Pretty Good Year
by Stellaluna

i. Good Friday

Aiden tilts her face up to the sky and says, "You feel that? That's spring, my friend."

"Funny," Danny says. "Here I was thinkin' it was just exhaust fumes."

And of course Aiden tries to hit him for that, and of course he dodges, telling her to watch the jacket. She asks him why he has to be such a cynical little shit, anyway, and walks down the precinct steps, then stops on the sidewalk in front, glaring up at him with her hands on her hips.

"Cynical, me?" he asks, and flashes her his best charming smile, which has no effect on her at all. "I'll have you know I'm utterly without guile."

"You're utterly without balls," she says with a snort, and keeps talking before he can protest. "It's warm, it's Friday night, the trees are all in bud, and all you can do is stand up there and sneer."

"Okay, fine," he says, and walks down the steps, jumping the last two so that he lands on the pavement with a teeth-rattling thump. "I'll stand down here and sneer, instead. Is that better?"

"Messer..." Aiden makes a grab for him, which he dances backward to avoid; the last time she got that look on her face, he ended up bent double across his desk in a headlock, and had to tell her that she was a pretty pretty princess before she would let him go.

"I give," he says now, and holds up his hands. "It's a nice night. So are we going to Sullivan's or what?"

Aiden considers, then says, "Yeah, we're goin'," and lowers her fists. "You're buying me a vodka tonic," she adds as they fall into step together, and he mumbles something vague that might or might not stand up as agreement in a court of law.

It is a nice night, for all his teasing; Danny would be remiss if he didn't admit that. He knows what Aiden is talking about, too: it's not just that it's warm, because they had a few warm days back in February, too, and that month was the same shithole it's always been. It's the sun getting stronger in the sky, and the days getting longer, and the way the air smells when the trees turn green again and the vendors selling fresh flowers and fruit reappear on the streets. He's sure that there are scientific and sociological reasons for this phenomenon of his good spring mood, ones that someone like Mac would know all about, but Danny doesn't care about them, though he'd listen happily if Mac ever wanted to explain.

He cares about the happy feeling he gets in his chest when he walks past a Korean deli and smells fresh citrus, or when he sees the gardeners out tending to the greenery on the median strip on Park Avenue, or when he swings uptown to the Union Square Farmers Market on a Wednesday afternoon and comes away with a big bag of Pennsylvania Dutch pretzels and another of cherries. (And subsequently spends the afternoon spitting the pits into a strategically-placed wastebasket, to Aiden's very vocal displeasure.) That's spring, fuck the textbooks and the meteorologists.

What Danny marvels at right now, strolling along Mercer with Aiden and not talking much, is that he still feels this cheerful on a Friday evening, after what's been, by anyone's lights, a long, wearying, blood-soaked week. Not that it's been an unusual week, either, not by any means, but after awhile everything has a tendency to become a blur of epithelials and DNA and AB negative, and he hasn't gone home before ten o'clock one single night all week. He's tired, and his back aches, and his glasses are smudgy because he hasn't cleaned them all day; and despite it all he still feels this tug of contentment at the center of his chest, somewhere near his solar plexus.

He wonders if this is what they mean by the old cliches about spring fever, and then decides it's not: because it's not just spring that has him in such a good mood, not at all. He sneaks a sideways glance at Aiden, who's not paying the least bit of attention to him, and forces his mind back from that track. Close as they are, she doesn't know about his new secret life, and for now he aims to keep it that way. Instead, he turns his thoughts to the mundane, to things like what he wants to drink, and it works so well that by the time they come through the front door of Sullivan's, he can all but taste the Kilkenny ale on his tongue.

Stella is already there, comfortably ensconced in a booth, and Danny spots Flack up at the bar, twirling a swizzle stick between two fingers while he (Danny assumes) waits for his drink. Mac is nowhere in sight. Stella waves at them to come over, and as they push through narrow aisles between tables to join her -- fortunately, it's early yet, and not too crowded, though Danny knows the place will be packed soon enough -- Danny can't help thinking of another night he was here, when Mac showed up first, and was sitting at the bar waiting when Danny arrived. He shakes his head and pushes the thought away, which is something he's gotten a lot of practice with just of late, and nods to Stella with a smile. "Hey, guys," Stella says, and Aiden slides into the booth next to her.

"Hey, Stella," Danny says, standing at the side of the table. "What can I get for you two fine ladies?"

"I told you," Aiden says, raising her eyebrow at him.

"Vodka tonic, I know," he says with mock patience. "I dunno, you mighta changed your mind."



Stella waves her glass at him. "I'm good for now. Flack's covering my next drink."

"How'd you pull that one off?" Aiden asks.

Stella shrugs. "Asked nicely. He's feeling generous tonight."

"Ohhh." Aiden manages to invest the word with a startling amount of innuendo. Danny thinks that he can see how this evening is going to go.

"I'll be right back," he says, and escapes before they can start in on Flack's social habits.

Flack is heading back to the table as Danny walks up to the bar, so they just nod at each other in passing. Flack has been in a bad mood lately, anyway, ever since the whole thing with his old training partner, and while Danny can empathize, he hasn't exactly felt brave enough to broach the subject with Flack, either. For one thing, he's just plain not sure what to say, or how Flack would react to sympathy. For another, Danny knows that the whole mess was Mac's scene, and some of the rumors that have drifted back his way indicate that Mac isn't Flack's favorite person these days.

"Vodka tonic and a Kilkenny draft," he says to the bartender. "Stoli on the tonic."

It's not that he thinks that Mac is automatically right and Flack is automatically wrong, or anything like that, because he doesn't even know the whole story; he doesn't know if Mac actually did anything that Flack could be legitimately pissed off about, or if it's just a case of guilt by association, wrong place and wrong time. He's well aware of Mac's bull in the china shop tendencies when it comes to certain issues of right and wrong, but he also knows that Mac never makes a professional move unless he's certain that he's right.

Either way, he doesn't want to get involved, doesn't want to have to pick sides in a potentially ugly situation, or find himself backed into a corner where he might inadvertently blurt out something that reveals too much. He can keep his mouth shut about important things, he's damn sure of that, but more than ever these days, caution is his byword.

He frowns a little, thinking about these things, and then tries to shake it off; like he just told himself, it's none of his business. Anyway, he'd like to hang onto his good mood instead of wasting it on other people's problems. He takes the drinks and pays the bartender, and then heads back to the table, where Aiden greets him happily. "Sweet vodka, come to mama," she says.

"You know, Aiden, the department does have counseling programs, if you need to talk to someone about that."

"Fuck you, Messer," she says, and tips the glass to her lips. Danny grins and slurps the foam off the top of his glass of beer.

"So where is Mac, anyway?" Aiden asks Stella. "Thought you said he was gonna join us."

"He said he would." Stella glances at her watch. "It's pretty early yet. He must still be stuck in that meeting."

"Meeting?" Danny asks.

"All the big brass," Stella says. "Not the fun kind of meeting."

"There are fun meetings?"

"This is the really not fun kind. Extra not-fun."


"No surprise there," Flack says. He shrugs. "That Dove Commission report is coming out next week, everyone's all hyped up about it."

"Dove Commission?" Danny asks.

"Big Internal Affairs thing," Flack says. "Supposedly gonna be exposing a lot of bad behavior that people would prefer to keep under wraps."

"Oh yeah, I heard about that," Danny says. He just hadn't paid much attention to it, assuming that it would have little to do with the lab.

"Why's Mac gotta be in on that?" Aiden asks.

"As far as I know, they called in all the department heads," Stella says. "I don't think the meeting's just about the report, since no one even knows what it's going to say yet, but that's one of the subjects on the agenda."

"You guys in the lab are gonna be fine, way I hear it," Flack says. "It's all the other cops, the ones that are takin' bribes and consorting with people they shouldn't oughta be consorting with, they're the ones who are gonna be hurting, come next week. Then there's all the fallout that'll catch the unlucky cops." He looks down at his beer as he says this last, jaw twitching, and Danny wonders again what went down with Mac and his old partner.

There's a moment of silence, then Stella says, "Well, here's to bureaucratic bullshit red tape," and raises her glass.

"Hear, hear," Aiden says, and they all clink their glasses together.

"On the bright side," Stella adds after they've all taken sips, "if the meeting aggravates him enough, Mac just might let me get him really hammered tonight."

Aiden and Danny both laugh at this; Flack just smirks and shakes his head, and after that they slide back into small talk about the week that's just ended -- which has been tiring for all of them, no surprise there -- and about their current case loads. Danny finds that he can't help fidgeting a little every time Mac's name comes up, but he doesn't think it's anything noticeable or unusual. Aiden complains all the time anyway about his need to stay in constant motion, so it's not like fidgeting is something out of character for him. Still, he can't help being aware of these things now, perhaps overly so. He tries not to focus on it too much, and joins in the conversation or listens, and bounces one leg up and down underneath the table while he drinks his beer.

It's been close to a month now -- longer than that, really, if he goes back to when this all began -- and no one knows about him and Mac. Danny would really like to keep it that way, too. He knows that there are a number of good reasons why they have to keep it quiet, professional reasons, and while he would calmly cite all of these if he were asked, he's well aware of the fact that he wants to keep this quiet for personal reasons, too. It's not that he's not pleased with the way things are going, far from it; as a matter of fact, he'd also have to say that it's going pretty damn good these days. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, he's reluctant to let anyone else in on their little secret. Maybe it's because he just likes the idea of having something that's private, something that's all his, a secret to keep that doesn't involve current or past misdeeds.

Or maybe it's because he still doesn't have any kind of definition for what exists between them. He remembers sitting at the coffee shop with Mac on that Sunday morning when they straightened everything out, remembers saying to him I don't even know what "this" is, and that hasn't changed in the subsequent weeks. Put his glib tongue together with Mac's fancy-ass vocabulary, and he'd still bet that neither of them could come up with an appropriate word for it, not if they were given an entire day or an entire week.

Danny also thinks that this is okay with him. Why bother with pretty words or attempts at explanation, when all he needs to know is, more or less, right in front of him? And what he needs to know is simple: that Mac seems to respect him, that Mac seems to enjoy spending time in his company, and that when they're alone, he can kiss Mac, and touch him, and take him to bed and do pretty much anything he wants. Mac may be restrained, Danny has discovered, and sometimes he still seems to hold back, but one thing he's not is prudish, not by any stretch of the imagination.

At least not when it comes to doing stuff; talking about it is still something else altogether, as Danny observed one day the week before when he walked into the break room while Mac was brewing coffee and Stella was telling him about a date she'd had the previous weekend. Danny walked in just in time to hear the phrase "wrap my panties around his dick," and Mac was staring studiously at the coffeepot, cheeks stained bright red, and Danny would have been willing to bet that he was playing anywhere but here inside his head. Stella, of course, was grinning and unperturbed, but Danny knows that Stella derives as much pleasure from making her listeners' ears burn as she does from telling the stories in the first place.

Aiden gives him a little shove, distracting him just before he gets too deep into this particular reverie. "Go get me another drink."

He raises an eyebrow at her. "What's the magic word?"


"Magic word."




"Not so much."

Aiden starts to look like she's thinking about hitting him again, so he says, "I'll go," and escapes to the bar, trying hard not to laugh out loud. He was tempted there, for a minute, to toss her the old cliché about drawing more flies with honey than with vinegar, but the last time he tried a lecture about manners with her, all she did was laugh and tell him that this wasn't Romper Room. He loves her like a sister, but damn, she gets one hell of a mouth on her at the first sniff of the barmaid's apron.

He waits patiently up at the bar for his new round of drinks, and while he's up there, he thinks again about Mac, and about their secret. They've been good at keeping it to themselves, which maybe shouldn't surprise him as much as it does, but he knows how swift and efficient the grapevine in the lab is. When one of the lab techs was going through a nasty divorce last year, everyone knew within a day of his wife's filing the final papers. When Stella slept with a homicide detective from Midtown South after the Christmas party, everyone knew about that, too. Then again, in that case she had done a good bit herself to help spread the story.

In his case, Danny thinks, things are a little different. For one thing, if there's a champion secret-keeper in the lab, it's Mac. Hell, Danny would be willing to bet that Mac is the best secret-keeper in all of New York City (possibly in New York State), never mind just the Crime Scene Unit. It would take some pretty extreme circumstances for anything about Mac's personal life to get out, not if he doesn't want it to.

For his part, Danny prides himself on his own ability to keep secrets. There are plenty of people, friends of his, even, who would bust a gut laughing at the notion that Danny Messer knows how to keep his mouth shut, but that's the way it is. Danny figured out a long time ago that you can talk a lot, can talk all day, and still not reveal anything at all of importance about yourself. What's more, if you talk, and tell a lot of stories, people think that they know everything about you, and so they never think to question further, never think to try to probe beneath the surface. Because as far as they're concerned, you're an open book, and they know all there is to know about you. Which is not at all the case. It's the perfect cover, a way of hiding in plain sight: the personal equivalent of Poe's purloined letter.

Still patting himself on the back, Danny pays for his drinks and turns with the glasses in hand, and manages not to come to a dead halt in the middle of Sullivan's when he sees that Mac is just sitting down at their table.

He strolls across the room like he doesn't have a care in the world, cocky strut that, if he put just a little more hip action into it, would have people turning their heads to stare at him. He knows this from experience, and has previously used it to his advantage when the occasion called for it. By the time he gets to the table, the cockiness is less faked and more real, and he's able to say, "Hey, Mac," in a calm voice and swing into his seat next to Aiden.

"Danny," Mac says with a nod, then goes on with what he's saying to Stella. "...Three solid hours, and we didn't accomplish a single thing."

"You sound so surprised," Stella says.

"It never stops being frustrating," Mac says. "That's three hours wasted on bureaucracy and red tape when I could have been doing something a lot more useful. Like closing a case, or reviewing evidence."

Stella laughs into her glass. "Boy, there's irony for you," she says. "A Marine complaining about red tape. I thought you guys got off on that kind of thing."

Danny looks up at Stella in surprise; the comment seems way more pointed than Mac's mild complaint about a dull meeting should call for. Mac stares at her for a count of five, and Danny sits very still, waiting to see what the reaction will be. He glances at Aiden out of the corner of his eye, and she's biting her lip, her gaze swiveling back and forth between the two of them like she's watching a tennis match. Flack, by contrast, is studiously not looking at either Mac or Stella, and instead is staring into his glass, swirling it back and forth like he's trying to read his future in tea leaves.

Finally, Mac sighs and shakes his head, and says, "I'm going to get a beer. Does anyone else want anything?" He's not smiling, and Danny gets the distinct impression that the only reason he's not objecting to Stella's comment is that, for the moment, he simply doesn't have the energy.

"Naw, we're both good," Danny says, indicating his and Aiden's fresh drinks.

Flack doesn't even look up.

"I'll go with you," Stella says, and gets up.

Mac looks like he's about to say something, then shakes his head again and lets her accompany him up to the bar.

"Watch out, Mom and Dad are fighting," Aiden mutters, as soon as they're out of earshot.

"What the hell was that all about?" Danny asks.

"They were really goin' at each other earlier," Aiden says. "You missed it, I think it was when you were over at the morgue. Don't know what started it all, but man, she was ripping him to shreds."

"I could think of a few things," Flack mutters.

Aiden shoots him a sharp look but doesn't say anything, and Danny just concentrates on his beer. Switzerland, he thinks. He does sneak a glance over at the bar, where Stella is gesturing emphatically, leaning into Mac's personal space in a way that most people would never get away with. Mac props one elbow against the bar, looking beleaguered.

By the time they get back to the table, though, they seem to have made up, at least as far as Danny can tell. Anyway, Stella doesn't direct any more snide remarks Mac's way, and after a bit, while Danny is debating Aiden and Flack about the greatest car chase scene of all time, he overhears part of their conversation -- something technical and nerdy that he's not in the mood for after hours -- and although it sounds deadly dull, it's also amiable enough. Which is good, because now Danny can just be aware of Mac's presence in peace, and not have to worry about any more tension breaking out between any more of his co-workers.

It's clear that Flack isn't exactly thrilled to be sitting at the same table as Mac, but for now he seems to sticking to pointedly ignoring him rather than picking a fight or making any overt complaints. Best to keep it that way, and Danny's well aware that he and Aiden are as much running interference as they are having a real conversation with Flack, just the same way that Stella is keeping Mac occupied, to lower the chances of Mac saying something that will set Flack off. Of course, it would be nice if they could all talk together, the way they have in the past, but that's going to have to wait until Flack has had something of a cooling-off period. In the meantime, Danny figures he can make the best of it.

"Naw," he says to Flack. "Sorry. French Connection was much sweeter than The Bourne Supremacy."

"Bullshit," Flack says.

"Bullshit yourself," Danny says, and covertly notices how Mac shifts in his seat, and the relaxed position of his hand on the table.

"Anyone ever tell you that you got no sense of movie history?" Aiden asks. She's been pulling for To Live & Die in L.A. over Danny's choice, but she rolled her eyes in concert with him when Flack ventured his selection.

"Least I don't like old sad bastard flicks," Flack says.

"You're so fucking uncultured," Danny says, laughing, and Mac, returning from the bar, puts a hand on the back of his chair to steady himself as he slides into the booth; his fingers brush Danny's back for the merest second, too light to even be called a touch. It might be an accident and it might not be; sometimes Danny thinks there aren't any accidents.

He keeps on talking with Aiden and Flack, mostly, and doesn't really tune into Mac and Stella's conversation again until Stella, who develops an unholy yen for greasy bar food every time she gets a few drinks in her, offers Mac some of her pepperoni pizza.

"No, thank you," Mac says, holding up one hand. Danny, glancing over, thinks that this is a smart choice on Mac's part; it looks pretty vile.

Stella pushes the plate toward him again, drunkenly insistent. "It's a little greasy, but it's not bad."

"Actually, Stella, it's a lot greasy, but it's not that." She blinks at him. "Good Friday. No meat for me today."

"You still do that?" She sounds surprised.

"You don't?"

" I'm surprised that you do."

They're all listening to this exchange now. Mac and Stella don't seem like they're about to get into another fight, but you never know. And Stella is just drunk enough that it could turn out to be really interesting if they do.

"I'm surprised that you don't."

Stella shrugs. "So I'll confess and then I'll offer it up to the Blessed Virgin. What do you want from me?"

Danny holds his breath.

"Traditions have to be adhered to," Mac says. "Otherwise what do we have left?"

"You have to keep moving forward or you die."

And then they're off, debating some obscure point of philosophy or other. Bloodshed doesn't seem imminent, though, and Danny relaxes. He tenses up again when Flack mutters, "Fucking uptight mackerel-snapper," but fortunately no one else seems to hear, and the moment passes.

Aiden and Flack eventually move on from car chases to shootouts, and by then Danny is mostly just listening, sneaking looks at the clock on the wall behind the bar approximately every ten seconds. Just like back when he was in school, and just like now when he's at the dentist's or the DMV, or at meetings on the rare occasions when he gets roped into them, he would swear that the minutes are going by about half as fast as they should be. Finally, at the stroke of nine, he drains the rest of his ale in one gulp, then makes a show of looking at his watch.

"Well, kids," he says, "think I'm gonna call it a night."

Everyone looks up from their conversations. "Messer, you pussy," Aiden says. "The night's barely getting started."

"Aiden," he says. "I'm tired. I've had a long week. Just once, I'd like to go home and crawl into bed at a decent hour. You'll see what it's like once you turn 30."

She holds up a hand. "Whatever. Loser."

He looks around the table. "Good night, gang."

Flack and Stella both say good night, and then he looks at Mac. "Good night," Mac says, and gives Danny the barest nod as he speaks. It's not a gesture that anyone else is likely to notice, and even if they did, they wouldn't be likely to realize that it meant anything. Danny, on the other hand, has been looking for that, and it's all he can do not to spill the beans by grinning at Mac.

He doesn't, though. Discretion is still his byword, and all he says is, "See you all soon. Behave yourselves."

"What fun is that?" Stella calls after him as he leaves, and he waves to her over his shoulder without looking back.




The whole way to the subway, and the whole way home on the train, Danny finds himself getting more and more keyed up. He knows it's dumb, and all the way on the train, as he's sitting and staring out the window and tapping out a rhythm against the Plexiglas, he's also carrying on an argument with himself inside his head about just how dumb it is. Behaving like a giddy teenager at his age, even if most of the giddiness happens only in his mind, makes him feel like a major asshole. Fortunately, no one, least of all Mac, can see inside his head (even though Danny has, at times, nursed a paranoid suspicion that Mac can read minds), and so the world gets to see his cool, calm, and collected self.

The other reason it's dumb (he tells himself as the train pulls into Queensborough Plaza) is that he still doesn't know, even now, if there's truly anything for him to be giddy about. And that's not just because of Mac. He doesn't know Mac's intentions in all of this, that's true, but if he's being honest with himself, he has to admit that he's not entirely sure of his own motivations, either. For all the times he's walked around wound up like a top because Mac is coming over, or because Mac came over the night before, he's spent an equal amount of time questioning himself. He questions whether this is what he really wants, and whether he'll ever manage to shake off the doubts. Old habits die hard, and old uncertainties still tug at him; if he's absolutely ruthlessly honest, there are some nights that he misses prowling the bars.

At what's not quite a month into this thing with Mac, it's the closest he's gotten in years (maybe in forever) to a long-term relationship. One-night stands may lack something in the "meaningful" department, but Christ knows they're easier to deal with. In those days, he never had to stop and ask himself if he was getting everything he wanted out of the people he met. He's fucking and getting fucked? Then he's satisfied. He could use the same criteria to judge things with Mac, he supposes, but it's just not that simple, not anymore -- and not ever, really, not from the start.

He tries to shake off these thoughts as he walks the last few blocks home, tells himself to stop overanalyzing, that he does enough of that at work. And maybe Mac is rubbing off on him after all, because he'd bet anything that Mac is the king of overanalysis. Then again, maybe he's not. For all that Mac concentrates on following the evidence when they're working a scene, and on inspecting every last clue until it screams for mercy, Danny's not so sure that Mac's all that keen on applying the same kind of careful study to his personal life.

Enough, he tells himself as he lets himself into the apartment. Jesus Christ, enough already. His interior monologue is beginning to drive him crazy. Fortunately, now he's got something else to concentrate on: inspecting the apartment to make sure it's not too messy, or at the very least to assure himself that there's nothing too embarrassing on display. He tries to shove the magazines and newspapers into something that at least resembles a neat pile and tosses the dirty dishes into the sink, then does a quick sweep for unwashed laundry. He doesn't bother with making the bed; even though Mac cringes just the tiniest bit every time he comes over and sees the sheets in disarray, Danny can't see any reason to make the bed at this hour of the night. Anyway, with luck, they'll be messing it up again before too much time passes.

