On the Barge

 

Richie glanced sideways at his friend and asked a bit doubtfully, "You really think
so?"

"Not really. I was just trying to be nice," Duncan deadpanned.

It took the redhead a second, then Duncan grinned and he spluttered into laughter,
the Scot's deeper tones joining in a moment later.

As they calmed, Richie, still grinning, said cheerfully, "Thanks for nothing, boss!"

"My pleasure, Rich." Duncan's eye lit on a taxi drawing up and he got to his feet, jerking his head in a summons to the teenager. "Come on, Richie, Tessa's back."

"So?" Richie was relaxed, not too interested in hearing about Tessa's latest
shopping trip.

"So...we need to have a little talk, Richie."

That got Richie's attention and he looked up warily, countering, "A little talk?
About what? What'd I do now?"

He'd encountered Duncan's 'little talks' before and never enjoyed them.

Duncan's eyebrows shot up and he retorted, "You don't remember? Gun stealing?
House breaking?"

Richie groaned and dropped his head into his hands, grousing, "Ma...ac! Give a
guy a break, huh? It was an *emergency*!"

Duncan extended an open hand towards the youngster and said firmly, "Now,
Richie."

As his options currently consisted of giving in or going for an unwanted swim in
the Seine, Richie sighed deeply and took the offered palm, letting the Scot pull
him up. "OK, OK. I'm coming. Geez, all I did was try and save someone's life! Which
lecture am I gonna get this time? The 'you take too many risks' one?"

Duncan quelled him with a look and said sternly, "Yes. Plus the 'stealing and
house breaking is illegal' one."

Richie's heart sank and he moaned, "Maaaaan, my life sucks! Try 'n help out
and what happens? You get dumped on!"

Duncan frowned at him and warned, "You'd better take this seriously, Richie.
We do." On that note, he strode off to where Tessa was walking up the ramp, taking the parcel she was carrying, kissing her cheek in welcome, then leading her to the
upper deck with an arm around her shoulders, talking quietly.

Richie watched glumly, more than half tempted to make a break for it, but knowing
what a dim view Duncan would take of that changed his mind. That and the fact
that the Highlander was between him and the gangplank. Heaving a put-upon sigh, Richie trudged over to face his friends, then plastered on an ingratiating grin, saying hopefully, "Hey, Tess. Good shopping?"

For once it didn't work, even though Duncan's eyes gleamed in momentary
amusement at the redhead's predictable attempt to escape the reprimand.

Tessa frowned at the youngster, causing his grin to slip. "It is not shopping that we wish to discuss, Richie. What you did was foolish and dangerous!"

Rolling his eyes, Richie complained flippantly, "Hey, I thought this was the
no-illegal-stuff lecture!"

Tessa's foot started tapping on the deck and Duncan growled, "Richie."

Richie re-assessed his position and sighed, holding his hands out, palms up.
"OK, OK. I'm sorry. Hit me with it."

"Don't tempt me." Duncan muttered, irritated by the redhead's refusal to take it
seriously.

"Duncan!" Tessa scolded, while Richie smirked as the attention slipped off him.

Refraining from rolling his own eyes with an effort, Duncan took a calming breath
and instructed, "Sit down, Richie."

Opening his mouth for a smart-assed remark, Richie caught the determination in
the dark eyes regarding him and changed his mind. Duncan had never raised a
hand to him yet, but he had the feeling he was on thin ice here.

Duncan shifted a chair for Tessa and then sat himself, arms crossing over his chest.
"What were you thinking, Richie? You had to have known how dangerous it was
to go after Piton by yourself."

All injured innocence, Richie demanded, "Well, what else was I supposed to do?
He had Maya! He was gonna kill her!"

Exasperated, Duncan leant forwards, his voice level rising. "What you were
supposed to do was *talk* to me about it! *Not* go dashing off on your own!"

Close to pouting, Richie snorted. "Oh, yeah, right! Like you were gonna listen to me! I kept telling you something was wrong but you just said I was jealous!"

Duncan's lips tightened but he sat back, admitting evenly, "I did think that, yes,
but there's a big difference between having suspicions and receiving a threatening
phone call. You should have told me."

Richie scowled. "You weren't there."

Duncan held onto his temper with an effort. "Then you should have *waited*! Or told Tessa! Or called the police!"

Frustrated, Richie jumped up, gesticulating wildly. "I *couldn't*! He said I had to come alone or he'd kill Maya!"

Duncan rose as well, facing the younger man off. "Damnit, Richie! How many
times do I have to tell you that you *don't* put yourself in dangerous situations?!
You definitely don't go off half-cocked against *immortals*! You're lucky all Piton
did was have you arrested! He could just as easily have killed you!"

