In the Moment
by Stellaluna

Right now, Flack is sitting at a table in Sullivan's with Stella and trying to think of how to proceed. He didn't start this evening with any clear agenda other than the idea that they both needed a break from everything, and he had thought that things would take care of themselves. He knows, after all, all the things he doesn't want to hear, and had been able to guess that the things Stella doesn't want to hear are much the same. And even so he finds that he doesn't quite know what to do with himself right now, that for one thing he doesn't quite know how to talk to Stella, and that, more importantly, he's much less aware of where the hidden landmines are than he thought he was. Once it wouldn't have been a problem, but now it is.

Now he sits here and fiddles with his drink, and looks at Stella, and wonders why the summers always have to go all to hell like this.

Later, Stella will press herself against his body and let her hands roam up and down his chest as she whispers into his ear. "It's a common misconception," she'll say, and her breath will be hot little puffs of air on his face.

"What is?" he'll ask, and it'll already be a struggle to keep his voice steady.

"That the person giving head is the one in a submissive position," and there'll be the ghost of a laugh flickering through her voice, which will have gone husky from heat and whiskey.

"Since when are they not?" He'll think that it's just some more of her scientist bullshit.

"See, you think you're dominant," she'll say. "You think you're the one in control of the situation." She won't be caressing him any more by then, and will be holding him by the shoulders. She'll have one knee pressed between his thighs as he sprawls on the bed, and he'll have to work not to rub himself against her, not to grab her by the waist and roll her off-balance so she'll be forced to straddle him to stay upright. So that he can push inside her in a heartbeat and feel that heat around him, and so that he can finally relieve the building pressure in his balls.

"I am in control," he'll say, and even then he'll know it's a lie, because if it weren't, he wouldn't be lying here beneath her, unmoving.

"No, you're not," she'll say, and her sharp teeth will close on his earlobe, hard enough to make him yelp and curse. She'll sit up then and slide down his body, and let the head of his dick slide along her wet folds for just a second before she pulls back and settles herself on his thighs. She'll look down at him, and the look in her eyes will be devil-may-care, the pupils huge and dark and dilated.

"Now let me tell you why," she'll say, and he'll listen like his life depends on it.

But all of that is for later.

All of that will happen hours from now, in the later, in the next, in the part of the evening that's still in the future. That's later, and this is now, and now is when Flack is still sitting with Stella in Sullivan's. Now is when the beer they were drinking earlier has given way to hard liquor, and a little while before the situation devolves into shots of Jim Beam.

Now is when Stella's mouth twists and she says, "What do you expect? Danny's in Mac's corner now."

Flack, who had only been explaining to her that Danny, like almost everyone else, is a little too inclined these days to act like Flack is fragile or some such shit, blinks at her in surprise. He knows that Danny is worried about him, and he's also of the opinion that Danny's current attack of nerves also has more to do with outside factors like Aiden and Louie than with any possible connection to Mac, but he doesn't say that. He has a feeling that Stella wouldn't hear him, or that she would take it all the wrong way.

That's not what stops him in his tracks, though, and not what strikes him most about her statement. He plays the words back in his mind, then says, "So does that mean you're not in Mac's corner?"

Stella shrugs. "I'm in my own corner."

"All right," Flack says. "Fair enough. That's a good place to be." He's pleased with the way that came out; it's casual and just flip enough that all Stella does is nod in response and then go on talking about something else, in which Mac figures not at all.

Flack goes along with the conversation, with what she's saying now, but he can't stop thinking about what she just said. He keeps remembering the night she got out of the hospital, how she'd hugged him and told him that he was a good friend; how smooth her cheek had been under his lips when he kissed her, and under his hand delicate little bird-bones in her shoulder blades that had nothing at all to do with who she really was. She'd left with Mac after that, and Flack had figured they were fine. Not fine with what had happened, because that was about as far from fucking fine as it was possible to get, but okay with each other.

What the hell happened between you two from then to now? he wants to ask, and knows he can't.

Stella takes another sip of her drink, and there's no expression at all in her gaze.

