Title: Better Halves
Pairing/Characters: Mack/Bob, Jonas, Charles, Hector, Molly, Kim, Serena
Spoilers: First Responders, Dedication
Summary: When their marriages fail Mack and Bob wind up sharing a house
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ
"So, she threw you out..."
Bob bristled, but didn't take his eyes off the house they were watching.
"She didn't throw me out. We agreed to a trial separation."
"Heh," Mack chortled. "In my marriage that just meant she was going to live at her mother's until the divorce trial."
Bob winced. "You think it'll go to trial?"
"I hope not, for the girls' sake. But she's being a bitch about custody, so I've got a P.I. digging around to try to find out who she's been fucking on the side so at least I have some leeway in the negotiations."
"I'm really sorry, man. That has to suck."
Mack shrugged. "I've known for a while she was fucking some other guy. Problem was I just couldn't seem to care. I guess I was too busy."
"Too busy with the Unit?"
"Nah, too busy doing it myself."
"Fucking another guy?" Bob teased, but his face fell when he saw that Mack wasn't smiling at his joke. "Look, sorry. That was a bad joke. I didn't mean it."
He glanced back at Mack again, finding his expression unreadable.
Mack just stared at the house then smacked Bob on the arm to get his attention.
"There he goes!"
Jonas put down his beer as he laughed. "And Mack just walked right up to him?"
"Plain as day," Bob said, trying to hold back his laughter. "He says in his best Irish accent, 'Hey mister, if you don't shut the fuck up, my IRA buddies over there and I might start to get tired of hearing you natter on..." Bob turned to Mack, who had a huge grin on his face. "It was natter, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, yeah, go on! I like the way you tell my stories." Mack motioned to him to continue.
"So anyway," Bob continued. "'We might start to get tired of hearing you natter on and decide to shut you up ourselves.' Before the guy can protest, every man at the table exposes his gun for like a second then hides it away. The guy went fucking white! I swear he couldn't decide between pissing his pants and passing out."
"I was standing right next to him," Mack jeered. "Piss won."
They all laughed uproariously. Still chuckling, Jonas finished off his beer, walking the empty bottle over to the recycle bin.
"I'm headed out for the night, ladies," Jonas joked. "The missus knows we have these decompression sessions, but that doesn't excuse me from coming home eventually."
Bob got up, poured out the last of his beer in the sink and went to put his bottle in the bin as well.
"Bob," Jonas lowered his voice a little. "I heard about you and Kim. I'm really sorry to hear that. I'm sure you two will work it out."
Bob nodded and forced a smile. "Thanks, Jonas. Appreciate it."
"Where are you staying?" Jonas asked.
Bob shrugged. "Just a little crappy motel in town. I don't need much."
"Spoken like a true soldier," Jonas said, slapping him on the back. "Let me know if you need anything and remember..." He stepped in closer so only Bob could hear him. "A distracted soldier is a dead soldier."
"Good man," Jonas said with a nod. He cocked his head back at Mack. "See you both on Monday."
Mack tipped his beer at Jonas. "Give my best to the family."
Once Jonas left, Bob started getting ready to leave himself.
"Hey Brown!" Mack called to him from the table.
"Yeah?" Bob slung his pack on his back and waited at the door.
"Why don't you crash at my house? Tiffy and the kids are gone and it beats a piece of shit motel any day of the week."
"I-I don't want to put you out," Bob said lamely.
"What's that? You won't put out?" Mack joked, throwing his bottle cap at Bob who neatly dodged it with a grin.
"Well, not on the first date," Bob teased.
Mack laughed. "Go get your crap and check out of your room. Meet me at the house and we'll get you set up in the guest room."
Bob nodded. "Thanks, man."
Mack grunted. "Don't mention it." As Bob turned to go, he added, "Unit men have to stick together."
Bob paused for a moment, touched. "Yeah," he said. "We do."
Bob fidgeted as he stood on the doorstep of the Gerhardt home. He'd tried not to glance at his own house as he'd driven past it and wondered what Kim would think when she recognized his car on the street.
He rang the bell and waited for the door to open.
"Come on in!"
Bob furrowed his forehead in confusion, but walked in anyway.
"In the kitchen!"
Bob put his dufflebag down in the entryway and locked the front door behind him before heading to the kitchen.
"You know I could have been anyone at the door," he said cagily.
"Nope." Mack nodded to the small surveillance monitor that displayed the front door area.
"Even so, leaving the door unlocked?"
"I'm ready." Mack stopped chopping vegetables long enough to pull up his shirt and expose the gun tucked in his waistband.
"You carry at home?" Bob said, shocked.
"When I'm alone and the door is unlocked, sure. Did you lock the door?"
"Well, then..." Mack slid open a drawer and dropped his gun into it. "You like stir fry?"
"Yeah, sure," Bob said. "You don't have to cook."
Mack shrugged. "Man's got to eat. Not that much more work for two. Besides, I'm not used to cooking for one." He tossed a package of mushrooms at Bob and nodded to the knife block. "Make yourself useful."
Mack pulled out another chopping board and set it on the counter next to his own. Bob cleaned the mushrooms and then started slicing them as Mack sliced peppers. They worked in silence side by side until Mack finished and moved to the stove to prep the wok.
"Spicy okay with you?" he asked.
