Title: Mutual Admiration
Author: BuffyAngel68
Rating: FRAO
Fandom/Pairing: CSI: NY Mac/Adam/Danny
A.N.: M/A is immediately post "Down the Rabbit Hole", A/D began post "Snow Day" and [in my head] kept developing slowly from that point. Romance after shared trauma... it's a fan-fic classic and that epi. just screams for it. Besides which... the two scruffy boys together? Hot, hot, hot. Toss in the transformation of Mac by new love and hey presto, awesomeness personified. One hopes...
Summary: After the near disaster with the lab computers, Adam is feeling guilty and frightened. Mac surrenders to the opportunity for a rescue...
Disclaimer: Don't own, making no fundage. If these three were mine... bye-bye preggers Lindsey plotline, trust me.

As he approached the locker room, Mac slowed up then halted completely. Running a hand over his face, sighing with fatigue, he reconsidered his plan to shower there and go out to eat. After the day he'd had, gulping down a bowl of cold cereal and falling into bed fully clothed was starting to sound more and more appealing.

In the midst of his deliberations, a barely audible voice and motion caught just out of the corner of his eye pulled his focus off his own troubles. He looked up to find Adam slumped on a bench with his head in both hands and he appeared to be talking to himself. Recalling the young man's irrepressible joy after winning the online battle, Mac frowned lightly and moved inside to talk to him.


The familiar voice had the tech up on his feet instantly.

"Mac... hey. You need me for something? I'll work a double, no problem..."

"No, no. We're fine."

"You sure? Seriously, I can take another lab, do scut work in the field, empty the trash, whatever."


"Yeah boss?"


He complied reluctantly and Mac dropped down to sit beside him. "What's going on?"

"Huh? Nothin'. I just wanna help however I can..."

"By becoming a janitor?"

A pained grin flashed onto and off of Adam's face and he wiped his shaking hands on his pants, keeping his gaze on the floor as he began to softly explain.

"You were so ticked off before... not that you didn't have every right to be. I let my ego take over instead a'my brain, thinkin' I knew enough to stop the incursion or-or fix it. I shoulda shut it down the minute you said to, but I really thought I could do it. I was stupid an' arrogant... I'm so sorry. I won't fight the pink slip when it comes, I swear. You won't hear a whimper outta me."

"You done?"

"Um... yeah, I think so."

"Good, 'cause it's my turn. First off, I was afraid and worried, not mad. I yell in both circumstances, so I can see how you might've been confused. Second, I just got finished reading the preliminary report and the best techs we have don't understand what Suspect X used to breach our system. That means, as good as you are, there was nothing you could do either, but you had no way of knowing that, so you're forgiven for thinking otherwise. Third, without you we wouldn't be as close to X as we are right now. Firing you is *totally* out of the question. Did I cover everything?"

"Yeah... yeah, you, uh... you did."

"No more guilt trips or putting yourself down?"

"No more. Scout's honor." Adam vowed with a shaky, nervous laugh.

"Okay. You eaten yet?"

"Nah. I, uh... I thought about finding somewhere to drown my sorrows, but they swamped me before I got a chance. Then you showed up... boom, no more sorrows to drown."

"Boom? Mac questioned, losing a small laugh of his own.

"Right... spending too much time with Danny. I'll work on that."

"There are a lot worse people you could be hanging out with. Tell you what, dinner and coffee are on me, but no alcohol."

"Yeah? Really?"

"Which one surprises you, that I'd treat you to a meal, or that I'd rather you didn't drink?"

Adam tilted his head to the side slightly and produced the first genuine, relaxed grin Mac had seen since he'd sat down.

"Not sure. Both... I guess. Anyway, I'll take the deal."

"Anything you don't like, can't eat..."

"Not a thing. I'm pretty much the world's biggest omnivore."

"Great. Gimme ten or fifteen clean up and I'll meet you in the lobby."

Adam nodded, rose and backed toward the door a step or two before he turned and headed out moving forward, now smiling broadly.

Under the cover of wiping his mouth with his napkin and then taking a drink of his ice water, Mac carefully studied Adam from across the table. The young man had eaten well, better than Mac had anticipated in fact, and was now staring at the final slice of pizza longingly. Mac chuckled and waved him on.

"Go ahead. I'm two pieces beyond my usual limit already."

"Thanks. Gotta say, boss..." he offered after swallowing a bite. "... this is kinda... nice. Seeing you let down and smile, I mean. Don't get to see much of that at work. Especially lately."

"Not much reason. I do have a life outside the lab, though."

"Well, yeah... I figure everybody does. It's just... you're the head honcho an' it's harder to picture you brushing your teeth or going bowling, you know? Man... I needed this. It's a thing with me. When I get deep into what I'm doing, I totally forget I have a stomach until the hunger situation gets desperate. Same with being tired or stressed out..."

"Yeah... yeah, I've done that more than once. Bad habit..." Mac responded softly, seemingly fascinated by his napkin and the subtle pattern on the tabletop.

"Really bad. I know it, too. Hate to face it... but I know. I... I wanna do so good for you... you an' the whole team. Not lettin' you guys down is always in my head. I have to be the absolute best I can... all the time. That's why the computer thing today hit me so hard. I thought I'd totally blown it with y-... with everybody."

Gazing up, Mac realized Adam was now also determinedly keeping his eyes lowered.

"Look at me, Adam." Mac asked, continuing only when his request had been complied with. "I don't mind a little hero-worship, as long as it doesn't get out of hand. As difficult as it might be to get your head around, I'm very much a normal person. At work... I guess I feel the same way you do. I'm the one who's ultimately responsible for what happens, how people conduct themselves. Maybe I think I have to be the ultimate example... influence the people who work with me and for me to see the best in themselves and want to be exactly what you said... the absolute best they can."

"Wow... the 'serious at work' thing makes so much more sense, now. That's a huge weight to carry, boss. How do you handle it... without going on a shooting spree or beating the general populace to a bloody pulp, I mean."

Mac snorted, thinking how many times he'd been sorely tempted to do just that, then narrowed his gaze, watching the other man critically.

"You really up for finding out?"

"Uh... that look says I should run for my life... but I've never been one for sane and rational. Okay, fearless leader... I'm in."

"Good. I'll go pay the check and meet you outside."

Adam grinned and gathered his jacket, sliding into it as he pushed out the door. Shaking his head slowly, he wondered what he was getting himself into, and whether he should be backing away, but his sense of adventure asserted itself and refused to allow retreat. Warming his chilled hands in his coat pockets, he bounced on his toes and happily gave the anticipation and his immense curiosity free reign.


Stepping out of the cab they'd caught at the restaurant, Adam cautiously moved up behind Mac, who was already on the sidewalk. Smiling warily, the younger man lifted an eyebrow as he skeptically considered the non-descript building

"You sure you got this right, boss? Not the best neighborhood..."

"I know. That's the idea."

"It is?"

"I'd never override your instincts, Adam. If you don't feel right..."

"No... no, I trust you, I do. Let's go."

As they reached the heavy steel door, Mac pulled a card from his wallet and swiped it through the small electronic lock just to one side. The door disengaged with a sharp click and Mac moved inside, Adam tight on his heels. For several minutes, they strode through brightly lit, bare corridors and finally came to another door, which also yielded to Mac's pass, allowing them access to an enormous room. Mac hit a series of switches just inside the door and heard his companion draw a sharp, surprised breath. As they entered, Adam gaped and turned in a slow circle, trying to take everything in.

"Whoa... this is incredible!" he enthused, then immediately lowered his voice when the high-ceilinged room echoed back at him. "I've never seen a gym this big. Wait... if that's what this place is, why the security?"

"It's more than that... plus it's mostly for cops and military. Friend of mine runs it." Mac explained as he stripped off his coat. "He's former PD, former Navy... knows first hand how unpopular guys in those professions can be. He wanted to set up a place for us to work out and get together where we knew we'd be safe."

"And the bad area thing?"

"After he moved in and started renovating, he realized there were a lot of kids around here in real danger of falling into gangs, drugs, alcohol... Once the building was ready, he spread it around that he was offering after-school programs, computer classes and self-defense training free to any kid that wanted it and was willing to follow the rules."

Adam whistled softly.

"They don't get cards too, do they? I get the 'trust if you wanna be trusted' concept, but..."

