The low murmur of conversation did nothing to ease the knot of complete and utter fear that had swelled inside Liam. It wasn’t mixed with the jittery, overwhelming surge of panic any more. That had been soothed once he’d been allowed into the room, allowed to see Adam. Though the sight added another layer to the knot choking Liam. The pale skin covered in colorful bruises, the long line of stitches at the man’s temple, the similar, yet shorter, one mending his split lip… And that didn’t even take into account the other injuries Adam has sustained while taking down their suspect. Broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, gunshot to the thigh…
Liam closed his eyes and turned away, unwilling to let the rest of Adam’s team, their friends, see just how affected he was by all of this. Hell, if Adam woke—no, no, when Adam woke—he didn’t need to be worrying about how Liam was handling the situation. That couldn’t be on his radar, at all. He needed to focus on recovering. Period.
A hand settled on Liam’s shoulder and it took everything in him not to jump at the contact.
Adam’s second, Scott, moved so he could look Liam in the eye, hand still heavy, fingers twitching on Liam’s shoulder. “he’s going to be okay? Hardly the first time he’s been knocked on his ass. He always gets back up. You know how scrappy our boy is.”
“Yeah, the doc said he’s gonna be fine,” Sarah piped in from where she sat beside Adam’s bed. “Soon enough, it’s going to be complaining and whining as he waits to be field rated again. And we’ll be thinking back to this day longingly…the brief, brief glorious time he was still and silent.”
“Oh, come on, guys,” the last member of the team—the newbie—Harris, protested quietly. “That’s not—”
“‘s’okay. Le’ them ge’ their snarks in now, while they ca’.”
Liam spun around, dislodging the hold Scott had on him, at the sound of Adam’s voice—soft and slightly slurred.
“Well, welcome back,” Sarah leaned forward, laid a hand over Adam’s. “Why don’t you open those pretty green eyes, so we know you’re really awake there?”
“Don’ wanna,” he said, half whining though the corner of his mouth quirked up—followed quickly by a grimace of pain. “Jus’ leave me alone. ‘M’fine. Go wrap up your reports, yeah? Le’ me rest here. Pre’sure the docs wan’ me t’rest.”
“Just had to make sure you weren’t bailing on us,” Scott said cheerfully. “You heard him; let’s get back to work.” Then, with a light touch to one of Adam’s feet as he passed, he added softly, “Be back tonight.”
Harris followed Scott from the room after a quick murmured, “Glad you’re okay.”
Sarah rolled her eyes and rose. “Have it your way. I’ll smuggle you in some real food when we come later.”
The soft huffing laugh was Adam’s only response. Sarah shook her head, flashed a bright smile at Liam and left.
Liam stayed where he was, gaze firmly on the man in the bed, wondering if he should just slip from the room—Adam probably none the wiser that he’d even been there. No explaining why he’d dropped everything and run the moment he’d heard Adam was injured and in the hospital.
“Gonna be fine, Lee.” Adam winced as he shifted slightly and finally opened his eyes, pinning Liam with a stare that was steady as hell despite the pain killers that were swimming in his system. “Was one thing for you to stew in the guilt of it all when we were on the same team, but now? No need. Not that there was any need before…”
Liam shrugged. “First big case you’ve had since I…since I transferred. Thought I could count on them to have your back.”
Fuck, he hadn’t meant to say that. Hadn’t meant to give away one of the reasons he’d avoided moving on, career-wise, giving control of the team to Adam.
“They do have my back. Jus’ like you did. Jus’ like I had yours. Not their fault.” His tongue popped out, nudging the stitches once, twice. “Par’ of the job, Lee—the risks. You know that.”
He did. Didn’t mean he had to fucking like it. He’d hated it then, hated it now. And nothing was going to change that. Certainly not the fact they worked on different teams now—hell, different buildings, different agencies.
“Glad you’re here, though,” Adam muttered, eyes closing again. “Can’t believe I’m gonna say this, bu’ missed seeing your mug every day.”
Liam closed his own eyes, inhaling deeply. The fear was gone—well, mostly—but a knot of a different kind lodged in his throat. One he was so familiar with it was almost comforting. Almost. Lifting his lids, he just stared. For once, free to do so openly. Adam’s dark hair, normally styled within an inch of its life, was a tousled mess, falling over his forehead. And the man may be beat up, but he was still so fucking beautiful it took Liam’s breath away—another all too familiar feeling.
