassed by the question than anything else and he flushed, his pale skin tone giving away his discomfort easily. "No I don't cut myself or anything. I knew kids who did but I think I've had enough pain for one life." The boy laughed but it was without joy.
The boy swallowed heavily, knowing that Duncan was waiting for more of an explanation. Duncan wanted to believe the boy, but he also wanted to make sure. But what could he do, strip search the kid?
Duncan's inner turmoil must have shown on his face, because Richie suddenly stood up and undid his belt. Without preamble, the boy's jeans dropped to the floor.
"See, no scars on the front or anywhere that I could reach." The boy even lifted the hem of his boxers and turned around to prove that they weren't hiding anything.
Duncan didn't need to be told how difficult it must have been for Richie to undress in front of him like that. He hoped that it showed the boy's growing trust in him. Being assaulted by someone meant to take care of the boy would certainly have made Richie mistrustful, but Duncan still wished that things could be different, that he could touch the boy without it being misinterpreted.
Quickly Richie pulled his jeans back up, his face crimson as he turned back around to face the immortal. Duncan nodded. He wanted to tell the boy how sorry he was that that had happened to him, that whatever safety the boy had known had been ripped away from him, but the immortal knew the sentiment wouldn't be appreciated.
"But you have hurt yourself before?" The boy had already admitted as much, but now he needed to know more.
Richie nodded. "When I was thirteen. I was sent to a group home and everybody there knew and teased me…"
Duncan knew the callous cruelty that children often used against one another, throwing around words and ideas learnt from adults. He could almost hear their taunts: that Richie must have wanted it, that the man must've known Richie was a homosexual…and he knew how much that must have affected a boy entering puberty.
"So you tried to kill yourself?"
Richie nodded, his face screwed up to prevent the tears that had gathered in the blue eyes from falling.
"I bought some sleeping pills from another boy…" The words were cut off as a choked sob escaped the boy.
Duncan couldn't stop himself, he moved toward Richie, wrapping his arms around the boy, hugging him hard and fast. He left his arms loose around the boy but not restrictive.
Richie sniffled for a moment. Hunched over within the circle of Duncan's arms, the boy wiped at his face with his hands in an effort to compose himself. After a moment, Richie looked up at the immortal with earnest red eyes.
"I think I'd like to go to sleep now," the boy's voice was low and pitiful, pleading for a little space to recover from the intense emotions.
Indulging in a slight squeeze before letting the boy go and standing up, Duncan couldn't resist asking, "Are you going to be ok tonight?"
Richie shrugged. "I'll be fine."
Despite the boy's half-hearted assurance, Duncan spent another sleepless night, getting up a dozen times to listen outside of Richie's room. He didn't hear anything, but he didn't take that as proof that the boy's sleep had been undisturbed.
The next morning, he woke Richie at the usual time, wanting things to continue as normally as possible. Duncan couldn't help smiling as Richie grumbled that he was still 'recovering' from his 'ordeal', glad that the boy could joke about it.
The Highlander also indulged in making the boy's favorite, blueberry pancakes for breakfast, though afterwards he made Richie dust the shop's inventory until the appointment time.
Richie became quiet again as the time neared. Duncan knew the boy didn't want to go, that he was struggling against stereotypes and cultural conditioning that said that boys weren't victims, that they didn't need help.
And maybe the therapist would agree that therapy wasn't needed, but Duncan wanted to make sure that Richie had all the support he needed. After all, Richie might have a long time to live with this, at least Duncan hoped so.
All three of them headed to the appointment and then out to lunch in an effort to cheer Richie up. While at the restaurant, Duncan received a phone call from the private lab he had taken their food to. The results were ready, the lab's speed a testament to the power of lots of money.
They all hurriedly finished their meals, in a hurry to pick up the results. At the lab though, Duncan slowly looked through the pages of the manila folder he was given, so focused that he didn't notice the impatient, anticipatory dance that Richie was doing in front of him.
