Disclaimer: This is fanfic, based on the show Once A Thief. Characters are property of Alliance. This story was written for fun, not profit.
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by: Shadowscast

| Part 1 | | Part 2 | | Part 3 | | Part 4 | | Part 5 | | Part 6 | | Part 7 | | Part 8 |

Part 1

Victor Mansfield was almost home. He was thoroughly looking forward to getting there. Today had been even more annoying than usual. In fact, every day lately had been more annoying than usual. Ever since his recent brush with his past, when he'd run into some of his old "buddies" from the force and nearly ended up dead, he'd found the whole Agency business making him sick to his stomach more often than not. Maybe it was the contrast with the life he used to live, and the job he used to have. But those were gone, and now his new life and job were one. But really, he could deal with the job. It was terrifying sometimes, when bombs were going off or guns were firing, but Vic considered himself a brave enough guy, and he liked the knowledge that they were doing good.

The job he could take. But the co-workers... damn. The Director's sadistic seductiveness, Dobrinsky's plain sadism, Nathan's insanity, the Cleaners' creepiness, Li Ann's prickliness... sometimes he felt like screaming. And Mac was worst of all. The man clearly enjoyed baiting Vic. Sometimes Vic even enjoyed returning the insults. Sometimes, he could almost swear they were exchanging barbs with a friendly camaraderie. But lately, it seemed like Mac was waiting for him around every corner with some put-down, some insult, some joke at his expense. This morning in the conference room, Mac had nearly managed to provoke Vic into attacking him, with a series of sardonic remarks about his clothes, his apartment, his music, and his past with Li Ann. Only the timely arrival of the Director had saved Mac from Vic's wrath (and of course, Vic from the Director's when she caught him).

Finally standing outside his apartment, Vic was just reaching into his pocket for the key when his cell phone rang. Great.


"Vic." It was Li Ann. "I need you to do something."

Typical Li Ann. "Can't it wait?" Vic wasn't in the mood to spend his night running around doing errands for his ex-fiance. He was tired, and there were basketball playoffs on tonight...

"No, it can't." Pause. He could hear loud music in the background. Loud generic pop music. "Look, I wouldn't ask you but the Director sent me and Jackie to this bar to watch for some guy..."

"Well, what is it?" Vic was still standing outside his door. He fished his keys out of his jeans' pocket and let himself in, while waiting for Li Ann to get to the point.

"Have you noticed Mac acting odd lately?"

"More annoying and childish than ever?"

"Well, yeah... I'm worried about him."

"Oh, I think he's just hitting his stride." He gave a short laugh. "You're calling me just to talk about how irritating Mac is? Isn't that what we have morning meetings for?" Vic shut the door, locked it, and headed for his couch.

"No, Vic, I - well, could you go over to Mac's place and check on him? Maybe stay with him for a while?"

"What?! Wh - There's no way-"

"Please, Vic," Li Ann interrupted his stuttered objections, "I don't have time to explain now but my instincts say there's something really wrong. OK? I've known Mac long enough, you've got to accept that I know him pretty well, right? I know you guys get on each others' nerves, but who else am I going to call - Dobrinsky? The Director? I'm just afraid... afraid he might not be safe now. You've got to go.... shit, I've got to go." beep

Damn. Classic Li Ann, again. No chance to argue with her.

Vic put his phone away, sighed, and contemplated his options. Stay, or go. Or, Vic supposed, he could call Mac. But it didn't seem like a phone call would be adequate answer to Li Ann's request... What had she been hinting at? Mac acting oddly, possibly not safe; maybe he'd run into an old enemy, or made some new ones?

Vic stared at the blank television for a moment. The semi-finals were on tonight. It was only game one, but playoffs were playoffs. His eyes darted to the remote lying on the coffee table. Mac would be okay by himself; he was resourceful. Vic pursed his lips and furrowed his brow. He didn't really want to go over to Mac's place to see how he was. Not after he'd spent the whole day trying to avoid the guy. Anyway, why should he care? But Li Ann cared. And Vic did care about Li Ann. And although Mac had created a lot of grief for him, Vic had always been a team player. So if one of his partners called him up just when he was finally ready to relax at home, and dropped vague hints that another of his partners might be in danger, Victor Mansfield had no choice, damn it. He had to help.


Mac is alone.

Mac is alone with his Jack Daniel's Whiskey and his gun and his guilt, and that is as it should be. Trance music playing almost loud enough to preclude thought, but not quite. Almost drunk enough to prevent thought, but not quite.


Mac is a secret agent for a Shadowy Government Agency, and his job is to do action-hero stuff on a regular basis, presumably for the forces of good.

Unfortunately... he has a history he can't quite shake.

Lucifer falls from Heaven in Jewish and Christian mythology, but do any of the demons ever ascend? No up escalator. No redemption.

No redemption.

The JD hasn't stilled his thoughts, but it's blurred them a bit, and he's tending to repeat himself inside his head.

"No redemption." He says it out loud this time. And coughs. He has a fucking cold, too.

Part of him wishes Li Ann would come by, like last night, with her desire to hash over inane details of their current case until it's so late she might as well sleep on the couch, instead of driving home.

'No,' he thinks, darkly, 'Too late for that. I'm already drunk. She'd notice.'

'Anyway, I don't deserve another reprieve. It's been long enough.'

He picks up the gun, and flicks the safety off. Feels the weight of it in his hand. But then he puts it down on the coffee table, and goes to find a knife, instead. Not so quickly. Gotta bleed a little first. Like Lee did.


First, Vic tried knocking, but all he could hear was that noise Mac called "music," thumping through the door. With the soundproofing in this building, that had to mean Mac had the juice way, way up. Maybe it was a party. Or, maybe, someone wanting to cover the sound of gunshots while they killed Mac. Damn. He banged on the door with his fist. "Mac! It's Vic! If you don't let me in right now I'm busting your door in."

He was just about ready to follow through on that threat, when he heard Mac say something from the other side. No idea what; the music drowned it out. Vic waited, straining to hear what was going on inside. If there was nothing wrong here, he was going to be pissed off. He could be watching a game right now... He heard nothing before the door suddenly opened, blasting him with loud music.

"What do you want?" Mac demanded.

Vic took a half step backward, getting out of Mac's face. His partner reeked of alcohol. Considering they'd left the Agency at the same time, just over an hour ago, Mac must've come straight home and dived into a bottle headfirst.

"I don't exactly want anything... uh, could I come in?"

"What, you're lonely and you want to play Scrabble?" Mac asked, with over-exaggerated irony.

"OK, I don't even exactly know why I'm here. Just let me in." Vic pushed past Mac before the younger man could reply; Vic correctly guessed that Mac was too inebriated to act quickly enough to block him.

Inside, the music was unbearably loud. Before anything else, Vic went right to the stereo and turned the volume way, way down.

"Hey!" Mac said, his voice suddenly too loud in the quiet room. "I did not invite... you... my music!" He'd already closed the door, though, so apparently he wasn't going to try to eject Vic right away. He stalked over to where Vic stood, and tweaked the volume back up. "My apartment. My music."

"I want to talk to you!" Vic shouted over the blare. Was that what he wanted? He didn't even know what he was supposed to do once he got here. Why was he here? Li Ann wanted him to look after Mac somehow. Maybe she knew he'd be getting drunk? Would she send Vic across town just to baby-sit a drunk Mac? "Can't talk over this noise!" He reached for the controls again and Mac grabbed his wrist. A halfhearted wrestling match quickly ensued, with the sober Vic quickly and easily twisting Mac out of the way, and gaining control of the volume once more. "OK," he said into the near-silence. "That's better." Then he noticed the blood on the back of his hand. What the hell? "Where'd this blood come from?"

"Uh, what blood?" Mac asked, in a strangely guilty tone.

Vic looked critically at the other man, really observing for the first time since the door had opened. Mac was still dressed in his neat black silk shirt and designer pants, as he had been for work that day, but the man inside the clothes looked crumpled. His eyes were slightly bloodshot, and his cheeks were flushed but overall he looked paler than usual. He looked like he was trying for his usual cocky, insolent pose but he didn't quite make it; he looked too wild, and he was swaying slightly. And holding his left arm oddly, with the palm of his hand completely hidden from view.

Vic took a quick step forward and grabbed Mac's left wrist with his right hand. Mac tried to pull away, but his attempt was as futile as that of a child trying to pull away from a disciplining parent.

Vic turned Mac's hand over so he could see the palm. He'd expected a wound, but still felt a slight inner twist of surprise at the blood-covered hand; he could discern a long red gash running diagonally along Mac's palm.

"Hey, what happened to you?"

Mac turned his head away and coughed, then gave his explanation. "Slipped. Cutting tofu. I was holding the tofu and cutting it and the knife slipped."

"Uh huh. You're an idiot. I've always suspected it...." Somehow, it didn't even seem to be worthwhile mocking Mac... it was too easy to be satisfying. So Mac comes home, gets drunk, and decides to make, what, a tofu sandwich? And nearly cuts his hand off. Jesus. "Well, you can't just leave it like this. Shit. You might need stitches..."

"No, it's shallow, I'm fine," Mac insisted, trying to pull away.

"Well anyway you need a bandage. Were you just going to leave it like this? Come on," Vic said, dragging Mac to the bathroom.

"I just - you just - I didn't have time, you came to the door when I was cutting myself - I mean, when I slipped on the tofu - I mean, with the tofu."

In the apartment's smallish bathroom, Vic flipped the lid of the toilet down. "Sit," he ordered Mac. The younger man did, without any more objections. Vic flipped open the medicine cabinet over the sink. "Where's your first aid kit?"

"Under the....."

Mac paused in mid sentence, and Vic turned and looked to see what was up, just in time to see Mac hunch over to the side and sneeze twice, surprisingly quietly, "huhTchoo, huhTchhoo."

"Bless you," he said automatically.

"Excuse me." Mac sniffled. It was almost cute. "What were you looking for again?" He grabbed a wad of toilet paper with his good hand, and blew his nose.

"First aid kit. For your hand. Remember, your hand, which is bleeding?"

"Under the sink."

"OK." Vic opened the cupboard under the sink, and lo and behold, there was a white plastic box with a red cross on the front. He brought it out and opened it, and quickly examined the contents. "Right. Gimme your hand." Mac held out his hand obediently - that was a nice change - and Vic examined it more closely, in the better light of the bathroom. There was blood all over, but it looked like Mac was right; it was shallow, and probably didn't need stitches. If he was wrong, the Director could send Mac somewhere and get him fixed up tomorrow. Not Vic's problem.

"Here. Come to the sink. We gotta wash it," Vic told him. Mac stood up, and staggered, falling against Vic and the sink. "Whoa, careful," Vic said, catching his partner around the waist to steady him. "You OK?"

"Yeah, I'm super-duper," Mac replied, voice rising in an angry pitch.

Vic prickled at the hostility, but willed himself to stay calm and not bite back. He still had his left arm around Mac's waist, and Mac was actually leaning into him a bit; it was odd, like Mac's voice was telling Vic to fuck off, but his body was telling him to come closer.

Vic turned the water on, and got the mix to go lukewarm. Then he guided Mac's hand under, to start rinsing it clean. As he did this, he felt Mac turn away from him and cough, again, harshly. "You're getting sick, aren't you?" he observed.


"Well, you sound like you're getting a cold. You shouldn't be drinking. Well, you should be drinking orange juice or something, not coming home and getting shitfaced. Anyway, this whole drinking alone thing... not so good." Vic was aware that he sounded like a mother hen, but scolding Mac was so damn satisfying, he couldn't help himself. "Does the Director know about this? Sit down again. Well, you can be sure she won't give you tomorrow off, just because you come in sick with a cold and a hangover. She's not known for her tender mercies. She'll just take advantage of you while you're down." While he was talking, Vic applied an antiseptic cream to the wound, and then wrapped it with a sterile white bandage. "There you go. All better."

As he let go Mac's hand, he met his partner's eyes, and was startled at the look he found there. Forlorn... longing? Intensely uncomfortable, Vic broke eye contact quickly. "Why don't you go sit in the living room. I'll get you some juice. You can sober up some and then go to sleep." Once again, Mac stood up, uncannily obedient to Vic's sensible suggestions. But he was still unsteady on his feet; he swayed, and caught himself against the wall. Vic sighed to himself, and put his arm around Mac's waist to guide him out to the living room.

Mac sank into the expensive white leather of his sofa, and Vic grabbed the bottle of whiskey that was sitting on the coffee table. "Huh. I didn't think you'd drink this stuff. This is what I'd drink." Mac's gun was sitting out on the table, too. Vic picked it up and examined it. "Shit, Mac, the safety's off! You are way too drunk to be handling a gun. You're lucky you weren't trying to shoot the fucking tofu." Something about the gun was making Vic really, really uneasy. Something about this whole situation. Mac was just slumped on the couch with his eyes closed, apparently ignoring Vic.

Vic engaged the safety and popped the clip out, then took weapon and whisky out to the kitchen, with the idea that Mac shouldn't be near either one. Then he checked the fridge; it was close to bare, but there was a carton of orange juice, and its expiry date hadn't even passed. Vic looked around for a glass, and in doing so he noticed a big knife lying in the sink, with traces of blood on its blade. Ouch. He found a glass, poured the juice, and was about to return to Mac when, on an inexplicable gut instinct, he decided to look around for the tofu. There wasn't any on the kitchen counters. The garbage? He found the garbage under the sink; there was no tofu on top. Back in the fridge? He opened the door, but there was hardly anything in there, and clearly no tofu, cut and bloody or otherwise. Strange.


"Here. Drink." Vic handed Mac the juice, and sat down a bit apart from him on the couch.

Mac sipped at the juice. "Why are you here?" he asked. Vic noted that his voice was sounding a bit hoarse.

"I don't really know," he hedged, his same answer as before. He was still resistant to telling Mac that Li Ann had Vic checking up on him. "But something's wrong here. You mind telling me what's up, Mac?"

"Nothing's up, Victor," Mac insisted, and took a longer drink of juice. "I come home after a long hard day of, uh, what did we do today, anyway?"

"Mostly staring at satellite photos, trying to find traces of that arms-smuggling ring who use the human statue buskers to-"

"Yeah, yeah. And then I make a private, adult decision to get drunk in the privacy of my own home. And then you come and pester me." Mac sat up suddenly, with a slightly panicked expression. "Did the Director send you?"


"OK." Mac sank back against the couch, coughing again.

"Why would the Director send me?" Vic asked, probing for info.

"I don't know, really, no idea," Mac said. "Maybe she thinks we'd make a cute couple?" he suggested with a saucy grin, a shadow of his normal teasing.

"Mac..." Victor started, then hesitated, staring blankly across the room at Mac's CD collection as he tried to figure out where he was going with his questions. "Something's wrong, right?"

"Nothing's wrong, Victor, except that you're in my apartment at ten pm instead of home listening to country music and watching football on TV. Go away. Shoo." He made a little batting-away motion with his hand.

"I, uh, didn't see any tofu in your kitchen, Mac. Just the knife. I think you lied about how you got cut."

"You have your theory. I have mine," Mac said.

That reply didn't even make sense. Vic looked hard at the younger man. Mac was hunched over now, staring fixedly at the floor in front of him, with his elbows on his knees and the juice glass in both hands. Even in that position, the bit of juice left in the glass was sloshing around enough to show that Mac's hands were shaking.

OK, what was going on here? Mac was acting really, really weird. His body language now was diminutive and scared - very un-Mac-like. Drunk just didn't explain it. Vic found himself getting kind of uncomfortable; he didn't know how to deal with this strange new version of Mac. Yet, he had to deal with him, somehow. He had to get Mac to talk, to explain what was going on.

"I'm getting kind of worried about you, Mac," Vic said hesitantly. It was true. He was developing a theory about how Mac got cut, and for all that it still didn't make sense, he was getting very concerned about his partner tonight. "There wasn't any tofu. You just cut your hand with the knife."

"'Scuse me," Mac gasped, standing up and dropping the juice glass in one quick motion, and running towards the bathroom. The glass shattered on the edge of the coffee table. Vic stood up too, and followed Mac, and before he got there he heard the unmistakable sound of Mac puking into the toilet.

Vic hovered awkwardly at the doorway, waiting for Mac to finish. The few times Vic had gotten drunk enough to vomit, at high school parties, he'd wanted everyone to stay away and let him deal with his own humiliation, so he didn't want to interfere now.

When Mac had apparently puked his guts up, he sank down further to the floor, resting his forehead on the porcelain rim of the toilet. Vic went in, then, his natural urge to help overriding the feeling that he was intruding on Mac's private space. There was a plastic cup sitting at the edge of the sink; Vic filled it with cold water and tried to give it to Mac so he could rinse his mouth. "Here."

Mac raised his head, and took the cup in his right hand. His hand was shaking so much now that the cup rattled against his teeth, and water spilled around the edges of the cup. But he swirled some around in his mouth, spat into the toilet, then took another sip and swallowed it before putting the cup down on the floor. Vic reached across and flushed the toilet.

He looked at Mac. Mac looked past Vic, glassily. Mac was ghostly pale now, and his forehead was beaded with perspiration. Vic sighed to himself. The strangest thing was how natural the transition was, from sparring with Mac to taking care of him in this sudden, mysterious need.

Vic found a facecloth, wet it with warm water, and gently rubbed it over Mac's face. Mac didn't show any sign of noticing. A little voice at the back of Vic's head asked him what the hell he was doing, washing Mac's face, but he ignored it. Mac looked like he felt like shit, and Vic simply imagined that if he were Mac, this would make him feel better. Vic passed the cloth over Mac's forehead, his cheeks with their slightly rough texture, around his full, bruised-looking lips and over his cleft chin. Then he folded the cloth over and dabbed at the back of Mac's neck, too. At that Mac dropped his head forward and made a slight noise, almost a whimper.

"All right now," Vic said, tossing the cloth into the sink, "I think you should go to bed. Come on."

Mac stood, with Vic's help. Vic kept an arm around Mac; the man's whole body was shaking. Vic automatically held Mac tighter, trying to still the tremors, while guiding him towards the bedroom.

When they reached the bed, Mac sat on the edge, hunched over again as he had been on the couch. Vic thought for a moment, then knelt on the floor in front of Mac and started unlacing the other man's shoes. Mac was wearing black leather shoes, polished to a dull sheen and showing no scuff marks. Vic would be willing to bet they were designed by some big-name designer. He eased the left one off. Surely Mac had the same salary as Vic; how could he always afford to dress like this, anyway?

Suddenly Vic was startled by the feel of fingers brushing through his hair. Mac's fingers. What? Vic froze with his hands on Mac's other shoe; his pulse quickened.

"Why are you doing this, Vic?" Mac sounded honestly curious. His fingers trailed unsteadily through Vic's hair. Vic felt a shiver go down his spine. Mac playing with his hair - this was beyond nuts. "I mean, you don't really like me, right?"

"Li Ann told me to come tonight," Vic confessed. "She was worried about you for some reason."

"Ah," Mac said distantly, "That makes more sense." His hand closed in Vic's hair; Vic felt pricks of pain. "You should go now. I don't deserve this."

Vic gritted his teeth. "Shut the fuck up Mac, and let go my hair. You're drunk, you're sick, you're hurt, and I'm putting you to bed before anything else happens to you."

"You're just too good, Vic. It's disconcerting. I bet that's why Li Ann broke up with you." Mac let go of Vic's hair, then, and Vic looked up angrily to see his partner twisting away and covering his mouth, and coughing. He sounded awful. Vic sighed, quickly pulled Mac's other shoe off, and stood up. He looked at Mac again. The man was still visibly shaking. Damn, this just wasn't good at all.

"OK, lie down, Mac."

Mac looked up at him - a strange, searching look - then pulled himself towards the center of the bed, bringing his legs up. He lay flat on his back, crossed his hands over his chest with his fingers twined - this finally stopped their trembling - and stared straight up at the ceiling.

Right, now what? 'I can go now,' the thought ran through Vic's head, 'I've done enough.' Instead, he sat down on the edge of the bed, and his right hand, of its own accord, went to rest on Mac's forehead. It felt damp and warm. Mac closed his eyes, and his whole face seemed to relax; a tightness at the corners of his eyes and mouth that Vic hadn't noticed before disappeared now. It gave Vic a very strange feeling to watch his touch have this affect on Mac. Vic found himself feeling almost... tender. Protective. Somewhat wryly, Vic recalled that he'd always had a weakness for wounded puppies. But this was Mac, not a puppy. Important to remember that.

Anyway... Mac's forehead felt quite warm, he obviously was running a fever. It suddenly occurred to Vic that vomiting and shaking uncontrollably might be signs of serious illness, rather than just mild alcohol poisoning - especially if Mac had a high fever, too. He decided he'd better take Mac's temperature for real, before leaving. There had to be a thermometer in that first aid kit. Vic stood up and headed for the bathroom.

A bit of rummaging around in the first aid kit brought a digital thermometer to light. Perfect. Vic checked the instructions on its box. As he was doing so, he heard the muffled sound of Mac sneezing twice more. Vic couldn't remember seeing a box of tissues anywhere in the apartment, so he grabbed a roll of toilet paper. At least it was the extra-soft kind. Yup, Mac was used to the good life. Then Vic noticed the plastic cup, still sitting on the floor, and remembered that Mac had vomited up all the orange juice he drank, and was probably pretty dehydrated, which was not good. So, Vic went to the kitchen, got another glass, hesitated between water or juice, decided on water, filled the glass, and finally returned to the bedroom.

Shit. Mac was sitting up again. And wearing nothing but black silk boxers. A quick glance around revealed Mac's clothes folded neatly on a chair.

"Oh, hi Vic," Mac met him with a perky grin. "I thought you were finally gone." He ruined the effect by sniffling wetly, then turning away to cover his mouth and nose and sneeze again, "huhTchhoo."

"Here." Vic handed him the toilet paper roll.

"Thanks." Mac unrolled some and blew his nose. Meanwhile, Vic put the water glass on the bedside table.

"OK, what are you doing without any clothes on?" Vic demanded.

"Going to bed," Mac said, entirely innocently, tossing the used wad of tissue into a nearby trash can. He handed the roll back to Vic. Taking it, Vic noticed that Mac's hand was shaking again. His long, muscular arms were covered with goose bumps, too.

Vic sighed. "Well, put on some pyjamas. You're obviously cold."

Mac raised his bushy eyebrows. "Pyjamas? What do I look like, an Amish farmer? I don't even have pyjamas."

"OK. Stand up," Vic ordered him.

Mac did, and put a hand on Vic's shoulder. "I'll do anything you ask me to do," he promised, in a mockingly suggestive tone. Vic pulled back the covers on the bed in one sweeping motion, and pointed to the bed. "Oooo, Vic-tor," Mac purred. He slid onto the bed, and then turned his expression to a pout when Vic pulled the covers up to Mac's waist - Mac was sitting with his back resting against the headboard - and then sat down on top of them.

"Mac, stop messing around," Vic said. Actually, he was relieved that Mac was perking up some, but it was still damned annoying. Vic held up the thermometer. "I want to take your temperature."

"What?! Jesus, Vic, would you just leave me alone? I'm getting tired of this Florence Nightingale act." Mac slouched farther down in the bed, so the covers came up to his chest. He glared at Vic.

Vic ignored him, turned on the thermometer, and tried to stick it in Mac's mouth. Like a cranky 3-year-old, Mac turned his head back and forth so that Vic couldn't get the thermometer in.

"Mac... you're pissing me off. If you don't cooperate, I'm going to turn you over and pin you down and take it the other way," Vic threatened.

Mac grinned. "And what makes you think I'd mind?"

Vic felt himself blushing. Damn. How did Mac always manage this? "OK, you win. I was bluffing. Just... just cooperate, would you?" Vic pleaded. "It'll only take thirty seconds."

"All right," Mac acquiesced. He licked his lips and parted them, letting Vic place the thermometer under his tongue. After just twenty seconds, though, Mac pulled the thermometer out and turned his head away to cough. Vic resisted a mad urge to rub his back. Mac rested his head wearily against the headboard again, eyes half closed. "Sorry," he apologized, handing the instrument back to Vic. "I couldn't help that."

"That's OK," Vic said, resetting the thermometer, "try again."

This time Mac rested quietly with his eyes closed, holding the thermometer in his mouth. Vic was mildly disturbed to find his hand taking on a mind of its own again, reaching over to cup the side of Mac's face. His cheek was rough with the day's growth of stubble, and his temple was warm and damp with sweat, little curls of flattened hair sticking to the dampness. Vic felt Mac lean into his touch slightly, and was again surprised to see lines of tightness in Mac's face relax at Vic's touch. Then the thermometer beeped twice, breaking the spell. Vic took it, and checked the reading.

"38.8 degrees," he read out loud. 37, maybe as high as 37.5, was normal for an oral temperature reading. So Mac had a fever, but just a low one. Vic felt a mild sense of relief.

"See, I'm fine," Mac mumbled, sliding further down under the covers. "Now climb in or go away."

"Not yet," Vic said stubbornly. "I brought you water. You have to drink some."

"Oh God," Mac groaned. "You're like... like... like something that never gives up."

"Come on." Vic slid his arm under Mac's shoulders, and forced him to sit up enough to drink water from a glass. Mac didn't seem to be putting any effort into holding himself up, so Vic had to hold onto him. Vic was on Mac's left, with his right arm around Mac's torso just under his shoulders, and for stability Vic had to pull Mac towards him, so that some of his weight was resting against Vic's body, not just held up by his arm. Vic could feel now that the constant, full-body shakes Mac had been wracked with after puking in the bathroom had subsided, but a shudder still ripped through him every few seconds.

