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By My Side

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Surrounded by the sound of laughter and Jack’s voice on speaker telling them how he almost caused an international incident in Brazil, Mac tried really hard to relax and let go of everything that had happened in Chechnya and Paris, but he just couldn’t get the Ghost out of his head, his voice clear as everything he had said ringed repeatedly in Mac’s mind. On top of that, even though it had been hours, Mac still couldn’t shake off that feeling of a complete helplessness when he had thought he wouldn’t be able to disarm that huge bomb in Paris, panic flooding every inch of his body until by some kind of miracle, Riley had managed to knock some sense into him. Thankfully, everything had ended well, the bomb had been disarmed, lives of many people had been saved, but Mac still could feel the words what if heaving painfully on his chest, so he just smiled and laughed whenever anyone else did, but in all honesty, he couldn’t even tell what Jack was talking about.

He didn’t even realize the phone call ended until Bozer put his phone away, but it wasn’t even ten seconds later when Mac’s own phone started buzzing in his pocket. He wasn’t even that surprised when he saw the name on the screen, so he headed to the kitchen, not wanting to have this conversation with everybody else listening in.

“You do realize you just finished talking to us seconds ago or is your memory that bad?” Mac answered the phone, leaning against the counter.

“Very funny, genius.” Jack’s voice sounded in his ear and Mac couldn’t help but smile. “My storytelling ain’t that bad, man, and yet, you’ve been barely reacting all time, you haven’t even lectured me once.”

“I thought you’d be happy about that.”

“I probably would’ve if I didn’t know you as well as I do.” Jack’s voice grew more serious, softer, and Mac’s heart did a funny flip in his chest. “So why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”

“It’s nothing.” Mac replied, doing his best to keep the tone of his voice as normal as possible. “I’m just tired, it’s been a long day. A few days, actually.”

“See, I’d buy that, but that’s not your tired voice, it’s your ‘I’m worried and scared about something’ voice, and I hate that one.” Jack said and Mac cursed internally – Jack knew him too well.

“It’s fine, Jack. Really, I’m fine.” Mac insisted, determined to convince his partner there was nothing to worry about. “I just need to sleep it off and I’ll be good.”

“Are you sure?” Jack asked, his voice laced with concern. “Because we’re almost done here anyway and the guys will handle it, so I can ditch ‘em and be in LA in ten hours. Just say a word.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, Mac swallowed down the words yes, please, come back, his heart beating faster at a mere thought of Jack coming home. But Mac couldn’t do this, he couldn’t make him come back sooner just because he missed Jack more than anything and felt like he was falling apart without Jack to pick up the pieces and glue them back together. Jack had a job to do and Mac wasn’t going to let his selfishness get in the way. Besides, if he took Jack up on his offer, he wasn’t sure he would be able to keep his feelings for Jack hidden away when his partner would get to LA, so it was probably for the best if Mac had a few days more to compose himself before facing Jack.

“No, Jack, it’s ridiculous.” Mac said, forcing himself to sound calm and relaxed. “Everything’s fine here.”

“Alright.” Jack’s voice came after a few seconds, still sounding dubious. “I’ll see you soon, okay?”

“Yeah.” Mac nodded, gripping his phone tightly, knowing the conversation was coming to an end and soon enough he would have to face his thoughts without Jack to distract him from them. “Try not to blow up Brazil.”

“That’s your job, man.” Jack laughed loudly before hanging up, the sound of Jack’s laughter making Mac feel all warm inside, and for at least few seconds it made him feel like was okay.

Sighing, he put his phone back in his pocket and walked back to the deck. They sat there for a while longer, but eventually everyone started to clear out, exhaustion catching up with them after the stressful op. Matty and Riley headed to their homes, Charlie to his hotel and Bozer disappeared in his bedroom after making Mac promise he would try and get some rest as well. And Mac tried, he really did, but he gave up after tossing in bed for a few hours, unable to close his eyes without images of Peña, the Ghost and the Paris bomb going off flashing right in front of him.

