Cherries in Bloom
by Stellaluna

The blossoms are falling from the cherry trees on the Great Lawn, and Danny is thinking about kissing Mac. Drifts of white pile up around his feet and he has to kick his way through them like it's December, petals clinging to his knees and creeping into the cuffs of his pants when he bends to snap a photograph. The early-morning breeze is damp, fog rolling in so thick that he can see how it moves and shifts as it blows across the park, and he prays that the gray skies won't turn into rain before he's able to finish gathering evidence.

Two nights ago he kissed Mac on a silent street, much further downtown than where he stands right now. Last night, the woman on the ground in front of him walked into Central Park and was shot three times in the chest by someone whose identity is yet to be determined, for reasons that haven't yet been revealed. These two facts are unrelated, but Danny is thinking about both of them as he walks around the body and takes more photographs and as he scans the ground for anything that may help him in the investigation. There's the top part of his mind, the professional part that's noting position of the body and the grass stains on the backs of her hands; this part of his mind is racing with adrenaline, with the same bloodhound excitement he always feels when presented with a new case, but is also, mostly, calm and methodical and divorced from emotion.

In another part of his mind, underneath all that brass and professionalism, he's doing the same thing he's been doing ever since the night before last. He's replaying the kiss in his head and trying to parse meaning from it, to coax out some kind of understanding of their situation, not just from the kiss itself, but from what led up to it and what happened after. In that part of his mind, he's a tangle of emotions, elation as much as fear.

There are cherry blossom petals over the dead woman's eyes and on her mouth. Danny wonders if that's accidental or deliberate. Lying here the way she is, with the trees all around her, the petals could have easily drifted onto her face in between the time she was shot and the time someone found her and Danny got the call to come in. All he has to do to recognize the possibility of that is to look around him at the rain of flowers or to brush more of the petals from the fog-soaked shoulder of his coat. All he has to do is listen to the trees as their branches rustle in the wind, constant soft shift and sigh like whispers down a subway tunnel.

There's something a little too neat, though, about the placement of the blossoms, all three of them perfectly centered, and so Danny studies this closely and takes a number of additional photographs, then bags the petals as evidence. He's been working this job long enough to know that sometimes things that look like they're meant, like they're on purpose, are just the result of a confluence of circumstances. Good old coincidence, the suspect's refuge -- Yes, I was at his apartment that night, and yes, I threw a drink in his face at Underbar earlier in the evening, but I didn't kill him, I swear; it must be coincidence -- actually comes to pass more often than most people would ever suspect. Then again, sometimes things that look like accidents are the result of intent. Danny notes both possibilities and tries to favor neither as he seals the plastic bag. He'll come to a determination in the course of the investigation, and even though it's a little creepy, he forgets it for now and gets on with things.

He hadn't meant to kiss Mac the way he did; he's sure of that. No conscious thought had gone into the act at all. He'd been feeling content with the world after the last two hours of beer and conversation, and remembers feeling happy, as they walked down the street, that the evening wasn't quite over yet, that they'd decided (even if neither of them had said anything direct about it) to just keep walking for a bit instead of going right to their subway lines. Which would have been the usual thing to do, Danny thinks now, and it wasn't like they had been discussing anything so important or so interesting that it couldn't have been tabled until the morning, or until the next time they went out for drinks together.

But they hadn't done that; they'd gone walking instead, and then they ended up standing in front of an antiques store while Mac said something to him. He was looking at Mac's face in close-up while they stood there; he remembers that, too, and he remembers that there was a tiny dim light in the store window behind them, just enough so that he could clearly see Mac's features, the movement of his mouth and the engaged, intent look in his eyes.

Danny had never seen that look on Mac's face outside of a work context before they started going out drinking together, and even in the lab it had been a rare thing, something that would only kick into gear when Mac was truly excited about a case he was working or a break he'd made in his investigation, or when he came across some bit of knowledge that was obscure enough to please him. Most times his reactions would be no more than a quick flicker in his eyes or a twitch in the set of his mouth, a slight raise in his voice. Once their evenings out turned into a regular thing, Danny found that he was starting to get to see more of that, that along with learning more about Mac's past, he was also learning about what made him tick in the present. And to see Mac smile and seem to mean it, or to watch him get caught up in a conversation that Danny had initiated, made all his little moments of uncertainty seem worth it.

