Everybody Hurts
Double the Fun VII

Angyl, Orithain & Rina

December 2001

Disclaimers: Victor, Mac, the Director and everyone you recognize from Once a Thief belong to Alliance-Atlantis, and Alex Krycek belongs to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions.

Mac Ramsey was in hell.

He found it perversely amusing that hell smelled of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol and was populated by twin demons that looked like his partner, demons that he still had a hard time telling apart at times.

Hell was waking each day to go to work, only to have to watch Victor and Alex salivating all over each other or - even worse - groping each other when they thought no one was watching.

And Mac was always watching.

He knew Vic didn't understand his sudden withdrawal, but since the other man seemed too busy with his new lover to ask what was wrong, the topic remained closed - not that Mac would have explained to begin with. If Vic hadn't picked up on any of the times he'd tried to edge their relationship toward a more intimate one, well, he certainly didn't need to hear about it now.

Feeling more adrift and alone then he had since leaving the Tangs, Mac got his revenge in small, subtle ways. Nothing that would affect the job; he certainly didn't want the Director on his case more than she was already. The looks he got from both Vic and Alex every time he called them by the sarcastic nicknames he'd given them, however, were a bit of a balm to the ex-thief's injured soul.

Thing 1 and Thing 2. He really didn't know how he'd decided on the Dr. Seuss reference as a way to egg the couple on, but it fit. In fact, considering that he'd been half-drunk when he'd come up with it, at the time it had been damn hilarious.

Drinking and smoking filled up a lot of Mac's free time since returning from New Orleans. He hadn't realized just how much time he and Vic spent together until he found himself at loose ends when denied the other man's company. Trips to the bar they used to frequent after work were now out; either Vic was there with Alex, or they weren't there at all, and Mac just didn't feel like dealing with Jackie or Li Ann on nights like that.

So he went out. The louder and darker the club, the better. The wilder and more incendiary the crowd, the more he craved it. Nights blurred into neon-tinted dreamscapes that ended more often than not with him crawling out of bed, hung-over and hurting, to find some anonymous male or female next to him.

Party on, dude. That's what life was all about, right?

Plastering a grin on his face and shoving his feelings to the back of his brain, Mac followed Victor into the strip club. "So why are we here again? I told you I could live without seeing your old girlfriends again." They commandeered seats next to the stage, and Mac cast a jaded eye up at the peroxide blonde gyrating against the pole.

"MY old girlfriends? You're the one they knew by name, buddy boy!" Vic exclaimed, taking a seat on a stool.

"Yeah," Mac snorted, "but they knew you by other things - or so I've heard tell."

Cuffing the younger man, Vic retorted with a grin. "You deserved to get thrown in that drunk tank with Moe and Curly or whatever their names are. It's your turn to order the beer, Casanova."

Mac rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, wishing he hadn't when the look revealed the presence of too much grease and dust for his comfort. He flagged down a waitress and propped her on his knee, his arm around her waist while he ordered beers for them both. When she returned, he tipped her well, picked up his bottle and clinked it against Vic's. "To your domestic bliss."

Vic blushed. "Yeah, well. Thanks for the basket. It meant a lot to me, Mac. I've missed you," the older man admitted with a boyish grin. "Go on, say it, give it your best insult, you know you wanna."

The ex-thief took a drink, draining most of the bottle, then shrugged, not feeling up to a discussion of Vic's home life right then. "Don't know what you mean."

Laughing, Vic continued. "You don't wanna call me a co-dependent, ex-cop dork?" Feeling the younger man's forehead, he laughed harder when it got swatted away. "I'm shocked!"

Mac gave a half-smile before downing the rest of his beer and motioning to the waitress for another. "Nah, no point. If I did, your boyfriend would find out and shoot me, then where would the ladies of Toronto be?"

"Only if I tell him, and I don't really feel like it. Besides I don't tell him everything. Didn't tell him I was coming to watch naked go-go dancers bump and grind in a strip club - he thinks we're at the HoChiMinh enjoying martinis and crawdads or something," the older man replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

After glancing at the nearest dancer, who gave him her best promising smile, Mac looked back at Vic. "I somehow don't think he's concerned about you watching a bunch of women. Maybe we should have gone to Church Street if you wanted him to worry about you."

Vic snickered. "Hate to break it to you, Ramsey, but just because I live with a guy, it doesn't mean I don't still like to look at women. I was engaged to Li Ann, remember? That smile on her face wasn't from a good night's sleep most of the time," he bragged as he teased the younger man.

Mac took another drink and fished in his suit jacket, bringing out his cigarettes and lighting one up. "Yeah, but he knows you won't touch; that's the kind of guy you are, Vic-tor." He blew a stream of smoke toward the ceiling. "And he sure as hell isn't worried about Li Ann or anyone else."

Rubbing his neck, Vic blushed. "Apart from wanting to kill her about forty-seven different ways and then give the body to the Director, you mean?"

"Yeah, apart from that," Mac murmured, contemplating the smoke rising in front of him. "I never realized that she..."

Vic eyed the younger man's cigarette with distaste but said nothing. "Never realized what, Einstein? That Kitty over there has been salivating over you for the past twenty-five minutes?"

Mac glanced toward the woman, slipping some money in her G-string when she danced over, but it was obvious that he wasn't into the display of curves and cleavage that she flashed him. "Yeah, that's it." He drained his second beer and called for another. "Guess I'm slipping."

The older man eyed his partner and friend thoughtfully. "Mac, what's wrong? Really?"

"Nothing at all," Mac answered, grinning at the waitress when she brought his drink. "I'm A-OK."

Vic rolled his eyes. "Hey, I used to be a detective, remember? Try another one, Ace."

