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In the week following the Rainbow Room shooting, Mac did not have a single moment alone. Vic and/or Li Ann watched him constantly.

Theoretically, Mac thought, this should have felt sort of insulting, or stifling. But actually it made him feel incredibly safe.

The jokes about his fainting spells did get a little irritating before they finally trailed off around Thursday. But Mac didn't make a big deal about it. First of all, because he suspected that if he did, they'd never stop. Secondly, because he actually did faint again Sunday morning, and it was nice that Vic had been hovering sufficiently (and protectively) close that he was able to catch Mac before he smashed his skull on the bathroom sink.

Well, that was what Mac got for trying to change his own wound dressing.

Once Mac had come to, rested for a few minutes, and drunk a glass of water, his partners got him to sit on the closed toilet lid so that Li Ann could change the dressings. Vic stood to his left and squeezed his hands tightly and held his gaze, and chatted with him about things unrelated to blood-soaked bandages. Mac tried not to think about what was happening on his right side. It mostly worked. By the time he started to get dizzy again, Li Ann was already patting his shoulder and saying that it was all done. Figuring that the worst was over, Mac thanked her and stood up—and passed out cold into Vic's arms.

After that, whenever the dressings needed changing, they got him to sit on a towel on his bed, and they played his music fairly loud, and Vic stood to his left and squeezed his hands and told him jokes, and as soon as Li Ann finished with the dressings they got him to lie down for a few minutes and they gave him an ice pack to put on his forehead. That prevented any further fainting. Maybe the whole routine should have been a bit embarrassing, but actually it made Mac feel very loved and protected. Particularly because, while he was lying there afterwards with the ice on his forehead, trying not to think about blood, Vic and Li Ann developed the habit of lying down on either side of him and nibbling light little kisses along the sides of his face.

They meditated a couple of times every day. They put the sofa cushions on the floor in a circle and sat on them, cross-legged. Li Ann started them off every time with a variation on the familiar instructions that Sifu Jinpa used to give them: follow your breath. If your mind wanders, don't get upset, just return to your breath. That's the whole practice.

Easy peasy.


Mac's mind wandered.

When they sat Sunday morning, he kept thinking about the shooting. No surprise, maybe, with the gunshot wound throbbing along his right side.

He'd been shot at so many times in his life, it was honestly astounding that this was the first bullet that had ever made contact with his flesh. (Shot by a sad sack of a marshmallow dinosaur.) The bullets flying all around him had always scared the hell out of him, but at the same time he'd had a sort of vague conviction that he could never really get hit. (In the warehouse with his mother, he hadn't even ducked).

The bullet had grazed his right side. He'd been moving to the right, turning and pushing Ben towards the relative cover of the stage-left curtains. If Mac had moved a little faster, the bullet would have hit him full-on. It could have pierced his liver, or his spine.

Breathe. Remember to breathe.

To Mac's left, Vic shifted restlessly and murmured "How much longer are we doing this for?"

"We've been sitting for three minutes," Li Ann said mildly, following a quick glance at the timer she'd set. "We said we were going to do ten."

Actually, Vic's restlessness was a great comfort to Mac. It gave Mac an opportunity to roll his eyes at Vic, feel momentarily superior, and re-focus.

The bullet lancing along his side.

Let it go. Breathe.

Run across the stage a little slower—Ben gets hit. Half a step faster—a bullet in Mac's spine.

Let it go. Breathe.

Vic shifted his legs again, groaned, rolled his shoulders.

Mac smirked (grateful for the distraction), and then his breath caught and he started coughing.

Once he'd started coughing, it was hard to stop, and every convulsion of his chest made fresh bright fiery pain spike outwards from the gunshot wound.

He felt Vic's arm around his shoulders, heard Vic saying, "I think maybe we should stop. Do you want to stop?"

