Down on Mermaid Avenue
by Stellaluna

It's been raining off and on all day, impossible to predict the course of the storm: five minutes of rain or maybe thirty, and then it clears, and then it'll start to pour again. This frustrates Danny the way stop-and-go traffic does. He never knows whether to wear his jacket or not, or if he should have an umbrella. Apparently Mac has opted not to bother with an umbrella at all, and seems to bring some of the storm in with him when he gets to Danny's place; his shoulders and trouser cuffs are damp with precipitation, and there's more rain beading in his hair, a little bit of steam rising as the water starts to evaporate in the overheated hallway. He starts to apologize for not wiping his feet off, but Danny tells him not to worry about it, that he doesn't have a welcome mat anyway, and opens the door to let him in.

"You weren't kidding when you said you weren't far away," Danny says. It hasn't been even fifteen minutes since the phone rang and it was Mac on the other end of the line, asking in his diffident way if Danny would mind if he stopped by for awhile.

"No," Mac says, "I -- no."

"So what brings you to this neck of the woods?" Danny shuts and locks the door, then walks over to stand by Mac's side. "Lemme take your jacket," he adds, putting a hand on Mac's shoulder. Mac nods and shrugs out of it.

"I just got off shift," he says. "Thought I'd drop in."

"Just got -- ?" Danny finishes hanging up the jacket and glances at his watch. It's mid-afternoon; Danny has been off since midnight, and he isn't scheduled to go in again until the next morning. "But you're scheduled same as me this week," he says. "And I know we closed the liver case."

"We did, just...paperwork. You know how it is. And the good doctor was a difficult interrogation." And Mac had told Danny to go ahead and go home, to not worry about finishing up the interrogation or any of the rest of it, that he'd handle it on his own.

"You shoulda had me stay. I woulda worked it with you."

Mac shrugs. "I don't think it would have helped," he says. "Why should both of us have had to stay late?"

Because that's what we do, Danny wants to say, but doesn't. Mac isn't always the best at delegating, God knows, which is why he keeps on working himself into the ground like this. He looks at his watch again, instead. "Even so," he says, "that was hours ago. How long could it take to -- "

"Danny," Mac says sharply, "what is this? Are we interrogating each other now?"

"Hey, cool your jets, all right?" Danny says, before he can think better of it. "I don't wanna -- I just...look, do you want a drink or what?"

Mac takes a deep breath, and seems to take a moment to compose himself. "A drink would be good," he says after a pause. "Thank you."

"No problem." Mac follows him into the kitchen, and then, as Danny is rummaging in the fridge for a bottle of club soda, he says, carefully, "So how many hours were you on, anyway?"

"I don't know," Mac says, and now Danny can hear the weariness threaded through his voice, clear as anything. "Twenty hours, maybe? No. 22 hours." Danny closes the refrigerator door and turns around, holding the bottle, and Mac is sitting at the kitchen table, rubbing his eyes. His shoulders look tense.

"Christ, no wonder you're tired." Danny sets down the soda, along with two glasses and a bottle of vodka, and sits down across from Mac.

"I'm fine." Mac starts to pour. "I -- I'm sorry I snapped," he adds after a moment, not looking at Danny.

"'S'okay," Danny says, and he realizes that he means it; anyone's temper would be frayed after that many hours, and it's not like that little bout of irritation escalated into anything worse. There are degrees of fighting, after all, of treating each other badly, and with Mac, especially, Danny knows that all too well.

They drink in silence, and Danny glances over at Mac from time to time. Not just his shoulders are wired, but all the rest of him, lines of tension in his jaw and in the way he holds himself, and Danny thinks that there's a slight tremor in his hands whenever he lifts the glass to his mouth.

"We may have to talk tomorrow about reallocating some of our caseload," Mac says eventually.

"Sure," Danny says. "Why?"

"Something...may have come up." Mac doesn't look at him, but runs a finger around the edge of his drink, collecting condensation on the tip of it. "I don't know. I have to see. But if we need to reprioritize some things -- "

"Hey, I'm there. No problem."

Mac nods. "All right."

Danny wants to ask what this is that's come up, what kind of new case would keep Mac there for so many more hours than he should have been: why it's not just something that he could assign and then forget about if it's so damn important, or start working it right away? And if it's not important enough for that, it should be something that'll keep until morning...right? Something prickles along the back of Danny's neck, some little buzz or warning that maybe this is something he should pay attention to, something he should question Mac about further no matter how much it may irritate him, but he tries to shrug the feeling off.

