Chapter Twenty Six
Lindsay's face said it all.
She appeared behind the bar as soon as the coast was clear, and the first thing she saw was Adam. Danny watched his wife as she composed her features carefully, but he had seen the flash of dismay in her eyes – and he was fairly sure that Adam had seen it too, right before Sheldon and one of the paramedics dropped down beside the injured man, hiding his face from view.
As they took over Adam's care, Danny felt himself grow lighter, as though a weight had fallen from his shoulders - not that he would ever call his friend a burden. Rising to his feet, he grinned with uncharacteristic shyness. "Yo, Lindsay. Gettin' jealous here…"
From somewhere behind Sheldon's right shoulder, Adam snorted. Lindsay turned to her husband and the deep red flush of joy that spread across her cheeks filled Danny with a warmth that he had missed so deeply, it had been a constant ache inside him. He always ached when Lindsay wasn't there. I need you, he told her silently, knowing she could read his thoughts in every subtle movement that he made.
You've got me, she smiled back, stepping closer. "I can't believe it. Will wonders never cease? Danny Messer, you're not hurt."
"I'm tryin' somethin' new." He shrugged. "It's called 'responsibility'. Had to get home to my two best girls…"
Whatever else he might have said was muffled by the arm that hooked around his neck and pulled him close. "I'm sorry," she whispered, right before she kissed him.
"Sorry for what?" he mumbled, several minutes later. Time had stopped for the two of them, it seemed. Pulling back slightly and scanning the room, he discovered that Adam had already disappeared, off with his escort to face the delights of the nearest E.R. Tig had also vanished (with a very different kind of escort, Danny suspected). Only Marvin was left, sobbing in a corner with his grandmother's arms around him – as far as the tiny old lady could reach – and Jo Danville hovering nearby, a thoughtful, dark-eyed shadow waiting to do her duty and take him into custody. Poor guy, Danny thought, before his attention was reclaimed by the woman who had rescued him.
Lindsay gave a sigh of deep regret. "Next time I suggest a night out on the town for the three of you, be a good boy and refuse."
Not likely, Danny admitted to himself, wisely holding his tongue as his wife continued:
"You were supposed to cheer Adam up, not break him altogether."
The mock-accusation was delivered lightly but he answered in all seriousness. "Don't write the poor guy off. He did well, okay? Ask me, he's gonna be fine…"
She stared at him curiously for a moment and he could almost see the cogs turning in her brain. "He told you, didn't he?" she said at last.
Danny nodded quietly. "We had a moment. Turns out, you want Adam to spill the beans about what's buggin' him, you gotta shoot him in the shoulder. Who knew?"
The gasp that burst from Lindsay tipped them both over the brink into guilty fits of laughter. Jo glanced over, startled by the sound, yet clearly delighted to see them so happy together.
It was Danny who sobered up first. "So, wait – Mac's in the hospital. Where's Don? Last I saw, he was heading outta here with that psycho nut job friend of Tig's. And a girl… What happened to the girl?" He could still see the mask of eternal surprise on the face of the dead woman, Nemesis. "They got outta here, right? In one piece?"
"Yes, they did," Lindsay reassured him. "Don's a bit banged up – you can ask him about that yourself – but the psycho nut job came off far worse. He's handcuffed to a hospital bed and nursing his bruises right now. As for Selena, she's the one who saved the day. Would you believe there's a secret passage leading from one of the back rooms?"
"Oh yeah? Wish I'd've known that sooner." Danny's grumble was good-humoured. "Speakin' of leavin', honey – you wanna quit this joint or what?"
She linked her arm in his with a proprietary air. "You really have to ask, Danny Messer?"
"I always have to ask. You're my wife," he told her fondly. "I know what's good for me…"
Much to Don's great satisfaction, it was he who won the bet over how long Mac would stay confined to a bed in a dreary hospital ward. Don himself had been released by both Jo and the doctor after an overnight stay. Mac was released on his own recognisance precisely four days and fourteen hours after being admitted, as Don could attest by his substantial winnings. Mutterings of 'déjà vu' floated through the crime lab when Mac was confined to hopping around his apartment on crutches, and more than one person was heard to remark that it was only a matter of time before they had one of his neighbours in custody again.