Back on the deck, Mac wasn’t sure how long he had been sitting there, just staring at the fire pit, reliving the conversation with the Ghost over and over in his mind. There was one moment when a sound of birds chirping broke him out of his thoughts and he realized it was already bright outside, a glance at his watch telling him it was only a few minutes before seven. Stretching, he winced when he heard something crack in his neck, but he did his best to make himself more comfortable – there was no point in going back to bed, he wouldn’t be able to sleep and Bozer would be up in a few hours anyway. Mac would just wait, then he would try to help Bozer make breakfast, and then he would try to find a way of getting through another day without being consumed by the thoughts of the Ghost.

“You’ve gotta at least start locking the door for the night, man.” A sudden voice behind him made Mac jump and whip his head around, and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw Jack walking up on the deck.

“You’re just makin’ it too easy for the bad guys to stroll in here, just like I did right now which is something we should probably address in the near future, Mr. Trained Operative Who Should Have Heard Me Coming The Moment I Stepped Through The Door.” Jack added, giving Mac a pointed look as he sat down next to him while Mac still tried to recover from the shock of seeing Jack here, in Los Angeles at seven in the freaking morning.

“I…” Mac shook his head, trying to gather his thoughts. “How are you here, Jack?”

“I jumped on a plane the moment you hung up last night.” Jack shrugged. “I told you I could be here in ten hours tops.”

“But… why?”

“Because you can spit that bullshit about being fine and dandy to everybody else, Mac, but not to me.” Jack sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “I’m not sure why you even bothered to try and fool me through the phone.”

“Jack, I’m-“

“If you say you’re fine, I’m going to smack you, man, I swear.” Jack cut him off before eyeing Mac up and down and shaking his head. “A word of advice, if you want to sleep something off, you need to actually sleep to do that.”

“What gave it away?” Mac asked with a defeated sigh.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Jack rolled his eyes, his voice laced with sarcasm. “The bags under your eyes? Your tired voice? Or maybe your shoulders, slumped as if you’ve been carrying the weight of the entire world on them?”

“Come on, Mac.” Jack said after a minute of silence between them, his voice so unbelievably soft that Mac felt like crying. “Talk to me.”

“How much has Matty told you?”

“All I know is that during the fancy dinner you were approached by a woman working for British Intelligence or somethin’ who claimed to have intel on the Ghost.” Jack said, the expression on his face turning darker. “And that you tried to get him from Chechnya, but someone broke him out of there, so you had to follow him to Paris.”

When Mac didn’t say anything, Jack looked him for a few seconds and then he narrowed his eyes. “And from the look on your face, I can tell that somethin’ serious went down there. So spill it, genius boy, even though I already know I’m not going to like it.”

Taking a deep breath, Mac started talking, telling Jack about the warehouse and about discovering the entrance to the catacombs. When he got to the part about the workshop and the videos they had found, Mac could tell Jack was gritting his teeth, but kept quiet for now, and Mac was grateful for that, it was easier to tell the story without interruptions.

“He was right there, Jack.” Mac sighed, his mind flashing back to that one day in Afghanistan, to that street when the Ghost and his team left the device that later killed twelve people. “He was setting the bomb right in front of me and I didn’t know.”

“You couldn’t have known, buddy.” Jack said, rubbing Mac’s back comfortingly and it took everything in Mac’s power not to lean into the touch.

“Yeah, I guess.” Mac nodded. “Anyway, while searching through the Ghost’s disguises, Eileen accidentally activated a bomb he set up in the workshop, so I…”

“Grabbed Charlie and the girl, and ran out of there, putting as much distance between yourself and the bomb?” Jack asked hopefully, but with his eyes closed and a pained expression on his face as if he already didn’t believe in what he was saying.

“I told them to run and I tried to disarm the bomb, but there was not enough time, so I hid behind a metal cabinet just as the bomb went off.”

“For fuck’s sake, Mac.” Jack cursed under his breath. “When will you understand that you’re no good to anyone if you’re dead?”

