What you DON’T do…
Duncan turned into the alley, steering the T-bird to it’s usual parking spot, seeing that just ahead of him Richie was pushing his bike instead of executing his more usual flashy braking on a dime routine. Letting the big car’s engine die, the Scot popped the door, checking out the teen, noting the new blood-stained rips in already tatty jeans, the fresh scrapes on the bike frame and the rough re-wire job holding the license plate in position and asked almost rhetorically, “What happened?” That the youngster had come off the machine was obvious and not particularly worrying; he was upright and mobile and any first aid needed would be of the band-aid persuasion, but Duncan was completely unprepared for the explanation.
“I saw him, Mac. I was right on his ass ‘n I...” Rich’s hands lifted in a self-excusing gesture even as he refused eye-contact, shaking his head, faintly embarrassed by the lack of skill inherent in the accident. “I hit some cinders or something.”
Hoping against hope he’d misinterpreted Richie’s vague answer, Duncan demanded, “Who?”
Surprised by the question, the teen looked up at his mentor. “The guy, the…the…” he searched for the description that had been used, found it, “the scalper! The dude with the goggles!” His hands formed into loose circles in a quick imitation of bulky spectacles, reinforcing the information given.
“Richie, what were you *thinking*?” Duncan’s voice rose at precisely the same speed as his anger as he closed in on the youngster, the light drizzle of misting rain going un-noticed as his imagination provided him with all too detailed pictures of what could have happened to the impetuous teen. “This guy’s a psychotic killer!”
Taken aback by the sudden change of mood, Richie offered a touch uncertainly, “You weren’t there…”
Duncan didn’t even attempt to hide his anger as he retorted hotly, “Then you should have waited! Or called the police! What you DON’T do, you don’t go off on your own!”
Unnerved, Richie couldn’t persuade his usually agile brain to come up with anything even resembling coherence. Duncan rarely raised his voice and to have the full force of the Scot’s ire directed at him was an experience he’d be happy never to repeat.
The unaccustomed silence captured the Highlander’s attention and he sighed to himself, remembering just how young Richie was, his anger subsiding as he conceded with a touch of irony, coupled with exasperation, “I know. You thought you were doing the right thing.”
Richie had thought so. At the time. Now, however, it was clear it had been a major mistake. Metaphorically squaring his shoulders, the teen faced up to both the Highlander and his error. “He saw me at that bike shop. He’s not gonna go back there again. Mac…” A quickly sucked breath gave him the impetus to finish. “I screwed up. Big time.” He wasn’t sure what good it would do but he added softly, meaning it, “I’m sorry.” If asked to guess what came next he would have opted for more lectures, probably extended ones, but not for the first time the much older man surprised him, his face somehow losing the anger without moving a muscle – a trick Richie was no closer to figuring out now than he had been months ago. He relaxed though, unworried as a large hand rose to grip his neck, shaking him gently, a tentative grin forming at the unanswerable question posed.
“What am I gonna do with you?” Duncan’s breath huffed out in a distinct sigh before he ran an appraising eye over the youngster, trying to consign the fright to the past. “Did you hurt yourself?”
His gaze dropping automatically to his abraded knees, Rich shrugged, dismissing
out of the accident, finding a half grin as he tossed the Scot’s own pet phrase back at him. “I’ll live”
Not ready to be amused, Duncan just cocked his head towards the entrance. “Come on, let’s go take a look at it.” A few steps took him to the graffiti-covered door which he pulled open, taking the opportunity to assess the teen’s mobility as Richie followed.
Reassured by the drop in tension, Richie tagged on behind the Scot, favoring his injured leg and throwing up a smokescreen of humor to try and help ease the situation back onto familiar ground, shooting a grin up at the man as he passed in front of him into the building. “Hey, ya do know after we do the patch ‘n sling thing it’s kinda traditional to pass out milk ‘n cookies, right?”
The flippancy made Duncan’s anger surge back to the surface, the certain knowledge that Richie had learnt nothing from this experience shaking him and a new determination settled over the man. Like it or not, and the Scot was willing to bet on not, the teen wasn’t going to come out of this that easily. Leaning close as the boy passed him, Duncan said quietly, “What we are going to do is have a little *talk* about this, Rich.”
Missing both the emphasis and the serious note in the man’s voice, Richie rolled his eyes, limping through the workshop and into the kitchen. “Yeah. Tell me about it. Is this *talk* number 86 or 68? I always get those two mixed up, ya know?” His attention diverted by a growl in his stomach the teen headed for the fridge, only to slump to a resigned halt at an imperative, “Richie!” Which was followed by an exasperated, “Don’t you ever think of anything but food?” Turning to face the Scot, the teen let some of his own temper slip. He’d had a rough day, he ached like hell, he had no idea what damage his bike had taken but he was almost certain from an unhealthy clanking noise that the cam-shaft had split, which meant a lengthy overhaul at best and repairs he couldn’t afford at worst. On top of that he’d managed to lose the best lead they had for catching the maniac who’d attacked Tessa’s friend and he didn’t even want to contemplate what the blond would have to say to him. “Gimme a break, will ya? I’m like, starving here, Mac! I *can* eat ‘n listen at the same time, ya know? Heck, for you, I’ll even chew quietly!”
Duncan counted to ten. Slowly. In Arabic. Just for good measure he did it again in Khalkha Mongolian. Once he was certain the urge to box the teen’s ear had passed he grabbed an apple from the basket on the counter and tossed it over, exasperated by the kid’s priorities. “Make do with that. Were you wearing a helmet?” Without waiting for an answer Duncan ran careful fingers over the unruly red hair, probing for lumps, frowning down as Richie attempted to squirm away from his attentions. “Stand still.”