He's just finished stuffing the last of his socks and underwear into the hamper, and has managed to shove last week's jacket into the bag for the dry cleaners, when the doorbell rings. Danny takes a deep breath and makes a brief pass at smoothing his hair back, then goes to answer it.

Mac is standing there with his hands in the pockets of his overcoat, apparently studying something on the ceiling, or maybe on the wall above the door. When Danny opens the door, though, he looks at him and nods. "Danny," he says again, just the way he did back at Sullivan's, although if Danny's not kidding himself, there's a lot more warmth in it this time around.

"Hey, Mac," he says, and opens the door wider. "C'mon in."

Mac smiles at that. It's not what Danny would call an unrestrained grin, but it's still a smile. He gets this weird vibe of shyness from Mac every now and again that confuses him; "shy" is one of the last words that he'd ever apply to Mac, who never has any qualms about overriding others' opinions with his own or about telling them flat-out when he thinks they're wrong, or about throwing suspects around like bags of laundry. It's something that Danny hasn't quite managed to integrate into his overall picture of Mac's personality yet, but maybe one day he will. What's more important than the apparent shyness is that Mac seems pleased to be here, just like he always does.

They never greet each other with a kiss or anything like that, not even now when they're alone together. Danny would feel stupid doing that, anyway. Instead, he watches Mac unbutton his overcoat, and glances around the living room while Mac is busy with that, trying to see if he missed anything in his quick sweep earlier. It's not so bad, he decides. Cluttered, but not bad. The first time Mac came over here and really took the time to look around (which wasn't the first time he came over ever or even the second time; they'd both had more pressing concerns on those occasions), he looked around like he was casing the joint for evidence, and Danny had to all but bite his tongue not to ask him if he wanted a fingerprint kit. He suspects that Mac wouldn't have seen the humor in this.

Now, Mac just folds his overcoat neatly and drapes it over the back of an armchair, and when he looks around the living room, it's like a normal person instead of like a cop. It's progress, Danny figures. "Can I get ya a drink?" he asks.

"A glass of water's fine," Mac says.

"Sure. Water. I can do water."

Mac follows Danny into the kitchen and sits down at the table. Danny is relieved to find, when he opens the cupboard, that there are actually few clean glasses up there. He gets the water and even adds some ice, just for Mac, and when he turns back to the table, he's surprised to see that Mac is rubbing his eyes the way he does sometimes when he's been staring into a microscope or at a computer too long. "Headache?" Danny asks. "I got some aspirin or something, I think."

"No." Mac pinches the bridge of his nose, then blinks hard and looks up at Danny. "Just a long day. And the subway was overheated. Thank you," he adds, picking up the glass of water.

Danny nods and sits down across from him. "No problem. I hear ya on the long day. Aiden and I spent pretty much forever working on the prints from the Cooke case, and on top of that we never did hear back from Bergen County PD about Charlie McNair's arrest record -- you know, that thing up in Washington Heights? I'll follow up on it on Monday."

"It's not even the cases," Mac says. "It's the never-ending meetings with the brass." He frowns down at his glass of water. "It just frustrates me that we wasted all that time this afternoon."

Danny nods, remembering what Mac said before: that it was a waste of his time that could have been better spent elsewhere. Aside from that, Danny thinks, it must drive Mac crazy to sit in a meeting for three hours, when probably everything they covered could have been dealt with in thirty minutes or so. Mac's own meetings, when he calls them for the lab, are models of efficiency. He says what he needs to, makes sure everyone else says what they need to, and then boom, they're done. They don't fumble around wasting time and talking just to hear the sound of their own voices, and anyone who tries is liable to get cut off at the knees. Danny has never sat in on any of the meetings with the brass, of course, but he has seen Mac silently fume his way through their legally-mandated annual health insurance meetings and sexual harassment seminars, and he can just imagine what it's like in the meetings with all the department heads, everyone playing politics and trying to outmaneuver each other.

"I guess they're all pretty worked up right now about the Dove thing," Danny says now.

"That too." He takes a sip of water. "I'm not worried; my people are all clean. But the rest of them..." He sighs. "Everyone demanding to know in advance what the report is going to say so they can prepare their response to it. An hour spent reviewing the proper protocol for how to deal with the media, as if we didn't know that already."

"What is the proper protocol for dealing with the media?"

Mac actually almost smiles at that. "Say 'no comment,' and refer all inquiries to the press office."

"See?" Danny leans back in his chair, tilting it on two legs. "That's why you're the guy in charge."

"I don't like playing politics."

"Yeah, but at least you know when to say that and when not to," Danny says. "Can you imagine if Stella was in charge? She'd just tell 'em all to go fuck themselves."

Another smile, or something that's close enough to one to count. "More than likely."

Mac falls quiet then, drinking his water, and Danny stays quiet with an effort, even though his natural inclination is to talk about anything that may come to mind, just to fill up the silence. It's obvious that Mac has had one hell of a day, much worse than Danny's or anyone else's, and he's had to deal with all this administrative bullshit on top of his normal caseload, and on top of having to keep up with everyone else's caseloads. He doesn't want to make it any worse by pushing at Mac for details; he knows well enough that stuff like that, however well-meaning, has a way of adding to a person's stress level.

Aside from his concern over all of this, though, Danny also has to admit to himself that he's pleased as hell that Mac is even talking to him about any of this. That's not something he would have done before, he knows. He might have admitted to Stella in private that he'd had a hard day, but say something like that in front of anyone else, least of all Danny? Danny would have sworn that he'd see the Devil wearing ice skates before anything like that ever came to pass. It's not as if Mac is saying anything so personal or secret, or anything that Danny couldn't have guessed for himself. It's that he's saying anything at all, that he seems to feel that, maybe, Danny is someone he can confide in.

Nothing wrong with starting small, after all, and if Mac can trust him with this kind of thing, there's a good chance that he'll gradually work himself up to something bigger. And then, maybe, Danny can start asking him about all the things he's wondered, but has never dared to mention. Things like Mac's military career, and what drew him to the police department in the first place. How he spent his childhood, and what his family is like. How his marriage went -- maybe not that last one, he amends, at least not for a good long while; Claire is the great unknown, and Danny's not sure that it wouldn't be better to keep it that way.




They've been sitting in silence for a little bit when Danny notices that Mac's water glass is almost empty, and that he's swirling the leftover bits of ice around, lost in thought. "You good?" he asks. "Can I get you any more water or anything?"

Mac looks up. "No," he says, and shakes his head. "I think I'm good for now."

If it were up to Danny, he'd just toss the used glasses into the sink and let them sit there, and maybe he'd get around to washing them in a couple of days, or maybe he wouldn't. Mac, though, is in the habit of washing his dishes and glasses right away, and along about the second week that Mac came over on a Friday night, Danny decided that it would be just too goddamn rude to make him do it all himself (especially since he would usually wash Danny's dishes, too, no matter how often Danny told him to leave it), so he's started pitching in.

Mac is standing by the side of the sink drying his glass and Danny is rinsing out his own when Mac says, "I'm sorry to complain. I just...get frustrated, that's all."

"Hey, that's okay," Danny says. For just a second, he feels bad for Mac, that he seems to think he has to apologize for a few very calm remarks, but then he pushes that away. "You wanna complain, go ahead and complain. Put me in a meeting like that, I'd be spittin' fire for hours."

Mac doesn't say anything, just keeps drying his glass.

"You know..." Danny shuts off the water and sets the glass down, then turns to face him. "I could probably make this whole day go away for you." He reaches out and takes the edge of Mac's tie between two fingers. The silk catches against the calluses on his fingertips.

"Yeah?" Mac asks.


Mac slowly puts the glass down on the table, and drops the towel next to the sink. "I'd like that," he says in a low voice.

"Done," Danny says, and he kisses Mac and puts his arms around him, pulling him in close. Nice and easy at first, lighter than he knows Mac wants right now, and he backs away a little, smiling, when Mac tries to deepen the kiss. "Not so fast."

Mac makes a frustrated little sound in the back of his throat and tightens his grip, just in case, Danny supposes, he was actually thinking about going anywhere. "Whatcha doing?" he asks, and slides one hand along Mac's back. "Huh?" He leans in closer to lick his way along Mac's jawline, nuzzling into the warm skin and breathing in the faint scents of aftershave and soap, biting a little when Mac's fingers knot in his hair.

This has been their Friday night routine for the last few weeks, ever since their conversation at the coffee shop on that Sunday morning. They didn't plan it this way, or at least Danny doesn't think they did, but sort of fell into it naturally. That first week after the coffee shop, Danny walked around all week not sure what to think, or what to expect. Their talk had been good, and the hours they'd spent in bed together that afternoon had been even better. But when Mac left in the early evening, Danny closed the door behind him with no idea of what to expect in the week to come. He never imagined, even for a minute, that anything would be different between them at work, but he wondered what would happen after hours, how they would arrange things.

And work wasn't different, not really, but in certain subtle ways it was. Or maybe, Danny thinks, as he angles his body against Mac's and tongues his Adam's apple in a way that makes him jerk hard against Danny, it was just that he was different, now that he had this secret with Mac, and knew all kinds of things about him, already, that no one else at the lab could claim knowledge of, not even Stella. But mostly he just went about his everyday routine and did his job, and if he occasionally slid into a little fantasy about Mac during an idle moment, well, at least now he had something concrete to base the scenario on.

Mac did his job, too, and didn't treat Danny any differently than he ever had, except for one or two moments when he gave him a little smile, or a quick nod when no one else was looking. Which, Danny figures, given that this is Mac, was just as good as a stolen kiss in the supply room or a make-out session in the morgue would be with anyone else. (Not that Danny has ever made out with anyone in the morgue, mostly because he suspects that Hawkes has arcane and cruel ways of exacting revenge on anyone who would dare to violate his sacred space. After that incident with Flack and the body drawers last Halloween, he's pretty sure this isn't as paranoid a suspicion as it may appear on the surface.)

By the time Friday afternoon of that first week rolled around, Danny had pretty much worked himself up into a state, going back and forth between being convinced that he and Mac were going to spend a wildly hedonistic weekend making the bedsprings squeak, and believing that Mac had thought things through and changed his mind again, and that the "this" they'd talked about on Sunday was just going to be allowed to fade into the woodwork after all. So his stomach leapt wildly when, around four o'clock, Mac asked to come into his office to go over the files from the Solomon case, and then he'd deflated just as quickly when it turned out that Mac really did want to review the Solomon paperwork.

But then, just as they were finishing up, Mac asked him, quietly and casually and never looking up from the tox report he was studying, if he was free that night. "Free as the wind," Danny had said, and almost put the tip of the pencil he was holding through his finger.

"Good," Mac said, and made a notation on the report. "I'll be over around ten, then?" He glanced up at Danny then, and though his face was perfectly calm, Danny read the tension in his eyes as easy as anything.

"10:00 p.m., yes sir. Ten's good." Then they went on with what they'd been talking about a minute before, Danny biting back a delighted grin the whole time. And if Mac's visit hadn't exactly been a bacchanal, it had been pretty goddamn good all the same. So had his visit the following week, and tonight seems to be shaping up pretty nicely as well.

Danny has been spending all this time licking and biting at Mac's neck, avoiding his mouth because he knows it's driving him crazy. Mac is tugging hard at his hair now, in a way that hurts and feels fucking great all at the same time, and pressing himself into any part of Danny's body that he can reach. Danny finally gives in, because he can't stand the waiting anymore either, and kisses Mac on the mouth, hard, deep and sloppy and fuck, he can never get enough of Mac's lips against his, of the way that firm mouth goes all soft and pliant when they kiss.

"C'mere," Danny mutters, and manages to keep their mouths more or less together as he grabs Mac around the waist and hauls him in close so he can rub his cock up against Mac's. They're kissing and grinding against each other all the way to the bedroom, and by the time they actually make it to the bed, it's all Danny can do not to just jerk himself off before Mac is even inside him, and he doesn't last too long once he is. Then again, neither does Mac, and Danny can't help being tickled to death to see that vaunted self-control go all to pieces.




They're both quiet after, lying next to each other on their backs. Danny folds his arms behind his head and listens to the steady in-and-out of Mac's breath, and concentrates on the feel of his own heartbeat as it gradually slows down to a normal pace. This is also something that's been established over the course of the last few weeks: they talk more when Mac first gets there, not much after they've fucked. It's a good silence, though, a comfortable silence, and Danny likes it. It's the first time all week, probably, that it's been quiet inside his head. The onslaught of cases never gives him much of a chance to slow down, and most nights, even after he goes home he's up for hours, mind racing a million miles an hour. Right now he's not thinking about anything much at all, and it's good.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when they're lying here like this, old attitudes and instinctive reactions recur: he'll get a nasty urge to turn to Mac and tell him thanks for the good time, and offer to help him find his pants and his wallet. That's what he'd do with anyone else he brought home who didn't seem inclined to leave quickly enough, after all. Hustle them out, subtly, if all possible, but he's proved himself capable of being harsh if the situation calls for it. The urge to do this to Mac comes from the same place, he thinks, as thoughts like What would happen if I pushed that guy in front of that bus? and I should go ahead and pull the emergency brake right now, just for the hell of it. It's whatever the opposite of the self-preservation instinct is, the imp of the perverse. People fear heights not because they're afraid the ledge will suddenly crumble under their feet, but because they don't trust themselves not to take that one fatal and irrevocable step forward.

But tonight that urge occurs to him only briefly, and Danny just lies there until it fades. He's not troubled by it, because he knows he wouldn't act on it, any more than he would ever really fire his gun for no reason, or shout Fire! in a crowded theater. Mac isn't a one-night stand.

Danny rolls over onto his side and kisses Mac's shoulder, and Mac turns to look at him. "That was a good suggestion," he says.

"What was?" Danny asks.

"What you said before." Mac looks into his face. "About making the whole day go away."

"Yeah?" He moves in closer and kisses Mac again, this time on the mouth. "Did I succeed?"

"I'd say so," and Mac does look a lot more relaxed now, a lot less wound up. He returns the kiss, one hand on the back of Danny's neck, and Danny is just beginning to press in closer when Mac pulls away. There's reluctance in his eyes, not much, but enough of it, and Danny knows even before he turns to look at the alarm clock what he's going to say. "It's getting late," he begins. "I should -- "

"Stay," Danny blurts out, and Mac looks at him in surprise. "If you want to." Mac has never stayed all night before, and this is the first time Danny's worked up the courage to ask him to -- or, to be honest, the first time he's wanted to ask him to. That was a step too far, it'd seemed before, or a step too much.

Mac is looking at him, not saying anything, but not moving to get dressed, either, and Danny is struck with the impulse that always hits him in potentially combustible situations: to talk, and keep talking without letting Mac get a word in edgewise, because he's afraid that Mac is going to say no and it'll be all kinds of awkward, but mostly because he just doesn't want to hear the no, and now he's committed to this course of action.

"I mean," he says, "neither of us got a shift tomorrow, least not on the schedule, although I know you'll probably go in at some point just to catch up on paperwork, even if nothing pops on the scanners. I was just thinking that it's a long ride from Astoria back to Brooklyn, that's all, if the train is even going all the way through at this hour. Good luck with that, you know how the late night schedules are. I can stop talking now."

He would swear, by the time he does manage to halt the runaway train of his mouth, that there's the tiniest hint of amusement in Mac's eyes. Buried way deep down, much like Mac's sense of humor. A lot of people claim he doesn't have one, but Danny thinks that he does. It's just weird, and hard to find, and dry as Death Valley. But it's there.

Danny sort of wishes it really were possible to die of embarrassment, and he's just about to tell Mac to forget it, never mind, when Mac nods and says, "Sure," in a calm, offhanded voice.

"Sure?" Danny asks, just to be certain he didn't mishear something else (like, say, "Shit, no") as "sure."

"Sure," Mac says again. "Thank you." His gaze moves back and forth across Danny's face in a way that, in anyone else, Danny would classify as nervous. It's kind of the same look he has on his face whenever Danny first opens the door and lets him into the apartment. "You're right, I wasn't much looking forward to the subway."

"Who ever does?" Danny asks. "'Specially people who live in fucking Brooklyn."

"It's not so bad if I'm coming from the lab."

"Sure, from downtown? Ain't nothin'." Danny waves one hand in a shooing gesture. "From here? Fuckin' forget it."

"Thank you for -- for offering," Mac says.

"No problem." Danny nods toward the nightstand, which is on Mac's side of the bed. "You mind grabbing the light?"

Mac reaches over and shuts it off, and Danny settles back into the pillow, stifling a yawn. He thinks about reaching over and grabbing Mac, maybe get him to go for another round, but he's hit with a sudden wave of sleepiness, and lets his eyes drift closed, instead.




Danny wakes sometime in the middle of the night. He has no idea what time it is, but it feels really late. Three or four o'clock, maybe. For a moment or two, maybe three-quarters awake, he can't figure out what's different, then remembers, and listens again to Mac's quiet, even breathing in the dark room. Sleeping next to someone like this feels weird, for sure, but he thinks he could get used to it. He's not all that sure Mac is actually asleep, though, or that he's fallen asleep at all, even for a minute, since they turned out the light. Why he thinks this he doesn't know, because it's not as if Mac is tossing and turning or even making a sound, and before he can fully formulate the thought, he falls asleep again.




The next time Danny wakes up, it's light in the room, and he's alone in bed. He blinks and yawns and stretches, and then fumbles his glasses on so he can see what time it is: 7:34 a.m. Mac's shoes are still on the floor, and his jacket and tie and shirt have been folded neatly across the foot of the bed, so Danny figures he's still around here somewhere. And then he realizes that the good smell tickling the inside of his nostrils is coffee brewing, and he staggers out of bed to go see what's what.

By the time he's been to the bathroom and pulled on a pair of sweats, and stumbles into the kitchen, Mac is already pouring two cups of coffee and setting them out on the table. Danny studies this, yawning again and scratching the back of his head, and wonders how Mac can manage to look so neat and pulled-together at this godawful hour of the morning. He's not wearing anything but his pants and undershirt, but his hair is neat and combed and he doesn't look like he even needs a shave. Not only that, the undershirt is tucked in, and the pants aren't wrinkled, even though they must have been lying on the floor all night.

"Good morning," Mac says.

"Mornin'. You, uh, you made coffee." Way to go to state the obvious, Messer.

"Yes." Mac starts to pull out a chair, then stops and looks over at Danny. "I hope that's all right. I woke up, and just thought I should start the coffee."

"Naw, it's fine. Great, actually." Danny takes a seat and smiles at him. "Just didn't want you to think you had to or anything."

"I was happy to do it," Mac says, and this time he does sit down. "I also cleaned the coffeepot. I don't know when you last did it, but it was filthy."

Danny shrugs and waves his hands. He has a feeling that never isn't the correct answer. "Thank you."

"No problem." Mac takes a sip of coffee and pulls his chair closer to the table.

Danny swallows a yawn and takes a sip himself, then has to make a concerted effort not to react; in his sleepiness, he hadn't paused to consider that Mac would make the coffee to his own specifications, which is to say that it's good, but so strong that Danny could probably chew it. Because he doesn't want to say anything insulting, he just smiles again and nods, and takes another (much more cautious) sip. Jesus, he'd love to know what Mac did to his poor innocent coffeepot to produce this stuff; it isn't even whatever obscure brand Mac usually buys for the lab, but just plain old Colombian ground from D'Agostino's.

It does, on the other hand, have the effect of making Danny more coherent and alert, much faster than he would get to that state on any other morning. Which may explain something about how Mac manages to form complete sentences (ones that make sense, even) at this hour. "Good stuff," he says. "Gotta tell ya, though. I ain't seen this hour on a Saturday in a long time."

"No?" Mac glances at his watch, then at Danny in something like mild surprise. "I'm usually halfway through a workout by this hour."

"Of course you are," Danny mumbles.

Mac ignores this and says, "Actually, speaking of that, I should get going fairly soon."

Danny nods, and they finish their coffee in silence. Just like last night, it's not a bad silence, although he finds that there's something tugging at the back of his mind, some little thing that's...not bothering him, exactly, but that he's going to need to think about.

Mac washes his cup and then goes to retrieve his jacket and shirt and shoes, and when they say goodbye at the door, he leans in and kisses Danny, lingeringly. This is unexpected but nice, and Danny receives the kiss with pleasure. "Thank you again," Mac says after he breaks the kiss. "I'll see you Monday?"

"I'll be there with bells on," Danny says, and Mac kisses him again.

Danny stands there for a minute after the door closes, listening to his footsteps recede down the stairs, then locks up and heads back to the bedroom. It's still way too early, and he's going to need at least a few more hours of sleep, Mac-strength coffee or no.




It's not until later in the day, when he's awake enough to think about it, that Danny is able to pinpoint what his back-of-the-mind realization that morning was all about. It was Mac's mention of working out that made him think of it. It's a pretty simple thing, really, just that he has virtually no idea of what Mac does with his time when he's not at the lab and not at Danny's place. Now, as far as he can tell, the bulk of Mac's time is, in fact, spent at the lab, and Danny would guess that during the week, he doesn't do much beyond go home and maybe fix himself some dinner, and then go to bed -- and this probably extends to the weekend, too, because he knows for a fact that Mac has spent more than one Saturday or Sunday afternoon doing paperwork or running tests even when there was no big case to keep him there at odd hours.

But still, there are times when Mac must do other things, and Danny has no idea what any of that might be. Okay, so apparently he works out on Saturday mornings; that's one piece to the puzzle. And Danny remembers that Mac was also in workout gear that Sunday morning they had breakfast together, so maybe he works out on Sundays, too, or possibly instead of Saturday sometimes. But what does he do with his rare moments of free time? For that matter, what does he do on weeknights? Sure, go home and go to bed, but Danny is pretty sure he doesn't just walk in the door of his apartment and fall straight into bed without doing anything else. Does he read? Watch TV? And does he maybe have friends who he socializes with occasionally, maybe sees for lunch on a Sunday afternoon sometimes?

Funny, Danny thinks, that he never thought about any of this before. Here he's been sleeping with the guy for going on a month now (and fantasizing about him for a hell of a lot longer than that), and he never once paused to try to imagine Mac outside of his normal context. And it kind of bugs him, not just that he's never thought of this, but that Mac has never volunteered any information. That's par for the course, and maybe he should expect it, but it does chafe a little if he lets it, just like the way he's never been to Mac's apartment bugs him sometimes, that Mac has (apparently) never even thought to ask him over, and just assumes that their nights together will all take place at Danny's apartment. Danny tries to picture what Mac's apartment might look like, and fails utterly. Clean, he'd bet. And well-organized. Probably has nice furniture, too, stuff that actually matches.

