Pairing: Mac/Danny & Don/Adam & Danny/Lindsay
Warnings: angst, language, violence
Summary: Mac decides that it's time for Danny to move on with his life.
Despite the fact that he was human, Stella had been Mac's beta since shortly after they met. She and Claire had been prickly together at first, the other woman not understanding why Stella was so intent on getting close to Mac if it wasn't to have an affair. Stella had made sure to kiss Aiden under the mistletoe one Christmas in full view of Claire so she would know that Stella was no threat in that way.
Of course, that had led to all kinds of unexpected fun after the Christmas party, so it hadn't been a truly empty gesture.
Stella smiled fondly at the memory, a little wistful for her lover. She'd come to terms over the last few years since Aiden's murder, but she still missed the other woman. At first, she'd thought that maybe Lindsay had returned the unexpected attraction Stella had felt for the smaller woman, but then the newcomer had set her sights on Danny.
She hadn't been worried until things had started going very wrong between Mac and Danny. Through miscommunication and work stresses, Peyton's return and Lindsay's growing aggression, the lovers had succumbed to the vagaries of life and split up. It had just about broken her heart to see it happen. But then she'd thought that perhaps it had, ultimately, been kinder. Mac was human and eventually, Danny would have to watch him grow old and die. He wouldn't have that problem with Lindsay. The two of them could build a family together and live a long, long life together.
It didn't stop her from wishing things had turned out different.
"Stella? You here?"
Blinking, surprised by Mac's prompt, Stella looked over to find him frowning at her. She offered a brief quirk of the lips and replied, "Sorry. My mind was wandering."
"So I gathered," Mac replied dryly.
Assured of her attention, Mac returned to the department meeting and Stella forced herself to listen to the updates that made her want to yawn. Adam had a mini-presentation on new equipment and signed people up for one to one training. Things broke up and Danny pulled out new pictures of Lucy, who was growing at a startling rate, even for a Shifter baby. She was adorable in both forms, though of course Danny only brought the human pictures to work.
Mac caught up to her in the hall and asked, "Are you all right?"
Stella nodded as she answered, "Fine. Sorry about that. Late night."
He accepted her excuse, though she could see that he didn't believe her. Changing the topic, Mac said, "You mind sitting in for me at the budget meetings?"
"Hell yes," Stella retorted, grinning. "Why?"
Mac rolled his eyes. "I can't put off my physical any longer and not get suspended. Or so HR threatens. I have an appointment in half an hour."
Chuckling, Stella informed him, "You owe me big time."
"I do," he agreed, briefly squeezing her shoulder and heading for the elevators.
Shaking her head, Stella walked towards his office to get the budget folders.
* * * *
The doctor's appointment didn't take more than an hour thankfully, especially since his phone rang three times about new crime scenes and Stella was in the budget meeting, unable to delegate. He sent Danny and Hawkes out with Flack, and Lindsay out with Angel, putting the last one out to Gramiano's team to handle.
Mac went to check on Lindsay first, once he was done, but saw that she had everything well in hand. The murder was as straightforward as they came; an abused woman killing her abuser. Very sad, but not complicated. He left her to get to Danny's and then wished he'd been able to give Stella the assignment, since she was less emotional when it came to these kinds of scenes. Two young girls in their mid-teens were dead, stabbed multiple times, and Danny looked as wooden as Mac had ever seen him. He knew it was a defense mechanism and didn't try to talk outside of updating himself on the case.
They were scrupulous in documenting everything and, by the end of it, Flack had formed the same opinion that Mac had; the stepfather was way too nervous not to be involved. He may not have done the stabbing, but he knew who had. The family history was volatile, to say the least, with the two sets of kids not getting along in the slightest. Fights had included screaming loud enough for neighbor complaints. Add in the violence of the murders and it was clear someone in an uncontrolled, emotional state had killed them.
The unhappy pictures on the walls, smiles so fake it was painful to witness, told Mac there was a younger son missing from the group standing huddled by the open door. Walking over to the parents, Mac questioned, "Where's your youngest son, Mr. Tellamin ?"
Swallowing convulsively, the man answered, "Not home. He ah, he was staying with a friend tonight when we went out."
Flack looked grim as he ordered, "Don't make this worse, Mr. Tellamin . Just tell us where he is and we can get him the help he obviously needs."
"Barry, please, just tell them," the wife pleaded, her crying starting up again. "Oh my babies, they're dead!"
Tellamin looked ready to cry himself as he reached for her, but she jerked away and ran out of the apartment. Clearing his throat, he said, "I sent him to my brother's house in
While Flack took the information, Mac turned back to find Danny standing a short distance away, a helpless expression on his face. Walking over, he asked softly, "You okay?"
Danny shook his head. "They're just girls, Mac. Had their whole lives ahead of them. Like Lucy."
"Lucy will never be in this kind of situation," Mac stated firmly. "Never."
Giving him a wan smile, Danny replied, "Thanks, Mac, but we both know how insane this world is, what it can do to people."
It was true, so Mac didn't patronize him. Instead, he just said, "C'mon. Let's finish up here and then close the case so we can get a drink."
"That sounds perfect," Danny agreed, sighing heavily.
* * * *
The meeting was every bit as boring as Stella had expected and went long on top of that. It had been all she could do to not fall asleep as Accounting and Requisitions went at each other for the better part of twenty minutes. Finally, it was over and she slipped out as fast as she could, not even caring if it looked rude. She was hungry and bored and needed to get the hell out of Dodge.
On her way to the elevators, she ran into Sid and broke into a smile. "Hi Sid."
Smiling back at her, the gangly man replied, "Afternoon, Stella. How are you?"
"About ready to perish," she answered, dramatically putting a hand to her stomach. "Join me for a late lunch?"
He hesitated and then nodded decisively. "I'd love to."
They arrived at the elevators just then and she pressed the call button and asked, "Busy morning for you too?"
Sid nodded again. "Yes, but nothing Stuart can't handle."
Stella couldn't help the slight grimace at the newcomer's name.
Sid's eyebrows lifted and he questioned, "You have a problem with Stuart?"
Sighing, Stella admitted, "I don't like him."
"Has he done something... "
"Oh no, nothing like that," Stella interrupted. "It's just...he doesn't smell right to me."
Sid half-smiled and pointed out, "You say that of everyone who first comes to work here."
Which was partially true, she knew. While she wanted to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, it was sometimes difficult to do so. After so many years on the job, her cynicism just kept growing. Offering a rueful smile, she acquiesced, "True enough, I suppose."
Sid held out an arm as the elevator doors opened on the lobby floor. "Allow me to take your mind off of the world for a heavenly slice of lasagna with a cannoli to die for."
Chuckling fondly, Stella teased, "That's Danny's line, but it sounds great."
* * * *
Mac sank into the booth with a relieved groan. His feet had decided his new shoes were too tight, even though they were the same size shoes he always got.
" Gettin ' old, Mac?" Danny teased, sitting opposite.
He gave the Shifter a mock glare and ordered, "Don't mock your elders."
Danny was still chuckling when the waitress came and took their drink orders.
Flack was back at the House processing Jeremy Tellamin , a thirteen year old boy with a noted anger management problem and, likely, psychotic break. Mac neither knew nor cared just then if he would be tried as an adult or not. He wanted to forget the world at large. It was too bad he was such an asshole. If he wasn't, he'd have been with Danny and able to forget in the best way possible; in his lover's body.
"You okay, Mac?"
Looking up at Danny's soft query, Mac half-smiled and shrugged. "I'll be fine. Just...memories."
Mac saw the troubled gaze and knew Danny knew what he'd been thinking about. They'd never actually talked about things, just resumed their pre-relationship friendship without any fuss when Mac had returned from England. Although really, it wasn't the same thing at all. Danny was a lot more cautious with him than before and tended to go off on his own a lot more, too. Mac had just about had a heart attack when Danny had gone after more than one suspect without backup lately.
Not even Shifter abilities would stop a bullet.
He finally just said, "Missed opportunities."
Danny flushed a little and bit his lip before saying, "Mac, I've been wanting to talk to you about..."
The waitress arrived just then with a cheerful, "Here we go! Did you know what you wanted to eat?"
Mac didn't even look at the menu as he answered, "Cheeseburger, medium well, and fries."
"Make it two," Danny echoed, handing her the menus.
She gave them a smile and whirled away, leaving them with an awkward silence.
Mac took a deep drink of the beer and watched as Danny did the same. It wasn't the way he'd pictured them talking about the break-up, after a really hard case, but maybe he should have. It seemed like that was the only time they really talked anymore.
Danny told him slowly, "So ah, I was sayin , I've been thinking about this a while now, since you got back...you know, without Peyton."
Nodding, Mac waited, not wanting to interrupt.
"It was...you know, hard...not being able to ask you about what'd gone wrong. With us, I mean, not her. I mean, we were going along fine, great even, and then..."
"Mac! Messer! I thought I'd find you here!"
Mac grit his teeth at Flack's interruption and could have cheerfully strangled the cop without a second thought.
Danny, on the other hand, seemed relieved by it and waved the man over with, "Hey, Flack. Didn't expect you so soon. What happened?"
"Kid's on a seventy-two hour hold at Bellevue , so there's not much for me to do," Flack answered, dropping into the booth next to Danny. He caught sight of Mac's face and paused. "Am I interrupting?'"
Mac took another drink of his beer as Danny assured him he hadn't. The rest of the night passed in a blur of food and alcohol, Mac signaling the waitress for more as soon as his drink was finished, switching to Scotch about an hour after he ate. Between the sight of those dead girls in his head and Danny's almost confession, he knew he was in enough turmoil that he should just go home and sleep it off.
Sometime around eleven, Don asked, "Mac? You okay?"
Nodding, Mac pushed upright and said, "I'll be back, order me another."
Don's eyebrows lifted, but he nodded without questioning his limit.
Just as well, since Mac didn't seem to have any right then. A simmering anger had been developing all night, mixing with splashes of lust at the sight of Danny eating and drinking, his tongue flickering out to clean his lips and fingers. He made it to the restroom without listing too much and relieved himself without incident. Splashing cold water on his face cleared his thoughts a little, though the slosh of alcohol was still strong in his body. When he got back, it was to find that Don had left.
Danny shrugged and explained, "Angel showed up."
Nodding, Mac sat heavily and then downed his Scotch in one gulp, enjoying the burn of it.
"I'm going to head out," Danny said, watching him. "Let me give you a ride."
Knowing that he was in no shape to drive, Mac nodded easily enough and pushed to his feet again. The last gulp had apparently pushed him over his unfelt limits, though, because he staggered and would've fallen if Danny's fast reflexes hadn't prompted the Shifter to jump to his feet and grab him.
Mac held tight to him for a long moment, relishing the contact, and then forced himself to back away when he heard a soft, needy groan. It sent a thrill of triumph through him, that he could still make the younger man want him. Stamping all of it down, Mac steadied himself on the table and then said, "I'm good. Let's go."
They walked down the mostly empty sidewalk side-by-side and in silence, though not an awkward or anticipatory one, thankfully. The soft, early summer breeze was a welcome respite from the brisk air conditioning.
When they made it to his SUV and he climbed in the passenger's side, it occurred to him to ask, "Didn't you ride your motorcycle?"
Danny snorted. "What makes you think I even still have my motorcycle? No, I took the subway. I figured , mood you were in, you'd need a designated driver."
Mac's head leaned back against the headrest and his eyes closed as he murmured, "That obvious, huh?"
"Just to me."
The simple answer was almost hidden by the start of the engine, but it sent a pang through him. He'd thought this was to help Danny with the case, but it had actually been to get his semi-regular dose of Danny outside work. They usually went with a group and Mac had contented himself with that, knowing that Danny took his marriage and new family seriously. It wasn't Danny's fault that Mac was a complete idiot.
A touch against his shoulder jolted Mac to awareness and he opened his eyes to find Danny half-smiling at him in the dark. Frowning, he asked, "We're here?"
Danny nodded. "You dozed off. C'mon, I'll make sure you get home okay."
Mac shook his head, though, and said, "I'm okay, Danny."
"Let me make sure you're okay, Mac," Danny repeated, a pleading expression in his eyes.
Sighing, Mac nodded and fumbled his door open. He got out of the SUV without disgracing himself, though his sense of balance was completely shot. When his hand missed the apartment door handle, he muttered, "Must've had more than I thought."
Danny snorted and informed him, "You had just about a whole bottle, Mac."
"You drank, too," Mac replied, defensive.
Holding the door open and waiting until Mac was inside, Danny agreed, "Sure as hell did, but no hard stuff for me. I have to work in the morning."
Mac made it in and out of the elevator without a problem, but then stumbled on his neighbor's welcome matt. Danny caught him in close and suddenly, the tension was back again. Mac met the younger man's gaze with his own and felt a rising, echoing hardness in the body that held him. It had been too long since he'd been with anyone and his fingers automatically curled into the soft, thick hair at the base of Danny's neck.
Swallowing thickly, Danny whispered, "Mac, we can't. Lindsay..."
Mac almost threw caution to the wind anyhow, he ached so bad . Not for the sex, but for Danny; the taste and feel of him. Resting his forehead on Danny's shoulder, he sighed and then forced himself to push back and upright, catching himself on the wall and leaning on it, closing his eyes as Danny moved to unlock the apartment. He heard the door open and then Danny was next to him again, his astonishing body heat soaking into Mac's body as the Shifter pressed full-length against him, taking his mouth in a hungry, desperate kiss.
Shock rendered Mac more useless than the alcohol, automatically opening to the kiss, his tongue twining with Danny's and his arms wrapping around Danny's neck. Sanity reared its ugly head and forced him to break the kiss and demand roughly, "Lindsay?"
Looking far too sober, Danny told him, "Just tonight, Mac," and brushed his knuckled along Mac's cheek.
It would take a stronger man than Mac to turn him down. He stumbled backwards towards the open door, pulling Danny with him.