“It didn’t knock me out, but my vision was blurry and my ears kept ringing,” Mac continued, ignoring Jack’s reaction for now. “And suddenly there was a man in front of me. He said he was the Ghost and then…” Mac paused, knowing that after hearing what he was about to say, Jack would go ballistic. “Then he punched me and everything went black, and the next thing I know, I’m waking up in another room with a huge bomb right next to me.”

“Five minutes.” Jack muttered and when Mac risked glancing at him, there was a slightly wild look in his eyes. “I leave you alone for FIVE MINUTES and you manage to not only almost get yourself blown up, but also get trapped in a room with another bomb!” He yelled, clenching his fists and shaking his head disbelievingly.

“If it helps, I wasn’t exactly trapped with the bomb, I wasn’t locked in the room-“

“NO, it doesn’t help because we both know damn well you would stay with the bomb until the very last second trying to disarm it instead of running the hell out of there!” Jack exclaimed, closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths to calm himself.

“That’s exactly what he said.” Mac said quietly. “The Ghost, he said I wouldn’t follow him because I would stay and try to disarm the bomb. And he was right.”

“Wait, Casper the Unfriendly Ghost was there?” Jack asked. “Next time lead with that.”

“I was getting there.” Mac rolled his eyes. “Yeah, he was standing right there, but he had a dead man’s switch in his hand, so I couldn’t do anything. And then he…” Mac paused, squeezing his eyes shut as the memories of the conversation played again in his mind.

“He said the bomb that killed Peña was meant for me.” He whispered and saying it out loud again only made the guilt inside him grow. Trying to blink away the tears that were welling up in his eyes, he took a stuttering breath, his hands clenched tightly to hide how badly they were trembling. “I was supposed to die in that house, but because our damn robot broke again, Peña went in instead, dying in a blast that was meant for me.”

“Hey, hey.” Jack said, moving closer and wrapping his arm around Mac’s shoulders. “It wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have predicted it, it’s not on you.”

“I should have died that day, not Peña. It should have been me.” Mac whispered and Jack’s grip on him tightened.

“Think of all the lives you wouldn’t have saved if you had died that day, Mac.” Jack said quietly. “So many people are alive thanks to you, myself included. It wasn’t your fault, Mac.” Jack repeated. “What happened next?” He asked gently, rubbing Mac’s back slowly until he felt his body slightly relax.

“He… said a lot of things, it was kind of a monologue, you know some bad guys like that.”

“Dramatic bastards.” Jack snorted and Mac gave him a weak smile. Enjoying the weight of Jack’s arm on his shoulder probably more than he should, he closed his eyes, imagining for a second Jack putting his arm around him in a completely different circumstances. Taking a deep breath, he continued the story, telling Jack the bomb the Ghost had supposedly hid somewhere for him and about Eileen showing up out of nowhere, and the unexpected revelation. He could tell from the way Jack’s eyes went dark when Mac told him about her running away after stabbing the Ghost that if Jack ever crossed paths with Eileen, it probably wouldn’t end very well for her – Jack didn’t do well with people that left someone behind, especially if that someone was Mac.

“And then there was a bomb.” Mac said quietly. “It was covered by this huge, metal thing, too heavy to lift, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to disarm it. I… completely lost it out there, Jack.” He whispered, his voice barely audible. “Riley somehow got me back on track and I managed to disarm it, but even then, when I was staring at the wires and the seconds ticking away, all I could think about was…” Mac paused, his heart beating wildly.

“Was?” Jack inquired gently.

“All I could think about was you.” Mac said, closing his eyes, not ready to look at Jack. “How I wished you were right there next to me, even though it was completely selfish because it would only put you in danger. How I would never see you again if I failed.”

 “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there, buddy.” Jack said quietly. “If it was up to me, I would never leave your side. And I can promise you, next time Matty wants to send me somewhere without you, she can find someone else, I ain’t leaving you again.”