It's not so bad, though, Danny decides. It's not like he's ever asked Mac about any of these things, after all. And to be fair, it's probably never occurred to Mac that he would be interested. That's the thing about Mac, and it's something Danny figured out a long time ago: despite that big, logical brain he's got, the finer points of many social niceties seem to elude him.

So, hey, cool, he thinks. Something new to talk about. He'll start off easy, ask Mac what his favorite movies are or something. He feels pleased with this decision, and even more pleased when he thinks back to the night before, to how everything went and how Mac actually agreed to stay over. Danny still doesn't particularly care to sit down and try to define their "this" to himself, but he'd be a goddamn liar if he tried to tell himself that he wasn't viewing this as a good sign of progress.




Danny spends most of Easter Sunday sprawled on the couch watching reruns of MythBusters. He switches over to the local news at eleven, expecting to check out footage of the Easter Parade and the weather and sports scores, and then go to bed. Instead, he watches as gunfire explodes at a fancy police celebration in midtown, trying to sort out truth from lie, or from the media's exaggerations, and can't. Finally, he calls Aiden, who (she says) has just walked in the door from her family's Easter dinner celebration, but is way ahead of him; she caught the story on the ten o'clock news an hour ago. ("You shoulda seen it. There was the best shot ever of Flack making a grab for the cameraman.")

She doesn't know much more than he does, really, though she has managed to find out that Mac and Stella have caught this particular bullet. Danny doesn't envy either of them; he and Aiden have come to the same obvious conclusion: aside from the problem of the media circling like vultures, this case, tangled up as it is with the already controversial Dove Commission report, comes with any number of potential suspects.

"Hey, at least it'll keep Mac outta our hair," Aiden says. "If he's busy enough, maybe he'll even forget to assign us any new cases."

Danny laughs and says, "Don't hold your breath."

After they hang up, he briefly considers giving Mac a call to see how things are going, or at least leaving him a message, and then decides against it. It's not as if Mac is in any mortal danger, after all; he's just busy and harassed.

Anyway, Danny figures, Aiden's pipe dreams aside, they'll have a new case of their own soon enough. He watches the news for a little while longer, then shuts off the lights and goes to bed, figuring he'll make a good-faith effort to enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts.




Two days later, he no longer gives a fuck about the Dove Commission or about Mac's peace of mind, and is instead cursing the day he ever drew the short straw on this shit detail of a case, fucking gypsy cab driver and his fucking bad luck, and no one will fucking listen to Danny when he tries to tell them what's what. As if in an attempt to oblige his mood, the spring weather turns damp and cold, and by the time he and Aiden close the case, there's nothing in the forecast but downpours for days on end.

They close it on Thursday; Friday is spent writing their reports. He feels Aiden's eyes on him the whole morning, covert glances that he's not supposed to notice, but she doesn't say a word. Around one o'clock, she asks if he wants to break for lunch, and he turns her down. "Think I'm just gonna work through and get this done," he says, not looking up from the screen.

Aiden, leaning in their office doorway, clearly wants to say something more, but he just keeps typing, and finally she shrugs and leaves. Danny glances up briefly, then sighs and goes on with his work. Maybe he does feel a small pinprick of guilt for the way he's treated her all week, but it's not enough to make him go apologize, not yet. He's not ready to deal with the barrage of questions he knows will follow.

Aiden gets back an hour later, and after shaking the water off her umbrella, she sets a bagel and a cup of coffee on his desk without saying a word.

"Thanks," he says, guilty and grateful in equal measure.

"No problem."




They finish up and drop the reports on Mac's desk. He's not there, hasn't been all day. They haven't seen much of him all week, really, since all of his and Stella's attention has been focused on the Dove case. Danny is surprised at how little their paths have crossed; usually, Mac tries to touch base at least once a day to see how things are going.

After that's done, they don't have much to do but sit around, which means that Danny also has plenty of time to replay the case over and over in his mind. Just one more incident to add to the long list of things he's done wrong in his life.

Just after three o'clock, Aiden hangs up from a phone call and says, "Hey, that was Stella. She and Mac are about to close things out."

"They caught the perp?" Danny asks, interested in spite of himself.

"Yeah. She couldn't talk about it yet, though." Aiden stands up and starts pulling her coat on. "Mac told her to tell us that we could knock off early if nothin' was going on."


"Uh huh. Must be big. Anyway, I'm outta here."

"Me too." Danny starts to shut down his computer. "Got stuff to do."

"Danny..." Aiden pauses and bites her lip. "We really gotta -- "

" -- Talk about it. I know. We will, I promise. Next week." He looks around for his overcoat. "For right now, though..."

He gives her shoulder a quick squeeze and then bolts without waiting for her, before she can ask any more questions. He's going to do one thing right this week, he's decided. One goddamn thing if it kills him.




And he does, but as he walks down the rain-slicked street after talking to Fernando Reyes' kid, he feels no lift in spirit, no easing of the guilt tugging at his chest -- or of the anger tying his stomach into knots. So, fine, he'd been wrong after all, and how he's made amends as best he can, but the taste in his mouth is still wormwood and gall. He just wants to get out of these clothes and into a hot shower.

What he sees in his mind as he hurries to the subway, keeping his head bowed against the rain, isn't Antonio Reyes' face as he looked at his father's rescued photograph, but his own father's face the night of the robbery. Himself, ten years old and struggling not to cry or vomit as he clutched the back of his head. (Bleeding, because it had struck the sidewalk when the cabby shoved him down and told his father that the brat was dead if he didn't turn over his wallet right fucking now -- the click of the gun's safety the whole world, and the cabby's eyes are huge, the pupils dilated, hand holding the gun a trembling blur, what Danny will come to recognize, years later, as a classic sign of a junkie in need of a fix. Gun click and screaming, and it had seemed a very long time before the cabby kicked him in the ribs and then stepped into his cab and sped off, leaving them alone on the dark street in a neighborhood Danny didn't recognize at all.)

And did his father really hesitate for much too long before handing the wallet over, or is that only his childhood self's faulty act of memory retrieval, based on fear and an inadequate understanding of the situation? He doesn't know. What he does know is that after the cab driver took off, his father, instead of helping and comforting his son, had screamed at him that it was his fucking fault, his fault they'd been in this shitty neighborhood in the first place, and now he'd gotten fucking robbed, and how did Danny feel about doing that to his old man?

All Danny had done was need someone to pick him up from a Little League game; it had been his father who had turned down the ride back to their own neighborhood in the team van. He had tried to hide the bruises he acquired that night, and he certainly hadn't told his father, or anyone else, about the nightmares he suffered for months after the fact. It didn't occur to him until years later, at least not consciously, to be angry instead of guilty, or to associate words like coward with his father.




On the subway platform, Danny fishes his glasses out of his jacket pocket and puts them back on so that he can see what train is pulling into the station. He's not sure why he took them off in the first place, except that maybe he didn't want to get too clear a look at the cab driver's kid's face.




Later, at home, freshly showered and swigging cheap beer, Danny wonders, for the first time in hours, what's happening with the Dove case. He puts on the early news, but no mention is made of it. He's also checked voicemail on both his landline and his cell, and there were no messages on either phone. Not that he expected there to be, but Mac could have called. He didn't have to have Stella call Aiden to pass along a message; he could have done it himself. He knows that Mac is busy, but would it really kill him to take one minute to pick up the phone?

Danny is slumped in front of the TV -- again -- and deep into his fourth beer when the phone rings a few hours later.


"Danny, it's Mac. I -- " The signal is terrible; Mac's next few words are lost in a burst of static. " -- borough Plaza. I'll see you in a few -- " The line goes dead.

Danny blinks for a minute, then hangs up the phone. "Don't ask or nothin', Mac," he mutters. "Not like I got a life outside 'a you or this job." Looking around at his Friday night -- lousy beer, some awful sci-fi movie on basic cable -- he has to laugh at the absurdity of this statement. It's not fair, just like his earlier irritation at Mac's failure to call wasn't fair; it's not Mac who's responsible for his bad mood.

When Danny opens the door fifteen minutes later, he feels bad, all over again, for his reaction to Mac's call. The circles under Mac's eyes are deeper and darker than ever, and he's got a wide-eyed, staring look, like he hasn't slept in days.

"Hey, c'mon in," Danny says.

"Thank you." Mac walks into the living room, already unbuttoning his overcoat.

"Still raining?"

"It seems to have stopped for now." Mac drapes his coat over the back of a chair. "We closed the Dove case."

"Yeah, heard from Stella. That's good." Danny folds his arms. "So how'd it turn out?"

Mac sighs. "We arrested Inspector Markoni at 4:00 p.m. today."

"Markoni?" Danny asks. "But he was...I mean, he wasn't dirty, was he?"

"It had nothing to do with the report after all," Mac says. "It was about a woman."

"You're kidding." Danny has to laugh. "So it was a crime of passion?"

Mac, looking unamused, nods.

"Jesus. That's one hell of a red herring." Danny takes a closer look at him. "Hey, you want a beer?"

"Yes. Thank you."


In the kitchen, Danny hands him a bottle, and Mac takes a drink, then leans back in the chair with his eyes closed. "So I guess it musta been hard to arrest a fellow officer," Danny says.

Mac shrugs. "It had to be done."

Danny thinks of stories he's heard about how arresting another cop can create resentment among the rest of the department, how it can turn the convicting officer into a pariah. He doesn't suppose that Mac ever worries about things like this. He sure didn't when he was going after Flack's old training partner -- at least according to Flack, and Danny does realize that Flack isn't exactly an unbiased source. He'd brought it up again one day earlier in the week when the two of them were sitting in the breakroom. Danny had said something he can't even remember now, some innocuous passing remark about Mac working the Dove case hard, and Flack had laughed.

"Yeah," he'd said. "He's workin' it hard, all right. Probably just itching for his chance to bust another good cop."

"More like bad cop," Danny said. "I mean, all things considered."

"Maybe." Flack leaned back against the counter. "Or maybe just some badge who got himself in a bad situation."

"Flack, c'mon. Give it a rest already." Danny didn't want to say too much in Mac's defense, didn't want to risk either pissing Flack off further or giving away something he didn't want to reveal, but he was getting sick of the constant unsubtle jabs.

"Fuck you, Messer." Flack stood up straight. "You want me to give it a rest? You tired of this? I'm tired of having to wake up every morning knowing that Gavin Moran is never gonna walk his beat again. I'll give it a rest when Mac wakes up and apologizes for what he did. Which should be about the same time them pigs start flyin'."

"Flack, look. What did you want him to do?" Danny asked. "There was evidence, they had to act on it."

"Maybe, but he didn't have to do it the way he did." Flack leaned in close to Danny then, almost whispering in his ear. "You just wait 'till you make one little mistake, Messer, then you'll be singin' a different tune. Hope someone listens to you." He'd cuffed Danny lightly in the back of the head, then stalked out of the room.

Danny wonders if Mac has even paused to worry about what arresting Markoni may do to his own reputation. Probably not, he thinks, because Mac, as he's said over and over again, doesn't play politics. Sometimes this is a good thing, Danny figures, and sometimes it's maybe not.

"Yeah, I know you had to do it," Danny says. "Just seems like a rough thing all around."

Mac nods. "It was. I'm just glad it's over with."

"Yeah." Danny waits for a few seconds to see if Mac will ask about his and Aiden's case. When it becomes obvious that he's not going to, Danny says, "We closed our case, too."

"I know. I saw the report on my desk. Good job." Mac takes another drink.

"Yeah," Danny says, and slides his fingernail under the edge of the label on his bottle. "Good. It's good. Wasn't anything special like your case, though. Not like there was any trouble or anything. Nope, just an ordinary case." He can hear his voice rising and is unable to get it back under control. The anger is back now, big time, and swells in his chest so suddenly that he's almost gagging on it.

Mac sits up straight, looking at him closely for the first time since he came in. "Is there something you need to talk about?" he asks. "Anything you perhaps left out of your report?"

Yeah, Danny thinks. I do. Like why the fuck didn't you notice that there was bad shit going on with this case? Why didn't you check in with me every day like you usually do? Why are you still completely fucking oblivious?

That's the part that Danny can't figure. Mac doesn't like gossip, but he has his own ways of keeping track of everything that's going on in the lab. Yet here it is Friday night, the case has been closed, and Mac is completely clueless that anything out of the ordinary went on. If he had the slightest clue about Danny's badgering of various witnesses, or about the way he lost his temper with Paul Baxter, he would have ripped him a new one long before now. Yet here he sits, at Danny's fucking kitchen table, and all he's doing is blinking at him and drinking Danny's shitty beer, and asking if anything unusual happened. Clearly, Mac's usual channels of information have failed him, and he hasn't noticed Danny's state of mind on his own -- not until he practically got slapped in the face with it, anyway.

So what makes this time so different? Why don't you notice, Mac? Where was your head all week?

Danny is tempted to just assault Mac with the truth, to tell him all about the assumptions he'd made and why he made them, and about the gypsy cab driver back in 1984. Make Mac understand what happens when he ignores his responsibilities.

Then he stops himself and manages, somehow, to get the impulse under control. Despite his current state of mind, he does realize that Mac finding out about it -- about any of it -- won't lead to anything good. He opts for evasion, instead.

"Just, you know...I dunno. I feel bad for the vic's kid. He can't even drive yet, and now his father's dead." It's not the whole truth, but it's close enough. All he can do now is hope that Mac doesn't find out the truth about his outburst.

"It's unfortunate," Mac says, all professional detachment just like he always is, "but we can't let this stuff affect us, or we won't be able to do our jobs adequately."

Danny peels away some more of the label. "I know, but..."

"We all have cases that get to us sometimes," Mac goes on, "but you can't let it affect your objectivity."

"I know," Danny says. He looks up. Mac is sitting there, one hand resting lightly on his beer bottle. Calm as anything. "Follow the evidence, right?"


Danny crumples the label into a ball and lets it drop to the table. "You'd think I'd remember that by now."

Mac seems to hesitate, then says, "You do, Danny. I know that it's hard for you to separate your emotions from your logic sometimes, but you're a good criminalist. It's just that -- "

Danny is sick of the whole subject, and he knows, suddenly, that if he hears one more sanctimonious word come out of Mac's mouth, he's going to go ahead and say all that stuff he just decided against sharing. "Look," he cuts in, "no offense, but can we talk about something else for awhile?"

"Of course," Mac says after a pause, looking surprised.

They're both silent. Danny darts his gaze around the room, looking anywhere but at Mac. He's sick of this, he thinks. Sick of the guilt over every little goddamn thing, sick of feeling like he has to justify his actions, and most of all, sick of sitting here and staring at Mac and burning with this resentment that, even in his current state of mind, he thinks is probably unfair. Mac's not a mind-reader, after all, and what Danny is viewing is neglect is probably no more than a case of bad timing and a too-difficult week for both of them.

"Mac," he says with an effort, "I'm sorry. I really am. I's been a rough week."

"I understand about rough weeks," Mac says.

Danny nods. "Guess you do." He has to get them off this topic, and suddenly he thinks of a way that just might work. "Hey, do you remember last week, how I offered to make the whole day go away for you?"

"Yes." Mac nods.

"Think you could do that for me?" Danny asks, and takes a deep breath.

Mac raises his eyebrows. Danny sits there and looks at him, feeling more tense than ever. If Mac says the wrong thing right now, he thinks, he is going to slam him with the truth about the Reyes case, and damn the consequences.

"I don't see why not," Mac says, and Danny unclenches his fists. "I could try, at least."

"Yeah," Danny says. "Yeah, I think you probably could." He pushes his chair back and stands up, and Mac meets him halfway around the kitchen table. Don't know about this, Danny thinks, because even as Mac is kissing him, he's still thinking about the case, his head a jumble of shouting at Paul Baxter in the jail cell and his father shouting at him back when he was ten, and Aiden grabbing him and dragging him off as an entirely absent Mac went about his business elsewhere. Maybe I'm still pissed, Danny thinks as he returns the kiss and Mac strokes a hand along his spine.

Then Mac gets Danny's lower lip between his teeth and shoves his other hand down the front of Danny's pants, and Danny gasps and pushes into the touch, and genuinely stops thinking for the first time all day. Mac fucks him with Danny lying on his back, looking into his face the whole time, and kisses him again when he comes, and by the time they've both collapsed back into the pillows, Danny actually feels something approaching a state of calm. Just like the Friday before, he realizes that things inside his head have gotten quiet for the first time all week, and he's content to lie here and listen to his breathing.

"I hope that helped," Mac says after awhile, and there's that shy note in his voice again.

"Yeah," Danny says. "Yeah, it did."

"Good." Mac leans in and kisses his shoulder, making Danny shiver, as much from how unexpected it is as from the kiss itself.




It's not until they're turning out the light that he thinks of his earlier anger again. He swallows hard, in the dark, listening to Mac shift and settle himself next to him. It was just a blip on the radar, nothing to get excited about, and most of it was because of his own misplaced anger, he thinks. It'll all be fine in the morning, and the tiny coal of resentment still burning in his stomach isn't worth considering.

What's important is that Mac is here with him now, and that Mac did his best, in his own awkward way, to make things better. All the rest of it is just...flotsam. Collateral damage. After he's had a good night's sleep, things will look better in the clear light of morning.

In spite of how sensible this all sounds, he lies awake for hours.

ii. April 15th

It occurs to Mac one morning in April that he's really given very little thought to this...whatever it is he's doing with Danny. This isn't the conscious act of will "not thinking about it" that he engaged in back in February, right after the two of them had their disastrous encounter in the locker room. In that case, not thinking about it meant that he was actually thinking about it all the time; he just told himself he wasn't. This, on the other hand, is genuine. He thinks about it, of course; when he's planning his week he incorporates Friday night at Danny's place into his scheduling. And he does have moments when he's very aware of the situation, like when he's talking to Danny in front of other people and trying to be sure he's not giving anything away, or when he starts thinking at inappropriate moments about things they've done together.

Not that he minds, now, recalling things like Danny's teeth on his collarbone, or what Danny's hips feel like under his hands. But it's one thing to think about events of this nature when he's at home watching CNN or even when he's alone in his office catching up on paperwork. It's another thing entirely to be talking to Stella or, worse, a witness, and be suddenly presented with a sense memory of Danny unzipping his pants and rubbing a hand over his stomach. The latter can be very disconcerting, to say the least.

The point is that Danny seems to have become part of his everyday routine. Which is a good thing, he supposes, at least as far as it goes. Certainly it's made for far less fraught workdays; when he looks at how things are going now in comparison to how they were a couple of months ago, he's glad that they've gotten past that unpleasantness. It's not peace of mind, exactly, because Mac doesn't believe in that, but it's a relief, even if he factors in those nerve-wracking little jump moments.

He's tried, once or twice, to imagine what it might be like to tell someone about him and Danny. Specifically, he's tried to imagine telling Stella, because if he's honest with himself, Stella is the one person he probably would tell, if he were contemplating revealing this thing to anyone at all. He's been having trouble constructing this scenario in his head, though. He gets as far as, "Stella, Danny and I are...seeing each other," and then his brain just stalls. He's not even sure that "seeing each other" is the proper phrase, but he can't think of a better one.

But even if he assumes that he'd be able to come up with an accurate description of the situation, he can't even begin to hazard a guess what her response might be. He doesn't think that she'd censure him, but then again she might. She might stare at him in shock; for once in her life, Stella Bonasera would find herself at a loss for words. He thinks maybe she'd simply refuse to believe him, that it would strike her as some obscure and complex attempt at a practical joke.

Fortunately, he tells himself, all of this is no more than an academic exercise anyway; he can't tell anyone, not least because Danny is his employee, and he can't take the chance of risking either his career or Danny's for something like this. Whatever name he might decide to put to it (and the right word is out there, he knows it is; he just has to think of it), it's something that has to stay private. Which he knows and Danny understands, even though they've never talked about it, and so he's had surprisingly little trouble keeping his work life separate from what he does with Danny after hours.

No matter that he can't (yet) find the proper words to delineate the terms of his involvement with Danny, though; he still has to acknowledge that he's enjoyed the time they've been spending together. It's pleasant to be able to sit in someone's apartment and have a beer, and talk about work or about the things he's read recently in Scientific American or the Times, and to have an opportunity to spend even a little bit of time outside the confines of the four walls of his apartment or his office. He doesn't think that he'd want to do this every night, but the chance to take a few hours on Friday night to relax and unwind is something he welcomes.

As for the more carnal aspects of the thing, the parts of their time together that sometimes make him blush for no reason at all in the middle of the trace evidence lab, he'd be lying to himself if he claimed not to need the release. That it's Danny who's the agent of this is just a bonus, he's decided: Danny is a good detective, and he has the potential to be an excellent one. Mac thought, from the beginning, that it was possible that some day he could take on the role of mentor to Danny, could help and guide him through his career -- once he grew up a little and stopped reacting from the gut, anyway. In some obscure fashion that he hasn't fully articulated to himself, this seems just another step in that direction.




Of course, nothing is perfect. His belief that peace of mind doesn't exist hasn't been arrived at out of cynicism, after all, but out of long years of experience. Cynicism is a juvenile act, an attitude that has no more to do with real life than do its polar opposites, romanticism and idealism. What he is, he thinks, is a realist. He knows how the world works.

He also doesn't believe in cliche, and understands that a person's life is as likely to go awry on a bright, sunny afternoon as it is to fall apart in a midnight alley in a bad neighborhood.

Sometimes Danny seems preoccupied. This, in and of itself, isn't unusual; they all get distracted by cases, can find their minds so filled with trace evidence and fingerprints and conflicting witness statements that there's little room for anything else. He himself is a prime example of this, the most recent instance being how the Dove Commission filled his days and nights so that he couldn't think of anything else until it had been put to bed. So when they're talking and Danny's mind seems a million miles away, when he doesn't respond to something Mac has said and has to ask him to repeat himself, Mac doesn't, at first, think anything of it. Not the first time it happens, and not the second or even the third.

But when it happens again and again, and when he puts it together with the fact that Danny is also increasingly short-tempered and snide, seemingly without provocation, it becomes more worrisome.

Danny makes an offhand remark one afternoon about taking a vacation day to go see a Mets game, which Mac tells him is fine, as long as he submits the time-off request far enough in advance.

