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Compensations – LL 3.5

Compensations

Dedication: This one is for all my wonderful readers – your enthusiasm about my writing,
especially your affection for Mac and Tony, is what makes publishing my work worthwhile.
Best wishes for a wonderful New Year to all of you.

***

Content warning: contains strong language and explicit sexual situations between two men

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright 2012 by Kaje Harper
Cover art by Enny Kraft

The Life Lessons series:
Life Lessons – book 1 (MLR Press)
And to All a Good Night – short story 1.5 (free on Smashwords and readable here)
Getting It Right – short story 1.8 (free on Goodreads and readable here)
Breaking Cover – book 2 (MLR Press)
Home Work – book 3 (MLR Press)
Compensations – short story 3.5
book 4 (in progress)

{ This story takes place right after the events in Home Work – Life Lessons book 3 and contains spoilers for book 3. }
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Compensations

Tony heard the sound of Oliver’s knock on the apartment door and set his book aside. Crossing the living room, he had to kick a couple of foam lightsabers and a stuffed rabbit out of the way. He resolved to make the kids clean up when they got back. Their Christmas toy bonanza was out of control. At the door, he hesitated and peeked through the peephole, just to be sure that it really was Oliver. Mac’s partner had buzzed the downstairs door a few minutes ago, but there had been another reporter just yesterday…

Through the fisheye lens, Oliver was visible standing with his head down. Tony cracked open the door and looked at Oliver’s face. The surge of nausea in his stomach was pure conditioned reflex. “Fuck! What now?”

“Huh?”

“The last time you looked like that Mac had been shot.” Although as Tony took a calmer look he decided Oliver’s expression wasn’t quite life-and-death grim. “So what now? Did Brittany escape? Or no, she tried to accuse Mac of police brutality, right?”

Oliver sighed. “Since she’s claiming she wasn’t even in her townhouse when Mac was shot, she can hardly accuse him of anything. Is Mac here? Can I come in?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry.” Tony pulled the door open and stepped aside. Oliver walked past him, pulling off his coat. Tony eyed him while relocking the door. Oliver might not be bringing Brittany-disaster news, but there was definitely something. He looked unhappy and exhausted.

“Hey, can I get you some coffee? You want to sit in the kitchen or collapse on the couch?”

“Kitchen is fine.” Oliver headed that way, pulled a folded envelope out of his coat pocket and tossed his coat over one kitchen chair, while he dropped into another. “Mac is here, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he’s been sleeping.” Mac’s headaches were getting better, but between the lingering effects of the head injury and the stress, he still needed time flat on his back with the blinds closed during the day. “Let me get you coffee and I’ll fetch him. Um, I don’t suppose you want to give me a hint?”

Oliver twitched the envelope in his hand. “Internal Affairs completed their report on the shooting. I told Captain Severs I’d bring Mac his copy.”

Tony put that together with Oliver’s expression and bit back a curse. Dammit! Mac didn’t need any more bullshit heaped on him. For a moment Tony thought about offering to pass the envelope along and then losing it for another week or two. But he was trying to get his overprotective mother hen side under control, and besides Mac would kill him. “Ah. Okay, here, take this cup and I’ll go wake him.”

He handed Oliver a steaming mug from the newly-brewed pot, and headed back to the bedroom. He pulled open the door silently, and paused in the doorway. Mac was stretched out on the bed, fully dressed but with his feet bare. He cradled his bad arm against his chest with his other hand, and even in sleep his face was creased with a faint frown. With his hair shaved short and that bulky cast he looked older and more vulnerable. Tony sighed and went to sit on the side of the bed. “Mac? Oliver’s here to see you.” He put a hand on Mac’s shoulder, rubbing gently.

Mac’s eyes opened, for a moment hazy and unfocused. Then he grimaced and met Tony’s gaze. “Huh? Ol… Oliver?”

“Yeah. You feel okay to see him?”

“Sure. Head better… some most.”

“That’s good. We’re in the kitchen.” Tony stood and turned his back, letting Mac follow at his own pace. He’d found that it now took several minutes after waking up for Mac to put all the bits back together – where he was, why he had a cast on his arm, the language thing, all the realities of his new condition. It was like watching Mac putting on clothes a piece at a time except that this naked Mac hurt Tony’s heart to see, and Mac liked to be given space and privacy to do it.

Tony went back to the kitchen, and poured coffee for himself and Mac. Decaf, because Mac was supposed to be reducing caffeine. It wasn’t the same as the high-octane stuff, but Tony had far more important things to be upset about. Having to drink decaf didn’t even rate. He leaned against the counter and took a big mouthful. It was still dark deep-roasted goodness. Oliver didn’t try to make conversation, just buried his face in his own mug until Mac came into the room.

“Hey. Oliver. Good see.”

“You too. You should probably sit down though.”

Mac hesitated and then took his seat. Tony handed him a mug silently. Mac cocked his head at Oliver. “Shoot.”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” Tony added, making it a joke.

Oliver’s lip twitched, but he sobered and handed Mac the envelope. “That’s IA’s report. Your copy.”

Mac stared at him for a moment and then tried to open the sealed flap one-handed. He cursed.

Tony grabbed the letter opener out of the jar on the counter. “Here, let me.” He slit the flap, pulled the paper out just enough to be easy to grip, and handed it back.

Mac grunted something that could have been thanks and shook the envelope off the paper. Tony caught the envelope and tossed it on the counter as Mac unfolded the page, pinned it to the table, and bent to read it. Tony clenched his fists and managed not to lean in and read over Mac’s shoulder. Mac’s gaze slid down the page, and then he muttered, “Fuck.”

“What?”

Mac folded the page over and put a hand on it. “No… thing.”

“Dammit. I deserve to know about this, Mac!”

Mac glanced up at Oliver. “You tell Tony”

Oliver sighed and looked reluctantly at Tony. “IA cleared Terrence of any responsibility in Mac’s shooting.”

“They what?!” Tony slammed his palm on the table. “Fuck them! Those bigoted assholes!”

“No.” Mac put his hand over Tony’s. “No. Right. My fault.”

“Bullshit.” Tony looked down at him. “He was your back-up. He should have been there!”

“He more longer time department decide… my call… Fuck! Shit! Oliver, tell?”

“IA ruled that because Terrence has more seniority in the department than Mac he was effectively in command. The decision to postpone interviewing Brittany until the next day was his to make. Mac decided to continue on his own. So what happened was Mac’s responsibility and just bad luck.”

“So we chalk it up to ‘oops, shit happens’ and everyone walks away lilywhite and clean?”

Oliver grimaced. “Well, they did censure Mac for interrogating a potentially hostile witness without back-up.”

“Fuck!” Tony paced two steps to the sink and back. “He had no back-up because Terrence called him a fag and ditched him! And that’s somehow Mac’s fault?”

“Yeah. According to IA it is. Although they didn’t suggest any penalty for Mac – detectives make the call to talk to people alone all the time; having two people at interviews is policy, but in reality we don’t have enough personnel and IA knows it. It’s just bad luck that this time it backfired.”

“Bad luck.”

“Tony,” Mac muttered. “Stop done okay.”

“It’s not okay! I’m sick of this shit! Loes and Terrence and even Severs himself can just treat you like dirt and it’s all ignored like it doesn’t matter.”

“Can handle… it works.”

“One good thing,” Oliver said. “Normally Terrence’s homophobic comments wouldn’t even have been part of the process, but since they got out and were used by the defense during Brittany’s hearing, they were on official record. So IA recommended Terrence be required to attend a three-day sensitivity-training course.”

Tony couldn’t help a chuckle. “Oh, God, he’ll love that. Although…how did anyone find out about that argument? Mac sure as hell didn’t tell anyone until I dragged it out of him after the trial.”

“Terrence was feeling defensive, I guess, and decided to get drunk in a public bar and explain how he let his partner get shot to anyone who cared to listen. In explaining why it was Mac’s unreasonable faggot fault that anything happened, I guess Terrence shot himself in the foot. Someone told someone else until it made it to the lawyers and IA.”

“Was it you?”