Adam’s tongue snuck out again, slipping over the fat lip, prodding the stitched wound.
“Stop poking at it,” Liam snapped, probably a bit too harshly, but Adam just snorted
“Can’t tell me wha’ to do. No’ the boss of me.” He lifted a brow, green eyes darkening with…something. “No’ anymore.”
Liam searched for something, anything to say—a scathing reply worthy of their normal back and forth that no one else seemed to get. The opportunity passed as the silence stretched to long and Adam’s gaze moved away, just a little bit to the left.
“That…” He squinted a moment, tilted his head to the side, which led to him pressing a hand to head, hissing in pain. “That is the most unfortunate piece of art for a hospital room. Stupid fuckers.”
Liam twisted to look at the framed print on the wall. A forest scene with rich greens and browns. Beyond a tree, a light shone brightly. It wasn’t clear what the light’s source was—that was probably up for interpretation or some bullshit, he supposed—but its rays spread outward, kissing the dirt path and leaves. Staring intently, he couldn’t figure out what about it offended Adam. But, he thought, turning back toward the hospital bed, he just had to wait it out. Adam would spill eventually, always did.
“Oh for—” Hand still pressed to the head—Liam thought maybe he should hit the call button, talk to the nurse about the obvious failure with Adam’s pain management—Adam chuckled. “Don’t you think a picture of a damn bright light is the last thing someone in the hospital should be looking at?” When Liam just frowned deeper, he let his hand drop to his lap. “Sometimes, Lee… I’ve successfully avoided going into the light so far. I don’t want it staring me down the whole time I’m awake.”
Liam looked between the picture and the other man several times. “Seriously? It bothers you that much?”
“Well, yeah. How’m I s’pose to sleep knowing that it could take me, huh?”
“You’re ridiculous,” he muttered, taking a step close to the wall and pulling the picture off the hook. Making sure Adam saw his exaggerated eye roll, he strode to the door and reached around to prop the photo against the wall outside the room. “There,” he said, moving to the side of the bed. “All safe from the big bad bright light. Idiot.”
“Thanks…boss.” He grinned, faltering a bit as he again stuck his tongue out to push at the stitches.
Liam shook his head and gave in, just a little, tapping Adam’s chin with his finger, silently telling the other man to leave them alone. “Not your boss anymore,” he reminded. “We’re…we’re equals now, Adam.”
He cursed the questioning tone in his voice, heart hammering as Adam held his gaze, assessing even as it was clear he was struggling to stay awake. Liam wondered if he’d mis-stepped, but the strange, yet exciting, dance they’d been engaged in for years had changed dramatically the moment he accepted his current position and left the team. Even though he’d done it in part to open up the possibility of building on this thing between them, he hadn’t been sure footed since. The rules before—those he had understood, had stood behind even when it’d been difficult and maddening. But now? What if he’d been wrong? What if this thing wasn’t actually a thing? What if—
“I never minded you being the boss, but,” Adam drew in a shaky breath, “I like this better.”
“Yeah?” he said, sitting in the chair Sarah had vacated earlier.
“Yeah, I really do.” He swallowed audibly, and his eyes drifted closed. A few moments passed, then he jolted, a pained cry falling from his battered mouth as his eyes darted around. “Lee?”
“Hey, hey,” he soothed, hands gently easing the other man back down onto the pillow. He didn’t pull away this time—like he would have in the past—and slid his hand into Adam’s thick hair, careful of the bumps and cuts. “Just rest. I’m here. Not going anywhere.”
“Not going anywhere,” he repeated firmly then, knowing the way Adam worried, added, “Called in, took care of it.”
Adam turned his head, nose nudging the sensitive skin of Liam’s inner wrist. “Good. No one else I wan’ to see when I wake up?”
Throat tight, hope higher than he’d ever felt it, Liam managed, “Yeah?”
“Mm hmmm.” Adam’s eyes opened, half-mast, and his lips twitched. “S’cause you’re so pretty.”
“Oh, fuck off.” Liam snorted then leaned over to press a kiss to Adam’s cheek. “Get some rest.”
Adam huffed and once again pressed the tip of his tongue against his fat lip before muttering, “Better fucking heal quick.”
“Yeah? Why’s that?”
“After all these years, ya really think a freakin’ kiss on th’ cheek is anywhere close t’enough?”