With his left hand, Vic grabbed the water glass. Mac reached for it with his right, but he still had that trembling-hand problem, so Vic put his hand over Mac's to steady it, and helped him guide it to his mouth.

It was strange to be holding Mac like this, so close and warm, in a context other than fighting. Vic's hand was on Mac's bare chest, and he could smell the other man - alcohol, of course, and sweat, but also a faintly sweet smell that was probably Mac's shampoo or aftershave. This should have made Vic uncomfortable, but it didn't.

After drinking about half the glass, Mac let his hand fall to the bed, and his head sink to rest on Vic's shoulder. And then - 'Oh my God, he can't be doing what I think he is,' Vic thought. It felt like Mac was turning his head slightly and brushing the base of Vic's neck with his lips... in fact, it felt like Mac was nuzzling him.

And, so very inappropriately but unmistakably, Vic felt himself beginning to get hard.

Vic extracted himself quickly and stood up. Put the glass down on the table, a little too hard. Maybe he was breathing a little too hard, too. Mac, half fallen over, looked up at him with glittering, wild eyes. "Don't go," he whispered.

"Mac... fuck... I think it's past your bedtime," Vic said, shifting nervously on his feet. Was this yet one more attempt of Mac's to get under his skin and mess with his mind... or what?

"Right," Mac said. He lay down, rolled over on his side so he was facing away from Vic, and pulled the covers up to his chin. Vic hesitated a moment longer, but there was nothing else; it was time for him to leave. He turned the lights off, and left the room.

He closed the door to the room, and then changed his mind and opened it again, leaving it slightly ajar. He hadn't shaken his uneasiness about Mac's disturbing behaviour over the course of the evening, and he wasn't sure what to do now. Mac was safe now that he was asleep, right? If he was asleep - he heard Mac coughing again.

Well. Anyway, there was that broken glass to clean up. Not that it was Vic's responsibility, but he might as well.

Just as Vic was dumping the last of the mess into the kitchen trash, his cell phone rang. He checked the caller ID. Li Ann. He answered it, walking back into the living room to sit down on the couch.

"Hi, Li Ann."

"Hi Vic. How are things?" she greeted him.

Vic went straight to the point. "What the fuck is wrong with Mac?"

"That bad?" Li Ann asked, sounding immediately concerned. "What happened?"

"Wait, first - where are you?" Vic asked. He didn't want to lay all this on her if she was still out working, in potential danger herself. "Are you done your mission? Everything OK with you?"

"Yeah, fine, thanks," Li Ann said. "The target never showed. I just got home. So what happened there?"

"Well, first of all, by the time I got here he'd drunk half a bottle of whiskey, I think. In like half an hour. Anyway, he was drunk." Vic furrowed his brow, remembering the sight of Mac pale and shaking after throwing up. "Does he do this often?"

"Not as far as I know." Li Ann sounded fairly sure of that. "Go on."

"Well, then I noticed his hand was bleeding. He said he'd cut it while trying to cut tofu. He hadn't taken care of it at all. I took him and fixed him up. The cut was long but not deep; should be OK. Anyway, I looked and I couldn't find any tofu anywhere. I asked him about it, and...." Vic thought back on the sequence of events. "Oh, that was when he ran to the bathroom and puked."

"That sounds bad."

Vic agreed. "Yeah, and he was shaking like a leaf the whole time," he added, "and he's getting a cold, too, so basically he's a mess. I mean, I had to put him to bed." Vic grimaced, remembering how much fun that had been.

"About the cut..." Li Ann prompted him, "What exactly did you ask him, before he ran away?"

"I, uh...." Vic thought back. "I said 'There wasn't any tofu. You just cut your hand with the knife.'"

"Oh, shit," Li Ann swore in a low tone, as though Vic had just confirmed something very unpleasant for her.

Vic thought about it. He'd actually kind of forgotten his theory about Mac cutting himself; he'd been distracted by Mac vomiting. But now Vic remembered that - and also the gun. And suddenly his brain made a nasty connection. "One other thing. He had his gun out on the table by the whiskey, when I got here. The, uh, the safety was off. Li Ann, do you think he's suicidal? Is that why you told me to come here?"

"Shit," she swore again. "Stupid fucking.... .... Yeah, not in so many words but yeah, I was worried about that." Her voice was tight and angry now.

Vic, on the other hand, was more confused than upset - he just couldn't reconcile this idea with what he thought he knew about Mac. "Well, what's going on? What's wrong with him? I thought he was fine today."

"I don't even know. He's been really depressed the last week or two, Vic. He hides it, but I know him too well, I can tell." She sounded sad now, rather than angry. "I've been finding all sorts of excuses to be around him, to not leave him alone too much...." She sighed. "He won't talk to me, he never would when something was really wrong."

"And what about the Director?" Vic asked, thinking of the hidden cameras he'd discovered in his own apartment. "Does she know?"

"I don't know for sure, but she probably does," Li Ann guessed. "She always says she knows everything about us, and she proves it often enough."

"Well then, why doesn't she... do something? Like, I don't know, put him in therapy or something?"

"I don't know. Hell, for all I know she has," Li Ann admitted. "But she does things for her own reasons, Vic. We can't trust her. We have to look out for each other. Vic... will you stay there tonight? Bring him in in the morning?"

Oh God. Li Ann was asking him to do suicide watch on Mac. This was either absurd, or just way out of Vic's league. Why didn't Li Ann come over? She was the one who was worried about Mac.

'Oh,' asked that voice in Vic's head, 'And you don't care what happens to him at all?'

".... Yeah," Vic finally said, "I'll do that. I'll sleep on the couch."

"Thanks, Vic." She sounded calm, and relieved. Like she thought Vic could do this. "Thanks so much."

Vic put the phone away. Then he remembered that he hadn't mentioned that strange bit at the end where Mac seemed to be flirting with him. Maybe he'd forgotten to mention that on purpose. Anyway, Mac always flirted with him. It was just one of his annoying personality quirks; he flirted with everyone, and Vic knew he made it more fun by squirming. But Mac had never nuzzled him before.

Well. There was nothing to do now but to kick off his shoes, loosen his belt, lie down on the couch and go to sleep.

Part 2

Mac is drifting in and out of sleep. Whenever he wakes up, usually coughing, his head is a tight, pounding ball of pain. When he starts to drift again, his undirected mind wanders freely to exactly where he doesn't want it to go.

He's in the flour warehouse with his father, the Tang godfather. This isn't a dream; it's a memory.

He's in the warehouse, and then he's in the secret back room with the guns, and he's having things he always vaguely knew but didn't really think about shoved roughly in his face. The Family is built on blood. Of course it is, silly.

He's in the room with the money. Stacks of it, piled around like so much paper. Stacks of currency flipping nonchalantly through the money-counter. He can smell it. He knows what it means.

And his father is telling him that he's been living off the proceeds of the family's business for many years, and now he's going to have to start earning his keep.

And Mac asks, what does he mean? With Michael and Li Ann, Mac has been risking his life pulling off heists for the Tangs for years now - and damn, he's good, too.

And his father explains, there is more. There is a final step. There is a rite of passage.

Then his father takes him to another back room with stone-faced guards outside. Inside, with two more guards, is a man tied to a chair, with a strip of duct tape over his mouth. He is wearing a white shirt and dark pants; his hair and eyes are wild; the room smells of his urine.

"This is Mr Lee," the Tang godfather explains, gently, to Mac. "He was responsible for guarding the money in the room you just saw. He was head guard, caretaker, and head accountant. He has been with our family for many years. I attended his daughter's 16th birthday celebration last year. But it seems he has been abusing his position of trust, for some time now. He has stolen quite a lot of money from us. I will give you his old job. And you will kill him now."

One of the guards steps forward and hands Mac not a gun, but a knife.

Mac doesn't take it. He holds his hands up, backs away. "Whoa, wait a second. Is this some kind of joke? I get it, I get it, initiation. So I take the knife, and when I'm about to cut him, everyone bursts out laughing and we go get a beer, right?" He's grasping wildly, but he knows his father is serious. He smells the urine, sees the real wild fear in Mr Lee's eyes. Besides, the godfather is not known for kidding around.

"You've killed for me before, Mac," his father points out in his always calm, always rational, always mild voice.

"That was different. That was combat. They were shooting at me. It was self defense!"

"This is also defense of the Tang family. We must punish betrayal, and we must send a message to others who would think of doing as Mr Lee did. We are powerful only as long as we do not compromise, do not allow others to eat away at the edges of our power. I do not need to tell you what would happen if our position in Hong Kong were to begin to erode; no member of the family would be safe. Not I, not you, not Michael, not Li Ann." And then, the Tang godfather takes the knife from the guard and holds it out to Mac. His face is impassive. "Mr Lee's body will be found. There will be cuts on the body indicating that he suffered terribly before he died. Word will get to those who would think of doing as he did, and they will think again."

"What if I won't do it?" Mac whispers, heart pounding.

"You have no choice. This is the price of being my son."

There is a terrible, terrible pause. There is no sound other than the fast, frantic breathing of Mr Lee.

Mac looks down at the knife being offered. The steel blade is six inches long, slightly curved, and smooth. It looks sharp.

He takes it.

He takes the knife.

His father's face is still smooth and calm.

"What do I do?" Mac asks. His voice rings, hollow, in his ears. He seems to be not speaking, but only listening to himself.

"Start with his face," his father instructs. "Cut from the outside corner of his left eye, down to his chin."

Mac moves toward the immobilized man, holding the knife in front of him almost like a torch. Mr Lee's eyes go wider than ever, and his nostrils flare with fright.

Mac rests the very tip of the blade at the place his father had directed. Mr Lee frantically pulls his head away from the cool kiss of the knife, and starts screaming through the muffle of the duct tape gag. A tear wells in his eye and slides down his cheek. A guard approaches and takes the man's head in a viselike grip, holding it still for Mac. Mac places the knife again, and applies pressure. The knife puckers the skin but does not yet break it. More pressure. A drop of blood wells at the tip.

Mac takes a deep breath, and in one quick, rough motion, slashes the man's face down to the chin. He steps back, and meets his father's eyes with a gaze of stone.

"Good," his father says, in the same tone he uses to compliment Mac's safecracking prowess. "Now the same on the other side."

Mac turns back to Mr Lee. The blood is running down his face, staining the left side of his shirt a bright, bright red. Tears are flowing freely from his eyes, and his nose is running, the clear mucus glistening on the silver duct-tape gag. Mac steps forward and quickly makes the symmetric slash. The guard releases Mr Lee's head, and steps back. Mr Lee turns his head to face Mac directly, and looks at him with desperate, desperate eyes, pleading.

Mac turns away. His mouth is dry.

He looks at his father.

"Now cut off his right ear," his father says. "We have a use for it."

Mr Lee shakes his head frantically as Mac approaches, and this time Mac grabs the head and immobilizes it himself, standing behind the man and bracing his left forearm against Mr Lee's forehead, forcing the man's head back against his own chest. Now he grabs the outside of the ear with the fingers of his left hand, and rests the knife against the skull, at the top of ear. He hacks downwards. He doesn't quite make it in one cut; the ear is still attached at the bottom. Mr Lee's muffled shouts become high-pitched shrieks. Mac finishes the cut. The ear comes away in his hand.

One of the guards approaches him, holding out a small plastic tub half-filled with crushed ice. Mac drops the ear inside, and the guard retreats.

Still standing behind the bleeding man, Mac looks at his father. His father nods to him, the barest shadow of a bow. "It is almost finished. Open his shirt."

Mac moves around to the front again. Blood is dripping down to the floor now. The white shirt is red. He doesn't bother to unbutton it; he just sticks the knife in at the top of the row of buttons, and slashes. Buttons fall away, clatter to the floor, roll and spin and spin and spin. The shirt falls open. Mr Lee's chest is pale ivory, dotted with brown moles, with just a slight fuzz of black curly hairs. It is not muscular, and he is thin.

"Now," the Tang godfather says to his adopted son, "Disembowel him. Laterally."

Mac flicks the shirt open wider. He places the tip of the knife at the right side of Mr Lee's belly, the blade perpendicular to the plane of the flesh. He pulls the knife back a little, then stabs, sinking the blade a couple of inches deep in the flesh. Mr Lee arches his back and screams, the most terrible, piercing, dying-animal scream. Mac pulls the blade through the stomach in one brutal, straight cut. The scream stops. The sound stops. Mr Lee's eyes close and his head rolls limply. There is still the sound of his rapid, shallow breathing. And Mac's own.

Mac steps back. He is not aware that he drops the knife. His father presses a gun into his hand. He takes it, flips the safety off, and touches the muzzle to Mr Lee's forehead, just between the eyebrows. This much, at least, is mercy. Point blank. He squeezes the trigger.


A guard takes the gun away from him, rather quickly. Mac stares at the corpse. The belly cut is sagging open, the man's stomach, intestines, and whole gleaming mess of guts revealed for the world to see.

Mac spins around, hits the wall with the flats of his hands, and braces himself there as he vomits. His body is trying to purge everything. Maybe his guts can come out, too.

He feels his father's hand resting on his back.

"You are my beloved son, Mac," the godfather says gently. "Come with me, away from here. You should rest now."

For the rest of his life, Mac will be unable to look at human entrails without becoming immediately and violently nauseous.


Vic was sleeping only lightly on the couch, and the sound woke him up. In a sleepy haze, he identified it first as Mac coughing, then, waking up a bit more, thought maybe it was Mac laughing. Thinking that very strange, he rubbed his eyes and sat up, stood up, padded in sock feet across to the door of Mac's bedroom, and then he knew he was hearing Mac sobbing.

He didn't hesitate. He went into the dark room and sat on the bed and put his hand on Mac's bare shoulder.

Mac jerked away from his touch as if it burned. In a fluid motion born of twelve years' training, he rolled away from Vic and off the bed, landing on his feet with his hands up and ready to fight. He stood there, breathing hard but no longer crying, staring at the figure on his bed.

"It's me, Mac. Victor."

"Whatthefuckareyoudoinghere?" Mac demanded.

"I've been here all along. I was sleeping on the couch. I heard you.... I heard.... I think you were having a nightmare."

Mac sank back down on the bed, and coughed. "I wasn't having a nightmare. Leave me alone, Vic."

Vic didn't move. "Li Ann says you won't talk to her. So why don't you talk to me?"

"There's nothing to talk about," Mac said flatly. "Go away."

Given that the ghostly glow of moonlight through the window revealed that Mac's cheeks were still damp with tears, Vic wasn't buying that. "Nothing to talk about?" he said, running his fingers over the bandage on Mac's wounded left hand, then closing his own hand around Mac's. "What about this?"

Mac jerked his hand away from Vic, and curled around it protectively in a sitting fetal position. "I told you-"

"You told me bullshit. There was no tofu, and that was a stupid story anyway." Vic sighed to himself. Getting all adversarial was almost certainly not the right way to go. He softened his tone. "Look, I've been talking to Li Ann. She says you've been depressed for weeks, but she doesn't know why and you won't tell her. I hadn't noticed that, but I've sure as hell noticed there's something wrong tonight. Whatever it is, we'll... we'll help you. We're the Three Musketeers, remember?" Vic cracked a slight smile which he knew Mac couldn't see.

"You can't help. Li Ann doesn't know everything. And you don't know anything."

"So tell me," Vic invited. But Mac remained stubbornly silent, only sniffling. Vic handed him the toilet paper roll and that, at least, got a reaction; Mac pulled some tissue off, blew his nose, tossed the tissue in the bin, and returned to his fetal position.

His bare skin shone in the moonlight.

"Mac, were you planning to kill yourself tonight?" Vic asked quietly.

"Yes." Mac's direct answer shot through Vic like a hit of adrenaline.


"But I fucked up and let you stop me," Mac continued matter-of-factly, ignoring Vic's question.

"Why?" again.

"Because I deserve to be killed. And if I let some bad guy do it, on a mission, I endanger the team. So I have to do it myself."

Vic crossed the distance between them and put his arms around the younger man. Mac's skin felt cold. "You deserve to live, Mac," Vic whispered fiercely. "Let me help you."

"No," Mac insisted, his voice low. "You don't understand. I've done.... awful things."

Two weeks, Li Ann had said. "Recently? Does the Director know?"

Mac shook his head. "No. A long time ago."

"With the Tangs," Vic stated bluntly. He felt Mac nod. "That's behind you now. You left them."

"No. The past is never behind; it's always with me."

"Anyway, Mac, you're already paying for whatever you did in the past. Every day. That's what the Director is for. That's what this unit is. She pulled us out of jail and we live this half-life and we belong to her completely. You don't have to pay any more than that."

Vic felt Mac shake his head, and stifle a sob. "You don't understand. You're good. You're innocent. You're innocent."

Oh. With a mental sound effect of tumblers in a safe's lock sliding into place and the door creaking open, Vic put it all together. What happened about two weeks ago was that Vic got into some serious trouble with his old "buddies" from the force. And in the course of events, it was revealed to all involved that Vic had never been a dirty cop. He'd been set up. The Director had pulled him out of a jail he should never have been in in the first place. Now, of course, he was serving a life sentence in the Agency just as surely as Mac and Li Ann were. Life's a bitch and then you die.

But Mac... when Mac found out that Vic was innocent for real, apparently, he fell into some sort of self-hatred related to his own past. Mac was not innocent, of course, no more than Li Ann was. They'd been thieves, and Mac often seemed proud of it. Vic had the general impression that Mac was amoral, that the challenge of any given mission was more important to him than the consequences.

Apparently not. Vic held in his arms a long-limbed bundle of very proper Catholic-style guilt.


Mac's mind is racing. He thinks he's just said a lot of things to Vic that he never meant to say. It's all kind of a blur. He may still be somewhat drunk. He is definitely not entirely in his right mind. He is, however, in Vic's arms. He is quite aware of this. He has dreamed of this, many times, those nights when he forgets the past and has good dreams. Of course, the scenario in the dreams always involves more sex and less crying than tonight has offered thus far.

Mac feels that he is in danger. He is in danger of saying far, far too much to Vic. He is in danger of letting Vic get much too close. Time for a diversion.

Mac flirts with Vic all the time at work, right? And Vic flirts back, right? Right? Hard to say, really. His voice says fuck off, but his eyes say fuck me. Or maybe that's just Mac's wishful thinking.

So what if Mac turns around in Vic's arms and starts to kiss his neck? Maybe Vic will like it and stop asking all these terrifying questions. Maybe Vic won't like it and he'll leave like Mac's already asked him to, and Mac will be alone like he should be. Either way works. We're settled, then.

Vic felt Mac move. Vic was glad, because it had been a minute or two since anyone said anything and Vic was feeling awkward here with his arms around Mac, but he didn't want to let go and he didn't know what to do. So now he let go and shifted away from Mac, on the bed. But Mac followed him. And then Mac put his hands on Vic's shoulders, and pushed Vic gently down onto his back. Vic was so surprised he didn't resist. And then he felt, butterfly-light, Mac kissing his neck.

"What are you doing?" Vic gasped.

Mac doesn't answer. He thinks Vic is more likely to go along with this if Mac doesn't say anything at all, if the whole experience is so silent and otherworldly that tomorrow Vic can tell himself it was all a dream. Mac doesn't deserve to make love to this man, but here Vic is in Mac's bed, and as long as Mac doesn't say anything to break the spell, maybe the past and the future can be temporarily suspended, along with all burdens of sins and forgiveness. Mac is kneeling astride Vic, and kissing the sandpaper line of Vic's jaw as his fingers work to undo the buttons of Vic's shirt. Vic's hands are still lying limply by his side. Notably, they aren't rising up to push Mac away. Now the shirt is open. Mac has seen Vic's bare, muscular chest before, of course, plenty of times. This time is different, because this time Mac can touch him gently, and he does. He trails a finger along Vic's collarbone, caressing it ever so lightly. Sitting up to do this, he also looks at Vic's beautiful face. Vic is staring at him. Eyebrows pursed still, in surprise, but lips slightly parted... Mac returns his attention to Vic's chest. He dips his head to tease Vic's left nipple with his tongue. He runs the tip of his tongue around the hard little bud, and hears Vic's breath catch. Good. While sucking gently on the nipple, Mac risks shifting his body so that he can reach, with his right hand, Vic's thigh. He slides his fingers up the rough surface of Vic's jeans, enjoying the hard, lean feel of the muscles underneath, until he reaches the crotch. His heart pounds. Will Vic let him get away with this? He, tentatively, cups his hand around the other man's crotch. Wonderful... Mac is relieved to feel Vic's warm hardness, and even more relieved that instead of trying to get away, Vic just moans a little at Mac's touch.

Mac's head is still pounding, and his throat is sore, but he can ignore that now, because he is undoing Vic's fly, and his own dick is growing hard, his erection unimpeded by his loose silk boxers. Mac slips his fingers through the fly of Vic's underwear, and, skilled thief that he is, gently brings Vic's penis out into the open. The organ twitches and grows even harder at Mac's touch, and Vic emits another quiet moan. Mac can't quite believe that Vic is letting him do this. No, don't question it. Mac circles the head of Vic's penis with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. Now he's supporting his weight with his left hand, which hurts, but don't think about that. Mac runs his hand lightly up and down Vic's shaft, enjoying the firmness, the smoothness, the warmth, and above all the slight bucking motion of Vic's hips this provokes. Now. Mac lowers his head, and tastes Vic for the first time. He circles the tip of Vic's penis with his tongue, playing with it, teasing, feeling the organ twitch in his hand and drinking in the little murmuring sounds Vic makes. Then he puts his lips around it, and sucks hard, drawing a gasp from Vic. Unfortunately Mac can't breathe very well through his stuffed-up nose, so he has to come up for air. He teases the head with the clever tip of his tongue, again, and starts beating Vic off in earnest with his hand. He can feel his own dick straining at the silk of his boxers, all hard and aching and weeping. Vic's hands are clenched by his sides, and he's breathing hard. When Vic cries out, Mac swallows him again quickly, so that he can drink the hot, slightly bitter liquid as Vic bucks his hips and gasps, not a name but only a wordless yell.

Vic lies there, eyes closed, breathing slowing down. Mac fixes Vic's clothes; he tucks Vic's penis back inside, feeling it twitch a little even now at his touch, and does up Vic's pants and shirt. His own erection, although unsatisfied, is subsiding, since he knows it's over.

Then he doubles over with the coughing fit he's managed to hold back until now. He feels a glass of water placed in his hand, and he feels Vic's hand around his, helping to steady the glass so he can drink, which he doesn't even need because his hands aren't even shaking anymore... oh, well, only a little.

And Vic takes the water away, and says something Mac doesn't pay attention to about how Mac's cold, he's shivering, and Vic puts his arm around Mac's waist and pulls him towards himself, but that's only so that he can throw back the covers on the other side of the bed and tell Mac to get under them. Mac does, and lies on his side, facing away from Vic, and feels Vic pull the covers up to his neck. How sweet. And then Vic lies down behind him, spooning against him, but on top of the covers. One arm of Vic's comes over Mac's body, to hold him tight. Mac feels safe. He feels his body relax, stop trembling. In Vic's embrace, he finally falls asleep.

Part 3

Vic woke up early, when the sun coming through the window hit his eyes. He was disoriented at first - the sun was coming from the wrong angle, and who was he in bed with? And why was he still wearing his clothes? Then he remembered it all at once - coming over, taking care of Mac, and then... no, wait, how did he end up in bed with Mac? Did Mac really... ? Vic put that thought out of his mind for now.

He rolled over, and looked at the clock by the bed. Nearly 7 am. Shit, he'd better get moving if he was going to get home, shower, change and have breakfast before the morning meeting. He sat up.

His movements woke Mac. The other man rolled over to face him, and peered at him blearily. "Vic?" he said, in a raspy voice. "What are you doing he- oh fuck."

Vic did some quick evaluating-of-options in his head. Talk about last night with Mac? Fuck no. Pretend it never happened? Sounds like a good plan for now. "Don't worry about it," he said to Mac, delivering a soft, buddies kind of punch to Mac's shoulder. "I'm just going home now to get ready for work."

"Work," Mac repeated, "rrrright. Would you please just tell the Director I died in my sleep?" Then he buried his face in his pillow and started coughing.

"Can I, uh, get you something? Juice maybe?" Vic offered.

"That'd be great," Mac managed to choke out.


Vic came back with the juice; Mac still sounded like he was hacking up a lung. He took the juice and drank some, managing to stop coughing.

He handed the glass back to Vic and buried his head under his pillow this time. "Could you turn off the sun and bring me some aspirin?" came his muffled plea.

"Told you you'd have a headache," Vic said under his breath, but he went and pulled the curtains shut, then went to the bathroom, found a bottle of Aspirin, brought it back to the bedroom and pressed the bottle into Mac's right hand. Then he snatched Mac's pillow away. Mac groaned loudly, and covered his eyes with his left forearm - bringing his bandaged hand into view. And that brought certain memories about last night into sharp focus for Vic. And he remembered that he'd promised Li Ann he'd bring Mac in to the morning meeting.

"OK, Mac, here's what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm going to go home, and shower and change. Then I'm going to come back. When I get back, you're going to be all dressed and ready to face the Director. Then I'm going to drive you in to work. All right?"

"All right," Mac agreed, and pulled the covers up over his head.

