Atlantic City
by Stellaluna

Danny can't see shit; even if he weren't crying like an asshole right now, there would still be the minor fact of him not wearing his glasses. He gulps in a mouthful of air and blinks hard, trying to regulate his heaving throat. Not like it'll do much good, but he tries, feeling like he's never going to be able to take a deep breath again. He has to get himself under some semblance of control, because he already knows that he's going to hate himself later.

Mac's still holding him tight, the two of them chest to chest, and, in all honesty, Danny thinks this might be the only thing keeping him from flying to pieces right now. It feels weird, because Mac has never touched him precisely this way before, but it's good. Mac hasn't moved for however long they've been standing like this, except to rub Danny's back in a slow circle and to smooth his fingers through his hair in a steady rhythm. He also hasn't tried to murmur any meaningless platitudes, either, hasn't told any comforting lies like It's okay or You'll be all right, and Danny's grateful for this most of all.

He just lets him stand here and cry, his cheek pressed to Danny's as he continues to run his hands over him, and Danny leans on him, staring over his shoulder at the blurred haloes of city lights.

It does stop eventually, of course; everything does, and Danny should know that. The tears slow and his breathing quiets, and he's left with a stuffed-up nose and an ache in his throat. When he feels like he can stand and maybe even talk on his own without falling the fuck apart all over again, or without his knees giving out under him, he pulls himself up straight and takes a step away. Mac lets him go.

Danny clears his throat and blinks a few times, trying to dislodge the last of the tears, and fumbles around in his pocket for a tissue. After coming up empty handed, he settles for wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his jacket, not looking at Mac, who stands there quietly with his hands in the pockets of his coat. Waiting, Danny supposes, though for what he's not sure.

"I should go back inside," he says. His voice comes out in a rasp. "See how Louie's doing."

"Of course." Mac pauses, then goes on. "You know your badge and gun will be waiting for you in my office whenever you come back. Feel free to take all the compassionate leave you want. I'll sign off on it."

"Sure. Thanks." Danny looks down at the ground. There's a crumpled cigarette pack at his feet, and he kicks at it, feeling himself smile at the bitter irony. "I'll do that. I gotta go."

Mac nods and steps back, and Danny hesitates at the door. "Mac," he says. "I mean it. Thank you." He hopes that he'll know what he means, because he can't say any more. Not now, and maybe not ever.

"Any time," Mac says, and Danny holds up one hand in a wave, then walks inside. The doors slide closed behind him.

He puts his glasses back on once he's halfway up the hall, and rubs his sleeve over his face one last time. There's a hollow feeling in the center of his chest, a drained sensation, and he wouldn't be surprised to look down and find a Y-cut on his torso, three lines of cold black stitches. But he's okay now, or at least composed, and he'll stay that way for Louie. And their parents.

The second set of glass doors close behind him, and he's left alone in the room with his bleeding brother and the machines breathing for him.

Much later, gone 3:00 a.m., Danny, snatching a few minutes of broken sleep while sitting up in a plastic chair, wakes with a startled gasp from a half-dream of Mac, holding him as they stood in the middle of a freshly-dug grave. He can't remember what Mac was saying, but he remembers his lips moving silently, mouthing unheard words against Danny's ear as gray ash rained down all around them.




The next few days pass in a blur. Danny sits with Louie and tries not to argue with their parents too much -- more for Louie's sake than anyone else's -- and talks to him whenever the two of them are alone in the room together. He remembers reading that coma patients can sometimes hear things going on around them, even if they can't respond, and he wants Louie to know he's there; maybe this will somehow keep him anchored to the land of the living.

He's too embarrassed to do this when his father is in the room, so he waits until his parents go out, for food or a break or to make phone calls, and then he talks to Louie about whatever comes to mind, his job or movies he's seen or memories of high school. When he runs out of words, he gets a newspaper and reads him the sports section. He never sees so much as a flicker of response, but maybe the words register somewhere beneath Louie's closed eyelids even so. It can't hurt.