"No cards. The classes are strictly scheduled. They get in when he and the staff are here to supervise. After school, he's right there by the door to monitor who comes in."

"Same to be sure they all leave, right?"

"Parents or legal guardians are required to come pick them up. That way he gets the adults involved in what the kids are doing... and *how* they're doing. C'mon. The locker room's back here."

"But, I... I don't have anything to change into."

"My buddy keeps baskets of clean donated work-out stuff available for guests... but you don't have to do anything. Watching you fight online today I got the urge to see you try it in the real world, that's all. No pressure, no obligation. You're free to hang back and just watch if you want. I might ask you to brace the heavy bag for me... but nothing else."

"Wait... you mean... you're offering to-to show me... no way!" Adam stammered, his expression showing cautious excitement and hope.

"Yes way. It's not everyone's thing. You may find out you hate it or you don't have the aptitude... but I'm really curious to know. If I'm reading things right, so are you."

"Are you kidding? Yeah, boss! Definitely! Man, this is so cool!"

Mac laughed and felt something stir inside him on witnessing the young man's enthusiasm again. Aware, however, that it wasn't the time for deep self-examination, he quickly pushed aside the unfamiliar, slightly disquieting feelings and focused on Adam.

"It could be, at that. I'm hopeful, but I'll reserve judgment and so should you."

"I can do it, I know I can. Just gimme a fair shot, boss."

"I will. Believe me, I will. C'mon... let's find you something you can really move in."


"That's it. Pop, pop... sharpen up the motion... short and quick. Good... really good, Adam. Keep the wrist strong and straight... better. Now the combination I showed you... yeah, that's it. Very nice. Take a break, catch your breath."

Adam tried to grin, but didn't have the energy for much more than a faint smirk. Reaching out with one heavily gloved hand, he affectionately cuffed the electronic boxing trainer on the side of the head and dropped to sit on the floor. Mac crouched close and patted him on the shoulder. "That tired, hmmm?"

"No, boss. Just... need to rest for a minute... catch a breath, like you said."

"Uh-huh. We need to make a deal here, Adam. I'm impressed with what I've seen tonight and I wanna keep working with you... but not if we can't agree to be honest with each other."

Adam looked up, wiped his brow on his sleeve and gazed at Mac curiously.

"I'm listening."

"You can get hurt in this kind of training. One wrong twist, a kick that hits the bag or the pads at the wrong angle... If I can't trust you to admit how you're actually feeling, this isn't gonna happen."


"I know, but this isn't about letting anybody down or trying to be bigger and better in my eyes. It's about your health and safety and I won't be a party to compromising that. Not when I depend on you so much at the lab. Never mind the fact that Stella would skin me alive if she found out I let you get hurt and then *hide* it."



"I fell down 'cause my legs wouldn't hold me up anymore."

"I thought as much. Time to hit the showers." Mac ordered gently, rising to his full height then lifting Adam onto his feet. The task took much less effort than he expected and the older man frowned. "You weren't kidding about not eating."

Adam flushed and turned his face away, but didn't respond. "Okay, not now, but we'll be talking more about it as time goes on. You won't get everything you could out of the training if you aren't putting the right foods, and enough of them, in your belly."

"Right, Boss."

One hand on Adam's elbow to support him, Mac slowly assisted him back to the dressing room. Settling the younger man on a bench, Mac turned to his locker, opened it and casually stripped off his damp t-shirt. At the sight of Taylor's muscled back and shoulders, Adam abruptly realized that the rest of his lean form was about to be uncovered as well and had to fight off a fit of panicked laughter. Rising unsteadily, he shuffled to the opposite end of the room and pretended to find the blank stretch of metal doors fascinating.


"It's okay, boss... I'm fine. You just keep on... doin' what you were doin'."

"Damn, I'm sorry. I didn't think about..."

Mac paused, embarrassed by his lapse of attention and mildly upset with himself for becoming so comfortable with Adam that he'd nearly ruined what had been a wonderful few hours up to that point. Clearing his throat and grinning, he offered a solution.
"We'll use the private shower stalls. I'll, uh... I'll finish undressing in there, too."

"That'll work. Thanks. Thanks for everything tonight. I'm... really grateful. And nothing but honesty from now on, I swear."


Grabbing his towel, Mac disappeared behind one of the plastic curtains. Hearing it rattle closed, Adam sank to the floor again, struggling to breathe slowly, cringing at his thoughts and fervently wishing both sides of the battle in his head would call it a stalemate.


Adam tugged on his sneaker laces one last time, tightening them to his satisfaction, then sighed and looked up at Danny.

"Not like I don't want to, D, I just can't. I got plans tonight."

"Change 'em, man. This is gonna be a blast."

"It sounds like it, but... this is really important."

Danny studied his best friend for a moment before responding quietly.

"Yeah... yeah, I see that. Feel like spillin' what these plans are?"

"I guess. He didn't say it was *all* a secret. After I messed up so bad the other day an' the computers almost went blooey... Mac caught me mopin' over it in here. He dragged me out, got me to eat something... then he took me to a place he goes to work out. He showed me a few things, started teachin' me how to fight. He says I could be pretty good..."

"... so he offered regular sessions. Hell, you can't pass that up. You're right, you gotta stick with him. Damn... I can't believe it, ya know? I mean, he never did anything like that before. Not that I heard, anyway..."

Hearing an emotion in Danny's tone that he knew his friend usually tried very hard to suppress, Adam winced and replied softly, his own voice clearly displaying his remorse.

"Danny... hey, I'm sorry. I'll cancel on Mac if you want."

"Crap. Was I doin' it again?"

"Just a little. It's okay."

"No, it's stupid. I got no reason to be... you an' me, we're not... It ain't on purpose, I swear. It's just"

Adam looked around briefly to be certain they were unobserved then reached out and lightly gripped Danny's hand.

"I know. Since the warehouse we've gotten really, really close."

"Any closer, we'll be walkin' around in the same pair of jeans at the same time."

Adam flushed, grinned and murmured a few words. "Once more? An' turn up the volume."

"It was something com*pletely* inappropriate about boxers or briefs. Forget it."

Now it was Danny's turn to suddenly have color suffuse his face.

"Yeah... no, uh... no problem. So... is this a once a week thing?"

Once again, Adam lowered his gaze before answering.

"For now. Once he's sure if I'm worth his time... then it could be more."

Danny gently seized Adam's chin and tipped it up until their eyes met.

"What's the rule on that kinda talk? Hmmm? Let's go..."

"C'mon, D..."

"You're the one who made the things up, kid. Let's hear it."

"If I put myself down around you... I don't get to go play pool with you for a week."

"Not even..." Danny prompted, smiling wickedly.

"Not even if I beg on my knees and offer you a case of your favorite beer."

"Right. Sentence passed."


"Ahhnh! I should make it double 'cause you dissed yourself an' Mac in the same breath."

"I did not!"

"Then you ain't payin' attention. Mac cares about all of us, yeah, but he's no bleedin' heart an he *ain't* got a soft head. If he made the offer, he thinks you're worth a lot more than just time. You go doubtin' what he says, you knock both a'you, an that... that bites man. Big time."

"I know, but... two weeks? Seriously? I don't get to see you outside a'this place for two whole weeks?"

I said I *should* double yer penance... but I'm not. It's... it's just as tough for me not to see you, kiddo."

"Penance? I gotta say Hail Mary's an' Our Father's on top a'everything else?" Adam teased.

"I can throw 'em in if you insist. I'll drill it into your brain the way it got pounded into mine." Danny shot right back.

"No, no. The week off an' the affirmations... that'll be plenty."


"Yeah. Stella told me to write down three good things about me, then look in the mirror every night and tell 'em to myself. I don't do it that much... just when I mess up an' I can't see you. Makes it easier."

Danny's eyes widened as a revelation hit him hard.

"Adam. You... are you tryin' to tell me..."