"You betcha I will," Danny says, standing up and miming a swing in the middle of Mac's office. (Mac eyes this warily as Danny's outstretched arms come within inches of his lightboards.) "Home game at Shea, hot dogs and peanuts in the middle of a weekday? Gotta get to at least one of those a season."

Mac, who is unimpressed with the Mets' RBI stats, nods and tells him to have fun.

"How 'bout you, Mac?" he asks. "You gonna catch any games this season?"

"Maybe on TV," Mac says.

Danny stops what he's doing and looks over at him, the smile gone from his face. "Of course," he says. "Wouldn't want to risk wrinkling your suit in the stands, right?"

The words themselves are fine -- it's typical Danny teasing -- but the tone isn't. Mac, wondering if he's imagining the sneer in Danny's voice, says, "Well, that and I can't afford the time off right now." Which is true; he's got a caseload that's backed up to hell and several inconveniently-scheduled court dates in the next month.

"Right," Danny says, "I forgot. This place would fall the fuck apart if you weren't here. Lucky for the rest of us peons we ain't so important."

This time, there's no mistaking it for banter; Mac wants to take a step back at the venom in his tone. "Danny -- "

"I gotta go. Work to do," and Danny storms out of the office without another word. Mac stares after him, feeling like he's come in late to a movie, and has missed some crucial plot point in the opening scenes. He stands there for a minute, then sits down and tries to concentrate on the report he's been working on.

Later, Danny stops him on his way to the DNA lab. "Hey, um..." He tugs at his collar, looking agitated. "I'm sorry I was so rude before."

"Anything going on that you'd like to tell me about?"

"Naw. I just...I'm a little frustrated with the Caldwell case, and I've got one lousy mother of a headache on top of it." He faces Mac, shoving his hands into his pockets. "It ain't no excuse, but I am sorry. I snapped at Aiden, too, and she damn 'bout took my head off."

"Well, that would have been one way to cure your headache," Mac says. Danny smiles a little. "Do you need an aspirin?"

"Took one."

"All right." Mac nods. He knows he should toss at least a brief lecture Danny's way, but he's relieved at the mundane explanation, and he has to get to DNA besides. "Why don't you take twenty minutes and go get yourself some coffee?"


"Yes, really."

"Okay." Danny nods. "You want anything?"

"I'm good."

"Yeah, okay. Thanks, Mac." Danny touches his arm lightly as he walks past. "I'll see you later, then," he adds, low.

"Yes, you will," Mac says, mostly to himself, and then heads off to DNA.




There are other incidents like this, none of which seem, to Mac, to form any kind of cohesive pattern; although he looks, he can't find any link between the times when Danny seems to lose his temper for no reason at all, no common factor that lets Mac put the pieces together and see the big picture. Nor are any of them really big enough or blatant enough to allow Mac to call him out on it. If this were a work-related problem, he wouldn't hesitate to do so, but all of Danny's flare-ups seem to be more personal than professional, and for that reason he finds himself holding his tongue.

Because of this gradually-emerging pattern, however, Mac can't say that he's exactly surprised when he tells Danny to drop the Columbus Circle case and move onto something else and, instead of cooperating, Danny argues with him. He's not surprised, not really, but he is puzzled; it's so clearly a misdemeanor, and hence no longer their problem. Danny may not have always, in the past, taken the most professional approach to his cases, but he's always been aware of what's important and what's not. This, a prank and a death by natural causes, is not. Even after Danny finally agrees to let it go, Mac still feels unsettled; there's something in Danny's eyes that he doesn't like, particularly when he considers the last couple of weeks, and how Danny seems to be on a hair-trigger.




Mac is still shocked by the sense of betrayal he experiences when the reports inevitably cross his desk and he puts two and two together. He sits looking at the neat stack of papers, and at the signature on the bottom, and gradually he realizes that what he's feeling is rage. Not anger or annoyance, but a white-hot fury. He's been frustrated with Danny before in a professional capacity, and they've raised their voices to each other more than once over the years, but Danny has never...He tries to tamp down the rage, and is unable to do so. Danny has betrayed, not only him, but every sense of professional ethics and chain of command that Mac can think of. This can't be allowed. He sits there and tries to focus on other things, but what he's really doing, he admits, is watching the hallway for Danny to come by. When he sees the familiar figure, he doesn't hesitate to pounce.




Mac thinks, later on, that this is the closest thing to an out-of-body experience that he's ever had. He's standing in the hall with Danny and saying the words that he needs to, laying out for him in unmistakable terms just what he's done wrong, but he's also standing to one side, watching himself lecture Danny. And this him, this person off on the sidelines, is wondering at what's happening: he hasn't even bothered to call Danny into his office so that the discussion can take place in private, but is chewing him out in the hallway, in front of God and everyone, well within the hearing of anyone who might happen to pass by. Because he also isn't bothering to lower his voice; in fact, he's actually shouting at Danny.

It's not until Danny wavers, and then seems to slide from defiance to defeat within the space of seconds, that Mac feels the beginnings of confusion, rather than anger. This isn't the way Danny normally reacts to confrontation, even when he's clearly in the wrong, not at all. In situations like this (not that it's ever been this extreme before, but still), Danny's standard response is to either keep arguing his position or give in with much bad grace. He doesn't apologize so quickly, or with such despair in his voice. Mac doesn't try to fool himself that Danny means the apology, either, at least not completely. There's guilt there, and there damn well should be, but even then, even with sorrow making his voice crack, there's a bristling anger there, too, just under the surface, and vehement enough to make Mac want to, once more, take a step back from Danny.

Mac's confusion only deepens as Danny stalks off, and as he watches and sees what happens when Danny thinks himself unobserved: how, behind the glass in the door, he shivers and sways and seems, suddenly, on the verge of collapse. Mac has seen that kind of physical reaction before; he remembers fellow Corps members pushing and pushing themselves in the heat of battle, or during basic training, all the while insisting they were fine right up until the moment when they either vomited or passed out cold. Often, they'd have that same thousand-yard stare that Danny is sporting right now, as if they were either too strung out to actually focus on anything at all, or were looking at something horrible just beyond the bounds of normal sight.

Danny neither faints nor vomits; after a minute, he straightens up, and then, looking neither to the right nor to the left, he continues down the hall, walking with the slow, cautious gait of the injured, or of someone who's not sure his legs are going to cooperate and hold him up.

Mac doesn't move from where he's standing, and he doesn't know if Danny ever realized he was still there or not. Some gut instinct tells him that not is the right choice here, but he can't be sure. Danny wouldn't allow himself to be seen in such a state, especially given what just happened between them. On the other hand, Mac never thought that Danny defy him so openly, much less lie to him, and he was wrong on that count; maybe he's wrong about this, too.

He becomes aware that people are staring at him, and that two lab techs are whispering to each other down at the other end of the hall, casting occasional nervous glances in his direction over their shoulders. He stands where he is for a minute more, feeling his heart pound with adrenaline, then adjusts his tie, and goes back into his office and closes the door. After that, he proceeds to waste a lot of time that should be spent on the never-ending paperwork going over and over the situation, trying to figure out what could have triggered Danny's behavior, what he could have done differently to dissuade him, or why he didn't see earlier that Danny's attitude toward the case was going to lead to trouble. When he glances up at the clock and sees that more than an hour has passed and he hasn't gotten any work done, he gives up. Instead of staying and brewing a fresh pot of coffee like he generally would, and pushing himself to get through the reports no matter how late he might end up staying, he shuts everything down and pulls on his coat. He can't think about this anymore, not tonight.




He can't think about it anymore, but he does think about it. All the way to the subway, and all the way to Brooklyn on the train, and at the other end of the line when he's walking from the station to his apartment, Danny is the only thing on his mind. Because, of course, this all ties in with how Danny has been acting for the past couple of weeks, ever since the night Mac closed the Dove Commission case and Danny signed off on the Reyes murder.

Danny had excused that much the way he has attempted to justify his behavior on other recent occasions -- as the result of a bad day, or a hard case, or of just feeling generally tired or unwell -- but Mac is well aware that he can't view that as an isolated incident, especially not now. Not in light of everything that's happened since. Mac remembers a vague rumor he'd heard right after that, one he'd dismissed at the time as nonsense, both because it seemed unbelievable and because no reference to it appeared anywhere in the papers both Aiden and Danny had put their names to. The gossip intimated that Danny had lost his temper when interrogating the Reyes perp, lost it in a big way. Now, Mac wonders if this rumor wasn't the flight of fancy it seems on the surface.

Something else troubles him about the situation, and it goes back to his thought that Danny was acting a lot like guys he'd seen back in the Corps. The thousand-yard stare, the sudden collapse, and most of all, the increasingly erratic behavior. These things could be signs of a man who was about to lose his shit in a big way. It didn't always happen; sometimes it just meant that the guy needed a good night's sleep, or a few days of R&R. But sometimes it meant that he had reached the end of his rope in a big way. Mac has seen more than one soldier flip out and end up with a dishonorable discharge or facing court martial, or even simply shipped home to be treated for psychological problems.

But that can't be Danny, he tells himself. Danny may have had a few bad moments recently, and made a stupid decision about his case, but surely he doesn't fit the profile.




By the time he's undressing for bed and sorting out the clothes that will need to go to the dry-cleaners in the morning, worry has been supplanted by his initial anger, and he finds that he's glad of that. He doesn't want to have to worry about Danny, not after the stunt he just pulled. Anger is a much more reasonable reaction, Mac thinks, and it's no more than Danny deserves.

He'll be up all night even so, he realizes wearily; whether it's concern or anger he's feeling, he still can't understand the why of the thing, no matter how hard he tries.




He doesn't understand it any better by morning, either; fortunately, routine and a double murder in Forest Hills conspire to push the situation to the back of his mind, and he's able to work the scene without his confrontation with Danny playing on endless loop in his memory.

It's not until they're sitting in stalled traffic in the Holland Tunnel that Stella says, "Are you all right?"

He looks at her in surprise. They had been talking about how to divide up the work of processing the fibers and blood samples they'd collected from the murder scene, so the question comes as a complete non sequitur.

"I'm fine," he says. "Why do you ask?"

"You seem tense."

"According to you, I'm always tense."

"More tense than usual," she amends.

He doesn't say anything, and leans forward, trying to see if there's any sign of a break in the traffic.


"I'm fine, Stella."

"No, you're not," she says. "When you're fine, you hear me when I talk to you." She leans forward, resting one hand on the dashboard. He's trying hard not to look at her, and she's trying hard to make him. "When you're fine, I don't have to try to figure out what to do when you attempt to shove a suspect's teeth down his throat."

Of course, Stella wins. She wins without even half-trying, because when she says that, he does turn and look at her, and she's sitting there with raised eyebrows, looking at him inquiringly.

"When exactly did that happen?" he asks.

"Don't you remember talking to Tom Martin the other day?"

"I didn't do anything to Tom Martin," he says.

"No, but you looked like you were about to," she says.

"Can you blame me for being frustrated with him?" he asks. "He didn't give a damn about that girl's death, and he was clearly being evasive."

"Oh, a suspect in a murder case not wanting to spill his guts to the investigating officers? Now there's one for the evening news. We've certainly never seen that before."

Mac sighs in annoyance. He does remember, now that she's brought it up, how she had started edging gradually closer to him during the course of their questioning. At one point, she'd even started to reach out a hand, as if she were intending to grab his arm (something she's had to do more than once, he concedes), then seemed to change her mind, and put it back down. But by the time they'd finished, her attention had been focused far more on him than on Tom Martin. Instead of watching Martin's face for tells or giveaway tics, she'd been looking at him, and that, coupled with the worry he saw in her eyes, had irritated him all out of proportion. What with one thing and another, though, he hasn't had a chance to bring it up with her.

Now, provoked all over again, he says, "I suppose that's why you were acting as if man had entered the forest when I was trying to question him?" He looks back at the traffic. Why haven't they moved even an inch in the last ten minutes?

Stella, who still has her elbows propped on the dashboard, lifts her head from her hand. "Mac, you were two seconds away from pummeling that guy."

"I was no such thing. And if I had been, maybe we would have actually gotten some answers out of him." He honks the horn. "Come on, already."

"See? See, that's exactly my point." Stella slaps the dashboard for emphasis. "You know as well as I do that there's a fine line to walk between acceptable intimidation of a suspect and getting hauled up on charges of police brutality. And pal, one of these days you are going to cross that line."

"No," he says. "No, I'm not." He presses the horn again and leans on it, setting off a chorus of other horns in response. "You know why? Because you'll be there to drop-tackle me if I so much as look at a guy funny. I'm sorry, Stella, am I being too mean to the poor, defenseless murderers and rapists to suit you?"

"Oh, you bet I'll be there. And you'll be grateful that I am when it happens. Stop honking."

"We're not going anywhere."

"That's my point. Christ." She hauls off and punches him in the arm, hard, and then sits back in her seat with a huff.


"Don't even start with me. You were asking for that, you asshole."

He moves his hand away from the horn with an effort of will. A full minute goes by in silence.

"Don't you think," he says at last, "that there's something just the least bit ironic about capping off a lecture on how I need to control my temper by punching me in the arm?"

"I didn't punch you," she says. "I tapped you lightly."

"That was some tap."

"Believe me, I could do worse."

They're silent for another minute or so, then he says, "Stella, you know, I do listen to you."

"Yeah, you do," she says, and Mac thinks that she sounds as tired as he feels. "I just wish you'd talk to me occasionally."




Danny doesn't talk to him for the rest of the week, except when he has to. When he does, Mac feels like they turned the calendar back to February when he wasn't looking; Danny never quite meets his eyes, and his formal, clipped sentences are spoken through a jaw clenched with tension. Mac doesn't know how to react to this, or how to get past the newest barriers that have suddenly sprung up between them, so he responds in kind, and keeps his conversations with Danny brief and to the point. The situation unsettles him, but he doesn't know what else he can do.

Late at night on Friday, no one's in the lab except him; he's barely lifted his eyes from the microscope for hours, and when he finally looks up and sees to his surprise that it's past eight o'clock, his neck and shoulders are in knots. He stands up, stretching, and rolls his neck to relieve the pressure until he hears it crack, and he decides that he'll take a shower before he gets back to his DD-5 reports.

Most of the rest of the lab had taken off early, either intent on getting their weekend started or on finishing their tax forms before the midnight deadline, and more than once today, he walked in on lab techs hunched over papers and calculators instead of doing the work they were being paid for. He'd tried to let it go, even though he was tempted to point out that he'd sent in his own forms two days after he got his W-2 in January; his refund check has long since been deposited into savings.

It's when he's walking down the hall to the locker room that he first gets a prickling sensation in the back of his mind. He's forgotten to do something, and he can't for the life of him figure out what it is. A quick detour to his office is no help; neither his Palm Pilot nor his desk calendar yield any clues. He hasn't skipped any meetings or let any paperwork slide, and he's just now finished the last of the sample tests he meant to run by the end of the week.

It's not until he's standing in the shower, letting the lukewarm water fall directly onto his face, that he remembers it's Friday night. Friday, and normally (if he can say that after such a short span of weeks), he'd be at Danny's place by now, or would be planning to go there. The realization makes him open his eyes wide for a second, and then he ducks his head and blinks hard to get the water out.

He'd never even thought today about going over to Danny's. After the way their conversation had gone, he'd started working on the assumption that it wouldn't be a good idea. He said all he needed to the other day, and surely Danny won't want to see him there, not after that bitter exchange of words.

It's not that he's never going to go over there again. He just thinks that maybe he should give them both a little more time to cool off before he shows up and rings the bell. This was a perfectly logical and reasonable decision, and because of that, he wasn't expecting to feel so unsettled tonight, to feel such a sense of things left undone. And yet here he is.

He turns the hot water up as high as it will go, which, of course, has no effect at all on the temperature of the shower. It's not that he misses Danny specifically, he tells himself, it's just that this is an unexpected break in the normal flow of his week. He stares at the cracked tile wall and tries to convince himself of this.




Sometime on Saturday afternoon, it occurs to him that there's no reason he couldn't go over to Danny's now. The situation has continued to dig at him all day long, all through his morning workout and through breakfast at the coffee shop, where he couldn't concentrate on Sports Illustrated for anything, and he's come to the reluctant conclusion that it's going to do so until they resolve this thing, one way or another. He also knows that, as stubborn as Danny is, there's no way he's going to make the first move toward either apology or closure. Danny is capable of apology in minor situations, but in this instance, Mac is well aware that Danny sees himself as the injured party, and that, in consequence, he'll dig his heels in and defend his corner for all he's worth.

Mac isn't thrilled with the idea of going over to Danny's to talk this thing out, for a variety of reasons, but after he's turned it over in his mind a few times, he can't see any other way out. If nothing else, taking this step will, once they've gotten through it, give him the mind-space he needs to concentrate on work. He grabs a jacket and leaves the apartment before he can begin to talk himself out of it; it's not until he's standing on the platform at Borough Hall that it occurs to him that Danny may not even be home this afternoon. He hesitates, and then decides against calling in advance. If Danny's not around, he'll deal with that when he gets there.




When he rings the bell, there's a pause, then he hears footsteps and the sound of locks being undone. He steels himself. Danny opens the door, barefoot and wearing jeans and a ratty-looking t-shirt, and his eyes widen in unaffected surprise. "Mac." That's all he says, just the one word, and then he stands there and doesn't move. He doesn't open the door wider to let Mac into the apartment, but he doesn't slam it in his face, either. This is...not a good sign, or any kind of sign, really, but it's a start.

"Danny," he says. "I--I hope I'm not catching you at a bad time." He pauses, but Danny doesn't say anything. "I just...I thought it best if we didn't let this fester any longer than it already has."

"Fester," Danny says, with no particular inflection. "Good word."

"May I come in?"

Danny studies him. Mac can't read the expression on his face, and for several seconds he's convinced that Danny is going to just shut the door in his face. Finally, though, he shrugs and takes a step back. "Sure. You're here."

Mac walks in, taking a quick and instinctive glance around the room. There are beer bottles on the coffee table and scattered on the floor, some empty, a couple of them still half-filled with liquid. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is playing on the television on mute.

"Sorry I didn't have time to clean," Danny says. "If I'd known you were coming..."

"That's all right," Mac says. He nods at the TV. "Good choice of movie."

Danny shrugs. "It's okay."

"I don't think I've ever conceived of it as a silent film, though," Mac says. He's striving for lightness, and is uncomfortably aware that he's probably failing miserably.

"No? You should try it sometime. Not like I watch this shit for the dialogue, anyway." Danny folds his arms across his chest and looks at Mac -- or in Mac's general direction. "Look, can we cut the chatter? Just get to the point."

"Sorry...?" That feeling that he's walked in late and missed the first act recurs to Mac.

"Say what you came here to say." Danny's voice is perfectly even.

Mac sighs. "All right. Danny, look..." He pauses, then goes ahead with it. "I'm sorry that I called you out in front of everyone, but you have to realize that what you did -- "

"Mac, look. You don't need to justify yourself." Danny holds out his hands, palms up. "I know that what I did was wrong, and I deserved what I got. I'd just like to assure you that it won't happen again."

"I'd like to be sure of that," Mac says.

"Jesus, what do you want from me?" Danny snaps, and Mac's actually glad to hear the anger in his voice. Anything is better than that cold, emotionless tone he's been using all week. "I said I was sorry, for Christ's sake. I said it over and over again. Can't you just fucking trust me?"

"I thought I could," Mac says, and looks him right in the eye. Danny stares back at him, blinking furiously. "I want to. But when you lie to me and waste department resources, I have a hard time letting that go."

Danny opens his mouth and then shuts it again. "I..." He turns away from Mac, a little, and starts pacing back and forth in front of him in a tight circle. "Okay," he says finally. "Okay. I know you're right. But look, when have I ever misrepresented things up 'till now?"

"You haven't," Mac says. At least not as far as I know. He swallows hard, trying to ignore this voice in his head. "That's why I don't understand what happened."

Danny paces some more, now shaking his head back and forth. "I thought...forget it."

"No, Danny." Mac stands still where he is. "Go on and say it."

"Fine. I had a hunch. I know what you always tell me about hunches, that I can't rely on them. I...just once, I wanted to play it my way. I wanted..." He stops walking, and sighs to himself, looking down at the floor. When he looks up again, his eyes behind his glasses are wide and nervous-looking. "I just wanted to show you I could be right. Problem is, I wasn't."

"No, you weren't," Mac says.

Danny's jaw tenses again at this. "Right," he says. "I wasn't. So, great, bad Danny. Wanna slap my wrist?"

Mac shakes his head. "Danny..."

"I'm sorry," Danny says. "Again. I mean that."

"I know," Mac says. "You always are sorry." Such a mundane reason for Danny's behavior, and one that he might have guessed at, given how many times they've disagreed about method and process. Why it had to be this case in particular, though, is something he suspects he's not going to be able to figure out. Why not something important, like a high-profile murder, instead of this sad, mundane little crime?

Danny's inconvenient stubborn streak has reared its head again, and that may be all the explanation he needs -- certainly, it's likely to be the only explanation he'll get, because he has a feeling that Danny doesn't know, either, what caused him to latch onto this case with the tenacity of a mongoose. There's an overwhelming stench of futility around the whole endeavor, not just because of the department's wasted time and money, but because of the week they've just spent fuming at each other. It didn't have to be like this, Mac thinks; Danny didn't have to be humiliated in front of half of the lab, and he didn't have to spend all this time wondering what the hell he'd done wrong, or what else Danny might be hiding from him.

He suddenly feels exhausted, and looks at Danny, who's still standing there, eyeing him warily. "Danny," he says.

"Yes, Mac?" Danny asks.

"I think that you and I could go twenty rounds on this and never fully resolve it," Mac says.

Danny doesn't move. "Probably so."

"So why don't we go get some dinner, instead?"

Danny lifts his shoulders. "Does that mean we can dispense with the apologies and move on?"

"I think so." Mac waits while Danny appears to mull it over.

At last, Danny shrugs again and says, "Sure. I could use some food. Just lemme go find my shoes."




As they're walking up the street to a nearby Greek diner that Danny favors, Mac, who's been thinking this over since they were still back at the apartment, says, "You know, Danny, you don't have to prove anything to me."

"What do you mean?" Danny asks. He's watching his feet as he walks, hands shoved deep into his jacket pockets.

"Just that," Mac says. "You're a good criminalist."

Danny frowns. "Yeah, but..."

"Just learn to temper your instinct with evidence, that's all I ask." Mac stops slightly ahead of him as they wait for the light to change. "And save the leaps of faith for the big cases."

"Guess this one didn't turn out so hot, huh?"

"No. And I'm going to have a hell of a time justifying the expenditures for this case next time I get called in for a budget meeting."