Throwing his hands up, Richie protested, unwisely, "That's what I had the gun for!
I was gonna shoot the bastard 'n get Maya outta there!"

Her eyes snapping with anger, Tessa joined in. "And that is another thing, young man. It is illegal and very dangerous to have a gun! How could you do something so foolish?" The ease with which he'd armed himself, in a foreign country no less, appalled her.

Richie's jaw dropped and he demanded incredulously, "Foolish? Like I was
supposed to just go in there unarmed?"

His patience snapping, Duncan yelled, "NO! You weren't supposed to go there
at all!"

Richie glowered at him and Tessa murmured, "Duncan," and the Scot took a deep
breath and visibly garnered control. "Sorry. Let's sit down and try this again."

He waited expectantly and Richie slumped back into his chair, scowling. As always,
trying to help had dumped him in the doghouse.

"Now then..." Duncan sounded a good deal calmer but Richie wasn't fooled.
These ' little talks ' invariably lasted until he'd admitted he'd screwed up and
groveled convincingly enough to get let off the hook.

"I told you not to butt heads with Piton, didn't I?"

Staring at his Reeboks, Richie muttered, "Yessir."

Sounding maddeningly calm now, Duncan went on, "Yes. Because it was too
dangerous. You remember that?"

"Yessir." Richie figured he might just as well give in. No-way was he gonna win this one.

"Yes…" Duncan echoed, then his tone hardened. "And then what do you do?"
He didn't wait for an answer. "You break into his apartment, you have to set him
on fire to escape and if that wasn't enough you steal a gun and go after him
alone! What the hell am I supposed to do with you, Rich?"

"D…do with me?" That was distinctly worrying - normally Duncan didn't *do*
anything, other than lecture him endlessly.

Duncan sighed, no trace of his anger remaining. "Rich, you must learn that when
I say something is too dangerous, it's for a very good reason. You're going to get
yourself killed on one of these stupid stunts."

Embarrassed by the concern in the Scot's dark eyes, Richie took refuge in his
tough guy image and shrugged. "So?"

It was a mistake. Duncan's face darkened instantly, while Tessa jumped to her
feet, scolding him furiously. "So? What do you mean, so? Do you not know how we would feel if you died? Doesn't it matter to you that we would be devastated? If we lost you..." Tessa turned away, blinking back tears, wrapping her arms around herself, as Duncan went to her, throwing a furious glare at the redhead as he did.

Upset himself, he hadn't meant to provoke such a violent reaction, Richie stepped
towards the pair, then halted uncertainly and pleaded, "Tess, don't cry, I'm sorry,
I'm such a jerk, I didn't mean it, I know you guys care about me, honest, I'm really
sorry..."

Sniffing slightly, the Frenchwoman turned back to face the discomfited youngster,
giving Duncan a faint smile for his unhesitating support. "Richie, we don't just *care* about you, we love you, surely you must know that, no?"

Embarrassed again, Richie ducked his head, but admitted shyly, "Uh, yeah, I guess."

Duncan exchanged a glance with Tessa and shook his head ruefully, echoing softly
"Yeah, you guess. Come here, tough guy." Reaching out a long arm, Duncan snagged the teenager by the neck and drew him close, the other arm drawing Tessa into the embrace and he squeezed them both gently before setting Richie back, his lips quirking at the bemused look on the youngster's face. "Which doesn't get you off the hook, Rich."

Richie just nodded, amazed, yet again, that two such incredible people could
actually care so much about *him*.

Duncan tightened his arm briefly around Tessa, then let go, moving to confront
Richie directly. "You knew better than to go after Piton alone."

That was a flat statement and Richie nodded. He hadn't had much choice that
he'd seen, but he had known it was risky. "Yes, sir."

"You also know perfectly well that stealing and breaking in are illegal."

Richie could hardly deny that either. Of course he knew. "Yes, sir."

Steeling himself, Duncan delivered the bombshell, knowing the teenager would be
shocked at best, hurt at worst. "So you'll understand why we have to punish you, Richie."

Duncan fought to remain stern as blue eyes widened in surprise then clouded with
worry as Richie stammered, "P...punish me? B...but I'm eighteen! I don't get
punished any more!"

"You do if you steal guns and break and enter." Duncan retorted.

"But..." Richie was floundering, taken unawares, his normally nimble brain suddenly
inactive.

"No buts, Richie. If there hadn't been immortals involved you could easily be
facing a jail sentence now, with good reason, and we're not going to just let you
get away with it."