Flack is trying to figure out if he's ever, in all the weeks since Frankie, seen Stella and Mac look each other in the eye. He's been in the same room with them lots of times since then, has cited evidence and listened while they talked about the forensic aspects of different cases, and he just can't remember a damn thing.

This isn't the problem with him and Danny; they can make eye contact no problem. It's just that Danny has his own shit to worry about, and his nervously darting gaze brings Flack back, every time they're alone together, to the roar of detonation in his ears and the sudden pain in his chest, and then the world going white around him. To waking up in the hospital under what felt like a thousand pounds of pressure.

And maybe because, as Stella says, Danny is in Mac's corner now. Maybe there's that, too, even though Flack isn't sure just what she means by that.

What he does know is that he frequently wants to grab Danny by the lapels of his jacket and throw him up against the nearest wall, and tell him to stop it, just stop it already. Stop staring at me like you're examining a corpse, and let things go back to the way they were. Is that too much to ask?

Maybe it is.

But later, he will ask Stella to explain herself, not on that subject but on another that has become just as important, and she'll tell him all about what she means.

"You think you're in control," she'll say again, "but you're not at all." She'll take one hand off him and slide it up to cup her own breast, rolling the nipple between her fingers until it's hard and erect and she's sighing, and Flack is clutching handfuls of the bedsheets to make himself hold still. She'll tip her head back and let her hand slip back down her stomach, and just when Flack starts to think that she's going to get herself off and he'll be happy to plead with her to do it, she'll open her eyes and smile down at him.

Then she'll lie down, stretched out between his legs, mouth positioned just above his aching erection, which will be quivering in the humid evening air. "Here you are," she'll say, and although she'll be talking just above a whisper, he'll hear every word clear as a bell. "All aroused. All exposed," and her breath will slip along the head of his cock. "All hard and ready and dripping," she'll say, and her fingers will circle his shaft. He'll moan and start to buck toward her.

"Goddammit, Stella -- " he'll say, but by the time the words are out she'll have left him again, and she'll be sitting up just far enough to show him the wetness on the tips of her fingers. Flack will watch as she licks his pre-come from her hand, and when she puts her thumb to his mouth he'll suck away whatever moisture he finds there. She'll smile again at that and touch his cheek.

"Good boy," she'll say, and he'll have to bite back the order that rises to his lips, will have to force himself not to tell her to just get up here and fuck him already if she's gonna. He'll know that if he tries that, she'll almost certainly stop for good.

"Bet your sweet ass I'm good," he'll say instead, and she'll bend her head once more.

"All of those things," she'll say, "and all naked in front of me with nowhere to hide. Why -- " She'll duck her head even lower, and her tongue will trace an insinuating trail along his entire length. " -- my teeth are right here," she'll go on. "Right here, where I could do such a world of damage," and he'll feel those sharp teeth again, a teasing nip at his overheated flesh. It'll make him catch his breath and thrust toward her open lips despite the implied threat, and right about then, he'll stop caring about the difference between pain and pleasure.

Now, in the bar, still not knowing how the evening is going to end, all he does is keep on looking at Stella. From this short distance, he can see the angry red line at the corner of her left eye. If he were to take her hands in his and turn them palms-up, he would find corresponding marks on the tips of her fingers. He would lift her hands to his mouth and kiss the scars if he didn't know it would earn him her fury in return.

But these are her only visible scars; there's nothing else. Stella's like him, Flack's decided: most of the scars, all of the real scars, are on the inside. He has a much more spectacular physical souvenir of his time in the hospital than she does, of course. He sees it every morning in the shower and every night when he takes his shirt off, a jagged line that bisects his torso and that's all the reminder he'll ever need.

He knows that the headaches and the pain that takes his breath away every time he moves wrong will fade, and that eventually he'll be able to work a full shift again without ending it wobbly with exhaustion; none of that worries him too much. The real damage is in how the whole situation has fucked with his head, how when he first came back to work he had to steel himself every time he entered a scene, and how just walking out onto the street could make him break into a cold sweat. How even now he can flinch at loud or sudden noises.

PTSD, the department shrink keeps saying during his mandatory sessions, even though he's told her none of this. And how he hates it.