"Yeah... maybe. Don't freak, you'll have plenty of time to think about it. I'm not anywhere near ready. Look, I gotta get movin'. See you at work tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow... okay." Danny responded dazedly as Adam jogged out of the locker room, grinning like a crazy man all the way out to the elevator, all the way down, through the lobby and out to the street, where he had told Mac he'd meet him. Knowing he was slightly early didn't ease his nervousness or his anticipation, and the excess energy emerged as a need to pace. After three laps back and forth in front of the doors, he'd begun to get worried, but he knew Mac wouldn't just leave him hanging. If something had delayed him, he would've called. As he turned to start on his fifth trip across the short stretch of sidewalk he'd been traveling, Adam felt something heavy and cold, held by a trembling hand, being shoved into his back. He stiffened and held perfectly still, listening intently to the even more unsteady voice that croaked from behind his right shoulder.

"Money... now, damn it..."

"In my front pocket... on the left..." Adam admitted, automatically replying with the place he always kept his wallet. A hand fumbled its way in, but came out empty, for which Adam received a brutal crack over the back of the head, driving him to his knees.

"Where is it? I need it now!"

Stunned and in pain, the young man tried desperately to focus and finally realized he must have forgotten the missing item in his locker.

"Inside... I left it inside..."

"Damn it... Stupid, stupid, stupid..."

Without warning, Adam felt blows raining down on his back, legs and arms. Covering his head, he fell on his side and prayed Mac would show up soon.


Glancing back and forth between the elevator doors and his watch, Mac huffed out a quiet breath of frustration. He'd intended to already be downstairs with Adam, but just when he was ready to go, it seemed that every single person in the lab had needed him for one thing or another, and they all had to be accomplished immediately.

Finally the elevator arrived and he pushed inside before the doors had even opened completely, slapping at the button that would close him in and let him escape before someone else discovered paperwork that simply couldn't wait until morning for his signature. His growing restlessness made the brief ride down feel as if it took a year, but only a minute or two later he was released into the lobby and strode quickly across the large space and out the doors.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, unmistakable sounds of violence, fear and pain made him tense and draw his gun. As he approached, all he could see at first was a filthy, skinny young man, his arm moving up and down in jerky strikes.

"Stop! Get your hands up!"

The erratic motions ceased, but the man didn't respond to Mac's command, so he repeated it. "Let see your hands."

"Get away from me..."

"I can't do that. You need to listen and do what I'm telling you..."

At last the man shifted, but instead of obeying, he turned to face Mac, who could now see that he clutched a length of what looked to be pipe. He had been using it to batter the crumpled figure suddenly visible on the ground behind him.

"Go... the hell... away!" the man screamed, stalking forward and brandishing the pipe.

"Look, put the weapon down and drop to your knees. It doesn't have to end this way..."

"Yeah? You got money so I can score? Huh? That's all I wanted! Bastard tried to trick me... make me think he got nothin'!"

"I can help you... get you what you really need."

" *Told* you, all I need is cash! I gotta score, man... I don't, I ain't got no reason to live anyhow..." the man lamented, moving toward Mac at an even faster pace. Knowing he had no option, Mac squeezed the trigger, consoling himself about the lost life by concentrating on the one he might still be able to save. Holstering his gun, he rushed past the man he'd just shot to tend to the victim he'd been beating, only to have his heart freeze and his breath stop when he realized who it was.

"Adam? God no..." he murmured, kneeling by his stricken friend and pulling out his phone. "It's Detective Taylor. I'm out in front of the building. I need a couple uni's and a paramedic unit down here now. Male, late twenties, beaten severely. Faster than that." He demanded, hanging up and shoving his phone in his jacket pocket. "Adam? Can you hear me? Give me some kinda sign, kid..."

When a tiny, broken voice floated out from under the arms still wrapped around the younger man's head, Mac breathed deeply for the first time in several minutes.


"Yeah... it's me. You're safe, now. Just hang on, okay? Help's coming."

"Hurts... really bad..."

"I know... I know. It'll be better soon, I promise."

"Wasn't..." Adam whispered, just loud enough for Mac to catch it.

"Wasn't what?"

"Trick... forgot the wallet... in my locker..."

"Okay, I got that."

"I wouldn't..."

"Of course you wouldn't. I know that. Just relax..."

Quickly scanning the young man with his eyes, Mac discovered the bloody gash and lump on the back of Adam's head and felt his heart stutter a second time. "Adam... I need you to do something for me, here. It looks like you could have a bad concussion, so you have to try and stay conscious. Talk to me... just do your best to stay with me, alright?"

"Kay... 'ts hard... 'm foggy, ya know..."

"Where's the pain? Where else did he hit you, hmmm?" Mac asked, forcing himself to hold onto his composure as he heard the ambulance pull up to the curb somewhere behind them.

"Ever'where... he... wsn't p'cky..."

"Your arm?"

"Yah... a lot..."

As the EMT's joined them, Mac warned the pair not to try and move Adam's arm just yet.

"Thanks, Detective. We can take it from here."

Mac shoved down the angry words that wanted to pour from him, realizing these men weren't the ones he was mad at, and merely nodded, backing away. Turning, he let his gaze sweep the ground near the dead assailant, picked out the weapon and moved to examine it more closely. Finding that it appeared to be PVC and not iron or some other metal, he felt his pulse begin to slow a little. It didn't mean Adam was out of the woods, but the plastic, having less mass, would surely have done less damage.

Just for a moment, Mac closed his eyes, working on his breathing and trying to decide who to call first. A name popped instantly into his head, but he wasn't at all sure it was the person Adam would want notified, if he even wanted anyone else to know. A few seconds later, the uniforms he'd asked for finally appeared and he directed them to secure the crime scene until the detectives and the CSI night shift got there. Stalking over to lean on the building, Mac fought to calm down, but it wasn't working well. When the ratcheting of the stretcher being lifted down and locked into position tore Mac out of his muddled thoughts, he gratefully followed the device and the medics back to where Adam still lay.

"How is he?"

"Okay, for now." One of the men replied distractedly. "He's shaken up and bruised everywhere you can think of... the bleeding's already stopped on the scalp lac. Can't tell much more until we get him looked at in the E.R."

"I'm going with him."

"Sorry, not unless you're family."

"I'm the closest he has right now and he'll be upset without somebody he knows nearby. I'm going." He declared in a tone that gave the medic no choice.

"Okay, okay..." The man chuckled, waving Mac in ahead of the stretcher. He settled on one of the side benches, mind spinning and gut churning. His heart added its two cents, squeezing hard as Adam was eased into the vehicle, but he quickly hid his concern and discomfort behind a bland smile.

"Boss?" Adam asked plaintively

"I'm here, Adam. Take it easy. Is there anybody you want me to call for you?"

"Don't know... Danny, I guess. Nobody else'd care..."

"Cut that out." Mac chided gently, " Stella'd do anything for you. Hawkes, Sid, Don... you mean a hell of a lot to all of us."

"You think?"

"No question. I don't have to call anybody else. Danny'll do it for me then the nurses will have to deal with the whole team pacing and worrying in the waiting room."

"Wow..." the young man murmured sleepily from behind the temporarily splinted right arm that was still covering his head. The other had been carefully shifted out from under him and now had his I.V. lines in it.

"Feeling better?"

"Some... not much."

"They can't give you any strong pain meds 'till the doctors check that head wound." Mac explained as the ambulance drew up in front of the E.R entrance. As the medics slid the stretcher out and down to the ground, the rolling bed jarred slightly. Adam cried out, prompting Mac to leap out and move immediately to his side. The anger on his face made the EMT's step back.


"Mmmm... still here. Not their fault, boss. Just bumps and thumps... seen worse tonight. I'm okay."

"You will be. C'mon, get him inside!" Mac addressed to the medics, who hustled to obey him, even though they weren't sure why. He just seemed to be in command for the time being, and neither man had any illusions about what he'd do if they hesitated or refused. When Mac was halted before he could follow the stretcher through into the exam area, he barely kept himself from lashing out physically. The medic read his eyes and spoke soothingly.

"Hey, I know... I know. Just remember you took the guy down, okay? He can't hurt the kid anymore. You called him Adam, right?"

Mac nodded stiffly, continuing to fight the rage and worry that filled him. "Okay, then. You have to believe that Adam will be good as new after he's had a little time to rest and recuperate. He got a bad scare, yeah... but he seems to be a strong guy. He'll get past it."

Mac drew and released a deep, slow breath and felt the severe tension begin to release its hold on his shoulders and back.

"Sorry. It's not you I feel like ripping apart..."