Danny leaves a message on Mac's voicemail, after hours, and asks if he'll tell the rest of the team not to come by. He doesn't want their well-meaning sympathy, and hopes this will cut it off at the pass. It occurs to him as he hangs up that he wouldn't really mind as much if Mac came by again, but of course he doesn't say this. In any event, Mac doesn't show, and the only person to put in an appearance is Flack, who either hasn't gotten the order or isn't inclined to listen to Mac if it doesn't suit his purposes. He looks at Danny, frowning, and tries to convince him to take a break, to come out for some food. Danny refuses, but lets Flack coax him as far as the hospital cafeteria, where they sit and drink terrible coffee (Danny will never make fun of Mac's coffee ever, ever again), and talk about cars and baseball -- about anything except the reason he's here in the first place, for which Danny is grateful.

Another thing they don't talk about is work. Flack mentions something about a case at one point, which would be a perfect opening for Danny to inquire how things are going in his absence, but even as the question forms in his mind, he realizes that he doesn't want to. It's not that he's not glad to know that his job will be waiting for him when he gets back, and that he'll be able to return to his normal workload without (he hopes) too much fuss or fanfare, but he just doesn't want to think about it right now, or about anyone else in the NYPD. The only person from work he's given much thought to in the past couple of days, and even in this case he's only spared a moment or two, is Mac. And he can't figure out precisely what he's feeling whenever Mac crosses his mind, which makes him uncomfortable, so he's been trying not to focus on it too much.

For all of these reasons, even though he's glad that Flack came by and was able to distract him for twenty minutes or so, he's also relieved when they say goodbye and shake hands at the door. "Call me if you need anything, Messer," Flack says. "Call any of us."

"I will," Danny says, knowing that he won't.

Time keeps passing and Danny loses track of the week, settling into the strange non-rhythms of hospital life. Sometimes his father's accusations and his mother's tears become too much to bear, and when that happens he goes for a walk along the corridor, or else rides the elevator up and down until he thinks he can go back inside the room without exploding. But he doesn't really keep track of the hours or the days, timing everything by whether it's light or dark outside the glass doors at the end of the hall and by the hospital staff's rounds. None of the rest of it really registers.

So when he finally goes outside and sits on a bench, looking up at the sun, he knows by his watch that it's 2:38 in the afternoon, and that's about all he can say with any certainty. He sits and tries not to think, enjoying the silence.

After a while, there's a crunch of footsteps on gravel, and Danny opens his eyes. "Hey, Mac," he says.

"Danny." Mac sits down next to him. "I got your message. It's good news."

"Yeah. Yeah, it is. I mean, it'd be better news if he'd open his eyes, but..." Danny shrugs. Louie's vitals have stabilized, and he's breathing on his own now. It's more than he had dared to ask for.

"I hope I'm not overstepping by coming here," Mac says. "When I got your message...I know what you said the other day, but -- "

"Naw, don't worry 'bout it." Danny touches his arm. "It's good to see you."

"How are your parents doing?" Mac asks.

"They've gone back to the motel for awhile. My dad's thinking now that the crisis has passed, they should go back home, 'cause they can't do nothing else right now, he says. I think it'd be nice if they'd waited 'till Louie actually knows what's goin' on, but..." He shrugs again. "Pop's got shit he's gotta do."

Mac nods. "What do the doctors say?"

"They don't know -- " Don't say if, don't you dare say if. " -- when Louie's gonna wake up, but they're pleased. It's progress."

"It is." Mac leans back. "When was the last time you left the hospital?" he asks.

"Dunno. What day is this?"


"Then I been here almost four days. Since the start."

"These are the same clothes, aren't they?" Mac says, looking at him, and Danny notices for the first time how wrinkled his t-shirt and jeans are.

"Oh. Yeah." He suddenly realizes that he also hasn't showered in almost four days, and he tries to discreetly move a little further away from Mac.

"Don't you think you've earned yourself a break by now?" Mac says. "At least enough of one to change your clothes. Maybe eat a real meal."

"I guess I should." Danny looks down at his hands. "I don't know."

"Come back to my place," Mac says, after a pause. "It's closer. You can relax for awhile and be back here in time for evening visiting hours."

Danny hesitates. Have some food that doesn't come out of a vending machine and look at something other than the hospital's industrial green walls. Get away from these soul-sucking fluorescent lights. It sounds so good, so tempting. On the other hand, there's Louie, breathing okay now, but still completely helpless if something were to happen, and he has a feeling that his parents will be putting in maybe one more token appearance, at best.