"There's nothing wrong, Victor. Really." Mac stubbed his cigarette out after lighting another one off it. "Now, I thought you were going to watch the lovely ladies."

Sighing, Vic let it go. "Sure, Mac. You know you can always talk to me though, right? That hasn't changed. You're still my partner. And I'm glad you're my friend again. So, which one of them do you think would come out on top in a steel cage fight?"

Mac opened his mouth to answer, then stopped when Vic continued speaking, going on about the match. "Don't know, bet if we paid enough, we could find out." He gave a cynical smile as another girl danced by. Vic groaned. "And then the Director would have our balls. You know she doesn't like us to watch anyone but her in a cage fight - she gets downright testy about it."

The younger man chuckled silently, wondering just who would win a steel cage fight between the Director and Alex. "Good point, just don't say it too loud or she'll really make us watch her in one - in that hand-stitched corset."

Shuddering, he took a huge swallow of beer to wash the taste out. "God. That's almost as terrifying as that time she made me pretend to be married to Jackie!" Vic took another swallow.

Mac blew a perfect smoke ring into the air and watched it rise. "Well, you won't have to do that any more, and it couldn't have been any worse than the last time Li Ann and I had to do it."

Imitating Jackie's whiny voice, the ex-cop began to speak. "Like, Vic, babe, do you think I look fat in this silver lame, skintight band aid thing? I mean, like does it clash with my eight-inch platform fuck me shoes and way too teased peroxide blonde hair?"

"Poor baby," Mac said, patting Vic's arm in condolence. "You survived, though. She was probably whining because you wanted to borrow the band aid thing is all."

"Nahhh, silver lame isn't me - now the turquoise sequined tube top with the hot pink pvc miniskirt..." Vic grinned. "I think I got the legs for it."

Mac snorted and took a drink. "In your dreams. You'd have to shave 'em first."

"You saying I don't have legs to show off? I'll show you legs!" Grinning, Vic stood and headed over to talk to the club owner, then disappeared from sight. A short time later the music changed and instead of a woman, Vic strutted out in a fake cop outfit and began to strip to the music.

Mac's eyes nearly bugged out of his head, and he managed to keep his chin off the counter - barely. He swallowed hard and ordered a double shot of tequila, which he slammed back. "Get the hook!" he shouted, trying to focus on the curtain behind Vic and not his disrobing partner but not succeeding very well.

The man on the stage laughed and threw his shirt at Mac, blushing at the catcalls from the females and some of the males in the audience then wove his way off the stage and shrugged into his leather jacket. "I can't believe I just did that. Fuck, I've gotta be more drunk than I thought."

Mac draped Vic's shirt around his neck, then pouted when he abandoned the stage. "Hey, you didn't give me a chance to tip you."

Vic smirked. "Oooh, a big spender! You can get the next round. Again."

The younger man looked incredulous. "You're the one with the sugar daddy; you're buying."

"Sugar daddy? I don't think so! More like a grouchy, surly, nasty, drop dead... never mind. Fine, I've got the next round. But I'll have you know that I'm worth every penny, so there!"

Sobering, Mac took a long draw from his smoke before signaling for another double. "Yeah, I bet you are," he muttered, knocking the shot back before pushing to his feet. "I need to get going."

"Mac!" Vic groaned in frustration. "Okay look, I won't mention him again, okay? I'm sorry. I know you can't stand him and I know you're trying. I'm sorry. Really."

"Don't worry about it, Victor. He makes you happy, good for you both. What I think doesn't matter. And I do need to go. Places to see, people to do." He turned, a little unsteady on his feet, and headed out the door toward the parking lot.

"Maaaac," Vic bellowed as he watched his friend leave. "God dammit, why won't you talk to me?"

Mac got out to his car and climbed inside then rested his head on the steering wheel, his hands fisted in his lap. "You can do this, Ramsey, he muttered, then inhaled and realized he still had Vic's shirt slung around his neck and groaned. "Fuck... it's gonna kill me though."

Back in the bar Vic slumped back onto the stool, taking a shot of tequila himself. "Honey, lemme give you a little advice," the bartender said kindly as she filled his shot glass while snapping her gum. "He ain't gonna talk to you about his problem because you're his problem. That boy's eyes nearly ate you alive when you were on stage. He's got a thing for you, sugar, and it's a bad one. So I think you'd best give him some space and time and see if he comes around on his own. It's the best you can do. That and stay his friend."

Vic studied the bartender carefully, gauging her words against Mac's actions. At last the light began to dawn that maybe, just maybe, Mac felt something for him too. "Jesus. Oh fuck!" he breathed silently then dropped his head to the bar top. God dammit, Ramsey, couldn't you have said anything before I got together with Alex? he silently cursed his partner, knowing that it would probably have ended the way it did, anyway.

Now all Vic had to do was figure out how to handle wanting and loving two very different men, one he lived with and one he called his best friend.

Monday morning. God, the damn things should be illegal, especially when they started off with a team meeting - read torture session - with the Director and the other members of the happy little family.

Sucking in a final drag on his cigarette, Mac flicked the butt into the parking lot, then headed inside, letting the smoke stream from his lips once he was through the doors in a small show of defiance against the Agency's 'no smoking' directive.

"Mac!" The ex-thief stopped, closing his eyes for a moment. He loved Li Ann, but right now he didn't want to deal with her, not when he knew what she was going to say.

Sure enough, a diatribe on Alex, Vic being with Alex, and their having to work with Alex followed. God, if Mac heard Alex Krycek's name one more time, he was going to go postal. It was easier to ignore Vic's double, to try and pretend the other man didn't exist. Granted, it usually didn't work, but Mac tried.