"So did Beaumont take some time to break?" he asks, instead. It has to be the new case, whatever it is, that's the reason for Mac's tension and for all the extra hours he's just put in. Discussing Keith Beaumont's confession seems like a much safer topic.

Or maybe it's not: Mac's knuckles go white on the glass he's holding. "No," he says, looking down into his drink. "It didn't take long at all. Considering."

"That's good," Danny says.

"I suppose." Mac doesn't say anything for a minute, and busies himself adding more vodka to his drink. "Stupid," he adds.


"Beaumont. Stupid and arrogant." Mac's voice is crackling with tension again, and Danny realizes that maybe it's this case after all that's most of the reason for Mac's state of mind, not the mysterious new one that he still hasn't said anything more about.

"Yeah." Danny refreshes his own drink. "Ain't that the common factor for most of our perps, though?"

"Stupid," Mac says again, in a far-away voice as if he isn't really listening, and when he looks up, looks across the table, Danny is taken aback by the look on his face. The expected anger and impatience is there, but behind that there's some drowning sorrow in his eyes that Danny doesn't know how to account for. Half-moon purple circles under the eyes, so dark a person could almost think he'd recently been punched, and in the irises, some far-off hurt, some old hurt. It's an expression that for no reason at all makes Danny think of the Coney Island Aquarium, strange blue life in deep water, creatures drifting in unending silence. Shipwrecks, he thinks, and storms at sea, and outside the rain is driven against the building; inside he looks at Mac and wonders what this is, what to do with it.

"Hey," he says, "hey," and Mac meets his eyes at last. He realizes that he doesn't know what to say. "It's good we got him, then. That you got him."

Mac opens his mouth and then closes it again, and then nods. "I know."

Danny reaches across the table and puts his hand on Mac's wrist. "It's what we do, right?" The words are beyond inadequate, but he can think of no way to frame the questions he needs to ask.

"Right," Mac says. His eyes are very dark, still flickering with that same hurt, like a memory of anguish: like someone who's forgotten the reason for his pain, but who can't escape it even so. Maybe there's a warning there, too, or distant music, a warning that Danny ignores as he slips his fingers along Mac's wrist, tracing delicate circles on his skin; shipwrecks are often preceded by songs. Mac moves a little under his touch, and reaches out with his other hand, letting his fingers brush against Danny's.

"You didn't come here to talk about work, did you?" Danny says. He stares unblinkingly into Mac's face.

Mac draws in a deep breath. "No," he says slowly, "I guess I didn't." His fingers tighten on Danny's.

Danny closes the distance between them quickly and efficiently; he stands up and comes around the table, then straddles Mac's lap and clutches him by the shoulders, and kisses him hard. Mac tips his head back and returns the kiss, and his arms go around Danny, moving up and down his spine. He still smells like rain and damp wool as Danny opens the first few buttons of his shirt and lays his hand against Mac's heart, then bends down to kiss his neck. They both shed their clothes all the way down the hallway to the bedroom.

Mac fucks him like he's someone else, or like Mac would like him to be someone else, like Mac is in some other place in his head. It's disconcerting, because it doesn't feel like it has in the past, times when he's thought that Mac isn't entirely engaged with what they're doing, or at the very least like he's trying to be anywhere but there, to disavow the reality of their actions. This isn't that; nor is it the kind of anger-fueled sex they've had more than once, both of them consenting, but far more interested in trying to score points off each other than in the experience actually being anything good. Or in it being anything other than a neon-lit, whiskey-sour burn in the back of the throat. What Danny feels right now, it isn't detachment and it isn't anger on Mac's part, but it's still something other, something alien.

Whoever Mac is fucking in his head, whoever he's seeing, it's not Danny. It's someone else's skin he's touching, someone else's open mouth he's pressing lingering, desperate kisses to. Someone else he's fucking hard, long slow thrusts that he twists his hips at the end of, just before he pulls back and then moves in again for another stroke. And it's good even so; and Danny kisses back, arches, digs his fingers into Mac's back hard enough that he hopes he's leaving bruises.

Mac's breathing gets faster, less measured. Otherwise he's quiet, which is also normal, counterpoint to Danny's soft litany of curses. His eyes flutter closed and then open, and then closed again, and Danny arches up once more, nearly biting through Mac's lip as he comes on his stomach. Mac's hands slide up and down Danny's body, rhythm starting to falter, and Danny wonders again who he's seeing on the inside of his eyelids, whose body he's inside in his memory.

Although it's Danny's name on his lips when he tenses and comes, and when he sinks down against him afterward and kisses him one final time, and then brushes his mouth along Danny's throat in a series of quick, shuddering kisses. There's some other name there, hovering on the verge, but Mac doesn't say it and Danny won't ask.