Starting to panic, Richie appealed, "Tessa?" but she hardened her heart and
shook her head, telling him gently enough, "Richie, I am sorry, but I agree with
Duncan."

Richie swallowed, his heart speeding up as memories of other punishments
surfaced, of fists, bruises, belts, and he looked at Duncan with a new awareness
of his size, his strength, knowing there was no way he could protect himself,
eighteen or not. Hating himself, he begged, so quietly Duncan had to strain to hear,
"Mac, please, don't. I'm sorry, I promise."

Duncan's eyes narrowed in concern as he studied the youngster, face pale and
eyes fearful. That gave Duncan pause and he frowned. Apprehensive, fair enough,
but fearful? What did Richie think he was going to do? His whole attention on the tense boy in front of him, Duncan asked quietly, "Rich, what's the matter?"

Richie promptly flushed red, humiliated that the Scot thought he couldn't take it,
cast an anguished glance Tessa's way, praying that Duncan wouldn't do it in front
of her and mumbled, "Nothing." at the deck.

Noting the glance, Duncan kept his voice light as he requested, "Tess, could you
give us a minute, please, love?"

"Yes, of course." Distressed herself, Tessa withdrew, leaving them alone.

Richie stiffened his spine, straightened his shoulders, determined to take it like a
man, but his breathing was shallow and he realized he hadn't been this scared of
Duncan since that first wild night in the store and that memory frightened him
further as the idea of swords popped into his head. Duncan wouldn't cut him,
would he? Richie hoped not, but he wasn't completely certain of it.

Brow furrowed in concern, Duncan pressed again. "Rich, talk to me. What are you
thinking?"

Seeing the frown, but not reading the concern, Richie swallowed hard, locked his
eyes on the Scot's broad chest and implored almost inaudibly, "Mac...sir...I get I
deserve it and I'll take it, honest, whatever you want, I won't say a word, but,
please, don't put me in the hospital, Mac, please, it would be worse than jail,
especially here, you know I don't really get the lingo, not yet..."

"Richie!" Duncan was both shocked and hurt, by the fact that Richie actually expected a beating savage enough to hospitalize him and by the fact he believed Duncan would do it.

Richie mistook that for anger and bit his lip, whispering, "I'm sorry."

Duncan was furious enough to take whoever had mistreated this youngster so
badly apart with his bare hands, but he knew he was only scaring the teenager
further and he spun on his heel and paced with tight control over to the rail
which he grasped with white-knuckled hands, fighting for some degree of calm.

Richie's heart sank and he cursed himself for being such a spineless jerk. Mac
was obviously so disgusted he couldn't even bear to look at him. Without much
hope he tried to put things right. "Sir, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Whatever you w...want. No conditions."

That brought Duncan around so fast that Richie flinched away, expecting the first
blow to send him flying.

"Richie..." Duncan's voice was rough, his brogue prominent. "Rich…don't. Ye
have nae to fear from me. Did ye no hear I love ye? I wouldna beat ye, ever."

Richie blinked in surprise and said uncertainly, "B...but I thought..."

Duncan came closer and rested his hands on the youngster's shoulders, shaking
him lightly. "Ye thought wrong, Rich. What did I e'er do to make you think I
would hurt you like that?"

Richie colored slightly at the rebuke in the immortal's tone. "Uh, nothing, really,
Mac. I'm sorry."

"Nothing really?"

Duncan obviously wanted more and Richie shrugged uncomfortably, not meeting
the dark eyes. "Well, you know, Mac, look at you! You could whip my butt with
a hand tied behind your back! You wouldn't even need your sword!"

Duncan's eyes narrowed in anger that Richie would even *think* about him turning
his katana on him and his hands tightened to an almost painful grip. "Richie, I train to fight *immortals*! Not you! I would *never* beat you, you hear me?"

Eyes wide at the older man's intensity, Richie nodded, then asked cautiously,
"Uh, OK, Mac, but what did you mean? You know, about the punishing bit?"

Duncan sighed. "Rich, we want you to *think* before you dump yourself in some
crack-brained scheme. What we meant is you're grounded."

"Grounded?!" Richie repeated, relief making him feel almost light-headed, before
natural indignation set in and he protested, "But you *can't* ground me! I'm
eighteen!"

Letting the youngster go, with a quick affectionate ruffle through red hair, Duncan grinned down at him. "So you keep telling us, Rich, and yes, we can."

"What?! Oh, maaaan! Mac, you're not serious are ya?"

Duncan gave him a ' don't-push-it ' look and said, "Yes."