"...I'd rather work with Jackie than him! There's just something wrong with him, why can't Vic see that?" Li Ann's low-voiced monologue continued until finally Mac was on the verge of screaming.

"Look, you don't like it, and I don't like it, but the Dragonlady says we have to work with him, so just drop it for a while, okay?"

Li Ann's dark eyes widened as she stared at her former lover, surprised by his actions - or inactions. Mac had certainly never missed a chance to take a verbal swipe at Victor when she'd been with him; she'd been sure he'd be happy to do the same now.

Ignoring the measuring looks Li Ann kept shooting in his direction, Mac led the way to the conference room, wondering what hell they were in for today. The Director was seated at the head of the table, and this fact was probably the only thing keeping Alex and Victor from mauling each other, though each of them did have a hand under the table.

Mac shuddered, not even wanting to travel down that line of thought. Please, God, let whatever insanity she has this time partner me up with Li Ann or Jackie, please, he begged silently, paying only minimal attention to the briefing, knowing that the details would be in the packets they were given.

"I want Li Ann, Victor, and Jackie to work the club angle. Mac and Alex, you're on surveillance for the shipping dock."

That little piece of information had Mac sitting straight up in his seat. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hang on there a minute, don't you have that mixed up?"

The Director glanced at her folder, then shook her head, her expression dangerously benign. "There's no mistake. I want all my children to play together nicely, and it seems that there's been a bit of dissension among you lately. That being the case, I'm going to rotate pairings until you all can work together. Do you understand?"

Vic looked nervously from Mac to Alex and back. When the Director turned to confront his younger partner, the ex-cop leaned in close to his lover and whispered, "Please behave with him, okay. He really is a great guy. And he's one of my best friends, you being the other."

Sitting back quickly, Vic found the Director smiling at him with one of those smiles. "So nice to see you're still a grown up here at work, Vic. After all, those pet names Alex has for you..." she trailed off with a rabid grin, letting both men know that she still knew what was going on in their condo, despite Alex's efforts to the contrary. Fuck. They were gonna have to move and move soon!

Flashing the redheaded woman a sickly smile, he made a pathetic imitation of laughing. "Ha-ha. Good joke, just one slight problem. I don't do clubs. Especially sex clubs." Remembering where the Director had found him in New Orleans and what he'd been doing at the time, Vic quickly corrected himself. "Straight sex clubs, that is."

The Director arched an eyebrow in amusement before moving around the table to rest her hands on Vic and Alex's shoulders, ignoring the assassin's expression as she did so. "Which is exactly why you're going in with the girls, Victor."

"C'mon, why don't you let the two lovebirds nest outside; I'll deal with the inside job," Mac interjected, knowing there was no way the Director was going to agree to that but hoping for a miracle.

"Hard for Victor to do surveillance with his head in Alex's lap, wouldn't you say?" Li Ann whispered, smiling benignly at the others all the while.

Alex bared his teeth at her. "He is so very good at that, isn't he," he agreed. "Bet that vibrator of yours doesn't leave you feeling nearly as good." He shifted his chair closer to Vic's, an arm coiling around his lover's shoulders affectionately as their sides pressed together. "It must be hell to have had perfection and know that you threw it away," he commiserated, just hoping Vic wouldn't decide he was going too far and jab him in the ribs.

"Jesus, here we go again." Mac rubbed at his temples as he shook his head. "Can we just get to the point here? This is all getting really old, and I've got better things to do with my life than listen to you two bitch at each other."

"My goodness, Mac. Keep acting like that and I may have to concede that you've actually grown up." The Director paused, then continued, "A bit."

Vic shot a measured look at the older man plastered against him and leaned over to whisper softly. "Behave, will ya, or she'll make us do something really disgusting. I, for one, don't wanna clean out Dobie's septic tank; Mac reeked for a week after the fact, and he was showering three times a day!"

Sitting up straighter, Vic glared at Li Ann. "I'm sorry I didn't follow your game plan and wait around until you decided who you wanted to marry and who you wanted to screw over. I got a better offer. Someone who actually loves me unconditionally and without any of the headgames everyone here seems fond of. Deal with it; it's not gonna change, and next time you have something to say, have the courtesy to say it to me instead of using Alex as your punching bag. The only thing he's ever done to you is defend me, a novel concept for everyone here, I'm sure."

Turning back to the Director, he bowed his head slightly in apology, but God dammit, he was tired of having to defend his actions and his choices at every turn. Thank God he'd never told Alex that Li Ann actually cornered him one day and laid into him over his so called 'choices' in a major way. They'd never have found her body. He could hardly believe that this bitter, sharp-tongued woman was the same one he nearly married. Talk about your close calls.

Alex hugged Vic closer to him, glared at Li Ann a final time, and turned his attention to Mac finally. He actually let go of Vic and straightened up in his chair before speaking, trying not to make Mac any more uncomfortable than he already was.

"Much as I hate to admit it, she's right," he said, tilting his head in the Director's direction. "Our lives could depend on each other at any moment, so we do need to learn to work together and trust each other." And Vic still cares about you, so there's got to be something to you. You got points with me with that basket too, Macky, so let's give this a whirl. "I promise not to try to drive you nuts," he offered with a crooked grin, giving Mac more of a glimpse of his real self than he'd offered to anyone there, other than Vic.

Mac's solemn gaze flicked from Alex, to Victor, then to the Director before coming back to the assassin. The grin made him look even more like Vic, and Mac wasn't sure if he liked that fact; it made Alex seem more human somehow.

"Fine. Can't be... a bad thing to do." He'd been on the verge of saying 'can't be worse than some of the other things I've had to do here,' but common sense made Mac swallow the remark. It looked like a truce had been called, and he wasn't going to be the one to break it. Besides, if the chips came down, he knew Alex and Vic were going to save each other's asses; the only one he could depend on anymore was himself.