"I can handle it," Bob replied.
"We'll see about that," Mack said with a chuckle.
After a dinner filled with laughter and war stories, Mack picked up Bob's dufflebag and carried it to the guest room as Bob followed him, protesting.
"I can carry my own bag!"
"You're a guest in my home, so shut the hell up," Mack replied, giving Bob a mock angry glare before breaking into a wide grin.
The guest room was sparsely furnished, but comfortable and clean. Mack put the bag on the bed and turned back to Bob.
"Bathroom's across the hall and I'm at the end of the hall if you need anything. Tomorrow we'll work on getting your laptop on my network so you can have Internet access."
"Thanks, that'd be great," Bob said. "You don't have to do that."
"Well, you sure as hell aren't going to be able to hack my network on your own!"
"That's not what I..." Bob just shook his head. "Are you always like this?" he asked. "Always joking around?"
Mack stopped in front of Bob as he walked out of the room. "Trust me, when I'm dead serious? You'll know it." He headed out the door, but paused on the threshold. "For now, why not have a good time? Two pseudo bachelors in one house? Why the hell not?"
"Yeah," Bob said smiling. "Why not?"
Bob found the dresser empty and unpacked his belongings, setting up his laptop at the small desk. He got ready for bed then read the email he'd downloaded earlier until fairly late.
The house had been silent since Mack had retired for the night, so when Bob heard a noise he opened his door to listen. The sound seemed to be coming from the end of the hall. He walked quietly down to Mack's door and listened, more out of concern than curiosity.
He could make out Mack's voice repeating the same phrase over and over.
"You're dead... You're dead..."
Bob sighed to himself. Nightmares were the unspoken curse of soldiers everywhere and he, and evidently Mack, were no exception.
He went back to his room and shut the door again, hoping he would sleep quietly now that he realized the downside of sleeping in the same house as another Unit man.
He got into bed and tried hard not to think of his daughter Serena, so close yet so far away.
"Brown... Brown... Bob!"
Bob woke to Mack shaking him, eyes quickly adjusting even in the dim light coming in from the hall.
"Mack? What the hell?"
"You were screaming. You had a nightmare."
Bob sat up in bed, taking a second to orient himself.
"Shit, man. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I woke you up..."
"Quit apologizing, will you?" Mack said, sounding a little annoyed. He glanced around and found Bob's blue bathrobe on the desk chair. He tossed it over to him and headed for the door. "Meet me in the kitchen."
Bob waited until Mack had left the room to get up. Wearing only his boxers to sleep in, he put the robe on and tied it tightly before heading to the kitchen.
He pulled up a stool at the kitchen island and watched Mack stare off into space as the microwave counted down the final seconds. When it beeped he pulled out two mugs and slid one across the island to Bob.
"Warm milk? Are you serious?"
"Don't knock it," Mack said, fishing through the cupboard. "It actually has high levels of Tryptophan in it - the same chemical that makes you sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving. Of course this helps too." He pulled a bottle of whiskey from the cabinet and sloshed some into Bob's mug then his own.
Bob tried the concoction and found it wasn't that bad. He drank it slowly as Mack sat across from him working his way through his own mug.
"Did, um, someone you know die recently?" Bob asked quietly.
Mack looked up at him, an emotion crossing his face so fast Bob didn't catch what it was before the stoic mask fell back into place.
"In our line people die all the time. Why do you ask?"
"Because you had a nightmare too." Bob stared into his drink for a moment. "I heard you, down the hall earlier. You kept saying 'You're dead' over and over."
"Well," Mack said, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "I can see now that it's going to be hard to keep any secrets having a roomie around."
Flustered, Bob started to rise. "I-I'll go. I didn't mean to..."
"Sit your ass down," Mack said, motioning to the stool. "If I didn't want you here I wouldn't have invited you here."
"Yeah, but the nightmares..."
"Bob, I'm sure Kim has woken you up before, so you know you have them. Hell, Tiffy's kicked me awake enough times telling me to shut up so she can get some sleep, she's so tired of them." He looked Bob right in the eye. "It's part of the territory and it doesn't ever go away." He finished off his drink. "Now I just have to explain them to someone else, that's all."
"You don't have to explain anything to me..."
"You're right, I don't," Mack said, interrupting him. He paused for a moment before continuing. "Four months ago, Corporal Dexter Hurley was killed in the line. Did you ever meet him?"
"Yeah," Bob said solemnly. "He was a really great guy."
"He was," Mack agreed. "I knew him and now he's dead."
Mack got up and put his and Bob's empty mugs in the dishwasher.
"Did you know him well?"
Mack stood still for a moment facing away from Bob.
"Yeah, I did. I knew Dex really well." He cleared his throat. "How about we give sleep another try?"
"Yeah, sure." Bob got up, noticing Mack hadn't moved from the dishwasher. "Thanks for the nightcap and again, I'm sor-"
"Bob, if you apologize one more time in my house I'm..."
"Okay, okay!" Bob said quickly. "Good night!"
Bob walked back to his room and closed the door behind him.
It was a long time before he heard Mack head down the hall to his own room.
They fell into an easy routine. Mack liked to cook but hated cleaning and Bob was a bit of a neat freak, so they complemented each other well.