Caving, Richie moaned, "Man, this sucks!" then was struck by a thought, asked warily, "Uh, how long for, boss?"

"A month." Duncan said evenly, trying not to wince at the thought of the teenager
underfoot all the time.

"A month?!" Richie exclaimed in horror. "Mac, come-ON! Tessa! Tess, you don't
agree do ya? Tess, please, help me out here!"

Tessa came back over to them, smiling at Richie's horror-struck expression.

"With…" Duncan added inflexibly, "extra chores."

"Ma...ac! Tes...sa?"

Managing to ignore the puppy-dog appeal in the youngster's blue eyes, Tessa
backed her lover up. "And no dessert."

"WHAT? Tessssa! For a whole *month*?! That's cruel! I'll starve! Mac,
gimme a break here! Please! Guys! Come on! I'm sorry, honest!"

"That's it, Rich." Duncan wasn't sympathetic.

"What? No appeal? Nada? I don't get *any* say in this?"

"Nope." Duncan said, amused by the redhead's indignation.

Richie glared at him crossly for a moment then set about trying to negotiate a
better deal for himself. "OK. So I'm grounded, I get that. That's like to the barge and the sidewalk, right?"

Richie figured access to the sidewalk would give him access to his bike....

Duncan, hard put to keep a straight face at the hopeful conniving, disabused
him of the notion. "No. One step off the barge without my permission and you'll regret it, tough guy."

"Oh, come on, Mac! That's not fair! The barge is, like, microscopic! Besides,
it's on the water! How can I be grounded on the water?" Richie beamed at them as if he'd just discovered gold and Tessa gave a muffled snort of laughter, shrugging ruefully at her lover as he turned to give her an exasperated look.

"Well, Richie does have a certain point, Duncan!"

Richie pounced on the chink eagerly. "Yeah, yeah I do! It's a great point! A terrific point! How about it, big guy? Tessa thinks so!"

Duncan wasn't buying though. "Forget it, Rich. You're not going to talk your way
out of this."

The sunny smile faded into a frown and Richie muttered something under his
breath that Duncan was rather relieved he hadn't heard.

Not ready to give up entirely, Richie switched subjects. "OK, so how about we
talk about this no-dessert rule? That doesn't include cookies, right?"

Duncan could feel a headache coming on.

Tessa had one hand covering her mouth but her eyes were dancing.

Somewhat plaintively he asked, "Tess?"

Scarcely able to keep from giggling, she shook her head. "Oh, no, Duncan. I have
work to do. You must sort out the details of this grounding by yourselves."
With that she heartlessly abandoned Duncan to his fate but her trill of laughter
could be heard clearly as she went inside.

With his one potential ally off the field of combat, Richie focused all his attention
on the tall Scot, prepared for battle. "So, Mac...the cookies are OK, right?"

Duncan groaned and muttered, "What did I do to deserve this?"

Sensing progress, Richie grinned broadly. "Great! Cookies are in! How about
ice-cream? Not as dessert, of course!" he added virtuously.

Duncan leveled one of his 'looks' at the teenager. "You know what your trouble is?"

Richie spread his hands wide, offering his best disarming grin. "Hey, I'm too
handsome for my own good?"

"No," Duncan growled. "You've got too much time on your hands. You need a
chore to keep you busy and I know just the thing. Come with me."

Turning, he set off purposefully for the cupboard he kept the de-rusting gear in,
a disgruntled Richie trailing behind him, grumbling every step of the way.
Duncan sighed to himself. It was going to be a very long month.

* * * * *

Richie was bored. Mind-numbingly bored. Duncan had been firm about him being
grounded and although he'd won minor concessions he'd been stuck on the barge
for nearly three weeks and it was driving him crazy. It was bad enough when he had company but his friends had gone out, abandoning him without a scrap of sympathy, Duncan leaving him yet another of the seemingly endless chores that was supposed to keep him occupied. It wasn't working. Neither for that matter, was Richie.
Sitting with his feet propped up on the rail he was idly tossing bits of a bread roll
at some squabbling birds on the pavement when movement drew his eyes to the
right and he whistled in appreciation at the long-legged mini-skirted vision hurrying
his way. Dumping the roll fast and getting up he offered a beguiling grin and said in a terrible accent, "Bon-jour, Mademoiselle!"

Startled, the brunette looked over at him and promptly tripped, catching her foot
on a raised cobblestone and losing control of her armload of books. "Damnit!"