Danny flinches. "Jesus, never even thought of that."

"I have to think of things like that." Mac stops in front of the restaurant, wanting to make his point before they go in. "If the brass start thinking that we're wasting money or resources, it's just going to be that much harder to get them to spring for new microscopes or computers when they work up next year's budget."

"Right," Danny says. "Message received."

"Good. Make sure you keep it in mind." He nods toward the restaurant. "Now let's have some food."




He shoves Danny up against the door and pushes impatient hands up under his t-shirt, and Danny moans into his mouth as Mac's fingers brush over his nipples. Danny's heart is beating fast under the palms of his hands, and he presses into him and kisses him deep. Usually he's more reticent than this; most nights he'll let Danny take the lead in getting the two of them into bed, or he'll go a lot slower than he's going right now. Tonight, that's not what he wants.

He looked at Danny all through dinner, all through Danny's gyro special and his Cobb salad, and what he was looking at was the line of Danny's throat against the gray t-shirt collar, and the occasional glimpses of the thin silver chain Danny wears, how it gleamed when the light hit it just right. If it wasn't that it was Danny's hands on the table, his casual handling of the silverware and glass, or Danny's lips moving and the wet inside of his mouth as he talked. It makes Mac feel stupid, like a hopelessly horny teenager, but by the time he asked for the check, all he could think about was getting Danny back home and getting those hands and that mouth all over him. And he didn't want to wait.

Danny's hands slide over his shoulder blades and then move lower, pressing into the curve of his lower back, and he can feel Danny's hard-on. He thinks about that first night in the locker room, Danny all over him, with his tongue and teeth on Mac's neck and their dicks pressed together. He'd barely known what to do then, or how to respond, other than to just lean back and let things happen. Which is...he thinks, suddenly, as he strokes his hands along Danny's chest and digs his nails in the way he knows Danny likes, of something else. Somewhere else.

(A supply tent on the Marine base outside of Cologne, the little cot that he and Jack Abernathy have been making good use of for months now. Abernathy swore up and down that no one ever used this part of the storage facilities, and it seemed he was right; never once had they been caught or even gotten close to it. Just in case, Abernathy has rigged the door in a makeshift early-warning system. Mac is ever-cautious and appreciates this, but right now even he's not thinking about being interrupted, is not listening for the click of the lock opening with even half an ear. Because he's on his back on the cot, and Abernathy is between his legs, hot mouth wrapped around Mac's dick, sucking slow and confident, and he's got one hand on his ass, too, rubbing him in ways no one ever has before, that Mac would never even have thought of.)

Mac says, "C'mere," to Danny and pulls away from their kiss, and Danny strips off his t-shirt as they go into the bedroom. And while Danny is standing by the side of the bed and working on unbuttoning Mac's shirt, Mac reaches down and undoes the fly of his jeans, and puts his hand inside and rubs his thumb up the shaft of Danny's erection nice and easy, ignoring, for now, the urge to just grind himself into Danny until he comes. Little drops of pre-come on the head, wet on his fingertips, and he slicks it over the skin until Danny is shuddering in pleasure and his hands on Mac's shoulders are clenching tight.

(And when Abernathy suddenly takes his mouth away, he moans in disappointment and shivers with the sudden cold, and then shivers in a whole different way when Abernathy gets him to sit up and then flings himself down on his back. "Now you try it," he says, and smiles up into Mac's face, looking right into his eyes and not shy at all. Mac thinks he should protest, even just a little a bit, make Abernathy have to convince him, but he doesn't say a word, and Abernathy reaches up and grabs him by the edges of his open uniform shirt and pulls him down for a kiss, sliding his tongue over Mac's until his mouth feels wet and swollen. And then Mac starts to kiss his neck, and then his chest, and when he gets to his belly he even slides his tongue over Abernathy's navel, which makes him moan and curse and jerk up hard into Mac's mouth. After that he gets his mouth around Abernathy's dick, and even though he's never done this before in all the months they've been screwing around, he's amazed at how easy it is. Even though he knows shit about what he's doing, the simple -- and, he thinks, clumsy -- up-and-down of his mouth is enough to make Abernathy pump his hips and curse even more, and come way before he's ready, as he tells Mac in frustrated delight just before he pushes him back down and returns the favor. And then he kisses him and says, "Shit, student gonna surpass the teacher if you keep that up. Goddamn natural," and Mac thinks that he's going to want to do that again, and soon.)

Mac tugs Danny's jeans and underwear down past his narrow hips, and then Danny's naked except for the silver chain against his tan skin. Danny's already flung Mac's shirt off to the side somewhere, and Mac steps out of his shoes and socks and pants, then leans in and kisses Danny again, but backs away when Danny reaches out to touch him. He was going half out of his mind with lust during dinner, looking at those hands, but no matter how much he may want them on him, he's got something else in mind now, and he pushes Danny down to the bed.

Danny gasps happily and kisses him back when Mac leans over him, and when he tries to touch him again, this time Mac catches his wrists and pins them to the mattress, then goes back to kissing him. He finally lets him go when he works his way down Danny's neck and chest, and when he's got his mouth on Danny's stomach, lips moving along the faint trail of hairs south of his navel, he moves one hand down to Danny's inner thigh and nudges his legs apart. "Mac?" Danny asks suddenly, and there's a definite surprised note in his voice.

He ducks his head lower, hovering just at the verge, and Danny shifts beneath him. "Mac? You don't gotta...I mean, not if you don't want to, that is..." And he takes the head of Danny's dick in his mouth and rubs his tongue just beneath it, and Danny moans, "Fuck, I...fuck," and shuts up.

(Abernathy will later lie down with him and show him how to do it even better, guiding him step by step in his hoarse voice through when to suck or lick or even bite a little, and when to go faster or slower, depending. And part of the instruction process involves Abernathy sucking him off and stopping after every step to explain what he's doing, which frustrates the hell out of Mac and finally ends up with him pleading with him to just shut up and not stop, but also means that -- as Abernathy explains later on -- everybody wins, when all is said and done. Mac realizes through Abernathy's instructions that his initial instincts maybe weren't so awkward after all, because Abernathy doesn't so much change his technique as refine it, and over the following months the things he did that first time are still enough to make Abernathy shiver and moan and swear.)

He sucks Danny and slides his tongue along the shaft of his dick, following the pattern of the veins, and every so often he scrapes him just a little bit with his teeth. Every time he does, Danny groans louder than ever and arches up into his mouth, the helpless sway of his hips such a turn-on that it's all Mac can do not to reach down with one hand and touch his own aching erection, because at this point he thinks he'd come in a heartbeat, even with Danny's mouth and hands nowhere near his body. He reaches up, instead, working his fingers up Danny's thigh to his balls, and he's tugging at them and rubbing his tongue hard against the head when Danny finally comes, gasping and writhing into Mac's face.

He waits until the tremors have stopped, until Danny mumbles, "Jesus Christ," and then he sits halfway up and grabs Danny by the hips and rolls him over onto his stomach, and thrusts into him hard without bothering about lube or seeing if Danny is ready. Because he can't wait one more second, and Danny is hot and tight around him, and Danny pushes back hard against him as he enters him. "Fuck, yeah, just like that," Danny says, and Mac goes deep, closing his eyes against the wave of sensation that crashes through him.

(Fucking Abernathy is very very good, and sometimes Mac thinks that it's the simple act of sincere praise that wins him over, the affection of a comradely touch: the winters in Chicago were always cold, and this is much warmer, even when they're stationed in the godforsaken middle of nowhere. In some ways, it may even be a natural extension of the brothers-in-arms bond they all share. But that doesn't mean he's not glad that it's kept a secret, and he tells himself that it's a self-contained world, an isolated series of incidents, just like it's never Abernathy's face he sees in after years when he's in bed with someone else and he closes his eyes.)

Every time he gets close to coming, he stops and holds back and recites field maneuvers in his head, breathing hard, until he gets himself under control again. He thrusts into Danny as fast as he can and sinks his teeth into his shoulder when he finally comes, and Danny, who's hard again by now and rubbing himself into the mattress, comes a second later, cursing out loud and clutching fistfuls of sheets in his hands.

Mac stays where he is for a minute, resting his face against Danny's sweat-damp back and trying to catch his breath, then rolls off him and onto his back. He could almost swear that he saw stars for a second or two there, he came so hard.

"Jesus Christ," Danny mumbles into the pillow, then opens his eyes and looks at Mac. He looks glazed over, pupils huge and almost dilated, like he's been taking heavy drugs, but the grin on his face belies the momentary creeping worry in Mac's mind. "Dunno where you learned all'a that," Danny says, "but we gotta do it like that again. If you want to, of course."

Mac can't help his smile, too sated, for the moment, to think about anything but what's right before him, about Danny's naked body, and hair which is damp to the touch when Mac reaches over and pushes his fingers through the tangles. "I'm open to discussion," he says.




It's full dark in the room and Mac has been through the Periodic Table three and a half times before he gives in and realizes that, once again, he isn't going to fall asleep tonight. He turns over to look at the bedside clock, quietly so that he doesn't wake Danny, who's snoring next to him in a blurred, openmouthed way that Mac associates with asthma and upper respiratory infections.

1:53 a.m. He sighs to himself, then gets up and finds his pants by feel, and goes out to the living room. After he switches the lamp to its lowest setting, he starts digging around for a book. Last week, he'd started reading a thriller novel called Shutter Island, and thinks he'll make some progress on that; he'd found the plot improbable, but interesting enough. Whether this is a better or a worse way to pass a sleepless night than going into the lab or walking along the Promenade, he can't say. It is, at least, different, which may be its saving grace. And Danny is a sound enough sleeper that he's unlikely to wake up and start asking questions about why Mac can't sleep.

Right now, he feels like his mind is spinning at a million miles an hour, so after he finds his place in the book, he just sits there with it open on his lap instead of starting to read. Unlike his mind, his body feels slow and heavy-limbed, weighed down, he knows, by the narcotic effects of sex. Now that he's no longer in the moment, he wonders at himself, at where that sudden need to take charge of every last moment of their encounter in such a forceful way came from. Not that it hadn't been good, and for a little while he'd been able to savor a rare opportunity to guide Danny's every move and reaction, but he still questions his motivations.

He wonders about Danny, too. Message received, he hears him say again, and he wants to believe that he really has gotten through to him, but he still feels unsettled. Too much to take in, too many small incidents over the weeks that may add up to nothing at all -- or that may be precursors to more trouble to come. Too many questions left in his mind about what may be lurking behind Danny's eyes. He dislikes the uncertainty, but doesn't know what to do with it, so finally he pushes it aside and picks up the book, and tries to lose himself in the world of this fictional detective and his fictional case.

Eventually, the dark gives way to gray-blue dawn, and he goes to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.




Two days later, Mac is walking along Greene Street when he hears someone call his name, and he turns without thinking, unsuspecting. For a moment he can't place the blonde woman at all, and he automatically clocks her as she walks up to him: tight, expensive-looking gray suit that's cut all wrong for her, but that he suspects is the height of current fashion, stiletto heels with painfully pointed toes, and chunky gold jewelry. Processed hair. Then she gets up close to him and says his name again, and he remembers her. The last time he saw her, she was wearing black and coming over to hug him at the old apartment on the West Side, telling him how sorry she was as he tried to breathe through the cloud of perfume that enveloped her.

"Nina," he says after a moment, pulling the name from some reserve of memory he didn't realize he still had. "Nina Wilkey, right?"

"Of course," she says. "My God, how are you?"

"Fine, thank you," he says. "And you?"

"Oh, fantastic. Josh and I are looking into buying a house out on Long Island. He got promoted to partner this year, and we're ready to start having kids, but there's no way I'm going to raise them in this city. But I said to Josh, if we get a good place out on the Island, I can stay home once the baby comes, and it's an easy commute for him on the Long Island Railroad." She doesn't pause for breath once during this statement, and Mac thinks that she hasn't changed a bit, not that he would have expected her to. Claire used to joke about how Nina could outtalk an auctioneer; most of the time she didn't take it very seriously, but sometimes she'd come home furious because Nina had rode roughshod over her in one meeting or another, and not let her get a word in edgewise the entire time.

"Are you still going out on patrol every day?" Nina asks, smiling, and Mac remembers the smile on her face: it's the same way she used to smile at him back in the old days when he and Claire would go out to dinner with people she worked with, or to her firm's Christmas party, the same way that all of her friends would smile at him. It's bemused and patronizing all at once, and what it says to Mac is I have no idea what to make of you, but I'll be polite for Claire's sake, even though I don't know what she's doing with you. Claire used to say that she didn't care what they thought. She said it more and more as time went on, and Mac would try not to think of suspects who gave themselves away by offering up too much detail, offering intricate lies instead of vague truth.

He understood the confusion well enough even back then, knowing perfectly well that hotshot corporate attorneys didn't make a habit of marrying police officers, especially ones who'd done a bunch of tours of duty for the Marine Corps. He had usually been able to shrug it off, and would amuse himself by wondering how they would react if they knew who his grandfather was, and how his parents could probably give any one of them a run for their money in the blueblood snob sweepstakes, even if they rarely left the shores of Lake Michigan.

"Well, no," he says to Nina, "but I'm still head of the Crime Scene Unit." He had been for going on three years by the time Nina had started working with Claire, but somehow she'd never been able to keep it straight; he isn't sure if she even understands the difference between a beat cop and a detective.

Nina's smile grows wider, and slightly strained. "Yes, of course," she says. "I just remembered that you were one of our boys in blue, and..."

"Yes," Mac says, and nods. He's always hated that phrase.

Nina looks up at him for a moment, seeming unsure what to say, then suddenly leans in close and puts a hand on his arm. "How are you really, Mac?" she asks in a low voice.

He studies her. "I'm fine. Really."

"I just can't believe it's been nearly four years," she says. "I was...we all were...I forget sometimes that Claire is gone, you know? It was such a shock to all of us."

"I know," he says, wishing she would take her hand off his arm.

Nina's cheeks flush red, and she blinks hard and looks off into the sky. In that gesture, he sees that she really does mean it, that somewhere beyond the fashion-victim clothes and bleached hair and gold jewelry, she really does miss Claire. And it's something he doesn't want to see, so he looks away from her, instead.

By the time he turns his gaze back to Nina, the shadow of a loss that was never hers to begin with has faded from her face, and her eyes are bright with curiosity once more. "Tell me, are you seeing anyone these days?" she asks.

It's Mac's turn to blink hard, startled at the directness of the question. "No," he says, "I'm not," and as he says it, he thinks of Danny, Danny down on his knees in front of him, Danny sprawled naked and post-coital next to him in bed. He's possessed by a wicked and mercifully brief urge to shock her with the truth; it would feel so good to see the genuine shock that would cross her face. How fast would she be burning up the phone lines to all of their old friends, and how quickly would the news spread through that social circle?

Fortunately for everyone, his common sense kicks in not half a second later, and he remembers why he can't say anything at all, and so he bites his tongue instead.

"You should come to one of our dinner parties," Nina says, and smiles again. "Josh and I know lots of nice single women." She squeezes his arm. "You need to live it up some, get yourself back in the marketplace. I'm sure Claire wouldn't want you to stay all cooped up at home all the time."

Mac bites down hard on the inside of his lip, not metaphorically, and counts to ten before he answers. "Nina," he says, and steps back so that she's forced to take her hand off his arm. "Thank you for the offer, but I don't think that would be appropriate."

"Oh," she says, and then "Oh," again, a second later. There's a moment of silence, and then she draws herself up to her full height, and when she speaks her voice is dripping with the condescension she's no longer bothering to hide. "I just thought you would be gr-- "

"Anyway," he goes on calmly, "I'm living out in Brooklyn these days. You can imagine what the commute is like, I'm sure. And I keep cop's hours, which I don't think are particularly compatible with your social gatherings."

"No, probably not," Nina says after a pause.

He looks at her.

After a few seconds have passed in silence, she makes a show of looking at her watch. "Oh my goodness," she says, voice too loud and too cheerful, "look at the time. I got so caught up in chatting that I'm going to be late for my meeting if I don't dash right now."

"Of course," Mac says. "I have an appointment myself, so I'll just be..."

"Yes." Nina backs off a few steps. "Listen, call us if you change your mind about that dinner party. You still have our number."


"Goodbye!" she calls, and smiles at him one last time before she takes off. Mac doesn't bother to watch her go before he resumes his walk down the block.




After he finishes arguing with Stella about the accusations that have been leveled at her over her interrogation of the drug-dealing college girl, Mac leaves his office and goes to the locker room, which is mercifully empty, and stands there with his forehead pressed to a cool metal locker.

He's sick of her, sick of all of them; mostly, he's sick of yet another round of bureaucratic IAB red tape that he doesn't have the time to deal with. He should be working his cases. Instead, he has to waste hours he doesn't have playing nice with Hilbourne, and trying to steer Stella's ass clear of the fire. After what happened with Inspector Markoni, he suspects he's not IAB's favorite person to begin with, and this thing with Stella is probably just the kind of opportunity they've been waiting for: a chance to humble him and bring him down to their level, to give him a taste of his own medicine.

And then there's Danny, who's not giving him any trouble, but who has spent the last week practically jumping every time Mac opens his mouth and snapping to attention every time he walks in the room, in a way that would do him proud in a military unit. This would be just barely tolerable, if it weren't accompanied by a cringing, whipped-dog attitude and slumped posture that drive Mac absolutely crazy. He wants to tell Danny to stop overdoing the quest for brownie points and just be himself, that overdoing the remorse isn't doing either of them any good. Actually saying this out loud would only make the situation worse, he suspects, so he's kept his mouth shut, and tries not to think about how good it would feel to grab Danny by the lapels and shake him until his teeth rattle.

He rubs his forehead against the locker as if trying to massage away a migraine and takes a deep breath, and then starts to count to ten, something he's been doing a lot of in the past few days. He has to get his temper under control before he goes back out there, because if he doesn't, his fight with Stella is only going to go into a second round, and he's liable to drag Danny out to the woodshed, too, just for the hell of it.

It's not working. He can feel his hands clenching and working at his sides, a tug of strain at the muscles in tendons in the backs of them as he makes a fist and then lets it relax, several times in a row.

Bringing one fist up and slamming it into the locker door feels really good, and he stops for a breath, contemplating this, then does it again. He keeps doing it, cursing now under his breath, until his vision blurs and the sound of flesh against metal is very loud in the quiet room.

When he finally stops, breathing fast like he's just finished running a long distance, his knuckles are swollen and scraped-looking, and the locker appears to be just a little bit more dented than it was five minutes ago. He stands there, panting, and gradually he realizes that, in some way, it worked: he's no happier, but his head is clearer, and maybe now he can go back out there and talk to Danny or to Stella without saying anything that can never be forgiven.

Before he does, he goes to the sink to run cold water on his hand, and although he's not bleeding, there's a phantom taste of copper at the back of his throat and in his nose, and he thinks that things have to get better soon or at least easier, they just have to.

iii. May Day

On the second day of May, Danny is sitting in the breakroom with Aiden, both of them lingering over their morning coffee and in no hurry to start work.

"So how 'bout you?" Danny asks, after telling Aiden about watching a few games on Sunday afternoon, leaving out most of the pertinent facts about Friday and Saturday. "How was your weekend?"

Even if he can't tell Aiden about, it had been a good weekend. Mac came over on Friday night, back to their normal routine, and they hung out together and watched part of an old movie on TV before getting down to business. The sex had been great, just like always -- not enough to take the top of Danny's head off, like it did the past Saturday night, but great all the same, and Danny figures that times when sex feels the way it did on Saturday are few and far between. Not that he doesn't want to do that again as soon as possible, and he's still just about dying with curiosity, trying to figure out how the hell Mac knows how to give such an amazing blowjob, but he can be patient. The ordinary great sex is pretty damn great indeed; besides, if they fucked every time like they did right after their fight, Danny would be walking permanently bowlegged.

Saturday morning, in the middle of coffee, Mac had surprised him by asking if he wanted to come along to the gym and work out for awhile. "Well, sure," Danny said, after thinking it over for maybe half a second. "But wouldn't I need to be a member? I ain't got the time or the money for that."

"You can buy a guest pass for the day, as long as you're with a current member."

Danny considered this through several swallows of coffee. He knew damn well that he was going to say yes, but he didn't want to seem overeager. Finally he nodded and said, "Sure. That sounds good. Been meanin' to get in a little more exercise, anyway. Been feeling kinda flabby." He slapped his stomach for emphasis.

Mac just went on drinking his coffee, but Danny thought that he looked pleased.

Danny had liked Mac's gym as soon as they walked through the doors; one of the reasons he's never joined a gym himself, aside from the cost, is that all the ones he's ever seen are for scary-looking, muscle-bound gym rats, more interested in showing off their latest workout wear and posing in front of the mirrors than in just minding their own business and getting some exercise. But Mac's gym was in an old, easy-to-overlook storefront, and it was filled with ordinary-looking people: a bunch of old folks (including one decrepit-looking old man who, it turned out, was able to bench-press a frightening amount of weight), some people around his age in old sweats, and couples with kids. Even the guys in the weight room looked average instead of steroid-poisoned.

Danny watched Mac run on the treadmill and then lift weights, a little frown on his face like he was focusing hard on something. It figured, Danny thought, that Mac would approach exercise with the same serious, straightforward approach he took to everything else. Meanwhile, Danny tried not to fall off the chin-up bar and then took a turn on the rowing machine: both of these felt good at the time, because he really hadn't been getting in enough exercise lately, but he suspected he'd be paying for it later, because of course he had to show off and overdo it, and by the time he finished up, his arms felt all quivery and weird.

He was hoping to talk Mac into a pick-up game or a swim, or, hell, even a round of racquetball would have been okay with him, even if it was a yuppie fucking scum game. Mac had declined and gone off to do another set of reps, but he'd smiled when he said it. Maybe next time, Danny decided, and then blushed to himself when he realized he was just assuming there was going to be a next time, and went to go swat the punching bag around for awhile.

In the shower, later, Danny kept thinking about that quick smile, when he wasn't wishing that Mac was there in the stall with him. That was something they hadn't done yet, fucked in a shower. Danny actually didn't think that shower sex was any great shakes, just slippery and wet in uncomfortable ways instead of good ones. Still, with Mac it might be worth giving it another try.

They went for coffee after that, and then, to Danny's surprise, Mac came home with him again, and they fucked nice and slow in the still-unmade bed, Mac moaning a little into Danny's shoulder in his quiet way, half-stifled and breathless. They lay around talking for awhile after that, about nothing in particular, and then Mac had finally gone home, and it was the last Danny saw of him until Monday morning.