“Don’t make any promises you can’t keep.” Mac said, smiling sadly. “Everyone always leaves me, sooner or later. I’m used to it by now.”

“I will never leave you.” Jack said, grabbing Mac’s shoulders and turning him so he would be forced to look at him. “I’m running out of ways to make you believe me, Mac, but I swear, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”

“You’d leave if I told you my biggest secret.” Mac said, and if someone asked him later why he brought it up in that moment, he wouldn’t be able to answer. Maybe he was just too tired of hiding, maybe he was so sleep deprived that he just didn’t care. Whatever it was, Mac decided it was time to lay all of his cards on the table. “If I told you things I have never told you.”

“Try me.” Jack challenged him, the fire in his eyes, and damn, Mac was really going to miss him when Jack left. “Tell me.”

“I never told you exactly how much you mean to me.” Mac started quietly. “I never told you that… That you ground me. That you keep me focused, that you keep me calm. That I’m at my best when I’m with you.” Refusing to look at Jack, Mac kept staring straight ahead. “During this entire op, since the moment I found out about the lead on the Ghost… All I wanted was for you to be there and tell me everything was going to be okay.” Fiddling with his fingers, Mac could tears well up in his eyes again. “I never told you that whenever I’m in pieces, you’re the only one that can put me back together.”

“Last night, when we talked and you said you’d come back if I said so… You have no idea how hard it was to tell you not to come. Because if you did, you would see it all.”

“I would see what exactly?” Jack asked hoarsely and Mac finally found the courage to look at him.

“You would see how much I love you. And how much I need you.” Mac whispered. “I never told you any of that either.” Smiling sadly, Mac tore his gaze away from Jack, bracing himself for the inevitable rejection and heartbreak.

“Did you…” Jack started, pausing for a moment and clearing his throat. “Did you really think that all of that would make me leave?”

Frowning, Mac looked at Jack and was shocked to see Jack smiling, his eyes shining with his own tears. “It… it won’t?” He asked, his thoughts racing through his head like crazy, but it all stopped, every thought in his head disappeared when Jack, instead of replying, leaned in and pressed his lips against Mac’s. After freezing for a second, Mac regained the control of his mind and body, and immediately kissed Jack back, wrapping his arms around Jack’s neck, pressing himself closer when he felt Jack’s arms circle around his waist.

Mac wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but after a moment Jack pulled away, not loosening the grip he had on Mac and keeping him close as he leaned his forehead against Mac’s. “Do you have any idea how long I have loved you?” He whispered against Mac’s lips. “I’m shocked that big brain of yours haven’t figured it out a long time ago, we both know subtle is not exactly my forte.”

“I… I didn’t know.” Mac replied, still dazed from the kiss and from the fact that apparently, Jack wasn’t leaving.

“No matter how badly you think you need me, I need you just as much.” Jack said fervently, pulling away a bit so he could look into Mac’s eyes. “And I’m never leaving you. Do you understand?”

Smiling, Mac nodded. “I think I finally do.” And when Jack pulled him back into the kiss, for the first time in a long time, Mac felt like he was actually going to be okay. As long as Jack was by his side, he would be just fine.

A few hours later, around eleven in the morning, Bozer stumbled out of his bedroom, yawning and stretching arms above his head. As he walked around the house, he was surprised Mac wasn’t up yet, he wasn’t the kind of person that slept in, especially since Bozer was convinced Mac stayed up way too long overthinking the entire situation with the Ghost. Wanting to make sure he was okay, Bozer tiptoed to Mac’s bedroom and quietly opened the door. When he peeked inside he was faced with a scene that he had lost hope to ever witness – Mac was deeply asleep on his bed as was Jack who had his arms wrapped tightly around Mac, his nose buried in Mac’s blonde hair.

Taking in the sight in front of him, Bozer smiled. “About damn time.” He muttered under his breath, retreating back to the hallway and carefully closing the door behind him, before heading to the kitchen to make breakfast for the three of them.

About damn time indeed.