Alex knew Mac would be surprised if he realized how easy he was to read, but the former Consortium operative usually had a pretty good idea of what the ex-thief was thinking. Maybe it had something to do with their common disregard for laws that didn't make sense to them, or maybe it was the brotherhood of men who loved Vic Mansfield, but at that moment he knew exactly what Mac was thinking. Mac didn't believe he could trust them to watch his back, and strangely, Alex found that that bothered him.

The incredibly irritating, brash young man had managed to find a chink in Alex's armor, and he found himself actually liking Mac. "Hey, smile, Mac, you might find that having someone with my dubious skills on your side can be a benefit," Alex laughed, ignoring the expression of disbelief on Li Ann's face and the satisfaction shown by both the Director and Jackie. He glanced from Mac to Vic, not sure how either of them was going to take his rather abrupt change of attitude.

Vic half smiled and watched both men, his soul suddenly feeling lighter. Maybe things were going to be okay after all. Li Ann, well, her viper's tongue had done more to destroy any hope of rebuilding their relationship than his being with Alex could ever have done. That ship had sailed, and he'd be damned if he'd try and catch it. The Director was a law unto herself, and Jackie thought they were cute, cute! Vic fought back a groan of disbelief.

But the one relationship that he did give a damn about that had existed before Alex seemed to be on the mend. The ground was still shaky, and he had a feeling there were gonna be rough patches ahead, but Mac and Alex had declared a truce. If he were Irish, he'd be dancing a jig right now.

Squeezing Alex's hand tightly in thanks, Vic leaned forward to look at Mac. "Feel like coming over for dinner tonight and watching the game with us? We've still got that bottle of Dom to crack open," he offered with a smile. "And I'll even make sure that Alex and I sit in separate chairs. Scout's honor."

Reminding himself that he could deal with this, Mac settled back in his chair, offering the two identical men an easy grin. "Minor problem there, sport. Tonight Alex and I are going to be sitting in a car, watching an alley while you and the ladies are enjoying the dubious pleasures of the Powertool Club. Maybe some other time though."

Li Ann's sneer now encompassed Mac as well as Vic and Alex, and she turned to the Director for support only to find the redhead smiling indulgently at the boys. "You... This... Argh!"

Shifting in the seat of the sports car, Mac massaged a leg that was on the verge of falling asleep and sighed, flicking a glance from the club's back entrance to the car's other occupant. He'd never been so freakin' bored in his life! Anything was better than sitting in silence like this, so he bit the bullet and spoke.

"So, how do you like Toronto so far?"

Inside the club, despite the blaring techno and gyrating bodies, the scene was pretty similar. Li Ann was ignoring Vic, who was ignoring Li Ann. Vic, though not quite sure how their relationship had become this... nightmare, was not willing to give in on this. Li Ann wanted to play the queen bitch, fine, he had no problems with that.

Standing suddenly, Vic held out a hand to Jackie. "The Director said blend in, scope things out. Well, come on, blondie, let's go join the crowd and stop acting like wall fixtures."

Not even looking back at their other partner, Vic pulled Jackie out onto the dance floor, smack into the middle of the crowd, the heat and the noise. And then he surprised the blonde he was with, the sullen Asian beauty and a few other Agency operatives scattered around the place with really being able to get into the gyrating, pulsating beat and look damn good doing so.

"LIKE, I DIDN'T KNOW YOU COULD DANCE TO YOUNGER MUSIC, VIC," Jackie bellowed over the noise, "AND LIKE, IS YOUR TOO NASTY SO GONNA HURT ME FOR THIS?"

"RELAX," Vic yelled back, "'LEX IS A PUSSYCAT, AND BESIDES, IF I DIDN'T GET AWAY FROM THE STONE BITCH, I'D HAVE STRANGLED HER, AND THEN THE DIRECTOR WOULD HAVE BEEN PISSED, AND ALEX WOULD HAVE WANTED TO HURT SOMEONE!"

"LIKE, GOOD POINT. OKAY, VIC-MAN, LET'S SHOW!"

Alex looked at Mac as if he were nuts but played along. "It's got its upside. At least I don't have people trying to kill me every time I turn around. And no silos," he added softly, a strange look crossing his face. "I even like most of the people. I can handle the snoopy dragonbitch, but Li Ann... whewwww! You were actually engaged to her?"

The ex-thief frowned slightly, wondering just what had caused the other man to look like he'd just had a goose walk over his grave. "I wasn't engaged to her," he answered, turning to look out the window toward the club's back entrance again. "That was Vic. I was just in love with her, but that was a long time ago."

Alex snorted. "Semantics. You wanted her to leave Hong Kong with you. That sounds pretty major to me." He shook his head. "So tell me, was she really so different back then, or were you and Vic both subjects of some mind-altering experiment? You both seem to have a lot better taste than Little Miss Arctic."

Mac sighed. Li Ann had been unreasonably bitchy to everyone lately. Was she still in love with Victor, or was she just that homophobic? He really wasn't sure and honestly didn't want to know.

"She was different then. So was I, and so was Vic when they were together. He really fell apart when she broke things off with him, but I'm sure he's told you all about that. I thought I'd be happy when it happened but..." He shook his head and reached for a cigarette, pausing before lighting it. "You mind?"

"Not at all. I'll just sit here and inhale the smell," Alex said with a crooked grin. "Damn, it's been nearly ten years, and I still want one every time I smell someone light up. I think I've been enjoying your habit more than you do."

He turned to face Mac. "I just can't see either of you with her," he admitted, shaking his head. With each other definitely, but not her.