* * * *
The entire night had been crazy for Danny. He'd known that Mac was in a rough spot, though unsure what had prompted the other man's sudden need for him. It was heady, no doubt about it, if confusing. The last several months had been very business-like between them, at least from his point of view. Mac occasionally went out with the team for drinks and on those nights, he generally sat watching Danny in an almost unnerving fashion, practically Shifter-like in his intensity.
Tonight, though, had been off the charts with pheromones waving over Danny and practically saturating the air. He'd breathed through his mouth, but it hadn't helped much. At first he'd tried to get to the root of things, knowing they needed to talk and had put it off far too long, but then Flack had shown up. Then Mac had started really drinking shortly after dinner and that had signaled an end to conversation.
And now they were in Mac's apartment and he wanted to get into Mac as fast as he possibly could. Danny shoved all thoughts of Lindsay out of his mind and concentrated on the man stripping out of his shirt and almost tipping over. Danny felt a twinge of guilt for pressing this kind of advantage, but took comfort in the fact that Mac had wanted him all night, even before he'd started drinking.
Danny growled in impatience and finally just ripped the shirt off of Mac, throwing the shredded pieces away. Mac gasped at the display of strength and started working at his pants. Danny ignored the fumbling and started sucking and nipping at various points over Mac's chest.
"Danny, shit, help me here," Mac ordered sounding like pure frustration.
Danny took Mac's lips in another kiss, thrusting his tongue into the other's mouth while his hands made short work of the pants. It was so familiar when he wrapped a hand around Mac's hard dick that he felt a twist in his gut; almost like he'd never stopped touching the other man. Mac arched into the caress and Danny kept it up as he returned to biting and sucking on Mac's chest.
Mac's hands tugged at Danny's shirt and Danny growled, but obeyed the silent command to undress. He yanked his clothes off, but didn't tear at them, needing to wear them home, and kicked aside his pants. Mac retained enough control of himself to shove Danny hard enough to land on the sofa.
Mac muttered, "Need to taste you," and then climbed on top of Danny. It was like he'd grown extra hands and his tongue slid all over Danny's chest. He shuddered in pure arousal when Mac sucked at a nipple and then bit it hard enough to bruise. Pleasure roiled over him, coiling in his gut and pushing aside all guilt with how right it all felt.
Mac turned around and started sucking on Danny's dick, which sent even more pleasure through him. Thumping his head back against the cushions, Danny let himself just feel as Mac went down all the way, wetness and heat exactly what he needed. Pushing onto his elbows, Danny grabbed hold of Mac's ass and pulled him back, bringing him in closer. He took a second to breathe in the strong scent of him and then licked over the hole.
Moaning chest-deep, Mac pushed back against his mouth and resumed the sucking in earnest. It wasn't long before the other man shuddered violently and came, the splatter warm over Danny's thighs. He continued eating out Mac, the taste of him familiar and perfect. He added a finger in with his tongue and felt a shiver run through Mac. There was no protest, so he ruthlessly and quickly stretched him, spitting more saliva in as a down-and-dirty lube, his own dick throbbing with need.
Danny pulled out from under Mac and pushed him gently against the back of the sofa, rubbing the tip of his cock over and around the hole.
"Yes," Mac whispered. "Make me feel it."
Danny bit his lip and didn't wait any longer, pushing the head of his dick in through the tight hole. It was tighter than he remembered, not that they'd done it like this very often. He bent forward to bite into Mac's shoulder, muffling his soft, needy noises. It was insane, how much he needed Mac, how hard it was to restrain himself from pummeling into his human lover. He'd gotten used to Shifter sex over the last several months with Lindsay, able to use his full strength even in the start of her pregnancy. It was why Mac had generally topped him in the past. Aside from loving the way the other man took charge of him in every way, it was so much better not to worry about hurting him.
Bottoming out inside Mac, Danny panted, struggling for his control.
"Do it, Danny. Fuck me hard."
The low, guttural order pushed Danny and he thrust in and out of Mac, losing himself in the rhythm. It wasn't until Mac gasped with the sound of pain that Danny reined himself in, claws shifting from Mac's hips to the sofa. He didn't even remember the partial Shift happening.
"I want it, don't stop," Mac gasped, ass squeezing tight around Danny's shaft. "Do it, Danny!"
Danny kept control this time, letting his claws rip into the sofa cushion as he fucked Mac hard and fast, but not too hard and fast. Mac thrust back against him, breathing heavily, and then cried out in pure pleasure, coming again. Danny lost it then and humped into the other man, grinding in as deep as he could when he came, filling Mac with come dribbling back out again.
Collapsing over Mac's back, Danny took a few minutes to recover, wanting to just go again, his cock still hard.
A weak chuckle filled the air and Mac teased, "Don't mind me. Feel free to keep going."
Danny huffed in amusement and slowly pulled out. "Maybe later. C'mon, Mac. Let's get you to bed."
Mac's body decided it had had enough though, because the other man simply slid to the side without Danny there to hold him up. After looking down at him fondly for a few minutes, Danny sighed with regret and said, "Wish I could stick around."
Feeling a bit sick at heart, both over what had happened and how it had to end, Danny kissed Mac softly on the mouth. He pulled a blanket over Mac and then headed for the bathroom to clean up.
* * * *
Mac woke sore as hell and nauseas with a headache that bordered on migraine. He wasn't in bed, but on the sofa; his sofa, he fervently hoped. Cracking open an eye, he groaned at the stab of sunlight into his brain but sighed in relief at finding himself in his own apartment. He hadn't been this trashed in years and had only vague memories of leaving with Danny and flashes of the sex they'd had on the sofa.
Great, he thought. I make him break his marriage vows and can't even remember most of it.
Slowly pushing himself upright, Mac had to pause to make sure his stomach wouldn't lose control. He needed to get to the bathroom, drink some water, and take about ten aspirin. He made it to the bathroom on shaky legs and just about collapsed on the toilet, letting nature have its unfortunate way with him.
The lukewarm shower after felt incredibly good and he drank right from the spray as he stood under it. He noticed not just bruises on his hips and ass from the Shifter-strength fucking he'd gotten, but actual scabs where claws had dug into him. When they'd been together before, it had mostly been the other way around by Danny's preference, but the throb in his ass reminded him that getting screwed by Danny always had consequences if he lost control. It wasn't any real wonder that he could barely move. He turned up the hot water and turned slowly so that it rained down his pained back and ass and thighs.
Almost human, Mac stepped out of the shower and dried off. He took four aspirin and drank the whole glass of water then had another one. It was almost eight by the time he made it to the bedroom, which meant he would be late to work. He knew it was due to his Marine training that he'd woken even remotely on time and got dressed. It was a rare day that he slept passed eight or nine without being really sick.
Once he was on his way, Mac called Stella.
"You owe me big time," she answered the phone. "The Chief was looking for you and I said you were stuck in traffic."
Mac half-grinned and replied, "Thanks. I should be in, in about twenty minutes. Did I miss anything?"
"Other than Danny being in the doghouse for sleeping with you last night and Lindsay on the warpath? Not a thing."
"I'm about to take her out to a crime scene so the coast will be clear when you get in," she finished.
"Thank you," he said, heartfelt.
Sounding concerned, Stella asked, "Are you all right?"
Sighing, Mac told her, "I will be. It was a mistake. We were both drunk and it shouldn't have happened. Lindsay can have her pound of flesh just as soon as my head stops throbbing."
Stella paused before telling him, "You should probably just stay home today, if you feel that bad."
"Putting it off won't make it any easier," Mac countered tiredly, "but thanks. And thanks for running interference on both counts."
"No problem. I'll see you later, Mac."
Mac hung up and concentrated on driving as traffic got thicker. He was at work in no time, it seemed, and in his office dealing with the Chief shortly thereafter. It certainly didn't help his head at all, getting chewed out for an investigation that hadn't gone as the other man had wanted. Once he'd hung up, Danny knocked on his door and Mac sighed, wishing he could put this off but knowing he couldn't. Waving him in, he took a sip of the still hot coffee and sat back in his chair.
Shoulders hunched awkwardly as he closed the door, Danny greeted, "Hey. You okay? You look like hell."
Mac snorted but only said, "I'm fine, thank you. Danny...what happened last night can't happen again. I should never have taken advantage of you like that."
Danny's eyes widened and his jaw dropped before he frowned. "You've got it the wrong way around, Mac. You were seriously drunk. I should've just made sure you got into bed and left. I am so sorry. I ah, I lost control last night."
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Mac wished he could remember exactly what had happened. He sighed and looked over at the miserable younger man, telling him, "Why don't we call it bad judgment on both our parts and leave it at that?"
Danny looked like he wanted to protest further, but he just nodded reluctantly and agreed, "Sure. Sure, Mac. I'll ah, I'll get back to work."
Mac nodded and watched him go before returning to work.
* * * *
Lindsay showed up after lunch looking weirdly calm. So calm, in fact, that the hairs on the back of Mac's neck rose in warning as she closed the door behind her. Facing him, she stated, "You had him and you threw him away, Mac. I had to pick up the pieces. I won't let you hurt him again, do you understand me?"
Mac nodded, remaining tense even as she walked to the door to leave.
At the door, hand on the knob, she canted her head his way and her eyes glittered as she informed him, "If you sleep with my husband again, I will rip you to pieces and be damned of the consequences," before actually leaving the office.
Once the door closed again, Mac let out a shaky breath and slowly relaxed back in his chair. All things considered, he knew he'd gotten off lightly from the Shifter. They were all territorial to a pretty serious degree, it was just their nature, and Lindsay was as proprietary as any he'd ever met. The warning was moot, though. He wouldn't let himself go near Danny in anything other than a professional manner from here on out. No more drinks after work. Nothing. It was both too painful and too tempting.
Danny would have a much better life without him so it was time Mac moved on.
Danny yawned as he slapped the alarm off and then rolled out of bed before he could snuggle back down to sleep more. Thank God Lucy was sleeping through the night now, because the double he'd just pulled would've sucked more if she'd woken him up when he'd finally gotten the opportunity to sleep. He rubbed his eyes on the way to her room, yawning some more as he shuffled along. She was still asleep in the crib, so he just looked at her for a couple of minutes, love filling his heart, and then headed for the bathroom.
Before Lucy, he'd been lost, without a real purpose. Lindsay getting pregnant had been the best thing to happen to him, even if they were having trouble with each other now. His own damn fault for sleeping with Mac, he knew. Lucy gave him someone to love with all his heart and a reason to get up in the mornings again. Seeing her smile and how every day was new for her made Danny happier than he could have believed.
Once upon a time, Danny had thought he'd find that kind of happiness with Mac. And then again with Lindsay. His love life might be a disaster of epic proportions, but Danny's heart had a constant sense of completeness now and her name was Lucy.
He found Lindsay in the kitchen, eating cereal as she read from a science journal. It had been almost a month since he'd had sex with Mac, but she hadn't come close to forgiving him. Danny suspected that if Mac hadn't still smelled like alcohol the morning after to a Shifter nose, she'd have ripped him apart. Since he had, she'd believed Danny's explanation that it was all on him, that he'd needed someone after that horrific case with the two dead girls and Mac had just been there.
It wasn't a total lie, but neither had it been the whole truth.
"Morning," he greeted.
She glanced at him and then went back to reading.
Sighing, Danny sat at the table and pulled the journal away from her. when she glared at him, he said, "We need to talk, Linds ."
"I don't want to talk," she snapped.
"Then just listen, because this can't go on."
Lindsay folded her arms over her chest defensively and waited.
He'd been thinking about this conversation since the day after he'd slept with Mac. They should've had it right away, but Danny was good with putting off confrontation. It was just his luck to fall for two such strong personalities. He finally said, "Lucy needs us, but we aren't really an us right now. Haven't been since I fucked Mac."
She flinched at the bald statement and looked away.
Danny sighed again and told her, "If you can't forgive me, or won't, then we gotta find a way to deal with the next step. I'm not gonna go through what I did with Mac, with you. I refuse to wake up one morning and just find you gone, but in this case, you'd take Lucy with you. I won't be cut out of her life, no matter what happens with us. Do you even love me anymore?"
Lindsay let out a shaky breath as she admitted, "I don't know. Do you love me?"
Sad, Danny nodded and said, "Yeah, Linds , I do. I want to make a go of this, a real go, but there's two of us here. If you're not gonna try, then there's nothing I can do. If you don't love me anymore then...then I guess there's no point in me sticking around, is there?"
"What do you want me to say?" she asked helplessly.
"The truth. Do you want me to stay? Do you want to get passed this?"
"I don't know."
Danny stood and reached over to cup her face, observing softly, "Yeah, I think you do. Let me know when you can admit it."
She wouldn't smell so scared if she wanted him, not after he'd just declared his intent to work through it, to rebuild their relationship. Feeling sick to his stomach, Danny went back to Lucy's room for what little comfort he had left in the world.
* * * *
Mac woke to a throbbing skull and sharp ache in his right side. He groaned and tried to hold the injury at the back of his head only to discover that he'd been restrained. His eyes opened and he winced against the blinding light, pain sparking through his brain hard enough to close them again. For a long minute, all he could do was breathe shallowly and hope he didn't vomit because he didn't know if he could turn over enough not to aspirate.
And then, once Mac realized what he'd seen, the brief glimpse of his surroundings made his blood run cold. He was in a fully decked-out lab. Normally that wouldn't be enough for fear to slither down his spine and clench his stomach, but this was definitely the exception. Mac cracked his eyelids open just a hair to make sure he'd really seen what he thought he'd seen and then wished he hadn't...dead Shifters in varying states of transformation hung from hooks against the opposite wall.
"Good afternoon, Detective Taylor, I'm so glad you've finally woken. How's your head? Any residual pain in your ribs? I'm afraid that you cracked a few in your tumble down the stairs."