“Geez, Mac, how stupid do I look?” Richie regretted the question as soon as it was out of his mouth, as he got a sardonic look, the expression clearly indicating that so far Duncan wasn’t at all impressed. “OK already! So I miscalculated a little bit! So sue me. Like you never came off when you were biking?”
“Suing wasn’t what I had in mind and I heal, remember?” Satisfied there was no chance of concussion, Duncan stepped back. “Get the jeans off.”
Still holding the fruit in his right hand, Rich looked around, checking out the apartment, making no move to obey the instruction, hedging, “What if Tessa comes in?”
Looking around from the cupboard where the first aid kit was kept, Duncan refrained from rolling his eyes with an effort. “Then she’ll see you in your shorts. It wouldn’t be the first time, Richie.”
“Yeah…” The teen shrugged, uncomfortable without really knowing why. Going for a coffee before he hit the shower was one thing, stripping down in the middle of the day felt different.
“Richie, I can’t do anything about whatever you’ve done to yourself through jeans! Get them off, now.” Duncan set the box on the counter with a fraction more force than was perhaps necessary and started sorting through the contents.
“OK! Geez! The Florence Nightingale approach could use a little work, ya know?” With a regretful look at the apple, Richie set it aside, emptied his pockets and started easing the jeans down, toeing his sneakers off and trying not to wince as clots of freshly dried blood came away with the material, starting the grazes seeping again.
Wringing out the clean cloth he’d just soaked in warm water, Duncan hooked a stool closer and indicated with a jerk of his chin that Rich should sit down, then lifted the teen’s leg by the ankle to inspect the damage as he dabbed gently at the lacerations. There was some grit that needed cleaning out and some antiseptic would be sensible but the overall damage was minor, as he’d suspected. A longer scrape had denim fibers snagged into it and Duncan re-wet the cloth and pressed it over the boy’s thigh, instructing, “Hold that there.”
“Sure, boss.” One hand latched onto the temporary bandage while the other snaked out to retrieve the apple as Richie watched Duncan stoop to pick up his discarded clothing. Moments later healing aids and food were both forgotten as he saw the Scot flip up the head of the bin, clearly intending to throw away his jeans. “Whoa! Mac! Hold up there! What are you doing?”
Duncan looked from the jeans in his hands to the bin and back to Richie, an eyebrow on the rise. “Dumping the trash?”
“No way!” The redhead was on his feet without thought, the towel dropping to the floor as he prepared to do battle for his clothes.
Duncan gave the tattered denim another appraisal and found nothing new. “Richie, these are past it, even by your standards.”
Taking instant offence, Richie grabbed for his jeans, feeling a hot burn color his cheeks. “You oughta know how to get blood out if anyone does!” Turning his back on the Scot he tossed the jeans into the sink, turning the cold faucet on and reaching into a cupboard for some salt, which he sprinkled frugally into the water, his mouth compressed with anger.
Watching the stiff movements that betrayed the boy’s hurt more clearly than words, Duncan shook his head, aware he’d overstepped a boundary and annoyed at his thoughtlessness. Making no attempt to close the gap between them he offered an olive branch. “Rich, you don’t need to do that. I’ll foot the bill for some new ones, all right?”
“No. Thanks.” The teen scrubbed at the water-logged fabric, working automatically, his irritation at the high-handed attitude getting the better of his good sense. Spinning to lean against the counter he glared at the taller man, more than a hint of sarcasm clouding his tone. “Ya can’t always fix stuff by throwing bucks at it, ya know? It might not seem like much to you but this is my stuff. Mine,” Rich insisted as he spread his hands, his temper already sliding away as he tried to explain. “Look, Mac…” He reached into the basin and smoothed one soaked leg of his jeans onto the draining board, pointing at a rip around ankle level. “That one? I snagged that on the wire when a bunch of us snuck in to watch the Mariners.” His eyes lit up with remembered excitement as he demonstrated a pitching action. “Hernandez was on fire, ya know? He took out half the team like they were in the minor league ‘n I got his autograph after the game.” He fingered another rip, high on the left thigh this time. “This was when I got a replacement cylinder head for the bike. Jaz said I could trawl his yard.” A grin flashed briefly as the teen shrugged. “Forgot to tell me midnight wasn’t the best time for it. His Doberman damn nearly took a piece outta my ass. Best part on the lot though.” He flipped the sodden material over and pointed at a tear just below butt level. “That one is just ‘cause it’s cool.” He shrugged again, wondering if the Scot got any of it.
Duncan listened quietly, appreciating the confidences offered and understanding
more than Richie might think about the value of treasured memories. Admitting
he’d made a mistake, he nodded, holding the teen’s gaze. “You’re
right, I should have asked first. I’m sorry.”
Startled, unused to apologies coming his way, Richie immediately brushed it off, smiling up at the Scot, arms flying out expansively. “Hey, no big deal! We’re cool, right, big guy?”
Smiling himself, Duncan moved closer, nudging the teen back to his stool and pointing at a few drops of blood of the floor, an expectant expression on his face. “Yeah, we’re cool, tough guy.” While the youngster swiped industriously at the tiles, Duncan poured the rest of the packet of salt into the water without comment, well aware that the solution had to be strong to work and kneaded the fabric for a few minutes before leaving it to soak. Rinsing his hands, he turned back to Richie, repressing a sigh as he realized the kid had used the clean towel to mop the floor. Getting a fresh one, he went back to the interrupted first aid, slanting a quick look up at the teen from under his brow. “So, can you tell me anything about this guy? Where he was headed? Did you catch the license plate?”