"I'd offer you one, but I know how Vic disapproves of smoking. Don't want to get you in trouble with him." Mac flicked the wheel of his lighter and touched the cigarette to the flame, inhaling and leaning back against the seat before letting the smoke trail out the open window.

"There was a time when I couldn't see anything else. When I got here and found out that she was engaged..." He took another drag from the cigarette, not realizing his reaction to Victor closely mirrored how he felt about Alex right now. "But you get over things. You have to if you want to survive."

"That's easier said than done sometimes," Alex replied quietly, his eyes haunted as he looked past Mac at something only he saw. "Some things you can only bury down deep and lock up so tight you hope they never get free again." He looked at Mac for an instant, surprised at himself and at how comfortable he felt with the younger man now that he wasn't constantly trying to keep him away Vic.

Damnit, now Alex had Mac curious as to what he was talking about. "Yeah, guess I know what you mean." He'd seen and done things on the streets of Hong Kong that he'd locked behind thick walls in his memory, hoping they'd never break free to haunt him. Perhaps it was the fact that they both shared a less than savory past, but for a moment, he felt a kinship with the former assassin. "Problem with that is when they do get out, they bite you in the ass big time." He took a final drag and started to toss the butt into the alley, then reconsidered and used the ashtray instead.

Vic's eyes narrowed as he watched the bartender slide something across the bar to a customer. A gun. Fuck. They were gunrunning here. "Jackie, I made 'em. The bartender and the guy who's - fuck, he's leaving. Get Li Ann to warn Mac and Alex, then take care of the bartender; I'm going after the other guy. It's guns, Jackie, so watch out."

Wending his way through the crowd, sometimes shoving through when he had to, Vic tried to keep the buyer in sight, but there was no way he'd be able to catch up with him 'til he got outside. He just hoped that Li Ann would do her job and warn Mac and Alex. Jackie would do her part, of that he had no doubt. A sorry thing when you actually trusted the peroxide blonde more than you did your ex-fiancée.

A little surprised at first by Mac's understanding, Alex had turned toward to him to reply when something made him turn back toward the rear entrance to the bar. His eyes widened slightly when he saw someone come out, something screaming "danger" to him.

"Mac--" Before he could say anything more, the guy spotted them, looked panicked and suddenly had a gun in his hand.

"Shit," Mac hissed, reaching for his gun and ducking to the side, seeing Alex do the same out of the corner out of his eye. Both of them threw open their doors and rolled out of the car as the man coming out of the back door opened fire on them, shattering the windshield.

Diving for the cover of the back side of the car, Mac felt the shock as several more bullets hit the vehicle, then Alex slid down beside him. "So glad we got some notice from inside," Mac rasped, lifting his head enough to get a look at the shooter, wishing he could anticipate Alex's moves like he could any of the others.

Vic pushed against the crowd, which was even more crowded back in the dimly lit rear of the club. Heavy make out sessions were going on; he could smell the sickly sweet aroma of pot being smoked and God knew what else. There were soft moans, wet slapping, lazy whispers all around him. Normally he'd have been amused, but at the moment all he wanted to do was fire a couple of shots into the ceiling to get the crowd moving and get them the hell out of his way! He needed to get outside. He just had a very bad feeling about this.

"I'm going to have a long talk with someone about that," Alex growled, cautiously peering around the end of the car to accurately place his target. "But first, we need to take care of this idiot." Totally pissed and wondering where the hell Vic was and what had happened to him, he suddenly rolled out from behind the vehicle, trying to get a bead on the man.

"Seriously," Mac growled, popping off a few shots in the general direction of their assailant, distracting him until Alex was under cover again. Where the hell were Vic, Jackie and Li Ann? Stopping this guy while they were stuck out here wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination, and if someone else showed up, they'd be royally fucked.

As if waiting for that cue, two more people appeared at the back entrance to the club, neither of the shapes the comforting ones of their partners. "Fuck, more company. You think someone was handing out invitations in there?"

There was a sudden shattering sound, and all of a sudden Vic was caught in a mass exodus to the front of the building; it was like swimming against the tide or something equally impossible. "Hey, a blonde just bagged the bartender; man that had to hurt; it was like a karate kick right between the legs!" someone shouted, making all the young men wince around him.

"Guess Jackie got her guy; now if only I could get the fuck outside to get mine!" he snarled, then cursed as he watched two more men, both with semi-automatics, slip outside.

Alex snarled, "I think I want to get my hands on the idiots inside. I just know that Li Ann is responsible for this somehow." He fired quickly, managing to wing one of the men, but none of them seemed likely to give up any time soon. "Where the fuck is our back up?"

"If I knew, I'd be dragging their asses out here!" Mac answered, getting off a shot, then cursing when he saw the original bad guy angling around to get a clean line of fire at Alex, who hadn't seen him yet.

"Look out!" he shouted, popping off a round at the shooter and launching himself to hit the older man mid-body, bringing him to the ground as a shot echoed in his ears. Flaring pain burned across his side just as they hit the floor, and Mac bit back a groan. Fuck, the things I do for you, Victor, he thought, feeling wet warmth seeping down over his stomach before everything went black.

"MAAAC!" Vic bellowed as he watched his partner shove Alex out of the way and then go down. Alex came up shooting, but Mac... "NO!" Firing off round after round at first the shooter, who'd spun at the sound of his bellow, and then his accomplices, Vic barely heard Alex doing the same and pretty soon the fight was over, the smoke was clearing, and Vic was cradling his partner's head in his lap.

"Jesus, Alex, call an ambulance. Where the fuck is Li Ann; she was supposed to be out here to warn you and cover your backs!