“Christ, no. I wasn’t there, just heard about it, and anyway we don’t wash department dirty linen in public. Nothing would be worth handing Brittany’s sharks any kind of ammunition.”

Tony frowned. The idea that egregious homophobia should be covered up to keep the department from looking bad really bothered him. Although in this case he could see the legal downside. “Well at least Terrence will have to put on his I-love-fags T-shirt for three days. But still, that’s all that happens?”

“That’s it. Mac can complain to his union rep but otherwise there’s really nothing actionable. The sensitivity training is actually more than I expected.”

“Any chance they’ll make Severs do that too?”

“Ouch.” Mac winced. “Not good bad.”

Oliver shook his head. “Severs doesn’t come into it at all. Unless Mac wants to file a specific complaint.”

“No, no, no.”

Tony unclenched his fists and inspected the fingernail marks in his palms. “So now what?”

“So now Mac needs to get off his ass and get better before my new partner drives me crazy.”

Mac looked up, his face lightening. “New partner drives crazy much?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Oliver might have elaborated, but the front door opened and Sabrina came in with the two kids. “Hey! Mac, are you feeling better? Oliver! It’s nice to see you.”

Anna ran over with her arms out. “Uncle Oliver! We sledded in the park!”

Oliver grabbed her shoulder. “I can see that, and from the amount of snow on you I’m guessing you fell out of the sled once or twice.”

Ben grinned from where he was pulling off his jacket in the entry. “We took the saucer over this big bump and it, like, flew through the air and kind of tipped and we landed in the snow. It was awesome!”

Oliver gave Anna a little push back toward Ben. “Go take off your wet things and then I’ll hug you.”

Tony watched as the kids struggled out of snow pants and came into the kitchen, talking a mile a minute to Mac and Oliver, their eyes alight and cheeks rosy from the cold. Sabrina grinned at him from behind them. “Next time you have to come with us. They nearly gave me a heart attack a couple of times but it was fun.”

Tony wasn’t sure he was ready to watch his kids flip a sled and fly through the air, but he nodded. There was no more chance for serious talk. Ben and Anna relived each run down the hill, with a word in edgewise now and then from the adults. Sabrina came into the kitchen, giving Mac’s shoulder a squeeze on her way past, and put the kettle on for hot chocolate. Oliver boosted Anna onto his knee, and Ben leaned in against Mac’s side. To hell with Terrence, Tony decided. He still wanted to rip the man’s guts out and strangle him with them, and he was determined to have a major bitch session with Sabrina sometime, but he realized he was going to just have to let it go. They still had this, Mac in the center of his family. Terrence couldn’t touch that. Although if Mac went back to work… Tony very firmly put the thought out of his mind, and went to get the cookies out of the cupboard.

***

The white noise generator hissed, its atonal sounds masking the world outside. Mac glanced around the waiting room. There were two small children waiting with their mothers. They were probably there for a stutter or a lisp – they both looked perfectly normal. But then so did he. Well, other than the cast and the scar that still showed faintly through the regrowing stubble of his hair. The teenager huddled by herself at the other end of the room had her head turned away, but Mac thought there was something asymmetrical about her mouth and jaw. He had a moment of fellow-feeling so intense he was almost dizzy, as he thought about going through this as a teen, without caring family behind him. God, that would be awful.

Tony shifted in the next chair. Mac was constantly aware of his presence, silent, supportive, with his normal snark damped down. It was nice and yet being supported by Tony 24/7 was beginning to make his skin itch. Dammit, he was used to being the strong one. Or at least looking that way to outsiders, since God knew Tony had probably always been more than his match.

They both turned as Jade Daley’s door opened. The therapist appeared, ushering out yet another cute kid with his hand firmly in his mother’s grasp. Jade gave the boy a pat on the shoulder in passing and then beckoned to Mac. “Come on in.”

Mac forced himself to stand, ignoring the shaking of his knees, and preceded Tony into the office. Jade motioned at the upholstered chairs around her desk, instead of his usual seat at the table with the computer and supplies. “We’re just going to discuss the assessment today, not do any work, so we might as well be comfortable.”

Mac lowered himself into the further chair and Tony sat beside him. Jade settled herself behind the desk and opened a folder. For a second, Mac wished intensely that Tony wasn’t there. He didn’t want Tony to hear this, the confirmation that he wasn’t good enough, maybe would never be good enough. But Tony had the right to know what they were up against. Jade cocked an inquiring eyebrow at him and he nodded.

“So Mac, I’ve written up an evaluation of your progress so far. You’ve elected to share the results with your partner?”

“Husband. Tony. Yes.”

“Sorry – husband. Okay. Well, we know by now that you’re not going to be one of the lucky ones whose Broca’s goes away within a few days or weeks. That’s not a surprise. Most of those are people who had a temporary blood loss, not real damage.”

Mac nodded carefully.

“However you’re not at the bad end of the scale either. You’ve had no right side weakness, no new memory issues since the trauma, your speech is better, your comprehension is pretty damned good now, no seizures.”

Mac shuddered. That would be the kiss of death right there. No driving with seizures, no guns, no more being a cop, ever. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tony start to reach for him and abort the gesture.

“You’ve made a great start to therapy. You began with a good residual vocabulary and you’ve expanded it a lot in the last couple of weeks.”

Mac had read online about a guy with Broca’s who was known as “Tan” because that was the only thing he could say. One syllable, forever. Mac was a hell of a lot luckier, but… how much luckier? What’s the bottom line? He held himself in check and waited.

“You’re putting more words together, regaining some grammar, can already speak well enough to function.”

I don’t want to fucking function! I want to be a cop again. If he wasn’t a cop, if he couldn’t get it back, what was he?

Tony said, “Bottom line. How good do you think Mac’s recovery will be?”

“I’m optimistic. Mac’s already doing better than many Broca’s patients and I can see the improvement every session. Of course the amount of initial damage a patient has is the biggest factor. If the brain cells are gone, no amount of effort will get them back. But with a good starting point, intensive therapy and hard work is also key, and I’ve never had a patient who worked harder than your husband.”

“You say ‘months’ and ‘optimistic’ but the question is, will he be able to speak well enough to hold down a job that’s not just manual labor? Write well enough to fill out important paperwork?”

“I believe he has a good chance, yes.”

Mac leaned forward and put it on the line. “To be… cop. To be a cop. I need… important to me.”

“I can’t make any promises.” Jade smiled at him. “If anyone can do it, I’m betting you can. Your Broca’s isn’t that severe. You have a chance.”

A chance. And if this wasn’t that severe he’d hate to see what was. Although actually he knew what was. He’d Googled enough YouTube videos, seen people speaking disjointed single words in a flat, robotic monotone. He was lucky compared to most, he did know that, but oh shit. Shit! A chance.

He started to stand and Jade held up a restraining hand. “A few other things first. You are seeing a therapist, a psychologist or psychiatrist, yes?”

Mac nodded. It was department policy with any shooting, whether the cop was shooter or victim, and after the first session, the department shrink had booked him in weekly for two months. He had at least six more weeks to go on that. Although therapy when he couldn’t express what he was thinking or answer questions coherently was supremely frustrating for him and Dr. Landon alike.

“Is it okay if I share this report with him or her? Most patients with traumatic aphasia have very understandable issues with depression, anxiety and frustration, with trying to adjust to their new capabilities. The more your psychologist knows about your condition, the better they can help you.”

“Okay,” Mac said hoarsely. He cleared his throat. “I give number… phone. I will give.”

“Thank you.” Jade glanced at Tony. “What about you? Do you have someone to talk to? This is almost as hard on the families as it is on the patient.”

Tony gave a small headshake. “I’m fine. It’s just temporary, right? So we’ll get through it. I’m good so far.”

Mac was torn between kissing Tony for his optimism and shaking him for not thinking about himself. Damned man.

Jade said, “Well, consider it. When I say months, that’s a best case scenario. You’re both in this for the long haul. Mac, your short-term disability is three months, right? We can do a full court press until then. Three days a week with me and all the homework you can handle. And then see where you’re at.”