Danny, thinking about all this in the breakroom, has to force himself to pay attention to Aiden's answer to his question.

She shrugs. "Had a date on Saturday -- nobody special, before you ask -- then I went to my parents' house for dinner yesterday."


"Yeah. My brother Tomas brought his new girlfriend." She pauses, then shakes her head. "Don't think he'll be seeing her much longer."


"Very, very bad. Apparently she'd been doing a little...celebrating before they came over."

"Ooh." Danny winces. From things Aiden has said before about her family, he's sure that didn't go over too well.

"Yeah, no kidding."

"Well, maybe she was just getting into the spirit of May Day. Or, like, gettin' ready for a labor uprising later in the afternoon." Danny takes a sip of coffee, then notices the way Aiden is staring at him. "What? It could happen."

"Labor uprising? Where do you get this stuff?"

"Hey, May Day is a traditional day for staging labor actions. Like the Haymarket and all that." Danny puts on his best serious face. "Look it up."

"Look you up," Aiden mutters, but doesn't make a move to hit him, because Mac walks in right about then.

They both greet him; Mac mumbles something that, Danny supposes, approximates "Good morning," and heads right for the coffeepot. Right: don't talk to Mac until he's had his first cup of coffee. They all know this, even if some of them have learned the hard way, and even if Stella regularly ignores the unofficial dictum.

"So tell me this, smart guy: if May Day is for going wild in spring and striking workers unite, how do you get from that to yellin' 'mayday' to signal danger?" Aiden asks him in a low voice.

Danny considers this, and starts to say something a few times, and even gestures once or twice as if about to make some meaningful statement, then finally gives up and sits back in his chair with a shrug. "Now, that, I do not know," he says.

"Maybe you should look that up," Aiden says.

"Or I could just, y'know, ask." He glances around, thinking, and then decides it's a safe enough topic to broach, even at this hour. Besides, sleeping with the boss has to have some privileges, even if no one can know about it.

"Hey, Mac," Danny says. "This is the kinda thing you would know. What's the deal with callin' out 'mayday' when someone's in trouble?"

Mac looks up. "Well, use of the term has expanded into the general public's vernacular over the years, but it's primarily a ship's distress call."

"Right, but why?" Danny asks. "What's putting out an SOS got to do with, like, gathering flowers and dancing around the Maypole and shit?"

"It doesn't." Mac pours his coffee and comes over to the table. "It's a corruption of the French for 'help me': m'aidez. U.S. ships have been using it as an official distress call for years."

"Huh," Aiden says, which means she doesn't know what else to say.

"Of course," Mac says, "the problem is that it's only supposed to be used in cases of 'grave and imminent danger', according to Maritime bylaws. Too many braindead tourists end up using it every time the sky gets a little cloudy, or because they can't figure out how to start their boat engine. You want to piss off the Coast Guard? Put out a mayday call because you forgot your barbecue grill on shore and are too tired to go back."

"You're making that one up," Danny says.

Mac shakes his head. "Happened to an officer I knew down in the Outer Banks."

"Unreal," Aiden says. "And I never woulda guessed that 'mayday' came outta the French. Learn somethin' new every day."

Mac doesn't say anything more, but he looks pleased. These are some of the moments that Danny is most fond of Mac, when he gets to watch him talk about something he knows all the facts about and that he finds interesting, especially if it's something obscure. It's a side of Mac that none of them get to see enough, and Danny sometimes is tempted to come up with arcane topics to ask him about, just so that he can catch a glimpse of what he might be like if he were less burdened with responsibility, or less cautious about opening up and letting himself go. It's nice to watch. His face kind of lights up, and he starts to sound enthusiastic, and he seems almost...happy.

So it's a good start to the week, as far as Danny is concerned, because he carries that moment with him for the rest of the day. Not that he's going all sappy or any kind of bullshit like that, fuck no, but's nice. And it's nice that all the recent drama seems to be settling down to its usual maintenance levels. He's reluctant, even now, to say that everything is one hundred percent back to normal, or whatever passes for normal around here, but he's beginning to think that it might turn out okay. He's learning, or maybe relearning, how to let it go and stay in the moment, instead of thinking about their argument over and over again, or focusing on all the ways Mac has slighted him in the past; this is progress.

Mac hasn't brought up the whole misdemeanor statue guy thing again, and Danny hasn't lost his temper with Mac once in the past nine days or so. Well, mostly he hasn't, anyway. If he's been annoyed at him a time or two, or has occasionally felt a flash of anger dating back to the Reyes case, he's managed to take a deep breath and concentrate on other things until the urge to cut Mac to verbal shreds passes. Keeping it to himself counts as not losing his temper, right? He thinks that it does, and his luck holds for the rest of Monday, and through Tuesday and even into Wednesday.

Danny is just starting to think that things might kinda sorta be okay. Then a man leaps out of a closet at a scene, and Danny chases after him, and what had been, up until then, an ordinary Wednesday afternoon, falls apart in a heartbeat.




It begins and ends in gunfire, just the way too many things always do in this city. Danny, freaked but not firing blind, he'll swear on a stack of Bibles to that, thinks later that somehow it should feel different when you fire a killing shot, that the feel of the gun in your hand should change, maybe grow heavier or colder, or that when you hit your target a bell should ring and a light should flash, like at a shooting gallery when all the ducks get knocked down.

But that doesn't happen, and it's all over within seconds. It's not true that time slows down in the midst of a life-threatening situation, or it's not true for Danny, at least not this time. If he might have expected that the seconds would elongate into minutes and that the fabric of time itself would seem to distort, as it did the night in Memphis his baseball career ended, he was doomed to be disappointed. The whole thing is a blur of sound and light and movement, and then it's over and Danny is staring down at a corpse stretched on the platform. He did that; he shot someone, and here he was hoping he'd be one of those lucky cops, and never have to fire his gun his whole career.

Mac is there, too, and he looks angry and afraid, and Danny is vaguely aware of a pain in his forehead and a thin trickle of something that's probably not sweat just above his eye, but all he can focus on for the moment is that he's alive.

And then he's wishing he weren't.

He stares into the distance, determined to keep his eyes turned from the body as long as possible, not wanting to see the truth that's about to be revealed. For no reason at all, he thinks of Wile E. Coyote, how he's fine after stepping off the edge of a mesa, at least until he looks down.

Danny looks down.

The corpse is wearing a shiny brass NYPD detective's badge; Danny tilts off the edge of the known world just like that, lost in the blank space of the map labeled Here Be Monsters.

Just like that; just on a Wednesday afternoon.




"How are you doing?" Stella asks. She's managed to corner him in the hallway; Danny would prefer not to talk to anyone, especially anyone who is as tight with Mac as Stella is, but she's got his back to the wall and she is, Christ knows, relentless.

"Oh, you know," he says. "Couldn't be better." He seems to exist in a great cocoon of silence these days; no one quite dares to talk to him unless they have to, and when he does open his mouth to speak, to witnesses or suspects, his voice comes out rusty with disuse. He has to clear his throat several times to make himself understood.

Stella's eyes are skeptical and concerned. "How's it feel, being back in the field?" she asks.

"It's fine."

She pauses, then says, "Danny, I'm sorry I wasn't around more when you were going through the IAB investigation. I would have been, but -- "

"Stella." He holds up a hand. "It's okay. I know you had a case of your own. 'Sides, I'm cleared. What difference does it make now?"

"But..." She pauses again, then says, quickly, as if she wants to get it out before she can change her mind, "I offered to come onto the Minhas case when I heard what was happening."

"You did?" This is news to Danny; Stella had been out of the lab most of that week, and he had assumed that her knowledge had been peripheral, at best, at least until after the fact.

She nods, looking nervous in a way that he doesn't usually associate with Stella. "Yeah. Mac said no, told me to stick to my own case."

"Did he, now?"

"Yes. I -- he was technically right, I suppose; I'd been allocated and I needed to finish what I'd started. But I thought that for something like this...well, it just seemed like the whole team should be together."

Danny feels the by-now familiar humiliation burning in his chest. "And Mac disagreed. Of course he did. Well, what the hell, right? Aiden and Flack handled it just fine, and IAB's off my back for now. It's all water under the bridge, don'tcha think?"

"Mac worked the case hard, too, Danny," Stella says. "Just...remember that, even if he doesn't show it, okay?"

"He tell you I'm off the promotion grid?"

Stella sighs. "Yes."

"That tells me everything I need to know." That, and the other things Mac had said in his office that night, about the people who had warned him not to hire Danny in the first place. Who? Danny had been left wondering. Just tell me who, give me that much at least. Although he can guess.

There had been no indication in Mac's eyes or voice that night that he was talking to someone he'd been to bed with a number of times. No hint that he remembered having Danny's cock in his mouth, or kissing him like they were both drowning. If there had been even one moment, one second, where Mac's stance had softened, when he had looked at Danny with something approaching warmth or concern in his eyes...but there hadn't been, and Mac's eyes had held no more human emotion than two chips of steel.

"Not everything," Stella says.

"Stella, look -- "

"No, Danny," she says. "You listen. Whatever happened with your promotion status, Mac...he's in your corner. Try to keep that in mind."

"My corner, right." Danny laughs. "Thanks for trying, Stella; I really do appreciate it. But I know which way the wind blows. Now, if you'll excuse me, I gotta hit the men's room before I head down to DNA. This knife in my back is starting to chafe."

He leaves her there without waiting for a response.




Danny's arm aches clear up to his shoulder, a burning, stabbing pain that seems to have settled into the marrow of his bones. The icepack Aiden slapped on him earlier didn't help, and now he's attempting to anesthetize his pain in a much more basic way: with a fifth of whiskey.

They had to go and get themselves a baseball-related case, of course they did. That was bad enough in itself, having to go all the way up to Yankee Stadium to pick over row after row of seats for evidence. The real cake-topper, though, was Mac deciding that they needed to test the speed of a pitch, and appointing him the one to do it. In a way, maybe, it's his own fault, because he's never told Mac the real story behind his injury, nor the true severity of it, and he didn't offer up a word of protest when Mac hauled out the radar gun and told him to get busy. And at Mac's blunt orders -- "Harder. Faster." -- it had cost him every ounce of self-control he had not to snap out an obscenity about how Mac ought to know just how hard and fast he was capable of going.

He gulps the whiskey, which he hasn't bothered to cut with club soda or anything else, and winces as he swallows it down. He remembers seeing Stella do shot after shot of Jack Daniel's without flinching, remembers Flack and Mac staring at her in horror and awe when she did it, and wonders if her throat is possibly made out of iron; there's a dirty joke in there somewhere, but he's too tired and too annoyed at the world to make anything of it.

It's Friday night and Mac hasn't been by. Danny knows he won't be ringing the bell, not tonight and not tomorrow, either. He's not sure he really cares, either; he's not staying home and drinking by himself tonight because of any foolish hope that Mac will come over, but because he can't bear the thought of sitting in a bar and drinking with others, least of all with anyone from work. There's one reason, and only one, that he might even consider stirring from his apartment tonight, and it has nothing to do with Mac or with anyone else he knows.

What he needs right now is a stranger; he's been thinking about that all day. Someone who has no idea who he is, and no idea of his recent misdeeds. Someone who'll take him home, or out into an alley, and put unconcerned alien hands all over him, who will be receptive to his swollen lips and sultry, half-lidded gazes. Who will fold like a house of cards when he spreads his legs and strokes his cock, and lets them lick come off his fingers. It would be so easy and so simple.

It's not as if he and Mac ever had a real relationship, or anything more than a vaguely defined "this," much less declared any kind of exclusivity. Mac hasn't said the words to him, or any words at all beyond what he has to, but Danny believes it's over all the same. The lecture in Mac's office, and his final words then -- "We won't be having this conversation again" -- told him all he needed to know. Mac and his goddamn precious reputation; he's chosen the department over Danny, and Danny is fine with that. At least, now, he knows where he stands, and he's free to fuck whoever he wants.

But he stops himself. Going out and fucking a stranger is just the kind of thing Sonny Sassone's boy would do, and just the kind of thing that Mac would expect of someone who he was warned not to hire. There's a certain satisfaction in living up (or down) to that expectation, but Danny also thinks that it would satisfy Mac just a little too much, and so, always contrary, he won't do it.

And maybe there's a tiny part of him that still hopes, in spite of everything, that Mac will forgive him, that Mac will, one day soon, apologize and say he still trusts Danny, and put him back on the promotion grid, and then take him to bed and kiss him and fuck him back into respectability.

It's this small, stubborn hope that makes Danny hate himself, and consequently Mac, most of all.

The bar in Memphis feels very close tonight, the pain in his arm bringing the whole thing back in clear relief. And maybe that's something else for which he can lay the blame at Mac's feet, because even if Mac doesn't know that story, he does know that Danny quit baseball when he broke his wrist, and he ought to maybe, just for a minute, stopped to consider that asking Danny to pitch -- not just a casual throw, but fastballs over and over again -- might, just possibly, cause him physical pain.

Of course, being Mac, the thought had probably never crossed his mind. And now Danny's arm is on fire, thanks to him, and his head is throbbing with whiskey and ignominy.

He thinks maybe he never left that bar, that somehow, some way, he's still stretched out on top of a pool table in a town south of the Mason-Dixon line, far away from home and waiting for a pool cue to smash down on his wrist, for his bones to grind and shatter and for the scream to scrape his throat raw.

"Mayday," he whispers, and in the back of his mind he hears fiddle music.

iv. Memorial Day

Blood splatters across Mac's face, and although he doesn't let up on the pressure he's applying to the gunshot wound in Amy Madoff's chest, for a second it takes him somewhere else entirely, and he wouldn't be surprised to look up and see a windswept desert vista in front of him instead of the inside of a coffee shop in the East Village, or a deserted street in a city that was creating art and math and philosophy when most of Europe was still sunk in the deep dark ages, and North America was little more than rumor and fairy tale.

He breathes, concentrates on what he's doing, and presses down as hard as he can; bright arterial blood coats his hands, and he feels a hot, dry wind against his face, hears the screams of dying soldiers around him. He knows where he is the entire time, knows that this is New York City in the 21st century and not Beirut in 1983 or Sarajevo in 1990, but along with the feel of the blood on his face comes the sharp scent in his nostrils, and there's nothing as potent as smell for bringing back a memory full-force. He tries not to think of the other times he's had someone else's blood splashed across his face, or of the times he knelt over dying fellow Marines and felt overwhelmed with helplessness and guilt.

But Amy isn't going to die, and this is a problem with a simple solution. The paramedics have been called; he'll stay here with her until they arrive and make sure she doesn't bleed out, and after that she'll go to the hospital, and chances are that she'll be restored to physical health with very little trouble. Maybe she'll have an interesting scar on her chest to carry with her as a mark of the day. It'll be the other scars, the psychic and emotional ones, that won't be as clearly visible to the naked eye, and that will take longer to heal. She may spend the rest of her life flinching every time a car backfires, or a glass shatters, but that can't be helped.

Mac doesn't think about the possibility of his own death, even before the bullets stop flying and the gunman goes bolting out the door onto Avenue C; it's not that he has a death wish, or that he's careless of his safety. It's that he's a survivor.

There's a moment for quiet in the aftermath of the shooting, after the ambulance has taken Amy Madoff away and his team has arrived, but before he gets fully entrenched in the business of gathering evidence. He takes this moment to gather his thoughts, and to get himself out of the mindset of a witness and into the mindset of a detective. It's a strange and disconcerting thing, this business of finding himself on the opposite side of the investigation; he feels awkward standing around and giving orders in his gym clothes, even with the CSU jacket zipped up over his t-shirt, but it can't be helped. He concentrates, breathing in and out, telling himself that now isn't the time to keep thinking back to those few minutes of battlefield surgery, or about the woman's business card in his pocket. The latter is something he's going to have to consider in greater detail later, but for now...the job.

Being a survivor also means that he knows how to prioritize, and that he understands the proper proportion of things. It means that he knows how to avoid the mistakes that get others killed, or cause them to lose their way; if sometimes he takes brief and ultimately unwise detours, he always finds his way back to the path eventually. It's when he lets down his guard, even a little bit, that things begin to go wrong, and he thinks, as he heads back into the coffee shop to see how the collection of evidence is proceeding, that maybe his presence at the shooting wasn't just an accident, and that the implied warning couldn't have been more timely. It might not have been mere coincidence, either, that he'd spent that whole morning up until then thinking about Danny.




He was on the treadmill and trying to get into the zone, and it wasn't working; his mind kept circling restlessly around and around the same old worry. Normally his workouts were a way to focus his thoughts. He'd calm down after a long week and let the physical activity burn away some of the stress. Sometimes, especially at this time of year, he liked to go running outside. It was a good way of getting back in touch with the rhythms of the city, a way to see how different neighborhoods and streets connected to each other.

Most times, though, he stuck to the treadmill at this little rundown gym. It was more businesslike, somehow, and made him feel more like he was getting a real workout, and less like he was just out for an accelerated stroll. When he was on the treadmill, too, he didn't have to worry about things like traffic or potential muggers, or even about bumping into anyone. He could just run, and let everything else go.

Because of that, it was also a method of focusing his mind; frequently, when he was wound up in knots over one problem or another -- generally a thorny case that he couldn't, for the life of him, seem to solve -- he'd go for a run and let it clear his head, and more often than not, he'd come up with a new way of approaching the problem, or an idea about how to look at it.

Today, it wasn't working. His head was all over the place, and no matter how hard he tried to just concentrate on the rhythm of his pounding feet, to let his pace coordinate with his breathing, he couldn't. He turned it over and over in his mind, and even tried things like adjusting the rate and the incline on the treadmill; none of it worked. Finally, somewhere around mile five, it occurred to him what the trouble was: he was trying as hard as he could not to think about the things that were on his mind, was trying to push them away just like he'd been doing since it had all first happened. But that wasn't the point of running; the point was to work through the problems, not push them aside.

All of the things that he was able to not think about, or somehow justify to himself, had finally become too much to ignore. He was going to have to deal with it sooner or later anyway; he may have handled the professional problem with Danny (and handled it to the best of his ability, he told himself), but he hadn't dealt with the personal one in the least. So it was time to let it go, and to review the whole thing.

There was something inherently unreliable in Danny, he had decided, that he had ignored at great cost. He felt badly conned, and badly used; he had allowed himself to fall into the trap of Danny's charm and Danny's smile, and had ignored all the other warning signs that have been there for years, all for the sake of...what? A few evenings of physical pleasure? Of not having to go home to his empty apartment and stare at the walls until dawn?

The entire spring, this whole crazy spring that is beginning to seem like nothing more than a fever dream, he had been caught up in something that wasn't him. Something that had nothing to do with being a Marine or being a police detective, nothing to do with who he really was, any more than -- he hesitated, and even faltered in his running pace for half a step, then let himself think it -- his clandestine encounters with Abernathy all those years ago had anything to do with what he thought of as his real life. That was then, and what had happened with Danny was now, but it was about to become part of then, something he could put aside now that he'd come to realize, just in time (or so it felt), how close he had come to risking everything.

That he had fallen for the charm, that he'd been blind enough to do so, was one of the things that burned the most. A question kept recurring to him: How dare you? There were so many ways to finish it, too: how dare you shoot that cop? Defy my orders. Get the story wrong.

Kiss me like that. Touch me. Make me want you in my bed.

Make me want you. Make me worry about you.

If he'd thought he could let any of this happen, even for a little while, it had finally been made clear to him, in the harshest fashion possible, how foolish that was.

He thought about all of this as he ran, and he wondered why he had hesitated to think about this for even a second; it was all so clear and so simple, what his course of action had to be. All he had to do, really, was keep doing what he'd been doing since it happened, and everything would work out just fine. He could write off the spring as some sort of temporary madness, and go about the business of getting on with the rest of his life.

That's the other part of being a survivor: knowing how to let go, and being willing to do it.




And now he's become the crime scene, just like Danny; the irony of this doesn't escape him.

Of course, in his case, the blood and bullet wounds weren't even potentially caused by his gun or his actions, so maybe there's not such a similarity there after all.




It's not until late that night, sitting in his office and going over tox reports from the coffee shop, that he recalls the business card he'd shoved into his pocket that morning. He'd told himself that it was going to have to wait until after the case, but he needs to take a few minutes and give his eyes a rest, so after a moment or two of thought, he fishes it out of his jacket and sets it down on the desk, centering it on top of the stack of papers.

He had gotten little impression of Rose beyond the superficial; there hadn't been time for that. She's pretty, and she seems nice enough. But is she what he wants?

He reminds himself that this isn't anywhere close to being a long-term thing. He's not being asked to make a commitment; he's just being asked to go out for a drink.

He touches his wedding ring lightly, turning the band around on his finger. His assumption is that Rose never noticed it, because otherwise, why would she have asked him out in the first place? Not noticing implies a certain inattention to detail that he's not entirely comfortable with. Stella would have noticed a wedding ring in a second; he knows this, because he's heard her talk about the married men who sometimes try to pick her up in bars, and how she zeroes in on the ring on their left hand, or the tan line left by a ring that's been taken off for the night. Perhaps that's not a fair comparison, though, because Stella is a criminalist like him, and trained to notice the small details.

Then again, so is Danny, and he had never commented on Mac's wedding ring, either, though that doesn't mean he didn't notice it.

It had never struck Mac as a contradiction in terms that he'd kept wearing his ring even when he was fucking Danny, that he'd never thought, even in passing, that he should take it off. One thing had nothing to do with the other, and the thought of taking the ring off had never crossed his mind at all until Stella asked him about it that day in the lab. He had thought very little about Claire in general, really, the whole time he was with Danny, probably because, although she's often at the back of his mind otherwise, one thing had nothing to do with the other. Just like he had never thought about Jack Abernathy when he was with Claire. Danny had never asked him about the ring, anyway, or about Claire. Thank God for that, because he doesn't know what he would have said.

Mac has made it his business to find the connections in things; as much as he says that everything is connected, though, and believes it, he also keeps in mind that some things are truly not connected, that there are no invisible strings holding them together, no causal relationship. He believes in Veneziano, but he also believes that John Donne was wrong: some men are islands.

It's not that he's unaware of Danny's presence in the lab, even now. But Danny has had work to do that keeps him away from Mac for the most part, sometimes by accident and sometimes by design, and Mac thinks that it will get easier, as time goes on, to look Danny in the eye and not think about anything but work.

Sometimes he feels a physical itch, nothing so complex or deep as desire or even lust. He doesn't have a name for what it is, but when he feels it for too long and it doesn't go away, he masturbates in the shower or in the quiet dark of his bedroom; and if it's Danny's face he sees when he comes, biting his lip to hold back the moan, he tells himself he can't control his subconscious, and that this, too, will pass.