"I get that. Seen it too many times over the years not to recognize the symptoms."

"I need to see him."

"Let the docs give him the once over, first. They'll be out here with an update as soon as they can, I swear. Tell you what, I'll do you one better. You stay and make the calls you talked to Adam about, I'll go check on him for you. Okay?"

"Yeah. Thanks. I... when I get really mad, I'm not easy to deal with. I appreciate how you handled all this."

"No problem, sir. Go get on the phone, now. I'll be back with you in a few minutes."

Mac sighed and turned away, heading back outside through the main E.R. doors and retrieving his phone again.

"Danny? It's Mac..."


Gazing up at the man doing laps in front of him, Mac sighed and rubbed his forehead. The paramedic had come and gone, but had been unable to give either of them much useful information, so Mac's only consolation was that he'd been able to convince Danny to keep the others away from the hospital, even though he would not relent on starting the chain of calls the moment he hung up with his boss. Now, with the team informed, but absent, and therefore his blood pressure staying at a decent level, all Mac wanted was for his young colleague to cease making him dizzy.

"Danny, sit. Wearing yourself out doesn't do Adam any good."

"Lemme do what I gotta, Mac, okay? Pacin's what my Ma does when she's worried, so I got the habit legit..."

"Worried and feeling guilty?" Mac posited carefully. Danny stopped finally to glare at his boss.

What, you don't think I got every right? I never shoulda let him go out there alone... shoulda walked him out, stayed with him..."

"True. I mean, he's barely out of kindergarten, we have to watch him every second."

"Not funny, Mac. Okay, so I know Adam ain't a baby, but he's no Hell's Angel either... and he sure ain't no Marine."

Realizing Danny was ramping up to transfer his misplaced emotions onto the only other target available, Mac rose to his feet, strode to the younger man and gripped his shoulders firmly. His words, however, were quiet a stark contrast, intended to subdue Danny's anger-fueled behavior and calm him.

"No, Danny. We're not doing this to each other *or* to Adam. He needs us and he needs to not be scared any more than he already is... so we need to keep it together. Understood?"

Danny deflated somewhat, dropped his head and pulled away a bit.

"I know... I just can't help it. I still think I shoulda been the one that was there to save him..."

Mac laughed quietly.

"Do I really need to go through all the platitudes?"

"Guess not. We're not psychic, Adam's a grown man, shit happens everywhere, every day and even cops and CSI's can't stop all of it."

"Nice job. You better now?"

"Some... enough. I gotta go see him, Mac... I gotta know for sure he's alright."

"Looks like we might get our chance." Mac told him, turning to watch the doctor approach. "Doc, how is he?"

"Not bad, considering what he went through. He's got a hairline fracture of the upper right arm and he's covered with bruises, but overall... he's one very lucky young man."

"What about the head wound?"

"I put in three stitches and bandaged it. He has a mild concussion, of course. By day after tomorrow, though, he should be out of danger. He'll need supervision tonight... someone to wake him every two or three hours and check his mental status."

"If he has that he can go home?"

"I don't see any reason why not. You can both come back and see him now, if you keep your voices down and don't agitate him."

"Can do, Doc. I promise, calm an' relaxed." Danny assured the older man, beaming like a lighthouse now that they'd received a positive report.

"Okay, then. Follow me."

Danny bounced on his heels and hurried after the doctor, prompting Mac to chuckle and shake his head before he started trailing behind both men.

The doctor left them on their own once he led them to where Adam was resting. Danny was eager to get in and check on his friend at first, but hesitated and even backed away one step when he got a look at the other man, whose loose hospital tunic had slipped off his shoulders, revealing some of the damage the junkie had done.

"It's okay, Danny. You heard what he said. A day or two and Adam'll be fine. It looks bad, but..."

"Bad?" Danny whispered harshly, turning away completely and running his hands through his hair. "Bad is gettin' your hair cut too short! *Bad* is losin' your car keys! That... that's a freakin' horror show, Mac!"

"No. It's Adam."

Once again, Mac's simple statement of fact took the wind out of Danny's sails before his anger and confusion could overwhelm him.

"Yeah... it's just... this always seems to happen to guys like him, damn it. The funny, smart, talented ones who never hurt anybody in their whole life... they put out this vibe that's like GPS for the scum-bags..."

"Hunnh. That's the first thing in this whole night that's made any sense to me."

Danny laughed briefly, his tone still touched with anguish, but lightening considerably from where he'd been a few moments before.

"Scary, that comin' outta my mouth, huh?"

"Don't take this wrong... but yeah, kinda. You ready now?"

"I guess. Okay... let's go."

Both men moved silently into the curtained off area, gliding up to opposite sides of the wheeled bed. Adam appeared to be asleep, so Mac spoke very softly.

"Adam. Adam, it's me. C'mon, open your eyes for me... just a little."

"Nnnnsh... Mac?"

"Yeah. Danny's here too."

"Nahhh... make him go..."

There was a bit more, but it was unintelligible to Mac's ears. It made Danny turn beet red, however, so the older man felt compelled to ask.

"Obviously you understood that." Mac inquired, his voice laced with humor.

"I don't know... somethin' about guilt from here to the moon..."

"And back?"


"It's okay, Adam. I've talked him down off that ledge twice already. I can handle it."

Adam's expression clearly said he wasn't convinced and he changed the subject.

"Wanna go home..."

"Soon. Has the doctor talked to you?"

"Tried. Stuff they gave me... I'm woozy... kept fadin' out."

Danny started to speak, but Mac got there first.

"Don't worry about it right now." He soothed, stroking Adam's hair gently. "Just know that you'll be fine in a few days. For tonight, you need somebody to keep an eye on you, so you're staying with me, okay?"

"Yah... guess. Hard to think, boss..."

"I know. Rest, kiddo... just rest. I'll take care of you."

After pulling the blanket up and tucking it around Adam, Mac kept his eyes down, watching closely until he was sure the young man had drifted back to sleep. He then looked back up at Danny and was shocked at what he saw flash across his face.


"I'm gonna go start the calls again... let 'em know he's doin' okay." Danny stated flatly before spinning and stalking away. Mac frowned and considered following, but felt his obligation was to stay there. Searching the room, he found a plastic chair, pulled it close to the bed and dropped into it. He then reached through the rails, sought out Adam's hand under the thin blanket and gently laid his on top of it. He knew he'd have to deal with Danny's strange behavior later, but for now he determinedly focused on the one he could help then and there. Breathing deeply, he settled in to wait, experience reminding him that playing hurry up and wait with patients' friends and family was what hospitals did best.


Once more, Adam tried to protest his boss' insistence on the younger man taking the only bed and, once more, Mac hushed him.

"Am I the one who got hurt? Hmmm?"

"But... it's yours..." Adam repeated, carefully and slowly enunciating through the fog the pain medication was gradually wrapping him in.

"Who am I?"

"Th' boss."

"Right. Listen to the boss and quit arguing." Mac admonished him lightly.

Adam sighed and finally gave in, nuzzling deeper into the pillow.

"N't much choice... stupid pills..."

"I know... trust me, I know. Get some rest while you can. I'll be back in a little while to check on you, okay?" Mac told him, tugging the blankets a bit higher to be sure Adam was covered adequately. Before he'd even taken two steps away from the bed, Adam's even breathing told him the other man had succumbed to sleep.

Moving out and into the kitchen, Mac prepared and started the coffee-maker, knowing he was in for a long night. Just as it began to drip through, his cell phone vibrated in his pocket and he swiftly answered, grateful for any distraction that might help him stay awake.


"What did you do to Danny, Mac? I swear, he's ready to filet you and leave you in a landfill for the seagulls to make a meal out of."

"I wish I knew, Stella. Everything seemed fine until I told Adam I was bringing him back to my place so I could do his concussion checks tonight..."

"With Danny standing right there? Mac, you didn't..."

"What? I don't understand, what are we talking about here?"

"You don't know? C'mon, Mac, everybody knows."

"Knows what? Stella, I'm really tired and I need you to start making some kind of sense..."

"After the warehouse and what they went through together, how could you not notice? Practically the whole lab's picked up on it. No wonder he's so pissed at you right now. He feels like you're trying to steal Adam away from him!"

"Steal... no. Not a chance, Stella. Can't be."