“Uh…” Rich fidgeted restlessly, turning the apple over and over in his hands, wishing he could answer yes on all counts. “I got a 24H in the plate but that’s all, Mac. We were kinda going for it, ya know?” Realizing that only diverted attention back onto his failure, Richie added quickly, “But he was headed downtown, way before he picked me up, I’d swear it! If I’d’ve picked that route I’d’ve been heading for the docks, no question!”
“Good. That gives us something to work on.” It narrowed the search from the entire city to a possible area - if the scalper had been heading towards his home and not somewhere else- but Duncan saw no need to belabor the point; Richie’s visible swelling of confidence at the minimal praise didn’t need puncturing again so soon. His movements economical and efficient, the Scot cleaned out the abrasions, taped several and wrapped a length of bandage just above the teen’s right knee, covering the worst of the damage. Collecting the debris from the operation, Duncan scanned the youngster’s face, asking, “You want some Tylenol, tough guy?”
“Nah.” Rich’s ready grin flashed. “I’ve done worse than this shaving.”
Despite his mood, Duncan couldn’t help grinning back. “Shaving what? If it was your legs, tell me it was for a part in a play!”
Richie snorted with laughter, eyeing the tall Scot speculatively. “Oh, man. Don’t tell me! You did, right? What’re we talking here? High heels ‘n fishnets?”
“More like long skirts and jealous actors.” Duncan’s tone was matter of fact but his lips twitched at the teen’s predictable reaction.
Hooting with laughter, Richie eyed his friend appraisingly, head to toe, a slow and unmistakable once-over. “So…get any offers ya couldn’t refuse, big guy?”
“I was a very comely woman, I’ll have you know! My Kate was much spoken of!” Duncan wisely didn’t expand on the exact descriptions that had been bandied about but the thought of the Bard’s solution to the Shrew’s problem reminded him all too clearly that he had a lesson of his own to teach. Wanting the teen to understand playtime was over, Duncan busied himself with clearing up, not responding to Richie’s attempts to get more information.
The older man’s withdrawal from friend to…Richie wasn’t quite sure what, boss, immortal, whatever…was marked and his banter died. He never knew how to handle Duncan’s reserve, could never figure out if it was directed at him or past memories or was just an immortal thing. Or a Scottish thing for all he knew. Whichever, it never failed to make him feel uncomfortable. Picking absently at the edge of a piece sticky tape on his leg, he watched Duncan clean up the minimal mess. “Uh, ya wanna hand with that, Mac?”
“I’ve got it.” Duncan didn’t even turn around from the cupboard, adding calmly, “And leave that alone.”
Snatching his hand away with a guilty grimace, Richie wondered if it was safe to give MacLeod the finger for being such a know-it-all.
“I wouldn’t. Trust me on this one.” Duncan didn’t need to look; he could feel the teen’s glare bouncing off his back and whatever the youngster was considering in retaliation shouldn’t be encouraged. A mutter, pitched purposefully low, but not quite low enough just made him try and hide his grin as he caught, ‘no way fair’, ‘mind-reader’ and ‘sucks’. If the teen lived long enough he’d lose the utter transparency that betrayed him with every change of expression but Duncan wasn’t eager to see it happen. With the probable future facing him, Rich needed to store up as much childhood as possible. Duncan sighed to himself, thinking that the first order of business was to try and get the kid to last the week. Swinging back to face the redhead, Duncan settled himself comfortably, one hip propped against the counter, arms folding across his chest, as he decided to give Richie one last chance. His gaze pointedly taking in the newly repaired scrapes, he said neutrally, “Tell me you learnt something from this, Rich.”
Foreseeing the start of the lectures, Richie offered his most disarming grin, hoping to jolly the Scot out of his descent into unapproachable. “Damn right, I did!” He threw a less than appreciative look at the apple and rolled his eyes. “I learnt that it never pays to just grab a bagel ‘n run. Tess was right, ya know,” he attempted to force some modicum of sincerity into his tone as he parroted an often heard remark. “Breakfast is like, the most important meal of the day, right? Gotta fuel up, ya never know when ya gonna hit another pit-stop. From now on in I’m doing the whole toast, cereal, juice - *not* that damned green stuff you make, Mac,” he added hastily, not wanting to be trapped into drinking the evil brew, “eggs over easy, potato waffles, bacon, the crispy sort, not the limp stuff that looks like fresh sliced road-kill…ya gotta be glad bacon doesn’t have blood, huh? Geez, that’d be a turn-off over ya first coffee. Talk about a barf-fest. Plus ya gotta go with the…”
“Richie!” Duncan couldn’t help the snap in his voice. He’d been hoping for, at the very least, some sign of repentance, *not* a wander down a seemingly endless menu. Before he knew it the boy would be ordering the works – with light mayo! Taking a breath he consciously controlled the exasperation before he went on. “We are not talking about your stomach here!” Alright, Duncan conceded, if only to himself, *mostly* controlled it. He tried harder, made his tone firm but reasonable. “What you have to understand is that when you take stupid risks there are consequences.”
Richie flushed, unable to prevent the reaction but made himself meet Duncan’s eyes. “I know I scared him off, but look, Mac, we’ll get the bastard, you’ll figure something out, right? I mean you knew the original! This bozo is just some lame wannabe copy. ‘N he’s on the run so that’s gonna make him like, throw a curve ball, maybe?”
Fighting an urge to massage the growing tightness in his forehead, the Scot stated with over-done patience, “We’re not talking about the scalper, Richie.”
“Oh.” At a loss, the teen cast around for what they *were* talking about and his gaze fell on the sink. “Ya mean the damage? Chill, big guy, the jeans’re gonna live.” He sent a cocky grin up at the tall man, adding cheerfully, “Trust me!”
