A/N: To all of those that took the time to review, thank you.

Warnings: It gets a little rough ahead.

Jack pulled the hummer into its usual spot and killed the engine, turning to Mac.

"I don't see why you had to wait for me to stow my gear in the EOD shed." Mac grumped.

"Let's just say I wanna hang out with you as much as possible before I head back to the greatest state God every made. Don't head off to the mess yet, wait for me." Jack responded.

"Why do I get the feeling your full of it?" Mac roughly jerked his door open and stepped out. Jack followed, lifting his gear.

"I don't know what you're talking about." Jack headed in the direction of their tent, going inside first. Mac trudged after him.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about." Mac dumped his helmet and jacket on his bunk. What's up with all the babysitting?"

"I ain't babysitting no one. Least of all some mouthy bomb nerd," Jack smiled to take the sting out of his words.

A soldier popped his head in their tent, "Dalton, you're needed at TOC."

"What? Kristoph, we're headed for chow. We been out all day," the delta responded.

"Don't shoot the messenger," Kristoph raised his hands, turned around and headed back the way he'd come.

"Wait for me," Jack turned his angry gaze on Mac.

"What? No. I'm hungry," Mac answered.

"Since when?" Jack turned the full wattage of his glare on the younger man. "Half the time I gotta tell ya to eat. You're a bag of bones."

"I told you, I eat when I'm hungry. And now I'm hungry. Don't worry, nothing's gonna happen to me in the mess hall." Mac took off that way and Jack moved fast to grab his arm.

"Nothing, huh? I see to remember a few days ago; pulling you off an infantryman. I'd never seen you so mad." Jack tugged Mac further into their tent.

"Whatever, dude. He had it coming." Mac failed to shake Jack's grip. "Go do what you gotta do at Command and then come find me in the mess."

Maintaining his grip, "don't do anything stupid without me."

Mac smiled, "You got it, man."

Jack released Mac and watched him walk out. Shaking himself, he stowed all his gear except his sunglasses and hurried to Command.

Thirty minutes of paperwork and Jack was headed for the mess, sure that Mac would be done eating. As he turned a corner he stopped short at Mac's elevated voice and the harsh tone.

"Don't trash talk Dalton around me Johnson. You aren't half the soldier he is. You never will be." Mac growled.

"Whatever, I already said what I want to say. You're just as useless as he is. His little pet or something."

Jack listened to the two go back and forth, more than a little surprised at Mac's firm defense of him. Jack tensed, he'd heard enough and was about to reveal himself when Ross's voice was added to the mix. "Johnson, I told you to rearrange his face, not talk him to death."

"You lay a hand on me and you'll regret I!" Mac retorted. "You might start it, but I'll finish it. You'll both be in the infirmary."

"That's what I'm talk about, Johnson." Ross gloated. "Just as mouthy, stupid and useless as Dalton. I'm gonna make you bleed."

"Don't trash talk Dalton," Mac repeated. Jack noticed he didn't bother to defend himself. "We're all here to do a job. I'm not gonna let you beat on me anymore. Walk away."

"Let us?" Johnson repeated. "You can't stop us."

Jack felt a hot wave of energy flow through his body. His clenched his fists in anger, more than ready to use them. He held back, knowing he needed Ross or Johnson to throw the first punch.

"Teach this little mutt a lesson," Ross said.

Mac was ready for the first blow, raising his forearm to block it. The first punch was quickly followed by a haymaker to his body, which he did not block. Johnson rained several blows on Mac's ribs. Mac finally got his first solid blow into Johnson's rib cage and Johnson connected a right cross to Mac's face. Stumbling back, he spit blood. A blur stalked past him, big and angry. Mac felt a moment of panic when he recognized Jack. Jack punched the surprised Johnson in the jaw, followed by a knee to the gut. One more solid right cross and Johnson was unconscious on the ground.

"C'mere, Ross." Jack beckoned with two fingers, fists raised.

Ross didn't hold back, he tackled Jack to the dirt floor. The two traded punches and wrestled around on the ground. Jack dominated the brawl. Mac stood by, watching as Dalton creamed Ross and absently hoped all of the delta's anger was being spent on Ross and Johnson.

Jack pulled Ross to his feet by the collar of his shirt. Delivering another punch to Ross's face, "you need your hands broke for you as a reminder that the kid's off limits?"

Ross didn't answer accept to spit a tooth out and wobble on his feet.

Jack brought his knee up into Ross's face, "I need an answer, Ross."

Ross held his palms up, "kid's safe. No trouble from either of us."

Jack nodded and pushed Ross down. He fell hard on his behind. "Remember, I have a long reach, Ross. Just because I'm headed back to the states does not mean that Mac's defenseless. I've got a lot of friends that owe me favors."

