Maintaining Equilibrium
by Stellaluna

Mac wonders sometimes what he's doing. He doesn't seem to wonder about it nearly enough, though, and that's what worries at him the most, maybe, whenever he pauses to take the time to consider, and reconsider, his actions. This lack of questioning is something he's been able to shrug off, for the most part, over the course of the past month, but he's been forced to admit to himself that he's come to enjoy these late-night bull sessions with Danny.

This occurs to him in the course of yet another night at Sullivan's, while he's sitting at the table waiting for a fresh round of beer, and Danny is standing up at the bar waiting to pay. He's glancing around the bar, not really thinking about anything much, and in the course of glancing around he and Danny make eye contact. Danny nods and gives him a little wave, and holds up a hand, gesturing that it'll be just another minute. Mac nods and returns the wave. He isn't in any particular hurry, although knowing Danny's legendary impatience levels, he probably is, and is probably seconds away from telling the bartender to get a move on, already, so he can get back to the table and they can continue their conversation. All of this has become routine now, much to Mac's continuing surprise.

He and Danny have become friends over the past few weeks. There's no other word for it, not after a casual conversation over administrative tasks turned into beers here at Sullivan's, and after one evening at this cop bar has turned into two or three times a week. They've talked, in the course of these evenings out, about everyday things like work and their caseloads, but they've also talked about other things, things that are both personal and mundane, and that have nothing to do with either the lab or crime scene analysis.

He was wary about it at first, both because it seemed to blur some of the boundaries he and Danny should, as supervisor and employee, have between them; and because even if he could argue that their conversations aren't anything unethical or too casual, he still found himself feeling self-conscious, almost embarrassed, about some of the things he'd told Danny. Some of the things Danny had figured out.

Not that the things they've talked about over the last few weeks concern any revelations that are illegal or immoral, or even mildly scandalous. They are, however, things he's preferred to keep private from most people for most of his life. Not the fact that he's from Chicago, or that he served in the Marine Corps, because even Mac will concede that items as basic as these aren't state secrets. No, what troubles him is that Danny guessed certain things about his parents and his background that he really did prefer to keep under wraps. And when Danny made that damned intuitive leap of his (the same kind he's so good at in the field, too), Mac found himself confirming his guess for him. As if he could have done anything else at that point, though; as if he could have lied to Danny in good conscience.

Still, he would have been just as happy if Danny had never looked at him across a lab table late one night and said Your folks got money, don't they? Just as happy, he tells himself, if Danny had never taken it into his head to start quizzing him about his background in the first place.

Actually, that's not true, either.

Anyway, it hasn't turned out so badly at that, at least not so far. Danny hasn't treated him any differently since figuring out that he comes from much more privilege than, as he thinks, his service in the Corps and subsequent law enforcement career would seem to suggest. Which, aside from his natural reluctance to own up to a heritage he feels no connection to, that he's never felt is his, is what has always kept him from dropping this conversational bombshell in his adult life, except to a very select few. In the intervening weeks, Danny has never brought it up again, and has seemed far more interested in subjects like where Mac went to school and what his favorite movies are. Safe subjects, really, although every time Mac answers one of Danny's questions or offers up a piece of information of his own free will, he feels like a bit of his skin is being peeled away.

Danny has asked more of his questions, and he's shared some stories of his own. Mac is well aware that there are still great swaths of Danny's past that he knows nothing at all about, things Mac thinks he may be deliberately avoiding, but that's all right; there's plenty that he hasn't told Danny, either. Besides, even the closest of friends don't share everything with each other all at once: just look at him and Stella for proof of that. And he and Danny are still very new friends. But it's not a bad thing; none of it is. He hasn't had a new friend in a long time, and even though Danny is someone he's known for years, this still makes him feel like the two of them are meeting each other for the first time.

And Danny sits down across the table from him on this quiet Thursday night at Sullivan's and sets the glasses of beer carefully on their Heineken coasters, and says, "I ever tell you about the time I broke my first two fingers playing baseball in the seventh grade?"

This isn't a complete non sequitur, because they'd been talking about the Yankees earlier in the evening, and although they've since moved on to other topics, Mac has gotten used to the grasshopper workings of Danny's mind, and is no longer thrown by abrupt changes of subject. So he only blinks at the question once or twice, and then says, "No, I don't think you have."

(He knows perfectly well that Danny hasn't, because Mac would have remembered the story if that had been the case.)