"You won't be abandoning your brother," Mac says quietly.

"I know." Danny looks over at him. "I don't wanna impose."

"You won't be." Mac stands up. "I've got one of the Avalanches; I'll drive you back later."

Danny gets to his feet before he can change his mind. "Okay, let's go," he says.




Mac has the car radio tuned to NPR, some smooth-voiced commentator droning on about pork-barrel futures. Danny would like to change the station, but manages to refrain, and stares out the window instead, drumming his fingers against the door handle.

"Thanks," he says, after riding in silence for a few blocks. "This is probably a good idea. Getting away and all."

"Of course," Mac says, and then adds, sounding casual, "You can take a shower, too, if you want."

Danny wonders if it would be tacky to stick his nose inside his shirt and give his armpits a sniff, and decides that it probably would be. "Guess I'm pretty rank, huh? Sorry 'bout that."

Mac's mouth twitches. "I've smelled worse."


"Yeah. You're in the middle of a firefight, a lot of guys tend to get pretty neglectful about their personal hygiene." He doesn't take his eyes off the road.

Danny stares at him for a few seconds, then bursts out laughing, leaning his head against the back of the seat. He's aware that his reaction is probably way out of proportion to the actual humor value of Mac's comment, but fuck it; it struck his funny bone, and anyway, the laughter feels good.

Mac doesn't say another word, but there's a tiny smile on his face when Danny looks over at him again, and the smile stays there the rest of the way to his apartment.




Danny hovers awkwardly in the living room doorway, glancing around the room while Mac goes to get him some towels. The place hasn't changed much since the last time he was here, as far as he can see. Not that he really would have expected it to; Mac has never struck him as the kind of guy who's big on interior decorating, or on changing his living environment every year, regular as clockwork. And it's sort of nice to know that some things in life remain constant, like that Mac still has the same old couch and the same coffee table, and Danny would be willing to bet that if he took a closer look at the bookshelves, he'd find all the titles in the same order as they used to be, maybe just with some new ones mixed in.

At the same time, it's unsettling, almost as if the past year never happened at all. Almost as if...he sighs, and wraps his arms across his chest. Better not to even go down that road.

Mac comes back into the room, holding two towels and some clean clothes. "Here." He holds them out to Danny. "I got you a change of clothes, too. I figured it wouldn't make much sense to put the dirty ones back on."

"No. No, it wouldn't. Thanks." Danny takes the bundle from Mac, and then just stands there.

"The bathroom's -- "

"Down the hall, second on the left," Danny says without thinking, and then bites his lip.

"Yes," Mac says after a moment. He looks at Danny as if he wants to say something else, then clears his throat. "I'll go start some food. You can leave your clothes on top of the hamper when you're done."

"Sure." Danny also feels like he should say something else, should do something else, but he can't think of what it might be, and so he decides to stop pressing his luck and just go take his shower. He has to walk past Mac to get out of the room, and he doesn't say a word as he does. Doesn't quite look at Mac.

It feels good to take off his dirty clothes. Danny hasn't been giving it much thought up until now, focused as he's been on Louie, but he's suddenly very aware of how grungy he feels, how itchy his skin seems as he tosses his shirt on the floor and starts to unzip his pants, how his scalp feels like it's ready to crawl right off his skull. While he waits for the shower to warm up, he takes a good look at himself in the mirror. Hair sticking up every which way, where it's not matted to his head, and four days' worth of beard. Nice. He's surprised he can't see little cartoon stink waves rising off his body.

The hot water feels good, and he stands there for a long time, just scrubbing himself and working shampoo through his hair and letting the heat ease some of the ache out of his tense muscles. He also hasn't slept very well in the past few days, and those hospital chairs have been doing a number on his back. He's not sleepy, though, he realizes, and he thinks that he's at that stage of exhaustion where sleep becomes nearly impossible. That's all right; he can probably cruise on pure adrenaline for another day or two before he collapses. He's not sure that he wants to sleep right now, anyway. Closing his eyes feels a little too much like death. Or a coma. He stands there thinking about that, one hand resting on the tile wall of the shower, then shivers, trying to push the thought away. No more of that, not now. This is supposed to be a break for him. And later, when he gets back to the hospital, he has to be strong for Louie. He can't waste time on self-indulgence.