"What about you?" he says to Stella, trying to bring the conversation back to where it was before she said what she did about Mac and corners. "People giving you shit about how you're supposed to be taking it easy, instead of them just letting you do your goddamn job?"

Stella fishes an olive out of her glass and stares at it, her mouth going tight, and Flack thinks at first that she's not going to answer.

"Maybe," she says at last. "Sometimes."

"Sucks, don't it?" he says. "I tell you, I figure I'd be so much better off without all the goddamn questions. I could just come to work and have it be an ordinary day, and have everyone else act ordinary, too, and I'd be aces in no time. None of this 'are you okay? Are you really okay?' bullshit every two minutes, and no assholes staring at me like they just caught me with my pants down." He slings an arm along the back of his chair and grins at Stella. "Mind you, if they did, at least they'd have good reason to stare."

He waits, but she doesn't return the grin. "What are you doing here, Flack?" she says, the words tumbling out like she's been saving them all night.

"I'm having a drink with you," he says after a pause.

"But why are you here?" she persists. "You can't tell me you don't have better things to do than -- " She stops and shakes her head.

"Better things to do than get drunk with a hot chick who knows how to handle a gun?" he says. "I don't think so."

"Really?" she says. "Then what, Flack, is Danny too busy for you these days?"

And that's when he realizes that she hasn't been listening to a word he's said, because if she had, she'd know how far from the case that is. Still, the words pierce him, mostly because he knows she means for them to wound, and a rejoinder is on his lips before he can think better of it. "Naw," he says, "me and him are all good. Why are you here? Mac got better things to do than fight with you all night?"

Anger flares in her eyes. "Oh, fuck you, Flack," and she starts to get to her feet.

"Only if you ask a lot nicer than that," he says, and puts a hand on her arm before she can walk away. He thinks of the way he saw her storming out of Mac's office that afternoon, how she'd let the door slam behind her without looking back. It was right about then, when he was still fresh from his latest headshrinker appointment, that he had decided that what they both needed was a night out.

Stella glares at him. "You'd better move that hand unless you want to lose it," she says, but she's not pulling away.

"I figure we're even now," he says, keeping his voice calm. "You got in your shot, I got in mine. What say we put away the daggers now and try to have a nice evening?" He can afford to be generous; after all, it's not really him she's angry at.

"I don't need -- "

"Pity? Good, me neither. That's why I asked you out, Stella."

She's still staring at him, but now she looks more confused than pissed.

"I'm tired of everyone looking at me funny, like I was trying to tell you," he says. "Tired of even my friends acting like I got something permanently wrong with me. I thought maybe you might be, too. Thought we could both use a break." He feels her twitch in his grip. "Was I wrong?"

"No," she says. "No, you weren't wrong." She pulls away from him and sits back down.

Later, he'll try to hold still, and she'll laugh. "Even if we avoid that kind of extreme sport," she'll say, "you're still just so exposed. I can watch you, I can see every little contortion your face goes through, hear you gasp -- " She'll run her tongue along his length again, and he'll think that he's supposed to gasp for real, but instead he'll bite his lip hard enough to draw blood.

" -- listen to you beg for it," she'll continue. She'll look up at him then, and he'll wish again that he could read the emotion in her eyes. "Feel the way you move in my mouth," she'll say, "and you're still gonna lie there and give in, because that's how good it feels. That's how much you want it."

She'll give his balls a nice little stroke, and then he will groan; he won't be able to help it. "Isn't that right?"

"I don't know," he'll manage to say. "Depends on whether you're gonna talk all night or whether you're gonna do it."

She'll laugh again and lick her lips and not move, and Flack will think she's going to leave him high and dry after all.

"Now what are you drinking?" he says to her in the now, looking at her across the wooden table at Sullivan's.

"I'm tired of this," Stella says, holding up her empty glass. "I want a shot."