“We are not talking about your clothes.” Duncan was starting to doubt the claim that immortals didn’t get headaches. Seriously.
Light finally dawned and the teen shrugged, brushing casually at the pristine bandage adorning his thigh. “Hey, forget it, Mac, a coupla days ‘n I’ll be acing the basket again. It’s no big deal.”
Exasperated anew, Duncan slapped the counter-top, making Richie jump. “That’s the whole point! It *is* a big deal, Richie and you’re not taking it seriously. None of it; the accident, me, putting yourself in danger...you do know we could be having this conversation in the hospital, don’t you? Or the morgue!” As soon as it was out of his mouth he knew it was a mistake and leveled a finger at the teen, warning firmly, “Don’t.”
Swallowing the wise-ass remark that was on the tip of his tongue, Richie protested instead, “I am so taking it seriously! It’s just…it’s not like anything *happened*!”
“Because you got *lucky*!” Duncan swung away and started pacing, circling the counter, keeping the youth as his focal point and lecturing as he went. “The accident could have been a lot worse and you know it.” Despite his intention to stay calm, the Scot’s voice rose, tinged with disbelief. “You weren’t even wearing leathers! And would you like to explain to me just which part of chasing after a serial killer was smart?”
Wishing the Scot would stand still, Richie fidgeted uncomfortably as his eyes tracked the man. He rejected ‘no’ as an unsafe -if honest- answer and pointed out in self-defense, “Hell, we know he uses a knife, Mac. It’s not like I was planning to go shake the bastard’s hand, ya know?”
Duncan found himself counting again. He reached 18 in Russian before he was sure he wouldn’t simply yell at the boy. Taking a breath, he leant both hands on the counter, dark gaze boring into the cause of his concerns. “Richie. He uses a knife because that’s what Marcus used. What makes you think he wouldn’t have a gun or have the slightest hesitation in using it if he was threatened?”
As such a thought had never even crossed his mind, Richie was hard pushed to find an answer; seen from that point of view it had been a dumb stunt to pull. Unable to maintain eye-contact with the irate Scot, he mumbled, “I guess I didn’t think, OK?”
The calm Duncan had been striving for descended effortlessly at the admission and he straightened, hands sliding into his slack’s pockets. “Not OK, but we’re getting there. What you need, Rich, is an incentive to help make you think next time round. And you know what?” A bright, insincere smile flashed briefly over his features. “I’m just the one to provide it!”
Groaning, Richie slumped forwards, burying his head in his arms, seeing all his free time for the foreseeable future flying out of the window. He didn’t risk arguing about it though; the last time he’d tried that one weekend grounded had turned into two, with the damned Scot perfectly willing to make it for life as far as he could tell. Sighing, he asked with resignation, “How long, boss?”
“As a piece of string,” Duncan answered off the cuff, for no good reason that he could fathom. The incredulous look it got him was worth it though and he had to struggle to maintain a straight face as he shook his head. “Not this time, Rich. I’ve got another idea.” Logistics were a problem though; Natalie was using Rich’s room, the tiny lounge wouldn’t do with a guest in the apartment and he’d rather the teen considered his and Tessa’s room as off-limits generally. There was really only one place that offered the privacy required. Jerking his head in an imperative summons, Duncan set off towards the back recesses of the store.
Wavering between relief and suspicion, Richie trailed glumly after his mentor, trying to second-guess the man. He wasn’t headed for Tessa’s workshop, so that meant at least he wasn’t facing a few hours of sweeping. Although he never had managed to figure how such a small woman could make so much mess over such a large area. On one occasion, when he’d gotten a shard of metal in his foot right at the top of the stairs he’d challenged her about it, only to have her pat his cheek fondly and advise him to wear shoes - and to sweep up. Duncan didn’t turn off into the store, so Richie mentally knocked book-keeping and dusting off the possible list of chores. A glimmer of hope suddenly burgeoned as it occurred to him that Duncan might be intending to make him wash and/or (hopefully or) service the T-bird. Richie found his fingers almost twitching with anticipation. Even if Duncan only gave him grunt work cleaning parts he’d be happy. Not that he would let on, of course. Mentally preparing his, ‘Oh, man! Do I *gotta*?’ speech, the teen grinned, wondering with even more hope if arguing the chore would see him working on the big car regularly. It came as a considerable let-down when the Scot opened the door to the room that doubled as goods inwards and general storage. He knew from experience that the often dusty as well as usually delicate items required meticulous cleaning, not to mention cataloguing and cross-referencing. The memory of the last long afternoon he’d spent here came flooding back; he’d made what Duncan and Tessa had decided was the mistake of mouthing off to a customer who’d disagreed with the blond’s dating of a Viking carved ivory casket. Richie had no idea if the bozo had been right or not but he did know if the jerk-off ever set foot in the store again he was so gonna be in the man’s butt-ugly face. Brought back to his current prospects as Duncan lifted a pile of catalogues from one end of the table that served as a desk and dropped it unceremoniously on the floor, the teenager sighed as he surveyed the neatly stacked shelves, predicting gloomily, “Don’t tell me. Anything gets busted it comes outta my wages, right?” The thought of being in hock to MacLeod for 20 or so years over some bowl or other had been more than enough to keep him very, very careful despite his seething temper on the previous occasion he’d ended up here.
Duncan, who was perfectly well aware of the benefits of Richie’s belief, had no intention of disabusing him of the notion. At least, not before an accident made it necessary. Seating himself on one end of the table, on knee up, the other leg braced on the floor, he answered mildly, “The only thing getting busted here today is your butt, Rich.”