The vaguely familiar voice prompted him to carefully open his eyes again. The nausea and pain were less the second time around, thankfully, and his gaze locked onto the only other living person in the room. Standing somewhere around six feet, the man in the lab coat was somewhere in his thirties, had thinning brown hair, glasses, and forgettable features. He looked familiar, just like his voice had sounded familiar, but it took a while to figure out that it was Sid's lab assistant, Stuart Kendricks . The man had transferred into their lab six months ago from the Brooklyn ME's office.
He must have been out a long time, because Mac had to clear his voice twice to rasp, "Why did you kidnap me, Stuart?"
Standing beside the exam table, he replied, "Oh, I'm sure you can hypothesize why I had to take you, from the viewing of my work."
Kendricks gestured at the wall with its carrion, smirking a little.
Mac shook his head and bluffed, "I don't know what you're talking about or why you've created those...monstrosities."
A scowl instantly surfaced and Kendricks retorted, "I know exactly what you are, Taylor , although you won't be for much longer."
Swallowing nervously, Mac asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that while all my previous test subjects died, I've refined my formula to the point of not only stopping the metamorphic process, but reversing it completely! By this time next week, after multiple injections, the gene that allows you to transform will have been destroyed and you will be perfectly human."
Mac blinked at him in surprise at just how wrong the man was and then snapped, "I'm already human!"
Kendricks looked affronted at that. "Of course you would say that! Don't think I haven't done my research. My life has been dominated by your kind since one of you killed my parents. I've done nothing but study genetic re-sequencing and you creatures for my entire adult life. I know exactly how your society works! Who can mate with whom, the hierarchy of dominance, everything!"
"Obviously not everything," Mac ground out, "because I'm human. Just run my blood and you'll see exactly how human I am."
Kendricks sneered at him and said, "Stalling for time won't do you any good. I don't make mistakes when it comes to my life's work. I've watched your pack for over a year now. I know that you're the Alpha of the pack and that Bonasera is your beta. That you and Detective Messer were mates, but broke up, that he and Monroe are now mated and have produced offspring. Also that, for whatever reason, you allowed Flack to mate outside the pack with Detective Angel until her death a few months ago. Say what you want about me, but my knowledge of your pack is flawless."
Mac would have banged his head against the exam table in pure frustration except that he knew it would hurt. He took a breath and then said, "I. Am. Human! Shifters mate with whoever they want, including humans, there's no allowing or not allowing involved!"
Kendricks apparently decided that was enough talk, because he left the area to walk over to the nearest counter. Mac craned his neck to follow and saw him pick up a damn big needle filled with an ominously brackish colored liquid. The man returned with it, pausing to turn on a nearby video camera, which he faced and reported, " Test Subject S is a male Shifter, forty-six years of age and in good health. I am injecting the first of fourteen serums that will be dosed twice daily over the next week in a bid to reverse the Shifter gene. I believe that this time, I will succeed."
The scientist angled the camera at Mac and walked back to the exam table.
Desperate, Mac exclaimed, "Don't do this! You don't know what will happen to a human injected with that!"
Kendricks ' smile held more than a glimmer of madness as he pushed the needle into Mac's jugular and told him, "This is going to hurt."
In that, Mac found, he was not wrong. He started screaming about five seconds after Kendricks injected him, trying in vain to get away from his own body.
* * * *
Stella walked into the lab where Danny was carefully recreating multiple shredded pages like a crazy jigsaw puzzle. She smiled fondly at the frown of concentration and greeted, "You're back quick. Didn't I just send you home from a double?"
Danny straightened and looked at her with bloodshot eyes. "Yeah, well. I had nowhere else to go, so I figured I'd come in early."
Frowning, she asked, "What happened?"
"Lindsay and I... we're not together anymore," Danny told her.
Stella's heart went out to him, his bleak tone stirring all her protective instincts. "Oh Danny, I'm sorry."
He quirked a grin at her and said, "It's been comin .'"
She asked carefully, "Is this because of what happened last month?"
Danny shrugged. "Yes and no. What I did with Mac didn't help, but we weren't doing so hot before that anyhow. I wanted to work on it, get through it, but Lindsay...she's not the forgiving type."
Stella could have told him that. Lindsay was as black and white as Mac had been ten years ago, before Claire's death. She just didn't have enough life experience yet to understand there wasn't always a concrete right or wrong in every situation. Stella had the feeling that in about five years, Lindsay was going to regret giving Danny up without a fight. She moved to hug him tight and kissed his cheek as she said, "If you need a bed, I've got a spare room."
"Thanks, but I think I'll stay with Flack until I get back on my feet," Danny replied. "I'm still worried about him."
They all were. He'd been taking crazy chances in a deathwish fashion since Angel's death. The last couple of weeks had seen a small improvement, but not enough to make any of them relax.
"Hey, do me a favor?"
She nodded. "Of course."
"Don't tell Mac? I wanna do it," Danny requested.
Stella wasn't sure how wise that was, but nodded again anyhow. "Sure, no problem. So you haven't seen him yet this morning?"
Danny shook his head and answered, "Nope. You, either?"
"Not yet, but it's still early," Stella said. She rubbed his shoulder and continued, "I'll let you get back to work. Let me know if you want to talk."
"I will. Thanks, Stel ."
She smiled and left the room to go in search of Mac.
* * * *
Danny came to a roadblock with his evidence about five minutes after finally getting it all pieced back together. He scowled at all the numbers and letters mixed together randomly and knew it wasn't random at all, but a code. Carefully picking up the reconstructed pages, he slipped them into a folder and headed for Mac's office. If anyone could figure it out without involving computer decrypting programs, Mac could.
Mac's office was locked and dark when he got there and he frowned. A quick look at his watch showed that it was almost one in the afternoon, long after he should have arrived unless something had happened. He walked to Stella's office to find her on the phone, but she waved him in anyhow. Danny sat in the chair in front of her desk and listened as she calmed down whoever was on the other end, something about wrongful arrest, and then transferred the person to the cops.
"Hey, Danny. What can I do for you?" she asked, smiling.
Danny replied, "Where's Mac? His office's still locked up."
She grimaced and explained, "He actually called in sick, can you believe it? Left me a voicemail. Sounded terrible, too, like that cold he had a couple of months back. It must have resurfaced overnight."
Grimacing, remembering how much of a bear the other man had been, he said, "Just as well he stayed home then."
Stella nodded and grinned. "I thought the exact same thing. You need help with something?"
Danny stood and shook his head as he answered, "Nah, that's okay. I'll get Adam to run a decryption for it. All the files I put back together are coded."
"Good luck," she called after him.
Danny dropped the files off with Adam and then spent the rest of the afternoon working on bullet trajectory analysis for a cold case that had become something of a project for him. It seemed to be a quiet day in the city, for once, allowing them to work on non-critical, but still important, things. He called Mac a couple of times to check on him, but kept getting voicemail.
Just before end of shift, he ran into Lindsay in the hallway. They both stopped short, standing in an awkward silence until he said, "Thought I'd crash at Flack's for a while, give you some space to think."
Blatant relief flashed over her face and Lindsay said, "Thanks. I'm going to be here late, if you want to go home and get some things."
"Nah, I'm good. Packed a couple bags before I left this morning," Danny told her.
"Okay. Well, I'll see you later, then."
Danny watched her hurry off and then sighed before continuing on his way to the locker room. It sucked all around, no doubt about that. As much as he'd been preparing himself for just this, knowing that everyone left him sooner or later, he still hurt all the way down to his gut.
Trying to shake off the mood, Danny decided he'd stop on the way to Flack's and pick up some chicken soup for Mac. The man had to be desperate for company after a whole day of being out of touch. And where he and Lindsay had fractured from that night on, Danny and Mac had found a kind of equilibrium. They were really good friends, now, truly back to where they'd been before getting involved.
He left the lab about fifteen minutes later, ducking into a deli he knew over in Mac's neighborhood, and was outside the other's door forty minutes after leaving the office. He knocked and called out, "I know you probably feel like death warmed over, but I got something's gonna cure that. Swear to God."
When there wasn't even movement inside, let alone an answer, Danny frowned and knocked louder, almost pounding on the door. That didn't get a response either, so he set the soup on the floor and pulled out his keys, unlocking the door and stepping inside. It was completely dark and smelled like Mac hadn't been there for a couple of days. Even though he knew it was empty, Danny jogged to the bed and bathrooms to make sure, pulling out his cell as he returned to the living room.
Stella picked up with, "I thought you were heading to Flack's?"
"Mac's not here," Danny stated. "Hasn't been for a couple days from the smell of it. When'd you last see him?"
Sounding instantly worried, Stella answered, "Just before he went off shift, yesterday morning. We've been pulling opposite schedules."
Danny hissed in anger and said, "Which means no one's seen him for almost two solid days. We gotta put out an APB and track his cell, Stella."
"I'm on it. I'll see you back here."
Danny was already out the door and said, "I'm on the subway tonight, so it'll be forty before I get in."
"That'll give us time to do have something when you get here. Danny, be careful."
He nodded and disconnected, shoving the phone in his pocket and running for the stairs. Danny's mind raced the whole trip back, his body tight with the need to do something even while forced to remain still on the subway. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Danny thought, It shouldn't be this bad, hurt this much to worry for him like this.
But it did. He might as well admit to himself, if no one else, that he was still in love with Mac. He couldn't hide it anymore, not when the other man was suffering God knew what at the moment. Mac had been missing for thirty-six hours with no one even looking for him, which made him even guiltier. He should have checked in with Mac, shouldn't have taken the supposed excuse at face value. After everything that he'd been through in his life, Danny knew better and now Mac was paying for his mistake.
Danny forced himself to think about the situation and not his feelings. Did it have to do with an old case? Someone back for revenge? The voicemail pointed that way, it spoke to planning for sure.
At least it's not to do with a hunter, Danny thought with a tiny bit of relief. No chance of someone skinning him to end up on a wall, since he's not a Shifter.
There were too many other dark and deadly possibilities for him to be anything but worried. Finally, his stop came and Danny pushed through the crowd to get off and then ran as fast as he could, taking stairs three at a time. With his Shifter strength and speed, Danny was out of the subway and back at the lab in ninety seconds and didn't even break a sweat.
He had to pull up when he got inside, there were too many cameras, but still ran at human speed through the office. Stella, Flack, Lindsay, and Adam were in Adam's area as the tech pointed to a map of the city with two red dots displayed.
Stella turned towards him and related, "There are only two places where Mac's phone was used shortly after he left the lab. It's either off or destroyed now, because there's no GPS lock available. Adam's going to analyze the voicemail, see if it's a fake and what it can tell us. Don's got an APB out on Mac and Lindsay and I were just going to check out those two sites."
"I'll take that one," Danny said, pointing at the map. "Keep in contact. We don't know who took Mac or why."
Don agreed, "You're all getting uni escorts until this is settled. Don't even bother arguing."
No one did.
Danny grabbed his kit from the locker room and found Don waiting for him outside. "You with me?"
"Until we get him back," Don confirmed.
There was a hard glint to the other Shifter's gaze, his eyes cold like ice. Danny didn't like the look of it, but he'd take Don's help and be grateful for it. Like him, Flack had a refined sense of justice when it came to his own being hurt. There was a reason Dunbrook was dead now for his part in Angel's death, ripped apart in an 'animal attack' that had baffled the newspapers and officials. Sid had done all he could to fudge the evidence so it didn't lead back to their pack and Don.
It took twenty-five minutes to get to the spot where Mac had last used his cell. It was long passed the time where he'd be able to smell anything, but Danny stood on the corner and closed his eyes to better concentrate. He knew Mac's scents, all of them, and allowed himself to Shift, just a little, to increase his senses. Breathing slow and deep through his slightly elongated nose assaulted him with a cacophony of ugly smells but he rooted through them one at a time. He dismissed all but the faintest trace of his former lover and walked towards the source of what remained.
When he opened his eyes, he was in at the steps of the subway. Danny looked around for whatever it was he'd caught the scent of and spotted a splattering of blood, which caused his heart to skip. Still breathing through his nose to make sure he didn't miss anything, Danny descended a step at a time and dropped numbered markers at each blood trace. The trail ended about a foot from the bottom step and he looked up to find a camera aimed his way.
"I'll get the footage," Don announced from just behind him. " The unis are blocking off the steps and bringing in lights so you can work."
Danny nodded and said, "Thanks," before returning topside to get his kit. There was a lot of evidence to collect and sift through and he needed to be as thorough and fast as possible. He tried not to think about it, but knew that Mac's life could depend on what he found.
* * * *
Mac couldn't remember ever feeling as close to dying as he did at that moment. His entire body was on fire, the nerve-endings throughout his system sparking with agony every second. He didn't know how much time had passed, how long he'd been missing, and couldn't think about anything except the next breath and trying to draw it in as painlessly as possible.
Mac's throat was raw from screaming; his voice had given out a long time ago. His wrists and ankles had been scraped bloody from fighting to get free and escape the torture. He couldn't get loose no matter how he struggled, but that didn't stop him from trying. Better to lose a hand or foot in the attempt than to stay where he was.
Now and again Stuart would ask him questions, but Mac couldn't even make out the words spoken to him. His brain was consumed by the miasma of pain, blocking out everything not directly related to breathing and staying alive. He passed out frequently, but those blessed moments of oblivion never lasted long enough to recover. Every time the pain receded, Stuart returned with another dose to start the cycle all over again.
Some kind of noise, a roar or a crash, maybe both, penetrated his consciousness at some point. Stuart had just given him another dose, so Mac was fully enthralled by the pain running rampant through his body. He twisted feebly on the exam table, pulling futilely at the restraints; he'd long ago lost the strength to do more than that.
Someone came into view, but his vision was as bad as if he'd been born partially blind. He recognized their silhouette wasn't Stuart's but Mac still flinched away from them. He begged mindlessly, "Not another dose, please, no more," the words scraping more fire through his damaged throat.
The person withdrew and he vaguely heard more than one person, the voices raising sharply, the rage in them clear even to Mac's befuddled mind. Someone else came over, a woman from the outline, and her voice soothed him, though he still didn't understand the words.