"That's my girl," Flack says with a grin, and this time Stella returns it. He goes off to the bar feeling infinitely more cheerful. While he's waiting for their drinks, though, he glances over his shoulder at Stella and finds himself remembering, again, that day at the hospital, walking her through the particulars of the assault. She'd been scared and unhappy and most of all brave, and she'd insisted that they keep going even when he sensed that she was at the outer limits of what she could endure. He'd thought that she'd been embarrassed, too, ashamed of letting him see her in such a vulnerable state. But there'd been none of this cold anger; that had come later.

He prays he'll never see Stella like that again, and he's pretty sure that the anger isn't much better, but he does miss the woman who embraced him and called him a good friend. He doesn't know where she's gone.

Flack tries to put all of this out of his mind as best he can; it's not too difficult once he and Stella are pounding back whiskey and she's laughing at him for spilling half of his shot down his tie. It's not until an hour or two later, when they're walking down the street together, that he has occasion to recall these things.

"I'll tell you something about Mac," Stella says out of nowhere, and she pauses at the corner of Mercer and Grand, one foot on the curb and one off, swaying with drunken composure as she waits for the light to change.

"What's that?" Flack asks, and he doesn't know why those two words should make him feel like he's taking a swan dive from the roof of the Citicorp Building.

"Mac told me after I came back to work that a woman who had shot her boyfriend would probably find it easier to do that again." She blinks up at him. "He was talking about a case, was my very first day back. And then he had me run ballistics tests, while Hawkes got to go dust for prints."

"He what?" Flack says, and he thinks that maybe his mental processes are starting to slow down, because what Stella just said doesn't make any sense. Not even Mac could do that. Especially not Mac, not after the way he sat by Flack's hospital bed hour after hour.

"Funny, right?" Stella says, and he can see even from here the way her jaw is clenched. "I don't think he ever even noticed my reaction."

"Not so funny, Stella," he says. "He's a stupid son of a bitch if he didn't." You can't save people, he thinks, and the helpless anger almost chokes him. You can't save them from fate or from a psychopath's murderous impulses, and most of all you can't save them from the people who are supposed to love them. You can't save them from themselves.

"Yeah." Stella comes to a halt on the sidewalk, and this time, when she looks at him, it's the hospital all over again. Her eyes are filled with sorrow and almost too wide for her face, and he can see what it must be costing her just to hold it all together these days: something not unlike what it's costing him. "That's sort of what I thought, too," she says. "Good to see I'm not the crazy one."

"Of course you're not," he says, and he thinks of Danny again. Although he's still more than halfway tempted to go find the little nerd and pin him up against a wall until he cries uncle, he's also absurdly grateful for him all of a sudden. Danny may be driving Flack crazy these days, but he's not...he hasn't done anything like that. He's there.

Flack wants to take Stella in his arms and tell her that he'll be her friend, but he knows she'd never stand for it. Even now, as they look at each other, her face is beginning to close up, eyes going remote and cold. "Anyway," she says, and looks away from him, and then starts to walk again, fast, like she's already regretting having shown him even this much of her real feelings.

Flack jogs along beside her in silence for another block or so. He's not sure where they're going right now or what Stella might have in mind, and it occurs to him that he might be wondering about that more if he were a little less hammered, but for the moment he's willing to just go along and see what happens. Especially after what she just told him about Mac, he's reluctant to just abandon her on a street corner somewhere, or even at the top of the subway stairs. Anyway, she's just as drunk as he is, if not more, and even though Stella can take care of herself, he doesn't think it would be right. Besides, she hasn't told him to go away yet.

"So what're we doing now?" he asks anyway, after another half-block of neither of them saying a word. "Unless you want me to go away and leave you alone."

"No," she says, sounding thoughtful, and slows down a little. "No, I don't want you to go away."

He steps in front of her to get her to stop walking, and flashes her another smile. "Good," he says. "So you want to hit another bar or something?"

Stella tilts her head to one side, looking up at him. There's a little smile on her lips that he can't quite parse the meaning of. "Or something," she says, and reaches up and threads her fingers through his hair. He's not quite surprised when she kisses him, but he is, he realizes, very glad. She has to stand on her toes to do it, and he wraps his arms around her waist and kisses her back, pulling her up to his mouth and lifting her halfway off her feet as he does. She laughs and staggers off-balance, and he smirks against her lips, stumbling with her into the darkened doorway of a jewelry store. Once they're there and he has her backed up against the glass, he leans down and starts kissing her in earnest.