“Sound good. Sounds good. Fuck.”

“You’re doing fine, Mac.” She moved a page off the stack in the folder. “So let’s plan your schedule and get some of the details settled for what tools you need for your homework. When do you see your neurosurgeon again?”

“Tomorrow… follow up.”

“Good. Then I’ll just give you a copy of the evaluation to take with you. It will be even easier than faxing it over. Now, how about Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons? I guess you’re not driving. Do you have transportation?”

Mac thought he should have felt optimistic when they left the clinic an hour later, but all he could feel was intense frustration. More maybes, and eventually, and you’re lucky when he felt so fucking unlucky he wanted to hit something. He’d sat there with a pleasant look plastered on his face while Tony nodded and promised to buy him a microphone for the computer, like Mac couldn’t go to the electronics store and put down his own fucking money. Jade’s perky voice had gone on and on about notebooks and copying sentences and grammar worksheets and singing and poetry and rhythm work and tonal inflection and every goddamned fucking thing he’d already known how to do when he was six fucking years old.

“Shit! Fucking goddamned shit.”

“What?” Tony put a hand on his arm and Mac shrugged it off impatiently. Tony stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and tried unsuccessfully not to look hurt. “I thought that was okay. I mean, she said you might go all the way back to normal. The way you were, I mean. Fuck.” Tony stared at his feet, kicking at the frozen slush in the parking lot.

“Sorry. Yes, was good. Was okay. I just…” He couldn’t explain it. And that pained look Tony was trying to hide just cut right through him. “No mind. I need… I need run.” He hadn’t done anything physically strenuous in two weeks – maybe that was why he was climbing walls. He clung to that thought. “Run. Maybebe skate.” Running would be hard on his headaches and the sidewalks were slippery in places. If he was going to be on ice he wanted to do it with his blades.

Tony stared at him. “Right. Because nothing is as good for a broken arm and cracked skull as wiping out on a skating rink.”

“Won’t wipe. Good skate learned young… no hockey no checking okay.”

“You are not getting out on an ice rink if I have to tie you up and sit on you.”

“Dammit Tony!” Hey, that had inflection. He tried to take that as a positive even as he gritted his teeth in frustration. “You not boss of me.”

“Jesus Christ, Mac. Do you want to re-injure yourself? I wouldn’t need to boss you if you used a little fucking common sense.”

“Aargh.” It was a wordless snarl and he turned away for a moment to regain his self-control. “Sorry. Just not good quiet… need to move.”

“I know.” Tony took a step closer and leaned against him, their shoulders pressed together. “I’m sorry. I’m not the boss of you but please, please don’t do shit that will scare the life out of me? Okay? Maybe we can find an indoor running track that doesn’t need a membership. Or, or, something for you to do.”

“Love you.” Mac muttered near Tony’s ear.

“Yeah, love you too. We’ll figure it out. I’ll check the Net and find something safe and indoors. And cheap.”

Mac sighed, because he could search the Net and find himself somewhere to work out just as well as Tony could. Before the shooting, Tony would never have offered to just do it for him… or maybe he would have. Tony’s Internet skills were better than his own. Maybe this wasn’t Tony taking care of him until Mac felt like a wife, or a child. Maybe it was just a sensible offer. He slid his arm around Tony, with barely a glance for spectators. “I grouch so bad. You help I know… just care for me. Do love you.”

Tony smiled up at him. “Wow, twice in five minutes. Are you looking to get lucky?”

“I am lucky,” Mac said as clearly as he could.

***

Tony glanced up from his computer on the dining room table at the buzz from the downstairs call-button. It was New Year’s Eve. No deliveries. He stood and pressed the intercom. “Who is it?”

“Oliver.”

“Oh, sure, come on up.”

“Thanks.” Oliver’s voice sounded a bit breathless. Tony wondered if it was that cold outside. It hadn’t been earlier. He pushed the door release and waited for Oliver’s knock. It took longer than he expected before there was the expected rap on the door. He called, “Hey, Mac, Oliver’s here.”

“Here?” Mac wandered out of the living room, stretching. “Why?”

“I don’t know. You can open the door and ask him.”

Mac shot him a look. Tony shrugged and went back to the website he was perusing. He didn’t feel like opening his front door to Oliver right now.

Mac tugged the door ajar and then said, “What… fuck is that?”

Okay, that Tony had to check out. He moved up behind Mac and looked into the hall. Oliver stood there looking flushed, with a five-foot-tall cardboard box on the carpet beside him. “It’s a stationary bike,” he said. “I bought it figuring I was going to use it to stay in shape in the winter, but I never opened it. I thought it would be okay for you, Mac; it’s pretty stable, doesn’t take too much space and you can bike with just one arm.”

Tony stepped back to let Oliver pull the box in, but Mac held his ground, his eyes narrowed. “You bought. When?”

Oliver’s gaze dropped. “A while ago.”

“How long?”

“A while. I don’t know. Do you want the damned thing or not?”

“Looks new. You lie…tell lie?”

“Fuck.” Oliver met Mac’s eyes. “Okay. Yeah, it’s new. Are you happy? You always were a fucking lie detector. You told me you wanted to get some exercise and I thought you could use one. Merry damned Christmas.”

“Thank you,” Tony said loudly over Mac’s grumble. “That was a great idea.”

“You should not spend,” Mac snapped.

Oliver rubbed his hair. “Let me do this, okay?” He dropped his voice. “I feel guilty as hell. I did that to you. I was lead detective on the case. I paired you up with Terrence. I knew he didn’t want to work with you, even if I had no idea he would just blow you off like that. So it’s my fault.”

“Not fault,” Mac told him.

“Come on.” Tony reached over to push the door wide. “Let Oliver in. Let him buy you a bike if he wants to. He’ll feel better, you’ll feel better. It’s a win-win.”

Mac gave Tony a hard look, but then stepped back. Oliver dragged the box inside and wiped his sleeve over his forehead. “You’d better keep this fucking thing because I’m not hauling it back down.”

“Give me your coat,” Tony said. “You and Mac figure out where to put that bike and get it set up.” He dodged around the box to close the front door and open the closet.

After a moment, Mac said, “Living room space.”

“You’ve got it.” Oliver began tugging the box down the hallway. Mac ducked into the kitchen and came out with the tool box. He put a shoulder to the carton, pushing as Oliver pulled. Tony watched unobtrusively as they maneuvered the turn into the living room.

Anna came out of her room and glanced at Tony. “What are they doing? Can I see?”

He caught her sleeve as she headed that way. “Better give them some space, hon. You can see when they’re finished. Did you watch the whole movie already?”

“Nope. Ben said you might give us popcorn if I asked nicely.” She made her version of pleading eyes, blinking long dark lashes.

“Your Aunt Jaime has a lot to answer for,” Tony muttered. Still, popcorn might help keep the kids glued to the TV in Anna’s room and out of Mac and Oliver’s way. “Sure, come on.”

Once the popcorn was popped and Tony had checked on Ben, he left both kids settled in front of the wonders of Disney and wandered down the hall. He stopped just out of range of the living room doorway. He wasn’t eavesdropping, exactly, but he’d heard the intermittent rumble of deep voices and he didn’t want to interrupt. He leaned on the wall.

Mac’s voice said, “More. Up.”

“Can’t get the damned bolt through the hole,” Oliver muttered.

“Try up more.”

“Yeah. Okay, that got it.”

There was a pause with a few random noises and then, “Here, Mac, I think that goes on the left side.”

“Not goes. Other before first.”

“You think? Fuck, yeah, you’re right.” More fumbling.

“There. That looks right anyway. You think that’s right? You want to try it out?”

“You try no broke arm.”

“You know how long it’s been since I rode any kind of bike?”

“Fifty year? Years?”

“Smartass. Maybe I won’t trade my new partner in for you after all.” There was a whir, and then Oliver said, “Seems okay.”

“Good. Thank you.”

“Fuck.” There was a long pause. Then Oliver said hoarsely, “Mac. Seriously, I am so damned sorry…”

“Shut. Up. Not fault. Tell me new partner not good.”