He'd ask himself, from time to time, what the fuck he thought he was doing, what the point of all these probing questions and rounds of beer were. What was he expecting to get out of it, anyway? Then Mac would laugh at something he said, or look right into Danny's face and listen seriously as they talked about hockey or as Danny told him a story about playing in the minors, and Danny would think: Oh. That.

Danny signals to one of the beat cops guarding the perimeter of the scene. He comes over and helps Danny turn the body so that he can look for exit wounds; there are none. They'll have to retrieve the bullets at autopsy. He eases the dead woman back down onto the grass and then begins to examine her hands.

But he hadn't been thinking about any of that stuff when he went and kissed Mac, at least not specifically. He'd just been standing there looking into his face, listening -- he realizes now -- to the sound of Mac's words without really processing their meaning any longer, and then, before his conscious brain had any idea of what he was about to do, he had leaned into Mac and kissed him, cutting him off in the middle of a sentence. He'd felt a rush when he did it, a burst of nerves that were fear as much as excitement, a stepping-off-the-ledge sense of Now you've gone and done it. It was something that couldn't be taken back once he'd gone through it, something that couldn't be joked away or excused. It hadn't been a light kiss, either, no quick brush of the lips over Mac's mouth or cheek, but instead a full-on, serious kiss, and he'd backed Mac right into the doorway of the antiques store while he was doing it, too.

Danny pauses in the middle of what he's doing, crouched down on the grass with his head bent, watching tendrils of fog tease at his ankles and uncoil along the ground. To any of the officers standing around, he thinks, it looks like he's still looking for evidence. And in a way, he still is; it's just not evidence in the case at hand. He knows he should focus on this, knows that it's unprofessional to let all the stuff about Mac come to the forefront of his brain when his attention should continue to be focused on this dead woman, but he just needs one minute. One minute to finish playing it back in his head, and then he can go back to being Detective Messer instead of just Danny.

The thing is, Mac kissed him back, and his kiss felt like he meant it, too, not like he was just doing it out of instinct. There'd been a second or two there at the beginning when Mac had been absolutely still, but Danny is inclined to chalk that up to surprise, because once he'd started returning the kiss, there hadn't been anything rote or hesitant about it. Danny remembers the feel of Mac's mouth against his and Mac's hands clutching at his waist. His lips were firm at first and then yielding, and Danny hadn't been able to resist licking at his mouth. New surprise then, new shock, Mac's mouth falling open under his and his tongue slipping over Danny's just for a minute. It had taken every bit of Danny's willpower, when the kiss went deep like that, not to push it any farther; some instinct, or maybe some sudden jolt back to the reality of what he was doing him, had made him pull back.

He remembers feeling dazed after he'd broken the kiss, like he'd just been sleeping for a long time or like he was much more drunk than three beers would account for. Even then, Mac hadn't pushed him away or protested, or said anything dismissive. Danny himself had started to say something, and then given up as the words eluded him; after a minute, they'd started walking again, both of them a lot quieter now. When they'd said good night at the subway, though, Mac had been smiling, and he hadn't had any trouble meeting Danny's gaze.

Danny draws in a deep breath and closes his eyes, and works on centering himself. When he opens his eyes again, he's back where he needs to be, and he returns to his work. The whole situation with Mac is, once again, pushed to the back part of his mind, and he's the detective again, not this guy with a lot of feelings he doesn't understand.

He's done in another fifteen minutes, and he stands to call over the people from the M.E.'s office. They'll take charge of her now, and he'll go back to the lab and work on other things until he can go see Hammerback and find out what the score is. On the way back to the office, he has more time to think about the whole situation with Mac, and nothing to distract him -- which maybe isn't a good thing, but there's nothing he can do about it.

Mac hasn't been treating him any differently in the last day and a half, either. He's talked to him about cases and looked him in the eye, and hasn't acted any more distracted or remote than he normally is. Danny wonders, though, how many regrets he may be having in the light of day, whether he went home determined to never let that happen again -- which might also mean that their month of shared beers and stories may have come to an end. Danny feels exhausted at the possibility, at the prospect that one stupidly impulsive move may have blitzed everything he's come so much to depend on over the course of the past four weeks.