During their next mission the other men in the Unit teased them, referring to them as if they were an old married couple. While Bob kept protesting loudly that he already was married, Mack took the ribbing in stride, even taunting Bob about who wore the apron at home.
Finally Bob gave up and surrendered to the teasing, which was when it stopped. Too naive to realize they were only doing it to get a rise out of him, he just figured they'd moved on to other topics. Mack still managed a little jibe every once in a while, but Bob played along, joshing right back.
More than once, Jonas had rolled his eyes at the banter, saying things like 'Get a room! Oh wait, you have a whole house.' After a few weeks, people were so used to the two of them living together they started calling Mack to find Bob and vice versa.
Mack came home from the hardware store one evening and jokingly called out, "Honey, I'm home!"
He tossed his bag on the coffee table and headed into the kitchen. Not seeing Bob, he walked through the rest of the house, finding it empty.
He opened a beer and headed out the back door with it and his hardware store purchases to put them in the garage workshop.
Bob was sitting in one of the deck chairs with some papers in his lap.
"Thought maybe you went over to see your little girl or something," Mack said as he tossed the bag into the garage. He headed over and sat in the chair next to Bob's. "What's that you've got there?" he asked, nodding towards the papers.
"Divorce papers. Kim sent them over."
Mack drew a surprised breath and then sighed. "Shit. I'm sorry man. I really thought you two would work things out."
"I did too," Bob said, obviously emotional. "I guess she didn't feel the same way."
Mack laid a hand on Bob's shoulder and squeezed. "It's not too late. Until you both sign the papers... Maybe couples counseling?"
"I suppose it's worth a try." Bob folded up the papers and put them back in the envelope. "It's not over until it's over, right?
"That's the spirit," Mack said, trying to sound encouraging. "If you love her then she's worth fighting for."
"Yeah," Bob said. "I just..." His voice trailed off and he stared out into the yard for a while. "Counseling... I guess that's what we'll do."
"It is twenty-three hundred hours and I am officially drunk!"
Mack held up his shot glass as a salute to the table and then downed it. He spotted Hector walking up to the table and rose to greet him, surprising his teammate by embracing him tightly. "Hector! I love you man!"
Confused, Hector sat down next to a snickering Bob.
"What the hell's going on with him?" he asked under his breath.
"Signed his divorce papers today," Bob answered just as quietly.
"And he's only now drunk?" Hector asked, shaking his head sadly.
"Oh no," Bob replied. "He was officially drunk at twenty-two hundred hours and at twenty-one hundred hours..."
"Got it," Hector said. "So we're just keeping him company?"
"And making sure he doesn't do anything stupid." Bob glanced over at Mack who was giddily nursing a lime. "I'll make sure he makes it home and to bed."
"I'll bet you're not looking forward to his hangover tomorrow," Hector said in sympathy.
Bob picked up his beer and stared into it for a few seconds. "He'll look after me when my divorce goes through, I know that. This is the least I can do for him now."
When Mack couldn't manage to make his next hourly pronouncement, the rest of the team helped Bob get him into his car for the ride home.
They stumbled over the threshold and Bob was barely able to get him to the couch, giving up on dragging him all the way to his bedroom in his intoxicated state.
He pulled a pillow and blanket out of the hallway linen closet and laid the blanket over Mack's lower half. He sat on the edge of the couch and lifted Mack's head enough to slip the pillow beneath it.
"There you go," Bob said soothingly. "Want me to get you anything else?"
"Another drink?" Mack slurred.
"Sorry, mister. I'm cutting you off," Bob teased affectionately.
He went to get up, but an almost strangled noise came from Mack, who was obviously choking back his emotions.
"Hey..." Bob ran his hand back and forth on Mack's arm. "You'll be fine. Just give it time."
"I gave it time," Mack muttered sadly. "Been over six months."
"Six? But I thought..." Bob's voice trailed off in confusion.
Mack continued on as if Bob hadn't spoken. "I always thought it would be Dex here with me. That if I wasn't married anymore, maybe he'd... But he's dead and it doesn't matter. None of it matters..."
A spark of comprehension dawned in Bob, but he said nothing, just watching as Mack slipped from anger to sadness to grief.
"Fucker," he mumbled, his consciousness fading. "Why did he have to die and leave me all alone?"
Mack drifted off and slept like a rock the rest of the night.
Bob pulled up a chair and watched him sleep, lost in thought.
Despite what he told Hector about his own divorce papers, Bob didn't turn to Mack.
He ran away.
He surreptitiously requested leave from the Unit then dropped off the face of the earth.
Normally he enjoyed a drink or two with the guys, but getting drunk was something he did alone. He drove over the state line, found a cheap motel that he paid cash for and didn't have to show an ID, then made a trip to a nearby liquor store.
His second night there he heard an unexpected knock on the door.
He checked his weapon, hoping he wasn't too drunk to fire or so drunk that he'd fire at an innocent person.
He took so long to answer the person outside pounded on the door.
"Bob, open the fuck up! I know you're in there!"
"Mack?" He hastily threw open the door to find Mack standing on the doorstep looking both annoyed and relieved.
"Thought you could run away, huh?" He pushed his way into the room and glanced around at the detritus. "What's a guy got to do to get a beer around here?"
Wordlessly, Bob pulled a beer out of the ice in the cooler he'd brought and handed it to him.