Oliver’s voice lightened.“He’s so anal retentive he gives assholes a bad name.”

Mac snorted a laugh. “Real? Real-ly?”

“Oh yeah.”

Tony figured he could appear now and casually stepped around the corner. The bike was set up in the space in front of the window. It was bigger and sturdier than he’d expected. Oliver must have spent some serious bucks, but Tony was glad of the stability, and he was carrying just enough of a grudge to hope it cost Oliver a mint. “Hey guys. Looks good. What was I hearing about the new partner?”

Oliver dropped onto the couch and grinned. “He synchronizes watches. Seriously, he sets his to his cell phone, then makes me set mine to his. And if we take a car, he sets the car clock too.”

“Sounds like your type.”

“Fuck you.”

“No thanks. I have my own cop to fuck me.”

“And don’t forget it,” Mac chipped in with surprising fluency.

Oliver grimaced exaggeratedly. “I have no interest in that.”

Tony glanced over his shoulder, because the kids were almost psychic about walking in when he was swearing, and then muttered, “You’re the one who was talking about fucking and assholes.”

Mac stretched out his good arm to smack Tony on the knee, which was as far as he could reach from his seat on the floor. “Stop bug Oliver. Tell… partner.”

Oliver leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “He searches the cars before we drive them.”

“Procedure.”

“Yeah, but we never did much more than checking the back seat. He does back, front, and even goes over the trunk. And he always has three pens with him. One time he put one down and I waited for fifteen minutes until he found it.”

“Good cop?”

“He’s okay. Methodical, you know. But he’s not you. People don’t like to talk to him. I think he comes across as cold, and they give him the fewest words they can, where with you they’d give you their life story.”

“Miss me.”

“No way.” Oliver winced as Mac kicked his ankle. “Okay, yeah, maybe a bit. You gonna stop malingering and come back to work sometime?” Before Mac could try to answer, Oliver added quickly, “I know, I know, six weeks in the cast and all. Three months disability leave. I’ll wait. But I’m not happy about it.”

“Good.”

Oliver laughed. His expression looked lighter than when he’d walked in the door.

“New cases.” Mac paused and then repeated carefully, “You have… any new cases?”

“Sure, a couple. Nothing interesting though. Junkie shoots dealer. Bastard boyfriend shoots his girlfriend.”

“Boring.”

“Yeah, well, the interesting stuff can wait until you’re back. Speaking of boring, are you doing anything tomorrow? You want to come over and watch the Vikings kick the Bears’ asses?”

“Sounds kinky,” Tony muttered.

Mac glanced at him. “We busy tomorrow?”

“Just hanging around the house.” Tony wanted Mac to himself but it would probably be good for his husband to have a boys’ afternoon with Oliver and violent sports. “You should go if you’re interested.”

“I can pick you up,” Oliver offered. “That way Tony doesn’t have to drag the kids out. I’d be grateful – you’ll save me from feeling sorry for myself on another lonely New Year’s Day. We can fire up the big screen and eat something with grease and salt.”

Mac gave Tony another look, then said, “Yes. Okay. I like that. But… Bears kick Vikings.”

“Want to bet?”

“Six pack?”

Tony bit his tongue hard enough to draw blood to avoid reminding Mac he wasn’t allowed to have alcohol with his meds.

“You’re on,” Oliver said. “Listen, I should get going.” He stood and held his hand down to Mac who was still seated on the floor by the bike. “Are we okay, partner? Really okay?”

“We… are… good,” Mac said carefully, returning the handshake.

“I’ll see you out,” Tony said. “Leave the box. The kids’ll like to play in it.” Oliver followed him to the door. Tony got Oliver’s coat out of the closet and watched him put it on.

Oliver closed the zipper, then looked at Tony and held out his hand hesitantly. “What about you? Am I forgiven for handing your husband over to a guy who didn’t back him up?”

Tony wanted to say no. Because he’d been almost as mad at Oliver as at Terrence. Terrence was a homophobic bastard who should be cleaning toilets for a living, but Oliver was the guy who’d known that and made Mac work with him anyway. He realized he’d been furious with Oliver. But there was enough pain in the depths of Oliver’s eyes as he waited for Tony’s verdict that the anger fell away. He took Oliver’s hand. “Shit happens,” he said. “You treat him right, make him feel like he still matters, and I won’t hold a grudge.”

“Of course he still matters,” Oliver said. “I’ll be by around 11:30 tomorrow morning?”

“Sounds good. Happy New Year.”

“You guys too.”

Ben came into the hallway as the door closed behind him. “Was that Uncle Oliver? Is he gone?”

“He’ll be back often enough,” Tony said, realizing it was true, and immeasurably relived by that. “You’ll see him next time.”

***

Mac set his glass down carefully on the stone coaster on their coffee table. Sparkling grape juice was no real substitute for champagne, but this year he wasn’t complaining. Ben, sitting on the floor on the other side of the table, took a small sip and put his flute neatly on his coaster. Then he yawned widely, showing the gaps of his newly-lost teeth.

Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you want to just call it midnight now and finish up and go to bed?”

“No way.” Ben tried to raise an eyebrow back, and managed a crooked squint.

Tony reached out to ruffle his hair, and laughed when Ben dodged. “Okay. Twenty more minutes till midnight.”

“Are we going to wake Anna?”

Mac stroked his daughter’s silky hair, spread across his knee as she lay sleeping with her head in his lap. Of course they would. “Yes.”

“Good.” Ben drained his glass. “Can I have her juice while we wait?”

“No, but you can have more of your own. Save a bit for the toast at midnight, though.” Tony emptied the bottle into Ben’s glass.

Mac leaned back into the corner of the couch, his good hand resting on Anna’s back, and listened to Ben and Tony. Tony’s warm male voice and Ben’s thinner responses mingled in a discussion about some TV show. Mac let the words go and just opened himself to the sounds of home. Anna’s weight anchored him there.

He realized with a start that Tony had said his name. “Hm? Wh-what?”

“Were you dropping off too? It’s five minutes till midnight.”

“No. No sleep.” He didn’t think he’d dropped off… or had he? The vague remnants of a really strange dream did seem to linger, along with a touch of nausea. Huh. He rubbed his stomach uneasily – he had to stop eating quite so much holiday food.

He didn’t even try to tell Tony about it, just sat up straighter and shook Anna gently. “Wake, princess. New Year…uh, soon.”

Anna sat up, rubbing her eyes, and then grinned. “Is it really midnight?”

“Almost.” Tony carefully handed over her half-full flute of juice. “In just a couple of moments we’ll turn on the countdown, and then…”

“Then we’ll click glasses like we practiced, and then it will be midnight and a new year and everything!” Anna bounced excitedly, narrowly avoiding sloshing the juice out of the glass. “Brenda never let me stay up till midnight.”

“My mom either,” Ben said.

Mac looked at him carefully, but there didn’t seem to be any big emotional weight to the statement, so he let it pass and picked up his own glass. “We all at midnight…cel-cel-cel…cel…lebrate.” Jesus. He managed not to break the stem between his fingers, and forced himself to relax. He sounded like shit. So what else was new? The therapist said the more he talked the better. If he shut up now, for fear of how it sounded, he’d get better slower. No contest.

And Tony was just smiling at him, with no hint of dismay. “Yep, we’re starting a new tradition. Midnight together, every New Year’s from now on.”

“Until I’m bigger and move out and go to college and stuff,” Ben said.

“Even then.” Tony gave him the cross-eyed stare of death. “You will be forced, on pain of no more money, to come home and celebrate New Year’s at midnight with your aging parents.”

Ben giggled.

Tony got up and went to the TV to turn it on to a local station. The TV anchors bantered back and forth, while the clock counted down. Then it got to “Ten…Nine…Eight…”

Mac counted along with Tony and the kids. Sequences like this were easy, and their voices blended. “…Two…One…Happy New Year!”

They clinked the rims of the flutes together in pairs. The children were exaggeratedly careful. Mac figured Tony had given them a talk about not breaking the wedding glasses on the first occasion. Mac tapped against Tony’s glass and met his husband’s eyes over the rim. Oh yes. They each sipped, only breaking eye contact when Anna burbled, “And now it’s a whole brand new year!”