This is exactly what he needs, Flack decides a few minutes later, even more than the night out or the number of drinks that are currently jacking up his blood alcohol level. He needs a warm body and a warm mouth, someone to kiss him and stroke him and remind him that he's made it through to the other side. It's been too fucking long since he's been with anyone, and right now he'd really like anyone to be Stella. It's for the same reason he asked her out tonight: because she gets what it's like, and because she's unlikely to insist upon treating him delicately out of some misguided concern for his wellbeing.

Not, he thinks, as he kisses Stella deeper and cups his hand around the back of her neck, that he won't be gentle if she needs him to be. He doesn't know if she's been to bed with anyone since Frankie or if he's going to be the first, but either way he'll do any damn thing she wants.

Later, when she hovers over him and he lies there wondering if she's going to stop for good or keep going, he'll be baffled by how he ever could have thought, even for a second, that she would have wanted him to be gentle with her, but now, kissing her in the doorway, he still hasn't figured that out. Any fucking way she wants it, he thinks, feeling the arousal build; he'll do her any old way at all, on the floor or in his bed or even right here. Who cares if they get arrested for indecent exposure?

After awhile, Stella breaks off the kiss, and the next thing he knows, her lips are on his throat and her fingers are slipping in between his shirt buttons to touch his bare flesh. Her tongue brushes the hollow of his throat and he lets out a deep sigh, then tilts his head back. Before he can get too into it, she lets go of him and takes a step away, then busies herself straightening his tie. "I think we should go to your place now," she says.

"Good idea." He reaches out and fixes her jacket collar for her, letting the side of his hand brush against her breasts as he does. He thinks he feels her shiver, and then he says, "Let's go," and turns them both in the direction of the nearest subway station.

They don't talk much on the train, or even touch, but she stays close to him and he's very aware of the heat of her body against his own, of the mingled smells of whiskey and perfume on her skin.

Back at his apartment, he lets them both in and locks the door, and then starts to make a joke about the mess, but the words aren't more than halfway out of his mouth when she kisses him again, harder than before, and he forgets all about the state of his living room in the interest of getting her clothes off.

Despite his earlier thoughts about fucking her any place they happened to end up, he realizes now that he wants to do this right -- and that means in his bed. This should be a celebration, after all, a chance for them both to get back in the saddle, and a quick fuck on the couch just isn't going to satisfy. He lets Stella push his jacket from his shoulders, and then he lifts her off her feet, causing her to gasp in surprise and tighten her arms around his neck. He feels a twinge of pain in his midsection, but tries to ignore it, and it passes after a moment.

"C'mere," he says, and kisses her again. "Let's quit wasting time." He slides his hands down to her ass and she wraps her legs around his waist, and even though he has to put her down after a minute, he doesn't let go of her, and their kisses are deep and sloppy by the time they sink to the bed together.

He'll have plenty of time for regret later -- not the later that happens when she has him on edge and thoroughly worked up, but the later in which he's capable of reflection -- plenty of time to wonder what went wrong. He'll also find himself trying to figure out if anything went wrong at all, or if what happened was just what Stella really wanted. What she needed.

But, at first, things are going great. Stella has her hands all over him and her mouth on his, and he loves the feel of her skin under his hands. Loves it even more as he starts to get them both naked and sees she's just as beautiful as he's always fantasized, maybe even more so. Skin on skin and it's great; he lies next to her and kisses her breasts and belly, and she strokes him, letting out soft little moans every time he hits a good spot. He starts to roll her onto her back so that he can get in even closer, deeper; and then suddenly she lets out a breathless gasp that freezes him where he is, because it doesn't sound happy.

"No..." And then she's sitting up and pushing him away.

"Stella," he says in a low voice, and watches her take deep breaths. She's got her arms wrapped around her knees, and as he watches she raises her hands to the level of her eyes and stares at her fingertips, so much like the hospital that he knows he's going to remember this moment for much too long.