Mack eyed the cooler. "A cooler? You came prepared. Never met a drunken boy scout before." He opened his beer and tossed the cap aside. He took a long drink then sized up Bob's ratty appearance. "You made me drive a long way to find you, mister."
"You weren't supposed to find me," Bob said miserably.
Mack grunted. "You think you can go anywhere where a man with Unit experience can't find you?"
Bob plopped down on the bed. "I guess not. I guess..."
"What?" Mack sat down next to him since there was nowhere else to sit in the tiny room.
"I guess I thought no one would come looking for me." He hung his head and stared at the floor.
Mack sighed. "You always were pretty dense, Bob." He put his hand on the back of Bob's neck and gave him a brief good-natured shake. "Unit men stick together, remember?"
"So does that mean you've come to sober me up and drag me home?" he asked.
"Hell, no. I've come to get shit faced with you." Mack bumped shoulders with Bob. "Got any tequila?" he asked with a conspiratorial wink.
It didn't take long for Mack to catch up with Bob, despite his built up tolerance to alcohol.
Bob didn't recall laying down, so when he woke up on top of the bed he was disoriented and couldn't really remember much. As awareness came back to him, he realized he was curled up on the bed beside Mack who had his arm protectively over him.
Squinting at first at the headache from his hangover, he watched Mack sleep for a little while, not wanting to disturb him by getting up. It hit him all of a sudden that neither of them had had any violent nightmares, else they'd have woken each other in such close quarters.
Mack shifted a little and Bob tried to use it as an opening to get up, but Mack pulled him closer, mumbling, "Don't go, Dex. Don't go."
Bob stilled and drew in a quiet breath. He waited another twenty minutes until Mack finally released him enough that he could slip away.
He got up and pulled an envelope out of his bag. He glanced back at Mack, sleeping peacefully, and signed his divorce papers.
When he lay back down, Mack moved to wrap himself around him.
Bob didn't stop him. He just closed his eyes and let a dreamless sleep take him.
The Santiago mission went to hell in a matter of minutes.
There had to have been a leak, one of their informants likely.
Hector had been injured by shrapnel and Jonas had called for an emergency extraction.
Strung out in the hills in teams of two, they were weaker separated. The firefight was too intense for them to regroup, so they had to hold position long enough for reinforcements to come.
Being the team's expert marksman, Bob had needed a high vantage point for his sniper rifle. As fast as he was picking off enemy shooters, they kept coming. Mack was watching his back and scanning the sky for helicopters, praying the ones he heard coming in the distance were theirs, not the enemy's.
Mack took out two men who were angling to get to Jonas and Hector, then heard a sharp cry behind him.
He whirled around to find Bob had dropped his rifle and was clutching his shoulder.
"You hit?" Mack rushed to his side and found Bob's camouflage was quickly being stained a deep crimson. "Shit! You hang in there, you hear me!" He grasped Bob by his good shoulder and got a nod out of him. He grabbed his radio frantically and radioed out. "Snakedoctor! This is Dirtdiver! I have a code three!"
"Copy that. Will direct Angelflight to your position first."
Mack put his radio away and fired a few shots from Bob's rifle so the enemy wouldn't get the idea that their position was vulnerable.
Putting the rifle aside, he pulled out his first aid supplies. When he looked again, almost the entire front of Bob's shirt was soaked in blood and he was starting to look pale and weak.
"Looks like it hit an artery," Mack said solemnly as he shoved a handful of gauze under Bob's shirt and over the bullet hole. He pressed his hand hard against the wound and Bob winced.
"Tell Serena..." Bob started to say.
"I'm not telling her shit!" Mack interrupted angrily. "Whatever you have to tell her, tell her your damn self!" Bob fell silent, his eyes starting to flutter closed. Mack grabbed him by the chin and forced Bob to look at him. "You're not going to die, do you hear me? You're a Unit man and that means you fight! You hear those rotors? The helicopters will be here any second now and they're going to make sure you get to a medic. So you have to stay with me. Look at me! You are not leaving me!"
Air to ground missiles suddenly exploded nearby and it only took a glance to confirm the helicopters were firing on the enemy lines, clearing the way for their extraction.
Mack shielded Bob from the flying debris as they waited out the onslaught.
"Hold on... Hold on..." Mack muttered, keeping a tight hold on Bob with one hand as the other pressed against his rapidly worsening injury.
Bob mumbled something Mack couldn't quite make out, so he put his ear up to Bob's mouth.
"What did you say? I'm not dead?"
"Not Dex... I'm not Dex..."
Mack couldn't help a little gasp of pain escaping his lips. He pulled Bob closer, feeling his form disturbingly limp against him.
"No, you're not."
Bob woke rebelling against a stabbing pain in his shoulder.
"Nurse!" a familiar voice called out.
He felt a strong hand on his arm and managed to open his eyes enough to see he was in a bed in a nondescript room. Mack was right there beside him.
"Home?" he managed to ask.
Mack shook his head. "Still Chile, but we're working on it. Get some more rest."
"He'll be fine. We all got out. Don't worry."
A nurse appeared with a syringe and in seconds he was unconscious again.
When he woke next the room was different and the pain less.
Mack was beside him still.
"Buenos Aires," Mack answered. "You need to recover from surgery a bit longer before we can transport you back to the States."
