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Code Blue Screen

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It wasn't a regift, not exactly, as Mac purposefully went out and bought a brand new C++ GUI programming guide, one without the obvious wrinkles along the spine his own Christmas gift had evidenced upon receipt.

Not that Mac cared, he knew PC couldn't resist checking the book out and just the fact he gave it away while wanting it so badly had proved his Christmas spirit well enough.

Now, a month later, with PC in the hospital for his update, it only seemed right to get him something to tide him over the discomfort of his massive Vista-related surgery. He brought along another photo album just in case the Vista implantation accidentally inspired a sentimentality module somewhere in PC's drive, but Mac wouldn't hold his breath.

Even if it was his best one yet, he thought, grinning as he leafed through it. Ah, there they were, holding hands on their first networking date. And here was their first minor tiff and whoops, there was PC looking over his shoulder at voices that weren't there, but that glitch didn't last long, at least that's what he told Mac (although that incident had forced them into counseling for a short time) and here, aw, a kiss that the digicam caught but was kept private, at least off the Internet, as PC insisted that some parts of their life together weren't for sharing.

Not that it didn't headline a locked post in Mac's Livejournal less than an hour later, but what PC didn't know wouldn't kill him.

Mac debated picking up a box of chocolate-covered RAM in the hospital gift shop, but decided against it. Who knew how long those things had been sitting there and besides, trusting a company called "Geek Squad Delights" ... eh. He'd make cupcakes tomorrow, with sprinkles, or maybe without as PC had once complained that Mac's baking was "too whimsical" for his admittedly simple tastes.

Yep, that rainbow frosted batch of Apple logo-shaped cookies had gone over like a gigabyte of lead all right.

With some effort, Mac made his way through the hospital maze to a floor station, which buzzed with frantic activity. He waited politely for a moment and when that had no effect, he raised his voice to ask, "I'm looking for a PC who just had a Vista upgrade," he began.

The receptionist cut him off with a sour expression. "That's a helpful description. We have a few hundred of those. Got a serial number?"

Oh, crap. PC had the memory for numbers, but Mac manfully pulled up his notes and ah-hah, there it was. He gave it to her and she immediately pulled up a file. "He's still in post-op. You'll have to wait until he gets a room."

Mac blinked. The surgery had been at six a.m. It was four p.m now and ... "Is he okay?"

"I have no idea," she replied, turning back to her work.

"Would I be able to speak to anyone who knows?"

Her eyes narrowed at him. "Are you family? Only family is allowed information regarding status, and frankly ..." She paused, looking pointedly at him. "You don't look like a family member to me."

For the first time in a long time -- maybe not since PC World had given him that lousy review all those years ago -- Mac's temper fired. "Excuse me?" he asked tightly. "PC is a very, very good friend of mine. In fact ..."

She waved him off. "Friends don't count. Sorry. You'll have to wait."

Mac spluttered with frustration, but the woman was unrelenting and there was a security guard in the corner who was beginning to eye him suspiciously.

Obviously they didn't deal with that many desktop Macs -- heck, in their world an "upgrade" was another word for 'trip to the store to get a new one' -- so explaining his "special" relationship with PC would be more effort than it was worth, especially to an uncaring receptionist.

He'd just have to wait for a sympathetic tech to come along, that's all. Reluctantly, Mac planted himself in one of the plastic seats in the waiting area, feeling like he was about to jump out of his casing with anxiety. He tried leafing through the programming guide, then the photo album, but that just made things worse and what could have possibly taken them so damned long to upgrade PC?

Yes, it was 'major surgery', but still ...

Major surgery. Mac curled further down into the seat, his processor thumping. Maybe something went wrong. Maybe he'd crashed or worse, maybe his hard drive couldn't take the strain and was unable to update fully? His poor PC had been under a lot of stress lately, what, with iffy sales figures and the competition with other Macs heating up and the pressure of trying to be himself in a world that wanted things faster, hipper, more entertaining and ...

Tossing the books aside, Mac clutched at the edges of the chair, trying to stop himself from bolting down the hallway and straight into post-op to demand some answers. What if things were worse than that? What if ... what if they had to wipe his hard drive? His PC would be gone forever, and all his memories ... all the things they did together ...

Mac glanced down at the photo album cover, where a smiling PC stared back at him. His throat tightened and he twitched when a clanging alarm went off at the nurses' station.

"CODE BLUE SCREEN, CODE BLUE SCREEN!" it screeched and a trembling Mac looked around frantically.

"What does that mean?" he asked the security guard, who stood by the waiting area, arms crossed over his chest.