"Mac, come on, hang in there buddy, please. I mean, we survived the rooftop lair together, getting shot by clowns, Dr. Fry and Michael and Pucci. C'mon, Mac, don't you dare let a little old thing like some gun running take you down. You hear me?"

Feeling oddly insulated, hearing Vic's words at a distance, Alex first made sure the shooters were all down and not getting back up, then called 9-1-1 for assistance for Mac. He stared down at the young man bleeding in Vic's lap, and he started to shake his head slowly. Not again. Not ever fucking again. "No," he whispered, not realizing he was speaking aloud. "Not going to let another partner down, not again, no, please God, no." He stood over Mac and Vic, gun in his hand, not even moving when the police and paramedics arrived, the former yelling at him to drop the weapon.

He finally tore anguished green eyes away from the man on the ground to stare at the police. A single tear brimmed over and rolled down his cheek, weirdly reflecting the flashing red lights. He simply stared at them as he allowed the gun to fall from nerveless fingers, indifferent to his own fate.

"Alex!! Help me here!" Vic bellowed, trying to get his lover to snap out of it. "He's not gonna die, okay, but we gotta staunch the blood. I need the medical kit from the car. Come on, Alex, I need you. Mac needs us both, lover, please!"

The ex-cop ignored his former brothers in blue, his attention torn between Alex and Mac, trying to keep one sane and the other alive. He talked until he was hoarse, but he was damned if he was gonna give up on either!

Vic's monologue finally got through Alex's self-castigation, and he blinked dazedly, registering the cops and medics surrounding them, working on Mac and eyeing him warily. Fortunately, Vic had eventually given enough attention to the police to identify them as government agents and prevent the cops from arresting Alex.

Alex shook his head, trying to clear it, then focused on his partners, seeing with relief that Mac's wound wasn't fatal. He spared a reassuring smile for Vic, then a narrowed green glare swept the area looking for Li Ann and Jackie. Not seeing them, he put it aside for the moment. Right now they had to get Mac to the hospital, then he and Vic could find out what happened to the women. Somehow though, Alex was pretty sure that Li Ann was going to be the problem. He trusted Jackie to watch his back, so he was pretty sure that she would have a real reason for not having been out here. He was equally sure, however, that Li Ann's dislike of him was her only reason for not being there for them. Maybe this time Vic would let him shoot her.

"Come on, Vic," Alex said finally, "let's get the car and get over to the hospital. Mac's gonna need a ride once they finish patching him up."

Vic paced the waiting room, growling at anyone who tried to enter, trying desperately not to punch something or someone. He'd never been so fucking pissed off in his life. Mac was in surgery having a bullet removed from his gut because their back-up, their partners and, more importantly, his ex-fiancée and Mac's self-proclaimed sister, hadn't shown up to warn Alex and Mac in time. If she dared to stick her face anywhere near here, Vic wasn't sure he'd be able to control himself.

Glancing at Alex, who was sprawling on one of the most uncomfortable chairs that anyone had ever made, he couldn't even dredge up an ounce of sympathy for his ex as he observed the ice in the older man's eyes. Li Ann had better pray that he got to her first because there might not be a lot left after Alex was finished. He knew that look far too well to think any differently. Their partners were in deep shit.

A white towel wafted in front of the door, and Vic's hand twitched and began to reach for his gun instinctively, but then Jackie's voice managed to make its muffled way to his enraged mind. "Like, I got the guy at the bar, Vic - the one who was dealing. That's why I was late. Is Mac okay?" she asked, risking life and limb by peeking around the doorjamb.

"He's in surgery. It's not good, but it could have been a lot worse. Y'mind telling me just where the fuck Li Ann was? She was close enough to the door that she should have gotten outside without a problem and warned our back up!" he snarled.

Alex raised his head, cold, distant green eyes focusing on Jackie, then turning toward the door, checking to see if that bitch he wanted dead was there as well. Unfortunately, it appeared that she did have some modicum of a sense of self-preservation since she was nowhere to be seen.

He turned back to Jackie and Vic for a moment before slumping in his chair again, seemingly having no intention of moving even an inch until they had news about Mac.

Moving over to stand behind his lover, Vic wrapped his arms around Alex's shoulders and rested his chin on the older man's head after pressing a kiss to its softness. "He'll be all right, 'Lex, you'll see. He's stubborn and arrogant and too damn slick to die. Besides, he has too much fun driving us nuts. He'd miss out on so much if he..." Vic broke off, not wanting to say what he knew wouldn't happen. It was simply his own fears coming to the foreground.

"Mind telling me what happened, boys and girls?" the Director asked from where she leaned against the doorjamb, a mahogany eyebrow arched inquiringly. Behind her Vic could see Li Ann hovering in the background. With a snarl unlike any his teammates or his boss had ever heard before, the ex-cop let go of Alex and launched himself at his former fiancée. "You total bitch!" he growled. "It's bad enough you take out your bigotry on me, and I've even gotten used to you doing it to Alex, even though he doesn't deserve it either, but to let Mac get shot just because you couldn't be bothered... God, you are such a bitch!"

"Victor, enough!" the Director cautioned, her eyes growing stony, silently cautioning her agent to back away.

"Not nearly enough," the ex-cop snarled furiously. "If she ever, ever endangers someone else I... I love because of her narrow-minded spite, so help me..." Whirling away, Vic clenched his fists in impotent rage before turning back. "You never used to be like this, Li Ann. What the hell changed? I just don't get you any more. I wonder if I ever did."

Li Ann's back drew ramrod straight, and her chin went up in the air. "I was doing my job, Victor. Do you think I like the idea that Mac was shot? I shouldn't have to explain myself to you. You used to trust that I would do my job; is it so hard to do that now?"