“Ya couldn’t’ve picked disposables to deal in, huh? Like, condoms or something. Ya know, if ya go flavors you can make bucks, ‘n we’re talking mega here….” The Scot’s quiet words only sank in way after the fact and Rich’s chatter came to an abrupt halt as he stared at the man, hoping against hope he’d misheard. “You can’t!” Heat stained his cheeks and he stepped back, suddenly terribly self-conscious about his lack of clothing. Duncan, unfortunately, looked all too capable. Was, in fact, rolling his right sleeve up. A display Richie was torn between laughing at and being worried about. It was a cliché, right? Or one of those damned things. It couldn’t actually let the man hit harder, could it? He came down heavily on the side of worry. “I mean! I’m 17!”
“Congratulations,” Duncan said, without showing a trace of the mirth that threatened. “Let’s go for trying to make that 18, shall we?”
“Mac!” Richie cast around for a way out – any way out – of this situation, repeating without noticing it, “You can’t! I mean…” Inspiration struck and he gestured at his newly bandaged leg. “I’m the walking wounded here!” Confidence filled his tone and he started to relax, verging, as ever, on the side of optimism. “Ya wouldn’t hit an injured person, right? That’s gotta be against some kinda Scottish code, huh? Or some sorta Parental Convention, right? Ya don’t think ya should read up on it?” Even as he spoke though it occurred to him that Mac had already considered and dismissed that as a get-out. A thought confirmed by the irritating man’s next words.
“I thought you’d done worse than this shaving, Richie. Not worth taking a pain-killer over, you said.”
Cursing his own lack of foresight, Richie’s hands formed a T shape as he backed a further prudent step away. “Look, Mac, time out, OK? Can’t we talk about this, uh, mano a mano?”
Unsurprised by Richie’s ability to mangle Spanish as effortlessly as he did English and French, Duncan manfully resisted the urge to point out that he was thinking more of hand to butt and that the teen was a few years short of hombre status, instead opting calmly for, “What don’t you understand, Richie?”
An opening wider than the proverbial barn door was too good not to go through and Richie leapt with both feet, pasting on his most sincere ‘I’m fascinated’ expression. “Since ya asking, big guy, I never gotta handle on that whole complex fraction thing ‘n infinity is just, like impossible, right? I mean, everything’s gotta stop *somewhere*, right? And….”
Making no effort to hide his annoyance at the teen’s refusal to take this seriously, Duncan snapped, “That’s enough, Richie! Now come here and let’s get this over with.”
Swallowing at the change of tone, Richie dropped the wise-ass approach instantly, wondering why he was picking now to tick MacLeod off even further and edged a few inches closer, still trying for a last minute reprieve. “Look, Mac, I get that I screwed up, OK? But I was only trying to help! Doesn’t that count for anything? Can’t ya find another way to punish me?” He winced at the ‘p’ word coming out of his own mouth and urged hopefully, “You could go with the grounding, ya know I hate that! Or you could ban my bike.” He really did hate that as an option but Rich figured the down time could be well spent in a very necessary overhaul.
The Scot understood Richie’s reluctance perfectly; he just didn’t sympathize with it. Deciding the boy had wasted enough time, he said firmly, “Risking your life is unacceptable, Richie and this spanking is not negotiable.” A hand came up, palm out, to forestall the next inevitable protest and he upped the ante a fraction. “If you’re not over my knee by the time I reach three then you lose the shorts. One…”
Hot color flooded back into the teen’s face and he shot a glance at the
closed door, rejecting the notion almost as soon as it occurred. Running wouldn’t
change anything except Mac’s - and his own – opinion of himself.
Unwilling to lose the scant protection of even the thin layer of cotton, Richie
inched nearer still, hopelessly embarrassed. “Mac,
come on, ya gotta do the whole knee thing? It’s not like I’m some kinda kid, ya know?”
“Two. Yes, I do.” A grin flashed across the Scot’s face before he could prevent it. “It’s traditional.”
A faint answering grin tugged at the youngster’s lips, despite his current predicament. “Yeah, yeah. Tell me about it. You’re big on tradition.”
Luckily for Richie, Duncan thought, he wasn’t that stuck in the past. His own father would have given him stripes aplenty for such a stunt – and a few on top if he’d dared to prevaricate the way the teen was. “Three.”
“Oh, shit,” Richie muttered, mostly to himself, conceding that the battle, one-sided as it had been, was well and truly lost. Moving close enough to feel the Scot’s body heat, Rich flashed a quick look at dark eyes that were on a level with his for once, trying to squash the sudden rush of nervousness that had little to do with getting his ass trashed. “Uh, ya do know I’m sorry, right, Mac?”
Not as sorry as he would be shortly, Duncan mused, momentarily diverted by the parental nature of the thought, but he chose to address the tension and the question Richie hadn’t asked out loud. “You’re safe with me, tough guy, always.”
Wondering how the Scot *did* that, Richie checked out the sincerity and relaxed a little, finding a crooked grin from somewhere as he twitched a shoulder. “That’s kinda easy for you to say, boss, it’s not your ass on the line here.”
“Speaking of which?” Duncan prompted, tapping his raised thigh with a fingertip.
“Yeah. Right. Show time.” Giving the inoffensive, well-clad limb a dirty look, Rich took a slow breath and bent forwards over MacLeod’s leg, reaching out to grab the opposite edge of the table, fleetingly grateful that his baggy over-shirt was long enough to cover at least most of his butt. An emotion that lasted no longer than the couple of seconds it took the man to flip it up out of the way. Biting back a curse that would *definitely* not help him in his current situation, Richie felt one hand come to rest on his lower back, and then, to his mortification, fingers in the waistband of his boxers. “Mac! No!” Before his automatic and outraged protest was out a swift yank had them well down his thighs. Richie tried to push himself upright, with no success at all and had to settle for trying to glare furiously at Duncan over one shoulder.