Two hours later, he's in the lab running prints from a case he caught earlier in the week, keeping one eye on the clock so that he can leave in time for his appointment with Hammerback. He's just starting to think about maybe taking a break for a cup of coffee when Mac walks in.

"Good morning, Danny," he says.

"Morning, Mac." Danny sits back down. "Just running some prints."

Mac can no doubt see that perfectly well for himself, but he just nods and says, "What about that Central Park thing?"

"I did the prelim on the scene, sent the body down to the M.E.," Danny says. "Waiting on Hammerback to see me at eleven."

"Good." Mac starts to sort through some reports on the table.

"Yeah," Danny says, and thinks he's sort of grateful that, from this angle, he can't really see Mac's mouth. Less chance of getting lost in inappropriate thoughts. "Nothing really popped out right away at the scene. Her wallet was intact, so it wasn't robbery, and it didn't look like any of her clothes were gone, so I'm thinking it's not assault, either, but I'm gonna have to see."

"Well, see what Hammerback can tell you."

"Yeah. There was one weird thing, though," Danny says, and Mac looks up. "Petals on her eyes and mouth. From the cherry trees. They coulda just fallen there, but it looked like it mighta been on purpose."

"As if someone had put them there?" Mac asks.

"Yeah, someone like our murderer. It was kinda...I don't know. Something sorta ceremonial-looking about it. Like how people put coins on the eyes of the dead."

Mac nods. "It could be," he says. "But, given the location, it could also be happenstance."

"I know," Danny says. "Just something I took note of, but I can't do much with it yet."

"All right." Mac nods and glances at his watch. "Speaking of appointments, I need to be down at the Tombs in a half-hour. Good luck with Hammerback."

"Thanks," Danny says.

Mac is almost to the door of the room when he pauses and turns around. "By the way, are you free for a beer any night?" he asks.

Danny's fingers slip on the keyboard and he types a meaningless string of letters. "Yeah," he says. "That sounds good. Tomorrow, maybe?"

"Tomorrow should work." Mac looks at him. There's nothing in his eyes that says he let Danny kiss him the night before last, but he seems pleased. "I'll touch base with you again later."

"Great. See ya later," Danny says, and watches him leave.

Danny has had to make plenty of adjustments in his perceptions of Mac over the past month, he thinks the next night as he's walking to the bar. Mac, who's coming from another appointment with the M.E., is meeting him there, so Danny has time to walk and think, which is something he's grateful for. This is, of course, the first time they'll be going out for drinks together since the fateful kiss earlier in the week, and Danny has no idea what to expect.

Not that he expects anything, exactly, at least not in the sense that he thinks there's even a chance in hell that Mac is going to, like, want to take things any further than they've already gone. He just doesn't know if Mac is going to be normal with him, or if there's going to be this sudden, wordless tension between them -- or if, worse, Mac will want to talk about it with him and explain how it was nice and all, but that he's not into guys and that getting himself involved with Danny would be inappropriate in any event. Danny's first instinct is to think that, especially if he considers it a mistake, the last thing Mac would ever want to do would be to talk about the kiss. Then again, as he's just been thinking, he's had to adjust his viewpoint of Mac several times recently; there are plenty of things he never would have guessed of Mac a month or two ago.

It's not just that Mac was a rich kid who ran away from his privilege, which was the first thing Danny found out, and the biggest revelation to come out of all this so far. That surprised Danny, and he still has trouble, sometimes, integrating his mental picture of a kid sitting in a fancy dining room in a nice Chicago house with the man he knows, the one who he figures probably worked his way up through the Marines and who went to war, and who came to New York sometime after that and struggled to make something of himself in the police department. Mac, who loves his lab and his adopted city and his obscure, intricate weapons.

Finding out about the privileged background made a lot of other things make sense, of course, but Danny looks at Mac now and can't see even a hint of that wealthy kid who once existed. Maybe there's something of that in the way Mac seems to connect best and most naturally with people from blue-collar backgrounds, a subtle hint of it in his reactions whenever they catch a case that involves Park Avenue kids or parents with not enough time for their offspring, but that's all. It's nothing anyone would pick up on if they didn't know to look for it, or if they hadn't invested the kind of time Danny has in getting to know Mac a little better.