"What's it say?"
Duncan slowly lowered the file, a frown on his face. "There's nothing…except in the Nesquick powder. They found diazepam, Valium, in it."
Both the adult's eyes turned to focus on Richie who looked as if he'd just been vindicated. "See I couldn't have done it."
Duncan nodded, exasperated that the boy seemed to care more about being right than about being in danger. He put his hand on the boy's back and began to push both Richie and Tessa towards the car. "Let's go home. I need to think."
Once back at the apartment, they congregated in the living room.
"So what does this mean?"
"It means that someone is trying to kill Richie, only Richie it would seem. Anyone would suspect that Richie would be the only person to drink the Nesquick but the fact that then the person snuck into the house and attacked him…someone knew about the Nesquick, someone knew that you only drink it at night."
"But who would try to kill me?"
"That's a good question, Rich. Who would try to kill you?"
"I don't know. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to kill little ol' me?"
That started Duncan thinking. "Yes it does. Whoever's behind this doesn't want it to look like a murder."
"Well, obviously. If it's not a murder then they won't be caught. Nobody'll even be looking for them."
Duncan sat on the couch. "When did you start drinking Nesquick at night? Was it before or after the abuse?"
Richie averted his eyes, pulling a couch cushion onto his lap and fiddling with the tassels. "It was after."
"Rich, if we're going to find this guy, I need to know everything, every person who might have known, anyone who might have a grudge."
The boy nodded without lifting his eyes, like a child might acknowledge the explanation of his punishment. Duncan sighed; he certainly didn't want Richie to think of this as punishment.
"The man who abused you, could he be out of jail now?"
Richie snorted, briefly looking up at Duncan before returning his attention to the pillow. "He never went to jail. After a year with him, I ended up in the hospital. It was pretty clear what had been going on but somehow that bastard walked away."
Duncan stifled the urge to demand what the man's name was. If he knew who had abused the boy, the immortal didn't know if he could refrain from hunting the man down. And the last thing that Richie needed was to deal with Duncan's anger as well as the boy's own.
"What about whoever beat you up a month ago?"
Duncan watched as color sprouted on the apples of the boy's cheeks. "That was just a disagreement."
"Yeah, and what was this 'disagreement' about?"
"It was a couple of guys I'd met in juvie…" The boy stopped as he must have noticed the tightening of Duncan's jaw as the immortal thought about what kind of person Richie might have met in the juvenile detention center.
"Hey! It was better than living on the streets alright?"
Duncan nodded, feeling chastened. Obviously not all kids who ended up there were hardened criminals, but he couldn't help worrying about a childhood that included gangs and hookers on the street corners. It was a miracle that Richie had turned out as well as he had.
"Anyway, I owed the guys money…for staying there Frankie said but the job didn't go so well…"
Duncan realized that the 'job' Richie was talking about was the antique store and couldn't help shaking his head, half in amusement and half in exasperation. "And who exactly were these people and where exactly did you live?"
"Frankie Tomlin and Jamie Mitchell, who used to live at the abandoned building on Dillon St., the blue one. He used to make fun of me about drinking that stuff at night, like I was a little kid."
The immortal figured that that was a place to start at any rate. He reached out a hand then to run through Richie's red curls, dismayed that the boy still tilted his head away from the contact. Reluctantly, Duncan dropped his hand and stood up again.
"Come on, I know of some inventory that needs to be unpacked."
They worked the rest of the day in the storeroom. At first Richie seemed distracted, but the kid bounced back with usual Richie speed and soon was chatting and grumbling per usual. Duncan considered Richie's ability to recover his good humor one of the boy's best attributes, one that would hopefully serve him well in his impending immortal life.
At seven, Duncan suggested that they order a pizza since they hadn't yet picked up any food to replace what they took to the lab. He vetoed Richie's request for a supreme pizza but let the boy have a soft drink, Sprite since it didn't have caffeine.
