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FIC: Only the Brave (CSI:NY, PG)

Title: Only the Brave
Fandom: CSI:NY
Characters: Mac Taylor, Adam Ross
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~1600
Warnings/Spoilers: Need to know what happened in Snow Day
Disclaimer: Fanfic, for fun, not profit.
Notes: Written for a challenge over at tv_universe where we were asked to create a written entry, centered on a missing or filler scene. This can be fanfic, poetry, meta, etc. I choose to write a fic for CSI:NY. I always felt there needed to be a scene after Snow Day (4.24), wherein Mac talked to Adam about what happened. So I wrote one.

Only the Brave

Mac Taylor left the crime lab by the back way, a route that was as familiar as it was irritating. The day after the attempted takeover and drug heist at the crime lab, the Weekly had run the ridiculous "Hero Cop" storyline with his picture prominently displayed. Even now, a week later, the press was still camping out trying to catch shots of him as he came and went. He really hoped that they would move on to something new by the time he returned from his trip to England.

His usual routine was to spend as little time as possible outside the safe harbor of the crime lab or his home, but today was different. As much as Mac hated the way the press had handled the situation, he knew that his people deserved recognition and a chance to celebrate. A celebration that had to wait until today when Danny was finally out of the hospital and Adam's leave of absence had ended. Danny and Adam were the ones who had really paid the price for their actions.

While Mac hadn't been able to get the press to acknowledge their sacrifice, he'd at least been able to get the department to honor them. He'd just gotten word today that they were both going to receive the Medal of Valor. With his plane leaving for London tomorrow, he wouldn't have another chance to tell them. He'd risk a little exposure to be the one to tell tell everyone the news.

The bar was loud and crowded by the time he got there, but everyone made way for Mac as he worked he way to the bar where Danny was laughing with Stella, Don and Lindsay. As he crossed over he scanned the room, checking out everyone else who'd come. It was a nice mixture of techs and police. Sheldon was holding court in the far corner and even from a distance Mac could see that he was telling about his part of the adventure. Adam was standing next to a table of lab techs, looking to be in deep conversation with Kendall.

"Mac!" Don called to him, holding out a beer. "We were beginning to think you weren't going to make it."

Mac took the beer. "I wouldn't miss it for that world." He looked around. "I was hoping to make a toast but I'm not sure anyone will hear it."

"Leave it to me." Lindsay grabbed a nearby chair and climbed onto it. With a quick grin she put her fingers to her lips and let loose with a whistle that nearly deafened those standing next to her. The bar fell silent. "That's how it's done where I come from." She jumped down and grinned at Mac.

Mac shook his head but raised the beer that Don had given him and addressed the now attentive crowd.

"A week ago we came under attack. We stood strong and were victorious." He paused and waited for the cheers to die down. "We deserve to celebrate that. But before we get started," he paused for several loud calls that they already had, "I have an announcement. There are two people who really stood out during this crisis. Two people who put their lives on the line in service to this city. Two people who truly demonstrated the courage and strength that makes us great. Two people whose selfless actions and sacrifice saved lives and helped put the bad guys away. Two people, whom I'm proud to say, will both receive the Medal of Valor!" He raised his glass high. "Danny Messer and Adam Ross!"

At the cheering of the crowd, Mac raised his glass to Danny, who was staring at his friends in stunned silence, and then toward the back of the bar, trying to catch Adam's eye. Instead, all he saw was a silent table of lab techs staring at each other in confusion. Kendall looked at him and shrugged, gesturing to the back door.

Mac swore to himself and shoved the beer he was holding into Stella's hand. "I'll be right back," he said as he headed out the front.

Mac knew that the alleyway that the back door entered into had only one exit this time of night: It fed into to another alley that eventually emptied out into the street a half a block down and on the other side of the block. Mac turned the corner just in time to see Adam exit the alley. He crossed to the street lamp and leaned against it. Mac could hear his ragged breathing from where he stood, so he waited a moment and then approached slowly, making sure that he could be heard.

Adam looked up when Mac approached and although he looked like he really wanted to, he didn't bolt. Mac took that as a win.