What's bigger, though, in Danny's mind, at least as far as his idea of Mac is concerned, is that Mac has actually been willing to share all of this with him. That means that Mac has been treating him like a friend, has been treating him like an equal -- like someone he respects and maybe even likes. And he's listened to Danny's stories with just as much apparent interest. Not that he's, even now, the kinda guy who will pour out his soul or his secrets at the drop of a hat, but Danny's glad that he's not, and respects him for it. People who are too willing to share aren't people that Danny can trust; people who know the value of discretion...well, they're the kind of folks Danny wants to have on his side when the shit inevitably hits the fan.

No, Mac proceeds with caution, and parcels out these bits of his background to Danny sparingly. In fact, aside from the whole thing about his parents having money, none of the things Mac has talked about with him have been big secrets or shocking in any way. They've been anecdotes, mostly, about school or the military or places Mac has traveled to. In a way, they're nothing truly important; in other ways, they're the only thing that's important, because it's these small details that have gradually started revealing more of Mac's character to Danny, and he likes what he's seen.

That's what really matters, Danny decides, as he pulls open the door to the bar, not any of the rest of it.

And if Danny has fucked things up with that goddamned unthinking kiss, he will never, ever forgive himself.

Mac is already sitting at a table towards the back, with a stein of beer in front of him and one sitting on the other side of the table for Danny. He raises his hand in a wave and Danny acknowledges it with a nod, then starts to edge through the crowd.

"Hiya," he says when he gets to the table, and settles himself into the chair. "How's it going?"

"Danny," Mac says. "Fine."

"Thanks for the beer. Next round's on me."

"Of course," Mac says, and asks him how his day's been going, and they make small talk about work for a little while, just like they normally do. Shortly before they start to wind down with that, and before the conversation begins to edge around to more personal topics, Mac asks him how the Central Park case is going.

"It's going," Danny says, and shrugs. "That's about all I can say right now. Test results haven't produced anything conclusive, and the one print I turned up didn't match up to anything in AFIS. I'm working on talking to her friends and family, looking for motive there."

Mac nods. "What about the cherry blossoms you mentioned?"

"On her face?" Danny raises his hands. "Still don't know. Could be something, could be nothing. I'm keeping it in mind as an angle, but right now it's like Schrödinger's Cat."

Mac's mouth twitches. "Neither alive nor dead?" he asks.

"Yeah," Danny says. "Only in this instance, it's neither coincidence nor on purpose. Won't know 'till I figure out how to open the fucking box."

"You'll get to it," Mac says calmly, and then changes the subject.

It isn't until more than an hour later, while he's listening to Mac talk about the time he got to climb Mount Fuji, back in the '80s while he was in Japan on leave, that Danny realizes nothing seems different at all. Mac isn't treating him with any more wariness or remoteness than he usually does, and so maybe the kiss didn't ruin things after all. Danny feels a wave of relief wash over him; getting kissed may not have been what Mac wanted from this series of evenings out, but Danny can live with that as long as it doesn't mean that the time they spend together is going to come to an end. Sure, he still feels a little silly about the whole thing, more than a little embarrassed, but he can live with that.

"That's so amazing that you climbed Mount Fuji," Danny says, tuning back into what Mac is saying. "It's the kinda thing I always hear about, but I'd never expect to meet anyone who'd actually done it."

"You could do it too someday," Mac says.

"Me? Naw." Danny shakes his head. "I don't travel well. Anyway, if I even made it to the top, well, what then? I'd just have to climb back down, and then it'd be time to come home again."

"But then you'd know you climbed it," Mac says, looking serious. "I stood on top of the mountain and I was able to see all of Japan spread out in front of me. It's a fantastic view, and the mountain is nice to look at from a distance, too, but to stand there and know you're looking at something that thousands of people before you have looked at, and that people have been climbing up there for more years than you can even conceive of..." His gaze is somewhere far off. "That's pretty special. And I didn't have to do it for military maneuvers or troop movements or anything like that, either. I just did it because I wanted to."

He looks at Danny and smiles. "I shook snow off my boots that came from the highest mountain in Japan. I'm not going to forget that."