Half-way through the meal though, Richie's ebullience faded and the boy seemed really tired. Duncan suspected that despite the boy's normal behavior that Richie's sleep had been interrupted by nightmares again. He just didn't know what to do about it.
He sent the boy to bed directly from the table. Richie grumbled about it being too early even though the boy could hardly keep his eyes open.
Duncan and Tessa cleaned the table then, putting the rest of the pizza and Richie's Sprite in the refrigerator. Knowing the boy, Richie would probably finish them off in the middle of the night.
That thought gave Duncan an idea. Sleeping pills hadn't stopped the nightmares in the hospital, but it couldn't hurt to try and it might be more likely to work since Richie was already tired.
He went to take a Tylenol PM and a glass of water to the boy. It had only been thirty minutes since the boy had gone to bed so hopefully Richie would still be awake.
When he opened the door, he found Richie face down on the floor, still fully clothed.
Duncan rushed to kneel by the boy's side, turning the boy over to look at Richie's face. The first thing he noticed was that the boy's skin was cold and clammy, wet with perspiration, and then Duncan noticed that Richie's lips were turning blue. He inspected the boy's fingers, noting that they were turning blue as well.
Duncan's only thought was that this couldn't possibly be happening again. He tried to wake the boy up, pinching him and rubbing his knuckles along Richie's chest, even shouting the boy's name. At that Richie's eyelids fluttered. There was something odd about the blue eyes though.
He moved one hand to keep the boy's right eye open, seeing then that the boy's pupils had constricted to pinpricks. Drugs, he thought. Richie must have been poisoned.
The immortal picked up the boy's limp form and placed him on the bed. Quickly Duncan moved to the open doorway and shouted for Tessa again. Movement caught his eye and he turned back to the bed in time to see Richie begin to convulse. The boy's limbs jerked uncontrollably, his whole body shaking. Returning to the boy, Duncan turned Richie on his side as the seizure continued.
A gasp from the doorway drew his attention. It was Tessa staring at the ghastly scene with wide frightened eyes. Duncan had a terrible feeling of déjà vu before Richie drew his attention again by vomiting out everything in his stomach.
"Call an ambulance, Tessa. I think he's been poisoned."
Duncan rubbed the boy's back soothingly even though Richie was unconscious. That was when he noticed how shallow the boy's breathing was. He leaned down further to listen, noticing now how Richie labored for each slow breath.
His own heart almost stopped when during the second seizure, Richie stopped breathing altogether. Duncan had been ready to perform mouth to mouth, but the boy began breathing again once the convulsions had stopped.
When the paramedics arrived, their first question was what had Richie taken. Duncan didn't know, the only things the boy had eaten…he rushed toward the kitchen, grabbing the Sprite he had placed in the refrigerator earlier. Duncan could clearly see some sort of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. He took the bottle with them as the couple raced over to the hospital again.
Dr. Keiner was there at the Emergency Department to meet them, a furious scowl on her face. "What drugs did he have access to?"
Duncan blinked, surprised by the anger in the doctor's voice as well as the question. "Uh, Tylenol and aspirin I think."
The woman only scowled further. "His symptoms are like a narcotic, maybe an opoid, but if there was acetaminophen in it…" She seemed not to even be talking to Duncan anymore but more to herself.
He produced the Sprite bottle to get the doctor's attention. "I think it was in this, he must not have noticed it."
The woman seemed absolutely incensed then. "Teens often mix drugs in water or soft drinks to make them easier to take."
"He didn't do it. We found Valium in his drink the night of the first attack."
"He might very well have taken the drug to relax before attempting suicide. He has a history of using medications to attempt suicide. You haven't been watching him at all have you? I cannot believe…" Her brown eyes closed, obviously attempting to restrain her rising resentment.
"Tomorrow I'm going in front of the judge to have Richard Ryan temporarily committed."
"You can't do that!" Tessa's shocked voice rang out. Duncan opened his mouth to protest as well but he realized that there was no point. They did not actually have any proof that these were not suicide attempts.