"People usually like to see the guest of honor at the party, you know." Mac kept his voice conversational. "Everyone would like to congratulate you."

"Well they shouldn't. I don't want the stupid award."

"Why not? You earned it."

Adam's laugh was low and edged with mania. "No, I didn't. I didn't save anyone. I'm not a hero, I'm a—" He took a ragged breath and rubbed his hand. "I'm nothing but a coward."

Mac bit back the automatic denial that sprung to mind. He should have known this was coming. Adam had been too quiet when Mac had visited him in the hospital and when he did talk it was all about Danny. His written report on what had happened in the warehouse was dryly factual and highly detailed - the only part he'd glossed over was the one about what had been done to him while he'd been held hostage. At the time Mac had assumed Adam just needed to put some distance between himself and the torture. Now it seemed to be something much worse: he wasn't putting distance between himself and the torture, he was completely discounting it.

Mac let silence stand for a moment, watching how Adam kept outlining the still visible wounds from the cigarette burns on his hand, as if he could erase them. "How do you figure that?"

Adam gave the same half-laugh, half-sob. "It's my fault! I shouldn't get a commendation; I should get fired. I gave them everything they needed to get into the lab."

"No. You didn't." Mac kept his voice calm and authoritative.

"How can you say that when you know what happened? It was all in the report: How they used my codes to get in. How I gave them everything they needed."

"You didn't give them anything." Mac reached over and took Adam's wrist, gently turning his hand until the marks from the cigarettes were visible under the harsh glare of the streetlight. "They stole it from you. I read the doctors' reports. I've seen the results of torture before. This took time and intent."

Adam pulled his wrist out of Mac's grip. "But I told them what they wanted to know."

Mac shrugged. "You were being tortured. Anyone would have."

"You wouldn't have."

"You don't know that. I don't know that."

Adam shook his head, still compulsively rubbing his hands. "Come on, Mac. You don't have to lie to me just to make me feel better."

"I make it a policy to never lie to my friends, Adam. Not even to make them feel better." Mac's sharp tone had the intended effect and Adam met his eyes. "You were awarded this commendation because you earned it. No more, no less."

"But I didn't do anything heroic. If it wouldn't have been for Danny-"

Mac cut him off. "Danny wasn't the one who got the sulfuric acid from the kit. Danny wasn't the one who ran into the line of fire to stop SWAT from shoot innocent officers. That was you."

"But that was only after I'd told them everything they wanted to know."

"That's right," Mac said. "That was after they tortured you. After you knew what they were capable of and knew, first hand, what fighting back would cost you. That doesn't sound like cowardice to me."

Adam didn't say anything and he continued to stare at his hand. "I keep thinking that if only the scars would go away, I could forget about it."

"These things take time, Adam. What happened to you isn't something that can be forgotten about, it has to be lived with. But you're not going to be able to do that if every time you look at your hands you see cowardice."

Adam chewed his lip and stared down at his hands. "How do I stop that?"

"I can't tell you that," Mac said. "You're going to have to figure that out for yourself. What I can tell you is three things: One- No one knows how they will act under torture. Even the best-trained soldiers don't know what they will do until they're in the situation. Two- Everyone breaks at some point. Even those best trained soldiers will break eventually. The best anyone can hope for when that happens is that you come out alive with the least amount of collateral damage. Three- Those scars?" Mac gestured at Adam's hands. "Cowards don't get scars like those. Only the brave do."

Adam didn't say anything and continued to stare at his hands, but his breathing evened out. After a minute he dropped his hands to his side and looked down the street.

"Now," Mac said, "how about we go back to the party? I figure that you are about three drinks behind Danny already and everyone there wants to buy you one."

Adam took a deep breath and then met Mac's eyes. "Maybe just one drink," he said. "I mean, I can't over do it, I have to work tomorrow."

"No, you don't." Mac pressed on before Adam could jump to the wrong conclusion. "I arranged another day of leave for you. You don't have to be back at work until Wednesday."

This time Adam's laugh was genuine. "In that case, maybe I'll have two or three."

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