The curse was very definitely American and Richie's grin widened. "Hey, I'm sorry -
let me help you out there - we natives of the good ole US of A oughta stick
together. Especially in foreign parts." That got him down the gangplank and beside her, and he picked up the last book and held it out.

The girl took in the cheerful redhead and liked what she saw and accepted the
book with a smile. "Hey, thanks." She held out a hand, adding, "Nicky. Dallas."

Richie shook it. "Richie. Seacouver," adding with a grin, "Well, I guess that's
most of the important stuff...but, Lions or Bears?"

The brunette's eyes gleamed with laughter, but she managed to say solemnly
"Bears."

Richie's face fell ludicrously and he mocked-complained, "Oh, damn. And here I
was thinking you were perfect."

"Oh, I am!" Nicky assured him. "If you think the Lions are a *team*...."

They both laughed, then Nicky sobered abruptly, recalling her errand. "Listen,
Richie, it was great meeting you but I have to run, I'm late with these already."

"Hey, no sweat! I've got a bike, I've got time, lemme take you!"

"Wellll..." Nicky wasn't averse to the idea and Richie tried a little harder, not
willing to lose a potential new friend so easily.

"Hey, come on! I'm one hundred percent safe, I guarantee it! Plus I got a spare
helmet, I got saddlebags, I got the latest Red Sox scores...."

Nicky gave in, laughing and in no time they were off, Nicky perched sideways
behind the redhead, holding on to his waist, while Richie weaved with casual
confidence through the rowdy French traffic.

* * * * *

Duncan Macleod was not a happy man.

He'd cut short his intended program of research at the library, plagued by the
wistful look on the teenager's face as he'd waved them off, knowing just how
hard Richie was finding his enforced confinement and come back early, bearing
the latest cycle magazine as a peace offering, only to find the barge deserted.
More annoyed than alarmed, he'd checked the barge from stem to stern,
double-checking there'd been no accident, before he'd noticed Richie's bike was
missing. At that point annoyance definitely took over and he vowed he would have more than a few words to say to the errant teenager when he put in an appearance.
Time passed and Duncan's worry re-surfaced. It was one thing for the redhead
to sneak out for a quick ride when their backs were turned but he couldn't see
the teenager risking a long trip, not when he'd expected Duncan back for lunch.
Abandoning the kata he was trying to ease his tension with, Duncan went inside
and combed the barge for any clue that Richie might have been taken forcibly,
his gut tight with worry. If another immortal had come across Richie while he was
alone and unprotected Duncan would never forgive himself. That search turned up no more than the first had. Richie's room was a shambles, but anything else would have amazed the Scot. Without the first clue where to start searching for the boy, Duncan resorted to pacing, nerves stretching tighter by the minute as he waited for the call that would tell him if Richie was captive or dead.

* * * * *

The sound of the motorbike engine had Duncan heading for the deck despite the
last two false alarms but this time the boy on the bike was familiar and Duncan
felt an overwhelming rush of sheer relief. Relief that, naturally enough, was
converted almost instantly to towering fury.

Richie, high from his outing and very pleased with his new friend, was in a very
good mood and was whistling tunelessly between his teeth when he caught sight
of the Scot at the top of the gangplank. As usual, Richie's mouth kicked in ahead of his brain and he said cheerfully, "Hey! Big guy! You'll never...." Belatedly he took in the Scot's posture, arms crossed, body radiating anger and his good mood evaporated instantly as he muttered, "Oh, sh...it!" remembering
for the first time since he'd seen Nicky that he was supposed to be grounded.

"And just where the hell have you been?"

Duncan sounded as mad as he looked and Richie's heart sank, knowing he was
in for it now. "Mac, look..." Richie was trying to think of the best possible interpretation of events but Duncan didn't wait to hear it.

"Inside. Now." A snapped command.

Eyeing the irate Scot warily, Richie said, "Uh, right..." and edged past cautiously,
alert to the possibility of a clip round the ear.

Duncan followed on his heels, close enough to reach a long arm over his shoulder
and bang the cabin door open.

Wincing at the crash, an obvious and unnecessary demonstration of the Scot's
anger, Richie got himself down into the body of the barge, backing prudently
around the couch as Duncan rocked to a halt and glared at him. "You had better have a damn good reason for being off the barge!"

Trying to buy time, Richie asked, "Uh, what, exactly, would be a good reason,
Mac?"

Not in the least amused, Duncan growled, "Something life-threatening."

"Oh." Somehow Richie was almost positive that Duncan wouldn't think Nicky was
life-threatening.

"I need more than 'oh', Richie. Start talking."

"Um, yeah, right, uh...."

"*Now*, Richie!"