“So it is. And it’s bedtime.”

Anna shook her head at Tony. “You said we could do resolve-tions.”

“Resolutions. Sure. Do you want to go first? You don’t have to tell everything if some are private.”

Anna nodded seriously. “I’ll try to listen to Daddy when he says to stop bouncing on the new couch, and I’m not going to talk to Suzie so much in class so we don’t have to sit in the trouble chair. And I won’t call Ben stupid any more.” She nodded decisively.

“A fine list, hon.”

“Oh, and I’ll wear the black snow pants, but only if I really, really have to.”

“Thank you.” Tony gave her a sweet smile. “My resolutions are to find better balance with all the stuff I need to do. To listen better. And to bake more apple pie because I’m getting darned good at it. And to wash the blue snow pants more often.”

Mac laughed, but had to say, “You balance good listen lots Tony.”

“Mm. Well, there’s room for improvement.” Tony turned to Ben. “What about you, Benny-boy? Any resolutions you want to share?”

“I’ll do my math homework sooner.” Ben looked back and forth between them. “I think I should have a resolution to be good about going to see Grandpa and Grandma, but I don’t really want to.”

Tony put an arm around him. “You should resolve things you really want to change. Stuff you think you can do.”

“Well, I’m gonna try to be better, I guess. And I won’t call Anna stupid if she stops.”

Tony said drolly, “An end to the stupids. I don’t know if my heart can stand the joy.” He bent over and quickly kissed Ben’s hair, sitting back before Ben could protest.

Mac took a breath as three pairs of eyes turned to him. He had a bunch of resolutions but they boiled down to two simple things – to put every effort into getting well again, and to put every minute that wasn’t taken up with therapy into figuring out how to be the dad the kids needed, and the husband Tony deserved. But emotion had always tangled his tongue, and he wasn’t likely to be able to say that now. He muttered, “Do better. Do right.”

“Dudley Do-Right?” Tony’s eyes sparkled.

Mac slid a leg out far enough to kick him. He was having a moment and Tony wanted to crack jokes.

Tony stood up and leaned in to whisper, “Can I be Horse?”

“Fool.” Mac was silenced by Tony’s mouth on his. He closed his eyes and took the kiss, fell into it. In fact he had to bite back a totally inappropriate whimper when Tony moved those wonderful lips away. Kids in the room. The image of Tony on all fours, waiting to be mounted, would have to wait until the children were in bed and asleep. Which, judging from the giant yawn that Ben cracked, wasn’t going to be long. “Come bed kids now.”

“I haven’t finished my juice,” Anna protested.

“Finish now.”

Anna lifted her glass, taking tiny sips obviously meant to make the evening last.

Ben gave another yawn that drew a laugh from Tony. “Come on, Ben. She didn’t stay up the whole time and you did. Off to bed with you.”

“You’ll come and say good night, Tony?”

“Absolutely. You have five minutes to change and brush your teeth.”

Ben got up and turned to Mac tentatively. Mac set down his glass and held out his good arm. Ben leaned in, feeling solid in his hold, returning the hug with both arms around his neck. “G’night Mac. Happy New Year.”

“Happy New Year, son.” That sounded almost normal. The rote phrases were easier, but Mac was getting better. He gave Ben another squeeze and then let him go. He watched Ben leave the room, noting the fact that Ben didn’t bother to turn on the hallway light to get to his room. Every day seemed a little better for Ben lately, and he was no longer up as much with nightmares. It was the best Christmas present he and Tony had received.

He turned back to Anna, who was running her tongue into the glass to catch the last drops. “Enough princess bed.”

“Okay.” Anna jumped at Tony, who caught her up in a hug.

“Sleep well, honey. Tomorrow we’ll play outside if it’s not too cold.”

“Happy New Year, Tony. Come on, Daddy.” She grabbed Mac’s hand, pulling him up out of the couch. As he stood quickly the sudden shift caught him off balance for a moment, sending a brief thread of pain through his head, and he wavered. Tony put a hand under his other arm above the cast, steadying him.

“Okay, Mac?”

“Fine.” He wouldn’t worry, wouldn’t. The pain was fading already, and moments like that were less common every day. “Good.”

“Okay.” Tony let go with a little rub on his bicep. “You know where to find me later.”

“Oh yeah.”

At that time of night, it didn’t take the kids long to get settled. Mac was already in the bedroom, making a start on unbuttoning his shirt, when Tony came in and latched the door. Mac paused in his task to watch Tony pull his heavy sweater off over his head. In fact, he just plain quit undressing to watch the show. Tony half naked, in sinfully fitted denim, slowly stripping to Tony completely naked, was the hottest thing on Earth. Tony dragged it out a little, playing with the waistband of his briefs, his eyes on Mac. By the time the briefs hit the floor, they were both hard.

“Need a hand?” Tony came to him and took over the buttons, opening them faster than Mac could manage. They maneuvered the shirt down past his cast and Tony tossed it in the general direction of the dresser. Mac took his own hand away from his pants, and just watched Tony unbutton and unzip him. Tony’s eyes were cast down, veiled by his lashes, and his full lower lip was caught between his teeth. He looked edible.

Mac put his hand under Tony’s chin and tilted him up. He kissed Tony’s mouth with every ounce of need he could express. Tony moaned softly and his hands moved away from Mac’s open fly to cup Mac’s ass and grind them together.

“Mm, Mac, ungh. Ouch!” Tony stepped back.

“What?”

“Zipper in an unfortunate place. I need you naked.” Tony dropped gracefully to his knees and tugged Mac’s pants and boxers down together. Mac lifted one foot and then the other for Tony to work the fabric clear. Tony tossed the pants aside, opened his mouth and sucked Mac in deep. Mac gasped and grabbed Tony’s shoulder for balance. Tony chuckled, the sound vibrating against Mac’s cock. Mac slid his fingers from Tony’s shoulder, across the angle of his jaw just beginning to roughen with stubble, and into his hair. He loved Tony’s hair, the way the silky strands curled around his fingers, and the solid curve of Tony’s head in his palm. He tightened his hand, holding Tony in place, and pumped with his hips in short thrusts, watching for any sign it was too much.

Tony’s sounds were hoarse encouragement. He lifted his eyes to meet Mac’s gaze, his expression pure molten heat. Tony raised his hands to cup Mac’s ass, pulling him in deeper and faster than Mac would have dared. The hollow of Tony’s cheeks as he sucked deserved some of Mac’s well-repeated poetry, if Mac hadn’t been so fucking turned on he could barely remember his own name. Holy shit!

Mac used his grip in Tony’s hair to pull him off. “Stopstop. Come soon too soon.”

Tony’s grin was wicked. “Since when are we limited to once?”

Actually, Mac hadn’t managed more than once without a good long rest since the shooting. Hell, it had been less than a week since he’d managed even once again, but he wasn’t going to remind Tony of that. “Want fuck you.”

“Oh yeah, Dudley. I could get behind that. Or in front of it.” He stood and stepped to the bed. “How do you want me? Or do you maybe want to switch?”

Mac could remember bottoming for Tony on their wedding night, but it was an odd memory, full of shades of emotion he couldn’t quite touch. He remembered being overwhelmed and consumed by it though. He couldn’t do that right now. He couldn’t even put Tony on his back and rock slowly into him under the gaze of those heated blue eyes. He needed… “Hands knees Tonyplease.”

“Mm.” Tony climbed on the bed and knelt, lowering his chest to the mattress, so his delectable ass was up and waiting. He turned his head, cheek to the sheets, and grinned at Mac. “Like this?”

Mac knelt on the carpet beside the bed and leaned over to kiss Tony. The angle was odd, the pillow rasping his cheek, but Tony’s mouth was open for him. Mac took his time and then sat back on his heels. “Love you Tony.”

“Love you too. Now fuck me.”