She shot a look at Alex, then nodded, ignoring the warning hand the Director laid on her arm and the startled look Jackie shot her way. "I couldn't get out to warn them because I was dealing with the two other goons who were heading around the front side. Forgive me if my not being there has ruined your plans for the evening because of having to come here."

Narrowing her eyes, she shot a murderous glare at the other agents. "If you'll excuse me now, I'm going to see how Mac is." Turning on her heel, Li Ann stormed up to the nurses' station and within seconds was being allowed back into the emergency room.

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't shoot her right now?" Alex growled, glaring after the 24-karat bitch.

"Because, like, you'd be arrested for murder," Jackie offered.

"I said a good reason," Alex snarled before offering an apologetic glance to the blonde. Much to Vic's bewilderment, Alex actually liked the valleygirl-come-mob boss, but Alex saw past the act to the person beneath.

"Okay, if that bitch can see Mac, so can we." Determined, Alex strode toward the nurses' station, having no intention of letting anyone stop him this time.

"Victor," the Director placed an hand on her lead agent's arm, "a moment." When the ex-cop quirked an eyebrow, she continued, "I know it's asking a lot, but give her time. She went from being the center of your universe and Mac's to being... well, an outsider. That's quite an ego adjustment."

"Ego is one thing, this ice bitch routine of hers, I don't know," Vic sighed, rubbing his face tiredly. "Alex didn't do anything to her other than exist and..."

"And be the man you love, and you didn't do anything but..." the Director trailed off. Mac's secrets weren't hers to share, not in this case. "Just try a little patience. I know you, more than anyone else on my team, have it in you. You're also far more compassionate than you should be. I'm not asking for you to be friends again, just, just give her time, and try to keep Mr. Krycek from killing her, please?"

"I'm not Alex's keeper," Vic snapped.

"No, but you're probably the one person alive, right now, who has any real influence over him."

"I'll ask, and I'll try not to kill her myself, but," Vic looked the Director in the eye, a cold glare he very rarely used, "keep her far away from us for a while, okay? Mac is... if I... if we'd lost Mac today, it wouldn't be Alex you had to worry about." That said, Vic turned and went to join his lover.

"Oh, I have no doubt of that, Mr. Mansfield, but I think it would be a toss up as to who got to her first, you or Mr. Krycek. It would seem that he's not nearly as invulnerable to Mr. Ramsey's charms as he'd like to think," the Director replied softly, well out of Vic's hearing range.

Swimming up from the haze of drugs that kept his pain at a dull ache instead of agonizing, Mac slitted his eyes open, finally focusing on the trim figure sitting beside the bed. "Wherz ev'one?" he asked, raising a hand to rub at his face and staring in confusion at the IV tube attached to his wrist. "Wha hap'nd?"

"You were shot, but you're going to be okay. Nothing major was hit." Li Ann spoke soothingly, and a twinge of pain made Mac notice the deathgrip she had on his hand.

Memory flooded back at that, and Mac groaned before trying to sit up. "Where are- What happened to Vic and Alex? Why didn't you or Jackie let us know that..." A stern looking nurse came over, instructing him to lie back now, and Mac did as he was told, not noticing the thinning of Li Ann's lips as she struggled to keep control of herself.

"They're fine. I have no idea where they are, probably off doing something obscene to each other."

Mac sagged back against the bed, and he sighed tiredly. "Can you drop the hate-fest, please? We have to work with them, and, even if you don't like it very much, Victor was your fiancée, and he's my friend. He's happy, so be happy for him, okay?"

"What?!" Li Ann's dark eyes widened in shock. "I never would have thought I'd hear you say that, especially after they let you get shot!"

"We let him get shot?" Alex repeated from the doorway in tones of utter disbelief. "You absolute bitch! You were willing to risk Mac's life just to take the chance of getting rid of me!"

Furious, he stalked into the room, coming to halt before the disdainful woman, then shocked her by slapping her so hard across the face that he knocked her off her chair.

"Stay away from me," he hissed. "Next time you hurt Vic or Mac, either personally or by inaction, I swear I'll kill you." The icy look in his green eyes, one that no one in the Agency had ever been unfortunate enough to see until that moment, said that he was dead serious.

Vic put his own fury on the backburner and stepped between Alex and Li Ann, trying to keep some space between his lover and the woman he'd at one time loved. "Alex, enough!" he ordered, his voice soft but steely. "Not here, not now, and not when you're in this mood. Let it go. No," Vic interrupted his lover, who was getting ready to snarl again. "Later, when we get home, vent all you want to, but right now we've got someone more important than Li Ann to worry about."

That said, Vic made his way over to Mac's bedside and sat down on the edge, examining the younger man closely. "You had us scared, really scared, Mac. Thank God you're okay. I... Don't scare me, us, like that again, okay?"

Confused by both the scene that had just taken place and the drugs being pumped into his system, Mac looked worriedly over at Li Ann, who was picking herself up off the floor, doing her best to look dignified about it. She started to speak, but the Director clamped a hand down on her arm and shook her head sternly.

"I'll make a note not to do it again." Mac managed a weak smile that turned into a wince as he attempted to feel where he'd been hit and poked a little too hard. "Manage to get them at least?"

"They won't be bothering anyone else ever again," Alex replied, cold satisfaction audible in his voice. For probably the first time since joining the Agency, he was showing what he was truly capable of, and if Li Ann was too stupid to take heed, well, that was her own fault.

"As for you, Ramsey, don't do that again. I'm not in the habit of losing partners, and I don't intend to let you spoil my record," he teased, his voice warming as he gingerly perched on the edge of the bed, taking care not to jostle the injured man.