The teenager swallowed and admitted reluctantly, "Well, there was this girl,
Mac..."

"A girl. Why am I not surprised?" Duncan threw his hands in the air and turned
to pace angrily up and down the limited space available before swinging back to
demand, "Just which part of the phrase 'you're grounded' don't you understand?"

Richie felt his color rise and he muttered unhappily, "I'm sorry, Mac. I forgot."

"You *forgot*?" Duncan repeated in disbelief. "How could you *forget*?"

Richie shifted uncomfortably. "Um, well, this girl came along, so I said hi, that
was all I meant, honest, but she was kinda startled 'n she dropped her stuff so
I went to help her get it. I just didn't think I guess, Mac. I'm really sorry."

"You will be." Duncan promised darkly, adding pointedly, "But that doesn't
explain why I spent the last two hours worried out of my skull, does it?"

Richie looked up at him uncertainly. "Worried, Mac? What about?"

Duncan exploded. "What the hell do you think about?! About you! I come back
to an empty barge, with no clue where you are, how do you imagine I'm going to
feel? I thought you'd been kidnapped! For all I knew I could be getting pieces of you
mailed to me!"

It sounded melodramatic but Richie didn't feel like laughing. Being bait was a
definite risk in Duncan's world. "I'm sorry, Mac."

Duncan read the genuine contrition in the youngster's eyes and sighed, his anger
cooling slightly. "Damnit, Rich, what am I going to do with you?"

Richie had no idea and didn't particularly want to find out.

Shaking his head, not really expecting an answer, Duncan said more calmly, "All
right, Richie. Sit down and explain to me what happened."

Fidgeting unhappily, Richie got the tale out, how one thing had led to another.
After he'd trailed to an embarrassed halt, Duncan said flatly, "So. While I was
fretting myself sick you were out playing with your new friend."

"Mac, I didn't disobey you on purpose, I swear!"

"No. You just didn't think." Or at least, Duncan amended to himself, he'd done
his thinking with his hormones.

Richie dropped his head, agreeing quietly, "Nosir."

Frustrated, Duncan surged to his feet again. "How can I get through to you, Richie? You got yourself grounded in the first place for exactly that reason!"

Flicking a quick glance up, the teenager mumbled, "I know."

Duncan glared down at the subdued redhead, hands on hips. "Have you done this before? Sneak off while we were out?"

Shocked, Richie denied it vehemently. "No! No, sir!"

That had the ring of truth and Duncan accepted it. "Well, that's something, but it doesn't excuse what you did today. You realize I'm going to have to punish you, don't you Richie?"

The teenager's gut tightened and it was several seconds before he managed a
quiet, "Yes, sir,” but he wouldn't meet the Scot's eyes.

Duncan shook his head as he gazed at the top of the teenager's bent head. He'd
already decided what he was going to do and he knew for a fact that Richie
wasn't going to like it one little bit. "What did I tell you would happen if you left the barge without my permission?"

Richie had no trouble recalling the unspecified threat and he muttered unwillingly
"You said you'd make me regret it."

"Yes, I did." Duncan agreed. "Words don't seem to get through to you, Richie,
so I'm going to have to try something a little more drastic."

Richie stood up, the flight instinct strong as he queried unhappily, "M…more
drastic?"

"Yes. Come here."

Richie took one small step forwards then froze, unsure of his ground, not certain
just how worried he should be. "Mac? What are ya gonna do?"

"I'm going to make sitting down uncomfortable for you."

Eyes wide, Richie stared at the determined-looking Scot, hands unconsciously
creeping back to cover his ass as he stammered, "You're g…gonna...but, Mac...
you said you wouldn't beat me!"

Duncan stayed calm. "I'm not going to beat you, Rich. I'm just going to apply
the flat of my hand where it might do some good."

"Mac, no!" Richie was horrified, not to mention downright embarrassed.

Duncan wasn't moved in the slightest. "Richie, yes. I might have overlooked you going to help out. With some fast talking on your part I *might* have forgiven you giving the girl a lift. What I will not condone is over two hours amusing yourself when you knew very well you were supposed to be here."

"Mac, *please*! Can't you find another way? I'll do extra chores! Work my butt
off!"

"You're supposed to be doing that already, Richie," Duncan pointed out dryly.

Richie scrambled frantically for an alternative. "You could dock my meals! Lock me in my room!" Even as he said it the idea made him shudder and he was almost relieved when the Scot rejected the impulsive offer.

"Rich, that's enough. We're not going to starve you or lock you up. All I'm going
to do is try and focus your attention."

"You could ground me for longer - I'd hate that!"