“Richie, I warned you,” Duncan pointed out reasonably, wondering if the youngster had ever simply obeyed an instruction without an argument in his entire life and hoping that all this effort was worthwhile. “You weren’t even close.”
“Can’t you *ever* cut me just one little break?” Richie demanded plaintively. “It’s not like they’re armor-plated, ya know?”
Shaking his head in disbelief at the sheer persistence of the boy, Duncan still couldn’t help a grin as he informed Richie a tad smugly, “When I was your age I wouldn’t have worn shorts if you’d paid me.”
“That’s because they hadn’t been invented ‘n flashing was legal!” Rich shot back instantly. “I bet you guys even had wet kilt competitions. Biggest dick won the sheep of the week!”
Biting his cheek in an effort not to laugh outright, Duncan decided the teenager needed his attention focused as a matter of priority. “We’re not here to talk about Highland customs, Rich, remember?”
“That means you never won…ow!” For some reason - and he had no idea why, given his position - the first stinging smack took Richie by surprise. Gritting his teeth, he stared at the boxes on the shelf nearest him, noticing that one of the ‘this way up’ signs was pointing at the wall instead of the ceiling. Hoping that the University of Maine employed careful packers, Richie tried to distance himself from the crisp swats landing on his ass by guessing what the package might contain.
Pleased that the redhead was showing signs of settling down at last, Duncan opted for a conversational tone as he attempted to reinforce the message being delivered. “All right, Richie, tell me why you’re getting this spanking.”
Pulled from an increasingly unlikely list, which had started with antique silver goblets and now included fly-swatters and ping pong paddles, Richie said the first thing that popped into his head. “Because my timing sucks!”
Uncertain what exactly the youngster was referring to and not entirely sure he wanted to know anyway, Duncan dismissed that as irrelevant and targeted the lower part of Rich’s bottom, the sensitive under-curve between buttocks and thighs, his hand landing in precisely the same spot repeatedly, emphasizing his displeasure. “Not good enough. Try again.”
Most of his energy spent on not squirming under the localized onslaught, Richie gasped out, “I screwed up!”
“Specifically, Richie,” Duncan insisted, peppering hard smacks down without let up. “What did you do?”
Desperate to have that palm land almost anywhere else, the teen practically yelled, “I risked my godamn life, OK?”
“Without the swearing.” The Scot’s arm tightened slightly around the boy’s waist as Richie started losing the fight to keep still.
“I risked my life! I’m SORRY! Mac, *please*!” The sting was ferocious and to his total dismay Richie could feel tears pricking at his eyes and he blinked hard, biting down on his lip, determined not to give the damned Scot the satisfaction of making him cry.
Satisfied he’d got the point over, Duncan changed his aim and began smacking over a wider area, swatting alternate cheeks, a faintly sympathetic grin tugging at his mouth as Richie visibly relaxed. It wasn’t long though before the originally pale flesh had darkened to an overall deep pink blush and the youngster was back to flinching at each resounding spank. Monitoring the boy carefully, Duncan kept the rhythm steady, the speed one that was just about manageable, waiting for the change in breathing that would tell him that Rich was close to his limits.
Richie’s whole attention was focused on the need for restraint; he had to keep still, *wouldn’t* yell, not over a spanking and if he was gasping, just a bit, well, that was to be expected if some control freak was pounding on your ass as if it was his work-out for the day. So, his throat was kinda tight and he had muscles in his jaw and gut he hadn’t been aware of before, never mind knowing he could clench them, so what? MacLeod would get fed up if he didn’t get tired, right? An audible hiss escaped him as the sword-callused hand landed on a particularly sore spot, the sting merging into the overall heat far too slowly and his subsequent gulp for air was on the distinctly ragged side.
Knowing the teenager was right on the edge of tears, Duncan stopped spanking, examining reddened flesh critically, knowing from the rapidly healing burn in his own work-toughened palm that the boy had to be sore, waiting for Rich to regain enough composure to be able to listen. When the boy’s shoulders relaxed and his head dropped to rest on the desk, relief positively radiating from his form, Duncan said clearly, “Richie,” and watched the teen gather himself and crane to peer over a shoulder at him, his face a near match in color to his hot rear end. Once assured of the youngster’s attention, Duncan went on, with both determination and conviction in his tone. “You’re a part of this family, Rich, you’re very important to us both and I am *not* going to stand by and watch you throw everything away. If you ever risk yourself when there’s a safer option you’ll find yourself right back here, getting your backside blistered. Every single time. Are we clear on this?”
“Yes, sir!” Richie was more than eager to agree if it meant this was over, equally happy to file away the seldom-stated fact that he was regarded as family. All things considered, he thought, although he wouldn’t put this down as one of the better experiences of his life, it could have been a lot worse.
“Good.” Duncan increased the pressure of his left hand fractionally, even as he raised his right. “Hold that thought, Rich.”
“Mac? Mac, no!” Realization slammed home only a millisecond before the Scot’s hand impacted, driving all logic from his head as it re-ignited fires. “Noooo!”
“Sorry, tough guy, but yes.” Wanting to drive the lesson home hard and fast now, Duncan increased both the tempo and the force of the swats, intent on making this an experience the youngster would be unwilling to repeat.