After his shower, he steals Mac's electric razor for a quick shave, and brushes his teeth with the cheap toothbrush he bought in the hospital gift shop on the first morning -- he's not a complete savage, after all, and that was the one thing he'd managed to keep up with over the past few days. Jesus, he thinks, spitting toothpaste into the sink, its nice to be clean again. The clothes Mac gave him -- a t-shirt and sweatpants -- feel good against his skin.

When he goes out to the kitchen, Mac is standing at the stove making scrambled eggs, and there's bread in the toaster along with two glasses of orange juice on the table. Danny is tempted to tell Mac that he didn't really have to go to all this trouble, that he's not that hungry to begin with, but then the smell of the food hits his nose and he realizes, suddenly, that he's ravenous. So much for trying to survive on Cheez Doodles and Snickers bars. "Hey," he says.

"Hey." Mac looks up from his cooking. "Good shower?"

"Yeah. Thanks. Thanks again, I mean." Danny puts his hand on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. "Can I do anything to help?"

Mac shakes his head. "Grab a seat. It's almost ready. It's nothing fancy, I'm afraid, but..."

"Eggs should just about hit the spot right now." Danny pulls out the chair and sits. "Lot better'n junk food, I'll tell you that."

"I thought it would be." Mac turns off the burner and fixes two plates, then comes over and sits down across from Danny. "Here."

"Great," Danny says, mostly so he doesn't have to say thank you again; he's worried that he's going to start sounding like an asshole -- okay, like more of an asshole -- if he keeps that up for too long.

They eat in silence, and it's not until Danny isn't doing much but pushing toast crumbs around his plate that he glances across the table at Mac and says, "Good food."

Mac pours himself some more orange juice. "My pleasure."

"And...this was probably a good idea in general. You know. Not just me washing my smelly self, but all'a this." He turns his fork around in his hand. "Getting away from the hospital and shit."

"I thought it might be," Mac says.

"You just, you know, you didn't have to let me come back to your place or nothing. That's really going beyond the call of duty." Danny has no idea what he's talking about, really, but the words seem to be flowing with very little conscious effort on his part.

Mac looks at him, seemingly surprised. "I wouldn't say that," he says. "I told you, I'm closer. It's more convenient."

"Yeah, but your apartment." Danny waves his fork. "Dinner. Even clean clothes."

"It's the least I could do, Danny," Mac says.

"But it's not all you've done. That's my point, I guess." Danny really has no idea what he's saying now, but that's never stopped him before. And he has a funny feeling that if he doesn't say these things now, or at least try to say them -- whatever they are -- he's never going to be able to manage it. "I just...I was thinking about what you said the other day."

Mac doesn't say anything.

"About how it was really Louie who saved me. With the tape he made. And that's true, but you...if you hadn't believed me in the first place, I don't know how much good that woulda done, either." Danny takes a deep breath. "So I'm glad that, you know, that you did."

"So am I," Mac says, and Danny thinks he looks a little embarrassed now, or maybe a little nervous. "And I'm glad that you came to me once you realized what the situation was."

"Yeah, well. I figured it was for the best." Danny's still not sure where he found the courage to do that. Deep down, he knows that the situation would have turned out much worse if Mac had found out about the DNA report from anyone else, and really, he didn't give it all that much conscious thought before he'd barreled into Mac's office and spilled the beans. But he hadn't been expecting to be believed, either.

"You've been through a lot this past year, Danny," Mac says.

"There's a fucking news flash for you." Danny smiles. "Sorry. I didn't mean that as sarcastic as it sounded. What I mean to say is...thanks for cutting me a break."

"What else could I do?"