Bob tried to nod but wasn't sure if he managed it before he slipped under again.
The next time he woke the room was decided different – very much like an American military hospital.
Mack was beside him again.
"Back home finally?" he asked, his voice croaking from disuse.
"Back in the States," Mack replied, picking up a cup from the nearby table. "You want some ice chips? You sound parched."
Bob nodded and tried to raise his hand to take the cup, but couldn't manage it.
Mack just ignored the effort. He picked up some ice with his fingers and slipped it between Bob's lips. The gesture was oddly intimate, but Bob kept accepting the ice until it was all gone.
"Sorry, they left it long enough ago that most of it melted," Mack apologized.
"It's okay," Bob said. "It was enough. Thanks."
Mack just nodded.
"So how much longer am I in here?" Bob asked.
"Doc says that depends on how long you can stay conscious. You lost a hell of a lot of blood and you need to get your strength back before they'll release you."
Bob nodded. "I wish I could just go home," he said softly.
"I hear you," Mack echoed.
Bob looked confused. "Is this hospital too far away from the house or something? You're not sleeping at your place?"
Mack shook his head. "Nope. We're only about forty miles from the house and I haven't left you since you got shot. Got no plans to either." He cocked his head over to the corner where a simple cot was set up with a pillow and blanket.
"So why not go home?" he asked.
"It's just a empty house," Mack said, putting the ice cup aside. "It's not home."
Bob struggled to sit up, looking like he was about to protest, so Mack put a gentle hand on his good shoulder and encouraged him to lie back down.
"Rest..." he said. "Just rest. I'll be right here."
Bob's homecoming party at the house was a relatively sedate affair, arranged mostly by Mack with Molly's assistance. Hector arrived, still on crutches, and the rest of the A and B teams lounged around in the backyard waiting for Mack to bring Bob home from the hospital.
Molly was waiting for them in the entryway when they drove up. She ushered them inside the house then held the door to the backyard open so Mack could help Bob to a chair. He was walking, but still weak, and Mack wasn't letting him tax himself in any way.
Jonas had commandeered the grill and was busy cooking, but stopped to greet Bob and Mack when they arrived.
"The rest of these jokers get hamburgers," he told Bob. "But I'm making you a steak."
Bob smiled weakly. "Thanks. Nothing like real food after all that hospital crap."
"And an IV," Hector added, scoffing. "Don't forget what fun that is."
Molly brought Bob a drink and met Mack's glare with an indignant one of her own. "There's no alcohol in it! The man just got out of the hospital. You think I'd be giving him tequila?"
Mack backed down with a grin. "No ma'am. Just making sure."
Molly let out a good-natured huff. "I know how to take care of a Unit man. The question is, do you?"
The assembled group let out a low noise and a few chuckles at the swipe.
Mack just kept grinning. "Well, we'll find out now, won't we?"
Serena's voice preceded her as she ran from the front door to the backyard, straight into her father's arms.
"Hey sweetie! I missed you!" Bob held his daughter tightly in his arms.
Mack excused himself and headed into the house to greet his own daughters and Kim.
"Thank you," he told her. "I appreciate you watching the girls while I brought Bob home."
"No problem," Kim said kindly. "Serena misses them something awful. And her daddy," she added softly.
"Lissy, you and Jenny go on out back. There's soda out there and burgers will be done soon."
Mack watched them leave then turned back to Kim. "He's doing better today, but I don't want to wear him out."
Kim nodded. "I'll make sure Serena doesn't bother him too much. She's too young to really understand why Daddy can't play right now, but we're trying."
"I'm glad you two are getting along," Mack said sincerely. "Makes things a lot easier on Serena, I'm sure."
Kim smiled sadly. "Bob and I getting along was never really our problem." She shrugged her shoulders. "That's water under the bridge now. I'm just glad he has a good friend to look after him."
"I'm trying." Mack turned his attention briefly towards the backyard when he heard a high pitched squeal from Jenny that quickly turned into a fit of giggles. "He's great with my girls. They adore him." Mack turned back to Kim, his expression turning a bit more serious. "I admit I was kind of worried that he might move out when the custody arrangements ended up more in my favor than I'd imagined, but he says he loves having them here at the house."
"And Serena loves to come visit when the girls are here, so she gets her daddy and her best friends all in one." She gave Mack an affectionate nudge. "You're a good father, Mack. I really wanted you to have the girls. I'm glad they're here."
Mack looked at her curiously. "I would have thought you'd want Tiffy to have the girls." When Kim smiled a bit conspiratorially, he stared her down. "You wouldn't have had anything to do with Tiffy backing down on her custody demands, would you?"
"Me?" Kim said innocently. "Why Mack Gerhardt, whatever gave you that idea?" Grinning widely, she flounced past him out to the backyard.
Mack gave her a few minutes to greet her ex-husband without him around, then headed out to the backyard himself to take his place keeping watch over Bob.
"Good, you're back. Pizza should be here in about ten minutes."
Bob handed Mack a bottle of beer and Mack stared at him.
"What's the deal?"
Bob shrugged. "You're always down in the dumps after you bring the girls back to Tiffy. I figured you wouldn't want to cook, so I ordered pizza."
Mack seemed both surprised and pleased.
"Thanks," he muttered, settling into his favorite chair.