"No harm will come to him." Ross fell back.

Jack turned sharply towards his young partner. "You're coming with me."

Jack headed back to their tent, confident Mac would follow.

Mac felt a wave of fear come through him. He'd seen Jack take out a target before. He'd felt how hard Jack could punch. He knew how deadly his partner could be when the situation called for it. With one last look at the downed soldiers, Mac headed after the senior soldier.

Mac said nothing as he followed three steps behind Dalton to their tent. "Look, Jack."

"Inside," Jack said with deadly calm.

"I can explain." Mac held a hand up.

"Start talking," Jack entered their tent after Mac.

Mac felt his anger spike at the order, now that he was in the relative safety of his tent he let his frustration show. "You know what? It's actually none of your business! I had it handled."

"Oh, wrong move, buddy."Jack pushed hard on Mac's shoulder and he fell on his bunk, Mac tried to smother a groan, cradling his ribs. Jack's eyes not missing a thing.

"How long were you standing there, eavesdropping on me?" Mac glared up at Jack.

"Seriously, you're gonna be upset about your privacy when I just saved you from a beat down?" Jack glared right back. Not giving Mac a chance to respond, "millennials, huh. You need your attitude adjusted for you. Bet you came from parents that don't spank."

"I can take care of myself." Mac responded, winching at the parenting comment.

"I can see that." Jack turned away from Mac and grabbed the first aid kit. "Take your shirt off."

"No," Mac answered.

"I ain't asking, Mac. You just saw what I did to the last two guys that upset me. Shirt off now or I do it for you. I know your ribs are at least cracked."

"I'm a grown man and I don't want your help."

"You keep saying you're grown and can't take care of yourself. I don't care. Look, either I'm looking at those ribs or you're going to the infirmary. We'll probably run into your buddies Ross and Johnson. That'll be nice."

"I don't need the infirmary." Mac balked. "I don't want any help."

"I swear, you are the most stubborn, pig headed, know-it-all..." Jack moved closer.

Mac fought to get his feet under him. His behind had just briefly left his bed when Jack one handedly pushed him back down, swept his legs up onto the bed and fixed his partner with a hard look.

"I'm not sure what's wrong with you." Jack muttered in disgust.

Mac lay gasping on his bed, clutching his ribs, eyes closed. "Not me. You don't understand English."

Jack roughly unlaced Mac's boots and dumped them in his own locker. "Now, I've got your boots, you ain't going anywhere without 'em. You're obviously too hurt to fight me. Are you gonna unwrap those arms from around your ribs or am I taking your pants next?"

"Dalton, stop. I never gave you permission to care about me." Mac writhed on the bed.

"Mac, what the hell, man? You never just had someone be your friend? Stand up for you?" Jack moved Mac to a sitting position.

"Just one guy, and he ain't here."

"Well, now you got two." Jack added, "I ain't in the habit of asking permission to take care of my friends. By the way, you coulda made this a heck of a lot easier by coming to me in the first place."

"I can..."

"Take care of yourself, sure you can." Jack gestured to Mac's shirt. "It's comin' off now. Ready or not."

Jack unfolded Mac's arms with a little resistance. Though Mac couldn't have been accused of truly fighting Jack, he definitely couldn't be accused of helping. Jack eased Mac's arms out of the shirt and over his head.

"Geez, kid, some of these bruises are old. How long have you been defending me to these jokers?"

"Not everything is about you, Knuckle Dragger."

Jack turned to the FAK and busted out a pair of ice packs. "Here, one on your face, one on the worst of the ribs. I know Ross and I heard you defend me."

"I'm fine."

"Don't care. Take it."

Mac leveled a glare at Jack.

"Quit fighting. You won't win."

"Fine." Mac said, forcefully.

Jack worked to clean up the cuts he could and ice everything else. "Well, your ribs aren't broken. Just cracked, I'm guessing. Stay here with that ice. I'm gonna go talk to TOC about taking us out of rotation for a day or two while you heal."

"No!" Mac jack knifed into a sitting position. "Ow.."

"Lay back down." Jack eased Mac back down. "Don't worry, I'll tell them you got food poisoning, not got your butt kicked."

"I had it handled and I'll be good to go for tomorrow."

"Can you at least pretend that I'm your senior officer and that I'm in charge?" Jack turned to leave the tent, then came back and grabbed Mac's boots out of his locker. "I'm taking your boots. If you use that big brain of yours to make yourself some footwear somehow, you'll live to regret it. You better be here when I get back or I'll make what those morons did to you seem like a playground tussle."

"Jack..." Mac sounded so tired.

"Shut up. I got this."


"Geez, what?" Jack stopped, and looked Mac in the eye.

"Thank you."

The End.


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