With fair patience Duncan carried on knocking objections aside. "We tried that already, Richie. It didn't work."

"Mac, come-*on*!" Richie cried beseechingly.

Duncan shoved his hands into his pockets and said sternly, "Richie, you broke the
rules and got caught. Now you pay. Come here."

His face hot, Richie edged another small step closer and tried one last shot. "Mac,
what about Tessa? Maybe she wouldn't agree!"

With the faintest trace of amusement in his dark eyes, Duncan nodded thoughtfully.
"Maybe you're right, Rich. Would you like to wait until she comes home so we can
ask her?"

Richie started to nod eagerly, then abruptly froze as his brain caught up with his
desire to escape punishment. Tessa might actually agree with the dammed Scot,
then he'd be facing the doubled humiliation of having Mac beat him with Tessa
there. Accepting he'd lost, Richie mumbled, "Nosir."

Almost under his breath, Duncan murmured, "I thought not."

Drawing a deep breath and obviously coming to a decision, Richie squared his
shoulders and crossed to stand in front of the Scot, trying to pretend getting his
ass kicked was an everyday occurrence. "Soooo...what do I gotta do, boss?"

Duncan felt a surge of pride. One thing the teenager didn't lack was guts. Sense
maybe, but not guts. "Empty your back pockets, tough guy, and lose the shirt."

Hopelessly embarrassed, Richie shrugged out of his baggy over-shirt and surrendered the motley contents of his pockets into Duncan's outstretched palm. He'd been beaten more times than he cared to remember, but this measured approach, to a *spanking* for chrissakes, was awful.

Dumping the collection onto the sofa without looking at it, Duncan said, "Well
done, Rich. Now cross your hands behind your back, will you?"

That brought an immediate flare of alarm and Richie shook his head. "Mac, no,
you don't gotta tie me up, I'll take it, I swear, I won't fight. Please...."

Upset, Duncan broke across the frantic pleas. "Rich, calm down, I won't tie you,
I'm just going to hold you, that's all. You've got nothing to be afraid of. Not from
me."

That actually caused a spark of amusement in the youngster's expressive blue
eyes as he retorted sarcastically, "Oh, yeah, right! You're just gonna trash my
ass! Nothing to worry me there!"

Despite himself, Duncan grinned and amended that. "OK, tough guy. Not a lot to
be afraid of. You'll be sore but you'll live, I promise!"

"Oh, gee, thanks!" But somewhat to his own surprise, Richie had relaxed a bit at
the Scot's un-aggressive attitude.

Duncan waited patiently for Richie to take the next step. With what little he knew
of the youngster's past he had no intention of forcing the issue. In fact, if the
teenager balked he'd find another way to discipline him.

If Richie had known that he might have argued for longer, but as he didn't he just
sighed and obediently put his arms back, crossing his wrists, and quipped, "Take
me. I'm yours!" hiding, as so often, behind his tough guy image.

Duncan bit his lip, fighting laughter, loving both the courage and the trust, and he
reached out, slowly, so there could be no misinterpretation, and cupped the nape
of Richie's neck, shaking him very gently as he said quietly, "Grounded means you
stay put. Got it?"

Richie gazed up at him, eyes reflecting the nervousness he was doing his best to
hide. "Yeah, Mac. I got it."

"Good." Retaining the light grip of Richie's neck, Duncan perched one hip on the back of the sofa and drew the stiff youngster down over his raised knee, holding him in
place with a light grasp around his wrists.

Richie expected it to hurt but the sting of the first heavy blow surprised a
shocked gasp out of him. Ashamed of himself he bit his lip and held back the
protests he wanted to make, doing his best to remain passive in Duncan's hold.
Duncan walloped the boy's backside vigorously, knowing from his growing tension
and tight-fisted hands that he was getting the message across.

Before too long, Richie was grunting at each solid thwack, then yelps of pain were
forced out of him as the fire in his ass grew hotter.

Duncan wasn't particularly worried by Richie's mounting distress, a palm on his
seat, especially over jeans, wasn't going to cause any permanent damage.

Richie might not have agreed. This *hurt* and Duncan was showing no signs of
stopping. Another hard spank made him jerk against Duncan's hold on his wrists
in a futile bid for freedom but the slight increase of pressure that held him in
place just doubled his humiliation as he recalled his promise not to fight. Holding
himself rigid by force of will, Richie surrendered to the pain and endured.