On his way out the door, Vic took Mac's gun.


Vic was back at Mac's place in 45 minutes. Not only had he freshened up at home, he'd stopped at a drugstore to buy throat lozenges and Kleenex for Mac, and at a Tim Horton's to get bagels for breakfast. The door to Mac's place was locked - that meant Mac had got out of bed and locked it, at least. Vic knocked on the door, and Mac opened it. Vic was impressed. He'd half-expected to have to drag Mac out of bed and throw him into the shower himself.

Mac was dressed in a charcoal grey suit, today, with a black shirt underneath. He was wearing sunglasses, which didn't quite hide the dark circles under his eyes. "OK, let's go."

"No, first, I brought breakfast," Vic said, holding up the slightly greasy paper bag.

"Ugh. You can have it," Mac said, looking queasy. But he backed up and let Vic in.

"I bought you a couple presents, too," Vic said, handing Mac the plastic bag with the tissues and the lozenges. "Here."

Mac took the bag and looked in. "Hey, thanks Vic." He sounded surprised. "That's really thoughtful of you." He stared at Vic for a moment, and Vic couldn't tell what his expression was behind the sunglasses.

They ate the bagels at the kitchen table. Vic had brought more juice, too. Mac drank half a glass of juice, but only nibbled at a quarter of a bagel. Then he broke one lozenge out of the blister pak and popped it in his mouth. There was no real conversation over breakfast. Certainly nothing about last night. Vic wouldn't describe the mood as awkward, exactly; more that Mac just didn't have anything to say and Vic was content with the silence.

When they were ready to go, Vic handed Mac his gun. "Oh," said Mac, mildly, "I was looking for that." He slipped it into his belt. "Let's go."


Once they were settled in the truck and driving, Vic's thoughts turned inevitably to the problem of making sense of what happened last night. He glanced over at Mac. The younger agent's head leaned back against the headrest, and his eyes were closed behind his sunglasses. His lips were parted slightly. His nose was a bit reddened from his cold. He looked... fragile.

OK. Think back to last night. What happened? Well, Vic woke up, heard Mac crying, and went to him. Then Vic asked Mac some questions, and Mac told Vic he'd been planning to kill himself. Ouch, that was some hardcore shit. Vic snuck another glance over, just to confirm that Mac was safe and alive beside him. Right. Then? Then Mac sexually assaulted Vic. Hm, no, that's not a fair and accurate description at all. Vic didn't make any attempt to stop him, and he sure could have. Vic didn't stop him because, um, he was so surprised that he didn't figure out what was going on until it was all over? No, that was a stupid cop-out. Vic realized what was happening in about 5 seconds flat. He just didn't know why. But he'd liked it. Or at least, his body had liked it. It had felt wonderful, being kissed, caressed, and finally brought to a very nice orgasm. But... Mac???

All right. Vic was never a homophobe like a lot of the cops he knew. And, in times of introspection, he'd considered the possibility of being attracted to a guy. It'd never exactly happened, but the idea never turned him off or scared him, either. But... Mac???

Well, Mac was kind of a pretty-boy. He was definitely a compulsive flirt. Not really what Vic would think of as his type... but that wasn't really the question here, was it? Was it?

No more time for thought. He was pulling into the Agency parking lot. Time to deliver his young, emotionally unstable partner into the tender talons of the Director.


Li Ann was already in the briefing room, perching impatiently in the middle seat. She watched as Mac plunked the Kleenex box on the table, and slouched into his chair. "Hi," she said. She reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right, Mac?"

He shrugged her hand away. "I'm fine," he answered in an irritated, leave-me-alone tone.

She bit her lip and stared at him, and seemed about to say something else - but that was when the Director walked in.

The Director, today, wore a bright red leather cat suit, red stiletto thigh-high boots, and red leather gloves. She carried a riding crop, which she slapped against her hand a couple times as she reached her favoured position in front of the table and swung around, a mixture of cool aggression, sexuality and contempt, to face her agents.

Without preamble, she pointed the crop at the briefing screen where suddenly, there was a picture of a man. "Mr Jones," she said. The picture was obviously a screen-capture from some city street's surveillance camera. The low-resolution image revealed a tall, grey-haired, middle-aged white man in mid stride. The man wore dark glasses and, strikingly, a long black cape which swirled behind him, in odd contrast to the ordinary Western clothes of all the background figures in the streetscape. "He is reputed to be the criminal mastermind, or cult leader, behind Bloodfire, an organization which until very recently was nothing but a rumour to the international authorities."

The picture changed. This next image appeared to be a satellite photo, showing a cluster of four small buildings in a forested location. "This, we have confirmed, is Bloodfire's secret compound. It's located in Northern BC, near the coast - which, as I'm sure you're delighted to realize, puts it in our jurisdiction." She paused, looking at her agents as though wanting a response.

"I'm thrilled," Vic offered.

"You should be," the Director replied, coolly. "Because Bloodfire is suspected in more than twenty high-profile public bombings, world-wide, over the past three years. And it will be the great privilege of you three to give us what we need to take them down."

"So, what's their cause?" Li Ann asked. "Why are they blowing things up?"

"Blowing people up, mostly," the Director corrected. "They seem to be an entirely mercenary operation. Bombs for hire." She paused, and smiled in her customary menacing way. "There's a catch or two."

"No, really?" Li Ann asked, eyes innocently wide.

"For one thing, they specialize in suicide bombers."

Vic blinked. "How is that profitable?"

"They contract out the suicide part. They use street kids, prostitutes - people who can disappear without the local authorities taking much notice."

Vic sucked his breath in through his teeth. "Nasty."


"And, the other catch?" Li Ann prompted.

"That's on a need-to-know basis," the Director said briskly, and snapped her fingers. The screen winked off.

Mac, who'd been silent up to this point, and not obviously paying attention, now snatched a tissue from the box in front of him and immediately used it to cover two quick, quiet sneezes. "Uh, 'scuse me," he muttered.

"Mac," the Director purred, strolling around the table, and coming to rest behind him to ruffle her leather-gloved fingers through his hair, "You're going to go undercover, and penetrate the compound for me."

"Hey-" Vic began to protest, at the same moment as Li Ann said "Wait a-"

THWACK! The Director hit the table, hard, with her riding crop. All three agents jumped at the impact. "I did not authorize a group discussion. Now, Mr Ramsey, report to the infirmary immediately. When they're done with you, come back here for your detailed instructions."

The Director moved away from Mac, headed back to the front of the table. Mac stood up, without his usual grace, and grabbed the Kleenex box to take with him. Li Ann watched, silently, biting her lower lip.

Vic tried again to object. "I don't think-" The Director silenced him with another slap of the riding crop, this one coming down on his fingers, which were carelessly resting on the table. "Ow!" he yelped, shaking his stinging fingers and putting them in his mouth. Mac looked back to see what was wrong, but the Director waved him away.

"You were not asked to think, Victor," the Director informed him.

Mac was gone.

The Director turned to face the two remaining agents, and gave a dramatic little sigh. "Aaah. Doesn't it just melt your heart to see him all raw and vulnerable like that?"

Vic grimaced. He'd sort of been thinking that, but the Director saying it made him feel dirty. "May I make a suggestion.... please?"

"Well," the Director said in a silken tone, allowing herself something resembling a real smile, "There's the magic word. What is it you want to say?"

Vic hesitated. "You know, I really really never thought I'd hear myself say this, but... I think you should give Mac a vacation. Send me in."

Li Ann nodded. "Or me."

The Director raised her eyebrows. "How unexpectedly noble of you." As usual, she sounded insincere.

"Really," Vic pressed on, wondering meanwhile how much he should tell the Director, and, for that matter, how much she already knew, "he's kind of ... unstable now. It's not a good time for him to go undercover."

"Oh, Vic," the Director said in a terribly sympathetic tone, "I know exactly what's going on with him... you keep forgetting, I know each of you better than you know yourselves. I know what happened last night." Vic felt his cheeks flushing. Did she really? "Now, Mac is out of your lives for the moment, so you may stop concerning yourselves with him, and start to concentrate on your part in this."

"And that would be.... ?" Li Ann prompted, after a few ominous seconds of silence.

"You'll be backing Mac up from outside the perimeter of the compound. But first, you're going to undergo five days of intensive training in wilderness operations. Starting immediately."


Mac is working the bar. He's chatting up the men Dobrinsky sends his way, in good English, bad French or good Cantonese, as appropriate. It's a fine line he has to walk - if he's too explicit, he risks getting bounced right out of the bar. If he's too subtle, he ends up going off with some man who honestly thinks he's just picked up, and who will be shocked and hurt if Mac demands payment at the end of it all. Not only is that awkward, it's a major waste of time, because in that case the man is obviously not the target Mac's seeking. All this confusion despite the Pink Palace's well known bad rep as the place the working boys go.

Mac's made $250 in the three nights since he arrived in Montreal. Not that he's been able to pocket any of it; Dobrinsky's been staying true to his role as Mac's pimp, in that respect. At one point Mac challenged him about it, and after a brief argument and exchange of threats, Mac agreed that Dobie could keep the money, in return for never, ever breathing a word of this to Vic, Li Ann or Jackie. Unfortunately, the $250 is all they have to show for their efforts, so far. That and Mac's sore ass.

Dobrinsky beckons Mac over. Mac weaves his way through the crowd, and lets Dobrinsky plant a possessive kiss on his cheek. Mac shudders internally. He considers for a moment that the worst, the absolute worst thing about this assignment, is the fact that he has to let Dobrinsky do that.

Of course, that's not true at all, but so far Mac is getting through by not thinking about it.

"See that man there, in the long-sleeved black shirt with the blue sequin detailing?" Dobrinsky says to Mac, nodding in the appropriate direction. Mac sees the guy all right. The man is leaning against a high counter, holding a drink, and watching the dancers. Then the man looks over at them and seems to make eye contact with Dobrinsky. He holds it for a moment, then looks deliberately away. "I want you to dance for him," Dobrinsky says. "Go on and strut your stuff, sweet cheeks." He sends Mac on his way with a pat on the butt.

Maybe the worst thing about this job is Dobrinsky calling him "sweet cheeks."

Mac makes his way onto the dance floor, and starts to let the music speak to his body. He actually sort of likes the music they've been playing here tonight - some reasonably good techno. This bothers him. He doesn't want there to be good sensations mixed up in all this. It feels dirty.

Dirty or not, Mac does what he's been instructed to do. "Be sexy, be inviting," the Director had told him, "but also insecure, vulnerable. Sexy and inviting are the job you're supposedly doing; insecure and vulnerable are what they're looking for in their targets." So no problem, Mac thinks as he dances. Just send me to the seediest, creepiest bar in Montreal's Gay Village, and I'll ease up to the men Dobrinsky finds for me, and dance like a sexy, inviting, insecure, vulnerable male prostitute. Couldn't be simpler.

Funny thing about the job Dobrinsky's doing here. You'd think it'd be hard to break into a scene without making waves, without getting in trouble with the guys who already own it, but the locals don't seem surprised at Dobrinsky at all. In fact, a number of people seemed to recognize him... they call him Doobie, here. Mac shudders to think how the Agency pulled that off.

Mac decides some eye contact is called for. He meets the man's eyes briefly, then away again. Inviting. Insecure. He moves with the music, with the pulsing of the crowd, letting his body do all the thinking.

Mac's danced 'till 3 am in gay bars before, and gone home with a stranger and fucked and left before morning without exchanging phone numbers, and it's been fun. Now he feels like meat. Like discount meat, actually. Desperate to be taken home from the grocery store...

And deep down, this feels right. It's dirty and demeaning, and dangerous in ways very different from what he usually faces, but it's exactly where he should be. This explains why Vic was sent to save his life four nights ago. Mac was spared because a quick death was too easy. He was spared for this.

The man beckons. Mac moves towards him, not exactly dancing now but still moving with the beat. The man is Caucasian, maybe 40, stocky, with jet-black hair - obviously dyed. His ears are pierced with about ten silver studs each, and three more studs go through his right eyebrow, all in a row. He's wearing black lipstick. Not quite camp, but almost, Mac decides.

"I'm looking for a date, tonight," the man says in English. He has a foreign accent - not French. Possibly German, but Mac isn't sure.

"Well, you're in luck," Mac says, letting his body brush up against the shorter man's. "I'm free." He waggles his eyebrows, and licks his lips. Is that overdoing it?

"Are you ready to do what I tell you to do?" the man asks, poking Mac in the chest and running his fingers upwards to grasp at the short silver chain hanging from the dog collar Mac is wearing.

"Are you ready to pay me for it?" Mac asks in return. Hm, maybe too forward. Try to look more vulnerable. He bites his lip and lowers his gaze in, he hopes, an anxious manner.

The man looks equal parts surprised and suspicious. "Aren't you afraid I'm a cop?" he probes.

"You don't look like a fucking cop." Mac forces a laugh. Actually, he thinks it would be absolutely hilarious if he got picked up by an undercover cop.

The man smiles slightly. "Well, you're right. I'm not a cop."

The man introduces himself as Wolfgang, as he hails a cab for them outside. As the cab negotiates its way through the night-time traffic on de Maisonneuve, he probes Mac's connections. "Have you known Doobie very long?" Wolfgang asks casually.

"A week," Mac responds with a harsh laugh. Meanwhile, he wonders just how long "Wolfgang" has known "Doobie."

"I see," Wolfgang muses. "And before that you.... worked... alone?"

"Oh, I just got to Montreal," Mac replies evasively. "Doobie's been looking after me."

Wolfgang stares out the window, but he's fingering Mac's chain as he talks. "And where are you from?"

"Oh, around. Mostly Vancouver," Mac says with a shrug. Then he coughs. "ahem Excuse me." "You aren't sick, are you?" the man asks, with a mild tone of distaste and something else... interest?

"Getting over a cold," Mac says, more or less truthfully. Actually his cold's been lingering, possibly as a result of the really terrible care he's been taking of himself, but he's keeping the symptoms pretty much suppressed with Agency superdrugs. He just feels tired.

This seems to satisfy Wolfgang. He's silent for the rest of the ride to his hotel.

The hotel room is a large, luxurious one. In centre stage is a double bed with a fancy, wrought-iron frame. Mac scopes out the rest of the room, quickly and instinctively: there's a bedside table, an armchair, a tall wooden wardrobe, and a writing desk with a wooden chair. No personal items lying around visibly at all. The door to the washroom is every so slightly ajar. Mac notes both the wardrobe and the washroom as places where someone else might be waiting, listening. Of course, he has no idea yet whether Wolfgang is actually part of Bloodfire - but he's got a good feeling about this one.

Wolfgang closes the door, and slides the bolt into place. "Take off your shirt," he says over his shoulder. Mac obeys, pulling his black mesh sleeveless shirt off over his head and letting it drop to the thickly carpeted floor. Meanwhile, Wolfgang goes and pulls a black leather case out from under the bed. He opens it on the armchair. Mac, standing behind him, gets a glimpse of an impressive array of s&m tools. The man pulls out a couple pairs of handcuffs.

"Hold out your hand," Wolfgang says. Mac holds out his left. The bandage is long gone; he's just got a thin red scab across his palm. Wolfgang clicks one of the cuffs over his wrist, and leads him around to the head of the bed. "Climb up."

Mac does, and watches as Wolfgang fastens the other end of that set of cuffs to the left side of the bed. "Hey, we have to set a safeword before we get started," Mac says.

Wolfgang stares at him for a moment, and then laughs, while he quickly handcuffs Mac's right hand to the right side of the headboard. "I see," he says, "You are under the misapprehension that we are about to engage in some consensual role-playing." He shakes his head. "No. I am going to rape you."

Bingo. Mac'd give, like, 99% odds at this point that Dobrinsky's finally found him a member of Bloodfire. There's still the chance, of course, that he's just hit some random really bad trick. All he can do is play along.

Mac rattles the cuffs. "Look," he says nervously. "I'll do whatever you ask."

Wolfgang smiles. "Yes," he agrees. "You certainly will. I'd just like to point out now that the walls in this hotel are very thick... but nonetheless, I will not tolerate any screams for help." He slides a long, serrated hunting knife out of some hidden sheath - Mac can't see exactly where it comes from, since he's kneeling on the bed facing the wall, and he has to practically twist his head backwards to see Wolfgang. "Just so you know," the man says, and the knife disappears again.

Wolfgang returns to his case of toys, and brings out a thong whip - maybe ten, fifteen long leather strands hanging from the handle. It clinks as it moves, and Mac glimpses little spiked steel tips at the end of each strand. That's gonna sting. Wolfgang cocks his head slightly to the side, drawing nearer Mac. "Tell me... how do you feel?"

"What?" Mac gasps. "How do I fucking feel? You just locked me up and - and told me you're going to rape me and - and threatened to kill me! I feel that you're a sick perverted bastard!"

THWACK! "Aaagh!" Mac cries out in pain, feeling the impact of the thongs like a stripe of fire on his back.

"You must learn to be more respectful, child," Wolfgang says pleasantly. And whips Mac once more, eliciting another cry of pain.

In a way, Wolfgang reminds Mac of the Director. He can easily picture them sitting at a table together in some high-class bar, swapping tips on whipping technique, and where to get good-quality riding crops, and how to make a grown man cry.

"Please stop doing that," Mac begs.

Another impact. Another cry of pain. "Please stop doing that, my lord," Wolfgang says, emphasis on the title.

"What!?" Mac exclaims - and is hit again. His whole back is on fire now, and the newest impact hurt beyond any of the others. "Please stop doing that, my lord," he whimpers.

Wolfgang puts the whip down, on the table. Mac sighs with relief. Then, to his surprise, Wolfgang takes a key from the case, and unlocks the right handcuff, freeing Mac's right hand.

"Now," Wolfgang says, "that you have begun to understand respect, and discipline, I will trust you with a very simple task. You will take your pants off."

This is a test. A screening process. A sort of job interview. The Director explained it to him when he returned from the infirmary for his detailed instructions.

Bloodfire takes street kids and prostitutes off the street, takes them to the compound in British Columbia, and breaks them. Breaks them so thoroughly that by the end, they are willing to carry the bombs to their targets. They are willing to be the bombs.

The Director explained to him that almost everything the Agency knew about Bloodfire's methods, at this point, came from a statement given to the police in a precinct in Johannesburg, South Africa, where one of the "bombs" had actually broken free on the way to her target, and run to the local police. She killed herself the following night, still in police custody.

In order to infiltrate the compound, Mac would have to get himself recruited. The Agency would try to put him in the right place at the right time, but it would be up to him to convince the Bloodfire member that he'd be easy enough to break.

"You need to suffer, Mac, for what you've done," was the last thing the Director had said to him before sending him away. "Here's your chance."

Now Mac is trying to peel his tight leather pants off his sweaty ass, with one hand tied behind his back (so to speak).

"You're too slow," Wolfgang says. WHAP! He slaps Mac on the shoulder with a riding crop just like the Director's.

"Ow! I'm trying to get them off, it's hard with one hand," Mac protests, squirming to try to get away from the crop and keep pulling the pants down at the same time.

"You're incompetent!" Wolfgang yells at him. He slaps him again. Mac cringes, but manages to get the pants off and kick them away.

"Is this good?" he asks, trying to sound submissive.

"No!" the older man barks. "What is wrong here? You incompetent piece of shit," he punctuates his insult with another blow of the crop, this time to Mac's thigh, "I told you to get undressed. Are you undressed?"

"But you just told me to take my pants off -"

"Are you questioning my word, maggot?" Wolfgang asks in a low, dangerous tone. He reaches for the whip again.

"No! No I didn't mean - please no, please no my lord," Mac begs. Wolfgang orders him to kneel at the head of the bed, the way he did while handcuffed, and to hold the head rail with his right hand. Mac does, and Wolfgang lashes him twice more. Mac wonders if his back is bleeding; it feels as though it is.

"Now," Wolfgang says pleasantly, "Do it right this time."

Mac pulls off his boxers, guessing that this is what Wolfgang is asking him to do. This leaves him completely naked. Wolfgang now locks Mac's right hand to the bed again, and instructs him to lie down. Mac does so, lying on his stomach. Now he can't see anything that's going on, at all; he can only stare through the curling iron rails of the headboard at the creamy wallpaper in front of him.

Mac winces at a slight sensation on his back; he guesses that Wolfgang is dragging the tips of the whip strands lightly across his back. It hurts only because of the injuries he already has. "Now beg me to fuck you," Wolfgang says.

Oh man, how should he play this? Mac is in some pain, but not scared like he should be, because the outcome he should be fearing is the very one he's aiming for - he needs to get kidnapped. Wolfgang can't expect Mac to ask for it like he means it - but going ironic or sarcastic at this point might be showing too much spirit.

"Please don't hurt me," Mac says softly, instead. "AAAaagh!" He feels the whip again.

"Wrong, stupid boy," Wolfgang says, standing over him somewhere close, "You should beg me to hurt you. Because you deserve it, don't you? You're a whore. You know it's your own fault you're here, don't you?"

"Yes," Mac whimpers.

"Whose fault is this?"


"And what should I do to you?" Wolfgang's voice is low and husky now. There's the sound of cloth rustling and the crinkle of a condom wrapper opening.

Unbidden, an image flashes through Mac's mind: Mr Lee's face, bleeding. "Hurt me. Please hurt me." Mac's voice is low and miserable. And sincere.

Now Mac feels the other man climb onto the bed, climb on top of him. He's surprised to feel Wolfgang kissing his shoulders and back - but this hurts, of course, the kisses on top of the welts from the whip, and Mac supposes that it's meant to.

And suddenly in one thrust, Wolfgang is inside of him. Mac cries out in pain - he wasn't prepared at all, and the entry had a ripping feeling. Wolfgang pumps hard, grunting, and Mac grits his teeth against the pain. The tempo rises quickly, and soon Wolfgang is coming in one harsh, final thrust, with a feral yell. The whole thing has taken less than a minute. Wolfgang lies flat on Mac's back, panting - that hurts, every contact with Mac's back seems to burn him. Then he pulls his dick out of Mac's ass and stands up. A moment later Mac can see him, fully clothed, unlocking the handcuffs.

His two hands free, Mac doesn't dare move until Wolfgang tells him to sit up. Then he watches as Wolfgang brings out the knife. He is worried about where this is going, but he remembers his role and tries to look downright scared.

He does not expect this: holding the knife in his right hand, Wolfgang presses the blade against his left palm in an unconscious echo of Mac's own action, four nights ago. He moves the knife slightly and brings it away; there is a short line of blood, not across the whole palm but only a centimetre long, near the bottom edge of the hand. Wolfgang places the knife on the bedside table, then walks back and sits down on the bed next to Mac - on the side of Mac away from the knife.

Then Wolfgang holds his right hand in front of himself, palm down, and his left hand over the right. He squeezes his left, and a few drops of blood fall from the cut, landing on the back of his right hand. He then offers the back of this hand to Mac. "Now," he says, "Drink my blood."

Mac stares at the shiny red drops. He is sure this is the last part of the test. Will the subject lick the blood - a dangerous act, not to mention gross, and rather kinky - or will the subject lunge for the conveniently-placed knife?

Mac's eyes do not even flicker towards the bedside table. He leans forward slightly, and laps up the bitter blood. Then he looks into Wolfgang's eyes for approval.

Wolfgang smiles. "You are mine now," he says tenderly, sliding his right arm around Mac's shoulder.

Then Mac feels a needle prick at the back of his neck. His last thought, as he slips into unconsciousness, is "Everything is perfect now."

Part 4

"Well, if the bears aren't dangerous, why do we have to hang our food in a tree?" Li Ann asked, with an edge to her voice.

"I didn't say they weren't dangerous, I said they almost never attack unless provoked," Vic clarified, trying not to turn this into an actual fight. They'd been camping in the northern BC wilderness for three days now, after five days of intense training in northern Ontario, and the experience was obviously getting to Li Ann. "The food's hanging from a branch so the bears can't reach it. You don't want a bear to eat our food, do you?" She knew this. They were just arguing about it because there was nothing else to talk about, unless they returned to the discussion of their insect bites.

"I have never been so itchy in my life," Li Ann said, on cue. She scratched at the back of her right hand.

"Don't scratch it. Put this on it," Vic reminded her, handing her the tube of After-Bite. "Then spray on some more insect repellent."

"You like this, don't you?" Li Ann accused him, while she followed his advice.

Vic shrugged. "It's a nice change from chasing bad guys around the urban wasteland, yeah. Lots of trees, fresh air... reminds me of Scout Camp."

Li Ann laughed. "You were a Boy Scout? Figures."

Actually, their site resembled an army camp more than a scout camp. Their tent was green camouflage, their packs and most of their equipment were shaded army green, and they themselves wore camouflage fatigues. And there were the guns, of course.

They were camped near the bottom of a mountain. The Bloodfire compound was about a kilometre away, down slope. Vic and Li Ann had gone there when they first arrived, in order to plant a hidden radio at a prearranged spot on the perimeter fence. Now, they played the waiting game, hoping that Mac would be able to get to the radio and contact them.

"I think I'll heat up some lunch," Vic said. "I'm getting hungry."

"OK," Li Ann replied, "if you wanna get it out of the tree."

"I'm worried about Mac," Vic blurted out, twenty minutes later, apropos nothing, while he and Li Ann were eating canned beef stew with rice.

"The Director warned us it could be a while before he manages to contact us. It's only been, what, four, five days since we think he got inside?" Li Ann pointed out. "Not time to panic yet. I wish he'd hurry up though..." She scratched another insect bite.