They both know that there are a lot of other things Mac could have done -- a lot of things he has done -- but Danny doesn't point this out. He's quiet, looking down at his plate again, and thinking about Mac holding him outside the hospital the other night. He can pinpoint exactly when things started to go wrong between him and Mac, but he's much less certain about when they started to resolve themselves. Maybe that's not even important, but it seems like it should be. As he remembers Mac's arms around him, he remembers that night back in 1991, and he thinks that maybe that's where it all really started to go wrong: the night Louie shoved him away, the night he never got to go to Atlantic City. It's like Mac always says about the way things are connected; nothing is ever as simple as it appears on the surface.

"I keep thinking about Louie," he blurts out. "I mean...yeah, for the obvious reasons, but what I really keep getting stuck on is the fifteen years we've lost. You can't get that back, Mac, you know?" He's said more to his brother -- said more honest things -- in the last four days than he has in the last decade and a half; and whatever hopeful thoughts he's had about coma patients and their levels of awareness, Louie mostly likely never heard a goddamn word. "Such a fucking waste of time," he says, shaking his head.

"Maybe now you can work on that," Mac says.

"Maybe." Danny looks up at him. "I don't wanna make that same mistake twice, you get me?" Before he can change his mind, kinda the same way he made himself go into Mac's office the other day before he could think about it too much, he reaches out and puts a hand on Mac's wrist.

Mac's gaze flickers quickly to this, then back up to Danny's face, and he doesn't move away. "I get you," he says.

"Is it wrong to want to..." Danny waves his other hand. "I mean, while Louie's still..."

Mac sits up a little straighter, still looking into Danny's face. "I told you that you'd earned yourself a break," he says.

"Yeah." Danny nods. "Well, in that case, that shit I said about not needing a boss right now?" He meets Mac's gaze, biting his lip. "That still applies."

Mac's hand closes over Danny's.

It's so easy to fall back into this. Danny is never able to recall which one of them broke that little stalemate and made the first move, but it's only seconds later and Mac has him backed up against one of the counters and is kissing the hell out of him, hands roving up and down Danny's sides under the t-shirt. Danny kisses him back and pushes his tongue into Mac's mouth, clutching at his shoulders, and he makes a choked sort of gasp when Mac's tongue touches his and he presses his hips forward. He remembers this, oh Christ, of course he does: that hard, familiar mouth and those hands, the solid body. Mac pushes Danny's sweatpants down part of the way and reaches for him, and Danny has a moment to be vaguely glad he didn't bother with underwear after his shower. Then Mac's thumb brushes over the head of his dick, and he moans out loud and gives up on trying to think, and Mac keeps kissing him.

They somehow manage to make it to the bedroom, even though Danny would have been perfectly happy to have Mac fuck him right there against the counter. They strip off their clothes and then Mac puts his arms around Danny and sinks down with him to the bed, rolling on top of him as soon as they hit the mattress. Mac kisses Danny's mouth again and then his throat and his chest, hands firm on his skin as he circles his tongue around one of his nipples, and Danny rubs his dick against Mac's thigh, moving his hands down his back and digging his fingers into his ass.

He's surprised, just a little bit, when Mac keeps working his way down Danny's body, kissing his stomach, tongue flicking now into his navel. He presses the palm of one hand against Danny's hip, then reaches lower to cup and stroke his balls. "Mac..." Danny mumbles, and then Mac takes him into his mouth and licks up the length of his shaft. Danny moans, mouth falling open, and he clutches blindly at Mac's shoulder with one hand; the other hand comes up and closes around the bedpost and squeezes tight as he tries to hold on, to maintain some semblance of control here.

He doesn't last anywhere near as long as he'd like to; Mac's mouth is too hot, his hands and tongue too insistent, and the pressure mounts too fast. Danny comes in a rush, in one headlong jolt that, afterward, makes his limbs go boneless and tingly. He lies there, eyes closed and gasping for breath, aware that he ought to reciprocate and entirely incapable of moving.

Mac crawls back up his body and kisses him again on the mouth, softer this time, and Danny reaches up and threads his fingers through Mac's hair, returning the kiss. Mac's erection bumps against his hip, and Danny reaches down for him; they keep on kissing, nice and slow now, and Mac thrusts back and forth against Danny's palm until he tenses and comes with a quiet groan. They lie there, not exactly kissing but still mouth to mouth, Mac's hand warm in the hollow of Danny's back. Danny can feel his eyes starting to slide closed and fights it: figures that now he's finally sleepy. The sex knockout punch; it works every time.