Mac didn't see the needle, but felt the tiny pinprick in his arm. He was too far gone to do anything except moan in fear and anticipated pain. Mercy finally made an appearance, though, and blissful blackness dragged him away from the pain.
* * * *
Danny heard someone crying weakly in pain and fear through the thick, metal door of Kendricks ' lab. No one not a Shifter would have picked it up, but he heard it loud and clear. It had something of Mac in it, but nothing truly recognizable. Danny reacted to the noise instantly, fury ripping through him and giving him Shifter strength to break down the door.
He jumped down the stairs in one move, landing on hands and feet, hair and claws sprouting instantly as his gaze locked on Kendricks across the room. The man had turned to face the crash, a combination of fear and loathing on his face as he grabbed for a nearby gun. Danny scanned the room as he continued to Shift. He noted the obscenities hanging on the wall and then spotted Mac on an exam table in the middle of the lab. He was barely a shadow of himself, body drenched in sweat and nothing of reason on his face as he pulled weakly at the restraints covered in blood.
A roar of unadulterated rage burst from Danny as he finished Shifting and leapt at the scientist now holding the gun. It went off, but the first bullet missed. Danny was on him in three bounds, swiping across the man's face with a large paw and slicing away flesh in retribution for whatever had been done to Mac. The gun went off again and even though the bullet struck him in the shoulder, Danny didn't even feel it. He gutted the fucker who'd tortured Mac for five days doing who knew what and then buried his snout in the wound, yanking out the intestines and leaving them on the tiled floor.
Danny howled and would have finished the job, but Flack and Stella were suddenly there, Shifted as well, both growling with hackles up and fangs bared . As mate, Danny had the right to do with the man as he pleased, but dimly recognized their need for vengeance, too. He stepped away from the man who'd taken Mac, but not before swiping at him again, opening more wounds over Kendrick's chest.
It took too long to calm down enough to Shift back to human, but he did and then hurried over to the exam table. Mac's eyes were wide and unseeing as they flickered at him without recognition. Mac cowered away from him, begging not to be dosed again, and Danny nearly cried at how far gone he was.
"Danny, I've got a sedative," Lindsay said softly. "Let me knock him out."
Realizing that he stood protectively in front of Mac, Danny moved aside to let her close. The noise Mac made when the needle slid into a vein was pure fear and broke Danny's heart. Thankfully, the powerful drugs did the job and the other man was unconscious within thirty seconds. They hadn't known what to expect and so had everything but the kitchen sink in the medical bags they'd brought.
Danny wanted to comfort Mac through touch, but didn't dare. They had no idea what Kendricks had been doing to Mac the last five days, though obviously he'd been injecting him with something, from the massive bruising over the jugular and in both arms.
"I should've killed him slower so we could've found out what he was doing," Danny muttered, mentally kicking himself.
Lindsay patted his arm and said, "What matters is that he can't hurt Mac anymore. We'll figure out what he did and fix it."
Their new understanding was the only good to come out of this. He didn't know what she really thought, but Lindsay had told him the day before that she wouldn't get in the way of him and Mac again. It seemed almost too good to be true, that she would understand what he'd only just come to realize himself. Even though he was human and Danny would lose him again all-too-soon to old age, Mac was his true mate.
"Danny? I think we need to bring someone else in to help Mac," Stella said, walking over with a netbook computer in hand. "These formulas are like nothing I've ever seen before. Kendricks was a genius, no doubt about it. I know it has something to do with DNA sequences, but I can't figure out his method or purpose."
Nodding at the gruesome corpses on the wall, Danny replied grimly, "I think we can safely say it has to do with Shifter anatomy."
"Yeah, but Mac wasn't a Shifter," she said, worry furrowing her brow.
Running a bloody hand through his hair without thinking, Danny grimaced in disgust at the thought of Kendricks ' gore now in his hair. He would have to take a shower with lye to feel clean again. "Who do you think can help with this?"
She stared into space for a long moment and then said, "I do know a few people who might shed some light. None of them are close, though. I'll start making arrangements."
Danny nodded and looked back at Mac on the exam table. Unable to bear the sight another moment, he swiftly unrestrained him and then vowed, "We'll fix this Mac, I swear we will. Whatever he did, I'm gonna get you back, no matter what."
The alternative, Mac living as a wreck of fear and pain, didn't even bear thinking about.
Keeping Mac sedated turned out to be the only option. Every time he regained consciousness, he was wracked with debilitating pain, so Danny and Stella made the decision to keep him under. Danny refused to leave his side, riding in the ambulance to the hospital and walking with him to the room in which the local Shifter doctor examined him. The man treated the more superficial injuries and examined Mac for possible internal ones as well, but declared him mostly healthy, aside from whatever was going on at the cellular level.
It was only the day after admitting Mac that Stella's 'experts' arrived. Danny scented strangers outside the room and growled in warning, even though he smelled Stella too. She entered first, followed by three men who were about as different as men could be. The first was in his sixties or seventies with kind, sober blue eyes, white hair, and a grandfatherly air about him. The next reminded Danny immediately of Mac, the military bearing unmistakable; he was tall, broad, and had a shock of white-blond hair and pale, ice-blue eyes. The last man was probably a good five years younger than Danny, tall and slender with dark hair and brown eyes.
Stella introduced the men in order with, "Danny, I want you to meet Drs. Stephen Connor, Miles McCabe, and Mark Sloan. Stephan and Miles work at the National Institutes of Health. Mark works at
County Generalin Los Angeles ."
Danny could smell Connor and Sloan were Shifter, though it didn't make him automatically trust them. Miles was pure human, but from the way he stayed close to Connor, the young man wouldn't be any kind of trouble. He shook hands in turn and asked, "Can you help him?"
"We hope to, son," Mark said. "Can I examine him?"
Danny nodded, appreciating that he'd sought permission first, and told them, "It hurts him when people touch him. I think it hurts for him just to breathe. That's why we keep him under."
Mark smiled sadly and patted him on the shoulder. "Stella filled us in."
Stephen requested, "Stella, if you'll show us to the lab, we'll get started analyzing the newest blood and tissue samples."
She nodded and said to Danny, "I'll be back in a little while."
Danny watched closely as Mark walked to the bed and set an old-fashioned doctor bag on the chair. He pulled down the blankets and then unbuttoned Mac's pajama top. The older man tsked under his breath as he looked up and down, taking in the bruising on Mac's throat and arms. Then he placed his hands squarely on Mac's chest, one directly over the heart, and closed his eyes. He stood there for a few minutes and then leaned in very close, sniffing at various points over Mac's body from behind his ear to his pit to his midriff. Danny had no idea what the man was doing, but kept his mouth shut, not wanting to interrupt.
Mark opened his eyes to glance at Danny, asking, "His scent changed, didn't it?"
Startled that the doctor could tell that just by sniffing him, Danny said, "Yeah. I thought it was because he's so scared every time he wakes up and in so much pain. It's not?"
Mark's lips pursed, but he didn't answer, instead opening his bag and taking out a stethoscope. He listened to Mac's heart for a few minutes and then to his lungs and stomach, eyes closed again in concentration.
It took all of Danny's control not to demand to know what he was doing, to just stand there and let a virtual stranger put his hands all over Mac. Only Stella's obvious respect for the older man kept Danny in check. Mark did a reflex scrape test, to which Danny was relieved that Mac responded without trouble. There was another laying-on of hands, this one lasting almost five solid minutes, and then Mark turned a troubled expression Danny's way.
Immediately alarmed, Danny demanded, "What? What did you find?"
"It's more what I didn't find," Mark mused, still frowning. "Has your mate recently had an appendectomy?"
Danny blinked at the non-sequitur. "Huh?"
Mark clarified, "I saw Detective Taylor's medical records on the flight here and they didn't show any appendectomy."
Still not understanding, Danny answered, "No, he's never had one so far as I know, why?"
Clearly bemused, Mark said, "Because he no longer has one, but there's no indication that the man who held him captive, performed surgery. All evidence points only to injections."
"So what's it mean?" Danny questioned impatiently.
Mark gave him a brief smile as he hedged, "I don't know yet."
Something told Danny the old man was holding back something very important.
* * * *
As Stella led Stephen and Miles to the lab they'd sequestered, she asked, "You got a chance to look at the files on the trip here?"
Stephen nodded and grimly told her, "The man was brilliant, I'll give him that. A regular modern-day Mengele . He isolated the gene that causes us to Shift."
The news sent a chill down Stella's spine.
"He was working on a way to destroy it, to make Shifters completely human," Stephen continued. "He went through a lot of test subjects in the quest to perfect his formula."
Miles broke in with, "He documented everything. We were able to follow his work without much trouble. The problem, of course, is that Detective Taylor's human. He had absolutely no theories on what his formula would do to a human, just test results on Shifters."
Aghast, Stella's hand went to her stomach. "Did we make things worse by stopping him mid-way?"
Stephen reached out to squeeze her shoulder and said, "I don't see how you could have. Whatever damage the serum caused, there would be no reversing it if the entire process had been completed. He wasn't looking for an antidote to his own poison, after all."
They reached the lab and she walked into room to find Hawkes waiting. He was the best they had, so she wasn't surprised that he was there. He and Mac had been friends for a long time, even if he wasn't Shifter.
The black man offered a brief smile of greeting and said, "Thought I'd lend a hand."
"Drs. Stephen Connor and Miles McCabe, this is Dr. Winston Hawkes ," Stella introduced. "He's one of our top people. If anyone can help you figure this out, he can."
The men shook hands and Hawkes said, "Lindsay told me to tell you that she needs you back at the lab. There's questions being raised she can't answer."
Stella grimaced, hating the secrecy with which they had to live. "Thanks. I'll stop by to see Mac and Danny and then head out. Call me if you find anything out."
"We will," Stephen promised.
She left them talking quietly together, taking inventory of their surroundings. It was a short trip back up to Mac's room and she found Danny asleep on the trundle bed. Relieved that Mark had worked his particular brand of magic, she smiled at her Godfather, who sat reading a book between the beds, and whispered, "How did you finally get him to sleep?"
Mark chuckled warmly and said, "I really only had to get him horizontal. That young man's been going on fumes for quite a while."
Stella nodded and sighed. "I know. We all have, really. None of us will feel better until Mac's himself again."
Standing, Mark put down his book and walked over to her, guiding her out of the room with a hand on her lower back. "Yes, about that. Stella, I don't think your friend will ever be back to normal."
Alarm rushed through her and she demanded quietly, "What did you find in your examination?"
"He's missing his appendix, for one," Mark answered, "and his gallbladder. His heart rate has slowed substantially and his lungs sound deeper than those of normal humans. His skin has greater thickness and I can smell a fundamental shift coming from deep within."
Stronger heart, larger lungs, thicker skin, and no extraneous internal organs. All traits of a Shifter. Stella gaped at him and exclaimed, "You think he's being transformed into a Shifter? How is that possible?"
Mark's hands went up in a mea culpa gesture as he replied, "I don't know. I'll leave it up to smarter minds to figure that out. All I know is that that man in there isn't, strictly speaking, just a man any longer."
Her mind whirled at the possibility that Kendricks had somehow stumbled upon a formula for creating a Shifter. It would be a Holy Grail for mixed couples. No longer having to watch mates die of old age or from human-specific disease...
Mark grasped her hand and squeezed it. "I know, I thought about exactly what you thought about. The problem comes in that the procedure wasn't completed."
"So...you think he's not human, but not Shifter either," Stella said slowly.
Nodding, Mark said, "I believe that his body is stuck without enough catalyst to finish the job."
Stella was horrified at the thought that they might have to put Mac through more of that unbelievable pain in order to complete the transformation.
Mark squeezed her hand again and said, "We'll know more later , when your friends get a good look at what's working inside him."
Taking a breath, Stella said, "You're right. Look, I have to get to work and make some explanations that won't start a world-wide hunt for Shifters. Do me a favor and keep an eye on them for me?"
"Of course, dear," Mark agreed.
Stella hugged him tight and then headed for the elevator.
* * * *
Danny woke up when Stella entered the hospital room and then heard Stella and Mark talking in the hallway. Was it possible? Was Mac in the process of actually becoming a Shifter? It seemed so far-fetched, but something was happening to Mac's body, no one could dispute that. Danny rubbed his eyes and sat up, the five minutes of sleep dragging at him even more than if he'd just stayed awake.
"You should still be asleep," Mark scolded, returning. "What are you doing up?"
Danny's lips twitched into a brief, crooked grin and he said, "Heard you and Stel talkin ' in the hall. Doubt I'll sleep now until I know for sure what's going on with him."
Mark patted his shoulder and observed, "You won't do him any favors by collapsing from exhaustion."
Shrugging, Danny replied, "Can't help it."
"You know, I have a son around his age named Steve," Mark said. "He's a detective too, though not in forensics. He generally deals with murder cases and violent crimes. His mate's name is Jesse, who's around your age."
Danny didn't know where the other man was going with it, but stayed quiet. He figured there was a point to the conversation.
Mark continued, "Jesse's had many, many sleepless nights over the years. So have I, for that matter. The thing I've learned since Steve joined the police force, well, since he joined the Army, really, is that you can't ruin your own health through worry of someone else. Even for someone you love deeply. It doesn't do anyone, any good."
Danny gazed down at Mac and admitted, "I never even told him I loved him. We were together for months, happy even, and never said the words. Then all this shit went down between us and we split up and I got married and had a kid and he was just...alone, still. Like he knew he screwed up and wanted us back, but wouldn't say anything because I had a family now."
"He sounds like a good man," Mark said softly.
Nodding, Danny agreed, "He is. He can be a cold bastard, sometimes, but he's such a good man. Honorable, you know?"
"I do, yes."
"Then how do I sleep knowing he's in this position because of me? Tell me that. Kendricks took him in the first place because he thought Mac was a Shifter. And he got that from us being together. This is my fault."