Unlucky Adam fared less well than Mac. Deserted by the adrenaline and the stubborn survival instinct that had kept him going all through the hostage crisis, he fell into a black hole of exhaustion and lingered there for almost a week, barely aware of anything that was going on around him, or the many visitors who kept a vigil by his side – until, one evening, Don walked in to find Danny talking to Adam in a matter-of-fact tone as the patient sat propped up against a pile of pillows, eating lime green jello and smiling that old 'Adam' smile they had missed so much.
"…and the staff there are great, okay, buddy? They let me in to see him, no bother, after I explained the situation and flashed my badge a couple of times. I told him where you were – he didn't say much, but I reckon he understood. I'll drop in again tomorrow…"
"Thank you," Adam said earnestly.
"I keep my promises," Danny replied with an air of satisfaction.
Adam flushed as he noticed Don Flack standing in the doorway. "Oh – hey," he ventured nervously. "You didn't have to… I mean, thanks for coming to see me."
Don nodded, sauntering closer and neglecting to mention that he had, in fact, been to visit Adam every single day after work. "You look better," he observed, and he meant it. Gone were the dark circles, and the pasty look, though Adam could still do with far more colour in his cheeks. Fresh air; that was the ticket. "They gonna let you outta here yet?"
"I hope so," Adam breathed. His blue eyes were fervent. "I hate hospitals. No offence," he added to the passing nurse who had stopped in her tracks with a look of surprise. She smirked and moved on, mollified by his earnest apology.
"You and me both, buddy. Leave it to me…" With Danny in tow, and Adam gaping like a fish out of water behind them, Don strode off to find the nearest doctor and effect his friend's release. The Lucky Charms he had for breakfast must have done the trick, since one more hour saw them passing through the front door of the hospital with Adam safely in tow, blinking in the daylight as he shuffled along between the two cheerful detectives.
"Could someone give me a ride home?" Adam ventured, gesturing hopefully with his free arm. The other was still strapped to his side, with far more precision than Danny and Marvin had ever achieved.
"I'll drive," Don told him sweetly. "Messer's got a date with a beautiful woman."
"Make that two," Danny grinned, giving Don a high five before turning his attention back to Adam. He narrowed his eyes and adopted an air that was suitably mysterious, much to Don's amusement. "But you're not goin' home, buddy. Not yet. The boss man wants to see you…"
Sitting in the passenger seat of Don's car, Adam watched the world slip by. The snow had disappeared without a trace, the city lights were dazzling, and everything seemed… happier, somehow. Or maybe that's just the medication, Adam thought to himself with a cheeky little grin. "Hey, Flack?" he said, breaking through the comfortable silence.
"Mm?" said Don, who was concentrating on the road ahead, and the line of yellow cabs that blocked his way.
"Can I ask you something? Well, several somethings, okay?"
It was hard to tell if the detective was actually listening to him, but Adam pressed on valiantly. "What happened to Selena?"
"What?" said Don, feigning nonchalance. "You mean the barmaid?" He turned for a second and flashed a look of triumph at his friend. "I knew you were flirtin' with her."
"Does that make me the pot or the kettle?" Adam challenged him, "'cause anyone could see you liked her too. Selena."
Lifting a hand from the wheel, Don admitted defeat. "Yeah," he sighed. "Yeah, I did."
"Did? You don't mean…?" Adam's good mood faded and an icy feeling trickled down his spine.
"No, Adam," Don said patiently. "I don't mean that. She's fine. At least, I guess she is – I haven't seen her since she disappeared entirely with that thieving boss of hers. Adler, or Baker – whatever… They left the bar, their apartments - even their identities. Slipped off before we could question them too closely. Typical grifters."
"Oh." Bereft of words for once, Adam changed tack. "And him… you know, Tig?" Just saying the man's name was painful. He stared at the shifting tail lights ahead of them and concentrated, hard, until the feeling went away.
"Tig's in jail, court date pending. Got a bad rap in the media, too – well deserved – so I doubt we'll be seein' his ugly face again."