“Damn.” Mac got up and knelt between Tony’s calves, one hand against the curved mound of Tony’s butt. The cast on his arm was driving him nuts. He wanted to grab both of those round asscheeks, spread Tony wide, and get his mouth home against clean skin, but the angle of the cast was wrong. Three more fucking weeks. If he was lucky. He took a deep breath and tried to banish all the whiny complaints from his mind. He had Tony Hart on his knees, ready and waiting. It was damned petty to have any complaints about that.

Tony reached over to the nightstand, grabbed the lube and handed it back. Mac flipped the top and dripped a slippery, glistening stream down Tony’s ass. Mac’s fingers followed the slick, stroking down until Tony jolted as Mac’s fingertips passed over his pucker. Mac circled, rubbing, loving the way Tony arched his back and moaned. He pressed the wide, blunt tips of two fingers inward, feeling the muscle tense and then relax to let him in. Tony grunted hoarsely and shoved back, forcing Mac’s fingers deep. Mac curved them, finding Tony’s gland and rubbing over it. He pressed his cast forearm carefully on Tony’s hip for balance and set about using everything he’d learned to drive Tony wild with just his touch.

Tony bucked into it, gasping when Mac’s finger caught him right, panting and mumbling a hoarse litany of so good, so hot, yeah, right there. Mac groaned, the tip of his aching hard cock sliding against Tony’s thigh.

“Now,” Tony said suddenly. “Stop, wait, I need you inside me now, now, now.

Mac pulled his fingers out, grabbed himself with one quick slide of lube from head to base, and lined up. His first thrust buried him deep in Tony’s hot body and they both shouted wordlessly. Mac had meant to make this slow, to make long, sensuous love to Tony and show him just how wonderful he was. But the tight welcome of Tony’s body had Mac already shaking and driving hard. It became a rush of sensation, of muffled grunts and the slap of flesh and the vibrating moans Tony made as Mac dragged his cock over Tony’s gland on the pullback. Mac spread his thighs wider to lower the angle, forcing Tony’s knees apart. They sank into the bed until his weight covered Tony, pinning him between the mattress and Mac’s short fast thrusts. Mac came in a blind, shaking rush, his face buried against the back of Tony’s neck.

Mac spent several long moments lost in sparkling darkness before he realized Tony was still wriggling and panting, making soft, needy, frustrated sounds half-lost in the pillow. Mac pulled out slowly, dragging a low moan from Tony, and grabbed Tony’s right hip. “Over. Suck you.”

“God yes.” Tony rolled onto his back, his erection straining and slick. “Please, Mac.”

Mac slid down, braced on his elbow, and lowered his head. So good, that taste of salt and man, the feel of hard silken flesh against his tongue. Had he begrudged doing this to his sex partners once upon a time, when the other men were strangers picked up in dark bars? He could barely connect that with this, taking his husband deep in his mouth and trying to fill himself with Tony.

He felt Tony’s fingers in his hair, clenching, pulling. “Mac, more, Mac.”

He sucked hard, tightening tongue and lips, and Tony came with a deep groan, filling his mouth. Mac backed off enough to let the cum trickle out of his lips, using the tip of his tongue to stroke and encourage Tony’s last shudders of pleasure. Then he pulled off, tried to reach for tissues, cursed the cast…

“Here, babe.” Tony grabbed a handful and handed them over. Mac sat back, wiping his chin and then cleaning lower, while Tony lay on the pillows with a canary-eating grin on his face. “I love the way you look with your mouth on me. Big man giving me a blow job.”

“My man,” Mac said. “Love it…me too.”

Tony reached up an arm. “C’mere for a minute before I go clean up.”

Mac slid gratefully into the curve of Tony’s shoulder, his body thrumming with contentment. He nudged against Tony’s neck with his nose, losing himself in the familiar smell of Tony’s skin. So good.

After a couple of minutes he rolled on his side, pushing his ass back against Tony’s softened cock, wanting to be spooned. Tony wrapped himself over Mac’s back obligingly. The curtains were open just a crack, and beyond the window Mac could see a strip of dark sky, and two pale stars.

***

Tony pulled Mac back tighter against him, and fit his knees along the back of Mac’s thighs. He dug his chin into Mac’s shoulder lightly. He wasn’t ready for sleep yet, and he would regret it if he didn’t get up and get clean, but this was just…good. So right to lie here with his arms around Mac.

New Year’s. A year ago he would never have imagined any of the turns his life had taken. Not Ben, not Anna, not having Mac in his arms like this without secrets. Tony slid his left hand along Mac’s cast, and laid his fingers over Mac’s. They’d had to take Mac’s wedding ring off. It was a small thing among all the rest, but Tony flexed his hand and ran his own band over the back of Mac’s ring finger. He would feel just that tiny bit better when Mac wore his own again. Especially since that would mean the cast was off…

“Husband. Mine.” Mac murmured.

“Absolutely.” There was a brief tiny arc of white light past the gap in the curtains. Undoubtedly a plane, but Tony said, “Shooting star, Mac. Make a wish.”

They were silent. Tony felt the steady, even movements of Mac’s breathing hitch for an instant and then resume. He had no doubt about what Mac would be wishing for. Tony hesitated. Mac’s recovery of course was first and foremost. No doubt Mac was wishing to get well because he wanted to work as a cop again, though, and Tony felt ill every time he thought of it. Was his price for Mac’s full recovery going to be having to stand by and watch his husband go off every morning to a job that might get him killed? Tony didn’t know if he could do that.

Tony closed his eyes. His cheek was pressed against warm, strong flesh. His thighs brushed the fur of Mac’s legs; the muscled shape of Mac’s ass was cradled against Tony’s hips. Mac’s breathing was slow and deep, although Tony didn’t think his husband was asleep. Tony’s ass was pleasantly sore, and less pleasantly sticky, his dick was sated, his heart ached. He breathed a silent wish. Please, when Mac recovers enough to go back to the job he loves, the job that defines him, let me be strong enough not to beg him to quit.

Tony held Mac in his arms, feeling Mac’s taut muscles eventually relax into sleep, as the first hours of a new year slowly unfolded around them.

***

Mac stood and stretched, a little stiff even though Oliver’s couch was pretty comfortable. It had been a close, tense game and he’d spent a fair bit of it leaning forward staring at the screen. The pleasure of Chicago’s win over Oliver’s favored Vikings was tempered by an injury to the Bears’ best linebacker. Mac had felt his gut twist in sympathy, watching the 33-year-old guy get up after receiving damage that could end his career. Of course, ballplayers didn’t expect to keep going into their forties and beyond, unlike cops…

Through Oliver’s front window Mac caught sight of a familiar Prius parking at the curb. “Hey. Tony here. I…get open door…the door.”

Oliver waved negligently from the depths of his recliner. “Be my guest.”

Mac pulled the door open without waiting for Tony to knock, and then recoiled a step as Terrence’s knuckles waved a foot from his face. It took him only a second to realize he’d pulled the door away from Terrence’s knock, but even when Terrence dropped his hand and assumed a wan smile, Mac didn’t bother to try to look welcoming. At the bottom of the front steps, Tony looked up at Terrence with a closed expression.

Terrence peered around Mac, and then met his gaze. “Hey. I didn’t know you were here. I wanted to talk to Oliver.”

Mac pulled the door wider. “Come in.”

Terrence hesitated. “Maybe I should just come back later.”

“Get in here, asshole.” Oliver appeared in the archway to the living room. “Say what you want to say.”

“I’m not here to talk to Mac, though. I mean… I will, Mac, I know I fucked it up last time we talked.”

Mac gave him a silent nod, because that was putting it mildly. Terrence had showed up at the hospital while Mac was still disoriented, in pain and completely inarticulate. What had begun as an apology had rambled into self-justification and cheap shots. Terrence quickly walking back out of the room had probably saved Mac from breaking his other hand.

Oliver growled, “You can come in and talk, or you can just fuck off. I don’t care.”

Terrence hovered at the door, glancing down at Tony who stood with his hand on the bottom of the railing. Then he sighed and came into the house. Mac stood by the door, forcing Terrence to come past him. Terrence sidled by carefully enough that only his sleeve brushed Mac’s arm. Tony bounded up the steps behind him and stepped inside.