"That's the blue screen of death," the guard replied mournfully, shaking his head. "Some poor bastard bit it, I'm afraid."

"What?!" Mac cried, leaping out of his seat. He was off in a flash, racing down the hallway, not caring who would try and stop him. He was going to find out what the hell was going on. "PC!" he cried, bursting through the set of swinging doors that led to a spacious, modern-looking post-op. "PC!"

About twenty groggy patients lying on beds looked over at him and replied, "Yes?"

Mac clutched at his head in frustration. All of them resembled his PC in that gentle, nerdy sort of way all PCs had, but none of them were his PC and Mac felt seconds away from a shut down when a familiar voice cut through the confusion. "Mac?"

He whirled around. Relief flooded through him, as there was PC, his PC, sitting up in a chair and looking none the worse for wear. Emotion overwhelmed Mac and he couldn't speak, so instead, he knelt into PC's arms, holding him tightly.

"I thought ... I thought ... " he finally muttered, his voice watery. "I thought ..."

PC awkwardly returned the embrace, obviously abashed at the public display. "Um, he's a little emotional," he explained to the other PCs who were no doubt staring at them with surprise. "Too many emo songs on iTunes and all that."

"Ah," the other PCs replied knowingly, before returning to sleep mode.

"What's the matter?" PC whispered as Mac sniffled against his chest. "Did you lose that data I asked you to hold for me? Because, seriously, I can generate it again, it's not a problem. Although I do appreciate you taking the responsibility so seriously. I mean, that's very impressive for a slacker-type fellow like yourself. Not that I don't appreciate all your good qualities, mind you, but sometimes ..."

Shaking his head, Mac wiped at his nose. "I thought you were dead."

That took a moment to sink in, as PC gaped at him. "You thought I was what?"

"Dead. As in blown motherboard, bought an eMachine, fried power cable, gone through the security scanner, magnet down the hard drive, thrown in the tub ... dead," Mac explained, his voice cracking between each metaphor. "You'd been in here all day and there was this stupid code blue screen outside and no one would tell me anything and ..." He choked up again. "I thought I was going to have a power failure."

PC's expression softened with affection. "Wow. That's ... that's really sweet, Mac." He beamed at him. "And you came running in here, screaming like a maniac, just like that. To do what, I'm not sure, because, well, dead is dead, but seriously, that's simply the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me. I mean, no one's embarrassed themselves this badly for me, ever, I think. How wonderfully humiliating ..."

Rising up from his knees, Mac's misery did a complete one-eighty, quickly turning to annoyance. "All right. You don't have to rub it in."

"Security guards chasing you," PC continued, smiling, making little 'running' motions with his arms. "Huffing and puffing, screaming my name ..."

"PC!" Mac snapped, his face burning. "You know, you may not be dead, but I'm sure there's a plug I can pull while you're in sleep mode."

PC grinned at him before taking his hand, making Mac's ire fade. Slightly. "I'm just kidding. Thank you." He tugged him down, and glanced around before kissing him, sweetly, on the lips. "You're my best guy, you know that?"

Mac's angry flush quickly turned into a blush of pleasure. "And you're my best guy. Always."

"So you'll come to my room later?" PC whispered. "We can try out my new operating system. Together."

Mac chuckled. "Are you sure they won't throw us out for that?"

PC shrugged. "Screw 'em." He stretched before folding his arm into a 'v', showing off his bicep. "I'm feeling rather rough and tumble after this upgrade. Kind of like ..."

"Popeye after his spinach?" Mac finished for him, trying not to laugh.

"Rambo," PC grumbled. "My almost-tragedy hasn't made you lose your sparkling sense of humor, I see."

"PC ..." Mac teased, interrupted by the entry of two security guards, who began scanning the post-op. Mac's eyes widened at them. "Ooops, it's the law."

"There's another exit," PC whispered, turning Mac toward it. "Quick, make a break for it and I'll cover you." He gently pushed Mac toward the second set of doors as the security team began their search.

Quietly, Mac slipped away and was about to hit the elevator when he remembered his gifts, abandoned in the waiting room in his panic. Not willing to leave them behind, he snuck back into the waiting area, only to find a group of strangers crowded around his photo album, gaping at a single photograph ... the one of himself and PC kissing.

"Uh, that's mine," he said, reaching in and taking his book back, as the wide-eyed crowd stared at him.

One of the spectators, the floor receptionist, looked at him guiltily. "You could have told me you were family," she whispered, lightly smacking him on the arm.

"Yeah, I guess I could have," he admitted, picking up the programming guide. He smiled at the slightly mangled book, which he'd twisted in his worry. "Next time, I think I will."