"Well, it is. Whether Danny realizes it or not, he's crushing on Adam and you just became his biggest rival."

4:45 A.M.:

Scrubbing his face with both hands, Mac gazed blearily at his watch and decided to check on Adam a little early. Picking up the fresh cup of coffee he'd poured a few minutes before, he took a cautious sip, wishing it had more power to revive him, and set it aside again. It had been a long, tough night for both of them, but it was close to being over and Mac was sure that, if this last question and answer session went well, it could end and they would both be able to really rest.

Taking a deep breath, he rose and made his way down a short corridor to the bedroom, moving inside quietly and gently perching on the edge of the bed.

"Adam. Adam, wake up for me."

"Mmmnnnh... go 'way, d'mn it."

"I know, I'm sick of this too, kiddo, but I promised the doctor I'd do it. Let's see... what haven't I asked yet? Ah, got one. What state are we in?"

"Don't know about you... but I'm exhausted, disgusted an' aggravated."

Mac laughed softly.

"Very cute, but the sooner you give me the real answer, the sooner you get back to sleep."

"Just aggravated?"


"Okay, okay. Planet Earth, U.S. of A, New York state, New York City, your apartment, your room, your bed, under the covers... you want any more detail?"

"Not, that should do fine. I don't think we have to do this again."

"Seriously? You mean it?"

"You've been perfect every time, no sign of confusion or memory loss, no trouble speaking... once you're really awake, that is. Yeah, I think we're done. Sleep as long as you want this time. I'll look in on you once in a while, but I'll do my best not to wake you up."

"Hallelujah, amen..."

The sudden noise of someone pounding on his front door made Mac startle a bit and half-turn in that direction.

"Relax and go back to sleep. I'll handle it."

" 'Kay... th'nks for everyth'ng..."

"My pleasure, trust me." Mac told him as he rose and moved swiftly back to the door, hoping to prevent a repeat of the noise. The face he saw through the peephole confused him, but he decided to give his visitor a chance to explain his presence.


"Lemme in, Mac."

"Ummm, correct me if I'm wrong, but last I knew you weren't exactly happy with me."

"Stella's got a big mouth."

"She thought warning me was the right thing to do. I'm waiting..."

"Adam's here. I wanna see him, see he's okay. I can be civil as long as it takes to do that."

"I just did his last concussion check. I'm sure he's asleep already."

"Yeah, that's your story." Danny snorted, pushing past.

"Danny, no." Mac insisted, reaching out to grab the other man's arm, determined that Adam not be disturbed. The intense, ice-cold glare directed at him made Mac let go, but he didn't give up completely. "I've had him up every two or three hours all night long, Danny. Now he needs to rest."

"What, you think I don't care about him, that it? I know he needs rest, but it won't kill him to talk to me for a minute. You try and stop me again, Taylor... I won't hold back this time."

Mac held both hands up and palm out in a gesture of peace-making.

"I won't. I'm just trying to get you to see reason, Danny. I don't object to you looking in, but if he is asleep, for God's sake let him stay that way."

Danny grunted, scowled and turned away, anxiously scanning the dim living room.

"Where is he?"

"In the bedroom. As battered as he is, you think I'd stick him with my couch? It's decent, but it's not that good."

Abruptly, Danny stiffened.

"And you?"

"And me what?"

"Don't. Don't you mess with me, right now, Mac. I wanna know where you've been all this time."

"Out here, swilling coffee and fighting to stay awake. Look, whatever it is you're thinking..."

This time it was Danny holding up a hand, but it was to let Mac know he wasn't ready to hear anything more. A moment later, he stalked off down the hall to find his best friend. Once he discovered which door was the bedroom, he stepped in, moved around the bed so that Adam wouldn't need to roll over, and spoke quietly.

"Ross. Adam, wake up, buddy."

"M'sser... what the hell're you doin' here?"

"Had to check in... make sure everything's copasetic, ya know? So how you feelin'?"

"Wiped out... but I can deal."

" 'Course you can. I know that. You're not hurtin'?"

"Some... it's not bad long as I don't move around too much."

"They sent you home with pills, didn't they?"

"Mmm-hmmm. Haven't had one in a while, though..." Adam replied muzzily, desiring only to return to sleep and unaware that he should have been choosing his words with more care.

"Really. What, uh... what's a while?"

"Don' know... five hours... maybe six... gonna crash now, kay?"

"Yeah. You sleep good, kid... get better. I'll be back."

Storming out into the main area of the apartment, Danny growled and got in Mac's face.

"You son of a bitch..."


"I'm not gonna yell, 'cause in spite a'what you might think I *do* understand what he needs to heal, but you *are* gonna stand there an' listen to me..."

"I don't understand, Adam's fine."

"Fine? He's layin' there in pain 'cause you won't give him his pills! I don't know how he's gettin' any sleep at all!"

"Is that what he told you? That I refused to give him the medication?"

"He *said* he hasn't had one in hours."

"That's true."

"I knew it..."

"He was having nightmares, Danny. The narcotic made it hard for him to wake up and he begged me not to make him take another one, so I switched him to ibuprofen. It keeps him fairly comfortable, but doesn't leave him bogged down in the memories of what happened last night."

Danny's eyes widened, his jaw fell open and he stumbled back a step.

"Mac... I..."

"Forget it. I understand, and it's okay..."

"No... no, it ain't. I don't know what got into me, Mac... I'm ...God, I'm sorry..."


"I gotta go..." Danny interrupted, turning and fleeing out the front door. Mac sighed and hung his head for a moment, then made his way back to the bedroom to find out how much Adam had heard and soothe him if he was overly upset. He had a trace of hope that the young man had slept through Danny's somewhat quiet tirade, but Adam squashed that hope flat when he sensed Mac standing in the doorway.

"On behalf a'that idiot... I'm sorry."

"No need. He's... confused."

"Yeah... maybe. We were always kinda close... buds, ya know? Ever since the warehouse, though, we're best friends. Last night, in the locker room, we even talked about takin' it to the next level. Then I went and got wailed on an' I think... I think he was scared I coulda been gone before we had a chance to... figure things out. Danny don't like bein' scared, so he finds somethin' to be mad about instead. It's crazy, I know, but... it's just how he is. If I wanna be part of the great things about him..."

"... you have to take the rest of him in stride. Impressive bit of insight, there."

"Nah... he's easy to know if ya approach him right. Just gotta... be real. When I get outta here and back to work... I'll kick his ass an' get his head on straight."

"Just keep being his friend and act like there's nothing to forgive. That'll go a lot further than an ass-kicking any day. You need another ibuprofen?"

"Nope. Just sleep... lots and lots of sleep and no dumb questions..."

"Gotcha. Enjoy it."

"You too, boss."

12:30: P.M.

Grimacing, Mac took a long swig of milk, praying he could counteract the digestive effects of lots of coffee and very little food. A few minutes later, when he was sure the fire had been banked at least a little, he placed the cup on the kitchen counter and moved silently to check on Adam, who hadn't yet woken up. Before he even made it half way down the hall, an anguished groan had him breaking into a run. He found the young man with eyes wide open and his head tilted and pressed into his right shoulder.


"Ahhhh... muscles st-stiffened up on me, Mac. Can't move m-my neck. God, it hurts..." Adam groaned. Torn between comforting him and fixing the problem, Mac hesitated, but the sight of a single tear tracking down Adam's face pushed him in the direction of assistance first.

"Hang in there, I'll be right back..."

Rushing into the bathroom, Mac turned on the water and held his hand under it to test the temperature. When it was as hot as it could get, he soaked a washcloth, grabbed a towel, shut the faucet off and hurried back to Adam, perching on the edge of the bed. "Can you roll toward me just a little... I know... it's bad, but this'll help, I swear. Okay... that should do some good."

"Ohhhh... already is. That was so damn scary..."

"Once everything loosens up some I'll give you a rubdown, okay?"

"Okay... maybe more heat first, though..."

"No problem."

Mac reheated the washcloth and, after another five or ten minutes and Adam's approval, moved off to dump it in the bathroom sink and returned to dry his skin and begin a gentle massage.

"I'm really sorry, kiddo. I should've seen this coming. Once you were able to sleep for more than a couple hours at a stretch without really moving... it was bound to happen."