"I ordered mushroom and peppers for you and pepperoni for me."
"What makes you think I won't steal some pepperoni?" Mack asked jokingly.
"Why do you think I ordered two whole pizzas?" Bob fired back with a wry grin.
Bob laughed. "Oh, I think I know you by now."
"Do you really?" Mack asked, raising an eyebrow. "Name one thing you know about me that everyone in the Unit doesn't already know."
Bob opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it, shaking his head. "Nah."
"Come on! Don't be a wuss! You made the claim, now back it up!"
Bob pursed his lips and just shook his head again. "I'm sorry I said it."
Mack gave him a glare. "You know how I feel about apologizing..."
"This is different," Bob interrupted. "It's personal and none of my business and besides, it doesn't matter."
Mack sat back in his chair, finally understanding Bob's reticence.
"You're talking about Dex, aren't you?"
Bob didn't respond at first, but finally shrugged his shoulders a little. "I don't really know anything anyway, so it was a bad..."
Mack cut him off with a gesture.
"I should have told you a long time ago. Not sure why I didn't. I guess I've got 'don't ask don't tell' tattooed on my brain."
"I can tell you and I know you won't tell anyone."
"I wouldn't, but you don't have to..."
"Bob..." Mack gave him a glare and Bob fell silent obediently.
"I already told you I was involved with someone else while I was married to Tiffy," he started out slowly. "And apparently you figured out it was Dex."
"I guessed," Bob interjected. "I mean, the nightmares, what you said when you were drunk... It all kind of added up."
Mack nodded. "Dex got me. He understood me like no one I'd ever met. Hell, he knew shit about me that even I hadn't figured out yet! He was the one who told me I didn't love Tiffy anymore when I was adamant that I did. He figured it out long before I did - that I was devoted to the idea of my family, not my wife personally, and that I was blind to the fact that she hadn't loved me for a long time either."
He took a moment to drink some of his beer and Bob stayed silent as well.
"We didn't plan on anything happening between us. I was married, he was divorced, but we'd both had sex with other men before, being in the army and all, but still..."
"I get it," Bob said quietly. "Before I met Kim, I mean..." He shrugged.
"You?" Mack looked at him, surprised.
"Yeah," Bob answered with a grin. "Guess you don't know me as well as you thought you did."
"No, I guess I don't," Mack mused. He paused for a moment then continued. "We didn't tell anyone. No one found out. Everyone just figured we were drinking buddies and didn't look any closer. Even Tiffy figured I was over at Dex's place sleeping off a bender the nights he and I..."
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway interrupted them.
Bob started to rise, but Mack glared at him and motioned for him to stay seated. "If you even try to pay for that pizza I'm throwing you out on your ear, understand me?" he growled.
Bob put up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Not going to fight you over it."
"Good." Mack got up and pulled out his wallet. "So the story doesn't end they lived happily ever after. Dex got killed in action and after giving Tiffy one last try, I gave up. I've got my girls now, and I'm happy being a dad."
He headed for the door, but Bob called after him, "Did you love him?"
Mack paused as the doorbell rang. "Yeah, I did."
"Anyone seen Bob?"
Finally ready to head home, Mack poked his head inside the lounge and found Hector and Charles each relaxing with a beer.
"Your wife got called in to Ryan's office," Charles teased. "Guess you'll have to bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan yourself."
He ducked just in time to dodge whatever projectile Mack had thrown at him.
"Now, now boys. Can't play nice without your den mother around?" Bob edged past Mack, giving him a smile as he headed into the room to grab his bag and jacket. "You ready to head home?"
"Yeah," Mack said. "Let's leave these two juvenile delinquents to their own devices."
Mack dodged a bottle cap and Bob followed him out, laughing.
"So, what did Ryan want?" Mack asked, trying to sound casual.
"I'm cleared for active duty. Hector got cleared two weeks ago, so that means..."
"The team can be deployed again," Mack finished. "Well, we knew it was coming. I've enjoyed all this time with the girls, but while we're deployed they're with Tiffy."
"Yeah." Bob walked beside him, heading for the car. "Hopefully we won't be gone too long. I know the girls miss us when we go – yours and mine."
Mack was uncharacteristically silent both on the drive home and once they got to the house. Bob let him make dinner alone, knowing that when Mack needed silence to think it was important to give it to him.
Dinner was quiet too, up until the end when Mack suddenly blurted out, "They offered me B Team Lead again."
"Again?" Bob said, a bit flustered. "They offered it to you before? And you turned it down? Why?"
"I didn't want to leave Jonas before. I..." Mack ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't feel ready. I guess I didn't want the extra pressure of being in charge. Being number two to a good leader? That's a really great place to be."
"I know," Bob said, nodding. "That's always where I wanted to be. So why change your mind now?"
"I haven't told them yes yet." Mack quickly picked up the plates, taking them to the kitchen without another word.
"Are you going to?" Bob followed Mack into the kitchen, unwilling to let it go. "This is a big deal, Mack. It's a major promotion!"
"I don't care about that," Mack said, busying himself with the dishes. "I don't care about the money either."
"Then what do you care about?" Bob asked, exasperated.