Only in my nightmares, Adam sighed. At last, he had reached the question that meant more to him than any other. "And… Marvin?"
"Yeah, Danny told me how it all went down at the end, there." Don's eyes were on the road, but Adam could feel the force of his rapt attention. "Public opinion – mine too – says that Marvin Unger's a victim, not a felon like his bully of a brother. He'll have to face a jury but, for now, Granny's bailed him out an' he's livin' with her till the trial, at least." Don pulled a rueful face. "She's a tough old bird. I wouldn't mess with her. Somethin' tells me the guy'll be fine, Adam."
"Okay." Adam breathed a sigh of deep relief.
"We can go an' see him later if you like," Don added.
"Oh! I guess… I'll think about it." That was a strange idea and yet it appealed to him. "Flack?"
"What now?" Don had been extraordinarily patient with him but Adam could tell that his sympathy had limits.
"One more question," he vowed. "Do you know…? Why does Mac want to see me?"
Shaking his head, Don chuckled. "Oh no," he said, and he wagged his finger too, for added emphasis. "I'm not touchin' that one; no way. You gotta ask him yourself."
Adam bit his lip and sank down in his seat, feeling quite uncertain. He spent the rest of the journey in dutiful silence, compiling a list of plausible answers to his final question, each one more alarming than the last. As a result, he did not notice Don Flack pull in and park the car. It was only when his own door opened outwards and he almost toppled onto the sidewalk that Adam awoke from his stupor.
"We're here," Don said, quite unnecessarily.
"Oh," said Adam. "Good…"
He had been to Mac's place before, of course, and the irony of the occasion wasn't lost on him. Mac had been injured then, too, and Adam – well, Adam had been a hopeless visitor, prying and poking and gaping around the room just like a tourist in a movie star's home. Mac had endured with thinly veiled irritation. Adam could only guess what his mood would be this time.
Did I screw up? he wondered, as the elevator bore him upwards. Flack, by his side, was whistling a merry tune that did nothing to help Adam's nerves. And is that how I make people feel when I get too excited?
"Stop it," Flack said, breaking off just to scold him.
"Okay – um, what?"
"Stop beatin' yourself up. Look, Adam, he just wants to see you, okay? No agenda." Flack's eyes widened. "You're not in trouble, you know."
"Oh, I know," Adam lied. "Is he… was he badly hurt?"
"That would very much depend on who you're askin'," Flack smirked. "In Jo's opinion, yes. In Mac's opinion – nah, not really. Sometimes," he added philosophically, "you two are just like peas in a pod. Hey now, that's not a compliment!" Adam was beaming, and Don gazed up at the ceiling in exasperation. "Oh, for pity's sake…"
The door pinged open and they stepped out into the corridor – or, at least, Adam did. To his surprise, Don hung back. "I'm not comin' in," he explained. "Got an errand to run. I'll be back to fetch you later. Enjoy!" He waggled his fingers in a 'farewell' gesture, right before the elevator sealed itself and started to descend.
Now, for the first time in days, Adam was alone. He savoured the peace, then raised his knuckles to rap out a hesitant knock.
"Come in," Mac said shortly.
Okay. Okay, I can do this. Adam let himself in with a trembling hand. "Hey, boss," he called out, trying to emulate Don Flack's nonchalance but sounding more like a strangled cat. "I'm here." Oh, yeah – stating the obvious. Great way to start a conversation. Maybe Marvin had scrambled Adam's brain for good when he boxed his ears.
"Come on up."
Was the whole visit going to be conducted in such brief sentences? Adam toyed with a few as he climbed the short set of stairs to Mac's living area and glanced at the great big window he remembered so well. How are you feeling? Seen any murders? Want me to go yet…? In the end, he plumped for a classic Adam blunder. "You look well, boss."
"Ha ha." Mac gave him a look as he shifted his broken leg in what could only be described as a sarcastic fashion. "You too."
Distracted by the unexpected scrawls across the plaster, and wondering if he should offer to sign it too, Adam swallowed. "Oh yeah, I'm fine, you know? Never better."