"N.. no big deal... the... the sleep was great. If I h-hadn't ended up on my back... an' I wasn't so tired I was... practically unconscious... oooch! ... my head never would've slid to the... arrrnnhhh... to the side like that..."

"Shhh." Mac admonished lightly, his tone clearly amused.

"I know... I t-talk way too... much."

"Did I say that? I just know you'll relax quicker if you stay quiet. Think about your favorite place outdoors, somewhere that makes you really happy and peaceful. A place miles and miles away from the city... from what you've been through over the last couple of days. See it, smell it, hear it... go there in your head. That's it... much better. Okay, give it a test. Just an inch or two, at first... easy."

Gradually, pushing through residual aches and tightness, Adam was able to get his head back into a more natural position. Very slowly, Mac helped him sit up and placed a pillow behind him.

"Ahhh, God... thank you *so* much, Mac... you're a life-saver, man."

"I'm round and fruit flavored? Not the last time I looked in the mirror." Mac joked. Adam groaned again, this time in response to the questionable attempt at humor.

"Make you a deal, Mac... you teach me how not to get my ass kicked, I'll improve your jokes."

"That's a bargain I won't refuse. Lessons start again the minute I think you're up to it, by the way."

"They do? You mean it?"

Mac laughed.

"Of course. Why would you think I'd go back on what I promised?"

"I don't... necessarily." Adam demurred, looking away. "It's... I messed up so bad last night, that's all. I tried, but... I couldn't remember anything you showed me. I couldn't believe it was actually happening, ya know? I didn't know I'd be so scared..."

"That's not the shameful thing you seem to think it is."


"No. You didn't mess up. You had one lesson... not even a lesson, really. I was just trying to evaluate, see what you might be capable of. And before you say it, yes I would've been scared. I've just had years of training on how to control and use the fear to protect myself and the people around me. I had responses smacked and screamed into my brain until they became automatic."

"I need to know that... the fear thing, I mean. Minus the hitting and yelling."

"I only do that when my students think they know better or they chitchat when I'm trying to teach." Mac replied with mock seriousness. Adam caught the laughter the older man was suppressing and responded to it by grinning and cautiously saluting with his good hand.

""Yes, sir. Damn, I want it to be now... stupid hairline fracture."

"Slow down. Eventually, I'll show you everything I know about self-defense. Right now, I think food is a priority."

Adam's face lit up as the words made him realize how long it had been since he'd eaten.

"Heck, yeah!"

"I thought so." Mac told him, his expression just as pleased. Taking in the sheer enthusiasm on the younger man's face, a wave of tender emotion swept over Mac and he shuddered faintly. Suddenly the only thing he wanted to do was lean in and touch his lips to Adam's forehead while smoothing back his hair and murmuring nonsense words of comfort to him. It had been so long since the feelings had been with him that it was like being invaded by an alien spirit and he fiercely pushed it all away. The assault shook him deeply enough to crack even his vaunted control and he saw the awareness change Adam's face.

"You okay?"

"Yeah..." Mac affirmed, fighting to regain his equilibrium and produce a believable smile.

"Sure you are."

Mac's hands itched and he yearned for the boldness to reach and touch, but once again he forced the urge down and shoved it back.

"Hairline fracture, that's all. Healing up already, just like you. What do you feel like for lunch?"

Somehow Adam knew if he pushed that Mac would open up, but he also sensed the answers would make things tense between them. That was the last thing he wanted, so he let it drop.

"Not sure. Guess I oughta get up and find out what's on the menu, huh?"

"Not on your life. I'll bring a tray. How does soup and grilled cheese sound?"


"Did I mention my students also don't talk back?"

Adam sighed and settled back against the pillow.

"Chicken Noodle?"

"Coming up."


Sighing in frustration, Stella stuck her head into yet another lab space, but still got no satisfaction.

"Have you seen Danny in the last hour, Lindsey? He was around earlier, but all of a sudden I can't find him and I need the results he was supposed to be working on."

"He's hiding out. He heard Mac might be coming in for an hour or two and whoops! No Danny."

"He's not still ranting and raving is he?"

"Uhhh... no."

"What? Some new chapter to our own in-house soap opera that I don't know about yet?"

Lindsey flushed and smiled grimly, but she eventually gave in.

"Around five this morning, he stormed over to Mac's demanding to see Adam. Mac let him in, but... long story short, Danny was so wound up he assumed facts not in evidence and kind of... embarrassed himself."

Stella briefly closed her eyes and shook her head.

"Damn it... Any idea where he's gone to ground?"

"He could be in the morgue... but you didn't hear it from me."

"My lips are sealed." She vowed, patting Lindsey on the shoulder. "Thanks."

"No problem. Maybe you can straighten him out. I sure couldn't..."

"Can I help you, Stella?"

"I'm looking for Danny. You seen him, Sid?"

"Nope. Sorry."

As he spoke, however, he inclined his head toward the doors leading to the loading area. Stella mouthed 'Thanks', kissed his cheek and made her way out to the corridor that led up to street level. She found Danny sitting against the wall and slowly moved to sit beside him.

"Go 'way, Stel."

"Only as a last resort. And if I did leave, I'd just go find Flack and let him get it out of you *his* way. You don't want that."

:"I also don't wanna discuss it."

"Just talk to me, Messer. It can't be that bad. I already have some of the details and I know the motivation. "

Danny's head snapped up.

"You do not." He countered, suddenly tense and scared.

"Half the *lab* knows, Danny, and the other half is going crazy trying to find out."

Danny's head dropped back into his hands and he moaned pitifully.

"Awwww, no... no, no, no. Damn it, I'm such an idiot, Stella..."

"No big secret there." She joked, hoping to catch him off guard and get him to smile. When it didn't work, she turned back to serious conversation. "If you're worried about negative reactions, I haven't seen a single one so far..."

Abruptly, Danny was up on his feet and stalking back and forth in the narrow space. After a moment he stopped, kicked the wall across from Stella then slapped it hard with the palm of one hand.

"That ain't it... God, that ain't it!"

"Then what is?"

"He... if I hadn't been so stupid an' jealous, he mighta wanted me... thought about it at least. Now Mac's got him... an' I don't have a freakin' chance..."

"Got him? You make it sound like Adam's been kidnapped."

Danny felt the powerful darkness rising up and pushed it away, but he couldn't rid himself of all of it and a little seeped out in his response.

"Might as well have."

Standing and dusting herself off, Stella approached cautiously.

"He had no clue how you felt, Danny. He just thought he was doing the right thing by offering to watch over Adam. Mac asked him to meet out in front of the building. He was a minute or two late getting down there... so he thinks he has to bear responsibility for what happened. Him taking Adam back to his place wasn't done to piss you off."

"I know... now I do, anyway. It still don't matter. It don't matter what I want or how bad. Mac got there first... an' I can't compete with him." Danny declared, half mournful, half furious, then turned and ran back into the morgue. Initially, Stella just watched him go, feeling a touch of fury herself. That apathy didn't last very long, however, and soon she stalked after him, shaking her head and mumbling.

"I swear, if it weren't for women, men would never make it past their stupidest moments..."


Mac rushed into the bedroom in response to a fresh round of heartbreaking moans and cries, kneeling by the bed and instinctively reaching out to gather Adam into his arms. The younger man clung frantically, trembling as another nightmare reluctantly gave up its hold on him.

"Easy... easy. You're safe, Adam. Nobody here but you and I. No danger... nothing to be afraid of anymore. Shhhh..."

"Mac... God, I'm s-sorry. Can't m-make it stop..."

"Hey, no... no, kiddo. I understand. You're not in charge of when the memories show up. No reason to be sorry. Just relax and breathe... better. That's it. Relax... and breathe slow."

Gradually, Adam felt secure enough to pull away and, despite the bizarre feeling that he should protest the separation, Mac let it happen. He kept one hand on Adam's head, however, soothing him further by stroking his hair. "Okay, now?"

"Yeah. Man, I'll bet you're glad I'll be outta your hair tomorrow. It's so stupid... it wasn't that bad. I got beat on with a plastic pipe, for God's sake. It shouldn't still be scarin' me like this. I feel like such a... a..."

Now Mac gently gripped the back of Adam's neck and made sure the other man looked at him.