Mark was silent for a long moment and then he said, " Kendricks was a sociopath with a long-standing grudge against all Shifters. He didn't focus on Det. Taylor because of anything you did. From what I understand, he focused on Det. Taylor because the man's a natural leader, alpha of a pack even without being Shifter. You can't blame yourself for this."
Danny couldn't do anything else, though he didn't say it.
Maybe Mark sensed his internal answer, because the older man said, "You really should get some rest, Danny."
Before Danny could repeat that he wouldn't, something sharp stuck into his thigh. He looked down to see Mark retracting a syringe and then gave the man an accusing glare.
Mark smiled apologetically. "Better to beg forgiveness than ask permission and be denied, I always say."
Danny swayed as the drug swiftly took hold. Mark caught him and swung him back over to the trundle bed. He swatted ineffectively at the doctor and growled half-heartedly as the man tugged blankets over him. Even though Danny fought to stay awake, darkness took hold in no time flat.
* * * *
It was the following day that Stella gathered everyone in a conference room at the hospital to hear Hawkes , Stephen, and Miles' findings. Danny and Lindsay sat at opposite sides of the table, but there didn't appear to be any open hostility coming from her, which was good. Stella sat between Mark and Flack and noticed his distraction right away. Nudging him with an elbow, she asked, "Everything all right?"
He nodded belatedly and said, "Yeah sure, why wouldn't it be?"
Stella frowned, but didn't pursue it since Stephen stood to get things started.
"We haven't thoroughly gone through Kendricks ' work, as there just hasn't been enough time," Stephen began. "What we did find...the man was brilliant, if completely mad. He found a catalyst that bonds with the gene that deviates Shifter DNA from human DNA and then destroys is. He hypothesized that without that gene in the helix, the makeup would revert to human form."
Stella's stomach twisted at the ramifications that knowledge could have.
Miles interjected, "He was years ahead of any research that we've heard of, maybe even decades."
Stephen nodded and agreed, "With that kind of obsession, it's not a surprise. I've got the information you gave me on only two portable drives and one I'm going to give directly to Admiral Chegwidden when we get back."
Danny asked abruptly, "What does all this mean for Mac?"
Stephen met Danny's gaze and said, "From the blood and tissue samples that we've examined, we believe that Dr. Sloan is correct. Since there was no Shifter gene to bond with, the serum that Kendricks injected into Det. Taylor mutated his DNA. Right now, the serum is trying to find something with which to adhere. It's dissolved his gallbladder and his appendix, and altered his lung and hearts. Those are the results of the first six injections. He isn't, strictly speaking, going to be a Shifter since there is no DNA of ours in his body. He'll be a kind of...hybrid, for lack of a better word."
Danny questioned, "So what happens now? We can't just keep sedating him."
Stephen and Hawkes exchanged a look and the black man shrugged, leaving it up to the NIH doctor.
It was Miles who answered, "We think the process should be allowed to finish. You're right in that we can't keep Det. Taylor indefinitely sedated, for obvious reasons. While we don't know what the results will be if you take this course, we think the serum will stabilize his DNA. At the very least, it should complete whatever process was begun. There may be something in each dose that completes the different stages of de-evolution, which is what Kendricks was trying to accomplish."
Stella shook her head and reminded, "But you said it yourselves. Mac has no Shifter DNA to bond with. If we inject him with the remaining doses, it's possible they'll just dissolve his other organs and kill him."
"That's also a possibility," Stephen agreed. "We just don't know. There's no reason for the serum to have done the complete opposite of what it was designed to do, and yet it has. Without more time to do intense research on Kendricks ' findings, and I mean years of research, there's just no way to know what will happen. We can't dispute that Det. Taylor is being altered at the genetic level, we just don't know what the ultimate result will be... One thing I would have to recommend is to not have any other drugs in his system if you do administer the rest of the doses."
Danny snarled at him, "You want him to go through that torture again without even being knocked out?!"
Stephen held up his hands and said, "There's no way to tell how they would interact with his body in flux, anyhow. They might not even work and there's a good probability that they'll interfere with the transformation. Kendricks might not have done this without anesthesia or sedation just due to his sadistic tendencies."
There was an oppressive silence after his words as everyone considered them. Stella looked over at Danny to find worry and fear and guilt pinching his face into a pained grimace. She looked back at Stephen and said, "Thank you, Stephen, for the analysis."
He nodded, handsome face marred by a sad frown. "We're here for you. Just let us know what you decide."
She watched him guide Miles out of the room and then Mark said quietly, "This is a pack decision, so I'll see you later, dear."
Stella nodded and then looked at Danny, who'd sunk lower into his chair, arms folded across his chest defensively. Technically, the decision was hers as pack Beta. Danny and Mac hadn't been mates at the time of the kidnapping, so he didn't have official say over any health decisions with Mac unable to decide for himself. Glancing around the table, she asked, "Could you give us the room, guys?"
There were nods all around and everyone shuffled out, leaving her and Danny alone and facing one another.
"What are you thinking?" she prompted.
Danny didn't answer at first, just staring at the table with that terrible, drawn face. She let him think, knowing that it was an impossible decision. Stella didn't want to cause Mac pain any more than he did, but that was exactly what had to happen. Either they completed the treatment or Mac's body ate away at itself and killed him in just as much agony as going forward would cause.
It was almost five minutes later before Danny finally said, "No one touches Mac but me. I'll inject him."
Stella immediately shook her head. "No, Danny, don't do that to yourself . Let Stephen or Mark do it."
Danny actually bared fangs at her as he grit out, "No one but me."
For the first time ever, Stella was a little afraid of Danny. He was on the edge and if he lost it, she wasn't entirely sure that she'd win in a fight. They were both strong, but she knew that she was Beta because he'd never fought her for the position. He'd been content with being Mac's mate and then he'd been with Lindsay. Stella lifted her hands in surrender and acquiesced, "All right. I'll make the arrangements. We should get it started as soon as he comes around."
Danny nodded, grim, and said, "The sooner we finish this, the better."
Stella left him there, closing the door behind her and then leaning on it shakily for a moment. Once she'd regained her composure, Stella went in search of Stephen and Miles to give them the news.
* * * *
They set Mac up in an isolation chamber at the hospital. There would be no way for his screams to penetrate the walls and cause people from outside the circle to investigate. Danny sat on the edge of the bed with his hands in his lap as Mac slowly came around, the last of the drugs in his system fading. The other man's face was drawn tight with pain already; his eyes were shadowed with it when they finally opened.
This time, there was recognition in Mac's gaze when he looked up at Danny. He rasped, "Danny? What's going on?"
Relieved that Mac had come to as himself, Danny said, "You were kidnapped, do you remember?"
It took several seconds before Mac nodded. " Kendricks . He thinks I'm a Shifter."
"Thought," Danny corrected with grim satisfaction. "He's never going to bother you or anyone else ever again."
Mac let out a long, slow breath and managed a faint smile as he said, "Good. Thank you...If it's over, though, why do I still hurt?"
Danny reached for Mac's hand and then pulled back, not wanting to cause unnecessary pain. Mac completed the gesture, though, lifting his hand to rest in Danny's. Lacing their fingers together, Danny explained, "The serum he gave you, it's changin ' you, Mac. At a genetic level. It's gotta be all or nothing. Your body's not gonna change back, either, and if we don't go through with it, you're probably going to die."
Mac's hand tightened on his and he shook his head. "No. No, Danny, don't you put me through that again. I refuse to go through that again."
Danny leaned in and said urgently, "You have to, Mac. If you don't, you'll die."
"Probably die, you said," Mac corrected sharply. "And I'd rather die than go through that."
It wasn't an unexpected reaction. Danny countered, "You wanna live like this? Because this is as good as it's going to get."
Jerking his hand away, Mac snapped, "You don't know that!"
Danny took a breath and forced himself to calm down. If he was in Mac's shoes, he'd probably be a blubbering wreck and taking the same stand. He had no doubt that Mac would rather die than go through that kind of torture again, anyone would. Even though he knew the other man would likely never forgive him, Danny turned to the tray that held the doses marked with tape for the order in which they needed to be delivered.
"Danny, don't," Mac warned when Danny picked up a syringe. "Don't do this."
Facing Mac again, closing his heart and steeling himself for what needed to be done, Danny brought the needle down to the femoral artery. He planned to alternate the delivery sites to minimize the bruising. It was just about the only kindness he could give.
The absolute betrayal in Mac's eyes caused Danny to falter, the needle stopped at the skin. And then he thought about life without Mac, even one who hated him. About all the people whose lives would be affected without him around. All the injustices that would go unpunished. The shattering of their own pack, which he knew wouldn't survive Mac's death intact. It wasn't just for selfish reasons that he pushed the needle through the skin and depressed the plunger. The world would be better off with Mac Taylor in it, of that Danny was absolutely positive.
It was only seconds later that Mac screamed in pain, back arching as he fought violently to get free of the restraints. They'd used softer cuffs with lining, but there was no way the other man would be able to break free.
Danny dropped the syringe onto the tray and sat on the floor, hugging knees to his chest as he witnessed the brutal suffering of the only man he'd ever loved.
Adam wanted to go home and have a drink. Many, many drinks. He wanted to forget the last week had ever happened. That wouldn't happen permanently, but he could drown the knowledge of what Mac had gone through for a night at least. Shutting down his equipment, he shrugged into his coat and shouldered his computer bag, leaving the lab and heading to the elevators. It was almost two in the morning and he was wiped out, moving sluggishly. With Danny and Mac out and Stella only half in the lab, he'd been pulling a lot of doubles.
"Thank God that's going to change soon," he muttered, hitting the garage button.
Just before the doors closed, a hand slammed into one of them, stopping it cold. When the doors retracted, Adam found Flack on the other side and wished they'd managed to close on the cop. Flack had been...intense...since Detective Angell's death and Mac's kidnapping/alteration seemed to have pushed the man over some kind of line from a little scary to really damn scary.
Flack eyed him a moment as he stepped onto the elevator. Facing front, Flack said, "You shouldn't go anywhere alone this time of night. Easy prey."
Statements like that didn't really boost Adam's confidence that Flack was still riding the rails, so to speak. He offered a hesitant smile and said, "I'll be fine. No one ever looks twice at the nerds of the world."
"Not unless it's to beat the shit out of them," Flack countered, a soft growl underlying the worlds.
Adam swallowed nervously, but didn't respond. Once upon a time, he'd wanted to make a move on Flack. That was before Detective Angell, of course. He'd never gotten up the nerve and then it had been way too late. He'd been happy for Flack, in a wistful kind of way, and then had hurt for the man after Detective Angell's killing.
The doors pinged softly when they opened on the garage level and he gave another brief smile and said, "Night, Flack," before leaving.
Flack didn't respond, but his footfalls echoed behind Adam as they walked across the garage. It was nerve-wracking, knowing the other Shifter followed him, but he kept his pace steady. He didn't want to accidentally wave some kind of red flag and reached his car without incident. Once Mac was back in the lab, things would return to normal. Flack would stop being scary, because Mac was their Alpha and he reigned in the cop's more dangerous elements.
Adam blinked in belated surprise as he realized, He really will be our Alpha, now that he's going to be a Shifter. Well, assuming he doesn't die in the process.
"You shouldn't park in a blind spot," Flack growled, suddenly right behind him. "Anything could happen."
Adam's heart jumped into overdrive and he whirled to find Flack about an inch from him, his computer bag dropping unnoticed to the pavement. They stood between his car and the wall with only about a foot of space between them. His hybrid didn't do much to hide them per se, but unless someone was looking, Adam knew they wouldn't be spotted. They certainly wouldn't be picked up on any surveillance cameras because Flack was right; he'd parked in a blind spot on purpose. He always did. It was a lingering paranoia about 'Big Brother.'
He looked up into those icy blue eyes and felt a sliver of fear at the complete lack of emotion. Fear wasn't the only thing that slithered through him at the other Shifter's proximity and Adam cursed his body's sudden need to submit to a stronger male.
Without a word, Flack grabbed his shoulders and spun him, shoving him facedown over the hood. Adam grunted at the impact, air driven from his gut. Flack pinned him there and mounted him, his hard cock easily felt through two layers of fabric. The Shifter ground down against him, the position and ease with which he did so humiliating in an unexpected way. Adam flushed and gasped, "Flack, don't. Please."
Flack hissed against his ear, "Isn't this what you want? You've been begging me to fuck you without a single word for years."
Adam shook his head, denying the charge. "That's not what I wanted, this isn't what I want."
"Yeah it is," Flack snarled.
As if to prove it, Flack grabbed Adam between the legs where his dick had started to harden against his will. He flushed even deeper, the heat of embarrassment making him a little dizzy.
Flack bit down hard on Adam's throat in warning and Adam went completely still. It was a prelude to being forced to submit when he wanted to do so on his own. The whole situation was a travesty of fate, a mockery of his feelings for the other man. Adam couldn't fight the other Shifter, he just wasn't strong enough to win. It was this or die in their world and he had no intention of dying.
Strong hands ripped open Adam's pants and he clutched at the too-smooth metal of his car, searching in vain for something to hold on to. Flack humped against his bare ass with his pants still on, proving his dominance in a casually debasing fashion. His teeth released Adam but the warning still throbbed in the bite mark; Flack hadn't broken the skin, but had come close enough to hurt. Adam didn't move as he heard the other man's belt undo and then the zipper coming down, each noise magnified in the otherwise silent garage.
When he felt the other's cock press between his legs, Adam couldn't stop the instinct to struggle. He slammed an elbow back and got his balls squeezed for his temerity. Intense pain sparked behind his eyes and he cried out, going still again.
Flack rubbed against him, pushing his cock between Adam's thighs and mock-fucking him for a couple of eternally long minutes. Then the Shifter bit him again. With fangs this time, fangs that broke the skin as the other growled in a low, feral way. Adam stood there, bent awkwardly over the car, and took it as Flack humped against his ass. He felt the sticky pre-come on his skin and prayed that this would just be over soon.