Mac shut the door, glanced at the back of Terrence’s head, and then defiantly pulled Tony in for a brief kiss. This was his husband. He was allowed, and if it bothered Terrence, tough shit. Over Terrence’s shoulder, Oliver shot them a tight smile. Then he shifted his gaze to Terrence.

“So, what did you want to talk about?”

“Um, can we, like, go somewhere?”

“Away from the gay guys?” Oliver folded his arms on his chest and leaned against the doorway. “I don’t think so.”

“Dammit.” Terrence half turned, his eyes moving from Oliver to Mac to the front door. After a moment he slumped. “I just wanted… Look, I’m sorry, okay? I wish I’d stuck with Mac that night. But it wasn’t just because he was a fag…gay or anything. If I’d been with some regular guy and had to choose between a low-return interview and a hot date after my shift was over I’d have done the same thing. I might’ve said it differently, but honest to God, I didn’t think it was worth the time.”

“Yeah, Mac’s instincts have always been better than yours.”

“Shit. Look, I was wrong. But it was an honest difference of opinion. I wouldn’t have ditched Mac if I had any idea that little slut was going to be dangerous.”

“Tell him that.”

Terrence stared down at his feet, shaking his head. But eventually he looked over at Mac, his gaze fixed about the level of Mac’s chest. “I’m sorry, and that’s the truth. We’re never going to be friends, but I would never set you up for a bullet. I need you to believe that.”

Mac had been reciting his response in his head. He took a breath and said carefully. “I know. It was… a mistake. But you suck.”

Terence gasped a little laugh. “Fuck you.”

Tony said, “Not in this lifetime. That’s my job.”

Mac and Terrence both stared at him, and Oliver snorted. Terrence turned a dull red. He gave Oliver a beseeching glance. “Can you call off the dogs at work, please? I swear, Ramsey and her buddies are going to drive me crazy.”

“What’s she doing?” Tony asked brightly.

Terrence frowned forbiddingly. Oliver said, “Putting pro-gay pamphlets all over his desk, gluing male-male symbol stickers on his computer monitor, giving him the cold shoulder, icy glares, salt in his coffee… anything else?”

“Bumper stickers on my car,” Terrence muttered. “You knew about the fucking salt?”

“Just be glad she’s doing a good enough job harassing you that I don’t have to.”

“So you won’t get her to lay off?”

“Um… no. I think it won’t hurt for you to be on the receiving end for a while.”

“It’s bullshit, though! I can’t do my work. Every time I leave my desk for ten minutes there’s something new.”

Mac laughed. “Like… note saying ‘cock-sucker’? B-bondage porn?”

“That was a joke!”

Mac shrugged.

Oliver said, “You damned near got my partner killed, and I’m not sure I believe it wasn’t because he’s gay. So you have a long way to go before I’ll trust you. If I think the department is suffering because of the stuff she and the others are up to, I will rein them in. But I won’t be doing it for you.”

“Severs…”

“You leave the Captain out of this, or I’ll come down on your ass so hard it’ll make the shit Ramsey is doing seem like a picnic.”

“I wasn’t going to go to him. I just… shit.” Terrence looked at him. “That’s all I’m going to get? Suck it up?”

“Hell, yes. Until it harms the job. Because it seems pretty fair to me, given the shit you pulled on Mac. Mac worked through it, although I grant you he was twice the cop you are.”

Mac took the compliment and the “was” together, and felt an ache in his chest. Is. I’m going to make that “is twice the cop” again, damn it.

Terrence gritted his teeth. “It was a mistake to come here.”

“You know where the door is.”

“Wait,” Mac said. He was determined to go back to the department, which meant working with Terrence again. “What if… I tell Ramsey no… no more.”

“Huh? Why would you do that?”

“She stops. You stop. When I come back.”

For a moment as their eyes met, Mac thought maybe he was making a connection. But then Terrence’s lip curled. “Yeah, like I need you to protect me from a girl. That’s not your strong point, is it? Anyway I’m not holding my breath worrying about you coming back.” He whirled, brushing past Tony hard enough to jar him as he yanked the door open, and slammed his way out.

Mac didn’t realize he was reaching for the knob, until Tony grabbed his arm. “Let him go, Mac. He’s not worth your time.”

Mac’s response was closer to a growl than words.

“Yeah, that’s how I feel too. But we have better things to do than chase Terrence down the street.”

“Sorry, Mac,” Oliver said. “I guess you can’t take the asshole out of the boy, no matter how much he knows he fucked up.”

Mac took a breath and forced himself to relax. “Don’t matter. Still…nine weeks leave.”

“Yeah. I’m looking forward to his face when you walk back into the squadroom.”

“Me too.”

“You know, he’d better not let Ramsey hear him call her a girl.”

“I hope she puts superglue in his condoms,” Tony muttered.

Oliver grinned. “I do like the way you think. Although I don’t think she needs any help getting to him.”

“I love Ramsey.” Tony turned away from the door and looked up at Mac with a deliberate smile. “So, who won the game?”

“Bears. Oliver owes beer.”

Oliver turned toward the kitchen. “I didn’t buy any fucking beer – the Bears have sucked, I figured the Vikings were a sure thing. Would you take a pound of good coffee instead?”

“I guess.” Mac watched Tony kick off his snowy shoes and follow Oliver. With Tony in a short jacket, Mac’s favorite view was on offer. He thought there was probably no better way to take his mind off Terrence. Mac walked behind Tony, admiring his choice of jeans. Nice fit.

Oliver dug through his kitchen cupboards. Over his shoulder he asked, “Do you have time for a cup or do you guys need to get right back?”

“We’re good for a bit. Our neighbor has a niece over and she invited the kids to come play. She set up a candy cane hunt for them, so they’re well entertained and I didn’t have to bring them along. I’m afraid Uncle Oliver came out in second place.”

“Story of my life,” Oliver grunted.

Mac wanted to say Oliver was in first place as a partner, but he wasn’t sure how garbled it would come out. He didn’t want Oliver to think he was getting sappy or something. But he bumped Oliver’s back lightly with his shoulder as he walked by.

He and Tony leaned against the counter side by side as Oliver puttered with the coffee maker. The silence was comfortable, broken only by the bubble and drip of the water and Oliver muttering under his breath as he looked through the cupboards. Mac was aware of Tony’s warmth beside him, just inches away.

“Here.” Oliver pushed a sealed bag along the counter toward him. “That’s Kona. More than the equivalent of a six-pack.”

Tony reached past Mac to grab it. “I’ll take charge of that.”

“What… you saying? That my coffee.”

“Except that you brew it stiff enough to hold the spoon upright and you’re on restricted caffeine. I’ll handle the good stuff.”

“Wimp.”

“Addict.”

Mac grinned, leaned in toward Tony and then remembered Oliver was watching. He drew back.

Oliver said, “Thank you. No making out in the homes of people who haven’t gotten laid in a year.”

“Seriously?” Tony said, “A year? Have you considered guys, because there is no reason for a dry spell to last that long.”

“Not my thing, unfortunately.” Oliver seemed relaxed and amused, not offended. Mac let out a small breath.

The coffee drip slowed and stopped. Oliver pulled out the carafe, poured three mugs and passed them out. “Tony? Cream? Sugar?”

“This is fine.”

They each took a sip or two, in the ease of that warm kitchen. Oliver stopped and held out his mug. “Toast to the new year. Has to be better than the fucking old one.”

Mac clunked his heavy mug against Oliver’s and then Tony did the same, the stoneware clicking softly together. Tony held his mug towards Mac’s.

Mac met Tony’s blue eyes. Tony’s expression was calm and cheerful, unshadowed by the scene with Terrence or the reference to disasters past. His gorgeous mouth was curved in a small smile. Mac wondered how Tony could do that- put bad things aside and manage to see the good parts and be all right. He wondered for the thousandth time how he got lucky enough to share that. He held out his cup and gently tapped the rim against Tony’s.

“To the new year,” Mac said clearly.