Danny grins and says, "Didn't think so. Okay, so check this out. We're playing Holy Cross, right, and I'm up at bat, top of the fifth..." He goes on to describe how he was on base and then decided to do a showoff slide into home, and then misjudged it and managed to smash his fingers. "I made it, though," he says, still grinning. "Made sure I was safe before I told the coach 'bout my little injury."

"Why does that not surprise me?" Mac asks.

"Ah, well...Anyway, I hadda go to the hospital, and then I spent some time sitting on the bench waiting for them to heal."

"You seem to have a history of baseball-related injuries," Mac says, remembering other incidents Danny has mentioned.

"Well, it's part of the game. 'Least if you're gonna play it right, play competitively. Ask me, any player who ain't sporting scrapes and bruises on a daily basis, if not broken bones, ain't really giving their all to the thing." Danny nods firmly and then takes a sip of beer.

"So you're saying that prudence is a bad thing."

"I'm saying you can't be cautious in baseball. Not if you wanna get anywhere," Danny says. "And not if you wanna show the proper respect for the game."

Mac considers this. "I can't say I've ever thought about it in that way before," he says.

"That's 'cause you ain't played -- or have you?"

Mac shakes his head. "Schoolyard games when I was a kid, that's all. I'm a dedicated viewer, not a player."

Danny's mouth twitches. "Yeah, you ain't no player," he says. Before Mac can ask what that's supposed to mean, he adds, "Just please tell me you don't root for the Cubs. I can maybe work for a Cubs fan, but I don't think I could keep on drinking with one."

"Danny," Mac says, "the Cubs are a perfectly good team."

Danny laughs. "No, they're not."

Mac considers arguing. Then, realizing he won't win, he just says, "As it happens, I'm not."

"Good." Danny lifts his glass. "In that case, cheers."

Mac takes a drink, then says, "Didn't you end up working for CSU in the first place because of a baseball injury?" He can remember Danny mentioning this, briefly, a long time ago.

"Well, I ended up at the Academy first, then CSU," Danny says. He's sitting up straight now, his shoulders raised. "And it wasn't baseball that broke my wrist, it was a fight I got into when I was in the minors. That's why I stopped playing." He meets Mac's gaze, and there's defiance in his eyes, but Mac can read fear there too, clear as anything.

Mac's about to remark on this when, looking at Danny's angry, worried face, he remembers his own reactions to one of his very first queries. Your folks got money, don't they?, and there had been a sudden rush of anger and shame flooding his chest. So he pauses and reconsiders his words, and instead says, watching Danny's face, "Do you miss playing?"

Danny hesitates. "Yes and no," he says after a moment. "I mean, there's not one simple answer, you know? I can still play, like casually, anyway. I just fucked up my pro career, and my throwing arm ain't never been the same. It was a stupid -- stupid fight, that's all. Over something real dumb, and it was my own fault."

"That's the value of hindsight." Mac looks at him; he needs to say something more here, something reassuring, and what he would really like is to tell Danny that he's glad it worked out the way it did: not glad that Danny had to go through this fight, whatever it involved, and watching what he'd probably assumed was a sure thing fall apart around him, but glad that, if that had to happen, Danny ended up here working with the NYPD in the crime lab. But he can't say any of that, so instead he says, "And you do seem to have a natural gift for forensics as well as baseball."

Danny smiles a little. "Yeah, guess so," he says. "And don't get me wrong, I got no complaints about ending up here. I just...well, maybe I'll tell you more 'bout that fight some other time. Anyway," he goes on, talking quickly now, "what would I be doing these days if I had stayed in baseball? I'd hafta retire eventually, probably pretty soon if I hadn't already, so what comes after that, you know? Managing some minor league team out in the boonies somewhere, probably, or something like that."

He picks up his glass of beer and takes a long drink, then starts looking around the bar, a clear signal, Mac thinks, that this part of the conversation is over. Some of the tension has gone out of his shoulders, though, and he looks less worried than he did a minute or two ago. "I can't see you living out in the boonies," Mac says, and is relieved when Danny's smile, this time, is unmistakable.

"Can'tcha, though?" he says, and looks back at Mac. "Me living out in the middle of nowhere, driving my big truck to all the practices and yelling at all the players, on the road half the year..."

"Breaking all the local girls' hearts," Mac adds.

"More like giving all the locals somethin' good to remember whenever they get to feeling lonely at night." Danny smirks at him, looking much too pleased with himself. "'Least ways, that's how it generally used to go. Yeah, you know? You're right," and he looks right into Mac's eyes, unblinking. "It's a good thing I ended up back here in New York."