"Like I'd say they did; Vic and Alex like, went totally primal on their asses. The Cleaners didn't have much to clean up, if you know what I mean," Jackie piped in from the doorway. "You look much too fine to be a corpse; glad you're okay, Mac," the blonde continued, walking in and bussing Mac on the forehead.

"Like, I'll give you a ride back to the reservoir, Li Ann. We got statements to do, okay by you, Director?"

Vic watched as the Director gently but firmly pushed a sputtering Li Ann out the door and followed close behind with a stern admonishment not to stay too late or tire Mac out then turned back to the younger man.

"You really did scare the shit out of us, Mac," Vic admitted again, taking the younger man's hand in his for a second. "This was more brutal than that whole secret lair caper, or the Droogs, or hell, even the Rivers family. I may have wanted you dead after each and every one of those damned cases, but this is the first time you beat me to the punch. Don't do it again, okay?"

"I'll try to avoid it," Mac said dryly, his eyelids drooping closed for a second before he got them open again. Man, it felt nice to have Vic holding his hand. Weird, but nice, and then it was gone.

"Besides, knew that if Alex got hurt, you'd go bonkers. Was just doing my civic duty - keeping a crazy man off the streets." He managed a grin at this though it faded rapidly. "When I can think again, someone gonna tell me what happened with Li Ann?"

"Nothing important," Alex immediately replied, briefly patting Mac's hand. "You just rest so I can go back to kicking your ass. We'll come by to see you in the morning... and I'll see about sneaking some real food in," he whispered.

He stood, not willing to admit even to himself just how much it bothered him to see Mac like this. But it was far better than the alternative! Li Ann should thank her lucky stars that Mac was alive; Alex knew he did.

Vic looked from one man to the other and felt his heart expand in his chest as he let out a shaky sigh. Too damn close for comfort.

"Listen, Mac, when you get out, you're not gonna be able to do it all yourself for the first little bit. We've got a spare room, and, well, I'd feel better knowing you're eating properly and that... well, you're safe. Come stay with us 'til you're given the ok to do it on your own again?"

Mac chuckled at Alex's comment, but, on hearing Vic's, he was sure the drugs had addled his brain. "Thanks for the offer, bud, but miss out on a chance to have my own private nurse named Lola? No how, no way. Besides, the two of you yowling at all hours of the night would keep me up." He grinned as much as possible, hoping they took the joke and didn't notice the different emotion in his eyes.

Alex's eyes narrowed slightly, hearing the wistfulness hidden beneath the jealousy that Mac was trying so hard to bury. He eyed the young man, remembering how they'd talked, and he was beginning to see what Vic saw in him. "Up to you, Mac, but you're more than welcome. Hell, we'll even be on our best behavior," he offered, knowing Mac would turn them down. If he'd been in Mac's position, he'd have done the same. Still, an idea was taking form in the back of his mind, and he was going to have to think long and hard about it.

"I guess I can see the charms of Lola; I was just thinking you could be sure that the Director wouldn't make any midnight house calls at our place. She tried it once, and the security system had... well, let's just say she's not the only one who likes video tape, and we've got one hell of a blackmail tape, should we ever need it.

"Hey, if you want, we can use it to make sure she doesn't give you any house calls until you're better," Vic offered, resigned to the fact that Mac wanted his own space no matter how much the ex-cop felt the urge to take care of him. "And you need anything Lola can't give you, day or night, you call, okay? Oh and just for the record, I'm the screamer; he's the yowler," Vic finished with a wink.

Mac's grin faltered at the last comment, but he somehow managed to keep from losing it altogether. "Lola will protect me; I have faith in her." He fell silent for a second and looked from one identical man to the other, for the moment losing the ability to tell them apart, a fact that was very disconcerting.

"Thanks for the offer though. I - You two should go home. No point in sitting around here. Besides, they're going to move me to a room soon, and then Lola will be by, and well, I need my privacy."

Wondering how Vic could possibly be so blind, Alex tugged him to his feet and stood up as well. "Don't blame you at all," he agreed blandly. "Besides, this way you don't have to eat Vic's cooking," he confided in a stage whisper.

"My cooking?" Vic protested. "I'm not the one who had a fucking fire brigade over due to your attempt to make duck a l'orange!" he continued as he let himself be drawn to his feet.

Before Vic could talk himself out of it, he turned and hugged his partner as tightly as he dared. "I'm really glad you're okay, buddy. I... My life would be less without you. You're one of the most important people in my life, one of the best friends I have. I'm, I'm just, just don't do it again, y'hear?" the older man finished gruffly, pulling away.

"Sleep well, Mac. I'll swing by that Chinese place you like after work tomorrow and pick up your usual, okay?"

"You get me sweet and sour chicken, and you're going to end up in the bed next door to me," Mac growled before collapsing back onto the pillow, wishing he could have hugged Vic back but not trusting himself to let go if he did.

"And I've had his cooking," he informed Alex. "It wasn't bad, once I got past his compulsion to have every utensil alphabetized in his drawers."

Alex chuckled and managed to bite back his response that Vic was much more interested in other things in his drawers nowadays. "I'll stop by in the morning with breakfast," he repeated. "Eel?" he suggested, having been pleased to finally find someone to share it with. He liked it for breakfast, but not everyone did. Personally, he thought it was a lot more appetizing than kippers, but what did he know?

Vic watched the two men launch into an animated discussion about what he generally considered disgusting foodstuffs with a small smile, throwing in a comment or two and a 'gross' or 'disgusting' where it fit. He was just suddenly very happy to be here, with the two people that mattered the most, watching them get along. Things were looking up at last, despite their rocky start.

END

  since 02-08-07

 

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