"Well, yeah, there's that, we don't know what's happening to him in there... but I was thinking more of what happened before he left. The night you sent me over to his place."

"Ah," Li Ann said.

"I never had the chance to tell you, the next day... in the middle of the night, I heard him crying, Li Ann. And I went in to see what was wrong, and we talked a bit... I asked him if he'd been planning to kill himself. He said yes." Vic forced himself to take another bite of stew, even though he suddenly wasn't hungry at all.

Li Ann nodded, slowly. "I knew something was very wrong with him. I wish I knew what."

"He said that he deserved to die because of something he did while he was with the Tangs. He said you didn't know about it."

Li Ann frowned, batting a fly away absently. "Why now? We left the Tangs nearly two years ago."

Vic shrugged. "I guess he started thinking about it when I got involved with my old department a few weeks back. Something about finding out I was innocent for real." He scraped up one more bite of stew, shaking his head. "I don't really get that though - I always said I was innocent."

"Everyone always says they're innocent," Li Ann commented with a bit of a laugh. Vic glared at her. "What?" she said. "I always believed you. So, did he give you any idea what it was that he did? Because I really have no idea."

Vic shrugged. "No. But that's not really important, is it? No matter what he did, he doesn't have to die for it."

"I'm surprised he told you anything at all," Li Ann confessed. "Any time I start asking him questions he doesn't want to answer, he just changes the subject. Or," she added with a smile, "he starts undressing me and gets me completely distracted."

Vic felt his eyes going wide and his cheeks flushing. Damn. He stared into his bowl, suddenly extremely fascinated by the task of scraping the last spoonful of stew out of the bottom.

Li Ann had caught the expression. "Oh my God," she said, softly, staring Vic, "He didn't. Did he? Did he?"

Vic tapped his spoon in his empty bowl. "Are you all done? I'll go wash the dishes." He started to stand up, but Li Ann stopped him with a hand laid on his arm.

"No you don't. Not without telling me what happened." Her tone was hard to read - some mixture of awed, horrified, amused and intrigued.

"Nothing happened," Vic snapped, pulling away from Li Ann and starting towards the stream.

Li Ann dashed around and planted herself in front of him. "If you won't tell me, I'll ask the Director," she threatened.

Vic swallowed. The Director. Did she really know?... And would Li Ann really ask? And would the Director tell her? He had an awful suspicion that all the answers might be "yes." And when he imagined the two women sitting around, talking about him... he shuddered. So maybe it would be better to give in, and talk to Li Ann himself. "All right," he conceded. "But let's wash the dishes, anyway."

They went to the little stream that ran near their campsite, and rinsed off their dishes and the pot. All the while, Vic tried to figure out what he was going to say to Li Ann. He hadn't sorted through this thing in his head, yet. He'd avoided thinking about it since they got this new mission.

Once they were back at the camp, sitting side by side on the fallen tree they used as a bench, Li Ann asked the question again. "So, what happened, Vic?" She put her hand on his leg, in a comforting gesture. "You don't have to be embarrassed. I know you both really well. I love you both. I'm not going to be shocked and tell you you're evil, or something."

Li Ann's proximity was not exactly comforting Vic. He was still very attracted to her, in fact, and her hand felt very hot on his thigh. And then thinking about what had happened with Mac... it was all very confusing.

"Well," he began, "it was just like you said. I asked him those questions, and he did tell me a bit, but then he, uh, pushed me down on the bed and started undressing me." He paused. "I shouldn't have let him."

"Wait a second," Li Ann said, "You let him? You didn't stop him?" She took Vic's silence for confirmation. "Oh my God," she swore again, incredulously. "How far...?" Vic still wasn't saying anything. "You didn't actually... he didn't... you didn't actually have sex, did you?"

Vic shook his head.

"Ah. OK. Well, I didn't think so. I mean, Mac's usually a bottom, with men, anyway-"

"What!?" It was Vic's turn to be shocked. He stared at Li Ann. "He- do you mean- how do you know- you mean he- shit," he finished finally.

"Oh come on, you didn't think he was straight, did you?" Li Ann asked with a definite smirk. Clearly, the chance to get one up on Vic just couldn't be passed up, no matter what the circumstances.

"But... he was with you. He was in love with you," Vic protested, still reeling at what Li Ann had just casually said.

"Hm. Well, yes, but we were never monogamous. There was always- well, never mind that." Li Ann had obviously just stopped herself from revealing something else, but Vic didn't press her. He knew too much already. "So what did happen, then?"

Right. The story of Mac and Vic still hadn't been told. "He, uh, kissed me some," Vic admitted, uncomfortably. "Then, he, uh, well..." He could feel his face turning pink again.

"Yes?" Li Ann prompted, eyebrows raised encouragingly.

"Hewentdownonme," Vic finished quickly.

"And you didn't stop him," Li Ann reiterated.

Vic shook his head.

"You liked it?" Li Ann asked.

Vic hesitated. "I'm not sure. I mean, my body... I did..."

"You came?" Li Ann suggested, rather dryly.

Vic sighed. "Yeah."

Li Ann stood up, and started to pace back and forth in front of the log. "OK, Vic, I'm a bit stunned. Not about Mac, I mean, but about you. I wouldn't have guessed... but could I tell you something?"

"Go ahead," Vic invited, helplessly

"Sometimes when we're working together, the sexual tension between you two is so thick, I could cut it with a knife."

"What? Oh no, no way," Vic said vehemently, standing up too. "You're making that up."

"I wouldn't make that up," Li Ann insisted, holding her hands up in a gesture of innocence. "I mean, Mac mostly makes the overt moves, sure. But you... you simmer."

"I don't simmer," Vic protested. His head was really spinning now, with everything Li Ann was saying. Did she really see that? Was it really there, to see? He wanted to deny it to himself, but he couldn't, quite.

"Yes you do simmer," Li Ann insisted, smirking at him now. "It's very attractive. No wonder Mac couldn't keep his hands off you forever."

"I'm not talking about this with you anymore," Vic said angrily. "Not if you're going to be like this."

"Like what?"

"Teasing me."

"I'm not."

"Right, because we're not talking about it anymore." Vic headed for the tent. He'd find something to do there, something to distract him from all this.

"Wait," Li Ann said, grabbing his arm. He stopped. "I'm sorry Vic. OK, I was teasing," she admitted. "I was just... well, I'm still kind of shocked. I always thought that you didn't even like Mac."

"I don't!" he practically shouted in her face. She blinked, and backed away slightly. "Sorry, Li Ann," he said. "I didn't mean to yell at you. I'm just... confused. And worried."

"Worried about Mac?"


Li Ann sighed. "He'll be OK for now, Vic. He's working; that'll keep him focused. I'm pretty sure of that." She frowned, pensively. "Why do you need me to reassure you about this? You care about him, don't you!"

"Yes!" Vic snapped. "I care whether my partner is likely to fucking kill himself while he's undercover. That doesn't mean I'm fucking in love with him or something!"

Li Ann just stared at him for a few seconds. "I didn't say that," she managed, eventually.

Vic sank back onto the fallen tree. "Shit," he said, rubbing his face with his hands.

Li Ann stood there, looking at him quizzically for a bit. Then she sighed. "Speaking of shit... if you'll excuse me for a few minutes." She went and grabbed a small shovel from the ground near the tent, and walked off into the trees, muttering "I hate camping. I hate camping. I hate it."

Thirty seconds later, the radio came to life. "Li Ann!!" Vic yelled as he dove for the set. "Mac's calling!!"

"Vic, that you?" Mac's voice was faint; he was obviously speaking softly at the other end. Vic turned up the volume; he got a lot of background static, but at least he could hear Mac.

"Yes. What's your status?" he said.

"I think I'm OK here for a minute or two. It's hard to get away. Oh man am I glad to hear your voice," Mac said.

"Quick then: what have you learned? What do you need?"

"Oh, I've learned a lot," Mac said cryptically. Then he went on, more usefully: "There are eighteen captives here, besides me. I think there are about twenty-five Kin."

"Kin?" Vic repeated.

"Oh sorry. Bloodfire members. And they've got a serious bunker here - really thick concrete walls, enough supplies to last for months. And the whole area around the compound is rigged with explosives. Remote controlled. There's a central control room. Very paranoid set-up. But I could take down their security from in there. Controls the doors, too. Then an assault team could get in. I think that's the only way. Unless you want to do a nuclear strike. Suggest that to the Director, OK?"

Vic assumed Mac was joking about the last part. Anyway, Canada didn't even have nuclear capability. "We could have the assault team here the day after tomorrow. Will that work for you?"

Mac didn't answer right away, and Vic thought he could hear the faint sound of coughing, in the background. 'Damn, is Mac still sick?' he wondered. Then Mac was back: "Yeah, day after tomorrow. I'll do my best. Say, 7:30 am I'll take down the security. Early morning's best. He drugs me at breakfast and in the evening. Hard to work 'till it wears off."

"Drugs you?!" Vic exclaimed. "Who? Are you all right now?"

"All right for this. Not for fighting. Balance is off. Hard to concentrate, too."

Vic didn't feel reassured. Damn, this was not good. But there was nothing he could do - Mac was inside, and this plan was all they had.

"I'll need some tools," Mac went on. "I've got a place I can hide them, if you can get them to me. We'll have to meet by the fence. Day's no good; they've got cameras all around. No night vision, though. I can get past their night security."

"Tonight or tomorrow night?"

"Try tonight. If I don't show up, try tomorrow night. It's hard for me to get away." Mac's voice went distant; Vic heard him coughing again. Then he was back. "Wait for me by the Northeast corner of the fence, all right?"

"No problem. What will you need?" Vic asked.

Mac listed the tools he thought he'd need; Vic made some suggestions too. Li Ann arrived, greeted Mac enthusiastically, and helped them complete the list. Then quick goodbyes, and Mac was gone.

Vic filled Li Ann in on what she'd missed. She didn't seem to be as worried as he was about the drugs. "He sounded all right on the radio," she said. Vic didn't agree, but he didn't go into it with her. Instead, they placed a satellite call to the Director, and let her know everything they'd learned. The Director approved the plan, and promised them the backup they'd need to take down Bloodfire.

Then there was nothing to do but put together the stuff Mac had asked for, and wait.


It was dark at night, here in the wilderness. Really, really dark. There was a mere sliver of a moon in the sky right now, and when Vic flipped up his night-vision goggles, he couldn't make out his own black-gloved hand in front of his face. Of course, that was the whole point of the gloves. He and Li Ann had also painted all their exposed skin with dark green camouflage makeup, so when he looked to his right he could barely see her, though he could faintly hear her breathing.

They'd waited all last night, and Mac hadn't shown. They'd taken turns sleeping today, so that they'd be ready for another long dark night of getting more and more worried - at least, Vic was getting more and more worried. Li Ann waited beside him in silence.

And then Mac was there. Vic heard him before he saw him - there was a rattle at the fence. Li Ann stayed back, to cover them, and Vic went up to the fence. Mac was standing on the other side, his fingers laced through the chain-link. Damn - he was naked, except for a submission collar.

Vic laid his fingers over Mac's through the fence. He desperately wanted to say something, he just didn't know what.

"Got the stuff?" Mac whispered. "Throw it over."

"Where are your clothes?" Vic whispered back. OK, it was a stupid question.

"He took them away. Please just throw the bag over," Mac said urgently.

Vic stepped back from the fence, and threw the small bag in a high arc so that it'd clear the 10 ft fence with its barbed wire top. Mac, on the other side, moved to catch it; he did, but then immediately fumbled and dropped it, swearing softly.

"You OK?" Vic whispered.

"It's just the drugs. Make me clumsy," Mac explained, stooping down to scoop up the bag. He went back to the fence, so that they could keep talking in soft whispers. "You talk to the Director?"

"Yes. Everything's ready for tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Mac repeated. "No, the day after."

"What? No, you said the day after tomorrow the day we talked. Which was yesterday. Which makes it this coming morning," Vic whispered.

Mac shook his head, confused. "We talked today. Didn't we?"

Vic pulled his night-vision goggles away from his eyes and looked at Mac. Here out of the trees, the moonlight was just barely adequate to make him out. Mac was clutching the fence again, as though to hold himself up. Barefoot and naked, he looked pathetically unsuited for the harsh wilderness backdrop. Hard to tell for sure, but it looked like Mac's pale skin was marked with bruises or other injuries, on every part of his body visible to Vic except for his face. Vic threaded his fingers through the fence over Mac's again, with the vague hope that physical contact would help Mac focus his drug-addled mind. "This is important, Mac. The raid is set for tomorrow. Do you think you can remember that?"

Mac pulled his fingers away, with a stricken expression. "I'm sorry, I fucked up the date, it's my fault, I'm sorry." Vic watched, confused and horrified, as Mac dropped to his knees on the ground and curled over, half-sobbing "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please hit me," over and over. His back, now visible, was criss-crossed with dark marks.

"Mac? Mac!" Vic whispered sharply, squatting down on the other side of the fence, "Snap out of it!" He called back over his shoulder, "Li Ann! Help me out here!"

There was the sound of breaking twigs and Li Ann was at his side, gun at the ready. "What's going on? I don't see any bad guys," she whispered. Then she caught what Mac was saying. "Mac? Vic? What's going on?"

"I don't know," Vic whispered back. "He just started freaking out. I think it's the drugs they're giving him. Mac? Mac - it's me, Vic, and Li Ann's here. We're not going to hurt you."

Mac gave no sign he'd heard.

Li Ann swept the compound with another cautious glance, then crouched down beside Vic. "Mac? Mac honey, it's OK, whatever you did it's OK and I know you're sorry and I'm not going to hit you."

Mac looked up, sniffling. "Li Ann? What are you doing here? Vic?"

"Mac, you're on a mission for the Agency, you're undercover, do you remember?" Li Ann said softly. Vic took his turn standing up and checking that they were still entirely alone. He heard the fence rattle, glanced down and saw that Mac and Li Ann were now touching fingers through the fence, and that their faces were close to each other. The sight unsettled him slightly, for some reason. "You have a job to do," Li Ann went on, still speaking to Mac in a soft, soothing tone. "You have to break into Bloodfire's control centre and shut down their security tomorrow, at 7:30 in the morning. Do you remember that?"

"Control centre, 7:30, tomorrow," Mac repeated. He nodded. "Yes. I remember. That's why I'm here, right? To take them down."

"Right," Li Ann agreed, matching her nods to his in a slow, head-bobbing dance. "That's why you're here."

Mac grabbed the bag again, and stood up. "I have to go," he said. "I'm dead if they catch me now." He shuddered. "Do you know how they kill prisoners here? They burn them. That's the only time I saw all the other prisoners. A couple days ago they brought us all into the yard, and they made us watch while they burned a guy at the stake. That's what happens if you disobey." He said this all in a low, flat tone.

"Mac," Li Ann whispered, aghast.

"Go," Vic said sharply. "Don't get caught. Go now."

Mac said nothing else; he just turned and ran away, disappearing quickly around the corner of a building.

Vic offered Li Ann a hand, and helped her to her feet. She shocked him by wrapping her arms around him in a tight hug. "I'm so scared for him," she whispered.

Vic hugged her back. "Me too, but come on, let's get away from here."

As soon as they'd reached their camp - and made sure it was secure - they called the Director on the satellite phone. She answered quickly and sounded as cool and in-control as ever, despite the hour. Vic quickly explained everything that had happened at their meeting with Mac. He heard Li Ann swearing to herself when he described Mac's confusion about the passage of days; she'd missed that part of the original conversation.

"We will stick with the original plan," the Director decreed, finally, when Vic had finished. "Mac did manage to make contact with you twice. I am reasonably confident that he'll manage to hold it together enough to operate tomorrow. In any case, we must shut Bloodfire down as quickly as possible, and this remains our best option."

Vic found himself growing angry at the Director's total lack of reaction to his description of Mac's state at the meeting. She made it clear often enough that her agents were her property, her playthings, and her puppets, but there had to be a limit. "Did you know what it would be like in there?" Vic said, tightly, into the phone. He felt Li Ann's hand on his shoulder. "When I told Mac he'd mixed up what day it was, he collapsed and started crying and begging me to fucking hit him. I don't even want to think about what they're doing to him in there, that he's acting like that after six days inside. How could you send him into that, when he was already fucking suicidal?" Li Ann squeezed his shoulder, and he put his other hand up on top of hers. He became aware that he was actually shaking with rage.

"Victor," the Director said mildly, "When I have a task at hand, I apply the most appropriate tool. You are my tools, and I use you as I see fit. You have to accept this."

"I don't see how Mac was the most appropriate tool this time," Vic practically growled.

The Director sighed, audibly. "I don't consider it necessary to explain my decisions to you, Victor, but I will indulge you this time. We needed to get someone into the compound. Bloodfire is a closed operation; the only way we could send someone in was as a captive. To get kidnapped by Bloodfire in the first place, and to stay alive within the compound, Mac had to give a Bloodfire member the impression that his mind and spirit could be broken by their methods. He had to endure physical, emotional and sexual abuse, without fighting back - without ever even giving the impression that he could fight back. Now, Victor, do you think you could do that? Or, more importantly, would you?"

Vic felt ill. He grasped Li Ann's hand even harder, and felt her squeezing back. "You used him. He thinks he deserves to suffer, for some reason, and you used that. That is so... sick."

"Of course I used him," the Director snapped. "Think about this: everything Mac has been going through for six days, eighteen other captives have been going through for months. Some of them are as young as fourteen, fifteen years old. Not to mention the others who have already died, and the people killed in the bombings. We stop this. Now. With whatever resources we have." She paused, and her tone changed again, from righteous indignation to pensive sweetness. "Besides, maybe Mac will find atonement in his suffering, after all. Good night, children. Say your prayers, and be ready for the morning."


At 7:30 am, Vic and Li Ann led the assault on the compound. They, and the thirty soldiers accompanying them, cut through the fence and streamed into the compound grounds. There was no response from Bloodfire; no explosions, no alarms. This was a very good sign. The unlocked doors of the concrete bunkers were another very good sign.

Inside, there was scattered resistance. It was easy to tell the Bloodfire members - the Kin, Mac had called them - from the captives, because the captives were all naked and collared. Some of the Kin they encountered were armed, but most weren't, and the highly skilled members of the assault team quickly secured the compound, with minimal casualties.

"This is almost too easy!" Li Ann commented, trotting down a corridor beside Vic, both of them checking doorways and alcoves carefully. She cautiously checked the next doorway, gun at the ready, and went in. "Mac!" Vic heard her exclaim.

Vic followed her into the room. This had to be the central control room Mac had mentioned; one wall housed several TV screens showing black-and-white scenes from indoor and outdoor security cameras. There were also several computers, and a couple green boards studded with knobs, digital readouts and lights.

Vic saw the dead woman right away; clothed in long black robes, she lay sprawled against the opposite wall in a pool of blood. He didn't see Mac until he stepped further in, and could see around the counter Li Ann stood beside. Mac was kneeling on the floor, in another pool of blood, with a black-robed man cradled limply in his arms. There was a gun lying just off to the side. Tears were streaming down Mac's face, and when Vic drew closer he could hear Mac murmuring "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

"Mac?" Li Ann said, again, and Mac looked up at her. "There's blood everywhere. Are you hurt?"

Mac shook his head. "It's his blood," he said, numbly. "Wolfgang's. I killed him."

Vic went to Mac, and tried to pull him up from the floor. "Come on, Mac," he said, "it's over. We took down Bloodfire. The Director's waiting outside. It's time to go."

Mac lowered Wolfgang's head gently to the floor, and passed his hands over the staring, dead eyes to close them. Then he let Vic help him stand. He was naked, covered in fresh blood and bruises and welts and burns and Vic didn't even know what. Except for his face, which was unmarked save by tears. Li Ann came over and supported Mac from the other side. He was trembling.

"You're safe now," she said. "We'll take you out of here."

Together, slowly, they left the building. Vic and Li Ann virtually carried Mac. Outside, the remaining Kin were under armed guard in the far corner of the yard, and other stunned, shaking captives were being wrapped in blankets to wait for the rescue choppers. The Director was waiting for them, dressed in tailored camouflage, holding a red blanket. When the agents reached her, she greeted them with a nod. Then she stunned Vic by silently, gently, placing the blanket over Mac's trembling shoulders and wrapping it around him. That was nothing, though, to the surprise he felt when, next, she put her arms around him. The Director hugged Mac.

"Welcome back, Mr Ramsey," she said.

Part 5

An Agency helicopter flew the team from the Bloodfire compound to Vancouver's airport. For the entire ride, the Director - the Director! - held Mac in her arms. She let his head rest on her shoulder, and she ran her hand through his hair.

Vic and Li Ann sat rather awkwardly on the opposite seat, trying not to stare.

It was disconcerting, seeing the Director in this tender, affectionate role. And yet, Vic realized, with the collar Mac still wore, the scene somehow gave him a feeling the Director was comforting a favoured pet.

The noise of the chopper precluded talking other than in shouts, so the four of them didn't speak; each made the ride alone with his or her own thoughts.

At the airport, the Director took Mac away briefly. When they returned, he was dressed in a charcoal grey track suit, and wearing canvas running shoes. These weren't at all the kind of clothes Mac would have chosen for himself; they probably came out of some Agency "spare clothes" stash.

The four immediately boarded a commercial flight for Toronto, for the fastest possible trip home. The Director and Mac were seated together, in First Class, but Vic and Li Ann had seats far apart from each other, in Economy. Vic dozed through most of the flight, and avoided thinking about anything.


When they finally arrived back at the Agency, the Director sent her agents right to the infirmary. Vic and Li Ann weren't there long; an Agency doctor looked them over, proclaimed them fit, and sent them away. As the Director had instructed them, they went back to the briefing room and waited. It was the better part of an hour before Mac showed up, walking slowly. At the same moment he sank into his chair, the Director emerged from her office.

"Good work, team," she complimented them in a silken tone. "I knew you could do it. Bloodfire is destroyed. We have Mr Jones in custody, along with twenty-two others. Now you can all take a well-deserved rest."

"A shower," Li Ann murmured. "A hot shower. I've been dreaming about it for days."

"Yes," the Director agreed, with a satisfied smile. "Or soak in a long bath... whatever you desire. I'll even give the three of you tomorrow off. However, there is one small problem. Mr Ramsey can't go home; his apartment is currently being fumigated for a Bolivian tree weevil infestation, I'm afraid." She snapped her fingers high in the air, and Dobrinsky entered the room, carrying a garment bag. "I took the liberty of sending Dobrinsky in before the exterminators arrived, to pack some clothes and personal effects for you, Mac."

Mac looked up at her with an appalled expression. "You sent Doobie into my apartment?"

Doobie? Vic and Li Ann looked at each other, and shrugged.

"You can stay with Vic while your apartment is airing out," the Director finished.

"Wait a-" Automatically, Vic started to protest, and then cut himself off when his brain caught up with his mouth and he realized that he didn't actually want to protest. For once, he felt that the Director's schemes were transparent to him. Bolivian tree weevils in Mac's apartment? That was beyond ridiculous. God only knew why, but the Director was giving Mac to Vic to look after. And Vic was up for it. He'd spent the last week and a half worrying about what was happening to Mac - even if he hadn't admitted it to himself, most of the time - and now he could finally do something about it.

Li Ann's thoughts had apparently been running in the same direction. "Are you sure that's the best idea?" she said, cautiously, to the Director. "You know how the guys can be with each other sometimes... Mac could stay with me," she offered.

"Thank you Li Ann, but that won't be necessary," the Director said, impassive as ever. "Now, you're all dismissed. Good night."

She stood and watched as the team made for the exit. "Victor!" she called, just as he passed through the door. "Come back for a moment."

Vic left Li Ann and Mac, and went back in to the Director. She crossed the rest of the space between them, and reached up to caress his cheek. He shivered slightly, as he always did when she touched him. "He's broken now," she said softly. "Here's your chance to fix him. I'll be grateful if you succeed."

Vic looked her steadily in the eye. "I'll try," he promised.


The conversation in Vic's truck, on the way to his apartment, was awkward at best. Stilted, one might say. Painful. Excruciating.

"So, you, uh, want to watch a movie or something?" Vic offered.


"I think there's a basketball game on tonight," Vic tried.


Vic glanced over at the younger man. Mac was slumped against the window, staring into the darkness. Then Vic noticed he wasn't wearing his seat belt. "Hey, Mac, fasten your seat belt."

Mac didn't respond at all.

Vic contemplated reaching over and doing it for him, but decided that in the balance of things, he'd be better off just trying not to hit anything in the next ten minutes. "Well, you must be tired, anyway. Maybe you should just go right to bed." Pause. "You can have my bed. I'll sleep on the couch." Silence. Was he asleep? Just then Mac coughed. Not asleep.

The problem was that what Vic was actually thinking about, this whole time, was what had happened in the past week and a half. When he said, "You want to watch a movie?" he was thinking, "How did you get all those marks I saw on your body?" When he said "There's a basketball game," he was thinking "Who was Wolfgang, and why were you crying over him?" And when he said "You can have my bed," he was thinking "Do you still think you deserve to die?" Normally, conversations with Mac were easy, light and flippant - even frustratingly so, sometimes. Now there was all this new subtext that Vic absolutely didn't know how to deal with - and Mac just wasn't communicating at all. Vic had no idea what was going on in Mac's head, but he'd bet anything that it wasn't good.