Caught unaware and off balance, Richie didn’t stand a chance of throwing up defenses of any sort and his world dissolved into pure sensation; the loud, burning smacks that drove him up on his toes and had him jerking his hips in involuntary and futile efforts to escape, the sounds blurring into one as the heat in his ass edged up notch after relentless notch; the edge of the desk he was clutching as if his life depended on it, cool and angular under his fingers; the warmth of Duncan’s thigh, a mild counterpoint to the fire in his butt; the noise of someone yelping; wetness on his face; itching in his eyes, behind his nose; soreness in his throat; the undeniable, overwhelming fact that he *hurt*.
Undeterred by the increasingly noisy evidence of distress, Duncan was specifically concentrating on the fleshy part of Richie’s buttocks and the tops of his thighs, fully intending to have the boy remember this when he next ventured onto a chair – or a bike. Using speed rather than power to get the message across now, Duncan aimed a quick flurry of swats to the ruddy flesh, more of his attention on the teens’ shuddery gulps for air, sensing that Rich had nearly had enough.
Entirely forgetting all about his earlier resolutions, Richie bucked under the restraining hand, trying to scratch together a promise - any promise - that would make Mac believe he’d got it. Whatever IT was and Richie truly didn’t care at that point. The *only* thing he wanted was for Duncan to stop. His delivery ruined by a hitching sob, he almost wailed the only thing that mattered. “I’m S...SORRRY!”
Duncan was sure of it; commiseration showing in his dark eyes, he snapped down a last couple of stinging slaps and shook the slight soreness from his hand while he waited for it to sink in that the punishment was over.
The abrupt descent of relative quiet registered before Richie’s brain processed the reason for it and then he slumped onto the desktop, too grateful it was over to worry about anything else. A state of mind that didn’t last much beyond the next ragged breath, as he became aware that Duncan had to know he was crying. Horribly embarrassed, he un-latched his fingers from the desk and shoved upwards, feeling steadying hands on his shoulders as Duncan stood up with him. Sniffing hard, Richie dashed a sleeve over his face and wrenched free of the Scot’s light hold, hunching away from the man as his hands flew back to cover his blazing backside protectively.
Unperturbed by the pointed rejection, Duncan simply pulled the youngster around again, enfolding him in his arms, one hand rubbing consoling circles on Richie’s back as he murmured quiet reassurances.
Richie stiffly resisted the comfort at first, then gave in and leant into the convenient shoulder, remotely glad that at least he didn’t have to look the man in the face. Mostly concentrating on trying to master his unsteady breathing, he inhaled a bit jerkily, his diaphragm hitching, and held the breath as long as he could, not really paying attention to whatever Duncan was saying. The tenor was calm though and the rumble of words vibrating through the Scot’s chest was somehow comforting. The tone turned questioning and a pause followed, so Richie made an effort and replayed the last sentence, mumbling the first answer that occurred, wishing he hadn’t as he heard how childish it sounded. “Hurts.”
Cocking his head to pick up the near whisper, Duncan clamped down firmly on the urge to chuckle, but he couldn’t keep a smile from his face and he hugged the teen more tightly for a moment. “I know, tough guy, but dying hurts more and it lasts longer.”
Nodding against Duncan’s shoulder, Richie took another shuddery breath, starting to think more rationally again now the immediacy of the fierce smarting was easing into a more bearable throbbing ache. With an upsurge of guilt he realized that he’d actually managed to scare the unflappable Scot and stiffened, not at all sure he deserved the comfort as he followed the thought through. If Mac had been scared it was because he cared and you didn’t screw around with people who cared about you.
Assuming the boy had calmed down enough to remember he was bare-assed, Duncan let him go, regarding the somewhat bedraggled looking teen affectionately and wondering how long it would be before he bounced back to his usual irrepressible self.
Missing the look completely, as he was staring at his feet - noticing for the first time that his boxers were pooled around his ankles - Richie forced his hands to his sides and flashed a rapid glance up to Duncan’s face, contrition written all over him. “Mac…I’m sorry, honest. I never meant to…you know…make you…” Finding the floor compelling again for some reason, he admitted softly, “It was a dumb stunt. I won’t do it again, I promise.”
Sparing an internal wince for the idea that the circumstances could possibly be duplicated, Duncan just smiled, reaching out to smooth the trace of a tear from the redhead’s cheek with the ball of his thumb, answering easily, “I’m glad to hear it, Rich.” At least, he assumed with more than a flicker of amusement, the teen would probably slow down enough to consider options until the memory of the spanking had faded sufficiently for it to be a minimal concern. Thinking that the kindest course of action would be to give the youngster some space, Duncan suggested mildly, “Why don’t you go and wash up? I suppose you’re still starving– how does scrambled egg sound?” He half expected a cockamamie joke with a lead in like that but he just got a bob of the head that could have meant anything. Moving towards the door, he squeezed the boy’s shoulder lightly in passing, adding, “I’ll find you some clean jeans, Rich.”
Thankful to be left alone, mostly, Richie rubbed cautiously at his seat before bending to pull up his shorts, a pained hiss escaping him as stretched muscles protested the usage. Easing them very carefully over a butt that felt at least twice it’s regular size, he headed obediently, if stiffly, for the bathroom. His appetite had vanished somewhere around the time he’d realized that the Scot was actually serious about punishing him but he wasn’t about to butt heads with the Scot again, not so soon. If he was supposed to eat, then he would. Once in the bathroom, he tore off some tissue and blew his nose before spinning the faucet to let cold water gush out into the basin and plunging his hands into the flow, scooping up handful after handful to dash against his face. He didn’t stop until his fingers were numb and his face felt as through he’d lost the flush that seemed to have been staining his cheeks ever since Duncan’s unwelcome announcement. Leaning on the basin with both hands, Richie shook the worst of the moisture from his hair, regarding his dripping reflection more than a touch ruefully. “Note to self - what you DON’T do, you don’t piss off MacLeod.” He still sounded a bit rusty so another palm-full of icy water went into his mouth even as he eyed the neat rack of face-cloths lined up beside the basin, the urge to apply a soaking wet one to his butt a serious temptation. He thought about it as he grabbed a fluffy blue hand towel and scrubbed at his face and hair. On one hand, the chances of Mac thinking to ask if he’d done such a thing seemed remote; on the other hand he knew perfectly well he’d only feel as guilty as sin, whether the Scot asked or not. Sighing, Rich concluded he’d rather live with the heat in his ass than face disappointment in Duncan’s dark, and - when he wanted them to be - all too expressive eyes. It was a decision he was instantly grateful for as a tap on the door was followed by an arm snaking through to hook some fresh jeans on the row of pegs attached to the inside.