Instead the immortal stormed toward the emergency room. Through the window on the door he could see someone inserting a tube down the boy's throat.
"What are they doing to him?"
"Richie will need a gastric lavage to clean out his stomach and they're going to administer the antidote for both the narcotic and the acetaminophen."
"But what's that tube they're putting in now?"
"The narcotic depressed his respiration, so they have to insert a tube to help Richie breathe. That's their main concern right now. Unfortunately we won't know if there's been permanent liver damage for at least 48 hours but hopefully most of the acetaminophen sank to the bottom of the drink."
Those were the last words that Duncan wanted to hear: 'permanent damage'. He had no idea what would happen when Richie became immortal if he had permanent liver damage.
Eventually he let Tessa lead him back to the waiting room. Faced with another sleepless night, the immortal was not comforted by the knowledge that Richie's night was worse. The boy he had sworn to 'watch over' was in pain and there was nothing he could do but wait.
Exhaustion overtook him and Duncan slept with his head leaned back against the wall of the waiting room until Tessa woke him just before dawn.
"They're moving him to another room now," she said quietly.
Groggy and still exhausted, Duncan followed her to the elevators. They entered another washed out looking room where Richie, once again breathing on his own, had already been tucked into the bed.
Despite that, Tessa immediately went over to smooth the sheets and blankets that covered the boy and brush back the curls from the freckled forehead. The look on the Frenchwoman's face was both tender and sad, and Duncan wondered if the look was mirrored on his own face.
But Duncan's mind also raced with plans. In a couple of hours, he would call their lawyer. Not that there was probably anything the woman could do.
He believed Richie, but Dr. Keiner had awakened those stubborn niggling doubts in Duncan's mind. But he could not believe that the boy would have been able to sit at the table with them while drinking a fatal dose of medicine.
But where could he find proof?
At ten am, after Richie had woken only to fall back asleep, Duncan had had enough. He left Tessa to watch the boy and went out to find some answers.
He started at the 'blue house' on Dillon, but the two boys Duncan was looking for were no longer in residence. Judicious use of cash however got the immortal their life stories.
What he found out only made the Highlander more uneasy about the time that Richie had spent with them. Frankie was the leader and he had a long history of being violent. Frankie also was smart, smart enough to have stayed mostly out of prison despite his temper.
But Duncan couldn't seem to find the boys themselves. He went from hangout to dive to abandoned building and still couldn't find them. Finally fate smiled on him, an older homeless man who kept his eyes open, the quintessential nosy neighbor that every neighborhood has, told the immortal that the two boys normally met at ten pm at a bar called the "Red Sea".
It was only seven then and Duncan checked back on Tessa and Richie at the hospital. The boy was still asleep, his long lashes lying on top of the dark bruises under the boy's eyes. Tessa didn't look much better; her eyes red and puffy with tears both shed and unshed.
He went to her immediately and held her close for long minutes. His eyes however stayed on the still form in the bed, still except for the rhythmic rise and fall of the boy's chest, a rhythm that Duncan's eyes searched out. He knew they were both wondering how this little ruffian, this teenaged pocket-sized hurricane who had blown into their nice ordered lives had come to mean so much to them. For Duncan was not only worried because he was charged with the pre-immortal's care by his kinsman, no. Now it had become very personal.
Richie was not a child, not really, but he needed so much, so much that Duncan could give him: food and clothes and shelter, of course, but more than that: love and affection and trust, Duncan wanted to give the teen a home. He wanted to give the boy respect for himself as well as others, he wanted to teach the boy about caution as well as bravery, he wanted to ease the pain of the past and usher Richie into a new life as an immortal. Richie was a good person, he just hadn't had opportunity to show it, and the boy was tough, and stubborn, a survivor. He would make a good immortal.
Richie was the son of Duncan's heart. But how could he ever give the boy enough to make up for all that the boy had lost, that had been taken from him?