Walking from the truck to the apartment, Mac let Vic carry his bag, but shook off Vic's attempt to give him a helping hand. "I'm not an invalid," he said irritably.

"OK, sorry," Vic replied, backing off. He'd felt kind of weird reaching out and taking the other man's arm, anyway. He just - damn, he just didn't know what to do. Mac walked slowly, almost shuffling along. The track suit covered all the injuries, but it looked wrong on Mac; it was a little too big, in fact, and it sagged. Mac's eyes were dark hollows, and his expression was tense, as though he were in pain - which, of course, he almost certainly was. A couple times he stopped walking to cough, steadying himself with a hand on the wall, while Vic awkwardly tried not to stare at him, and consciously refrained from offering to help again.

In the apartment, Mac went right to the couch and sank into it. And winced visibly, and changed position slightly. Vic went and put the garment bag in his bedroom, then joined Mac on the couch - sitting beside him, but not too close.

'All right, now what?' Vic asked himself. Mac was slouched low, and leaning back with his eyes closed. Maybe he was falling asleep.

Just then, Mac opened his eyes. He looked over at Vic. "Hey, I'm starved," he said. "Let's order food."

"I could just put a pizza in the oven," Vic offered. Food, good. Food was normal, food was safe. Mac asking for food had to be a good sign, right?

"Ugh, no way!" Mac protested, with a disgusted grimace. "I hate it when you cook!"

"It was your kitchen that was the problem last time..." Vic defended himself automatically, but added "Anyway, it's frozen pizza. McCain's. It's not cooking, it's heating. I'm too tired to cook."

"OK," Mac agreed. "As long as it's fast. I'm really starving. Did I mention that they barely fed us in there? Near-starvation diet. You know, it's a standard brainwashing technique," he added lightly.

Vic frowned slightly, thinking to himself that Mac was sounding a whole lot more normal than he'd expected. "Yeah, I'll put it in right now," he said, of the pizza, and went into the kitchen to do just that.

When he returned to the living room, Mac was coughing again - he'd been doing that a lot, ever since they picked him up in the compound.

"The, uh, doctors give you anything for that cough?" Vic asked, sitting down. He remembered Mac had been sick before he even left for Bloodfire.

"Oh, yeah," Mac said. He actually grinned at Vic. "They said I have walking pneumonia. Here." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pill bottle. He tossed it over to Vic. "If you're going to be baby-sitting me, you'd better make sure I take one of those every eight hours."

"I'm not baby-sitting you," Vic protested absently, while checking the directions on the bottle's label. "Have you already taken one?"

"Yeah, at the infirmary - they said to take another one before bed." Mac laughed, not quite naturally. "You are so baby-sitting me. I bet that's what the Director told you when she called you back. Wasn't it?"

"Everything isn't necessarily about you, you know," Vic told him, haughtily, hoping that covered up the guilty flush he felt in his cheeks. Because of course Mac was exactly right, but he didn't want to tell him that. "So anyway, if you're sick, you should definitely go to bed as soon as we eat."

"I'm sick," Mac said, in an oratorical voice, as though addressing an unseen crowd, "And I was drugged half out of my skull. And I was literally starving. And - oh," he interjected, looking at Vic, with his lips twitching into a grin, "I haven't even told you about the sleep deprivation. He never let me sleep more than an hour or two at a time. It was awful. So, sick and drugged and starved and sleep deprived - that's like fighting with, what, four hands tied behind my back? And I still won. I beat the whole compound." He made the swooshing motion with his hands, and really grinned at Vic. "Damn, I'm good. Wouldn't you say so?"

Vic quashed his automatic impulse to point out that Vic, Li Ann and the thirty soldiers had helped, too.... All of a sudden Mac was acting perfectly normal, and that struck Vic as kind of unnatural. Considering. Just going out on a limb here, but maybe Mac was putting up a front. Repressing a thing or two.

And if Vic was going to "fix him," as the Director had told him to, he'd have to get past that.

"Who's 'he'?" Vic tried.

"What?" Mac frowned, not following.

"You keep saying 'he' did things to you."

"Oh." Mac shrugged. "Wolfgang. I was his."

Wolfgang. The dead guy. Vic remembered Mac crying over his body, this morning. Now he mentioned the name with apparent disinterest. Vic decided to dig further. "His what?"


"You were his what?"

"Oh. Just his. Each of the prisoners belonged to one of the Kin. He brought me in." Mac yawned. "I had to drink his blood every night."


"Yeah, there was sort of a vampire thing going on. *blech*" Mac stuck out his tongue, and shuddered dramatically.

"That, uh, doesn't sound too safe," Vic said.

"No kidding, Victor," Mac snapped. He seemed about to say something else - but then he didn't. He just yawned again. "When's that pizza going to be ready?"

"About five minutes." Vic wasn't going to give up that easily. "Why were you crying over him?" he asked, bluntly.

"Oh," Mac said, quietly. "Well, I was his." He coughed. "I'd rather not talk about that."

"I think you should," Vic said. Finally, a crack in the facade. He wasn't going to stop now. He reached over, put a hand on Mac's shoulder. "Did you... care about him?"

Mac sighed, and looked away, somewhere across the room. "I hated him," he explained. His tone and expression were fairly calm. "When we first met, he raped me. He did that every day. He beat me. He whipped me. He burned me. He drugged me. He led me around the compound on a leash. I had to kneel at his feet. He hit me if I looked up at his face without his permission. That's how they worked - that's how they broke people, broke their minds, so they'd carry the bombs in the end. I had to let him do it all, because if he thought I could stand up to him, he'd have killed me." Mac shrugged it off. He met Vic's eyes with a sort of rueful look. "He was kind, too, sometimes. Another part of the process. I was supposed to become loyal to him. It worked, some. I mean, I was too stoned to think straight a lot of the time. It was just a mission, though. I knew I'd get out at the end."

Vic was horrified. He'd seen some sick stuff during his time in Vice, but this was mind boggling. And what did Mac mean, 'It worked, some'? Vic wanted to kill this Wolfgang... but Mac had already done that, hadn't he?

"So why did you cry?" Vic asked, again.

"Would you just FUCK OFF!?" Mac shouted, suddenly angry. He pushed Vic's hand away. "So I cried. I was pretty fucked up, in case you didn't notice. It didn't mean anything."

Vic backed off. "OK. OK. I'll get the pizza." He was still suspicious that there was more than Mac was telling to that story. But fighting with Mac wasn't going to help him at all, right?

Vic brought the pizza slices, on plates, back to the living room. "Careful, it's hot," he warned, handing one to Mac.

"Duh," Mac said, rolling his eyes. He blew on his piece.

They concentrated on eating, for a bit. Vic was actually quite hungry too. All he'd eaten so far that day had been an insubstantial in-flight lunch.

"This tasted good," Mac admitted, finishing the crust. "Obviously I was starving."

'Do not get into an argument about cooking,' Vic reminded himself. His goal was still to get past Mac's defences and get him to talk. He couldn't possibly be as casual about his week in Bloodfire as he was making out. Yet asking about the end, with Wolfgang, Vic kept hitting a brick wall, and Mac was being up front and easy about the rest of it - just casually mentioning the rape, the abuse... Vic felt a strong urge to just take the younger man in his arms and hold him. If he wouldn't talk. Where did that thought just come from? Whoa. Vic and Mac weren't really on hugging terms, in general... except for that one night before Mac left. Now there was something they hadn't talked about. But Vic wasn't sure if he even wanted to go there. He definitely did not want to talk about the sex. But the earlier part, when Mac was apparently suicidal... that was what had worried Vic the whole time Mac was in Bloodfire, at least until the night they'd met at the fence, and Vic and Li Ann had learned a bit about what was happening to Mac inside. 'Yes,' Vic decided, 'I have to ask him about that.'

Vic took the plate away from Mac, and took both plates into the kitchen. He returned with a glass of water and the pill bottle. "One before you sleep, right?" he said, handing both items to Mac.

"Yeah." Mac opened the bottle, shook a pill out, popped it in his mouth and chased it with water. He gave glass and bottle back to Vic. "I'm going to sleep for a week," he announced, and followed up with a big yawn, which he didn't bother to cover.

Vic put the things on the coffee table. He swallowed. For some reason, the question he'd just decided to ask made him nervous. But he was determined to get things into the open now. "Mac... before we go to sleep I want to ask you about that last night at your place."

"Oh." Mac looked at him with apparent disinterest, but Vic thought he could just see a fleeting, panicked look in his eyes. "What about it?" Mac asked.

"I want to know... I want to know if you still feel that way." Vic cleared his throat. "If you still think you deserve to die, for whatever you did." He didn't want to ask this. No way did he want to ask this. But he had to know.

"Oh, that," Mac said with a shrug. "I was just messing with you."

"What?" Vic didn't know what answer he'd expected, but that wasn't it. He stared at Mac. Mac looked back, calmly. Vic shook his head. "I don't believe you. You wouldn't do that."

"Got me into your pants, didn't it?" Mac replied. And leered. He definitely leered at Vic. "You have no idea how long I'd been wanting to do that."

Vic felt white-hot anger just shoot through him, along with an intense feeling of betrayal. He couldn't even think straight. What the hell was going on? He stood up. "Go to sleep," he said, ice in his voice. "You can take the fucking couch."

Vic stalked into his bedroom, and slammed the door shut behind him.


Ten minutes later, he was finally sort of calm again. His thoughts had stopped spinning. He was still angry at Mac, but after a bit of time for reflection, he wasn't sure if he believed him. If what he'd just said was true, then the ex-thief was far more amoral than Vic had ever imagined, and Vic wanted him out of his apartment, and out of his life, the sooner the better. Vic shuddered, thinking about it. He felt... violated. He'd trusted Mac. He'd worried about him. He'd wanted so badly to see him safe again.

But Vic just didn't believe he could possibly have been that thoroughly fooled. OK, granted, Vic had a bit of a lousy record as a judge of character, but still. It hadn't been just him. Li Ann had thought something was wrong with Mac, too.

But if it wasn't true, why the hell would Mac lie like that, tonight? For that matter, if it was true, why would Mac tell him at all? Vic shook his head, trying to clear it. It was all too much. He had to sleep.

First, though... with a rueful snort at his own actions, Vic went to his closet for a spare blanket, and went back out into the living room.

Mac was asleep on the couch, snoring slightly. He lay on his side, facing out into the room; his arms were tucked under his head. Vic laid the blanket over him. Mac didn't stir. In his sleep, he looked peaceful and innocent.

Vic shook his head, and went to bed.


Vic woke up to the sound of panicked shouting. His fighter's instincts brought him to his feet before he was even awake enough to realize it. The shouting was coming from the living room. Vic grabbed his gun - maybe someone had broken into the apartment - and ran out into the living room. He flipped the light on, shielding his own eyes. Mac was standing in the middle of the room, wildly tearing the last of his clothes off. "Fire!" he yelled, seeing Vic. "I'm on fire!" He started frantically slapping at himself, as though trying to put out invisible flames all over his body.

Vic just stood there, stunned and confused for a moment, while his brain got into gear. Then he figured it out: Mac's hallucinating. Shit.

"Mac!" he said sharply, but the other man gave no sign of hearing. Vic put his gun down and ran into the living room, where Mac continued to hit himself all over, making panicked whimpering noises. Vic hovered just out of his reach, trying to figure out what to do. Somehow, the stereotypical solution of slapping a hysterical person didn't seem like it would work, considering Mac was already doing that to himself. "Mac, you're not on fire!" he tried. Absolutely no response. He noticed the half-empty water glass on the coffee table. He grabbed it. "Mac!" he said again - and then tossed the contents of the glass over his partner.

Mac gasped at the shock of the cold water, and he stopped trying to put out the flames. "Thank you," he said, looking right at Vic. And then he sank to the floor and curled up into a ball, and started rocking.

'OK, that was fucked,' Vic thought, staring at the other man. He kneeled down, beside Mac - he felt water soak through the knees of his pyjama pants. "Mac?" he queried, gently. He tentatively reached out and put a hand on Mac's back. His back was so covered with scabs and bruises that Vic was afraid he might even hurt him, doing this, but he had to do something. He started rubbing Mac's back, lightly, avoiding the nastier-looking injuries as much as possible. Vic could feel Mac shaking. This reminded Vic of that other night, the first night, and its frightening intensity. He realized that there was no way in hell that Mac had been faking in some bizarre attempt to get Vic into his bed. He still didn't understand why Mac had said what he did tonight - but that would have to wait.

After a minute or two Mac stopped rocking, uncurled, and sat up. He looked at Vic, with a confused expression. "W-why are y-you here?" he asked. His teeth were actually chattering.

'Got to get him dry,' Vic thought. "We're in my apartment. Come on, get off the floor," he said, standing up and tugging Mac onto the couch, off the puddle of water on the floor. Then he took the blanket and wrapped it around Mac's shoulders, trying to cover him - and his nakedness - and much as possible.

"I'm going to call the Director," Vic decided, out loud. He didn't know what was happening with Mac now, and he really didn't know what to do about it.

"Don't tell Wolfgang I was with the Tangs," Mac said urgently as Vic went for the phone. "He'd kill me."

Vic dialled the Agency's emergency hotline. The phone rang... and rang... and rang. And then there was a click, and the Director said "Hello, Vic." Astoundingly, she sounded as though she'd been sleeping.

Vic sighed with relief. "I need help here," he said.

"It's three in the morning," the Director replied crossly. "Deal with it yourself and send me a report."

"I don't know what to do with Mac," Vic went on, ignoring her. "He's hallucinating. Freaking out."

"Not to worry," the Director said, pleasantly, "that would just be the withdrawal. Some of the drugs he was given were quite addictive, apparently." Vic heard her yawn.

"Well, what should I do?!" Vic asked - into a dead line. He heard a dial tone. Fuck.

"Tomorrow!" Mac was saying. "The raid is tomorrow. Or was it yesterday?" He looked at Vic, confused and pleading. "I haven't missed it, have I?" He was pale, shaking, and he'd let the blanket drop away. Vic pulled the blanket up around him again, and sat down close to him on the sofa. This was going to be a long, long night.

"You didn't miss the raid," Vic said. "It happened today. You did everything right."

"I did?" Mac said, with a happy smile. But then his smile fell away. "No I didn't. I killed Wolfgang, but he never forgave me." He put his head in his hands, and started to sob.

Vic put an arm around Mac's shoulders. "It's OK," he said, feeling completely useless. "No one has to forgive you."

"Yes. You do," Mac said, hiccuping with short little sobs. "I didn't want to kill him. Father made me."

"You had to kill Wolfgang. It was our mission, stopping Bloodfire. You did good," Vic said, in what he hoped was a soothing, calming tone. He still had his left arm around Mac. Vic started stroking Mac's hair, with his right hand. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Mac quieted when Vic did this. "It's over now," Vic continued, still calm, still soothing. "You're sick now, though, 'cause you're going through withdrawal from the drugs they were giving you. But you're safe. I'm here."

Mac sat up. Losing the blanket again. "Vic," he said intensely, "I have to tell you."

"Tell me what?" Vic asked, pulling the blanket up over Mac's shoulders yet again. Mac was sweating, but still shivering, too. He should put some clothes on. Vic glanced at the track suit Mac had discarded, but it was soaked with water.

Vic was still holding the blanket closed with both hands. Mac put his hands over Vic's.

"I told Wolfgang what I did," Mac said. He seemed lucid enough now, but Vic still didn't know what he was talking about. "It slipped out while I was high. And he told me that he'd punish me for it, and then I'd be forgiven. But then I killed him, instead."

Vic shook his head, slowly. "What are you talking about?"

"I have to tell you what I did." Mac's voice was low and urgent, and his hands on Vic's were shaking more than ever.

Vic wasn't sure what Mac was leading up to, with all this talk of forgiveness and suffering, but it was making him very uncomfortable. No less so since ten minutes ago, Mac had been frantically beating out invisible flames all over his body. "I'm not your father confessor. I'm just your friend."

"If you forgive me, I can live." Mac still held Vic's gaze, his eyes pleading.

Vic wanted to help Mac. He really, really did. He wanted to calm his shaking, and heal his bruises, and take the torment from his eyes, and hold him and watch him relax, and kiss him - shit!!! Where the hell did those thoughts keep coming from?

But he wasn't sure if he could do what Mac was asking now. Wasn't sure if it was in his power at all.

"Why me?" Vic asked finally, instead of a thousand other questions.

Mac blinked. He seemed startled by that question. "Because... because... you're you. You're good."

"Huh," Vic snorted, his mind doing a brief flashback over all the more sordid moments of his career. "I'm not that good."

"Li Ann thought you were. She fell in love with you for it," Mac insisted. "And I -" He pulled away suddenly, breaking eye contact, tugging the blanket protectively around himself. "I'm c-cold."

OK. Victor Mansfield was not a total idiot. Mac had been about to say something other than "I'm cold." Vic was putting his old detective's skills to work here, piecing together a clue here or there... only, he wasn't sure if he could believe in the answer he came up with. The flirting, the sexual tension Li Ann had pointed out... and then Mac suddenly kissing him that other night. And doing more. Could Mac possibly... have a crush on Vic? Or something like that? 'Crush' might not the most appropriate word, but Vic's brain refused to go any farther. 'Why me?' Vic asked again, silently. Honestly, it seemed absurd to imagine the younger man fixing any kind of real affection on Vic. Anyway, something else was going on now, something much more disturbing. Mac had somehow fixed on Vic to take over Wolfgang's unfulfilled role, delivering him from whatever dark secret of his past he kept referring to.

Mac coughing brought Vic back to the present. Whatever else was going on, Mac was pretty messed up physically, and he had to take care of that before anything. "I'll get you my bathrobe to wear," Vic offered. "Hold on."

He brought the piece of clothing back. Mac stood up, and Vic held the robe so Mac could thread his arms through it.

"Look, I'm sorry I left you to sleep on the couch," Vic said. "Why don't you come into my room?"

"OK," Mac said, downright happily. "Will you sleep with me?"

"What!?" Mac's mood and subject changes were starting to give Vic motion sickness - or was that sudden queasy feeling related more to Mac's question?

"Never mind," Mac said quickly. "I was kidding."

Vic looked at him suspiciously. This reminded him of the "I was just messing with you" comment that had so angered Vic - and, let's be honest, hurt him - earlier. But Vic had decided at some point tonight that Mac had been lying when he said that. Still not sure why. Wait... the cogs in Vic's head were working overtime. He'd asked Mac whether he was still suicidal. And then Mac had got Vic so angry he'd dropped the subject - left the room and slammed the door, in fact. Maybe that was all there was to it. Mac was just evading the question.

But just now he'd been practically begging to talk about it. Possibly because he woke up confused and hallucinating, with all his defences disarmed. Still... Vic decided he had better take this opportunity.

"Come on," Vic said, motioning to his bedroom. "Before you fall over," he added. The way Mac was swaying now, that was an immediate concern. Vic put his arm around his partner's waist, and supported Mac, helping him to the bed. Mac sank onto it, with a wince of pain.

"Get in," Vic instructed him, pulling the covers back on one side. Mac was cold, right? Had to get him warm.

Mac climbed in, and curled up under the covers. Vic sat on the bed beside him.

Mac's left hand was up near his face, clutching at the blanket. Vic took it, gently opening the fingers and turning it over. Mac's hand was longer than Vic's, his fingers more slender, but still strong - a comparison of their body types, in miniature. A thin pink line running across the palm was all that remained of his self-inflicted injury. A round, red mark right over the middle of it looked like a more recent cigarette burn.

Mac's eyes were still open; he was staring at his hand in Vic's. Or Vic's hands on his.

"Did Wolfgang do this?" Vic asked, touching the burn.

Mac thought for a moment. "No, I did that one," he remembered. "But he told me to."

Vic felt a rush of feeling - again, the need to protect Mac. He closed his hands around Mac's, hiding the injuries. "Tell me," he said. "What you told him. If you still want to."

Mac closed his eyes. He spoke very quietly. "Just before I left the Tang's, I murdered a man."

Ah. So that was it. Vic found that he wasn't particularly surprised. After all, it had to be something worse than what Vic already knew, and Vic had plenty of dirt on Mac Ramsey.

"Who?" Vic asked. Mac's hand was really trembling; Vic held it tighter.

"His name was Chung Lee," Mac said in a distant voice. His eyes were still closed. "He worked for my father. He got caught stealing. My father told me to kill him." He paused; Vic was about to ask another question, but then Mac went on. "He was tied up in a chair. My father gave me a knife. Told me to cut him - that he had to suffer before he died. To send a message. And I did it."

Vic pictured it: Mac, younger than Vic had ever known him, given this order by the man who had rescued him and raised him after his real father abandoned him. "Why did you?" he asked.

"Father said it was the price of being his son," Mac recalled, softly. "I thought I didn't have a choice. But I was wrong. There's always a choice. I realized that too late."

"He might have killed you," Vic pointed out, still picturing the scene.

"That's still a choice," Mac said.

"You couldn't have saved Lee."

"But I didn't have to kill him." Mac's voice broke on the last words, and Vic saw a tear fall to the pillow.

"Come here," Vic said roughly. He drew Mac up into his arms, and held on tight as Mac lost whatever tattered bits were left of his defenses, and began to sob uncontrollably.

Vic held Mac until he quieted, and then, when Mac fell back into exhausted sleep, Vic lay down facing him, still holding his hand. He didn't want to let go, while he thought about what Mac had revealed to him. He felt, superstitiously, as though once he let go, something would be lost forever.

Mac had executed a man. On his father's orders, he'd carved up a man who was tied in a chair. Vic tried to imagine Mac doing that, tried to reconcile the act with the man sleeping in front of him. Vic knew Mac could kill. That was just part of the job they did, on a regular basis. But combat was different. Mac had described what he did to Chung Lee as "murder" and so it was. It was hard to imagine Mac murdering someone. Vic realized, at this, that he believed Mac was basically a good person. Who, having done an extremely bad thing, was being eaten up by guilt. Mac also seemed to be taking full moral responsibility for the death, and Vic wasn't so sure about that; shouldn't the major burden of guilt be on the godfather?

And now, what was Vic's part in this? Mac wanted to be forgiven, but how the hell did that work? It wasn't Vic's place to forgive him. It wasn't in Vic's power to dole out that kind of stuff. Too bad Mac wasn't actually Catholic. Then he could go to confession and take it from there.

Vic remembered what he'd said to Mac the last time they'd slept together, the first time Mac had alluded to some dark secret in his past. Vic had told him that he was paying for whatever he did, every day, through his work for the Agency, and that that was punishment enough. He thought about this now, and decided it was still true. Had he been caught for that crime in Hong Kong, Mac might have faced execution - Vic wasn't sure, really - but by Canadian law, the law that Vic lived by and had sworn once to uphold, he would face a prison term. Possibly life imprisonment, but no more than that. And Mac, like Vic, Li Ann and Jackie, had indeed gone to prison. The Director had salvaged them, because she had a use for them, but she had not freed them. Mac was still in prison, albeit not quite a literal one. And the Canadian justice system would never, ever, have sentenced Mac to something like he'd just gone through in Bloodfire; that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. So, as far as Vic was concerned, there was nothing else Mac had to do to be forgiven. He was already paying. In spades.

'So now,' Vic thought sleepily, still conscious of the feel of Mac's hand in his own, 'how can I convince Mac of that?'

And that was as far as Vic's thoughts progressed before he, too, fell asleep.

Part 6

It was a long night. The physical symptoms of drug withdrawal and the sheer horror of the past week kept Mac waking up, confused and afraid. Luckily, none of these wakenings were so dramatic as the first had been, and each time Vic managed to comfort him and calm him down until they could both fall asleep again. Mac finally fell into a deeper sleep around dawn, but then Vic found himself unable to really sleep. He stayed in bed for a couple more hours, only dozing, preoccupied with the surreality of this whole experience. He felt closer to Mac than he'd ever imagined possible - nothing like clinging to each other in the dark, running from nightmares, to bring a couple guys together - but this closeness came under such horrible circumstances that Vic wondered whether it would even survive the light of day. He feared that Mac would distance himself from Vic just to block out the memory of this pain.

All Vic wanted, now, was to take away the pain.

At 7 am Vic gave up trying to sleep. He slid out of bed carefully, not disturbing Mac, and went to the kitchen to make himself breakfast.

Conscious of his caretaker role (he would not call it baby-sitting), Vic woke Mac at 9 am to take his medication. Mac took the pill without ever quite waking up, and then rolled over and went right back to sleep.

Vic used the morning to catch up on the various household chores he'd been putting off. He did laundry, and ironing, and mopped the kitchen floor, and sewed a lost button back on one of his favourite shirts.

What would Mac say if he got up, and found Vic using his day off to mop and sew buttons? Probably he'd call him an old obsessed git or something. Vic grinned at the thought. Then regret overcame his amusement - would he and Mac ever be able to recapture that sort of light-hearted interaction they used to enjoy?

About 11:30, the phone rang. It was Li Ann.

"How are you doing?" she greeted him.

"Fine. It's good to have a day off. Time to do some housework."

"Housework?" Li Ann repeated, sounding surprised. "Doesn't the Agency send you a maid?"

"What?" This was the first Vic had heard about an Agency maid service. "Do you get one?"

"Sure, once a week. I'm sure she's a spy for the Director, but it's worth it to never have to do my own vacuuming."

"I don't mind doing my own housework. It's satisfying." Vic rubbed the coffee table vigorously with the duster.