“Five minutes, OK, Rich?” Duncan, who’d found some clean denims in the laundry pile and had thought with a grin that it wouldn’t hurt for Rich to win the ongoing wrangle with Tess about why ironing was necessary just for once, wanted to keep an eye on the teen for a while to make sure he understood the punishment was over. With most kids he’d be fairly certain they’d got it, but the redhead had a habit of coming to some amazing conclusions, in the face of direct evidence to the contrary as often as not.
Richie, who could think of half a dozen places he’d rather be than with Duncan right then, muttered reluctantly. “Yessir.”
Catching the lack of enthusiasm effortlessly, the Scot added, firmly, “I mean it, Rich. Don’t keep me waiting.”
Feeling relatively safe with the Scot on the other side of the door, Richie rolled his eyes, the motion slow and exaggerated. “No, SIR!”
With a grin for the attitude already creeping through, Duncan left him to it, mentally running through a check-list of ingredients and wondering if they had any fresh tarragon left.
Giving the jeans an unenthusiastic look and finding he was absently rubbing his ass again, Richie was struck by an urge to investigate the actual damage. Backing the step or two necessary to reach the full length mirror, he eased his boxers down without the remotest flicker of his earlier embarrassment and hooked his shirt out of the way as he craned back over his right shoulder. Somewhat to his surprise, his butt didn’t look anywhere near as bad as he’d been expecting. OK, it was certainly red, and perhaps a bit swollen, with the odd patches of a darker hue showing that might turn into slight bruising, but it didn’t come close to justifying the sting when it was being administered. Feeling obscurely aggrieved, Richie held the elastic waistband of his shorts away from sore flesh as he raised them once more, only releasing it to settle snugly in place once he’d cleared hip level, wondering idiotically if Duncan had ever put down ‘expert at spanking’ as a qualification. Stepping, carefully, into his jeans, thankful that they were on the baggy side, Rich took a deep breath, checked himself out briefly, brushing a hand over hair that seemed prone to spike. OK, his eyes were a bit puffy still but he could put his stiffness down to the accident, he devoutly hoped, if he ran into Tess, which he was earnestly praying that he wouldn’t. Uncomfortable at the thought of seeing Duncan again, with no idea at all how he was supposed to act or whether Mac was still pissed at him, Richie dithered, hanging up the towel, straightening it meticulously. He was re-aligning the edges for the third time when he realized he was simply delaying the inevitable. Shaking his head, he muttered crossly, “Geez, Ryan! Get a grip, will ya?” One thing he *was* sure of was that it wouldn’t be a great idea to make Mac come looking for him.
Catching the familiar low buzz of a pre-immortal, Duncan looked up from the side counter where he was briskly whisking eggs in a glass bowl, taking in the teen’s cautious gait with a quick flare of sympathy. Having already decided that food and normality were the best way to go, he just said calmly, “There you are. Good. Slice some bread for the toaster, will you, Richie?”
Relaxing somewhat at the un-alarming request, the redhead did as he was asked, shooting sidelong glances at the Scot whenever his attention seemed fixed on the eggy mess he was creating. Any other time and Richie would have been ribbing Duncan about their differing cooking styles - as far as he was concerned, no shell in the mix meant success - but right now he was too busy trying to decide if impassive was good or bad. Edging closer under the pretense of rearranging the cutlery already laid out on the counter, he watched as Duncan sprinkled herbs into the bowl, wondering if he should apologize again or go with the ‘it never happened’ scenario that Mac seemed to be encouraging.
Faintly amused by the youngster’s unaccustomed diffident air, Duncan asked, “You want shallots with this, Rich?”
Thrown by the question, Richie blinked. “Uh…sure. Thanks.”
Duncan, who was perfectly well aware that Richie hated onions with his eggs, was hard put to prevent a grin from surfacing. “OK. I’ll do a carrot and raisin salad as well, all right?”
That *did* get the redhead’s attention. He couldn’t stand carrots and Mac knew it. Regarding the taller man with sudden suspicion, Richie tried to figure out if Duncan was teasing him or making him stuff he hated because he was still mad. Unfortunately, with the damned Scot doing his blander-than-butter look, he had no clues at all. Shifting a fork about aimlessly, feeling unaccountably shy, he decided knowing was better than not and asked hesitantly, “Um, Mac…are we OK?”
Dropping the teasing at once, Duncan laid the whisk down and closed the gap between them, a hand reaching to cup Richie’s chin and bring his face up so their eyes met. “We are better than OK, tough guy, we’re fine.” His expression intent, he held the boy’s gaze, wanting him to understand this. “You made a mistake, you paid for it, it’s over. We,” his face lit into a quirky grin that invited a response as he employed one of the teen’s pet phrases, “...are cool. All right?” The wide relieved smile was all the answer he needed and he caught Richie into a quick hug, ruffling damp hair as he released him. “So, that would be no on the carrots? How about sliced fresh mushrooms with vinaigrette instead then?”