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.”