"Uh, yeah." Li Ann's tone indicated she thought he was slightly insane, but that didn't bother Vic. "Anyway, how's Mac?"

"Still asleep. He kept waking up in the night, but he's sleeping quietly now and I guess he needs rest." Vic thought about the night. How much should he tell Li Ann? Not what Mac had revealed about his past, for sure - that was Mac's to tell, or not. "He's going through some kind of drug withdrawal, and he was confused and hallucinating for a while. And I think he was having nightmares - whenever he woke up, he kept trying to talk to Wolfgang. That guy he killed."

"God, no wonder he's having nightmares. I can hardly believe the Director sent him in there. Did you get a good look at any of the other prisoners, while we were there? They all looked... haunted," Li Ann recalled, her voice soft with empathy.

Just then, Vic thought he heard something from the bedroom. "Hey, I'd better go - I think I hear Mac getting out of bed."

"OK - hey, Vic, would you like me to come over later? Keep you guys company?" Although Li Ann presented this as a favour to him, Vic thought he could hear a hopeful tone in her voice. Maybe she was lonely.

"Maybe," Vic offered. He wasn't sure what Mac would be up to. "I'll see how it goes, and give you a call later."

"OK. Bye."



Mac showered, shaved, and dressed in a set of the clothes Dobrinsky had brought him - a black cotton shirt and slacks. When he came into the kitchen, looking for food, he looked about a hundred times better than he had the previous night. His movements were lighter and easier. He still sat down carefully, though, as if it hurt him.

"What's for breakfast?" he asked.

"I could make oatmeal," Vic offered.

Mac grimaced. "Yuck. Do you have any cold cereal?"

"Yeah." Vic opened an cupboard to show Mac the selection.

Mac chose puffed rice. Vic served it to him, and then while Mac ate Vic started making a quiche.

Mac finished the cereal and then, saying he was tired, went to lie down on the couch. After a minute he called out "Vic! Where's your remote?"

"On the floor somewhere by the couch!" Vic called back, over his shoulder, breaking an egg into the bowl.

"I don't see it," Mac complained.

Vic went out into the living room and found the remote, on the floor and half under the couch, but still within easy reach from where Mac lay. Vic picked it up and handed it over; Mac accepted with mumbled thanks.

Vic was barely back in the kitchen when Mac called "Vic! I'm cold. Would you get me a blanket?"

"There's one on the easy chair!" Vic replied. Mac should have noticed that. It was there from last night.

"I don't want to get up. I'm tired. Would you get it for me?" Mac asked.

Vic sighed to himself and left his quiche again. This was confusing. Vic really wanted to help Mac, and yet as soon as Mac started asking for help, Vic started to find him annoying. Vic tried to smooth his thoughts, make them more charitable. Mac looked at him with innocent, puppy-dog eyes as Vic spread the blanket over him. Vic was fairly sure that Mac was teasing him. But then Mac turned his head aside to cough, with a deep, unhealthy chesty sound, and Vic wondered if he really did feel too tired to get up and get the blanket from the chair.

"I feel like shit," Mac volunteered, looking plaintively at Vic.

"Yeah... no wonder. Maybe you should sleep again," Vic suggested. A crazy image flashed through his head suddenly - Vic, sitting on the couch with Mac's head on his lap, just holding the other man as he slept. Vic shook his head to dispel the picture. He may have held Mac when he was going through total breakdown, but not now. Mac was just tired and sick. Holding him now would be something like... like lovers would do. 'Time to get back to the quiche,' Vic told himself.

As Vic chopped vegetables, he heard Mac turning on the TV and flipping through the channels.

"There's nothing on!" Mac complained after a few minutes. "Vic! Do you have any videos?"

"A few."

"Anything that doesn't suck?"

Vic put down the knife, tried not to think about how much this experience reminded him of baby-sitting his neighbour's 5-year-old back when he was a teenager, and went out into the living room again. He opened the cupboard where he kept his 8-track and video tapes, and rummaged quickly through the sparse box of videos, trying to think of what might interest Mac. He picked out an old one with a couple of Kids in the Hall episodes on it. "OK, try this." He went and popped it in the VCR.

"What is it?" Mac asked, his tone suggesting his scepticism that Vic would have anything worth watching.

"A Canadian comedy show from, oh, five or six years ago."

"I don't really feel like comedy," Mac complained.

Vic left the tape running. "Just... give it ten minutes, OK? I want to finish cooking."

With no more interruptions, Vic lost himself in the making of the pastry for the quiche. When he was seriously concentrating on cooking, as he was now, all life's complications dropped away. He was lost in the smell of flour, and the feel of the dough. There was the background noise of the recorded TV show, but Vic couldn't quite make out the words, so it wasn't a distraction. He was aware of silence from Mac, and wondered if his partner had fallen asleep.

When Vic slid the quiche into the oven to bake, he felt peaceful, with the small glow of accomplishment that always came from cooking. It was strange to be grateful to the Agency for anything, but that directive for the agents to get hobbies had been a good idea.

He went out and checked on Mac. Mac was awake, watching the show in silence.

"How are you doing?" Vic asked, sitting on the armchair.

"This show is weird," Mac said. "I'm not in the mood for comedy. And all the women look like men."

Vic chuckled. "The women are men. The troupe is five guys. They play all the parts."

"Really?" Mac stared at Vic for a few seconds, with raised eyebrows, then turned back with renewed interest to watch the suburban couple bickering onscreen.

That skit ended, and another one started - this one consisted of several very obviously, stereotypically gay men sitting and talking on the steps in front of some building.

Vic hadn't really thought about the content of Kids in the Hall when he'd chosen the tape - he'd just thought comedy might lift Mac's spirits. Or at least keep him interested. Now he remembered that the show was very, well, gay. There was the cross-dressing, and a lot of gay characters appeared in the skits. Vic wondered, uneasily, what Mac was thinking right now. Would he think Vic was trying to send him a message?

"I'm surprised, Vic," Mac said at the end of that skit. "Isn't this kind of avant-garde for you?"

Vic shrugged, reflexively defensive. "They were very popular here."

Mac was looking at him with interest, his lips twitching up into a half-grin that might have been hopeful or just amused. "Why did you keep the tape?"

"I liked them. And I never got around to taping over it. Why are you so interested?" Vic asked, parrying Mac's question in what he realized was a very adolescent manner.

Mac surprised him with a direct answer. "I thought you'd be more freaked out by simulated gay sex," he said easily, with a nod to the screen where said act was now occurring.

"Why would you think that?" Vic asked, nonchalantly (he hoped). He felt his pulse leap, and his cheeks get hot. All of a sudden, he was talking about gay sex with Mac. Oh God. There was Mac lying on the couch, tousled and vulnerable, and here was Vic, supposed to take care of him, help him heal, and where the hell was this conversation going to take them?

Mac smiled, a lazy yet predatory grin. "For one thing, that whole self-righteous uptight cop background. For another, you get nervous when I flirt with you."

"Li Ann mentioned that you're bi," Vic said. Even as the words came out of his mouth, he wasn't quite sure why he said them. Maybe he was just trying to show Mac that he, Vic, was not at all confused or shocked by this conversation. He was cool. Yeah.

He hadn't felt this awkward since eighth grade.

"And what are you?" Mac asked. The Question.

"I've never been with a man. Sexually. Other than... you know." Vic stood up, brimming with a strange and pressing restlessness, as well as a strong desire to tell Mac the truth. Whatever the truth was when it came out of his mouth. "But I always knew it was a possibility, somewhere in the back of my mind. I was attracted to masculinity, sort of, in an abstract way. But never to an actual guy I knew."

With Vic towering over him, Mac sat up. He'd completely dropped the teasing from his manner. Softly, he asked, "Never?"

Vic stared down at the other man, who stared up at him. Mac's eyes still had a hollow, bruised look from his Bloodfire ordeal, and this gave his face a plaintive cast. But he'd just licked his slightly parted lips, so they were shiny, full, and inviting, and that was a look full of sex, and Vic knew that Mac knew how he looked, because Vic had rarely met anyone so conscious of appearance as Mac.

Even as twenty reasonable replies, ranging from honest to sarcastic to insulting, flashed through Vic's mind, he was leaning over and planting a hand against the couch on either side of Mac's shoulders and closing his eyes just as his lips brushed Mac's and then pressed, his lips, and they parted and his tongue slid between Mac's lips and met Mac's tongue, at the tip, and tasted and felt the smoothness and warmth, and his lips felt the roughness at the edges of Mac's mouth and it was strange, because he'd never kissed a man before and women are softer, smoother, and this sandpaper roughness was different but not better or worse, just different and so intense.

Vic broke away. He stood up hastily and took a quick step backwards away from Mac. Mac's eyes were bright, and his lips looked astonishingly red.

"You shouldn't kiss me," Mac said. "You might get sick."

Vic started to laugh. He couldn't help it. It was so unexpected. Vic had just thrown caution to the wind, and overcome a lifetime of social conditioning and many months of firmly repressing desire, and kissed - kissed! - Mac. Only to be warned by Mac, the irresponsible, childish, pleasure-seeking flirt, that he shouldn't kiss him because he might catch Mac's germs. Vic laughed so hard he collapsed back into the chair with tears in his eyes.

"Vic? Vic?" he heard Mac saying, through the laughter. Vic gulped for air, struggling to control himself, but giggles kept escaping. Then he heard Mac say "Vic, stop, I'm sorry," and he saw Mac's face and the laughter died. Mac looked terrified.

"It's OK," Vic said. "I was just - I don't know. Surprised. I don't care if I get sick. The Agency would fix me right up anyway, right? Don't worry about that."

Mac still looked scared, and Vic didn't know quite what was wrong now, but this was a reminder that there were serious problems here beyond the dilemma of 'What did that kiss mean?'

ping! The oven timer went off. "Maybe we should just forget this," Vic said quickly. "I didn't mean to.... You've had a really hard week. You need to rest. I need to take the quiche out of the oven." With that, he escaped to the kitchen.

'What am I doing?' Vic asked himself. He set the quiche on top of the stove to cool, finding that his appetite was missing for the moment. 'Mac's been through enough lately. The absolute last thing he needs is me messing with his head.'

When Vic joined Mac in the living room again, Mac had stopped the video and turned the TV off. He slouched on the sofa, staring at the blank screen.

"Hey Vic, I want to watch a movie," Mac said. "Will you go rent one?"

"Sure." At that moment, Vic would have agreed to drive to the South Pole to get penguin steaks, if Mac had asked for them. "What do you want?"

"Action. Something with Jackie Chan. One of his old ones. Not dubbed."

"OK... Jackie who?"

Mac gave him a withering look. "Jackie Chan. He's a huge Hong Kong action star."

"Oh. So this is something I'm not going to find at Blockbuster?" Vic guessed.

Mac shrugged. "Try a convenience store in Chinatown."

"No problem," Vic said, grabbing the keys to his truck and heading for the door, "I'll be back in half an hour."


It was nearly an hour later that Vic returned, but he returned successful. He had a Jackie Chan movie from 1979, and not only was it not dubbed into English, it wasn't even subtitled. In fact, all the writing on the box was in Chinese, so he didn't even know what the hell it was called, but the clerk at the store had assured him it was just what he was looking for.

"Hey Mac, I got your movie!" he called out. Then he saw Mac sitting up on the couch, blinking dazedly. Oops. "Sorry, were you asleep?" Vic apologized, belatedly lowering his voice to a whisper.

"It's OK," Mac assured him, rubbing his face with an open hand. "I'm glad you woke me up. I was dreaming about Bloodfire."

Vic felt a surge of protectiveness. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Mac said. "I don't really remember the dream now. Did you get a movie?"

"Here." Vic handed it to him.

"All right!" Mac exclaimed happily. "I haven't seen this one in years! Put it in!"

Vic popped the video in. He stuck around to watch the opening sequence, but then his stomach rumbling reminded him that he hadn't had lunch yet, so he went out to the kitchen.

A big chunk of the quiche was gone. Vic smiled with quiet satisfaction. 'He does like my cooking, after all.' He knew he'd never get Mac to admit it, but Vic considered this a victory.

Vic microwaved a serving, then went out to watch the movie. Without thinking much about it, he sat on the chair instead of on the couch with Mac, thus avoiding any possibility of closeness or accidental touches.

For Vic, the movie was impossible to follow. He had to admit, though, the martial arts were spectacular. Mac mentioned at one point that Chan did all his own stunts, and Vic was impressed.

Nevertheless, it was hard to stay interested in the movie when he couldn't understand any of the dialogue at all. When the phone rang, about half an hour into the movie, Vic was grateful for the interruption.

It turned out to be Li Ann on the phone, and when she suggested again that she might come over, Vic agreed readily.


When Li Ann saw the movie playing, she exclaimed "Oh wow! Where'd you get that!?" and slid onto the couch next to Mac without taking her eyes off the screen.

Vic glanced at his watch, and decided that 2:30 in the afternoon was plenty late enough to have a beer. "Anyone want a cold beer?" he offered. Li Ann and Mac both said yes.

He got the beer from the fridge and came back to find Li Ann and Mac laughing and chatting in Chinese, still watching the movie. Feeling left out, he handed them the beer and sat over in the chair to nurse his own in silence.

Since he wasn't paying much attention to the movie, Vic was free to observe his partners. They both looked relaxed and happy, just a couple old friends watching a movie they'd seen before. Mac, in particular, looked perfectly content. Vic knew for certain that it couldn't be this easy - all the things Mac had told him last night were still there. But just now, at this moment, it seemed like everything was fine... and this was good, right?


The movie finally ended. Vic gratefully got up and hit rewind.

"That was great," Mac said. "Thanks for getting it, Vic."

Instantly, at Mac's words, Vic's feelings of resentment about his isolation during the movie vanished. He was just glad that he'd managed to make Mac happy for a while. "Hey, no problem," he replied, with a real smile. "So, what do we do now?" Li Ann said, standing up and stretching.

"Ummm...." Vic wracked his brains for something the three of them could do together, besides work or another movie. "Want to play Monopoly?"

"What's that?" Li Ann asked.

"It's a board game," Vic answered, slightly surprised at having to explain. "Do you know it, Mac?"

"I think so," Mac said. "Is it the one with the little shoe, and the little race car, and the cards with the coloured bars on them?"

Vic nodded. "Yeah, that's it."

"I played it once when I was, I don't know, really young. With my father, and some friends of his. I don't really remember the rules. I remember my father won.... He probably cheated," Mac added with a wry half-grin.

"Is it complicated?" Li Ann asked.

"Not at all," Vic promised. "Want to give it a shot?"

"Sure," Li Ann said. "Why not?"

Vic found the game buried deep in a cupboard. He hadn't played it in years - not since before he went to jail. The rules were simple, so he remembered them just fine, and it was easy to explain them to Li Ann and Mac. Within five minutes they'd set up the game on the kitchen table and started to play. Mac snagged the little metal race car for a playing piece, and Li Ann took the horse, and Vic took the shoe. Then Mac started making "vroom, vroom" noises and harassing Vic's shoe with his car; he stopped when Li Ann glared at him. "I was just trying to make it more exciting," he defended himself. Vic managed to keep a straight face.

Once the game got going, it was actually fun. Li Ann managed to buy three of the four railroads early on, and nearly drove the guys into premature bankruptcy; she smiled smugly when Vic had to mortgage Kentucky Ave just to pay her rent at Reading Railroad. Then she started landing on the guys' properties with every dice roll, groaning with frustration every time. Mac and Vic managed a trade, with minimal bickering, which gave Vic the whole purple section and Mac the whole light blue; houses went on the board and rents rose steeply.

Then, just as Li Ann was pulling a Chance card from the deck, Mac stood up. He stood so suddenly and awkwardly that his chair fell over backwards; he stumbled, too, but didn't fall. Before Vic or Li Ann managed to open their mouths to ask what was wrong, he was gone; a door slammed.

"Uh oh," Li Ann said quietly.

"Think we should leave him alone?" Vic was glad Li Ann was here this time, so she could share with him the intimidating burden of trying to figure out the right thing to do.

Li Ann hesitated, biting her lip. "No," she decided. "Better not."

The door to Vic's bedroom was shut. It didn't have a lock; Vic opened it and went in, with Li Ann close behind him. Mac was sitting on the floor in the corner to the right of the door, with his arms curled tightly around his knees and his head down.

While Vic hesitated, Li Ann went right over to Mac and sat beside him and put an arm over his shoulders. With a look and a nod, she encouraged Vic to do the same.

Mac didn't move for a while. He was perfectly still, all curled up, with Li Ann hugging him from one side and Vic from the other. No one said anything. Vic didn't know what to say.

Finally, Mac spoke. "Leave me alone. I want to sleep." He spoke without raising his head.

"We'll tuck you in, then," Li Ann replied, gently.

Mac lifted his head then, to look at first Vic, then Li Ann, with haunted eyes. "No Li Ann, you don't understand, I'm not good enough. You don't know what I did. I'm as bad as Michael. Worse."

Li Ann's brow furrowed slightly at the unexpected mention of her and Mac's adoptive brother, but she just hugged Mac tighter and said "I don't care what you've done, Mac, I know who you are and I love you."

Vic saw Mac shake his head in denial and bury his face again. He had a feeling that Mac was going far, far away, and he had to get him back before he got lost. "So do I," Vic said. "And I know what you've done."

Li Ann looked at Vic with startled eyes. She mouthed the words "You know?"

At the same time, Mac, his voice muffled in his knees, said "Go away. Please."

Li Ann's reply was gentle but firm. "No, Mac. We won't leave you like this."

Mac stood up suddenly, and spun around to face them. "Like fucking what?!" he shouted. Vic, startled into silence, could see tears glittering in Mac's eyes. "Like fucking what?!" Mac repeated, louder. "If you won't leave, I will!!"

"No, don't go!" Vic found his voice and feet at the same moment; Li Ann was up, too, and Mac was already out the bedroom door.

They caught up to him at the front door of the apartment.

"I'm going for a walk," Mac said. He looked like he'd fight them to get out of the apartment, if he had to. But there was no way he'd win that one....

"Nope," Vic said, planting himself in front of the door. "You can't take both of us, and you know it. You've got pneumonia and you're supposed to be resting. You're not leaving the apartment."

Mac clenched his fists. "Fuck you."

Vic easily blocked the punch Mac threw at his gut, and before Mac even knew she was there, Li Ann knocked his legs out from under him with a low hook kick.

"Mac, you've really got to be nicer to Vic," she chided him, while pinning him to the floor. "He's just trying to help you."

Mac fought against her hold for a moment, but despite the difference in their sizes, she easily held him down; she was well trained, after all, and they did most of their practising on each other. So Mac gave up and went limp, coughing.

Vic crouched down beside them. "Mac, please don't be angry. You're sick and hurt right now, and we're just trying to help you. That's all."

"Let me go, Li Ann," Mac begged.

She didn't. "Are you cold, Mac?" she asked instead, sounding worried. "You're shaking."

"Yes," he admitted - whether to being cold, or to shaking, Vic wasn't sure.

"Let us see you into bed, all right?" Li Ann coaxed, still holding him down. "Then we'll leave you alone."


Li Ann moved away, and Mac sat up stiffly. Li Ann and Vic both eyed him warily, in case he decided to make another break for it, but he quietly accepted Vic's helping hand, standing up, and then returned to the bedroom, shuffling more than walking.

In the bedroom, Mac started undressing without speaking a word. Vic, feeling slightly awkward, busied himself pulling back the covers of the bed and fluffing the pillows. He was aware of Li Ann standing with her arms crossed, watching calmly. Until Mac took off his shirt, that is - then she gasped, "Mac," appalled at the bruises and scabs all over his torso.

"When I pinned you, it must have - it must have hurt," she said in a low voice. "I'm sorry."

Mac shrugged. "Nah. Don't worry." His words were light, but his tone was flat. He finished stripping down to his boxers, and then he climbed into the bed. He didn't react to Vic pulling the covers up over him, or Li Ann pulling the blinds over the windows to block the light of the early summer evening.

Vic and Li Ann looked at each other. Vic felt like what they'd just done with Mac was terribly insufficient and incomplete. The demons that haunted Mac were still there; Vic and Li Ann hadn't even managed to comfort him this time, really. Their only victory was getting him to escape into bed instead of into the street.

Li Ann seemed to hover with the same hesitation, but she got over it first. "Let's talk outside," she whispered to Vic.


They settled at the kitchen table. Vic pulled a couple more beers out of the fridge.

"Wow," Li Ann sighed, twirling the full bottle between her fingers, "That was worse than I expected. I've never seen him like that."

"The Director thinks I can help him, but I'm not so sure," Vic admitted. "This, just now - it was nothing on last night. He's really really fucked up, and it goes right back to the time you left the Tangs - with this Bloodfire mission all messed up with it." He twisted the cap off his beer, and took a long, cold drink.

"Hmm...." Li Ann said slowly, opening her own bottle, "So he told you what happened with the Tangs." She looked at him, expectantly.

Vic nodded. "Look, I don't think I should tell you. I don't think he even meant to tell me - the drug withdrawal was hitting him hard last night, and he was pretty confused a lot of the time."

"But... I was there, right? I should know... I should remember something." Li Ann looked troubled.

"It was right before you left. The godfather made him... do something. That was when he decided to leave." Vic wanted Li Ann's insights into Mac's problems, but he didn't want to tell her any more than this. Vic wasn't the kind of guy to go blabbing other people's secrets around, especially not their deepest, darkest secrets.

Li Ann's eyes went distant as she tried to remember exactly what had happened in the last, turbulent days before she left the Family. "The day after Mac and I found out that I was going to have to marry Michael, Mac came to me. He was really upset... it was more than just losing me. Something about arms dealing. I thought he was overreacting; I reminded him that he'd always known we were criminals. He wanted to leave, and he wanted me to leave with him. I told him I couldn't - that I had to stay, I had no choice. He said 'there's always a choice.' Then we fought some, and he walked out...."

Li Ann had never talked to Vic before in this much detail about how she or Mac had left the Tangs. He could hear the pain in her voice; he instinctively reached over the table and took her hand in his, and squeezed it. "And that was the last time you saw him?" he asked.

She shook her head. "No. He didn't leave right away. Then the next day, Michael..." her voice caught, and she cleared her throat. "Michael murdered a man, in front of me. We had dinner with this man, and then Michael killed him. With a car bomb." She shuddered. "That was when I decided to leave with Mac." She pulled her hand away from Vic's, and took a long, bitter pull from the bottle of beer.

The evening sun was sending its warm yellow light through the kitchen window, backlighting Li Ann so she seemed to glow like an angel.

So Mac had murdered a man, and then, consumed with guilt, decided to betray his family and probably lose his life by running away. Then Michael had murdered a man, and Li Ann had decided to run away from him with Mac. Nice family.

Li Ann had been deep in thought and memory. "He killed someone, didn't he? Mac. Before he came to me and asked me to run away with him."

Vic shrugged, unwilling to betray Mac's secret by confirming or denying her guess.

"It's all I can think of that would explain him being so depressed about it even now. Anyway, I guess it makes sense, that Father would have started both Mac and Michael on that sort of thing at the same time... they always advanced together. We all did." She frowned, rubbing her arms as though she were suddenly cold.

"Does it bother you?" Vic asked her, softly. Without him telling her anything, she'd pretty much figured it out. So now maybe she could help him figure out how to help Mac.

She gave a humourless laugh. "Bother me!? What part? I still have nightmares about it all, Vic..."

"Sorry, that was a dumb question," Vic apologized. He remembered how when they'd shared a bed, he would occasionally wake up in the night to find her crying, or shaking with fear. Then he would hold her, and she'd never tell him very much except how happy she was to be with him now. Well. That, too, was past. "I meant, specifically about Mac. About him murdering someone."

She took another drink. "I don't know what I think. It bothers me, yeah. Mostly what bothers me is how much it's hurting him, now... I mean, I don't like seeing him hurting. Thinking about him killing someone two years ago - it's pretty abstract. Anyway, we kill people all the time, right?"

"I guess this was different. At least to him." Vic sipped at his own drink, needing some distraction from the weight of their conversation. "The godfather made him execute this guy."

Li Ann nodded, slowly. "So he killed someone in cold blood. That's hard to imagine - Mac doing that. Isn't it? But maybe not... Father had so much power over us then." Suddenly she gasped. "Oh, Vic, did he tell you who it was? Was it Chung Lee?"

"How did you-" Vic said, before realizing he probably shouldn't answer that question. Shit.

"Oh my God," Li Ann groaned, hiding her face with her hands for a moment. "Oh God."

"Li Ann? What is it? You knew him?" Vic reached over, touched her hands over her face.

She lowered her hands, and tears were glittering in her eyes. "I knew him. He worked for the Tangs. I was sort of friends with his daughter - we went shopping together a few times. The day after the warehouse exploded, when I was still in police custody in Hong Kong, I saw in a newspaper that he'd been found dead in an alley. He - he'd been shot in the head, but before that he'd been gutted, and his face was slashed, and his ear was cut off."

Vic put down his beer, feeling sick. Li Ann had just painted a very clear image for him, much more specific than Mac's. "That's..." he trailed off, not knowing what to say.

"So it was Mac who did that," Li Ann whispered. "God. And he's been living with that ever since."

Vic decided that at this point, Li Ann might as well know everything. "He needs us to forgive him. I don't understand exactly how he thinks it works... apparently Wolfgang, that Bloodfire guy we found him with, found out about some of this, and he promised Mac some sort of absolution. Through torture, probably. Then Mac killed him, before he could be forgiven...."