That was the clincher. Suddenly, without quite understanding why, Adam found himself giggling – and, to his surprise, Mac was laughing as well.
"We're alive," said his boss, when they both calmed down, "and that's what matters. There was a moment…" he added.
"What, when you thought you were going to die?" Adam asked him sympathetically.
"No, Adam. There was a moment when we all thought you were dead." Mac stuck out his hand in a clear indication that Adam should take it and shake it, which he did. "I don't have to tell you how glad I am that you're standing here in front of me, large as life."
"And twice as awkward," Adam grinned.
Mac tilted his head. "Yes, I know how you see yourself. You think people are judging you, and that we're always going to think the worst. Not true, Adam. You did good." He paused to let his words sink in. Adam stared at him, dumbstruck.
"I… thank you, boss," he managed at last. "Really?"
"Yes, Adam, really. Flack and Danny told me everything. Faced with a deadly situation, you chose to act with integrity and courage. A highly trained officer couldn't have done any more." With a wry look, he gestured to his leg. "A highly trained marine was far from infallible."
"Flack said a bookcase fell on you?" Adam queried timidly.
"Something like that." Mac shook his head. "I'll spare you the details – unless you'd like to hear them? Swap a few 'war' stories?"
"Yes, please," said Adam, and meant it. "I'd like that. But… look, can I make you a drink first?"
"No, Adam," Mac told him firmly. "You're the guest here. Sit down and make yourself comfortable. I've got it covered." Like a magician, he reached down beside his chair and when his hand reappeared, it was holding a flask with two cups balanced precariously on the top. "Lindsay," was his explanation. "Eminently practical. I've even got sugar down here. You take sugar..?"
Time passed in a whirl for Adam after that. It turned out that his taciturn boss was an excellent story teller when he was in the mood. After they had swapped modestly edited versions of their adventures a week ago, Mac moved on to tales of his past. Adam listened, spellbound. Leaning back in his chair, he could feel the last knot of tension draining out of him. Life was good. This was good. He could sit here for ever…
A knock at the door startled both of them.
"Flack," said Adam sadly. "Come to take me home." Back to his empty apartment, cold and lonely.
But, when the door opened, Flack had a couple of friends in tow. More than a couple, in fact, which did not seem to alarm their host in the slightest. Danny and Lindsay were carrying dishes that smelled magnificent. Sid Hammerback had a twinkle in his eye and (here Adam started to drool in earnestl) a cake box, fresh from his favourite bakery. Sheldon hopped through the door with a bag that clinked in a very satisfying way. Bringing up the rear was Jo, who slipped right past them all as soon as she saw Adam.
"There you are," she cried with infectious delight. "I've missed those baby blues."
Adam blushed and ducked his head. "Jo, please stop…" he begged her, even as his smile grew wide.
"No," Jo told him firmly. "We're here to spoil you, Adam Ross. Mac's orders, and our absolute pleasure, of course."
"A little family time," Danny added, holding Adam's gaze for just a second so that he could get the point. And he did; he really did.
"Thank you," he whispered. "No one's ever… I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but here with you guys. You are my family."
"Mushy," Don smirked, trading glances with Mac, whose own expression was deadpan. "But appropriate. I believe I heard a wise man say somethin' similar, just the other day. No, wait… that was me." He turned to Sheldon. "Got any beers in that bag of yours?"
As the party flowed on all around him, Adam closed his eyes. He felt safe and warm, and loved. He was also deliciously tired. The last thing he heard before he fell asleep was Lindsay's happy laughter, mingled with the hum of conversation. The sound filled his dreams - and they were good.
A.N. Yes, it really is the end, and I hope you enjoyed it! Thank you to everyone who came along for the ride – who read, favourited, followed, or reviewed this story. In particular, I would like to thank all those people whose repeated encouragement has kept me going. I started this story for Cornish Pasties (and she's cracked the whip behind me all the way!) but there are many others who have written reviews for almost every chapter and I am so very grateful. Adam and the team are a treat to write, but it's also a treat to know that people have actually enjoyed the madness that comes from my fluffy brain…