"No, and why would you want to?" Danny says. He's seen photos of Mount Fuji, of course, but he figures that what it looks like in pictures and in his head is nothing compared to what it looks like for real, up close and personal. "You really liked being in Japan, didn't you?"

"I did," Mac says. "I'd like to go back someday."

I'd like that, too, Danny thinks, but he doesn't say it out loud, and he's not even sure what he means by it. He keeps quiet, instead, listening to more of Mac's stories about his visit to Tokyo, and he feels perfectly content.

They leave the bar a few hours later, and it's not until they're a couple of blocks away, somewhere in the middle of the meatpacking district and nowhere near either of their respective subway lines, that it occurs to Danny that, once again, they're just walking and talking like they have nowhere else to be, like neither of them is in a hurry for the evening to end.

It's an overcast night, clouds racing across the full moon so fast that Danny can track their movement when he tilts his head back to look at the sky, and the fog blowing in from the Hudson reminds him of the fog on the Great Lawn yesterday morning, the damp heaviness lingering for hours in his hair and on his clothes. He can't help shivering a little and shoving his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat, but the cool air feels good on his face, and he'd be happy to be here with Mac no matter what the weather.

They come to a pause in their conversation, and for half a block or so, they walk along in silence. It's while they're waiting for the light to change at a corner on 17th Street that Mac says, not looking at him, "Danny, you know I value you as an employee."

Danny looks over at him. "Oh. Well. Yeah," he says. "I know." His hands clench into fists; this sounds like the beginning of the brush-off he was dreading.

The light changes and they walk across the street, and it's not until they're on the opposite sidewalk that Mac speaks again. "But even putting that aside, I've been enjoying these evenings out drinking with you." He sounds hesitant, and he's looking into the distance instead of at Danny, but that didn't sound entirely like a brush-off to Danny's ears.

"Oh?" he says, trying to make the word sound neutral.


"That's good," Danny says. "I kinda like 'em myself."

"Good." Mac steps in front of him and into his path, forcing Danny to stop walking, and now he's looking right into Danny's eyes. He's definitely nervous, Danny realizes, no question about that now, and before he has any time to puzzle out the why of that, Mac puts a hand on his shoulder.

Danny forces himself to hold still, although his mind is suddenly going a million miles an hour. Mac brushes his fingers across Danny's shoulder and then tugs at the collar of his jacket, and then he reaches higher and his fingers stroke Danny's cheek, the lightest of touches, but Danny feels a sudden, spreading heat in his face and the rest of his body.

He can't find any words, doesn't even know if there's anything he should be saying right now, and suddenly it doesn't matter. Mac leans in and kisses him, cupping Danny's cheek in one hand, and Danny wraps his arms around Mac's back and hauls him in even closer, kissing him back. Of course he'd kiss me now, Danny's mind babbles at him, because it's just like the other night, there's no one else around, so who's gonna care. 'Sides, it's Chelsea and you can see guys kissing on street corners any day of the week...

Then Mac deepens the kiss and Danny's brain mercifully shuts up. It's a slow kiss, even when Mac's tongue is sliding over his. Danny sighs and twines the fingers of one hand into Mac's hair, and Mac teeth catch at Danny's lower lip. They keep on kissing until they have to pause for breath, and even then Mac presses his lips to the corner of Danny's mouth and doesn't let go of him.

Danny pulls back just enough to be able to look into Mac's face without breaking their embrace, but he doesn't say anything. Mac is silent, too, staring at him; he looks a little startled and a lot hesitant, but he doesn't seem to be going anywhere. For a moment, it seems like he's about to say something, but all he does is run his hand over Danny's face again, and then he pulls him close for another kiss.

Confluence of circumstances or on purpose? Danny wonders, remembering how much those two things can look like each other. In the next breath he realizes that it doesn't matter, because whether Mac planned this or whether it just sort of happened, he's pretty sure that, either way, Mac means it. God knows what's going to happen next, or where they're going to go from here, but for right now, Danny thinks he's just going to let himself enjoy it while it's happening. Take some time, look around, enjoy the view.

Fog keeps on rolling in from the river, and Mac is kissing him on a street corner, and the moment washes over Danny like the tide.