"Stella?" he says again, when it's been more than a minute and she hasn't moved. He doesn't dare touch her.

"I'm fine," she says in a wavering, distracted voice.

"You want to stop?" he asks.

"What?" She stares at him. "No. Of course not. I'm fine. I just, I can't..." She takes another deep breath, and he waits, and when she speaks again her voice is determinedly calm.

"I've got an idea," she says, and turns toward him and rests a hand on his chest. "How about we do things a little differently?"

"Sure," he says, anything but sure, but willing to go along.

"I am going to make your world spin," she says, and manages to smile. "Think I'm capable of that?"

"Oh, I know you are."

"Good." She moves her hand down to his stomach and then lower, caressing his cock, and he feels himself start to get hard again. "The only rule is you can't touch me. You have to just..." She edges closer to him, and her next words vibrate against his cheek. "...give yourself over to me. Think you can do that?"

"Of course I can," he says, and he doesn't say anything at all about what he feels for her right now, or about how much he'd like to put Frankie in his grave all over again -- or about how much he'd like to go find Mac and hit him in the mouth. "Bring it on," he tells her, and she's even smiling as she pushes him down on his back.

This is where now becomes later for Flack, where present and future collide and where there's no more will or then or next. There's also no more past. There's only now, only this moment, the endless present; and one moment keeps bleeding into the next, again and again.

"Do it, please," he whispers at last, because he can't stand it any longer. "Stella..." He's being good, he's not touching her, and he still more than halfway believes that she's going to walk away and leave him here even so.

Instead her nails scratch at the insides of his thighs, and she bends down and takes him all the way into her mouth at last. He can't stop himself from thrusting into all that wet heat, and he has a moment of worry that this may break the rules, too, but she keeps going, moves with him, and he gives up trying to think. She sucks at him in a steady rhythm, and the occasional scrape of her teeth sweetens it for him, makes the friction build much quicker; and at last he comes with a moan, hips arching away from the bed and fingers digging so hard into the mattress that he hears his joints pop.

He's still feeling only semi-coherent when she plants a kiss on his navel and then rolls off him and to the side, but he manages to reach out for her, willing and eager to return the favor. She shies away from his touch. "I told you," she says, "you can't touch me."

"But I -- " He props himself up on one elbow, frowning at her. "I thought that was just..."

She shrugs. "That's the way it is."

"Then how am I supposed to -- "

"I'm fine." He stares at her, and she leans over and kisses him. "Really," she says.

"But that's not...Stella. That's not -- "

"Don." There's a distinct warning in the tone of her voice. "I had a good time. Don't spoil it now."

He bites back what he really wants to say. "All right," and he feels the words tear at him.

"Good." She pats his cheek, then sits up and starts to reach for her clothes.

"Wait," he says, and she pauses and glances over her shoulder at him. "Stay."

"I can't."

"Not all night. I know you can't do that." He tries for the charming smile. "Just for a little while, what do you say?"

She pauses, then finally says, "All right," and drops her bra on the floor before she lies down next to him again.

"All right," he says. After a moment, she puts a hand on his chest, and she doesn't flinch away or protest when he covers her hand with his own; they lie like that in silence. He'll try to talk to her about this in a little while, he decides, or at the very least will try to convince her to change her mind. Sometimes people just need time. Time and space, that's all.

When Flack wakes up, he's alone in the room. The streetlights filter through the blind and make stripes on the ceiling, and he can hear people shouting outside. There's nothing to indicate Stella was ever there, not a note left behind or so much as a lock of hair; even the pillows on the other side of the bed have been straightened. He thinks, briefly, of trying to call Danny, but it's either much too late or much too early, and he imagines the phone ringing in an empty apartment. The most anybody can do is their best, he reminds himself, and do that in good faith. All of the rest of it is out of his hands, and time is much too slippery to hold onto. It occurs to him that there's no such thing as the present, not when, with every moment that passes, now is constantly turning into then.

He gets up and gets a drink of water and then goes to the window, and moves two of the blind slats just far enough so that he can look out. The street is deserted, and he doesn't know what else he expected; Stella must have left long ago.