Nurses came in then, to take Richie's vital signs and get some blood samples to check for rising liver enzymes even though it was still too early to tell. Duncan left to scope out the bar, unable to watch the boy treated as a pin cushion, as an object, a victim.
At the bar, Duncan immediately recognized Jamie from the descriptions he had been given. The boy was in his early twenties with scruffy facial hair inexpertly carved into a goatee. He was of medium height, medium build with eyes that lazily scanned the bar for his friend. No, this one was definitely not the brains of the operation.
The immortal waited thirty minutes for the other boy to show. He sat at the bar, nursing a beer and watching Jamie become as agitated as he was. Finally the boy decided he'd had enough. Duncan followed the boy out into the night.
The boy turned around, confused by the sudden intrusion. His eyes flicked nervously around, realizing belatedly that they were alone in a darkened alley.
"I don't know who you're talking about?" The kid replied nervously.
Duncan smiled. He knew well how menacing he could appear and took full advantage of it, crowding the younger, smaller man into the wall of the building.
"Frankie Tomlin, the person you were waiting for. Where is he?"
The boy's pale eyes widened in fear, still he tried to lie. "He must be at the Highpointe…I got the location wrong."
The immortal only had to raise one meaty paw in warning before the kid's tune changed.
"Ok, ok. He was at the hospital, visiting a friend. He was supposed to be done by now."
"What do you mean a friend?" Duncan's voice became low and quiet, dangerous without his conscious intention.
"Some punk kid he wanted to teach a lesson! Richie Ryan!"
Duncan ran back to the car, both of the people that he cared about most in the world were at the hospital and they were both in danger.
Duncan approached the hospital room cautiously. He didn't want to burst in and surprise the kid if he had a weapon to either Tessa or Richie. Ducking down below the window in the door, the immortal heard an unknown male voice speaking in a hushed severe tone.
"Did you think a beating was your only punishment?"
Peaking his head up to look through the window, Duncan saw a young man who had to be the infamous Frankie. He was only about as tall as Richie but heavily built with a shaved head. And holding a gun pointed straight at Richie who was lying in the bed, awake and propped up by pillows.
"You don't think a gun is a little obvious? How would I have even gotten that in here?"
Richie's voice clearly showed his distress and yet there was a defiant edge to it. Duncan looked around the room, but he didn't see Tessa anywhere. Frankie must've waited until she had left the room to make his move.
"Where there's a will there's a way." They were still talking. "Didn't you know that boys are more likely to use violent means to commit suicide?"
Duncan opened the door carefully, trying not to make a sound. He crept up behind the young man as Frankie kept talking.
"Did you think you could just wander off into your nice new life? Forget about everything?"
Frankie's voice had risen alarmingly and the immortal sprung into action. Duncan shoved the arm holding the gun up towards the ceiling whilst his other hand reached around and gripped the young man's throat.
Disoriented the kid struggled against the bigger man's implacable grip. Duncan managed to get the gun away without it going off though. Richie had already pressed the nurse's call button, but when the young woman came in, the scene in the room made her quickly exit again to search for security.
Three days later…having gathered up Richie's things, Tessa followed Duncan as he pushed Richie in a wheelchair to the hospital's exit. The boy was finally being discharged. All of his liver testing had come back negative. Though Richie had ingested an overdose of Vicodin, because the soda was cold, the boy had not ingested too large a dose of the Tylenol component.
Dr. Keiner had been there earlier offering her apologies for all the misunderstandings. Frankie had confessed to all three attempts on Richie's life and so the order having the boy temporarily committed had been revoked
Duncan, however, was not sorry, well at least not about all of it. He was glad that he now knew about Richie's past, that he now understood more about why Richie acted the way he did and perhaps, he understood better how to help the boy. The whole ordeal had brought the three closer together. He trusted Richie, the boy knew that and trusted Duncan as well. Frankie was wrong. Richie couldn't just walk away and forget his past, but he could move on, into his new life with Duncan and Tessa.