He touches the business card again, then lifts it between two fingers. Maybe this little rectangle of off-white bond paper, with its neatly-printed name and scrawled address, is a ticket out of this whole mess. Then again, it might be a hidden trap of its own. The lady or the tiger?

He's not sure which, and doesn't think he'll be able to parse the problem, at least not tonight. He has a little more time before he needs to make a decision about it one way or the other, and so he considers for a few moments more, then puts the card away in his wallet, and turns back to his reports.




"We good?" Danny asks, and Mac wants to look away from the eagerness and fear in his face.

"We'll see," he says, and this time he does look away, although not in time to avoid seeing the way Danny's face falls, or the way he seems to crumple against the doorframe. This is unfair, he thinks: surely Danny understands the situation by now, so why press things like this?

Then Stella is coming up the stairs, and Danny is pushing past her, no longer looking at either one of them. Stella watches him go, looking bewildered, and Mac manages to be dismissive about the entire subject once the two of them are alone in his office, which turns out to be not as difficult to do as he might have thought, given that even he has to admit she's wearing an absolute jaw-dropper of a dress, one that shows a mile of leg and just about as much cleavage.

Throughout their conversation, even as they talk about less fraught things, like Hawkes' application to work in the field, Mac is aware of two things: Danny's psych eval, which is sitting on his desk along with all the other paperwork, and the decision he's come to. Eventually he's going to have to read the eval, because he has to sign off on it, but in truth he neither wants nor needs to know the contents. All he needs to know is that Danny is fit for fieldwork, and then they can move on and put the spring behind them once and for all.

When Stella figures out that he's actually going to meet Rose for a drink, her face lights up, and then she's teasing him and fussing over him, and he has to smile, even when she pulls the tie from his neck and flings it to one side. This is normal. This is good.

He waits for her to leave before he locks up the office and goes outside to find a cab.




Traffic moves slowly on the cab ride downtown, and he stares out of the window most of the way, still wondering if he's doing the right thing. It's time, he said to Stella, and he believes this to be true. It's time to put the past behind him and get out into the world again, because this is the done thing, and he can't abide any more conversations like the one he had with Nina Wilkey that day on Greene Street. He realizes, too, how lucky he was that he and the department didn't get caught in the fallout from Danny's misadventures with IAB any more than he did, and that his own private encounters with Danny have remained a secret. It was very bad all around; it could have been worse.

He absently touches his left ring finger, wondering how long it will take for him to get used to the ring no longer being there. Right now he feels as disconcerted as he has on the rare mornings when he's walked out of his apartment without his watch; he keeps getting that nagging feeling that he's forgotten something, and then he has to remind himself that the ring isn't forgotten or lost; it's locked in a drawer in his office. He doesn't know what he's going to do with it from here on in, because this doesn't seem secure enough for a permanent solution, but it'll do for now.

He looks out the cab window at the lights and the buildings going by, and tries to think about nothing at all until the cab pulls up to the curb outside Quartino, and he steps out onto the sidewalk, into a warm late-spring night. The little waterfront neighborhood is quiet, the streets nearly deserted; looking up and down the block he sees only an occasional car going by, and no pedestrians. The bar, however, is busy, almost all of its seats filled with patrons talking and sipping their drinks in the half-light. Peering through the darkness, he doesn't see Rose anywhere, and glances at his watch; it's still two minutes before eight o'clock.

To occupy himself while he waits, he studies the crowd. There are no cops here, he thinks, or firefighters. This is the financial district set, sleek in silk and wool. He watches them, huddled into little groups of two or three or four, whispering and laughing to each other; a woman at the bar reaches out and touches her companion's arm to make a point, and he smiles into her face and leans in close.

If Mac turns his eyes to the street, he'll be able to see nearly all the way to the tip of Manhattan Island. He doesn't turn.

He's beginning to feel a sense of creeping doubt now, like cold fingers up his spine, and wonders if he shouldn't just forget the whole thing and go back to the lab. He came here more or less on impulse, and it was impulse that caused him to drift into his liaison with Danny. He's just about decided to go see about hailing another cab when Rose arrives, and he greets her, thinking that it's probably for the best after all; he's made his decision, and there's no backing out of it now.




Almost nobody has a true poker face, Mac believes. Every card player, no matter how good, has some kind of tell; it's just a matter of knowing what to look for. If they're able to keep their eyes and mouth impassive, look at their cheek or their jaw. There might be a muscle twitching, or they might be chewing the inside of their lip. If that fails, look at their hands, see how they move, if they start to fiddle with a ring or a watch. Listen for a tapping foot, or for any sign that they're talking more or less than usual. Once the tell reveals itself, that's not the end of the work: next comes figuring out what it means. Most people start their give-aways when they're losing, but not all. Mac remembers a recruit at Parris Island who used to whistle "Yellow Rose of Texas" whenever he came up with a good hand.

The same is true of perps and suspects in the box, and of ordinary, everyday people. There's always a demarcation between what they want others to see, to believe, and what the truth is. It may be a hairline crack, or the gap between a subway car and the edge of the platform, or it may be the Gulf of Mexico. It's just a matter of knowing what to look for.

Rose talks with her hands, fluttering gestures like moths in candlelight, and her voices rises and falls with the rhythm of her words, and she looks into his face frequently, as if trying to gauge his reactions to the things she says. That she's nervous is perfectly obvious, as is her eagerness to please; her tells are neither subtle nor unusual. What he hasn't quite figured out yet is what lies beneath the nerves and the eagerness.

He realizes that he's thinking about this instead of listening to her, and makes an effort to pull himself back to the conversation. She's a nice woman, he thinks. She likes him; she asked him out for a drink. There's nothing more to it than that, no sinister hidden motivation he needs to be seeking. He tells himself this.

"Did you have any trouble finding the place?" she asks.

"No, no trouble," he says.

"That's good. I know the streets down here can be a bit confusing sometimes. And I don't know where your office is, so..." She frowns a little when she says the word "office," probably realizing its inaccuracy.

"I work out of the 12th," he says.

"The 12th?"

Civilian, he thinks, and reminds himself not to slip into lingo. "12th Precinct. On Mulberry. But my team and I handle scenes for the entire city."

She nods. "I wasn't sure how all of that worked. It must keep you busy."

He used to have to explain things to Claire, too, back when they were first seeing each other. The life of an NYPD officer was as alien to her as the life of a Maori warrior would have been, and she had similarly little clue about what his time in the Marine Corps would have been like. But she asked what he considered intelligent questions, and, at least in the early years, she was always interested in his answers.

He thought, back then, that he liked having at least one part of his life that wasn't inextricably bound up with the Corps or the department, one person who didn't know what it was like to have a landmine go off not twenty feet away, or to stick gloved hands inside a still-warm corpse to extract a bullet. He could come home at night and not have to be a cop or an ex-soldier (still a soldier, just in a different war); he hadn't yet figured out that it was impossible to slip back into the skin of a civilian once you'd seen things from the other side.

As time goes on, he finds himself with less and less desire to maintain any strong connections to the civilian world. That lack of understanding that had once looked like such a virtue now strikes him as far more of a liability, and possibly a lethal one. Any average civilian, picked at random from passersby on the street, is only one or two steps away from becoming a perp or a vic, or at the very least a witness. Where, once, entangling himself with any of them had seemed an acceptable risk, it now seems to border on irresponsibility to let his life skirt too close to any of theirs.

He'd rather just do his work, then go grab dinner or a beer with (say) Stella. Stella, for all her insults and nagging, will never ask him to be something he's not, and she knows the art of warfare, because she's down in the trenches with him. She'll never ask him for a definition of "epithelial," and she knows what a body smells like after three days of decomp in a poorly ventilated apartment.

Or if he asks Danny to --

No. Not Danny. Danny is a poor example.

He bites down on the inside of his lip, hard enough that he tastes blood. His focus needs to be on the here and now, on Rose and their conversation. The past needs to remain the past. He plays back Rose's last sentence in his head; fortunately, there's only been a second or two of lag time in between her statement and his tuning back into the discussion.

"It does keep us pretty busy," he says.

Now, maybe, is the part where he's supposed to tell her that he's head of the department. Impress her, let her know he's not just another detective. But he can't think of any way to say it that doesn't sound like bragging, so he asks, instead, what she would like to drink.

"A cosmopolitan, please," she says.

The bartender nods, and looks at him. He should stick to club soda, just in case his pager goes off; it wouldn't do to show up at a scene with whiskey on his breath. Live a little, he decides, and says, "Screwdriver," thinking that vodka has no smell, and that the tang of orange juice on his mouth will raise no questions.

It's a mild night, and the place has patio seating, but when Rose suggests that they sit outside, he asks if she wouldn't mind an indoor table instead. She looks surprised, and a little embarrassed, but says only, "Oh, sure," and they wind their way through the crowd to a table against the far wall. It's bad enough that, out of all the neighborhoods in New York City, his first date in almost four years has to take place at the very tip of the island, in the shadow (or rather, lack of shadow) of two crumbled buildings. He's not going to sit outside and breathe in that air, or try not to look at the hole in the skyline, and have the inevitable New Yorker conversation about what happened.

As they sit down across from each other at one of the high, round tables, there are a few moments where they're getting settled and arranging their drinks, and when Rose isn't looking at him. He reaches up to adjust his tie, then remembers that he isn't wearing one, and tugs at his collar instead, as if that was what he meant to do all along. Not wearing a tie when he's in his work clothes feels almost as disconcerting as not wearing his wedding ring. The only thing he's been left with is his detective's pin, and he brushes his fingers over that as he lowers his hand. Still there; not all of his outward touchstones have been stripped away, then, even if introducing himself to Rose had felt awkward when he realized that tacking on "Detective" to the front of it was inappropriate in this situation, and that he had no qualifying statement to follow it. I'm Detective Mac Taylor. I'm here to ask you a few questions about your wife's murder. To dust for prints. To photograph the body. The much simpler I'm Mac Taylor had felt all wrong, incomplete, and he's sure that Rose never noticed, just the way she won't, although she can probably guess at its meaning if she happens to notice it, fully understand the significance of the pin.

Rose takes a sip of her drink, then sets it carefully down on a napkin near the center of the table, and smiles at him. "Is it good?" he asks, nodding at her drink, because he doesn't know what else to say.

She nods. "Very. How about yours?"

He hasn't even tried it yet. He takes a drink and find that it's very strong, more vodka than orange juice, and says, "It's good."

After a pause, she says, "I'm really glad you came here tonight. Like I said, I wasn't sure if you would, and...well, after what happened on Saturday, I don't think I'd blame you if you just decided that I was some kind of bad luck magnet, and stayed away for your own safety."

He looks at her in surprise. "Bad luck? No. It was just...just bad timing, that's all." He thinks of something he can say, and adds, "We made an arrest, you'll be interested to know."

Her eyes widen. "You did? Oh, thank God. I'm so glad to hear that. And the girl from the coffee shop, is she...I mean..."

"She's going to be fine. Might be looking for a new boyfriend, though."

It takes her a second to get it; when she does, her eyes get even wider. "You mean that he -- "

"Unfortunately, yes. Not that it was ever his intention to get her mixed up in his criminal activities, much less get her shot, but these things have a way of getting out of control." He takes another drink, feeling more secure now, or at least on more certain ground.

"And how did you figure all this out?" she asks. "That's what just blows my mind, I guess. I mean, that you can work with bullets and things like that, and use them to solve all these crimes."

"It..." He pauses, trying to think how to explain the process to her. He doesn't even know where to begin; they have no common language in this area, and he knows -- remembers, from past experience -- that even the simplest explanation will require a lot of backing and filling in order to give her even a rudimentary understanding of all the things he takes for granted. "It takes a lot of very dull, very technical work," he says at last, thinking that it's not dull at all, except to an outsider. "Simply put, we follow the evidence. We...look at little pieces of things, and then we put them together in order to see the whole. If I'm doing my job right, I don't notice the forest for the trees until the very end."

She laughs at that, to his surprise; he's tried that explanation before, and it usually engenders a blank stare. "I'm sorry," she says, and covers her mouth, perhaps mistaking his startled look for annoyance. "It just...when you said that, I couldn't help thinking that your work doesn't sound too much different from what I do."

He looks at her, and she goes on. "Which is ridiculous, of course, because they couldn't be more different. I'm an associate editor at Harper Collins. When I'm editing something, I have to do the same thing -- look at the forest and ignore the trees. Although the authors seem to like it if I look up and notice, occasionally, that the trees are there."

"And perhaps take note of whether they're oaks or spruce?" he asks.

She smiles again. "Something like that, yes."

Mac can't think of anything to say in response, and so, to cover his silence, takes a long drink of his screwdriver, and then another.

They're both quiet for a minute or two, and Mac can't help taking another glance around the room to see what's what. People are still talking, still sitting at tables or at the bar in their original configurations (as far as he can tell), and nothing is very much different than it was when he first walked in here.

Rose fiddles with the straw in her cosmopolitan, and pushes a strand of hair back behind her ear, and then says, "You know, one of the reasons that I asked you out for a drink -- well, aside from the obvious, that I wanted to get to know you better -- is that I always saw you at the coffee shop on Saturday mornings, and you were always alone." She looks into his face. "And I thought that if you were eating breakfast by yourself all the time, then it might mean that you were free to have a drink with me."

At first he's puzzled, and wonders why she's stating the obvious. Then he looks at the expression in her eyes, a slight tension there combined with the firm line of her lips, as if she's preparing herself for his answer, and plays her words back in his mind. This time he hears the sense of them, instead of just the words themselves, and all the hidden Indians fall into place. She's trying to make sure that he's as single as he must appear to her eyes, that he's not seeing anyone she doesn't know about. Fair enough, he thinks; it's good that she asks this now, early in the game, instead of later when it might be too late to undo things. And it's a good question to ask.

From the look on her face, he guesses that if he were to tell her he had another woman waiting for him at home, she'd thank him for the drink and walk out of here right now, and screen her calls for a few weeks, just in case he turned out to be the sort of man to keep calling back: all this he extrapolates from her gaze and her brief speech, and from the way her hands, which she probably means to be folded neatly on the table in front of her, are knotting nervously together.

On the other hand, he can't help wondering how -- if she really was watching him every week and trying to talk herself into coming over and saying hello -- she never happened to notice his wedding ring. It comes back, again, to her being a civilian, and thus unobservant. In certain ways, this will make things easier tonight, because she's not now going to notice the sudden absence of his ring, when it never caught her eye in the first place. But in other ways...well, just as he's used to being around people who know the cop game from the inside out, he's used to spending his time in the company of people who are trained to notice the small details. Rose may be able to distinguish one tree from another when she's wandering deep in the forest of a manuscript, but she doesn't bring the same skills to the table in other aspects of her life. Not the way he does.

He considers his words carefully, and swallows hard before he speaks. "You were right," he says, "about me being free," and her shoulders relax. "I'm not...involved with anyone, if that's what you were asking." It's true, he tells himself; he's not.

"I'm sorry if that was too forward," she says. "It's just...I prefer to know up front."

"That seems sensible," he says.

"And you're not married?" she asks. He can't keep the look of surprise from his face, and she starts fiddling with her hair again. "I'm sorry," she says. "I know that must seem like a ridiculous question, after you just said that you weren't involved with anyone, but, well, I do know of men who make a distinction between the two."

", I'm not married," he says after a pause.

"Good. That...that's good. I really am sorry -- "

"No." He holds up one hand. "Don't apologize. Caution is a worthwhile thing."

"True." She smiles at him. "A girl has to be careful, after all."

"Of course." He can feel his heart beating hard. He's told her the truth, he thinks, as far as it goes: he's not involved with anyone, and he's not married. She didn't ask if he ever had been married, only if he currently was. It's a sin of omission, nothing more, and he doesn't want to talk about Claire. He's not ready for the sympathy and probing questions that his widower status always seems to invite, and he sees no reason, at this stage, to let Rose in on his secrets. This is a casual drink, nothing more. If, by chance, they were to see each other again --

He won't let himself think about that. He can't plan that far ahead, can't even begin to consider the possibility, yet, that Rose may take up more than a few hours of his life. This is a night out, a way of signaling to himself that certain mistakes are things of the past. A chance at tabula rasa, charted in alcohol.

"Well," Rose says, and lifts her glass. "Here's to a good evening, then."

"Here's to that." He clinks his glass against hers and takes a drink, and she flashes another smile at him. Tabula rasa, he thinks again, and now, finally, he can feel the vodka starting to work a little bit. He's not anywhere near drunk, or even tipsy, because his tolerance is higher than that, but he feels the first slow wave of something that might just be relaxation, and he lets himself unwind just the smallest bit.

A fresh start. Everything about Rose is fresh; she hasn't been touched by any of the things he sees every day at crime scenes, and for her, too, he's something new. Tonight he can be...can be the man he would like to be. Can be, in her company, someone who hasn't written his life or his fate in blood and cordite, and who hasn't made ill-considered choices in who he chooses to associate with. He may never see her again after they walk out of here and go their separate ways, but he can still mark this evening as the turning over of a new leaf.

Thinking this, he feels a surge of gratitude toward Rose, and he looks at her, really sees her, for the first time all evening. In the soft light of the sconce on the wall behind her, her face has a rosy glow, and the shy smile that keeps darting across her face as she talks, which seems halfway unconscious, a nervous tic as much as anything else, makes her light up even more.

His gaze drifts lower, to the curve of her breast in the low-cut top, and for the first time he feels a deep-down stirring of...something. It's too low and quiet to be called lust or arousal, but it's something he hasn't felt in a long time -- because, of course, Danny doesn't count, and he could kick himself for even thinking that name while he's here with Rose -- and it catches him by surprise.

But there it is, and he keeps on looking at her, noticing, now, how white her bare neck and shoulders are against the pink dress. And, having noticed, he can't seem to stop noticing, can't take his eyes off her skin even as he's listening to her talk about her job and nodding in all the right places.

" Audrey and I and some other people from work are planning to go out to the Hamptons for Memorial Day next weekend. It's a really nice place, right across the road from the beach, and there's a hot tub on the back deck. It's just a great way to relax and unwind, get away from the city for a little bit. I think you'd like it."

"Probably," he says, with no idea of what he just agreed to.

"What about you?" she asks. "Do you get along well with the people you work with?"

"I..." He looks down into his drink. "Yes," he says, "I do." And then he looks back up at her, and knows that he has to get out of here, at least for a minute. He needs a breather.

"Do you -- " she begins, but he stands up before she can finish the sentence.

"Would you excuse me for a moment, please?" he asks.

"Oh, sure," Rose says, looking at him in surprise.

He nods. "I'll be right back."

He's relieved to find that the men's room is meant to hold only one person at the time, and that there's a working lock on the door. He throws the bolt and then turns, and presses his forehead and the palms of his hands against the cool plasterboard wall, and closes his eyes, and stands there breathing hard.

He can't do this. He. Cannot. Do. This. But he can; he is. And up until his abrupt exit from the table just now, he'd even been doing pretty well, hadn't he? Certainly Rose had seemed happy, and hadn't appeared to notice any discomfort on his part. (A mean little voice in the back of his head suggests that Rose doesn't notice much of anything, and he dismisses this as petty and unfair.) But maybe he was wrong in what he said to Stella; maybe it isn't time after all. He shouldn't be sitting there staring at a woman's breasts like some horny adolescent when she's trying to get to know him; he's too old to find himself getting aroused at one quick glimpse of cleavage, however nice the cleavage in question may be.

And he is not, above all, supposed to be thinking of Danny tonight. That's isn't...things don't work like that. He should focus on Rose; he should focus on his resolution to move forward and the decision he made not an hour before about being handed a fresh start. And he should, preferably, do this while concentrating his attention on their conversation, instead of on her body.

He should go seek Danny out and apologize to him.

This thought comes out of nowhere, and actually makes him open his eyes for a second, so that he's staring at the blue plaster in extreme close-up. Apologize for what? he asks himself. He has nothing to be sorry for, at least with Danny. Danny made his choices, and now he has to live with the consequences -- just as Mac is doing, only he, unlike Danny, is taking firm and positive steps to correct his errors.

He sighs, and shuts his eyes again. This is a random thought brought on by stress, and by a brief, irrational (if understandable) moment of anxiety about tonight's outing. After all, it is, he reminds himself, the first time he's been out for drinks with a woman in over four years, and the first time he's been on anything that could even remotely be termed a date, since even before the Towers fell he had, of course, been off the market for quite some time. It's only natural for him to experience this momentary awkwardness. Awkwardness does not, however, give him an excuse to slide back into his recent bad habits. (And that mean little voice speaks up again, asking him if he's sure that's all that Danny was, a bad habit. He quashes it.)

Forward, not back, he tells himself, standing up straight and reaching up to adjust the tie that's not there before he can stop himself. This night is the start of him getting his life, both personal and professional, back on track. Rose is waiting for him outside, and he smoothes his hair back, then straightens his shirt and cuffs, and goes back out to her.




It's late when they leave Quartino, and Rose lives nearby, so he offers to see her home. They walk along Peck Slip, a chilly night breeze lifting off the river, and he thinks that New York is never this silent -- except that down here, where the air smells like fish and many of the streets are still paved with cobblestones and tilt at odd angles, it is. Rose is quiet as they walk along, head bowed slightly against the wind, and he feels like he should say something, but nothing comes to mind.

They had talked more after he returned to the table, or at least Rose had talked, and he'd listened. For his part, he volunteered little, and tried to keep his answers brief when she asked him any question that he couldn't sidestep. He was wary, still, of saying anything that might prove to be too revealing, and so it was much easier to ask her questions that would prompt detailed responses. After awhile, he bought both of them another drink, and they kept the conversation going until Rose looked at her watch and said that she really had to get home, she had work in the morning, and that was when he had volunteered to play escort.

"Well," Rose says, and stops in front of an ivy-covered brick pre-war building. "This is me."

"It looks like a nice place."

"It is. Small, but...I like it. And it isn't as expensive as you might think. I sort of lucked out, I guess, and..." She stops talking and bites her lip, and looks up at him. "Thank you for having drinks with me," she says. "It was -- I had a nice time."

"I did, too." Is now the part where he should say he'd like to see her again, or is that presumptuous? He's not sure.

"That's good." She hesitates, then says, "Well...good night."

"Good night." He bends and kisses her, and he means it to be brief, but somehow it ends up lasting longer than he had intended. Warm mouth, the faint wax taste of lipstick, and there's a sweet floral scent that clings to her neck and hair; he puts his arms around her waist and keeps on kissing her, and at the end of it he presses a second kiss to her smooth cheek.