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####
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Other free stories by Kaje Harper:

Like the Taste of Summer
Into Deep Waters
Lies and Consequences
Show Me Yours
Within Reach

41 Comments leave one →
  1. Holly permalink
    December 9, 2012 9:18 am

    Oh, this was lovely! Thank you.

  2. December 9, 2012 3:43 pm

    This is wonderful Kaje, thank you! Love these two even more with each story 🙂

  3. Carnell permalink
    December 10, 2012 8:36 am

    Oh, I loved it Kaje. Thank you for giving us this story.

  4. Emily permalink
    December 10, 2012 12:24 pm

    I loved this. I have been just waiting for more Mac and Tony. Poor Mac. I want to know what happens next. Thanks so much for the look into their lives.

  5. Sunne permalink
    December 11, 2012 1:14 am

    *sigh* So wonderful….and have I told you lately that I love Tony and Mac?

    • December 11, 2012 9:05 am

      I’m just so pleased with how people have fallen for my guys. Working on book 4 – Tony is determined to make everything perfect by sheer force of will, Mac is pessimistic, but loving him for it.

  6. December 11, 2012 3:58 pm

    yay!!! Thank you so much for this… loved it.

  7. amsalebrown permalink
    December 12, 2012 10:32 am

    I love these men! I can never get enough!!!! I can hardly wait for Book 4! I don’t know which was more exciting … to see this brief bit of life ever after or the promise of more of Mac and Tony! love it, love it, love it!!!!

  8. Solaria Saturn permalink
    December 14, 2012 10:07 am

    I love that Mac and Tony’s stories are so full of life. You do a great job with keeping my nose in the book. Can’t wait for book 4 to see what is happening with my friends.

  9. B. Harris permalink
    December 25, 2012 10:10 pm

    Ms. Harper–Thank you for all of your books and stories about Mac and Tony. I love them!

  10. David (London) permalink
    December 27, 2012 5:46 pm

    Dear Kaje,
    Thank you for the Life Lessons series. I have just read the lot in the past few days. Mac and Tony are a compelling couple to read about and you weave a wonderful story around them. But what do I do now!? The next instalment can’t come soon enough. Brilliant writing. Thank you!

  11. euridice permalink
    December 31, 2012 9:21 am

    Go Ramsey! I think we should lock Terrence in a room and unleash Mary Liu on him…
    Thanks a lot for this unexpected present, it was lovely to read more about Mac and Tony! So happy Mac is getting better!
    Can’t wait to read the fourth book about them!
    Have a happy New Year

    • December 31, 2012 10:00 am

      LOL – I like the way you think. Legal responsibility and moral responsibility are two different things. Mary could probably make that point…salient for Terrence.

  12. vikki rawlinson permalink
    January 21, 2013 10:41 am

    Just read all these books straight through, back to back, over the weekend and cant wait for the next one. Im schecking out your other stuff now. x.

    • January 21, 2013 10:47 am

      I’m glad they held your interest. The next one is well underway.

  13. Caleb S permalink
    January 28, 2013 9:21 am

    Thank you so much for creating Mac and Tony, I just read the entire story and I am on pins-and-needles for book 4!! This series is exceptional, and I hope it never ends. Keep up the AWESOME work!

    • January 30, 2013 12:19 pm

      I’m not sure about never ending… but one more book for sure.

  14. Maik (Berlin,Germany) permalink
    February 4, 2013 10:40 am

    I’ve just finished rereading the first three books, so this wonderful short story came as welcome surprise. Mac and Tony are one of my favourite couples, Ramsey is a gem and Oliver keeps growing on me. Can’t wait for book 4. Until then I will check out your other books.

    • February 4, 2013 11:13 am

      Thank you – I hope you enjoy them. I have some free stories in the mix that you can try. I just finished the first rough draft of book 4 🙂

  15. Cathy S (Australia) permalink
    February 6, 2013 10:59 pm

    The joy you bring with your writing is immense, Kaje. As are so many others I’m into the multiple re-reads of all your stories and eagerly await new offerings. Mac and Tony feel like friends these days. You make their story so plausible. I worry about Dectective Oliver’s loneliness though.

    • February 6, 2013 11:19 pm

      I admit, I’ve thought about hooking Oliver up with someone – he’s not right for Sabrina or Ramsey. Mac has a couple of sisters who show up in LL4, but one is married… He does deserve someone good though. We’ll see. (He’s straight and I don’t like books where all the side characters go gay, so it will have to be a woman.) I’m glad you’re enjoying these books.

  16. February 22, 2013 10:15 pm

    I am really loving this series. I have read them all in under a week and could not put them down. I love Tony and Mac and I cannot wait to see more of them. Will we ever get to find out anything about Mac’s family? Good work on these amazing books. When is the next one due out, because I will be egarly awaiting it. 🙂

    • February 23, 2013 12:27 am

      The fourth book, which I just submitted to MLR Press, has quite a bit of Mac’s family in it. No release date yet, but I’m hoping to hear soon if it is accepted and to start edits. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

  17. Neet permalink
    March 8, 2013 8:05 am

    I just started re-reading Life Lessons (it’s a plan to read the series again) because I love this series so. I’m so glad that you’ve written a 4th book and Tony & Mac are the best couple that I’ve had the pleasure to read and their problems are realistic. I hope you will soon have a date when the 4th book comes out soon. Take care and thank you for this series!

  18. Geraldine permalink
    March 9, 2013 8:28 pm

    Love your work, the stories and the characters are exceptional, you and Amy Lane make this genre so much…more. Can’t wait for book 4, just reread the others, and I am looking forward to a happy ending for the boys ( but only if you’re sure this is their last book). Thanks for all your hard work.

    • March 9, 2013 9:37 pm

      Wow, that’s a compliment. I love Amy Lane’s books.

      I don’t know if book 4 will be the last Life Lessons, but it rounds out the arc for a while anyway. Calling anything an “ending” for guys who are not yet forty seems premature, but I have no immediate plans for book 5. I hope you enjoy the next one.

  19. Shahreen permalink
    March 18, 2013 11:24 am

    Seriously awesome. It’s always nice to get a glimpse of Mac and Tony’s life. Can’t wait for the 4th book!! *Squeels*

  20. Annette permalink
    May 20, 2013 2:00 am

    Thankyou Kaje for the great stories,loved this….just finished The Rebuilding Year, you truly are a gifted author enjoy summer as we have winter here in Australia..look forward to Learning Curve

    • May 20, 2013 11:55 am

      Thank you 🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoying the books. My editor just had a family emergency, but I still hope to see Learning Curve out this summer (winter to you 😉 )

  21. Neet permalink
    June 16, 2013 11:21 am

    I just finished reading the wonderful and beautifully written Homework and then headed over to read this. Ms Harper this is one of the best written series and I’m in love with Mac & Tony. This couple are so real that it brings me to tears when they are hurt or injured. I love your other characters, Oliver, Sabrina, and Ramsey are so important to each story. The children are so well written and sound like kids not miniature adults. Also, in the 4th book may I suggest Terrance have karma hit him big time, I hate this self-absorbed, homophobic, immature jerk with a passion.Please let us know when the 4th book comes out and I pray that it’s soon! Take care.

    • June 16, 2013 12:29 pm

      Thanks for caring about my guys and their families and friends. And Terrance is all of that, although karma is not always standing in the wings… I’ll definitely post when I have a release date for the fourth book.

  22. Tina permalink
    August 24, 2016 7:33 pm

    I already finished the series when I found these wonderful little presents. Thank You!

    • August 25, 2016 12:15 am

      I’m so glad you liked them. I can’t put the freebies on Amazon – they make authors charge at least .99 for any story at first, and that becomes a breach of contract (for publisher-exclusive series like Life Lessons or my wolves.) So I’m glad when people do see and enjoy them.

  23. Tina permalink
    July 30, 2017 5:55 am

    I love these guys, this is the 3rd time reading the series. It would be fun to read about Tony And Mac with teenagers.

    • July 30, 2017 12:48 pm

      Thanks for stopping by to comment ❤ – It's on my to do list, just a bit down the road.

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