"I care about you!" Mack shot back before he could stop himself. "The last mission we were on you almost died! I had your back and you got shot and that was my fault! I can't go out in the field with you anymore! Don't you get that?" He ended his sudden rant, breathing heavily. "I can't risk you getting hurt again," he added, his voice quieter, sadder. "I can't focus if I'm worried about you. We can't be on the same team anymore. I'm sorry."
Mack braced his hands on the counter, radiating tension, unable to look at Bob.
Bob stood there for a moment, watching Mack breathe, giving him time to calm down.
After a minute or two, he walked over and ran his hand over Mack's tense back in a soothing gesture.
"I can transfer to B Team," Bob said quietly. "I don't want you to have to leave Jonas if you want to keep working with him."
Mack just shook his head, not trusting his voice.
"I'm not happy about what you said - mostly because me getting shot was not your fault." He felt Mack bristle under his hand and tried to calm him. "But I agree. I get it and I feel the same way. I can't focus either if I'm worrying about you."
Bob moved closer, running his hand up behind Mack's neck, feeling the strain there.
"I owe you so much. I owe you my life in more ways than one. And as much as I want you watching my back in the field, it's more important that you come home alive to me and the girls."
The coiled tension building in Mack finally exploded. He whirled around and pulled Bob to him, devouring his mouth hungrily in a flurry of long repressed emotion. The sensation was both achingly familiar and breathtakingly new all at the same time.
Bob surrendered completely, intoxicated by the sensation of being in the arms of someone even stronger than himself. He opened his mouth to Mack, welcoming him with an equal hunger as his arms wrapped around him, joyfully drinking in the feel of his muscled back under his impatient hands.
As the kiss progressed, the fear and desperation melted into reassurance and then finally desire. Mack stopped clutching Bob tightly and let his hands begin to roam. Bob let his hands fall to Mack's sides and hooked his fingers in the belt loops of his jeans, tugging their bodies closer together.
They broke the kiss slowly as they heard the doorbell ring repeatedly and incessantly.
They stood for a few seconds, reluctant to release their hold on each other.
"That would be Serena," Bob said quietly. "I have her starting tonight."
"I know," Mack said, nodding. "It's Friday night. I have the schedule memorized for your daughter too, not just mine." He let go of Bob, forcing a wistful smile. "Go get your little girl."
Bob smiled back at him and headed for the door, running his hand down Mack's arm as he passed, giving his hand a squeeze just before he let it go.
"Hi there, sweetie!"
Mack stood in the kitchen happily listening to father and daughter reunite.
"I hear a cookie monster in the house!" he bellowed. "Bob! Hide the cookies!"
Serena's delighted squeal greeted him as he headed out to join them.
Mack finished loading the dishwasher and headed to the sink to wash his hands.
"Where's the munchkin?" he asked as Bob walked in. He picked up a towel to dry his hands and leaned back against the counter.
"I took her back to Kim's." Bob walked right up to Mack, took the towel out of his hands and tossed it aside to stand in front of him. "We're alone in the house... again."
Mack took Bob's face in his hands and held it as he kissed him slowly and thoroughly. Bob slid his arms loosely around Mack's waist and relaxed into the kiss.
"Mmm... Made me wait for that," Mack murmured. "And here I thought I'd have to wait until you brought her back Sunday morning." He pulled back suddenly, looking at Bob questioningly. "You didn't send your daughter away early because of..."
"No, no!" Bob tugged him close, closing the distance Mack had put between them. "It wasn't like that." Mack gave him a stern look so he explained begrudgingly. "She ran over a snail on her bike and killed it. She started crying and asking for her mother, so I took her over there. Kim said since it was after dinner anyway..." He shrugged. "I agreed. It was best for Serena. Sometimes a kid just wants their mom, you know? Besides, it doesn't matter that much where she sleeps. She knows she's loved and that's what really matters."
Mack nodded. "I just don't want..." he waved a hand in the sparse space between their two bodies, "this to come between you and your daughter, you hear me?"
"It'll never happen," Bob assured him. "I have room in my life for both of you."
"Glad to hear it." Mack's voice rumbled in the back of his throat as he leaned in to claim Bob's mouth again.
This time there was no hesitation, just a realization of patient waiting drawing to an end.
Far from timid, their kisses were a subtle battle for dominance, tongues chasing each other from mouth to mouth as hands worked their way under shirts and over flushed skin.
"So..." Bob managed, as Mack nipped his way across his jawline and down his neck. "Do you really want to do this in the kitchen? Because I was thinking a bed might be nice."
"Smart ass," Mack grumbled into his neck, grabbing his ass almost as a punch line. "Have a little patience. We'll wind up in the bedroom at some point."
Bob slid his fingers under the waistband of Mack's jeans suggestively. "Well forgive me for being impatient. You made me wait a long time for this. I think I've earned it."
"I made you wait?" Mack asked, busying himself with pushing Bob's shirt up.
"Yes," Bob answered, taking the hint and pulling his shirt the rest of the way off. "I had to be sure how you felt..." he started pulling Mack's shirt off and added almost as an afterthought, "about me."
Mack put his hands over Bob's, stilling them. "There's more to this than what you're saying," he said sagely. "Spill or this stops right here and now."
One glance and Bob could tell he was serious.
"I had to know for sure if..." He glanced away, finding it difficult to speak. "If this was about me, really me, or if..."
"If what?" Mack asked impatiently, trying to get Bob to look him in the eye.