To his surprise, it was. Instead of mounting him for real, Flack came a few seconds later just from rubbing against him. The come spurted over his ass and balls and lower back, covering him and marking him just as thoroughly as if Flack had fucked him. Less painfully, of course, but just as demeaning. Breathing hard, still mouthing Adam's shoulder, Flack rubbed the come into his skin, his still-hard cock pressed against one of Adam's thighs. It was almost a threat, that they weren't done yet.
Adam didn't move when Flack finally released him. He stayed exactly where he was as the other man zipped up and then redid his belt. There were no words then, no sign that Flack regretted anything. He simply walked away, leaving Adam exposed and humiliated and bleeding sluggishly at the throat.
Finally sure that Flack wouldn't return, Adam pulled his pants up with shaking hands. He slowly turned around and leaned on his car, fighting the urge both to throw up and stroke himself to completion. It had been too emotionally disturbing for his body to override and find its own pleasure, so he was left semi-hard with his balls still hurting from Flack's squeeze. He just breathed for a few minutes, trying to recover.
He at last picked up his computer bag, tossing it into the backseat without care and then getting into the driver's seat. All he could smell was Flack's come and he turned on the air as soon as he turned the key in the ignition.
The drive home was long and when he got there, Adam pulled out a bottle of whiskey that he'd recently bought and drank right from the mouth.
* * * *
When Mac could next feel without agonizing pain, he had no idea what day it was. He didn't smell this time around, which meant that someone had washed him while he'd been unconscious. His entire body ached in a bone-deep way that he'd never before felt, but it didn't actively hurt and he'd take any improvement. His restraints were gone, wrists newly bandaged, so he had to assume that the worst was over.
Looking around what had to be a hospital isolation room, Mac found that he was alone for the first time since his kidnapping. Danny and Stella were nowhere to be found. The period governing his injections was very hazy, likely a defense mechanism against the pain, but he knew Danny and Stella had been present through the whole thing.
The door opened and Danny walked in. He stopped short on seeing that Mac was awake and then walked the rest of the way to Mac's bed. The younger man looked drawn and unkempt, like he'd aged ten years overnight. He didn't meet Mac's gaze as he stopped by the bed and told him, "Dr. Sloan says you're gonna be fine now. Everything checks out from your blood and tissue samples to your x-rays. We gave you the works, just to be safe."
Mac started to talk, to demand an explanation, and then found he couldn't even make a sound.
Danny grimaced and said, "You shredded your vocal chords screamin,' so don't try and talk. I have this for you though."
Mac took the pen and paper that Danny held out to him, glad there was a way to communicate.
"Dr. Sloan says they'll come back, 'specially now you're one of us, but it'll take a week or two."
The 'specially now you're one of us' threw Mac for a loop and he gaped at Danny.
Danny glanced at him and nodded, apparently guessing the root of Mac's shock. "The serum altered your DNA, Mac. You're a Shifter. Connor and MacCabe are gonna be going into the science of it, but however it works, it works. Dr. Sloan figures you're gonna be around a long, long time, just as if you were born to it. And that you'll heal pretty quick, all things considered."
It was a lot to take in. Not just the fantastical nature of his change, but the fact that it was even possible. Kendricks had been insane, Mac had no doubt about that, but it looked like he'd been a genius, too.
"Fact of the matter is, no one knows what's going to happen to you now," Danny continued, rubbing at his eyes. "Dr. Sloan seems pretty sure, but this ain't never happened before. Anyhow. Stella should be here any second to take over, now you're awake. You need anything? Thirsty? Hungry? I bathed you, so you're ah, you know, clean, but I got some clothes here if you can stand wearin' them. I could help you get dressed if you want."
Mac shook his head, not sure he had the strength to stand. He didn't like the guilty expression on Danny's face or his bowed posture. It would be just like him to take the whole thing on himself, which Mac did not want. The door opened before he could pick up the pad again and state that, though, and Stella entered. She smiled broadly on seeing him awake and rushed the rest of the way over.
"Mac! You're awake!"
Smiling a little, Mac nodded and accepted her hug, relieved when it didn't hurt. When she pulled back, Mac discovered Danny already on his way to the door. He opened his mouth to call him back before remembering he had no voice. By the time he gestured after Danny, the younger man was already gone. Frustrated, he looked up at Stella and found a sad frown on her face. He picked up the notebook and pen and wrote, What's wrong with Danny?
Stella sighed and said, "He feels guilty, Mac. Guilty you got taken in the first place and even more guilty that he forced you to go through with the treatment when you said you didn't want to. He didn't admit that part to me until this morning when it was clear you were out of the woods. Said you told him you'd rather die than complete the treatment."
Mac didn't remember any of it, but then, he'd been out of his mind at the time. He wrote as much on the paper.
She sighed again and said, "That's what I told him, but you know Danny. He won't believe it unless you convince him."
Grimacing, Mac nodded agreement, knowing that was all too true. He wrote, What now? Danny said Mark's here?
Stella smiled at the mention of her Godfather. Not that he was a 'real' Godfather, as in there at her christening when she was a baby, but rather someone who'd been a mentor to her in college. Stella had called him that once in teasing and it had stuck. Mac remembered the story clearly, about how she'd met Mark while he'd been teaching for a semester at NYU. Of course, Mark Sloan wasn't exactly a forgettable man in his own right. Mac had more in common with his son Steve, but he admired the older Shifter's abilities as both a doctor and an amateur detective.
"He is," she confirmed, "along with Stephen and Miles."
Mac thought for a moment, the paired naming ringing a bell.
Stella clarified, "NIH. Stephen Connor and Miles MacCabe."
Right. They'd all met at a national security conference in how to deal with toxins and bio-weapons a few years ago.
"They've both concluded that you've stabilized and Mark says you're already healing," she finished.
Mac sighed as he leaned back against the pillows, staring up at the ceiling.
"Are you tired? I could leave."
Stella's hesitant tone reminded him that this wasn't just about him. The rules were completely different now. He'd always acted like the pack's alpha, but he'd never really felt like one since he'd been human. Lifting his head again, Mac wrote, No, stay. Catch me up. What else has been going on?
The door opened again, though, and in walked Mark. The older man smiled at Mac as he approached and exclaimed, "Oh, good, you're awake! I was hoping you would be. I wanted to look you over when you could actually respond to my questions."
Mac half-smiled at the teasing and made a, 'go for it,' gesture.
Stella said, "I'll leave you to it and be back later. Get some rest, Mac."
She kissed his cheek and he waved a goodbye, watching her leave and then glancing at Mark.
Pale blue eyes looked back at him and the older man asked, "How do you feel?"
A sharp, silent laugh escaped Mac and he shook his head. He wrote, Like someone steamrolled me and worried about Danny.
"No substantial pains, though? Nothing in particular bothering you? How are your memories?" Mark questioned.
It wasn't like Mark not to jump on the emotional side of things and Mac frowned. Should I be more worried about Danny than I am?
"Danny's a beta who thinks he's lost his place not just with his alpha, but his entire pack," Mark replied seriously. "From what I understand, you should've been worried about him months ago. Right now... yes. I would say we all need to keep an eye on Danny to keep him from doing something rash. No, don't even think about leaving that bed, Mac. Stella and Flack are watching him. Although from what I've seen, Flack needs a good talking to, too."
Mac's head swam with confusion and an ever sharper worry. Why?
"I'm not sure what happened, but he did something to scare Adam and fairly badly. Adam won't be in the same room alone with him."
Mac sighed, stomach tightening at the news, guilt sliding through him that he'd let everything go to hell.
Mark gripped his shoulder and said, "I didn't say that to make you feel guilty, Mac, but you need to know what's going on with your people. Now. Back to you, young man. I'm going to put you through a host of tests and you will behave yourself or I'll sic Stella on you."
Mac smiled wryly, acknowledging the threat.
* * * *
It was late that night before Flack stopped by, probably just off-shift from the tired, tense air that wrapped around him. His eyes were almost bloodshot and he moved slowly, like an old man, and sighed deeply on sitting in the chair beside Mac's bed.
Mac took in his appearance and rasped, "You look like shit."
Don didn't even look slightly amused. He just nodded and said, "Feel like it, too. Sloan said you're doing great, though. How do you feel?"
Mac half-smiled at that, the amazement at his fast healing still ever-present. He felt a hundred times better than when he'd first woken up, even if his muscles still shook with weakness whenever he tried to stand for longer than to get to the bathroom ten feet away. "Better, thanks. A lot better. What's going on with you and Adam?"
Don pinched the bridge of his nose and refused to meet Mac's gaze as he said softly, "Wish I knew. It's...fuzzy... but he's got a bandage on his neck and he won't be alone with me. And I remember... what I remember it's... bad."
"How bad?" Mac demanded sharply. He knew all about the mating marks; it was one of the few animalistic urges Shifters still obeyed. Flack's bleak gaze confirmed Mac's fears. "Jesus, Don, what did you do?"
Don looked away again and he said, "I'm going to talk to him, find out what happened because I really don't remember much. He's still pulling doubles, so it'll have to wait a couple days when he's off-duty."
Mac sighed and wished that he could do something to help, but this was something Don had to face on his own. At least he looked like he'd turned a corner of some kind, emotionally. "You're back in control."
Don nodded firmly, posture straightening up tight and he said, "Whatever I did, it won't ever happen again. No fucking chance."
Another confirmation that it was bad. Mac relaxed a little, though, glad that Don was back with them, and asked, "How's Danny doing?"
Shaking his head at that, Don said, "Not great. Stella's watching him tonight. He was staying at my place, but I told him I needed some time on my own so he'll be with her tonight."
Mac frowned. "Why was he staying with you?"
Don's eyes widened and he let out a sharp laugh. "Fuck, that's right. You don't know, do you? Him and Lindsay split up like the day after you went missing, only we didn't know you were missing then. We didn't find out you were missing for another day after that. Kendrick faked a message from you, somehow got hold of your voicemail to Stella when you were sick a couple of months ago and used it so we thought you called in sick."
Mac's mind whirled at the knowledge that Danny and Lindsay weren't together anymore. Something deep inside howled in happiness and he knew it had nothing to do with new-found Shifter instincts.
"You want me to get him to come by tomorrow?"
Jerking himself out of his thoughts, Mac nodded and said, "Thanks, yeah. That would be great."
Don stood up and gripped Mac's arm. "I am so damn glad that you're okay, Mac. I don't know what I'd've done if you hadn't made it."
Mac reached up and returned the grip. "Thanks, Don."
Don stared at him a few more seconds and then nodded abruptly before letting go and leaving.
Now if only Mac could get Danny to talk to him that easily. Sighing, he sank back into the pillows and closed his eyes, knowing that he needed to get some sleep. He had a feeling that tomorrow would be a bitch of a day.
* * * *
Danny knew he couldn't avoid Mac forever. And it wasn't like the guilt inside went away just because he wasn't in the same room with the man. Knowing that Mac was physically okay, that he was going to heal up just fine allowed Danny to sleep a solid sixteen hours after leaving the hospital room. He'd gone back to Stella's apartment and curled up on her guest bed to wake up in the middle of the afternoon.
It was silent when he woke up, telling him that she was at work or with Mac. He sighed and wandered over to the bathroom, taking a shower and feeling mostly human after standing under the hot water for a good half-hour. He dressed in jeans and tee, laced up his boots and then left the apartment to hit the nearest coffee shop.
His stomach felt plastered to his back, he was so hungry. It took a full serving of pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, and hash browns before Danny stopped being actively hungry, even if he hadn't gotten full. It came from running on fumes for so long, he knew. He hadn't been that strung out since hanging with Sonny back in the day, before he'd realized that he had to get out before he got killed.
Danny shook off the dark thoughts and pulled out his cell to call Lindsay. Now that he'd slept and his body had recouped some of its losses, he had a different kind of need to fulfill.
"Danny? Everything okay?" she answered.
Danny almost sighed at the worry in her voice, even though it was better than the constant anger. "Yeah, I'm fine. Mac's fine, too, now. I just wanted to know when I could see Lucy."
"Oh. Well, she's at daycare. You could see her there, if you want?"
Danny very much did.
* * * *
Flack gave no sign that anything had happened between them in the days after what happened at the garage. Adam didn't know whether to be relieved or insulted. He settled on a little of each, though mostly relief. The cop occasionally gave him these curious, searching looks, but he didn't actually approach him. Lindsay gave him a few worried looks, but thankfully didn't mention the bandage at the base of his throat. Stella wasn't there enough to notice and he didn't see Danny or Mac at all, of course.
It was about a week after the garage that Adam opened his apartment door to find Flack there. His heart immediately thumped faster and he was glad that he'd left the chain on when he'd opened it. Not that a chain would stop the other man if he really wanted to get in, but it made him feel a little better. Adam was almost sure that the Shifter wouldn't go against decades of training to break into someone's home. Almost.
"I've been having these dreams about you," Flack said slowly. "Dreams where I...do something I shouldn't."
Adam hugged himself as he remembered the whole thing in a vivid flash. His stomach clenched, fear and humiliation flooding through him and likely saturating the air.
Flack immediately hissed in anger and said, "Fuck! I did it, didn't I?"
Cautious, Adam asked, "You don't remember?"
Flack admitted, "I don't remember much for a couple of days after finding Mac in Kendricks' lab. Just bits and pieces. We tore that bastard to shreds, but I only know that because I've seen the crime scene pictures. Shit, Adam, I am so sorry. I would never have done that to you if I'd been in my right mind."
Adam let out a shaky breath and moved to unchain the door. "C'mon in."
The shock on Flack's face was gratifying as the other man exclaimed, "You're going to trust me after what I did to you? You should bring me up on assault charges."
Opening the door, Adam replied, "You weren't yourself. You did something terrible, but not to me. Killing someone, especially like that, it costs you. I mean, yeah, don't get me wrong, I don't want a repeat, but you didn't hurt me and you could have. I was ah, expecting to get, um, mounted."
Flack's mouth thinned as he stepped inside and then countered flatly, "You mean raped."