Duncan was impressed. He'd expected much more resistance. Still, he kept the
punishing spanking up until he felt Richie shuddering helplessly and heard a gulping
breath that hid a suppressed sob. Enough was enough. Coming to his feet, bringing
the redhead up with him, he released the boy's wrists, watching with amused
sympathy as his hands went straight to his ass.

Breathing harshly, Richie couldn't bring himself to even look at the Scot. He was
right on the edge of losing it and to be seen crying from a spanking would be
completely unendurable.

Understanding the teenager needed some space, Duncan just squeezed his
shoulder lightly and moved away, going over to the tiny kitchen to pour himself a
glass of wine. Then he pottered about, decanting some red wine for later, wiping
down already clean surfaces, checking the contents of the fridge, more to let
Richie know where he was than for any actual need.

As the first blazing sting subsided into a hot ache, Richie's breathing slowed to
somewhere nearer normal but his mood stayed at rock-bottom and he had no idea
how he could face Duncan after that. His first preference would be to escape for
a long fast ride on his bike, but that was out of the question, for more than one
reason.

Duncan kept one eye on the teenager, waiting until he seemed more in control
before crossing back to his side, hands un-alarmingly shoved into his pockets as
he asked quietly, "You OK, Rich?" He wasn't quite sure what reaction he was expecting, perhaps sulks, or anger, but the redhead showed no signs of temper at all.

Head down and color high, he mumbled in a rough voice, "I'm s…sorry."

Wanting to hug the youngster but afraid he'd be rebuffed, Duncan said easily,
"I know, Rich. Don't sweat it. Just stay put from now on, OK?"

To his surprise, that didn't seem to help at all as Richie shook his head
infinitesimally. "Nosir, I meant...." he trailed off, too embarrassed for words.

Duncan frowned, not understanding and sank to sit on the back of the sofa to
bring himself closer to the teenager's level. "Rich, what is it? Talk to me, tough guy."

Gaze still firmly on the floor, Richie said again, softly, “I’m sorry."

Concerned, Duncan reached to cup the boy's chin with his hand, bringing his
face up. A move that didn't help much as Richie refused to lift his eyes. Duncan
let go and tried again. "Rich, please, what's the matter? Was I too hard on you?"

That got him a shocked glance from bright blue eyes before Richie ducked his
head again, refuting, "No, sir!"

"Then what, Rich?" The question was gentle, but insistent.

Desperately ashamed of himself, the teenager swallowed and said almost too
quietly for Duncan to hear, "I let you down. I'm sorry."

Dark eyes creased in puzzlement, Duncan probed further. "Rich, I'm sorry, but I
don't know what you mean. Let me down how?"

Suspecting he was being made fun of, Richie stiffened, but answered in a low
monotone, "I said I wouldn't fight but I did. You got every right to be pissed at
me..." he took a quick breath and added before he could change his mind, "You
can hit me again if you want."

Close to appalled, Duncan breathed softly, "Damnit, Rich, what *am* I going to
do with you?" Reaching out, he rested one large hand on the youngster's tense shoulder and took his chin with the other, insisting, "Richie, look at me."
He waited until bright blue eyes crept up to meet his gaze then said firmly, "You
did *not* let me down, Richie, you hear me? You did good."

Blinking, the teenager protested, "But..."

Duncan overrode him, squeezing his shoulders lightly for emphasis. "No. No buts,
Rich. You did just fine. I'm proud of you."

Wanting to believe, the need painfully evident in his eyes, he asked hesitantly,
"You're n...not ticked off? Honest?"

"Honest." Smiling fondly, Duncan pulled him close, wrapping his arms around him
and murmured by his ear, "We don't call you tough guy for nothing, Rich. You did
everything just right, got it?"

Richie nodded against the broad shoulder, soaking up the comfort offered.
"Yeah, boss. Got it."

They were quiet for a few moments, with Duncan making no move to release the
teenager, willing to wait until he was ready.

Eventually Richie stirred and stepped back, wincing as his hands dropped to rub at
his seat but cocked his head at the tall Scot. "So, does this mean I'm not grounded any more?"

Duncan laughed aloud at the sheer effrontery of the boy and counter-asked,
"What do you think?"

Richie grinned, looking more like himself. "I think it was worth trying."

"Hmm. Well I think you'd better go get washed up. Tessa will be back soon."

Already moving, Richie spun back, blue eyes comically wide. "Tessa! Mac, we don't have to tell Tess about this, do we?"

Duncan couldn't help chuckling, Richie just never gave up. "We don't *have* to, Rich, but you're going to."

"Me? Mac, come-on, have a heart! Don't you think I've been punished enough?"

"Richie, Tessa has a right to know."

"But Ma...ac!"


The end.