"You'll get no argument from me," Mac says, and he finds himself staring back at Danny, unable or unwilling to look away from that direct gaze. He feels a little like a deer in headlights, he thinks, but he also feels...he can't quite find the word for it. Kind of the same way he does about the way he's gotten to know Danny better, he decides after a moment or two, the way he feels about these beer and conversation evenings. He likes it, even though it makes him nervous, too.

This disconcerts him all over again, because he can't explain the why of that, why something as simple as looking into a person's eyes while talking to them should suddenly make him lose his train of thought and feel like he's somehow on the spot. Because he can't find the words for it, he tries to put it out of his mind, and after another few seconds pass, Danny drops his eyes just long enough for Mac to recover his balance.

The conversation moves on after that, and Mac really does forget about it, and it's not until much later that he finds it necessary to recall that little moment of disequilibrium. They have a few more beers before they leave, but neither of them are drunk when they leave Sullivan's. It's a nice night, and even though neither of them say anything about it, they start walking after they get outside, instead of simply saying their goodnights and heading right for their respective subway lines.

Maybe he is drunk after all, because Mac can never remember later what they talked about during that walk, not with any degree of precision. What he does remember how they avoided the streets where the nightclubs and bars are, where patrons spill out onto the sidewalks in pools of red light and neon, where they bring noise and music with them in the brief interval between the doors swinging open and then closing again. They walk along a quiet block lined with warehouses and stores, all shut for the night, and there are cobblestones from a hundred years ago still lining the center of the road. He remembers Danny walking at his side with his head slightly bowed, talking and gesturing, but he can't remember any of the words, just the movements of Danny's hands and the sidelong glances he shoots at Mac every time he wants to emphasize a point.

He remembers this, and he remembers coming to a halt in front of a dark antiques store so that he can make a point to Danny of his own; he's saying something ridiculous and ordinary when Danny looks into his face from a distance of no more than six inches and then backs him into a doorway and kisses him.

Mac tries as hard as he can later on to recall what he was saying at that moment, because he thinks somehow it may be significant, somehow may be the key to the entire puzzle; but this endeavor proves fruitless, and so he's left with a bunch of clues that don't seem to add up to anything from which he could tease some sort of sense.

Danny's lips are warm on his, unexpected, and the shock goes through his body like an electric current. He's frozen for maybe a second, and then he starts kissing back, and Danny draws in a sharp breath, not quite a gasp, but a soft sound somewhere deep down in his throat. Mac's shoulders are against the door at his back and his hands are on Danny's waist under his jacket. He can feel muscle against his own, wiry but solid, and Danny sways back and forth against Mac's hands and keeps on kissing him.

His lips feel like they're chapped, but the kiss itself is soft, and there's stubble scratching Mac's cheek and Danny's glasses getting in the way, and then there's Danny's tongue, too, not much more than a quick brush over his lips at first, tentative until he opens his mouth. Danny kisses him hard and deep for just a few seconds, hot mouth going all slippery-wet against his before it goes back to being a soft kiss, one final brush of lips over his own that's almost chaste, and then Danny pulls back a couple of inches. Mac opens his eyes when this happens, when the kiss is broken, and finds Danny looking right at him again, eyes wide and almost shocked behind his glasses. Over his shoulder, there's still nothing but the dark street and the night.

"Oh," Danny says in a low voice, sounding surprised. Mac stares at him without saying anything until he realizes that he's still holding Danny by the waist, and then he lets him go, but doesn't move away, doesn't try to get out of the doorway or past Danny. He doesn't say anything, either, doesn't offer up the words of protest that he thinks he maybe should be saying right now.

He just looks at Danny, and he realizes that what he's thinking about is Danny smiling at him over a beer in Sullivan's, Danny saying All part of my master plan and To figure you out, of course. And maybe there's another word that could be applied here, another word besides "friends" that fits them here, even though Mac thinks -- even in the midst of that, even with the taste of beer and Danny's tongue still lingering on his mouth -- that it's not that this initial word is inaccurate. Far from it; it's just not complete, not the whole picture, and no matter what happens now there are other words he's going to have to consider when he thinks about Danny, and about the two of them.

What Mac knows for sure, as he stands here looking at Danny in this moment when everything changes, is that there's no room for caution here and no way to go back, to undo what's been done. There's no way out, in fact, except straight through the middle, whatever that may mean. And he doesn't know what that means, not as he stands here and not as he looks at Danny and watches Danny start to clear his throat and rub the back of his neck like he does when he's getting ready to say something and is afraid he's going to lose his nerve.

The other thing he knows is that, right now, there's just Danny and him and this deep warm night around them, and neither of them is making a move to leave.