Adam's mind shied away from that word and he closed the door, deliberately not facing the other man as he replied, "It didn't happen, so it doesn't matter what you call it."
He yelped in fright when he turned and Flack was directly in front of him, stumbling back instinctively. Flack's face took on a grim cast as he said, "If you're afraid of me, it damn well does matter, Adam."
Sighing, Adam ran a hand through his hair and told him, "I'm not afraid of you, not when you're, you know, normal. You just startled me right now is all."
Flack eyed him for a long moment and then asked, "When it happened...I think I remember smelling you, that you were into it. When it started, I mean. Did I hallucinate that? Make it up to make it less terrible to myself?"
Adam flushed, but shook his head. "No. No, when you first cornered me I was...if it had been anyone else, I would've fought back for real, but it was you. I couldn't, couldn't not submit to you. God that's embarrassing to say out loud. You probably have no respect for me at all now."
"That's not true," Flack rejected sharply. "You got nothing to be embarrassed about, Adam, it's all on me."
Adam sighed, "What a mess. Look, you want a beer? I'm guessing you're off shift or you wouldn't be here."
Flack shook his head as he moved closer, an intent expression in place. Adam watched him warily, but didn't give ground. It felt like some kind of test and he'd be damned if Flack thought him a coward. When Flack against stood right in front of him, he reached up to gently pull the bandage off Adam's neck. Wincing at the tug of tape from skin, Adam stayed still so the other could see firsthand what he'd done. He sensed that it was important, though he couldn't have said why.
The cooler air caused Adam to shiver as he stood for Flack's inspection.
Flack hissed in apparent anger and said, "I used fangs? Jesus fuckin' Christ! Adam, man, I am so sorry."
Adam's lips quirked into a brief grin as he looked up at the taller man. "So you said. And as I said, you weren't yourself."
But Flack didn't seem willing to let this go. He demanded, "You need to bring me up on charges! I assaulted you, Adam, I almost raped you!"
Twitching away from him, smoothing the bandage back into place as he did, Adam walked to the kitchen to get beers; it was going to be a long night, he could just tell. Flack had sat on the sofa when he returned and accepted one of the beers. Adam sat on the recliner opposite the sofa and took a long gulp from the beer and tried to think about what he could say that would get them past this.
Flack spoke first, though. Staring down at the bottle of beer, he said, "I haven't been myself since Angell died, I know that. I've been...hell, you know how I've been. I won't make excuses, definitely not for what happened, but if you won't press charges, I want you to at least feel safe around me. Tell me what I can do to make that happen."
Adam thought about it, but nothing came to mind. He shrugged and said, "I guess just time. I mean, it's like I said. You don't scare me like this, when I know you're okay. Are you okay now?"
The other man took a few seconds to consider his question, which made Adam feel better. "I saw a shrink today. Can't believe it, voluntarily going down there and spilling my guts like I did, but...yeah. I mean, no, I'm not totally okay, but I'm better. Thought I was going to go crazy after Jessica died, probably did when I think about it now, but I'm still here. It kinda fucks with my head, not dying after I lost her. I thought I would, but I didn't. Isn't that what mates do, though?"
Adam had no idea how to answer the plaintive words or pleading blue eyes. He walked over to Flack and hesitantly gripped his shoulder. "I'm sorry you lost her."
Shock lit through him when Don wrapped his arms around Adam's waist and held on tight, face buried against his midriff. He stood stock-still, bewildered, and then lowered both hands to Don's shoulders, rubbing in a soothing manner. Don shook now and then, and Adam felt the tears soaking into his shirt, but not a single sound escaped the grieving Shifter.
It was enough to spark tears in Adam's own eyes.
* * * *
Two days after waking up as literally a new man, Mac couldn't believe the changes in his own body. He felt stronger than he ever had before and his reflexes were off the chart. His high blood pressure had disappeared and so had his borderline cholesterol levels. His new, heightened senses of smell and hearing caused the most problems; he wasn't used to needing to filter out things like Shifters did. The stench of his own body got to him pretty quickly. So did the underlying smell of sickness randomly coming from the hall which meant someone near death had either walked or been wheeled by his room. Loud noises made him flinch, even from two rooms down, like when an old man had flung a tray at the wall and shouted at his nurse.
Mark had stuck around to continue his testing and Mac was thoroughly sick of the sight of him, if only because seeing him meant more testing. And while he could appreciate the consideration that such thoroughness meant, he really, really wanted to get the hell out of the hospital.
Stella's unique scent preceded her through the door and he smiled in anticipation. Surely today would be the day he could leave. There couldn't possibly be anything else to test him on or with. He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, and waited.
The door opened a few seconds later and Stella walked in, smiling. "Alright, Mark's agreed you can leave but on the condition that someone stays with you for at least a week. We still don't know what delayed after-effects might happen."
Mac was ready to agree to anything that got him out of the hospital. "Done."
She laughed and said, "Okay. Get dressed and I'll get the paperwork started."
Something suddenly mixed with Stella's happy scent, something that made Mac stiffen in anger, though he couldn't have said what.
"Perfect timing," Stella muttered, glancing at him. "You, behave."
And then the door opened to let in Lindsay. Mac's nostrils flared as he breathed in the other Shifter's scent, memorizing it. Just in case he needed to know it later. Lindsay looked at him with a wary expression, brow furrowed, which caused Mac to frown. She was the one who'd decided to come, it wasn't like he'd invited her... which made him think that maybe he should have. She was part of the pack, regardless of what he wanted. She was the mother of Danny's child and had slid into their pack easier than he could have anticipated on her first getting to NYC.
Mac forced himself to relax and said to Stella, "Go on and get the paperwork started."
Stella arched a warning eyebrow at him, but left them alone.
"I probably should've checked to see if I could come by, but I was afraid you would say not to," Lindsay said. "And I need to tell you something."
Mac held up a hand and interrupted, "Lindsay, wait. I need to apologize to you."
The wariness increased, but she didn't back away. It was something he'd always admired about her; her gumption and determination.
Mac sighed and stood up, but kept his hands loose and unthreatening at his sides. "We never talked about what happened, when Danny and I slept together, and we should have. I never apologized for my actions and I really should have. I'm sorry for the pain I caused you. And Danny, because he was happy with you and Lucy, and I ruined that. For a long time, I didn't know what I had with him, not really, and then I did and screwed it up anyhow. And then there was you and Lucy and all I had was regret. Don told me that you two split, but don't do it because of what happened, Lindsay. You all deserve better than that. You should be a family and how I feel shouldn't interfere. I truly am sorry."
Lindsay seemed to deflate at his words and something sharp filled the air, something that reminded Mac of sorrow despite the faint smile on Lindsay's face. She dashed a hand across her eyes and gave him a watery chuckle. "I hate you just a little right now, because I can't hate you at all after that. But it does make what I have to say easier. Thank you, for that. And for the apology. But I think... Danny's the one who needs an apology from both of us. He tried, he really did, but I just... no, even before the two of you s-slept together, I started pulling back. I think it was when he didn't protect us from that maniac. I know that's not fair, he wasn't even awake, but in my gut he should've been there and instead, I had to kill someone to protect my baby."
Mac's heart went out to her, looking so small and sad. He wanted to hold her and protect her from all the things that went bump in the night.
Lindsay cleared her throat and straightened, meeting his gaze head-on for the first time. "Danny doesn't belong to me anymore and that's my fault. But he doesn't belong to you anymore, either. If you're very lucky, you could change that. I recognize your prior claim and I'm stepping aside. And I hope that my remaining as pack won't be a problem."
He saw how very brave she was and reacted the only way he could. Mac crossed the few feet between them and pulled her into a tight hug, kissing the top of her head. "You're family, Lindsay. You'll always have a place with us."
She hugged him back just as tight and then pushed him back, smiling brightly up at him. "Okay. Well, I'll see you at work then. When are you back?"
"As soon as Stella says I can," he replied wryly.
The door opened which made him suspect that Stella had been eavesdropping and waiting for the right moment to come in. Stella wagged a finger at him. "I heard that."
Mac laughed a little.
Lindsay gave Stella a smile, too, and said, "I'm off, then. I'll see you both later."
As soon as Lindsay left, Stella grinned broadly. "So."
Mac scowled at her. "Don't start."
"Yeah, that innocent look hasn't worked on me in, what, at least a decade?"
Stella laughed, a bright, happy sound. "Paperwork's done and, since you were never officially here in the first place, you can even walk out under your own power."
Mac snorted. "So if I was never really here, why was there paperwork?"
Stella linked her arm with his as they left the room and explained, "Paperwork is relative. I was really just checking in with Dr. Gersh to let him know that you were ready to go so we didn't need the room anymore. He's been covering for us pretty creatively and is glad to see you leave. No offense."
"None taken," Mac said, half-grinning himself. "I'll have to send him a thank you. Where's Mark?"
"At the hotel resting. He's going home later today. And Miles and Stephen left yesterday. They're already in DC talking to Chegwidden."
Mac sobered immediately. He would probably have to talk to the man, too. "What does Chegwidden have to say about all of this?"
The elevator door opened with people already on it, though, so the discussion was tabled. Mac shifted uncomfortably in the elevator with all the smells so close together, but breathed shallowly through his mouth in an attempt to minimize it. Thankfully, it was a short ride and they were out of it not a minute later.
But then came the noise and other, stronger smells. It was like someone had sprayed the inside of his nose with car exhaust and trash and a cacophony of traffic sounds slammed into his eardrums. He flinched and stumbled backwards, away from the main doors that kept opening and closing with each person who entered and exited the hospital.
"Mac? Mac, it's okay, come over here," Stella ordered, tugging him back down the hall and then into a handy conference room.
Once the door closed, Mac could breathe again with the smells and noise muted. He caught his breath and said, "How the hell do you stand it?"
Stella's face scrunched in worry as she said, "We grew up learning to deal with it. You haven't had that chance. Mark thought this might happen. You're going to need time to adjust."
Made helpless by his body's reactions and angry at the helplessness, Mac demanded, "How? I can't even get through the doors!"
Stella opened her purse and pulled out a few surgical masks and a pair of earplugs. "Start with these. You'll look a bit weird, but they'll help. You're not due back to work until next week and hopefully by then you'll have gotten the hang of things."
Mac reluctantly took the double-filtered masks and fitted them over his mouth and nose. Next were the earplugs, which immediately muffled everything.
Stella gave him a hopeful look. "Ready to try again?"
"As I'll ever be," Mac sighed.
This time, thankfully, they made it out of the hospital. As ridiculous as Mac felt, the masks and plugs worked. He felt normal, even if he looked stupid. They got into Stella's SUV and as soon as the doors closed and the air was on, Mac pulled off the masks. He left in the earplugs, though, not sure how soundproof the windows might be. He prompted, "So, Chegwidden?"
Stella pulled into traffic and said, "Furious, from all accounts."
"You haven't spoken to him directly?"
"No, thank God. I've spoken to Commander Rabb, his mate. Chegwidden's at some kind of military conference for the next week. Rabb kept him informed, though, and we've spoken a few times about you while you were recovering. Stephen's going to be giving the original journals to Rabb and working from copies. Or maybe from Miles' memory. I think the kid's eidetic."
"Of course he is," Mac muttered. Why was he always surrounded by genius? Not that he was stupid, but it was enough to give a simple Marine a complex sometimes.
Stella chucked as if knowing what he was thinking. "In any case, you're not to worry about any of that. All you need to do is get used to your new abilities and learn to work with them, not be overwhelmed."
And that, Mac had the feeling, would be a very tall order.
* * * *
Three days after Mac got released from the hospital, Stella cornered Danny in the lab. He hadn't seen her since she'd gone to pick the other man up, staying at Mac's apartment. One minute he was looking through a microscope at a hair sample and the next she'd viciously grabbed his ear and pulled him away by twisting it.
"Ow! Ow! Stel, leggo!" Danny yelped, swatting ineffectively at her.
Stella pinched it even harder and twisted it again before letting him go. Her glare should've set him on fire, turning him into a smudge on the floor. It was the look, more than the manhandling, that clued Danny into exactly what she was pissed about.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Danny said defensively, "The last thing he wants to see is me, Stella."
Her scowl tightened and she said, "You're the only thing he wants to see, Danny. He's miserable. His senses are out of control, his body doesn't even feel like his own, and the only thing he wants is a little bit of stability and a lot of love. That means you, last I checked."
Danny hugged himself tighter and shook his head. "I can't, Stel. I just...he hates me for what I put him through. Said so plenty of times before his voice gave out. From screaming."
Stella sighed, her face relaxing into sympathy. "Oh, Danny. He didn't mean it. He was in a lot of pain, but that's exactly why he didn't mean it. He doesn't even remember any of that, it's a total blank."
Danny remembered all of it, his stomach twisting in anxiety as his mind vividly replayed a few of the worst moments. "I can't face him, Stel, I can't. I hurt him so bad."
"I knew it was a bad idea to let you administer the doses," she said, sighing again. "Danny, you did what had to be done and he's alive now because of it. What are you going to do when he comes back to the lab? You can't avoid him forever, he's your supervisor."
A flush crept up his throat, heat flooding him along with guilt.
Stella's blue eyes narrowed at him. "What did you do?"
Unable to look at her, Danny said, "I put in for a job over in Brooklyn. It's a promotion, really. They been trying to get me for a couple years now. I'll be a supervisor instead of just a tech."
Stella let out a sharp breath, eyes going wide with shock this time. "Danny!"
Danny felt shaky as he whispered, "I can't face him after that, Stella, I really can't. I'm supposed to, to protect him. That's all I ever wanted, to be there for him but all I do is hurt him. Better I'm nowhere around him at all."
"Danny, no. You can't do this."
"I did. It's done. I'll put in my two weeks tomorrow. Been putting it off, but since you know now there's no point in waiting."
Stella stood there for another minute or so, but Danny refused to look at her knowing there would be betrayal waiting for him on her face. Maybe she'd forgive him, maybe she wouldn't, but that didn't change what he needed to do.