"Michael enjoyed killing," Li Ann said, her voice hard and tight. "I loved him, as my brother, but I truly believe that he grew into an evil man. Mac isn't like that. Our father made Mac kill Chung Lee, and Mac probably didn't have any choice, other than dying. And now he's dying anyway, isn't he?" The look she gave Vic then seemed to be a challenge, but he wasn't sure what it meant.

"No," Vic said firmly. "He's not dying. He's pretty messed up by everything that's happened, but we're going to be there for him and it's going to be OK."

"Yeah..." Li Ann said, sounding less certain. "Vic... don't take this the wrong way, but do you realize what a huge change this is for you? A couple weeks ago you could barely stand to be in the same room as Mac, remember? And now... well, you just said you loved him." She looked at him quizzically.

"I what?" Vic yelped. "No I didn't."

"Yes you did," Li Ann assured him. "In your bedroom. I told him I loved him, and you said 'Me too.'"

"Oh, yeah." Vic felt his face going hot. Li Ann was staring at him, trying to discern his reaction. Vic bought time by taking a long swig of beer, emptying his bottle. "Well, I meant it like you meant it. Like a brother, or a friend. I mean, you're not in love with him now, right?"

"Right," she said. Almost too quickly, but it was no secret in the group that Li Ann hadn't quite figured out what the hell she felt about either Mac or Vic. She'd finally said she needed space, and time. It had hurt Vic like hell when she'd broken up her engagement with him, but now that some time had gone by to take the edge off that, Vic was pretty sure she'd done the right thing. Li Ann had a lot of things to sort out in herself before she could make a commitment like marriage to another person. "But still," Li Ann continued prodding, "A couple weeks ago you definitely would not have said you love Mac like a friend."

"I'm getting another beer. Want one?" Vic offered.

Li Ann nodded, holding up her empty bottle. "Just one more. Well, Vic?"

"OK...." He got the beers out of the fridge. "Well, we do make a good team. And we've been through a lot together."

Li Ann raised her eyebrows. "You're not answering my question."

Vic sighed, and rubbed his forehead. "Give me a minute, OK Li Ann? I'm not sure what the answer is." It didn't occur to him to just evade the question, or lie; today was a day for True Confessions. "Mac always goes out of his way to annoy me, right? To get under my skin. And he's so flippant, childish, irresponsible, and he never takes anything seriously. I guess I've finally realized that that's just his way of protecting himself."

Li Ann had smiled a bit at Vic's description of Mac. "Well, it's more than that," she warned him now. "Don't expect him to change his persona just because you think you've seen past it."

Vic looked at Li Ann, surprised at the depth of her observation. She was right; Vic must not start thinking of Mac as a serious, Vic-like person hiding behind a flippant exterior. Of course, she'd known Mac as long as anyone had, and she understood where he was coming from. Like Mac, she'd built up protection, though in her case it was her coolness, and often her sarcasm. And just like with Mac, Vic felt that he could get past Li Ann's protective shell to the real Li Ann underneath - and yet the shell was part of the real Li Ann.

Vic shook his head to clear it and drank more beer.

"There's more, isn't there?" Li Ann prompted him. "What about..." she paused, "the flirting?"

Vic silently thanked her for not saying 'the oral sex.' And he took another long drink of beer. Wiped his mouth, cleared his throat. "I'm hungry," he said. "Are you hungry?"

"Not yet," Li Ann said impatiently. "Come on Vic, you can't tell me everything else and not this. What's going on between you and Mac?"

"I don't know!" Vic realized he was speaking too loud; he lowered his voice. "I don't know," he repeated. "I'm really confused. Know what I did this afternoon? I kissed him," Vic confessed, feeling bitter shame. Then he raised his eyes to look at Li Ann, and her eyes were not condemning him as he'd expected.

"Wow, Vic," Li Ann said. If anything, she sounded a little sad. But then she smiled at him. "So you're finally admitting that you're attracted to him?"

"Li Ann!" Vic was shocked. "This isn't funny. This is awful. He's so hurt and vulnerable right now, and I - I took advantage of him."

"You kissed him," Li Ann corrected him. "I'm pretty sure he's been wanting you to do that ever since, oh, a day or two after you met."

"While he was in love with you?" Vic asked, very sceptical.

"What, you've never been attracted to two people at the same time?" Li Ann gave him a knowing look.

Vic shrugged, while a little voice inside his head suggested that actually, he was attracted to two people right now. But he couldn't, or shouldn't, do anything with either of them. He and Li Ann had been down that road before... and Mac was far too hurt.

"Are you encouraging me, Li Ann?" Really, this was very confusing. "The last thing Mac needs right now is someone messing with his head."

"Well, yeah. If you mess with his head, I will beat you to a pulp," Li Ann promised him, unblinking and solemn. "But I think... I think affection would be very good for him now."

"From me?"


"What about you?"

"The Director chose you, didn't she?" A flicker of hurt crossed Li Ann's features, but she forced it away. "He needs you now like I needed you when I left the Tangs. You're like... the opposite of everything we come from."

Vic shook his head, pretty sure that Li Ann was now attributing far too much to him.

"I think I should leave," Li Ann said, quietly.

"No, please stay. Tonight, at least. I need your help." Vic looked at her, pleading.

"All right," she agreed. "Just for tonight."

"Thanks," he said, the sentiment coming from somewhere very deep inside.

"Vic?" she said, then, "Please hold me."

They both stood up, and met at the side of the table. He held her in his arms, and she put hers around him, and they hugged tightly. They held on to each other for a very long time.

Part 7

When they returned to work the next day, it wasn't quite business as usual. Jackie was there, to take Mac's place on the team with Li Ann and Vic. Mac was more or less on medical leave; he had to spend a couple hours with Agency doctors, a couple more with an Agency psychiatrist, and then he was sent home (to Vic's place). Also, much to Vic's irritation, the Director had suddenly decided that Vic should benefit from the Agency's housecleaning service; he was assigned a maid. He protested, with as much effect as his protests usually had on the Director - to wit, none. He fumed over this, until he got home the first evening and found the maid (who had the build of an agent) just ready to leave, and Mac complaining that she'd been there ever since he arrived at noon. Then Vic understood. The Director had arranged for full-time baby-sitting. As the maid (her name was Birgitta) left, she slapped Vic's open palm, as though passing him a baton.

Anyway, the apartment was sparkling clean.

Things with Mac were much easier than they had been before. Birgitta had left them a delicious stew. Vic resented the intrusion, but it was still nice to come home to a hot meal. He and Mac ate, and then just watched TV. It certainly helped that Mac was over the worst of the drug withdrawal by now, and had spent a couple days under proper medical care; there were no more hallucinations or shaking fits. He was still sick, but this just left him very tired - and to be honest, Mac was easier to deal with when he was tired. He'd slept most of the afternoon, according to Birgitta, and he was falling asleep again by 9 pm.

When Vic noticed Mac nodding off, he told him to go to bed; Mac asked Vic where he, Vic, would sleep. Vic motioned to the couch, and Mac shook his head. "The couch sucks. The bed's wide enough - we can share it. Just to sleep," he added hastily.

Vic nodded slowly, unsure what Mac was expecting from this. Was he trying to seduce Vic again, or did he just not want to be alone? "OK," he said finally. "Sure. I'll be up for a while longer, though."

And it really was nothing but sleep. When Vic went to bed at 11:30, Mac was sound asleep; he'd even stayed to one side of the bed, leaving room for Vic on the other side. So Vic went to bed, and Mac didn't stir, and then they both slept through 'till morning.


The next day was the same, and the next, and the next. There were no more confessions, or outpourings of guilt or grief or pain; there were no more kisses. Mac and Vic were just roommates, who slept together because they didn't have two beds. The Bolivian Tree Weevil infestation in Mac's apartment lingered on and on; apparently the little buggers were absolutely impossible to kill. The guys resumed their normal bickering, but now it really felt like they were doing it for fun, or at least just for something to do, or out of habit. Vic had never got along with Mac so well - but they left everything important unsaid.

After a week and a half, the Agency doctors decided that Mac could return to work; he was assigned to light office work (which he hated), and resumed very minimal physical training. Vic knew that he was still spending two hours with the psychiatrist every morning. Birgitta's hours were cut back, but she was still in the apartment whenever Mac was and Vic wasn't.


A couple days after Mac went back to work, Vic, Li Ann and Jackie had a confrontation with some criminals. With their usual flawless martial arts and teamwork, they came out of it victorious, but Vic was bruised in a few places. He returned home, and found Mac there and Birgitta leaving, as usual.

"Hey, what happened?" Mac asked, seeing Vic. Vic's lower lip was cut and a bit swollen, where a flying piece of ceramic penguin had clipped him.

"Nothing much, just a fight with some bad guys in a lawn ornament factory," Vic said with a shrug. "Everyone's OK. Li Ann and Jackie went out for a drink, but I got a bit more banged up than them so I just wanted to get home."

"Let me get you some ice for that," Mac said.

Vic was touched, yet discomfited by Mac's offer. Deep cultural conditioning insisted that it wasn't very manly to ask for ice on his little boo-boo. "It's all right, it's nothing," he shrugged it off.

"Come on," Mac cajoled him with puppy-dog eyes, "Can't I get to take care of you, just for once?"

Vic laughed in defeat. "All right." He had a strange, warm, glowing feeling from this exchange. He was used to taking care of Mac. This role-reversal was kind of nice.

He followed Mac into the kitchen. Mac cracked an ice cube out of the tray, and then took it in his fingers and held it to Vic's lower lip. His face was very close to Vic's. He hadn't shaved today. "That better?"

"Uh huh," Vic said without moving his lips. Mac's body was very close to his own, and Vic was very aware of it. The sexual tension between them, which had pretty much vanished over the time of Mac's recuperation, was back with a vengeance. Mac was looking at him; his eyes were gleaming naughtily, and he was grinning.

"Hold still, now," Mac said, and put his free hand around Vic's shoulder. Vic felt his touch like an electric shock. A little sigh escaped him. He was completely captured by Mac's gaze; looking up into his partner's mischievous eyes, he felt his heart pounding harder and he felt the first stirrings of arousal. There was something astoundingly sensual about the cold, wet smoothness of the ice Mac held against his hurt lip.

After a minute, Mac tossed the dripping ice cube into the sink without looking, and leaned closer. His lips brushed Vic's. "Is this all right?" he whispered.

"Yes," Vic whispered, and closed the distance between them.

Mac kissed Vic gently at first, and tentatively. Their lips brushed, and nibbled. Then Vic felt Mac's tongue playing at his lips, and he let his lips part. He felt Mac's hand at the back of his neck, playing with his hair and pulling him closer. Vic felt something inside himself melting, some tightness he hadn't even realized was there. He thought if Mac let go of him, he might dissolve right into the floor.

The kiss went on forever, and then Vic felt Mac's fingers at the buttons of his shirt. He reached up and caught Mac's hands in his, stopping him.

"Why not?" Mac breathed.

"Too fast," Vic replied, breathing a little hard. He wasn't sure why he was suddenly shy... but this wasn't the same as being with a woman, and he needed time to get used to it.

With a sigh, Mac moved away from him. "But soon, right?"

Vic shrugged. "I don't know."


There were other kisses after the first one. Life with Mac started to be very fun. Soon there were kisses in bed, too, and the kisses were not confined to the lips. Vic felt like he was 15 years old again, with his first girlfriend. Sometimes when he was at work at the Agency, with Li Ann and Jackie, he'd start giggling for no reason at all but sheer happiness. Mac was so beautiful, and fun. Mac even had the idea of taking Vic on a date, on a Saturday; they went to Canada's Wonderland, and got lost in the crowd, and held hands. They went a games booth and hit every target because they were good enough shots to compensate for the mis-aligned sights on the toy guns. Then they refused to take any prizes; they didn't want the corny stuffed animals, they were just showing off for each other.

It wasn't quite perfect. Often when they were making out, Mac tried to step up the roughness. Specifically, he tried - through pleading, threatening and teasing - to get Vic to be rougher with him. Vic flat-out refused, every time. A few times, Mac even begged Vic to hurt him, in so many words. Those times, Vic would immediately stop whatever they were doing, and put all their clothes back on, and take Mac out to the kitchen for a snack, or to the living room to watch TV.

Mac went back to working full time, but the Director kept him restricted to office work and light physical training. He was still seeing the psychiatrist every morning, though the sessions were shorter now; he never talked to Vic about them. Birgitta stopped coming around.


"Please fuck me tonight. Please, Vic," Mac was begging, while kissing Vic's stomach. They were in bed, both of them wearing nothing but their boxers. It was a few days since Mac had gone back to full-time work at the Agency.

"Mmm," Vic agreed, running his fingers through Mac's hair. Then his brain caught up and he parsed what Mac had said. Mac's hand was already playing at Vic's crotch. "Wait," Vic gasped, pushing Mac away enough so he could see his eyes. "Are you sure?" Vic was keenly aware that Wolfgang had raped Mac, repeatedly, while Mac was held captive by Bloodfire. Mac had mentioned this only once, but Vic thought of it whenever their kissing seemed about to progress to something more, and he always held himself back. Mac couldn't be ready yet - barely a month had gone by since his rescue.

"Of course I'm sure," Mac said, slipping through Vic's grasp so that he could nibble Vic's right nipple.

Vic moaned slightly at the sensation, then pushed Mac away again. Was Vic sure? Yes, oh yes. He'd never been all that attached to his self-image as a straight man, and the reaction of his body every time Mac kissed him left him with no doubt: he was sexually attracted to Mac. Oh, baby, was he ever.

So, if Mac wanted Vic, and Vic wanted Mac, what was stopping them? Just Vic's hand on Mac's chest, holding the other man at arm's length while he thought about this important question.

Vic met Mac's smoldering gaze. "I want to make love to you," Vic said, his voice catching in his throat at Mac's tousled beauty. "But you'll have to show me how."

They undressed each other completely. Mac lay down on his stomach. Vic ran his fingers lightly over Mac's back, feeling the familiar pangs of anger at the wounds crisscrossing it, marks from where Mac had been whipped. They were pink now, healing. For the first time, Vic could see that the wounds covered Mac's buttocks, too. He kissed them, wishing that were enough to make it better.

"Get a condom," Mac instructed him. Vic found one. "Is it lubricated?" Mac asked.

"No," Vic said.

"Good," Mac replied. "Put it on."

It had been a long time since Vic had had sex with anyone. He felt like his whole body was tingling. He kissed Mac's shoulders and neck, while Mac told him to enter him, slowly.

Mac felt tight and hot inside. Vic groaned with pleasure. Mac gasped, and Vic was afraid he was hurting him. He asked, and Mac said "No, it's good, it's good. Now move," and he started moving his hips up and down, under Vic.

Vic started to move, the thrusting motions both familiar and primal. Everything was bliss. He was lost in the movement, the smell of sweat, the wonderful feel of Mac underneath him, Mac around him. Then he heard Mac crying out under him, and a moment later he felt the wonderful, unbearable, painful ecstasy of his own orgasm.

He collapsed, panting, on Mac's back. The world was warm and wonderful and glowing. "I love you," he whispered. Mac didn't say anything.

Then he held on to the base of the condom, and reluctantly withdrew from Mac.

And then he saw the blood.

"Oh shit," Vic said, suddenly afraid. "Mac, you're bleeding!"

"It's OK," Mac mumbled, his face still buried in a pillow.

"No it's not!" Vic snapped. "Shit, you're bleeding, I've hurt you -" He stopped. He felt very cold all of a sudden. Mac's voice echoed in his mind - begging Vic, 'hurt me.' And Vic refusing every time, distracting Mac, changing the subject. "Fuck!" Vic exclaimed. "You tricked me! You tricked me into hurting you! Goddammit, turn over and look at me!" He grabbed Mac by the shoulder, flipped him over on his back. Mac's eyes were red, and full of tears.

"I'm sorry," he said, miserably.

Vic was seeing him through a red fog of anger. Vic felt abused, violated. "Fuck!" he said again. "How could you do that to me? I wanted to make love to you, and you turned it into, into..." Vic couldn't finish the sentence. He started pulling his clothes on, with quick angry movements. "I can't stay here," he said. "Not tonight. I'll see you tomorrow morning at the Agency."

Vic left the apartment, slamming the door behind him.


Twenty minutes later, Vic was knocking at Li Ann's door. She took a while to answer, and when she did she was wearing her pyjamas, and yawning.

"What are you doing here, Vic?" she asked. "I was already in bed."

"Sorry. Can I stay here tonight?"

She stood aside, and let him in. "Something's wrong, obviously. Want to talk about it?"

"Maybe." Probably. That would explain why he'd run to Li Ann, instead of to a motel. He hadn't been thinking, really, just acting.

"I'll make some tea. Or hot chocolate - would you like hot chocolate?" Li Ann yawned again, and rubbed her eyes. Vic felt terribly guilty for barging in on her.

"I'm sorry, Li Ann, you were asleep, why don't you go back to bed and I'll just go find a motel." He turned back towards the door, but she stopped him.

"Don't be an idiot, Vic. I'm awake now, and you came here for a reason, right?"

"Right." He felt terribly tired suddenly, and sad. "Hot chocolate would be good."

They went into the kitchen, and Li Ann put on the kettle, and spooned some instant hot chocolate into mugs. Vic sat at the table, feeling miserable and confused. His anger had already faded away, but he still felt hurt. This was confusing, because what hurt him was that Mac had made Vic hurt him, and he was feeling guilty about that, too, about hurting Mac, even though it wasn't really his fault. Damn.

Li Ann poured the hot water, and they both sat at the table, stirring their chocolate.

"Well?" she prompted him.

Ever since that first day after they got back from the Bloodfire mission, when Li Ann and Vic had had that long and difficult conversation, Vic had been telling her everything, or nearly everything, about him and Mac. This talking thing got easier with practice, and it was wonderful to have a friend to talk to, a friend who knew all about everything that was going on, and who often gave him very good advice. It had been a long time since Vic had had a friend like that.

So now he said, "We had sex."

She absorbed this information with a nod, and no other reaction. "But something's wrong now. What is it?"

He told her about all of it - about how good it had been, and then the blood, and the realization that Mac had tricked Vic into hurting him, and the pain and rage Vic had felt, ending with Vic storming out of the apartment and slamming the door behind him.

"And Mac's alone now?" Li Ann asked when he finished. "Are you sure that's wise?"

Vic shrugged unhappily. "The Director stopped Birgitta coming around a couple days ago; she must've got a go-ahead from the shrink for him to be alone."

"So... what are you going to do now? I mean, you're not breaking up with Mac, are you?"

"No! No."

"This can't be a total surprise," Li Ann pointed out. "He tries to get you to hurt him practically every time you kiss him, right?"

"Not every time. But yeah, it happens. But this - this was over the line." Vic gave a frustrated sigh, and sipped at the hot chocolate. "And I guess I shouldn't blame him, right? He's acting like this because of Wolfgang, and the stuff with the Tangs, and it's going to take him a while to get over it."

Li Ann nodded silently, her almond eyes fixed on Vic. She was letting him think it all through out loud; she didn't have any easy answers for him. There weren't any. She sipped her own drink.

"But I deserve better than this, right? I mean, he was using me."

"Mac can be pretty self-centered, it's true," Li Ann admitted. "I think what you have to do is continue what you've been managing up until now - don't let him manipulate you like that. He only managed it this time because you were depending on him to tell you what to do, since you'd never had sex with a man before."

Vic furrowed his brow. "OK, that makes sense. But I still don't know how to have a sex with a man without hurting him."

"Well," Li Ann said primly, "There are books."

Vic thought about that for a moment, and then looked at her, appalled. "I can't go into that kind of bookstore and buy a book like that!"

"Why not?" Li Ann asked, all innocence.

"It - I - it would -" Vic stuttered. "It would be embarrassing," he managed finally.

"What? That people would think you're gay? You went to Canada's Wonderland together and held hands!" Li Ann was obviously having trouble holding back laughter, and Vic was not amused.

"No! Buying a book on how to - how to have sex. I mean, I'm 30 years old!"

"You're being silly," Li Ann said, sipping at the hot chocolate to stop herself from smirking. "No one would notice. No one would care."

"No. I can't."

"Well, what are you going to do, then?"

"Will you buy it for me?"

She choked on her hot chocolate. Vic got up, and patted her on the back solicitously. "Please Li Ann? Please? You're my best friend..." he wheedled.

Li Ann's coughing turned to laughing. "You're spending too much time with Mac, Vic. You're starting to sound like him. OK, I'll do it. It might take a few days before I have time, though."

"Oh God, thank-you Li Ann," Vic said, hugging her around the shoulders. "Thanks for everything."


Mac is a very bad person. This much is clear. What he just did to Vic was far from the worst thing he's done, but it was pretty awful. He'd wanted to have sex with Vic, and he'd wanted it to be wonderful, but then when the moment came he'd realized that he didn't deserve for it to be wonderful. He deserved pain. So he got Vic to fuck him without lube, and without preparing him, without loosening his sorry ass first. And he hadn't thought about how this would make Vic feel, and of course Vic had been hurt, and he'd left Mac, which is clearly what Mac deserved anyway.

Vic will have to come back, though. This is Vic's bed Mac is lying on, Vic's ceiling he is staring at.

"Aaaaugh!" Mac shouts suddenly, and pounds at the bed. He is filled with anger, an absolutely blinding rage, and it's all directed at himself. He needs to lash out, but trashing Vic's apartment is not an option. Fuck! Mac wishes someone were here, someone who could throw Mac to the floor and kick him again and again, because that's what he deserves right now, and the entire Universe is clearly set up wrong, that this isn't happening. Wolfgang would do that to Mac. Too bad Mac killed him. Fuck!

Mac clenches his fists and holds his arms up, staring at them, willing the wounds to open up again. His arms will be covered with scars forever, but the wounds are all healing.

Staring at the scars, he remembers: Wolfgang didn't do all of this. Sometimes, Wolfgang would just stand back and make Mac do it while he watched.

Wolfgang's face floats through Mac's mind now, framed with jet-black hair and studded with silver piercings; his is a fierce expression, completely devoid of love. "You're evil, Mac," he says in Mac's memory, in Mac's mind. "And the evil must be punished. But when you've felt enough pain, ten times as much as you've caused, then you can be forgiven. Then you can feel love. Not before." Then Wolfgang's face changes, contorts with anger. "You've fucked up tonight Mac, that's for sure. Vic's innocent, and you hurt him. So you have to hurt, too. Go get a knife."

Mac gets up. He's still naked. He pulls on his boxer shorts and walks to the kitchen and chooses a sharp paring knife. He takes it to the bathroom, because he's fairly sure the Director doesn't have a camera hidden there. He closes the door. He stands over the sink. He holds the knife in his right hand; he clenches his left fist, and watches the muscles stand out under the scars.

He is not planning to kill himself. Only to hurt. Death is the easy way out, and Mac deserves the hard way.

He presses the tip of the knife to the flesh of the back of his forearm, about halfway between his elbow and wrist. It doesn't break the skin yet. He presses harder, sees the first drop of blood. He remembers doing this to Chung Lee. That memory is enough; he slashes it. A line of red wells up; it's beautiful. He gasps, concentrating on the pain. Everything else disappears. This is right. This is the way it should be.


When Mac is done, there are three parallel gashes on the back of his left forearm, all red and shimmery with blood. He stares at them, horrified. Why did he do this? Fuck. He feels lightheaded. That's not from blood loss; even in the middle of it all, he was careful. The cuts aren't deep, won't require stitches, and totally avoid all major veins and arteries. He turns on the cold water tap and lets the water wash over his arm, washing away the blood and eventually numbing him. He's numb all over, all through and inside. Nothing's left now but a very practical, systematic urge to cover up what he's done. He doesn't want Vic to know about this. This is pretty fucked-up. He finds a large roll of gauze bandage in a box under Vic's sink. He cuts a piece the proper size, and tapes it over the wound. Then he washes out the sink, eliminating all traces of blood. He rinses the knife, then takes it out to the kitchen and washes it properly with hot water and soap. Then he goes back to the bed and collapses. His brain switched off a while ago; now he only waits for sleep.


When Mac and Vic met in the briefing room the next morning, they both apologized, without details.

That night at bedtime, Vic was surprised when Mac, instead of stripping to his boxers in the bedroom, went to the bathroom and changed into full pyjamas. The pyjamas had to be new; Mac had made a point before of not even owning any. They were navy blue silk, and they looked amazing on him.

"Why?" Vic asked, fingering the sleeve, even though he thought he could guess why. "Because of last night?"

"Yeah," Mac said, more serious than usual. "I guess we're going to be, um, stepping back for a bit, right?" He grinned then. "So I figured I should stop tempting you with my beautiful body."

"You are beautiful," Vic said roughly, touching Mac's think, pouty lips with one finger.

"Yeah, I know," Mac agreed, teasingly smug.

Vic snorted, and shut him up with a kiss.

That night they kissed and snuggled, and nothing more. And Mac didn't ask Vic to be rougher, or to hurt him in any way. And everything was good.


Four days later, in a hallway in the Agency, Li Ann handed Vic a book in a plain brown paper bag, and glared at him.

"I really hope you appreciate this," she said, some threat obviously hanging behind the well-wishes.

"Um... have trouble getting it?" Vic asked. He knew what it had to be, and he felt himself blushing.