Mac nodded, because he couldn't quite speak yet. His eyes were watering from the pain. He'd had his fill of the meditation session (enough thinking about bullets; the practice was to let the thoughts go, but it was so fucking hard) and he was happy enough to take the coughing fit as an excuse.

"Well," Li Ann said, "That was four minutes. We can try again this evening."

Mac was still sick. He'd been sick since Wednesday night, when he'd shivered and sneezed all though his seven-hour shift outdoors in his too-thin coat. (Winter in Toronto sucked. Why did anyone live here?)

Vic wanted Mac to complain about it, and that was hard for Mac to wrap his head around. Mac was pretty sure that his ability to tough things out and get the job done was one of his better qualities. But Vic kept poking at him about it all day Sunday—How are you feeling, Mac? How's your head, how's your throat, does it hurt when you breathe? Tell me about those wolves.—Li Ann looked bemused, but she didn't interfere, and she backed Vic up when he insisted that Mac spend basically the whole day (apart from wound care and meditation) wrapped up in three blankets on the couch, with Vic bringing him tea and soup at intervals.

Mac was in a lot of pain, and he was very tired, so lying on the couch and letting Vic take care of him had its appeal—but it also felt very wrong. There were times in the day when Mac felt like he was going to squirm out of his skin from the wrongness of it. Late in the afternoon it really got to be too much, and when Vic left him unattended for a moment, Mac got up and tried to do something useful. His gun needed cleaning.

Vic came out of the bathroom and found Mac sitting at the dining table with his gun in pieces, and immediately shooed him back to the couch without letting him finish. "I told you to rest," he half-fussed, half-snapped, tucking the blankets back around Mac. He turned to Li Ann, who was perched delicately on the round red chair reading a book about Renaissance art, and said, "Why didn't you stop him from getting up?"

"I'm sure he was fine," Li Ann murmured, turning the page without looking up. "He was just sitting at the table."

Vic shook his head, and frowned, and went and got the thermometer. Mac rolled his eyes but let Vic tuck it under his tongue, because he knew better by now than to try to stop Vic when he was on a mother-hen kick.

"See?" Vic said, maybe a bit triumphantly, when the three minutes were up. "You still have a fever. A hundred and one." He squinted at the tiny numbers. "Point five."

Not like that was news to Mac—his joints and muscles were still aching, and he couldn't shake that shivery feeling even when he was wrapped in all the blankets. That didn't mean he was incapable of doing anything, though. "That's a low fever," he pointed out. "I can fucking sit at the table and put my gun back together."

Vic just shook his head and frowned. "Michael really did a number on you, didn't he?"

Mac felt a useless shot of adrenaline just hearing the name. But he couldn't figure out why Vic had just said that. "What the hell does any of this have to do with Michael?"

"He's the one who taught you that you shouldn't admit when you're sick," Vic said.

Mac shook his head, confused. "Why do you think that?"

"I told him," Li Ann said from across the room.

"Why do you think that?" Mac asked.

"Because it's true," she said. "I remember how Michael used to tell you to push through it if you were hurt or sick. He didn't give you the option of showing weakness or vulnerability. You had to keep going even if you could barely stand up."

"Okay, sure," Mac conceded. "But it's not like I was fighting him on it. I knew he was right."

"He wasn't right," Vic said, giving Mac a sharp look. "That's the whole point. You make things worse when you push yourself. You need to rest, so that you can heal."

"Remember the malaria?" Li Ann added mildly, and turned another page.

"Okay, you have a point about the malaria," Mac had to admit. "I probably should've gone to the doctor on the first day."

"Uh huh," Li Ann said.

"But that was a one-time thing. Usually pushing through is fine." Mac tugged the blankets tighter, and tried to put a finger on what exactly was wrong here. Why giving in to the weakness and vulnerability felt so risky. It wasn't all about Michael. "Sometimes you have to push through," he added. "If you're not in a safe place."

"But you are in a safe place," Vic pointed out.

That was true. "Uh," he said. "Yeah. I guess ... I'm not used to that." He frowned. "When I lived on the street it was pretty important to keep going no matter what."