For a switch, Mac falls asleep afterward, while Danny remains awake. He must be even more exhausted than he was willing to own up to, Danny thinks, and he wonders at the sight of Mac in his bed, one hand flung out across the pillows and frowning a little even in his sleep. A 22-hour shift, Danny remembers; Jesus, no wonder, and outside it's starting to rain again, wind driving the wet against the glass and rattling the window frame. Danny lies there for a while, watching Mac and listening to the rain, the light in the room an unearthly gray like they're trapped under glass somewhere, or under the sea.

Finally, feeling the need to move, Danny gets quietly out of bed and goes naked to the window. He pulls the curtain back, telling himself that he doesn't care if anyone sees him, even though he knows that in reality he'd probably jump like hell if there was someone -- in the building across the street, say -- looking back at him. But there's no one there, and no one on the narrow strip of street that he can see from this vantage point. An occasional car going by, shearing sheets of water in its wake, but otherwise this little corner of the city seems abandoned right now, except for him and Mac.

He still isn't used to Mac coming here again, after all this time, making Danny part of his routine. Danny looks out the window, then shifts his gaze so that he's looking at the window, watching the reflection of the sleeping man in his bed. It's been good so far, these past few weeks, but it had been good last year, too; and then the spring had come and the rains had started, and right around then it had all gone to hell in the space of a heartbeat. Danny wonders again where Mac was just now when they were fucking, and who he was with. The sorrow and anger that had been in Mac's eyes and voice when he first showed up here hadn't gone away, they had just been...displaced. Diverted to another channel, like changing the course of a river.

Danny puts a hand to the glass, tracing patterns in the fog; he writes the letter A, and looks at it, then wipes it away. Mac is here with him: whatever else may be true, that's the reality of the situation.

He looks away from Mac, back outside at the storm, and leans against the window now, the glass cold on his bare stomach. The wind is picking up, and it's like he could almost reach out and touch the rain right through the closed window, like the storm is going to come right into the room. He's still trying to puzzle all of this out in his mind, and feels like he's just making hopeless circles instead of getting to any conclusion. Like it is sometimes at the start of a case, when they keep ending up back where they started and the evidence is nothing but a meaningless series of symbols in a dead language: Linear B, or the Cypriot syllabary.

Rain patters against the place where his hand rests, separated from it by one thin pane of glass. He remembers the way Mac just fucked him and the look in his eyes when they were still in the kitchen, and Mac on the phone a month or two back, calling for no reason and then joking with Danny about not finding any more dead bodies on the way home, the warmth in his voice lingering long after they'd both said goodnight and hung up.

He thinks about that, and he thinks about the first time Mac came home with him again, both of them more or less edging sideways into the renewal of the relationship without ever acknowledging out loud that was what they were doing, the enormous sense of relief that night when he'd wrapped his arms around Mac and they'd kissed each other. Like he'd been holding his breath for the past ten months without realizing it, and was just then finally able to draw air into his lungs again. And, simultaneous with the relief, a bolt of fear: how could he do this again? How could they do this again?

He thinks about last year, about Mac standing at the steps of a subway station and telling him to go home, shoving a lawyer's card into his hand and then looking away, like he was someone else's problem, someone else's wreck to clean up. That was when he knew it was really over, that there was no turning back for either of them; and he'd spent the last ten months trying to make that ghost stay in its grave. And now there's this, again. There's them.

Mac stirs in the bed behind him, murmurs something and then opens his eyes. "Danny?" he says, voice still blurred with sleep, and sits up.

"Yeah," Danny says. He lets the curtain fall closed, but doesn't move away from the window. "Just watching the storm."

Mac gets out of bed and comes over to where he's standing. Danny keeps on looking out; he can still see the rain through a tiny opening in the curtains, sheets of water and nothing else in view. "It started again?" Mac says.

"While you were sleeping."

Mac comes up close behind him and stands there in silence, looking out, Danny supposes, at the same thing he is. Mac's body is warm against Danny's back, and after a moment he puts a hand on his stomach, holding him and stroking a little in an absent sort of way, the flat of his palm creating a little pool of heat on Danny's cool skin.

Ships at sea, Danny thinks again, and what he sees in his mind is some shadowed figure, turning over and over in the water as it falls to the bottom of the ocean. Cold down there, and silent, but in here, in his bedroom, it's warm, and the rain hasn't gotten in yet.

"It won't last," Mac says.

"No." Danny puts his hand over Mac's, leaning back against his chest. "It won't."