"Stop. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference whether it's a pipe or a pipe bomb. You have every right to be scared. If you're still having nightmares a year from now I'll be worried, but it hasn't even been twenty four hours, Adam. Give yourself a break."

"You wouldn't."

"Cut you slack?"

"No, you wouldn't do it for yourself. If I'm gonna live up to what you think I can be, I gotta have your standards... your strength, your integrity. Close as I can get, anyway..."

"Adam... the only thing you have to do is take me off the pedestal you've got me on. Trust me, someday I'll fall and the man you're seeing... he won't survive. It kills me to disappoint my friends... don't make me do that."


"No. I'm just a guy, like any other walking the streets of New York. The Marines gave me discipline and built up my mind and body, but they didn't make me superhuman and they didn't burn away my feelings. I get mad, hurt, unsure, confused... and I get scared."

Adam's eyes widened.

"You're talkin' about that day... the morning you lost her."

"As much as I wished I could turn them off... I couldn't seem to stop the storm of emotions. They were running through me so fast there was no way to keep up. Finally I just sank down against a wall in our apartment and let it all wash over me. I don't think I moved for forty-eight hours."

"You didn't have anybody?"

"Not at first. Later I leaned on Stella and a few other friends who lost people that day. I got through the worst of the pain and I moved forward."

"You mean letting everybody help... it made you stronger."


" I... I've never lost anybody like that. I didn't... I don't mean to act like I'll ever know how it feels. This never happened to me before. I..."

"I know it's hard. It was for me, too. You can say it. I won't think less of you, I swear."

"Yeah, pull the other leg..." Adam muttered, but he still took a deep breath and dove in. "God... okay. Just for a while... I need somebody to be around. I need to not be alone until I can deal with the dreams."

"Then you're welcome to stay as long as you want to."

"On the couch."

"Once you can move around without too much pain, we'll trade off nights. Deal?"


"The sofa's okay, but it's not the most comfortable piece of furniture ever invented. Until you feel better, I can handle it a lot easier than you can."

"I guess..."

"So we have a deal?"

"Yeah. On one condition. You try an' convince Danny to come back so we can straighten things out between the three of us."

Mac grimaced then smiled ruefully.

"I tried to keep it down so you wouldn't hear."

"I'm okay. Just... the stuff he said... we need to clear the air before it gets any worse."


"Then we're good."

"Alright. Why don't you lay back down and try to rest a little more..."

Adam blushed slightly and looked down for a moment, as if he was embarrassed.

"Actually... I'm hungry again. Anything else to eat?"

"In this apartment? Always. Being a minor food addict is just another thing that makes me human."

6:00 P.M.

Mac clicked the T.V. off with a heavy sigh and glanced at his phone lying on the coffee table. For the last hour or so, he'd been watching brief snatches of programs he normally wouldn't even consider, just to put off the task he'd shoved firmly onto the back burner. His last encounter with Danny gave him little hope that another attempt would send things in a more positive direction, but he had promised his young guest that he would at least try, so he was now committed.

Retrieving the phone, he hit the speed dial that would connect him with Danny and waited anxiously through four rings.


"You hang up, Danny, and Adam will never forgive you."


"This isn't about you and me. Adam wants you back here so the two of you can get things straight. You owe it to him."

"Damn it. Not with you there."

"Hey, it's my apartment. I'll stay out of the bedroom while you talk to him and I'll try not to overhear, but that's the only concession you're getting." Mac responded, humor and warmth seeping into his words. Danny heard both emotions and relaxed slightly, the minute release of tension clear in his reply.

"Yeah, yeah. Okay. Look, Mac..."

"No. Fixing your friendship with Adam is enough to worry about. Anything hurtful you or I said... is forgotten."

"You're my boss, you can't just do that..."

"If it ever happens at work, trust me it'll be a different story. Off the job, just about everything is negotiable."

"Not everything." Danny said flatly. Mac started to question him, but the younger man interrupted. "I'll prob'ly be there in about twenty. Depends how quick I can catch a cab."

Mac tensed at no mention of Danny's beloved bike.

"You've been drinking?"

"A little."


"One beer an' a shot, okay? You caught me before I could order a second round. I am over twenty-one, ya know..."

Catching himself before he could blurt out that Danny didn't always act like it, Mac took a deep breath then continued.

"I'm aware. Just make it as soon as you can, alright? This is tearing him up and stress isn't what he needs right now."

"You think I don't know? I know it better than you do." Danny growled and disconnected. Mac sighed once more, replaced his phone on the table and moved quietly into the bedroom. Adam, only partially asleep, stirred, shifted a bit and opened his eyes.


"He's on his way. Half an hour, maybe less."

"Thanks, boss. You don't mind..."

"I already promised I'd stay out of the room and out of earshot."

"Don't actually leave, though, okay? I mean... it is your life, I know that, so you can go if you want, heck, you can leave the country, I wouldn't try an' stop you, I just..."

"Adam, slow down and take a breath. I understand where the anxiety's coming from. If possible, I want back in the gym even more than you do. I don't want you to ever go through anything like this again. What do you feel like for dinner? I can whip up something while you're hashing things out. It'll give me a distraction to keep me from being tempted."

"Can we do take out? It's kinda late. It'll be easier than you having to cook."

"Sure. Chinese?"


"Three conditions; at least one vegetarian dish, which you *will* eat at least one serving of. I decide what constitutes a serving. No MSG in anything."

"Maccc... MSG's what makes it taste right!'"

"You put yourself in my hands, young Padawan, you work with my rules. Go with the whole program, including a better diet, or give up on being a Jedi."

Adam gaped, trying desperately to wrap his mind around Mac knowing *anything* about Star Wars. Mac turned and walked away, grinning like crazy and fighting not to laugh over the shock and awe he'd created.

When the knock came, this time much more subdued and, seemingly, deferential, Mac opened the door readily, knowing how important this meeting could be.


"C'mon in. He's waiting for you."

"Yeah. On the phone..."

"Lump it in with the absolution you already have."


"I know. We're okay, on and off-duty."

"It won't happen anymore."

"That better be true. We both know confession's not worth much without genuine repentance backing it up, right?"

"Message received... loud and clear."

"You're welcome to stay for dinner after you're done. Chinese take-out."

"If he says yes... I'd like that."

"Good. Now go get things settled."

Danny studied Mac carefully then shook his head and moved off toward the bedroom. Peering cautiously around the open door he softly addressed the young man half-sitting up in the bed, supported by the headboard.


"You can come in."


"You've been an ass. You know that, right?"

Danny grimaced, nodded faintly and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. Picking up Adam's good hand, he cradled it carefully, using it as a focus point to make it easier for him to speak.

"Even tonight. Mac called an' he said somethin'... I don't know, it hit me wrong an' I lashed out before I could stop myself."

"Again? What is it with you?" Adam mildly rebuked his friend, pulling away and adding a gentle crack with his palm to the center of Danny's forehead. "I've never known you to be like this. I mean... okay, you've got a temper, but you don't just bust people's cajones for no reason."

"I don't really get it myself. That night... when we talked about what we maybe could have... I believed in it. I believed and I wanted it so bad."

"I still do. I want it more now than I did that night, but not if you're gonna act this way. Mac's been really good to me, Danny. He's gonna teach me how to stay safe, he knew how to fix it when my neck cramped up so bad I couldn't move... He's turnin' into a really good friend an' sort of a second dad, too. Why you're crazy jealous a'that, I have no idea, but it better stop, okay? Or else *you're* the one I'll drop."

"You ain't serious. You wouldn't..."

"I don't want to. I don't have many friends, D... not close ones, anyway. I've never let anybody in like I have you. It'd kill me to lose that..."

"Me too, kid... dead as a bug in a Raid commercial."

Adam laughed, but serious wasn't far behind.

"Then explain it. Tell me what all this crap was about."

"God... Mac is so... so Mac! He's tough, he's strong, he's an amazing leader...that confidence he's got makes you think he can handle anything, walk through anything an' protect everybody behind him at the same time. When he stepped in like that at the hospital, like he had the right to do or take whatever he wanted... I saw red, damn it. I figured I'd lost an' there was nothin' I could do."