When she left, he let out a short, sharp breath to try and dispel the nausea doing its best to rise up. It took a few minutes for him to regain control enough to go back to work. Just because he was leaving didn't mean that he would slack off.
* * * *
By the time Danny got back to the tiny sublet he'd rented just the day before, he was exhausted. Thank God the place was furnished, because the last thing he'd needed in the last week was to go furniture shopping. It didn't have any of the homey touches that Stella's place did, but he'd anticipated her reaction and moved out accordingly. Just in time, too, it looked like.
He dropped face first onto the sofa and groaned, toeing off his shoes without moving and kicking them away. The place smelled way too human, but it was relatively cheap and had been available on the spot. At least it was clean, even if it was a studio.
Danny dozed for a while before someone knocked sharply at the door. He jolted awake hard enough to start his heart thudding against his ribs. The knocking sounded again and he snapped, "All right, already! Hold on!" before stalking to the door. He looked out the peephole and gaped in shock; even with a surgical mask covering the lower part of his face, the man on Danny's new doorstep was clearly Mac.
A shaky, pale Mac who looked about ready to keel over. Danny yanked the door open and said, "Get in here before you pass out."
Mac walked in silently, allowing Danny to slip an arm around his waist and help him over to the sofa. As soon as he deposited the other man there, Danny went back to shut and lock the door. Then he turned and stared in continued shock as Mac took off his masks, three apparently, and let out a long breath. Earplugs came out next. Mac put all the stuff on the coffee table and looked over at him.
Danny had no idea what the hell to say.
For a few minutes, Mac stayed silent as he recovered from the trek over, his coloring going back to normal and some of the tension bleeding out of him. And then he stood up and walked over to Danny, stopping only a few inches away.
Danny breathed in the scent he'd ached for, for months. It was different, but not completely; the essential 'Mac' remained.
"Don't leave," Mac finally said. "Whatever Brooklyn offered, I'll counter-offer. It's way past time you were promoted anyhow."
Danny blinked in shock. Mac had come over to convince him to stay at the lab? Pain of a different kind ran through him as he realized that Mac had only come out of professional obligation. There really wasn't anything left between them. Danny's hand went to his stomach and he stumbled back until he hit the door, despair stabbing him deep inside. He hadn't truly believed they were over until that moment.
Mac's eyes widened with alarm and he lurched forward, hands outstretched to grab Danny's arms. Danny tried to shake him off, walked sideways to get away, but he was suddenly wrapped in too-strong arms and Mac wouldn't let go. He wondered vaguely what the noise was that he could hear, sounded like someone was killing a dog.
His legs buckled finally under the emotional strain and things whited out for a while. When he came to again, they were on the floor and he was wrapped around Mac's lower body like some kind of living blanket. His face was pressed against Mac's belly and his fingers hurt from holding so long, however long it had been.
One of Mac's hands rubbed up and down Danny's back while the other had laced through his hair, just shy of too-tight. Danny's breathing had gone back to normal, but he felt utterly wrung out, his whole body as sore as if he'd been pummeled for hours.
"You back with me?"
Danny nodded, but didn't move. He didn't want to lose the contact, even though he knew he had to, and shame heated all over him in a flash-flood of goosebumps.
"Hey, stop that," Mac ordered sharply. "You didn't do anything wrong, Danny. This is my fault. I... look, can we move to the sofa? My legs have fallen asleep."
Danny sat up immediately, hands releasing Mac with a few cracked knuckles. He winced more at the bruises that were sure to be forming on Mac's legs than any pain on his part. "Sorry, yeah. Sure."
It took a few minutes for Mac to beat sensation back into his legs and Danny helped him to the sofa for a second time. Before he could retreat, Mac grabbed his hand and yanked him down, putting an arm around his shoulders for extra measure. Danny sat there, obedient but stiff with discomfort.
Mac sighed deeply. "First of all, what I said came out all wrong. Well, no, I will counter-offer whatever Brooklyn offered, but I shouldn't have led with that. I should have said that I fucked up and I'm sorry, because I did and I am."
Confusion swirled through Danny and he denied, "You didn't, I did. I put you through hell, Mac."
"Danny, stop, please," Mac all but pleaded. His arm tightened around Danny and he kissed the top of Danny's head. "Please, just listen to me."
Danny nodded slowly, staying silent.
"I need to go back and apologize for what went down with Peyton."
Danny hadn't thought things could get any worse. Obviously he needed to lower his standards. "Mac, don't."
"No, we need to talk about this," Mac insisted. "You started to and then Flack showed up and I started drinking and we never got back to it. So here it is. I fucked up. You needed me and I bailed. I left you and Adam without looking back. I am more sorry for that than I can ever say."
"Why did you?"
Mac sighed heavily and gently tugged Danny closer. This time, he went, slouching down a little and resting against the other man. "I panicked. We were...too close. You were too close and I'd almost lost you in that hostage situation and I just...panicked. As soon as I knew you were out, I saw Peyton and jumped on the chance to put up walls again. Only, when I got back and saw you with Lindsay... You don't know how gutted I felt seeing the two of you together and there was nothing I could do about it. I'd gotten exactly what I asked for by leaving you."
The pain in Mac's voice would have been enough to convince Danny even if he hadn't smelled the sorrow that drifted into the air between them. And even though he didn't want to ask, he had to. "What's to say you won't do it again?"
Mac drew in a sharp breath and then let it out just as hard. "I know now what I lost, Danny. I swear to God that I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you. I know it'll take a long time for you to trust me again, I just, I want the chance to try. Can you forgive me enough to try?"
Danny huffed out a dark laugh, remembering how he'd said almost the exact same thing to Lindsay not all that long ago.
"Nothing, it's not important."
They sat there in silence for a long time and even though he kept waiting for Mac to ask for his answer, the other man stayed silent. It wasn't a truly comfortable silence, not like it used to be, but Danny relaxed slowly into it. There was nothing of accusation or hate or anger anywhere to be found. His head lowered onto Mac's shoulder and his breathing evened-out over time until he drowsed in Mac's arms.
"I ain't been sleepin' good," Danny mumbled at last. "Missed this. You."
Mac kissed his temple and said, "Me, too, Danny."
With his senses saturated in Mac, Danny fell into the first dreamless, restful sleep he'd had in months.
* * * *
Danny grew heavy in his arms and when he fell asleep, Mac felt so much relief and joy that tears sparked at the corners of his eyes. The Shifter hadn't answered him in words, but he knew just how much trust was an issue with Danny normally, let alone after everything they'd gone through; falling asleep like this spoke louder than anything he could have said.
When Stella had told him what Danny was planning, panic had again flashed through him. This time, at the thought that he would lose the younger man completely. He'd somehow always assumed that Danny would always be around to work thing out, especially after Lindsay's declaration. The news that Danny had accepted another job in a different lab altogether had shown him just how much Mac had misjudged the situation.
Stella hadn't been thrilled at him rushing out to Danny when he could barely leave the apartment, but she'd driven him over after getting the new address from Adam. Those hacking skills came in really handy sometimes, Mac had to admit.
Mac's chest tightened as he remembered the anguished sounds Danny had made. He'd thought that talking about something simple, like work, would put them on an easier footing. Yet again, he'd completely misjudged the situation. Danny had clearly thought that Mac was no longer part of his life except as his boss and the imagined destruction of their bond had sent the Shifter into a fugue of grief.
If he never heard those sounds again, it would be way the fuck too soon.
Mac didn't know where they would go from here, but it would be forward. There was no chance he would leave Danny until one of them died. And Mac had to pray that he died first because he couldn't go through that kind of loss again, not after Claire.
Shaking off the bleak thoughts, Mac slowly moved them until they were prone on the overstuffed sofa. It was the biggest thing about the studio and while it obviously pulled out, Mac wouldn't risk waking Danny to do so. Instead, he crowded Danny against the back of the sofa and kept his arms wrapped around his mate, pressing his face to the curve of Danny's throat to breathe him in. The fear and loss taint had faded from the air, thank God, to be slowly replaced with relaxation and sleep.
It took a long time, but Mac finally drifted into an uneasy sleep, half-expecting to have dreamed it all and for Danny to be gone in the morning. To wake up in his own apartment, alone again. The drain of the evening's confrontation had taken a toll on him, too, though, and he reluctantly fell asleep.
* * * *
Mac woke up in the exact same position in which he'd fallen asleep. Daylight had flooded the small apartment, making it seem even smaller, but that didn't matter. All that Mac cared about was Danny sound asleep and curled up against him, one leg thrown possessively around Mac's hip. It was impossible to miss the other man's hard-on and Mac shivered in his own arousal.
He breathed in deep and this time pulled in pure Danny. His hands slid slowly down Danny's back and he groaned silently in need. It had been so damn long. The drunken sex didn't even count since he still couldn't remember much of it, just teasing flashes.
Danny stirred, his hips pushing against Mac's. When he moved up enough to suck on Mac's throat, it was enough to harden Mac the rest of the way and pull a real moan out of him. Danny froze, coming awake all at once.
Mac didn't let him go, instead whispering, "Morning."
"God, Mac," Danny groaned, fingers digging into Mac's hips. Then he surged up to kiss Mac, hard and hungry.
Mac opened to it with his own need, tongue thrusting into Danny's mouth and shifting on top of his mate. Mate. Something inside fell into place at the acknowledgment. Danny bombarded his senses, the taste and smell of him so much more intense than anything Mac had ever before experienced. He couldn't remember ever being this hungry for Danny, wanting to put his mouth everywhere on him. Mac impatiently grabbed Danny's shirt and pulled, but pulled too hard, ripping it open. Surprised, Mac stopped to look at what he'd done, fingering the torn halves in his hands.
Danny laughed, a delighted sound, and did the same to Mac's shirt. "It's a kick, ain't it? All that strength."
The unabashed happiness that just about set Danny aglow shivered through Mac and he smiled broadly in return, basking in the unexpected turn of events. He hadn't hoped for even half this much and was reminded just how generous Danny was with his affections and his forgiveness.
Danny slid his fingers over Mac's chest and then down to his belt, undoing it in short order. "Want you in me."
The words rendered Mac mute with desire and he hastily set about unzipping Danny, batting his lover's hands out of the way. He went down without hesitation, as soon as Danny's cock was free. Danny groaned when Mac's mouth surrounded him, sucking on him without mercy even as his hands tugged pants and boxers out of the way, throwing them to the floor. He wanted more, sucking and licking as much as he could and reveling in the taste that had never seemed so sharp and pure.
When Mac flipped Danny over using pure strength, it was a first. Danny had always been just a little too solid for him to do it before, their physical differences limiting him. Danny yelped in surprise and then laughed again, the sound muffled into a cushion this time. The laughter merged into a deep moan when Mac buried his tongue in Danny's ass, unable to get enough of the taste of him.
"Mac, oh Christ, Mac, please, please fuck me," Danny begged, legs splayed apart as far as the clothing at his ankles allowed.
Mac hopped to his feet, panting with lust, and stripped as fast as he could. Danny kicked off his clothes the rest of the way while Mac jogged to the bathroom and grabbed the first thing that looked like it would work. He quirked an eyebrow at Danny on returning and teased, "Rose bath oil?"
"Oh shut up, it's not even my bathroom stuff," Danny grumbled. The twinkle in his blue eyes belied the cross words, though and he hitched his ass up in invitation as he demanded, "Well?"
Mac didn't need to be told twice. He knelt between Danny's legs and drizzled the oil over his hole, pushing in a finger to work him over. Danny shuddered in reaction and a burst of the most delicious something flooded the air between them. Mac's cock dripped with precome in reaction and he literally snarled, the chest-deep noise rumbling possessively from deep within.
Danny's breath hitched at the sound and his head jerked sideways exposing his throat in a way that had Mac just barely holding onto his control. He wanted to sink his teeth into that vulnerable curve and started finger-fucking Danny in earnest with two fingers. He pulled them out only long enough to flip Danny over again, needing to see his face.
"Yeah, yeah that's perfect," Danny muttered, shoving a cushion under his ass and pulling his legs up to rest on Mac's shoulders.
Mac could barely think as his cock pushed relentlessly home, Danny's moans and half-gasped begging urging him on. Mac leaned over him, hands on Danny's chest as he sank in until he couldn't go any deeper. He bent in even further and Danny met him halfway, kissing wet and nasty with his mouth open and tongue fucking into Mac's mouth.
It was a pretty awkward position on the sofa, the cushions too soft to get much purchase as he fucked Danny. It wasn't until Mac had the brilliant idea of holding onto the arm of the sofa that things really got going. With something sturdy to hold onto, Mac finally got a good rhythm going. Danny arched up when Mac's cock at last slid over his prostate and kept on doing it, harder and faster as Mac tried his damnedest to get as deep inside his mate as he could.
Danny growled unexpectedly and he grabbed Mac's hair, pulling painfully tight to drag him down into reach only to sink fangs into Mac's throat, marking him permanently. Mac completely lost it, humping into Danny with all his newfound strength and clamping fangs he couldn't control into Danny's neck, breaking the skin and tasting his mate's blood for the first time. He came seconds later, grinding into his mate and sealing them together at all points.
They lay there for what seemed like an eternity. Mac floated on endorphins in a way he never had before, nuzzling and licking at the sluggishly bleeding mark on Danny's throat while getting the same treatment in return. His cock eventually slipped out of his mate and Danny sighed deeply, rumbling a contented noise as he stretched luxuriously under Mac.
Mac slid his hands into sweat-dampened hair and tugged Danny into a slow, lazy kiss that was more about love than lust. Letting himself go, Mac broke the kiss only to rest completely on his mate, ear pressed over the slow beating heart and his eyes closing.
Danny combed his fingers through Mac's short hair and he murmured, "I forgive you."
Mac went utterly still for a few seconds and then gasped in a breath, gratitude and love flashing through him as his arm tightened around Danny's waist. He kissed the smooth skin of his lover's chest and whispered, "Thank you."
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