Bob finally faced him, his expression stoic. "If I was just a convenient substitute for Dex," he said, trying to keep his voice even.
"You can't be serious!" Mack exclaimed. "How could you even think..." He stopped and took a breath to regain his composure. "Dex... I loved Dex, but he's gone. He's been gone a long time now. He's in my past. You're here now. It's you I want, you I glued myself to all the way back from Chile, you I let into my home to share my life and my children with..." He pulled Bob close to him and kissed him. "There is absolutely no confusion in my mind. I know what I want. I know who I want and I don't ever want you to think or say anything like that again, because nothing could be further from the truth. Do you hear me?"
"Wow," Bob marveled. "And here I was expecting a simple 'Shut up you idiot and kiss me.'"
Mack laughed. "Shut up you idiot then." He lowered his mouth to Bob's for another round of kisses which quickly progressed from playful to passionate, helped along by Bob's efforts to finally get Mack's shirt off.
"I mean it," Mack mumbled, kissing his way down Bob's chest.
"I know you do," Bob said contentedly.
It took ages to work their way down the hall, awkwardly trying to remove shoes and socks while still kissing and touching. By the time they got to the bedroom, they were both only wearing their jeans – Bob's already unbuttoned by Mack's nimble fingers.
"Okay, on the bed with you," Mack said, pushing Bob down on the mattress as he started pulling his jeans off him.
"Oh, so this is how it's going to be?" Bob teased. "You're going to expect me to follow orders in the bedroom?"
"Damn straight," Mack said with a wink. "I outrank you."
Bob laughed. "Yeah, but you're not my commanding officer."
Mack finished stripping Bob of his jeans and underwear and quickly shed the rest of his own clothes as well. He climbed on the bed and hovered over Bob.
"Maybe not out there," he said, his voice a deep rumble. He lowered his body until it brushed against Bob's and growled in his ear, "But in here I am."
He closed the distance between them and covered Bob's body with his own. The full skin on skin contact was overwhelming and they erupted into a flurry of activity: hands grasping roughly, mouths mapping trails of new explorations, arms and legs tangling and untangling in a manic frenzy.
Chaos became order when they finally slipped into a groove, their now sweat slicked bodies gliding against each other, the friction of hard cocks trapped between their bodies their sole focus.
Mack grasped the firm roundness of Bob's ass as he moved him against him. Bob's fingers dug almost painfully into his biceps as he gasped, eyes closing as he started to lose control.
Mack put all his efforts into generating enough friction to drive them both over the edge. He felt Bob stiffen and groan through his release just before a jolt of pleasure exploded inside him and he lost himself in his own ecstasy.
They stilled, their heavy breathing the only motion until Mack finally shifted to lay on his back beside Bob. Shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, the backs of their hands brushed lazily against each other as they maintained their connection while they slowly came down together.
"If I fall asleep, feel free to kick me," Mack said quietly, nudging Bob who chuckled. "We should probably jump in the shower before bed. I'd love to just fall asleep, but I'm all sweaty."
Bob turned to lay on his side, looking at Mack. "You don't have to shower on my account. I like the way you smell when you're all hot and sweaty." He leaned down and licked a wide stripe on Mack's shoulder. "And how you taste."
"Heh," Mack chortled. "Come here." He slipped a hand behind Bob's neck and pulled him down into a slow sensual kiss.
"So," Bob said when they finally separated. "Shower or sleep?"
"How about shower then sleep?"
Bob chuckled. "Well, it's not like I was going to put you through sleep deprivation."
Mack shifted to lay on his side facing Bob. "Now that might not be such a bad thing..." his hand skated down Bob's hip suggestively, "you keeping me up late."
"Ah, so shower then sex then sleep. Sure you're not too tired for all that, old man?" Bob taunted.
Rather than answer, Mack grabbed the back of Bob's neck and mashed his lips against Bob's, aggressively kissing him until he wordlessly surrendered to Mack.
"Wow..." Bob's eyes were wide with surprise when Mack finally pulled away gloating. "So much for you being too tired."
"So much for me being too old," Mack joshed. He rose up off the bed and held out his hand to Bob. Bob grinned up at him and accepted the proffered hand, letting Mack pull him not just up, but into his arms.
"A nice hot shower..." Mack mumbled into Bob's neck as he busied himself with nipping his way down to his shoulder. "A nice warm bed..."
"Sounds good to me," Bob muttered, tilting his head back as Mack distracted him with his progress down his body.
"Good." Mack broke away and pulled Bob by the hand towards the master bathroom. "Let's go."
Bob followed, but tugged on his hand a little. "So if I'm going to be sleeping in here, how do we work this out when the girls are over?"
Mack stopped for a moment and tightened his grip on Bob's hand. "We'll work it out. We'll decide what we want to tell people and when, but in the mean time..." He drew Bob in a little closer. "We flawlessly execute some of the most covert missions on the planet for a living. I have confidence we can pull this off, especially if our most critical audience is made up of three little girls." His tone turned serious for a moment. "We're going to make this work."
Bob flashed him a wide smile. "I know we can." He switched places with Mack and started pulling him towards the bathroom. "Now about that hot shower..."
"You sure you don't want to just skip forward to the warm bed?"
"Don't tempt me, soldier..."
– - –