"It was never a contest an' I'm not a stuffed animal in a carnival game!" Adam declared, exasperation obvious in his voice and on his face. "Mac... he's got a different place than you do... than you could. The two of us could build somethin' so incredible, but you gotta stop with the shitty attitude, Danny. I'm gonna lose both of you if you don't."

"Both? What're you sayin'?"

"I told you, I'll toss you out on your butt if you can't get this under control. Then Mac'll figure it's all his fault and *he'll* back off to give you a clear field so I don't get hurt. That'll make me even madder at you, I won't let you back in... The one who loses the most in the whole mess is me. That just totally sucks."

"It does... it really does." Danny agreed, struggling to control his emotions and not break down. "I'm so majorly sorry, Adam. I'll try and do better, I swear."

Star Wars suddenly inserted itself in Adam's head again and he laughed behind his good hand before he responded with the appropriate quote that had been presented to him.

"No. There is no try. Do or do not."

"So you're Yoda now?" the other man said, a grin slowly blossoming on his own face. "I get it, buddy. I *will* do better. That what you're lookin' for?"

"Almost. I'm not the only one who deserves an apology."

"Don't have to. Mac said I'm absolved... didn't even have to say a Hail Mary."

"That's him. Do it for me... to make me feel like it's really over."

"Okay. He, uh... he offered me a share of dinner. That okay?"

"That's great."


AN: Lol. Somebody on the writer's team over at the show has been reading this story, I do believe. Examples? In the season opener, in response to Jo's teasing, Adam slips and reveals he's involved with TWO people. He doesn't say women. Just says two. Second episode... look at the awesome way he defends himself! Mac's a really good teacher...



Mac rose lithely to his feet and began collecting empty and half-empty paper cartons.

"Lemme help, Boss." Adam offered, but Mac mildly shot him down.

"I don't think so. Time for you to clean up and get to bed."

"I've only been up for a couple hours..."

"You're still healing. Rest needs to be top of your priority list right now. Go on."


Mac sighed dramatically and turned to look searchingly at Danny.

"What do you do when he starts whining?"

"Normally? Box his ears an' give 'im nougie therapy. Can't do that this time, seein' as he's still comin' back from the concussion."

Mac grinned, shook his head and moved off into the kitchen.

"You won't be doin' it later, either. Not after Mac teaches me how to kick your butt."

"My butt? You think you're gonna get anywhere near my butt? Mike Tyson couldn't teach you good enough to make that happen, kid..." Danny teased.

"Hey, you weren't there. Mac said I have a lotta potential. He said I could be really good if I stick with it..."

Realizing Adam was becoming genuinely angry, Danny shifted into reverse to calm him down.

"Whoa, ease off there, bud. I wasn't tryin' to rile you up, okay?"

Adam blinked slowly and frowned in confusion.

"Yeah... yeah, I know that. I'm really sorry, D. I don't know where that came from..."

"I do." Mac said as he rejoined them. "Someone snuck up on you, shoved a pipe in your back and stole your sense of safety. It'll be a long while before you stop reacting that way to any and every kind of challenge."

"Hell..." Danny intoned quietly "Me an' my big mouth."

"No, Danny..."

"Hey, I've never been real good at 'engage brain before flapping gums', I know it better than anybody. Which reminds me... I know what you said, Mac, but I gotta apologize. Adam... he asked me to, so he can feel like everything's really okay."

"In that case... go ahead."

"I'm sorry I got jealous, I'm *really* sorry I dissed you. It just... it felt like you were takin' somethin' precious away from me. My first instinct was fightin' to keep it."

"Trust me, I understand the impulse. Apology accepted."

From the corner of his eye, Mac watched Adam slowly, thoroughly relax and felt some of his own anxiety drain away. "Now that's settled..." he declared, turning his gaze on the youngest in the group.

"I'm not sleepy, Mac, I swear. I wanna stay here... talk to you guys..."

Danny grinned and added his two cents.

"Hey, you owe me a couple games of handball, remember? For that, your arm's gotta get better an' it won't happen if you don't sleep enough."


"My alternate punishment for the locker room the other night. After what's happened... makin' you stay away for a whole week just ain't gonna work."

"The locker room?" Mac asked curiously.

"Yeah..." Adam responded, blushing slightly. "I put myself down. D... he caught me out, so we don't go out anywhere together for a week. No drinks, no playin' pool... nothing."

"You never did tell me any more about those things Stella taught ya." Danny interjected.

"The affirmations? I can't. She said I'm the only one who should know. At least until I feel like I found somebody I wanna share 'em with. You're my absolute best friend, you know that, but... I still need to wait. I need to know if we're gonna be more an' if the more's gonna last. I can't take the risk. Not yet. "

"Hey... I get it. It's okay. It don't happen often... but I can be patient when I really try, you'll see. Go on. Get to bed."

Knowing the young man would struggle getting up and possibly cause his pain to flare, Mac instinctively moved in and extended a hand, but Adam merely shook his head.

"I'm okay, Mac."

"Don't be stubborn..."

"That's not it. If I'm ever gonna make it alone in my place... I need to figure out how to do this."

An expression flashed across Mac's face that Adam couldn't interpret, but a whisper from somewhere deep inside said he should be relieved Danny was looking down and didn't seem to have caught it. His fatigued body and mind wouldn't allow much further contemplation on the subject, so Adam wrapped his good hand around the front edge of the couch cushion and took a deep breath. Inexorably, fighting against shaking muscles and his suddenly treacherous balance, the tech wizard made it into a standing position. Mac clapped briefly. Danny instantly stood as well and placed himself at Adam's elbow, ready for whatever might go wrong. "I'm okay, D. Trust me, another few days... I'll forget anything ever happened."

"I wouldn't go that far," Mac warned mildly "but you will start to get a lot stronger and your pain should back off some."

"Man, I hope so. Sooner I get back in the gym with you, the safer I'll feel."

"Same for the rest of us." Mac chuckled.

Adam began a slow shuffle toward the hallway, Danny sticking close to his side. The younger man stopped and grinned fondly at his best friend.

"D... c'mon. I'm good now, really. I can handle walkin' twenty feet."

"I just wanna make sure you get back to bed okay."

Adam flushed lightly

"Uhhh... that's not where I'm goin' first. Much as I hope we'll get to the naked place someday..."

Danny looked down briefly and felt his face heat up as well.

"Heh... right, yeah. Sorry. I just..."

"I know. I like the protective thing. Don't wanna be avalanched with it... but I like it."

"Message received."

"Good. Thanks for showin' up, D. I'll sleep a whole lot better knowin' things are copasetic between the three of us."

"Me too. See you at work in a couple days, yeah?"

"Hope so. I won't be doin' much at first, but... at least I gotta be there to defend my territory, ya know? Longer I stay out, the better chance the muckety-mucks'll give my job to whatever place holder they bring in."

Mac reached out and gently gripped his temporary roommate's chin.

"Not a chance, kiddo. I won't let it happen. However long you need to heal... I'll be there to stand up for you. You're one of the best techs in the entire lab. Hell, in the state. Nobody's giving your job away without a world-class fight from me. Got it?"

Adam swallowed hard and managed a small grin.

"I got it, Mac."

"You better. Go on, go get cleaned up and head to bed, okay? I'll be there in a while to check on you."

The young man nodded and moved off toward the bathroom once again. Curious, Mac chose not to watch him, but to study Danny. "Wow, do you have it bad."

"Yeah... yeah, I guess I do. If Adam an' me... I mean, if we do take it there an' the brass finds out..."

"Keep it strictly professional in the lab, they never have to. But if it does happen... just know I'll stand up for you too."

"Okay... cool. Way I've been actin', I wasn't sure I could ask."

"Always, Danny. Always. If you feel like joining in on Adam's training sessions..."


"You can never know enough when it comes to personal protection. The world is full of idiots with narrow minds and no clue what the word love really means. The time may come when you have to physically defend yourselves, or each other. If you're aware of all the possibilities, including the sneaky, dirty tricks that could save your life or Adam's... all the better."

" *Much* better. Okay... sure, I'll be there whenever I can. Just gimme a time an' place. I should, uh... I should go."

"It is getting late. Take care, Danny. Sleep well."

"I should now. Night, Mac."


Danny exited, closing the door softly behind him. Mac released a long slow breath, wiped his hand over his face and pondered how deeply he'd regret the offer he'd just made.