"In a manner of speaking." Li Ann ran a hand through her hair in a harassed gesture. "I went to the Glad Day Bookshop - you know it? The gay bookstore. I figured they'd have the most selection. Which they did. So, guess who was walking by on Yonge Street just as I walked out the door? Guess."

Squirming in her glare, Vic guessed. "The Director?"



"Even worse. Jackie. And you know what? My first thought was, 'I have to keep Vic's secret!' So what did I do? I pretended I'd been buying a book for myself."

Vic felt a grin tugging at the corner of his lips, and he struggled to conceal it. "Oh Li Ann. I'm sorry. Thank you so much."

"And then," Li Ann continued, "She invited me to a bar for a drink. A gay bar."

"Oh. Wow." Vic felt his eyes going wide, and he completely lost the fight against his grin. "And then?"

"And then nothing. I said no, and that I had to go meet someone."

"Well. It might have been interesting...?" Vic suggested, really smirking now.

Li Ann made an exasperated noise and stalked away.

"Thanks again!" Vic called as she walked away. Then he peeked inside the bag.

The book inside was called The Joy of Anal Sex.


More than two weeks went by, and neither Mac nor Vic tried to initiate anything beyond snuggling and kissing in bed. Vic thought things were getting better with Mac. Mac almost never asked him to be rougher now; he seemed to be finally accepting and trusting Vic's gentleness.

Finally, one night they were kissing in bed, and Vic let his hands stray to the top button of Mac's shirt. "I want to kiss more of you," Vic murmured, undoing the button.

"All right," Mac said, but he sounded strangely tentative.

Vic left just the top button undone, so he could nuzzle Mac's collarbone. It was natural that Mac would be hesitant, after what had happened last time. Vic determined to go slowly.

So, slowly, one button at a time and with many kisses in between, Vic undid Mac's shirt. He ran his fingers through the curly black hair on Mac's chest. He enjoyed the hard, sculptured feel of Mac's abdominal muscles, like a chiseled Greek statue. Finally, he undid the last button and found Mac's navel, which moved with Mac's uneven breaths.

Then he took hold of the two sides of the shirt near the top, to slide it down over Mac's shoulders.

"No!" Mac yelped, grabbing at Vic's hands and holding them in place. "No," again, more quietly.

Surprised, Vic looked at Mac's face, and saw Mac struggling to cover the bare fear in his eyes with a grin.

"Too much, too fast," Mac said.

"OK," Vic agreed softly, backing away and holding his hands up in the universal 'I'm not going to hurt you' gesture.

Mac tugged his shirt closed. The movement was sharp, and too hard; it pulled his left sleeve halfway up his forearm.

His forearm was crisscrossed with fresh scabs.

With a panicked expression, Mac pulled the sleeve back down, but it was obviously too late to hide anything.

"Shit, Mac, who did that to you!?" Vic demanded. Mac was looking wildly around the room - everywhere but at Vic. Vic grabbed Mac's hand. "Who? I'll kill them!"

"Nobody!" Mac snapped. "Nobody did it! Forget it!"

"Like hell!" Vic snapped back. "Your arm looks as bad as it did when you got back from Bloodfire! Does the Director have to do with this?"

"No!" Mac yelled, trying unsuccessfully to pull his hand out of Vic's grasp. "I said, nobody did it! Forget it! It's none of your fucking business!"

And then, Victor got a clue. "Shit," he said quietly, letting go of Mac. "I'm an idiot. You did it, didn't you?" Silence was his answer, but Mac's sudden paleness pretty much confirmed Vic's suspicion. Vic reached over, to pull Mac's shirt off. Mac raised his hands to stop him. "Let me see," Vic insisted. Mac put his hands on Vic's, but didn't prevent Vic from sliding the shirt down over his shoulders. Vic could feel Mac's hands shaking.

With the shirt off, Vic saw angry red-brown scabs running in short lines along both Mac's arms, from the shoulders nearly to the wrists. The worst bit by far was the left forearm, which Vic had seen first, but the whole effect was pretty awful. It really did look as bad as when Mac returned from Bloodfire. He even had bandages taped over his arms in a couple places.

Vic felt a deep, deep fear growing in the pit of his stomach. All the happiness, lightness, and normalcy of the past few weeks fizzled into illusion. While Mac had been flirting and joking and laughing with Vic, he'd been hiding this.

Vic took Mac's hands and turned them over, to show the undersides of his arms. Mac didn't resist. The undersides were clear of new scars.

"I'm not killing myself," Mac whispered.

"What are you doing?" Vic whispered back, turning Mac's hands again so that all the new injuries showed.

"I don't know," Mac said, and then he started to weep, with the sort of short, gasping sobs that sound more like terrible laughter.

Vic put his arms around Mac - all the way around his arms and his body - so that Mac's head rested against Vic's chest. He held Mac tight, so he didn't shake too much, and murmured "It's all right, it's going to be OK," over and over again.

And Vic felt cold, and afraid.

Part 8

The morning after Vic discovered Mac's new injuries, as soon as Vic saw the Director he demanded to speak to her alone.

The Director raised a quizzical eyebrow. "All right," she said. "After the briefing."

As soon as Mac - who was very quiet this morning - had been sent off to the psychiatrist, and the girls had gone to the gym, Vic confronted the Director.

"Have you been spying on Mac and me lately?" he wanted to know first.

"My dear Victor, whatever would give you that idea?" she asked in a silken tone.

He glared at her. "I want to know what you know."

"Victor, you will never know what I know. But, since it seems to be so important to you, I'll tell you this much - I haven't been observing you much lately. I do have a life of my own, you know," she added with a suggestive smirk.

"Then you don't know that Mac has started carving up his own body with a knife?" Vic clarified, his voice tight.

"What?" the Director said sharply. For once, it seemed Vic had taken her off guard. There was no satisfaction in it.

"Yeah. Last night I saw his arms. They're covered with new cuts. He's been hiding them for weeks, I think." His voice was coming out very angry. The Director wasn't exactly the right person to be angry with, but she was there. Anyway, she knew everything else about them; why hadn't she known this? "I want Birgitta back," he demanded. "You sent her away too fucking soon."

The Director looked troubled, and thoughtful. "Come with me," she said. "We'll go talk to Dr Suri."

Dr Latta Suri was a petite, East Indian woman in her early forties. She was the Agency psychiatrist who usually dealt with the Director's section. Vic knew her; all the agents had to see her occasionally for assessments.

The Director knocked on Dr Suri's office door. Dr Suri opened it a moment later. Seeing who it was, she raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"I need to have a brief consultation with you," the Director said.

"I'm with a patient," Dr Suri protested. Her English was accented, but flawless - in her line of work, of course, she had to be fluent.

"I know."

Dr Suri shrugged. "Well, a brief meeting, then." Emphasis on brief. As Vic understood the Agency's power structure - as best as he could guess, anyway - neither the Director nor Dr Suri was directly subordinate to the other. It was fascinating to watch the Director interacting with someone as an equal. "Give me a moment to set my patient up," Dr Suri added, and closed the door.

When the door opened again, Vic glimpsed Mac; he was sitting in a chair, his attention on a pad of paper he held on his lap. Then Dr Suri closed the door behind her.

"Let's go into conference room 7," she suggested, indicating a door just down the hall.

It was a smallish conference room, with about ten chairs arranged around a horseshoe-shaped brushed steel table. The two women and Vic all sat down at one end.

"So, what did you want to discuss?" Dr Suri asked.

The Director indicated that Vic should speak.

"Mac," Vic began, and felt his voice breaking. Damn! He cleared his throat and tried again. "Mac is getting worse. He's started cutting himself, with a knife. I saw his arms last night-" Vic stopped, put his head in his hands. He couldn't describe it.

"I know," Dr Suri said.

"What?!" Vic, shocked, raised his head to stare at her. "How long have you known?"

"Well, I strongly suspected," Dr Suri qualified. "Only a couple days; I went to watch him work out on Monday, and noticed that he'd started wearing long-sleeved shirts in the gym. The next day I asked him about it, and he wouldn't tell me anything; I asked him to show me his arms, and he wouldn't. So I've been trying to work up to that with him."

Completely aghast, Vic looked back and forth between Dr Suri and the Director. The Director looked thoughtful, but she still didn't speak up. "Well, if you knew," Vic yelled at the doctor, "Why didn't you do something!? Bring Birgitta back, or make him come and stay here, or something!?"

"I understand that you're concerned about him, Vic," Dr Suri said, her melodious voice soothing, bringing him down from his righteous anger. "But it's my professional opinion that Mac is not a serious danger to himself at this time."

"Not a serious danger?!" Vic sputtered. "He's carving himself up with a knife, and then hiding it all! How much more serious does it get?"

"It's true, the self-injury is a serious problem," Dr Suri admitted, tapping her slender brown fingers on the steel tabletop. "But such behaviour is not necessarily an indicator of an imminent suicide attempt. Often - as I believe is the case with Mac - it is a coping mechanism."

"Pretty fucked-up coping mechanism," Vic muttered, rubbing his face wearily.

"Yes," Dr Suri agreed. "But the behaviour is actually fairly common, especially among survivors of abuse."

Vic absorbed that info. He'd never thought of Mac in those terms - a 'survivor of abuse' - but he was, wasn't he? Not just the week with Bloodfire, though that had certainly been abuse. Mac had never talked much about his early childhood, but his father had abandoned him in Hong Kong, so that relationship couldn't have been very good, that's for sure. Then Mac, still a child, had survived for some time on the streets of Hong Kong. Mac never talked about that time, either, but Vic had dealt with enough street kids in Toronto while he was on the force to imagine what Mac had been through then. Then Mac had grown up with the Tangs - which apparently had been the most stable and happy part of Mac's life, but still, his adoptive father had turned him into a criminal, and then made him execute a man, and then his adoptive brother had tried to kill him. Fuck. Vic ached to take the pain away, to give Mac a happy childhood, but that was impossible.

"What can I do?" Vic asked.

"This might be difficult, but you should try to avoid focusing on the self-injury," Dr Suri answered. "I'll work with Mac on developing better coping mechanisms, but there's a danger in concentrating too much on the behaviour, rather than the underlying causes. You need to let Mac know that you're there for him, and that you like him, and that it's not conditional on him appearing normal and happy with you. Also, continue to reinforce that you don't hold him responsible for Mr Lee's murder."

Vic narrowed his eyes. "Mac told you about that?"

Dr Suri shook her head. "No. It's in his background portfolio."

Vic turned to the Director. She shrugged lazily. "How many times do I have to tell you, Victor? We researched each of you thoroughly before picking you up. We know you better than you know yourselves."

"Anyway," Dr Suri interjected, "I have to get back to my patient. But I might as well tell you now," she said to the Director, "that I'm going to recommend Mac returns to full physical training. Dr McKay has already given the go-ahead on that." Dr McKay was the head medical doctor. "I will also recommend that, at your discretion, Mac can return to full Agency duties. His condition now won't interfere."

The Director nodded, and stood up. "Thank-you."

"Oh! One other thing," Dr Suri added. "Vic. If you ever have any trouble coping with all of this, or just want to talk about it, please come see me, all right?"

"All right," Vic agreed, but he didn't expect he would take her up on that.

"Good," she said, and smiled.


"Sorry about the interruption, Mac," Dr Suri said, closing the door behind her.

"What did the Director tell you?" Mac asked.

"Is there something that you think she was telling me?" Dr Suri parried his question. She almost always did this - when Mac asked her a question, she turned it around so it would somehow be about him.

"I hate it when you do that," Mac complained. Dr Suri sat down and waited for him to reply properly. "All right, all right," Mac gave in, annoyed. "Yes. There is something that I think she was telling you."

"And will you share your guess with me?" Dr Suri asked.

"No!" He crossed his arms. "I don't want to tell you," he added, petulantly. "You tell me."

Dr Suri thought for a moment. "All right. Actually, it was Vic who told me that he'd discovered you were injuring yourself. He was quite upset. I talked with him a bit, and he was calmer after he saw that this is a way you're dealing with pain, and not a suicide attempt."

"What the hell do you know about it?" Mac shouted, leaping to his feet. His heart was pounding wildly, and he wasn't sure if he was angry or afraid or both. He started pacing back and forth in the short space the office allowed, because he felt like exploding, desperately wanted to hit things, smash things, and pacing was the best release he could manage. He kept his arms crossed protectively in front of him, and his eyes focused on the beige industrial carpeting under his feet.

Dr Suri didn't flinch, or stand up. "What are you feeling now, Mac?" she asked.

He stopped, and stood in front of her. "Angry," he guessed.

"At who?"

"Afraid," he tried instead.

"Of what?"

"That you're going to ask me to show you." It wasn't exactly a true answer, but it was one of many things that sort of seemed to be true.

When Mac had first started seeing Dr Suri after the Bloodfire mission, he'd avoided every question she asked about his thoughts and emotions. In the dozens of hours they'd spent together since then, she'd gradually worn away his resistance. Now he tried to answer her questions as truthfully as he could. He still didn't like it.

"I'm not going to ask you to show me your arms," she promised him.

"You did the other day," he reminded her.

"That was because I was trying to find out whether you were injuring yourself, and you wouldn't tell me. Now I know, so I don't have to see."

"Anyway, what does it matter?" Mac asked. The anger or fear or whatever it was had dissolved now, and he tried to play it casual. He sat in his chair again, turning it around backwards to straddle it. "I mean, what the hell, my arms are so messed up from Wolfgang anyway, a few more scars won't make any difference."

"It matters that you still believe, at least at certain times, that you deserve to be hurt," Dr Suri said. "But we'll work on that again later. Right now, I want to try meditating together again for a few minutes. All right?"

Mac nodded. This was another part that he didn't like - but somehow, Dr Suri got him to do it anyway.

They both stood up, and Mac pushed the chairs to the side of the room while Dr Suri got the two round, black meditation cushions from the corner where she kept them. They settled on the cushions, cross-legged, facing each other.

"Now remember," Dr Suri said, "When thoughts or emotions come up, don't cling to them. Just observe them, and let them go. Don't judge them. There are no bad thoughts, though there are some, like guilt, and anger, which can be harmful to you. They harm you when you cling to them and let them control you. So just watch them float by, like autumn leaves on a breeze. Now start by concentrating on your breath going in... and out."

Mac let his gaze fall to a place on the floor just in front of him, as Dr Suri had instructed him before, and he breathed.


That night, for the first time, Vic asked Mac how the sessions with the psychiatrist were going. They were sitting on the couch, watching the golf channel because there was absolutely nothing on that they would both agree to watch.

Mac shrugged. "Fine. We talked about, um, last night, if that's what you're wondering."

"Yeah, kind of." Vic hesitated. "I guess I was wondering more generally, whether it's... helping you?" He looked at Mac. Mac was looking at the TV, so Vic got his profile. Mac was looking OK tonight - he was even fresh-shaven. Vic resisted an urge to kiss his smooth cheek; he knew Mac would take any distraction as an excuse to avoid the conversation Vic was trying to have.

Mac shrugged again. "I don't know. I go because the Director makes me. Dr Suri has all sorts of weird ideas about what we should do. One time last week, I went in and she had this colouring book, and crayons, and we spent the whole time colouring pictures of cute fuzzy animals." Mac made a face which clearly meant 'crazy woman!' and Vic laughed. "I don't see the point of it," Mac insisted. "No matter what she says, or gets me to say, it doesn't change anything. I don't want to talk about this, OK? How about we go rent a fucking movie?"

"OK," Vic said, and they went.


Mac started training at full intensity again, with the rest of the team. He wore long-sleeved shirts in the gym. He kept wearing pyjamas to bed, but Vic kept finding reasons to take them off him, and when Vic noticed fresh cuts he forced himself not to ask or worry or accuse, but only to kiss Mac and accept that this would take more time to heal.


"Good morning, Mac," Dr Suri greeted him.

"Hi," he replied, grabbing a free straight-back chair and straddling it backwards.

"Still keeping to the deal?"

"Yes," he said, his voice betraying his annoyance with this ritual they followed at the beginning of absolutely every session. "I haven't got drunk or high since the last time you asked. Why do you even bother? They're still 'randomly' drug testing me every other day."

"It's just important, is all," she explained willingly. "If ever you decide to start self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, I'll have to intervene quickly to stop that from spiralling into another huge problem you have to deal with."

"Meaning, you'll lock me up in the Agency psych ward," Mac clarified, glaring at her.

"Well, yes. So I want to make sure you're remembering." Dr Suri grabbed a pad of paper and a pen from her desk, and then sat down opposite Mac. "Today we're going to try something called a 'skills session.' It's different from the counselling sessions we've been doing. I'm not going to ask you how you feel about anything today."

"Well, good!" Mac said brightly. "I hate it when you do that."

Dr Suri replied with a grin. "I know. So, skills today. I believe you're ready now to start thinking about safer coping strategies that can replace self-injury."

"Like, getting drunk or getting high?" Mac suggested, putting on a hopeful face.

"No." Dr Suri gave him a stern look. "Those are not safer coping strategies."

Mac pouted.

"We're going to make a list together," Dr Suri said, indicating her pad of paper. "I have suggestions, and if anything occurs to you, you can suggest it, too."

"All right." Right here, right now, in this office with early morning sunlight streaming through the window and Dr Suri's calm presence beside him, Mac was willing to admit to himself that taking a knife to his own body was an extreme and inappropriate reaction to the feelings of guilt and self-hate which would come over him at other times. After all these sessions with Dr Suri, he was maybe even able to see that the murder of Chung Lee had not been his choice, and he didn't deserve to suffer for it forever. He also knew, from experience, that tonight when he was alone in Vic's apartment he would not be able to remember how he'd come to these conclusions.

"One thing you can do is find someone to talk to." She wrote that on the pad: 'Talk to someone.' "If Vic isn't home, try calling Li Ann. If she isn't answering her phone, or you don't want to talk to her, you can call this number." She wrote it down. "It's a 24-hour hotline. It's staffed by trained crisis counsellors, and it's not connected with the Agency in any way. It's all right to call them just to talk."

Mac shook his head. "I couldn't do that."

"Well, I've given you the number anyway, just in case." Dr Suri tapped the pad thoughtfully with the pencil, watching Mac. "Now, if you want to deal with things alone, there are various ways you might distract yourself from your immediate urge to self-injure. For instance, run yourself a warm bubble bath." She wrote it: 'Bubble bath.'

Mac looked at the item very sceptically.

"Or," Dr Suri went on, "get an ice cube, and hold it until it melts."

"What?" Mac said, even more sceptical about this one. "That sounds, uh, pretty silly, you know."

"I know that one sounds a bit strange," Dr Suri admitted. "But other patients have had some success with it. Holding an ice cube until it melts is somewhat painful, but it's not damaging. It's sort of a step down from real self-injury - like chewing nicotine gum when you're trying to quit smoking." She wrote it on the list: 'Hold an ice cube until it melts.'

Mac shrugged. "Whatever you say, Doc."


Vic was coming home late. He'd been on a stakeout with Jackie. In the end, they'd caught their target - the man who kept delivering advertising flyers to the Director's mailbox, despite her "No Flyers" sign. The operation had been a resounding success. The man had promised never to do it again.

As a salve to the indignity he'd felt over that mission, Vic had decided to surprise Mac with flowers. Now, hiding them behind his back and grinning, he opened the door to his apartment very, very quietly.

Mac was surprised, all right; he practically jumped when he saw Vic. Mac was standing in the middle of the kitchen, one fist clenched in front of him.

"What have you got in your hand?" Vic asked, momentarily puzzled.

"Nothing," Mac said. "Just an ice cube." He tossed a half-melted ice cube into the sink. "What have you got behind your back?"

With a smile, Vic pulled out the flowers. It was a dozen roses - six red, six white, mixed together. He was certain Mac would understand the symbolism. (He'd thought about getting pink, since that colour was red and white mixed - but then he'd decided that pink was just too girly.)

Mac gasped, and said "For me??" with exaggerated surprise, but it was clear that his delighted grin was real. "OK, Vic, that's pretty cool," he said. He grabbed the roses out of Vic's hand and set them on the table, and then took Vic's face in his hands and planted a kiss on Vic's lips.

"Hey, your hand is freezing," Vic protested.

"Ooops, sorry," Mac said, pulling away, all contrite.

"No, no. Let me warm it up for you." Vic grabbed at Mac's right hand, the cold one, and then quickly tugged his shirt out of his belt so that he could pull Mac's hand under his shirt and warm it up against his belly. Vic hissed at the first shock of icy cold, but wouldn't let Mac go. "What the hell were you doing with the ice cube, anyway?" he asked.

Mac shrugged. "Melting it." And then he kissed Vic. "Now I'll melt you."

Vic kissed Mac back, and decided to let the ice cube question drop - it was weird, sure, but no big deal. Mac's hand, now warm, travelled upwards under Vic's shirt to toy with his nipples.

"Hey, hey," Vic said, pulling away a bit, "let me put the roses in water."

He found a pitcher and filled it, with Mac roaming around him and randomly kissing his neck, his face, and his fingers the whole time. He put the flowers in, and then turned his full attention to Mac.

After a while, when he had Mac leaning against the wall with flushed lips and tousled hair and his shirt undone, Vic whispered, "I want to make love to you, Mac."

"All right," Mac said, nibbling at Vic's neck. "Sounds good."

"I want to do it gently, without hurting you. I know how now. I want it to be wonderful for you," Vic said, very seriously, cupping Mac's face in his hand.

"What, you've been practising with other men?" Mac asked in a teasing tone.

"No," Vic smirked, "Li Ann bought me a book."

Mac smiled. "She's a good woman, Li Ann."

Vic took Mac's hand, and led him to the bedroom. There, kissing and teasing, they undressed each other completely. Vic ran his fingers up and down Mac's hard, warm dick. "Are you ready, love?" he asked.

"oooh yes," Mac groaned.

Vic got a condom, and the bottle of water-based lubricant he'd bought a while ago. He didn't unwrap the condom yet; he just left it on the bedside table, in easy reach. Mac lay down on his stomach, and Vic squirted lube on his fingers. With his other hand, he caressed Mac's back, while he very gently inserted just the tip of one finger into Mac's anus. Mac moaned, and even bucked a little. "Slowly, slowly," Vic murmured, inserting his finger just a little more and moving it around. This felt both strange and natural. He remembered the diagrams he'd studied in the book. Mac felt so tight, even around his finger; Vic's own penis twitched with anticipation, but Vic concentrated on Mac's pleasure. He curved his finger slightly, wondering how he'd know when he brushed Mac's prostate, and Mac yelped.

"Are you all right?" Vic asked.

"Yes, yes, oh yes!" Mac insisted. "Please, more," he begged.

"All right," Vic said, and withdrew his finger so that he could, slowly and carefully, insert two at once. "You have to tell me to stop if you feel any pain. OK Mac? Promise?"

"I promise," Mac mumbled into the pillow.

After a while, Vic guessed that Mac was loosened up enough to take Vic's whole penis without pain or tearing. "Is it all right if I penetrate you now?" he asked, drawing his fingers out.

"Yes!" Mac encouraged him, "Oh God yes!"

Vic unwrapped the condom and unrolled it over his aching dick. Then he squirted lots and lots of lube on it, and rubbed it a bit to make sure every part was slippery and wet.

He straddled Mac, and, poised over his opening, leaned over to kiss the nape of Mac's neck. "Are you ready?" he whispered.

"Oh, Vic, how many times do I have to tell you?" Mac moaned. "I'm ready!"

So Vic slipped his penis inside Mac. He could tell this was different from the first time; the entry felt much smoother, and though Mac cried out as Vic entered, it sounded like a cry of ecstasy, not pain. And to Vic, it felt even better than the last time. He moved easily in and out, feeling the pleasure build. All thoughts floated away, except for awareness of wonderful, wonderful sensation. He slowed down, bringing himself back from the edge, making it last. Mac had his head turned to the side, so Vic was able to kiss along the line of his jaw. Vic drank in Mac's every moan and gasp, all of them adding to his own pleasure.

Finally Vic gave in to Mac's begging and increased the tempo of his thrusting. He felt himself hurtling inexorably toward the edge, and just before he fell over it, he heard Mac yell and saw him arch his back. Awareness of Mac's orgasm was enough to trigger Vic's own, and for a moment all awareness of self and other was lost, and there was only skin and sweat and joy and a sense of explosion.

Vic lay on top of Mac, panting and feeling wonderful. Mac was panting underneath him, too. Vic held on to the top of the condom and pulled out of Mac, and then, with a twinge of worry, checked for blood. There wasn't any. Relieved and happy, Vic peeled the condom off and tossed it in the trash. Mac rolled over.

Vic saw tears in Mac's eyes. He felt fear.

"What's wrong?" he asked, almost desperately.

"Nothing." Mac's eyes glittered with tears, but he was smiling. He grabbed Vic's shoulders and pulled him towards himself. "Come here and kiss me. I'm happy, Vic. I'm happy."


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Author's Notes

Title: Unforgivable
Author: Shadowscast
Fandom: OaT
Pairing: Vic/Mac
Rating/Warnings: NC-17 . m/m sex, s/m, b/d, rape/nc, explicit violence
Spoilers: the Pilot, True Blue, Mac Daddy, and Li Ann's Choice.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Alliance. This was written for fun, not profit.

Mac is haunted by an event from his past, and traumatized by a nasty mission he gets sent on in the present. Vic is there to try to pick up the pieces.

General comments: Thanks to Nicole for the beta, and to LeFey who also beta'd the first parts. And finally, a big huge thanks to Carla J for the tape!

Feedback is always welcome.

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