"Sleep," Mac says, after the third time Danny's eyes drift close and he opens them wide again, shaking himself.

"I can't -- " he starts to say.

"Sleep. I'll wake you in an hour." He cups Danny's cheek in his hand. "I promise."

"Okay," Danny says, and yawns, and finally lets himself drift off. He doesn't dream at all.

True to his word, Mac wakes him up exactly an hour later, according to the clock, and Danny stumbles back to the bathroom to splash some water on his face before he pulls the borrowed clothes back on. Mac gets dressed, too, and grabs the car keys, and they drive back to the hospital in silence. Halfway there, Danny is stricken with the sudden fear that he'll get back to find that Louie is either dead or, conversely, awake at last; and either way, he'll be left with the guilt that he was off getting fucked while Louie was all alone. He swallows hard and doesn't say anything about this, and hopes they'll get there soon.

Mac pulls up in front of the hospital and stops, letting the engine idle. "You'll keep me updated on how it's going," he says, not turning it into a question.

Danny nods. "You know I will. And..." He looks out at the skyline: not blurred haloes this time, but crisp, clear lights. "Thanks again, Mac."

"Any time," Mac says.

Danny gets out of the car without saying anything else, but when he gets to the doors, he turns around and waves, and Mac returns the wave before pulling away.




Neither of Danny's fears come true; there's been no change in Louie's condition in his absence, and he resumes what's become his normal routine, talking to Louie almost all the time now that their parents have gone back home.

A few more days pass, and then Louie wakes up. Finally. The miracle. It's not like he's all better, and he's going to need a fuckload of physical therapy at the very least, and the doctors are going to have to test for brain damage, too, or any mental impairment that's not immediately obvious. But he's awake, that's the main thing, and although he can't really talk, he recognizes Danny.

And Danny finds that he's once again unable to talk to Louie now that he's awake. Oh, he can give him the usual platitudes, but that's about it. The flood of words seems to have dried up, and he starts going on longer and longer walks around the hospital grounds. Returning to work the following Monday proves to be a relief. He still goes to see Louie every night, but he goes home in between times, and works pretty much his normal hours.

"So we'll see how it goes," Danny says, sitting in Mac's office on Tuesday night. "Main thing is he's awake, and he's gonna be..." He sighs. "I don't even know if I can say he's gonna be okay, but he's got a chance now."

Mac nods. "That is the main thing."

"I just don't know if..." Danny struggles to find the right words. "Do you think there are second chances? Even after fifteen years?"

"Not always," Mac says slowly, "but sometimes there are."

"Sometimes," Danny repeats.

"You won't know until you try." Mac picks up a pen, balancing it between two fingers.

Danny lets out a slow breath. "I suppose not," he says.

One day near the end of the week, he and Mac go for a walk after they both get off shift, along the Ramble in Central Park. They don't say much, but that's okay. Danny is content just to stroll and feel the sun beating down on his head, to look around and see nothing but a canopy of trees, and maybe the occasional far-off top of a building. It's very quiet here, and the city feels very removed.

"You know," he says after awhile, "I never got to Atlantic City."

"That night?" Mac asks. "I know."

Danny shakes his head. "No, I mean ever. Just didn't want to. Or never got around to it, I dunno. You ever been?"


"Yeah." Danny scuffs pebbles under the toe of his shoe. "Flack says it's real shitty and depressing, that if I want gambling I should save my money for Vegas. But..."

Mac smiles a little. "I think you've used up enough time off for the time being," he says.

Danny grins. "Yeah. Not my style, anyway." He comes to a halt on the path, and Mac stops beside him. "I wanna go to Atlantic City, Mac. Not the casinos, I don't give a shit about that. I just..."

He holds his hands out, palms up. "I wanna walk on the beach."

Mac considers, hands in the pockets of his jacket. "We could probably do that sometime," he says.

"Yeah?" Danny asks.

"Yeah." Mac nods. "We can check the schedule back at the lab."

"Good. Okay." He returns the nod. "Let's do it, then."

They can go early in the morning when there's no one around, Danny thinks, and watch the waves come in. Maybe buy some saltwater taffy on the way back.