Her hands are still resting on his shoulders when he breaks the kiss and takes half a step back. She looks up at him, and her eyes are soft, her lipstick smudged just a little bit. "Mac," she says, and blinks. "Would you like to come upstairs for awhile?"

Not trusting himself to speak, he nods, and then follows her up the steps and into the dark front hallway.




The apartment is small, but painfully neat and decorated with care. She puts her purse down and switches on a lamp, and then he takes her in his arms again. Now that they're no longer on the street, he's better able to concentrate.

It's been a very long time since he's touched a woman like this, but it all comes back to him as he holds her. He can remember kissing other women, kissing Claire, remembers cupping a breast in his hand and women's legs around his waist, soft hair falling over his face and soft, all of it is soft; there's nothing to do but lose himself amid the tangle of limbs and mouth and gentle hands. He remembers all of this.

(He remembers kissing Danny, and it isn't ever soft, but sometimes there's something almost tender in it that makes him shiver and retreat into himself until the moment passes and he can just concentrate on the physical. Danny's face is usually rough with a couple of days' growth of beard and the stubble scrapes against his mouth when they kiss, leaving him with a prickly sensation of beard burn until he washes his face and slaps on some aftershave. Danny kisses him and it's good, it's tongue and teeth and hard mouth, Danny's tongue twining around his and Danny sucking on his lip, licking his mouth until it opens and it's hot and messy and a straight shot of arousal right down to his groin. It gets to where he doesn't care which one of them is in control of the kiss as long as whatever they do means that Danny will keep on kissing him, and will laugh sometimes in the middle of it out of pleasure, and touch his face and kiss him hard and rough so that he can't breathe.)

He kisses Rose and runs his hand slowly down her back, working his fingertips over each individual vertebrae until he hits the barrier of her dress, and then he moves his hand back to the top of her spine and starts over again. She must like it, because she puts her hand into his hair and holds him close.

(Danny will tug at his hair sometimes when they're kissing, or when they're in the middle of fucking, will tug hard enough to hurt, and the pain paradoxically just turns him on more, makes him harder, and the same happens when Danny bites his lip or drags his teeth along Mac's dick, because he's not kidding around when he does it, Mac finds the marks in his skin later on, but God, he likes it and it makes him want to do the same to Danny, dig his teeth or his fingers into him so that there'll be bruises later. He thinks that this is okay because it won't really hurt either of them, not really, because they both know when to stop, when just enough becomes too much and hurts so good crosses the line into something that can leave a permanent scar.)

Rose draws in a sharp breath when his grip on her tightens, and her hair tickles the side of his face as she moves her mouth against his and strokes the side of his jaw.

(And when he closes his eyes he can see, in the dark beneath the lids, Danny sprawled naked in bed next to him, satisfied smile as he jacks himself off or reaches out to work his hands slowly down Mac's torso, and he can hear the gasp Danny makes when he enters him.)

Rose pulls back from their kiss and takes a step away, and for a minute he thinks that she's going to ask him to leave, that this is moving too fast for her. But all she does is walk over to the lamp and fiddle with the dimmer switch until the room is bathed in shadows, and she's the only thing that's still visible, caught in silhouette in the small pool of light. She reaches up and begins to untie the halter at the back of her neck. Mac watches her fumble with it for a few seconds, then walks over and does it for her. The dress puddles around her feet, and she steps out of it as he turns her around to face him.

(He can see Danny right up until the moment he decides to walk away from all of this, and after that he tells himself that it just isn't going to matter anymore, ever.)

Her mouth opens, yielding, under his, and he falls into their kiss.

v. Summer Solstice

Danny draws the smoke deep into his lungs and settles himself more comfortably against the back wall of the precinct, then exhales slowly, letting the burn hit the back of his throat. He'd almost forgotten how good the nicotine rush feels, and he tilts his head back so that he's squinting into the setting sun, smirking to himself. He'll take his pleasure wherever he can find it, especially these days; all things considered, it hasn't been a bad day. He only caught one beat cop whispering snide remarks behind his back, and he's managed not to see Mac at all today. When he heard earlier that Mac was probably going to be stuck up on Fordham Road with Stella for most of the day, he'd all but danced a little internal jig. Eight or so hours where he doesn't have to have Mac breathing down his neck? Fucking heaven, baby.

And isn't he just too cool for words? Last night he was all but falling to fucking pieces because Mac wouldn't pat him on the head and tell him he's a good boy, and oh, by the way, would you like to suck my dick while you're at it, Danny? Today he can scoff, and can even, with a little bit of effort, laugh at himself for that pathetic display of puppy eagerness.

If he lets the attitude drop, though, even for one second, he has to admit to himself that he can still feel the humiliation of the psych eval and of Mac's casual dismissal of him. We'll see. Yeah, we will fucking see, Danny had thought later on that night. We'll see just what treating me like that gets you. He recognizes this as useless bravado; Mac can dismiss Danny or welcome him back into the fold as he so chooses, and Danny can't do a goddamn thing about it, except keep his head down and keep on working.

When things had first started to fall apart, and Mac no longer showed up at Danny's door on Friday nights -- without, of course, so much as one private word to him -- Danny had told himself that they just needed a little time away from each other. The Minhas case and the IAB investigation had been a big-shit deal, no question about it. He could blame Mac for a lot of things, like not having his back during the investigation, and trying to push him off on a lawyer so that he could be somebody else's problem, but for wanting to have a cooling-off period? Not so much. Danny figured, at the time, that he could stand a little time-out himself.

Now, of course, he realizes what he should have tweaked to right from the beginning: that this isn't a cooling-off period, and it isn't in any way temporary. If Mac wants Danny out of his life, then that means he wants him out. Because if Mac doesn't trust him in the field, or to be put on the promotion grid, then Mac sure as fuck isn't going to trust Danny in his bed. Danny's beginning to think that this is just fine with him; he doesn't care. He can't care. Not if he's going to survive and make some attempt at resuscitating his career. There's a lot of things that Danny knows he isn't good at; having a strong sense of self-preservation isn't one of them.

Above him, the back door bangs open. Danny doesn't look up.

"Since when did you start smoking?"

"Since I gave up heroin?" he says.

Aiden lets out an annoyed-sounding snort, then comes down the steps and leans against the wall next to him. "You're a real card, Messer."

He shrugs and takes another long drag. "Yeah, and I could be big on the stand-up circuit, too, I bet. I'll keep it in mind if I end up needing that career change after all."

"You gonna answer me, or you just gonna keep up with the smart-ass remarks?" she asks.

Danny opens his mouth, then looks up at her, reconsiders, and finally says, "I used to smoke some when I was a teenager, but I quit when I got drafted into the minors. I just recently felt the urge to start again. Go figure."

Aiden sighs, then sits down next to him, out of the path of his smoke. "Hey, at least you're still in the field," she says. "Take it that means the eval must have gone okay."

"Guess so," he says. "Or maybe they're just tryin' to keep me occupied until the nice men with the butterfly nets can get here."

She frowns at him. "Don't do that to yourself. Why you always gotta make those crappy jokes?"

"'Cause it's easier."

Aiden's voice is almost gentle when she says, "Yeah, well, it'll be okay. Just give it time."

Danny shakes his head. "I don't think Mac has that much patience." Actually, he knows this for a fact.

"He'll get over it," Aiden says. "He just needs to see that you're as good in the field as you ever were."

He shrugs again. "Sure, and then he'll feel bad and reinstate me for promotion. Aiden, in case you haven't noticed, the man ain't exactly into all'a that quality of mercy shit."

"No, but he is into results. And when some time has passed and he looks at the facts..." Aiden trails off, and is quiet for a minute. "I don't know," she says at last.

"I do." He takes a drag, then asks, not even bothering to be subtle about the change of subject, "You off for the night?"

"Yeah. Just figured I'd stop and say good night to you before I left."


"But I got a few minutes to shoot the breeze." She settles back against the side of the steps, then suddenly leans forward. "Then again, goin' by what Stella just told me, I think he might be in a pretty generous mood right now." Her tone is low and confiding.

"Huh?" Danny asks. "What do you mean?"

Aiden smirks. "Seems Mac had himself a little date last night."

Danny feels slow and stupid, not to mention confused, because he simply can't seem to tease meaning from her words. "A date? I don't get it."

"Yeah, remember that chick from the coffee shop?"

"The one who got shot? Ain't she, like, still in the hospital?" Not to mention really, really young.

"No, dipshit. The other one, the witness." Aiden gestures to her chest. "The one who was way too dressed up for a Saturday morning. Boobs all on display."

This rings a faint bell in Danny's memory. He can vaguely recall a nervous-looking woman with red hair -- and, oh yeah, lotsa cleavage. "Okay, think I know who you mean," he says.

"Well," Aiden says, "turns out she's been diggin' on Mac for awhile. She asked him out for a drink, and according to Stella, he actually went."

Danny sits up a little straighter. "Mac. Went on a date." He doesn't feel anything at all, not yet, because this still just doesn't make sense.

"Yeah, can you believe it? And that ain't all." Her smile grows even more amused. "Stella says she thinks he actually got laid last night. 'Cause of course she asked him, and then he got all embarrassed and annoyed, and changed the subject. She says that if he hadn't gone ahead and done Little Miss Witness, he still woulda gotten annoyed with her for askin', but he woulda said no right off the bat, and that'd be the end of it. She probably knows him the best outta all of us, so I figure that's pretty accurate."


"Yeah?" Aiden laughs. "Ain't that somethin'?"

"Oh, it's something all right," Danny says. "I ain't sure exactly what, but it's something." He crushes his cigarette out against the concrete with a quick, stabbing gesture.

Aiden, for once, doesn't seem to notice his mood swing; she's still talking away. "Do you think he even took his tie off? I mean, just between you and me and the lamppost, buddy, I can't imagine Mac getting naked like, ever, so -- "

"Yeah." Danny stands up, unwilling to listen to even one more word. "Would you excuse me? I'm sorry. I just remembered that I...I gotta do a thing. I'll see you tomorrow." He turns to go.

Aiden starts to scramble to her feet. "Danny, what..."

"Later, Aiden."




As Danny stomps back into the deserted lab, he has no clear idea of where he's going, or what he's going to do when he gets there. He just has to move. The rational part of his brain is screaming at him to leave it alone, to not say anything to Mac or, worse, cause a scene. He's in enough trouble already, more than enough, enough trouble for three lifetimes. Besides, what he heard is thirdhand gossip, and either Stella or Aiden, or both of them, might have gotten it wrong. That's the rational side of his brain, though, and the sheer blind anger he feels right now is quickly overriding any other concerns. He doesn't want to be sensible or rational, not when he thinks about how Mac said We'll see to him last night, and then went off and fucked some witness who picked him up at a crime scene.

It all seems a moot point in any event when he gets to the top of the catwalk and sees that Mac's office is dark, and that all of the labs appear to be locked. Great. No one here except him, and Mac is probably off sticking his dick into his new slit. Danny stops to catch his breath (oh, that's why he quit smoking), and clutches at the railing, digging his fingers into the metal until the pain becomes sharp enough to serve as some kind of distraction. While he's there, he has a little argument with himself.

Thought you didn't care.

I don't.

Coulda fooled me.

Go fuck yourself.

He didn't care. Up until ten minutes ago, he would have sworn up and down on a stack of Bibles that this was the case. Now, his head is pounding with anger and mortification, and he would sincerely like to break anything that he can possibly get his hands on, including Mac's head, dishonest motherfucker that he is. Can't deal with Danny, oh no, can't even look him in the eye or tell him what's really going on, but the first chance he gets he's slipping it to some witness he just met a few days ago, and if that's not a breach of professional ethics, Danny doesn't know what is.

Oh, he could make Mac hurt, he really could. He could make him pay.

Maybe he'll just go take a shower and try to cool off, he decides at last, and he heads back down toward the locker room.

When he gets there, he pushes the door open so hard that it rebounds off the opposite wall, and Mac, who is changing in front of his locker, looks up in surprise at the sudden commotion.

Danny, who feels oddly unsurprised at finding Mac here -- this is, after all, the way things in his life always seem to work out, and the locker room is where this whole mess began -- doesn't pause to think things over or to ask himself if what he's about to do is the best idea. He walks right up to him, and says, "Hi, Mac. How are ya?" and then he pulls his fist back and hits Mac as hard as he can right in the mouth.

On any given day, Mac could probably beat the shit out of Danny without half-trying, thanks to those elite Marine skills of his. In this case, Danny has the element of surprise on his side, and Mac staggers back into the lockers. Danny, who is really not thinking at all at this point, grabs him by the front of his shirt and hauls him up and punches him again, this time in the nose. Blood sprays across his shirt in an interesting pattern. "Enjoy your date last night?" Danny asks, and then he sees stars as Mac (who, he has to admit, has impressive powers of recovery) grabs him and throws him into the lockers and pins his arm behind his back.

"Stop this right now," Mac says, and it's that low, furious Marine growl that used to make Danny's knees go weak with fear whenever he heard it. "What in the hell do you think you're -- "

"No, Mac," Danny says, and pushes back, trying to break Mac's grip. "Don't touch me. Just get your..." He pushes again, and this time, for some reason, Mac steps back and lets him go. "...your fucking hands off me," he finishes, and turns around. He's pleased to see that Mac's lip is split and that his nose is still bleeding, and it looks like he's going to have a nice bruise on his cheek from where the metal edge of the open locker door caught him as he fell.

"C'mon, answer me," Danny says, and gives Mac a shove. "How was your date?"

Mac is silent, staring at him. Danny can't read the expression on his face.

"How was she in bed?" he persists. "Does she fuck as good as I do?"

Mac takes a deep breath, blood bubbling at the edges of his nostrils, and then says, "How did you find out?"

Danny laughs. He can't help it. "Yeah, of course that's the first thing you think of," he says. "Does it matter?"

"I had a date," Mac says. "I don't see that it's any concern of yours." He starts to wipe at the blood on his face, then winces and puts his hand down.

"Yeah," Danny says, and he can hear his voice rising, "'cause I wasn't the one you were in bed with up 'till three weeks ago or anything like that. You are unbelievable, you know that?"

Mac doesn't say anything, and Danny gives him another shove. Cold fucking son of a bitch. "What, I'm good enough to fuck, but not good enough that you can even bother to be honest with me when you decide to cut me out of your life?"

"You think it's that easy?" Mac asks, and Danny is surprised to hear a crack in his voice, a note of emotion that's entirely out of character for him.

"I think it's that easy for you," Danny says. Because it has been that easy for Mac, and it doesn't take a criminalist to see that.

"You think that?" Mac says. "You think I just cut you out without a backward glance? This wasn't easy, Danny."

Danny laughs again. "Sure it was. And you did." He shrugs. "You done it before. Too bad I was stupid enough to come back for another round."

Mac looks at him, and there's no expression at all in his eyes. "After the way you've conducted yourself? Surely you don't expect -- "

"Yeah, actually, I do expect, Mac. I expect you to have enough goddamn respect for me to tell me the truth. Not just brush me off with 'we'll see' and..." He shuts his eyes. "...and then go bang the first broad who flashes her tits at you."

"Why?" Mac says. "I can't trust you. That's been made very clear to me."

Danny tips his head back and stares at the cracked ceiling. "And I don't trust you either," he says, softly and calmly, "so we're even. Maybe five years ago you shoulda listened to all those people who told you not to hire me."

"Maybe I should have," Mac says, and his tone is pure fury.

There's a moment of shocked silence. Danny stares at him, blinking fast, and even Mac looks surprised at what he just said.

"That's it." Danny slams his fist into the locker as hard as he can, then turns away. "I'm outta here."

"Danny," Mac says. Danny doesn't look at him. "Danny, wait, I didn't..."

Danny is trying to walk away, he really is, but then Mac grabs his arm and tries to pull him back. He thinks that Mac is trying to get him to listen to him, is maybe going to offer some kind of apology or explanation. There's none in the world that would change things for Danny. Not now. And he thinks that if he has to listen to him try, he's going to hit him again, and this time he's not going to stop until someone makes him stop. So when Mac puts his hands on him, Danny lets himself be turned around, and then he grabs Mac by his shirt collar and pulls him close, and then he kisses him.

This isn't about trying to get Mac to take him back, or forgive him, or even about getting Mac into bed one more time. It's about scoring points. Danny knows that he can do this; it wouldn't be the first time in his life he's managed to convince someone that they want to fuck him more than anything else in the world, even if it's against the person's own best interests. So he kisses Mac fierce and brutally, pouring all his anger and hurt into the kiss, and presses his lips into Mac's as hard as he can, unmindful of the split lip. He laughs a little when he tastes blood, and even more when Mac moans and reaches up and clutches the back of his head, and kisses him back.

There's a kind of desperation in Mac's kiss that Danny knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is not there in his own, because he's in control right now. Not Mac; whatever power Mac may have in every other area of their fractured relationship is meaningless as long as Mac is gasping and letting Danny kiss him even through the pain of his lip. Danny doesn't give him a chance to think or breathe or call a halt to things, and bites him and shoves his tongue deep into his mouth. He keeps it going right up until he feels Mac's hard-on grind up against his hip, and then he pulls back a little, grinning, and murmurs right up against Mac's open mouth, "So you ever fucked a cop-killer before?" After he says it, he kisses Mac very, very gently on the cheek, and then steps away.

Mac gasps again, in a completely different way this time, and starts to push him away, but Danny is already out of his arms by the time he tries. He stands up straight and fixes his collar and jacket, not meeting Mac's eyes: not because he's afraid to, but because he knows that Mac is trying to catch his gaze. He can feel blood on his mouth and upper lip, and he reaches up absently and wipes some of it away.

"Danny..." Mac says again, and Danny thinks that he sounds utterly bewildered. Good; that suits Danny just fine, and as he turns to go, he still doesn't look at Mac, or even acknowledge that he's said anything. He's done now; he's gotten his pound of flesh.

He does pause for one more moment at the door. "By the way, Mac," he says, and he's proud of how calm he still is, "I noticed you took your wedding ring off. She must be pretty fucking special to merit that."

Mac doesn't answer, but the bleak, struck look that comes into his eyes is all that Danny needs to see.

"You never even let me in your fucking apartment," he says, and lets the door slam on his way out.




Danny waits, after that, to be either fired or transferred. Neither of these things happen, and eventually he realizes they're not going to. He wonders why, in that case, he doesn't just quit, or put in a transfer request himself. But the truth is that he still likes working CSU in spite of everything, in spite of Mac, and if he wants to keep on being a criminalist in New York City, which he does, because he can't imagine starting over in another city, he's going to have to learn to deal. Besides, quitting or transferring would seem too much like admitting defeat, like acknowledging to the world that he's let Mac and IAB and all his other detractors get the best of him at last. Once again, his contrary streak comes in handy; he's staying right where he is. Anyone wants him elsewhere, they're gonna have to push him out the door themselves.

Mac just assigns cases like always, and never says a word. The cuts and bruises on his face, which department rumor attribute to a violent perp, gradually fade. If Aiden or Stella suspect that Mac's beat-up face has a different provenance, they never bring it up in Danny's hearing. Mac doesn't wear his ring anymore, and doesn't talk about where he goes when he leaves the lab at night.

On the first day of summer, Danny goes for a long walk along the Central Park Reservoir. In two days, it'll be the fifth anniversary of his hire at the crime lab. Five years have gone past in the blink of an eye, but this past year seems longer than all the rest of them put together. His initial impulse is to say that it's been the worst year of his life, but upon further reflection, he's not sure that's true. He's been used, and he's had to stand there and watch as his career all but goes up in flames, but he's also gotten laid a whole hell of a lot, and has proven to himself that Mac Taylor is not just the staid, uptight Marine that everyone thinks of him as -- or maybe he is, but Danny also has the power to make him something else, to make him move and respond and writhe helplessly under him. He can do that, not anyone else. Not Flack and not Stella, and not even this witness chick who Mac may or may not still be seeing, he'd be willing to bet.

He doesn't think about Mac very much these days outside of a professional context. There were a few bad nights at first, in particular the night after he walked out and left Mac in the locker room, but these are getting fewer and farther between. He's mostly cut out the cigarettes after nearly hacking up a lung one morning in the shower, but he still has booze and sex to ease his way through the rough patches. The bars are still there and the anonymous one-night pick-ups are still there, and that's all he really needs: that, and the long-vaunted sense of being control of his own destiny that he almost, badly deluded, ceded to Mac and to his unrealistic expectations of Danny's conduct.

It's behind him, and if there are certain things Danny now knows about Mac -- things he could tell Mac about himself -- that would permanently upset his ordered world, he chooses not to. He doesn't have to. It's enough to have the power of the knowledge, and to know that he, in effect, has his hand hovering over the red button, and that he can push it any time he wants.

So a terrible year by some counts, as almost anyone would attest, but all in all it hasn't been a bad year, not compared to the year he and his father were robbed by a gypsy cab driver, or the year his baseball career came to an inglorious end. He knows a little bit more about what makes Mac tick, and, perhaps more importantly, he knows where his weak spots are. Mac is all too human now, no longer the scary Marine-god of the crime lab, and Danny thinks that this can only be a good thing.

As for Danny himself...he tries to sort out his feelings as he stands there, fingers laced through the chain-link fencing, staring down at the water and wondering idly if there's buried treasure down there, or how many times over the years NYPD has had to dredge it to pull up a body from the depths. He's not happy, not exactly, but he's no longer unhappy, either, and by no means is he allowing himself to be used anymore.

The reservoir water is dark, and he can't see the bottom, but he's almost certain there's nothing lurking in the hidden depths.

Danny's pager goes off, and he glances down at it, then steps down from the fence after giving the chains one last good shake. He pulls out his cell phone as he walks and gets directions to a crime scene in Times Square from Stella, and it really is over now, he thinks. No more Mac, no more sleepless nights, and no more false idealization of a life that is, at base, only about learning how to survive from one mistake to the next. Pragmatism is its own reward.

When he closes his eyes these days, he hardly ever sees Mac behind the lids. He can barely remember what his kisses felt like, or how he looked sometimes when they'd lie in bed after sex and talk about nothing much of importance at all. And if he does, it's only sometimes, and it's easy enough to manage, and to dismiss these memories as the pipe-dreams they are.

On balance, then, he considers that he's had himself a pretty good year: he's got a job to do, and has learned to stop trying to hold onto nothing. He shoves his hands in his pockets as he heads along the joggers' path in the direction of Broadway and the train, and by the time he gets to the park gates, he might even be humming a little tune.