Vic gave Mac a sort of searching look, and then sat down on the arm of the couch next to Mac's head. "Shit," he said, touching Mac's cheek gently. "I hadn't thought about that. Did you get sick while you were on the street?"

"Pretty much constantly," Mac said, thinking back to it. "I mean, I was hungry, I was eating literal garbage sometimes, I was sleeping in alleys in the rain, trying to keep one eye open in case somebody decided to hurt me.... So yeah. I got pretty sick sometimes, and I was never really in good shape. And if I'd just curled up and rested, like you keep telling me to, I would have died."

"Uh," he heard Vic say. He couldn't see him, because Mac had squeezed his eyes shut, and he didn't think that all of his shaking right now was due to the fever. "Shit Mac," Vic went on. "I am so sorry that you went through that." Mac felt Vic lifting him by the shoulders, heard the rustle of Vic sliding down off the arm of the couch so that he could get his lap under Mac's head, could hold him. "I really, really wish I that could reach back in time and protect you from that."

"It's okay," Mac said, because Vic sounded really distressed. "I got through it."

He felt Vic's hand cupping the side of his face. Without quite deciding to, Mac turned his head a little, to press his face into the touch. It felt so good.

"You did," Vic said. "And you don't talk about it very much, do you?"

"Why would I?" Mac asked. "It sucked."

"Okay," Vic said. "I can understand not wanting to dwell on it. But you've gotta remember, I don't know any of this stuff if you don't tell me. And I want to understand where you're coming from, Mac. The shit you've gone through is just so far outside of my experience, I'm not going to figure it out if you don't tell me. I really thought that the whole deal about refusing to slow down and admit that you're sick was a machismo thing that Michael had forced on you. I had no idea that it was about not feeling safe."

"Um," said Mac. Still shaking.

He felt naked. Stripped down bare, pinned like a butterfly. All his neuroses on display. How was he going to look Vic in the eye after this? He kept his eyes squeezed shut.

"I'm glad that I know," Vic said. "Now I can do a better job of looking after you. Now I know what I need to tell you. You're safe, Mac. I'm here, and I've got you."

"If any ninjas break in," Li Ann added from the other side of the room, "you just go ahead and relax, Mac. Vic and I will handle them."

Mac couldn't help laughing at that, and in laughing he opened his eyes, and what he saw was Vic looking down at him with a quirked-sideways grin.

"Thanks," Mac managed to say. And he felt his body unclenching.

He felt safe.

Vic's cell phone rang in the early evening. Mac heard him answer it.

"Oh, hi," he said. "Yeah, they're doing okay. ... They're both here with me, actually. ... Well, Mac's licking his wounds, he's still pretty sick with the flu ... Sure, I'll ask him." He looked at Mac and whispered, "It's Ben. Do you want to say 'hi'?"

Mac took the phone.

"Hi, Mac," Ben said. "I wanted to check in with you, and thank you again for what you did for me yesterday."

"Don't worry about it," Mac said. "It was no big deal."

Ben cleared his throat. "You saved my life. You took a bullet for me. To me, that's a big deal."

"All in a day's work..." Mac said.

"Yes," Ben said. "Well. About that. I was thinking it would be nice to have a chance to get to know you and Li Ann as yourselves. Not undercover. Maybe when you're recovered, we could all go out for dinner? You could bring Vic along too."

"That sounds nice," Mac said, feeling a little jolt of happiness. He'd made a new friend! And the Director was letting him keep him! "Only, if we're going to be talking about who we really are, it'd better be somewhere very private."

"Hm," Ben said. "How about at the Rainbow Room next Saturday, before it opens for the night? Casey will lend me the key if I ask him. We could bring take-out."

"Sure," Mac said. "We can bring the food. Do you like Chinese?"

When Mac hung up, he handed Vic's phone back and grinned at Li Ann. "Ben still wants to be friends!"